Many have been asking for my notes on the subject of they mysterious Wise Men of old that the Bible tells of in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. I have included my text below in essay form, under the not-too-imaginative title of “Wise Men Still Seek Him.” Read and be blessed!
The story of the wise men has fueled the imaginations of authors, songwriters, and artists for hundreds of years. Unfortunately, not all of these imaginations are on the mark.
• We see the wise men in nativity scenes at the manger, but of course in the Bible by the time they arrived, Jesus was a “young child” living in a humble house in Jerusalem.
• We also talk about “three” wise men, but the Bible never reveals the actual number. We probably use the number three based upon the three gifts they gave to the Christ child.
• And the old hymn “We Three Kings” is somewhat inaccurate. The wise men were probably not kings. This song may be a misappropriation of some of the Psalms who prophesy about the Messiah that, “Kings would bow before Him.”
Well then, who were these Wise Men? The actual term for them is “Magi.” We get the term “magician” for this ancient word. They were actually pagan astrologers from Persia (present day Iran), whose diligent search for the truth led them to watch the heavens and ultimately led them to Jesus Christ. We hear the term “Wise Men Still Seek Him” often. And these Magi were truly wise as we see in the second chapter of Matthew…
First, in verses one and two, they were wise in their perceptions. “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, ‘Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.’”
Notice that they kept their eyes on the heavens. Probably from the time when Daniel and the other Jews were exiled in Persia they had heard the prophecies about the coming Messiah. This coming King of the Jews was also supposed to be the Light to All Nations.
Around two thousand years ago astronomers say that there was an unusual alignment of planets in the constellation of Leo (which to the Persians represented the nation of Judah). These planets aligned in such a way to provide a large light in the sky. I can imagine them interpreting this larger light to mean the King of the Jews had come to save the world.
They were also wise in their priorities. After perceiving in the heavens that the Christ had been born, they were not content just to have that knowledge. Their knowledge led to action. They made it a priority to come and to personally meet this special Messianic King.
And this priority made them willing to endure hardship and inconvenience to find the savior, enduring a months-long journey of danger and discomfort, seeking the way of salvation. Today the news of Jesus is so accessible, with printed Bibles, air-conditioned church buildings, and cushioned seats. We take for granted the accessibility of the message of Jesus and should make it more of a priority to meet Him.
But the Magi did not just want to meet Jesus. When they showed up with their caravan in Jerusalem that day so long ago, their expressed intent was to “worship Him.”
We see in verses three through nine of Matthew chapter two that the arrival of the Wise Men shook up the entire city of Jerusalem. “When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where the Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, ‘And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.’ Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, ‘Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.’ When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.”
The Bible says Herod was “troubled” and this term comes from the root word in Greek for “shaking.” When the Wise Men announced a new king, Herod was shaken to his core. He was already a paranoid, despotic king having killed two of his sons to keep them from threatening his rule.
So, to ascertain the location of this new king, Herod called the chief priests and scribes together to ask them where the Messiah was to be born. This was easy for the Bible clearly said in book of Micah that Bethlehem would be His place of birth.
Now that he knew the location, King Herod went one step further. In order to determine the age of the new King of the Jews, he called the Wise Men to a private meeting and diligently inquired of them the exact time they saw the star.
Deceptively telling the Magi that he wanted to worship the new King, Herod sent them on their way to Bethlehem to find the Christ child, the false worship of Herod in stark contrast to the sincere worship of the Wise Men.
So, the Wise Men departed toward Bethlehem not really knowing where to go. But, “lo” the star that they had seen way up in the heavens in the Eastern Sky was now right before their eyes, moving before them…leading the way. Now, you know that this is very unusual behavior for a star. They are so far away that they are fixed and immovable, but now this star was going before them, leading them, much like the shekinah glory of God in the Old Testament when the Lord led the children of Israel with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day.
The Bible states that the star led them until it stood over the house, and this brings us to our next point. The Magi were wise in their praise. In verses ten and eleven of the second chapter of Matthew we read, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.”
The Wise Men could not contain their praise. When they saw the star leading the way they rejoiced like Middle Easterners of their day. It was noisy and exuberant. They danced and ululated. They were ecstatic! They were about to encounter the King of the Jews and the Savior of the World.
But Jesus certainly did not meet their expectations when the star came to rest over a humble dwelling. After hundreds of miles and months of travel. Their search did not lead them to a palace but to a humble home to a little toddler on the outskirts of a cow town…Bethlehem. It is a credit to their faith that they even went in.
The scene intensifies when they came into the house. The Bible states that they “fell down and worshiped him.” They did not remain standing. They fell to the ground and worshiped. The word in Greek is “proskuneo” – “pros” meaning “before” and “kuneo” meaning “to kiss.” They were literally kissing the ground before the Savior! All of their being was extended toward Him.
And then, they presented Him with the three famous gifts. Now, much has been made of the symbolic meaning of these gifts. Some imagine gold symbolizing His royalty. Frankincense was burned in worship hearkening to His divinity. And myrrh was an expensive burial spice which may symbolize his substitutionary death to pay for the sins of His people.
We do not know for certain whether this symbolism of the gifts is intended or inferred. But one thing we do know. These were very expensive gifts. The Wise Men were giving Jesus the best they had. They knew that true worship is symbolized by sacrifice, giving God the priorities of your time, talent, devotion, and treasure…not just the leftovers.
King David understood this principle. In the book of Second Samuel in the Old Testament see that David desired to make a sacrifice to the Lord. He offered a man named Araunah money to buy the threshing floor for the altar, as well as the oxen to be his offering. Araunah insisted that he freely give David the threshing floor, the oxen, and the wood for the sacrifice. David would hear none of this declaring, “No, but I will surely buy them from you; I will not give to the Lord my God that which costs me nothing.” David understood a principle of worship, “If it doesn’t cost…it doesn’t count.” Worship is giving God the best you have.
Our story ends by the Magi being wise in their path. The Bible states in verse twelve of Matthew chapter two, “And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.”
Whenever you really meet Christ you always travel another way. Herod represented power, wealth, and influence…all that the world had to offer. But God told the Magi, “Don’t go back to Herod.” And today when we meet and worship the Messiah, Jesus Christ, we too will travel by another path. “Wise Men Still Seek Him.” And today follow the example of these sincere searchers.
Keep your eyes to the heavens; be sensitive to God’s message. Do not just be satisfied with knowing about Jesus; take the next step and meet Him. Rejoice by faith, and even when God does not meet your expectations, continue to honor Him. And finally, receive Jesus your Lord and Savior; make Him your priority; give Him the best you have of your time, talent, and resources. And remember, you can never out-give God. He will ultimately always give you more than you give to Him.
The Wise Men worshiped by faith and they were changed. And even amid pandemics, economic challenges, tragedy, stress, and grief, God is still in charge. He is not up in heaven wringing His hands, wondering what to do. He has the plan. We have only but to seek Him. “Wise Men Still Seek Him”…will you?