The Promise for All People

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The visit of the Magi, and their subsequent worship of the Christ-Child displays the unique wonder of the Christmas story. The promise of the Jewish Messiah is for all people. The initial motive of their seeking may or may not have been pure, but they announced the birth of the Jewish King in Jerusalem, were pointed to Bethlehem by the scriptures, and seeing the Christ-child, they crumbled to the ground and worshipped.

There are times in Scripture where God “upsets the apple cart” and does things that are not expected by His people. Things that clearly show the hand of the Lord is at work; not so much because they are overtly miraculous, but because they are surprising, unique, and sometimes even strange.
Consider Abraham, a man born into pagan religion, not fearing or worshiping the One true God, yet chosen by God himself to be the father of his chosen people, and through who’s seed the Messiah would eventually come.
Consider the story of the story of Joseph, how he was sold into slavery by his brothers, wound up in an Egyptian prison, then became, as a Hebrew boy, second in command over all of Egypt.
Consider the conquest of Canaan, where Rahab, a pagan prostitute, exhibited faith in the One True God and aided the cause of the Hebrew spies sent to gather information for the defeat of her own city.
Consider the story of Cyrus, and unbelieving King of Persia, who saw it fit to release the Israelite captives back to their homeland after the defeat of Babylon.
Consider Balaam, a Gentile whom the Lord came upon in a special way to be a prophet to Israel and deliver his word to them. This story in particular is interesting in connection to our passage today. In Balaam’s final oracle, recorded in Numbers 24, he tells of a coming ruler. The “star of Jacob”. This ruler, Balaam prophesied, would come in the distant future - he would exercise dominion over his own people, and he would vindicate the cause of his people by defeating their enemies once and for all.
This “Star of Jacob” prophecy by the Gentile Balaam has been viewed through the ages as one of the most peculiar messianic prophecies. It is early in Israel’s history, and it comes from an unexpected source. It is one of those times, again, where God “upsets the apple cart” and works in a very peculiar way.
Matthew 2:1-12 gives us another one of those instances - a time where God works through means that would have been considered strange by His people. The journey of the Magi, the “wise men” as they are called sometimes, is an event that can only be explained by the Wisdom of God.
Many have made connection between Balaam’s “star of Jacob” prophesy and the journey of the Wise Men, because of the miraculous star that they saw arise which told of the birth of a King.
The Magi were astrologers. From somewhere in Western Asia, Probably from Babylonia, They studied the stars, interpreted movements, they would have been authorities on all things stars, and prophecies concerning stars. This special star at the time of Jesus’ birth was so fascinating to them that they created a travel caravan, and came to Jerusalem.
The Wise Men and their gifts are one of the most prolific elements in the “Christmas Narrative”. Countless references to them in Christmas carols, Christmas cards, decorations, films, sometimes with embellished details and imagination, tell the story of their journey and worship of Jesus.
But the journey of the Wise Men tell us something remarkable about the Advent of the Messiah. We can’t say for certain whether they initially sought this newborn king with good intentions, or mere curiosity. We cannot say for certain how much they knew of messianic prophecy and who the messiah was to be. We cannot say for certain that they even fully understood who it was they were looking for. It is evident, however, that when they finally found the Christ-child, they were overtaken by the truth and wonder of it all. As Matthew records this element of the Christmas story, it is clear that one of the main purposes in the telling of it is to portray the fact that even as a child, the coming of Jesus as the Messiah was good news for all people!

The Worship of Jesus by the Gentile Magi displays the unique wonder of the Christmas story: the promise of the Messiah is for all people.

We can see this story in three parts.
First, you have the travel of the Magi where they are seeking the Advent of this new King.
Then you have their interaction with King Herod the Great, where we find him greatly troubled by the Advent.
Finally, you have the Magi finally following the star to the Bethlehem where Jesus was living, and there they offer gifts and worship the Christ-child.
This story is so familiar to Those of us who have been in church our whole lives, or even those who have simply celebrated Christmas their whole lives. Lest familiarity breed contempt, I want to look at the story in a bit of reverse sequence. We will start with the Magi at the home where they find Mary and Jesus, and we will work our way back to their Journey.

1. Treasuring The Advent - 9-12

We begin here at the end of the passage because here we really find the true aim and intention of the whole Christmas message, don’t we? Here the seeking of the wise men finds its rest. Here the message of the Angels to the Shepherds takes on its full meaning. Here the Song of joy and glory by Simeon finds its fulness. Simeon praised God for the light of revelation to all people. The Angel’s proclaimed that the child was Savior and Lord. The Magi came seeking he who had been born “king of the Jews”. Here in this home, The worship of the Christ-child gives us that grand and glorious image - that vast and perfect intention of all the Christmas story, that people from all corners of the earth might see and treasure Christ, and that seeing his sweetness and the Glory of the work of God, they would fall down and worship.
This is, after all, the goal of all human history - this is the purpose for which we were intended and created. In this moment, whether or not it was their original intention, we cannot say - but in this very moment, these Magi were fulfilling the true purpose of all creation - to praise and glorify the Lord.
Psalm 86:8–10 ESV
There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.
Now, this might lead you to ask, why were the Magi worshiping Jesus? Was this true worship, or was it just human respect for one they thought was to be a human king? As we work our way back through the passage, I think it is a possibility that they set out for purely human reasons. They were, after all, astrologers, and this great new star would have piqued their interest.
But when we find them here, they are said to be worshiping. The word alone can sometimes mean human reverence, but it is mostly used for worship of God - and we are given another clue here by Matthew. They did not simply come and give the gifts, but when they came into the house - they fell down. A strong word is used there, it means to suddenly lose an upright position. Not merely bowing, not slowly getting down on a knee - the word actually means destruction - so, whether or not they originally intended to do this, we find that upon finding Jesus, they were utterly cast down, and falling to the ground, they worshipped him.
The image is strong enough to indicate that, at this point, I believe their worship was as genuine as it could be with the limited information they had.
Then of course, is the matter of their gifts. Great many paragraphs have been written in outlining what might be the possible significance of their gifts.
Gold, of course, is a gift fit for a king. It was rare, beautiful, costly, significant. Anyone seeing gold in that day would have no doubt that there was something or someone of great worth. To a poor family, living now in a new town, having a young child, this Gold would have been an immense blessing - perhaps even affording them the financial means to escape out of Judea in the subsequent verses.
Frankincense - this had a myriad of uses. It was indeed used in the worship of the Temple, but it was also something used in the glorification and worship of both kings and deity in other cultures as well. It was fit for the exaltation of a great, magnificent ruler.
Myrrh, one of the costliest and most fragrant perfumes of that day, was used by those in the highest social classes to perfume themselves with a pleasant aroma. And yes, it was in fact mixed with other spices and used to perfume bodies prepared to be entombed. Myrrh would be again given for Jesus, only later after his death - where his body was prepared to be buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.
These significances, Gold for a King, Frankincense for Deity, Myrrh for a burial, were probably not the Magi’s intention. They brought these costly, beautiful, potent gifts because they were all fit for a king - and they initially thought the one they were seeking was just a king, but how fitting is it that they were spot on with their gifts? Fit for a king? Yes indeed! But also a king who was the God-man, and one who would suffer death for the sins of the world.
We aren’t told how many wise men there were, only that there were three gifts. Perhaps there were at least three men, and perhaps even more! But here is another miraculous scene that only the Wisdom of God could imagine - these men, traveling hundreds of miles by the course of a star to find one who is born king of the Jews, now hurried into a little house in Bethlehem, falling down and worshipping this little child.
How, though, did they find this child? How did they locate him? Again, these men were astrologers. They had seen this miraculous star rising into the horizon from their home in the east, and they followed its direction. They had come to Jerusalem, for surely the king of the Jews would be born there! But they were turned away, to the place where the birth of the messiah was prophesied to happen. And when they left Jerusalem, miraculously the star had appeared again! This time, however, it was even more astounding - for somehow the star moved ahead of them and led them to the very house where Jesus was, and there the star came to rest.
Was this a mere star? Or was it more? Certainly, it appeared to them as a star - but more than likely, this was a special, miraculous light sent to these travelers for the express purpose that they might find and treasure the Advent - the coming of the savior.

2. Troubled By the Advent - 3-8

Now again, initially, that same star had pointed them to Jerusalem. They were, after all, looking for the newly-born king of the Jews. Why wouldn’t he be in Jerusalem, where the Kings had reigned historically, and where Herod the Great, the king hired to rule Judea by Rome, was currently ruling.
Now, initially, when you read this section, it appears that Herod is genuinely interested in finding and knowing this new King. He hears about the possibility of this new King being born, and he immediately assembles a group of people that may have information to find where his birth might be.
The group of people point Him to Bethlehem. How so specific? How did they have this information? Well, Matthew gives us the answer, and its found in the fact that they referenced the scripture.
Let us look at the scripture they quoted, then in keeping with our theme of working backwards, we will look at who this team that Herod assembled was, and then we will take a look at Herod himself.
The scriptural quote that we find in verse 6 is actually a couple of scriptures quoted together. This is actually very common in the New Testament. It doesn’t follow exact translation from either the Hebrew Old Testament that we have, or the Septuagint, which was the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures. In reality, Matthew, as a Hebrew Jewish man, was probably quoting this scripture from memory. And also, has happens in a couple places in the New Testament, what he gives us is more of an interpretation and a paraphrase than an exact quote.
Scott did a great job a couple of weeks ago going over Micah 5:2 - and that is the main part of the quote here. The scripture foretells that a King would be born, a ruler from old, in Bethlehem. Whereas Micah 5:2 says that Bethlehem is the least among the cities, Matthew gives an update in his interpretation, and says that Bethlehem is by no means the least anymore! Also, he includes a reference to Micah 5:4, and even 2 Samuel 5:2, that this ruler would be a shepherd-King.
But the main part of this quotation is the location - Bethlehem of Judah. That is where this miraculous, shepherd king would be born. That is where the messiah was to be born. If there was to be a new King born, it would be in Bethlehem as prophesied.
The team that Herod Assembled knew these scriptures. They knew where the Messiah had been prophesied to be born. That is how they were able to give this information to Herod, who gave it to the Magi.
The team was the “chief priests and scribes of the people.” The fact that there was more than one high priest, rather than just one as prescribed in the Old Testament, was a result of the Roman Empire’s takeover of Palestine. The rulers would often depose the high priest, and add to that office others who would serve together as the “high priests”. The scribes were educated, literate men who originally were tasked with copying scripture. As their job expanded, they became those were were well-versed in the scriptures and the law. These together, the high priests and the scribes, were the experts in the Old Testament. Interestingly, though they knew where the messiah was to be born, and they knew the messiah was to come, they were not looking for him.
We come then, to Herod the Great. Herod was not a Jew, he was an Edomite. He had been made king in Jerusalem by the Roman Empire. He had some Jewish Blood, and it is most likely that he even converted to Judaism at least in a physical sense, but He was no true devotee to God. Herod was able, for the most part, to keep the peace in Palestine. He was viewed favorable by many for the massive building projects he did in and around Jerusalem, including rebuilding the Temple. However, he was far from a righteous ruler.
Herod was known more importantly for being a bloodthirsty ruler. As he grew older, he became more and more concerned with the possibility of losing his throne. He even went to the lengths of killing his own family members if he had even an inkling of suspicion that they were interested in his throne. He was so known for his outlandish and murderous nature, that Caesar Augustus is quoted as saying, “I would rather be Herod’s Pig than his son.” There is humor there, but no one was safe when Herod was in a state of paranoia.
Knowing Herod’s temperment, and also knowing what comes next in the story, it becomes clear that when he invites the Magi in and tells them that he is interested in worshiping this new king, that he is telling a lie. It is clear that when he asks them when the star first appeared, he had a motive behind this. It is clear that, when he asked them to return and tell him where the baby was, that it wasn’t so He could worship him, but so he could kill Him. Fortunately and miraculously, both the Magi and Mary and Joseph were warned of this tragedy. The Wise men did not give Herod the information, and Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt. But There is also great historical tragedy, as Herod had all the young boys aged 2 and under killed because of his jealous, paranoid, worried spirit.
As an Edomite and Roman Apointee, Herod had a real reason to fear being dethroned by a King who was in the line of King David. But Herod, you see, was more interested in saving his throne than He was in saving His soul. Herod had an interest in Jewish religion only insofar as it aided his rule and reign. It is also interesting that the religious leaders also were only interested in political peace, rather than finding their Messiah. They knew the birth was told to be in Bethlehem, and they knew that these Magi were following a miraculous star - perhaps tied in their thinking to the Star of Jacob - yet they weren’t even interested enough to make the 5 mile journey to Bethlehem for themselves.
Beware of Religious expedience. In other words, beware of becoming so religious that you forget to listen to the very Word of God that you know so well. And beware of using your religious for personal benefits, for social benefits, for any other reason other than knowing and truly seeking the God that you claim to know! In stead of treasuring this Advent of the Messiah, Herod and his men were greatly troubled. In stead of anticipating the great peace and joy that it brought, they were only interested in maintaining their own status quo.

3. Seeking the Advent - 1-2

We come then, all the way back to the beginning of the passage. We find the seeking of the Wise men. They were, as they said, seeking the one who had been born King of the Jews!
Of course, we know who they were seeking, and we know he was all that and more. Perhaps at this part of the story, their search was just for a human King. Perhaps, they were quite uninformed about just how significant this was. Either way, they sought him. They sought him to great lengths. They came because of this miraculous star as it Rose. They made a journey of probably hundreds of miles to find him.
We think of this as just three wise men, because that is what we have come to know because of Christmas tradition. The fact was, however, that even if there were just three Magi, three wisemen, they as wealthy astrologers would have been traveling with a caravan. There would have been servants, and animals. There would have been food. It would have been, at the very least, a small parade of these mystical foreigners - these Gentile, Pagan astrologers and magicians, seeking for the Jewish King.
Here is the most remarkable part of it all. As they came into Jerusalem, they didn’t go straight to Herod. They didn’t go straight to the current King. The scripture says, they were saying, “Where is he who is born King? Where is the New King of the Jews?” Not just that they said it, they kept saying it. They kept asking. They likely asked anyone who would listen. Anyone who seemed like they may know. The only reason they had a meeting with Herod in the first place is because the news traveled to Him.
The whole city of Jerusalem, then, was filled with this question - which was more than a question, it was an announcement! Here were Pagan, Gentile mystics and astrologers accidentally announcing to the Jewish city of Jerusalem that their Messiah had been born! We spoke about God upsetting the apple cart, there is no greater example than this!
Here those, who were uninformed about the true nature of Jesus, announcing to those who should have been seeking that he is born. Here are those who had no ties to Judea announcing to Judea that their Savior was born. Here they are, in their human innocence and perhaps ignorance, putting to shame those who prided themselves as being God’s chosen people.
We have spoken about the great contrasts of Advent - light versus darkness. Love versus Hate. Joy versus fear. Glory versus Humility. Here the contrast is so potent - so sharp. Here the contrast is between worship and ignorance. Only in this case, those who should have worshipped were ignorant, and those who should have been ignorant were the first to worship. Those who should have been seeking the new born king and messiah left him unnoticed, while those who were far off, with no connection to Him other than God’s sovereign working in their lives to seek Him, worshipped him falling down with beautiful gifts.
Acts 2:39 ESV
For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
Perhaps, today, God’s desire is to upset the apple cart in your life. Perhaps you are the one in this verse who is far off, yet God is calling you to Himself. Perhaps you are one, who should have no reason to seek the Lord, yet you find yourself seeking Him suddenly. Perhaps you are one, who has convinced yourself that you have no need of a savior, no need of a redeemer, yet now you find yourself suddenly drawn to this idea of Jesus Christ being Savior and Lord. Perhaps you, today, find yourself with a great yearning and desire to worship the Messiah, though before you despised or even mocked Him. Not all will come to Christ - many will reject Him as they did in His day, but still yet, many do come to Him miraculously. The apple-cart of many lives has been upset by the Advent and Gospel of Jesus.
The promise of Christ, today, is for all people - all who God calls to Himself. Not just to the Jewish people. Not just to those who have grown up in a religious home. Not just to those who have been baptized, or have attended church their whole lives, or have religious interests. The Gospel is not a Hobby - as in, some people enjoy hiking, some people enjoy crafts, some people enjoy baking, or art, or woodworking, or reading - no, The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not an interest or a topic of study, it is a promise - the promise of God of Salvation to all who believe. The promise of God for all people, even pagan, gentile astrologers in the first century, even to men and women like you and me in the 21st century.
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