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Magi From The East

by David Johnson

(Transcribed from the Words of Life Radio Program)

     The title for this lesson is: “Magi from the east.”  Let’s look to the Scripture taken from the gospel of Mathew chapter two and the first 12 verses:  “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea during the time of King Herod, magi from the east came to Jerusalem and 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.’ When King Herod heard this he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him.  When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them, ‘Where is the Christ that was to be born?’ ‘In Bethlehem, in Judea,’ they replied. ‘For this is what the prophet has written: But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah are by no means least among the rulers of Judah. For out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’ Then Herod called the magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me so that I, too, may go and worship him.’ After they had heard the king they went on their way. And the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the start they were overjoyed.  On coming to the house they saw the child with his mother Mary and they bowed down and worshiped him.  Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their home by another route.”

     When did the magi come from the east? When did this happen in this narrative? According to Matthew chapter two and verse one—notice—after Jesus was born they came to Jerusalem.  Evidently the magi were not in Bethlehem at the birth. Who were the magi? They were wise men, wise in matters, especially of astrology. They studied the stars which they believed impacted the affairs of men. Astrology is still practiced and popular today even though God through his prophet Isaiah has rebuked the practice of astrology. Consider, for example, the prophet Isaiah chapter 48 and verse 13 where it says: “All the counsel you have received has only worn you out. Let your astrologers come forward, those star gazers who make predictions month after month. Let them save you from what is coming upon you.” And so here Isaiah, inspired of the Holy Spirit, sarcastically rebuked these astrologers, because astrology has always been, and is still today, not a wise practice.

     It is interesting and intriguing the possibility that these magi from Chaldea, that is from Babylon or perhaps from Media or Persia, had knowledge and access to the Hebrew prophecies and Scriptures through the Hebrew prophet Daniel who served their rulers. In fact, it tells us in the book of Daniel chapter five and verse 11 revealing there that King Nebuchadnezzar appointed him, that is Daniel, chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. And so, perhaps, they knew, for example, the Hebrew Scripture found in Numbers chapter 24 and verse 17 that says: “I see him, but not now.  I behold him, but not near.  A star will come out of Jacob. A scepter will rise out of Israel.”

     Now, you understand that a star is a Jewish symbol for the Davidic King. And the context here was prefilled in King David, but fulfilled in Messiah, even Jesus of Nazareth. And a scepter refers to a king’s staff, a staff held by a ruler. And the star, ultimately is Christ according to Revelation chapter 22 and verse 16. Jesus is the bright morning star. 

     And so the magi searched and researched everything about stars, possibly Daniel’s prophecies and even the Hebrew Scriptures that pointed them to his star that Daniel would have had. These were magi, not kings. Kings do not bow down or at least rarely bow down and worship another king, certainly not voluntarily as these did.

     In Matthew chapter two and verse 11 it may have been that the three magi—and we are not told—that they came with three gifts. And it may have been that there were three magi, but this comes from the idea that there were three gifts given.  There could have been many gifts that were given. Three expensive gifts or less than three fit for a king. Why did the magi go to Jerusalem? They were looking of the king of Jews and Jerusalem is the Jewish capital city, the place for the king.

     In Matthew chapter two and verse two it says: We saw his start. Scholars speculate that this could have been a super nova, that is a star that brightens intensely and then gradually dims or a super nova that is extremely rare or a conjunction, that is the joining together of planets such as occurred about the believed time of the birth of Christ, the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn coming together as seen from the vantage point of earth in the sky, a planetary conjunction because of the way the star seemed to move.
     But the more likely star would have been the supernatural light in the sky similar to the days of Moses as described in Exodus chapter 13 and verse 21.  By night in a pillar of fire so the Lord guided them in their way. In fact, Matthew two and verse nine reveals that the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. Obviously this was no normal or natural star or planet or comet or super nova. Sad to say, neither King Herod nor all of Jerusalem, nor the chief priests, nor the teachers of the law or the scribes seemed inclined to search, to seek out the new born king. Only Gentile, pagan, foreigners, even wise men, magi from afar.

     There is a great application for us today. Relatively few, especially the powerful rich even the religious who often pursue only the social gospel rather than the Savior, the true gospel or the Scriptures, because today many more in far away places in such places as the continents of Africa and Asia are genuinely seeking, searching for the Christ today. Incredibly today there are more Christians in number in Asia or in Africa than there are in North America.

          In Matthew chapter two and verse seven Herod called the magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. Why?  Well, the answer is found in Matthew chapter two and verse 16.   When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the magi he was furious and gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under. Notice here, in accordance with the time he had learned from the magi to pinpoint the age of the Christ child, that is the time the magi first saw the star and tracked it which was the elapsed time of two years, more evidence that the magi were not present at the birth in Bethlehem, but later, possibly much later.

     And also consider Matthew chapter two and verse 11. On the coming to the house they saw the child with his mother Mary.  Notice house, not in a manger, that is an animal feeding trough, not in a stable, whether it was a cave or with animals around with the straw and such, but in a house. And in Matthew chapter two and verse 11 it continues that they presented him with gifts of gold, incense and myrrh, royal gifts for the King of the Jews. 

Why would these pagans give expensive gifts to a foreign king and even bow down and worship him?  These magi were of a priestly pagan tribe of astrologers, of star gazers who believed the stars were tied to the fortunes of men. And this was, after all, the King of the Jews. And, more importantly to these astrologers, he had his own star that led them to him. And so this would have greatly impressed astrologers, star gazers.

     The application here for us is that instead of stars, we are led, guided, directed, have light from the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit and from the Scriptures that point us to Christ, that reveal Christ to us. The Scriptures provide the light. And we are to follow the Scriptures and the illumination of the Holy Spirit and the light that is there in the Scripture as we look at the greatest revelation of God, even the person of Jesus Christ, the Savior, the Son of God, the Son of man.

     And so these magi gave expensive gifts to the King of the Jews: gold, which is the precious metal of kings of great value; and incense, an expensive, sweet smelling aromatic perfume with a special fragrance for a special occasion, the birth of a king; and myrrh, which is also a costly aromatic perfume from the leaves of the cistus rose, its oil used to anoint the tender skin of an infant and also used to prepare the body for burial, a sign of what was to come.

     The Savior began in a wooden manger and he ended his natural life on a wooden cross and, or course, was raised from the dead after parts of three days and three nights, never to die again, alive forever more with God the Father at his right hand, even today interceding for you and for me. 

     And men gave gifts to the Christ child, but God worked in advance and providentially allowed these gifts, because these expensive gifts had a needful and practical application in Matthew chapter two and verse 13. Joseph in a dream was told to get up and take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Joseph needed money, being a poor carpenter.  Joseph needed money for travel from Bethlehem in Judea to Egypt which would have been at least 110 miles just to the border of Egypt. And certainly the gold would have paid the cost for the travel and the stay for however long they were there in Egypt, perhaps all the way to Alexandria in Egypt where there was a great group of Jews already residing.

     But God’s gift to mankind is far, far costlier. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life, John 3:16.

 

And then in 2 Corinthians chapter nine and verse 15 thanks be to God for his indescribable gift. Even this gift God planned providentially in advance, because, according to Acts chapter two and verse 23 this man was handed over to you by God, meaning Jesus Christ by God, by the set purpose and foreknowledge of God.

     And so as wise men and women today, we worship him and we must also receive him by faith.

 

                            David Johnson is minister of the Sellersburg Church of Christ, Sellersburg, IN.




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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

2 corinthians 1:3-4