Monday, February 28, 2011

How Far Will You Go to Follow Your Star?

Matthew 2:1-12

There are a lot of people in this world who are willing to do just about anything for something they value highly.  Klondike bar commercials seem rather silly at times, but what they show is actually a trait of humanity.  People get obsessed.  People are obsessed with movie starts, with music groups, with movies, with TV programs, with sports, with their job… the list goes on and on.

Today’s passage from Matthew is about the magi that visited Jesus when he was most likely around two years old.  Magi were a sacred sect of the Ancient Medes who later were absorbed into the Persian Empire and into the religion of the Zoroastrians.  This sect was known for interpreting dreams and reading stars.  It is very probable that Daniel worked with several magi as they were often put into positions of power because of their reputation for wisdom.  Some people speculate that Daniel may have been responsible for the knowledge that made these men take up their journey to meet Jesus.

Scripture tells us they were from “the East” which is most likely Persia.  They were awaiting a sign.  Somehow, the Bible never tells us, they knew this star would appear and it would signify the coming of “the King of the Jews.”  Even though this is the designation they give Jesus it is obvious that they see him as being something much greater than a king of a nation.  They wanted to worship him. So when the star appeared they followed it to Jesus.

What we don’t really get from the story is the sense of time it would have taken for these men to travel from Persia to Bethlehem.  Scholars who have studied this in detail tell us that it most likely took the magi at least a year to travel.  These men followed a star for almost a year.  Think about that.
When the star first appeared there was probably a relatively high level of excitement.  The magi no doubt rejoiced that they had seen the star which signified a miracle was taking place.  The excitement was so great that some of them decided to undertake a journey to see this child.  Plans were made, money was spent and when everything was in place they began their journey knowing that it would take a long time. 
We don’t know the specifics of the journey.  I’m sure there was some hardship involved.  The Magi had to travel across stretches of hot dry desert.  Even though Rome had asserted itself as the dominating empire it didn’t mean travel was safe.  Hard conditions and risk were involved.  For a year these men traveled in such conditions.  Did they ever doubt?  Did their excitement wane after a few months of being “on the road?”  Did some of their companions lose heart?  We will never know the answer to such questions.
When they reached Jerusalem they stopped and inquired about Jesus.  The person they inquired such information from was Herod.  Herod was not a Jew, but after much time and effort he was granted the title “King of the Jews.”  What is interesting here is that the Magi specifically asked for the whereabouts of the child who was born “King of the Jews.”  They were in a dangerous position.  Only Herod was supposed to be called by that title.  It is also interesting to note that the Magi almost come across as assuming that Herod would know what they were talking about.  How could such a huge event go unnoticed? 
We know the rest of the story.  Herod found out from the Jews that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem.  He asked the Magi to find Jesus and report back to him.  His intentions were not pure even though he claimed he wanted to worship Jesus as well.  Once the Magi found Jesus and worshiped him they returned home by another route because God warned them of Herod’s deception.  To get an idea of how much danger the magi were in all we have to do is look at Herod’s reaction to their having not returned to him.  He sent soldiers to Bethlehem and had all the boys two years and younger killed.
I’ve heard the story many, many times.  Such a wonderful story of men traveling from afar bringing gifts that seem to symbolize different parts of Jesus’ life, but I never took the time to really think the story through.  What these men had done serves as an example to us.  These magi spent at least a year of their lives on the road following a star so that they could worship a child.  Were these men obsessed?  To a certain degree I would say yes.  Was their obsession good?  In this case, it serves as an example of just how we are to be in our attempt to follow our star.
How far are you willing to go to follow Jesus?  Think this one through.  The magi did not stop until they found him.  It took a year but I think they would have kept going even if it took them a lifetime. 
Throughout Matthew’s Gospel he will show us through Jesus what it takes to be a true follower of Christ.  He shows us just how far we should be willing to go.  Two of the most challenging scriptures are Matthew 10:38 and 16:24 – whoever wants to follow Jesus must deny themselves and take up their cross.
How far does Jesus want us to go in following him?  He wants us to deny ourselves.  He wants us to put away our selfish nature.  He wants us to be obedient to him no matter what others say.  He wants us to make choices that bring about results that are best and right for everyone involved.  To take up one’s cross is to know that life is over.  To follow Jesus means the exact same thing.  To follow him means to give up the old life of selfishness.
How far are you willing to go to follow Jesus?  Are you willing to give up everything for him?  Are you willing to follow him without question?  Are you willing to go against what the world tells you to do?  Are you willing to look different from people of the world?  Are you willing to be as devoted to following Jesus as the Magi were following the star?

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