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The Men of Christmas

The Magi, aka, The Wise Men

Pastor Gary Buchman
Emmitsburg Community Bible Church

(1/4) I. Introduction Ė Well, welcome to Epiphany Sunday. This is the day that

many who follow a church calendar focus on the visit of the Wise men. Watch the Nativity scene from the movie of same name.

That is pretty much the same way every movie or animated version of the birth of our Lord is portrayed. Jesus is a babe in the manger, and both poor men and rich men arrive to see and worship Him under a star. The rich men are 3 in number and ride camels and are often referred to as kings as in the song, We Three Kings from Orient AreÖ. This makes for wonderful Christmas decorations and is an inspiration to worship, butÖ. It probably is not accurate. We have through the centuries kind of romanticized the story. Please no one throw stones, or eggs, or tomatoes, but for a few moments, letís separate fact from fiction.

The Magi

It may have been 3 men, or it may have been 23, we really donít know. We just know they brought three gifts. While it is possible that they rode camels because of crossing a desert, it is more probable that they rode Arabian horses. Because of who they were and what they carried, they probably had a large security force traveling with them. This probably added to Jerusalem being afraid. These were not kings, they were king makers. These were magi. These were the counselors to Kings in the east, like Babylon, Iraq, Iran, Persia or modern India. No one in this area could be crowned King until they mastered the education of the Magi.

Most of the Magi, were monotheistic worshippers; that is, they worshipped one god. Their faith was mostly Zoroastrianism. It was very close to Judaism, but differed in that it dabbled in sorcery. The Magi would be the scientist of their day, combining astronomy with astrology, believing that the alignment of the stars had an impact on human affairs. They interpreted dreams. They were also the experts in Persian law, and made decisions in tough cases. From them we get the words magistrates, and magic, and magicians. Some believe that they came from a priestly clan similar to the Levites.

Matthew 2 is not the first place such men appear in scripture. Pharaoh had men like this in his court. Look at Exodus 7:11. Somehow they were able to replicate what Moses did in the first few signs from God. BTW, what appears to be miraculous is not always from God. Satan is able to do some wonders in an attempt to deceive people.

Look at Daniel 1-2, Daniel was selected to be trained in the education of the Magi. Do you remember the whole diet thing from Daniel 1? Look at 1:18-20. Daniel and his friends join their ranks. But immediately his life is in danger for the king has a dream and he wants to know what it means, look at Daniel 2:1-2. The King is enraged, believes the wise men are all frauds, and orders their execution including Daniel and his friends, when God tells Daniel the dream and the meaning and Dan tells the king and all of them live a little longer. Look at 2:46-48. Then when Darius and Cyrus and the boys conquer Babylon, Daniel not only is kept alive, but he remains one of the top governing officials in the Babylonian area. Daniel would have been revered as one of the greatest of all the magi and his writings would have been studied by those who came after him.

Danielís book is historical and it demonstrates that Jehovah has revealed Himself as the one true God. Nebuchadnezzar learns this the hard way and says so in chapter 4. But Daniel is mostly prophetic and speaks of the events in the last days. In chapter 9, Daniel realizes that the 70 years of being in Babylonian captivity, as spoken by Jeremiah, is coming to an end and he prays confessing the sins of his nation, including his own. Gabriel, the same one who would speak to Zachariah and Mary, shows up and speaks to Daniel and tells him part of Godís plan for Israel. Listen to Daniel 9:20-26a.

II. The Star

Letís go back to our story. There were in the east, Magi who believed in the God and Messiah of Israel as the one true God, probably from Danielís and perhaps other scriptures had convinced them that the Messiah who was promised would be the King not only of Israel but of the world and they wanted to worship Him. They saw a sign in the heavens- an aster sometimes translated as a star, and sometimes a shining. Astronomers have been trying to identify what that star was. Was it some kind of alignment of planets, or something else? It may have been some special alignment of planets, but I believe it could have been the Shekinah Glory of God. The same that led Moses and the Hebrews for 40 years in the desert and then to the Promised Land. Verse 9 says the star reappeared and went before them until it stood over where the child was. That doesnít sound like an alignment of planets.

Here is one more bubble buster. The wise men probably did not come to a cave or stable but to a house. Joseph and Mary had either moved in with relatives or rented a house (v. 11). Jesus may have been a month to 1 or 2 years old when they arrived.

Their trip probably took several months. They were not aware of the Micah prediction of Bethlehem and came to Jerusalem where you would expect to find the King of the Jews. Their arrival with perhaps a small army caused fear in Jerusalem. The reason probably had more to do with Herodís response than it did the Magiís presence.

III. Herod

Herod was Herod the Great, a descendent of Abraham through Esau and appointed King of Judea by Mark Antony and then Caesar Augustus. He was clever and cunning, and not liked by the Jews. So, he began rebuilding and beautifying the Temple. He built Caesarea in honor of Caesar Augustus and the mountain fortress Masada. He won some favor when he gave bread to the poor during a drought and when he melted his own silver and gold to buy provisions for the Jews.

But Herod was paranoid and power hungry. He would execute anyone that he thought was a threat to his throne, including 3 sons, a wife and a mother in law among others. It is reported that he knew that no one would mourn his death so he ordered that when he died some prominent citizens of Jerusalem were to be arrested and executed so there would be mourning in Jerusalem.

A New King of the Jews was a threat to Herod and all Jerusalem feared his response and rightly so as we know how he responded in killing all the male children under two in and around Bethlehem. Herod called for his own wise men and wanted to know where the Messiah was to be born (vv. 3-4). They knew of Micahís prophecy and rightly reported Bethlehem. And Herod devised a scheme to find and remove the threat to his throne.

Why did God have Matthew include this story for us? I believe there are at least IV. 5 lessons to be learned from the story of The Magi.

A. Notice first, that there have always been 3 primary responses to the truth of Jesus Christ.

1. Hatred. Jesus is seen as a threat. The Prince of Peace who preaches and promotes peace is hated. Every year hundreds of thousands of people will die because they follow Jesus. Roman Emperors, as well as 20th century leaders like Castro, Stalin, Mao se Tung, Edi Amin and others have imprisoned, tortured and killed hundreds of thousands perhaps millions because they gave their allegiance to Heaven and not the state.

Today Jesus is a threat to those who want to believe and do their will instead of Godís. He is seen as a threat to those who donít want to believe in creation, or want to abort their children, believe that all religions are the same or that being good is good enough. If Jesus is Lord then I am not and I donít want to bow down and give my kingdom to another. Jesus was killed by the Religious Jews because they saw His life as a threat to their positions. We will not have this man rule over us. Herod would kill all the boys under two in and near Bethlehem because of the fear of losing his power.

2. Indifference. Perhaps it was because of fear, but the chief priests made no effort to discover for themselves if the prophecy had been fulfilled. They had the scriptures, and knew the scriptures and had heard the Magi yet did nothing. All across America, people will sit in churches and hear Godís word and hear Godís will, but will leave and go home and do nothing. We are indifferent to the message of the gospel; indifferent to the poor and hurting; indifferent to the millions or billions of lost people. Millions of Americans will hear that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus and Easter is about the death and resurrection of Jesus, yet they will not seek to know Him. They are indifferent. They care more about who wins the big games than they do their soulsí future. They are indifferent to the moral decay of the culture around them and the only one who can heal us. They are indifferent.

3. Worship. When the Magi saw the shining over the house where Jesus was, they fell down and worshipped Him (vv. 10-11). When people understand that the hope of the world, and the hope of their own lives is not in something but in someone; namely, Jesus, they want to worship Him. In Him is the fullness of God bodily. In Him there is life, truth, peace, forgiveness, joy, and hope. We want to come and adore Him. These men would take a road trip that would be close to a year round trip just to worship for a while and present the King with gifts. Does the truth of Jesus make you want to worship? These noble men; these king-makers; these highly educated and wealthy men, fell down, face to the ground and praised the God of heaven and His Son. Oh, Come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!

B. The Second Lesson of the Magi is that the Gift of God is for the Whole world. God told Abraham that through him, all the peoples of the earth would be blessed. Jesus is Godís gift to the whole world. Salvation may be through the Jews, but it is not just for Jews. John makes that clear in John 3:16; and 1 John 2:2. Jesus would tell the disciples to go into the whole world and preach the Gospel. One of the most wonderful verses in the Revelation is that someday, people from every tongue, every nation, and every color, will gather as one and worship the Lamb (Rev. 5:9-10). Itís amazing that Matthew, who wrote to the Jews to show that Jesus is the King and the fulfillment of all the Messianic Prophecies, begins his gospel showing that 4 Gentile women are in Jesusí genealogy, and among the first worshippers of Jesus are Gentile wise men. He will conclude his Gospel with the command of Jesus to take the gospel and disciple all nations.

C. The Third lesson of the Magi is that those who seek Him will find Him. God wants to be known and has shouted His presence in creation and nature (Ps. 19:1; Romans 1:19-20). He has revealed Himself in our consciences and our minds (Romans 2). And He has revealed Himself in His written revelation, the Bible. Deut. 4:29 reminds us that even if we are far from God, we will find Him if we will seek Him with all our hearts. The Ethiopian Eunuch did in Acts 8; Cornelius did in Acts 10; Lydia and others did in Acts 16; The disciples of John did in Acts 19. I did in 1971.

D. It is Appropriate to Worship with a Gift or a sacrifice. This is not an appeal for you to give more. My promise to you is that I will never do that. But throughout the Bible, worship usually involves a sacrifice, an offering to God. Psalm 96:7-9 says, Give to the LORD, O families of the peoples, Give to the LORD glory and strength. 8 Give to the LORD the glory due His name; Bring an offering, and come into His courts. 9 Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth." In 1 Chronicles 21, David wants to buy a barn from a man named Ornan, to worship God. Ornan says, I will give it to you as a gift and I will also give you oxen so you can sacrifice. And David says in verse 24, "No way. I will not worship with that which costs me nothing." Giving is an act of faith. Giving is also an act of love. When you love someone, you want to show it with gifts. Giving is an act of worship. It says I am grateful, for I know you have given this to me. It also says, I trust you, to take care of me. And it says, I will honor and obey you even if I donít understand.

Now here is a question. What does God want you to give to Him? Here is Godís Christmas wish list.

1. He wants you to give him your Purse, wallet, checkbook. (Mal. 3; 2 Cor. 8-9, Luke 6:38 and Hebrews 13:16)

Money is the most tangible way and our medium of exchange. A tithe is what God asks for as an act of faith. He has blessed you with a little or a lot, but His blessings are purposeful. He wants you to take care of your family, enjoy His creation, care for the poor, and to support those who have made it their life mission to reach the lost and to care for His sheep. "16 But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."

2. He wants your Praise (Heb. 13:15), "15 Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. God would simply like you to remember your blessings and say, "Thank You." Just as do when you give a gift. Our praise is a reminder that we are dependent on a Gracious God.

3. He wants your Person (Romans 12:1-2) "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." God doesnít just want your words, and He doesnít just want your money, he wants you. He wants your body, mind, and soul. He wants your total commitment and allegiance. Just as any country wants that from its soldiers. He wants you to be all in. This is what every wife wants from her husband, and every husband wants from his wife. Total allegiance and commitment is reasonable based on what he has done for us. Have you given God what He really wants this Christmas? The magi did. Will You?

E. The Fifth Lesson of the Magi is that God will use what you give Him in the most unexpected ways. These men brought gifts when they came to worship. Whether they knew the symbolism of their gifts or not we donít know. Gold was the metal of Kings. Frankincense was the fragrance of Priests and used at the altar of incense when prayers where offered. Myrrh was both a fragrance and an expensive one, and was used as a drug with anesthesia affects. It was put in cheap wine and used to lessen the pain of the dying. It was offered to Jesus at His death. The bodies of the dead were often anointed with myrrh.

Perhaps the gifts were prophetic, or perhaps they were just gifts given in devotion. But most scholars believe they were what Joseph and Mary used to survive on during their stay in Egypt. Throughout the Bible God demonstrates His faithfulness in unlikely means to show us that He is able to take care of us.

Thatís why I always tell people, that if they believe God wants them to go on mission or into full time ministry, He will provide. Godís work, done Godís way will never lack Godís supply.

And you may never know until you get to heaven how God used your faithfulness to help or to change lives. He used a small boyís sack lunch to feed thousands. He used a widowís last pancake to save a prophet. He used a lost coin in a fishís mouth to pay taxes. He used a shepherdís sling shot to save a nation. God used the gifts of Gentiles from the east, to protect and provide for His Son among Gentiles in the south until it was safe to go back to Nazareth in Galilee. These are the lessons of the Magi.

If this life lesson has challenged, encouraged or helped you, let me know, or if you have any questions, write to me at pastorgarybuchman@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you. (p.s. I wonít put you on a mailing list or ask you for money). It would encourage me to know that you were encouraged.

Read other thoughtful writings by Pastor Gary Buchman