Epiphany 2014: Where will wise men find Christ today? #Epiphany #evangelical

January 7, 2014

We call them Magi, a term strongly suggestive of Magic. These were intellectuals and are presumed to have been interested in philosophy, astrology, astronomy, science and all the other things that occupied smart people of that era. They were from Persia (modern Iran) and that would make them pagans. The Magi of Matthew 2 are not holy men waiting for the Savior of Israel, but commonplace stargazers and secular experts. They did not chose God’s way, but the Eternal selected these individuals to make a long journey in search of the new King.

Commentators speculate that the trip from Iran took about six weeks and was made with a substantial number of servants and attendants. It was a big deal when these well-set foreigners showed up at Herod’s front door in Jerusalem looking for a King. The Romans appointed Herod to rule over Palestine, and this business about some newly arrived monarch was profoundly upsetting. This development had the potential to cause all sorts of unrest and was not the kind of information an ambitious and blood-thirsty tyrant would want to get back to the real bosses in Rome. That bunch does not play around with trouble-makers. Herod had good reason to take the arrival of Magi from the east with the greatest apprehension.

The wise men are said to have observed a star and connected that to the rise of a King. There are plenty of modern theories suggesting that the star of Bethlehem was some sort of natural occurrence, but that does not exactly seem to fit the New Testament account. The light described by biblical writers is said to have moved. Could it be that the star was a divine vision intended only for the Persian visitors? Either way, they came by faith in accordance with God’s leading.

The right thinking people did not have a clue. Angels did not appear and there were no heavenly vision for the religious leaders that counted out how many steps were permissible on the Sabbath, got everybody to tithe, and cleansed the land from idolatry. The religious authorities were probably good enough people who cared a little too much about the little details. Today, we might call them ritualists. They had a certain way of looking down the nose at certain classes of people. They hated the Romans, forgetting the need to love these obnoxious Gentiles so much and live out such grace in the worship of the true living God, that the occupying army would have been stricken in conscience and left the worship of useless idols.

The Magi came by faith. They came to see the rising King. Today, when the stranger from far away, the enemy, the atheist, the seeker, or the downtrodden social outsider comes looking for Jesus, what will they think of the church that claims to follow in his way? The church is the body of Christ. It is his physical presence among the people of all races and the critical observer of all social and political trends.

This raises a critical Epiphany season question. When the intellectuals and spiritual seekers of the world come looking for Jesus in his church, will they be guided by a bright shining light, or smoke.Will the church be healing the sick, reaching the poor, and declaring the good news? The good news of Jesus is the forgiveness of sins. That makes it possible for man to enter into a right relationship with the Triune God. When Christians present themselves to God as dead to sin and alive as instruments of righteousness (Rm 6:13), things begin to change.

The Old Testament foreshadows a time when the world will seek out the Divine. The visit of the Persian wise men marks the first stumbling step toward altering the rebellious course of humanity. In the church, we continue to invite lost humanity to the community of shared love, cross carrying and burden sharing. The lost are drawn to the church in the same way the Magi were summoned to Bethlehem. They followed the mysterious heavenly light. Modern people are equally led by a mystic star.

Jesus reminds Christians that, ““You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16, ESV).


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