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12.27.09 Jesus’ Star Still Rises and Shines, Matt. 2:1-12, 2 Pet. 1:16-21 Sermon Summary

by on January 6, 2010

Is biblical prophecy about forecasting the distant future? To later writers who used earlier prophecy perhaps. But not to the original authors. The arrival of the Magi offers a good example of the complex truth of prophecy.

Matthew presents the arrival of the Magi as an historical fulfillment of an ancient prophecy. But it also serves his audience as a contemporary prophetic oracle. At its core, biblical prophecies are (a) utterances spoken (b) within a tradition (c) that apply to the speaker’s day. They use language and images of both the tradition and their contemporary situation. And while addressing their contemporary situation, prophets may indeed reach into the immediate future.

But they did not understand themselves to be addressing the distant future. That understanding of prophecy came later, when subsequent generations applied the original prophetic language to their contemporary situation. In other words, when later prophets used the tradition (the earlier prophets) and applied it to their audience. Preaching, by the way, is supposed to continue this prophetic, living tradition today.

Matthew’s tradition spoke of foreigners bringing gold and incense, of rising and conquering stars, of Bethlehem as the birthplace of a new king. So in telling the story of Jesus as the new King of kings, it’s only natural that Matthew would employ these elements from his tradition and apply them to his contemporary experience.

Today, we might fruitfully apply Matthew’s story by observing the activities of these Magi. It’s a story of (a) seeking and (b) finding and (c) being transformed.

What were the motives of the Magi for seeking Christ the new king? What are our motives? Were the Magi, like many who go to church today, seeking truth, or meaning, or purpose? Were they, like many of us, seeking comfort or inspiration?

As good as these things are, and God promises all these to be found in Christ, they are still self-centered motives. They produce a quest based on what we want and need. But were these the motives of the Magi? We have to answer no on the basis of what the Magi did once they found Christ.

The reason the Magi sought Christ was not first to enhance their own lives, but it was to worship God; for that is what they did when they found Christ. And the purpose of worship, despite how it might be presented in many of today’s churches, isn’t self-filling. Rather, it’s self-emptying. Worship may convey truth, provide meaning, reveal purpose, offer comfort, or inspire. I hope it does! But the point of worship is self-emptying for the purpose of being filled with Christ.

Today, may we come seeking Christ, as the Magi did. For one of Christ’s most famous promises is that those who seek will find. Today may we empty ourselves, that we may be filled with Christ. Today may we find, as another example of prophetic writing urges, the star of Christ rising in our own hearts. And today may we, as the Magi were required to do, return to our lives “by another route,” transformed for having been in the presence of God in Christ.

Questions for further reflection

  • If you changed your understanding of prophecy from one of telling the future to one of hearing and applying God’s Word to your life, how might that change the way you read the Bible? How would it change your life?
  • What are your reasons for coming to worship? Do you come mostly to get something, or to give? Do you come expecting to be filled without first emptying yourself?
  • How prophetic, in the sense above, is the preaching your hear at your church? Is your preacher true to the tradition? Do your preacher’s sermons address issues of today?
  • Have you ever had to “return to your life by another route”? If not, why not? Why is your spiritual journey different from that of the Magi?
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