The significance of the passage from Matthew’s gospel is the fact that the magi who came to pay homage to the new-born king were gentiles, not Jews. The Jewish people divided the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’. ‘Us’ were fellow Jews; ‘them’ were the gentiles, the rest of the world. The Jews were the people of God; the gentiles were without hope! But here, at the start of Matthew’s very ‘Jewish’ gospel (it seems to be written for a mainly Jewish readership), we find that the only people who acknowledge the new-born king are gentiles, whom God guides through the forbidden practice of astrology and through dreams. Why does God involve these no-hopers?
The whole point is that Jesus Christ came for both Jews and gentiles. He offers hope for all, for ‘as many as receive him’ (John 1:12), whether they are magi or dying thieves or members of the Jewish establishment like Nicodemus. Matthew’s gospel begins with the magi, and ends with Jesus’ commission to make disciples of all nations.
However, that hope needs to be grasped. The magi were not the only people to have seen the star. They probably had discussions with their friends about what it all meant, and maybe many agreed with their conclusion that a king had been born in Judea. But it was one thing to come to the right conclusion; it was quite another to act on it. The journey to Judea would have taken a lot of time and effort and expense, let alone the expense of the gifts they brought. The magi were prepared to make the effort. Their family and friends probably thought they were crazy!
In the world today we need to grasp the hope Jesus offers, and to act on it. Our hope is for the kingdom of God to come, and the action that is needed is to trust and obey the King. In one sense that kingdom of God has come, because the King has come in such an unexpected yet wonderful way. But in its fullest sense we are still looking for the Kingdom to come – the world we live in is patently not what the kingdom of God will look like. The coming of the King was the first and decisive step in bringing the kingdom of God into fulfilment; the next step is the spread of the good news and growth of the kingdom as more and more people respond to the King and learn to live as citizens of his kingdom. The final step will be that God will create a new heaven and a new earth, which will be truly wonderful, and to which he calls us. But that final step, the end of the process, comes only when the process has done its work, which is why our lives here and now are important.
Hope for us is ultimately hope both for the kingdom of God – the reign of the Prince of Peace – and for our place in that kingdom. It is also hope for the present: that our lives and work will contribute to the growth of his kingdom and to the increase of peace and human fulfilment, even if it is only in a small way. Evil and suffering may also increase; but we know that God’s kingdom will take over, that evil will be overcome with good, and that we shall be more than conquerors through him who loved us.
1) What can we do this year to give people more hope?
2) Who are ‘us’ and ‘them’ in our world? What hope is there for ‘them’?