The global purpose of God is the glad praise of Christ among the peoples of the world. He directs nature and he draws nations. First, he sends the Christ. The beginning of Matthew: Come and see the King! Joyfully offer your life as a worshiper. Then, he sends the church. The end of Matthew: Go and spread the kingdom! Passionately spend your life as a witness. In this message on Matthew 2:1–12, Pastor David Platt shows us the significance of the Magi in the Advent narrative.
- The place where King David was born becomes the point where King Jesus is born.
- The global purpose of God is the glad praise of Christ among the peoples of the world.
If you have a Bible, and I hope you do, let me invite you to open with me to Matthew 2 and pull out those notes that you received in your Worship Guide when you came in. Matthew 2. We’re going to look at verses 1 through 12. I want to continue a trend tonight that I began last week—trying to debunk all the lies that we often sing in Christmas carols.
Heather told me that I have a knack for ruining things at Christmas. I’m really not trying to be a Grinch here—just trying to expose a little truth. So Silent Night, Holy Night—not true. Neither is Away in a Manger. “The cattle are lowing the poor baby wakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.” Also a farce. When was the last time you saw a newborn baby wake up next to a cow and not be a bit bothered by that? Hey, let’s be real.
So I’ve got a couple other songs that I’d like to obliterate with the Word of God tonight so…Those will come as we get into the text. But in all seriousness, I want us to see that singing is an absolutely proper response to the birth of Jesus. Song and praise and worship and surrender and sacrificial offering—all of these things are very appropriate responses to the birth of Jesus. I want to show you that in the actions of some magicians in Matthew 2. I want us to see what this chapter tells us about the grand purpose of God in all the universe and what this chapter tells us about the ultimate purpose of God in your life, right where you are sitting tonight.
So what we’re going to do is we’re going to walk through Matthew 2 verse-by-verse. I don’t want this story to be over-familiar to you so we’re going to pause just about after every verse. And you can see in your notes we’re just going to walk down the story step-by-step, verse-by-verse, all leading to what’s at the bottom of your notes, one ultimate over-arching conclusion.
So let’s start in Matthew 2:1. Matthew writes, “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.” Okay, let’s stop there and think about these magicians, the magi here translated as “wise men.” There’s a bit of mystery around these guys. They’re not just wise men in general. They were known to be astrologers, students of the stars, experts in foretelling dreams, signs. So when you hear “Magi,” this is a word from which we get “magic” or “magician,” but don’t think David Copperfield, okay?
What we don’t know…
A couple of things we don’t know about these guys. One is their number. Now some of you think you know how many wise men there were. How many wise men do we traditionally picture? Three. Kind of like the picture right behind me, right? Unfortunately, not in the Bible. So we know they give three gifts later on in this passage—gold, frankincense and myrrh—and that’s where we commonly associate three wise men.
We don’t know if there were three. There could be six, seven, 10, 30—we don’t know how many there were. So, “We three Kings of Orient are. Bearing gifts we traverse afar.” Don’t sing that. It’s a lie. Well, it could be true. It’s possible, but we don’t know. And it’s potentially wrong on two levels. One, we don’t know if it was three. And two, we were never told they’re kings. At no point are we told that these guys were kings. They’re wise men. They’re never called kings.
So throw that one out with Silent Night, Holy Night, and Away in a Manger. So we don’t know their number and we don’t know their names. Tradition tells us that their names were Casper, Balthazar, and Melchior. Some say one was Ethiopian, one was Indian, and one was Greek. Story goes they were all eventually baptized by Thomas and in the 12th century there was a bishop who claimed that he found their skulls. Now you can believe any part of that story that you want, but none of it is in Scripture. We don’t know their number and we don’t know their names.
What we do know from Matthew 2:1–12…
But we do know two things in particular. We know their setting. They were from the East. From the East. Now obviously that’s pretty general and there’s a variety of specific possibilities. Some say they were specifically from Babylon. Others say Persia. Some say Egypt. Others say the Arabian Desert. We don’t know. But we do know they were from the East. And this was significant because it debunks yet one more carol. I promise this is the last one and I will stop ruining Christmas for you (except for one more thing later on but that will be later—it won’t deal with carols).
But you sing, The First Noel. And it says that these wise men “looked up and saw a star shining in the East beyond them far.” No! They were in the East! The star was shining in the West. If they are over here in the Arabian Desert, Egypt, Babylon, Persia—wherever they are—Jerusalem’s to the West of that. If they see a star shining in the East and they follow that star, they’re going the wrong way.
We want them headed west, not east. And then when you get down to verse two, it says, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose…” In the ESV you’ve got a little note that takes you to the bottom that says, “in the East.” The reason they put “when it rose” is because those words, it literally says in Matthew 2:2 “in the East.” But the picture is the wise men were in the East when they say the star, not the star in the East. Wise men in the East saw a star and they start heading west, which is a good direction for them to head in to see the One born King of the Jews. So not First Noel. At least sing that song and just kind of boycott that line.
So just be quiet. We don’t want the wise men going the wrong way. So just trying to bring some reality into the picture here. We’re not even going to dive into the fact that we have no way of telling if Jesus was actually born on December 25th. But that would just ruin next Sunday so we’re not even going to go there. We’re just going to stop. Okay. So. All right.
Keep moving on. They were from the East. Their setting.
And their significance. We know that these wise men were high-ranking officials with power and influence. So when you picture these guys—whatever their names were, however many of them were there—we don’t need to picture this group of isolated guys at a star-gazing club.
They were just kind of out there. These men were well-respected with prominent religious and political influence. Their name literally means…Magi literally means “great” or “powerful ones.” They almost certainly had a high position wherever they were coming from. It’s evident in the wealth that they bring with them.
It’s likely that they probably traveled with a caravan including soldiers or servants, which is part of why their presence as we’re about to read in just a minute, their presence in Jerusalem causes such a stir. We learn about guys like this in the book of Daniel where we see seers, magicians, foretellers who had prominent position. And we know that guys like this in the East were familiar with Jewish teachings because the people of God had been scattered there during the exile. So here we’ve got a group of wise men, people with religious, political influence, who were familiar with Jewish teachings about the Messiah, who were students of the stars.
And they see a star. Leads to verse two. So they come, “…saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’”
So we’ve got the magicians; now the constellations—the stars. And there’s Old Testament background here to consider. So hold your place here in Matthew 2 and go back with me to Numbers 22. Hold your place in Matthew 2; go back to Numbers 22, fourth book in the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, then Deuteronomy. Go to Numbers 22, and we’re going to look at verse 22.
I want you to see a story—one of my favorite stories in the Old Testament—about a king named Balak and a magician, seer, prophet named Balaam. Now Balaam, we find out in Numbers 23:7, was from the Eastern mountains and he was summoned by Balak. The reason for that was because at this point, as the people of God were wandering in the wilderness, they were growing in number and power and in might. And Balak, the King of Moab, was getting scared. And so what Balak did is he called for Balaam from the Eastern mountains to come—this seer, this well-known magician, seer, foreteller—to come and to curse the people of Israel—the people of God. Basically was going to pay him to curse the people of God. And so as Balaam goes to do that, he’s on the way to Balak, this is what happens. Verse 22.
“But God’s anger was kindled because he went (Balaam), and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he (Balaam) was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. And the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. And the donkey turned aside out of the road and went into the field. And Balaam struck the donkey, to turn her into the road. Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. And when the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she pushed against the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So he struck her again. Then the angel of the LORD went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?’ And Balaam said to the donkey, (Not, ‘Why are you talking to me?’ He says) ‘Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.’ And the donkey said to Balaam, ‘Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?’ And he said, ‘No.’”
So this is the story that goes on from this point. God opens Balaam’s eyes to realize He has sent an angel to stand in the way and He makes clear to Balaam, “You are not to curse the people of Israel. Instead, you are to bless the people of Israel. Do not do what Balak is asking you to do. You bless the people of Israel; not curse them.” And so when you get to chapter 23, you see the first of three oracles from Balaam…or first of four oracles from Balaam, and in the first three he’s blessing the people of Israel—not doing what Balak wants him to do. And you get to the last oracle, verse 15 of chapter 24. And I want you to listen to what he says. So here’s this magician, seer, foreteller from the East.
“And he took up his discourse and said,‘The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes uncovered:
I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: (Underline this.) a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.’”
And the rest of Balaam’s oracle goes on to talk about how God would deliver His people from their enemies. So here’s the picture: Balaam says, “A star will come out of Jacob,” out of the people of Israel. A scepter, a ruler, will rise from the people of Israel. This is a king, announced with the coming of a star.
Numbers: A man from the East is prophesying a star and a king among the Jews.
As you continue to read, you see that here in Numbers, a man from the East is prophesying a star and a king among the Jews. And this became widely regarded as a Messianic prophecy among the people of God, a picture of a coming Messiah.
So that now, when you get to Matthew, you have Magi from the East, following a star to the King of the Jews. This is no accident! Well-respected magician, seer from the East in Numbers, telling of a star and a king to rise from among the Jews. Powerful, influential Magi, from the East in Matthew, following a star to the One born King of the Jews.
This picture of a star, of light, is not just in Numbers. Let me show you one other place. Go to Isaiah 60. Turn with me over to the right, a little further into the Old Testament and get to Isaiah 60. This is near the end of Isaiah’s prophecy. A prophetic book here. And at the end of this book, Isaiah is giving us a picture of coming glory, future glory, for the people of Israel. And I want you to listen to what he says. Isaiah 60 and we’ll read verse 1–6. Listen to this picture of future glory of God restoring His people and blessing His people. Listen to this. Isaiah 60:1. God says through Isaiah,
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. (Verse three.) And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”
You’re seeing this light rise; nations drawn to it.
“Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you;your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring (what?) gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD.”
Isaiah: Nations will come to the light of God’s people
Do you see this? Isaiah is saying, “Nations will come to the light of God’s people, and they will come bringing riches and gifts for worship.” So now in Matthew, nations are drawn to the light over God’s Son. Nations will come to the light of God’s people—Isaiah. Matthew— nations are drawn to the light over God’s Son. Isn’t that strange when we get to the book of Matthew, this gospel which is written specifically with a Jewish audience in mind, that the first people we see worshipping Jesus the King are magicians from the East among the nations? They’re the ones who have come to worship the Jewish Messiah, the King of the Jews. Indeed He is King not just of the Jews, but all peoples, which brings them on their journey from the East to the West. Some estimate hundreds, up to 1,000 or so miles, head in the direction of this star.
Now their natural stopping place was Jerusalem—capital city of the people of Israel, the Jewish people. Certainly that’s where this king would be born. But when they get there and they start asking around about this king, they find out that not many people know what’s going on. And they find themselves introduced to King Herod and the opposition to Jesus officially begins. Matthew 2:3. Come back to Matthew 2:3 says, “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” So here we have in King Herod, a world leader intimidated by Jesus.
Matthew 2:1–12 talks about a world leader intimidated by Jesus.
A little background here. Around 40 or so years prior to this, Herod had been set up by the Roman Empire as the king of the Jews, as ruler over Judea, the Jewish people. And he was a victorious, successful, bloodthirsty tyrant. Whenever anyone anywhere close to him began to usurp his reign or lose his trust he would have them killed, down to the point of having
his wives and sons killed at different times because he didn’t trust them. So when he hears that rulers, officials, leaders from the East have come to Jerusalem in search of the one who has been born king of the Jews, he was troubled. The word literally means, “agitated.” Some say terrified. The insecurity of King Herod rises up within him—the thought of someone who would usurp his reign. And all of Jerusalem was troubled with him because they almost certainly had no idea what this would cause King Herod to do. And as we’ll find out later in Matthew 2 next week, they had a reason to be troubled. So what Herod did is he called the chief priests and the scribes together (enter the second group). Verse 4, He assembled “all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.”
Religious leaders indifferent to Jesus.
So we’ve got a world leader intimidated by Jesus and now we have religious leaders indifferent to Jesus. Now that’s interesting. Matthew’s going to talk, show us these chief priests and scribes more than any other writer in all the New Testament. We’re going to see them again and again and again. And we’re going to see them continually, increasingly in opposition to Jesus.
Now the chief priests basically represented Jewish worship, at least that’s what God had originally ordained for the high priests to do. Unfortunately, by this time this group had become a group of corrupt, religiously-oriented politicians. So you had chief priests, and then you had scribes representing Jewish law. Basically, the scribes were lawyers who knew and studied and interpreted and implemented the Jewish law, both that which was in the Old Testament and also the traditions that had built on top of that. And what’s fascinating, we’re about to read how they come to Herod and say, “Well, the One born King of the Jews, the Messiah, is to be born in Bethlehem.”
What’s fascinating is these guys, these leaders, chief priests, teachers of the law, the scribes, who know the Word supposedly better than anyone else, hear a report that the King of the Jews has been born, the Messiah has been born, they know where that’s going to happen, and yet they do absolutely nothing about it. They’re not even interested in going to see. This is scary. Just a side note, a little tangent here, but it’s frightening to see a group of people whose knowledge of the Law was thorough but who, through all this book, are going to miss the point time and time and time again. May that never be the case in my life, in your life, in our lives, that we know this book well backwards and forwards but we miss the point altogether. It is a dangerous thing to know this Word and do nothing about it.
And so they were indifferent to Jesus. Now it’s interesting, this indifference is going to grow into greater and greater hostility. And we’ll see hostility both from world leaders like Herod, political leaders, as well as religious leaders, like the scribes and chief priests. In fact, the next time that we see the term, King of the Jews, associated with Jesus, it will be the end of the book of Matthew when political leaders and religious leaders come together to sentence Him to crucifixion and they put this sign over His head as He’s being mocked and beaten and scourged and spit upon in preparation for the cross. Opposition from these leaders.
So they tell Herod, verse 5, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: ‘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.’” Now this is the quotation here.
In verse six, Matthew shows these chief priests, teachers of the Law, these scribes quoting from Micah 5. And so let’s turn one more place in your Bible. Hold your place here in Matthew 2 and then go to Micah 5. So take a left and just keep kind of scrolling through all those smaller Old Testament prophets until you come to Micah. Right after Jonah. If you hit Amos and Jonah, you’ve gone too far. If you got Zechariah, Zephaniah, you got those guys in the Z’s, you just keep going left. You get all the way back to Micah. Look at Micah 5:2.
What I want you to do is… I want you to see a couple of significant differences between what we have in Matthew 2:6 and what we have in Micah 5:2. Because what Matthew does as he’s telling this story is he brings out some emphasis on some things based on Micah 5:2 that are helping him communicate this story in Matthew 2. Let me show you what I mean. Look at Micah 5:2. Let’s read that. Follow along with me. Micah 5:2. This also widely known as the Messianic prophecy in the Old Testament. “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”
So there’s Micah 5:2. Now compare that to Matthew 2:6. All right, let’s go back and forth a little bit. Micah 5:2 starts, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah…” In Matthew 2:6 it says, “And you, O Bethlehem,” not Ephrathah, but “in the land of Judah.” Why do you think in Matthew’s telling of the story that instead of Ephrathah he has “in the land of Judah”? For the same reason we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks. Ever since the beginning of this book, Matthew 1:2, Matthew is tying Jesus to the line of Judah (Matthew 1:2), the line that comes to King David (Matthew 1:6). Already three different times—in verse 1, here in verse 5, and now in verse 6 here in chapter 2, Matthew is emphasizing that Jesus is from Judah— from the line of Judah, the line of David.
The place where King David was born has become the point where King Jesus is born.
Anyone know where David was born, where David was raised? In Bethlehem. And so the picture here that Matthew is making very clear is the place where King David was born has become the point where King Jesus is born. And a member of the tribe of Judah is the only one who could qualify for the throne of David.
This is all very, very intentional. So the second thing Matthew does is he says, Okay, “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah.” Where in Micah 5:2 it says, “(You) are too little to be among the clans of Judah.” Here in Matthew 2 he says, “(You) are by no means least among the rulers of Judah.” And the picture here is you’ve got this seeming insignificant little town, five or six miles outside of Jerusalem called Bethlehem.
A relatively insignificant village is now becoming an extremely important city.
Not a huge population. Not a major place that people go through. But Matthew’s making very, very, very clear that this relatively insignificant village is now becoming an extremely important city. “You by no means are least, Bethlehem.” This insignificant city, village, has become an extremely important city. This is a highly important city in redemptive history.
Matthew 2:1–12 discusses the One who reigns as the King will rule as a shepherd.
And then you get to the end of Matthew 2:6. He says, “For from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” And that phrase, “who will shepherd my people Israel,” is not found in Micah 5:2. What Matthew’s doing is he is linking this to (and you might underline that phrase, “who will shepherd my people Israel.”) Make a little line out to the side and write down 2 Samuel 5:2 in your Bible. 2 Samuel 5:2.
Because that’s where Matthew is going to link a promise that was given to David, that as king he would shepherd the people of God. It’s what we saw all last year when we walked through the Old Testament. We saw that God had set up these kings to be shepherds among His people—to shepherd them to God. But we have seen over and over again that those shepherds failed, those kings failed to shepherd the people to God. And so the picture here that Matthew is introducing is the King born in Bethlehem, who will be the Good Shepherd, the Perfect Shepherd, who will shepherd His people back to God. The One who reigns as the King will rule as a shepherd.
I show you this not just to say, “Hey, there’s some neat things in Matthew.” But to show you that Matthew’s telling of the story at every single level is intentional. Every single detail in Matthew, and for that matter, every single detail in this book called the Bible is given to us to show us a portrait of Jesus the Christ, the King. Just think of it. Over hundreds of years different authors, all under the inspiration of one Holy Spirit at different times in history, different things happening that all in the end point us to a portrait of Jesus the Christ. See the splendor of Christ on every single page of the Bible. See that it all points to Him. It all hangs together on Him. Its focus is on Him. He is the climax of everything, evident in this quotation.
So what happens from this point after Herod finds out this information is he called the wise men to himself. Matthew continues in Matthew 2:7. “Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.” You can tell he’s scheming here. And verse 8 says, “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.’” And that, we find out later, is a bold-faced lie.
Herod pretended kindness.
King Herod has no intention of worshipping anyone else as king of the Jews. It will become clear later on in this chapter that King Herod clearly wants Jesus dead no matter what it costs. So you have the deception. Herod pretended kindness.
Herod intended murder.
And from all we can tell at this point, the wise men believed that this was Herod’s true intention. And the reality was that though Herod pretended kindness, Herod intended murder. He was already scheming to have Jesus killed.
The Introduction in Matthew 2:1–12…
And so as part of his plan, he sent them away and they went, making the five to six-mile journey from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. Verse 9 says, “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.” This is actually the first time we see the star move and it literally, supernaturally leads them to Bethlehem. You can’t help but think about Old Testament imagery of pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night leading the people of God. You’ve got the star leading these astrologers. You don’t usually think as you stand outside under the stars, you think, “Okay, I’m under that star.” But the beauty of this picture is how God used, amongst these astrologers, a star to make it clear exactly where Jesus was, leading to their introduction to Him.
Listen to what Matthew says in verse 10. He says, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” I love that. That verse is like quadruple joy. “They rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” It’s repetitive. And this is the introduction to Jesus for these magicians. Now keep in mind that this was likely long after the night when Jesus was born and the shepherds came to worship. So verse 11, which we’re about to read, tells us that by this point Joseph and Mary and Jesus had settled into a house.
And based on verse 16, which we’re going to read next week, we see that Herod, when the wise men left without coming back to report to him, decided to have every child two years and under killed based on the time that he had learned from the wise men when they had seen the star. And so Herod’s estimate was, “Well, He could be up to two years old by this time.” Most people estimate that He was less than that—months old, if not maybe a year or so old by the time the wise men show up.
So I hate to do this to you but most of your nativity sets are wrong. If the wise men are present, bowing, then that is also a farce. The wise men came much, much later to this party. Shepherds, long gone. Months, maybe many months had passed before the wise men had ever showed up. So my encouragement would be just to go home to your mantle and remove the wise men. They don’t need to be there right now. If you really love the wise men, then bring them back out in July or something and celebrate then. Summer guys. They show up months later. And when they show up, they’re pumped! Exceeding gladness.
“Rejoicing exceedingly with great joy.” And listen to what they do. They go into the house. “And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.” Wow! What a picture! These prominent men from the East, from the nations, bowing down, falling down before this baby. You bow down when you’re in the presence of someone who is superior. You bow down to say, “I’m low. You are high.” That’s what these men were doing.
Then they offer extravagant gifts. “Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” It was customary, particularly in the Ancient East, to bring gifts when you are approaching a superior. Now there’s some debate among biblical scholars when it comes to whether or not these gifts have symbolic significance—specific symbolic significance. Clearly they represent extravagant giving and offering before this king. No question about that.
They debate whether or not there is specific symbolism in gold and in frankincense and in myrrh. And there’s people on both sides of it. I fall down on the side that there likely is significance in this picture. I say that to say there’s two sides here, just to make clear that this is not agreed on by all scholars by any means. But when you look in Scripture, whether the wise men knew it or not, there’s clearer significance, it seems, behind things like gold, and frankincense and myrrh. Think about it. Think about how gold might emphasize Jesus’ royalty all throughout Scripture. We see gold associated with kings and queens and princes.
You look in 1 Kings 10 when King Solomon’s wealth is described. In seven verses, over 10 times gold is mentioned, over and over and over again associated with royalty. And obviously part of Matthew’s purpose, maybe his primary purpose, in Matthew 1 is to show us that Jesus deserves to be worshipped as King and now in Matthew 2 He’s receiving the worship that He deserves.
Gold, emphasizing His royalty; frankincense, emphasizing Jesus’ deity. All throughout Scripture, Old Testament used in various offerings to God. In the over 100 times that it’s used in the Old Testament, it is usually referring to something dealing with worship to God or service of God. Whether that’s burning coals taken from the altar or burnt offering and placed on an altar of incense. Smoke rising heavenward as a picture of praise or thanksgiving prayer. Incense certainly associated in Scripture with the worship of God.
And then myrrh, emphasizing Jesus’ humanity—basically a perfume with all kinds of different purposes. Whereas frankincense would be used and associated with the worship of God, myrrh is more associated with the anointing of man. Used as a perfume, with wine as an anesthetic. It could also be used in preparing bodies for burial which is pretty fascinating when you think about it, particularly in light of a couple of other times that myrrh is mentioned in the gospels by Mark and by John. Obviously here in Matthew, Jesus was presented myrrh as a king in a cradle.
But then you get to Mark 15:23, as Jesus was being hoisted onto a cross and Mark says, “They offered Him wine mixed with” what? You guessed it. Myrrh. But He did not take it. So the King, who on this day was presented myrrh in a cradle, would one day be offered myrrh as a king on a cross. And then you get to John 19:39–40, and when Joseph of Arimathea is preparing Jesus’ body for burial, you’ll never guess what he uses.
John tells us that he uses myrrh to prepare His body for burial in the tomb. So regardless of whether or not we see a specific significant event there, this much is absolutely clear: the testimony of all of Scripture, from the very beginning, Jesus was born to die. He was born to give…This is how He would save His people from their sins.
So if you are here tonight and not a Christian, for those who are not followers of Christ, I would invite you in this familiar story of some wise men, to see more than anything else, to see that God has sent His Son. “So loved the world that He sent His Son” to live a life of perfect obedience to God—a life that you or I could never live. And then to die, even though He had no sin for which to die, no penalty to pay, He died for your sin and for my sin.
And yes, He was buried, and His body prepared for burial with myrrh, but He didn’t stay in the tomb long. He rose from the grave in victory over sin and death so that everyone who believes in Him will never perish but have everlasting life. This King has come to die for you, to take your sin, my sin upon Himself so that in trusting in Him as Savior and King, as we lay down our pride as…Just like these wise men bow before Him and acknowledge Him as King, we are reconciled to God, rescued from our sin, and redeemed forever. And this leads us to the conclusion.
The Conclusion of Matthew 2:1–12…
The point of this whole passage, the point that I pray will grip your heart and compel your life. This is where I want to encourage you tonight to let this text change everything about how you view your life—in your relationships, your family, friends, your job—to let this text change everything about how you view the world around you, based upon the grand purpose of God. See it. Here’s the conclusion that just springs from the story.
The global purpose of God is the glad praise of Christ among the peoples of the world.
That’s the point. It’s the point of the whole story. Not just a good feel-good story about three wise men. We don’t even know if it’s three. All these details that we kind of fancy in our minds. This is the point. This is the purpose of God. See it. God directs nature toward this purpose. Talking about the star shining in the sky, John Piper said, “God wields the universe to make His Son known and worshipped.” Yes, God arranges the sky to announce His Son.
The one who has sovereign authority over all the universe uses that authority to assemble the sky to make the supremacy of Christ clear to the nations. He directs nature toward this purpose. He draws nations for this purpose. Matthew’s aim is clear. Yes, He’s born King of the Jews, but bigger than that. He’s fulfilling the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12, to bless his people through the salvation of all peoples. This revelation is clear. Don’t miss it. Don’t be like the Jewish lawyers in the Old Testament.
They got their noses there but they miss it. See what the astrologers saw, these magicians from Eastern Babylon or Egypt or the Arabian Desert. They knew. They saw that God is drawing the nations to Himself. He’s directing nature, drawing nations to Himself. How?
Well, first He sends the Christ. That’s what we’re reading here in this gospel. That’s what we celebrate at Christmas. He has sent the Christ. And the invitation at the beginning of the book of Matthew is clear. Come and see the King. Come and see this King.
Magi, wise men, come and see this King. Joyfully offer your life as a worshipper. And that invitation is for every single one of you in this room tonight as well. Rejoice exceedingly with great joy over this King, translated, “Be very, very, very, very, very, very happy about this King.” Rejoice! But more than anything else in the world, sing and smile! Christian, lift up your hands and shout for joy! No matter what your personality is! Uninhibited! This is worthy of joyous celebration! The King…This is better than a football team winning or getting a new car or nicer possessions or a new gadget! This is the King, who has come to save us from our sins forever! Rejoice!
Give your life to rejoicing! Lay your life before this King in sacrificial offering. Not just gold, frankincense and myrrh, everything you have and everything you are. All your plans and all your dreams. Your possessions. Lay them before Him. Gladly, not begrudgingly. Not, “Oh, I have to sacrifice everything for Christ.” No! “He’s the King! I want to sacrifice everything before Him!” This is glad submission. It’s not really a sacrifice at all in the end, is it? It’s just smart. He’s the King! It makes sense! The only thing you do with this King is lay everything down before Him. No casual acceptance, nominal adherence possible with this King. He’s the King! Come and see this King! Joyfully offer your life as a worshipper. It’s not worship if it’s not joyful.
Begrudging worship not possible. It’s affection for the King. Joyfully offer your life as a worshipper. First He sends the Christ, and then He sends the church. Oh, there’s so much that Matthew is setting up here in the start of the book that he’s going to come back to and just tie the bow on at the end. So here at the beginning of Matthew the message is clear to the nations. Come and see the King. Then at the end of Matthew the message is clear. Go and spread the Kingdom for the nations. Go and make disciples of all of them. This is what we do joyfully offer your life as a worshipper. And then, passionately spend your life as a witness.
The global purpose of God is the glad praise of Christ among the peoples of the world. Think about this, okay? Now don’t put your notes up yet, all right? You’ll have time to do that in just a minute. No race. Think about this. The same God who sovereignly arranged the stars in the sky 2,000 years ago to communicate clearly to some wise men out in the East somewhere, to draw them to the glad praise of Jesus, the King. The same God who sovereignly arranged all of that is the same God who has sovereignly arranged every single detail in your life.
He has arranged your family, your friends, your job, where you live, your schedule. He’s arranged all of these things for one overarching purpose: to make the glad praise of Christ known to people all around you. The glad praise of Christ!
This is why He’s put you in the job where you’re at in this moment, because there are people that you work around who He wants to draw to the glad praise of Christ! It’s why He’s got you on the campus where you’re a student right now, because He wants students around you to be drawn to the glad praise of Christ. This is not a message that we need to be afraid to speak to others. This is good news. This is a message we need to be afraid not to speak to others. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy! That’s what we go to tell them! “You’ve got reason to rejoice!
Christ has come. He’s died on the cross. He’s risen from the grave. This is reason for rejoicing!”
So tell people everywhere in Birmingham this. Passionately spend your life as a worshipper here, and then let’s go to the East. Same place where these guys were. Where today, 2,000 years later, there are masses of people who have little to no knowledge of this gospel. Let’s give our lives going to them. Let’s lose our lives going to them if necessary. Let’s spend our lives and everything we have and everything we are, making the good news of this King known to the ends of the earth.
The Magi and the Messiah
What we don’t know…
What we do know…
Their setting: the East.
Their significance: high-ranking officials with power and influence.
Numbers: A man from the east prophesying a star and a king among the Jews.
Matthew: Magi from the east following a star to the king of the Jews.
Isaiah: Nations will come to the light of God’s people.
Matthew: Nations are drawn to the light over God’s Son.
A world leader intimidated by Jesus.
Religious leaders indifferent to Jesus.
Chief priests: Representing Jewish worship.
Scribes: Representing Jewish law.
The place where King David was born becomes the point where King Jesus is born.
A relatively insignificant village becomes an extremely important city.
The One who reigns as the King will rule as a shepherd.
Herod pretended kindness.
Herod intended murder.
Gold, emphasizing Jesus’ royalty.
Frankincense, emphasiing Jesus’ deity.
Myrrh, emphasizes Jesus’ humanity.
He was presented myrrh as a king in a cradle.
He would be offered myrrh as a king on a cross.
The global purpose of God is the glad praise of Christ among the peoples of the world.
He directs nature.
He draws nations.
First, he sends the Christ.
The beginning of Matthew: Come and see the King!
Joyfully offer your life as a worshiper.
Then, he sends the church.
The end of Matthew: Go and spread the kingdom!
Passionately spend your life as a witness.