Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12 (NIV) — "Epiphany of the Lord":
Tomorrow we celebrate a Christian holiday which commemorates the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus. It has been celebrated since the early days of the Christian Church and represents the revelation of the Messiah, not just to the Jews, but to all people of the world.
The account which we read in Matthew 2 doesn't give us a lot of details. Who were the Magi? In Spanish, we call tomorrow "Día de los reyes", or "Day of the Kings", and a certain pastry called "rosca de los reyes" is very popular in Spanish-speaking countries, but where does it say "kings" in the Bible? We just sang a traditional hymn called We Three Kings, but these men probably weren't the rulers of their lands. We're not even sure that there were three of them, just that they brought THREE different kinds of gifts. The word "magos" which our Spanish Bible uses for them is the same word that we use in Spanish for "magicians", but that may also be misleading. The practice of what we might think of as magic, or sorcery, was very much a part of the religious, and academic, systems of some countries in those days.
And where did these visitors come from? That isn't made clear in the Bible, either. They could have come from anywhere "in the East" from present-day Iraq to India, but the best guesses seem to be that they came from an area formerly known as Persia, but now called "Iran", and that they practiced a religion known as Zoroastrianism.1
And when did they arrive to worship Jesus? That isn't clear either. The passage we read says only that they came to Jerusalem "after Jesus was born in Bethlehem". Their journey, from Iraq, Iran or India or wherever, must have taken them several months. But did they start their journey after Jesus was already born, or did they foresee His birth, with some help from a planetary conjunction, or a supernova, and arrive soon after the event?
So in trying to interpret the story in Matthew, we run into a lot of uncertainties. But I'll try to point out what appears to be certain, and what truths stand out from all the conflicting interpretations of the story:
1) God makes every effort to reach every person who is far away from Him – Matthew's Gospel describes how God used a celestial event to reach pagan Gentiles in order to bring them to Christ.
God makes every effort to reach every person no matter how far away they are from Him. First, we have to remember that these wise men were Gentiles, and not Jews, who had come seeking the king of the Jews. The Jews thought the promised Messiah was for them, not for the Gentiles. In fact, the first followers of Christ were almost exclusively Jewish. The Christ was supposed to deliver them from their sins. He was supposed to deliver them from their oppressors, the Romans and the evil Roman empire. And yet the signal to the wise men was that God was calling them, as Gentiles, to the Christ. They were neither racially, nor culturally, a part of the Jews.
This implies that, in our own times, God wants us to reach out to all people, even if they're not a part of our race or culture, or faith. Remember that not everyone is raised in our church, they don't know church language, and they don't feel a need to seek out Jesus. That's why God came in the flesh, so that He could be like one of us, and talk to people in their own language, eat their food, experience their culture through their eyes, and tell them of their need for Him. God expects us to do the same for others. God doesn't want us to compromise our integrity or violate His commandments, but he expects us to be like Him to use whatever means we can to reach people in a language they understand in order to bring them to Christ.
2) God wants us to seek Him diligently – We need more than knowledge about Christ to seek out the Christ.
We must seek out a relationship with Christ, or God through Christ. The danger we fall into is thinking that knowing about Jesus is enough. The truth is we can have all the knowledge of the Bible, we can follow God's commandments, and still miss what the Christian faith is all about. We must seek Christ until we find Him. These pagan astrologers, with only partial information about a Jewish Messiah, set off on a journey of faith to find the Christ, the king of the Jews, a journey which may have been hundreds of miles in length. It may have taken them many months to get to Bethlehem. That journey cost them time, money, and it cost them their precious gifts. We know these Magi only had partial knowledge about the Bible and the Jewish Messiah because otherwise they would have known to look for the infant in Bethlehem, but they had faith, and made an effort to seek out the Christ child.
On the other hand we see the religious community in Jerusalem – The people with a firm grasp on the Bible, people who lived out the letter of the law as written in Scripture. They did all the ritual and followed all the commandments. They knew about God from their Holy Scriptures. Yet, when the Wise Men showed up, Herod and these religious leaders were stunned to find out the Messiah had been born, in fact it says they were "disturbed," or "troubled" upon hearing the news. They had either not seen the star in the sky, or were unable to interpret its meaning. They had no clue their king had been born, and it took some pagan astrologers to tell them about the Messiah. You can imagine how that went over. Imagine how it would go over today if a practitioner of witchcraft, or magic, came to tell a Bible believing church that Jesus was in their midst, but they missed it because they were more concerned about following the letter of God's law, than about seeking Christ and a relationship with Him.
(3) We need to worship Christ - Wise men offered valuable gifts, what do we offer God?
Worship is not an option with Christ. We need to worship Him. Once the wise men reached Jesus, the first thing they did was worship, just like the shepherds who had already visited Jesus and worshipped by singing praises to God. The Gospel says of the Magi:
NIV Matthew 2:11 – On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh...
So, not only did these Magi kneel down, but they also brought an offering.
Remember that to worship also means to offer something. We, too, can worship by offering something to Christ - our time, our talents, our resources. Our own lives may be all that other people ever know about Christ. If we don't reflect His love in our daily lives, how can we say that we truly worship Him?
4) We need to continue to be open to God's Spirit – The wise men obeyed God's direction by not returning to Herod. Their journey to the Christ and their reward of faith had taught them to remain open to God's leading.
There is never a point in our lives when we can say that we've arrived, in the sense that we've got the Christian life all figured out. We need to seek Him, we need to worship Him, but these aren't a one time event. We must continue to remain open to God's leading. Scripture concludes by telling us about the Magi:
NIV Matthew 2:12 – And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Even though the wise men had found the Christ child and had worshipped Him, they weren't done. It wasn't, "Okay I did my duty, I'm glad that's over. Let's get back to regular life." Their seeking God didn't end with meeting Christ. They continued to remain open to God. God gave them a message in a dream. Remember these are men whose job it was to interpret dreams, and so God spoke to them again in a way they would understand, in a dream. They recognized this dream as a message from God and they obeyed. They didn't go back to tell Herod, because little did they know Herod was making plans to try to kill this king of the Jews.
The point is clear for us. Just because we have sought Christ, and found Him, doesn't mean we are at the end of our journey. It is only the beginning. God wants us to be open to the leadings of His Holy Spirit. It may not be a dream, but God still speaks to us in other ways such as through Scripture, through prayer, to lead us away from danger and to stay focused on His plan.
Where are you at today? Are you the one far from God that is hearing the calling to come seek His Son? Do you remember that God continues to seek you no matter where you come from, and no matter what your background? If you are here it is a very good place to begin the journey. God promises that if you seek Him, you will find Him and be rewarded for your journey of faith. Are you a seeker who has begun your journey to personally meet Christ to begin a relationship with God? Don't give up on the journey because God has not given up on you. Are you a worshipper of Christ? What have you offered Him? I can tell you what he wants the most is not your money, or your time, God likes you to give those, but what he really wants is you, all of you, every part.
Lastly, are you opening yourself to God's continued leading in your life? God continues to speak to us, to let us know where we need to be, and where we should not be, but we have to be willing to listen to Him through prayer, and through His word written in the Bible. If we don't, then we find ourselves in the shoes of Herod and the religious community of that time who claimed they wanted to meet the Christ and worship Him, but were really only interested in their own selfish agenda. God wants us to follow His agenda, wherever it may lead us.
Wise men, and women, and children, still seek Jesus!
I am indebted to the Sermon Central web site for some of the material I used in this message.
1 Zoroastrianism was founded by the religious philosopher, or prophet, Zoroaster, who lived several hundred years before Jesus. He is also known as Zarathustra, a name which was used in a piece of classical music composed by Richard Strauss, Also sprach Zarathustra. Some of you may remember hearing it in the soundtrack of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Thank you, Vern Nelson, for playing a few bars from that famous work to introduce my message!