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Advent Day 12

2Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 3Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him (Matt 2:1-2).

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With the constant broadcast of bad news, the media inundates the public with a daily narrative of despair and bleakness to create the sense of a dark, dark winter ahead due to the pandemic effect. I imagine some may have cried out in discouragement: God, where are you? Where can God be found? But, I’m here to tell you today–based on the story of the magi in Matt 2 as its backdrop–of a long-lasting truth from an everlasting Savior in this advent season–one of hope…one of love…one of joy…and one of peace, 

Where can God be found? God made Himself known to man in the Son of God as deity incarnated in humanity as Jesus or Emmanuel, God with us–The agency of God’s Spirit conceived Jesus in the expectant Mary, a child born in humanity and Son in divinity (Isa 9:6a; Matt 1:23a,b)–Emmanuel, God’s revelation of  Himself as the Light that shines in the darkness, that darkness cannot overcome (John 15:1).

Over 2,000 years ago, the Gentile magi came from the east asking the question, “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews? (Matt 2:2). Though a Roman title for Israel’s monarch, prophecy fulfilled a much greater role in Jesus as King of the Jews–the King who descended from the Davidic line having a God identity. The Matthean infancy narrative in 1:22-23 first explained Jesus’ kingly nature as God with Us who “will save His people from their sins.” Reading on from the infancy narrative in this same book, the author portrayed Jesus as the King of the Jews. This echoes Num 24:17 as the Star out of Jacob as well as Isaiah 60:1, “arise, shine, for thy light is come.” As the book of Matthew unfolds, the author uncovers a full portrait of Jesus as the Servant-King.

Where can God be found? The magi located God in flesh, Emmanuel, in the village of Bethlehem, the city of David in Judah. They honored Him as a great king by worshiping or paying homage to Him. Why does the fulfillment of two prophecies from Numbers and Isaiah hold importance echoing the magi matter? Because it points to where God abodes for all men–the Light dwelling among His people accessible even to the pagan Gentiles. For “from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the Lord (Isa 60:6b). God will remember His covenant with Israel and save them, but also will give salvation to the Gentiles (Rom 11:27). 

Where can God be found? We need not look far to find Emmanuel, God with us. Through the sealing of His Spirit we find Him dwelling within us in our tabernacle. Through Jesus’ Spirit we inherit His divine nature. During Advent from November 29 to December 24, we celebrate and affirm He who lives in us remembering His hope, love, peace, and joy. 

Hope 

The magi arrived in Jerusalem seeking the King of the Jews to worship Him. They made their entrance into Jesus’ early life with a trip based on hope and faith, after traveling from a distant land somewhere in the East. Quite possibly, they traveled from Parthia, off the Persian Gulf over the International Highway from Southern Iraq and Iran through Syria and finally to Jerusalem. The trip posed many risks for them. While wise men often paid tribute to kings, they journeyed over land traveling 500 miles to the Jerusalem area. If they went by camel, the trip would have taken them approximately 25-50 days at 10-20 miles per day over rough terrain. Also, they carried a valuable cargo of gold, frankincense, and myrrh equivalent to several million dollars in today’s economy. Perhaps, soldiers accompanied them as protection, which would have intimidated local leaders as they passed through various villages. The trip into Judea further carried political risk that Herod Antipitas the king  and the Romans could have viewed as an act of war. It had not been that long ago that Judea had been under Parthian control as they supported the Hasmonean Dynasty that ruled the land before Herod and the Romans took over. Between the distance, terrain, economic, and political dynamics, the trip carried many risks. 

But, notice how Scripture describes the star in Matt 2:2 as “His star,” meaning it signified “the one who has been born king of the Jews,” none other than Jesus. Matthew 1 and 2 unpack His identity in the infancy narrative giving a periscope view of Him: Jesus, called the Christ in His genealogy (Matt 1:16), meaning the Messiah, the Anointed One; Jesus, who would save His people from their sins (1:21); and God with us, Emmanuel (v. 23). He is our Hope!

The general New Testament definition from Vine’s Expository Dictionary described hope as a favorable and confident expectation. How did the magi possibly know where to find Emmanuel? God sent a supernatural star to them where He chose to reveal Himself in Emmanuel, God with us–the Hope of Salvation. They believed and acted upon the hope they saw.

Where can God be found? God with us, the Hope of our Salvation, dwells in His redeemed. God with us provides us the object upon which hope comes (1 Tim 1:1). The New Testament describes hope with three adjectives: good (2 Thess 2:16), blessed (Titus 2:13), and living (1 Pet 1:3). Hebrews adds a better hope because of the better New Covenant in Jesus. While the magi journeyed to find Him, even in the face of many risks, they followed His star as a guide. Our better Hope lives within us illuminated by the light from His star–the Holy Ghost!

Love

Interestingly, Matthew contrasted two kings of the Jews in the passage about the magi: Herod and Jesus, former self-serving and latter a servant to others. The kingship of Jesus roots itself in prophecy and will result in the salvation of His people. While Jesus loved His people so much He died for them as their King so they would live, Herod slew his Bethlehem subjects; children (two and under) so that he could live and reign as king. Love as a deliverer distinguishes Jesus as the heavenly Star and Scepter, while hate in suspicion characterized Herod as a temporary, earthly king.

The genealogy of Jesus in Matt 1, identified Him as the Messiah, the King of Israel. As King David’s descendant to the throne of Israel, Jesus fulfills the greater reign and authority of the Almighty promised in the Old Testament. In Num 24:17, Balaam prophesied the Messiah’s future comings in kingdom language as the Star out of Jacob and the Scepter that would rise out of Israel. The Star out of Jacob refers to the Son of David–the incarnation of the one true God who dwells among His people–who would redeem His people from their sin. The scepter describes His authority over kings, peoples, and nations. In Jesus second coming, He will rule with a scepter taking His rightful place with authority over worldly kingdoms (Rev 12:4; 19:15). 

The Roman senate appointed Herod, king of the Jews. He came from south of Judea in Idumea, the second son of Antipater. Herod descended from the Edomites, whose ancestors converted to Judaism. Herod was raised as a Jew, albeit in name only. He made a number of achievements including liberating Jerusalem in 38-37 BC, which also made his control over Judea complete. However, achieved his kingship through deceit, bribery, assassination, and cruelty. He did anything but liberate the Jews.

Where can God be found? Jesus died to offer eternal life by His unconditional grace that only comes through His great love for us! We must accept the love offered in absolute, perfect expression among men in the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:14; Eph 2:4; 3:19; 5:2).

Joy

For one special event in history, the God who rules the heavens chose to reveal Himself–the Lord is come, Joy to the world to those who know Him–where pagans looked (cf. Acts 19: 12, 15-20). God illuminated the pathway to Jesus with a supernatural sign, just as He led his own people by the fire and cloud in the wilderness (Exod 13:21-22).

The Magi commonly would represent the Persian king to honor a reigning king. They were sages, wise men, and astrologists often in positions of responsibility commanding respect because of their wisdom. They prophesied, explained omens, interpreted dreams, and practiced divination (Dan 2:2, 48; 4:9). God used these pagan Gentiles entering into Jerusalem to announce the birth of a king. More than likely, they came with a large caravan and caught the attention of Herod and everyone else in Jerusalem. 

A star guided the magi to the King of the Jews whom they sought. Jesus’ Spirit serves as the believer’s guide–a light in the darkness for His complete joy. Herod and the scribes knew where the Messiah would be born according to Scripture, but did not act on it in faith.

Where can God be found? Matthew 2:9-10 says that when the magi  “heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them.The magi did not have to look for the Child because the star literally stood over the place where Jesus lay. When the wise men saw the star, they rejoiced with “exceeding great joy” (2:10). Exceedingly means that joy overwhelmed the wise men. May I suggest the Magi recognized the presence of God Himself in the Christ child whom they would worship as a cause for joy. Likewise, Jesus’ star stands over us to let us know of His presence. That same star serves as a type to locate “God with us” in every believer. Jesus promises us in the book of Mathew’s close in chapter 28:20 with the words “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.” Look at the star that stands over us for Emmanuel.

Peace

God alone provides our source of peace. God robed in humanity as Emmanuel reflects the full embodiment of Him. Therefore, Jesus–God with us–manifests Yahweh Shalom (Judg 6:24 ) in His fulfilled nature as the Lord is Peace. The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, means wholeness in all of life, completeness, welfare, and safety. The Lord came to sinful humankind, historically first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles, desiring to enter into a relationship with them to give them His peace. He established with them a covenant of peace, which He sealed with His presence (Num 6:24-26 ). 

Herod sought to destroy Yahweh Shalom viewing the infant Jesus as a threat to his rule. However, the pagan Magi looked for Jesus so they could worship Him. God never held the Gentiles as an afterthought in His redemptive plan, but they had been part of His work in history from the beginning.

Where can God be found? He offers redemption through His Name to all people. With redemption comes His peace. The name Yahweh Shalom represents His self-revealed character in Emmanuel– God with us–as the Lord is Peace. When we come to Him in worship, we feel the  holy presence of His perfect peace in harmony with our Savior.

Closing

The story of the Magi and the star that guided them accomplished many purposes in the infancy narrative of Jesus: it acknowledged the birth of the King–the Star of Jacob and Scepter of Israel, gave access to the Gentiles, fulfilled prophecy, and guided the Magi. It was a divine, heavenly sign God used for a historical purpose. Though news of the Star of Bethlehem signaling a new ruler troubled King Herod, it serves as a divine, heavenly reminder to believers in Christ of the Deliverer who ushered in a new Kingdom. Perhaps, God plans to send another with the Christmas Star to appear on December 21, that God with us still provides hope, love, joy, and peace.

Jan Paron, PhD

12.10.20

Preached at Lighthouse Church of All Nations (12.9.20)