Tuesday, December 23, 2003

December 1, 2002
(Matthew 2:1-2)

1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, "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.

Matthew's Picture of Jesus:
The King of Israel

In a suburb of Baltimore, a 69-year-old man is in physical therapy. The day is September 11, 2002. It's late afternoon when he arrives, after 4:30, after a typically busy day of managing his several businesses. The TV in the therapy room is broadcasting news on the one-year commemoration of the attack on America. Ever since his triple bypass, back in 1996, physical therapy has been a way of life. His body is amazingly fit, but it is matched to a faltering heart. Still, it was a shock when in the midst of the therapy, he let out a low moan and lapsed into unconsciousness. Emergency help arrived and they did their best on him, but after a 45-minute battle against the inevitable, he was pronounced dead.

And a small news story is mixed with the day's news: "Johnny Unitas, the greatest quarterback in football history, died this evening of a massive heart attack."

Writing in The Sporting News a week later, one of his old teammates recalled what made Johnny U so special: "he ate, drank, slept football. It's all he cared about…nothing else mattered to Johnny. He was absolutely obsessed."

Although a gentleman and a pro, his football-focused life had its cost. Not long after retiring, he divorced his first wife. Under his kindly demeanor was a tough and driven man. He started and personally managed not one but four businesses in his post NFL career. He demanded the same kind of loyalty in his work as he had on the field.

That drivenness plus a history of heart disease in his family was a bad match. Problems began showing in the early 80s, when he was still in his early 50s. His type-A personality made him put off proper treatment. His triple-bypass in 1996 was an emergency procedure after Johnny showed up at his doctor's office looking like a ghost. Every moment from that time on, Johnny was really living on borrowed time…living dangerously.

The same evening, in Bloomington, Indiana, Mike Davis does what he does every night: before going to bed, he got down on his knees and prayed.

Mike Davis has one of the best-and one of the worst-jobs in the world. Mike is the head basketball coach of the Indiana University Hoosiers. That means the he followed the controversial Bobby Knight, the highly effective, but highly volatile, long-time coach of the team.

Mike Davis is a minor miracle. He was a star B-ball player for the University of Alabama in the early 80s and seemed headed for a pro career. But then everything seemed to fall apart. The Milwaukee Bucks drafted him, but then cut him after training camp. Mike ended up playing in Europe and minor league basketball. But far worse was the death of his 17-month-old daughter in a car accident that also severely injured his 5-year-old son Mike, Jr.

His marriage was falling apart under the strain. Mike took a coaching job at Miles College in Birmingham, Alabama, and was paid $200-for the whole season. He cobbled together other jobs: selling T-shirts out of the back of his car, coaching in the off-season in Venezuela. It didn't matter; his wife left him, and also left him with Mike, Jr. to raise.

The crisis of being broke and a single father turned Mike back to his spiritual roots growing up in Alabama. He dad left when he was six, and his mother also had to raise him alone. The anchor of his young life had been the church pastored by grandfather, Rev. J.H. Thompson. Mike and Mike Jr. started going back to church. Mike reconnected to Jesus Christ. His presence in Mike's life gave him a new lease on life.

His professional turnaround was in 1997. Somehow he'd gotten Bobby Knight's attention, and he hired him as an assistant coach. Mike's easy-going manner was a 180-degree difference from Bobby Knight's.

When Knight was fired for misconduct in the fall of 2000, Mike Davis was named interim coach-the school's first black coach in a major sport.

The Hoosiers were now being led by a completely different kind of man. He does not allow practices on Sundays. He has prayer before ever game-not praying for winning, but for all players, on both teams, not to suffer injury and to play with integrity. After leading the Hoosiers through a 21-13 season, and to a berth in the Big Ten Conference Tournament, Mike was named the permanent coach. On Sundays now, you'll find Mike Davis at Eastern Star Church in Indianapolis with his son and second wife Tamilya and their three-year-old Atoine.

What difference does the presence-or absence-of Jesus Christ in a person's life make? Being a Christian sure doesn't make you perfect. Mike Davis has made his mistakes-did I mention that lipping off to referees got him five technical fouls in the 2000-2001 season?

And it doesn't guarantee success. Johnny Unitas, never a professing Christian, was a tremendous success without Christ, and for every happy-ending story like Mike Davis, there are a thousand struggling, poor, hardscrabble followers of Christ out there.

I think it's something utterly different-that difference. I think it's an encounter with Jesus that changes a person so that their goals are different. Success is less important that serving Him. Life becomes about serving Him because He is Lord.

Four Pictures of Jesus

The Lordship of Jesus is one of the four prime pictures of Jesus given to us in the four Biblical biographies of Jesus, the four gospels. Each of these four gospels has a prime image of Jesus, a picture of Jesus, and that's what we'll be examining over the next four weeks:

In Matthew, Jesus is King.

In Mark, He's pictured as a Servant.

In Luke, He's Savior (Forgiver, Rescuer) of all humankind.

And in John, He's the eternal Word made Flesh-God becoming a human being.
We need all these to begin to get a view of the real Jesus.

Matthew's Picture

The image of "King" seems for a moment out of date. We haven't had a king in the country since King George the III in 1776, and we threw him out!
But the idea of "King" is a timeless image. Elvis was "the King." ("Thank you very much.") For example, when was the last time you had lunch at "Burger President"?

And so we read right away about Jesus as the King in Matthew's gospel:
21After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, "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."

By the way, this was not the first time nor would it be the last time Jesus is described this way by Matthew. It's Matthew that details the descent of Jesus from David. It's Matthew that tells us that when He was crucified, the words, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" was posted over His head.

Now the Magi were philosopher/astrologer/scientists (in those days, there wasn't a lot of difference between these!) living in what's today Iraq. They had some reasons (we'll take about that in a minute) to believe that a new King of Israel had been born. This was an immediate challenge to the current King, a bloodthirsty old half-crazy man called Herod the Great. In his long life, Herod has fought off a dozen challenges to his throne, and had shown no remorse in killing even his own sons-and even one of his wives.

So the arrival of these foreigners asking about a newborn King pits old King Herod vs. the new King Jesus. And that's always the way it is. Jesus is always upsetting the status quo. Even as a toddler, His very presence was rightly seen as revolutionary. There's nothing tender and tame about Him.

Herod reacted according to character. This is the chapter that tells the story of how he tried to use the Magi to get to Jesus to kill Him. They don't cooperate, so Herod just whacks all the little boys in Bethlehem under age 2.

And throughout history, the Herods story has been repeated a thousand times. There have always been those who thing that they were on the verge of eliminating Jesus from the scene. Marx thought that Christianity would wither and perish with the coming of the revolution. Instead the revolution came and went and the name of Jesus is still adored. (And I believe what happened in Europe will happen in China and Cuba as well. The clock is ticking for Fidel Castro!)

Whether or not Jesus is really the King of all ages remains the ultimate personal challenge for people today.
Dealing with the King

You as well must deal with the King. I have observed four basic tactics people use to deal with Jesus. I myself used tactic number one for a time in my life.

The first is to…

Deny Him as legend, lunatic, or liar
CS Lewis pointed out that Jesus is either Lord, a Liar or a lunatic. Well, there's another possible out-maybe He's a legend.

But facts are stubborn things, and Jesus doesn't fit as a legend, a lunatic or a liar. For example, here's the most recent issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. The cover story made national news: an ossuary (a bone box) inscribed with the words, "James, the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus"-datable to about 63 AD-the very time Christian history says James died.

This simple box is the earliest physical historical evidence for a real Jesus to yet come to light. It's far from the only. There are literally dozens of examples of references to Jesus found in ancient Roman, Greek and Jewish sources. These are not Christian sources, but non-believing sources confirming the historical reality of Jesus.

Another response to Jesus has been to…

Destroy Him as threat. That was what the religious authorities tried to do 2000 years ago. That's what they tried to do with Him under communism. The French philosopher Voltaire, writing in the 18th century, said that one hundreds years in his future, the Bible would be a neglected book sitting on a back shelf in a library-that no one would believe it, or in the Jesus it speaks of. Not only was he wrong, but one hundred years from the time he said that, his personal printing press was the property of the Geneva Bible Society! Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor!
Yet another response to King Jesus has been to…

Delay Him as long as possible
The book of Acts tells how Paul would tell the gospel to a Roman governor named Felix and his wife Drusilla. Felix would listen so long and then tell Paul to go away.

I suspect that Felix came to the point of believing Paul's message intellectually but that he was resisting the implications of Jesus as King. If Jesus was really the King, he'd have to make a choice between Jesus and Caesar-and that was a choice he just didn't want to make. He'd have to make a choice between the honor of being a Roman governor and the dishonor of being a Christ-follower. His head pulled toward Jesus, but his heart-his will-his desires-pulled him away. We have no record that Felix ever reconsidered Jesus. Denying Jesus is a shortsighted loser.

The last strategy is to…
Desist from resisting Him

That was the point I came to on May 12, 1971. I ran away from God as fast as I could, but He caught up to me. I was something like the Magi in the story here. I prided myself on being a thinker-and I just didn't think there was any proof for the whole God thing.

The Magi and the King

But consider those Magi. One thing they almost certainly had in their possession was the Old Testament book of Daniel. Daniel 9 is unique in that it contains a prophecy with a timeline. It says that 483 years would pass from the time the Persian ruler Cyrus would order that Jerusalem be rebuilt to the coming of the Messiah. That order was given about 456 BC. That would make the year we call 27 AD the time of the coming of the Messiah-the very year that Jesus began His public ministry. The Magi would have worked out that date as well, and around 6 BC, they saw celestial signs that they interpreted as the signs of His birth.

In other words, they didn't just get a strange idea in their heads that made them cross hundreds of miles of desert. They came based on solid evidence.
The asked good questions. No one should put their trust in Christ blindly. How could what is potentially the most important thing in the world have no proof for it?
It was the proof that got me. I still have my 30 plus year old copy of Science Speaks by Peter Stoner-the book a friend put into my hands in an effort to reach me for Christ. Stoner was a professor of mathematics at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. He took just a handful of prophecies fulfilled in history and demonstrated that the chance of them being fulfilled just by random chance was, well, statistically impossible.
His analogy, first put to paper back in 1958, remains compelling. Take just eight Old Testament prophecies about Jesus. Work up the probability of all eight being fulfilled by chance. It comes out to 1 in 10 to the 17th power. To visualize that, take the whole state of Texas, and cover it with silver dollars two feet deep. Paint one silver dollar red, and mix thoroughly. The chance that you will reach in and pick the one red silver dollar is now the chance that Jesus is not the King of the whole world! And you know as well as I do, that if anyone told you about an investment that has only a 1 to 10 to the 17th power of failing you would call that a sure thing. Statistically, that's the same as a zero: a zero % chance that Jesus is not Eternal King!
That's when I came to the same conclusion that many before and after have come to: it would take way more faith to be a non-believer in Jesus as to be a believer. And that's when I sent up the white flag and surrendered to Him.

I came to the same point as the Magi:

They came to worship Him as God-and so have I. I cannot think of Jesus as a tradition, as an option, as a mere figure of history. I worship Him as Almighty God in the flesh. I do so not because I was raised that way (neither were the Magi!) but because I've been convinced that His claims to be the King of the whole world are true.
Today's Magi

Today we live in a kind of Magi nation. In the United States, about 85% of the population answer that the are Christian. When you ask some closer questions, only about 33% have what the Bible would call a real relationship with God through Jesus as opposed to a mere tradition of being from a "Christian" background. Almost a tenth of the population-9.4%--describe themselves as "non-religious." They need to see the proof. I don't blame them. If I had to decide about Jesus just on the basis of the behavior of Christians, I would be a hard sell.
But I've seen the proof. The solid evidence remains. The same kind of evidence that got the attention of Magi 2000 plus years ago, and that got my attention 31 years ago. The same kind of evidence that overwhelmed a man like Lee Stroebel, Legal Editor of the Chicago Tribune when he looked into the evidence for Jesus in the 80s. The same kind of evidence that convinced Frank Morrison, a British attorney back in the 1920s-when has set out to write the definitive book disproving Christianity!
The bottom line is: Ask anything! The evidence for Jesus is there, and it's overwhelming.
The Magi asked, "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."
They were right: Jesus was the King. And He is still the King.
Can I introduce you to Jesus?

© Copyright 2002, Pastor Glenn Layne, www.templecitybaptist.org

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