The Story of the Magi Demonstrates the Universality of the Offer of the Gospel to the World

The significance of the story of the Magi at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew

The Adoration of the Magi; Border with the Queen of Sheba before King Solomon, from a prayer book of Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg (text in German), Bruges, Belgium, about 1525-30, Simon Bening. The J. Paul Getty Museum.

Matthew provides us the story the of the Magi priests (not kings) vising Jesus with gifts from afar. Magi is a Zoroastrian term referencing “dream interpreting astrologers-astronomers from Persia or Mesopotamia who possessed secret knowledge”.[i] We don’t know the actual number, though three is the popular legend. The number was postulated by Origen in the Third Century based on the number of gifts they brought: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  

The Feast of the Epiphany, which was first celebrated in Alexandria, Egypt, at the end of the Second Century or beginning of the Third Century (the home of Origen), celebrates the appearance of God to the world who became flesh in the person of the Christ child. The arrival of the Magi is acknowledgement of the worldwide, universal significance of the event.

“Matthew’s story about travelers following the trail of a mysterious star was all about including ‘foreigners’ in the Christmas story. Matthew showed Gentiles—in other words non-Jews, people who worshipped so-called pagan gods—acknowledging Jesus as king and, presumably, savior.”

The universal availability of Jesus beyond the Jewish community into which Jesus was born to the world is built right into the beginning of the narrative in Matthew. It resonates with all of Paul’s letters in which he maintains, to his own detriment among his fellow Jews, that Christ came for Jew and Gentile, alike.

That the offering of God in the flesh to the world which was built into the very beginning of the story was first celebrated in the Feast of the Epiphany in Northern Africa is intriguing to me. Though the Magi would have come from a different area of the world, the point of the story is the universality of Christ. We also forget how prominent in early Christian history was the African church.

The story in Matthew is only 12 verses long (Matt. 2:1-12). A longer version of the story exists in one other manuscript, “Revelation of the Magi”.[ii] This Syriac text that was translated into English only recently is apocryphal and likely dates to the Second or Third Century.[iii] It depicts the wise men coming from Shir, which is in China today.

Like many apocryphal texts, it smacks of myth and legend (the star they follow comes down and transforms into the baby Jesus). It is a whimsical story, perhaps, like the Chronicles of Narnia.

While the Revelation of the Magi is apocryphal and fantastical in its details, the idea that men came from the Far East is not. The Spice Route that comes into Jerusalem connects all the way to China and can be observed still today.

I have meditated before on the thought that Jesus came at just the right time in history when much of the known world was unified by a system of Roman roads and Roman rule opening the world to the west and north (to the British isles) for the spread of the Gospel. So also, we see that the Spice Route opened the world to the east for the spread of the Gospel, just as the Gospel spread south into Africa, with Alexandria being one of the three pillars of early Christian authority.

While I am very familiar with Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles and faithful devotion to the promise God made to Abraham to bless all the nations through his seed, I had not noticed in the Gospel of Matthew, the Jewish-orientated Gospel, the significance of the Magi.

Continue reading “The Story of the Magi Demonstrates the Universality of the Offer of the Gospel to the World”

Comments on Freedom and the Clash of Ideas

If any speech or expression is deemed unworthy of protection on the basis of its content, no speech or expression is safe.


“The clash of ideas is the sound of freedom.”  (Lady Bird Johnson)

I grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, bring born at the very end of 1959. My young, impressionable mind recalls the assassination of JFK, Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember watching the riots during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the Kent State protest and shooting, the footage of the Vietnam War and the Nixon impeachment on the nightly news.

The world seemed a chaotic place, no less than it does today, on this 4th day of July, 2020.

In the 1960’s, the dissident voice championed First Amendment rights that included the freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. I remember that freedom cry as a child superimposed over news footage of a burning US flag. The patriot in my young heart was equally repulsed by the flag burning and impressed of the necessity of the freedom that allowed that flag to burn.

In law school, I learned the nuances of the jurisprudence that grows out of our US Constitution in which the First Amendment is enshrined. The clash of ideas is so sacred in our constitutional framework that it allows even the idea of abolishing that very framework to be heard.

In the 21st Century, many things have changed, while somethings have remained the same. Many of the dissident ideas from the 1960’s have become mainstream, and more “conservative” voices have become dissident. I am no longer repulsed by the burning of the flag (and, perhaps, the point of burning a flag is no longer poignant for the same reason).

The angst of the 1960’s of my youth has been replaced by the angst of the 21st Century of my middle age. The reasons for may angst are much different, yet very much the same at their core. I have grown and changed in my views, but the emotional strain of the human condition remains.

I fear, at times, that the framework that protected the freedom to burn US flags in the 1960’s might, itself, be destroyed in my lifetime, or the lifetime of my children, by the fire of ideas that are antithetical to that freedom.

The ideas in colleges and universities around the country that seem to predominate promotes the silencing of dissident voices. Speaker engagements are canceled as the loudest voices want not even a whisper to be heard in opposition. Dissident speakers that are allowed on campus are shouted down.

These social, philosophical and political theories are built on the foundation of the idea that certain voices should be silenced, while other voices should be magnified – a kind of totalitarianism of ideas. This worldview would destroy the marketplace of ideas along with the idea of capitalism from which the idea of a marketplace of ideas is derived.

I am repulsed by this worldview as I was once repulsed by the burning of a US flag. The repulsion stems not from the evils in society this worldview aims to address, as I find some common ground in those concerns. I am concerned that the proposed remedy involves weakening the most fundamental freedom that protects freedom itself – the freedom of ideas and the right to express them.

The idea of “hate speech”, as wholesome and reasonable as it sounds, is inimical to a framework of freedom that protects the clash of ideas. Nowhere is freedom more necessary to be protected, than at the intersection of ideas and the right to express them. One person’s hate speech is another person’s ideas.

If we allow the idea of hate speech into the fabric of First Amendment jurisprudence, we threaten its very foundation. What we characterize as “hate” today is subject to change with changing societal norms tomorrow. No speech is safe from the label of “hate”.

While such a worldview has some appeal, seeking to right real wrongs and has laudable goals, it does so with the threat of  abolition of freedom of speech. Yet, freedom, real freedom, protects these even those ideas that are antithetical to freedom and demands that they be heard.

As repulsed as I was in my naive youth to watch the US flag burn in the streets of America, I understood the importance of allowing that expression to be heard. That I am no longer repulsed by that expression is of no consequence. In fact, freedom of speech is nowhere more vital than the protection of speech that is offensive. Favored speech doesn’t need protection. 

If any speech or expression is deemed unworthy of protection on the basis of its content, no speech or expression is safe.

Continue reading “Comments on Freedom and the Clash of Ideas”

The Resurrection from the Point of View of Mary Magdalene

In the resurrected Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female. We are all one.

Mary Magdalene, Mary, & Salom walking up to the bright empty tomb of Jesus Christ early Sunday morning


Three days and two night ago, Mary’s entire world came crashing down. The earth opened up and swallowed it into an abyss of darkness and confusion, leaving only soul crushing grief that compounded the darkness and confusion that threatened to swallow her up with it.

There was barely enough time to get him down from that tree on which he had died and find a place for body before the Sabbath began. (John 19:42)

The crash and whirl of those events that came upon them in a rushing torrent so quickly that they were overwhelmed, reeling, barely able to breath from beginning to end, ended with his death, leaving only an oppressive emptiness of profound grief.

All the men abandoned him as their world began to unravel. The petty squabbling that broke up dinner the night before left Mary confused about what Jesus had been saying. Jesus was trying to tell them something important, but she could only remember bits and pieces….

Something about a cup… and pouring out his blood and…. It was all so unreal. It was like Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen. She could see it in his eyes. He was resigned to it.

Jesus wouldn’t even let anyone try to defend him. He just gave himself up.

And those men who were always arguing about who was the greatest: they didn’t do anything. Jesus asked them to stay awake with him and pray, as if Jesus really did know what was happening, and they couldn’t. They couldn’t even do that!

They were nowhere to be found when Jesus needed them. Mary even heard they denied knowing Jesus, but Mary and the other women would not leave him. They saw the whole unimaginable thing.

If it wasn’t for the Joseph, who knows where his body would have ended up. They barely had time to get his body down off that tree, no thanks to the guards. It’s a good thing that Joseph owned a tomb nearby and was gracious enough to let them use it. (Luke 23:50-53)

They had no time to prepare him properly. It was the Sabbath, and night was upon them.

The hours were a whirlwind. They seemed like an eternity. Jesus lay there through the night. It weighed so heavily on Mary’s heart. She needed to get to him.

Mary waited for the Sabbath to end before she prepared the spices and ointments. (Luke 23:56) She couldn’t sleep anyway. Tears came in waves. She could hardly see at times, wiping them away with the back of her hands, and in between they fell from her cheeks into the mixture of ointment and spices.

Mary remembered the day she was able to show the deep gratitude she felt for Jesus after he rescued her from the demons that tormented her nearly all the days of her life. She didn’t care what anyone thought. Nothing had been more precious to her than the ointments she collected… until Jesus set her free. She would have spent her entire life pouring her very self out for him…. It was the least she could do.

If only there was more time.

Continue reading “The Resurrection from the Point of View of Mary Magdalene”

The Cup of the New Covenant Poured Out for Us


Imagine being a close friend of Jesus in the 1st Century, reclining at the table with him, eating a meal. It’s been a roller-coaster three years! Your whole world is buzzing about him. He is absolutely the talk of the town.

You are still not quite sure what all he is talking about, but you have come to believe in him. If he is not Messiah your ancestors have talked about for many generations, he is certainly a prophet. Maybe he really is the Messiah?!

Your people have held on to hope for hundreds of years of returning to former glory. This Roman rule is not the way it is supposed to be. God rescued your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, and He gave them the promised land. God drove out all the inhabitants of the promised land before them. He could do it again! Certainly, He would do it!

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that donkey, it seemed almost so real you could taste it. This really seems to be it! The people are behind him. Everyone is waiting to see what’s next. A new day for Israel seems to be right around the next corner!

But, you never know with Jesus. He is anything but predictable, and he says some really weird things sometimes. Hard things. You don’t completely understand what he is getting at when he talks about the Temple being destroyed and rebuilt in three days. What does that have to do with anything? All of those statements about being the Bread, and the Living Water and the Vine….

As you sit at the table, the talk is excited. It is Passover. Expectation in the air. This Passover is particularly poignant with all that has been going on, but Jesus is quiet.

Not that it’s unusual for Jesus to be quiet at times. They had gotten used to it. He often went off by himself, and he would often seem to drift into deep thought, especially lately.

Jesus had left all of you instructions about preparing the Passover meal. No one knew where Jesus was, but everything was left for you as he said it would be. He finally showed up and watched as you finished. You didn’t really notice his silence until he finally spoke as everyone was finally reclining at the table.

Jesus was obviously waiting for just this time. His voice carried a certain weight to it. More than usual. There was a firm, but calm, urgency to his words. The excited tones of the men around the table fell immediately quiet as Jesus opened his mouth to speak. Continue reading “The Cup of the New Covenant Poured Out for Us”

Comparative Views on Pain and Suffering

What we have in Christianity is a God who is separate from His creation, but He isn’t detached. He is intimately engaged even with our suffering.


I studied World Religions in college at a time when I was searching. Buddhism was attractive to me at the time. (I have written on this before in Lured by Buddha but Taken By Christ and Reflecting Back On the Path I Have Traveled, among other places.) Perhaps, the reason that I think about the comparison of Christianity to Buddhism (in particular) is that I was attracted to Buddhism once, so I am interested to read or listen to what others have to say about it.

Though I eventually gave my life to Jesus Christ and vowed to follow Him, that decision was made in the environment of a secular college. My new found faith was challenged from the start. I engaged in a constant measuring of that belief against competing views early on, and that habit of measuring Christian belief against competing worldviews continues to this day.

Though we are all susceptible to confirmation bias, I strive to put my faith to the test. While I have held tightly to “mere Christianity”, I have held loosely to denominational doctrines, peripheral views and political positions, among other things. I have “evolved” in my thinking on evolution and science, and I have spent the better part of 4+ years deconstructing my political views at age 60 (now), to identify just a couple of area sin which my views have changed.

I also have spent much time wandering in my own wilderness. I have not always been a faithful follower.  Though I have had many reasons to turn aside and have nearly been undone by my own proclivity toward sin, I have not found any worldview or way more compellingly true then what I have found in following Christ.

Since I became a believer in Jesus, I have always been keenly aware of the intersection of belief and unbelief, probably because of the environment in which I became a Christian. I was confronted from the beginning by alternative and opposing views, and testing Scriptural text against alternative and opposing views has become a force of habit.

As I do, I am reminded of certain signposts along my journey, benchmarks of enlightenment – the light bulb moments in my journey – that have marked my way. I am reminded of them again when they pop up in front of me from time to time.

I came across one reminder of an old signpost this week. It was in a letter to Justin Brierley, host of the Unbelievable? Podcast, that he read on the air. The writer of the letter commented on a discussion about Christianity in India and the native religion of India, Hinduism. Brierley read the letter, prefacing it with the questions: “Which worldview offers the most satisfactory explanation [for pain and suffering], and which worldview offers the most opportunity for healing?”

Below, I will recite from the letter verbatim and make a few comments on the the dramatically different ways in which Christianity and Buddhism  (and Hinduism) approach suffering: Continue reading “Comparative Views on Pain and Suffering”