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”

Christmas Thoughts: God Redeems the Line of Judah through Tamar

Originally posted on Navigating by Faith:
(c) Can Stock Photo / halfpoint Amazingly, the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew lists five women. In a patriarchal society governed by paternal lineage, that fact should jump out at us and cause us to take notice. What is God saying? What was He doing? How should we view…


Families and Christmas can be messy. The vast majority of us do not live in a Hallmark world. The fact that Christmas season always sees an uptick in the incidence of suicide is testament to the fact that the gap between Holiday cheer and reality can be a big on

But there is hope! Christmas is the remembrance of God stepping into world like a light shining in the darkness.

Last year at this time, I began a series of blogs on the women listed in the genealogical lineage of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. That a total of five women are even listed in his genealogy is kind of mind blowing. Genealogies, especially in the First Century patriarchal world, are dominated by men. What are these women doing there?

It occurs to me that maybe God is saying something particularly important by including five women in the genealogy of Jesus.

For starters, God’s view of women, I believe, has always been higher than patriarchal history gives them credit. After all, God made us, male and female, in His image. Men are only half the image of God if you do the math.

But something else is going on as well. When you dig into the stories of the people in the lineage of Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior, surprises are plentiful. His lineage isn’t particularly saintly. It’s “complicated”.

Jesus came not only as a light in the darkness of the world; he came as a light in the darkness of his own lineage. The story of Tamar is just one such example. She is the first woman listed in that lineage.

Navigating by Faith

 (c) Can Stock Photo / halfpoint(c) Can Stock Photo / halfpoint

Amazingly, the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew lists five women. In a patriarchal society governed by paternal lineage, that fact should jump out at us and cause us to take notice. What is God saying? What was He doing? How should we view that today?

We can gain insights by looking at the women who are listed. The first woman listed is Tamar. Her story is found in Genesis 38, and it is a wild one for people of polite sensibilities.

Tamar was the wife of Judah’s oldest son, Er. Judah was the fourth son of Jacob (son of Isaac, son of Abraham). It might seem odd that Judah, the fourth son, is the one from whom Jesus (the Messiah) descends, but that is only a minor oddity compared to the rest.

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Christmas Thoughts: Uriah’s Wife and The Redemption Plan

from https://leadershipspirit.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/david-and-bathsheba-2.jpg

My Christmas thoughts a year ago were focused on the women in the genealogy that Matthew included in the beginning of his Gospel. Tamar, Rahab and Ruth are all stories of redemption foreshadowing the ultimate redemption story when God entered into our story, which is ultimately His story. The grand story of global redemption is what we celebrate at Christmastime, and these women are all instrumental in that global redemption story.

A total of five women are listed in the patriarchal lineage included at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel. The oddity of including women in a patriarchal lineage bears some investigation. Indeed, we find the redemptive theme when we look into it, and, that theme continues with the next woman on the list, but with a twist.

The twist begins with the fact that the next woman isn’t even named! The genealogy in Matthew reads like this:

Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife[i]

Another oddity signals that something is different here. The stories of Tamar and Ruth were stories of kinsman-redeemers, women who embraced the shelter and protection of the relatives of their deceased husbands and, thereby, gave birth to sons who would carry on the line that would eventually lead to Jesus, the Christ (Messiah). All of the first three women, including Rahab, are also stories of faith and God’s faithfulness.

The story of “Uriah’s wife” is another example of God’s faithfulness, but human side of the story is one of unfaithfulness. Bathsheba is the mother who had been Uriah’s wife. She isn’t named for a scandalous reason.

Continue reading “Christmas Thoughts: Uriah’s Wife and The Redemption Plan”

Christmas, Taxes and a Heart for God

What do Christmas, taxes and King David have to do with each other? You might be surprised to find out.

Copyright: alefbet editorial use only
Archaeological site, City of David in Jerusalem, Israel on May 9, 2017

This blog article is prompted by a Christmas tax article. Yes, Christmas and income taxes go together. Who would’ve thunk it?!

In Luke 2:1, we read that Caesar Augustus sent out a decree for a census. It turns out the census was declared so that the Caesar could tax people. I didn’t know that before.

That previously unknown fact (unknown to me at least) isn’t what caught my eye or what prompts this article, though. The article is also not about unjust taxes that burden the poor and avoid the rich. This article also isn’t about the controversy over whether Luke is accurate about the census and the timing of it.

What prompts me to write this piece is the reference to a previous census and previous tax and the surprising and shocking instigator of that tax – the man of God who allowed it to happen, David.

Continue reading “Christmas, Taxes and a Heart for God”

Christmas Thoughts: Psalm 22

We celebrate the humble birth of Christ, knowing that the redemptive work God started then is finished, even as it is playing out in our own lives and the times we live in.

canstockphoto32323116
(c) Can Stock Photo / realcg

I don’t typically think of the Psalms when I think of Christmas. My Christmas thoughts this season have revolved around prophecies in the Old Testament, and that is where the Psalms enter the picture. The Old Testament is full of prophecies that came true in the person of Jesus from Nazareth, who was born in Bethlehem a little over two millennia ago.

Psalm 22 was written by David during his time of exile, either when he was on the run from King Saul, who had turned against him in jealousy, or from his son, Absalom, who sought to wrest the kingdom from David. Psalm 22 is David’s cry to God in the midst of his own circumstance.

But Psalm 22 is more than that. Psalm 22 is a foreshadowing of God’s own cry when His creation turns against Him. It becomes the cry of God, who shed his divine glory to enter His own creation in the form of a man, which we celebrate at Christmastime.  Continue reading “Christmas Thoughts: Psalm 22”