X-MAS FILES SERMON SERIES
THE EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT OF THE WISE MEN
DECEMBER 22, 1996
Christmas is a season for seeking. It seems that everywhere we turn these days we find someone who is searching and looking and trying to locate something. We drive into malls seeking the best parking. We bounce from store to store seeking the best gift. We walk through nurseries seeking the prettiest Christmas tree. We scale rooftops like Clark Griswald seeking the best decorations. We look through invitations seeking the best parties. We walk into our closets seeking the best outfits. We thumb through cookbooks seeking the best recipes. We surf through channels seeking the best football game. We look in our houses seeking the best places to hide away from the relatives. And finally, last but not least, we search through our wallets seeking the best credit card to pay for it all. That’s Christmas. Christmas is a season for seeking.
This attitude of seeking is nothing new. Looking at the inaugural Christmas 2,000 years ago, we see a number of people whose lives were centered on seeking. In today’s session we are going to look at two types of individuals who were seeking. I think we will be able to see a little bit of ourselves in their lives.
Today’s Christmas story is tucked away in Matthew 2. One day a group of prominent Magi or Wise Men, if you will, were studying the stars. They were doing the astronomy thing. And God revealed to them that His Son was to be born a King. Every time you have someone who is truly seeking God, God always reveals Himself to them.
So the Wise Men packed everything in their Gucci luggage and set off on a journey thousands of miles long to find the Christ child. Their travels take them to a city, a place they had never seen before, called Jerusalem. Once they hit the city gates, they asked this question. “Where is he who is born King of the Jews? We’ve come to worship him.” Matthew 2:2. That is what the Wise Men said.
Now the sub plot. Read with me, Matthew 2:3. “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed.” Read here; panic stricken, nervous, extremely curious. Why was King Herod so freaked out? Why was he so worried? To understand the why behind this passage we need to blow some dust off the history books and get up close and personal to this first type of seeker, King Herod.
King Herod was seeking to keep and maintain his power, his personal autonomy. When King Herod was born, the operative word in his life was power. His father taught him how to get power, how to maintain power and how to destroy anybody who got in his way. When King Herod hit his twenties, he saw his father who was also a King get murdered by a bunch of palace plotters who poisoned him. King Herod did not like that. When he became King at twenty-five years of age he had a huge party at the palace. He invited everyone to the party who had had a part in his father’s death. Then he called in his hit men and the hit men systematically killed each one. That is how he started his thirty-year reign.
One day King Herod had his wife’s grandmother and her brother killed. Now put yourself in her sandals. King Herod walks in from work, puts his briefcase on the kitchen table. She glances at him and asks, “Well, honey, what did you do at the office today?” That made for some pretty interesting dinner conversation, didn’t it? “Well, by the way, I killed your grandmother and your brother. Everything else was A-OK.” King Herod was so paranoid and power hungry that he killed three of his sons. He killed one of his sons a week before he died because he though the son to be too hungry for the throne.
If we talk about King Herod being a bloodthirsty, sadistic leader, we also have to talk about the fact that he was benevolent and kind and tender. He held clothing and food drives for the homeless. The Jews were all around and he decided to finance out of his own wallet the rebuilding of the temple. Now he didn’t do this just to be a nice guy, he did this to keep everyone on his side. “Oh, King Herod, you are the man.”
Over the next couple of days we will probably watch It’s A Wonderful Life dozens of times. Remember Potter when he called in Jimmy Stewart and tried to manipulate him and use him and control him and pull the purse strings. Just write Herod across Potter’s big, old baldhead. That is the mentality here.
To kind of give you Herod’s swan song, he knew that he was going to die having been sick for about a year. He reasoned to himself that no one would really cry, mourn or weep when he passed away. He decided to call together the favorite sons and daughters of the most prominent people in the land. He threw another giant party. I guess if you were living at that time you would not want to go to one of his parties. Anyway, he wanted to have all these sons and daughters at the party killed because he knew everyone would weep and mourn and then he could die and most people would be mourning. This guy was messed up, wasn’t he?
So, now we go back to our text. We see the why behind the verse Matthew 2:3. Here are these naïve Wise Men skipping into Jerusalem saying that they heard a new king was to be born. I am sure all the inhabitants in Jerusalem were telling them to be quiet, that the King might hear about it. The Bible says that when he heard it, for it did get back to him, he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him. In other words, when King Herod ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy in J-town. Now what does someone do who is power hungry like King Herod? What does someone do who has spent his entire life wielding power, keeping power and dominating people with power? What does he do with someone who asks him, “Where is the real king? Where is the man? Where is the messiah?” What does someone like that do?
King Herod became the first CEO of the 3M Corporation. The 3M Corporation’s mission statement was power, power, power. Herod made some appointments. First he called in the religious leaders and the scribes. He said, “Guys, show me from God’s word where this messiah is going to be born.” They answered that would be no problem that He would be born in Bethlehem. It has always intrigued me that the religious leaders were a mere five K away from Bethlehem and they never went to see Jesus.
Herod thanked them for telling me him. At that point, Herod located Bethlehem. He put Bethlehem in the crosshairs of his power rifle. He made a second appointment. He called in the Magi, the Wise Men. When they cruised into the palatial office, Herod asked them, “Hey, guys, I know you are into astronomy, are brilliant, know the natural sciences, are wealthy. Put your charts out and give me a brief astronomy lesson because I want to know what time this king was born. I know he was born in Bethlehem but I want to know what time. They answered, “He was born about a year and a half or two years ago.”
Then King Herod did this. “I’ll tell you what, guys. You go to Bethlehem and worship the king. Then tell me where he is because I want to worship him too. I am a man of God. I want to find the real king.” The Magi knew that Herod was messed up and they did not report back to him. Herod became enraged. He was so hacked off that he had a temper tantrum. He called in his hit men and told them to go to Bethlehem and to kill every male child two years of age and younger. Now get this picture. You are having a family dinner and an armed guard kicks in the door, takes your two- year-old son and kills him before your eyes. That is King Herod for you.
I told you he was CEO of the 3M Company. He did three things. Herod misused people. Those religious leaders, he misused them. He misled people. He lied to the Magi. And he mistreated people. He had their lives snuffed out. The first 3M man.
Now some of you may be saying that was a nice history lesson, but how does Herod apply to our lives. I believe that all of us have a hint of Herod in our hearts. No, not to the extreme of this megalomaniac, but we do deal with power and control. And if power and control is left unchecked in your life and mine, it can mess us up. It can wreck havoc on us.
Let’s stop right here and do a Herod heart analysis in our lives. I want to ask you to locate an area in your life where you tend to misuse people, tend to see people as pawns, as rungs on a ladder to get to the top. You don’t see them as people who matter to God. You just see them as objects. You see them like Herod saw the religious leaders and scribes. “Ah, man, just people. I will use them to get what I want.”
For all the boomers here, the word misuse in Gen X lingo is rendered dissed. Herod dissed the scribes and the religious leaders and we dis people, we use them, don’t we? Where are you tempted to use someone? Maybe in a marriage? Are you tempted to use your spouse? In the marketplace, are you tempted to use someone who works for you? Do you use people?
I challenge you to pray this prayer over the holiday season. “God, forgive me when I misuse this person or that person. Instead of misusing them, God, give me the spirit of civility. Help me to serve them instead of use them.” If you pray this prayer, God will give you windows of opportunities to serve the people you are seeing as objects in your life. That will preach a powerful message. It will transform a relationship. You have got a hint of Herod in your heart and so do I.
In what area of your life are you tempted to mislead people? I had to ask myself this question. In what area of your life do you attempt to exaggerate things, to tell white lies, to not really be totally square about a business deal? Do you lead people down the primrose path saying that everything will be OK, but you know they are walking into shark infested waters. Instead of misleading people why don’t you make this your prayer? I can’t do it for you. You can’t do it for me. It is between ourselves and God. We have got to say to God, “Help me to speak truth to people in love. I want to be vulnerable.” Won’t you say that? God wants you to. It will be so wonderful.
Maybe you tend to mistreat some people. No, you don’t kill them like Herod. But you kind of give them the cold shoulder. We all have an area in life when people get too close and we just destroy them. We cut them off. Or we use the silent treatment.
During the holidays we are going to be around a lot of relatives, won’t we? We may have problems with some relatives because they know us real well. Some of us have issues that we have never dealt with before. We act like everything is A-OK but it really isn’t. I challenge you, just like I challenge myself, instead of mistreating those relatives, why not during the holiday season take them aside and say, will you forgive me. I’m sorry. But before you do so just pray this prayer. “God give me the ministry of reconciliation and make it real and authentic in my life.” Some of us need to say these words. These are hard words but instead of living in pseudo-community, you will live in community once you do this.
Herod, the old 3M man. The more we talk about him, the more he kind of applies, doesn’t he? Herod was the first seeker, seeking to keep and maintain his power at all costs.
There was a second type of seeker, and this one is represented by the Wise Men in general. The Wise Men were not seeking to keep their power, and they had a lot of it, they were seeking the power. They were seeking the way. They were seeking the truth and the life. I love this text. Matthew 2:9. “After they heard the king, they went on their way and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the Christ child was.” The star. These men were truly seeking the power. And every time a person is seeking the power, God will put a star, a travel guide, into that seeker’s life to point them to the Christ child.
We have dozens and dozens of people in this Fine Arts Center who are Christians. I want you to do something for me. Think back to the time in your life before you trusted Christ, before you made a faith decision. Do you remember what your life was like? Remember how you were kind of floundering around searching and seeking? God put an earthbound star in your life and He put one in my life. Just for a second, assign a name to that star. It could be a coach way back there. It could be a Sunday School teacher. It could be a friend. It could be a pastor. That was your star. So God still puts stars in our lives. Thank God for that star. Thank God for that person. Write him or her a letter. Give them a call during the holiday season and say thank you for being my star, thank you for pointing me to Christ. We will have many others this weekend and Tuesday during our Christmas Eve services who are seeking, searching and still looking for the power. They are still looking for the way, they truth and the life.
If you are really looking, God has placed an earthbound star in your life. It could be the person sitting next to you right now. It could be a friend. Some of you are saying, “It’s my wife.” But God has placed that star. Here is your word. I want to ask you based on God’s word to do what the Wise Men did, to search, to get in a dialog with that person. Share with them your questions and your feelings. God will make Himself real to you. And if you open the door of your life, He will come in.
The Wise Men had an earthbound travel guide, the star, to point them to Jesus. Now let’s see what the Wise Men did. As I said, Herod was the 3M CEO of power, power, power. The Wise Men, as you will discover, were 3D people. They put on their 3D glasses and because they had them on they could see real depth. They could see the elements very clearly. They had a different perspective. They knew what life was all about. Here is what they did.
The Bible says in Matthew 2:11, “In coming to the house, they saw the child.” Let me stop right here. In coming to the house, not coming to the manger. You see, Jesus was no longer in the manger. Mary and Joseph had moved into a house. Jesus was older now. He was probably in Mother’s Day Out or something. “…they saw the child with his mother, Mary and they (these multimillionaires, these power players, these people well versed in natural sciences) bowed down and worshipped Him.” To worship means to express love to God. Then they gave the Christ child a physical sign of worship. They hit their knees. The first D is they gave Jesus devotion. They gave God their devotion.
You see it is one thing to be a seeker, to search for the power and it is another thing to say, I’ve arrived, this is it. Some people seek just to seek. They are intellectuals just being intellectuals. They go from one place to another to another. The Wise Men were wise enough to say, “OK, this is where the buck stops. I am giving my devotion to this king.” They bowed down and worshipped Him. Then, let’s get ready for the second D. They opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts. Gold represents the kingship of Christ. The incense symbolizes the deity of Christ. And myrrh, an oil used prior to burial, represents the fact that Jesus was to die on the cross for all of our sins. They gave Jesus gold, incense and myrrh. These wealthy people gave Him gifts that cost a lot of coin. We are talking about expensive stuff. They were devoted to Him, but it didn’t just stop there. You can’t just stop with devotion. As an expression of their devotion, they dedicated their lives and their possessions to Him. We have got to be willing to worship God and devote ourselves to Him. But also we need to give something that we consider valuable to Him, both time and treasure. If you are not willing to regularly give to God something that is valuable to you, you are not truly worshipping Him. I believe the Wise Men realized the purpose for their wealth was to allow them to give it to Jesus. Most experts believe that the gifts of the Wise Men financed the trip to Egypt for Mary, Joseph and Jesus among other things which I won’t get into today. Devotion and also dedication.
The third D is found in Matthew 2:12. “And they, returned to their country by another route.” They were devoted, dedicated themselves to Him with their gifts, and also changed their direction. True worship always entails a change of direction. If my life and your life is not changed due to worship, then we truly haven’t worshipped God. Every time we walk into the Arts Center, we should say, “God, I am looking forward to going out of this place a new person and going in a different direction.” When you truly meet the Lord, you are always going to leave by another route.
The Bible as D. L. Moody said, was not written for our information but for our transformation. The Bible is not just a book of information. It is a book of application. We need to do and obey these principles in our lives. But it comes down to this, ladies and gentlemen, we may have a hint of Herod in our hearts, play to power and control, sit on the throne of our lives with a white knuckle grip like Herod did. We say no one is taking control of my life. No one will take my marriage, my relationships, my finances, my upwardly mobile career. And when we are confronted by Christ the king, we like Herod say no, no, no. 3M that is my company. It is a choice and many people walk out these doors still doing the 3M thing.
On the other hand we could be the 3D people. We could be like the Wise Men. We can come to God and say, “Here I am, warts and all, sins and all, problems and all and I give it all to You. I give You my devotion and my dedication. I want to change my direction inspired Your power.” When we do the 3D thing, we will truly know what Christmas is all about.