- Sermon Notes
Christmas’s Greatest Gifts
It’s Christmas time in the city; the signs are all around us. Stores everywhere are playing Christmas music. Some of which remind us of the reason for the season. Others of which, frankly, I can’t stand. “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” I’m sorry, the whole thing is wrong. I will turn that off. Feliz Navidad. It’s a pleasant enough song, but there are literally only 19 words in the whole song (that’s if you count the translation as new words) repeated for 4 entire minutes.
Then there’s all the tension at the mall. That’s when it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. I heard the story of a man who was pushing a screaming, crying toddler through the mall saying, “Albert relax, don’t cry, we’ll be home soon. Please be patient. Don’t cry, Albert, we’ll be home soon.” A woman came up to him and said, “I have to commend you for how gently you are dealing with that child…” He replied, “….
Then there’s getting your home ready. We were out at the tree farm and couldn’t believe what we saw. Someone was getting a tree twice the size of their car! I took a forklift to load in onto the roof!
The giving of gifts has become a theme of Christmas. It comes from the story we’re studying today; the visit of the magi that came to honor and worship the newborn king of the Jews.
However, studying about the visit of the Magi in Bethlehem as we celebrate the birth of Jesus is a bit of wrong timing. This is because all our nativity sets are incorrect. The common arrangement is for Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, farm animals, and the wise men all to be around the baby Jesus as he lay in the manger, just hours after his birth.
But the wise men came from the East a distance of perhaps 900 miles or more with a large entourage, which would have been the only way to travel safely in those days, and it therefore would have been several months before they arrived in Israel. And in fact, the account in the book of Matthew says that they visited Jesus at “the house,” which clearly suggests they were not living with the animals in the stable by the time the wise men arrived.
Therefore, they probably arrived several months later. To keep your nativity scenes accurate, therefore, you should have the wise men across the room somewhere with them all heading toward Bethlehem, arriving several weeks or months later.
There are spiritual lessons from the story of the Magi. They discern that God has sent the King of the Jews into this world so they come to give Him honor. They discern that God has given a gift to the world; so they bring gifts that recognize who He is, and the reason God sent Him to this broken, lost world.
The greatest gifts of Christmas are the gifts God gave to men when He sent His Son and the gifts that wise men give to God in return.
I. The King is in Your Court Now
- We have an expression, “The ball’s in your court.” That means it’s your turn. Do something, respond.
- God sent His Son, He was born King of the Jews, but called to be King of kings. God Sent His Son into your world, the King is in your court. Now it’s your turn. How will you respond?
- It wasn’t enough for the Magi to simply discern that the King of the Jews had been born in Israel, they had to do something about it, they had to seek Him, they had to find Him.
- They wanted to do more than find Him, however, they wanted to give Him honor. They wanted to recognize Him by giving gifts, by humbling themselves and worshiping Him
- God used the Magi to announce the birth of the King to the world; the Magi’s visit stirred the entire city of Jerusalem.
- Once it was known that the King of the Jews had been born, each person responded according to his heart. This is where it gets personal.
A. Choose you this day who you will serve
- A straightforward reading of these verses suggests that the Magi were expecting the birth of the King of the Jews to already be well-known.
- You can imagine what a stir this entourage coming from the East seeking the King of the Jews would’ve caused.
- They made their purpose clear; they came to worship. The King was in their court and they had to do something about it. They were responding to what God had done for the world.
- They made their choice; God sent a King and that king was for them, so they were for the king.
Joshua 24:14-15, “Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve… but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
- A day is coming when every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, how much better to confess that He is Lord of your life right now.
Philippians 2:10-11, At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Illus – It’s encouraging when people with influence are unashamed of naming Jesus as their Lord. Tim Tebow was open about his faith, but so are others; Nick Foles, Carson Wentz, Drew Brees, Derek Carr, Russell Wilson, to name a few who openly claim Jesus as Lord and Savior.
- We’re living in a time when it’s not politically correct to claim to be a Christian, but as we see in Revelation, we know how this ends. I’d rather be on God’s side.
B. Give a gift of highest honor
- The Magi knew that a King born to the Jews would bring peace to mankind and would reign over all other kings. They therefore brought gifts appropriate to the degree of His honor.
- The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were likely small tokens in comparison to their wealth. They were, however, very appropriate gifts because they recognized the purpose for which He was born.
- Gold; for a king
- Frankincense; an expensive element of the priest’s incense and anointing oil. It is obtained by slashing the Boswellia tree and allowing the resin to bleed out into tears. The tree has the unusual ability to grow on solid stone.
- Myrrh; gathered from the cuts of Myrrh tree, used in embalming, mixed with wine it was offered to Jesus on the cross, although he refused it. But it was used in anointing His body after His death. This gift recognizes His death, which was the reason He came.
- By their worship, however, they give Him the greatest honor of all. They gave Him their hearts.
Illus – When Jesus healed ten lepers, one of the ten came back and said thank you. Wasn’t he giving a gift to Jesus by that thank you?
- Christmas is about exchanging gifts. What gift would you give in exchange for all He has given you?
C. Obedience is also a form of worship
- Another person central to this story is Joseph.
- After the Magi had departed, he was warned in a dream that he should immediately flee to Egypt. The point is; he did it. You can almost hear him say, “That’s what God wants me to do, I will immediately follow his Word in my life.”
- Then later, after the death of Herod, Joseph was again instructed in a dream to go back to Israel.
Illus – Jesus would have been 4 or 5 years old at that time. Wouldn’t that have been an amazing trip with Jesus coming out of Egypt taking a leisurely walk to Israel. Would He have said, “Are we there yet?” Would He have asked “why” 100 times?
My kids used to ask why this or that over and over until I finally said, “Because God is God.” Then they would ask why is God God?
- In verse 22, Joseph was warned in another dream not to go to Judea, which is how he came to Nazareth. The point is that when God gave his Word, Joseph listened; that itself is worship.
- Many don’t understand the importance of obedience to God; or what it means to recognize God’s authority in their lives. They want God on their terms, but God doesn’t do terms. A King was born that day.
Illus – Many have the attitude, “This is the way I want God to be; I want him to make my life easier, I want him to bless me with prosperity, I want him to keep me from sickness and diseases, and I want him to give me honor and blessings. When you do that, then I’ll worship You.”
Notice that when the Magi brought these gifts, when they worshiped, the child who would be King had not yet healed the sick, or given sight to the blind, or cast out demons. He had not yet brought salvation and forgiveness. He had not yet defeated death.
No, they worshiped because of who He is! Because He is worthy! Lord, bring us to a place where we worship you because of who You are.
II. You Live by that which Fills the Heart
- People responded differently to the news that God sent the King of the Jews.
- The Magi humbled themselves, worshipped and gave gifts to the King God sent. They gave Him honor.
- King Herod was given the title “King of Judea” by the Roman senate. He is the one who insisted on being called Herod the Great. He didn’t take kindly to the news that the true King of Israel was born. He responded with hatred and murder.
- The reaction of the Pharisees was seen in what they did not do; this announcement aligned perfectly with the timing spoken by the prophet Daniel. But they did nothing. When there’s darkness and corruption, the birth of a king is not welcome news.
- Each lived by that which fills the heart.
A. Happy are they that give
- The magi responded to God’s gift to the world by being givers. They gave because of the treasure of their heart.
- When you’re young and immature, Christmas is about the opportunity to receive but as you become spiritually mature, you recognize it as an opportunity to give.
Illus – When we first announced our church was going to bless children and families who could not afford Christmas, there was a line at the table after each of the services. We gave out every donation card in one weekend. There were no cards left and someone said, “No cards left? But we wanted to buy a gift also.” Someone nearby overheard and said, “I took two, here, you can have one of mine.” They were generous in their generosity!
- The Magi gave out of their own treasures because of the treasure that was in their heart.
- It’s easy to be generous with someone else’s bank account, it’s also much easier to be generous when there is an abundance in your own. Has God given you an abundance of anything?
- Has God given you an abundance of grace? Of forgiveness? Of kindness? Has He given an abundance of the Holy Spirit? Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.
Matthew 10:8, “Freely you have received, freely give.”
Illus – In the book of Genesis, Joseph, son of Jacob, was betrayed and treated poorly by his brothers and yet did not hate. He loved God and he became an example of the truth that you become like that which you love.
B. Hearts can be changed
- Are you stuck with whatever heart you have? Is it too late to change? Are you forever destined to live out whatever condition you were born into?
Illus – The sons of Korah were not like their father. They didn’t repeat the mistakes of their father, they became worshippers. In other words, can hearts be changed? Can you start over?
- Have you ever come to the point where you say, “I don’t want to live this way anymore!” God sent His Son because hearts can be changed. You don’t have to keep living that way. You can be made new.
- Matthew, who wrote this gospel, was a despised tax collector who became one of the disciples God used the change the world.
- Mary Magdalene had seven demons and all the troubles that came with it; but was given the honor of being the first to see the resurrected King.
- Zacchaeus was hated by the Jews because he collected taxes for the Romans and made himself rich in the process. But Jesus was coming to the city and he wanted to see Him, so he climbed into a tree. Jesus, seeing him there, called for him to come down for He was going to have a meal with him at his house. Jesus loved to take the broken, the empty, the lost sinner and change him.
- Paul hated Christians and was considered the greatest enemy of the church. Being furiously enraged, he persecuted and pursued Christians to their death, but he literally had a ‘come to Jesus meeting’ and became one of the greatest evangelists in the history of the world.
- Can hearts be changed?
Luke 6:45, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for the mouth speaks from that which fills the heart.”
- It has everything to do with that which fills the heart.
- Hard hearts can be broken, proud hearts can be humbled, broken hearts can be healed, fearful hearts can be strengthened, empty hearts can be filled, lonely hearts can receive love.
- God sent His Son to change your heart. How? You live by that which fills the heart.
- Change that which fills the heart and the heart will be changed. And when the heart is changed the life is changed.
Matthew Chapter 2:1-15 NASB
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, [a]magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the [b]Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written [c]by the prophet:
‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah;
For out of you shall come forth a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them [d]the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” 9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they [e]fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.
13 Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord *appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.”
14 So [f]Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. 15 He [g]remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”