THE TWO KINGS
I will extol Thee, my God, O King;
And I will bless Thy name forever and ever. (Psalm 145:1).
One of the great heros of the Old Testament was Moses. He stood before the pharaoh, the ruler of the greatest power on the face of the earth and demanded the release of God’s people. As we come to the second chapter of Matthew, we see Jesus portrayed in a fashion that is remenicent of Moses.
The Pharaoh orders that all of the Hebrew male children are to be put to death.
Herod orders that all of the male children of Bethlehem are to be put to death.
Moses is saved by being placed into an ark on the Nile.
Jesus is saved by being taken to Egypt, the land of the Nile.
Interestingly, the contrast and comparison goes even further when we examine the popular stories that were told in Jesus’ day concerning Moses. Josephus relates the story of a prophecy of the birth of Moses.
A further incident had the effect of stimulating the Egyptians yet more to exterminate our race. One of the sacred scribes -- persons with considerable skill in accurately predicting the future -- announced to the king that there would be born to the Israelites at that time one who would abase the sovereignty of the Egyptians and exalt the Israelites, were he reared to maturity, and would surpass all men in virtue and win everlasting renown. Alarmed thereat, the king, on this sages advice, ordered that every male child born to the Israelites should be destroyed by being cast into the river. (Antiquities 4).
While I am not suggesting that the extra-Biblical story told by Josephus is necessarily true, it does suggest that the Lord’s design for the coming of Jesus was in fulfillment, not only of the actual pattern presented by Moses, but even of the popular stories that had arisen about him.
THE FIRST KING - HEROD THE GREAT
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king... (Matthew 2:1a).
This chapter begins “after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea.” This is the first mention that Matthew has made of Bethlehem. He passes completely over the details of the actual birth of Christ.
The long journey to Bethlehem. The crowded inn. The humble stable. The baby in the manger. The shepherds whispering their story of angels in the night.
These are all recorded in Luke’s account. But Matthew is silent about them. I don't think it was that Matthew didn't know about those stories. But they are not central to his theme.
You see, Matthew wants to present Jesus in a particular way. The theme of Matthew's entire book will be to show that JESUS IS KING. And so, he bypasses the birth narrative to focus upon an incident which took place at least a month and a half after the birth of Jesus.
Matthew wants us to see Jesus as KING and he does this by comparing him to another king - a King known as HEROD. To understand Herod, our story must go back 60 years prior to the birth of Christ to a time when Israel was in the midst of a civil war.
The year was 63 B.C. There were two contenders for the throne. They were brothers. Their names are not important, but what IS important is that they both sent envoys to the Roman General Pompey the Great, each asking for his assistance. Pompey gave assistance, but not the kind for which they had asked. He marched to Jerusalem and took it for himself and for Rome. In one fell swoop, Israel became a possession of Rome. The kingdom of Judah was renamed JUDEA.
Pompey didn't trust either of the brothers, so he chose another man to be the real power behind the throne of Israel. He chose a foreigner -- an Idumean prince named ANTIPATER. Antipater moved to place his two sons in power.
a. Phaesel was put in charge of Judea.
b. Herod was given Galilee.
All went well until Antipater died in 40 B.C. The Jews saw his death as an opportunity to regain their freedom from Rome and they made a deal with the PARTHIAN Empire to the east. With the help of the Parthians, the Jews revolted, killing Phaesel. Herod barely escaped with his life. He made his way to Rome where he was sponsored by Marc Antony and young Octavius, nephew to Julius Caesar.
There, before the Senate and the people of Rome, Herod was crowned king of the Jews. However, he was a king without a kingdom. He was given command of a Roman legion to put down the rebellion and repel the Parthian invaders. After several years of fighting, Herod finally recaptured the kingdom for Rome.
Herod now began a reign that was to continue for the next 33 years. It would be a reign which was a curious mixture of peace and persecution, or prosperity and crushing taxation.
1. Building Projects.
a. The Temple.
Herod expanded and rebuilt the Temple grounds to a dimension that was far greater than even the days of Solomon had seen.
Because Israel possessed no natural harbors, Herod decided to build one. He had a 200 foot wide breakwater constructed at Caesarea which is an engineering marvel even today.
As a guardian against the ever-present threat of another Parthian invasion, Herod had a long chain of fortresses stretching from Galilee to Masada. A signal system within these fortresses was able to provide news of any event within Israel.
In order to secure his position on the throne and to win the acceptance of the Jews, Herod took as his wife and queen Mariamne, the last of the old Hasmonean Dynasty which had ruled Israel prior to the coming of Rome.
You see, Herod had one big problem in ruling over the Jews. He was not Jewish. He was an Idumean by birth, of the descendants of Esau. Therefore the Jews never accepted him and were always seeking to overthrow him.
Herod began to uncover a number of assassination plots which were designed to place his two sons by Mariamne on the throne in his place.
Eventually, Herod murdered Mariamne in a fit of rage and the later had her two sons murdered along with another son by a different wife.
This man had ruled for over 30 years in a land where even his own family had turned against him and sought his overthrow.
Now at the end of his life, he had become moody, jealous and suspicious. He had killed many times to protect his throne and he would kill again.
THE COMING OF THE MAGI
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:1-2).
When we read about the Magi, we are inclined to think of Christmas card pictures of three kings or three “wise men.” The truth is that the Magi were an ancient order of priests from Parthia. They believed in ONE GOD who had created all things and who was the author of all that was good. They allowed no images or statues into their temples.
In the days of Herod, the Magi had become a very powerful political body. No Parthian King was ever permitted to rule on the throne of Parthia until he had first been accepted by the Magi.
Do you remember who Herod had to fight to regain Israel? It was the PARTHIANS! You can imagine his consternation as a delegation of Parthian King-makers arrive in Jerusalem, seeking the one who has been “born King of the Jews.”
This question hit a sore spot with Herod. At present, Herod is the king of the Jews. But Herod was never BORN the King of the Jews. He is a foreigner. He is not a true king. He is not of the royal line of David. He is not even Jewish. He has never been accepted by the Jews.
The Magi claim that they had first seen the star while they were in the east. Now I want you to notice something. The star had appeared at a specific time.
In verse 7 Herod will ask the Magi exactly WHEN the star appeared. It does not seem that the star was now visible as they come to Jerusalem. It appeared while they were in the east and then it had disappeared. Later on it would reappear and lead them to a certain house in Bethlehem.
A lot of speculation has been put forth as to the nature of this star. Some have supposed that it was a comet. Others have suggested that it was a nova. It has been pointed out that on December 4, 7 B.C. there was a triple conjunction of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. However, none of these occurrences would have served to point out the exact house in Bethlehem as this "star" will do.
What was this star? I don't know. But I do know that it was God's star and that it was sent to shine upon the One who had been sent to be the Light of the World.
THE COUNSEL OF THE SANHEDRIN
And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 And they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet, 6 and you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah, for out of you shall come forth a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.” (Matthew 2:3-6).
I want you to try to picture the situation. One day a caravan arrives in Jerusalem. This in itself is not unusual. Caravans are always arriving in Jerusalem. However, these are no ordinary merchants. They are Magi from the east. They are from the land of Herod's enemies - the Parthians. They are from the same Parthians who had forced him to flee for his life over 30 years ago.
The Parthians have been continuously at war with Rome during all these years. Herod has remained loyal to Rome. And now this group of religious King-Makers have come to Jerusalem.
We do not know how many were in the party. Undoubtedly there were many. They are all asking the same question: "Where is the new King who has been born?"
The news reaches Herod. Could this be a plot on the part of the Parthians to overthrow him and place another on his throne. Herod has heard nothing of a newborn king.
As Herod hears reports from the Magi, it becomes evident to him that they have come to seek out the MESSIAH, the One whose coming was foretold in the Old Testament Scriptures.
Therefore Herod calls a convention. The chief priests and the scribes are called in. These are the experts. When they have all been assembled, Herod asks them a question:
“Where is the Messiah to be born?”
The experts all agree on the same answer. They are all of the same opinion. There is no debate. The Old Testament prophet Micah has made it very clear. The Messiah is to the born in BETHLEHEM.
The Jewish scribes made it very clear that they knew all about the prophecy of where the Messiah would be born. Just as you know basic facts of history like who is buried in Grant’s tomb, so also these scribes knew the basic facts about the Messiah. They were professional Bible students. They knew the Bible the way some people know baseball scores.
But as you read through the rest of Matthew, you do not see them doing anything with this knowledge. They do not go to Bethlehem, even though it is only five miles away.
What are your five miles? What is keeping you from following the Lord? Most Christians do not have a lack of some basic knowledge of the Bible. Our problem is that we do not follow up on what we know.
What are your five miles? What are those things that you know you ought to do but are not doing? What are those things that you know you ought to be doing but to which you refuse to commit?
THE BETHLEHEM PLOT
Then Herod secretly called the magi, and ascertained from them the time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, “Go and make careful search for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, that I too may come and worship Him.” (Matthew 2:7-8).
Herod now begins to make his move. His plan is nothing less than the assassination of the Messiah. He plans to have the Child murdered before He can prove a threat.
Herod say Jesus as a threat. He saw Jesus as an interference with his life. A lot of people see Jesus as only an interference. He gets in the way with what they want to do. A Christian is one who has stopped doing what HE wants to do and who has started following Jesus instead.
Herod has no intention of following Jesus. He has set himself up as king and there is room for no other. And so, he sets out to murder Jesus.
Do you see what is at stake here? If Herod succeeds in His plan, then there will be no Messiah and there will be no cross. If Herod has his way, there will be no salvation and no church and YOU SHALL DIE IN YOUR SINS!
Herod assumes that the star would have appeared at just the time when the Child had been born. This is not necessarily correct. Just as angels had appeared to Zacharias and to Mary and to Joseph before the birth, and in the first two cases, even before the conception of the Child, so also the star could have appeared to the Magi at a much earlier date.
There is a principle here. It is that God's timing is perfect. He planned the appearing of the star so that the Magi would have just enough time to arrive at Jerusalem and from there to Bethlehem before Joseph and Mary and the infant Jesus returned to their home in Nazareth.
Why didn't Herod go to Bethlehem with the Magi? There are probably several reasons:
1. Herod was nearly 70 years old at this time and in very poor health. He would die within a few months.
2. Herod might have concluded that it would take several days for the Magi to locate the newborn King. There was no hurry, since Bethlehem was only 5 miles from Jerusalem.
3. Herod's fortress system could get a message to him within minutes. The Fortress Herodium overlooked the town of Bethlehem and no one could enter or leave the town without Herod being notified.
Herod had all the bases covered. But he had failed to account for a God who is there and who moves in history.
THE WORSHIP OF THE KING
And having heard the king, they went on their way; and lo, the star, which they had seen in the East, went on before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was.
And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 10 And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:9-11).
As the Magi approach the tiny village of Bethlehem, the star reappears, leading them to the exact house where the Child is. This cannot be explained away as a natural event. This was no comet or nova or conjunction of planets. This was supernatural.
That should not bother us. We have a supernatural God. He is the God who created nature and who intervenes in nature. He hardly ever checks with us to ask our permission.
Verse 9 tells us that when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. I can recall the excitement that was evident in taking a carload of kids to Disneyworld. That excitement knew no bound when we saw the sign saying, “Three miles to Disneyworld.” What had previously merely been anticipation was suddenly elevated to the very highest level of excitment.
This “great joy” is a fulfillment of what the angels had prophesied just a few weeks earlier to the shepherds.
And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11).
Notice that this good news was to be for ALL the people. It was not just for Jews. It was even for Parthian magi. It is for us, too.
Imagine the scene. Perhaps the sun has set and Mary and Joseph are just now sitting down to their evening meal. There is a knock at the door and Joseph rises from the table and goes to see who it could be. He opens the door and there is a whole caravan outside. There are richly-dressed noblemen from the lands to the east. “We have come to see the KING!”
Notice who is the object of this worship. They did not worship Mary. We are specifically told that Mary was present, but she was not the object of their adoration. They worshiped Jesus. He had been born in Bethlehem, the same city in which King David had been born. He had been born among the Jews, yet the Jews had thus far ignored Him. He had come to His own, but His own did not receive Him. But now, these Gentiles have come to worship Him. These King-Makers from Parthia have come to honor His kingship.
Each of these three gifts was very valuable. The three together could well have represented a small fortune. People often visualize Jesus growing up in a very poor family, but this is not necessarily the case. They had been poor up to this point, but from this time on, Mary and Joseph would be financially secure.
• Gold was a kingly gift.
• Frankincense was a type of perfume used in the Levitical offerings. It was also a kingly gift (Isaiah 60:6).
• Myrrh was a type of oinment which had two uses. It was a perfume and it was also a narcotic to ease pain. This wasn't the sort of gift that you would normally give to a king. But it is no less significant. I want to suggest that it was a gift that looked forward to the death of Jesus.
You see, Jesus came as a baby, but He didn't stay a baby. The baby grew up into a man. And as a man, He died for our sins. The chubby little hands were destined to be pierced with nails. The little smiling cheeks would one day have a beard ripped from them. That little body would be broken and bruised as it bore all of the righteous anger of God against sin.
During World War 2, a father received news that his son only had been killed in combat. He was stricken with grief and when grief hits that hard you sometimes say things you don't really mean.
His pastor came to visit him and he lashed out in a verbal assault, “Preacher, where was your God when my son was killed?” The pastor quietly replied, “In the same place He was when His own Son was killed.”
Do you see the point? It is that His death was no accident. What was death to Him was a gift of life to us. And as we see the Magi presenting their gifts, we cannot help but notice that one of those gifts reflects the gift that the Child Himself would give.
THE GREAT ESCAPE
And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way.
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise and take the Child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” 14 And he arose and took the Child and His mother by night, and departed for Egypt; 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "Out of Egypt did I call My Son.”(Matthew 2:12-15).
Once again, we see God intervening in the affairs of human history to protect His Son from the fate that men had planned. This was one time when Herod's signal corps and his system of fortifications completely failed. Under the cover of night, Joseph and his family slip out of Bethlehem and turn their steps westward toward Egypt.
A VIOLENT SLAUGHTER
16 Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its environs, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi.
17 Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying, 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, Weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; And she refused to be comforted, Because they were no more.”
19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, 20 “Arise and take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child's life are dead.” 21 And he arose and took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. (Matthew 2:16-21).
There are some who have read this passage and who have mistakenly concluded on the basis of Herod’s order that Jesus must have been two years old. A more careful consideration of the passage shows this is not the case. If Herod had expected his prey to be two years of age, then his order would have included a safety margin so that all children between ages 1 and 4 would have been put to death.
A FULFILLED CALLING
22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he departed for the regions of Galilee, 23 and came and resided in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:22-23).
This passage brings up a question. Where do the prophets ever say that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene? This is most likely a reference to those passages that speak of the “Branch of the Lord.”
Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. 2 And the Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. (Isaiah 11:1-2).
The Hebrew word translated “branch” is the Hebrew word netser and sounds notably similar to the name Nazareth (See also Isaiah 60:21).
In closing, I want to speak to those who may not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
I want to draw your attention to the Two Kings.
On the one hand we have the CHRIST CHILD. Holy. Pure. God sleeping in a stable. We see Him in this chapter as the recipients of the gifts of the Magi, but really He came to give the greatest gift of all.
On the other hand is HEROD. Jealous. Suspicious. A lying murderer. His only interest was in the preservation of his own wealth and power.
You have come today to worship before one of these two men. You might say, “John, I may not be a Christian, but that doesn't mean that I would worship Herod!”
You are missing the point. If you have not become a disciple of Jesus, then you aren't merely worshiping Herod. You ARE Herod. You have set up yourself as king of your universe. And He will not allow two kings to reign.
The story is told of Abraham Lincoln riding a horse that was skittish. The horse bucked and kicked and somehow managed to get one of its hind legs stuck in the stirrup. Lincoln quipped, “Well, if you're getting on, then I'm getting off.” Jesus is like that. He will only allow One to reign as King. In the end, only He shall reign.
Christmas isn't only a time when we remember the first coming of the King. It is also a time when we look forward to the second coming of the King. The first time He came as a baby. The second time He will come with His legions. The invitation is that you meet Him the first time. The first time you will meet Him as your Savior. The second time you will meet Him as your Judge.