The Christmas Story – The Diplomatic Mission

Text – Matthew 2:1 – 12

  1. Introduction
    1. Whenever an heir to the throne is born, officials from other countries call to wish the parents well and to welcome the new member of the royal family.
    2. Before the invention of the telephone, telegraph and internet the head of state my send a note of congratulations with a gift, or, if there was a close relationship between the two countries a delegation would be sent with gifts to the royal household.
    3. When Israel was taken into Babylonian captivity they built synagogues, and many remained in the land even after they were allowed to return to Israel. Consequently, there was a strong connection between the lands of the east and Israel. Alfred Eedersheim reports that even though Israel’s official territory was bounded on the east by the Jordan. The rabbis declared that the entire land as far as the Euphrates was the Holy Land.
    4. During that time the Persians and the Arabs who controlled that land were some of the best scientists and scholars in the world. They were precise in their observations of nature, especially in the movements of the stars and planets. They invented the system of numbers we still use. In fact we call them “Arabic numerals,” as opposed to “Roman numerals.”
      1. These scientists were held in high esteem, and were high ranking advisors to the kings and other officials.
      2. The Greek name for these men is “Magi,” which the modern translations just transliterate. I prefer the KJV which calls them “wise men.” During the Middle Ages legends grew and they were called “kings.”
      3. Unlike the Greeks who believed that the stars controlled people’s destinies. Those of the East believed that the stars would announce major events.
    5. So here we have a group of high ranking astrologers who are familiar with the Jewish prophesies of a coming Messiah. In their observations of the sky they note the announcement of the birth of that king. Being closely associated with Israel, they sent a delegation to honor him. Read the text
  2. Exposition of the text
    1. Exactly what the star was is difficult to discern.
      1. It probably was not entirely miraculous, because the wise men would not have known how to interpret it.
      2. However, it is difficult to find in the astronomical data a conjunction that appears and then reappears in the timeframe of Jesus’ birth.
      3. My suspicions are that when we get to heaven we will learn that it was surprisingly obvious and we just missed it.
    2. It is clear from the story that the Wise men were not at the stable. In fact, the text says specifically that they came to the house where Joseph and Mary were staying.
    3. We do not know how many wise men there were. We assume three because of the three gifts: gold, incense, and myrrh, but there is nothing in scripture or the early church fathers that indicated how many there were.
    4. Herod the Great was an Idumean. They were not direct seed of Abraham, but they were proselytes to the Jewish religion.
      1. He was cruel and paranoid, so when he learned of a rival he was intent upon his destruction.
      2. Herod did not understand the spiritual nature of Christ’s kingdom. Furthermore, even though he espoused the Jewish faith, his faith was a dead faith.
      3. Matthew Henry says, “Let us beware of a dead faith. A man may be persuaded of many truths, and yet may hate them, because they interfere with his ambition, or sinful indulgences. Such a belief will make him uneasy, and the more resolved to oppose the truth and the cause of God; and he may be foolish enough to hope for success therein.”
    5. One final observation. This is the first recorded instance of Gentiles worshiping Jesus.
      1. Those who live at the greatest distance from the means of grace often use most diligence, and learn to know the most of Christ and his salvation.
      2. But no curious arts, or mere human learning, can direct men unto him. We must learn of Christ by attending to the word of God, as a light that shineth in a dark place, and by seeking the teaching of the Holy Spirit. And those in whose hearts the day-star is risen, to give them any thing of the knowledge of Christ, make it their business to worship him.
  3. Conclusion
    1. Wise men still seek him.