Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Three Responses, Two Kings

Dannah Gresh: Does it seem like Christians are in the crosshairs of government leaders? Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says that’s nothing new.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: There will always be powerful people in this world, people who use their power to try and rid the world of Jesus and His followers, people who will oppose His rule in order to try and protect their own rule. And this comes as no surprise to God!

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Choosing Gratitude, for January 5, 2021. I’m Dannah Gresh. 

How do you respond to Jesus and His love for you? Today Nancy will talk about a few characters in the Christmas story and their responses to the birth of Jesus.

She’ll explain how our response to Jesus indicates what matters most in our lives. Here’s Nancy to continue in this series “Of Wise Men, Kings, and Providence.”

Nancy: Well, here we are in January, and I wonder if you may have some holiday blues going on? I mean, after all, you spend weeks and months getting ready for Christmas . . . all the build-up, all the preparation, the planning, the events, the hubbub, and then, just like that [she snaps her fingers] it’s all over!

The decorations have been taken down. There’s no more Christmas music playing. It’s back to school, back to work. Everything feels anticlimactic. If you live in Michigan, as I do, you still have two to three months of cold, dreary weather ahead! Right? It can be a real downer, this time of year.

But here’s the good news: the story that God is writing is far from over! God is still at work orchestrating and unfolding the story of redemption. We see this throughout the Scripture, beginning in Genesis chapter 1, the Creation. God looked at everything He had made and, “Behold, it was good!”

Then the Fall: man and woman go their own way; they say, “We will be our own God!” You have the fall into sin, the choice to disobey God. Then you have beginning in Genesis chapter 3 and all through the Old Testament, prophecies and promises of a Redeemer who would come to rescue us from our sin, who would overcome the works of the evil one, praise God!

You see this unfolding in the New Testament, as a virgin conceives a child. Don’t ever get used to that story or think that’s normal. It’s not! And then you see as the child is born, and the angels appear and shepherds worship. 

Then you meet Anna and Simeon in the temple, who were among those many faithful Jews who had been waiting for centuries for God’s covenant promises to be fulfilled. And these all rejoiced to see the Messiah with their own eyes!

Now, in Matthew chapter 2—let me invite you to turn there; we’re looking at this passage all this week—we read about the arrival of some others to worship Christ. And this time, they were not Jews, but they were Gentiles—Gentiles who were drawn by the hand of God, supernaturally, from a great distance away to celebrate the arrival of King Jesus here on earth.

But as we get into this passage, we’re also going to see that, though some welcomed Jesus as the newborn King, not everyone would receive this King or acknowledge His right to rule. We’re going to see a battleground; we’re going to see a conflict between two kings.

Let me read beginning in verse 1 of Matthew chapter 2: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king . . .” There’s a king. Underline it, circle it: the king. “. . . behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?’” Here’s another king! Underline it, circle it.

You have now two kings in the same territory; you can see there’s going to be a problem here. And by the way, just a parentheses here, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” Babies don’t usually start out as kings; even if they’re born in royal families and will be the king, they’re born as princes.

But Jesus was always a King; He was born King of the Jews! 

"Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose [some of your translations say, “in the east,” it’s the rising of the sun] and have come to worship him." 

I found myself, as I’ve been soaking in this passage for months now, wondering what the wise men expected when they arrived in Jerusalem? Did they think they would see cheering crowds gathered in the streets celebrating the birth of a new king? 

You think about when a royal child is born (we don’t have that in this country) in the United Kingdom, and you have just crowds and cheering. It’s a big deal when the son of a king is born! For the wise men, this was a momentous event! This never-before-seen star in the sky had risen in honor of this king.

What must they have thought when they arrived to find that absolutely no one was talking about the King that they had come so far to see? No one even knew He had been born! And when they did find out that He had been born, their response was anything but enthusiastic. 

Look at verse 3: “When Herod the king heard this . . .” Ie: “There’s a king of the Jews that has been born. We’ve seen His star; we’ve come to worship Him.” What are the next three words? “He was troubled.” He was not excited about this! He was not going to cheer for this new king! “He was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”

Now, again, just a little parenthesis, with some speculation. This sentence tells me that probably this was not just three old guys riding into town on camels; they wouldn’t have caused such a stir in the whole city of Jerusalem. More likely, it was an entourage mounted on horses that came charging into town like a great cavalcade!

Just imagine all these wise men and their assistants from the East coming on these great Persian steeds. They had traveled a great distance, probably a thousand miles or more, to honor a new king. And so Herod the King—Herod the Great he was called—was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

Now keep in mind, Jesus was still a young child—not the baby in the manger, a bit older than that, under two years of age. He had not as of yet done any miracles or preached any messages, and yet already he was causing a stir! People could not ignore this newborn King!

Now you see a clash between these two kings: King Herod the Great and this newborn King of the Jews. Herod was threatened by the idea of another king, and he could not tolerate a rival to his throne! So when these Gentile wise men came from far away to worship this new King, Herod would have none of it! “No way are you going to worship another king!”

You can see that he was fearful of losing his control, losing his position, losing his power. So what does he do? He sets out to destroy the newborn King, so-called, while falsely claiming, “I want to worship Him with you.” Nothing could have been further from the truth. 

Now we see in this text also that the people of Jerusalem were troubled. They may have been concerned about what the Romans would do if a rival king made a claim to the throne of Israel. They didn’t want to upset the apple cart. They didn’t want Roman soldiers coming in and making any more trouble than they already had, so they were troubled, too.

What does Herod do? Look at Matthew 2, verse 4: “Assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ [Messiah] was to be born.” 

People were expecting a king to be born; they didn’t know what that meant, what that would look like. They had some great misconceptions about Messiah and Christ, but Herod knew enough to ask the question about this King of the Jews. He went to the people who should have had the answer . . . and notice that they did have the answer.

These chief priests and scribes knew the correct answer right away; they didn’t have to think about it long. They didn’t have to think about it hard; they didn’t have to google to find the answer. These were experts in the Old Testament Scriptures.

So, verse 5, “They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet . . .” Now, they’re going to quote from the prophet Micah, chapter 5, verse 2, a prophecy that had been written seven-hundred years earlier. They knew where this Messiah would be born, and so they quoted from Micah, the prophet. . .

They say, here we are in Matthew chapter 2, verses 5 and 6: 

In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you [Bethlehem, this little town] shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”

So they knew where this Messiah was to be born.

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” (vv. 8–9)

Now, as I read this passage—and we’ll continue on it over the next few days just with these few verses—I’m struck by three very different responses to the birth of Christ in this familiar account. 

First of all, we have Herod, Herod the King. Herod was half-Jewish. His father was a descendant of the Edomites who, as you know, had been enemies of the people of God. But Herod was appointed as King of Judea by Rome. By this time, he had ruled in Jerusalem for nearly forty years. He was close to seventy years old. He was a fixture: “Herod the Great!”

And in some ways, the Jewish people, and even his enemies, admired Herod. He was known for his wealth, for his political savvy, his administrative skills. He was good at keeping the peace. There were numerous building projects that he helped make successful in the land, including the temple, which was begun in 20 B.C. and was still being finished at the time of the birth of Christ.

So in some ways he was admired, but he was also feared and despised. Herod taxed the people heavily to pay for his favorite projects. He was drunk with power. He was desperate to hold onto his position, and he was deeply suspicious of any potential rivals. History tells us that Herod suffered throughout his lifetime from depression and paranoia. You can see that as this passage unfolds.

He was known for eliminating anyone that he suspected might be a threat to his throne. Herod assassinated numerous members of his own family that he suspected of not being loyal to him . . . including his wife, his wife’s mother, and three of his own sons! 

The Roman Emperor Augustus said it was safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son! That’s who we’re talking about here: Herod the King. Now, Herod claimed to want to worship this newborn baby King, but as we learn later, he had no intent of doing any such thing. He was determined to protect his throne, and he could not tolerate another king.

The passage goes on to tell us (and we’ll look at it later this week) of the gruesome genocide of infants that he committed in the region in order to get rid of any potential rival. There will always be powerful people in this world, some of them in government, some in other positions of influence, who use their power to try and rid the world of Jesus and His followers, people who will oppose His rule in order to try and protect their own rule. And this comes as no surprise to God! Do you think God didn’t know who was king in Judea when He sent His Son to this earth? 

Why didn’t He send His Son to the earth when there was a benevolent king, a good king, a king who would not have opposed Jesus? Because the Kingdom of God is unfolding in God’s way and in God’s time, and He wanted to show that the Kingdom of Christ would rule over every earthly king and ruler!

Herod was a ruthless tyrant. He was a wicked, murderous persecutor, but he could not stop God’s plan . . . nor can any king, any ruler in our world stop the plan or the Kingdom of God! And in the end, King Herod would die, and so is the case with all who oppose Christ.

Think about it: Nero, dead; Stalin, dead; Hitler, dead; Idi Amin, dead; Saddam Hussein, dead. And those are just some of the better known ones, but all of these have come and gone. Their bodies have long since rotted in the ground. They have no more power. 

But our King Jesus lives forever and will never, ever be defeated or overcome by any earthly king or power! So we see Herod’s response to the birth of this child. And then we see, number two, the chief priests and the scribes. 

Now, these were the highest up religious leaders and Bible scholars of their day. They knew the Scriptures well! Most of them would have memorized the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Old Testament. Many of them would have memorized the psalms in Hebrew. 

They’re the ones you would want to have on your team if you were playing a game of Bible Trivia! They knew the Scripture. They knew a lot about the Messiah. They had studied the prophecies. They knew, we saw in this passage, that He would be born in Bethlehem. They knew that He would come from the tribe of Judah. They knew that He would be a descendant of David. They knew that He would be born of a virgin. 

So of all people, you would have thought that these priests and scribes—the religious leaders and thinkers and scholars—would have been eager to see the Promised Child! After all, Bethlehem was just down the road from Jerusalem, about six miles.

But they could not be bothered to make the short trip to see the One who fulfilled these Messianic prophecies. They knew that this Scripture was being fulfilled before their eyes, and for generations the Jewish people had waited and longed for this day!

Why didn’t they go to Bethlehem? We don’t know, but we can speculate. Maybe they were too busy with their studies, with their teaching, with their jobs. Maybe they were too proud. After all, compared to the thriving metropolis of Jerusalem, Bethlehem was a tiny village—probably just about two-hundred people who lived there in this day.

Maybe it was disbelief. After all, they could have thought, if the Messiah truly had come, wouldn’t they have been the first to know about it? Not these Gentile soothsayers from far away! In his commentary on Matthew chapter 2, John Calvin says, 

It is truly an instance of base sluggishness that not one of the Jews offers himself as an escort to those foreigners to go and see the King who had been promised to their own nation! 

There’s no excuse! “Base sluggishness,” said Calvin. Another commentator, J. C. Ryle says this: 

How often the very people who live nearest to the means of grace are those who neglect them most!

These are the ones you thought would have been eager to go and Ryle says sometimes the people who live closest to the things of God, the means of grace, are the ones who are guilty of neglecting them the most. These men had a ton of Bible knowledge, but it did them no good! What they knew had not captured their hearts. They didn’t think they needed Jesus, that’s what it came down to.

As a result, there’s no sense that you see in them of wonder or amazement or awe. And this continued throughout the life of Jesus all the way to His death. It meant nothing to them. It’s really unthinkable! 

I’ve been pondering this over the last several days—just how much these people knew about God, about God’s ways, about God’s Word. They had mastered this Book, but it had not mastered them. They couldn’t have cared less! It’s possible to know a lot about Jesus, to know the Word well, to be an expert in Scripture, and yet to utterly miss Jesus!

Head knowledge about Jesus, theological knowledge about Jesus, doesn’t ensure that you have a relationship with Him. You may have heard all the Christmas stories over these past weeks in your church, and in our culture you’ve heard a lot about them. You may have read the Christmas story as a family.

But the question is, Has Christ captured your heart? Have you gone to see Him? Is there any wonder, is there any awe, is there any amazement as you think about what you know about Jesus?

Well, look, number three at the Magi, the wise men. We have the response of Herod; we have the response of the chief priests and scribes, and now we have the Magi and the wise men. Unlike the Jews, who had centuries of revelation about God and His promised Messiah, these men had little knowledge about God’s plan. But they followed the knowledge they had. They followed the evidence they had seen.

They came from a long distance away, and they persevered in seeking the newborn King until they found Him. They exercised faith in what they did know, and as they responded, God showed them more. God showed them the next step as they followed the truth.

Unlike the high priests and scribes, the wise men weren’t content to just know the truth. They acted on what they knew. And when they found Jesus, verse 10 tells us they were overjoyed! Compare their joy with the disinterest and the indifference of the religious Jewish leaders. 

They might have assumed that the Jewish leaders would know about the birth of the child King and would share their excitement, but it was not to be so. One writer says it this way: 

The Magi knew so little, came so far, and gave so much! The teachers of the law knew so much, were so near, and did so little.

You think sometimes about someone you see coming to faith in Christ. It’s all new to them. They didn’t grow up in the things of God as many of us had the privilege of doing. It’s fresh; it’s new. There’s wonder, and there’s awe, and there’s amazement. 

They love Jesus, and they’ll climb over rocks and glass or anything to get to Jesus! They’re eager! Then, there are some of us who have been around this stuff for a very long time. We know so much, we’re so near, and we do so little, because Jesus has not captured our hearts.

That’s what Scripture says in John 1:11, “He came to his own and his own did not receive him.” These Gentiles came from far away to Jesus, and they received Him. 

So we have Herod, the religious leaders, the wise men; they all knew truth about this baby, and they all responded in such different ways!

And aren’t those the same responses we see to Jesus in our world today? There’s Herod, who pretended to want to worship Jesus. And if you just heard the words he said, you would have thought, “Oh, he really is into this!” But the fact is, in his heart there was hostility and hatred toward Jesus. He eventually tried to kill the newborn Baby. He was threatened; he was resistant; he was an opponent; he was an enemy of Christ. We have those in high places in our world and in our culture today. Herod.

Then we have religious leaders, people who know a lot about God’s Word, but they were indifferent toward Jesus; they ignored Him. They went about their religious lives, their religious work, their so-called “ministries,” but they were disinterested bystanders, observers, not involved in getting to know and worship Jesus themselves. 

I think in some senses, that’s a description of many, many people in our churches today. Maybe that’s a description of you. Sometimes that’s a description of me! I can be studying God’s Word, getting to know it in my head, but missing Jesus in the midst of it all! They were indifferent. 

Then we have the wise men, the Magi, who were truly wise—not just smart—but wise. They went to great effort, great lengths, great distance to find Jesus. And when they found Him, they honored Him, they worshipped Him, they lavished Him with gifts!

All people fall into one of these three categories. But let me remind us that there’s another character in this story, and that’s Jesus . . . who is the central figure, the central character of this story. Your response to Him, my response to Him, is the thing that matters most about our lives.

When our lives are said and done, the way we responded to Jesus will be the sum total of what defines our lives—not how much we knew, not what position we held, not how good we were, not how churched we were. But did we know and love and worship and honor Jesus with all our hearts? That’s what the wise men call us to today, amen?

Dannah: Amen! We’ve been listening to Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth talking about different responses to the birth of Christ in Matthew 2. Do you see any parallels between your response to Jesus and that of the wise men? They sure went to great lengths to find Him and to worship Him! Are you pursuing Christ with the same persistence and motivation? Are you seeking truth?

You can’t get truth apart from God’s Word, and at Revive Our Hearts, we want to help you not only to know the truth, but to study it and live it out. I want to tell you about a new Bible study to help you do that.

Ruth: Experiencing a Life Restored is our newestWomen of the Bible study, and this resource is just one way you can feast on God’s Word in the new year. And throughout the course of six weeks, you’ll walk through the book of Ruth and see how her story reflects a bigger story of a God who restores His people.

Get your copy of Ruth: Experiencing a Life Restored when you give a gift of any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Just go online to ReviveOurHearts.com to donate. Of course, you can call us at 1–800–569–5959. Make sure you ask for your copy of the Ruth study.

Now, you’re probably familiar with the star in the Christmas story, the one that guided the wise men? We call it the “star of wonder, star of light,” when we sing “We Three Kings.” Well, tomorrow Nancy’s going to continue her series on the wise men as she talks about that important star and how it relates to walking in faith. I’m Dannah Gresh. I hope you’ll be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Before we finish today, let’s listen to the response of a couple of the women who were in the audience when Nancy was recording this message.

Woman 1: Something that you touched on about us as church people becoming indifferent, as we saw the Pharisees here . . . I have been thinking a lot. The Lord has been working with me a lot about joy. David says, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Psalm 51:1). That’s something I’ve been praying for myself. 

But I’ve also just been thinking about where they were in society and culture. They wanted somebody to come and throw off the chains of an evil government, which is something that we have all kind of been thinking about a little bit in these past days, about how much we would love for that freedom there.

But Jesus didn’t come for that. He came to, “restore to me the joy of your salvation.” And it’s just amazing to me to think that people who didn’t have that personal relationship with Jesus, how easy it was for them to obey God. They “rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”

One of the passages that I have underlined in my Bible that I’ve been working through is from Deuteronomy 28:47–48. God says, “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart . . . therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything.” It’s just something I’ve been thinking about.

Nancy: “Serve the Lord with gladness.” (Psalm 100:2) We’re going to see that joy in these wise men. When they saw the object of their long, hard search, there was joy! There is a lot of joy missing, I think, in many of us as followers of Christ. But we have every reason for joy! 

I think we just get too used to, “This is normal,” and we lose the sense of wonder. So maybe we need to pray that God restores our sense of wonder, so we don’t become like those religious leaders who know so much, but have and give to Jesus so little.

Woman 2: You mentioned that He didn’t choose a simple and easy time; He came under a harsh leadership. That just made me think, so often we know He’s there, but He chooses those tough times in our lives, tough times in circumstances, that He really shows up. Southerners will say, “shows out.” He shows up and shows out.

He didn’t choose it from the beginning to come into an easy time, and He doesn’t always choose those easy times to show up in our lives now.

Nancy: Absolutely! And that should encourage us because we are in hard times. And we’re not the first people to be in hard times. Every generation has had its own hard times. We can tend to think, “These are like the worst things that have ever been in our world!” 

Well, I can tell you this. If you read your Bible, you know it’s going to get worse, and it has been worse! But these are troubled days, and we have “Herods” in various positions of influence and control in our culture, but they are not greater than God. God is able to do His work in the midst of those hard times and places. Don’t forget it. Don’t forget it!

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolegemuth wants to help you get in the Word. This program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.