Following Jesus • 20 / The Full Meaning of the Magi

Read This: Matthew 2:1-12

If you could travel back in time six hundred years before Christ you’d find Daniel in Babylon. Daniel was one powerful man. His wisdom and spiritual discernment made him the leader over the most influential group of advisors in the ancient world — the magi.
 
The magi were experts in science, agriculture, mathematics, history, religion, politics, astronomy, astrology, and magic. They did everything from interpreting dreams to appointing kings. The magi were the highest ranking officials in Babylon, and their influence continued on into the Greek and Roman eras. It was often the magi who would identify new leaders and kings, and the Romans paid keen attention to them.
 
When Jesus was born, God sent a celestial declaration to the magi announcing His arrival. They immediately grasped the importance of this news — there was now a real King over the Jews! Society was expecting this king (see Day 19), and the magi set out to recognize and honor Him.
 
Contrary to the Christmas hymn, there were probably more than three of them, and because they were powerful men — akin to royalty — they would have traveled with an entourage of soldiers and servants.
 
Meanwhile, the Jews already had a “king.” Though neither royal nor Jewish (he was a Roman vassal), Herod was no slouch. He earned his title by defeating and driving out the Parthians, and he protected his authority by murdering all potential successors — including his brother-in-law, wife, and sons.
 
The arrival in Jerusalem of an armed and sizeable company of magi (likely Parthians) whose business was to officially recognize a new Jewish king put the entire city on full alert. (Another example of Jesus’ birth being anything but secret.)
 
* For more on this, see the MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Matthew 1-7, pages 23-32.

Following Jesus • 19 / Paying Attention

Much is said about Jesus’ low-key birth. Small-town parents, strangers in Bethlehem, no vacancy, sleeping in the stable. Mary and Joseph were nobodies from nowhere. Unnoticed.

But Jesus’ birth was no secret. The birth of John the Baptist six months prior was “talked about through all the hill country of Judea” (Luke 1:65-66). And since John’s father knew who the Messiah was, all that talking surely pointed to Jesus’ arrival.

Then there were the shepherds. They also “made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds” (Luke 2:17-18).

Later that month God led Simeon and Anna the Prophetess — both known and respected throughout Jerusalem — to meet Jesus in the Temple. Afterward, Anna “continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

Society itself was keen with anticipation of a great king and deliverer to come from Judea. Josephus, Suetonius, Tacitus, and Virgil all mention this. The entire Roman world was expecting an unprecedented world leader to arise, and the Jewish scholars even knew the approximate time and place of His arrival (from Daniel’s prophecies and Micah 5:2).

Jesus’ birth was certainly not shrouded in secrecy. Anyone paying attention would have found out. Especially after the international incident recorded in our next passage.

Following Jesus • 18 / He Knew Jesus Before He Met Him

Read This: Luke 2:28-38 

Imagine you’re fascinated by the end times. You spend years studying Daniel, Revelation, and all the other prophetic books. As your understanding grows, you see what’s coming. You understand how world events are lining up for history’s finale.

One day God’s Spirit directs you to a certain place. He reveals that you’ll witness a key event in the final countdown. And so it happens. You show up, you see the beginning of the end, and you explain its meaning to everyone you meet.

That’s how it was for Simeon. He didn’t just know Jesus was the Messiah. He knew everything about Him. For example, he knew . . .

  • Jesus would bring light to people of Galilee.
  • Jesus would bring salvation. Not just to the Jews, but to all people from every nation.
  • There would be a price to pay. By shining light into the darkness, the evil of men’s hearts would be exposed.
  • Though the Gentiles would be saved, many of the Jews would oppose, deny, speak against, contradict, and reject Jesus.
  • The Jews’ violent rejection of Jesus would cause Mary, His mother, great pain.

Simeon knew what was coming. The Old Testament revealed the time, place, and purpose of Jesus’ coming — and Simeon knew all of it. His remarks amazed Mary and Joseph, and confirmed yet again that theirs was no ordinary child. He was the Messiah, God’s salvation for all people.

[See also: Isaiah 8:14; 42:6; 45:25; 46:13; 49:6,9; 52:10; 60:3; Psalm 98:2]

Following Jesus • 17 / The Old Man

Read This: Luke 2:25-28 

Picture Mary and Joseph as a young couple leaving town for the big city. It’s time to dedicate their baby at the Temple.

As they make their way through the crowds, an elderly man approaches them and reaches out to hold their Baby. The man is Simeon, and he has a reputation.

Simeon is known to everyone as righteous and devout. He doesn’t just keep the law — he understands its meaning. Simeon has weighed God’s claims and believes in Him.

Simeon is also a man of action. He’s spent his life searching the Scriptures, scrutinizing every prophecy pointing to the promised One. He isn’t just waiting for the Messiah, he’s watching for Him.

Luke tells us the Holy Spirit is on Simeon. No wonder — the man is alive for God. One day, the Spirit reveals to Simeon that he will not die until he has met the Messiah. The language used in this passage implies interaction. Simeon is seeking God, and this is God’s response.

That’s why Simeon is in the Temple on this day reaching for Mary’s Baby. God told him now is the time and this is the One. Jesus is the Messiah.

Following Jesus • 16 / The Righteous Baby

Read This: Luke 2:22-24 

Legal protocol requires more than one witness to confirm a matter. That’s why Luke takes time at the beginning of his gospel to feature several righteous witnesses. Several to verify the matter, and righteous to establish their testimony as reliable.

Why such attention to verification? Think about the claims Luke was making! Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He’s the Messiah. He was conceived in a virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is God in human flesh. He’s the Redeemer. He came to save His people from their sin.*

These are unprecedented claims. That’s why Luke presents multiple witnesses for confirmation. Up to this point we’ve heard from Zacharias, Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary, and the shepherds. Now Luke returns to Joseph and Mary, establishing their righteous character by showing their adherence to the law:

These character references do two things — they demonstrate Joseph and Mary’s righteous character, and they show how Jesus Himself kept the whole law. That’s because Jesus didn’t come to nullify the Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). To keep it perfectly (which we can’t do) so His righteousness can be applied to our accounts. 

Jesus kept the entire law from birth . . . so we can be saved.

 
* For more on this, see the MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Luke 1-5, pages 165ff.

Following Jesus • 15 / Naming Names

Read This: Luke 2:21
The Jews used names to describe a person’s character, role in the community, or relation to an event. Abraham was the father of multitudes. Jacob was renamed Israel — having power with God — after his night of wrestling with the angel (Genesis 32:28).
 
Before Mary was even pregnant an angel assigned the name Jesus to her Son. Jesus is the Greek version of Joshua, which means God is salvation, or God is the Savior.
 
This is one of those treasures hidden in plain sight. God becomes a Man to save humanity from the curse of sin and damnation. What does He call Himself? God is the Savior.
 

Following Jesus • 14 / The Significance of Light

Read This: Luke 2:8-20

When you stop at a friend’s house and everything is dark, it means they’re not there. No lights, nobody home.

That’s how it was in Israel. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s presence was signaled by light. Whether in the temple, through the prophets, or by divine intervention, light meant God was there. But Israel lost interest in God’s presence, and after generations of idolatry and wickedness, the nation went dark.

Now, four dark centuries later, comes an explosion of light. God’s glory, radiating from an angel and terrifying the local shepherds, signals a staggering turn of events. God has returned!

That angel — and all his friends — brought outrageous news. God has come to deliver us. Not just the Jews, but all people.

By calling Him Savior, Christ, and Lord, the angel declared Jesus to be the promised One, come to deliver mankind from the penalty of sin. He also declared Him to be God. That’s how Jesus makes peace with God possible — because Jesus is God, come to make peace with us.

This is the good news announced by the angels. The lights were back on! Those first eyewitnesses immediately went and verified what they’d heard. Then they proclaimed it to all who would listen. Do you believe their testimony?