Robert Jeffress - A Portrait of Two Kings - Part 1
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". Over the years, you're likely to have become familiar with the story of the baby Jesus, but how about the story of the two kings? Today, I'll take an unconventional approach to the traditional Christmas story by contrasting two very different rulers. One embraced the world's Philosophy while the other followed God, and their outcome provides a profound lesson for you and me today. My message is titled "A Portrait of Two Kings" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
I probably shouldn't admit this, but I'm going to. One of my favorite television programs is the classic sitcom "Seinfeld". Now, for those of you who are not familiar with "Seinfeld", one of the key characters in Seinfeld is a middle-aged guy named George, and George is a loser in every sense of the word. He can't hold a job. He lives with his parents. He's always striking out with women. And in one episode, George is tired of his mediocre existence, so he decides that he's going to start doing exactly opposite of everything he's done up to that point. After all, his life hasn't been going so well.
Why not start doing the opposite? And that's what he does. When he goes to the delicatessen, instead of ordering tuna on wheat, he orders chicken salad on white. When a girl flirts with him, instead of being timid and embarrassed, he flirts back in response. When he's in a meeting, instead of being quiet like he usually does, he speaks out. And amazingly, by doing what is opposite, George starts experiencing all kind of success in his work and with women and other parts of his life.
Now, there's no evidence in the show that George is a Christian, but George certainly exhibits a Christian principle in his actions, and that is the key to success and significance in life is doing opposite of what comes naturally. Perhaps the greatest example of doing what is opposite our natural inclination is found in Matthew 20:26-27, in which Jesus said, "Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave". Isn't it interesting that Jesus doesn't condemn those who want success and significance in life? Jesus says, "There's nothing wrong with that". In fact, God is the one who placed that desire in our hearts to be successful and significant.
Jesus said, "There's nothing wrong with that, but if you really want that, you need to go against the grain of your natural inclination". For example, do you want material success in life? The world says, "Hold on to what you have". God says, "Let go of what you have". Do you fear what your opposition might do to you? The world says, "Crush your opposition". Jesus says, "Love your opposition". Do you want to climb to the top of your organization where you work? The world says, "Rule over other people". Jesus says, "Serve other people". Do you desire to have eternal life? The world says, "You better work for it. You have to work for your salvation". God says, "No, you receive salvation as a gift". The surest way to fail in life is to follow your natural inclination. The way to succeed in your life is to do what is opposite of what comes naturally.
Today, we're going to see an illustration of that truth as we look at a portrait of two very different kings. One king embraced the world's Philosophy for success, and he experienced humiliation. The other king embraced God's formula for success, and he experienced exaltation. If you have your Bibles today, turn to Matthew 2. Now, you'll remember, Matthew is the gospel out of the four gospels that was written specifically to the Jews to prove that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. And that's why you have in Matthew more quotations from the Old Testament than any of the other gospels.
Matthew is trying to show how Jesus fulfilled the hundreds of prophecies that were found in the Old Testament. Some have estimated that there are as many as 330 prophecies in the Old Testament about Christ's birth, his life, his ministry, his death, his resurrection. Some of these prophecies were written a thousand years before the birth of Christ. For example, Isaiah 7:14, written 700 years before Christ's birth, prophesied he would be born of a virgin. In Psalm 4:9, written 900 years before Christ, it was predicted that he would be betrayed by a friend. In Zechariah 11:12, written 520 years before Christ, it was predicted that he would be sold, or betrayed, for 30 pieces of silver. Isn't that amazing?
Psalm 22, written a thousand years before the birth of Christ, predicted that the Messiah would die by crucifixion. You say, "What's the big deal about that"? Crucifixion hadn't even been invented at that point in time. And yet, in Psalm 22, you find a vivid description of crucifixion. What are the chances of these prophecies being fulfilled by one person by accident? One noted mathematician said, "The odds of one person fulfilling just eight of these prophecies is one in 10 to the 17th power". That is a one followed by 17 zeros.
Now, that's just for eight prophecies. The chance of one person in history accidentally fulfilling 48 of these prophecies is one in 10 to the 157th power. That's one followed by 157 zeroes. What do you think the chances are, one man fulfilling 330 prophecies? It could not, it is impossible that it would happen by chance. That is Matthew's point in his gospel. So, when we come to Matthew 2, the birth of Jesus, we find that this chapter is built around four Old Testament prophecies about the birth of Christ and their fulfillment. For example, Matthew prophesies, or details where Jesus was born, in Bethlehem. That is a fulfillment of Micah 5:2 that was written 700 years before the birth of Christ. We find the prediction in this chapter that Joseph and Mary would take Christ to Egypt in order to protect him from Herod's rampage.
Again, that was prophesied in Hosea 11. We find that Herod would launch an attack against the Hebrew children. That was prophesied in Jeremiah 31:11. And then finally, in verse 23, when Joseph and Mary return to Israel and reside in Nazareth, that was predicted by Isaiah the prophet 700 years before the fact. Now, let's look at the first 12 verses that explain the story of how Christ fulfilled these prophecies. Look at chapter two, verse one. "Now, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king," this is the first king mentioned in the passage, "Behold, Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem".
Now, who were these Magi? They were scholars from the east. They were prevalent in the Medo-Persian empire. They were well-learned in science as well as in religion. In fact, you could not become a king in Persia or Babylon without having gone through the school of the Magis. The Bible says they came from the east, they came from Persia. That's modern-day Iran, is where they came from, and they came to seek out the Christ child. By the way, do you remember the first time we talked about the Magi? One of the first times is in the Old Testament in the book of Daniel.
Remember how Nebuchadnezzar had the troubling dreams that he could not interpret? So, he called for the wise men, the learned men in his court to interpret the dreams. Those men were the Magi. They were well-versed in science and in religion. And when these Magi could not interpret Nebuchadnezzar's dream, that's when he sent for Daniel and he had Daniel to interpret the dream. And when Daniel successfully interpreted the dream, the book of Daniel says, "Nebuchadnezzar put him in charge of the Magi".
So, for hundreds of years, the Magi who followed repeated what Daniel had taught those Magi. It was Daniel who taught the Magi in Nebuchadnezzar's court about the scriptures that foretold of a coming Messiah. And that's why the Magi passed it down from generation to generation. For 500 years, they passed down what Daniel had said about the coming of the Magi. That explains why the Magi were interested in knowing about this Christ. Look at verse two. "They came to Jerusalem, saying, 'where is he who has been born king of the Jews'"? Wait a minute, that was the title of Herod. He was the king of the Jews. But they said, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east, and we have come to worship him".
We don't know a lot about this star. It may have been a comet. It may have been a planet. It may have been the shekinah glory of God that led them there, the same shekinah glory that appeared to the shepherds on the hill. Now, notice Herod's response when he got words of the inquiry by the Magi, verse three. "And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all of Jerusalem with him". That word trouble literally means stirred up. It means agitated. We'll see in a moment why Herod was so agitated. He was on shaky political ground. He was agitated about a rival king being born. He was agitated, but it also says, "All Jerusalem with him".
Why were they agitated? It wasn't that they were agitated about the news of Christ. They were agitated because Herod was agitated. You see, there was a maxim of the day that said, "If the king ain't happy, ain't nobody happy". They knew they were going to feel the wrath of Herod for his agitation. And so, Herod was very disturbed about this. And so, he asked his scribes, the religious leaders of the day, the Jews, the Sadducees, probably, he says, "What is this about some king being born"? And they said, "Well, Herod, that is prophesied in Micah 5:2, written hundreds of years before the fact that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem".
Now, this spring, some of us got to go to Bethlehem and it's not much of a city today, and it was certainly nothing in Herod's day. In fact, there were less than a thousand who lived in Bethlehem. But of all the places in the earth where Messiah could be born, Micah pinpointed it, hundreds of years before the fact, to Bethlehem. So, they tell Herod, "The scriptures say he's going to be born in Bethlehem". Now, can I stop here and point out something that, to me, is so amazing? These religious leaders, they knew what the scripture says. They knew that the Messiah had been born in Bethlehem, and yet they were so indifferent about it that they wouldn't walk a couple of miles to see the Son of God. It's not that they were ignorant about Christ. They knew what the scripture said. They were just indifferent to the message of Christ.
You see, to them, the news that the angel proclaimed, "Behold, born to you this day in the city of David, a Savior," to them, that was a yawner. "A Savior". You see, the news of a Savior is really no news at all if you don't feel like you need a Savior. Their attitude is like many people today, even religious people who say, "Well, a Savior? I don't need a Savior. Saved from what"?
I think of the word of Ted Turner a few years ago, the cable mogul who said, "Christianity is a religion for losers. If having a couple of drinks and a couple of girlfriends will send you to hell, so be it". That's the attitude of most people. "I'm not that bad. I don't need a Savior". And that's why the religious leaders, they weren't willing to walk two miles to see the Savior. One of the great, interesting, ironic things is Herod was more interested in the birth of Jesus than even the religious people were. And that's why he said in verse eight to the wise men, "Oh, go find him, and come back and tell me where he is so that I may too come and worship him".
Right. Look at verse nine: and having heard the king, they went their way, and lo, the star which they had seen in the east went on before them until it came and stood over where the child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And they came into the house and they saw the child with Mary, his mother. Will you underline that word, "They came into the house". I don't want to burst your Christmas bubble, but the Magi did not come to the manger. They weren't there. This is several months later. Mary and Joseph were in the house, so the Magi weren't there, Santa Claus wasn't there. There were some people at the manger, but it wasn't that group, okay? "They came into the house and they saw the child with Mary, his mother, and they fell down and they worshiped them".
Is that what the text says? No, they didn't fall down and worship them, Mary and Jesus. "They fell down and they worshiped him". They worshiped Jesus. Now, Mary was a extraordinary girl, a teenager who allowed herself to be used by God, who believed the promises of God. We ought to admire Mary, we ought to revere her, but we are never to worship her. "They came and they worshiped him. And opening their treasures, they presented to him gifts of gold," to celebrate his deity, "And Frankincense," celebrating his purity. "And myrrh," what was myrrh? It was an oil that was used to prepare a body for burial after it had died.
What a strange gift to bring a baby. That would be like going to a baby shower today and bringing a little casket as a gift for the baby. I mean, talk about bad taste. Why would you do that? Why did they do this? Because they recognized who this baby was. He was a baby born to die. Look at verse 12. They worshiped Christ. Verse 12 says, "And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way". Matthew's purpose in this chapter is to show that Jesus is the Messiah. How do we know he's the Messiah? Three ways, Matthew says. First of all, by all of the fulfilled prophecies, four of which, Matthew says, I just mentioned.
Secondly, by the Magi's response. Here, you've got these gentiles, heathen, from another country, who recognize who Jesus really is. But a third evidence of the deity of Christ, oddly enough, is Herod's response to the birth of Christ. I mean, think about it. Why should a powerful monarch like Herod get all riled up about the birth of a baby in Bethlehem? I mean, it makes no sense when you think about it. By the way, it really doesn't make any sense today when you think about it that people get so angry about the Christmas message. They try to stamp out the singing of carols, the display of the nativity scene, saying, "Merry Christmas". I mean, how do you explain such a response?
If all of this were simply a fable, why would people even care? The fact that there's such anger toward the message of Christ and people try to stamp out the Christian message today, to me, that's one of the greatest proofs of the credibility, the authenticity of the Christmas message. The war on Christmas? You've heard me say on television it's very real, but it's nothing new. It began 2,000 years ago with Herod. Herod launched the war against Christmas, as we'll see in just a few moments. Herod's unusual response to the coming of Christ certainly authenticates the gospel. But I want to go a little bit different direction this morning for the final minutes that we have. Herod's response also illustrates the world's Philosophy of how you obtain success in life.
I want you to think about Herod for a moment and how he responded through his life, and especially at the birth of Christ. And I want you to think about three phrases that I think sum up Herod's Philosophy of success in life, the world's Philosophy of success in life. I just jotted these down this week. Jot them down, would you? Philosophy number one, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer". That was king Herod. Who was this king Herod? To me, this is fascinating in history. King Herod, Herod, we call him Herod the great, was the son of a man named Antipater. Antipater had been appointed by Julius Caesar to be the governor of all of Judea. And because of the special things Antipater had done for the Roman Empire, when he died, the Roman senate voted to confirm his son Herod as the king of the Jews, the king of Judea.
Now, Herod was not a Jew himself. He was an Edomite. And for that reason, he always felt like he was an outsider. He always felt like his reign was tenuous. And so, he was always trying to do things to curry favor with people in order to gain their respect and their followership. For example, by the time he came to the throne as the king of the Jews, there was another emperor named Caesar Augustus. And in order to gain Caesar's favor, Herod built a beautiful portside city called Caesarea by the sea.
Again, many of us have been there to see that spectacular display. That was built by king Herod to pay tribute to Caesar. He tried to gain favor with the citizens by building racetracks and theaters. He even tried to gain the favor of the Jewish people himself by launching a great rebuilding project of their temple. And that began in 19 BC, and it was the temple that Jesus would worship in. His whole purpose in doing that is not because he really cared about these people. It was for his own glorification.
"Keep your friends close and your enemies closer". But sometimes, the Mr. Nice Guy routine didn't work. And so, Herod had another Philosophy that guided his life. The phrase, "Don't get mad," what is it? "Get even". And that was Herod. You see, Herod's father, Antipater, had been killed by his political enemies. So, Herod knew you had to stamp out any kind of rebellion quickly. Historians tell us that one evening, Herod had invited all of his political enemies to dinner. And so, all of his enemies arrived for dinner and they were greeted by Herod's hitmen, who killed them immediately.
The historians tell us, that night, the king slept well. And yet, Herod also realized that revenge alone wouldn't do it. Sometimes, you had to be on the offense. And that led to his third Philosophy, "Do unto others before they do unto you". Herod was always looking to stamp out his opposition. For example, he was fearful that his brother-in-law, Aristobulus, who was the high priest, was plotting an attack against him. So, he had him killed. And then, for good measure, he had his sister killed. And then he had one of his wives killed. And then he had his mother-in-law killed.
We understand the last one, but the others, I mean they were horrendous acts. When Herod felt like his two elder sons were plotting against him, he had them executed as well. Realizing how hated he was among the Jewish people, Herod realized that when he died, the people would be rejoicing. He couldn't stand that idea. And so, he ordered his officials to round up all of the leading citizens of Jerusalem and have them imprisoned. And then he gave the instruction, "When I die, I want you to kill them immediately as well". Why? He said, "When I die, I want the residents of Jerusalem weeping, even if they're not weeping for me". That was Herod the great.