Sunday, December 31, 2017

[Matt's Messages] “The Search for Jesus Christ”

“The Search for Jesus Christ”
The Gospel of Matthew
December 31, 2017 :: Matthew 2:1-23

We’ve only just begun our series on the Gospel of Matthew last month. I expect we’ll be in this series for at least a year, and I expect it to be a very fruitful time of learning about our Lord Jesus Christ and what He has wants for us and what he wants from us.

The Lord Jesus is the most important person Who ever lived, and this is one of His authorized theological biographies. And it’s a manual for our discipleship.

In chapter 1, Matthew presented Jesus’s pedigree. He genealogy was one form of valid identification to tell us Who Jesus really is. He is the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, the Messiah.

And in the last half of chapter 1, Matthew told us how Jesus’ birth came about. His origin story. And, boy, is it a wonder! Jesus was miraculously conceived and born of a virgin. And He was named Jesus and titled Immanuel because He would “save his people from their sins” and be “God with us.”

And that’s what we celebrated this last week. That’s what Christmas is all about.

Matthew chapter 2 is about what happened next.

We don’t always hear about what happens next, especially because some of it is downright evil and ugly and bloody. We tend to shy away from that stuff.

But Matthew didn’t, and neither today, will we.

Here’s what happened next: there was a great search for the newborn king.

There was a great search for Jesus Christ.

Really, in many ways, a hunt for this newborn king.

And many of those people hunting for Him did not have good motives at all.

That’s the story of Matthew chapter 2.

Now, before we begin reading this fairly familiar story, I want to give you some things to search for as we read it. Some things to notice.

Here are four themes that I want you to try to track as we go along.

First, ROYALTY. Jesus is presented in this passage as a king. A newborn king but a great king, nonetheless. Watch for how this royalty is presented. That’s because of what saw about his relationship to David in chapter 1.

Second, PROTECTION.  This king is going to be hunted – and not just in a good way.  There are evil people who want to take His life.

What’s the name of the worst of them? King...Herod. An evil old man.

But does King Herod get King Jesus? No way! You know that already. Look for how God protects the newborn king. It’s quite remarkable.

Third, FULFILLMENT. There’s that word again! One of Matthew’s very favorite words is “fulfill.” He uses it again and again in this chapter. Take note of of where God keeps His promises and fulfills, fills up, the prophecies of the Old Testament.

Fourth, SUFFERING. Just because the King is protected doesn’t mean that He and those around Him don’t suffer. There is great evil in this chapter, and it leads to great suffering. So, search for that theme, as well, as we read it.

The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 2, verse 1.

“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.’”

Notice that this happened after Christmas.Verse 1 says it happened “after Jesus was born in Bethlehem.”

We don’t know exactly how long after. It could be up to 2 years later based on what else happens in this chapter.

It happens during the time that King Herod ruled over Israel. He is called Herod the Great but not because He was a good person. King Herod was not a Jew. He had been made the king by the Roman empire. And he was a very efficient and productive ruler. He built the great temple. He provided excellent famine relief.

And he was very evil. By the end of his life, he did just about anything to protect his kingship–including killing anyone that he thought threatened him–including one of his wives and at least two of his very own sons!

We know who King Herod was.

But we don’t know much about these “Magi” mentioned in verse 1.

The King James calls them “wise men.”

And they are very mysterious. They come onto the scene here in Matthew 2 and go off of the scene in Matthew 2...and they aren’t heard from ever again.

Who were those strange men?

We don’t really know. A couple of centuries earlier, there were a group of Medes who were priests called “the Magi,” and they apparently had some powers to interpret dreams and that sort of thing. We would have called them “magicians.”

And in fact, we get our English word “magic” from the word “Magi” here. I tend to think they were from Babylon and were related to the magicians mentioned in the book of Daniel

The Magi are mysterious people who are apparently also astrologers because they have seen some astrological phenomenon, “a star”, and discerned (how, we don’t know!) that a great king worthy of honor and worship[!] has been born in Israel to be King over the Jews.

We don’t know how they knew this! The Bible doesn’t say. And anything we come up with is conjecture. I tend to think that they had come upon the prophecy of Balaam from Numbers chapter 24 and saw a miraculous star that they associated with the “star that would come out of Jacob.”

The Bible never promotes astrology. But God is king over the stars!

And these mysterious men have been led by the stars from “the East” (wherever that is!) to Jerusalem to search for (v.2) “the one who has been born king of the Jews.”

Were these guys kings themselves? “We Three Kings?”

The Bible doesn’t call them kings. But they clearly got Herod’s attention! Herod is going to pay attention to these guys, so I think they must be royal personages of some kind. Maybe court astrologers. Maybe more. We just don’t know.

How many were there?

We don’t know that either! Tradition has 3 Magi, but only because they brought three gifts. There could have a whole camel train of these guys. Maybe 50, who knows?! That would have gotten Herod’s attention.

These Magi are almost a complete mystery. But what they are about is not mysterious.

They are searching for a king.

Do you see that Royalty theme here? They are searching for a king.

And that leads someone else to search for a king. Someone who isn’t happy that He has been born. V.3

“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. [Why?  Because He is king of the Jews! Or so he pretended.] 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.[He knew that the people he ruled expected a messianic ruler. From where?]  ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: [What Prophet?  Micah. Matthew paraphrases Micah 5:2-5. Which I read to us on Christmas Eve.]  '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 [There’s our word.].As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’”

We see the fulfillment theme here. Micah’s prophecy was fulfilled perfectly. Jesus was born in Bethlehem and will be the shepherd of His people.

But Herod isn’t happy about that, and he’s trying to turn the Magi into his intelligence agents to find the newborn king.

He is careful to find out the exact time the star had appeared? Why?

He wants to know how old the boy is.

And then he lies through his teeth. Herod says that he wants to worship the newborn king, as well. V.8

“As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

You can just about see him rubbing his hands together in evil delight.

Apparently, the Magi don’t yet know enough to distrust Herod and go off to do exactly what he says. V.9

“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.”

Wow! Apparently, the star (whatever that is! Who ever heard of a moving star?! This is a miracle, too! It moves kind of like the pillar of fire in the book of Exodus. The star) had vanished and now reappears to these mystery men and leads them right to Bethlehem, and even right to the place where the child was.

This was no ordinary star.

And they became deliriously happy. The King James says, “they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”

Woohoo! They had found him!  Their search was over. V.11

“On coming to the house [notice that some time has passed, Jesus’ family is now in a house], they saw the child [maybe a toddler by now] 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.”

Now, here, I think, is another reason to believe that the Magi were at least tied to royalty, if not kings themselves. These are gifts of royalty to royalty.

Jesus is a great king.

And He deserves great honor and worship with treasure.

You know, that’s one of the reasons why we take an offering in our worship services.

Because we are offering our treasures as a statement of our worship of Jesus.

The royalty theme is here. And so is the protection theme. V.12

“And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”

There are going to be a lot of protective dreams like that.

The Magi are given new marching orders directly from God and they bypass Herod and go home a different way.

And then they fade off into obscurity...

What mystery men! They have achieved their goal, however. They found the newborn king and they worshiped Him just as He deserved.

But that’s just one search. There is another search that is still on. And it’s a nefarious one.

But God is going to protect His Son. V.13

“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’”

Now, which of our four themes do you see here?

Is there is royalty? Yes. V.15 calls Jesus, God’s Son. That’s a term of royalty!

Is there protection? Yes. There is one of those protective dreams in verse 13.

Is there fulfillment? Yes!  V.15 says, “and so was fulfilled” Hosea 11:1 “Out of Egypt I called my Son.” Which turns out to be prophetic pattern. 

How about suffering? Yes, that’s there, too....

Think about Joseph and Mary fleeing in the night with young Jesus to Egypt, of all places.

Jesus and His family became refugees.

Think about that for a second. At one time in his young life, our Lord was a refugee.

I think that tells us something about God’s love for displaced people. At one time our Lord was a refugee.

Suffering. I believe that the Magi’s gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh are what got Joseph’s little family through this ordeal. They funded the flight to Egypt.

And they just barely escaped!

They had to take off at night because Herod’s SWAT Team was on the way. V.16

“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, [“Those Magi haven’t come back. What’s going on?”] and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’”

The Search for the Newborn King Killed All of the Boys of Bethlehem.

Can you imagine how terrible this was for Bethlehem?

The word “suffering” doesn’t really do this justice.

Every little boy in that town.

How many boys in this room 2 years old and under?

At one point all three of my boys were age 2 and under. There is only 2 and a half years between all three of them.

The King’s soldiers broke in and took their lives. There were maybe 20 or 30 of them at that time.

There is great suffering that comes with being associated with Jesus.

Jesus was protected this time, yes, but these boys were not. And Rachel wept.

Did you notice the fulfillment theme in verses 17&18?

Rachel was always associated with Bethlehem. She was buried near there back in Genesis.

And Jeremiah prophesied that great mourning would come with great suffering at the time of the exile.

And that prophetic pattern was fulfilled again when these boys lost their lives for Jesus’ sake.

Herod was horribly wicked.

And, eventually, he died and had to face the justice of God. V.19

“After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life [those searching for the newborn king] are dead.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. [But not Bethlehem, not again.]  But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod [and he knew that Archelaus was just as bad], he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth [probably his hometown]. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’”

Again, the theme of protection. Two dreams here (v.19 and v.22) to protect Jesus.

God wants this boy to grow up!

And the theme of fulfillment. “He will be called a Nazarene.”

That is, He will be despised because He came from nowheresville.

Which is a kind of suffering in itself.

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth? I doubt it.” He was rejected because of the obscurity of his hometown.  “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him...”

So...that’s what happened after Christmas.

The Search for Jesus Christ.

We’ve seen royalty ‘the one born king of the Jews” worthy of golden treasure.

We’ve seen protection. Dreams and midnight escapes to makes sure that this King lives to manhood.

And we’ve seen fulfillment. Ancient prophecies and typologies and prophetic patterns being filled up in the life of this little boy.

And we’ve seen suffering. Terrible suffering coming from terrible evil.

Now, how does this apply to us today?

As I’ve studied this chapter, I’ve been struck by three different kinds of people in this story.


The Magi, of course.

They sought Him out to worship Him.

Then came a great distance.

They spared no expense.

They believed that He was the King.

And they bowed before Him.

And while I don’t think that we’re supposed to learn anything from the stars, these stargazers got it right.

And we’re supposed to follow their example.

Do we seek to worship Jesus?

The bumper-sticker says, “Wise men still seek Him.”

And that’s right!

Wise men search after Jesus to worship Him.

They do whatever it takes.
They spare no expense.
They believe that He is the king.
And they bow before Him.


As followers of Jesus, we are called to live lives of worship and honor for our Great King.

That’s why we’re here this morning! I wondered how many people would come to church the Sunday after Christmas. If you’re here, chances are, you’re here to worship the King.

That’s why we had our offering today. It may not be gold, incense, or myrrh. But it’s our treasures, laid out as a gift before Him–to worship Him as our supreme treasure!

That’s how we’re supposed to live our lives.

Quiet devotional times.
Hard decisions.
A lifestyle of worship.

Following Jesus as King!

Because Jesus is worth it.

He’s worth searching to worship Him as our King.

How are you doing at worshiping Jesus?

Do you worship Jesus every day?
Do worship Jesus with your work?
Do worship Jesus with your time and talent and treasures?
Do worship Jesus with your relationships?
Do worship Jesus with your words?

Did you notice that these Magi were Gentiles?

I think that’s a great point. They were not Jews. They were from elsewhere, but they recognized that Jesus was not just the king of the Jews but worthy of their worship as Gentiles.

That’s going to be a theme that comes up again and again in the Gospel of Matthew.

Matthew is s written first to the Jews! But one of the messages to those Jews is that  Jesus is for the Gentiles, too.

In fact, Gentiles were among the first to recognize Who He truly is!

And we’re Gentiles, right?

Who are we in this story? Who do you identify with?

I’m not an astrologer, and I’m not a magician, but I am a Gentile who wants to worship Jesus.

A second kind of person.


Herod’s soldiers, of course, but more despicably, Herod himself.

Herod hated Jesus. He pretended to want to worship Him.

That’s a scary thing. Don’t pretend to want to worship Jesus if you hate Him inside.

And Herod might have actually believed that Jesus was the rightful king!

He consulted the prophecies!

But he wanted to kill Him anyway.

He was searching for Jesus, not worship but to kill.

We’ve seen the theme of protection here.

Herod failed.

But the hate that filled Herod didn’t die with Herod. Did it?

Eventually, that hate grew and grew, and Jesus finally succumbed to its power.

Eventually, Jesus did die at the hands of the rulers of Israel.

Another Herod was there that day.

And Jesus suffered and bled and died. There were no miraculous escapes that day.

Jesus died on the Cross.

But that was not the end!

The evil of those who hunt the King does not triumph in the end!

No matter what it seems like. No matter if it seems like evil will win in this world.

The Third Reich.
Idi Amin.
Joseph Stalin.

And whatever personal hell you might be going through right now.

Jesus came back from the dead. And no Herod on Earth can stop Him!

And those that believe in Him and worship Him will live with Him forever.

His resurrection took the sting out of sin and death and He will reign forever and ever!

Some searched for Jesus to worship Him.
Some searched for Jesus to kill Him.

Those are really the only two sides there are.

But reading this story, I am struck again by other group of people that are in this passage, however briefly. They are in verse 3.

“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.”

Now, maybe that’s hyperbole, but everybody in Jerusalem is buzzing with the news of these mysterious guys who have appeared from the East and are talking about a king and the chief priests and the teachers of the law name the place as Bethlehem...

And who goes to check it out?

Only the Magi.

None of the priests? None of the teachers of the law?

None of the people?

As far as we know.


They didn’t even bother.

They didn’t even bother to check it out.

And that apathy cost many of them their eternal lives.

Because there is no neutral when it comes to Jesus.

You are either on the Magi’s side or Herod’s side.

And if you think you can walk the fence, you’re on Herod’s side.

You might as well kill the babies yourself.

Are you sitting on the fence?

Are you just going through the motions, but you aren’t worshiping Jesus?

Are you just trying to mind your own business and hope that God doesn’t mess with it?

I invite you to get down off of the fence and come bow before the Lord Jesus.

He is the great king. Worthy of all worship!

And one day, He will come again and all of those who sought Him now will sing, “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the earth hear His voice! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the People Rejoice! Great things He has done.”

Don’t be ambivalent about Jesus.

He is the fulfillment of the whole Old Testament.
He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
He is worthy of all of our worship.

And He will reign for ever and ever. Amen.


Previous Messages in This Series:
01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ


[For those interested in that sort of thing, I was pleasantly surprised to find out how much of my 2009 sermon on this same text was helpful and re-usable in 2017!]