A Clash Between Two Kings
Scripture: Matthew 2:1–23
A Clash Between Two KingsMatthew 2:1-23
December 23, 2007
Pastor Randy Smith
What initially comes to your mind when I say: "A clash between two kings?"
If you have been following the recent political landscape you might say, "Bush and Ahmadinejad." If you are a World War II buff your reply might be, "Churchill and Hitler." If you remember learning about early American history, "George Washington and King George" might come to mind. And if you were with us the past few months, you can't go without considering "Saul and David."
While these have all been famous clashes between kings, I believe none surpass the conflict that occurred early in the first century. Described in the Bible, it is the clash between King Jesus and "king" Pilate. It occurred at the time of our Lord's trial and Roman execution and holds a significance that still impacts each of us today. Yet more than a clash between the two kings was the clash between two still existing kingdoms that each king represented: The kingdom of God and the kingdom of man.
"My kingdom is not of this world," Jesus replied. "You are a king, then!" mocked Pilate. Jesus responded, "Yes, you are right in saying that I am a king" (see Jn. 18:36-37).
Pilate rejected King Jesus as did the angry Jewish mob. When Jesus was introduced as their King (Jn. 19:14), the enraged crowd cried out, "We have no king but Caesar!" (Jn. 19:15).
A clash between two kings and a clash between two kingdoms. Who is our true king and to whose kingdom do we ultimately belong?
In the same way that King Jesus clashed with "king" Pilate at the end of His ministry, less spoken about was the way He clashed with king Herod at the beginning of His ministry. It was the same scenario. Jesus focused on the things of God, while the other was consumed with the system of this world.
This morning as we continue our study in the book of Matthew and concentrate on the birth of our Savior, we will be introduced to two kings and two different responses to those kings. It is an issue that deserves our greatest attention. It is an issue of heart allegiance. The lines have been clearly drawn. The question for us this morning is simple: Who is our king and to which kingdom do we belong?
1. THE FIRST KING: JESUS
As we begin, I believe it is fitting for us to become more acquainted with the two kings: King Jesus and king Herod.
On the one side we have King Jesus representing the kingdom of God.
Last week we learned about His miraculous birth as the Virgin Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit (Mt. 1:18). Similar to His birth, His mission was unlike that of any person. According to the pronouncement from the angel, He came for a very distinct purpose: "He will save His people from their sins" (Mt. 1:21). Jesus would live the perfect life as a human and then as our substitute go to the cross and pay the penalty for our sins. Since we cannot save ourselves, Jesus came to bring salvation by grace through faith to all who accept His love offering.
Jesus, the Savior of the world, is the only way to escape condemnation. As the Apostle Peter said in Acts 4:12: "There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved."
When considering Christ's supreme sacrifice for us, we must not forget that He was (and still is) the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God of very God, supreme power of the cosmos, King of all kings. It is amazing that this Jesus Christ, the sinless Being who existed from eternity past, the One to whom angels worship and every knee will bow, condescended not only to become human like His creation (Phil. 2:8) but even to become sin for His creation (2 Cor. 5:21). So that once God-haters like you and I could be entirely forgiven. Kings rule in mighty palaces, but King Jesus came to be Immanuel (Mt. 1:23), God with us, to walk in our sorrows and one day dwell in our hearts.
King Jesus teaches us a crown of suffering precedes a crown of glory. Humility is the way to greatness. And sacrificial love is able to overcome the world.
The day is coming when all who rebel against King Jesus will be judged. But in this present time, God's amnesty is offered to any who lay down their rebellious arms of self-sufficiency and self-reliance and self-love and surrender everything to Jesus Christ. As Jesus Himself said in His first recorded words in the Gospel of Mark, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mk. 1:15).
2. THE SECOND KING: HEROD
So on the one side we have King Jesus and on the other side, diametrically opposed, we have king Herod (point number 2).
Far from a humble individual, Herod's nickname was "the Great." In 40 BC he was declared by Roman leaders to be "king of the Jews." Within one year he invaded Palestine and established his kingdom. Within three years he crushed all opposition to his rule.
Herod was extremely clever and skilled as an orator, politician and warrior. He built cities, began reconstruction on the temple and brought peace to the people. Yet despite Herod's positive credentials, this man will forever go down in history as an evil person. He was cruel and merciless to the point that he executed his favorite wife and at least two of his own sons. Disliked by the people and fearing joyful celebration at the time of his death, he arranged to have hundreds of Jewish leaders executed during his dying moments to guarantee that great mourning would accompany his departure. Combine Herod's wickedness with his intense jealousy of threats to his power and you have the perfect recipe for the repeated and heartless murders of any who were thought to be rivals.
With the context established, permit me to read verses 1-2 of chapter 2. "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.'"
People coming to Jerusalem in search of another king? Moreover, people coming to worship another king? You can only imagine Herod's response! Verse 3, "When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled."
The magi were rejoicing and preparing to worship the new King. King Herod on the other hand was deeply troubled, as the text says. And we all know why and exactly what was going through his mind. He would not stand for any competition. Furthermore, verse 3 adds that Herod was troubled "and all Jerusalem with him." It was not because the Messiah's arrival was announced. Though they rejected Jesus years later, they wanted to the Messiah to come. You see, the people were troubled because Herod was troubled. And a troubled Herod often resulted in lost lives!
Herod smelled the potential competition. Herod wasted no time in seeking to identify his rival. Herod understood the spiritual nature of this new King. He even identified Him with the Messiah. Therefore Herod knew exactly where he needed to go for information.
Verse 4, "Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born."
The chief priests and scribes comprised the high-ranking religious figures of the day. Though many were spiritually callous and politically corrupt, these people were still the best resource for biblical interpretation and the answer that Herod so eagerly sought.
As a footnote, I find it amazing that Herod expressed trust in the prophetic accuracy of Scripture and confidence that God would bring these events to pass, and then had the audacity to think he could contest God's will and make the divine predictions serve his own purpose. What an arrogant, egotistical, power freak! His attempt to usurp authority from God identifies every citizen of the kingdom to which he belongs and goes all the way back to Adam and Eve in the Garden.
Well, it appears without any delay that the scribes and chief priests get back to Herod regarding the birth location of the Messiah (cf. Mt. 2:1), the One whom Herod wanted to crush. In verses 5 and 6 they quoted the prophetic announcement recorded in Micah 5:2. "They said to him, 'In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 'AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.''" It was a no-brainer! Everybody knew that the Messiah was to born in Bethlehem! Even in John 7:42 we read about the common folk saying, "Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?"
Herod's evil mind went into overdrive. A diabolical plan was devised. Verse 7, "Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared." Verse 8, "And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, 'Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.'"
The lying hypocrite could care less about worship. His investigation and smooth talking had one purpose. Simply put: Eliminate this Child! He wished to seek and destroy this "newborn King."
Fortunately due to God's intervention, the Christ Child was spared from Herod's wrath as the family departed for Egypt (Mt. 2:13-15, 19-21). Furthermore, Herod never received the information he requested from the magi. Verse 12 tells us, "And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way." Herod was tricked. He never was able to identify the specific child. So to make sure he covered all his bases, the second half of verse 16 informs us the enraged king "slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi."
What a contrast between King Jesus and king Herod. We should not be surprised to witness this clash between the two kings when both of their lives intersected on the stage of world history.
3. THE FIRST RESPONSE: RELIGIOUS LEADERS
So the profile of the two kings has now been established. Jesus represents the kingdom of God: Righteousness, truth and loyalty to our Creator. The other as seen in Herod represents the fallen kingdom of this world: Disobedience, falsehood and disloyalty to our Creator. Again I ask the question: Who is our king and to which kingdom do we belong? The answer is determined through our profession and the way we live our lives.
Regarding this issue, our text in Matthew 2 provides for us two excellent test cases.
First, let's take a look at the response of the religious leaders (point number 3).
Of all the people around at the turn of the century, you would think these men were aligned with God's purposes. After all, they looked the part displaying their religious attire. They were descendents from the priestly line of Aaron and Levi. They knew the Scriptures extremely well, practically lived at the temple and adhered to a strict observance of the law.
But when asked about the Messiah's birthplace (in verse 4), they were quick to provide the answer (in verses 5 and 6), but extremely slow to check it out for themselves. Augustine put it well: "They were like mile-stones; they pointed out something to travelers, but themselves remained solid and motionless." Convincing news regarding the long-awaited Messiah had arrived at their doorstep and these ivory-tower theologians from Jerusalem give no evidence of making the short 5-mile trek south to Bethlehem! On the other hand we see the magi, Gentile foreigners from a distant country, having already traveled great distances, believing and then acting upon the teaching of Scripture. This is great proof to show that even "religious people" can be dead to the things of God. Beloved, I have no doubt that there will be many "churchgoers" populating hell.
God is not impressed with our religious actions. Furthermore, He is not impressed with our biblical understanding if we fail to act upon what we know is true (Jas. 1:22-25). These very religious leaders would soon become the greatest enemies to Christ and the very ones who plotted His execution. Remember the words of Jesus? "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me" (Mk. 7:6; cf. Isa. 29:13). Those who belong to God's kingdom give Him their hearts with undivided allegiance and action.
Many even in the Christian church have accepted Jesus as their Savior, but not as their King. We cannot believe upon half of the Messiah. If Jesus is our King, it will be demonstrated in the way we respond. Doing as you please identifies children of the world's kingdom. Submitting your will to the Lord Jesus identifies the children of God's kingdom. We are saved by faith. But failing to act on what we know is right (whatever that might be) reveals disbelief. So if we read the Bible and hear sermons and refuse to respond accordingly, we are placing ourselves in the same camp as the religious leaders of Christ's day.
That is an extremely humbling thought for all of us to ponder.
4. THE SECOND RESPONSE: MAGI
The second response (point number four) is seen from the Magi.
Much intrigue has surrounded these men who arrived from the east. Contrary to legend, there were most likely many more than three of them. We do not know their names, and they visited Jesus possibly 1-2 years after His birth as verse 11 informs us, they went not to the stable, but his "house" and they saw not a baby, but a "Child." And contrary to King Jesus and king Herod, these travelers were not "kings."
These men are best called "magi" (where we derive our English word "magic"). They were skilled in astronomy, astrology and natural science. Oftentimes they dabbled in the occult. They were monotheistic, but primarily worshipped fire. They came from the east and were primarily known as "wise men," a priestly-political class of the Parthians. In the Old Testament we see them in Babylon (cf. Dan. 1:20; 2:2, 27. etc.) where they most likely became acquainted with the true God of Israel and His plans about a coming Messiah from the Jews in exile there.
They left their homes and country. They traveled a great distance through dangerous terrain. For what reason? Their purpose is found in their original question to Herod. Verse 2, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him." They gave it all to pay homage to a King greater than any king they ever heard of in the past. This is the heart of a true worshipper!
After they received the destination regarding the birthplace of the Messiah, they actively responded to Scripture. Verse 9, "They went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was." Their reaction to pinpointing the location of the Child? Verse 10, "When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy."
Verse 11, "After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh."
Once finding the Christ Child they responded in the only appropriate way: Falling to the ground, genuine worship and then as the overflow of their worship, the offering of their very best.
The magi clearly demonstrated who their true king was. It was not only seen in their profession in acknowledging Jesus as the "King of the Jews" (Mt. 2:2), but it was also seen in their joy, their faith, their worship and their sacrifice. Those who belong to the kingdom of Christ Jesus, likewise, with great joy and in the pursuit of their joy, offer the King their treasures, their talents, their time and their very lives.
It was a story between two kings, and the clash between two kings still goes on today. There are those on the Lord's side and those who side with the thinking and actions of this present world.
Are we like the foolish men, the religious leaders, who ignored the living God by doing things their own way? Or are we like wise men, the magi, who entered an eternal kingdom by pledging allegiance to a Ruler and submitting to the reign of Christ the King, "the ruler of the kings of the earth" (Rev. 1:5) and "the King of kings" (1 Ti. 6:15).
The questions for you is simple: Based on you actions, who is your king and to which kingdom do you belong?