My father taught me many important things. How to plan, how to speak in public, how to teach and write. But by his example he taught me to serve. Sunday mornings, we would fire up the church van and leave the house early. Before coffee was hot or mama’s blueberry muffins were out of the oven, we left the comfort of the suburbs for the inner city.
Our church was a merger of a once vibrant downtown church and a fledgling suburban mission. Over time the grand old church withered while the mission flourished. Eventually the church left the city for the burbs. Left behind were a handful of lovely, aged ladies with amazing lives and even more amazing stories. But with no way to get to their now relocated church. And so, my dad and his faithful assistant would make the dangerous journey into sketchy areas of downtown Atlanta in the early hours of Sunday morning to collect our esteemed passengers.
I was the footman, porter, and junior navigator. I assisted the ladies and their many parcels safely into the van. As a child I had no way to fathom the danger that lurked in every place where they lived. Only as an adult, could I comprehend what fear must have been a routine part of these ladies’ lives. Such is the joy of childish naivete, blissfully unaware that much of life is a dangerous journey. But what was oblivion to me was vigilance to my father. He knew well the dangers of the city. He worked there. He traveled there. Yet some dangerous journeys are worth the trip.
The journey of the magi was such a trip. Christmas cards beautifully illustrate three kingly men, astride camels. In the quiet of the night, they approach a stable where Joseph and Mary adore the baby Jesus in the manger. And he gilded script proclaims, “Wise men still seek him.” Yet the serenity of our art misconstrues what Matthew 2 conveys. The journey of the magi was a dangerous one.
They were academics not adventurers. They were pagan courtiers serving pagan kings. Yet, we read of no officialdom in their visit. This trip is a not diplomatic, but personal. They had no credentials, no diplomatic immunity. Possibly they risked the suspicion of their own king and country to undertake this journey. And the route itself is not easy one. The five-hundred-mile trek was fraught with the peril of highwaymen. Even the logistics of such a trip are no small matter. Yet the greatest danger lay near journeys end.
Arriving in Jerusalem, they ask, “where is he who is born King of the Jews?” It is noteworthy that they did not go straight to the palace. Being ‘in the know’ politically, they knew what Herod was. A brilliant, but paranoid sociopathic tyrant, Herod murdered most of his own family out of jealousy. He thought little of killing anyone who appeared as a rival. In a famous wordplay, Caesar Augustus once quipped, “it is safer to be Herod’s pig than his son.” To go around Jerusalem asking about the birth of the new King was deadly dangerous. And everyone in town knew it.
What drove them to take this trip? What called them out of the comfort of their life as courtiers to undertake a dangerous journey to find and follow the Christ? Matthew’s account of the magi is a startling study in contrasts. The magi are diligent in their search. Attentive and obedient to God’s Word and Spirit. They rejoice with an exceeding joy when they find Christ. And despite obstacles and expectations, they fall on their faces to worship the Christ-child. By contrast, Herod’s response is one of satanic rebellion. The people of Jerusalem are paralyzed with fear. And the scribes and priests exhibit stunning apathy.
Faith will take you places you would never go otherwise. The path of following Christ is the safest, most dangerous journey you will ever undertake. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously wrote, “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” The remarkable truth of the magi is that before they sought Christ, He sought them. For indeed he came to “seek and to save that which is lost.”
Faith led them to seek, to follow, to worship the one who is born King of the Jews, and who is their King as well. These men are a foretaste of the nations who will come to Christ. What about you? Will you take the safest, most dangerous journey to seek, follow, and worship the one who was born King of the Jews, but who now reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Join us as we examine Matthew 2 and consider the dangerous journey of following Jesus.
We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship. Get directions here or contact us for more info. Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube.