Introduction:Do you know what retailers expected to be the busiest shopping day this Christmas season? They weren’t betting on Christmas Eve Day or the day after Christmas either. They were, however, all in on Black Friday hoping that Americans would spend more of their hard earned money on that day than any other. And from all the reports I’ve seen, the malls were full of shoppers. You know what that means don’t you? American men are once more under incredible stress. British psychologist David Lewis has reported that shopping is actually hazardous to men’s health. A while ago he tested volunteers (men from 22-79 years old) by sending them out Christmas shopping. He recorded their blood pressure rates and reported that, as far as the men were concerned, their blood pressure rateswere comparable to “what you wouldexpect to see in a fighter pilot going into combat.” According to the same test, only one in four women showed any significant signs of stress from shopping– just one of many gender differences in America today. Now someone (probably a woman) has posed the question regarding gifts given our Lord at the time of His birth: “What would have happened if there had been Wise Women instead of Wise Men who sought out the Christ child following His birth?” The answer: (1)They would have gotten a late start and packed too much stuff.(2)Still they would have arrived on time because, as well all know, women are not afraid to stop and ask directions; (3)they would have brought a casserole or two, a dessert to pass and several cute little outfits that said things like “I’m My Parents Little Miracle,” or “My Dad Made Your Dad!“As it happened, however, they were wise men (not wise women) – and while we think of these men as part of the Christmas story, they were not present on that first Christmas. They didn’t arrive on the scene until a year or two later.
Who were the magi? The actual word used to describe them is the plural form of “magician.” Most people assume there were three of them, perhaps because they gave three different gifts to Jesus. But in spite of the song, “We Three Kings,” we don’t know how many there were. There could have been two, three, or sixty. Dr. John MacArthurwrites about the importance of the magi: “Because of their combined knowledge of science, agriculture, mathematics, history, and the occult, they became the most prominent and powerful group of advisors in the Medo-Persian and subsequently the Babylonian empire. Historians tell us that no Persian was ever able to become king without mastering thescientific and religious disciplines of the magi and then being approved and crowned by them.”
There is so much about the wise men that remain a mystery even to this day. All that we really know is that they were referred to as magi, an ancient term that referred to one who was a learned magician. What makes them remarkable is not the status they achieved or the knowledge they acquired over their lifetimes. Rather, it was the wisdom to take what they had learned and put it to the right use.Let’s think about this together.
- They Prepared for Jesus(Matthew 2:1-2 — Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him”). What were they doing as they waited for the one who would be born King of the Jews? Were they just killing time, or what?
- They were Looking for a Special Sign. The wise men were students of the sciences and the stars. Together they arrived at a decision to seek out and find “the One born King of the Jews”. Though they didn’t have all the facts when they started, they had enough to launch a search. Not every man of science has been led to acknowledge God; many in pride have turned away from the Lord, but these men were brought to a conviction not only of God’s existence but that He was in the process of doing something in the world (Romans 1:20 — For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made; Psalm 19:1-2 — The Heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge). As they applied themselves to observing the heavens their attention was drawn to one particular star. They were probably from the region to the East of Israel located near modern day Iraq and Iran. Their journey following that strange star in the western sky took considerable time. Some astronomers theorize that what they witnessed was not a star but several planets that came into alignment in relation to earth and created what appeared to be an extremely bright star. Others suggest it was a comet, or the emergence of a super-nova. But I think those theories ignore the key point that the Scripture says that this star moved continually with them until it finally stopped right over the house where Jesus was staying. For this reason, I believe it was a supernatural phenomenon, a bright star in the sky placed there by God to lead them to the Christ-child.
- They were Looking for a Special Birth. At the time when these wise men made their search, the Old Testament was at their disposal. We have no way of knowing just how much of the Word they had actually read; but one thing we know – they had to have enough knowledge of scripture to know that a “Messiah” was coming. Daniel mentions magi in Daniel 1:20; 2:2; 4:7, 5:7. As those interested in the pursuit of knowledge, it is safe to assume that they would have interacted with exiled Hebrews and their Scripturesabout the coming Messiah. Obviously the magi were discerning as far as what God revealed to them in the heavens and in His Word. By watching and waiting they knew the time had come for the King of the Jews to be born.
- They Searched for Jesus(Matthew 2:3-8 — When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him”). Sometime after the birth of Christ, the magi and their entourage headed east, following a star in search of the King of the Jews. Why did they do this? Because they believed it to be true! I guarantee you that if they didn’t believe it, they never would have undertaken such an arduous journey. It is possible these men may have traveled up to 1000 miles on their trek. In Matthew 2:16we are told that Herod decided to kill all boy children two years old and younger. Apparently, then, from the time the star first appeared it took them up to two years to locate where Christ was. Their search was a long & diligent one. That just means they were determined to search until they found the child. This wasn’t a religious fad. Nor was it a whim of the moment – They would see their search through to the end. Were they the objects of ridicule because they chased a star?Was the journey costly? Did they ever grow tired and discouraged?Were there times of sickness? Did they ever feel like quitting?I suspect the answer to all these questions is “yes” – but they persevered. When given an audience with Herod, the magi heard from the teachers of the law, men who had knowledge but no wisdom. They related the testimony from Scripture of where the Messiah would be born (Matthew 2:5-6 with Micah 5:2). The wise men (who were truly wise) were willing to accept this as direction for the next leg of their journey. It was only as they went on their way that they saw the star again and followed it to Bethlehem. Illustration: An unchurched person stopped by a Catholic rectory shortly before Christmas and announced to the priest, “Father, I’ve been out there on my own long enough. I’m ready to settle down and join the church.” The priest replied, “That’s great, but let’s find out how much you know about the Christian faith and the Bible before we go any further.”With Christmas just around the corner the priest naturally asked, “Where was Jesus born?” The fellow thought about it for a moment and then with confidence responded, “That would be Pittsburgh.” The priest nodded his head and the fellow tried again, “Wait, no…uh…Philadelphia.” Again the priest shook his head and not wishing to embarrass the fellow any more said, “Friend, Jesus was born in Bethlehem.” “Oh yeah,” the man said, “but you have to give me some credit, at least I knew it was somewhere in Pennsylvania.”If you want to find Jesus you have to look in the right place. The magi knew enough to search for Him where the Scriptures said – “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever(Isaiah 9:6-7).”
- They Worshipped Jesus(Matthew 2:9-11 — After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh). Just like the shepherds that preceded them, when at last the magi found the Christ-child, they worshiped him. Their worship was evident in two ways:
- First, with their posture. It’s clear in the Scriptures that the right posture for worship is when we bow down. That’s what the disciples did when the first saw Jesus after His resurrection — Matthew 28:9 — And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. And it’s also what the twenty-four elders in heaven did when they saw Jesus —Revelation 5:13-14 — Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. And here it is what the magi do as well. The worship the child before them by falling down before Him.
- Second, with their presents. They presented Jesus with gifts.
- Gold for the King. You may remember that the Queen of Sheba honored Solomon with 120 talents of gold after visiting his kingdom (See 1 Kings 10:10). According to one source that’s about $120,000,000 in today’s market. We don’t know how much gold they presented to Jesus but I can’t imagine it was only a small amount.
- Frankincense for the High Priest. It was used as one of four sweet scents compounded together to make the ceremonial incense of the Jews. Figuratively, frankincense was symbolic of ascending prayer (See Luke 1:10; Revelation 5:8). As such, frankincense is a picture of praise and worship of Christ as the Perfect High Priest who would make atonement for the sins of His people (See Hebrews 2:17).
- Myrrh for the Savior. Myrrh is an aromatic gum resin obtained from several trees and shrubs found in both northern Africa and throughout the entire East. Myrrh was used as a perfume because of its sweet smell (See Proverbs 17:7) and in the embalming process. It was myrrh that was brought by Nicodemus to prepare Jesus’ body for burial (See John 39-40). How prophetic to have myrrh as one of the gifts presented to him at his birth – this child was born to die. Side Note:These gifts could easily have financed Joseph, Mary and Jesus’ trip to Egypt when they were told to flee.
- They Followed Jesus(Matthew 11:12 — And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way). The great irony of this passage is that Gentile astrologers sought Jesus to worship Him, while Israel’s rulers sought Jesus to kill Him. As the true wise men prepared to leave, they were warned in a dream not to report back to Herod. They obeyed and went home another way leaving the King furious over their actions. Application: What are we to make of this? It seems to me that once you meet Jesus, you can’t go home thesame way you came. You are a new person. Christ does something for us that no one or nothing else can do. He gives us a brand new purpose for life. Illustration. Two Kentucky farmers who owned racing stables developed a keen rivalry. One spring, each of them entered a horse in a local steeplechase. Thinking that a professional rider might help him out duel his friend, one of the farmers engaged a famous jockey. The two horses were leading the race at the last fence, but it proved too tough for them, and both fell, unseating their riders. Still this calamity didn’t stop the professional jockey, who quickly remounted and won the race. Returning triumphant to the owner waiting by the finish line, the jockey was surprised to see him fuming with anger. “What’s the matter?” he asked. “I won, didn’t I?” “Oh, yes,” said the farmer, “You won all right, but you still don’t know, do you?” “Know what?” asked the jockey. “You won the race on the wrong horse.”Just like Israel’s rulers in Jesus’ day and so many others in our own, a lot of people have been caught riding the wrong horse in life and finished poorly as a result. The Magi had enough sense to recognize Jesus for who He was and, having met Him personally, to leave His presence with a new zeal to honor God and do His will.
Applications: In Christ’s first coming, the magi prepared for Him, searched for Him, worshipped Him and followed Him. Let me close by asking some questions of you regarding your commitment to Christ.
- Will you read your Bibles in 2019? Listen to the some of the claims the Bible makes about itself: Hebrews 4:12 — For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart; 1 Peter 1:24-25 — …the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever; Ps 119:11 — I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. We’ve tried to make this easier for you by providing a Bible reading schedule. Take one and adapt it to where you’re at right now. Reading the Word will only bring good things to your lives.
- Will you become a person of prayer in 2019? There’s an old children’s song that goes …. READ YOUR BIBLE, PRAY EVERY DAY AND YOU’LL GROW, GROW, GROW. When we read the Word – God speaks to us. When we pray – -we speak to God. The closer you get to God, the more intimate your relationship with Him — the more you will love God and the more like Him you’ll become.
- Will you help us reach more people with the good news in 2019 ?This church has a very clear mission – To glorify God and advance His kingdom by loving others to Him. And our vision is how we intend to achieve our mission – By making multiplying disciples and planting multiplying churches. We will only succeed in our mission to the degree that all of us multiply our faith. God has given us so much. Now we can please and honor Him by giving ourselves for His glory.
Conclusion: Did you know that this year 39.2% of shoppers will purchase a department store gift card for friends and family, with another 33.4% of shoppers opting fora restaurant gift card. But according to estimates reported in the Journal of State Taxation, the typical American home has an average of $300 in unused or “unredeemed” gift cards. These cards are often misplaced, accidentally thrown out, or only partially redeemed. In fact, it is estimated that in a six year time frame, $41 billion in gift cards went unused. The Bible says God has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). But sadly many Christians will waste His gifts and coast along putting only the minimum amount into their Christian lives. My encouragement to you this morning, is to use it all up for the glory of God and the advancement of His Kingdom.