“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men* from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,* and have come to pay him homage.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah* was to be born. 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd* my people Israel.” ’
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men* and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising,* until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped,* they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” – Matthew 2:1-12
We like movies at our house. In fact, everything from science fiction to espionage to children’s animated to historical musicals is in our collection of dvd’s and movies. But I think my personal favorite kind of movie is adventure movies. Do you remember “The Maltese Falcon” starring Humphrey Bogart? Or “National Treasure” with Nicholas Cage? How about the “Indiana Jones” series? And of course, the more recent blockbuster movie series “Pirates of the Caribbean”? In each of these we find the usual assortment of characters looking for the hidden treasure. And of course there is always a villain of some sort. Sometimes it is interesting to find out who the real villain is in the story.
In the gospel story Matthew tells us here, we have the same assortment of characters and it may be interesting for us to find out who the villain is in this story. So this morning let’s look at these characters a little more closely.
First we have the magi. Do you know what would have happened if it had been three wise women instead of three wise men? They would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, brought practical gifts, and there would be Peace On Earth. (Anonymous)
Actually, we don’t really know how many magi there really were. We assume three because there were three gifts. What we do know about them though is that they were men of science–astronomers, highly educated, that they were wealthy, upper class citizens, and that they were highly respected in their Gentile culture. The magi were not likely to have been faithful religious men in the Jewish religion since they were Gentiles. They were pretty much the exact opposite of the shepherds. In essence they were seekers after the truth, visionaries, and spiritual.
Now let’s look at the character of the king, Herod. What we know about him is that he was a non-Jew, an Idumean, and was appointed as king of the region by the Roman Senate. It’s important to know that he was appointed; he did not have royal blood lines. We also know that he was ruthless. He murdered his wife, his three sons, his mother-in-law, brother-in-law, his uncle, and many, many others. No wonder he had no problem killing so many babies in Bethlehem. He was a brutal ruler of the region. His period in office was noted for its overwhelming opulence and the display of wealth. We also know that he built many theaters, amphitheaters, monuments – to himself and to pagan gods and others, pagan altars, and fortresses but his greatest work was the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. This took over 60 years to complete and was destroyed only 6 years after it was finished. Herod was known for his irritating and easily angered personality but most of all he was known as a power hungry, self-absorbed, and completely ruthless egomaniac. He was not a nice man is an understatement.
We also have the characters played by the chief Priests and the Pharisees. They were the upper class people who had been carefully brought up to run the religious life of their community. These men were trained and very well educated in the details of scripture, and possessed academic knowledge that both Herod and the magi lacked. But what good does it do them? They were so wrapped up in knowing the details with their heads that they were spiritually ignorant. All that knowledge didn’t lead them to their Messiah but in fact, actually causes them to become involved in a plot to kill him.
Moving on. As we all know, in every good adventure story there seems to be some kind of conflict. Now the conflict in this story seems to be between Herod and the Magi. As we read, (RED) Herod tried to disguise the conflict when he told the magi that he also wanted to worship the new messiah, when in reality he had a totally different reason for wanting to find out if another king had been born – a king of the Jews. He wanted to kill the baby – just as he had killed so many others already.
There is another conflict in this story that Matthew tells us. This one is between Herod and Jesus: Jesus was a threat to Herod. Jesus was the Messiah, the true King of the Jews. Herod was an imposter. He was not entitled to the throne by birthright or divine choice; remember I said Herod was appointed to his position as king by the Roman senate. There is an obvious conflict between these two. The king of the Jews was to be God’s representative, like God, and to be from the line of David, both spiritually and physically. Herod is the exact opposite of who God is –devaluing life, a pagan, a murderer, self-centered, and so on and so on. Herod is the villainous character in this story who seems to be in conflict with almost everyone around him. The chief priests and teachers of the Law were like the villains henchmen.
But then there is another villainous character for us to find in this story: sin.
Okay, let’s keep moving. Good adventure stories never stay in one spot for too long. Now that we have identified each of the characters, I want to look a little bit deeper into what Matthew is telling us in this story. We know that he chose his words carefully to share the message God has for each of us. So let’s look at the purpose each of these individuals had for their own lives, the meaning of their lives.
Let’s go back to Herod, who was self-absorbed and power-hungry, what was his purpose in life? What gave his life meaning? He chose to focus on the self. This self-directed focus led him to a life of frustration, failure, and personal loneliness. He believed the self to be the focal point of life and acted accordingly.
The chief priests and teachers of the Law chose to focus on knowledge. They were the “I’ve-got-all-the-answers” kind of people who concentrated on the cold hard facts of life and missed the real meaning of life. They believed knowledge to be the meaning of life and responded true to form. That is why they could not see past their own head and into their heart to recognize their savior.
Then we see – the Magi. These were the sincere seekers of truth, meaning, and substance in life and they discovered exactly what they were looking for. In finding the one true messiah, their lives were given meaning that exceeded all this world had to offer. They looked beyond themselves and beyond all known knowledge to discover the source of true meaning and purpose.
What can we find for ourselves in the stories of theses characters? What I find is that God does not reveal things to “the wise and intelligent” but to those who do as they are instructed, who seek no honor or glory for themselves, and who gladly will humble themselves, kneeling even before a woman and a child.
I also see that God’s glory may be made known where we least expect it, when we least expect it, and to whom we least expect it. Although we as God’s people are called to be the light of the world for those who are in darkness, sometimes it is us, his very people, which are blind to the light of God shining in others. But, the light of God is always present, as God graciously, mysteriously, and defiantly breaks into our human lives.
God has also graciously made us response-able. Each of us, by the grace of God, has been given a choice. However, our choices have consequences and results. Notice the results of the actions of these characters: we can be like Herod and look after our own self-interests or we can be like the chief priests and teachers of the Law and listen to only what we know to be the facts maybe missing the voice of the Messiah, or we can be like the magi looking for the real purpose, meaning, and substance in life.
Pay attention to the actions of the magi. They looked around and noticed what was going on around them, they paid attention to where they were, and they saw the star. Something in life got their attention: the star. Something caused them to question meaning: the star.
What is your star? What is it that has you questioning the meaning for your life? What has seized your attention and made you start wondering what’s going on? Has God used a situation in life, a tragedy, a sickness, a financial crisis, a friend, or a movie? Remember, God makes himself known where we least expect it, when we least expect it, and through whom we least expect.
The magi started on a journey for truth, meaning, and substance in life. God led them on their journey. God has led you to this place, this morning, on purpose. Not one of us is here by accident. Not one of us.
The magi searched in the wrong place–Jerusalem. It was logical to go to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the capitol city, so naturally you’d go there to look for a king. However, it was not logical if you knew the whole story. The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. The logical thing would have been to go to Bethlehem. We often think we know more than we know. As a result we search where we think we ought to look, but it’s the wrong place.
If we knew the whole story, we’d know to go to Jesus to begin with. God put them back heading in the right direction. God looks at the sincerity of our hearts and guides us in our search for truth, meaning, and substance in life.
God calls us to do what the Magi did, and that is to seek Christ. Meaning is found in a pursuit of the Messiah. Purpose is discovered in the search for the Son of God. Seeking the One who has come looking for us is the key to finding true meaning and purpose.
My question for you today is this, where are you seeking your treasure?