Matthew, chapter two. The day is the Sunday of epiphany. Epiphany is simply the Greek word which means to show or to appear. Epiphany is a celebration of the light of Christ coming into the world. And it marks the end of the Christmas season as we look to the reading of God’s word.
If you please join me in prayer.
Blessed are you, O God, the Father of all mercy. You have elected us, you have called us, you’ve justified us. You’ve sanctified and glorified us all through your son who is the living word. And may it please you today to take from the blessings of your word, which hang like thick clusters of grapes and feed us by the spirit of truth working in us. And this we would pray and ask, do Christ our Lord.
Amen. Beginning in verse one. 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 we have come to worship him. When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled in all Jerusalem with them.
And assembling all the chief priests and the 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 by no means least among the rulers of Judah. For from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel. 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 and dreamed not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way the word of the Lord. Please be seated.
We know all about the three wise men because every major scene we’ve ever seen includes them. And a rather dubious Armenian. History even gives us their supposed names gaspar, Melquar and Balthazar. All Matthew tells us that they were wise men and that there were gifts, including gold, frankincense and myrrh. But let’s consider their question for a minute.
Where is he who is born king of the Jews? We saw his star and have come to worship him. Why would a new king prompt them to travel? There were lots of kings back then. Why this one now?
We can think of it this way. The Netherlands today still has a monarchy. If you were told that the next future king was about to be born, would you buy a plane ticket and take a visit? Can you imagine if 40 of us showed up at the palace in Amsterdam saying, where is he who is born King of the Dutch? We’ve seen his rising star and instagram and have come to pay homage with costly gifts and strength.
Waffle none of us would do it. So why would these men go all the way for the King of the Jews? And there’s not really a kingdom for the Jews? And the short answer is, is that they were called by God. And we see from Isaiah 60, nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising.
The light of Christ is common to the world, and the world responds to the light. There are those who cherish his light and there are those that are hostile or indifferent to it. We who cherish the light of Christ, we are called to point others to him. And because Jesus has appeared as the hope of the nations, we are called to be witnesses to the world. Matthew’s Gospel begins with Gentiles coming to worship the Christ, and it ends with Christ’s command to take the Gospel into the Gentile world.
It starts with a come and see and it ends with a go and tell. The Lord had always intended for his people to be the light of the world, but Israel did not do a really good job of that, of going to tell the foreigners. Now, some foreigners came to Israel, to the Temple, but not very many. Now all of that has changed and Matthew is setting us up for this change. He begins with the Magi coming because of the Messiah.
Their coming tells us something about who the child is and what his mission will be. We see this in verse one, that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the days of Herod, and these wise men from the east came to Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph are still in Bethlehem. Jesus is newborn or up to two years old, we don’t really know. Somewhere in there.
And King Herod is the very capable but ruthless ruler of Judea. The Magi or, or the wise men come and we don’t exactly know how many of them there were. No doubt it was a very large entourage. They would have been from the upper tier of society. And if you were traveling in the ancient world, particularly with costly gifts, you would have come with a lot of protection.
So there’s a large group of them together. The Magi, which is a Persian word, are of the priest class who often were advisors to kings. They would have been astrologers diviners. And it says they came from the east that point us towards Babylon or Arabia. And they ask, where is he who’s been born king of the Jews?
We saw his star. We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. Verse two fills us with all kinds of questions, most of which we can’t really answer, like the part we all want to know. What’s a bit about the star. Lots of conjecture, but no way to fully understand there in some way, God drew them through this event.
We do know in the Book of Numbers, chapter 24, another pagan diviner, he said this of Israel. He said, a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel. So there is a fulfillment of that. These star gazers, they see some sign or other that motivates them to come. How did they go from the star event to the king of the Jews?
In some way, God impressed upon them this interpretation. Why did it matter to them personally? We don’t know. The Lord called them so they show up. And Herod, the king, verse three, heard about this, says he was troubled, and so was the rest of Jerusalem with him.
Herod is a paranoid man. At one point, he had his wife and three of his sons put to death because of fear of being usurped. And so, as the ruling crazy king, high profiled dignitaries show up at his doorstep, talking about another king. Troubled is putting it mildly. And assessing the chief priests and the scribes, he inquired where the Christ was to be born.
Matthew gives us a summary of all of this. How they made this jump from this king to the Messiah, we don’t really know. But we understand that he’s not just talking about a king. He’s the king. The one.
The messiah. And it’s clear that this is not just another PR trip for some court officials. And the priest told him in Bethlehem of Judea four is written by the prophet Micah. And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, by no means least of the rulers of Judah, from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel. So Herod asks the where question, and they answer it.
But the who question is largely left untouched, just sort of the Christ. Micah goes on to tell us more about this one. Micah, in chapter five, he says, he will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God, and they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. This is the final king that Micah prophesied about the king of kings, the Lord of Lords, the word made flesh, the Son of God incarnate. And the Lord moves heaven and earth to bring all of these events together.
He brings about some astrological event to kickstart that some court astrologers would make this long trip to pay homage at his birth. Who is this child? It is as Peter later confesses. You are the Messiah, the son of the living God. What an absolutely audacious claim.
It is specific. It is particular. The nations come to Jesus. Why? Because he’s the Messiah, not just another royal somebody.
There’s lots of royal somebody’s. Far as I know, nobody here made the trip to England when William and Kate had Prince George. Probably didn’t enter anyone’s mind that they should do that. But the Lord of Glory calls men and women to Himself, and you make the trip. The Lord of Glory.
He says to Hindus, to Muslims, to atheists, to Buddhists, to all, you must come to my son.
And for those who are offended at this claim, this exclusive religious position, then you don’t know who Jesus is. If he is who he says he is, then this makes perfect sense. Jesus makes radical and exclusive claims about Himself. He is God in human form. He is the second person of the Trinity.
He is our prophet. Our priest. Our king. The messiah. The coming one.
The savior. If he is not this, then we should just go home. There is football games that we could watch because we are wasting our time here. If Jesus is not who he says he is, but he is the Messiah, he is the saints, he is the light of the world. And we have chosen well to be with his people this day, to worship Him.
As we saw earlier from Isaiah 60, verse one arise, shine, for your light has come. The glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, thick darkness to peoples. But the Lord will arise upon you. His glory will be seen upon you, and nation shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.
A speaking of Jesus here. The mission of the Messiah is to bring God’s elect from the four corners of the world to the Father. And as a token or a pledge of this mission, the Father brings these pagan idolaters to the birth of His Son. Don’t sanitize their identity. We all have a nice three little figurines in our major scenes, but these men are diviners.
They’re star readers, the court sorcerers. The prophets in the Old Testament condemned these types of men repeatedly. Malachi three. So I will come and put you on trial, and I will be quick to testify against sorcerers. Isaiah 47 let your astrologers come forward.
Those stargazers who make predictions month by month, let them save you from what’s about to come upon you. Surely they are like stubble. The fire will burn them up. Deuteronomy 18 for these nations which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune tellers, to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this.
And these are the ones the Father has chosen to be there at the coming of His Son. They came to worship. They are the first fruits of his ministry. How did God communicate to these stargazers? By a star, he spoke their language.
How did God communicate to people the Incarnation? He became one of us. He spoke our language. The coming of the Magi means that Jesus is really the hope of the nations. Remember, Jesus genealogy includes prostitutes and foreigners.
And here we include a grand visitation by pagans. Pagan. Diviners. His birth is reproachful and out of wedlock. Mother.
All of this clearly tells us that God is in the business of saving sinners. This is good News, verse ten. It says, when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceeded him with great joy, and they went to the house. They fell down before this child and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures, and they gave Him the gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.
This is why Jesus came. There are people in darkness who need to see the light. They need to see Jesus. The light of the world, the light of life, the light of the stars brought these men who were in darkness to the light of God’s son. Those who worship the stars were taught by a star to adore the Son of righteousness.
And all of this is a radical change for Israel. They so hated and despised the Gentiles that God is having to send this message to them with an exclamation point. Now, since most of us here are pretty much all Gentiles, it’s easy for us to forget how remarkable this was for the Jewish people. In Acts, chapter eleven, god sent a vision to Peter. The sheet comes down in these unclean foods that he’s telling him to eat, and the vision comes three times because Peter’s not getting it.
And then right after this, Peter is sent to who? To a gentile. Not just any gentile. A centurion. Cornelius and while Peter is reluctantly talking to him, cornelius and his whole household come to saving faith in Christ, and they’re baptized.
And the Christian Jews who accompany Peter. They said this? When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, So then, even to the Gentiles, God has granted repentance that leads to life. Well, yeah, that was sort of the whole plan from the beginning, but they didn’t connect the dots. That was a huge deal to them.
The mission of Jesus is the hope of the world. There are people walking in darkness, and that the headwaters of his coming are those who are really in darkness. Diviners astrologers come to worship people who have been worshiping vain and empty idols. Jesus has come to set them free. He’s come to bring worshipers to the Father.
And Jesus coming brings a response. Herod responded. He summoned the wise men together and figured out kind of when all this was taking place and said, search diligently for the child. And when he’s found, let me know so I too can come and worship him. He’s lying.
The whole time he opposed his child even to the point of killing all the male children toddlers in Bethlehem. An atrocity, to be sure, but it’s actually a smaller one compared to the multitude of others that he had already committed. He had half of the sanhedrin put to death at one point. Another 300 court officials killed at another.
The odd thing is that if what he sees and what he hears is true, what can he do?
It’s foolish to fight God. But you know who fights God? Foolish people. They do. All the time.
It’s foolish to fight God, but we do. Herod is like those who are openly hostile to the message of the gospel to God. Others show this hostility. Some of you may remember Richard Dawkins. The the god Delusion was published a few years back.
This is an excerpt from it. Richard Dawkins, the great atheist in the god Delusion, he said this the God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction. Jealous and proud of it. Petty, unjust, unforgiving, control freak of indictive bloodthirsty, ethnic cleanser, misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infantile, genocidal, piliciidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, saddamachistic, capriciously, malevolent bullying. That’s a lot.
A lot of adverbs running through there telling us what Richard Dawson thinks of God. He’s hostile to faith, wants nothing to do with it. Now, not everyone’s that degree the people of Jerusalem responded, said verse three. When Herod heard this, he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him. They’re troubled with herod.
More likely, they’re troubled because Herod is troubled. Their peace has been disturbed, but it seems not much else. They don’t really do much. The priests respond. They give all their religious answers.
They have all the right information. But apparently that five mile trip to Jerusalem from Jerusalem to Bethlehem is just too much. They don’t go with them. They’re indifferent to this message.
These Tigan men are not hostile nor indifferent. They become worshippers. Says verse nine. After they listened to Harrod, they went their way. They they saw the star and they went to where the child was.
Now again, how that exactly took place we don’t know. But when they saw the star, says they were exceedingly glad with great joy. That’s a mouthful of superlatives. They were very excited and they came and they fell down and they worshiped a child.
How odd is that? But you go and you fall down and you worship a baby and then give costly gifts to this child. They brought sacrificial gifts to their king. The gifts were a demonstration of their joy.
The question then comes back to us is how do you feel about the coming of Jesus? Is there joy at his coming? How do you know? What are you willing to give for him? Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching.
You cannot commend what you do not cherish. Do you cherish Jesus this day? Do you delight in his kingship? And if so, know then that he is going to have demanded you everything.
It will cost you everything to come to Jesus. He will have a claim on your life. And he then says, I will direct your life where I choose. And in the circumstances that I ordinate that is a scary thing, is it not? It’s why many people who are not hostile ride that in different line, because this king will cost you everything.
But, oh, there’s such joy, exceeding joy. And know then that this God comes to people to speak their language. And that means that each of us then are a part of this commission to go and to speak this language to others. There are men, women and children who God has called to Himself that we have the privilege of being that conduit. For we don’t have to think of the right words to have it all figured out.
We’re just simply there to participate in this work of salvation that God has ordained from before the foundation of the world. All these events orchestrated to bring his people to saving faith in Jesus. And we’re a part of that. And that means that who you are specifically you are a particular language for a particular someone.
You speaking into their life is exactly what God has ordained for that person. They don’t need Billy Graham. He’s gone. They don’t need some great evangelist, some great apologist. They need you because God has made you with your particular voice to speak to some particular people about the message of Jesus.
And he’s going to bring that to fruition because it’s the work of his spirit. That’s good news.
We go and tell at the very end of Matthew, the great commission is go and tell, even as we are gathered here to come and see, we come and see and we go and tell that’s the joy of the Lord set before us the delight that we have in being included in the saving work of Jesus. That those who were blind now see, those who were in darkness have light. That’s us, brothers and sisters, go, go and tell. Do not be afraid of your words, of your condition, of your language, because it is exactly what God has ordained. If he can bring a star to some star gazers, he can bring you to somebody in desperate need of Jesus.
Pray with me. Father, we do thank you and praise you that you have called us by name. And Father, that you have not only called us, that you have included us in the great work of salvation. We thank you for that. And then, Lord, we pray that you would help us to have the courage and the boldness to speak, to proclaim, to tell others of the marvelous works of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Father, help us to point people to Jesus. Help us, Father, in our worship. We pray that we would continue to fill us with joy, exceeding joy, into light that we are known by you, that you know our name, that you, Father, have loved us completely in Your Son Jesus. And it is in his name that we offer this prayer to you.
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