“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us!”
I thought it was John Wayne, but someone on the Internet reckons it might be Gary Cooper.
It might have been what someone said in an old Western. But it was ALSO what King Herod said in about 2 BC.
“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us!” He’s talking about King Jesus. And the town was Jerusalem.
You see, there WAS a new kid on the block. And the old dog wasn’t too pleased. As far as Herod saw it, ONE king was just right. And any new contenders had better watch out. Because Herod was in no mood to share his power with ANYONE.
It all started when some astronomers turned up. They called themselves ‘wise guys’ But they were a scruffy looking lot. They’d travelled from all the way across the desert. And it seemed like the heat had got to them. Because they were telling anyone who’d listen they were following A STAR.
Which was harmless enough.
But what got Herod’s attention STRAIGHT AWAY. Was they were asking where they’d find the one whose birth the star was pointing to. The one who’d been born KING OF THE JEWS. ANOTHER King. And for Herod/ that was one king too many.
The wise men were saying it was HIS STAR they were following. This new KING OF THE JEWS was so important, the WHOLE COSMOS was sitting up and taking notice.
And that’s what these wise guys wanted to do, too. Because when they found him, they wanted to WORSHIP him.
Now, Herod had what today we might call “paranoid delusions”. Everyone was out to get him. Each day, could be his last on the throne. He’d already ed his wife, his three sons, his mother-in-law, his brother-in-law, and an uncle. All because he thought they might be a threat. And they were just NORMAL people.
But the wise guys were talking about a new king who STARS paid attention to. And who was worth WORSHIPPING.
Even if the desert had just made them soft in the head, this was DEFINITELY worth Herod investigating. So he got to work.
First up, the religious leaders. “Where would the Messiah appear? God’s promised chosen one. They told him that Bethlehem was the place. A little town just up the road.
Next up, the Wise guys. He found out when the star had first appeared. Then he pointed them in the direction of Bethlehem. And he wanted them to do his dirty work for him. Listen to his instructions. There in v8.
(Mat 2:8 NIV) He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
Yeah right! Herod’s about as likely to worship this king as George Bush is to send a Christmas card to Osama Bin Laden.
And so the Wise Guys headed off again. And once again, the star led the way.
They didn’t have far to go. In fact, they were only just settled into their saddles when the star stopped. You see, Bethlehem’s only about 8 km from Jerusalem.
And v9 tells us the star stopped over the place the child was. It’s actually a PASSIVE verb. The star didn’t just stop. It was MADE to STOP. Theologians call it the DIVINE PASSIVE. In other words, GOD stopped the star.
The God who controls the events of history. Controlled the star that honoured his Son. The star that guided the Wise Guys.
(pause) I’d never really noticed before what happened next. It’s there in v10. What is it that makes the Wise Guys so happy?
(Mat 2:10 NIV) When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
It’s not just the STAR that made them happy. They’d obviously seen IT before. It was the fact that the star had STOPPED. They were overjoyed because their journey was OVER. Their searching was finished. They were finally HOME.
They might be hundreds of kms from where they LIVED. But they were HOME. The place where their LIFE BEGAN. Where everything past and present would get put into perspective. Where the next chapter of life would begin.
Now the NIV translation’s pretty weak here. “They were overjoyed”. There are actually four different words. The old RSV puts it well. “They rejoiced exceedingly with great joy”
And this was even before they’d MET Jesus. That’s in v11.
(Mat 2:11 NIV) On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary,
Two things to notice, just as an aside. They didn’t meet Jesus in the stable. It was a HOUSE. And it wasn’t a BABY – but a CHILD.
So it must have been some time AFTER the shepherds came. Probably anything up to TWO YEARS. You see, that’s the age limit Herod sets when he sends his soldiers to kill the baby boys. Because he’d worked out when Jesus was born. And done his sums.
It’s possible the star appeared at Jesus’ BIRTH. And it had taken the wise men MOST OF THAT TIME to make the journey. That’s a fairly serious commitment.
So, most nativity scenes and Christmas cards get that bit wrong! Where they show the shepherds and wise men are rubbing shoulders, all gathering around the manger. Two different events. Which makes sense, seeing it’s LUKE’S gospel that tells us about the SHEPHERDS. And Matthew that tells us about the WISE MEN.
(pause) So, these wise men finally meet Jesus. And what do they do? V11.
… they BOWED DOWN and WORSHIPED him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with GIFTS of gold and of incense and of myrrh.
The journey was OVER. They’d found the one they’d been looking for. And they fell down. They worshipped. They gave their gifts. In recognition and gratitude.
This little infant, embodied God himself. And deserved their worship.
Their gifts showing an insight into what his future held. GOLD fit for a king. Frankincense – used by the priests in offering up prayers. Myrrh – used to embalm a body.
So much expectation wrapped up in such a small bundle. This little child encompassing such an awesome combination of roles and responsibilities. A KING over the world – over life and . A PRIEST standing between God and man. Representing one before the other. A ly sacrifice – a life offered in place of others. The means of atonement.
No wonder they’d bowed down and worshipped.
(pause) That’s ONE reaction to Jesus. But the opposite reaction is never far from the surface. Look at the very next verse. Verse 12.
(Mat 2:12 NIV) And having been warned in a dream not to go back to HEROD, they returned to their country by another route.
And it was just as well they did. Look at how he reacted when he found out. Down in v16.
(Mat 2:16 NIV) When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was FURIOUS, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
Herod. And the Wise Guys. Two opposite responses to Jesus.
Herod was troubled. And jealous. And threatened. And furious. He would go to ANY EXTREME to keep Jesus OFF the throne.
And the Wise Guys. They’d go to ANY extreme to SEE him enthroned. To WORSHIP him. To OFFER THEMSELVES in SERVICE to him.
And it’s the same today. There are millions of Herods around. Puny kings. Looking to control every part of their life. Refusing to submit. Always knowing best. Ruthless when it comes to any threats to their rule.
You see, anyone who lives life WITHOUT Jesus on the throne. Is a King Herod.
And that’s MOST of Us. Most of us reckon that life’s about looking after “Number One”. Doing WHAT we want/ WHEN we want.
And we might OPENLY thumb our noses at Jesus. Try to wipe him out. That’s what Herod did.
Or we might just pretend he’s not there. That’s probably what most Aussies do.
But either way. For most people. If Jesus is on the scene. That’s one king too many.
And that sort of attitude/ is what the Bible calls sin. Setting yourself up on life’s throne. Instead of Jesus.
Thinking you know better than the God who created you. That’s sin.
And God says/ that deserves JUDGMENT. ETERNAL separation from him. (People thought being on HEROD’S bad side was a scary thing). But that’s NOTHING compared to being on God’s bad side.
Death is exactly what HEROD got in this story. And JUDGMENT too. It’s what he deserved. You can bet there was cheering in the streets of Jerusalem the day THAT news broke.
Setting yourself up as King. And refusing to recognise King Jesus. That deserves judgment TOO.
Much better, says Matthew, to be a WISE GUY. Wisdom/ is recognising the true state of affairs and acting on it. It’s what the Magi did.
Recognise who Jesus is. And submit to him. Fall before him. That’s where we deserve to be- on our faces in front of him.
And then WORSHIP him. Honour him. Give him the gifts that he deserves. A life committed to serving him as king.
You see, the Magi ALSO knew that once Jesus arrived that was ONE KING TOO MANY. They couldn’t continue being king while Jesus was king.
And so they demitted. They hopped off the throne of their lives. And gave the crown to Jesus instead.
And that’s what WE need to do. The FIRST time we do that is when God makes us a new person. When we become a Christian.
Perhaps that’s something YOU need to do this Christmas.
(pause) Most of you have already done that.
But we need to KEEP doing that. EACH DAY hopping off our thrones. And bowing before King Jesus. In SUBMISSION to his majesty and authority. And in THANKS that he’s saved us.
Give up your kingship in your CAREER. In your FINANCIAL FUTURE.
Give it up / in your plans for how your CHILDREN will grow up. Or how you’ll convert your family or neighbours.
Give it up in your MARRIAGE. Or your singleness.
Give up your kingship over your HEALTH.
Wise Guys give up their kingship EVERY DAY. And fall before King Jesus. Because they recognise that TWO kings/ is ONE king too many.