Bethel Baptist Church
Worship Service @ Home
2 January 2021
This service is available as a text transcript (below), or as an audio podcast: see the Podcasts page.
Try answering the questions in the title before reading through this service. Did you enjoy Christmas when you were a child (assuming that you are now grown up)? Do you enjoy Christmas now? What was most special about Christmas for you when you were younger? And what is most special about Christmas now?
Please read Matthew 2:1-12, “The visit of the Magi”.
Two of our four Gospels record the birth of Jesus. Curiously, Matthew gives an account of the visit of the wise men, the Magi; whilst Luke gives an account of the visit of the shepherds. Many nativity scenes show the shepherds and the wise men together around the manger. Matthew only mentions the birth in passing:
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.Matthew 1:18
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.Matthew 1:24-25
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 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.”Matthew 2:1-2
It is my guess that if the Magi saw the star in the east and travelled a great distance to Judea, calling first at Jerusalem and seeking an audience with Herod, before completing the journey to Bethlehem, then they would have arrived days or weeks after Jesus was born, and long after the shepherds had departed.
What is more interesting is how God called the Magi. They seem unlikely candidates to be disciples. They were foreigners, not Jews; and they studied the stars not the scriptures. A marginal note in my Bible describes the Magi as “A caste of wise men specialising in astronomy, astrology, and natural science”. Yet God chose to speak to them and to inspire them to go to Judea. Yet the truth is, we are all unlikely candidates. There is no virtue in us, that God should choose us. Some of us think we’re OK, really not bad, which is an arrogant and dangerous attitude; whilst others of us are painfully aware of our faults and wonder however God might be pleased with us. Let us thank God that He chooses whoever He wills. Neither the rough, simple life of a shepherd, nor the sophisticated life of somebody studying the stars, is enough to block God from calling us.
The Magi desperately wanted to locate the child that had been born. The chief priests and the scribes knew the scriptures and were able to say that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem:
When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:Matthew 2:4-6
“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.”
Yet Matthew gives no record that they wanted to see the Messiah. Indeed, verse 3 suggests a general attitude of concern in Jerusalem:
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.Matthew 2:3
The chief priests and the scribes knew the prophecies, but it seems that they did not want to see the prophecies fulfilled, they were afraid that it would make life awkward. That is a warning to us: we know that Jesus said He would come again; the scriptures tell us that He is coming again, and this present age will come to a conclusion. Do we believe it? Or are we like the chief priests and the scribes who may have said of the prophecy, “Not in my lifetime, please”.
The people of Jerusalem were troubled (Matthew 2:3). The Magi rejoiced with great joy.
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 worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.Matthew 3:10-11
They worshiped (Matthew 2:11), and they gave lavish gifts ( Matthew 2: 11). Who are you more like: the religious leaders who studied the scriptures but wanted this life to continue as it is; or the mysterious Magi who were open to accepting an incredible revelation, and to rejoice, and worship, and to present their gifts?
What do you make of Christmas? What do you make of Christ? When I was a child, it was the presents that were most exciting. When I was invited to a Bible class and responded to God’s call of salvation at a Bible camp, I remember finding that the concept of going to church on Christmas Day was not too attractive. Christmas Day was the most exciting day of the year, whilst going to church was something we could do any Sunday. What do you make of Christmas – is it the presents? The food? Catching up with family and friends? A break from work? Or is it a time to worship and celebrate God’s gift of salvation?
Jesus, thank you for giving up Your place in glory for a while, to come to this earth and show Your love to us – living a life of poverty, teaching us and working many miracles, whilst suffering misunderstanding and persecution; and eventually facing those false charges and awful crucifixion – all for our sakes.
Lord, help us to be excited about Christmas as the Magi were, and excited about the Gospel. Let us convey that excitement to the people around us.
Lord, we commit to You the coming year. We are Your humble servants, direct us in Your paths. Please build Your church for the sake of Your glory.