Hope Lutheran Church
January 7, 2024
How do you respond to big news or world-changing events?
It depends on the situation, right? And it depends on the person too. For example, think of last year when the Chiefs won the Super Bowl against the Eagles.
For Chiefs fans, it was awesome to watch that play out. I wasn’t even really cheering for the Chiefs back then, but even for me, it was fun to watch. To watch and see as they came back from a 10-point halftime deficit to win the Super Bowl dramatically. Chiefs fans were ecstatic about what had just happened!
But for people in Philadelphia, it was a whole different reaction. They had to sit there and watch as their team let that lead slip through their fingertips. You have to imagine that after the game, as the Chiefs were crowned as the new kings of the NFL, there was anger, frustration, I’m sure even tears from people in Philadelphia.
It was the same event. It was the same news. But for one group of people, it was exciting and happy and joyful, and for another group, it made them upset and angry and miserable.
We see something similar happening in Matthew’s Gospel today. There was big, important news – the Messiah had been born. What Matthew records for us shows us the different responses that different people had to the news of the new king. And each of those responses can help us as we think about how we Respond To The King. We’ll do that as we look at 1) The Response of Herod 2) The Response of the Religious Leaders 3) The Response of the Magi
Before we do that, let’s take just a minute to familiarize (or maybe re-familiarize) ourselves with what’s happened in the Christmas story up to this point.
Mary and Joseph had traveled from their hometown way up in the northern part of Israel to a little city near Jerusalem called Bethlehem. And they were there because a census was taking place. And so they made the long trip south to Bethlehem. And while they were there in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to Jesus in a barn and she placed him in the manger.
That night when Jesus was born, there were shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem who heard an announcement from an angel that the Messiah had been born in. And when they heard what the angel told them, they went off and they found Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus who was wrapped in cloths and lying in the manger.
Fast forward a bit – probably a few months, maybe even a year or more – and that’s where we’re at in Matthew 2 with this visit of the Magi to Jesus.
1) The Response of Herod
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.
Here, we to see the first person we want to consider as we think about how we respond to the king – the response of Herod. And I think it’s helpful to know a little bit about him.
He’s come to be known as Herod the Great. And he got that title because, during his time as ruler in this part of Israel, he rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem. He helped create jobs for people. He completed other major building projects. Herod did lots of things that to many looked great.
But he was also incredibly ruthless. He was constantly paranoid someone was going to dethrone him. Throughout his life, he murdered countless relatives, including his wife and three of his sons. He’d kill officials in his court. He’d get rid of anyone he felt might threaten him. All because he wanted to make sure he stayed king.
That’s why, after hearing about this new King of the Jews, Matthew tells us “Herod was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” The people knew Herod could fly off the handle at any moment. And we see him do just that in the second half of Matthew 2 – he orders all the boys in Bethlehem two years old and under be killed.
Herod wanted to be king. And he was willing to do everything in his power to make sure he stayed king. And so he responded to the news of Jesus with anger and hostility and outrage.
On the surface, it might not look like there’s anything for us to learn from King Herod’s response other than that terrible people do terrible things. But let’s go beneath the surface.
Herod was only willing to submit to one king and that was himself. I can see that same thing in myself. I make myself king every time I make a selfish decision. I make myself the king when I hurt others. I make myself king when I study and hear the Scriptures and rather than letting God’s Word be the rule and authority in my life, I skip over or reject the parts that make me uncomfortable.
Herod wanted nothing to do with Jesus. He didn’t want Jesus to interfere with his life. He wanted to push Jesus out of his life. So, a question worth asking myself is “What are the parts of my life that I don’t want Jesus to interfere with?”
And you know, the thing is, when I try to make myself king, I’m pretty bad at it. When I’m king, it doesn’t only hurt me. It also has the potential to bring trouble and hurt to others. “[Herod] was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.”
What do we learn from the response of Herod? None of us is the king. Jesus is. But that’s not something we have to be afraid of or fear. For us, that’s good news. Because this King who has come is our Lord and Savior. He’s our king who comes with grace and love and forgiveness. He’s our shepherd-king who promises to guard us and protect us and save us.
2) The Response of the Religious Leaders
Next, let’s look at the response of the religious leaders in Israel.
When [Herod] had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Herod wanted to know more about where the Messiah was to be born. So he turned to the religious leaders and experts in Israel because he figured they would be able to fill him in on some of the details. And they did! They had no problem giving Herod an answer. They knew right away, without hesitation where the Old Testament prophet Micah said the Messiah was going to be born – In Bethlehem in Judea.
They knew the facts. They were able to give a response right from God’s Word about where the Messiah was to be born. But do you know what those religious leaders and experts didn’t do? What wasn’t part of their response?
They didn’t get up and go with the Magi to go with them to Bethlehem. Even though it was just 5 miles away, they couldn’t be bothered to make the trip.
I mean, think about – here are these foreigners, non-Jewish people, these outsiders, who have come to Israel, who are in their capital city asking questions about and looking for one who has born the King of the Jews, looking for the Messiah. This is who the religious leaders had been waiting for. This king who had been promised time and time again by the prophets in the Old Testament.
But when they started to hear rumors and news that he might actually be there, that he may have actually come, they responded with indifference. They didn’t really seem to care.
Here’s the thing – Just knowing God’s Word doesn’t mean that his Word has a hold and home in our hearts. There are plenty of people who know about Jesus. But there’s a world of difference between knowing facts about Jesus and really truly knowing who he is.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not a bad thing to learn about what God says in his Word. That’s a great thing. Dive into the Word. Study the Scriptures in whatever way you do that best. Absolutely!
But also know God wants a relationship with us that’s more than information we store in our heads. He wants our hearts. He wants you to know that you were so important to him that he wouldn’t stop at anything to save you. He wants to have you respond to this news by going with the Magi and seeing this King who has been born. This King who is God’s Son come into this world to live and die and rise for you. But the only way that can happen is by what we see in…
3) The Response of the Magi
[The Magi] went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
There are lots of questions that people like to ask when it comes to the Magi – the men we sometimes call wise men. Who were they? What do we know about them? How did they know the star in the sky signaled the birth of a new king in Israel?
When it comes to all those questions, there are lots of ideas and theories. In short, magi were some of the most learned and educated people of their day. They were advisors to kings and rulers. Bible commentators think that they came from Babylon, present-day Iraq.
And how would they have known about the promised Savior who was coming in Israel? The best guess is that the prophet Daniel, who had done his work hundreds of years earlier in Babylon, had left them with promises of the Savior's birth – promises like the one we heard in our first reading: A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.
And those promises got handed down year after year, generation after generation until this star appeared to signal to them that the king in Israel had finally come. At the end of the day, all that matters is that somehow, someway they knew that there was going to be a king born in Israel.
But for as smart and respected as the Magi would have been, as you read the account, you start to see how these supposed “wise men” were the ones who knew the least about what was going on. Other than coming to Israel, they really have no idea about where to go and what to do next.
And that makes me scratch my head a little bit. Why would God have these outsiders – these people who were from a far-off land full of false gods and idolatry, these people who seemed to know next to nothing about the Messiah other than that he had been born – be among some of the first to go and worship Jesus?
It’s because God doesn’t go looking for wise men to worship his Son. He makes men wise so they can go worship his Son. He doesn’t seek out wise people. He makes people wise.
And what makes a person wise? Listening to what God says and then responding by believing him. That’s how God made them – that’s how God makes each of us – truly wise.
And how do the Magi – these newly wise men – respond to hearing God’s Word spoken to them? They don’t feel threatened like Herod. They don’t stay in Jerusalem like the religious leaders and experts. They go to Bethlehem and are filled with joy and wonder as they bow down to worship the king – the true King – and present him with their offerings and gifts.
You know, these wise men were the first people outside of Israel to worship King Jesus, but they weren’t the last. Far from it. God’s church continues to be filled up with people like that. People like you and me. People who have been made wise to the truth that the Messiah, Christ was born in Bethlehem to be our Savior.
And how do we respond to this all important news?
We praise our God for finding a way to bring his Word into our lives. We thank our God because he sent his Spirit to open our hearts to believe it. We worship our Savior. We tell others about the good news we’ve heard. We live in line with God’s Word. We bring our gifts to our Savior. We respond as people who, by the grace of God, have been made wise to how he’s sent us a Savior.