Bible Study December 24 for Worship January 6Posted: December 21, 2012
Bible Study December 24 for Worship January 6
Matthew 2:1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying,
2 “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.”
3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;
4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet:
6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.'”
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared;
8 and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”
9 When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy;
11 and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
January 6th is Epiphany the celebration of the first revelation of Jesus to the outside world in the form of the Wisemen. In Spanish Speaking Countries it is El Dio de los Tres Reyes, or the Day of the Three Kings. In those countries the three Kings leave gifts for children on Epiphany. In countries where people open gifts on Christmas, Epiphany becomes the 12th Day of Christmas. The appointed lesson for the day is the visitation of the Three Kings from Matthew. The purpose of the Story of the Three Kings is to rival the claims of the Roman Empire. Suetonius the Roman historian claimed that a special star appeared to mark the birth of Augustus and that an important astrologer of the day claimed that Augustus’ horoscope had forecast that he would become the world ruler.
The Three Kings were presumably from Babylon that was the recognized center of astrology in the ancient world. Making the claim that the magi had identified Jesus as the world ruler was a major coup for the early church. According to the Babylonian Star Charts the most probable candidate for the “star” mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew (the word star being used in its astrological connotation, a portent associated with a heavenly configuration, as in the phrase “his star is rising”) was the aforementioned rare triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation Pisces that occurred in the year 7 BCE, which for the astrologers of the time would have signaled the birth of a new King of the Jews that Herod was supposedly so worried about.
According to the Babylonian system of astrology Jupiter represented the supreme God of the universe, Saturn was the “Steady One,” and the constellation of Pisces was associated with the god of wisdom, life, and creation, as well as being associated with the Jewish people. When this “star” was seen “in the East” (Babylonia/Persia, the center of astrology at the time, to the east of Israel/Judea), Rome’s authority in the Middle East was not yet well-established, and the Jews were looking for a leader to throw off the Roman occupation. Some scholars contend that the Babylonian astrological interpretation of the triple conjunction would have been “the end of the old world order and the birth of a new king chosen by God.” Support for this theory can be found in the fact that early Christians used the astrological symbol for Pisces (Icthys,) the constellation where the triple conjunction occurred, as a symbol for Jesus and of their new religion, and as the symbol of the fruition of the so-called acrostic prophecy of the Erythraean Sibyl.
The story of the three Kings is used by Matthew to bring Herod into the story. Herod the Great was a native prince in the Roman Empire, and he was quite mad. The Romans didn’t really care how their native princes treated their people, so long as they kept firm control, collected taxes and sent money to Rome.
Herod was a brutal ruler. He made sure that he quelled any attempts at rebellion. On one occasion after a rebellion in Galilee, Herod lined the road from Galilee to Jerusalem by crucifying over 2,000 rebels to line the road. He taxed his people into poverty in order to send money to Rome, and his taxes made the population all the more restive. On top of his brutality Herod was also paranoid. On one occasion he suspected a butler of plotting against him, so he had the butler tortured until the poor man in his pain named co-conspirators (who probably had not been plotting.) He then had the co-conspirators brought in and tortured until they named names. Finally, Herod had over 2000 people gathered in the arena in Jerusalem who he suspected of treason, and he unleashed his personal body guard of elite German soldiers to slaughter the 2,000 people, while he watched.
Vilifying Herod was easy and popular. The point of the story is to contrast the Messiah of Love with the old politics of power and oppression. Jesus rules! For our purposes I think we can think of Herod as representing the “old politics,” where the ends justify the means, and the Principles of Empire rule: Principles of Empire
1. Human beings need to be governed from the top down.
2. The top 1% of the Empire’s population will accumulate the majority of the power and wealth.
3. The Golden Rule: Those who have the gold make the rules.
4. Violence is the preferred method for enforcing order within an Empire.
Jesus the King born in a stable laid in a feed trough for animals represents a new day, where the meek will inherit the earth, and everyone will have enough because everyone shares. Of course the old politics seeks to destroy the Holy Child, and 33 years later the old politics succeeds in crucifying Jesus. But love rises stronger than before. God’s promise — Love Wins
LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT
1. Who was King in Judea, when Jesus was born?
2. According to the text, where were Mary and Joseph living, when Jesus was born?
3. Where did the wise men come from?
4. What did the wise men ask of Herod?
5. Who provided the answer?
6. What did Herod ask the wise men to do for him?
7. According to the text what led the wise men to the child?
8. According to the text what gifts did the wise men bring?
9. According to the text why did the wise men not return to Herod?
10. Where did the wise men go?
LET’S ALL THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US
1. How has the story of the wise men influenced our celebration of Christmas?
2. In the First Century people believed the stars provided signs of the future. What signs do we look for today?
3. In what ways do you think Herod was just like any other political leader?
4. Can you think of any political leaders in the last 200 years you could compare to Herod?
5. What purposes do you think the wise men served for Matthew as a story teller?
6. How have the principles of Empire changed?
7. Do you think Jesus had any political purposes?
8. How does the message of Jesus differ from the principles of Empire?
9. In our current situation how do you think we as followers of Jesus can spread the message of Jesus?
Week of December 31, 2012 – January 6, 2013: Epiphany Sunday – Matthew 2:1-12 – Where Is the Child – Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Ephesians 3:1-12.