The Meaning of Christmas Part II “Worship”
Trinity Bible Church 12/11/05
Introduction: Matt 2:1-12
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, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him."
3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
5 So they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
6'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.'"
7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also."
9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way. NKJV
Is anyone “Christmassed” out yet?
Are you so worn out all you are to others is a “Bah-humbug”?
*One year, on Dec. 24th in a shopping mall, a four-year-old was overheard saying, “I’m tired” and “How much longer?” and “When are we going?”
Can you feel the misery of the parents?
Then, it was just like a gust of wind blew out his whining mood and the boy remembered what day it was remarking, “How long before its tomorrow?!”
Maybe others around you have run out of Christmas cheer, but not the Wise Men!
They continue in their worshipful joy to this day!
This goes along with last week’s theme, “Rejoice”, but this week’s theme is “Worship”
I. Who Worshipped?
A. Two sets of leaders in Jerusalem that day, of which we will ask three questions.
1). Who worshipped - the ones who stayed around home or the ones that ventured out of their comfort zones?
*Isn’t that the same every Sunday morning?
What can you do to awaken others out of their sleepy comforts and come and worship with you?
2). Who worshipped - the ones who studied to gain religious knowledge or the ones who sought to know God’s will? Mark 3:33-35
But He answered them, saying, "Who is My mother, or My brothers?" 34 And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother." NKJV
This holiday season, the culture war is afoot and some may be able to run circles around you with religious knowledge. You may find yourself in debates way over your head. Don’t be dismayed, God is not impressed with some people’s religious knowledge. What He desires is people who delight to know Him and do His will! John 6:29
Jesus told them, "This is the will of God, that you believe in the one he has sent." TLB
3). Who worshipped - the ones who waited to be told more information or the ones content to use what they already knew? Heb 11:6
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. NKJV
Herod and his officials - what was their comment? “You go and find out…”
How far is it from Jerusalem to Bethlehem? Between 6 to 10 miles!
Why didn’t they go with the wise men?
Too busy or too proud, (it wasn’t their idea). Both reasons are wrong reasons not to worship and serve Jesus!
Why didn’t religious leaders go along?
I think they were afraid of Herod’s jealousy of someone else becoming a new king.
Do you know that fear is one of easiest tools the devil uses to keep people from joining you in worship? What happens when you invite them to come with you to church? What is the fear word often spoken? “Cult”
When they ask, “What denomination are you?” and you answer, “We are non-denominational” or you might even say, “We aren’t a denomination, we are Bible believers”. What the devil whispers in their ear is “Cult!”
The Assembly of God and other Pentecostal groups organized in the early 1900’s, the Evangelical Free in the 1890’s, the Methodists in the 1700’s, the Presbyterians with John Calvin in the mid 1500’s and the Lutherans with Martin Luther in the early 1500’s. The Roman Catholics organized around the 500’s but claim to go back to Peter. The Baptists, not to be outdone, although distinct as a group officially in the late 1500’s claim to go back all the way to John the Baptist! When each of these movements started, they were looked at with suspicion; but now most are considered mainline or orthodox Christian groups.
How old a fellowship is old enough? When you invite others and tell them we have been a church for 25 years and they get that worried look on their face and whisper, “Cult”, what can you do?
The truth is God doesn’t want people in a cult and neither do we, what you have to do is show them what you believe the Bible says about why you worship Jesus. Then encourage them to go to church somewhere, anywhere, because you and I know the scheme of the devil is to keep them from worshipping Jesus.
The religious leaders were afraid to go and worship Jesus, what a pity.
Equally what a pity if that would be true of anyone today!
II. What Was Worshipped?
A. If your fellow Americans lived during the time of the Wise Men, what would they come away from this event and talk about, promote, extol, and otherwise – worship?
1. Right away you would have to say – The Star!
Bloggers would have it on all their web sites.
Hollywood would have a mini-series on how the star got here or what affects it has had on people.
Billboards and bumper stickers heralding the spiritual effects of the “Star”.
Merchants would be hawking posters or replicas of it to have in your home.
You would be able to buy a laser or hologram that could replicate your own star for spiritual guidance…
2. The Manger Scene. Like stuff from any event or movie, it would be for sale on Ebay. “You can have a piece of the birthplace of the Messiah!”
3. The People. Shepherds, Joseph and Mary, Simeon, Anna.. They would be on Prime Time news, Oprah or Bill O’Riely would have an exclusive interview.
They would be “experts” because of their celebrity status.
B. The original wise men were smart J
They didn’t get fooled by the devil with either fear or false worship.
11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him.
With all the distractions of this holiday season, may God grant us the wisdom to be like them and talk about, promote, extol, and otherwise – worship the Son of God!
III. How Did They Worship?
A. Faithfully. (See vs 2, 9)
They lost sight of the star, but kept progressing till more direction was given.
*How many today have gotten offended and quit going to church?
How many have felt a call to a deeper commitment in prayer or Christian service only to run into some problems and quit?
The wise men are good examples to us, they persevered faithfully through every obstacle.
B. Joyfully. How do you picture the wise men? Old men, sobered through years of tough going, skin all wrinkled and weathered? Matt 2:10
And so they left, and on their way they saw the same star they had seen in the East. When they saw it, how happy they were, what joy was theirs! TEV
Real men seek Jesus!
These were real men and able to express themselves in front of each other but more importantly, in front of God.
C. Humbly. Not in contradiction to joyfully; Matt 2:11a
And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. NKJV
These men were men of means; probably nobility in their own country yet, in contrast to the pride of Herod’s court, these men could humbly bow actually fall before the Savior and worship!
When was the last time you fell before the Lord and worshipped?
It would do your soul good to be in this position daily.
D. Gratefully. Matt 2:11b
Then opening their treasure bags, they presented to Him gifts — gold and frankincense and myrrh. AMP
(? How do we honor those we admire today? Stars in movies or sports? See below)
Wouldn’t you consider it strange if – traveling all those miles, a long way from home, after they arrive the sat down and gave gifts to each other!?
They were grateful and showed it by giving Jesus their best.
Conclusion: Rom 3:21-23;(19-31)
But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
What we see in the first two chapters of Matthew is the revelation of the need of all mankind for a savior!
As in the first chapter of this Gospel Christ's genealogy and His birth of the Virgin show that salvation is of the Jews, so the visit of these eastern Magi, in the second chapter, exhibits the interest of the Gentile world in Christ. And as the genealogical tree of the first chapter is bright on the Jewish side, while the Gentile side is pitch-dark, so in the second chapter the picture is reversed-the Gentile world presenting the bright, while unbelieving Israel presents the dark side. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
The subject today? Worship. Who did it? What was worshipped? and How did they worship?
Don’t we all want to follow their example? (III. A-D)
What would be the best gift you could offer Jesus today?
How about starting with giving Him your heart?
The saddest point is that none of these people sought Christ; not Herod with his hypocrisy, nor Jerusalem with its troubles, nor the scribes and priests with their ancient knowledge; none of them sought Christ. May God grant that no hearer of mine may be in that black list! Oh, may we all seek Jesus! May we all find him! May we find him tonight! C. H. Spurgeon
(For further study)
Matthew, who alone records this incident, shows the contrast in attitudes between the non-Jewish wise men who journed far to see Jesus and the Jewish authorities who would not go five miles
Now 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,
Verse 1. Bethlehem of Judea was also called Ephrath (Gen 35:16,19). One must read Luke 2:1-7 to learn how it was that the birth occurred in Bethlehem instead of in Nazareth. Herod the king, known as Herod the Great, was the son of Antipater, an Edomite, and was made king by the Romans in 43 BC His death occurring in 4 BC (our calendars err by at least four years) gives us the latest possible date for the birth of Christ. Wise men (magoi) originally denoted the priestly caste among the Persians and Babylonians (cf. Dan 2:2,48; 4:6-7; 5:7). Later the name was applied by the Greeks to any sorcerer or charlatan (Acts 8:9; 13:8). Matthew uses the term in the better sense to designate honorable men from an Eastern religion. It is entirely conceivable that these men had made contact with Jewish exiles, or with the prophecies and influence of Daniel, and thus were in possession of OT prophecies regarding Messiah
Saying, 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.
His star. All attempts to explain the star as a natural phenomenon are inadequate to account for its leading the Magi from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and then standing over the house. Rather, it was a special manifestation used of God both when it first appeared to indicate the fact of Christ's birth, and when it reappeared over Jerusalem to guide the Magi to the place. Since a direct revelation to the Magi is recorded (v. 12), there is nothing improbable in assuming a direct revelation at the beginning to impart the significance of the star
(from The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1962 by Moody Press)
[Go, and search diligently ...] Herod took all possible means to obtain accurate information respecting the child, that he might be sure of destroying him. He not only ascertained the probable time of his birth, and the place where he would be born, but he sent the wise men that they might actually see him, and bring him word. All this might have looked suspicious if he had not clothed it with the appearance of religion. He said to them, therefore, that he did it that he might go and worship him also. From this we may learn,
1. That wicked people often cloak their evil designs under the appearance of religion. They attempt to deceive those who are really good, and to make them suppose that they have the same design.
2. Wicked people often attempt to make use of the pious to advance their evil purposes. Men like Herod will stop at nothing if they can carry out their ends. They endeavor to deceive the simple, to allure the unsuspecting, and to beguile the weak, in order to accomplish their own purposes of wickedness.
3. The plans of wicked people are often well laid. Those plans occupy a long time. Such people make diligent inquiry, and all of it has the appearance of religion. But God sees through the design; and though people are deceived, yet God cannot be fooled, Prov 15:3.
(from Barnes' Notes, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft)
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea - so called to distinguish it from another Bethlehem in the tribe of Zebulun, near the sea of Galilee (Josh 19:15): called also Bethlehem-judah, as being in that tribe (Judg 17:7); and Ephrath (Gen 35:16); and combining both, Bethlehem Ephratah (Mic 5:2). It lay about six miles southwest of Jerusalem. But how came Joseph and Mary to remove there from Nazareth, the place of their residence? Not of their own accord, and certainly not with the view of fulfilling the prophecy regarding Messiah's birth-place; nay, they stayed at Nazareth until it was almost too late for Mary to travel with safety; nor would they have stirred from it at all, had not an order which left them no choice forced them to the appointed place. A high hand was in all these movements. (See the notes at Luke 2:1-6.)
In the days of Herod the king - called the Great; son of Antipater, an Edomite, made king by the Romans. Thus was "the sceptre departing from Judah" (Gen 49:10), a sign that Messiah was now at hand. Since Herod is known to have died in the year of Rome 750, in the fourth year before the commencement of our Christian era, the birth of Christ must be dated four years before the date usually assigned to it, even if He was born within the year of Herod's death, as it is next to certain that he was.
There came wise men, [magoi (NT:3097)] literally, 'Magi' or 'Magians;' probably of the learned class who cultivated astrology and kindred sciences. Balaam's prophecy (Num 24:17), and perhaps Daniel's (Dan 9:24, etc.), might have come down to them by tradition; but nothing definite is known of them.
From the east - but whether from Arabia, Persia, or Mesopotamia is uncertain.
To Jerusalem - as the Jewish metropolis.
Saying, 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.
Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? From this it would seem they were not themselves Jews. (Compare the language of the Roman governor, John 18:33, and of the Roman soldiers, Matt 27:29, with the very different language of the Jews themselves, Matt 27:42, etc.) The Roman historians, Suetonius and Tacitus, bear witness to an expectation, prevalent in the East, that out of Judea should arise a sovereign of the world.
For we have seen his star in the east. Much has been written on the subject of this star; but from all that is here said it is perhaps safest to regard it as simply a luminous meteor, which appeared under special laws and for a special purpose.
And are come to worship him - 'to do Him homage,' as the word [proskuneesai (NT:4352)] signifies; the nature of that homage depending on the circumstances of the case. That not civil but religious homage is meant here is plain from the whole strain of the narrative, and particularly Matt 2:11. Doubtless these simple strangers expected all Jerusalem to be full of its newborn King, and the time, place, and circumstances of His birth to be familiar to everyone. Little would they think that the first announcement of His birth would come from themselves, and still less could they anticipate the startling, instead of transporting, effect which it would produce-else they would probably have sought their information regarding His birthplace in some other quarter. But God overruled it to draw forth a noble testimony to the predicted birthplace of Messiah from the highest ecclesiastical authority in the nation.
When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
When Herod the king heard these things, he was troubled - viewing this as a danger to his own throne: perhaps his guilty conscience also suggested other grounds of fear.
And all Jerusalem with him - from a dread of revolutionary commotions, and perhaps also of Herod's rage.
Matt 2:10; Matt 2:11; Matt 2:12
When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy, [echareesan (NT:5463) charan (NT:5479) megaleen (NT:3173) sfodra (NT:4970)]. The language is very strong, expressing exuberant transports.
And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
And when they were come into the house - not the stable; because as soon as Bethlehem was emptied of its strangers, they would have no difficulty in finding a dwelling-house.
They saw. The received text has "found" [heuron (NT:2147)]; but here our translators rightly depart from it, because it has no authority.
The young child with Mary his mother. The blessed Babe is naturally mentioned first, then the mother; but Joseph, though doubtless present, is not noticed, as being but the head of the house.
And fell down and worshipped him. Clearly this was no civil homage to a petty Jewish king, whom these star-guided strangers came so far, and inquired so eagerly, and rejoiced with such exceeding joy to pay, but a lofty spiritual homage. The next clause confirms this.
And when they had opened their treasures, they presented (rather, 'offered') unto him gifts, [proseenengkan (NT:4374) autoo (NT:846) doora (NT:1435)]. This expression, used frequently in the Old Testament of the oblations presented to God, is in the New Testament employed seven times, and always in a religious sense of offerings to God. Beyond doubt, therefore, we are to understand the presentation of these gifts by the Magi as a religious offering.
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Visits were seldom paid to sovereigns without a present (1 Kings 10:2, etc.): compare Ps 72:10-11,15; Isa 60:3,6. "Frankincense" was an aromatic used in sacrificial offerings; "myrrh" was used in perfuming ointments. These, with the gold which they presented, seem to show that the offerers were persons in affluent circumstances. That the gold was presented to the infant King in token of His royalty; the frankincense in token of His divinity, and the myrrh, of his sufferings; or that they were designed to express His divine and human natures; or that the prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices of Christ are to be seen in these gifts; or that they were the offerings of three individuals respectively, each of them kings, the very names of whom tradition has handed down;-all these are, at the best, precarious suppositions. But that the feelings of these devout givers are to be seen in the richness of their gifts, and that the gold, at least, would be highly serviceable to the parents of the blessed Babe in their unexpected journey to Egypt and stay there-thus much at least admits of no dispute.
And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed, [anechooreesan (NT:402)] - or 'withdrew' --
To their own country another way. What a surprise would this vision be to the sages, just as they were preparing to carry the glad news of what they had seen to the pious king! But the Lord knew the bloody old tyrant better than to let him see their face again.
(1) As in the first chapter of this Gospel Christ's genealogy and His birth of the Virgin show that salvation is of the Jews, so the visit of these eastern Magi, in the second chapter, exhibits the interest of the Gentile world in Christ. And as the genealogical tree of the first chapter is bright on the Jewish side, while the Gentile side is pitch-dark, so in the second chapter the picture is reversed-the Gentile world presenting the bright, while unbelieving Israel presents the dark side, as Lange well observes.
(2) How differently was the birth of Christ regarded by different parties! While the shepherds, Simeon and Anna, with as many as waited for the consolation of Israel, hailed it with joy, and these eastern sages, attracted from afar, hied them to Jerusalem to do homage to the newborn King, the cruel tyrant that sat upon the throne of Israel, the temporizing and turbulent priesthood, and the fickle, frivolous multitude, were only startled and troubled at the announcement. Thus is it in every age, as old Simeon said, that "the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed" (Luke 2:35).
(3) We have here a striking illustration of the important distinction between the civil and the ecclesiastical functions, and of the signal services which each may render to the other. While the religions liberties of the Church are under the protection of the civil power, it will be the wisdom of the State instead of intermeddling with ecclesiastical functions, to refer questions affecting religion to those who are its proper representatives, as Herod did in this case.
(4) What a commentary is furnished by this narrative on such sayings as these: "Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the children of the kingdom shall be cast out;" "The last shall be first, and the first last;" "I am found of them that sought me not;" but "I have stretched out my hands all day long to a disobedient and gainsaying people" (Matt 8:11-12; 20:16; Rom 11:20-21). Here, in the city of divine solemnities, the seat of a divinely instituted worship, we see unbelief and religions indifference reigning not only among the chosen people, but among the consecrated ecclesiastics; while from distant paganism come devout and eager inquirers after the newborn King of Israel. Yea, here we see persons directing others to Christ who show no readiness to inquire after Him themselves.
(5) How gloriously does God serve Himself, not only of those who themselves have no such intention, but of those whose only intention is to thwart His purposes! The Word had been made flesh, but in poverty rather than riches-meanness than majesty. It was fitting, then, that some public seal should be set upon Him. Accordingly, as His birthplace had been explicitly foretold by the ancient prophets, He will have this proclaimed by lips all unconscious of what they were attesting, lips beyond all suspicion-by the greatest and most august assembly of the Church's rulers-that His Son, in being born at Bethlehem, had come into the world at the right place. And whereas Herod's purpose in convening this grave synod and despatching the sages to Bethlehem, was dark and murderous-only to scent out his victim-he was herein but God's puny instrument for obtaining a glorious testimony in behalf of His Son, and procuring Him the homage of these honourable representatives of the pagan world.
(6) See here the importance of the written Word, and of an intelligent acquaintance and familiarity with it; but yet how compatible this is with a total absence of the spirit and life of it; or, as Lange quaintly expresses it, 'the value of lifeless Bible learning, and the worthlessness of the lifeless Bible-learned.'
(7) How glorious is that faith which triumphs over all visible appearances! To the expectations of these eastern visitors "the house" at Bethlehem would be not a little disappointing. Yet "when they saw the child" - differing in nothing to the outward eye from any other babe - "they fell down and worshipped Him." That Babe was reverend and majestic in their eyes. 'This baseness (as Dr. Hall says) hath bred wonder, not contempt: they well knew the star could not lie' Even so in every age, the more unaided by visible probabilities, and the more it triumphs over all that to sense would seem irrational, the nobler faith is.
(8) How beautiful is natural knowledge when it leads, as in these sages, to Christ! But what sadder spectacle is there than towering attainments in science and philosophy, accumulating, as we have seen in our own day, to extreme old age, and attracting the homage of the world, yet conjoined with blank irreligion, and going out at length in atheistic silence as to all that is supernatural!
(9) How grand is the providence which concealed both from the sages and from the parents of our Lord all suspicion of Herod's designs, until the divine purposes in this visit were all attained! The Magi, on reaching the capital, are allowed to visit the king in his palace; and on a religious mission from the king himself they hie them to Bethlehem. Haunted by no suspicions of foul play, they have free scope for their joy at the star, and for their rapture at the sight of the child. And they are about to return to Herod before they get the warning to return by another way. Thus, on their part, and to the very last, all is unalloyed satisfaction. Joseph and Mary, too, left in the same blessed ignorance, are free to wonder and exult at the visit of the Magi-possibly also to anticipate an introduction to Herod, and honour at his court. But this stage reached, the veil is lifted, and the king is revealed to both parties as a murderer in disguise. Both are warned off without delay, and not a moment is lost. While the wise men withdraw to their own country by another way, the same "night" Joseph and Mary, with the blessed Babe, are off to Egypt. "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to Whom be glory forever. Amen." (Rom 11:33,36.)
(from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft)
It was a mark of humiliation put upon the Lord Jesus that, though he was the Desire of all nations, yet his coming into the world was little observed and taken notice of, his birth was obscure and unregarded: herein he emptied himself, and made himself of no reputation. If the Son of God must be brought into the world, one might justly expect that he should be received with all the ceremony possible, that crowns and sceptres should immediately have been laid at his feet, and that the high and mighty princes of the world should have been his humble servants; such a Messiah as this the Jews expected, but we see none of all this; he came into the world, and the world knew him not; nay, he came to his own, and his own received him not; for having undertaken to make satisfaction to his Father for the wrong done him in his honour by the sin of man, he did it by denying himself in, and despoiling himself of, the honours undoubtedly due to an incarnate Deity; yet, as afterward, so in his birth, some rays of glory darted forth in the midst of the greatest instances of his abasement. Though there was the hiding of his power, yet he had horns coming out of his hand (Hab 3:4) enough to condemn the world, and the Jews especially, for their stupidity.
We have here the wise men's humble attendance upon this new-born King of the Jews, and the honours they paid him. From Jerusalem they went to Bethlehem, resolving to seek till they should find; but it is very strange that they went alone; that not one person of the court, church, or city, should accompany them, if not in conscience, yet in civility to them, or touched with a curiosity to see this young prince. As the queen of the south, so the wise men of the east, will rise up in judgment against the men of that generation, and of this too, and will condemn them; for they came from a far country, to worship Christ; while the Jews, his kinsmen, would not stir a step, would not go to the next town to bid him welcome. It might have been a discouragement to these wise men to find him whom they sought thus neglected at home. Are we come so far to honour the King of the Jews, and do the Jews themselves put such a slight upon him and us? Yet they persist in their resolution. Note, We must continue our attendance upon Christ, though we be alone in it; whatever others do, we must serve the Lord; if they will not go to heaven with us, yet we must not go to hell with them. Now,
I. See how they found out Christ by the same star that they had seen in their own country, v. 9, 10. Observe,
1. How graciously God directed them. By the first appearance of the star they were given to understand where they might enquire for this King, and then it disappeared, and they were left to take the usual methods for such an enquiry. Note, Extraordinary helps are not to be expected where ordinary means are to be had. Well, they had traced the matter as far as they could; they were upon their journey to Bethlehem, but that is a populous town, where shall they find him when they come thither? Here they were at a loss, at their wit's end, but not at their faith's end; they believed that God, who had brought them thither by his word, would not leave them there; nor did he; for, behold, the star which they saw in the east went before them. Note, If we go on as far as we can in the way of duty, God will direct and enable us to do that which of ourselves we cannot do; Up, and be doing, and the Lord will be with thee. Vigilantibus, non dormientibus, succurit lex-The law affords its aid, not to the idle, but to the active. The star had left them a great while, yet now returns. They who follow God in the dark shall find that light is sown, is reserved, for them. Israel was led by a pillar of fire to the promised land, the wise men by a star to the promised Seed, who is himself the bright and morning Star, Rev 22:16. God would rather create a new thing than leave those at a loss who diligently and faithfully sought him. This star was the token of God's presence with them; for he is light, and goes before his people as their Guide. Note, If we by faith eye God in all our ways, we may see ourselves under his conduct; he guides with his eye (Ps 32:8), and said to them, This is the way, walk in it: and there is a day-star that arises in the hearts of those that enquire after Christ, 2 Peter 1:19.
2. Observe how joyfully they followed God's direction (v. 10). When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. Now they saw they were not deceived, and had not taken this long journey in vain. When the desire cometh, it is a tree of life. Now they were sure that God was with them, and the tokens of his presence and favour cannot but fill with joy unspeakable the souls of those that know how to value them. Now they could laugh at the Jews in Jerusalem, who, probably, had laughed at them as coming on a fool's errand. The watchmen can give the spouse no tidings of her beloved; yet it is but a little that she passes from them, and she finds him, Song 3:3-4. We cannot expect too little from man, nor too much from God. What a transport of joy these wise men were in upon this sight of the star; none know so well as those who, after a long and melancholy night of temptation and desertion, under the power of a Spirit of bondage, at length receive the spirit of adoption, witnessing with their spirits that they are the children of God; this is light out of darkness; it is life from the dead. Now they had reason to hope for a sight of the Lord's Christ speedily, of the Sun of righteousness, for they see the Morning Star. Note, We should be glad of every thing that will show us the way to Christ. This star was sent to meet the wise men, and to conduct them into the presence chamber of the King; by this master of ceremonies they were introduced, to have their audience. Now God fulfills his promise of meeting those that are disposed to rejoice and work righteousness (Isa 64:5), and they fulfill his precept. Let the hearts of those rejoice that seek the Lord, Ps 105:3. Note, God is pleased sometimes to favour young converts with such tokens of his love as are very encouraging to them, in reference to the difficulties they meet with at their setting out of the ways of God.
II. See how they made their address to him when they had found him, v. 11. We may well imagine their expectations were raised to find this royal babe, though slighted by the nation, yet honourably attended at home; and what a disappointment it was to them when they found a cottage was his palace, and his own poor mother all the retinue he had! Is this the Saviour of the world? Is this the King of the Jews, nay, and the Prince of the kings of the earth? Yes, this is he, who, though he was rich, yet, for our sakes, became thus poor. However, these wise men were so wise as to see through this veil, and in this despised babe to discern the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father; they did not think themselves balked or baffled in their enquiry; but, as having found the King they sought, they presented themselves first, and then their gifts, to him.
1. They presented themselves to him: they fell down, and worshipped him. We do not read that they gave such honour to Herod, though he was in the height of his royal grandeur; but to this babe they gave this honour, not only as to a king (then they would have done the same to Herod), but as to a God. Note, All that have found Christ fall down before him; they adore him, and submit themselves to him. He is thy Lord, and worship thou him. It will be the wisdom of the wisest of men, and by this it will appear they know Christ, and understand themselves and their true interests, if they be humble, faithful worshippers of the Lord Jesus.
2. They presented their gifts to him. In the eastern nations, when they did homage to their kings, they made them presents; thus the subjection of the kings of Sheba to Christ is spoken of (Ps 72:10), They shall bring presents, and offer gifts. See Isa 60:6. Note, With ourselves, we must give up all that we have to Jesus Christ; and if we be sincere in the surrender of ourselves to him, we shall not be unwilling to part with what is dearest to us, and most valuable, to him and for him; nor are our gifts accepted, unless we first present ourselves to him living sacrifices. God had respect to Abel, and then to his offering. The gifts they presented were, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, money, and money's-worth. Providence sent this for a seasonable relief to Joseph and Mary in their present poor condition. These were the products of their own country; what God favours us with, we must honour him with. Some think there was a significancy in their gifts; they offered him gold, as a king, paying him tribute, to Caesar, the things that are Caesar's; frankincense, as God, for they honoured God with the smoke of incense; and myrrh, as a Man that should die, for myrrh was used in embalming dead bodies.
III. See how they left him when they had made their address to him, v. 12. Herod appointed them to bring him word what discoveries they had made, and, it is probable, they would have done so, if they had not been countermanded, not suspecting their being thus made his tools in a wicked design. Those that mean honestly and well themselves are easily made to believe that others do so too, and cannot think the world is as bad as it really is; but the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation. We do not find that the wise men promised to come back to Herod, and, if they had, it must have been with the usual proviso, If God permit; God did not permit them, and prevented the mischief Herod designed to the Child Jesus, and the trouble it would have been to the wise men to have been made involuntarily accessory to it. They were warned of God, chrematisthentes - oraculo vel responso accepto - by an oracular intimation. Some think it intimates that they asked counsel of God, and that this was the answer. Note, Those that act cautiously, and are afraid of sin and snares, if they apply themselves to God for direction, may expect to be led in the right way. They were warned not to return to Herod, nor to Jerusalem; those were unworthy to have reports brought them concerning Christ, that might have seen with their own eyes, and would not. They departed into their own country another way, to bring the tidings to their countrymen; but it is strange that we never hear any more of them, and that they or theirs did not afterwards attend him in the temple, whom they had worshipped in the cradle. However, the direction they had from God in their return would be a further confirmation of their faith in this Child, as the Lord from heaven.
(from Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: New Modern Edition, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1991 by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.)
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. 29 Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, 30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. NKJV
The Far-off, Near; The Near, Far Off -- Matt. 2:1-4
A Sermon Delivered on Lord's-day Evening August 11 th, 1889
by C.H. SPURGEON at the METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON
SERMON TEXT: Matt 2:1-4
"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, 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. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born."-Matt 2:1-4.
I am not going to expound the whole passage that I have read as a text; but I desire to help you to gather some lessons from this familiar narrative.
"When Jesus was born." A stir begins as soon as Christ is born. He has not spoken a word; he has not wrought a miracle; he has not proclaimed a single doctrine; but "when Jesus was born," at the very first, while as yet you hear nothing but infant cries, and can see nothing but infant weakness, still his influence upon the world is manifest. "When Jesus was born, there came wise men from the east" Matt 2:1, and so on. There is infinite power even in an infant Saviour. When Jesus is born in the heart, and there are only the feeblest impulses towards righteousness and repentance with regard to sin, he makes a stir in our whole nature. The most distant faculty feels that something wonderful has happened. When Christ is formed in us, the hope of glory, a sacred revolution commences within us. When Christ is born in a village, a town, a city, the first sinner converted, the first open-air sermon preached, the first giving away of sacred literature, makes a stir. It is wonderful how soon it begins to manifest itself. Somebody or other is affected by the fact that Christ has come; he cannot be hid. The first match struck makes a great blaze. Jesus of Nazareth is so potent a factor in the world of mind that, no sooner is he there in his utmost weakness, a new-born King, than he begins to reign. Before he mounts the throne, friends bring him presents, and his enemies compass his death. Oh, that the Lord Jesus might be here tonight, if it be but as new born, in some few hearts! There will be a result from Christ's coming, even though I preach him very feebly, though you may say that I can only bring to you an infant Christ, though my power of speech may fail me, and I may but set him forth in his littleness rather than in his greatness. When Christ is born, when Christ is only feebly preached, when Christ is but stammered out, a great result comes of it, and his name is made glorious.
There were two results from Christ's coming, as there always will be, for this Child is not only a Saviour to some, but also a stumbling-block to others. His gospel is either "a savour of life unto life," or else "a savour of death unto death." I want you, first, to notice the note of exclamation that we have in the first verse. "When Jesus was born, behold." Ecce! Behold! There is something to look at, something good that is worth gazing upon. Behold it. Here are far-off persons who come very nigh. Wise men from the east come and worship the infant Christ; but there is something to which there is no "behold" put, yet it is sorrowfully worth considering. Here are near ones who are far off, Herod, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the chief priests, and the scribes. They are as far from Christ as if he had been born in the distant east, while they who lived in the far country came as near to him as if they themselves had dwelt at Bethlehem. So I have these two things to talk about tonight, first, the extraordinary fact that many far-off ones are brought nigh, and the sad but almost equally extraordinary fact that many who are apparently very near never really come near to Jesus.
I. To begin, then, at the beginning. THERE ARE FAR-OFF ONES BROUGHT NIGH. God saveth whom He wills to save; His grace is most sovereign. You cannot see, as I do, so many persons brought to Christ without often wondering why they were brought. I have often seen the last first, and the first last; people of whose conversion I should hardly have dreamed become converted, while other persons, for whom I have hoped, and over whom I have prayed, remain unconverted. It is very delightful, as well as very wonderful, to notice the strange way in which the grace of God singles out men, and the marvellous measures which the God of grace uses to bring these men to the feet of Jesus.
Well now, first, these people were wise men, magi, students of astronomy, learned in the lore of the ancients. Their philosophy was not a very true one; it was about as true as modern philosophy, which is not saying much. They believed very absurd things, these magi, almost as absurd as the scientists of the present day, perhaps not quite as ridiculous, for science has grown in absurdity, especially of late; but these men were professors of the philosophy of the period. They were the wise men. If they came from Media, they were probably fire-worshippers, or worshippers of the elements of nature. Theirs was a refined form of idolatry, which is not to be excused; but still, if there can be any choice where all is bad, it is perhaps a little better than some others. They were very great students so far as their light went; they sought after knowledge and wisdom. Well now, truth to tell, it is not many of this sort of people who come to Christ.
His doctrine is too simple for them; he himself lays the axe too near the root of the tree; his teaching is too plain. They are so wise that his wisdom baffles them. They know so much, as they think; yet his better and higher knowledge overshadows theirs, and they cannot brook it, and yield to him. "Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called" 1 Cor 1:26; but here the infinite sovereignty of God calls these wise men first; no, I must not say first, for the shepherds came first; but next to the shepherds, the Lord cars these wise men from the distant east. It has been truly remarked that the shepherds did not miss their way; they came to Christ at once, while the wise men, even with a star to guide them, yet missed their way, and went to Jerusalem instead of to Bethlehem, and enquired at the palace of Herod, instead of at the stable where the Christ was born. However, they did come to Christ, even if they did come in a roundabout way, and make a blunder or two. Here was the wonder, that they did come; and if I address myself tonight, as I would do most respectfully, to any here who excel in human wisdom, how I wish they would join divinity to their humanities; and if they know much, yet I long that, with all their knowledge they would know Christ, and with all their gettings that they would get understanding; for the science of Christ crucified is the most excellent of all the sciences. It is the central one round which every true science will revolve in its proper place; and happy is the man whose solar system of knowledge has Christ in the very centre of it. Still, if it be so, I shall not cease to wonder and bless God that He has again brought wise men, like Saul of Tarsus, and like these wise men from the east, to worship this new-born Saviour.
Notice also that these men were not only wise men, which is one cause of our wonder that they sought Christ, but they lived far away in the east. We do not know the distance they had travelled; but it does not matter; it was a long way, and probably a very difficult journey, in those days, at any rate. It did not seem likely, when this Child was born at Bethlehem, that worshippers should come outside of Judea, that they should come from distant regions unknown to the Jews themselves; but yet God in His mercy called these men from the farthest east. Oh, that His love would light on some tonight who are strangers and foreigners, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, perhaps without God and without hope in the world! May His grace call such! What a mass of people we are, and what odd people there must be here, whom none of us could describe! After this morning's sermon, somebody told me that, had I known the story of one of my hearers, I should not have dared to describe him as correctly as I did. Happily I did not know that hearer; I am glad that I did not; my message should come all the more distinctly as a voice from God to him, because it did so accurately describe him. But I will breathe this prayer, that somebody here, who is a stranger even to the very form of religion, someone who has never been in this house before, or in any other place of Christian worship, may be called by the mighty voice of God, attracted by the irresistible charms of Christ, and may come and believe in the Incarnate God who took our flesh at Bethlehem, that he might bear our sin, and bear us up to the throne of God with himself. Here was the double wonder, then, about the magi coming to Christ, they were unlikely men from an unlikely place. As we think of them, we are constrained to say, as we have often sung:
"How sweet and awful is the place,
With Christ within the doors,
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores.
"Pity the nations, O our God!
Constrain the earth to come;
Send thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home."
And they were singularly guided, were they not? They were watching the midnight heaven, and they spied a strange star. According to astronomers, there was probably a conjunction of two planets about that date. When two planets were in conjunction in 1640, or about that date, it was said that such a conjunction must have taken place at about the time when Christ was born, and that the wise men may have thought it was a new star. I do not, however, think that that can have been the case. It was probably not simply a star, but a marked appearance which moved through the heavens. Well now, it was a strange thing that they should see this star, and more strange still that, seeing it, they should put this and that together, and by their astrology, for perhaps it was nothing better, infer that some wondrous personage was born away there in Judea, and they must needs go forth to find him. They may have heard of the famous prophecy of Balsam; there might have been traditions in their country that the Coming Man was to be born in Judea.
All that may have been, I do not know; but this I know, God miraculously sent this star. If men are not to be reached in any ordinary way, God's elect shall be brought to Him in an extraordinary way. If they are given to the study of the stars, God will write in that illuminated book which they are accustomed to read, and they shall there see a new letter, and learn something fresh concerning His will. I have known the Lord meet with men in the midst of evil, in the very act of sin. We have known men struck down by the most singular accidents and the most extraordinary concatenation of circumstances, men whom it seemed impossible to reach. Beloved, no man is beyond the reach of God. He has ways and means of enlightening the understanding, rousing the conscience, and renewing the heart, of which we know but little. "Remember that Omnipotence has servants everywhere," in the heaven above, and in the earth beneath, and in the waters under the earth. He has means of getting at the hearts of men, and He will do it. If it cannot be done anyhow else, He will make new stars; I was about to say, He will make new heavens and a new earth, but He will call His own. When Christ is born, the wise men from the east must come, and a star shall be sent to guide them. Perhaps, by some remarkable circumstances, you, my friend, are here tonight. It was very unlikely that you should be here; but you have come into the Tabernacle that the grace of God may arrest you, that the hand of eternal love may be laid upon your shoulder, and that you may be taken prisoner for Christ, henceforth to be his servant, and his alone.
It is worth noticing, again, that these men earnestly enquired. Having once seen the star, they hurried off, no matter how long the journey, to find the new-born King, and they asked everybody to tell them the way to him. They even went to the court of Herod to ask the way to find Christ. A man must have a deal of curiosity when he puts his head between the jaws of such a lion as Herod, in order to find what he wants to know I wish that God would stir up that kind of curiosity and enquiry in many men's minds. The general way now is to put off the truth of God with a huff, to suppose that it is not worth looking into; but the claims of the eternal Son of God, the claims of His grace and of His throne ought not to be treated so. May God give back to the people a spirit of enquiry into the things of God, so that they may not be as indifferent as the masses of our fellow-citizens now are! May they begin to question, and say, "Which is the way to heaven? Who is this Christ? What is the plan of salvation?" If it be so, we shall soon have cause enough for joy, and we shall praise the sovereign grace of God.
Being enquirers, these men were singularly unprejudiced. They said, "Where is he that is born King of the Jews?" Matt 2:2. "Jews?" Who cared for Jews? Even in those days, Jews were the subject of contempt, for they had aforetime been carried captive into the east. Although they are the very aristocracy of God, His chosen people, yet the nations looked down upon the Jews. Judah was a little paltry territory, insignificant and small; and many asked with Sanballat, "What do these feeble Jews?" But here are men from a great empire, like Persia or Media, asking about the King of the Jews. Surely there are still some candid men about, some who will enquire after Christ, even though they have to ask of Methodists, and Baptists, and the like. Oh, that men could break through the foolish shell of prejudice to enquire if these things indeed are so! The time was when the very word "Evangelical" had a kind of contempt affixed to it; I am not sure that that time has yet quite passed. Yet, whatever others may say or do, let none of us be swayed by prejudice or disdain; but let us search and see whether these things are so.
And note again, that these men, being candid enquirers, were wonderfully prompt: "When Jesus was born, there came wise men from the east" Matt 2:1. Well now, I think that it would naturally strike you that, if a man was born a king, there would be time enough to pay him homage when he grew up. To bring gold, and frankincense, and myrrh, to a babe, does not always commend itself to wise men. Let us see the child become a chit, and the chit become a youth, and the youth become a man; then may we take this long journey to find out His Royal Highness. But, no; when the King was born, and the wise men came to him, they must have started to find him long before. I would that the Lord might put into the hearts of men today something like this energy and promptitude about divine things. If God really was incarnate, if he did come here in human form, oh, come, let us go and find him! Let us bow at his shrine, and worship at his feet. Did he really die, and die for guilty men? Did he in their place and stead bear the desert of their sin? Come, let us seek this "Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" John 1:29, and let us seek him ere another sun has risen.
And then see, dear friends, how supremely obedient they were, how entirely surrendered to the divine impulse that moved them, for they hastened to do what they were bidden to do, and rejoiced as they bowed low before the new-born Child, worshipping and adoring him. They were also abundantly generous with their offerings. They brought the best that they could find, gold, and frankincense, and myrrh, and they spread the royal gifts before the royal Child. Lord, send us converts like these wise men! Send us men and women, in great multitudes, who will cheerfully obey, who will find a delight in worshipping Christ, in paying him homage, giving to his service, and in giving themselves to him.
Thus I have tried to show you what the sovereign grace of God did when Christ was born. May the Lord in His mercy do the like to many here! Oh, how often has it happened that, when I least knew it, I was preaching to one who would become afterwards one of our best helpers, one of our most earnest brothers, one of our most fervent sisters! I hope that I am speaking to some such tonight, utter strangers as yet, who will be brought into this church, or into some other church of Jesus Christ, and become not a whit behind the very chief of the apostles, though as yet they are not numbered with the household of faith.
II. But now, in the second place, I have a sad task; the other was a glad task; but now I have the sad task of noticing THE NIGH ONES FAR OFF.
Here, first, we read that many were troubled about Christ. He was but newly born, and yet he troubled them. Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem was troubled with him. It is an unusual thing to hear of a king troubled by a babe. Proud Herod, the fire-eater, troubled by a babe in swaddling bands, lying in a manger? Ah me! how little is the real greatness of wickedness, and how small a power of goodness may bring it grief! Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. So, when some people hear the gospel, and find that it has power in it, they are troubled. Herod was troubled, because he feared that he should lose his throne; he thought that the house of David, in the person of the new-born Child, would take possession of his throne; so he trembled, and was troubled. How many there are who think that, if religion be true, they will lose by it! Business will suffer. There are some businesses that ought to suffer; and as true godliness spreads, they will suffer. I need not indicate them; but those who are engaged in them usually feel that they had better cry out, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians" Acts 19:28,34, for they get their living by making and selling her shrines, and if their shrines are in danger and their craft is in danger, then they are troubled. There are such; I have known men, who have been leaders in sin, ringleaders in sin, and they have thought that they should lose some of their followers through Christ's coming; so they have been troubled.
But all Jerusalem was troubled with Herod. Why was that? It was most probably because they thought there would be contention. If there was a new King born, there would be a fight between him and Herod, and there would be trouble for Jerusalem. So there are some men who say, "Do not bring that religion here; it makes such contention. One believes this, and one believes that, and another believes nothing at all. We shall have trouble in the family if we get religion into it." Yes, you will; that is acknowledged in the Scriptures, for our Lord came to bring fire on the earth. He has come, with a sword in his hand, on purpose to fight against everything that is evil; and there will be contention. Hence I do not wonder that the great lovers of ease are troubled.
But the fact is that many are troubled because the gospel interferes with their sin. "If I become a Christian, I cannot live as I have been accustomed to live," says one, "so I will not believe the gospel." The great argument against the Bible is an ungodly life. If you probe to the bottom of the matter, some sinful pleasure is the reason of many a man's infidelity. There is a practical reason against his repenting, he cannot give up his darling sin, he will not give that up; so he is troubled when Christ comes near to him. It is a terrible thing to cling to sin. That Spartan boy, who caught a young fox, and carried it in his bosom, and then, lest the schoolmaster should see it, and chastise him, allowed the fox to go on eating into his flesh till it ate into his heart, is like you. You are hugging this fox, this wolf, this asp, to your bosom all the while we are preaching to you. What comfort can we give you? Quit your sin, or quit all hope. Wilt thou have thy sin and go to hell, or wilt thou leave thy sin and go to heaven? Thou canst not have Christ and sin; the two are diametrically opposed. I will not mention what your sin may be; let your own conscience tell you that. You cannot continue in the practice of any known sin, wilfully and deliberately, and yet find any comfort from the Word of God, or from the gospel. There must be, in your heart's intent and resolve, the quitting of sin, or there cannot be the finding of the Saviour. I have told you before of the two Highlanders, who wanted to row across a certain frith on one occasion. They had been largely helping themselves to whisky before they got into the boat, and they began to row, and they kept on rowing, but they made no progress. They could not understand how it was that, with all their rowing, they kept in the same position till one said, "Sandy, did you pull the anchor up?" No, he had never pulled the anchor up, so there they were, with the anchor down, and pulling away to no purpose. You must have that anchor up, young man, whether it is drink, or lust, or gambling, or pilfering. You are a fool if you pretend to row when you know that the anchor is still sticking in the mud.
Oftentimes, when a man is troubled about religion, he says, "If I become a Christian, I shall have to give up my pleasure;" not that true religion requires us to give up anything which is real pleasure; or, if it makes us give up what affords us pleasure now, it changes our tastes so that it would be no longer a pleasure could we indulge in what we once loved. True religion gives us new pleasures; it takes away our halfpence, and it gives us golden coin instead thereof. It does better than that, but I cannot employ a figure good enough to describe the change. True religion never was designed to make our pleasures less; and it does not make them less. But still some think that it will do so, and hence their trouble. You would be astonished if you knew why some men oppose true religion. The wife shall not go to a place of worship; there shall not be a Bible in the house; they will not have their boy attending a chapel where there is a prayer-meeting; or they will not allow the master where he is apprenticed to take the boy with him to the house of God. Men say and do all sorts of strange things when they are troubled by Christ; and it is not because they have any real ground for their perplexity. They are troubled about Christ very much for the same reason that Herod and Jerusalem were troubled about him, certainly for no better reason.
Well now, this is very sad, that the gospel, which is meant to be good news to men, should trouble them, that the heavenly offer of free grace should trouble them, that to have heaven gate widely open before them should trouble them, that to be asked to wash themselves or to be washed in the blood of Christ should trouble them. Troubled by infinite mercy! Troubled by almighty love! Yet such is the depravity of human nature that to many who hear the gospel every day, it is still nothing but a trouble to them.
Now there is another case here. It is the same man in another character. There is one who plays the hypocrite. "Yes," he says, "there is one who is born King of the Jews. Will you wise men kindly tell me all about it? You say you saw a star. When did the star appear? Be very particular. Did you take note of its movements? You say you saw it, and you saw it, and you saw it. What time in the evening was it first visible? What day of the month did it appear?" Herod is very particular in getting all the information that he can about that star; and now he sends for the doctors of divinity, and the scribes, and the priests, and he says, "When ought this Messiah that you talk about to be born, and where ought he to be born? Tell me." Herod, you see, is a wonderful disciple, is he not? He is sitting at the feet of the doctors; he is willing to be instructed by the magi; and then he finishes up by saying to the wise men, "Go now; you go and worship the new-born King; you are quite right to have come all this distance to worship this Child. Be particular, too, to take notes as to where you find him, and then come and tell me about him, that I also may go and worship him." So we always find that where Christ is, there is a Judas somewhere about.
If the gospel comes to any place, there is a certain number of persons who say, "Oh, yes, yes, yes, we shall attend that place!" I know a certain town where there is one true preacher of the gospel, who has won many to Christ; but there are a great many who go there who know nothing at all about Christ. Of course they go to what is called "The Tabernacle" in that place, because it is the right place to attend. I know a town where there is one church, in which Evangelical doctrine is preached, and the good people all used to go to "St. Peter's." It was a kind of patent of respectability to have a pew at St. Peter's, because good Evangelical doctrine was preached there. Well now, that is just how it is with some persons nowadays. A certain number of people would think that all was wrong with them if they did not hear sound doctrine; but all the while they have made up their minds that sound doctrine shall never change their lives, and shall never affect their inward character. They are hypocrites, just as this man Herod was. They will not have Christ to reign over them. They do not mind hearing about him; they do not mind acknowledging to a certain extent his rights; but they will not yield allegiance to him, they will not practically submit to his rule, and become believers in him. Am I not speaking to some such tonight? I know that I am. Dear friends, do not stop in that state, I pray you. You do not wish to be called a hypocrite; well then, if you cannot bear to be called by that name, do not be such a character. Be true; come to Christ, bow at his feet, accept him as your Lord, trust him to save you, and then rejoice in him as your Saviour and King.
But there were other characters beside the hypocrite who were troubled; and they were the men who displayed their learning. These were the scribes and the chief priests who looked in their Bibles, and turned up that passage of the prophet which said where Jesus was to be born. Now, I like these people for looking up their Bibles, and studying the Scriptures; but what I do not like in them is that, while they told Herod that Christ was to be born at Bethlehem, none of them said that they would go to Bethlehem and worship him. Not a living soul of them, not a scribe or a chief priest said, "If this is the Messiah, who was to be born at Bethlehem,-and this remarkable star makes us believe that it is even so,-we will go with the wise men, and worship him." No, not they; they were quite, content to have the sacred roll, and read it, and know all about the truth, and yet to leave it there. I used to know, in my youth, certain very sound Calvinistic brethren. I fancy that they were a little too sound, certainly sixteen ounces to the pound with an ounce or two of bone thrown in; and, after they had had a glass or two of beer, they could talk over Scripture better than they could before. I think that the most of those people sleep in the dust. I hope that the whole tribe will; I mean those who live only upon talking sound doctrine without feeling the power of it. But nowadays I meet people "mighty in the Scriptures" yes, and very keen too upon doctrine, who:
"Could a hair divide
Betwixt the west and northwest side,"
as regards points of divinity; but as to charity to the poor, as to visiting the needy, as to caring for the souls of men, as to holy living, and as to prevalence in prayer with God, they are nowhere at all. I do pray you to dread a religion which is all in the book. You must have it in the heart; you must have it in the life; or else this Child that was born at Bethlehem will only affect you so far that you turn over the Books of Scripture, and there is an end of the matter so far as you are concerned. Yes, yes, yes, know your Bible, that is good: but practise what your Bible tells you, for that is better. Yes, yes, yes, understand the doctrines of grace, be dear upon them; but love them, live them, for that is better far. Yes, yes, yes, be a sound divine; but let us see a holy humanity about you as well. God grant that it may be so! Otherwise, I tell you, your book-learning will only leave you still an enemy of Christ.
The saddest point is that none of these people sought Christ; not Herod with his hypocrisy, nor Jerusalem with its troubles, nor the scribes and priests with their ancient knowledge; none of them sought Christ. May God grant that no hearer of mine may be in that black list! Oh, may we all seek Jesus! May we all find him! May we find him tonight! We shall seek and find him if we really felt in our hearts that hymn that we sang just before the sermon:
"I need thee, precious Jesus!
For I am full of sin;
My soul is dark and guilty,
My heart is dead within;
I need the cleansing fountain,
Where I can always flee,
The blood of Christ most precious,
The sinner's perfect plea."
There are two prayers with which I wish to close my discourse. One is, "Lord, bring the far-off ones near tonight!" May I beg the thousands of Israel present tonight to pray that prayer? You cannot tell for whom you are praying; you need not know. There may be persons here who are as far from God as they can be. To them I give this text, the word of our exalted Saviour and Lord, "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else" Isa 45:22. Look, look, look, look! Sinner, look unto him, and be saved!
"There is life for a look at the crucified One,
There is life at this moment for thee."
"For thee." "For thee." Then look thou, look now, and find it to be even so.
"There is life at this moment for thee."
The other prayer, and I ask my brothers and sisters here who have power in prayer to pray it, is, "Lord, bring the nigh ones really nigh; these many who are always in this house, and yet not in Christ!" No, I must not say those "many"; I mean, these few; for there are now few who are in that condition. Lord, bring them in! One came the other Monday, and said, "I am one of the few. I have been attending the Tabernacle for many years, and yet I have never told you that I have found the Saviour;" and he came to confess his Master. There are some few of that sort still. Lord, bring them all in! You who are always hearers only, do you ever remember that text, "Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom" Matt 8:11-that is, you people who have heard the gospel ever since you were children-"the children of the kingdom shall be cast out" Matt 8:12-pushed aside-"cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth"? Pray that it may not be so with one single hearer of mine tonight, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.
(from Spurgeon's Sermons, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft)
Salaries of the Stars
Some top stars, like Cruise and Bruce Willis, are getting percentages as high as 15 percent.
On the sleeper hit The Sixth Sense, Willis netted $50 million from the $600 million-grossing film (the studio made about $300 million) with a combination of his $20 million salary,17 percent of the gross and his share of video revenues--and the movie's still playing in some cities around the country.
And when movies go to DVD, video or television, the money keeps flowing in. With theater owners out of the picture, studios can pay out a 20 percent royalty fee--or more--and keep the rest for themselves, hoarding a tidy sum.
Of course, the bigger the star, the bigger the cut. An insider says Cruise even profited from a gross-participation deal on video sales of Jerry Maguire, netting the superstar 15 percent of every penny the film made.
Other stars like to gamble. They'll pass on a lucrative up-front payday in return for a share of the revenues from dollar one. Although they're pretty common in indie circles--where producers and directors are short on funds to pay their actors (see The Blair Witch Project)--Jack Nicholson negotiated the first such major above-ground arrangement, on Batman. He skipped his fee and asked for a cut of the gross and a percentage of the merchandising. Although he only had a supporting role in the film, Nicholson made more than 50 million bat-dollars at the end of the day.
But it's not just about stars: When it comes to money, Steven Spielberg is as big as any of the actors in his movies. As producer and director, he can claim as much as 50 percent of a film's gross on top of his salary--though he usually structures deals so that the revenue reaches a certain amount before he takes his cut.
On a risky project like the World War II drama Saving Private Ryan, neither Spielberg nor his star Tom Hanks took any money up front. Instead, they agreed to split 35 percent of the film's gross receipts, which in the case of Ryan brought them as much as $50 million each.
Titanic's James Cameron, who waived his fees when the movie mushroomed over budget, received only about $25 million when it grossed almost $2 billion worldwide. If Titanic or Ryan had failed at the box office, the directors would have been working for free. That's what will happen with John Travolta on the disastrous Battlefield Earth.
Claim: The Bible says that three wise men traveled from afar on camels to visit the infant Jesus as he lay in the manger.
Origins: As Santa Claus and his reindeer are to the secular celebration of Christmas, so the three wise men and the crčche are to the religious celebration. Even most of the non-religious (or non-Christian) among us recognize the symbolism of the nativity scene: it depicts the biblical account of three wise men from the east who rode atop camels and followed a star to Bethlehem, bearing gifts for the newborn Christ child who lay in a manger. The truth is, the Bible contains virtually none of these details. They have all been added over the years from sources outside the Bible.
Mathew 2:1 tells us: Now 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 . . .
That's it. Matthew doesn't say how many wise men came from the east, doesn't mention their names, and doesn't provide any details about how they made their journey.
It has generally been assumed that the wise men (or magi) were three in number because Matthew 2:11 makes mention of three gifts: " . . . they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh." The number of wise men is not specified in the Bible, however, and some Eastern religions have claimed up to twelve of them made the journey to Bethlehem. The names of the wise men, Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, do not come from the Bible and did not appear in Christian literature until over five hundred years after the birth of Jesus. Nothing in the Bible says the wise men rode camels (or any other animal); they may have made their journey from the east on foot for all we know. And despite the familiar lyrics of the Christmas carol "We Three Kings," no biblical source depicts the three wise men as kings. (They were most likely learned men, perhaps astrologers.)
However many wise men there were, and however they got to Bethlehem, the Bible tells us they arrived just after the birth and found the baby Jesus in a manger, right?
Not quite. Matthew 2:11 states:
And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him . . .
The wise men came "into the house," not the stable, and they saw a "young child," not a newborn. This passage indicates that the wise men didn't arrive until quite some time after Jesus' birth. (According to Luke 2, it was shepherds, not wise men, who visited the infant Jesus in the manger.)
To sum up: we know from the Bible that wise men came from the east, that they followed a star to Bethlehem to find the Christ child, and that they brought him gold, and frankincense and myrrh. We must look to sources external to the Bible to find the origins of any of the other familiar details, however.
The Christmas carol "We Three Kings" tells the story of the Wise Men from the East who brought gifts to the baby Jesus. But who were the Three Kings, otherwise known as the Magi or Wise Men, and were they really royal?
According to tradition dating back to medieval times, their names were Balthasar, Gaspar (or Casper), and Melchior. They are often depicted as representing the three races. The Bible says they came from the East, but exactly where is not known. Arabia, Babylon, and Persia are popular choices. According to one tradition, Balthasar was king of Arabia, Gaspar was king of India, and Melchior was king of Persia.
An 8th century saint, Bede the Venerable, described the kings this way: "The first was called Melchior; he was an old man, with white hair and long beard; he offered gold to the Lord as to his king. The second, Gaspar by name, young, beardless, of ruddy hue, offered to Jesus his gift of incense, the homage due to Divinity. The third, of black complexion, with heavy beard, was called Baltasar; the myrrh he held in his hands prefigured the death of the Son of man."
The Bible, however, does not describe the kings or reveal their names. In fact, it does not call them kings at all, but simply Magi, or Wise Men. The Magi were a Median priestly caste who rose to power in ancient Persia (today's Iran). Their religion, Zoroastrianism, was founded around the 6th century BC by a Median man named Zoroaster. The Magi were held in awe as highly educated scientists and scholars who could interpret dreams and even control demons.
The Magi of the Nativity were probably important men in their own country and may well have been of noble or royal birth, but there is no evidence to back this up. The idea that they were kings arose in the Middle Ages and was based on earlier Biblical prophecies about kings bearing gifts.
We can't even say for sure how many Magi visited Jesus. The Bible does not specify three. According to Eastern tradition, the number was 12. The Western tradition of three wise men probably arises from the three gifts they brought to Jesus.
Tradition has it that in later years the Wise Men were baptized by St. Thomas the Apostle; all three became bishops and spent the rest of their lives spreading Christianity, and at the end of their lives they each saw the Star of Bethlehem again and were reunited. One legend says that they were over 100 years old when they met to celebate Christmas, then died within a few days of each other.
Their purported remains were brought to Constantinople by St. Helena, mother of the 4th century Roman emperor Constantine the Great, and later moved to Milan. In the 12th century they fell into the hands of Holy Roman emperor Frederick Barbarossa, who gave them to the Archbishop of Cologne, Germany. The archbishop built a cathedral for the relics in Cologne, where they remain to this day.
The carol "We Three Kings" was written in 1857 by an American minister, John Henry Hopkins Jr., for use in a Christmas pageant.
THE GIFT OF THE MAGI
by O. Henry
One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.
While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.
In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name "Mr. James Dillingham Young."
The "Dillingham" had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called "Jim" and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.
Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn't go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling--something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.
There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.
Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.
Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.
So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.
On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.
Where she stopped the sign read: "Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds." One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the "Sofronie."
"Will you buy my hair?" asked Della.
"I buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let's have a sight at the looks of it."
Down rippled the brown cascade.
"Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.
"Give it to me quick," said Della.
Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim's present.
She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation--as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and value--the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.
When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends--a mammoth task.
Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.
"If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do--oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?"
At 7 o'clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.
Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: "Please God, make him think I am still pretty."
The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two--and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.
Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.
Della wriggled off the table and went for him.
"Jim, darling," she cried, "don't look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn't have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It'll grow out again--you won't mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!' Jim, and let's be happy. You don't know what a nice-- what a beautiful, nice gift I've got for you."
"You've cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.
"Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Don't you like me just as well, anyhow? I'm me without my hair, ain't I?"
Jim looked about the room curiously.
"You say your hair is gone?" he said, with an air almost of idiocy.
"You needn't look for it," said Della. "It's sold, I tell you--sold and gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered," she went on with sudden serious sweetness, "but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?"
Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year--what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.
Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.
"Don't make any mistake, Dell," he said, "about me. I don't think there's anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you'll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first."
White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.
For there lay The Combs--the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims--just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.
But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: "My hair grows so fast, Jim!"
And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, "Oh, oh!"
Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.
"Isn't it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You'll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it."
Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.
"Dell," said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on."
The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.
End of this Project Gutenberg Etext of THE GIFT OF THE MAGI.
This e-text was created by Susan Ritchie of Cincinnati, Ohio
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