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A Three Kings’ Day Sermon January 6, 2008

Posted by roberttalley in Christmas, Matthew, Religion, Sermons.
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RESPONDING TO THE CHRISTMAS MESSAGE

A “THREE KINGS’ DAY” OR “TWELFTH NIGHT” SERMON

Matthew 2:1-18

 

THE TWO MESSAGES OF CHRISTMAS 

There are two messages that we have heard during the past Christmas season. The first, the message of the world, is a happy message. Even the Grinch can be cured through kindness. It does not really matter if there is a Santa Claus, if you believe in him, he exists. Christmas is a happy time of giving and family and laughter and romance and cheer. That is the message of Christmas in this world.

 

The message of Christmas found in the Bible is a bit different. It is this, “Behold, your King!” Usually, we save this message for Palm Sunday but as we can clearly see in Matthew 2, the message of Christmas is the same. “Behold, your King!”

 

DIFFERENT WAYS TO RESPOND TO THE CHRISTMAS MESSAGE 

In this chapter, we find three categories of people who heard the Christmas message, “Behold, your King” and who responded in three very different ways.

For example, Herod heard the Christmas message and responded negatively. More precisely, I should say, he responded selfishly, in his own self-interests. He was hostile to the Christmas message. After all, he held the title “King of the Jews”. It had been given to him almost forty years prior by the Roman Senate under whose authority he ruled.

THE DANGEROUS WISE MEN! 

These Magi (we know them as wise men or the three kings) were from outside of the Roman Empire, likely from the Parthian Kingdom whose king was selected by the Magi, that is a group of wise men. For these men to come and search for the one who is born “King of the Jews” would be very disconcerting and disturbing for a man like Herod. These were men of power and knowledge. These were the enemies of the Romans whom he served and they came looking for one who was the rightful heir to the title which he claimed for himself.

Verse 3 says that Herod was troubled. He and all Jerusalem were shaking in their boots. Some estimate that the Magi, however many there may have been, probably were accompanied by one thousand cavalrymen from the kingdom of Parthia. Already, the Romans had fought three wars with the Parthians during the last hundred years. During the last one, civil war had broken out in Judea and this very Herod had fled to Rome and convinced them that he was loyal, which is what eventually led to his reception of the title, “King of the Jews.” Herod knew if he handled this situation badly it could mean civil war again.

Herod was a cruel man who at this late point of his life already had a lot of blood on his hands. In verses 16-18, we find him remaining true to form. Because Herod could not be certain how old Jesus was and did not know exactly where to find him, he had every male child under two years of age killed. He proclaimed all out war to destroy Jesus.

Now there may be a few of you who are hostile to Jesus. It does not really matter what the reason for your hostility is. If you rebel against Him, you will be judged and as recorded in Matthew 24, you will mourn at His coming because you will recognize that your doom is sealed.

CATEGORY TWO:  THE INDIFFERENT 

The chief priests and scribes heard the Christmas message but did not respond to it. Now it could be, they did not seek Jesus out of fear of Herod. Knowing his history, that would certainly seem understandable. More likely though, based on the response of the chief priests and scribes to Jesus during His ministry as an adult, they were at this time indifferent to Him.

As a group, they were not indifferent to knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures. They were indifferent to Jesus, the one who fulfilled the Hebrew Scriptures. Of course, they did not recognize this nor does it see that they investigated His credentials. He was of no importance to them, otherwise they would have gone to Bethlehem, despite their fear of Herod.

They probably had different expectations. They were not interested in a baby or a child fulfilling prophecy. They wanted to see a Messiah in majesty and power before they committed themselves to Him. They were the type who mocked the superstition of those who trusted in the humble, unlearned man of Galilee. Perhaps some of the priests had even been present or had participated in the ceremony at the circumcision of Jesus. Perhaps they had heard Simon and Anna as they proclaimed to all in their hearing at the temple that this baby was the Messiah.

They had seen self-proclaimed Messiahs come and go. They, however, had the tool, the Word of God whereby they could test to see if this child met the qualifications and with this tool had even helped Herod and the wise men in determining where to look for the child but they themselves did not look. They did not investigate.

INDIFFERENCE IS UNBELIEF. 

They had the Word, they knew the Word but they had a heart of unbelief. The difference between truth and error is not always a difference in knowledge but it is always a difference in attitude. “Those who should have been leaders were no leaders; they would not even be followers of that which is good, for they had no heart towards Christ.” (Spurgeon).

This is what eventually led them and those like them, when Jesus was presented by Pilate to scream for His death (John 19).

    14 Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he [Pilate] said to the Jews, “Behold your King!”

    15 But they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar!”

In their hostility to Christ, they perform an act of worship to Caesar. You worship the one who you acknowledge as being superior to you and to all others. They chose a man who claimed to be a god as king instead of choosing the man who was God as their king.

I would suggest to you that you may not be able to remain indifferent. These men did not. Often people turn against Christ with full knowledge of who and what they are rejecting and when they do, it is not unusual for them to become hostile.

A SAD REVIEWI was reading a review this week of Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography, by David Michaelis. In this review, Dr. Russell Moore writes, “This is the most unexpectedly theological book I’ve read all year. It also may be the most depressing. The author traces the life of the cartoonist creator of Charlie Brown and Snoopy from his days as a fervent, tithing Church of God evangelical to his deathbed, hopeless and angry at God.

The book shows what Scripture has already told us. Human lives need a narrative, a counter-narrative to the reign of death story we see around us. Schulz found his in a narrative of his own making, an alternative world of big-headed children and a wise-cracking dog. Michaelis shows us how the crushing sadness of Schulz’s life showed up in his strip. Hint: the roadside psychiatric stand, the little red-haired girl, and Schroeder’s piano…not accidents.

Michaelis also shows how this cartoonist, unable to believe that anyone could love him, gradually shifted in his beliefs from the Luke 2-reading Linus from the Peanuts Christmas television program to the dejected Linus of the Halloween Christmas special, waiting all his life for a Great Pumpkin who never shows up.”

I do not know what happened in Charles Schulz’s life. I have yet to read the book. I do know, though, and have seen person after person who at one point followed some form of the truth who at the end died bitter and angry with God, some to the point of denying His very existence.

THE RESPONSE CHRIST DESIRES. 

The Magi knew the Christmas message and left all to respond to it. In this case, their response to the Christmas message changed the way that they spent their time. These were men who specialized in searching and researching questions concerning the universe. How they recognized that this star was connected with the Messiah, we do not know. What we do know is that they began a long journey in order to search in the right place for the Messiah after that they saw the star.

So many people are searching in all the wrong places. They would rather listen to the words of man than the Word of God. They put more trust in theories than in credible truth. They prefer visions and signs to the Word of God that was confirmed by visions and signs. These men knew enough to know where the proper place to look would be. They did not search in Babylon or Athens or Rome. They did not travel to Egypt. They went to Jerusalem in search of the king who was and is to reign in Jerusalem.

SACRIFICIAL WORSHIP 

In this case, their response to the Christmas message changed the way that they used their resources. John Piper points out that the Magi were not bringing “royal care packages” neither were these gifts some kind of bribe intended to get God on their side. These were gifts of sacrificial worship. In describing sacrificial worship, Piper continues, “By giving to you what you do not need, and what I might enjoy, I am saying more earnestly and more authentically, ‘You are my treasure, not these things.'”

In this case, their response to the Christmas message determined before who they would bow. Faith in Christ determines your worship. Culture might determine our style but if our worship is not total submission to Christ then our style of worship does not matter.

 

RESPONSE TO THE MESSAGE DETERMINES WORSHIP. 

In each of these three categories, the response to the Christmas message determined how they would worship. Herod rejected the Christ because he worshiped his own self-interests. The scribes and chief priests understood the message but rather than worship the Christ, they turned to Caesar. The Magi both understood and responded in faith to the gospel message and ended up being true worshipers of the King of the Jews, Jesus Christ.

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