December 18, 2011
First Responders
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Matthew 2: 1-12

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In the Christmas series, "Breaking News," Pastor Philip De Courcy examines the profound news delivered on the first Christmas - the birth of the Savior, Christ the Lord. This event marked the dawn of a rescue mission of unparalleled magnitude as God became man to bring salvation to humanity.

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I invite you to take your Bible and turn to Matthew chapter 2. Matthew 2:1-12, and I want to preach a message this morning of entitled First Responders, First Responders. I want to look at three responses to the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ as recorded for us here in Matthew 2:1-12. If you follow me along in your Bible, I’m reading from the New King James translation of holy and inerrant scripture. Now, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king, behold wise men from the east came the 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.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him. 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.”
Then there follows a quote here from Micah 5:2, “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 shall shepherd my people is real.” They inherited when he had secretly called the wise man, 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 find him, bring back word to me that I may come and worship him also.” 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, and fell down and worshiped him, and when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to him, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way. So reads God’s holy word.
There’s a story that comes out of the world of English literature and it concerns Charles Lamb, the English essayist and some friends who had begun to surmise what they would do if the noble, the gifted, and the greats of the past were to enter into the room. After some discussion, after some further reflection, Charles Lamb said this, “If Shakespeare were to enter, we would rise to our feet in admiration, but if Jesus Christ were to enter, we would fall to our knees in adoration.”
Charles Lamb is dead right. There’s only one fitting response to the person and presence of Jesus Christ and that’s on our knees in adoration. The fact that he’s the king of kings makes that right. The fact that he’s the creator of all living things makes that right. The fact that he’s God makes that right. The fact that he’s the desire of the nations and the savior of the world makes that right. The fact that he’s the center of heavens who worship makes it right. Given the greatness, given the glory, given the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we don’t rise to shake his hand, we fall to kiss his feet.
You’ll find that response throughout the Gospels. You’ll find Martha and Mary falling at his feet in John 11. You’ll find Paul on his face in Acts 9. You’ll find John lying as a dead man in Revelation 1. You see, history is headed to the feet of Jesus Christ and that’s where life ought to be lived at his feet in adoring worship. Now, with that in mind, it’s interesting that we turn to Matthew 2 and to his account of that first Christmas, because here we find the wise man, the magi from the east, upon finding the child falling down and worshiping him.
Notice that in chapter 2:11, and when they had come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother and fell down and worshiped him. They understood that they stood in the presence of divine greatness and at the tipping point of history. Matthew in the text of Matthew 2 shows us that the wise men got it right while others got it wrong about the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, as we study this passage this morning, I want to bring to your attention to the fact that the focus of this passage is not on the Lord Jesus Christ, but on the responses of Herod, the population of Jerusalem, the chief priest and scribes, and the wise man to the advent of the Lord Jesus Christ. This passage says nothing about the Lord Jesus. There’s no description of him. There’s no depiction of him.
Why? Because the camera is squarely focused on the wise man in particular and the subsequent and consequent responses that their visit generates and their announced interest in the Lord Jesus Christ brings about. In fact, let me justify this in the text by circling just one word for you. Go to chapter 2 in verse 1 of Matthew’s gospel. Now, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king, behold wise man from the east came to Jerusalem. That’s a little bit of an understatement in our English text. This is a Greek participle. Every time Matthew uses it in his gospel, he uses it to announce something unexpected, something startling, something absolutely gripping, unsurprising. It conveys shock. It conveys surprise, if I might put it like this, the arrival of the magi from the east would be compared in our day to the arrival of a Martian. It was so startling that this caravan arrives in Jerusalem.
These philosophers and astrologers from the east probably having made an 800-mile journey, have come in with their whole entourage making a great noise and saying, “Look, we have been following a star in the east and it has announced to us the birth of the king of the Jews.” So the camera’s focused there. And then what we have in Matthew 2:1-12 is the responses to that, Herod’s response, the chief priests and scribes’ response, and then the response of the wise men themselves upon finding the Christ child. They created quite a stir in their quest to discover Israel’s messiah and they spawned certain reactions and responses. That’s why I’ve called the sermon First Responders because what we have got in Matthew 2:1-12 is the first responders at Christmas.
Now, one other thing I want to bring to your attention before we actually look at these three responses of Herod, the chief priests, the scribes and the wise men, I want you to notice that the hands on the clock have moved forward. We’re no longer at the stable. The scene before us is probably one to two years beyond the actual birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. I don’t know if you knew that or if you discerned that. The Bible records that the wise men were not at the stable, they come later. In fact, the Bible doesn’t even tell us there was three of them. There may have been three, and we assume that maybe in the fact that they give gifts, gold, incense and myrrh, but there’s nothing in the Bible that says that there may well have been more than three, but I want you to notice that we’re no longer at the stable. We’re probably a year or two on.
I’ll give you quickly a number of reasons for that. Number one, I want you to notice in verse 11 that it has said that they come into the house, not a stable with a manger, but an actual house, an actual fixed dwelling. It’s interesting that the Lord Jesus Christ is described in Matthew 2:11 as a child, there’s a certain Greek word used here that speaks of a toddler almost. Back in Luke 2:12 and 16, a word is used there, [inaudible 00:09:18] that carries the idea of infant, a newborn. The Lord Jesus is no longer a newborn. We’re probably a year to two years into the story. They’re no longer at the stable. They’re in a house.
And I’ll tell you another thing that would maybe imply that would be the fact that when Herod seeks to wipe out the children of Bethlehem, hopefully catching Jesus in the net, you’ll notice in Matthew 2:16 that he has all boys killed under the age of two. And so, I think if you put those things together, you’ll understand that the clock has moved forward. You got to watch out for those heretical Hallmark cards. Okay? Don’t get your theology from a Hallmark card. The shepherds came earlier. That wise men probably a year to two years later.
Now, all of that said, I want to come to the text now and you’ll notice that there are three responses and I want you to notice this. The first response is antagonism. We’ve got an outline for you at the back of your bulletin. The first response is antagonism. Here’s where we start. We started with Herod in the opening verses of this chapter. The Bible tells us 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. These entire goings on took place during the days of Herod the king. Now, there are five Herods mentioned in the Bible.
The one before us is Herod the Great. He’s the first of several important rulers from a Herodian dynasty. He’s from a famous line of kings. The interesting thing about Herod is that he wasn’t a natural-born Jew. He wasn’t a Jew. He was an Edomite tradition and study of history tells us his mother was an Arabian. He did marry a Jewish woman to make himself more accessible and acceptable to the Jews. He was a ruthless man. He was a cunning man. He loved opulence. He loved grand building projects and many of the most magnificent ruins that you’ll visit in modern day Israel today date back to his time under the product of his own hand. In fact, he’s most famous for the rebuilding an extension of the temple in Jerusalem, which he did duplicate the Jews.
This man was an administrative and architectural genius, but he had one fatal flaw. He was paranoid. He was power hungry. History tells us that he drowned his own brother-in-law. He killed his first wife, killed his mother-in-law. He even killed three of his own sons, which brought Augustus the Roman to say this, “Better to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son.” This is the man we’re dealing with. These things are taking place during the time of Herod the Great.
Now, I want you to see first of all, his consternation, his consternation. The Bible’s very clear in hearing of the birth of the king of the Jews, the text tells us that Herod is troubled. The word troubled here is a word that indicates strong emotion, agitation. Herod has a fit to be honest about it. He’s overcome by a mixture of anxiety and anger. Why? Well, quite simply given what we just said about him, he’s a usurper. He’s Edomite. He’s not a Jew. He’s not a descendant of the line of David. He had taken Jerusalem by force with the favor and the funding of Rome. He was not Israel’s rightful king.
So the news of one who had been born king of the Jews was troubling because he knows it wasn’t one of his sons. And so, here you have his consternation. You have a cocktail of renewed messianic cope and general displeasure towards him, and that spells trouble. He concluded and rightly so, that his throne was under threat. Now, why does the text also go on to say and all of Jerusalem with him? Well, I think quite simply the people didn’t know what was going to happen next. Remember, this guy is cunning, ruthless. He will do anything to protect his place and consolidate his power. And so, they knew that Herod was unpredictable and this would’ve set him on an edge so no one knows what’s coming.
You’d have to be troubled in that kind of context. Plus, they knew that Rome would not stand idly by and watch Messianic fever stir the pot in Israel. So these were politically intense days in Jerusalem, and the people felt it. Herod was troubled and all Jerusalem with him. I want you to see not only his consternation. Secondly, I want you to see his cunning. He’s a political hack. And so, after he finds out that the child is to be born in Bethlehem of Judea, six miles south of Jerusalem, not far away, we read in verse 7, Herod then secretly calls the wise man. This is a clandestine thing, a covert thing. He calls the wise men, determines from them what time the star appeared and he sent them the Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young child and when you find him, bring word back to me that I may worship him.” Aha, not likely.
And we know that to be the case and the fact that he tries to exterminate a generation of young boys in Bethlehem. Do you see his consternation? Do you see his cunning? This was a devious devilish play on Herod’s part to eradicate the opposition. I mean, this is a guy that kills his wife, kills his mother-in-law, that’s bad, yeah, kills his wife, kills his mother-in-law, and then he kills his three sons. This guy will do anything. He’s cunning. And you know what? Here’s what I find interesting. He gains their trust by thinning a religious fervor, which is really just selfish and politically directed. In Herod’s mind, religion was a tool to be manipulated for political advances and alliances. And so, he says, “Hey, I’ll worship him.” But there’s a political plot beneath that.
Please note that Herod was okay with religion. After all, he rebuilt the temple. But again, he did that to consolidate his power, to win the people over to his side. So Herod was okay with religion so long as it suited his purposes. And even with the wise men, he pretends he wishes to be a worshiper, but he has no intention of submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He’s okay with religion, but he has a major problem making Jesus Lord.
I find that interesting. I don’t want to get lost in this, but I do think it’s worth noting that politicians have followed suit since the days of Herod. They use religion for political ends to advance their own cause, to consolidate their power. Most politicians are okay with religion so long as it’s limited, so long as it stays in certain boundaries. In fact, they’re okay with Jesus so long as he’s human and not divine. They’re okay with Jesus so long as he’s a philosopher, but not a savior, not a king. They’re happy to carry a Bible to church as a religious prop and all a while ignoring it in public policy.
In fact, if you go back to the days of the founding of this country, as I look at Herod, I’m reminded of the practice of Thomas Jefferson who we sometimes quote with with great fondness, but Jefferson didn’t want the Jesus of Puritanism. He didn’t want the Jesus of Revelation. He wanted the Jesus of reason. He needed a new Jesus for a new republic, a manageable Jesus, a domesticated Jesus. So what did Thomas Jefferson do? He wrote his own Bible. Well, technically here’s what he did. He took a pair of scissors and cut out every miracle in the Gospels. And when you get to the end of the gospels, he cut out the story of Jesus’ resurrection. His Jesus wasn’t God incarnate, his Jesus wasn’t sinless, his Jesus didn’t die and rise again, all for the cause of redemption and payment for sin.
We’ve got to be careful. Most politicians are okay with religion, but they have trouble making Jesus Lord. Herod did. Do you see his consternation? Do you see his cunning? Do you see his cruelty? We’ve made mention of this. Herod has no intention of worshiping Jesus. Rather, he has every intention of murdering the child. We see that in the divine warning given to the wise men in verse 12, when they actually do get to Bethlehem, when they actually do enter the house, and they leave. In a dream, God says, “You don’t go back to Herod,” because God knew what was coming. Verse 16, then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men was exceedingly angry and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its districts from two years old and under according to the time which he had determined from the wise man. Herod’s being called the second Pharaoh, he was a paranoid, cruel man who was willing to spill blood to save his own bacon.
What’s the point? The point not to be missed is Herod’s antagonism, Herod’s antagonism. Herod responds with anger. Herod responds with agitation to the news of Jesus’ advent and arrival. How do we make sense of that? Quite simply, he was more interested in saving his throne than saving his soul. He was more interested in saving his throne than saving his soul. He wasn’t willing to lose himself to find Christ. He wasn’t willing for Christ to rule over him, because you see sin at its essence is a usurping of God’s rule and will. We have that back in Genesis 3:5, what does Satan pitch to Adam and Eve? If you disobey God, if you take of the tree he told you not to take from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you’ll become like God.
You don’t have to live under his scepter. You don’t have to bow before his throne. You don’t have to do his word and comply with his will. You crown yourself king. You set self on the throne. Herod was not about to buy to the knee of the Lord Jesus Christ. He had too much to lose. Herod was a man used to blowing his own trumpet and he finds no appeal in playing second fiddle to Jesus Christ. What are we saying? Simply this and this is a thought worth pondering and applying. Christmas was a threat to him. Maybe Herod was the first person to declare war on Christmas, and it’s been going on ever since because Christmas is a threat. The newborn king was a menace. He didn’t want Jesus meddling with his position, with his power or with his plans and listen, I would suggest to you this Christmas, that Christmas, Christ, and Christianity continue to be a threat.
Why do despotic regimes, why do humanistic godless regimes across this world hate Christians? Why do they imprison them in China? Why do they put them to death in other places of the world? Because they march to another drumbeat and that’s threatening. Why do some husbands who don’t know the Lord Jesus Christ show some hostility to their wives who have come to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, because they know that love for Christ now is first and foremost in their wife’s life. That disturbs a man, that’s a threat to a man. Parents are threatened sometimes by the loss of children to Christian ministries in Christian missions. My friend, Jesus indeed is a threat. He’s a threat to our selfishness. He’s a threat to our own man-centered dreams and purposes and plans. The birth of this child, they tell us was the birth of a king.
We’ve come from the east, we’ve seen a star and it announces that one has been born king of the Jews. An old Herod perks up, “King? You mean I’ve got a rival? Do you mean this is the end of my kingdom?” When it comes to Christmas in the Lord Jesus Christ, there are a series of questions. Will we submit? Will we surrender? Will we obey? Will we serve? That’s a challenge because all fallen creatures, men, women like their autonomy. We like Christ so long as he confines himself to the circumference of our lives, but we have trouble when he wants to take center stage and tell us how we ought to spend our money, tell us how we ought to define our sexual relationships, to tell us what we do with our time and our life.
I was interested a while ago to read an article in Rolling Stone. It involved a discussion on religion between Chris Heath, the interviewer, and the MAGA movie star Brad Pitt. Here’s what Chris Heath said. There is one subject he refers to time and time again, and that is religion. Brad Pitt says, “I would call it oppression because it stifles any kind of personal and individual freedom. I dealt with it a lot and my family would diametrically disagree with me on this.” As the conversation unfolded, somehow they got round to discussing the parable of the prodigal son. It’s interesting that Brad Pitt sees that in an authoritarian manner. Listen to his words. To him, the parable of the prodigal son is an authoritarian tell. He says, “This is a story which says if you go out and try to find your own voice and find what works for you and what makes sense for you, then you’re going to be destroyed and you’ll be humbled and you’ll not live again until you come home to the father’s ways.”
See, there is a man like a lot of men, like us, apart from God’s grace who struggles with submitting to the scepter and sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ and they’re blind to the fact that their sin is slavery, not freedom, and submission to Jesus Christ is freedom, not slavery. If you lose yourself, you’ll find him and in finding him, you’ll find life. Do you see the first response? It’s antagonism. Secondly, we see another response. Apathy. Hearing the news of the arrival of a rival king, Herod smartly summons the religious hierarchy of his day to inquire of them where this Christ child is to be born. Well, the wise man have said he’s been born, but we have come here because you need to tell us where. There’s still a piece missing from the puzzle.
And so, Herod gets together the chief priest who would be mostly Sadducees who have been given oversight of temple activities. Then, you’d have the scribes who were the official interpreters of the Old Testament. In many ways, they were the lawyers of Israel. Then, the amazing thing is, notice the text here in verse 3 through 6, that these men took no time at all. It’s not like they sequestered themselves for a week. They were able to give an answer. Pretty much they’re on the spot. Herod gathers them in verse 4, inquires of them where the Christ is to be born. Look at verse 5, almost in the same breath they say to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is written by the prophet.” This is common knowledge. Micah 5:2, 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.
Amazingly, Bethlehem was five to six miles south of Jerusalem. An ancient promise was possibly being fulfilled not far from them. In fact, that’s one of Matthew’s purposes in chapter 2 is to show that in the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in his birth and in his advent, you have a perfect storm of prophetic fulfillment. Let me just put you in the direction of this. I don’t have time to turn to the verses, but in verse 6, verse 15, verse 18 and verse 23, Matthew notes four occasions when the advent and the events surrounding Jesus’ birth and early years signal the fulfillment of prophetic scripture. And these leaders of Israel seem to be somewhat aware of that, at least in the case of where the child would be born.
Now, folks, that’s stunning. That’s startling in the face of their appalling apathy. Do you see their cold indifference to Jesus’ coming? Maybe John has them in mind, at least them and many more in mind, in John 1:11 when he says of Jesus that he came onto his own, but his own received him not. Israel has the promises. Through Israel was given the covenants, through Israel’s line, through David’s line, the Messiah would come. This was a nation blessed of God. They knew the facts, but these guys seemed to be very indifferent to the facts. The magi had traveled upwards of 800 to 900 miles. These guys don’t even travel six, because the text tells us that the magi leave and go to Bethlehem, but the priests and the scribes stay.
One writer says this, it is strange how much the scribes knew and what little you still made of it. Wow, that is a stinging rebuke and an indictment. It is strange how much the scribes knew and what little you still made of it. Let’s just think about this for a few moments. This apathy, maybe antagonism describes you, but maybe apathy describes you this Christmas. [inaudible 00:29:26] they knew the scriptures, but they were ignorant to the grace of God that had just appeared in Bethlehem bringing salvation. That’s how the birth and advent of Jesus Christ is described in Titus 2:11, the grace of God has appeared to all men bringing salvation.
They’re not far from the very epicenter of God’s redemptive work on the earth. This is a tipping point in history. This is a magnificent moment, and these guys in a casual callous way say, “Hey, if you want to find him, he’s down the road five miles in Bethlehem, have at it.” There’s something appalling, isn’t there, about their apathy? They had a Bible but made little use of it. Oh, you know where that’s going. You and I have Bibles, but do we make much or little use of them? We have the mind of God revealed without error comprehensively, sufficiently, preserved for us handed down to us. We have the scriptures like they have the scriptures. In fact, we’ve gotten more of the scriptures than they had.
What use are we making of it? Be warned, my friend. It’s possible to go to hell with a Bible in your hand knowing the scriptures, but not knowing to see if you’re spoken of in the scriptures, not knowing the God who has revealed himself on the sacred page. The Bible must be received. The Bible must be believed. It’s one thing to hear it. It’s another thing to receive it and act upon it. You see this in Acts 2, when Peter stands up and preaches the gospel and the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ, and we read in verse 40 of chapter 2, “And with many other words, he testified and exhorted them saying, be saved from this perverse generation. Then those who gladly received his word were baptized, and that day about 3,000 souls were added.” They didn’t only hear it, they received, that they believed that they depended upon it, they believed it to be true.
Same thing happens when Paul preaches the gospel in Acts 17 in Thessalonica and in his letter to the Thessalonians in chapter 1, he looks back on that time. Look at how he describes it. For our Gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, did you know what kind of man we were among you for your sake and you became followers of us and of the Lord having received the word and much affliction with joy of the Holy Spirit. In fact, you’ll go on in chapter 2:13 to give thanks to God, because when they receive the word of God, they welcomed it not as the word of man, but as it is in truth, the word of the living God that works in them powerfully.
Is that true of you and me? Or my friend, have you grown up in the church? Have you been around sacred things? Has mom and dad mentioned the precious and sacred name of Jesus Christ? Have you said in front of pulpits like this again and again and yet this morning, your life is an appalling evidence of apathy? The blessings of this country, its freedoms, its rich Christian witness. A few years back, I came across a story regarding Bill Gates. Early on in his childhood, his pastor, the Reverend Turner proposed a challenge to all the young men of the church that if someone would memorize all of the sermon on the mount, the prize would be a dinner on the top floor of the Space Needle in Seattle. According to the story I read, Bill Gates flawlessly recites the passage and wins and claims the prize.
When asked how he managed to do it, he answered, “I can do anything I put my mind to.” And there’s somebody can quote all of the sermon in the mount, but when he was interviewed in 1995 by David Frost, he said that he approaches life from a very scientific point of view. He’s not sure if God exists or doesn’t exist, although he does believe that there is merit to religious principles. He likes the Jesus of the sermon on the mount, but not the one who’s virgin born, not the one who dies as God in human flesh on a cross to bear our, sin and to three days later rise again to ascend, sit on the throne of heaven waiting the time when we’ll come and take the earth back.
My friend, you can know the scriptures without knowing the savior. Do these men not remind us of that and do they not point to being knowledgeable and yet appallingly apathetic? Maybe Paul would describe them as those who have a form of godliness but deny its power. 2 Timothy 3:5, they enjoyed privilege. They were informed. They were very close to the epicenter of God’s redemptive work. They were the religious movers and shakers of their day, yet they were careless and they were callous. The wise men leave on the tippy-toes of expectancy and excitement, and when they enter the house, it says they rejoice with exceedingly great joy. They had a passion. They were eager. They were searching. They believed that if what they believed was taking place in Bethlehem, they believed in that’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened. And they want a piece of it, but these men, they go back to their scrolls. They go back to their religious routine. They go back to being Herod’s lackeys, allowing him to enjoy a religious veneer to all that he does to keep peace with the people.
It’s appallingly pathetic. My friend, I hope that’s not true of you this Christmas. Get serious about what Christmas is about. We believe that Christmas was the tipping point of history. We believe that Christmas is the point of the spear in God’s work on planet earth, reconciling sinful man to a thrice holy God and the person of Jesus Christ. It’s awesome. It’s something of unbelievable magnitude and Jesus Christ is said to be the son of God and the Savior of the world, and he offers to you eternal life. And therefore, I’ll tell you this, according to Luke 13:24, strive to enter in my friend. Don’t go through Christmas in some Laissez-Faire fashion. Settle these great questions. Who is Jesus? What is my relationship to him? How does he mend my relationship with God?
You won’t be saved because of curiosity. You won’t be saved by simply some episodic religious fervor. Take time to strive, to enter in. To strive means you put yourself in the way of the means of grace. To strive means you push past your doubts and your detractors. To strive means you run with your fingers in your ear like John Bunyan’s pilgrim from this world, which is a city of destruction. To strive means you don’t count on tomorrow. To strive means that you remind yourself each and every day, you don’t have to do anything to be lost, but you have to do something to be saved. Strive my friend to enter in. Don’t let this sermon die in your ears. Don’t let this day go by. Listen to me, I warn you as a friend and as a shepherd of this flock, remember the devil is working hard to get you to do nothing about Jesus Christ. He’s working hard so that you don’t strive to enter in, strive to enter in.
There’s a story that comes out of Finland where a Finnish atheist stated in his will that he wanted his farm to be left to the devil. It’s a strange request and the legal authorities in Finland didn’t know what to do with it. So after some deliberation, they come back, they convened the court and they made this judgment. They were going to leave the farm to be overgrown with weeds and briars. They were going to let the roof sag. They were going to let the fence fall down in disrepair. They were going to let the soil erode and weeds grow all over it. And here’s why, quote from the court, “The best way to let the devil have possession of anything is to do nothing.”
I want to compress this last thought. We’ve got a third response. We’ve kind of touched on it a little bit along the way, but there’s a third response. The third response is adoration. It comes from the wise men and it stands in complete contrast to Herod and the religious establishment of Israel. Who were these men? The magi were probably astrologers, students of secret scripture, those who looked into magical arts, probably from the region of Persia or Southern Arabia, both from the east of Jerusalem. Many believed they probably came from around Babylon, modern Iraq today, 800 miles or so away. They were advisors to kings, maybe even king makers. Why did they come? On the one hand, they may have been intrigued by the Hebrews scriptures.
We can tell from Daniel 5:11 that they were aware of the Hebrew scriptures. Don’t forget that Daniel was in Babylon and God given him his prophecy in Babylon. You don’t think some of that was disseminated among the court of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar? Added to that, many Jews were still living in Babylon and they would often talk of their messianic hopes. On the other hand, they were clearly led by a supernatural manifestation of God. We’re told in Matthew 2:2 that indeed they’d been guided by a star in the east and they’d come to worship the Christ.
Now, as liberals do, they tried to explain this away with some natural phenomena, some super novo. Around that time, there was an alignment of the planets that brought about some interesting things in the heavenly firmament. Look, we shoot that down with one verse. It’s verse 9. This isn’t a natural star. This one moves. This one saddles over certain places. As we read in verse 9, 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.
Listen, this is a supernatural manifestation, A sovereign God, an almighty God is explanation enough. All right? Now, as we look at this part of the story, I’ll just focus on the fact that the wise men come, they see the star, they rejoice with exceedingly great joy, and they come to the house that has been pinpointed by the star. And we read that they enter into that house. They see the young child with Mary his mother and they fall down and worship him, and they open their treasures and they present gifts to him, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We could have talked about their passion. I’m interested in their passion. They come 800 miles, the chief priest won’t travel 6. When they get there, they’re overcome with excitement. Their passion then leads to their prostration. When they enter the house, they fall down and they worship him.
This takes us back to where we started this morning. That’s the only fitting response to the one who is so great and so glorious. This child represents a tipping point in history. This child is Emmanuel, God with us. This child is the hope of Israel. This child is the desire of the nations. This child is the one that the prophets longed for. This child has come to seek and save those that are lost. I do want you to know there’s a veneration of the child here, not his mother. There are some traditions that venerate Mary, but that’s a mistake. Mary’s not worshiped here, Christ is. Look at what the text says, “And they saw the young child with Mary, his mother, and fell on and worshiped him.”
In fact, you can see this consistently in chapter 2, that when Jesus is mentioned, he’s always mentioned first, Mary is always said to be with the child. Jesus has the preeminence. Jesus has the first praise. It ought to be, it should be. Now, as they fall down and worship him, what they do is attribute to the Lord Jesus Christ worth. You’ve probably heard it said before, the English word worship is rooted in the idea of worth ship. These wise men were captured by the glory of the one before them. They treasured him. They esteemed him highly. In fact, their treasuring of him is evidenced in the fact that they present to him certain treasures. They esteem him. Gold, of course, was costly. Incense and myrrh were a luxury. These were the treasures that throughout the near east would’ve been offered as a means of honoring a man’s God or honoring a man’s king.
You find the queen of Bathsheba coming to Solomon in 1 Kings 10:1-13 with all kinds of gifts. Charles Swindoll notes something here that I think is a good point to close on. We come to Jesus with their hands out, not the magi, not the wise men, they came with faces bowed. We ask him to give us gifts, gifts of health, gifts of holiness, gifts of happiness. How seldom we offer him our treasures. How seldom do we take time to treasure him and worship him? That’s a challenge to us.
Let’s not fall into the category of those who are antagonistic. Let’s not fall into the category of those who are apathetic. Let us be among those who, like the wise men that first Christmas, esteem him, treasure him, understand his worth, and in understanding his worth, we worship him, we give to him gladly, because in Christ we have a love that can never be fathomed, a life that can never die, a righteousness that can never be tarnished, a peace that can never be understood, a joy that can never be diminished, a hope that can never be disappointed, a glory that can never be clouded, a light that can never be darkened, and a happiness that can never be infeebled.
That’s what we have in Him. In Him is all the treasures and wisdom of God. In him is found righteousness. Through him, we have a relationship with God in heaven. Charles Swindoll tells the story in his book, Growing Strong in the Christian Life, he tells of a department store that feel to move a nativity set in the numbers they had hoped. Shortly after Christmas, the store advertised the nativity scene and at a discounted price, and the floor manager wrote this sign and he put it around the display table where the nativity sets were to be found. “Jesus Christ, marked down 50%. Get him while you can.”
There’s a whole lot of people at Christmas discount the Lord Jesus. They discount them because they know by implication to esteem him for who he is means that it’s an end to themselves. Their little kingdom, their will, and their word. There are those who are just too lazy and apathetic to esteem him, but may we not be among those who discount him. We understand who he is, and we love him for who he is, and we are amazed that He loves us despite who we are.
Let’s pray. Lord, this time of the year demands a response. The biblical record calls for a reaction. We cannot ignore the implications of Christmas. God with us. God for us. Oh God, I pray that we may indeed fall at Jesus’ feet and be among those who are lost in wonder, love, and praise. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.