Bible study on Matthew 2.1-12
This study can be used by a small family/ household group, or by an online group, or – sometimes with a little adaptation - by an individual.
See our Guidelines for a weekly Bible study
Begin with an opening prayer
Lord of our journeys,
help us this day to have
eyes to see your leading,
ears to hear your guidance,
and a heart of courage,
that we may journey faithfully and find your way –
even when the path may seem difficult and dark.
Read the passage
Consider different ways to read the text. For example, hearing it in more than one version of the Bible.
In an online group, you could share parts between those present, or use/adapt this week’s Share the Word suggestion: Use the Jump menu on the right to go to Share the Word and scroll down to find the Gospel reading.
Explore and respond to the text
Start by reading the Bible notes below. You may want to read them more than once, or pause after each paragraph to reflect on what you have read.
Who were the magi? Herod clearly has little respect for their social status – he orders them off to Bethlehem like servants (v.8). The NRSV translates the Greek word as ‘wise men’, but a number of ancient writers are more doubtful. The knowledge of the magi came from their familiarity with the stars, and could spill over into a deeply suspect occultism.
Matthew’s magi create a mixed impression. They have the insight to recognise that this star portends events that are worth exploring; but then, near the end of their journey, they choose to ignore the star and go where their common sense directs them – they assume that a king will be found in a palace. Their mistaken arrival terrifies Herod and has appalling consequences for the families of Bethlehem – the so-called ‘holy innocents’ (see 2.16-18). This deepens our questions about Jesus. Who is this child, who can terrify King Herod himself? The quotation from Micah (v.6; from Micah 5.2,4) implicitly contrasts the gentle leadership of a shepherd with a tyrant’s terror, and suggests how far Herod has gone wrong.
Their journey gets back on track when the magi follow the advice of Herod, of all people, and ‘go and search’ for the child. The theme of searching and finding recurs in Matthew’s Gospel. ‘Search, and you will find,’ says Jesus (7.7-8), and he tells parables about a merchant searching for fine pearls (13.45) and a shepherd searching for a lost sheep (18.12). Matthew encourages us to take the initiative in actively looking for God’s presence, and promises that such initiative will bring joy.
This searching yields results for the magi, but the journey’s end is unexpected. They find a little child (v.11), the word emphasising his vulnerability to tyrants such as Herod and his marginal status in a power-hungry society. This is underlined by the sharp contrast between the little boy with his mother and the rich gifts the visitors offer. Yet the joy of the magi (v.10) suggests that they found what they were looking for.
Spend a few moments thinking about what stands out for you from the Bible reading. This idea may help.
What frightens a king – or any powerful leader?
King Herod, we are told, was frightened by the news of a baby. For many years, he had paid lip service to a God he half believed in, and carried on with his rule of cruelty and injustice. Now, this God is taking an active part in life, sending a baby to be king of the Jews – the Messiah.
Herod perceived this as a threat, and his response was to enact horrific violence. Yet, he did not succeed in getting rid of the baby who threatened him. Christ’s followers still have the responsibility to speak truth to power, and to challenge and disturb those who use violence for their own ends. How are we living up to the challenge?
Questions for reflection
You may wish to use these questions and the picture to help you think about or discuss issues arising from this week’s Bible passage.
- How well does this image represent the year ahead, for you?
- How does the idea of seeking direction make you feel?
- When do you find yourself asking God for guidance?
A simple worship activity
An ‘empty chair’ reflection on God’s unexpected presence.
Set up, where they can be seen by all: a jug of water and cups; a bowl of fruit (grapes, orange segments); an empty chair.
Play reflective music – e.g. ‘The Shaker tune’, ‘Simple gifts’.
Invite people to spend a little time recalling meals to which they have been invited as a guest. What was the occasion – what was special or important? Was there an empty chair – if so, who might it have been for?
Now, imagine Jesus is seated in the empty chair in front of you. Imagine what he might be saying or doing. Remember, Jesus enjoyed socializing at meals, and at some of them remarkable things happened! Can you recall any of those times? Read Luke 24.30-32. Share the water and fruit – don’t rush!
Afterwards, either as continued reflection or as an open discussion, ask: do unexpected or remarkable things ever happen at our mealtimes – or, indeed, other occasions when we are gathered together as part of a group? Are we open to the possibility that God may be present in and among us or those with us?
Use the Jump menu on the right to go to more activities in Explore and respond
Adapt to your local context.
A prayer of praise and thanksgiving
Lord, we thank you that you want to speak to us,
and use so many ways to do so –
some of which can be so completely unexpected
that we don’t look for them.
Thank you for what we have explored and learned today.
We cannot expect the unexpected,
but help us to be open to the possibility!
Help us to look out for people and situations
through which you speak to us.
Help us to know what you are calling us
to be and to do in your name.
And help us to act,
to make our faith an everyday faith
in which your will is done,
and your kingdom comes among us.
Use the Jump to this week's menu on the right to find more prayers, including up-to-date intercessions in The week in focus.
A prayer to end the Bible study
Lord, as we continue our journey with you this week,
as we seek to live out our faith every day,
be with us, surprise with your love,
nudge us when you want us
to see or do something new –
for Jesus’ sake.
Go with God 24/7
Encourage everyone to put their faith into action.
Keep a daily diary in which you note any unexpected situations or encounters with unlikely people, particularly if you feel God may be speaking to you through them. Reflect on these prayerfully over the following days (and if it helps, talk about them with a friend).
Encourage everyone to explore their faith this week with the ROOTS at home resource.