A New-Born King: The Irony – Matthew 2:1-12

Have you ever lived in a city where it was difficult to become an insider? No matter how hard you tried, you always felt excluded and on the fringe. Our experience in church can oftentimes be the same. Have you ever attended a church where you felt like you didn’t measure up and no matter what you did you could never break into the inner circle?

One of the results of sin is that we all tend to exclude others and to feel excluded ourselves because we all struggle with an inflated sense of self-importance and a sense of personal inadequacy. At times, we actually begin to believe that God is blessed to have good people like us on his team. Furthermore, we tend to view outsiders with suspicion. A question: How would you respond if a spiritually seeking Muslim with a turban on his head walked into our church facility this morning?

How do we ensure that we do not succumb to this insider mentality of the holy huddle syndrome? This morning we observe from Matthew’s Christmas story, from the very beginning, the gospel of Jesus Christ is meant to make us a people for others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes that: “The church is the church only when it exists for others.” As we move through the text, watchfor the interplay between outsiders and insiders.

I.         The Irony – Outsiders inform insiders of astonishing and breathtaking news: Your King is born (Matthew 2:1-2). Spiritual-seeking pagans tell religious people who Jesus is. If insiders will not welcome, honor, and worship Jesus, outsiders will. How ironic that outsiders are the ones most galvanized and determined to find and worship the Messiah.

We three kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar, field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.” It’s a popular carol sung during the holiday season depicting the scene we so often see on Christmas cards, ornaments and manger scenes.  It’s a wonderful carol apart from the fact that they were not kings, there were not three, and they didn’t go to the manger.  They were astrologers, they brought three gifts, but there is no mention that there was three of them, and Scripture seems to indicate that they arrived months after Jesus was born at the house where Mary and Joseph and now baby Jesus lived.  The Magi were astrologers, the epitome of non-Jewish believers. We could designate them the “outsiders” or “people on the margins of society”. Herod, the chief priests and scribes were what we might call “insiders” or “people at the center of society — the establishment”.

Insiders refuse to search for and receive Him gladly. Thus, the almighty God of creation leads outsiders to find and worship His appointed King.

What do you think these wealthy strangers expected to find in Jerusalem? I think they probably expected the entire city to be beaming with anticipation and excitement over the birth of its newborn King. They probably expected everyone to be talking about the time, place, and circumstances of His birth.

They would have been shocked to realize that they would be the first ones to announce His birth. They would have been startled by the stir that they created with their announcement.

What are the practical implications of this?

1.    There’s hope for you if you didn’t grow up in church…  if you don’t consider yourself an insider. It does not matter where you come from or what your spiritual heritage is. If you accept Jesus as the Messiah, you become a member of His heavenly kingdom.

2.    Another practical implication here: Matthew challenges insiders’ prejudice against outsiders. To whom is Matthew writing? In his gospel written primarily to Jewish believers, Matthew highlights that Gentiles are the first ones to worship Jesus. The gospel makes us a people for others. The gospel must be taken to the nations.

3.   Those who seem to us to be outsiders may be more spiritually attuned than we are. All throughout Jesus’ ministry, prostitutes and tax collectors enter the kingdom ahead of the religious insiders. Here, God is guiding outsiders to the Messiah to worship him. And he is doing it by exerting cosmic influence and power to get it done. This irony of outsiders getting the real identity of Jesus is repeated often in the life of our Lord (Compare  Matthew 27:41-43, 54)

The New Born King – The Agony – Matthew 2:1-12

The Agony – How do insiders respond to this news? The birth of this King troubles and agitates insiders… the power brokers of the establishment (both political and ecclesiastical). Rather than rejoicing at this news, they are troubled by it. Now, if we are honest, most of us find repulsive the idea of someone ruling over us.

A.         One word in verse 3 summarizes the insiders’ response: Troubled. This word means “to cause one inward commotion and take away calmness of mind.” This sense of agitation and trouble is reflected in two types of opposition. Indifference and hostility.

Indifference – Spiritual apathy and complacency. The first kind is a group of people who simply do nothing about this news of a newborn King. The chief priests and scribes represent this group. Verse 4: “Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, [Herod] inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.” The sheer passivity and inactivity of the leaders is overwhelming in view of the magnitude of what was happening. This is not only their failure, but ours at times.

Matthew challenges what he regards as spiritual complacency. The insiders knew precisely where their Messiah would be born, but they refused to join the Magi on their quest. Their sin of taking Jesus for granted is a sin that can especially characterize the leaders of God’s people.

B.         Indignant/hostile – A new ruler meant one thing for King Herod: political instability. He would interfere with Herod’s power, position, and control.

Herod the Great reigned from 37-34 b.c. The Roman Senate appointed him king. He was ruthless: murdering his wife, three sons, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, and many others. It is no surprise he had no problem killing babies in the surrounding district of Bethlehem.

C.         Practical Implications:

1.         People concerned with their own status, position and stability refuse to acknowledge and bow before King Jesus as the only rightful ruler of His people.

2.         People of the establishment in positions of power and control typically resist God’s purposes, while the lowly and marginal (the Gentile magi) embrace them.

3.         I, like Herod, am a pretender-king, and Jesus, is the real King. How often I have been more interested in saving my good name, my kingdom, and my throne rather than saving my soul.

The New Born King – The Ecstacy – Matthew 2:1-12

The Ecstasy – How do outsiders respond to finding the King? When they find the newborn King, what do they do? When I mention the word ecstasy, I am talking about a state of overwhelming, overpowering emotion. In this case… rapturous delight. See Matthew 2, verse 10. The most arresting verse of the entire passage. The Greek emphasizes the quality of the magi’s joy with four consecutive words (literally “and they rejoiced with a joy, a great one, indeed an exceedingly great one).

A.  What do they do? They worship Him. When they entered the house, they prostrated themselves before them. The magi were wealthy, warm-hearted, and worshipful. The word for ‘worship’ in the original carries the idea of “prostrating oneself, to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence.”All that find Christ bow down before him; adore him, and submit themselves to him. The wise men found this newborn King on the lap of a poor, peasant, teenage woman, and worshipped Him and confessed that he was Christ.

B.   How do they do it?

1.    Their worship is marked by intense joy. Worship Jesus for who He is. Here are scientists who still possess the ability to be amazed and astonished. Does this type of joy mark your corporate worship of our Lord Jesus Christ? How about your personal worship? If not, why not?

2.    Their worship is marked by willing sacrifice. Give to Jesus what’s valuable to you. Worship always is. It costs them their precious resources: time and treasure. They gave gifts and offered their treasures to Him.

a)    Their gifts. They presented him with lavish and appropriate gifts that mark His royal status as God’s Messiah. Isaiah spoke of gifts of worship coming from outsiders bringing their gifts of gold and frankincense to “proclaim the praises of our Lord” (Isa 60:6), Gold – for he was and is indeed a king, the King of kings and Lord of lords. Frankincense for he is indeed God, the fullness of the godhead dwells in him. Myrrh for he is also man, destined for death.

b)   Our gifts. Edward Hopkins wrote a hymn in 1800s that challenges us to consider what our gifts to the King should be:

The wise may bring their learning, The rich may bring their wealth,
And some may bring their brilliance, And some bring strength and health;

We too would bring our treasures to offer to the King;
We have no gifts deserving—What shall we children bring?

We’ll bring Him hearts that love Him; We’ll bring Him thankful praise,
And young souls humbly striving, to walk in holy ways.

And these shall be our treasures, we offer to the King,
And these are gifts that even, the youngest child may bring.

Lastly, remember King David who said: “I will not give to the Lord that which costs me nothing!” (2 Samuel 24:24)

Why do they worship Jesus? He is the ruler of God’s people. He’s the King of all kings who defends, saves and preserves his people.  Jesus, the King for others, saved us  rather than Himself at the Cross. “Every time we reflect on that cross, Christ seems to say to us, ‘I am here for you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.’” — John Stott

Thus, what are we to do this Christmas?

“Gaze on that helpless object of endless adoration!
Those infant hands shall burst our bands and work out our salvation;
Strangle the crooked serpent; destroy his works forever,
And open set the heavenly gate to every true believer.”       – Charles Wesley

Would you give yourself in this upcoming year to a more intentional, passionate pursuit of your King?

Three Main Avenues of Spiritual Attack

Dr. J.I. Packer is one of my favorite theologians and writers. On many occasions he has brought clarity and insight to the Word of God for me. One article that has been particularly enriching is called “Self-Care for Pastors: Riches from the Anglican Devotional Tradition.”

In this article, he emphasizes that there are three main avenues of attack against leaders of Christ’s church.

He asserts:

“We are all engaged in a constant, inescapable battle against spiritual degeneracy in three forms:

  • Our unbelief of God’s word,
  • our lack of forgiveness of others,
  • and our unhumbled pride in what we are and have done.

In these days of liberal Christianity in our churches and post-Christianity in the culture outside, unbelief of God’s affirmations in the Bible and the gospel is rife. Justification by faith (being accepted by God while yet a sinner) is not understood and divine promises are not received and trusted.

Unforgiveness, which is a form of unlove, is regularly an expression of hurt pride and resentment, disguised as self-respect. As Jesus often warned (Matthew 6:14-15, 18:21-35; Mk. 11:25; Lk. 6:37), unforgiveness is a total block to the blessing of God.

Unhumbled pride, as is often said, takes four forms: Pride of face, when you think you are most handsome; pride of race, when you think your skin is the best color; pride of place, when you think you are better positioned than others; and pride of grace, when you think you are one of God’s top people and pride of grace is the worst of the lot. All these forms of spiritual degeneration banish true spiritual joy, which for healthy believers is constant, and create pitfalls for pastors in abundance.”

– (Crux, December 2003/Vol. 34, No. 4, pp.2-13)

In light of this, let us pray with renewed resolve that the Lord would make us:

  • people who have a greater capacity to trust God and His promises,
  • people who forgive others the way that we have been forgiven,
  • people who are marked by humility, free from the cancer of pride.

A Most Arresting Advertisement to the Gospel’s Power

“Joy is at the heart of satisfied living.  It is also at the heart of real and credible Christianity, the Christianity that glorifies God and shakes the world.  Joy is not only ‘the serious business of heaven,’ it is also central to serious godliness on earth.  ‘The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 14:17).  A joyless Christianity will become an obstacle to believing Paul’s statement and will render the faith repulsive rather than attractive.  However, a joyful Christianity is a most arresting advertisement for the transforming power of the Gospel.  So, all who hope to cut ice as witnesses for Christ will do well to study the art of joy as part of their spiritual preparation.”   – J.I. Packer, God’s Plans for You

“The best argument for Christianity is Christians:  their joy, their certainty, their completeness.  But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians-when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.”  – Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy

The joy of the Lord is your strength”            – Nehemiah 8:10

“Serve the Lord with gladness.” — Psalm 100:2

I was recently examining the minutes of our elders’ meetings during this past year and came across this devotional thought I had shared with our leaders a year ago from the esteemed preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, on Psalm 100:2. It challenged me anew to pray that cheerfulness and joy would mark my service and ministry to the Lord and King of the church.

Delight in divine service is a token of acceptance. Those who serve God with a sad countenance, because they do what is unpleasant to them, are not serving him at all; they bring the form of homage, but the life is absent…Our God requires no slaves to grace his throne; he is the Lord of the empire of love, and would have his servants dressed in the attire of joy. The angels of God serve him with songs, not with groans. A murmur or a sigh would be a mutiny in their ranks… Do you serve the Lord with gladness? Let us show to the people of the world, who think our faith to be slavery, that it is to us a delight and a joy! Let our gladness proclaim that we serve a good Master.