Advent Attitudes: Reverence

Advent 4

When we worship God we make Him known.

(Please read Matthew 2:1-12 & Luke 2:8-20 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV (1984) for my research.)

Every year about this time we lament the “commercialization of Christmas” and silently pledge not to go to such extremes next year.  Somehow eleven months go by and here we are again.  it seems the only solution is to laugh at ourselves and stay out of the stores until February!  In that vein, I offer a couple of Christmas stories involving kids and gift-giving.

“Two young boys were spending the night at their grandparents’ house the week before Christmas. At bedtime, the two boys knelt beside their beds to say their prayers. The younger one began at the top of his lungs:

‘I PRAY FOR A NEW BICYCLE…’
‘I PRAY FOR A NEW NINTENDO…’”

“His older brother leaned over, nudged him and said, ‘Why are you shouting? God isn’t deaf,’ to which the little brother replied, ‘No, but Grandma is!’”

One father thought he’d found a new angle and told his daughters that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday and he only received three things.  So they were not be upset with what they found under the tree.

As it happened on Christmas morning, one little gal expressed her disappointment with her gifts, very nearly in tears.  When the father reminded her about Jesus only getting three things, she responded “How do you think Jesus felt when he got three things and none of them were toys?!”

(http://desperatepreacher.com/christmas/xmashumor.htm)

Now, at the end of Advent, we add the fourth and arguably the most necessary Advent Attitude: Reverence.  We must seek to regain a sense of the awe of the shepherds, the wonder of Mary, and reenact the worship of the Magi before we throw ourselves into gifting and feasting.  We must pray for God to recreate some of dazzling light of the star that will lead us to Jesus.

Reverence is quiet.  It is understated.  It requires a little solitude and some time for undistracted attention to the Spirit of God in us.  Hands need to be folded and kept still.  Hurried thoughts need to be gently brought back to an inner vision of the radiant baby, the Son of God.

  1. The Magi worshiped God with their giving (Matthew 2:1-12).

Their first gift was to seek Him because their journey was long in both mileage and time.  We have so little information on these visitors, all we can say with certainty is that there more than one (“magi” is the plural form of “magus”) and that they came FROM THE EAST.  Not knowing an exact point of origin it’s impossible to say when they started, but we have four clues about the timing of their arrival.

In v. 1, it plainly says AFTER JESUS WAS BORN. Matthew doesn’t tell us anything about Jesus’ birthday; all that comes from Luke.

In v. 7, King Herod directly asked the Magi THE EXACT TIME the star appeared to them.

Add to that v. 16 where King Herod had all the boys in Bethlehem TWO YEARS OLD AND UNDER killed.  This was an attempt to slay the newborn king whom he thought must be no older than two years, based on the TIME the Magi told them.

In v. 11 the text says they came to a HOUSE, not a stable.  For whatever set of reasons, the family did not immediately return to Nazareth, but remained in Bethlehem for some time.

Their journey started with one fact (a new Jewish king was born) and an idea where he might be found (in Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jews).  That’s going to a lot of trouble on the basis of very little information.

Their journey had some danger.  In addition to the usual hazards of travel, there was the danger indicated in Herod’s lethal reaction to the Magi not reporting in to him as he’d commanded.

From the Magi we learn that worship is more about the giving than the gifts.  Their gifts have been thoroughly analyzed by Bible scholars, without much insight added.  People have tried to say that the various gifts are various symbols.  What makes the most sense to me is that they were the kind of expensive gifts one would present to a king to curry favor.  What’s more important is following their example by making sacrificial gifts, whatever we might see as “valuable.”

God’s purpose in these gifts is that they funded the family’s escape to Egypt.  They were small but sold for a hefty price.

  1. The angels worshiped God with their singing (Luke 2:8-20).

The song was the culmination of their message.  The message was: “The most wonderful thing has just happened.”

“I BRING YOU GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY THAT WILL BE FOR ALL THE PEOPLE. This is a major theme of Luke’s Gospel.

“TODAY IN THE TOWN OF DAVID A SAVIOR HAS BEEN BORN TO YOU; HE IS CHRIST THE LORD.

“THIS WILL BE A SIGN TO YOU: YOU WILL FIND A BABY WRAPPED IN CLOTHS AND LYING IN A MANGER.”

The song is an example of heaven-sanctioned worship.

“GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST.”  In other words, “May God be praised in heaven” and/or “to the highest degree.”  Pointing to God is one job humans and angels share; we give Him the glory. For example, in Luke 19:38, the crowds welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem shout, “PEACE IN HEAVEN AND GLORY IN THE HIGHEST.”

“ON EARTH PEACE TO MEN ON WHOM HIS FAVOR RESTS.”  What we generally hear at Christmas is “on earth, peace, good will toward men.”  That line is based on a mistranslation in the KJV.  It should actually read as the NIV translates it.  The point: God bestows PEACE on whomever He chooses and He chooses His people.  Paul confirmed this teaching in RMS 5:1; THEREFORE, SINCE WE HAVE BEEN JUSTIFIED BY FAITH, WE HAVE PEACE WITH GOD THROUGH OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

Worship is more about the singing than the song.  Of course I am NOT referring to any quality of musicianship.  Seven times the Psalms urge us to MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE UNTO THE LORD.  Those verses put the focus on the worshiper’s heart, not his or her vocal chords.  I am referring to the attitude of the worshiper.  As usual, the inner parts are more important that the outer ones.

Because we are committed to your having a MERRY Christmas, I want to conclude with a couple humorous versions of the account of the visit of the Magi.

Three wise men walk into a barn…yes I said BARN…and see Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus. Joseph asks why they are disturbing them as his wife had just given birth and needed rest. The first wise man said “I have brought gold for the child.”
Joseph thanked him but asked them to leave. Then the second wise man said “I have brought frankincense for the child.”
Again Joseph thanked him but was getting annoyed as they were interrupting a special moment between him and his wife. He then, forcefully, asked them to leave.

The third wise man said “But wait there’s myrrh!”

It is true that most of what we think we know about the magi has come from tradition or legend, not from the Bible.  As we’ve seen, the Bible does not give us a number of Magi, but legend says there were three, named Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.  They are so named in the book Ben Hur.

I recently came across a legend of a fourth Magi named Jacques.  Jacques did not make the trip to Bethlehem but stayed behind in Persia.  He refused to go because he was caring for a baby dolphin.

When the other three came back, they were full of wondrous tales of the journey and praise for the newborn king of the Jews.  When they had at last told all, Balthasar sighed and leaned back and said, “Poor Jacques, you missed all these things to stay home and feed that baby dolphin.”

Jacques merely waved him off.  He said, “I like to think I have served a youthful porpoise.”

<https://upjoke.com/three-wise-men-jokes&gt;

Throughout this Advent season we have observed the attitudes of joy, expectation, obedience, and reverence.  May the days ahead bring all these experiences to you.  May they transcend all the distractions the world offers so you will know the fullness of joy and satisfaction that only God can provide.

When we worship God we make Him known.

With this in mind, let us make worship the central part of Christmas.  Let us make Jesus known in our homes, our community, and our world.

Hostile Witnesses?

(Please read Matthew 2:1-12 in your favorite Bible.  I have used the NIV for these remarks.)

You may have heard the phrase “hostile witness” in a TV courtroom drama.  The practice of designating someone a “hostile witness” is quite rare in actual courtrooms; or so I’ve read.

Witnesses for the opposing side are always treated as “hostile” in the sense that they’re going to testify against you.  And normally, witnesses for your own side are “friendly” in the sense that their testimony will help you make your case.

Without complicating the matter, asking the judge to declare one of your own witnesses as “hostile” allows the attorney to ask more leading questions of the witness.  Instead of questions that must be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” the lawyer can ask questions where the answer is more complex and the answer is implied or included in the way the question is worded.

<Researched at http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/business-career/legal/hostile-witnesses? on 12/8/16.>

The thing about hostile witnesses on which I want to focus is that they’re generally believed to be more objective about an issue because their bias would be contrary to the case at hand.  Take the Magi, or wise men, as an example.  They were not Jews.  They were not Christians, because that term had not been coined yet; the Founder of our Faith was still learning to talk and perhaps be potty trained!

These were not people who would lie or exaggerate to make a case for Jesus as the Son of God, let alone as the King of the Jews.  Their actions were directed by their pagan beliefs and superstitions, not by faith or any philosophy supportive of the Jews and their God.

As we will see, an exciting part of this account is that these non-Jewish men recognized Jesus as the rightful King of the Jews nearly three decades before any Jewish folk came to that discovery.  Their recognition of the Christ-child is something God accomplished – in part – outside His usual means of revelation.  He used people who were not His people to confirm that He had indeed kept His promises.

Here we are at the “Three Kings,” or the “Wise Men,” as they have been called over the ages.  Here is the part of the Christmas story that has the most effect on the cultural celebration of Christmas.  The tradition of giving gifts at Christmas flows from the gifts of the magi to baby Jesus.  Just think of economic impact if they had composed poetry in His honor instead?  How would the American retail sector survive without the annual influx of cash in December?

Forgive me that skepticism.  What matters here is that the Magi witnessed to the true identity of the Baby in Bethlehem.

  1. The magi provided a pagan witness to Jesus’ identity.

Who they were: astrologers and court magicians who gave advice to kings.  Their beliefs bear a resemblance to the beliefs of a number of modern Americans: henotheism.

Wikipedia defines “henotheism” as the belief in and worship of a single god while accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities. Ancient peoples were extremely territorial and they believed that the gods were too; the popular superstition was that all gods existed and competed for worshipers and space on earth through the nations that they patronized.

This is the religious flipside of the modern politically correct view of “tolerance” set in a religious context.  While people of those cultures were competitive about their beliefs, they weren’t at all concerned about disproving the existence of anyone else’s gods.  These men were not Jews and they did not start out as believers in Jesus in any sense that would be familiar to us.

In this context, men like the MAGI were schooled in the beliefs and practices of many religions and sought to learn from them all.  They wanted to use their knowledge to divine the future and thereby establish their usefulness to the governing powers of their time.

As superstitious people do even in our own time, the MAGI believe that there was a cause and effect relationship between the movement of the stars and the actions of people.  Astrology was one of the tools they used to try to divine the future.

What they did is more important to our study: they came from Persia looking for a king.  They were seeking a KING OF THE JEWS, a political figure. We might conjecture they were seeking knowledge or political influence; we aren’t told whether their motives were selfish or not.  It seems more likely to me that they spotted this star, reported it to their king or nobleman and that person sent them on a quest to find the king and open relations with them.  In this case, their motive is primarily duty.  This would have been an extension of their job.

There are three clues the text gives us to measure the status of the MAGI and the effect of their visit.

– Verse three shows they were taken so seriously that the question they asked DISTURBED King Herod and the entire city of Jerusalem.

– In verse four we read the king called together ALL THE CHIEF PRIESTS AND TEACHERS OF THE LAW to research the answer to the Magi’s question.  The key word here is ALL.  The Magi were given VIP treatment!

– In verse eight, Herod attempted to use them to flush out the child-king.  Once exposed, he undoubtedly planned to have the child killed, which is how Herod dealt with all threats to his throne.  This implies Herod’s respect for the Magi in the sense that he was to some degree certain they would succeed in their mission.  If they found the newborn king, you can be Herod wanted to be first in line right behind them!

  1. The magi set an example for us to follow.

They are an example of seeking. The MAGI undertook such a long and difficult journey, so we can safely say they were highly motivated.  Further, they were motivated enough to leave their homeland with only a general destination in mind; they knew they had to go to Judea.  As Jerusalem was the capital of Judea, they likely went their first.  As they were court officials they knew how to behave around a king and may have carried papers that officially introduced them.  It’s logical to assume they went to Herod first.

Once Herod directed them toward Bethlehem, verse nine tells us the STAR took over and somehow directed them to the exact place in the village where Jesus and His family resided.  In spite of the way the scene is depicted on Christmas cards and in crèches, the MAGI did not appear on the same night as the shepherds (see Luke 2:1-20).  Based on the next passage (2:16), we think the MAGI arrived two years after Jesus’ birth.  This does not mean their search took them two years.

The point is this: they completed their quest.  They were OVERJOYED at seeing the STAR and having it guide them on the last leg of their journey to the new Jewish king.  (In fact, the original language is redundant, bordering on gushing; “thy rejoiced with a great joy exceedingly.”)

They did what they were commanded to do back in Persia: find and open relations with the new king.  They BOWED DOWN AND WORSHIPED HIM.  Normally, this phrase refers to the respect given royalty but it does not rule out the devotion offered to divinity.  The MAGI gave expensive gifts to the baby Jesus; gifts befitting a king.

In this, the MAGI accomplished their mission.  But I believe they must have immediately sensed there was more to this child than had been revealed to them by the STAR and Herod’s religious researchers.  As we will learn next week, the three gifts served a practical purpose.  Joseph was commanded to take Mary and Jesus to safety in Egypt.  The GOLD, FRANKINCENSE, and MYRRH could be sold/traded/spent there to provide the small family with the resources they needed to survive.  This was Providence at work.

Have you ever wondered why they followed through in this way?  Why weren’t they surprised to find a “king” in a peasant’s house?  Why didn’t they assume they’d made a mistake and turn for home?  My guess it was the STAR.  It was the STAR that had started them on this journey and it was the STAR that lead them to the end.

I wonder how highly motivated we are?  The availability of information and the abundance of churches can make finding Jesus pretty easy.  Or is that the case?  Have we complicated matters with our endless options and minute variations?  Are we compromised by worldliness?  Has our culture put blinders on us so we see only what is directly ahead and have only a partial conception of the bigger world and our even-bigger God?

They are an example of obedience to God.  In verse twelve, the MAGI received a message from God in much the same way Joseph had back in 1:20; IN A DREAM.  There is no mention of an ANGEL appearing in their dream and it is a warning, not a command.

Think about two things here: One, how seriously these superstitious men would have taken a dream.  Interpreting dreams was part of their daily work, so the dream was, like the STAR, a very effective way for God to get their attention.  Two, we see God’s grace in sparing them from Herod’s violence.  Don’t doubt for a moment that a violent, sinister man like Herod would hesitate to use torture to extract the information about the child’s exact whereabouts from them if they returned to Jerusalem.  We’ll talk more about Herod next Sunday, but he was paranoid and very near the end of his life at this time.  He would have had no hesitation to hurt and kill the MAGI in order to get at the new-born KING OF THE JEWS.

Also in verse twelve, we see the MAGI taking seriously the warning they were given as they RETURNED TO THEIR COUNTRY BY ANOTHER ROUTE.   Remember, back in v. 8 King Herod had specifically commanded them to come back to Jerusalem and report their findings to him.  To not do so was to risk his wrath, and thereby risk their lives.  This is no small decision.

Ruthless and powerful, King Herod was a very real threat; but they chose to give more heed to a dream they all had shared.  Not everybody would be wise enough to heed God more than the king.  Do you suppose that’s why we call them “the wise men?”

Years later, when the baby Jesus had become a man He said in MTW 10:28, “DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THOSE WHO KILL THE BODY BUT CANNOT KILL THE SOUL.  RATHER, BE AFRAID OF THE ONE WHO CAN DESTROY BOTH BODY AND SOUL IN HELL.”  I would say that the MAGI are an example of someone who possessed this wisdom.

            In his sermon entitled, “The Wise Men Worship The King” Pastor David Anderson made the following observations about the MAGI and their unique place in the NT story of Jesus.

  • These Magi are not identified with perfect precision.
  • Educated speculation says that they were likely the priestly caste of the Medes and Persians.
  • Daniel refers to the “magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams”
  • These Magi are called “wise men” because they were people of learning. Think of these folks as a mixture of being the elite, the intellectuals, and the religious priests of their culture.
    • They were like science-math-literature-priests.
    • They were astronomers/astrologers.
    • Star-gazing book worms.
    • And they were Gentiles.
    • There is no indication they were kings.
  • And there is no indication that there were only three of them. There were three gifts, but this doesn’t prove a thing.
  • Sorry to ruin the Christmas song, “We Three Kings from Orient Are.”

So what do we take away from the account of the Magi’s visit to the Christ-child?  What can we learn from these events and how can we put it to work in our lives?

We can follow the example of zeal and dedication in following God that the Magi showed in seeking the newborn king of the Jews.  They set out on a long and difficult journey to a foreign land with very little to guide them.

We, on the other hand, have all the information we need and don’t need to move an inch to find Jesus.  What’s required from us is faith.

The Magi recognized Jesus as King and responded appropriately: they worshiped Him and  immediately obeyed His command.

(If you’d like the video version of this message, look up EBCSF on YouTube.)

The Magi Rejoiced

(Please read Matthew 2:1-12 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare the following remarks.)

MESSAGE: The joy of the Magi resulted in worship and giving. May we follow their example.

Headline: “President Of European Parliament: Christians Most Persecuted Group, Not Safe In Europe”

By Taylor Tyler | Dec 04, 2015 11:57 AM EST

Christians are “clearly the most persecuted group” in the world, and Europe cannot afford to continue ignoring the breach of their fundamental rights, the President of the European Parliament (EP) said Wednesday in a high-level meeting on religious persecution in Brussels.

EP President and German MEP Martin Schulz said the persecution of Christians is “undervalued,” does not receive enough attention, and “hasn’t been properly addressed,” according to Breitbart.

“I can assure you that Parliament will make its contribution wherever it can to protect Christians,” Schulz said, according to Church Times. “Persecution is happening outside the EU, but we can’t afford to ignore it. All of us, particularly in the EP, are aware that dialogue and mutual respect are needed. Fundamental rights are under great threat today and persecution of a religion.”

EP Vice President Antonio Tajani, an Italian MEP in the Parliament’s European People’s Party (Christian Democrats), echoed the concerns of Schulz, warning that Europe sometimes “falls into the temptation of thinking we can ignore” the task of protecting persecuted Christians.

Tajani cited a new report from Open Doors that found that “Islamic extremism is by far the most significant persecution engine” of Christians and that “40 of the 50 countries on the World Watch List are affected by this kind of persecution.”

“Every month at least 200 churches or places of worship are attacked. Every day, in every region of our planet, we register new cases of systemic violence and persecution against Christians. No other religious community is faced with such hatred, violence, and aggression as is the Christian community,” Tajani said.

He claimed that more than 70 percent of Christians have fled Iraq since 2003 due to Islamic persecution, with another 700,000 Christians being displaced in Syria since the start of the civil war.

“The West must break the silence on the persecution of Christians in the world,” said Tajani, and Europe must establish “a model of society in opposition to religious radicalism and brutal and criminal projects, such as creating an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria and then extending its tentacles into to Libya,” reported Breitbart.

“It should shake us up, that on our continent, Christians are not safe,” Schulz said.

Tajani also said that he was convinced that the battle against religious extremism can only be won with the help of religion. “No one may, in fact, forget that in all the great monotheistic religions life, a gift of God the Creator, has sacred value. In the name of religion, we have an obligation to condemn all those who show contempt for life and kill in the name of God. Who shoots in the name of God, shoot against God,” he said, according to EU News.

Copyright @ Headlines & Global News.

(Retrieved from http://www.hngn.com/articles/157094/20151204/president-european-parliament-christians-persecuted-group-safe-europe.htm on 12/11/15.)

In today’s post we’ll see how people from the East travelled to see the infant Jesus.  It’s a sad irony of our time that same region of the world is a focus of persecution of followers of Jesus Christ, as the article above proves.  While we actively protect ourselves and our fellow believers, one thing we must guard is our joy.  Joy that comes from God is terror-proof.

  1. The Magi volunteered (1-8).

They volunteered to seek out the newborn King (vs. 1-2).  Notice that they don’t ask IF a king has been born, but WHERE the newborn king is.  These men were confident enough about their prediction to undertake a long and dangerous journey and come to find out the details.

There’s been lots of speculation on who the Magi were.  What the text tells us for certain is that they were astronomers; “WE SAW HIS STAR IN THE EAST” (v. 2).  The timing of the visit of the Magi can be a little confusing.  The STAR appeared on the day of Jesus’ birth.  A trip from anywhere considered EAST would have taken several weeks.  So the STAR started them on their journey but they completed the trip with their arrival in Bethlehem up to 2 years after Jesus’ birth (this based on Herod’s “slaughter of the innocents” in Matthew 2:16-18).

However, the STAR did not guide them to Jerusalem; logic did.  If you’re looking for a new king, the logical place to start looking is in the capitol city.  Ancient Roman historians tell us that people from many different cultures were looking for a king to appear among the Jews.  It was a question to which many learned men had devoted study. This came about as Jews travelled and lived in places across the Roman Empire and took their expectation of a Messiah with them, sharing that with their neighbors.  In Roman culture, heavenly phenomena always accompanied the birth or death of a king.  They believed, for example, that a comet appeared at the time of the death of Julius Caesar.  Stars and other heavenly phenomena were widely believed to both reveal and influence human events, similar to people’s belief in astrology today.

In Greek culture, the word MAGI was either an insult, referring to frauds who used illusions to convince superstitious folk they had “powers” (that is how Luke used it) or to learned men who were trained in astrology and other arcane subjects, advisors to kings on supernatural matters (that is how Matthew used it).  It doesn’t really matter which these men were because Matthew’s emphasis is on the Holy Birth, not these messengers.  He offers their visit as evidence that Jesus fulfilled Scripture and was recognized as the KING OF THE JEWS; just not by His own people.  Their identity as MAGI, their origin in the EAST, and their superficial familiarity with Old Testament prophecy are clues that these Magi were not Jews.

The motive they gave for their search: “WE HAVE COME TO WORSHIP HIM” (v. 2).  This is the honest truth.  We know this because that’s exactly what they did when they found the newborn King (v. 11).  But I wonder what else motivated them.  It seems like a lot of trouble to satisfy some intellectual curiosity.  Did they hope to gain influence in the court of the new king?  Did they misunderstand the sign and think BORN meant coronated?  In some ancient cultures, a king’s “birthday” was his coronation day.

Their arrival turned Jerusalem upside down (vs. 3-8).  WHEN KING HEROD HEARD THIS HE WAS DISTURBED, AND ALL JERUSALEM WITH HIM (v. 3).  Why?

– Herod ruthlessly guarded his power. He would have been DISTURBED because this news would’ve been seen as a threat to his rule.

– He had been on the throne for more than 30 years by this time and history shows that his reign would not last much longer.

– As seen by his senseless slaughter of all the ale children of Bethlehem later in this chapter, Herod willingly resorted to any steps that removed rivals to his throne.

OK, that’s easy enough to see. But why was ALL JERSUALEM disturbed along with Herod?

– The people might’ve joined Herod in his worry because of a variation on the old saying, “If the king ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Herod was bloodthirsty and widely feared.

– They were excited to think that the promise of the Messiah would finally be fulfilled.

– They might have been afraid because every change of authority brought bloodshed and turmoil; Herod’s especially.

– The appearance of such a caravan of distinguished persons, even in a city, would cause a sensation of gossip. The MAGI may’ve started asking the minute they arrived at the city gates and from there word would’ve spread rapidly.

In response to this growing “threat,” Herod put together a staff to answer the magi’s question and they way he conducted this matter demonstrated political savvy (vs. 4-8).  Herod was vicious, but he was also capable of some subtlety.  We see this in v. 4 where he asks the religious leaders where the CHRIST would be born, not the KING OF THE JEWS.  He was trying to make this look like a religious symposium, not a political investigation.  Herod realized the CHRIST and the KING OF THE JEWS would be the same person, though this may have been a popular belief.

This group was not the ruling members of the Jews, but an “invitation-only” assembly of scholars and students of Scripture.  They arrive at the correct answer: BETHLEHEM IN JUDEA. Interestingly, their quotation of Micah 5:2 is not correct.  It’s a melding of Micah 5:2 and 2 Samuel 5:2.  If we assume the Jewish scholars are at fault and not Matthew, then it raises the interesting question of why they misquoted it.  This may indicate their use of a different translation than the ones that survived to our day, or that they deliberately misquoted it.  If they are deliberately misquoting it, I assume they are doing so out of fear of Herod.  This was one king you didn’t make angry, for fear of your life.

We see more of Herod’s careful political maneuvering in vs. 7+8.  He did not put the Magi and the scholars together, but kept them apart, so that neither side would know what the others were doing.  The word SECRETLY is an important clue, evidence of Herod giving both sides the “mushroom treatment.”

Herod questioned the Magi first, looking for exact information about the STAR (v. 7).

This was not necessary to answer their question, for he already had the answer in hand, but was expedient for his later violent actions. Their information was useful for determining the age of the newborn KING OF THE JEWS.

This is a way of throwing academics off the scent of your real purpose; get them started talking about their favorite subject and they become wrapped up in the sound of their own voice and forget all else.  Herod got information and allayed suspicions.

After this one-sided exchange of information, Herod ordered them to go to Bethlehem, search out the child, and then report back to him.  In that way, he used the magi as unwitting spies to protect his throne (v. 8).  Bethlehem was just 6 miles from Jerusalem.  Being so close, Herod had to tread lightly or give away his plan to assassinate the newborn King.  That is part of the reason he deceived the Magi and used them as proxy spies.

Obviously, Herod had no interest in worshiping the child.  His intent was to secretly send a squad of soldiers to assassinate the newborn after the MAGI had departed and also out of the knowledge of the people.  This is nothing new or out of character for Herod; ancient historians tell us that he invited his own son, Aristobolus, to the palace for a meal and had him drown in the royal bath afterward.  To the world, he feigned grief at the awful “accident.”

  1. The Magi rejoiced (v. 9-11).

They were OVERJOYED to see the star again and it led them to the newborn King (vs. 9-10).  Following the directions from Herod , they set out from Jerusalem and headed south. However, after they left the city, the Magi got their direction by following the star.  By its guidance, they found THE PLACE WHERE THE CHILD WAS.  There have been lots of attempts over the years to explain this star.  That’s OK, but clearly this STAR is not something astronomy can explain.  The fact that it led them to the very place WHERE THE CHILD WAS is important.  I cannot imagine any natural heavenly body being that specific. It’s a miracle.  Period.

The fact that they followed a STAR means that they travelled to Bethlehem at night.  This would be advantageous for Herod, who wanted to keep the whole thing as secret as he could.  Maybe he “suggested” it.

The point is found in the words THEY SAW.  These Magi had a personal experience of the Christ.  Likewise, our faith has to be a personal experience, not just intellectual agreement with theological particulars.

Their reaction?  They were OVERJOYED.  Again, the Greek word is more emotional than the English; this could be translated, “they joyed a great joy, very much.”  This is great excitement, not cool satisfaction.  When was the last time you got that excited about anything?

There are three demonstrations of the Magi’s joy in v. 11: they BOWED DOWN…WORSHIPED HIM…PRESENTED HIM WITH GIFTS.  In the shepherds, baby Jesus was recognized and honored by His own people, the Jews.  In the Magi, honor was bestowed by Gentiles.

They worshiped Him and gave Him gifts (v. 11).  Did they worship Him as a king or as God?  It is safe to assume the MAGI did not WORSHIP Jesus in the same way as we do or for the same reasons.  They looked for a KING, not a Messiah.  In this situation, what they’re likely talking about is show respect; paying homage to a king in the way typical to their cultures.

Was there any particular reason for these gifts?  The FRANKINCENSE and MYRRH were luxury items that originated in eastern countries.  These gifts may be another clue that they came from the EAST.  Lots of people have tried to see symbolism in these gifts but there’s simply nothing in the text to support that kind of interpretation.  They are simply expensive gifts – TREASURES – that would be appropriate to give to a king.

  1. The Magi responded to God’s warning (12).

God warned them in a dream.  He had to; these “wise men” did not see through Herod’s subterfuge on their own.  To these men, dreams would carry the same weight of evidence as the portent of the star.  This isn’t reliable evidence that the MAGI found faith in God, for God also spoke to unbelievers in their dreams.  Had they travelled to Bethlehem at night, as we have supposed, then it naturally follows that when the Magi left the Holy Family they retired for the night before going any further.

Risking Herod’s wrath, they went home another way.  We must give the Magi credit for being obedient to the revealed will of God.  Defying Herod and risking his wrath was no small risk to ask them to take.  God took care of these devout Gentiles and sent them on a way that avoided the peril of Jerusalem.  Even if they were “kings” as some suppose, we can’t be sure that Herod wouldn’t have them killed to eliminate witnesses.

The Magi are our latest example of JOY.  When they saw the star the rejoiced and when it lead them to Jesus, they rejoiced again and presented him with gifts appropriate to a king.

People will tell you “You can’t be happy all the time.”  I don’t believe it.  Why?  Because the Bible says, “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS,” (Philippians 4:4).  And, in case they didn’t really believe him, Paul repeated himself in that verse, “I will say it again: Rejoice!”

God will not command you to do something He knows you cannot do.  SO – what we should more accurately assert is that joy will not come naturally or easily in all circumstances.  Some seasons of life will push us in the opposite direction.  But we can find, if we look with the eyes of faith, reasons for joy even in the most sorrowful trials.