Sunday, 19 December 2010

More on the wise men

Their declaration to Herod is striking: "We have come to worship the one born King of the Jews." How did they know? Two theories seem possible:

1) They concluded the star signified a new king. They followed it to Israel, and so assumed the new king was to be King of the Jews.

2) They were already awaiting the Messiah. This has some weight. The Magi were from Persia. If they lived in Babylon, we know there was a large Jewish population there. It is not at all implausible that like many Gentiles they had become 'God-fearers' who worshipped the God of the Jews. If so, then they would have been waiting for God to fulfil his promises. Concluding that the star signified that he was, the obvious place to go would have been Jerusalem - the city of Israel's kings.

This second scenario doesn't actually require the star to have led them from Persia to Israel. And the text doesn't actually state that it did. We are simply told that they saw it and it caused them to head off. It is picked up again only after they saw Herod, at which time it did lead them to Christ.

This would all explain why the Magi didn't go straight to Bethlehem, and the high esteem and knowledge they seemed to have for Jesus.

Whatever the case, the key point of the passage is not affected. It is about worship. Three times it is mentioned. The Magi fulfil Isaiah 60v6, where the nations come to Israel, over whom the light of God's glory was risen (v1). Jesus is the personification of Israel - its true King, bringing about a kingdom that all may enter.

What the second scenario adds here however, is a sense that it was because the Magi came to believe from the scriptures who Jesus was, that they sought him out. This has great application as we teach the scriptures each Christmas.