Follow the True Star of Christmas (Matthew 2:1-12)

  • this morning I want to take you on a journey with me, back two thousand years ago
  • I want to tell you a story of two kingdoms – two kingdoms that are still present and competing for our interests today
  • BUT FIRST I HAVE TO SET THE SCENE FOR YOU
  • [when]
  • it’s a familiar story, but somewhat clouded by years of tradition
  • this story, contrary to what you might think, didn’t take place in a manger, and it didn’t take place when Jesus was a newborn baby
  • there were no accidental meetings between shepherds and the characters of this story, for this story took place when Jesus had grown perhaps to the stage of crawling, or perhaps even at the stage when Jesus had begun to walk
  • for it took place, not the night of Jesus’ birth, but within the first two years of Jesus’ birth
  • [where]
  • and it took place not in a manger, but according to Matthew 2:11 in a house
  • Mary and Joseph, and their child Jesus, lived in a house in a small, nondescript town called Bethlehem
  • it was nothing more than a small village
  • some significant things had happened there – it was in Bethlehem that Jacob buried Rachel; it was here that Ruth met and married Boaz
  • and it was here that David, the great king of Israel, grew up and tended sheep
  • but it was only a small village, five or six miles south of Jerusalem, cradled between two ridges
  • those of you with young children can imagine that life for Mary and Joseph had begun to return to normal
  • gone were the shepherds, although as they left they had broadcasted the news of Jesus’ birth to everyone in the area
  • but in that small, insignificant town, life began to return to normal
  • they had found a house in Bethlehem in which to live
  • Jesus was growing, able to do new things all the time
  • as new parents, Mary and Joseph would sit there amazed at how their little baby was developing
  • for reasons unknown to us, they hadn’t yet returned to their hometown of Nazareth
  • but life was beginning to return to normal for Mary, Joseph, and their growing infant Jesus
  • [characters]
  • but let me introduce you to three sets of characters that make up today’s story
  • the first character, and probably the most colorful, is introduced in Matthew 2:1 as King Herod
  • this is the first of several Herods mentioned in the New Testament
  • to be honest, I had always pictured a male equivalent to Queen Elizabeth – sort of a regal, distinguished gentleman
  • to be sure, Herod the Great had his good points
  • he built theatres and race tracks
  • he rebuilt and embellished important cities
  • during the great famine of 25 BCE, he melted down various gold objects in the palace to buy food for the poor
  • he was a capable and clever warrior, orator, and diplomat
  • he even began the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem
  • so Herod did have his good points
  • but Herod the Great was also a despot, a megalomaniac
  • he could be cruel and merciless
  • he was incredibly jealous, suspicious, and afraid for his own position and power
  • Herod did not take any competition lightly
  • he appointed a man named Aristobulus – his brother-in-law – to be high priest in Jerusalem
  • but when Aristobulus began to look too popular, Herod had his servants drown him in a pool to make it look like an accident
  • some accident, because later he had his wife killed, and then his mother-in-law killed
  • shortly before Jesus’ birth, he had his two favorite sons killed, and then after Jesus was born, he had a third son executed
  • one of the greatest indications of his bloodthirstiness and insanity took place shortly after Jesus was born
  • Herod knew that he was going to die
  • and so he ordered all the notable Jews from all parts of the nation to come to him
  • when they arrived, he locked them in the hippodrome
  • realizing how people disliked him, he ordered his sister and her husband to slay all the leaders in the hippodrome at the moment of his death, to ensure national mourning rather than a festival
  • Herod was a despot, a megalomaniac, who wasted no time in killing his competition, even members of his own family as they threatened him
  • that’s the first character introduced to us in verse 1
  • the second set of characters introduced to us is mentioned in verse 1 – the Magi
  • right away, banish all ideas you may have of three kings of Orient
  • we know little of these men – we don’t even know how many there were
  • we don’t know where they were from, except from the East – probably Persia, Arabia, or Babylon
  • they weren’t kings; they were astrologers or magicians
  • they were uncircumcised, idol-worshiping, heathen, Babylonian, magician-astrologers
  • they were skilled in astrology and astronomy, and were likely involved in various occult practices, including sorcery, and were noted for their ability to interpret dreams
  • magi had grown to be important and powerful advisors in the Babylonian empire
  • and, because of the number of Jews living where they did, they were probably familiar with some of the Jewish writings we call the Old Testament
  • led by a star, these magi – idol-worshiping pagans – arrived in Jerusalem, and went around asking, “Where is he who is born King of the Jews?”
  • somehow, they had studied and determined that a King had been born in Israel
  • perhaps they had even read the prophecy of Balaam in Numbers 24:17: “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.”
  • but picture these magi
  • because they were powerful men in the east, it is likely that they arrived with a large contingent of soldiers and servants
  • they had the look of prestige, wealth, and power
  • picture this foreign contingent, surrounded by soldiers and servants, traveling the streets of Jerusalem, asking, “Where is he who is born King of the Jews?”
  • imagine their surprise that nobody in Jerusalem seemed to know about this special baby’s whereabouts
  • but they wander around Jerusalem making inquiries, “Where is he who is born King of the Jews?”
  • and how picture Herod
  • cruel Herod, ready to execute anyone who is a threat to his kingdom
  • at this point he is some seventy years old, but not willing at all to entertain competition for his job as king of the Jews
  • read verse 3:
  • (Matthew 2:3) When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.
  • when the Bible says that King Herod was disturbed, I think you know what that could mean
  • people didn’t want to see paranoid Herod disturbed
  • they knew that when Herod got disturbed it often meant bloodshed
  • and Herod didn’t stop to think through carefully who his enemies might be
  • many innocent people could lose their lives
  • no wonder all Jerusalem was disturbed when Herod was disturbed
  • no doubt there was going to be some rebellion, bloodshed, and suffering
  • but there’s a third set of characters introduced in verse 4: the chief priests and teachers of the law
  • the chief priests were a group of leading priests, including the current and previous chief priests
  • at that time, this group was nothing more than a bunch of corrupt, religiously oriented politicians
  • they had both political and religious power
  • Matthew also mentions scribes and teachers of the law
  • these were experts in the Old Testament and its oral tradition
  • this was a group of people that likely didn’t get along very well with the chief priests
  • but Herod asks these two groups where the Messiah was to be born
  • and they respond, “In Bethlehem”
  • you know how the story develops
  • verse 7 tell s us that Herod met secretly with the magi, asked them when the star had appeared
  • you see, already Herod was planning to kill every male baby of the right age in the small village of Bethlehem and its vicinity, and Herod need to know what age child he should be concerned about
  • Herod would stop at nothing to eliminate potential threats to his rule
  • this was entirely in character for Herod
  • and he sent the magi on their way, asking only that they return and tell him where to find the child, so, he says, he can go and worship too
  • they leave, they find Jesus in the house in Bethlehem, and they worship Jesus Christ, the King of the Jews
  • so use your imagination this morning
  • go back two thousand years
  • picture Mary and Joseph opening their front door, to see these foreign, uncircumcised, idol-worshiping, heathen, Babylonian, magician-astrologers standing there, with a contingent of soldiers and servants
  • imagine the shock as these men came to Jesus – perhaps just a year old – and presented him with valuable gifts
  • imagine the paranoid, delusional Herod, just five or six miles away, waiting further information before he launches his plan of bloodshed
  • just waiting for an opportunity to kill anyone who threatens his reign – even a little child
  • because this story is completely factual
  • and I see myself reflected in it
  • I SEE YOU REFLECTED IN IT AS WELL
  • because in this passage we see examples of three basic responses that people made to Jesus when he was on earth, even when he was a baby
  • and these are the same responses that men and women have made throughout history – the same responses you are making today
  • SOME, LIKE HEROD, ARE HOSTILE TO HIM
  • just as Jesus was a threat to Herod, so Jesus and his kingship are a threat to many people
  • some responded in Jesus’ day with intense hatred for him
  • they were threatened by his rule
  • they wanted nothing to do with him
  • and even from the time that he was a baby, people wanted to kill him
  • eventually they did
  • Jesus said as an adult, at a time when even his own brothers didn’t believe in him:
  • (John 7:7) The world…hates me because I testify that what it does is evil.
  • make no mistake about it: hatred is not too strong a word for what some people feel about Jesus
  • they wish he had never been born
  • Matthew 2:16 says that Herod was enraged when he heard that he had been tricked by the magi, who didn’t return to report the location of Jesus to him
  • the word for enraged is a strong word
  • we read that Herod lost control of his passion and became completely controlled by it
  • he knew that the child he was wanting to destroy was the Messiah
  • he arrogantly tried to kill God’s very anointed one
  • you might not have the same paranoid and insane hatred of Jesus that Herod did, but be honest
  • do you hate him?
  • are you threatened by his rule?
  • are you trying to do everything in your power to thwart his purposes in your life, to end his kingship?
  • do you hate Jesus like Herod did?
  • Herod the Great left his marble palaces and millions of tons of huge stones
  • Jesus, the King of the Jews, left “living stones,” spread around the world
  • today, Herod’s kingdom lies broken and scattered beneath sea and earth
  • Jesus’ kingdom, on the other hand, will stand forever
  • SOME, LIKE THE CHIEF PRIESTS AND SCRIBES, DIDN’T HATE JESUS, BUT WERE INDIFFERENT TO HIM
  • the priests knew Scripture, and they pointed others to the Savior, but they wouldn’t go themselves
  • they knew that God’s Word spoke of a literal, personal Messiah – a historical figure, born in Bethlehem, come to rule Israel
  • they quoted Micah 5:2 but didn’t obey it
  • they were five miles from the very Son of God, and yet they didn’t go to see him!
  • they were indifferent to Jesus
  • throughout history, there have been people who are indifferent to God
  • some, like Herod, are immediately hateful, wanting only to destroy Jesus
  • others, like the chief priests and the scribes, pay little attention to God and his way
  • what they do know, they don’t accept or obey
  • at most, he is given lip service
  • eventually, the indifferent group joins the first, because, as one person says, “Indifference to God is simply hatred that is concealed and rejection that is delayed”
  • it’s easy to be indifferent to Christ, even at Christmas
  • it’s possible to know all the Gospel accounts of Christmas and how he was born, and to live as though Christmas is about Santa, the Nutcracker, Jimmy Stewart, and presents
  • every year we’re tempted to capitulate to the trivial pursuits of Christmas: gift-giving; entertaining; over-committing; overspending
  • and we end up becoming indifferent to the true star of Christmas, Jesus Christ
  • it’s one thing to be able to know what Christmas is all about
  • it’s something altogether different to follow him in our lives – our choices, our priorities, direction, and purpose
  • if you’re indifferent to Christ, maybe you need to get down on your knees and confess that you’ve been keeping Jesus at arm’s length
  • he’s only a short distance away, and yet you haven’t gone to worship him
  • you haven’t let him unsettle your personal goals and routines
  • you haven’t yet experienced his resurrection power
  • perhaps this Christmas you need to take some concrete steps to avoid following the chief priests and scribes, and remaining indifferent to him
  • but there’s a third response
  • some, like Herod, are hostile to him; some, like the chief priests and scribes, are indifferent to him
  • AND SOME, LIKE THE MAGI, WORSHIP HIM
  • (Matthew 2:11) On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.
  • the magi offered Jesus expensive and uncommon presents, and fell down and worshiped him
  • these uncircumcised, idol-worshiping, heathen, Babylonian, magician-astrologers who didn’t know the Scriptures had the privilege of paying homage to the King of kings
  • our modern culture has turned the Christmas spotlight on holiday heroes like Santa, Martha Stewart, and the local Christmas shop
  • we’ve deified the pursuits of gift-giving, entertaining, and decorating
  • while there’s nothing wrong with these in themselves, they’re not what Christmas is about
  • to make this season meaningful, we must not be hostile to Christ, or indifferent to him
  • we must focus on and worship the true star of Christmas – Jesus Christ, God with us
  • let’s pray
  • Max Lucado writes, “Those who missed His Majesty’s arrival that night missed it not because of evil acts or malice; no, they missed it because they simply weren’t looking. Little has changed in the last two thousand years, has it?”
  • as we celebrate His Majesty’s arrival at Christmas, our Lord, may we not miss it because we weren’t looking
  • we pray that we wouldn’t miss it out of hostility or even indifference
  • but may we, like the magi, celebrate the birth of a king, and worship him, bringing him precious gifts
  • in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Liberty Grace Church in Toronto. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada