December 16, 2002
LifeWay Family Bible Series for Dec. 29
The magi reflect that Christ calls to all people
___ Matthew 2:112
___By Rick Willis
___First Baptist Church, Roscoe
___Songs and Nativity scenes often portray "three wise men" visiting the manger of the baby Jesus. They tend to get lost in the crowded audience of shepherds, angels and oxen there. In the real story, these visitors are more mysterious than that. And they mean much more.
___Magi--of all people!
___Just who were these mysterious visitors? The NIV is good to use the word straight out of the original--"magi" (Matthew 12:1). No cleaning them up as "wise men," certainly not "three kings." The idea of three comes from the number of gifts mentioned, but there could have been two or 10 givers. And the idea of kings comes from Isaiah 60:3, "Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn." Centuries later, legend added the names Caspar, Balthasar and Melchior as in "Ben Hur."
___So, hymns and Christmas cards notwithstanding, the Bible doesn't say how many men there were or whether they came from Persia, Babylon or Arabia. But the Bible does say point blank that they were magi. In fact, it says in Greek, "Behold! Magi."
___The best English word for magi is really "magician." The word only shows up in two other occasions in the New
Testament. One is Simon the Mega Magician of Acts 8:924, who is traditionally called Simon Magus. The other is Elymas, the court sorcerer of Paphos (Acts 13:610). The Bible portrays both men with undesirable reputations.
___These particular magi in Matthew 2 were pagan astrologers. But God himself led them to the truth of Christ. God used fish to bring fisherman to Jesus (Matthew 4:19), and God used a star to lead astrologers to Jesus. Their coming did fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 60:3. It also became a living prophecy of God embracing all the Gentile nations by faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 1:5).
___How far can God's grace go? How much is the God who came to live in that Bethlehem toddler willing to forgive? Whom would it surprise you to see coming to worship Christ? The magi stand for God's power to save anyone who turns to Jesus in faith.
___Treachery in disguise
___We can see the magi as representatives of how God's grace brings unlikely people to the truth of Jesus. Matthew 2:38 then reminds us there are people who reject Jesus as Lord, even as they pretend to worship him.
___King Herod was one of the greatest political figures of the day. Yet he was so competitive, jealous and insecure that even a child who was called King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2) was a threat to him. He had executed wives and sons whom he believed were rivals for his throne. No conscience was left to prevent him from having a whole town of 2-year-old and younger boys murdered (2:16).
___Herod tried to manipulate the magi into helping him. By pretending he wanted to worship Jesus, too, he expected to learn from the magi exactly where the boy lived (2:8).
___Politicians and governments since Herod have feigned devotion to the Lord as a way of securing control for personal gain. And the chief priests and teachers in Herod's court are not the last Bible experts to have the right answers but to miss the right actions based on what they know (2:46).
___The custom of giving gifts at Christmas is said to trace back to the magi's gifts to the boy Jesus (Matthew 2:911). They willingly sacrificed some of their treasures to acknowledge they held Jesus in the devotion fit for a king (compare Genesis 43:11; 1 Kings 10:2). Their homage to him would have been incomplete without presenting him gifts.
___Many interpretations have been attached to the significance of the gifts. The gold may point to the kingly role of Jesus. The incense can be associated with priestly functions and the myrrh with ancient embalming--foreshadowing Christ's sacrificial death to atone for our sins.
___On a practical level, the gifts of the magi were God's provision to Jesus, Mary and Joseph for their retreat to Egypt until the end of Herod's reign of terror. The gold would have financed their way to Egypt, and the frankincense and myrrh would have brought top dollar while they stayed there.
___If we apply these verses to giving as an element of worship, the same two levels emerge. Our offerings express devotion to the Lord as Prophet, Priest and King. At the same time, they sustain the Lord's church while the battle with evil goes on.
___By the end of Matthew 2, the gospel writer clearly identifies two basic responses to the presence of Jesus. One is the grace-led response of faith and worship. The other is the pride-filled response of indifference or hostility. God can overcome the greatest distance imaginable between himself and us, but only through faith in Jesus.
___Questions for discussion
___ What Christmas practices have close comparisons with activities of Christian worship?
___ What gifts of money, time or talent can you use to demonstrate your devotion to Christ this week?
___ Who are some contemporary magi? How can you and your church be a light to lead them to Christ?
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