by Anita Wansley
Matthew 2: 1-12
January 1, 2012
I love reading books. I love watching movies. I love reading Bible stories. But there is something that drives me crazy. When the story is over, I want to know more. I want to know the rest of the story. Take for instance:
- The Wizard of Oz: so this poor orphaned girl living with her aunt and uncle, her only friend her dog, becomes a tornado victim, suffers a head injury. She has this major out of body experience and then all of a sudden wakes up. Her world changed. Did she get counseling? Did she ever get real friends besides her dog, the farm hands, and her auntie? I mean really… what happens to her? How is her life changed?
- Tikki Tikki Tembo: take this book. I mean, really, was Tikki Tikki ever really grateful that his brother was persistent in saving his life? Did his mother feel terrible about picking favorites? What were their family dynamics like after nearly losing the oldest son? What ever happened to the old man?
- In Sunday school we have been looking at Genesis. I want to know more than the Bible records. Take the story of Abraham going to sacrifice his only son Isaac. What in the world was Sarah’s reaction when Abraham took Isaac out that day? Did it really kill her as one Bible scholar suggested? What emotional scars did Isaac have after his father nearly killed him or did his faith in years to come directly come from that day on the mountain?
I realize this is all a stretch and a bit weird on my part, but it is with curiosity that I read the passage for today. The scripture features the Magi, the wise men, major characters in our Christmas story. They travel a long way, meet a hateful king, find their way to Jesus, and return home another way. Then what??? What happened to them? How did this Jesus encounter change them? What is their rest of the story??? I want to know more.
Well, here we are on New Year’s day, ready to write our “rest of the story.” The Magi and the other characters in this passage for today suggest to us a road map of possibilities to follow and storylines to avoid.
King Herod was a hateful man. His bad rap in the biblical story was deserved. But he also had another side. According to some facts that William Barclay includes in his commentary, King Herod was the only ruler of Palestine who ever succeeded in keeping the peace and bringing order into disorder. He was a great builder… he built the temple in Jerusalem. He even could be generous. In times of difficulty he remitted the taxes to make things easier for the people. He even in one instance melted down his own gold plate to buy corn for the starving people. He had some humanity deep down somewhere.
But the Herod in this story is the one with the insane suspicion of people threatening his power and position. If he saw anyone as his rival, that person or group was promptly eliminated. This included his wife, mother-in-law, and two sons.
He was crazy with jealousy and fear when he heard that there were magi in the area trying to find a baby that would be a king. I can see his reaction. The storming around, the fuming, the yelling, the focused planning of elimination. The scripture says he was disturbed. Oh, I think that was putting it lightly. And to make matters worse, when Herod was disturbed, so was all of Jerusalem. These people know Herod. They may have well known what was coming.
What was his reaction to meeting Jesus?
There was hatred, hostility, plans for elimination. Herod was afraid that this little child, this king that was to be, would disturb his position, his life, his power, his influence. His immediate reaction was to destroy him. He was a crazed leader, but maybe we can consider that our reaction to Jesus can be similar. We don’t like God changing us, making us give up ourselves, what we seemed to have built for ourselves so… we want to destroy the messenger, we want to destroy the possibilities, we want to destroy those who are bold and show us Christ.
What was his rest of the story?
I had to know more about what happened to him. Here is what I found about how his life ended. When he was about 70 and knew he was about to die, he knew that he was hated. So he had some of the most distinguished, respected citizens of Jerusalem rounded up and arrested. He ordered that the moment he died, these people should be put to death. His reasoning… he was aware that no one would mourn for his death, and he was determined that some tears should be shed when he died. He didn’t care that they wouldn’t be for him… he just wanted to have someone mourn when his time came.
Herod… not our example for writing our rest of the story.
The chief priests:
When Herod heard that these Magi had come in search of the new king, he did some information gathering. He went to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. This group he called together was made up of the experts in the law and prophecy. He summoned the religious upper crust. He asked them according to the scriptures where the anointed one should be born.
Here was a group of people who knew the scriptures. They knew the stories. They knew the prophecy. They made their living on knowledge. They knew about the coming of Jesus like the back of their hands. They quickly recited the passage that said where Jesus was to be born. This was no surprise for them.
John MacArthur describes them best in his commentary: “The chief priests were professional scholars whose specialty was explaining the application of the law. They knew exactly where the Messiah was to be born, but lacked the faith to accompany the Magi to the place where He was.”
What was their reaction to meeting Jesus?
They looked at him. Okay, they looked at the possibility of meeting him. They knew He was right in their midst. They knew that the fulfillment of all they knew, all they studied about, all they talked about was here! He was here! Their king had come. But they reacted with indifference. They dispensed the information that was requested. They connected the dots but they didn’t go to meet Jesus. They didn’t go to be in His presence and be changed forever. They were so caught up in the rituals. They were so caught up in their paperwork. They were so caught up in their roles that they had no room for Jesus to be a part of what they did.
We can be so like them.
What was the rest of their story?
I don’t know exactly what happened to these chief priests and teachers of the law. If they were young, they were probably still around 30 years later when Jesus grew up and really rocked the religious establishment. Maybe some of those that met with Herod also were a part of the group of priests and teachers that Matthew refers to in chapter 26 who assembled and plotted to kill Jesus. I am thinking their rest of the story didn’t turn out so good. They missed an opportunity to sell out to Jesus and let Jesus rule in their lives. They missed their opportunity to welcome Jesus their king into their lives and be their personal fulfillment of what their lives were based on. Instead, they went about their business… nothing changed. A rather empty existence in my opinion.
The chief priests… not the example for us to follow in writing our rest of the story
Ah, the wise men… another group of outsiders in this Christmas story. First we have this teenage unwed mother, then we have some smelly, low class shepherds, and then we get these foreigners, these astrologers for pity sakes, who come to find Jesus. I think God knew we could be a little thick-headed and so He gave us many illustrations that the coming of Christ includes everyone.
The last characters in this text were the Magi. The Magi were thought to come from the far east, maybe Arabia, Persia, or Babylon. They were astrologers trained to study the sky. They understood well the ancient belief that a man’s destiny was determined by which star he was born under. They understood the phenomenon that an especially brilliant star announced a very important person, a king. They understood the currents of expectation during that time of history that a new king was coming.
As Richard Gardner describes the Magi, “These men were not just ordinary Gentiles. The magi represent the spiritual elite of the Gentile world, those who have taken pagan wisdom as far as it can go.”
These men traveled for a long time. They entered Jerusalem and as one commentator suggests, they went everywhere in the city questioning anyone they could about the arrival of this baby. Then they get an invitation to meet with the King. King Herod that is. They go to this meeting where Herod pretends to be as devout in finding the new king as he is. He tricked them into telling him when they thought the baby king had been born. He was merely plotting the age of all the innocent children who must be eliminated. Then they were sent on their way to find the new king so Herod could come worship too.
So the Magi went on to their way following the star. What do you think they were expecting to find? In there minds did they see a palace? Maybe they saw a child dressed in fine clothes. What reaction did they think they would have?
What we do know is that when they saw that the star had stopped over where Jesus lived, they were overjoyed. When they entered the house and saw Jesus with his mother, they bowed down and worshiped him.
Now they were trained to respect and worship kings. That was a tradition they understood. But here is “a rest of the story” part that I imagine. They fell to their knees because this was different. They were overcome with unspeakable joy.
Insert Chris Tomlin song clip
They were touched by the presence of the one true God, and this didn’t fit any astrologer’s chart, this didn’t fit anything they had ever studied, this didn’t fit anything they had expected. They had a Jesus encounter, and they were forever changed.
What was the Magi’s reaction to Jesus?
This group of Magi worshiped the new king, gave him gifts fit for a king, and then listened to a dream to go home a different way and not report to Herod. That is a huge change. They changed direction. They worshiped a king that didn’t fit the mold. They heard God in a dream and understood His divine protection. They came with their own mission and ended up with one from God.
What was the magi’s rest of the story?
Oh, this is the part of the story that drives my imagination. I don’t think there is any mention of the Magi again. We know that they got up after having the dream and returned home by another way. What happened to them when they returned home? I believe they were changed forever. They had fallen in adoring worship to the Messiah. They gave up their most precious gifts to the Lord of the Universe. They were willing to change their plans and go another way. They ignored the instructions of an evil, hateful king. These people were definitely changed!
I imagine them going home to their families and being different. They had a new light in their lives, a new way of going about their daily lives. I imagine them returning to their jobs as astrologers and looking at the heavens in a whole new perspective. They met the creator of these stars. They can’t possibly look the same anymore. They had experienced the love of the almighty God… they couldn’t possibly ever be the same. I imagine that people were drawn to them. They had something that maybe they couldn’t even name.
We, like Herod, the chief priests, and the Magi, have an opportunity to have a reaction to Jesus and write the rest of our stories. We have the opportunity to hear the good news of the coming of the baby, the son of God, the Messiah. We have the opportunity to go meet him. We have the opportunity to be in His presence, fall down and worship Him. We have the opportunity to be forever changed. This changing isn’t just for us. Once we are changed by the presence of the tiny baby born in Bethlehem, we have something that others will be drawn to. We will widen the circle of those Jesus touches. We will influence our spouses, our families, our co-workers, our community with this unspeakable joy.
Max Lucado in his Bible commentary writes an application section for today’s scripture. He writes:
“You like your branch… you’ve been a pretty good branch-sitter. And then you hear the call from God, “I need you to go out on a limb
And move (to another state, country, neighborhood… I have special work for you)
And forgive (it doesn’t matter who hurt who first. What matters is you build a bridge)
And evangelize (you know that family down the street, the kid who sits beside you in class… they need you)
And sacrifice (that struggling family, that bonus you just got???)
Regardless of the call the consequences are the same; civil war. Though your heart may say yes, your feet may say no. Excuses blow numerously as golden leaves in the autumn wind… that is not my talent, it is not the way I was brought up, I don’t have time, not now, I will get to it tomorrow.
But eventually you’re left staring at a bare tree and a hard choice. His will or yours?”
Here on New Years Day we are looking ahead at another year God is giving to us. What will our rest of the story be this year? Take the road that the Magi did… let the presence of Jesus take you another way and forever live by the unspeakable joy!