After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “ ‘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 shepherd my people Israel.’ ” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 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, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:1-12 NIV)
This is probably one of the most know bible stories. Christmas after Christmas the nativity scene is played in schools across the country, with the prized role being one of the kings. As I sat on the front row of my sons nativity this year, I had a prize view of the proceedings, the kings in their capes, sequined all over, but slightly too long so that they got caught under their feet, a tripping hazard for a seven year old and every few moments they were untangling themselves. One king in particular yawned his way through the evening….sometimes quite demonstratively in the most inappropriate bits. But we love it, we love the story and we love everything that goes with it, even though our version is slightly more romantic than the biblical account.
The kings always arrive at the time of the birth in our versions, we don’t actually know whether they did or not, most think that Jesus was two years or under when they arrived.
Traditionally we have always said there were three kings because there are three gifts but that is just a presumption, we don’t know exactly how many there were, though we know there were at least two of them.
And actually, were they kings? No, they were Magi, which means wise men or magicians. We don’t know exactly what they were into but it wouldn’t be compatible with modern day Christianity. I think it would be fair to say that they were more into the new age than anything else.
Whatever they were, they were the ones who saw the star. They were those who studied the skies and spotted the anomaly, their interest got the better of them and they decided to follow. But it was more than that, somewhere in this whole episode God had communicated with them that this star was symbolic of a child being born, and that this was no ordinary child but that he was the King of the Jews. They had more than hunch. They had a need that they would never satisfy until they pursued what they had seen.
Often when God gives revelation there is a built in propensity* for interpretation and understanding. Revelation needs interpretation and it has a built in drive to satisfy what that revelation is. I know some are frustrated with the way God speaks, and say things like, “why can’t He speak with me plainly?”
There are a number of reasons why God speaks in parables or ‘dark sayings’ (Numbers 12:7-8), the first is that the clearer the revelation the greater the the responsibility. The next is that , by speaking in what seems like a parable, we seek after Him. If everything was plain, human nature would be that we would bored in seconds. But God allows intrigue, He wants to be found, He wants us to seek after Him. I find often revelation makes me seek after Him in ways that I wouldn’t if God had spoke plainly. Now there are plenty of times in which God does speak plainly, and this is but one of the ways in which God communicates. He builds intrigue into the revelation to see if we will follow. And what better way than with a star? The Magi new the sky, they placed high value on the significance of different stars and God in a moment spoke this new star into existence (psalm 19) and they were intrigued. Somewhere revelation was communicated and they had to satisfy what they had seen, they had to go. True revelation will always make you seek after Him and find Him, true revelation will always point to Jesus. Though there may be some seeking and some effort on your behalf, there is treasure to be found at the end, and I’m not talking about money, but spiritual treasure in finding the author of life.
Don’t you just love the creativity in how God moves and speaks, the people he chooses. They are not the people we would choose, but they are the ones who would listen. God give me ears to hear what you are saying, Lord give me a hunger to seek after you.
More on the gifts they bring tomorrow.
*this is based on my experience and many others who I have spoken to regarding dreams, visions and other forms of revelation that they have.