The Wise Men...And Otherwise

Matthew’s account of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth presents an interesting contrast. Think about it.

The Wise Men

“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 have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him’” (Matthew 2:1-2).

Matthew tells us little about these men. Exactly who were they? (“Wise men,” or magi, could apply to teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, or even something else.) Where did they come from? (The text says only “the east.” Was it Babylon? Persia? Where?) How did they connect the appearance of the star with the birth of the Jewish Messiah? (Did they know the Hebrew Scriptures? Had they received a special revelation from God?) How many were there? What were their names? There is much that we don’t know.

What we do know is their purpose: “We have come to worship Him.” And when they found Jesus, that’s what they did. Before a child of no more than age two, these men of wisdom fell down and worshiped, presenting gifts fit for a king (verse 11).

Herod’s Men

The arrival of these easterners inquiring about the “King of the Jews” left King Herod troubled, along with “all Jerusalem” (i.e., those in positions of power among the Jews). The prophets had spoken of one who would rule over God’s people. Popular talk of his actually being born could spell trouble for both Herod and the religious establishment.

Herod turned to the men who could be expected to know about such things: the chief priests (the leading religious authorities) and the scribes (men devoted to copying the Scriptures, who literally knew every word). He asked where the Messiah was to be born. The answer, foretold in the prophets, was Bethlehem, a little village in the hill country just south of Jerusalem (see Micah 5:2). So Herod sent the foreign visitors to Bethlehem, instructing that when they found the child they should return and tell him, so that he could go and worship, too. Of course, Herod’s plan was to destroy the child; but God did not allow the men of the east to be used in his scheme (verses 12,16).

So far as we are told, none of the priests, scribes, or other religious leaders went to Bethlehem — only the soldiers of Herod in their failed attempt to kill Jesus.

Wise and Otherwise

What a contrast! On the one hand, a group of Gentile star-gazers; on the other, the acknowledged leaders of the Jewish religion. The sages of the east journeyed a long distance in search of a young child, certain that God’s anointed king had been born, determined to worship Him. Yet the priests and scribes, supposed experts in the Law and the Prophets, didn’t even bother to make a six-mile trip to see if their Messiah had indeed come. The magi “rejoiced exceedingly” to see the King of the Jews; the Jewish leaders were “troubled” at the very mention of Him.

Which group would you put yourself in? Before you answer, think. Are you a person who would willingly travel many miles to worship, or one who can’t even be bothered to drive ten minutes on a Wednesday evening? Are you a person who reads the Scriptures on a lunch break, or one who won’t even study a few questions for a Bible class? Are you always looking for opportunities to grow spiritually, or looking for ways to avoid them? Are you, like those men of the east, longing to be closer to Christ, or are you, like those priests and scribes, content to stay where you are? Would God call you wise…or otherwise?