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The Magi's Quest (Matthew 2:1-12)

December 2, 2012 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Journey to Bethlehem

Topic: Matthew Passage: Matthew 2:1–2:12


Journey to Bethlehem

The Magi’s Quest

Matthew 2:1-12

December 2nd, 2012

Way of Grace Church

I. Can You Identify?

Has there ever been a character in a book or in a movie or on TV, a character about whom you thought to yourself, “I can really identify with that character”?

I’m sure you’ve felt that way at some point. I know I have. Whether it’s because a character is from a similar place or culture, or has gone through or is going through difficulties similar to our own difficulties, or maybe he or she thinks like we would like to think we think, or because they share with us the same passions and goals…whatever the reason, being able to identify with a particular character can make all the difference in terms of what we walk away with; in terms of a story’s impact on us.

Well, the story I’d like to look at this morning is not one you’ll find in the bestseller section at Barnes & Nobles; it’s not a story you’ll find in a blockbuster film.

It’s the story we find in Matthew 2:1-12. Turn there and look with me at this passage.

II. The Passage: “For We Saw His Star” (2:1-12)

Listen to this story and ask yourself, “Can I, do I, identify with the characters described here?”

2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men [literally, Magi]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.

This morning we begin a new teaching series in which we, like these Magi, will begin a Journey to Bethlehem.

No, there is no tour bus chartered. There is no airplane or boat reserved. The Journey to Bethlehem is a journey of faith. It is a quest for Christ the King. It’s about seeking Him. It’s about knowing Him. It’s about worshiping Him.

Have you ever thought about the fact that the figurines of the nativity represent real people who lived lives just like ours? Yes, they spoke a different language, wore different clothes, and lived in a different culture. But like us, they too were just human beings looking for answers, for meaning, for hope in the face of life’s difficulties.

And so, since the Bible is God’s word to us, their journey is our journey. What does God want us to learn from them?

III. The Magi as a Mirror

One of the most important questions for us to ask as we consider this story is, “Can I identify with these men?” At first glace, our answer is typically “no”. But God wants us to be able to see the Magi as a mirror, a mirror in which we see our story reflected back. What exactly do I mean? Well, let’s look back at this passage.

1. The Magi Were Living in Darkness

The first thing we learn is that the Magi were living in darkness.

Now when I say they were living in darkness, I don’t mean they couldn’t afford candles or lamps. I mean they were living in spiritual darkness. How do we know that?

Well, the term Magi itself tells us that. Even though these guys are sometimes called wise men or kings, neither is a correct translation of the word that Matthew has chosen to use here. In Greek, he calls them magoi, or as we render it, magi.

Who or what are magi. Well the magi were originally a priestly group that flourished in the Persian Empire, some 500 years before the time of Christ. By the time of Christ, the term Magi was used to anyone who possessed some kind of secret knowledge or unnatural powers. In Acts 13, the word is translated sorcerer.

But here, these Magi seem less like sorcerers and more like ancient astrologers, for we’re told that they knew the night sky well enough to know when a new star appeared.

These Magi were probably followers of some form of a religious system that still exists today among about 140,000 members in Iran and India. It is called Zoroastrianism.

So when I say that these Magi were living in darkness, I’m simply pointing out that as Magi, these men believed in a whole host of ideas that ran contrary to what God had revealed about himself to the Israelites.

As Magi, they were not devoted to the true God; they were devoted to some form of false knowledge and false power that characterized all Magi.

Can you identify with this? Was there a time in your life, or maybe that time is now, when your trust was in your own knowledge and ability, instead of trusting in God, in His power and what He has revealed?

You don’t have to be one of the Magi to live in spiritual darkness. God’s word tells us that all of us are born in this darkness. We are born looking to anything and everything BUT the true God. Like many back then, today many people still look to the stars in the sky for guidance.

But thankfully, the story of these Magi takes us in a different direction.

2. The Magi were called and drawn by God.

But look back with me at the first two verses of this chapter:Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men [Magi]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.”

Something happened with these men; something they did not initiate. They saw a star, a new star that rose in the western sky and it led them to Jerusalem. And so the second thing we learn about these Magi is that they were called and drawn by God.

In the midst of their spiritual darkness God brought them the light of a star. They could have remained lost in their darkness, unaware of Christ’s birth, were it not for the fact that God, in His mercy, chose to reveal this to them.

What’s more, the fact that these men were able to connect this star with the Jewish messiah reveals that either God directly revealed this to them, or that He brought people into their lives, maybe Jews who were, hundreds of years after their exile, still living in Persia or Babylonia. Maybe it was these Jews who told them about the promise of a Messiah.

What drives this home even more is the way God got their attention. What better way to draw these stargazers to Himself than to lead them with a star! They were gripped by grace, even when they were looking in the wrong direction. They were looking to be led by the stars and God mercifully came to lead them to new life.

Can you identify with these Magi? Has God graciously intervened in your life? Yeah, He might have used people or situations to do this, but if you are a follower of Christ, if you have a relationship with God through Jesus, then you need to recognize that all of it is of God.

Just like the Magi, we cannot claim any responsibility for our new life in Christ. We weren’t looking in the right direction. God reached into our darkness with His light. As Paul said in I Corinthians 1:30…because of him [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption…

If we do not recognize that it is God who called us and has drawn us to Himself, we will not give him the thanks and praise He deserves, AND, we will be tempted to depend on our own wisdom and strength, even as we seek to do His will.

3. The Magi were committed to their quest.

Now, if we stop and think about the Magi’s journey, I believe we will realize that, thirdly, the Magi were committed to their quest.

We don’t know exactly where these men started from, but coming from the East, the best guesses are either Persia or Babylonia. Either way, by camel or horseback this journey would have taken many months of travel. Add to this the cost involved, the threats from the elements, the threat of robbers on the roads, and maybe, most stressful of all, the uncertainty of where exactly you’re going and whether or not you will find what you’re looking for.

And so it’s not a stretch to conclude that these Magi were committed to their quest to find this newborn king.

Can you identify with this? If the grace of God, if His mercy has called you out of your spiritual darkness, and of the light of His word and His Spirit are leading you, are you committed to the quest?

The journey to Bethlehem, the quest for Christ, is never easy. And that’s because it requires going against the flow of this world.

Don’t you think the Magi were tempted to stay in the comfortable, to stay in the familiar? If you’re like me, that’s always the temptation. All of us know that growing spiritually will require us to take some uncomfortable steps. Real growth is always uncomfortable.

But, like the Magi, if we recognize the goal of our journey, we will gladly endure the struggles in order to gain Jesus Christ and the life, joy, and strength that we find only in Him.

4. The Magi were still prone to look earthward.

But if we look back at our passage in Matthew 2, we detect that even though these men stayed the course, fourth point, the Magi were still prone to look earthward.

What do I mean? Well if you look back at verses 2 and 9, it seems clear that this star was really leading them. It was not just a distant reference point that gave some general direction. No, this star doesn’t seem to be a typical star. It seems to be a supernatural manifestation that God was using to direct these men.

But, but…if the star was leading them to Jesus, how did these men end up in Jerusalem?

Well we don’t know for certain, but my guess is that when these men got close, they stopped watching the sky and started using their own reasoning to get them to the new king. They might have said, “Where else would the king of the Jews be but in Jerusalem?”

But as they discovered, they were wrong. God’s word to the prophet Micah about 700 years earlier had revealed Bethlehem, about five or six miles south of Jerusalem, as the location from which the Messiah would come.

Can you identify with the Magi in this way? Which of us has not been tempted to only go so far with God and then take over with our own reasoning? As Paul asked the Galatians, Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:3)

We often look to God for wisdom in relationships, at work, as parents, with finances, but then we fail to look to God for the grace and strength to live in light of His wisdom.

This morning, God is encouraging us not to get ahead of him, but to keep our eyes on His light and His leading and His word.

Notice in verse 10, that when they were once again led by God’s light, they were filled with joy. And not just any joy, but they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. Isn’t that the joy you want in your life? It IS that good when we are led by God’s word and His grace in Christ.

5. The Magi’s goal was to worship Jesus as king.

In fact, the fifth thing we learn about the Magi reveals the source of this joy (v. 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.

Notice that Jesus is in a house here. Based on the time the Magi give Herod about the appearance of the star, this could be up to two years after Jesus’ birth. But we see very clearly here that the Magi’s number one goal was to worship Jesus as king.

Their goal was not to come with balloons and say, “Hey congratulations!” They weren’t their to take pictures with the baby. No. They were there for one reason. They left the comforts of home and endured the journey in order to worship the new king.

I think this is the main idea that Matthew wants to communicate by including this story in His Gospel. He has just shown in chapter one that Jesus is descended from the kingly line of David, and now he confirms Jesus’ identity with this story about foreigners coming to worship Jesus as king.

And look at how they worship. We are told that they fall down before Him, and then offer Him tribute; they offer to him very valuable gifts, gifts fit for a king.

But these men were not concerned about their treasure, about what they were giving up. They were consumed with Jesus.

Can you identify with this goal? Is your goal to worship Jesus Christ as king? Is your life focused on coming to Christ and kneeling before Him and giving over to Him everything of value that you possess, for His honor?

In a culture where the Christmas season is too often about my wants and what I can get, we need to see that God is calling us, through the Magi’s example, to make this season, to make our lives all about the worship of Jesus as king.

Oh you can ‘worship’ Jesus as other things, and not as king. He can become a genie in a bottle, the one we go to only when we need something. He can become that good buddy or life coach, the one we turn to when we’re looking for some affirmation and encouragement.

But if we are truly to worship Christ, we must worship Him as king. And the true test of whether or not we are doing this is whether or not we are, like the Magi, offering up our treasure for Christ’s honor. Are we giving what is most precious to us for Jesus? Our time, our talents, our treasure? Our goals? Our future? Are we giving Him our hearts?

IV. Recipient of Your Worship or Rival to Your Throne

The fact of the matter is that all of us, everyone in this world, should be able to see themselves in this story. Either the Magi will be a mirror, reflecting back your own story of God’s grace, or you will be represented by another character in this story.

King Herod was well aware of the promise of a coming king. You see, Herod was called the king of the Jews, and a new king would directly threaten his own throne. But he was not technically even a Jew. And his only claim to the throne came from Rome.

But as we see in 2:16-18, and as is confirmed by sources outside of the Bible, Herod was a man willing to do anything to protect his throne. Herod was willing to slaughter countless children in an attempt to kill this newborn Messiah. He spoke of praise, but his real motive was protection…protecting His own illusion of control.

Who is Jesus to you? Is he a recipient of your worship or a rival to your throne?

What kind of a humility is required to come and lay yourself down in front of a baby? The one thing that Herod and the Magi have in common is that they knew who Christ was; that He was a king who demanded complete allegiance.

Who or what will be the source of your joy this Christmas? I pray that you can identify with these Magi because your life, like theirs, has been touched by the grace of God. If not, I pray that He will do this in you this morning.

So when you see a nativity scene this season, remember the Magi’s quest. And be encouraged to make that journey yourself, that journey to bow at the feet of Jesus Christ the King.

More in Journey to Bethlehem

December 23, 2012

Mary's Gift (Luke 1:26-38)

December 23, 2012

How a Baby Saved the World (John 1:1, 14)

December 16, 2012

Joseph's Decision