Selected highlights from this sermon.
Different reactions to Jesus are normal. Herod was hostile, but some wise men traveled to worship Him. In this message, Pastor Lutzer shows us how their reactions to the birth of the King of kings shows how people today are still divided over the Messiah.
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The song that we often sing at Christmas is Oh Come Let Us Adore Him. Oh Come, All Ye Faithful was written by John Francis Wade, probably in the seventeen hundreds. And it’s a carol that invites us to come to Christ, to adore Him, to worship Him, to love Him. But not everybody accepts the invitation to be sure.
After Jesus was born He was taken to Jerusalem, and it was Simeon who held the baby in his hands and said that “He is for the rise and the fall of many in Israel,” and then Simeon says to Mary, “A sword shall pierce your heart.” And then he said, “The thoughts of many would be revealed.” Jesus is a revealer of thoughts and intents, and the hearts of those who are exposed to Him. He always reveals the heart.
In the second chapter of the book of Matthew, which is today’s text, we have three different hearts that have been exposed to Jesus. And only one kind of heart came to adore Him, and the others did not. In Matthew 2 we have the story of Jesus being born in Bethlehem, and Herod the king, of course, is in Jerusalem. He’s ruling there. He loves to be called king. And wise men come from the East and they say, “Who is He that is born king of the Jews? We saw a star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
Verse 3: “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and 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 then they quote the book of Micah: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”
Herod summons the wise men, ascertains from them what time the star appeared, sends them to Bethlehem and says, “Go and search diligently for the child and when you have found Him, bring Him to me that I may worship Him also.”
Who is this Herod? He is Herod, the builder. He is the one that built that great second temple, that gorgeous second temple that was destroyed later on by Titus in 70 A.D. He was also a murderer. He murdered one of his wives and two of his sons. And here he is threatened by the birth of a baby. He wants to be king and he hears that the king of the Jews has been born, and what he wants to do is to kill Him. He says, “Come and I will worship Him also,” but of course, he’s lying. What he wants to do is destroy Jesus.
Can you imagine the paranoia? And so what does he do? When he finds out that the wise men aren’t coming back he, in an act of fury, has all of the male children of Bethlehem and its environs killed, two years of age and under, hoping that Jesus will be slain in the process.
Now isn’t that interesting? Two years later he dies. You know, he thought to himself that he was in charge. He represents a very hard, calloused heart. He was in charge he thought. He did not know that he himself was subject to the babe who was born in Bethlehem who was the Son of God. Herod dies with a rebellious heart. He wasn’t in charge of his life as he thought he was, was he?
I love to tell that story of when my wife and I were at the Water Tower many years ago. I still see it with great clarity. There was a little boy perhaps two years old who was on a stroller, and his stroller had a steering wheel. And he was steering this thing to the right, and crying, trying to go over there, but his mother was wheeling him in the other direction. And it didn’t matter how much he yanked on that steering wheel because it was attached to nothing that really mattered.
That’s the way we are. We think to ourselves, “I’m in charge of my life. I can go this way.” Herod thought, “I am king. I don’t want any rivals. The birth of a baby might make me look bad. There are going to be people who are going to be worshipping that king. They ought to be worshipping me.” He wasn’t in charge. He died with a rebellious heart. Could there be somebody here today with a heart of rebellion? You know the truth and you hold onto yourself and you say, “I will not give in to Jesus who is called the Christ.”
There’s a second heart that is revealed in this passage and that is the indifferent heart. I’m talking about the scribes and the high priests that were called together. They were the scholars. They knew where Jesus was to be born. They knew the Bible. They had responsibility for copying manuscripts and preserving the Law, so they were in the know, but the more they knew, the less they cared. They weren’t willing to make the five-mile trip from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to check out what God apparently had revealed to these wise men that a child was born in Bethlehem who was called the King of the Jews. They didn’t want to check that out, and so they represent an indifferent heart. They represent the person who has heard it all, who has been through it all, who can recite it all, but who really doesn’t care, a person whose heart is on hold, a person who is shut down and is tuned out.
Could it be that somebody listening today is tuned out? You say to yourself, “I hear the words but I’m really not listening because I’m into myself and I know what I want, and I also know what I don’t want. And what I don’t want is to get involved too deeply with Jesus.” Could it be that there’s a person like that here today? And so that represents those who could be called as having an indifferent heart, not antagonistic, just not caring. And so the scribes and the Pharisees represent that kind of a heart.
But there’s a third kind of heart, and that is the seeking heart of these Magi as they are called, wise men. They were the promising men of the land. They were the brain trusts. They knew something about astrology. They were also into agriculture and leadership administration. They were the best apparently that the land had, and these are the ones now who come to Jesus. And they come because… We don’t know much about them, by the way. We sing We Three Kings of Orient Are, and we have no idea that they are kings. The Bible doesn’t say that they are kings. We don’t know that there were three. There were more than one surely, because they are a plural – wise men. There probably was a whole caravan. That’s what intimidated Herod so much. And that’s why when Herod coughed, all of Jerusalem got a cold because they were scared as to what he might do when it says in verse 3 that he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him. So maybe a whole caravan came from the East. We don’t know. But notice that they were willing to overcome certain barriers to get to Jesus, and I hope that their hearts represent ours today.
By the way, please note carefully that the star did not lead them directly to Bethlehem. The star led them to Jerusalem and it was in Jerusalem that the Old Testament Scriptures were opened, and they learned that Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem. And then they go to Bethlehem and then the star reappears, but the star does not lead them directly to Bethlehem. God does not bypass His Word in giving people guidance.
A number of years ago I met a young man up at Trinity International University (who was studying there and who eventually graduated) who was born a Muslim in Jerusalem of all places – the great city of Jerusalem. And he told me that he had a dream about Jesus, and this dream was so profound he could scarcely get out of bed afterwards because he didn’t know what to do with Jesus, because Islam recognizes Jesus to be a prophet, but it does not recognize Him to be the Son of God – to be God, a very God. In fact, that is deemed to be the greatest of all evils and sins. But he was so impressed with this dream that Jesus was indeed God, that it was only when he was willing to say, “Okay, Jesus, if you are God, I’ll acknowledge that,” that he was actually able to get out of bed. This was an incredible experience, but interestingly he went on a search to find a Bible, and once he found a Bible and read the New Testament, it was then that he was converted to the Christian faith. Notice this: God did not bypass His Word in the conversion of this young man.
And some time ago I was talking to people from Iraq, a man who visits there often, and he says that there are hundreds, maybe even… I said to him, and I have to convey this to you, “When you say that there are many people in Iraq coming to know Christ as Savior from the Muslim religion, should we say that there are hundreds, or are there thousands?” And he said thousands are turning to Christ. (applause) And many of them come to Christ because they have a dream about Christ, but after that dream they begin to seek and it is through the Word of God then that they find…
Could I tell you one quick story? He was there, and he met a woman at a certain street corner, and she said, “Are you an American?” And he said, “Yes, I am an American.” And she said, “Tell me about Jesus.” Now how do you like that for an open door, a witness? Alright? And so after he became acquainted with her he asked, “How come you know that that’s why I am here?” And she said, “I had a dream last night about Jesus, and I was trying to find out more about Him in the dream, and the dream said, “Tomorrow at such and such a place you will meet an American who is going to tell you about Jesus.” So she was converted. (applause)
In fact, did you know that a man who was converted from the Muslim faith told me that if Islam were to give up two of its tenets you’d have multitudes converted to the Christian faith? Number one, if they were to give up the idea that when you convert from Islam to Christianity you are to be put to death (if they gave that up), and also the banning of the Bible. A young soldier in our military told our daughter and her husband who gave him a Bible, “If I am found with this in my possession when I go back to my home country, I could be put to death or imprisoned.” So if you had those two things removed, multitudes would be finding Jesus Christ as Savior. But notice this, God never bypasses His holy Word. When you are saved, it is always through the transforming power of the Word of God.
So the star takes them to Jerusalem, and in Jerusalem the Scriptures are opened, and they discover that Bethlehem is the place, and they begin to go to Bethlehem, and the star reappears.
Now, very briefly, think of the barriers that these magi overcame in coming to Jerusalem to adore Jesus. Think for a moment. First of all, the barrier of distance! Most believe that they came from Persia – about a thousand miles. They probably made the journey in the better part of a year. You see, that’s why when Herod asks when the star appeared, the reason he was interested was to know so that he would have some information as to what level of children should be put to death – the male children of Bethlehem. And he chose two years and under, because at that point when the magi came, very probably Jesus was about a year old. He was not in a manger.
Notice it says in verse 11: “When they came into the house they worshipped him.” Mary and Joseph stayed in Bethlehem after Jesus was born for at least a year - maybe more than that! Well, they went into Egypt and then came back, but please note that it is not correct to say that the wise men came to the manger. All those Christmas cards, you know, with the wise men coming to the manger! I’m sorry to tell you, folks, but that’s the idea of an artist. It is not found in the Bible.
So they come to the house, but notice that they were willing to travel a thousand miles, maybe traveling primarily at night so that they could see the star, about which we know very little. And there are some people who will not buy a Bible. They will not go across the street to go to a church to find out about Jesus. And these wise men, God bless them, were willing to expend all the energy to go a thousand miles over a period of months to check Jesus out. So that’s one barrier that they overcame, the barrier of distance.
The other barrier that they overcame is that of race and religion, and we’ll put both of them there together. They were Persians. Persia had its own religion, a form of occultism to be sure, but they could have said to themselves, “We were born Persians, and our religion is just as good as your religion, and we’re going to die in our religion.” Today there could be somebody here who says that: “I don’t believe in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I was brought up in my religion, complete with rituals, and I will die in that religion because even if it is correct that we have to trust Christ personally, I am set in my ways and this is the way in which I am going to live.”
Now think this through for a moment. If these folks were Persians they had to overcome this barrier of religion and race. What is this business of accepting a Jewish king, a little toddler, as Jesus would have been at that time? “Why should we leave our religion? And who are these Jews anyway that they should have a king that other religions and other persons should worship?” They overcame that, God bless them. And right in the beginning of the book of Matthew, Matthew wants to emphasize that Jesus is not just king of the Jews, but Jesus is for everybody. And he does that in a number of different ways, but one of the ways is to emphasize these Magi who come from the East. They come from a far distance and they are the ones who end up worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ because Jesus is the Savior, the Bible says, of all men who believe.
And you are here today from a different race, from a different background, from a different culture, from a different religion, and these are stumbling blocks to you in believing in Jesus. And I would encourage you to look at these wise men who said, “If the truth is true; if Jesus is the Son of God, we will not allow our own background, our own religion and our own race to keep us from Jesus.” And please don’t allow your religion and background to keep you from Jesus, and the prejudices that you may have against the Christ child. Let them fall by the wayside today.
So you have them overcoming distance and race and religion and pride. This is an amazing story. Sometimes we read the Bible too quickly and we’re too familiar with it. The Bible says that when they came and they saw Jesus… It says that when they saw the child (verses 11 and 12) they fell down and they worshipped him. Imagine that! Here’s a little boy running around the room by now if Jesus is about a year old. He’s taken His own first steps, and they fall down and worship. And they didn’t say to themselves, “Well, how could we worship a little baby? I mean, theoretically we could take Him and give Him a spanking.”
Have you ever thought of this? Jesus at some point was two years old, but I don’t think He went through the terrible twos (Isn’t that wonderful?) like some of us did, and like some of our grandchildren still do. No, they let go of all of that pride and they say, “If this is the king of the Jews, we’re here to worship.”
I don’t know where they got all of this. God must have revealed it to them in dreams along the way, and of course, they discovered in Jerusalem that He was to be born. The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, so they knew who they were looking at, God bless them. And despite all their pride they simply fell down and worshipped.
I think they also overcame their selfishness. You’ll notice that the text tells us that “opening their treasures they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” It is said that gold was fitting for a king – the kingship of Jesus; frankincense used by priests; myrrh – sacrifice! Could it be that these wise men knew that Jesus was to be king, that He was to be a priest, but also, to give His life for us, the just for the unjust that He might bring us to God? Is it true that these wise men understood all that? Wow! It takes your breath away, doesn’t it?
It’s interesting that when Herod heard about Jesus… And by the way, the gifts that they gave to Mary and Joseph undoubtedly helped them on their journey to Egypt because they are now being warned that they need to get into Egypt so that they escape Herod’s genocide of killing all of the young boys in the region. So they do this. And the text says that they rejoiced with exceeding great joy regarding Jesus, but Herod, when he heard about Jesus was deeply troubled.
What kind of a response does Jesus elicit in you? Is it a response of indifference? Is it a response of rebellion? Are you troubled by the fact that Jesus is the only way to God, and there can be no other way to approach Him, because, after all, Jesus is the one mediator between God and man? Does that trouble you? Is there something within you that rebels against that notion? May I encourage you today to get over that rebellion, that indifference, and to simply say, “If He is who He claimed to be, let’s take our place with the wise men, and let us worship Him, and let us love Him, and let us receive the gift of eternal life that He came to bring us.” That’s really the message of Christmas and that’s what it’s all about.
When the song, O Come, All Ye Faithful, was written, it was not based on this story actually, although it does invite us to certainly adore Christ. It was based on the Bethlehem story, so it’s perfectly legitimate for us to sing it. But we sing it as an affirmation of our own hearts. We take our place with the magi. We come to adore. We come to worship. We come to receive, and we come to thank the One who came to save us from our sins.
As we sing together hymn 249 (and that is, I believe, the song in our hymnal), no matter where you are today in your spiritual journey, if you have never received Christ as Savior, overcome all those barriers. Say, “I’m not going to use those excuses. Today, as I sing, I welcome Jesus as my Savior, my Lord, and I bow with the wise men to adore Him.
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