December 30, 2018 | Bob Moore
Passage: Matthew 2:1-12
When Taylor asked me a while back to preach this morning and I could select my text, I immediately thought of Matthew 2 since this is the Sunday after Christmas. I don’t know about you, but I have certain memories relating to different Bible stories in Scripture. Our text this morning is one of those Bible stories that reminds me of a class discussion that I had in my sophomore year in high school. You may not know this about me, but I enjoyed drawing growing up and I took art classes in jr high and high school.
We have a talented artist in our church family. David Wargo was an art teacher in Zachary and Walker north of Baton Rouge for over thirty years. His small group enjoys his art each week because he sketches a Bible scene relating to our Bible story on the class prayer sheet.
Our text reminds me of when I returned to school after the Thanksgiving holiday. I was sitting in art class and the art teacher announced that we would be sketching or painting Christmas scenes until the Christmas break. You can imagine the suggestions from the students in the class—mistletoe hanging in a doorway, a Christmas wreath, a Christmas tree with presents. Then someone suggested the manger scene with baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and their donkey. They added the shepherds and sheep. Then someone added the three wise men.
Some of you know that my father is a retired pastor. He graduated from NOBTS in 1964. Being the son of a pastor, I faithfully attended Sunday school every Sunday and had some good Bible teachers. I knew there were no wise men at the manger. I could not help myself and up went my hand. The teacher recognized me and I stated that there were no wise men at the manger with baby Jesus. The wise men found baby Jesus in a house many months after His birth. You can imagine the response from some of my classmates—it was not nice. I remember smiling and asked for a Bible. In those days, Bibles were still in public schools. I still don’t know if my classmates were irritated or impressed with my Bible knowledge when I read the class this text. And yes, some of my classmates still painted the wise men in their manger scene assignments.
Matthew recorded this event that happened sometime after the birth of our Savior.
The message has three simple points—Faithfully Searching, Sincerely Asking, and Simply Obeying. I am not confident in New Year’s resolutions because statistics reveal that they do not last. I believe if you have a new goal, begin it now. If the Holy Spirit convicts you of a sin in your life, you should ask for forgiveness and repent and not wait. However, it is my prayer that this simple message will encourage and remind us to make good decisions and to honor our Lord even if they are made this Tuesday on New Year’s Day.
Matthew wrote this gospel to the Jews to prove that Jesus is the Messiah and the eternal King. That is why he began his gospel with a genealogy to connect Jesus to both Abraham and King David, just as predicted in the Old Testament.
Matthew did not include any details of Jesus’ birth. In fact, Matthew did not even identify the angel that communicated to Joseph not to divorce Mary privately.
As you know, it was Luke, the historian and physician that recorded the details of Gabriel visiting Zechariah and Mary and Jesus’ birth that we read during the Christmas season.
Matthew did not include these details because his message is about the new king. Matthew identifies Jesus as the Messiah in chapter one and King in chapter two.
Our text begins with the wise men faithfully searching for Jesus. "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem,"
Who were these wise men? Where did they come from? How many were there—three? Were they really kings as the title of a Christmas song we know “We Three Kings?” I would like to know if they really rode camels? The research that I read stated that the wise men or magi probably rode horses and traveled in large groups. There is so much about these men we do not know, but tradition numbers them, clothed them and even identifies their transportation.
Commentaries agree that in the east, people had a prophecy given by Balaam recorded in Numbers 24:17: "I see him, but not now; I perceive him, but not near. A star will come from Jacob, and a scepter will arise from Israel."
But who were these guys? Dr. John MacArthur did a lot of research on the wise men or magi. The Old Testament books Jeremiah and Daniel recorded magi in Babylon and in the Medo-Persian Empire. They were an Eastern priestly group. In fact, Daniel, a Hebrew became the chief of the magi recorded in Daniel 5:11. This great prophet of God told the other magi about the coming king. The priestly group of magi was ready and looking for the king. They waited for years for this great individual to be born. They passed down this information and were waiting. Then they recognized the time when Jesus was born.
I believe the world is searching today. People are looking for the next great mobile device, health aid, relationship, or job or career opportunity. The next great fix that will make their life better. What is the loudest voice you hear? What has your attention right now? I want to remind you that everything in this life is temporary—James recorded our life is like a morning vapor.
One of my favorite meals of the week is Saturday morning breakfast at home. Janice makes a delicious breakfast. Our routine begins with me making coffee. Once the coffee is ready, I take a cup to Janice in bed while she reads. Sometimes we’ll enjoy coffee together in bed or I have my coffee on the patio (weather permitting) while reading the Bible or other study materials. At some point in the morning, Janice will begin breakfast—no hurry, no specific schedule, no demands—just enjoying a quiet morning together. And what makes these Saturday morning meals extra special is watching the SEC Network with Paul Finebaum, Marcus Spears, Laura Rutledge, and Tim Tebow. Fall Saturday yard work and motorcycle rides were scheduled around SEC football games.
The older I become, the quicker time passes. Football seasons come and go quickly. I find myself evaluating my priorities and my searches need to be more spiritually focused. Jesus must be our main priority, our main focus, and our greatest treasure. As the writer of Hebrews recorded, we should look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 2:2).
Another detail about the wise men search was that it probably began after Daniel’s leadership and witness when he was in Persia. His promises for a coming Messiah were remembered through the generations of this group. We should always remember how we influence others—both good and bad.
If you want to make 2019 a better year, admit you are searching. If you have never given your life to Christ, there will be a time at the end of this service to talk to a minister about that decision. My prayer is that everyone here this morning knows for certain that they will go to heaven when they die. I have been a believer for over 50 years and I still am searching. Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not searching for an unknown truth—I know the truth and his name is Jesus. My search is to know Him more. Paul communicates this in Philippians 2:7-11 "But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them as dung, so that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith. My goal is to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death,"
We need to be like the wise men and leave what is familiar and seek Jesus that we may know Him more each day. We need to admit we need more of the Holy Spirit to take control of our lives. As the psalmist recorded, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so I long for you God. I thirst for God, the living God.”
Not only were the wise men faithfully searching for Jesus, they sincerely asked questions about Him. “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star at its rising and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this, he was deeply disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. So he assembled all the chief priests and scribes of the people and asked them where the Christ would be born. 'In Bethlehem of Judea,' they told him, “because this is what was written by the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah:Because out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” Then Herod secretly summoned the wise men and asked them the exact time the star appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you find him, report back to me so that I too can go and worship him.” After hearing the king, they went on their way."
Notice that the wise men said, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” They did not say, “Where is He who has been born to become King of the Jews?” Jesus’ kingly status was not conferred on him later in life; Jesus was born the king.
The wise men saw His star at its rising and faithfully searched for Him to worship Him. Much has been written about the star. Some believe it was a conjunction of the plants Jupiter and Saturn, others believe the star was a supernova—a faint star that violently exploded and gave off enormous amounts of light for a few weeks or months. A popular theory is that the star was Halley’s Comet. No one truly knows, but God the Father used a source of bright light to lead the wise men to Jesus and on their way, they stopped in Jerusalem where a Jewish population was and asked questions.
And in verse 3, we see the beginning of the contrast between King Herod and the wise men. First, the wise men traveled a long distance searching for the King. King Herod lived in Jerusalem surrounded by the religious leaders who knew the Scriptures, but he knew nothing about the promised King.
This contrast really concerns me. I am surrounded by so many wonderful Christians and I do not want to miss what God is doing. I know you feel the same way—you want to be involved in God’s work and be in the center of His will. King Herod totally missed it.
What efforts do you make to see the King? To know Him more? Do you have a daily quiet time? Do you spend personal time in the Scriptures? The wise men made a great effort to see Jesus. Herod was close and totally unaware of the King’s birth. God help us when we are unware of what God is doing around us and we cannot recognize what He is doing.
Second, the wise men sincerely asked, “where is He?” because they wanted to worship the new born King. Herod selfishly asked, “where is He?” because he wanted to kill Him. The wise men saw Jesus as a righteous king and Herod saw Jesus as a threat.
Herod was a bad individual. He was a half-Jew, a descendant of Esauwho bought his position in Jerusalem from Rome. He was known as a great builder of public works and shrewd diplomat in his dealings with both the Romans and the Jews, but he put heavy taxes on and drafted labor from the Israelites. As he grew older, he became increasingly paranoid about threats against him and his throne. He had numerous sons, wives and others close to him killed because he feared plots to overthrow him.
The wise men sincerely asked questions motivated by love and truth and Herod selfishly asked questions motivated by selfishness and hate. The wise men’s priority was to worship Jesus and Herod’s priority was to eliminate a threat.
Third, the wise men sincerely asked questions seeking truth. Herod asked his question to manipulate. After the chief priests and scribes of the people answered Herod’s questions where the baby King was, we see his instructions to the wise men in verse 7. "Then Herod secretly summoned the wise men and asked them the exact time the star appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you find him, report back to me so that I too can go and worship him.” After hearing the king, they went on their way."
He asked his questions in secret because he was evil. Herod asked the exact time the star appeared to determine the age of the child. Why? Because his plan was to kill Jesus. He asked the wise men to report back to him so he too could go and worship him. But that was a lie.
When we sincerely seek Jesus, our questions are always pure.
Sometimes our natural question is, “What is God’s will for my life.” However, I am reminded of the first three realities of the Experiencing Godstudy: 1) God is at work around you; 2) God pursues a love relationship with you; and 3) God’s invitation to join Him in His work.
Are you asking sincere questions about how God is working around you? Are you truly committed to God and His work? The first step is to follow a consistent personal Bible study. I enjoy Oswald Chambers MyUtmost For His Highest as I read through the Bible.
I don’t know about you, but my personal devotional life suffers if I’m not careful. We are all busy. So many activities and temptations compete for our time and rob us of our spiritual growth. We must continue to faithfully search and ask spiritual questions to know Christ more, to grow spiritually to be more like Him.
We see the wise men faithfully searching for Jesus, sincerely asking questions about Jesus, then we see the wise men simply obeying God the Father. "After hearing the king, they went on their way. And there it was—the star they had seen at its rising. It led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overwhelmed with joy. Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped him.Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their own country by another route."
When the wise men left Jerusalem, they saw the star again which led them to Bethlehem. They found Him, fell on their knees and worshiped him. Then they presented their gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then they departed a different way. We see the wise men simply obeying God not to go back through Jerusalem. They did not ask questions, they did not negotiate or think about it—they simply obeyed. This was the wise men’s obedience. They made the decision to go home a different way. We’ve all heard the saying, “Everyone who meets Jesus leaves a different way.” When we have a true encounter with God, we are never the same. He teaches us obedience.
Look at verse 12, “And being warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their own country by another route.”
I like the way the New King James translated the beginning of this verse, “Then being divinely warned.”Have you been divinely warned? An angel warning the wise men in a dream is very clear.
I like clear directions from God.
I think we all agree when we need to hear from God, a message from an angel would be nice, a flashing billboard on the side of the road would be helpful, or a clear shout so we know perfectly what to do. But sometimes understanding God’s directions or instructions is not always easy.
There was an Old Testament prophet named Elijah. He had a major confrontation with 450 prophets of Baal, a false god, on Mt. Carmel. The confrontation cost the prophets of Baal their lives. This was an exciting event where God used Elijah to prove that He is the only true living God. You can read about that in 1 Kings 18.
After that event, Elijah became scared of King Ahab’s wife Jezebel and fled into the wilderness. There maybe someone here this morning that is in a wilderness. You may have had a great holiday season with family and friends, but something has happened. You are in a wilderness because Christmas is over, there are issues with family, you are facing a situation at work and you need some direction from God.
This is where Elijah was in the wilderness. If fact, he asked the Lord to take him and then went to sleep under a broom tree. After some travel, an angel appeared to him and told him to stand outside the cave where he stopped. In 1 Kings 19 "Then he said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain in the Lord’s presence.' At that moment, the Lord passed by. A great and mighty wind was tearing at the mountains and was shattering cliffs before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
Sometimes we think God is in the busyness of our lives like a mighty wind, earthquakes and fire. My reminder for us this morning is to slow down and listen to God. I believe the best days for this church family are ahead of us, but we still have to seek, ask, and obey Him in our personal lives and as a church family. What is God saying to you this morning? Has He been shouting to you and you have been hesitant to obey Him? Or He may be speaking to you through His soft whisper and you need to be still and listen.
We should faithfully search for God in order to know Him more, sincerely ask Him how he can use us, and then simply obey.
Elisabeth Elliot said, “The will of God is not something you add to your life. It is a course you choose.”