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Sunday, December 25, 2005

Word For The Week

Now that everyone has opened their gifts and given gifts to friends and family, let us now look at the first three men to bear gifts in celebration of the birth of Jesus.

"Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him."

The wise men came from the east to Jerusalem on a quest for that child. They could have said, "If such a king be born, we shall hear of him shortly in our own country, and it will be time enough then to pay our homage to him." But they were so anxious to be better acquainted with Him that they took a long journey to seek after Him. Their question was, “Where is he that is born king of the Jews?” They do not ask whether there were such a one born – they knew who that child was, and spoke it with boldness. They wanted to know where he was born. The magi called Jesus the King of the Jews, because that is what the Messiah was expected to be: and He is Protector and Ruler of all of Abraham’s seed, the household of faith. He is born a King.

But Herod was troubled. Herod’s thinking was that there could be only one king in Judea, and he was it, so who was that child? Any opposition must be neutralized. He knew Jewish history, being an Edomite, a descendant of Esau. He knew of the Maccabees and their rebellion centuries earlier. He knew of the Zealots and their desire to rid Israel of the Roman occupation. He knew of the messianic prophesies which said that One would come and deliver Israel, and how the people longed for this messiah. Herod did not receive news of the child as Good News. However, you would think that Jerusalem should have greatly rejoiced to hear that her King was here; yet the Bible says that all of Jerusalem was troubled with Herod, apparently afraid that this would involve them in war, or restrain their lusts - they desired no king but Herod; not even the Messiah himself.

I’m sure that we can relate.

Americans despise restraint. Freedom and liberty are to Americans what Grace and Mercy are to Christians – can’t live without them and wouldn’t want to try. Americans shout, “Give me liberty or give me death!” while God says to Christians, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Most every church has two flags, one hanging on each side of the pulpit: the American flag and the Christian flag. To which kingdom do you pledge allegiance? “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…” “No man can serve two masters: either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” “Choose this day whom you will serve…” We must render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, but we must render unto God that which is God’s.

Herod had obtained his kingdom by great crimes, by shedding much blood. He was therefore easily alarmed by any remarkable appearances, and the fact that this star appeared - and that it was regarded as proof that a King of the Jews was born - scared him. Besides, it was a common expectation that the Messiah was about to appear, and Herod feared that his reign was about to come to an abrupt end. Herod therefore began to inquire about how he might secure his own safety and the permanency of his government.

Herod, at this point, was an old man and had reigned thirty-five years - this child was but newly born, and not likely to start anything considerable for many years - yet Herod was jealous of him. People often cannot bear to think of successors, much less think of rivals. Ask anyone about who will chair their committee after them and see how they reply. Most people can’t conceive of anyone replacing them, let alone the think of being ousted from “their” position. Nothing less than the blood of this child would satisfy Herod. Apparently, it never occurred to Herod that, if this child should indeed be the Messiah, then in opposing him, or making any attempts upon his life, he would be fighting against God Himself - an exercise in futility if ever there was one, nothing which could be more dangerous. He’d just have to find out the hard way that his arms were too short to box with God. Passion got the best of his reason and conscience. How many times have our passions got the best of our reason, the best of our conscience? It’s not that we lost our minds - we still think - but we lose our will to do that which would be pleasing to God. Look at Herod.

See how cunningly he laid the project in v. 7-8. He privately called the wise men in order to talk with them about this matter. He would not openly air his own fears and jealousies; it would be to his disgrace to let the wise men know them, and dangerous to let the people know them. Herod learned from the wise men the time when the star appeared, that he might take his measures accordingly; and then implores them to inquire further, asking them to return with a report. All this might have looked suspicious if he had not covered it with a show of religion: “that I may come and worship him also.” I have found that the greatest wickedness often conceals itself under a mask of piety. Absalom cloaked his rebellious project with a religious vow. Hitler slaughtered the Jews under the veil of being religious. Bush invaded Iraq under the pretense of "fighting evil-doers." People often think rationally while losing the ability to think reasonably. We can learn three things from this text:

First, people with ill intentions often cloak their designs with the pretense of piety - they attempt to deceive those who are pursuing Jesus and make them believe that they have the same intentions. There was a song a few years ago that said, “They smile in your face. All the time they want to take your place. The back-stabbers. Back-stabbers!” That’s biblical. People will pat you on the back just to see where the knife should go. Ask Jesus. He’ll tell you that your friend, the one you trust with your money, will kiss you just to help your enemies destroy you. Like the writer of Ecclesiastes said, “Ain’t nothing new under the sun.” (Oscar translation)

We also find that wicked people often pimp the pious to pursue their personal plans. Men like Herod will stop at nothing to achieve their ends. They endeavor to deceive the simple, to lure the unsuspecting, and to beguile the weak in order to accomplish their own purposes. In politics, there are those who care nothing about God and cringe at the name of Jesus, yet they would have the majority of Christians in America to believe that the only way to be a good Christian and a responsible American is to support their party - even though their policies defy the very teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “You are blessed of my Father, for I was hungry and you fed me,” but that party opposes the very concept of society feeding the poor – they say that some charity will do it, so collectively we as a people need not be about the business of feeding the poor, i.e. no food stamps. Jesus said, “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,” but they oppose handouts, as in no welfare – except corporate welfare (tax cuts). Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you invited me in,” yet that party has people chanting, “America for Americans only.” Jesus said, “I was sick and you visited me,” yet that party says that health care is only for those who can afford it. Those people will actually try to pass their party off as the only party for Christians, and too many Christians go for it – hook, line, sinker, rod, reel and a little knuckle too.

The Grand Ole Party.

Democrats aren’t much better – it is very easy to see how they frequently disregard the commands of Christ, but nobody is implying that they are the only party that a true Christian should support as many do with the Republicans. The point is that Godless people have beguiled Christians into believing that politics is the savior of this society, and the avenue to that salvation is through the Republican Party - just like Herod fooled the wise men into believing that he wanted to worship the living Christ. It took special revelation from God to show the the wise men Herod's deception as it will no doubt require God's special revelation to enlightened today’s believers.

The third thing that we see here is that the plans of wicked people are often well laid. Those plans occupy a long time and can stretch out over many years – even generations. Satan has great patience – if he can’t get you then he’ll come for your children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren. He’ll bring it into the church, having entire denominations condoning sin. People twist scripture to make it say what they want it to say and ignore scripture that they cannot twist. Such people make diligent inquiry much like Herod, and all of it has the appearance of religion. But God sees through the design, and though people are deceived, God cannot be mocked.

See how strangely Herod was deceived in all of this? He trusted it with the wise men, and did not choose some other managers that would have been true to his interests. Bethlehem is only seven miles from Jerusalem - Herod could have easily sent spies to watch the wise men, who could have been there to destroy the child as the wise men came to worship him! God can easily hide from the eyes of His enemies those methods by which they might easily destroy His work; that’s why no weapon formed against us shall prosper.

Herod waited a long time for the return of the wise men. He hoped that though they be slow, they would be sure, and he would crush this rival at His first appearing. But when he found out that they’d departed in another direction he correctly suspected that they pledged allegiance to this new King, which made Herod exceedingly angry – more passion and less reason. It obviously did not occur to him who he was dealing with, even though he’d been told. Herod did all that he could to obtain accurate information regarding the Child, that he might be sure of destroying him. He not only determined the probable time of His birth, and the place where He would be born, but he sent the wise men that they might actually see him, and bring him word.

Go back to verse 4 - he’d convened the Sanhedrin council to determine where the messiah was to be born, and they responded with the word of God. Micah 5:2 clearly told of the location: Bethlehem. Isaiah 7:14 told of the virgin birth. Zechariah 9:9 foretold of His triumphant entry (some 37 years later) while Isaiah 53:3 and Psalm 118:22 foretold His rejection by His own countrymen. Psalm 41:9 foretold His betrayal by one of His close associates, while Isaiah 53:7-8 foretold how he would stand silently before His accusers as He was put on trial and condemned. Isaiah 50:6 foretold how He would be struck and spat upon while Psalm 22:7-8 foretold how He would be mocked and insulted. Psalm 22:14-17 foretold how He would die of crucifixion and Isaiah 53:12 foretold His execution among criminals. Isaiah 53:5-12 foretold His death as a sacrifice for our sins and Psalm 16:10 foretold His resurrection, while Psalm 110:1-2 foretold Him being seated at the right-hand of the Father. (Parenthetically, it is this Psalm that Jesus used to shut down the Pharisees and assert His divinity.)

Herod must have heard all of this and more as the Jewish scholars recounted the Servant Songs in his hearing and quoted the messianic prophesies in his presence. Nonetheless, Herod was unmoved. He dismissed the council and met with the wise men privately to send them on a final intelligence-gathering mission. He missed the answer to the question that demanded a verdict: "Who is that child?" So, who is that child? Glad you asked. He is the One who has authority over the Law, the Sabbath, and the temple. He is the One who has authority to forgive sins. He is the One who is supreme over Moses, Jacob, and Abraham.

He is the Son of God.

He is the Messiah.

He is God incarnate.

The Jews of Jesus’ day understood what Jesus said and meant, but many would not believe. Thomas put his fingers in Jesus’ wounds and believed and worshiped Christ. Peter confessed Jesus’ lordship immediately. Who do you say that Jesus is? James 2:19 tells us that even the demons believe in God and tremble, yet they are still condemned. Is Jesus the Lord of your life? Have you surrendered you life to the King of kings, the Lord of lords, God with us – Immanuel? Herod would not submit to Jesus' authority, will you?

May the LORD bless you and keep you;
May the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
And may the LORD,
Who gave us the greatest gift of all - Jesus,
May He turn His face toward you and give you peace.

Emancipated by Athanasius @ 11:00 AM

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