It was a Sunday School cliffhanger – Keith got called up from the bench to teach in the 10th hour… then at the 11th hour, after he had been looking at his Greek translations and commentaries for a few days, church got called for snow. Here is his “follow up” from the class newsletter:
The Incredible Childhood of Our Savior Jesus Christ
Here is what you missed if you didn’t make it to church on Sunday:
Sometime after the birth of Jesus, magi came from the east to worship Jesus. They followed a star to Jerusalem and stopped to ask King Herod for directions (one of the magi must have been a woman, otherwise they wouldn’t have stopped to ask for directions). King Herod was quite interested in the prospect of another king and asked the magi to tell him if they found the child king. Herod called on the Jewish leaders to tell the magi where the messiah would be born. The magi found Jesus in Bethlehem (as the Jewish leaders told them). The magi worshiped Jesus and presented him with three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. They returned another route after being warned in a dream (Matthew 2:1-12).
Who were these magi and why did they come? Most people believe that there were probably three magi because of the three gifts. They seemed to have a strong understanding of the Hebrew scriptures, especially the messianic texts (well explore this next). They magi may have been from Persia since the Jews had been exiled in that region and many Jews refused to return to Israel after the exile had ended. They may have been kings, royal advisers, astrologers, etc. Certainly they had wealth and the ability to leave their homes for many months on end. They also had knowledge of the stars (or access to those who did).
What prophesies did the magi know? The Bible doesn’t say how the magi know of the star or why they believed that it led to the messiah. Although God could have appeared to these men (dream, angelic messenger, etc.) and told them of the events transpiring, it is probably more likely that these men had a strong understanding of the Hebrew scriptures. These men were probably from Persia or Babylonia and may have some knowledge and belief in God passed down to them from the time of Daniel (a reading of the book of Daniel leads me to believe that many Babylonians, even King Nebuchadnezzar, may have become believers in God through Daniel’s prophesies). The magi were probably familiar with many prophesies, including Numbers 24:17 (which describes the coming of the messiah as a star coming out of Jacob) and Daniel 9:24-27 (which Daniel predicts the death of Jesus to the day).
The gifts are also important in the story of the magi. The three gifts represent three aspects of Jesus’ life. Gold represented Christ’s kingship. Frankincense (used in burnt offerings) represented Christ’s divinity. Myrrh (used on the dead) represented the death that Christ would suffer for us. Gifts are a large part of our Christmas preparations. Jesus gave us the greatest gift ever, yet we often forget to give Him any gifts (our service, our love, our money, our time etc.).
The magi were men who read and believed God’s Word (the messianic prophesies), sought Jesus (traveled hundreds of miles), humbled themselves to worship Jesus (viewed him as greater than man), gave Jesus gifts (valued him more than their possessions or time) and obeyed God rather than man (returned without consulting Herod). How do we measure up to the magi this Christmas season?