Travel Light (4) - The Search of the Magi
Welcome to all of you. We’re continuing the message series, Travel Light, looking at this familiar cast of characters surrounding our celebration of Christmas. And one of the reasons why I’m continuing this in January is because marketing and media would lead you to believe that Christmas begins the day after Thanksgiving and ends on Christmas day. But we know that Christmas was just the beginning, there is so much more, and yet the challenge that I struggle with in teaching the Christmas story is that it doesn’t fit on Christmas day. And so, I don’t want to dismantle your manger scenes or disrupt your celebrations, but now that the twelve days of Christmas are over with the ten lords a-leaping, eleven pipers piping, and a partridge in a pear tree; now that all that is behind us, I want to take you into a deeper reflection of the aftermath of those events in that stable in Bethlehem.
Instead of depending on Christmas carols for our information, or even what our contemporary culture says, I want to share with you the Word of God. I want to teach you what the Bible says about the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ. And this is important, because what I’ve discovered is that we tend to prepackage the Christmas story into this pretty little manger scene, but it wasn’t really that way on the first Christmas. In other words, like a Christmas pageant, we’ve compressed it all into a single scene with angels singing, shepherds looking on, and Magi worshiping, but the truth is that this was days, months, and even years happening.
And so, as we turn to the Gospel we find two different perspectives. Luke tells us about Christmas from the perspective, before Jesus was born, and Matthew from the perspective, after Jesus was born. And in spite of these two different perspectives, our perspective as we watch these characters walking through this must be to recognize that there was so much that they didn’t know. In other words, this wasn’t another rehearsal, this isn’t like running through the Christmas pageant one more time, and the director tells Mary to come up here and Joseph you just stand over there. And then, you shepherds watch from over there, and wise men you bow down over here. But it wasn’t like that, each of these characters in the Christmas story are walking through this blindly, walking through it in faith, without any idea of what is happening or how this is going to work out.
Now, you and I, we’ve already celebrated Christmas, and we’ve read through the announcement of the angel to Mary. We saw Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem and the sudden and surprise birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. We’ve been through the Christmas story with the revelation of angels, divine encounters with shepherds, and the Magi following this one star. And so, from our perspective we know what they went through, we know that its going to be worth it, because we’re reading this with the knowledge of how it ends up. But if we were walking through this ourselves, living by faith and not by sight, many of us would be self-medicating for anxiety.
I mean, just consider Joseph for a moment, he had to trust Mary, believing that it really was the Holy Spirit who got her pregnant. And then he had a dream where this angel appeared to him and confirmed that this child was in fact conceived by the Holy Spirit. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t put too much value in my dreams. And yet Joseph is living his life and making future plans based upon what was revealed to him in a dream. In other words, all he had to go on was what he saw in the dark, and yet he had the courage to walk it out in the light.
With that context, considering that perspective, Matthew tells us in his gospel, after Christmas,
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." When King Herod heard this, he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:1-3).
And it’s no wonder, because Herod did a lot of crazy stuff. You see, he was very insecure, because he was really just a puppet in the hands of the Roman government. He’d been appointed by Caesar Augustus to watch over the Jewish people, but he was a puppet king, and so he was very insecure in that position because he was powerless. Mentally he was very unstable and you just never knew when he would fly off the handle.
It’s in that context that we are introduced to the Magi, and you need to understand that this is our only information about the Magi in the Scriptures, because neither Mark, Luke, nor John mention them. Only Matthew tells us that Magi from the East came to Jerusalem looking for a newborn King causing Herod to be greatly disturbed and all of Jerusalem with him. And so,
“When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: "'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah…” (Matthew 2:4-6).
In other words, don’t despise the day of small beginning, because big things can come from small beginnings. In fact, the Holy Spirit said to the Corinthians,
“God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise…” (1 Corinthians 1:27).
And so, the chief priests and teachers of the law quoted the prophet Micah, telling Herod, “But you Bethlehem.” O Little town of Bethlehem,
“Out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel” (Matthew 2:6).
In verse seven, “Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him” (Matthew 2:7-8).
Now, you’ve got to remember, Christmas was over, a lot of time has passed, and the Magi have come a great distance following this star. And so, Herod asks them about the exact time the star appeared, because he’s trying to figure out when this baby, this King of the Jews had been born. And he suggests that he wants to go and worship this child too. “As soon as you find him,” he said, “report to me.”
“After they had heard the king, (the Magi) went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was” (Matthew 2:9).
And so, Herod sent them to Bethlehem, just another 5 miles, because that’s where the Scriptures said that the child would be born, but Matthew tells us they continued to follow the star. In other words, they had come all this way following this star and they weren’t about to abandon it now.
They followed it to where the child was and “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed” (Matthew 2:10).
And it’s no wonder they were overjoyed, because Herod had sent them to Bethlehem, but we just read last week that Jesus was where? Luke told us that he was in Jerusalem, right? That after 40 days, after Mary’s time of purification was over, Joseph and Mary had taken Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem.
And so, we know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, that Joseph went to Bethlehem to register for the census, but we also know that Joseph and Mary didn’t stay in Bethlehem. In fact, the Bible said there was nowhere to stay in Bethlehem. And so, 40 days later we find Joseph and Mary in Jerusalem, in the temple, dedicating their newborn son to the Lord.
“Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22).
I want you to notice that the Bible never says the Magi went to Bethlehem. You see, we insert our own preconceived notions based upon Christmas carols and manger scenes, but the Bible says they followed the star to Jerusalem. And so, after leaving Herod they didn’t turn left on the road south to Bethlehem, but they continued to follow the star until it stopped over the place where the child was.
“On coming to the house, they saw the child” (Matthew 2:11).
And they were overjoyed because the star was the validation confirming that this was in fact the correct place. In other words, they needed validation because Jesus wasn’t a baby anymore. In fact, he’s bigger now, he’s probably wearing a PAW Patrol T-shirt, he’s not in a stable anymore, he’s in a house. And so, the Bible doesn’t say that the Magi went to the manger, it doesn’t even say that there were “Three Kings” like the Christmas Carol. But the Bible says the Magi saw the child,
“With his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures…” (Matthew 2:11).
In other words, the Bible says, an undisclosed number of Magi, who were most likely traveling with their servants, traveling in a caravan for safety, brought these gifts to Jesus.
“They presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).
And so, we know that there were three gifts, not three men, and these gifts are symbolic, foreshadowing greater things. We know both biblically and historically that a gift of gold represents divinity, incense represents the priesthood, and myrrh represents Jesus’ burial at his death. And so, these three gifts are evidence that God was working long before we realized it.
You see, we must recognize the passage of time, because when the Magi first noticed this unusual star in the sky, they would have watched it and pondered its meaning before reporting it to their king. They were astrologers and so it is likely that many days and weeks passed as they prepared for this trip, getting a charter from their king, before actually following this star.
Another point to consider is that we don’t know exactly where they came from in the East. And so, from a biblical perspective, we know that the Jews consider the area of northern Arabia, Syria, and Mesopotamia as the “East.” Now, just supposing as some have said that the Magi came from the area called Babylon, now known as Iraq, and not somewhere farther. We can learn from the Bible that when Ezra… “had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month” (Ezra 7:9). And so, this humble caravan of refugees took four months to get to Jerusalem.
Now, obviously, travel routes were not nearly as good 2,000 years ago as they are today. But the distance calculator said that the driving distance from Baghdad to Jerusalem is 1,605 miles. Now, I think that may have been the scenic route, and maybe that was the route they took 2,000 years ago, but Google maps tells me that traveling to Jerusalem from Baghdad by airplane is 600 miles. Of course, there was no such thing as cars or airplanes when Jesus was born, but certainly the passage of time teaches us that things look a lot different when you’re watching from a distance.
In other words, you thought you had seen it all, but you’ve never walked through what your father did. I know he didn’t do it with the Internet, Wi-Fi, and smart phones, but you’ve never gone the way that he went. And it’s interesting, because everybody in this text, King Herod, the Magi, the chief priests and teachers of the law, all of them are walking through something they have never experienced before. In fact, the Bible says it this way,
“Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).
And so, none of them know how this is going to work out, but it’s the Lord’s purpose the prevails.
The Magi follow the star to Jerusalem where they ask Herod about it. Herod is disturbed, but he can do whatever he wants, because he’ll never stop Jesus from being king. And so, whatever he tries is not going to work, because the Lord said,
“I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled" (Jeremiah 1:12).
And so, we need to remember that even though Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he didn’t come from Bethlehem, because the Bible tells us,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).
And so, no matter how much Herod searches and kills, God is watching over his Word, he is protecting his promise, just as the psalmist said,
“Commit your way to the Lord; trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass” (Psalms 37:5, NKJV).
But I’ll see sin anywhere where are you hello I did you see me Now, today we know some of the prophecies, you and I know a little, but the Magi didn’t know. In fact, the Bible says,
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9).
In other words, they just didn’t know, they didn’t even quote a single Scripture, but by following a star they found Jesus. They didn’t know where they were going, or how long it would take, and it’s like when we pray. Because sometimes God responds in amazing and miraculous ways, but other times he tells us through his silence,
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8).
And so, sometimes you might be praying, “God, show me how, tell me when, give me eyes to see,” but if God told you or showed you, you couldn’t handle it, you’d mess it up. But the truth is that God spoke a word from eternity past, a prophecy concerning your life, before you were even born, because he knew you and set you apart. He said,
“For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
But the Magi didn’t have a clue, they didn’t know what was going on, and even the chief priests and teachers of the law who should have known didn’t know. Their knowledge kept them from knowing what they were supposed to know. And so, God led pagan, Gentile Magi to a dirty stable in Bethlehem, to a place where the priests wouldn’t even go, and there they found…
“Immanuel"—which means, "God with us" (Matthew 1:23).
Have you ever considered that just maybe, what you think you know about God, could be keeping you from seeing him for who he really is? I wonder if we’re not more like the Magi than we like to think, because we only know what God has revealed. And sometimes God keeps us in the dark, but he says,
“Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you” (Psalms 139:12).
And so, sometimes we are walking in the dark, just following this teeny tiny star way off in the distance, because if he told us how it ended, we probably wouldn’t have taken the first step to seek him, but the Lord promises,
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
Matthew tells us that the Magi came to the place where the child was and they were overjoyed. They worshiped him and gave him gifts, because they recognized that this child was God making himself a gift to us.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16).
That God had in fact stepped from eternity into time, stepping down into the world, and planting himself in the womb of a virgin named Mary. He wrapped himself in humanity, giving us himself as the ultimate gift so that all who received him, those who believed in his name, would have the opportunity and privilege to become children of God (John 1:12).
God gave himself as a gift to be received and I wonder today, who you are a gift to? Because if you’re a Christian, which means that you are Christlike, you ought to be a gift to somebody. If God made himself a gift, then surely the people who worship God must make themselves a gift. Give and it will be given to you, give to everyone who asks you,
“Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8).
And so, I wonder, have you given yourself to someone lately?
Jesus said, “Your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” Therefore, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:32-34).
In the same way, the Holy Spirit told Timothy to tell the church in Ephesus. He said,
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God” (1 Timothy 6:17).
Now, let’s pause right there, because I know what most of you just did. You excluded yourself, because you thought of somebody that has more than you.
But we need to consider this command from a global perspective for a moment, because if you drove here today, you are in the top 10% of the richest people in the world. If you are able to spontaneously order a pizza from a small device in the palm of your hand, you are a rich person. But listen, we don’t need to feel guilty about our blessings, because it is…
“God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17).
And so, when we look at the totality of the world’s population, we are incredibly blessed, but the thing is that God never intended for our stuff to have us like it does. That’s why he said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Matthew 19:21). That’s why he told Timothy in verse 18,
“Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:18).
In other words, God intends for us to be contributors, to be an asset and not a liability, and that’s why we should be a gift to somebody.
You see, just as Immanuel wrapped himself in humanity, we need to wrap ourselves in whatever we need to be wrapped in so that we can present ourselves as a gift, as a living sacrifice. And so, God set the precedent, God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, and God never gives an unwrapped gift. That’s why,
“She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger” (Luke 2:7).
You see, God is always giving gifts, he is always giving things in shadows and types. And through them we see shadows of greater things in Jesus, because when God gives a gift to you, he doesn’t just have the present in mind, he also has the future in mind. That’s why he said to be generous and willing to share, because,
“In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19).
And so, God gave a gift of himself, and when God gives a gift to you, it embraces everything that you shall be. When God gives a gift to you, it is a pathway to your destiny, so that you may take hold of the life that is truly life.
That’s why you need to understand that you are part of the Christmas story, you are right there with the Magi, and your gift is a prophetic gift from God because the Bible says,
“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:11-12).
In other words, the Holy Spirit says, “I made my people a gift.” And so, I want to encourage you to come to Jesus, to offer your gift, to make yourself a gift, to let somebody find you as a gift, to be a contributor and not a consumer.
Before the Magi gave him their gifts, they gave him their praise, they bowed down and worshiped Jesus,
“Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).
Some of you are so busy being gifted that you haven’t learned how to give God your praise. But when you open up your mouth and begin to praise him, praising him until demons tremble, praising him until yokes are broken, God’s going to open up a door and give you revelation, because everything you need has already been given.
You see, God is watching over his Word to fulfill it, Herod can search all he wants, but it’s the Word of God that shall prosper. You thought you were waiting on God, but everything you shall be, has already been given. He’s ready to do a new thing in you, but you’re going to have to go back another way. The Bible says, the Magi…
“Having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route” (Matthew 2:12).
The Magi knew that to bring a gift to the king of the Jews was to unlock the future. They gave Jesus their treasures, they presented him with gifts, and then they went home another way, leaving Herod guessing, wondering where Jesus was. As we close, I want to encourage you to go home another way, to see this moment as the gateway to your future. To take hold of the life that is truly life and determine to travel light, because your life is too valuable to waste on things that don’t last.
Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Ministry Pass, PC Study Bible, Preaching Library, and Sermon Central. Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.