Luke chose the story of the shepherds and for Matthew he chose the Magi. Why?
They were both unexpected guests.
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magifrom the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2 v 1-2)
Almost 50 years ago a four-year (1972-75) investigation into the Mahd adh Dhahab (Cradle of Gold) mine, located midway between Mecca and Madina in Saudi Arabia, led scientists to believe it was the principle mine for King Solomon’s gold and known as the mysterious place of Ophir (1 Kings 9:28).
Matthew will write as we know that the Magi carried gold, frankincense and myrrh with them to Jerusalem.
In AD160, Justin Martyr (a Palestinian Christian writer) wrote that the wise men hailed from Arabia. Confirming what Martyr wrote, in what is simply a brilliant book, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, Kenneth E. Bailey writes, “In the 1920s a British scholar, E.F.F. Bishop, visited a Bedouin tribe in Jordan. This Muslim tribe bore the Arabic name al-Kokabani. The word kokab means “planet” and al-Kaokabani means “Those who study/follow the planets.” Bishop asked the elders of the tribe why they called themselves by such a name. They replied that it was because their ancestors followed the planets and travelled west to Palestine to show honour to the great prophet Jesus when he was born.
It might seem more than unexpected that ancestors of Muslims are bowing down to worship the Christ-child but let us be reminded that there is a day coming when Christ will return and “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:10-11) Christian, Jew, Muslim, will bow the knee.
The gospel writers were more than familiar with this prophecy:
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Isaiah 60:1-3)
Who is this ‘you and your’? Is this Jerusalem, the city of God?
“Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.” (Isaiah 60: 5-6)
Midian and Ephah are tribal lands in northern Arabia, Sheba is in southern Arabia and where the Queen of Sheba came to Solomon with her gold.
“All Kedar’s flocks will be gathered to you, the rams of Nebaioth will serve you; they will be accepted as offerings on my altar, and I will adorn my glorious temple” (Isaiah 60:7)
Shepherds are now involved. Why? Why are people coming from far away and very near? Who will receive these people?
“Foreigners will rebuild your walls, and their kings will serve you. Though in anger I struck you, in favour I will show you compassion. Your gates will always stand open, they will never be shut, day or night, so that people may bring you the wealth of the nations—their kings led in triumphal procession.” (Isaiah 60:10-11)
Isaiah is thinking about Jerusalem and the wonderful things that would happen in the future. Yet by the time of the birth of Christ they had not happened. These things had never taken place in Jerusalem. There was no great shining light in the city. Nor did wealthy Arabs come with gold and frankincense. Jerusalem’s gates were never open during the day and night because of security.
So why did Luke tell the shepherds story and Matthew the Magi story?
It is because they saw Isaiah’s prophecy, not speaking of Jerusalem, but the Christ-child.
Around Christ there was a great light and the glory of the Lord came. Shepherds visited the Christ-child.
Arab wise men came on camels bringing gold and frankincense (and myrrh).
The great hopes for Jerusalem were transferred to the Christ-child.
Hopes and expectations are now fulfilled in Jesus.
But it also has a future hope.
It is not the earthly Jerusalem that is of major significance, but the heavenly one that will come down as a gift from God when Christ returns.
And what does this mean for us?
When Christ was born he had unexpected guests. We see them as unexpected but from heavens view they were spoken of centuries ago. Always leave room within your faith for the unexpected divinely sent people and events to still occur.
Above all make sure your knee is bended towards Jesus for one day you will join Jew and Muslim who will do the same.