7. Threads (2)

The Impossibilities of God in a Broken World, the story of Christmas, Meditations:

7. Threads (2)

Lk 2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.

Mt 2:1  during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem

 Brief recap: In the previous study I suggested that we find in the Christmas accounts of Matthew and Luke’s Gospels, threads coming together to form a tapestry, a tableau, a montage, a picture that forms in our memories. We considered the ‘thread’ of Caesar Augustus and where that led, and I said we would go on to consider the ‘thread’ of the Wise Men.  I also majored on consequences and pondered on how much God might be involved in the initiating actions, as well as where they might lead.

Similarities and Differences: Now we are going to notice both similarities and major differences between these two ‘threads’, that of Caesar and that of the Wise Men. Both start off a long way away, Caesar no doubt in Rome and the Wise Men somewhere in the direction of Babylon, and both have consequences, but that is where the similarities end. Caesar’s activity was not personal, he never had any contact with Mary and Joseph and would never have known of their existence. The Wise Men, as we well know, actually travel to Bethlehem where they meet and bless the little family. And that is the final big difference. Caesar, by his actions, without any thought of this little family, caused them hardship. How much easier it would have been for Mary if they had been able to stay in Nazareth and have her baby at home. The Wise Men on the other hand bless the family with material provision which we will come to later. Having said they brought a blessing, we should also note that they brought trouble with them by going (innocently) to Jerusalem and enquiring about the birth of a new king. That upset Herod the present local king, and in sending them off to Bethlehem to look for the child, he charged them, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Mt 2:8)

Wise men? But who are these ‘Wise Men’? That is what they are called in the text: “About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived.” (Mt 2:1 NLT) but other versions have, Magi from the east came,” (NIV) although they do add a footnote, ‘traditionally wise men’. In the original Greek the word is magoi from which the Latin magi is derived and which is incorporated into some modern versions. I suggested from the area of Babylon earlier but some think the land of the Medes and Persians in the area of modern Iran. Their origins are a little speculative and some suggest a priestly caste, interested in religion but also in various loosely related fields, of which astronomy or even possibly astrology came in.

Why? So many ‘why’ questions here. Why were they there? In the explanation of why they were in Jerusalem they 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.” (Mt 2:2) We saw his star???? Mystery? Three gifts equals three wise men? Could be, but possibly unlikely. Mysterious names given – Melchior, Balthasar and Caspar – but mythical with no scriptural foundation. There is one other slightly worrying suggestion, sometimes made, that magi is linked to magician, one who practices magic, which takes us into occult fields possibly. Thus there is a mystery here that is as deep as the mysterious Melchizedek who Abraham met who, again, is shrouded in mystery and yet brought a blessing to Abraham (see Heb 7:1-3, Gen 14:18-20) around whom the writer to the Hebrews formulated a theology. But even less is known about these ‘Wise Men’ or ‘Magi’ but one thing is very clear: they have got very specific directions – a king has just been born in Israel and they have come to worship him. Wow! Not just to bow down before a sovereign but to worship him, worship a baby! This takes this to a completely new level. Where did all this come from? We just don’t know. Although it doesn’t say it specifically, the answer has got to be God!

Untidy Scenarios: We do tend to like to have everything neatly packaged when it comes to the Bible and unclear areas worry preachers and theologians alike, but we’ve already had to acknowledge that we don’t know why Caesar kicked off in the way he did – unless God was behind it – and we are having to acknowledge yet again, we are adrift without a paddle in respect of the Wise Men. But you know this desire for certainty is a sign of insecurity. I have observed that scientists pontificate about issues of science as if there are no grounds for doubt, but that is far from the truth, and we find it in the realms of theology too.  So it is that we come to the Christmas story year after year and we either give little thought to some of these incredibly strange things, or just simply duck away and pretend they are not strange – but they are!

Impossibilities? I’ve titled this series, ‘Impossibilities of God’ because some of the events are simply impossible to the human mind, impossible in the case of Elizabeth conceiving past the menopause, and certainly Mary conceiving without human male help. Those were practical impossibilities but now we are coming across things that are impossible to understand because we have not been told how God did them, but in each case the end product is startling, dramatic and amazing. Elizabeth bearing John was amazing. Mary bearing Jesus was incredible. The Wise Men turning up from who knows where with means of support for the coming years, is dramatic.

Sorry, we haven’t mentioned that have we? Gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold needs little explanation. Frankincense literally means pure incense, and myrrh was a perfume. The fact is that they were all valuable and although commentators so often try to bring significance to each of them, the basic truth is that each of them were very costly and could be traded in for money that would keep them going, at least in the next few years when they had to flee down to Egypt.   These Wise Men thus come acclaiming the newly born king, declare he is worthy of worship, and bring resources that will enable the family to travel without worry of future provisions. Remarkable! A king, more than a king, and one who we will help support for the days ahead. Yes, amazing!

Threads coming together: But here is the point I have been trying to make. God sees what is coming. He wants to bring His Son to earth in disguise and in such humility that he will not be a threat. Enter Mary and Joseph. He wants to set up a forerunner for the future ministry of His Son. Enter Zechariah and Elizabeth six months earlier. He wants His Son to be born in Bethlehem, to be associated with King David. Enter Caesar Augustus miles away. He needs to set up a mobile bank for the family guarding His Son. Enter the Wise Men.

People, different sorts of people, the great and the ordinary, all unknowingly working together as part of the great plan.  I doubt if one of them saw themselves like that, but that is what it was, threads coming together to bring about the end product which, if it was in a modern spy drama, would produce the cryptic message, “The package has been delivered,” or if it was a space-rover might have brought to the world, “The beagle has landed!”  The perfect has arrived on this imperfect world. From our perspective the details are confusing and somewhat chaotic, but only because we don’t have God’s view. From His position, it is all going to plan. OK, let’s celebrate! Which leads us on to tomorrow’s study.

Advertisements

6. Threads

The Impossibilities of God in a Broken World, the story of Christmas, Meditations:

6. Threads

Lk 2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.

Mt 2:1  during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem

International: Perhaps one of the things we miss in the Christmas story is the truly international flavour that is there in it.  There were things going on that were not in Israel that would have a real impact on the main players of this wonderful little story. As we have seen so far things have been happening in Israel, first in the Temple as Zachariah encounters the angel, and then further north in Nazareth as Mary encounters an angel and Joseph gets a dream. Meanwhile, in the background so to speak, something is happening of mind-blowing proportions, something that still leaves us wondering, was this just the vanity of man on his own or was God in the background nudging this vain emperor into action. Whatever it was, we find in the Christmas accounts of Matthew and Luke’s Gospels, threads coming together to form a tapestry, a tableau, a montage, a picture that used to appear on Christmas cards in so many forms.

Consequences: Whichever it was, these actions of men from afar, they had consequences. We live in a world where there are consequences, one thing following on from another. In modern chaos theory the butterfly effect, put most simply, means that a small change in one place can cause a greater changer somewhere else. Just why Caesar Augustus decided to call that a census should be taken across the whole of the Roman Empire is uncertain. We may assume it was pride of an arrogant dictator who liked boasting about how big the Empire was. However, it is said that in his latter years he became a great administrator and so, perhaps to overcome a sense of chaos in the administration of the Empire, he called for a census. The truth is that we just don’t know but decisions by such ‘top men’ can often have far reaching consequences for the ‘small people’.

Fulfilment: As far as the Christmas story is concerned it simply meant that Mic 5:2 would be fulfilled, that Bethlehem would be the place where the Messiah, the Christ, was born, a “ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” At the time there was probably no one taking in the significance of this. Perhaps it would not be until after he was born and the Wise Men turn up that the scribes would observe, In Bethlehem in Judea …for this is what the prophet has written.” (Mt 2:5) So the consequence of this emperor’s whim was, “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born.” (Lk 2:4-6) It was left to Matthew who so often picks up on prophetic significance to make the link; Luke simply records what actually happened.

The Hand of God? I couldn’t help wondering earlier if it was God who nudged Caesar to call for a census, God who knows what His prophets have declared in bygone centuries, and what the scribes down through the years have spotted, God who wants to give any onlooker with an open heart, a heads-up of what He is doing. Some of us are a bit chary of attributing the actions of pagans to the moving of God, but Scripture is not so wary. Centuries before the event, probably somewhere between 700 and 680BC Isaiah had prophesied and written and in the midst of his writings, apparently without any present significance we read, speaking of the Lord, “who says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd  and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, ‘Let it be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘Let its foundations be laid.” (Isa 44:28)

It is left to one of the scribes recording the history of 2 Chronicles, to conclude the book by speaking of how Jeremiah’s word about the restoration of Jerusalem and Israel would follow the Exile, was fulfilled and we find: “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfil the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing: ‘This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: ‘“The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up, and may the Lord their God be with them.” (2 Chron 36:22,23) Can you imagine that king, egged on by the faithfulness of Daniel in the court in Babylon, perusing the documents, the scrolls that had been taken decades before from Jerusalem, and he comes across the Isaiah prophecy and is astounded to find his name there, and the Spirit convicts him and he sees it is his role to send Israel back to their land to start rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. Oh yes, God speaks to pagans!

Magi: Meanwhile, sometime during the time of Mary’s impending confinement, possibly nearly a thousand miles away, some other interesting characters are starting to talk together, but in order not to reduce our reflections upon them down to an unworthy brevity, we will consider them in the next study – yet they very clearly are ‘distant threads’ worthy of our consideration.

Life in General: There is a big lesson in the midst of all this speculation and it goes back to what we were saying earlier. Yes, we live in a world of consequences. The lives we live we live because of what has happened before us. When we come to national histories there is always a mixture of good and bad. This is not the place to give a history lesson but few countries fare well under the microscope of history because ultimately every history is a history of sinful, fallen men. Most of us have things about which we can feel proud about our nationhood, but the wise man does not elevate one nation above another for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God!

Stuck with the Consequences? Some of us may feel bad about our background. Our histories may be littered with misdeeds, wrong-doings, unfaithfulness, adultery, out of wedlock children, and so on. Some of these histories may be very recent and that leaves us feeling damaged. Do we have to remain like that? No, every day is a new day with God and we are what He wants to make us and that is always something more glorious than before.  Perhaps we can look back on miscarriages of justice and other unfairness, of unkind words spoken over us, of situations that have come about because of the thoughtless action of ‘top people’ that have left us feeling abandoned, or feeling we are on our own, wondering what tomorrow will hold. Our answers are found in the Christmas story and particularly in the things on which we have been reflecting today.

A Surreal World? There may be a variety of reasons why we are where we are today, and we may never know what they all are. There is only one stable factor in the bizarre equations of life – God. He was certainly the prime cause of Mary being pregnant; whether He was the direct cause of them ending up having to travel at a most inconvenient time to Bethlehem, we are not sure – but it feels like it! No doubt for them it felt a somewhat surreal world as they are being carried along by events beyond their control, and that is a not uncommon feeling. Yet the truth is, as we know, this is the plan of God and it is just part of His plan to redeem the world. That is a staggeringly big plan and they feel so small – but they are the ones bringing it into being, even if they do not realise it.

And that is you and me again. We have been called and we now call ourselves Christians, children of God. We often feel small and insignificant, we often feel we are the beck and call of circumstances beyond our control. and we are left wondering about our significance. Yet today, your life or mine may impact others, today we may be the fluttering butterfly wings of chaos theory that cause, along the way, major events to be unfurled. Who knows the effect our words will have? Who knows what that effect will have… will have… will have. Small players? Not in God’s economy. That is what this part of the Christmas story leads us to! It may be a fallen world and it may appear chaotic sometimes from our viewpoint, but the God of the impossible is working and weaving His will into our everyday events to redeem them. Hallelujah!

9. Not our People

Nine Lessons of Christmas Meditations: 9. Not our People

Reading 8: Matthew 2:1–12

Matthew 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.”

Context: The leader-heading for these verses reads, “The wise men are led by star to Jesus”. That is nice and simple, but I wonder how many of us ever stop and wonder why these ‘wise men’ or Magi turned up within a couple of months of Jesus’ birth while they are still at Bethlehem?  And even more when we consider the overall intention of these readings – “the development of the loving purposes of God” – and that seen in the light of the big picture concerning the failure of mankind, and God’s plan to redeem us, how does this little episode fit in all that?

The Reading: Jesus has been born in Bethlehem in the days of King Herod (v.1) and these Magi or wise men arrive in Jerusalem enquiring where the newly born king of the Jews is, that their star had led them to (v.2). Herod is clueless (v.3) but, assuming this refers to the long-awaited Messiah, he asks the religious leaders what indications there are of where he would be born (v.4). No problem Micah said it would be Bethlehem (v.5,6). Herod enquires of the Magi and sends them to Bethlehem to check it out and return and tell him (v.7,8). This they do, continuing to follow their star, and there they find Jesus now residing temporarily (presumably) in a house with his parents, (v.9,10) and they bow and worship him and present him with costly gifts (v.10,11) and then, being warned against Herod in a dream, they leave for home avoiding Jerusalem (v.12). An amazing story.

Lessons: Again an historical narrative that we must let speak to us, but it is a narrative that is full of question marks – and we’re not given answers. Who really were these men? Were there just three of them – we assume that because of three gifts? How had they really been led here to Israel? What was this star and how did it seem to be so specifically over the place where they were? Why did they leave them with these gifts? What did the little family do with them? To where did these ‘wise men’ return?

Mystery does not mean blind faith: Confronting these questions – and lack of answers (we may speculate but that is all it will be) the sceptic might say, ‘See, so much of this Christian faith stuff is blind faith!’ Well, no, blind faith suggests you can see nothing. This story says some unknown men turned up with presents, partly guided by prophetic scriptures. It happened, no problem and it was wonderful. The Bible doesn’t give us every answer to the questions we have but it gives sufficient answers to establish a well-founded faith. There IS so much here that does not have questions over it.

Guidance may come in a variety of ways: In these few verses there are three forms of guidance given. First there is the star over which still hangs a mystery, but what we can say is that somehow these men had an inner certainty that it was leading them – and they homed in on the right destination. Where did that certainty come form? May I suggest God.  Second, there were the prophetic scriptures, the word of God, and again God may speak in a variety of ways to us through His word. Third, there was a dream and the Bible indicates this is not an unusual way He communicates.

Believers may not be “our kind of people”. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were very picky about how people should behave and if they didn’t conform, they were looked down on by these religious snobs. These ‘wise men’ were not Jews and I am sure there would have been some mumbling behind closed doors about them and the collective wisdom was probably, “Well they are not our people but they seem to have some kind of mystic guidance. Let them go and see where it sends them and then we can decide what to do about it.”  I cited the other day how some of the British Royal family didn’t take to Billy Graham when he first arrived in the 1950’s.  I’m sure there would have been some more conservative elements of the Church in the USA who was not happy about the Jesus Movement back near the end of the last century, others unhappy about John Wimber, others unhappy about ‘leaders’ of the ‘charismatic movement’ and even more about the goings on of the ‘Toronto Blessing’. And so it goes on through the Christian world; we keep getting confronted by those who are not ‘our people’. The trouble is that God doesn’t seem to have the same social (or spiritual) boundaries that we have!

A God of Provision:  Those gifts. They were expensive but they were the currency of the day across borders. Today we have to exchange currency. Then they had expensive products that could be sold for the local currency. That’s what these gifts were. They were God’s method of providing for the material needs of this little family. No doubt Joseph, as a carpenter, found local jobs to do to earn money but, although they don’t know it yet, they are going to have to flee to Egypt, and that means, if it was us, we’d go to the bank and get out some foreign currency, but the Wise Men were their ‘bank’. Wonderful! Now you couldn’t have seen that coming! And that’s what it is like so often when God provides:  it comes but you could never have guessed it was coming or rather from where it was going to come. Wonderful, but faith-stretching sometimes!

It is an amazing part of this story. Yes, it may have question marks over it, but the lessons ring out loud and clear for anyone who has ears to hear. May that be you and me.

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?

25. Call to Worship

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.25

25. A Call to Worship

Matt 2:1-2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, 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.”

To maintain our chronological flow of this story, we move now from Luke to Matthew’s account of what happened. In meditations 13 to 15 we saw what had happened to Joseph as recorded at the end of Matthew, chapter 1. Now the child has been born and it is probable that at least a couple of months have passed since then. The family are still living in Bethlehem in Judea which is about 5 miles south of Jerusalem. No reasons are given why they were still there, but when later, they flee to Egypt to fulfil prophecy, it is understandable why they stayed in the south of the country rather than returning up north.

While they are still in Bethlehem, some Magi, or wise astronomers from the East, came to Jerusalem seeking one who has been born (so they arrive after) who is king of the Jews. We’re not told how they got their revelation, beyond the fact that they followed a star (a meteorite perhaps?) which seemed to lead them to Israel. Jerusalem was the capital and so they assumed this is where the new king was born.

Now it’s at this point we have to point out how we so often take for granted things we’ve heard many times before. If you have been to carol services or listened to them on the radio, or watched them on TV, or even attended Nativity plays at your child’s school, you will no doubt have heard many times, We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him, and have come to take those words for granted. Yet they say something quite incredible. You don’t normally worship kings. Yes, you may honour them and kneel before them acknowledging their majesty, but you don’t worship them.

To worship means to bow down in adoration, acknowledging divine greatness – and that’s what these men say they have come to do! The ‘East’ probably means Mesopotamia, an area where civilisation had existed for millennia, and from where Abraham had originally come, an area known for its wise seers, mystics who looked beyond the material world. These men have probably travelled a long way because something in their thinking, their seeking, their mysticism, tells them that one is about to be born who is worthy of their adoration and worship.

In all the accounts so far, we’ve seen a gradual increase in revelation about this child. The angels, who came to Mary and Joseph, indicated something of his special role, and Simeon added to that. Now we find some non-Jews arriving on the scene, sent by how we do not know, and declaring that the child is a king but more than that, one worthy of worship.

I wonder if at the carol services I referred to above, you have ever heard the Isaiah prophecy referring to this coming child: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isa 9:6).  Again, look at these words with new eyes: the child will be called Mighty God, Everlasting Father!  This child is far more than an earthly king. This baby is God in disguise!  No wonder these men say they’ve come to worship him.  Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth and Simeon have all caught something of the wonder of this baby, but it takes some strange men from a far country to make it clear.  This is like a sign post going up now: “This baby is God. Bow down in worship!”  If you responded to the call yesterday, this is your next significant point of call, to worship the One who has come, because he is God in disguise.  It takes wise men to see this truth, because ordinary people just see a baby.  Are you wise today?

7. Worship?

SON OF GOD MEDITATIONS 7 of 20

Matt 2:1,11 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came…. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.

When it comes to the Magi or “Wise Men”, as they are often traditionally called, Christians sometimes feel rather awkward. These were not Hebrew prophets who, even though often rejected by kings, princes and people alike, nevertheless held some measure of respectability in the thinking of Israel. In the original Greek the word for these men is ‘magoi’ from which comes the Latin ‘magi’, but it all comes from an Iranian original, referring possibly to a priestly caste or tribe among the Medes and Persians, who appeared to have skills in studying the stars – with religious connections. They were also skilled in philosophy, medicine and natural science. However, whatever we say is really just speculation and we cannot be definite because we simply can’t be sure. What we do know is that they homed in on Jerusalem, and when they arrived they 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.” (v.2)

Now this is interesting at two levels, the first, as I say, somewhat uncomfortable for Christians who adhere to the Bible’s teaching against spiritism and soothsaying, is that these men tell us they were guided by a star. Now again, there has been much speculation as to whether this was a comet, but nevertheless it seems to be what most of us would call superstition. The only trouble about that, is that it gets them to Jerusalem within a few months or so of Jesus having been born in nearby Bethlehem! Is it possible that somehow these men from the east did actually get guidance from God through the means that was most familiar to them – watching the solar system? Was God making the point that He speaks to the peoples of all nations, however weird their background? (This is not to say that they knew God as we might hope or that they knew anything about salvation!)

The second, and for our purposes far more important issue, is their attitude towards the one they were looking for. First of all, they describe him as ‘king of the Jews’. Now that is tricky, again on two levels. The first is that no one else in Judea seems to be aware of any expected king, for the kings had died out with the Exile, even though the name had been attached to the role of governor, so Herod was loosely called a king. Kings, in reality, seem a distance past experience for Israel, especially now they are under the rule of Rome. However, the Messiah did seem, in some prophecies at least, to be a ruler, so it is just faintly possible that they are referring the once-expected Jewish Messiah. But that takes us to the second level, which for some is very much more difficult. These wise men – who one must suppose to have a certain level of wealth, both from their ability to travel such a distance and to bring the gifts they brought – have come to worship! Yes, that is they key and crucial issue at the heart of all that is going on here.

This leads us on to think about who you worship. Well yes, there were foreign kings in the past who had demanded worship as they claimed divinity, but within Israel such a thing would have been abhorred, even in this time of low spirituality. No, you only worship a god. The unpalatable truth for the sceptic is that these men from the east believed that they were coming to find divinity. Now it is possible that they had in mind the sort of lesser ‘god’ that is found in the East, but whatever else, this ‘fits’ in with all else that the Gospels show us of Jesus. It is almost like a modern piece of detective fiction, where clues are being dropped along the way, all pointing in the same direction. There are a number of very specific references to Jesus’ divinity, but there are also far more what we might call ‘lesser clues’ that believers accept whole-heartedly, and which seekers would do well to add to the store of pointers towards the Son of God.

What this does suggest to us is that true seekers will find God. As a general principle, the Lord warned Israel, that even if they turned away from Him and ended up in exile, “if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut 4:29). As a principle it must apply to all peoples in the world: if you are wholehearted in seeking God, you will find Him. These ‘Magi’ were clearly wholehearted and their hearts told them that this baby they were seeking, was worthy of their worship. He was far more than a mere prophet, he was far more than a mere king, he was far more than a mere deliverer from the oppressors who ruled over Israel, he was someone who merited them bowing down before him in adoration – for that is what worship really is. These Magi are the first Gentiles in the birth accounts surrounding Jesus to come to him, acknowledging something of his greatness. The source for that in these men may appear dubious to some of us, but it suggests that even believers who are not part of orthodoxy can hear from God!

That raises another channel of thought, for I am convinced that God speaks to every single human being before their time comes to leave this earth, and when you start listening to people when they open up their lives, you find that many people have premonitions or thoughts about God in their early years, outside of church, which I would suggest may well have been them hearing God, even if in a limited way, but without realising it. If you are a seeker, reading these meditations because you keep wondering about the truth about Jesus, are you doing it I wonder, because, without realising it, you are getting a nudge from heaven? Perhaps you shouldn’t write off some of the wonderings that you’ve had. The ‘wise men’ didn’t and they had the privilege of seeing a baby who would become the most influential man who has ever walked the earth. Yes, perhaps your thoughts and wonderings are a bit baby-like and need to develop and grow up, but that’s what these studies are for, to help you do that.