Unfazed By The Star

Series: Strong When Weak

Link to sermon video: Unfazed By The Star - T Siverd


Sermon Outline By Terry Siverd / Cortland Church of Christ / December 19, 2021

Long ago, there was a bright star that shone in Bethlehem, but that star was accompanied by a severe darkness.  King Herod The Terrible ordered the slaughter of the baby boys of Bethlehem (perhaps as many as two-dozen).  As to what drove King Herod one can only speculate:  Was it - - Madness? … Envy? … Fear? … or just abject Wickedness?

We know that God the Father sent His only begotten Son into the world to save a sinful world.  The more we study the texts surrounding the birth of Jesus, the more we realize how badly that world needed a Savior.  Yet our 21st-century world, like that world of the first-century, continues to be in desperate need of a Savior.  The sinfulness witnessed in the life of King Herod can also be seen in the lives of other key players.

Open your Bible to Matthew 2:1-6

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, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jesus?  For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.’  And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 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.  And they said to him, ‘IN BETHLEHEM OF JUDEA, for so it has been written by the prophet, “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, by no means least among the leaders of Judea; for out of you shall come forth a ruler, who will shepherd Israel'."

The nation of Israel was quite small in size - - about the size of the state of New Jersey.  It might shock you to know that many of the manjor happenings of the Bible took place within a 100-mile radius of Jerusaelm.  In this instance, Bethlehem is only a two hour walk away - - about 5-6 miles south of Jerusalem.  As the Christmas hymn describes it, Bethlehem was a little town.  It was the home of Ruth and her great-grandson David, who later became a king of Israel.  At this time in history Bethlehem was inhabited by about 200 permanent residents.  Although being a stopping-off point on the way to Jerusalem, its size swelled dramatically at times.  Those who traveled to the pilgrimage festivals in Jerusalem often lodged in outlying towns, including Bethlehem.  On this occasion, the census ordered by Caesar Augustus, in the days when Quirinius was governor of Syria (Lk.2:1-2),  brought with it an large influx of travelers coming to register in the city of their origin.  Thus, concerning Joseph and Mary and the soon-to-be-born baby Jesus, we read in Lk.2:7, “there was no room for them in the inn”. 

The text of Matthew chapter two opens by speaking of MAGI, which invites a slew of questions.   Who were these magi?  We actually don’t even know how many of them there were.  This word is related to our English word magician.  They were likely wise men from the Babylonian/Persian empire.  “They were a class of the Medes, who exercised priestly functions and who were renown for their learning.” / Wycliffe Dan.2:2 &10 mentions a group of “magicians” who were consulted to interpret the dreams of the king of Babylon.  Don’t think here of slight of hand or tricksters, but rather:  erudite scholars keen on science and astronomy.  From where exactly did they come?  Where in the EAST?  How far had they traveled?  The ancient city of Babylon was about 500 miles east of Jerusalem.  What STAR guided them and how exactly did it guide them?  How did they know what the Star meant?  Had Jehovah God provided them with some form of a special revelation? Why did these magi from the east travel such a distance to worship THE KING OF THE JEWS?  And last but not least - - Why was Herod and all of Jerusalem troubled or disturbed by their arrival?  We can’t even begin to give definitive answers to all of these questions.

But it is this last question, “Why was Herod and Jerusalem disturbed?” that we want to focus onthis morning.  Why were they disturbed rather than being overjoyed by the arrival of the Magi in search of one born King of the Jews?  With King Herod we might just write off this disturbance as another form of paranoia.  But how does one explain the response and behavior of Jerusalem - - in particular the chief priests and scribes.  Were not these leaders among the nation of Israel not eagerly anticipating the arrival of their Messiah?  Perhaps they were instantly skeptical of and prejudiced against the Magi? “Who were they to bring this grand announcement?”  As the caretakers of the Holy Scriptures, did these Jewish leaders resent “outsiders” knowing something they didn’t?  These chief priests and scribes were themselves very learned men.  Regarding the holy scriptures:  they knew the word … were devoted to it … revered it … debated it … studied it diligently.  Actually the knew the Scriptures inside and out.  Many made it a point to memorize verbatim the entire Torah (all five book of Moses) and the Psalms.  When Herod quizzed them as to where the Christ was to be born, for them it was a question easily answered.  The knew that the Messiah was to be born of a woman (Gen.3:15 - - cf. Gal.4:4) ... That He would be a descendant of Shem (Gen.9:26) … of the seed of Abraham (Gen.22:18) … Of the tribe of Judah (Gen.49:10) … and a “son” of David (2Sam.7:11, 12 & 16) ... The priests and scribe also knew that the Messiah would be born of a virgin (Isa.7:14) ... And, regarding the topic of his nativity, they knew that He would be born in Bethlehem of Judea (Mic.5:2).

Isn’t is quite astonishing that the chief priests and scribes did NOT show more interest?  And isn’t it perplexing that some of them (if not all of them) would choose NOT to go to Bethlehem themselves?  At the very least we would have expected them to dispatch a team to investigate this claim more closely.

The Magi knew so little, but came such a great distance to worship a king unknown to them.  The Jewish teachers of the Law knew so much and were so close, but did so very little.

In this case Bethlehem was just five miles away - - less than a two-hour walk.  How is it that these leaders of Israel could have been so close, yet so far away?  How does one explain their apathy?  Why were they not eager to check things out first hand?  Why didn’t they go to Bethlehem themselves? 

We might describe these first-century chief priests and scribes in a variety of ways, but they were not intellectually lazy.

Someone has suggested they may have been spiritually indifferent.  We might cut them some slack by noting that they’d been eagerly awaiting the arrival of their Messiah for a long time.  Maybe one disappointment after another had made them jaded (wearied with the fatigue of a never-ending hope).

Their lack of interest might have been attributed to being culturally arrogant.  They were first-century know-it-alls, convinced that they and they only would be made privy to such revelations.  This high-mindedness seems to have infected all levels of society within the nation of Israel.  Remember when Philip first encountered Jesus he quickly found Nathanael and said to him (Jn.1:45) - - We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.  And Nathanael said, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’  So when these magi from the east rolled into town on their camels their words were troubling (disturbing).  After all, who were these outsiders and what right did they have to be educating the keepers of the orthodoxy?  What credibility do they have?  They didn't know them.  They were not a part of the holy nation of Israel.  In truth, these foreigners were estranged from the commonwealth of Israel.  

 Perhaps they were struck with the paralysis of analysis, fearing that they might arouse the anger of Herod.  As we seen in Mt.2:16f, Herod was a powder keg waiting to explode.

For whatever reason, not a single one of one of the Jews of Jerusalem offered himself as an escort to those outsiders, to go and make further inquiry in seeking the King who had been promised to their own nation.  I want to close by appealing to US all.

We can’t answer for what these first-century students failed to do, but we must answer for what we do.  The evidence favoring the real historicity of Jesus is extensive and impressive.  We all have our Bibles.  And others have written so many good books supporting a real historical Jesus.  The Scriptures themselves affirm not just His historical human nature, but His Divine saving power.  Some people travel the world trying to find a reason for being.Some search here, there and everywhere in trying to find the answer to “why am I here?”.

How can it be that the answer to our searches and quests can be so close, yet so far away?

Perhaps this Christmas season will become for us a time to investigate first-hand.  Was there really a man named Jesus of Nazareth?  Was this Jesus truly the very son of God?  Could this Jesus, indeed, become MY SAVIOR?  And is this Jesus worthy to be THE LORD OF MY LIFE?

We can sit here comfortably in the 21st century and easily criticize those of century one.  The question for us is simply this:  What will I do with Jesus?  If you are not yet a disciple of Jesus, it is time for you to journey to Bethlehem for yourself!  You owe it to yourself and to God to make a personal investigation.

Notes:  I am indebted to Ray Pritchard (Six Miles From Bethlehem) for many of the ideas and thoughts in this sermon.  This sermon is a re-working of a previous sermon archived on our church website, titled:  So Close, Yet So Far Away.

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