Thoughts on the Three Wise Men

Text: Mt 2:1 - 12 Written for a western tradition congregation for just after Christmas

Three boys are in the schoolyard bragging about their fathers. The first boy says, "My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a poem, they give him $50."

The second boy says, "That's nothing. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a song, they give him $100."

The third boy says, "I got you both beat. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a sermon and it takes eight people to collect all the money!"


What do you say on the Sunday after Christmas day?

Christmas is one of the two celebrations that all Christian churches celebrate. Together with easter it has been celebrated since the very earliest periods of the Christian church.

Christmas eve marks the changover between two seasons in the church year, from the season of Advent which is about the expectation and excitement of the incarnation of Christ and the 12 days of Christmas leading up to the epiphany or theophany.

Christmas is not, strictly speaking one day in the year but rather a feast that extends for 12 days, beginning on the evening of Christmas eve and extending to the 5th of January including 12 days.

Through the 12 days are a number of saint days or feasts. Probably the most famous is the feast day of St Stephen, proto martyr. He is the Stephen stoned in Acts 7 by the Jews, the story that begins the narratives about Paul.

The reason this feast day is the most famous is that it is remembered in Good King Wenceslas. The song goes - Good King Wenceslas last looked out on the feast of Stephen. The feast of Stephen falls on boxing day.

The 12 days of Christmas were bounded by Christmas eve and the 6th of January which marks the epiphany or theophany depending on your church tradition.

Both terms discuss the manifestation of God in the Christ story. In the early church they recognised 4 manifestations signifying who Jesus was:


In the eastern church they focused on theophany, the revelation of Christ in his baptism. He buried sin in a watery grave, he demonstrated the trinity - father speaking, spirit resting and son being baptised, and gave the example of baptism to us. As stated in their liturgy


At Your baptism in the Jordan, O Lord, worship of the Trinity was revealed, for the Father's voice bore witness to You, calling You His "beloved Son", and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of these words. O Christ God, Who appeared and enlightened the world, glory be to You!

In the western church, which supplies most of our tradition, they focused on epiphany or the visit of the Magi.

Where were the Wise Men from? Japan-they all came in 1 accord.

What were the Wise Men before they were Wise Men? They were firemen. They came from a far(a fire).

Matthew writes a very different nativity to Luke. Luke emphasises the link between the gift of Christ and the reaching out by God to ordinary people in their individual situations. He has angels pronouncing good news to shepherds in the midst of their daily lives.

Matthew emphasizes that Christ was a king that came to rule. The context of astronomical events heralding the birth placed it firmly alongside the stories about the births of kings and great rulers

The wise men took the natural course, the star indicated a king so they visited Herod. Herod, noting that he didn't have any new heirs did the natural thing and killed all possible pretenders to the throne.

If we look at the passage we also notice that there weren't three wise men - the number is unspecified. Also we don't have their names nor are they described as kings. The number three appears to have come from the three gifts they offered. The names and their status as kings from accretion over time as Christians sought to understand the event in the context of various other bible passages.

The gifts themselves:

Gold always valuable and beautiful, was a basis of wealth but also adorned the sacred items of the temple and tabernacle.

Frankincense was a solid white gum produced in Arabia. It formed the basis of the incense used in the temple and tabernacle and was also placed before the Holy of Holies with the bread of the presence. It was added to some sacrifices but not to the sin offering or the cereal offering of Jealousy.

Myrrh was available as a liquid or as a solid gum. Besides being used for embalming and burials formed an ingredient in perfume including the sacred anointing oil used in the temple and tabernacle.

So what does this story say to us today:

1) Jesus is God, the sovereign ruler. The wise men describe Jesus as the king of the Jews. There was always the tension as to who was to rule - God or the Davidic king.

Here is Jesus the fulfiller of both. The one prophesied to lead and shepherd Israel. The God/Man whose birth was indicated in the heavens.

2) God is in control. There are four separate sets of people who are trying to do things in this story.

Joseph and Mary are just trying to get through the birth etc. They didn't plan any of this

The wise men have been dragged away from their work and have made this long trek. From the cost of the presents, they must have been involved in important things.

Herod was trying to ensure his succession, and to the person on the street appeared to have the most power in the situation.

But God was the one who achieved his purpose. He made a statement about who Jesus was and succeeded in protecting him.

3) God is faithful: This wasn't some new thing that God just decided to do. You can see God beginning to prepare for this very early in the history of the people of God. Some teachers trace the beginning of this preparation work back to the garden of Eden. This was what it had all led up to. The birth, ministry and death and resurrection of Christ

This story, the birth of Jesus with the wise men, firmly reminds us of the kind of God we worship. We can rely on our God, He is sovereign, He is in control and we can trust him to do what he has promised.

It doesn't matter how hard it is, God will carry us through. God will achieve his purpose

Esther on being a true leader

We are looking at Esther 5.

What has happened before:

1) Vashti stood down
2) Esther takes her place based on character and grace
3) Haman purchases the right to kill the jews
4) Esther and the jews fast and then approach the king

3 characters

1) the king - a week character who has all the power - someone to be manipulated
2) Haman who wants to be someone and is failing
3) Esther who is someone and succeeding

Haman - leader wannabe

1) top leader under the king
2) grand vizier an ultimate position of power
3) Still wanting, searching for success
4) A hollow man trying to prove that there was something inside himself
5) Power is never enough
6) Riches and success is never enough
7) Leadership that grasps and struggles and pushes never achieves its purpose

Americans: Please divert your course 15 degrees north to avoid a collision

Canadians: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees south to avoid collision

Americans: This is the captain of a US Naval ship. I say again, divert your course.

Canadians: No… I say again, you divert your course.


Canadians: This is a lighthouse. Your call.

Who do you think won?

This is the example or style of leadership of Haman. Full of self importance, Full of what he is doing and going to do. And yet when it comes to the test, it disappears in the wind.

Haman, the carrier under full steam, met his lighthouse and that was Esther.

Esther - true leader

Have you noticed Esther never seems to do anything?

1) put in the harem by Mordecai
2) Advised by the keeper of the harem

Even here waits patiently, and simply requests that Haman and the king come to a banquet.

Haman prepared himself by scheming, puffing himself up, building hangman's scaffolds.

Esther prepared herself by prayer and fasting.

Haman operates out of his need to be recognized and feel important

Esther operates out of who she is.

Key part of something God has been talking to me about for a couple of years:

1) I can do leadership/ministry

2) I know the steps

However if I be then I see greater things happen. God has created me, gifted me, molded my character, equipped me to be his instrument. So why wouldn't I rest in what God is doing and just be.

I can take Haman's approach and strive, do or I can take Esther's approach and be.

The thing that Haman wanted above all things was the key place in the palace. The lofty position of all power.

Yet it is Esther that gained it. Despite not seeing the King for a month, by being in the center of God's purpose, by simply being instead of doing, the King recognized her and held out the scepter to her.

I think we miss what that meant. The scepter symbolized the power and authority of the King. The king extending the scepter and Esther taking hold of it meant that Esther now had equal power with the king.

Esther gained everything that Haman desired just by being.


About this time you are thinking - "Paul is preaching to the elders and ministry team again"

Everyone is a leader. I shared that definition of a leader a few months ago:

A leader is someone who is actively altering their environment to achieve God's purpose

That sums up what every christian is called to do and be.

Every christian is called, anointed, gifted. Every christian is a project of the master. He has built and he is refining. And he has done it for a purpose.

We can strive and do and be someone or something different.

We can approach issues and problems using our intelligence, our worldly understanding. Or we can operate out of the things that God has placed in us. We can be the people he is making us to be.

We can be Haman, striving, convincing ourselves, being the hollow man.

We can be Esther the lighthouse, assured in God of achieving God's purpose.

Abiding in the Vine

Text: John 15:1 - 11 - the topic I was given was prayer

The top 5 biblical ways to find a wife:

1. Find an attractive prisoner of war, bring her home, shave her head, trim her nails, and give her new clothes. Then she's yours. - ( Deuteronomy 21:11-13)

2. Find a prostitute and marry her. - ( Hosea 1:1-3)

3. Find a man with seven daughters, and impress him by watering his flock (Ex 2:16-21)

4. Purchase a piece of property, and get a woman as part of the deal ( Ruth 4:5-10)

5. Go to a party and hide. When the women come out to dance, grab one and carry her off to be your wife. - ( Judges 21:19-25)

We invest a great deal of ourselves in finding a mate. There is the looking, the talking, the spending time together.

Hanging out in places where, just maybe there is someone for you.

Then when you find someone who may be the right person, there are the dates, the meals, the gifts. The time spent with that person.

There are sometimes many false starts on the road to finding a life partner and when you do it is not much better.

In 2001 17% of Australian marriages ended in Divorce within 5 years, and 43% within the first 10 years. While what we were looking for was someone to share our lives with.

Dear God, Maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each other so much if they had their own rooms. It works with my brother. Larry

So why do it? Because living your life with someone else is a key way of being happy.

Yet despite the great desire we have for a life partner, despite the emotional, physical energy and money we spend on finding one, Often we leave that partner within a short period of time.

Dear God, I bet it is very hard for you to love all the people in the world. There are only four people in our family and I can never do it. Nan

I don't want to trivialise the issues in maintaining a relationship with a spouse, but one thing my mother said struck me:

My mother and father came to the realisation that they were too busy. Despite the key thing being their relationship, they never seemed to spend time together.

We truly believe that our marriages, our relationships are one of the most important things we have but a large number of us allow them to wither and in a short period die.

It is very easy to do, and I know that I struggle with it. It is not so much what we do but the little things we don't do

Spending time together, appreciating each other, communicating etc.

Dear God, I do not think anybody could be a better God. Well, I just want you to know that I am not just saying this because you are God already. Charles

John records Jesus talking about the relationship between Christ and the church or Christ and the Christian:

"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser"

"Abide in Me and I in you, As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in me'

I am reminded of marriage. To find a partner, to do the work to create a relationship, to commit to that other person. - a huge investment in time and emotion.

This relationship, Christ and the Christian, was created out of the costly work on the cross, out of the commitment we made to Christ, and Christ made to us.

And that was just the beginning.

Then there is the abiding

Dear God, If you watch me in church Sunday, I'll show you my new shoes. Mickey

The correct answer is that being a Christian, is the most important thing in our lives. The correct answer is that our marriages are most important to us.

The question I struggle with is to what extent is being a Christian - being focused on God - central to my life? Less than it should be - there are always things that I am quite willing to do instead.

Dear God, I think about you sometimes, even when I'm not praying. Elliott

Praying is really weird. There are people who have been in church, been Christians for many years and the only way they can pray is to use the Lords prayer.

Sometimes we think that the only way we can approach God is formally with language that we would never use in another situation.

Sometimes our prayer lives consist of set times and periods with a waste of no communication between.

Dear God, Did you mean for the giraffe to look like that or was it an accident? Norma

Dear God, I didn't think orange went with purple until I saw the sunset you made on Tuesday. That was cool! Eugene

Abiding in the vine, being in relationship, calls us beyond set times, set ways of talking to real intimacy. It means being as comfortable formally praying as discussing a sunset with God.

Think of marriage. If married people are together, do they talk? Do they share each other's company? Do they share things that are important to one or both of them?

If we describe this relationship with God in terms of marriage, the challenge is that God is always with us.

Brother Lawrence wrote in the second half of the 1600s

"There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God. Only those can comprehend it who practice and experience it." ... Brother Lawrence

One of the things I really love about Canberra is the views you get of the Brindabellas. I frequently share the experience of surprise and delight I feel when I see them with God.

Dear God, I want to be just like my daddy when I get big, but not with so much hair all over. Sam

Dear God, I think the stapler is one of your greatest inventions. Ruth

As we abide, as we live prayer, as we practise the presence of God we become alined with him. His attitudes, his beliefs, his values and his way of thinking become ours.

Pursuing the presence of God, remembering him instead of being focused on other things, actively molds and changes us to be more like him.

We the branches are grafted into the vine, we are attached and the Vine's life flows through us. We become like Christ.

The direct result is answered prayer because we pray in the will of God. His mind becomes our mind.

Dear God, My brother told me about being born, but it doesn't sound right.

Dear God, Instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why don't You just keep the ones you have now? Jane

Prayer is more than formal times and formal words, although they will be part of it, but an ongoing relationship on many levels. Like any relationship, like marriage, it is the day to day, on-going work on that relationship that makes it strong.

I would encourage you to begin to abide in the vine, begin to practise the presence of God. Our relationship, our connection to the vine and even our fruitfulness are a result of how we build that relationship.

It really doesn't take much to make a change to an attitude that remembers that God is beside you and as the most important thing in your life you will acknowledge him.

Adam was walking around the garden of Eden feeling very lonely, so God asked him,

"What is wrong with you?"

Adam said he didn't have anyone to talk to.

God said that He was going to make Adam a companion and that it would be a woman.

He said,

"This person will gather food for you, cook for you, and when you discover clothing she'll wash it for you. She will always agree with every decision you make. She will bear your children and never ask you to get up in the middle of the night to take care of them. She will not nag you and will always be the first to admit she was wrong when you've had a disagreement. She will never have a headache and will freely give you love and passion whenever you need it.

Adam asked God, "What will a woman like this cost?"

God replied, "An arm and a leg."

Then Adam asked, "What can I get for a rib?"

The rest is history..

Bartimaeus on Worldview


This sermon discusses the issues around seeing past our culture and worldview to find the direction and way of living that God wants us to have.

Text: Mark 10:46 - 52

 The Crowd

- Helicopter lost in a big city - pilot and co-pilot

- Nowhere to land and getting desperate.

- Flys up to an office window and the co-pilot holds up a sign saying "where are we?"

- The man in the office thinks for a bit then writes and holds up his own sign: "In a helicopter?"

- While the pilot, stressed and worried begins shouting and waving his free fist at the man in the office, the co-pilot takes another look at the map and following his directions has them landed in the right place in a couple of minutes.

- "So how did you know?" asked the pilot.

- "Well with an answer like that - totally accurate but totally useless there was only one building that could be - Microsoft"


- We have a culture and way of reacting to situations. In this story, the crowd is operating series of assumptions about what is appropriate.

- The Microsoft man answered the question and operated within his culture to provide an answer that was appropriate to his culture.

- The Microsoft assumption was that accurate is good enough

- The crowd is reacting to the activities of Bartimaeus

- Here was this important leader, almost in procession being interrupted by a nobody, a nothing.

- That wasn't appropriate, it was wrong, it shouldn't have happened.

- We look at this situation and say that the crowd was wrong - unloving, uncaring with a very dodgy valuation of human life and miss an important point.

- "How do we respond to situations that cut across our understanding of appropriate behaviour?"

- With our 20/20 hindsight we can see the problems with the response of the crowd, but in their eyes they were reacting as they should. The reason we can see the problems is that we have a different set of assumptions.

- I guarantee though that some of my assumptions and some of your assumptions are as wrong as the assumptions the crowd was working with.

- How do we deal with addressing the reality that exists beyond our assumptions as God would when our assumptions blind us to that reality.




- There were two hunters out in the woods. One has a heart attack

- The other rings emergency and talks to the paramedic. "I think my friend is dead, he's just collapsed".

- The paramedic - in a calm collected voice as they have to have to calm people down, says "are you sure he is dead, the first thing is to make sure"

- There's a gunshot, and the hunter says "Ok so what next?"


- Jesus has this ability to look into a situation and always do the right thing. He has this uncanny knack of walking through a room full of people and touching the one person who needs him in exactly the point of their pain, the point of their need.

- There was Zacchaeus, Matthew, Peter, a couple of Samaritan women. If we search the gospels we find case after case.

Even the most complete list would only have a small proportion of those in his life and ministry.

- One of the challenging things to both his enemies and friends is that he was very unpredictable. They couldn't guess what he would do next.

- Despite spending 30 years as a Jew immersed in the culture of the time, he didn't operate on their assumptions.

- The expected direction wasn't followed rather an individual direction.

- He continually addressed the reality beyond the assumptions of the culture of the time.


- In this case the culture would have Jesus pass on by. The reality that Jesus saw was a child of God in need and the opportunity to change the world and that person's life with a couple of minutes effort.


- The reason we can look back on the crowd and criticise their reactions and responses is that the world was changed by this event and others to the point that our assumptions are close to the reality that Jesus was addressing.

- The crowd looked at the situation and didn't see the reality. How many times and situations do we look and not see the reality?


- As Christians we are called to walk like Christ did. To have his eyes and discernment. We are called to walk through a room full of people and touch the one person who needs him in exactly the point of their pain, the point of their need.


- Jacky Pullinger describes how she dealt with a young man who doubted his need to exercise his gift of tongues. She took him with her one day as she travelled around Hong Kong. Hong Kong is noisy and it was a little while before the young man noticed that Jacky was continually praying in tongues to herself.

- Throughout the day, they met person after person in need and were able to address those needs - praying for and helping in practical ways. By the end of the day the young man was also continually praying in tongues.


- Seeing the reality that Jesus saw, acting on that reality and touching the world at its point of pain is possible as we begin to get the mind and heart of Christ. As we begin to wait on him not only to see and know, but to have the resources to touch those in need.




About a century or two ago, the Pope decided that all the Jews had to leave Rome. Naturally there was a big uproar from the Jewish community. So the Pope made a deal. He would have a religious debate with a member of the Jewish community. If the Jew won, the Jews could stay. If the Pope won, the Jews would leave. The Jews realized that they had no choice. They looked around for a champion who could defend their faith, but no one wanted to volunteer. It was too risky. So they finally picked an old man named Moishe who spent his life sweeping up after people to represent them. Being old and poor, he had less to lose, so he agreed. He asked only for one addition to the debate. Not being used to saying very much as he cleaned up around the settlement, he asked that neither side be allowed to talk. The pope agreed.

The day of the great debate came. Moishe and the Pope sat opposite each other for a full minute before the Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers. Moishe looked back at him and raised one finger. The Pope waved his fingers in a circle around his head. Moishe pointed to the ground where he sat. The Pope pulled out a wafer and a glass of wine. Moishe pulled out an apple.

The Pope stood up and said, 'I give up. This man is too good. The Jews can stay.' An hour later, the cardinals were all around the Pope asking him what happened. The Pope said: 'First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger to remind me that there was still one God common to both our religions. Then I waved my finger around me to show him, that God was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground, showing that God was also right here with us. I pulled out the wine and the wafer to show that God absolves us from our sins. He pulled out an apple to remind me of original sin. He had an answer for everything. What could I do?'

Meanwhile, the Jewish community had crowded around Moishe, amazed that this old, almost feeble-minded man had done what all their scholars had insisted was impossible! 'What happened?' they asked. 'Well,' said Moishe, 'First he said to me that the Jews had three days to get out of here. I told him that not one of us was leaving. Then he told me that this whole city would be cleared of Jews. I let him know that we were staying right here.' 'And then?' asked a woman. 'I don't know,' said Moishe. 'He took out his lunch and I took out mine.'


- Bartimaeus also broke through past his assumptions into the reality.

- He was a Jew of the lowest cast. He believed that he was worthless. Why would a notable like Jesus want to have anything to do with him?

- No doubt he had heard things about Jesus. I have heard many things about Jesus but I am amazed at how few of them I actually act on. Bartimaeus had even less reason to act.

- How could he bridge the gap between the assumptions of worthlessness and the possibility of a reality of the love of God mediated by Jesus.

- Despite the opposition by the crowd, despite the assumptions that held him Bartimaeus was determined to follow that possibility.

- He pushed through and pushed into the love of Jesus and was healed.


- John Wimber felt called by God to begin operating in a healing ministry. He began preaching and teaching every week on healing. He had altar calls to pray for the sick. And week in and week out every person that was prayed for remained sick.

- After a couple of months of this, people were leaving his church in droves. It was just idiotic to preach and practise something that just didn't work.


- How could he put his ministry on the line when week by week he proved that he couldn't do it? The assumptions would say: "healing is not for today", "you don't have the gift of healing" or "you are not good enough"


- After about six months he got a call from the father in one of the families in the church. The man had just got a job and today was his first day. The wife was very sick in bed and she couldn't take care of the kids. So would John come round and pray and heal the wife?

- You know that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach? Once John saw the woman and how sick she was it got worse. "At best", he thought, "I will have to look after the kids all day, at worst the man will lose this new job"

- John prayed for the woman and then turned to the man ready with the well practised excuses as to why sometimes God doesn't heal when he heard a voice behind him: "Will you have breakfast with us Pastor before you go?"

- While he had been turning, the woman now healed, had hopped out of bed to get breakfast.


- I feel like we are on the very beginning of a new journey in God. The things I am hearing about the evening service, the things that are coming out of the consultation for this service.

- The vision and the things that many people are putting in place to be true to that vision. The calling of a new Ministry Team Leader and all the new possibilities that person can bring. Just beginning.


- As we begin to be a different church with different expressions of God's love in this building and beyond, what assumptions will we have to see past?

- We can be sure that they will be things that seem reasonable, true and often things that we have dearly held for a long time.

- I think we have the smallest glimpse of the reality the God wants to bring us into.

- Lets leave aside the old assumptions, and like Bartimaeus lay hold of that small hope and truly see the reality that God has for us.


My Favourite Preaching Quotes

I maintain that preaching is a very strange business. The following quotes each say something that it is important for all preachers to hear.

Jedidiah Burchard 1834/35

After repeated prayers and appeals, by which he almost compelled multitudes to repair to the anxious seats, he asked again and again if they loved God.They were silent. 'Will you not say that you love God? Only say that you love or wish to love God.' Some confessed; and their names and numbers were written down in a memorandum book, to be reported as so many converts. It was enough to give an affirmative to the question: but many were not readily, and without continual importunity and management, induced to the admission. He would continue - 'Do you not love God? Will you not say you love God?" Then taking out his watch, - 'There now, I give you a quarter of an hour. If not brought in fifteen minutes to love God, there will be no hope for you - you will be lost - you will be damned.' A pause and no response. 'Ten minutes have elapsed, five minutes only left for salvation! If you do not love God in five minutes, you are lost forever!' The terrified candidates confess - the record is made - a hundred converts are reported

F.A. Cox and J. Hoby , Baptists in America pp180-1 Quoted in "Revival and Revivalism" Iain H. Murray p 287.

George Whitefield 1714-1770

He worked tirelessly, like his friend Wesley, embarassing in his zeal. He usually rose at 4:00am and spent whole nights in reading and devotions, sometimes getting up after going to bed at his usual hour of 10:00pm to do so. He preached morning, afternoon, and evening on Sundays; 6:00 every morning and evening Monday to Thursday, and Saturday night; twelve messages a week, sometimes forty to sixty hours of speaking each week.

Winkie Pratney "Revival" p95

Jonathan Edwards 1703-1764

(describing "Sinners in the hands of an Angry God")

Here was a man who often studied thirteen hours a day, whose writing and eyesight were so bad he had to screw his face down close to a sermon manuscript to read it (in a monotone).... Edward's astonishing results on the day he preached that sermon are probably much more due to the manifested power of God in answer to prayer than some convicting content in his message. Nevertheless, the effect was awesome; people screamed aloud, clutched the backs of pews and the stone pillars of the church, lest the ground open and swallow them alive into hell!

Winkie Pratney "Revival" p99,100

Leonard Thynn

I asked him what he'd ended up thinking after Edwin's talk on Sunday. He looked pleased. Doesn't usually get asked for an opinion. Overdid it of course. Leaned back in his chair, put his fingertips together and tried to look wise.

'Well, I did sit right up at the front on Sunday.'


'So I was very close to Edwin as he talked.'


'And I did end up doing something I'd never quite managed before.'

'Yes - and that was...?'

'I counted Edwin's teeth. He's got thirty-six.'


Adrian Plass "The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass (aged 37.75) " p97

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