Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Magi

From Emmanuel

Matthew 2:1-12

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.”

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.”

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.



It is easy to get the wrong idea about the Magi who brought gifts to the infant Jesus. First, the details that Matthew gives us about the Magi only leave us wanting to know more. Who were these Magi? Where exactly in the East did they come from? How many of them were there? What was the star that they saw, and how did they know it proclaimed the birth of the Christ? Why did they give Jesus these three gifts? It seems like God’s Word leaves us with more questions than answers about the Magi. It is very tempting to speculate about the answers to these questions, and many scholars who are undisciplined in their study of Christian theology are all too eager to give in to that temptation. There seems to be no end to such speculation. Faithful Christian theologians know that God’s Word tells us ALL that we need to know for our salvation, and whatever it leaves out is not necessary for us to know (no matter how much we want to know it.)

Second, the whole world is filled with false religions which tell of demanding gods which must be appeased by gifts given by supplicants. In a strange way this enslaves the supplicants who must work hard to please a capricious god, but it also shows a weak god who may be “bought off” by the work or sacrifices of people. There are even some Christians who have this view of God, but that isn’t true Christianity. It is only pagan theology with a Christian fa├žade. The true, Triune God (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) cannot be appeased by our gifts or good works. All things belong to Him anyway, so He is truly not impressed when we make a pretense to give Him a tiny portion of what already belongs to Him (see Hebrews 10).

Instead of requiring sacrifices and gifts from us, the True God made the sacrifices Himself and gives us the gifts. Jesus is God in the flesh and He sacrificed His life to redeem our lives from the guilt of our sin. The gift that He gives us is full forgiveness and pardon from any punishment which we deserve through our sinfulness and disobedience of God’s Law.

This is why Christians give gifts to one another at Christmas. God has already given us the greatest gift in the forgiveness we have through Christ, so we demonstrate our trust in this priceless gift by sharing what we have with others.

I don’t know who the Magi were, or how they knew about Christ, but we do know that they came to worship Christ and they were faithful to the God’s Word which told them to avoid King Herod. In this they can be great examples to us of faithfulness and worship.

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