Looking For Jesus

Traditionally in Ireland, January 6th is known as Little Christmas. It is also widely known in the rest of the world as the Feast of the Epiphany. It is the traditional end of the Christmas season. In some parts of the Spanish-speaking world, Christmas Day is strictly religious, and gifts are exchanged on the feast of the Epiphany. I didn’t know what Epiphany meant until just this week. This date represents the appearance of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi. The Jews were expecting a Messiah, but they were NOT expecting that their Messiah was also coming to provide a means by which the Gentile world could also enter into the Kingdom of God.

While Mary and Joseph were fulfilled their obligations in the temple in Jerusalem, it is likely that just a short distance away, King Herod was fuming as he sat in his throne room waiting for some foreign visitors to the region to return to him with news about a so-called newborn king.

After the birth of Jesus, several strangers arrived in Jerusalem who had caused quite a stir, especially among those who frequented the Herod’s palace. There has been lots of speculation as to who, exactly, these men were. Lots of stories have been invented about them over the more that 2000 years since they appeared. Some refer to them as Magi, others as wise men, some as kings.

In the Old Testament there are lots of references to wise men, often in connection with those who are able to interpret dreams. This was the case, for example, in the time of Joseph when the Pharaoh had a dream and called all his “wise men” together to tell him what it meant. In the Scriptures one word is used to describe a variety of people who fell into this category: to the wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, soothsayers, sorcerers etc.

It is assumed that the men who turned up in Jerusalem looking for the King of the Jews were astrologers because of their connection to the star that they were following. It is assumed that there were three of them because they came with three gifts and it would be appropriate for each one to come with his own gift.

While we lump the wise men in with the rest of those who appear in the Christmas story, it was at least several weeks after Jesus’ birth that the wise men appeared. We know that when they did appear, Mary and Joseph were still in Bethlehem but they were no longer living in a stable, but in a house. After the census was taken, people who had come to Bethlehem from other places returned to their homes and that likely left space for Mary and Joseph to move into more comfortable quarters while they waited out Mary’s time for purification according to the law.

Herod’s wise men had determined the approximate time that the Messiah should have been born so that when he decided to get rid of Jesus by killing all the children in Bethlehem he chose to kill those under two years of age to make sure he got the right baby.

It’s really no surprise that these students of the stars would understand something about the coming of the Messiah, the King of the Jews. The history of the Medes, Persians, Babylonians includes people like Daniel, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah and a few of the Old Testament prophets as well, who influenced the societies, in which they were foreigners, with the story of God. And no doubt the Spirit of God planted in them the faith to believe that this star that had appeared was the fulfillment of the promises that they had studied in their own history as it related to the Hebrews. So they went in search of a King, but not just any old king because they had come to worship this one.

Their arrival in Jerusalem set tongues to wagging particularly when they asked to be directed to the new king’s birthplace. Since everyone in Jerusalem knew that there was only one old king, not a newly born one, rumours began to spread. The stories got as far as the palace and King Herod took to worrying that there might be a coup in the making, especially since he wasn’t exactly popular.

He consulted his own crop of wise men to find out what this was all about. His priests knew the prophecies as well as anyone did and quoted the Old Testament to Herod concerning the birthplace of the King.

I chuckled when I read “Then Herod called the Magi secretly” (Matthew 2:7). Never let it be said that the highest (almost) authority in the land doesn’t know about a new kind born in his jurisdiction. That would be embarrassing. While the wise men were sincere in their desire to search for Jesus, and then to worship Him, Herod was not. He lied.

Many people search for Jesus. They study the Bible. They read books written by Christians. They study theology. Some do all this in the genuine search for truth. Others do it looking for loop-holes, contradictions, seeking the means to discredit the truth. Herod knew as much about the birth of the Messiah as the wise men from the east knew. They wanted to worship Him. Herod wanted to get rid of Him. The difference is in here—in the heart.

The same thing happens today. Much of society, like Herod, does everything in its power to get rid of anything that has to do with Jesus. They want Him to go away. But those who seek Him in faith, like the wise men, will discover what God told the prophet in Jeremiah 29:13, 14 “‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity.’

The Magi went on their way, unaware of the plot being developed by Herod. A curious thing seems to happen. The wise men had followed the star apparently to get to Jerusalem, but it seems to have disappeared when they got to the city because they had to ask directions to the king—hence they got the wrong one! But once they left Jerusalem the star appeared again and took them right to the house. The Scriptures say that when they saw the star they were “overjoyed.” It sounds as though they had been worried when it disappeared from sight. When they arrived, they worshiped as they had told Herod they were going to do. They gave Jesus the gifts they had brought—symbolic gifts as it turned out—that represented Jesus’ kingship, His death and His resurrection.

I wonder if the wise men ever became aware of what happened after they left Jesus’ and His family. They were warned not to go back to Herod and they didn’t. But did they ever find out what Herod did when he discovered that the Magi were not coming back to reveal to him the location of the king? Did they hear the story of the children who died because of Herod’s jealousy, fear and greed? If they did they might have felt some guilt. “If only we hadn’t gone to Jerusalem. If only we hadn’t gone to see Herod or told him what we were doing. If only we had waited outside the city for the star to come back and show us the way to the baby.”

The truth was that, as horrible as it was, the events that unfolded after the wise men left Jesus, had been part of the prophecies foretold in the Old Testament. What Herod didn’t know was the Jesus was no longer in Bethlehem. After His presentation in the temple where we met Anna and Simeon, it says that Mary and Joseph were heading home to Nazareth. It would make sense that they would stay in Bethlehem for a month or so until it was time for the ceremony in Jerusalem because they would have to pass through Jerusalem anyway from Bethlehem in the south to get to Nazareth in the north. It is possible that that God spoke to Joseph in a dream before they even left Jerusalem after the ceremony to warn him to head for Egypt in the south, or as they were making their way towards Nazareth. Jesus may have been right there in the temple while Herod was drumming his fingers in his palace waiting for the Magi to return.

But whatever the details were, this episode in the story of Jesus is a living lesson for all of us. There is a saying that has been going around for years. It goes like this “Wise Men Still Seek Him.”

True.

Jeremiah, speaking the words of the Lord, tells us that those who seek the Lord will find Him. We often seek Him for the things He can do for us. This was true of the people in Jesus’ day who would follow Him around hoping for bread, or healing, or another miracle to ooh and aah over. They wanted the miracles, but didn’t understand that the miracles were only signs of something far greater—Jesus Himself. And when Jesus didn’t come across with what was on their agendas, they deserted Him.

2 Chronicles 7:14 reminds us: “…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

The psalmist writes in Psalm 27:8, “My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, will I seek.

The wise men came, not looking for a miracle, but seeking the Lord of the miracles. That’s really what made them wise. And it is what makes us wise today—our seeking, not so much for the hand of the Lord, or how our relationship with Him can benefit our lives, but simply looking for HIM alone.

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