The Magi Don’t Belong in This Story

A blog for Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, which occurs twelve days after Christmas on January 6th

The mystifying magi appear in just one Gospel, Matthew, Chapter 2. That doesn’t give us a lot to work with, and much of what we may believe about these sages is myth or conjecture. For example, Scripture says nothing about camels or the number of magi. Did you know they followed the star sign for two whole years, finding baby Jesus in a house, not a stable? And they were not kings. Because I have a habit of trying to see myself in all the characters of Scripture, I want to look at the little we know about these shadowy figures and what they might tell me about myself.

The magi were gentile astrologers, foreigners in possession of great material wealth. The word “magus” can mean wise man, magician, advisor or even wizard and comes from the Persian language. These mystery men traveled a long way to bring their inappropriate gifts to an anonymous child in a backwater village. There is no specific prophecy of these messianic visitors in the Bible nor even of the star which brought them. The magi don’t belong in this story. And neither do I.  

The magi were rich, and this story is about the poor.

Whether Christ’s visitors used their own resources or worked for a rich benefactor, they possessed the means to leave their homes for over two years on a romantic quest and then return again. They (or their unmentioned pack animals and servants) brought rare and valuable gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. In the Christmas story no one and nothing else lives in a world of wealth. Mary delivered her Son in an animal stall. Joseph was a common carpenter who offered a poor man’s gift at Jesus’s consecration in the Temple (Luke 2:24). Christ came to earth on a mission to and among the poor (see Luke 4:18, II Cor. 8:9, etc.). The magi don’t belong in this story because they were rich.

The magi were gentiles, and this story is about Israel.

The wise men were not Israelites. They implied their non-Jewishness when asking Herod about, “the king of the Jews,” and their profession was outside the usual range of Jewish vocations. They were visitors from a far country and a foreign culture, outsiders to the story they were helping to write. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, the long-awaited savior of God’s conquered but chosen people. Jesus Himself proclaimed his responsibility to “the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). Even if they happened to be Jewish converts, these magicians were not of the house of Israel. The magi don’t belong in this story because they were gentiles.

The magi were influential, and this story is about the powerless.

As well-resourced astronomers or astrologers (the two studies were often one discipline in the ancient world), the wise men served as advisors to the powerful. They held influence over important decision-makers. While they did not, apparently, seek out King Herod, news of their mission carried to him, and he took it very seriously. The words of a common tourist would not have aroused so much concern. The magi were connected. But Jesus did not come to the powerful. He invited shepherds to His birthday party. He touched lepers and consoled prostitutes. Jesus came to the poor, the oppressed, the humble, the outcasts. The magi don’t belong in this story because they were powerful.

I don’t belong in God’s story for the same reasons.

Anyone living in a western country today, even in the bottom 5%, “is richer than 68 percent of the world’s inhabitants,” according to Forbes. I can rightly say that compared to everyone in the world now, as well as those who lived in Biblical times, I am rich. It is harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for me to be saved. I am also a gentile. As far as I know there is no Jewish blood in my veins. God’s story is not the story of my people. And I am connected, even powerful. There is the fact that I am white, which unfairly advantages me, giving me social power I do not earn or even understand. My American passport, the technology I wield, the political and vocational connections I could muster, all give me more influence than most in the world possess.

Like the magi, there is no reason I should know anything about Christ, that He should get my attention or I should get His. I don’t belong in His story. And yet, according to God’s great mercy, He mysteriously chose me out of nowhere, guided me to His Son and bids me worship Him. I don’t want to be like ‘the three kings’ because they were rich, powerful gentiles. I want to be like them because they were willing to risk their privileges and step outside their heritage for something much more important. Against all odds, they were chosen to worship King Jesus, and “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matt. 2:10).


Related material:

The Mysterious Magi
We Three Kings
Crowded, Dirty, Humble, Holy

Talking to Stan

Stan, my wonderful father-in-law, just put his garden to bed for the winter. There is nothing he loved more than driving his tractor around the farm on a fall day in Michigan. So it was both fitting and beautiful that he took his last breath doing just that. In fact, he died between sentences, while talking with a close friend.

This good man was the nearest thing I had to a father in my adult life. He was a man of integrity who loved God, a patriot in the best sense, a warrior who shed tears when his grandchildren left after a visit. He loved and cared for his wife of 65 years, a spry and feisty centenarian who can no longer live on her own. She and I are puttering around the house together now, waiting for a room to open in a nearby assisted-living facility. As I search for missing items, calm repeated fears and welcome a parade of visitors, I find myself talking to Stan.

Sometimes I ask his advice obliquely (what would Stan have done about this?) and sometimes directly (Stan, please help me figure this out). I tell him how grateful I am for the plans he made, the family he raised and the legacy he left. I grumble at him for his packrat ways and for hiding his wife’s driver license too well. I’m a bit astonished at myself for doing this. I don’t know whether he hears me, and so far, he hasn’t answered back.

Many otherwise sane people have talked to their dead throughout history. Some have institutionalized the practice as prayer or ancestor worship. I understand the impulse. My love and my frustrations are real. They want a target to aim at. Someone who cares deeply about me now sees further than I can. Someone in heaven has the wisdom I need. Stan, as I knew him, was both strong and tender. I trusted him. He could understand my situation as no one else could. So I talk to him.

I realize I should be talking to God like this all the time. My love and even my frustrations have been invited by the King of Everything. Someone Who cares deeply about me sees further than I can. Someone in heaven has the wisdom I need. The Lord God is both strong and tender, and I can trust Him. He understands this and every situation as no one else could. So why am I talking to Stan?

It’s easier to feel warm about a physical person you have hugged and laughed with than a Spirit you’ve never heard or touched or seen, I suppose. But I don’t want my memory of Stan to be a substitute for the reality of God. Instead, I want to understand God better through my love for Stan. I want to know my Jesus as the warm, wise, ready heart on the other end of my conversations.

I don’t think it’s wrong to talk to Stan even though he’s dead (as long as he’s not talking to me), but it is more effective and more real to speak with the living Christ. It is not Stan who has what I need, loves me the most or intercedes for me with God. His death cannot yield those benefits. But his life is still pointing me to the One whose death ensures that Stan and I will sit down together again. There are so many things I look forward to in heaven, but one of the best will surely be talking to Stan.

“Christ is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)


Related Content:

For the Women Who Love the Men Who Love Porn

Bill was a hard-working, family man, a guy who took his daughters on dates, led family devotions and remembered his wedding anniversary. So when his wife, Carol, found a rash of 900 numbers listed on their phone bill, she had no idea what she was looking at. She called the first number, and that’s when she learned the family budget was supporting Bill’s phone sex habit. It came out of the blue, and it nearly destroyed her.

Unfortunately, pornography and sex addiction are growing phenomena in the digital age, and mature, Christian men are not exempt from their pull. While resources are becoming more available to support and provide accountability for these men, their wives are often left in the lurch, furious and confused about who they can tell or how to go forward. If you happen to be one of them, let’s talk. There are a few things I’d like you to know.

It’s Not Your Fault

Even if it’s not a conscious thought, most women in your situation eventually wonder why they weren’t enough, and whether their husbands would have turned to porn if they were doing everything right. Please notice this insidious lie when it rears its ugly head. It’s not your fault. Even if you have been withholding sex entirely (which I am not condoning unless it is part of an open and progressive plan toward healing), even then, it is not your fault. Your husband has a responsibility before God to remain faithful in his mind, his heart and his actions, whether he is married or single, satisfied or not. If you need to work on sexuality in your marriage, do that work because you want to please the Lord, not because you want to manipulate your husband – even to ‘keep him faithful.’ That responsibility doesn’t belong to you.

It’s Not Personal

Every wife I have ever worked with in this situation, believes that her husband has aimed his sin as a weapon directly at her. Every porn-addicted man I have ever worked with has told me it has nothing to do with his wife, personally. It’s not about whether he loves you or finds you attractive. The sexual instinct of a male gets triggered many times every day, often in innocuous circumstances; this has nothing to do with the person he loves at home. He is not consciously trying to betray you when he looks too long at the bartender’s cleavage or watches that video late at night. Does he realize you would not like what he is doing? Probably. But it’s not about you as a person any more than sneaking out of the office early is about the man or woman who owns the corporation.

Processing Betrayal

Perhaps you think I am excusing what your husband has done or minimizing it in some way. I do not intend to. What your husband has done is a deep sin which goes to the heart of his masculinity, his relationship with Christ and his relationship with his family. He has deceived you. Christ calls the sin of lust every bit as bad as adultery itself. Your husband’s love for God must result in a real, humble, heartfelt and determined repentance. And it is part of your healing process to grieve and repudiate his sin which has broken your innocence, your trust and your dreams. Just as God, Himself, feels angry with evil and grieves all our sins (Rom. 1:18; Eph. 4:30), both anger and mourning are a valid part of your journey. It can be helpful to use a workbook or see a counselor to help you work through those feelings.

Finding Support

I wish I could tell you there are lots of good options for women in your situation. If you live in certain parts of the country, you may be able to find a support group you can connect with, but in many cases that will not be available. If you cannot find one, you could create your own. I don’t mean you should start asking strangers if their husbands look at porn, but you may already know someone you could share with. If he is in recovery, your husband may also be able to help you find one or two other, healthy wives a little farther down the road. If you are in an intimate, safe small group, that might be an option, too. Please involve your husband in this decision if you are working toward healing together.

Prayer support is essential. That can be as simple as turning in a prayer request at church: “Please pray for my family while we wrestle with some hard things.” But if you have praying friends you can share some or all with, that is even better. You may be able to ask your pastor to pray for and with you, but, again, involve your husband, if possible. I hope you and your husband can pray together about this issue, too. I’d encourage you to keep it on the table for a long time.

Where Do You Go from Here?

In part, where you go from here depends on your husband’s willingness to get help and be honest with at least a few others. But there are things you can do, in any case.

  • Find a good, Christian counselor or an experienced, empathetic pastor and talk through your feelings and your options with them.
  • Consider reading a Christian book about pornography addiction to gain a better understanding of what your spouse is doing and going through.
  • Connect with at least one other person who cares about you and your marriage to encourage you and pray for you.
  • Dig deep into your relationship with God. Find your worth, your strength and your wisdom in Him in new ways as you pass through this valley. Cling to His promises to work all things for good for those He calls (Rom. 8:28), and meditate on the inability of sin or circumstances to separate you from His love (Rom. 8:35).

It took Bill a while to admit he couldn’t overcome his addiction alone, but he now meets weekly with a group of men who hold him accountable and support him in the struggle. He and Carol started seeing a counselor who helped them talk about the damage to their marriage and where to begin healing. Carol has put a few boundaries in place to help her rebuild the trust she’s lost, and with Bill’s blessing, she has a few good friends who support her in prayer. They are also talking about starting a small group in their church which would minister to the men and women impacted by pornography. They realize it will start small, but one thing they have learned is that keeping this demon in the dark only gives it more power. Working together to overcome pornography has, ironically, been good for their marriage. In fact, Carol thinks there might be a few more areas which could use the same level of attention. Bill has learned that covering over sin doesn’t make it go away, but facing it together just might.

Related Material:

A real-life story from CRU
A real-life story from The Gospel Coalition
Pastors and porn
Free spouse support groups in the St. Louis area
Fee-based spouse support groups
Do I have an addiction?