King Herod, the religious leaders, and the Magi all responded differently to Jesus…
ILL: Paul Wulff, former head football coach at Eastern and WSU told me over lunch one day about playing in his first preseason game for the New York Jets in the NFL. He went in for his first play ever, as a long snapper on a field goal. All-Pro and Hall of Famer Reggie White (a strong believer known as the Minister of Defense) and two other All-Pro’s lined up opposite him. Reggie asked him, “Do you believe in Jesus?” Paul and the others didn’t know what to say. Reggie asked again, “Do you believe in Jesus?” More silence. Then just before the snap Reggie said, “Here He comes.”
When Paul heard Reggie say that, I don’t think it was good news. I’m not sure what Paul’s response was, but I doubt it was happy! He probably got knocked on his keister.
Here He comes! That’s the Christmas story: God came to earth as one of us. Here He comes! When God announced His arrival, He got a mixed response.
The first people to hear were Mary and then Joseph. Mary responded by saying,
Luke 1:38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
“Yes Lord to whatever You want, no matter what it costs me.” And it would cost her.
Joseph’s story is found in Matthew 1 (p. 827). Joseph didn’t believe Mary’s story and had decided to end the engagement.
Matthew 1:20–21 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Mark your place.)
What was Joseph’s response? He obeyed—he took Mary as his wife. Like Mary, Joseph said, “Yes Lord to whatever you want.”
Please don’t miss why Jesus came. Look again at verse 21. “He will save his people from their sins.” He came to save us! If your life is perfect—we’re really happy for you— this won’t mean much to you. For all the rest of us, this is good news!
- If you’re stuck in an addiction, a habit, a behavior that you just can’t overcome…
- If you carry a load of guilt or shame from your failure…
- If you feel far from God and wish you were close…
- If you just wish you were a better person, a better spouse or parent…
This is good news! Jesus came for you—to save you, to free you, to change you! Here He comes! What’s your response?
Michael read the story of the shepherds and their response. They rushed to Bethlehem to see Jesus and then gladly spread the word about Him!
And that brings us to our text: the visit of Wise Men or Magi, found in Matthew 2 (p. 828). You’ll see three very different responses to Jesus’ arrival in this story.
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Someone said that this is the first Star Trek!
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 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, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Here are three different responses.
First, the Magi. Their response? “We’ve come to worship Him.” Who were the Magi? They were Gentiles (not Jews), most likely from Persia or Arabia, priests who were skilled in astrology, interpretation of dreams and other occult arts. Some of these, like astrology (divining the influence of stars and planets on human beings and events on earth) were forbidden in the Jewish law. God had shown the Magi through these forbidden arts that the King of Jews was being born, and they had come to worship Him.
Second, Herod. His response? Hostility! King Herod was famous for his murderous paranoia (he had his own wife and sons murdered because he thought they might be plotting against him). He carefully quizzed the magi, and then the religious leaders to determine where and when the new king would be born. But he didn’t want to worship the new king; he wanted to kill him. Here He comes! And Herod’s response was hostility—let’s kill Him.
Third, the religious leaders. Their response: indifference. They were asked where the Messiah would be born, and they had a ready answer, as they should. And yet after hearing the Magi’s news, they did…nothing. None of them bothered going to Bethlehem to investigate.
Here He comes! And that news meets three different responses:
- Herod’s hostility.
- The religious leaders’ indifference.
- The Magi’s worship.
I want to focus on the Magi’s response to Jesus, and use it as a model for our own. Maybe you’ve seen the bumper sticker or sign that says, “Wise men still seek Him.” Here are three things the Magi did that I’d like to emulate.
- The wise still seek Him.
When the Magi discerned that a new king was to be born, they came looking for Him. They launched an all-out search. They traveled a long distance (same map of Persia and Arabia)—it could have been between 800-2500 miles—and endured hardship and danger, all at great personal expense. It couldn’t have been easy.
I just went to Yuma Arizona to celebrate my mom’s 90th birthday. She looks good doesn’t she! We flew. But if we had walked, it’s over 1300 miles—and would have taken months. For the Magi…
- There were no planes, trains or automobiles (or John Candy and Steve Martin). They walked or came by animal (camel, donkey, horse).
- They probably had no maps or GPS on their cell phones! How did they get anywhere? Oh yeah…the star. God’s GPS!
- There was no Yelp for restaurants, no TripAdvisor for hotels. They mostly camped out or relied on local hospitality.
These guys were serious. Obviously, this was important to them. You only launch an all out search when it really matters.
ILL: In March of 1999, six of us guys went snow camping. We drove to Sherman Pass; at 5500 feet it’s the highest drivable pass in the state. From there, we skied in about 5 miles, to a cabin near Snow Peak at about 6400 feet. My sons Jeff and Michael were with us—Jeff was 15 and Michael was 10 at the time. Jeff kept having trouble with his skis, and I had to stop and help him. Finally, Michael got impatient with us and wanted to catch the other guys, so he asked if he go ahead. I told him sure, just stay in the ski tracks the others had laid down. About 20 minutes later, I got Jeff taken care of and we set off. Before long we came to a place where all the tracks went up and to the left, and one lone set of tracks went down and to the right. Had Michael gone off on his own? It was starting to get dark, and I had to make a decision. So we pressed ahead on the main track, and I skied like crazy trying to catch the group and make sure Michael was there. The whole time, I had visions of my 10 year old son lost in the mountains, in the dark, by himself. And that vision drove me to ski harder and harder. We finally caught the guys and Michael popped his head out of a snow cave, and said, “Hey dad!” I can’t tell you how relieved I was.
What drove me? This was important. This mattered. I had to find my son.
The Magi got the announcement: Here He comes! And they said, “This matters. Let’s go find Him and worship!” And they launched an all-out search.
What a contrast with the religious leaders who knew where the Messiah would be born, but couldn’t be bothered to walk 5 miles to Bethlehem! That’s right—Bethlehem was only 5 miles from Jerusalem. The Magi traveled hundreds of miles and they couldn’t walk five! That’s apathy!
And that response is common today. Many people in our culture are not hostile to Jesus and are not seeking Jesus—they are just indifferent to Jesus. The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) documented a rising increase in “nones”—those who claim no religion at all. Barry Kismin, co-researcher for the survey, says, “These people aren’t thinking about religion and rejecting it; they’re not thinking about it at all.” Another researcher wrote that religion “wasn’t really so much a private, personal issue, but rather, a non-issue.” His interviewees just didn’t care about it.
This is the response of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. The Messiah is born in Bethlehem, and they don’t care. They can’t be bothered to walk 5 miles to check it out. Meanwhile, some Gentile astrologers travel hundreds of miles because it mattered to them. Wise men still seek Him.
If it’s important to you, you’ll seek Him. So why should this be important to you? Why should you care? If this story is true—if God is there and has come to earth in Jesus to save us—it changes everything. It means that you have inherent value—so much that the God who created the universe came looking for you. And if it’s not true—if God is not there—then you have no inherent value. We are just cosmic accidents in a universe that’s going nowhere. You’re on your own in an impersonal, accidental universe. It matters. You should care!
If it’s important to you, you’ll seek Him. And you’ll find Him!
Jeremiah 29:13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
What a promise! If you seek Him, you’ll find Him! Does it matter to you? Wise men still seek Him. Jesus said:
Matthew 7:7–8 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Jesus promised that if you seek, you’ll find. Are you seeking Jesus? Does it matter to you? If you seek Him, you’ll find Him. Please don’t be indifferent. This is too important. The wise still seek Him.
- The wise worship Him.
The Magi went to great lengths seeking Jesus, and when they found Him, what did they do? They worshipped Him.
What did that look like? Well, there was no band rocking great tunes. There was no choir, no hymns—no Hillsong, no Chris Tomlin. They didn’t even have a fog machine! How could they worship? Like this.
The word “worship” literally means, “to kiss toward”—it was used of bowing down and kissing someone’s feet, or the hem of their garment. It was an act of submission, dependence, obeisance, and homage. Worship. This meant, “You are greater than I am. You are more important than I am. You are God; I am not. I am your servant.”
Imagine how shocking this must have been to Joseph and Mary. These were obviously men of distinction, men of influence and wealth. And they were Gentiles to boot! Yet they were bowing down in worship before their infant son. They were saying to this tiny child, “You are greater than I am. You are more important than I am. You are God; I am not. I am your servant.”
The wise still worship Him.
Have you ever been face-to-face with someone famous, someone important?
ILL: There is a story about a woman who entered a Haagen-Dasz store on the Kansas City Plaza for an ice-cream cone. After making her selection, she turned and found herself face to face with Paul Newman, in town filming the movie Mr. & Mrs. Bridge. He smiled and said hello. Newman’s blue eyes made her knees buckle.
She managed to pay for her cone, then left the shop, heart pounding. Outside, she stopped to gain her composure, and realized she didn’t have her ice cream. She started back into the store to get it and met Newman at the door.
“Are you looking for your ice cream?” he asked. She nodded, still unable to speak. “You put it in your purse with your change.”
Being in the presence of someone famous or important will do that to you! And that was only Paul Newman. Imagine being in the presence of God! I think we’ll all be doing this! (Prostrate)
When you know who Jesus is—God in the flesh come to rescue us—the only appropriate response is this. To worship. To say, “You are greater than I am. You are more important than I am. You are God; I am not. I am your servant.”
The wise still worship Him.
A couple weeks ago, I asked if you knew the difference between you and God? He never thinks He is you! We get ourselves confused with God. This is a real problem for us, and always has been. All the way back to Adam and Eve—what was their sin? It wasn’t eating an apple. It was thinking that they knew better than God. It was wanting to be in charge, be their own god, their own boss. And we human beings have been doing the same ever since. One woman said, “My husband and I divorced over religious differences. He thought he was God, and I didn’t.” As long as you think you’re god, you’ll never worship Him. You’ll be too busy worshipping yourself.
So it really starts with knowing who God is, and who you are. He is God, I am not. He is Lord, I am not. He is in charge, I am not. He is the great I AM, I am not. Get that straight, and you can start to worship.
Worship ultimately isn’t just about what we do on the outside: singing a song, bowing down, raising our hands. Ultimately it’s about what’s going on inside us.
ILL: I’m thinking of the little boy who couldn’t sit still during dinner. He was constantly jumping up and grabbing things. His dad kept telling him to sit, but a moment later he’d jump up again. Finally, dad laid down the law. “Sit or else.”
The boy sat sullenly, arms crossed. His dad said, “That’s better.” But the boy said, “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside.”
You can bow down on the outside and be standing up on the inside. You can be singing on the outside and thinking about that pot roast on the inside. Real worship starts in the heart. It’s knowing that He is God and you are not. It’s saying from the heart, “You are greater than I am. You are more important than I am. You are God; I am not. I am your servant.”
Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
The wise still worship Him.
- The wise give Him their best.
As part of their worship, the Magi gave the infant king their gifts. They gave their best, gifts that were fit for a king.
Many people trace our custom of giving gifts at Christmas back to the Magi and their gifts to the infant Jesus. Their gifts expressed their worship, their devotion, their love. And that can be reflected in our gifts as well.
ILL: When Laina and I began dating, I wanted to give her something really special for our first Christmas. She had told me about a Bernina sewing machine that she was using in a class and loved, and that the school was selling some of these machines. I contacted the school—the price was $400. I made $100 a month as a youth pastor. I came up with a plan, and for months I scrimped, and saved, and sacrificed, but I bought the Bernina, and surprised her for Christmas. A used sewing machine—what a romantic! I think she was hoping for an engagement ring. But she loved the Bernina and still has it 45 years later! And me…
That gift represented my best. It was a sacrifice of love. Isn’t that what love does?
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
God gave His very best because He loves you so much. Love gives its very best. This is how God loves you and it’s how we love Him back.
The wise still give Him their best. And the best looks different for each of us.
ILL: It was Christmas, and a kindergarten teacher was receiving gifts from her pupils. The florist’s son handed her a gift. She shook it, held it overhead, and said, “I bet I know what it is. Some flowers.”
“That’s right” the boy said, “but how did you know?”
“Oh, just a wild guess,” she said.
The next student was the daughter of a candy shop owner. The teacher held her gift overhead, shook it, and said, “Hmmmm…is it…a box of candy?”
“That’s right, but how did you know?” asked the girl.
“Oh, just a wild guess,” said the teacher.
The next gift was from the son of the liquor store owner. The teacher held the package, but it was leaking. She touched a drop of the leakage with her finger and tasted. “Is it wine?” she asked.
“No” the boy replied.
The teacher repeated the process, tasting a larger drop. “Is it champagne?” she asked.
“No” the boy replied.
The teacher took one more taste before declaring, “I give up, what is it?”
And the boy said, “It’s a puppy!”
Best Christmas gift ever! Just like the Magi, each child brought a unique gift. The gifts of the Magi—gold, frankincense and myrrh—were all expensive gifts, and probably financed the holy family’s exile in Egypt. But each gift also had a unique significance.
- Gold was the gift for a king. The Magi knew Jesus as the King of the Jews. On trial at the end of His life, Pilate would ask Him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And Pilate ordered a sign to be hung on the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of Jews.” It was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek, so everyone would know the charge against Him. What kind of king is this, who is born in stable and dies as a criminal on a cross? He was more than the King of the Jews; He is the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords. “But he was to reign, not by force, but by love; and he was to rule over our hearts, not from a throne, but from a Cross.”
- Frankincense was the gift for a priest. It was used in the Temple worship. A priest is someone who brings man and God together. In fact, the Latin word for priest literally means “bridge builder.” The priest is a person who is a bridge between God and man. Jesus came as our High Priest, to be a new way to God. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” He is the way. He came to bring us back to our Father.
- Myrrh was the gift for one who is to die. Myrrh was used to embalm dead bodies. Jesus came into the world to live for us and to die for us. He said that He came to give His life as a ransom for many.
“Gold for a king, frankincense for a priest, myrrh for one who was to die—these were the gifts of the magi, and, even at the cradle of Jesus, they foretold that he was to be the true King, the perfect High Priest, and the supreme Savior.”
These were the gifts of the Magi. The wise still give their best.
You all know the Hallmark tag line: “…when you care enough to send the very best.” What would be your best? I think it would be you. And I think that’s the gift He wants most: you. Here.
The wise still give their best.