SERMON: “Wise Men Seek Jesus” 「知者たちはイエス様を捜し求める」
TEXT: Matt. 2:1—12
When I was a little boy our family always set up a little “nativity” scene beside the Christmas tree. For many families in America, it is an old Christmas tradition. Children learn many things from traditions. Some of the things they learn are true, but many things are not true! One of the things I learned from the nativity scene tradition is that there were shepherds and their sheep, three “wise men” with their gifts and their camels, together with Joseph and Mary, all crowded into a little stable. In the middle of the stable was a manger full of straw, with the baby Jesus lying in it. Is this all true? The Bible tells us that Mary and Joseph spent the night in barn for animals; that Jesus was born that night; and that Mary wrapped Him in cloths and laid Him in a manger. Luke also says that some shepherds came to visit them that night. But the Bible does not say that “wise men” visited them that same night. The visit of the wise men actually happened later—maybe several months or a year after Jesus’ birth. But even though the “wise men” were not in the real “nativity scene,” they are very important in the story of Jesus. Today, I want to think more about those “wise men” who were led to Bethlehem by a star as they searched for the newborn Christ.
II. THE WISE MEN’S SEARCH
Let’s think about these three things: First, who were these “wise men” who were looking for the King of the Jews? Secondly, how did they conduct their search? And finally, what did they do at the end of their search?
A. Who were they? There is much that we do not know about these men. In the original language of the Gospel they are called “magi,” which is a Persian word. It seems to refer to one tribe of the people who are called “the Medes.” Certain men of that tribe became advisers to the Persian kings, because of their knowledge of nature, especially the stars, and their claim to be able to interpret dreams. They were called “magi” or, sometimes, “Chaldeans.” Do you remember the story of Daniel, and how he interpreted the dreams of several kings? The great Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar called on advisers, who were called “Chaldeans” (Dan. 2:2-4) to explain his dream. Such advisers were probably the ancestors of the “wise men” who came searching for the infant Christ. Daniel said to the king in Daniel 2:27, “No wise man, enchanter, magician, or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He will show King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in the days to come.” Perhaps some of the king’s “wise men” also came to believe and to follow Daniel’s God who “reveals mysteries.”
But we are just guessing about these things. The Bible does not tell us much about these “wise men” who came looking for the One born to be King of the Jews. We know that they were Gentiles who lived far to the east of Israel—perhaps in Babylon or one of the great Persian cities. They were wealthy enough to afford expensive gifts. They were highly respected. And it seems they believed in the God of Israel, who had promised to send a new King and Savior to lead the Jews. But why did they go in search of this new King? They wanted more than “knowledge” about Him. They could study about the Jewish Messiah from their books or learn about Him from other human teachers. But these wise men sought Christ so that they might have the personal experience of meeting Him. And, as they said in v. 2, they wanted to “worship Him.” So they traveled as much as a thousand miles to find this promised Messiah-King. These Gentiles were really committed “seekers”!
B. How did these wise men search for Christ? The wise men’s search for Christ began with one extraordinary event: the appearance of a strange “star” in the eastern sky. These men were familiar with the stars and their normal patterns. But when this star appeared, they knew it was an omen of something great. But why did they connect the rising of this new “star” with the birth of the Christ? The Bible does not tell us. We must assume that they were given some “special revelation” by God. They were sure that the special “star” was a sign in heaven of the Messiah’s birth.
Because the Messiah was to be King of the Jews, the wise men traveled to the city of Jerusalem, and inquired at the palace of King Herod. At this stage in their journey they simply followed common sense. Where would you expect to find the infant heir to the throne? In the palace of the king! They did not need to “follow” the guidance of the star to Jerusalem. They simply followed the roads and maybe hired guides to lead them to King Herod’s palace in Jerusalem.
However, after they reported their mission to King Herod, the wise men received a different kind of guidance. The king summoned the chief priests and teachers of the Law and asked them where the Messiah was to be born. They consulted the Bible and said, “In Bethlehem of Judea,” because that is written in the book of the prophet Micah (v. 5). So Herod called the wise men and sent them to Bethlehem to search for the baby Messiah there. Doesn’t it seem strange that the wise men were guided in the right direction by an evil man? King Herod was a wicked and cruel tyrant who planned to murder the infant Messiah, if He were found. Yet God used Herod to guide the wise men to Bethlehem by the truth of the Bible! This is one of the surprising things about God: He uses men’s evil purposes to bring about a good result. Do you recall what Joseph said to his brothers who had treated him so badly (Genesis 50:20)? “And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” So, as we read in Matthew 2:8, the wicked King Herod “sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’”
So the wise men started on the last few kilometers of their journey to find the Messiah. They were now going to Bethlehem, but how could they find that one, special baby among the hundreds of families in the little town? Once again, God sent special “guidance” to help them. Verse 9 says, “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.” The wise men recognized the star immediately, but this star did not act like other stars! This star acted more like the “pillar of fire” which God used to guide the people of Israel through the wilderness in the days of Moses. This star beckoned them to follow! This strange star moved steadily forward, until it came to the house where Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus were then living. There, the star stopped! The wise men knew that God had guided them by this strange “star,” and they rejoiced when they saw it and the house it pointed to.
There are many things which the Bible does not tell us about the wise men’s journey and “star” they followed. But the main point is quite clear: the wise men were guided by God Himself to the place where the child Messiah lived. There were several means God used to guide them: a strange “star” in the sky; some kind of “special revelation”—maybe an angel who told them the significance of the star; “common sense” which guided them to King Herod’s palace; the prophecy of Micah in the Old Testament; and finally, the strange “star” which moved ahead of them like a silent “drone” in the sky until it stopped over the house where Jesus was.
C. What did the wise men do when found the baby Messiah? When the star stopped, the wise men rejoiced. I wonder how they felt as they approached the door, imagining who they would find inside. And I wonder what Mary and Joseph thought when they opened the door and saw these men from a distant eastern province! In the narrow street in front of their simple home was an entire caravan! There were camels or donkeys to carry their luggage, servants and guides, and maybe even guards to protect them on the long journey. And there were the wise men, who had come direct from meeting with the king, dressed in their finest robes! Their arrival must have created quite a stir in that small town. When they entered the humble house, the wise men saw the child whom they had come so far to meet, and they saw His mother Mary. And those magnificent wise men immediately bowed down and worshiped Jesus! Many scholars say that the word “worshiped” was used for humbly greeting any person of high rank; but I think the wise men actually “worshiped” Jesus. They clearly understood that He was no ordinary human king! “Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” They offered to Jesus the precious gifts they had carried with them for this special occasion. Their long search ends with this scene of joy and fulfillment and worship. I’m sure they talked long into the night about the “star” and its significance, about their long journey, and also about their visit to Herod’s palace.
Meanwhile, Herod was waiting for their return. With God’s help, they had found Jesus very quickly after arriving in Bethlehem. But Jerusalem was only about ten kilometers north of Bethlehem, and Herod was not the sort of king to wait patiently. Later that night, as the wise men slept, the Lord sent them a dream. In the dream they were warned not to return to Herod at all, but to depart to their own country by a different route. And that is what they did. Having accomplished their purpose, the wise men departed in the morning on their journey home. During the night after the wise men had left, Joseph also had a dream and a warning. An angel appeared to Joseph and said, “Get up, take the child and His mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill Him.” (v. 13) So that very night Joseph gathered up his family and their belongings, including the valuable gifts of the wise men, and left for Egypt.
What does the Lord teach us in this story of the wise men who traveled so far to find the Messiah-King? Consider these three things. First, God brings Gentiles from the ends of the earth to acknowledge Jesus Christ. Why did God call those wise men? Because Jesus Christ is the King of all the nations and peoples of the world! Christ was sent to be the Savior of the world. His kingdom encompasses all the nations of the world. The Lord is sovereign over all peoples. He is Lord of “wise men” as well as “ordinary” people, rich and poor, rulers of the world and their subjects. And King Jesus sends His messengers to gather people from the ends of the earth. He calls people from all the nations to search for Him and He helps us to find Him!
Secondly, notice that God guided the wise men to Jesus by a variety of means. God still guides people today who seek the Savior. He uses “natural means,” such as the glory of His creation, to guide some people. He uses the encouragement and example of family and friends to lead others. He may use supernatural means, too, by answering our prayers in amazing ways. But most commonly, God uses His word to guide us to seek and to find Him. His word is “a lamp to our feet and a light to our path”! (see Psa. 119:105) The Bible is to guide us to Jesus, so that we can share the experience of the wise men! We do not study the Bible just for its moral instruction or its interesting stories. We study the Bible because it will lead us into a personal relationship with God Himself! We must never forget this.
Thirdly, when you find Christ, what should you do? Wise men who searched for Christ long ago found Him, and they worshiped Him. That is what God wants. He is seeking true worshipers, who worship in Spirit and in truth. Bring Him the gift of your worship, for He alone is worthy of worship. Christmas is a good time to remember this!