Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas Message 2014 - Matthew 2:1-12

A very blessed  and happy Christmas to you all!

2014  has been a restless  year in the political  spheres  of the world.  But Christian  people are   the  most blessed and happy people, because  the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ has brought about  the fulfillment of  Isaiah 9:1-7 :  “But there will be   will be no gloom for her who was in anguish … the people  who walked  in  darkness have seen a great  light; those who  dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined… for unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon  his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting father, Prince of Peace…”

He is  God’s answer to this  sad world  so much filled with  pride, self- centeredness ,  envy  and jealousy,  lying,  pharisaical  and cruel religious bigotry (as seen in religious groups like  Boko Haram  and  ISIS) . Absence of  Christ is the reason why we  see  all the cold blooded  killings  whether  that of  a mother killing her 8 children in Australia,  or  senseless  high school killings in America ,  or abductions  of school girls and cold blooded assassinations in  Africa,  or ramming your vehicle into an unsuspecting   crowd in   Europe , as happened this past week in France – Jeremiah  called  this: “terror on every side!”[1]

God’s answer  for this  sin-sick and mad  world is the provision of a  good shepherd   of whom Isaiah says : “Turn to me  and be saved , all the ends of the earth! For I am God and there is no other!” (Isa 45:22) . 

Life  in this fallen world desperately  needs a shepherd.  Isaiah  says :  “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way ; and the Lord has laid on him the  iniquity of us all.” (Isa 53:6) . Our world  cries out  for  leadership. We all  cry  “deliver us from evil!” , but unfortunately our hearts  seek solutions  that are not rooted in Christ’s  leadership . Satan knows this and  he   fills this void  with   false shepherds in the forms of  political dictators (such as Hitler, Stalin and Lenin etc.)  and also  with    false prophets  and   with false , self-  serving  priests.  Sooner  or later  people  regret  their endorsements of these  cruel leaders and they cry out for deliverance as   did the Israelites of old in the day of the  Judges. In the meantime God has  given us a  Good Shepherd of whom He said … “This  is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased…”  (Matt 3:17)  Oh how the world needs to hear the gospel  of the kind and good shepherd in these days of political turmoil!   

Our text (particularly  Matt 2:6), which is built on  a prophetic word from Micah 5: 1-6 ,  tells  us   that  God has  provided  the world with  an answer to the tyrannical reign of Satan,  and his anti-christ and the false prophet [2],  that cause so much trouble and lack of peace  in this world. The message of the angels  was  therefore significant: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” (Luke  2:14)   In the provision  of  a  true shepherd in whom the roles of prophet , priest and king  would be  uniquely combined, God ushers in  an age in which the gospel  of the kingdom of God which  Christ came to announce    drives  out  fear , and  lack of hope and  darkness. Wherever  and whenever Christ  takes possession of the hearts of people  there the kingdom of God comes on earth.

“Out of you  shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people  Israel “  - Matt 2:6

Let  us  take note  of the historical context  in which this announcement was  first made to king Herod  by the chief priests.  Jesus was born before King Herod died  in 4 B.C.  Incidentally  it  was  in  the year AD 533 that a  monk called  Dionysius Exiguus [3](c. 470 – c. 544)    invented the  Anno Domini (AD) era,    which was calculated  from  the birth of Christ.  With so many years  having past since the Lord’s birth, it was easy to make mistakes with respect to the  exact date of the Lord’s  birth  and this  in fact, was what happened.

The  wise men  from the east refer  to  members of  a  Persian priestly caste. These  were  steeped in the study of    astrology   and  of the  magic arts.  We see such  people frequently   as  court officials  and  advisors / prophets[4]  to   the kings   of the Middle east .   Since there were many Jews in Babylon (Persia) during  the  exile, these wise men from the east would have had a thorough acquaintance  about the  Jewish faith and the expectation of a Messiah, and even more significantly , they had begun to place their hope  in the Jewish Messiah.  So in  v.2  when they had seen the star  rising , this    was the sign for these three wise men  to get going .  Several astronomical possibilities have been suggested as an explanation of this star[5], but  there is  no satisfactory  explanation. It is best to leave this as a supernatural  occurrence. The point is that  these  wise men from Persia   saw this as a sign from God  indicating that  the Jewish  Messiah – King had   been  born.  They  thought that the king was to be born in  Jerusalem, and  that is why they landed on Herod’s  doorsteps .  Herod  in turn (v.3) was a man who  was  troubled by any report of a possible successor to his throne. He was  no Jew  and he must have been  aware that he  had no right of succession to David’s throne. He  had in fact been   appointed by the  Roman government.  Aware of his status and  aware of the expectations of the Jewish nation with respect to a Messiah  he consults  the Jewish  priests and the scribes (v.5).  It was  actually  common knowledge among the people that the Messiah was going to be born  in  Bethlehem , the city of David’s birth (e.g. John  7:42,52). Jesus was providentially  and circumstantially born in Bethlehem (2:1 à see v. 6 ), but relocated  to Nazareth in  Galilee immediately after this.  The circumstances of the birth of the Lord Jesus were prophesied  in the Scriptures, and particularly here in Micah 5:1-6 . Herod  of course had no intention of worshipping the child. He wanted to kill him and remove the perceived  threat to his throne.

Jesus  our Shepherd King
Against the background of  our introductory  comments on the present state of the world and also the historical  background as it is reflected in the Scriptures ,  we consider the Lord Jesus  the  promised shepherd  of the people of Israel. The shepherd  motif   runs through the scriptures.  Israel in her history has been governed by  good and bad shepherds. In Ezekiel 34 against the background of abusive shepherding , God promises  to  be a shepherd to His people. And, significantly , David  from whom  Jesus’ earthly lineage is traced  was a shepherd  (1 Samuel 16:11) . And according to Luke’s account  (Lk 2:8-18)  shepherds were among the first to be  privileged  to  see the newborn King in Bethlehem. Coincidence ?  Hardly!  All this is part  of God’s  plan  and purpose.

God provided  the   Lord Jesus Christ  as our Shepherd. The amazing truth  here is  that  God made His eternal Son, who is equal  to Him  in    substance , to become a shepherd for His people.  In John’s gospel  Jesus  makes it very clear that this is so (I AM the good Shepherd- see John 10 :1-16). In this passage  we learn  of the work of the Lord Jesus, the good Shepherd   for  us :

1.     The sheep  hear His voice and  they follow Him  (10:3-5). They know Him (10:14) 
2.     He is the door  of the sheep. He protects them (10:7) 
3.     He is the Good Shepherd  who lays down His life for the sheep  (10:11, 15)
4.     He is the Universal Shepherd. He will bring in His sheep from among Jew and gentile (10: 16) There will be one flock – one church comprised  of OT and NT  saints .
5.     Although He will lay down His life for the sheep, He will take His life up again (10:17,18). He is the Shepherd that triumphs  over all that is evil  for the flock (Satan, false shepherds), and  even over death itself.

All this  is implied in  Micah’s prophecy , here repeated in Matthew  2:6. So , the revelation given to us by Micah  and Matthew  helps us to see who Christ  is for us.  It is absolutely important  that we need to  know  who this babe of Bethlehem is.  

We have said it so often, and we say it again, that  Christ is absolutely trivialized  and sentimentalized  by our culture.  We focus  on the baby – but  we forget  that  this baby is called  at once “King of the Jews” (2:2) and  “the shepherd of Israel“ (2:6).  This is Satan’s  plot of to keep  us in darkness   regarding the person and purpose of Christ. The Bible tells us that  Christ was born   to shepherd believers  living   in a world that is  full of  physical and spiritual danger. The Bible teaches us that if we abide in Him   and if we  remain close to Him  and under His  protection we will be safe.  Our good Shepherd  will guide us home through treacherous territory – even in the midst of   our own sinfulness , and  even through our worst  experiences   and even through the portals of sickness and death itself (Psalm 23- the Lord is my Shepherd).

The  Bible pleads with us not to be as blind as  Herod, and the chief priests  and the scribes of the people were  with regard to Christ .

The Bible pleads with us not to  be pretense worshippers  and Christ killers like  Herod and the scribes and the Pharisees were .

The  Bible pleads with us  today  to   believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and to  trust Him with all our hearts, even at great expense  and inconvenience , as was no doubt the case  of the  wise men from the east.

Do you know the Good Shepherd? 
The  story is told  of  a contest  in which Psalm 23  - the Shepherd Psalm  was to be  recited.  Two men  took part in this contest . The  one man was  an orator trained in speech technique and drama. He repeated the Psalm in a powerful and dramatic  way, and the audience was  captivated by his polished performance. Then the  other man  who was older but not nearly  as  polished recited Psalm 23.  This man had seen  the reality of Psalm 23  in his life , as he was carried  by the good Shepherd through many ,many  valleys and trials.  As  he began  “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want...”  the congregation fell silent. People just sat there  in  devotion and prayer.  Then the  first man, the orator got up and said:  “I have a confession to make.  The difference between what you have just heard from my older friend, and what you heard from me is this: I know the Psalm, my friend knows the Shepherd...”

Well dear  people,  it is my prayer  that  this Christmas  babe  whom you celebrate today  is not simply  someone  whom you admire and  about whom you can speak well. I trust  that He lives in  you  and that  He  moves you as you  KNOW that he IS YOUR Good  Shepherd. Amen !

[1] Jer.  6:25;  20:10; 46:5; 49:29
[2] See our recent exposition in the book of Revelation 
[3] His name  could be translated as Dennis the  dwarf , or Dennis the small .
[4] E.g.   2 Chronicles  18:5  ;  Jer 29:2,34:19; 41:16
[5] E.g. the convergence of Jupiter and Saturn in  7-6 B.C.  ;   Halley’s Comet in 12-11 B.C.

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