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December 16, 2018

Sermon Matthew 2:1-2 . . . “Bible places:  Persia”

“Bible places:  Persia”

Matthew 2:1-2

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

From India in the east, to America in the west, from Sweden in the north, to Australia in the south, all across time, kings, queens, prime ministers, and emperors have all had royal advisers.

As far as we know, the ancient Akkadians, two thousand years before Christ, had some of the first, and so did the Assyrians and the Chinese.  Even today, the Queen of England and the President of the United States have their share of advisers too.

Maybe you’ll recognize some of their names.  For example, Medici had his Machiavelli, George Washington had his Ben Franklin, and Richard Nixon had his Henry Kissinger.

And it’s good that they did.  For it would have been much more difficult to govern without them.

And who are the members of a president’s cabinet or a king’s court?  Usually, the best and the brightest that their countries have to offer.  

Here in our own United States, retired Marine General Jim Mattis is the Secretary of the Department of Defense, former investment banker Wilbur Ross is the Secretary of Commerce, Pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson oversees Housing and Urban Development, and former director of the Peace Corps, Elaine Chao, is the Secretary of Transportation.  Also, Gina Haspel runs the CIA, and Mike Pompeo serves as Secretary of State.

We’re thankful to have such good and capable men and women to serve and protect our country.

And at the time of Christ, the king of Persia had his share of advisers too.  But he didn’t call them “secretaries” like we do today.  He called, “Magi,” “wise men.”

Please turn in your Bible to page 1026, as I read the words of our text.  I’ll start where it says, “The Visit of the Wise Men,” Matthew chapter 2, verse 1:  “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born king of the Jews?  For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.’  When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:  “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.”’”

Nativity scenes around the world display them.  Songs and poems have been written about them.  We see them in Sunday School programs, movies, and plays.  They’re some of the most recognizable figures in our culture, and nearly everyone has seen images of wise men riding on camels, following a star.

But who were they really, and how did they know to seek out the Lord Jesus Christ?

The story of the wise men is a story that’s shrouded in mystery.  Legend tells us they were kings, and that there were three.  It even gives their names—Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.  You could even visit the cathedral in Cologne, Germany to see their remains, encased in gold boxes, wrapped in white silk.  But as we look at Scripture, it seems there’s little we really know.

For example, how many were there?  There could have been three.  There could have been more.  We don’t really know.  And where did they come from?  “From the east,” you say.  Good.  Where in the east and how far east?  And how long did their journey take?  Was it weeks or months?  We really don’t know that either.  In fact, as we read the Gospel account, this remarkable group of men show up suddenly and mysteriously and, just as suddenly, they’re gone.

Even more, can you imagine their king’s reaction?  They were his royal advisors, you know.  “You’re going on a journey?” he asked.  “Yes, we are,” they answered.  “Where are you going?”  “To Jerusalem, we suppose.”  “How far will you travel?”  “We don’t know.”  “How long will you be gone?”  “Maybe weeks…maybe months.  We can’t say for certain.”

So what prompted these men to leave their king and their kingdom to set out on such a long and dangerous journey?  What would make them leave the comfort of their homes to follow a star?  The answer is found in their words, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?  We saw His star in the east and we’ve come to worship Him.”

Now it’s beautiful to picture three men riding camels across the desert, to see them traveling night and day over land and sea.  But in reality, they probably weren’t alone.  In those days, the only way to travel safely through the desert was in a large caravan of camels, with a full military escort, not to mention a multitude of servants and supplies, a group numbering as many as three hundred people.  No wonder that when they arrived in Jerusalem, the whole city stirred.

And what led them there?  Day after day, as they charted the stars, they saw it, every morning, just before sunrise.  Jupiter and Saturn came so close together, they looked almost like a single star.  And of all places, they converged in the constellation called “Pisces.”  And when they saw it, they knew a king was born to the Jews.

So they gathered their gifts, assembled a traveling party, left their homes, and journeyed for weeks, following that star.  And when they arrived in Jerusalem, the heart of Israel, the capital city of a small, but influential nation, they sought an audience with the king.

It was a big deal.  There were formalities and protocol.  This was, after all, an official visit of one nation to another. King Herod quickly summoned his advisors to meet with these strange, remarkable, out-of-town guests.

Who were they exactly and why had they come all this way?  Was there a new trade agreement in the works or some new trade route?  Maybe it was a new political alliance.  What a boon this could be for Jerusalem’s economy, if only, somehow, we could work out the details.  Whatever it was that these astute, learned, wealthy representatives of a foreign king had on their minds, they would all soon find out.

But to everyone’s surprise, there was only one question on their lips:  “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?  We saw His star in the east and we’ve come to worship Him.”

Imagine the shock and awe that hung over the room as the wise men looked in earnest to the ministers of Israel and their king to answer their question.  And what did they get?  Stunned silence.  It must have been an incredibly awkward moment.

You see, the magi assumed, of course, that the birth of someone so noble would have taken place in the royal city, in the royal palace, for that is where kings are born.  And they, of course, hoped to be ushered into the royal nursery to pay homage from one nation to another.

But just as soon as they asked their question, it became immediately clear that no one had a clue.  As far as the Jews were concerned, it was business as usual.  No dancing in the streets, no ticker tape parades, no national holiday.  Nothing!  And for their all-important question, all they got was stunned silence, and a blank stare.  Somehow, somewhere, there was some other King of the Jews.  But who was He and where?

And wasting no time at all, Herod shot down the halls of his palace to convene a meeting of his Sanhedrin.  “Tell me,” he said, “you teachers of the Law.  What does Scripture say?  Where is this newborn King of the Jews?”

And for them, it was as plain as the nose on his face, for in the book of Micah were the words:  “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you shall come forth One who will be Ruler over Israel.”

And that was the answer.  The Messiah, the Christ, would be born in Bethlehem, the city of David, barely five miles away.  And taking them aside, Herod said, “Go and make a careful search for the Child.  As soon as you find Him, tell me so that I too may go and worship Him.”

It’s strange if you think about it.  How different the wise men were from anyone else.  They saw the star.  And when they saw it, they were overjoyed.

And not only did they see it, they followed it.  They left their homes and their kingdom far behind.  They gathered their most precious gifts and traveled a thousand miles just to see Jesus, their King.

If we will be anything like them, if we will truly be “wise men,” then we too will want nothing less than to worship Jesus, our Savior and King.

In the early 1800s, Irish poet, Thomas Moore, married a beautiful Irish girl named Bessie.  People said that once you met her, you could never forget her flaming red hair and sparkling green eyes.

But one time, when Moore was called away from home, Bessie came down with a dreaded disease called, “smallpox.”  If you’ve ever seen pictures, you know the deep and permanent scars it leaves behind, especially for someone so beautiful.  So it was for the wife of Thomas Moore.

And afraid of what he might say or do when he returned home, she resolved that no one would ever see her face in daylight again.  She stayed in her room with heavy drapes hung over the windows.  Before the days of telephone or telegraph, it fell to his staff to break the news of what happened to his once-beautiful wife.

When he heard the news, he climbed the stairs that led to their bedroom.  He opened the door and went inside.  She called out, “Thomas, no.  Don’t come any closer.  I have resolved that you will never see me again by the light of day.”

And sensing her pain, Thomas stopped, turned, and left the room.  Then he stayed up all that night and wrote a poem.  In the morning, he climbed the stairs.  And standing in the doorway, he read to his wife the words of his poem.

In part, this is what it said:  “If all those endearing young charms, which I look on so fondly today, were to pass in a moment…thou would’st still be adored, as this moment thou art.”

And when he finished reading his poem, he walked to the east window and threw open the heavy drapes.  And as the early morning light flooded into the room, he turned and kissed his wife.

If a man can have such a love for his wife, how much more love can our Savior have for us.  For this Child once laid in a manger will grow.  And He will do astonishing, miraculous things.  He’ll heal lepers, the lame, the blind, the deaf, and the demon-possessed.  He’ll feed thousands with fish and loaves.  He’ll calm storms on the sea.

He’ll tell stories about shepherds, sowers, slaves, and Samaritans, of tax collectors, Pharisees, lost sheep, lost coins, and prodigal sons.  He’ll say things like, “I am the Resurrection and the Life” and “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by Me.”  Jews will mock Him.  Gentiles will crucify Him.  His own disciples will run away.  Yet on the third day, He’ll rise, victorious over sin, death and the grave.

He is our Savior and Lord.  And when we believe in Him, we’ll have life in His name.

 

Lord Jesus, Child of Mary, Word of the Father, King of nations, Savior of mankind, may Your light shine on us that we, just like the wise men, may kneel and behold Your glory.  This we ask in Your name.  Amen

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