Matthew2v1to12: THE WISE MEN


Mt1v23 "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" - which means, "God with us".

We can discern four things about the wise men from the account:

(a) They were called magi - a name derived from the Persian word, magus or magupate. This, perhaps, signifies that they were more like magicians than wise men.

(b) A Persian word suggests a Persian origin. Matthew tells us the Magi came from the east. The Magi told Herod that Christ's star had appeared in the sky about two years before their arrival in Jerusalem. We can deduce this from the fact that Herod ordered the execution of all the baby boys under two years of age in Bethlehem and its vicinity. I think it very unlikely that the Magi set off as soon as they saw Christ's star. They may have needed to do research and consult others before setting off. The wise men may also have preferred to visit the future king as a young child than as a baby.

(c) If the Magi were of Persian origin it is possible they belonged to the priestly caste of the Zoroastrian religion. This ancient religion still has its devotees in Iran and India. Zoroastrian priests were known to use astronomical observations to forecast the future and to interpret events. They were both astronomers and astrologists. Somehow they associated - correctly - the arrival of a new bright star in the heavens with the birth of the king of the Jews. Nor was it the birth of just any old king but one of superlative worth because the Magi were intent on worshipping him.

(d) The Magi were both wealthy and influential. They were influential because they secured an audience with Herod the Great while the treasure they brought Jesus signified great wealth.

I want to look at what the Magi did for Jesus. It will be a reminder of what we, his subjects, should do for him today.

(1) The Magi travelled a long way to see Jesus.

The Magi travelled many hundreds of miles because they considered the new born king was worth the effort.

Edward F Markquart, the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Seattle visited their sister church in the mountains of Haiti as guest of Pastor Berjae. On the last full day of his visit Pastor Berjae disappeared. He left his home at 4am to walk to Kais the nearest small town. The round trip took 16 hours and involved walking on goat tracks for at least part of the way in darkness. Pastor Berjae went to buy a farewell present for Edward Markquart. It was only a simple painting of large trees, a stream and two colourful Haitian women carrying water pots on their heads. Pastor Markquart has the painting on the wall of his office. It is not a great picture and is worth very little. The value of the gift resides in the effort his friend Pastor Berjae made to get it.

This is true of a lot of presents. The important thing is the effort behind the gift. We have to ask ourselves how far we would walk for Jesus? How much effort do we expend for him? Three times a year I distribute our church newssheet round the village in which our chapel is located. This is one of my better gifts to Jesus. Spinal stenosis makes my back ache and I cannot accomplish the task without significant discomfit.

The Magi were helped on their journey of faith in three ways:

(a) They had one another. It is always easier to make the effort alongside others. In the 1930s an American guy drove his Ford motor car into a ditch. He arranged for a local farmer to pull him out. The farmer brought along an old horse called Buddy to perform the task. Once the horse had been harnessed to the car the farmer called out: "Pull Nellie; pull Buster; pull Coco; pull Buddy - pull, pull, pull." The car was pulled out of the ditch.

The car owner was intrigued. "Why," he asked, "Did you urge Nellie, Buster and Coco to pull?" The farmer replied, "Buddy's blind and if he thought he was the only one pulling he wouldn't try."

I can imagine the Magi encouraging one another as they made the arduous journey to see Jesus. We need to encourage others in the work. Today I spoke about God's promise to his people, "I will be as the dew unto Israel." Most of the small congregation expressed their appreciation - an encouragement to keep on preaching.

(b) They took advice. The Magi reached Jerusalem and then began to ask around: "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?" Mt2v2. Herod's spies soon reported the disturbing news to their master. After taking soundings of scholars in Jerusalem Herod sent for the Magi and told them that according to their sacred writings a special king was going to be born in Bethlehem.

There may be times we flag on the long pilgrimage to the Promised Land. On such occasions the best place to look for guidance is God's word. The apostle Paul suffered much for the sake of the gospel but he could write to Timothy: I am not ashamed because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. 2Tim1v12. These words inspired the hymn of Daniel W Whittle:

          I know not what of good or ill
          May be reserved for me,
          Of weary ways or golden days
          Before his face I see.

          But I know Whom I have believed: and
          am persuaded that He is able to keep
          that which I've committed unto Him
          against that day.

(c) They followed the star. As the Magi drew near to the end of their journey the star they had seen in the east appeared again until it stopped over where the child was. Mt2v9.

This often happens when a person is near the end of their journey TO faith; God provides special help. This was true for Augustine. He was still in some perplexity of mind about the way of salvation when standing in a garden he heard a child chanting over and over again: "Tolle, lege; tolle, lege; tolle, lege." The meaning was clear: "Take up and read, take up and read, take up and read." Augustine went indoors and opened Paul's epistle to the Romans at chapter 13. As he read Paul's admonition to the Romans (13v14): Rather, clothe yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, he was made aware of what he had to do for salvation. He gave himself to Jesus and relied on his righteousness alone.

(2) The Magi gave Jesus of their treasure.

The Magi's gifts were all valuable. They only gave the holy child gifts fitting for a king. So lets look at these gifts:

(a) Gold - the most precious of metals. Silver, brass, copper and iron would not do - only gold was good enough for the child king.

I wonder if we give Jesus our gold - our very best. We have plenty of opportunities to give of our best. I can think of lots of ways the folk who attend my small church give of their best: in the flower arrangements done by the ladies, in the lovely pastries Dennis a former baker makes for the chapel tea, in the expertise shown by Roger installing new kitchen units, in the singing of a song and making of a prayer.

God can use our best to bring blessing to others. I can remember my old friend and brother Peter Chaffey singing at his friend Dominic's funeral. His voice was well past its best. What a wonderful rich baritone voice he had in his prime. But on the occasion of Dominic's funeral something wonderful happened. God the Holy Spirit enabled him to sing with all his old verve, power and harmony. How it cheered my heart!

I always give of my best when I speak at a funeral. There are times when my best is enhanced by the Spirit - Jesus is honoured and many people are comforted.

(b) Frankincense - a gift fit for a priest.

Frankincense was an aromatic gum derived from the resin of the Boswellia tree. Twice a day a priest would burn it on the Temple altar to produce a sweet perfume to the Lord.

We burn our frankincense when we pray. Our daily prayers, in good times and bad, ascend to God as a fragrant offering. Perhaps, there are days when we only have a few granules to burn but God does not despise the shortest heart-felt intercession. In the words of the carol:

          Vainly we offer each ample oblation -
          Vainly with gifts would His favour secure;
          Richer by far is the heart's adoration -
          Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

It is a pity that we experience such difficulty giving to Jesus our frankincense:

          Were half the breath thus vainly spent
          To heaven in supplication sent
          Your cheerful song would oftener be,
          Hear what the Lord has done for me!

The red coals needed to ignite the frankincense can grow cold. The embers of our faith, hope and love smoulder fitfully. They can be fanned by the Holy Spirit to glow again or maybe it is a case of bringing to them the bellows of the will to make them flame anew. Then, hot and joyous, our prayers will rise like fragrant fumes to Christ above.

(c) Myrrh is a gift for the suffering servant.

Myrrh is another gum or resin obtained from the commiphora tree. In the time of Christ it was three times more valuable than gold by weight. Myrrh was often burned at funerals. It produced a bitter aroma that masked the sweet smell of decay.

We make an offering of myrrh to Jesus whenever we share in his suffering. When we:

  • Suffer rejection, disappointment and failure - but keep right on to the end of the road.

  • Suffer poverty and insecurity as many do for the sake of the gospel. Paul wrote to the Philippians: I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. Ph3v8.

  • Suffer the loss of friends, popularity, influence and respect for defending the Faith.

It is not easy to give God our myrrh. We prefer recognition to rejection, prosperity to poverty, security to insecurity and gain to loss.

To give Jesus our myrrh we have to take risks as he did - something highlighted in Stuart Kennedy's poem, 'He was a gambler too':

          And sitting down, they watched him there,
          The soldiers did:
          There, while they played with dice,
          He made his sacrifice,
          And died upon the Cross to rid
          God's world of sin.
          He was a gambler too, my Christ,
          He took his life and threw
          It for a world redeemed. And ere His agony was done,
          Crowning the day with its crimson crown,
          He knew that he had won.

Are we prepared to take risks for Jesus and to give him our myrrh or do we eagerly snatch greedily the benefits of Christianity and avoid the pain.

(3) The Magi gave Jesus themselves.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Mt2v11.

The response of the Magi to the little boy in that humble Bethlehem home was entirely appropriate because he was God's love gift to the world.

What a gift he is:

          Jesus my Shepherd, Husband, Friend
          My Prophet, Priest and King,
          My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End
          Accept the praise I bring.

What a gift he is - Jesus, mankind's one and only Saviour. If we give ourselves to him in repentance and faith he will give us eternal life. It is a contract sealed with his own precious, shed blood.

What a gift he is. At the great gathering of the ransomed in the summer land of love nothing will give us more pleasure than to sing this NEW SONG:

        Unto him who hath loved us and washed us from sin
        Unto him be the glory for ever! Amen.

On Friday December 18th in 2009 Bear Grylls the adventurer described how he and his family spend Christmas Day. After the Queen's Speech the presents are given out. Let him take up the account: We make sure that there is a pen and paper in everyone's hand so that they can write down which relation gave what. We have a saying that a present isn't yours until you have written to say thank you - I think that is important.

Christmas is about gratitude for all our blessings, not least because on that day the Son of Man was born, and He came to heal, mend and unite us.

The Magi showed their gratitude to God for his indescribable gift by worshipping Jesus. There is only one way to respond to God giving himself in love and that is to give ourselves to him in love. It is what the Magi did. It is what we too should do: WORSHIP THE NEW BORN KING.