Outsiders Come to Christ First

Title: Outsiders Come to Christ First

Text: Matthew 2:1-12

Time: December 5th, 2010

Christmas is a time of surprises, although for many people Christmas has become a time of predictability, even boredom. From a secular perspective the holiday season can become a monotonous time, very typical and very predictable. For a secular person who has been through many Christmas holiday seasons, it can become an empty ritual of visiting family, dinners, parties, decorations, gift giving and receiving, snow and cold, over eating and over indulging, and so forth. In fact, I know of some people who simply don’t like the Christmas season very much because of what it has become. Well, I think that’s a cynical view of things that I totally reject personally. But there are even Christians who fail to see anything new and interesting in the Christmas holiday season. They’ve heard all the sermons, sung all the holiday hymns, seen so many Christmas church programs that they are ready for it to be over nearly before it begins. But again, there’s no need to be that cynical about the season because there are new and interesting things to discover, even within the familiar Christmas account itself in the Bible. I once heard a pastor of a rather large Baptist church in another state once admit that he really doesn’t like preaching Christmas messages, or as he put it “seasonal messages.” I was shocked to hear this admission from a prominent pastor, so I questioned him on it. “You mean to say you’d rather not preach at Christmas time and Easter?” He said that’s correct. I thought to myself, how funny, I take just the opposite attitude – I love to teach and preach the Christmas and Easter themes because it seems that people are more attentive during the holidays than at other times of the year. And it isn’t true either that all of the messages about Christmas have been preached before, that there’s nothing new under the sun as far as Christmas themes in sermons. I’ve been preaching and teaching in Christian churches for over twenty years now and I’ve never preached the exact same Christmas message twice; I’ve always found something fresh in the Bible pertaining to the birth of Jesus, even though I’m working from the same basic two locations in the New Testament – from the first few chapters of the Book of Matthew and from the beginning chapters of the Book of Luke. For example, today, I’m teaching out of Matthew and on an angle and aspect that you’ve probably not noticed or even knew. The three wise men were foreigners coming into the land of the Jews, Israel, seeking the Messiah, while at the same time, the children of promise, the chosen people, the Israelites, were clueless as to the Messiah. It took foreigners coming from outside Israel to alert the Jews of their own Messiah! How ironic. As it turns out, foreigners were the first ones to officially greet Jesus, except for the lowly shepherds. So Christmas starts out as a time of surprises, things don’t unfold or happen as we’d think. It’s the same today as well. Christmas is a time of surprises today, in our lives and in the lives of others. There are family and friends who have no interest in or time for Christianity. Jesus is just another historical figure lost far back in times past for them. He plays no part in most people’s lives today. Most people have no time for God today, either in prayer or in reading God’s Word, the Bible, regularly. More and more most people today have no time for Sunday church either. But don’t give up on your lost family and friends. Christmas is a time of surprises. God can intervene and change hearts and minds during the Christmas season. It’s a great time of the year to expect the unexpected, to pray for your lost loved ones. It just may be God will surprise you this year with an unexpected breakthrough. Let’s look at some very surprising things that took place during the first Christmas. Matthew 2:1-12 (read).

First, Gentiles were the first to pursue the Jewish Messiah! Matthew 2:1-2, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the eat 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.’” It’s amazing that these three foreigners come into the land of the Jews asking the Jews about the Messiah. They figured that all they’d have to do was enter into Israel and inquire about the Messiah and surely they’d find all the information they’d need to visit him. I’m sure they figured that all of Israel would be informed and aware of the birth of their own Messiah King. Look at their mistaken assumption, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” They asked the question because they were certain that there would be no problem getting a straightforward answer. But to their disappointment nobody knew what they were talking about! Now what this shows is that God sometimes opens the eyes of outsiders and keeps the eyes of the insiders closed. What this teaches us is that it’s not always the insiders, the one’s closest to the event or activity that are always the ones in the know about things. God does from time to time use the outsiders, the strangers, the foreigners, to open the eyes of the insiders. Now why is that? Probably, because outsiders may have fresh eyes to see and open ears to hear. Who were these outsiders that came into Israel during that first Christmas? They were Gentile educated men probably from Persia, Northeast of Israel. They were not Jews, although they could have been Gentile proselytes, but it doesn’t say that in the Bible. If you remember Jewish history, the unified kingdom of the Jews under King David and Solomon became divided in the next generation. From that time on there were two Jewish states, the North, called Israel, and the South, called Judah. Because of unbelief and disobedience, the Jews in the North eventually were conquered and exiled to a foreign nation. The South remained longer, but they too were finally conquered by Babylon and exiled also, leaving the capital city Jerusalem and the land of the Jews under enemy rule. So the Jews of both the Northern and Southern Kingdom were scattered into exile. From there, many Jews drifted into different nations of the world until there were Jews scattered all over the place, in exile, which is sometimes called the Diaspora. The term, “wondering Jew” came into use from this time onward. So the Jews were all over the ancient world due to their exile from their own land by conquering powers. So the Magi could have been converts to Judaism, but probably not. They were probably Gentile believers in God, but not Jews, although they may have known Jewish beliefs and customs. The Old Testament Bible had been translated into Greek around 300 B.C. in Alexandria, Egypt, so many Gentile citizens of the ancient world had access to the Jewish scriptures. But the fact is, God called Gentiles to pursue the Jewish Messiah, and it was these Gentile Magi that came into Israel knowing more than the Jews about the Messiah. God will use the people in our lives who aren’t Christians, who aren’t church-goers, who aren’t even believers yet to sometimes come at our Christian faith from a fresh perspective. Don’t automatically dismiss people who obviously aren’t Christians. Listen to their insights and observations about God, the Bible, spiritual reality, and so forth. God may just be wanting to bring a fresh new insight into the life of his people, Christians. God has a plan for people who aren’t Christians yet, who haven’t converted and given themselves to full commitment to Christ. God has a plan for them, do you? Do you have the patience and love to bear with unbelievers until they come around to believe? Aren’t you glad somebody put up with you until you surrendered your life to Christ? Let’s not cut ourselves off from non-Christians, instead, let’s listen to them and learn what questions and issues they are asking, and then witness as best we can to them about our faith.

Second, the Jewish believers were in the dark about their own Messiah! Matthew 2:3-8, “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 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: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rules of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be shepherd of my people Israel.” Then Herod called the magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’” Again, the irony, here are Gentiles coming into Jewish territory, into the capital city of the Jews – and they know more about the Jewish Messiah than the Jews themselves! King Herod was supposedly the Jewish king, but he wasn’t much of a Jew nor king. So he called together the expert Jewish scribes and priests and teachers to ask them where the Messiah was to be born. Obviously, they hadn’t predicted the Messiah’s birth nearby or soon or else they’d have already been talking about it. So the wise men, the Magi, caught the professional Jewish scribes flat-footed on this also. But once the question was put to them, the Jewish experts knew theoretically where the child would be born, but they didn’t have a clue when the child would be born. Now this is a perfect example of missing the forest because of the trees. You’ve all heard that illustration. Another example would be loosing your glasses on your forehead. It’s so obvious you miss it! We can do that too as Christians. We can get so used to the Christian faith, so used to the biblical teachings and the biblical accounts that we grow too familiar with them. Sometimes it takes an outsider to point us to the obvious. That’s why it’s important for a church in order to be healthy to have a steady stream of new converts. It’s not just for the benefit of the new Christians, their salvation and their new relationship with God, but it also benefits the older, more mature Christians too. They need the freshness and newness of the new Christians. They are seeing things for the first time, with new eyes, and bring a fresh perspective to the Bible and the Christian faith and the church. Of course, there is a lot of immaturity, a lot of learning and growing that needs to happen in the life of a baby Christian, but they can actually help the more mature Christians appreciate the Christian faith and not get so complacent. I hope you aren’t bored or get tired of Christmas, because if you do it just shows that you are taking these things for granted. You need to hang around a new convert to learn to appreciate just what you’ve got in Christian blessings. The Magi brought an important perspective to the Jews and they needed to be heard. So also, we as Christians and we as a church need the fresh perspective of new converts and new members and new Christians here too. We need to reach them not only for their own soul’s sake but for our sake as well. We need to learn to appreciate the blessings of God in a new and fresh way. Are you needing personal spiritual revival in your life? Do you seem to be a little or a lot dull spiritually? If so, you need to break out of your complacent shell and get a fresh perspective. Pray that God sends somebody into your life who can revive you with their new perspective. The Jews had the Magi, who do you have?

Third, the Gentile Magi pressed on in their pursuit of the Messiah. Matthew 2:9-12, “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 worshipped 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.” Even after the Jews learned of the information about the Messiah it still didn’t seem to motivate any of them to purse the child themselves. Maybe they were so hard-hearted that they didn’t even believe it. Maybe they thought these Gentiles from the East were crazy – or as they say in Spanish, loco. Maybe they were a little arrogant and thought, “If they real Messiah were born, surely we would have known about it before these Gentiles.” But whatever happened, the Jews stayed put in Jerusalem, and the Gentiles continued on, pressed on, in search of the Messiah. For some strange reason, God had motivated these foreigners to pursue the Jewish Messiah with more zeal than he motivated his own people. But when you think about it, that’s exactly what has happened down through the centuries since Jesus. The Jews have by and large rejected their own Messiah, and the Gentiles have by and large accepted Jesus as the Messiah. So the Jews rejected their own, and the Gentiles or non-Jews accepted the One who was not their own. Consequently, salvation has come to the believing Gentiles but not to the unbelieving Jews. Today as Christians we have to be careful that we don’t fall into the category of the Jews of old who were so familiar with their faith that they failed to appreciate it or recognize the work of God in their very midst. The Jews of old were so used to the Bible that they failed to see its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. What are we today missing as Christians because we are over-familiar with the Bible and Christianity? Do we take prayer for granted? Probably, or else we’d pray more and more regularly. Do we take the Bible for granted? No doubt, or else we’d read it more carefully or more regularly. It used to be that people would do anything to buy and read a Bible, because they were so hard to come by. Now today, people have many Bibles sitting on their shelf, but fail to read any Bible at all – instead watch hours and hours of television every day and night. What does that say about where our heart is? Sometimes it takes an outsider to shame us into a proper perspective. These non-Jewish Magi were bowing before the Messiah-King Jesus, while the Jews were busy attending to other things. That shows how much they had lost the true faith perspective. What are you missing? What am I missing because we have lost appreciation for Christ today? Christmas is a good time, a great time to renew our faith, to return to real Christian living, instead of just going through the motions. Are there areas of your faith walk with God that you need to renew? How about prayer? Have you fallen away in that area? Maybe you’ve never known what true prayer is all about? Isn’t it time to learn or relearn? Or how about the Bible? Have you fallen away from reading it carefully, regularly? It just might take an excited new Christian convert to shame you into spiritual renewal. God may be placing people, maybe even non-believers, in your path this Christmas season to get you back on path with God. Don’t turn away or reject what God might be doing in your life. Come back to the faith, draw closer to God this Christmas. Return to full faith and obedience to God. Don’t make any excuses. Let’s pray.

Advertisements

%d bloggers like this: