One of my many roles at church is Keeper of the Sign. That isn’t an official title, but it is in keeping with my British sense of pomp and majesty. In the execution of my official duties, I have avoided putting up the overused Epiphany saying, “Wise Men Still Seek Him.”
I thought about putting the more historically and textually accurate “Iranian Astrologers Still Seek Him,” but I think there are a lot of people in the neighborhood who just wouldn’t get it. They would recognize three kings – though how astrologers of unknown number became three kings, I’m not quite sure. I’m sure there is a story there, but I don’t know it. The three is obviously based upon the fact that there were three types of gifts of indeterminate quantities.
What we know is that these Gentiles had enough information to bring them to worship. Like Paul preaching about the unknown god of the Athenians as recorded in Acts 17, the magi knew something was happening. They knew there was someone to worship. Still, it took the Scriptures to tell them where. They got as far as Jerusalem, but it was Herod, in consultation with the scribes, who sent them to Bethlehem.
The purpose of the trip was worship. The magi traveled a very long way to worship. Convenience wasn’t a concern. And there is no evidence they traveled in the comfort of kings with trains of camels carrying their tents and bedding. They didn’t begrudgingly get out of a comfortable bed on a Sunday morning and wander across town in an air conditioned or heated car. It is no wonder that the practice of pilgrimage is lost today.
(There are, of course, Iranians who still go through a lot of trouble to worship the King of the Jews. We would do well to remember and pray for them during this Epiphany season.)
They came to worship. They came to give gifts as a part of their worship. They didn’t come to see what they could get from Jesus. They weren’t there for me-and-Jesus time. They didn’t come to see if He had a healing for them, or some deliverance from personal problems, or just some sort of spiritual shot in the arm. They were there for Him.
Herod told the magi, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” Sadly, that sounds a lot like people today. They want someone else to do the careful searching for Jesus and just bring back word of Him. The magi traveled hundreds of miles. Herod wouldn’t even travel seven miles to Bethlehem. But that’s because he wasn’t a true worshiper anyway.
Herod only wanted to see Jesus for what was in it for him, which was ultimately to keep himself as king. When we only want to be in the presence of Jesus for what we can get out of it, are we any different than Herod?