************ Sermon on Matthew 2:3-12 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 7, 2018
"Three Responses to the Christ"
The Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?"
Today, this Lord's Supper Sunday, we will look at three responses to the birth of the King. We will begin with the response of King Herod and Jerusalem, then we will look at the response of the chief priests and teachers of the law, and we will finish with the response of the Magi.
To set the scene, I want to start with a quote from the gospel of John.
(Jn 1:11) He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.The first people in the gospel of Matthew who pay homage to the King, the Messiah, the Christ, the King of the Jews are Gentiles. Gentiles. Gentiles give Him homage but His own people do not! Indeed, one of the themes of Matthew's gospel is that His own people reject Him as King. Matthew carries this theme of rejection throughout the rest of his gospel; among the Jews He is the rejected King.
I Herod and Jerusalem
A The Magi created quite a stir when they came galloping into Jerusalem at the head of a small Persian army. They created even more of a stir by what they asked: "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?" The Greek makes clear this was something they kept on asking. This was something they were asking all over Jerusalem. So all of Jerusalem heard a king has been born. All of Jerusalem heard about the star, the light, the shining, as predicted in Numbers. So what was the response?
(Mt 2:3) When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.
The first response can be summed up by the word "disturbed." The word is used 17 times in the New Testament. It describes the reaction of the disciples when they thought a ghost was walking towards them on the water (Mt 14:26). That was the reaction of Zechariah when an angel suddenly appeared to him in the Temple (Lk 1:12). That was the reaction of the disciples when the resurrected Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst (Lk 24:38). That was the reaction of Jesus when He saw Martha weeping about the death of Lazarus (Jn 11:33) and when He looked ahead to His betrayal and death (Jn 13:21; 12:27). That was the reaction of the crowd to the ministry of Paul when they were stirred up by the Jews (Acts 17:8,13).
Herod, and all Jerusalem with him, was disturbed. Troubled. Great mental distress. Stirred up. Upset. Agitated. Like an out of balance washing machine or ceiling fan.
Why was Herod disturbed? Two reasons. First, a foreign army was in his city. An army from an empire that was at war with Rome. Suddenly he was caught between two huge contending empires. Second, the Magi had news about a king of the Jews -- a title and a position that was given to Herod by Caesar Augustus. It took a lot of maneuvering on Herod's part to get this -- 10 years worth of politics and sweet-talking the Roman senators and paying bribes. Herod knew the Jews did not like him and they didn't like Roman rule and they wanted their own king and their own kingdom. Herod was sitting on a powder keg and the question of the Magi about the king of the Jews looked like the match to set everything off.
B You bet Herod was disturbed. He felt threatened. "And all Jerusalem with him." So you understand the implications of this, let me tell you a few things about Herod that Matthew's Jewish audience knew; things we don't necessarily find in Scripture.
Herod was cruel and insecure. He felt threatened by everybody and everything. So he was constantly murdering and plotting murders. For instance, he killed off the Maccabees -- a family of Jewish people who fought for freedom against the Greeks -- so they couldn't fight against him. Aristobulus, his wife's brother, was high priest at the time when Herod was in power; Herod was so afraid of him that he had him murdered. Herod killed his own wife. He also executed her mother, because he didn’t want her bugging him. He killed two of his sons because he was afraid they wanted his throne.
Herod was known as a killer and murderer. Two events stick out. First, the slaughter of the baby boys at Bethlehem to kill the rival King of the Jews. Second, the slaughter of Jerusalem's most distinguished citizens when Herod was about to die. He knew he was about to die. It was a matter of days. He gave orders that the most distinguished citizens of Jerusalem should be arrested on trumped up charges and put in prison. He ordered they all be put to death the moment he died. When asked why -- you will hardly believe his answer -- he said, "Because no one will mourn when I die, and I am determined that when I die, there will be mourning in this city."
We are told Jerusalem was disturbed with King Herod. Do you see why? Jerusalem was disturbed because when Herod was disturbed bad things happened: lives were lost, blood was shed, people were murdered.
II The Chief Priests and Teachers of the Law
A The second response to the birth of the King of the Jews is that of the chief priests and teachers of the law. Herod called them together and asked them where the Christ, the Messiah, the King, the King of the Jews was to be born. Their response to the Messiah's birth can be summed up as "indifference."
Exactly who were the chief priests? Ever since the Exodus, the tribe of Levi had been set apart by God to serve as priests; so the chief priests were Levites. The chief priests were members of the high priestly families; since only the family of Aaron could serve as high priest this means their genealogy went back to Aaron. They served on the Sanhedrin which acted as a kind of Supreme Court among the Jews. Now Israel was a theocracy. Which means rule by God. Which further means it was the chief priests and the high priest who ran the country. So the chief priests were powerful men.
Here is the most important thing I can say about the chief priests: they increasingly challenged and opposed Jesus. They are the ones who paid Judas thirty silver coins to betray Jesus.
B What about the teachers of the law? Who are they? They are scholars and authorities of the law; understand that by law we mean the entire Old Testament Scriptures. They spent their life studying the law. They were Old Testament scholars. They knew everything about the Old Testament. Some of them even memorized the entire Old Testament.
Some of the teachers of the law were literalists. They literally followed the teaching of the law. They believed everything that was said. They joined the Pharisees. On the other hand were those teachers of the law who didn't believe a lot of the Scriptures. They denied the resurrection and the existence of angels. They joined the Sadducees.
So you had two different theological groups, one conservative and the other liberal. Both groups had teachers of the law. And whether they were Pharisees or Sadducees, they were forever challenging and opposing Jesus.
C The chief priests and teachers of the law heard what the Magi said about the star and the birth of the King. They knew that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. So what don't we see? What aren't we told? We don't see them beating a path to Bethlehem. We don't hear Matthew telling us how they excitedly raced off to Bethlehem to see for themselves. If anyone should have gotten excited and enthusiastic about the birth of the Messiah, you would think it would be these men. After all the chief priests performed the ceremonies of the law that pointed to the Christ. As for the teachers of the law, they studied the Scriptures that pointed to the Christ.
Their response, as I already said, was indifference. They couldn't care less. They weren't going to get excited about the Magi and a star -- even though this is a prophecy of Scripture. The Jewish chief priests and teachers of the law who studied the Holy Scriptures every day, who knew all the prophecies, who read them every day, were indifferent to the birth of the King.
I worry more than once that it is too easy for us to be like the chief priests and teachers of the law. Like these Jews, many of us have been raised in covenant homes, Christian homes. We know the Scriptures. We can't remember a time when we were not in church. We have attended Sunday School and Catechism and Bible Study. Many of us have received God-centered schooling. And yet we act like Christ and church and faith are no big deal. Certainly nothing to get excited about.
I was talking with someone about their Christian highschool. Most of the parents claim to be Reformed. Yet, he thought 40% of the students, and their families, do not attend church every Sunday. A whole bunch do not attend at all during the Summer when they are at the cottage. They never read the Bible and pray. One student, who was raised in the church, had never heard the entire Bible.My brothers and sisters, how can anyone be indifferent to the riches of the Gospel? How can the chief priests and teachers of the law be so blind and deaf to the riches of the Gospel?
III The Magi
A The third response to the birth of the King of the Jews is the response of the Magi.
They "bowed down and worshiped" (Mt 2:11). Remember what the word "worship" means? We looked at the word last week. It originally meant to kneel and kiss the feet. It means to show reverence and awe to someone greater than you.
Do you see the contrast between the Magi on the one hand and Herod and Jerusalem on the other? Do you see the contrast between the Magi and the chief priests and teachers of the law?
B How did the Magi worship? What did they do when they worshiped the Christ? Scripture doesn't say they heard a sermon. Scripture doesn't say they sang a song. Scripture doesn't say they meditated in silence. Scripture doesn't say they prayed. Scripture doesn't say they confessed sins. Scripture doesn't say they listened to an organ or piano or choir. How did they worship? What did they actually do? They bowed in reverence and awe and they gave. Their expression of praise and adoration was by way of giving. To give to Jesus is a great and wonderful way to worship. Don't ever think we interrupt worship in order to collect the offering.
The Magi worshiped in their giving. They gave gold which is very precious. In the Bible, gold is a gift for a king. So gold speaks of the reign of King Jesus. They gave frankincense, which is a beautiful smelling incense. Frankincense was always offered to God together with the prayers of the saints so frankincense speaks of Jesus' deity. And, they offered myrrh, which is a pleasing ointment and perfume. Myrrh covers up smells, including the smell of death. It is a gift for a mortal man. It is a reminder that Jesus would die. From the very beginning it was clear He would die; He was born to die. So, a gift for the King, a gift for God, a gift for a man.
I hope and pray none of us are disturbed and upset about the news of the Gospel.
I hope and pray none of us are indifferent.
My hope and my prayer is that we are like the Magi: that we bow down and worship before Jesus the Christ. My hope and my prayer is that we recognize Him to be King, God, and man.
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