The wise men came to see Christ because they saw a star in the sky – that well-known star now told in children’s Christmas stories. They followed that same star to Israel – where apparently it was lost.
What happen to that star? It wasn’t that it couldn’t lead them all the way; after the men left Herod, the star reappeared and led them directly to Jesus.
God was offering an opportunity. Herod may have missed the birth of Christ, but he could not miss these important dignitaries showing up on his doorstep. They were not foolish men, and their words carried weight. They may be following a star, but they were very down to earth. And they were looking for the King of Israel.
Herod was not a king, but only a regent, standing in place until a time when the true king would claim the throne. Here now was an opportunity to welcome the king with open arms. With the arrival of these visitors, he didn’t have the excuse of “I didn’t know.” God is not one to let opportunity slide. Maybe the star disappeared in order to give Herod a chance, a chance to accept successor of David.
Maybe it was also respect. Why Herod? Herod was the ruler, the reigning authority in Israel. He may not have been the true king, but nor was he a supplanter. He was a substitute, a placeholder until the true king returned – something like Denethor in Tolkein’s Return of the King, waiting for Aragorn to return.
In that sense, Herod had authority. And Christ always did make it a point to recognize civil authorities, regardless of moral standing. By giving Herod a chance to recognize the coming of the King of Israel, God was acknowledging Herod’s authoritative position. Herod very well could have led the wise men to Jesus, rather than simply sending them on their way. He could have made his own way down to see the newborn King.
Herod had the opportunity of a lifetime, and it was given him by God Himself.