Welcome to kylestrickland.com, a landing spot for my little blog. Thanks for visiting. I hope to post weekly. No political commentary, though. Or pop culture. Or breaking news.
But I will post about the New Testament – the collection of books and letters written during the genesis of the Roman Empire. Those 27 books make some specific and controversial claims, a fact that makes them worthy of a fresh look. I plan to post some quick hits in a rather orderly fashion, commenting on a few chapters at a time and in order. Feel free to subscribe, share, and even comment. I look forward to the interaction.
Though the gospel itself is anonymous, scholars are confident that one of Jesus’ disciples, named Matthew, wrote this brief narrative of Jesus’ life to a Jewish audience some 40 years or so after the death and resurrection of Jesus. As you read the introductory chapters, it’s not hard to muster some Christmas nostalgia. In the midst of the dramatic story of Jesus’ birth, as told through the eyes of his adopted father, we find the surprising appearance of Magi, strange foreigners who interpreted a stellar announcement of heaven’s kiss to earth in the form of a baby. These astrologers and shamans came “from the east” to see this child.
The Magi gained prominence as religious leaders during the Persian Empire about 500 years before the birth of Jesus, but they were part of a group of people called the Medes, which predated the Empire. (For more, see The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism by R.C. Zaehner.) By the time we see the Magi in Matthew’s gospel, the world had significantly changed. The glorious Persian Empire had fallen, overthrown by Alexander the Great, and Rome had supplanted Greek rulership around the Mediterranean Sea. The Magi survived all of the upheavals.
Let’s pause for a moment, though, to take a hard turn to ancient China; it’s there we learn something quite special about the visitors to Jesus’ family.
Ancient China had classes of religious leaders not unlike the Magi. One particular class in the Zhou Dynasty looked and acted much like the Persian Magi, and archaeological evidence seems to confirm that these Chinese shamans knew of the Persian Magi about 700 years before the birth of Jesus. Archaeologists found two small figurines with features compatible with Persian visitors and, more specifically, Persian Magi. These two figurines bore what is believed to be the symbol of the Magi.
And what was this symbol, found on these figurines?
A cross potent. Or, in other words, a cross.
Magi were known by the cross they bore. And they bore it all over the world.
Imagine Mary and Joseph seeing the ornaments and attire of these foreigners, seeing a cross sewn into the fabric of their dress, and imagine Mary later watching the death of her son and remembering the strange foretelling of his death by people who knew not what they bore when they saw him as a child. Yet, with the cross they carried, the Magi were made to know the Savior of the world before they even knew better.
Matthew knew this. As did his audience. It was not lost on them that somehow the importance of the Magi would extend beyond the first few paragraphs of his gospel. Nothing, it seems, is of any coincidence here.
It also makes Jesus’ later definition of discipleship more poignant. We see the first example of such following in the Magi, who came to Jesus with gifts and treasures, claimed him as king, bore the cross, and realized that such recognition of this new king does not come without peril.