The Readers’ Digest once asked this question: Have you ever imagined what would have happened if there had been three wise women instead of three wise men at the Epiphany?
1. They would have asked for directions to the stable locally instead of going to King Herod.
2. They would have arrived on time and helped deliver the baby
3. They would have cleaned the stable and brought practical for the family to eat – like a casserole.
The story of the visit of the Wise Men (also called Magi) to Jesus is recorded in Matthew 2:1-12.
Who were the Magi? Very little is known about the Magi. Matthew doesn’t even record how many of them there were. All the Bible tells us is that they came from the East to Jerusalem. It is generally accepted that “the Magi were a priestly caste from Persia once a mighty country where modern Iran and Iraq are now located.” They were probably astrologers. In the second century, a church father named Tertullian suggested that these men were kings because the Old Testament had predicted that kings would come to worship the Christ. Tertullian also concluded that there were three kings based on the number of gifts mentioned, gold, frankincense and myrrh. In the sixth century, someone decided that their names were Melchior, Baltazar and Gaspar. And the term Magi is the base from which our modern words “magician” and “magistrate” are derived.
The Magi, in the eyes of the Jewish people to whom St. Matthew wrote his Gospel , had two strikes against them:
1. They were Gentiles – Persians to be precise. After all weren’t the Jews alone God’s chosen people.
2. They were astrologers. And astrology was expressly forbidden – on pain of death – in the OT. (see Dt 18:9-14)
So why did God reveal himself to astrologers?
The Gospel is for all nations.
God revealed Jesus to the Magi to show us that the Gospel – that Jesus’ birth heralded – is for all nations. It is not just to the select few righteous people in the world.
The Magi sought Jesus.
The Magi were SEEKING God, as best they knew how. The Magi sought Christ out to worship him. God honors a spirit within a person that SEEKS God. We won’t get everything right – but if we have a right heart God will honor us. And God reached out to the Magi – where they were – by a Star. But that wasn’t a chance Star – God had ordained and it had been prophesied over a millennium earlier by Balaam the prophet when he said – referring to Jesus: “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near. A Star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel. (Nu. 24:1)
The Attitudes of the Magi.
1.They obeyed the leadings of God. They were obedient to the guidance of God. They weren’t too big to follow the star. They weren’t star gazers – they put their beliefs into action. And even though they didn’t know the destination they were prepared to step out in faith. Following the leading of the Lord can be quite risky and it can be time consuming. The Magi probably had to go from Persia to Jerusalem – a journey of a good 1000 miles – on foot and travelling with camels. It could well have taken several months. But they persevered over dangerous territory too – with bandits everywhere. I wonder if I would have been prepared to follow a star for so long?
2. They sought Jesus for the right reasons. They came “to worship him” (Mt. 2:2). It’s quite a challenge isn’t it? Do I come to church to worship Jesus – or for some other reason?
3. They gave Jesus of the very best that they had. They brought costly gifts to Jesus:
Gold. Gold indicated Kingship. What is more fitting than gold for a King! If Jesus is to be the King in my life, then I am challenged by the thought: What gold can I bring to Jesus today? What do I hold onto as precious that I can give to the Lord?
Frankincense. Why did the Magi give frankincense to Jesus? Frankincense was an ingredient used by the priests in temple worship to blend with the smell of the sacrifices. Frankincense was brought to symbolize worship. If we wish to worship God, Jesus wants us to offer up our lives as a sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Rom 12:1). What is the frankincense that we can offer Jesus today?
Myrrh. In Jesus’ time, people used Myrrh to embalm their dead. A thoughtless gift, you might say for a baby shower? Not for this baby. These Magi knew that Jesus was born to die. Myrrh reminds me that Jesus came to die on a Cross – to bring all of us into a new relationship with God. In return Christ expects us to die to our old selfish desires and take on the desires of God.
This Christmas I hope we will bring Jesus the same gifts as the wise men:
1. Gold – let me bring to Jesus what I hold precious
2. Frankincense – let me bring Christ my true worship
3. Myrrh – let me die to self and live for You, day by day