The Long Way Home by Ray Haynes
“Blessed are those whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.” Psalm 84:5
How do we know we are on the right road? Proverbs 16:25 warns us, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” Sometimes what appears clearly to be the wrong road, ends up being the very one God has chosen for us. Every road is filled with ups and downs and often confusing blind turns where the outcome is impossible to see or anticipate.
The Road to Babylon
Four-hundred years after King David connected a loose confederation of twelve tribes into a land and a people feared and respected by its neighbors, the southern kingdom of Judah, became steeped in rebellion and was taken into captivity to Babylon. Seventy long years later, King Cyrus the Great set them free, and the road of their captivity became the road home to Jerusalem for those who chose to return.
This story is not about them. It’s about a few special captives that did not return but instead chose to stay and make a life in Babylon. Then, after hundreds of years living far away, the very stars in the night sky would call their descendants to take a much longer road home just in time to meet the Greatest King.
Our story begins in ancient Babylon, where we first meet a famous group of scholar-priests called the Magi. From ancient days they were advisors to kings. Most of them practiced the occult, but some followed the true Living God.
On one particular night, King Nebuchadnezzar had a troubling dream and asked his astrologers and enchanters to tell him his dream and also interpret its meaning – or be killed. Their familiarity with the occult left them powerless, but Daniel was familiar with the living God. And because he was able to perfectly describe and explain the king’s great prophetic dream, Daniel was appointed Master of the Magi and continued to serve multiple kings and kingdoms. His prophetic insights in Scripture are unparalleled, and he was a transformative influence on Magi for generations to come.
Six centuries later, as Daniel’s ancient prophecies became real to a group of shepherds, we meet a small band of Magi who have traveled from Persia searching for the “One who has been born King of the Jews”. Though they came from far away, they were using prophetic verses from the Hebrew Scriptures as their guide, so clearly these Magi had been greatly influenced by Daniel, and were in-fact likely descendants of those captives from the Tribe of Judah. There is even a tradition throughout the Middle East that Daniel, who was a eunuch with no heirs, provided funds from his vast fortune for the Magi and prepared gifts for them to carry to the Messiah upon His birth.
The Road to Change
How did a prisoner accomplish so much, even impacting generations? The first steps out on a new road can be intimidating if you don’t know where the road leads. And some roads will never make sense. Surely Daniel must have trembled a bit as he was led into captivity, not knowing God would exalt him greatly in Babylon. But somehow he found strength in the God he knew was still with him in captivity and still calling him to follow. Jesus said in Luke 14, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.”
When Daniel was first taken captive, he was made a eunuch, separated from his traditions, temple, and the Law and Prophets that directed his life. He’s not unique. God’s choice vessels often were taken out of the world they were born into. God told Abram to leave his family and homeland. Both Jacob and Moses had to flee from their family and Joseph was sold into slavery away from his family. Each family was wealthy, and leaving meant leaving behind security, familiarity, language, and the acceptance that only flows from family.
Each of these men was a living example of what Jesus would one day describe as being born again. God is the Creator and the Re-Creator, which means we are never beyond hope, so despair is never ordained. Failures are never fatal if they are given to God to redeem. Likewise, being on the right path doesn’t mean instant success or that success is imminent, but in due time if we don’t faint and stay humble, God will show up in a mighty way. He’s always working, but not always seen.
“This is what the Kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.” Mark 4:26-28
Every road has a purpose, regardless of the trials it passes through because the journey is about the story of why God sends us – to tell His story. The Gospel is written on roads and stars. There are countless roads winding and connecting the world together, but not all roads are used to change the world. There are countless stars in the sky, but not all are part of the pictures that tell the story of Jesus. But the stars that God uses and the roads that He leads us on remind us Whose we are and Who has called us.
The Road to Bethlehem
When the Bible says “Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world,” it means several things, including that the testimony or story of the Gospel is written into the universe itself. The story of Jesus as Redeemer was literally written in the heavens using the stars and constellations when they were made on day four of creation. Every star was named by God and we can still trace their original Hebrew/Aramaic names. Each constellation and the stars that make it up are the detailed stories of the Gospel.
That’s why even though Daniel was far from home, he could look up at the night sky and worship His Creator and Sustainer. While astronomy is not impactful to the generations who no longer sleep under the stars, for millenniums the stars spoke of God’s plans. What star did the Magi likely see to recognize their prophesied Messiah was to be born in their homeland of Judah? Since ancient times, the fifth planet from the sun has been called the King Planet. In August of 3 B.C., when that planet became visible above the eastern horizon, its position placed it inside a constellation, whose name meant King or Lord. That star group forms a picture that looks like a baby being held in the lap of a woman. The constellation of the woman is known in most cultures as the Virgin.
On August 12th of 3 B.C., the King Planet was lined up with the Morning Star, in a constellation whose stars form the picture of a Lion, which is the sign of Judah. To these Magi who had been longing for the coming of the prophesied Messiah of Israel, the night sky revealed that a baby destined to be King of Israel had just been born to a virgin. A miracle had happened, and the stars were proclaiming it to anyone who had spiritual ears to hear and eyes to see. It was an unmistakable sign that their Messiah had arrived. For them, it initiated a treacherous journey that would take over fifteen months and lead to Bethlehem.
Matthew 2:9 tells us of the Magi, “…the star they had seen in the East went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the Child was.” Astronomical history tells us that the King Planet appeared directly over Bethlehem on December 25th in 2 B.C. Just before dawn, the planet stopped while in the middle of the constellation of the Virgin (middle meaning the abdomen, where a woman carries a child in pregnancy). It remained stationary for about six days during Hanukkah, “the Festival of Lights.” It was a God-ordained time to seek and find Jesus. “I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the Light of Life.” (John 8:12)
The Gospel Road
The Magi descendants of Judah took the longer road home, six hundred years after Cyrus freed them, following starlight to welcome the Light of the World. But they didn’t stay in Judah. The Magi carried Jesus in their hearts back to Persia. They were probably the first evangelists to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. The descendants of the Magi still live in the heart of Persia today. We know the land as Turkey and Syria and the descendants of the Magi are now called Kurds. Many continue to devotedly follow Christ today, two-thousand years after that long journey to Bethlehem.
May our journeys this December cause us to draw closer to Jesus than ever before, as we encounter the Good News of great joy that makes this the most wonderful time of the year. And most of all, may we find a road that leads to sharing the Good News.
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” Isaiah 42:6-7