Summary: Our text today has much to say to us about our response to the king of the Jews and Savior of sinners. Let us observe three different responses to the birth of Jesus the Christ.
As we consider the birth of Christ today, I would to consider three Christmas responses. Let’s read Matthew 2:1-12, 16-18:
"1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
"3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
"6 “‘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.’”
"7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
"9 After they had 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 child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 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 and of incense and of myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. . . .
"16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
"18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”" (Matthew 2:1-12, 16-18)
The story of the Magi, who came from afar to worship the one who was born king of the Jews, is a familiar one. And yet, every time I read it I experience a sense of wonder and amazement. This wonder is occasioned by a variety of factors. There is, of course, the wonder of the incarnation, the fact of our Lord’s coming to earth in human form. But there are, in addition, three occasions of wonder and amazement in our text.
First, there is the wonder of the incredible zeal of the Magi, whose search for the “one . . . born king of the Jews” compelled them to travel to a distant land to worship a foreign king, who was still in his mother’s arms. And so far as we are informed by our text, this search was prompted by the appearance of a star.
Second, I am appalled by the irrational jealousy of King Herod the Great toward an infant, born in an obscure little village. I am horrified by the cunning cruelty of Herod, who was willing to kill all of the infants in the vicinity of Bethlehem in order to eliminate the threat of one child to his kingship.
And third, I find myself struck by an even more intense feeling of wonder at the indifferent response of the entire city of Jerusalem. The Magi diligently searched for the infant king to present him with gifts and to worship him. Herod the Great also eagerly sought to find the child, so that he could put him to death. But the vast majority of those living in Jerusalem were seemingly unwilling to travel five short miles south of Jerusalem to Bethlehem where they could find their promised Messiah.
This text has much to say to us about our response to the king of the Jews who has come as the Savior of the world. Our response will undoubtedly be like that of either the Magi, Herod, or Jerusalem. And how we respond has eternal implications.
Today, let us consider three Christmas responses, three responses to the birth of Jesus the Christ.
I. The Response of the Magi
First, let us consider the response of the Magi.
Matthew’s account of the Magi is garbed in a cloak of mystery. While there is much we would like to know about them, we are often left to speculate on those matters that are not elaborated on in the text.