Summary: At Christmas we all hope to either find or give the perfect gift. But if there was a present under the tree with Jesus' name on it, what would that look like? What would it contain?
Now that the gifts are unwrapped; now that the family has come and gone, now that Christmas is over, did you get the perfect gift? When I was child, that seemed like the ultimate question. Each year I hoped I would get that top present on my wish list. And when I shopped for others, it was always on my parent's "dime."
After I got married and after my wife and I had children, however, I had to make a transition. I made the change from gift receiver to gift giver. I imagine that many of you have made the same move. It was more fun to give than to receive. I also realized it was my OWN money on the line. With three daughters it can be difficult to find the perfect gift. As my daughters opened their presents, I was hoping that they would find one that said "this is perfect gift."
As I wondered about that, I thought about Jesus. And I wondered if we were to put a present under the tree with Jesus’ name on it, what would that present contain? What would the perfect gift look like?
As we continue our series of messages on “Getting in Tune with Christmas,” I want to explore that question. Turn with me to our text.
As we read, you might be reminded of the Christmas song… “We three kings of Orient are…bearing gifts we traverse afar.” I hope that song stays fixed in your head today. I also want you to understand that in order to explore this story, we are going to contrast two different sets of characters. We are going to do some character studies and we are going to look at some history to establish context and to help us delve deeper into the narrative.
While history may not be your favorite subject, I think we will discover some important clues as to who the different characters are on the inside. So keep your Bibles open. And read silently along with me.
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
(Magi from East Character Study)
A common question that is asked is “Where were these wise men or magi from?” The Bible doesn’t say. The only gospel writer to record this, Matthew, simply says they were from the East”
But let me offer a common explanation. I think in the process, we might see how God works in the Christmas narrative. Bring on the history.
In the O.T. is the book of Daniel. If you were to read Daniel, you would see that the first part of it tells about the results of Israel’s war with the nation of Babylon. It tells us that Israel is defeated in battle, Jerusalem is destroyed, and the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, removes the best and brightest young people from Israel and he transplants them into Babylon. Daniel is one of the young men taken into “captivity.”
As we read further, we see that in Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar had men in his kingdom who were called wise men. They were his advisors. One night the King has a dream and he calls his wise men to interpret it. None of the native wise men can tell him what it means. But Daniel is able to interpret the dream.
Through that event and a series of others, Daniel is elevated as the wisest of all the wise men in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. This is important to realize.
In the latter part of Daniel, we see some prophecies that Daniel foretells. Some of them are about the coming Messiah in Israel. Now remember this is an O.T. book. It records events that take place almost 600 years before the story we read in today’s text
Now move to modern day. Look on a modern map and you will have a hard time finding Babylon. Their culture faded many centuries ago. In fact, in our modern world, Babylon would be part of Iraq and Iran. If you look at the map, you will see that these countries are east of Israel. Where did the Magi come from? (from the east.)
Scholars suggest that it is possible that these wise men traveled from the area where Babylon used to exist. We know that in these Eastern Kingdoms, wise men were still used in Jesus’ day. They were like priest advisers to the king. The N.T. calls them “Magi.” And one of the primary methods they used for advisement was astrology.
They studied the stars. They knew them quite well.