[Simple short message for ECM]
Hello everybody! Merry early Christmas to you all! Christmas is my favorite season of the year. I love the music, the lights, the general feeling of “good will toward all men”! And I never get tired of the Christmas songs, even in the middle of July! But anyway, Christmas. Why do we celebrate Christmas? Why do people give gifts to one another? Why are there lights around everywhere and a joyful feeling in the air? To answer those questions, let’s go back to the first Christmas.
The wise men from the east saw something in the stars that pointed to the birth of a Jewish king. They prepared expensive gifts and took a dangerous journey hundreds of miles from their hometown to the Jewish capital, Jerusalem. So they were very certain about getting to meet this special king! This is where we begin our story today. But before we get into the text, I want to make a note: there was someone in this story who didn’t share in the excitement.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men[a] from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose[b]and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
~ Matt 2:1-12
Jesus’ coming is so amazing! However, do you remember who wasn’t happy at all to hear the news to a point where he was “troubled”? Yeah, it was King Herod. You see, the Jews were anticipating a Jewish king to save them from Roman oppression. Herod here was an illegitimate king over Jerusalem because he was not Jewish – he was considered part of the enemy. So when King Herod heard about this new king, he was pretty upset that another king was threating to his power – his throne. In fact, he felt so threatened that he ordered all the baby boys in Jerusalem and its vicinity to be killed.
You know, I’m tempted to bash King Herod at this point for trying to defy God. It sounds so foolish! I mean, if it was written in the stars and prophesized in scripture, it’s very clear that God specifically, intentionally planned this baby’s arrival. But instead of just getting upset at King Herod, I had to stop and consider my own attitude. Herod was “troubled”, or in another version, it says, he was “disturbed”. He was hostile to the very idea that another king would reign instead of himself… But what about me? Everyday, I fight the same battle that king Herod tried to fight: a battle between me and God. <”fight” with God over crown> Who’s going to be king over my life and my future? Who’s going to tell me what to do and have power over my life? I want to say, “God”, but when I’m faced with an annoying housemate or a difficult life situation, I want to say, “No thanks, God.” God says that I’m a forgiven sinner and that my life’s purpose is to love God and to love people. But I say, “No, I don’t want to care about that person like you tell me to, or even talk to that person. No, I don’t want to be thankful in all circumstances. No, I don’t want to hear that I’m a sinner and confess my specific sins.” Just like King Herod, I’m very disturbed that another king, king Jesus, has come to reign in my life. <put down crown> Often, I’ll want to silence God’s voice, whether it comes from the Bible, my conscience or from a good friend because I want to be king, and I don’t want anybody telling me what to do. I take on that regal attitude, and that’s when I forget the mystery and awe that God would even come close and love someone like me. And that Jesus’ humble beginning was intentional, just as intentional… as his death on the cross.
From the beginning of time, God loved us. But we are people who didn’t always love God back. We were never taught to be selfish, but even from a young age, we knew how to be selfish and how to act like demanding kings. We rejected God’s rightful claim over our lives and thus deserve to die apart from him. Although we deserve to die because of our sins, God sent Jesus Christ into the world on that the first Christmas, in Bethlehem.
Another interesting group that we can look at is the chief priests and teachers of the law. They’re pretty darn smart bunch, so smart that king Herod asks them very important questions about very important matters. Even the wise men from the east didn’t know, but they knew! They knew that the Christ was going to be born in a small, obscure town called Bethlehem. But the sad thing is, even though they are great readers and great at answering people’s questions, they missed out on relating to Jesus. You see, even though they had all of their facts right, they didn’t respond to Jesus at all. If this was the prophesied king, the one who God told them about through the Old Testament – if this was it – why didn’t they have any excitement or action? Like, if someone says that your grandchild was born, and was brought for a visit in the front lobby, wouldn’t you want to scramble to get there as fast as you possibly could? How much more, then, the foretold king, the one who was called Savior? So, you see, there was something wrong about these chief priests and teachers that kept a precious visitor at an arm’s distance. Maybe they were afraid of Herod or maybe they thought that the foretold king coming in their lifetime was too good to be true. But excuses aside, this group is just as tragic as king Herod. Even though they had a wealth of knowledge and knew the most about Jesus – more than anyone else – they ultimately didn’t really know Jesus.
For me, I grew up going to church and learned about Jesus for as far as I can remember, just like these chief priests. So I always went to Sunday School, I memorized Bible verses, I sang in the choir, and played piano during praise time. <stick on awards> If I had a prize for all of those things, you could say that I could have gotten a “Great Attendance Award”, “Bible Knowledge Award”, and a “Service Award”. However, even though I knew the verses and the songs, and did all of these things in church, none of it really hit my heart, because I was aloof and distant from the personal God, just like those chief priests were. But one day, I finally realized that I was a sinner and needed Jesus to personally die for me. It was only then that I accepted him as king and savior into my life. It was only then too, did prayer, reading his Word, and seeking to obey him mean much more to me than ritualistic “good things” to do, because I actually wanted to relate to God and please him.
Now, who was Jesus? He was more than a good moral teacher for us to follow. He was more than a tragic man who died on the cross. He is the rightful king of the world and of our hearts. He is someone who loved us so much that He came and died to be our Savior – in other words, he saved us from the death that we deserve by taking on death himself. We are sinners, we need a savior, and He is it. He came and he’s still here today. Let’s not let miss him and only know facts about him from afar, like the chief priests and the teachers of the law. Instead, let’s personally ask God for forgiveness for our sins and trust Jesus to be our Savior. Let’s not remain disturbed, like Herod. Instead, let’s humbly accept Jesus as king and Lord over our lives.
The wise men from the east had it right. They were overjoyed to meet Jesus because they knew that Jesus was someone who is worth worshipping, worth the sacrifice of expensive gifts, and worth the trouble to investigate and to personally find. Now, to wrap up this message, I want to issue a question to you all. Would you like to personally find Jesus? From the beginning of time, before God flung the universe into being, his plan to love us and save us from our sins was already written out in the stars. After He died for our sins, he rose again, showing us that he conquered sin and even death. Jesus is still alive today, and he wants you to join him in eternal life by starting and continuing in a saving relationship with him. More than knowing facts about him as merely an example of a good man to follow, Christmas is so special because Jesus came to us personally on that day. If we only humbly confess that we are sinners, ask for forgiveness, and trust that he is our Lord and Savior, we can enter into an exciting, joyful, enriching relationship with our King. Would anyone like to do this for the first time today? Ok, Let’s pray.