NO AUDIO THIS WEEK
THE MAGI WORSHIP GOD
Key Verse: 2:6b
“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.”
The story of Christmas is the greatest story ever told. Year after year, the believing world as well as the non-believing world, retells this magnificent story of the baby boy born in a manger of a stable. By order of the Emperor of the Roman world, Mary who was pregnant at the time together with Joseph had to travel from Nazareth, their hometown, to Jerusalem to register for a census. On the way, Mary was about to go into labor, and not finding any room at the inn in a town called Bethlehem, she birthed Jesus in a stable instead. But remarkably this was no ordinary family at all, and neither was the new born boy. And that’s what makes the story of Christmas so incredible. For on Christmas, God did the unthinkable! On Christmas 2000 years ago God sent his very own Son to us born in a manger of a stable. On Christmas God fulfilled his promise to give us a Savior to save us from our sins. (1:23)
On that first Christmas God came to turn our world around— to change our lives— to set us free from our bondage to sin— to take us back into his heart— and to bring us to his kingdom. What God did in sending his Son as a baby in a manger is the greatest act of love the world has ever witnessed. This is why Matthew tells an extended story of Christmas. In chapter 1 he tells us of how the birth of Jesus came about. He tells us of the prophesies surrounding the birth of Jesus. He also tells us who Jesus is— that he is the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. But in chapter 2 Matthew tells the story of some visitors from the East whom he calls Magi. He tells us of the amazing pilgrimage they make to find the new born baby Jesus. He also tells us why they so earnestly sought after him and what they did when they found him. The story of the Magi is a story of the ageless search for Truth, and consequently for purpose and meaning to life. The story of the Magi is in essence the story about Jesus— of who Jesus truly is— and of why every human being needs to find him, to worship him and to present him with our life gift. This is also the story of what true Christmas is. Today’s Christmases are meaningless. In the end they leave most people feeling empty and sad. But it doesn’t have to be that way! When we follow the pilgrimage of the Magi with our hearts we can come to know that Christmas is Jesus and in Jesus there is only joy.
Read verse 1. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem .” In this one verse, Matthew introduces three major historical events that perfectly describe the times around which his story takes place. The events he is writing about take place after the birth of Jesus. Herod was king at the time. And finally, he introduces us to the Magi, a mysterious cadre of men from the East who had recently arrived at Jerusalem. We know that Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, was a town 6 miles south of Jerusalem. But who are those Magi? Matthew simply calls them Magi from the east. No one knows what the word Magi actually means. One dictionary tells me that Magi is the plural of magus, meaning sorcerer or magician. But in most likelihood, they were neither sorcerers nor magicians. Based on the one time mention of them in the Bible story as well as the events surrounding their sudden appearance and disappearance in Biblical history, we have come to know them as “wise men from the east”. We also have no idea of their origin. It may be that they were from ancient Babylon, or possibly from the regions of modern Iraq and Iran. We know however, that they were men of immense learning for they were familiar with Biblical prophesy as well as with astronomical signs. But there’s much more to be said about the Magi as well.
Read verse 2. “and 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.’” There are three things here that extol the virtue of these Magi and that explain the purpose of their long journey. They were searching for the new born king of the Jews. They knew of his birth through a unique star in the sky. And they had a reason for wanting to find him— they wanted to worship him. Before we try to understand the importance of their search for the king of the Jews and their intent to worship him, let’s understand how these Magi from the east came to know of the “king of the Jews”. Their words “We saw his star” explain this. There is a specific reference to the Messianic Star in the book of Numbers (Nu24:17) It foretells of a star that was to come out from among them. It is likely then that these Magi had knowledge of the Jewish Scripture having lived among the exiled Jews of ancient Babylon. They had known of the Star of the Savior that was to rise from among the Jewish peoples, and had been awaiting it.
These Magi have been more than just students and scholars of the Bible. They had also been waiting for the Savior’s birth. They said: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We… have come to worship him.” How do we know that the Magi where searching for God? We know from their own words! “We have come to worship him”. For this reason we marvel at these Magi who had devoted their entire lives in search of God. In essence they were searching for truth, for truth can only be found in God and in his words. They learned that the world in all its magnificence neither has truth nor can offer the truth to the human heart. They also learned that truth can only be found in God, for God alone is Truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Indeed, their search for God is testimony to the truth that nothing in life can satisfy the human heart’s true desire which is to know God personally. So, we admire these Magi! We admire them because they were true to their hearts’ desire to know God personally and to fellowship with God.
The Magi went out in search of God. But more accurately, they were searching for the God-child who was born king of the Jews. In their study of the Scriptures, they had learned of the promised Savior who was to save his people from their sins. Then they had set out to find him. But to what end? Their actions sheds light upon the thoughts of their own hearts. The truth is that the Magi were in search of the God-child who would save them from their own sins. Yet they had the wisdom to believe the simple obvious truth about the human nature— that at heart human beings are sinful — and that we are in desperate need of a Savior to save us from our sins— that we need salvation from sin. The Magi believed themselves to be sinners in need of God’s forgiveness. And they believed that they would find this grace in the one born to be King of the Jews— in Jesus. They wanted to find Jesus. They wanted the Savior to forgive their sins. Ultimately they wanted to be right with God. In the end, they wanted to surrender their lives to God in holy worship. This is the wisdom of the Magi, for true wisdom is when I acknowledge my own sinfulness, repent of them, and ask the Savior’s forgiveness upon my soul.
We also see the Magi’s intent in their long suffering journey from the East all the way to Jerusalem. They said: “We… have come to worship him”. The Magi had a uniquely singular purpose in their journey— that they might worship him. Worship is not an easy term to define. But in a general sense, worship is love; it is reverence and adoration and devotion. Therefore, worship must involve the heart and mind and soul. Worship must also involve surrender of heart, mind and soul. Without heart and without surrender of all that we are to all that he is, worship isn’t really worship. So, this was the Magi’s innermost desire, that when they found him, they would worship him heart and mind, soul and strength. “We… have come to worship him” meant “We come to love him from our hearts… and we come to surrender our lives to his service… for he alone is worthy of our worship.” It is understandable that each of our hearts searches for someone or something to worship, for we human beings were created to worship. But the question is whom will we worship… and who is worthy of our heart’s worship?
Upon seeing his star in the east, the Magi had come to worship him, because in him they found the Only One worthy of their worship. Because he is the God-child. Because he is the promised Savior. Because he would willingly die on the cross for our sins. For that alone, the baby born in a manger is worthy of worship. Yet Jesus is worthy of our worship for much more. The story of the Magi relate this very clearly. So let us follow their trail again. Somehow the wise Magi lost track of the star. They had been following the star for a long time, and it had led them to the land in which the King of the Jews was born. But perhaps in great excitement at fulfilling the purpose of their long journey, they went to Jerusalem where supposedly a king would be born. It was a mistake, for their enthusiasm cut them off from the guidance of the star.
Read verses 4-6. “When 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. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea’, they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: “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.” Herod wanted to know where the Christ would be born. And the teachers of the law gave him an answer. “In Bethlehem in Judea” they said. More than that, they also told him in which text the prophesy was found. It was a prophesy from Micah who had written these words: “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.” These words proclaim the coming of the Savior. They tell us two things about him. They tell us that he will be a Ruler. And they tell us that he would rule his people as a shepherd shepherds his flock.
Verse 6b says, “for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.” Jesus once said of himself: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” The times in which Jesus was born were the darkest time in human history. The word of God was rare, in fact, God had not spoken to his people for over 400 years. In such times, and without the guiding word of God, all people were hopelessly lost. They were lost in a dark world. They were lost in sin. They did not know where history would take them. Immorality had pervaded the entire world, and had also found its way to the heart of the Jewish nation. Those who lived by faith were very few.
At this very time in human history, God sent them the Savior. They had expected the Savior to be someone who would fight Rome and declare independence of the nation. They thought a moral or religious or social revival would bring back days of blessing and peace. But God did not think they needed a human savior. God knew that from the beginning of time, we needed a spiritual savior who would save us from our sins. But even so, God deeply understood his people’s need for a shepherd Savior. And so Jesus was born to be the Shepherd Savior for his people and for the people of the whole world. What would Jesus do as the Shepherd Savior? Jesus once said: “The good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”. He also lays down his life for all people. He is the shepherd Savior who would stoop down to wash his disciples’ feet. He was the Shepherd Savior who would counsel them in the word of God. He would plant hope where there was no hope. He would bring peace where there was anxiety. He would heal wounds that have caused much pain to their hearts. What this baby Jesus born in a manger grew up to do for all people, including us truly marks him as the good Shepherd. We need a Savior to save us from sin. But we also desperately need a shepherd to guide us in all things in life. God saw our great need for a shepherd Savior and has sent him to us that we may seek him, find him and do as the Magi did in the end — worship him.
The Magi also expressed thankfulness to Jesus by offering their most precious gifts to him. They brought him gifts worthy of a king and a priest and a prophet. They regarded Jesus with great honor and realized the purpose of his coming. They knew that he alone would be the one who would give his life to redeem them and to bring them to God. And they wanted to thank him from their hearts for what he would do for them and for all people. So they presented him with their most precious gifts. Maybe they did not have enough money left over to return. But it did not matter. In their gratitude they didn’t hold back anything from Jesus. They gave him their best. They poured out their hearts and lives to him and gave thanks to him, a gratitude worthy of a king. Jesus looked beggarly because he was just a poor baby lying in a make-shift crib. But the Magi did not treat him like a beggar, giving him their left-over money— coins they have no need for. They stood before God and gave him the gift worthy of God. If the Magi were to offer him their love, it would not be half hearted love. If they were to offer their service, it would not be half hearted service. Whatever offering the Magi came to give the Lord in gratitude for his grace upon them, they regarded him and treated him as the King he is. They gave him the best of what they had! This Christmas time, may Jesus our shepherd guide you, to worship him and to give him the best you have. Let’s read our key verse together.