THE EMMAUS WALK PRESENTS:

"The Mystery of the Wise Men, and Other Christmas Marvels,"

by Ronald Ginther

It was the darkest time in history when Christ was born in Bethlehem, the One who is the Light of the World. Now again it is the darkest time in the world, for it is drawing near to the emergence of the Anti-Christ, the beast who will defy Almighty God and massacre millions of believers in the Lord who will not fall down and worship him as God. We already have a world society ready to elevate such a man to world power in order to "save the Planet." He is probably already alive as I write this. Yet we have another Christmas given us. Let us be thankful as we worship the Light of the World in this darkest time imaginable. In Him alone we have hope for a better tomorrow, and a better world, and peace without end.

Let us leave the culture war against Christmas for a moment, and turn to something that is quite central to Christmas and its celebration. The wise men have always intrigued me, as they have all the generations since the birth of Christ. The star they followed to the birth site (arriving perhaps a year after his birth) casts a supernatural glory over the event that overwhelms even the splendor of these "kings" from the east come to worship the newborn King of the Jews. Who really were the "wise men" or "kings"? What was the star all about? If astronomers cannot explain the star nor its strange journey across the Eastern sky faithfully leading the wise men, so called, to their destination, how can I do any better. All sorts of explanations and theories have been concocted. Planetary concurrences and alignments have been suggested as the cause of this bright star's appearance and then its later vanishing into darkness. But no one has, to my knowledge, explained how it could lead a group of seekers all the way to Bethlehem, apparently across hundreds of miles of Eastern desert and wilderness, to the precise spot where Jesus was born. At this late date I really doubt the mystery will never be cleared up in our time concerning the "star". Some others suggest it was an angel, and that is credible enough, as angels are nonhuman spirits, starlike beings, able to shine and glow and burn with intensity like a star. Pastors of the Seven Churches of Asia were called "angels" in Revelation, after all. Yet scripture does not call the star an angel, when it certainly could have done so, clearing up the mystery about it. It is simply called a star, with no suggestion it was anything but a star or a bright heavenly light. Christ is said to have left his glory in heaven, and he did leave his glorious radiance of divinity behind, or else it was hidden in his human flesh while he was on earth. Was the "star" his Glory come down from heaven, sent to guide the wise men to his birthplace? We simply cannot know, unless the Lord tells us, and I doubt anyone has heard from the Lord about it.

Now as to the wise men, we have more solid footing, but still not much. The wise men remain a mystery as well. The term "magus" in the Bible translations referring to the wise men, has the plural, "magi," which we are all familiar with, meaning "wise man" or "stargazer" or even "astrologer." That is how the term is commonly interpreted. It may be accurate to call the wise men "magi" from the East, but we don't know that for sure. The East, or anywhere from Damascus, Armenia, Babylon, on to Persia, which extended as far as the Indus--that is the geographical East that is being referred to in scripture. This region produced centers of astrology, which included star gazing, tabulation of the movements of heavenly bodies, lunar calculations, even predictions and prophecies. Daniel was one of the "magi" of his generation in Babylon, under Babylonian kings and then into the later revived Parthian/Persian period. Babylon remained a center of learning and Judaism, as well as Babylonian star gazing and astrology and prediction. Daniel certainly looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, and being a notable magus, perhaps the greatest of his time, he no doubt passed this prophecy from the Jewish scriptures to his pupils and even his peers in the court ranks of astrologers. Hundreds of years passed, the Persian Empire that ruled the known world, the realm of Darius and Artaxerxes, had fallen to Alexander the Great and his heirs the Seleucid kings and long faded away, and Babylon as the East's once greatest metropolis was long in decline, but yet star gazers must have lingered there in other major cities of the East. Rome rose to dominate the Mediterranean world and even extended its rule as far east as Babylon in the later Roman empire, but at the time of Christ that area was now under a strongly revived Persian/Parthian power that could resist and even check Roman expansionism. We may safely say the magi were Persian or at least subject to Persian or Parthian authorities. These magi were possibly something more than wise men and stargazers too!

It is suggested by some who have studied the Bible translations of the term referring to them in Luke and elsewhere that "magus" and "magi" are not the accurate translation. The root term is actually "magoi" and denotes those belonging to the special Higher Chamber or Senate of Persian officials and nobles at court who exercised supreme powers to make or break kings. It was a kind of imperial, hereditary Senate, in other words, and held extraordinary powers and privileges, as well it might. This sets the "wise men" or "magi" as they have been translated or mistranslated in a new and more interesting light, does it not? We can see a number of explanations here for what happened when they reached Herod's presence too, remembering what a dangerous fellow he was, and how he normally reacted to the slightest threat to his throne.

For one thing, we must rid ourselves of the Christmas card conception, that there were three "kings" or wise men riding three camels. Nonsense! There might have been sixty, or even a hundred, with hundreds of aides and crack troops of the Persian calvalry attending them in a long caravan that would have looked more like a small army when it moved toward Bethlehem in the wake of the guiding star. Magoi of the royal court of Persia would not be mere wise men or astrologers, though they would have cultivated special knowledge of that sort, probably. Or, like most kings of the time, they might have trained court astrologers as aides to chart for them the heavens and keep the star constantly in their sights as they moved along from East to West.

Considering the times and the culture, I believe there were more than three of them, and they could not have been mere astrologers either. They were men of God, or men of faith in the God of Israel, believing firmly in the prophecy concerning the coming Messiah of the Jews that had been handed down to them from the lips of Daniel the great wise man of Babylon. They may have consulted Daniel's own writings concerning this prophecy, for the Babylonians and Persians were highly literate people in the upper, ruling levels of society.

Travel in the East was always problematic, not because there were no roads, for the Persians had built major roads leading East to West from the time of the classical Persian Empire, and this well-devised system was still in use at the time when Christ was born. Travellers had roads, but they did not have security, unless they brought it along with them--in other words, they had to be able to fight off robbers and brigands and even whole tribes who preyed on the richly-laden caravans that regularly passed through. Lions, panthers, diseases, badly polluted wells, lack of water entirely in the huge desert stretches of the route, burning heat, chilling temperatures at night, all demanded that travelers be well-armed and well-equipped with sufficient food supplies and clothing and tents and draught animals and accurate knowledge of the terrain for them to survive the great distances involved between populated, civilized centers.

The wise men evidently set out well-prepared. They had all they needed to make a safe journey, as safe as it could be in those circumstances. There is no word or suggestion in scripture of them fighting off attacks (for who would dare to attacked a Persian convoy attended by mounted Persian archers?). Scripture simply states that they followed the star from the East and reached Judaea, the puppet kingdom ruled by Herod the Great but only because he had been approved by the Roman emperor. Luke tells how they went straight to Herod and inquired how they might find the newborn King of the Jews.

This unexpected visit (for he had not known they were coming, or he might have tried preventing them, and some suggest the Roman troops and his own troops were away north in a military action at the time) by armed Persians inquiring about a "newborn King of the Jews," or Messiah, was certainly an odious call for him, but one that required some polite diplomacy and cunning statecraft on his part, as the Persians were independent of Rome and could muster some formidable armies that could easily reach and attack Jerusalem.

A foxy Roman client state despot like Herod knew full well it would not do him any good, as he was then in a weakened state, militarily, with the Roman legions of the area and his own troops largely drawn away up north, to offend his unwelcome "guests" from Persia. So as scripture indicates, he made a show of wanting to worship the newborn King of the Jews, the Messiah, and even inquired of his own scribes where this personage was to be born. They consulted the prophets' writings. The answer came quickly: "Bethlehem of Ephratah." There were two Bethlehems, one near Jerusalem, the other up north, so Micah the Prophet had made that clear enough by specifying the locality, Ephratah. That removed all doubt whatsoever about the location and nameplace. The visitors departed, with Herod's "blessing," and only the instruction that they return to tell him where they found the newborn King of the Jews "so he might also go and worship him."

Having paid a courtesy call on the local ruler, the invading Persians (for this was an invasion as far as Herod was concerned, being extremely fearful of losing his control and his kingdom to rivals all throughout his long and bloody reign, in which he put to death hundreds of people he feared might want to unseat him, including several sons of his) departed and then the star appeared once more and led them the remaining six miles or so from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.

Once there, the local people could direct them to the house of Joseph, for it was a small Jewish town, where everyone knew everybody's business. Joseph had already been there with his young wife and child perhaps a year or more by this time when the Persians appeared with their gifts. We know the rest of the story: how they fell down and worshiped the Lord Jesus, a child by this time, not a baby, and presented their gifts, then departed. They knew Herod would recover from his shock or whatever kept him from striking right away, and send troops to arrest them and probably destroy the youngest rival to his throne. Despots of Herod's type were well-known for acting like this when their power was threatened. Why should Herod be any different? He certainly would remove any threat, if he were capable of it and again had sufficient forces on hand so that he no longer feared the Persians and their expert mounted bowsmen. Perhaps the Romans his allies had come back by this time, and Herod was now in a position to exert his full powers. We know that the Lord God warned the Persians not to return to Herod, where they might have faced arrest and torture and even death once their private army was defeated. They turned east and crossed the border at the Jordan and escaped Herod's area of control, and vanished into mystery, their mission completed.

What have we learned about these Persians? Magi? Magoi? Wise Men? Astrologers? Nothing can be fully certain except what they did, and that they were wealthy, wise, courageous, and men of faith to the extent that they revered the truth of the ancient Jewish prophecy of the Messiah that no doubt was conveyed down the generations of Persian aristocrats and ruling bodies by Daniel initially. They hazarded their lives to some extent in following the star that signalled the Birth. They did not quit on the difficult journey but persevered, even when they had to face a suspicious, blood-stained tyrant, Herod the Great. They heard from God, for God knew them well and gave them instructions that probably saved their lives. Men of faith who heard from God, they were obedient. They believed the Messianic prophecy, gave up their comfort and security of their homes to set forth on a long journey across possibly a thousand miles of robber-infested wilderness, all to worship the newborn Messiah of the Jews. Certainly, he was no mere human ruler, or simply a Jewish child with no relevance to the whole world. They somehow knew this Messiah was a Ruler of the whole world, in God's ordained, master plan of the Universe. It behooved them then, knowing what they knew, believing what they believed, to put their lives and fortunes on the line to go to this newborn and give him proper, kingly tribute, their worship of his divine personhood and divine mission on earth as well as their costly gifts fit for a king.

The star of the Nativity was significant, as it convinced the Persians that the prophecy was fulfilled. The Persians needed this unmistakable, supernatural sign in the heavens. That it pointed to and also led the way to the birthplace, well, that was something they probably had not expected but rejoiced continually to see. How could they miss, with a star as a guide?

So they were rejoicing, not traveling fearfully and wandering about through the vast wildernesses of the East. Unlike all previous travelers, they were filled with certainty that their quest was not going to end up in disappointment or failure or something even worse. Their gladness of countenance, their rejoicing, must have impressed the murderous old Herod too, so that he feared to lay his hands on them. This strange, impressive group of Persian nobles was come about a business bigger than himself, he must have sensed, so he drew back his talons temporarily instead of striking immediately.

The Persians themselves, though a mystery still, shine like a star, for their clear and noble character and their singleness of dedication to their mission.

There is an excellent saying that has grown up about them: "Wise Men Still Seek Jesus."

How true! If we would seek Jesus, as they did, we would be singleminded, dedicated, fearless, and rejoicing all the way into His presence, would we not? And certainly we would not, just like them, be disappointed when at last we found Jesus. Have we really found Jesus? Are we fearful or rejoicing this season? Upset or glad? Fulfilled or seething with all sorts of disatisfaction? What is wrong with us? Are we really seeking Jesus, or something, someone else, both inferior to the Christ who came for our salvation. The Persians, the so-called wise men, sought the Son of the Most High God, the Messiah, and found Him! Almighty God even helped them find Him and then gave them direction to protect them from Herod and see them safely on their way to their homes! So he will do for each of us too, if we truly are wise in this wicked generation. God will lead us to the Lord, if that is our highest, chief desire of our hearts, then see us safely to our homes in heaven. Let us then resolve in our hearts to seek Jesus this season and throughout the coming new year.

Final Note: Hal Lindsay's just now, for Christmas, re-aired his 2005 program on Daystar concerning the Mystery of the Magi (who probably numbered more than three, he stated), and it was most excellent! Every word of his was riveting. His understanding that their high caste was that they presided in the Babylonian royal court initially, and that is quite possible. As Hal Lindsay said, they could have been, initially, contemporaries of Daniel and learned much about the coming Messiah that he prophesied and other prophets foretold as well. They may well have passed this knowledge on, so that later generations of magi (or court wisemen, astrologers, Chaldeans or star-gazers and trackers) looked expectantly toward the grand event that they knew would take place in the land of the Jews. Things being equal when you consider this mystery, he may be correct. But perhaps not all is explained by him either. We just cannot know, unless the Lord tells us himself, or we dig up evidence of the actual wise men or magi or their accounts of their trip to Bethlehem guided by a star. But is it really so important if we pinpoint where they originated specifically? The godly, courageous acts, the noble, pure intentions, the ardent worshiping of the Baby Jesus as King and God, they are made crystal clear by the scriptures. They searched with all their heart, mind, and strength for the Messiah, and God was pleased to lead them to the very town of his birth and to the house where he was residing with his parents, guiding them by the most special sign imaginable, a shining star in the heavens.

Once free and brave America has become, due to the social intimidation of legalized tyranny of liberalism, a nation of oppressed cowards. Who would have thought twenty years ago, or 1989, that we would one day have to argue for the celebration of Christmas in America? How could we conceive a day when the Grinches and Scrooges would get the upperhand and dictate where we could and could not celebrate Christmas or even use the word, Christmas? But that is exactly where we have gone: to the very pits, where Nativity Scenes are banned from display outside courthouses and schools, and the very word, Christmas, has vanished from stores, malls, airports, and downtown light displays, with "Holiday" substituted! How can you have a "Merry Holiday" when the holiday the word refers to is banned and not even socially approved anymore, though it remains a legal national holiday on the calendar? Here is the best argument for Christmas I have yet seen yet:

A World Without Christ?

Have you ever seriously reflected on what this world would be today had not Jesus Christ been born into it 2,000 years ago? On what would we reflect without Bethlehem and its swaddling clothes, manger, and straw?

Western civilization owes its existence to Bethlehem and its manger and straw. The fact that the statesmen, the philosophers, and the scientists will not admit it, will not discuss it, proves nothing; most of them won't even admit that God created man.

Two thousand years later the inn is still crowded with people unwilling to welcome the Savior...

When you reflect on what this world would be today without Bethlehem and its God-Child, what it would be without Jesus Christ, you know time is dated from that manger.

Every event is dated before, or after, Jesus' birth. The Greeks tried to date time from their Olympics--and failed. The Romans tried to date time from the founding of their Imperial City--and failed...

But what the Greeks could not do with their universally famous games, and what the Romans could not do with their Imperial City...Jesus Christ did with His swaddling clothes and His bed of straw.--Adapted from "A World Without Christ" by Noel Smith, Baptist Bible Tribune, 12/21/78. Reprinted in Rejoice in the Lord.TV Newsletter, Winter 2009, Pensacola, FL 32523-9160.

Note: There is an effort from mainly scholars to use "Common Era" or C.E. instead of A.D. or "In the Year of Our Lord." I suppose Jewish scholars are more comfortable with that, but also atheists and secularists are probably promoting it the most. It is not receiving common usage, however. You don't see it being used in the mainstream culture and the general media, do you? Funny thing, it still is hinged on the birth of Christ! The so-called "Common Era" starts about the time Christ was born, which occurred anytime approximately 6 B.C. down to 1 A.D. Why did they pick that time, pray tell, if Christ's birth wasn't the deciding factor? It had to be, for I don't think there was anything remotely comparable in importance happening between 6 or even 7 B.C. and 1 A.D. Herod died shortly after trying to kill Jesus, that was about the only really other important event. And there was Caesar Augustus's world-wide census called and taken. I suppose that was important stuff, though some scholars up until lately debated it even happened until recent evidence emerged about the Syrian governor Cyrenius taking more than one census, and being in power at two different times, which would make him the Governor of Syria Major (which included Judaea) at the time Jesus was about to be born and was born. In any of these cases, they all relate to Jesus Christ. So why quibble over straws, thistle-down, and non-essentials, scholars? Simply be honest and acknowledge the fact that the whole of Western Civilization has gratefully acknowledged since the time of the First Century Roman empire--Jesus Christ was born, and, increasingly, it made all the difference for the whole world! Move aside Buddha, move aside Mohammed, or any other religious leader of the masses. Only Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God and Messiah of the Jews, is important enough for recorded human history be hinged on his birth into BEFORE CHRIST (B.C.) and IN THE YEAR OF THE LORD (A.D.). Only Jesus was judged by the vast majority of humanity who had anything to say about it, that only He was worthy of that supreme recognition. "Common Era", indeed! There is nothing common about Christ and never will be, though he was lowly in circumstances as a child and boy and the stepson of a carpenter. He is no longer lowly, however. He has regained all his glory and power, since His resurrection, of the Uncommon King of Kings, Lord of lords, and Almighty God, Jehovah! Just as there was no such thing as a "Common Era" when he was born, there will be no such thing as a "Common Era" when he returns to reign over the whole world! Where will be the scholars who took his peerless name off, substituting "Common" and "Era"? They will either be on their knees worshiping the incomparable Christ on his royal throne or they will be in hell. Those are the only two places left to them. What will be their choices?

IT WOULDN'T BE CHRISTMAS WITHOUT JESUS

Jesus is:

The Light of the World

Savior to those who receive him

Hope in a dark world

Peace for the troubled soul

Refuge in time of trouble

Near to those who need comfort

Forgiving

My Healer

My Shepherd

Jesus came to:

Provide eternal life

Destroy the works of the Devil

Redeem me from the enemy

Enable me to be strong

Be my Healer

Lead me in righteous pathways

Teach me to love

Teach me how to pray

Give me wisdom

Rescue me, comfort me.

"I bring you good news of great joy that will be to all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord...Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men..." Luke 2:10-14

From Moshe's Musings, Jews for Jesus Newsletter, December 2009:

God is without body.

He has no form, Except that of a babe born in Bethlehem,

A small refugee who became a man so far from home.

Yet, through His body, and through His blood, a world of people was nourished and came to life.

He gives life,

And calls us into strength and holiness;

He calls us to goodness,

And to giving-ness.

Oh that we, like Him, should become nourishment to bring nations to life.

And through that refugee babe,

May we see the mighty Lord,

Who prevails over all.

Noticing the number of visitors to this site at Christmas 2009, I am surprised at so many who have come to these pages in the last couple days, on both Christmas Eve and Christmas. That tells me you may have no family, or very little family you can relate to, and perhaps are a recluse, sick, or old, or both, and perhaps by choice too if you are young and able to get out. Perhaps you have drugs or alcohol or an eating disorder. Whoever you people are, you came to this site, when you could have stayed away. Christ want just to tell you He loves you, and came to be born here as a baby, just for you, so you would have a Savior someday. That someday has arrived! The good news is that it is today. Let him love on you! Let him save on you! Let him deliver on you! Let him take you to heaven with him when he comes again, perhaps very soon. Jesus is ours!--He is our Gift from God. Take and unwrap this greatest of presents, given you and me from the Father in Heaven. Wrapped, he is no good to you or me at all. Unwrapped, He is everything our hearts could ever desire. God bless you this Christmas 2009--Ronald Ginther, Editor and Founder, The Emmaus Walk School of the Bible.

Since it is just you and Him, be yourself! It is quite okay with God for you to be like a child with Him, as that is exactly what you are, even if you are a linebacker for the Green Bay Packers. So you can cry, be weak, be angry, tell him exactly what you think about him, it won't put him off in the least way. He can take it. He is a Big God. But get it right with him before you leave off praying to Him. Ask his forgiveness, and He will grant it every time. He will lovingly touch and embrace you too, in all sorts of ways He has at his disposal. If we couldn't be freely ourselves with our own Creator, what a fix we would be in. So don't act pious and pretend to be something better or other than what you really are. He sees through all that facade. He isn't fooled. Just be yourself, in whatever state you happen to be in at the time, and He will meet you and listen to every word. He knows your prayers and needs before they are expressed, but you need to express them to him anyway, as this establishes a relationship. What kind of child would just assume her dad loves her but never go and climb into his lap and hug him and tell him she loved him too? What a heartless little, self-centered thing she would be! But children are not like that. They are going to be natural and make contact with those who love them truly--that is how God made them to be. But adults? We are the unnatural ones! We think up all sorts of ridiculous reasons why we can't come to God and tell him what is on our hearts--and then, if we do go to him, we only say what we want him to hear and keep the rest hidden, as if he can't see everything in us that is going on! Adults can be so blind and stupid, when they don't act like God created them, right? Let's quit acting that, and be real with God. That is all he asks as the bottom line to communicating with Him. Being real means we make ourselves vulnerable to our own Creator, no more defenses and excuses and self-justifications that don't convince anyone but our fool selves! David was real with God, as a young boy, and God made him king over all Israel! God is always looking for nothings who can be real with Him, so he can make them Somethings! Why not us, we're nothings, we're nobodies! We're just what God can use to do mighty things, if we remain small in our own eyes, of course, just as David and other great men and women of God did. To God be the glory, not to God and men be the glory. God cannot share his glory, it is His alone. Let us live to give God all the glory, no matter what He calls us to do for Him in the little time we have on this planet to be a blessing.

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