Summary: The story of the wise men reminds us we worship a God above political might, a God over religious complacency, and a God over cultural prejudice. Often God colors outside the lines, moving in ways that shatter our assumptions. Our God is everybody's God!
Today we conclude the “twelve days of Christmas,” that period of time between Christmas day and Epiphany, celebrated just yesterday. In church history, Epiphany marks the arrival of the wise men, the magi from afar bringing gifts to celebrate the newborn king.
While the span on the church calendar is but 12 days, in reality the wise men came sometime well after Jesus’ birth. We know this for three reasons: the scripture refers to Jesus as a child, not an infant; the wise men visited a house, not a manger; and Herod chose to kill all Bethlehem children two years and under. So it is a stretch to put the wise men in our manger scenes, but I don’t mind if you do; they are still a special part of Christmas!
(JOKE) I read that if the wise men were women, they would have asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts! But in their defense, they did stop and ask for directions, which—by the way—is the only recorded time in history when men have done such a thing!
But seriously, the story of the wise men turns our world upside down! It reminds us how different God is from our expectations. As the wise men worshiped God in the flesh, the King of kings, let us worship this God who is “everybody’s God.” By that, I mean a God who destroys our preconceived notions, who throws in our face all of our prejudices, and who calls us to share him with anyone and everyone. Consider who we worship today. The wise men remind us, first, that ...
1. We worship a God over political might.
Herod was a strong political leader, the first in a long line of Herods, nicknamed “Herod the Great.” But how great was he? We know him from history as both a consummate builder and a paranoid murderer. He built amphitheaters, monuments, and buildings, including his greatest work of all, the Jewish Temple. Yet, Herod was also a ruthless ruler. He murdered his wife, three of his sons, his mother-in-law, his brother-in-law, his uncle and many others, including all the male infants and toddlers in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16). The Roman Emperor Augustus once remarked it was safer to be Herod's pig than his son!
So when verse 3 says, “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3), we can understand why all of Jerusalem would be disturbed also. “When Herod ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” In verse 8, he cunningly 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.” His real intent was to kill the child, not to worship him.
Think about the irony here: Herod was around 70 years old by this time. Yet, he was so drunk on his need for power and control that he was willing to commit genocide because of one baby based on an obscure prophecy from a religion that he himself didn’t even believe!
Everybody feared Herod, but he was no match for God. God simply rerouted the wise men home a different way. And the newborn king was safe.
There is no political might greater than God. Kings come and kings go; the Lord God Almighty reigns forever. The truth is, every human leader other than Jesus is a sinner. Every president will let you down in some way. And every president also will get something right every now and then. Scripture commands us to pray for our leaders and obey their laws as long as they do not contradict God’s laws.
Yet, we need not despair when politics don’t go our way. There is a greater force at work. God’s plans will prevail. God’s purposes will go forward. We worship a God over political might. And secondly, the wise men remind us...
2. We worship a God over religious complacency.
The Jewish leaders of Herod’s time were pathetic. They talked the talk but they didn’t walk the walk. When Herod asked where the king of the Jews was to be born, they immediately quoted Micah 5:2 which predicted Bethlehem. They knew the ancient prophecy. They knew all about God....But they didn’t know God. Do you know how far Bethlehem is from Jerusalem? Five miles! These guys couldn’t be bothered to go five...stinking...miles to see who might be under the wise men’s star. Their apathy is appalling. Yet, God is bigger than religious complacency.
When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, a certain televangelist was criticized for not opening up his church building to those displaced from their homes. He had an excuse; only God knows his heart. I have great respect for the man, so I don’t mean to bash him. His story actually reminds me of my own, when we had a week-long power outage in the city where I pastored. I lived in this tension of just hunkering down with my family or trying to use our church building to serve the community in some way. My point is, religious leaders are not perfect!