>The fact that the Magi came and God inspired Matthew to include their trip in His Sacred Word tells me that we should pay attention. I’m sure the Holy Spirit wants to speak to us from their account.
I. WHO WERE THESE WISE MEN?
II. WHY DID THE MAGI COME?
III. HOW DID THEY WORSHIP THE CHILD?
>What does this account teach us?
—“Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33 a).
THE MIRACLE OF THE MAGI
Matthew 2: 1-12
Christmas traditions remind us of the Birth of Christ, “God becoming Flesh and making His Dwelling among us.” A very important element of that account is the story of the Magi—Wise Men who came from the East following the Star that led them to Jesus.
Even though our Nativity Scenes usually include the Wise Men, we know from the Scripture that their arrival came later– some think maybe as much as 2 years later, based on the actions of Herod as he sought to eliminate a perceived threat to his rule. And some branches of the Christian Church set aside January 6th as the celebration of Epiphany—the observance of the arrival of the Magi.
The truth is, we don’t really know just when they arrived. In the scripture they are quoted as asking, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?” This tells us that Jesus had already been born. And we are told when they came to Bethlehem they found the house where Joseph and Mary and the Child Jesus were living so the holy family was no longer in the stable.
How far did the Magi travel? Scholars tell us they probably came from what is now Iran, so the distance is a little more than 1000 miles. One website said it was a 13 hour journey by a car traveling 70 miles per hour. That is about the amount of time to drive from Branson to Denver. Traveling by camel must have been weeks and maybe months. And because of the rugged geography, they probably traveled a less than direct route, adding more miles to their journey.
But the fact that they came and God inspired Matthew to include their trip in His Sacred Word tells me that we should pay attention. I’m sure the Holy Spirit wants to speak to us from their account.
So let’s focus on these men for just a few moments.
I. WHO WERE THESE WISE MEN?
a. In the earliest manuscripts of Matthew’s Gospel they are called “Magi.” Historians tell us the Magi were considered to be Wise Men who dabbled in science and astrology. They were held in high esteem as advisors to the rulers. Our Christmas Hymn calls them “Kings”, though there is no support for that title in Matthew’s Gospel. There is speculation that these Magi may have been Jews whose families had been exiled to Persia during the Babylonian Captivity centuries earlier. If so, that would give them reason to be especially interested in the birth of “The King of the Jews.” Again, we have no way of knowing for certain if this was the case. We have no way of knowing how many wise men came. Our tradition of three is based on the fact of the 3 types of gifts that were given. There may have been three or thirty. We only know that there were 3 different types of gifts presented and that’s where the idea that there were 3 persons.
b. What we do know is they saw some type of astronomical sign, a Star, that caused them to believe that God had caused the Messiah to be born—a Messiah King that had long been prophesied in the ancient scriptures. And they were determined to see this child for themselves.
c. A popular Christmas card says, “Wise Men still seek Him!” As we consider these Men from the East, we recognize a devotion that was and is to be commended!
II. WHY DID THE MAGI COME?
a. The answer to that question is found in the question the Magi asked when they arrived in Jerusalem: “…Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).
b. There are several things that can be inferred from the information in their question.
i. One source that I read suggested that the fact that they believed the star represented the birth of a powerful king may have given them less than honorable reasons for wanting to find the Child and show their respect. In the world of politics it made sense that these Magi (who may have in fact been kings over provinces) would have wanted to make a favorable impression on this young king. Such an act of respect may have been advantageous to building an alliance in the future. But that really doesn’t seem to have been a motive for these Wise Men. Their actions seemed very sincere.
ii. They recognized that a King had been born and that this King was the King of the Jews. Their knowledge suggests they were well aware of the Old Testament prophecies of a Messiah that God would raise up to rule over His people. Did this mean these Magi were Jews? Maybe, or maybe not. But it would seem they had been exposed to the Jewish scriptures. Remember in the Old Testament Book of Daniel? Daniel was the Jewish young man carried into exile who became one of the wise men in the Babylonian Empire. When all the other wise men (Magi) failed at interpreting the King’s dream, it was Daniel who saved the day by advising the King. I’m sure the Gentile advisors who had been given these advisory roles to the King paid attention to Daniel. And I’m sure Daniel and the other Jewish people who had been exiled to the Persian Empire exerted influence and teaching to those who were interested. A few centuries had passed since Daniel’s day, but it is not unreasonable to think that the Wise Men who followed were aware of the powerful teachings of the Jewish People. And many would have had great respect for men like Daniel and others unnamed who lived down through the centuries right down to the time of the birth of Christ. So these Wise Men, the Magi, Gentile or Jewish though they may have been, had a deep respect for the Prophecies of God’s people. And because of that they wanted to show their respect to this Christ Child. Remember that the title “Messiah” and its Greek equivalent “Christ” literally means “The Anointed One” and was a title that was given to Kings who had been anointed by God for their positions.
iii. And then the Question the Wise Men asked continued the reference to “His Star.” Over the years I have read all kinds of explanations as to the astronomical skies had that time in history. There were possible explanations concerning the alignment of the planets. Others have suggested comets that may have appeared in the sky. But none of these explanations have seemed adequate. I have come to the personal conclusion that this “Star” was actually an Angel that God had sent to guide the Magi to Jesus. There is no way an astronomical body like a star or a comet could have come to be directly over the house in such a way that the Magi could have singled out the very house where Jesus was living. And throughout the Old Testament there are several references where the term “Star” is used in describing Angelic occurrences. I am convinced that this Star was an Angel who led the Magi over the desert to Jerusalem and then on to Bethlehem.
iiii. So the Star was at the root of the reason as to why the Magi came. God had captured their attention and impressed upon them the urgency and necessity of following that Star until they could find the One of which the Star represented.
v. And, the verse tells us the Magi intended to worship the child. Could it be that they were aware of Isaiah’s prophecy that His Name would be “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace”? The use of the word “Worship” suggests more than just paying respect to someone in a high office. It suggests to me the recognition of the Presence of God.
III. HOW DID THEY WORSHIP THE CHILD?
a. They “bowed down worshipped him…” The very act of bowing before this child was an acknowledgment that these Magi knew this child was their superior. A King doesn’t bow to his subjects—the subjects bow to their King. These Magi were saying by their actions that this child was One who was destined for greatness. Worship is the act of giving respect and honor to the One who is being recognized. That is the reason when we pray we bow our heads and close our eyes. And that is the reason we bow at the altars, humbling our selves before God. In so doing we are admitting our own limitations and weaknesses and acknowledging our dependence upon God for His Mercy and Grace and Protection.
b. And they brought Gifts… It is proper to bring our gifts to God when we approach Him. These gifts are ways of showing our respect and dependence upon Him. They are tokens of the fact that all that we have really belongs to Him. The fact that they brought gifts to give to Jesus says that they wanted Him to know that He was worthy of their respect.
a. And there is much symbolism in the 3 kinds of gift they brought: Gold—representing His royalty; Frankincense—representing His priestly role; Myrrh—representing His coming death. One article that I read this week emphasized the value of these gifts, stating that the Frankincense and Myrrh were of more value than gold because of their rarity and the way they were produced. The article suggested that the real significance was that these 3 items were the most precious commodities in the world at that time.
b. But this week I read some other ideas about those gifts. When the Babylonians finally defeated Jerusalem they carried off the temple treasures back to Babylon. We read how Belshazzar had some of those precious treasures brought out, the gold and silver cups from the temple and were used to drink alcoholic beverages as these heathens paid homage to their pagan gods. And God allowed the empire to be defeated that very night. Later, when Ezra and Nehemiah were involved in rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and the Temple, some of those treasures were returned. But now, some believe that these gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, were symbolic of the eastern empires returning to the King of the Jews that which they had taken away so many years before. It was acknowledgment that the treasures of the Kingdom of God were being returned to the House of David.
c. These gifts possibly had another purpose. After the Magi had returned to their own country and Herod had given orders for his soldiers to kill the male children 2 years and younger in Bethlehem, God directed Joseph and Mary to take the child Jesus and flee to Egypt until it was safe to return. Those gifts of the Magi possibly were God’s way of providing the necessary means to support the exiled family until they could find work in this foreign country.
c. As we consider how these Magi worshipped the Baby Jesus, we are reminded how we too must acknowledge Him as the Supreme Lord over our lives. We bring our tithes and offerings out of our love for Him and our understanding that it all belongs to Him. We give so that there are provisions for His work to be carried out even as we continue to live in a world that opposes Him.
While there is a valid argument that the Magi may have been Jewish men who held high positions in the eastern empire, there is also an equally valid argument that these Wise Men from the East were Gentile believers that are included in the Bible to remind us that Christ came to all people—Jews and Gentiles alike. As we focus on this Biblical account we are reminded that regardless of our ethnic roots, Christ came to be our King and Lord and Savior, too.
As the Wise men were willing to put aside all their other responsibilities and dedicate themselves to months of hardship in order to find the Christ Child, so our number one priority—above work and family and pleasure—must be to seek Christ will all our being and to not give up until we have found him.
And in our efforts to worship Him, we must give Him the most precious things we have—our love and our dedication and commitment to serve him. This is symbolized by our faithful giving of our tithes and offerings.
And, just as the Wise Men chose to disobey Herod and refused to hand over to Him the location of the Holy Family, so we must choose to defend Christ against those who oppose him. We do so by putting on the whole armor of God and resisting Satan and taking our stand for Christ.
As we end 2017 and stand at the threshold of a new year, let’s make it our goal—“Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33 a).