By: Mike Kelly
This week we celebrate the church feast day of Epiphany which is when the Magi or Wise Men came to seek Jesus as a child.
Magi were probably astrologers or astronomers, although the word can also mean magicians or alchemists. (“Alchemy is an ancient philosophical and protoscientific tradition that aimed to transform base metals into noble metals, discover a universal elixir, and create the philosopher’s stone”…Quora.com) They were certainly learned men and wealthy.
They most likely traveled from Persia, which was about a 1,000 mile journey of about 2-4 months. They would have brought servants, soldiers, and extra camels and livestock as well as the gifts they came bearing.
They certainly would have traveled in a caravan of several hundred people for the Silk Road was a dangerous place for people to travel alone or in small groups. And there were most likely more than 3 of them.
We get three from the three gifts but there is no indication of how many wise men there were. Historians think more like 12-25 came.
The Magi started their journey after they had somehow received from God a revelation that they would find a new king in Israel and they were to go to him and pay homage.
We have no idea how that occurred nor do we know how they were led to follow that strange star that led them to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem.
We can be pretty certain that what they found was not what they expected to find. They came to find a king and found a baby; to find a palace and found a stone cave; to find silk and found rags.
The second thing they did was to worship God. They certainly didn’t come to find God, but they did. And what was their response when they saw the child-God-King?
Matt 2:11a “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.”
They bowed down which they would do for any king but they also worshiped him which they would not do for a king but only for a god, in this case the God of all gods.
Amazing that these gentiles who worshiped different gods were the first non-Jews to lay eyes on the child but also the first humans to worship him.
Epiphany means “a sudden and unexpected insight”. Think of a light bulb going off over the cartoon character’s head. That’s what these men had. A sudden and unexpected insight into who they were sent to see.
Millions upon millions of people since then have had that same sudden insight. This is not a child in a manger, not even a man on a cross, this is God in human flesh, God Incarnate. And that “epiphany” is life changing, totally transformative, raising the dead in sin to new life in Christ.
The third thing they did was to give to the King. Matt 2:11b “Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”
Gold, we know, and we know its value, but frankincense and myrrh are not so well known. The first is an incense and the second an oil.
Both were so rare and so desired that they were actually more valuable than gold at the time. And God had a purpose for these gifts.
He knew Joseph and Mary would have to flee to Egypt soon so he presented them with the means to live for a couple of years in a foreign land. Among God’s many attributes is that he is Jehovah Jireh, the God who Provides.
The fourth thing we should take away from the magi in addition to worshiping God, and giving to God, is to obey God.
Matt 2:12 “And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”
They had clearly told Herod they would tell him where the king was but when told not to go back to Jerusalem, they obeyed. That obedience cost the lives of some young children.
V16 “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.”
How sad that is but millions would die for this same King over the next 2 millennia. It probably needs to be pointed out that Bethlehem was not a big city but about the size of Ney, Ohio (300).
There would not have been many boys under 2 years old in a town that small. I’m not discounting the lost lives but sometimes we’re told dozens or hundreds were killed and that is not factually accurate.
SEEK, WORSHIP, GIVE, OBEY. A lot to learn from this event.
Mike Kelly is the founding pastor of Bryan’s Grace Community Church (retired) and Board Chairman of Bryan’s Sanctuary Homeless Shelter and Williams County’s Compassion (free) Medical Clinic.