Matthew 2:1-2

Sermon preached on December 18, 2011 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

The town I grew up in was a seaport and one of the sayings that I often heard was,

"Red sky at night, sailor's delight. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning."

If you see a red glow in the western sky just after sunset that's a sign that the next day going to be a nice day. If you see a red glow in the eastern sky just before sunrise that means that bad weather is on its way.

Is that a sign from God? What do you think? I would say,

"No, not really."

Why isn't it a sign from God? Well, first of all, it doesn't have a promise associated with it. It's true that in the New Testament Jesus stated that it was commonly known. He said, (Matthew 16:2–3)

"When evening comes, you say,
'It will be fair weather,
for the sky is red,'
and in the morning,
'Today it will be stormy,
for the sky is red and overcast.'
You know how to interpret
the appearance of the sky,
but you cannot interpret
the signs of the times."

Jesus knew about this ancient way of weather forecasting but He never gave us a promise about it. It's not like the promise that is associated with the rainbow. Whenever we see a rainbow we should remember that it's a sign that God will never again destroy the earth with a flood. God gave us a promise with the rainbow.

The second reason that a red sky in the evening is not a sign from God is because sometimes it doesn't work. Occasionally the sky will have a red glow to it in the evening and the next day the weather won't be nice at all. It doesn't happen very often, but it does happen.

Our text is about a sign. The magi saw a star in the sky and they knew it was 'his' star—the star of the King of the Jews. We're not sure how the magi knew that—whether God revealed it to them in a dream or through an angel or a prophet. It was something like that. They were sure of what the star stood for—for they left everything, took gifts with them and set off on a long journey to see the newborn king—and they actually found the baby. It was through their gifts that Mary and Joseph had a means of support for the journey into Egypt. It was all part of God's plan.

The promise that they received was associated with the promise of the Messiah that they were familiar with. They came from the east, probably from the area of Iraq, or Iran, that general area. After the fall of Judah and Jerusalem in 586 BC the Jews were taken into captivity in Babylon where they were held for 70 years. While they were there they told people about the Messiah they were expecting. Hundreds of years later, when the star appeared, it was revealed to the magi that this was the King's star. We read, (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."

The great truth that we see from this text is that

through the star and the visit of the magi—God was giving proof to the world that Jesus was a King, a King unlike any other.

We're not told how far the news spread. I'm sure the magi told the people where they lived, before they set out on their journey. After they arrived in Jerusalem, everyone there knew, including Herod. The whole city was troubled when they heard about the birth of a king because they knew what Herod was like.

Who was this baby born in Bethlehem? One the one hand, he was born in very humble conditions. Yet, on the other hand, the star and the visit of the magi pointed to His glory. As John Calvin wrote,

"It was certainly a marvelous counsel of God to determine that His Son should enter the world in obscurity and humility, yet He gave Him a splendid commendation of praise and honor, leaving nothing lacking that might help our faith to attest His divine Majesty."

There are many things in our text that show us the divine majesty and glory of Jesus.

First of all,

God marked Jesus' birth with a great supernatural sign—a star.

The magi saw it in the east. Notice how they called it, 'his star'. They knew that it was the star of the new born King.

This star doesn't have a natural explanation. Some people have tried to explain it that way. In 7-6 BC the planets Jupiter and Saturn aligned and some say that could have led to the journey of the magi. Others suggest that it was a comet or a supernova, an exploding star. Halley's Comet appeared in 12-11 BC, but that is too early. It's characteristic of a supernova to get bright, then disappear, and then get bright again. That sort of fits in with the magi seeing the star in the east, it disappearing, and then reappearing again after they left Herod. But verse 9 tells us that after they left Herod the star appeared again and stopped over the place where the child was. That seems to rule out an natural phenomenon. The star was clearly a supernatural. It was a spectacular sign from God that pointed the magi to the fact that a great King was born—that He was born in Bethlehem.

Now this in itself isn't unusual. Lots of people have been born in Bethlehem. But if you look at the context, you'll see that there is great significance in this fact. In chapter 1 Matthew traced the ancestry of Jesus from Abraham through Judah and kings David and Solomon. Jesus' place in the genealogy was not only unique because it ended with him, but there were 14 generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to Christ. Matthew is clearly telling us that the star stopping over Bethlehem, the royal city, points us not only to the Old Testament promises that related to the family of the Messiah (Isaiah 11:1, Jeremiah 33:15) but to the geographical place when He was going to be born. (Micah 5:2) As Leon Morris says, (Matthew, p. 35)

"directs attention to the fact that it was the royal city, the place where the great David was born. This is part of the way Matthew indicates Jesus' messiahship."

There is a great lesson for us here. No other birth in history has been marked by a celestial sign like this. It is true that lots people have been born when Halley's comet is visible, lots of people have been born when a supernova appears—but none have had a star lead others to the place where they were born. None have had a star come to rest over the spot they dwelt. None have had wise men from afar follow such a star and come and honor the newborn as a king.

The star points us to the uniqueness, the glory and majesty of Jesus.

We should all recognize how unique Jesus is and hold Him in such high esteem. As the apostle John wrote in John 1:14

"The Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory,
the glory of the One and Only,
who came from the Father,
full of grace and truth."

The star pointed to Jesus' mission. As John wrote earlier in that chapter, (John 1:4–5)

"In him was life,
and that life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness,
but the darkness has not understood it."

People, recognize who Jesus is! He is the light of the world—our Savior, the Son of God. How you should esteem Jesus and honor Him. As John Calvin wrote,

"As the sight of the star had such an effect upon the magi, woe to our sluggish ways, when we seek Christ so half-heartedly, after He has been revealed as King."

The second thing we see here that marks the birth of Jesus as being royal, showing the divine majesty and glory of Jesus is the fact that

magi came to honor the great King. They came bearing gifts, they came to worship Him.

The word 'magi' is an interesting one. It's used in the New Testament and other ancient writings (the LXX, Josephus, Philo) in both good and bad senses. It's used in a bad sense in Acts 13 when Luke tells how Paul and Barnabas arrived in Cyprus. The proconsul sent for them because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (magi) was there and opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to Elymas, (Acts 13:10–11)

"You are a child of the devil
and an enemy of everything that is right!
You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery.
Will you never stop perverting
the right ways of the Lord?
Now the hand of the Lord is against you.
You are going to be blind,
and for a time you will be
unable to see the light of the sun."

But in our text it's used in a good sense. These magi recognized Jesus, brought Him gifts and worshiped Him. The word 'magi', originally referred to, (R. T. France, Matthew NICNT, p. 66)

"the title of a Persian priestly caste who played an important role in advising the king, was applied more widely to learned men and priests who specialized in astrology and the interpretation of dreams, and in some cases magical arts."

They were foreigners who were skilled in wisdom. God miraculously revealed to them the true wisdom from heaven—that Jesus was the true King, the culmination of all their striving and searching. It's not wonder that the King James Bible and other translations referred to them as 'wise men'. They were showing us what true wisdom is. They came with gifts to honor the King, the came to worship Him.

Note that well—
they came to worship Jesus. They star pointed to Him. It led them to Him. The star was a mere sign. It was temporary, a mere instrument to lead them to Christ. They came, as men, to worship Him.

There are two important lessons for us here.

Two lessons here.

First, all our learning, all our wisdom, all our inquiry—should focus us on Christ, help us to serve and worship Him better.

The magi recognized Christ, brought gifts to Him, worshipped Him. The proper study of this earth, the universe, the stars—should lead us to Christ, to appreciate Him more, to worship Him better.

In his book, "Redeeming Science" Vern Poythress speaks of how in our age science needs to be redeemed because people have turned scientific law into an idol and because scientists seldom see their need of Christ in the sphere of science. He says that the redemption of science, (p. 173)

"takes place through Christ becoming our wisdom and ruler, and achieving what we fail to achieve because of sin… Science on earth becomes a process of coming to know Christ (Phil. 2:8-10) and participating more deeply in his wisdom."

It's such a tragedy today that some of the best and most esteemed scientists today are not encouraging belief in God like they should, they are not using their science to lead others in praise and glory to God like they should—but they are doing the opposite. They are encouraging people to close their eyes to the glory of God as revealed in creation. What a job sin has done on them. How different were the magi, who know the truth of Colossians 2:3, in Christ,

"are hidden all the treasures
of wisdom and knowledge."

The second lesson here is that our focus should not be on signs per se, but on Christ.

Some people have a lot of interest in signs. There are two things to beware of.

First, a lot of things aren't signs. Secondly, it's really easy to misread signs. Rather than go by signs, we need to focus on God's Word.

Let me give a couple of examples. I had a fellow minister tell me a story about how a guy decided to go to his church. This guy was driving down the road and his car suddenly quit in front of a church. He decided that was a sign from God that he should go to that church. Now, before I go any further, I just want to clarify my position on that.

"That's nuts."

That wasn't a sign. I mean, think about it. Do you mean to tell me that your car can only break down in front of good churches? What if your car breaks down in front of a church that denies the gospel? You're not to decide on what church to go to on the basis of where your car breaks down. That's not a sign from God. You're to use biblical criteria to decide what church to go to.

Another example. Some of you here know John and Tresa W. Many years ago they decided to attend the church I was pastor of in Lisbon because of an odd coincidence. They were looking for a church home and they were trying a different church each week. They would take turns picking what church to try. One week John picked my church in Lisbon to try. As he was getting ready for church that morning, he said to himself,

"I want to hear a sermon on the Valley of Dry Bones".

That morning I didn't preach on the Valley of Dry Bones, but I did have a reference to it. After church that morning he said to Tresa,

"I don't care what you pick next Sunday. I'm coming back here!"

I was glad to hear they were coming back to our church the next week—but is that really a good way to pick a church? No. My mentioning the Valley of Dry Bones was just a coincidence. Obviously it was in God's plan because God controls even coincidences, but He hasn't told us to make decisions on the basis of such things. Not everything like that is a sign.

But the other problem is that signs can be misread. I'm going by my memory here but I recall reading a book by Joni Eareckson, I think it was called, "A Step Further". In it she described a healing service that they held for her. If my memory is correct, it was held on a gloomy day, but as soon as the service was over and they were coming out of the church, the sky broke and the sun started breaking through and there was a rainbow in the sky. Now, I can't remember if anyone there thought that that was a sign that she was going to be healed. I know that some people could have understood it that way. But Joni wasn't healed and if anyone understood the rainbow and the clearing sky that way they were wrong.

The rainbow was a sign, but it related to God not destroying the earth with a flood. To apply it for any other purpose would most likely misread it.

So we need to be really careful with what we think are signs. We can read things into something that is not a sign. Even if something is a sign, it's easy to misread it. Signs might not even be from God. They could be from the devil. The devil has lots of power. If God gives him permission he can control coincidences. In Revelation 13 we read about the beast out of the earth. It says, (verses 13-14)

"And he performed
great and miraculous signs,
even causing fire to come down
from heaven to earth in full view of men.
Because of the signs he was
given power to do on behalf
of the first beast,
he deceived the inhabitants of the earth.
He ordered them to set up an image
in honor of the beast who was
wounded by the sword and yet lived."

Apparent signs really need to be interpreted by special revelation.

Signs really need special revelation to explain them. The wise men had it revealed to them that Jesus was the Divine King. The star itself pointed to that, but it didn't explain it itself. They had to go and ask where the King was going to be born. The scribes had to look in the Scriptures to find out the place. This is key. Isaiah 8:19–21 says,

"When men tell you to consult
mediums and spiritists,
who whisper and mutter,
should not a people inquire of their God?
Why consult the dead
on behalf of the living?
To the law and to the testimony!
If they do not speak according to this word,
they have no light of dawn."

And Hebrews 1:1–2 says,

"In the past God spoke
to our forefathers through
the prophets at many times
and in various ways,
but in these last days
he has spoken to us by his Son,
whom he appointed heir of all things,
and through whom he made the universe."

I believe that God does give people signs—but the point is that those signs should drive us to Christ, to His Word. That's what we are to apply to our lives.

For example, I recently saw part of a movie, I think it was called, "Rebirth". It chronicled the lives of five people that lost loved ones on 9/11. In one of them a teenager lost his mother in the World Trade Center. Days after the tragedy they had a memorial service for his mother. They showed part of a video of it. It looked like it was held in a synagogue. At the service, the teenager delivered a little speech in honor of his mother. As he was talking, the very first time he said the word 'mother', a little sparrow came and landed on his head at that very instant—and stayed there. He put his hand up and amazingly the sparrow left him pick it up off his head. He handed it to another man and as soon as he did the sparrow flew away. The boy said that he wasn't religious and that there was no way to explain that. But he said he felt that his mother was there.

Was that a sign or just a one in a billion coincidence? I believe in a way it was a sign. But it was one that would be very easy to misread. Was his mother present there? I wouldn't read that into it. Was it a sign that there is a God, that He wanted the young man to wake up and acknowledge Him? That would be a safer conclusion.

Most people that seek signs are looking in the wrong direction. Many of them have rejected what God has said, and even though they're paying lip service to seeking God's will, they're really like King Saul when he sought out the witch at Endor—they've really turned their back on God. A focus on signs misses the real point—signs are merely pointers to God, to His power, His authority, His rule over us and our duty to obey, worship and honor Him.

The third thing in our next that points to the divine glory and majesty of Jesus is the fact that

God had His birth announced in Herod's court.

Jesus' birth was announced to Mary, to Joseph, to the shepherds in the fields, to the magi in the east—and to Herod and his court.

Herod finding out about Jesus' birth was no accident. God called the magi from the east. They saw the Messiah's star and started toward Israel. But when they got there, there was so sign of the star. They didn't know where to find the new born King. So they went to the capital and made inquires there.

God could have easily prevented Herod from finding out about Jesus' birth. He could have prevented Herod killing all the baby boys in the vicinity of Jerusalem. I mean, after the magi left Herod, the star reappeared and led them right to Jesus. It stopped over the place where He was. God could have had that happen when they first arrived in Israel. But He didn't. He wanted them to go to Herod. He wanted Herod to know, He wanted Herod's court to know, He wanted the people of Jerusalem to know that the true King had been born.

Why? We don't know all of God's reasons but it is clear that God was putting Herod on notice. He was putting all the rulers of the world, all peoples of the world on notice—their Master had been born. Like the wise men, they need to acknowledge and honor Him.

If you don't believe in Jesus, you're also put on notice. You owe allegiance, honor and praise to Jesus Christ. If you're like Herod, who rejected him, who did everything he could to destroy Jesus—you, like Herod will perish.

How wonderful God is. In Jesus a much better King than Herod had come. One who came to save sinners, who gives them a way to turn from their sin and find salvation in Him. Go to Him. Find life in Him. Accept Him as your Lord and Savior.