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  • Adam Schell

The Wise Men

It’s the first Sunday of the new year, so I thought we’d start this sermon off by having a little fun. I want to play a little game to see how perceptive you are. So we’re going to put some different slides up on the screen and I’m going to ask you a question about each one.

So, let’s start with this one.

Now, when you look at this picture, it’s pretty obvious that there are several faces hidden in this tree. But exactly how many faces are in this tree? I’ll give you a second to think about it. Have you got your answer? Great, but now let’s see how many faces there actually are. There are ten.

Let’s try another one. I want you to take a look at this image, and tell me how many triangles you see.

Now, if you’ve ever seen this picture posted on social media, you’ll know that people have come up with a wide range of answers to that question. I’ve personally seen people guess that there are anywhere from 4 to 44 triangles in this picture. But there are actually 18 triangles in this picture.

Let’s try one more. In just a second, we're going to flash a sentence onto the screen. What I want you to do is count the number of times the letter “f” appears in this sentence. Got it? All right, then let's show the sentence:

Finished files are the result of years of scientific study combined with the experience of years.

Okay, I've given you a few moments to think about how many times does the letter “f” appear in the sentence: Finished files are the result of years of scientific study combined with the experience of years. If you counted 3 “f”s then you're halfway there. But you probably only saw the “f” in finished, files, and even scientific. But how many of you noticed the “f”s in the 3 ofs in that sentence?

It's kind of funny how much we miss that is happening right in front of our eyes. Whether we're talking about counting faces, or triangles, or the number of “f”s that appear in a sentence, we miss a lot.

We miss a lot.

You can say we're inattentive, you can say we're unobservant, you can say we're distracted, you can even say we're dense...but anyway you say it, we miss a lot.

And there may be no other time of year that we're as susceptible to missing things as we are right after Christmas. Take a minute and think about it, if you could use one word to describe how you feel right after Christmas is over what would it be? Would you say that you’re happy? Or maybe joyful? Or that you feel fulfilled? If you're anything like me the word you'd pick would probably be "exhausted".

For many of us celebrating Christmas means that we have spent countless hours in the airport waiting on flights or in our cars sitting in traffic, as we travel to see family. While we're there we sleep on pull-out sofas that could be called anything but comfortable or on hotel beds that just aren't the same as being at home. We go to our favorite stores and fight through crowds to pick out the perfect gift only to wait in line on those hard tile floors to check out. Even those of us who shop online anxiously check our front porches or mailboxes every afternoon hoping that all of our packages will arrive on time. To top it all off we attend holiday parties at work, Christmas programs for our kids or grandkids, and special services at church. We have so much going on at Christmas that we’re left with only a handful of free evenings between Thanksgiving and the New Year. And, I'm exhausted just saying all of there’s no wonder that we feel so worn out after living through it.

Of course, these feelings of exhaustion aren't limited to our personal lives after Christmas, they also carry over into our church lives as well. Let's face it, we spent a lot of time and energy putting up the tree that’s behind, and hanging wreaths, and decorating the rest of our church building. The folks who sang special music for us during the Christmas season had to give up a few hours of their time to rehearse. It took more time than I’d care to admit or really even think about setting up our sanctuary space for our annual Christmas banquet…and then we had to take it all down again to be ready for our Sunday morning service. On top of that, we had a craft day, a family movie night, and our Christmas Eve service. 

So whether you’re thinking about your family Christmas celebrations or all the events and activities that we’ve had going on at church throughout the month of December, as the new year begins, I think a lot of us who be willing to admit that we’re ready for a break.

For the next few months, when we come to church we just want to show up and kick up our feet and relax in our seats. We want to sit back and simply enjoy the music and cruise through the sermon and then rush back out the doors. Because we know that it won't be long before Easter rolls around and we're busy with all those special activities and events again. 

So now that Christmas is over and a new year has begun, we're content to leave baby Jesus in the manger, asleep on the hay without so much as a second thought. Sure, we'll start talking about Jesus again as Easter draws nearer...but right now, we're not ready to think about the cross, or the empty tomb, or anything else that has to do with Jesus. We're tired from Christmas, and we all want a break.

But even though we’re all ready to put Christmas behind us for another year, there’s a part of Christmas that we have to hold onto. We have to hold on to Jesus.

We have to hold on to Jesus.

But if we’re in a rush to put Christmas behind us and move on with the new year, we run the risk of missing Jesus altogether.

And we see this play out in the passage I want us to take a closer look at today. So, if you have your Bible with you or an app on your phone open it to Matthew 2. Matthew 2 and follow along with me as I read verses 1 through 12. Matthew writes:

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”

3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. 4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:

6 You, Bethlehem, land of Judah, by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah, because from you will come one who governs, who will shepherd my people Israel.”

7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” 9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.

Matthew 2:1-12 (Common English Bible)

I know, I know...we've all heard this story a million times before. I know, I know...we've all already been reminded of the wise men as we've set up our Nativity scenes on our coffee tables or in our front yards. I know, I know...we've all heard countless sermons preached on these Three Kings over the years. So, I know, I know that you're all wondering what the chances are that you'll hear something different or important from this sermon today.

And the truth is, I could stand here today and attempt to inform you of who the wise men were. I could try to explain that they were likely priests, practicing a religion called Zoroastrianism, who were living in Persia at the time that the star first appeared. I could tell you that as Zoroastrians they believed that a savior would be sent to this world who would inaugurate the kingdom of God. Or I could stand here today and talk to you about the gifts that the wise men brought with them when they came to see Jesus. I could tell you that the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh showed us who Jesus is, That the gold represented his royalty, that the frankincense (which was commonly burned as part of worship) showed his divinity, and that the myrrh (which was commonly used in embalming) showed that Jesus would lay down his life for us.

But that's not really what I want to talk about today, and if we get too caught up in any of these things we'll miss the point of this sermon. So instead, what I want to talk about and focus on today is the reactions that the different characters in this story had to the news that there was a newborn king of the Jews.

And that’s what we spent all of Christmas talking about at Melbourne Heights. Since the beginning of December, we’ve been working our way through a series of sermons called “The Characters of Christmas.” And each week during this series, we’ve been looking past the figurines we find in our nativity sets and taking a closer look at the real people we meet in the Christmas story to see how the first Christmas changed their lives so we can understand how Christmas changes our lives.

So let’s talk about how the different characters that we just read about in Matthew 2 responded to the news of Jesus’ birth. Let's start with King Herod. King Herod was a master politician, he had used public alliances and backroom deals to become the king of the Jews more than 30 years before Jesus' birth. Since Herod was the long-reigning king of the Jews, the wise men's announcement that there was a newborn king of the Jews was extremely troubling to Herod. Why? Well, there could only be one king, and if this newborn was king then Herod was not. And Herod was prepared to do whatever had to be done to guarantee that he remained king...including ordering the execution of small children. 

For Herod, the news that Jesus was born was far from good news. For Herod, Jesus was a threat that had to be dealt with. But Herod missed the point. Jesus didn’t come to take Herod's seat on a thrown inside the walls of Jerusalem. Jesus came to establish a new kingdom, born out of love and grace, not from violence and oppression.

Then there were the religious leaders – the chief priests and legal experts – that Herod called for. Herod asked these religious leaders where the king of the Jews was to be born, and what did they do? They quoted words from the prophet Micah, telling Herod that Christ was to be born in Bethlehem. And that's all they did. But shouldn't they have done more?

I mean ever since the royal line of David had come to an end, roughly a thousand years earlier, the people of Israel had been waiting for David's successor. They had waited through the division of their kingdom into 2 separate nations (one in the north, the other in the south). They had waited as the Persians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Greeks, and the Romans had all invaded and taken over their country. They had waited through political infighting and violent wars. They had waited through ruthless rulers and appointed figureheads. And now their wait was over.

So what did they do when they heard that the king of the Jews, the long-awaited Messiah, had finally arrived? Absolutely nothing. They didn’t celebrate. They didn’t rejoice. They didn’t pack their bags and follow the wise men to Bethlehem. But why? They had been waiting hundreds of years for this news to come, only to sit back and do nothing because they missed the point.

They knew that a newborn king of the Jews would challenge everything they had worked so hard to build. These religious leaders had become skilled at maneuvering through the complex politics of the Roman Empire and had reached powerful positions. But a new king meant everything would change. So these religious leaders, the very people who should have been the most excited about the arrival of their king, did nothing.

And then you have the wise men. These men traveled hundreds, if not thousands of miles from the east because the stars had shown them that a king had arrived. They didn’t know this king. They didn’t know his people. They didn’t even know where his kingdom was, or where he’d been born. But when the star appeared, they went to find him. They crossed deserts and rivers, they climbed mountains and traversed valleys. They traveled for months on end to meet a king they didn't even know.

Why? Because the wise men got the point. They knew that this newborn king wasn't a threat to their way of life...they knew this newborn king promised us all a better life. They knew that this newborn king meant the beginning of something amazing. They knew that his arrival marked the beginning of God's kingdom coming to this earth. And they knew that his arrival meant that God had become one of us.

So, yes, Christmas has come and gone for another year. But I hope we don't miss the point of why we celebrated Christmas in the first place. I hope we don't forget what the arrival of Christ means. Christmas shows us that God has become one of us.

Christmas shows us that God has become one of us.

So instead of feeling run down and worn out after celebrating Christmas, let’s not miss what this season is really about. At Christmas God became one of us so that we can know him better. So let’s not get in such a hurry to put Christmas behind us that we put God behind us to. Let’s hold on to Jesus and continue to grow closer to him.

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