“We walk by faith, not by sight.” II Cor 5:7
“Firelight shadows of the tall robed figure flickered on the ground as he knelt to stoke the glowing embers for more heat against the cold night. The star overhead shone especially bright. Melchior reflected on the long arduous journey since he left his home. There had been many nights like this one for him and his companions. Even with their entourage of attendants, it was still difficult. Tonight, as they gathered around the fire, there would be excited conversation regarding the holy pilgrimage that was nearing its end. Tomorrow they would go to King Herod and ask about this birth that had to be of some importance to him and the Jews over whom he ruled. Herod’s reign of terror was notorious. Going through his realm had still not given them pause as their devotion for seeing this prophecy through was paramount to them. Melchior could hear a wolf’s distant night-cry across the black horizon that provided a perfect canopy for the billions of stars. Tonight they would plan their visit with Herod and move on to find the child whose coming had been the consummation of years of intense study – years of study for generations of magi before them. As a scholar and astronomer, Melchior took very seriously the prophecies he had studied in the Torah, the scriptures of the Living God as just a part of a vast body of information to which he had access.”
The magi visitors are an intriguing part of the nativity story. In my research for this writing, I discovered that they were not Jewish or from any of the Israelite tribes. They were considered pagans as far as their religious affiliation go. They were from an order of scholars and scientists of that day who not only studied the heavens but also the prophecies that they considered to be authentic predictions of coming events that would impact the culture of their times. Much of the information I found was conjecture. The magi didn’t write their memoirs and leave a clear description of their work, where each man came from and how they knew that the Jewish Messiah had been born. The number of wise men who attended the coming of Christ, was deduced at “three” because of the number of the gifts that the Scriptures tell us were given to the newborn king. The historians didn’t all agree on their names but they were similar. According to recorded history, they most likely came from Persia, which would be present-day Iran. The wise men were an important element for the apostle Matthew to record their visit. What made their visit so interesting is that they had prior knowledge of His coming and according to Matthew they came purposefully to worship Him, the “Messiah of the Jews”. They traveled a thousand miles on camels over mostly desert terrain which took several weeks even months for just a few moments at the feet of the Jewish Messiah with no certainty of the timing of His birth and where they would find Him. “Faith is daring the soul to go beyond what the eyes can see.” Wm Newton Clark.
Faith had to be an important part of this story with such curious visitors. Little else fairly explains this account. Perhaps this faith started 600 years earlier in the courts of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon where much of Israel was living for the seventy years of captivity. There were wise men in the king’s court who could have possibly been the ancestors of the same order as the magi who knew about and had come to worship Jesus. At this same time, there was also four young Israelites Nebuchadnezzar had chosen to live in his palace among the wise men for instruction. Daniel, a faithful servant of God, was one of them. The relatively new king, only in his second year, had had a disturbing dream for which he demanded not only an interpretation from the wise men but also a description of the dream itself. In the book of Daniel, the second chapter, this story ensues with much interest. The wise men told the king: “’. . . “There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. 11 What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans.’ 12 This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon. 13 So the decree was issued to put the wise men to death, and men were sent to look for Daniel and his friends to put them to death. For this cause the king was angry and very furious, and commanded to destroy all the wise men of Babylon.” Daniel 2:10-12 NIV
The extermination order was in place. It was just a matter of time as Arioch, captain of the king’s guards, rounded up all the wise men in the king’s court to carry this order out.
In the mean time, Daniel received the terrible news that the young Israelites were also to be exterminated. Now is Daniel’s time to witness to the king something that as the wise men told him, could only come from a god not with flesh. He went to the king and declared that if given time, he would know the secret dream and give the interpretation of it. The four youth sought the mercies of God in this life and death matter. In a short time, God revealed to Daniel the king’s dream and its interpretation. Daniel returns to the king: “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you were lying in bed are these:29 As Your Majesty was lying there, your mind turned to things to come, and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen. As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than anyone else alive, but so that Your Majesty may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind.”
Daniel then related the dream and it’s interpretation of which its events would unfold throughout the rest of history to the end of time on earth.
“’The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.’ Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.’ Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. Moreover, at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court.” Daniel 2:27-49 NIV
A servant of the living God with Daniel’s stature would have made a lasting spiritual impact on the province of Babylon and especially the order of the wise men.
Throughout the ensuing generations, the wise men who descended from those over whom Daniel was given authority saw and experienced the prophecy unfold as Daniel’s God had revealed.
After the extermination order had been lifted and everything had turned out better than they could imagine, these are the words of praise from Daniel and his companions:
“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.
22 He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. 23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors: You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king.” Daniel 2:20-23NIV
These words of praise are descriptive of that very same God who lay in a manger 600 years later, and took on flesh in order to rescue us from ourselves. There is a story that helps us understand more clearly why He came. It is simply told about a man who didn’t really believe in God and had no need for religion in his life. It was Christmas Eve and his family had just left for the service at church. While they were gone a snow storm quickly moved in and as he was out putting the livestock in the barn he noticed some wild geese had landed nearby trying to weather out the storm. He tried herding them into the big open doors with the welcoming warmth and protection inside, but to no avail. The thought came to him that if he were a goose himself he could communicate with the others and soon the flock would be safely inside. It was then that the realization struck him as to why God would come to earth as one of us.
“The camels loped forward with a kind of renewed determination that quickened their pace. The house was in sight now – the star overhead confirming the final destination. The attendants readied their masters with last minute preparations for this once-in-a-lifetime-moment – one that their ancestors would have wanted to have been able to experience. The gifts were hurriedly retrieved and reverently placed in outstretched hands – the magi would present their own gifts. The gold would provide for the child and his parents in these uncertain times hiding from Herod’s wrath. The frankincense would honor His deity and the myrhh – well, the myrrh was a prophecy in itself as in those times, it was used in most cases to prepare the body for burial. The announcement of their arrival had been made and entry was forthcoming. Daniel would be with the magi in spirit as they gazed into the face of God fulfilling a long advent of watching and waiting for this monumental event to take place.”
Much of what gives us courage and keeps our faith alive is not always what we see but what we don’t see and are willing to trust and wait and anticipate it’s coming regardless how long it takes. “Faith expects from God what is beyond all expectation.” Andrew Murray
The final arrival of Jesus had been foretold for several millennia and there were people who were watching and waiting and planning for it. The wise men provided the context of historical proportion of the preparation and planning that had gone on before, that was worthy of this King who had laid the foundations of creation and kept it intact to protect a fragile little wayward planet that He loved enough for which to come and make the ultimate sacrifice.
“Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
John 6:29 NIV
“Acquaint thyself with God, if thou would’st taste his works.
Admitted once to his embrace, thou shalt perceive that thou wast blind before;
Thine eye shall be instructed; and thine heart made pure shall relish with divine delight till then unfelt, what hands divine have wrought.
At this Christmas time, let us seek Him where His mercy shines, with eyes of faith that see beyond what is, to what could be. God bless your Sweetwater Journey in the New Year and all the possibilities for positive change it holds.