Sunday, December 3, 2006

1st Sunday - Advent - HOPE

WELCOME

We welcome you to the House of Faith Ministries, if you are visiting.

We are temporarily stopping our current sermon series entitled, “Our Constitution & Bylaws”, so that we may have an Advent Sermon Series for the month of December in preparation for our Christmas Eve Service.

The first Sunday in Advent focuses on HOPE. This is where we are going to begin our series with the sermon I entitled THE HOPE OF THE WISE MEN.

SCRIPTURE READING

Matthew 2:1-12: The Visit of the Magi

1 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."

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 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. 5 "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:
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."

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 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."

9 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. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.


PRAYER FOR THE HOLY SPIRIT AND UNDERSTANDING

The Magi followed the directions of God’s Word to Jesus and submitted to Him as their King. We should follow in their footsteps!

GOD IS THE SOURCE OF HOPE

The Magi were looking forward to the coming of the King of the Jews because God told them He was coming!

JESUS IS THE FULFILLMENT OF HOPE
When the Magi found the King, they found Jesus!

WE GAIN HOPE WHEN WE CHOOSE TO FOLLOW JESUS


INTRODUCTION

Christmas has always been known as the season of hope.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas if you could measure hope with some kind of instrument like a barometer you would find the atmosphere full of hope.

“I hope I get a Play Station III for Christmas.”
“I hope I get an Elmo TMX.”
“I hope I get a Lexus LS 430.”

This kind of hope is a wish for something good that is sometimes fulfilled but often not. While we may be disappointed if we don’t get what we hope for the consequences are usually not devastating.

New Years is also a season of hope, but this kind of hope is usually less trivial.

“I hope I get to keep my job this year.”
“I hope I beat my cancer this year.”
“I hope to quit smoking this year.”

Hope.

Even the sound of that word can lift your spirits when you’re down. Hope keeps you going when life seems to be going nowhere, or going in the wrong direction.

Hope gives you something to cling to when you’ve lost your job, or your health, or someone you love.

Hope is a spark inside your soul that tells you that tomorrow things will be better.

Hope is like having an anchor in the future.

But the problem with hope is that it is always based upon uncertainty.

For example, we may say “I hope it will not rain tomorrow.”

That kind of hope is a wish, not a certainty. We can hope all we like for something, and all the indications may be that it will come true, but life is unpredictable and things can change at the last moment to dash all our hopes.

In the Bible, however, there is a unique kind of hope that is never a wish.

It is always based upon an absolute certainty. You can hope for these things with the utter confidence that they will happen.

It’s the kind of hope that the Wise Men of the Nativity Story had. The hope of the Wise Men was based upon what God had promised. And, since God always fulfills His promises, we can look forward with absolute hope.

But what were the Wise Men hoping to find when they traveled all the way to Bethlehem in that first Christmas season? They were hoping to find the King who would bring an end to war and suffering and injustice.

They were hoping to find the King who would bring everlasting love and joy and peace to this world.

But how did they know He was coming? And what did a star have to do with their search? And what has all of this to do with us?

It has to do with us because hope is one of the strongest motivators in the human soul.

Even hope built on the slightest possibility of something good can keep you going. But the best kind of hope is hope that is anchored to a certainty. That’s what Biblical hope is all about! The Bible talks a lot about hope in order to encourage us when life goes wrong.

This kind of hope is always tied to Jesus. If we believe in Him we have the hope (certainty) of eternal life.

If we follow him, we have the hope (certainty) of His guidance, protection, provision and care every day of our lives.

Jesus is the anchor that links us to the promises of God that lie in the future for God’s people.

This lesson was illustrated for us by the Wise Men, or Magi, who visited Jesus when he was a child.

The Magi arrived in Jerusalem after a long, expensive and difficult journey. What brought them to Jerusalem was not a wish but a certainty.

They were certain that the king of the Jews had been born and they had come to worship him.

The Wise Men teach us that . . .

· God is the source of hope
· Jesus is the fulfillment of hope
· We gain hope when we follow Jesus


GOD IS THE SOURCE OF HOPE
THE MAGI WERE LOOKING FORWARD TO THE COMING OF
THE KING OF THE JEWS BECAUSE GOD TOLD THEM HE WAS COMING!


Matthew 2:1 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.”

The Magi Were God-Fearing Gentiles Who Were Looking Forward To The Coming Of The Jewish Messiah!

Much of what has been written about the Magi is based upon speculation or traditions that may have no basis in fact. For example, they were not kings but were rather advisors to kings.

Here are some things we need to know about the Magi.

The Magi were from either Persia or Babylon. The word Magi comes from the Greek word magoi which is in turn a Persian word for a select set of priests. These priests functioned as the religious, civil, and political counsel to the kings of Media and Persia.

In time their power grew to the extent that they became the “king-makers” whose duties included the election of the king of the realm. Their education included a mix of astronomy, astrology, science, and religion.

They studied the stars and the influence of the stars on the lives and destinies of people and nations. They were interpreters of dreams – as Daniel and his friends in the book of Daniel joined a group of wise men there.
They learned of God primarily through the prophet Daniel. As a young man Daniel had been taken to Babylon as a prisoner of war but, because of his faith in God, he had risen to become an advisor first to the king of Babylon.

He later continued in this role as advisor to the king of Persia after the Persians conquered Babylon.

Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were probably called Magi, and one of the titles given to Daniel would be Rab-mag, meaning the Chief of the Magi.

Some commentators say that the Magi were astrologers and that God therefore used astrology to at least start them on their journey. But that is probably not the truth.

Given their obedience to God, Daniel and his fellow Israelites would not have been involved in astrology.

Their wisdom came from God Himself. They had such a powerful influence on the Persian culture that centuries later these wise man believed in the God of Israel and were waiting for the coming of the Jewish King.

How did they know that there was a King of the Jews coming? Daniel told them! Well, actually, God told them through Daniel.

The Magi Were Looking Forward To The Coming Of The King Of The Jews Because God Told The World He Was Coming!

Speaking through the prophet Daniel God told the world that His King (Messiah means anointed one) was coming.

There is only one passage, and only one, in the whole of the Bible that foretells the time of the Messiah’s (first) coming.

The passage is Daniel 9:24-26.

Daniel 9:24-26

24 "Seventy 'sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy.

25 "Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven 'sevens,' and sixty-two 'sevens.' It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. 26 After the sixty-two 'sevens,' the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.”


The angel Gabriel (the same angel who visited Mary) told Daniel that the King would come 483 years after a decree was issued to rebuild Jerusalem.

Given Daniel’s position as the chief advisor in the Persian court it seems likely that he told the rest of the advisory council about this prophecy.

No doubt (the Magi) had studied the Septuagint – the Greek translation of the Old Testament – and through this they came into contact with the messianic hope.

The Coming Messiah, Jesus who would be the Christ.

The Persian king Artaxerxes Longimanus was the one who issued the decree to rebuild Jerusalem on the date we now call March 5, 444 B.C. By calculating the years that had passed since the issuing of the decree the Magi were able to estimate that the coming of the Anointed One was drawing near.

It is significant that while the Magi had done the math and were looking for the coming of the King, the Jewish religious leaders had not done so and were oblivious to the fact that the King of the Jews had been born in obscurity just a few miles away.

Since the Magi were looking forward to the coming of the King, God sent them a supernatural signal that confirmed the arrival of Jesus: a unique star.

(By the way, Daniel’s prophecy came true to the day! As Gabriel had prophesied, 483 years after the decree was issued, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and allowed the crowds to acclaim Him as the Anointed one!)

God Used A Supernatural Star To Start The Magi On Their Journey

Regardless of whether God used an existing astronomical phenomenon or created one for the occasion, its function on behalf of the Magi was supernatural in that it announced the birth of the King.

We are not sure how they put the star together with the birth of Jesus. Perhaps in the readings of the Greek Old Testament they came to the prophecy of Balaam and to that cryptic reference in Numbers 24:17: “I shall see him, but not now; I shall behold him, but not nigh; there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel.”

Contrary to the way it is usually portrayed, the star did not lead them by moving ahead of them across the sky.

I do not believe they followed the star on the journey – that is not what the text says.

The star appeared in the east and then disappeared. It reappeared later when they were searching exactly where to find Jesus.

However He did it, God used the star to signal to the Magi that the King had been born. The hope of the Magi was strong enough to compel them to undertake a costly and difficult journey to find Him. Their journey may have covered 1,000 miles and taken four to five months.

The Magi Came to Jerusalem Because It Was The Jewish Capital

It was not necessary for the star to lead the Magi to Jerusalem. Since they were looking for the king of the Jews they naturally came to the Jewish capital city.

In order to emphasize that Jesus was born of the royal line of David, Matthew points out that He was born in David’s hometown of Bethlehem in Judea, which was just a few miles from Jerusalem.

When they arrived, the Magi upset the whole city. Given their status, the Magi probably traveled with an escort of cavalry and a large entourage.

While they may have used camels to carry their luggage, the Magi probably rode on horses. Their arrival must have created quite a stir.

But it was their question that disturbed the city.

Herod (And All Jerusalem) Was Disturbed By The Magi’s Quest

Mt 2:3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 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. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

Mt 2:6 “ ‘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.’’”

Herod the Great had not been born king of the Jews and was not even a Jew.

He had been appointed king by the Roman Senate in 40 B.C. He was a cruel and dangerous man who killed everyone around him who threatened his position as king.

Among those he had killed were:

· Three of his own sons
· His favorite wife, Mariamne
· His mother-in-law
· His brother-in-law
· His uncle
· Three hundred court officers who protected the execution of two of his sons.

Herod was disturbed at the Magi’s question because he did not want any rival for the throne.

All of Israel was disturbed because when Herod was disturbed he disturbed everyone around him!

They knew that there was going to be trouble.

Herod Consulted With All The Jewish Scholars
The religious scholars knew the prophecy that told where the King would be born. It was recorded in the writings of the prophet Micah seven centuries earlier.

Mic 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are of old,
from ancient times.

It is amazing that even after the religious leaders told Herod of the prophecy none of them bothered to accompany the Magi to find the child.

It was only a journey of four to five miles. This reveals their spiritual deadness in contrast to that of the Magi.

Herod Investigated The Time Of The Star’s Appearing In Order To Estimate How Old The Child Was

Mt 2:7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 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.”

Herod found out the exact time the star appeared in order to estimate the age of the child. He then sent the Magi to Bethlehem to search for the child, lying to them that he also wanted to come and worship him.

God Is The Source Of Hope

God was the source of the hope of the Magi. He guided them by His Word and by His star.

While the star was unique to the Magi, God’s Word is available to guide every one of us.

The Bible was written by God to guide us into a relationship with Him and to guide us as we live in relationship with Him.

Just as the Magi studied God’s Word so we too gain great benefit by personally immersing ourselves in the pages of the Bible.

One thing that the Bible clearly declares is that Jesus is the fulfillment of the hope of all people.

He forgives our sins and grants eternal life to all who believe in Him.

JESUS IS THE FULFILLMENT OF HOPE WHEN THE MAGI FOUND THE KING, THEY SAW JESUS!

Mt 2:9 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. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

The Star Guided The Magi To Jesus’ House!

The Magi did not find Jesus until some months after he was born and found him in a house not the stable.

A clue to this fact is that Herod asked the Wise Men when they had first seen the star and then sent his soldiers to kill every Jewish boy under the age of two years. This doesn’t mean that Jesus was two years old but that Herod allowed enough room for error to be certain that he killed this challenger to his throne.

The Magi Worshipped The Child With Gifts That Foreshadowed The Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus

The Magi bowed down and worshipped the child! They had not come just to satisfy their curiosity but to worship Him as they would worship God.

They then presented their gifts as an act of worship of the child (the Greek word for presented indicates an offering made to God). The fact that they gave three gifts does not mean that there were only three wise men. There could have been just two or many more than three.

The three gifts the Magi brought foreshadowed the person and ministry of Jesus.

Gold for His royalty. In the Scriptures gold was a symbol for royalty and also signified the glory and deity of God. It was an appropriate gift to give to God the Son.

Frankincense for His deity. This was a sweet incense that was used in connection with some of the offerings in the Temple, it’s aroma rising to God as a prayer.

Myrrh for his humanity. Myrrh was an embalming ointment which would be wrapped in the garments of the deceased. It signified the fact that Jesus was born to die.

Furthermore, these gifts also had a practical value, for they provided for the family during the time when they had to flee to Egypt.

The Magi Did Not Go Back To Herod
Mt 2:12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

In the past, God guided people through many different means. He had used His Word and a star to guide the Magi. Now He used a dream to send them back home by a route that bypassed Herod.

We have learned from the Magi that . . .
· God is the source of hope
· Jesus is the fulfillment of hope


WE GAIN HOPE WHEN WE CHOOSE TO FOLLOW JESUS

What are you hoping for this Christmas?

Did you know that God has hopes for you this Christmas? And that no matter how extravagant your hope may be, what God hopes for you is far, far, far more valuable!

Here are some of the things God hopes for you:

God hopes you will believe in his Son Jesus so that He can give you everlasting life.

God hopes you will let him safely guide you each step of your journey through the coming years.

God hopes you will believe in Jesus’ second coming.

The Wise Men found Jesus. You can find Him and receive the gift of eternal life today!

The ultimate hope of every human being is that there is life after death. Listen to Jesus’ very own words:

Jn 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Jesus was born to die - and when He died on the cross it was to take the punishment for our sin.

He rose from the dead to offer all who believe in Him resurrection life. Jesus has already entered into heaven to open the way for us.

Hebrews 6:19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.

The sanctuary behind the curtain is the place where God lives. When we believe in Jesus our souls have Him as our anchor in heaven.

The Wise Men Were Led By God - And He will guide you every day of your life!

As we follow Him, God the Spirit guides us in living lives that are fruitful, joyful and eternally meaningful.

The Wise Men found Jesus at His first coming. When He comes again will He find you watching for His coming?

The hope (certainty) of eternal life should motivate those who believe in Jesus to live morally pure lives. We do this not to earn a place in heaven but to live like citizens of heaven while we are still on earth.

The blessed hope is that day when Jesus returns to bring an end to all suffering and death. Jesus came the first time, just as the Scriptures said He would. That’s why we know that Jesus will come again!

The Wise Men worshipped Jesus with their gifts. We have been given gifts with which to worship Him.

The Magi demonstrated their faith in Jesus by bringing Him gifts. We have gifts to give Him as well.

The first gift He wants is the gift of ourselves. Paul tells us to offer our bodies to Him as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1).

We have financial gifts, which we give to Jesus every time we give to someone who is in need.

We have spiritual gifts to offer, which we give to Jesus by serving one another (Romans 12:3-8).

CONCLUSION

The Magi followed the directions of God’s Word to Jesus and submitted to Him as their King. Let us follow in the footsteps of the Wise Men and worship and serve our king!

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