The inclusiveness of Jesus - Matthew 2:1-12

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the morning service on 5th February 2006.

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A few years ago, a couple from the Northern United States decided to spend a few weeks in Florida on holiday. Where they lived in the north the winters can be particularly harsh, but down south in Florida the sun shines all the time. They decided that they would stay in the same hotel that they had spent their honeymoon in 20 years previously. So the trip was planned, and everything was arranged. Because of their hectic schedules though, the husband and wife had to go down south to Florida separately. So the husband flew down on the Thursday and his wife was to join him on the Friday. When the husband arrived in sunny Florida on the Thursday night, he checked into the hotel and found that there was a computer terminal in his room. So he decided to email his wife just to say heíd arrived safely. However, as he typed in her email address, he accidentally left out one letter. Without realising his mistake he sent off the email, but to the wrong address. Thousands of miles away in Texas, a widow had just returned home from her husbandís funeral. Heíd been a minister and had died suddenly from a heart attack. The widow decided to check her email expecting to find messages of support and comfort from friends and relatives. When she looked at the first message she screamed and fainted. When her son rushed into the room, he found this message on the screen: To: My loving wife. Subject: Iíve arrived. Date: 21st October 2004. Dear Honey, I know youíre surprised to hear from me. They have computers here now and you are allowed to send emails to your loved ones. I have just arrived and have been checked in. I see that everything has been prepared for your arrival tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you then. Hope your journey was as uneventful as mine. Your loving husband. PS It sure is hot down here!

Well misunderstandings are very common place in life arenít they? And sometimes they do have serious consequences. But nothing is more serious than having a misunderstanding about Jesus Christ. And there is a lot of confusion about. If you were to interview passers by on Newland Avenue for example as to their opinions of Jesus, youíd get lots of different answers. Some would say he was a good man, others would say he was a prophet, others perhaps that he was the Son of God. Some wouldnít know! But whilst some of those have elements of truth in them, yet they all fall a long way short of who Jesus really is. And thatís why our sermon series in Matthewís gospel is so refreshing. Because we are coming face to face with Jesus Christ. We are seeing him as he really is. And that is true of our passage this morning.

Now I guess to many of us this story is very familiar. If you know anything about Christianity, then youíll probably at least know this story which we commonly associate with Christmas. And we attach a sort of glitzy cosiness to this story. We imagine a warm nativity scene with shepherds and happy looking non smelling animals and in the corner are three kings called Melchior, Balthazar and Gaspar carrying gold, frankincense and myrrh. And in the centre is a perfectly behaved baby lying in beautifully hand made crib and wearing a snug Mothercare babygrow. The trouble is though is that there is a lot of gloss that is added to the story so that frequently we miss the main point. For example there is no mention of three wise men in the story. Thatís an assumption made from the fact that there are three gifts mentioned. There are no camels, and the visitors have no names. All Matthew tells us is that they are Magi, which basically means astrologers or philosophers, who spent all their time looking at the stars and pondering life over their smoking pipes and who most likely had come from what we now call Iran.

But actually to focus on the stargazing pipe-smoking Iranians is a mistake. Because the reason these Magi made the long journey from Iran to Bethlehem is because they were looking for a newborn king. And that is Jesus. Matthew focuses all our attention on the smallest person in the story- the infant Jesus. Because Matthewís aim in his book is for us to see Jesus as he really is and to understand why he came. You see the temptation with a passage like this one is that we leave Jesus in the crib. Heís sweeter there, heís safer there. He canít make demands of us and ask us tough questions. We donít have to do anything with him. We can keep him at armís length. The trouble is that is not the Jesus of the Bible. Because this Jesus is actually the awesome King of the universe who rightly demands, yes demands, our total allegiance and worship. Thatís the Jesus we meet in Matthew 2. So letís turn to Matthewís account and weíll ask four questions about this Jesus:

1) Who is this King?

2) Who has he Come For?

3) How is he Received?

4) What does he Demand?

 

1) Who is this King?

So letís ask our first question. Who is this king? Verse 1: "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?" So along come our Magi, our philosophising astrologers from the East, and notice that they ask the present King of Judea, Herod, "Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?" Now notice they do not say: "Where is the one who will become the King of the Jews?" No, they are searching for the King. They are looking for one who has been born the King. This baby is the king! No wonder King Herod will get upset, as weíll see later. So what kind of king are they looking for? Well there are two witnesses that Matthew tells us about which help us to understand who this king is.

a) The Witness of the Star- First there is the witness of the star. Verse 2: "The Magi 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." Now in the ancient world, as today, stargazing was big business. And it was thought that special astronomical events often accompanied significant events in world history. So when this star appears in the sky, these star gazers believe that something very special has taken place. Now weíre not told how they drew the conclusion that they must search for the king in Jerusalem. There is a passage in Numbers 24 v 17 which says that a "star will come out of Jacob", and many Jews believed that this verse looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, Godís promised rescuer King. Perhaps the Magi put two and two together. And nor are we told exactly what this star was. There are various theories, perhaps a natural conjunction of plants, or perhaps a supernatural extraordinary event for this very event. In the end we donít know. But the point is that it is the God of the universe who orchestrates the heavens so that the coming of King Jesus is witnessed to by a staggering astronomical event. Itís a massive visual aid! And so staggering was it that it brought these non Jewish pagan philosophers to worship! So at the very least, the conclusion we must draw is that this baby King is someone very special indeed. Matthew isnít saying we should all go and read our horoscopes. In fact the Bible has much to say on the stupidity of reading too much into the stars. But in this case, the creator of the stars has highlighted his King by this awesome phenomena.

Now itís worth us pausing a moment to consider whether we believe that this sort of thing is possible. Or do you just write it off as fantasy, make believe. Itís the same question we asked last week about the virgin birth. Do you believe itís possible for God, the great creator of all things, to implant a divinely fertilised egg into the womb of a teenage virgin bride? Do you believe he can orchestrate the heavens to produce an astronomical phenomenon to point us to his King? Well if you canít believe it, then let me say your God is too small. Your God is simply an image of yourself. And that is idolatry. Itís not that we simply explain the unexplainable by saying God did it. Rather we acknowledge that the living God who made the heavens and the earth and everything in it, including you and me, is perfectly capable of using his creation for his own ends. Why shouldnít he? And unless you acknowledge that God is infinitely greater than us, that you and I are just creatures and he is the creator, then we will never grasp how we should properly relate to him. We cannot put God in a box. This is the God that the Bible says "determines the numbers of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit." (Ps. 147 vv 4-5). Is that your God? Because thatís the God of the Bible.

b) The Witness of Scripture- But although the star was a staggering phenomenon, it was not enough for the Magi. They needed a second witness to give them more information on this King and that is the witness of Scripture. Because it is the Bible that gives us the full picture of who Jesus is. And in passing itís worth remembering that the way to introduce people to Jesus is to show them the Bibleís witness. We need Godís full revelation to help us understand who Jesus is. Which is why our course on investigating Christianity is unashamedly rooted in the Bible. Because through the Bible we come face to face with Jesus Christ.

So Matthew tells us that the Magi make the mistake of asking the present King Herod for advice on how to find the new king. I guess we can excuse them for being slightly naive because they are new boys in town. I mean if youíre looking for the new king, the last thing youíre going to do is ask the present king where the new one might live. But anyway! King Herod brings in his experts to ask them where the king promised in the OT, known as the Christ, was to be born. Because it was well known that the OT promised that God would send his king to rescue and rule his people. So this king the Magi are looking for must be this promised Christ figure. So the experts tell them. And they quote from an OT prophet called Micah writing hundreds of years before. Verse 5: "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: ĎBut 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 be the shepherd of my people Israel.í" And Micahís message is astonishing. Hundreds of years before, God had promised through the prophet Micah that he would send someone very special to his people.

So who would it be? He will be a ruler who will shepherd Godís people. Godís people are in desperate need of a shepherd to lead them. They need looking after and watching over and rescuing. And then listen to how Micah goes on in his prophecy. In chapter 5 v 2 of his prophecy Micah says that this ruler and shepherdís "origins are from of old, from ancient times." This ruler is very ancient. In fact the word "old" that Micah uses to speak of this coming ruler is used of God elsewhere in the OT. Even before his birth, this king has been around a long time! How can that be? And in verse 4 of his prophecy Micah adds: "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 Ö. His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace." Well what an extraordinary prophecy. It speaks of a ruler who will come and shepherd Godís people, who has been around a very long time and will bring peace to his people. And all this is spoken about Jesus, the babe in the crib.

Can you see what Matthew is saying? This infant Jesus is Godís promised King. This Jesus is the one who has been with God from the very beginning. He is eternal. But now he has been born as a man come to shepherd and rule his people. And he has come to bring peace. And when you add that to what we found out last week, we discover that the way he will bring peace is by rescuing us. Very simply Jesus, whose name means "God saves", has come on a rescue mission to restore the relationship weíve broken with God through our disobedience. As God in the flesh, Jesus has taken the initiative to mend the relationship. And how will he do it? He will do it by laying down his life on the cross. You see this Jesus is no sweet cuddly babe in the manger. This Jesus is the great promised King, the one who stands over all of history for all eternity. The one who has our lives in the palms of his hands. And he is the one who gave himself for you and me so that we could be right with God again. Have you realised who Jesus is yet? Heís the divine King, our promised ruler and rescuer!

2) Who has he Come For?

But if Jesus is the promised divine king, if he is the rescuer from God, then letís ask our second question. Who has he come for? And the answer very simply is that his offer of rescue is open to everyone! He is the king of the whole world and he is the king for the whole world. What helps us see this is that the Magi are the first people in Matthewís gospel to come and worship Jesus. Do you see what they say in verse 2: "We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." Now these men, you remember, were not Jews, they were pagan astronomers. But what is all the more amazing is that these men were willing to travel hundreds of miles to worship this new king. Pagans are coming to the Jewish Messiah to worship him.

And that was always Godís plan from the very start. Though he chose Israel as his people, yet his plan was that through Israel the whole world would come to know God. All nations would be blessed. And sure enough Isaiah prophesied that non Jews, gentiles would come to worship the new born Messiah. "Nations will come to your light, he said. And kings will come to your dawn." (Is. 60 v 3) The psalmist talking about the Messiah said: "Kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him." (Ps. 72 v 10) And throughout Matthewís gospel he shows us that Jesus is the universal king. Strangely in a gospel that is probably written for Jews to understand who Jesus is, there are several references to non Jews trusting Jesus. In fact the only two people who are commended for their faith by Jesus in Matthewís gospel are Gentiles, non Jews. And these Magi are the first in a long line of non Jews, Gentiles like I guess most of us, who will bow the knee before Jesus Christ. This Jesus has come for all.

Now there may be some of us here who are thinking that whilst this is a pleasant enough experience being here at St. Johnís and everyone is very nice, yet this Christianity, this Jesus isnít for you. Itís just not your scene. You are not the religious type. Well let me humbly but firmly tell you that you are mistaken. You see following Jesus Christ is not a lifestyle choice or a hobby like playing tiddly winks or watching Hull City. Following Christ is a necessity. Itís a life or death decision. Because what you and I need is not religion but a rescuer. We are in dire peril. We are facing all eternity without God if we persist in running our lives without reference to our loving creator who made us to enjoy him. Itís not a question of whether we are religious or not. Itís whether you and I are prepared to admit we are in dire danger. And the only person who can do anything about it is Jesus Christ. Only he can save you. Only he can pay the price to rescue you from the eternal fate that faces each of us. You and me, we all need Christ, whether we like that fact or not. The question is are we humble enough to trust him rather than ourselves.

And it maybe that those of us who would claim to be Christians need reminding of this fact too. That there is in fact only one Saviour. Because in the present climate itís easy to shy away from saying that Jesus is the excusive Lord who arms are open to all. Jesus is the Saviour for all mankind. So that means heís the saviour for our atheist friends, our Moslem friends, our Hindu friends, our agnostic friends. And they wonít be saved by following their way. They must bow the knee to Christ. For he is the Saviour for all. Do you believe that? In this culture of many religions, and multi faith discussion and society, do you still believe Jesus is the only way to God for all, and that all must come to Christ? Because thatís the very plain teaching of the Scriptures. And to think anything less, is to dishonour the God of the Bible. Who has Jesus come for? Heís come for all. And itís an offer we must all accept.

3) How is he Received?

But letís move on to our third question. Because if King Jesus has come for all, then how is he received? Well the sad fact is that at first in this story, the king who has come for all is rejected. And actually it is not at all surprising. Because when we human beings discover there is someone greater than ourselves to whom we are accountable, then we donít like it. We want to do things our way. We donít want to have someone else tell us what to do or hold the reins.

As I was preparing this week, I was reminded of a school nativity play once where every child was to have some part, however small. Well one little boy, who we will call Johnnie to protect his true identity, being a natural actor had landed the plum role of Joseph. But he fooled about and ad-libbed so outrageously that the teacher decided she had to sort him out. ĎRight young maní, she said. ĎYou may think youíre Brad Pitt, but you are not going to be Joseph. You can be the innkeeper: that gives you precisely two words. "No room". So make the most of themí. Well Johnnie was furious and sulked all the way through the rehearsals! But strangely Johnnie was all smiles on the day of the performance. The hall was packed with doting parents and the teacher purring with pride. Until the moment when Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem and rapped on the door... Johnnie appeared. ĎHave you any room?í asked Joseph. There was a pause. And then Johnnie beamed and said: "Yes, loads. Come on in!" And that sadly is how we react naturally to Godís call on our life. He has the rights of our lives. He holds the keys. But we naturally reject him. We do our own thing. And there are two ways that such rejection is seen in our story.

a) Cold Apathy- First there is cold apathy. And we see this reaction in the experts Herod hires to tell about the birthplace of this new king. See what happens after verse 6. Do they get on the first express camel to Bethlehem? Do they immediately shout for joy and rejoice that the Messiah has at last come? No, not at all! They did nothing. There is just a big silence surrounding the reaction of these theology professors. And Matthewís silence is his biggest indictment against them. They were simply cold hearted and apathetic. And that is the reaction of these men to Jesus throughout the gospel. These top religious officials should have been first at Mary and Josephís house. They should have been the ones carrying the presents. They knew all the promises in the OT. But they did nothing.

And friends, I cannot tell you how dangerous a place that it is to be. If this news about Jesus your King and Saviour does not move you, then pray for Godís mercy on your heart. Pray heíd give you eyes to see who Jesus is. And if you are someone who claims to be a Christian and yet is just apathetic about the good news, or hardly moved at all by the love of Christ, then again pray for mercy. Pray that your heart be warmed. Because nothing kills a relationship quicker than cold apathy, and especially our relationship with God. And sadly very often cold apathy moves onto hostile antagonism.

b) Hostile Antagonism- And that was Herodís reaction. Verse 7: "Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said: ĎGo and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I may go and worship him.í" Now that may sound very plausible, mightnít it? But weíve already found out in verse 3 that Herod is disturbed by the reports about this new king. And in fact when the Magi fail to follow Herodís instructions and go back home by a different route after a divine tip off, then Herodís true colours come out. Just glance on to verse 16: "When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in BethlehemÖ" You canít get more opposed to Jesus than that can you. He tries to kill him.

And still today there are those who strongly refuse to come to Jesus. Maybe you know people like that. Maybe you are one yourself. Well bear in mind who the true king is. Herod will stand before King Jesus and bow the knee, not in humble submission but in begrudging realisation that Jesus is King. So donít be surprised when people fiercely reject the gospel or even you the messenger. Because it happened to Jesus first. Right from the cradle all the way to the cross, he was the rejected King.

 

4) What does he Demand?

Which brings us to our final question. What does he demand? Because if many reject him, then what is the right response to this King who has done so much for us? Well the right response is shown in how the Magi respond. And they embody what the King demands. Verse 9: "After the [Magi] had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star they were overjoyed." Literally Matthew wrote: "They rejoiced exceedingly with a great joy!" Itís a far cry from cold hearted apathy isnít it? And Matthew goes on: "On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures, and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh." When these pagan astrologers came face to face with Jesus, they worshipped him. They may not have realised everything about him, but they knew enough to worship him. And they gave him gifts fit for a king- gold, frankincense and myrrh. Now these werenít things you could just buy at the Bethlehem branch of Tescos. No these were seriously wealthy gifts. Whether or not they are meant to have symbolic value, itís clear the magi gave them simply as expensive gifts to this great king. These magi didnít do things by halves. Theyíd travelled for hundreds of miles and give out of their treasures to this King. They gave the very best. Thatís what it means to be whole hearted in our adoration of Jesus. It means to give him our very best- in fact everything we have. That is what this King demands.

You might have heard about the little boy who was taken off guard by the collection plate being passed round the church in the final hymn. He frantically turned out his pockets and found only the usual things that little boys have- water pistol, conker, chewing gum, i-pod. But no money. But when the collection plate came along. He put it on the floor and then stepped into it. Heíd understood perfectly that what Jesus requires is everything, including ourselves. Itís the only response that can be given to the King who came from all eternity to die for us on the cross to offer us forgiveness and a fresh start. The only response is to hand our whole lives to him. There is nothing that we should hold back from the King. Because heís the rightful king and he is willing to have everyone back if only we will admit our rebellion and come to him.

So what do you make of Jesus? He is the King. The king whose rescue is open to all who would come, including everyone here. But one day he will return to confirm his victory and bring the rebels to justice. One day every knee will bow before him, like it or not. Itís much better to bow willingly today than begrudgingly then. "What can I give him, poor as I am. If I were shepherd, I would give a lamb. If I were wise man, I would do my part. But what can I give him, give him my heart".

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