Jesus, Born King of All Nations

In the previous session, we saw that Jesus was born the savior of His people (Matthew 1:23). We compared the birth of Jesus to the prophecy in Isaiah. In this session, we will begin the second chapter in Matthew’s Gospel, in which the childhood of Christ is continued and in which Matthew describes the fulfillment of the geographical messianic prophecies of the Old Testament.

Matthew 2:1-12

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “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.”

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written 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.’ ”

Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 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.”

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. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.

Born in Bethlehem

Bethlehem was the city of David (1 Samuel 16:4), and God’s promise was that David’s throne would endure forever and have a king sitting on that throne forever (refer to sessions 1-5 to see how Jesus fulfilled this promise). The throne was established through a man who was born in Bethlehem and the Messiah would also be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)- a descendant of David. Jesus, according to Matthew, was born in Bethlehem, fulfilling this geographical prophecy and emphasizing again that Jesus was the rightful heir of the throne God established for Him through David. In verse 6, as Herod is trying to find the location of the Messiah (the promised king and threat to his own throne), Matthew cites Herod’s scribes as they point to Micah’s prophecy in determining the location. Matthew uses this part of the story to confirm that the Messiah would indeed be born in Bethlehem.

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,

Too little to be among the clans of Judah,

From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.

His goings forth are from long ago,

From the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2).

The Jewish scribes and Pharisees knew this prophecy. In writing, Matthew affirms this prophecy and confirms that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed born in Bethlehem. There is more to this geographical prophecy than Bethlehem serving as the location for the birth of the Christ. Micah’s prophecy mentions that Israel’s ruler, from antiquity and from eternity, would be born in Bethlehem. The Old Testament Scriptures testify to a Messiah who would rule every nation, not only Israel.

Born king of all nations

As Matthew exposits the Old Testament Scriptures systematically (that is the healthy way to teach topically), he includes the visitation of magi or wise men in his narrative. Why? Why do we read the details about the foreign magi and the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh if Matthew is writing to Jews in order to prove that Jesus is the Messiah of the Jews? The identity of the Israelite nation is that they are the physical picture of God’s people on this earth. In Genesis 12:3, God promises Abram that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through his descendants (the Israelites). The Jews were (and I believe still are) the living parable of God’s spiritual kingdom. If a Messiah was going to be born through the Jews, the Messiah would have to be the one through whom all nations are truly and lastingly blessed.

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the time of Herod” we read about these foreigners who are following a star bringing gifts for the newborn king, who is from antiquity and eternity. In the Old Testament, we see an intuitive foreigner who worships God and prophesies the word of God. His name was Balaam. Balak, the king of Moab, wanted to conquer Israel and sent for Balaam to come and curse the nation of Israel because everything that Balaam prophesied came true. If I were the king of an army, I would want this kind of power on my side also!

Balaam warned Balak that he could only speak the word of the Lord. When he blessed Israel instead of cursing her, Balak was enraged.

Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam, and he struck his hands together; and Balak said to Balaam, “I called you to curse my enemies, but behold, you have persisted in blessing them these three times! Therefore, flee to your place now. I said I would honor you greatly, but behold, the Lord has held you back from honor.”

Balaam said to Balak, “Did I not tell your messengers whom you had sent to me, saying, ‘Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything contrary to the command of the Lord, either good or bad, of my own accord. What the Lord speaks, that I will speak’? And now, behold, I am going to my people; come, and I will advise you what this people will do to your people in the days to come.”

He took up his discourse and said, “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, And the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, The oracle of him who hears the words of God, And knows the knowledge of the Most High, Who sees the vision of the Almighty, Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered. I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth. Edom shall be a possession, Seir, its enemies, also will be a possession, While Israel performs valiantly. One from Jacob shall have dominion, And will destroy the remnant from the city.”

And he looked at Amalek and took up his discourse and said, “Amalek was the first of the nations, But his end shall be destruction.”

And he looked at the Kenite, and took up his discourse and said, “Your dwelling place is enduring, And your nest is set in the cliff. Nevertheless Kain will be consumed; How long will Asshur keep you captive?” Then he took up his discourse and said, “Alas, who can live except God has ordained it? But ships shall come from the coast of Kittim, And they shall afflict Asshur and will afflict Eber; So they also will come to destruction.”

Then Balaam arose and departed and returned to his place, and Balak also went his way (Numbers 24:10-25, emphasis on v. 17).

In verse 17, we see this foreign prophet prophesying concerning the Messiah. The wise men described by Matthew were foreigners looking for the star described by the foreign prophet Balaam who will rule all the nations of the earth, crushing the enemies of God’s people. So, the wise men become the Gentile witnesses to God’s redemption of His true, spiritual people.

Herod’s reaction is also foreshadowed in the Old Testament. Matthew 2:3 records that when the wise men came and shared that they were following the star foretold by Balaam “Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” Matthew intentionally alludes to God’s fulfillment of His own promise regarding Saul’s throne (1 Samuel 15:28). In 2 Samuel 4:1-8, we see the nation of Israel “troubled” because the kingdom was being torn from the physical throne of Saul and an everlasting throne being established through David. In Matthew’s Gospel, the people are troubled because Herod’s physical reign does not compare to the eternal and everlasting reign of Christ on the throne prepared through David. This throne is greater than Herod’s. It is grander than Caesar’s. Jesus is king of all nations! He did not become king of all nations, He was born as king from antiquity and eternity.

The first Christmas gifts

Jesus was not the first Christmas gift. He is the reason for the season, not a gift given during an already established season. He is the initiator! When these foreign wise men following the prophecy of a foreign prophet arrived in Bethlehem to the already born child (we don’t know the timeframe between Jesus’ birth and the arrival of the wise men from this text), they worshipped the child and presented Him with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There are several theories as to why the wise men gave such gifts. In context, we remember that Matthew is writing to Jews in order to prove that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. So, Matthew is very intentional about the details he includes as he exposits the Jewish Scriptures.

When David died and Solomon became king, he wrote this psalm:

Give the king Your judgments, O God,

And Your righteousness to the king’s son.

May he judge Your people with righteousness

And bYour afflicted with justice.

Let the mountains bring apeace to the people,

And the hills, in righteousness.

May he vindicate the afflicted of the people,

Save the children of the needy

And crush the oppressor.

Let them fear You while the sun endures,

And as long as the moon, throughout all generations.

May he come down like rain upon the mown grass,

Like showers that water the earth.

In his days may the righteous flourish,

And abundance of peace till the moon is no more.

May he also rule from sea to sea

And from the River to the ends of the earth.

Let the nomads of the desert bow before him,

And his enemies lick the dust.

Let the kings of Tarshish and of the bislands bring presents;

The kings of Sheba and Seba offer gifts.

And let all kings bow down before him,

All nations serve him.

For he will deliver the needy when he cries for help,

The afflicted also, and him who has no helper.

He will have compassion on the poor and needy,

And the lives of the needy he will save.

He will rescue their life from oppression and violence,

And their blood will be precious in his sight;

So may he live, and may the gold of Sheba be given to him;

And let them pray for him continually;

Let them bless him all day long.

May there be abundance of grain in the earth on top of the mountains;

Its fruit will wave like the cedars of Lebanon;

And may those from the city flourish like vegetation of the earth.

May his name endure forever;

May his name increase bas long as the sun shines;

And let men bless themselves by him;

Let all nations call him blessed.

Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel,

Who alone works wonders.

And blessed be His glorious name forever;

And may the whole earth be filled with His glory.

Amen, and Amen.

The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended (Psalm 72).

Solomon, who is becoming king of Israel as Christ’s throne is being established, prays that all of the nations will be subject to the king, that the king’s dominion will be vast, that the foreign nations would send their gifts to the king, and that the kings name would always increase and endure forever. In verse 18, Solomon identifies the God of Israel as this king. His name is glorious and the whole earth will be filled with His glory.

As Isaiah prophesies before the Babylonian exile, he foretells that the nations into which the Israelites would be dispersed would at the time of deliverance come to Israel’s Messiah bearing gifts of gold and frankincense (Isaiah 60:1-6). Foreign gold and frankincense were associated with the building and the restoration of the Temple (1 Chronicles 9:29, 2 Chronicles 9:24, Nehemiah 13:5, 9). The gifts of gold and frankincense from foreign wise men would testify to the building of the new, eternal, and spiritual Temple through Jesus Christ. Myrrh was an incense like frankincense, made from the same materials and used for the same purpose (as an aromatic smoke and perfume). Myrrh was harvested from a wider region in Southern Arabia than frankincense.

In this section, two geographical prophecies are reported by Matthew as being fulfilled. Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and the arrival of foreigners with gifts signifying Jesus’ position as king of all nations. Through Jesus, the new and final Temple would be built (Matthew 26:61, 27:40)- His body, the elect of every nation and generation would replace the old covenant temple (1 Corinthians 3:16, 2 Corinthians 6:16-18, Ephesians 2:19-22).

Encouragement

Jesus would build His church, and the gifts symbolized that truth. If we are members of Christ’s body, His temple, then He has invested great treasure in us. The incense of our lives burns in worship to the Father for His glory alone. God is present with us and in us and through us just as He was the material temple.

Christ’s church, then, is not found in a building. Christ’s church is the people of God. It seems we do ourselves a great injustice when we think that we need a church building to worship or to meet. Sometimes it’s just not feasible to purchase a building or to build bigger. If God blesses in that way, then we steward His blessing well. It is necessary in most places that the body of Christ meets in homes or under bridges or in parks. We are the temple and so we don’t need a literal temple. This is why, in my personal ministry, we are working to plant churches that, for the most part, require no or very little funding. Many of them will be called house churches, but the meeting place can be anywhere. God has gloriously designed His body in such a way that worldly resources are not necessary to be the church. As westerners, we find it to be very difficult to separate the church body from a property or building. Our buildings do not define us and it is prideful and even sometimes wasteful of what resources we do have to believe that they do. For some local churches, it is God-honoring to have a building in which to meet. For some, the building represents human pride.

Christ is king no matter what we have or have not built. He is king no matter what we have or have not been given to steward. Let us seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Let us build up treasures for ourselves in Heaven rather than on this earth (Matthew 6:19).

Questions:

  • What does it mean that we are being built as God’s everlasting temple?
  • Is our identity in Christ or in a building?
  • What does this mean regarding stewardship?

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