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Decorating Our Hearts (IV) - 'The Magi's Service'

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작성자 최고관리자 작성일15-11-27 16:04 조회958회 댓글0건

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Matthew 2: 1-12

 

 A third grade class was performing their annual Christmas play, a re-enactment of the birth of Christ.  The climax of the play the birth itself approached as the third graders were busily acting their parts.  Mary, hidden from the crowd behind bales of hay, was making sounds that a third grader might make to tell the audience what was happening.  Then a boy appeared on the stage, dressed in a bathrobe and a pair of sandals with a stethoscope hanging around his neck.  He disappeared behind the bales of hay and re-emerged with a bundle. 

 

 

He handed the bundle to Joseph and said, “Congratulations!  It’s a God!”  It seems as if this little boy knows quite a bit about Christmas and what it means.

Today represents the last Sunday of the Advent.  Christmas is two days from today.  I have reminded you to decorate your hearts while waiting for the birth of Christ did you do so?  I have introduced three ornaments as decorations for your hearts.  They were Joseph’s righteousness, Mary’s faith, and the Shepherd’s joy.  Today, I will introduce the last ornament for your hearts.

 

 

 The focus of our attention is the Magi, or the wise men from the East.  These men traveled quite a distance to come to Bethlehem, where Christ was born.  They were so joyous over Christ’s birth that they brought the most precious items as gift to Christ: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  In them, we can see the people who truly served Christ from the bottom of their hearts.  From these wise men, we must learn the proper way to wait and prepare for the birth of Christ.

 

 

What comes to your mind when you think of Magi, or the wise men from the East?  It should be the three gifts that they brought to Christ.  In fact, nowhere in the Bible does it mention that there were three wise men.  One naturally makes the assumption that since there were three gifts, there must have been three wise men who carried and presented a gift to Christ.  Before we discuss about the gifts that these men brought, let’s first take a look at who these Magi were. 

 

 

 Among the characters that appear in the Bible, perhaps no one or no group of people, for that matter is more a source of misunderstanding and subject of debate and argument than the Magi.  In verse 1 of today’s scripture, the Magi are referred to as the ‘wise men from the East.’  In another words, they were intelligent and scholarly men from the East.  In the original Bible, in Hebrew form, they are called ‘magoi.’  From this word comes the English word for the wise men, ‘Magi.’  Then who were these ‘magoi?’

 

 

  In the book of Acts, chapter 13, verses 6 and 8, ‘magoi’ means ‘magician.’  The term magoi could be used to refer to those who held the rank or status of Zoroastrian priest or Babylonian mystics.  Some even interprets magoi, through inference to Psalms 72: 10-11 and Isaiah 60:3, as the ‘kings from the East.’  More specifically, they interpret the three wise men to be the Persian King Melchior, Indian King Gaspar, and the Arabian King Balthasar.  Yet, a detailed and meticulous analysis of today’s scripture doesn’t readily convince us that these men were magicians, pagan priests, mystics, or kings.

 

 

 Then who were the Magi, the wise men from the East?  The most widely supported viewpoint among the scholars asserts that these men were astrologers, those who studied the heavens and the stars.  This viewpoint is most credible, since during those days, most of the astrologers did live in the eastern regions, and they traveled great distances, as the gospel of Matthew denotes, to come to Christ after seeing a bright star. 

 

 

 One thing that we can be certain about these men is that they were not Jews.  They were foreigners who did not know Torah, the Old Testament.  Then why did such pagans, who did not even know the Old Testament, travel such great distances to pay respect to Jesus after He was born?  This proves to be a great contrast with the fearful and troubled reaction of King Herod, the puppet monarch of the Roman Empire who ruled Judea during those days.   Perhaps this contrast in reaction is a premonition.  The Jews who supposedly shared same ancestry with Jesus would eventually cast Him out and hand Jesus over to the Romans to be crucified, but foreigners like the Magi will eventually receive Jesus as their savior.

 

 

When the Magi knelt and bowed to Jesus, as stated in verse 11 of today’s scripture, we can be sure that the words listed in Philippians, chapter 2, verses 10 and 11 will be realized.  “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” 

 

 

 Since we have a fairly clear idea on who these men were, let’s turn our attention to the star that they witnessed in the sky.  In today’s scripture, it is stated that these men were guided to Bethlehem, by a bright star in the sky, from a land far away.  There are many theories surrounding the nature of this star, the star that guided the wise men to the birthplace of Jesus Christ.  Some assert that this star was the Haley’s Comet, which is recorded as being first observed around 12 BC.  Some argue that the star was a mistaken observation by the Magi an observation of a cluster of stars mistaken as a single bright star.  Some circles attribute the observation to some celestial illusion caused by alignment of Jupiter and Saturn, and some radicals suggest that the Magi actually saw UFOs. 

 

 

  Despite the confluence of ideas, we must remember one thing about the star.  The star that appeared before the wise men was not some natural phenomenon discernible through human eyes; rather, it was a supernatural occurrence that God has shown to the wise men.  Take a look at today’s scripture.  The star that the Magi observed traveled from the East to Jerusalem, then to Bethlehem where it hovered above the manger in which Christ was born.  This star traveled in westerly direction before shifting to southwesterly bearing.  When we consider that fact that all celestial movement over the earth’s skies occurs from east to west, the movement of this star is not explainable through scientific and astrological theories.  The star that the wise men witnessed was a supernatural signal by God to signify that a Messiah was born into this world.  Just as Numbers 24: 17 prophesied, “a Star shall come out of Jacob,” a mysterious star appeared in the sky, according to God’s will, to proclaim that Christ was born.

 

 

 Let’s shift our attention to the three gifts that the Magi brought for Christ.  It is widely believed that the current custom of exchanging gifts during Christmas originated from the fact that the wise men brought gifts to Christ when He was born.  A very plausible explanation, indeed.  In fact, the wise men brought the most extravagant gifts available, during those days, to Christ. 

 

 

 About 2,000 years ago, about the time period when Christ was born, a pound of gold was equivalent to about $600.  By today’s standard, considering the appreciation of the price of gold, that amount is worth about $6,000.  A pound of frankincense was worth about $500 during those days but today, same amount of frankincense costs about $15.  And a pound of myrrh was worth about $4,000 during those days, whereas today, it costs about $15 a pound.  But the important fact is that the Magi brought the most extravagant and expensive gifts available to Christ when He was born.

 

 

 Another aspect of these gifts that capture our attention lie outside the realm of monetary value.  These gifts, in fact, had something to do with human health and longevity.  Gold, which has been considered a precious metal across the epoch of human history due to its perpetual, untarnishing properties, is famous for its healing effects.  For example, specks of gold ingested into human body have been proven effective against rheumatic arthritis, especially for those who have adverse reaction to steroidal treatment.  Furthermore, it is said that gold has capabilities to break down protein in the human body. 

 

 

 Frankincense and myrrh are resins derived from scratches made into bark of rare trees that grow only in northern Africa and southern Arabia, or Middle East.  They were so rare, in fact, that people in the 1st century believed that the resin, widely considered as rare medicine, could only be discovered by ‘pure’ people who abstained from sexual intercourse during thanksgiving season.  During the period of Christ, frankincense and myrrh not only gave off great fragrance, they were the preferred medicine of choice in treating asthma, respiratory illnesses, and skin diseases.  Modern medicinal analysis proved that frankincense possessed antiseptic, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory properties.  Frankincense is widely used as one of the primary ingredients in medicines for lung infections and asthma.

 

 

How about myrrh?  In a biochemical sense, myrrh is very similar to frankincense.  Yet, in terms of value, there is no comparison between the two.  One drop of myrrh had greater monetary value than two bottle of fragrance during those days.  In Egypt, myrrh was used to preserve bodies of pharaohs before they were mummified.  When Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered in 1922, the strong scent of myrrh was enough to overpower some of the archaeologists that first opened the young pharaoh’s casket.  Myrrh was widely used to preserve bodies, but like frankincense, it also had a wide range of medicinal values.  Myrrh was believed to have anesthetic properties, and according to gospel of Mark, chapter 15, verse 23, a glass of wine laced with myrrh was given to Christ before he was to bear the cross to His crucifixion.  In modern medicine, myrrh is used as dietary supplement to increase metabolism and as medicine to reduce cholesterol and precipitate weight loss.       

 

 

  I hope everyone has a pretty good understanding regarding the nature of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Our next question centers around what spiritual meanings did each of the three gifts contain?  As I have explained before, the fact that gold, frankincense, and myrrh are good for health and longevity was probably not lost on the wise men as they presented these gifts to baby Jesus.  But a more meticulous pursuit of spiritual meanings behind the gifts yields the following discoveries: Gold represents the monarchy of Jesus; frankincense symbolizes worship of Jesus; and myrrh signifies the crucifixion and death of Jesus.

 

 

  In the First Epistle of Kings, chapter 10, verses 2 and 25, when queen Sheba visits Solomon, she brings, among other items, gold.  In the old societies, or in the societies of the Old Testament, gold always symbolized monarchy or royalty.  The Kim family (whose surname shares identical written form with the word ‘gold’ in Chinese) established the Shilla Dynasty in Korea during the first millennium.  Some attribute their ability to establish a kingdom to their workmanship of gold and the family’s long history of working with gold.  In Exodus, chapter 30, verse 34, it is stated that frankincense could only be used for the Lord and His temple.  In this sense, frankincense connotes the eventual worship of Christ, through His resurrection and glory, by the multitudes in the future.  Myrrh, as stated in verses 23 through 33 of Exodus, chapter 30, was used as holy anointing oil to sanctify the priests and ministers of the Lord.  And in John, chapter 19, verse 39, Nicodemus brings about one hundred pounds of myrrh and aloe to prepare the body of Christ for burial after His crucifixion.

 

 

  The Reader’s Digest recently reported the following recorded message on a department store answering machine: “If you are calling to place an order, press 5.  If you are calling to register a complaint, press 304-9783726434398712.  Have a good day!”

 What is the thing that is truly lacking in this world?  I believe it is selfless service.  The willingness to spend or expend something that is very precious to us for the good of our neighbors and God.  There is nothing more important than the willingness to spend resources, time, or our labors and other precious items for God and our neighbors. 

 

 

  I ran across a very interesting article in the December 11 edition of Donga Daily.  It was an article concerning two terminal cancer patients, who had a vastly differing and divergent outlook on life.  Mr. Kim, a loan department manager for a bank in Seoul, was diagnosed with prostate cancer five years ago and was undergoing treatment.  Despite the advanced stage of his cancer, which placed his life on the brink of death, he secretly and illegally withdrew portions of his clients’ savings accounts to embezzle more than $1 million.  When the police arrested him, he had tubes running out of stomach because of his cancer.  When someone asked why we would do such a thing under his physical condition, he answered, “When I was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and when I noticed my health deteriorate, I figured I had nothing to lose.  So I started embezzling money from my clients.”  He apparently thought that since he was going to die anyway, he might as well steal and spend as much money as he could and in doing so, he ended up stealing more than $1 million.

 

 

  The other person in the article was an orthopedic surgeon, Mr. Oh, from the North Choongchung Province.  Mr. Oh was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer in October of last year; yet, thinking that whatever days he had left on this earth were bonus days for him, he decided to help out those in need before he died.  He started visiting the most remote places around the country and the world places where medical help is hard to come by to help those with health concerns or problems.  This past August, after receiving injections of prescribed chemotherapeutic medicine, he went to Himalayas in Nepal to treat some 500 patients.  Dr. Oh, during an interview, said, “I sometimes cannot sleep when I ask, why do I have to go through such tribulations?  But this cancer diagnosis helped me start a new life as a physician.  I am putting my life in order, trying to leave fond memories of me for those I will leave behind.”

 

 

 Despite the similarities in their situation, each man responded differently to their tribulations.  Is it desirable to lead a life the only one that we have like Mr. Kim?  Or is it more desirable to spend our lives serving others, just as Dr. Oh is doing?

  The Magi came to the manger in Bethlehem from a land far away, following a star.  And they brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh as gifts to Jesus.  What can we learn from these men?  Their service.  Today, we must decorate our hearts with the willingness of these men to serve.  And we must give what we deem as precious to our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Whether that precious thing is money, material, time, or labor does not matter.  The only thing that matters is our willingness to give that precious thing the willingness to serve selflessly.

 

 

 What kind of present will you present to baby Jesus?  Gold, frankincense, myrrh, it does not matter.  Give it to our Lord with gladness in your heart.  And embroider your hearts with the same willingness to serve as the wise men.

 Your hearts should be beautifully adorned with Joseph’s righteousness, Mary’s faith, Shepherd’s joy, and the Magi’s service. 

 Two days from now, our Lord Jesus will come to us.  In the beautifully decorated and adorned hearts of yours, baby Jesus will be born. 

Amen.

 

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