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The Journey of the Magi Extended Version
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THE JOURNEY OF THE MAGI (Extended Version)
The story of the wise men (Magi), who followed a star and gave gifts to Jesus, has generated much speculation and research over the centuries – especially concerning what the star was, and who the wise men were.
SO, who were the Magi?
The Magi of the east were wise men who gave counsel to kings. They can be traced back to the times of the Babylonian and the Persian Empires. They were often associated with the religion of Zoroastrianism, as well as with astrology and the magic arts. But, there was a tradition that followed in the footsteps of the prophet Daniel. Between 605 BC and 586 BC the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar subjugated Israel, exiled thousands to Babylon – including Daniel – and eventually had Jerusalem burned and its walls and temple dismantled, because of rebellion. Daniel served in the Kings court, and became influential as one of the wise men, because God was with him.
After the Babylonian Empire was defeated by the Medes and Persians (538 BC), the descendants of these exiles were given opportunities to return to Israel to rebuild the Temple (Zerubbabel), and later the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah). Many decided to go home, but many others – including Daniel – stayed behind. The Magi in the Christmas story, were probably descendants of the exiled Jews who stayed in Babylon, because they showed some knowledge of Jewish traditions and beliefs. That is why they interpreted the signs in the heavens as the announcement of a Jewish King (Messiah).
If these Magi were Jews, they would not have looked at the stars through astrological eyes – even though they did see signs – because this is forbidden in scripture. There is a big difference between recognising signs that God has written into our mathematically precise universe, and believing in an elaborate scheme that links our daily lives to the movements of the stars and planets. Besides, the information they gleaned only got them as far as Jerusalem anyway. It was a prophecy from the scriptures that pointed them to the town of Bethlehem, and it was the testimony of some towns-people that lead them to the child.
SO, what can we learn from the journey of the Magi?
Firstly, they were diligent seekers of the truth.
The Magi were trained to be diligent observers, and to keep meticulous records of everything they saw. They had an eye for detail which made them sensitive to any patterns and anomalies that arose in the data they were continually collecting. The Magi, like most people of their time, did not question the existence of God, so the real question becomes “Which God did they believe in?” The limited evidence of Matthew’s gospel indicates that they were Jews who looked at the stars for signs and looked to the Bible for clues. Thus, their understanding of God – the creator and sustainer of the universe, who has always been there – encouraged them to look for order and purpose in everything; and their knowledge of the scriptures gave them the clues they needed to understand what they were looking at. Psalm 53 declares that only a fool could look at the creation and say “There is no God.” Psalm 8 testifies to the unmistakeable fingerprints of the Creator God on the world and the universe, and reminds us how small we are compared to Him.
The Magi combined their knowledge of the stars and their knowledge of the scriptures, and came to the conclusion that a new King (Messiah) had been born in Israel. But, there was only one way for them to confirm their findings; they had to take the long journey to Jerusalem.
Secondly, they were willing to follow the evidence, and go wherever it leads.
The long journey to Jerusalem took many months to complete, but the Magi were determined to find this new king. They sought an audience with King Herod, and asked him about the child – probably assuming it was his son – but he didn’t have a clue. Disturbed by the news, Herod consulted his scribes to see if they could shed any light on the subject. They were just as clueless, until one scribe remembered that the prophet Micah (750 BC) had named Bethlehem as the birthplace of a new king (Messiah) . The scribes, who had devoted their lives to studying and memorising the scriptures, did not understand the significance of what they knew until someone asked the right questions.
Herod pretended to be pleased by the news. He encouraged the Magi to go and look for the child, and report back to him if they found him. Like some modern day sceptics, Herod wanted to destroy the truth because it threatened his way of life. The Magi, on the other hand, were willing to listen to this new information, and went where the evidence from the Bible pointed.
The Bible has stood the test of time, and deserves our respect – whether we want to believe everything it says or not. It has been attacked, banned, and even burned over the centuries because there are many vested interests – religious and non-religious – who don’t want you to read it for yourself. Some, like King Herod of old, oppose its message because it does not fit in with how they want to live their lives. Others, like the Magi, are willing to change direction and allow its message to lead them to the Lord. Today, we can read the Bible in English because men and women risked their lives to get it translated into the language of the ordinary people. I dare you to read it for yourself – beginning with John’s Gospel.
Thirdly, they were willing to listen to the personal testimonies of others.
When the Magi arrived in Bethlehem, the next challenge was to find the right child. Fortunately, Jesus had been born for over a year, and the strange circumstances surrounding His birth were common knowledge, so there wasn’t any shortage of testimonies. Finding the child turned out to be relatively simple. We base a large portion of our lives on the testimonies of people we trust because it is impossible to know or checkout everything. Sometimes that trust is misplaced, or undeserved, but the benefits of a trustworthy testimony can make our lives so much simpler.
Fourthly, they recognised who Jesus was and worshipped Him.
When these wise men – who had devoted much of their lives to studying the stars and looking up – found the toddler, their automatic response was to bow their heads in worship. When they looked into the eyes of Jesus they realised that He was the One they’d been looking for, their whole life. What the stars had announced, and the prophets had proclaimed, had now become real.
We can see the creation and believe in God. We can read the scriptures and believe the things they teach about God. We can even believe the testimony of those who say they know Him. But, believing all these things is no substitute for getting to know Him ourselves. After their encounter with Jesus, God spoke to them in a dream and warned them about Herod’s true intentions. God was no longer distant or silent. Like many before, and since, they discovered what it means to walk with God.
The journey of the Magi began as a fact finding tour and ended with a personal encounter with the Saviour of the world. They were in the right place at the right time because they followed the evidence, listened to the testimonies, and pursued the truth wherever it could be found. They found the One who would later say, ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father, except through Me.” They were never the same again.
What about you? Are you willing to follow the evidence, listen to people’s testimonies and seek the Lord for yourself? Wise men and women still seek Him and find Him, today.
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Reader Count & Comments
30 Dec 2014
Thanks for sharing this enlightening article about the Magi. Was Jesus really about a year old when they found Him? I thought the family had to flee to Egypt to get away from Herod's onslaught of the innocents.
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