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Far and Near, Come Worship the King

Born in Bethlehem: Christmas 2018  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  43:12
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Far and Near, Come Worship the King - Matthew 2:1-12

Transition from video and PRAY
Last week from Luke we reviewed that the Savior, the Christ, the Lord… was born in Bethlehem of Judea. Since then you’ve probably ceased to imagine yourself as a shepherd on that night when an angel declared to them the Messiah’s birth, when they then went and found the baby and glorified God, just as the angels themselves were doing! You’ve undoubtedly gone back to your ordinary life in the Ozark hill country. So let’s journey again to the Judean hill country, to the town of David, where once more things are taking place concerning this child that are far from ordinary.
Matthew 2:1–2 ESV
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.”
(As we read through, I’ll pause for textual notes that help us keep our information straight [mostly because so much Christmas stuff, even surrounding the nativity, is based on tradition more than biblical evidence… as you just saw in the video]… and then later we’ll come back to two questions that will help us delve into a primary theme for overall understanding and application.) [What does Matthew intend to emphasize through this episode with the Magi? AND What should we take away from the different responses to the Messiah’s coming highlighted in the text?]
What textual clarifications do you find helpful?
Still in Bethlehem (no longer under the stars or in a stable or cave - now in a house, v. 11), perhaps as much as a year to two years later (unknown length of time [Herod has a guess in v. 16], but Jesus probably doesn’t still have to sleep in a manger :-)… probably even be walking and talking, and so forth) - Joseph must have found housing and work to support his small family in Bethlehem during this time.
Herod I, Herod the Great - who ruled over the region of Palestine (under Roman authority, of course) from 37-4BC. Herod was known for his impressive, extensive building projects (His palace at Jericho, the rebuilding and expansion of the temple at Jerusalem, and many more) and also for his cruelty (murdered his wife, and several sons and other relatives).
Magi, wise men from the east (the idea of them being kings is unfounded tradition, even with names and from specific places… like Gaspar of India, and Melchoir of Persia, and Balthasar of Arabia) - But even with our limited information, these journeyman are intriguing:
Magi is a word that likely means that they were quasi-religious guys who dabbled in all sorts of magic and arts and astrology and searching religious documents for enlightenment. (needless to say, their worship of Jesus ends up being symbolic of more than they themselves understand…)
We do legitimately suspect that these guys may have been from as far east as Persia and Babylonia, which means that they likely (almost certainly) would have mined their information regarding this coming king from biblical information dating all the way back to the Jewish exile (the days of Daniel). - And if that’s where they’re from, they traveled a looong way to get to Judea, and almost certainly with a decent sized traveling troupe.
This star that they saw couldn’t possibly have been any ordinary natural phenomenon (was perhaps even an angelic light), but likely appeared to them to look like a star. (which would make sense to attract their attention and for them to connect to texts understood by Jews to be Messianic prophecy: Num 24:17 “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel...”
But they’ve come to worship this “king of the Jews,” asking around Jerusalem (near to where the star has brought them, and a likely place, in their thinking, where someone would have some answers).
Matthew 2:3–6 ESV
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.’ ”
Herod, who must have been in Jerusalem at the time, and others who hear it in the city, react to this news of “the one who has been born king of the Jews” by becoming troubled—stirred up, agitated, distressed, disturbed. (Note: not elated, excited, celebratory)
When Herod asks the religious leaders and religious legal experts about the Messiah’s birthplace, they have an answer: Bethlehem.
The prophecy Matthew quotes is from Micah 5:2 (and its surrounding context, esp. v. 4 about this one “shepherding” the people).
Micah 5:2 ESV
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
Micah 5:4 ESV
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.
Herod gets his clear answer—Bethlehem. Now the question is, what to do with this information?
Matthew 2:7–12 ESV
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.” 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.
Herod proceeds “secretly.” (v. 7) - Not openly, so as not to involve many others. He does not need opposition to what he aims to do, which is to remove the competition. (v. 16)
Again, the star now moves to the exact location where they’ll find Jesus. (It sounds to me like, in the providence of God, the star had not done so already.) - But as they see the star again move and stop, they are overjoyed. (This is like, you know, that jubilant reaction you might have to something that is pretty near embarrassing if anyone is watching.) But they are overjoyed… in contrast to the reaction of the Jews - Tiny little side application here for us as “conservative” people. Are we afraid to express our joy in worship because we’re worried about other people looking at us? Of course, there’s a balance here bc maybe we’re being thoughtful and trying not to be a distraction to others (which is why I “contain” my enthusiasm :-)). And of course we don’t want our singing and praying to be for “show” to others either. But I fear that many times, one way or the other, we’re just a bit too concerned about other people’s eyes. We ought not to catch ourselves fearing man rather than God. - I had a friend in high school that used to burst out with “Hallelujah” when he was excited about God’s truth or an answer to prayer or in the middle of a song. At first I was uncomfortable, but I grew to like it bc he was genuine. - These Magi dudes are embarrassingly overjoyed, but in a great way.
They didn’t just jump and shout, though. They also went in and worshipped Jesus with reverence (prostrate before him) and with generous gifts. - While I’m already on rabbit trail application mode: Gift-giving is WAY overblown this time of year for sure, but gifts can also be an actual means to express appreciation and honoring another person. With our Lord, it’s a way to express our adoration!
About the three gifts: Gold is well, gold. Frankincense was a resin, a sticky flammable organic substance from a tree (like fir or pine), that was used particularly as incense. And myrrh was another fragrant substance from a shrub that was used as an ingredient in anointing oil and even in the embalming process. (I’m personally always careful about speculating regarding things the Bible doesn’t tell us directly, but it is also the case that we do acknowledge the providential work of God to have humans engaging in activities and even saying things with deeper significance than they themselves understand.) - So could gold represent his royalty, and frankincense his priestly role, and myrrh his position as the anointed One... and possibly even foreshadow his sacrificial death? Possibly. I won’t battle for it like I will for the importance of substitutionary atonement, but it’s possible. :-)
Then these wise men also seem to share a dream (clearly from God) that warns them not to go back to Herod. We don’t know the dream, but this unique phenomenon isn’t without precedent: When God was instructing Gideon to battle the Midianites, many (if not all) among the enemy shared a common dream that put them in fear of Gideon.
Significantly, these guys are attentive and heed the warning of the dream.
[For the sake of time, we need to stop here in our progress through the text and answer a couple broader questions…]
As Matthew provides his summary of the life and teaching of Jesus, why does he include this episode with the Magi (wise men)?
Messianic Kingship of Jesus - a “Kingdom of Heaven
Matthew has a particular emphasis on Jesus as the Messiah, the King of the Jews… and the spiritual ramifications for his Kingship. (He emphasizes that he’s the promised king that the people missed… or more like rejected… from his birth to his death - Mt. 27:37 And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”)
In that same vein Matthew uses the term “kingdom of heaven” 32 times. - Matthew not only sees the fulfillment of Jesus as the Davidic Messiah as paramount, but he also understands that Jesus is in fact the Lord, the one who reigns over all (visible and invisible) and whose current kingdom program is to make for himself a spiritual kingdom of priests who belong to him by faith.
These Magi coming to worship him carry overtones of both Jesus’ Messianic fulfillment and his Kingdom purposes.
Similarly, the episode as a whole provides various points of connection looking back (prophetic fulfillment) and looking forward (foreshadow).
Prophetic Fulfillment (looking back) & Foreshadow (looking ahead)
Just like 1:22 [read], so the location of Bethlehem, and worship by other nations, and in the subsequent verses Matthew shows how Jesus fulfills other OT types (Israel coming up out of Egypt, as stated by Hosea 11:1, is better fulfilled in Christ. Jeremiah’s description of the mourning of women at the Babylonian captivity prefigured this sadness in Bethlehem caused by Herod’s massacre of innocent baby boys.) Even the fact that Jesus would be known as someone from Nazareth, Matthew points to as prophesied that he would be one despised and rejected by men (Is 53:3).
Along with all the reflection on Christ’s fulfillment of past prophecy, Matthew also makes clear God’s providential plan superseding the designs of men (here his attempted murder, and later) in putting Jesus to death. - This is clear foreshadowing of Jesus by and large being rejected by his own (the Jews) and the ultimate goal of the worship of Jesus by people from all nations (which is commanded as the Church’s mission in Mt. 28:19).
What different responses to “he who has been born king of the Jews” does Matthew highlight?
(This won’t take long bc of all that we’ve already discussed today…)
Herod’s Hostility, the Religious Elite’s Apathy, and the Wise Men’s Sincerity
Herod is deceptive but Hostile, the Religious Elite Remain Apathetic, but the Wise Men from Afar are Sincere in their search and worship
Herod’s hostility stems from clinging to his own power. - BTW, Herod, didn’t your mother ever teach you that nobody thwarts the plan of God? God’s purposes are unstoppable! - Herod massacres many innocent babies (10? 30? more?); by contrast, Jesus the true King would innocently die so that “many” might live (“give his life a ransom for many” - Matthew 20:28) - What an irony for men (us) to be hostile to God’s authority over us because we somehow aim to retain some kind of “control” and “authority” that we think we have. But we have none. God is the only true sovereign, his ways are perfect, and his plans are unstoppable. - I’m so glad that God initiates and does what he knows is best—for the sake of my own salvation and for the sake of the whole world!
The “chief priests” (religious leaders who give oversee temple activities) and the “scribes” (who are professional scholars on explaining the application of the law, God’s word) - These are conspicuously apathetic to the questioning and urgency of these foreign magi to find the Jewish Messiah! (The people too are unfortunately being led astray by these blind guides, Mt 16:14 and 23:16&24)
Knowing that this star is a sign, and with the aim to worship this king who was foretold, the magi are persistent in their search, sincere in their motivation, and obedient to God’s warning in a dream… and also richly blessed to pursue the revelation they encountered to it’s culmination!!!
Let’s bring this plane home to our hearts.
What do these Magi coming to Bethlehem have to do with your life?
***Are there those even now who remain “near” to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ yet do not receive it? There are. Some of you are here this morning and are choosing apathy (don’t care) toward Christ or choosing hostility (“don’t need it… just pretending to please others.” ...“I want my way. God demands too much of me”). But you’ve got it backwards, God demanded much of his Son Jesus (who freely and submissively gave himself) so that you can be free from the legal demands that your sin deserves and free from the self-interest that holds you enslaved… by submitting your will to God and freely receiving Jesus as your Lord.
John 1:9–13 ESV
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
***And might there be any among us who believe they are too far for God to be willing to save you, for you to merit God’s saving grace? But that’s the incredible thing, everyone is too far from God based on any merit of our own. The depth of our sin is indeed a bottomless pit and our distance from God a limitless chasm. So that’s the thing: You can’t be any further from God than I am apart from grace (or than anyone else). In Ephesians 2, the very same chapter that explains that salvation is by grace through faith so that nobody can boast in anything except the righteousness of Jesus and the glory of God to make us his own!… Later in that same chapter it says this of those (Gentiles particularly) who have come to faith in Christ:
Ephesians 2:12–13 ESV
remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
***This God had a perfect plan... and has a perfect plan. He wants you to know his perfect plan through Jesus and to belong to him through Jesus. Then you become a part of that plan to worship the one true King and to make Him known among the nations!
***These Christmas lessons seem to give a lot of opportunity to call people to believe in the gospel, which is a natural and good application. Yet for those who are in Christ, what should you take away? - Can I say it like this? The knowledge of God is inexhaustible, the beauty of God does not fade, the power of God does not wane, the majesty of God knows no bounds; therefore, the grace of God is super-abounding to those who belong to Him, the joy of God’s people only grows with knowledge of Him, our hope and confidence in God is established further in experiencing Him, the love of God increases with nearness to His presence, and the glory of God shines more brightly on us and in us through our submission to His will! The Gospel—for God to grant you spiritual life and direct access to relational intimacy with him through Jesus Christ—that Gospel doesn’t get old because you are still growing in it, and our God doesn’t disappoint when you come to him as he truly is... as he describes himself. He only gets better. Don’t waste time on things that are less worthy treasure in this life than God himself. Don’t submit to any lesser authority. Don’t worship anything or anyone less worthy than the God alone who is worthy!
Psalm 99:1–5 ESV
The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake! The Lord is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples. Let them praise your great and awesome name! Holy is he! The King in his might loves justice. You have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. Exalt the Lord our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he!
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