“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 enquired 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.”’”
With only two days to go until Christmas, we turn our thoughts back to the Bible’s account of Jesus’ birth. And we find another prophecy.
But in the interests of keeping this short, the main observation is this: These wise men were not Jews. They came a long way, most likely from Persia in the East (between 500 and 900 miles of travel). We make that deduction because almost 600 years earlier the Jews living in Jerusalem and Judah were forcefully taken into exile in Babylon. One of the exiles, Daniel (he of the lion’s den), became an influential figure in the empire and was put in charge of the “magicians” (Daniel 2:48; 4:9; 5:29; 6:3). These were likely the ancestors of the magi, the “wise men”. Their knowledge of prophecies about the Jewish Messiah probably came from the wisdom passed down from the days of Daniel, and the enduring influence of Jewish families that hadn’t made the trip back to Palestine in the following centuries.
The wise men seemed to recognise the significance of the Jewish Messiah for the whole world. Daniel himself shared his visions of empires – Babylonian followed by Medo-Persian, followed by Greek, followed by Roman – culminating in one who would shatter all empires (Daniel 2:44; 7:27) and bring in an eternal kingdom. The timing was right; and then there was the star, foretold by a much earlier Eastern magi – Balaam (Numbers 24:17), almost a thousand years before Daniel – that would be linked to a Jewish Messiah that would rise and rule over the nations.
They read the signs and took the long journey to find out for themselves. They really were wise. They weren’t content with just talking about books, fascinating traditions and portents in the sky. They acted on what they saw and made the journey.
But they weren’t wise in the way that we tend to see wisdom in the Age of Reason. But the wisdom that God wants is the same wisdom – wisdom that hears the Word of God, sees the Lord Jesus Christ and wants to find him, honour him and follow him, however hard the journey.
Paul commented, “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:20-25) The wise men of the first Christmas walked 500 miles, and possible 500 more, to find the Saviour they wanted. They were not disappointed.
If we show the same wisdom in believing the Word of God. If we act on it and seek the same Saviour, we will also find him just as they did. And with him we will find the hope of eternal life.