How do you respond to receiving gifts? My 3-year-old Daisy is at the age where she is learning how to respond to receiving gifts. After sending so many gifts to our house, of course Daisy’s grandparents wanted to know what she thought of the gifts she had been given. So over zoom and Facetime we have taught her to say thank you for the gifts and to express her excitement about those gifts as well. Her grandparents want to know that she got the gift, that she enjoyed it, and it also feels good to be thanked and appreciated.
The greater the gift, the greater response that’s expected.
We can learn from the Magi how one ought to respond to this exceedingly great gift.
Who were the Magi?
Sometimes they are called the Wise Men. They were not Kings. The idea developed in later tradition. But they were advisers to the royal court in whatever country they came from. Just as Israel had priests and prophets that advised the king, some Gentile nations had Magi. They were a priestly group that studied astronomy, astrology, dream interpretation, magic, wisdom literature, and sacred texts. They watched the heavens to discern divine messages in the night sky.
So the Magi were priestly political advisers who gave divine guidance to the king. We see something like this in the book of Daniel, when he correctly interprets the King Neb’s dream, he was appointed the leader over all his wise men.
How many Magi?
We aren’t sure how many Magi came to see Jesus. Eastern tradition says 12, Western tradition says 3 in accordance with the gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Mrryh. The Bible doesn’t say. It’s also very likely they had servants/attendants/ guards travelling with them. So we should probably envision a decent entourage travelling to Jerusalem.
Where did they come from?
Perhaps from Arabia, Parthia in the North, or Persia. Babylon is also a possibility. Perhaps this is most likely as the Magi seem to understand the promise of a king of the Jews and of the idea of prophecy being fulfilled. In Babylon, they would have encountered the prominent Jewish community there, comprised of all those who never left Babylon after the Exile. There they would have learned the Jewish scriptures and learned from the Jewish teachers. I also might add, it seems totally like God for the priestly leaders from Babylon, the country that exiled his people, to now come and bow down to Christ. That’s a great story. But it is speculation. There were Jewish colonies in Arabia and Parthia as well. We just don’t know exactly where they came from.
Why did they come?
2 “We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
The Magi saw some kind of sign in the sky and discerned that a King of the Jews had been born.
A few hypotheses have been thrown out as to what the Magi saw.
Halley’s Comet would have been too early. Perhaps it was a supernova of some kind.
Perhaps the most likely suggestion is something that just happened in our lifetime that people were calling the Christmas Star.
On Dec 21of this year, Jupiter and Saturn had a great conjunction. The closest they had been together in 400 or perhaps even 800 years. Anybody see it?
So we know that in 7 BC, around the time many actually date the birth of Jesus, we know this conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter happened 3 times.
Jupiter was known to represent either deity or royalty. Saturn represented the Jews.
So Jupiter and Saturn coming together, a Magi would look up in the sky and say, God is telling us, the king of the Jews has been born.
So they came because something the sky told them something about a King of the Jews being born.
But it also seems they had expected this.
V.2 “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?
They knew that a King of the Jews was expected. In fact, at this time, it seems strange, there was an expectation worldwide that a great king was about to be born. Even Roman historians right about this. There was a rumor going around about a great king who was going to be born in Judea.
These Magi were likely familiar with Jewish prophecy, including a prophecy out of the book of numbers that the Rabbi’s were saying was Messianic:
17 I see him, but not now; I perceive him, but not near. A star will come from Jacob, and a scepter will arise from Israel.
So it seems the Magi saw something amazing in the sky and concluded that God was fulfilling these ancient prophecies to raise up a new king in Israel.
I tell you all of these so you can we are caught up in a story that is miraculous and amazing. Once they recognize the truth, that God has sent the Messiah, their response of worship to this amazing gift is incredible.
We certainly can learn to worship with the Magi.
What do the Magi do?
The Magi are willing to take this journey because they now want to seek Jesus, the foretold king.
They do all this on faith. They have yet to even see Jesus. They don’t even know exactly where he is going to be. Somewhere in Israel. How are they going to find him? They are walking by faith, not by sight.
As it said in Hebrews, God rewards those who earnestly seek him.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.- Jer 29:13
When we seek after Jesus, we are promised that we will find him and that we will be rewarded.
Rejoice in Jesus
10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
This is a natural reaction to having already sought Jesus. They are receiving the goal of their seeking. They have finally found Jesus.
When we worship, we seek Jesus alone and he is faithful to be near to us. James 4:8 “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” So like the Wise Men, we will seek him and then we will rejoice in his nearness, his presence, and in Jesus himself. That’s part of our worship. To rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice is a choice. A choice to delight in God’s presence and character. So in worship, we meditate on the magnitude of the gift we received so that we can rejoice in who God is and all he has done for us.
11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down
fall down, throw oneself to the ground as a sign of devotion or humility, before high-ranking persons or divine beings
They are paying Jesus homage as a king.
What humility these wise men show.
Their “prostration” (v. 11, literally “falling”) was a familiar act of homage in Eastern society, a recognition of social superiority.- France
The magi, probably the most learned men of that time, royal advisers, wealthy and powerful, bow down, fall down in front of the child Jesus.
Give Jesus Costly Gifts
Now we get to the most well-known part of the story.
11 “Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”
From early times these gifts have been associated with symbolic meanings. Gold for royalty, frankincense for divinity, myrrh for death and burial, but I’m sorry to say that is not Matthew’s point
These are gifts fit for a king. They are not items given because of symbolic meaning, they are given because of their high value which is meant to honor a person of high status, namely a king.
Now we may not be as wealthy as the Magi, but we can all make offerings that are costly to us personally, which I know many of you do and have done, especially with updating this facility to the glory of God. Well done and keep it up, for our king is worthy and his mission goes on.
The Magi are an amazing example of worship, perhaps much more than they intended to be.
In light of the awesome and wondrous gift we have received in Jesus, how ought we to respond in worship? We seek Jesus. We rejoice in Jesus. We revere Jesus and we give him costly gifts. Which one of those do you need most in your walk with Jesus right now? In this new year? Is God inviting you to seek after Jesus more? Is God inviting you to rejoice in Jesus? To rever Jesus? Is God calling you to give him costly gifts that honor him and further his mission? May the Holy Spirit guide your response.
Now let’s give our king our best worship and our whole selves.