"Where is he that is born King of the Jews?" Matthew 2:2.
The birth of Jesus was an event as full of love as it was deep in wisdom and humiliation; but it was what Jehovah had ages before promised, and patriarchs had long looked for. When man disobeyed his Maker, and fell under Satan's power, God, in boundless grace, lighted up the dark and hopeless scene with the most merciful declaration, that the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head; thus announcing a Redeemer for fallen man, and that He should be born of a woman. Afterward, the Lord taught Abraham that the promised Seed should be through him and his much-loved son Isaac. "In Isaac shall thy seed be called." After this, it was revealed to David that the promised Seed should be of the fruit of his loins, and also that after His death and resurrection He should sit upon Israel's throne. At a later period, the prophet Isaiah was moved by the Holy Ghost to predict that the Saviour would be a virgin's son: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel." And more than this, for he also spake of the Godhead of Christ, as well as His reigning in power, as the King of the Jews, on the throne of His father David, saying, "Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth, even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this." (Isa. 9.) Still later, the prophet Micah was instructed to inform God's people of the locality where Jesus should be born: "But thou, Bethlehem-Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." (Micah 5.)
From these Scriptures we see that the Messiah would be born of a woman — God and man in one person — a virgin's son — born in Bethlehem — of the seed of Abraham — of the lineage of David — whose goings forth have been from everlasting — that He shall sit on the throne of His father David, and of His kingdom there shall be no end.
We can thus enter a little into the question of the wise men, "Where is He that is born King of the Jews?" In the last dispensation many were looking forward to the coming of Messiah to reign in glory. They expected the fulfilment of the prophetic Scriptures concerning His kingdom, and overlooked the path of humiliation, suffering, blood-shedding, and death, as Messiah's way to David's throne. They did not see that God's only way of setting man in blessing before Him was through death and resurrection. There were, however, a few that "looked for redemption in Jerusalem."
In this chapter we find three classes of character brought before us: 1. Herod; 2. The chief priests and scribes; 3. The wise men, — which, by the Lord's help, it may be profitable for us to consider.
1. Herod. Herod was king at Jerusalem; he was, therefore, exceedingly moved at the announcement that the King of the Jews was born. It touched him very closely; for he knew that if the true Messiah were come, he could no longer be king himself. Besides, the sound of God's King having come was enough to alarm the conscience, and awaken fear and dread. Others felt the same. We are therefore told that, "when Herod heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him." There were no thunderings or lightnings no threatenings no sound of alarm; yet they were troubled. Angels had sung, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." A believing man afterwards exclaimed, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation." Yet "Herod and all Jerusalem were troubled." The king's troubled state of mind led him to make inquiry. He first gathered those together whom he judged best able to give him information, and demanded of them where Christ should be born. But though their reply was correct, it did not relieve his trouble. He then made diligent inquiry of the wise men, but their reply must have only tended to confirm the fact that Messiah was really come. What could Herod do? His perplexity was great; fear and sorrow were experienced by him; but with all the amount of unquestionable evidence before him, he did not think the Messiah worth seeking. He therefore dismissed the wise men, that they should seek the young child; but it was not in the king's heart to go a step on such an errand. "Bring me word again," said the king, "that I may come and worship Him also." "If I find so-and-so, then I'll worship," thought Herod. He had no higher thought, and this was his only relief for a troubled mind. Poor Herod! The real state of his soul was afterwards made manifest: pride kindled into a flame the enmity against God and against His Christ which dwelt in his unregenerate heart; he became "exceeding wroth," and could only vent his rage by commanding that every young child in Bethlehem, and all the coasts thereof, should be put to death; thus expecting to get rid of his troubles by killing Him who was born King of the Jews. Such is man. such has been, and still is, the enmity of the carnal mind to the blessed Christ of God. Men hear the faithful saying, that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners;" they are exercised about the report for a while, fears lay hold on them, and they are troubled. They make inquiry — they hear the Scriptures read and expounded — they turn to God's servants, and listen to their statements on these matters — they hear them say that it is their chiefest joy to contemplate and adoringly worship the Saviour of sinners, and they seek to quiet their troubled spirits by promising to themselves to worship also at some future time. But, as in Herod's case, that time never comes. Like him, their convictions are not deep, being more from the force of circumstances and the influence of others, than from personal exercise before God; they therefore think of nothing higher than worshipping before men. There is no earnest desire for forgiveness of sins — no longing for the removal of guilt — no consideration of how matters really are between their own souls and the living God; they have no concern beyond some vague ideas of worship, places of worship, forms of worship, and the like. However, this state of mind having been brought about by circumstances, it is only for circumstances to change, and they change also. Like the early dew, such superficial impressions quickly pass away; the natural enmity to Christ easily manifests itself, and they soon cry out in spirit, with the Christless crowd around, "Not this man, but Barabbas!"
My reader, may I ask if you have ever been troubled when you have heard the gospel of God? If so, may I also affectionately ask you to examine into the cause of your trouble? Has it arisen from fear of change in your outward circumstances? or has it been from a deep conscientious sense of your having sinned against God, and therefore being justly exposed to His eternal condemnation? The last is the godly sorrow, that worketh repentance unto salvation not to be repented of; and if such be your experience, you will not be content that others should seek the Saviour, and bring you word again, but you will seek Him for yourself. Your need will compel you. Your heartfelt cry will be, "Lord, save, or I perish!" You will take refuge in the Lord Jesus Christ to save you. You will not be satisfied at merely outwardly mingling with others in worship; you will not rest till you know the forgiveness of your sins and peace with God.
Oh, my reader, beware of hypocrisy! Remember Herod. Beware of anything less than coming to Christ to save you. Do not be content at feeling a little troubled, or with a little inquiry into Scripture, or of resting in some good intentions, or any well-meant promises as to the future; yea, I repeat, beware of anything short of coming to Jesus for the salvation of your soul. Then, and then only, will you be safe; for He said, "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out."
2. The Scribes and Pharisees. There was neither trouble, nor inquiry, nor wrath, manifested by these persons. Quiet and unconcerned, with Scripture ready upon their lips, they cared no more about the Messiah than they did about Herod. Yet they had a remarkable knowledge of Scripture. They could tell where Christ should be born. They heard the solemn announcement that the Messiah was come. They listened to the wise men's testimony, that the God of heaven and earth had commanded a star to move out of its accustomed sphere to guide them, and yet they were unmoved and unconcerned. Their knowledge of the letter of Scripture had puffed them up. In their folly they thought themselves wise, and knew not that they were miserable, blind, and naked. One might have thought that such a momentous matter as the birth of Christ would have stirred up the hardest hearts; but no! man's motto is, "Present gratification, without reference to the eternal future." These scribes were accredited by men, honoured by the king; they felt that they held the key of knowledge, were masters in Israel, were greeted by the people's "Rabbi," and this was enough; for they sought only "present gratification," and cared not for "the eternal future."
It is to be feared that there are many of this class in the present day. They possess some knowledge of Scripture, can answer many questions even about the Saviour, and are quiet and unconcerned when others around them are much troubled. They know not their real need. They compare themselves with the ignorant idolater, and think themselves wise. They flatter themselves that they have been born in a Christian country, had Christian forefathers, have received a religious education, and attend an orthodox ministry; and therefore are not ignorant of spiritual matters. But with all their fancied knowledge, "they are ignorant of God's righteousness." They know not that, if weighed in God's balance, they must be found wanting. They are ignorant of the fact, that all their best performances are only splendid sins. They are not aware that they must be born again. They know not the gift of God. They are ignorant that the thrice Holy God cannot accept any excuse for sin, and can accredit no other standard of righteousness than His own unsullied holiness. They therefore go about to establish their own righteousness, and do not submit to the righteousness of God, even CHRIST, who is "the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." (Rom. 10:4.)
Oh, my reader, flee from all these snares of the great deceiver. Listen to the word of the living God that will never pass away. Remember there is salvation in none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the only way. There is no other entrance to glory. The question of such eternal importance is not what you know, or what people think of you, but what you think of CHRIST. Oh, ponder the decisive words of the apostle, "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed!"
3. The Wise Men. Whatever were the peculiar characteristics of these men, they were in the best sense wise men. They were guided by Divine light and wisdom. They had to do with God. When they saw the star move, they were assured that God was leading them and they happily experienced that He led them to the Saviour. They sought for Jesus. Nothing could hinder them. Christ Himself was the one object of their souls, and they found Him. They owned Him as the mighty God. They worshipped Him. They served Him with their substance as well as their hearts. It was to Christ they presented their gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We may also notice another thing in these wise men, they obeyed God rather than man; for being warned of God that they should not return to Herod (as he commanded), they departed into their own country another way. The account of these wise men is very simple and brief, but their ways stand in remarkable contrast with the other classes of character that are here clustered together.
Oh, my reader! while I warn you against the pernicious ways of Herod and the scribes, I entreat you solemnly to consider whether you are like these wise men. They submitted to God's teaching; have you? They sought and found the Saviour; have you? They worshipped Him, and served Him with their costliest goods; have you? When they found that man commanded one thing and God another, they obeyed God rather than man; have you?
Hitherto we have only looked at the King of the Jews in reference to His birth; but grand and glorious as that event was, we afterwards see Him in a position far more blessed for our contemplation than even that. I refer to Calvary's cross. Yes, it is the cross of Christ that is the happy meeting-place between God and man. No death of the cross, there could have been no triumph over death. No death of the cross, there could have been no salvation from hell. No death of the cross, this world would have been without one cheering ray as to the future. No death of the cross, not one sinner could have ever reached the mansions of glory. But the blessed gospel declares that Christ has died. The Scriptures most prominently set forth the eternal value of Christ's death, and our Lord taught the same thing. He said, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." The believer's peace with God is only through the atoning work of Christ. We are justified by His blood, sanctified by His blood we have access into God's presence, where our High Priest is, by His blood. It is in the death of Jesus we see God's wondrous love to man so abundantly manifested. There we see that Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it. There we see that the King of the Jews died for that nation. There we see that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. There we see God's infinite hatred of sin, and His amazing love to sinners. There Jesus bare our sins in His own body. There He was made sin for us. There His soul was made an offering for sin. There He once suffered under God's wrath, that we might receive eternal peace and blessing.
The King of the Jews was put to death on the accursed tree; for "it was expedient that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not . . . . and not for that nation only, but that He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad." On that solemn occasion cruel Pilate appeared to be conscious that Jesus was the King of the Jews; for he not only asked the blessed Lord if He were the King of the Jews, but just before he delivered Him to be crucified, he turned to the people, saying, "Behold your King!" "Shall I crucify your King?" Pilate also wrote a title, and put it on the cross, in the three leading languages of the world, and the writing was, "JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS;" and so steadfast was Pilate in His purpose, that when the chief priests said unto him, "Write not, The King of the Jews, but that He said, I am King of the Jews," he replied, "What I have written I have written." God, doubtless, had a purpose in all this; and though the nation of Israel refused to own their King then, it will yet be their joy, at Christ's second corning, to know that they have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace. (See Rom. 11:27.)
"Smitten, stricken, and afflicted,
See Him hanging on the tree;
'Tis the Christ by men rejected,
Yes, my soul, 'tis He, 'tis He!"
But where is the King of the Jews now? He was in Bethlehem's stable, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and worshipped by the wise men. He was recognized by a guileless Israelite as "the Son of God and the King of Israel." As the meek and lowly King, riding on an ass over the Mount of Olives, He was worshipped as "the King that cometh in the name of the Lord." He was covered with a purple robe, and mocked with a crown of thorns. He was publicly crucified with malefactors, outside the gate of Jerusalem, as "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." But where, I ask, is the King of the Jews now? He is no longer on the cross, no longer in the sepulchre; but though crucified in weakness, He rose from the dead by almighty power, spoiled principalities and powers, and, in risen beauty and glory, amid the ceaseless rejoicings of the unnumbered dazzling hosts of heaven, the King of the Jews was welcomed to the throne of the Majesty of the heavens, and crowned with glory and honour. Israel's rejected King, then, is risen — raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, and exalted to the highest heavens. But the Jews, as yet, know it not. They are still in blindness and unbelief, fulfilling the prophecy of Hosea: "For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image (pillar), and without an ephod, and without teraphim." ( Hosea 3:4.) They are still scattered among the Gentiles, while their holy city is in heaps because of their sin; they are "broken off because of unbelief." But we are told that God is able to graft them in again. Yes, God is able to cause the scales to fall from their eyes, so that a nation may be 'born at once. He is able to gather the outcasts of Israel, and bring them into their own land. "Afterward," saith Hosea in the, next verse, "shall the children of Israel return to seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days." Then the Jews will be joyful in their king, who will "reign before His ancients gloriously;" and "Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the whole world with fruit." But then it will not be on carnal grounds, but in free, sovereign grace, through the redemption-work of Him who died for that nation. They will then know Christ crucified to be their sacrifice, Christ risen to be their lawgiver, Christ exalted to be their High Priest, Christ glorified to be their King. They will then experience the blessings of the new covenant, spoken of by Jeremiah the prophet: "After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they be my people They shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, saith the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jer. 31:33, 34.) Now, while the Lord Jesus is rejected by the nation of the Jews, God is sending His gospel into all the world, to gather out of the Gentiles a people for His name. A Jew here and there receives the gospel, as many have before; so that the Church of God is formed both of Jews and Gentiles, united in one body in Christ — one new man-made nigh to God in Christ and by His blood.
The reign of Christ was spoken of by the angel to Mary in connection with His birth: "Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David; and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end." (Luke 1:31-33.) We can therefore understand why Peter referred to the Lord's appearing, when addressing the people at Jerusalem, saying, "He shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you; whom the heaven must receive, until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began." To these times of restitution we are rapidly hastening. The Lord will soon descend from heaven. His Church, His beloved bride, will be caught up to meet Him in the air. He will appear in glory, and His saints with Him. As King of the Jews, He will reign over the house of Jacob. As the last Adam, creation shall be manifestly in subjection to Him, being delivered from the bondage of corruption; and as King over all the earth, all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Him; for with flaming fire and vengeance He shall put all enemies under His feet. Happy are those who can now sincerely say, "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly."
Now, dear reader, He saves to the uttermost, and He will save you, if you come to Him. Oh, may the language of your heart be —
"A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
On thy kind arms I fall;
Thou art my Lord and righteousness,
My Saviour, and my all,"