Earth Receive Her King
Well, good morning everyone! My name is Dan Osborn and I serve as the Pastor for Park - Forest Glen! I’m really grateful to be here…I also want to give a shout out to those of you who are watching online right now with the live stream! We’re continuing in our Advent series this morning [EXPAND]
Go ahead and grab a bible…if you need one you can grab one from the seat in front of you…and let’s turn to Matthew 2. Matthew Chapter 2. If you’ve got one of the house bibles, it’s on page ***.
As a pastor, I reserve the right to unapologetically make controversial comments that may or may not be received as offensive comments by those who hear them. Today is one of those moments.
Just because a movie takes place at Christmas time, does not therefor make it a ‘Christmas movie.’
Last year, I shared some thoughts about a very popular movie this time of year…and I know that I made some controversial statements about this beloved tradition in revealing to you that I do not think ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ is a Christmas movie. And I got quite a bit of push back on that…now I will concede that it is indeed a movie. That much is true. And a brief couple of moments in this movie happen to be set during the month of December. And our movies have gotten steadily worse from that time on…notable exceptions include: Charlie Brown (obviously) and A Muppet’s Christmas Carol.
Today, our stories around Christmas have devolved into the same tropes over and over again that are constantly remade and retold…a girl, probably a lawyer who made left her home town to make it big in the city…returns to her home town for some originally unwanted reason…only to find she’s not above the town, but falls somehow falls in love with the town, Christmas, and a ruggedly handsome man who lives in a cabin, wears flannel, and has at least one dog. Somehow, in the sequence of events…she discovers the true meaning of Christmas.
Gag me. Boring. We are watching the wrong movies this time of year.
You see, as the New Testament presents the Christmas, it does so with this rich language and imagery that shows us this is a tale of kings. Yes, there are things in there that we recognize and see every year…angles, shepherds, a baby in a manger…but what what’s hiding just beneath the surface is a clash of empires…an unlikely hero from an unlikely place that emerges to subvert a global superpower. It’s the story of a liberator who frees his people from an oppressive regime.
And it that way, something like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings is much closer to the theme of the biblical Christmas story than of the stuff out there!
Claymation is cute…I get it.
Lord of the Rings is awesome.
What I want to do today, in the few moments we have is to strip away some of the details of the biblical Christmas story that many of are familiar with—and in doing that, I’m not trying to ruin it for you…but I want us to see this story from an angle that is almost entirely missing in our modern conceptions of Christmas.
I want us to see this for the powerful…beautiful…story that it really is. I want to see it as more than a story…but as the story…our story…one that we very much find ourselves right in the middle of.
So if you’re not there yet, open with me to Matthew 2…and we’ll be looking at v. 1-11 this morning. Matthew 2:1-11.
I’ll read the passage, pray, and then we’ll get started.
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6 “ ‘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.’ ” 7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
A Tale of Two Kings
A Tale of Two Kings
Alright let’s get started.
The Magi - Setting the Scene
The Magi - Setting the Scene
I said this story is a tale of two kings. What do I mean by that?
Well let’s look that characters here and we’ll start to see this.
The first part of chapter 2 takes place in Jerusalem. It’s a familiar part of the nativity scenes…but there’s a lot about this we don’t actually know.
We do know there are wise men, or some of your translations might say magi…but we don’t know exactly what that means. The word here for Magi in the original language is magos…it’s where we get the english word Magician from…but that also doesn’t conjure up the right image. These were individuals who were likely royal astrologers…watching the signs of the stars and looking for meaning within astrologiical changes—which was a common practice in the ancient world.
We don’t know exactly where they came from—only that it was from somewhere out East. Probably from the Persian empire. Let me show you a picture just so you get an idea of where this all is. That said…what we’ll see in moment is that where exactly they’re from is not nearly as important as where they are NOT from…Israel. They are not Jewish…they are gentiles…or from the non-Jewish nations of the world.
They see a star, and like in most cultures that place a high value on astrology, they associate this new start with the birth of king or consequential person in the region over which that start hangs.
So they follow the star…a journey that would have taken quite a while…meaning…they did not show up on the night of Jesus birth…and instead of the star leading them to Bethlehem, they arrive in Jerusalem.
Herod, the (imposter) king
Herod, the (imposter) king
Look with me at v. 1, this is where we meet the first king.
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem,
We’re told Jesus was born during the reign of Herod, the King…also known as Herod the Great.
We know quite a bit about him from sources outside the New Testament. Herod was a Jewish, but his family had been part of a political class loyal to the Roman authorities who ruled over the region. What we do know about him is that he had a keen architectural eye…he was responsible for the massive renovation of the Temple in Jerusalem…it was the Temple as Jesus would have been familiar with it. He built a massive sea port—that while in ruin now, you can still visit today in Caesarea. He built forts, palaces, and a bunch of other structures.
But more than this, we also know that Herod the great had a strong reputation for paranoia. In fact, ancient historians understand that most of his building projects where nothing more than political stunts to keep the people under his control in good favor…he was always worried about an over throw of his power. Like many of the political leaders of the day, he was an empire man. His loyalty was too the Roman empire and his goal was to expand the Roman empire…and for him to remain in power within the Roman empire.
He was a king who would not hesitate to have a political rival murdered, even if it was one of his own children, and he did so several times…on nothing more than suspicion of disloyalty or the possibility of betrayal. And all of this is consistent with the way he was portrayed in the New Testament. In fact, if we were to keep reading in Matthew 2, you’ll see that in response to the birth of Jesus, Herod, in a horrific attempt to preserve his place, sends soldiers to Bethlehem and the entire region around it to kill all the male children under 2 years old.
I’m not going to say he was like Darth Vader, but now that I’ve brought it up, I won’t correct it either. He was evil. And in Jerusalem, he was the very representation, not just of some rogue political figure, but of the Roman empire itself…he was, in a sense, the empire incarnate…in the flesh.
And as Matthew is telling this story, he is holding up one king to another, and forcing us to compare. And it’s very interesting how he does this because much of this comparison is done beneath the surface of the story…to see it, you have to read between the lines with me.
Jesus the (true) king
Jesus the (true) king
Look at v. 2…this is when we’re introduced to the second king.
And Matthew throws in a few key details that don’t just highlight the fact that Jesus is also a king, but these all bring out the fact that this new king is in conflict with the old one. There’s a clash…a battle to be fought.
2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Here’s the first detail: The Magi talk about Jesus as the real king.
You’ve got to imagine this with me for a moment.
The Magi approach, Herod…the great, paranoid, king in the Jerusalem…and they ask pretty bold question. “Where is who has been born king of the Jews?” Think about it…they walk up the one who is currently in charge and ask, where’s the king?” That’s a bold question…right? This is a question that could have reasonably got them killed…especially based on what we know Herod is capable of...
But more than that, scholars look at the wording in their question and point out the grammatical structuring of how this is written puts the emphasis on the word ‘Born’. “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” meaning the Magi are not just asking where the new king is, but the are asking where the one who is king by virtue of his birth…in other words, where is the true king? Where is the legitimate king? Not just one who happens to be sitting on a throne…where is the one born king?
The Magi are the first to call Jesus, the king of the Jews. And it’s interesting, in the Gospel of Matthew, that title won’t get used again until this same empire, in what appears to be a crushing blow, condemns Jesus to death and mocking calls him ‘King of the Jews’—but more on that later.
Look at Herod’s response:
3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;
There true king, the righ king, the real king has come. And Herod is terrified.
Here’s the second detail about Jesus as king: Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament longing for the true king to come to rescue his people! In other words…if you to take the Bible you have in your hands…and start reading through the story…what you find is that from the very beginning, there are whispers, rumors, and hints that one day, there would be one who would come to set the world right again…to remake it the way it was supposed to be! And when you read through the prophets of the Old Testament, that longing takes on more shape…the prophets talk more about what that person will be like…what he would do and what the world will be look like when he comes! The story of the Old Testament is pointing forward to a king who is a rescuer, a liberator.
Look at v. 4 (Matthew 2:4).
Matthew 2:4 (ESV)
and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he (Herod) inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
Herod called together the religious leaders. He was familiar enough with the Old Testament to ask where the Christ, or Messiah would be born… That’s the king the Old Testament is talking about—and the religious leaders point to the prophet Micah.
6 “ ‘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.’ ”
This happens often in the New Testament where part of a verse is quoted…but the expectation is that you interpret the quote through it’s original context.
It would be like if I said:
“Oh say can you see...”
For the vast majority of us, we fill in the rest of the phrase…we know the context…those are more than just words, they are songs, poems, that evoke a specific emotion in us.
That same thing is happening in v. 6, Matthew is quoting Micah 5…a passage this is all about a future ruler who will come as a king for the people of Israel…but not just any king…he will be a liberating king…one who rescues, restores, and redeems…that’s what the entire book of Micah is talking about! It’s a provocative quote…and Matthew is pointing out that this King is Jesus. The liberator, redeemer, the rescuer...
And finally, the last detail here: The Wisemen honor Jesus as the rightful king.
You know the story. when the Wisemen get to Bethlehem to find Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus, they present three gifts: gold, Frankincense, and myrrh. But these are not just the first Christmas gifts. The magi are making a profound statement about who Jesus is in doing this…in fact, this is why Matthew even records this detail: because when the Prophets, like Micah, talked about this promised King who would one day come and restore His people…to make things new and make things right…they told of a day when this true king would be honored by the Nations…this is what the Prophet Isaiah was talking about when he said,
“Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult…the wealth of the nations shall come to you…they shall bring gold and frankincense, and bring good news.”
Climax: The King has come
Climax: The King has come
You see, Matthew is making the stunning point at the very beginning of his book that the Old Testament story line—the hope of God’s people—that one day, there would be a true and right ruler, who would bring with Him justice, mercy, and compassion, who would free his people from evil…who would reign in righteousness and perfection…who would be a good king…that one day He would come…and at the birth of Jesus, that day has come!
The entire point of the Christmas story is that the king has come.
The king is here.
The king is at work.
The true king, the right king, the real king is here now.
Now I understand that a lot of this king langue falls flat on American ears…something about our past makes us a bit resistant to kings…
But I think it’s very interesting that it seems to be one of a few universal longings that spans culture and time…a longing for Someone to come in and make things right. A longing for a rescuer…and redeemer…
The ancients looked for heroes…a Zeus, a Thor, Hercules
We celebrate super heroes: Thor, Captain America...
Disney has used this longing for years…a prince charming…a rescuer…
One author, said it this way, “This longing is embedded in the legends of many cultures, and though the stories are all different they all have a similar theme: A true king will come back, slay the dragon, kiss us and wake us out of our sleep of death, rescue us from imprisonment in the tower, lead us back into the land. A true king will come back to put everything right and renew the entire world.”
Again…Luke Skywalker…Aragorn…you see what I mean?
It’s all over the place!
It’s because there is something inside of us…as a part of being human…that is hardwired to long for something…we long for brokenness to be fixed…we long for wrongs to be made right…we long for sickness to be healed…we long for what is lost to be restored…and more importantly we long for the one who can do that!
Actually I think this kind of longing is part of what makes the holiday season so powerful in our lives…and not in good ways. It’s because we have the wonderful opportunity…every where we look…to see the ideal of what we want the world to be like! It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? The advertising industry is built upon the idea that you may not have the good life, but we can show you what you need to get it! We see images of all we want…the life we want…or wish we could have…or maybe memories of what we had…and we are constantly bombarded with the ability to compare what we want and had…to what we have.
To see the good life…and once again see that it’s out of reach.
The most wonderful time of the year has a nak for leaving us empty, depleted, tired, and done. You may not be there yet…but the crash is right around the corner. You will be just as much a Scrooge as I am in about 7 days…
And yet we still can’t help but feel the longing for something to be done…for someone to make things right. And the fact of the matter is, we all will find some “king” to follow.
We will All ‘Bend the Knee’
We will All ‘Bend the Knee’
At some point, we will bend the knee to someone. The only question is ‘Who?’
And what Matthew is doing is masterfully showcasing a tale of two kings. Two empires…and they could not be more different!
Herod and Jesus.
An imposter…a fraud…power hungry king who will defend his place at all cost.
Or a good…right…and true king. The King of kings…not the oppressor who only looks only for his own power, but a liberating king who comes to rescue his people.
The Christmas story unfolds before us this great clash of empires…and it begs us to ask, which king will I follow?
And it’s not an easy question to answer, because it takes brutal honesty with ourselves…which King will I follow? Which king do I follow?
You see, on our own, we have a very natural tendency to follow only one of these kings…and it’s not Jesus.
None of us would have say that we follow Herod, but we all drift towards following what he represents.
He is the anti-kingdom…the antithesis of Jesus…an opposing king who looks for his own good…and in many ways, we don’t simply follow Herod…we become him. A king in our own rights.
We set ourselves up as kings and queens of our own empire!
And, I know, that sounds fantastical…like a fantasy world…but deep down, is this not what is actually going on in our own hearts the moment we have to interact with people who do not think or act exactly as we do?
Like deep down…what’s happening in me…when my son is running around our house…turning every conceivable surface into a drum set…and I feel that thing rising up with in…what’s happening is that my son is violating my sovereign command! He’s not living in accordance with my decrees…and I get angry. Why? Because I’m the king…and he should bow the knee to me and my law.
It happens with our spouses…when they don’t meet our expectations—even the unspoken ones…we are the kings and queens...
And we don’t just see it play out on the heart level…but culturally we have developed an entire worldview that sets each one of us up as kings and queens of our own world…and it’s no wonder that we have seemingly lost the ability to have rational conversations with one another—it’s because our Kingdoms keep bumping up against and “declaring war” on other kingdoms. And it will only get more intense…left to ourselves…we will see ourselves rush faster and faster to our own defense. For a time, we may be able to retreat to those places where we are in agreement with those around us…but even then, alliances will fail…our groups will get smaller and smaller…and the flower of individualism will bloom into outright isolation.
On our own…we are like Herod. We are our own kings and queens…and without realizing it…there’s been a coup…and we end up as captives. Is it any wonder, then, that we so often feel like we’re moving along, aimlessly trying to figure out what to do next…faking our way through relationships…with mask and veil…hoping we’re projecting the right image…befitting the kingdom…all the while we’re living a lie.
Do you feel empty?
Do you feel angry?
Do you feel alone?
Are you just done?
Friends, it’s because we were made for a different kingdom.
We we’re made for a better kingdom.
And at the very center of the Christmas story is the good news that different King has come…and new King…a better king…the true King…and he is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
While we look out for ourselves…he is the kind of King who looks out for others.
While we seek to preserve ourselves…he is the kind of King who gives his life.
He is the kind of King who had every reason to turn his back on humanity…because on our own, we have declared war on his kingdom! In our sin we push back against the King of kings…but instead of turning away…Jesus shows us that He is the rescuer…the better king…the true king…by stepping int our place and doing what we could not do on our own!
The first time Jesus is called King of the Jews is when these Wise men come and look for him in our passage today…but friends, the next time is when he put’s on display the depth of his love and care…when he shows the most kingly thing about him…at his Crucifixion....his death on a cross…our behalf…in our place…for our sin. And the about the cross reads, KING.
So that by faith in Him…in his Death and Resurrection from the dead…we could be freed from our sin…we could be freed from ourselves…no longer captives in our own kingdoms…but living new life in the true kingdom…under the right King! This is the Christmas story! This is the Christian story!
What do we do with this?
I know I rag on it..but Celebrate a better story.
Be like the Wisemen. Fall on your face in worship.
Joy to the WORLD…the Lord has come…let earth…receive…her king.