GOT ROOM FOR OTHERS?
In the operating room of a large hospital, a young nurse was completing her first full day of responsibilities. “You’ve only removed 11 sponges, doctor,” she said to the surgeon. “We used 12.” “I removed them all,” the doctor declared. “We’ll close the incision now.” “No,” the nurse objected. “We used 12 sponges.” “I’ll take full responsibility,” the surgeon said grimly. “Suture!” “You can’t do that!” blazed the nurse. “Think of the patient.” The surgeon smiled, lifted his foot, and showed the nurse the 12th sponge. “You’ll do,” he said.
Details are important aren’t they? Last time we talked about how Jesus’ life literally begins and ends at the upper room. One in Bethlehem that was not ready for his arrival. Another in Jerusalem that was. The cool thing is this word kataluma that Luke uses to describe the “inn” in Luke 2:7 and the “upper room” in Luke 22:11 not only links the Christmas story with Communion, it also reconciles why the magi or wise men came to a house not a barn or stable.
Why? Because archaeologists confirm that both CARAVANsary inns and houses such as those in Luke 2 and Luke 22 had upper rooms where people stayed with stables and mangers and animals downstairs but still inside. So Luke 2 could be describing how there was no room for them in the upper room while Matthew 2 could be describing how the magi arrived some time later at the inn or house with an upper room because by that time, the census was over and there was room upstairs above the indoor stables.
So, the artists with paintings, like the one on the screen, where the magi arrive giving gifts to baby Jesus at a stable instead of a house are way far off. But the location isn’t the only the thing amiss. The timing is too. Because the Bible suggests that the magi may not have arrived for up to 2 years later!
How do we know? Because when they do finally arrive, and they explain to the folks in Jerusalem that they were there to worship a newborn King, King Herod goes nuts and orders the execution of all baby boys 2 years or younger! Let’s look at that. Turn with me to Matthew 2:16 [NIV] which says, “16When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.”
So the magi eventually arrived in Bethlehem, but the location and the timing of the magi’s arrival aren’t the only details of the Christmas story often confused. Have you noticed the Bible doesn’t specifically say they were wise, all men, or that they brought only 3 gifts with them? Most folks think they were noble and learned inquiring philosopher types familiar with the Hebrew prophecies of the prophet Balaam described in Numbers 24. And since they were all those things, I think it’s safe to say they’d have to be wise too don’t you?
But interestingly, Scripture also says they were into a bunch of other stuff the Bible clearly condemns. How do we know? Because the term Magi is a word translated in Acts 13:6 [NIV] as “Sorcerer” which reads, “6They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer [magos] and false prophet named Bar‑Jesus.” Verse 8 adds, “8But Elymas the sorcerer [magos] opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith.”
So what’s the point? The point is the term magi is used interchangably for sorcerer in the Bible. Another example is found in Acts 8:9. Simon Magnus in Acts 8:9 is described as a [mageuo]. Different form. Same word. Simon Magnus was the most well known heretic of the 1 st century and some say the initial founder of Gnosticism! Listen to what the Bible says about this joker.
“9Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery [mageuo] in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great. 11They followed him because he amazed them for a long time with his magic.” No wonder the apostle Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit in Acts 13:10 [NIV] straight out calls this wise guy quote “10A child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right!”
Ouch right? Those are some pretty harsh words. And because of those words, derivatives of the word Magi or sorcery have been applied to the occult in general and specifically led to adoption of the English term magic. Yet, these noble but notorious sorcerers knew something special was happening in the night sky. Why? Because they had been studying the prophecies of the Old Testament. Specifically, one recorded in Scripture from another sorcerer named Balaam. It’s found in Numbers 24. So let’s go there and read what they did.
Numbers 24:1 “ 1Now when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not resort to sorcery as at other times, but turned his face toward the desert.” You see what I mean? Was he a prophet of the Lord? Apparently so. But was he also into sorcery? Apparently so!
“2When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came upon him 3 and he uttered his oracle: ‘The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly, 4 the oracle of one who hears the words of God, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened: 5How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!’
Let’s stop here for point number one: If God makes room for sorcerers in His plan, God has room for you. We think, well those Simon Magnus guys, those guys into sorcery and palm reading and witchcraft. They’re beyond God’s grace. They have abandoned God. In fact, they have no interest in God. Or they wouldn’t be playing with the tools of the devil. Doesn’t Deuteronomy 18 talk about that? About how much God hates sorcery and witchcraft and whatnot? How he pleaded with Israel to just stay away from all that? How Paul condemns Simon Magnus? Yeah, he says that. But here in Scripture, still we have two startling examples of people who were into that for whom God makes room. God actually uses Balaam and the Magi. Not for evil. But for good! Point number one is startling but inescapable: If God makes room for sorcerers in His plan, God has room for you. Why? Because God loves sorcerers too! Skip down to Numbers 24:15, “15Then he uttered his oracle: The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly 16 the oracle of one who hears the words of God, who has knowledge from the Most High, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened: 17I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. But Israel will grow strong. 19 A ruler will come out of Jacob.” And he goes on and on and on. Then verse 25 says, “25 Then Balaam got up and returned home and Balak went his own way.”
Can you imagine? Can you believe the king lets Balaam go after all that? But that’s what happened. To Balaam. Who dabbled in sorcery. And that’s what happened to the children of Israel. But God made room for both of them. So like Abraham in Genesis 12 when he left Ur, the magi sorcerers left their homes [probably near Babylon which was in Ur] to go where God was obviously leading them. And because they saw the star and followed it, God allowed them to play a pivotal role in the Christmas story. Using their gifts to provide resources for Mary and Joseph to flee Herod’s death threat.
Which leads us to point number two: If God makes room for some sorcerer’s gifts, God will make use of yours. Matthew 2:10–12 [NIV] says, “10When they [the magi] saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”
Although secular history books do not refer to Matthew 2:16's death decree, no one acquainted with the life of Herod doubts him capable of killing of all the baby boys 2 years or younger. Primarily because history books do confirm that Herod also killed two brothers-in-law, his wife and two of his own sons. Additionally, five days before his own death, he ordered the arrest of many of his own citizens and decreed that they be executed on the day of his death in order to guarantee a proper atmosphere for the mourning of his. So you see, this guy was messed up and in light of all the other wicked stuff he did, executing all the baby boys 2 years or younger in Bethlehem was no big deal to Herod. But it was to God. To Joseph and Mary. And it posed a serious threat to Jesus.
So regardless of who the Magi were and where and when they arrived, the bottom line is they did. And if they didn’t, Joseph and Mary would’ve had no gold to get to Egypt. Why? Because they were broke! But how do we know Joseph and Mary were poor and desperately needed some sorcerer’s gifts? Because Luke 2:22 says 40 days after Jesus was born, they took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord and to offer a sacrifice. And when you did, according to Leviticus 12:7-8, if you couldn’t afford a Lamb, you had to bring 2 doves or 2 pigeons. Leviticus 12:7-8 [NIV] says, “7These are the regulations for the woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl. 8If she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean.”
And that, according to Luke 2:24, is what Joseph and Mary offered. Look at that verse. No mention is made of the one year old Lamb in Luke’s account. Why? Because they couldn’t afford one! It’s 40 days after Jesus’ birth. The magi hadn’t arrived yet. Joseph and Mary left Bethlehem and had taken Jesus to Jerusalem and returned to Bethlehem where they stayed for a couple of years at least.
Fast forward a couple years to whenever the Magi show up and the subsequent death threat on the life of Jesus is issued. He hasn’t overturned any tables. Raised anyone from the dead. Broken any rules. But already, the baby Jesus is wanted more dead than alive.
So what happens? Matthew 2:13 and following describes how an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to flee to Egypt and to stay there until he tells them to return. So they do. And while the Bible doesn’t say, most folks think the substantial resources needed to purchase food and safely travel from Bethlehem to Egypt came from the gifts the Magi sorcerers brought. Isn’t that amazing? Entire novels and movies have been created about that trip. But the details they describe are just the latest in a long line of details that God in His amazing love and wisdom perfectly arranged.
If God makes room for sorcerers, God will make room for you. If God makes room for their gifts, God will make room for yours. The question is: will we make room for them? Joseph and Mary did. They weren’t afraid of others. Although they probably looked a lot different than them. Darker skin. Turbans. Camels. They weren’t jealous of them. Although they were much more affluent than them. Gold. Frankincense. Myrrh. They didn’t reject them. Though some might say they had a Scriptural precedent for doing so. Instead, you know what they did?
They invited them into their home! And together they worshiped God. For sending the Son. And that is what wise men today do too. Which is point number three. Wise men and women make room for others. Because God made room for them. Wise men and women don’t make it harder for people far from God to come closer. Wise men make it easier. Even if the people look different than them. Are richer and poorer than them. Are younger or older than them. Even if the people are into sorcery and witchcraft! They don’t reject anyone because they know that greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world. We have nothing to be afraid of. And that’s why the Son of God and King of the Universe was first welcomed into this world by a bunch of godless shepherds and sorcerers. Also known as the least of these. No wonder Jesus later said what he did in Matthew 25:40. “Whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done it unto Me.”
I got a great email the other day. It told the story of one young mom whose six year old son, Nicholas, was in an exciting Christmas program sort of like the one we enjoyed here on Tuesday evening this week. For this program, each class dressed in fuzzy mittens, red sweaters, and bright snowcaps upon their heads rose to perform a song on stage. Those in the front row center held up large letters to spell out the title of the song. And the title of her son’s class song was called “Christmas Love.” As the class would sing “C is for Christmas,” a child would hold up the letter C. Then, “H is for Happy,” and on and on, until each child holding up his portion had presented the complete message, “Christmas Love.”
The performance was going smoothly until the audience noticed a small quiet girl in the front row holding the letter “M” upside down totally unaware her letter “M” appeared as a “W.” She had no idea they were laughing at her, so she stood tall, proudly holding her “W.”
Although many teachers tried to shush the children, the laughter continued until the last letter was raised, and they all saw it together. A hush came over the audience and eyes began to widen. Christmas Love now read Christ was love. Think about that. Christ was love. If God makes room for sorcerers in His plan, God will make room for you. If God makes room for their gifts, God will make room for yours. Point number three: Wise men make room for others. Because Christ made room for you.