Sermon 2325. The Far-off, Near-the Near, Far Off
INTENDED FOR READING ON LORD'S-DAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 1893.
DELIVERED BY C. H. SPURGEON,
AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON, ON LORD'S-DAY EVENING, AUGUST 11, 1889.
"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, behold, there came wise men from the East toJerusalem, saying, Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East, and have come toworship Him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gatheredall the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born." Matthew 2:1-4.
I AM not going to expound the whole passage that I have read as a text, but I desire to help you to gather some lessons fromthis familiar narrative.
"When Jesus was born." A stir begins as soon as Christ is born. He has not spoken a word. He has not worked a miracle. Hehas not proclaimed a single doctrine, but, "when Jesus was born," at the very first, while as yet you hear nothing but infantcries and can see nothing but infant weakness, still His influence upon the world is manifest. "When Jesus was born, therecame wise men from the East," and so on. There is Infinite Power even in an Infant Savior! When Jesus is born in the heartand there are only the feeblest impulses towards righteousness and repentance with regard to sin, He makes a stir in our wholenature. The most distant faculty feels that something wonderful has happened. When Christ is formed in us, the hope of Glory,a sacred revolution commences within us! When Christ is born in a village, a town, a city-the first sinner converted, thefirst open-air sermon preached-the first giving away of sacred literature makes a stir! It is wonderful how soon it beginsto manifest itself. Somebody or other is affected by the fact that Christ has come! He cannot be hid! The first match struckmakes a great blaze. Jesus of Nazareth is so potent a factor in the world of mind that, no sooner is He there in His utmostweakness, a new-born King, than He begins to reign!
Before He mounts the Throne, friends bring Him presents and His enemies plan His death. Oh, that the Lord Jesus might be here,tonight, if it is but as new born, in some few hearts! There will be a result from Christ's coming, even though I preach Himvery feebly-though you may say that I can only bring to you an Infant Christ-though my power of speech may fail me and I maybut set Him forth in His littleness rather than in His greatness. When Christ is born, when Christ is only feebly preached,when Christ is but stammered out, a great result comes of it and His name is made glorious! [AMEN!]
There were two results from Christ's coming, as there always will be, for this Child is not only a Savior to some, but alsoa stumbling block to others. His Gospel is either, "a savor of life unto life," or else, "a savor of death unto death." Iwant you, first, to notice the note of exclamation that we have in the first verse. "When Jesus was born, behold.''" Ecce!Behold! There is something to look at, something good that is worth gazing upon. Behold it! Here are far-off persons who comevery near. Wise men from the East come and worship the Infant Christ! But there is something to which there is no "behold"put, yet it is sorrowfully worth considering. Here are near ones who are far-off-Herod, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, thechief priests and the scribes. They are as far from Christ as if He had been born in the distant East, while they who livedin the far country came as near to Him as if they, themselves, had dwelt at Bethlehem! So I have these two things to talkabout, tonight-first, the extraordinary fact that many far-off ones are brought near, and the sad but almost equally extraordinaryfact that many who are apparently very near never really come near to Jesus.
I. To begin, then, at the beginning. THERE ARE FAR-OFF ONES BROUGHT NEAR. God saves whom He wills to save. His Grace is mostsovereign. You cannot see, as I do, so many persons brought to Christ without often wondering why they were brought. I haveoften seen the last first and the first last-people of whose conversion I would hardly have dreamed become converted, whileother persons, for whom I have hoped and over whom I have prayed, remain unconverted! It is very delightful, as well as veryamazing, to notice the strange way in which the Grace of God singles out men, and the marvelous measures which the God ofGrace uses to bring these men to the feet of Jesus.
Well now, first, these people were wise men, magi, students of astronomy, learned in the lore of the ancients. Their philosophywas not a very true one-it was about as true as modern philosophy-which is not saying much. They believed very absurd things,these magi, almost as absurd as the scientists of the present day, perhaps not quite as ridiculous, for science has grownin absurdity, especially of late-but these men were professors of the philosophy of the period. They were the wise men. Ifthey came from Media, they were probably fire-worshippers, or worshippers of the elements of nature. Theirs was a refinedform of idolatry which is not to be excused, but still, if there can be any choice where all is bad, it is perhaps a littlebetter than some others. They were very great students so far as their light went- they sought after knowledge and wisdom.
Well now, truth to tell, it is not many of this sort of people who come to Christ! His Doctrine is too simple for them. Helays the axe too near the root of the tree. His teaching is too plain. They are so wise that His wisdom baffles them! Theyknow so much, as they think, yet His better and higher knowledge overshadows theirs and they cannot stand it and will notyield to Him. "Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called." But here the Infinite Sovereigntyof God calls these wise men first! No, I must not say first, for the shepherds came first-but next to the shepherds, the Lordcalls these wise men from the distant East. It has been truly remarked that the shepherds did not miss their way-they cameto Christ at once, while the wise men, even with a star to guide them, yet missed their way and went to Jerusalem insteadof to Bethlehem-and enquired at the palace of Herod instead of at the stable where the Christ was born. However, they didcome to Christ, even if they did come in a roundabout way and make a blunder or two!
Here was the wonder, that they did come, and if I address myself, tonight, as I would do most respectfully, to any here whoexcel in human wisdom, how I wish they would join Divinity to their humanities! And if they know much, yet I long that withall their knowledge they would know Christ-and with all their getting that they would get understanding, for the science ofChrist Crucified is the most excellent of all the sciences! It is the central one round which every true science will revolvein its proper place. And happy is the man whose solar system of knowledge has Christ in the very center of it. Still, if itis so, I shall not cease to wonder and bless God that He has, again, brought wise men, like Saul of Tarsus, and like thesewise men from the East, to worship this new-born Savior!
Notice, also, that these men were not only wise men, which is one cause of our wonder that they sought Christ, but they livedfar away in the East. We do not know the distance they had traveled, but it does not matter-it was a long way and probablya very difficult journey-in those days, at any rate. It did not seem likely, when this Child was born at Bethlehem, that worshippersshould come outside of Judea, or that they should come from distant regions unknown to the Jews, themselves, yet God, in Hismercy, called these men from the farthest East. Oh, that His love would light on some, tonight, who are strangers and foreigners,aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, perhaps without God and without hope in the world! May His Grace call such! What amass of people we are, and what odd people there must be here, whom none of us could describe!
After this morning's sermon, [Sermon #2099, Volume 35-Concerning the Consolations of God.] somebody told me that, had I knownthe story of one of my hearers, I would not have dared to describe him as correctly as I did. Happily I did not know thathearer-I am glad that I did not-my message should come all the more distinctly as a voice from God to him because it did soaccurately describe him! But I will breathe this prayer, that somebody here, who is a stranger, even, to the very form ofreligion, someone who has never been in this house before, or in any other place of Christian worship, may be called by themighty voice of God, attracted by the irresistible charms of Christ and may come and believe in the Incarnate God who tookour flesh at Bethlehem, that He might bear our sin and bear us up to the Throne of God with Himself! Here was the double wonder,then, about the magi coming to Christ-they were unlikely men from an unlikely place. As we think of them, we are constrainedto say, as we have often sung-
"How sweet and awful is the place, With Christ within the doors, While everlasting love displays The choicest of her stores.
Pity the nations, O our God! Constrain the earth to come! Send Your victorious Word abroad, And bring the strangers home."
And they were singularly guided, were they not? They were watching the midnight skies and they spied a strange star. Accordingto astronomers, there was probably a conjunction of two planets about that date. When two planets were in conjunction in 1640,or about that date, it was said that such a conjunction must have taken place at about the time when Christ was born and thatthe wise men may have thought it was a new star. I do not, however, think that that can have been the case. It was probablynot simply a star, but a marked appearance which moved through the heavens. Well now, it was a strange thing that they shouldsee this star and more strange, still, that seeing it, they should put this and that together, and by their astrology, for,perhaps, it was nothing better, infer that some wondrous personage was born away there in Judea and they must needs go forthto find Him. They may have heard of the famous prophecy of Balaam; there might have been traditions in their country thatthe Coming Man was to be born in Judea. All that may have been, I do not know, but this I know-God miraculously sent thisstar. If men are not to be reached in any ordinary way, God's elect shall be brought to Him in an extraordinary way! If theyare given to the study of the stars, God will write in that illuminated book which they are accustomed to read and they shallthere see a new letter and learn something fresh concerning His will!
I have known the Lord meet with men in the midst of evil, in the very act of sin. We have known men struck down by the mostamazing accidents and the most extraordinary chain of circumstances, men whom it seemed impossible to reach. Beloved, no manis beyond the reach of God! He has ways and means of enlightening the understanding, awakening the conscience and renewingthe heart, of which we know but little. "Remember that Omnipotence has servants every-where"-in the Heaven above and in theearth beneath-and in the waters under the earth! He has means of getting at the hearts of men and He will do it. If it cannotbe done anyway else, He will make new stars. I was about to say, He will make new heavens and a new earth, but He will callHis own. When Christ is born, the wise men from the East must come, and a star shall be sent to guide them. Perhaps, by someremarkable circumstances, you, my Friend, are here tonight. It was very unlikely that you should be here, but you have comeinto the Tabernacle that the Grace of God may arrest you, that the hand of Eternal Love may be laid upon your shoulder andthat you may be taken prisoner for Christ, henceforth to be His servant and His, alone!
It is worth noticing, again, that these men earnestly enquired. Having once seen the star, they hurried off, no matter howlong the journey, to find the new-born King, and they asked everybody to tell them the way to Him. They even went to the courtof Herod to ask the way to find Christ! A man must have a deal of curiosity when he puts his head between the jaws of sucha lion as Herod in order to find what he wants to know! I wish that God would stir up that kind of curiosity and enquiry inmany men's minds. The general way, now, is to put off the Truth of God with a huff, to suppose that it is not worth lookinginto. But the claims of the eternal Son of God, the claims of His Grace and of His Throne ought not to be treated so. MayGod give back to the people a spirit of enquiry into the things of God, so that they may not be as indifferent as the massesof our fellow citizens now are! May they begin to question and say, "Which is the way to Heaven? Who is this Christ? Whatis the plan of salvation?" If it is so, we shall soon have cause enough for joy and we shall praise the Sovereign Grace ofGod!
Being enquirers, these men were singularly unprejudiced. They said, "Where is He that is born King of the Jews?" "Jews?" Whocared for Jews? Even in those days, Jews were the subject of contempt, for they had aforetime been carried captive into theEast. Although they are the very aristocracy of God, His chosen people, yet the nations looked down upon the Jews. Judah wasa little paltry territory, insignificant and small, and many asked with Sanballat, "What are these feeble Jews?" But hereare men from a great empire, like Persia or Media, asking about the King of the Jews! Surely there are still some candid menabout, some who will enquire after Christ, even though they have to ask of Methodists, and Baptists, and the like! Oh, thatmen could break through the foolish shell of prejudice to enquire if these things are, indeed, so! The time was when the veryword, "Evangelical," had a kind of contempt affixed to it. I am not sure that that time has quite yet passed. Yet, whateverothers may say or do, let none of us be swayed by prejudice or disdain, but let us search and see whether these things areso.
And note again, that these men, being candid enquirers, were wonderfully prompt-"When Jesus was born, there came wise menfrom the East." Well now, I think that it would naturally strike you that if a man were born a king, there would be time enoughto pay him homage when he grew up! To bring gold and frankincense, and myrrh, to a baby, does not always commend itself towise men! Let us see the child become a youth and the youth become a man-then we may take this long journey to find His RoyalHighness. But, no, when the King was born, the wise men came to Him! They must have started to find Him long before. I wouldthat the Lord might put into the hearts of men, today, something like this energy and promptness about Divine things! If Godwas really Incarnate. If He did come here in human form, oh, come, let us go and find Him! Let us bow at His shrine and worshipat His feet! Did He really die and die for guilty men? Did He, in their place, bear the penalty of their sin? Come, let usseek this "Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world," and let us seek Him before another sun has risen!
And then see, dear Friends, how supremely obedient they were, how entirely surrendered to the Divine impulse that moved them,for they hastened to do what they were told to do and rejoiced as they bowed low before the new-born Child, worshipping andadoring Him. They were also abundantly generous with their offerings. They brought the best that they could find-gold, andfrankincense, and myrrh-and they spread the royal gifts before the royal Child. Lord, send us converts like these wise men!Send us men and women, in great multitudes, who will cheerfully obey, who will find a delight in worshipping Christ, in payingHim homage, giving to His service and in giving themselves to Him!
Thus I have tried to show you what the Sovereign Grace of God did when Christ was born. May the Lord, in His mercy, do thesame to many here! Oh, how often has it happened that when I least know it, I was preaching to one who would become, afterwards,one of our best helpers, one of our most earnest Brothers, one of our most fervent Sisters! I hope that I am speaking to somesuch tonight-utter strangers as yet, who will be brought into this Church, or into some other Church of Jesus Christ-and becomenot a whit behind the very chief of the Apostles, though as yet they are not numbered with the household of faith!
II. But now, in the second place, I have a sad task. The other was a glad task, but now I have the sad task of noticing THENEAR ONES FAR OFF.
Here, first, we read that many were troubled about Christ. He was but newly born and yet He troubled them. Herod was troubledand all Jerusalem was troubled with him. It is an unusual thing to hear of a king troubled by a baby! Proud Herod, the fire-eater,troubled by a Babe in swaddling bands, lying in a manger? Ah me! How little is the real greatness of wickedness-and how smalla power of goodness may bring it grief! Herod was troubled and all Jerusalem with Him. So, when some people hear the Gospel,and find that it has power in it, they are troubled. Herod was troubled because he feared that he should lose his throne.He thought that the house of David, in the Person of the newborn Child, would take possession of his throne, so he trembledand was troubled. How many there are who think that if religion is true, they will lose by it! Business will suffer. Thereare some businesses that ought to suffer and as true godliness spreads, they will suffer. I need not indicate them, but thosewho are engaged in them usually feel that they had better cry out, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians," for they get their livingby making and selling her shrines-and if their shrines are in danger and their craft is in danger-then they are troubled.There are such. I have known men who have been leaders in sin, ringleaders in sin, and they have thought that they would losesome of their followers through Christ's coming, so they have been troubled.
But all Jerusalem was troubled with Herod. Why was that? It was most probably because they thought there would be contention.If there was a new King born, there would be a fight between Him and Herod, and there would be trouble for Jerusalem. So thereare some men who say, "Do not bring that religion here! It makes such contention. One believes this, and one believes that,and another believes nothing at all. We shall have trouble in the family if we get religion into it." Yes, you will-that isacknowledged in the Scriptures-for our Lord came to bring fire on the earth. He has come with a sword in His hand, on purpose,to fight against everything that is evil-and there will be contention. I do not wonder that the great lovers of ease are troubled!
But the fact is that many are troubled because the Gospel interferes with their sin. "If I become a Christian, I cannot liveas I have been accustomed to live," says one, "so I will not believe the Gospel." The great argument against the Bible isan ungodly life. If you probe to the bottom of the matter, some sinful pleasure is the reason of many a man's infidelity.There is a practical reason against his repenting-he cannot give up his darling sin-he will not give it up, so he is trou-
bled when Christ comes near. It is a terrible thing to cling to sin. That Spartan boy who caught a young fox and carried itin his bosom and then, lest the schoolmaster should see it, and chastise him, allowed the fox to go on eating into his fleshtill it ate into his heart, is like you. You are hugging this fox, this wolf, this asp to your bosom all the while we arepreaching to you! What comfort can we give you? Quit your sin, or quit all hope! Will you have your sin and go to Hell, orwill you leave your sin and go to Heaven? You cannot have Christ and sin-the two are diametrically opposed. I will not mentionwhat your sin may be. Let your own conscience tell you that. You cannot continue in the practice of any known sin, willfullyand deliberately, and yet find any comfort from the Word of God, or from the Gospel! There must be, in your heart's intentand resolve, the quitting of sin, or there cannot be the finding of the Savior!
I have told you, before, of the two Highlanders who wanted to row across a certain inlet on one occasion. They had been largelyhelping themselves to whisky before they got into the boat, but they began to row and they kept on rowing, but they made noprogress. They could not understand how it was that, with all their rowing, they stayed in the same position till one said,"Sandy, did you pull the anchor up?" No, he had never pulled the anchor up, so there they were, with the anchor down and pullingaway to no purpose! You must have that anchor up, young man, whether it is drink, or lust, or gambling, or pilfering. Youare a fool if you pretend to row when you know that the anchor is still sticking in the mud!
Oftentimes, when a man is troubled about religion, he says, "If I become a Christian, I shall have to give up my pleasure."Not that true religion requires us to give up anything which is real pleasure or, if it makes us give up what affords us pleasure,now, it changes our tastes so that it would no longer be a pleasure we could indulge. True religion gives us new pleasures-ittakes away our halfpence and it gives us golden coin instead! It does better than that, but I cannot employ a figure goodenough to describe the change! True religion never was designed to make our pleasures less and it does not make them less.But still some think that it will do so and, hence their trouble. You would be astonished if you knew why some men opposetrue religion. The wife will not go to a place of worship. There shall not be a Bible in the house. They will not have theirboy attending a Chapel where there is a Prayer Meeting, or they will not allow the master where he is apprenticed, to takethe boy with him to the House of God. Men say and do all sorts of strange things when they are troubled by Christ-and it isnot because they have any real ground for their perplexity. They are troubled about Christ very much for the same reason thatHerod and Jerusalem were troubled about Him, certainly for no better reason.
Well now, this is very sad, that the Gospel, which is meant to be good news to men, should trouble them! That the heavenlyoffer of Free Grace should trouble them. That to have Heaven's gate widely open before them should trouble them. That to beasked to wash themselves or to be washed in the blood of Christ should trouble them. Troubled by Infinite Mercy! Troubledby Almighty Love! Yet such is the depravity of human nature that to many who hear the Gospel every day, it is still nothingbut a trouble to them.
Now there is another case here. It is the same man in another character. There is one who plays the hypocrite. "Yes," he says,"there is one who is born King of the Jews. Will you wise men kindly tell me all about it? You say you saw a star? When didthe star appear? Be very particular. Did you take note of its movements? You say you saw it, and you saw it, and you saw it?What time in the evening was it first visible? What day of the month did it appear?" Herod is very particular in getting allthe information that he can about that star. And now he sends for the doctors of divinity, and the scribes, and the priests,and he says, "When ought this Messiah that you talk about to be born, and where ought He to be born? Tell me." Herod, yousee, is a wonderful disciple, is he not? He is sitting at the feet of the doctors. He is willing to be instructed by the magiand then he finishes up by saying to the wise men, "Go now. You go and worship the newborn King. You are quite right to havecome all this distance to worship this Child. Be particular, too, to take notes as to where you find Him and then come andtell me about Him, that I, also, may go and worship Him."
So we always find that where Christ is, there is a Judas somewhere about. If the Gospel comes to any place, there is a certainnumber of persons who say, "Oh, yes, yes, yes, we shall attend that place!" I know a certain town where there is one truepreacher of the Gospel, who has won many to Christ-but there are a great many who go there who know nothing at all about Christ.Of course they go to what is called, "The Tabernacle," in that place, because it is the right place to attend! I know a townwhere there is one Church in which Evangelical Doctrine is preached, and the good people all used to go to, "St. Peter's."It was a kind of patent of respectability to have a pew at St. Peter's because good Evangeli-
cal Doctrine was preached there! Well now, that is just how it is with some persons nowadays. A certain number of people wouldthink that all was wrong with them if they did not hear sound Doctrine, but all the while they have made up their minds thatsound Doctrine shall never change their lives and shall never affect their inward character! They are hypocrites-just as thisman, Herod, was! They will not have Christ to reign over them! They do not mind hearing about Him. They do not mind acknowledging,to a certain extent, His rights, but they will not yield allegiance to Him-they will not practically submit to His rule andbecome believers in Him. Am I not speaking to some such, tonight? I know that I am! Dear Friends, do not stay in that state,I pray you! You do not wish to be called a hypocrite-well then, if you cannot bear to be called by that name, do not be sucha character. Be true! Come to Christ, bow at His feet, accept Him as your Lord, trust Him to save you and then rejoice inHim as your Savior and King!
But there were other characters beside the hypocrite who were troubled and they wore the men who displayed their learning.These were the scribes and the chief priests who looked in their Bibles and turned up that passage of the Prophet which saidwhere Jesus was to be born. Now, I like these people for looking up their Bibles and studying the Scriptures-but what I donot like in them is that while they told Herod that Christ was to be born at Bethlehem, none of them said that they wouldgo to Bethlehem and worship Him! Not a living soul of them, not a scribe or a chief priest said, "If this is the Messiah,who was to be born at Bethlehem-and this remarkable star makes us believe that it is even so-we will go with the wise menand worship Him." No, not they! They were quite content to have the Sacred Roll and read it and know all about the Truth ofGod, and yet to leave it there!
I used to know, in my youth, certain very sound Calvinistic Brothers. I fancy that they were a little too sound, certainlysixteen ounces to the pound with an ounce or two of bone thrown in and, after they had had a glass or two of beer, they couldtalk over Scripture better than they could before. I think that the most of those people sleep in the dust. I hope that thewhole tribe will-I mean those who live only upon talking sound Doctrine without feeling the power of it. But nowadays I meetpeople "mighty in the Scriptures," yes, and very keen, too, upon Doctrine, who-
"Could a hair divide
Betwixt the west and northwest side," as regards points of Divinity, but as to charity to the poor, as to visiting the needy,as to caring for the souls of men, as to holy living and as to prevalence in prayer with God, they are nowhere at all! I prayyou to dread a religion which is all in the Book! You must have it in the heart-you must have it in the life-or else thisChild that was born at Bethlehem will only affect you so far that you turn over the Books of Scripture, and that is an endof the matter so far as you are concerned. Yes, yes, yes, know your Bible, that is good! But practice what your Bible tellsyou, for that is better! Yes, yes, yes, understand the Doctrines of Grace, be clear upon them-but love them, live them-forthat is far better. Yes, yes, yes, be a sound Divine, but let us see a holy humanity about you as well. God grant that itmay be so! Otherwise, I tell you, your book-learning will still leave you an enemy of Christ!
The saddest point is that none of these people sought Christ-not Herod with his hypocrisy, nor Jerusalem with its troubles,nor the scribes and priests with their ancient knowledge-none of them sought Christ! May God grant that no hearer of minemay be on that black list! Oh, may we all seek Jesus! May we all find Him! May we find Him tonight! We shall seek and findHim if we really felt in our hearts that hymn that we sang just before the sermon-
"I need You, precious Jesus!
For I am full of sin.
My soul is dark and guilty,
My heart is dead within.
I need the cleansing fountain,
Where I can always flee,
The blood of Christ most precious,
The sinner's perfect plea."
There are two prayers with which I wish to close my discourse. One is, "Lord, bring the far-off ones near tonight!" May Ibeg the thousands of Israel present, tonight, to pray that prayer? You cannot tell for whom you are praying, but you neednot know. There may be persons here who are as far from God as they can be. To them I give this text, the word of our exaltedSavior and Lord, "Look unto Me, and be you saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else." Look,look, look, look! Sinner, look unto Him and be saved!-
"There is life for a look at the crucified One, There is life at this moment for you." "For you." "For you." Then look! Looknow and find it to be so!-
"There is life at this moment for you."
The other prayer, and I ask my Brothers and Sisters here who have power in prayer to pray it, is, "Lord, bring the near onesreally near-these many who are always in this House and yet not in Christ!" No, I must not say these "many"-I mean these few-forthere are now few who are in that condition. Lord, bring them in! One came the other Monday and said, "I am one of the few.I have been attending the Tabernacle for many years and yet I have never told you that I have found the Savior." And he cameto confess his Master. There are still some few of that sort. Lord, bring them all in! You who are always hearers only, rememberthat text, "Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the Kingdomof Heaven. But the children of the Kingdom"-that is, you people who have heard the Gospel ever since you were children-"thechildren of the Kingdom shall be cast out." Pushed aside-"cast out into outer darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashingof teeth." Pray that it may not be so with one single hearer of mine tonight, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.
EXPOSITION BY C. H. SPURGEON. MATTHEW 2:1-12.
Verses 1, 2. Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men fromthe East to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East, andhave come to worship Him. Observe here that when the Son of God was born into the world, it was in a very lowly village, thevillage of Bethlehem. Very naturally, the wise men supposed that "the King of the Jews" would be born in the palace, in themetropolis of the country, at Jerusalem. But it pleased the Lord that everything about Christ's birth should have the stampof lowliness, that the poorest and humblest of men might understand that Christ took not upon Him the nature of princes, butthe nature of men-not of the great ones of the earth, but of our common humanity. Hence Jesus was born of a lowly virgin andwas but roughly cradled in a manger, and the village chosen as the place of His birth was Bethlehem, well-named the, "houseof bread," for it is there that the Bread of our souls is found.
The Holy Child Jesus was born "in the days of Herod the king." The last spark of sovereignty was just dying out. Herod, analien, held the kingdom under the Roman Empire. Did not old Jacob's prophecy say, "The scepter shall not depart from Judah,nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes"? Therefore is it expressly mentioned that Jesus was born "in thedays of Herod the king." We must also remember that although our Lord's birth is full of every circumstance of humiliation,it has a wondrous glory about it. The Magi, probably from Persia-"wise men," philosophers and theologians-heard in far-offlands of His fame and a star led them to His feet. "There came wise men from the East." They supposed that the birth of Christwould be well known among the Jews and be a common theme of conversation. So, when they reached Jerusalem, they enquired,"Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?" Ah, when the heart is awakened to the love of Christ, it often dreams thateverybody else feels an equal interest in Him, but it is not so! The world is dead and cold to Christ and men look astonishedwhen we ask the question, "Where is He? We have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him." These wise men werenot Unitarians who disbelieved the Deity of Christ. It has been said by some that they only meant that they came to pay Himthe homage of a king. Then why did they not worship Herod, and why did Herod say that he wished to worship Him? It will notdo, the thought is not to be endured for a single moment! The magi believed that He who was born King of the Jews was morethan a human being- and they had come to worship him.
3. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. The wise men brought the bestnews that ever was told and yet it troubled people! Does the Gospel trouble you, my Friend? Then I am afraid you must be ofHerod's kith and kin. It is an ill sign of a man's heart when that which is for the good of all men becomes a trouble to him!It is an ill stomach that turns good meat to poison. I suppose "all Jerusalem" was troubled with Herod because they knew thatwhenever this gloomy tyrant had a fit upon him, he was sure to draw blood somewhere- therefore they were troubled with him.
4. And when he had gathered all the chiefpriests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where Christ wasto be born. Think of this vile wretch taking to studying his Bible! Yet there are some who still do the same. Reckoning thatgain is godliness and, therefore, turning godliness into gain for sinister motives, they would be religious and wish to beinstructed in the Truths of the Bible. Such was Herod-so he gathered all the chief priests and scribes together and inquiredof them where Christ was to be born.
5, 6. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the Prophet, And you Bethlehem, in the landof Judah, are not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of you shall come a Governor that shall rule My people Israel.Now, you see, what Herod did with an ill design was overruled for good, for thus we know on the highest authority that Christwas born at Bethlehem! The chief priests and scribes, great students of the Law of God, when they were assembled in the presenceof Herod, declared that, according to prophecy, Christ was to be born in Bethlehem.
7, 8. Then Herod, when he had privately called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. Andhe sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young Child; and when you have found Him, bring me word,again, that I may come and worship Him also. Covering his bloody design with the pretense of reverence. There is never a worsesin in the world than that which a man covers over with the cloak of religion! Let us always beware of falling into this evil.
9, 10. When they had heard the king, they departed and, lo, the star, which they saw in the East, went before them, till itcame and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. You see,the light of the star was taken from them for a time, just as sometimes the delightful Presence of God is withdrawn from Hispeople. Then, Beloved, you walk by faith, alone, and not by sight, as these men did. But oh, when the Light of God comes back,again-when, after hearing all the chattering of false priests and scribes, and all the talk of Herod the great one, they seethe star again-how glad they are! When God sends to His people clear shinings after rain-the brightness of His Presence, aftera time of gloom-then is it with them its it was with the wise men, "they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy."
11. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary, His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him.The old Reformers used to say, "Here is a bone that sticks in the throat of the Romanists and they can neither get it up nordown, for it does not say, 'They saw Mary and the young Child.' The young Child is put first-they came to see Him-and it doesnot say that 'they fell down and worshipped them.' If ever there was an opportunity for Mariolatry, surely this was the one-whenthe Child was, as yet, newly-born and depended so much upon His mother. Why did not the magi say, 'Ave Maria!' and commenceat once their Mariolatry?" Yes, but these were wise men-they were not priests from Rome, otherwise they might have done it.
11. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. The bestthey had! Presents fit for a King-offered as the tribute of the country from which they came-gold, and frankincense, and myrrhbeing found in the East. It is well to bring to Christ the best we have, and the best of the best-"gold, and frankincense,and myrrh."
12. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed to their own country another