PULPIT TODAY SERMONS
Robert D. Pace
The Bible discloses two groups of people that journeyed to see Jesus in the Christmas story—shepherds and Wise Men. In a moment, we will investigate their trips, but first . . .
(Illustration) Do you remember those family vacations that took you hundreds of miles from home? Weren’t they exciting? Plans were made, the days were counted before leaving, at the last minute you packed, and everyone piled into the car. Then there were all the personalities that converged into that vehicle! From the moment the trip started, one child was asking dad to estimate how long the trip would take and another was lamenting how hungry he/she was and when they could stop to eat. And there’s always one child that doesn’t want anything to do with traveling. This person is the family’s designator pouter whose idea of happiness is to spend every night at home. And then there’s mom. Mom did all the planning, preparing, and packing so she just wants to take a tranquilizer, crawl in the trunk, and wake up when they arrive. Those trips were fun, weren’t they? When we take trips, there’s always a risk that things can go wrong; terribly wrong!
There’s the chance that our dream vacations could turn into nightmares.
The beachfront condo that the brochure promised turns out to be unfit for a rat.
That mountain-view, get-away chalet you rented turns out to be a leaky, wooden, shack.
Then there are times when you leave on a trip and the car breaks down, or your money is stolen, or the keys are lost.
Has anybody here had to deal with misfortune on a trip? When it came to traveling my grandfather, who was a pastor, was the master of misfortune. He was born in 1901, and for years he rarely took an extended trip without having a flat tire. My mother told me that on one trip between Tampa and Atlanta he stopped to repair sixteen flat tires. Thank goodness for steel belt radial tires!
(Illustration) My grandfather not only pastored, he raised farm animals. One Christmas he decided to give his brother some pork. His brother lived 500 miles away, so it took some creativity to deliver that pork in the form of a live pig. My granddaddy constructed a wooden crate, inserted the hog, and then fastened the crate to the front of his car. Unfortunately, a severe cold-front moved in during that trip and the pig froze to death on the highway. But there was always next year. The following Christmas my granddad strapped a crate onto the rear of his vehicle. Again, the hog met its fate . . . from exhaust fumes!
(Transition) Let’s get back to our Christmas Story. Thankfully, these travelers of the First Century that sought out the Christ-child had better fortune. First, there were shepherds that visited our Lord.
Luke says as these shepherds watched their flocks during the night, the glory of God shined all around them. Now can you imagine that? It’s pitch black and then, suddenly, everything around them is illuminated! Then an angel appears and announces that the awaited Savior of the world has been born and is lying in swaddling clothes in a manger in Bethlehem. But it’s still not over. Besides this angelic messenger and the glory of God that is all around them, a vast, multitude of angels appears praising God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (2:13).
The shepherds looked at one another and decided there was one recourse: “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about. And they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger” (2:15-16).
I want you to note how Luke expressed the shepherds’ response: They “hurried off” to see Christ. There was no wasted time! The Chief Shepherd had appeared and they wanted to see Him. So they left their flocks and rushed to Bethlehem where they worshiped the Lord.
Why Did the Shepherds Leave their Flocks?
Why would the Shepherds rush off and leave their flocks? Were their actions derelict? Who would protect their flocks from predators? It seems somewhat irresponsible to leave their flocks, but let’s investigate this.
Imagine yourself as one of those shepherds. How would you respond had you seen the midnight sky radiate with God’s glory and then heard millions of angels praising God? Would you refuse to leave your flock once after witnessing these supernatural sights and hearing the angel command you to visit the Savior of Bethlehem? The answer is obvious. Had you or I been a shepherd, nothing could have prevented us from rushing to Bethlehem!
You see, when God breaks upon your life with undeniable certainty and reveals His plans, nothing should stand in your way of obeying Him. When it is apparent God has revealed an urgent plan, even our mandatory obligations must be altered to comply with God’s work.
Once more, when God asks for your attention, it is imperative to give it to Him. He is Almighty God and worthy of any request He makes. God is jealous. And He is the only person who is justified in His jealousy. Have you ever wondered how God can be perfect and yet jealous? Why He can forbid us from allowing jealousy to grip our lives, but it’s okay for Him? Let me explain.
(Illustration) A sports superstar may be the best in his particular profession. But he is never justified for being jealous of other athletes. That’s because no athlete has a monopoly on playing their sport. Since 1776 more than 43 men have served as US President. But no President has secured a monopoly on the Presidency. Elections are convened every 4 years. However, God is justified for His jealousy! That’s because God has a monopoly on being God! He has always been the Sovereign Lord of the Universe and He always will be. None is His equal. Thus, God desires all men to worship Him, praise Him, and commit to Him.
By the way, I believe when those Shepherds left their flocks without their attention, God Himself providentially protected those animals. They were never more safe than the night God Himself cared for them.
(Transition) That describes the trip the Shepherds made, now let’s investigate the trip of the Magi.
The Trip of the Magi
The Magi from the East arrived in Israel through the guidance of a star. Upon arriving, they asked: “where is the one who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2)? Matthew said Herod and all of Jerusalem were disturbed by the news that a king had been born. I want you to note that: “all of Jerusalem was disturbed by the news.” With the religious and political systems in place, the Birth of Christ, the King, unsettled the entire body of Jerusalem. That’s why Herod quizzed the Wise Men: “Tell me about this star. When did it appear? I too desire to worship Him.” Herod’s plan wasn’t to worship Christ; it was to kill Him!
Thus, the angel warned the Magi of Herod’s deception after presenting Christ with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Being “Wise Men,” they heeded the angel’s warning and rerouted their journey home. If it were possible, Herod would have murdered the Magi along with Christ. Moreover, the trip of the Magi, just as the Shepherds, had its risks.
I want to point out the disposition of the Wise Men:
1. The Magi Listened.
Somehow, they heard God’s voice and His message to follow the star. I haven’t totally determined how they knew to begin their journey and which method they employed to follow the star. All I know is: They somehow discerned God’s voice!
2. The Magi Obeyed! They not only recognized their mission; they obeyed. And nothing they encountered could turn them back.
3. The Wise Men Watched. They looked to the heavens and saw the star that led them to Christ. And it’s always appropriate to keep an upward look as we live for the Lord.
4. The Magi Persisted. They faithfully searched for the Lord until they found Him. Nothing prevented them from turning from their course until their destination was met.
5. The Wise Men Worshiped. They made great sacrifice in giving Christ gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And consider their reward: These Shepherds and Wise Men saw the King of kings and Lord of lords! They stood before the Savior of the world and worshiped Him face-to-face. They touched the face of Emmanuel, the “Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father, Mighty God, and Prince of Peace.”
It would have been a grand privilege to see Christ as a Man among men 2000 years ago, but we can’t go back in time. But there’s another trip you can make. It’s the most important voyage you will take. It’s your journey into eternity. Everyone here is headed toward one of two places: Heaven or Hell. And you make preparation for Heaven by inviting Christ into your heart. If you haven’t accepted Christ as Savior, do so today.
Most people gathered here are Christians. You’ve touched Christ “by faith,” and travelled the highway to heaven for years. Along the way, like the Magi, you have dealt with obstacles. You have repaired flat tires, searched for lost keys, made wrong turns, or perhaps even wrecked. Maybe unscrupulous people, like Herod, tried to subvert your trip. But somehow, by God’s grace, you didn’t turn back. You’re still moving forward. Let me assure you of something: When you arrive at your destination, you will instantly discover the journey was worth it!
Folks, we aren’t going to Bethlehem; we’re going to Heaven. We aren’t going to see the “Babe in a manger”; our trip is to see the King of kings and Lord of lords. And unlike the shepherds and Magi, our journey will be no temporary visit. We are moving toward our eternal destination! Don’t get sidetracked. Stay the course. God’s plan is to bring us safely to Heaven’s shore.
(Transition) Now for some final words about our journey.
Folks, we aren’t going to Bethlehem; we’re going to Heaven. We aren’t going to see the “Babe in a manger”; our trip is to see the “King of kings and Lord of lords.” And unlike the shepherds and Magi, our journey will be no temporary visit. We are moving toward our eternal destination! So don’t get sidetracked. Stay the course. God’s plan is to bring us safely to Heaven’s shore. And when we arrive, the words of David in Psalm 16:11 will find fulfillment when he says: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” [ESV].