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Magic & Paganism in Acts

The Magic Never Ends C S Lewis



DaVinci - Adoration of the Magi Art PrintText: Matthew 2:1-12 NOW WHEN Yahshua was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, 2. "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." 3. When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;4. and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet: 6. 'And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.'" 7. Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared; 8. and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him." 9. When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; 11. and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Messiahmas Pageants

The nativity story never fails to remind us of the annual pageant performed by church youth groups. Around Messiahmas, youth leaders always drag out the same old, ragged scripts. And once again the young people jokingly complain, "Oh, no! Not again this year!" But like a comfortable, old habit, tattered librettos are passed out and choices are made as to who will play shepherds, angels, wise men, camels, cattle, and sheep 'round about the manger. If there is a new baby in the community, his (or her) mom and dad will get to portray Mary and Joseph to their baby's Yahshua. What an honor for the new baby!

The Messiahmas pageant at our church always meant that our parents had to go on a scavenger hunt for costumes. One doesn't have to read Manners and Customs of Bible  Lands to learn what Bible people wore: everybody knows they wore bathrobes, pajamas, and shower clogs. We found the ancient wardrobe readily available in old clothes' closets, and bath towels pinned with costume jewelry worked great for the exotic "Wise Men's'" turbans.

I recall playing a Wise Man one year, but whether it was Melchior, Gaspar or Balthazzar, I can't recall. But I do remember the embarrassment of tripping and dropping my gold-painted brick smack-dab into the manger, right on top of the baby Yahshua. ... I know what some of you're thinking. The baby wasn't hurt; that year Yahshua was played by a baby doll.

Who Were the Magi?

But who really were the Wise Men - or Magi - we see in the pageant? Well, they were "wise," all right - men of vision who sought ultimate wisdom - Wisdom Enfleshed. They were "oriental scientists" who studied the workings of the heavens, the origins of planets, the orbits of stars. They knew about angels, medicine, metallurgy; and they were experts in the interpretation of prophecy. They may have spent their entire lives engaged in seeking the coming of the "King of the Jews;" and now, at long last, they follow His star "at its rising" to the highest city on earth - to Jerusalem.

Not unlike the pageant, Matthew has recorded a great drama starring the Magi in chapter two of his gospel. In seven exciting Acts, the Magi go full circle: From their homes in a distant land, they travel far to discover the Messiah Child, then depart to spread the good news of His birth as they return to their native land. Friends, we Magi of today may yet follow these same seven exciting Acts, and discover the Child-King for ourselves, and become wise.


Act One: Let's "watch" the first Act, which I call, "The Magi Inquire; Let Us Also Inquire" (vs. 1, NRSV).

After Yahshua was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."

The star, created as a pathfinder, was YHWH's guiding light to the dwelling of His Son. The Magi knew this star and had probably charted its course for years. Now, seeing it just overhead, they are compelled to follow, believing that, if they pursue it to the end of its course, they will discover something greater than all their knowledge and treasures combined.

They follow the star to Jerusalem, the High and Holy Place, where, like Moses, they are "strangers in a strange land." They inquire of the Jews of their King so that they might pay homage. "WHERE IS HE?" they ask. Not another step on their journey can be taken until their question is answered. "Where is He?"

People so hunger to fill the void in their lives. Many seem born to live ungratified - constantly craving - spending themselves like the Prodigal only to seek from the outside what is lacking on the inside. It is as though there is a missing piece to the puzzle of personhood that prevents perfection.

Some years ago I went to a yard sale. There I saw a jigsaw puzzle. On the box was the completed picture of a beautiful landscape - like a heaven on earth. I'd never tried a jigsaw puzzle before, but the picture was so compelling, that I decided to buy it and try it. After all, it was only a dime.

I worked on that puzzle for two weeks. I watched the azure coastline take shape, and quaint cottages assume form, right before my eyes. Finally the landscape was complete. Complete, that is, except for one piece missing from the center of the puzzle. I looked into the box for the missing piece. I searched the floor. I accused the children. The whole view that I had labored to see was ruined for lack of that piece!

How completely unsatisfying the unfinished picture was! How wretched! How incomplete! But then I realized that when I bought the puzzle, the piece had been missing in the first place. It had been lost even before the puzzle had become mine.

This story describes the human heart in a way. There seems to be something naturally absent that prompts the soul's constant query: "Where is my fulfillment?" "Where is my joy?" "WHERE IS HE?" Yes, there is an emptiness within that cries out to be filled with YHWH's Grace, but is so often "stuffed" with second-rate substitutes instead. Indeed, "the heart is restless until it finds its rest in Him."

The Magi inquired after the One in whom they might find rest for their souls. And we come together today for the same purpose: to inquire. Yet inquiry alone is not enough to bring wholeness.

Act Two: I call the second exiting Act, "The Magi Search, Let Us Also Search" (vss. 8,9a).

Herod sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him." After they had heard the king, they went on their way....

The Magi step out in faith to search, through unfamiliar territory, among a peculiar and unfriendly people. Yet despite the pitfalls and despondency of the journey, despite the expense and the grumbling of their entourage, they continue to chase the pathfinder star, as though it were ... alive - the angel of a wisdom much greater than their own.

Cruel King Herod sends them on a mission and probably has spies following. He lies about his intention; he would never worship anyone but himself. His design was to murder the Child. And Herod was highly accomplished at murder: he had done away with his own children in the course of his paranoia. And he would end the threat of the Child of YHWH as well, even if it meant killing them all. But through the intervention of a prophetic dream, the Magi catch on to the maniac's plan. They will neither report back, nor will they have anything more to do with his deception.

Like Herod, "the devil seeks whom he may devour." As we search for the Messiah Child, the devil likewise seeks us out. His minions follow, tempting us to take our eyes from the star and our feet from the pathway of righteousness.

I hear that trappers in Africa are similarly devilish in their way. Like the devil, they use tricks to catch monkeys. A small hole is bored into a gourd. The hole is just big enough to put in a few nuts. The gourd is nailed to the branch of a tree. When a greedy monkey discovers the nuts inside the gourd, he sticks his paw in the hole and grabs a handful, but the hole is too small for him to pull out his fist. The monkey is too greedy to unclench his fist and let go of the nuts in order to escape, so he is easily taken captive.

Like these trappers, our adversaries' weapons consist of tricks and traps devised to delay our search by appealing to our greed. But we're not monkeys, praise YHWH! We've discovered the snare! And as long as we keep our eyes fixed on the star and our feet fast to the path, our journey forth will be unhampered.

Act Three: I call the third Act, "The Magi Rejoice, Let Us Also Rejoice" (v. 9b,10).

...And the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

After leaving cruel Herod, the guiding star once again comes into sight, and the heavenly sign brings great joy to the hearts of the Magi! They glory to see the oracle of their forefather, Balaam, come to pass:

There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel (Numbers 24:17b AV).

As they follow the sign of the oracle, signs follow them.

Likewise, as we keep our eyes on the star and feet on the path, signs follow us, just as the Risen Yahshua promised:

These signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover (Mark 16:17-18 AV).

Like the Magi, we greatly rejoice in YHWH for the signs that he has scattered like stardust upon our stark pathways; signs like an encouraging word, and answered prayer, a special touch, a healing, or a tongue! To experience "signs following" indicates that we are a righteous generation, on the right path, moving in the right direction, moving by YHWH's Word. Rejoice in YHWH for the gracious signs before and aft: the signs we follow, and the signs which follow us!

Act Four: I call, "The Magi Behold, Let Us Also Behold" (vs. 11a).

On coming to the house, they behold the child with his mother Maryah.

The Magi inquired, sought and found. And now they behold that which they had so longed for. With their eyes, they peer into a noisy, smelly stable, where they observe a new sign: a shabbily dressed woman holding a rag-wrapped infant. But with their eyes of faith, they see the very apex of their lives' mission. Through faith, they see a young mother "full of grace" and her baby, the Only Begotten: the living, breathing Image of YHWH, lying in a manger. They look with rapture into the face of the Child-King. They perceive his identity by faith, and experience his presence in their hearts by faith. And they find their missing piece (peace) in Him.

On our life-journey, it works exactly the opposite. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that

faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

We can only see the Messiah Child now with eyes of faith. And it is faith that permits us to claim that we've known Yahshua, even though we've not yet seen Him. Yet we are more greatly blessed holding the beatific vision of Yahshua in our hearts than holding His nail-scarred hand in ours.

For on our personal journey to Bethlehem, we remember his words to us:

Those who can believe without having to see are the ones to be congratulated (John 20:29 SV).

Congratulations, believers, though you have not yet seen! But remember, the day will come when we shall see Him as He is. Until then, we may hold Him in our hearts, and allow Him to restore in us His Image, His likeness, His mind, His wisdom, until the final day when, with the Magi, we "bow the knee" to His majesty.

Act Five: I call the fifth Act, "The Magi Worship, Let Us Also Worship" (vs. 11b)

They bowed down and worshiped him.

This Act is the "peak" of the performance! In its original language, the Magi "prostrate themselves to him." Such oblation was reserved for great rulers. If the Magi were really "three kings," we can imagine them doing obeisance to their king, a Child (now the King of Kings), in the grandeur of His palace, a humble stable; at his throne, a cattle stall.

Yes. Imagine now these distinguished kings in a livestock barn ... with their faces on the fetid floor ... before a mere child.

The people that in darkness lay,
In sin and error's deadly shade,
Have seen a glorious gospel day,
In Jesu's lovely face displayed.

By the holy sight of Yahshua' face, the grace of YHWH is made alive within them. Their minds fill with His truth; their imaginations with His beauty. Their hearts suddenly open - love flows in. In the twinkling of an eye, as they worship, they change. They feel the transforming power of His grace!

But, O the power of grace divine!
In hymns we now our voices raise
Loudly, in strange hosannas join,
And blasphemies are turned to praise!

This Sunday morning we, along with millions of others, sing our hymns and join together our "strange hosannas." But through our "worship," have we experienced His transforming power?

You know, it seems that we tend to

...worship our work,
work at our play,
and play at our worship.

Worshiping the Messiah Child without abandoning ourselves entirely to His purpose is like being cast among characters performing a prolonged and plotless Messiahmas pageant; there seems a semblance of purpose, yet without substance or story. It is playing at worship.

True worship is:

To quicken the conscience by the holiness of YHWH.
To feed the mind with the truth of YHWH.
To purge the imagination with the beauty of YHWH.
To open the heart to the love of YHWH.
To devote the will to the purpose of YHWH.

True worship means to be changed - forever.

Friends, we've fixed our eyes upon the star and journeyed far along the path; we've inquired about Him, sought after Him, rejoiced at the sign of His coming; we've lifted our voices in praise to Him; and now - we have experienced Him with eyes of faith.

But have we worshiped him? Have we allowed our conscience to be enlivened by his uniqueness? Have we fed our minds on his truth? Have we cleansed our imaginations with his beauty? Have we opened our hearts to his love? Have we devoted our wills to his purpose and calling for us? Have we been changed by His grace?

Perhaps we have actually felt the exquisite sense of Messiah's nearness - His love - like a "cozy old bath robe." His acceptance and grace moving within. Perhaps, like John Wesley, we have felt our "hearts warmed" today, or, as in the popular song, our "cups filled" by His Living Water. Perhaps we now find ourselves wanting to do the same works of goodness He did, becoming gifts of YHWH to our community.

If so, friends, I'm happy to say that we're no longer playing parts in a worship pageant, with make-up and lights and applause; for our characterizations have become our reality! Like the Magi, we too have been changed.

So we can say, "Yes, indeed, we know we have worshiped, for we have been changed!" Praise YHWH! Let us praise Him!

{A Poem / Prayer of Thanksgiving and Praise is Inserted Here.}




Act Six: I call the sixth Act, "The Magi Offer Gifts, Let Us Also Offer Gifts." Obviously, this is a good place in our teaching to receive our morning offering. The scripture reads (vs. 11c):

Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

If the Magi were three kings, then they were offering precious gifts out of their abundance. But now consider the probability that the Magi were only poor pilgrims; and that their gifts were the first-fruits of life-long labor. As such, they now offer the Child all that they have accumulated, even their very lives. This lends a new perspective to the old story.

A friend of mine decided to make one of his infrequent visits to church one Sunday morning. The congregation was in the middle of a building program. A wheelbarrow was set up near the altar rail to receive building fund offerings.

The preacher's message was on the subject of "Messiahian Commitment." As the Word was proclaimed, my friend became more and more "convicted" until he thought he heard the voice of Yahshua saying to him, "I don't want just some of you, Ed. I want all of you. Give yourself totally to me. Go up and put yourself into the wheelbarrow."

By the time Ed heard the voice of Yahshua for the third time, the congregation was singing the fourth verse of the last hymn. Ed was very tense. "Lord Yahshua," he prayed, "I'll know this is you if the pastor sings the second verse again. Then I'll go put myself into the wheelbarrow."

Immediately, the pastor joyfully announced, "Folks, let's sing that second verse again!" Dutifully, Ed left his seat for the front, and climbed into the wheelbarrow. Then everything kind of stopped, and people stared at that big, funny man curled up in that little bucket. A deacon came forward and asked Ed very seriously, "Brother, can I help you?" Ed replied, "Oh, no. Yahshua wants all of me, and I'm offering myself to Him." Then the deacon said, "Well, that's OK with me, brother. Just let me know when you're ready to get out of there and I'll try to help you."

Friends, the change of heart which leads to self-sacrifice is the very quintessence of true worship. Ed learned his first lesson in true worship. If he were here today, I wouldn't be surprised if he crawled into the offering plate! But don't you try, OK? Instead, let's offer money in token of our very selves, in return for

the immense gifts which Messiah Yahshua presented first to us: the gifts of life, redemption, and faith.

Indeed, let's become gifts! Like the gold, frankincense, and myrhh,

Let us become the treasures of all cultures, the spiritual wealth of all peoples, the shared inheritance of all humankind.

{The offering is received.}



Act Seven: I call the seventh and final Act, "The Magi Return to Their Homes, Let Us Also Return Home" (vs. 12).

And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

It is dangerous; their foe is powerful. But the Magi are obliged to return to the place of familiarity; to family, friends, responsibilities. But they return with incredibly good news. YHWH gave them back to their own people as gifts and testaments of His love. They had truly worshiped their King, and were changed!

Just as "Legion," having received the purging of his imagination, returned as a gift of YHWH to his family; and as Nicodemus, having received a circumcision of heart, returned as a gift of YHWH to the Pharisees; and as the Samaritan Woman, having received a quickening of her conscience, returned as a gift of YHWH to her husband; even as the Blind Beggar, who feasted his eyes and mind on truth, returned as a gift of YHWH to his companions; so as the Disappointed Disciples on the road to Emmaus, having renewed their will and purpose, returned as gifts of YHWH to the others at Jerusalem; let us go forth in our turn to those we know and care for as gifts of a loving YHWH and His Child-King - to tell of our great drama - to portray our living pageant - how we have worshipped Him and He has changed us, and we have become wise. Amen.