In the Fulness of Time… Part II
Text: Galatians 4:4; Matt. 2:1-12
Proposition: In the fulness of time God brought all things together so that Gentiles from another land, culture and time would be the first to proclaim Christ as King.
Introduction: Last week we held our Christmas program and I briefly introduced a passage of Scripture that I’d like to continue developing. The passage was from Galatians 4:4, in the King James it sounds like this, “But when the fulness of the time was come God sent forth His Son, made of a woman and made under the Law.” The passage talks about God’s perfect intersection of time, the way that to us can oftentimes seem so hidden. There is an example of that in the passage we are going to look at this morning. It speaks about one of the most iconic images of the nativity that we have assumed an understanding of yet are hidden in part. Have a look at Matthew 2:1-12.
I. In the Fulness of The Time… Magi.
In most of our translations of Matthew 2:1 we see the phrase ‘wise men’, the only exceptions being the NIV and the NASB where they do the work for us and translate the phrase ‘wise men’ as ‘Magi.’ When you look up the Greek for the term ‘wise men’ you find the word, Magos, the latinized form being Magi. Matthew tells us a few details regarding them. They are from the East of Israel, people influenced by the awareness of signs like stars, they are spiritual in interest and they are in pursuit of a king. That’s it, we don’t know how many Magi there were, what they believed or what they expected of such a long and difficult journey. To follow a star meant travelling when you could see it. That would infer they have been travelling at night for weeks or even months if there were cloudy nights. It meant the star was unusual, it kept changing its position in the sky. It led them in some way. Lastly we know their visit to Jerusalem happened when King Herod the Great was still alive.
Where did these Magi come from and how did they know the star meant a king was born and why was this king so important they would travel the way they did and honor him as they did? The answer to these questions and many others is found in that phrase, ‘…in the fulness of the time God sent forth His Son.’ So how full is the fulness of time when it comes to finding out who the Magi are and what they believed about the Child to be King? The Magi first show up in the Babylonian empire but were in existence before that time as the Medes and Persians were developing in power. Abraham who came from Ur of the Chaldeans in about 1500 BC was from a Medo-Persian culture. In 605BC the Babylonians invaded Israel and displaced a large portion of its population to Babylon. When you read the Old Testament book of Danial you discover how he (Danial) began to be appointed to positions of office in the Babylonian court and it’s here that you first learn of a group of advisers to the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. The king has a dream that is terrifying to him and he calls in this team of advisers and orders them to not only interpret the dream but to tell him what the actual dream was. The group that he puts this impossible challenge to are listed in Danial 2:2, “…the magicians, the astrologers, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans…”. They can’t do it but they have heard about this young Hebrew named Danial who has become known for revealing the content of dreams. That was the entry point for not only Danial into Babylonian history but also through Danial for the revealing of prophecies made to Israel over the years as God directed that nation. These magicians and sorcerers were astrologers, invested in the power of dreams and visions and were extremely powerful politically in both the Babylonian empire and in the Medo Persian empire which replaced it. I believe that Danial, who was in Babylon for over 60 years of his life and who was a Hebrew scholar himself, shared with these men the prophecies of Scripture. There were scriptures like Numbers 24:17, “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; a Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel…”. That prophecy took place in 1400BC, 800 years before the Babylonians. There were scriptures that said a son would be born of a virgin, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14. That prophecy was from Isaiah almost 100 years before the Babylonian captivity and 700 years before the birth of Christ. In the fulness of time God used these Gentile astrologers who were the king makers, the ones who interpreted dreams and directed the affairs of state. These were the Magi who generations later saw a star in the east and connected that to Hebrew prophecy. They came with an entourage, with treasure and with great interest in recognizing the next king of this volatile region of Palestine. They came to Jerusalem, to King Herod the Great, and ask, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” In the fulness of time God sent forth His Son and He uses among others, Magi to point to Him.
II. In the Fulness of the Time… The Son Made of a Woman Is Revealed.
Herod the Great’s response to the question of the Magi was to gather the Chief Priests and Scribes who knew Scripture. Their response is quick. They refer Herod to Micah 5:2 which actually says, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” Herod calls them to the side and asks when they first saw the star, when the sign of this king whose goings forth is from everlasting. Perhaps he asks as an indicator for when the actual birth took place, an indicator of how old the child might now be. So Herod sends them to Bethlehem and we would again believe that they had to wait for night fall to see just where in Bethlehem they ought to look. Verses 9,10 describes briefly the reappearance of the star and their joy over seeing it again as it leads them right to the house in Bethlehem where Jesus was. But have a look at verse 11, “And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” This is not the manger scene, the babe in the manger is now described as a young child. We know from Luke 2 that when Jesus was 8 days old He was circumcised and then given His name. We know that 40 days later He was taken to be presented to God in the Temple and the offering that Joseph and Mary brought was that of poor people, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:24). My point is that there was no gold or any wealth used to present this child in the Temple 40 days after His birth, inferring that the Magi with their gifts of gold had not yet arrived. The likelihood is that Jesus was maybe 6 months to a year old when the Magi first saw Him but that is not what ought to catch our attention. When the Son, made of a woman, is revealed their response was that they, “fell down, and worshipped him”. They forgot themselves, they cast aside all sense of public appearance, they left the dignity of position and wealth and fell down and worshipped Him. Their gifts in part speak about Who Jesus is. Gold for a King, Frankincense to proclaim Deity and Myrrh to declare His humanity, to acknowledge that He was a man worthy to be anointed in death. But don’t miss the intent behind these gifts, they were offered as that which was precious to them and spoke of the precious One to Whom they were offered.
Let me close with a few observations. In the fulness of time God draws each one of us to Himself. He draws us with creation and then He draws us with truth upon truth. It is He who creates the longing in your soul and it is only He who can fill it. When the Magi first saw Christ, the humble setting of the house instead of a palace, a young mother holding an infant instead of a throne, they had to see past what they expected Jesus to look like, past what they expected of God to the reality of the One come for them, Messiah.
God is greater than what we expect, the words grace, mercy and love cue us to that. God chose the Magi, Gentiles not Jews, outsiders from hundreds of miles away to be the first that would proclaim Christ as King. He uses all types of people from all kinds of backgrounds but what He wants from each is that which is precious to them. He desires the honesty and transparency of a heart that is willing to surrender absolutely to Him that they would be like those Magi, more concerned about what God thought of them than any who were watching as they fell down and worshipped Him. Perhaps the fulness of time has come in your life to meet and know and worship this Jesus.