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.


steelikat said...

Ken, thank you!

Merry Christmas everybody.

Ken said...

You're welcome! I appreciate your thoughtful contributions here.

Lvka said...

Do you ever suffer any kind of misunderstanding or mockery or insults or persecution for your faith in Christ?

Sure. Plenty even.

PeaceByJesus said...

Just wanted to mention that atheists charge Christianity with being a product of
Zoroastrianism which Holding responds to, as well as
other hopeful explanations,
which purport
that Christianity was a copycat, and are swallowed whole by the
willing, while ignoring refutations or dismissing the problems
with their hypothesis.

I myself am not qualified to deal much with these but these sources are in response to such charges.

Jennie said...

Thank you! I love hearing about how God's word reaches people. Wonderful how God works through His word and His people, like Daniel, and you too. Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

Like Jennie, I, too, like reading about how the Holy Spirit works among men to carry the message of Christ to the nations.

I would make these comments with several Biblical thoughts after reading your thread above, Ken.

The first thing that came to me was exactly as Jennie wrote above and these verses which captures the essence of how the Word of God and the Word of His Grace are made known to the nations of the world:

Dan 2:44 And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,

Col 1:3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,
Col 1:4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,
Col 1:5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel,
Col 1:6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing--as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,
Col 1:7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf
Col 1:8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

The fact is the Word of God is always carried in the hearts of His people and that it changes the hearts of others who hear and see the Word lived out in word and deed by His people is a testament to how some of those of the Zoroastrian religion would have come to seek after the King of the Jews, Christ, and to know about the sign of the moving star!

As we see with the prophecy given through Daniel, it is always the people of God who rise up and break apart all other kingdoms of the world. The Word of God dwells in His people even when they come under His judgment being exiled to a foreign country as the children of Israel were when carried off to Iran.

It's always been and always will be God through His people who stands up against the god of this world and his people and their ways in every situation!

Now this Gospel of the Kingdom by the work of the Church dwells in all or nearly all nations, tribes, tongues and people groups these days. Let the days be few bringing this Gospel of the Kingdom to every creature for a witness and then the end shall come!

That's the promise of God to His own! Now, of course, why would the people of this world embrace such a prophesy as that one given to God's people seeing their eyes are focused on the ends of the earth? :)

As for watching the stars and planetary signs above, counting years, I suppose it goes without saying, but saying it nevertheless, that God instructed the Jews to start counting the days, weeks, months and years so as to accurately come before the Lord three times a year for various reasons celebrating God's Grace, Mercy and Truth; and also for keeping Her out of debt by celebrating a year of jubilee every fiftieth year culminated after keeping a cycle of seven years of release of debts held against their own!

See Exo 12:1-3 ...", Deu 15:1-4 ..."

As for gaining understanding from a New Testament point of view so as to stay out of debt and receive the blessings of Christ the Lord we see a mature "long view" being taught and taken by the Apostle Paul when we read these words of his from the Book of Acts during his conference with the Ephesian Eldership, read Act 20:32-35.

This is a good article Ken!

Thanks again for sharing it with us!!

John Bugay said...

Hey Ken, this is exceptional. I wanted to direct your readers to an article that the Wall Stree Journal ran over the weekend on the topic of Christians in Iraq. They're still facing persecution there.

And I also wanted to share this citation of Timothy I, The Great, patriarch of Seleucia-Ctesiphon (the capital of the Persian empire located near modern-day Baghdad) by Mar Bawai Soro in his work The Church of the East: Aposotlic and Orthodox (San Jose, CA: Adiabene Publications, 2007):

If Rome is accorded the first and the highest rank because of the Apostle Peter, how much more should Seleucia-Ctesiphon on account of Peter's Lord. If the first rank and position is due to people who confess Christ before all others, and believe in him, then we Easterners were the ones to do so. We showed our faith openly in the persons of our Twelve Envoys, who were guided by a star, and in the gifts which they offered to Christ -- Gold as to King of all kings and the Lord of all lorts, Frankincense, as to the One who is God over all, and myrrh, to signify the passion of his humanity for our sake. Thirty years before all others, we the Easterners confessed Christ's kingdom, and adored his divinity."

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Thanks, Ken, and Merry Christmas!

Ken said...

Good to see Pilgrimsarbour back! Where have you been?

Thanks to all for the other positive comments. (except for Lvka's)

John - good point and thanks for the link to the book about the church of the east (Assyrian, Nestorian).

The Magi seemed to have laid the ground work for the other Persian Jews who were converted on the day of Pentecost ( Acts 2:9)

Medes, Parthians, Elamites (area near Shoosh and Khuzistan), and Mesopotamians ( modern day Iraq)

Unfortunately later (6-7 centuries later) the Assyrian church cooperated with Islam and became a "privileged, protected minority" for the condition that they not evangelize the Muslims. They were forced by "dhimmi" status. (Edwin Yamauchi, a history scholar expert on Persia; ETS tape - I will have to get the exact quote later)

For centuries, the only language of the Christians in the Persian Empire was the Syriac and Assyrian in what is known today as Iraq. The Assyrian/Nestorian church was very evangelistic until Islam came (planting churches along the silk road from Bagdad (Ctistiphon - Seleucia) through N. Iran into China; but nothing much in the Persian / Farsi language until the 1800s when Henry Martyn made first full translation of NT which became basis for whole Bible in 1903 (first full Bible in Farsi in History). Before then, it was considered "the Christians language and book" (only in Syriac, Assyrian, later Armenian, and of course Greek and Latin and European languages.) There were some pieces of Psalms in Farsi and other small parts translated, but not much happened among Farsi speakers until 1903 until today.

There are Evangelical Protestants that have come out of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox and Nestorian traditions, in both Iran and Iraq. (but small)