Sermon on Matthew 2:1-12
Text: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 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.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 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. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘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.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 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.”
9 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. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 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. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Today is a unique day in the year. January 6 is called Epiphany. It is unique in that it is a fairly rare occasion that January 6, Epiphany, falls on a Sunday. For that reason, we do not always get the chance to talk about the events of our text, the visit of the Magi or wise men. Really, it is quite a shame because Epiphany is often called the Gentile Christmas. In Matthew we have recorded the first instance of Gentiles, non-Jews, coming to see Jesus. Today, this Epiphany Sunday, we study the visit of the Magi, using the title of the hymn AS WITH GLADNESS MEN OF OLD. 1. May We Evermore Be Led By You. 2. May We Ever Seek Your Mercy Seat. 3. May We Our Costliest Treasures Bring.
Our text is introduced with the words, “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.” (Verses 1&2) These words, while they are specific in some ways, do leave some questions. First of all, when did this happen? We know that it was after Jesus was born. Later on, it says that the Magi entered the house where they were staying, so they were no longer in the stable. Yet, exactly when did this happen? We do not know.
The next question that is raised is how many Magi were there? We all know the carol, “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” Yet, were there three? Some have guessed that, since there were three gifts given, there were three. However, there is no place where it says that there was one person per gift. All we can say with any certainty is that there were at least two wise men.
The final question is where were these men from? It says in verse 1, “Magi from the east came.” What is mean by “the east?” While it does not say directly, it would not be too hard to imagine that they came from the region of ancient Babylon. Their learned men spent a great deal of time studying the heavens. They would have noticed a new star. Furthermore, remember that the Jews were exiled to Babylon. We know that Daniel, as well as others, were not afraid to tell the Babylonians about their faith. There is little doubt that they told others about the coming Messiah. They had shared with them verses such as Numbers 24:17, “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” While the text does not say it, it would not be too hard to imagine that these Magi, wise men, might have come from this region.
Whatever the answers might be to these questions, we see the Magi being led from their homeland to Israel. Once they reached Israel, the land of the Savior, the star apparently disappeared. So, they went to the logical place to look for a baby, who was to be King of the Jews. However, their news was not welcomed by its hearers, because we read in verse 3, “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” Herod’s stomach was churning when he heard this. He already thought that people were trying to take his throne from him. This is seen from the fact that he murdered one of his ten successive wives as well as three of his sons. He was afraid that they were plotting against him. Now this news of someone born “King of the Jews!” It was too much to handle.
So, Herod devised a plan. “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.” (Verse 4) He had to find out more information. The scholars quoted from the book of Micah, “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.” (Verse 6) Then we read, “Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.” (Verse 7) He was going to get rid of this threat to his throne. He got all of the facts that he could. Then, he sent the Magi off on a mission. He told them, “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.” (Verse 8) Obviously, Herod had different motives in mind, other than worship, as is evidenced in the slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem, which is described later in this chapter.
However, as the Magi left, we read in verses 9&10, “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.” We can scarcely imagine the joy that filled their hearts when they saw the star again and it led them to the Christ Child. Yet, to a certain extent, maybe we can. We experience a joy when we see Christ, too. That is because we are, by nature, wandering around in darkness, the darkness of sin. We were lost in that darkness. We recognize our sinfulness, when we look at our lives and see how short we have fallen from what God demands of us. We have sinned against our God in so many ways, in failing to put him first in our lives, in failing to love those around us as God demands that we do.
Yet, Jesus, who said, “I am the light of the world,” (John 8:12) has pierced our darkness with the light of his love. He came to the earth to be our Savior. By his perfect life and his innocent suffering and death, he has rescued us from sin, death and the devil. The star that shone in Bethlehem all those years ago still shines for us as we are led to see the Christ. He is our Savior. May we be evermore led by him.
In verse 11, it says, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” Finally, after all of those miles, those days of traveling, they were at the end of their journey. Their destination was in front of them. When they got there, they bowed down in worship. They knew that they were in the presence of their Savior God.
We, also, have the same privilege. We have the opportunity to see our Savior, when we gather together for our services. As a matter of fact, don’t we call them “worship services?” It is not just a way to kill an hour or so. We gather to worship our Savior God. We sing our praises to him with our hymns and psalms and the various liturgies. We bring our praise and petitions to him in prayer. We listen in humble awe to his word as it is spoken and taught to us. We humbly bow before the Lord in worship.
We note that the Magi did more in their worship. Again in verse 11, it says, “Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” All of the gifts that they presented were valuable. Incense was used in the worship life of the Jews, symbolizing their prayers ascending to heaven. Myrrh was a costly perfume made from the sap of a small hardwood tree. All of these gifts were valuable. Obviously, they did not pick them up from a discount store. They brought the best that they had to offer to the Christ.
We still use gifts to honor our Savior. One way is when we bring some of our earthly goods with which the Lord has blessed us as offerings. When we realize whom and what we are by nature and what God has done for us, we cannot help but bring the best we have to offer. We want our gifts to be fitting responses to the grace that God has shown to us. No, we can never repay God for all that he has done for us, nor do we give them to earn God’s favor. We have already been saved. Heaven is ours already. What our offerings do is allow us the opportunity to thank God in a physical way. We return some the gifts with which we have been blessed. When we put our offerings in the plate, we are not paying our dues or making sure that the church has enough money to pay the bills. Rather, we want our offerings to imitate the gifts of the Magi, who gave their best in worship of the King.
Of course, there are other ways that we can bring our costliest treasures. Time is very valuable. We live by the clock. The way we use our time can also be an expression of worship of our God. When we serve on a committee or council at church, we are making an offering of our time. When we live our lives in such a way that is pleasing to God, we are making an offering to him. When we carry out our station of life, whatever it might be, whether it is a husband or wife, parent or child, employer or employee, retired, or self-employed. We carry out our tasks to the best of our abilities, and in doing so, we worship our God. We give him our best. In this way, we also imitate the Magi, who traveled for days and miles to worship the Christ. May we our costliest treasures bring.
The account of the Magi brings great joy, because it shows very clearly that Jesus was born for all people and not just one nation. Jesus was born for us. The bright light of the gospel has shone for us, as well. May we learn from the example of the Magi and worship our Savior with all our best, our best efforts, our best abilities, our best offerings. May we continue to do so until, as the hymn concludes, “There forever may we sing Alleluias to our King!” Amen.
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