Worship of the King | Matthew 2.1-12
December 15, 2013 Series: The King Has Come | Matthew
Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 1:1–1:12
Intro: THE BIRTH OF THE KING
The genealogy of Jesus was scandalous, full of polygamists, prideful kings, and prostitutes. The conception of Jesus was shocking, giving rise to words like sexual immorality, shame, and divorce. Now, we see that the report of Jesus’ birth attracted pagan magicians, troubled corrupt kings and nearly caused rioting in the streets of Jerusalem. If nothing else, we see that chaos is not always a sign of the God’s absence, but often His presence—God does some of his best work when things are most dark.
The one true King of the universe is born into a dark world ruled by men who think they are kings. And when men’s kingdoms are confronted with the one true King there are only two responses– reverence for God’s rule and self-denial OR rejection of God’s rule and self-destruction. We see both in chapter 2.
v. 1 THE FALSE KING, HEROD
At this time, all of Israel is under the rule of the Roman Empire. The Romans had captured Jerusalem around 66BC. By the time Jesus is born, they have been ruling for nearly 70 years. According to our historian Luke, Israel was ruled by Caesar Augustus, born Octavian. Adopted by his uncle Julius Caesar, Octavian came to power after his father was assassinated. For a while, he reigned with two other men only to defeat them with violence and assume the title of emperor. Having plundered all of his enemies, including Egypt, his fellow Romans believed they had finally seen the end of war and strife. In honor of their ruler, they hailed Octavian as the Prince of Peace . Celebrations lasted for days and many animals were sacrificed to Rome's gods. Meanwhile, the true prince of peace was born in a manger, a king who would one day be sacrificed for the sins of the world.
Under Rome, Herod ruled from the palace in Jerusalem as governor. He was appointed governor, called king of the Jews (half-jewish), and remembered as Herod the Great. He had zero loyalty to the God’s Law or His people. As the great Roman governor and Jewish king, Herod’s reign was marked by his total loyalty to Rome, his grandiose and sometimes magnificent building programs, his family strife, and his harsh repression of any opposition. He ruthlessly defended his throne; he executed religious leaders who opposed him being half Jewish; he executed and robbed the 1% with more money than him; and he even executed his own family members. With one hand, he ruled with an iron fist, but with the other hand, he kept peace with prosperity. He and his Herodian followers were a political power—they knew how to win the people’s loyalties. He built a HUGE temple for worship, a magnificent harbor, improved sanitation, built theaters and outdoor amphitheaters, even racecourses for both men and horses. As much as the people loathed and feared him, they prospered under his rule. He had high approval ratings and any minor agitators were appeased the by dropping taxes 25%....twice.
v. 2-6 THE KINGS FROM THE EAST
A group of wise men come for the East, enter the capital of Jerusalem, and walk into the house that Herod’s built for himself. I tend to believe that these men were not simply three guys on camels, but a large group of men with money, servants, supplies, and animals who had expected to meet a newborn king. Interestingly, the report of the wise men is NOT recorded in the gospel of Luke who had likely interviewed Mary or those close to her. For Luke, that Caesar Augustus was ruling was important. He wrote as a historian. But Matthew wrote to present the child born to be King. The men called wise, magi, or even kings, were likely non-believing Gentile pagans skilled in philosophy, medicine, and natural science. At their worst these guys were occult sorcerers; at best they were good men who sought the truth.
Their journey began when they saw a star. Scholars have attempted to determine what they saw, whether it was a conjunction of planets, a comet, or the star Sirius which astronomers indicate rose in the years 2-5BC on the first day of the Egyptian month of Mesori, meaning, “birth of the prince”. We may never know exactly what it was, and this doesn’t give us any indication as to why this star would have led to them to Jerusalem. The better question is why the Magi decided to come at all in response to a star. The land directly the Easter of Judea is Moab. Assuming that is where they came from, perhaps these Moabites knew their Bible, especially the book of Numbers, which said: 17 I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth. (Numbers 24.7). These guys have come to worship whom they believe is the future ruler of Judea, Moab, and beyond.
A threatened King
When the “Jewish” King hears about the star and the child “born to be King” he has a very different response. Herod is not a fool, so he cannot simply dismiss these men, who look like kings themselves, who have traveled hundreds of miles to worship the newborn king. The man who has spent years ruthlessly defending his throne is troubled by the news of a little Jewish baby. All that he has built for himself, his throne, his wealth, his power, his fame, and his comfortable life are all suddenly threatened by genuine royalty. If there is a true King, he cannot do whatever he wants with his life—AND he is accountable for what he has done living in another’s kingdom. Herod, who was probably raised with knowledge of the Messiah, knows what the wise men are talking about. He gathers all of the priests, pastors, and theologians—not to ask what they are talking about—to ask where the “Messiah” is supposed to be born. His religious scholars quote the book the prophet Micah, or at least, part of what he writes: 2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel.[WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE] whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Micah 5.2
A troubled Kingdom – the people were troubled
This is not just some king who was born, this is the King eternal. News about this newborn king spreads quickly and Herod is not the only one worried. Surprisingly, the text says that all of Jerusalem is troubled. Literally, they are filled with so much dread they are close to rioting. And though you might think the people of Israel would rejoice over the true King, we see quite the opposite. WHY? If Herod is disposed as King, they lose their kingdoms too. Allegiance to an earthly King, and identification with an earthly kingdom, has its earthly benefits. But it also has its eternal consequences. Men are more than happy to disobey the true king, and follow a corrupt leader, if it gets them the earthly power or prosperity they desire. Unlike Herod, or the people, the wise men are not interested in what this king can give them—but what THEY can give Him. They are not interested in getting what they want, but learning what he wants. They are not interested in holding onto their kingdoms, they want to be part of His everlasting one…even if that means losing their wealth, their power, their reputation, or every their lives.
v. 7-8 FINDING the KING | The King isn’t always found in the palace
The magi had come directly to the palace of Herod because they are looking for the King. When the ask “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? , the probably expected to be shown to his palace room. Instead, the wise men are sent several miles south to the small town of Bethlehem. Herod instructs them to send him word when they find him so that he can “worship him”. When they leave, the wise men suspect nothing and fully intend to respect Herod’s command. Bethlehem had a rich history. Rachel was buried there (mother of Joseph); Ruth lived there when she married Boaz (having come from her native Moab), and above all it was David, the King’s, home town (2,500 ridge limestone amphitheater)
The nativity of the King
What the wise men actually find there is not exactly what we see in the typical nativity scene. They do not arrive at a stable because they don’t even arrive on the night of Christ’s birth. The star leads them to a house where they find a toddler named Jesus is found with his two parents It is been almost two years since they arrived. Luke says that 30 days after Jesus was born they went to Jerusalem to present Jesus at the temple, but they did not go on to Nazareth—they returned to Bethlehem. It is likely Mary is pregnant with one of Jesus half-brothers or sisters, and Joseph is trying to get his carpentry business off of the ground. 18 months prior, Jesus had arrived in a stable, but perhaps not like we think. Justin Martyr, an early Church Father (AD 150), tells us that Jesus was born in a cave near the village of Bethlehem. This may be correct, as the houses in Bethlehem are built on the top of the limestone ridge; and it is very common for them to have a cave-like stable hollowed out in the limestone rock below the house itself. To this day, a cave is shown in Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus and above it the Church of the Nativity has been built. Jesus may have been born in a cave.
The palace of the King
These men did not expect to find the man born to be King in a cave—that didn’t make sense to “wise” men. Sin tempts to us to believe that Jesus is only found in the great and powerful. That is usually that last place he is found. Jesus was found in weakness, not strength. Jesus was found in humility, not pride. Jesus was found in poverty, not riches. Jesus was found in what was dirty, not in what was clean. Jesus was found in need, not in comfort. But aren’t these all the things we try to avoid most? Jesus is found in the places we don’t want to go. Jesus in the jails. Jesus is in the hospitals. Jesus is in the low-income schools. Jesus is in the homeless camps. Jesus is in the broken homes on your street. Jesus is in the cold weather shelters. Jesus is in the dirty, the humble, the broken, the needy, the smelly, the marginalized, the unwanted, and the unexpected. And if Jesus is there, that is where we need to be. As we grow as families and as a church, we must be careful of building such a beautiful, clean, polished, or pleasant home for ourselves, that Jesus is no longer found there. The King isn’t always found in the palace.
9-11 WORSHIPPING the KING | The King is to be worshipped The wise men go to find Jesus in Bethlehem. From the reaction of Herod next week, we’ll see what worship of self looks like. But from these guys, we see what genuine worship of the King looks like.
Worship is joyful (emotional). There is no such thing as a lukewarm reaction to Jesus. When you understand who He claims to be, you will love him, run from him, or want to kill him. Worship begins with feelings of joy. The Bible says they “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” You will notice that they begin to rejoice when the star points out the house where Jesus is at—before they see him. They very idea of being in the presence of the King fills them with violent excitement. When was the last time you rejoiced exceedingly at the idea of reading your Bible? Gathering at the church? Serving the Lord? Proclaiming the Gospel? No one wants you to fake it, but it is likely you don’t really understand what is going on here. There is an emotional aspect to worshipping in the presence of the King.
Worship is humble (intellectual). When they entered the house, they found themselves in the presence of the King. And when “they saw the child” they fell down and worshipped. They did not start to sing songs, they did not open their mouths at all, grown, wealthy, educated men humbled themselves face first before the 18 month old King. When these men finally meet Jesus, they get on their hands and needs before a toddler. From all appearances, they look like fools. But genuine worship of the King will always look foolish to the world full of men who think they are kings. When you are in the presence of the one true King, there is more than emotion, there is the mindful recognition of who He is and what He has done. There is an overwhelming sense of your unworthiness and, at the same time, a sense of the ultimate worthiness of God who gave us His Son. They are in awe of God—His awesomeness humbles them.
Worship is tangible (volitional) Finally, the worship of the Lord leads them to give gifts. It is important that we see WORSHIP precedes giving. The thought of God’s presence excites us. The experience in God’s presence humbles us. And being in the presence of God moves his children to open up their treasure to Him. Worship is tangible. If your worship does not result in a tangible sacrifice, it isn’t genuine worship. Have you opened your treasure to God? Worship is more than emotional feelings, more than intellectual recognition, it is a willful action. We give in response to who He is, not what we can get from Him. The toddler King can give nothing to them—they give in response to who God is.
No one but Matthew records the story of these wise men. I believe that these men give gifts that are costly. But Matthew could have just as easily said that---they gave him costly gifts. More than what that gift says about the ones who give it, Matthew wants us to see what the gifts say about the one who receives them. To that end, he identifies exactly what kinds of gifts they give: Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. God is a gift for a King. It was the most valuable metal known to man. Frankincense is a gift for a priest. It is the incense used for sacrifices at the temple where priests atone for the sins of the people. Finally, Myrrh is the gift for one who is doing to die. It is used to embalm bodies. Matthew used the gifts of the non-Jewish Magi to preach the gospel to the world. These men worship the man born to be King, who would save men from their sins, by dying for them in their place. This was the first altar call where men met Jesus face to face, worshipped him, and gave them all they had, even their very lives.
V. 12 OBEYING the KING | The King came to Rule
The wise men found the king, the worshipped the king, then they obeyed the King. They intended to return to Jerusalem to report what they had found but, 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. The truth of God, leads us to communion with God, which leads us onto mission for God. Having sworn allegiance to the true King, the disobey the worldly king. Then, they return to their OWN evil, pagan, unbelieving country. What do you think they did there?
Where is your “own country?” When we leave here, we all have a place to return to—a job, a group of friends, a family, even a neighborhood. It is easy to worship God when you are gathered with God’s people and you see and feel the presence of the King. Sin tempt us only to live out Christ’s rule when it is easy, when we are among his people. Most of our lives do not take place among God’s people. God does not want us to hide out in Jesus House. He wants us to return to their OWN COUNTRY and the live out Jesus rule in their context. We see Christ. We worship Christ. We live for and under the rule Christ asking what does Jesus want as my Lord and Master. Where does He want me to go? What does He want me to give? How does He want me to serve? He is worthy of my worship; and my life is His to spend and use for His name. Some of you need to see Christ. Some of us need to genuinely worship Christ. And some of his need to get on mission with Christ. Now is the time to believe, now is the time to give, NOW is the time to go.