A Gift in a Box
Part 1 – The Gift of the Magi
11 Dec 11
Guest posting by Eric Prost
This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God’s Word needs to be discussed in community.
In this December series, “A Gift in a Box”, we’re examining some of the blessings that flow from the true Christmas gift, Jesus Christ.
In his famous short story, The Gift of the Magi, American author O. Henry (1862-1910) tells a conventional Christmas story but then concludes with a twist, a surprise ending. In the sermon and the accompanying TB, we’ll look at the famous story of the Magi in Matthew’s gospel, not drawing surprise or unexpected conclusions, but hopefully glorifying God by seeing it afresh.
Read Matthew 2:1-12.
The Magi gave the baby Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Their gift to us is to show us how to respond as obedient, subject, surrendered servants to our Master.
A lot of traditions surround the Magi, or wise men, who came from the east bearing gifts: some traditions name them (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar)… other traditions make them magicians or assume there were 3 (or 8 or 12)… many believe they were Persian scholars or priests who travelled west to Jerusalem until the story begins in Matthew chapter 2.
What is clear from the Biblical account is that nothing in the story is easy. The Magi from the east probably travelled 1200 miles, which may have taken up to a year by camel. When they arrived, they weren’t sure where to go. When they ask the king (Herod), he is disturbed by their arrival and their questions. Everyone is upset. No one is happy or too curious. Even the priests and local wise men are not impressed. They know from ancient scripture, which they quote, that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem, and they point the way for the Magi… but don’t bother to go along.
Then the magi are tricked by Herod (almost) into divulging the whereabouts of the baby King so that Herod can murder Him. They then give their best gifts away. Finally, the visitors who travelled so far and should have been held in some esteem, sneak away out the back door, never to be heard of again.
Nothing about the account was easy… except for one thing, in verses 10 and 11:
“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed […] and they bowed down and worshipped him”.
In the KJV and English Standard versions it reads, “and fell down….” and in J.N. Darby’s translation, “and falling down did him homage”.
To be overjoyed, and then to be subject to Christ, to worship him, to do obeisance, to surrender – face down – seems to have been easy and spontaneous.
Now read Romans 6:16-22.
The Magi take us back to our Christian Beginnings, to the basics. We often hear of the great truths about being co-heirs with Christ or about being children of God or about being Christ’s bride. But first, we must be his slaves and he our Master.
We can be one of two things: we can be slaves to sin resulting in death, or we can be slaves to God and righteousness leading to holiness. Either way, we are slaves (a stronger word than “servants” and probably a true translation).
As John Stott puts it,
“Conversion is an act of self-surrender; self-surrender leads inevitably to slavery; and slavery demands a total, radical, exclusive obedience. So, once we have offered ourselves to him as his slaves, we are permanently and unconditionally at his disposal”.
This may not be easy. We can look to the Magi as they spontaneously fell before him as an example, but it can be hard to do.
Finally, it’s important to realize who the Master is.
God isn’t asking us to be enslaved without knowing something about the Master.
He demands holiness, yet is meek and lowly of heart and says his yoke is easy and his burden light (Matthew 11:29). The Magi offered the gift of myrrh, which can foreshadow when the same spice was later used to prepare Christ’s body for burial by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea (John 19). The Magi asked where they could find the “king of the Jews,” the same title later fixed to his cross. We are to be slaves to a Master who sacrificed himself.
John Henry Newman (1801-1890) wrote that “Never had a soul true happiness but in conformity to God, in obedience to His will”. He emphasizes how we were bought for a price and now belong to God and live in a relationship of obedience. Therefore, Christians should “come, not seeking a sign, but determined to go on seeking Him, honoring Him, serving Him, trusting Him, whether they see light, or feel comfort, or discern their growth, or no” (emphasis mine).
So this Christmas we fall down, overjoyed, before a baby, and then rise, changed, surrendered, ever to be at his disposal.
Questions: In Romans 6: 19, does it seem like Paul is apologizing for the stark comparison of Christ-followers to slaves? Do you ever lose sight of some aspect of your position as a Christ-follower? Do you ever ignore being a slave or a bride or a son/daughter or a conqueror or a disciple or an evangelist?
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