Do you ever feel that Christianity is a relatively small thing.
If you live in this country, in this decade, you could be forgiven for feeling that at times.
The Telegraph recently reported that numbers attending churches are increasing, but that was only news because it’s been decreasing for so long.
It can seem that lots of people used to fill our churches. Our laws used to be framed on Christian principles. But that was then and this is now.
Now, Christianity seems like a hobby that a few people do. Some knit. Some ride horses. Some play bridge. Some go to church. And like a few other traditional hobbies, going to church is less fashionable than it was.
Christianity – in a corner.
In fact, the Christian faith is much bigger than that. Much, much bigger.
Matthew has just recorded the birth of Jesus, very fleetingly. And now he wants us to meet the one who has been born. More than that, he wants us to follow him. And to inspire us to follow him, he wants to show us that Jesus is very much bigger than we thought.
Jesus, king of the Jews, is gloriously king of the world.
Here is Matthew’s point as he records the visit of the Magi: Jesus, king of the Jews, is gloriously king of the world. Jesus, king of the Jews, is gloriously king of the world.
As I say, his record of the birth of Jesus is very brief. He doesn’t mention the census. Or the shepherds. Which makes this story the very next thing that happens in his account after Jesus is born.
And what you get is very striking. Jesus is born king of the Jews. But the first people to come and see him, to come and worship, are non-Jews. They are these magi, from a country far away to the East.
The king of the Jews is recognised for what he is by those who are not Jews.
But these Magi are more than just “not Jews”. They represent the whole Gentile world.
The gifts they brought were gold, frankincense and myrrh. Three very expensive gifts.
But more than that, these were the gifts that the Queen of Sheba brought when she came to see King Solomon. She had heard what a great king he was, how wise he was, and how well his people were ruled. So she travelled from an Eastern country, a foreign dignitary, bringing gifts of gold and precious spices. Come to see and pay her respects to the king of the Jews, the son of David.
That story is then taken by the rest of the Old Testament and used as a model for how the Messiah, the future King God had promised, would be treated. The kings of the nations of the world would come and bring their tribute to him. Isaiah 60 tells us that they will come bringing gold and frankincense.
These magi aren’t just foreigners. The gifts they bring, and where they come from, shows that they symbolise the whole world. Jesus is not just king of the Jews; he’s king of the world. He’s not just a king, he’s the best king the world has known.
Next summer, lots of people will gather in London for the Olympic Games. At the opening ceremony there will be heads of state from lots of countries. Dilma Rousseff is the president of Brazil. If she comes, and if the Olympic team from Brazil comes, then Brazil is that the games. The fact that millions of ordinary Brazilians need not bother us. Brazil was there.
So these Magi came. We don’t know how many of them there were. We don’t need to know. It doesn’t trouble us that lots of other Gentiles didn’t come to see Jesus at his birth. The fact is they were there.
The nations of the world were there. Jesus was born king of the Jews. But he’s so much more than that. He’s king of the world. And gloriously so.
Which means that, no matter how small Christianity may appear now, in Britain, it’s growing around the world, and it’s now much bigger than it was 2000 years ago. Jesus’ kingship is acknowledged on every continent and in almost every country.
So don’t read the Telegraph, or any other paper, to find out how glorious Jesus’ kingdom is or is not. The Magi show us.
His kingdom is the biggest on earth.
His kingdom is the most wonderful and the most glorious on earth.
Anyone in their right mind would want to be a part of it.
That’s anyone in their right mind.
The question is: How will we respond to this Jesus?
Matthew shows us 3 different responses in the passage, and they probably describe most of us. In fact, there may be a bit of each of them in most of us.
Herod was threatened, so resented him
First, Herod was threatened, so resented Jesus. Herod was threatened, so resented him.
Right at the start of the passage, the challenge is set, isn’t it?
Verse 1: In the days of Herod the king. Verse 2: Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? Verse 3: When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled.
Do you see the challenge to Herod. He is king of the Jews. And then he learns that a king of the Jews has been born. This new king may only be a baby, but he’s a threat to him. Jesus threatens Herod’s plan to be the only king the Jews get. Herod did not want a rival king. So he wanted Jesus out of the way. He resented him.
You probably know that many species in the animal kingdom kill their own kind sometimes. Male lions will kill lion cubs. Mice will kill their own. Giant water bugs are at it. Spiders do it. All as a way of making sure you remain “top dog”.
Well humans do it, too. Herod does it.
In many ways, we’re all little kings and queens of our own domains. We plan our career path, our families, our leisure time and how we spend our money. We decide what to do on a Monday morning. We decide what to do on a Saturday evening.
And then Jesus comes as king of the world. You can see how easy it would be to be threatened by Jesus, and so to resent him. We don’t want to lose our little realm.
Herod was threatened, so resented him.
The religious leaders were knowledgeable, yet ignored him.
Second, the religious leaders were knowledgeable, yet ignored him. The religious leaders were knowledgeable, yet ignored him.
Herod consults two groups – the chief priest and the scribes. These two groups hated each other, so he probably consulted them separately to check that neither one was pulling a fast one. Both said the same thing – the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
What these religious leaders did next is very surprising. The Jewish people had been waiting for their Messiah for centuries. These leaders knew where he was to be born. They’ve just been told that he’s been born. What would you expect them to do next?
You’d have thought that some of them would be injured in the crush trying to get out of the door to get to Bethlehem as fast they can, wouldn’t you?
But what do they do?
They go back to doing their crosswords.
To varying degrees, we know a lot about Jesus. As a minimum, most of us have been brought up in a country with a long Christian history. Many of us know much, much more. Some of us have been coming to church every week for decades.
The religious leaders stand as a warning to us all. How much we know isn’t the point. The question is how we respond to Jesus personally. It’s possible to know a lot, and to do nothing.
And the more we know. The more years we’ve been coming to church. The more tragic that would be.
The religious leaders were knowledgeable, yet ignored him.
The Magi were overjoyed, and worshipped him.
The third response in the story is the Magi themselves. The Magi were overjoyed, and worshipped him. The Magi were overjoyed, and worshipped him.
Notice the verbs that Matthew uses to describe what these Magi did as they left Herod’s palace. They went. They rejoiced. They worshipped. They offered their gifts.
These men worshipped the baby Jesus. They paid their respects to him as a glorious new-born king. They maybe even knew he was sent from God.
Their worship was joyful. Matthew says that they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. This was the best news in the world. The best discovery in the world. Finding Jesus eclipsed all their other joy.
Their worship was costly. The gifts they gave were not cheap, and that is an understatement. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were extremely expensive, and some of them still are today.
Joyful and costly worship. Joyful and costly are not words we often associate today. We tend to be more excited at finding a bargain, but Jesus is not a bargain. If you buy a really expensive car, you don’t rejoice at the price tag. But you might be so thrilled at the car, that it doesn’t matter what it costs – no price would be too much.
And Matthew invites us to worship Jesus. Not just to come to church. To give King Jesus control of our lives. To come to him, in joyful and costly worship. The best thing we ever did. So good, that we don’t mind what it costs, what we have to give up, what he calls us to do.
So: Christianity in a corner?
Far from it. Jesus runs the biggest, most wonderful kingdom this world has ever known.
But people respond differently. Herod was threatened, so resented him? The religious leaders were knowledgeable, yet ignored him. The Magi were overjoyed and worshipped him.
How will we respond?