When they saw the star, they were overjoyed beyond measure.
And when they saw the star, they were so ecstatic that they shouted and celebrated with unrestrained joy.
Joy is a remarkable emotion that we get to experience. And in the birth story of Jesus, the people who experienced incredible joy were the wise men, from the east.
They were experts at reading stars. They were interested in magic, dream interpretation and the future. Magicians is what they were (“Magi”) and they seemed to be honest inquirers of the truth. Some other magicians in the Bible were indeed charlatans (Acts 8:9, 13:6-8).
The Magi did not just feel some joy or gladness, but the way Matthew writes it, is that they were exuberant and ecstatic. “Overjoyed beyond measure”, or “So ecstatic that they shouted and celebrated with unrestrained joy”. They were “thrilled” (CEV), “could hardly contain themselves” (MSG), “their joy knew no bounds” (TLB) and they were, “overjoyed and enraptured” (VOICE).
Keep in mind also that their explosion of joy was just over seeing that star (again). It was only the guiding sign that caused them go wild with joy. They had not seen Jesus yet.
Most of us, in my western, predominantly european rooted, caucasian culture know almost nothing of this kind of joy. When was the last time that you jumped up and down or ran in circles or danced or shouted with unrestrained joy, over a piece of guidance that you believed was is from God?
I would bet that many believers have never danced for joy over a sign from God. And I think that many believers would say that people who would unleash a public display of extreme joyousness are crazy. Or perhaps many of us would just be uncomfortable seeing this sort of response in public.
To be fair, there are probably many believers who do not have a negative opinion about exuberant celebration and unrestrained joy; but just do not roll that way, because nobody around them does it or encourages it.
I know people, who attend churches where the people dance in worship. In my past, I attended a church, where we danced with unrestrained joy, during our worship times.
It has always been funny to me, that in our western culture, we yell and scream at sports games; and dance is a part of our culture, but mostly only in either productions or in night clubs; but not in church or when we gather with believers.
Eugene Petersen calls the Magi, “A band of scholars”. Brian Simmons calls the Magi, “A group of spiritual priests'”. Other translations commonly say “Wise men”, and a few dare to say, “Astrologers”.
Maybe these guys are, what we in our western Christian culture, would call “New Agers”? This fits better for me, than saying that they were part of a cult, which implies they were religious or practitioners of a religion. Closer still would be to say that they were in the occult.
Occult means hidden and different. Witches and warlocks who practice witchcraft are occult. Are magicians, people who practice non-Judeo/Christian spirituality, and magicians who are more than illusionists in the occult? Maybe and probably.
We have to get our heads around how people can have a spirituality outside of the Judeo/Christian framework, and be seeking God. There is some mystery surrounding these wise men. All we know is that they were these people called Magi, which is short for magician, and that they were ‘star gazers’ and ‘star scholars’, who somehow discerned the special light in the sky, that signaled the birth of The King of the Jews.
Some have postulated the theory that these guys were descendents from people who were influenced by Daniel. They learned about God, The Jews, and the coming Messiah, from Daniel or the teachings passed down from Daniel. Maybe. (Dan. 2:48 & 9:24-27)
What is notable is that these people were searching for Messiah and they were not Palestinian Jews. They were from outside the area and were not connected to Jerusalem, the center of Judaism. And they were not just explorers or historians or researchers. They were worshipers.
These guys were ‘off-the-map’, ‘off-the-grid’ and ‘outside-the-camp’ from traditional believers. Yet, they were guided, knew exactly who they were seeking, desired to worship him, traveled a great distance in danger and brought expensive gifts to give the King of the Jews.
These wise men remind us that giving gifts back to Jesus, who is the gift, and the King, is what this whole thing is about.
The reason they followed the star that pointed them to the Jerusalem area, but evidently not Jerusalem itself, was to worship a child who was born King. In the time of Jesus birth, there had been the ‘Messianic Expectation’ in Israel. But it was much more fever pitch in some quarters, like perhaps with the Essenes.
Herod did not consult with the Essenes, but with Sadducees and Pharisees, who ended up being hostile to Jesus, during his ministry, ultimately killing him for impersonating Messiah.
The joy of the wise men is in stark contrast to the indifference of the priests and the scribes. We read that “Jerusalem was alarmed” at the news that the wise men brought. They were not joyous and we have no record of Jerusalemites who followed the wise men’s lead and also wanted to find the Messiah child and worship him.
Because of Herod’s brutality, that is illustrated later in the chapter, when he kills all the children in Bethlehem, two years old and under, we can understand the alarm in Jerusalem, to a certain extent. But the larger scope of the story is that God chose to be born into such a dangerous time, under the nose of a brutal tyrant.
When God comes inconveniently and dangerously, are we going to reject God or follow joyfully?
The part of the story I am looking at is how these Magi were overjoyed in their journey, even before finding Jesus, which is sadly contrasted with the indifference of the Jewish leaders and the people of Jerusalem, who were more upset that Herod would get mad than being lit up and curious about the birth of the savior and their King.
The point might be or the application for us today is that God may be leading people outside the normal Christian paradigm, perhaps people we would describe as “New Agers”, to himself. I do not claim to know if they have been born again yet. But they have a radical purity of heart.
These people are on a journey to find God. They are excited about the journey they are on. And God is leading them.
But they may not be Christians, from their own self-identification or from how believers see them. These seekers are guileless, apolitical and child-like in their pursuit of God.
They are coming and God is guiding them to Jesus. The question for us is this: Will we help them find Jesus? Or will be be put off by their culture, their false, fake, counterfeit, spooky and deceived beliefs, shewing them or shunning them? Will we block the way to Jesus? Or will we throw open the way to Him, seeing seekers as people God is saving?
Will we join into the exuberant, extravagant celebratory joy of the seekers who are finding? Will we allow very different people to belong to God’s family (our family) before they have become children of God? Can we allow people who do not have their doctrine straight to worship the King and bring him extravagant gifts?
Joy is a remarkable emotion that people experience when God is leading them into knowing Jesus. There is a joyful rejoicing that is overflowing in the life of a person who is discovering Jesus. We love to see and experience this with everyone.