Summary: Part of an expository series on the Gospel of Matthew, focusing on the adoration of the Magi, encouraging us all to adore the Savior.
“The Adoration of the Magi”
January 18th, 2009
Last week I introduced our Great Commission Mission and if you remember the very first and most important part of that mission was to Adore God. Loving God is the first and greatest of all the commandments; in fact, every other commandment hinges on our command to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength. Today I wanted to get us back to our verse by verse study of the Book of Matthew when Lo and Behold, we get one of history’s greatest examples of adoration of God: the visit of the Magi.
I’m going to examine the Magi in greater depth and I imagine that there is much about these guys that we didn’t know, but even the little bit we do know reveals to us a group of people who truly adored God in the form of Jesus and certainly put their money where their mouth is. They were looking for a Messiah to come and when they saw his star appearing in the east they loaded up their greatest treasures and headed out to find him, traveling over field and fountain, moor and mountain as the carol tells us, though I’m not sure why they travelled through fountains. Upon arriving in the house where May and the infant Jesus where they didn’t just check things out for their records, they bowed down and worshiped him, which as we will see in a bit, was very significant.
Now, this is a great story and we tell it every year as a part of our Christmas celebrations, but I wonder if we have ever really considered the implications of what was going on here. After all, there had to be a reason for Matthew—guided as he was by the Holy Spirit—to include this story in his Gospel. Matthew was a very organized writer and he wasn’t just writing a story, he was writing a systematic description of who Jesus was, and one of the descriptions that he gives us of Jesus is that he was a King; in fact, he was the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
So, we would do well to scratch below the surface of this account and ask ourselves what significance there is to this account of a group of mysterious men who arrived from the east to worship Jesus. Matthew didn’t just write about this because it was an unusual story, as though here were the first century equivalent of the National Enquirer. He wasn’t just bragging about the fact that Jesus had such distinguished visitors at what amounted to the first baby shower. There was a specific significance of their visit that when we see it should astound and inspire us.
I’ll admit: before I started to prepare for this sermon there was much about the magi that I did not understand. But once I found out the background of these guys I was truly astounded. So, let’s start out with what most of us know—and what most of us think we know. We know very little from the reading here in Matthew: we know that some guys who are called Magi from the east come to Jerusalem seeking “the one who has been born the King of the Jews”. They show what would appear to be an astounding lack of political awareness by coming to the current King of the Jews to find out where he was, given the fact that Herod was the King of the Jews and he was a paranoid and homicidal king who killed two of his sons for fear that they would take power from him. After checking with the scholars of Israel they find that the Messiah was to be born in the City of David, otherwise known as Bethlehem, since that was the town where David, the chosen king of Israel was from. So, they go to Bethlehem and finding Jesus and Mary in a house they give him gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and gold and bow down to worship him. Then, having been warned in a dream not to go back to the murderous Herod (though you don’t think they would need a dream to tell them that… here’s your sign!) they return by another route.
That’s what we know about them from the bible. Here’s a few of the things that we think we know about them that is not grounded in the bible. They were not kings. In fact, they were just the opposite, these were the guys who chose kings. We don’t know if there were three of them; we have usually assumed that because they brought three gifts, but as we will see later, there is a significance to what they brought that has nothing to do with their number. There could have been any number of magi, it’s just that they brought those three items. Also, we don’t know their names: history says that their names were Caspar, Belthizar and Melchoir, but that is just legend. Finally, and I hate to ruin your nativity scene, but they probably didn’t ride camels or come by themselves, historically it’s more likely that they rode Persian horses and were accompanied by Persian cavalry. Oh, and one more thing that will ruin your Nativity scene: they most assuredly did not arrive in the stable where Jesus was born on the night he was born… the shepherds and the magi probably didn’t meet. The bible is very clear that the Wise Men came to a house, not a stable, and given the fact that Herod killed all the children under two it’s possible that Jesus was as old as two years old. If you remember, Mary and Joseph offered up a dove to dedicate Jesus, which was the offering that poor people gave. They wouldn’t have given that kind of offering if they were carrying gold, incense and myrrh; a fortune in those times. So, next year you can put the magi out with your nativity scene, but take off their crowns, put them on horses, and put them far away from the shepherds and the stable!