Monday, October 30, 2006

Matthew 2, The Magi

As we look at the second chapter of Matthew, we see several characters involved. Verse one mentions “Jesus,” “Herod,” and the “Magi.” I want to focus on the Magi because in them, we see what human nature is like under the power of grace. Who were the Magi? We know that they were Gentiles, which shows that the grace of the gospel is not limited to the Jews only, but is for everyone in the world, as we saw from the genealogy in chapter one.

The Magi were men from the East, probably from Persia. The Persian Empire was located in the area we would call Iran and Iraq today. Some translations call the Magi “wise men,” and they were indeed wise to follow the star, but their occupation was astrology, which is very far from true “wisdom.” The word “astro” means star, and “logos” means word. So, the Magi were intellectuals, or scholars, who looked for a “word from the stars.” Because of this, many in Persia would have thought of them as “wise” men who had the answers to life’s problems.

But, the people of Israel would have seen them differently. The Israelites would have seen them as idolaters, as men who worship the stars, looking to them for guidance and comfort in their lives. The word “magi” is used other places in the NT in a derogatory way. For example: Acts 8:9 9 Now there was a certain man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city, and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great. Acts 13:6-8 “they found a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was . . . a man of intelligence, the magician was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.” The Hebrews in Jerusalem would not have seen these magi good men. Matthew 2:3 “And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” The word “all” doesn’t mean every single person in Jerusalem, but it does mean that a great number in the city were bothered by the visit of the Magi.

We shouldn’t think of ourselves as so different from the Magi. The Magi worshipped the stars, but we are idolaters by nature as well. The Magi looked to the stars for guidance but anytime we trust anything other than God’s Word for guidance in how to live our lives, we are idolaters too. To the degree that we look to movie stars, television, the songs on the radio, the voices in newspapers and magazines to give us our philosophy of how to live our lives, then we are really no different than the Magi. Sometimes those outlets say good things, but as a whole, the voices of our culture propagate a pagan worldview and unbelieving way of life. They say that you are the only thing that matters. America has made an idol out of “self.” The voices of culture tell you to listen to your feelings, to make laws for yourself, to throw off external authority. They say that you have to make your own truth, and that you make your own absolutes. The only thing that is immoral is to surrender your right to rule yourself, or to insist that there are absolutes outside of yourself.

The story of the Magi is about how God’s grace reaches into the hearts of the worst idolaters, and powerfully draws them to Christ. God graciously revealed Himself to these men. Ephesians 2:1-2 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience [verses 13-14] But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.” God revealed Himself to the Magi by grace. But, how did the Magi respond to God’s revelation? (1) They believed and acted for Christ. (2) They worshipped Christ. (3) They gave their gifts to Christ. They believed and acted for Christ. When they saw the star and heard God’s Word, they acted. They weren’t merely observers, but they believed and obeyed God’s revelation. If you truly believe that God’s Word is true and that what is says is for your good, then you will obey it.

They worshipped Christ (v. 11). This means that they regarded Him as worthy of honor, adoration, and obedience. God’s amazing grace had turned them from being, idolaters, worshippers of the stars, to being worshippers of Jesus. Every believer has had the same experience, as God has turned us from delighting in sin and self to delighting in Christ.

They gave their gifts to Christ (v. 11). When we come to Christ we give Him our gifts. We never give Him anything He hasn’t first given us. But, we give monetary gifts. But we also give Him the spiritual gifts He has given us, each of us doing what He has called us to do, as He has equipped each of us. These gifts aren’t given because He needs them, but because we need to give them as a way of demonstrating our love for Him, and that nothing we own comes before Him.

But, what I don’t want us to miss is that all of this started with God’s grace. Their belief, obedience, worship, and giving of gifts was all a response to God’s initiative of grace. God’s grace is first, their response was second. God is the one who put that strange bright star in the sky to draw their attention. God is the one who led them all the way to Christ in the manger.

God’s grace conquers the hearts of people we would never expect would come to Him. Why does He do this? It’s to show that salvation is not by human wisdom or power, but by God’s great grace. That way He gets all the glory. Does this grace of God still win your heart, even today? When you think of all the times you’ve broken His laws as a believer, and how there are times when you don’t believe Him, and how your heart is prone to wander, to chase after idols, to look to the world for wisdom and life, aren’t you amazed at His unwavering grace and gentle love toward you, that He hasn’t thrown you off, but faithfully keeps you? As you look back across your life as a Christian do you remember times when your heart grew cold and distracted by the sorrows, pains, and hardships of life? Do you remember how He wouldn’t let you leave Him. Instead, He came to you again, and fanned the flames of faith and love in your heart and drew you back to Himself? God doesn’t only initiate a relationship with us by grace. He keeps us by His grace as well. Everything we are and everything we have is by grace and grace alone. 1 Corinthians 15:10 “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”

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