Monday, January 11, 2010

Visit of the Wise Men (Part 2)

In an earlier post I began a discussion of the visit of the Wise Men (or Magi) to the baby Jesus. We commemorate this on January 6. See my earlier post for more information on this topic.

2. What Was the Star?

What appeared in the sky that motivated them to take a long trip to pay homage to this newborn King of the Jews? One theory is that these guys were astrologers, as mentioned earlier, and they saw the conjunction of two planets and a star. The planets and stars move with mathematical precision, so it is possible to go back in time and recreate what happened in the sky many years ago. Astronomers have calculated that there was such a conjunction around the time of the birth of Christ. These came together to give the appearance of a large star, but what was important to the Magi was which planets and star were involved. To astrologers, every planet, constellation, and major star have specific meanings. Knowing the prophecies of the Jewish Scriptures, these Magi saw a unique conjunction that indicated the fulfillment of these prophecies was at hand.

This is one possible explanation of the star they saw back home, but what about the star that led them to Bethlehem and hovered over the house? Matthew 2:9-10 tells us that the star that guided them from the East is the same one that stopped over Jesus’ house in Bethlehem:

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. NIV

My guess is that they did see a conjunction in the sky which informed them something special was happening in Israel. But the actual “star” they followed as a guide was supernatural and visible only to them. The reason I say that is because Herod and the gang were not aware of the star, based on Matthew 2:7:

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. NIV

Of course we’ll never know for sure – the main point is that God communicated to these Gentiles in a way they could understand. Today God communicates to you and me in ways that we can understand.

3. Why Was Herod Upset?

We may be puzzled by Herod’s reaction to the news that the Messiah had apparently been born (Matthew 2:3):

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. NIV

You would think Herod and Jerusalem would be overjoyed – the promised Messiah at last! Herod wasn’t ethnically Jewish, but had converted to Judaism to make his reign as king appear to be more legitimate. He certainly couldn’t be considered a devout Jew. The Romans had appointed him as puppet king and he could stay in power as long as there were no problems that would cause the Romans to send in the troops. The Messiah’s coming would be a threat to Herod’s power since the belief was that the Christ would defeat the Romans and establish his kingdom.

Herod must have believed that he would be overthrown by this military Messiah, and he and his followers would most likely killed. Herod was ruthless and quite jealous of his power, so any threat to his position would be upsetting to him and must be eliminated. When Matthew wrote “all Jerusalem” was upset along with Herod, it might be a bit of an exaggeration. I suspect he was referring to the ruling elites, not the common people. The common people were looking for relief, which they certainly weren’t getting from Herod, the Pharisees, and the other elites. You and I should look to Jesus for relief from the burdens we carry, and not depend on ineffective and even harmful worldly crutches.

4. When Did They Arrive?

The Magi are included in just about every manger scene, but they probably did not arrive the night Jesus was born. We get a hint in Matthew 2:11a:

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. NIV

Joseph and Mary were now in a house, so this visit must have taken place some time after Jesus was born. It may have been anywhere from a few days to a few weeks is my guess, maybe even longer.

More on this topic in a future post.

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