Monday, September 21, 2009

9/21- Matthew 2 The adoration of the magi

(Rembrandt- Magi)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

Matthew 2:1-5
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:" 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'”

Calvin abridged: A star from heaven announces that he is a king, to whom a manger, intended for cattle, serves for a throne, because he is refused admittance among the lowest of the people. His majesty shines in the East,
while in Judea it is so far from being acknowledged, that it is visited by many marks of dishonor. God stripped Jesus of all earthly honor to show that his kingdom was spiritual. Magi is well known as the name the Persians and Chaldeas gave to astrologers and philosophers, and their coming was predicted in Psalm 72:10: “the kings of Tarshish, and of the Isles, and of Sheba, would offer gifts to the Lord “ As Matthew does not state their number it is better to not say. Some say three because of their three gifts. Chrysostom says fourteen- no one knows for certain and we should not be enamored with the number. Herod was “troubled- and all Jerusalem with him” Herod thought the scriptures were unimportant until there was a threat to his throne and his heirs inheriting it. When the Lord permits unbelievers to sleep, he suddenly breaks their rest. The scribes faithfully quote Micah 5:2- "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans [b] of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."

9 After they [the Magi] had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:9-12 TNIV)

Calvin abridged: It was truly a sign of sluggishness that the scribes and Jewish leaders did not offer to escort the foreigners who had been promised to their own nation. The scribes show them the way and point out the place where he was born; but they allow them to depart alone: not one moves a step. They were afraid, perhaps, of Herod’s cruelty. Nonetheless it is wicked ingratitude that for the sake of salvation offered to them, they weer unwilling to undergo any risk, and cared less about the grace of God than about the frown of a tyrant. 11- “They found the child”- Doubtless, they were revolted at the sight of such a poor and despised condition surrounding the peasant child- with no royalty surrounding him at all, and they could have not believed their vision had not God fortified their minds by the Holy Spirit. But they are convinced that he is the divinely appointed King, and so they revere him. They contemplate in the purpose of God his exalted rank, which is still concealed in outward view. They brought him the choicest products of their country. We are not to understand, that each of them presented his own offering, but that the three offerings, were presented by all of them in common. Almost all the commentators indulge in speculation about the denoting the kingdom, priesthood, and burial of Christ. It was customary among the Persians when they offered homage to their kings, to bring a present. It was similar to Jacob’s sending “balms, honey, spices and myrrh, nuts and almonds to Egypt.” (Gen. 43:11). They gave the fruit of their soil to an earthly king. Our duty is to adore him in a spiritual manner- consecrating ourselves and all that we have to his service.

Thoughts: We often look at this passage in Matthew through the eyes of church nativity scenes and plays. Such tools are helpful in conveying the basic story, but as any movie or dvd of any biblical scene, it gives us only one interpretation of the details, and such an interpretation tends to stay in our mind as “gospel truth.” Calvin here speaks of possibly more than three wise men. Scholars point out that the wise men may have come later when Jesus was an infant not necessarily when he was a newborn. Some, without any basis but their own doubt, say this didn’t happen at all but was just added to make Jesus look good. However, the killing of the infants around Bethlehem by Herod was pointed out by the evangelist as a well-known occurrence of their day, and a means to corroborate the magi’s coming. There are no early records to contradict the killing of the infants, and it certainly is in keeping with Herod’s jealous behavior (he killed a wife, two sons, many in his court guarding his throne). What is important here is that we see the need to not be blind to the real kingdom, hidden and sometimes opposed by earthly rulers. In our day we are blasted so much with the importance of this world, its politics, and its policies. Many are afraid and anxious about our current politics though we have little control over them. Jesus did not get involved or even anxious over politics even though he died at the hand of the politicians. But even after the crucifixion at their hands, there was the resurrection. So there is hope if politics goes completely sour. It is important that we give to our Lord the worship he deserves for coming down to earth for us- this is indeed good news, and the hope of the ages.

Prayer: As the wise men left their homes and traveled to worship you, so you are worthy of our worship. Give us clarity to keep our focus on you instead of on the frail promises of this world.

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