Jesus’ arrival on the world stage was good news to some and bad news to others. Those two groups came together for the first time in Herod’s palace in Jerusalem shortly after Christ was born.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “‘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 shepherd my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:1-6)
The “Herod the king” mentioned here is Herod the Great. He was a ruthless leader who history records murdered his own wife and several sons. The “wise men from the east” were likely pagan priests from Persia or Babylon (modern-day Iran or Iraq). They watched the stars and were heavily influenced by astronomy. The idea of a Messianic deliverer for Israel being signaled by a star was prophesied in Numbers 24:17, and Babylonian priests would likely have come to know of this prophecy during the 70 years that the nation of Israel was in Babylonian captivity. Presumably, this is how these “wise men” concluded that this star that they saw would lead them to a new “king of the Jews.” They were captivated by it, and it moved them to take this long journey to worship this new king.
I’ve heard a lot of people suggest natural explanations for this star. I’ve heard theories of a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn that supposedly happened around this time, I’ve heard it explained as some kind of comet, I’ve heard it explained as a supernova, etc. Here is the bottom line, whatever it was would ultimately lead these men from Babylon or Persia to the exact place where Jesus was. I believe it was a supernatural phenomenon that God created for this specific purpose. There is precedent for that in Scripture, as God used supernatural phenomenon to lead the nation of Israel through the desert to the promised land after he delivered them from Egyptian slavery through Moses. Additionally, since most people agree that these “wise men” were astrological experts, it’s unlikely that they would have been this impressed with something that they could explain naturally.
Notice that both Herod and “all Jerusalem” were troubled by the potential arrival of a Messiah. Herod was troubled presumably because this new “king” would threaten his reign. The religious leaders of Israel were troubled, because this Messiah would undoubtedly overthrow their religious systems that had become corrupted by power and greed. (Matthew 23:25) Jesus is not yet two years old, and already the political and religious authorities are conspiring to get rid of him. (Matthew 2:13-18)
Jesus’ birth was good news to those distant from God who wanted to become close to God (like the shepherds and the wise men). It was bad news to those who acted like they were close to God, but were really distant from God (like the religious leaders and the king). Jesus’ reign continues to be a threat to those who are proud and corrupt and a blessing to those who are humble and who pursue His glory instead of their own.