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December 13, 2015

“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.” (Matthew 2:2)

We are returning to our series, Bearing Witness to Jesus, and I invite you today to open your Bible at Matthew 2.  In this series, we have seen that after the announcement of the birth of Christ was made from heaven, it was confirmed on earth by various people who spoke at various times to Mary, bearing witness to the unique glory of the Son she bore.

Each witness spoke of a particular aspect of Jesus’ glory.  Elizabeth gave testimony that Jesus is the Lord.  The shepherds reported the words of the angel that he is the Savior.  Simeon bore witness that Jesus is the Christ.  Anna, the prophetess, spoke of him as the Redeemer.

Today we come to the story of the wise men, who very clearly bear witness that Jesus is the King: “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” (Matt. 2:2).

From tradition, we have been told that the wise men who worshipped at the manger were themselves kings.  The Bible does not say that they were kings, but I think that there is actually good biblical reason to believe that they were.

In the book of Psalms we read about kings bringing gifts to the Lord.  “Because of your temple at Jerusalem kings shall bear gifts to you” (Ps. 68:29).  Later in the Psalms we have this prayer, “May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts!” (Ps. 72:10).

Believing that the Bible is the Word of God, it is natural for us to ask, “When did this happen? How did kings from the nations bring gifts to the Lord?”  And I believe it is very reasonable to see the prophesy of Psalm 68 fulfilled, and the prayer of Psalm 72 answered in the story of the wise men who worshipped Jesus and opened their treasures to honor him with their gifts.

The message today is not so much about the kings as it is about the King!  The wise men went on their journey in order to worship Jesus, and that is why we are here today: We have come to worship the King.  My prayer is that the Holy Spirit would awaken within all of our hearts a fresh outpouring of love for him, joy in him, and commitment to him and that we will worship the One who is the King of kings.

To that end, I want to us to ponder three scenes from the Bible: The King’s glory, the King’s enemies, and the King’s people.

Scene 1: The King’s Glory

Everything in the New Testament has something that points to it in the Old Testament, and the story that foreshadows the worship of the kings at the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ is the famous story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.  Solomon was known in the ancient world for the glory of his kingdom.  The Bible tells us that a gentile queen came to this king of Israel and presented him with gifts.  The story is in 1 Kings 10.

The Queen of Sheba had heard of “the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord” (1 Kings 10:1)Rumor had it that the God of Israel had given this man an extraordinary gift of wisdom.  So the Queen decided to pay Solomon a visit and to “test him with hard questions” (10:1).  The Bible says that “Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her” (10:3).

The Queen heard Solomon’s wisdom.  She saw the temple he had built and saw how beautiful it was.  Then she went into the palace and experienced the joy that was evident in his royal household, and literally, “there was no more breath in her” (1 Kings 10:5).  She was breathless.  All of that she saw and experienced took her breath away.

Royal houses are typically filled with intrigue.  Rivalry reigns among the servants.  But under Solomon, the servants were blessed.  There was joy in his house.  She had never seen joy in a palace like this before.

So the Queen says to Solomon, “I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it.  And behold, the half was not told me.  Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard.  Happy are your men!  Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!” (1 Kings 10:7-8).

Then the Queen of Sheba brought out gifts.  She had more than 4 tons of gold shipped over.  I was interested to find that as recently as three years ago, the mines from which this gold was taken have been discovered by archaeologists in Ethiopia.[1]  As she gave these lavish gifts, she received even more in return.  Solomon gave her “all that she desired, whatever she asked besides what was given her by the bounty of King Solomon” (1 Kings 10:13).

Solomon was the most glorious king Israel had ever had.  His glory took away the breath of the Queen of Sheba.  But Solomon knew that David would have a greater son than him, and that the throne of this greater son would last forever.

Surely Solomon must have spoken about this to the Queen of Sheba: “You are impressed with what you see, and I want you to know that God has done this.  He gave me the gift of wisdom.  He is the One who has prospered me, and brought blessing to my house.  And this God promised that my Father would have a greater son than I will ever be.

Roll the Bible story forward 1,000 years and David’s greater son is born.  Kings come from far away, and like the Queen of Sheba, they bring gifts of gold and spices, “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” (Mat. 2:2).

If the glory of Solomon could take away the breath of someone like the Queen of Sheba, what will it be like for us when the glory of our king, Jesus Christ, is revealed?  We will bring to him our hardest and most perplexing questions.  We will listen to the wisdom of his words.  We will see the glory of his temple, and we will share the joy of all the servants in his house.

One of the greatest statements in all of the Prophets is from Isaiah: We “will behold the king in his beauty” (Isa. 33:17).  And when we do, his glory will take our breath away.  All worship is an anticipation of that day, and “though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1:8-9).

Scene 2: The King’s Enemies

The Bible does not tell us how many wise men there were, but tradition has it that there were three, because of course there were three gifts brought to Jesus—gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  So, let’s assume we have three kings and they have come to worship Jesus (the king).

And in order to find Jesus, they go to visit Herod (the king).  That is a lot of kings!

When the wise men go to Herod, who is king over the Jews, and they ask him, “Where is he who is born king of the Jews?” there is bound to be trouble.  Herod has cunning and he does not reveal his hand to the wise men.  He says, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him” (Matt. 2:8).

But God, who is the fount of all wisdom, warns the wise men in a dream and so when they have worshipped Jesus they return by another route.  Then Herod is filled with fury, and he determines to destroy Jesus (Matt. 2:16).  This hatred of Jesus Christ arises for one reason and one reason alone—that he is the king.

If the wise men had come to Herod and said, “A baby has been born, and God has revealed to us that when he grows up he will do good for many people.  He will make the blind see, and the deaf hear, the dumb speak, and the lame walk.  He will feed 5,000 people with 5 loaves and two fish.  And Herod, you will be interested in this—he will turn water into wine.”  Herod would likely have said, “I could use someone like that!”

Or if the wise men had said, “A baby has been born, and God has revealed to us that he will teach us how to love.”  Herod might have said, “We all need that.  What the world needs now is love sweet love, that’s the only thing there’s just not enough of!”  If that was the message, I could see Herod saying, “Bring him to the palace, and I will care for him.”

But the wise men say, “A baby is born and he is the king!”  Herod thinks to himself, “Then I must kill him.  There’s only one king around here and that’s me.”  King Jesus has enemies precisely because he is king, and the same antagonism toward him continues today.

Let’s picture a conversation that you might have as believer with a postmodern, secularist friend.  Because this person is your friend, they will want to find a way of understanding your faith with which they feel comfortable.

One day this friend says to you, “So what you are saying is that Jesus is there to help us when we feel that we need him.  I can buy that.  I think religion helps some people.”

“Yes,” you say, “but it’s more than that.”

So your friend tries again, “I get it.  Jesus is calling us to love.  I can buy that.  I know that I want to be a more loving person…”

Again you respond, “Yes, but it’s more than that.”

“So, how is it more?” she asks.

“Do you really want to know?”

“Yes, tell it to me straight.  I really want to know!”

“Well, here it is,” you say.  “Jesus Christ is the sovereign Lord of the universe and he lays claim to every life, including your life today.  He lays claim to all that you are, and all that you have, and all that you will ever be.”

The response isn’t long in coming, “Get out of here!”

It really isn’t surprising that when Christ the King is born, there is immediate, visceral, and sustained antagonism toward him.  He came to his own and his own received him not.

So we have a king who wants to destroy Jesus, and from the earliest days of his ministry, the Scribes and Pharisees also plotted against him.  Eventually they take him by force, and hand him over to Pontius Pilate, who had one question for Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:33, 36).

The soldiers picked up on Jesus “the king.”  They twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head (John 19:2).  They dressed him in a purple robe.  They put a reed in his hand, as if it were a scepter.  They knelt down as if they were worshipping him and then they spit on him.  Then they took the reed from his hands and struck him on the head again and again.

When they nailed Jesus to the cross, Pilate had an inscription put over his head: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  They mocked him: “If you are the King, come down from the cross and save yourself!”

When you look at the world today, you may find yourself thinking, “If Jesus is the king, how come there is so much evil in the world?”   If you have not asked that question yourself, someone else will ask it of you, and you had better be ready with an answer.  Let me suggest this to you: When you feel the weight of the evil that is in the world today, say to yourself, “This is what a world looks like when it has rejected the King.”

Why did Jesus allow his enemies to perpetrate such evil against him?  He is the King.  He could have called in a million angels and what they could have done would make anything in Star Wars™ look tame!

But if Christ had established his kingdom in that way, none of us would have been in it!  The rebellion in our hearts would have risen up against him, and we would be on the outside among his enemies forever.  This king came to redeem a people for himself, and in order to do that he had to endure all that he did at the cross.

One day this king will defeat all his enemies, but until that day he is in the business of making his enemies into his friends.  Today, he offers peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation to all who have been fighting against him.

Scene 3: The King’s People

Jesus had more enemies than friends, but from the beginning some people gave themselves to him in wholehearted allegiance.  When Christ was born, Herod was determined to destroy him, but the wise men came to worship him.

The pattern in the Gospels seems to have been that large crowds of people followed him for a time, but then Jesus would say something uncomfortable, and many in the crowd would turn away.  On one of these occasions, when the crowds were walking away, Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”

Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Wind the story forward to the scene at the cross.  The crowd is pouring out their venom: “Nobody wants you as their king!”  But right next to him is the thief, and it is as if he says, “I do!  Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!”  And at the foot of the cross, there is Mary with some other godly women, and the apostle John.  They are saying, “We do!  We worship you and adore you even though it cost us our lives.”

On the third day, the tomb is empty.  The scattered disciples are gathered and Jesus appears to them.  Peter, who denied him, is restored and forgiven.  Thomas, who had so many questions, finally believed.  They worship Jesus as their king.

Then Christ ascended to heaven, where he reigns as the exalted king.  And on the day of Pentecost, he poured out the Holy Spirit on all of his people.  Peter speaks with great boldness to the crowd that has gathered, “This Jesus, who you crucified, God has made both Lord and Christ!  But he is ready to forgive and to bring all who will come under the blessing of his rule.  Who wants to submit to this Savior-King?”  Three thousand people said, “We do!”

Since that day, the good news of the Savior-King, who is ready to forgive all who come to him in faith and repentance, has gone out across the nations.  Christ the King is in the business of making his enemies into his friends.  The door to his kingdom is open.  Submit yourself to this king and enter into his kingdom!

At the end of the New Testament, Jesus Christ is revealed as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16).  And we are told that “on his head are many diadems [crowns]” (19:12).  Like a lot of pictures in the book of Revelation, that would be a hard one to draw!  How can many crowns be on one head?  The picture is given to communicate something very wonderful.

Why are there many crowns on the head of King Jesus?  Earlier in the book of Revelation, we are given a glimpse of the living creatures that surround the throne in heaven.  They “give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne… They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power’” (Rev. 4:9-11).  If the heavenly creatures cast their crowns before their Creator-King, what will redeemed sinners do before our Savior-King?

The Bible speaks about a crown of righteousness.  Paul says, “There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).

There is a crown of glory that seems to be associated especially with elders who shepherd the flock of God.  Peter says to elders who serve faithfully, “When the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pet. 5:4).

There is a crown of life that is given to those who suffer for the sake of Christ, and especially to those who lay down their lives, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer… Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).  So through God’s kindness, there are crowns for God’s people.  But what will God’s people do with these crowns?

Picture this: The thief who was crucified next to Jesus is there and he has a crown of righteousness on his head.  What will he do with it?  He will say, “I am not the one who should be wearing a crown of righteousness!  The only righteousness I have came from you.

I place this crown on the head of King Jesus.”

Here’s one of the elders and he has a crown of glory.  What is he going to do with it?  He is going to say, “I am not the one who should be wearing a crown of glory!  Jesus is the good shepherd.  He is my shepherd, and in all of my ministry, I was completely dependent on him!

I place this crown on the head of Jesus.”

Here is someone who has suffered greatly for her faith, endured injustice and loss.  Here is a martyr who has laid down her life.  She has a crown of life on her head.  What is she going to do with it?  She is going to say, “I am not the one who should be wearing this crown of life.  The reason I am here in heaven is not that I laid down my life for Jesus, but that Jesus laid down his life for me!  I place this crown on the head of King Jesus!”

Picture the scene: All the redeemed, a vast crowd that no one can number, are gathered together in the presence of the Savior.  Not a single one has a crown on his or her head.  Why?  Because all their crowns have been placed on the head or at the feet of King Jesus.

Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon his throne.

Hark how the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.

Awake my soul and sing of him who died for thee,

And hail him as thy matchless KING through all eternity. [2]

 

[1] < href="http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/feb/12/archaeologists-and-quest-for-sheba-goldmines" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/feb/12/archaeologists-and-quest-for-sheba-goldmines
[2] From the hymn by George J. Elvey, “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” 1868.

 

© Colin S. Smith

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