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Magi: Adoration and Worship

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When I mention Mona Lisa, The Scream, and Impression, Sunrise, what comes to mind? If you thought, “They’re all famous paintings,” you’re correct. They actually have a couple of other things in common. The first is that they’re all considered to be tremendously valuable—you might even call them treasures of art. The second thing is that the originals were all at some point stolen. Next Slide
Mona Lisa was painted by Leonardo da Vinci in the sixteenth century. In 1911, a museum worker walked out the Louvre with the Mona Lisa under a smock. He later expressed that he thought the masterpiece belonged in Italy instead of France. Two years later, the thief was caught trying to sell the painting.[1]
Next Slide
The Scream by Edvard Munch was painted in the early 1900s. In 2004, The Scream was ripped off a museum wall by armed robbers. Fortunately, it was recovered and restored.[2]
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Impression, Sunrise was painted by Claude Monet in the late 1800s. In 1985, armed robbers stormed the Marmottan Museum in Paris and took the painting. It was recovered by French police five years later.[3]
So all 3 of these treasured paintings was at one time a stolen treasure.
As we are closing in on Christmas, I wanted to remind you of what an amazing and precious treasure the first Christmas brought. As our planning, preparation, and commitments reach a fevered pitch in these last few days before the holiday, I don’t want the real treasure of Christmas to be stolen out from under you. If we are not careful, all the things that pack our schedules at this time of the year have a way of:
Next Slides
Stealing the Season.
The point of Christmas, after all, is that God came to dwell with us so that we could dwell with Him forever. As John reminds us in the first chapter of his Gospel, that: Next Slide
John 1:1 & 14
John 1:1 ESV
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

When you think of the enormity of God, the complexity of His creation, and the majesty of His glory, this effort for our salvation is beyond comprehension. Why would God go to such lengths to restore us to Himself? The answer, of course, is found in His nature. It’s found in the one word God uses to describe Himself in
1 John 4:8
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1 John 4:8 ESV
8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
So with Christmas nearly upon us, I wanted to help us preserve and protect the real treasure and meaning of the holiday by looking at the account of the Magi. In the short account in Matthew 2 (page 1026 in the Pew Bibles)centered on the Magi’s worship of Jesus, we see three very different responses to this wonderful event. Next Slide
Three Different Responses to the Birth of Jesus in Matthew 2.
King Herod, the teachers of the law, and the Magi all take a different approach to the events of Jesus’s birth.
The meaning and the power of the event are lost and stolen for Herod and the Pharisees. But the Magi’s approach of worship is the proper response to what God did that night. When we consider that night was the culmination of hundreds and even thousands of years of prophecy, when we consider that God went to these great lengths for you, when we remember that Jesus did indeed save us from our sins, what else can we do? If we follow the Magi’s example, we’ll find that the power, wonder, and meaning of the holiday will not be wasted on us or stolen from us! With these thoughts in mind, let’s start by looking at: Next Slides
Response # 1: Enter the Wise Men.
If you’ve heard the account of the Magi—or the wise men—many times, the image in your mind may not line up with the Bible. Before we begin looking at these different responses, let’s get the actual picture that the Bible paints. If you have your Bible with you, open it to Matthew 2. Let’s see what the Bible says in Matthew 2:1–12 as we take a look at all three of these reactions to the amazing events of Christmas:
“2 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 saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.’ 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the Child, and when you have found Him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship Him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the Child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
Despite what many of us sing every year, you’ll notice that the Magi weren’t kings and that the Bible doesn’t say how many of them there were. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary tells us that, In later centuries down to New Testaments times, the term [Magi] loosely covered a wide variety of men interested in dreams, astrology magic, books thought to contain mysterious references to the future, and the like.[4] So instead of kings, these individuals were likely highly educated men skilled in astrology and astronomy. Some believe they got their start from a Eastern priestly group of people, going back to the time of the Babylonian Empire.
I’m going to tell you what many scholars believe to be the history of the Magi so you will have a little better idea of why this mornings passage, and the story of the Magi in Matthew 2 is so significant. In Scripture, we first see the Magi in Daniel 2. They were a part of the list of individuals we see in Daniel 2:2 of wise men King Nebuchadnezzar assembled to first tell him what his dream was, and then give him the interpretation. We see them a few other times in Daniel also, in fact many scholars believe that Daniel, who became the wisest of the wise in the Babylonian Empire was a hug influence on them.
While they weren’t kings, they did become known as king makers. They were highly sought for their great wisdom and were called on repeatedly throughout the history of the Babylonian Empire and even into the Roman Empire for their great wisdom when it came to selecting kings and rulers. This is why they became known as king makers.
Now, many have wondered where they got their knowledge of the birth of the King of the Jews. As we read through Matthew 2, they specifically ask King Herod; “Where is He Who has been born king of the Jews?” Based on what I have read, this is where the story gets incredibly interesting. Bear with me a moment while I go back in time in Jewish history. Do you remember when King Nebuchadnezzar conquered the Nation of Judah? Well one of the things he took when he conquered Israel was virtually everything contained in the temple Solomon built. This would have included whatever they had at the time that was considered the Holy Scriptures. This was huge, by the way, because this accomplished at least 2 things, one is it preserved God’s Word. Had Nebuchadnezzar not done that, God’s Word would have been completely destroyed. The second thing it did was make God’s Word available to men like Daniel and later on Ezra and Nehemiah. And these men poured over God’s Word, but not only that, anytime they were able to they would teach the Scriptures to others. It is widely believed that this is one of the things that Daniel would do to any interested Magi that were around him at the time. As I mentioned earlier, they were also into astrology and astronomy. So, when they saw this mysterious light appear in the sky, they likely consulted things they had been taught and had recorded from the past, this would have likely included what they had been taught by Daniel centuries earlier. Through their research they find out about this Jewish King to be born. There are many scholars that believe these specific Magi had become followers of the One true God and knew that this was no ordinary King being born. As a result they made this several hundred mile journey to bow down and worship Him. That is what we see taking place in Matthew 2:11;
Matthew 2:11
Matthew 2:11 ESV
11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
In looking at this verse, I want us to pay special attention to 2 words; “fell down”. There is a specific picture Matthew wants us to have in our minds in reading these 2 words, that is that these Magi, the moment they saw this baby boy, fell down with their faces low to the ground and worshipped him. He goes on to write; “Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold, frankincense and Myrrh.
There are a couple things I want you to understand when we look t the gifts. The first is, this is likely why many believe there were 3 Magi. The truth is, there were probably many, but we will talk about that later. The second thing we need to understand is this, these gifts were not given in addition to their worship, they were given as a part of their worship. Just as we also give of our tithes and offerings, not in addition to our worship, but as a part of our worship.
As we finish our look at the first of the 3 responses in Matthew 2, let us be very careful to follow their lead in response to this Baby born in a manger.
This brings us to the next Cast of Characters in the Christmas Story as recorded in Matthew 2, the Chief Priests and Scribes. What we know of them and their response is: Next Slides
Response #2: They Should Know Better.
We see their response in Matthew 2:4–5. After encountering the Magi, Herod called the chief priests and the teachers of the law together and asked them where the Messiah was to be born. They shared the answer by quoting the prophet Micah, who in his prophecy pointed to Bethlehem about seven hundred years before Jesus was born there. But we never hear another thing about them again. Next Slide
Matthew 2:4-5
Matthew 2:4–5 ESV
4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
This is really interesting. The teachers of the law and the priests have just heard that the Messiah has been born, so they look at the Scriptures. In response, the ones who have dedicated their lives to God and the Scriptures, the ones who make their living from teaching about God’s law and His prophecies about the Messiah do nothing. They don’t investigate; they don’t search Him out. They just say, “He’s probably over that way somewhere.
I want you to picture something in your mind right now. Imagine out of the blue want day you get a phone call. You look on your caller ID and you see the name Peyton Manning. You practically drop you phone before you hit the answer button. As you answer the phone, it’s like puberty has set in all over again, your voice squeaks as you answer.
Helloooo
“Hey, this is Peyton Manning and I was given your number because I heard you were a huge fan of mine. Dad, Eli and I are coming to put on one of our quarterback camps at North Montgomery High School and we were wondering if you knew of a place we could stay while we put on the camp.”
Being a huge fan of his you respond by telling him that the nicest place around here is the Hampton Inn by Interstate 74. After the call ends you get back to work, get back to your business as usual, and forget it. We both know that is not at all how the call would go down. I mean if he called me, Pam and I would be sleeping on an air mattress in the unfinished basement and they’d be using the other rooms. And the meals we’d feed them! But before they showed up, we’d be contacting everyone we knew letting them know who was staying at our house. When it came time for the quarterbacks camp, the crowds would be lined up to see the Mannings! There will be no business as usual.
Yet look at what we read in Matthew 2:4-5 (should still be on the screen)
And after this we never here from them again in the story of the birth of their Messiah. How is this possible? How is it possible that these men, who were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the Jewish Nation heard that the long awaited Messiah had finally come to earth? Yet we read in John 1:11; Next Slide
John 1:11
John 1:11 ESV
11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
If you are here this morning and especially if you have been here the other 3 weeks, and have been reading through the Advent Devotionals each family received, you probably know more about the birth of Jesus than 80% of the people in Montgomery County. You know that God showed up on Christmas so we can know Him and have relationship with Him. Don’t let your familiarity with the story or your focus on new knowledge steal the treasure of Christmas from your heart. Follow the lead of the Magi, not the lead of the spiritual leaders who should have known better.
That brings us to the next response we see in Matthew 2: Next Slides
Response # 3: Herod the Hater.
Let’s look at another response to the first Christmas. In Matthew 2:3, we learn that when King Herod heard that the Magi had come to worship the One who had been born King of the Jews, he was disturbed. Next Slide
Matthew 2:3
Matthew 2:3 ESV
3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;
Herod was paranoid and power hungry. History tells us that he killed his own two sons because he was jealous of and threatened by their power. True to form, Herod pretended that he wanted to worship Jesus, but we see later in the chapter that his plan was to try to kill the Messiah.
Herod’s response to Christmas is an extreme example of self-preservation and fighting for the status quo—the exact opposite of the worship of the Magi. Herod treats the news of Christmas in the same way he responds to any threats of his power—he tries to eliminate it. He even feigns interest in worship so that he can maneuver for the upper hand.
While few of us would actively fight against the Messiah, there is a little Herod in most of us that we need to guard against. It’s the part of us that takes from the glory of Jesus in this season by putting our traditions above our worship. It’s the part of us that elevates our expectations above the needs of others. Whenever we demand that things go our way in the holiday above what God might be doing or what others need, we make a similar mistake to the one King Herod made on the first Christmas.
I love Christmas traditions, but we all need to allow God to adjust our plans however He’d like. Many followers of Jesus start their celebration on Christmas Day by serving others through visiting a nursing home or serving breakfast at a shelter. There’s no requirement to do this, and please don’t feel guilty if this isn’t part of your plan. I do want to encourage you, however, to allow God to interrupt your plans if He so desires. Part of worship is allowing God to have His way even when it collides with our preferences or expectations. Herod was so concerned with keeping control that he not only missed the greatest blessing in history, but he fought directly against it. Next Slide
A Wise Example.
As we consider our preparation and response to the wonder of Christmas, let’s consider the example of the Magi. When they saw the Child with his mother, they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
We may not have gold frankincense, and myrrh to give to Him, but there is one thing all of us can give to him this morning. I am going to play a song for you that spells that one thing out clearly.
(Song-”I’ll Give Him My Heart”)
Will you join me in prayer?
[1] Richard Cavendish, “The Mona Lisa is Stolen from the Louvre,” History Today, August 8, 2011, https://www.historytoday.com/archive/months-past/mona-lisa-stolen-louvre.
[2] Kat Eschner, “The Mysterious Motives Behind the Theft of ‘The Scream,’” Smithsonian.com, August 22, 2017, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/mysterious-motives-behind-theft-scream-180964531.
[3] Associated Press, “A Stolen Monet Goes Back on Display,” New York Times, April 17, 1991, https://www.nytimes.com/1991/04/17/news/a-stolen-monet-goes-back-on-display.html.
[4] D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. F. E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 8:85.
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