“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us!”
I always thought John Wayne said it. But apparently it’s from a 1932 B-grade Western called “The Western Code”.
It’s what happens when TWO people BOTH want to be in charge. And ONE of them will be disappointed!
“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us!” It might have been what someone said in an old Western movie. But it’s ALSO what King Herod said in about 2 BC.
He’s thinking of King Jesus. And the town was Jerusalem.
Because there was a new king in town. And the OLD King wasn’t too pleased. As far as Herod saw it, ONE king was just right. And any new contenders were a threat. Because Herod was in no mood to share his power with ANYONE.
The trouble started when some astronomers turned up. Wise men from around Persia. They’d arrived because they’d noticed a new star appear. And they’d worked out that meant A KING OF THE JEWS had been born. Literally, a sign in the heavens.
And so they turn up at Herod’s palace in Jerusalem. The obvious place for a new king of the Jews to be born. And they ask, in v2.
“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
This new KING OF THE JEWS was so important, A star had appeared to herald his birth. Like a 21 gun salute. Or a trumpet fanfare.
The WHOLE COSMOS was sitting up and taking notice. And that’s what these wise men wanted to do, too. Because when they found him, they wanted to WORSHIP him.
The problem was it was NEWS TO HEROD. His wife hadn’t given birth. So there was no new prince HE was responsible for.
And so this new king, whoever he was, was a THREAT. And he thinks, “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.”
Now, King Herod – Herod the Great – had a history of wiping out his opposition. He’d already murdered a wife, his three sons, his mother-in-law, his brother-in-law, and an uncle. All because he thought they might be a threat.
And they were just NORMAL people. But the wise men were talking about a new king whose birth was announced by a NEW STAR! And who was worth WORSHIPPING. V3 says Herod was DISTURBED, and all Jerusalem WITH him. And no wonder – with HIS reputation, NO ONE was safe!
So Herod got to work. First up, v4, interrogating THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS. “Where would the Christ, or Messiah, appear?” (God’s promised chosen rescuer). They told him Bethlehem was the place. A little town just up the road. That’s what the prophet Micah had predicted.
Next up, he calls THE WISE MEN in, v7, secretly. He finds out when the star had first appeared. That will give him a BIRTH DATE, so he knows how old the boy is.
Then he points them in the direction of Bethlehem. And enlists them to do his dirty work for him. Listen to his instructions. There in v8.
He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
Yeah right! Herod’s about as likely to worship this new king as Donald Trump is to send a Christmas card to Joe Biden.
And so the Magi head off again. But rather than follow HEROD’s directions. It’s THE STAR that leads the way. So they follow IT, INSTEAD.
And v9 tells us the star stopped over the place the child was. It’s actually a PASSIVE verb. The star WAS STOPPED. It didn’t just stop. It was MADE to STOP. In other words, GOD stopped the star.
The God who controls the events of history. Controlled the star that honoured his Son. The star that rose in the sky at his BIRTH. The star that guided the Wise men to where he was.
And notice what happened next. It’s there in v10. What is it that makes the Magi so happy?
When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
I don’t think it’s THE STAR that made them happy. They’d obviously seen IT before. I think it was the fact that the star had STOPPED. They were overjoyed because their journey was OVER. Their searching was finished. They were finally HOME.
They may be hundreds of kilometers from where they LIVED. But they were HOME. The place where the REST of their LIFE BEGAN. Where questions would be answered. Where searching stopped. Where everything would get put into perspective.
Now the NIV translation’s pretty weak here. “They were overjoyed”. There are actually four different words. The old RSV is an accurate translation. “They rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”
And this was even before they’d MET Jesus. That’s in v11.
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary,
Two things to notice, just as an aside. They didn’t meet Jesus in the stable. And he wasn’t in a manger. It was a HOUSE. And it wasn’t a BABY – but a CHILD.
So it must have been some time AFTER Jesus’ birth. (After the night the shepherds visited).
Some other information that supports that:
First, it’s likely the star appeared at Jesus’ BIRTH. And it took the wise men a reasonable period of time to TRAVEL. A number of months at least.
Secondly, Herod sets an age limit of TWO YEARS when he sends his soldiers to kill the baby boys in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16). Because he’d worked out when Jesus was born. And done his sums.
In fact, it doesn’t actually say they went to BETHLEHEM AT ALL. Herod TOLD them to go to Bethlehem. But LUKE’S gospel tells us Jesus’ family returned to Nazareth after his dedication in the temple at 40 days old. So it’s possible that’s where the house is.
So, most nativity scenes and Christmas cards get that bit wrong! Where they show the shepherds and wise men all gathering around the manger.
Almost certainly, it’s two different events. Which makes sense, seeing it’s LUKE’S gospel that tells us about the SHEPHERDS. And Matthew that tells us about the WISE MEN. And neither mentions the other.
So, these wise men finally meet Jesus. And what do they do? V11.
… they BOWED DOWN and WORSHIPED him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with GIFTS of gold and of incense and of myrrh.
The journey was OVER. They’d found the one they’d been looking for. And they fell down. They WORSHIPPED. They gave their gifts. In recognition and gratitude.
This little boy/ embodied God himself. And deserved their worship. Not just their GIFTS, but their LOYALTY and RESPECT and their LIVES.
And their gifts show a God-given insight into Jesus. His identity and role. GOLD fit for a KING. INCENSE – used by the PRIESTS in offering up prayers. And a strange gift for a baby – MYRRH – used to embalm A DEAD BODY.
So much expectation wrapped up in such a small bundle. Arrives with the backing of the God who controls THE STARS. The God who prepared his people to expect him through prophetic messages.
This little child destined for such an AWESOME and PUZZLING combination of roles and responsibilities. A KING over the world – over life and death. Over the fate of people. (promised to David, predicted in Isaiah 9)
A PRIEST standing between God and man. Representing one before the other. (An ETERNAL priest in the order of Melchizedek, promised in Psalm 110).
A DEATHLY SACRIFICE – a life offered in place of others. The means of atonement. A suffering servant pierced for our transgressions, promised in Isaiah 53).
Somehow, they’d perceived that this life that had started with such INNOCENCE and WEAKNESS and PROMISE. Would END in POWERFUL, LOVING, VIOLENT SACRIFICE.
No wonder they’d bowed down and worshipped!
That’s ONE reaction to Jesus. But the opposite reaction is never far from the surface. Look at the very next verse. Verse 12.
And having been warned in a dream not to go back to HEROD, they returned to their country by another route.
And it was just as well they did. Look at how Herod reacted when he found out. Down in v16.
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was FURIOUS, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
Herod. And the Magi. Two opposite responses to Jesus.
Herod was troubled. And jealous. And threatened. And furious. He’d do ANYTHING to keep Jesus OFF the throne.
And the Magi. They’d do anything to SEE HIM ENTHRONED. To WORSHIP him. To OFFER THEMSELVES in SERVICE to him.
And it’s the same today. There are millions of Herods around. Puny, deluded kings. Looking to control every part of their life. (Their health, their financial security, their pleasure, their leisure, their choices). Refusing to submit. Always knowing best. Ruthless in dealing with any threat to their autonomy.
You see, anyone who lives life WITHOUT Jesus on the throne. Is a King Herod.
It’s JESUS who deserves to be your king. In fact, he IS the king over the cosmos, whether we recognize him or NOT.
God sent him to be a priest and a sacrifice. To die in our place. To win our reconciliation back to God. And then he RAISED HIM FROM DEATH, DECLARING him to be both LORD and MESSIAH. To be KING over EVERYTHING. (That’s Acts 2:36)
Philippians 2 says God EXALTED Jesus to the HIGHEST place, and gave him the name that is above EVERY name. So that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW.
And, ONE DAY, that WILL happen. (Every knee will bow before King Jesus). Either WILLINGLY, or Unwillingly.
The wise men just got in EARLY. They bowed the knee to Jesus as a little BOY.
But MOST people AREN’T wise. They’re like King Herod. Most people think life’s about looking after “Number One”. And ignoring the opposition. Doing WHAT they want/ WHEN they want. People might OPENLY thumb our noses at Jesus. Try to wipe him out. That’s what Herod did. Or people might just PRETEND he’s not there. ACT as if he’s not there. That’s probably most Aussies. But either way. For most people. If Jesus is on the scene. (If he’s asserting his right to rule). THAT’S ONE KING TOO MANY.
And THAT sort of attitude/ is what the Bible calls sin. (Setting yourself up on life’s throne. Instead of Jesus. Thinking you know better than the God who created you). That’s sin.
And God says/ that deserves his JUDGMENT. ETERNAL separation from him. Giving us what we WANT. Independence from God for all eternity. (People thought being on HEROD’S bad side was a scary thing. But that’s NOTHING compared to being on God’s bad side.)
Much better, says Matthew, to be a WISE GUY. Wisdom/ is recognising the true state of affairs and acting on it. It’s what the Magi did. Recognise who Jesus is. And submit to him. Fall before him. That’s where we deserve to be. On our faces in front of him.
This Christmas we all give and receive gifts. But how about giving KING JESUS the gift HE deserves? Our loyalty. Our worship. A life committed to serving him as king.
You see, the Magi ALSO knew that once Jesus arrived/ that was ONE KING TOO MANY. They couldn’t continue being king of their life/ while Jesus was king.
And so they demitted. They stepped off the throne of their lives. They bowed down and worshipped. They gave the crown to Jesus instead.
And that’s what WE need to do. The FIRST time we do that is when God makes us a new person. When we become a Christian.
Perhaps that’s something YOU need to do this Christmas.
Most of you have already done that. But we need to KEEP doing that. EACH DAY hopping off our thrones. And bowing before King Jesus. In SUBMISSION to his majesty and authority. And in THANKS that he’s saved us. Give up your kingship in your CAREER. In your AMBITION. Give it up / in your plans for how your CHILDREN will grow up. Or your plans for the future. Give it up in your MARRIAGE. Or your singleness. Give up your kingship over your HEALTH. And over your COMFORT. And PLEASURE. And your FINANCIAL SECURITY.
Wise Guys give up their kingship EVERY DAY. And fall before King Jesus. Because they recognise that TWO kings/ is ONE king too many.