Summary: Discover the meaning of true, biblical hope in this message about the Magi and their journey to see the Christ child.
“Footprints of Hope”
Let’s take our Bibles and locate Matthew 2…today we journey in the footprints of the Magi – “we three kings of Orient are” – the three wise men (by the way, none of those actual titles are true. There weren’t technically three and they weren’t kings. But more about that later). And if there’s one word that describes the magi, it is the word “hope.” Think about it – they journeyed far and long based on their hope that a king was born in the town of Bethlehem. That’s a pretty strong hope, isn’t it?
Now understand something – That’s different than our kind of hope. We have “Webster” hope. “What’s Webster hope?” you ask. Based on their on-line dictionary, Miriam-Webster defines hope as “to cherish or desire with anticipation,” or “to desire with expectation of obtainment.” In other words, a sincere longing or a wish for something good that is sometimes fulfilled and, unfortunately, sometimes not.
This kind of hope is everywhere at Christmas, isn’t it?
“I hope I get a PS3 for Christmas.”
“I hope I get a new dog for Christmas.”
“I hope I get a Mercedez.”
Sometimes Webster hope finds it way into more serious areas of our life, as in:
“I hope I get to keep my job this year.”
“I hope I get married next year.”
“I hope I can beat my cancer next year.”
But the problem with Webster hope is that it is always based upon uncertainty. For example, we may say “I hope we get pregnant soon.” That kind of hope is a wish, not a certainty. We can hope all we want, doing everything humanly possible to “help hope along.” All the indications may be that it will come true. But life is unpredictable and things can change at the last moment. Suddenly, all our hopes are dashed. That’s the problem with Webster hope – as good as it makes you feel sometimes, it is still fundamentally based on uncertainties. While it is powerful, it may not necessarily be biblical.
The magi, however, had biblical hope. “What’s biblical hope?” you ask. Biblical hope is “a future confidence based on past promises.” In other words, it is an expectation, desire, or anticipation (just like Webster hope in this way), but without the human uncertainty. Why? Because biblical hope has, as its foundation, the promises and character of God.
Before we look at Matthew 2, let me show you a concise verse that summarizes biblical hope. It is Hebrews 6:19, and it says, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Biblical hope is an anchor, a foundation firm and secure. Why? Because it finds its bedrock within the character and promises of God. In fact, that’s the very point of the previous verse – Hebrews 6:18 – for it says that this hope rests on an oath made by God “who cannot lie.” At this time of year when so many people are hoping for something, we hope because of someone – God! Hallelujah!
This is the kind of hope that motivated the Magi to leave their country and travel a long distance. This is the kind of hope that propelled the wise men to give of the treasures. This is the kind of hope that prompted the Magi to risk their own safety in search of the king. Truly, biblical hope is more powerful than Webster hope!
Let’s look at their journey and see what insights we glean from this passage about biblical hope.
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
Matthew 2:1-2 says these wise men were “Magi from the east” and had seen a “star in the east.” So they came. Had they come on a hunch? Or was biblical hope really driving their search? Perhaps a little background will help answer that question.
Much of what has been written about the Magi is based upon speculation or traditions that may have no basis in fact. For example, they were not kings but were rather advisors to kings. And no where are we told there were only three. There was probably an entourage of people with these kingly advisors. So the song “We Three Kings” is really an urban legend (no offense to you Christmas carol lovers).
The Magi were from either Persia or Babylon, and they functioned as the religious, civil, and political counsel to the kings of Media and Persia. Over time, their power grew to the extent that they became the “king-makers” whose duties included the election of the king of the realm. Do you recall Daniel in the Old Testament book of Daniel? He had been promoted to the position of advisor to the king of Babylon (Daniel 2:48-49), and later continued in this role as advisor to the king of Persia after the Persians conquered Babylon. In fact, I believe personally that Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were probably called Magi. They, too, had many gifts showered on them (which would explain how the Magi in Matthew 2 had gifts to bring if this tradition continued) and were even called wise men in Daniel 2.