committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

"Born King of the Jews"

Pastor Timothy Adkins

Delivered to the congregation of Grace Baptist Church,

Lord's Day morning, August 18, 1996

 Matthew 2:1-23

 

Introductory

The synoptic writers, Matthew and Luke, chronicle different details of Jesus' early life. Mark began his account bypassing the early days of Jesus' life altogether, telling immediately of Jesus' public ministry beginning at His baptism. Luke records certain details while Matthew records other particulars. Because of this feature of the synoptic gospel accounts we now look to the record of Matthew, one of the Twelve. He records a certain history of a specific portion of Jesus' life as a young babe which Luke simply omits. And for this we should be especially grateful to our God, who has seen fit to give us four witnesses to declare the message of the Lord Jesus, namely, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Each record presents the life and ministry of the Blessed Saviour from each writer's unique perspective, and yet we find perfect harmony in the records inspired and preserved by the Holy Spirit.

In the scope of a single sentence, Luke tells of Jesus and Mary and Joseph returning to Galilee and Nazareth. "And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth." (NAS) Matthew records the rather involved details surrounding that transition. It is to his record which we defer today.

The adoration and the persecution of our Lord Jesus began, pretty much, simultaneously.

"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him." And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he {began} to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born. And they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet, 'And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a Ruler, who will shepherd My people Israel.'" (Matthew 2:1-6 NAS)

Not long after His birth, wise men hailing from the direction of Arabia, magi, men of philosophy and learning came to worship the holy Child Jesus. But as soon as he heard of this Babe who was the salvation hope of Israel, old King Herod, wicked and insecure, set out inquiring about this Messiah who was "born King of the Jews," that he might destroy the Child! Indeed, the adoration and worship of the Lord's Anointed and the world's persecution of Him began to transpire early in His life.

Jesus was likely between one and two years old at the time of the visit of the magi, a bouncing toddler of a boy. This we gather from the age-specific record of Luke concerning the atrocity of wicked Herod, who ordered the slaughter of all the male children two years and under throughout the entire region around Bethlehem. Some time had passed since his birth, at least a couple months and possibly as much as a year or so. An unusual star had appeared and led those eastern philosopher-astronomers to the land of promise where they inquired of the country's leaders, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him." But their visit gave rise to curious fretting rather than soul-cheering joy.

Herod was troubled at the saying about this One "born King of the Jews." It would appear that the old king thought within himself, "Just who is this newborn rival? I will see to it that he never troubles me!" Little did he know it, but Herod the Great would be 'pushing up daisies' well before the Child was five years old. But almost all old kings fear the loss of their kingdom to newcomers, and they all eventually breathe their last and reign no more. Herod would soon die, but not before he would again display his heartless, cruel distemper, as he ordered the slaughter of Ramah's children.

The Jews of Jerusalem were surely accomplices before-the-fact. Instead of cherishing the hope of Messiah they were troubled along with Herod at the news that such a Child had been born. Their scribes proved to be complicit in the persecution of the Lord's Christ and in the slaughter of Ramah's children, for it was they who informed the old wicked King about the prophesied place of Messiah's birth. Instead of delighting in the Yahweh and in His promise, the Jerusalem Jews chose the pleasures of sin, their uncertain and ill-preserved peace. Did they fear the implications of Messiah's coming? Could it be that His appearing might adversely complicate their lives? Under the influence of such fears, could they choose Herod's favor over the Lord's Anointed? But how could they so despise the Hope of Israel, as to direct known butchers to His nursery door? But it is true.

We do not find that generation of Jerusalem Jews going to seek or serve the Lord's Christ. More concerned with the favor and applause of men, they exhibited a remarkable, sinful disinterest in the kingdom of God. They showed themselves to be circumcised only in flesh, but uncircumcised in heart. "He came unto his own, and his own received him not." (John 1:11 KJV) Rebellion and sin led them, as it always does, down to the pit of hell. All too often, the fear of some Herod or the fear of an uncertain earthly future is more considerable than a worldly man's fear of death and his eternal future. Without Christ, the sinner's eternal future is far from uncertain!

It was the case then, and so it often is today. The Christ of the gospel is often more cherished by those persons who, by heritage, are "strangers to the covenants of promise." How often Christ and His gospel are held in low esteem by some who have cut their teeth on the backs of evangelical church-pews and have heard the gospel proclaimed all their lives. It might seem strange that this could be true, but upon reflection it does not seem so terribly peculiar, just sad beyond words --that anyone could treat the gospel and the Christ of the gospel with everyday contempt, and not cherish Him and His salvation. How tragic when God's salvation is despised by those who have been faithfully instructed to treasure it! How many will perish in their sins from a church pew?

Ah, but, how blessed the gospel is to some who were once star-gazers and superstitious and self-absorbed --but who are now penitent, sorry for their offenses to God and to men, trusting with all their hearts "the Lamb of God" who took away sin for us! Blessed Christ! Blessed gospel! Blessed peace! This Christ of God leaves no man the same, who comes to Him in obedient faith. But let us beware that we do not treat the Holy Child Jesus or that gospel which concerns Him as common. He is like no other! His gospel alone declares eternal life to those dead in sins and never-dying hope to believing sinners. God has no other hopeful word for sinners than that which is found eloquently and faultlessly declared in His Son, Jesus. So, it is only fitting that we make the trek to Bethlehem and adore the tender Babe who will one day bear the accursed tree for us.

The elite foreigners, directed by Herod and more specifically led by His star, came to the Bethlehem cottage where the Child Jesus was.

"Then Herod secretly called the magi, and ascertained from them the time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, "Go and make careful search for the Child; and when you have found {Him,} report to me, that I too may come and worship Him." And having heard the king, they went their way; and lo, the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshipped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned {by God} in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way." (Matthew 2:7-12 NAS)

The instructions given to the caravan of magi might curl one's hair, since from our perspective we know what was the evil, murderous intent of King Herod, who assured them of his own desire to worship the Child, as well --he said, "when you have found {Him,} report to me, that I too may come and worship Him." The only worship Herod intended would involve the razor's edge of his murderous sword. Not yet perceiving the wicked design of the King, the caravan of eastern visitors made their way to Bethlehem, as instructed, and on their way they again saw the star which had previously led them, this time to show them the very house where Jesus could be found. By this point, observe that Jesus and His family were living in a house, not still in a stable. The visit of the magi clearly followed the Lord's birth by some fair interval of time.

They came for one solitary purpose, to worship Him who had been "born King of the Jews," and this they did. We are not told the number of their gifts, only that the gifts conferred were such as should be presented to royalty, like gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We neither know the number of the wise men, learned scholars from the east. But we may rightly assume that they were probably far more numerous than some have traditionally imagined. They very likely formed a considerable delegation, commanding their own caravan, with servants, drivers, security guards, cooks, and other such companions, besides the numerous dignitaries themselves.

Think of how impressive such a delegation must have been to the mother of our Lord and to Joseph, a man of humble means. About six weeks or so after Jesus' birth, Joseph and Mary, because of their poverty, had redeemed the Child Jesus with the poor man's offering of two turtledoves. Consider the opulent, luxurious gifts and what their value would represent to Joseph and Mary, recently too poor to offer the lamb at Jesus' presentation in the Temple. Therefore, from this account we know that Joseph and Mary and Jesus were common, relatively poor people --up until now. But the visit of the magi changed all that, at least for the time. And ever so shortly after this eventful housecall, Joseph would need more funds than a poor man earns in order to relocate his household completely out of the country, for safety's sake. What a timely blessing of the Lord God! The King of Israel planned to murder of the Child Jesus. The King of Heaven planned the preservation of the Child. Heaven's King had His way, the other one later died and went to the hell his sins merited for him.

Much significance has been attached to the three sample gifts mentioned in the Bible text. Some would confidently assert that they know the spiritual significance of each of the three items mentioned. Gold, they say, would refer to the royalty of Jesus, a suggestion of His Deity. Frankincense, some think, speaks of Jesus sweet, spotless humanity. And myrrh, it is said, anticipates the burial anointing of the sacrificed body which would be broken on the cruel Golgotha cross. And while each of the gifts clearly attest to the worthiness of that Person to whom they were given, to make such sweeping assertions as to the "spiritual meaning" of such things is arbitrary and without firm basis in Scripture. However, we do not err to recognize the divine royalty which was witnessed by those Gentile visitors through their notable and extravagant gifts. Such gifts would provide Joseph and Mary with enough wealth to care for the Child for some good while to come.

The Lord God Almighty works in the light of day and in the still of night. "And having been warned {by God} in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way." The magi, impressed and satisfied to have beheld the King of the Jews in such an humble situation, returned to their distant homes. They spoke no further word to Herod, but went home, bypassing his notable palace altogether because God had warned them that to do so would place the Child in danger.

Every detail of life is attended unto by Him who sees all.

"Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise and take the Child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him." And he arose and took the Child and His mother by night, and departed for Egypt; and was there until the death of Herod, that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "Out of Egypt did I call My Son."" (Matthew 2:13-15 NAS)

How active is the leading of the Almighty! Joseph was led by the hand, shown how to care for his wife and the Child Jesus. He was told by an angel of the Lord to flee to Egypt, that is, toward Egypt and outside the jurisdiction of Herod. It is likely that Joseph and Mary took the child to a place which was toward Egypt and under the governmental control of Egypt, and not necessarily to the modern borders of that nation. In any event, the leading of God was clear and the financial means with which to make the trip was safe in hand since the unexpected visit of the adoring foreigners. After such blessings had been brought to them by the hands of pagans who knelt and worshipped the Lord's Christ in their presence, can we imagine that Joseph or Mary ever again looked upon all the Gentiles with the infamous air of covenantal snobbery? And surely they were also, through these things, greatly assured of God's blessings at that particular moment and of His future care for them.

One advantage that poorer folks have is displayed in the case of Joseph and his little household. The poor have a certain freedom of flight. They may, without excessive packing or excessive grieving, pull up stakes from one place on the earth and move to another, as compared to the rich. Some rich folk just cannot move, they have so much. Joseph and Mary could pack all they owned in a short time and be off and traveling before morning.

Matthew Henry, commenting on this portion, wrote:

"If rich people have the advantage of the poor while they possess what they have, the poor have the advantage of the rich when they are called to part with it."

How true! Walking away from a little estate, giving it up for good, is considerably easier than parting with affluence. We humans are so quickly spoiled. Here is a warning to the wealthy and an encouragement to the poor. The wealthy are not permanently wealthy unless they are rich toward God. The poor are not nearly so poor as their little estates might suggest, if they have the wealth of Heaven abiding in their souls. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were on the move, seizing the future with only a very little baggage and a large trust in Him who holds all tomorrows.

Joseph was given step by step instructions. Sometimes, God gives us no more than this. Take the step which God has directed. Stand still. Await further direction, since you cannot presume to know where you are going. Say, 'If the Lord wills, I will go here, there, etc.' as the book of James would tell us. We must remain dependent on our Lord who directs the steps of a man. And it is for our good that we wait upon Him, for He leads His people in the paths of righteousness. As for ourselves, our feet are strangers to paths of peace. The Lord, however, will set our feet in the good way where we find soul-rest, day after day. Meanwhile, we wait for further instructions so that we might not step into the world's bear-traps. Folks who wander through life's woods, meandering through the untamed forest, well, we need a compass and a good map. God's Word is the map, God's Spirit the compass. But let us not wander without His direction. One step at a time is enough.

King Herod, much too old to ever be threatened by any King of the Jews during his own lifetime, ordered the mass slaughter of every male child age two and under in all the region around and including the village of Bethlehem.

"Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its environs, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi. Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying, "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more."" (Matthew 2:16-18 NAS)

The old King had previously "secretly called the magi, and ascertained from them the time the star appeared." (v7) By this information, Herod calculated the approximate age of the Christ Child. And in order to enhance his chances of success at eliminating the toddling antagonist, he ordered the mass slaughter of "all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its environs, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi." Matthew Henry cited a certain secular writer of the ancient time, "Macrobius . . . tells us, that when Augustus Caesar heard that Herod, among the children he order to be slain under two years old, slew his own son, he passed this jest upon him, That it was better to be Herod's swine than his son. The usage of the country forbade him to kill a swine, but nothing could restrain him from killing his son."

What are we to think about those innocents who gave their tender lives to the bloodthirsty tyrant? Some have suggested that those baby boys of the Bethlehem neighborhood should be numbered among the earliest martyrs of the Messiah Jesus. How deep their mother's groans! How broken their father's hearts! Ah, but what meaning was granted to their existence! Those boys of Bethlehem's Jesus was humble and meek from the very beginning days of His life. In the earliest days, when divine power could have been displayed in visible ways, the Lord was pleased to quietly guard His Child Jesus through inconspicuous means, so that in the proper time Jesus would offer His soul as an offering for sin, "the just for the unjust."

When God sent forth His Son, His Son was not born to the nobler class. He was not housed in luxury but in simplicity. When the Eternal Logos became flesh, He did not come to a home of wealth. "He became poor" for our sakes. Jesus, in His humiliation, laid aside so many of His divine prerogatives that He is said to have "emptied Himself." He "made himself of no reputation." He became as a servant, not One to be served. And His unassuming humility before God was eloquently expressed as He eternally purposed and consented to enter into the carpenter's household for the great part of His earthly life. No servants, no marbled halls, no fine cuisine, no elite relatives or friends. Even when He came to His ministry, the religious leaders found fault with Him because He spent time with common sinners and relatively little with the religious, respectable crowd. Humble in life, more humble in death, "born King of the Jews," our Lord Jesus is now and evermore Prince over the Israel of God, the true circumcision, the Church, the Body of which Christ alone is the Head.

Oh how soon we must recognize our constant dependence upon our Lord Jesus for specific direction! How often does He direct us through life's foggy haze, one step, then another, sometimes telling us where He wills for us to be this day, but not where He wills for us to be tomorrow. Surely our Lord knows we need His direction in even the smallest things. He is keeping us in the state of dependence, lest we lean upon our own folly which we call wisdom.

Generally, the means by which we come to perceive God's will for our particular lives are the Word written, the Spirit of the Lord who dwells within the believer's redeemed soul, and the urgings of God's daily providence, as we behold the unfolding of His secret things. While we do not expect to receive our direction from God through dreams or visions, we must recognize that there is no variation in God Himself. He is always faithful to lead His people although His appointed means have changed.

The Word of God written gives us specific teaching and direction by the principles laid down by direct command, by inference, and by example. Man is to live, said Jesus, "by every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God." How can we presume to live otherwise? The Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Comforter, is always indwelling to help us. Paul writes that He "helps our infirmities," He helps us especially because of our many weaknesses. And the providence of God, His everyday superintending of this entire universe from top to bottom, teaches us His will. Just as we are to learn God's specific will for our lives appealing to His Word and His Spirit, we are to take further instruction from all things which the Sovereign Lord providentially brings to pass during the course of time and life. By observing and learning from these three, saturating our lives by prayer, keeping a true humility before the Lord, we will be led and taught by Him. Then we may glorify His worthy Name and simultaneously find a reasonable measure of definition and meaning for our lives, all within the framework of our Lord's good pleasure and sovereign purpose.

 
 
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