"In Pursuit of the Master"
What does it mean to pursue Jesus? That's been the question we've been attempting to address over the passed several weeks as we've explored various facets of the answer. We've dealt with some petty heavy stuff regarding he sacrifices that may be required of you, we've gotten into moral implications and how your faith is to be played out in everyday life, we talked about compassion and mercy and humility and other qualities that should be present and nurtured within every Christ-follower... We've covered quite a bit.
Today, we're going to continue our series by looking to the example of the Wise Men. After all, it's less than a week beer Christmas, and who knows more about pursuing Jesus at this time of year than the Wise Men right?
That's a pretty good reputation for them to have after more than 2000 years, isn't it? Wise Men. Do you think of yourself as wise? We call this group of guys who travelled a long distance to find the newborn baby Wise. And I would say that anyone who pursues Jesus today is wise, too.
You probably know the story already; after all, the journey of the Wise Men is typically lumped in with the other events surrounding the birth of Jesus. You have the angel who visited Mary and told her she had been chosen by God to give birth to a son, even though she was still a virgin. You have the angel later visiting Joseph to assure him that Mary had not cheated on him; Mary had become pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Then they took their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem to take part in a Roman census, only to arrive to discover all the rooms at the local hotel were booked up. So they grabbed the only place available to them... in a barn with a bunch of animals all around them. And it was while they were there that Mary went into labor and Jesus was born.
Following Jesus' birth, an angel appeared to some shepherds taking care of a flock of sheep just outside of town, informed them about the birth of Jesus--the Savior--and told them how to find the baby. So the shepherd's followed the angel's instructions and travelled into town to find and worship Jesus.
And then we get to the part of the story we're focusing on this morning. In truth, it probably didn't happen that same night; it could have happened up to three years later, though it's unlikely it would have been that long, because why would Mary and Joseph stay in Bethlehem that long? So it probably wasn't the same night because they arrived at a house, not a barn or a stable. But it probably wasn't a matter of months or years later, either.
We're not told exactly when it happened, but we do know that these Wise Men--also known as Magi and as Kings--travelled some distance to find Jesus. We're told that they followed a star on their journey, and that this star took them to the exact place where Jesus was. Maybe God in His providence arranged for the star to appear ahead of time to allow the Wise Men to get a head start, in which case they could have arrived close to the time of Jesus' birth. Or maybe the star appeared at the very instant of Jesus' birth, so there would have been some travel time between the birth and the arrival of the Wise Men.
My sister-in-law and brother-in-law over in Newfoundland just gave birth to a baby girl last week, and we found out about it through Facebook and phone calls. My, how times have changed. My wife's parents are here visiting this morning, and tomorrow they fly out to Newfoundland. They heard the news and arranged to get over there as soon as they could. Maybe it was like that for the Wise Men; they heard the news through the appearance of that star and so they made their arrangements and set out.
Something else we don't really know is how far their journey took them. They could have been from the area we know as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, or maybe as far away as India or China. However, I think it's most likely that some or all of them were from the area of Iraq, or from Babylon as it was then known. Why? Because we know that the Israelites had spent some time living in captivity in that region, and that it's quite possible that some of the scholars there had become acquainted with their Hebrew Scriptures. If so, they would have been familiar with the verse found in the Old Testament book of Numbers...
Numbers 24:17 (CEV)
“What I saw in my vision hasn’t happened yet. But someday, a king of Israel will appear like a star.”
So maybe when that new star suddenly appeared in the sky--and there's debate about whether it was an actual star or perhaps a comet or meteor or some other astronomical event--whatever it was, the Wise Men saw it as a star, they may have put two and two together with this verse, and decided to follow it wherever it led them.
How many of them were there? Tradition tells us there were three of them, and even gives them names: Melchior, Balthasar, and Casper. But we don't really know that there were three. We do know that there were least two, because they're talked about in the plural. Yes, they brought three different kinds of gifts--god, frankincense, and myrrh--but that could be two people with one of them bringing a couple gifts, or maybe three with each of them bringing a gift, or maybe there was a whole group of them with a lot of repeats like when a bride and groom receive five toasters as wedding gifts.
So what do we really know about these so-called Wise Men? Not a whole lot. There are more questions and assumptions than genuine answers. But we know the important stuff: they were seeking Jesus, they went out of their way to find Him, and when they found Him they offered Him gifts--probably the best they had.
So what can we learn from their example about pursuing the Master? For us, pursuing Jesus isn't likely to require us to follow a star and travel to a distant land. I'm not ruling that out, but it's not likely. But there are things we can learn from the Wise Men about seeking and pursuing Jesus that don't involve packing your bags and loading up the Caravan, so to speak.
I'm going to identify for you three things the Wise Men teach us, and you can use your notes to follow along and fill in the blanks.
How the Wise Men Teach Us to Pursue Jesus:
1. The Wise Men refused to allow inconveniences, distractions, or opposition to prevent them from pursuing Jesus.
Isn't it interesting that the only people aware of Jesus' birth--aside from Mary and Joseph and a few barnyard animals--were some uneducated, humble shepherds and some foreigners from a distant land? I mean, where was everyone else? All Israelites knew about the prophecies about the birth of Jesus; where were they? Where were the religious leaders in particular, who would have been most familiar with the Scriptures, would have studied them, and would have memorized them?
Matthew 2:1-6 (NLT)
Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him."
King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, "Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?"
"In Bethlehem in Judea," they said, "for this is what the prophet wrote:
'And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.'"
Bethlehem was less than 10 km (5 miles) from Jerusalem; why did it take the arrival of the Wise Men to get the attention of the religious scholars and the king there? And even then, why did none of them decide to join the Wise Men in seeking Jesus?
Remember that scene in Forrest Gump when Forrest starts out running, and people think he's running for some grand cause? Gradually, a crowd of people begin to run along behind him. They don't even know what they're running for, but they think they're doing something important.
I wonder why that didn't happen with the Wise Men? There was something important enough for them to pack up and travel a great distance; why didn't other people join with them along the way? Particularly the religious scholars in Herod's court--when they connected the dots and realized that the Wise Men were seeking the newborn King who was prophesied to be born in Bethlehem, why didn't they join in the search? Yet as far as we know, after the Wise Men met up and set out together on their journey, no one else joined them.
And what's really amazing is that the Wise Men were the ones that I would have thought would be least likely to seek Jesus. First of all, there was the distance they had to travel. I think twice before I travel a couple of hours to New Brunswick, and I don't even have a passport so crossing the border into the U.S. is out of question. Yet these Wise Men were willing to traverse a far greater distance and commit much more time to the journey.
Next, there would have been all the little things they would have had to take care of. Who was going to feed their dogs and check the mail for them while they were away? What about doctor appointments they would have had to reschedule? Surely these Wise Men had responsibilities at home that they would have had to care for before setting out on their journey, especially since they didn't know where they were going or how long they would be gone.
Then there's the journey itself. It could have been easy for them to become sidetracked, do some sight-seeing along the way, get tired of traveling, and simply decide to go home.
But I think the most significant thing is that these were foreigners... they were Gentiles... who probably had their own religion. Most likely, Zoroastrianism. Which, by the way, should remind us that other people today who follow other religions and believe in false gods are not our enemies. They may very well be seeking Truth, and they're just looking in the wrong places. So instead of viewing them as the opposition, let's treat them as friends that we can point in the right direction.
But because theses Wise Men were not Israelites, were not Jewish, and likely had their own religion, they would have face some opposition. Their journey could have caused problems within their families, it could have ostracized them from their society, and they could have opened themselves up to scoffing and ridicule and religious persecution.
Their journey and their search for the Jewish Savior would have been taboo in their culture, their wisdom may have been called into question, and it could have cost them a lot more than we generally think about. but they took the journey anyway and chose to live with the consequences. And as a result, they found what they were looking for.
What about you? What about me? Are we willing to overcome the inconveniences, the distractions, and the opposition we might face in pursuing Jesus? When other people scoff at us, will we continue on our spiritual journey anyway? When opportunities at work require us to betray our faith, will be refuse to compromise our integrity? When others question the validity of our beliefs, will we still seek after Truth? When it becomes open season on Christians, will you press on? Jesus Himself told us...
Matthew 5:11-12 (NLT)
"God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way."
And then two chapters later, Jesus also said...
Matthew 7:7-8 (NLT)
"Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened."
In other words, seek after Jesus with all your heart and regardless of the costs, and you will not be disappointed.
2. The Wise Men pursued Jesus specifically to worship Him by offering Him the best they had.
This week, there are going to be a lot of people attending churches all over town that never go the rest of the year, except possibly for Easter and for weddings and funeral. Other than that, they're really not interested in Jesus interrupting their lives. Oh, they'll seek Him out at Christmastime, at least for an hour here or there, but they're not really interested in worshipping Him.
But worshipping Jesus was the whole purpose of the journey of the Wise Men. Take a look...
Matthew 2:2, 11 (NLT)
"Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him." ...
They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Remember, these were Wise Men; they were scholars. They are also known as Magi, which identified them with a priestly class among Persians and Medes. And we call them Kings. These were not commoners. They had status, they had position, they had power. They were probably used to other people serving them, perhaps even bowing down before them.
But there they were... seeking Jesus for the sole purpose of worshipping Him... and when they found Him, they did just that. They bowed down before Him, gave Him reverence, and paid tribute to Him by giving Him gifts.
And they were not dollar store gifts; they were expensive gifts of gold, frankincense--a high-quality incense, and myrrh--a costly perfume. All three were gifts often given to royalty. They gave the best they had. Which reminds me of an old hymn...
Give of your best to the Master;
Give Him first place in your heart;
Give Him first place in your service;
Consecrate every part.
Give, and to you will be given;
God His beloved Son gave;
Gratefully seeking to serve Him,
Give Him the best that you have.
Give of your best to the Master;
Naught else is worthy His love;
He gave Himself for your ransom,
Gave up His glory above.
Laid down His life without murmur,
You from sin’s ruin to save;
Give Him your heart’s adoration;
Give Him the best that you have.
Jesus--the Lord of all, the Creator of the Universe--gave everything He had for you. He deserves nothing less than the very best that you have. Give it to Him in worship. As King David advised his son Solomon...
1 Chronicles 28:9 (NLT)
"Worship and serve him with your whole heart and a willing mind. For the Lord sees every heart and knows every plan and thought. If you seek him, you will find him."
"What is the reason for your spiritual journey? Is it to worship and give, or be entertained and receive? Are you motivated to find the truth, or are you motivated to justify whatever you're already doing in your life? The only way to find true wisdom is by bowing your life to Jesus and worshiping Him by giving the gift of your life."
~ Grant MacDonald
3. The spiritual journey of the Wise Men continued even after they found Jesus.
There's a problem in churches today that was also present in the churches of the New Testament: sometimes people discover Jesus but then don't take it any further. It makes no lasting difference in their lives. They find what they're looking for, they experience the satisfaction of finding Jesus, and then they're content to leave it at that. They don't progress any further in their spiritual journey.
The New Testament book of Hebrews describes this problem this way:
Hebrews 5:12 (NLT)
You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God's word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.
You're here this morning at a church service. Hopefully you've sensed the presence of Jesus in this place today. But I hope this isn't the only time you experience His presence. I hope this isn't the only time you commit to Him. I hope this isn't the only source of spiritual nourishment you receive. And I hope this isn't the extent of your spiritual journey.
Instead, I hope you make it a point to walk with Jesus every single day. I hope you make it a habit to explore His Word, discover who He is for yourself, and talk with Him regularly through prayer. I hope you strive to live your life according to His values and His direction. I hope you aim to progress in your spiritual journey every day and continue to pursue a deeper, stronger bond with Him that goes beyond rituals and rhetoric.
For someone who is truly pursuing the Master, they're not going to be happy to just locate Him; they're going to desire to continue following Him.
So what does this have to do with the Wise Men? Well, they found Jesus and gave their gifts in worship. And then they planned to follow a request that had been made by King Herod. When they had stopped in Jerusalem to ask for directions--which, by the way, makes me wonder if there might have been a woman among them, too (what self-respecting man is ever going to stop to ask for directions?)--when they stopped in Jerusalem, King Herod asked them to report back to him if and when they found the baby, claiming that he wanted to go to worship the baby, too.
Matthew 2:12 (NLT)
When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
They found Jesus and worshipped Him, and that could have been it for them. They could have headed back home the way they came, and delivered the message to Herod just as he had asked. They could have chosen to ignore the dream they had in which God--in this case, God the Father--warned them about Herod. What would have happened if they had disregarded the warning? It's hard to say. Instead, though, those Wise Men were still open to hearing from God.
They listened to the Master and followed His instructions. Their physical journey had ended and they were heading home, but their spiritual journey continued. Granted, we're not told anything about these Wise Men outside of Matthew chapter 2, but even from this small glimpse we get into their lives, I expect the entire course of their lives was altered because of their encounter with the Master.
When God speaks to you, do you listen? When you sense His leading in your life, do you follow? When you discover something in His Word that He asks of you, do you obey? Or do you try to compartmentalize Him? Do you try to cram Him into just one corner of your life and only let Him out for an hour on Sunday?
Sorry, but it doesn't work like that. If you're going to follow Jesus, you're going to follow Jesus. He's either Lord of all or He's not Lord at all. If you're really going to embark on this spiritual journey... of you're really going to be a Christ-follower... if you're really going to pursue the Master... then you don't get to pick and choose. I've read of how Thomas Jefferson supposedly went through the Bible and literally cut out the parts he didn't like. Sorry, that's not really an option. Instead, He calls each of us to a life of complete surrender, where we give Him everything we have and everything we are... where we give Him center stage in our lives and everything else revolves around Him. And in the process, we discover the richness of His love, His grace, His mercy, His joy, His power, His presence, and His Word. That's what it really means to pursue the Master.
This Christmas, what gift do you have to give to Jesus? You've been pursuing Him, and he's here to be found. What gift will you give Him? Will you give Him your heart? Will you give Him your obedience? Will you give Him your trust? Will you give Him your all? The choice is yours, but if you truly desire to pursue the Master, then He expects nothing less.
Copyright © 2011 Greg Hanson