The Secret of the Magi
By Jesse Carey
CBN.com Interactive Media Producer
They are three of the most mysterious figures in scripture. Three men from the far east who have become staples of nativity scenes and the modern Christmas tradition.
There is much debate about where the three wise men (or the Magi) came from, and no one is sure exactly who they are—so why are they included in scripture? If we believe that God was intentional in what is written in His word, why would He have the writer of Matthew tell us about three obscure figures who came to visit Christ after His birth?
Maybe we don’t know these things because the who, the where and the how aren’t important. Perhaps the only thing God wanted us to know was the why. If we examine that, than we can uncover the secret message of the Magi.
Here is Matthew’s account. “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 in the east and have come to worship him'" (2:1-2, NIV). "On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they sopened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh” (2:11).
The why is clear: “[we] come to worship him.” This is one of the first accounts of anyone worshipping Jesus. God could have sent the greatest musicians, the most talented artists or the most articulate writers to set the first example of what it looks like to worship Jesus—but He didn’t. He sent three men that gave Him gifts of great value.
Their worship of Christ cost them something. They gave treasures of tremendous value that were no doubt a great sacrifice. The three wise men may be the first time in scripture that a monetary sacrifice is seen as an act of worship, but the theme is repeated throughout the Gospel.
In John 12, Jesus praises Mary Magediline for her act worship—pouring out an expensive bottle of perfume to wash His feet. In Matthew 13, Christ compares the Kingdom of Heaven to, “a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (13-46). It’s a direct reference to something of great value being given to receive the ultimate reward.
But perhaps the most famous example of this concept is found in Matthew 19. A man desperate for truth seeks out Jesus and asks Him what he must do in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The man is looking for salvation. Jesus told Him to first keep the basic commands of the law (don’t murder, steal, commit adultery, or lie, but always love your parents and your neighbors). Excitedly, the man tells Jesus that he has done all of these things. But, sensing there was still something missing, he utters these words to Christ, "What do I still lack?" Little did he know that it was such a loaded question.
Jesus told him, “Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me" (Matthew 19:21, emphasis mine). The next line is one that many in the modern church may find perplexing. “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matthew 19:20).
It’s a challenging story. Why did Jesus let the man walk away? Why was Christ so interested in the man’s wealth? And, living in such a time of prosperity (despite sporadic economic downturns), what does this mean to us?
Mark 12 perhaps offers the best answers. After receiving large gifts from the rich, Jesus made note of a donation of “two very small copper coins,worth only a fraction of a penny” donated from a widow (12:42). He responded to the gift by saying "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on" (12:43-44).
The true answer to why Jesus talks so much about money suddenly becomes clear: Jesus is not interested in wealth—all He wants is for us to give Him things that cost us something. We can't buy His love--it's unconditional, and His salvation is a free gift. So why does Jesus continually make reference to money and spend so much time teaching on it? Because He wants us to be willing to give up things that are of value to us so that we might learn that when we decrease, He increases.
God doesn’t need our money—but He wants it because He wants our heart, our time and our desires. And so often in life, those are tied to things like money, success, prosperity and comfort.
Our desire to keep the things of value for ourselves literally traces back to the very beginning of mankind. When Cain and Abel (the sons of Adam and Eve) brought their offerings to the Lord, God looked at Cain’s unfavorably, implying that it was not his “first fruits.” Cain didn’t want to hand over his most costly crops to God. The response God gives after Cain becomes angry with God’s dissatisfaction still rings true today. “If you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it" (Genesis 4:7).
What is our master? Wealth, success and the things of this world? Or, are we willing to give God the things that cost us everything and let Him be our master.
That is what God is looking for--a heart dedicated to Him.
This is why the three wise men came bearing valueable gifts and gave them as an act of worship. This is why the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man spending all he has on a costly pearl. This is why “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:24) This is the secret of the Magi.
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Jesse Carey is the Interactive Media Producer for CBN.com. With a background in entertainment and pop-culture writing, he offers his insight on music, movies, TV, trends and current events from a unique perspective that examines what implications the latest news has on Christians.
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