January 6 is Epiphany Sunday. The word "epiphany" means manifestation and this Sunday celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the Gentile world, symbolised by the coming of the magi to see the baby Jesus.
The story of the magi (wise men) is a dramatic one. Imagine the stir it must have created to see a caravan of people from other lands coming to see a baby born in Judea. They made a beeline to the palace of the king, assuming that the "king of the Jews" would be born in the palace. When they gave up their own ideas and took God's guidance they found themselves outside a poor home. It must have surprised them to find the baby king in this hovel of a place. Dressed in their grandeur, they got down from their camels and bent low to enter the place where the baby lay. They found the baby wrapped in rags (not fancy baby clothes), and still they offered their rich gifts to the baby as an expression of their worship. Would we have done that? Aren't we in the habit of matching our gifts to the status of the person? Expensive gifts for the rich and cheap ones for the poor. If we had taken rich gifts to someone poor, we would have decided to hold back. No point in giving something so rich to someone so poor. "It will spoil them." "They won't know what to do with something so rich." And we could think of so many other reasons to not give the rich gifts. But not these men. They went through with what they had set out to do. They came to worship, and they did just that without any reservations and hesitations whatever.
People have always thought that there were three wise men because Scripture says that they offered three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. But the Bible doesn't say that there were three men. Around the 6th Century legends began to grow about them. They were even given the names Melchior, from Persia, Balthasar from Arabia, and Gaspar from India. There is really nothing in the biblical text to suggest that they were from three different lands, but it makes for a better story to suggest that each saw the star and set out and met at some point and journeyed together to look for the Christ Child. There may have been just two or there may well have been six or seven of them. Anyway it doesn't matter whether there were two or three or seven.
The text doesn't say that each of the wise men gave separate gifts, that one gave gold, the second gave frankincense and the third myrrh. I rather think that they each gave portions of gold, frankincense and myrrh or that together they gave a combined gift of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Usually, the interpretation is that the who offered gold, procliamed Jesus king, the offering of frankincense said that He was God, and the last gift of myrrh indicated that His life would be offered in sacrifice. That, for instance, is the line of interpretation in the Christmas carol "We three kings of orient are"
Glorious now behold Him arise,
King and God and Sacrifice.
Sounds through the earth and skies.
I think, rather, that the gifts were not about how they viewed Jesus, but how they held Him in regard.
The Wise offered their Wealth
They regarded Jesus so highly that they offered Him their wealth. If you regard someone, sooner or later giving to them enters the relationship. Ultimately any giving is a gift of our life. The Old Testament teaching is that people are to give the whole tithe (10% of total income--that's before tax and other deductions):
"Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty (Malachi 3: 7-12).
In the New Testament, Paul taught that we should excel in giving according to the measure of God's blessing and enabling in our lives:
· Our motivation is that Jesus gave Himself to enrich us (2 Corinthians 8:9)
· If we make a promise, we must be sure to fulfil it (8:10-11)
· We are to give according to our means, instead of wishing that we could give more from what we don’t have (8:12)
· When we give to needs we work to bring about equality (8:13-14)
· The benefits of giving are according to the measure of our giving (9:6)
· Give cheerfully, not as though you are forced (9:7)
· God will bless you in a way that you will be enabled to give generously (9:8-11)
Some people refuse to give God hiding behind the excuse that they give elsewhere. When a woman poured out her savings at Jesus’ feet (a vial of expensive ointment), the disciples deplored the fact that it was not spent on the poor. Jesus said that they would always have the poor to show that generosity, but what had to be done for Jesus needed to be done when it was time to do that (John 12:1-8)
The Wise offered their Worship
They prostrated themselves before the Christ Child.
To offer Christ worship one must first affirm that there are no other gods. No gods (or demons) have any power over you. No god can claim your life. No god can preoccupy you.
Knowing that no one other than the Lord can have power over your life is very liberating. The Apostle John assured his readers
Greater is He that is in you, than He that is in the world (1 John 4:4).
No demonic powers can plague your life or stunt you or cripple you. Instead you will have the power of the Holy Spirit in your life.
Then they offered frankincense which was used to waft a sweet smell up when worshipping God. The Bible says
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness (Psalm 96:9)
...without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14)
If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened (Psalm 66:18)
The heart must be right before God. Jesus said that worship must be in spirit and in truth. The woman of Samaria thought that the external situation was all that mattered. She thought that worship had to do with being in the right place. Jesus said that the place didn’t matter, but the heart did (John 4:20-24).
The Wise offered their Will
The wise men offered myrrh to Jesus. It was used to embalm dead bodies. When is a person dead? When the soul departs from the body. What is the soul? It is the will. It is the “I, me and mine” that preoccupies us all.
Jesus called a man to follow Him. The man expressed his willingness, but said that he would follow Jesus, take care of some personal stuff before following Jesus. He said to Jesus, “...let me first....” (Luke 9:59). A disciple puts Jesus first, and doesn’t say “let me first” to Jesus.
Twice Peter said, “No, Lord” to Jesus. Once, when Jesus talked of a cross in His own life. Obviously Peter understood of there being a cross in Jesus’ life. He just knew that soon Jesus would talk of a cross in the life of His followers and that is what Peter didn’t want. So, he said, “No, Lord” (Matthew 16:21-24). The second time was when Peter had a vision and God said that Peter was to act on it. As a Jew, he found the idea obnoxious and said, “No, Lord” (Acts 10:9-16), but did follow the Lord’s directions later. But the point is, that you can’t say “no” and “Lord” in the same breath. You can’t call Jesus “Lord” and at the same time say no to Him. Jesus said,
Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46)
When the wise men worshipped Jesus they had to climb down from their camels and crawl into a poor home with a dirt floor. They didn’t think that they could sit on their high camel because the circumstances of the baby were poor and shabby. Their worship involved them. Paul wrote that we are to offer our bodies as “living sacrifices”
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship (Romans 12:1)
Our bodies represent all of our beings. Our bodies are the vehicles our souls use to express themselves or act out their convictions. Without our bodies we would not be able to move or communicate.
When we give our bodies, we hold nothing back. The sacrifice is total.
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
The wise still offer their wealth, their worship and their will to the Lord Jesus.