The Magi and God's Self-Revelation ...
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him … 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (Mt. 2:1-2,11).
I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd (Jn. 10:16).
The sixth of January (tomorrow) is the day that many Christian traditions (Roman Catholic, Episcopal, etc.) celebrate as the Holy Day of Epiphany. This Holy Day recognizes several things including Jesus’ baptism, childhood, and most notably, the visitation of the Magi to Bethlehem (probably about 18 months to two years from Jesus’ actual birth based on Herod’s violent response of killing the male children under the age of two).
Who were these “Magi”?
Well, only tradition and speculation can inform us. We assume they were learned men who studied the skies and had some belief in a Creator God. We don’t know how many wise men were there, but we postulate the number of three individuals based upon the three gifts … gifts that were symbolic of a king, a spiritual leader, and of one prepared for death! All that we really know is they were not Israelites or even Hebrew … they were of another faith.
And yet, they came to worship the newborn King of the Jews … somehow sensing that this was more than just another earthly leader, but instead, an eternal, spiritual King. God, in whatever manner that the Magi understood Him or spoke to the Creator, had shared this with them – even though these travelers did not purport to worship our Judeo-Christian God. Despite this, God revealed to them a significant insight into what God was about to do in the world. Even more, because they believed what God revealed to them, they were able to come and to worship the Christ child.
This fact kind of blows my mind. You see, sometimes I am tempted to buy into the myth that the salvation of the world comes only through our Judeo-Christian faith, not solely through the grace and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Sometimes, I think the institution of the church and one’s relationship to that institution becomes more important than one’s relationship with the living Christ. We actually think that the salvation of the world is dependent upon the mission of the church, not upon the action of God, Christ Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
Be careful with what I just said … I am not saying that there are many paths to heaven – we know that the path is only through a relationship with Christ. But I do think that we sometimes believe that the only path to a relationship with Christ is through the Church. God had obviously revealed to the Magi some of that which God was about to do … in other words, the Magi were in some kind of relationship with God … similar to the relationship we see in the Old Testament between Abram and God. And Paul tells us that because Abram believed God, “God counted him as righteous because of his faith … (Rm. 4:3). So, might the Magi’s acts of faith or belief in what was revealed to them lead God to count them as righteous also?
Of course, that’s possible. Jesus cautioned His disciples that there were other sheep not of this flock. And the truth of the matter is that in any religion, there is some element of God’s self-revelation being made to its followers, although that revelation is often corrupted by human sinfulness (true of Christian traditions, as well, however, we have the benefit of the full revelation of God through Jesus to serve as a corrective).
And, while I don’t believe that the pathways purported by other religions will necessarily lead to “everlasting life,” “life more abundant,” or “heaven” (pick your term) or that one’s belief in the bits of God’s self-revelation found in other religions will be “counted as faith” – it does give me hope that God has not abandoned the promise and hope of the future to the church alone. God still is at work in the world.
This fact, however, does not excuse us from God’s Great Commission to the church: to make disciples and to teach them to obey Jesus’ commands (and to obey them ourselves BTW). But it does emphasize the last promise that Christ shared in giving the church its commission – that God has not abandoned us in this world, but continues to work in and among us. We only need eyes to see and ears to hear.
God chose to fully reveal God’s own self through the Jews, but throughout, God has never stopped speaking to any of the other tribes, nations or religions. Our job as those who have received the full revelation of God through Jesus is not to condemn the limited revelation others might have received, but to share that which we have received with them so that they too may believe.
God sent the Magi to remind us that God’s love is not exclusive, but is for all.
Lord, thank you for giving us Jesus to show us Your love for us. Help us to be faithful in sharing the Good News of Your Love with others who see only in part but can see more fully when we are faithful in proclaiming your love through word and deed. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Steve Van Ostran
American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains