Our events of our sermon reading take place sometime in the first 24 months after Jesus was born. For reasons unknown to us, Mary and Joseph have remained in Bethlehem. Joseph has moved his small family out of the stable, and into a house.
Things have settled down from all the excitement of that first Christmas night. There haven’t been any visits from angels lately. No shepherds knocking on doors in the wee hours of the morning. Joseph works. Mary cares for baby Jesus. Life as usual has set in.
But then, an unexpected group of travelers arrives on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
Matthew 2:1-12 (NIV)
1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”
7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On 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 and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
The theme of our message today is “The Call of the Magi”. This isn’t just another nice Christmas story. It’s not just a historical event. The Spirit of God caused Matthew to write these words down so that the Magi could speak to us even today. These mysterious worshippers have a message for us. But first we need to ask a few questions.
WHO are these guys? WHY did they travel all the way to Jerusalem and to Bethlehem? WHAT were these gifts all about?
In drawings and paintings the Magi appear as three kings. But the Bible doesn’t tell us how many there were, just that there were THREE GIFTS. The Bible also doesn’t tell us that they were kings, just that they were Magi.
Okay, what does that mean? Well, if you add a “c” to the end of the word “Magi” you get “Magic”. And that’s what many of the ancient Magi were all about. Tapping into mystical magic powers. Being a Magi implied that you knew things that most mortal men know nothing about. Supernatural things.
Apparently, the Magi in our story were astrologers who studied the movements of stars and planets. They weren’t just astronomers studying the night sky for the sake of science and learning. They attached earthly significance to what they saw in the heavens above. When unique things happened in the sky, they believed something significant was happening down on earth.
But these men were also followers of Jehovah God. They knew about the great King that had been promised to David and the Jewish people. And they believed the prophecy. They believed it enough to make a long journey west in search of this King.
The Magi probably came into contact with the Old Testament of the Bible through the deported Jews. When the Israelite nation was defeated by the Babylonian empire in 586 BC, most of them were deported. They remained in exile for 70 years. When the Jews were finally allowed to return to their homeland, many chose to stay in the lands they had been deported to.
Some of these Jews were still waiting for the promised Messiah. Perhaps they shared their hope with the Magi. Perhaps they pointed them to the Bible, and to prophecies like the one found in 2 Samuel 7, verse 12. Here God is speaking to king David. God tells David…
“When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son...”(2 Samuel 7:12-14 NKJV).Somehow, when a bright, new star appeared in the sky, the Magi knew that the promised King had been born. So, they packed up and went. They had to see this thing that the Lord was doing.
And here’s where the first call of the Magi hits us. Their journey calls us to re-center Christ as our own life’s core.
I think we’ve all come across interesting places and things we’d like to see before we die. Maybe in a magazine, or on Television. I’d like to camping in Hawaii. I’d like to go rock climbing in Oregon. I’d like to see the Redwoods. But I can’t just up and go to these places. It’s not so much the money or responsibility that keeps me from just going to see these places. What it really comes down to is these are just desires. Whims. Things that I’d LIKE to do, but they’re not what my life is all about.
When the Magi packed up and left the East, they weren’t going on vacation. This was a major undertaking. There would be dangerous roads and unknown places that they would have to travel through. But they were wealthy, right? Their gifts show it. Well, that just made them more of a target on the roads.
This wasn’t a hobby for the Magi, it was their life. There was no division between their lives, and their religion. Their faith in the God of the Bible defined their life choices - at least in this one instance.
And their example calls us back. Calls us to rededicate ourselves to the same God. The God who first called the Magi to Christ through the Scriptures, and then called them to the Christ Child by a star.
The Magi also call us to experience great joy. The joy of approaching God to worship Him.
Verse 10 says,
“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed” (Matthew 2:10 NIV).“Overjoyed” is kinda a lame translation of what the Magi felt when they saw the star reappear over Bethlehem. The Greek says it more like this…
“And seeing the star they rejoiced a great joy greatly” (Matthew 2:10 personal translation).The Greek kinda piles up words in order to emphasize how excited the Magi were. The star that started this journey had reappeared. And it had MOVED ahead of them to stand over Bethlehem. This meant they were going in the right direction. They were nearly there. They were approaching the palace of the TRUE King. The ETERNAL King.
Their rejoicing calls us to the same joy. When we come here to worship, or open our Bibles at home, we’re approaching the holy and divine. We’re approaching the God who has shown us our sinfulness and our desperate need for redemption. And we’re approaching the God who has shown us our Savior. The Child who grew into a Man and went to the cross to take our sins away and make us His forgiven children forever.
We don’t even have to make a long journey to find the Christ! God has plopped this message of sins forgiven down right into our laps. He’s given us numerous copies of His message, and He’s given us this place in which to study and share and celebrate it in.
Now, when the Magi finally reached the humble palace of the Christ Child, they came prepared. Verse 11 says…
“11On 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 and of incense and of myrrh” (Matthew 2:11 NIV).Here the Magi call us one more time. They call us to express our faith outwardly. That’s what these gifts were all about.
The gold, the frankincense and the myrrh were expensive gifts. But, if you think about it, these men were approaching the Son of God through whom the whole universe had been created. All this was His anyway.
It’s a bit like really little kids giving gifts to their parents. I think all my children have gone through a phase were they wrap up normal items from around the house so they can give them as gives.
Maybe you’d get your car-keys one day and a pair of your own socks right from your drawer the next.
And what’s the value in those gifts? Obviously it isn’t the dollar sign value that makes those gifts precious, it’s what they express. The love of a child for a parent. The heart and mind of a child growing more mature. That’s what made the gifts of the Magi special. There at the foot of the baby Savior, they laid down expressions of their faith in Him.
A few days ago I talked with my kids about the Magi. And in our little devotion time we asked each other, “What would you have brought to the Christ Child?” Carmen (age 2) said she’d have brought Him a Care Bear toothbrush (she had just got one that morning as a Christmas gift). My wife said she would have brought a Moby wrap for Mary to carry Jesus around in.
How would you answer that question? What if we were going with the Magi, and each of us had one chance to give a gift to the Christ Child. One simple, little expression of our thanks and love and trust. What would YOU have brought your infant Savior?
At this time of year, it’s impossible not to look forward. Just yesterday we got a fresh year to work with. A fresh set of unmarked days, weeks and months. So, what are we going to bring our Savior this year? What expression of our trust in His forgiveness? What expression of our dependence on His grace? What expression of the joy He offers by His life lived and given in our place?
The start of the year is a great time to reset. To re-dedicate. To re-center our lives on Christ. And the place to start is where the Magi started – with the WORD of God.
Without the prophecy of the King, these men would never have made that famous journey. So that’s where we need to return. To a life of prayer appointments kept. To a life where the Word of God is touched in an ongoing, deliberate basis. To a life where we first fill up our hearts with the joy of salvation through Christ, and then we let the Holy Spirit lead us to thoughtful expression of that joy.
Here’s what I’d suggest. You might already have a whole bunch of New Year’s resolutions to keep, so we’ll keep this simple. Why not build ONE better habit that connects you to God this year?
Maybe it’ll be getting to church every Sunday you’re in town.
Maybe it’ll be starting to attend Bible Class when you haven’t for a long time.
Maybe it’ll be buying an audio Bible for your iPod so you can listen to the Bible on your way to work.
Maybe it’ll be settling back into a solid prayer habit. A time during your day when everything else can wait, because you’ve got a meeting with your Creator.
Why not build ONE better habit THIS WEEK. Just one habit that helps keep your heart centered in Christ.
Have you ever been to a meeting where you talked about things that got forgotten later? You know, you talked it all over, but when everyone left the room nothing actually got done? Don’t let that happen today. The Magi have met with us today. They’ve called out to us over millennia to build up our faith in the Savior King.
The final verse of our sermon text says…
“12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route” (Matthew 2:12 NIV).It had been a wild ride for the Magi. But then they returned home. And life as usual set in once more. When all the holiday celebrations associated with this time of year have come to an end, we too will find life as usual settling in once more.
May God bless our lives this year so that “life as usual” for us, is a life that’s all about our Savior from sin. A life full of renewed joy as we continually approach God to worship. And may God help us along so that our faith in Christ grows, and overflows in MANY outward expressions.