I want you to turn with me in the word of God to Matthew's Gospel chapter 2 for our reading this morning. You remember we began a three-week series last week on a Christmas theme, 'Matthew's First Christmas', looking at the Nativity story from Matthew's Gospel - and we looked at the first study, verses 18 of chapter 1 through to 25. Now this morning we're going to look at chapter 2, and verses 1 to 12, let's read the word of God together beginning at verse 1:
"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way".
If a man was suddenly to appear on the scene of this world and claim to be the King of the people, or even the King of the universe, the public would immediately ask for proof of his claim - was it credible, and could he present evidence for those claims? Probably some of the questions they would ask of him are: what is your background? Who pays homage to you? Who follows you? What country do you lead? What credentials can you present to say that you're qualified for this great job of leading a nation, and even - as Christ claimed - to lead the universe? Anticipating these questions, Matthew particularly in his gospel, opens his book with a careful account of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ - but he approaches it specifically to show that the Lord Jesus was born in absolute fulfilment of all the Old Testament prophecies that were given of Him many thousands of years before His birth. So in a sense, Matthew doesn't really give us an account of the birth of the Lord Jesus, but rather a series of scenes designed to show us how God's purposes, declared in the Old Testament Scriptures, have been intrinsically fulfilled in the coming of the Lord Jesus into this world.
Of course, we saw that in His genealogy in verses 1 to 17 that we looked at last Christmas time. Then we saw that last week, the various verses from Isaiah's prophecy which Matthew quotes to show that the Lord Jesus would be born of a virgin, and His name would be called Emmanuel - He would be 'God with us', and a Saviour to His people. So we saw last week, laying the foundation, that Matthew's gospel primarily traces the fulfilment of God's plan that has been revealed within the Scriptures. Was that not what was in Paul's mind when he said in Galatians 4: 'When the fullness of time was come, God sent for His Son, made of a woman'.
So last week our title was: 'The Fulfilment of Truth in the Fullness of Time', but as we enter into the second chapter of Matthew's account I want to give you this morning the title: 'The Fulfilment of Truth In The Foulest of Times'. Last week we saw that God always fulfilled His word, verses 18 to 25 of chapter 1. We took it under two titles: God always honours His word no matter how personal circumstances appear to oppose. We saw it particularly from Joseph's perspective, how God honoured His word even in the midst of Joseph's confusion and turmoil at the conception of this baby and later the birth to his betrothed wife, who he had not known in a sexual way. Then secondly we looked at how God honours His word, because God never fails His people no matter how much time passes. We saw that since Isaiah give his prophecy in Isaiah 7, that Christ would be born of a virgin, His name would be called Emmanuel, 700 years have passed until the actual event had come to fruition. Then we went right back to Genesis chapter 3, to the very first promise of a deliverer to a sinful world, thousands of years before Christ came - and we saw that no matter what our circumstances may be, no matter how much time passes, God always honours His word.
But this morning's title is: 'The Fulfilment of Truth in The Foulest of Times'. I want us to look specifically at the contemporary situation, both nationally and also regally, that was in the land of Judah when the Lord Jesus Christ was born. But not only that, religiously the state that the people of Israel were in, and also we want to look specifically at those - in fact, the only ones - who at this particular time were found to come and pay homage to the Lord Jesus Christ in all of the land.
So let's look at our first point: God honours His word, even when kings and countries blaspheme. Have you got that? God always honours His word, even when kings and countries blaspheme. If you look at verse 1 of chapter 2 for a moment, you will see that 'when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king', that is Herod who was called Herod the Great. He was called king because the Roman Senate had appointed him as such on the recommendation and influence of Mark Anthony. He wasn't the rightful King of Judah, he wasn't in the Davidic line, as we find the Lord Jesus was in chapter 1 of Matthew, but he was a wicked man - great in wickedness, and that's about all he was great in! He was a cruel man, he was a crafty man, and as we read of his history we find that he permitted no one - absolutely no one - to give him any advice or to interfere in the affairs of state. He did everything his own way, even his family were not allowed a say in anything that he did.
In fact, when they began to influence his decisions, or at least tried to, and prevent some of his evil desires and satisfying of his own lusts - as a ruthless murderer he had his own wife murdered, and her two brothers slain, because he suspected them of high treason. We know from history that he married at least nine times in order to fulfil his lusts and strengthen his political alliances. So it ought to be no surprise that as we read verse 1 we find that the king who is trying to kill the true King of the Jews, the Lord Jesus Christ, is such a cruel and crafty wicked man. He wanted to kill the Lord Jesus because he knew that the Lord Jesus rightfully owned the title: 'The King of the Jews' - and he was afraid of losing the title himself. But there is another reason why he bayed for the blood of the babe Christ: he himself was not a Jew, he was an Idumean, which was a descendant of Esau. You remember in Genesis chapter 25, that right before these two brothers were born - Jacob and Esau - they were fighting in the womb of their mother. There was a great battle that has gone down all the ages that even began before these two brothers were born - Jacob and Esau. This great king, Herod, so-called, is a descendant of Esau.
Now in the light of that we need to see this morning that what we have in the birth of Christ to a nation which was ruled by a wicked non-Jew who descended from Esau, is none other than the great universal struggle that has always existed in this universe. The struggle between the spiritual and the carnal, the struggle between the worldly and the godly, the struggle between - if you like - God and the devil. In fact, as we read through the rest of this gospel account, we find that this first chapter, and indeed the reaction of Herod the king, it mirrors the response of official Judaism to the Lord Jesus Christ - how they would reject Him, how they would resist His reign in the nation.
But we go further, because it doesn't just show us a microcosm of Judaism in the contemporary day in which Jesus was born, but it shows us a microcosm of the whole of the Christian age. The principles that have abided from the birth of Jesus, His death and resurrection, to the very day and hour in which we live: Christ is rejected still in our world today. So what we have here in both the political and regal scenario of Christ's day when He was born is, if you like, the whole gospel age in a nutshell. He came, as John says, unto His own, and His own received Him not. From the hour that Christ was born, at the selfsame time both homage and hatred have existed for Him as the Son of God - and it is no different today than it has ever been. Ask yourself: where is the King today? Where is He in the eyes of men, in the eyes of nations and states, in politician's eyes, presidents, rulers and potentates? The fact is, as you can clearly see with just a week of watching the news and reading the papers, that He is still hated!
Whilst there is a remnant of people, and thank God for them - some of you today - who come and bring homage to the Lord Jesus, and bring your gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh in worship and lay them at His blessed feet, the fact of the matter is that Christ is still today rejected as He ever was from His birth. He is still exiled from the hearts and homes of men and women. I think it is very telling to us today in our society to realise that as it was in the day of great Herod, so it is today, that the highest in society seem to still have the lowest regard for the King of kings. I read this week a quote by the great C. H. Spurgeon on this matter of how kings so seldom regard the King of kings in their lives. Here is the quote: 'Too often do they serve themselves or Satan, and forget the God whose sufferance permitted them to wear their mimic majesty for their little hour'.
What does Proverbs 21 and verse 1 say? 'The king's heart is in the hand of Jehovah, as the water courses he turneth it whithersoever he will'. The fact of the matter is today, as it was in the birth of Christ, that even though kings and countries may reject Him and blaspheme His name, our God is still in control and our God still honours His word. From the very nativity scene that we are reading from today we can illustrate it in Luke's gospel and chapter 2. You remember all the non-Roman world was called to be taxed, and everybody had to go back to their hometown - and it was a ruling of Caesar Augustus. But do you realise that if Caesar Augustus had made that ruling a little bit later it would have been too late for the Lord Jesus Christ to be born in Bethlehem? Do you realise if he had made it a little bit earlier, Joseph would have still been residing in his town of Nazareth where he lived, but it was made in the nick of time, in the fullness of time - and even as that godless, pagan dictator made his decisions, ignorant of God, God's hand was in it because God always honours His word.
In verse 3 we read that not only did Herod reject the Christ child, but it would appear that the whole nation did so as well. Now we can understand how such a wicked king that we have just been portraying could be troubled at the birth of one who would take away his title. But it seems strange that at the end of verse 3 we read: 'and all Jerusalem with him' was troubled. So much of the time we're led to believe that the nation of Israel was just waiting for Messiah, they'd waited for so long, suffered so much, and they were just waiting for this Christ who would deliver them - and to some extent that is true. But the fact of the matter is: that when Christ was born and the announcement of His birth was made, the people themselves were troubled - which seems to indicate that they didn't really want the Saviour either.
I wonder can we as Christians take an application from that today? For we read in Matthew chapter 2 of His first coming, and all the people - with lip service - were looking for it, they were crying for Messiah, they were longing for the consolation of Israel and the deliverance from the Roman bondage. But the fact of the matter was, when He actually came, they didn't want Him! We are God's people today in this dispensation, we are looking for His second advent, we are wanting the rapture to happen and the Lord to come - but could it be the same for us? That if He did come today, many of us wouldn't like it? Perhaps we would want to stay?
I love to see here in this passage how God overrules kings and countries to fulfil His will, and isn't it wonderful that we can take the word of God and so accurately apply it to ourselves today and say: He still does! He still does! We live in a terrible nation, the United Kingdom, the mainland which was Great Britain - no longer any more. I was listening to the radio just the other week about a woman who, I think, has been appointed now by our government to oversee the abortion laws, and probably in the long run revise them. I could describe her as nothing but a feminist fascist - she was advocating that abortion should be given on demand to every mother that requested it. The father had no say, and the newscaster asked her: 'Well, are you trying to say that if a child was seen in the womb' - if it was possible - 'to have only nine toes, that that would be grounds enough for the mother to request an abortion?', and she said 'Yes'. That is the nation in which we are living, we live in a kingdom that espouses to pluralistic political correctness, where there is a tolerance of everything except the Bible and the Lord Jesus Christ of the Bible.
One of our members give me a newspaper clipping from the Daily Mail just the other day, that told of Tessa Jowell, who's the culture secretary in our government, and she has ceased now from sending out nativity Christmas cards, but is sending out neutral cards with the message: 'Season's Greetings', rather than 'Happy Christmas' - she doesn't want to offend the ethnic minorities. This is the age in which we are living, and the Queen's speech has announced that we may need to have licences to sing carols in our streets in the years that lie ahead! We have a Prince of Wales who espouses to be defender of 'faith', rather than defender of 'the faith' - and all he is is an habitual adulterer, yet he wants to stand as the epitome of religious belief for all men. I think Isaiah's words are so true, as they were in his day, in Isaiah 5 verse 20: 'Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!' - and that is exactly what is happening today. The laws and principles of the Christ child are still rejected!
Think of it for a moment: the law will imprison you, most likely, if you kill a badger; but if you're a doctor and you kill children they will employ you. Is that not true? Politicians are trying to bring in legislation that makes us frightened of setting a child on our knee, or putting an arm around a child that is distressed and crying, yet they want to presently bring in laws that will lower the homosexual age of consent to child level! They are pushing at the minute for a ban on tobacco smoking in public areas, yet they're also bringing into vogue legislation where cannabis will be available on every corner legally! Now if we really allowed these things to penetrate our minds hearts and emotions there could be reason to despair, we could think: 'What is going on? All hell seems to be let loose! Chaos seems to be reigning, anarchy seems to be on the horizon!', but even in the midst of such blasphemy of kings and countries God still honours His word!
Can we take that today? I love to look at the prophecy that is yet to be fulfilled in Daniel's prophecy chapter 2, where there was a great image that represented four kingdoms that would dominate the known world in that day. By Herod's time, Herod that we're reading of here in Matthew 2, they had all arisen successively and had each replaced each other, and the greatest of them, the last, fourth, Roman Empire was now reigning. But Daniel pointed forward to a day beyond great Herod's day, when that Roman Empire would be revived again, and all the forces of antichrist would be let loose across the world - but then there would be a kingdom, Daniel says, when the God of heaven will set up His kingdom 'which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold' - and that stone is Christ! Hallelujah! God honours His word even when kings and countries blaspheme.
Secondly, God honours His word even when the righteous apostasize. 'Apostasize' just means to stand aloof from truth, to stand afar, to disown it, to reject it. We read in verses 4 to 9 that by order of the King the scribes and the priests were called together, and it wasn't a special session of the Sanhedrin, but it was a larger gathering. If you look at verse 4 you will see that the priests, 'the chief priests and scribes of the people', now that was different than the ordinary scribes - these were like lay-preachers of the people who knew the word of God. They were all called together in special session, and they were commanded to show themselves from the Scriptures, produce the scrolls of the law, the prophets, and the writings, where Christ should be born. There they are gathered, can you see them? And Herod points his question point-blank: 'Where is the Christ to be born?'.
All of them, it would seem, start to look up in Micah's prophecy, the fifth chapter, and right away the answer comes: 'Bethlehem in Judah'. Now please note there was no dissenting voice, there was nobody saying: 'Oh, I don't agree with that, that doesn't fit in with my doctrine. I don't agree with that interpretation, I apply it differently' - none of them! They all with one voice were orthodox, they had a perfect knowledge of the Scriptures, but it was only a knowledge that they had in their head! Do you see it? Their consciences were not touched by the knowledge that the word of God gave to them. And Herod, once he'd got his answer, dismissed the meeting and all of the chief priests and scribes of the people went about their daily business in the usual way, and not one of them went to pursue the Christ! None of them followed the wise men in their homage to the King of kings.
I'll tell you, there's a lesson in that for every believer gathered out here this morning, and it's simply this: head knowledge means absolutely nothing unless there's something in your heart of the light of God's revelation. Have you got it? It doesn't matter how much you know, you may know every word that's in the Bible, but you may not see the light of heaven as these wise men did. You may not actively be following the Christ! Andrew Murray once said, and how true it was: 'How pathetic is much knowledge of the Scriptures stored in a carnal mind'. In verse 10 it says the wise men, when they reached the Christ child, were filled, rejoiced with exceeding great joy - yet all of Jerusalem was troubled about this thing, yet they were joyous, they had a spring in their step. What that simply revealed was the way their heart was in relation to Christ.
You see, our attitude towards the Lord reveals the condition of our spiritual lives. Maybe you're not saved, and you aspire to everything that Christmas is, or Christianity is, or this book says, but you've never had an experience in your heart of the grace of God in salvation. Maybe you're a backslider, maybe you're starting to deny some of the truths within God's word - and you can quote the verses, you can point out the prophecies, but the life of God is devoid from your soul! James said: 'the devils believe and tremble', didn't he? But a Christian is not just someone who believes, or someone who knows, a Christian has the chief characteristic of the Christ - and that is love, love for brethren, but love for Christ! Do you love Christ? For if you love Christ you will follow His word, if you love Christ you will worship Him, you will pay homage to Him - and it won't just be a head knowledge, but you will see the guiding light of the star of Christ and you will follow it wherever it goes.
Isn't it very sobering that these chief priests and the scribes of the people were able to quote Micah 5 and verse 2, but they did not obey it? Yet five miles away from were they were standing was the fulfilment, bodily, of our prophecy - but it didn't matter one iota to them. My dear friends, I think we can see very clearly that Christ came at a time when kings and countries were blaspheming His name, He came at a time when the righteous were apostasized, when the religious establishment was crumbling - and we could say to summarise both those things, that Christ came when He was most needed! In the sense that He was needed then, He is needed now today. These were dark days, the nation was sick at heart, the religious establishment was rotten to the core, and the only solid hope left was cherished in the breast of some very few devout Jews who were looking, like Anna and Simeon, for the consolation of Israel, for the Messiah from their hearts.
Oh how they needed Him then, and I'll tell you: how we need Him now in our land and in our churches, because all that is so-called true Christendom - what is it like at this present time? It is filled with religiosity, with rituals, with ceremonies, creeds of men, but all of them without exception almost honour Christ with their lips but their hearts are far from Him! Sin is being sanctified, sodomy is being solemnised, one day soon I could be locked up for saying that! Maybe not soon, maybe now! This is the time that we're living in, there's no interest within the churches to the coming again of our Lord, just as there was no interest in His first coming among the scribes - there is indifference, there is even opposition, there is apostasy, and do you know what happened to the Jewish nation right after they rejected the Christ? He died and rose again, they were sacked and destroyed in AD 70! Their judgment came, and their house was left unto them desolate - and I'll tell you, this nation has ripened for God's judgment. As it was then it is now, and we are hastening day by day to that wrath of God - unless our people repent, and unless the church repents!
But isn't it very comforting that even in the midst of such apostasy and despair, God was still honouring His word. They couldn't thwart the sovereign purposes of Almighty God. Let me leave you please with the final thought that God honours His word often in unexpected ways from unexpected sources, especially in times like these. These wise men that we often talk about, some people say: 'Three wise men' - were there three? Well, I don't know, and certainly their names weren't the ones we sing in the carols; but when the cavalcade arrived in Jerusalem, all the people were troubled - and I wouldn't imagine they would have been troubled if there was only three of them. But nevertheless, when they came it says the whole city was shook - probably because they were foreigners, they were Gentiles, they were mighty, wise and rich men, maybe from Mesopotamia which is our modern day Iraq - and the name is literally 'magi'. What these magi were were astronomers, they were men who spent their time stargazing. They were engaged in sophisticated astronomical observation, and they were extremely important in the life of the court and kings and potentates, because they were come to as counsellors and guides with regards to what they saw in the stars and how they saw god - their god - leading them.
Many Eastern heads of state were advised by these kings, and you can read about it in the Old Testament. Daniel was one of this number, you read about it in Pharaoh's day that he called them all together when Moses was doing his great miracles. But what I want you to note, please, is that their insights were derived from astronomical observations combined with a sort of interpretation that you would get today in the horoscopes of the media. Now those are facts - now please note what I'm not saying, this is not how they found the star nor the Christ child, because we read that God gave them a miraculous sign of a star which was Christ's star. It wasn't just an ordinary star, even though there are many reasons given for this, such as comets and constellations of various kinds and so on. This was a special sign, but the whole point was this: no matter what these men's background was, magic - hence the word 'magi' - magicians they may have been, they were seekers after truth and God rewarded their desire to find the light in the light of the Christ child, and they got it!
Now I know this is surprising and maybe doesn't fit into all our little pigeonholes of how we understand spiritual things, but the fact of the matter was the Jews who had all the Torah, the writings and the prophets, were standing in the midst of their Messiah and didn't even travel five miles to see if it was Him. Yet from the East came these magicians who were genuinely seeking the truth of God, and God rewarded them! Oh, there are so many lessons there - and I know there's many dark areas: the Bible doesn't explain explicitly how they knew about this star. They were Gentiles, and we know that Balaam was a Gentile and he prophesied that there would be star come out of Jacob; Daniel of course was in a Gentile land of Babylon, and he made the prophecy of the 70 weeks - so they may have interpreted that and known when the Christ child was to be born. I don't know, but the fact of the matter is that a little light was followed and soon the increase came.
Do we follow the light God has given to us? You see in a day and an hour like Herod's day, like our day, I almost hesitate to say it but: God can perform His will from very unexpected sources, and in very strange ways. These were Gentiles, they were magicians, that hymn would go well underneath this in your Bible: 'God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform'. Who would have thought that the seekers of the Christ Messiah would have come from Mesopotamia? Now listen, let me apply this in the closing moments of our meeting because it's easy when we live in a day like the day of Christ's birth, a day when kings and countries blaspheme, a day when the righteous apostasize, it's easy in such dire and dark circumstances to get down, to get discouraged. Elijah lived in such a day - the wife of Ahab was after him, Jezebel, and she was going to kill him for he had killed her prophets. But before that event, you remember he was starving because of the judgment of God on the nation, and God promised him that He would provide for him, and He took him to a Brook called Cherith in 1 Kings, and we read there that he was fed by that brook. Do you remember the way that he was fed? He was fed by ravens - what are ravens? They are scavengers, they eat meat, but he was fed by ravens! He was fed by a poor widow - a widow who is poor usually doesn't have enough for herself in those days let alone for a stranger. He was fed from empty bowls that God kept filling full of meal and oil. It wasn't the usual means of provision, but in fact God was providing in an unnatural way through unnatural circumstances to prove that all that matter was that He had promised it!
Regardless of these things God still honoured His word, yet what happened to Elijah - 1 Kings chapter 19 - he is under the tree depressed, and he says: 'I alone am left, I have been zealous for the Lord God of hosts, and I am fearful now of my life and I wish I could die'. What did God say to Elijah? 'There are yet 7000 that have not bowed the knee to Baal. It's not just you, you know - I will honour my word'. Do you remember how God took him up like a little baby, and God was going to speak to him, and He didn't speak to him in the wind, He didn't speak to him in the earthquake or the fire, but He spoke to him in what? The still small voice, the unexpected way.
The means may not be sure, in fact it may be absolutely unnatural and implausible, but one thing is for sure: if God has promised it, it will come to pass. In verse 12 we read that they were warned of God, these wise men had a dream that they should not return to Herod, and they departed into their own country another way. As Watchman Nee says: 'Those who have seen the Lord cannot go back to Herod', isn't that it? Can I ask you: what is your Herod? What is the cause of your darkness? Is it fear? Is it doubt? Is it anxiety? Despair? Is it a besetting sin that pulls you down time and time into temptation? Here's the answer: go to Christ, see how God honours His word in Christ - and what will happen? All your Herod's will never ever get an upper hand again, why? Because all the promises of God are yea and Amen in Him.
Our Father, we thank Thee for Thy Son who came, if we can say it Lord, in the nick of time, who came at a time when man needed Him most. Lord, we say today that we need Him, we need Him in our lives, we need Him in our churches, we need Him in our circumstances. Lord, we need Thee in Thy return. There's so much to do, so many to be saved, but Lord yet from our hearts there comes a genuine cry: 'Come quickly, Lord Jesus'. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the second tape in his "Matthew's First Christmas" study series, titled "The Fulfilment Of Truth In The Foulest Of Times" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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