Brought-Low: Balthazar's Travel Companion
Background: This is an excerpt from an unpublished book by Brad Berglund. It explores the Christian adage: Wise men still seek him. What would it be like if modern seekers were with the wise men when they worshiped Jesus?
Brought-Low was a troubled man with a troubled past. His foolish deeds in his youthful days caught up to him when he reached his early thirties. He had young children in the home, but his drinking had brought the household into poverty. His indebtedness forced him to sell himself and family members to creditors. These abused them mercilessly.
Then, providence entered into his life. One of his chief creditors sold him to Balthazar, a magus in the area. Kindness replaced the cruelty of the past. Balthazar paid the debt of others and reunited the family. A master of kindness now replaced the cruelty, but he was still in bondage.
Part of Brought-Low desired to be free, but down deep he knew that trouble would swallow him again if he was given that freedom. Balthazar knew that as well. For this reason, Balthazar offered Brought-Low an opportunity. “If you will travel with me on my quest, I will introduce you to the one who can truly free you from your oppression.” Brought-Low jumped at the opportunity.
Now, in Jerusalem, he was beginning to have doubts. Something was not right. He could not put his finger on what troubled his soul, so he set off for the temple hoping that something there might bring sense to the confusion.
Brought-Low Meets a Pharisee
The plans were now set. As dusk began to set in, the team of seekers would head toward the small village of Bethlehem. For most, this was time of rejoicing, but for Brought-Low, uncertainty seemed to cloud his mind. The trouble within his soul led him to the temple mount in Jerusalem. Respectful of all that he saw, he entered the court of the Gentiles, but went no further. It was difficult to concentrate with so much activity stirring around him. He just stared blankly at the activity that swirled around him.
His mind was troubled by what appeared to be nonsense. His friends were convinced that the King of the Jews, the liberator of all who come by faith, had been born. Yet, the people of Jerusalem reacted in the strangest of manner. Whenever they asked someone, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?” they would receive an evasive answer. The look on the face of these was one of agitation and fear, not hope and joy as he expected. Furthermore, why would Jerusalem not be the residence of such a king? His troubled mind could not find the rest to turn to one higher than himself in prayer.
A kind voice interrupted his distress. “Shalom, friend.” He looked up to see a Rabbi smiling at him. He nodded and repeated, “Shalom.”
“You must be one of those seekers; am I not right?”
Again, he nodded. “Yes, I am come from the east to seek the One your prophets, such as Daniel and Jeremiah, promised would come.”
The kind man responded, “We also eagerly await the coming of our Messiah.”
Now Brought-Low looked perplexed. “This puzzles me. You await His coming and yet no acts as if He has arrived?”
“I am sure that our response to you and you friends makes no sense. You need to realize that we react this way because we are an oppressed people. The one who sits on the throne in Jerusalem, who is called the king of the Jews by his friends and the Romans is not our rightful king. He is a clever and vicious man who has achieved this rank by force and fear. Our hearts beat with hope that one day Messiah will come and deliver us from such a beast.”
“But my friends believe that He has indeed arrived. They have followed a special star, unlike any other, that has led us for weeks to this place. It dimmed before we arrived here. We thought it only reasonable to assume the capital city would have the newborn king of the Jews. Instead, we find frustration and fear. Why is there no celebration? Why would your God reveal this to us, but not to His own people?”
“We are not ignorant of this claim, nor are we dismissing the possibility that you are right. Over the last couple years, Jerusalem has been marked by some unusual signs from on high. An old priest named Zechariah entered into the Holy Place to do his duties. When he emerged, he was unable to speak. Immediately, some assumed this was some kind of stroke, but the man indicated through writing that he had seen an angel. That angel told him that his wife, who was well past her child bearing years, would have a son. Sure enough, it happened as announced. When the child was born, Zechariah wrote that the boy’s name would be John. Instantly, his tongue was loosed. His immediate words declared the same hope you have. He said that his son would be the fore-runner of the Messiah.
“Then other strange testimonies began to float about Jerusalem. Zechariah’s wife claimed that she had spoken to the mother of Messiah. Shepherds who cared for flocks near Bethlehem told everyone who would hear how angels called upon them to go to a stable, and there they would see the Messiah in the crudest of situations. We had a godly old man in the temple announcing that he received a special promise; he would see the Messiah before his death. Shortly after the shepherds report, this man’s demeanor changed from hope to confidence. He claimed that he had seen the Messiah in the temple. Within a month’s time, he passed away.
“Your arrival is but one more sign, and it has reintroduced perplexity into our city. While we inwardly rejoice at the prospect, reality forces us to hide this hope within. We dare not speak of it in the presence of Herod or any of his friends. Such a confession would be treated as treason.
“Tomorrow, you and your friends leave for Bethlehem. Our prophet, Micah, promised this would be his city. After all, it had been the birth city of the great King David.”
Brought-Low was excited. “You could come with us! Surely your attendance would raise the hopes of many who are trusting in the prophets.”
“Yes,” replied the Rabbi. “It will either do that or it will endanger us, and possibly even the child! You do not know what we went through this afternoon. Herod gathered Rabbis and any other Jewish scholars who would enter his palace. He asked us, ‘Where will Messiah be born?’ We tried to evade the question. We used every soft answer we could think of to appease his wrath, but it did not work. He persistently repeated the question until we gave him the information he wanted. I have every reason to fear his wrath. You, my alien friend, have greater freedom than I. Herod will honor your quest; you need never fear persecution for seeking the Messiah.”
“It appears you misunderstand our plight. We may be alien to you, but we have tyrants like Herod. As we left, many mocked our quest. One in particular, my old owner, has tried to slander my new master Balthazar. He has claimed that this search exceeds the scope of wise investigation. He asserts that this pursuit will actually undermine and destroy the office of Magi. It is likely that my new master will be stripped of his title and wealth, and that I and my family will become the property of another. I fear persecution if we return and say, ‘We have found the Messiah of the One True God.’ Such an affirmation will, I fear, yield outrage and not honor. My people want to hear that there are many good ways to get to God. It would probably be better for us to fail in our mission than to succeed.”
The Rabbi gasped with amazement, “I was not aware. You are right. You and I are in a similar strait. We both stand to lose much if we embrace this Messiah.”
“We have one member of our party by the name of Get-Real who is critically analyzing everything that happens. I fear his report is what these slanderers want to hear. If he is not changed by this trip, his testimony will be used to wipe out all of the good these men represent.”
“Tyranny never gives up without a fight. Our Messiah will put an end to this and bring peace to Israel and all who yield to Him.”
“But this Prince of Peace is not making things very peaceful. One would think that if he brings peace, all the tyrants and tormenters would either surrender or be immediately eliminated. How can we embrace Him while others profess to own us and threaten us with destruction if we dare to stand up to their tyranny?”
“It is our hope that Messiah will indeed liberate His people, but most of the religious leaders are taking a wait-and-see position. I must admonish you. You have journeyed here at great expense. Do not let this fact cloud your judgment. The cost of failure in this mission may be a lot cheaper than the price you would pay if you did something rash. Rest assured; if this child is indeed the Messiah, the tyrants will fold. When I see this happen, I will gladly bow in His presence. But until that time arrives, I have more fear of the fox that I see than of the missed years of opportunity to know and worship Him. I am sure that He will forgive me for my delay; I am dead certain that Herod would not be as forgiving if I followed the wrong Messiah.”
“You are indeed wise,” said Brought-Low. “If I am not convinced, I will remain uncommitted as you are today. However, if I am convinced that my tormentors back home will be silenced by this child, I will bow without any hesitation. In fact, my friend, I will return to Jerusalem in joy with the good news for you personally.”
The Rabbi smiled. “If the news is good, I will rejoice as well, but still, if you do return, please exercise great care. Should Herod discover your mission, you might jeopardize both of us.”