Saturday, January 9, 2016

"Wise Men"

Every Epiphany, we remember the arrival of the Magi, those whom we call "Wise Men." We honor their craving for wisdom, for knowledge, and their search for the Messiah. This past week I was talking with someone who reminded me of that wonderful saying, "Wise men still seem Him." God calls each of us to seek the wisdom the Lord offers. God wants us to want salvation like we want air, to long for him like a thirsty man yearns for water. It was this kind of longing that led the Magi to Bethlehem.

There has been some debate as to the identity of the magi who sought Jesus. The idea that there were three of them only comes from the fact that there were three gifts. Haven't you ever given a gift to someone and them the friend who forgot to bring a present chimed in and said, "Oh, that's from me too?" Maybe it was the same with them. We don't actually know how many there were, only that there were gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Who were these Wise Men? According to legend, they were named Gaspar, Balthazar, and Melchior. But we don’t really know what they were really called. Some depict them as kings, yet there is no reference in the Bible to mark them as royalty. It doesn’t even make sense that they would have traveled in the stereotypical wealthy garments, because that would mark them out as targets for bandits. No, they likely looked like ordinary travelers. Rather than lords of their own retinue, they probably attached themselves to a merchant caravan as most long-distance travelers did, for safety.

Some have depicted these Wise Men as representing the peoples of three different continents: one black, one white, and one Asian. This is a very culturally inclusive picture, but not very likely that they came from three places and converged in Jerusalem. Others have theorized that these Wise Men were from China or Arabia. But personally, I’m most convinced that the Magi, or magicians, were descendants of a secret sect of magicians from Babylon. According to John MacArthur:

We learn from the book of Daniel that the magi were among the highest-ranking officials in Babylon. Because the Lord gave Daniel the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream-which none of the other court seers was able to do-Daniel was appointed as “ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon” (Dan. 2:48). Because of his great wisdom and because he had successfully pleaded for the lives of the wise men who had failed to interpret the king’s dream (Dan. 2:24), Daniel came to be highly regarded among the magi. The plot against Daniel that caused him to be thrown into the lions’ den was fomented by the jealous satraps and the other commissioners, not the magi (Dan. 6:4–9).

Because of Daniel’s high position and great respect among them, it seems certain that the magi learned much from that prophet about the one true God, the God of Israel, and about His will and plans for His people through the coming glorious King. Because many Jews remained in Babylon after the Exile and intermarried with the people of the east, it is likely that Jewish messianic influence remained strong in that region even until New Testament times.[i]

These were the Magi—the wizards—of the day. The “wizards” of our day are fictitious characters like Obi Wan Kenobi, Gandalf, and Dumbledore. But wizards really did, and do, exist. Far from being people who wield The Force like a weapon, flick-and-swish their wands, or shine beams of light from their staffs, wizards are simply people of other religions who practice different kinds of faith. To us they seem exotic, but in reality they are simply wise men and women who are seeking God in their own way. They are the Magi. Dumbledore once said, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light.”[ii] These Magi found themselves in dark times, and when they saw the star, they decided to follow the light.

Now, let me tell you something that is hard for a lot of Christians to swallow. These Magi, these “Wise Men” were not Jews, and they weren’t Christians. They were people of other faiths, who saw the light and followed it. Yes, people from other religions can see the light of God and follow it too. John says of Jesus, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”[iii] This light draws all people to Himself, giving them God’s generous love. There’s no indication that these Magi ever became Christians—they simply experienced God’s greatness, and left it to go back home. Yet every year we celebrate the faith of these “righteous pagans.”

Now, let me ask you—what would have happened if the Wise Men had knocked on the door of Joseph and Mary’s house, and the holy family had turned them away? What if they had done what the innkeeper had done to them two years prior and said, “No room?” What if they had looked at the wizards’ foreign dress, their travel-worn clothing, or heard their exotic speech and been afraid to welcome them? Not only would they have missed the blessings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—they would have missed the blessing of these Wise Men themselves. You see, “Wise Men still seek Him,” but one wise Man (Jesus) also said, “Knock, and the door shall be opened.”[iv]

Today, I hope you’ll understand that God wants EVERYBODY to come to Him. Ephesians 3:6b says, “The Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” The Gentiles are the world. The Gentiles are everyone. Today I pray that you’ll see Him, and that you’ll receive the world when it knocks trying to find Him.

[i] MacArthur, John F.  “How Did the Magi Know About Jesus?”  Grace To You:  January 2, 2016.
[iii] John 1:5 ESV
[iv] Matthew 7:7

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