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Wise Men Still Seek Him
Matthew 2:1-12 

 

This morning our text is Matthew 2:1-12, the passage of scripture that describes the wise men's search for the Messiah so they could worship Him and give Him gifts. Before I read the scripture, I want to ask you how your shopping is going? How many of you are completely done? Raise your hands. How many of you are at least half way through? Let me see your hands. OK, now, how many of you haven't started? That's what I thought.

Christmas shopping, though fun, can be difficult. Did you hear about the guy that bought his wife a beautiful diamond ring for Christmas? A friend of his said, "I thought she wanted one of those sporty 4-Wheel drive vehicles." "She did," he replied. "But where am I gonna find a fake Jeep?"  (Fresh Illustrations--http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

I hope your shopping is more sincere than the man's in my joke. I hope it is as sincere as the wise men's in our text:

"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, [2] 'Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.' [3] And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. [4] And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born. [5] And they said to him, 'In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet, [6] And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler, Who will SHEPHERD My people Israel.' 

[7] Then Herod secretly called the magi, and ascertained from them the time the star appeared. [8] And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, 'Go and make careful search for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, that I too may come and worship Him.' [9] And having heard the king, they went their way; and lo, the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was. [10] And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. [11] And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. [12] And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way." 

When I read this text, the first question that comes to my mind is, "How did these wise men know to seek Jesus?" In a minute, we will explore that question together, but before we do, I want us to ponder another question: "Why did God warn the wise men not to accept Herod's invitation to return?" The obvious answer lies in what Herod did after Jesus was born, Look at Matthew 2:16: "Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its environs, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi."

What kind of man was Herod? Was the slaughter of innocent children we just read about his only act of atrocity, or were there others?

By and large, Herod was an evil man, but he did have his moments of kindness. During the famine of 25 B.C., Herod melted down a gold plate he owned to use to purchase corn to feed the starving people. (Barclay, p. 19)

Good for him. Unfortunately, that just goes to prove that even an evil man can rise to an occasion and do the right thing.

Unfortunately, evil ran in the family.  Remember, it was Herod's son that killed John the Baptist at the request of his niece. Why did his niece want John killed? Because her mother, who was the wife of Herod's brother, was involved in a scandalous affair with King Herod, asked her to make the request of the king. Why would the King honor such a dark request? He was cornered. After she danced for him, he pledged to do whatever she wanted because she pleased him. (Matthew 14: 1-12)

These killings weren't isolated incidents. The Roman Emperor, Augustus, said it was safer to be Herod's pig than his son. Herod had killed 3 sons, his wife and his mother-in-law because he saw them as threats to his power.

His murderous streak didn't end with his death either. Right before he died, he ordered some of Jerusalem's most distinguished citizens to be arrested on trumped up charges and sentenced to death. Their execution was to take place the minute he died. Herod knew no one would mourn his passing, but wanted to make sure that people mourned the day he died. (Barclay, p. 20)

Against the darkness of King Herod's reign, King Jesus was born. No wonder people longed for a Messiah that would bring justice into the land. So why did these outsiders, the wise men, know to seek Him? The chief priests and the scribes give us some help in answering the question. When Herod asked them where the Messiah would be born, they quoted Micah 5:2, giving him the answer: Bethlehem. 

But then what did the chief priests and scribes do? Nothing. Wouldn't you expect that they would drop whatever they were doing and run to meet their Messiah? After all, they were the religious leaders of the day, the Messiah's birth had to be big news. But they did nothing. Why didn't the religious leaders join the wise men in worshiping Jesus? 

Is it possible their religious activities so filled their lives that they didn't have room for worship of the Messiah? Could their mind be so occupied with their traditions and customs that they missed celebrating the birth of the King of Kings?

We wouldn't know anything about being too busy at Christmas time to worship the Lord, would we?

They do in Indianapolis. The Saint John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Indianapolis sits directly across the street from the main gate of the RCA Dome, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts. The church petitioned the National Football League to change the starting time of the Colts Christmas eve game against the Minnesota Vikings. The 4:15 game will interfere with the church's 5:30 Christmas eve mass. The church becomes virtually inaccessible during games due to traffic and parking problems. The team refused to cooperate and NFL spokesman Greg Aiello says the league will not change the time of kickoff. (Fresh Illustrations--http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

Bad NFL, right? Don't go there with me. Yeah, they should cut the church some slack, but how many of us place worship in its proper place at Christmas time?

So back to our question, "How did these wise men know to seek Jesus?" Biblical literacy, that's how. In Numbers 24:17 the scripture says, "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, And a scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth."

All the way back in book of Numbers, Moses mentioned that there would be a star that points to the Messiah. Look what they said in verse 2, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him."

These wise men showed unusual wisdom by seeking the Messiah. And they showed great understanding in the gifts they gave. What is more fitting than gold? A present fit for a King! 

What about frankincense? Why did they give it to Jesus? Frankincense was the scent used in temple worship by the priests to cover the smell of the sacrifices. Jesus was the king of kings, but he was also the "great high priest." Hebrews 2:17 says, "For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people." 

But why Myrrh? In Jesus' time, people used Myrrh to embalm their dead. A thoughtless gift for a baby shower? Not this one. These men, in their wisdom knew that Jesus was born to die. Hebrews 10:10 says, "And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." 

Christmas is made even brighter when we fully realize that Jesus was born so He could die. And that we can experience new life, because our Messiah came, and died, and rose from the grave.

And that is the greatest Christmas gift of all times. 

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