is the stuff of Christmas; the three wise men bringing gifts to the baby
Jesus. Much about this scene is the addition of legend, but in the truth we
know we can see how the homage of these strangers brings honor and glory to Christ
even to this day.
after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi
from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is He who has been born
King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship
Him." When Herod the king heard this,
he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief
priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to
be born. They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has
been written by the prophet: 'AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO
MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER
WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.'" Then Herod secretly called the magi
and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and
worship Him." After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star,
which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood
over the place where the Child was. When
they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into
the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground
and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts
of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the
magi left for their own country by another way.
(Mat 2:1-12 NASB)
is curious that of all circumstances surrounding the birth of the Christ child,
the story of the Magi is the one most often challenged. Matthew knew Mary, of
course, and we cannot doubt that he got the story from her. But to the modern,
scientific mind, the ancient words seem a puzzle. We shall see what we can
find in the Scriptures to enlighten the story of the Star.
is generally agreed that the Magi are astrologers, from somewhere to the east
of Jerusalem. Which astrologers, however, is still a matter of debate.
Babylonians, Chaldeans, Persians have all been suggested. But there is one
thing we do know about these men from history: they have a track record of
doing things like this. It is recorded in ancient records that certain Magi
showed up to make sacrifices in honor of Plato at his death. Similarly,
Alexander the Great was so honored at his birth as the conqueror of the east.
So we know two things: This was not unique – and we have no idea how it is
they knew anything about this.
there is one thing we can learn from them: note that they did not ask if
the King of the Jews was born – they asked where. You can learn
a lot about someone from the questions they ask. Doubt asks if; faith asks
in this account is as talked of as the star. A supernova, a hallucination, a
comet, an astrological conjunction – all these have been suggested. We may
gather some clues from the story which may help us out.
the Magi saw the star. This implies one of three things. It may be a
vision planted in their brains by God. It may be some conjunction of the
planets and stars which was significant in their system of astrology. It
may also be both, as we shall see.
saw it rise in the east – which sounds illogical as they then headed west
to investigate. It is a fact that all stars rise in the east, as do the
sun and the moon. So evidently it was a heavenly body of some sort, at
least until they reached Jerusalem.
the sequence of events. First, the Magi see the star in the east – and
head to Jerusalem. Then they don’t see the star – for they stop to ask
directions. They head towards Bethlehem, this time guided by a star that
moves before them, ultimately selecting out the place where the child lay,
for which they rejoiced.
note that Herod inquired for – and got – the exact time the star
appeared. It implies that they had an exact time, told in the stars.
this we might draw some conclusions. In the first part of their journey, they
seem to have only the fact that the King of the Jews was born – which sounds
like astrology. But when it was necessary to find the precise location, the
star moves with them. Rather than call this conundrum, I submit it clears it
up. Astrology got them close – to Jerusalem. The guidance of God brought them
to the Christ.
world is like that. Lots of religions and methods will cause you to become a
better person. Only Christ can lead you home to the Father.
thing this passage does: it produces metaphor from Christian writers. Here
are three of profit:
is indeed the Bright and Morning Star. Do you follow where He leads, or
just use the light to read the paper?
kings of the earth do homage at his birth with gold, frankincense and
myrrh. Gold stands for the treasures of this earth; frankincense
(usually, just incense) is the symbol of the prayers of the faithful;
myrrh is used to embalm a body at death. Do you bring your treasures to
him as offering? Are your prayers constant? Do you look to Him as your
strength even in death?
one you may have missed: the name “Bethlehem” means “house of bread.” In
that manger lay the Christ, the bread of life, the Savior.
first thing to note is that Herod is absolutely convinced by the Magi and the
priests in this. The demons believe and tremble. Herod’s reaction is much the
same; his only thought is to rid himself of this rival for the throne.
is a sly wickedness to this man. He takes the Magi aside secretly before lying
to them. You can see the purpose: he doesn’t want the court to pressure him
into going to worship the child. He tells them Magi that he will come and
worship too – but he asks the exact time they saw the star appear. This, we
shall see in the next lesson, determines his plan to rid himself of this
that not the way of the world? When the Prince of Peace comes, the first
thought is to prevent Him from being proclaimed. It is a capital offense in
most Moslem countries to be a Christian. Religious freedom is the rule in
countries which are (or used to be) Christian. Who’s afraid of whom?
let us recall that the priests did not see the star. They weren’t looking for
it. But they quickly accepted the fact that the Magi did. The situation
appeared to them that the Magi did not know where to turn next; they were
priests found those directions in the Scripture:
as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too
little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be
ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of
(Mic 5:2 NASB)
explain a present fact, they turned to prophecy. These were the right wing
fundamentalists of the day. We may learn from their example:
you seek your explanations in prophecy and proverbs, or in the cynical
mind the world will give you?
your faith need a miraculous sign, or are you among those who have heard
and yet believe?
may learn as well from the Magi:
stopped in the obvious place, Jerusalem, to ask directions. If someone
asked directions (spiritual) from you, would you know the way well enough
to tell them?
were obviously prepared to do honor to the King of the Jews, the Christ.
You acknowledge that you owe him that honor; are you prepared to give
it? The time will come when that will be very important indeed.
is so striking about the incarnation of our Lord as this: it was done in
complete humility. C. S. Lewis called it the “supreme miracle,” for without
the incarnation there is no sacrifice – and no salvation.
because he came without pomp and ceremony from the world, it appears that “the
world knew him not.” It is a harbinger. The kingdom of Satan rests on the
power of the world; it is no surprise that the Christ, then, was so often
opposed to the establishment.
opposition of Satan
these are not so obvious as questions, but it seems worthwhile to ask them.
This business of Satan’s opposition to the birth of Christ could easily have
been handled in other ways. Specifically:
- Why didn’t God command the Magi to take the child
and His parents with them on their return? It would, after all, have been
a high form of worship to do so. But perhaps God was not so inclined to
do this, so that we might have the example of His flight to Egypt. It is a picture of the command of Christ to flee persecution.
It also is a portrayal of the prophetic words, “not by might, nor by
power, but by My Spirit.”
- Why didn’t God simply slay Herod? Can you ask? Does the Prince
of Peace come by the death of any man? The one who wills that all men be
for us today
is a simple and present dilemma. God is righteous; God is omnipotent. He is
also Love. By His righteousness He should cleanse the planet of its sinful
inhabitants; by His love he should redeem it. Omnipotent doesn’t cover
But sacrifice does. The love and righteousness of God are reconciled at the
Cross, and upon that sacrifice salvation is offered to one and all. The time
of his favor is short; the time of His return is soon. Consider this well: if
his birth in a stable caused kings to tremble, how much more will He cause them
to tremble at His return?