The message found in the opening lines of Matthew 2 was of such magnitude that it sent shock waves through all of Jerusalem. I am afraid that this Christmas passage has become so familiar to us that we read it without comprehending its significance for then or now. In verse 1 it does seem a bit matter-of-fact: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days to King Herod …. We have told this story so often that perhaps we have forgotten that it is truly the most important and earth-shaking historical event that has ever been recorded.
In the Days of King Herod
The King has stooped to enter His own creation. It is not insignificant that Matthew immediately locates this event in real time and history — … in the days of King Herod …. King Herod the Great was made king by the Roman Senate because of the influence of Mark Antony. Herod was a cruel and tyrannical king. He would permit no one, including his own family, to stand in the way of his quest for power and greatness. He had his own wife and her two brothers slain because he suspected them of treason. Thus it should not surprise us that Herod ordered the killing of all the male children in and around Bethlehem who were two years and younger (Matthew 2:16). He wanted to bear the title "King of the Jews," and he would stop at nothing and surrender to no one in his quest for power and significance.
The story of Herod serves to remind us that all of us struggle with the issue of self-rule. When we truly think of the implications of The King and His Kingdom, it reminds us that we must become His willing servants. The appearance of The King reminds us that we no longer have the right to rule our own life. We may miss the parallel because we would never think of resorting to such brutal means to protect our own self rule. We simply ignore the implications of being subjects of The King. Has the coming of The King into your life impacted your daily living? Your stewardship? Your service through His body, the church?
Wise Men from the East
The furor in Bethlehem was ignited by an unexpected visit from an unusual group of visitors. Matthew's understatement is profound. Wise men from the east arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?"
We must confess that we know little about the wise men or "magi." Magi was originally the name of a Persian priestly caste, but was used more widely to refer to magicians and astrologers (Acts 13:6). Even though their title connects them with magic, they were probably more like astrologers. Their presence here does not in any way suggest a divine endorsement for astrology. If anything, it would be the very opposite. They acknowledged their need for a King and came to bow before Him.
God gave them a special sign in the heavens that led them to this place at this time where the one and only King was to be born. This story, peculiar to Matthew, serves to underscore Matthew's emphasis that Jesus the Messiah is the King of all nations. The entire episode reminds us of 1 Kings 10:1-13, which recounts the visit of the Queen of Sheba, laden with gifts, to Solomon the son of David. Keep in mind that these men were Gentiles. It is noteworthy that Gentiles were among the first to worship at the feet of the rightful King. Verse 11, where we are told of the gifts brought to the baby Jesus by these Gentile rulers, was intended to call to mind passages such as Psalm 72:10-11 and Isaiah 60:3.
May the kings of Tarshish and the coasts and islands bring tribute, the kings of Sheba and Seba offer gifts. And let all kings bow down to him, all nations serve him (Psalms 72:10-11). Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your radiance (Isaiah 60:3).
Kingdom teaching from the Old Testament clearly indicates that God had chosen Israel for mission purpose. He had blessed them so that they might become a blessing to the nations. As we read the Old Testament, it becomes abundantly clear that they had interpreted God's calling in terms of privilege and not responsibility, and thus had consumed His blessing and had not conveyed it. Now that The King incarnate has come to earth, He will fulfill the eternal purpose of God. Now every tribe, tongue, and nation will have access to the King.
We must pause long enough to ask "Am I a Kingdom person?" I would imagine that most of those who read this would indicate that they are born again believers. If you are a servant of The King who desires that all the nations serve Him, does that impact your witnessing and your giving? Are your resources at the disposal of The King? This is the season of the year that many of us make a gift to world mission causes through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Will yours be worthy of The King?
The Chief Priests and Scribes
We are not surprised to learn that Herod was opposing the rightful King. We are delighted to find that the wise men were seeking to worship Him. Perhaps the greatest enigma of this entire story is the reaction of the religious leaders. When Herod heard about the birth of the rightful King, he immediately assembled the chief priests and scribes. He correctly surmised that they would know the prophecies concerning His birth.
He was not disappointed! They immediately refer to the prophecy contained in Micah 5:2: Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; One will come from you to be ruler over Israel for Me. His origin is from antiquity and eternity.
These religious men knew the Scriptures well enough to point others to the Messiah, but they did not bother to go see for themselves. They could quote the Scripture, but they were unwilling to obey it. Bible scholars tell us that they were about five miles from The King, the very Son of God, and yet they did not go to worship Him.
It is hard to imagine that men with such knowledge would be so apathetic about an event and a person who would change history. Yet we see a similar apathy in our country. We are inundated with the message of The King. People walk through shopping malls to the sound of Christmas carols declaring His birth. They flip through the channels of their radio or television and hear the message of the birth of The King. Yet many remain unconcerned and apathetic and will not go to see for themselves.
But what may be more puzzling than the apathy of secular folks in our country is the lack of passion by the religious people in our pews. We actually acknowledge that He is rightful King and yet we do little to spread the news of His coming. Few of us have actually told anyone of our relationship to The King. Statistics still indicate that nearly 80 percent of those who regularly attend church will neglect to give or do anything to further the cause of The King through their church. Giving per person has slipped to 2.7 percent, lower than giving during the Great Depression (3.2 percent). The wise men would never think of coming into the presence of The King without an acceptable offering. This season of the year gives us the opportunity to ask ourselves — "How should a Kingdom person live?"
The Triumphal Entry of The King
Matthew tells us of another entry of the rightful King. This one occurred some thirty-three years later. We find it recorded in Matthew 21. Jesus was approaching Jerusalem. He instructed His disciples to go into the village ahead of them and bring a donkey and a colt that were tied there. Jesus mounted the donkey and entered the city to shouts of "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!"
On the occasion of His first entry recorded in Matthew 2, we are told that Herod was troubled. Now we are told: When He entered Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken (Matthew 21:10). The word translated "shaken" is from a Greek word from which we get our English word "seismic." This was an earth-shaking event! This was the formal entry of the rightful King of the universe. Isn't it ironic that the people cheering on this day would soon be jeering? The King would be rejected and ultimately crucified. We sometimes forget the Christmas season requires that we hold the birth in one hand and the crucifixion in the other. The rightful King became a servant, even to death on the cross. When He was crucified, they placed above His head the charge: This is Jesus The King of the Jews (Matthew 27:37).
While the adversary thought the crucifixion of Jesus would be the final chapter in the story of this King, it was only the beginning. At the end of Matthew's gospel, the disciples gather on a mountain in Galilee to worship the resurrected King. After He declares that all Kingly authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him, He gives His final command: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations …." The mission of The King has become our mandate. This is the story of Christmas.
The Return of The King
We have considered the birth of The King and the entry of The King, but we can't complete the story without being reminded of the return of The King. During His mock trial, Jesus was asked by the high priest about His identity as the Messiah. Jesus' answer was declared by the high priest to be blasphemous. "You have said it," Jesus told him. "But I tell you, in the future you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven" (Matthew 26:64).
Our King is returning! Some people who have read about Southern Baptists' emphasis on the Kingdom of God have accused us of trying to set up a kingdom on earth. They suffer the same confusion that many did in the first century. Our King has already established His Kingdom, and it is not of this earth. It is our passion to share the Good News in such a compelling manner that many will know Him as The King before His return.