Saturday, December 09, 2006

We Three Kings...

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him." ” Matthew 2:1-2 NASB

Of all the characters involved in The Kingdom Gospel, and especially the nativity story, the magi are the most mysterious. For two thousand years scholars have speculated on the number, origin and nature of this group trying to fully explain their significance. For the storyteller, what matters most is not who they were and where they came from, but that they came at all, and how the locals responded to their presence.

Matthew does not specify a number, but generally we have come to accept the idea of there being three, one for each of the gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We have also named them; Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar, names representing three different races. They are described variably as wise men, astrologers, kings and magicians, all of which in varying degrees can be associated with Matthew’s word ‘magi.’

For the Biblical storyteller however, as much as their possible background is of interest, what remains of greatest importance is what the gospel does tell us. And that is this: the magi had come to worship the promised King of the Jews and not only thatthey were Gentiles. In this proclamation of their purpose the magi reinforce the purpose of the Kingdom Gospel, to help Matthew’s church understand that the barriers to God were coming down. No longer would the promise of the Messiah be for the Jews only, as foretold by the prophets, all nations will come to worship at his feet.

Of interest too, is the reaction of Herod and “all of Jerusalem.” We know from other historical accounts that during this time there had been a number of people claiming to be the Messiah. Most of them were ignored or quickly proven to be false, so one would expect that Herod would regard this as just one more false alarm and shrug it off. And yet, he doesn’t. In fact, he takes it very seriously and begins plotting to take the life of the child. Why? Why does he react the way he does? And why is all of Jerusalem afraid of the magi’s message as well?

Let’s go back to the story. What sets this announcement apart from all the others who claimed to be Messiah? The answer is the presence of the magi.

Imagine for a moment you are King Herod. A number of astrologers from Persia or beyond arrive and tell you that they have looked at the stars and have determined that the time has come for the fulfilment of the prophecy of the coming Messiah. And unlike others with such claims, they come to Herod freely admitting they don’t know who it is. They only know that now is the time for the King of the Jews to be born and would Herod please be so kind as to point him out.

For Herod, and all his cronies throughout Jerusalem looking to hold onto their power, the surest sign that this is the real deal is not great orations by a would be prophet, not the performance of miracles, not even the raising of an army to drive out the Romans. Since Jesus is just a child none of these things have happened yet. No! – for them the proof that this is a threat that must be taken seriously is Gentiles are coming forth to worship Him. In a world where Jews are despised and looked down upon by most of the nations around them, the only reason magi from any nation would come to worship the King of the Jews would be because He truly is the Son of the Most High. In Herod’s mind, only the birth of the true Messiah would bring Gentiles into their midst.

And so he agrees to help the magi, for his own reasons of course. He doesn’t know who the child is any better than the magi; so, after consulting the scriptures, he sends them to Bethlehem. His hope is that when they find him so will he. But God, as always, is one step ahead of those who would thwart his plans for mankind. He sends the magi home by another route.

If there is anything we can learn from the magi, it is the need for us to keep the stories of God close to our hearts. The magi, by their own devices, were able to determine at least part of the truth. They were able to look at the stars and know that the time had come for the Messiah to be born. They knew that the Jewish messiah was a true object of worship, worthy of their reverence even though they were not of the Jewish faith. But they didn’t know all they needed to know. Had they been able to consult the writings of the prophets for themselves they would have known where to look for the Promised One.

Many of us today, even among Christians, have it in our heads that we can figure it out all by ourselves. We are looking for a custom religion that we cobble together from insights that we pick up from a variety of sources along the way. But the fact remains that without the written Word we have only a portion of the information we need. Without the truths to be found in the Bible, we do not know where or who to worship.

And knowing the Bible is no guarantee either. The chief priests and the scribes had the text before them but failed to see the deeper truth of the words because their focus was not on God’s plan but on their own interests. They were not so interested in keeping the faith as they were in keeping control. The spirit of their worship was distorted by their own self interests.

By placing the story of God in our hearts rather than just keeping the facts about God in our heads, we ensure that both the desire and the details work together. In this way we will know where and who to worship and be better equipped to do so in spirit and in truth.


(Exploring the Kingdom Gospel - episode 4)

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