Three Kings (Sermon notes on the Biblical Magi)
We three kings be stealin' the gold...
I don't know why, but that line from Three Kings cracked me up. But this isn't a movie review. This is a recap of a sermon I gave on December 5, 2010, entitled "The Biblical Magi - Spirit of Giving and Grace"
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
6 ‘ But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have foundHim, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” 9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way. Matthew 2: 1-12
So, who were these strange men from the East?
Truth is, we have no idea. We have built up an entire narrative about these visitors, but what we know is actually very little.
We don't know who they were. We don't know where they came from. We don't even know how many of them there are.
We often refer the these visitors as the Three Kings, but we have no proof that they were kings, or evn that there were three of them. In fact, almost everything we supposedly know about them was written after the biblical account. Did you know that they traditionally even had names? Melchior, Caspar and Balthasar.
We do know some things. The Gospel of Matthew is the only one to even talk about them, which makes some sense, as Matthew was written to the Jews to show that Christ fulfilled the OT prophecies, so Matthew focused more on the infancy of Jesus than the other writers.
Matthew used the word magos to describe these visitors. The word literally means wise man, or sorcerer or magician. It was often used to describe astrologer-priest of the Zoroastrian religion, which was based in Persia. Those magi were well-know to use astrology, in other words, telling about current or future events by watching the movement of the stars.
We also know that when the say we saw a star “in the east” it's actually a bad translation into English. In the Greek, it actually says the saw a star “rising.” It is also likely that they were very familiar with the prophecies of Daniel, who had been considered a very wise man in Persia. And so, when the saw the star appear at the time Daniel had prophecied for the coming of the Messiah, they knew they had to travel to Jerusalem to see this King.
It was natural that they would expect all of the Jews to have seen the signs as well, and to be waiting in anticipation for the birth of their Messiah. They didn't know that the Jews had really fallen away from God.
- Three sects – Pharasees, Sadducees, Essenes.
- Herod was not really Jewish.
So they innocently came to Herod to find this King. Of course, Herod wanted to kill this usurper immediately. So he sends the visitors out with instructions to let him know where the King is.
When they arrive in Bethlehem, they find the baby. It might have been as much as two years after Jesus' birth. Matthew tells us they gave gifts of gold, Frankincense and Myhrr, and then worshipped the child. Then, they had a dream, where an angel told them not to return to Herod.
So that's what we know. But what does it tell us?
- We need to separate fiction from fact.
The entire Christmas narrative is filled with so much speculation, tradition and fokelore that it's hard to really figure out what happened and what didn't. We don't know what month Jesus was born in, but we do know where and when. We don't know how many wise men there were, or where they came from, but we do know that they came, and we do know that they brought gifts fit for a king, and that they worshiped Jesus as God.
We need to be diligent in seeking God's word. What does it tell us? How much of what we know is clutter, and how much is the true Word of God? Are we like the Thessolonicans, who just believe everything we are told, or are we like the Bereans who test what they are told against the Scripture?
- We don't have a lock on God
We think we know who God uses and who knows Him. But the scripture is full of unexpected people who are obedient to God: Melchiezedek, Job, Jethro. Sometimes these outsiders display more faith and humility than we do.
These men weren't Jewish. They didn't know God. But yet, they were willing to come great distances and give give gifts of great value to Jesus based on nothing more than their faith. We know God. How far are we willing to come to worship Jesus? How much are we willing to give?
- Sometimes those on the outside are more accepting of Christ than those on the inside.
When these magi came, they were expecting the religious rulers in Jerusalem to be seeking the Messiah. They had been told the prophecy and they believed in it wholeheartedly. You would think that the chief priests in Jerusalem would have been the first ones to Bethlehem, but it took strangers to go find Him. John 1:11 says “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.”
Is this a warning to us? Sometimes it seems that those outside of the church show more love than those inside the church. That those outside, though misguided, are willing to sacrifice more. (PETA, Greenpeace, etc...)
- The magi had amazing spiritual diligence.
Think about what it cost them to come worship Jesus. The time. The money. The danger. Leaving everything behind. Yet they pressed on. They came at great cost to worship Christ. Some of us grudgingly give a couple of hours on Sunday, and we don't even show up on time. Some of us – myself included – find it difficult to spend time every day in God's Word. Some of us refuse to share Christ with others. And some of us are perfectly willing to turn a blind eye to those in need, to the unwashed masses.
- The magi had great faith
They had no personal knowledge of God when they started their journey. All the religious leaders were unbelievers, but they pressed forth. And when the arrived, they found what? A small, poor child. There were no miracles, no healing, no deep teachings, no great wisdom. Yet they still fell down and worshiped Him! John 20: 29 says “Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and have still believed.” God delights in this kind of faith. Do yo know why this story is in the Bible? Because God is honoring the faith of these men! (Similarly, God honored the faith of Jabez in 1 Chronicles.)
- Just because we know things, doesn't mean we show grace.
One thing stands out in this story. It says that when Herod heard about the birth of the Messiah, he gathered all his priests and wise men together, and asked then where the Messiah was to be born, and they quoted Micah and said Bethelhem. But did any of them go? These strangers came in and told them that the messiah had been born, and not a single on of them sought out Jesus!!
Now, we know a lot here. We study, we pray, we seek God. We come to church on Sunday go to classes and sing songs and hear the word and KNOW GOD.
The maji fell down and worshiped God. And we need to as well. But what does that mean? How do we share the spirit of giving that these faithful men showed. Does Jesus want our gold? Does he want things?
No. I want you to think about this. Jesus told us very specifically how we get to heaven. He told us very cleary what to DO. He told us what to GIVE.
1 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy[c] angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ 41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ 44 “Then they also will answer Him,[d] saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” -Matthew 25:31-46
This is it, right here. It's about what we give, it's about what we do. It's about how we demonstrate our love to others. That's what worship is! It's not singing songs!
It's how we take the love that God showed us... that while we were sinners, He died for us... and how we turn that love around. That's what worship is.
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone among you[b] thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion isuseless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. -James 1: 22-27
That last verse has the word “religion” in it. Now, usually, the last thing we want is to be religious. But the word here is threskeia and it literally means “worshiping.”
So really, James was saying that the best kind of worship there is, worship that is completely free from any worldly influence, is when we take of those who are greatest need.
The following video was shown immediately following the sermon. Audio of this message can be found on the GLCC Sermon Audio Page. or on iTunes.