Amid all the merry-making of the Christmas season it would be a very rare thing indeed to find anyone who remembers and reflects upon these words of Jesus Christ in Matthew 10:34, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”
The Child of Bethlehem, already as He was held in His mother’s arms, is the great divider of mankind. He comes with a sword to cut, to divide all men and women, boys and girls, into two groups: saved by grace or damned in judgment. Living in faith or dead in unbelief; those who desire to give up their sins or those who are resolved to keep them. He has not come for peace among men in any kingdom, society, or system of man. But He has come to divide; to save to the uttermost those who come to the Father by Him, and to condemn those unbelieving, disobedient, and unrepentant to the lake of fire.
The little Baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes and in the manger, is the sharp sword of God. He is the sharpest sword there ever was, for He cuts to your deepest being, to the thoughts and intents of your heart, to be a savor of death unto death, or of life unto life. For you, too.
Perhaps as you contemplate, this Christmas week, the birth of God’s Son in the flesh you never paid much attention to those words of Jesus in which He explained why He came. “I came not to send peace, but I came to send a sword.” With mankind, you would prefer to speak of Santa. You would want to push this word far from you and say, “Oh, not at this time of the year. Surely, we want to take our meditation on the birth of Jesus Christ from something less intense, something more appealing, a different aspect of the birth of Jesus Christ.”
Yet, it is Jesus who speaks. He speaks at the moment when He is sending forth, in Matthew 10, the twelve to preach His gospel. He is telling them how they must think and what they must preach. “As you tell men about me,” He says, “and as you reflect upon the truth that I came down from heaven into this world, remember this and tell them this: already as a baby I was no curious event, no placid, indifferent person. But I was a sword. I did not come to send peace on the earth, but a sword.”
In order to preach upon this, not in an abstract way or at a distance, I would like to apply Jesus’ words to the well-known story of the visit of the wisemen to Jesus to illustrate the words of Jesus. For this sword was present there.
As the wisemen bowed in worship, drawn inwardly of grace, guided by His Word, and on bended knee expressing love and trust, the sword was at work subduing and conquering by grace. As Herod sought to kill Him, as the chief priests and scribes sat with their self-complacent indifference in Jerusalem, on that night, too, the sword fell.
It fell upon them in judgment. And it must also fall again today and whenever this Child is made known to men, for He is sent as a sword on the earth.
The Babe of Bethlehem brings the wisemen from the East to bend their knees in humble worship of Him as the King of salvation. That is related to us in Matthew 2.
First of all, who were the wisemen? We know only what God tells us in His Word. They came from the East and they were wisemen or magi, learned ones. Plainly they had more than a working knowledge of astronomy and detected when a prominent star appeared that had not been there before. Further, they were wealthy men, for they present gold, frankincense, and myrrh: costly gifts not purchased at a K-mart.
Still more, they knew at least the most significant portions of the Old Testament Scriptures. They knew of a passage such as Numbers 24:17, “There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel.” Whether they were Chaldeans or Arabians, whether they learned the prophecies of Christ’s coming from the remnant of the ten tribes carried into captivity, or from the prophecies of Daniel we do not know. We do not even know their number. There were at least two. There could have been ten or twenty. They were educated men from the distant East, wealthy, willing to travel a long, tiring, dangerous journey, fully believing that the Old Testament Scriptures that had come to them had now been fulfilled, for they saw His star.
God seems to delight in bypassing all the issues of human curiosity in order that He might underline in red the things that matter. God brought them. God shows us that He has His servants in places where we would never expect to find them. By His grace, He calls His people to Jesus Christ.
How were they guided to Jesus? We are told that they were guided, first of all, inwardly. A desire was created in them by the Spirit of God to find the Christ. The magi, the wisemen, were included in the first sin of Adam – Ephesians 2:1, “All are dead in trespasses and sins”; Romans 3:10-12, “There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that … seeketh after God….” What was it, then, that brought the wisemen with a consuming passion to find the King of the Jews and to worship Him? It did not come of themselves, it did not come out of mere curiosity, it was not simply an intellectual itch. No, they said, we are come to worship Him. How did they come? God brought them. Or, better, the Babe brought them. Jesus Christ, by His Holy Spirit, brought them, by His grace.
They had seen His star in the East. The star must have appeared and then disappeared and actually moved in a way as to lead them in their travel to the exact place where the Child was. That was a miracle. God operating in His creation to make another star to speak. And so it was.
You see, when you have been made to embrace Matthew 1, that a virgin conceives in her womb a child who is nothing less than Immanuel (God with us), then for God to create a special star is no stumbling block. If you stumble over chapter 1 and do not believe the wonder of the virgin birth, then you will stumble over chapter 2 and try to explain this star away. And you will stumble over chapter 3 of Matthew, and chapter 26 and chapter 27, and you will keep on stumbling even into hell. If Christianity must be stripped of its miracles in order to be made plausible to you and to your mind, then you will have to make your own Christianity. But it will not be the Christianity of the Bible. The star brought them, and God’s Word, the Word which said that a star would appear. And God brought them.
What did they see in Jesus? They saw the King of the Jews, the Messiah, the promised Savior, the Seed of David who had been born. They see Him as the One who would be the recipient of the faith and worship of others than the Jews. ” We are come to worship Him.” They were Gentiles. But there is not the slightest question in them that He who is born King of the Jews would also welcome them. In the Old Testament prophecies, again, we read in Isaiah 11:10, And in Him shall the Gentiles trust. You see, the Word of God was at work in them, and faith was at work in them. And they came and fell down before the Child and rendered Him the highest form of worship, that which God forbids to be given to any creature. God says, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and Him only shalt thou serve. And yet, they worshiped Him, for He is God, and they knew that. They fall in the posture of humility and they acknowledge Him as God now in human flesh.
The Child, who is the sword, brought on bended knee His own to worship Him. He is the sword of the Spirit, a sword which, first of all, subdues all things to Himself and causes the knees of proud rebellion to bow in worship before Him. These wisemen were our representatives, the firstfruits of the Gentiles called unto Jesus Christ. Now we, standing today in a far clearer light than the magi, are also brought in faith and repentance. We have the clear light of the gospel. We have the preaching of the apostles in Acts. We have the blazing light of the Scriptures. And we see Him as King. We receive Him as the One worthy of all worship and honor. And we show our worship by bringing the gold and the myrrh of our talents, our prayers, and our devotion to this Christ who is the King of the redeemed.
How are we guided to Jesus?
We are guided in the same way, by the Spirit and grace of God.
What brings you to His feet with believing heart and with bended knee? And, if you stood at a distance unbended and unbroken and not humbled in the presence of Jesus Christ the Lord of glory, what is it that has brought you to His feet with bended knee?
The same thing that operated in the magi. The sword, Jesus Christ, to conquer by grace and lovingly to subdue.
You see, as long as these magi would be satisfied with their own knowledge and wealth and influence, they would never have set out on that dangerous journey. No, Jesus brought them. He brought them as the conquering Christ. No one will be brought to the feet of Jesus until that sword of Jesus Christ brings him to the point in life that nothing, nothing matters except standing in a living relationship to Him, the Savior. As long as you are content and smug with whatever fills your life (maybe knowledge, your influence, your riches, your pleasures) and you say, “I can get along without the Son of God,” you will go on. He never comes to men as an unsought luxury. And men and women are never brought to Him as someone who is merely “nice.” Not the smug and self-satisfied.
But He brings them in the knowledge of their sins and of their need. He brings them through grace, giving them to own up to what they are: guilty and evil and bereft of spiritual good, worthy of judgment and hell. The sword of the Spirit in the hand of Jesus Christ gives us to see Him as our Savior and King and to worship and adore Him.
But Jesus Christ is a two-edged sword. That sword struck deep to save the wisemen. But the contrast is shown in Herod and in the chief priests and Pharisees. What did Herod, the king, see in Jesus? He saw a rival, a rival to his throne. The moment he hears of the wisemen who appear in Jerusalem with the question, Where is He that is born King of the Jews, he is terrified. You see, Herod was an Edomite. He was placed on the throne of Judah by the Roman government. He was a usurper. He had no natural right to sit upon the throne in Jerusalem. And he was very conscious of that. When he hears of One who is bornKing of the Jews, that is, One who has the natural right to the throne, he is terrified. And what does he do? He seeks to kill Him. He sends the wisemen to Bethlehem and he tells them, You go and worship the King of the Jews. And when you have found Him, come tell me the place so that I may go and worship with all of my royal entourage. But he was a liar. He was a hypocrite. He had nothing but murder in his heart. And if he had been led there to worship, then, while those wisemen bowed in worship, he would have risen up and plunged his knife into Him who was born King of the Jews.
That is what he tries to do. Later on he commands that all the children under the age of two be put to death in Bethlehem. Twenty, forty, sixty, we do not know. Many children slaughtered. But what we do know is that Herod’s cruelty expressed itself in the heartless murder of infants. Why? Because he sees a rival to the throne that he had usurped.
What a vivid picture of what we are by nature. In all of us there is a Herod. By nature, what do you see in Jesus Christ? You see nothing but a rival to a throne you have wickedly usurped. For the throne of your heart does not belong to you. You did not create yourself. You do not sustain yourself. You were created by God and your life is sustained by God. And He has every right to govern you. And the disposition of every heart, by nature, is to rebel against the throne-rights of God. The words of Luke 19:14 are ours by nature: “We will not have this man to reign over us.” The presence of Jesus always exposes Herod as a usurper to the throne. And He brings a sword, then, to slay.
All who seek the Child’s life are dead, we read later in Matthew 2. Listen: “Jesus Christ, by grace, bends the knees of His people, or with His sword He crushes a man in judgment.” It is just that simple. There are no in-betweens. He conquers in grace so that you abdicate the throne and you are subdued and say “The throne is Thine,” or He will come a flaming fire taking vengeance on all who know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. All men and women, boys and girls, must have dealings with this Christ that is born. You cannot say, “I choose not to have any dealings with Jesus.” That is not your business. He made you, He governs you, He confronts you, He summons you one day to appear before Him in the judgment. And by His sword you are either subdued in faith or crushed in judgment.
But He is also a sword upon the so-called self-righteous ones. We read that Herod called the chief priests and scribes of the people together to demand of them where Christ should be born. The chief priest and scribes were the religious leaders of the Jews in those days. Probably they have a full-blown meeting of the doctors of the Law. And they give their answer to Herod, for they knew that the Scriptures had pinpointed the very place where the Shepherd and Governor of God’s people would be born. Micah 5:2, “And thou, Bethlehem, Ephratha.” They knew the Scriptures. They could point to the place where He was to be born. They knew the chapter and the verse. But they did not come. They did not go with the magi saying, “Let us go and see this which has come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” They are content to know where He is born but let others worship Him.
Seems like a neutral position, does it not? Seems different from Herod, does it not? They are neither for nor against the Child. They have a “wait-and-see” attitude. Oh, no! The record of the scribes and Pharisees, of the chief priests, does not end in Matthew 2, but it reaches its climax in Matthew 26 when this same crowd will engineer His death and cry out, “Crucify Him! He called us sinners! He said our works cannot save us. Away with such a fellow from the earth!”
Does that describe you? Do you have only a knowledge of the Bible? Do you know enough to find your way around in the Bible and even point someone else to Him? But you yourself do not come? You have no true posture of dependence and homage and worship? Your attachment is only outward, the Bible is simply letters in a book but not in the heart? Unless, by God’s grace, a person worships in humble, sincere, heart-felt need, it is only a matter of time before he will join the chief priests and scribes and cry out, “Crucify Him!”
Why? You ask, Do we have to bring all of these things of sin and repentance and worship and sword and judgment into the simple Christmas story? Why do we have to talk about these things now? Because, beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, it is there. It is the story of the One who was born with the sword which cuts two ways. The magi who know who He is and believe that He is exactly what they need and worship Him and, knowing the pain of their sins, fall at His feet. And Herod and those who see Him as a rival to their self-imposed government over their life, the chief priests and scribes say, “Yes, we believe the Bible,” but stand at a distance, and who have the seeds of the denial of Jesus Christ in their heart, they are consumed by that sword.
What is the word to you today? What is the word in the birth of God’s Son in Bethlehem? What does God seek? Does He seek out of you a little bit of sentiment, a little extra church attendance? Does He want the Word only on your lips? No! Nothing less than the magi. The sword has come. Bow and worship. Assume not the posture of this world, of Herod, or the Pharisees and scribes, but of one who sees the barrenness of your own soul and, by grace, confesses that Christ is your life.
May God grant that we may be found with the magi, as those who bow in worship. Then we shall join, one day, that multitude which no man can number gathered around the throne, there to praise and serve Him, to worship and to bow down, to honor and to glorify, world without end.
Let us pray.
Our Father in heaven, we thank Thee for Thy precious Word. As the sword has come we pray that, by grace, we might daily be subdued. And in the posture of the wisemen, bow before Him in worship and in praise. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.