Stephen Caswell © 2003
The Way It Should Be
Pastor James Kennedy recalled talking to a man in his home about Christ. He asked him who he thought Jesus was. He said, Oh, He’s a wonderful man. He was the greatest man who ever lived, the most loving and gracious person who ever walked upon this earth. He said; Let me tell you something I believe will startle you. According to the Scriptures, and the historic Christian faith, Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter of Galilee was and is the eternal Creator of the universe, the omnipotent, omniscient, and Almighty God. Instantly, his eyes filled with tears and this man of about 55 or 60 said, I have been in church all of my life and I never heard that before. But I have always thought that is the way it ought to be — that God ought to be like Jesus.
People celebrate Christmas for all sorts of reasons. Some love Christmas because it’s a time of eating and drinking. Some people love the family get togethers. Others love to give or receive presents. Most who celebrate Christ’s birthday and forget the real meaning of Christmas! Emmanuel, God Is With Us. The King has come to save us. When Jesus came there were many responses to His birth. Today we will look at three responses recorded in Matthew's Gospel. The Magi's Investigation, Herod's Indignation, and the Priest's Indifference.
Firstly The Magi's Investigation
a. They Searched
Matthew 2:1-2 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 have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.
The magi or wise men journeyed from the East. The wise men were very diligent. They devoted considerable time to find the Christ Child. They may have come from Babylon or Persia. After the captivity many Jews remained in these places. The magi may have had access to the Old Testament prophets from the Jews dispersed in their land. The wise men were probably astronomers. Perhaps they knew of Balaam’s prediction that a Star would come out of Jacob and connected this with the prophecy of seventy weeks which foretold the time of Christ’s first coming. But it seems more likely that the knowledge was communicated supernaturally to them.
Regardless of how they came to know of Christ's birth they believed in Him and searched diligently for Him. They were convinced that this Child was the Messiah and came to worship Him. This is clear from their conversation with King Herod. They stated their belief clearly and their intention to worship the One born King of the Jews. Herod understood it this way for he summoned the religious leaders to find out the Messiah’s birthplace. They must have journeyed for some considerable time to Israel. When they find Jesus He is no longer an infant but a young child. The star that led them to Bethlehem was certainly a divine provision. Its leading seems to be miraculous to say the least. They came to Jerusalem because it was the capital. They may have expected to find the Christ Child in the royal palace. After all He was born King of the Jews. They probably thought that others would be able to guide them further.
Diligent Search Is Rewarded
Patience on the part of young Clyde Tombaugh is what led him finally to discover the planet Pluto. Astronomers had already calculated a probable orbit for this “suspected” heavenly body, which they had never seen. Tombaugh took up the search in March 1929. He examined scores of telescopic photographs, each showing tens of thousands of star images in pairs under the blink comparator, or dual microscope. It often took three days to scan a single pair of photographs. It was exhausting, eye-cracking work, in Tombaugh’s own words, “brutal, tediousness.” The search went on for months. Star by star, Tombaugh examined twenty million images. Finally, on February 18, 1930, as he was blinking a pair of photographs in the constellation Gemini, I suddenly came upon the image of Pluto! It was the most dramatic astronomic discovery in nearly one hundred years and it was made possible by patience. The wise men were rewarded for their perseverance and faith.
b. They Saw
Matthew 2:9-11a When they heard the king, they departed; and behold; the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother,
After King Herod had ascertained Christ's birth place he sent the wise men on their journey. After leaving Jerusalem the star appeared again and lead them to Bethlehem. The Lord rewarded the diligence of the wise men. They had earnestly searched and God guided them. The Lord used the Scriptures, the star and even the scribes and priests in all of this. The star stopped over the house where Jesus was. This seems to be further proof that the star was of a miraculous nature.
The wise men saw the Child and his mother. Jesus is mentioned first, then Mary His mother; Joseph isn’t even mentioned. That’s unusual for that time. Usually the father and mother would be mentioned first. Yet, it’s how it should be, Jesus must have first place. The wise men went in and saw the Christ Child. You might not think that this is very significant. But it is! Many people saw Jesus on earth, but few recognized Him as the King of Israel, the long awaited Messiah. Most people saw a baby or later on just a man.
Others saw and recognized Jesus the One born King. Josephus seems to record the death and resurrection of Jesus as a fact. In Vol. II, Book XVIII, Chap. III, page 3 of his Jewish Antiquities, he wrote: Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call Him a man: for He was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to Him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned Him to the cross, those that loved Him at the first did not forsake Him; for He appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning Him. And the tribe of Christians so named from Him, are not extinct at this day.
Tragically, through out history millions have failed to recognize the Christ Child born to be King of the Jews. He is the King of Kings and wants to be King of our hearts! Praise God that these wise men saw beyond Jesus' humanity. They recognized His deity. They knew that Jesus was the Savior of the world. Why do I say this? Because of their actions.
c. They Submitted
Matthew 2:11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The wise men submitted to the King of the Jews. They acknowledged His rule over them. They fell down and worshipped the young child. The word worship means to kiss the hand in token of reverence. Among the Orientals, like the Persians, it refers to falling upon the knees and touching the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence. The wise men were paying homage to God. They recognized that Jesus Christ was no ordinary Child. They worshipped Him as God. They understood He had come to save them. Then they presented precious gifts to Him. Old Testament prophecies speak of foreign Kings bringing their treasures to the Messiah. These gifts were expensive and well chosen. They were fitting for the Son of God. These gifts speak of His divine position and His earthly ministry.
The treasures they brought spoke volumes. Gold is a symbol of deity and glory; it speaks of the shining perfection of His divine Person. Frankincense is an ointment or perfume; it suggests the fragrance of the life of sinless perfection. Myrrh is a bitter herb; it presages the sufferings He would endure in bearing the sins of the world.
Gifts Of The Magi
There is a beautiful legend about the three Wise Men who followed the star to Bethlehem. It seems that one of them was a young man, and in his youthful idealism he looked for a King. He carried gold, a fitting gift for royalty. Another was middle-aged, and to satisfy the deep questions that disturbed his maturing mind, he longed to find God. His gift was frankincense with which to worship God whom he hoped to find. The third was aged, with many a sin-stained year behind him; he longed to discover a Savior. Feeling that his Savior must be a sufferer, he took with him a gift of healing myrrh. We do well to worship Him too. Let's come humbly and bow before the King in worship. Let's adore Him and present our gifts with love and gratitude. Let's thank God for His unspeakable gift.
Have you searched for the Savior? He is not far from any one of us! If you search with all your heart you can find Him. He is Jesus Christ the Son of God who came to conquer Satan and sin. He is the Son of Man who lived amongst us. He died for our sins and rose again to conquer death. Have you seen the Savior? Have you recognized the King of Kings? Have you placed your faith in Him like the wise men? Have you bowed and worshipped the Christ who died for you?
Secondly Herod's Indignation
a. He Was Disturbed By Christ
Matthew 2:3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
Herod's response was very different to that of the wise men. Herod was disturbed or troubled. Why was Herod so troubled by the wise men's report? He was troubled because Jesus threatened His rule. Herod was a puppet king set up by the Romans. He wasn't a Jew but an Idumaen. Herod the great was a fanatical king who even killed his favorite wife and two of his sons because he suspected them of treason. Herod knew some the prophecies concerning the birth of the Messiah. He was frightened that he might lose his kingdom. But why was all of Jerusalem troubled too? Shouldn't they be rejoicing? Because they might suffer from Herod's indignation as well. If Herod was troubled by this, they knew they would be affected.
b. He Was Deceitful About Christ
Matthew 2:4-8 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel. Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.
King Herod was a very able administrator. Although he was ruthless he was also very crafty. He deceived the wise men so that they would lead him to the Christ. He had no interest in the Savior. He had no intention of worshipping Him. King Herod inquired about the time of Christ's birth and birth place simply to look after his own interests. King Herod was totally motivated by power. He cared nothing about the significance of Christ's birth. Herod may have deceived the wise men for a time but he didn't deceive God. The Lord knew His heart. Herod like many today are deceitful about their relationship to Jesus Christ, but the Lord knows our hearts; He can't be fooled. God knew the difference between Herod and the wise men. And He knows our hearts!
c. He Wanted To Destroy Christ
Matthew 2:12-13 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way. Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.
King Herod wanted to destroy the Savior. He wouldn't tolerate a rival in his kingdom. Herod lived completely for the present and gave no thought to the future.
He didn't have room in his heart for the Savior, only wealth and power. Matthew 16:26 says: For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? King Herod exchanged his soul for wealth and power. He sought to destroy the Christ Child rather than submit to his rightful King. Christian tradition says that the wise men were kings; they humbly and joyfully worshipped Jesus, the King of Kings.
In the year 1829, a Philadelphia man named George Wilson robbed the U. S. mails, killing someone in the process. Wilson was arrested, brought to trial, found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged. Some friends intervened in his behalf and were finally able to obtain a pardon for him from President Andrew Jackson. But, when he was informed of this, George Wilson refused to accept the pardon!
The sheriff was unwilling to enact the sentence — for how could he hang a pardoned man? An appeal was sent to President Jackson. The perplexed President turned to the United States Supreme Court to decide the case. Chief Justice Marshall ruled that a pardon is a piece of paper, the value of which depends on its acceptance by the person implicated. It is hardly to be supposed that a person under the sentence of death would refuse to accept a pardon, but if it is refused, it is then not a pardon. George Wilson must be hanged. So George Wilson was executed, although his pardon lay on the sheriff’s desk. So, too, do some of us reject the gift of salvation by refusing the pardon offered by the Savior.
Herod missed his opportunity to be saved. Firstly, he was disturbed by Messiah's birth. He felt threatened by Jesus Christ the King of Kings. He would never give up his throne or worship Israel's rightful King. Secondly, he was deceitful about his intentions toward Christ. Thirdly, he sought to destroy the Savior. King Herod had no place in his heart for the Savior. Are you disturbed by the Christ Child and His claims upon your life? Are you truly seeking Him? Will you submit to the Christ Child and worship Him? Do you have room in your heart for the Savior? Or will you destroy His work in your life?
Thirdly The Priest's Indifference
Matthew 2:5-6: So they said to him, In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.
Wright Brothers’ Hometown
Orville and Wilbur Wright had tried repeatedly to fly a heavier-than-air craft. Finally one December day, off the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, they did what man had never done before. They actually flew! Elated, they wired their sister Katherine, We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.
Hastily she ran down the street, shoved the telegram—the news scoop of the century—at the city editor of the local paper. He read it carefully and smiled, Well, well! How nice the boys will be home for Christmas!
a. They Knew About The Messiah
The religious leaders knew the birth place of Jesus Christ from the Scriptures. When Herod asked them where the Messiah would be born they quoted from Micah 5:2. They were able to send the wise men to the right place. The chief priests and scribes expected the Messiah to come and now the wise men brought news of His birth. They had known the Scriptures for a long time. Now, the Messiah was here. Surely they would investigate this personally, wouldn't they?
b. They Didn't Seek The Messiah
They didn't seek the Messiah! The world had been waiting for thousands of years for the Savior to come. Now He is here and they religious leaders were indifferent to Him. They had heard it all so many times but they hadn't responded to the message. The wise men had traveled hundreds of miles at least to see the new born king, but these religious leaders wouldn't even travel five miles to Bethlehem. They wouldn't submit to the Christ Child either. They had no desire to worship their rightful King. They had no place in their hearts for the Savior. There is a warning here. It is not enough to know or even believe the facts about Jesus Christ. The religious leaders believed what the prophet Micah said about the Messiah’s birthplace. Yet they were lost. We must seek Christ with all our hearts to find Him. We must yield our lives to Jesus Christ the King. We must worship Him as our Lord and Saviour. This is what the wise men did. Their faith was real; alive.
Niagara—So Near Yet So Far
A gentleman relates how, in his boyhood days, he walked nearly seven hundred miles to see Niagara Falls. When he was about seven miles from the spot he thought he had heard what might be the thunder of the great cataract, and inquired of a man who was working on the roof if it were so. The man replied that it might be, but he could not say since he had never been there.
The religious leaders expected Christ to come. They even knew His birth place. But they were cold and indifferent. Even though they were able to point others to the Christ Child, they wouldn't go themselves to see Him or worship Him. Are you indifferent to the Christ Child? Have you heard this message so many times that it no longer even touches your heart? You know that Christ came to save you but like the religious leaders you won't receive Him?
Today we have seen the response of three groups of people to the Christ Child. They showed three responses, Investigation, Indignation, and Indifference.
The magi were seeking the King; Herod was opposing the King; and the Jewish priests were ignoring the King. How have you responded to Jesus Christ? Have you searched for Him, seen Him and worshipped Him? Perhaps you have responded like Herod who sought to destroy Him. Or have you responded like the religious leaders with indifference? I trust that we will all respond like the wise men who sought the Christ Child and worshipped Him!
Num 6:24-26 The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.