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. THERE IS NO DOUBT IN THEIR FAITH
- "Where is he who is born King of the Jews?"
- these wise men do not question the validity of this new King's existence
- their only question is, "Where is he?"
- for them of the birth is real and the title is true
- not for a moment do these visitors express any doubt with reference to the fact of the Messiah's birth
- God's revelation of the Christ’s birth through his star was all the assurance they needed
- how did they know it was the Messiah’s star?
- that’s a story in and of itself, but somehow they understood that the “star in the East” was a harbinger of the Messiah’s birth
- perhaps they knew the prophecy of Numbers 24:17 and took it literally
- "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob: a scepter will arise out of Israel."
A THERE ARE SOME ESSENTIALS IN THE CHRISTIAN FAITH FOR WHICH THERE IS NO ROOM FOR DOUBT
- Essential #1: Christ was born of the Virgin into this world through the supernatural act of God
- “But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,” (Luke 1:30–32, NIV84)
- if you cannot accept the miracle of the cradle, how in the world can you accept the miracle of the empty tomb?
- if the life of Christ ended with a miracle why is it so difficult to believe that it began with one?
- liberal theologians since the mid 19th century have maintain that we cannot know the historical Jesus
- even today, most critical New Testament scholars insist that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are unreliable historical sources\
- they maintain that stories such as the virgin birth are myths and fables made up be the early church
- ILLUS. I will admit to you this morning that I am biased. I will take the authority of the Scriptures over the authority of worldly scholars any day!
- God can take a skeptical mind and a hardened heart, and through the miracle of regeneration, make them open and accepting of Truth
- at the same time, the world can take an believing mind and a faithful heart and make them cynical and faithless
- read them ... study them ... memorize them ... submit to them!
- “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11, NIV84)
- being born in a stable of peasant parents is not a noble birth to be sure
- but the humbleness of his birth cannot detract from his royal stature
- at the announcement of his conception the angel told Mary, "he will be great and will be called the son of the most high. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end." (Luke 1:32-33)
- God has placed the scepter of righteous judgment in the hands of his only begotten son
- " … The father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the son, that all may honor the sun just as they honor the father. He who does not honor the son does not honor the father, who sent him." (John 5:22-23)
- these men brought the very best they had to Jesus
- too often we give Him second best
- the Angels announcement is explicit,
- "… You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21)
- there is salvation in no other
- “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12, NIV84)
II. THERE WAS DETERMINATION IN THEIR FAITH
- "Wise men came from the East."
- what significance do we find in this snippet of information?
- if it is true that these men were astronomers from Persia then here were men who made a long and arduous journey
- the trip from Persia to Palestine is a distance of over 1000 miles
- it was a rout fraught with dangers and hardships
- if they were lucky they made 10 to 15 miles a day by camel caravan making it a three month journey
- lesser men may well have turned back
- these men had received the revelation that the King whose kingdom would never end had been born
- they are bound and determined to seek him out
- nothing is going to stand in the way of them expressing their faith in and worship of this King
A. CHRISTIANS NEED TO BE DETERMINED IN THEIR FAITH
- determination means to be willing to carry through with a commitment
- somehow the Church in America has raised an entire generation of spiritually incompetent, baby Christians who do not know what it means to be committed to the Lord Jesus Christ or His Body—the Church
- "Gee pastor, why don't you tell us what you really think?"
- a determined faith is a faith that is committed to Jesus Christ no matter what
- “Even after my skin has been destroyed, in my flesh I will see God.” (Job 19:26, NCV)
- here is one of the great statements of faith in the Old Testament
- Job is saying that although I have no earthly reason for trusting in God yet I will do so
- the vast majority of Christians are committed to their church—that is as long as they don't have anything better to do
- did you know that the average person—if he or she has to drive more than 5 miles to attend church—simply will not go?
- ILLUS. It has been three decades since I was on a mission trip to the country of Haiti, but I’ll never forget the experience of being reprimanded by a Haitian pastor for—(drum roll please: not preaching long enough! Yes, it’s hard to believe, I know). I was told that many of the Christians in the congregation the first night I preached had walked 10 miles or more to hear the “missionaries from America.” How dare I preach only an hour to them?
III. THERE WAS PURPOSE IN THEIR FAITH
- "We saw his star in the East and have come to worship him."
- may I make an observation?
- for the vast majority of believers today worship has become a spectator sport where they come in hope of being entertained and thrilled by those who they pay to perform
- ILLUS. Esther Catron was one of the finest Christian ladies I have ever known. Our church at that time was not much different from this congregation in that our worship style was traditional. We sang hymns and the occasional chorus. We had special music most Sundays. Esther had become a devotee of the PTL Club with Jim and Tammy Bakker. I'll never forget, one Sunday after church Esther came to me with almost a lament."Pastor,” she sighed, “Why can't we have exciting worship services like they do on the PTL club? I just love people like Sandy Patti, and Amy Grant." I told her, "Esther, we can have those kinds of worship services. All it takes is about $20,000, because that's how much it cost to get someone like that to come and perform." Esther looked at me rather sheepishly, and said, "Yeah, I never thought about that."
- ILLUS. I can remember so many years ago, when I first went into the ministry and my pastor Martin Brockett was counseling with me and giving me advice about pastoral ministry and preaching. I'll never forget the day he told me, "David. If he ever get up some Sunday and don't have anything to say, at least give them a good show."
- worship has always been meant to be an act that requires the believer’s active participation—not merely passive attentiveness
A. WORSHIP IS YOUR RESPONSE TO GOD'S ACT OF GRACE IN YOUR LIFE
- "Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people and praise him in the council of the elders." (Psalm 107:32, NIV84)
- what is your purpose for being here this morning?
- I submit that if you have come for any other reason than to worship the living God, that your motives are impure in need adjusting
- I also submit to you this morning that if you've come only to receive and not to give you will probably walk away disappointed
- these wise men came to worship the King; what have you come for?
The context of the Christmas narrative in the Gospel of Matthew magnifies the importance of worship. It's what the Magi have come to do and what Herod feigns to do. The text reminds us that worship can be sincere and genuine, or it can be trivial and false. As a minister, one of my great concerns is the temptation that we will let our worship become consumer driven instead of Holy Spirit driven.
Sadly, "Worship" has simply become just another commodity for which many people shop around seeking the best bargain for their buck. If worship is not sensational it is not considered worship. In other word, if the music is not upbeat, if the solo is not professionally done, if the welcome is not warm, if the sermon is not dynamic, then some conclude that it is not real worship and they continue shopping around.
For many in our culture, the bottom line question about worship is "How did it make me feel?" as if worship was somehow all about them.
We have witnessed a phenomenon in our society that is utterly amazing. In our quest for "feel good religion" there are many who worship praise and praise worship, but who have not yet learned to praise and worship God in Christ Jesus.
True worship starts in a heart that has experienced the saving grace of God. It is our heartfelt response to a Heavenly Father who emptied Himself of divine glory and became a man who took upon Himself the sins of the world.