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Worship Series: Life & Light
Worship Theme: Safe!
- CW 92 Brightest and Best
- Grades 5-6: A Baby in a Manger
- CW 83 As with Gladness Men of Old
- Confession of Faith
- CW 80 Angels from the Realms of Glory
Pastor Jon Brohn
Before we get into the details of the wise men’s visit to Jesus, let’s see if we can clear up some common misconceptions about this account. Here are a couple of multiple choice questions. Let’s see what you come up with for answers.
1. How many wise men came to visit Jesus? A. One B. Two C. Three D. The Bible doesn’t say.
Does anyone know why it’s so easy to believe that there were 3 wise men? Because they brought three gifts - gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We really don’t know how many there were except that there were more than one who came to see the one born King of the Jews.
2. From what area were the three kings that visited Jesus? A. West B. East C. Orient D. None of the above
This one is kind of a trick question. The wise men weren’t kings. They came from a class of priests, astronomers and astrologers. They were influential advisors of the king and probably lived in the city of Babylon. During the 70 years of Jewish exile, Daniel became the head of the wise men, or Magi. No doubt Daniel taught them about the promised Messiah. The wise men took these promises seriously, and when the “Christmas Star” appeared they undertook the long, dangerous journey to find the Messiah.
3. The wise men found Jesus in a... A. Manger B. Palace C. Stable D. House
The correct answer is in a house (Matthew 2:11). Most Christmas cards, songs, and even the movie “The Nativity Story” portray them as present when Jesus was born. The wise men were not in the stable at Jesus’ birth. It’s a nice thought, but they didn’t arrive to find the child until Jesus was at least a year old, maybe even two! (Matthew 2:16)
Imagine Mary and Joseph’s surprise when this group of foreigners showed up at their door looking not for them, but for their toddler. But, if shepherds could show up at the stable with a story of angels and praise and then bow down in worship before an infant, having a group of visitors from the east may not have been so surprising! The men who showed up had no doubts about who this child was. They had been watching and waiting. The star confirmed it, and this wasn’t just a “Christmas Star” confluence of Jupiter and Saturn. This was a special star God had created for the sole purpose of leading the wise men to Bethlehem. “After listening to the king, they went on their way. Then the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them, until it stood still over the place where the child was” (Matthew 2:9 EHV). God made sure they would find the Messiah!
The wise men treasured the gift they had found. Just look at what they did when they arrived! “After they went into the house and saw the child with Mary, his mother, they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11 EHV). No hesitation, no doubt, no debate. They bowed down and worshipped him. They gave him costly gifts, gifts that would provide for Jesus’ needs in the years to come.
How do we react to the Christmas gift God has placed in our laps? What were you looking for this Christmas? What are you hoping for in 2021? I think we all have a pretty big list of hopes and dreams for this year, and most of our lists probably have to do with the word “in-person.” If that’s all we’re looking for, we miss the greatest gift that God has given us. In order to survive another year, we need to focus our attention on Jesus just like the wise men did! That’s hard when we feel like he abandoned us in 2020. We lost loved ones to COVID. We watched restaurants and bars close permanently thanks to statewide mandates. We go back and forth over the issue of wearing or not wearing masks. In the middle of it all, we look for help. We look for solutions. We look for hope.
Jesus gave hope to the wise men who were looking for him—not because he had done anything. A toddler couldn’t do much to save the world, at least not yet. Jesus gave the wise men hope because he was the fulfillment of all those promises the LORD had made since the days of Adam and Eve. The wise men saw the promise fulfilled when the star rose and they followed it to Joseph and Mary’s house. They heard the promise fulfilled when they heard King Herod’s wise men tell them where Messiah would be born - in Bethlehem in Judea!
Jesus gives us hope too. Hope that life will be okay in a new year. Hope that there is life after quarantine and COVID. Hope that there is healing for a hurting nation. Hope that comes only from the LORD making and keeping his promises. Promises like this one: “Surely I will be with you always until the end of the age!” (Matthew 28:20 EHV). Jesus promises to be with us in years like 2020 and going on ahead into 2021. Jesus promised, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27–28 EHV). Whether we have wandered from him in 2020 or not, Jesus knows us. He calls to us, inviting us to follow. He promises that he has given eternal life. Wise men treasured Jesus’ gift of hope. No matter what 2021 can throw at us, we treasure his gift of hope too!
Even if 2021 is an even more hostile environment than 2020? The wise men found Jesus despite an incredibly hostile environment. We could do another little quiz, this time about King Herod. Do you know which King Herod this is? There are four different Herods listed throughout the gospels. This is Herod the Great, father of Herod Archelaus, Herod Antipas, and Philip. Herod the Great reigned from 37-4 BC. He was a clever and capable warrior, orator, and diplomat. Herod impressed Rome with his ability to keep the peace in Judea. He did well at collecting taxes and preventing uprisings. Herod ruled during a time of peace and prosperity in Judea. He rebuilt a series of forts for protection, including a place called Masada. He built theaters and racetracks for entertainment. He also began rebuilding the Jerusalem temple. Later in his reign, Herod became a cruel tyrant who constantly worried he would lose his kingdom. To maintain his hold on the throne, Herod didn’t hesitate to have family members murdered, including two of his own sons. Herod the Great was so cruel that he gave this order to be carried out when he died: to execute the recently imprisoned Jewish elders and his son Antipater so that someone among the Jews and in his own family would mourn his death!
The wise men arrived on the scene and asked about a child born as the King of the Jews. Matthew recorded the king’s reaction, “When King Herod heard this, he was alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3 EHV). Of course the city would be alarmed—what would Herod do? They knew how unbalanced he was and how dangerous it could be to cross him. Jerusalem probably collectively breathed a sigh of relief when the wise men left!
Herod’s rage exploded when he realized that the wise men had not returned with information about the newborn King of the Jews. “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Wise Men, he was furious. He issued orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding countryside, from two years old and under. This was in keeping with the exact time he had learned from the Wise Men.” (Matthew 2:16 EHV). Herod was so paranoid that he willingly ordered the execution of babies! The weeping that night in Bethlehem must have been heart-wrenching. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were living in an incredibly hostile environment.
How would the child remain safe? Joseph and Mary were unaware of Herod’s wicked plan. They would have been caught up in the executions if the Lord had not intervened. “After the Wise Men were gone, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to Joseph in a dream. He said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, because Herod will search for the child in order to kill him.’ Joseph got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and left for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod. This happened to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’” (Matthew 2:13–15 EHV).
Egypt provided a safe haven for the family, just as it had for their ancestors centuries before. Abraham found refuge in Egypt during a time of famine, as did Jacob and his family found a refuge in Egypt. They remained in Egypt for 450 years until Moses led them to freedom. Many of the Jews fled to Egypt before the Babylonians took over Jerusalem. Their descendants stayed, and those Jews would have welcomed Joseph and Mary with open arms. They were safe! The LORD wouldn’t let a paranoid king ruin his plan of salvation. Jesus still had lots of work to do. In order to do it, the LORD had to keep him safe. He also fulfilled yet another Old Testament prophecy: “[Joseph] stayed there until the death of Herod. This happened to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” (Matthew 2:15 EHV, quoting Hosea 11:1). The LORD would keep his gift of a Savior perfectly safe until it was time for him to complete his saving work.
Safe - there’s a word we’ve used a lot this past year. “Be healthy and be safe!” We add it to our prayers: “Lord, keep us safe as we travel to...” We want our friends and family to be safe from accidents and illnesses. We want our children to be safe when they drive, or when they pick up scissors. Be safe!
Safety isn’t something anyone can guarantee. People get sick. People get hurt. People are injured or even killed in an accident. Where is God? Doesn’t he promise to keep us safe? He even says it in Psalm 91. “Yes, [the LORD] will give a command to his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. They will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:11–12 EHV). He will. But he doesn’t! That’s the way it appears to us, but the LORD knows better. He is busy protecting his most important gift - the gift of faith - that he planted deep in our hearts. He’s protecting our relationship with our Savior, Jesus. We will face all kinds of physical problems and hurts in life. Jesus did too! The LORD brought him back from Egypt for us. He brought his Son through death and into life through the power of his resurrection. The LORD keeps his special gift of a Savior safe, so we can be sure he’ll keep us safe too. In the middle of the storm, or in a hospital bed, or on the side of the road, or at the height of family drama, Jesus keeps us safe!
Now we know the story of the wise men a little better. We have the details straight, and even better, we saw the way the wise men treasured the gift of the Savior. We witnessed the LORD protecting this gift and keeping Jesus safe, even as a toddler. In Jesus, we have a gift to treasure. Don’t let him pass you by in 2021. Hold onto him. Grow in your faith, and as you do, the LORD promises to keep your faith in Jesus safe and strong! Amen.