Hope For 2021: The True King

Hope For 2021  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  31:09
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Part Two - A brief series of three messages from Matthew's Gospel for Christmas 2020 (and the New Year) to remind Christians that our hope for 2021 is not in improved circumstance but in Whom we trust and serve. By faith in Him we need not fear or falter but press ahead in His fullness.

We’re continuing in a three-part series for Christmas and the new year, emphasizing our trust in God rather than placing hope in shifting circumstances, with a particular emphasis on our confidence residing in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today we begin Matthew 2. We’ll catch the second half of it next week.
After Jesus’ birth, Matthew jumps forward in time, when Jesus is no longer an infant but is still a baby essentially. (Under two… Maybe a year to 1.5 years old, we don’t know for sure. But I’m picturing Jesus is in the really fun phase for parents, additional family, friends, and neighbors: he would have in recent months not only transitioned from crawling to walking, but then repeating words and phrases, and perhaps now learning to potty train, and so on.) Joseph has undoubtedly found a place to live and gotten busy providing for his small family in Bethlehem. It appears that this was perhaps to be their new home... until God changes their plans. [more on all that next week]
Matthew picks up here to tell us of another important occurence, showing us something of God’s majesty and unique ways, revealing further detail about the identity and scope of Messiah’s influence, and setting the stage for the rising conflict between the Christ and the religious and political establishment.
First, we are told that this takes place “in the days of Herod the King.”

Herod: A Puppet King

Herod was not a rightful heir to kingship over Israel. He was an Idumean, and not even a full-blooded Jew, who was set up as regional ruler by the Roman Empire… someone they could control and trust to keep his own best interest first, which would mean keeping Roman interest first to maintain his own status.
There’s much more that can be said of Herod, and we’ll do so next week. For now… we’ll remember that Herod does achieve some impressive things (especially architecturally), and he’s vicious and efficient at protecting his power, but the fact remains that he’s a puppet of the Roman Empire.
Herod’s aim was earthly achievement, recognition, and power. But Jesus, the true King, who is himself sovereign over all (in unity with the triune Godhead), came not to claw and clamor for earthly influence. Instead, even as Matthew indicates regarding the prophetic fulfillment, Jesus came to be…

Jesus: The Shepherd King

When the magi come to town, Jerusalem, and start asking questions, the stir among the people reaches Herod. ** I believe, without the magi present, Herod calls the chief priests and scribes to tell him about the Messiah’s place of birth. (We ultimately learn, true to form, that Herod’s concern is only for himself.)
The answer to the question comes from prophecy in Micah 5:2, which tells that it is Bethlehem, which is certainly not least among important places in Judah, because it is not only the town of the renowned King David, but will also be the birthplace of the Christ.
In this prophecy we hear something I want to point out to you concerning the true King that is such a great contrast from Herod (and nearly all other earthly rulers). Jesus comes at his first advent not with an iron scepter but as a suffering servant, and here particularly noted, as a ruler who will shepherd his people. (We’ll talk in a few minutes about who those people are…)
The true King shepherds his people, even laying down his life for his sheep. But the farce king clings to power, not only taking his underlings for granted, but even taking the lives of the sheep to protect his own power and convenience.
(We have then something we ought to apply to our lives.) If we are in Christ, we must lead like Christ. In any sphere of influence and responsibility which God sees fit to give, we are here to serve. And to do so sacrificially, for the good of others.
But going back to a broader perspective of the passage, Matthew here is able to put the arrival of the Messiah against the backdrop of what is sure to be conflict with pre-existing earthly rulers. (Both regional rulers and Rome... and of course the Jewish religious elites)
Speaking of religious elites, what is God up to when he brings these pagan mystics from the east, who have no stake in Israel’s history or future, and who do not follow the law of Israel’s God, to worship the Messiah?

Pagan Mystics? Really?

Magi (not kings… even “wise men” is probably not clear enough) - These were scholars, probably from the region of Persia and Babylonia, who likely held significant influence with kings and people of high places because of their purported powers. They were scientists with a philosophical/theological bent (stated as positively as possible)... Astronomers turned astrologers: interpreting spiritual “signs” from the movements and patterns of the stars, interpreting dreams, and the like. - If I’m honest, it all sounds rather dubious and wonky, more likely to be either smoke and mirrors to maintain influence, or worse, having Satanic power behind it. - In fact, God had instructed his people, Israel, in Deuteronomy 18 not to participate in such occult practice or chicanery, opting instead to listen only to prophets from God (whose prophecies must always prove true).
So I ask myself, Why does God reveal a sign to these pagan mystics, and with a “star”? And why do the religious leaders, who have the most detailed information (and from Yahweh’s own Scripture, no less), fail to act? - What do we learn from the answers to these questions about God… and us?
As for attempts to explain the strange “star” scientifically, perhaps an alignment of Jupiter and Saturn, or something like Haley’s comet... I like what Bob Deffinbaugh says: “I must confess that I do not find these explanations satisfactory or sufficient. First of all, if this were a known and predictable phenomenon, then why would the magi follow it? It would not have been that unusual at all. And how could it possibly lead the magi to the very house where Jesus and His parents were living?” - We’re probably looking at something unique that God used for this express purpose… more like the Shekinah Glory of God appearing to them to be like a star.
As for these pagan seekers who see this through, compared to the ones who have and disclose the prophecy concerning Bethlehem but do nothing else about it, Matthew must be deliberately drawing attention to the contrast.
The Pagan Magi vs. the Jewish Religious Establishment
New Testament 2:1–12—The Pagan Seekers

Matthew informs his readers that even at Jesus’ birth, the religious teachers who knew the most (2:5) failed to act on the truth, while pagans whom one would never expect to come to the Jewish Messiah did just that.

Here we have some quasi-religious pseudo-scientists who are persistently seeking the one who has been born “King of the Jews,” while the experts in the law of God (scribes) and Jewish religious leaders, who are steeped in messianic tradition and have the written revelation of Yahweh, are fearful and agitated (for fear of Herod and possibly fear of God’s judgment)… but apathetic as to seeking the source of the Magi’s mysterious pursuit.
This makes me think of both a practical application and a theological one.
1. We should not assume that our friends, our family, our children… are really grasping and embracing the gospel. You should certainly not assume that being a part of the Christian crowd makes you one. (nor even a God-fearing family)
2. God draws whom he chooses, as we are equally lost and blind and dead apart from his effectual call. (Jn 6:44, cf. Eph. 2:1-3, 1 Cor. 2:14, Rom. 8:7, Col. 2:13) - Not everyone will be saved, and God is justified in that action. (Rom. 1-3, Rom. 9:18-24) But those whom he chooses will come.
As we continue in our passage, I would argue that the religious leaders and scribes don’t pursue this further (the opportunity to find the one the magi are going on about) because they are spiritually blinded in their pursuit of personal gain. There’s nothing in it for them.
Another contrast therefore emerges because…
True Worship Isn’t for Personal Gain
Let me explain. “No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” (Inigo Montoya in the Princess Bride)
Those who want God as a means to their own end are not true worshippers. (They merely want to use God. Some of us may not realize that’s what we’re ultimately doing.) - We are meant to come to God by faith not for what we can get out of him, but because he is God, deserving of our worship.
Of course, there is in fact great gain in knowing and worshiping the one true God. “The chief end of man is [indeed] to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” (Westminster Catechism) But the purpose and the impetus (the motivation) for worship is simply the worth of the one being worshiped. - That’s why so much of idolatry and false worship is preposterously ludicrous. We’re placing so much value and worth in someone or something that doesn’t deserve it. That never happens with God; never happens with Jesus. The eternal triune God is worthy of worship.
While it doesn’t seem right to assume that these quasi-religious magi fully recognize the true identity of Jesus and are worshipping him as God and placing their faith in him, they have apparently come (making a long journey that may have taken them more than a month) simply to worship the newborn king.
Most biblical scholars guess that somewhere along the lines these magi have been influenced by Jewish revelation passed down from the likes of Daniel in Babylon. They anticipated one who was coming, sent from the God of the Jews, to be the Messiah and rightful King of the Jews, who was worthy of worship. And so they come, bearing costly gifts and worshiping the Christ child.
From the limited revelation they receive, they respond in worship.
Here again are a couple points of application:
1. Because of the work of Christ by his death and resurrection, and God’s saving grace applying his work to us, we respond to God in worship. You don’t worship God to gain something from him. In worshiping God there is great gain, but you worship him because he is God, because he is worthy.
2. Motivation Matters - Our motivation in acts and expressions of worship matters. Do we give to God for hope of something in return, or do we give to God in gratitude and recognition of his worth? - Even our motivation in asking questions matters. Are we genuinely seeking truth—truth about God and about his universe—or are we seeking what we want to hear (for information to support our own agenda, to give us more power and control)?
Also significantly, the arrival of the magi to worship Jesus foreshadows a really important point that Matthew will aim to make regarding the ministry and mission of Jesus (as do all the Gospels and many NT letters), which is…
The Scope of Christ’s Kingdom
Jesus came to save his own, and many of those who are his own prove to be outsiders—social outsiders, religious outsiders (even like Matthew himself). But an extremely critical point of the gospel is that the offer of salvation is made to not only Jews but to Gentiles as well (who are outsiders as to God’s previously chosen people, but made insiders by the purchasing work of Christ). What we have to realize is that when it comes to a holy God, we’re all spiritual outsiders.
In the new covenant in Jesus Christ, God is making for himself a people from every nation and tribe… every ethnicity and tongue. (cf. Rev. 7:9) Therefore Jesus will instruct his people, after his atoning death and vindicating resurrection, to spread the gospel everywhere. (Mt. 28, Acts 1)
Here are some further points then to remember:
1. The sovereign of the universe came to earth as a baby!… and the scope of his kingdom is over every one and every thing. His spiritual kingdom encompasses all people. The entire universe is under God’s rule.
2. Just as the magi come to him from pagan lands and pagan ways…. No one is too far for God to save. - The distance from a holy God is too far and the sin too deep for any natural man (born in sin) to bridge the chasm. But it is not too far for God. The God-Man Jesus Christ came to do what we cannot and to be what we cannot. If you repent of sin and self-effort, and trust only in Jesus to be salvation for you, then you will be restored to God. And then your worship will no longer be in vain but will glorify the God who deserves worshipers who worship in spirit and in truth.
What again does all this have to do with real hope, real confidence for the days ahead? - For Christians, this life is a worship journey.

Conclusion: Worship Journey

Instead of journeying to worship the King; your journey is itself meant to be worship. (In other words, your whole life is wrapped up in worshiping Jesus.) You are an adopted child of the eternal Sovereign. H has made you a citizen, a soldier of the one true King, who reigns over all that he has made and is sovereign over the hearts and lives of men. He is calling men to himself from every corner of the globe and every walk of life, and we are his ambassadors. You have purpose in the journey.
It means too that if God determines that he will make the next patch of road smooth for you... If he says, I’ll let you have this nice provision, you say, “Thank you, and I know you are sufficient even if I didn’t have this.” If he determines to permit suffering… or if God says I’m going to tighten your budget this next year, you say, “Thank you Lord for using this trial to strengthen my dependence on you. Lord, I worship you, and pray that I will seek to emulate the perfection in your character instead of finding things to complain about at every turn.”
You therefore have hope in the journey. You step into tomorrow by his comfort, and confidence, and courage. What more can you gain if God has given you himself to worship? What can we possibly have to lose (that isn’t ok to do without) if God has granted us himself?
Let’s Pray.
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