Following the Star
December 17, 2017 sermon
By John Maiden, Associate Minister
Most people know the Christmas story, but there is still much to learn, even in familiar stories. Today we will correct some misconceptions based on the original Biblical story in Matthew 2:1-12 where the Magi visit the Messiah as a baby, born in Bethlehem.
I. Jesus came for ALL people, including the unlikely. In the Matthew 2:1-12, the “Magi from the East” traveling to Bethlehem, were unnumbered, unnamed, and carrying wealthy gifts to the Christ Child, who had been prophesied in relation to a star, in Numbers 24:1-19. They were probably pagan astrologers, Gentiles (foreigners) who studied the stars, and who had been condemned for their activities in Isaiah 47:13. Like Jesus’ disciples and even the four women listed in Jesus’ genealogy (Mtt. 1), the Magi were messed up, filthy sinners. The Good News of the Gospel is that we are worthy not because of our perfect performance, but because of Jesus’ death making us right with God. Since we know that God’s grace is not out of anyone’s reach, we need to tell others, even if we think it is impossible for them to believe.
II. The only correct response to Jesus is joyful worship. “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.” (Mtt. 2:10,11a) Like the Magi, our one correct response to finding the Savior of the World is to bow down (Phil.2:10), worship, and surrender with great joy to him, as Lord of all areas of our lives. We have a choice: Do we want to bow down now in this life or later at judgement? A word of warning: Anything we worship other than God is an idol. If we worship anything other than Jesus, it will fail us. As part of their joyful worship, the Magi brought the very best: Gold (royalty), Frankincense (recognizing Jesus’ deity), and Myrrh (Used at burial. He was born to die for us.)
Do we believe the world’s misconceptions about Jesus, or the truth, what God says….
- That Jesus came for each of us, all people in the world, even the broken and sinners. And as a follower of Jesus, we are forever accepted by him, and as a result will go and invite all people to come to him.
- That the only correct response is the surrender ALL parts of our lives in joyful worship to him.
- When was the last time you were so overjoyed by Jesus that your response was to bow down and worship him?
- Like the Magi who were called to worship Jesus, are you an unlikely Christian?
- Discuss what wisdom the wise men displayed. Is it still wise today?
- Do we surrender all parts of our lives to Christ at once? Over a lifetime? Exactly how do we surrender to him?
- What keeps keeping us from inviting others to Christ or church?
- Does anyone remember the children’s song, “Jesus loves the little children. Red & yellow, black & white, They are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” How does it relate to the Magi?
- Would you be open to “following a star” (obeying what God shows or tells you) if God put one before you? Any examples?
Good Morning. My name is John Maiden, Associate Minister at Perry Creek. I am so glad you are here this morning. As many of you know, we will be having an awesome potluck and business meeting where we will be voting on our budget after the service. Pastor John told me people might vote based on the sermon. If I see people taking notes who don’t normally, I will get a little nervous.
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. When he 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.’[b]”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they 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. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
– Matthew 2:1-12
Christmas stories can be intimidating to teach, because everybody knows about them. Even if you are not a Christian, you know that the birth of Jesus is celebrated at Christmas. You know about Joseph and Mary and Jesus. You know there were angels and shepherds. And you know that there were three men who came to bring Jesus presents. But even in the most familiar/recognizable stories, we can learn some things. We all might have some misconceptions about familiar stories.
Did you ever play that game, telephone, where you have a group of people and you all get in a circle? One person comes up with a word or phrase and tells the person beside them. That person them tells the person beside them, and so on, until it gets all the way around in the circle and back to the original person who told the phrase. It is usually way off from what the phrase originally was. “Pastor John caught a big fish” could end up being “John can’t fish.”
The only person who knows what he said exactly was the person who started – the original source. We all can have misconceptions about things, including things about God and the Bible. The only way we know what is true and not a misconception is going to God and his Word, going to the source. Today we are going to try and look at some of our misconceptions that we might have about Jesus and the wise men, our church, us as individuals, people in the Bible, and our world has about Jesus. Some not of much significance, as we will see but others of eternal significance.
Jesus came for all people, including the unlikely
Who are these wise men, or as it is translated and in the Greek, Magi?
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.”
– Matthew 2:1-2
Truth be told there are so many myths and misunderstandings about who exactly these magi were and what we don’t know about the Magi. Legends began to develop that there were three in number. We probably get this from the three gifts. The bible doesn’t say. Legends began to grow about these men. We started naming them. We even gave them names, Casper, Balthazar, and Melchior
What we do know about the Magi. They came from the east, maybe Persia but not sure exactly. They saw a star and knew that this star indicated that the King of the Jews had been born. And they went to Jerusalem to worship Him.
How did the Magi know to follow the star? Were they just sitting there one day star gazing and then all of a sudden, a star appeared and they said, well that must mean the “King of the Jews” has been born. Hey, let’s follow it. A star makes sense because Magi were people who were skilled in astronomy and astrology, students of the stars. We do not know how God revealed to them that the King of the Jews had been born. All we know is that they saw his star. What we do know is that these men were astrologers and divined that a star had risen that signified the birth of the King of the Jews. This star is actually significant in the Old Testament.
The idea of a star does have OId Testament roots. In Numbers 22-24, we have a story about two guys named Balak and Balaam. Numbers – talk about a book we don’t mention a lot – is the fourth book in the Old Testament. As you remember, you have Exodus – deliverance of God’s people from Egypt. The book of Numbers tells us what is going on with the people of Israel from the time they left Mt. Sinai, which is where they got the Ten Commandments, up until the Israelites who are about to enter the promise land. As we go through the book, Israel becomes more and more powerful. Balak, who was the King of Moab, began to get nervous. He then called a magician by the name of Balaam to curse Israel. God then shows up and tells Balaam to bless Israel. This is what the blessing of Israel says, Balaam’s oracle from God
I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
a scepter will rise out of Israel.
He will crush the foreheads of Moab,
the skulls of all the people of Sheth
Edom will be conquered;
Seir, his enemy, will be conquered,
but Israel will grow strong.
A ruler will come out of Jacob
and destroy the survivors of the city.
– Numbers 24:1-19
The Magi had seen this star come out of Jacob. They knew that this ruler had been born. They wanted to go find Him, so that they could go and worship Him. They were involved in occult practices like the interpretation of dreams and sorcery. In fact, magi can also be translated sorcerer. Astrology was condemned in the Old Testament. They were the most prominent and powerful group of advisors in the Medo-Persian and Babylonian empire. They were well-respected and as seen in their gifts, probably wealthy. They visited Jesus several months after Jesus was born. They are not at the manger scene.
But why them? Why the Magi of all people? Pagan, Gentiles, Astrologers. Why did God call them? There is a practical application when you are studying you Bible. When looking at Scripture, we should be asking ourselves why the author, guided by the Spirit, put this in the Bible.
In this example, why of all the stories does Matthew want us to know about the Magi? It seems weird, even surprising. It is even more surprising when you combine that with Matthew’s audience. It is the Jews. So why did Matthew not talk about some Jews? He doesn’t even mention the awesome shepherds. The very first people we see being told about Jesus and worshipping Jesus are pagan, Gentiles, people who are not born into God’s chosen people, the Israelites, from the east. In fact, they are astrologers, a practice condemned in the Old Testament.
Stand fast in your enchantments and your many sorceries, with which you have labored from your youth; perhaps you may be able to succeed; perhaps you may inspire terror.
You are wearied with your many counsels; let them stand forth and save you, those who divide the heavens, who gaze at the stars, who at the new moons make known what shall come upon you.
– Isaiah 47:12-13
Matthew is saying to the Jews, his audience, look you have a misconception about Jesus, about the Messiah. Jesus has not just come for the Jews, but for all nations, all people. In fact, Jesus came to those who you might least expect. God wants to save those who we might think are unsavable. Might have made up a word there. God is inviting all people to come and worship Him. Jesus even came for messed up people, like the Magi. Jesus did not just come for people who had it all together and were looking for him.
This is all over the gospel of Matthew. In fact, it is a theme in the book. Jesus has come for everyone. If you go back one chapter in Chapter 1, we have a section of Scripture that no one wants to read. I will admit that sometimes when I come across those genealogies, especially in the Old Testament, I cringe a little. But they are very important and very telling, especially the one given by Matthew! Matthew gives us the line of Jesus all the way back to Abraham.
There are four women who are mentioned in the genealogy, and that is not be accident. It is to show us where God’s grace can reach everyone, even the messed up. Women are not very esteemed in the New Testament times. Jesus mentions four women:
- Tamar, a gentile (not God’s people, the Jews); A woman guilty of prostitution and incest.
- Rahab, a gentile woman who was also guilty of prostitution.
- Ruth, another gentile woman
- Bathsheba, who committed adultery with King David
You would not think these people would be in God’s family – gentiles and filthy sinners.
Surely his close followers had it all together, though. The disciples were men who were not likely to be chosen to follow Jesus. I mean a tax collector. Matthew who wrote the gospel we are reading from today. Tax collectors were known as thieves and people hated them. Others were fishermen and so forth.
Magi were Pagan astrologers who were practicing something that was against the Old Testament law. God came after them to lead them to the Messiah, Jesus.
What does this mean to us? It means that Jesus came for you. Did you know that there was a time that you and me were not considered God’s people. We are Gentiles. Apart from Jesus, as Ephesians talked about, we have no hope. God’s grace is for you. Don’t let this pass by you and not affect you. God’s grace has come for you.
Even though we are Gentiles and even though we are messed up people, Jesus came. Even dirty filthy sinners. We all have garbage in our lives and things about us that we shudder at the thought of people knowing about. We mess up, over and over and over again. Thoughts come to our minds that are just plain wicked. We do things that are in complete rebellion against God. BUT GOD. Even though we find ourselves undeserving, Jesus came for you. We can receive God’s grace.
A misconception that we have is that we can only come to God when we have cleaned ourselves up. THIS IS A LIE. God will love me more and accept me more if I can just get rid of this sin. LIES. We live in a world that is very much based on performance and gaining people’s approval. But we don’t have to work to gain God’s approval.
You know how I know this? Because Jesus came for you. Since Jesus came and died for you, if you are a follower of him, you have been given His righteousness. You are perfectly and forever loved by God, forever a son and daughter of Him. No matter what you did or will do, God’s love and acceptance of you is not based on your performance.
When I sin, I find that as a time that there is no way I can pray or have a quiet time, because I feel unworthy. The reality is I am unworthy. But because Jesus came and died for me, I am worthy. I am forever worthy and accepted by God, forever.
Milton Vincent said: “The gospel also reminds me that my righteous standing with God always holds firm regardless of my performance, because my standing is based solely on the work of Jesus and not mine. On my worst days of sin and failure, the gospel encourages me with God’s unrelenting grace toward me. On my best days of victory and usefulness, the gospel keeps me relating to God solely on the basis of Jesus’ righteousness and not mine.”
Jesus came for you and invites us to come to him. No one is outside his reach or his grace. If you have never come to Him, made the decision to follow Jesus, may today be the day that you do. Your life will be eternally changed. Since we know that God’s grace is not out of anyone’s reach, we need to tell others, even if we think it is impossible for them to believe.
Matthew begins his gospel with an invite and ends his gospel with a command to invite. In the last Chapter in Matthew, we have what we call the Great Commission. Jesus said “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”
One thing that we are really going to beat over and over again this month and into next year is that we need to be a church that invites others. Yes, even those people who you asked time and time again and there is no way they are coming to church with you. Or you think there is no way they are coming to faith in Christ. Look I am going to be honest, its intimidating.
The Magi proceed to go to Jerusalem in search of this king, because after all where else would the King of the Jews be born? When they arrived, they started asking around of this birth until word got to Herod.
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law (these were the Scribes), he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea”
– Matthew 2:3-5
So word gets to Herod that people are searching for one born “King of the Jews.” Well this is a red flag, because guess what Herod is? King of the Jews. Can we say threat? So of course, he is troubled and wants to find out where this baby has been born. He then summons the chief priests and the scribes. Their job was to study and interpret the Bible. Hold on to that, it will be important later. They study the Bible, so they should know. They tell him that the Messiah, the person prophesied to come and save his people, is to be born in Bethlehem. Once learning this news, Herod informs the Magi and asked them to report back to him when they find the child so he can also go and worship him. As we know, this is a flat out lie, as we will look at next week. So, off the Magi go in search of King Jesus. This part of the story brings us to our next point:
The only correct response to Jesus is joyful worship
After they had heard the king, they 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.
– Matthew 2:9
For the first time, the star starts to move. How is this happening? Again, we just don’t know. Hours, weeks of study could be done on this. People say it was it a comet, a supernova. Was it the planets Jupiter and Saturn coming together? We don’t know, and it’s not important. The star actually begins to move for what we see as the first time in the story. This star is literally and by God’s power showing the Wise Men exactly where the Messiah is. In fact, as Scripture says it stopped right where Jesus was.
When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
– Matthew 2:9
When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.
– Matthew 2:9 (English Standard Version)
This was the end of their journey. They had reached their destination. Some scholars say it was a journey of hundreds or even thousands of miles. The star that they began following all the way back in there home had finally stopped over the house of Jesus, the King, the Savior of the World. Can you imagine how excited they must have been?
When Sarah and I travel back home to Alabama, which we claim every time we drive it we will never drive again, we are ecstatic to be there and to see my family. Nothing against my family, but it took the Magi much longer and what awaited them was baby Jesus, God in flesh, the Savior of the world! Matthew said they “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy”! The only correct response to finding the Savior of the world.
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.
– Matthew 2:11a
These men of great honor and respect from the east were bowing down and worshipping a baby. How ridicules does that sound? Until you realize who that baby is – he is the Messiah, the one who was promised long ago to save the world from their sins. Bowing is a sign of someone saying that you are in the presence of someone of greater than you. I like how one commentator said it. It is like saying, “I am low and you are high.”
There is a misconception that it is OK to respond to Jesus in different ways. This misconception has eternal consequences. Lord, Prophet, Good Person didn’t exist. Whether it be that you have no response to Jesus at all – you are opposed to him – or you bow to Him as Lord of your life. It absolutely matters how you respond to Jesus as it is a matter of where you will spend eternity.
Jesus, who Scripture tells us is God who came in flesh, the creator of all, left the throne of perfect heaven to become a human baby. Jesus came, because it was the only way for us to saved. He had to be one of us.
That baby grew up and lived the perfect life – we can’t do that – and die a death on the cross that we deserved to die. Because of our sin, we were the ones who deserved to be punished. To be saved from our sin – as we are all sinners – is to believe in Jesus to save you from your sin and bow down and worship Him. For us, that means to surrender your life to Him – all of our lives, not just a part of it.
One thing that I have always thought is a staggering truth is what God says in Scripture about people bowing their knee to Jesus. This is the first time that Matthew recorded anyone bowing down to Jesus in the New Testament, in fact. But it is certainly not the last. In fact, everybody will.
Therefore God has highly exalted him [Christ] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
– Philippians 2:7-9
EVERY PERSON in all of history will one day bow to Jesus. The question is when? Some will bow to him willingly in this life and for all eternity, because you are a follower of Jesus and have surrendered your life to him. Others will bow unwillingly at judgment, because they rejected Jesus in this life. But all will bow and be judged for all of eternity of when they choose to bow to Him. As one singer wrote in the title of his song about this, “I Choose Now.” You can bow to Jesus now or later. But if its later, it’s too late.
Contrast the Magi’s correct response to Jesus being born to the Scribes and Priests. They were the people who knew where the Messiah was being born. The scribes were professional interpreters and teachers of the law. Let’s just say they knew the law backwards and forwards. Of all people, they should be running as fast as they can to Bethlehem to worship Jesus. But they did nothing! They knew all there was to know about Jesus and did nothing about it. This to me is scary to someone who grew up in the middle of the Bible belt and went to a Christian school through high school. I know about Jesus, but that doesn’t mean I know Jesus.
You can have the truth of Jesus right in front of you, be in the middle of the Bible belt, go to church, go to bible study, pray and read your Bible, and still miss Jesus. You can allow everything else to distract you for the most important thing. The scribes and priest had Jesus right in front of them, and they missed him. As the Magi showed in this passage, it is a joy to find Jesus and worship Him. Everything else this world offers you will not satisfy. Only Jesus can satisfy your hearts deep longings and desires. In Him is found joy forever. It doesn’t matter how much head knowledge you have, that does not get you to Jesus. Anything we worship other than God is an idol. If we worship anything other than Jesus it will fail us.
- It can be a thing. Wealth and fame will come to an end or rust.
- It can be a person. Our spouses will fail and disappoint us. Your children will grow up get upset with you.
- It can be a desire. Before I met Sarah, I had an idol of marriage.
Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
– Matthew 2:11b
There are people that say that these gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh are nothing more than these men bringing expensive gifts to Jesus. They are bringing their best as we are to bring our best to God. A couple of commentaries I looked at pointed out how these gifts have historical and even Scriptural significance. I would say that God in his providence could be showing the significance of these gifts.
- Gold is associated with royalty throughout all of Scripture. Jesus is to receive royal honor as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
- Frankincense in used in the Old Testament in different offerings to God. It is often used in things related to the worship of God. Jesus, as we know, is God, who has come in down as a baby. This gift recognizes Jesus’ deity.
- Myrrh is an interesting gift. Myrrh is like a perfume that was used for many reasons of anointing people. Including, preparing people for burial. In fact, Myrrh will be used again on Jesus to prepare Him for burial after he was killed on a cross.
This gift reminds us of why Jesus was born in the first place. He was born to die. The whole reason Jesus came was so that he could die for us.
And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
– Matthew 2:12
After meeting Jesus, I can’t help but think these people’s lives were changed forever. We are not told what happened to them but are told they choose to obey God rather than man. What do we choose? Believe worldly misconceptions about Jesus or the truth what God says?
- That Jesus came for you and all people. Jesus did not come for the people who have it all together. He came for the broken and the sinners, like you and me. If we are a follower of Jesus, we are forever accepted by Him. We are to then go and invite all people to come to Him.
- That the only correct response is the surrender your life in joyful worship to Him. Not just a part of our lives. ALL
What do you choose to believe and who do you choose to follow?