“The Magi could have stayed in their libraries and palaces and kept on observing the sky. But some of them decided that if God had sent a King for the Jews and for the world, then they would go. The kingdom of heaven is like that. Discovering what is worth having and letting go of everything else to have it is the wisest choice we can make.”
–A forgotten source
“Lord, increase our faith!”
–Disciples, Luke 17:5
In my childhood bid to be liked by my peers, I unfortunately got on the wrong foot, side and track with several of my teachers. Except for Mrs. Livengood, sixth grade. She thought my antics were pretty funny, but stood alone on that topic. Music class was where I most often irked my teachers silly by entertaining my classmates with new and improved lyrics to traditional songs. Even at Christmas.
Jingle Bells had little to do with Santa and more to do with Batman smelling, the Joker and the Batmobile. I won’t even tell you about “Winter Wonderland”. Another standard carol that failed to remain untarnished was “We Three Kings”. I really remember getting reamed and creamed by Teach on this one:
We Three Kings of Orient are,
Smoking on a rubber cigar;
It was loaded, and exploded—
We two Kings of Orient are…
Don’t be too appalled. I bet you sang it too.
I got to thinking about those kings the other day. History refers to them as ‘Magi’. There probably weren’t three and they were not kings, but they were from the ancient Orient. Persia, to be exact. They were from a priestly caste whose job it was to coronate kings. Some have even affixed the title “King-makers” to their job description. Before a crown could touch the brow of a kingly candidate, it was given to the Magi to investigate his royal lineage to validate whether or not his reign should be inaugurated.
It is telling that Matthew is the only gospeler who includes them in his recounting of Christ’s Advent. Since he presents Christ as the rightful Messiah (anointed King-Ruler) to a primarily Jewish audience, it fits that he would give the ‘king-makers’ a prominent place in his account. One could even put Matthew in a sort of ‘Magi’ vocation as he crowns the Nazarene as Israel’s Hope.
Beginning his gospel with Jesus’ genealogy, Matthew does a most ingenious thing. He divides Christ’s lineage into three groups of fourteen ancestors. Why fourteen, you ask? It’s a code, dear reader. He wants the skeptical Jews to see that Jesus is the rightful heir to take the Throne of David.
The people of Israel had been waiting for hundreds of years for someone to again take the Honorable Chair. Herod was not a Jew and was appointed as ruler by the Romans. He was in cohoots with the Empire.
So they waited. They believed. They hoped. They waited some more…
And Matthew announces with his opening paragraphs: “Hey, people, Messiah-King has come! His Name is Jesus!”
The embedded clue of fourteen practically shouts “DAVID!” The three consonants in the Hebrew name have a value of fourteen, so Matthew is telling his people that Jesus and David can be mentioned in the same breath. Who, this Nazarene? This, this son of a carpenter? they would object.
Yes!, Matthew proclaimed. Look at the genealogy, you people who investigate such things, who need to see pedigrees before validating kingship. There is only one Person in all of Israel who is the rightful heir!
So a tax collector named Levi (a.k.a. Matthew) becomes a Magi of sorts. He studied the Bright and Morning Star, consulted the prophecies, received supernatural revelation and cast his vote. Follow Me, the “MorningStar” said. Yes, Lord, I will follow You…
Which he did, all the way to the mission field, where he gladly offered his life to a spear.
The ancient Magi would study the celestial movement of stars to make sure they were positioned just right to coronate, they used means by which to forecast the shaping of future events, studied history and stayed abreast of the current winds of culture.
Scolars believe the prophet Daniel was given authority over the Magi and prepared them for a once and future King whose reign would end all reigns. By faithfully sharing Hebrew scriptures, expounding on them and prophesying, Daniel created a culture of expectation among those priests, who in turn passed on the information to succeeding generations of Magi until the Day a star shining in the east announced the Advent.
Think of it: they sacrificed much—even from their own people—to visit a King in a faraway place called Israel. But still they violently pressed into the kingdom by relying on scraps of prophecy and dared move in that little bit of light. The journey was not easy by any stretch. A thousand miles. Robbers and thieves, murderers and hooligans lurked along the roadways. Cold, rain and certain peril. Still, they journeyed to the cadence of spoken and written prophecy and moved ever closer by benefit of a heavenly sign.
First came scraps of prophecy, then came light, then a star in the sky. Once they arrived in Jerusalem, the scriptures were opened to them again. Finally, a dream was given to warn them away from a certain road. From start to finish they obeyed. Each time they obeyed, more light was given.
A precursor to this event happened a thousand years before. Saul was king but he was not from the true kingly line. Long prior to the people’s choice, was a prophecy that a King would come, not from the tribe of Benjamin, but from Judah:
“The scepter shall not depart from Juday, nor the ruler’s staff from between His feet, until tribute comes to Him (or, until Shiloh comes), and to Him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”
Like the imposter ruler Herod at the time of Christ’s birth, Saul’s days were numbered. The right order needed to be set. Something of a ‘Magi’ himself, Samuel was given the task of anointing a king, the lad David, from whose line would come the Eternal Prince of Peace. Of this episode, the apostle Paul reminded the “men of Israel” (Acts 13:16) that they were standing on the side of the wrong king. Christ, whom they crucified, was the rightful heir to the Throne.
“Then the people begged God for a King and God gave them Saul…but God removed Saul and replaced him with David…about whom God said, ‘I have found David…a man after My own heart…”
(Acs 13:21,22, NLT)
The word translated “removed” means, literally, ‘to change standing’. That is what God did when He removed Saul, who was the people’s choice, an earth-bound king, his reign known more by physical stature than spiritual integrity. And when David became king, the kingdom was not at peace until all those who stood on Saul’s side came over to David’s camp.
This is what the Good News is all about. Like those Magi who left their kingdom and king behind, and bowed before the Christ (‘anointed One’), we, too, must come into the Kingdom by changing our standing.
Colossians tells us what happens when we repent and believe (the first words of the kingdom in Mark 1:15):
“(We are) delivered…from the domain of darkness and transferred…to the kingdom of His beloved Son…”
(Colossians 1:13, ESV)
As citizens of a new Kingdom and subjects of a new King, we learn to love and obey His commands. John tells us they are “not burdensome” (1 John 5:3), which means they are always for good and we are given a new desire to obey (though we still struggle against our yet-to-be-redeemed will). Just as more and more light was revealed to the Magi every time they unquestioningly responded to each given bit of information in faith, so it should be said of us.
This is Magi-stic faith! The writer of Hebrews tells us the only thing that pleases God is our “faith” (Hebrews 11:6). Faith can be understood as simply hearing and obeying Him. And such response shreds the dark kingdom, blesses the heart of our Father and arouses angels to rip off some pretty awesome victory chants!
One last thing: Matthew, a ‘type’ of Magi himself, has a wonderful name. It means ‘gift of the Lord’. Like those Magi who brought gifts to King Jesus’ annunciation, Matthew placed himself at the feet of the Messiah-King.
Have you come to Jesus?
Have you validated His reign in your life?
Have you made your life a gift of worship and adoration to Messiah?
Are you telling the good news that a King has come and that His Name is Jesus the Christ?
Bless you, fellow Magi.