A lesson in persistence

Scriptures: Isaiah 60:1-7; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

Today is Epiphany (well, actually tomorrow is Epiphany, January 6), which means “revelation,” and it’s looking to the revelation of Jesus Christ, or of God in Jesus Christ, the revelation of Jesus Christ as King. It also happens to be the end of the twelve days of Christmas, though when the wise men came there were no twelve drummers drumming and all that stuff.

So often, when people look at this, they look at Jesus, they look at the revelation of God, which is a wonderful thing. They look at the fact that, the dichotomy here where you have Jerusalem, and they knew the answer to the question the wise men had, but they apparently had no interest themselves in finding the king. All those kind of messages, it’s a wonderful message, but I took a sort of tangent today, that I think will turn out to be kind of fitting. I want to look at the wise men themselves.

Now, there are many legends about the wise men, as well as some stuff we could pretty well infer and speculate on. You’ll notice I call them “wise men.” We sing that song “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” and there are some things that we should know.

First of all, they weren’t kings. The Bible calls them magi, or wise men. It never says they’re kings. The gifts they brought were for a king, and I think that might be where some of the confusion lies. The fact is that there might have been more than three, as well. We don’t know how many wise men there were, but there were three gifts, with gold and frankincense and myrrh.

So we want to look at these wise men. They did come from the Orient, as we’ll sing in this hymn after the sermon. I studied some of the things about the wise men, and some scholars estimate that the wise men came from India. Now, I just did some quick math. We know because of the time Herod used, to kill boys under the age of two, that Jesus was about eighteen months old. It also says in Scripture that they came to the house, not a stable, and they looked at the child, not the infant, who was with his mother Mary.

So they had been traveling for about eighteen months – that’s 540 days. Your average caravan makes about eight miles a day, if you use camels. While there is some discussion that the wise men would have ridden horses rather than camels, since no Persian noble would ride a camel because it was beneath them, they had a huge entourage. Most likely it would have included military and servants, because these were not ordinary merchants.

The wise men had likely served as ambassadors to kings in the past and were doing so at this time. By the way, this would add credence to the explanation, besides normal paranoia, to Herod’s response when they asked, “Where is the king of the Jews?” and where was he located, because they didn’t think it was Herod. So who is the king of the Jews, then?

These were officials. They weren’t some crackpot off the street corner, saying “Where is the king of the Jews?” or some shepherd saying “We have seen the king.” These were men with credence, with intelligence, with knowledge and education, with power and position, saying “Where is the king of the Jews?”

Now, they traveled about 540 days. So even if they stayed over in towns — because of bad weather, they had to cross the desert in a number of places, there were mountains to get over — I’m sure that there were times when they got stuck, and they weren’t able to go any further.

But even giving time for that, that means the trip was probably at least 4000 miles long, conservatively. Now, I want you to think about that. In the United States, we’re a big country, and it’s only 3000 miles, if I remember correctly, from one side to the other. Have any of you ever driven all the way across the country? No? Well, it takes a few days.

My parents and I, when I was growing up, of course my dad was in the military, we were stationed in Omaha, we would always make at least one trip in the summer to my grandmother, and she was in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. That trip, driving straight through, swapping out drivers, took us 23 hours. Twenty-one to twenty-three hours, depending how much my mother sped.

That was less than half, but pretty close to halfway across the country. So you’re talking a minimum of two days, with no sleep, in a car that can go 70 miles an hour, on the average. (Back in those days, they didn’t have the 55 mph speed limit.) So think about that for a moment, and the amount of time it took. Think about it, if you were to take a journey.

Suppose you saw, up in the sky, or even in a dream, let’s say, like Joseph had, a promise from God, that there was this man, this person that was born, this king of the Jews, and you were supposed to come and worship him, because he was God. Imagine, then, traveling, not one day, not two days, but 540 days.

Say good-bye to your family. Say good-bye to your friends. Say good-bye to your king and whatever confidantes you had. And take off on your journey, never knowing if you’re going to get there for sure, but only answering the call of God to go forth.

Think about that for a moment. Ask yourself, how many of you would have been willing to even start the journey. I ask this because, really that’s what God calls us to do today. His word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path, but it doesn’t light the whole way. It only gives us a step or two at a time. Our journey is a lifelong journey. It kind of makes that eighteen months look like nothing, as we follow God and attempt to live out His will, and share the good news of Jesus Christ.

The wise men here faced many difficulties, I’m sure. I noted that a couple of them were the terrain that they had to go over – desert and plateau, mountain – there are mountain ranges there around Iran that make it difficult. Some of the mountain ranges are so squirrelly with weather patterns these days they can’t even use satellites to get good vision of what’s going on. That’s why it’s one of the favorite places for terrorist camps to train.

And yet the wise men had to go over these mountains to get to Jesus in Jerusalem. Bandits, I’m sure, were all over the place, all along the way, even though they had a large entourage with military – let’s face it, it was a tempting plum to be plucked, and I’m sure that there were more than a few incidents along the way.

Sickness was something that was prevalent. They didn’t have the medicines that we have today. There was a tendency, as you see in the Old Testament, if an illness came through, it tended to rage through the clan that was there or that part of the camp.

I don’t know if you remember, when all the Israelites were traveling together in the wilderness, and they would get sick, and then it was like a plague and it would take out 3000, or 10,000 people. You see that as recently in history as the 1400’s, I think it was, when the bubonic plague hit, wiping out half a country. And when you’re doing all of this traveling together in a group and you’re in close quarters, it’s worse than a daycare, as things get passed from one person to the next.

So they faced that illness, and they overcame that challenge. Then they get, finally, to Jerusalem, and ask the man who should know, “Where is he?” He doesn’t have a clue. He calls his counselors and scribes and they give him a place and he gives that to the wise men.

But I can’t help but think, since these were intelligent men, educated men, I can’t help but think that they probably wondered, “Why doesn’t he know where the king of the Jews is? Why doesn’t he see this revelation from God, that we’ve been traveling and following so long?

So much of this trip that the wise men made, as they were persistent in their travel, persistent in following the call of God, can act as a model for our own lives today. Because I can promise you that we’ll face illness. And I can promise you that we’ll face obstacles in our lives, whether it be weather, or terrain, or people that are cutting in and trying to steal away our time, whether it be a breakdown of equipment in terms of our cars and vehicles or homes or whatever, things that try to distract us from God and his revelation through Jesus Christ.

Being a Christian is not a one-time decision, where you’re converted and then it’s over. Nor is it an easy thing. Jesus, when asked about it, said it was going to be tough. He said it was going to be hard. But the one thing he promised is that he would be with us, through it all. And he is. That’s part of the reason we celebrate Communion. It’s to strengthen us in our knowledge and understanding and experience of Christ with us, Immanuel. So that when those challenges come, when that call from God comes and we begin to follow that call of God and we want to make that journey, we can overcome the obstacles that are set before us by the world. We can overcome the challenges that life brings, while still remaining faithful to Jesus Christ.

Because one of the things that I hate the most is if someone else, who was considering being a follower of Jesus, or was even questioning, “Who is the King?” would come to you and you don’t have a clue. Or maybe they think you don’t have a clue so they don’t even come at all. That’s probably more likely to happen in today’s world.

We need to be a visible witness to the revelation of Jesus Christ and the good news of the Gospel. When we do that, and we are persistent in our answering to God’s call for each and every one of us, we will be like the wise men.

So be like the wise men. Focus on the star, the end goal, which is to be with Christ and live with Him in glory, even as it said in Ephesians when Mary read it. Continue on the path over the obstacles that you might face, bringing your best to set at the feet of the King of creation. And should anyone wonder where you go or why you do it, never be afraid to tell them about Jesus, so that they too may come to know the King and to worship Him.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: