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The Return of the King - Part 2

Tom Pennington Matthew 2:1-12


Last week we began to study Matthew's account of the visit of the magi. And we return there again this morning. By the way, let me just say that my wife told me that she had no hopes for my winning anybody over with the correct pronunciation of magi. That she fully expected everyone to continue to say magi, and that's okay, but I just can't bring myself to say that now that I know the correct pronunciation is magi. I may slip up occasionally in my message, if so, you'll forgive me, but the correct pronunciation is magi.

As we look at this account and this story, as we discovered last week, the theme has already become very clear. The theme is simply this: Jesus is the only rightful king. And as he unfolds the story, Matthew develops that theme. Last week we examined just the first scene in this wonderful and mysterious story. And that first scene is found just in the first two verses of Matthew 2. Let me read those verses for you and remind you briefly of what we discovered last time. Matthew 2:1,

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and we have come to worship Him."

Now all the nativity sets and Christmas songs not withstanding, these magi did not arrive on the night of the birth of Jesus Christ. As we discovered they arrived somewhere between 40 days after His birth and 2 years. They find Jesus and His mother in a house in Bethlehem.

Who were these men? Well they were originally members of a Persian priestly cast. They were the recognized teachers of science and religion in the area from which they come came, ancient Babylon. And in the scientific field they studied such topics as astronomy and medicine, mathematics and philosophy. When it came to religion they were Zoroastrian. They were pagan idolaters involved in a number of things that the Old Testament forbids, including astrology, and divination, and incantation. They were, as we saw last time, also involved in selecting new kings in the kingdom from which they came, and so it was very appropriate that God would bring them to announce the birth of Israel's King.

Why did they come? Well verse 2 tells us very explicitly in their own words, and this is the only thing they say in the whole account. "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and we have come to worship Him." How did they know?

Well, as again as we discovered last time, they knew because they had seen the star, they knew the timing of the event, but they knew the significance of the event because of God's gracious providential revelation to them. For 600 years since the Babylonian captivity, devout Jews had lived among the people from whence these men came, shared their Scriptures with them and even the promise of the Messiah. In addition to that Daniel tells us in Daniel 2:48 that Nebuchadnezzar as a gift to Daniel, after he was able to declare the dream you remember, he put him over all of the wise men of Babylon, And undoubtedly Daniel used the influence that was his to direct those under his authority to the true God. So, providentially, God had made His revelation available to these men from the place in which they came.

Now that brings us to the issue that they were the most unlikely people to announce the birth of Israel's King, and yet that was in God's providence. This unlikely announcement came from men such as these.

Today, I want us to begin with the second scene in this remarkable story. The second scene is found in verses 3-8, and it is the "unworthy reaction" to the king. We've seen the "unlikely announcement;" let's look at the "unworthy reaction" to the king. These wise men show up in Jerusalem and they announce the birth of the King of Jews. And verses 3-8 we see the reactions to this announcement; the various reactions of the people in Jerusalem in and around Jerusalem at the time. And by highlighting their responses, Matthew identifies not only their responses but the common reactions and responses to Jesus Christ as King in all times and in all places. As we go through this text this morning you will find yourself in this text. You will see yourself and your own attitudes mirrored by someone in this story this morning.

Let's look at the reactions together. We begin, of course, with the unworthy reactions, the wrong reactions to the King, the first one is the reaction of the people of Jerusalem. The rank and file population of the city of Jerusalem and their reaction is one of "settled indifference," settled indifference. Verse 1 says, "magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying…."

Now you can't see this as easily from the English text, but the form of the Greek verb "saying," makes it clear that these wise men showed up in Jerusalem, and they were saying this repeatedly, "where is He that has been born King of the Jews, we have come to worship Him?" They were asking this question over and over again to many different people. You see the wise men didn't go directly to meet with Herod, they didn't go to Herod's palace when they arrived; instead, they began to scatter across the city of Jerusalem. The private meeting that's down in verse 7 was their first and only meeting with Herod. In fact, the expression in verse 3 that says, "When Herod the king heard this…." implies that he had heard a second-hand report.

So, instead of going to the palace (when this group of wise men, and again we don't know how many of them there were, but they would have traveled as the nobility that they were, the important men that they were. They would have traveled on Persian or Arabian horses. They would have arrived outside the city gates of Jerusalem with a huge entourage dressed in their typical garb. And) they begin to mix and mingle among the people of the city asking their question in the market place and other places, where is the one born King of the Jews? And the response of the people that they met is obviously one of "settled indifference."

You see according to the best estimates at the time of Jesus, the year-round population of Jerusalem was about 80,000 people. The city was filled with people, 80,000 people, but not one of those people that they encountered, not one person from the entire city followed these men to see if in fact they had found Israel's Messiah and the newborn King. The magi show up looking for a newborn King and the people of Jerusalem, the rank and file population don't seem to know anything about it and frankly don't appear to care. They don't even show up in the story apart from the hint in verse 1, that they were being told this by the magi.

As you think about it our world is filled with people like the inhabitants of Jerusalem; people who are utterly indifferent to Jesus Christ. Oh, they'll celebrate Christmas, they'll do all the things that you and I do, but, in fact, they are indifferent to their King. They have holiday shopping to do. They have celebrations to attend, they have meals to prepare, somehow most people in our world who celebrate Christmas will celebrate the birth of the King without ever acknowledging Jesus Christ and His right to be their King.

Let me ask you a question. Are you like those people, the people of Jerusalem? Do you celebrate Christmas and the birth of Christ and yet live your own life blissfully indifferent to the demands of your King? If that's true the reasons are many, but ultimately the root cause for all of those who are indifferent to Jesus Christ is always the same. Wherever there is a settled indifference to Christ, it is because there is no real sense of your need, no real sense of your sinfulness that would drive you to Christ. Remember Jesus Himself said I came to help those who are sick, not those who are well. His point was, only those who sense their illness will come to Me. Those who think they're well won't. Settled indifference to Jesus Christ is always the fruit of a lack of a sense of one's own sinfulness.

You see, if you realize you have terminal cancer, everything else in life stops. Your life is at risk. That's also true spiritually. But because most people are unaware of their spiritual terminal condition, they remain utterly indifferent to the only One who is able to treat it. The first unworthy response to the King is shown by the people of Jerusalem who don't even show up in the story, 80,000 of them and not one of them that the magi encountered bothers to see if, in fact, their King might have been born. It's "settled indifference."

The second reaction that's unworthy of the King that we find in this story is the reaction of the religious. The response of the religious leaders to the arrival of the King is not settled indifference, its "religious distraction;" religious distraction. Look at verse 4:

Herod, [verse 3 says,] "When he heard the report, was troubled and he gathered together" [verse 4,] "All the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born."

After hearing about the magi and about their question and their report, Herod calls a high convocation. This was not a meeting of the Sanhedrin. It was an ad hoc group pulled together of all the people who were important in the nation. The high priests, including the ruling high priests at the time included those who had previously served as high priests as well as the heads of the 24 various courses of priests. In addition the key members of the noble families of Jerusalem would have been involved in this convocation. If you were somebody in Jerusalem you were there. This is the political group. The political leaders of the Jews are all there. The scribes mentioned also in verse 4, these were the spiritual leaders. For hundreds of years the scribes had been responsible for copying the Scriptures but not simply copying them, also teaching them. They studied the Scriptures and taught them to the people. They were the experts in the Bible, in the Scripture. And so, Herod assembles this auspicious group of both the political and the religious leaders of Israel and he asks them if anywhere the Scriptures predict where the Messiah would be born. Look at verse 5,

They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet, Micah: "AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE RULERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU WILL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL."

Of course, they knew where the Messiah would be born, it was clearly predicted in the passage they paraphrased, Micah 5:2, and they end their little paraphrase with words from 2 Samuel 5:2, I think perhaps a little subtle dig at Herod, this ruler would be One who would shepherd His people, not dominate them as Herod had.

So, they knew, and they tell Herod. But do you notice what's missing from the reaction of the religious leaders? They don't seek the wise men and ask to meet with them. They don't send an official delegation six miles south of the city of Jerusalem to see if there's anything going on there, if there's anything that needs to be investigated as they would later with both John the Baptist and Jesus. They simply have no interest in following this up. As one commentator says, "all this time the religious leaders of Jerusalem know from their own Scriptures where the Messiah is to be born, but not even the visit of foreign dignitaries peeks their curiosity enough to travel six miles to Bethlehem to find out if there's any truth in the report."

Why? What are these men doing? Well, they're studying the Scripture about whom this Child or whom this Child is predicted and prophesied regarding. They continue with their morning and evening sacrifices, those sacrifices that were a perfect picture of the King who would come, the divine Messiah who would offer Himself for sin. They remain committed to their religious duties and practices, but they ignore their rightful King. They're too busy, too busy with their religious activities.

When you think about it, this is the response of many people to the King. Listen carefully. There are many religious people who replace true submission and obedience to their King with religion and religious activities, and it cannot replace it. American churches are filled with people like these religious leaders. They're happy to be religious as long as it doesn't infringe on their right to self-rule, to their autonomy, as long as it doesn't conflict with their own agenda. Oh, they know a lot about their rightful King, they can quote a lot of Bible verses, but they refuse to submit their daily life, their decisions, their living to their King. Martin Luther was right when he wrote, "the scribes should be a warning to all religious teachers in the pulpit, the Sunday school, and the family. They told others where to find the Savior, but did not go to Him themselves."

Listen, are you religious? Are you one who would call yourself a Christian? Are you faithful to attend church, this church or some other church? Do you know your Bible "pretty well?" Are you "fairly active" in the life of the church? You can be all of those things and do all of those things and be just as lost as the spiritual leaders of Israel. The question is, have you ever truly acknowledged Jesus' right to rule you and your life and your decisions and how you lived yesterday and how you're living today and how you'll live tomorrow. In the words of Jesus, "Why do you call Me, Lord, Lord? Why do you call Me Kurios, Kurios, Master, Master and do not the things which I say?" The common reactions to the King in the first century were "settled indifference" driven by a lack of sense of their need and "religious distraction," just too busy to attend their King.

There's a third reaction that Matthew records here that's completely unworthy of the King. It's the reaction of Herod, and Herod's reaction is not one of "settled defiance, or religious distraction." Herod's reaction is one of "angry defiance," angry defiance. He feigned respect for Christ, but it was only a cloak for a hard, rebellious heart. Look back up at verse 3, here's his first response when he heard the news. "When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him."

Now to fully appreciate that statement you have to know just a little more about Herod. He was a fascinating character. Let me give you just a thumbnail sketch of his life that'll help you appreciate what's going on here. It was in 40 B.C. that Herod was appointed over Palestine. Eventually, he came to be called Herod the Great. And he was a brilliant man, particularly when it came to building. His great achievements, and the reason, and the only reason he was called Herod the Great, was his architectural interests and achievements. During his reign he built magnificent cities, like the port city of Caesarea on the Mediterranean which I had the opportunity to visit as well as have some of you. He built incredible palaces like Masada, a number of them, around the land of Palestine.

But his crowning achievement and the crowning achievement of his life and reign was the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. It set like a jewel on the hill of Jerusalem and was described by many in the same terms that we would describe one of the wonders of the world. Herod was a great builder, but that's where Herod's greatness stopped. When it came to Herod the man, he was anything but great.

Herod, over the life-span of his existence, had ten wives and more than a dozen children. But there was one wife that he said he loved most of all, and she was named Marian Mariamne, Mariamne. He said he loved her, said he loved her deeply. But he came to resent her relatives, and so he secretly had her brother and her grandfather killed. Later he came to suspect this woman he said he loved deeply of infidelity, which apparently there was no basis for, and he had her killed, then her mother killed. And then in 7 or 8 B.C. he executed the two sons that he had by her. And of course, here in Matthew 2 he's about to order the execution of all the male children 2 and under in Bethlehem, some 20 probably 20 to 25 children; slain because of the ambitions and fears of this one man. And just 5 days before his death, 5 days before Herod died after this incident with the wise men; he had his own favorite son executed. His potential heir to the throne executed because he didn't want to lose a single day of his rule and reign. He was insanely paranoid about losing his position. And to some extent rightfully so, you see Herod was not Jewish.

Herod was an Idumean, that is, his father was from Edom, he was an Edomite. That means he came from the neighboring region of Edom, and he was a descendant not of Jacob but of Esau. He had connived and flattered and bribed and bought and battled his way into this position that he did not deserve by legal right. About 25 years before the birth of Christ the Roman senate had given Herod this title. Twenty-five years before Christ was born this is the title they gave him officially; the king of the Jews. When the magi arrived, he had reigned for some 35 years and was about 69 years old. Herod the Great, the king of the Jews. Now do you understand why he was troubled in verse 3? He was a usurper, he was a cruel, conniving, despicable despot who didn't deserve to be in that position. And all of that explains his reaction in verse 3. He was "troubled." The Greek word is like our word "agitated," like what goes on in your washing machine. That's the inside of Herod's soul, and what troubled him was the risk of losing his own personal empire.

By the way the kind of man Herod was also explains why all of Jerusalem was troubled as well. For 25 years Jerusalem had learned to be troubled when Herod was troubled because it always meant trouble for them. Herod, never one to wait for events to come to pass in their own course, launched his own plan. You're familiar with the rest of the story. The plan is already part of Herod's mind and thinking at this point, he knows where the Messiah was to be born, he learned that from the religious leaders, but he needs to know who, and he knew that his best source of information on that front would be the magi. And so, Herod sends for them, look at verse 7. Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared."

Herod sent a secret message to the wise men. He met with them in secret all to cover his tracks because he already knows what he's going to do. Notice his subtle deception here. He wants to know how old the Child is, because he intends to kill this Child, and if he can't get the Child Himself, ultimately, he will catch that Child up in a net of group of children. But he wants to know how old the Child is, but he doesn't ask that question directly, instead he pretends to be interested in the stars, the very area that these wise men, the magi, would have been most interested in, in their area of expertise. Tell me about that star, and he begins to probe, and eventually he finds out when the star appeared. Verse 8, then Herod gives them the information he has. He wants them to lead him to the child, so "he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him."

You know the end of the story, you know the true essence of Herod's character, and so think for a moment about what this means. Herod knows that, unlike him, this King who has been born has been divinely promised and divinely selected. He knows that this Child is Israel's promised Messiah, prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. But Herod is so interested in his own agenda that he just doesn't care. He's willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants, even if it means rebellion against the will and Word of God, even if it means killing the Messiah, and yet at the same time he feigns interest in Christ when it serves his advantage. Look at verse 8 again, "when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him."

You know as I read that text I thought some things never change. When will Christians ever learn that politicians will lie about their Spiritual interests to get what they want? As disingenuous as Herod was, he apparently came across as genuine enough to sell it to these wise men. He was a first-class hypocrite when it served his purposes. But understand that Herod's real response to Jesus Christ was one of "angry defiance." He would have his way, his kingdom and no promised Messiah would get in the way of what he deserved, what he felt he had a right to.

The world is full of people like Herod. They live to advance their own agenda, and although they feign respect for Jesus Christ, they have absolutely no interest in giving up their own agenda, in giving up their own self-rule. They may give hypocritical worship to Christ that fools some good people, but inwardly, and sometimes outwardly, they are in angry defiance of the demands of Jesus Christ on their lives. They're happy with a Jesus who stays to Himself and leaves them alone, lets them live like they want to live, but the moment He begins to utter commands from His throne, they respond with the religious leaders of Israel, we will not have this Man to rule over us.

Listen, if you have to honestly say in many ways Herod resembles you because you have in your heart an angry defiance against the Word of God and the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures, you want to do it your own way, then listen, Jesus is still your rightful King. The fact that you want it otherwise doesn't change the reality. And He's not fooled by or interested in hypocritical self-serving worship. He wants you to bow before Him your will and heart and do what He commands. Herod is an amazing glimpse of the response of angry defiance against the rule of Christ; a heart of rebellion that may be hidden beneath the façade of hypocrisy. So, "settled indifference," "religious distraction," "angry defiance;" those are all common, all too common but unworthy reactions to the King. Thank God they were not the only reactions in this story.

We now come to the third and final scene in Matthew 2. We've seen in verses 1 and 2 the "unlikely announcement of the King," verses 3-8 the "unworthy reaction to the King." The third scene in this fascinating story is the "unrestrained worship of the King." And this worship comes from the most unlikely of people. It comes from the magi. Remember the magi were Gentiles, and not just Gentiles, they were pagan idolaters. They were involved in astrology and divination and Zoroastrianism. In Old Testament Israel these men would have been stoned to death. But it's left to them to show the Jews and the entire world the only right response to Jesus as King. Their response, by the way, is entirely different from everyone else in the story.

Look at verse 9, after hearing, "After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was." When they had met with Herod, Herod you remember had finally answered their question, they had come asking the question where? Where is He? And Herod had told them in verse 8, in response to their question and in response to his own questioning of the religious leaders, the answer is Bethlehem. And Herod sent them to Bethlehem, so here are these magi, they leave the palace, they go outside the city walls, and they're on a very short journey of six miles south to Bethlehem.

And as they head out of the city toward Bethlehem, we're told here that the star, whatever it was that they had seen, probably the Shikanah glory of God, the glory cloud, the way that the children of Israel were led through the wilderness reappears, and it leads them, goes ahead of them the six miles south to Bethlehem, and then we're told, [verse 9] that it came and stood over where the King was. And this time it's not the place where the animals were kept as it was on the night of His birth. But instead verse 11 says they find Him in a house.

Now, the main point here is to see their response, their reaction to the King. And verses 10 and 11 tell us what "unrestrained worship" of the King looks like. Here is how true followers of the King, true subjects of the King react. Theirs is a three-fold reaction. Look at them with me together. Their first reaction in verse 10 is "joy," joy. "When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy."

You see they had seen His star, you remember in the east they told us, while they were still in their home country. Then there is no record that the star led them across. They knew from Daniel and the Old Testament Scriptures that we were dealing with the King born in Israel, born King of the Jews, Israel's Messiah. So, they come trekking across to Israel, apparently without the presence of the star at all, there's no biblical record that the star led them all the way. They come to Jerusalem, the most obvious choice because that's where Israel's current king was seated, and so they come looking for the One born King of the Jews.

They're directed now to Bethlehem, and now as they leave the city of Jerusalem heading that six-mile journey south to Bethlehem, the star, whatever it was, reappears. And literally the text says, they rejoiced, a mega joy, extremely. That's what it says. They were overwhelmed with joy. Their joy wasn't about the star, their joy was that the star had reappeared that would point them to the divine Messiah that Daniel had said would come, and would come, in Daniel 9, and make an end of sin. They rejoiced a mega joy extremely.

The second reaction of these men was "submission." Not only are all of those true worshipers of the King absolutely filled with joy about Jesus Christ, but they also respond with submission. Look at verse 11, "After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him."

It's very interesting, the word "worship" here every other time Matthew uses this word worship in reference to Jesus it's always true biblical worship. So, this is not as some commentators would have us believe the normal homage to a middle eastern monarch. By their own testimony this Child is Israel's rightful King and also the divine Messiah. And when you combine this response of worship with their joy in the previous verse, you have the genuine response of a believing heart, and what is that response? It's the response of "submission." Look at what they do. "They fell to the ground and worshiped Him."

You see in the ancient world when you bowed before a king you were acknowledging his position of authority, his right to rule, his right to rule you. This was their acknowledgement that this Child was their King, and they were submitting themselves to His will and to His desires.

Let me ask you this morning. Do you really rejoice in the person of Jesus Christ? Can you really say that your own heart is genuinely overwhelmed with the person of Jesus Christ as your King? That's the response of those that really know Him; those who offer Him unrestrained worship. Can you say this morning that your own heart is submitted to Him, have you ever bowed your will to the will of Jesus Christ and stopped calling the shots in your life, and allowed Him to call them? Let His Word determine how you respond to life and the people around you? That's how true worshipers respond to the King, with joy and with submission.

There's a third response that these men have it's in the middle of verse 11, it says, "Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh." This is the response of "honor," honor. You see they presented Him gifts. Now, we're told what the gifts were, but we're told nowhere in Scripture what they mean. Historically these three gifts have been given very specific meanings. The question is where do those meanings come from? Well, if you examine in detail, as we won't do this morning, we don't have time, but if you examine how these three items are used in the rest of Scripture it becomes very possible that the historical interpretation of these three gifts is legitimate and is genuine.

Let's look at them together, the first gift is gold. In the Scripture gold is rarely owned by individuals, it is the metal of kings. It is almost always associated with royalty. In fact, the Roman orator Seneca said that it was the custom of Persia that no one approach the king without a gift and that gold, the king of metals was the proper gift for a king. So, gold almost always is connected to royalty, to one who has the right to rule.

The second gift is frankincense. The English word frankincense is a word which comes from the Old English "frank ensens" which literally means "pure incense," pure incense. It describes the aromatic resin that comes from certain trees that grow in Arabia. It was used in incense as well as in perfumes. When you look in the Scriptures, most of the times this word occurs in the Old Testament, it occurs in connection with the service of God. It was part of the incense even that was burned in the temple to God continually. It connects Jesus to God. There is some relationship, intimate relationship between Jesus and God symbolized by this gift of frankincense. As William Hendrickson suggests, "In the Scripture gold goes with kings, and incense with God."

The third gift they brought to Jesus was myrrh. Myrrh is a reddish-brown resin as well, also the dried sap of a tree which grows especially in Arabia. It was so highly valued in ancient times that it was often worth more, literally worth more than its weight in gold. Myrrh was used in three ways in the ancient world. You can see all of these in the Old Testament and New. It was used as a perfume to make life more pleasant. You see that especially in Song of Solomon. It was used as a pain killer to make pain less intense. And it was used as an embalming fragrance to make burial and death less repulsive. It's interesting, when you think about myrrh, because it was probably used in all three of those ways in the life of Christ, perhaps as perfume here at His birth and in conjunction with His birth in Matthew 2. Certainly, it was used as pain killer at His crucifixion. Mark 15 tells us that it was mixed in the drink that He was offered. And it was brought by Nicodemus as one of the spices for embalming Him according to John 19. So, myrrh was all wrapped up in the life of Christ.

Amazing gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. William Hendrickson writes, "They presented Him with gifts that were not only lavish, but were also definitely appropriate. Gold for He was and is indeed a King; King of kings, and Lord of lords. Frankincense for He is indeed God, the fullness of the God Head dwells in Him. And myrrh, for He is also man destined for death and this by His own choice."

But the most important thing about these gifts is that all three of them were extremely rare in the ancient world and therefore incredibly valuable. They bring them to Jesus as a King. You see as Seneca said, it was the practice in the ancient world if you came into the presence of a king, to come with gifts. It was a way of honoring the King. And so, these gifts that the magi bring are expressions of honor and adoration of their King. These men serve as the model for the only right response to the King; it's unrestrained worship. And that unrestrained worship consists in finding our greatest joy in Him, of submitting our wills to Him, and of honoring Him with the most valuable gifts we have, especially our own lives.

Verse 12 says, "And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way." By another way, I love that expression. Obviously, the main point is geographical about their actual journey. They'd come over the Fertile Crescent and down the main trade route. And as they leave they are in a hurry to get away, out from Herod and out of his territory, so they probably headed directly east across the Jordan, to get out of his hands as quickly as they could. But that phrase also reminds me of their spiritual journey. They had in the recent past probably been pagan idolaters, but when they left Bethlehem by another way, they left as worshipers of the true God, and as ones who embrace His Divine Messiah that the Old Testament had foretold.

Now before we're done this morning, we need to ask the question why? Why did God send the magi to Israel? Why are the magi a part of the Christmas story in connection in any way with the birth of Christ? Well I think there are several reasons, let me quickly give them to you.

Number one, first and foremost reason they're a part of the story is they came to Israel for their own spiritual salvation. Maybe you've seen the bumper sticker that's popular on Christian cars particularly around the holidays "wise men still seek Him." And of course, in a sense that's true, but in another more profound sense that's not true. The only reason the wise men came seeking Christ is because God had first sought them.

Six hundred years before, God had given the ancestors of these men the Jewish Scriptures and had given them Daniel the prophet as over all the wise men of Babylon. And then God had preserved that spiritual influence for hundreds of years so that these men could come to know His Son. And when Jesus was actually born, He sent a supernatural sign to tell them. They arrive in Jerusalem, and God directed the circumstances in Jerusalem so that Herod and all the spiritual leadership of Israel tell them where to find the Child. So, understand this: the story of the wise men like that of the shepherds is a story of divine grace, of sovereign grace.

Ultimately, it is not a story of wise men seeking Jesus. It's a story of God seeking lost sinners. God sent these men to find their rightful King, and He did it as He accomplished their salvation. Matthew had just told us back in Matthew 1:21 that this Child would come to save His people from their sins. And we get to the next passage, and we find some very unlikely people becoming His people and being rescued from their sins. God had sovereignly reached down into the paganism of the former Babylonian empire and snatched these men to Himself.

There's a second reason I think not only are they part of the story because they come to their own spiritual salvation, but I think God also obviously sent the magi as a testimony; a testimony to Herod and to the political and religious leaders of Israel and to the entire Jewish nation that the Messiah had come. Think about it. If it wasn't to let everybody know, God could have directed them directly to Bethlehem, that small little village six miles south, and very few people would have ever heard the story. But instead, God providentially brought them to Jerusalem; some 80,000 people, all of the religious leaders. As an expression of His grace, God sent the magi to prepare all of the spiritual and political leaders of the nation, the population of the nation for the ministry of His Son. He's here, He's come, prepare.

There's a third reason I think they're part of the story. This is a powerful testimony to all of us to everyone who reads it that God's promise of a Messiah is true, that He's already been born, that He was born in Bethlehem as prophesied, and that He was born in that narrow window of time from 4 to 6 B.C. during the life of Herod, just before his death. And He was more than an earthly King, He was truly deserving of worship as God is worthy of worship.

But I think the fourth and final reason the magi are part of the Christmas story, and perhaps the most important reason for you is that this story is an invitation. You see Jesus is the rightful King. He's the rightful King of the Jews. He's the rightful King of the Gentiles as these magi evidence. He's the rightful King of the whole world. He's the rightful King of every man. He is your rightful King. He is your King.

The question is how will you respond to Him? Will you respond as the people of Jerusalem did with "settled indifference?" Where you celebrate Christmas as you do every year, but never really acknowledging Jesus as King? Is your reaction that of the religious leaders? Is it "religious distraction?" You're so busy in your life and involvement in religious things whatever form that takes in your life that you miss submission to the King? Is it "angry defiance?" Is there in your heart a hard-hearted rebellion against what you know God requires of you and demands of you, Like Herod? Or do you respond like a wise man, with joy and submission and honor and adoration?

Listen, this passage is like a mirror that you can hold up to yourself and see your reflection. You are one of the people in this story. The question is which one? Who do you most resemble? This Christmas as you celebrate with your family, with your friends, remember this as the wise men did. The Baby you celebrate is your rightful King. How will you respond to Him?

Let's pray together.

Our Father, we thank You for this heart-searching passage. We thank You for how Your word sinks deep in our hearts. We thank You for how it serves as a mirror into which we can see ourselves, and Father, I pray that You would open our eyes to see. Lord, enable us to see. Strip away our own self-righteousness, our own view of ourselves, and help us to see ourselves as You see us.

Father, I pray that You would work in the hearts of all of those here who have already truly fallen down and worshiped their King, who have submitted their wills and everything in their lives to His will. Father, I pray that we would be reminded even in this Christmas season that He is our rightful King.

And Lord, if there are areas of our lives which we continue to exercise our own authority, our own self-rule, Father, I pray that You would strip those away, and help us to fall at His feet with the wise men in submission. Lord, fill us with joy; help us to honor Christ in this season.

I pray as well, Father, for those who are undoubtedly here this morning, a number of people under the sound of my voice this morning, who, when they look at themselves in the mirror of Your Word, don't see themselves in the wise men, but in one of the other reactions: settled indifference, religious distraction, angry defiance. Father, I pray that You would open their eyes. And more than opening their eyes to their condition, open their eyes to the beauty of Jesus Christ, and may they in this Christmas season, as they celebrate our Lord's birth, come to own Him and embrace Him as their King. Oh God, make some wise men here even today.

We pray in Jesus name and for His sake, Amen.