Another Way

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.'” Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.” (Matthew 2:1-12)

I want to focus on the tail end of the Christmas story this week by speaking of the three Magi. It is true that these events came sometime after the birth of Jesus, possibly 1 ½ to 2 years after His birth. Time belongs to God and this visit of the Magi is a part of the Christmas Story and has a relevant message for us today. Who were the Magi, sometimes referred to as the Wise Men, and where did they come from that is took so long for them to arrive?

Legend from the middle ages say that they were kings, and that there was three in number. These legends also have given them the names of Casper, Balthazar and Melchior. These three kings according to legend represented the three sons of Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth, which is why one of them is pictured as an Ethiopian.

As Magi they would have been astrologers from the royal court of the king of Persia. It was the responsibility of the Magi to make the king of Persia look good, but here in this story they have come to worship another King. It was the custom of kings to send emissaries to congratulate new rulers in other kingdoms. At the time the king of Persia considered himself to be the “king of kings.” As Magi the emissaries of the king of Persia would not have worshiped Jesus if He was found anywhere else but in a royal palace fitting to a new born king.

They being astrologers would explain their notice and curiosity of the new star that they saw in the heavens. Magi also had the skill of divination which the prophet Isaiah had harsh words from God to the Israelite people. “You are wearied with your many counsels; Let now the astrologers, Those who prophesy by the stars, Those who predict by the new moons, Stand up and save you from what will come upon you.” (Isaiah 47:13) God’s Word forbids the worship of the stars of heaven as we read in the book of Deuteronomy, “And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.” (Deuteronomy 4:19) In this period of time the Magi would probably have been followers of Zoroastrian which was a religion out of Persia. Zoroastrianism arose in the eastern region of the ancient Persian Empire, when the religious philosopher Zoroaster simplified the pantheon of early Iranian gods into two opposing forces: Spenta Mainyu (“progressive mentality”) and Angra Mainyu (“destructive mentality”) under the one God, Ahura Mazda (“Illuminating Wisdom”). (Wikipedia)

The New American Standard translation of the Scripture which we read earlier uses the word magi but in the King James translation the word wise is used. In Strong’s the word wise is translated into meaning Asian scientist; a magician: sorcerer, wise man. All three of these words fit that translation, king, magi and wise. King in this context may mean a man of stature and magi and wise men would coincide together well.

Matthew’s narrative challenges our prejudice to people outside of our faith. In Matthew 15:21-28 we read of the Syrophoenician woman whose daughter was possessed with a demon. She had sought Jesus out to have her daughter healed by Him. Jesus replied to her request with these words, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Jesus had come to save the lost in the house of Israel and not the Gentile. The woman persisted with these words, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Jesus was in admiration of her faith and healed her daughter. Jesus came to the Jew first, but His chosen people rejected Him and even put Him to death on the Roman Cross.

Without condoning astrology, Matthew’s narrative challenges our prejudice against outsiders to our faith (see also 8:5-13; 15:21-28): even the most pagan of pagans may respond to Jesus if given the opportunity (compare John 1:13-16; 3:6-10). What a resounding call for the Church today to pursue a culturally sensitive yet uncompromising commitment to missions! After the resurrection Peter was sent to Cornelius, a Gentile and his whole family was saved. Paul was called by Jesus on the road to Damascus to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. The age of grace, the Church age is for all mankind, that all men may be reconciled to God through Jesus.

The Magi came from the East, most likely from Persia and they came with a large enough caravan that it attracted the attention of the citizens of Jerusalem. I can only assume that they thought they would find the new ruler in the palace of Herod and this is why they went to see him. They knew that they were coming to honor a king as they brought gifts worthy of a king. Gold and Frankincense. The Magi also brought a third gift of Myrrh. This was very peculiar because Myrrh was used as an embalming spice. How would they known that this new King was the Lamb of God, only Joseph and Mary would have known the purpose of the child God have entrusted them with. No wise man or Magi would have attempted to walk to the place where they would have been beneath a certain star in the heavens, as they would have never caught a star traveling the universe. I believe that they were called by God to follow that star to its resting place.

Herod the Great

Herod also known as Herod the Great and Herod I, was a Roman client king of Judea, referred to as the Herodian kingdom. He has been described as “a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis”, “the evil genius of the Judean nation”, “prepared to commit any crime in order to gratify his unbounded ambition” and “the greatest builder in Jewish history”. (Wikipedia)

This bio-pic of King Herod tends to disqualify his desire to want the Magi to bring back the location of the new born Jesus so that he too could come and worship Him. History proves that out as shortly before Herod’s death he ordered the slaughter of all male children in Bethlehem 2 years and younger.

The Magi moved on not deterred by the fact that the King they were searching for was not found in a palace built for royalty. They traveled on following the star, the light in the sky that had been leading them from so afar. Their journey led to the City of David, Bethlehem and there in a house they found the baby Jesus and fell down and worshiped Him. He was not in a palace but in a common home fit only for common people. He didn’t have a host of servants attending Him but humble parents striving to make ends meet in a poor economy of a surrendered nation of the holy God. They found the baby Jesus not dressed in fine purple linen but in the common dress of the lower class. They found Him not in the courts of the Synagogue but in the one room home of a carrying friend. They found Him not feasting but held in the arms of the loving favored by God mother named Mary.

This child who but an instant ago was sitting on a high throne in the Kingdom of Heaven, who walked upon streets paved in Gold wearing a Royal Crown upon His head and dressed in a fine linen Robe of Purple. This Kingly child who was attended by a Heavenly Host of angels and myriads more at His command. This Son of the Most High God who formed the foundations of God’s Creation and stood at the helm and guided it through Eternity. Now completely humiliated was a boy-child of a virgin woman in a mud built home in the midst of His creation. A child that came to save that which was lost, to guide man whom he loved into an abundant eternal life with His Father, to pay the price for all wicked disobedience to His Father’s Word, to die and rise again from the grave so that all men might have life everlasting. The Magi fell down, overwhelmed by His presence and worshiped Him.

Then as the Magi rested in preparation for their journey back to the land from which they came God warned them in their dreams not to return to Herod. So when the day had come to light they got up and left the presence of Jesus and departed “another way.

King Herod must have not waited long before he realized that the Magi had been gone too long for the six mile journey to Bethlehem. He must have soon known that they were not coming back to him with the exact news of the place of Jesus the new born King of the Jews. It was then that he ordered the slaughter of the children of Bethlehem. This may have be surprising to you that a man could be so evil, yet to this very day we see such depravity in the hearts of men. But this is the way of the world and it will not get better as it has always been spinning further and further always from the Truth of God, Jesus.

Herod is the symbol of the world and all that it has fallen to and many of us return to it every day because we have an uncontrollable attraction to it and it is born of our sin nature. What are we to do, what can we do? As the Magi, the Wise Men and the Kings we are to do that which the Prophet Isaiah said, “Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:6-7) The Magi had traveled over 1000 thousand miles seeking the new born King of the Jews. Yet many today will not travel across town, down the block, or to their knees to find the King of kings. There are two paths to go by, one leads to destruction and the other to life everlasting. One is broad and filled with evil and the other is narrow and filled with love and truth. “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

Gregory the Great commented that “having come to know Jesus we are forbidden to return by the way we came.” If we, as He, truly humble ourselves and come into the presence of Jesus, the Master of life, the lover of our souls, the Savior and our redemption before God the Father, and the King of kings and Lord of lords, we will always depart “another way.

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, December 21, 2014

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