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Sermon Dec. 23, 2012

Today is the fourth and final Sunday of Advent.  So to celebrate the final Sunday of Advent I brought something everyone loves.  I brought money.  Here are three trays full of gold coins.  What kind of gold coins?  Well, I thought about being generous and bringing real gold coins. We do have a US gold dollar coin that is hardly used by people so I thought about getting some from Emprise Bank to give away but they only 8 or 10 so they wouldn’t go very far. I also know that kids would rather have candy they can eat now then a coin to buy candy later.  Since we’re talking about generosity, I decided to be generous and bring 250 gold coins for you.  So come get some gold coins and enjoy the chocolate inside.

Why did I bring gold coins?  It’s because I want to talk about generosity with money.  Who is a more powerful example of generosity with money more than the wise men?  So take your bibles and turn to Matthew chapter 2 where in verses 1-12 we read about the wise men

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise me from the east to Jerusalem saying, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews for we have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him.”   When Herod the king heard these things he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him.   And when he had gathered all the chief priest and the scribes of the people together he demanded of them where Christ should be born.  And they said unto him, “In Bethlehem of Judea for thus it is written by the prophet: And thou Bethlehem in the land of Judah art not the least of the princes of Judah for out of thee shall come a Governor that shall rule my people Israel.”  Then Herod when he had privately called the wise me enquired of them diligently what time the star had appeared.  And he said to them “Go to Bethlehem 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.

When they heard the king they departed and lo, the star which they saw in the east went before them until it stood over the place where the young child was.  When they saw the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary and fell down and worship him.  And when they had opened their treasurers they presented unto him gifts, gold frankincense and myrrh.  And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod they departed to their own country another way.

 

Why are the wise men such a powerful example of generosity? It’s not just because they gave money or possessions it’s because of who they are and what they did when they gave their money.  Who are these wise men, these magi as is says in Greek?  God’s word gives us some clues.  Matthew tells us that they came from the east.  What was east of Israel then?  Desert.  But across the desert was the nation of Babylon.  What was Babylon known for?  It was known for its wise men.  What were the wise men wise about? They were wise about stars and planets.  That’s why the wise men said, “We have seen his star in the east.”

Who looks at stars and planets and studies them? Astronomers look at stars and planets and study them in an attempt to learn about the universe. Were the wise men astronomers?  Yes, they were, they studied the stars.  Why did they study the stars?  It was not just to obtain knowledge of the stars but knowledge of the future.  The wise men were astrologers who believed that the stars influenced the lives of people and that the stars to predict the future.   That’s why they came looking for Jesus.  They saw a star that predicted the birth of the new king of the Jews.  How did they know that a star would predict the coming of the King of the Jews?  They learned it from the greatest wise man Babylon had ever known a wise man with a Jewish background.  They learned it from Daniel.

Remember Daniel.  Daniel was a member of the royal family in Jerusalem when Babylon conquered Jerusalem in some 600 years before the birth of Jesus.  Daniel and other men from the royal family were taken to Babylon to be taught the wisdom of Babylon.  Why?  So they could serve the king by predicting the future.  Daniel and other young men were sent to the University of Babylon on full scholarship paid by the king and studied the wisdom of Babylon including astronomy and astrology and became astrologers..

What does God’s word call astrologers?  God’s word calls them scorers.  Why?  It’s because scorers use sorcery or magic to determine the future.   This lunacy concerning the Mayan calendar and the world ending 12/21/12 was sorcery for people tried to use the Mayan calendar to predict the future. What does God’s word say about scorers and astrologers who try to predict the future?  God’s word condemns them and says that anyone who sorcery or astorology is detestable in the eyes of the Lord.  Why?  It’s because sorcery and astrology do not come from God.  At best they come from man at the worst they come from Satan.  Sorcery and astrology are idolatry, scorers and astrologists worship a false god.  Who were the wise men?  The wise men were Babylonian scorers and astrologers from Babylon. What’s interesting is that in the book of Isaiah, God’s word mocks Babylonian scorers and astrologers. Listen to Isaiah 47:11-14

Keep on then with your magic spells and with your many sorceries which you have labored at since childhood.  Perhaps you will succeed, perhaps you will cause terror. All the council you have received has worn you out. Let your astrologers come forward those stargazers who make predictions month by month, let them save you from what is coming upon you. Surely they are like stubble the fire will burn up.  They cannot even save themselves.

 

What did Daniel become when he was taken to Babylon with other young men of royal birth?  Daniel became a wise man, a sorcerer, and astrologer.  Isn’t it interesting, that Daniel and his three friends, refused to eat food that Jews were not allowed to eat,  but Daniel never refused to study sorcery, astrology or stargazing in Babylon even though he knew being a scorer or an astrologist was condemned by God.  In fact Daniel became the number one astrologer, sorcerer in the nation of Babylon.  Why?  It’s because the Lord God gave Daniel His wisdom, not the world’s wisdom.  How did Daniel use the wisdom God gave him?  He used it to teach the astrologers and scorers in Babylon about the Lord his God and about the coming of God’s Messiah. Daniel knew the truth about stars and planets; he knew the truth about the heavens.  He knew that the heaven did not declare or tell the future, he knew that the heavens declare the glory of God so he taught the wise men, the astrologers and scorers of Babylon about the glory of God.

Who were the wise men who came looking for Jesus?  They were pagan gentiles not Jews.  The wise men were astrologers, scorers who looked at stars to predict the future.  What does God word say about astrologers?  God’s word mocks them.  God’s word says they are detestable in the eyes of the Lord.  The wise men were idolaters who worshiped a false god.  They were pagan outsiders, outside the people of God.  Yet what does Matthew, inspired by the Holy Spirit write about?  He writes about astrologers and scorers who are outsiders and detestable in God’s eyes coming to worship Jesus.  Why?  It is to show the generosity of the wise men.  The wise men were generous with the gifts they brought to Jesus.  They brought him extremely valuable gifts; they brought him gold, frankincense and myrrh.   Today those gifts would easily be worth somewhere around one hundred to two hundred thousand dollars.  That’s generous, very generous.   The wise men were generous with their money; they gave generous gifts to Jesus.  But the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to write about the coming of the wise men not just to tell us about the wise men’s generosity but about God’s generosity.   Generosity begins with God.  God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.   Where does generosity end?  It ends with the story of the pagan outsider wise men for they are the ones God loved so much he gave his only son.  The story of the wise men is a beautiful story, for shows the generosity of God’s grace to us.  For who are we?  We are the wise men.  We are gentiles.  We are the ones who were outside; we were not part of God’s people the Jews.  The coming of the gentile wise men is a prophecy concerning what’s going to happen to Jesus.  How?  Listen to what John says in his Christmas story in John chapter 1 verses 11-12:

He, Jesus, came to his own people but his own people did not receive him.  Yet to all who received him, to those who believe in his name he gave the right to become the Children of God

 

The coming of the wise men is a beautiful story of gentiles, outsiders like us coming to Jesus, receiving grace and becoming children of God.  The coming of the wise men is also a sad and shocking story of God’s own people rejecting Jesus.

What happened when the religious leaders heard that the wise men had seen a star that predicted the birth of the King of the Jews, the Messiah?  Did they go with the wise men to find Jesus and worship him too?  No, they did not receive him; they rejected him, just as John says in his gospel.  Why?  What was wrong with them?  Jesus made it very plain.  In Matthew 15:7-9 Jesus condemns the religious leaders:

You hypocrites, Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:  “These people worship me with their lips but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain because their teachings are but rules taught by men.”

 

Why didn’t the religious leaders recognize that the prophecies concerning the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior, were fulfilled when Jesus was born?  It’s because they were so busy following their traditions that they missed the coming of Jesus their Savior.  When the wise men, who were pagan outsiders, told them that Jesus their Messiah and Savior had been born they didn’t listen.  Why not?  They said, “These men are pagan outsiders. They don’t follow our traditions, they cannot know anything.  God would have told us if he was sending Messiah not these pagan outsiders who don’t follow our traditions.”

Traditions.  Is there anything wrong with traditions?  Absolutely not.  God gave traditions for Jews to follow.  Then why did Jesus condemn the religious leaders for following the traditions.  He condemned them because they used their traditions to exclude people, like wise men and the shepherds, who did not follow their traditions.  They excluded tax collectors and women of questionable morals. Remember how the religious leaders condemned Jesus for eating with those outsiders who didn’t follow traditions?  The religious leaders were sure that anyone who did not follow their tradition, their ways, could not be from God or teach them anything about God.  They rejected the testimony of the wise men about Jesus because the wise men didn’t follow their traditions. They rejected the very testimony of Jesus and sought to kill him because he did not follow their traditions.  Jesus condemned the religious leaders because they excluded and rejected anyone who didn’t follow the traditions.  Jesus condemned the religious leaders because they thought that anyone who followed their traditions was following God and anyone who didn’t follow their traditions was not following God.  Jesus condemned them because they loved tradition more than they loved God and others.  Jesus condemned them because they forgot the greatest command God gave them:

“You shall love the Lord your God (not tradition) with all your heart soul, mind and strength, and you shall love your neighbor (not tradition) as yourself.”

 

The coming of the wise men is the story of God’s grace given to outsiders gentiles who don’t follow traditions but receive Jesus and believe in him.  It’s also the story of the religious leaders who followed tradition but did not receive Jesus and rejected Jesus as their messiah and Lord.  It’s a shocking story because it’s a warning to all of us insiders about not loving others and not sharing God’s grace with those who we consider outsiders.   This morning there are thousands of people in Hillsboro and Marion County, who are not in church worshiping Jesus.  All around us are outsiders who need Jesus so they too can be insiders and part of God’s family of believers.  Will we be generous and love those who are outsiders like Jesus loved them?  Will we be generous like Jesus and share the good news of God’s love and grace with them?

We’ve been studying generosity, and now it’s time for the final exam which is a generosity offering.  What’s the offering for? It’s for taking the good news of the gospel to outsiders who don’t know Jesus.  Half of the offering will go to our missionaries in Peru so they can take the good news of God’s love and grace to people around them who don’t know Jesus.  The other half go to the Micah Project in Denver area where Vaughn and Taryn and others are taking the good news of God’s love and grace to outsiders around them who don’t know Jesus.    Let’s pray