From: Su Min
Subject: The Magi
let us first review the events as recorded in Matthew Chapter 2
Before we go into the glittery or otherwise Christmas manger scene, let us review the old testament prophecies that are unfolded in this chapter.
- Matthew 2:1 records that after Jesus was born Magi came from the East to ask of Him, to worship him.
- Vs 3 shows that King Herod was disturbed.
- In vs 5&6 the identification of the scriptural prophecy that a ruler would come from Bethlehem.
- Vs 7& 8 records Herod's deceitful instructions to the Magi.
- Vs 9-13 records the Magi visiting Jesus
- Vs 12 records their secret return
- Vs 13-14 records the Holy Family's flight to Egypt
- Vs 16-18 records the murderous rage of Herod
- Vs 19-23 records the return of the Holy Family to Nazareth
Firstly Micah 5:2&4, which is summarised in Matt 2:6. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were familiar with this old testament prophet, and they knew of God's plan to bringing out of Bethlehem a mighty ruler who would bring peace to God's people.
Secondly, Matthew quotes the passage from Hosea 11:1 in Matt 2:15, where God says "out of Egypt I called my son". Egypt was refuge to the starving Hebrews in the days of Joseph the dreamer with many coloured coat, and Egypt was refuge to Joseph the young carpenter to whose wife the Holy Child had been born.
Thirdly, the passage in Jeremiah 31:15 is quoted by Matthew as a prediction of Herod's murderous rampage.
The fourth is as declared in Matt 2:23 is thought by bible scholars to be linked to Isaiah 11.1
As we look into biblical history we see that these statements were relevant in the OT days when they were first declared, and these passages are also true when Jesus was born, and as eternal truths that are as much true today. And they will be true tomorrow and forever. The one passage that sums them up is declared in Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, forever. In Sunday school we sing Yesterday, today, forever Jesus is the same: all may change but Jesus never, glory to His name!
Now we turn back to Matt 2:1. Who were the Magi of the East? The KJV calls them wise men. We understand that they were astrologers, noble men, holy men, who were believed to have the ability to interpret dreams and messages from the gods. We understand that this group of non Jewish religious astrologers had from astronomic observations deduced the birth of a great Jewish king and hence travelled far to pay homage to him. They brought precious gifts of gold, incense and myrrh: Later Christian tradition was to assume that the Magi were Kings, and based on the three gifts, assume that there were three of them. Tradition even names the Kings as Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. One tradition even expands the cohort to 12 Kings. But this is the stuff of legends. There is no biblical basis to substantiate the legends. There is no biblical information to contradict them either. As we turn to the word of God we read that it is an unspecified group of Magi who travelled from the East to ask, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?"
The traditional Christmas pageant has the 3 Kings visiting the Holy Family in the stable with baby Jesus in the manger (and many of us readers have even participated in such pageants as Joseph, Mary, shepherds, angels, 3 kings or acting as the sheep), but a look at the text in Matt 2:1 and Matt 2:11, we see that the Magi visit occurred after Jesus was born, and the visit was to a house. Contrast this to Luke 2:16 where the shepherds found the baby lying in a manger. It would seem to me that the Magi visit was weeks or months later, also congruent with the fact that Herod ordered all boys 2 years and under to be killed. Working backwards from the visit of the Magi, he could not quite be sure of the age of this child born to be King of the Jews.
The big lesson to learn from this passage, I believe, is to see what were the differing responses to the news that Jesus had arrived to save the world, and collate these with our own response to the news that Jesus has come.
The Herod response was horrible. Herod, like all of Jerusalem, was disturbed. Herod was troubled. Herod was threatened. Herod was jealous. One born to be king of the Jews. Herod schemed. Herod plotted. Herod stealthily called for the Magi. Herod untruthfully claimed that he wanted to worship Jesus. But all Herod wanted to do was to eliminate the opposition. Herod wanted to kill Jesus. Murder was on his mind.
Is this anything like our own response when we hear about Jesus? Are we disturbed? Are we threatened? Does what we treasure mean more to us than Jesus? Are we not willing to release these precious things and surrender them to the lordship of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Do we hate the idea so much that we are prepared to kill him, crucify him? Do we have more in common with King Herod than we would care to admit?
The Magi, non Jews, outsiders, yet respectable good men, received the message from the skies that a great leader had been born. They left their comfortable surroundings, travelled from the East, probably by uncomfortable caravan, across unknown vistas, facing hostile marauding bands of robbers and bandits. They saw His star and followed it. When the star stopped they were overjoyed. They came to the house and saw Jesus. They bowed down and worshipped him. They opened their treasures and presented him precious gifts of gold, incense and myrrh. The gold, as a symbol of wealth is easy to understand. Frankincense was a resin that was an important ingredient of holy anointing oil. The gift of frankincense symbolised the priestly office of Jesus. Myrrh is a precious resin that was also used in holy anointing oil. Prophetically, Myrrh was used as an embalming spice after calvary (John 19:39). And having been warned in a dream, the Magi protected Jesus by returning home by a secret route.
What is our own response to the news that Jesus has come? Do we walk close to God, read His word, talk with God, to know His mind? If we got a message from God would we be able to understand? Are we prepared to leave our comfortable surroundings to travel to meet Him? Are we prepared for uncomfortable caravans, unknown vistas and hostile marauding bands of robbers and bandits? If we see His star will we recognise it? If we recognise it are we prepared to follow it? When we find Jesus will we be overjoyed? Will we bow down and worship him? Will we open our treasures and presented Him precious gifts? Are we prepared to protect Jesus by laying down our lives for Him?
Let us close in prayer.
Abba Father, thank you for your word today.
Thank you that you bring it afresh to us each time we approach your Word in expectancy. Thank you for that special word to each one of us that meets us at our very point of need.
Even as we look at the Christmas story, Father, you have a new message for us. To each of us who have opened the Good Book to the Gospel according to Matthew Chapter 2, you, O God have something special to say. We praise and thank you for Your Word.
Thank you for the Magi. The mystic men who came from the East. They were not from your chosen people, yet they saw the star and came to worship Jesus.
Even as we come from the East, Abba, give us the heart to follow the star to come and worship Jesus, present Him with gifts and protect him in obedience.
In the Name of He who is the same yesterday, today and forever, the same Jesus, the Christ.
For any comments or enquiries please write to Dr. Lim Su Min
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