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FACES OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY: The Magi

 

The Magi

‘…behold, there came Wise Men from the East to Jerusalem saying, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?’ Matthew 2:1-2

OK, let’s get the controversies out of the way so that we can focus on the really important stuff. First, yes, the Bible doesn’t say there were THREE Wise Men, just that the Wise Men gave gifts of three kinds. They could have been more than 3 men, or even less. Second, it’s possible they met Mary and Jesus sometime after they had moved out of the stable, because it was recorded that Wise Men entered their ‘house’ and met the ‘young child’ (Matthew 2:11), as opposed to the ‘babe’ the shepherds met in a manger earlier (Luke 2:16). This explains why Herod killed boys ‘two years and under’, according to the time the Wise Men had said they first saw the star (Matthew 2:16). But, really, who cares? Just as we don’t know for certain that Jesus was born on December 25, it does not take away from the joy and excitement and meaning of it all, or from the Person we are celebrating. It is a time set aside to celebrate all that He means to us. If your church drama team puts all the characters in the same scene, it still matches with much of church tradition and is OK. It’s the meaning that counts. So don’t let the controversies distract you. We good? Happy now? Great.

Let’s roll.

The Greek word translated as ‘wise men’ is the word ‘magos’, which refers to The Magi. They were a priestly order of astrologers that navigated the stars as guides to tell the future or discern events. They were respected scholars, knowledgeable in the mystic arts and sciences, and even served as advisors to the kings of their lands. We see examples of them in Babylon in the Book of Daniel, trying to interpret the king’s dream and the strange writing on the wall. We see King Ahasuerus of Persia seeking their advice in Esther 1:13. Another ‘magos’ turns up in Cyprus named Elymas, an adviser to the Roman proconsul there in Acts 13:7. In those days, kings held the advice of such men in high esteem, as they seemed to have an in with the universe.

Magi did not worship the God of Israel, and the Lord had even discouraged his people from trusting in divination from stars (Deut. 18:10, or Isaiah 47:13,14). The stars, and all of the heavens, declare the glory of God, telling and showing us how awesome He is (Psalm 19:1). He wants us to trust in Him for direction, not in the stars. Or we might as well be trusting a loaf of bread to teach us how to bake, while the baker is standing right beside us.

But something invaded the world of the Magi. A new star unlike any they had ever seen appeared in the sky. It was not unusual for them to consider stars to represent kings and regimes, but they understood this one to be different. Further study showed them that it told of the birth of a new king, the King of the Jews. Whoever they thought this king would be, it was enough for them to leave their lands to journey all the way to Judea, because of a star in the sky.

And when they met the child they bowed to worship him. Men whose words shook the countenances of kings were worshipping a little child. To the casual eye it was strange, but they submitted their dignity and station for Someone who transcended the reaches of their scholarship and divination. God had invaded their field of knowledge.

They gave gifts to the child. Gifts of gold, frankincense… “But wait!” One reaches into his bag. “There’s ‘myrrh’!”

The symbolism of these gifts makes them extra special, though I don’t know if they knew.

Gold signifies royalty, as they recognised Jesus as a King. Jesus came to establish the kingdom of God on Earth, but would first establish it in the hearts of men. In the end, all will recognise Him as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. A King who brings justice and righteousness to all in His charge.

Frankincense is an aromatic substance used in religious ceremonies (to be ‘frank’, most just call it ‘incense’), and it represented that Jesus was a priest or worthy of worship. He would be the High Priest that would enter into heaven’s holy place to offer a sacrifice for the sins of all, and this High Priest is also God Almighty.

Myrrh, the third, seems a little more awkward. It is also an aromatic substance, but while it was used in religious ceremonies for anointing (Exodus 30:23) it was also used as an ointment in the embalming of dead bodies (John 19:39). In case you don’t get it yet, when criminals were crucified they were given a cocktail of wine mixed with myrrh to numb their senses. Jesus was presented this on the cross, but he rejected it (Mark 15:23). Do you get it yet? The myrrh signified that Messiah, the anointed one of God, would offer Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of others as our High Priest, and would die.

Looking over these, I don’t know if they all understood the significance of these gifts. But looking back we can have more understanding to the fact that even from the beginning, God was here on a mission to save our souls.

 

The Magi represent the Gentile world, a people who were presumed to be exempted from the plan of God for centuries. But Jesus came for all men to come to Life, to Jews and Gentiles alike. God used that star to draw them to see Jesus. It had been prophesied to Israel in Isaiah 49:6, “I will also give you for a light to the nations, that My salvation may extend to the end of the earth.”

The Magi also represent the worlds of religion and academia, both coming to worship the One that supersedes them all.

Through religions, men have tried to reach out to God for favour and help. But in Christ, God has come to men to bring them to Himself. To bring them to Light, to Life, and to His favor.

Through the academia we seek to understand the world around us, its principles and the laws that undergird the cause of nature. God made the world and all that is in it. He holds the secrets to all knowledge. We have discovered so much of His creation, but there is so much more – SO MUCH MORE — for us to discover.

The thing about religion and knowledge is that we can hold on to them so much that we reject Jesus, the One Who is the wisdom of God. Like the man who couldn’t see the forest because of the tree right before him. All that mankind has discovered and known is like a drop in a bucket. Do you know that the Earth is just one of many planets in a solar system, which is one of billions of solar systems in a 100 000-lightyear-wide galaxy called the Milky Way, which is one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the ‘known universe’? There is so much beyond what we have discovered, but the more we do, the more we find that it is not about us. It is about the One who is greater, who made all of creation to declare His glory.

Despite all the academic knowledge we have gathered, and despite all the religious convictions we hold dear, to submit to Jesus would require giving up something. It is why many academics settle for atheism, and why some religions are either apathetic or antagonistic to the message of Christ.

But the Magi, for all their religious status and academic station, took the journey to Jesus and worshipped Him. To this day, it is still wisdom when a man lets go and submits to Christ’s Lordship.

And when we do, we see that the best of ourselves is not up to the least of Him. But He became the least of us so that He could give us His best. He did that in Christ.

Did you see how God spoke to them in the language they were conversant with? A star? He calls to each and every man, woman and child, coming to their level. Like He did when He came as a man. God has come to us and for us all.

That’s what we celebrate at Christmas.

 

6 days to #Christmas

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