Surprising visitors get your attention. At the start of Matthew’s second chapter, we are introduced to ‘wise men from the east’ who create a stir in the corridors of power in Jerusalem. Who were they and why did they show up?
The Magi were highly educated priest-sages from somewhere east of Israel. They could have had Babylonian connections, traveled in from Arabia, or have been Persian. Some of the early church fathers identify them as Arabian. But one thing is certain: they were all Gentiles.
Matthew’s Gospel provides us an account of the path taken by a group of Magi who came from the East in search of the new king they believed had been recently born. Ever since these Magi made their long journey they have captured the imagination of artists, poets, and musicians. They are the ones who tend to feature on the most expensive Christmas cards! They were clearly – even allowing for the exaggeration of Western art that depicts them traveling across the desert as though dressed for a coronation – several cuts above the social class of the shepherds who had earlier arrived at the manger.
The Magi, like all their pagan contemporaries, believed that cosmic forces and events governed, or at least influenced and were related to, human life and history. Of course, in some senses we still believe this notes Sinclair Ferguson, who writes:
“For example, the syndrome known as SAD is well recognized – some people are much more prone to depression in the dark days of winter than they are in the brighter and warmer days of summer. Often people who live in cold, dark, northern climes seem to have quite different ‘personalities’ from those who bask in year-round sunshine! The Magi’s worldview extend such inter-relations to a far greater degree. For them, physical phenomena, like the sight of a new object in the heavens, held deep significance for life on earth. This was also true on the terrestrial level – these same men might well have examined the entrails of an animal to discover auguries [omens] about the future.”
Despite all this, Matthew understood that God is well able to fulfil his own designs through the limited understanding and even intellectual misapprehensions of men and women. Thankfully, he still is.
The Magi had seen a new ‘star.’ We need not be sidetracked here into a discussion of the nature of the ‘star.’ For these Magi the sky was dominated by the sun and the moon. Other heavenly bodies simply fitted into the broad category of ‘star.’ They believed this new star meant that a new Jewish king had been born. Thus, they set out on a journey to Judea.
They arrived late, having lost their way once – with almost disastrous results. Indeed by the time they arrived in Bethlehem the peak of the registration period seems to have passed; they found Mary and her infant son no longer in the stable but in the house.
Whatever clues the Magi saw in this new star they felt themselves caught up in an event of great significance. When eventually ‘they saw the child with Mary his mother… they fell down and worshiped him’ (Matt. 2:11).
The Magi’s Christmas began with a new celestial phenomenon – a star had recently appeared that attracted their attention. They followed its movements across the sky until they eventually reached their destination. But en routethey had taken a wrong turn.
One of the most fascinating elements in this story is that the Magi lost their way at a crucial point by assuming they could find their own way! They returned to the right way again only when they were pointed by the Scriptures to the place where the King was to be born.
That is just as important a lesson for us to learn as it was for the Magi. If we are ever to understand Christmas, we need more than a providential event like a star; we need a book – one particular Book.
Many will see signs or pointers to Messiah, but few follow them. It always seems to be that way. Many people know about the message the Bible contains. They experience evidences of God’s working in their lives, sometimes through joy, at other times through sorrow. There is a tug at the heart – however vague at first it seems to be. Yet at the end of the day, only some respond and seek Christ. We all have access to the same Book; we all experience the pressure of God upon our lives; but not all search for and find Christ. What about you? Have you found Christ?
I invite you to join us this coming Lord’s Day as we see those who find the Christ and those who don’t from Matthew 2:1-12. The holidays are a wonderful time to invite friends and family to come along with you to find Christ. Won’t you come? Will you bring someone along? Come and celebrate with us as we participate in covenant baptism this Lord’s Day.