23 December 2023

Advent 2023: Born a King

Captain Rob Westwood-Payne

Captain Rob Westwood-Payne shines a light on the clash between earthly power and divine purpose.

Key text

Christmas is here! The birth of Jesus is a moment of history that stands out. Woven with threads of divine significance, it’s a story that captures our imaginations and touches our hearts.

Pause and reflect

  • Does the story of wise men, a cruel king and a humble birth that changed the world for ever still capture your imagination?
  • Or have you heard it so often that it seems like old hat?

Imagine the scene in Matthew 2. A celestial event signals the birth of a king: ‘After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose”’ (vv1 and 2).

An unexpected way for God to guide the Magi!

Pause and reflect

  • Take a moment to think about times in your life when God’s guidance was unmistakable, even if it was unexpected.

Herod, a powerful and ruthless ruler, is naturally troubled by the news of a newborn king: ‘When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him’ (v3). This reaction reveals a clash between earthly power and divine purpose, something that is still taking place today.

Pause and reflect

  • Think about the ways in which earthly powers, whether political, societal or personal, may oppose God’s purposes in your life. How do you navigate these challenges?

Herod attempts to deceive the Magi into believing he is a worshipper while plotting harm to Jesus: ‘He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him”’ (v8).

A photo shows adult Jesus wearing a crown of thorns and silhouetted against a murky sky.

Matthew 2:6

But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.

Read Matthew 2

In a world of diverse beliefs and practices, it can be hard to discern between genuine seekers of Christ and those who deceive with false intentions.

Pause and reflect

  • Reflect on the people in your life who seek to know Christ. How can you discern their sincerity, and how can you encourage and support their faith journey?

The star guides the wise men to the very place where Jesus lay: ‘The star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was’ (v9).

God’s guidance is persistent and, if we allow him, he can lead us to our destination.

Pause and reflect

  • When have you felt God’s persistent guidance in your life?
  • How did it affect your faith journey and your relationship with God?

The Magi, upon finding Jesus, worship him and present gifts: ‘On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh’ (v11).

Pause and reflect

  • In what ways do you worship Jesus in your daily life? Are there gifts – tangible or intangible – that you feel led to offer to him?

The wise men receive divine guidance even in their dreams, protecting them from Herod’s evil intentions. God then guides Joseph in a dream to protect Jesus from Herod’s threat.

Pause and reflect

  • Are there moments when you’ve felt a strong inner prompting from God?
  • How did you respond and what were the results?

The final few verses of our study passage are challenging. I think I have preached on them only once at Christmas.

‘When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learnt from the Magi’ (v16).

The contrast between the Magi’s worship and Herod’s cruelty is stark. It serves as a reminder that the presence of Jesus often provokes a choice in people – to worship and follow him or to oppose him.

Pause and reflect

  • Consider the choices you’ve made in response to Jesus. How can you grow in your devotion to him and be a light in the lives of those around you?

The story of Jesus’ birth, as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, is not only a historical account but also a living testament to the clash between earthly powers and divine purposes. It reminds us of the guidance we receive from God in unexpected ways, and the choice we face when confronted with the presence of Jesus.

May this Christmas reflect our ongoing faith journey. May we seek and follow God’s guidance, discerning his will amid the noise of the world. May we also be vigilant against the earthly powers that oppose his work as we strive to worship Jesus with the same joy and devotion as the Magi.

Pause and pray

  • Dear Lord, we thank you for the story of the Magi who followed your guidance to find and worship Jesus. Help us to discern your guidance in our lives and to respond with joy, worship and devotion. Protect us from the earthly powers that oppose your work and help us to be a light in the lives of those around us. In Jesus’ name, we pray.

Bible study by

A photo of Rob Westwood-Payne in Salvation Army uniform

Captain Rob Westwood-Payne

Corps Officer, Maidenhead

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