They’ve got a song. They’ve got a bumper sticker. They are on Christmas cards and featured in almost every Nativity scene. But the the wise men may be among the least understood characters in the first Christmas drama. In nativity scenes there are always three of them. They’re always dressed like royalty with flowing robes and glistening crowns. They look like poster children for the United Nations: one Asian, one African, one Middle Easterner. They’re usually pictured at the manger delivering their gifts. At some point in the last 2000 years we even gave them names. Ironically, the Bible doesn’t provide any of that information.
The Bible is silent on all of those details. And there is a simple rule of biblical study that will serve you well throughout your spiritual walk- If the Bible doesn’t provide details in any given story, those details aren’t really important. In fact, focusing on and speculating too much about the what the Bible doesn’t say rather than what it does say will almost always lead you in the wrong direction and cause you to draw the wrong conclusions. While the Christmas story includes Wisemen, Shepherds and an innkeeper- the Nativity story isn’t about them or what they did. The Christmas Story is first and foremost about Jesus and what God did for you. The Bible says,
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”John 3:16 (NIV84)
Circle “God so loved” This passage sums up what the Bible in general and what the Christmas story in particular is all about. The Christmas story isn’t about the Innkeepers’ indifference, the Shepherds search or the Wisemen’s wisdom. The Christmas story is all about God’s love. So let’s revisit this Christmas episode with our focus where it belongs– not on the actions and activities of Herod, the religious leaders in Jerusalem or even the Wisemen themselves. Let’s look at three ways God’s love for you is revealed in the story of the wisemen.
Read Matthew 2:1-12
God loves you wherever you are.
When I say wherever I am talking about where you are physically, but also where you are spiritually. You can be in a church or watching a church video stream online and be either spiritually near to God or far from Him. Let’s look at the wisemen.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “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.”Matthew 2:1–2 (NIV84)
Circle “Magi from the east.” This singe phrase tells us where these wisemen were both physically and spiritually before they started their journey.
Many people and many preachers speculate that they came from ancient Babylon. Maybe, but the truth is, we simply don’t know. When the Bible says from the east, it means east of Israel and that’s it. And the very fact that the Bible doesn’t tell us the exact location, means that detail isn’t really important. They could be from anywhere east of ancient Israel. The important fact is that they were outsiders. They were from outside of Israel and outside of God’s covenant relationship with Israel. They weren’t Jews, they were Gentiles, foreigners, outsiders.
And second, they weren’t just physical outsiders, they were also extreme spiritual outsiders. Although many translations use the word wisemen to describe them, they really weren’t very wise- at least not according to God’s standard for wisdom. “Magi” were practitioners of magic, sorcery, divination and astrology. That is what Magi really means. Those pagan practices are absolutely forbidden for God’s people. This was the deepest spiritual darkness you can imagine. So it is a misleading to think they were “wise” or that their “wisdom” is to be emulated. This story isn’t about the Magi’s wisdom or the Magi’s efforts in searching for Jesus. It is all about God and His love. The Bible says,
“For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me…”John 6:44 (NLT)
Circle, “No one” This includes the Magi. They didn’t come because of their wisdom or their curiosity. They came because God stirred up something in their souls. God wooed them. God enticed them. He welcomed theses ultimate outsiders into His Story. God included the Magi to let people in every generation know that God loves outsiders and wants them to become insiders. God loves you wherever you are.
Where are you right now?
Let me ask you something, “Where are you right now?” Are you close to God or far from Him? This has been a tough year. Many people have had their faith tested. Some are passing. Others failing. Have the difficulties of the year left you closer to God or further from Him? Are you more involved in ministry or less involved? Does God have more of your attention or less? How is your prayer life? Are you reading your bible? Are you making time in your day to spend time with Jesus?
No matter how you answered those questions, God loves you. He loves you wherever you are.
Why does the church exist?
And this hasn’t been an easy year to be a church. We moved three times. We moved from the Old Stone School to online, then we moved to an outdoor service with drive-in at the Old 690. And now back to the Old Stone School with indoor, outdoor and drive-in and streaming. Every one of those moves took significant effort. The indoor service on Christmas Eve was our backup plan to the outdoor service. Then the power failed and James figured out how to do it with battery power and candlelight. And then mysteriously it stopped working about 30 minutes before service was set to start. So we had to execute yet another back up plan. Why go through all of that trouble? Why not just quit? Because Christmas Eve is a time when God often calls outsiders. God loves you wherever you are.
God loves to give second chances
The Devil likes to tell you things like it’s too late. You have messed up so badly you can never recover. You’ve gone too far. Or failed the same way so many times even God won’t help you anymore. Those are the kinds of lies the devil whispers in your ear to discourage you and cause you to quit. But the truth is that God loves to give people second chances.
They made a wrong turn.
Our wise men started out their spiritual journey following this supernatural light- a star. But they must have stopped following the Star as they approached Jerusalem because the Star was leading them to Jesus and Jesus wasn’t in Jerusalem. Jesus was in Bethlehem. Clearly the Magi made a wrong turn. And bad things happened. Their wrong turn tipped off Herod and caused all sorts of trouble for the people of Bethlehem. But even though their wrong turn was so costly, God wasn’t done with them. When they left Jerusalem, The bible says,
“… Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child.”Matthew 2:9 (The Message)
Circle“then” When they returned to their original journey, the star reappeared to them. In other words, God wasn’t done with them just because they made a wrong turn. God gave them a second chance. We serve a God who loves to give people second chances.
Sometimes we wander in our spiritual journey. We stop trusting, or stop believing or stop obeying. In fact, the Bible is filled with stories of people like that. Abraham and Sarah stopped trusting and they ended up with Ishmael and that was terrible for Hagar. King David disobeyed God with Bathsheba and that was terrible for her husband, Uriah. Jonah ran from God, and that wasn’t good for the crew on that ship. But none of those episodes ended with failure. Failure was just the turning point in each of these stories. They all received second chances. Because God loves to give people second chances. The Bible says,
“So tell the people: This is what the Lord All-Powerful says: ‘Return to me, and I will return to you …”Zechariah 1:3 (NCV)
Circle “I will” What a beautiful promise. God is only as far away from you as you want Him to be. No matter how far or for how long you have wandered, If you have a change in heart will respond immediately. If you return to God, He promises to return to you. That means there are no dead-ends in life. Only opportunities to make U-Turns. Our God always offers second chances to those who want one.
Maybe you need a second chance.
Maybe you need a second chance. Maybe you’ve made a wrong turn and don’t know how to get back to where you need to be. Well you can dismiss this part of the message as just a coincidence, or consider that God is offering you a second chance. God says “Return to me, and I will return to you “
Maybe someone you know someone who needs a second chance
Maybe you know someone who needs a second chance. Maybe you need to forgive someone whose wrong turn harmed you. We who receive second chances are morally obligated to offer them to others. Maybe you know someone who is at the end of their rope. They desperately need the kind of second chance that only God can give. Well if you know God, the second-chance-giver why not tell them that He has a second chance for them?
God knows what will make you truly happy
The episode climaxes with the Magi arriving their journeys destination. Let’s read it from the Message Paraphrase,
“They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time! They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.”Matthew 2:10–11 (The Message)
In the pagan world, Magi were highly regarded so they had status. They were clearly rich enough to make the journey, had the luxury of enough time, and the means to present the expensive gifts they offered. But their journey reveals they needed more. And they found it. They found true happiness and satisfaction in finding and worshiping Jesus.
Like the Magi, most people are searching for that missing thing in their lives. The thing that will make you truly happy. You aren’t happy. You find yourself always having to pursue happiness. You seek happiness with romantic pursuits thinking that if you can just find the right lover, you will finally be happy. You try to fill your unhappiness with things– you “go shopping”. A closet full of shoes, a new car, a new large screen TV with surround sound stereo and you still aren’t happy. Some people try to fill their emptiness with personal accomplishments. Personal best in sports or promotion to the top of the corporate ladder. But you still aren’t happy. Others try to find happiness with adventure and excitement. Exotic vacations or extreme sports. None of these are bad, and some of them are fun and good, it’s just they can’t make you happy. You will always need more.
Others turn to destructive pursuits, like drugs, alcohol abuse, pornography, and illicit affairs… and in chasing these things we find that the hole just keeps getting deeper and deeper until these things destroy us and our lives.
When Jesus walked the earth he talked about what your soul really wants, the one thing that will truly make you happy. And He described it with terms like hunger and thirst. On one occasion Jesus said,
“…“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”John 6:35 (NLT)
Circle, “bread of life” This is a metaphor for the thing that your soul really wants. The only thing that will make you truly happy- Jesus Himself. The Magi found Jesus and and experienced that kind of happiness. And so can you.
Maybe you are believer and have forgotten this truth. It happens. You aren’t happy and don’t know why. Maybe its because you are looking for happiness in all the wrong places. Instead of finding your happiness in your relationship with Jesus and worshipping Him, your are distracted by and inviting in something else. The story of the Magi reminds us that only God has what can truly make you happy. Jesus His Son.
Where are you right now?
Are you near to God or far from Him? Were you closer to Him at some time in the past. Either way He loves you.
Do you need a second chance?
Maybe you have a made a wrong turn. That is not OK but it doesn’t have to be the end of your journey. God wants you back.
God knows what will make you happy.
Maybe God is calling someone into a deeper walk of devotion and service or even into ministry. And you are afraid of what that calling will mean and what it will cost. Let me tell you something. Don’t be afraid. Finding Jesus and worshiping Jesus is the only thing that will really make you happy. Jesus said
“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.”Revelation 3:20 (NLT)
Circle “open the door” That is all you have to do. Jesus does the rest.
Jesus we open the door of our heart to you. Come into our lives a fresh. Let us open the gift of the year 2021 with a new sense of anticipation and Hope. Help us to hear your voice as you call us. Give the gift of faith to obey and respond. Use us to reach others we ask. Help us to recognize those who are hurting. Enable us to be your outstretched hands to offer healing. Be glorified in our lives and in your church.
In your name we pray, Amen.