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FOUR CHRISTMAS SNAPSHOTS

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Morning, December 14, 2003


"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, 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" (Matthew 2:1-2).


Matthew's gospel tells us very little about the actual birth of Jesus. The first seventeen verses of chapter one give us His genealogy. Verses eighteen through twenty-five tell us about an angel announcing the birth of Christ to Joseph. Then, suddenly, we are told in the first verse of chapter two, that He was born.

The simple account unfolds - wise men from the east follow a star until they come to Jerusalem. King Herod hears that the wise men are telling people, "the King of the Jews" has been born. Herod calls for the chief priests and scribes, who tell him that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem, according to Micah 5:2. Herod calls the wise men into his court and tells them to search for the child, and then come and tell him where the child is, so he can come and worship Him also.

The star appears again, and the wise men follow it until it stops over the house where Jesus is. The wise men go into the house. They worship Jesus and present Him with gifts. God warns the wise men not to return to Herod, so they go back another way. An angel warns Joseph that King Herod will seek to destroy Jesus. Joseph takes Jesus and his wife Mary, and flees into Egypt. When Herod discovers that the wise men have left without returning to him, he is very angry. He sends his soldiers to kill all the male children under two years old in Bethlehem. By doing this, he thinks he will kill the "King of the Jews." Herod is already very sick. He dies soon afterward. Then an angel tells Joseph that Herod is dead, and that he should take his family back to Israel. But Joseph is afraid to go back to the city of Bethlehem. God tells him to go to Galilee, in the north of Israel. Joseph takes Mary and Jesus to the city of Nazareth, in Galilee, where Jesus lives until He is an adult.

I believe that this account gives us an illustration, or picture of four great Christian truths. I call these, "Four Christmas Snapshots." We often take snapshots with our cameras at Christmas time. Here, in the second chapter of Matthew, God gives us four snapshots, pictures or illustrations of great Bible truths.

I. Snapshot number one - the wicked king.

Most of what we know about Herod the Great comes from the ancient Jewish historian Josephus. Herod's grandfather and father were appointed governors of Idumea by the Roman government. When Herod was about 25 years old, he was appointed governor of Galilee. He was appointed "tetrarch" of Judea in 41 BC. He was made king of Judea by Rome in 37 BC. Although he was called a "king," he was totally dependent on the Roman emperor. He is called "Herod the Great" because of his military victories and because he rebuilt many cities and important buildings. The Temple in Jerusalem at the time of Christ is called "Herod's Temple" because he rebuilt it. He was not a Jew. He adopted Judaism. "He was an Idumean who bought his position from the Roman government" (J. Vernon McGee). Herod murdered anyone that he suspected of trying to take his throne, including his wife's relatives, his wife, and his oldest son. He held on to power by cruel cunning. By the time Jesus was born, he had been on the throne, ruling Judea, for more than thirty years.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says of him,

In vain Herod tried to win over the Jews…They saw in him only a usurper of the throne of David, maintained by the strong arm of the hated Roman oppressor. Innumerable plots were made against his life, but, with almost superhuman cunning, Herod defeated them all…The last days of Herod [at the time recorded in Matthew, chapter 2] were embittered by endless court intrigues and conspiracies, by an almost insane suspicion on the part of the aged king…Herod was the victim of an incurable and loathsome disease. His temper became more irritable, as the malady made progress, and he made both himself and his court unutterably miserable…So great became his suffering toward the last that he made a fruitless attempt at suicide. But, true to his character, one of the last acts of his life was an order to execute his son Antipater…and another order to slay, after his death, a number of nobles…Josephus [said of him], "A man he was of great barbarity toward all men equally, and a slave to his passions" (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Eerdmans, 1976, volume III, page 1380).

Knowing this, it does not surprise us that Herod wanted to get rid of the baby Jesus. The Wise Men called Jesus, "the King of the Jews." Herod did not want to lose his kingdom to this child.

The Scriptures give us this "snapshot" of him as an illustration of humanity in its lost and totally depraved state. The Bible says,

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9).

Even though he was an old man, Herod rejected Jesus Christ. Apart from the grace of God, you, too, will reject Jesus - until it is everlastingly too late for you to be saved.

The last months of Herod's life were horrible. It was almost as if he went to Hell even before he died. Dr. Lenski says,

Read Josephus, Antiquities, 17, 6, 5, regarding that horrible end; entrails rotting, privy member putrified and producing worms, unbearable stench, convulsions…prolonged, useless attempts at cures, bloody, murderous thoughts - the death of a moral monster (R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel, Augsburg, 1961, p. 83).

Jesus said,

"It is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched"
    (Mark 9:45-46).

"Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth"
    (Matthew 22:13).

The death of Herod is, as it were, a warning of Hell. If you reject Jesus, you, too, will go to Hell. "Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."

II. Snapshot number two - the Wise Men.

Let us stand together and read Matthew 2:1 out loud,

"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" (Matthew 2:1).

You may be seated.

The words "wise men" are translated from the Greek word "magoi." Dr. Lenski gives us this explanation of the word.

They were not sorcerers, conjurors, soothsayers, or the like. Their popular designation as "wise men" well defines what [magoi] really signifies. The narrative presents them as astronomers, and this helps to indicate the part of the east from which they came. This cannot have been Arabia. Medo-Persia is also excluded, because the magi caste of this territory was not noted for its study of the stars. These magi hailed from Babylon, where since the most ancient times…astronomy [was] pursued. The fact that these magi undertook the long journey to Jerusalem in order to discover the newborn "King of the Jews," whose star they had seen, indicates that they were not Jews, but also that the great Messianic hope of the Jews, a hope in which they as Gentiles had [a] part, had been communicated to them by Jews and had fascinated their hearts. This tallies with what we know of Daniel, who 600 years prior to this was made "chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon," Daniel 2:48 (R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel, Augsburg, 1961, p. 58).

About 50 years after the birth of Jesus, Helena, the queen of Adiabene, and her son Izotes converted to Judaism. They lived near what is now northern Iraq. According to the historian Josephus [Antiquities, xx, 2, 1-5; 4, 3], the queen supplied Jerusalem with grain during a great famine. The bones of these royal people were sent to Jerusalem for burial. Thus, it did not seem unreasonable to Matthew's early readers that a group of wise men should come to Jerusalem from Babylon searching for the Messiah.

There is a great contrast between King Herod and the Wise Men. Herod, the king of the Jews, attempted to kill Jesus, while wise men from the East came to worship Him. This phenomenon has been going on ever since. Those who ought to know about Jesus often reject Him, while people far away, in the East, in the Third World, come to Him and worship Him.

Dr. Paul Marshall points out that three-fourths of the Christians in the world live in the Third World, in China, other parts of Asia, India, Indonesia, and Africa. Dr. Marshall says that Christianity is now probably the largest religion among non-white people in the Third World (ref. Paul Marshall, Ph.D., Their Blood Cries Out, Word Publishing, 1997, pp. 7-8). Christianity is exploding in an unprecedented revival, "undergoing its largest expansion in history," in these non-white Third World countries (ref. ibid., p. 8). But in the English-speaking world, the churches are drying up, dwindling in numbers, and fading away. Many arrogant people in Europe and America reject Christ and serious Christianity, while millions of Chinese, Southeast Asians, and Black Africans pour into the churches, under intense persecution.

Strangely, this phenomenon also occurs within our own churches, here in the West. Eighty-eight percent of the young people raised in evangelical churches reject Christ by the time they reach their late teens or early twenties. But young people who come into the church from non-Christian backgrounds often become zealous Christians. If you were raised in the church, beware, lest many come in from non-Christian homes and become powerful Christians, while you, yourself, go dragging along in an unconverted state - until your Herod-like heart turns against Christ, and you leave the church. Beware, lest that happen to you, if you have been raised in this church!

The Bible says,

"He came unto his own, and his own received him not"
    (John 1:11).

The Jewish people, like Herod, did not receive Christ - for the most part (though many did), but these Gentile wise men from the East traveled far from their homeland, and risked their lives, to find the Saviour. And Jesus said,

"There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God" (Luke 13:28-29).

I say to the young people raised in our church, watch out, or you will be thrust out - into Hell, even while non-Christian young people come into our church and gradually take it over, and become its leaders over time - "and you yourselves [are] thrust out" - into Hell fire. You must press into the Kingdom with all your might, if you hope to be in Heaven with these new young people who are getting saved.

III. Snapshot number three - the Star.

Let us stand together and read Matthew 2:2 aloud. The wise men from the East said to King Herod,

"Where is he that is born the King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him" (Matthew 2:2).

You may be seated.

"We have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship Him." What kind of a star was this? It was like no other star these astronomers had ever seen. It moved slowly across the sky, leading them on to Christ. At last, it stopped,

"and stood over where the young child was" (Matthew 2:9).

This was no ordinary star. Dr. John MacArthur, though wrong on the Blood of Christ, gives a helpful note regarding the star.

This could not have been a supernova [a new star] or a conjunction of planets, as some modern theories suggest, because of the way the star moved and settled over one place (cf. v. 9). It is more likely a supernatural reality similar to the Shekinah that guided the Israelites in the days of Moses (The MacArthur Study Bible, note on Matthew 2:2).

This is similar to the thought of the early Christian writer Origen, who said, in the third century,

It was not any of the constellations existing in the sky that was made to be the star of the East. Rather, it was something of another order, appointed for this purpose and in the service of the knowledge of Jesus (Origen, commentary on John, book I, chapter 24, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Eerdmans, 1980 printing, volume 10, page 312).

The Bible says,

"Lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was" 
      (Matthew 2:9).

God, in His providence, used this special star to guide the Wise Men to Christ.

We three kings of Orient are, Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain, Following yonder star.
O star of wonder, star of night, Star with loyal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding, Guide us to thy perfect light.
    ("We Three Kings of Orient Are" by John H. Hopkins, 19th century).

In the eighth chapter of Acts we read how God guided Philip to the Ethiopian Eunuch. Philip "preached unto him Jesus" (Acts 8:33). As God used the star to guide the Wise Men to Christ, so God used Philip to guide this Ethiopian to Christ.

Jesus appeared to Paul, and told Paul that He would send him to the Gentiles,

"To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins…by faith that is in me" (Acts 26:18).

Both Philip and Paul were used by God to guide people to Christ for salvation, just as the star guided the Wise Men to Him.

And today, God uses Christians to guide lost people to the Saviour. The Bible says,

"Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God" (II Corinthians 5:20).

God sent us out to the college campuses, to the malls, and to other places, to invite you to come and hear the gospel. And many of you did come this morning. That's good! We are glad that you came! But it won't help you to come to church once or twice. You must come to Christ, and be converted by trusting fully in Him.

What if the Wise Men had followed the star to Jerusalem - and then gone home? That would have done them no good at all! They had to come all the way to Christ! Jesus said,

"Come unto me…and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

That's the reason we say, "Why be lonely? Come home - to church! Why be lost? Come home - to Jesus Christ, the Son of God!"

As with gladness men of old, Did the guiding star behold,
As with joy they hailed its light, Leading onward, beaming bright,
So, most gracious Lord, may we Evermore be led to Thee.
    ("As With Gladness, Men of Old" by William C. Dix, 1837-1898).

IV. Snapshot number four - the adoration of Christ by the Wise Men.

Let us stand and read Matthew 2:11 together,

"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" 
      (Matthew 2:11).

You may be seated.

Dr. J. Vernon McGee said,

When [the Wise Men] arrived, Jesus was not in the stable behind the inn…they had stayed in Bethlehem and had moved into a house. The wise men found them in a house… the Christmas cards show the wise men coming into a stable. Well, unless Joseph pointed out the stable to them, they never even knew where it was. They came to the house… They worshipped Him and presented to Him their treasures… (J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson, 1983, volume IV, p. 16).

When I read that they came into "the house," as a Baptist, I immediately think of the local church. The Bible speaks of

"…the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Timothy 3:15).

Baptist author Jim Gent gives this comment,

What was Paul telling Timothy? Obviously, Paul is talking about the local church…the local church is the focal point of God's truth; it is the citadel of the truth; it is through the church that God promulgates and disseminates the truth. The local church is God's ordained means to propagate the truth and preserve the truth (Jim Gent, The Local Church: God's Plan for Planet Earth, Smyrna Publications, 1994, p. 77).

I don't hesitate in the slightest to tell you that! As the Wise Men came into the house, so you should come in to "the house of God, which is the church of the living God…" (I Timothy 3:15). That's good, old fashioned Baptist doctrine on the local church!

"And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47).

Why be lonely? Come home - to church every Sunday, on Christmas Sunday, and on Christmas Eve!

But remember, coming to church, in and of itself, will not save you. You can come to church every Sunday and still be lost. You must come to Christ to be saved! The wise men came all the way in,

"and fell down, and worshipped him" (Matthew 2:11).

As the angel told Joseph on the first Christmas,

"Thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).

Yes, come home to church, especially on Christmas Sunday and Christmas Eve! Yes, do that. But do more than that! Come to Jesus Christ, the Son of God! He died on the Cross to pay the penalty for your sins! He rose physically from the dead, and ascended back to the right hand of God, up in Heaven. Come to Him! Believe on Him! He will save you!

Angels we have heard on high, Sweetly singing o'er the plains,
And the mountains in reply, Echo back their joyous strains.
    ("Angels We Have Heard on High," source unknown).

O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
    ("O Come, All Ye Faithful," translated by Frederick Oakeley, 1802-1880).

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."


Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Matthew 2:1-15.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:

"O Little Town of Bethlehem" (by Phillips Brooks, 1835-1893).


THE OUTLINE OF

FOUR CHRISTMAS SNAPSHOTS

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.


"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, 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" (Matthew 2:1-2).

I.   Snapshot number one - the wicked king, Matthew 2:1;
Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 9:45-46; Matthew 22:13.

II.  Snapshot number two - the Wise Men, Matthew 2:1; John 1:11;
Luke 13:28-29.

III.  Snapshot number three - the Star, Matthew 2:2, 9; Acts 8:35;
Acts 26:18; II Corinthians 5:20; Matthew 11:28.

IV.  Snapshot number four - the adoration of Christ by the Wise Men,
Matthew 2:11; Acts 2:47; I Timothy 3:15; Matthew 1:21.