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Summary: What can we learn from the attitude of the Magi

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Morston/Field Dalling 06-01-01

“Let us examine our attitudes to Jesus.” Mt 2: 1-12

When I was first asked to talk on the story of the Magi, I groaned. It wasn’t a subject that came naturally to me. All I could think of was a story I had read in the Reader’s Digest.

Story: “I wonder what would have happened if there had been three wise women instead of three wise men.

1. They would have asked for directions to the stable locally instead of going to Herod.

2. They would have arrived on time and helped deliver the baby

3. They would have cleaned the stable and brought practical for the family to eat – like a casserole.

4. And there would have been peace on earth!”

However as I pray and thought about it, it seemed to me that the Lord wanted me to focus on the attitudes of the Magi to Jesus.

1. The history of the wise men

Very little is known about the Wise Men or Magi.

Matthew doesn’t even record how many of them there were.

All the Bible tells us is that they came from the East to Jerusalem. And so it is more than likely they were NOT Jews.

Tradition has it that they were Magi from Persia, once a mighty country where modern Iran and Iraq now are.

In the second century, a church father named Tertullian suggested that these men were kings because the Old Testament had predicted that kings would come to worship him. He also concluded that there were three kings based on the number of gifts mentioned, gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In the sixth century, someone decided that their names were Melchior, Baltazar and Gaspar.

Popular myth calls them astrologers but that wasn’t necessarily so.

It is generally accepted that “the Magi were a priestly caste (in the Persian Empire), numerous enough to be regarded as one of the six tribes of Media” (based on J.D. Davis Dictionary of the Bible p. 489).

You will recall - in the book of Daniel, when King Darius is tricked into throwing Daniel his friend into the lion’s den - a reference to the law of the Medes and the Persians. It is these Medes from whom - most probably - the Magi were descended.

The Magi worshipped the elements of fire, air, earth and water, especially fire.

The only temples they had were fire temples, generally on the roofs of houses. There they kept the sacred element burning day and night – a bit like the Eternal Flame in Arlington Cemetery over President Kennedy’s grave.

And the term Magi is the base from which both of our modern words “magician” and “magistrate” are derived.

2. Why did God reveal Himself to the MAGI?

I have often wondered why God revealed himself to the Magi – people who practised magic that was expressed forbidden in the OT.

It seems to me that there are two reasons.

1. My first reason is that the Gospel - that Jesus’ birth heralded - is for the entire world – not just to the Jews but also to the non-Jews. The Jews represented those who were considered “morally right” by the fact of being “God’s chosen people”

The Magi weren’t and I think God was making a statement.

We don’t have to wait until we are living a “morally good life” before God seeks us out.


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