The Magi Surface
1. Some people think the Bible teaches that the fruit Adam and Eve ate in the Garden was an apple….. probably a fig. Most of us know the Christmas narratives fairly well, but we often assume things that the text does not actually say.
2. Lin Smalec writes, "I read recently about a children’s Sunday School class that heard the Christmas story and sang the beloved Christmas carol, “Silent Night”. They were then asked to draw what they thought the nativity scene might have looked like. One little fellow did a good likeness of Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus, but off to the side was a roly-poly figure. The teacher, thinking that the boy had somehow worked Santa Claus into the scene, asked him who that was. She wasn’t sure whether she was relieved or even more worried when the boy responded, "Oh, that’s Round John Virgin!"
3. Most people on the street have a conception of what the Bible teaches about the Magi, but their imagery does not come from the Bible. It is a result of questionable guesswork, hymnology, and ancient assumptions.
4. Today, we are going to focus on the Magi. The good news, of course, is that even if you believe they were three kings, the main lesson of their trip is not lost. They were wealthy, powerful men who traveled an inconvenient distance to honor Jesus.
Main Idea: The visit of the Magi piques our curiosity but also reveals the importance of honoring Jesus Christ — no matter how much effort it takes.
I. Who Were the MAGI? (1)
A. Their NUMBER
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.
B. Their CLASS
1. The term could be general: Several godly men belonged to a caste of people known as Magi, or Wise Men. One appears in Genesis, Jacob’s son, Joseph, who served the Pharaoh. Balaam, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would also have been considered Magi.
2. The term could be specific: Lambert Dolphin writes:
“The ancient Magi were a hereditary priesthood of the Medes (known today as the Kurds) credited with profound and extraordinary religious knowledge. After some Magi, who had been attached to the Median court, proved to be expert in the interpretation of dreams, Darius the Great established them over the state religion of Persia…
“It was in this dual capacity, whereby civil and political counsel was invested with religious authority, that the Magi became the supreme priestly caste of the Persian empire…
One of the titles given to Daniel was Rab-mag, the Chief of the Magi…Daniel apparently entrusted a Messianic vision … to a secret sect of the Magi for its eventual fulfillment…
… both the Persian and the Jewish nation had … regained their independence: the Jews under Maccabean leadership, and the Persians as the dominating ruling group within the Parthian Empire.
It was at this time that the Magi, in their dual priestly and governmental office, composed the upper house of the Council of the Megistanes (from which we get the term "magistrates"), whose duties included the absolute choice and election of the king of the realm.
It was, therefore, a group of Persian--Parthian "king makers" who entered Jerusalem in the latter days of the reign of Herod. Herod's reaction was understandably one of fear when one considers the background of Roman-Parthian rivalry that prevailed during his lifetime.”
C. Their land of ORIGIN
• Most likely modern Iran and Iraq
• The Parthian Empire occupied all of modern Iran, Iraq and Armenia, parts of Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, & Tajikistan [livius.org]
D. Their FAITH
1. Possibly Zoroastrians (100,000 today in world)
2. Balaam was possibly a Zoroastrian, perhaps Jethro
3. Monotheism, a creator god Ahura Mazda
4. Perhaps acknowledge Yahweh but not well schooled in OT
The shepherds represented the weak and poor, the Magi the rich and powerful; Jesus Christ is the Savior of all who will receive Him!
II. What Was “His” STAR? (2a)
the Magi only admitted to seeing the star twice: once in the east, and once in Bethlehem. The star's disappearance is what motivated them to seek out Herod. They must have lost sight of it until they came to Bethlehem, and when they saw the star it was in its zenith position right over Bethlehem.
A. The ORIGINAL meaning of the constellations
B. Probably the constellation of LEO the Lion Crushing the Serpent
Henry Morris [When They Saw the Star] goes on to postulate, as have others, that the original signs of the Zodiac painted a picture of the Gospel. The virgin (Virgo) would give birth to the Messiah (pictured by Leo the Lion) who would crush the serpent’s head (the promise of Genesis 3:15-16).
C. Balaam, a great Magi, prophesied of a STAR (Numbers 24:16-17)
“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.” (vs. 17)
D. Daniel, a great Magi, prophesied the coming MESSIAH King as well
Since earlier Magi may have been influenced by the teachings of Daniel, they probably knew the rough era in which to expect the Messiah, based upon Daniel chapter 9. So it may have been a bright star (probably a super nova) that flared up in the constellation of Leo that made the connection. They recognized that the Messiah would be King of the Jews, but they did not know exactly where in Israel He would be born.
E. Revelation 12:1-6, these constellations were ANIMATED for John
III. What Was Herod’s PROBLEM? (2b-8)
A. He was PARANOID and evil
• Had wife and two sons executed
• Had worked deal with Romans, wise men Parthians
• Biggest fear: competitor to his dynasty
B. He pretended to WELCOME the newborn King
C. The Scribes knew their Scriptures and pinpointed BETHLEHEM
IV. What is the SIGNIFICANCE of Their Gifts?
A. Gold for Messiah KING
B. Frankincense because He is GOD
C. Myrrh because He would SUFFER
D. Would provide for the family when exiled in EGYPT
E. They went to great effort to WORSHIP Him
F. They left another way after God spoke in a DREAM
The visit of the Magi piques our curiosity but also reveals the importance of honoring Jesus Christ — no matter how much effort it takes.