Lessons from the Wise Men


After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, in the time of King Herod, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem saying, “Where is the one who is born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 

When King Herod heard this he was alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him. After assembling all the chief priests and experts in the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they said, “for it is written this way by the prophet:

And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are in no way least among the rulers of Judah,
for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod privately summoned the wise men and determined from them when the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and look carefully for the child. When you find him, inform me so that I can go and worship him as well.” 

After listening to the king they left, and once again the star they saw when it rose led them until it stopped above the place where the child was. When they saw the star they shouted joyfully. As they came into the house and saw the child with Mary his mother, they bowed down and worshiped him. They opened their treasure boxes and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. After being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back by another route to their own country.  [Matthew 2:2-12]

If you glanced over the above passage or skipped it entirely, stop right now, take a deep breath, go back and read it slowly. Even if you’ve already read this passage of scripture this Christmas season, read it again. Slowly.  As Professor Hendricks often said, “The moment you come to a passage of Scripture and say, “Oh, I know this one already,” you’re in deep trouble. Instead, you need to come to every text as if you’d never seen it before in your life. That’s quite a discipline. It involves cultivating a mind-set, an attitude toward the Word.”¹  Now read it.

You read it?  Slowly?  Good job.

I’ve always been fascinated with this story. To think that the Creator of the Universe, the God of Israel, chose to reveal a star to pagan magi thrills me to no end.

You see, we have this version of the Three Wise Men in our heads that’s not quite right and, in my opinion, also less powerful.

The wise men, or magi, were probably not rich kings.

The three gifts they bring were precious commodities of the time, and therefore why we might jump to the conclusion that they were wealthy.  However, magi in this time were royal servants who performed mystical and astrological services to the king.²  Which makes sense when you consider the passage above, how Herod called upon them and ordered them to seek out the new born king and bring back information on his whereabouts.  So, not rich, not kings, just a handful of men who studied astrology and were servants in the king’s palace.

They were also probably not Jewish.

They didn’t even worship the God of Israel!  And yet, a star was revealed to them and they followed it to Jerusalem where the chief Jewish priests had to explain to them that the king would be born in Bethlehem. Had they been Jewish, they would have known the scriptures foretelling of the Messiah’s birth. They would have known to go to Bethlehem. But they didn’t.

Instead, God revealed Himself to these men through the stars they studied so closely.  They saw the star, they believed a king had been born, and they set out on a journey to find Him.

So what?

God revealed Himself to a group of men who weren’t awaiting the arrival of the Messiah.  And when they saw the star, their belief, their conviction was so strong, they chose to travel a great and dangerous distance, bearing gifts that were expensive and customary to give to a king.

Which makes me wonder about our own convictions.

“The magi offer us a powerful lesson in faith. They traveled a great length through a dangerous country in their desire to see the new King.  Despite the humble setting in which they found the Christ child, they believed they were in the presence of Israel’s greatest king and presented Him with lavish gifts befitting that office.  Warned by God not to return to Herod, they obeyed taking a different route to their homeland, thus foiling Harod’s evil intentions.

Do we pay such honor to Jesus? Do we go out of our way to seek Him and lavish Him with gifts? Do we demonstrate such obedience?

If pagan astrologers can do so much, how can we do less?” [David Seal & Matthew M. Whitehead]²

¹William D. Hendricks & Howard G. Hendricks. “Living By the Book/Living By the Book Workbook Set.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/H7evM.l

²David Seal & Matthew M. Whitehead. “The Faithlife Study Bible, The Magi.”