Sunday, December 26, 2004

Wise Men Discern Kings

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea I the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:1-2).
Two years have passed. The infant Jesus is now a “young Child.” Angels in the heavens had announced His birth to shepherds. A star in the East signified to the Wise Men.

The Greek word for “wise men,” magi, refers to a group of philosophers and priests, probably of Medo-Persia, who were interested in medicine, astronomy and related sciences. Though probably not kings, they would certainly have been sought out by kings for their wise counsel and insight.

The Magi in Matthew apparently had some access to the Hebrew Scriptures and developed an interest in Messiah. When they saw the star, they were put in mind of a prophecy in Numbers 24 spoken by Balaam. Balaam was a mercenary prophet hired by the Moabite king for utter a curse on Israel. But try as he might, Balaam was quite unable to perform that task. Instead, he brought forth a far-reaching declaration from heaven.
The utterance of him who hears the Words of God,
  and has the knowledge of the Most High …
I see Him, but not now;
  I behold Him, but not near;
A Star shall come out of Jacob;
  A Scepter shall rise out of Israel.
(Numbers 24:16-17)
This Star in Numbers is Messiah blazing with the authority of heaven. The scepter speaks of His rule over the earth from the midst of His people. In Matthew, the “star” is the Greek aster, and literally means “rising.”

The Magi stated their purpose: “We have seen His star [His Rising] in the East and have come to worship Him.” They came to honor the King of the Jews, to bow before Him, to reverence and adore Him, to kiss Him and honor Him with tribute

Now go to Jerusalem. Herod has found out about this trek. He gathers the Jewish priests and scribes to find out where this Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem of Judea” comes the answer, based on the prophesy of Micah 5:2:
But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
  Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
  Who will shepherd My people Israel.
Having discovered the place, Herod then summoned the Magi to determine the time the star appeared. “That I may come and worship Him also,” he says falsely. His real intent is to kill this rival king, though this was not yet apparent.

The Magi followed the star on to Bethlehem, full of joy when they realized their journey’s end and set their eyes on the young King. They fell down on their faces and worshipped Him. Then they arose and opened their treasuries and presented Jesus with gifts. Do not suppose that these were three little jars, Whitman’s Samplers. No, the Magi dug deeply into their treasuries and brought out their gifts in great quantity — they were honoring a King!

Now, understand that we do not know how many Magi were on this mission. Traditionally, they are numbered as three, but there is no real indication of this in Scripture. There were three gifts presented, but there may have been many wise men presenting them. There may well have been a whole company of Magi, along with an entourage — quite a conspicuous caravan.

The gifts of the Magi were very significant, demonstrating the wisdom and prophetic insight of these men.
  • Gold ~ a gift befitting a King.
  • Frankincense ~ a gift that honors the deity of this King.
  • Myrrh ~ a gift that recognizes the humanity of this King.
Having worshipped Jesus and bestowed their gifts upon Him, the Magi departed. But they were warned by God, in a dream, that they should not return to Herod, and they returned to their home by another way.

Joseph, a dreamer himself, was warned that Herod was out to destroy Jesus. God told him to take Jesus and Mary into Egypt. When Herod’s men came to Bethlehem, they found the Holy Family had departed.

Herod was furious. He commanded the slaughter of all young boys in Bethlehem, two years old and under, “according to the time which he had determined from the wise men” (Matthew 2:16).

The Magi were men of discernment, studying the Scriptures, believing the Word and following wherever it led them. They correctly discerned the kings. They offered no worship to Herod, brought him no gifts. They held their honor for the true King only and worshiped Him alone. As they honored God, God honored them, and brought them safely home.