A Year in the Promises: The magi, the shepherds and us

Jeff Miller


A Year in the Promises: The promise of Christ


Intro: Good morning. It’s just a few short days until Christmas. It seems as if Christmas is still a couple of weeks away, doesn’t it? It’ll be here and gone before you know it, and then, in the blink of an eye, it’ll be a new decade, and the 1980s––my decade––will have been officially 40 years ago, and 1970 will have been a half century ago. 

I’m not here to depress anyone. But we can’t stop the clock or slow it down as much as we would all like to, and if you were here last week, you might remember that I talked about your promise being on God’s calendar. With the ticking of the clock and the changing of the calendar, your answer to prayer, your hope, your calling is getting that much closer to being fulfilled. That’s a good thing.  

If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to Luke chapter 2 verses 8-15; and then if you want to keep your finger or bookmark there and jump back to Matthew chapter 2, we’ll just read the first two verses there.

If you’re still stuck on your promise being fulfilled, and wondering whether or not these promises that we’ve been talking about all year long are really for you, I’m going to talk about that today. I’ve talked about that a couple of weeks ago when I talked about God’s gifts to us. God gives good gifts to his children, and he gives them because he’s good. Not because we deserve it, but because he loves us. 

God gives good gifts to those who are not ‘important’ or ‘super spiritual’ in the eyes of the world. God gives good gifts to those who are seen and those who are not seen or noticed by a majority of people. You do not have to be on the ‘world’s stage,’ or even a high profile Christian celebrity. It doesn’t matter how big your church is, or how small it is. What matters is God’s heart and what God looks at. And God looks at our hearts. I’ll get to that in a while, but first, our scripture.



Luke 2: 8-15:

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”


Matthew 2: 1-2

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, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”


Central Truth: I had you jump around because the story is pieced together by the different gospel authors. For some reason, none of them have the full story. But you have probably heard that story hundreds of times. You may even have it half memorized. We see it depicted in nativity scenes––right here next to me. You may even have one in your home. It’s part of the Christmas story. But what’s the significance? Have you ever thought about the characters having been particularly chosen by God? Have you ever wondered why these shepherds and magi were told of the birth and no one else? 

Why not the innkeeper? Why not a bunch of priests from the nearest synagogue? What about Joseph’s family or Mary’s family? I mean, whenever we have a baby, there’s family that comes, right? The grandparents get a ticket for a round-trip camel and rush down. Here, the savior of the world has been born. God’s own son has come in the flesh and the long-awaited Messiah has finally arrived. And no one knew except for the shepherds and magi––of all people. 

As I’ve said before, God doesn’t always make sense in our human minds, but when we step back and examine what God did, we find that it works better than anything any human could have planned. God was actually showing us a promise on that night. Not only fulfilling the great promises of the coming of the messiah, but also making a promise at the same time. 

God was saying, look whom I revere. Look who I find important enough to invite to my son’s birth. And Jesus, even from birth and all throughout his earthly ministry, and still to this day demonstrates whom God honors. It’s said in Proverbs, and both James and Peter quoted it. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”


Point 1:  One of the things this story tells us is that God doesn’t oppose the wealthy or scholarly, he opposes the proud. There’s a difference. He’s not an either/or kind of God, he is a both/and kind of God. So I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. Rich and successful are welcomed into the kingdom just as much as the poor and lowly. It’s just that, as I also discussed a couple of weeks ago, that the rich and successful don’t always choose God’s invitation. There’s a parable about that. 

But the three wise men chose God’s invitation.

I suppose they weren’t so wise. I mean, after all, they went to Herod to ask for directions, right? And thanks to them, the secret got out and Herod went and killed all children younger than two years old so that the king of the Jews, or the king of kings, would not take Herod’s throne. 

And of course we know that Jesus was saved from Herod’s wrath, and that Jesus wasn’t after Herod’s throne anyway.

But, this story does go to show us that the wealthy wise men, whom some believe to have been kings––did choose to come to Christ. If they were kings, they were three kings from another country, and some believe that there might have been more than three kings–-the Bible doesn’t actually say how many wise men there were, it just says that they came bearing three gifts. Some say they might have been of another religion altogether––though they could have been Jewish because of the dispersion of Jews to other lands at that time. And if so, they still journeyed all that way, possibly two years, to see the Christ child. 

That is a profound statement. Who chose Christ but wise men–-either counselors to kings or kings themselves, of another kingdom, of possibly another religion. And they probably practiced the magical arts. The word magi and magic have the same root word. They looked at the stars and practiced astronomy and maybe even astrology. Yet they knew the Hebrew scriptures well enough to put the pieces together and see that now was the time of the Savior’s birth. 


How is this? Gotquestions.org, one of my favorite sites, puts it this way:

We know that the magi were wise men from “the East,” most likely Persia, or modern-day Iran. This means the wise men traveled 800 to 900 miles to see the Christ child. Most likely, the magi knew of the writings of the prophet Daniel, who in time past had been the chief of the court seers in Persia. Daniel 9:24-27 includes a prophecy which gives a timeline for the birth of the Messiah. Also, the magi may have been aware of the prophecy of Balaam (who was from the town of Pethor on the Euphrates River near Persia) in Numbers 24:17. Balaam’s prophecy specifically mentions a “star coming out of Jacob.”


This tells us that God was already speaking to the unlikely outsiders. Like I said, they very well could have been Gentiles. And certainly religiously imperfect if they were practicing astrology or other forms of the magical arts. So why didn’t God show his own people from his own promised land this amazing event? Why people from 800-900 miles away. That’s the same distance as it is from New York City to Montgomery, Alabama. Or from New York City to Tallahassee, Florida. Couldn’t God have found anyone closer?

Here’s what else gotquestions tells us: 

So, the magi were men who 1) read and believed God’s Word, 2) sought Jesus, 3) recognized the worth of Christ, 4) humbled themselves to worship Jesus, and 5) because God warned them in a dream against returning to Herod, so, in defiance of the king, they left Judea by another route, obeyed God rather than man. They were truly wise men!


So in other words, God revealed the birth of his son to them because even though they may have had their religious imperfections, they were open, honest, humble, searching and seeking God, and probably not as bad as Israel’s own closed-hearted, self-righteous priests and pharisees.   


Here’s from another site. This is what Bibleinfo.org had to say about these magi:

They were of noble birth, educated, wealthy, and influential. They were philosophers, the counselors of rulers, learned in all the wisdom of the ancient East. The wise men who came seeking the Christ child… were upright men of integrity.


If you search the scriptures, it’s not likely there were many priests and pharisees of that caliber in God’s own chosen nation. If they were anything like they were 30 years later, the priests and pharisees were not willing to humble themselves, they were not teachable, they were not holy, and so God was not speaking to them and revealing to them the birth of his own son and the joy of the moment. The Messiah had come, the hope of the world, and God was reaching out to the world––to those who had hearts to seek Him. 


Point 2: There were others that God could have chosen, I suppose. There had to have been others who were humble and wise and who could have believed that the Messiah had come. I mean, if a host of angels announced to all of Bethlehem of Christ’s birth than I suppose all of Bethlehem would have shown up. 

But only lowly shepherds were told. The great and mighty angels told just a few lowly shepherds. Why?

For the same reason why God chose the magi. Even though the magi were well-educated, wealthy and had been born into some kind of nobility, the shepherds were just the opposite. But they had the same heart. They had the same humility. They sought God. In fact, because this was announced in Bethlehem, scholars believe it is likely that the sheep that the shepherds were watching were being raised as sacrificial lambs. Seems appropriate to tell them, doesn’t it?

But can you imagine the awe and wonder of being chosen by God? Imagine being one of the shepherds, tending sheep on a normal night. Maybe they’re stargazing and wondering what that bright star is. And then, a heavenly host appears––the first words out of their mouths is “don’t be afraid,” I wonder why. 

And then, they announce that a child has been born. A savior. And maybe you understand that there is some kind of correlation between the sacrificial lambs and this savior. Maybe you don’t fully understand, but somehow, there’s some correlation. You want to go. You want to see what this is all about.

Imagine the emotion of the moment. And that you, of all people on earth were chosen. They might not have expected to have been the only ones.  They might have expected a huge crowd to have been there. I mean, if the angels told them, then surely they must have told others, right? Who would be there? The ‘who’s who’ of Bethlehem, right?

No, just them. I’m not sure why, exactly. But if it’s any indication, I’m sure that you know that when you have a baby, you want family over, but not the whole world, right?

There’s a cartoon panel of the Little Drummer Boy, and he’s about to start playing and then Mary holds up her hand and says, “I appreciate the thought, but I just got Jesus to sleep.” 

I’m sure Mary and Joseph didn’t want a whole crowd there. So that makes it all the more amazing that God chose just one group of people. If he had to choose one, who would it be? The shepherds. Imagine the honor to have been the only ones told. Imagine the confusion of that. The unworthiness. Imagine their praise. Imagine their worship. Imagine their newfound sense of God’s love. “He chose to send a heavenly host of angels to us. Who are we that God would choose us?” 


And that leads me to my promise for this week.


Conclusion: God chooses us. We’re not the most worthy. We’re not the most scholarly. We’re not the most holy. Maybe you’ve got a doctorate, maybe you’ve dropped out of high school. Maybe you’ve got a high profile job with a corner office making a half-million dollars a year, maybe you’re cleaning gutters for a living making just above minimum wage. God calls the humble and teachable. 

He calls those who are amazed by his grace, not those who feel as if his grace is an entitlement. He calls those who are willing to make the journey, like the wise men did. There’s a saying by an unknown author, maybe you’ve heard it. “Wise men still seek him.”

God calls those who are willing to seek him, not those who think they know everything already or that their relationship with God is good enough and it doesn’t need to grow, because their ears are going to be closed to God anyway, so why would God bother?     

God’s promise to us through choosing the wise men and the shepherds is that we get to be part of whatever God wants us to be part of. Whatever God wants to do, we get to be part of it. We don’t have to earn ‘super-spiritual’ status. We don’t have to be priests or rabbis or great civic leaders or pillars within the community or pillars within the church. 

We don’t have to have outstanding talent––that is, an outstanding talent from the world’s perspective. Tending sheep and warding off wolves is an outstanding talent.

And maybe you do have the wisdom of the magi. Do you have the heart of the magi?

So the promise to you today is, that if God can look at the lowly shepherds and see them equal to the great and powerful wise men who either were kings or were counselors to kings, and see them as the same, then certainly, it doesn’t matter what your status is. What matters is your heart. Your heart is what God wants, your heart and your willingness to obedience is how God uses us. 

The promise is that God can use anyone who has the humble heart of a servant. Even a great leader in God’s eyes must have the heart of a servant. Don’t feel as if you’re not good enough for God to use. He just may call you to have an opportunity like the shepherds. You just might be amazed at what he calls you to do.  

Prayer: Dear Lord, I thank you for the great opportunity that we can have with you. I thank you for the opportunity for an adventure with you. You can call us to anything. You can call us to something exciting. You can call us on a journey like the magi, or a wonderful, amazing, unexpected moment like the shepherds that changed their life and their outlook on who you are and who they are in you. 

Lord, I pray that you would bring a sense of calling to us. What is it that you would have us do? What is it that you would want this church to accomplish in the next decade? What is it that you want to see from this church and pour out to Watkins Glen in the 2020s? I pray that you would inspire this church with a great calling and great sense of purpose and great dream to move forward and revive this community. 

In Jesus name, amen.



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