************ Sermon on Matthew 2:2 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 31, 2017
"O Worship the King"
I Who are the Magi?
Who are the Magi? Let me list the 6 things Matthew tells us in the opening verses of our Bible reading:
1. They come to Jerusalem.
2. It is during the reign of King Herod.
3. They are known as Magi.
4. They come from the east, which can only mean the Persian Empire.
5. They saw a star which told them there has been born a King of the Jews.
6. They want to worship this King.
This is all Matthew's audience needed to be told. Living in that time and place they were able to fill in the rest of the details for themselves. The average Jew knew details about the Magi that we have to discover from archaeology and history and other Bible books (and Wikipedia).
B The Magi were a tribe of the Medes. They were a hereditary priesthood tribe. You might know that in Israel there were 12 tribes, but one of those tribes -- the tribe of Levi -- was set apart as the priestly tribe. It was the Levites who ministered in the Tabernacle and Temple. Well, the pagan Medes had a similar thing. Of all of the tribes within the Medes the Magi were selected to function as priests in their pagan religious rituals.
Their religion was monotheistic; that is, they -- like Israel -- believed there was only one God.
Fire played a key role in their worship. Connected to this was an altar which burned with a perpetual flame. They also had another altar upon which they offered blood sacrifice; that is, they -- like Israel -- had a sacrificial system. The fire from the eternal flame was used to light the fire of the blood sacrifice.
The Magi carried small bundles of divining rods in their garments and they used these divining rods for their little ceremonies. This is similar to the Urim and Thummim used by the high priests of Israel.
The Magi distinguished clean from unclean animals. Sounds like a parallel to what God says to Israel.
The Magi were very ritualistic about touching and disposing of a dead body; another thing similar to God's standard for the Levites.
I hope you see that many features of the Magi and their religion were a direct parallel to Judaism. Telling us what? Telling us what Jesus tells us and what Paul tells us about false prophets and counterfeit religion. I want you to see that Satan has always been in the business of counterfeiting true religion: a hereditary priesthood, a monotheistic religion, blood sacrifice, divining rods, ritual contact with dead bodies, clean and unclean animals. Satan counterfeits and imitates true religion in order to lead people astray. Today he does the same thing with the Mormons and the JWs and the Roman Catholics among others; these religions all look true and sound true but it is Satan counterfeiting true religion.
C After studying all of this I have become convinced our pew Bibles have mistranslated a Hebrew word in the book of Daniel. There we are told repeatedly about the king's magicians (Dan 1:20; 2:2; 4:7,9; 5:11). A better translation is Magi.
In the book of Daniel the Magi were known for their ability to interpret dreams. Remember how King Nebuchadnezzar consulted the Magi when he had a confusing dream? However, none of the Magi, enchanters, astrologers, and diviners could interpret it. But Daniel could. So, do you know what King Nebuchadnezzar did? The King appointed Daniel chief of the Magi, enchanters, astrologers and diviners (Dan 5:11; cf 4:9). Daniel was chief over this priestly group of heathen Magi. How Satan must have hated this. How Satan must have hated Daniel
Because of Daniel's position over them, the Magi became familiar with Jewish prophecy. More specifically, they became familiar with Jewish prophecy about the coming Messiah, the Christ, the King, the King of the Jews.
D I have two pictures of the Magi up here. They are the kind of pictures we find on Christmas cards. As I describe the pictures I want you to ask yourself what is wrong with them? The first shows three Magi on camels following a star. The second shows three Magi with crowns at the stable giving gifts to baby Jesus. What is wrong? Let me list at least 6 inaccuracies in these pictures:
1. We don't know if there were 3 Magi or 23 Magi; Scripture doesn't tell us the number. Which reminds me of what I saw at the mall yesterday. My wife knows better than to ask me to go the mall; I would rather eat a cactus for lunch. However, my granddaughter asked to go. Anyways, Macy's was advertising a "We Three Kings" sale. Maybe Macy knows something I don't but I doubt it.
2. The Magi did not ride on camels; these were important men in the Persian Empire and they rode Persian steeds.
3. Nowhere does the Bible say the Magi followed the star from Persia to Jerusalem. "We saw his star in the east." Not, "We followed his star from the east." They saw the star in the east and they didn't need to be told where to go. They knew where the Jewish Messiah was supposed to be. The knew the royal city was Jerusalem. They knew that is where the Jewish kings reigned. They didn't need some star to guide them to Jerusalem. By the way, the star reminds us the Magi were also astronomers and astrologists.
4. The Magi would never have traveled unescorted; these important men entered Jerusalem with a whole troop of Persian cavalry.
5. The Magi did not come to the stable; Matthew tells us they came to the house where the child was with His mother.
6. The Magi did not wear crowns; they were not kings though they were important men in the Persian Empire; instead, they wore hats with points on the top and flaps that went down below the chin.
II Looking for a King
A These Magi from the east, from the Persian Empire, came to Jerusalem looking for a King.
And they mention the reason they were looking: "We have seen his star in the east." If anyone would notice a star, it would be the Magi because of their interest in astronomy and astrology.
We need to ask two questions about the star. First, why would the Magi think the appearance of a new star signals the birth of the King of the Jews?
Now, remember, the Magi knew of Daniel. Because of Daniel they knew Jewish prophecies about the Messiah. One of those prophecies is about the appearance of a star:
(Num 24:17) A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.This is a Messianic prophecy. This is a prophecy about the Messiah, the Christ, the King, the King of the Jews.
B Second, what is the star? To refresh my memory I looked up some of the theories this past week. Some say it was a new star -- we know from astronomy that new stars are born all the time. Some say it was Jupiter. Some say it was the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn. Some say it was a comet or a meteor.
I believe the star was the glory of the Lord.
Look at the Bethlehem shepherds in the gospel of Luke. What did they see? The "glory of the Lord." Which is what? The glory of the Lord reveals itself as light, it manifests itself as light, it radiates itself as light.
Israel saw the glory of the Lord as they traveled through the wilderness. When the glory of the Lord appeared during daylight hours, it was a cloud of light. When it appeared at night, it was a pillar of fire. When the glory of the Lord descended on the Tabernacle, it was as light. When Moses saw the glory of the Lord, his face was radiant -- so radiant the Israelites were afraid to come near him.
What is true for God in the Old Testament is equally true for Jesus in the New Testament. What did the three disciples see on the Mount of Transfiguration? Jesus pulled back the veil, so to speak. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. In Matthew 24, Jesus says the nations will see the sign of the Son of Man in the sky. What will they see? They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and "great glory." Do you remember how John describes the Son of Man in Revelation 1. As I read it take note of everything that speaks of light and glory:
(Rev 1:14-16) His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like [what, like] blazing fire. (15) His feet were like [what, like] bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. (16) In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like [what, like] the sun shining in all its brilliance.
The Hebrew word for star, do you know what it literally means? It means anything that blazes, anything that shines in an incredible way; it doesn't necessarily mean a real star. So, to be literal, the prophecy of Numbers speaks of a blazing, a shining. It is a prophecy about Jesus as the Light -- as we celebrated in our candlelight service last Sunday night. The Greek word for star is similar. It means "a blazing forth, a shining." So the Magi saw a shining in the east. "We saw his star in the east." That is, "We have seen His blazing, His shining, His glory, His brilliance."
Even Herod understood "star" in this fashion. He found out from the Magi the exact time the star was shining. He wanted to know the time it lit up.
C Maybe I should also ask a third question: How come the Magi from the east are the only ones who saw the shining? How come the people of Israel did not see it? How come the other Magi did not see it? How come the Romans and Herod and Pilate did not see it? How come the whole world was not beating a path to Jerusalem?
Go back to when Israel left Egypt. The pillar of cloud went in front of the people and led them to the Red Sea. When the Egyptian army tried to catch them the pillar of cloud moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long. It was the same pillar of cloud but to Israel it was light and to Pharaoh and the Egyptians it was darkness. Do you see what God does? God reveals what He wants, to whom He wants, when He wants, and where He wants. It was God Who made the star into a light for the Magi so they knew what it meant and where they had to go.
D I hope you see something wondrous and incredible here. I hope you see how God controls history so Magi know biblical prophecy. I hope you see how great is our God that lights in the sky follow His bidding. I hope you see how gracious is our God that Magi, heathen priests, fear God and seek God.
III Worship of the King
A Now, look at what our text next tells us. The Magi want to find the King. They want to find the King because they "have come to worship him." They have seen the sign of the Son of Man and they want to worship Him. The word for "worship" describes how you pay homage to a monarch, to a king or a queen or emperor. It literally means "to stoop down and kiss." At that time you stooped down and reverently kissed his foot. Over time the word came to mean any attitude of adoration or worship to someone greater than yourself.
Now, as a group, the Magi were high-ranking officials in the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, and Persian Empires. So these men who had come to Jerusalem were great men, important men, mighty men in the Persian Empire. Yet, they came to worship. That is, the Magi came to worship someone greater than themselves. These important men came to worship someone greater than themselves.
They knew He was to be worshiped. They knew there was no one as worthy as this King of the Jews.
Isn't this amazing? Pagans who knew nothing but some words of Old Testament prophecy, came to worship the King of the Jews. They came all the way from Persia to worship the King of the Jews.
B The word used for "worship," the word used for stooping down to reverently kiss the feet, is always used by the New Testament for the divine. It is a word expressing what we do for deity. Meaning what? Meaning worship is something to be done only to God.
For instance, two times the book of Revelation tells us about the time when the Apostle John tried to worship an angel. And the angel said,
(Rev 22:9) "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!"
(cf Rev 19:10)
When the people wanted to worship them after they healed a lame man, Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes, rushed into the crowd, and shouted at them to stop (Acts 14:11 ff). When Peter came to Caesarea, Cornelius fell at his feet in reverence; Peter made him get up and stop the worship. We see that worship is to be done to God and only God. God, and only God, is worthy of worship. When anyone other than God is being worshiped, rebuke is quick. Yet, there is no rebuke when the Magi announced they want to worship the new born King. And, when they bowed down before Jesus and worshiped, no one said, "Stand up! Stand up! Don't worship." Why? Because Jesus is the King, the Messiah, the Christ, the King of the Jews. Because Jesus is God!
"Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
This message was started by asking "Who are the Magi?" But actually another question was answered: "Who is Jesus?" Heathen priests give us the answer: He is the King, the Christ, the Messiah, the King of the Jews. And these heathen priests tell us how we should respond: we need to worship the new-born King. We need to worship Jesus.
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