Cast of characters - The wise men
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 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.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 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. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 ” ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’ ”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Every Christmas pageant has them. The three wise men (or three kings) kneeling before the baby Jesus to present their gifts. A lovely picture, and what a shock when we grow up and find out that it isn't historically accurate. But, they are part of the story and so I am exercising dramatic license and including them, even though they probably didn't show up until Jesus was between the ages of one and two.
So, just who were the magi? I was just going to call them a bunch of really smart guys, but as Shel pointed out in his comment on my previous post, they were most likely Iranian Zoroastrian magi or priests. John MacArthur has a fascinating article about who the Magi were, I'd really encourage you to check it out. Anything I could say about them and their importance pales in the face of the history he delves into and the comparisons he draws. These weren't just random smart guys searching for Jesus, they were quite literally king-makers.
In my last post we had the shepherds. The most ordinary of the ordinary. And in stark contrast to them arrive the Magi. The intellectuals. The ones who put store in studying and amassing knowledge. The poor followed by the powerful. The insignificant and the mighty. Herders of animals and advisors to kings. And both bowed down and worshiped one whom they recognized as King.
Throughout the ages various movements have tried to co-opt God, to make him the God of the rich, or the God of the poor. They've done so to the extremes of almost saying God is ONLY the God of the rich (Poor? You don't have enough faith) or ONLY the God of the poor (Rich? Well, there's that whole 'easier for a camel to pass through a needle's eye than for you to get into heaven' thing). But here at the inception, when God became flesh, it didn't matter who was rich and who was poor. It didn't matter what the social standing was or how much power they had. Shepherds and Magi alike bowed their knees and worshiped.
It gives me hope, as I look at our world today. I look at the poor and I look at the powerful and in each of us there is that potential to come to the defining moment where we stand within the presence of one greater than ourselves, and poor and powerful alike we all have the choice to kneel in reverence and worship. Political power plays pale when one realizes that eventually every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.