January 6, 2019
A man had recently bought a new hearing aid. He was with a friend and could not stop raving about how wonderful the new hearing aid was. His friend said, “O that’s great! What kind is it?” The man responded, “Oh, about 4:30!” It was the wrong response to the question. When we ask a question we usually expect to receive an appropriate response, one that makes sense and is reasonable. But that doesn’t always happen.
This morning we are looking at the story of the magi in Mt.2:1-12. It is an interesting story that involves political intrigue and calls for an appropriate response not just from the people involved in the story, but from us who are reading the story. In the story the magi come to see Jesus the Christ child. As we read the story I want to raise a question: What is your response to Jesus?
I. GOD IS DRAWING THE WORLD TO JESUS. Mt.2:1-2
In v.1-2 we read, “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 you stop to think about it, this is pretty amazing. How did these wise men, or magi, from the east come to the conclusion that what they saw in the sky had something to do with the birth of a Jewish king?
The magi were basically students of astrology, dream interpretation, and magic. They were not Jewish and they were probably not kings as the Christmas carol says. They may have been from Persia or Babylon. We know that there was a sizable Jewish population in Babylon. It is possible that they would have had access to the Jewish Scriptures. Interestingly enough, there is a verse in Numbers which may have helped them draw the conclusion that what they saw in the sky had something to do with the birth of a Jewish king.
In Num.22 we are introduced to a sketchy prophet named Balaam. Balaam was hired by Balak, the king of Moab to pronounce a curse on the nation of Israel. God would not let Balaam do that. Instead Balaam pronounced blessings on Israel. In Num.24:17, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth." This verse had long been linked to the coming Messiah. It seems plausible to me that these magi were familiar with this messianic prophecy and when they saw this unique star in the sky, they concluded that the prophecy of Num.24 had come to fruition. Amazingly they were compelled to make the long journey to Israel in order to worship the newborn king.
I find this to be astounding. In Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus we saw how the angel appeared to the shepherds, announcing the birth of Jesus. They were Jewish and Jesus came to his own people, the Jews. However when we looked at the story of Simeon and Anna last week we saw how Simeon identified Jesus as a light of revelation to the Gentiles.
Do you remember the promise that God made to Abraham in Gen.12? God said that through Abraham all the nations would be blessed. From Abraham came the Jewish nation, but the Jewish nation was not a blessing to the Gentiles. The Jews looked down on the Gentiles. But now Jesus is born, a descendant of Abraham, in the line of David. Jesus is the one who brings blessing to the Gentiles.
Astrology is always condemned in Scripture. Christians are not to be dabbling in astrology or the occult. But look at this. God uses the astrological studies of these pagan astrologers to draw them to Jesus.
This is why I say that God is drawing the world to Jesus. In the case of the magi, God used an event of astronomy and a small passage of scripture to get their attention. In the case of Jewish agnostic and novelist, Andrew Klavan, it was a character from a seafaring adventure novel written by Patrick O’Brian. In that novel the character said a prayer before going to sleep. As Klavan read that, he thought, “Well, if he can pray, so can I.” He writes, “I laid the book aside and whispered a three-word prayer in gratitude for the contentment I’d found, and for the work and people I loved: “Thank you, God.” He didn’t believe in God. But as he continued to thank God, God heard his prayer and not long after Klavan embraced Jesus.
Or I think about the testimony of Nicole Cliffe, who came from a deeply atheistic home and was a committed atheist herself. One day when her daughter was in trouble Nicole, out of the blue, whispered, “Be with me.” She did not know why she said that. Sometime later she happened to read John Ortberg’s obituary of Dallas Willard for some reason and found herself weeping. In fact, she found herself weeping much of the time. She read some Christian books and wept. Until one day she realized that she believed in God and was a Christian. She writes, “I was crying constantly while thinking about Jesus because I had begun to believe that Jesus really was who he said he was, but for some reason, that idea had honestly not occurred to me. But then it did, as though it always had been true.”
God is drawing the world to Jesus and he uses many different ways to get the world’s attention. If you are not a follower of Christ, he is drawing you to come to Jesus.
II. THE WORLD IS ANTAGONISTIC TO JESUS. Mt.2:3-8
The magi came to the capital city of Jerusalem. That is where one would expect to find the king of the Jews. They began asking around, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” Of course the people didn’t know what they were talking about, but somehow word filtered up to King Herod. Herod was not Jewish but his ancestors had converted to Judaism and Herod was raised as a Jew. Through political maneuvering he was appointed king of Judea by the Roman senate in 40 BC.
Herod was a very able administrator. He brought peace into the region. He is known for his building projects (He rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem). He effectively provided famine relief. But Herod also imposed heavy taxes on the people. He was jealous and ruthless as a king. He loved power. As he grew older he became ill and paranoid to the point of cruelty and fits of anger. He had his wife and two of his sons killed. It is thought that Herod died around 4 BC, at around the age of 77. Jesus was born around 5 BC. So you see that when Jesus was born Herod was already paranoid about any threat to his throne.
Look at v.3-8. “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." Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 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."
When Herod heard that some magi from the east were inquiring about a king of the Jews who had been born, it says that he was greatly troubled and all Jerusalem with him. If Herod was troubled, everyone was troubled! Obviously Herod knew enough about Judaism to suspect that the magi were talking about the long awaited Messiah. So Herod called for the chief priests and scribes. The scribes were men who not only copied the Old Testament, but they studied it and served as lawyers. Herod asked where the Christ was to be born. They responded by quoting a verse from Mic.5, which prophesied that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem.
Taking every precaution, Herod secretly summoned the magi and asked them when the star had appeared. Herod was doing some political calculating. He sent the magi on their way to Bethlehem telling them to bring him word as to where this king could be found so that he could also go and worship the king.
Obviously, Herod had no intention of worshiping Jesus. As we move further into the story we see that in fact Herod was intending to kill baby Jesus. When you stop and think about it, Herod could have joined the magi on their trip to Bethlehem. But all he was concerned about was holding on to his power.
And then think about the Chief Priests and the scribes. They knew the scripture. They knew where the Messiah was to be born. One would think that the presence of the magi, looking for the king of the Jews, might have peaked their interest. But no! They were not particularly interested in a Jewish king, because they had their own seats of power and influence. They were apathetic. Thirty years later many of these men would seek to have Jesus crucified. Herod and these Jewish leaders had the same opportunity as the magi. But they were not interested. And Herod was seeking to kill Jesus.
Now that was then and this is now. What do Herod and the Jewish leaders have to do with us? Nothing and everything. Their hostility and apathy concerning Jesus is actually the default attitude towards Jesus that is always prevalent in the world. “Jesus may be an interesting person, but I am also an interesting person and I have my own life to live and so I am not interested in investigating Jesus. I don’t feel any need for Jesus. My life is full.” Maybe so. But if you are like most people (like Herod and those Jewish leaders), you also know that there are attitudes, actions, behaviors, thoughts in your life that are way out of line. There is a hostility to any god that would make a claim upon your life. That is why Herod sought to kill Jesus and that is why the chief priest crucified Jesus. The world will not have God and his son sitting on any throne of their lives. You may be a wonderful person, but as wonderful as you are, you are lacking the one King who can fill your life with wonder, joy, and eternal living in the kingdom of God. The world is antagonistic to Jesus.
III. SOME JOYFULLY WORSHIP JESUS AS KING. Mt.2:9-12
Look at those verses: “After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 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. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.”
The magi were overjoyed when they saw the star which led them to Bethlehem. By this time Mary and Joseph had secured a house to live in. The magi enter the house. When they see the Christ child with Mary it says they fell down and worshiped him. I don’t imagine that they worshiped Jesus with full knowledge as to his identity. Could Mary have shared the story with them? Why not? But we don’t know. The impression that I get is one of humble recognition that they are in the presence of a king. In England when an heir to the throne is born, people rejoice. But they don’t fall down in worship. The heir usually receives the best upbringing one could ever have. That was not Jesus’ experience. And yet the magi worshiped him.
Not only did they worship Jesus, but they gave him expensive gifts fit for a king. Gold, frankincense, which is used as incense or as an oil, and myrrh, which was a spice or perfume often used in embalming.
In those days when gifts were given some kind of return was expected. We don’t read of any reciprocal gift given to the magi. But I would like to suggest that in their worship and giving of gifts they were blessed with something for more important. They had met the King of kings and worshiped him. And when God warned them in a dream to not return to Herod, they obeyed and returned home by another route.
I may be reading more into these verses than is warranted. It doesn’t tell us what the magi experienced. But I am more interested in your experience with God and his Son, Jesus Christ. I have no doubt that God has been drawing you to Jesus through various ways and thoughts and people in your life. When you think about Jesus and the claims he made about himself, and his death on the cross for our sins and his resurrection from the dead, have you ever heard of such a thing? Is there any other religion that has such claims and promises to give eternal living with God in his kingdom? The very uniqueness of Jesus should give you pause. Your life in this world is filled with opportunity to enter into a relationship with God through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ. Will you bow in surrender, faith and worship?
Before us is the Lord’s Supper. Of course, it is all about Jesus and the salvation and life that Jesus offers to all who believe or put their confidence in him. When we come to the table to eat and drink, we confess to one another that our life is in Christ. Christ is our life. And because he is our life we are strengthened and encouraged by our participation at his table. What is your response to Jesus? Is he your Savior, Lord, and King? Amen