Monday, December 21, 2015

MAGI: The King Makers

The King Makers

The darkness of the ignorance of God and His will permeates society to its very core.  God said in Isaiah 8:20, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”  Jesus was born into the spiritual darkness created by apostate Israel and the harsh, brutal paganism of the Roman Empire.  Almost every satellite province of the Roman Empire was ruled by a terroristic despot who protected his own self-interests above the welfare of his subject.  In most of the provinces, the citizenship were mere slaves of the Roman Empire taxed exorbitantly so as to provide for the opulent and ostentatious lifestyles of their ruling despots.  This was the world into which Jesus was born.

“1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. 3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. 7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. 9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child {not bref’-os, which is translated ‘babe’ in Luke 2:12, but pahee-dee’-on, which is a ‘young child’ or infant toddler} with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures {chests}, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way” (Matthew 2:1-12).

Knowledge of spiritual truth is intended to introduce the believer into a spectrum of the experience of that spiritual truth.  In other words, God gives us a vision of spiritual realities about which we would otherwise not be knowledgeable so that we can enter into that spiritual reality in a very practical way through faith.  This is true regarding the birth of the baby Jesus.  Understanding the spiritual depth of the truth of the incarnation of Jehovah into a human body opens our understanding of a spiritual reality into which we can enter through the door of faith in the redemptive purposes of that union of God in man.  To be knowledgeable about the birth of Jesus is to know the practical reality in the purposes of God in our personal salvation from our own condemnation.  With that purpose in mind, every person becomes personally invested in knowing and appreciating the purposes of God in the birth of the Saviour. 

Knowledge of the purposes of God in the incarnation of baby Jesus should result in rejoicing and worship just as it did in Matthew 2:10-11 in the lives of the Wise Men.  If we have knowledge without rejoicing and worship, we are in a spiritual vacuum that lacks the spiritual experience of Who is before us in baby Jesus.  I am afraid that much of what is involved in the celebration of the birth of the Saviour is void of the rejoicing and worship that should be the natural outcomes of that knowledge.  In such cases, we have removed a very special spiritual truth regarding the Person of Jesus from the celebration we call Christmas. 
The baby Jesus was born into a hostile and wicked world.  The historical backdrop for the birth of the Saviour was a particularly wicked time in Israel’s history.  The King of Judea was Herod the Great (47-1 BC).  He was a Gentile (Edomite or Idumean) appointed to power by Rome.  He began his political career as the governor of Galilee at the age of twenty-five years old.  He was appointed King of Judea because of his success in collecting taxes for Rome.
The point is that the world, and Satan as the “god of this world,” is hostilely opposed to everything about Jesus, including His birth.  In other words, the satanic world in which we live is by the very nature of its existence antichrist.  We do not advance the cause and purpose of Christ by simply pointing that reality out to the world.  They could care less if Christ has been taken out of the celebration of Christmas.  They do not want Him there in the first place. 

The people of this world do not want Jesus in Christmas because they do not know Who He is and why He was born.  It is not their job to keep Christ in Christmas.  It is the job of the believer.  We do that by living the teachings of Jesus every day of the year.  We do that by prayerfully seeking to bring people to know Jesus the way we know Him.  Perhaps this is the problem; we can only bring to people to know Jesus the way we know Him.  Perhaps our knowledge of Jesus is just so superficial that the Christ-life is never reproduced in our lives so that the world can see Jesus.  True Christianity is always evident Christianity!
At the time of the birth of Christ, Herod the Great was in the declining years of his reign (probably about 14 BC to 1 BC).  Christ would have been born probably about 2 or 3 BC.  Herod the Great just had his two favorite sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, put into prison because he believed they were involved in plots to overthrow him.  They were put to death by strangling after a trial.  Three-hundred other people, considered to be their friends, were executed as well.  The last years of Herod’s life were lived in constant turmoil with his own sons because of their attempts to overthrow him and take his place.  It was into that historical turmoil of Herod’s life that Jesus was born.
Modern Christianity wants to live without any theological tensions.  Modern Christianity wants to give Christ a makeover that will somehow make the message of redemption more palatable to sinners.  The satanic obfuscators of the Gospel want to take away the offensive nature of the Gospel in that the true Gospel of Jesus exposes sinners to their own corruption and therefore their own condemnation.  The good news of Christ is pointless if it is not applied to the reality of a sinner’s sin and condemnation.  There are none more hostile to the Gospel than those thinking they are good enough in themselves and have earned eternal life.  These are the type of people that crucified the Saviour.  They crucified Him because the messages He preached offended their self-righteous opinions of themselves.

“13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. 14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. 15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves” (Matthew 23:13-15).

The point in the narrative of Christ’s birth is to expose the hostility of this world to the cause and purpose of Christ’s birth.  In this historical narrative, we see the satanic influence of worldliness being used in a very evil manner trying to thwart the purposes of God in His provision of redemption through His promised Redeemer.  This certainly manifests the futility of the foolish attempts of creatures, even fallen angels, to think they might somehow keep God from doing what He says He will do. 

From Matthew 2:1-12, we can understand that hundreds, if not thousands, of infants born in Israel were slaughtered by Herod’s minions of evil during this two-year span of time.  It is difficult even to comprehend such evil and such selfishness.  Yet, we live in such a world today where women without consciousness of their own evil can murder their unborn children.  The evil is that we have a society that condones such wickedness. 
Shortly before Herod’s death (about 1 BC), the Magi came to Judea searching for the new born King of the Jews.  These “wise men from the east” carry further historical significance to Herod’s slaughter of the innocents (Matthew 2:16).  The Magi were originally a hereditary priesthood who offered animal sacrifices to an un-named god.  They believed in God, but were not privy to the revelations of Himself through the Scriptures given to Moses and the prophets.  The natural tendency for people without theological anchors to the inspired Words of God is for their beliefs about God to morph into various level of abstraction. 

The words “wise men” in Matthew 2:1 are the translation of the Greek word magos (mag’-os), from which we get the English word Magi.  These men were Gentiles whose religious practices intermixed and integrated various forms of paganism.  Although occultist in their practices of divination and Astrologists, they were essentially monotheistic and many of their beliefs and many of their religious practices paralleled those of the Jews.  By the time these men appear on the pages of sacred history, the Magi had evolved into a very powerful group of men.  They held leading positions in a constitutional council known as the Megistanes whose duties included the election (or deposition) of a monarch.  Therefore, they were considered to be divinely appointed king-makers.  Uniquely God used angels to announce the birth of Messiah to the simple Shepherds and the simple Shepherds to announce his birth to the rest of Israel.  God used Gentile king makers to announce the birth of the King of the Universe to the king of Israel and to the rulers of Israel.  God’s ways are beyond our understanding.  He always seems to work outside of the ways we might think He would work. 
Their coming in search of this new born King of the Jews must have struck fear into the heart of the corrupt, wicked, and vile King Herod the Great who lived in constant fear of being overthrown.  They would have come with all the pomp of their position, traveling with a large armed force to protect them.  Had Herod tried to take them on in battle, he would have risked war with Parthia.  Instead he took his usual avenue.  He just decided to eradicate the opposition by having all the children under two years old who had been born in Bethlehem slaughtered.
Apparently about two years had gone by since Herod’s initial contact with the Magi (Matthew 2:16).  That is why he had all the children two years old and under, “according to the time” (Matthew 2:16) that he had talked with the Magi.  In Herod’s corrupt, arrogant heart lay the pride of power.  He would do anything to protect that position of power, even to the extent of having his own sons killed.  He certainly did not see a problem with murdering hundreds of babies to insure his reign would not be interrupted.  From Matthew 2:1-12, we see two extreme examples.

*      We see Herod the taker.
*      We see God the giver.

All sinners are takers by nature.  It is part of our fallen natures.  From the degree of our corruption in this area of our character will flow the degree of our selfish demands.  The idea that it is “more blessed to give then receive” (Acts 20:35) is foolishness to the corrupted mind of a taker.  The spirit of Christmas is giving, but that seems to degenerate more each year into a season of getting and taking.
The so called Christmas spirit is merely normal Christianity.  Focusing on God’s example, the example of giving, Christmas is the time of the year we celebrate the birth of the Saviour.  We cannot separate the word Saviour from the love of God and the giving of God out of that love.  The purpose of God gifting His incarnate eternal Son to humanity is substitutionary sacrifice.  This complete act of selflessness epitomizes the meaning of the word love defining it in ways never before imagined.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

We cannot separate the word Saviour from the love of God and the provision of the free gift of salvation to “whosoever will.”  The purpose of the birth of Jesus is the sinless life of Jesus the God/man.

“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (II Corinthians 5:21). 

The purpose of the sinless life of Jesus is the sinless sacrifice of Jesus to propitiate God for our personal sins and the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2).  The purpose of the propitiation of God for our sins is so that God can gift God-kind righteousness in the justification of the believing sinner as the gift of salvation. 

“8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Therefore, the spirit of Christmas is the spirit of extreme self-sacrifice (love and giving).  The spirit of Christmas is the desire to be a blessing to someone and is about being others-minded.  The Magi brought their “treasures” to baby Jesus and gave Him “gifts” (Matthew 2:11).  Before they gave, these powerful men (who caused kings to tremble) humbled themselves (“fell down”) and “worshipped Him.”  Their gifts were mere tokens to express the sincerity of their worship.  What gift can we give to God from the things He has created or we have created?  They understood that this little baby, lying in the animal’s feeding trough, was God’s gift to the world - a Saviour.  The only gift that is acceptable is to humble ourselves before Him in adoration and genuine worship. 

“8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11.For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

“For unto you” is the fulfillment of Isaiah 9:6; “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”  I find it remarkable that of all the people to whom God could have sent “the angel of the Lord,” it was simple shepherds.  In framing a mental picture of the event described in Luke 2:9-11, it is not that the “angel of the Lord” simply appeared in the physical world.  What took place was a momentary window of sight and sound into the realm of God’s glory.  “The “glory of the Lord” is the visible Shekinah of God that lit up the night with an unimaginable brightness.  The shepherds were told they would find their redemption gift all wrapped up in “swaddling clothes” and lying in a manger.

“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).

What a remarkable place to find the greatest gift ever given to anyone.  The eternal Son of God was not only born into a hostile world intent on His death.  He was born in humility and poverty.  The God Who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and gives of the abundance of His love, took on Himself a body of flesh and was born in humility and died in humility.  He did this to give us the gift of salvation and to teach us a new way of life - giving of ourselves.  Once we understand this, every believer should sing at the top of our lungs from the roof tops with the chorus of “heavenly host” to the glory of God.  Through that open window of sight and sound to the eternal realm of God’s existence, the shepherds heard the angels in Heaven lift their voices to God’s praise. 

“13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:13-14).

Jesus is the personification of God’s “good will toward men.”  If we really understood the magnificence of the gift of God in Christ Jesus, our song services would be filled with joy and rejoicing.  We would shout out “glory to God in the highest” from the bottom of our hearts overflowing with gratitude.  The songs of praise would burst forth from our hearts through our mouths directed to the glory of God.
Often we sing words put to music with little praise from our hearts and even less comprehension of the wonders of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.  If we really understood our dilemma, without God’s gift of a Saviour, we would better understand the wonders of that gift.

“6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

 “While we were yet sinners,” prideful, hostile, God hating, takers of whatever we wanted without any consideration of the consequences, “Christ died for us.”  The little baby boy, born in a manger, was born to die for us, to be our Saviour and to be God’s gift of salvation.  In that gift are many gifts.
  • In God’s gift of salvation, the sin penalty (death) is fully paid.
  • In God’s gift of salvation, the believer is restored to a position of righteousness before God.
  • In God’s gift of salvation, the believer is “born again” of the Spirit of God, removed from the condemned family of Adam and becomes a child of God.
  • In God’s gift of salvation, He promises resurrection and glorification to all believers.
The key words here are gift and believe.  Salvation is free to anyone willing to put their faith in what Jesus Christ accomplished through His death and resurrection and acknowledge His Lordship (Romans 10:9-10).

“24 Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. 25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this” (John 11:24-26)?

“Believest thou this?”  God gave from His heart the most precious of gifts.  He gave His only begotten Son.  He gave because He loves us.  He gave His best.  He gave Himself.  You can be saved if you will trust in the finished, substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  “Believest thou this?” 

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Dr. Lance Ketchum serves the Lord as a Church Planter, Evangelist/Revivalist. 
He has served the Lord for over 40 years.

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