Lessons From Afar: three lessons from three-ish kings

Pastor Shelton Markham   -  

Every year at Christmas my mom would pull down our old nativity scene and set it up on a table in the Living Room.  I can still picture it.  Of all of the characters at the barn, the ones that always caught my imagination the most were the Magi described in Matthew 2.  Most Nativity scenes include these men along with the angels at the night of Christ’s birth.  A quick read of Matthew 2 reveals that is not accurate.  In fact, much of the lore surrounding the Magi is not found in scripture.  

For starters, we don’t actually know how many there were.  Some traditions say two, others say twelve.  We most often refer to them as three because they brought three gifts.  Truth is, we don’t know.  Nor do we know where they are from.  Babylon and Persia were both known for their stargazing.  And the gifts brought by the magi match with Arabic sensibilities around royalty. But, evidently Matthew did not find their exact nation of origin important to the story.  And yet, though their story only comprises twelve verses in Matthew 2, I think the Magi have some extremely important lessons to teach us.

Jesus is the light of all nations

I absolutely love that men from foreign countries came to worship the King of the Jews.  Think about the tension and war between the surrounding nations and the Jews throughout history.  And yet, here they are, adorning Jesus with gifts.  Why?  Because Jesus does not belong to just one nation or just one people group or race.  He belongs to all nations, or rather, people from every nation and every tongue and every race belong to Him!

In Isaiah 60, the prophet looked ahead to this event through the power of the Spirit of God and proclaimed: 

1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come,

    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.

2 See, darkness covers the earth

    and thick darkness is over the peoples,

but the Lord rises upon you

    and his glory appears over you.

3 Nations will come to your light,

    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

4 “Lift up your eyes and look about you:

    All assemble and come to you;

your sons come from afar,

    and your daughters are carried on the hip.

5 Then you will look and be radiant,

    your heart will throb and swell with joy;

the wealth on the seas will be brought to you,

    to you the riches of the nations will come.

6 Herds of camels will cover your land,

    young camels of Midian and Ephah.

And all from Sheba will come,

    bearing gold and incense

    and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

This was always part of the beauty of the Messiah’s birth.  Nations would come to His light and kings to the brightness of His dawn.  What an awesome promise.  No amount of earthly prejudices and hatred should find its way into the Church.  In fact, the church should be the antithesis to the world’s hatred.  In the darkness, people scatter and fight and bicker.  In the light they gather and love and worship.  May we see the shocking oneness of the Arabic Magi blessing the child of a Jewish woman.  For that child is the light to all mankind.

Our generosity glorifies Jesus

Isaiah prophesied that the nations would bring gold and incense, and indeed they did.  The Magi showed up bearing gifts that were meant for a king.  Gold represented royalty, and for Joseph and Mary, it represented something they could not have even fathomed.  Frankincense was a type of perfume and incense.  And myrrh was a scent that was often used in Egypt for embalming or for adding to the oil used to anoint a king.  Both were fitting for Jesus.  

Think about the effort it took the Magi to travel and find Jesus.  All told, their gifts were thoughtful, intentional, and with great value.  Like the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume, their effort was given as worship.  They were not trying to buy Jesus’ favor.  They were not trying to gain fame.  We don’t even know their names.  No, they simply saw Jesus as worthy and they wanted their generous gifts to express their worship.  

The irony of their gifts should not be lost on us.  What could men of this world offer the creator of the world as a gift?  The two things God asks for from those who see and believe in the majesty of Christ are worship and love.  Generosity is an expression, indeed an inevitable outcome, of genuine worship and love. For he who gives little has received little. The magi are powerful examples of how we should respond to the glory of Jesus in this world.  Christ is the greatest gift ever given to mankind.  And he who receives much, gives much.  Generosity should mark those who have received and follow Jesus as savior and King.

Worship, not defense, ought to be our goal

It is inevitable that every year we hear the same arguments about how our increasingly secular society is trying to “take Jesus out of Christmas.”  But let us see, that starting with the very first Christmas, there was an intentional effort to remove Jesus from the place of focus.  Once Herod heard about this baby who was to be King of the Jews, he wanted nothing more than to rid the world of him.  But you cannot rid the world of its creator.  As CS Lewis so eloquently put it, “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.

So notice how the Magi respond to Herod’s overt disdain for Jesus.  They did not argue with him.  They did not belittle him.  They did not fight him or start a campaign out of fear that Jesus might be harmed by an earthly effort to diminish him.  No, they simply moved on their way and worshiped the newborn king.  And we would do well to learn from their determined hearts.

Whether the world sees Christ’s glory is God’s prerogative and their loss (this is not a missional statement, indeed we are called to proclaim the glory of Jesus to the nations.  But we cannot make them see the glory of Jesus, only God can do that).  The question is not whether Starbucks has stopped to recognize that Christmas belongs to Jesus.  The question is have we?  Have we truly allowed our hearts to see and savor the majestic reality that God has come to us?  Have we, like the magi from afar, seen “the true light that has come to give light to all of mankind” and made every effort to ignore the distractions and go to Him in worship.  Jesus does not need us to defend His glory.  If the empty tomb teaches us anything, it’s that He is quite capable of doing that all on His own.  No, Jesus’ glory does not demand our defense, it demands our heartfelt worship.  


Imagine all that Mary and Joseph encountered during the weeks after Christ’s birth. I wonder what they thought when men from a far off nation fell down at the feet of their weeks old baby and worshiped Him as King.  Traditionally, around the world, their arrival is celebrated on January 6, an event called Epiphany.  The day the gentile world saw the glory of Jesus.  For some reason, western Evangelicalism has not recognized this day as meaningful.  But I can make the argument that perhaps we should.  For these magi, however many of them there were, have much to teach us about the glory of Jesus and our right response.  May we learn well and may we join them this Christmas in generously glorifying Jesus as King!