Merry Christmas! I can’t believe it’s already the end of the year. Didn’t this year just fly by? It felt like just yesterday when I was kneeling right there and I was being prayed over during my ordination. That was in February. My parents were here, and other family members-Chris, Carolyn, Warren, David. Today is like a mini-family reunion. I think half of the congregation is related to me.
Now, I am just waiting for Pastor John to receive the calling to be a full-time pastor so that I can retire and support him. Maybe in 2012, who knows?
Christmas is such a joyous season because we know that it’s more than Santa and reindeer and gifts. It’s about Jesus letting go of the splendor and majesty of heaven and putting on human flesh and veiling His glory and becoming a man. And not just any man, but becoming a servant. God had been silent for 400 years after the close of Malachi in the Old Testament. Then, 2000 years ago, with the birth of Christ, the silence was broken. Jesus, our servant King, entered into the messiness and hopelessness of this world to eventually die on a cross in order to pardon sinners who repent and place their faith in Christ.
And because we know the fuller story, Christmas is a time of great, great celebration. But let’s set the stage for the very first Christmas. Luke begins the nativity story in an interesting way.
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
Why does he begin this story of good news of great joy with the phrase, do not be afraid? Do not be afraid and the next statement–I bring you good news of great joy–those two don’t seem to go together.
Why were Mary and Joseph afraid? I think you’d be afraid, too, if you were a young couple, teenagers who were engaged and an angel came to you and said, you are going to give birth to the Son of God who created the universe and gave you life. You’d be afraid if you knew that Herod was in search of your future son and he was in the process of killing all Hebrew boys under the age of 2 because he felt threatened and he wanted to preserve his kingship.
With that as the context, let’s read Matthew 2:1-12.
The main theme of the birth of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel is worship.
v2 – …Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
Their intent was true worship. Even Herod, who had quite a different motive, also says in v8 —
8 …“Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
Then, the Magi finally reach the place where Jesus was born and in v11, we read–
11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.
3 times in this short passage, there is mention of worship.
Today, related to worship, there are 4 things we learn about Jesus, 3 from this text and a concluding point from another text.
1) Jesus is the Messiah and therefore should be worshiped. 2) Jesus brings out opposition for those who do not want to worship Jesus. 3) Worshiping Jesus means joyfully ascribing authority and dignity to Christ with sacrificial gifts. 4) Jesus died on a cross and bought each person’s life for the purpose of worship.
First point: Jesus is the Messiah and therefore should be worshiped.
Verse 2 announces clearly whom this story is really about: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” It’s about a newborn child destined to be King of the Jews. Now, in itself that would not be a very great thing. Right now, there are a number of kids alive in America today who are going to be President of the United States some day. But nobody really cares about this. It’s not like President Obama is snooping around Labor and Delivery wings of children’s hospitals across America in search of his future replacement.
But verse 4 makes clear what the magi really mean by “King of the Jews.” It says in 4,
4 When he [Herod] had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.
Herod had been called “king of the Jews” by the Senate in Rome for almost 40 years. But no one called him Messiah. Because a Messiah is a king, but he’s much more than a king. The Messiah means the long-awaited God-anointed Ruler, who would overcome all other rule, and bring in the end of history, and establish the kingdom of God and never die or lose his reign.
We don’t know how the wise men got their information that there was such a king coming. But it is clear that Herod got the message: these Magi from the east are not searching for a mere, ordinary, human successor to me. They are searching for the final King, to end all kings. And, of course, that is the last thing Herod was looking for. He was not a religious man. Herod didn’t even know the Scriptures about where the Messiah was to be born.
So he asks the scribes and they give an answer in v5–the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem in Judea. Here, they are quoting from a prophesy found in Micah 5:2.
2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel…”
Now that doesn’t sound very extraordinary either. The reason is that the only purpose for which the scribes quoted the text was to answer Herod’s question: Where? And the answer is Bethlehem.
But what if Herod had asked them, “Who?” They might have read on in Micah 5:2, 4 –this ruler over Israel…
2 …whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.
4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.
So this king is not just coming into being in the womb of his mother Mary. His origins are from of old, ancient times.
Or, as it says in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
And this king would not limit his realm and rule to the Jews or to Israel. It says, his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.
Notice that Matthew does not tell us about the local Jewish shepherds coming to visit Jesus in the stable like it does in Luke’s gospel. His focus is immediately on foreigners coming from the east to worship the baby Jesus. Verse 1: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the EAST arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?'”
So Matthew’s gospel portrays Jesus at the beginning and end of his gospel as a universal Messiah for the nations, not just for Jews. Here the first worshipers are court magicians or astrologers or wise men not from Israel but from the East – perhaps from Babylon. They were clearly Gentiles, or non-Jews. Unclean. And at the end of Matthew the last words of Jesus are, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” Jesus is called the king of the Jews. But his first visitors were Gentiles and the last words of Jesus, go, not to Jerusalem, not to the temple, but go to all the nations.
Now, over 2,000 years after the birth of Christ, look around this room. A number of nations are represented in this room and most, if not all of us, are Gentiles. Starting from 8th century BC, over 700 years before Christ, in the book of Micah, it was prophesied that the Messiah would come from a little known town called Bethlehem. And from there, the message of Christ has spread and is continuing to spread to all nations.