Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Visit of the Wise Men (Part 3)

In earlier posts 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 posts for more information on this topic.

III. Astrology and the Occult

Getting back to the Magi, let’s take a closer look at the role astrology might have played in this story. If the Magi saw astrological signs in the sky pointing to Jesus, does that legitimize astrology? Does that mean it is OK for us to look for signs from God through astrology, horoscopes, and the occult?

1. Occult Practices Condemned

This story of the Magi in no way legitimizes the occult, and should never be interpreted that way. The occult arts are specifically condemned in the Bible. Such things as divination, astrology, soothsaying, sorcery, witchcraft, and the like are strictly forbidden in the Bible. See, for example, Leviticus 19:31:

Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God. NIV

See also Deuteronomy 18:10-12a:

Let no one be found among you … who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord… NIV

While the vast majority of those claiming to practice these black arts are frauds, there can be some power to them on occasion. See 1 Samuel 28 and Exodus 7 for examples.

However, any power the occult arts might have comes from the dark side, and Christians should have nothing to do with any of that. God will tell us whatever we should know, and we must never try to learn the future or get guidance in any other way. What possible legitimacy can there be in tea leaves, tarot cards, and Ouija boards? It’s best to stick with God’s ways of doing things, even if other ways may seem attractive to you.

2. Why Did God Communicate to the Magi?

If the Bible condemns such practices, why, then, would God communicate the coming of the Messiah to these Magi? First of all, we don’t know for sure how the birth of Jesus was communicated to the Magi – we’re only speculating. However, if God used the stars and planets to communicate to them, he did so for good reasons. I see two possible reasons why God reached out to these Gentile pagans:

a. Jesus Came for All

First, God was sending a message that Jesus came for all, Jew and Gentile. Having Gentiles – pagan astrologers no less! – come a great distance to worship the baby Jesus sends a powerful message. That message is that Jesus is not just the Jewish Messiah, but he is Savior of the whole world. Remembering that the word “nations” refers to the Gentiles, a prophecy in Isaiah predicted this about the Messiah (Isaiah 60:3):

Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. NRSV

b. Jesus Comes to Us Where We Are

Second, God reached out to these astrologers to demonstrate that he comes to us where we are. If a person isn’t a follower of Jesus, God will reach out to him or her in whatever way makes sense for that person at that time. In the case of the Magi, God communicated to them in a way they could understand and accept – signs in the sky.

If you are a follower of Jesus, God communicates to you by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, you don’t need, and shouldn’t be looking to, any other means, especially the occult or non-Christian religious practices. The Bible is very clear that we aren’t to mix the beliefs and practices of other religions with Judaism and Christianity. Placing confidence in any other way is idolatry.

More on this topic in a future post.

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