Wise Men and Women Still Seek Him
RUMC January 8, 2017
There are some people who have suggested that if the wise men had been women:
- They would have asked for directions sooner and arrived on time.
- They would have helped Mary deliver the baby and would have cleaned up the stable.
- They would have brought much more practical gifts such as diapers, baby clothes and a perhaps a casserole to eat.
This morning I would like to parallel the story of the Magi, or Wise Men, with our story of faith. My text is Matthew 2:1-12.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
This is the Word of God. Thanks be to God.
In Old Testament times, there were many prophecies or predictions about a Messiah who was to save Israel from its enemies. We find one such prophecy from Numbers 24:17 which says: I see him, but not now. I behold him, but not near. A star out of Jacob and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.
Please understand, for hundreds and thousands of years, the Jewish people would search the night skies for a sign of the coming of the Messiah. But the odd thing was that when this star or comet or super nova did appear, it wasn’t the Jewish people who saw it. The star was recognized by a select group of men called Magi who lived in modern day Iraq or Iran.
These men were special advisers to kings and highly educated in the sciences and humanities. The Magi were also very knowledgeable about the prophecies of the Jewish Messiah. When the Magi saw the star in the sky, God confirmed in their hearts that, yes indeed, the Messiah had been born. And they knew they had to come and pay homage. You see it wasn’t enough for them to know that the Messiah had been born or even to send gifts. They had to come and experience the wonder of it all.
Many of us are like the Magi in the sense that God has breathed into our souls a longing or a desire to know truth. I think many of us in this church are like that; we heard the Word of God and responded in our hearts. The Holy Spirit became reality in our souls when we made it a part of our lives.
When I was in New Hampshire, I taught a Bible Study on world religions at our local library. For 10 weeks we covered a different religion each week–Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, Taoism, Judaism Bahia and others. When we finished the study, I asked the group, who were primarily church people, “Now which one of you would give up your Christian faith for any other religion?” I did not have any volunteers. Many other religions tell us that we have a soul, but only Christianity tells us how someone (God, the Holy Spirit) can indwell and fill that void. I like to think of Christianity as more like a relationship where people seek to know God, than a religion.
Many in our congregation have a testimony of how each found the Savior. For some it was early in life. Others went through a period of rebellion and searching, but when you did find Christ and made a profession of faith, there was now a relationship.
The journey that the Magi planned took 3 months. For such a trip, they needed to carry enough food, and water. In our Christmas cards, our nativity scenes, and even in the movies and plays we see three men on three camels but it was more likely that it was a large caravan of men and camels to carry tents, extra supplies and body guards.
When the Magi did finally arrive in Israel, they went straight to the official head of the nation. King Herod was a person you wanted to avoid. Although he was 70 years old and had ruled for over 40 long years, he was suspicious and paranoid of everyone and everything. So much so that he commissioned thousands of slaves to build 10 emergency fortresses, all heavily armed and well stocked. In addition he established an elaborate network of spies to search for anyone who had any intention of overthrowing Herod’s reign of power.
When the wise men arrived in Jerusalem, Herod was already sick. We are not exactly certain what was wrong. Ancient historians have written that Herod was often in pain and suffered multiple convulsions, and that he often screamed throughout the night. His breath was foul and his skin was covered with open sores. It was also believed that Herod suffered from some form of dementia.
When Herod heard the disturbing news that the Messiah had been born, he called together the high priests, both past and present, and all the learned rabbi’s and asked when and where the Messiah was to be born. The answer was an immediate and emphatic. It was Bethlehem; that’s all he needed to know. After this the Magi left Jerusalem, and they continued to follow the star. What I find interesting is that the Magi had traveled for several months and hundreds of miles to find the Christ child. However when the priests and the teachers of the law were told that the Christ child was only 5 miles away, they didn’t even make an effort to look and see if it was true.
There comes a point in our lives when we have to make an effort to know God. We can’t rely on the faith of our parents, godparents, grandparents or even the minister to find us faith. There must come a point in our spiritual walk, where we have to do it ourselves; that is to take an active part in our faith. If we are passive or noncommittal, we will have only enough religion to make ourselves miserable.
By the time the Magi had come, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus had probably moved out of the stable and into a rented house. Verse 11 says: On coming to the house. They saw the child with his mother. It was here that the Magi had found Jeshua or Jesus the Messiah with his mother.
The scriptures tell us that the Magi presented the baby Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh; spiritually we carry their equivalents with us today
Gold was an appropriate gift for royalty. Spiritual God deserves the very best that we can bring him, which is our hearts.
Frankincense was used as incense in the temple. Our prayers and good works are like that pleasing aroma that ascended to the throne of God.
The myrrh was a spice used for burial and represented the death that Jesus would die for our sins.
It is believed that the gifts the wise men brought, when sold, provided the funds for Joseph and the family to move to Egypt.
When the Magi found the Christ child, there was a sense of satisfaction and personal fulfillment. It is the same with us. When we find Christ and invite him into our lives, the search is over. There is no need to look further. When we have the Lord in our hearts, we are given an inner witness that Jesus is the light of the world and the savior of our souls.
One summer during the 1950’s, Rev. Howard Mumma, a Methodist pastor, served as a guest minister at the American Methodist Church in Paris. After one Sunday worship service, he noticed a man in a dark suit surrounded by admirers. He was told it was the noted author Albert Camus, famous for his novels and essays. Mr. Camus later told the pastor: “The reason I have been coming to church is because I am seeking. I am almost on a pilgrimage seeking something to fill the void that I am experiencing and no one else knows. Certainly the public and the readers of my novels while they see that void, they are not finding the answers in what they are reading. But deep down, I am searching for something that the world is not giving me.” Mr. Camus went on to tell the pastor that he came to church, because he was starting to find what he was looking for.
You see, God has given each of us a soul that longs to be filled with his Holy Spirit. There is a void that must be filled. Many of us, in our spiritual journey, have had that longing and fulfillment met when we asked the Lord into our hearts. That is what a Christian is; He lives in our hearts.
2000 years ago, the Magi also searched. And when they found the Christ, there was fulfillment. My prayer for all of us at RUMC is that we will be a church of wise men and women who seek, who serve, and who worship Christ, whose birth we celebrated on Christmas Day.
If you are still looking for that peace, start the New Year off by dedicating your heart and life to the Lord.