What is grabbing your attention these days?
Our pandemic stricken world is shaking. We’re being called to wake up. To open our eyes. To pay attention like never before. This is our chance to pause, breathe and notice the signs. To follow the sacred whisper calling us to a deeper awareness. Signs are meant to point us in a certain direction, but they can easily be missed. That’s why, although its not seasonal, there is a treasure for us in the biblical account of the Magi. Here we meet a group of first century scholars who had their eyes wide open. They noticed a sign. They followed a star. In a time when not many were looking, the Magi sought with persistence and dedication. They were true Messiah Seekers.
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 in the east and have come to worship him.”
Who were these Magi? Where did they come from? Their name, ‘magi’ or Greek ‘magus’ refers to wise men, teachers, priests, astrologers, seers, or interpreters of dreams. It is the root of the English word ‘magician.’ So we know they were scholarly, spiritually distinguished men. The word and passage indicates that they were foreigners from the East and quite possibly of Babylonian, Median, or Persian descent.
Regardless of their exact origin, we know that an unusual star seized their attention. It set them on a long journey to the city of Jerusalem in hopes of finding the one ‘born king of the Jews.’ Somehow, these men knew about the Messiah. They knew a Jewish King was coming, who was worthy of their worship. Perhaps they had access to the Messianic prophecies left by Daniel during the seventy years he spent in Babylon. Perhaps it was the ancient prophecies of Balaam that had been passed down to them over the generations. We know what Balaam prophesied concerning the Messiah because it is recorded in Numbers 24:17-18:
“I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
a scepter will rise out of Israel.
He will crush the foreheads of Moab,
the skulls of all the sons of Sheth.
Edom will be conquered;
Seir, his enemy, will be conquered,
but Israel will grow strong.”
God spoke through Balaam of a star that would come out of Jacob and a ruler that would rise from Israel. There was something compelling about this star. The Magi didn’t have the whole Hebrew Scriptures and likely knew only fragments of information about Messiah, but one thing is certain, they knew that this star was his star and believed he was worth finding.
Their journey led them to King Herod, who had been appointed ‘king of the Jews’ by the Roman senate. Herod did not take the Magi’s word of a new Jewish king lightly.
“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.”
Despite Herod’s alarm, he was instrumental in bringing the Magi one step closer to discovering the king. It was the Hebrew Scriptures that gave the answer to their original question: “Where is the one born king of the Jews?” Jewish chief priests and teachers quoted Micah chapter 5 verse 2 to Herod, which indicated that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
Micah 5 also prophesied that the Messiah would be “shepherd of my people Israel” and that his origin was “of eternity past.” This passage indicates that the Messiah would be divine as well as human, having existed from eternity past.
The story continues…
“Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
Really Herod? If you’re familiar with the story, you know that Herod was lying through his teeth. Herod’s real intention was to discover this young king and kill him to eliminate potential competition. So, Herod sent the Magi on their journey, and they continued to follow the star until it led them right to their destination.
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
This star led them to the specific place where they would discover Jesus. This was their moment of joy – exceedingly great joy. And they did exactly what they intended to do all along. They bowed down and worshiped him.
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Picture this surprising moment. Foreign men come to present costly gifts to a toddler. They bow down to worship him. It is so unexpected, yet their actions are filled with remarkable conviction. A supernatural star, likely the manifest Holy presence of God Himself had led them there. The star led them to a person. Jesus is their discovery. Jesus is their destination. He is worth their long journey. He is worth the questions they have wrestled with for a long time. He is worth the cost and He is worth their time. He is worth it all, because He will give all for them. For the day will come when a written charge will hang over his head that reads: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” The day he is crucified, Jesus’ own words will be fulfilled, for he told his followers in advance:
“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” – Luke 9:22
As the Magi looked upon this child, could they have known that he would suffer and die for them? Jesus would grow up, live a sinless life, die a criminal’s death and on the third day rise from the grave. He would be crucified to pay the costly price for their sins and not only theirs but the sins of the whole world.
“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Messiah died for us.”
The Magi teach us to wake up, open our eyes and pay attention to the signs. They didn’t have all the answers but they stepped out of their comfort zone to follow that star. Be encouraged, we don’t need all the answers to begin a journey of seeking that will lead to our greatest discovery yet. Jesus is so worth it.
The next post, “Follow the Star: Part 2” will explore the incredible significance of the Magi’s gifts, and what they reveal about Messiah.
Ha-Mashiach: The Messiah of the Hebrew Scriptures. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum.
Matthew 27:37 – “Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is Jesus, the king of the Jews.”
1 John 2:2 – “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” ESV