The Wise Men's Example for Seeking Jesus in a Post-Christian Culture
Romanticizing Familiar Bible Stories
My husband and I always taught our sons to be readers, thinkers, and questioners. I don’t believe anyone is above questioning. (If they think they are above questioning, then you shouldn’t be following them!) All this reading and questioning led to some pretty interesting traditions at our house.
One was putting the wise men on the stairs, far away from the nativity scene. Because somewhere around middle school, my son read the story of the wise men and realized that they never came to visit the birth place of Jesus. The Bible simply says that the Magi came to visit the house where Mary and Joseph were staying.
It’s kind of a minor point, but it’s arguably one of the most commonly read passage in the Bible so why do we miss the details?
Well, I’d say because we all tend to read the Bible to focus on what we already know and believe rather than to be challenged to learn and grow. It’s such a tendency that when we grow up seeing nativity scenes of everyone gathered around in the stable, we just skim right over the actual story. We read “house” and think “stable”.
I don’t personally know anyone, who bases their religious theology on where the magi went to visit Jesus, so I’m not going to go on a campaign for correct manger scenes. Plus, I totally think that we need to keep the California Raisins version of the three wise men around just because I like the Claymation singing camels! I’m not going to obsess on correct manger scenes…
Ugh…except…I find the ones where everyone is white except one wise man annoying…I’m done…You know the Bible never says there were three…totally done…
The Importance of Knowing the Real Stories
However, I am totally on a campaign for reading and understanding the real stories and what we miss with our romanticized interpretations.
They Wise Men were foreigners who practiced the forbidden art of astrology.
This was a big stinking deal. The Jews believed that their Messiah was just going to be for the nation of Israel. They believed that God was going to set up an earthly kingdom where the Messiah ruled and Israel was more powerful than any other nation. God said that he was going to establish his kingdom through Israel. He said that Israel would bless all nations. For the most part, the only way the Jews could imagine that happening was through gaining political power.
Matthew was writing primarily to Jewish readers and he knew that the inclusion of astrologers from another country would be shocking to these Jews. It would rock their core religious beliefs about how all of this was supposed to happen. The story of the promised Messiah started with the lowest rejects in society, shepherds, coming to worship Jesus. Then next Matthew tells of astrology believing foreigners. Not devout Jews who lived in foreign lands. Not foreigners who heard all about the Jewish faith and wanted to join up. Foreigners who were respected in their country for practicing divination.
And not only did these foreigners get to come worship Jesus. God allowed them in on his plan to rescue Joseph, Mary and Jesus by using the gifts from the wise men to provide for Mary and Joseph while they were refugees in Egypt.
The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem? They told Herod where the Messiah was supposed to be born, apparently didn’t go seek him themselves, and gave Herod the information he used to kill every boy two years old and under in the town of Bethlehem.
Maybe you never read this story like an English teacher and you never thought about how the original audience would have received this story, but you totally ought to!
Matthew shocked and offended his original audience. He was calling them out of their romanticized version of faith which had so blinded them that they missed the very thing they had been looking for every time they opened the scriptures.
Are We Poring Over Scripture and Missing Jesus?
From what I see in church culture today, I think we need to be offended again.
We are chasing the wrong things.
I absolutely believe that is where we are today in America. Our young people are leaving churches in droves because of hypocrisy, irrelevancy, abuse, intellectual dishonesty, misogyny, and politics. Church culture has largely responded with defensiveness.
Like the Jews in Jerusalem, religious culture today is disturbed by the events taking place but I don’t think it’s because they are seeking Jesus. I think in the middle of this turmoil, they are seeking the power they once knew and clinging to the comfort of what’s familiar. They aren’t going to search for new answers and truth that seems to have been forgotten.
But when we cling to the romanticized version of faith we already know and what is comfortable, all too often, we too fail to find Jesus.