Magis and Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12)
Introduction: Today is Christmas! What an wonderful day it is! Today we are going to study about magis. We are going to look at three things about magis: who is magi, why they came and what they did. Magis are wise men, they came to worship Jesus and gave three gifts. Why is it so significant? The story of magis reveal God’s heart for sinners and how we should worship Him and the Gospel message. So it is a very significant story. Let’s see one by one: who is magis, why they came to Jesus and what they did.
- Who is magis?
Some say magis are the kings. Some say they are magicians. The word “magi” is from the Greek word “Μάγος” which is originated from Persian word for wizard, sorcerer and magician. What comes to your mind? They are like modern day “Harry Potter”. My son is killing time with reading whole series of Harry Potter now ☺ Basically, the word “magis” is related to Persian religion. They are powerful, famous and legendary people from the ancient world. But they were pagans, non-Christians. Bible calls them “wise men from the east.”
Wise Men- Matthew 2:1 says “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem,” Notice the word “from the east”. Biblically speaking, “east” is an evil place. Genesis 4:16 And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. “East” is an evil place! Don’t worry if you are from Southeast Asia! I am from “East Asia” ☺ These wise men were pagans and non-Christians from the evil place! They are from the East of the Eden. They are Cain’s descendants. They were cursed people according to the Old Testament! They were not to be associated with the holy people! But why they are here at the beginning of the New Testament? Isn’t it almost dishonorable thing that Jesus was greeted by these pagan evil magicians? This is not good. Jesus was born in a smelly and cold manger. He was greeted by low rank shepherds. Imagine that your only son was born in a trash can at 4 am at a cold night greeted by bunch of homeless people and half-demon possessed people? Your son will hate you for the rest of their life, right? But that is how the King of kings, Lord of Lords, the Son of God was born to the earth. It tells us two things.
- Jesus was born in the humblest way: When the whole world wants to become great and more famous, Jesus came humbly. Jesus was not born to be famous. He was not born to be served. But He was born to serve humbly. He humbly came down to the earth to die for our sins! In the world, the place and family you are from makes who you are. Indian friends’ name reveal their places and family members. That shows how worthy and great you are. But
- Jesus loves the sinners: Jesus was not greeted by well respected people like Pharisees and even the king of the Jews the Herod. Instead, he was greeted by the evil sinners. Interestingly, when He died, the first eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus were women. One of them used to be demon-possessed. Women and demon possessed were the worst people group at that time. But Jesus was seen by them first! Both at the birth of Jesus and death of Jesus, He was greeted by sinners! The worst people! What does that tell you? Jesus loves sinners. That is why He came. He came to die for sinners, not only for Jews but also for Gentiles. The fact that the pagan magicians from the East could come and greet Jesus is really encouraging. Which means you can come to Jesus and greet Him as well! You may think, “I need to be perfect before God to come to Him and greet Him.” At least, if I read the entire Bible, then I can come to God. When I pray more than 2 hours every day this week, then I can come to God.” You can think that way, however, that is not true. We can come to Jesus as we are. We are like the shepherds. We are like the magis. We are lowly and wicked. But we can come to Jesus as we are and greet Him.
Who is Magis? They were evil magicians, the pagan wise men. But who they were shows how much God loves us. He loves the sinner.
- Why did they come? To worship Jesus the true King!
(Matthew 2:2) “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” The magis are high rank people. They were almost second to the king. Their main job was interpreting king’s dream. That’s it? That is just so nothing. But back then, dream was a big deal. How many of you think the dream is a big deal? People still think their dream is a huge deal. Back then, it was even more! How much more for the king’s dream. Especially, king’s dream was the direction of the whole country. Magis were interpreting that dream. That’s a huge task and huge place to be. But these high official magis came to worship the baby because they believed the baby as the King.
Let’s look at the historical context little bit. At the time when Jesus was born between BC 4 and AD 10, the relationship between Rome and Persia was not good. They were fighting over Armenia. It would be difficult for Persians to travel over to Rome territory. It must be a life-risk journey. Second, Persia used to be a mighty country called “Babylon”. And Jews used to be their slaves. Going to once-slave country is not a worth investment. It is like British Anglo Americans are visiting Native Indian chief’s son’s birth place. Plus, traveling thousands miles on the camel is not an easy ride. They had to go through war-zone, historical conflict and physically tiring journey. It must be frightening, life-risking and muscle stretching trip. But why did they do it? Because, they were so confident. They saw the “king star”. They knew that the King was born in Judea! So regardless of all the dangers, they came to see the king. Magis came to worship. This is not a new concept. There are several stories in the Old Testament of these high ranking magis worshipping the true King in the Old Testament.
Daniel’s account: (Dan 2:48) “the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men”. – Daniel was the magi of magis. He was the wisest man among all the wise men. All the other magis had to bow down before the authority of Daniel. Why was he so powerful? Because God was with him. It is not that Daniel was great, but God whom Daniel served was great! People had to worship and bow down before God whom Daniel served. Not just magis, wise men, but also even the king of Persia bowed down to God the true king!
Joseph’s account: (Gen. 41:43) “and they called out before him, ‘Bow the knee!’ Thus [Pharaoh] set him over all the land of Egypt” Joseph interpreted the dream and subdued all wise-men in Egypt. In front of power of God, all the power of the world bowed down and worshiped God. This is why magis came to the little town of Bethlehem to bow down and worship the true wise-men, the true King of kings and the Lord of lords.
This shows what true worship is. True worship is to lay down our kingship and bow down to the true King the Lord Jesus. It is to say “I am not a king of my life anymore. I am not in control in my life anymore. Jesus is my King. He is my Lord and Savior!” That is the true worship.
In Today’s world, everyone is in control with cell phone. You are the king of cell phone that you can do whatever you want on the small screen of yours. Laying it down and focusing on God became so hard these days. Listening to the true King instead of watching Youtube became so hard these days. Because you are kings on your own. Remember there was a king who did not bow down to baby Jesus. Who was he? The king Herod.
Matthew 2:3 says “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;” He probably thought, ‘new king of Judea’? I am the king of Judea! No one else can be the king in my country. I am going to kill him!’ Instead of worshipping Jesus, he was trying to kill Jesus. Even when all these pagan magis and kings come to bow down to Jesus, His own people, Jewish king did not come to bow down. Why? Because of pride. It is same today. People who are proud are not coming to Jesus. They hold on to their kingship with pride. “I am a king in my life! I am in control of my life. I get to decide what to do.” These people even come to church and say “I come to worship Jesus”. King Herod also said, “I am going to go to worship Him” but his intention was to kill Jesus to get rid of His Kingship. These people say “I worship Jesus, but Jesus is not my King. He is just my helper. Whatever I decide, whatever I do, He has to bless me. He has to bless my family, bless my business, bless my school and bless my church.” I am not saying “blessing” is wrong. All good things and blessings come from Jesus! The problem is that they still worship themselves. They use Jesus for their own appetite! They bow to their own needs.
There was another group who were troubled: Notice in the verse “all Jerusalem”. Even the whole city of Jerusalem was troubled with king Herod. Jerusalem was not happy that baby Jesus was born as the King! “New King? Uh-oh! We are under Roman empire. They put the king Herod in this Jerusalem district. Herod is the official king. But the new king was born? We are in trouble! This will bring a huge brake in our relationship with Rome.” They were more concerned about their human relationship. They are more concerned about their safety than rejoicing and worshipping the true King Jesus. Today, we see people who concerned about their relationships and safety more than Jesus. “If I continue to follow Jesus, I may lose my friends. I may lose my families. If I come to church on Sundays, I may lose my job opportunities. If I pray at my school, my friends may ridicule me and leave me. If I don’t go to drinking parties with my friend, I may lose them. Believing Jesus is so dangerous. It is so costly. I don’t want to put myself and my families in dangerous situation. I don’t want to lose anything.” These people care more about their relationships and safety.
However, true worship is to lay down your kingship. It is to lay down your pride. Lay down your fear. Lay down your cell phones. Lay down your money power. Lay down your education power. Lay down your leadership influence. Lay down your glories. Lay down all your concern for relationships and safety. But bow down to the True King: Jesus Christ! As magis laid down their authorities and influences, went through dangers, came all the way to the little town Bethlehem, humbly bowed down to the baby, we are to do the same! Lay down your pride. Lay down your fear. And bow down to Jesus! That is the true worship!
- What did they do? They gave gifts. Matthew 2:11 “And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”
This is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy! Isaiah 60:6 says A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD. Wise men represented the all nations. They were not Jewish. They were from pagan nation. They were pagans. However, they came to Jesus to worship Him and gave the gifts to Him. Now look at what gifts they gave: Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. What are they? There are lots of theological speculations about those three gifts but they all agree that those three gifts symbolize who Jesus is and what He will do.
First, gold means “kingship”. By giving gold to Jesus, the wise men recognize Jesus as the king! The True King! He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He is the most high King even though He was a weak baby born in a manger. Secondly, frankincense means “offering to God”. Frankincense is given to God as the sweat aroma. Wise men recognized Jesus as God! Wow, isn’t it amazing? Not only as King but also they worshipped Jesus as God. Jesus is the King! And He is God! When Roman emperors call themselves as a king and a god, these wise men were bowing down before the true King and true God. This was definitely dangerous and revolutionary act! Do you worship Jesus as your King and God? No matter what it costs, we should worship Him as our King and God.
Lastly, myrrh represents death and sacrifice. The first two gifts were revealing who Jesus is: He is the King and God. But the last gift shows what Jesus would do: He would die as the sacrifice. How ironic it is. The King and God die as sacrifice? But that is why Jesus came. He came to die! He came to die for you and me as the atoning sacrifice to the Lord for us! Even at the beginning of Jesus’ birth, God used wise-men to tell us what kind of life Jesus would live. The King and the Lord God would voluntarily and willingly sacrifice His own life to take away our sins by His death on the cross! Who He is and what He has done are all in this story! This is the Gospel Story! Magis, the evil pagan wise men came to Jesus to bow down and to share the wonderful Gospel story for us.
Likewise, we are to share the wonderful Gospel with others. We are to share who Jesus is and what He has done. We are to tell our kids, our parents, our relatives, friends, coworkers that Jesus is God and King but He died for our sins. If pagan evil wise men did that, we can! God used the magis from East to reveal His name and wonder, He can use anyone from any evil background for His name and glory. He is not just using seminary professors or pastors. He can use single moms, child, youths, homeless, all kinds of people from all kinds of background for His glory!
Conclusion: In magis’ story, we learned three things: God loves sinners, we should lay down our pride and fear and bow down to Jesus, and share who Jesus is and what He has done! I hope and pray that in 2019, you would all live as Magis did to little baby Jesus. Let’s pray.