The Historical Activity of the Wise
“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.'” Matthew 2:1-2
Only one place in the biblical record tells us about the trip from “the east” that a group of “Magi” undertook, which reached its goal in Bethlehem at the house which was the current home of Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus. Who were these Magi, and what prompted them to make this trip to a relatively far off, small, obscure Palestinian village six miles south of the large metropolis and capital of Palestine, Jerusalem? Luke records the announcement to John the Baptist’s parents and his birth, the announcement to his mother Mary and Jesus’ birth in a stable, the appearance of angels to shepherds near Bethlehem, and the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem to Simeon and Anna’s great delight. However, only Matthew tells us of Joseph’s dreams concerning Jesus’ birth and the story of these foreign visitors, worshipers from the east.
Magi are known in antiquity as searchers of the skies, the stars and planets, and their movements, as well as scholars of astronomy and its accompanying astrology. They were consultants to Kings. They were traditionally known as “wise” men, wise in any number of things in the universe, researchers of the observable creation. Some of the known Magi of history closely connected to Israel and the Scriptures were Daniel and his friends, exiles in Persia and confidants of the Kings of Persia. They were also, most importantly, worshipers of the one true God. Could these Magi who came to search out the birth of the one they understood to be “King of the Jews” be connected to what Daniel was and had done in Persia, passed down through the intervening generations? We have no evidence to know this is accurate and only the word of Matthew to know these visitors were “Magi from the east, where Persia is in relation to Palestine, by the way. The story of Daniel in Persia and his great influence on some of their most famous Kings is a powerful one. It is easily seen that Daniel was a wise man and a man well connected to the God of Israel and the God of the universe. He must have left a powerful legacy that did not simply disappear with his and his friends’ deaths. They may well have had children and grandchildren who followed in their footsteps, and they certainly influenced for good the minds of others, an influence that would not just pass away, despite Satan’s efforts.
I conjecture that it is more probable than not that these Magi of Matthew’s record are connected to Daniel’s influence in Persia, which had an impact on those Magi in the intervening generations down to the birth of “the promised One.” Apparently they had enough prophetic material from Daniel to know that One was to be born who would be “King of the Jews,” and his birth would be announced by the appearing of “his star.” What “his star” was in the astronomical sense is not known, but the description of what this star did in guiding the Magi to his exact location when they were alerted by it to his birth appears to have certain parameters of a sign in the night sky which came to be only for a time and was not a permanent fixture or entity like the other stars in the universe. Looking for an explanation in astronomical history seems to be fruitless. This “star” reportedly did things no stars ever do in their established orbits through the years and centuries, within conjunctions or not, nor did it appear to perform as a typical permanently orbiting meteor in some strange meteoric appearance. Rather, it was a sign which God apparently created and appointed for a one-time event in history, an event which divides and defines history itself.
Knowing the great importance of this entrance of a King into the history of mankind, wise men took upon themselves a great and sacrificial journey, by no means easy when such travel was a difficult, time-consuming venture. Additionally, they drastically altered their return trip, having been warned (jointly?) in a dream to avoid the deceptive and evil King Herod. One has to wonder about the influence of what they found and believed concerning their brief time with this infant King of the Jews on the remainder of their earthly lives and upon the generations of families which followed after them. There is so much unknown of the impact of the Gospel on most peoples throughout the world, an unknown which continues into our present day, except by word of mouth, a knowledge which does not reach all of our ears. We are reliant on such conjecture of the Gospel’s transformative power and penetrating influence on the promises of Scripture. Satan is always obscuring our eyes and ears to the Gospel’s effect in all corners of the earth to try to make us believe that it is reaching relatively few among the whole earth’s population.
The Advent of Jesus Christ was accompanied by wise scholars and students of the stars transcended from the Prophet Daniel. They started their journey soon after the star appeared, announcing the birth of a King. Hence they did not arrive until the infant was a toddler of months or a year and some months and his parents had moved into a house in Bethlehem. We do not know why Mary and Joseph did not immediately return to their home in Nazareth after Jesus’ birth except for not wanting to travel while their baby was so young and before presenting him in the temple. Perhaps there was more of a sense that they should not leave yet, allowing the unknown Magi to arrive and then receiving the warning in a dream of Herod’s deadly design. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fled immediately to Egypt where they were out of the reach of the evil king of all Palestine until he was dead. Their return to Nazareth was made because Herod’s son now ruled in Judea, making it appear they had perhaps decided to live in Bethlehem, that is, up until the fear of Herod’s son sent them back to their former home. All this was for God to fulfill the prophecies concerning Jesus; so He guided the feet of Joseph and Mary by circumstances.
This is one more piece of the Advent puzzle which has so many facets connected to it; a puzzle which began in a promise made to Adam and Eve, continued in myriad prophecies delivered to the people of God through the centuries, including the foretelling of Bethlehem being the location of Jesus’ birth, keeping him there until the Magi would come to worship him, and eventually moving him to where he could rightfully be called a Nazarene. All were vital to the veracity of the Scriptures. All of these past truths bear on the future truths of the prophecies of Jesus’ Second Advent, something of which the book of Daniel has much to say. Daniel was a pivotal figure in both advents of the Christ, all to declare the plan and purposes of God in the incarnation of his Son and what then will take place in his return and the end of history. So the truths of the Advent of the Son of God from the time of Adam and Eve to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and on to his return as Judge and King of Kings is borne out throughout history in the activity of the wise who listen for his Word and are obedient to it. They have ears to hear what proceeds from the mouth of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are among the participants in foretelling his incarnation, among the few who celebrated even despite the obscurity of his birth, and they are among the many who will be eagerly anticipating participants in his universally seen coming again. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.
Are you actively wise in listening to his Word and guiding your thought and life in accordance with it? It is the wise hearers and doers of history that will be ready when the Lord of All returns, suddenly and without immediate warning that this is the night or day of his appearing. Advent is a season to especially celebrate his birth and incarnation, but also just as importantly, to anticipate his coming again. Be sure you not only focus on his birth but are preparing your heart to welcome him back in the split second of his promised return in majesty and glory, a time of great mourning for the inactive and foolish non-listeners, but a time of great joy for you who are actively looking for him.
“Sages, leave your contemplations; brighter visions beam afar. Seek the great Desire of nations; ye have seen his natal star. Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn King.”
(3rd verse of James Montgomery’s hymn, “Angels from the Realms of Glory”, 1816)
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