What became of the wise men who worshipped Jesus? After being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they returned to their country by another route, and disappeared from the record of Scripture.
As I studied and pondered their culture, their preparation for the journey, and the certainty about Messiah that drove them more than 600 miles, one question shone like a star:
“Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2)
I wondered if that question lingered in the minds of the wise men over the next decades. The following letter imagines how one wise man, whom I have named Samir, might have sought an answer from his long-lost acquaintance in Bethlehem some thirty years later.
The Letter From a Wise Man
A LETTER FROM: Samir of Persia, Tribe of Magi
TO: Benjamin of Bethlehem, Tribe of Judah
DATE: A.D. 34, Spring
Peace and goodwill to you and your household in Bethlehem.
Some would call this letter a fool’s errand since it has been decades since you and I met. But I’m writing because I’m desperate to know whether you can confirm or deny the disturbing rumor that has reached me here in Persia.
You may not remember me personally. However, I think you will remember our entourage from Persia that camped in your father’s field at the edge of Bethlehem thirty years ago.
I was 14 years old at the time, and I remember you because you were about my age and boldly vocal. In front of hundreds of foreigners–our soldiers, farriers, cooks, and my father’s fellow Magi–you declared that our horses, with so many brightly colored packs piled on their backs, looked like painted camels. Then you showed our caravan to the open space of your father’s field.
We had traveled for months to worship Judea’s new king. As Persian Magi, we are responsible for recommending and crowning our kings. Some call us the king-makers. While Judea’s new king didn’t require our approval, we sought to worship him because he was foretold by your ancestor, the prophet Daniel, who saved our entire tribe.
Surely you’ve read the account from centuries ago when our ruler called for his Magi to recount and interpret his nightmare. It was natural that he should consult the wise men of the Magi since our tribe was positioned to help him divine direction by reading the stars. But this was no star-gazing affair. He meant for my ancestors to gaze into his mind and draw out the meaning of what they had not seen or heard.
It was an impossible task, and when they told him so, our king decreed the execution of the entire tribe. But your God intervened. He revealed the truth of our king’s dream to Daniel, and our entire tribe was spared.
As you can imagine, we have revered and studied Daniel’s writings and the God in Heaven who reveals mysteries.
So when an unusual star appeared in our land, my father and his fellow wise men understood from Daniel’s scrolls that your God was revealing another mystery: an eternal king had been born in Judea as The King of the Jews.
I saw his star with my own eyes, but it was not charted on the painted star maps in my father’s library. It didn’t rotate around the sky as other constellations did, but it moved. And as it did, we followed it toward Jerusalem.
After many months of travel, when we finally climbed the hill to the city’s gates, I looked into the night sky, and I did not see the star. For the first time in months, it had disappeared.
As our caravan marched through town, the hooves of our horses and camels echoed off the stone streets and walls like muffled thunder. Jerusalem’s citizens stared at us and flinched at every loud noise. The snort of a horse and the sneeze of a camel sent them scurrying.
There were no banners announcing the new king, so my father requested a meeting with King Herod. When my father asked where to find the newborn king, Herod knew nothing of it. Herod’s wise men, however, directed us to Bethlehem.
We exited Jerusalem and headed south toward Bethlehem. As we did, we saw the star reappear. It had waited for us just outside the capital city, not scolding us for stopping, but neither endorsing Jerusalem with its light.
In Bethlehem, we did not need to ask where the young King of the Jews lived because his star so clearly rested over one house.
We were welcomed there. The child looked terribly ordinary to me and not much like a king. He ran to his mother when we entered, stretching his arms to be lifted up, and then buried his face in her shoulder. He chewed on his fingers, and his little tunic was wet around the neck.
My father visited with his, and we presented the gifts we had brought from Persia. I marveled at the number of coins and the volume of the incense and perfume, but the child was indifferent.
That was the night we met you and took shelter on your father’s land. But before the sun rose, my father had a terrible dream and insisted we leave the pasture in the middle of the night. We were not able to thank your father, so we left a bag of gold where we hoped you would find it when you came looking for us the next morning.
Months later, we were shocked to hear of the massacre of children that occurred in Bethlehem just days after we had left under cover of night. I felt sick. I asked my father if our journey had been the reason for Herod’s madness. He only said that Herod had been mad long before we arrived.
When Herod died later that year, I waited for my father to tell me that the child we had worshiped had been crowned, but the announcement never came, and I feared the worst for King Jesus.
Over the years, I have listened and hoped for news of King Jesus. Was he a victim of Herod’s violence in Bethlehem, or was he somehow spared? Surely your God, who spared Daniel and the Magi, would spare his prophesied king.
But just this week, bittersweet news has finally arrived. One of our traders was in Jerusalem during your country’s Passover celebration. As he was leaving, he passed an execution in progress on a hillside. Three criminals hung on Roman crosses.
This might not have piqued my interest since Rome punishes criminals and dissidents everywhere. But our trader off-handedly mentioned that the man hanging on the middle cross had a plaque nailed above his bloodied head naming his charges: “Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews.”
By my calculations of the dates and moons, the crucified Jesus of Nazareth would have been the same age as the child I worshiped in Bethlehem decades ago.
And now, Benjamin, I have only questions.
Was this Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, the one we worshiped in Bethlehem? And if he was crowned King of the Jews, why have we never heard of his reign?
Was he spared in Bethlehem only to be crucified in Jerusalem before taking his place on the throne?
If this letter has reached you, and you can lend insight, I will be once again indebted to you for any answers you can provide.
My messenger will wait for your reply and return it to me. I beg for your prompt response.
REPLY FROM: Benjamin of Bethlehem, Tribe of Judah
TO: Samir of Persia, Tribe of Magi
DATE: A.D. 34
I remember you, friend. How could I forget? We never had such a caravan camped in our fields again. I found your gold the next morning and delivered it to my father.
But now, as your messenger waits for my reply, I can gladly and quickly answer your questions.
The crucified Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the same king who was born in Bethlehem, just as our prophets foretold. You’ll notice I say he is the same and not that he was the same. He was killed, as your trader correctly reported. He was buried outside of Jerusalem according to our custom, but on the third day—steady yourself, Samir—God raised him from the dead.
And in the weeks following, he appeared alive to more than 500 people at once. My relatives saw him alive. They touched him and ate with him.
You worried that you were the reason he died. You were—and so was I—but not for the reasons you suppose. The reasons are far worse and yet far better than either of us could have imagined.
I know it may be difficult to believe, so I beg you to visit me again so I can tell you more. My father is gone, but our home still sits on the edge of the field where you camped. I cannot leave my sheep, but when you come, I will tell you the rest.
It is good news, Samir. Jesus, the king born in Bethlehem, who grew up in Nazareth and was crucified and raised in Jerusalem, lives and rules today.
But his kingdom is not of this world as we know it. His kingdom lasts forever, and he is coming to gather those of us who believe him. Your journey to honor him so long ago was not in vain. He is still worthy of our worship.
Believe him, Samir, and I will see you in that kingdom, if not before.