Vantage Point: An Advent Devotional - Week 2 | Bring Your Best
One of my passions in life is to help people see Jesus in fresh ways. Last week we began an advent devotional that I’m calling, “Vantage Point,” that seeks to do just that. Throughout the Christmas season we’re looking at the Christmas story from four different vantage points. All different, but all culminating in one history altering moment, the birth of Jesus. Today we look at the vantage point of the magi (often referred to as the three kings or wise men). And I hope their example inspires you the way it has inspired me during this Christmas season.
First off, we need to answer the question; who are these “magi?”
Whether we realize it or not, popular culture has made this more confusing for people than my 10th grade algebra teacher made the quadratic equation. The magi were most likely “semites;” along with Jews and Arabs they were descended from Noah’s son Shem. Not only that but they were astrologers who studied the stars and believed that the heavenlies were a source of revelation. The word “magic” is derived from the word magi, so in a way they were “magicians.” Most likely they belonged to a specific group of astrologers that practiced Zoroastrianism. A religion started by the Persian “priest” Zoroaster who believed in a single God and a cosmic battle between good and evil. Essentially, Zoroastrians combined science and religion to become a powerful group of advisors (this is where they get the name “wise men”) to those in power in the ancient world. In Daniel 2 we see them as high ranking officials in King Nebedchuddnezar’s court. If you remember the story, Daniel was able to interpret the King’s dream while the “magi” could not. At that point Daniel was put in charge of the King’s court and became the leader of the magi. This is most likely where the Zorastrians learned about the one true God. And that knowledge was passed down from generation to generation until the time of Christ. The bottom line is they were pagan people who were not highly thought of by the Jews and yet God puts them in his Word as a great example. Let’s take a look;
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 when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. Matthew 2:1-3
The account of the magi begins with the birth of Jesus. Matthew tells us they see a “star” that catches their attention. We don’t know how, but somehow they knew it was connected to the Hebrew Messiah that had long been foretold of. The word star is often used in scripture to represent great radiance. Most importantly, in Old Testament prophecy Jesus is described as “a star that shall come forth from Jacob” and is called “the bright and morning star” in Revelation.
Many have tried to explain the star using some form of scientific explanation but the bottom line is it was something supernatural. The star appeared for a moment and the magi headed east. When they arrived in Jerusalem the star was obviously gone because they had to ask where Jesus was. Later, the star reappears again and stops DIRECTLY over Jesus’ home. This was no ordinary star. It was God’s guiding light.
One thing that has always fascinated me about this account is that when the magi arrived they went around asking anyone and everyone where they could find “the king of the jews.” Yet NO ONE knew. Neither Herod nor any of the people in the city knew that Jesus had been born. This must have been shocking to these foreigners from a far away land. How could Jesus’ own people not know he had been born? From day one, Jesus was ignored by his own. And this is where the account gets interesting.
When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
When Herod finds out there is a potential new king in town he is not happy. This is a threat to his power. So he gathered the Chief Priests and the teachers of the law where the messiah was to be born. And to their credit, they actually give the right answer. They quote Micah 5:2 (an amazingly accurate prophecy of Jesus’ birthplace, go check it out!). And at this, Herod called the magi to go and find the child, claiming that he wanted to worship the newborn king.
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. Matthew 2:9-12
As the magi set out, once again the star they had seen reappears and stops directly over the home of Jesus. And at this point, after an incredibly long journey, they are overjoyed, and they bow down to worship the child king. And this is where the most famous part of the story happens. The magi bow down and present Jesus with the finest gifts they could offer; gold, frankincense and myrrh. There are two important things I want us to see;
First; they relentlessly pursued Jesus until they found Him
Their journey was long (possibly over a year). They traveled a great distance, left their homes and families and spent a huge amount of time and money. Why did they do this? Because they believed this messiah was worth it. They believed there was something special and life-changing about this little child. They believed everything they had was worth giving up to find Jesus.
Second; when they found Jesus they were overjoyed and they bowed down and worshiped Him
This is why they made the entire journey; “we saw His star and we have come to worship Him.” When they found Jesus they were overjoyed because they knew he was special. And they worshiped him because they knew that was the only appropriate response for how special he was.
Today, I want us to take special note of HOW they worshiped; they worshiped with their GIFTS. Not just any gifts, but their BEST gifts. They gave gold(the most precious metal), frankincense(a wildly costly spice) and myrrh(a costly perfume). Each was extremely valuable. They searched and searched and when they finally found Jesus their joy overflowed into worship through incredible generosity. So, here is God’s reminder to me this week;
We give our first and our best to what we worship
Another way to say it; what we spend the majority of our time and money on says everything about what we worship. And what I want us to see today is that the magi have so much to teach us about a vitally important word in the Kingdom of God. It’s the word generosity. I want to help us see something that maybe we’ve never thought about. Giving is a DEEPLY spiritual issue. It is a WORSHIP issue and therefore it is a DISCIPLESHIP issue. The question is why? Well, the answer is simple; there is nothing that has the power to become an idol in our life more than our money and possessions. Idolatry is a sin that will destroy us and at the very least greatly impact our spiritual health. Don’t believe me? Money is talked about over 2000 times in scripture. Twice as much as prayer and faith COMBINED. It is an important spiritual issue to God.
1 Timothy 6:10 says; For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Worship of anything other than God draws us away from him and “leads to many griefs,” the apostle Paul says. Those griefs include; never being satisfied, using and neglecting people, selfishness, pride and many more. And our heavenly father does not want that for us. There is only one antidote to this problem; WORSHIPFUL GENEROSITY.
And these pagan magi were modeling this for us in an amazing way. How did they do that? They gave first and they gave their best. Why? Because they found a treasure of unsurpassing worth and there is only one appropriate response when you find that kind of treasure; worshiping with your first and your best. They were generous because they were overjoyed that they had finally found the one who brings ultimate security in life; Jesus, the Savior of the world. And this is what’s so critical for us to understand.
True generosity comes from a deep understanding of the gospel. It comes from a place of worship and gratitude for our savior.
So here’s the question we need to ask ourselves. Are we willing to lay down our first and our best for our King? Because here’s a truth bomb for you; you’re not truly worshiping if you’re not giving your first and best. These pagan magi were more worshipful and generous than any of God’s people. God’s people should have been the first to bow down and bring their best, and yet they didn’t even recognize his birth. Meanwhile, the magi brought their very best. Sadly, not much has changed over the last 2000 years. Many non-believers in our world are more generous than Christians and this should never be. And so I’ll say this again and leave you with a challenge;
We give our first and our best to what we worship.
How can we begin to do that today?
Give out of the right motivation. Right worship is always, and must be, the only basis for right giving. Giving that is generous but done apart from a loving relationship with God is empty giving. - John Macarthur
Give your first and your best. Pick a percentage and make it your first “expense” of the month. God is interested in your heart. You would never serve leftovers to an esteemed guest in your home. The same should be true of our giving to the Lord. We give him our best.
Give consistently. Giving keeps our heart from worshiping money and things and increases our faith that God is ultimately the great provider. The more consistently we give the less likely we are to become slaves to our treasure.
I praise God for the example of the magi this Christmas season. They are an amazing example of worshipful generosity. And once again, as was the case with Joseph last week, the magi were simply modeling what Jesus would ultimately do for us; give his absolute best on the cross for our benefit. Our savior didn’t just give us his leftovers. He didn’t hold back even a little bit from us. He gave his WHOLE life so that we could be set free from sin and death and released into a life of generosity and impact!
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