Thursday, December 25, 2014

Not What They Were Looking For - But What the Wise Men Found

Matthew 2:1-6
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
Actress Helen Hayes told a story one time about the time she cooked her very first turkey dinner. She wasn’t a very good cook, so she warned her family ahead of time, saying,
“This may not come out exactly the way I want it to. If it is not a good turkey, don’t say a thing. Without any comment, just stand up from the table, and we’ll go to the nearest restaurant and eat.”
She went into the kitchen to get the bird, and when she came back, her husband and son were already standing with their coats on. I guess we know what they expected, don’t we?

But, it is often said our expectations control our conduct. If you expect to have a good time at an event, you probably will; but if you dread going, you will probably hate it – that’s the way we function.

It is the same when you meet people. Everyone except a total stranger comes with a reputation, so when you meet someone you’ve already heard about, you’ve got this idea about what that person is like. You’ve already made a mental impression

But, so often, the person you meet doesn’t bear any resemblance to the person you heard about, and you go, “Wow! I’m sure surprised.”

Imagine how it was like that for the wise men. They’d studied the Holy Writings for centuries that predicted a coming King to rule over Israel. They watched the stars continually, looking for new phenomena as a sign. And they were expectant. When, lo and behold, a cosmic sign is given - a new star is spotted off to the west. The excitement must have been palpable. All the centers of learning were abuzz with this new find, and a plan was put in place to go see.

We don’t know how many came, or how big a caravan they had. It’s not likely there were just three, as the song says. But they came searching, following the star, and they came with expectations about what they would find.

What were they looking for? Why, the new king of Israel, of course, one destined to be ruler of the world, one so important the prophets wrote about Him centuries before He came. And yes, even one the prophets, Isaiah, hinted at His being God Himself coming in human form.

The Old Testament prophecies were wide spread and well known because of the dispersion of the Jews throughout Babylon and Persia. These wise men had high expectations as to what they would find at the end of their trip.

Matthew 2:1-2 tells a little about their expectations
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
Think about it: If you were looking for a king, where would you look, and what would you expect? Would you look in a palace, or a stable, especially if this new king was the King of kings, and Lord of lords?

Yet, where was Jesus born? He was born in a dark, drafty stable filled with smelly animals and rodents? It was the last place you would ever expect to be used as a delivery room. As Bill Hybels wrote, “Jesus’ first breath of air burned with the odor of animal urine. The first noises he heard were the grunts of livestock.” Not the kind of place you would expect the Son of God to be born in. It was the furthest thing from a palace.

And what about attendants? Would you expect a nation all abuzz with the exciting news, or a humble birth accompanied by the lowest of shepherds? Certainly, if this was God’s Son, God could provide better quarters if He wanted, but He chose not to. Of Course God could, but God wanted His Son to relate to all humans, not just royalty.

Again quoting Bill Hybels,
“From day one, God the Father determined not to shelter His Son from the rude, crude realities of life on planet earth. Jesus understands. He’s been there. . . . Can insulated aristocracy relate to what you and I go through?”
So Jesus walked among us, and like us, except without sin. He had a regular family, worked as a carpenter, and served as a traveling rabbi. There was no hint of royal blood in His demeanor. Yet, it is safe to assume, since the wise men went first to the palace in Jerusalem and to Herod’s royal court, that they expected this new born king to be born into royalty and to be accompanied with fanfare and pomp and circumstance.

Now, certainly, Joseph and Mary didn’t stay in the stable long. Would you? They would have quickly found other accommodations in Bethlehem, especially in the time it took for the wise men to arrive. But it certainly wasn’t over a palace where the star came to rest. Were they disappointed when they arrived and now found the babe living in rented quarters? Did they think, “Maybe we ought not give the gold, frankincense, and myrrh to a commoner? We’ll take it back to Jerusalem as a present for Herod?”

To their credit, they didn’t seem to bat an eye when the star led them to a baby who had been born in a barn. They did indeed worship this baby, and they did indeed bestow gifts fitting for a king. They were convinced that, in spite of the baby not being what they expected, that He was the new-born king. The star, after all, had led them directly here. They weren’t mistaken in their calculations. This was the place where the star had led them.

Matthew 2:9 says, “And behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.” So, in spite of their false assumptions, they rejoiced and worshipped.

Matthew 2:10-11 says:
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Ah, but the rest of the population, except for the shepherds, weren’t interested in a humble Messiah. They stayed away. They refused to worship Him.

But, it wasn’t just as a baby the nation rejected Him. John 1:11-12 teaches,
11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.
When He grew up, people came looking for the miracle working Messiah they heard about who healed the sick, cast out demons, and fed the multitude. And they willingly accepted the goodies from His hand. But they really couldn’t accept a wandering rabbi without a place to lay his head, not as their Messiah, not as their king.

In Matthew 8:20, we read:
20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
Poverty was his lot, along with rejection, ridicule, and opposition to everything He taught. And the final crushing rejection led to His execution as a traitor to Rome. He was anything but the regal king and conquering hero they expected. They could never fathom that the cross was part of God’s plan of salvation.

And His message wasn’t one they were expecting. Nor was it one they would tolerate. Matthew 16:24-26 states:
24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
When they heard His demands, the crowds evaporated. “No way! The Messiah is supposed to serve me, not the other way around. I didn’t sign up for a cross.” And eventually, they would cry out for His crucifixion.

But in spite of the fact that the vast majority of mankind rejected Him, His Father didn’t. Philippians 2:9-11 records:
9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
So Jesus isn’t who people expected, but He is who God sent. And He perfectly obeyed His Father’s will and plan. Our choice is to receive Him as He is, not as we want Him to be, or to reject Him, to our damnation, because He doesn’t match our expectations. What is your choice?

The wise men didn’t find what they expected, but they wisely worshipped the Lord as He actually was and gave Him the very best they had. Should we not do the same for the real Christ who came? When you find that Jesus isn’t what you expected, do you hold back, reluctant to give Him your best? Or do you without reservation give Him all you have - your life?

This Christmas, what do you make of the one born in a stable and laid in a manger? John Maxwell stated it this way: “If Christmas is about anything, it’s about a baby – God’s baby, born in a stable, who changed the world forever.”

Luke 2:11 says: “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Is He your Lord?

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