Preached @ Anchor Community Church On December 14th 2014
Have you ever thought what it would be like to be visited by Jesus? Kind of a strange thought. How would you react? Today we’re going to look at the strange way God often visits us. Of course one of those strange ways was the sending of His Son 2000 years ago.
Christmas is that time when we celebrate the birth (Or ‘Visit” of God; Immanuel). Christmas has always been a fond memory for me. I remember the joyful anxiety of waiting for the “Grown-ups” to get out of bed so we could open our presents. I remember taking an afternoon walk to the neighbor’s houses to drink apple cider and hot chocolate and sometimes even receive more presents. For me, Christmas has always been a joyful time, but for many it is just the opposite. It is a time of loneliness and lost. I remember my grandfather crying every year at the dinner table during Christmas and Easter at the loss of his son to cancer years ago. The holidays can certainly be a sore memory, cultivating painful times. I pray as we explore this Christmas story we find that “Joy” in the midst of our pain and loss.
We are going to take a look at two unlikely visits in the Christmas story. They are unlikely because of who was visited, not because God doesn’t visit people. Both groups are sort of marginalized in a culture. The invisible, left behind types. Why didn’t God visit, and send visitors who were religious leaders? That would have made sense in a story like this. But He didn’t, Jesus was born in anonymity, a faceless, marginalized person Himself.
Today we are going to look at Four Different Aspects in relation to unlikely visit #1, and I am hoping it will be a blessing to all of us, as we reacquaint ourselves with an all too familiar story.
Big Picture: Jesus’ 1st Unlikely Visit demonstrates His sovereign grace in creating worshipers from all people groups!
From the Head…
The 1st Unlikely Visit Has Historical Connections
The bible, unlike mythical writings, roots its stories in verifiable history. It speaks of many real historical people, places and events. King Herod was one of those people. He was a real king of the Jews that reigned via the blessing of the Roman Senate per the advice of Octavian and Antony in the latter part of the last century BC. Like many of the despots and rulers of the age, Herod was paranoid and ruthless. He was so paranoid that he killed anyone who he thought would replace him as king including 2 of his own sons (Alexander and Aristobulus), his first wife (Mariamne), his half brother (Antipater), and a majority of the Hasmonaean family whom he married into to take over power in the region. Herod was a converted Jew of Idumean (Edomite/Palestinian) descent, a people group the Jews already were leery of. Herod was especially hated for the way he treated the Jewish Hasmonean family. So even though there is no record of the killing of babies in Palestine outside of the bible, Herod’s character fit the story perfectly.
The 1st Unlikely Visit Demonstrates God’s Sovereignty (Matthew 2:1-4; 7-8)
There are at least two demonstrations of God’s sovereignty in this story. The first is:
God sovereignly led the Pagan Magi to Him
Who were these “Magi?” As far as anyone knows they were from the “East.” Probably the Mesopotamian area now know as Iran/Iraq? Most likely they were pagan astrologers or magicians of some sort. Once again, we see the bible story using eye witnesses that don’t make sense when you’re writing to a Jewish audience like Matthew was. These Magi would have been seen as pagan dogs, yet God visited them, and He did so through their medium; astrology. Crazy! There are biblical injunctions against future reading, astrology and magic, yet God met them there. Wow! I guess this destroys any notion of the question, “What about the pagan in Africa?” God sovereignly seeks, and finds His people. These Magi obviously knew something about the coming Messiah, since they quoted part of Micah 5:2 when Herod asked where Jesus was to be born (Bethlehem). Even Jesus’ birth was sovereignly set up by Caesar Augustus’ decree for everyone to return to the town of their birth to register in a census. Joseph’s hometown was Bethlehem. When God wants something to happen, it happens sovereignly. God clearly demonstrates His grace to all humanity no matter of their race/ethnicity, color, social economic status, etc. Those who we easily marginalize, God chooses for His team. A second sovereign aspect of this story is seen in His protection of Jesus, and His plan.
God sovereignly led the “King of the Jews” away
God protects and executes His plans. Jesus wasn’t just a cuddly baby to be played with; He was the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, and savior of all mankind. God was not going to allow His plans to be thwarted by some paranoid Palestinian despot. God sovereignly directed the Magi and others to protect Jesus from the destruction of a crazed King. God’s sovereignty clearly reigns over the sovereignty kings of that day enjoyed over their people.
The 1st Unlikely Visit Demonstrates A Fulfillment of Prophecy (Matthew 2:5-6)
Our story also reminds us that this birth in Bethlehem was prophesied years before it happened. Interestingly, while the Magi quote Micah 5:2, they only quote the portion that answers Herod’s question of “Where” Jesus was to be born, but left out the latter half that indicates “Who” Jesus is. According to the last part of Micah 5:2, this ‘Ruler’ who was, “Coming forth is from old, from ancient of days.” This person, being born in Bethlehem, was eternal, He was coming from the past.
Now no one is sure where these Magi found this scripture? The wealthiest people only owned Scriptures, and there is a chance that was true of these men. It may even be that Jewish proselytizers presented this information to them, and they believed. Either way, they knew of this prophecy, and somehow God visited them with a star, who no one knows what that was. A Miracle? An astrological phenom? Can’t say. The fact is God visited them, and that caused them to travel very far to visit Him.
The 1st Unlikely Visit Leads to Worship Or Despair (Matthew 2:3-4, 9-12)
What the Magi did when they got to see Jesus is important; they rejoiced and they worshipped Him. There are really only two responses to a real visit from Jesus and ambivalence isn’t one of them. In our story, there are two responses. Herod responds in terror/fear (Tarasso, v. 3). He was anxious, distressed, because he knew Jesus would require much of him, and he would lose his power. Killing Him was the only option, but that was something that would only happen on God’s timing, later on in the story. While one reaction to a real visit from Jesus is despair, a second reaction of worship is seen in our story. Verse 10 says, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Here we go with that Christmas JOY again. Is it possible to have “Joy” when our circumstances are so bad? Many people hate this season, because it brings too many painful memories, and some of the pains are very hard, and the pain of the individual that is depressed is real and understandable. But, with that, there is a joy that encompasses our circumstantial despair. Christmas joy is not circumstantial; it is rooted in who Jesus is, and what He subsequently did with His life. As one person wrote, “we can choose to look at our circumstances to define who God is, or we can look to God to define our circumstances.” There is much lamentation in the scriptures, and I believe that Christians need to learn that grieving is part of this fallen world, and it is even part of our worship, as we lay it at the feet of an all loving God, however that same loving God, who is sovereign, and knows why everything is happening to a ‘Good” in the big picture, brings us a joy that is eternal and deep.
The Magi got this part of the story. There is no doubt horrible things that happen to many people, and in some sense we all have some heartfelt hurt in us, but Jesus came to wipe out death, pain and suffering; He is bigger than our pain because He too experienced that same pain and loss. God our heavenly Father lost His Son too, and I believe His loss has eternal consequences that we will never understand. The Magi first was flooded with the real joy the real Jesus brings, and that emotion overflowed into worship. It’s the only reaction that brings joy and salvation. We can fear God because He is a righteous judge, and has every right to judge those He deems worthy of judgment, but because of His Son, He is also just (See Romans 3:23-25), and He has every right to bestow grace and mercy on whom He pleases. Real worship comes from an encounter with a real Jesus, that facilitates a real joy in the midst of pain, that overflows into praise and worship because we can’t help praising what we love.
CS Lewis made this clear in his book The Reflections In the Psalms:
“I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise…I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it….I think we delight to praise what we enjoy, because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it’s expressed.”
The fact is, God’s demand for praise and our desire for happiness are not inimical to one another, but they compliment one another. We praise what we value, and God is the highest being to be valued, and when our desire for God meets our desire for joy, it can’t help overflowing in praise and worship. Worship isn’t a thing we do, or a place we go to, it is a heart felt reality that God is all we need.
Christmas joy is not contingent on our circumstances, and it’s only found in Christ. And when we encounter the living Christ, worship and giving gifts become a natural thing, not a forced thing!
…to the Heart
God sovereignly visits His people, and creates in them a new heart that begins to desire Him in ways e never thought imaginable. Technique and mantras don’t bring god(s) to us; God meets His people in unlikely places at unlikely times. I pray that Jesus becomes your center piece during this Christmas season!
- What makes you joyful in the holiday season?
- How do you see God’s sovereignty in this story?
- Does God’s sovereignty comfort you? Why? Why not?
- Why did God visit the pagan Magi, instead of the religious leaders?
For further sermon dialogue go to www.anchorlongbeach.wordpress.com
 The Hasmonean Dynasty ruled Israel prior to the Herodian dynasty of 37 BC.