Why the Magi?

Title: Why the Magi?

Text: Matthew 2:1-12

Time: December 6th, 2009

Last week I talked about why God might have chosen Mary out of all the Jewish women at the time during the first century in Israel. He chose her primarily because of her faith and obedience to him, but also in order to make a statement to the world that God doesn’t operate according to the system of man. He doesn’t follow earthly, human protocol; he doesn’t follow the worldly chain of command. The VIPs of the world aren’t necessarily important in the sight of God. He operates on an entirely different standard. That should give us comfort because not many of us are important in the eyes of the world. But even though we aren’t classified as special in the eyes of man, to God we are beloved and chosen by him for special treatment, including eternal salvation. The Apostle Paul says it best in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.'” God purposefully chooses the lowly so that they don’t get the glory or seek the credit themselves for greatness, but rather they give God the glory and boast of his greatness. Now in the case of the Magi — or wise men as they have been called elsewhere — God is up to the same thing, only with a little different twist. He goes outside of his chosen people the Jews and instead chooses outsiders, foreigners, to be some of the first to worship the baby Jesus. Now why did God go outside of Israel and bring in Gentiles to among the first to recognize and glorify the Savior? Again, God is confounding the wisdom of the world and acting outside the box; he’s acting in a way that no educated Jew would understand. But what was God trying to say in picking the Magi? What kind of statement was he trying to make in selecting people from outside of Israel to come and worship the Messiah? We’ll explore that question today. Next week, I’ll ask the question, “Why the shepherds?” I’ll try to explain why God might have chosen the lowly shepherds to send angels to and announce the birth of the baby Jesus. Again, God’s wisdom transcends all human thinking; we’ll talk about that more next week. It just goes to demonstrate the words of the prophet Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord,” Isaiah 55:9. But today, we’ll look at the Magi in Luke 2:1-12 (read). Let me mention a few observations about this passage.

First, it defies logic that God would bring in foreigners from outside of Israel to worship the Messiah. Luke 2:1-2, 12, “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.’ . . . And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” We are told that the Magi came from the east, that is, east of Israel, in the land to the east of Israel. All nations tend to measure distance and direction in comparison to their own land. For example, the ancient Chinese used to think of China as the center of the world. I think we all tend to think of our own land as central, at least to our own lives. So the Magi came from the lands east of Israel. Scholars usually say they came from Persia. Now if this is so, then they spoke a different language — although they may have known some Hebrew depending on their backgrounds and education. We need to remember that in Old Testament times the Jews were conquered and exiled to different lands of the east, so there were probably Jews living in all the lands of the east at that time; Hebrew was probably known by some of the people in these distant countries. Maybe the Magi spoke it, at least enough to communicate with the Jews. If they came from the east, then probably they had a different religion as well. Many scholars think they may have practiced the religion of Zoroastrianism, which emphasized the spiritual battle between good and evil. But we don’t know for sure what the Magi practiced, but we know that they looked to some form of astrology to guide them. They were convinced that a king of Israel was born because of the configuration of the stars and planets. Now is this type of knowledge valid? Is it possible to predict future world leaders through observation of the stars? According to modern science there is no known correlation between objects in the sky and events on earth. Astrology is mostly a discredited discipline. In fact, God forbids his people to dabble in astrology or attempt to find meaning and purpose in the sky; they are to look to God and God alone for guidance. So the Magi were a most improbable group for God to select in connection with the first Christmas celebration. Of course, the Jews would not only be fooled by the selection of the Magi, but they would be baffled by God sending Jesus to be a spiritual Messiah over against their own expectations of him being a military leader to free Israel from Roman rule. Jesus the Messiah came to “save his people from their sins” — as Matthew 1:21 states, while most Jews were looking for the conquering hero Messiah. Again, God displays his counter-cultural thinking, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate,'” 1 Corinthians 1:18-19. Rather than complain about the unpredictability of God, we must rejoice in it because it shows us that God is above all earthly and human powers. God isn’t following mankind, he’s leading it. The world is in a mess today precisely because people don’t follow the ways of God, not because they have followed God. This gives us hope because the way out of our problems is following God’s ways which are different and even contrary to our own human ways. Are you truly following God’s way with your life? Or are you following the way of the world or your own worldly thinking? If so, isn’t it time you recognized that God’s way is always better than your own way or the way of world? Don’t be afraid to be different in following God. Don’t be different just to be different; that’s vain and stubborn. But realize that God operates on a different level than we do, and that we need to conform ourselves to his way, not the other way around.

Second, there is higher wisdom in God choosing foreigners to worship Jesus at his birth. Matthew 2:9-10, “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.” God chose people who would appreciate his divine activity in the world; he chose people who would willingly follow his agenda on earth — even if that meant going outside of Israel, so be it. Now in retrospect, the VIPs of Israel who should have been there at the birth of Jesus, the Jewish rulers, leaders and scholars proved to be the most resistant to the person and work of Christ during his lifetime. They should have been in the place of the Magi, but they wouldn’t be, they simply refused to be, and therefore they disqualified themselves. God went outside of Israel to bring in true worshippers of the Messiah at his birth. God chose foreigners, recruited “three kings” from afar to take the place of the rulers and kings of Israel because the local Jews were in no disposition to worship the baby Jesus. Take for example, Herod, the so-called king of the Jews. He not only wasn’t welcoming any new king born in Israel, he rather worked to eliminate that child through murder. By proper human protocol, king Herod should have come and worshiped the baby Jesus, but he wouldn’t. It’s the same with the other Jewish leaders as well. The high priest should have been present at the birth of the Messiah — if any Jewish leader was to welcome the long-awaited leader, it should have been him. But because the high priest and other important religious and spiritual leaders had other expectations, they probably wouldn’t have come anyway, at least, not to a stable in such humble surrounding, thinking that it impossible for the true Messiah to arrive in such a state. I think it’s pretty clear that God Almighty is making a powerful statement about who he will select and use for his own purposes on earth — anyone who is open-minded and open-hearted towards him. These Magi must have been qualified by their willingness to believe and act on the inspiration of God –the Jewish God. Even though they were from a foreign land with a foreign religion, they probably knew something of Jewish Monotheism, the belief in one, Almighty God. We don’t know for sure but they might have even read the Jewish scriptures, the Old Testament. They may have read the prophets and may have been convinced of the coming Messiah. I think it’s pretty ironic that God picks them over all the leaders and rulers of Israel to greet the Messiah, the baby Jesus. But maybe God is showing us his true wisdom by declaring that the Savior Jesus is not only for the Jews, he’s for all people, all nations, all cultures. By selecting the Magi, foreigners, God is showing that he’s interested in spreading the message of the gospel to all people because Jesus is Savior of all who will trust and obey him. The Jews to this very day are still holding out on God; they still refuse to recognize Jesus as the true Messiah of Israel, and so the gospel has been spread mostly through Gentiles until the day that God opens the eyes of his chosen people the Jews. So we see the wisdom of God in giving most of us Gentiles an opportunity to be a part of his spiritual family. So thank God that you — you are probably non-Jewish or Gentile — thank God you are included in God’s plan of salvation. God is looking for people from all nations; he’s God of all the earth. That’s the message that comes through loud and clear at Christmas.

Third, in choosing the Magi, it doesn’t mean that God endorses foreign religious beliefs and practices. Some people have wrongly concluded that in choosing the Gentile kings from afar that God is endorsing all religions of the world. This is entirely false. Jesus, as a grown man and in a conversation with a Samaritan woman, refutes the conclusion that God endorses all religious beliefs and practices. The Samaritan’s worshiped God incorrectly because they rejected all the Sacred Scriptures of the Old Testament except the first five books. Yes, they held to many of the most important parts of the Jewish faith, but they also rejected many other important parts also in rejecting the whole and complete Old Testament. Jesus, in his conversation with the Samaritan woman, criticizes her incomplete religious faith, the Samaritan religion, by saying, “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews,” John 4:22. What is this other than a criticism of Samaritan religion? “You Samaritans worship what you do not know” — is a criticism, charging Samaritans of religious and spiritual ignorance in their worship of God. “We Jews worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews” — is a statement that shows the superiority of Jewish religion and that true salvation comes from the Jews alone. In other words, Jesus is making a comparison between classic, Orthodox Judaism and the false religion of the Samaritans; he is criticizing a false religion. Now, if God were trying to say that all religions are valid, if that were the message of the Magi, then Jesus seems to be contradicting that message in his conversation with the Samaritan woman. No. The message God is sending with the Magi is not that all religions are valid in their own way, but rather that God is God of all people and the Messiah is Savior of all people, and he’s calling all people to faith and obedience. The fact that the Magi used astrology to find the star of Bethlehem doesn’t mean God endorses astrology as a religion or practice, it just means that he used the stars to get their attention, to bring them to the Savior. It shows that God is willing to meet us where we are, even if where we are is not where we should be or eventually will be in our progress towards maturity. Today, most people consider astrology false, a fake belief — and it is. There is nothing to prove that the motion of heavenly objects like stars and planets, can predict future events on earth. But God used the Magi’s interest in astrology to bring them to the Savior, even though the stars didn’t perform the way they thought they did; God used this mistaken notion to bring them to the truth. That just shows how God will stoop low to us in an effort to bring us to a knowledge of himself. It is my personal belief that in all the false religions of the world, there is a last something that God can use to bring a person to the true faith of Christianity. In all the false and foolish philosophies of the world, there is some element that if followed would lead an open-minded and openhearted person to salvation in Jesus Christ. In other words, there is something in all false religious systems that if followed would lead people out of falsehoods and into the truth. We need to help people discover these redeeming points in order to bring them out of whatever false beliefs and practices they are currently following. If you find yourself talking to a Muslim or a Buddhist or Hindu or some other false religion, ask God to give you the wisdom to help you find some thing they believe that can lead them into the truth of Christianity. That seems to be one of the lessons we learn from the Magi.

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