Led to Worship by Who?
Led to Worship by Who?
In our morning devotion yesterday, Pastor Steve took our staff to Matthew 2, where he proceeded to share a few thoughts on the worship of Jesus by the Wise Men.
As Steve shared this morning, something struck me from verse 8, that I felt led to share. Before I get there, however, let me set the scene. There are several myths about the story of the wise men.
Myth #1: Three kings visited Jesus
The tradition that they were kings dates back to Tertullian, who died in the year 225. This idea comes from OT passages in Psalms (see 68:29, 31; 72:10-11) and Isaiah (see 49:7; 60:1-6). The idea that there were three comes from the fact that there were three gifts. By the end of the sixth century, the three men developed names: Melchior, Balthasar, and Gasper. They were said to be representatives of three families of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, with one of them pictured as an Ethiopian. Their three skulls were supposedly found in the twelfth century by Bishop Rainald of Cologne. The bishop dug them up and knew right off they were skulls. Their eyes were said to still be in their sockets fixed toward Bethlehem. Believe it or not, they are on exhibit in a casket in a cathedral in Europe (The Shrine of Three Kings). However, Matthew gives no names. Neither does he call them kings, nor does he tell us how much.
Myth #2: They visited him in the stable
Look at verse 1: "After." As chapter 2 opens, time has fast-forwarded some – from 2:16; we estimate it must be a maximum of two years after Jesus' birth. Verses 8 and 10 tell us that Jesus is now a child, not a baby, and, according to verse 11, they live in a house in Bethlehem in Judea, a small town some six miles south/southwest of Jerusalem. So, the Magi did not come to the stable and worship with the shepherds. They arrived on the scene later than that. At the very least it's a few months, and at most, it's two years. Shortly after Jesus' birth, Herod would die.
Myth #3: They spoke to Herod twice
I've often heard it taught that the wise men went to Herod twice. Once for them to enquire of him where the child was and a second time, in verse 7, for Herod to question them on it. That's not how Matthew describes it.
Look at verse 3:
"When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him."
It says he heard about it; it doesn't mean that they asked him about it. They sought to find out where the baby born to be king was. Herod subsequently heard about it. Now how would Herod have heard about it? He was a King. These were a few men on some camels with tiny gifts. Why bother a king for that? There's a lot more to it than that. To understand this, you need to understand something about the Magi.
According to the ancient historian Herodotus, the magi were a tribe of people within a more significant people called the Medes. Many trace the origin of the Medes back to when God called Abraham out of Ur (Genesis 12). They were an ancient people. History says that they were like the Levites, the priestly tribe, in Israel. Of all of the tribes within the Medes, they selected one to function as priests in their pagan rituals. The tribe they chose was the magi. The Greek is magos, magoi, magi, it an untranslatable word. It's the name of a specific tribe of people. The earliest reference to the Magi is said to stem from an inscription written by Darius the Great.
Many historians see them as eastern people who rose to places of influence under their unique priestly function and occultic powers of divination. No matter what eastern empire dominated, the Magi were said to be there. They rose high in the Babylonian, Medo Persian governments, and in a limited way during the Greek period. They were the ones consulted about the various things that kings, rulers, nobles, and princes wanted to know.
Not only are they found in history books, they are found in the OT too. Take the book of Daniel, for example. Nebuchadnezzar elevated the Magi, and they became a tremendously powerful group. In Daniel chapters 2, 4, and 5, we read about the process Daniel went through to become the chief of the Magi. Of course, he worshipped God, but he became known as the leader of them (see 2:10 and 4:7-9; 5:11). As Steve shared this morning, in that moment, a seed was planted in that eastern tradition priming them to keep a close eye on the Jews.
Over time the Magi's role got them to the point where they became so powerful that no Persian was ever able to become king except, they fulfilled two criteria:
- they mastered the scientific and religious discipline of the Magi.
- they had to be approved of and crowned by the Magi.
With that in mind, we move to the time of Jesus. Politically, Rome is weary of the eastern empire. They were staunch enemies having fought in 55 BC and again in 40 BC. What's fascinating with this is where they always fought: along the coast of the Mediterranean - so Syria, Jordan, Palestine. Israel was a no man's land between the powers of the east and the powers of the west. Herod was so fearful of attack from the east that he had a series of fortresses built along the eastern border.
With that in mind, look at verse 3:
"When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him."
The magi would have traveled with servants of military escort to protect themselves and the gifts they carried. This sizeable crowd might well have prompted a sick and crazy Herod to jump to the conclusion that Israel was going to join forces with the east and oust him. That is quite possibly how he heard about it.
Maybe now you understand why all Jerusalem feared too. Not another fight. Not crazy Herod going wild again?
Now, Matthew has set us up for this in verse 1:
"After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem."
The NIV translation leaves out a word that helps us capture the emotion of the moment. Verse 1 reads, "When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod, the king, behold, there came Magi." Not just there came Magi, but behold; there came magi. In other words, can you believe this, Magi came!
So, if you're Herod, that's a wakeup call! There came Magi. That was neither expected nor desired. Herod is said to be troubled. The word means that he was agitated. That's like the mode our washing machine enters when it goes into spin mode!
Herod had a title: King of the Jews. He got it from Caesar Augustus. Herod's role was to get no man's land in order because it sat between two warring empires. Then, out of nowhere, a band of supposed kingmakers arrive.
Herod was close to death. More than that, Caesar Augustus was old, and at this point, the Roman army is thought to have been without a commander in chief. Herod knew that this would be an ideal time for the east to bring another war with the west. Herod was agitated.
For the life of me, I don't know what the Magi were thinking walking right into the war zone. They obviously knew that the Jews hated Roman rule. Herod knew that too. So, he is panicked as he hears that they come to find the new king. As Steve shared some thoughts with us about the Magi this week, verses 7-8 jumped out at me:
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me so that I too may go and worship him."
Herod never met the magi twice but once, and only after he consulted with the chief priests and teachers of the law. These leaders told Herod Bethlehem, and it was, in fact, Herod, who told the wise men where to find the baby. The Magi left Jerusalem for the six-ish mile trek to Bethlehem, where they find the baby and worship.
This weekend I've had the privilege of both speaking with and praying for many people who find themselves in places they'd rather not be. In Central's Christmas Store on Saturday, for example, hundreds of families shopped with us because they find themselves in incredibly difficult situations. Life led them places they'd rather not go. The enemy work seems to be rampant and unfettered. As I spoke in a Water's Edge Network church Sunday, Overflow Church, I prayed with people who were experiencing hardship and pain. It was as if the enemy had led them to a place they never wanted to go.
I was thinking of these people as we prayed together as staff on Monday. Then, this thought struck me: "Craig, it is the enemy who led the Wise Men to the place where they would both find and worship Jesus."
I'd never seen that before. It was the enemy of the Christ, the one who would soon murder innocent infants, who led the Magi to the place where they'd find Jesus and worship.
As I heard those words, I had a flashback to my childhood. As a child, I could not walk, a result of a sporting accident, that would ultimately lead me to find and worship Jesus. I would never have signed up to suffer that way. I would never have signed up to miss school for over a year, endure two experimental procedures that would turn my living room into my bedroom, and leave me in a wheelchair playing 'goalpost' on the green outside my home. I vividly remember listening to my friends playing outside and crying out to a God I did not know because in my seven-year-old mind, "Life sucked."
Yet, it was this very experience that paved the way for my 'six-mile journey' to finding and worshipping Jesus. The moment I saw him was the moment that childhood experience became worthwhile. I no longer look at that season with regret but with a profound sense of purpose. God used that season to prepare me to meet Him.
Could the same be true for you, I wonder? How many times have you felt led to a place where the enemy's voice dominates?
The lesson from Matthew 2 is that the story doesn't finish in verse 8. When the enemy's voice seems loudest, God's sovereign care is strongest. At the very moment the enemy appears to be winning, God is preparing for us to meet Jesus.
Isn't that also the Easter story? Isn't one of the biggest lessons of Easter that Sunday followed Friday? God used the cross, the enemy's futile attempt at destroying the purposes of God, to prepare the way for the resurrection. God used pain to usher in the defeat of death and forgiveness of sin. The only way we miss the end is if we stop walking too soon.
In 1991, Jim Corbett surprised a few people by suggesting that the walking philosophy of children has a lot to offer adults too. He compares the kids walk with that of a goat. Like children, goats meander from place to place. The fantastic thing is that these animals seem so sure-footed. Whether walking along rugged cliff tops, on steep hillsides, or through spiky thorn bushes, the goat always appears secure. Goatwalking, as Corbett calls it, is the art of journeying where one doesn't just plot the course to the destination but embraces the environment through which one travels.
Since goatwalkers aren't so preoccupied with their destination, they can appreciate and understand where they are. The landscape never dictates the goatwalkers journey, their senses do. They follow their inward leading. Or in the wise men's case, they follow the leading of the star and look at what environments it led them through.
You know, everyone has an inner sense of some kind. The Christian, however, has a divine internal knowledge – the Spirit of God. Romans 8 and 1 John 4 both tell us that the Spirit of God bears witness to our Spirit. In Matthew 10, Jesus spends time encouraging His disciples to trust the inner leading of the Spirit. He warns them of some nasty situations that were going to come their way. Listen to the words of Matthew 10:18 through 20 with the picture of the Wise Men before Herod in mind:
"On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you."
Yesterday, in our staff devotional, I realized that, for the Christian, neither the terrain nor the enemy dictate the journey, the guide does. Why, in Matthew 2, even the enemy leads us to the place where we can find and worship Jesus!
Whatever environment you find yourself walking through right now, I encourage you to join us for worship at anyone of Central’s Christmas worship services. We have our Christmas at Central services this weekend (Friday and Saturday at 7PM EST and Sunday at 10AM EST), and a Christmas Eve service at 3PM as well.
I look forward to worshipping with you.