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Sermon 12/18/11
Matthew 2:2 - Bethlehem And Beyond

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BETHLEHEM AND BEYOND"
by Pastor Gary R. Hindman
(Voice by Pastor Ron Beckham)

"We have seen His star... and have come to worship Him" (Matthew 2:2)

"A cold coming we had of it, just the worst time of the year for a journey, and such a long journey..." So begins T.S. Elliot's great poem, "Journey of the Magi" - depicting the travels of Wise Men and the homage they paid the Christ Child.  Actually, two groups journeyed to Bethlehem - one from afar, the other from just over the hill, each representing more than themselves.

The shepherds were poor, uneducated, local workers.  Even if their lowly work with animals rendered them unclean and unwelcome at the synagogue, they were welcome, for Christ came to show us that all are welcome in His Kingdom, young and old, rich and poor, male and female, saints and sinners.  Shepherds are welcome but so are the worldly and wise like the Magi - those Eastern scholars who had read in the stars that a great birth was to take place in Judea. Their journey from Persia to Bethlehem was long, toilsome and perilous.  They crossed deserts, forded streams and dodged marauders, but finally, "they came to the house and saw the young child with Mary, His mother."

They reached their destination but in my mind's eye, I see them disappointed.  I think they anticipated great rejoicing at the birth of a King.  Maybe they thought the roads to Judea would be thronged with pilgrims and admirers going King-ward much as they were.  But the roads were as empty as a retail store in January; there was no song, no dance, no celebration to be had.  I imagine their Chaldean neighbors had told them it was all folly to set off for Palestine.  But with great strength and enthusiasm they persevered; nothing could baffle, daunt or dismay them from that glad moment recorded in Matthew’s gospel which says: "When they came into the house they saw the child."

It was more than adventure, more than Jewish prophesy that carried them to Jerusalem.  The secret of their perseverance is not hard to find: they were following a star.  Guided by anything less they would have wearied long before Bethlehem. Look at the basis for almost anyone's hopes and dreams and you have seen a spiritual dimension.  When we can find a great vision and hold to it steadily, through ridicule and insult and obstruction there is more there than our own will... there is the hand of God.

A while back a woman came up to speak with me after a service.  She told about a powerful religious experience of years before.  She was ill, close to death.  And at that moment she saw a great light and felt tremendous peace and comfort.  When she recovered from the illness, the memory of her near-death experience stayed with her.  It is a vision that has blessed and strengthened her faith.  It took away all fear of death and has given her a wonderful radiance and a willingness to share her faith with others.  We live by our hopes, dreams and visions and they can help us do great things we would otherwise be incapable of doing.

Such an idea is behind Dicken's immortal story, “The Tale of Two Cities.”  It is a book not just of two cities but of two men who lived in the difficult period of the French Revolution. Their personalities were very different.  Sidney Carton, the Englishman was a brilliant lawyer but he was also a wild and reckless man whose life was wasted in debauchery and hard living.  His counterpart was Charles Darnay, a Frenchman of kind and noble character.  They were very different but they had two things in common; first, an uncanny physical resemblance and second, they both loved the same woman.

In the novel, Darnay marries the woman they both love and in the joy of their marriage, she gives birth to a lovely daughter.  But as fate would have it, Darnay finds himself in France, in prison, facing the Guillotine.  The only way he can be saved is through a brilliant plan of Carton's.  He would enter the prison, exchange places, and substitute his previously wasted life for that of Darnay's.

Carton, the reckless and selfish man becomes the hero of the novel.  But his strength comes from the hand of Almighty God, for he is utterly captivated by words taught him from his mother's side, words of Jesus Christ: "I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me, shall never die."  These words were his guiding star in the decision to substitute his life for that of Charles Darnay.

Many people are like Sidney Carton - struggling in vain in some trackless wilderness.   We listen to conflicting voices.  They immobilize us.  We know not which way to go.  Having no star we never reach the stable.  But by the grace of God we sometimes lift our eyes above the mist and make our stand in the Lord.  We say with the poet, "Come night or agony, God reigneth" and our life is filled with quiet purpose like that of wise men who, at last, come into the house.

To be sure, many entered the inn at Bethlehem, and for many reasons.  It was a stopping off place of caravans and pilgrims, wayfarers and merchants and those gathered for taxing.  Like all travelers from time immemorial they came to rest and eat and share the adventures of the day.  Not a few saw a man and a woman and a child but they saw nothing extraordinary.  Only the wise men fell down and opened their treasures and offered Him gifts. How blind most of us are!  How little we know of what is going on!  We rise and journey and eat and rest and never know what is being transacted just across the hall or down the street a couple of doors!

A couple of years ago, we awoke one morning to find out that the police and been at the home of a neighbor.  We were shocked to learn that the husband had been estranged from his wife.  He returned home the night before and they had a big fight.  She shot him dead, called 911 and then took her own life.  Part of the tragedy is that none of the neighbors knew what happened in their lives.  Perhaps just one compassionate ear, one sympathetic voice, one concerned friend might have made the difference - but we did not know; we did not take the time or effort in their time of need.  So much of life is subtle and quiet.  Often in our indifference we do not even stir to listen and care and reach out.  Like people in Bethlehem, we sleep through great opportunity.  And yet, it need not be so. The wise men went into the house and saw there a King.  Why? Because they followed a star and came seeking a King.  It is said that Caesar came and saw and conquered, but not these three.  They came and saw and worshipped, which is the course of wisdom... and the course of salvation! 

Bunyan refers to the church as "the House Beautiful."  When you come into the "House Beautiful" the central question is what is it you see?  When you come to a churcy what do you see?  The answer is tied up in what you seek.  If you seek to find fault you will find it easily.  If you want to be critical you can be... and some are!  If you seek perfect prayer and preaching, you will be disappointed.  But if you seek fellowship, it's here.  If you seek sanctuary and inspiration and light and guidance, power to live and power to die, to bless and be a blessing... it's here!  It's here for the diligent and wise.  It is not so much that we see, as how we understand what we see. It is a matter of wanting to see and of seeking. Deeper still, we were sought by One who calls us to be His child.

Remember the words of Augustine: "I came to love You late, O Beauty, so ancient and so new; I came to love You late.  You were within me and I was outside.  You were with me but I was not with You.  You called me.  You shouted to me.  You bathed me in Your light.  You wrapped me in Your splendor.  You sent my blindness reeling.  You touched me and I burned to know Your peace."  And he did.  And millions are the richer because Augustine came to know the Lord!

This is a time for new beginnings. It’s a time to pull together and think how God might use us for a future that is in His hands.  Let us recall that Christ has come into the world to announce the overwhelming love of God.  He bids us come to see for ourselves.  The good life is here, just over the threshold, in the house.  It is a child, a teacher, a prophet, a King, a Savior, our High Priest, our Redeemer.  He comes and asks us to come too, and walk with Him in the wonder of His grace.

Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart, in my life. Help me to be in blessed commitment to Him who entered the world in the humble beginnings of Bethlehem.  In Jesus Name. Amen.

By Gary R. Hindman
Audio by Pastor Ron Beckham
Friday Study Ministries
www.FirstChurchOnTheNet.org
www.FridayStudy.org
Write to:
Ron@FridayStudy.org
"While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8)
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