Christmas, the greatest event since Creation, took place in a sleepy little village just five miles from Jerusalem. God came from Heaven wrapped in baby clothes, and was laid in a stone feeding trough called a manger.
At His birth Christ was only welcomed and worshipped by two groups of people—outside of His own family. Those two groups, the shepherds and the Wisemen, were poles apart socially, economically, culturally, ethnically, and in every other way but spiritually. But when the shepherds and Wisemen met at the feet of Jesus, they worshipped on common ground.
The shepherds and the wisemen stand out in the Christmas story because of all the creatures on earth created in His image–they were the only ones who came seeking the newborn King!
Shortly after the birth of the Messiah, Judean shepherds bowed at His feet, singing His praises. Then hours or days later Babylonian magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem asking King Herod where the real king of the Jews was born. As we already saw, the response of the Bible scholars of Herod’s court was “in ‘Bethlehem”.
The startling fact is–that though these religious professionals could recite the right answer, their hearts were indifferent to the truth of God’s Word. They revealed the terrible condition of indifference to God. They knew the Scriptures, they just did not believe them! What a tragic indictment upon these servants of God. They did not want to travel the five or six miles to Bethlehem to see their Messiah.
Undaunted, those magi believed the Scriptures. They had traveled several hundred miles to worship Jesus. They had been guided by God’s Shekinah light (the star that moved), and by His Scriptures—to find baby Jesus in Bethlehem. The Wisemen may have been part of the men instructed by Daniel the prophet about the coming Messiah. So when at last they saw the child, they fell down and worshiped Him. He was God in the flesh. Worship was all they could do.
In their worship they gave Him gifts–gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These were unusual present–by any standards. The gold, of course, we all can understand–but the frankincense and myrrh are not normal gifts. We can surmise that these Wisemen had also been exposed by Daniel”s teachings to Isaiah’s prophecy which foretold that “nations will come to your light, and kings to your rising . . . They will bring gold and frankincense, and will bear good news. . . ” (Isaiah 60:3, 6). Knowing of that Scripture could explain the first two gifts and their worship–but not the myrrh.
In the world of the Bible myrrh was a perfume, like frankincense. But unlike frankincense, myrrh always seemed to smell like death. It was the embalmers choice for preparing a corpse for burial. Jesus himself would be embalmed with this very perfume in John 19:39. Could the magi be thinking of Jesus’ death when they brought the myrrh?
Yes, it is very likely that the great and revered Daniel of Babylon had taught his prophecy of Christ’s coming to the forefathers of these magi (Wisemen). Over the centuries the truths of Daniel’s prophecy (9:24-27) were read and passed down, that the ‘Messiah will be cut off’ and this ‘will make atonement for iniquity’ and ultimately ‘bring in everlasting righteousness’. So this may be how God led those Wisemen to bring that third gift. Amazingly, even at Christ’s birth, the shadow of the cross is already falling over His life.
What does Matthew record as the first response of those who find Jesus? Listen to the Holy Scriptures as they pull back the cloak of time. With vibrant freshness listen to Matthew describe this hallowed moment with such unforgettable words. God enters time and space as an infant!
Follow along in Matthew 2:1-11.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying (present participle, continuously asking over and over), “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.(Still these three responses to Christ are still present today: Herod hated Him; the leaders ignored Him; the Magi loved Him) 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 So they said to him (they knew it, didn’t have to look it up, they quoted it—but just didn’t believe it), “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 6 ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ” 7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” 9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them (so it came and went and wasn’t always visible—God gives us only what we need, when we need it), till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him (if there was ever a time to worship Mary it was now—but then as now they worshipped HIM!). And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
CHOICES FAITH MAKES
Christ’s life begins and ends surrounded by two of the most vivid exhibits of faith in the Bible. At His birth that exhibit of faith is in the wisemen—at His death it is the penitent thief. Both were presented with the impossible—an infant that sure didn’t look like God, and a battered criminal that also failed to look the part of the Eternal King of Glory.
These wise men believed in Christ when they had never seen him; but that was not all. They believed in Him when the scribes and Pharisees were unbelieving; but that again was not all. They believed in Him when they saw Him as a little infant on Mary’s knees, and worshiped Him as a King. This was the crowning point of their faith.
- They saw no miracles to convince them.
- They heard no teaching to persuade them.
- They saw no signs of divinity and greatness to overawe them.
They saw nothing but a newborn infant, helpless and weak, and needing a mother’s care like any of us. And yet when they saw that infant, they believed that they saw the divine Savior of the world! “They bowed down and worshiped him” (verse 11).
That worship is a presentation of our gifts to God. We read that these wise men “presented unto Him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh.” The significance of these gifts is beautiful. They worshipped Him when they gave the gold—gold is for a king. They worshipped Him when they gave Him the frankincense—frankincense is for a priest. They worshipped Him when they gave the myrrh—for myrrh is for the One who was to die. These gifts of the wise men, even at the cradle of Christ, foretold that he was to be the true King, the perfect High Priest, and in the end the only Savior of mankind.”
The Magi were willing to follow God’s way anywhere in order to find the Promised King and Savior.
ARE YOU LOOKING?
Everyone who was looking for Jesus to come enjoyed His arrival. If you want to seek and find Him here is a pattern that God has recorded for us to learn from.
Personally–Come to Him Yourself: What a powerful lesson in the way these Wisemen gave. They didn’t send their gifts by another’s hand, they came and brought them personally to Jesus. God wants you, in person, to come to Him. Undaunted by the long and arduous journey, they must have been amazed to find a mere baby in a stable.
After the magnificence of King Herod’s palace and his overpowering presence it is amazing that they fell down in worship before baby Jesus as they did. Choosing to disobey Herod’s demand that they reveal the location of Jesus indicates their faith. This choice could have cost them their lives. So in every way it was a personal coming to Jesus that marked their lives.
We need to come personally to Jesus in prayer, worship, and adoration today. We need to give ourselves to Jesus this Christmas. That is the first gift. Remember how Paul commended the saints that “first gave themselves” (II Corinthians 8:5)?
Sacrificially–Give your time, freedom, and comfort for Him: From the two year calculation of Herod’s death warrant on the babies of the region we can infer that it took many months for these Wisemen to travel to Jerusalem. Herod added some months on each end to cover any potential birth near that time. All that to say that it was hard to travel 1100 to 1200 miles back then. They walked and rode across hot and arid deserts, through rivers, and across cold and dangerous mountain passes to get to Christ’s birthplace from the regions of Babylon, Persia or Media. Even today this journey is very difficult and dangerous.
What are you sacrificing giving to Jesus this Christmas that costs you something?
That is what we think about as we come to communion—we hold a reminder of the price Christ paid for us!
Bread–Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne #127
We can use a hymn from this Christmas season ( #127) as s a prayer for making room for Christ in His special season. Listen to these precious words, and affirm for your life the response at the end of each stanza.
- Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown when Thou camest to earth for me; but in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room for Thy holy nativity: O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for Thee.
- Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang, proclaiming Thy royal degree; but of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth, and in greatest humility: O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for Thee.
- The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest in the shade of the forest tree; but Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God, in the deserts of Galilee: O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for Thee.
- Thou camest, O Lord, with the living word that should set Thy people free; but with mocking scorn, and with crown of thorn, they bore Thee to Calvary: O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for Thee.
- When the heavens shall ring, and the angels sing, at Thy coming to victory, let Thy voice call me home, saying, “Yet there is room, there is room at My side for thee:” My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus, When Thou comest and callest for me.
Immediately—Present what you have to Him: The Wisemen brought prophetic gifts that pictured what Christ’s earthly work was all about. They brought what they had in their lives as wealthy rulers. And that is what God wanted, that is why He chose them. When God chose you it was not to bring their gifts but yours. Remember how the Lord accents the gifts of each individual. None are the same; all are precious to Him. Think through the people and gifts that God uses in His Word. Remember the little boy’s lunch that fed thousands? How about an anonymous person’s upper room that witnessed the Last Supper, the appearances of the Risen Christ, and the prayer meeting of Pentecost? Then there was the borrowing of an unbroken colt to carry the King of Kings as He rode to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. And who can ever forget the un-requested flask of perfume broken and spilled out just for love of Jesus.
Present what you have to Him today. Give Him your mind—let Him fill it. Give Him your hands—let Him guide and use them. Give Him your future—let Him plan and direct your life. Give Him your treasures—He can store them and invest them in safe places that bring everlasting rewards.
Cup–I Gave My Life for Thee #453
Collecting–Hallelujah What A Savior #175
Worshipfully—Offer your Worship Him: But more than the coming and giving there is the greatest moment of all–they came, they bowed, they opened their treasures and presented them to Him…but before all of that—they fell down and worshipped Him! Worship is a rare and easily lost atmosphere of devotion, adoration, sacrifice, and communion. Those Wisemen were overwhelmed at the sight of the One they came so far to see; the One they had waited so long to honor; the One they had paid so much to sacrifice their gifts upon—and when at last they saw Him they fell down and worshipped Him.
This Christmas why don’t you consider William Temple’s definition of worship. And while you are off the busy highway of life–measure your personal worship temperature. Here is what he said: “[Worship is] to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open up the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.”
Candle lighting—Living for Jesus #372
 Paraphrased and quoted from Barclay, William, Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Matthew – Volume 1 Chapters 1-10 (Revised Edition), (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press) 2000, c1975.