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Expectations of the Messiah: High, Great, and Obvious

Matthew 2:1-12

High. Great. Obvious. This is how we would expect someone to speak of the coming of the Messiah. Were we in the shoes of so many waiting for a Deliverer for Israel in the first century, we would expect our Messiah to be of high estate and esteem. We would expect him to be great in the eyes of God and the world. And we would expect him to be obvious to the world. Not only would Jews expect this for a messiah, a king, but even a caravan of Magi from the East would expect it.

The opening verse of chapter two of Matthew tells us as much: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” The Magi were in the region of ancient Persia, and their job was to serve the king and make him look good. But they were also astrologers, and this star caught their special ability and attention and sent them on their way to find this king. And so clear was their expectation that they would find a king born in high places, in great fanfare, and in obvious identity that they went to Jerusalem first. There was no higher high, greater great, or more obvious site than the great city where the sitting king of Israel, Herod, held court and the priests managed the temple.

But their reception is not what they expected. Verse 3-4 says, When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together the all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. This is the great twist of the story so far. Someone outside the city and people knows more than they do. The high-living king in Jerusalem does not know that a king has been born but astrologers from Persia do. In fact, he does not even know where the king was prophesied to be born. On the one hand, this is understandable. Herod is the King of the Jews and he is not interested in the next king of the Jews, especially since any new king’s birth points to the end of his own reign. On the other hand, it reveals a man unaware of the times.

Once Herod learns in verse 5-7 that the child is to be born in Bethlehem, he asks the Magi to bring him along in the search for the child. He will tell them in verse 8 that his goal is, like them, to worship the king, but they and we know that he has something else on his mind.

And so we reach the meeting of Magi and Jesus. Verse 9 begins: After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

It is one of the more remarkable stories about Jesus. His own people are not bowing, but pagan astrologers are bowing and bearing gifts. The people of influence in Jerusalem are not even interested enough through the Magi to go with them to find the child. And while we see the gifts and worship as signs of his high estate, greatness, and obvious Sonship today, it went unnoticed and unrecorded in Jesus’ day. We only see it as high, great, and obvious because we’re so far from it. We’re projecting all we know about Jesus today back into this ancient birth. And when we do this, we both do it honor and distort it. And we distort our own expectations of this Messiah.

The real story is not high, great, and obvious.

Instead, it is low, humble, and hidden.

First, it is a story of low birth. We must remember that the Scriptures repeatedly emphasize the lowborn status of Jesus. Joseph, Mary, and Nazareth are not titles of distinction attached to Jesus’ name. Second, it is a story of humble people and circumstances. When the angel appears to Mary and greets her with “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you,” she doesn’t know what to make of such an idea. Highly favored? We see nothing in the narrative to make us think that this couple, and this child resting in a manger, enjoy any high favor of the world as a sign of God’s favor. They are vulnerable from start to finish. And the greater part of God’s work in Jesus would never be obvious. From his birth, to his hometown debut as a preacher, and to his crucifixion, Jesus as the Messiah would be hidden from many. It was not so obvious.

There is a message here for us.

First, if Jesus’ birth was a low birth, then it is not a sign of God’s disfavor to go through this world vulnerable and dependent. I know those are the very traits we most want freedom from, but don’t think God is in such a hurry to get you to a place where you no longer need Him; where you no longer look back on times when there was provision and He clearly provided for you; when your life is so fat with gain and immunity from worries that your life looks far more like Christ following you than you following Christ. God does not want us singing songs of the needless—instead, He wants us singing the song of Psalm 30: I will exalt you, O Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me. O Lord, you brought me up from the grave, you spared me from death. Only those who know true need and find God’s help can sing songs of gratitude.

Second, if Jesus’ way and life was humble, we should not expect that God is tired of humility. The holy family was humble in holdings, to be sure, but humility is also a measure of character. God loves humility. It appears that it is one of the key reasons Mary is chosen. This is not lost on the apostle Paul as he repeatedly calls himself Christ’s slave in his letters. And it is the very nature of God’s gift of Christ to a world of sinners that we esteem the needs of others above our own. Jesus made his way in the world sacrificing his reputation to eat with sinners and washing the feet of arrogant disciples. God’s favor does not mean the whole world falls at our feet; it is, instead, that Christ’s love leads us to wash their feet.

Third, if the identity of the messiah would remain hidden, we should expect that what is obvious to God may not be so obvious to us. I mean this is the sense of God’s work in our lives. Read Mark 4:26-29. As with a crop, a harvest is not obvious in each day’s growth or rain or dry spell. The kingdom of God does not come by our careful observation. The work of God in you and around you does not have to be obvious to you to be obvious to God. Nor does God’s work in you have to be obvious to everyone else for it to be obvious to Him.

The Christmas story is upon us. Are we awake to it?




    Bulletin Insert

    Expectations of the Messiah: High, Great, and Obvious Matthew 2:1-12

    Were we in the shoes of those awaiting a Deliverer for Israel in the first century, what would we expect of our Messiah?

    Magi expect the high, the great, and the obvious.

    Matthew 2:1-2: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

    Our first surprise: When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together the all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born (vv. 3-4).

    Herod is the King of the Jews and he is not interested in the next king of the Jews, especially since any new king’s birth points to the end of his own reign.

    The meeting of Magi and Jesus. Verse 9 begins: After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

    Pagan astrologers are bowing and bearing gifts...

    The birth of Jesus is high, great, and obvious today because we’re so far from it. We’re projecting all we know about Jesus today back into this ancient birth. And when we do this, we both do it honor and distort it. And we distort our own expectations of this Messiah.

    The real story was not high, great, and obvious.

    Instead, it was low,

    humble,

    and hidden.

    There is a message here for us.

    If Jesus’ birth was low, it is not a sign of God’s disfavor to go through this world vulnerable and ______________.

    Psalm 30:1-3 I will exalt you, O Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me. O Lord, you brought me up from the grave, you spared me from death.

    If Jesus’ way and life was humble, we should not expect that God is tired of ______________.

    John 13:14-15 Now that I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.

    God’s favor does not mean the whole world falls at our feet; it means, instead, that Christ’s love leads us to wash their feet.

    Third, if the identity of the messiah would remain hidden, we should expect that what is _____________ to God may not be so obvious to us.

    Read Mark 4:26-29.

    Your faithfulness to God does not have to be seen and celebrated by the world to be true faithfulness.




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