The King Adored

// December 15th, 2019 // Sermons

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Advent 2019 Sermon Series

Today is the third Sunday of Advent. You can listen online or download it and listen later…The King of Adored

I have chosen Matt. 1 & 2 and the theme “The Coming of the King” for my Advent preaching series this year.

On Dec. 1st we looked “The King’s Ancestral Line” – taking a look at the genealogy of Jesus based on Matt. 1:1-17 – we learned about the human ancestry of Jesus.

Last Sunday, we looked at “The King’s Arrival” from Matt. 1:18-25 – essentially looking at the divine ancestry of Jesus.

Today, we will look at Matt. 2:1-12 – using the sermon title – “The King Adored”.

The story of the Wise Men/Magi is usually part of the Nativity Story, but in actual fact, they would not have seen Jesus “lying in a manger”.  They came to see Jesus “in a house” (Matt. 2:11).  Now as to how long after, we are not given details but we can speculate.

Jewish ceremonial law required that a woman remain in her home for at least 40 days after giving birth to a male child; 8 days for a female child.  Luke 2:21 tells us that after 8 days he was circumcised and given the name Jesus.  And then, v. 22 – “And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him to Jerusalem”– it was in the verses following that we read of the encounter with Simeon and Anna – the 2 encounters that would have confirmed so much for Mary & Joseph.  But, it is in v. 39 that we find an interesting statement – “And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.”

So, it seems that they probably stayed in Bethlehem for the minimum 48 days and then went to Jerusalem; then, instead of going back to Bethlehem, they went home to Nazareth.  Luke’s next information about Jesus is the time when he was 12 and got left behind in the Temple.  So, we must conclude that Mary, Joseph & Jesus were living in Nazareth when the Wise Men came.

These men – referred to by some as kings – came from a distant land – Bible scholars guess that it would be from Iran, Saudi Arabia or Yemen, but we really don’t know.  And, we know that they came to worship the One who was born king of the Jews, so they would have been familiar with OT prophecy.

There are 3 things in our text that fill me with wonder and amazement:

1) First, I wonder about the incredible enthusiastic pursuit of these Magi.  Their search for the “one . . . born king of the Jews” moves them to travel to a distant land to worship a foreign king, who was still a child.  Many people in our society find it hard to get off the couch and drive down the road to the local church, never mind travel to another country just to worship.  And, our text tells us that this search was prompted by the sight of a star.

2) Second, I am appalled by the irrational jealousy of King Herod the Great – jealous of a child, born in an obscure little village.  And, I am horrified by the cunning cruelty of Herod, who was willing to kill all boys under the age of 2, in the vicinity of Bethlehem, in order to eliminate the threat of one child to his kingship.

3) And third, I‘m struck by wonder at the indifference of the people of Jerusalem.  The Wise Men diligently searched for the child king so they could present him with gifts and worship him.  Herod sought to find the child, so that he could put him to death, but the majority of those living in Jerusalem were couldn’t be bothered to travel five short miles to Bethlehem where they could find the promised Messiah.

This text speaks to us about our response to the king of the Jews who has come as the Savior of the world.  Our response will inevitably be like the Wise Men, like Herod, or like Jerusalem.  And our response has eternal implications.  Let’s consider those 3 responses to the birth of Jesus.

First,

  1. The Wise Men

Matthew’s account seems wrapped in mystery.  We are given some information about them, but left to speculate on many things not mentioned.

We don’t know the meaning of “Wise Men” or “Magi”, nor are we told where “from the East” is referring to.  We should set aside everything that legends have passed along to us – the crowns, the camels, that they were astronomers, that there were only three and their assumed names.  I’m not saying these are definitely wrong, it’s just that we don’t know for sure, because the Bible doesn’t tell us.

We do not know what got their initial attention – some Bible scholars speculate that they saw the bright light of the angels bringing the news to the shepherds, but that is also speculation.  It would seem that what God intended for us to know, He has made known to us.

Therefore, the mysteriousness of the Wise Men is intentional, stirring our curiosity and at the same time showing the depth of their understanding and commitment to find and worship the Christ.

According to historical record by the Babylonians and other surrounding nations, around this time in history, something unusual was observed.  It has been described as a new star that had suddenly appeared.  We don’t know the details and it really doesn’t matter.

What we can be assured of is the fact that God arranged this astronomical oddity in order to get these Wise Men to travel to a distant land so they could testify to the birth of a child who was born as the king of the Jews and Savior of the world!

Matthew 2 begins with the arrival of the Wise Men in Jerusalem.  They did not go to Herod to find out where “the king of the Jews” was born – they knew that a baby had been born, and it was this baby they were looking for, not king Herod.  And quite possibly they had heard of King Herod’s reputation of jealousy towards his kindship, so they would have tried to avoid him.

Matthew implies that the Wise Men arrived in Jerusalem and asked those they met where the “king of the Jews” could be found.  For the people to not have known must have been a shock to the Wise Men – somewhat like going to Ottawa and people have no idea who Prime Minister Trudeau is.

Word must have traveled quickly around Jerusalem – their arrival, their pursuit, their confident certainty – this would have caught the Jewish people off guard.  How could foreigners have been the first to learn that Messiah had been born, and be the first to seek to worship him?  The most incriminating part was that those who considered themselves the spiritual elite of Israel could do no more than shrug their shoulders when asked about the Messiah’s location.

It didn’t take long for Herod to hear about these Wise Men searching for Israel’s king.  He met with the Wise Men and with the help of the chief priests and scribes, learned of the village of birth – Bethlehem.  Herod unwittingly served as the channel of divine revelation to the Wise Men, so they could find and worship Jesus.

In v. 9, after they headed south from Jerusalem, the “star” reappeared, this time leading them to the very house where Mary, Joseph and Jesus were staying.  The “star” stopped over the place where Jesus was.

Their eagerness to find the “king of the Jews” is amazing.  While Herod and all Jerusalem were disturbed by the news of the birth of the king, the Wise Men eagerly sought Him, rejoicing greatly at the return of the star – v. 10.  When they arrived at the house, they entered and “bowed down and worshiped” Jesus, giving Him expensive gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

God revealed the Messiah’s birth to a people far away, and while Jerusalem seemed uninformed and apathetic, these foreigners sought Him so they could worship Him.  An interesting irony!  Secondly,

  1. The Response of Herod

If you are at all familiar with Jewish history, you will already know that Herod was a cruel man.  It is a well-stated fact that Herod never hesitated to use his power to destroy anyone who might get in his way.

At the time of our Lord’s birth, somewhere around 3-4 BC, Herod the Great would have been nearly 70 years old and in declining health.  Matthew tells us that after the death of Herod, Mary and Joseph re-turned from hiding in Egypt – v. 19-23.

Herod’s life history is like a modern-day soap opera.  The news media would have had a hard time keeping track of his wives, children, and victims.  He had at least 10 wives and 12 sons, although many of these were killed in one way or another.  He repeatedly changed his will and the the heir to his throne.  His position and power were a matter of paranoia and sudden retaliation.

And so, his response to the arrival of the Wise Men is totally consistent with his character.  The questions they were asking about the child who had been born as “king of the Jews” would have immediately made his extremely concerned and angry.

There was never any question about what Herod intended to do when he received this news.  He consulted with the chief priests and scribes, and then with the Wise Men regarding the place and the time of the infant-king’s birth.  His response was to gather information, verify it and then kill with precision.

Herod’s cruelty went so far that he left himself a very generous “margin of error,” killing not only the children of the village of Bethlehem, but the surrounding vicinity as well; and not just killing the very young children, but those up to two years of age.

As parents and grandparents, we would put him into the same camp as Hitler – feeling that the fires of hell could never be too hot for men like these.  But, we need to remember that the depravity of Herod is just like my depravity and yours – if we had the right opportunity to act on it.  There, but by the grace of God, go I!  Thirdly…the response of:

III. Jerusalem

The most shocking response to the birth of Jesus is that of Jerusalem’s citizens.  Notice Matt. 2:3: “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.”

Some have suggested that the city of Jerusalem was disturbed because they were afraid of what wicked King Herod might do.  But Matthew says they were disturbed “with him.”  This suggests that the people shared in the same concern that Herod had.

That the Wise Men would travel a long distance to find and to worship a Jewish (and therefore, foreign) king because of a star – that is amazing!  But in contrast, that all Jerusalem failed to find the announcement of the birth of the Jewish king sufficient reason to travel the five short miles to Bethlehem…that is the greatest wonder.

Wise Men showing up in Jerusalem and their bizarre inquiry would have been a shock, but it shouldn’t have been.  Jerusalem was the site of the temple that contained and communicated the OT prophecies that foretold the birth of the Messiah.  If they would have been looking for the Messiah they would have recognized that the prophecies were being unveiled right before their eyes.

The chief priests and teachers of the law were summoned and questioned by Herod, and the prophecies concerning Messiah’s birth had been reviewed.  And now, the city is in a disturbed state, along with King Herod.

What a contrast!  On one side, the diligent search for Messiah by the Wise Men in contrast to the apathetic disregard of the people of Jerusalem.

This is deeply disturbing when you think about it – the city of Jerusalem is more like Herod than the Wise Men.  In fact, in a certain way Herod is more understandable than the rest of the city of Jerusalem.  He actually believed that this child was a threat to his kingship, or he would have just laughed it off.  Why would he summon all the chief priests and scribes and then kill small children if he were not genuinely threatened?

Jerusalem’s apathy is much harder to comprehend than Herod’s violent annihilation of small children around Bethlehem.  Why would Jerusalem be so apathetic?  Consider this:

1) For one, it doesn’t seem plausible that a helpless baby would be able to fulfill Israel’s expectations of a Messiah who would free them from the tyranny of Rome and rid them of a madman like Herod.

2) And, because the Jews were looking for a strong redeemer who help them gain freedom, they saw no value in worshipping a baby or bringing gifts to the Messiah.  Based on their hopes and expectations, a baby had little to offer the people of Jerusalem.

3)  Finally, Jerusalem during the time of Jesus’ birth – much like our world today – was filled with unbelief and was unwilling to seek or worship God.  Like Paul’s description of all people in Romans 3:10-11: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.”

Unbelieving Jews are just like all unbelievers — they refuse to seek God or to worship Him.  Being Jewish does not give someone a short-cut to God’s salvation – just like being raised in a Christian home doesn’t mean you are automatically saved.

Someone wrote, “Proximity to truth is not enough.”  Ultimately it is those to whom God chooses to reveal Himself who come to Him.  In John 6:37, Jesus said – “…those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them.”

And so, with the attitude of the people of Jerusalem to the birth of Jesus, it should not shock us that some 30 years later, when our Lord presented himself to the nation, even using signs and wonders, the Jews failed – as a nation – to accept Him as their king.  And further, it was in Jerusalem that Jesus was eventually crucified.  Wow!!!

These three responses – the Wise Men, King Herod and the people of Jerusalem, these three responses are typical to the responses of people to the Messiah, in any generation..

Throughout history there have always been those who, like the Wise Men, have been looking for God’s Messiah and they found Him.  Most often they are not those we would have expected to find worshiping Christ.  But, God has a unique way to draw people that are far-off – whether that distance is geographical, racial, or cultural; he draws them to worship Christ.

We who are Gentiles should have a very special place in our hearts for the Wise Men…we are, in many ways, like them.  In Eph. 2:11-13, Paul wrote:  “Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders…you were living apart from Christ…excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope.  But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.” 

And it seems there is always Herod-type people, who take the claims of Jesus very seriously, but who, for selfish reasons do all they can to rid themselves of God’s sovereign rule over them, resisting surrender to the reign of Christ.

And finally, the majority of people on Earth, are like the people who lived in the city of Jerusalem.  These people are so apathetic to the claims of Christ that they will not bother to allow His coming to impact them at all.

Through the teaching in the Synagogues the people should have heard about the coming Messiah – His claims and such, but they simply didn’t care enough to bother to respond to Him.  The apathy of Jerusalem (or Canada, for that matter) may be more socially acceptable than the awfulness of men like Herod, but in God’s eyes, rejecting the Messiah is rejecting the Messiah!

And the sad part – apathetic people don’t remain apathetic.  The city which could not care less about the birth of their king, some thirty years later, in Herod-like fashion, did all they could to bring about the death of Jesus Christ.  Rather than repenting of their sins and receiving him as Messiah, that city cried out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Luke 23:21).  Rather than bowing down in worship before Him as their king, they shouted, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).

Apathy has its way of turning into animosity.  Those who, at first, ignore the Christ who has come, will eventually attempt to eradicate the world of Him and His sovereign rule over them.

I want you to be honest – this year, as we enjoy another Advent sea-son, “Which response most accurately reflects your response to the coming of the king, our Lord Jesus Christ?”

No doubt, some of you here today are like the Wise Men – you long to worship Christ for who He is—your king and your Savior.

I don’t think there are any Herod’s here today, for they would probably be trying to burn the church building down.

But, is it possible that some of us have become so pre-occupied with our holiday celebrations that we have failed to do what is most important— have we failed to seek Him and to truly worship Him?

Has your relationship with Jesus become so apathetic and indifferent that you find yourself just going through the motions?

O that we would learn from the apathy and indifference of the city of Jerusalem.  And now, repent of our sin and be transformed into zealous seekers of Jesus, using every opportunity we have to worship him!

Let’s pray…

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