Summary: A sermon for Epiphany: the Magi inspire us to believe in Jesus' royal birth, to walk in his radiant light, and to present him with rightful treasures.
Ready to Open My Treasures
Ages ago, some pilgrims - we call them Wise Men or Magi - set out on a long and uncertain journey in search of the promised Messiah. Their quest was gloriously rewarded, thanks to that guiding star.
Whatever led you here this morning, I believe God is delighted we’re gathered, and I pray your search will be rewarded beyond your expectations.
Today we celebrate Epiphany. The word itself is not found in the Bible but it’s certainly a biblical concept as it means “manifestation". When you hear it used today it typically refers to an illuminating discovery.
It was in the fourth century when many Christians began to place a larger emphasis on commemorating the revealing of Jesus to the Magi. They appear to be the first Gentiles or non-Jewish people to worship him.
When the Magi arrived in Jerusalem they 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 2:2, NIV)
These Gentiles who came from a distant land to find and to worship Jesus have some important lessons to teach us. They are an example and can inspire us in some valuable ways.
1. They inspire us to believe in His royal birth.
“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?”
(Note: for helpful details about Magi, see the article in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible)
Magi were important men in the ancient empires of Persia and Media. They were highly educated in a wide range religious writings, philosophy, astronomy and other disciplines. They were the highest of the priestly class. They were not kings but served as wise counselors and advisors to kings, as Daniel served Nebuchadnezzar in such capacity.
In Persia the Magi held a dual office – priestly and political. Some composed the upper house of the council whose duties included choosing the king.
So this group entering Jerusalem may have been seen as king-makers. They were not just three wealthy travelers on their camels. In fact we don’t know if there were three of them, or two, or eight. It’s traditionally assumed there were three because of the three gifts given to Jesus, and because of a later (extra-biblical) legend giving them names; Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar
If they kept with traditional oriental stately splendor, it was probably a large entourage, including an armed escort sufficient to ensure their safety.
Herod’s fear is understandable. Israel was a small buffer state sitting between two powerful empires – Rome and Persia. Now these Wise Men are asking, “Where will we find him who has been born the king of God’s people?”
That may have been insult they directed at Herod. He had secured his position as king of the Jews from Augustus Caesar by scheming and bribery. Now a band of Persian “king-makers” has arrived in his capital city asking about one who is king of the Jews by birth-right. That had to be very troubling to Herod.
But we soon find their mission was not political.
Magi were familiar with the Hebrew prophecies of the Messiah. They would likely have been particularly aware of those by Daniel who lived and held a high position in their land.
So these Gentiles came to find this person of royal birth, the king of God’s people. They are an example and inspiration to us. Do you believe in Jesus’ royal birth? Are you unashamed of that belief? Have you sought him and found him?
2. They inspire us to follow his radiant light.
“We saw his star in the east and have come…”
Verses 9-11; “…the star… went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw [it], they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary…”
What about Joseph? It’s my speculation that he may have been at some carpentry job in or around Bethlehem. There was no place for them to stay when they first arrived in Bethlehem. But after Jesus was born, there was no need to hurry back north to Nazareth. So perhaps Joseph soon found a house where they could stay for a while, and he would have needed to find work.
This is one inaccuracy with our nativity scenes. The Wise Men did not arrive at the stable where Jesus was born. I don’t think it’s a big problem that we put them in our nativity scenes. One point of such scenes may be to visually illustrate that people of every class and every race are welcome in Jesus’ presence.
There are some interesting speculations about the star. Some think it was the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. Some describe in great detail some other astronomical phenomenon. We simply don’t know details of this miracle. What we do know is that these Magi saw some unusual star or light that caught their attention and which God used to draw them to Jesus.