The Arrival - 2
The Arrival – 2
[Cover picture] The December 2013 edition of National Geographic carries the cover article entitled “Our Greatest Journey - One Man, 7 Years, 21,000 miles.” Journalist Paul Salopek begins the article by saying this - “Walking is falling forward. Each step we take is an arrested plunge, a collapse averted, a disaster braked. In this way, to walk becomes an act of faith. We perform it daily: a two-beat miracle - an iambic teetering, a holding on and letting go. For the next seven years I will plummet across the world.”
He goes on to chronicle that he will indeed be taking a 7-year journey [map pic]. He already began a few years ago in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa, humanity’s birthplace. And by the end of 2020, he will have traced the migratory patterns of humanity over 21,000 miles to Tierra Del Fuego in Chile. That’s quite a journey.
Tom Cochrane was correct in his famous song, Life Is A Highway. I want to ride it all night long. Life is a profound journey. Every one of us is on some sort of journey, whether intentionally or not. We are a people on the move. The earth is continually revolving around the sun at a rate of 67,000 MPH. That means that in any given year, the earth travels 587 million miles. Add to that the rotation of the earth on its axis. While the speed of that rotation may vary depending on where you live on the planet, it averages 1,000 MPH. Even if you never moved, you are constantly on the move.
TS - As we continue looking at the Christmas story, the Arrival of Jesus, we are going to walk with a group of men who were guests at his arrival, though they had to take an amazing journey to get there. Traveling unknown miles, these guests show us that the most important part of any journey is the destination.
- Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking,2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
Here we are introduced to a strange group of men known as the Wise Men, or the Magi. They are a traditional piece of the Nativity Scene. Typically, we see three (We Three Kings of Orient Are) and they are hanging out with the shepherds at the manger. Not really how it went down, but we’ll get to that in a minute. While this journey seems to conclude a bit after Jesus had been born, the journey was motivated by Christmas. Though they ended up being late for his birth, Jesus’ arrival is what prompted these men to travel so very far.
TS - Two questions about these men…Who are they and how did they know to look for the newborn Jesus? There is a lot of contributing factors (OT prophecies and astrological events) happening to make this journey a reality.
Who are the Wise Men, the Magi? The short answer is we don’t really know much about them. Scholars have made a few conclusions about them. “Magi” comes from the same root word for “magic.” It is best for us to think of them as astrologers, not magicians in the card-trick sense of the word. Matthew identifies them as coming “from the East.” The language points us towards Babylon and Persia, modern-day Iraq and Iran. So, think Jafar from Aladdin [pic] minus the wickedness and talking parrot.
They are wealthy, as seen by the gifts they bring (gold, frankincense and myrrh). If they brought only small amounts of these gifts, we are still talking about thousands of dollars today. They have some sort of prestige and clout, most likely some sort of royal court astronomers.
How did they know what they knew? What star did they see? Let’s start with how they knew what they knew. We usually picture places like Iraq as outside of where Bible events take place, but that’s not the case. Some very important biblical events take place there, most importantly the Babylonian Exile.
In the OT book of Daniel, we read about King Nebuchadnezzar invading and conquering Jerusalem (586 BC). He takes Israelites from the royal family and the nobility back to Babylon to work in his court. One of them is named Daniel and he becomes very important to King Nebuchadnezzar. In fact, he becomes one of the King’s most trust advisors.
In , Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that frightens him. He calls in his Wise Men - his Magi - to interpret the dream for him. They are unable to do so, but Daniel is called in and successfully interprets the dream. Look at what the Bible says about Daniel:
- 47 The king said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is the greatest of gods, the Lord over kings, a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this secret.”
48 Then the king appointed Daniel to a high position and gave him many valuable gifts. He made Daniel ruler over the whole province of Babylon, as well as chief over all his wise men.
Almost 600 years before Jesus is born, a Jewish man becomes the Chief Magi in Babylon (later being conquered by Persia). Coincidence? Daniel led these Magi and would have most definitely left the message with them of an eternal King to come (as evidenced in the prophecies later in the book). Daniel knew the OT prophecies of the Messiah to be born. This is how these Magi in know that they are looking for the King of the Jews…because a Jew had told them about a King that was to be born.
Even beyond Daniel’s influence here, or even because of it, these Magi were living in a time when people were anxiously waiting for something big to happen. Jewish and Roman historians both write about the general consensus at the time was that an Eternal Emperor was going to rise out of Judea. The entire world was looking toward Judea just waiting for him to arrive.
What did they see in the stars that led them to Jerusalem and then Bethlehem? Some point to Halley’s comet that was recorded in 11BC. The most likely phenomenon (outside of a miraculous star created by God just for this purpose) that they saw was the rare alignment of Jupiter and Saturn. When they align it looks like an insanely bright new star in the sky. This rare alignment happened three separate times in the year 7BC, on May 29, October 3, and December 4. One more crazy bit of info here…according to ancient astrologers, Jupiter was known as the royal planet, and Saturn had long been the symbol for Israel.
TS - So the planets representing royalty and Israel align, and that prompts Magi looking for the Jewish Messiah to come asking to worship the newborn King of the Jews. A mixture of naturally occurring events in the stars, biblical prophecy, and God’s work sovereignly orchestrating history, all combine to prompt this amazing journey.
These Magi head towards Judea, not knowing their final destination. The star hadn’t given them an address, so they go to the place you would logically go if you are looking for a King. They go to Jerusalem, the capital city, and end up in the King’s palace, asking to see this newborn King. That’s doesn’t go so well.
- 3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. 4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”
Herod’s reaction is to be “deeply troubled.” The word literally translates as “terrified.” And here’s why…Herod’s title is King of the Jews, given to him by the Roman Senate in 40BC because of his friendship with Marc Antony. But he wasn’t born as that. He had to work for it.
Herod had married 9 times to secure allies and his political power. He politicked and maneuvered to get his position and eliminated any threat to that position. Herod killed one of his wives, her two brothers, his mother-in-law, and three of his sons because he suspected them of treason, along with half the Jewish Sanhedrin and hundreds of prominent citizens. “Everyone in Jerusalem” was also troubled. Of course they were! When someone threatens Herod’s throne, the killing is about to start.
At first, Herod seems to be taking the news well. Offers to help them by summoning the religious leaders. He gets them a location and approximate age of the child they are looking for. And he ends his time with the Magi with a seemingly kind request: “When you find this newborn king, tell me where he is because I want to worship him too.” The Wise Men agree and head out to Bethlehem.
- 9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
This star guides them to Bethlehem, a short 5-mile journey from Jerusalem, and there they find Jesus and his family. Here is where the biblical account and our traditions differ. This scene isn’t at the manger, but in their home. The word used for “child” here to describe Jesus is a word used for a toddler/preschooler. At this point, Mary and Joseph have settled into a house, put down some roots.
Regardless of when/where this event occurs, the Magi do what they set out to do. They joyfully worship the King. They present their elaborate gifts and worship Jesus. For the Wise Men, their journey is now complete. Herod’s journey, however, is far from over.
- 13 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, 15 and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”
16 Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance.17 Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 “A cry was heard in Ramah— weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.”
Herod realizes the wise men had “outwitted him.” Hello! Wise Men! Of course they will outwit you. Now his murderous rage kicks in and he decides he will do something to eliminate this threat to his power. Instead of investigating who/where the Messiah is, he simply orders all children of appropriate age to be slaughtered.
But his plan doesn’t work. God warns Joseph in a dream what was going to happen, and they flee to Egypt. Most likely they land in Alexandria where there was a large population of Jews (over 1 million) who had expatriated there to escape Herod’s reign. The King has not been thwarted by King Herod. God’s plan is still going strong, nothing will stop it. In fact, God’s plan is eternal and will outlive him.
- 19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt.20 “Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.”
21 So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother.22 But when he learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod’s son Archelaus, he was afraid to go there. Then, after being warned in a dream, he left for the region of Galilee. 23 So the family went and lived in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled what the prophets had said: “He will be called a Nazarene.”
TS - God has sovereignly orchestrated it all. His plan continues to work. Everything is going as He has decided it will go. What can we take away from this incredible account?
We are all looking for a King. We are all looking for something, Someone, to devote our lives to. We are all on this same journey, but how we look for a King, where we look for a King, determines the destination. And those destinations carry some vastly different results.
King Herod’s journey to find a King is a journey of power. His entire life had been consumed with establishing his own kingdom. He did literally whatever it took to gain the throne. He lashed out at anyone who dared to challenge him. He manipulated, lied, deceived, murdered…all to keep his throne.
He did everything he could do to establish his kingdom and control. His will was priority. Herod was on a journey focused completely on himself. He looked for a King and decided it was himself. And as Herod shows us, that journey ends in a bad place.
Fear - always paranoid.
Insecurity - never enough, never content.
Death - for him and for all around him.
And isn’t that the story of humanity? The original temptation given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that finally convinced them to eat the forbidden fruit was that their eyes would be opened, and they would be like God.
The story of humanity is the quest for power. To be masters of our own fate, keepers of our destiny. The American Dream is to gain control over your life, to have all the comforts and freedoms you desire. To be able to do whatever you want, whenever you want.
Truth be told, we are all pretty good at building our own little kingdoms. This is why we tend to reject counsel, dislike accountability, and despise authority. And what we don’t realize is that this kind of journey is in opposition to Jesus.
When we pretend to be king, we see Jesus, the true king, as a threat.
There are people in this room today who are playing this game. There are any number of Herods in the room. Those who believe, who have convinced themselves, that they are, or that they can be, in charge.
Friends, that journey ends in fear, insecurity and death. Those walking on that messy journey never fully worship Jesus. They never fully surrender to him. For them, Jesus is a threat. Why? Because he will always outrank you.
Contrast that journey with the journey of the Wise Men. They were pursuing a king as well, but they were chasing the one who was greater than them. And instead of seeing Jesus as a threat, they saw him as the King worthy of worship. Their humble submission to Jesus meant that their journey ended quite differently from Herod’s.
Their journey ended with joy. They celebrated in their worship of Jesus. They joyfully surrendered to him. Turns out that joy is not found in the accumulation of power or palaces (what a message to hear at Christmas!). Joy is found in humble submission to Jesus.
As we move into a time of communion together, I want to spend a couple minutes looking at some really cool imagery that comes out of this text. While there were probably many more than three Wise Men, they did bring three different gifts.
They bring gold, a precious metal known as the King’s metal. Gold has always been associated with royalty. By their gift they are acknowledging who Jesus is.
They bring frankincense. This is an aromatic resin that was used in great supply by the Jewish priests in the Temple. As the priests stood as the mediators between God and humanity, this gift is acknowledging that Jesus is the one who has come to bring final reconciliation between God and mankind.
They bring myrrh. This is a potent spice that was used in embalming and to prepare bodies for burial. This gift is foreshadowing what Jesus will ultimately do as he brings that final reconciliation with God.
In these gifts we find who Jesus is, why Jesus came to the earth, and how much it will cost him. This is what we remember at communion. Who Jesus is…our Savior, our Lord. What Jesus has done by his death, burial, and resurrection. With the bread and cup, we remind ourselves of the cost of our salvation.