Posts tagged ‘Wise Men’

King Jesus, King Herod, and “Three Kings”

Camels, Desert, Travel, Sand, Silhouette, Night, Stars
Credit: Pixabay

One of the most beloved sections of the Christmas story is when wise men come to visit Jesus and His family:

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 when it rose and have come to worship Him.” 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 shepherd My people Israel.’” 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 search carefully for the child. As soon as you find Him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship Him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 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, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:1-12)

Part of what makes this particular section of the Christmas story so compelling is the evil king who serves as a foil to the so-called “three kings” who are looking to present gifts to Jesus. King Herod feels threatened by Jesus and wants to slaughter what he perceives to be the competition. This kind of ghastly plot comports with what we know about Herod historically. Herod was the king who had his wife Mariamne and his sons Alexander, Aristobulus, and Antipater all executed because he suspected they were trying to usurp his throne. Herod’s conduct toward his own family was so gruesome that Caesar Augustus, who was the Roman Emperor at this time, is said to have quipped, “I’d rather be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son.” The first-century historian Josephus once wrote that Herod’s “character had nothing human to recommend to it.” And yet, if you would have asked him, Herod would have self-identified as a religiously observant Jew. After all, Herod was the one who expanded the temple in Jerusalem into a glorious showcase of Jewish religious sensibility and sacrifice.

Herod’s willingness to build a monument to Jewish religious rituals while acting so depravedly in his relationships with his own family is manifestly hypocritical. The fact that wise men who were not Jewish would gladly worship Jesus as the Messiah while a self-identified Jew would fearfully despise Jesus because he thought He might be the Messiah just further confirms how spiritually blind Herod really was. As Andreas Köstenberger and Alexander Stewart put it in their book The First Days of Jesus:

Herod powerfully illustrates the fact that it’s not enough to identify outwardly with God’s people. It’s not enough to give sacrificially of your funds and your energy to build God’s house (or temple) and to help others worship. It’s not enough to learn about God and His plan through His Scriptures. Every one of us is confronted with a choice…Who will we serve? For whom will we live?

These are questions that still come to us. The Christmas season is not merely about favorite carols, idyllic nativity scenes, and warm religious observances, as wonderful as all these things may be. This season is about a newborn King. And trusting in and living for this King cannot be captured in just one holiday. It is God’s call to us every day. May this Christmas be a time to renew our commitment to this call.

December 7, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Serious Joy

“Behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:9-10).  Now that’s some big time joy!  After all, the wise men didn’t just rejoice, they rejoiced exceedingly.  And they didn’t only have joy, they had great joy.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Joy is the serious business of heaven” (Letters to Malcolm, 93).  Dallas Willard puts it like this:  “God is the happiest being in the universe” (“Wide Awake,” Leadership, Fall 1994).  Thus, when the wise men “rejoice exceedingly with great joy,” they are simply reflecting the character of God by responding appropriately to the gift of God.  They respond with joy to Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, many of us do not heed C.S. Lewis’ call to take joy seriously nearly seriously enough.  We are all too often content with being bitter, anxious, or forlorn.  But joy is not only the serious business of heaven, it is also the serious business of Christians on earth.  This is why Paul, when speaking of the fruit of the Spirit, places joy only second to love (cf. Galatians 5:22).  He elsewhere says, “Be joyful always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).  Joy, then, is not an option, but a command!

With this in mind, it is worth reflecting on how joyful you really are.  Here are some questions that may help you think about your joyfulness:

  • When was the last time a person made you smile with a kind action or gift?
  • How often do you chuckle at the marvel of God’s creation – whether it be a pet who does something goofy or a scene from nature which brings a smile to your face?
  • When you worship, does your heart leap within you as it did with the Psalmist (cf. Psalm 28:7)?
  • When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried?

Certainly life comes with its ups and downs and, sometimes, things can become so wearisome that joy is the farthest thing from your mind.  Indeed, during these times, you may even look at Paul’s admonition to “be joyful always” with a mild contempt and silently grumble about the unrealistic nature of such a command.  But it is at times like these that it is important to remember that joy is not only a command, it is a gift.  It is a gift to dull a hard season and heal a broken heart.  And it is a gift that comes straight from the character of God.

Hard seasons are things the wise men knew well.  For they arrived at Bethlehem only after a long journey from an undisclosed location back east, followed by an interrogation from a menacing despot named Herod.  The wise men had a lot to be stressed and upset about.  But they nevertheless found joy because they nevertheless found Jesus.  And Jesus is where true joy is to be found.

So are you feeling stressed and upset?  Does joy elude you?  Like the wise men, cling to the cradle of the Christ.  For in the gurgle of this Child is the joy of the ages.  In the words of Johann Sebastian Bach:

Jesu, joy of man’s desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright;
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
With the fire of life impassioned,
Striving still to truth unknown,
Soaring, dying round Thy throne.
Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.
Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure;
Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure.
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown.

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January 10, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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