The Message of the Magi        

A Sermon preached at Torpoint  23/1/05

Reading:  Math 21-12

What is the Message of the Magi?
      What is the Sign of the Star?
            What is the significance of this story that is only told by Matthew?
We will look first at the 'Star', and then at the 4 groups of people:
      The wise men,
                  The religious leaders
                        and 'the Royal Family'.

The Star
What was the star? Speculation abounds.
      It was not a conjunction of planets (where 2 or more planets come in line) -
            They occur every 2 months, so much too common to be a sign.
                  (If you are interested I can give you details afterwards.)
Why did Matthew include such detail about this star? What is God telling us?
The 'Star' was ordered by the King of the Universe
because a small group of astronomers in Babylon were seeking him earnestly.
            Such is the amazing grace of God.
      He arranged this special event in the sky to draw a small group of Gentiles
            to be at the right place, at exactly the right time.
      In our search for salvation most of us can witness to some 'God-incidences'.
            You probably met someone, or read something at just the right moment.
            So it was not quite so spectacular as the star!

Four things to note about the star in the east:
      1. It was seen in the east. And only in the east. How could happen?
                  It must have appeared over the eastern horizon shortly before dawn;
                        and then disappeared with all the other stars as the sun rose.
                  If it had been in the east in the early evening it would have moved
                        across the night sky from E to W with all the other stars.
      2. Although the star was seen in the east; the wise men travelled west! Why?
                  They knew where to go, but not when. The star was a sign to go now.
      3. This special star did not draw anyone else to seek the King -
                  so it was probably only understood by these few.
                  God was pleased to give their longing eyes wisdom.
      4. The bright star that only appears in the east for an hour before dawn
                  is 'The Morning Star'. This name for Jesus in Rev 2216 is no accident.

The star that had appeared to the Magi in Babylon, then seems to have left them.
      Math 22 says: We SAW (past tense) his star in the east.
      And Herod asked them the exact time the star HAD appeared.  27
      Although the star seems to have left then they knew where to go - to Judea.
In Jerusalem they were told that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
      They set off, and immediately the star re-appeared. They rejoiced.  29,10
      They 'followed' the star from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.
             A 1½ hour journey - due south. There it 'stopped'.
             Like the sun, all stars appear to move slowly E to W across the sky,
                  as the earth rotates. They never move south. And they don't stop.
This star that heralded the birth of the Son of God on earth was certainly
      a very, very special one, created by Father for this very special occasion.
      And rightly so. The Almighty had waited a long time for this right moment.

The Wise Men

How did the Magi know this special star heralded the birth of the Messiah?
      I think that the answer lies in the book of Daniel, chapter 9.
      Daniel had been in Babylon for 66 years.
            Every day he prayed - 3 times a day. Dan 610
            He prayed for Jerusalem, for a righteous king and a righteous people.
      After 66 years of daily prayer God sends Gabriel with his answer.  Dan 924-26
70 7's are decreed for your people and your city (Jerusalem)
      the Anointed One will come.
            he will finish transgression
            put an end to sin
            atone for wickedness
            bring in everlasting righteousness
            to seal up the vision
            to anoint the most holy.
      And it will be in times of trouble.
Daniel had served Nebuchadnezzar for over 40 years
      and then lived a further 26 years in Babylon surrounded by 50 idol temples.
      All his life he longed with all his heart for truth and righteousness;
            he longed for the Jewish Messiah to come.
Now well in his 80's God came to give him a solemn promise, an assurance,
      that though it wouldn't be in his lifetime, the Anointed One would come.
      Daniel recorded this promise; and some Babylonian sages shared his longing.
      What would be the sign of his coming? We are not told.
      But over 500 years would pass.
            Then God told the Magi that the day had arrived.
            This special star was the sign.
They immediately set off on their 1000 mile camel ride to Jerusalem.
      They had only one question. Where is the King?
            In Bethlehem they were told.
      They arrived there and were overjoyed to worship the king of the Jews -
            The King of the universe, who would become their king too.
            He was a just a baby - and in a stable, not a palace.
            Were they surprised? Probably; but it did not put them off.

These considerate and prophetic Magi presented their gifts to their king:
      Gold for the Royal Family's flight to Egypt
      Frankincense for the fragrant offering of prayer
      Myrrh for the burial of the Messiah King.

Math 811,12 says, Many (Gentiles) will come from east and west ...
      These wise men from the east seeking the Saviour were just the start!

Compare these men to  Herod
Herod was an Edomite, descended from Esau; so he was not a Jew.
      God had declared, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.  Mal 12,3
      These are strong words. Totally at variance with the modern concept of God.
      Malachi did not get it wrong. God revealed the truth to him.
      Jacob the cheat became Israel who prevailed with God,
            such was his longing for the Lord Almighty.
      But his elder twin brother Esau despised his birthright -
            The promise of God to Abraham and Isaac to bless him and all nations.
            He preferred a bowl of soup! What an insult.
            Macho Esau and the Edomites never had any hunger for the Lord.
            They could manage on their own without God very well, thank you.
            He had no longing for a Saviour; he felt no grief over sin.
      Have any of you been to Petra, 'the rose red city' in Jordan, cut out of rock?
            It was the principal town of the Edomites, like Mazada that Herod built.
            It was so easy to defend, they said, Who can bring us down to the ground?
            The prophet Obadiah gives God's answer to the arrogance of Edom.
            The pride of your heart has deceived you ... though you soar like an eagle
                  and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,
                  declares the Lord. Obed 13,4 And he did.
             There was no military battle, God just changed the trade route.
                  Petra became totally isolated in the middle of the desert.
                  Today it is just a tourist attraction in southern Jordan.
            It was just like when God scattered the proud men of Babel.
            And today the same proud Edomite spirit is building the EU - on sand!
Herod was an Edomite.
Herod was an energetic cruel megalomaniac.
      But he was also plagued with uncertainty.
      He couldn't bear the thought of losing his throne.
      He was made king by Rome - the Gentile super-power of the day.
      He murdered his first wife (1st of 10) who threatened his throne.
            He murdered 3 of his sons, his mother in law and his brother in law.
            He also killed 45 Sadducees to use their estates to pay his Roman tax.
And now the Messiah had come to whom the kingship belonged.  Gen 4910
      To Herod the threat was appalling. So he murdered all the children.
      Wickedness always clashes with the kingdom of Christ.
Herod saw Jesus as a threat, instead of the Saviour he so greatly needed.
But even with all his murderous nature and power,
      he could not thwart the plan of God to redeem sinful men.
Esau and Herod are so different from Jacob and the wise men
      who so persistently sought for the Lord - and were not disappointed.

What about the  Chief Priests,  the religious leaders?
      They knew where Messiah would come from (Mic 52)
            but amazingly they did absolutely nothing to seek him -
                  either then or later.
As Jesus said to them, You diligently search the scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life.
    These are the scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
 Jn 539,40
      Why are men so blind to their eternal plight?
      Jesus gives us the answer: This is the verdict: Light has come into the world,
      but they loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Jn 319
Tragically they seemed to have no desire for the Lord himself.
      Were Anna and Simeon the only two who walked the Temple longing for God?
Like many before and since,
      Herod's officials and these religious leaders preferred the slavery of sin
      in preference to the glorious liberty of the children of God.

So the wise men left Herod's court alone.
There was no one else who desired to worship the new-born king.
Where are the 'wise men' today?
      Amid all the economic uncertainty, the political upheavals,
            the climatic disasters, the family squabbles,
            Who will seek the King of the Jews?
            Who will cry with Jacob, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."
            Who will sell all that he has to buy the pearl of great price?
      Will you?
      How great is your need for forgiveness?
      How hungry is your heart for the great Creator and the Saviour of the world?

On that great day some 2000 years ago,
      Jesus was born King of the Jews - and he died 'King of the Jews'.
These religious men first ignored him and later they crucified him.
      What a way to treat their king!
      How do you treat him?

The Royal Family
Nazareth and Bethlehem were little,
      but were chosen by God to be honoured.
      Like the insignificant little star called 'Sparkle'
            who we saw in the nativity play at Grace church the week before Christmas.
Bethlehem is Hebrew for 'the house of Bread'.
      How fitting for the Messiah, the Bread of Life,
            who came down from heaven to save and feed our hungry souls.
            He who comes to me will never go hungry,
            and he who believes in me will never be thirsty ...
            and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.  Jn 635-37
      How fitting that when Jesus was born,
            the shepherds and wise men sought him.
            They worshipped the One who made the whole world, and all the stars.
            Their goal was achieved.
            They had found the One they sought,
                  the One who brought life to all,
                  the One who would so soon give his life for all.
      This is wisdom.
      This is the message of the Magi.
            It begins with the revelation to Daniel that the Anointed One would come.
            The Magi told their story to Mary and Joseph,
                  and then Mary told it to Matthew.

The story is clear proof that God always keeps his word.
            The Anointed One had come.
            The Saviour had been born.
            God had kept his promise. He always does.

          If you seek the Lord your God, you will find him
            if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.  Deut 429