Tuesday, January 05, 2016
"The King of the Jews" Sermon: Matthew 2:1-12
“King of the Jews”
January 3, 2016 Second Reformed Church
Today is Epiphany – the day when we remember that sometime after the birth of Jesus “wise men” – that is, magi – came looking for Jesus and eventually found Him, worshipped Him, and gave Him gifts.
The question before us this morning is; how do we respond to the Word of God?
I challenge us all this year to read through the Bible, using whatever system of reading you find useful – and there are many! I have given us two: there is a reading plan in “Tabletalk” magazine that is available to all of us, and there is a different reading plan that was in our last newsletter – and there are copies of that plan in the rear of the sanctuary.
It should make sense to us that in order to respond to the Word of God, we have to know what the Word of God is. We learn the Word of God as it is preached and taught and read in the church and as we read it both together with other Christians and on our own.
I strongly desire that we – both as individual Christians – and as the Church in this place – would grow in faith and obedience – that we would grow in our knowledge of God and Who He is and what He has done and in our right response to Him. And first and foremost, that happens as God’s Word is central to our lives.
Please – for your sake as a Christian and for our sake as a church – read your Bible regularly. Settle on a plan and read.
The magi that were spoken of in our text – and we’re not told how many of them there were – were traditionally part of the priestly caste among the Medes and Persians – they would have come from the area of Iran and Iraq. They were known to be expert dream interpreters, sages, and practitioners of astrology.
We have no reason to believe that they had copies of the prophetic writings of the Jews, but they may have had some texts, or they may have heard stories about the prophesies of the Jews.
What we see is that they used their skills as astrologers to determine that a certain star in the sky was a sign that a new king had been born. We don’t know if they initially realized it was the king of the Jews, or whether they just followed the star until they understood that He is the King of the Jews – and the star led them to Judea – and scholars debate whether it was a star or something else – whether it was natural or supernatural. What matters is that the magi understood what it indicated and followed it.
We see, first, this morning, the magi understood that Jesus is the King of the Jews.
“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.’
Whatever else the magi – the wise men – understood, they knew through astrology, that the star portended the birth of a king – a king who was important and significant. So they left their countries and they followed the star until they reached Judea.
Once thy reached Judea, they made an understandable mistake – they went to the palace of King Herod – the king of Judea, under the Roman government. Rather than continuing to follow the star, they figured that if a king had been born, the king would be in the palace, so they began asking where he could be found.
They wanted to find him because they had seen “his” star in the east, and they desired to worship him. They were willing to travel across countries to find Him and know Him and worship Him, because they understood from the signs the greatness of this King. Time and desert and mountain and water did not deter them from coming to Jesus – they desired Him that much.
We who have believed in Jesus savingly have seen Him in the Scripture and in the Sacraments, and He has been revealed to us in our hearts. Do we desire to find Him and worship Him like the magi?
The Scripture tells us that the Church – all we Christians throughout time and space – are the Bride of Christ – and He is our Bride-Groom. Do we come to the marriage feast saying, “Oh, yes, I have married a wonderful man. I know nothing about him, and I really don’t care to know anything about him. It’s enough to know that I am married.” Or do we come, as Solomon paints the picture, crying out, “Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices” (Song of Solomon 8:14, ESV)?
Let us come with the hunger of the wise men – wanting to know Him and meet Him and worship Him as we spend time each day in our Bibles with Him.
Second, the Jews knew the Christ was prophesied and His birthplace named.
“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.”’
Men who were known and respected for their interpretation of signs came to Judea – to the city of Jerusalem – and announced that a new king had been born – and they wanted to worship him – and Herod and all the people were troubled.
We need to remember that Israel was occupied by the Romans. The Roman way was to put locals in power to control and manage the nations they conquered, but they still had to answer to Rome. What might Rome do if they heard that magi came announcing that a new king had been born – one the Romans did not put in power? What would this mean for the people? What might this mean for King Herod? If it was announced that the people received this newborn as their king – there would be violence – “blood and destruction because of one Man” – and Herod would be out of a job – his power, his authority, his corruption, his opulent living – it would all be gone.
And the people were expecting that the Savior – the Messiah – the Christ – was coming soon. And they concluded that, if a new king had been born – One Who came with signs – and Whom pagan wise men came to visit and worship – this must be the Christ. The Messiah had come – the Savior of Israel had come – and He would set His people free from Rome and its oppression – or so many thought.
Many of us have heard the Bible read and preached – and we have read it ourselves – and we have come to believe that Jesus is the King and Savior of all we who believe. Do we still read the Scripture and see things we never saw before? Do we read a familiar text and think – or say – “Wow, I never saw that before!”
Good literature – and the Bible is literature among other things – like good music – can be experienced again and again to our benefit. As we spend more time with Jesus in the Word of God, God the Holy Spirit will help us to understand more and more and make more connections and remember how God has planned every moment and every minute and every particle of the universe, so it all comes together proclaiming and calling for the worship and the glorification of God.
I have the enormous gift of being called and gifted to spend my life and receive my livelihood working to know and understand and help all of us grow in the knowledge and love of God through His Word – that we might be faithful and obedient – which is our joy.
May God continue to draw us, as He drew the wise men to Himself.
So, Herod’s men told them that the prophets said the Christ would be born in Bethlehem.
And we see, thirdly, Herod wanted to eliminate the threat.
“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.’
Herod was a liar. He put his goals and desires above the Word of God. And in the text that follows, when the wise men do not return to Herod, but went home by another way without telling him where the Christ was, Herod went into a mad frenzy and had all the children under two years old in Judea slaughtered. Soldiers went door to door, and when they found a child under the age of two – to suit the mad-man, Herod, they took out their swords…
Herod believed that the wise men came with the true knowledge that the Christ has been born – the Christ that God promised to send to save His people – but Herod, concerned about himself and the “perks” of his position as king under the Romans, thought to frustrate God’s plan by having Jesus assassinated.
Do we see how irrational that is? How mad?
And yet, there are people all around us – I meet them all the time – who say, “Well, yes, the God of Christianity says we must be holy, but, if Christianity is true, in the end He will see I have been good enough.” Or, “Yes, I understand that Christianity teaches that there is One God and He Alone is to be worshipped, but if Christianity is true, surely God will understand that I have been faithful, and that’s really the point, isn’t it, even if I worship a false god?”
The more we mature in faith and obedience – in knowing God through His Word and rightly responding to it – the better we understand the holiness of God and how great our sin is – the more we long for Him – to know Him and be with Him and to have all things made right eternally – and we rejoice in thanksgiving, because God has made us right with Him through Jesus.
Fourth, the magi found Jesus.
“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.”
After the magi left the king, they saw the star, and the star led them to the very house where Jesus and Joseph and Mary were. And when the magi saw the star and that it was leading them to a specific house – they rejoiced and were filled with joy.
They were being shown the truth of the matter – by whatever means God used, they followed the star to the very house where Jesus was. God brought them to Jesus. And they understood enough about Who Jesus is – His Kingship – His Royal Sovereignty over His Kingdom – that they praised God that they would be in His Presence – and they were joy-filled, because they understood something of the importance of this newborn King for the whole of Creation.
We have not yet met Him in the flesh, but we have met Him in His Word and in the Sacraments – what a privilege we have to read and hear the Word of God – to know that the Almighty King of the Universe chose to become a little Baby and grow up among humans as a human to be the Way to save all we who believe – to make us all right with the Father – that we would be received into His eternal kingdom.
Does that fill us with joy and cause us to rejoice as we consider the truth of it? Or do we say, “Eh, whatever”?
The magi walked into the house and saw Jesus and fell down before Him and worshipped Him. May we be overwhelmed with Him as we are in His Presence that we would find it necessary to respond in worship.
And may we find it only right to bring our best to lay before Him.
The magi’s coming to worship Jesus may be a foreshadowing of the opening of the Gospel to the Gentiles – the non-Jews, and they brought gifts worthy of who they understood Jesus to be – to present before Him in thanks for the honor and joy of being able to be in His Presence.
The presents they brought to Jesus were very valuable: They brought Him gold. Gold is gold. They brought Him frankincense – an expensive type of incense – the type that was used in the worship of God. They brought Him myrrh – and expensive anointing oil – one that was used for anointing bodies for burial.
It’s unlikely they understood the potential symbolism of the gifts – what they were doing was giving costly gifts to a King Who they understood was far more than any other king.
Their gifts may be included in the fulfillment of a prophecy of Isaiah, “A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord” (Isaiah 60:6, ESV). A prophecy of precious gifts coming from Gentile lands in thanks for the Gospel and in joy of the spread of the Gospel.
We have come this morning – I hope – to worship the King of the Jews – Jesus, Whom we have come to know and believe in savingly. We have come to worship the King of Israel, the King of the Church, the Savior of all who will believe – together as His Church – to hear what He has said – to know Him better – to rejoice in Him and have joy in Him and to follow after Him.
I pray that each of us would all the more strongly desire to know our King and Savior. I pray that the Holy Spirit would draw us to the Word of God – that no obstacle would be too great for us to overcome to spend time in the Word of God. For, when we do, we will find ourselves in the Presence of the One Who loves us with a perfect love and desires to conform us into the Image of His Son – the King of the Jews – and give us joy upon joy as we increase in faith and obedience.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, the wise men only had the sign of the star, and yet You drew them to Yourself and the reception of Your Son, as they worshipped Him. You have blessed us in giving us copies of Your Word, and we have been led astray with many reasons to neglect it; we have forgotten the joy the we receive – joy upon joy, as You teach us through Your word. Lord, draw us anew. Fill us with the Holy Spirit. Enliven us and fill us with fire, driving us deep into Your Word that we would have joy and glorify You and bring You all that is the best of us and all You have given us. May You be pleased to grow us that Your Name would be praised. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.