12. Wise Men

Christmas Threads Meditations: Thread 12: Wise Men

Mt 2:1,2  Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

(Additional Reading: Mt 2:1-12)

Preparations: Contrasts: black and white, chalk and cheese, shepherds and wise men, angel guidance and stellar guidance, humble adoration and gifts of wealth. The shepherds have come and gone, the little family move from the inn to a house and time passes and it looks like that is it. They will be here until the days of Mary’s purification (as it was called) have passed (Lk 2 & Lev 12:1-4 – forty days) and they can present the child to the Lord in the Temple in nearby Jerusalem. The timing of the arrival of the Magi is not clear but may have been in this waiting time or after – but they turn up without any warning.

God of Surprises: The fact of the matter is that these three (perhaps more) Magi, ‘Wise-men, ‘kings’, call them what you will, had started on their journey weeks if not months before. Do you see the significance of all of this? There are four amazing things about this.

First, they had been getting guidance, God had been preparing them, weeks if not months beforehand and Joseph and Mary knew nothing of God’s provision that was on the way. Provision?  Yes, they brought at least three gifts, very expensive gifts,  gifts that could be traded in for money which could then be used for whatever needs this little family had. They were well provided for by God.

Second, take note of another factor here – these were not Jews, not their own people, these were foreigners, probably from somewhere in the area of Mesopotamia, the place of God’s original provision (the Garden of Eden), the place that had subsequently flourished and has been called the ‘cradle of civilization’. This is God providing for them from a means that was beyond their wildest dreams. But isn’t it so often like that with God? He provides for us when we are not expecting it and He provides for us by means we could never have thought about but then, as Abraham found out, He is the Lord who will provide (Gen 22:14), God the Provider.

Third, the Lord is not fussy about who He will use. Preachers often say if God could use Balaam’s ass to speak to him, the prophet, He can use anyone to bring His word (Num 22:28) but as much as we may laugh at that, deep down we’re not very sure of that. But now here we have men who get their guidance by following a star, a star they are convinced that will lead them to find the new ‘king of the Jews’ who is someone way more important that a normal earthly, human king, one who deserves their worship. And how do they get all this from a star? I don’t know; perhaps the star was just the starting point.

Fourth, they are echoing history. We may not know how they got their guidance but somehow or other, like that other beginner with God (Abram), they ‘heard’ God and so probably traveled much the same route as Abram (but not diverting to Haran) all those centuries before.

And So? Applying these things to our own lives, we might ask the following questions:

– are we open to both poor and rich alike – without prejudice?

– do we know the Lord as the God who provides for us?

– does our faith rely on a God who is not bound by what we can only see?

– are we open to the Lord to speak to us through those who are not part of ‘my group’?

– do we realize that what happens today will be a repeat of what God has done perhaps many times before?

Let’s Pray: “Father, thank you that no one is beyond your love. Help me to have the same heart please. Thank you that you are a Provider. Please help my eyes to be opened to see that provision. Lord, please take my eyes – and my limited vision – off the things immediately around me, so that you may enlarge my vision to be able to see your working in this world. Amen.”

13. Regicide

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 13. Regicide  

Jn 19:19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.

As we look at this verse, I suggest we need to consider two things: first, the use of that phrase, ‘king of the Jews’ and then, second, the significance of it being used here.

In chronological order, we see it first in the Gospels when the ‘wise men’ come asking, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? (Mt 2:1,2). Next, we see Nathaniel using it directly of Jesus when he meets him: “you are the King of Israel.” (Jn 1:49). After feeding the crowds, John comments, “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (Jn 6:15). On Palm Sunday the crowds welcome him into Jerusalem with “Blessed is the King of Israel!” (Jn 12:13).Then at his interrogation by Pilate, the governor asks him, “Are you the king of the Jews ?” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.” (Mt 27:11) Note Jesus acknowledging it.

More as an aside we should note that in the prophetic scriptures the Messiah would, reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isa 9:6,7) and in Psa 2, God declares of His Son, “I have installed my King on …. You are my Son;” (Psa 2:6,7) and of course there is the prophetic reference in Psa 110:1,2 echoed by the apostle Paul in 1 Cor 15:24,25.

By why is this so significant when it comes to the cross? Well, from Pilate’s point of view, especially in the light of all the turmoil caused by the religious authorities beforehand, demanding Jesus’ death, to put this notice over the head of Jesus was almost like Pilate declaring, “I am Governor from Rome and we Romans are the supreme power and so don’t you Jews dare allow any upstart to come forward as a rebel leader to challenge my authority! If this is your king, see what we do to such pretenders”. Of course, that was a double insult to the actual religious authorities because they were the ones who had insisted on Jesus being executed. Nevertheless, for the ordinary people it was still a real put down.  Thus, Pilate was using Jesus as a poster-board – Rome rules OK!

But there is also another possibility. We have indicated above that the Messiah was to be a ruler and it was clearly there in the prophecies. So, was this action by Pilate prompted by Satan who, not foreseeing what would follow, also used it as a put-down of the Son of God as if to say, “See, all your plans have been foiled by me. I win, you lose!” Short sighted folly!

24. King of the Jews (Israel)

Focus on Christ Meditations: 24. King of the Jews (Israel)

Mt 2:1,2  Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?

There are not that many references to Jesus being ‘the King of the Jews’ but they are there and they are significant. The earliest one is the verse above when the Magi turn up in Jerusalem and ask for this recently born ‘king of the Jews’. In a town with a powerful but paranoid king (Herod) that might not have been the smartest thing to do, which shows they have some information but not everything about this situation. But that is how it goes with ‘the king of the Jews’!

The main references to the ‘king of the Jews’ come near the end of the Gospels and so we find, for example, Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.” (Mt 27:11) It is left to John to expand on this as we will see later, yet, for the moment at least, it is worth noting Pilate has this information. How? Luke records, “they began to accuse him saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.” (Lk 23:2) Now apart from the fact that that involves a specific lie, for Jesus has purposefully NOT given any grounds for not paying taxes to Caesar, the Jews specifically linked the Christ to being a king. In the verses that follow in Matthew we see this term becomes a means of abuse (Mt 27:29,37,41,42) And that is all there is in the Synoptics.

When we come to John it becomes more interesting. Early on Nathaniel meets Jesus and, because Jesus uses a word of knowledge, Nathaniel comes out with a most remarkable statement, this early on: “Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (Jn 1:49) Nathaniel appears an astute and knowledgeable Jew and maybe it is because he knows his Old Testament that he associates the Messiah with being a king. But Son of God? Wow! That did take insight of the old prophecies that even we’re a bit slow to see.

John shows us that because of Jesus’ power the Jews, looking for a deliverer from the Romans, saw in Jesus an obvious candidate, and this becomes quite clear when Jesus has just fed the large crowd: “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (Jn 6:15) It becomes even more obvious at Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem before his last week there: “They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,  “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  “Blessed is the King of Israel!” (Jn 12;13). In the light of what follows in the subsequent conversation with Pilate, it is significant that Jesus did not follow the road up to the Fortress Antonia, the barracks of the Romans, but instead turned and went up to the Temple where he later overturned the tables of the moneychangers.

Very well, let’s see his conversation with Pilate which opens up this whole subject: “Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” ….. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (Jn 18:33,36,37)

Note the key elements of these verses. First, Jesus expressly denies he is an earthly king. Any movement that sought to use him as their figurehead was doomed from the start! Second, he claims that he IS a king but NOT of this world. Third, the whole point of him coming to the earth was to testify to this (and, we might add, to die for this world to link the two worlds).

Now we need to remind ourselves of some of the prophecies that we considered in the first Part of this series. Let’s just take one as an example: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders….. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isa 9:6,7)  The child was clearly to be a king, a ruler but his reign was to be everlasting.

Another prophetic word we haven’t considered previously comes from the Psalms: “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” (Psa 2:6,7) God declares He has established His own king, His own Son as a ruler of the Holy City.

When we observe Jesus’ ministry we often refer to him bringing in the kingdom of God on earth, the rule of God that he was expressing as he set captives and prisoners free. In the opening verses of Psa 110 we see prophetic verses that appear again in the New Testament, “The LORD says to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies,” (Psa 110:1,2) Again this is God’s intent, that Jesus will rule – expressing his Father’s power – here on the earth through his body, while at the same time the dominion of darkness rules over the minds of unbelievers.

Yes, Jesus is a king, a king over the kingdom of his Father in heaven, yet a kingdom being worked out here on earth. Near the end of his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24,25).  In Revelation 19 we see him coming as The Conquering King, to deal with his enemies and yet in Revelation 5 we see him standing before the throne of God, acclaimed as the Lion of Judah and yet shown as a lamb that has the marks of death upon it. This is the mystery – the ruler, the Lion of Judah, is also the Lamb of God. The currency of this king? Sacrifice, humility and obedience. Hallelujah!

To reflect upon: if this is how Jesus works, surely that should be the way we work?

10. Anticipation – the Magi

Focus on Christ Meditations: 10.  Anticipation – the Magi

Mt 2:1,2   Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

As I have started into this series, and slightly to my surprise, I have found my focus being directed to the mystery of the coming of Jesus Christ. We saw just a few examples of that in the prophecies of the Old Testament and as we come into the New, the more I think about it, the more I realise that there are major question marks, or even an air of mystery, over some of the things we so often take for granted in this story. And that is my biggest concern: that because the Nativity story has become so familiar to many of us, we lose the significance or mystery of what was going on.

To recap a little bit, if you had been around Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ birth (and of course you would probably know nothing of his birth) you might have noticed this old man, probably thought of as a bit of an eccentric by many, who saw him hobble in (he’s an old man!!) each day and just sit around the temple courts. We would probably have written him off as an old man with nothing better to do than just sit and watch the crowds. Yes, there had also been that freaky prophetess, Anna, a long-term widow who was also there daily, praying and prophesying and obviously fasting most of the time (no doubt, thin as a rake, we might say today).

Oh yes, the temple attracted the weirdoes, but that is all they are. And then we had the story of the shepherds. Well that was a bit farfetched, we might have thought if we had heard it third hand, a bit weird to say the least. But nothing has changed; life carries on as normal. If these characters were God’s PR people, there to spread the word, He might have chosen more credible people, and a lot more people for all that. So this couple with a baby came to the temple and went again and rumour has it that they have settled temporarily down there in Bethlehem. Life carries on in the Temple and in the local synagogues, focusing on Israel’s past, with the scrolls being brought out and read every Saturday. Life carries on as normal.

And then a camel train turns up in Jerusalem. Traders it might appear from the east. But no, these aren’t just ordinary traders, they appear philosophers, or astronomers or even astrologers; they are a bit weird. And they start asking around, Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”  What? This is odd on various levels. A child-king has been born? Has Herod being keeping something to himself? But no, he seems as surprised as the rest of us. But then everyone jumps to a major conclusion: “King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.” (v.3,4) If there is an unheralded ‘Coming One’ is this the one our teachers have been identifying in the scrolls all these years, the Messiah or Christ?

The second strange thing about this is that claim to have been led here by a star in the sky? What? A star or a meteorite? Did they use other things to confirm this because they certainly believe what they are saying because they wouldn’t have clearly traveled hundreds of miles to get here if they didn’t!  But then there is a third strange thing about this. They are talking about wanting to worship this child. Look, we don’t worship Herod and as good Jews we don’t ‘worship’ anyone other than God, the I AM of Moses’ day. So what are you saying? In the eyes of these strange men, is this child a ‘god’ like the Romans have or the Greeks had? Surely not in Jerusalem of all places???? This is the city on the heart of the ’I AM’ and He wouldn’t tolerate anything like that. So when you come to worship a child, who or what are you saying this child is? But no one wants to speak out loud the logical answer to that because even though we have the Immanuel prophecy, the thought of divinity being in our midst is too much.

I have written on this before and every time I struggle as I write because I believe to those living at the time, this was mysterious, and we lose the mystery in familiarity. But everything about the coming of this child is strange, but then if he is God (somehow?) then perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that God communicated this by His Holy Spirit, by Angels and now by strange (scientific?) seekers from the east.

But why all this ‘cloak and dagger’ stuff, this half hidden playing with us? Why not have a seriously scary meeting with Herod or the Chief Priest and scare them into submission as He tells them what He is doing? I was going to say that God doesn’t do scary but the angel scared the shepherds and we’ll see some more fear before we are finished with this Part. But mostly God doesn’t do scary, most of the time He wants to win our hearts with His love and He looks for honest responses, responses of the individual will, responses that are simple and open, responding to the wonder of His love, not His might. Relationships are built on love and that is what God wants.

These ‘wise men’, like Simeon, are those who have caught something in their spirits. God is up to something and they need to be in on the ground floor, that’s what their gut says, “I need to be there!”  In the case of both Simeon and the Magi, there is no letter from heaven to be read by the eyes and understood by the mind; no, this is down-in-my-spirit stuff that scares many of us. For some of us anything to do with the Spirit is scary because it sometimes challenges the intellect (As when Jesus said to Peter on the lake in the night, “Come”.)  If Simeon hadn’t responded to the Spirit, he would have missed seeing the baby. If the wise men had looked at their star and possibly other portents and said, “Yes, but it’s a long way,” they too would have missed seeing the baby. Would that have mattered? Not to the baby, maybe, but in their spirits, both Simeon and the Magi went away utterly satisfied, knowing who it as they had seen, and all around them were thousands of other people who couldn’t say that! There are some serious challenges here. Dare we face them?