SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 19 December 2021
Sermon Text: Matthew 2:1-12
Sermon Series: “Jesus’ Birth” (#3)
I. Wise men from the east
II. Coming to worship the newborn King
III. Following another way to home
When Jesus was born, just a handful of people knew the truth, that is, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, came in flesh. Apart from Mary and Joseph, some Jewish shepherds in the field heard about it, most likely in the night of the same day. Then, some number of men from the east noticed this birth that was extraordinary, yet, in an ambiguous form for they did not hear it from an angel but observed a special star that appeared in the sky.
We’ve been considering the birth of Jesus from the perspectives of these small number of people at the time of the Saviour’s birth. To Mary and Joseph, first of all, Jesus’ birth proved to their eyes God’s faithfulness to His promises for His people. Although Mary at least once doubted Jesus, as evidenced in Mk. 3:20-21, because He was her ‘Son,’ His birth was an immeasurably great blessing to both Mary and Joseph. Knowing who He was, they bowed to the Son and worshipped. That invites us – rather, compels us – to bow to the newborn baby and rejoice in Him for He is our Saviour and Lord who came in flesh to fulfil the Father’s promises for all with whom He is pleased.
The next perspective we considered last Lord’s Day was of the shepherds. An angel appeared to them and delivered the news of the Saviour’s birth. Hearing it, they hurried to see the Baby lying in the manger. Seeing Him, they worshipped Him and rejoiced greatly, praising and glorifying God. God’s choosing of these commoners of the day was very purposeful. It clearly announces that the Messiah came is for all people who are under their earthly toil, yet, seek rest for their souls. Jesus is not for the proud nor the wise, but for the hungry and the meek in the world. So, it is joyful news to us all.
Having said, there’s another group of people called ‘the wise men’ – or ‘magi’ in Latin or ‘magoi’ in Greek – ‘from the east.’ They came to Jesus and worshipped Him. We’ll consider their perspective on the newborn Saviour. Before we do, some questions like these arise: ‘why some non-Jewish or Gentile men from the east? Why did a special star appear to them and guide their path to Jesus? What caused them to worship Him?’
I. WISE MEN FROM THE EAST
Humbly seeking the Holy Spirit’s wisdom, let us consider, first of all, ‘why these men from the east were specifically chosen to do this visit.’
By the way, the term ‘wise man’ (or ‘magus’ the singular form of magi) denotes a person specialised in astronomy, astrology and natural science. I’m sure that there also were many brilliant minds in Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth which could be around 4-5 BC. Those areas of science were not exclusively for the people of the eastern countries to Israel, like Persia, Babylon or Arabia. Rather, those were widely practised fields of studies or disciplines of the day. At the same time, astronomers, astrologers and natural scientists were not the only people who could be classified as wise or intelligent men. Theology, philosophy or archaeology were also highly regarded fields of study in the ancient world. So, any brilliant mind among the Jews could’ve been chosen for this purpose. But wise men – magi – not from the Jews but from the east came to the Saviour born in Bethlehem. Why?
To find an answer, we need to go back in time to the era of King Solomon, the son of David. Especially to the event recorded in 1 Kings 10 where the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon. Sheba was a kingdom located in the south-west of the Arabian Peninsula. She came to pay homage to Solomon and especially to his great wisdom, and gave him gifts of gold, spices and precious stones. The wise men’s visit to Jesus, ‘the Son of David,’ reminds us of the queen’s visit to Solomon, a son of David, that preceded many centuries earlier.
This points out the truth that the Son of David is the King of kings and Lord of lords, worthy to receive homage from all people of the world. People not only from the descendants of Abraham and Jacob, but also from all nations and tongues should come to Jesus and give Him honour and reverence. The message is that He is the King and Lord over all. The queen from the south-west and the wise men from the east simply represent this universal duty or mandate toward the glorious King, Jesus Christ!
This also means that the way to this King is open to all people. All nations are invited. His light shines all corners of the world, and anyone and everyone can come to Him.
This is why you and I are here, in this church, gathered together before God in the name of Jesus the Son. We’re represented many centuries and millennia earlier by the queen of Sheba and the wise men from the east. This is why God chose these specific men from a land of the unknown.
II. COMING TO WORSHIP THE NEWBORN KING
Having said, what was the reason for the wise men’s visit to Jesus the newborn King? What is the purpose of our coming to Jesus today? To worship Him as the Lord and God; to approach God and call Him ‘Heavenly Father’ through Jesus the Saviour. Like the wise men of old did before the baby Jesus, we too bow to Him in worship.
An important truth we all must know is how the wise men came to Jesus. Let me emphasise again that knowing this is truly important. In fact, this is the purpose of the so-called ‘Star of Bethlehem’ or ‘Christmas Star’ mysteriously appeared and guided the wise men to Jesus.
The truth is that none – including the wise men of Mt. 2 – can come to Jesus by his/her own wit or strength. Everyone needs a guidance from above. Without the help from God, no one is able to find the way to the Saviour Jesus; no one can know who Jesus is and why he/she needs Him.
Let me explain this further with what happened to the wise men. They left their homeland, following the Christmas Star. Having walked so many kms, they came to Jerusalem, thinking that the One they had been looking for would be in that city. It’s not likely that the star they had been following became invisible because there’s no mention of such in Mt. 2. I personally believe that these men thought and concluded that the place they should go to was Jerusalem, the capital of the nation and the city of king. But the place the star was pointing at was Bethlehem, the city of David, about 10 kms south of Jerusalem.
Entering this king’s city, the wise men inquired of the exact place of the newborn King of the Jews. This troubled King Herod and all people in Jerusalem. Herod’s trouble was based on his endless fear of losing his throne since the early stage of his reign. He had seen many attempts of assassination, treasons, betrayals and political threats, and this news from the eastern men of dignitary was one of the surest threats to his mind. So he immediately decided to murder this newborn King.
When this Herod found out later that the magi had tricked him and returned to their home, he ordered to kill all male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under. And that awful massacre was carried out. For Herod, giving such an order was most likely not a difficult thing at all. According to Flavius Josephus, a famous Jewish historian in the 1st century AD, King Herod left a will to his wife and daughter which included an order to kill one member of every Jewish family after his death. Why? Because he knew that the Jews would rejoice over the death of an evil king like him. So, he wanted all Jews to mourn at his funeral, not because of the death of their king, but because of their loss of their loved ones. What an evil king he was! But his wife and daughter didn’t carry it. So, killing male children in the region of Bethlehem would’ve been an easy thing for Herod.
The point I’d like to draw to your attention is that such a tragedy was caused by the inquiry of these men from the east. They chose their way and reached the Herod’s chamber; they spread the news of great joy to the ears of Herod; then, a great noise of ‘weeping and loud lamentation’ soon filled every house in that region! What a tragedy!
Only if they had fixed their eyes on the guiding star and followed it diligently, only if they had persevered just a few kilometres farther, the evil king would’ve not had a chance to disturb numerous lives and families.
As the wise men left Herod’s palace, the star was right there before them, shining their path to the true and gracious new-born King. They followed it and found the Baby who is ‘the bright morning star’ as Rev. 22:16 states. Then, at last, they were able to bow to Him in worship and, in full joy, gave Him the gifts.
This tells us that no one comes to the Son unless the Father draws him/her – in other words, unless the Holy Spirit guides him/her, no one can find the way to Jesus. If anyone objects this truth or doubts its integrity, that person claims nothing but his rejection or disbelief in Jesus Christ because Jesus says it in Jn. 6:44. Also in Jn. 6:45, the Lord continues and says, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father.” All followers of the Arminian view, thus, claim that man can choose to either come to Jesus and receive Him as one’s Saviour or reject His offer of salvation, firstly, deny Jesus and His teaching and, secondly, claim that they’re better than the Son of God.
These magi of Mt. 2 sought their way according to their wit, and failed and caused a great tragedy to so many lives. But when they returned to the guiding star from above, they were led to the place where Jesus was! Only by humble obedience to the guidance from above, could they find the Saviour and worship Him and rejoice in Him!
You and I and all who come to Jesus must know that God the Father sent each of us to Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit has guided us to Jesus, and Jesus has brought us to the Father and reconciled us to Him! Our salvation is by the work of the Triune God!
III. FOLLOWING ANOTHER WAY TO HOME
The last point for us to contemplate is the way of the wise men to their home. Again, the gracious God led their way and it was ‘another way,’ different to the way of Herod.
Herod had instructed these wise men to come back to him and inform him of the Baby. Herod’s way is to reject God’s appointed King and Saviour of the world, whereas this ‘another way’ magi followed is to bring the good tidings of the Saviour to the ends of the earth and bring many souls to the Saviour’s eternal rest and joy.
Let me simplify these two ways. The way of Herod or this world is of distrusting God and questioning Him in this way, “Did God actually say?” The ‘another way,’ that is, the way of God magi followed, is of trusting the Lord in all He says. A simple yet firm statement found in the Bible that sums up this way is, “Thus says God.” All who are on the way of the world, they hear questions like these: ‘Did God actually say that believing in Jesus would save us?’, ‘Did God actually say that trusting Jesus would secure our pass to heaven?’, ‘Did God actually say we should worship Him alone?’, and so on and on. All who heed the derivatives of this question are on their way to Herod’s chamber, to a wailing and mourning.
But all who walk ‘another way,’ following the heavenly guidance, hearken, tune in to this statement, that is, “Thus says God.” ‘God says that Jesus who was born in Bethlehem is the Saviour of all; God says that He died on the cross to pardon our sins; God says that whoever believes in Him the Son will not perish but have eternal life,’ ‘God says that He is faithful and all the words He said will be accomplished, and Jesus will return to us and wipe all tears from us!’ All who fix their eyes and heart and soul on every word and promise of God recorded in His Holy Book are on their way to their homeland, rejoicing, like the wise men of Mt. 2!
My dear fellow worshippers of Jesus, the newborn King, our Saviour, let us know that the wise men of Mt. 2 represent us who are called and guided to Jesus. So, like them, we must also bow to the King and worship Him, and rejoice in Him. Like them also, let us walk the way the very Word of God shows, the Holy Spirit shines, which will surely lead us to our home sweet home!
Picture, now, in your heart the scene of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, and have the same joy that overflowed the hearts of Mary and Joseph and the shepherds. And together with them and with so many crowds of all generations, bow to Him in worship! ***