Sunday, December 23, 2012

Matthew 2:1-12 - The Worship of the Wise Men

English: Adoration of the Wise Men by Murillo
Adoration of the Wise Men by Murillo (Wikipedia)
When we think of Christmas, we think of gifts.  But now gift buying has gone to a whole new level of craziness.  All I have to do is say two words: “Black Friday.”  Did you join the madness?  Gifts are a now part of the DNA of Christmas. There is a line from Little Women that says: “Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents.”  And that is true, isn’t it?  If you are not in the Christmas spirit, you really should come to our house – five little ones 7 and under – the air is electric with excitement, awash in adrenaline, on edge with anticipation. Christmas is almost here! We get a daily count down of days until Christmas every day at lunchtime.

Today we will talk about some gifts given to the Christ Child by the Wise Men, or the Magi. The Wise Men were not present at the birth of Jesus, in spite of the fact that many Christmas plays and manger scenes have them there. They came a number of months or even up to two years later. We know based on the Greek word for "child" in Matt. 2:8-9 and the time it would take to travel 900 miles from Persia to Jerusalem.  We know that they brought at least 3 kinds of gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  We know what they brought & why they came: to worship the new King. Today we want to talk about the worship of the Wise Men.

Key Truth: Matthew wrote Matthew 2:1-12 to encourage people through the example of the Magi to come to worship, seek to worship, and give to worship the newborn King. 
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about worshiping the King.
Pray and Read:  Matthew 2:1-12

Contextual Notes:
Before we get started, let’s The designation B.C. stands for “Before Christ,” and A.D. stands for the Latin “Anno Domini,” meaning “the year of our Lord.” Jesus’ Birth bifurcated history. Even today, though the academic community uses C.E. for “Common Era” and B.C.E for “Before Common Era,” it is still Jesus’ birth that marks the shift. You would think that Jesus was therefore born the year 1 A.D. But there is a problem. The problem is that our calendars are off just a bit. King Herod the Great died in 4 B.C., so Jesus could not have been born before 6 B.C.

The Magi Journeying
The Magi Journeying (Wikipedia)
Sermon Points:
1.   Come to Worship the Newborn King (Matt. 2:1-2)
2.   Seek to Worship the Newborn King (Matt. 2:3-8)
3.   Give to Worship the Newborn King (Matt. 2:9-12)

Exposition:   Note well,

a.   Matt. 2:1 – Where Matthew 2 opens, the time frame has moved two years past the birth of Jesus. The baby is now a child (Matt. 2:8, 10), and the family lives in a house in Bethlehem in Judea (Matt. 2:1), six miles south of Jerusalem.
b.   Matt. 2:1 – Magi: The Magi were pagan astrologers whose skills at divination were widely respected in the Greco-Roman world. Astrology was a popular pseudo-science in the East, and everyone agreed that the best astrologers lived in the East. The term Magi was originally used to refer to a priestly caste, a tribal group in ancient Persia. The famous Persian teacher Zoroaster was himself a Magi. They arose as a nation of priests in the Persian Empire from the time of the first emperor Cyrus & Artaxerxes I, about whom Isaiah predicts and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah write. They were leading figures in the religious court life of Persia, using astrology, diplomacy, and incantations to understand the present and the future.
c.   The Magi had had contact with the God of the Bible. The prophet Daniel was appointed head of the wise men in the Persian Empire at the time of the rise of the Magi. A century earlier, the Assyrian king Sargon settled large numbers of Israelites in Media (c. 730-728 B.C.). By the time of Christ seven centuries later, a large colony of Jews remained in the east, especially in Babylon, Parthia, and Arabia, so these Magi had been exposed to Judaism and its Scriptural prophecies of the Messiah. That trip would have been about 900 miles if they started from Babylon. It could have taken several months for them to make the trip. According to the Greek Orthodox Church, the Magi arrived in Jerusalem with a 1,000 man military escort, certainly a group that would be noticed by the Roman military, the Herodian regime, and the people.
d.   APPLICATION: Remember that when Adam and Eve sinned, they were sent out of the Garden of Eden to the east. When Cain murdered Abel, he was sent east. When Abraham was called, God called him out of the East (Gen 12:1), and there seems a real parallel here – a wise, powerful man from the East to whom God appeared and revealed His glory (Acts 7:2). This revealing of God’s glory brought Abraham out of the East to the Promised Land because he responded in faith (Rom 4:3). Like Abraham, the Magi left their home in search of the One whose coming had been revealed to them. Remember also that in Matthew 28:18-20 we find the Great Commission, Jesus’ command for each of us to go and make disciples of every nation, every ethne, every ethnic group. Here in Matthew 2 we have an ethnic group, a nation of priests, coming out of the East, to worship the Messiah. For the first time in the New Testament, Gentiles, having received a message from God, accepted it and responded to it in faith. Our God is a missionary God!
e.   Matt. 2:2 – Where is the one born king of the Jews? In the first century, there was an expectation in much of the world for a ruler to arise out of Judea. The pagan historian Suetonius wrote, “Throughout the whole of the East there had spread an old and persistent belief: destiny had decreed that at that time men coming forth from Judea would rule the world.” Israel’s prophets had long spoken about a period of world peace and prosperity to be instituted by a future Davidic deliverer (Ezek. 34:23-31).
f.    Matt. 2:2 – We saw his star in the east: (literally, “We saw his star rising”). What star? The word for star (aster), has a range of meaning which includes star, constellation, meteor, and comet. Bible scholars have suggested several possibilities for the Christmas star of Bethlehem:
                    i.        An Astronomical Event: In fact, when you run the astronomical tables, there were events in the heavens which could have been interpreted as auspicious. One of the best known comes from the great astronomer Kepler who observed that there was an unusual conjunction of planets three times of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation Pisces. He calculated that it occurred on May 27, 7 B.C. Jupiter[1], representing a king, conjoined with Saturn, representing the Jews, in the constellation Pisces, representing the Holy Land. In 6 B.C., Mars, representing a warrior, joined the conjunction. In other words, their observation told them that a king of the Jews had been born in the Holy Land. Related to that was a supernova recorded by the trustworthy Chinese and Korean astronomers in February 5 B.C., which agrees with the approximate date of the birth. Under this scheme, the star appeared to move because the Magi were on the move. Thus the idea is that the conjunction alerted the Magi to a supernatural event, and the supernova triggered their journey to Jerusalem.
                  ii.        A second suggestion is that it was a supernatural phenomenon. That would explain how the star appears and reappears to direct the Magi to the house Jesus and his family were occupying (Matt 2:9). It would also explain how the star moved. Regular stars don’t do that. Bethlehem is only about ten miles from Jerusalem. Unless the star was no more than a mile high, it would not appear to move. Perhaps the star was an angel sent to guide the Magi just as an angel was sent to Mary, Joseph, and Zechariah. It is likely the star was the Shekinah Glory, the Presence of God, as in the pillar of fire and cloud in the Wilderness (Exod 13:21-22).
g.   Through the Jewish community still in Babylon and their Scriptures, the Magi may have become familiar with Balaam’s prophecy, “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel: (Num 24:17), a prediction that was generally understood to point to a Messianic figure who would deliver His people.
h.   Matt. 2:2 – Have come to worship Him: The magi came to worship the toddler king. Perhaps they didn’t understand all the theological implications, nor had all the doctrine exactly right about the God-Man, but they were there to worship Him.
a.   Matt 2:3 – Herod was disturbed: Many rulers feared astrological signs of their demise. Even if they were not concerned about the signs themselves, they would have been concerned about the people who believed the signs. Roman emperors banished astrologers from Rome who made such predictions. Nero once slaughtered a large group of nobles in the hope that their demise (rather than his own) would fulfill the prediction caused by a comet’s appearance. Herod was paranoid because he knew his throne over the Jews was illegitimate because he wasn’t even a Jew. He was an Idumean. Only a little earlier than the visit of the Magi, Herod, out of fear that someone from his family might supplant him, had his own beautiful Hasmonean princess and his two favorite sons Alexander and Aristobulus murdered. Despite Herod’s constant attempts to gain the Roman Caesar Augustus’ favor, Augustus said about this time that he would rather be Herod’s hog (hus) than be his son (huios), for he would have a better chance at life. Not only that, but because of prior invasions from the east, Herod had a fear of attack from the east. The arrival of the magi with what the Eastern Church says was a 1000-man military escort must have concerned Herod, especially with talk of another King of the Jews, this one actually a Jew.
b.   Matt. 2:4 – The chief priests and teachers: Herod called in the Jewish religious leadership who would have been afraid of his murderous paranoia. He had already destroyed the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, once before when he feared their power. Herod wants to know where a King might be born. He seems to have no knowledge whatsoever of the contents of Scripture. And unfortunately, these chief priests and religious leaders of the Jewish people don’t seem to have any interest in the Messianic fulfillments of their own Scriptures. They are too involved in religious activity and fearful of Herod even to investigate the fulfillment of the prophecy. Here the religious teachers who knew the most (Matt 2:5) failed to act on the truth, while pagan Magi who would not be expected to come to the Messiah were determined to find him.
c.   APPLICATION: It is remarkable that the religious leadership, those who study the Scripture and are involved in religious activity constantly would have no motivation either positively (Matt 2:11) nor negatively (Matt 2:16). The successors of that same Jewish leadership later sought Jesus’ execution (Matt 26:3-4, 57). It seems that the line between taking Jesus for granted and crucifying Him is very thin. Are you seeking the Lord this Christmas season?
d.   Matt 2:5-6 – In Bethlehem in Judea: The prophet Micah had predicted Bethlehem as the birthplace of the future Messiah (Micah 5:2), and it was a fairly well known expectation (John 7:42). The small village of Bethlehem was the home of Ruth and Boaz and the birthplace of King David. The Messiah would be a descendant of David
3.   GIVE TO WORSHIP THE KING (Matt. 2:9-12)
a.   Matt. 2:11 – They opened their treasures: Notice their posture of worship. First, in recognition of His Person, they bowed and worshiped Him. These pagan Magi realized that this Child was born to be King and had the right to rule. Second, they presented treasures befitting a King. The Gifts were important as a measure of hospitality and protocol when visiting royalty or a person of high status. For example, when Jacob sent his sons to Pharaoh’s representative to buy food, he sent gifts (Gen 43:11-12). The gold, frankincense, and myrrh were the tribute of the nations to One born a King and a recognition of His Royal Prerogative.
                    i.        Gold was a precious metal reserved for royalty. It denotes this Child as the King of Kings, the Great King.
                  ii.        Frankincense is derived from amber resin, and when burned it makes a sweet odor. It was used as a perfume (Song of Solomon 3:6; 4:6, 14), but in Israel it was used ceremonially for the only incense permitted at the altar (Exod 30:9, 34-38). It created appropriately a white smoke. Incense singles out this Child as our Great High Priest.
                iii.        Myrrh is a mixture of resin, gum, and oil myrrhol. It was used in incense (Exod 30:23), to perfume garments or as a stimulant (Mark 15:23), and to pack into the wrappings in the strips of cloth of the deceased to stifle the smell of decay (John 19:39). Myrrh sets apart this Child as the Great Sacrifice for Sin.
b.   Matt 2:12 – returned to their country by another route: Most kings reacted with hostility to potential challenges and astrological predictions of their demise. Being warned in a dream suggests the Magi, for all their secret wisdom, were a little naïve as to Herod’s designs. Most ancient peoples paid attention to special dreams (Matt 1:20), and the Greeks thought the Magi were specially trained in dream interpretation. The main road went back through Jerusalem, and with a large entourage, they could not travel through Jerusalem without being noticed. But there were other trade routes they could use around the Dead Sea or out along the Mediterranean coast to avoid Herod.

ZIBBCNT, 1:14-16.
Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Christ, 66-69.
Adrian Rogers via Kenyn Cureton sermon, 2012.
Craig Keener, 48-50.

[1] Jupiter rose on March 11, 7 B.C.