Let’s imagine it’s Christmas morning. Your family has gathered around the Christmas tree and is exchanging gifts. All the gifts are opened except for one which is wrapped but missing one thing: the name tag. Everyone looks at each other and no one can seem to remember who brought it or what it is. So the question is simply this: who is this gift for? This Advent we celebrate the gift of Jesus. God sent his Son, the Word made flesh, into this world as a gift of God’s grace. But for whom is the gift of Jesus? Was the gift just for the Jews, God’s chosen people? Or is Jesus for everyone? Today we look at the story of the Magi and we find a very clear answer to that question. Let’s read Matthew 2:1-12.
I. The Magi’s story is familiar: wise men from a distant country, come to visit Jesus.
Many traditional nativity scenes show Mary, Joseph and the shepherds gathered around the baby Jesus with the wise men kneeling down offering their gifts. But the Magi came from a great distance and could not have arrived the same night as the shepherds. Notice also that Matthew says they went to the house where the child was because Jesus was no longer in the stable. But these details aside, Matthew is saying something very important about who Jesus is.
II. First, he wants to make it clear precisely whom this King is for.
Recall that Matthew wrote this gospel to Jewish people in his day. And one of his purposes was to convince them that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Jesus is the one that the Jews had been longing for all those years. But here Matthew in effect is saying, “Look at who some of the people were who came to worship Jesus: Gentiles from a pagan land! Gentiles will come to worship Jesus and believe in him just as the Jews will. Now in Christ, all nations can be part of God’s special people.
However, Matthew also is saying that in order to really understand who Jesus is the Jews and the Gentiles must first go to the Old Testament to learn about the Messiah. Did you ever wonder why God didn’t just direct them straight to Bethlehem? When the Magi first saw the star, they knew it meant a king was born in Israel, but nothing more. They went to Jerusalem since that would be the logical place to find a new king. However, God led them to Jerusalem first to learn from the Old Testament. They must understand the whole plan before they can truly and fully appreciate what God has done in Christ.
That is true for us as well. Without the background of the Old Testament, Jesus could very easily become just a very special historical teacher and religious leader. But Jesus is the One who fulfills God’s plan through all of history. When we understand that, we understand who Jesus is and what he’s done for us.
The Magi’s coming to worship Jesus should help us realize that we are preparing to celebrate the birth of One who is for all people. Jesus comes for sinners, not only good church-going people. Jesus came in his day to talk and walk with the prostitutes and sinners. Jesus is for the people that our society would just as soon write off as well. Jesus expects that we, who are in his church, will reach those who are outside as well.
A friend of mine, Steve Elzinga, has written a book using the Titanic as a metaphor for Christians in the church. He says we are like survivors in a lifeboat from the Titanic, who are surrounded by hundreds of people floundering in the water and who need to be saved. Are we going to reach out to those who are lost? Or remain secure at a distance while others around us flounder and drown in their own dark and cold misery? We need to be reaching out to all especially those who are in need of our help and not remain in our comfortable Christian settings.
Jesus was born to save all people, even pagans from far off lands and cultures. We must never write anyone off but must rather seek them out to help them. Who is one person that you are quite certain would have no interest in the church or that you may feel God has no interest in? I challenge you to pray for that person and to consider what you can do to help that person to see that Jesus came for him or her too.
III. The second thing Matthew wants to teach is that Jesus is the Shepherd King.
The Magi never doubted that Jesus was a king. When they got to Herod, they asked where the king was, not if there was a king. Then when they found Jesus in Bethlehem, they worshiped him and gave him gifts that were fit for a King. Matthew also shows Jesus is King through Herod’s response of being “disturbed.” Herod too never doubts that a king has been born. Now Jesus wasn’t the kind of king that Herod imagined but he still views Jesus as a king who is a threat to him and must be eliminated, as we will see next week.
But the quote from Micah in verse 6 gives the clearest evidence that Jesus is king: “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 be the shepherd of my people Israel.” Matthew says that Jesus fulfills the prophecy regarding the origin of the greatest ruler that Israel would ever know. Jesus is in fact the promised Messiah King that they had been waiting for.
But Matthew also points out that Jesus is also the promised shepherd in verse 6. Jesus is like David, who was the great shepherd ruler so long ago. David was a strong ruler who established a struggling kingdom and made it into a great nation. But the great King David was also a caring shepherd for the people. Though the kingdom was great, the people knew David cared for them. Jesus is the same kind of shepherd king. Jesus will gently lead and care for all his people’s needs. But he will also rule over and lead his people. How can a great and powerful king also be a tender and gentle shepherd?
The prophet Isaiah shows how this can be in Isaiah 40:9-11. Isaiah describes the great Messiah King: “You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid. See the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him.” But then Isaiah describes the Messiah shepherd: “He tends his flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Jesus is God who comes with great power and authority. And Jesus will also tend his flock like a gentle shepherd, gathering, carrying and leading the small lambs. What a beautiful picture of our Savior and King, Jesus Christ.
But it was precisely that thought which so troubled the king. In return for his love, he wanted hers, not fear that would lead to her submission. He wanted her glorification. Not his. Night after night the king paced the floor of his palace pondering, until a last he saw love’s truth: Freedom for the beloved demands equality with the beloved. So late one night – wanting her love and not her fear – after his courtiers and counselors had returned to their chambers, the king stole out of a side door of the palace and appeared before the humble abode of the maid dressed in the garb of a servant. Jesus comes to us as the great King who loves us and cares for us enough to come to us as a humble and tender Shepherd.
IV. How can we be preparing for the King’s coming in this Advent season?
First, let’s realize that we are preparing to celebrate the birth of a king! We prepare to celebrate the birth of a king who is still alive and ruling over all things. The world in general may not see it or may refuse to acknowledge it. The world may think of Christmas as a time for Black Fridays, Christmas shopping or sentimental stories. But we know that it is the birth of Jesus who is alive and ruling!
Therefore, we should not only think of little baby Jesus, meek and mild. This Advent season, let’s think of our King who is also the risen Lord of lords and King of kings today. Let’s bow down and worship King Jesus with the Magi this Advent season. And let’s give ourselves, our very lives, completely to our Savior and Lord.
Second, realize that we are preparing to celebrate the birth of a shepherd king. Even though Jesus is the great king who rules today, he is also the gentle shepherd who gently carries and leads us, his people. He deeply cares for us in our struggles. He carries us when we feel that we cannot go on any longer.
Today hear him invite you to come to him, to be nourished and cared for. Hear Jesus say to you, “Come! I will gather you in my arms and carry you close to my heart!” No matter what your struggles are, the Lord is willing to carry you through them. Will you respond to that invitation and welcome the great Shepherd King this Advent season?