Wise Men Follow the Light
So over the last couple of weeks we have been looking at some of the stories related to the birth of Jesus.
And we’ve been kind of doing this just to prepare us for the Christmas season that’s coming up.
So we’re just about a week away from Christmas,
What is everybody doing?
So this week I actually spent some time learning about the Christmas tradition and Santa Claus, and it was kind of interesting what I learned.
I thought I would just start off by sharing some of those things with you guys.
So does anyone know who Santa Claus really is, where he came from?
So Santa Claus’ original name was actually Saint Nicholas. And Saint Nicholas was born in the 3rd century in what we would call Turkey today.
As the story goes, Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, was born in the 3rd century in what we would call Turkey today.
Saint Nicholas was raised in a very wealthy home in a Catholic family. Remember, Catholicism was quite different in the 200’s and 300’s than it is today. So it’s very possible that Saint Nicholas was a born again Christian. We don’t really know, but it’s a possibility.
So, while Saint Nicholas was growing up, both of his parents actually died from serious diseases. Apparently some epidemic was spreading and it hit both of his parents.
So because his parents both passed away, the wealth of his parents was inherited by Nicholas.
Apparently, Nicholas decided to use his entire inheritance to assist the needy however he could, and he dedicated his life to serving God and later on as he grew up he was made into a bishop in the Catholic church.
As time went on, an Emperor named Diocletian came to power and began to heavily persecute Christians.
Basically the Roman Empire was forcing Christians to renounce their faith or else be executed.
And during this time, Nicholas apparently suffered for his faith. I didn’t read anything about him being executed. But he was apparently exiled away from his hometown, and imprisoned.
After he was finally released, he attended the council of Nicea in 325 AD and heroically defended the church against heresy.
And I guess he began becoming a pretty key figure in the church to defend the truth of Scripture.
So you can see why at this time Saint Nicholas would have been a very popular figure, and as years went on stories began to form regarding his life. Whether all these are true or not, I don’t know, but they did gain a lot of popularity over time.
One popular story was about Saint Nicholas’s encounter with a poor man and his three daughters. At that time, in order for a young woman to marry, she needed to come up with a dowry, basically a sum of money to bring to the husband on the day of their marriage.
Now, since these daughters came from a poor family, they were unable to come up with the dowry, and because of this they were forced to live as widows, and could possibly be thrown into slavery.
So, as the story goes, Saint Nicholas tossed a bag of gold into their home on three separate occasions in order to provide the dowry these women needed to marry.
Oh, and it’s kind of interesting that in this story, these bags of gold happened to land in stockings or hangings by the fire, which is what led to the tradition of families putting stockings over the fireplace during Christmas time.
Then there are plenty of other stories about him, such as Saint Nicholas praying for three boys that had died and them being raised from the dead.
There’s another about Saint Nic coming back to his home from Israel by boat, and a storm came that was so fierce that the boat was threatened to break, so he prayed and the storm stopped.
Obviously there is no evidence to any of these happening.
And many others about how Nick secretly gave to people in need.
So, kind of interesting stuff.
But he basically became most famous for how he would secretly give to the poor, and throughout the world people celebrate the generosity of this man by giving gifts to each other during Christmas time.
That’s why it’s become so common to celebrate throughout the year
Now, this is actually going to be a good transition into what we are going to be talking about today in the word.
We’re going to be looking at a group of men who came to Jesus and gave him gifts.
And in looking at this section today, I thought it was actually kind of fitting with the Christmas story of Jesus.
This “Saint Nicholas” character may have been a generous person back in his day. Even these men that we are going to look at today gave generous gifts to Jesus. But there is one gift that we are going to look at in our story today that by far beats them all.
Now, as Christians, we aren’t celebrating a man.
It’s kind of fun to think about Santa Claus, and the gifts, and Christmas trees, and so forth.
But we know that the main reason for Christmas is about Jesus.
So on the idea of Christmas and giving gifts, today we are going to be looking at a group of men who came and offered gifts to Jesus.
We’re going to be looking at the story of the three wise men.
And i’m sure you guys have heard this story before, it’s a pretty popular one.
But it’s actually much more powerful than we would tend to think when we first look at it.
So on that, let’s go ahead and open our bibles to
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, saying, “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.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
Last week we learned about the events that took place during the birth of Jesus Christ.
It was this amazing and yet very humble scene. Mary and Joseph had found no place to lay the child after Mary would give birth, and were forced to go into a manger. Could have been some sort of rock cave type structure.
Definitely not the most pleasant place to have a baby I’m sure.
Surrounding this event, we were introduced to this group of shepherds who were suddenly amazed by the light of the glory of the Lord and a multitude of angels worshipping and praising God.
This was just an incredible scene.
So they come to Mary and Joseph and meet the newborn Child in the manger, and then leave praising and glorifying God.
Now as we pick up in our story here in Matthew, we fast forward a little bit.
We don’t know exactly how old Jesus was at this point. He was definitely still a child, but it’s possible that he could have been up to two years old by this point, and we’ll talk about why that is a little later on.
But looking back at our text, let’s start with verse 1.
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, saying, “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.”
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,
So we’ve already got a lot going on just in this first verse.
Right off the bat, we learn here that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
Doesn’t sound like that big of a deal does it?
Well it is.
First of all, Bethlehem is is going to be a part of a prophecy that we’re going to be looking at down in verse 6.
But secondly, there was somebody else very significant in the Bible who was born in Bethlehem of Judea. Do any of you have an idea who that might be?
King David. King David was also born in Bethlehem. Now that’s interesting if you ask me.
King David, in Israel’s eyes, was the greatest earthly king who has ever lived.
And I can’t help but think that God is trying to let the nation of Israel know simply by Jesus’ birth, that the new, greater, heavenly King has finally arrived.
So Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, and it goes on to say that it in the days of Herod the king.
Alright, so who was this Herod guy?
Well, throughout this time of history, there were a bunch of different “Herod’s.” And they were basically appointed as rulers in Israel by Rome.
There were something like seven different Herod’s total.
It looks like there is some dispute as to how many are mentioned in the bible.
But definitely some of the most notable ones would be...
Herod the Great, his son Herod Antipas or Herod the Tetrarch (That’s the one who killed John the Baptist by the way), There was his son Herod Agrippa I (This is the Herod who had James the brother of Jesus killed), and finally there was his son Herod Agrippa II, and he played a major part during Paul’s imprisonment)
So alot of Herod’s. It can be kind of confusing to remember them all. But, just for our study today, the Herod here is going to be Herod the Great. And this would have been the first of all the Herod’s.
Now, Herod the Great was an extremely paranoid man.
He was constantly afraid of people taking his place as king or usurping his authority.
It’s been said that he actually killed three of his sons from different marriages because he was afraid of them scheming to take over his throne.
It’s been said he killed one of his wives, a relative of his wife, and so on.
Some people say that it was safer at this time to be Herod’s enemy than his own family member.
So he was a pretty psycho king to say the least.
Now in our text today it says that during the time of Herod the King, wise men came from the east to Jerusalem.
And in verse two it says that these wise men were saying,
saying, “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.”
Now this is really interesting too.
These wise men, which could also be called Magi, came to Jerusalem from the East. There were probably three because of the amount of gifts they will give later on, but it’s possible there were more.
Now we don’t know exactly where they came from. It’s possible that they came from Babylon, which would have been in the eastern direction from Israel, but we don’t really know.
What we do know, is that these guys were definitely not Jewish. They were not Israelites.
They were Gentiles.
So why do these guys have any idea what is going on with Jesus?
Well these guys tell us of a star that rose in the sky that somehow pointed them to the King of the Jews.
Now how is that possible? Well first of all, God made it possible.
As Magi, these men would have been known for being students of the stars. We might call them astrologers today, but it’s possible that they might have had some kind of pagan, priestly role as well.
But something that was interesting at this time is that it was commonly believed amongst pagan nations, possibly even amongst some of the Jewish Mystics, that there were messages that could be found within the stars.
One common belief was that new stars were born in the solar system at the same time that a new ruler would appear upon the earth.
And depending on how bright the star was and where it was located, it would determine how powerful or influential that ruler might be.
Now, this is where it gets super interesting, and i’m going to kind of nerd you guys out a little bit.
It was common at that time to believe that there were important messages in the stars.
But astrolgers today have actually been able to track back to what the stars would have looked like back in the days of Jesus. They’ve been able to see which ones are formed and so forth.
And around the time of Jesus’ birth, there were three new stars that came into existence that some have said may have been the star the Magi were talking about.
Now there have been many ideas as to what this star actually was.
But there is one star in particular that really sticks out.
So at the time Jesus was born, apparently a brand new star was formed right in the middle of Jupiter and Saturn.
So what does that mean?
Well it’s very possible that Jupiter at that time would have been considered the planet of Royalty. Since it’s the largest planet, it could easily be considered the planet of greatness, and power, and kingship.
And what about Saturn?
Well in the pagan world, Saturn was often related to a mythical god, but, it’s also where we get our English word Saturday.
Now what’s so important about Saturday?
Well anyone in that time, even today for that matter, who knows anything about the Jews, then you know that Saturday is the day of their holy Sabbath.
Therefore, it’s quite possible, that the Magi connected the dots here and realized that a king was to be born and it had something to do with the Sabbath, which would be in Israel.
So, pretty cool. We don’t know for sure if this is how it all happened. But don’t you think our God is powerful enough to make it all happen like this if he wanted to?
I think he is.
So let’s keep moving on, we’ve got quite a bit left to cover, but we’re going to go a little quicker now.
So these Wise men show up to Jerusalem and their asking where this king of the Jews is to be born that they might worship him.
Moving now into verse 3, it says,
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
So, this message that the wise men bring somehow got to the attention of Herod, and he is not happy.
Like I said earlier, Herod was a paranoid man.
And hearing of this new “King of the Jews?” Did not make him very happy.
So he assembles the religious leaders of the city to come and help him understand where the King was to be born.
And I love the language that it uses in this section.
The word that is used for inquired basically means a question without knowing if you are going to get an answer or not.
So Herod summons all his people and is like, “Hey, not totally sure if you will be able to help me out, but here’s a shot in the dark, where is this Christ to be born?”
And I just love it because, instantly, they give him the answer. And it comes straight from God’s word.
They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”
Now this is kind of curious. But, these religious leaders obviously knew where their Messiah was going to be born.
This Scripture that they used here is from the Book of Micah, and it’s an old testament prophecy about the Messiah that would come to Israel.
So my question here is, why aren’t all these guys down in Bethlehem?
If they are so sure their Messiah is coming, and is has just been born in Bethlehem, why aren’t they down there worshipping him too?
So we see that it’s not that these guys didn’t visit Jesus because they were ignorant.
It reminds me of what John says in
He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
And that’s exactly what we see going on here.
Herod obviously wasn’t receiving him,
but even the people of Israel weren’t receiving their newborn King.
Let’s continue in verse 7
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.
So basically right here Herod is trying to find out when the Wise Men first saw the star, and we aren’t going to get into the rest of the story today, but we see later on that Herod is actually going to attempt to kill every baby boy that’s under two years old, probably because of the time the Wise Men had told him the star had appeared.
And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”
So Herod now is really trying to manipulate the wise men.
We know from later on in the story that Herod never really wanted to worship Jesus. He was pretending like he was a worshipper so that he could use the wise men to find out where Jesus was and kill him.
You know, on that note, I really can’t help but relate that to Satan.
Did you guys know that the Bible says Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light?
We often times think of Satan as this big bad angry red guy with horns and a pitchfork, but that’s not the Satan of the Bible.
Satan is pure evil, but he pretends like he is nice. He might even use someone who seems like a really nice person, but fully intends to kill, steal, and destroy you. Don’t be deceived by the outer appearance of things.
So let’s finish with the last 4 verses
After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
So the wise men head down to Bethlehem, somehow the star points them to exactly where Jesus is in Bethlehem. And just look at the joy that they found when they realized where Jesus was born.
It says that they rejoiced exceedingly and worshipped.
You know, I just think about the journey of faith that these men traveled.
God used an extraordinary way to lead these gentile wise men to finally meet the Savior of the universe.
And I just love the irony of the situation here.
These men come and offer three gifts, and don’t get me wrong, each of these are very valuable.
It says that they give gold, some people think that this is symbolic of the royalty of Jesus.
They also give frankincense, which some have thought to be related to the deity (or God-ship) of of Christ,
And Myrrh, which could be related to Christ’s death and suffering. Matthew doesn’t say anything about this being the case, but it’s interesting to see.
But the real irony here is that they come bringing these gifts, but really they are the ones who have received the greatest gift possible, Jesus.
And that’s exactly what Jesus is, he’s an incredible gift.
We didn’t deserve him, there’s nothing we could have ever done to earn his salvation, but God has freely given him to us by His amazing grace.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.