Sunday, January 11, 2015

Setting the record straight

Image courtesy of Free Bible Bible Images


Special-Tea: Read Matthew 2:1–18

God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. – 1 John 5:11–12 NKJV

“I, Jesus, … am the Bright and Morning Star.” – Revelation 22:16 NKJV

The more I study the Christmas story, the more I see where tradition has trumped the Word.

Take, for example, the Magi, whose kingly figures are incorporated into Nativity sets as soon as they’re set out.

When I was growing up, the three wise men weren’t added until January 6, when the church celebrates the feast of the Epiphany. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were no longer in the stable. They were in a house (verse 11). Biblical scholars estimate Jesus was possibly two years old.

Unless you read the Word, you can get the story wrong. As a writer, I cannot stand to get a story wrong. So let’s examine this part of the Christmas story—the Magi and the king.

First, the wise men were not kings. They were high ranking members of an Eastern priestly class that originated in ancient Media and Persia who studied the stars, their alignment and what that alignment meant to men on earth. They served kings, but they themselves were not kings.

Their homeland likely was Babylon—the land from which God called Abraham, the land where the Israelites were taken into exile, the land where the Jewish prophet Daniel served high in the government, the land where the descendants of those Jews who didn’t return to their homeland after the exile still lived.

So the Magi were not unfamiliar with Hebrew culture.

In the months before the blazing star appeared, the Magi noticed a rare phenomenon in the sky: Two wandering stars appeared in the constellation Pisces, which represented the Hebrew nation. These moving stars were the planets Saturn, which designated the capital city of Jerusalem to the Hebrews, and Jupiter, which denoted royalty to the Hebrews (A Scientific Approach to Biblical Mysteries). This alignment occurred three times.

The Magi knew what this meant: A Hebrew king was to be born.

They did not follow the blazing star, which some believe was a nova (an exploding star), all the way from Babylon. If indeed the star had led them, they wouldn’t have had to stop in Jerusalem to ask for directions and they wouldn’t have been so overjoyed when they saw the star again after their summons to Herod (vv. 9–10).

Because there were three gifts, it is assumed there were three wise men. But Scripture doesn’t indicate how many there were. And they didn’t come alone. Three men, bearing expensive gifts, traveling alone on highways fraught with bandits wouldn’t have been safe. No, they brought their entourage of servants and bodyguards.

Image courtesy of Free Bible Images
When they arrived in the capital city, they didn’t go to Herod first. They asked the citizens of Jerusalem, who had no clue what they were talking about. Word got to jealous Herod, who summoned the wise men to get more information so he could get rid of this possible threat to his throne.

So you see why Herod and all of Jerusalem were disturbed (verse 3) when the Magi arrived.

Okay, now that we’ve set the record straight, what does this all mean to us today?

In addition to making sure we get our information directly from Scripture and not count on tradition to give us the truth, I see in this story two ways to respond to Jesus.

Like Herod, we can perceive Him as a threat—to our way of life, to our control of our lives, to our beliefs.

Or we can worship Him as King and Lord. Think about it: Kings aren’t worshiped. They are to be obeyed. God alone is worshiped.

What about you? How do you perceive this person called Jesus?

Lord, may I always follow the Bright and Morning Star. Amen.

Photo by Justin Ng

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