Nobody knows who the Magi were, though everyone’s heard of them. They embody the quest for truth, meaning, and purpose in life. We assume they were men, and tradition tells us they were wise, but all we know is the direction they came from (east), and that one day they turned up at the palace of Herod – self-styled “the Great.” Herod was not born a Jew, much less a king. He was an Edomite, historically one of the greatest enemies of Israel, now made king by the Romans.
Quest for Truth
One day his court is disturbed by the arrival of these enigmatic foreign dignitaries who come asking to meet the king of the Jews, but when they meet Herod they tell him they’re sorry but this is not the right address to deliver their packages.
These truth seekers had followed the clues that drove them west. They realised the palace was not the destination but a detour that could become a distraction, so they didn’t stay there. They kept following until they found Jesus.
There was a move in the church over twenty years ago to become “seeker friendly.” The intentions were noble, the shift usually helpful. Music was changed, drama skits performed, and regular clothing worn, to bring the church closer to connection with ordinary people who were looking for God and had written off the church as a place to find him. But what do you do when you’re a truth seeker—and you find it? Or rather you find Jesus, Who is “The Way, The Truth and the Life”?
Christ is not an abstract proposition or a claim among competitors to bring “a truth.” He is truth embodied. What you do when you find him is the test of whether you’re really a seeker or a perpetual wanderer—still lost.
Churchill is credited with saying “People occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off again as if nothing had happened.”
Quest for Meaning
Sometimes when people do come in contact with the church they are encouraged to make “a decision” for Christ. Again that idea of crossing the line of faith in prayer contains a helpful kernel of truth but Christ himself called us to make disciples, not decisions. I have made so called decisions about many things that made no lasting difference, but when you become a disciple, everything changes. That’s the difference. Maybe you made a decision once as part of your spiritual journey in life. But that may not mean you’re a disciple. How do we know which is which?
Here is it is. Verse 11 says when they found Jesus, “The Magi bowed down and worshipped Him.” That was what they wanted to do from the start, they set out to follow the star but the quest was not the point, they already told Herod they knew that the end of their journey was the beginning of true worship.
Some people won’t bow down because they worship themselves.
Of course Herod would not bow down.. As the years went by as well as ordering the death of every boy born in Bethlehem around that time he killed his mother, his wife, his sons—when he felt his throne and title were threatened by them. He encouraged the Magi to “search diligently,” but all he was personally looking for was how to keep his crown.
Some people won’t bow down because they worship science.
Of course there’s no real dichotomy between science and faith, unless you put all your faith in science. The Magi were astronomers in an age when that line was blurred with astrology more than it is today for us. Astrology falsely states that the position of the stars at a child’s birth determines their destiny. But the Magi found that the position of where Christ was born determined the position of the star!
The Bible says “knowledge puffs up.” Some people having devoted their lives to the study of astrophysics are deluded enough to believe that the tiny amount of understanding they gain to write a PhD about the mathematics of a black hole somehow makes them qualified to teach everyone else how everything they know nothing about works.
Some people won’t bow down because they worship theology.
Theology has been called “the queen of sciences” because the knowledge of God is the beginning of knowledge. What a shame that the ecclesiastical, expert scholars in Herod’s court looked into their scrolls and the ancient prophecies and knew where the Messiah would be born, but never went there.
I was taught New Testament at University by a celebrated published theologian who was also an atheist. He was an expert in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic—spent his life examining words of or about Jesus—but had no interest in finding him. Because when we do, when we find the true King, we must bow down. Jesus said of the Pharisees that they diligently searched the scriptures that spoke of him, but refused to come to him and have life. It’s like looking at maps and guide books of a place and becoming an “expert” in a place you never go.
Quest for Purpose
The Magi let what they saw going on in their times and their world take them on a journey, but they did not define themselves as lifelong seekers. When the meteor or conjunction of planets or the star got them where they were meant to go, they stopped.
They bowed down. They were overjoyed. Because when they met Jesus, the search was over!
They started as seekers, but when they found him, they became worshippers.
They brought themselves, the very best that they had, and literally “offered it” to him. Their gifts represented not so much who they were—because this was no longer about them—but who he is.
Gold was given because of his royalty.
They saw the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. They were important dignitaries for sure, representing the nations and rulers of the earth in all its splendour, but Jesus’ majesty outshines them, even in this place of humility. The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the silver is mine and the gold is mine says the Lord, so whatever we give to him we only give back.
Frankincense was offered because of his deity.
He has always been God. When their quest was over they saw God the Son. The word for offering that is used here is used seven more times in the New Testament, and always in a religious sense, as an offering of worship. Now we are called to lay our lives before him and become a living sacrifice, acceptable because he not only made us, but bought us with the most precious substance in the universe, his own blood.
Myrrh given because of his humanity.
He who has always been God, became human. When the Magi’s quest was over they saw a Son of man. By the time they get to Bethlehem he is a “young child.” He knows what we are like, because he has become like us in every way. Yet without sin. The Word became flesh and dwelt there, and they beheld his humanity.
When you discover these truths, how can you not bow down and worship? It’s sad if people hold onto their own crowns and the temporary gifts of this life like Herod did.
But perhaps an even bigger tragedy is when people waste their whole lives going from one place or person to another—supposedly on a search for meaning, purpose, and truth, yet when they find it all in the only One who embodies it, they walk away, singing “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
As you travel through life, with all its questions and clues, ups and downs, the problem may not be that you haven’t found the truth, but that you’re unwilling to bow down. You will worship something, but you’re not willing to worship the one who made it all, yourself included.
Are you willing to say today, “I’m going to call off the search, because God has come and found me. So I will give Jesus—who owns everything—what he wants from me.” If so, let’s bow down and pray to him now:
Lord take the gold, everything I have, as an offering to your majesty. Jesus forgive my idolatry and take my worship, all of me—as an offering for your deity. Saviour take my imperfect life as you took on life and death for me, so that I can be not only a seeker but a finder, your follower, forever. Amen.
Anthony Delaney is a Leader at Ivy Church in Manchester. He is also the leader for New Thing and the LAUNCH conference. He is an author and hosts the television show “Transforming Life.”