Learning from the Wise Men
Pastor Marc Likins
You think you may know this story because of the song, “We three kings of Orient are….” But that is not the case. There are no kings in this passage. Instead, they are wise men or magi, as is the Greek rendering. Also, there are not three of them. There are three gifts, but that does not limit the party to only three men. And they do not come to Mary at the manger with the shepherds, but at a later date at Mary’s house.
To many, these details do not matter, because it is a “Christmas legend” in their minds. But this story is something Matthew would never make up. The Greek word “magi” means astrologer, magician, and interpreter of dreams, all very common in the ancient world, especially “The East”—Babylon, Persia, even Egypt. The Bible condemns these soothsaying, wayfinding, astrological activities, and while this passage is not promoting those things, no Christian writer would have made this up. Jewish first-century readers would have immediately seen red flags, not only for their craft but also for their ethnicity. These men were from the Far East, and the Messiah was seen as exclusively Jewish. It would not be in Matthew’s best interest to fabricate a story including magi from the Far East, therefore we can know it’s rooted in historical credibility.
Historically, it is also reasonable. Nowadays, rich men traveling hundreds of miles to find a baby based on a star seems preposterous. But during that time, many scholars believed that the births and deaths of kings were marked by unusual signs in the sky. There was also a rumor at that time that a great ruler would come out of Judea, and a number of historians refer to this in their writings. Around the time of Jesus’ birth, there was a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. The astrologers, seeing this great conjunction, knowing that a great ruler was supposed to come out of Judea, saw reason enough to make this journey.
With that in mind, let’s consider two points of application.
1. Wise men are active, not apathetic, in their pursuit of Jesus.
These men traveled hundreds of miles on a grueling journey from the East, and when they finally arrived, King Herod summoned his own wise men to demand what they were trekking to see. Herod’s wise men knew of the prophecies of the birth of the Messiah out of Bethlehem, a town a half days walk from them. One group of wise men was willing to traverse hundreds of miles to investigate, and though the other group was within a much shorter distance, they did not. These two are juxtaposed as active and apathetic, driving us to decide for ourselves about our own actions. Are we active or apathetic in our pursuit of Jesus?
We get caught up in the bustle of Christmas and all that bustle can end up pushing Jesus out. Do you know how to determine if you’re truly wise? What do you seek? What do you live for? What motivates you? What are you pursuing? Wise men pursue Jesus. They seek the Lord. Do you seek the Lord? I mean, is that the burning ambition of your heart and of your life?
2. Wise men are adoring, not antagonistic, in their worship of Jesus.
Herod wanted to eliminate any threats to his throne, and when he heard of the story that the wise men told, he rejected Jesus out of fear, insecurity, and a desire for first place. He did not rejoice in the news of a Savior but instead was troubled. Similarly, we live in a day where many reject Jesus out of fear, insecurity, and a desire for first place. For some, the sight of a nativity scene, the words “Merry Christmas,” or the name of Jesus trouble them. Hatred and rejection of Jesus are as old as Christmas itself. There are many reasons we reject Jesus but one of the foremost reasons is that we don’t want to give up control of our life to the King of Kings. We want to sit on the throne of our own heart. But we cannot share the throne; Jesus demands first place in our lives. He is not an add-on or another piece of our puzzle.
My sincere challenge to you this Christmas season is for those of you who claim to be Christian to have an active, authentic, adoring faith and have actions that actually match the depths of what you say you believe. For those who don’t claim to be Christian, accept Jesus, believe the actual Christmas story, and make Him Lord of your life. And as night follows day, peace and joy and life will follow that decision.