Sunday Week 4 of Advent- Messiah Reigns
Visit of the Magi
The Magi Journeying by James Tissot (1836- 1902)
1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 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.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
The Magi Visit Jesus
What was King Herod king of?
[Herod, or Herod the Great, claimed to be king of the Jews. However, he was an Edomite (the Edomites were cousins of the Jews, through Esau; see Genesis 25:29-30), and not a practicing Jew at all.]
What are Magi?
[Magi were pagan astrologers. Originally, they came from the religious caste of Zoroastrianism. Magi were highly regarded in the ancient world for their ‘science’ of tying human events to the stars, especially those from the East. Magi is also where we get the word ‘magic.’]
How many Magi were there?* Where did they come from?
[Scripture does not tell us. Tradition states three because there were three types of gifts, but the Bible never numbers them. They came from the East. This is commonly thought to be from Arabia, Persia (Iran) or Babylon (Iraq).
In popular Christmas songs they are even referred to as three kings—perhaps a reference to Psalm 72:10-11 “The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring tribute to Him; the kings of Sheba and Seba will present Him gifts. All kings will bow down to Him and all nations will serve Him.”]
Why had they come?
[Seeking the newborn King.]
What prompted them to seek the King?
[The star. It seems that the Lord used an astral event tied to prophecy to herald the arrival of His Son.]**
[The verse in Numbers was a prophecy/blessing pronounced by Balaam, on the nation of Israel when they first entered the Promised Land. The 'star' would rise out of the land of Jacob simultaneous with the rising of Israel's scepter-- a scepter is representative of a king.
In the Daniel passage, Gabriel tells Daniel exactly when the Anointed One would arrive in Israel (and that He would die, seeming to accomplish nothing).]
Why do you think the words of the Magi ‘disturbed’ Herod?
[Herod did not want any king to supplant him. He had done many wicked things to secure his throne, including killing his own sons. He now had to recognize that a legend that had been prevalent in the Middle and Far East was true [as attested to by his own people--the teachers and chief priests that he called together--and by these illustrious visitors.)]
We studied the prophecy quoted in verse 6 on Wednesday-Week 2 of Advent, do you remember what book of the OT is being quoted?
Why did Herod want to visit the new King?
[To kill Him.]
If the teachers of the law and the chief priests knew of this prophecy, why didn’t they go visit the young King?
In verse 11, what are two clues to Jesus’ approximate age when the Magi arrived?
[The holy family is in a house (not an inn)
The text refers to Jesus as a child, not a baby.]
What was the reaction of the Magi upon seeing the child?
[They bowed down and worshiped Him.]
What is the significance of the three gifts of the Magi?
[It is generally believed that:
Gold- stood for His royalty (i.e.,Jesus our King)
Frankincense- priestly worship (i.e, Jesus our God)
Myrrh- associated with burial--a spice used for embalming (i.e., Jesus our Saviour)]
Who warned the Magi not to go back to Herod? Why?
[God; to thwart Herod’s plans.]
*Legend holds that there were three wise men, or kings, but the scripture does not tell us this. In the Western Church their names have traditionally been:
Balthazar (or Balthasar)- possibly an Ethiopian or Babylonian king/scholar
Caspar (or Gaspar)- possibly king from Tarshish or India (in 1st century most gold came from Indian)
Melchior- possibly an Arabian or Persian king/scholar
**Daniel was made the head of the astrologers, magicians, enchanters and fortune-tellers of Babylon (Daniel 2:48; 5:11). Therefore, his writings would be familiar to the Babylonian 'wise men.’ Upon the defeat of the Babylonians by Cyrus (the Persian), and Daniel's further elevation of power and influence, the Persian Magi would have also become aware of his teachings. Even if this knowledge had been lost, Babylon and Persia still had settled Jewish communities (remnants from the original Babylonian captivity). Thus, it is possible, the knowledge of this prophecy was made known to those in the ‘East’ via Jews still residing there. Ultimately, Daniel was a high ranking official serving under Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius and Cyrus in the Babylonian and Persian courts. Additionally, Esther's position as Queen of Persia had influenced Persian culture as well [one is reminded that it was 'for such a time as this' (Esther 4:14) that both of these faithful believers were placed by God in such important roles].
†Some traditions describe the Magi as kings. A more recent tradition, often used in Christmas plays, portrays an Asian king (Arabian Peninsula or the Far East- usually China), an African king (Ethiopian) and a European king. But there is no evidence for a European king. Additionally, Ethiopia is south of Israel, Europe is west of Israel, and there is no indication that there were Chinese magi. However, as a world power, it is entirely possible that the Persian Empire (Parthian Empire at this time) would include people of many national origins. Verse 12 gives us further evidence that they did not travel from various lands to attend the Holy Child-- it does not state that they all returned to their own 'countries,' but that they returned to their own 'country.' Thus, even if they were of varied ethnicities, they all left from and returned to the same place.
Close in Prayer
We see in this passage that Jesus' own people rejected Him. Even though the chief priests knew and quoted the prophecy, they did not bother to go see the King they had been waiting for to redeem the nation. Gentile, pagan astrologers came to offer their homage and humble adoration to a king that was meant for the Jews. Abraham's descendants totally missed their Anointed One.
Thankfully, He came not only for Abraham's seed, but all nations (Isaiah 49:6). Hallelujah, that the best Gift of all gifts chose to die for the sins of everyone. Yet, so many people miss the Messiah-- they reason away these events as being allegory or legend. Some would rather put off making a commitment about how they will spend eternity, yet others are like Herod-- threatened by this Jesus who would be King of their life. He gave us the best gift of all- Himself. The only gift He wants in return is you (Matthew 22:37)!
Pray that you not get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season, that you miss your Anointed One.
Make a Joyful Sound!
Choose a song from Songs for Advent Week 4 or choose your own.
*If you observe Advent with an Advent wreath, light the fourth candle