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This Long Pilgrimage

by John W. Reed on December 1, 2007 in None

Like the Magi, let your heart’s long pilgrimage end in the worship of Jesus.

My name and where I live are insignificant. Suffice it to say I am a Gentile, one of the Magi, an adviser to kings and princes, a scholar of the sacred writings and of the stars, and an interpreter of dreams.

My fellow Magi and I believe in one true God. We came to believe in the coming of a majestic King that God would send through the writings of our most sublime thinkers. The prophet Daniel, who served in the courts of the Babylonians and the Medo-Persians, predicted that the world ruler would come from his own people, the Hebrews, and would bring universal peace, joy, and an eternal reign.

How we cherish this hope because our world is a violent place where everyone lives in fear of the brutes who force their rule over us—bloodthirsty kings who fear only each other. We long for the coming of this great King who will bring perpetual peace.
 
Appearance of the star
One night we Magi gathered together in the desert, as was our custom, to study the stars and to talk of the One to come. That night we watched the rising of a star in the East. It began as a brilliant glow and, unlike all the other stars which remained stationary, this one moved. It was not a falling star, but it moved toward us at a much lower level than the rest. As it approached, we dropped to our knees on the sand. The star stopped directly before us, and we fell on our faces and took it as a great sign.

After a long moment we dared to lift our eyes. The star illuminated the whole plain and hovered in place before it began to journey across the western horizon, gathering speed until it streaked from our sight.

Preparations for the visit
For a long time no one spoke. When we did, we agreed it must be the sign of the King’s birth—our sign to follow it to the land of the Hebrews.

Immediately we made plans for our journey. But which of our gifts would be worthy? Our best seemed meager compared with the bounty we imagined surrounding the King in His palace. My mother gave us wise advice. “Give to the King from the toil of your hands,” she said, “and the sweat of your brows.” So we placed a small stock of gold in a jeweled chest. We made our livelihood by climbing into the craggy mountains and cutting slits in the bark of small, thorny trees to gather the resin that seeped out. We boiled the resin down to obtain frankincense, from which we made incense and perfume, and we placed the frankincense in a second chest. We gathered more resin and boiled it to make myrrh. Much resin was needed to produce a small quantity, which made it a precious ointment, valued by kings and used primarily to prepare bodies for burial. We placed the myrrh in a third chest.

The journey
We set out through the mountains, fearful of the robbers who lurked in the hills, but we pressed on. After many days we neared the Hebrew city of Jerusalem. At last we stood on the crest of the hill and looked at the city. The magnificent temple of the Hebrews dominated the scene.

Instead of the regal atmosphere we expected, the city’s narrow streets flowed with beggars, and hawkers of merchandise barked at us.

“Where is the one who has been born the King of the Jews?” we asked. “We have seen His star in the East and we have come to worship Him.”

People stared at us. “There is no baby king born here,” one man said. “King Herod is old and ill.”

Another cried, “If Herod had another son, he would probably kill him! He’s murdered three already. Have you not heard that Caesar Augustus said it would be safer to be Herod’s sow than Herod’s son?” They all broke into laughter and recounted detailed stories of Herod’s many atrocities.

We moved on through the crowded streets searching for anyone who might have some word about the newly born King. But we encountered only more laughter and further accounts of Herod’s butcher campaign.

Men in the dress of Hebrew scholars seemed reluctant to talk to us. “We have seen the star that proclaimed the birth of your Messiah,” we told them. But they sneered and said, “Shall true wisdom come out of the East? And from the Gentiles?” Then they spat in our faces.

After long hours of searching we were overwhelmed with sorrow. How could we return with our quest unfulfilled?

Interview with King Herod
Then a man approached. “I’m an agent of Herod, King of Israel,” he said. “The king wishes to see you immediately.” Our sorrow turned to fear. If the stories were true, what would Herod do to us?

When we came into the regal court, however, the king smiled. “I am pleased that you have made this long pilgrimage to Jerusalem,” he said. “I commend your dedication. I too am a religious man and fond of gazing at the stars. Have you seen the temple I have built? There we Hebrews worship our God. Observe the architecture and the large foundation stones. I want the temple to stand forever as a monument to my love for the people of God.”

The stories we had heard about King Herod were apparently rumors, as he seemed to be a godly man. After entertaining us with a splendid banquet, Herod brought in a man and said, “Listen while one of my scribes reads you the words of the prophecy from the scroll of Micah.” A tall man dressed in a scholar’s robes unfurled a scroll. “And you Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are the least among the princes of Judah,” he read. “Yet out of you will come a Governor who shall rule my people Israel.”

Herod dismissed the scribe, along with his advisers, and privately questioned us about the exact time we saw the star and about our journey. Then he sent us to look for the child with his blessing: “When you have found Him, report to me so that I too may go and worship Him.”

The road to Bethlehem
Leaving King Herod’s court with joyful hearts, we proceeded to the Bethlehem road. Before long, shepherds stopped to greet us. “We have just come from the shepherds who keep the sheep for temple sacrifice,” one said. “They are full of tales of visiting angels, and they saw the infant Messiah lying in a Bethlehem manger. They even worshiped Him there!”

“In an animal’s feeding trough?” we wondered. “What was a king doing in a stable?” Still we were overjoyed with the news of His birth, but wondered why the city people seemed oblivious and even the great King Herod was uninformed when shepherds had this knowledge.

Suddenly the star appeared again! We hurried to follow it to Bethlehem. As we entered the village, the star stopped over a cottage like all the others, and we sought a way to go inside. A Jewish man stepped outside, closed the door behind him, and asked, “What do you seek?”
 
“King Herod has sent us to Bethlehem in search of the newly born King,” we told him. “We believe that this is where He may be found.” At the mention of King Herod the man’s face darkened. “How is it that you seek the baby in this house?” he asked.

We told him of the star we had seen in our homeland and of our trip. We pointed up. He stepped forward, turned, and looked. In amazement he cried, “That is like the light my wife, Mary, said she saw when the Spirit of God overshadowed her. It is like the light the shepherds spoke of seeing before they came to worship the baby. Do you suppose it is the same light that led Moses and the people of Israel in the wilderness?” Then he looked at us intently. “In truth you must be of God. I am Joseph. Allow me to step inside and tell my wife to prepare for your visit. I will return.” When he reappeared, he explained the details of the birth: The angel appearing to his fiancée. His dream. The travel to Bethlehem. The shepherds.

Our greatest hope had been realized. Joseph motioned us inside and showed us the boy. “His name is Jesus,” he said. “He is to be the Savior of His people.”

The object of our worship
We bowed before the child. How can I describe the awe? I had imagined royal trumpets. And marching armies—in a royal palace! Yet here we knelt on a dirt floor. My heart flooded with peace and unimaginable love. This great ruler-to-be was indeed the King of Peace.

We presented our boxes. “We hope these gifts will provide blessing and encouragement to the King,” we said. Joseph and Mary received them gratefully. Then Joseph plied us with questions about the star and our journey. Mary listened. They both seemed surprised that Gentiles would come in search of the Jewish Messiah. When we explained the prophecy of Daniel revealing their Son to be a universal and eternal King, their eyes widened. Yet our eyes were only for the Son—and we bowed again before Him.
   
Our collective dream
When we stepped back out into the street, the star was gone. “Be careful,” Joseph warned us before we left. “King Herod is a man filled with suspicion and hatred.” But the joy we felt dispelled our fear.

We camped on the edge of the city for the night, planning to return to Jerusalem the next morning to please the king with our report. We laughed about our humble gifts compared to the splendor Herod was surely preparing. It was difficult to rest. But knowing we must, we finally slept.

Later we awoke with a start. What are the chances that two people might dream the exact same thing? Yet all of us had shared the same vision. We had heard the voice of the Eternal saying, “Prepare to leave immediately and be gone before the sunrise. Depart for your homeland by a different way. Don’t return to Herod. He intends to kill the child.” Then we remembered Joseph’s warning. Sorrow overshadowed us as we gathered our belongings and started homeward. How could the Messiah’s birth be known only to shepherds and Gentiles from a far land? Why should King Herod not seek to worship Him? We couldn’t understand, but we knew we must obey the Almighty.

As we started out, I comforted my fellow Magi. “The Eternal One has brought us to Bethlehem and into the presence of Jesus the King,” I said. “If He could bring us here, He can protect and preserve the child. Perhaps in some way our gifts will be of value to Him, for Mary and Joseph seemed greatly in need.”

Our continuing hope
Thirty years have passed since that night in Bethlehem. We still wait for news about Jesus, the universal King. We do not know what hardships and dangers He has faced. But we know that no earthly or celestial powers can stand against Him. His kingdom will prevail eternally.

In our hearts we worship Him. We perform our daily tasks with the realization that He might bring world peace at any moment. We long for Him to do so. We wonder why He delays. Yet we want to be ready for His appearing. When I get up each morning, I think about that long pilgrimage so many years ago. And each morning I realize that Jesus may come today—and I prepare myself for His presence.

Dr. John W. Reed is senior professor emeritus of Pastoral Ministries and the director of Doctor of Ministry Studies at Dallas Seminary.

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