Follow the Magi, Matthew 2:1-12

“The Magi didn’t come to see Jesus, they came to worship Him”

Who you follow is important:  A new missionary recruit went to Venezuela for the first time.  Because he was struggling with the language he didn’t understand a whole lot of what was going on.  One Sunday morning he visited a local church. He arrived a little late because he had some trouble finding the place.  He had every visitors nightmare: the place was packed and the only seats left were in the front row.

 

He did not want to make a fool of himself, so he decided to pick someone out of the crowd to imitate.  He chose to follow the man sitting next to him. As they sang, the man clapped his hands, so the missionary recruit clapped too.  When the man stood up to pray, the missionary recruit stood up too. When the man sat down, he sat down. When the man held the cup and bread for the Lord’s Supper, he held the cup and bread.  During the preaching, the recruit didn’t understand a thing. He just sat there and tried to look just like that man in the front pew.

 

Then he could tell that the preacher was giving some sort of announcements.  People clapped, so he looked to see if the man was clapping. He was, and so the recruit clapped too.  

 

Then the preacher said some words that he didn’t understand and he saw the man next to him stand up.  So he stood up too. Suddenly the entire congregation went silent. A few people gasped. He looked around and saw that nobody else was standing, and that everyone was looking at him.  So he sat down.

 

After the service ended, the preacher stood at the door shaking the hands of those who were leaving.  When the missionary recruit stretched out his hand to greet the preacher, the preacher said, in English: “I take it you don’t speak Spanish.”

The missionary recruit replied: “No I don’t.  Is it that obvious?”

“Well yes,” said the preacher, “I announced that the Acosta family had a new-born baby boy and asked that the proud father would please stand up.”

 

The idea of following….being behind someone or something…going after (sequentially and imitatively), you don’t come first, you don’t pioneer your own way, you have gotten in line behind someone or something else….locationally you want to end up in the same space/area as the person you follow….traffic, lines, caravan, travel, conga lines, ….relationally/imitatively you want to end up being like/similar to the person you’re following….children following parents, friends,

 

The idea of following is a theme all throughout Scripture….(Abraham to Canaan, Israel in Wilderness, disciples followed Jesus “Follow me…”, “I will follow you even unto death”, “we have left everything to follow you…”, follow the lusts of your flesh, follow the world, follow false teachers, the Antichrist

Today we are going to follow these iconic figures in the Christmas season known as the Magi, or, the Wise Men.  

 

Follow the Magi from the East (v. 1-2)

The first point we see is the Arrival of the Magi in verses 1-2. “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.”

 

These Magi, or, also known as “Wise Men” come from the east.  They come because they followed a star. Who are these guys? And, what about this star?  

 

Let’s explore these Magi first.  They were wise men that came from the East, that is the area of Babylon, Persia, Media, Chaldea.  Magi were experts in sacred texts, astronomy and astrology. They knew the courses of the heavenly bodies and they knew how to interpret the meaning of the movement of stars – they knew how the course of the stars guided the course of human affairs.  Magi were powerful men in any political sphere. They were called “king-makers” because they functioned as instructors of kings and often there was not a king that came into power without the direct involvement of the Magi. Consider Plato’s statement about this matter (pg 88).  

 

Interestingly, the Magi have been seen previously in the Bible.  In the book of Daniel we see a time when the nation of Israel intermingled with the Magi. Israel was taken captive by the Babylonian empire, just as God had told them it would happen. During Israel’s captivity in Babylon, one of those Jewish captives was Daniel, and he rose to tremendous power under Babylon’s king, Nebuchadnezzar. Because of God, Daniel’s spiritual abilities were superior to anyone else’s. As a result, King Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel the leader of all the advisors within his courts – the magicians, the diviners, the enchanters, and the astrologers – including the Magi.  His title was actually “Chief of the Magicians” (4:9; 5:11)

 

For instance, in Daniel 4:9 Nebuchadnezzar says “Daniel, chief of the magicians, I know the spirit of the holy gods lives in you…”  THen in chapter 5:11-12, during King Belshazzar’s reign, the queen says of Daniel, “There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. King Nebuchadnezzar your father …. appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners.

 

As a result of this time in history when the Jews intermingled with the Magi, and Daniel was put in charge of the Magi, the Magi would have learned of the Jewish Scriptures. They would have learned of the OT prophets and their prophecies concerning the coming Messiah. Prophecies like Numbers 24:17 which says, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” And with the contribution of the Jewish OT Scriptures, the Magi possessed and passed down their knowledge of the Jewish Messiah to each new generation of Magi all the way until the Magi at Jesus’ birth.

 

So it makes sense that these experts of the stars would notice this very star appearing.  It was their job to know the stars. But, what is up with this star? Obviously it stood out to them and they recognized it as significant, otherwise they wouldn’t have gone through all the trouble of travelling to Jerusalem.  There seems to be more to this star than the other stars in the night sky. How do we explain it’s strangeness? Some have suggested it was the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn. Others have suggested it was a comet. Some say it was a supernova.  Some think it was actually an angel. I fall into this last camp personally. Let me offer a couple reasons why.

 

  • First, angels are messengers of God who inform, point and lead people to what God is doing or going to do.  
  • Second, angels are already playing a big part in the arrival of the Messiah:  Angel to Joseph, Gabriel to Zecheria and to Mary, the angels appearance to the shepherds in the field.  
  • Third, while the word star in the Bible often refers to the skylights in the night sky, numerous times angels are called “stars” as well.  Wormwood is the name of a “star” that came down from heaven in Revelation 8:10; an angel from heaven was called a “star” was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss; Satan is called the bright morning star in Ezekiel, Jesus had seven stars in his hand in Revelation 1, each star corresponding to one of the 7 churches – the 7 stars were said to be angels of the 7 churches; revelation 12 says Satan’s tail swept ⅓ of the stars out of the sky – referring to ⅓ of the angels of heaven who were loyal to Satan over God; Satan said he would raise his throne above the stars of God (Isa 14:13) – it means he wanted to be God over God’s angels.  
  • Fourthly, the star evidently is moving, which indicates some sort of agency, some sort of intentionality, which indicates a conscious being.  Sure God could providentially line up normal stars in a spectacular way, but, God could also send an angel, which are often referred to as “stars”, and, are themselves luminous beings.  To my mind it seems that God sent this angel, referred to as a star, to lead these Gentile Magi to worship the newborn king of the Jews. These Gentile Magi – who would by their faith be saved by the very child they came to worship….isn’t that what angels do according to Hebrews 1:13:   “ serve those who will inherit salvation”?

 

To finish this first point let me say that they didn’t go to Jesus because they followed a star.  They went to Jesus to worship Him. They knew the one born to the Jews was to be worshipped. Being scholarly descendents of Daniel, they knew what Daniel said in Daniel 7:14, “He [the Son of Man] was given authority, glory, an sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped Him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

 

Application:  What will you do to worship Jesus?  How far will you go to worship Him?

Application:  Christians we are like stars shining in this dark world.  We have the light of life and truth in us, from Jesus. That light is to beam out visibly to those in darkness.  Let us not hide our light, let us not dim our light, but, let us let it glow with all of Christ’s brilliane.

 

Application:  These Magi got up and made a tremendous journey to go to Jesus.  Jesus said “Come to me and you will be saved”. Will you come to Him?

 

Follow the Magi into Jerusalem(v. 3)

Secondly, we see the Agitation caused by the Arrival of the Magi. Verse 3 says, “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.”

 

It is most likely that when these Magi came to town there were a whole lot more than 3 of them. Many scholars believe there would have been a whole caravan of Magi, escorted by a military detachment and having many servants in attendance. Many have estimated the size of their party to be more like 300. That seems a lot more likely to cause the whole city to be disturbed than 3 guys on camels.

 

Herod is disturbed and all the people of Jerusalem are disturbed.  Disturbed is not celebrating. Disturbed here means confusion mixed with fear.  Herod had reason to be afraid: he was the king of the Jews but is notified that the King of the Jews was just born.  That’s a threat to his position. That’s a threat to his power.  His term was in danger of coming to an end with the birth of this child.  

 

You might be thinking “Well surely Herod would welcome the coming of the Christ”.  No, you would be unfamiliar with this psychopath. Herod the Great did some amazing things, like build the temple Jesus would later preach in, and other wondrous feats of engineering.  But he was notoriously wicked – Merril Unger says he was “a monster in character”. He lived in constant paranoia and jealousy, and there was no one safe from his murderous revenge.

 

  • Out of his 9 wives he became suspicious of his favorite wife, had her killed, and then he killed her two brothers and her mother as well.  
  • His own sons were not safe:  he killed three of them. One of those sons, Antipater, was killed only 5 days before Herod died. Herod gave the order while lying on his own deathbed. There were no deathbed conversions for Herod – right up to the very end he was heinous and hateful.
  • While lying on his deathbed, Herod ordered that all the distinguished and honorable men in Jerusalem be brought in and arrested.Why would he do that? He said that he knew nobody was going to shed any tears at his funeral, and so in order for him to have the honor of proper mourning at his funeral, he commanded that at the moment of his death all those men be slaughtered.

 

Herod the Great was a puny man – insanely suspicious, maddened with paranoia, and instantly murderous at the possibility of any threat to his power as king of the Jews.

 

Now when a caravan of Magi from the east cross the borders into his kingdom, enter Jerusalem, and they start asking, “where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” is it any wonder that that Herod becomes disturbed as verse 3 says? He has just been put on notice that a rival to his throne has been born.

 

We can understand a little more now why “all of Jerusalem” might also be disturbed.  People were seeing this grand display of Magi arriving in the city, and, they were hearing what the Magi were asking and they knew that meant one thing: trouble. Trouble because they know Herod and that he would not tolerate any competition – and trouble because the people knew somehow and someway this was not going to be good for them.

 

And so when it says the whole city was disturbed with Herod, it is indicating they are afraid of Herod’s psychotic reaction. And they were right because over in verse 16 it says that Herod gave the orders to kill every firstborn male under 2 years old in Bethlehem and within its vicinity.

 

So Herod is disturbed and he assembles the chief priests and teachers of the law. (Read verses 4-6)

 

Herod at this point wants to see if what these Magi are saying could in anyway be correct. Is the coming Christ going to come from Bethlehem?

 

The whole group of them – the chief priests and teachers of the law confirm without hesitation that “YES” the Christ will be born in Bethlehem. They even know the chapter and verse and quote it to Herod. The prophecy they refer to is found in the OT book of Micah chapter 5 verse 2. This is yet another of the hundreds of astounding OT prophecies that spoke of the details surrounding the person of Christ. When He would be born, where He would be born, to whom would He be born, how would He be born, and on and on the prophecies go. Each of them fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

 

So the Magi arrive at Jerusalem, which is 5 miles north of Bethlehem where Jesus was born. An interesting point about Bethlehem is the meaning of the name. It means “House of Bread” and it’s from the house of bread that the Bread of Life came from.

 

Bethlehem has a rich history for the Jews. It is the place where Isaac buried his wife, Rachel. It is the place where Ruth married Boaz. But Bethlehem is most prized by the Jews as the beloved home town of King David. One time in David’s life when he was a fugitive on the run and living off in the hills, 2 Samuel 23:15 says that it was the water from the well in Bethlehem that he longed for.

 

But the most important role Bethlehem would have in Israel’s history is that from her the great Christ would be born. God promised David that not only would the Christ be one of His descendants, but He would be born in David’s home town of Bethlehem as well. Micah 5:2 says,

 

So it is here, the beloved Bethlehem that the Christ is born. The news has spread throughout Jerusalem and NOBODY goes to Bethlehem to see if it is true. The chief priests and teachers of the law should have given the Magi a personal escort to Bethlehem and personally investigated this whole situation. The question underneath these verses is “Why didn’t they go and seek out Christ?” The Magi travelled upwards of 1000 miles and the Jews wouldn’t even go 5 miles to find their own Messiah. This is disgraceful.

 

APPLICATION: They were so “all-knowing” of the Scriptures and yet they had no desire to go to Christ. Being the best student of Scripture doesn’t mean anything if your heart is not schooled by Christ. If you’re heart doesn’t become humbled and worshipful from a study of the Scriptures then you really haven’t learned what the Scriptures are teaching. You are in the same camp as these men – able to quote chapter and verse, but, no real desire in your heart for Christ.

 

Follow the Magi to Herod (v7-9)

Thirdly, we see the Agenda of Herod in verses 7-9. (Read)

 

Herod fakes a desire to worship Christ with the Magi. He wants to know when the star appeared to the Magi so he can determine how old the child is at this point. Why would this matter to him? We learn the reason why in verse 16, “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.”

 

Herod’s agenda was not to worship Christ, but, to kill Him.  Reminds us of Revelation 12 when it says, speaking of Jesus at his birth, that the dragon stood in front of the woman (Israel) who was about to give birth (to Jesus) so that he could devour the child.  Herod was the teeth of that dragon.

 

Follow the Magi to Jesus (v10-11)

Fourthly we see the Adoration of the Magi. Verses 10-11 say, “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.”

 

Notice the Magi adored Christ in 2 ways. First, they worshipped Him The word “worship” is mentioned 3 times in this passage (v2, 8, and 11). The Magi did not come to see Christ. They came to worship Him. “We have seen His star in the east and we have come to worship Him” they said in verse 2.

 

If they would have travelled all that way simply to look at Him and then turn around and head home it would have been an insult to Christ. No matter how amazing the prophecies, how supernatural the way in which they were guided, or how astounded they would have been by the reality of what they saw, if they did not bow and worship at the feet of Christ when they saw Him they would not have gone far enough in their pursuit of Christ.

 

So it is today:  no matter how often you come to Church, or how much you love the feel of the music or how much you get out of the preaching, or if it is a “pick me up” each week, or helps order your week, or you meet a few people, or whatever else you may get out of all this – if Jesus doesn’t get your worship its all for nothing – it’s worthless.  The only way to make any of this meaningful is to make Christmas about worshipping Jesus.

 

To fail to worship Jesus Christ is to reject who He is. They would have fallen short of a worthy response to Christ, and therefore would have been unworthy themselves. Men always fall short of Christ if they do not worship Him.

 

Now notice secondly, that it says they adored Christ by giving Him wealth. “They opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts” Matthew tells us. I love that phrase “they opened their treasures”. Jesus said that “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also”. I think they lavished on Christ so much of their wealth and cherished the privilege to be there on their knees presenting it all to Him.

 

And the meaning of the gifts are important too. Scholars have pointed out that there is significance to each of the 3 kinds of gifts given. Gold is for a king. Jesus was born king of the Jews the Magi said in verse 2. Incense is for the fragrance of His life. Ephesians 5:2 says, “…just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” And myrrh is for His death. Myrrh was used for embalming the dead. In John 19:39 Nicodemus brought 75lbs of myrrh and other spices for burying Jesus.

 

What you have to see here is that these Magi are Gentiles worshiping Christ.  The Jews rejected Him, but, the Gentiles have worshipped Him. All of that subsequent history previewed right here in the first Gentiles ever to worship Jesus. Many have pointed out that these are the first Gentile worshipers of Christ. This is so significant because God in this whole event is showing that the entire world is going to bow at the feet of the King of the Jews. Jesus Christ is going to be King of kings. In the beginning, at Christ’s birth, God brings Gentiles from across the world to worship Christ to show again that He is not only the God of the Jew but of the Gentile too, and that all the world will worship Him.

 

Did you know when Christ comes again that is how it will be? All the nations will come and bow in worship of Jesus Christ and bring their wealth to Him. Zechariah 14:16 says, “Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty…” Isaiah 60:5 says, “The wealth of the seas will be brought to you; the riches of the nations will come”, and in verse 11 again, “Men will bring you the wealth of the nations”.

 

Follow the Magi Home (v12)

Lastly, we see the Avoidance. The Magi avoid Herod in verse 12, “And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”

 

I wish we had more about what happened to the Magi after they left Jesus. Certainly they arrived to their home country with the same regal display and sensation as when they came to Jerusalem. I’m sure they reported to everyone in the palace and their nation of all they saw and heard. There must have certainly felt vindicated in front of all those who scoffed at their adventure in the beginning.

 

But I wonder if 30 years later they had ever received any word from the regions of Judah where they visited the Christ-child. I wonder if they heard of a certain Jewish preacher named Jesus who was turning Israel upside down. I wonder if they ever re-visited Jerusalem when Jesus was there preaching – and hearing His words and maybe seeing Mary, and making the connection that this is the child they saw so many years ago now grown into a man.

 

If not, did an apostle ever go to their side of the world and preach the Gospel of the Jewish Messiah born to a virgin? Did they hear His name again from the lips of a preacher and go back in their minds to that day when they came upon a humble house and saw a child?

 

Whatever happened to them, I’m sure the treasure they took home was worth far more than any treasure they left in Bethlehem that day.

 

Application

First, God has the ability to reach anyone, anywhere. Don’t ever think that someone is too far gone for God to bring to Christ.

 

Second, you have to ask yourself if God is leading you to Christ this Christmas season. Is there a star shining in your life that beckons you to go to Christ? Get up and follow it. Jesus said I am the Light of the world; whoever follows me will never walk in darkness. You don’t have to get on a plane and go to Israel to go to Christ. You have to go to the cross if you want to find Him. That child who was put in a manger grew up into a man and was one day put on a cross. The reason He came in a manger was so that you could someday come to Him through the cross. Have you come to Him?

 

Thirdly, Christ is for every man. The Magi were rich, educated, powerful men. But none of those things stopped them from putting their faces into the dirt and bowing like a common slave before the true King. Christ reaches every kind of person. He reaches the religious like Nicodemus, the rich like Joseph of Aramathea, the corrupt like Zacheaus, fisherman like Peter and John and James, the immoral like the woman at the well, and on and on.

 

There is no one whom Christ is not for. Christ is for every man – except for one. There’s only one kind of man who Christ is not for. He’s not for the man who rejects Him. He’s not for the man who says, “I do not believe in You and I have no need for You”. He’s not for the man who thinks of himself as self-sufficient….. or the man who comforts Himself with a false security that God will take him as he is without Christ. He’s not for the man who ignores his sin when God does not.

 

Get up and go to Christ like the Magi. Listen to the light of the Gospel and go to the cross. The child born in the manger grew into a man and said these words, “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again”. Go to the cross and trust in Him that you might be born of God.

 

ISTANBUL, Turkey – First one sheep jumped to its death.

Then stunned Turkish shepherds, who had left the herd to graze while they had breakfast, watched as nearly 1,500 others followed, each leaping off the same cliff, Turkish media reported.

In the end, 450 dead animals lay on top of one another in a billowy white pile, the Aksam newspaper said. Those who jumped later were saved as the pile got higher and the fall more cushioned, Aksam reported.

“There’s nothing we can do. They’re all wasted,” Nevzat Bayhan, a member of one of 26 families whose sheep were grazing together in the herd, was quoted as saying by Aksam.

The estimated loss to families in the town of Gevas (search), located in Van province(search) in eastern Turkey, tops $100,000, a significant amount of money in a country where average GDP (search) per head is around $2,700.

“Every family had an average of 20 sheep,” Aksam quoted another villager, Abdullah Hazar as saying. “But now only a few families have sheep left. It’s going to be hard for us.”

 

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