John Stumbo Video Blog No. 41
December 12, 2016
President John Stumbo delivers a Christmas message from Vietnam.
Merry Christmas from Vietnam.
Matthew Chapter 2. “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 in the east, and have come to worship Him.’ When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: “‘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 be the shepherd of my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find Him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship Him.’
“After they had heard the King, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. They opened up their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, and incense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”
I am intrigued by this story, by so many aspects of it, and today I want to just talk about the Magi for a few moments. You know, when we think of their story and we think of them presenting the treasures, the gifts, beautiful picture of these leaders at the bowing before Jesus, rarely do we think of them lost, disoriented, confused, map upside down, scratching their heads . . . never seen a picture of that on a Christmas card.
Now obviously I’m speaking facetiously of a map, because they had no map! What they had was a star. A star that had led them along ways, but now had stopped perhaps over Jerusalem, or perhaps there was an overcast sky… the bane of any astronomer’s existence to have days on end, nights on end of clouds. So for whatever reason there is a delay in their story, and if there was a theme or a title for this blog, I would state . . . “The Myth of Perpetual Progress.” What I want to point out in the story is the results of the delay that they experienced. Because they were postponed on their way . . . postponed in human terms . . . on their way to Bethlehem, there were some interesting things that arose, and I would like to point out seven of them.
One result of their delay in Jerusalem is that they were reminded of how dependent they were. Up to this point I don’t know what their journey was like as they followed the star, but I know that in my journey when things are rolling along, I forget how dependent I am, and as the star stops, or they can’t find it anymore, they now realize they have nowhere to go unless they are being led. And so it is for us.
A second result of the delay is that their search became more diligent. They had to begin asking questions. They had to do an inquiry. They hit the street, evidently assuming that people there are going to know this wonderful news, and ask with kind of an assumption that, “Where is this one who has been born your king?” They have come to the epicenter of where the knowledge should be found, but they can’t find an answer, and their delay leads them on a more intense search for, “Where is this one that we are in search of?”
Number three . . . their knowledge increased. Because of the delay, and because the inquiries that they made, they now discover through the scribes . . . that there is this one . . . hundreds of years earlier who predicted this coming of someone . . . the Messiah . . . the prophet Micah . . . now is introduced to them. I don’t think they had any reason to even know the prophet existed, or if they did know of his existence, they didn’t know of this prophetic word, and so their knowledge increases because of the delay.
A fourth result of the delay was that their mission became more public. Up to this point they didn’t necessarily have reason to talk to anybody about what they were doing. They may have . . . they may not. I don’t know. But what I do know is that at this point, all of Jerusalem is abuzz, and that reaches all the way to the governmental palace, and King Herod is now very interested in the story. The mission that could have been kept private now is well known in the public and governmental sector. So it often is in our delays that our search leads us to a greater intensity, leading to greater knowledge that leads to more people getting engaged in what we are part of—whether through curiosity, or giving us more information that we didn’t have before, or actually joining us in our mission.
The fifth one is a fun one. The fifth result of the delay is their joy is intensified. Imagine telling your spouse or your superior that you are going to go on a multi-month journey in pursuit of a child by way of following a star . . . and then to get well into that journey and to feel like you’ve hit a dead end. The sense of, Wow! We have risked a lot for this venture, and if this doesn’t work we are going to be really disappointed and really embarrassed. And then . . . and then it actually comes about! You find the child! You present your gifts! You offer your worship! The joy is magnified because of the moments where you didn’t know if it was going to happen or not! That’s the way I read Matthew’s word of the exceeding joy that arises within the Magi, and it’s all a result of the delay.
A sixth result … Herod has the opportunity to humble himself. Think about God’s provision for Herod at this moment. The plan of the ages is unfolding right during his lifetime. During his earthly reign, he is now getting to see the fulfillment of prophecy. He knows the prophecies . . . he has just been told it by the scribes, and God’s provision for him is a provision of grace, that a secular ungodly man could find out who the true king is. What a fascinating opportunity for King Herod.
I would not be true to the text if I didn’t share the seventh result . . . and that is babies were killed. You know the story. Rather than responding to the provision of God, the opportunity to humble himself, Herod is threatened and commits this vicious atrocity. At this point some would attempt to blame God. Couldn’t God have stopped this? Couldn’t He have seen it in advance? Well . . . and certainly He saw it in advance. He allowed one of his prophets to foretell of the grief of the women. But man’s sin should not be blamed on God. Man’s rejection of God’s provision is man’s shame . . . not God’s. Herod had the opportunity of the ages, but his evil is his evil and his alone.
So how is it that I’m thinking of all this in Vietnam? Well it’s very clear to me that this myth of perpetual progress has played out in this nation. Follow me here.
In terms of number of workers sent by the North American Christian and Missionary Alliance, Vietnam had the strongest . . . had as strong a focus as anywhere in the world for decades. Our investment of human lives, and financial resources, and prayer capital, those kind[s] of things, were poured into this country for a long period of time, and then as you know there was this very difficult and wrenching close . . . it felt like to us at the time . . . close to the story. Leaving behind 40 churches in Saigon, leaving behind over a hundred thousand Christians in this country . . . our work came to this abrupt stop . . . so it looked like to us. Lives were lost, pastors were jailed, property was confiscated, the mission closed, and we wondered what the story would be.
But the abrupt break actually became a moment in time when the Spirit of God did things that we could not have imagined. We have now been witnessing a vibrant church . . . [the] city of Saigon alone had 40 churches at the time of the war . . . has now over a hundred churches . . . a million-plus people celebrating Jesus in Vietnam right now as the longtime fruits of Alliance investment . . . sixty thousand people this year alone came to faith in Christ in this country . . . that we wrung our hands over . . . that we were confused by . . . that we felt like had come to a place of a great . . . “delay” would have been the mildest of words that we would have used.
Yet . . . the story of God continues to be written. And is not that the story of Christmas in the end? . . . that our intensified joy comes … not just through simplicity of message, constant progress, everything always working out as we planned, but at Christ coming into a world as messy as ours to bring about the Kingdom that cannot be stopped.
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