Why did God work through astrologers?
We call them “Magi.” Sometimes, as in songs, we call them “kings.” Often we show them in Nativity scenes, which is probably historically inaccurate because it’s most likely they showed up long after Jesus’ birth. “Magi” is the plural for “magus.” We feel a lot more comfortable calling them “wise men” than the other synonyms for “Magus.” Magician. Sorcerer.
We often depict a big, shiny star, straight up over Bethlehem, in fact strategically directly overhead from the barn where Mary gave birth to Jesus. Oddly, only three travelers on camels noticed that thing and they just kept riding those camels until they were right under the star–because that’s how star-gazing works, looking up in the sky. Sometimes I’m a few miles off of being right under the Big Dipper, but if I get on my camel and ride a ways, I can get myself lined up again.
It’s kinda silly, right? I think if we stop and give it thought, if we are believing in a biblical reality and not a Precious Moments(tm) version of Jesus’ birth, we know that our popularized view of the wise men is off. I believe we choose that version, however, because the version from Scripture makes us profoundly uncomfortable.
God led astrologers, through their study of the stars, to see Jesus.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him…
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
Was there a special star? Or was one of the stars shining unusually brightly? Was the star somehow “moving” (implied with its having “stopped”), differently than we ordinarily understand stars to work? I have no problem believing any of those. But none of them remove the question at hand, because only these three were studying the stars and deduced that this star meant something. What did they think it meant? They said: “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising.” We observed his star at its rising. Do you associate certain stars with people? With newborn babies? With a newborn baby you’ve never seen or heard of before whom somehow you deduce will be king?
I don’t either. But they did. Because they were astrologers.
I’ve probably used my full share of sarcasm already this post, so I’ll just say it straight from here: God chose three men who practiced astrology, not a belief system the Christian church endorses, to come see and worship the child Jesus. God used their belief in astrology, which many of us would call a false belief, to bring them to this encounter. Why did God do that? Were they extremely righteous, godly astrologers? Maybe. Scripture doesn’t say that, so let’s be honest and admit that’s speculation, but they might have been. They were from “the East,” which means they must have come from at least east of Bethlehem and were almost certainly a different nationality and culture than Israel. I find it fascinating that many Nativity sets that have Jesus as blond and blue-eyed manage to make the Wise Men clearly not caucasian. (Nope, not sarcasm. That does fascinate me.)
The conclusion I draw about the astrologers may make you uncomfortable: God gets to do whatever God wants. God reaches people through astrology. It’s biblical. God made the stars. If God wants to use people’s study of the stars to lead them to Jesus, God can. If I’m offended by that, then I’m offended that God doesn’t play by my rules. But here, so you can’t miss it, is the point I’m trying to make:
God. Doesn’t. Play. By. My. Rules.
C.S. Lewis wrote:
“…My idea of God is a not divine idea. It has to be shattered from time to time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence?..”
God loves people more than I love them and more than I understand that God loves them. My idea of God is always faulty because it always falls short.
God’s grace is greater than I ever fathom it is. No matter how great I believe God’s grace to be, it’s actually greater than that.
Jesus said, in another of his discomfort-causing statements, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you…”* I’m sending astrologers to worship the Messiah and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom before you. Oh, and a thief on the cross will see Jesus in paradise for saying, “Remember me.” God could work through poor people or refugees or beggars or lepers or demon-possessed or Samaritans or dead people or women or tax collectors or revolutionaries or…you.
When the disciples got upset that folks who weren’t legit disciples were trying to do disciple stuff, it went like this: “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.”
I believe Jesus loves me, but I don’t believe God particularly cares about my God rules. God is absolutely committed to our transformation; God is not committed to our comfort.
I’ve come to believe that is good and even come to embrace it, which doesn’t keep me from kicking up against it once in a while.
Why did God work through astrologers?
As my friend John and I often remind each other:
It’s God’s Kingdom; I just work here.
*Full context: “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him. Matthew 21:28-32