Thom shot his first buck last night. Yeehaw! We are true West Virginians now, baby! He plans on having it mounted. I’m thinking the garage walls could use some decorating! Yeah, Kenneth Scott took him hunting on Tony Lester’s property. Tony told me it was pretty obvious that Thom was a novice hunter. Kenneth went into Tony’s house and Thom thought he’d drag the deer back to the car. Seeing Thom struggling, Tony told Thom he should drag his deer in the other direction so that the antlers wouldn’t dig into the ground. Wanting to give Thom the joy of hauling in his first deer, Tony went inside. After a few minutes, he and Kenneth headed out to the truck; only Thom wasn’t there. They called his cell and when he answered, he was out of breath. “Where are you,” they asked? Thom said, “Man, I’m back here in the woods. You told me to drag the deer in the other direction.”
Three small boys were in a Christmas play at school. They represented the three wise men and they were to give their gifts to baby Jesus. The first boy stepped forward, held out the gift in his hands and said, “Gold.” The second boy stepped forward, held out his gift and said, “Myrrh.” The third boy stepped forward, held out his gift and said, “Frank sent this.” The story of these wise men is found in Matthew 2. Please stand for the reading of God’s word.
Matthew 2 “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 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.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 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. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘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.’ “Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 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.” 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. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 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.
As I read this account from Matthew 2, I noticed many things . . . three that I’d like to highlight today:
Jesus is a King Who Shows Up in Unexpected Places-Our text says that the star the wise men first saw led them to Jerusalem. There is much debate about just who was responsible for the star that led the wise men to Jerusalem instead of immediately to Bethlehem. Some scholars say that it is obvious that King Herod hadn’t yet heard about the birth of Jesus since it was the wise men that broke the news to him. Herod, not wanting to be threatened by any other possible king, of course made plans to kill Jesus. For that reason, some scholars say that Satan was counterfeiting some kind of light in the sky in order to lead the wise men to Herod in an attempt to kill Jesus. Other scholars would say God planned all along to lead the wise men first to Herod so that prophecy about Bethlehem’s children being slain would come to pass and that the conflict between God and Satan would be reiterated again. I happen to believe the second interpretation.
Regardless, in these Matthew 2 verses, we see that the place the wise men found Jesus in differed greatly from the place where other kings resided. The wise men themselves were used to being treated as kings. They were the high priestly class in a religion known as Zorastrianism. They were the right hand advisors to kings and had been for centuries. They were used to palace life and knew that a palace was the place to find a king. Following a star to a larger city like Jerusalem, a city where a king resided, made great sense to them.
How surprised they must have been, then, when the star they had followed all of the sudden started moving again and led them to the little town of Bethlehem. Bethlehem was a small town. Hardly a town, really. More like a village. Jesus is still its claim to fame. It was the birthplace of David and the burial place of Rachel, but other than that, nothing major had taken place in Bethlehem until Jesus was born there. He could have been born in Jerusalem or in the home of a city with great political power, but that wasn’t God’s plan. Jesus wasn’t born in a mansion or a palace so that only the rich and influential might approach Him. He wasn’t born in a temple so that only the religious might meet Him. He was born in a stable in Bethlehem so that both the wise men and shepherds and people like you and me could come and worship Him.
It is interesting to me that those who advised Herod, those who told him that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. . . it’s interesting that they didn’t go see him for themselves. They weren’t just advisors to the kings. They were the chief priests and teachers of the law. They were the religious leaders. They were the ones teaching the Scriptures and yet it seems they didn’t even believe what they had been teaching. Perhaps it was just too difficult for them to believe that the King of the Jews, the Messiah, actually WOULD be born in Bethlehem. That unlikely village was just unbelievable and therefore, even though it was foretold and even when it happened, it was unexpected and some people, even religious people, people within walking distance, missed witnessing what took place.
Jesus was always popping up in unexpected places. There are certain stops that kings make. There are certain places kings go. There are certain dinners kings attend, and Jesus didn’t do any of the expected tours or political dinners. He always went where a king would NOT be expected to go.
In Luke 2, we read the story of Jesus remaining in an unexpected place. His parents had made the journey to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast and when it was over, they headed home. They didn’t realize that Jesus wasn’t with them.
Have you ever done that? We left Hannah at church when she was about two. I thought Thom had her. He thought I had her. It was a Wednesday night. When we both met up at home we realized we had been absent-minded parents! We knew we had left her. Thankfully, the nursery worker had a quick mind and told Hannah that we were playing hide and seek with her so she isn’t scarred too badly!
I’m sure Joseph and Mary just expected that when the Passover was finished and everyone in their party was going home that the twelve-year-old Jesus had had enough and was with them as they traveled. They were with lots of relatives and friends. Verse 44 says they traveled a whole day before they realized he wasn’t with them. Now that may sound bizarre-that a whole day could pass without Joseph or Mary wondering where their child was, but you know, when you’re in a large family gathering and aunts and uncles and grandparents just sort of take your role and you’re willing to have a day off!
Once they realized he was missing, they looked for him in the expected, usual places. They looked among the company of family and friends. What is interesting to me is that even though they had only journeyed for a day, it took them three days to find him. Verse 46 of Luke 2 says so. You know what that tells me? They were looking for him in the expected, usual places and the Temple wasn’t one of them. They didn’t expect Jesus to be hanging out in the temple. How many twelve year old boys do you know that would rather be in the sanctuary conversing about the Scriptures that at home or with their relatives and friends or playing ball somewhere in some field? Jesus was simply different.
Do you remember the story about the three Hebrew young men who were taken captive by the Babylonians? The Babylonians attempted to brain wash them, teaching them the Babylonian language and way of life, yet Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the three Hebrews, remained true to God. The King of Babylon had a statue made that either depicted himself or some Babylonian god. When music played, everyone was supposed to stop and bow down to the statue, something Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego would never do since worshiping any other God other than Yahweh was forbidden. Even though violators would be put into a fiery furnace and killed, they refused to bow down to this graven image. You guessed it. Their devotion to God bought them a one-way ticket into the center of the heat.
In Daniel chapter three we read, “22 The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 23 and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace. 24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, O king.” 25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
I’ll tell you who the fourth man in the fire was. It was Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He appeared in one of his preincarnate states. No one expected Him to show up, but there He was! Listen, any time you risk something for Jesus’ sake, any time you are bold in your obedience for Him, He will be with you, even in the fire. What other King is that committed?
Hear the words of Isaiah 43:2-3, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” What other King has made that kind of promise with you? When you are in a tight spot, Jesus will show up. When you are in the river waters and feel like you are going under, Jesus will show up. When you are in the dark place of confusion, grief, and disappointment, Jesus will show up. What other King is so attentive to the needs of His subjects?
So many times the Psalmist talks about being in a pit. Our King of Unexpected places, upon the testimony of the Psalmist, went down into the pit in order to lift the Psalmist out. What other King would get so dirty? So up close and personal?
That the King of Heaven would descend to earth and wrap Himself in human flesh in order to live among us, heal us, and die for us was so unexpected, far too many people couldn’t believe it when he came.
Not only is Jesus a King who goes to unexpected places, but he also is a King who connects with UNEXPECTED PEOPLE.
Let me tell you a bit about these Magi. They weren’t Jewish people. They weren’t the kind of people you would expect the King of the Jews to honor with His presence. Not only were they not Jewish, but they were pagans. It’s not just that they were into star gazing or astronomy as we would know the Science of the study of stars, but they were astronomers turned astrologers who actually believed the stars could predict the future. They were versed in the occult practices of divination and sorcery, things God clearly condemns.
We should never trust in astrological beliefs or predictions. Astrology is an ancient, heathen practice that leads to disaster. Our lives are not determined by the stars or movement of planets. The Bible warns against the false predictions of astrology (Jeremiah 10:2; 27:9-10; Daniel 2:1-4; 4:7; 5:7-9) and repeatedly condemns the associated practice of worshipping the sun, moon and stars (or “deities or demons associated with them”) (Deuteronomy 4:19; 17:2-5; 2 Kings 21:3, 5; Zephaniah 1:5; Job 31:26-28; Jeremiah 8:1-2).
In Isaiah, God sarcastically rebukes Israel for practicing astrology…”For you have trusted in your wickedness… Therefore evil shall come upon you… trouble shall fall upon you… Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, and the monthly prognosticators stand up and save you from what shall come upon you. Behold, they shall be as stubble, The fire shall burn them; They shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame…”-Isaiah 47:10-14a
So why would God produce a star that leads these pagan people to Jesus instead of the religious leaders? He knew it would get them there. He wanted them there. He wanted everyone, not just the Jewish people, but everyone whether Jew or Gentile, righteous or pagan, to know that Hope had come into the world!
Maybe the reason the chief priests and teachers of the law didn’t bother walking to Bethlehem was because they were so self righteous and self assured that they believed if God was going to manifest Himself to anyone it would be them. Maybe that’s part of the reason we don’t see in Scripture that any of them made the five mile walk. So, unexpected people, this group of star gazers from Persia, these non-Jews, these people who are practicing evil things which go against God’s law, they are the ones who get invited to a baby shower for the Messiah.
That’s the way Jesus rules in His kingdom. It’s not an earthly standard that He uses to decide who He’ll associate with. He doesn’t worry about papporatzi showing up and taking a picture of Him talking to someone that might mar His image. He doesn’t exercise normal kingly protocol before getting involved in someone’s life.
Regular kings didn’t walk with crowds of sick and diseased people. Those kinds of people couldn’t even get an audience with a king. Regular kings certainly didn’t make themselves available for those kinds of people. Exposing themselves to what was common, exposing themselves to the germs of the sick and inflicted, why that was unheard of! Not so with Jesus. He was King of the Unexpected.
He hung out with people who had less education, people who had less than credible character, people like hookers and thieves. He didn’t go to the home of the big wigs, but to the little people; people like Zacchaeus that scripture says was short in stature and small on character. He engaged sinners in discussion, in relationship, and challenged them by the way He loved, gave, and serve; something not usual for regular kings.
In Matthew 8:2, a leper called out to Jesus asking him if He would heal him. Lepers would never have had an audience with any other king. They were the outcasts of Jesus’ day! They were held in great fear. They had a disease that could not be cured, was communicable, and was considered by some religious people as the proper sentence for what was assumed to be hidden sins in people’s lives.
Lepers couldn’t interact with the rest of society, they were physically removed, all rights stripped from them, they even had to cry out loud “UNCLEAN ” if any normal person approached them or they could be stoned or killed. They were never allowed to touch other people, or be touched by “clean” people.
It was a horrible lonely way to live, and an even worse way to die! One leper however wanted desperately to get Jesus’ attention, his only hope was God. Those who were humbled by their suffering and pain did not find it hard to come to Christ. He offered them hope, acceptance, love, peace, real joy even in the midst of their pain and suffering. More than that, He touched them in a real and personal way. He touched them with heaven’s love. What an unexpected move.
Every unexpected meeting was a divinely planned event. With every person Jesus came into contact with He was revealing more and more of God’s plan; that every person, regardless of your disease, your hang up, your economic status, your education, your life experiences, your mental state, your wickedness, and your sin, every person was someone God the Father was madly in love with and that Jesus died for.
He came to unexpected people to show us that no appointment is necessary. There’s no “good old boy network” you have to belong to. You don’t have to be the best at anything to impress someone in order to get an invitation to meet with Jesus. You simply have to want to see Him. Like the wise men, you just have to see enough to convince you that He’s worth meeting and make the journey towards Him.
Not only is Jesus the kind of King that shows up in unexpected places to unexpected people, but He also had an Unexpected Purpose.
The fact that the Wise Men traveled to an unexpected place, the small village of Bethlehem, and that they probably had certain expectations in their mind about what he would look or be like, it would seem they might be easily disappointed when they arrived. Jesus did not look like a king. His home did not look like a castle. He had no scepter in his hand, commanded no armies, gave no speeches, and passed no laws. He could not walk or talk. No royal decree came from his lips. There was nothing to make you think he was a king. To the outward eye, he was nothing but a peasant child born in dire poverty. And yet, the wise men worshiped Him.
Let me paraphrase the words of one Bible commentator: Although we read that the Magi met Herod, we do not read that they worshipped him. But when they found this tiny baby, not yet two weeks old, rocking in his mother’s arms, these great men fell on their faces before him. To this baby they gave the honor due a king. What Herod craved, the baby received.
I’m going to tell you what I personally believe. It is something many scholars also believe. I believe that Shadrach, Meschach, Abenego and Daniel, all who had prominent positions in Babylon left a lasting influence and impression on the magi who were around the palaces of the east. I believe those four Hebrew men shared the prophecies of Scripture concerning the birth of the Messiah, and I believe whether it was received as legend or fact, curiosity remained among those in the class of the magi over hundreds of years. When they saw the unusual star, they remembered the prophecies and decided to see things firsthand.
Here’s where the scholarship stops and the personal opinion starts. It was customary to greet a king with gifts, so they took some. When they got to Herod first and he told them that he as a king wanted to go and worship the new king that had been born, even though he was being deceitful, I think their curiosity rose. I think they wondered, “Who is this King that other kings want to worship and bow down to?” I think that something about the star convinced them that this was the Messiah. The first star episode led them to Jerusalem, but not to a particular place. Remember, they had to ask around, “Where is this one who has been born King of the Jews?” The second star episode, however, led them right to the home where Jesus was and stopped over the house. I don’t think they had ever seen anything like it before. Scripture says when they saw the star stop over that house, they were overjoyed. Somehow, during their journey while they were seeking, they truly found the peace they had always longed for. That recognition prompted worship. They bowed down and presented their precious gifts to Jesus.
Gold represented the wealth and power of a king. Frankincense was used in the temple worship of the Lord. It represents his deity–He is truly God born in human flesh. Then there is myrrh–a kind of perfume made from the leaves of the cistus rose. It was used in beauty treatments, but when mixed with vinegar it became an anesthetic. After a person died, myrrh was used to anoint the body and prepare it for burial. John 19:39 tells us that Jesus’ body was bound in linen wrappings along with 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes. So the gift of myrrh pictures his suffering and death.
I said that Jesus is the King with an unexpected purpose. No one expected that a baby would change everything. People were looking for a war hero, a Messiah to overthrow the Roman government and set up some temporal kingdom on earth. No one expected that the purpose of this baby would be unwrapped in every event of the Christmas story. And it all came together in an act of worship when the wise men presented their gifts. These unlikely people who had come to an unlikely place to meet an unlikely king illustrated the plan of God in this simple, yet profound act of worship. Gold. The King of the Ages had come to earth. Frankincense. What He would offer as a sacrifice would be pleasing to God and would cover our sin. Myrrh. Through his death on the cross, everyone would have an opportunity to have an audience with the King.
Perhaps you find yourself thinking differently this morning. Perhaps you are moved a bit emotionally. Maybe you thought you were just coming to church to keep peace in the family or because it was a habit or the right thing to do, but in this moment you realize that Jesus has come to this unexpected place of 4430 Teays Valley Rd.
Some of you are here this morning and you’ve thought, perhaps even in recent days, “God couldn’t really love me.” Maybe like the wise men you’ve engaged in wicked, evil behavior. Maybe this moment you’ve made a decision, a deal, an association that you know is disobedient to God. You’re exactly the kind of person Jesus is looking for right now. You’re who He wants to touch. Regardless of the fight that went on in your house or heart last night, regardless of what you drank or smoked or what you did last night, He’s knocking on your heart’s door. It’s like the Holy Spirit is a bounty hunter, and He’s looking to take you into the custody of the Father who can keep you and help you and heal you.
The wise men worshiped. They presented gifts to Him. They traveled very far on foot to find Him. Your journey this morning can be less than twenty-five feet. Will your pray with me?