Reading : Mt.2 :1-
An Introduction to the Wise Men
The Wise Men had travelled a long journey to visit the new born king. Somehow they had been impressed by the appearance and the movement of a star in the sky and they had come to worship him – they recognised his greatness and wanted to bring to him the honours that they could.
These men came from the East and the East in the Bible is often used as representing ignorance of the true God and of his ways. This ignorance is underscored in the fact that they don’t know where to find the new born king and so go to the capital city, Jerusalem, to ask for him (apparently the star didn’t at once indicate the precise place to go).
How often does something similar happen in God’s dealings with men! When God wants to grab a person’s attention he is never short of the means to do so – in this case signs in the sky were his chosen method for first drawing these men from the East. And yet he didn’t impersonally lead them all the way but he brought them to other people who could tell them the truth they needed to know.
How ready we should be to "give a reason for the hope that is within us" -
In Jerusalem the required information is quickly collected – a new king? Well the Messiah was to be born at Bethlehem – that must be the place:
Mic.5:2 "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days."
And so the wise men set off again to find the king they are looking for.
First Red Alert
The staggering thing is that they set off alone – no-
The wise men however don’t let the indifference of the Jews in Jerusalem dampen their spirits or call into question the wisdom of their long trip – they press on regardless. These wise men had come from a foreign country to visit a foreign king and upon arrival they found a great lack of interest amongst those who ought to have been passionately concerned. The wise men reacted so well and refused to allow the apathy of others to negatively impact them.
There may well be times in our lives when our own personal spiritual searching is met by a reaction of coldness and a lack of sympathy on the part of others. Should that happen we will be tempted to give up on our search – after all, we might think to ourselves, maybe we’ve got it wrong: if it really were so important a matter surely others would be interested too?
Here is our first Red Alert. If others show not the slightest interest in our spiritual quest we must not allow that reaction to dictate our own pursuit of the truth.
King Herod wasn’t actually indifferent – he was hostility itself even though he feigned interest pretending that he too would later go to worship this new born king. And this fact leads us to recognise our second Red Alert -
While God offers peace to the World with the birth of his Son the Saviour, Herod doesn’t like what he hears and his dislike immediately generates fear and unrest in Jerusalem. Dislike at once develops into dishonesty, deception and lies. Murderous thoughts and murderous action quickly follow. Such is the reality of hardness of the sinful human heart. God purposes good but men simply don’t get it and respond by seeking to sideline, to minimise and to destroy the very one who can solve their fundamental problems.
The wise men continued on their way and were rewarded by finding what they were looking for. Or rather they found he whom they were seeking. And in finding the new born king they were satisfied. They did fall down before him and worship, declaring openly the worth and value of this new born baby king. And they gave him their gifts – in their estimation the long journey had not been a waste of time and effort. Their gifts were treasures but he was worth it.
Now comes a third Red Alert. The plans that these wise men had previously formed have to be changed. We too must be ready to change our plans should God gives us more light and more information and clearer direction. When the wise men had been in Jerusalem Herod had urged them to return to him after they had discovered the whereabouts of the baby they were looking for. Herod told them that he wanted to be able to pay visit a visit to this new king too. And it would seem as though the wise men were intending to do so. Perhaps they had even said they would do just that.
But God had other ideas.
There were things the wise men didn’t know about the intentions of King Herod, intentions that were anything but honourable. Maybe they did already have their doubts about Herod’s sincerity – after all he had let them travel on to Bethlehem without sending anyone with them. God however had no such doubts – he knew exactly what Herod was planning and he wasn’t about to let Herod succeed.
Fourth Red Alert
As an aside we need to flag up a fourth Red Alert now. Beware! God knows all your thoughts, your motives and your schemes. He knows whether you are genuine or not. He knows all about you and can frustrate any plan you might try to formulate to oppose his own plans. You might like to think that you can get away with your opposition to God but you will be the only loser in the end.
This fourth alert addresses the believer as well as the unbeliever. It is possible, though incredibly foolish, for the believer to act as though the LORD neither saw his actions nor read the real motives in his heart. Our God looks upon the heart and we are as open books before his gaze. The Jewish Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, thought he could persecute and harry the church of Jesus Christ with impunity but he was in personal turmoil as long as he did so. He was delivered only when the risen Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus Road and transformed his life for the better and forever.
Do you remember what Jesus said to him then?
Acts 26:14 (ESV) "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads."
Acts 26:14 (Msg) "Saul, Saul, why are you out to get me? Why do you insist on going against the grain?"
Third Red Alert again and shades of green
Let’s go back to Red Alert Three where God issued a direct warning to the wise men not to go back to Herod as originally planned. This red alert called for a decision to be made, a decision to obey God rather than men. Such a requirement cannot be limited to this one particular moment in history, indeed it is an issue that regularly resurfaces in the lives of believing men and women.
The wise men did the right thing! Herod was intent on destroying the new born baby. But this new born baby could not be destroyed like that. This new born baby had come to fulfil a mission, to secure the salvation of his people. Nothing could be allowed to interfere with this purpose. Yes, this mission involved death but not as a baby. The baby would grow to perfect manhood and then voluntarily lay down his life as a sacrificial offering for the sins of his people. Until then nothing could take his life!
Another clear example of this type of clash is to be found in the Acts of the Apostles where in faithfulness to Jesus’ teaching his followers were preaching and teaching in his name. The authorities didn’t like it one little bit and tried to silence the apostles. You’ll remember how they responded:
Acts 5:29 "But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men."
Joseph also received a red alert which was really very similar to this last one received by the wise men.
Before Jesus’ birth actually took place Joseph had received instruction and direction when an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. Now after Jesus’ birth he had another dream and another angelic messenger appeared to him.
Once again it was the safety of baby Jesus that was of paramount importance. The angel’s red alert told Joseph of the very real threat to Jesus’ life. The angel both tells Joseph what to do and why it is necessary to so. He has to take his family out of Israel and away to take refuge for a time in Egypt. The reason is Herod determination to do everything in his power to destroy the child’s life. (Once again we are reminded that God is able to read us like that open book – Jesus would later teach that:
"Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops." Lk.12:2-
Having received his warning Joseph did just as the angel of the Lord told him to. He escaped quickly and took his family away to the safety of Egypt where he stayed until Herod’s death. Joseph wasn’t done with dreams just yet. His last couple of dreams contained more information and further guidance for him. We can’t really describe these dreams in terms of more "red alerts" as they are really more of the green all clear variety. In his final dreams Joseph is told that the chief threat to Jesus’ life, Herod, is dead and Joseph should now therefore return to the land of Israel. In case Herod’s son Archelaus, who was now reigning in his place, might share his father’s hostility towards the baby from Bethlehem, Joseph is told to settle away up north in Galilee.
Fifth Red Alert
There are just a couple more details for us to take note of as we consider these divine red alerts. Both refer to the fact that God keeps his promises.
For the first of these Matthew tells us, his readers, that Joseph had to flee with his family to Egypt so that Scripture might be fulfilled:
Mt.2:15 "This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt I called my son."
For the second Matthew again addresses his readers as he explains why it was that Joseph actually settled in Nazareth when he returned to Israel:
Mt.2:23 "And he (Joseph) went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: "He shall be called a Nazarene."
Not only do these last two examples provide us with a red alert concerning God’s determination to always keep his promises but they also serve as a red alert for us that God will use and oblige every detail (be that detail seemingly small or seemingly large) to work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose. (Rom.8:28).
To close this morning let‘s remind ourselves of the various different red alerts we have thought about. Let us be aware that:
Others may not share our spiritual interests, our spiritual hunger and thirst, but we are not to let that allow their indifference to affect us.
Men and women are sinners and that means they are not necessarily honest in what they say or do. We are not to be too surprised when we meet with such dishonesty.
We live in a dangerous world and God instructs us how to live in it; our first loyalty is always to prioritize obedience to God over obedience to men.
God knows all about our thoughts, actions and motives – we mustn’t forget that or we will end up believing we can get away with things that we can’t get away with.
God keeps his promises – all of them – we ignore his word at our peril.
When properly understood and taken on board God’s red alerts prove to be green lights to safety and well-
May God be praised for his interventions in our lives on earth!