The Wise Men
Welcome to Living Word, and welcome to Christmas. I love this time of year, and one of my favorite things about Christmas is the decoration. I love seeing towns and houses and churches decked out celebrating the birth of our savior. It says to me that it is Christmas. It is for me a Sign, that it is Christmas. And today we are going to begin a series called Signs of Christmas and examine those things that point to the Christmas and the birth of Christ
The Wise Men - interrupting birth....but wait there’s myrh
And as we examine the wise men I want to turn first to scripture and read Matthew chapter 2 verses 1-10
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, 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.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “ ‘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.’ ” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 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.” 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. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.
Here In the Gospel of Matthew, we find the only reference in the Bible to the wise men who come looking for Jesus. Isn’t that odd.....they are in every Christmas story we tell in popular culture, but only here in Matthew. Why???
While this may be strange to us as modern readers, keep in mind that the four Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, all had specific ideas they wanted to impart to their audiences. Matthew was most likely writing to Jewish Christians and interested Jews, as the Gospel pulls from many Old Testament prophecies to explain who Jesus is. Encyclopaedia Britannica notes, “Numerous textual indications point to an author who was a Jewish Christian writing for Christians of similar background. The Gospel According to Matthew consequently emphasizes Christ’s fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies (5:17) and his role as a new lawgiver whose divine mission was confirmed by repeated miracles”
Many Bibles translate the Greek word magi to mean “wise men.” There is usually a footnote attached to it. Magi is a term used for a class of priestly men out of Persia. Note how Matthew 2:1 uses the term “wise men from the east.”
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,
This sect of men was not new to Persia; they also show up in the book of Daniel. In fact if we look at Daniel 5:11 we find out that Daniel was appointed as the head of all the Magi at one time
There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers,
In Persia, these men functioned as philosophers, astronomers, advisers, and teachers, all in service to the king.
Knowing this, it is less mysterious why Matthew includes this narrative in his Gospel. Matthew begins his Gospel for a Jewish audience with the royal genealogy of Jesus. In the story of the magi, he shows that gentile “king-makers” recognize the true King of the Jews. Robert Hampshire writes, “Because of their knowledge and influence, they also served as political advisors and even ‘kingmakers’—which is a very interesting connection considering that the Book of Matthew (that presents Jesus as the rightful king in the line of Judah) is the only gospel account that mentions this story”
In church tradition, the oldest Christian feast after Easter and Christmas is Epiphany, also known as Theophany or Three Kings Day. Epiphany—from the Greek word epiphaneia, which means “manifestation”—commemorates the “first manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi, and the manifestation of his divinity, as it occurred at his baptism in the Jordan River and at his first miracle, at Cana in Galilee”. Most Western churches celebrate Epiphany on January 6, twelve days after Christmas.
The star that the magi followed, this star of Bethlehem, is not a random detail that Matthew decided to add into the narrative.
Recall the story of Balaam and his talking donkey in Numbers. Balaam was a gentile diviner, and he was being paid to curse the Israelites. After his donkey refused to help in this endeavor and actually spoke to Balaam, however, Balaam did not curse the Israelites; instead, he began to prophesy blessings over them (see Numbers 22–24).
The prophecy contained in Number 24:17 was important to the Israelites and the early Christians.
I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.
Balaam’s prophecy was quoted often in the Qumran scrolls, found in 1947, and depictions of Balaam and his star are seen on the walls of the early Christian catacombs. In the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome is a slab covering the grave of a person named Severa, and on this slab is a depiction of the three magi bringing gifts to the baby Jesus and his mother. Behind Mary and Jesus, pointing to a star, is Balaam.
Balaam, a gentile, prophesied the star that would lead to the king, and it was gentiles who observed the star and followed it. God calls all people to himself. His call to the gentiles to follow Jesus the Messiah came as early as the star of Bethlehem.
The wise men followed a star to find the Messiah, the Savior. They followed a sign that led them to the very first celebration fo Christmas, to the advent or the coming of Christ here on earth. Body of Christ I want to ask you a question today....what signs is God giving you today of His coming?