So on Friday, I teased about “more coming” about Jesus and inclusivity, but that was pre-empted by current events yesterday. But here’s the thing: if current events — like the possibility of nuclear war, fires and a cyclone whacking Australia, floods and unexpected volcanic eruptions and new outbreaks of deadly diseases worldwide — mean we have to step up our efforts to lead our non-believing friends (NBFs) to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, we have a big barrier to overcome.
That barrier is the notion that Jesus Christ is “exclusive”.
Now, you can say “Jesus came for you and me” until you’re blue in the mouth, but that sounds like just so much propaganda for an NBF. Showing what’s written in Scripture, though, goes a long way towards demonstrating what God has in mind.
That motivation is to save us from the things that had been harming us, and the coming of a Messiah — a Saviour to bring deliver God’s people back into His favour — had been predicted for centuries. Prophecies had spoken of Him and people had been waiting, praying for Him to come. Of course, many people thought the Messiah would be a military leader, which was not what they got. Indeed, it was John the Baptist who pointed out, “Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, 36). That was a novel concept.
But that’s for another time. Do you notice how, when Jesus finally did arrive, the people who had been waiting for Him hardly noticed?
He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.— John 1:11
Jesus’ birth was proclaimed by the Angel Gabriel to
- a teenage girl
- her fiancé
- her cousin
- a group of shepherds
- a group of observers of signs
It’s that last group that really fascinates me.
We don’t know much about the “wise men”. We don’t know how many there were, except that there was more than one: it’s because they brought three gifts — frankincense, gold and myrrh — that’s made us assume that there was one wise man per gift. Nor do we know how long after Jesus’ birth they arrived: Bosch, like many of us, assumes they arrived shortly afterwards and the baby was still in the stable; others say they came as long as two years after, hence Herod’s decree to kill every male child two years old and younger. (I tend to think Herod might have been casting a wide net, to make sure they got his “challenger”.)
But the fact that we don’t know much about the Magi is another of God’s ways of drawing us close to Him by causing us to contemplate the scene. And when I contemplate the scene, I come up with this.
Several soothsayers, mystics and wizards, in different locations, see the bright star. We’re not told that they came from the same country — just that they came from east of Jerusalem — so they could have come from Arabia, China, India, Iraq; possibly even, as Bosch suggests, from Africa.
They see the star, and like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, say to themselves, “This means something!” They search the holy books to figure out what it means, or they were already aware that a star over that location meant the birth of the King of the Jews; in any event, they want to be there to see it. So they saddle up and start riding.
With God’s exquisite timing, they all meet up on the road to Jerusalem. “Where are you going?” “To Jerusalem, for the birth of the King of the Jews!” “No foolin’? That’s where I’m going!”
So they all arrive in Jerusalem expecting to see a big festival to welcome the King, and find …
Everyone is going about their daily business, so they start asking around, and word gets back to Herod that these foreigners are looking for a King of the Jews.
Herod invites them over, and then asks his own religious scholars where the Messiah is to be born; they tell him and he tells the wise men, instructing them to report back where He is, so he can go and worship Him, too.
The Magi go, they see Jesus, present their gifts, then are warned in a dream not to report back to Herod but to take a different route out of Judea, and leave.
Now, here’s the point of all this. The Magi went on their journey(s) because they had spotted an unusual star in the sky and determined it was a sign.
Ye shall not eat any thing with the blood: neither shall ye use enchantment, nor observe times.— Leviticus 19:26 (KJV)
The New King James Version says God’s people are not to “practice divination or sorcery” — and in any event, that commandment is given in the same breath as the commandment not to eat blood. That’s how serious it is.
And yet, the Magi made their living by observing stars and other signs.
In other words, God announced the birth of the Messiah in a “language” understood by people who were practicing the very things that God had forbidden His people to do.
He will reach people by any means necessary. Hold that thought.
Now, look what else happened.
And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.— Matthew 2:11
The Magi “fell” when they came into Jesus’ presence. They didn’t bow; they didn’t kneel: they fell. I’d say they had a Holy Ghost, Pentecostal experience, the way some of us do when the Holy Spirit overwhelms us and causes us to go weak in the knees, shake, cry and laugh — often all at once.
Then, they were “divinely warned in a dream” (Matt. 2:12) not to go back to Herod.
In other words, they arrived in Bethlehem as “observers of signs”, but left, in communion with the Holy Spirit. We don’t hear about the star, ever again.
(I’m a little sorry we don’t hear about the Magi again, either, but that’s for another time of contemplation.)
Now, one more thing: why do you suppose the religious experts in Herod’s court didn’t catch on? When Herod asked them where the Messiah was to be born, why do you think they didn’t say, “You ask, because …???”, or say to the Magi, “What star?”
Because they were religious. They wouldn’t dream of observing signs. What’s more, they thought they knew the lot, and that when the Messiah came, they, as learned religious types, would know.
They had stopped seeking.
In these times, our NBFs are seeking, and nothing that’s been presented to them — including Jesus Christ in the form of Christianity — has filled the bill. Scripture tells us that those who come into Jesus’ presence “go their way, rejoicing”. Jesus’ presence is available to us all — that’s proven in Scripture — so even as our “end-times checklist” grows longer, it’s up to us to show others the reasons we have to rejoice!