THE MAGI VISITS THE MESSIAH
KV Matthew 2:2 “and asked “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.”
Merry Christmas! Christmas is a time of great joy. We call it the most wonderful time of the year. We give and receive gifts, get to spend time with family and friends. One thing I love about Christmas is seeing the kid’s response to unwrapping their Christmas gifts. It is really fun to see their expressions and their joy when they get just what they wished for. Who got what they wanted this year? Can you raise your hand? It is also interesting to see kids response when they get something they didn’t wish for. During one Christmas when my nephew was just a little boy of just 4 or 5 years old, my mother who loves sewing made him a cute little sweater with a candy cane on the front. I remember he said this is not what I wanted for Christmas!
Today we study about the Magi who were truth seekers. We learn from them what we should really seek in all of our lives. Our life is not about seeking pleasures, comforts, security but about seeking the truth. Seeking the truth, the King. May God bless you to seek his truth in your whole lives led by his guiding star, the word of God.
Part 1 (The Magi from the East)
Last week Msn Jacob gave the message on Luke 2 title a Savior has been born to you. We learned that baby Jesus was born a Savior to all the people. Unlike Caesar who was a wolf, Jesus would be a shepherd of all the people. He would save people from their sins and draw them back to God. In that message last week we saw that God used the angels to deliver the message of good news of great joy for all the people to the shepherds who were out watching the sheep at night. To many, shepherds are considered to be lowly and humble people perhaps with a good and soft heart since they took care of defenseless sheep. In our study we concluded they sounded like the most likely people to respond to the angels and the message of the birth of Jesus. Indeed they responded and found Jesus just as the angel said and ended up glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard.
In today’s passage we have a most unlikely group of people who seemingly come out of nowhere to honor baby Jesus as king and even presenting him with kingly treasures. Let’s read verse 1, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem”.
Though this event happened more than 2000 years ago, we still marvel at the thought of these Magi’s journey. Matthew was so touched by it that he included it in his gospel. This event was so incredible and so unexpected that the original Greek text places the word “behold” before the word “Magi”. If not for the Magi there probably is no such thing as Christmas gifts. Magi, or wise men, were nobles and great scholars – highly valued as advisers and counselors to kings in ancient Persia or Babylon (Dan 5:7). In their thirst for knowledge, they devoted themselves to astrology, divination and the interpretation of dreams.
Though we aren’t totally sure of many things surrounding their background and their beliefs, I believe Matthew would not have included them in his gospel if they didn’t accept Jesus as the true messiah. How did they come to know Jesus? I don’t believe one day they saw a bright star and decided to blindly follow it and see where it leads. That would have been very dumb my son likes to say. And these were not dumb men, they were wise men. Instead we find they already have a clear idea who they were coming to see (the one born king of the Jews) and for what purpose. They even prepared most precious gifts for a king. Most likely they learned of Jesus through the time when Jews were exiled in Babylon or Persia, a time when the Jewish faith and scriptures were spread in Babylon. They were likely also highly influenced by Daniel. Daniel had been captured by the Babylonians and served under three Gentile kings but he kept his faith and became a powerful messenger of God. When none of the wise men and counselors surrounding King Nebachunazzar were able to interpret his dreams. The King became furious. Daniel then explains the five kingdoms, the fifth of which would be the eternal kingdom of God in verse 2:44 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end but it itself will endure forever!” We find then the king of Babylon said to Daniel “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries for you were able to reveal this mystery.” Then he king placed Daniel in a high position and made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and made him in charge of all its wise men. Though Daniel’s situation as an exile in a foreign country looked bad, God still used him to bless many people even the noble wise man. When a man stands firm in his faith, seeking the truth in love he can reach even the hardest people. What a great grace of God for the Gentile wise man to have been able to be around such a man of faith!
The journey to Jerusalem for the Magi was a long and hard one. My son Noah drew this picture of the wise men’s trip one Christmas when he was 4 years old. We see there was great news when baby Jesus was born. He happily rode his camel to follow the star of Jesus. But then he ran into great difficulty when a robber came and robbed him of his treasured batman toy. Finally the wise man found the baby Jesus’ house and praised the Lord and worshipped Jesus! Though the story looks simple, he brings up a point. There is always a risk involved in following Jesus. In his story a robber came and took his favorite toy. He lost that on the way to see Jesus but when he finally meets him he is still overjoyed. He forgets his pain for the joy of knowing Jesus far surpasses his lost toy. The Magi were known as truth seekers. They sought the truth their entire life until somehow that truth led them on this remarkable journey to worship Jesus. They were surely laughed at by others, lost time and money and perhaps even friends and family. Last week Msn Jacob introduced me as coming all the way from China. I spent nearly 9 years of my life in China following Jesus and teaching the Bible to students along with my wife. Now my life here is difficult as I had to start life all over again. But we never regret. Our life became rich in God. In our life we seek many things. In our 20s we are tempted to seek pleasures and fun. In the middle age we are tempted to seek security by building our wealth. In our late age we are tempted to seek relaxation and being with our grandchildren. But above all we should seek the truth by following Jesus.
Let’s read our key verse, verse 2. “and asked “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.” Apparently during the journey of tracking the star the Magi got lost on the way and stopped in Jerusalem, a likely place to find a King. They came with the question “where is the one to be born king of the Jews?”. They came expecting to find one born a King. He was not to be a political king like Herod but rather a spiritual one. Last week we sang Handel’s messiah. In it, we sang King of Kings and Lord of Lords which is a reference from Revelation 19:16. When Jesus is called “King of kings and Lord of lords,” it means that, in the end, all other rulers will be conquered or abolished, and He alone will reign supreme as King and Lord of all the earth. There is no power, no king, and no lord who can oppose Him and win. Despite how mighty a king may be, all earthy kings reign will end. But Jesus, the earthly King rules forever. Though we have no choice in where we are born on this Earth, through God’s mercy and grace the door is opened to the kingdom of God.
Look back at verse 2b again. “We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” The Magi had a clear purpose in their journey – to meet the Messiah and worship him. The story of the Magi is only told in Matthew’s gospel. Matthew was a Jew who collected extra taxes from fellow Jews to give to the Romans who were occupying their country. He was a man who loved and worshipped money and had no regard for his fellow citizens. But one day Jesus called him personally. While other gospels say Jesus saw a “tax collector”, Matthew states “He saw a man named Matthew”. Matthew knew Jesus’ love and forgiveness very personally. When Jesus God called him he left his job as tax collector and then joyfully invited all fellow tax collectors and sinners together to meet Jesus. I think that moment may have been the greatest joy in Matthew’s life. Before he met Jesus he lived an empty life fighting to gain whatever he could in this world but by the grace of God he received a joy that far surpasses anything he could receive in this world. Through personally receiving God’s grace he found Jesus was worthy of all of his.
I once attended a toast master’s meeting where people practiced making public speeches. One man gave a thoughtful speech in which he titled “What is mine”? He confessed that though he worked hard and accumulated many earthly possessions nothing in this world really belonged to him. Not his house, not his car, his wife or kids. Needless to say he seemed like a disappointed man. Personally nothing in this life was his, he was empty. Usually people have several comments for the speaker but this time there was a lot of silence as nobody knew what to say to comfort him. Later, I went home and asked my son Nathan. What is yours? I expected him to say some particular toy but without hesitating he said “Jesus”. The story of Christmas is that God in his great grace has given us the best present. Last week we learned in Luke 2:14 that “a Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord”. Jesus is God’s gift to man. How we respond to that gift makes all the difference in our life.
One of my favorite hymn songs is Blessed Assurance Jesus is Mine. The author proclaims that “This is my story this is my song. Praising my savior all the day long.”
What does it mean to truly worship Jesus as King? In our text today and throughout the Bible we see the words bow down and worship. Bowing down is an act of submission or surrender. Due to our sinful nature one of the hardest parts of bowing down is emptying yourself before God. My sinful nature is so great. The struggle to rule our own life is so great. The struggle inside of me to not lose anything is so great. One truthful person once said the greatest problem in the world is myself. But we must worship Jesus as our true spiritual King. When Worshiping God is man’s sole purpose for existence and the only thing that brings true happiness, for in the image of God we were made. Therefore, man’s thirst for truth inevitably leads him to Jesus Christ.
This past week we had a group of Magi from the west (LA chapter) to visit our center and share testimonies. We heard five beautiful testimonies from 4 sisters and one Abraham of faith. For the 4 sisters, before meeting and accepting Jesus personally they lived meaningless lives, struggling with various addictions and problems and thirsting for human love. One grew up as the only daughter of a single mom who was mentally ill. Another was neglected by her parents and lived under the heavy influence of drugs and medication. Another lived as a Samaritan woman thirsting for human love. What hard lives. If this was their only story then life would be tragic. But thankfully there is a story of Jesus grace in their lives. When they met and accepted Jesus through Bible study their life changed. No longer was their life about their problems but they found great joy in Jesus. The Jesus who truly loved them and forgave them. They found purpose and mission in serving Jesus and being a Bible teacher for other students who were just like them. May God bless you to worship Jesus as King
Part 2 (A disturbing scene in Jerusalem, 3-8)
Let’s see how King Herod responded to the magi’s question. Let’s read verse 3 together “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” Though he was not a Jew, he was appointed as king over the Jews by the Roman Empire. He was often referred to as a puppet King. Though he was often referred to as Herod the Great, he was anything but great. He killed anyone he expected of treason, including his own wife and three of his sons…and his mother-in-law…and his brother-in-law…and his uncle…not to mention all the boys two years old and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem (Mt 2:16). So there was a saying among the Romans, “It would be better to be Herod’s pig than one of his sons.”
Verse 3 says all Jerusalem was disturbed with him. At first it may be hard to understand why the people were disturbed. After all, any king must be better than King Herod. From the noble magi’s words this king had his own star and was even worthy of worship. How far superior to that of King Herod was King Jesus. Yet they were disturbed to hear of the birth of the king of the Jews. What can we learn, what was their problem? In a sense their problem was the same as that of King Herod. They valued their security above all else. Though Herod looked powerful as a King he lived his life in great fear. Though he was 70 years old at the time he was afraid of a baby. He couldn’t face tomorrow, the thought he may not have his power anymore. For the people, they were fearful of King Herod’s reaction which meant trouble for them. Though bad, they tried to save their current situation. In Matthew 16:25 Jesus said 25For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. If you are living your life apart from Jesus, don’t try to save it.
In verse 4 we see King Herod calls together all the chief priests and teachers of the law and asks them where the Messiah was to be born. The chief priests at that time were in charge of worship at the temple of Jerusalem and the teachers of the law were professionally trained teachers of the Old Testament. They should have shown great interest in this inquiry from the Magi. Being in their vicinity they should have gone to check out but instead they sound like Ok Google or Amazon Echo. Indeed when I asked Ok Google they gave me the reference of last week’s passage, Luke 2:1-20. They were merely a provider of information, a walking dictionary or encyclopedia as we used to call them. Let us not follow them by simply collecting more and more information and bible knowledge. Let us not follow them by attempting to fulfill task after task. When we are task centered we get tired and worn out and have no life in us. But instead let us be Christ centered and honor him as King
Part 3 (The joy of worshipping King Jesus)
Let’s read Verse 10 together. When they saw the star they were overjoyed. There is no other place in the Bible that expresses man’s joy as strong as this one. Overjoy is like too much joy. Much more than one can imagine. They must have jumped up and down and made great shouts and yells. What were they overjoyed about? Have you ever been overjoyed to see a star, even a big bright special one? Probably not. The Magi were not overjoyed to see the star itself but in knowing that they were closer to finding Jesus the one they were looking for. It reassured them that they would indeed find him. Jeremiah 29:13 says “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart.” Sometimes Jesus seems far away like he was for the Magi but when we seek him we will find him.If you want to have more joy this Christmas, look to the star of God’s word which leads us to Jesus, the one gift that makes us truly rich in every way.
But why else were the Magi overjoyed? There are many people who do seem to seek Jesus through joining many activities and through many endless prayer requests. However, they seem more burdened than joyful. I believe they were overjoyed because they had something to give him. Let’s read verse 11 “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” First, they bowed down and worshiped him. Though Jesus was with his mother Mary, the verse doesn’t say that they bowed down and worshiped them. In that time and age it would be more natural for them to bow down to Mary the mother first as that is what is expected. But yet they bowed down and worshipped Jesus alone. And no, I don’t believe Mary was offended. They had fixed their eyes on Jesus, the king. Their worship was pure and Christ-centered. When our worship is pure and Christ centered we too can have great joy.
Second, they presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The TNIV version says they opened their treasures. These were not ordinary gifts but gifts to be given to a King in that time and age. When we truly seek him and know and honor Jesus as King he turns us into givers. When we become a giver our life overflows with great joy. When I first met Jesus personally in college I was so happy. I wanted to give him everything I had for he alone was worthy. The more I gave the more joyful I became and I am not talking about only money. When God called Abraham into a personal relationship he said in chapter 12:2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” The greater blessing was that Abraham was to be a blessing. The Magi were some of the least likely characters to be involved in the Christmas story. They were not Jews, highly educated and accomplished and came from afar to worship and give treasures to baby Jesus the king of the Jews. But yet God turned them into a great blessing for all of us to learn from when they sought and found Jesus. May God bless you to seek Jesus with a pure heart and be a blessing in the New Year.
In many ways the Magi’s pilgrimage is like that of our own. I was blessed to give the first message of this year on Hebrews 12:2 “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith”. Now I am giving the last message but the point still seems the same. What are you seeking? Who is your king? Whether you receive many gifts today or not does not matter. Today we celebrate the one gift that matters most of all. Please receive the gift of Jesus, the eternal king. Seek him every day, worship him alone, let him take his rightful place as the ruler of your heart. When you do, no matter the situation you can be overjoyed in his presence.