7th January 2023
Read (Matthew 2v1-23)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
One week of 2023 has already gone by and if I may be so bold to ask...how are things going? Has the "best version of yourself" finally arrived? Are you reading more and eating less? Is the dog coming with you on your 5am jog? I'll leave you to ponder your answers and consider the road that lies ahead but I'm not going to criticise if all your dreams have not yet been realised. Each of us have decisions to make every single day and ultimately only you are responsible for the road you choose to take.
In today's passage the famous wise men made a decision to follow a road that took them west. Who were these wise men? We’re not desperately sure. Perhaps they were three foreign kings from the east. Perhaps they were Jewish wise men from Babylon. Some have even named them Melkon, Balthasar and Gasper. Regardless, they had seen Christ's star rise in the sky and they followed it seeking the one who they acknowledged as "king of the Jews" so they might worship Him (v1-2). Christ's birth had been foretold by the prophet Micah who once declared "And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel." (Micah 5v2).
The wise men were pointed in the right direction by Herod and his advisors but it was Christ's star that rose before them and finally brought them to Jesus. Matthew doesn't tell us that there were three wise men just that the wise men brought three gifts which were gold, frankincense (tree gum which had a pleasant smell and could also be used for medicine) and myrrh (tree gum used as perfume and spice). But regardless of their actual number they fell before Jesus and worshipped Him (v11) before taking a different road home as they had been warned in a dream not to return to Herod.
Herod was on an altogether different kind of road. Who was Herod? Herod the Great who was on the throne at the birth of Christ. When he died his kingdom was split into four with a quarter of the kingdom going to each of his three sons and the final quarter going to Herod the Great's sister. One of those sons was called Herod Antipas also called Herod the Tetrarch (tetrarch means "four rulers") and it was this Herod who Jesus called a fox (Luke 13v32). Finally, the Herod in Acts 12 was Herod Agrippa the First, the grandson of Herod the Great.
Herod the Great was troubled by the news of Christ's birth (v3) and told the wise men that when they found Jesus they were to share the news with him so that he too might worship Christ (v8). But Herod's road was marked by hatred not praise. His goal was to rid himself of any rival to his throne. When it became clear that the wise men had no intention of returning to Herod, in a fit of sinful fury the king ordered the murder of all of Bethlehem's male children under the age of two (v16). This event is called "the massacre of the innocents" and was foretold by the prophet Jeremiah “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Jeremiah 31v15).
Despite the horrific bloodshed, Christ was spared as an angel warned Joseph to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt where they would find refuge just like Joseph in days of old. Indeed the road to Egypt was a providential one and once more the Scriptures would be fulfilled "Out of Egypt I called my son" (Hosea 11v1)
Wicked kings may flourish for a time but they do not last and Herod the Great was to die in excruciating pain before being replaced by his son Herod Archelaus (v22). This paved the way for Christ's return from Egypt but it would be a return to Nazareth in the north and not Bethlehem in the south. Once more the prophets were being fulfilled that Jesus would be called a Nazarene (v23). It’s not possible to quote directly from a prophet in this instance. Rather we are to look a wee bit more closely to see Matthew’s point. To be a Nazarene was to be someone from a one-horse town, it was to be someone from an obscure place and someone worthy of contempt. Matthew’s point becomes clear - Christ was a Nazarene in that “he was despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53v3).
The American poet Robert Frost once famously wrote a poem which confronted him with a fork in the road. Which path did he take? “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” I have no doubt that this year will see you both succeeding and failing in equal measure but I pray that your focus will always remain on Christ. Herod took the road of rage, fury and sin and he got his just reward. May your road and mine be one on which we follow the King in worship and humble service. The road with Jesus is at times difficult and beset on all sides by the plots of the wicked. Few find Christ’s road and few walk upon it but brothers and sisters, may your feet not leave it. Today we choose the Christ road and that makes all the difference.
Q44 What doth the preface to the ten commandments teach us? The preface to the ten commandments teacheth us, that because God is the Lord, and our God, and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all his commandments.