Christmas was over almost two weeks ago. New Year’s has come and gone, and the vast majority of us are back to our “normal routine”. However, the Season of Advent does not officially end until midnight tonight. Some of you who grew up in a faith-tradition other than Baptist may know that this is the 12th day after Christmas—meaning that it is Epiphany Sunday or also known as Three Kings Day. It is a Sunday that for over seventeen hundred years of church history has represented the introduction of the Christ to the Gentile nations and celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus. The word Epiphany means "to reveal," or "to make manifest." It is used several times in the New Testament, most notably by the Apostle Paul in his second letter to Timothy:
“So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (2 Timothy 1:8–10, NIV84)
Why is the visit of the Magi important to us? What does this passage of Scripture have to teach us?
Few biblical stories are as well known, yet so clouded by myth and tradition, as that of the magi, or wise men, mentioned by Matthew. Most of these legends and myths that surround the Magi developed during the Middle Ages. Tradition says that they were three Kings—one from India, one from Egypt, and the third from Greece. Their names are recorded as Melchor, Balthazar, and Caspar. Legend also has it that the disciple Thomas baptized them and that, years after their death, Helena—mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine and a devout Christian—rediscovered their bones and that they now reside in the great cathedral of Cologne, Germany.
The vast majority of such Yuletide lore is legendary in nature. There is little, if any, truth to the tales which have grown up around these men. Such stories often cloud the original purpose of the story. In all actuality we are left almost completely in the dark about these men. What can we really know?
- The Magi were primarily known as the priestly-political class of the Parthians who lived to the east of Palestine in what is today the country of Iran. This view is supported by the earliest Christian art which always portrays these travelers wearing Persian robes. Many of the early theologians and scholars of the church also agree that these "wise men" came from Persia.
- They were known as skilled astrologers/astronomers, mathematicians, and scientists.
- That they were "wise" in the literal sense means that they were "learned" men who were well educated in the philosophies and political sciences of their time. They were advisers to the kings of Persia and Babylon.
- Because they presented the Christ child with three gifts tradition has maintained that there were only three Magi. Again, the Bible is silent as to the actual number. My personal opinion is that there was an entire caravan of these Magi. Three men inquiring about the birth of a baby—even one born ‘King of the Jews’—in an obscure Judean village would hardly have caused the stir in Jerusalem that evidently took place upon their arrival and inquiry (verse 3).
- They were probably very familiar with the Jewish scriptures and their prophesies since Persia at that time contained a large Jewish population.
Bottom line: These are all simply educated guesses. We are told very little about the sojourners who have come to worship the Baby Jesus. The details are left in the shadows in order that, against the dark background of their obscurity, the light of truth may shine forth all the more brilliantly. These wise men, whoever they were, wherever they came from, came to worship the Anointed One of Israel who was also the Light of the Gentiles!
What can we learn from their journey and their homage? We learn that truly wise man still come to Jesus to meet the most pressing spiritual needs of life.!
I. WISE MEN WILL DILIGENTLY SEARCH FOR THE CHRIST
"After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem" (Matthew 2:1, NIV)
- what significance do we find in this verse?
- if it is true that these Magi were Persian astronomers, then they were men who had made a long, and arduous journey
- the trip from Persia to Palestine is a distance of about 1,100 miles
- in our day of modern travel where we think nothing of driving a few hundred miles in a day, we forget that their journey would have been fraught with dangers and hardships
- if they were lucky, they made 10-15 miles a day by Camel caravan making it three-month trip
- lesser men may well have turned back, but these men had received the revelation that the King whose kingdom would never end had been born
- they were bound and determined to let nothing stand in their way of expressing their homage to this King
- their determination teaches us an important lesson
A. CHRISTIANS MUST BE DETERMINED IN THEIR FAITH
- determination means a willingness to carry through with a commitment
- let me be honest with you this evening; the church is currently raising its second generation of biblically illiterate, spiritually incompetent, narcissistically self-involved baby saints, who do not know what it means to be committed to the Lord, Jesus Christ
- the typical attitude toward church today is "What's in it for me? What do I get out of it if I go?" “What’s the payoff?”
- ILLUS. Back in September, I got a phone call from a women who was searching for a ‘church home’. I get one or two, perhaps three of those calls a year. Usually it’s from someone whose family has just moved into the community. They'll grill me about our programs and ministries. Sometimes they'll ask about the general tenor of our theology—are we conservative or moderate or liberal. But most of the time they'll want details about our children's and youth programs. Secondary will be what programs and ministries we have going for adults. Bottom line—they're asking "What do you have for me, if I come to your church?" Now, let me say—I think it's important that we establish programs to meet the spiritual and ministry needs of our people from preschoolers through senior adults. But let me tell you of the phone call that Pastors day-dream about. It would go something like this: "Hello. My family and I have just moved into your community. We're looking for a church home that will allow us to use our spiritual gifts and talents to minister to the church and community in a variety of ways. We'll be there every time the doors are opened. Oh, and by the way, we're tithers." In 30 years of ministry, I've never had that conversation. If I had, I'd probably have dropped dead of cardiac arrest.
- ILLUS. Most of you know the story of Job in the Old Testament. Job was a man who lost everything of earthly importance to him. In a few catastrophic days, he lost his wealth, his community standing, his family, and his health. His wife, whom I'm sure was in a state of shock and mourning herself, urged her husband to curse God, lay down and die. Instead, Job retains his faith and confesses a great confession when he declares, "And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God,27 Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!" (Job 19:26-27)
- Job is confessing that even though he has no earthly reason for trusting in God, yet he will do so anyway
- even if there is nothing tangible in it for him, he will still believe and worship
- a determined faith is a faith that is committed to our God and His Christ no matter what
- I've discovered after 30 years of ministry, that the vast majority of Christians are absolutely 100% committed to their church—as long as they've got nothing better to do
- ILLUS. A couple of years ago, the Northend Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Seattle, had a "No-excuse-to-stay-home-Sunday." The week before, the pastor sent the following letter to each member: "Next Sunday, cots will be available for those who say Sunday is their only day to sleep. Eye drops will be supplied for those who have red eyes from watching late Saturday-night TV shows. There will be steel helmets for those who say the roof would cave in if they ever went to church, blankets for persons who think the church is too cold, fans for those who say it is too hot, scorecards for those wishing to list all the hypocrites present, TV dinners for those who can't go to church and also cook dinner. Lastly, the sanctuary will be decorated with Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who have never seen the church without them."
- ILLUS. Many churches have a Beau Geste view of ministry. In that movie, the Arabs were attacking a Legionnaire fort where only four Legionnaires were left alive. The Arabs were not aware of this, because if they had been, the fort would fall for sure. Therefore, the surviving Legionnaires devised a plan to disguise their weak condition. They set up the bodies of their dead comrades along the wall of the fort and ran back and forth, firing off the guns of their dead friends. From the outside, it all looked very convincing - but on the inside, there were only four men. Likewise, in many of our churches, we have a handful of believers who run around and shoot off the guns of the spiritually inactive congregation. Outwardly the church looks like it is alive and well—but inwardly there are only a very few people doing the work of the whole body—everyone else is spiritually dead.
II. WISE MEN WILL OFFER THEIR SINCERE WORSHIP TO THE KING
- "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem2 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." (Matthew 2:1-2, NIV)
- "On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him...." (Matthew 2:11, NIV)
- first and foremost the Magi have come to worship the new born king of the Jews
A. TRUE WORSHIP IS FROM THE HEART AND ADORES GOD FOR WHO HE IS
- "I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images." (Isaiah 42:8, NIV)
- friends, it is not a matter of what you get out of worship—but what God gets out of worship
- He is to be adored, and praised, and magnified, and exalted, and honored, and glorified, and acclaimed, and celebrated
- "... Great and marvellous are Your works, 0 Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations!4 "Who will not fear, 0 Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For all the nations will come and worship before You, For Your righteous acts have been revealed." (Revelation 15:3-4, NIV)
- if you leave this place not having done any of those things, you've not worshiped
- but, if you do those things in worship, I virtually gurantee that you will get something out of worship
- in that conversation he talks to her about worship and He says ...
- "Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:23-24)
- the Buddhist monk may be sincere in his worship, but he worships in the flesh and in error because he doesn't know Jesus
- the Moslem cleric may be sincere in his worship, but he worships in the flesh and in error because he doesn't know Jesus
- the Voodoo priestess may be sincere in her worship, but she worships in the flesh and in error because she doesn't know Jesus
- Herod feigns interest and pretends that he wants to worship, but does not worship
- the Magi turn out to be the kind of worshipers Jesus would speak of some 30 years later
- worship is not our puny attempt to make God feel good
- worship is not a weekly pep talk to rally the troops for another week
- worship is not the Christian alternative to a Saturday night rock concert
- worship IS the believer's recognition of the Christ's Lordship in his or her life as they adore him and who, like the Magi, bow their knee to his authority
B. TRUE WORSHIP GIVES OUR VERY BEST GIFTS TO GOD
- ILLUS. In one of his commentaries, the Scottish theologian William Barclay, tells a story that comes out of the Middle Ages. It is the story of a fourth wise man. His name was Artaban. He was the oldest the greatest, and the wisest of the Persian wise men. Like the other Magi, he set out to follow the star. As gifts for the new king, he took with him a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl—all beyond great price. His heart’s desire was to lay them at the feet of this new king that the heavens had revealed to them. It was several days' ride to the gathering place, but Artaban was confident he wouldn't be late. He was riding hard in order to meet his three friends, Casper, Melchoir and Balthasar at the agreed upon place. Time was running out when he saw a traveler stricken with fever lying along the road. If he stayed to help he would miss his friends. He stayed. He helped and healed the man, but he had to sell the sapphire to do so. He was sad because the King would never receive this gem. Having missed his fellow Magi, Artaban made the trip alone. He finally reached Bethlehem only to find Joseph and Mary and the baby gone. While in Bethlehem, he suddenly heard the pounding of hooves and the pummel of a fist on the door. Herod's soldiers had come to kill the baby boy in that house. The mother stood weeping behind Artaban as he stood in the doorway. To save the child he paid the captain with the ruby so he would not enter. The child was saved, but the ruby was gone—one less gift for the King. For thirty years, the legend tells us, Artaban wandered Palestine looking in vain for the child. His figure had become stooped, his hair white, but his heart still burned with love for the One Whom he sought so long. One day the elderly magus heard that the Anointed One of God had appeared in Judea, and that He was performing many wondrous deeds-by a word He healed the sick, raised the dead, made saints of sinners and hopelessly wicked men. He hurried to Jerusalem hoping to find the King of the Jews during the Passover. He arrived just as Roman soldiers were leading Jesus off the Golgotha. He thought just maybe he could use the remaining gem—the exquisite pear—to buy our Lord's freedom. On his way a young girl came running from a band of soldiers. She flung herself at Artaban's feet and pleaded, "My father is in debt, and they are taking me to sell as a slave to pay the debt. Please save me!" Artaban hesitated; then sadly he took out his pearl, gave it to the soldiers and bought the girl's freedom. The sky went dark. The King whom he had so long sought for was dead. But the fourth wise man truly had given his gifts to the King because he had cared for those who needed his gifts.
- the story of the fourth wise man is a fable that illustrates this point well
- if we are truly "wise" we will give Christ the very best that we have
- the best of our time
- the best of our resources
- the best of our wealth
- we give these things to our Lord for two reasons
- one, as God incarnate, Christ is worthy of and deserves our very best as an act of love and adoration
- the Magi presented unto him gifts of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh - some of the most expensive and costly treasures of their day
- secondly, God can take what we give Him, multiply it and use it more efficiently than we could ever think of doing
- like the fourth wise man we also discover that when we give our treasures to those in need, we are, in reality, giving our treasures to the King of kings
- "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, ' tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'/ (Matthew 25:34-40, NIV)
III. WISE MEN WILL SHARE THEIR FAITH IN THE KING WITH OTHERS
- the last we hear of the Magi in the Scriptures, they have been warned in a dream as to Herod's true intentions and have returned home by a different route
- what became of them is unknown and lost to history
- oh, there are many legends, but they are just that—legends
- but I have no doubt that they shared their findings and their excitement with their fellow countrymen upon their return
- the Magi went to Bethlehem searching for the king of the Jews
- what they found was a Savior for all peoples
- as the wise men were packing their bags in preparation for their trip to Jerusalem, I'm sure their friends were asking them questions like, "Why do you want to take this foolish and dangerous trip?" "Why are you going to all this trouble?"
- to which the Magi most likely responded, "Why? Because we have heard a story from Jewish Scripture; we have seen the star in the sky; and we have felt a stirring in our souls."
- traditionally, Epiphany has been a day for Christians to focus on the mission of the church in reaching others by 'showing' Jesus as the Savior of all people
- like Abraham of old, the wise men went out, not knowing whither they went
- they went in faith and found God
- their lives would never be the same
- as we face a new year, it's time for each of us here this evening to re-commit ourselves to three things ...
- seeking out Christ for fellowship and worship
- holy living
- bold proclamation
This evening you are invited to bow before the King of king and Lord of lords. The Lord Jesus Christ whom we exalt at Christmas is not just a baby in a manger. He is not a character in a children's story. He is far more.
The first time he came, he came veiled in the form of a child. The next time he comes, he will come unveiled, and it will be abundantly and immediately clear to all the world just who he really is.
The first time he came, a star marked his arrival. The next time he comes, the whole heavens will roll up like a scroll, and all the stars will fall out of the sky.
The first time he came, wise men and shepherds brought him gifts. The next time he comes, he will bring gifts, and rewards for the faithful.
The first time he came, there was no room for him. The next time he comes, the whole world will not be able to contain His glory.
The first time he came, only a few attended his arrival - some shepherds and some wise men. The next time he comes, every eye shall see him.
The first time he came as a baby. Soon he will come as Sovereign King and Lord.