18 December 2020
Series: The King

Why Motives Matter

Bible Passage: Matthew 2:1-12

The King: Why Motives Matter

Matthew 2:1-12

See Our Life Group Discussion Guide for This Passage

You can’t talk about classic Christmas movies without eventually talking about National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. There are so many hilarious scenes in that movie. My favorite is when they ask Aunt Bethany to say Grace and she responds with “she passed away 30 years ago.” She then proceeds to lead them through the pledge of allegiance!

But one of the less talked about scenes is the one where Cousin Eddie and Clark go shopping at Walmart.

Clark and his wife find out Catherine and Eddie don’t have presents for their kids and it’s because conveniently Ruby Sue and Rocky (their kids) had told both told them that night that Santa Clause wasn’t coming this year. Cousin Eddie hasn’t worked for 7 years because he claims he’s holding out for a management position! So, motivated by the obvious sadness of the kids, the next day Clark takes Cousin Eddie to Walmart and kind of backs his way into the conversation about how their Christmas shopping is going.

Ironically this conversation takes place right after Cousin Eddie asked Clark how he was doing. Clark responds with I’m not doing good at all but Cousin Eddie never acknowledges Clark’s situation and just changes the subject back to himself, all while loading tons of stuff into the shopping cart for Clark to buy!

Anyway, Eddie tells Clark they had to sell everything except a 50-foot plot of ground for the pigs and a worm farm; and if they just get back the money they sent a TV preacher who ended up having an affair with a hockey player they would be alright (guess the prosperity promise of “send me money and you’ll be rich” backfired on that one!).

Anyway, Cousin Eddie tells Clark they are now living in their run-down RV and they are totally out of money and actually coasted into town on fumes.

So Clark offers to get Christmas for their kids. And, surprise, Cousin Eddie immediately produces a Christmas shopping list in alphabetical order starting with his wife Catherine!. And not just the kids! Cousin Eddie even tells Clark to buy something for himself as a gift from him. “If it wouldn’t be too much Clark I would like to get something for you. something really nice!”

So in the end we find out the main motive for Cousin Eddie and Catherine wasn’t to come to hang out with the family for Christmas, but rather to get somebody to buy a bunch of stuff for them. This would have totally nullified any confidence Clark and his wife had in Cousin Eddie and Catherine’s love for them had not Cousin Eddie kidnapped Clark’s boss at the end of the movie! HA!

But my point is this: motives matter! As we talked about in the marriage series, motives totally trump everything you do. You can do the right thing with the wrong motives and it nullifies the effectiveness of what you did.

This reality could not be more true than in your relationship with God. WHY you trust and follow Jesus matters FAR more than anything and we see this right out the gate in Matthew’s record of the events surrounding the birth of Christ. Let’s pick up where we left off last week. Will you turn with me to Matthew 2 and let’s read verses 1-12.

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6 “ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:1-12)

There are 3 parts to the story in Matthew 2:1-12 that highlight why motives matter in your relationship with Christ.

The Magi’s Search

God prompted them and they responded by seeking Him. (2:1-2)

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.

Remember that the Bible tells us there are none who seek after God so anyone who begins a journey to know him does so because God has stirred their hearts to do it.

So, why in the world would these magi see a star and conclude there was a Jewish King being born and travel the potential 1,200 miles to go see him? More importantly, worship Him! Well, there are a lot of theories. but let me walk you through a very interesting and very likely theory.
First, let me clear a couple of quick things that get confused about the Christmas story.

The night Jesus was born an angel appears to some shepherds who come and worship the newborn Jesus. These magi don’t show up until Jesus is considered a child, possibly when he is between 1 and 2 years old.

The Bible doesn’t tell us how many came. the early church believed there were 12. later tradition established that there were 3 because of the gifts.

Second, many people understand that there are three groups of people who show up; shepherds, wise men, and Kings. However, the people they are referring to as the wise men and the Kings are the same people – the Magi!

So who are the Magi?

“These wise men, or more properly named, magi, belonged to a large and influential order of men. Though the origin of Magism is somewhat obscure, it’s thought to have had its beginning among either the Chaldeans or the Assyrians; more probably among the former.. Some profess to trace the Magian doctrines to Abraham. There are several references in the Old Testament to the Magi. In Jeremiah 39:3, 13,. The chakamim, or “wise men,” referred to in Jeremiah 50:35 were probably Magi.”1

“Matthew tells us nothing of the manger or the shepherds, or even of the decree of Augustus Caesar that brought the couple to Bethlehem where the birth took place. Instead, he focused on another set of visitors, some wise men or “Magi” from the east. Apparently they were astrologers who mixed with their pagan superstitions some knowledge of Old Testament promises of a coming Jewish king. The large Jewish population in Babylon may well have been the source of such information. Not knowing where to go when they reached Palestine, they headed for King Herod’s palace to make their inquiries. Where else, after all, should a king be born but in the royal palace?”2

“Originally a Median tribe, the magi were a hereditary priesthood, often possessing great political power and functioning as king-makers in the Median, Babylonian, Persian, and Parthian empires. They first appeared in the seventh century bc, and had a strong tradition that favored the exercise of sacerdotal and occult powers; furthermore, prophetic powers were ascribed to this hereditary priesthood. They were monotheistic, believing in one beneficent Creator Who was opposed by a malevolent evil spirit. The principal element of their worship seems to have been fire.”3

“The Septuagint of Daniel uses ‘magi’ for the kings’ advisors (1:20; 2:2, 10, 27; 4:4; 5:7, 11, 15) . So the magi were not Eastern kings, but did come from the lower Mesopotamian basin. How did they know what the star meant? Again, we cannot say, for there is no Old Testament prophecy about such a star (unless it be Num 24:17), yet something led Abram to Palestine from the same region. Could it be that traditions about him endured for twenty-one centuries, and that these magi knew of the Abrahamic Covenant? If so, when they saw an angelic presence did they put two and two together and follow the same 1,200 mile route Abram had used twenty-one centuries previously? Maybe, but we cannot be sure.”4

“The ‘asteer’ did not lead the magi to Jerusalem, but merely appeared in the east (which apparently means their home country), for it reappeared when they left Jerusalem and then led them to Jesus (v. 9). The report of its second appearance indicates that the ‘asteer’ only ‘appeared’ and gave no verbal instruction. Acts 7:2 records a similar event which occurred twenty-one centuries earlier in the same locale, “The God of Glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia,” and ‘glory’ echoes Luke 2:9 which is associated with an angel! Presumably, the magi needed to research the phenomenon they had witnessed in order to understand its meaning, because, as at its second appearance, no instruction was given (we know their knowledge was imperfect as they first went to Jerusalem, not Bethlehem). This research led them to the Abrahamic event, and thence to the Scriptures which the Jews had brought into exile (the exile extended into their area). This research, maybe including Daniel (himself a magus of his day), made them realize that the event to which their attention was being drawn was the advent of the Messiah whom the Jews expected. Furthermore, the timetable in Dan 9:24–25 would have provided tentative confirmation that the time was ripe for the Messiah’s advent. Having reached this conclusion, they naturally presumed the Messiah, the Jewish King, would be born in the Jewish capital and thus arrived in Jerusalem.”5

Their motive wasn’t to seek one who would BE King but rather one who was BORN King! – “The words they use mean “born king,” not “born to be king,” as is often said; they are talking about what he is, not what he will be.”6

Herod and the Religious Leaders Search

God prompted them, and they responded with deceit. (2:3-8)

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. (you’ll find out why that’s important next week!) 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

So apparently the magi didn’t go to Herod but rather upon their entrance into Jerusalem they began to inquire about the King that had been born (given the capital was Jerusalem they naturally went their first!). However, when they get there it appears nobody in Jerusalem had any idea of what they were inquiring about, and as such, it created a tremendous buzz.

And understand this, they would have had an entourage with them, so it wouldn’t just be three guys on a camel showing up in this huge city, but rather a noticeable, known group of people whose questions would have carried tremendous weight. The city erupts with such conversations, theories, and confusion that it alerts King Herod.

You’re going to learn a lot more about Herod next week, but for now, just know that he had been King for about 35 years and in his later years had grown increasingly paranoid and ruthless as a leader. He even murdered his favorite wife and two sons because he feared they might be taking over his throne.

The point being, it’s pretty clear that Herod’s heart was not saying “come, Lord Jesus!” He did not have a motive to know and follow God. There was nothing in him at this point that was longing for the Messiah: The KING! Herod’s motive was very much about himself!

Here’s where I want to focus your attention.

The chief priests and scribes report to Herod that the prophecy these magi were referring to was of one who would SHEPHERD the people of Israel! Did you catch that? Look at verse 6 closely.

6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Do you hear the intimacy in that statement and the need in that statement? To say that the Messiah was going to come to shepherd HIS people is to say: God cares enough to send His son to come and shepherd them in person, and as such protect them and prosper them as He intended.

They are sheep and thus need to be shepherded!

To understand why this is so important let me remind you why sheep need a shepherd. Sheep, you and I, are not real bright!

If you know anything about water, you know swift water is less likely to make you sick than still water that is pooled up, still and developing bacteria.

But sheep are so weak-minded and so cowardly that they will not drink the water from the swift-moving brook, even if it means they will die! They are literally scared to death of moving water. Sheep will literally not step into a creek that is 3 inches deep if it appears to be moving quickly but will instead jump right over it. They would rather risk breaking their ankle by jumping a 2-foot creek then walking through 2 inches of water!

Therefore, Shepherds literally had to build a dam to create a still spot in the brook or creek so the sheep would drink water and not die from dehydration!

So these RELIGIOUS leaders share this prophecy with Herod. It should melt his heart with excitement and love that God has sent His promised son, the KING, not simply to rule, but to know and lead them with the care and purpose of a shepherd who is committed to care for and prosper the life of the sheep!

But instead, Herod secretly calls the Magi to himself so that he can get them to go find out where this baby is born, and as such keep it a secret!
Furthermore, these religious leaders literally do nothing!

“Note well that all the city was agitated (v. 3), so the chief priests and scribes knew what the inquiry was all about, yet they would not undertake an hour and a half’s walk to see the Messiah for themselves (Bethlehem is only five miles from the temple). What apathy!”7

These priests and scholars were the EXPERTS on the messianic prophecies that the entire nation of Israel was longing for! Messianic expectations were extremely high and they wouldn’t even walk five miles to check it out!

When Donald Trump came to Gaston county 50,000 people went to the airport to see him. Trump is nothing but a U.S. president who at most can serve 8 years. By contrast, the Jews were waiting on the Son of GOD and yet these men wouldn’t walk 5 miles to SEEK HIM OUT!

With much more specific and personal information than the magi, who walked 1,200 miles in response to being prompted of Christ’s birth, these religious leaders wouldn’t even walk 5 miles to see the one they claimed to be waiting for.

Their shepherd. Their savior. Their KING. Their GOD!

Their motives clearly had nothing whatsoever to do with knowing God! God was a mere convivence to them to accomplish their own goals!
The magi responded to seek Him but King Herod and the religious leaders who are all descendants of Abraham who should have most anticipated and sought out this baby had no desire to go worship him at all!

You will learn much more about Herod’s response next week. so let’s just leave it with the obvious observation at this point. If he and his religious team had any interest in God at all they would have stopped what they were doing and took off to Bethlehem! But they didn’t. They sent these gentile magi to find a Jewish King!

The Results of the Magi’s Search

They found Jesus and worshiped Him as the King! (2:9-12)

9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

These magi came truly wanting to not just intellectually discover who and where the King was, but rather to actually worship the KING! We can’t say any more than that, but we clearly see them worshiping Him and honoring Him as King!

Now, there’s a lot we could talk about here, but here’s what I want you to understand.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote this,

10 “For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (Jeremiah 29:10-14)

This is a prophecy about the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian captivity. But what I want to focus on is the importance of “MOTIVATION” in that prophecy.

God promised to restore the Jewish people back to the land He promised them. But, it wouldn’t begin until HE initiated it; and it required them to respond to Him by seeking Him with all their heart! That is, God said you will find me when you seek me with all your heart!

Jesus echoed this very truth in his sermon on the mount. So we see the initiation comes from God but for there to be a covenant relationship with Him we must respond to that initiation by seeking Him with all our heart!

Challenge: Why are you seeking The King – Jesus?

Are you seeking Jesus to bolster your kingdom or are you seeking Him to KNOW Him and His Kingdom?

Jesus is not here nor will he ever be here to amplify your kingdom. You can’t help but wonder how Herod would have responded if his religious leaders said the Messiah is coming to enhance your reign. To make your name greater! He would have likely ran the 5 miles to Bethlehem himself!

So listen, the motive of you seeking the KING is going to determine the result of that effort. Those who seek Him to know Him will offer Him their life and as such receive eternal life!. Those who seek Him for alternate reasons will only offer what is necessary in an attempt to get what they want. Often, much like Herod, we create a mess in the process!

It’s also important to note that in relationships there is always a measure of seeking. In healthy relationships, there is a continual effort to seek and pursue the person we are in covenant with.

We should never stop seeking to know and love our spouse. We should never stop seeking to know and love our children and family and friends. Likewise seeking Jesus is not a one-time event.

With the magi, it appears to be a one-time thing only because we know nothing else of the magi. We really have no idea. It appears by their initial response that their lives were changed and forever sought to know the one they had bowed and worshiped, but we just don’t have the information in front of us to tell us.

But the important question is not what they did after they met Jesus, but rather what you and I have done after we met HIM!

Are we continually seeking to know him? If we are, it should be evidenced in that our hearts are truly worshiping Him and submitted to Him in obedience. There should be a MOTIVE driving you to want to worship HIM by yourself and with others (the church), a motive to want to obey HIM, and a motive to want to KNOW HIM that DRIVES YOU TO ACTION. To actually DO SOMETHING!

So what does the evidence say about your motive to seek Jesus?

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Footnotes

  1. Freeman, J. M., & Chadwick, H. J. (1998). Manners & customs of the Bible (p. 399). North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers.
  2. Carson, D. A. (2009). God with Us: Themes from Matthew (p. 14). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock.
  3. Mills, M. S. (1999). The Life of Christ: A Study Guide to the Gospel Record (Mt 2:1–12). Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries.
  4. Mills, M. S. (1999). The Life of Christ: A Study Guide to the Gospel Record (Mt 2:1–12). Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries.
  5. Mills, M. S. (1999). The Life of Christ: A Study Guide to the Gospel Record (Mt 2:1–12). Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries.
  6. Morris, L. (1992). The Gospel according to Matthew (p. 36). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press.
  7. Mills, M. S. (1999). The Life of Christ: A Study Guide to the Gospel Record (Mt 2:1–12). Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries.