The Magi

December 11, 2016Matthew 2:1 – 18The Magi   

 

   This is a familiar story.  John Hopkins wrote the hymn We Three Kings of Orient Are.  These men are known as wise men, kings, magi, or astrologers, come from the east to find a child that’s born to be a great King.  What is the point of this?  Why did these men come?   What is the Holy Spirit telling us through these wise men or magi?  We know little about these men but we know that these men were well off and they are not Jewish.  They are Gentiles and they were probably astrologers.  They were scholars and learned.   A lot of learned people who study and want to learn truth find themselves at the feet of Jesus in worship as these men did. 

   God gives them a special sign which is a star in the eastern sky and that star heralds the birth of someone destined for greatness and they’ve come to worship him.  That star announces the birth of Jesus the King of Kings.  They follow the star.  They have been travelling for months and as they get closer and closer they find themselves in Jerusalem.   Perhaps they thought they would be traveling to Rome or some other prominent city.  They stop in Jerusalem.  They head to the palace of King Herod and that is where you would expect them to go.    The king and the leaders should know about this child or this child would be in Jerusalem.  Going to king Herod is the last place they should go.    

   King Herod is an evil man.  He was married at least 9 times.  He is cruel and crafty and he kills a number of his family members.  The magi ask the king who is this one who is born that is king of the Jews?   Whoa.   Well Herod is king and he does not want to hear about any other king.  There is only room for Herod around here in his mind.   Herod is also not a full blooded Jew.  We mentioned recently that when a new king would take over he would have the blood line of the former king killed.   Also people want one of their own to rule over them.  In America most people would not want a foreign king or dictator ruling over us.   Herod was probably not very secure as a king.  He was probably concerned that he may lose his position and so he hangs on to it and he later orders all the boys less than 2 years old in Bethlehem to be murdered.  Killing children is not how you endear yourself to people.   Maybe Herod had other reasons to fear for his position.   Position or job security can motivate people to do terrible things. 

   .   We do not know how many of them came.  Because 3 gifts were given some have thought that 3 of them came.  There were enough of them that the whole city of Jerusalem was stirred up.  Jesus stirred up Jerusalem when he came in what we call his triumphal entry before he was crucified.  At Jesus birth the religious establishment and leaders were shook up and when Jesus enters the week before Jesus is crucified Jerusalem is stirred up again.  Jesus is the prince of peace but Jesus also said that families would be divided because of him.  Not everybody wants Jesus around.  Not everybody wants to recognize Jesus. 

   They ask where is this great king going to be born?  Herod calls the priests and the teacher of the law and asks them where is Christ going to be born.   They know where he is going to be because of Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrata, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”    So the chief priests and scribes come in and are asked where the Messiah will be born. Well, it doesn’t take them long to find the answer. The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem, the prophet Micah had said some 700 years before. Yep, that’s the place to look.   Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem.   What does the word Bethlehem mean?   Bethlehem means house of bread.  Jesus was the bread of life.  The magi say we have come to worship him.   They did not come to worship King Herod. 

     You see, these priests and scribes, these teachers of the law, that Herod called knew their scriptures. They knew all the stories, all the predictions of the coming Messiah.   But again, that wasn’t enough was it?    It wasn’t enough to know the prophecies.   It’s not enough to just know the Christmas stories.  Thomas Merton once wrote this: "there were only a few shepherds at the first Bethlehem.  The ox and the ass understood more of the first Christmas than the high priests in Jerusalem.   It would seem that is has some truth to it today.    

    The leaders knew the stories.  They have been looking for Jesus to come.  Now Jesus is there but do they go to see him?   Bethlehem is about 5 miles down the road.  It is not beyond their reach.     These Gentiles came to worship and to give.  It cost them a lot.  It seems that they had traveled for months and they have months to travel to get back.  They take up to a year out of their life.  It is interesting that God sent them.   They went out of their way.  Here is another example of God working to those outside of the Jewish faith.  Scripture tells us that God is no respecter of people.  For God so loved the world he gave. 

  Well, they tell Herod where the Messiah would be born and he tells the magi.   First, though, he finds out when the star appeared, then he tells them to go and find the child and when he’s found, let him know, so he too can go and worship or pay him homage.    Of course we know from what happens later that the only thing he has planned for this baby is a funeral.   If only the magi knew!  But God has a way to protect his people.  In verse 12 they are warned in a dream not to go back to King Herod and so they travel home another way.  God out foxes the old fox.  No Herod you can’t have my baby yet.      

    You get the sense from the first couple of verses and verse 9 and verse 10 that the star was not always visible.  In verse 9 scripture tells us that 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.  Why would the star give them joy?   The star was their direction.   They wanted to get to their destination.  They wanted to worship and give presents.  They wanted to see this great child.

     I find that very interesting.  Sometimes I am unsure of the path.   Sometimes the way is not really clear.   These men wanted to see Jesus and God will lead them to Him.  If Jesus is your goal God will get you to him.  In Jeremiah we read you will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.   If Jesus is your goal you will reach your goal.  If Jesus is your dream you will get your dream.    The magi continue on their way to Bethlehem until finally the star stops overhead and they realize they’ve reached their destination and are overwhelmed with joy. This is after Jesus is born.  This is not the manger.  This takes place after the manger.    There in Bethlehem they enter a house not a stable and find the child with his mother and they kneel down and worship him.

    Then they open their treasure chests and offer him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.    These men bring some very interesting gifts.  Verse 11 tells us what these gifts are.  What are the gifts and what do they mean?   Gold for a king, incense for worshipping a god, myrrh for burial.   It is interesting that these Gentile men would bring those kinds of gifts.  Those gifts are a statement about who this child is and what this child will do and become.  What I want us to think about is the fact that these magi seem to have been able to see into the future to what Jesus would become. You see, it’s all very well for us to sit here looking back and say, ’Oh yes. That’s what these gifts signified.’ But it must have been something completely different for the magi.  They would have been like some of the Old Testament Prophets who spoke about things that were to come, without having any real idea what they were.  I guess we could really wonder what they understood about Jesus. 

    God speaks to us today that this child was Jesus.  These gentiles speak to me today that this child was Jesus.  These men did not know the bible or Jewish prophecy.   These men were led by the Lord God.    Those gifts were not understood at that time.  By the end of Jesus time on earth it was clear what the significance of these gifts was.    He had gathered a band of followers around him who would form the beginnings of his new kingdom, under his rule.    This child was to be put to death.   Jesus was pronounced as God’s only Son, a title affirmed by his being raised from death. His disciples the fishermen and tax collectors affirmed that he was the son of God.  They also worshipped him as the son of God.    What’s more, the magi, foreigners from the east, in coming to worship this Jewish King, were signaling the fact that Jesus’ coming into the world meant that people of every nation were to be brought into God’s Kingdom, irrespective of color, or race, or language.

       So even if the magi didn’t fully understand what they were doing, they got it right didn’t they? This child, born to poor parents, in an out of the way place, in this insignificant nation, deserved to be worshipped as God and King. This child had come as the means to bring all people everywhere into God’s Kingdom, to worship God.  All the efforts of his opponents to get rid of him failed.    Herod tried to have him killed, but he escaped to Egypt.   The religious leaders of his day plotted against him throughout his life and eventually succeeded in having him put to death, only to have him rise again.  And that opposition has continued throughout the history of the Church, as people have tried to stop the spread of the gospel, but without success. Why because Jesus is King, and nothing, and no one, can stand against him or his kingdom.  The gates of hell will not prevail against the church. 

      In this passage of scripture we see the magi, we see King Herod and we see the Jewish priests and leaders.  There are people like each one of these groups of people.  Which of the people in this story are you most like?   None of us are like Herod.    Herod was happy to go along with the Christmas celebrations as long as He remained King and ran his own life and ruled the nation.   Herod was OK as long as he did not have to change anything. 

        Then there were the chief priests and scribes.    They knew of God’s promise.   They knew where the baby was going to be born.  They knew the story but it did not touch their life.  They were happy to go through the religious motions, buy the cards with the manger scene and the angels, sing Christmas carols, and give a gift to World Vision, or some other worthy cause but never actually getting around to giving God their life in worship.    

 

     Then there are the Magi.  They go the extra mile.  They travel for months to see this child and to give gifts to this child.  It was probably quite dangerous to travel in those days especially with gold and other precious things.  They travel to worship.     The magi did not know all the answers but were wise enough and sensitive enough to God to recognize that here is one who deserves our homage, our worship.   They gave up their life and their life of comfort to travel through the wilderness to come and worship this great King.   The path of wisdom is to seek him and find him.  It is pretty amazing that these men did what they did.   They left their homes and probably their families to go and see Jesus.   They took their money their gold and gave it to Jesus.   These were gentiles and not Jews.   It was somewhat risky to travel in those days but they wanted to see Jesus.  They put their life on the back burner for awhile.  Jesus Christ is King and deserves our allegiance, and our service for the rest of our life.   Lets follow the example of these wise men today.  Lets follow the leading of the Lord today.