For Christians, the Advent and Christmas season becomes a highlight, a reminder, an anchor for our faith as we recite the stories and sing the songs that inspire us to stay faithful, to keep trusting and to remain focused on the return of Jesus. He came once as an innocent baby and He will come again as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to usher in whatever is next and I guarantee that for believers, IT WILL BE AWESOME! I want to start our Advent season out with perhaps an unlikely message. As I read a text from Matthew 2 last week, a word jumped off of the page that prompted a question.
Matthew 2:1-3 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.
So obviously the word that leaped out on the page of Matthew 2 was the word “DISTURBED.” We live in a time when the mention of Jesus and the practice of following Him still causes a disturbance, doesn’t it? Jesus, the Prince of Peace, still causes many unrest. When many hear that Jesus is infiltrating hearts or that believers are appropriately taking a stand for Christ or that they are sincerely committed and on the move for Jesus there are people struggle with and resist interfacing with Jesus. They don’t want to talk about Him. They don’t want to answer questions about what they think of Jesus. Many don’t even want to hear His name mentioned at all. Hence the move to “Happy Holidays” in order to avoid saying, “Merry Christmas.” Peace is one of the main themes of the Advent and Christmas season. It is something we promote as Christians. It is ultimately what Jesus delivers, so why the unrest? Why is King Herod AND ALL OF JERUSALEM disturbed by the appearance of King Jesus?
Let’s look at just who King Herod was. He was actually a half-Jew. His father was Edomite from south of Judea who had converted to Judaism, and his mother was an Arab princess. The Edomites were descendants from Esau, the brother who was tricked out of his birthright by his brother Jacob, the one whose name was changed to Israel, the one who became the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. Herod knew how to play the political game. He had buddied up to the Romans and was placed by Rome in command of Jerusalem, the political and religious capital of Judea. They named him the “King of the Jews.” To add to his authority and credibility as “King of the Jews” he married a Jewish woman.
Herod was a ruthless king who executed his brother-in-law, the High Priest, for conspiracy. When he suspected his two sons were plotting against him, he charged them with treason and they were executed by strangulation. He also killed his own wife in a fit of jealousy. Even Herod’s firstborn and favorite son was charged with plotting against his father and was executed just five days before Herod died. If you wanted to live, you didn’t get in Herod’s way. You didn’t even whisper or give a look that made him think you weren’t on board with him being the “King of the Jews.” He never had to be talked into killing anyone anyway. It wasn’t a last resort for him. It was his first inclination. No one would disrespect or threaten him.
Even though he was ruthless, Herod had made tremendous improvements to the city of Jerusalem. Under his watch, there were palaces and an amphitheater built. During his reign the Temple of Solomon was even rebuilt. There were monuments and bridges constructed. He had helped put Jerusalem on the map. Jerusalem was thriving.
And our text tells us that when it was learned that Jesus, the Messiah was born, Herod was “disturbed” and so was the whole town of Jerusalem. Look at verse 2 again: The Magi 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.”
Herod’s thinking, “The King of the Jews? That is me. I am the King of the Jews.” He might have also been thinking, “And I ain’t never had a star. This guy has His own star? Why have they come to worship a so-called King they have never even met?” Who knows what all ran through his mind. Was Jesus coming to dethrone him? Jesus was a full Jew. Would he have more influence with the people? What would it mean for Herod that Jesus was on the scene?
And why was all of Jerusalem disturbed? Apart from the fact that you didn’t want to tick King Herod off, things were going well in Jerusalem. It was a prospering city. Could it be that the people had shifted their anticipation of a Heavenly Messiah for an acceptance of the physical changes a man could make? Were folks so enamored with the “progress” they could see that they couldn’t consider anything else? Had their faith moved from waiting on God to welcoming what man could do? It’s one theory.
Also, the fact that Herod would be threatened by one born King of the Jews would have disturbed those living in the area because they knew the great lengths Herod would go to to rid him of any threat. It wouldn’t matter who else got taken out in the process of Herod trying to take Jesus out. We know Herod was really disturbed because he ordered that the Hebrew baby boys 2 and under to be killed in Matthew 2:16-18. He wasn’t taking any chances. No one was going to dethrone him. We know how God protected Jesus and told Joseph, his earthly father, to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt until Herod was off the scene.
What conclusions can we draw from these happenings?
Regarding Herod-Jesus is still troubling to people who want power and control.
Regarding the people of Jerusalem-Jesus is still troubling to people who want status quo living.
I guess it is all about perspective. It is all about the ability to see who Jesus the Messiah is. The Bible tells us that the “God of this Age has blinded the minds of unbelievers” II Cor. 4:4. They are blinded by things like power, control, and personal prosperity. The idea of a new King of the Jews, a different King of the Jews posed a threat to all of that. Listen, when you are anchored to the world’s system and ways and have put your passion and heart and energy into participating in the things of the world, it can be hard to think about a different system, another way, even when it is a better way. Does that resonate with anyone here this morning? Some people want their way even though a better way exists.
Maybe the people of Jerusalem were comfortable with the way things were because even though Herod had a reign of terror going, for the most part, Jerusalem was still expanding. Jerusalem was still on top. If they kept clear of Herod they had nothing to fear and would enjoy the booming economy and new construction. Herod certainly had his flaws, but at least with Herod, they knew what they were getting. Maybe another leader would make life difficult for everyone in the town. At least progress was progress.
Well, the Magi from the East probably traveled around 800-900 miles to see Jesus. They had seen a pretty impressive star that drew them to Bethlehem. Isn’t that interesting? The birth of Jesus disturbed Herod and all of Jerusalem yet it drew the Wise men to make about a month-long, maybe longer, trip for the sole purpose of worshiping Jesus.
People weren’t worshiping Herod. Oh, they revered him out of fear of what would happen to them if they didn’t, but no one was worshiping Herod. This new infant-king was a unique kind of king for sure. Hundreds of years before Christ, Numbers 24:17 tells of a star that would come from Jacob’s lineage and a scepter that would rise in Israel. This was not news to the Jewish community. This was a Messianic prophecy that would have been familiar to the Jewish religious leaders for sure. The Magi weren’t even Jewish and yet they knew what the ancient Scriptures had said about the birth of the Messiah which is why they were drawn to Him.
Recognizing that the “King of the Jews” who had been born had some kind of religious clout or authority, Herod called together, verse 4, all of 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.'” Here the religious leaders were quoting the Prophet Micah in chapter 5:2.
The long-awaited King had come. Bethlehem had been named the place. A star was part of the equation. Everything lined up to point to the fact that Jesus was the Messiah. Isn’t it interesting that when this information was made known to the Jewish religious leaders, the information about Magi from the east following a star to worship someone they referred to as the King of the Jews, the religious leaders weren’t even interested in seeing for themselves what was going on? There are a whole lot of conclusions we can draw about religious people who have missed it altogether. A religion that doesn’t embrace a personal relationship with and response to Jesus is an empty, man-made tradition that has no power and no authority to dictate a person’s eternal destiny.
To those who don’t have eyes to see what Jesus is really about, I’m sure His presence is quite disturbing for Matthew went on to detail that Jesus came preaching a different kind of message about a different way of life, one that would disturb people who wanted to do life their own way. Just three chapters later we hear Jesus say that those who are poor in spirit are the ones who will posses the Kingdom of Heaven, that those who are meek will inherit the earth. He said that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness would be blessed and filled to overflowing. His message was one of showing mercy; Not Herod’s strong suit. It seems Jesus was more interested in developing people than empires because He preached that the pure in heart would be blessed and the peacemakers would be called Sons of God. Jesus taught that there was a blessing that could be received in the midst of persecution—that even when we were being insulted or lied about because of our walk with Jesus, there would be a blessing.
These words would be disturbing to people who were used to fighting fire with fire, to people who stepped on others to get ahead, to people who saw power and control and not meekness and serving others as the way to success.
You see, there is a way the world prescribes that might have certain outcomes for a certain time period, but it is temporal and leaves collateral damage and regret along the way. But there is a way that Jesus prescribes that adds meaning and value to your life and to the lives of others around you that causes no sorrow, leaves no regret and has an eternal benefit. Herod couldn’t see it. The people of Jerusalem couldn’t see it. On this first Sunday of Advent, I have come to ask you, “Can you see it or does Jesus disturb you?”
When you live with the fullness Jesus brings into your life you aren’t seduced by worldly lusts, and there are many. You are instead satiated with a deep sense of purpose, a sense of spiritual well-being and health, a passion that gives you a reason to get up every day, a heart of gratitude that overflows because of what Christ does for you. When you see Jesus in His fullness you welcome His work in your life, you embrace His Lordship in your life, and you realize you gain infinitely more than you could ever give up!
Famous missionary Jim Elliott said it so eloquently when he said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
He actually proved he believed it as he was martyred in Ecuador as he was sharing his faith. He spent his life trying to help people SEE Jesus. I’m certainly not in harm’s way as Jim Elliott was, but I have given my life to the same cause. I am teaching, preaching, and reaching to try to help people see Jesus. My hope is that they see Him in me. My prayer is that they experience Him in the preached Word. My desire is that the fruit of my prayer life and the prayers offered through this ministry is that the blinders will come off and more and more people will see Him.
Herod couldn’t see Jesus as an asset. He saw Him as a threat. He knew who it was that had come and instead of welcoming Him, He tried to kill Him. Herod wouldn’t be ruled by anyone. He was interested in doing what he could do and in producing the results he could produce. The people who were satisfied with the Jerusalem lifestyle were interested in letting Herod do what he was doing when it came to progress in their city. They were achieving a sense of status that pushed them further up the world’s ladder of success. What they didn’t understand was that worldly success is a slippery slope. There are rungs missing on that ladder and the fall on the way down produces pain that isn’t easily dismissed.
Herod didn’t want to be disturbed by Jesus. Herod had his own agenda. He had an empire to build. He didn’t want Jesus getting in His way. Herod didn’t want anyone telling him how to rule, how to lead, or how to live. He didn’t understand that life with Jesus empowers us to do infinitely more than life on our own.
But the Magi, they were drawn to Jesus. Why? The word “Magi” means scientist, wise man, astrologer or seer. They were originally a clan of the Medes who formed the priestly class in Persia. They were well-educated. They specialized in medicine, in religion, in astonomy, in astrology, in divination, and in magic.
It sounds as if these guys already had it going on. They had already achieved much. They were smart, likely self-sufficient, and recognized for their achievements. Why would they be drawn to make such a long trip to worship a baby? Jesus was just a toddler when they would have arrived. What in the world could He have offered to them anyway? Here is the explanation the ancient historical records give. “Among the Persians there exists a group, the Magi, who investigating the works of nature for the purpose of becoming acquainted with the truth. . . initiate others in the divine virtues, by very clear explanations.” — Philo
(Philo, Every Good Man is Free, 74)
Boom. There it is. The Magi were in search of the TRUTH. Herod was in search of power and control. You see, what you are seeking will determine what you find. The Magi had eyes to see because they were searching for that which can be found by all of us. His name is Jesus. He is the “way, the truth and the life.”
If you remember your Old Testament history, you will remember the faithfulness of Daniel and Shadrach, Meschack, and Abednego, who remained faithful to God even though they had been taken as slaves into Babylon. That resulted in the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar to become a believer in the One, True God (Daniel 4:34-37). As a result, he appointed Daniel to be the “chief governor over all the wise men of Babylon.” (Daniel 2:48) It was during that time, scholars believe Daniel shared “his” wisdom with the wise men of the Persian Empire, namely the time of the Messiah’s arrival which was foretold to be announced with a great star and that the Messiah would be born the King of the Jews.
When the Magi followed that star, they knew they were being led to the birth of a Jewish King, One tied to the God Nebuchadnezzar had come to believe in. The Magi were so convinced that they were going to find a King worthy of their worship that they brought gifts that were fitting for a King. They had a sense that what was happening in Bethlehem was of utmost importance. Because they wanted to know Truth, they made the trip. And when they encountered the Truth, when they encountered Jesus, the truth was obvious. The Messiah had been born, so they presented their gifts to Him and they worshiped Him. And they so believed that He was the Messiah, that instead of going back to Herod to tell him where they had found Jesus, they believed the dream God gave them telling them to go home by another route and in so doing, they listened to the truth that God kept revealing to them.
And that is the key to interacting with Jesus. We must listen to the truth that God reveals to us when He reveals it.
Are you drawn to or disturbed by Jesus? Is your desire for power and control to run your life your own way or to know the truth and let Jesus lead? Are you apathetic where Jesus is concerned because like the people in Jerusalem, life is going pretty well for you and you just don’t want to think about changing the status quo? Or are you open to the possibility that Jesus’ message is actually the way to liberation and a full life? Because here is the truth: You can reject Jesus and experience earthly limitation or you can accept Jesus and have liberation that leads to abundant life here and in eternity forever.
The invitation this morning is for both kinds of people, those who are being drawn and those who are still disturbed. For those who have been disturbed by what following Jesus might look like, I’m asking you to consider making the trip to the manger to see Him for yourself this Advent. If you are willing to take a step toward Jesus, in just a moment, I invite you to make that step by coming to an altar to pray. Just pray, “Show me Who You are Lord, and show me why I should follow You.” I promise you that is a prayer He will answer.
To those of you who are being drawn closer, those who want to know more and more about who Jesus is, those who have already met the Christ of Christmas but who want to follow wholeheartedly in His steps, I invite you to come as well. Come to commit this Advent and Christmas season not only to the decorating and eating and the gift-giving and receiving, but to the pursuit of the Truth of the Season. Whether you are disturbed or drawn, God wants to share Himself with you.