Just Who Were The Magi?

Title: Just Who Were The Magi?

Text: Matthew 2:1-12

Time: November 29th, 2006

This is the second week in the Christmas season sermon series of 2006. Last week I talked about Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. This week I’d like to talk about the Magi and Jesus. Who were the Magi? Why did God use them in that first Christmas? Recently in the local paper the Jamestown Post-Journal there was an editorial article which criticized me for advocating Christianity as the one, true religion. The writer claimed that I had no right to judge as wrong any other religion such as Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. But he misunderstood me; I never said that all other religions were all wrong in everything they teach. I don’t know why it would upset him to hear a Christian minister claiming that Christianity is the true faith and inviting people to accept it over all others. Isn’t that what Christian evangelists are supposed to do – think, believe, and teach that Christianity is the truth? And try to recruit others to believe the same? So I don’t know why this editorial writer was so upset. But he raises an important topic: what about all the other religions of the world? What should be the Christian response to them all? Obviously we believe that Christianity is true or we wouldn’t be Christians. Obviously we believe that Christianity is the truest faith and if there is a conflict between it and another religion or philosophy, Christianity is to be believed and the other religion or philosophy rejected. But what about the people in these other religions? At Christmas time we celebrate the birth of Christ, the Savior of the world. It is the biggest Christian holiday celebration of the year, but what about all the other people of the world who don’t follow the Christ of Christmas, is there anything God wishes to say to them at this holiday season? We find the answer in Matthew 2:1-23 (read) with the story of the Magi. For some strange reason, God included foreigners in the story of the first Christmas, and not only foreigners but people of another religion, and not only included them in the Christmas story but brought them before the Savior Jesus to bring gifts and worship. Here is what God is wanting to say to all the members of all the other religions and philosophies of the world at Christmas time: let the truest parts of your own faiths and philosophies lead you to the Lord Jesus just as the Magi did on that first Christmas. God can use any means to bring a person to the truth, even confusion, ignorance, superstition, ancient tradition — anything and everything found in the various religions and philosophies of the world. He proves this in how He led the pagan Magi to the feet of Jesus using their own practice of astrology. Does that mean astrology is true? No. But it just shows that God can use certain parts of false religions and philosophies to lead people to the truth if they are open enough to follow. Let’s see how God does this.

First, God gives other religions a little truth to lead them to the bigger truth of Christianity. Matthew 2:1-2, “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.’” Now the word “magi” comes from the word “magician” or someone who deals with the magical arts or magic. So these were men who incorporated hidden or occult practices into their religion, which was probably Zoroastrianism, an ancient religion of Persia. They practiced astrology and spent much of their time gazing at the heavenly bodies trying to divine a pattern for the future through the movement of the stars and planets. They believed that what happened in the sky corresponded with what happened on earth. Now today the whole field of astrology has not one bit of scientific credibility to it; or in other words, there is no evidence that it is a valid means of predicting the future, although lots of people still are entertained by it in the newspapers. We’ve all seen the horoscopes in the newspapers where supposedly you look up your date of birth and it tells you something about what is going to happen to you today and in the future. The Bible actually warns against relying on such things to guide your life; that’s found in the Old Testament, but we don’t have time to go into that right now. But these men who practiced a foreign religion that incorporated astrology in with their beliefs and practices actually used these otherwise false methods to lead them to Jesus! Listen what they said: “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 2:3. So they knew some very important things based on the beliefs and practices of their own, generally false religion: they knew a king was born, they knew it was a king of the Jews, and they knew they had to worship this new born king. Now how did they know all this? God used their own false religion to lead them to the true religion, or in other words, God let them follow their own religion or philosophy to encounter the true religion of Christianity. He led them using their own beliefs and practices to the door of the Savior Jesus to worship the one, true, and living God. These Magi were devotes of astrology, so God gave them a huge star to ponder. These Magi also attached great significance to especially bright stars; they believed they represented the birth of great world personalities. So when this bright star suddenly appeared in the direction of the land of the Jews they obviously concluded that a great Jewish king had been born and they were so impressed by their astrological charts and calculations that they were motivated not only to predict the birth of a king but to actually go there, give gifts, and worship him. And so they did on that first Christmas. Don’t give up hope for the millions of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, even atheists, agnostics and skeptics of the world. God has a way to lead even these to the truth if they will but follow. But there’s more.

Second, God gives other religions enough truth to lead them to God’s true revelation. Matthew 2:3-8, “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 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; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’ Then 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.’” Here we see pagan religion meeting revealed religion in the meeting of the Magi with the Jews. The Magi, as followers of Zoroastrian religion and astrology knew from their own superstitious beliefs and practices that a king of the Jews had been born because of their careful observations of the night sky, but they didn’t have the details. When they came into the land of the Jews they received the rest of the information they needed from the Old Testament prophecies kept by the Jewish faith. Upon entering the Jewish territories they encountered King Herod who was interested in their talk of a king born in his kingdom. So he turned to the priests and teachers of the law and asked for any ancient prophecies that might explain the Magi visit: “In Bethlehem,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written,” Matthew 2:5. God used the superstitions of the Magi religion to get them so far, far enough to encounter His true revelation of truth found in the Bible prophecies. And that is our hope for all followers of all false religions and philosophies, that God will use their own doctrines and practices to lead them to an authentic encounter with the truth of the Bible in order to lead them into the fullness of truth. Christmas is an international holiday; it’s global. People on all continents know about Christmas. All of Africa knows of Christmas. All of Asia knows of Christmas. All of Latin America knows of Christmas. It’s seen by many different religions such as Islam as a Christian holiday, but maybe something of its truth will touch somebody who is Muslim and lead them to the truth of Jesus. The same with Asian religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. Maybe something within their religions will lead them to encounter the true and living God of Christianity. That is our hope. God used a star to guide the Magi to the truth of Jesus, maybe God can use something within Islam, or Hinduism, or Buddhism, or even atheism to lead these adherents to faith in Jesus. He’s done it before, He can do it again. That is our prayer. But there’s still more.

Third, God leads other religions to an encounter with Christ, to accept or reject Him. Matthew 2:9-12, “After they had heard the king, they 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. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” There is a point to God using the little truths and even false superstitions of other religions to lead people gradually along a certain path – the point of it all is to lead a person into an encounter with the living God and require a response from them, positively or negatively. The Magi had come a long way. Think of where it began for them. One day they were practicing their own false religion somewhere in the east, maybe Persia, looking up into the night sky and obtaining the information from the stars and planets they would need to calculate a horoscope, when suddenly they noticed an unusually bright star in the direction of the Jewish lands. According to their beliefs and practices this meant that a great king would be born. Now to us today, as well as most people at most times on the planet earth, a bright star was pretty to observe but it didn’t mean what the Magi’s religion taught them it meant. And usually most of the time they saw a bright star it probably didn’t mean what they thought it meant. But this time it was so bright that they were determined to visit the newborn king, so they set out. That’s how God can get the attention of members of false religions today: he catches their attention through something they already believe. It isn’t even important that their belief be true, although God can especially use true beliefs to lead people to even truer beliefs. These men of a different religion set out on a journey that would lead them to a new belief in God. We must pray that the many Muslims might be led by such a path to a new belief in God. Also, we pray for the many Hindu and Buddhists, that they might be led by some little truth that they possess to fuller truth found in the Bible or an encounter with the living Christ. Or we pray that an atheist or skeptic or agnostic might be led by his or her quest for truth to find that Christianity it true; the path they might take is not important, just so long as they eventually get to the truth is what matters. But then they must make a decision, just as these pagan religious followers called the Magi had to decide: what will I do with Jesus? That’s the question that everyone must eventually answer because all eternity depends on it.

There is an old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” That pretty much sums up the matter of leading people to Christ. God can bring a person of another religion or philosophy to an encounter with the truth, an experience of the true and living God, but He can’t force a person to respond positively after that. Now the Magi responded positively. Matthew 2:10-11 says, “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts.” We have every reason to believe that these Magi converted to faith in Jesus at that time. You can be sure that they accepted the Jewish Messiah Jesus as Lord. Imagine men who made it their practice to strain their eyes at night searching the stars for truth, little clues to the meaning and purpose of life, but here all of a sudden they are caught up in a great adventure in search of a great cosmic king that the stars showed them would be born – and it was true! I’m sure whatever beliefs and practices they observed in their foreign religion were now reinterpreted to find fulfillment in the Jewish Messiah Jesus. After that first Christmas we don’t hear again of these men from afar, these Magi, but they might have followed Jesus from their homeland, especially as he began his earthly ministry, if they lived that long. We pray that members of other religions around the world might find the same success at finding the truth as these Magi did. We pray that every last Muslim might find peace in the Prince of Peace this Christmas season. The so-called prophet Mohamed is nothing compared to the Savior Jesus. As long as Muslims prioritize the false prophet Mohamed ahead of the Savior Jesus they will forever fail to find God. We pray for the Hindus who live mostly in India. They believe in and worship many gods, hundreds of gods, as they meditate in order to try to obtain salvation through reincarnation. We pray that something in their religious beliefs or practices points them to true revelation from the true and living God. We pray that they are willing to yield and believe in the true God when they encounter Him, and that there false teachings won’t prevent them from accepting the truth. We also pray for the Buddhists of the world, with the Dalai Lama giving them false teachings and false assurances. We pray that something within Buddhist beliefs or practices might lead them out of false teachings and into the light of truth. We pray that they encounter the true and living God in Jesus Christ, and that they accept him by faith into their lives. This Christmas season is a great opportunity to witness for Jesus Christ, let’s pray God sends someone of another religion to talk to about the gospel.


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