As we continue our “God Came Down” series, the next characters from the Nativity story that we will look at are the Magi or wise men. How often we see these special guests depicted as three elegantly dressed men bearing rich gifts and kneeling before or hovering over an idyllic manger scene! Now while I hate to burst your bubble or perfect picture, the truth of the matter is that the wise men were nowhere near the manger scene for the birth of Jesus. In fact, we don’t even know if there were three who visited the infant Jesus! There could have been five or ten for all we know! Nevertheless, while no one knows the details on their identity, we can still learn some very valuable lessons from these semi-obscure worshipers of the Christ Child.
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’ Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”’
The above text from Matthew 2 is the only information we have about the magi or wise men from the east. And while it may be short, these verses reveal a lot about the character and intent of these seekers.
The passage starts out by telling us that these events took place after the birth of Jesus, which is why we can be confident that the three kings in the nativity set aren’t really accurate. Secondly, Matthew tells us that these were wise men, or as the KJV translates it, magi. So these were individuals who were extremely well educated and knowledgeable in all things, from history and poetry to science, mathematics, and astronomy. And of course prophesy, the topic that intrigues every learned scholar, would have been a subject that they were well versed in. Therefore, when the special star heralding the Messiah’s birth appeared in the sky, the wise men from the east knew its significance. So they packed their bags and journeyed westward to the nation of Israel to worship the newborn King of the Jews.
It is interesting to note that while the wise men knew that a king would be born in Israel, they were ignorant of two important facts: 1) that he would be born in Bethlehem, and 2) that he would not be born among the royal or powerful of society, but to a peasant family. If they had taken note of these important points which were prophesied in Scripture, they might have avoided arising the attention of King Herod. However, all went according to God’s plan. And we can’t give the wise men too much of a bad time for missing the second point, because the Jews also misinterpreted the messianic prophesies and were expecting a king that would rule and bring deliverance from the Romans.
So the wise men traveled to Israel and went looking for the king in the most obvious place---the capital city of Jerusalem. And there they asked every person they met for directions to the dwelling of the new King of the Jews. However, did you notice that they didn’t go directly to Herod for information? Herod found out about these wealthy visitors from others. And he is the one who initiated contact and asked the Jewish scholars for the exact location of the birth of the Messiah. The wise men didn’t seek out the residing Jewish king, but through their meeting with him were able to find out where to look for the King of Kings. And as Matthew tells us:
“After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.”
Their whole intent and purpose for this long journey was to worship and adore the Christ Child. Were they surprised when they found Him with His young, peasant mother? Were they shocked at the meager accommodations? Did they look down upon the shepherds gathered round? Or did they only see and have eyes for Jesus? Were their eyes so fixed upon the Word that became flesh that they didn’t even notice the humble dwelling, the smelly straw or the inexperience of Mary? Were they so focused and awed by the Savior of the world that they were aware of nothing else?
I think so. Matthew tells us that when the wise men saw Jesus, they “fell down and worshiped Him.” It didn’t matter that there was no crown for His head, or sheets for His bed, because when they saw Him their only thought and action was to worship. May this be our response this Christmas! As we celebrate the birth of our Savior, let us not become distracted by what we don’t have, what we need to do or who we need to see, but let us see Christ and think of nothing else but falling down before Him and worshipping. And while the wise men had extravagant gifts to express their adoration, we also can give the King of Kings a priceless gift this Christmas—the gift of our heart. As Chris Tomlin poetically wrote in his song “He Shall Reign”:
“If I were a wise man, I would travel far
And if I were a shepherd, I would do my part,
But poor as I am, I will give to Him my heart.”
As we conclude, let’s take a moment and compare the wise men with the Jewish scholars. Both were well versed in the Scriptures and knew the ancient messianic prophesies, but both had different responses to the fulfillment of Scripture. When the wise men from the east—non-Jews—realized that the fullness of time had come, they packed their bags and traveled from afar to see the One that had been promised. However, when the Jews found out that their long awaited Messiah had been born, what did they do? Nothing. Bethlehem was just down the road from Jerusalem, but the Jewish scholars didn’t take the trip. They—who knew the prophecies better than anyone, who knew exactly where and who to look for—remained at home and missed God’s greatest Gift. How tragic! And what a powerful reminder for us! We may know much about God and His promises, but unless we actively seek out the living God we can miss Him. So let us be like the wise men from the east, who made a long journey and didn’t stop until they had found and worshiped the newborn King!
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