In Luke’s telling of the Christmas story, it is the shepherds who wanted to meet the Savior who had been born. In fact, they were so excited to meet him that it says they hurried off to Bethlehem where they found Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus lying in a manger. In Matthew’s telling of the Christmas story, the heavenly hosts declaring that a savior had been born was a star and the outcasts who hear the message weren’t shepherds but Magi, or a combination astronomer/astrologer, from the East. That a star proclaimed the birth of Jesus to Magi far away, it tells us that Jesus wasn’t coming for a select few but for all people. Just as we heard last week, the reach of God is not limited, God reaches out to all and God loves all, but we have to be willing to respond to God’s love. We have to be willing to Go To God which is exactly what the Magi did. They started a journey to find this new born King.
Now I know this blows apart most nativity scenes that we see, but the Magi didn’t arrive at the stable the night Jesus was born and they weren’t there with the Shepherds and Angels. We condense the Christmas stories from Matthew and Luke when we put our nativity scenes together, which is fine, but if we really listen to Matthew’s story, if the star appeared at the birth of Jesus it would have taken the Magi some time to understand it’s meaning, plan their journey and then there would be the journey itself. While we don’t know where they started, we assume it was somewhere in Persia which means it would have been close to 1,000 miles away, which would have taken then several months to get there.
What really tells us that the Magi weren’t there at the time Jesus was born is that when Herod tried to destroy Jesus, he had all the children who were two years old and younger killed, which tells us that Jesus may have been up to two years old by the time the Magi arrived. What’s interesting to think about is that while the shepherds made the journey in a few hours, it took the Magi months to find him which shows us the level commitment and excitement the Magi had in finding this new king. They really wanted to meet him, but not all in this story were as excited.
Herod clearly did not want to meet a Savior. Herod was made the ruler of Judea by the Romans in 40 BC and three years later when he conqueror the city of Jerusalem he claimed for himself the title, King of the Jews. Herod was a ruthless leader who did all he could to keep his power and position. Herod had many in his own family killed in order to keep his reign and so it’s not surprising to hear he would have children killed to protect to his power. When the Magi arrived to declare that a new king had been born and that a star had declared it to the world, Herod wasn’t interested in meeting this king, he wanted to kill him. Not everyone in the Christmas story wanted to meet a savior.
For Herod, a new king in Israel meant he would lose his throne which meant losing his position, authority and control. Not only was Herod’s power in danger, every aspect of his life was going to be challenged and so while he made a pretense of wanting to welcome this new King, he really wanted no part of him. Herod didn’t want to lose his control, he didn’t want to give up being in charge of his own life and sometimes that is why we struggle to accept Jesus as our savior as well. We don’t want to surrender control and have every part of our life challenged by the authority of a new king.
Many people today struggle to meet a savior and don’t want to accept Jesus because they don’t want to give over the control and direction of their lives. If following Jesus means allowing Jesus to guide where we go and what we do – we don’t always want that. The truth is that we like to be in control of our lives and we like to make all the decision and we honestly think that we know what is best for us. At least I did.
During college I thought I knew what was best for me so I started as a hotel management major. I switched to Chinese studies for about a month and then decided to go into TV production. I decided to transfer to another university for this major but that didn’t work out so ended up back at Michigan State. Each decision I made I was sure was what I should be doing. I thought I knew what was best. All I can say is that God was very patient with me and many years later I finally gave in to God’s will and made the decision to become a pastor.
Many people stay away from Jesus because they think that giving God control will mean giving up everything they enjoy in life. Many people stay away from meeting their savior because all they hear about is the service, sacrifice and suffering that is called for in following Jesus and who wants that for the rest of their lives? What we forget, however, is that when we give to God we get so much more in return and what we get in return are those things money can’t buy. Some of the greatest adventures in life have been journeys of faith and service. Think about the Magi – what an adventure it must have been for them to travel 1,000 miles in search of a new king and what joy they must have experienced when the star they had been followed stopped over a house in Bethlehem. Was it easy? No. Was it comfortable? Probably not. Was it exciting and worthwhile? Absolutely.
Taking the risk to meet our Savior is always exciting and always worthwhile. Look at Mary and Joseph? They had to surrender their lives to God, it could not have been an easy nine months leading up to Jesus’ birth and not an easy time afterward, but God was with them and when they were in danger – God took care of them. God appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to leave Bethlehem and flee to Egypt where they would be safe from Herod. Because they were willing to open their hearts and lives to God – God was there to care for them.
When we are willing to open our hearts and lives to God, He will be there. When we are willing to step out and meet our Savior and accept Jesus for who he is, problems don’t go away and struggles don’t disappear but God is there to help us. The good thing about having a savior, the good thing about having this savior, is that he is here for us. When things get difficult – Christ is here. When we are afraid, uncertain, and seem to be losing so much in life – Jesus is here to help us, heal us, love us and give us the hope we need.
When I read about Herod this week, I wondered what would have happened if he had chosen to go with the Magi to meet Jesus? What if Herod had wanted to meet not just a savior but his savior? How might his life have been different? Herod was obsessed with losing his power and authority – which in the end he did anyway – could he have experienced peace if had come to Jesus and given his heart? Could Herod have ruled the region with strength and honor for a longer period of time if he had allowed God to rule in his life? While we don’t know, what we do is that this Herod died not long after his encounter with the Magi. Historians date Herod’s death at 4 BC, which would have been 2 years after this encounter.
Herod didn’t want to meet a Savior, what about you? Do we want to meet our savior today? Saying yes takes some risk and it might mean allowing God to lead us in a new direction. Saying yes might mean giving God the ability to guide our lives and giving him control. Saying yes might bring us lose – but as Jesus said, it is only when we are willing to lose our lives that we actually find life. Do we want to meet our savior? Are we willing to come to Jesus and allow him to have our hearts and lives? What the story of Herod and the Magi tell us is that meeting our savior and accepting Jesus love and grace and power leads to life: life abundant and life eternal. Choosing not to meet our savior and rejecting God’s love leads to a life without love and in the end just leads to death.
There is one more thing that meeting our savior leads to and that is a heart and life that grows in its desire to give. The magi didn’t come to Jesus empty handed, they came with gifts. It’s not that God demanded gifts from them or us, but when our hearts meet the heart of Jesus, we suddenly want to give. The Magi gave gold, frankincense and myrrh. What gift can we give? What gift can we give to Jesus today? What gift of our heart, hands or lives can we give to Jesus today?
As we close this morning, we want to provide you a few moments to think about this and if you want, share your thoughts with others. You can write down your answers on the next steps and place them in the gift box that will be in the lobby or you can pull out your smart phones and post your gifts on our facebook wall. Sharing the gift you would bring to Jesus with others might inspire them to give in the same way or it might inspire them to come and meet a savior who has changed our hearts and lives so dramatically. Share your thoughts with others and in this season share the gift of your love and life with God and with all those God places in your life. Your giving may be what draws others to want to meet their savior.
Do you want to meet a Savior?
1. Re-read Matthew 2:1-18 and reflect on these questions:
• Why did Herod act in such an evil way?
• When are we tempted to NOT want to meet a savior and why?
• God showed his love to the Magi, Mary, Joseph and Jesus by speaking to them and keeping them safe from Herod. When have you experienced God’s protection and love?
2. Holidays often tend to highlight the problems in our lives. What problem are you and/or your family facing today? Use this prayer to help face these problems with faith:
Dear God, Just as you loved and cared for Joseph, Mary and you Son Jesus, and protected them from King Herod; I ask you to love and care for me and my family. Protect us as we face our own problems. Lord Jesus, come and be my Savior. AMEN
3. The Magi brought gifts to give Jesus. What three gifts can you give to Jesus today? Share with others and post them on the Faith Church facebook page.