Wisemen Still Seek the Savior
Matthew 2:1-12 & Numbers 24:15-19
This is a synopsis, or quick review, of the sermon for Christmas Eve Day, Sunday, December 24, 2023. I am only hitting the highlights of the message, not reproducing the entire sermon.
First Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:1-12
Dr. Edwin Yamauchi (b 1937), a leading scholar in Ancient Middle East History claims there are over 700 scholarly books or professional journal articles on the “Bethlehem Star” and/or the mysterious “Magi” who appear in Bethlehem about a year and a half after the birth of Jesus, not to mention another multitude of shorter writings and commentaries on the subject.
Who were these Magi? And what did they see? The word “Magi” is a Persian word meaning a scholar or wise man. The European words “Magic” and “Magician” derive from this term. Many magi studied the heavens, and some drafted horoscopes to advise those who could pay for them. Many others were herbalists, who mixed potions and concoctions to heal the sick. These potions were recorded in secret books written in ancient languages to keep “common men” from stealing their technology. Some specialized in divination of various kinds. There is little evidence they were involved in witchcraft or spellcasting. All magi spent much of their time reading and rewriting old manuscripts of the past. Most were advisors to kings and wealthy merchants. They were revered as if they were kings, but few ever became “rulers of the masses.” (cf, Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible, ch 13, The Magi.)
So one cold and clear night, some “magi” in the “East,” (Mesopotamia, Persia, or Armenia, or even the Asian step) saw a spectacular sight in the Western sky, like something they had never seen before. Now these magi studied the stars and star charts all their lives. They would not be alarmed by comets, or planet alignments, or meteor showers. Something very special happened that night. Some of the ancient Church Fathers quoted a Chinese astrology chart showing a star “nova” in the far western sky, so bright it lit the skies for seven nights. Recent archeologists in Western China may have recovered that “otherwise unknown” document a few years ago. The nova is dated 5 BC, the year modern scholars date Jesus’ birth.
We may not know what the magi saw, but it caused a group of “eggheaded” scholars to leave their scholarly pursuits and head off at least a thousand miles to Jerusalem, capital of the Province of the Judea, to see the new baby king. A trip taking at least a year one way.
They went first to Jerusalem and then were sent to Bethlehem (Matt 2:3-6). Notice from the text, while the shepherds came to a stable and saw the newborn Jesus was in a manger, the magi arrived at a “house” where a “preschooler” or “toddler” lived with Mary & Joseph (Lk 2:11-12 & Matt 2:11).
But what brought these magi here at such a high cost of time and funds? They traveled far, paid all the travel expenses and gave up so much time to see this child.
2nd Scripture Reading: Numbers 24:15-19
You may remember Balaam from your Sunday School days. He is the prophet whose donkey spoke to him, and stopped him from disobeying God. He was not a Jew, but he did believe and follow the true God, and was a prophet of “El-Elyon” the “Almighty God.”
King Balack of Moab, in the time when Moses was leading the Children of Israel around Edom and Moab, toward the promise land, sent for Balaam to curse Israel and eliminate the Israeli threat to his territory. He lived across the Jordan River and Dead Sea from Caanan Land. And he feared Israel would conquer his territory. Balaam heard from God and blessed the children of Israel instead of cursing them.
We have just read his fourth blessing. In verses 15-16 we see that he is indeed delivering a message from God, Himself. In v. 17 we read that this blessing includes a coming King out of Israel who would come in the distant future from Balaam, 1400 yrs in the future. His coming would be signaled by a star appearing over Judah. This ruler would conquer all evil and rule in peace over all “would be” oppressors.
That is what the magi saw in the sky. They were in the east, looking west and saw something in the skis that brought them to Jerusalem, from where they learned about the birthplace in Bethlehem.
Of interest to us is that the magi came over a thousand miles to seek the baby King, and there is no record of any of the Jerusalem scribes going some 30 miles to Bethlehem to follow up on the wisemen’s query.
What about us. The magi had faith about this little boy and traveled a year and a half to find Him. Yet the scribes in Jerusalem didn’t bother to go 30 miles to check on the rumor. Have we heard the story of the birth of Jesus so many times we just pass it off as yesterday’s news? Yes, Balaam saw “Him,” “not now,” and “far away” (v 17). We sometimes neglect to have faith that He is in charge and will come back for us.
Something to think about on this Christmas Eve. God Bless.
CH Jim Odell