Who were the wise men?
Wise men, or Magi, or the 3 kings (although the bible definitely does not say there were 3)... who are they? What do we know about them?
They were "from the east." This is how Matthew describes them. So, where is "the east"? A lot of things are east of Jerusalem.
|Basically, all of these things. Image source.|
They had some knowledge of Jewish religion and culture. Definitely. We know this because they were specifically looking for "the king of the Jews." Perhaps they were descendants of people originally from Israel, who had been scattered due to war and exile. Perhaps their culture had been somehow influenced by Jewish culture.
They took their astrology pretty seriously. They saw a star, they determined that it must mean the "king of the Jews" had been born, and they NEEDED to go see him, and worship him. Why? I seriously do not understand the thought process behind this.
How long did it take to travel there? How long did they spend planning their trip, getting supplies together, deciding what gifts to give the baby king? Because of a star? Dude... the most I am going to do for a star is wake up at 4 am and look out the window for a few minutes when there's some once-in-a-hundred-years phenomenon going on in space.
Because Matthew later writes that King Herod killed the babies "who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi", I estimate it took 1-2 years for the wise men to plan their trip and travel all the way to Bethlehem.
They were rich and educated. We call them "wise men" or even "kings." They brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They had enough money to finance a huge trip. They had enough spare time to spend studying the stars. These people were definitely upper-class.
What was this "star" anyway?
I've heard speculation about how it was Jupiter or something. Speculation is great and interesting- but it's just speculation. There's no way we'll ever be able to say with confidence that the "star" was this or that specific star/planet/comet/whatever.
What is going on with the priests? And other happenings in Jerusalem.
Did the star lead them to Jerusalem, or did it lead them to that general area and then they thought "well clearly the king must be in the capital city"? I don't know.
Also, from reading the text, it is not clear whether the wise men went straight to King Herod, or if they started asking around in Jerusalem, and Herod heard about it and got a little freaked out, so he called them in to talk to them.
But here's what Matthew does say: The Jewish priests and teachers were called in, and they were asked where the Christ was supposedly going to be born. They quoted a bible verse and said it's definitely Bethlehem. The wise men said "kthxbye" and went on their way.
Don't you think the priests should have like, cared, if the Christ had been born?
Seriously. This would be like if someone came and said "I heard the Mars rover is going to be landing in the parking lot at Wal-Mart today- can you give me directions to Wal-Mart?" and I said "sure, just go straight and then turn right after you see a Burger King and Rite Aid" when what I should be saying is "WHOA SERIOUSLY? The Mars rover??? BRB, going to Wal-Mart."
|I am a master of photoshop. Image sources here and here.|
The wise men worshiped Jesus.
They were "overjoyed." They found Mary and Baby Jesus, and bowed down. That must have been super-weird from Mary's point of view. A bunch of rich foreigners show up, and strangely enough, they're the only ones who recognize how important your baby is.
This is pretty awesome, because the gifts (gold, frankincense, and myrrh) were very expensive, and hopefully this really helped Mary and Joseph with their financial ability to raise a kid. Kind of weird, how God knew their needs and provided for them... by bringing in a bunch of upper-class astrologers from hundreds of miles away.
Whatever happened to them after that?
Jesus didn't start doing anything until 30 years later. Where were the wise men at that point? Were they still alive? Did they ever really understand who Jesus was? Did they become Christians?
What about the other characters? The priests, the officials working for Herod... did they ever find out who Jesus was? Did they ever realize that, way back when those weird astrology guys came around, the person they were looking for grew up to be Jesus of Nazareth?
I don't know what happened. In Matthew 2, the wise men are doing the right thing, seeking Jesus, but they only know the beginning of the story. I hope somehow they found out the ending.
Take-home message: The wise men found Jesus in another religion.
Whoa, whoa. Am I allowed to say that? No way- Christians believe that only Christianity is the true religion.
I'm just calling it like I see it. The wise men found Jesus in another religion. They found him because of their dedication to astrology.
Like I said above, they must have been influenced by Jewish religion and culture. Maybe their beliefs had some elements of "the right religion" and some other stuff mixed in. But the bible says very clearly that they found Jesus because of astrology.
Do any Christians think astrology is legit? I have never heard of any. Astrology is just silly superstition, right? But it told them where to find Jesus, and it was right.
How? Can God speak through astrology? Sure, why not? As Psalm 19:1-4 says,
"The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world. ..."
God can speak through whatever he wants. And apparently he speaks through other religions besides Christianity.
I am not saying "all religions are right" or "all religions are the same" or "all religions follow the same God". God spoke to the wise men through the lens of their religion, but he used it to point them to Jesus. Yes, I believe Jesus is the one and only way to God. But you may find Jesus in some unexpected places.
The wise men were wrong about some things. They didn't know the biblical prophesy about Bethlehem. They had some pagan influences in their beliefs. But when God spoke to them and said where to find the Christ, they packed up and went. And they found Jesus.
The priests knew all the right answers. They knew the Christ would be born in Bethlehem. But they weren't interested in actually going to look for him. They knew all the facts in the bible, but they did not find Jesus.
Evidently, God doesn't care if you are right or wrong. God wants people who are willing to listen, willing to obey, willing to follow. THOSE are the people God speaks to. THOSE are the people who find Jesus.
Be like the wise men.
This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.
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