Jim Duggan, Pastor
Bellevue Baptist Church, Macon
Worship is at the heart of what we do as believers. Sometimes, however, our worship becomes a matter of routine. When that happens, we lose the meaning of the things we do and the One to whom we offer it. This week’s lesson helps bring us back to the true meaning and purpose of our worship.
Who Were the Wise Men?
Matthew did little to describe Jesus’ visitors other than to say they were “wise men” from the East. The Greek term magus (plural, magi) refers to an educated class of Persian men who practiced astrology, dream interpretation, and other somewhat occultic arts. Many of them studied ancient writings and pursued the study of wisdom. Matthew did not indicate the number of wise men. The number three comes from the number of types of gifts they brought to Jesus.
Their title and their gifts indicate that they were important and wealthy people. They possibly were of noble lineage or at least served the Persian king in some capacity. Yet, they recognized that One had come who was most worthy of worship.
It is noteworthy that the sign they saw that pointed them to Jesus occurred as they performed their regular routine tasks. They saw “His star” rising as they looked to the skies. Numbers 24:17 prophesied that “a star shall come out of Jacob” that would “crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.” As readers of ancient rulers, they apparently recognized the miraculous sign from God applied to such a prophecy as this.
God often reveals Himself to us in during the regular occurrences of our lives.
Herod was a political appointment by the Roman Emperor who wanted to pacify Jews who resisted outside rule. As King of the Jews, he ruled the Judean region 37 – 4 B.C. He was from Idumea, formerly called Edom. Herod ruled with an iron fist, murdering several family members including his wife. He built cities and fortresses, and as a token gesture in Jerusalem, rebuilt the Temple.
The announcement of the birth of another king troubled Herod greatly. As he asked his experts for information, they pointed to the prophecy in Micah 5:2 that a King would be born in Bethlehem who would serve as a loving shepherd to his people. Herod surreptitiously asked the wise men to find the child, not so he could worship him as he said, but so he could eliminate his competition.
The Worship by the Wise Men
While these men were not necessarily followers of the Lord, God still sovereignly worked in them and through them. The star which they had seen rise in the sky now reappeared in a miraculous way to guide them to Bethlehem. Bethlehem was about six miles due south of Jerusalem.
Matthew recorded that when the wise men visited Jesus, he was no longer in a manger, but in a house with the family. In verse 16, Matthew recounted the decree of Herod that led to the massacre of all baby boys in Bethlehem two years old or younger. This has led some to believe the wise men visited around two years after Jesus’ birth. The visit could have occurred anytime within that two-year period.
Tradition has held that because they brought three gifts, there must have been three wisemen. This is not necessarily that case. It is highly unlikely that such a small caravan would have made the trek from the Persian region to Jerusalem. The number of the wise men, however is not significant. But the symbolism behind the gifts they brought is of great significance.
Gold symbolized Jesus’ royalty as King of Kings. It was a common practice in that day for a foreign envoy to offer gold to a newborn prince who would one day ascend to the throne. The collection of material wealth in addition to the inheritance of his father’s fortune would insure a new king had all the financial resources he needed for success.
Frankincense symbolized Jesus’ position as Lord of Lords. Frankincense was a powdery resin often used in the burning censors during worship. The smell was thought to ascend to heaven and please God. As they offered this valuable gift, the wise men recognized Jesus was ultimately worthy of worship in the highest order.
Myrrh eerily foretold of Jesus sacrificial death. This very expensive spice was often used in embalming practices. Scholars believed that Jesus family could have bartered with these gifts to finance their sojourn into Egypt that Matthew would record in the ensuing verses.
Jesus is ultimately worthy of our worship. May we recognize He is King of Kings and offer complete obedience to Him. As our Lord of Lords, may we make Him the highest object of our desire. And may we recognize His death in our stead on the cross.