1 THE WISE MEN FROM THE EAST (Mt. 2:1-12) Have you ever gone on a journey you have never been on before and you are not sure where it is taking you? Like Abraham, Heb. 11:8 he went out, not knowing whither he went. In Mt. 2 we meet a group of individuals who have become known as the wise men from the east. Their proper title is the Magi. They belonged to an elite group who were the teachers and instructors of the Persian kings. Understandably, they had great privilege because of their responsibility. For example, the historical records tell us in Persia no sacrifice could be offered to the gods unless one of the Magi was present. They were men of devout holiness and wisdom. They were skilled in philosophy, medicine and science. They interpreted dreams and they sought after truth. Now, we don t know how many there actually were that made the journey to Bethlehem. There might have been three there might have been thirtythree, - we just don t know. The simple reason the stories have built up around three wise men is in connection with the three gifts that are mentioned in v.11, gold, frankincense, myrrh. And we don t know what star they were following either. Of course, many suggestions have been made but unless you re interested in astronomy, there s not much point in pushing the boundaries of the possibilities for the identity of the bright star. The history books tell us Halley s comet appeared in 11 BC, another conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn took place around 7 BC, and yet another spectacular astral phenomenon happened in 5 BC but really things are happening in the sky all the time! It doesn t matter which star or planet was the focus of the Magi the fact is they were there because, 2:2 we have seen his star in the east. What is certain is that back in ancient times great store was placed upon the stars and their constellations, - it s a reminder that astrology is nothing new. And it was astrology, as well as astronomy, these Magi were interested in. They didn t study the stars for studying the stars sake. They studied the stars because they believed they could tell someone s future by the stars. They knew the stars and the planets, and they knew the course they would take. When something appeared that absolutely fascinated them they had to find out the answer as to why it was there. These were
2 MEN ON A MISSION 2:1 there came wise men from the east 2 to worship him. They knew this spectacular star in the sky was of particular importance. They knew it heralded the birth of a king a birth that was worthy of their time to search out more. All their studying led them to this conclusion. Mind you, they were not the only ancient wise men to have this overwhelming feeling of expectation, - for example, the Roman historians regularly anticipated something significant was about to happen. It was like a euphoria spreading across the ancient world. For example, Suetonius was an influential Roman intellectual (admittedly at the latter end of this period) who wrote, There had spread over all the Orient an old and established belief, that it was fated at that time for men coming from Judea to rule the world (Life of Vespasian, 4:5). It was Vespasian who began the preparations for the conquering of Jerusalem under Titus in 70AD. Tacitus (the Roman historian), Josephus (the Jewish historian and writer) and other ancient authors wrote of the expectation of a world leader, and even Caesar Augustus (Lk. 2:1) was hailed as the Saviour of the World, in accordance with the writings of the Roman poet Virgil (70-19 BC). From 164 BC to 63 BC the Hasmonean royal dynasty, founded by the Maccabees established Jewish independence and there was great hope a super-leader would be produced. Yes, there was a huge expectation and these Magi from the east were intent on discovering He that was born King of the Jews, for they had seen His star in the east and they had come to worship Him. And so, secular history points to the fact of the story of the birth of the Saviour, and how it was neither legend nor a fanciful tradition nor a myth. The historians tell us it is exactly the kind of event that was prominent in many parts of the ancient world. Men were waiting for the spectacular to happen and when Jesus Christ was born there was an eagerness of expectation. Thirty three years later they hailed Him as He entered Jerusalem as the Messiah yes, there was great expectation. In fact, there was so much expectation that it stirred up fear in the heart of Herod and the officials when they heard the message from the Magi because when he demanded where the Christ should be born they didn t have to rush off to their libraries or carry out long investigations they knew exactly where Christ would be born, Mt. 2:5 In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the 2
3 3 princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel (cf. Micah 5:2). Men were waiting for God and the desire for God was in their hearts and it was to a waiting world that Jesus came, and when He came, the ends of the ancient world were gathered at His cradle. These were men on a mission. MEN WITH A MESSAGE 2:2 we have seen his star They had come all the way from the east because they had seen a particular star they believed spoke of the birth of a King. Notice how verses one and two are phrased. Their first port of call was not to Herod s palace but to Jerusalem itself. They believed Jerusalem was the place it was going to happen! How was that? Why did these foreigners set so much store on Jerusalem? You must go back into history to find the answer. They were from the east from the same area as Abraham, in ancient Mesopotamia. They believed in one God (not in a plurality of deities; Zoroastrianism), and the sacrificial system they adapted was similar to the one God gave to Israel through Moses. How do we know this? Well, one of their ancient titles was wise men, and we find this title mentioned twelve times in the Book of Daniel, which of course was located in the east, in Babylon, e.g., Dan. 2:48 Then the king made Daniel a great man, and gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon. [also cf. 2:12,13,14,18,24,27; 4:6,18; 5,7,8,15] They were among the highest ranking officials of great importance in the land and you can be very sure that since Daniel was the chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon he used his position to teach them about the one true God, the God of Israel, and about His will and plans for His people through the coming glorious King. Yes, this was no pie in the sky adventure these Magi were involved in. Many of the Jews in captivity in Babylon chose to remain there after they had been granted the opportunity to return to Jerusalem Some of them intermarried with the people of Babylon and the hope of the Jewish Messiah was passed through the generations. And so, when you look into the history, it is no real wonder these men, - these Magi, - came from the east in search of the Christ-child.
4 4 They would have read and studied the prophets. They would have spent hours delving through the prophecies And they would have begun their time in Jerusalem in the streets and market squares speaking to the people. We read it so quickly and without too much thought, but in grammatical expression the word saying at the beginning of v.2 is a present participle and it emphasises continual action, - they did not stop asking the question Where is he that is born King of the Jews? until they found the answer. They even took their investigation to the palace! You know, it took them a little bit longer finding Christ than it ought to and for being such wise men, they made a simple mistake, - they stopped, when they should have continued on. All the directions were telling them they weren t there yet. They thought too much, - using their own suppositions, calculated or otherwise, - rather than following the leading of the star God had given them. The star did not rest over Jerusalem, so why did they stop?! It was their preconceived ideas that made them think Jerusalem must be the place He was to be born. We don t need to know the identity of the star. Instead, consider this In the Old Testament the Lord guided His people through the wilderness with the shining Shekinah glory of His presence as they carried the Tabernacle, - He guided the Hebrews through the wilderness! The Shekinah glory was brighter than any star. It was amongst the people for to guide them And in Christ, John tells us, 1:14 the Word was made flesh, and dwelt [tabernacled] among us, (and we beheld his [His shining Shekinah], glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) Take it one step further Surely the star that shone over Bethlehem was more than any ordinary constellation the astronomers would have had a name for Surely it belonged to the same light we read of in Rev. 21:2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And as John continued, v.10 he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, 11 Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious.
5 5 These men had seen a star that spoke to them of the glory of God and they were not going to quit until they found the Son of God of whom the star was speaking to them. Men on a mission, men with a message MEN PRIVILEGED WITH A MIRACLE How else would you describe one of the greatest privileges ever afforded to the human race of seeing the Son of God come to earth?! What a privilege it was for them to meet Jesus! He was the Messiah that all the promises anticipated! What an honour! What absolute joy! Notice what is described here does not take place in a stable, - the wise men did not meet Jesus in a stable; Joseph and his family had found a house to live until God told them where to go and what to do next, v.11 when they were come into the house. Lying before them was the promise of all the ages, Mt. 1:23 Emmanuel God with us. In God s wonderful grace He had brought them into contact with His Son; Charles Wesley wrote of what they saw, Christ, by highest Heav n adored; Christ the everlasting Lord; Late in time, behold Him come, Offspring of a virgin s womb. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th incarnate Deity, Pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel. And it was not the mother they worshipped, - it was not the Virgin Mary who held their attention; it was Jesus, v.11 they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him. No doubt the Magi were delighted to meet Mary and Joseph who had been so especially favoured by God... but they worshipped only Jesus. Only He was God, and only He was fit to have their adoration. He was the One they were led to. They were generous in what they gave. Gold has always been precious, frankincense is also costly and beautiful smelling, as is the perfume myrrh. In the Old Testament gold was the symbol of royalty, frankincense was used in the Tabernacle and the Temple symbolic of the Godhead, and myrrh was the fragrance with which Nicodemus prepared the corpse of Jesus (Jn. 19:39), - the royalty, the deity and the humanity of Christ. Just notice one more thing here and here is the clue to how these men from the east found Jesus. After they had presented their gifts and worshipped Him, they left Him and v12 being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
6 6 God intervened and guided them at the end of the story and on safely to their way home would it not be right, then, to equally emphasise that all their journey to meet the Saviour had been under the plan and guidance of God?! He started them on their journey and He brought them to its completion. He placed within their hearts the desire to follow the star that led to the Saviour, and then He took them to the road that lead them home. Yes, indeed, these men were truly privileged with a miracle! CONCLUSION I saw a sticker on the back of a car, it simply said, Wise men still find Jesus. King Solomon wrote, Prov. 2:5 Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God. He continued, 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. This shows us how the wisdom of the Magi from the east was not in the knowledge they possessed concerning the things of this world; their wisdom was led of God to find the Saviour in Bethlehem. He was the Fount of their wisdom. Earthly wisdom is restricted, - by its nature, - to this world, whereas the wisdom concerning God is not only for time but for eternity also. These wise men from the east were men on a mission; for that reason they were also men with a message a message that the Messiah was born into this world; and in their search for Jesus, they found Him and they were men privileged with a miracle. Believer, it follows then that our Christmas is not the Christmas of tinsel and glitter. It s not just for a few weeks and then it is gone it s over. Our Christmas is centred round the wonderful discovery, the amazing journey that took us from a land far away and brought us to the Saviour. Yes, the journey of the Magi was long. It had many corners and bends in the road, and many hills and valleys to travel but the star that brought them out on their journey succeeded in taking them to the place where God had for them to arrive. He completed in them what He had started! And that is how God works in every life He enters, - He always completes what He starts and that is the process that makes men and women, boys and girls wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (II Tim. 3:15). That is the confidence belonging to each child of God that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:6). Amen.