Dec 11 2022 Advent 3 - The Magi
11th December 2022
Joan: I have always enjoyed Advent. I’ve been doing devotionals and lighting candles – well, I got battery operated Advent candles… - but I wanted to share something that really struck me last year that has stuck with me throughout the year…
Matthew 2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, in the time of King Herod, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem 2 saying, "Where is the one who is born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." 3 When King Herod heard this he was alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him.
4 After assembling all the chief priests and experts in the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 "In Bethlehem of Judea," they said, "for it is written this way by the prophet: 6 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are in no way least among the rulers of Judah, for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'" 7 Then Herod privately summoned the wise men and determined from them when the star had appeared.
8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and look carefully for the child. When you find him, inform me so that I can go and worship him as well." 9 After listening to the king they left, and once again the star they saw when it rose led them until it stopped above the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star they shouted joyfully.
11 As they came into the house and saw the child with Mary his mother, they bowed down and worshiped him. They opened their treasure boxes and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 After being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back by another route to their own country.
The day I read this message last year – I approached it as I normally had – the Magi – Who were they? They came from the East – where was that? Led by a star? Was that important? Gold, F/Myrrh – significance? Something jumped out in verse 11 – after coming into the house…
Back up – Pastor always says it helps to understand scripture to plant ourselves in the story. As these foreigners were coming down the street – people probably talked! She probably got Joseph out of the woodshop. They seem to know our sacred writings and call him a king! They dress differently! They don’t talk like we do! Those accents! They are not common like us! They are not Jews! They are unclean and want to enter our home.
He looks at Mary and the child – the door is opened – they approach the Child and offer the gifts and their hearts – and they are accepted! And it took me a minute to realize that! What was I supposed to learn from this? This is a prelude/window to Jesus’ ministry – one of mercy and grace. And this theme spoke to me last Advent and has been coming to me all year long – Jesus accepting all – the unclean – and this is God with Us – Emmanuel.
Mike – Thank you, Joan – yes, we are looking at the Magi this morning – and the four primary characters -and what Matthew has done – a study of contrast in relation to one another.
We see the Wise Men – outsiders – Gentiles! In Matthew’s gospel, the Gentile orientation is a major theme – it is in the birth story that no one else has.
They are from the East. The East has historically represented Evil – Nothing good comes from the East – like nothing good happens after midnight! Getting kicked out of the Garden – they headed East. East of Eden. They were astrologers/sorcerers who practiced magic! All things forbidden in the Bible.
King Herod is terrified! We saw his star – it was common – a new star represented a new king – Alexander the Great/Caesar Augustus – we don’t know for sure, but that is the legend.
The religious leaders – the wise men are in contrast to them. Each person’s response – what was theirs? Worship.
Herod – not Jewish – bought his rule. Brutal violent – either assassinated or had assassinated any rival to the throne. And here, a king is born. And we know what he does – kills all the boys under the age of 2 in that region.
When the Wise Men say he is born king of the Jews – it is a direct threat to Herod. Herod pretends to worship.
The third character – the religious leaders – the chief priests – most likely were Sadducees – experts in the Law would be Pharisees. The wise men had knowledge from stars. The religious leaders had knowledge and understanding from where? Scripture. And all of it – both stars and scripture pointed to Jesus. It is odd that the wise men – and their astrological knowledge of the stars caused them to worship – while the religious leaders’ knowledge of the scripture generated zero response. No worship.
We have worship from the wise men. Pretend worship from Herod. No worship from the religious leaders.
The Child – in contrast to Herod – Herod obtained his rule by buying it – that is the way of the world – by gold and violence. Manipulation. All of those things.
Jesus was given a kingdom by His father. He was born into it in poverty and oppression. How did He gain the kingdom? Service, sacrifice, and suffering on the cross. That is how God does power.
There is a fifth character - not really a person – but the star itself. It acts like a person more than some of the people!
9 After listening to the king they left, and once again the star they saw when it rose led them until it stopped above the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star they shouted joyfully.
The star leads them to the king – and brings JOY.
Then the gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh – gifts given to a king. They recognized that He was the true king of the Jews! Why this story! Why is it in there? What does it mean for us?
It is important – as Joan mentioned – that we understand what the author – Matthew – is trying to do – and in this we need to know the occasional nature of Scripture.
It is written by a real person who lived in a real time in history and he wrote it to real people – and a real church or churches – made up of real people who had real concerns, questions, and problems. And the writers of the New Testament were addressing these real people. And yes, it is for us – but the better we understand what was being said to them the better we understand what God is saying to us.
I think Matthew is asking – which character are you. None of us is Jesus – so we can eliminate that. None of us is a star – we can bring joy – but we are not that kind of star. SO, we are either Wise Men, Herod, or religious leaders. Where is your worship? Are we like the wise men? They bowed and offered gifts.
Romans 12:1 – I urge you to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice – which is your worship. True worship is offering our bodies to God.
Are we giving Him the appropriate gifts in our worship?
Herod pretended to worship – in the context of this teaching – He said he was going to do it – and he was just doing it for personal reasons. We go to church – why? Because we need to go to church? We are concerned what others think? Are we really offering to God? I know we get good stuff out of church – but that is not how we worship – it is about God – and not what we get from it. Yes we get from it – and you hear people saying – I get this out of church – but that should not be why you go to church. You should go to offer to God with other people.
Then we have the religious leaders – they had no response to what they knew. You might call them cultural Christians – it doesn’t affect the heart. Worship should not just make us feel good, but it should transform our hearts.
The second lesson – the Gentile mission.
This is a theme in Matthew’s gospel – the technical term – the universality of the kingdom – the gospel is for everyone. In their context – it is for both Jew and Gentile. He is writing this years after it happened – and he is dealing with very specific issues. What is obvious in Matthew – there is conflict between Jew and Gentile Christians.
January 1 – I will start a series on the book of Romans – I have never done the entire book – and that book is all about the conflict between Jewish and Gentile Christians.
To close this morning – I would like to read from Isaiah 60 –
"Arise, shine; for your light has come, And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 2 "For behold, darkness will cover the earth And deep darkness the peoples; But the LORD will rise upon you And His glory will appear upon you.
It is not exactly the same – but Matthew is highlighting this – wouldn’t you have loved to be there? They really knew their Bibles! That was their school – the Old Testament – from childhood! And now, everything makes sense.
3 "Nations (Gentiles) will come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising.
5 Then you will look and smile, you will be excited and your heart will swell with pride. For the riches of distant lands will belong to you and the wealth of nations will come to you. 6 Camel caravans will cover your roads, young camels from Midian and Ephah. All the merchants of Sheba will come, bringing gold and incense and singing praises to the LORD.
Some translations say frankincense –
We are so familiar with these stories – they are amazing – let’s pray.