The Wise Men Sought the Truth of Things, and Found Him. Will We Pay the Cost to be as Wise as They?
“It is still a strange story, though an old one, how they came out of orient lands, crowned with the majesty of kings and clothed with something of the mystery of magicians,” G. K. Chesterton writes of the Magi. “The truth that is tradition has wisely remembered them almost as unknown quantities, as mysterious as their mysterious and melodious names; Melchior, Caspar, Balthazar.”
They’re outsiders. They intrude into a story that otherwise features the natives and sometimes their oppressors. Only one gospel mentions them. The other writers must have known the story but not thought it important enough to include. Why did Matthew include it? Why do we remember the Wise Men and even mark their visit with a special feast day called Epiphany?
Partly, at least, because we could be them. We could be them because the generous God reveals Himself in the world He created. We can see His signs, if we look. And we can find His Son our Savior if we’re willing to pay the price to follow those signs.
All That Wisdom
With the wise men, Chesterton writes in The Everlasting Man, came “all that world of wisdom that had watched the stars in Chaldea and the sun in Persia; and we shall not be wrong if we see in them the same curiosity that moves all the sages. They would stand for the same human ideal if their names had really been Confucius or Pythagoras or Plato. They were those who sought not tales but the truth of things, and since their thirst for truth was itself a thirst for God, they also have had their reward.”
These wise men saw a truth with their own tools. The King of the Jews has been born. They seem to have known it to be a big truth, worth traveling for months and maybe even a couple of years to find. Most of their peers would have said “The king of the Jews? Who cares?” because that small country the Romans had conquered didn’t count for much. Getting as excited as the Magi did would be like the Harvard philosophy department getting excited at the birth of a son to the mayor of East Bent Fork, Iowa, and booking their flights to go see him.
The Magi, though, they somehow know He’s been born. More than that, that He is a king they should worship. They must go find Him. They saw the signs and they took action. The Magi paid the price to find that Jewish child. When I posted Chesterton’s words on my Facebook page, my friend Jennifer Hartline responded that they represented “a world of curiosity and wisdom that still had the sense to know this was no ordinary child, no typical king, and had the humility to bow before Him.”
Jennifer ended her comment: “It will be very cool to meet the magi in Heaven.” I had never thought about this, but yes, it would be very cool indeed. You can imagine meeting them in Heaven and hearing them explain, still in wonder, “We had no idea …”. They went as far as they could with the tools they had, and saw someone they knew to worship. But who He really was and what He would do, they probably didn’t know until the afterlife.
The Magi Meet Jesus
You can imagine them meeting Jesus and saying “You?” and stumbling over their words in surprise. Then Jesus laying out the whole story in which they’d unknowingly played a small part. You can imagine their smiling, maybe with tears, as they find out who they’d worshipped. You can imagine them looking horrified, maybe even crying, when He tells them their meeting with the local ruler, a perfectly proper thing for them to do, led to him slaughtering lots of baby boys. Boys who just happened to be living in the same neighborhood with the Son of God, which in this world is never a safe place to be. But even that, Jesus tells them, was somehow part of God’s plan.
My friend Joe Long responded to my saying this on Facebook: “In Heaven, I think, we shall all be saying ‘We had no idea….’ Memories of our ante-apocalyptic theology will be embarrassing, though maybe charming like pictures of ourselves as toddlers going into a birthday cake face-first. We shall be saved more despite our best intellectual understandings, than through them.” (I should note he opened his comment warning, “Brace yourself, hearing this from a Presbyterian and emphatically not a liberal one.”)
That, he continues, “is no excuse not to try to correct our errors, and try to get more frosting into our faces than on our outfits at this toddler-stage. Scripture gives us resources beyond those the magi had, as the Hubble telescope does beyond their naked-eye starwatching!”
We have better, clearer signs than did the Magi 2000 years ago. We have the New Testament. But we must follow those signs. Not just read them. That means more than driving to church.
Matthew also records the words that child would say about thirty years later. To those who served His other children, He will say: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”
Surprised, they will ask Him, “When did we do any of that?” Jesus will tell them: As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” If you want to be as wise as a Wise Man, and follow God’s signs as well as they did, serve the poor.