Responding to the Redeemer
Matthew 2:1-23

After the miraculous events of Christmas were over, Joseph and Mary had their baby boy circumcised on the eighth day and gave him the name Jesus. After this, they took baby Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem and dedicated him to the Lord according to the Jewish custom. While they were in the temple courts, they ran into a man named Simeon, whom God had promised would see the Messiah before he died. An old prophetess named Anna was there too. They were both filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke prophecies about Jesus’ divine destiny as the redeemer of the world.

It may have been these prophetic words that compelled Joseph and Mary to stay in Bethlehem rather than immediately returning north to their hometown of Nazareth. They probably rented a place and Joseph would have secured a temporary job with a local construction company. No one knows exactly how long they stayed in Bethlehem, but it was somewhere between one and two years. During this time, they watched their tiny baby boy grow into a full-fledged toddler: running, jumping, and causing them a lot of parental anxiety.

It is hard to say whether anyone in the region other than Jesus’ parents and a few shepherds even knew that the Messiah had been born or was living in their midst. Simeon and Anna, who had held the infant Jesus in their arms just days after he was born, had likely passed away by this point.

Mary and Joseph were probably content to keep their little secret to themselves, and it would have been kept, except that news was spreading throughout the area that a caravan of mysterious Magi had come to Jerusalem from the east. When word got around that these wise men had seen his seen his star rise in the east and had now arrived to worship the newborn “King of the Jews,” King Herod and everyone around Jerusalem, were troubled.

 

The Magi, a Messiah, and a Massacre

Herod “the Great” (c. 73–4 BC), as he was known, had been given the title “King of the Jews” in 40 BC, and after consolidating his power he ruled over Judea for 33 years. Infamous for his brutality, he would have no rival over his Judean domain—he had already murdered one of his wives and two of his sons. As his power was now threatened by the announcement of the birth of a new king, he gathered all the religious leaders to ask them where the Messiah was to be born. They quoted the prophet Micah and revealed that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, a small farming town a few miles south of Jerusalem.

After discovering this, Herod called a secret meeting with the Magi to extract information about the exact time and place of the new king’s birth. His insecurity and superstition reached a new level when he tried to manipulate the Magi into revealing the location of the child. With guile on his face and sarcasm dripping from his lips, he 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.” But we already know that Herod had no intention to worship the child.

In God’s gospel story, we see divine providence intervene many times. We see it again, at least three times, in this passage. First, as the Magi were on their way to Bethlehem, the star that pointed them to Israel reappeared and led them to the child’s exact location. Second, when they arrived in Bethlehem to worship the child, they opened their treasure boxes and presented the child with gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh. Far beyond what they knew or intended, these gifts would likely be used to support this poor family while they sought refuge from Herod’s wrath of in Egypt. And third, having been warned in a dream, the Magi did not go back to Herod, but returned to their country by another route. On the surface, all these things appear to be coincidences or happenstances, but Matthew is dropping hints that God was directing these events behind the scenes.

When Herod realized he had been outwitted by the Magi, he became furious and gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding vicinity who were two years old and under. In his attempt to preserve his own power, he committed one of the most appalling acts of evil in human history. But divine providence intervened again as Joseph was warned in a dream to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt until the threat had passed. This escape to Egypt was not accidental; Hosea had prophesied that the Messiah would come out of Egypt 700 years before it happened. The fulfillment of this prophecy was further proof that Jesus really was the Messiah.

The political and theological ironies in Jesus’ flight to Egypt are remarkable. The infant Son of God became a displaced refugee in a foreign country, but not just any foreign country—Egypt. This was Israel’s sworn and symbolic enemy; the nation that enslaved the Hebrew people for 430 years. This was the place where Pharaoh unleashed his own fury against the firstborn Israelite children back in the Book of Exodus. (Ex. 1:6–22) But just as baby Moses survived Pharaoh’s infanticide, so baby Jesus would be preserved through Herod’s bloodbath.

Herod thought he had taken care of the problem, but little did he know that God had another plan. Herod died two years later, and Joseph returned to Israel and raised God’s Son in the safety and solitude his hometown of Nazareth. Nothing would stop Jesus from becoming who and what he was meant to be: The King of the Jews and Savior of the world. But this wouldn’t be fully accomplished for another thirty years.

 

Three Responses to the Redeemer 

            As we put this story into perspective, we can’t help but notice three vastly different responses to the redeemer—for better or worse, they are some of the ways people still respond to the redeemer today. Let’s take a look!

 1.) Hostility (Herod)

The first and most blatant response to the redeemer in this story is King Herod’s hostility. When he heard that a new king was born who rivaled him, he responded with anger and aggression. When his power was threatened by this baby boy, he wanted to kill him.

            Now I don’t know anyone who wants to kill Jesus today, but there are many people who are hostile toward Jesus Christ and his followers. Have you even wondered why is this? I believe many people hate Jesus because, like Herod, he threatens our power. In our day, we don’t like anyone telling us how we ought to live our lives. We want to be our own authority, especially in matters of money, morality, and ethics. “I will determine what is right and wrong for me…and I don’t need any help from anyone else!” Unfortunately, the “anyone else” usually includes God too.

            People today want to be their own gods and goddesses—they go through life worshipping themselves! Life is all about them and their personal comfort and happiness, and they are willing to dispose of anyone or anything that gets in the way of it. When someone rivals them, they become angry and want get rid of whoever it is. Tragically, this usually means when they are confronted with the truth of Jesus Christ, they become hostile toward him and the one presenting his message!

            Has anyone ever responded to you in a hostile manner because you are a Christian or because you stood up for biblical truth?  If you haven’t experienced this yet, you probably will someday. We live in a society that is increasingly hostile toward Jesus and the claims he makes on our lives!

 

2.) Worship (Magi)

            The second response to the redeemer we see in this story is worship. When the Magi saw the new King’s star rise in the east, they were willing to embark upon a long and treacherous journey to worship him. They traveled over a thousand miles to seek a baby, and when they found him, they bowed down before him and offered him their precious treasures.

            I am happy to report that there are still many people throughout our world who are seeking to worship Jesus Christ. Even though the Christian church continues to lose ground in Europe and North America, people in Asia, Africa, and South America are responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ by the millions. I lament the fact that so many people here in America no longer seek Jesus, let alone worship him or present him with gifts of gratitude. Do you know anyone who used to go to church but doesn’t anymore? I just saw a statistic the other day that only about 25% of Americans even attend a religious service during the Christmas holiday.

            Jesus is God’s Son who came to earth 2000 years ago to redeem the world. He was born in Bethlehem and was worshipped by angels, shepherds, and wise men. He lived a perfect life, died a horrendous death, and was gloriously resurrected on the third day. He still offers us forgiveness for our sins and the hope of eternal life. May we all follow in the Magi’s footsteps. Let us seek for the Savior, and when he finds us, let us worship him and give him our gifts of gratitude!

 

3.) Apathy (The People)

            Herod’s hostility and the Magi’s worship are completely different responses to the redeemer, but there is another response to the redeemer in this story. It is subtler, but it is there. The people of Jerusalem responded to Jesus’ birth with apathy or ambivalence. Verse 3 says that the people were “disturbed.” Really? Disturbed? When these gentile wise men showed up and announced the wonderful news of the Messiah’s birth, they should have been ecstatic. The Jews had been waiting for the Promised One to come for thousands of years, and when he finally arrived, they were “disturbed?” What this means is: Yes, they wanted the Messiah to come and deliver them, but they didn’t want him to actually disrupt their lives.

            Does this sound familiar? Many people respond the same way to Jesus today, don’t they? They want Jesus to answer their personal prayers, but they don’t want to follow his ethical teachings or obey his moral commands! They are cool with Jesus as long as he doesn’t upset the political and social equilibrium of the day or make any demands on their lives! Everybody wants a Savior until that Savior says, “Take up your cross and follow me!” 

            These are the people who want to be close enough to Jesus to receive his benefits, but they stay far enough away from Jesus, so they aren’t ostracized by their family, friends, or co-workers. They are not directly hostile to Jesus; they are merely ambivalent because they don’t want to change. Are you apathetic toward Jesus Christ?  

 

When Matthew was originally writing this story of how the Magi came to worship Jesus, he clearly wanted to highlight these various responses to the redeemer.  And by doing so, he was trying to convince his readers that this baby boy, who was born in Bethlehem and fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies, really is the Messiah, the Savior of the world.

            And therefore, by presenting us with these three responses to the Redeemer, Matthew poses the question to us today:  How have we responded to Jesus Christ?  With hostility like Herod?  With apathy like the people?  Or with worship like the Magi?

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