NEAR AND YET SO FAR FROM THE TRUTH by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
We are in our series from the life of Christ from all four gospels and this morning we are in Matthew 2 for our message titled – “NEAR AND YET SO FAR FROM THE TRUTH.” We live in what is known as The Bible Belt, where we are surrounded by churches, Christian bookstores/schools/colleges, and Christian voices. But here’s the danger: Truth can be staring you in the face and you can still fail to recognize it.
Matthew 2 1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet…
Overall Background: In the passage we just read, we see two different reactions to the coming of Jesus Christ. The first is the reaction of the magi from the east. If you remember from last week, they were nothing like what we have made them out to be. They were stargazers, astronomers, astrologers, dream interpreters, and sorcerers. If tradition is correct, they travelled from the city of Saveh in modern day Iran, which was 430 miles northeast of Bethlehem. That’s as far as from here to Atlanta. They had to cross the boundary of the Parthian kingdom and enter into the Roman territory, which was very dangerous. Not only that but they had to come into Palestine where the Jewish people didn’t like them much. But these magi were relentless. They were not going to stop until they found the King of the Jews – the Messiah!
The second reaction came only 6 miles northeast of Bethlehem from Herod the King. When the magi came to Jerusalem asking where is the King of the Jews, listen to his response in verse 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. One – he didn’t even know that Jesus was going to be born. Second – he didn’t rejoice but he was troubled. The magi found Jesus but Herod missed him – 430 miles vs. 6 miles, living in pagan Persia vs. living in biblical Palestine. Listen carefully – Nearness to the truth is no guarantee of reception of truth. Exposure to the truth does help but it will not guarantee that you will get saved. You may be living 5 minutes from church but it will not guarantee that you will come to Jesus.
What makes the difference? Jeremiah 29:13 “you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”
Application: Are you seeking God with all your heart this morning? What is keeping you from finding Jesus this morning? If you have found Him, then wonderful but what is keeping your friend, family, and neighbors from finding Him? Are you praying they will find Him? Are you reaching out to them so they will find Him?
This morning we will see what kept King Herod from finding Jesus. Much of the information that I will be sharing comes from the first century Jewish historian Josephus. Basically three things blocked his view of Jesus: Work Problems, Family Problems, and Church Problems.
- WORK PROBLEMS
Background: Herod’s grandfather had worked his way up and became the governor of Idumea. Herod’s father also followed in his footsteps and became even more successful. Sadly, some people were envious of his success and poisoned him. Now it was Herod’s turn. He was hard working. He had unending energy. He was not the type who just made his soldiers fight. He was unbeatable in hand-to-hand combat, a very good horseman, and also a good hunter. He did have a bad temper. He had all the Hasmoneans killed. He had one of his brother-in-laws – Aristobulus, the High Priest – killed. He had 300 of his military leaders killed. Yeah – he was ruthless in killing people but it was all for a good cause. Overall, he was generous. When there was drought, he used his own resources to help the people. He built up a strong military. He protected his people against bandits and tried to make his region safer and peaceful. He was an amazing architect. He built forts, public buildings, streets, water systems, supported the Olympic games and on and on.
Did the people love him for all this? Not really. His people didn’t appreciate him. The Jewish people didn’t accept him because he wasn’t Jewish. His enemies tried to bring him to trial. The supporters of the opposition group tried to attack his family. He had to fight off the Parthians. He had to constantly keep Rome happy. I feel sorry for the guy. Don’t you? Yes – He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth but he still had to work for every bit of what he had and people didn’t appreciate him.
Do you know people like that? They’ve worked hard all their lives. They’ve had to deal with junk. Yeah they made some bad choices but who doesn’t. They’ve tried to help people but they were not appreciated. Work is good but it still won’t earn you heaven.
Matthew 16:26 “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Meaning: You can have the whole world and still lose your soul.
Application: Are you relying on your hard work to get to heaven? Are you relying on your career to get you into heaven? Do you feel that God will just give you heaven because of all that you’ve had to deal with from Monday to Friday? Do you think the good you’ve done for people trumps the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross?
2. FAMILY PROBLEMS
Background: Herod’s family life was a mess, partly because he had ten wives and each of them wanted their son(s) to be the next king. His second wife deserves to mentioned in particular. He dismissed his first wife and son to marry Mariamme, a woman from a Hasmonean (prominent Jewish) family. Initially he did it to help his position, which it didn’t, but then he really loved her and had 5 children with her. She knew what he was like and she didn’t love him. As Josephus the historian said, “her hatred of him was as great as was his love for her.” Herod’s sister started a rumor that Mariamme was cheating on him and in a fit of rage he had her killed. Then, he realized what he had done and began to grieve over her and even refused to believe that she was dead. He loved the two oldest sons he had with her and even sent them to Rome for their education, hoping to turn the kingdom over to them. When they returned they were arrogant and Herod couldn’t stand that. He even heard rumors that they wanted to avenge their mother’s death. After much back and forth, he had them strangled. Then he made a will (4th one to be exact) to give the kingdom to his son from his first wife but 5 days before he died he had him executed for plotting against him. Altogether, he changed his will 6 times before he died! By the way, I’m only dealing with the issues with his sons. I don’t have time to go into all the problems with other family members.
In his final years Herod became terribly sick. Some scholars believe that he had syphilis. He had tried to get some relief in some healing baths near Jordan River but it didn’t help. When he realized that he was dying, he gave orders to his sister Salome to gather the prominent Jewish people at the hippodrome near Jericho and kill them when he died so people would actually cry when he was gone. He knew his own family wouldn’t cry for him. Thank goodness that after he died his sister did not follow the orders. I feel sorry for the guy. Don’t you? He was trying to help his family but it never worked out.
Do you know some people like that? They’ve had a bad home life. They’ve been let down in your marriage. They’ve tried to be good to their family but it never worked out. Their kids don’t appreciate them. It’s very sad. But it still won’t get you into heaven.
Matthew 10 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.
Application: Where does God come in your list of priorities? Do you feel that God will judge you based on what you’ve done for your family? Do you think that your family responsibilities trump the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross?
3. CHURCH PROBLEMS
Background: Herod’s family was Idumean, not Jewish. Idumea was the region to the east and the south of the Dead Sea. Although originally they were descendants of Esau (brother of Jacob) but now they were a mixture of Edomites, Jewish people, Arabs, Phoenicians, and Greeks. They had been forcibly converted to Judaism by a Jewish ruler named John Hyrcanus. Herod’s grandfather was one of them. By the way, that never works. You can never force anyone to become a Christian. You can witness to them, pray for them, and invite them to church. In the end, they have to make their own decision.
Herod did not know God but he tried every way to earn his way to God. According to Josephus, Herod’s most important achievement was the building of the temple in Jerusalem. Solomon built the first temple and it was beautiful but it was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 587 BC. It was rebuilt under Zerubbabel the governor of Jerusalem in 515 BC but it was damaged through the years. Herod decided to tear down and rebuilt the temple in 20/19 BC at his own expense. When we see Jewish people praying at the Western Wall (Wailing wall), it is Herod’s construction. It took ten years to build. He doubled the foundation of Solomon’s temple. He literally reshaped the layout of Jerusalem. Josephus tells us that the entire façade of the temple was covered with gold plates. When the son rose, it was blinding to look at it! The upper parts were probably marble. He even took care to have the priests trained as masons and carpenters so there would be no disruption of services. He even made sure that no one family would control the priesthood. I can go on and on. The bottom line – all his religious work did not change one bit of his behavior because his heart was still the same.
Do you know people like that? They are doing things for God and in the name of God but they don’t know God. They are faithful and committed but they missed Jesus.
Application: Have you met Jesus? I’m not asking if you met denominations, churches, and preachers. I’m asking – have you met Jesus?
Matthew 24 1 Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
With all his religious work, Herod still failed to see Jesus. He could have gone with the magi or sent an escort with them. But he didn’t! But there’s more – after he sent away the magi to look for Jesus in Bethlehem and they did not return back to inform Herod where Jesus was, listen to Matthew 2:13 “…behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” 14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod…”
Do you think God hated Herod? No! He sent Jesus to be born 6 miles from where He lived. He sent magi from 430 miles to tell him about His birth. He even had all the chief and scribes at his disposal to tell him about the location of Jesus’ birth. Ultimately, it was his own wicked heart.
Application: How is your heart this morning? Do you know Jesus as your Savior? If you know Him, are you sharing Him with others? Are you willing to step out of your hiding and follow Him boldly?