The Response of the Magi

Matthew 2:1-23

So the Messiah finally arrived. And how did Israel respond – with joy perhaps? Ahem, well no. They were ‘disturbed’! That’s right; Herod, the priests and all Jerusalem were disturbed! Nice! What’s going on here? Something fishy! Sorry Lord Jesus, I know we’ve been waiting hundreds of years for you, but there’s no reception. What, no one? Well none from Israel; but there is this bunch of astrologers who have been following a star – as they do – and they say you’re something special. Yeah, they even brought some gifts.
Hmmm … you know the story. In this post we look at three responses Jesus received at the original Christmas and find that not much has changed with peoples responses to Christmas today. ♦ There are still those who want Jesus removed, there are still those who are too fearful to mention his name, and there are still those who go out of their way to adore him. Here are the responses:
Herod tried to remove Jesus.
Herod was a self-made ‘King of the Jews’ and he was prepared to do anything that would benefit his career. He befriended high ranking Romans, married the High Priest’s daughter and built a Jewish temple. It was quite clear to him that anyone born to be King of the Jews was a threat to him and his descendants and so he tried to have Jesus removed (killed) before he had even reached the age of two. Many people today have a Christmas just like Herod’s. If Jesus does not sell as many toys as Santa Claus or restricts their festive fun, they just remove him from the story. But as Herod and many like him have found out, the Christ of Christmas just won’t go away.
The Priests tried to ignore Jesus.
Yes, read the text – their silence was loud! For men who were authorities on Judaism and the coming Messiah they were strangely quiet. Oh they answered Herod’s direct question about the birthplace of the Messiah, but then they quietly went away. Shouldn’t they have enquired about this extraordinary baby that was highlighted by a supernatural star? Shouldn’t they have thought about going to honour the child along with the Magi? The truth is they were fearful of Herod and his Roman colleagues. The arrival of an alternative King could rock the political boat and make life in Jerusalem a little uncomfortable. Fear starved their Messianic hopes and fed its scepticism. Today Christmas is the same; when believers fear unbelievers they stop talking about Jesus – and yet he is the Christ of the Mass! And so Christmas becomes an impotent tradition cluttered with presents, trees and idol greetings. Herod saw Jesus as a threat and tried to remove him, the priests opted for the worldly peace by remaining quiet. Would anyone honour the King of kings?
The Magi worshipped Jesus.
While the Jews were antagonistic toward Jesus, Gentiles from the East came to worshipped him. They were Magi – wise men who helped their kings make important court decisions. For this purpose they were trained in astrology, divination and various methods used for interpreting omens. These were things forbidden to Jews and the Jewish priests would have regarded the Magi as pagan and unclean. But God saw their hearts and he knew that if these men were called on to honour the Messiah they would obey. They may not have known the Law of Moses, but unlike Herod and the priests, their hearts were free to worship. In fact the text reveals that their manner was joyful, humble and adoring. What a refreshing change! They arrived excited about the royal baby and wanting to share in the celebrations. Their attitude was a rebuke to Jerusalem.
There are modern day Magi; people who don’t know much but are doing their best to follow the voice of God.  Like the Magi, many of them may have come from other traditions and are new to the Christian faith, but they are excited about Jesus and have a heart for worship. These people have a habit of reminding established believers what Christmas is all about. How often it takes new converts with passionate hearts but little understanding to question our motives and traditions. Often they are the ones who bring the rebuke we so desperately need.
We don’t really know if there were three wise men, but we do know that they brought three types of gift. They brought gold – fit for a king, frankincense – used in the temple by priests, and myrrh – used to bury bodies – often those of the prophets, but soon that of the Son. The Messiah is King of kings, Priest of priests and Prophet of prophets. King Herod should have brought gold, and the priests should have brought frankincense. In their absence the prophetic Magi brought everything. Perhaps this serves as a warning; if we won’t worship the Christ of Christmas, God will find others who will.
How was your Christmas? Was Jesus removed, ignored – or worshipped and adored?

Other Illustrations used: Changing from a secular Christmas to a believer’s one | God remembered my birthday | Christmas – worship or a stage show.

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