Truth Made Clear

Matthew 2:1-12

Gold, frankincense and myrrh are well known as the gifts of the wise men.  No doubt, these were meant to be representative of the products of the nation from which they came, and as such, they represent the first homage or respect paid by the Gentiles or the nations to the Jewish King and Messiah.  A day is coming when all people everywhere will acknowledge Him as King and Messiah.  These men were the first from among the Gentiles.

The three gifts do not mean there were three wise men, nor do we know their names.  Much ambiguity exists about the visit of the wise men because Matthew's account is brief and therefore limited in detail.  As the first representatives of the Gentiles or nations to give homage to the King of the Jews, these men represent us.  They represent the truth that God has caused light to shine in the darkness.  1 John 4:9 tells us:
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  1 John 4:9, ESV

This then is what I wish to look at today, how the love of God was made clear among us by the birth of His Son.  I believe we see this in the story of the wise men and their journey to Bethlehem.  My approach will be to consider who these wise men were, their time and place, their journey and the person all these elements led them to.  In all these things, we will see the hand of God.

Matthew 2:1 says:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem...  Matthew 2:1, ESV

The term translated "wise men" in our Bibles is the Greek word "μάγοι" (magoi).  This is the word from which we get our word "magic" or "magician."  The term "Magi" was used in the Septuagint, by Philo, Josephus and by other writers of the New Testament era in both an evil and a good sense.  The evil sense refers to those who practiced magical arts that we would term witches or warlocks.  The good sense refers to Eastern (especially Babylonian or Persian) priests or sages, whose research seems to have embraced much deep knowledge that was a mixture of science and superstition.  While this knowledge is alluded to in the Bible, much of it remains lost to us.[1]  However, the influences of idolatry and demons in the religion of the Babylonians and Persians were great.

Speculation and theories as to what country in the east these men came from would take volumes and many hours to cover.  At the period in question, the priestly caste of the Medes and Persians was dispersed throughout what would have been called the East.  In addition, the Jews were also dispersed throughout the same area.  This would make the knowledge of the great hope of Israel available to the sages of many places.  The oldest opinion, though on insufficient evidence, traces the origin of the wise men to Arabia.  In favor of this view is that at the time there was a close relationship between Palestine and Arabia.  In addition, from about 120 B.C. to about the sixth century A.D., the kings of Yemen held to the Jewish religion.[2] 

Because these wise men lived in a time where the Jews were widely dispersed, and because they lived in the area of the world where these things took place, they were in a position to play a role in the story of the Gospel.  We are not told the details of who they were and how they got there, but we are told they came, worshipped and gave gifts.

The stories of the people in the Bible and history are all stories of people in the right time and place.  Abraham, Ruth, David and Esther are all stories of the right person for the time and place of God's choosing.  They did not start out that way.  Abraham was from an idolatrous nation.  Ruth was from an idolatrous people.  David was a shepherd, and Esther lived in the palace of a Pagan king, but God took each one on a journey that led to great things.  In addition, Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar and Herod all had their place in the story.  It all fit together so that as Romans 5:6 says:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Romans 5:6, NIV

We almost never know the purpose that God is working through us.  However, God has worked in each of our lives to bring us to this time and this place.  God even works in the bad things that happen.  I am not saying that the bad things are not bad.  I am saying that God works in them.  I think of Joseph, the son of Jacob, who was sold into slavery by his brothers.  Many years later, he told his brothers:
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.  Genesis 50:20, ESV

It is strange that wise men from the east should know before the people of the land that the King of the Jews had been born, but God worked through history and circumstances that these men should know.  He has done the same for you.  However, the wise men did not know all the details before they arrived.  They made a journey, a journey of hope and discovery.

They knew from the star that there had been one born who was king of the Jews.  However, they did not know where.  Thus, they went to Jerusalem.  Matthew 2:2 says they asked:
"Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?  For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."  Matthew 2:2, ESV

It was from the Jews that they then learned that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem.  However, it was not just the wise men that were changed by all this.  Matthew 2:3 tells us:
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;  Matthew 2:3, ESV

The wise men did not set out to stir up trouble.  They were following the light they had.  Why were there not more who recognized His coming?  Why did not the Jewish people, the priests and scribes recognize the signs of His arrival?  Jesus said:
But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.  Matthew 7:14, NIV

The wise men saw the signs.  They took these signs seriously and followed them.  It was a small gate and narrow, and it took them on a journey of discovery, growth and learning.  The priests, scribes and even the king had more opportunity to see the signs.  The priests and scribes lived and studied the scriptures that had led the wise men.  Surely, these whose very lives were immersed in the scriptures had more opportunity to see the signs.  However, their hearts were hard and they did not follow what knowledge they had.  Later on Jesus told them:
So Jesus said to them, "The light is among you for a little while longer.  Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you.  The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.  While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”  When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.  John 12:35-36, ESV

The Jews had the light.  The light lived among them, walked among them and talked to them.  Yet, they did not acknowledge, see or understand the light.  Jesus came to make the truth clear to them, but they were blind and could not see it.

I wonder which you and I will be.  Will we be like the wise men who responded to the truth they had, or will we be like the priests and scribes who were able to tell the wise men where to go, but did not go themselves?  It was only 5 miles.  Why did not any of the people troubled in Jerusalem go to see what the wise men were seeking?  The wise men traveled many miles, and these people could not be troubled to travel five.  This is also the reason the truth is not clear to many of our day.  Jesus taught:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."  Matthew 7:7-8, NIV

The wise men traveled seeking and they found what they were looking for.  Matthew 2:9-10 tells us:
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  Matthew 2:9-10, NIV

God provided supernatural guidance on the last part of the journey.  This guidance led them to the place where the child was.  Their search ended in a child, a person.  They were overjoyed and they fell down and worshipped.  The NIV says they were overjoyed which is toned down from what the original says.  The original says they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy, using the strongest language possible to express the greatness of their joy.

The truth is not a philosophy, a place or a point in time.  The truth is a Person, and when the wise men reached the end of their journey they were overcome with joy at seeing the One who is the light of the world.

Jesus taught:
“I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."  John 14:6, NIV

God sent His Son and made manifest His love.  The wise men saw the signs and sought to know more.  In their seeking, they met the One who is the way and the truth and the life.  While all Jerusalem was troubled over what the wise men said, the wise men walked 1 hour and 50 minutes to Bethlehem to see the truth for themselves.  Why were they the only ones?

Christmas has brought us again to the star and the stable.  The One born King of the Jews invites us to come.  God has brought you to this point.  Enter at the small gate.

[1] My source for this is chiefly Alfred Edersheim's work: The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, originally published in 1883, I use Barnes and Noble's Nook edition.
[2] ibid.


  1. Nicely done. I don't think I had heard before of the idea that the gifts represented the products of the land the wise men came from.


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