A Christmas Past
Matthew 2:1-3 “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”
To start off with we know little about these men. The word translated “wise men” (magi), refers to a group of scholars who studied the stars. Their title connects them with magic, but they were probably more like astrologers. However, their presence in the biblical record is not a divine endorsement of astrology. God gave them a special sign, a miraculous star that announced the birth of the King. The star led them to Jerusalem, where God’s prophets told them that the King would be born in Bethlehem. They went to Bethlehem, and there they worshipped the Christ Child.
We do not know how many wise men there were. From the three gifts listed in Matthew 2:11, some people have assumed there were three kings from the Orient, though this is not certain. But when their caravan arrived in Jerusalem, there were enough of them to trouble the whole city. Keep in mind that these men were Gentiles. From the very beginning, Jesus came to be “the Saviour of the world” John 4:42. These men were also wealthy, and they were scholars. No scholarly person who follows the light God gives him can miss worshipping at the feet of Jesus. In Jesus Christ “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” Colossians 2:3.
A CHRISTMAS PAST
Matthew is telling us a true account of the very first Christmas. He is recording for you history which is full of theological significance, and very important practically for your life. As we look at this passage, you should draw your attention to three particular things. Keep your eyes open for these because Matthew is highlighting them for our benefit.
First of all, you will see a surprising and ironic concealing and revealing of Jesus. You can see it in verses 1-4, and in verses 9-11. Jesus is concealed from Israel. Jesus is concealed from the religious leaders in Israel, but He is revealed to pagan wise men. There is a point that is made by drawing your attention to that fact, and we will examine it in more detail as we go.
Secondly, you will notice that this Jesus who has been born king of the Jews, whom the wise men have traveled far to visit and worship, is to be worshiped. Three times in this passage, Matthew mentions the worship of Jesus (verse 2; verse 8; and verse 11). Especially in verses 2 and 11, Matthew has a point to make, and we will examine that point as we work through this passage.
Third and finally, Matthew wants you to see that Jesus was born by the book. That is, His birth was in direct, and detailed, and explicit fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Matthew will quote from a passage in Micah to show that Jesus’ birth fulfilled the prophecy made by that minor prophet hundreds of years before; but he is also going to allude to a much older prophecy…a prophecy that was 1400 years old…a prophecy given by a pagan unbeliever and recorded in the Bible.
Three things Matthew is trying to convey to us – that are vital for every person in the world to understand if they are to fellowship with the living God. Matthew highlights the way that Jesus is concealed and revealed in His coming into this world. Matthew highlights that Jesus is an object of worship. Jesus is to be worshiped, and Matthew shows us that Jesus is born by the book so we could live by the Book. Here’s why:
THE CONCEALMENT & REVEALMENT OF CHRIST
Matthew highlights the concealment of Christ to Israel and the revealment of Christ to the Gentiles in this amazing account in Scripture. Here we have these pagan wise men from somewhere in the East, outside of Israel, outside of the bounds of the people of God who have been given God’s written revelation in the Old Testament, outside the bounds of those who would have heard Moses preach, or who would have read Moses, or who would have heard Moses read; outside of the reach of those who had heard the prophets of the Old Testament preached. Somewhere in far and distant lands, these pagans are coming to worship Jesus Christ. But when they get to Israel, nobody knows what they’re talking about! When they go to the leaders of Israel, the leaders of Israel are confused and seem unknowledgeable about their future king. They are troubled by this word from these pagans about the king of the Jews who has just been born. Herod is troubled. The chief priests and scribes, those who were responsible for conducting the religious worship of Israel and for teaching Moses’ law to the people, were all baffled and troubled by this question from the wise men.
The king (Herod) was half Edomite and half Arabian, but he was ruling over Israel, as it was basically a state to Rome, and Herod was deeply troubled when he heard the word that the king of the Jews had been born. In fact, he is so deeply troubled by this he will order the massacre of all the young boys in the city of Bethlehem in the following weeks, in order to try and stamp out this potential rival to his rule. He was a deeply troubled man in more ways than just this. (Matthew 2:3 – When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.)
Matthew Henry has this comment on the troubling of Herod “Herod could be no stranger to the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the Messiah and His Kingdom, but having reigned so long himself, he began to hope these promises would fail, and that his kingdom would be established and perpetuated in spite of them. What shock therefore, must it have been to hear talk of this King being born? Carnal wicked hearts dread nothing so much as the fulfilling of the Scriptures.”
The chief priests and scribes, though they knew exactly where to look in the Old Testament in answer to the question, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?” they were not looking for the Messiah. They were not expecting the Messiah. They were not on the way to make a pilgrimage to the birthplace of the Messiah. But these pagan magi, these pagan astrologers, these pagan wise men were. Wouldn’t that fact be very convicting to you if you were them? What they should have been doing as God’s people, pagan Gentiles, were doing instead. (Matthew 2:4-5 – And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,)
The chief priests and the scribes were more concerned with other things, and they valued other things more highly than they should have and more than they valued God. And, consequently, they did not appreciate the provision of the Savior, and they did not highly value the coming of the Savior. So you have this ironic concealing of the Christ who comes from Israel to Israel, for Israel, for their redemption — and they’re not waiting for Him. And they’re not looking for Him. And they are blind to His appearance in the world.
We too as Christians have the very same sin and weakness in us. We too can be very guilty of being more concerned with the here and now then we are with Christ and the eternal. We suffer the same weakness as those chief priests and scribes did. We too are guilty of the same type of sins. We need to be concerned about this; this fact should convict us and prick our conscience. We should learn from their bad example and be vastly more concerned about Christ and His Word and the eternal. What are we thinking about more this time of year? – Is it the gifts we may get or the gifts we are giving, or are we thinking more about the greatest gift that was ever given, and that is of course the Son of God given to be a sacrifice for all. Where are our priorities at? Are they placed in God and in the heavenly or are they placed in the things of men and the earthly? (Colossians 3:1-2 – If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.)
And the people? Well, they, too, Matthew tells us, were troubled and afraid by news brought by these Gentiles. They were afraid perhaps of official reprisals. They were troubled and afraid perhaps because they thought Herod might have some sort of terrible reaction. But Matthew paints an ironic picture in this passage. You would think that the people who had the Book that told them about the coming Messiah would have been looking for that Messiah, and would have themselves been on a pilgrimage to go worship Him. But that is not what you find. Israel is completely caught off guard. The birth of the Messiah is concealed to the very people to whom God had sent the Messiah from and to in this world.
Now that’s very amazing, isn’t it? And Matthew has a point about that. Matthew’s point is simply this: that there is a real possibility that religious people who possess divine revelation — true revelation, inerrant, infallible revelation — can be spiritually blind. They can have the truth in their hands, they can hear the truth read and proclaimed, they can read the truth for themselves, and yet not see it. Why? A part of the reason could be – if you don’t understand your need, you won’t be looking for your Savior. And if you don’t understand your need, you won’t highly value your Savior.
• Do we really understand our true need of our Savior Jesus Christ? (Romans 3:23– For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;)
• Do we really understand our true need to be diligently studying the Bible?
• Do we really understand our true need to be a people as spiritually in tune with our Savior and His Holy Spirit as possible?
Nehemiah 8:3 – And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.
Are you as attentive to The Book as you should be, as you need to be, as you ought to be?
And then you have the wise men!
Matthew 2:1-2 – Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
You have these wise men from the East. They are pagans, they are Gentiles, and they are coming all the way from distant lands to come and worship the king of the Jews. It’s an amazing irony. You have Herod the king and the priests and the people all unaware of Christ, at the same time you have these pagan Gentiles searching for Him at great effort and cost and from a great distance. What can we learn from this irony?
First, Christ is not just the Savior of the Jews; He is the Savior of the world. He will bring the Gentiles from the four corners of the earth to His presence. And those who rest and trust in Him for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, from every corner of the world, from every tribe, tongue, people and nation — men and women and boys and girls will come to Him, for He is the Savior of the world. (John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.)
There is going to be a day in which all the nations know the glory of the living God through His Messiah King. It doesn’t mean that every man, woman, boy and girl is saved; it means that Jesus is the only Savior available to every man, woman, boy and girl. And that men and women and boys and girls from every tribe and tongue and people and nation can trust in Him, because He is the God who saves not only His believing Jewish people, but He is the God who saves those Gentiles too who trust in Christ alone for salvation. The Christmas Past should really teach us and show us that Christ came to be the Savior of the whole world. (Revelation 7:9-10 – After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.)
Then there is us. In Matthew’s day…in fact, for many years, for many decades in the early church there were Christians, Jewish Christians, who were not so certain that Gentile Christians were on the same level with them, and they were uncertain about the mission to the Gentiles. If you recall some of them got on to the Apostle Paul for going to the Gentiles; and remember Peter’s initial reluctance in going to the Gentiles? Well, Matthew is showing us here that of course the Gospel message is for the Gentiles, it is for all people, because at the very outset when Jesus came into this world, God brought the Gentiles to Him. There’s no question, the saving message of the Gospel is for the Gentiles and for the Jews. (Romans 1:16 – For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.)
CHRIST IS TO BE WORSHIPED
Notice the worship that is given to Christ by these wise men. Jesus deserves to be worshiped. He is more than the Messiah; He is more than the king: He is God in the flesh. He is the very Son of God, and He deserves to be worshiped. (Matthew 2:2 – Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.) In our passage we see these Gentiles (verse 2) that come looking for the king of the Jews because they want to worship Him. We see how Herod was trying to ingratiate himself to them in order to get information out of them that he claimed falsely to want to worship Jesus. And the very reason that he falsely claimed to want to worship Jesus was because it was very clear to him that these wise men were dead serious about worshiping Jesus. And finally in verse 11, you see that when the wise men get there, what do they do? They worship Jesus.
Matthew 2:11 – And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
Now Matthew is making a very important point here. Matthew knew that every Hebrew person hearing him knew the first two principles of Hebrew theology. The first principle of Hebrew theology is ‘There is a God, and you are not Him.’ The second principle of Hebrew theology is ‘Don’t worship anything or anyone that’s not the one true God.’ So when Matthew says here that Jesus is to be worshiped, what is he really telling you about Jesus? – He is telling us that Jesus is divine. Jesus is deity. Jesus is God. He deserves to be worshiped. And that even these Gentiles from afar knew it. And they came and they offered their worship to Jesus.
Christ is to be the object of worship. Notice offering gifts to Jesus was a way they worshiped Him. What gifts have you given to Jesus? What of your time, your talent or your treasure do you give to Him?
Notice what the Bible does not see as important to tell us about these wise men – Matthew doesn’t tell you how they were dressed; he doesn’t tell you what their names were. He doesn’t tell you their later history. He doesn’t tell you the dates of their death. He doesn’t tell you where they were buried. He doesn’t tell you the exact nature of the star that they were following. He doesn’t tell you whether it was a conjunction of the planets or a unique heavenly body created by God just for this purpose. The one important thing that he tells you about these wise men is that they worshiped Jesus. Why? Because that’s the point: Jesus is to be worshiped.
Do you worship Jesus? Do you value Him more than anything else? Does it hurt your soul for Him not to be worshiped? Is it the passion of your life that the nations would worship Him? Is it your heartbeat? Or are there other things in this world that you love more than Jesus? Are there other things in this life that you worship more than Jesus? We exalt Jesus in our actions, in our choices, in our attitudes, in our words, with all of our energy. Do you truly worship Jesus?
Does it bother us when He’s not worshiped? Should it not be that way with all of us? Should it not be our heart’s desire that Jesus would be worshiped? Worshiped to the ends of the earth, from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, from men and women and boys and girls? That’s why we go with the gospel! That’s why we do evangelism! That’s why we give to missions! – Because we want Jesus to be worshiped, to be valued, to be delighted in, to be acknowledged to be the first and best. Matthew is making that point in this passage. Even these pagan Gentiles, these wise men, knew that Jesus is to be worshiped. How much more ought we to know that and to do it? Could it be said about you? Could enough evidence be collected about you to demonstrate that you worship Jesus?
JESUS WAS BORN BY THE BOOK
Christmas Past is a demonstration of fulfilled prophecy. The birth of Jesus fulfilled prophecy. There is much more in the passage concerning this than we will touch on. Matthew wants to press home in this passage that Jesus is born by the book, and so he quotes from Micah 6 and he reminds you that Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is in fulfillment of prophecy. But he not only points back to that prophecy that was over 500 years old, he also explicitly directs your attention to a much older prophecy. Do you remember who and where that prophecy is made and found in the Old Testament? Who made the prophecy about a star rising up out of Judah? – Balaam. Yes Balaam. In Numbers 24:17, you will find that Balaam — the pagan, unbelieving prophet hired by Balak to curse Israel — makes the prophecy of a star rising out of Judah, that Matthew says in our passage that Jesus fulfills.
Numbers 24:15-17 – And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said: He hath said, which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open: I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.
This is amazing isn’t it? You have a pagan unbelieving prophet making a prophecy about the star that rises out of Judah, and then you have pagans from the East who make their way to worship Jesus Christ the Lord. Matthew is pressing home this: God’s Word can be trusted, and He can use anyone to do anything for Him. Even pagan Balaam and these pagan wise men. If God can use them, He surely can use you to do anything He wants you to do, don’t believe people when they say you can’t do this or you can’t do that for God! If God wills it you can do anything for Him! (Romans 11:29 – For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. & I Timothy 1:12 – And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;)
Matthew is verifying for us Jesus’ identity. He is the star who is to arise out of Jacob. He is identifying His mission. Just as Matthew has already said (in Matthew 1:18-25), Jesus is the Savior come into this world. So why is it that the wise men understand that and follow the star and go to worship Him, but Herod and the chief priests and the scribes don’t? Because, you will be blind to the need and the glory of the Savior unless you understand your own need.
Have you every truly understood your need for a Savior? Have you truly understood you are a sinner in need of a perfect Savior to give Himself as a sacrifice and as a payment in full for your sins? Jesus came into the world on that first Christmas day so He could eventually die on the cross of Calvary and then rise from the grave triumphant over sin and death on that first Easter morn just for you, just for me, just because He loved us that much. If you have not done so, why don’t you accept Him as your Savior? (Romans 10:9, 10 & 13 – That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.)
We looked at the concealment of Christ to Israel and the revealment of Christ to the Gentiles. This is an ironic concealing and revealing of Christ. Concealed to the people who ought to have been responding to Him because they knew the book, but really didn’t know the book, and those who you wonder “How in the world did they know to do this?”–but they did know. This should prompt us to ask ourselves do I really know the Bible like I should, and is my relationship with the Lord right so that I could actually hear and feel His prompting of my Spirit when it comes or am I so backslidden, that I would be deaf and blind to His Spirits workings?
We also looked at how Jesus is to be worshiped, He is worthy of our worship and should be getting our worship. Do you value Him more than anything else? Does it hurt your soul for Him not to be worshiped? Is the worship of the Lord your heartbeat? Or are there other things in this world that you love more than Jesus? Are there other things in this life that you worship more than Jesus? We are to exalt Jesus in our actions, in our choices, in our attitudes, in our words, with all of our energy. Do you do this? Do you truly worship Jesus?
We also looked at how Christmas past demonstrates to us that Jesus birth was by the Book. He was born exactly how the Word of God said He would be born. And also in this point we noticed how God can and will use anyone to do anything He wills for them to do. It does not matter their background, it does not matter their qualifications, it does not matter their past, God can and God will and God does use anyone He so chooses to use for whatever He chooses to use them for.
Finally we all need to make sure are hearts are attune to God and His word and the things of God. Are we backslidden right now? Are we living for ourselves more than we are living for God? What is most important in our life right now? Is it Jesus and things above or is it selfish desires and the things of this world? Jesus came to save us all, Jesus deserves our praise and worship, Jesus was born by the Book, the least we could do with our lives is to do our best, with His gracious help of course, to live out our lives being attentive to everything and every teaching in His Book and to live according to everything He has taught and proclaimed in His Book! Jesus was born by the Book so we could live by the Book.