Over Christmas we had a conjunction in the night sky, didn’t we? Jupiter and Saturn came into alignment for the first time in hundreds of years. It was visible in the South West for a few nights during late December – something for astronomers to train their telescopes on during these cold winter nights.
Astronomy is an ancient science, and today’s Bible reading tells us about magi who were devoted ‘students of the stars’ 2000 years ago. These magi were probably Gentiles, not Jews – foreigners from the East. Some scholars think they came from Persia, others suggest Arabia. We do know they brought three gifts, but we don’t know how many Magi there were – maybe three, maybe more!
The wise men’s journey – by a Star and Scripture
These men studied the night skies not just to admire the beauty of the stars, but also to try and work out what was going to happen on earth below. Their specialism was astrology as much as astronomy. One day they saw something that made them set off for Jerusalem – possibly even a conjunction similar to the one we have seen recently.
(Alternative theories are that they saw a comet – a ball of ice & rock speeding through space, while others suggest a supernova – an exploding star.)
Whatever it was, the wise men believed this star was a sign – a sign from God that a new king of Israel had been born, so naturally enough they headed towards the capital and the royal palace. After all, that’s where kings live, isn’t it?
But the star alone wasn’t sufficient to discover the precise location of the newborn king. Divine revelation was required to pinpoint his location. So Herod’s advisers consulted scriptures to find out where the Messiah would be born. The answer was found in Micah 5, which says the Christ child will be born in Bethlehem. So Herod sent the wise men there.
You see, common sense can only get us so far. There are many circumstances in life when we need inspired Scripture. We need God’s Word to guide us on ethics as well as theology. We need to know our Bible’s if we are to really know the way to live as well as the way of salvation. To know and serve God we need revelation, not just our unaided reason. To journey through life as wise men and women we need God’s Word to guide us, our own guess work just won’t do!
The wise men’s gifts – Gold, frankincense and myrrh
We’re told that the wise men’s journey ended in joy, when they found Jesus in Bethlehem. And to mark the occasion they gave him three gifts. Three gifts that help us understand who Jesus is.
• Firstly, GOLD. Gold for a king. Jesus was a descendant of David, Israel’s greatest king to date. Yet Jesus was destined to be an even greater monarch. As God’s promised Messiah, he was the man who would rescue God’s people and establish an everlasting kingdom.
• Secondly, FRANKINCENSE. Frankincense was used by priests in the Jerusalem Temple. When it was burnt by priests it symbolised prayers ascending to heaven. Priests acted as mediators between God and mankind. They were go-betweens. You went through them to get to God. The sacrifices and prayers they offered enabled people to enjoy a relationship with God. The Bible tells us that Jesus came as our perfect, permanent Priest, as the great go-between between us and God the Father.
• Thirdly, the magi brought MYRRH. Myrrh was something that was put on dead bodies, and so it reminds us that Christ would one day lay down his life at the Cross for our forgiveness. He would offer his life for the sins of the world, before rising again.
So together, the wise men’s gifts remind us of the good news of the Gospel. They remind us that Jesus is the great King, the perfect priest, the one who die and rose again for us. They are a great aide memoire to help us appreciate the Messiah’s identity and mission.
The wise men’s…wisdom!
Before we finish, its worth recognising that the wise men loved up to their billing! Because they did one truly wise thing when they encountered Christ – they worshipped him.
To worship something is to recognise its value. It is to affirm the unique qualities of whatever we worship and to pledge ourselves to its service. So worshipping Jesus is all about showing Jesus how much he means to us. Worshipping Jesus is a way to show how important and precious we recognise him to be for us. If Jesus really is our King, our Priest and our God-given Saviour, it really is wise to worship him – those magi got it right and Herod was horribly wrong.
To worship Jesus doesn’t just mean singing. We can all worship Jesus in our daily lives by listening to his words in the Bible and trusting his promises. We worship Jesus when we tell other people all about him. We worship Jesus when we imitate him in our personal attitudes and actions. So let us worship Christ with our lips and our lives in 2021!
Copyright © 2015-2018 St John the Evangelist, Ashton Hayes. All rights reserved.