Friday, December 24, 2010
Merry Christmas! Celebrate the Incarnation! Matthew 2:1-12
The picture is of the Tomb of the prophet Daniel in Shoosh, Southern Iran. ("Susa" in Nehemiah 1:1) Shoosh is a small city in the province of Khuzistan, which includes Ahwaz and Abadan, near the Gulf point where Iran and Iraq meet. Daniel prophesied of the coming Messiah while in Persia/Iran around 539 BC. The ancient Persians read and studied Daniel's book, especially 9:24-27 which speaks of the Messiah to come, who would bring an end of sin and bring atonement for iniquity. The Magi, the priestly wise men of the Zoroastrian religion of Persia, also watched the stars and counted the years as it got closer to the time that Messiah the Prince would come. God apparently spoke to them somehow through this miracle star that moved and guided them.
Iranians have not always been Muslims, they were Zoroastrians before Islam came around 634-750 AD, and beyond into the 900s. The Arab Muslims aggressively attacked Persia and forced them to become Muslims through their aggressive Jihads/ Qatal (fighting/killing) and Harb (war). Even to this day, there is deep ethnic hatred and resentment against the Arabs for their aggressions against the Persians for centuries.
The Magi who came to worship Jesus were Zoroastrian priests. They were probably from Persia, the superpower Empire to the east of Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth. The Persian Empire included many peoples, Pars (Persians), Medes (Kurds), Arabs, Babylonians, and Assyrians. The Magi were probably made of some people from all of these ethnic groups.
What better way to celebrate Christmas than doing what the Magi did, in seeking after Christ, and worshiping Him?
1. They sought out the Messiah, they traveled a long way, from the east in Persia, and put forth effort into seeking Him. (Matthew 2:1-2)
Are you seeking to know Him deeper?
2. They wanted to worship Christ, which means they recognized Him as God and King of Kings. (Matthew 2:2) Not only “king of the Jews”, but “king of the nations” (Revelation 15:3-4) Only God is deserving of worship ( Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9; Matthew 4:10, Deuteronomy 6:13; 10:20), so this passage is teaching that Jesus is the incarnate God. (see also Matthew 14:33; 22:41-46; 26:63-64)
Do you desire to worship Jesus as God?
3. They believed the Scriptures when it was quoted for them that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. (Matthew 2:4-9, verses 5 and 6 quoting Micah 5:2)
Do you believe the prophesies about the Messiah? (see also Matthew 1:21-23 (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6) (others: Psalm 2, 16, 22, 110; Isaiah 53; Genesis 3:15; 12:3; 22:18; 49:10)
The context is also important in Matthew chapter 1:18-25 - the virgin conception and birth of Christ. See Luke chapters 1 and 2 also.
4. They actually did worship Christ when they found Him. (Matthew 2:11-12)
Do you really worship Him?
5. They gave gifts to the child, which shows that giving for the cause of the kingdom of God is a form of worship. (Matthew 2:11)
Do you give gifts to your church and missions and ministries that are spreading the gospel and working for the sake of the kingdom of God?
6. Since they worshiped Christ, and only God is deserving of worship, they had repented of their false religion and turned to trust in Christ.
Is there genuine repentance in your life?
7. Their faith and worship of Christ resulted in persecution, and so God spoke to them in a dream not to return to Herod. They were changed and returned to their own country by a different way. (Matthew 2:12)
Do you ever suffer any kind of misunderstanding or mockery or insults or persecution for your faith in Christ?
How did the Magi know about the Messiah being Promised? The Magi were priests of the Zoroastrian religion, the religion of Persia at the time of Christ; they were according to John McArthur, “king-makers” – that is, they had to perform religious ceremonies for Persian kings to be crowned. Herodotus, the Greek historian, tells us the Magi were among the Medes ( today the Kurds are the modern descendants of the Medes) and Persians ( Iranians), and wise men/astrologers/astronomers among the Babylonians. Daniel chapters 2, 4, and 5 show that the Babylonians also had Magi, “wise men”. Persia later conquered Babylon and had a vast empire that included many peoples. (see Esther 1:1)
Daniel, the prophet, was in Iran (Persia) when he prophesied of the Messiah to come. (around 539-536 BC) (Daniel chapter 9:1-2; 24-27; see also 6:28). Daniel’s grave is there today in the city of Shoosh, (“Susa” in Nehemiah 1:1) southern Iran. Apparently, the Magi heard, read, and studied the prophesy of Daniel 9:24-27; and had other Hebrew Scriptures such as Numbers 24:17 ( “A star will come out of Jacob”) The Magi had been passing down this knowledge and prophecy for more than 500 years!
The Magi were experts in astronomy and astrology, (and natural medicine and other sciences) so they watched the stars for the right timing. They counted the years of the “70 periods of sevens of years” ( Daniel 9:24-27) prophesy and passed the prophesy down to each generation. God took a practice in their religion ( watching the stars) and communicated His truth by using His creation, the stars, by moving a star, performing a miracle to confound their false belief and turn them to the Creator of the stars. They followed the miracle-moving-star to Israel. (Matthew 2:1-12) The Hebrew words, Messiah and Prince speak of royalty and Lordship, a leader, and an anointed King, so they asked when they arrived, “Where is the King of the Jews?”
This passage shows us that part of Matthew’s purpose for writing his gospel was not only to prove to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah for them, but for all nations, all peoples. Matthew, the most Jewish of the gospels, and the one that contains the most quotes and allusions to OT prophesies, and the repeated or like phrase, “in order to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet”; also has another prominent theme of God’s purpose to bless other nations. It is very interesting that Matthew begins with Jesus as the Son of David and Son of Abraham (1:1), that He is the fulfillment of all the covenants and promises to David and Abraham, but also that Matthew 2 emphasized the worship of Jesus the Messiah, (2:1-2, 11-12) and Matthew’s gospel also ends with the disciples worshiping Jesus (28:16) and the great commission to go and disciple all the nations. (28:19)
I will never forget giving a Farsi NT and a full Bible to a 60 year old Iranian man around 1998. He hugged the Scriptures and starting crying and said he wanted to understand the Gospel for about 3 years, but didn't have the gospel in his own language. He didn't know it existed in Farsi! Many Iranian Muslims think the Gospel is only in the Armenian, Assyrian, and western languages like English, French, and German. Then he recounted of how he grew up there near Daniel's tomb, and he was never told that the prophet Daniel wrote a book, and had ancient Persian history and kings in it and prophesies and told about the Messiah to come. He was exceedingly glad and joyful! He turned from Islam to faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
Celebrate the incarnation by worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ and witnessing to others for His glory; even Muslims. Reach out to Muslims and pray for them and give them the gospel.