1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him."
3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5"In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:
6" `But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"
7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find Him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship Him."
9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
The story of the wise men visiting the Christ child is an intriguing one.
These men began a long journey to Israel simply because a particular star was in the sky, telling them about the birth of the king of the Jews.
It is one of those stories we know so well, and no pre-primary nativity play would be complete without the three wise men. Interestingly enough, the Bible does not tell us there were three wise men. It doesn’t tell us how many there were – the tradition is that since there were three gifts, there must have been three men, but it could have been two, or a few thousand, or anywhere in-between. But that’s just a detail which is not as important as the real message behind the wise men.
This is not merely a story told to entertain us - it is meant to teach us something today, about seeking Jesus Christ.
There are a number of lessons we can learn from these men, and some of them might surprise us.
Firstly, God makes every effort to reach every person who is far away from Him.
Here He used a star to reach pagan magicians and astrologers in order to bring them to Christ.
The first we read of them is when they arrive in Jerusalem, the Jewish capital. The wise men were on a mission, to find the newborn king of the Jews and worship Him.
What is fascinating about these men is what they teach us about God.
We need to remember that these wise men were not Jews – they were Gentiles.
The Jews believed that the promised Messiah was for the Jews, not the Gentiles. In fact, all the first followers of Christ were almost exclusively Jewish.
It was only after the ascension of Jesus, when the Christian church began expanding into central and Western Europe that Christianity really began to take root in non-Jewish cultures.
When Jesus was born, the Jews were living under Roman rule, and they believed that the main task of the promised Messiah was to deliver them from their oppressors.
Forgiveness for their sins and eternal life were not even an issue. They saw no need to be forgiven for their sin.
So the birth of the Messiah was exclusively a Jewish occasion.
Then what does God do?
He announces it to astrologers - pagans on the other side of the known world.
If you had to draw up a definition people who would be least interested in a Jewish Messiah, it would be these men.
They were Gentiles who had no interest in the Jewish religion.
The Bible tells us they were Magi, which was a combination of a learned scientist and a cultic astrologer. They knew science as well as magic. They were the academics of their time, but they were still magicians and astrologers, which were practices God had specifically forbidden for His people.
But yet, He chose to tell these people about the birth of Jesus even before the Jewish king found out!
What this tells us is that God never abandons anyone. There is never anyone too far gone. If God can reach pagan Gentile astrologers, then He is still working on people who we may think are too far from Him.
God never gives up on anyone and He uses whatever means He can to bring them to Christ.
In this case God sent them a message they would understand. He used a star, to signal to them that they needed to search for the child born as king of the Jews.
Even though God said astrology is wrong, He still used the star (His star, by the way, because He created it!) to bring the wise men to Christ.
God used a language they understood. He knew the best way to reach astrologers was through a star. God used the star as a way to bring the Magi to Christ.
God comes to us in ways we can understand, and He makes it relevant to us where we are.
The most obvious example is how Jesus arrived on this Earth. Nothing is more natural to us than childbirth – what better way for the Saviour of the world to arrive, than as one of us?
That is why God came in the flesh, so that He could be like one of us, and talk to us in human language.
Think of a person that you think is so far from God, and is a lost cause. Someone you think will never come to Christ.
Do you have a mental picture of that person in your mind right now?
Shame on you!
Nobody is too far from God.
Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2, “God our Saviour wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
The second thing the wise men teach is that God wants us to diligently seek Him. By that I mean we must seek out a relationship with Him through Christ.
The danger we fall into is thinking that knowing about Jesus is enough.
And I really believe that Christmas time is a good example. We all know the Christmas story, to the extent that we have become used to it, and so we often lose the sense of awe and wonder that God would choose to enter into our own world in human form.
That is why we need to persevere in calling not only non-Christians, but Christians too back to the real reason for the season – Emmanuel, God with us.
The truth is we can have all the knowledge of the Bible, we can follow God’s commandments, and still miss what the Christian faith is all about, and that is seeking Christ until we find Him.
These Gentile, pagan astrologers, with only partial information about a Jewish Messiah set off on a journey of faith to find the Christ.
It was hundreds of miles they had to travel and it would have taken many weeks or even months to complete.
Their journey cost them time, money, and it cost them their precious gifts. We know these Magi only had partial knowledge about the Old Testament prophecies and the Jewish Messiah because otherwise they would have known to look for the infant in Bethlehem. Matthew 2:1 tells us that they went to Jerusalem first but they had faith, and made an effort to seek out the Christ child.
On the other hand we see the religious community in Jerusalem.
These are the people with a firm grasp on prophecy - people who lived out the letter of the law as written in Scripture. They went through all of the rituals and followed all of the commandments. They knew about God from their Holy Scriptures.
Yet, when the wise men show up, Herod and these religious leaders were stunned to find out the Messiah had been born.
Verse 3 says, “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.”
They had either not seen the star in the sky, or were unable to interpret its meaning. They had no clue their king had been born, and it had to take some pagan, non-Jewish astrologers to tell them about the Messiah.
Bethlehem is less than 10 km from Jerusalem, but rather than be overjoyed at the news that the Messiah had come, they couldn’t be bothered to go and see and worship the Messiah.
It’s a bit like the millions of people all over the world who call themselves Christians rushing off to their local shopping mall, spending thousands of rands on presents and Christmas cheer, but are not prepared to make the effort to acknowledge and worship the Messiah.
Christmas is about Jesus, not us, and not much has changed since Herod’s day.
Herod, and countless people like him, are more concerned about laws and rituals than they are about a relationship with God.
We can have knowledge of the Bible, we can have religious convictions, we can even live out God’s commands to the letter and still miss the point.
God is seeking a relationship with us through His Son Jesus the Christ, and He wants us to seek Him.
And what we find out is that when we do seek Him, we will find Him.
Jesus said, “Seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened.”
Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”
The prophet Jeremiah also wrote in chapter 29, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the LORD.”
And when we do find Him – properly – when a real relationship with God through Christ begins, then everything else falls into place.
When we come to Church, when we live good lives is it because our primary focus is on seeking Christ, to search for Him to try draw nearer to him?
Or are we like the religious leaders in Jesus’ day who think that doing our religious duty is enough, following God’s commandments, being at Church, maybe even knowing the Bible really well?
The next step for the wise men was worship.
They found Jesus, and then a life of worship began.
They offered valuable gifts, but what do we offer God?
Worship is not an option with Christ. We need to worship Him. Once the wise men reached Jesus, we see that the first thing they did was worship.
Verse 11: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.”
They bowed down and worshipped. One way to worship was to bow low before someone else. It signalled submission to authority.
That is why today we say we must receive Jesus as Lord – it means submitting to His authority.
Another way that the wise men worshipped was by presenting gifts.
To worship also means to offer something. There is a cost involved in true worship which goes far beyond simply giving our money. We worship by offering what is valuable to us.
The gifts which the Magi brought were very valuable, and they were given at great cost to themselves.
Jesus received from them gifts worthy of His kingship. The first of course is gold, a treasure deserving of a king. The second, frankincense was a fragrant scent offered up to God during sacrificial worship, and could only be offered to God by a priest.
Lastly, myrrh was used as an oil to prepare a body for burial. In fact myrrh was used to embalm Jesus when He died.
It was a gift symbolising the preservation of life after death. It was a gift for a saviour who would die for us all.
Each of these gifts came at a significant cost to the wise men.
Worship should cost us something much more than mere money.
What do we bring or offer to Jesus Christ which is costly to us? What do we lay at His feet?
King David said in 2 Samuel 24:24, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
And then the last lesson we can learn from these men is that we must continue to be open to God’s Spirit.
They obeyed God’s direction by not returning to Herod. Their journey to the Christ and their reward of faith had taught them to remain open to God’s leading.
There is never a point in our lives when we can say that we’ve arrived in the sense that we’ve got the Christian life all figured out. We need to seek Him, we need to worship Him, but these aren’t once-off events. We must continue to remain open to Him.
Matthew 2:12 tells us, “And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”
Even though the wise men had found the Christ child and had worshipped Him, they weren’t finished. It wasn’t, “okay I did my duty, I’m glad that’s over, now let’s get back to regular life.”
Their seeking God didn’t end with meeting Christ. They continued to remain open to God. God gave them a message in a dream. Remember these are men whose job it was to interpret dreams, and so God spoke to them again in a way they would understand, in a dream. They recognised this dream as a message from God and they obeyed. They didn’t go back to tell Herod, because little did they know Herod was making plans to try to kill this king of the Jews.
The point is this: Just because we have sought Christ, and found Him, doesn’t mean we are at the end of our journey. It is only the beginning. God wants us to be open to His Holy Spirit.
God still speaks to us today. He wants us to stay out of danger and stay focused on His plan.
What about you?
Where are you today?
Are you far from God, but you can hear Him calling you?
Remember God will continue to seek you out no matter where you come from, and no matter what your background.
You are here today, and this might be an excellent place to start rebuilding that relationship with Him. God promises that if you seek Him, you will find Him and be rewarded for your journey of faith. Are you a seeker who has begun your journey to personally meet Christ to begin a relationship with God? Don’t give up on the journey because God has not given up on you.
Are you a worshipper of Christ? What have you offered Him? What He really wants is you, all of you, every part.
Lastly, are you opening yourself to God’s continued leading in your life?
God continues to speak to us, to let us know where we need to be, and where we should not be, but we have to be willing to listen to Him through prayer, and through His Word written in the Bible.
If we don’t we will find ourselves in the shoes of Herod and the religious community in that day who claimed they wanted to meet the Christ and worship Him, but were really only interested in their own selfish agenda. God wants us to follow His agenda, wherever it may lead us.