Through the month of December, our Sunday morning messages revolved around the characters of the Christmas story. We looked first at Jesus himself, then his earthly father Joseph, then his very young mother Mary, and then finally last week we looked at the shepherds who were outside of Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth. Typically we tend to look at the events of Christmas more so than the characters, so I’ve appreciated the new perspective that we’ve gained as we’ve looked more in-depth at these different people.
Now my plan for today was to start leading us through a new series of messages that will take us right on through until Easter. Basically, I want us to walk through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ from birth to resurrection. However, I feel like we’ve kinda missed an important set of characters in the Christmas story. You’ve may have realized too, that we haven’t looked at the wisemen or King Herod.
And so today, I want to use the wisemen as a bridge between these two series of messages. They will be the final characters in the Christmas series, but also the first story in this new series as we begin to look at the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
After all, the wisemen really do serve as a transitional story between the baby Jesus and the young child Jesus. Despite what most nativity scenes depict, the wisemen most certainly did not gather around the manger to meet baby Jesus on the night he was born, but rather, they met Jesus at least days, weeks, or even months after his birth! But we’ll look at all that stuff as we go through our passage today.
The story of the wisemen is recorded for us in the book Matthew, chapter 2, starting at verse 1. It begins like this:
Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2
So there are a few things we should make note of in these first two verses. First of all, we see that Jesus is born during the reign of King Herod. And we should probably specify which “King Herod” this is, because there are actually six different Herods mentioned in the New Testament! This Herod is historically known as Herod the Great! However, he was not known as ‘the Great’ because of how delightful he was. His building projects were great – but he himself was actually quite a paranoid, and vicious King – who put to death some of his own sons and his own wife – believing that they were out to kill him and take his throne. The “Great” in his name may have applied to his accomplishments, but they certainly did not apply to his personal character!
The second thing to note in these verses is just how much information we don’t have about these wiseman and about the star that brought them here.
For example, we don’t know how many wisemen there were – sometimes it is assumed that there were three wisemen based on the three gifts they will eventually bring to Jesus, but the Bible doesn’t actually say that. These verses just say that there were some wisemen. Chances are, there were many more than three.
We also don’t know exactly where they came from – we just know they came from the east. That could be any number of places, but no city or country is mentioned by name.
We don’t know exactly what kind of wisemen they were. The actual word in the Greek that gets translated as ‘wisemen’ is word that encompasses a whole variety of highly educated people such as teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, sorcerers, and all those types of learned people from back then. The one hint we have is that these guys were obviously familiar with both the stars and with Jewish prophecies – because somehow they noticed that a star arose and they somehow connected that star to a newborn King of the Jews.
And even our information about this star seems pretty limited. How exactly did this star ‘rise’ in the east? Was it literally a star that appeared billions of miles away in the sky? Was it a supernova or comet? Or was it something totally supernatural – perhaps the radiant glory of God himself? We’re just not told.
And while it might be fun to speculate and to imagine and to try to fill in these blanks with our best guesses, at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter. If the Bible doesn’t give us the details, then we really don’t need to know. It’s not critical information.
It’s important to understand that while the Bible doesn’t tell us everything we want to know, it does tell us everything we need to know! We have all the information we need to understand the message that God is trying to communicate to us. We don’t have to fill in all the blanks!
I ran across a cool verse in Deuteronomy this week. I had never really noticed it before, but I think it’s got a great point. It’s Deuteronomy 29:29….
29 “The Lord our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions.
In other words, there are things that we may never know! God has secrets that maybe we’ll learn later – maybe not! But God doesn’t hold us accountable for the things that he hasn’t told us. However, He does hold us and our children accountable for the things that He has revealed to us!
Now that’s not to say that we shouldn’t try to dig into and understand all the background to the stories of Scripture. We should do our best to understand the context of the Bible – the history and the ancient cultures and languages and all of that so that don’t misunderstand what the Bible is saying. But we do need to be careful that we don’t spend all our time looking into the unknown while ignoring the clear truths that are right in front of our face!
So many people today study the Scriptures looking for hidden messages or patterns in the names or numbers or dates or they study Daniel and Revelation looking for all the symbolic connections to the current people, places, and events in our world today. And to be clear, I’m not saying that’s all wrong – but we do need to be careful not to get so caught up speculating about all the little interesting details that we miss the main points of the Bible! God’s Word is not primarily a mystery to be solved, but rather a message to be obeyed!
As Deuteronomy says, God will hold us accountable for what He has revealed to us. And His instructions are clear. He expects us to act upon the commands and the principles that have been clearly laid out in His Word.
So while it’s fun and interesting to speculate about who these wisemen were or where they were from – or what kind of star it was that lead them to Jerusalem – in the end, those unknown details aren’t all that important. The important part is the message that God is trying to communicate through this story.
And so to find that, let’s read on… As the wisemen are wandering around Jerusalem asking “Where is the newborn King of the Jews?”, we read in verse 3 now…
3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. Matthew 2:3
You’ve head the expression “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” The same could be said for Herod. If Herod ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. As I mentioned earlier, Herod was not known for his loving kindness – especially towards anyone who might be eager to take his throne. And so if there really was a newborn king of the Jews, you can see how Herod might get upset at this kind of news. And if Herod is upset, the people of Jerusalem have good reason to be concerned as well. Who knows what Herod might do to find and eliminate this threat?! So it makes sense that not only was Herod deeply disturbed, but so was everyone else in Jerusalem!
But now noticed what Herod does – take a at verse 4:
4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”
As we see, Herod was no fool. Despite his paranoia and jealousy, it seems he was pretty sharp. And again, we’re not given the details how, but somehow Herod came to realize that the king the wisemen were looking for was none other than the long-awaited Messiah that all of Israel had been waiting for for centuries. And so, what does he do? Well, his first order of business was to call in the leading priests and teachers of religious law – they guys who best knew the Old Testament prophecies – and asked them where the Messiah was to be born.
And of course, these guys didn’t disappoint. They knew the Scriptures well and could immediately point Herod towards Bethlehem – even quoting him the Scripture that said so.
And so, armed now with this information, we read in the next verses that Herod called the wisemen in for a little meeting. It says in verse 7.
7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!” Matthew 2:7-8
Now at this point in the story, Matthew has not yet revealed Herod’s true motives – but as we read on, we’ll quickly realize that Herod has no intentions of worshiping this new King – but rather, he intends to kill him. So all of this conversation with the wisemen is not to help them out in their quest, but rather it’s so that Herod can identify and kill this threat to his throne.
Now the interesting part in all this is that, while Herod’s intentions are completely evil, God still uses Herod to direct the wisemen to Jesus. It’s Herod that learns from the teachers of religious law exactly where the wisemen should look – and he eagerly shares this information with them – again, with evil intentions, but God’s plan all along is to use those evil intentions for good!
It’s just like the story of Joseph after his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. Their intentions were totally evil, but God had a plan to use their evil for good! Joseph even says to his brothers at the end of that story…
20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. Genesis 50:20
And you know, God does that even today. I know there are many times when other people do or say things to us with less than honourable intentions. And sometimes those things deeply hurt us or make a huge mess in our lives. Sometimes they alter the entire course of our life. And while God doesn’t necessarily cause all those things to happen, he does allow them to happen – but only because He knows that He can take those evil intentions and turn them around for good.
I mean, just think about the men who falsely accused Jesus and had him put to death on a cross! That was pretty much the greatest of evil intentions – but that’s exactly what God used to bring about our Salvation! It’s only through Christ’s death and resurrection that we can have eternal life! Talk about using evil intentions to accomplish good! And that’s just what God loves to do!
And so for us today, we can have confidence, that despite the many evil intentions that may be present in our world today, God’s in the business of taking evil intentions and turning them around for good! God did that at the cross, he did that with Joseph, he did that with Herod, and he does that today.
So now, despite Herod’s evil intentions, the wisemen know exactly where to look to find the Messiah, and so they made their way to Bethlehem. We read in verse 9.
9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And this is another good example of where the Bible tells us what we need to know, but we often miss the point because we’re busy trying to fill in all the blanks with our best guesses.
There’s lots of questions that come out of these few verses – like how exactly did a star guide them to Bethlehem? How does something billions of miles away stop over a specific house? And why was Mary at a house now – instead of at the manger? I mean, how much later did all this happen? Was it weeks? Months, Years? If it was that much later, why hadn’t they gone home to Nazareth by now? And where was Joseph anyway? Why wasn’t he mentioned?
There are all kinds of questions that we would love to have answers for – and certainly, we can do some research and find some explanations – but don’t miss the main point!
These wise men – specifically and divinely guided by God’s hand – found Jesus – the Messiah – and they bowed down and worshipped him. That’s the message of this chapter!
As you read through the rest of the Gospel of Matthew, one of the clearest points that Matthew makes is that Jesus is King – and He is worthy of our worship!
He’s not a regional king – like King Herod – who ruled over a certain area for a certain time. But He is King of all! He is King over all the earth and he will be king for all time!
In fact, in one of the last statements by Jesus in the book of Matthew, Jesus declares to his disciples…
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.” Matthew 28:18
Paul would echo this thought in his letter to the Ephesians….
21 Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. 22 God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. Ephesians 1:21-22
This young child that was found and worshipped by the wisemen would grow up to be the greatest of any king. Through his life, and his death, and his resurrection, Jesus would conquer even death itself!
Nothing could, or ever will, dethrone him!
In fact, the rest of this chapter goes on to make that very point. Despite Herod’s best efforts to murder this newborn king, God would make sure that baby Jesus would grow up to be Lord and Saviour of all. It says in verse 12…
12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
13 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, 15 and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”
16 Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance.
Despite Herod’s clever schemes and brutal savagery, God divinely protected both the wisemen and Joseph, Mary, & Jesus. The wisemen would safely return home – and Joseph would take his family to Egypt for a time until later returning to Nazareth where Jesus would grow up.
And we’ll take a look at that part of Jesus’ life next week, but for today, I just want to close with these thoughts:
Through all of this story that we’ve read this morning, I couldn’t help but notice that God’s fingerprints are everywhere!
- It was God who caused that star to rise in the east (whatever kind of star it was)
- It was God who stirred those wise men’s hearts to come searching for the newborn king so that they might worship Him.
- It was God who used Herod’s evil intentions to direct the wisemen to Bethlehem.
- It was God who showed the wisemen exactly the house where Jesus was.
- It was God who warned them not to return to Herod, but to go home another way.
- And it was God who warned Joseph to take his family to Egypt.
God’s fingerprints are everywhere in this story – leading, guiding, protecting, and using evil intentions for good.
And I’ll just bet that if you look at your own life, you’ll see evidence of God’s fingerprints all over that too – leading, guiding, protecting, and using evil intentions for good.
As 2021 comes to a close and as 2022 begins, we naturally reflect on the year that has passed. We look back and see the good, the bad and the ugly – and this year, perhaps we see more bad and ugly than usual.
But none the less, I expect that when we look back, we can see the fingerprints of God all over the place. I know I can see that in my life! God’s still leading, guiding, protecting, and using evil intentions for good.
It’s such an encouragement to know that Christ is still the sovereign King over all. He still has all authority in heaven and on earth – and He is still worthy of all our worship.
We may not have much gold, frankincense, and myrrh to offer him, but He deserves our worship none the less. He deserves our service, our obedience, our submission to his voice.
And so as we go out into our week, as we begin 2022 – I would just encourage you to follow the example of the wisemen in worshipping Jesus Christ as King!
Choose daily to worship and obey Him. Every morning when you wake up, acknowledge that Christ is still on the throne – sovereign over all Creation – and more specifically, sovereign over your life! And He’s actively involved in every aspect of your life – leading, guiding, protecting, and taking all of the evil intentions of the day and turning them around for good.