Royal Lessons.. and Wise Men..

Royal Lessons.. and Wise Men..

Have you ever given much thought to the “Three Wise Men” at Christmas?  So much legend has grown up around them, that it’s quite difficult to separate what we know from what we think we know these days.  For example, I suspect there are three, of varying ethnicities, presenting gift boxes to a baby in a stable in your nativity set.  There’s a lot of assuming being done there.  So this week, let’s take a look at what the bible actually says about the kings… what they can teach us today.

Matthew 2

The Magi Visit the Messiah

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He 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.”

9 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. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

(Matthew 2:1-9 NIV)

What don’t we know?

We don’t know their nationalities.  We don’t know their names.  We don’t know how long they travelled, though we can take a guess.  We don’t know how many there were.  Three gifts does not mean three people.

What do we know?

We know they were foreign… therefore it’s doubtful they were God-fearing Jews.  We know they were astronomers, they were studying the stars closely enough to understand something had changed.  We know they visited a child in a house… not a baby in a manger.

Why should we care?

It seems such an insignificant detail!  Why does it matter what the wise men did or when?  We read it every Christmas, teach the passage in Sunday School… but did you ever stop to wonder: Why is this important?  It must be.  If it weren’t, Matthew wouldn’t have included it.  It wasn’t just a ‘proof’ of Christ’s kingship.  If it were, God wouldn’t have included it. (Jesus did not come to be an earthly King – never the goal.)  So why do we even know this little detail?  Of all the things we’d love to know about Jesus as a child… growing up… this doesn’t really rank!

Or does it?

First, Let’s read the account…

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

They came looking for an earthly king… they went to the palace.  That makes sense.  After all, the new prince would be the king’s son… would he not?  But rather than finding a proud new dad, they found a very discouraged Herod.  Can’t you hear the conversation?

Herod: King of the Jews?  What?  I have no new son… *I’m* King of the Jews!!  You’d better go check your stars one more time!

Magi:  No, no… we’ve been quite diligent in this!  Herod! Where have you been?  Haven’t you even looked outside?  We’ve followed this star for months!  You honestly haven’t seen it?

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He 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 Herod does what any ruler would do… he calls his council together.  He wouldn’t trust the word of these foreigners who are obviously very confused and mistaken.  But he has people on staff who *know* the Jewish Law and prophecies.  They’ll surely set those wise guys straight!  Uh-oh… wait a minute…  the prophet’s said the Jewish leader would be born in Bethlehem?  And now these mages are saying they’ve seen a new star?  Does this mean my star is setting?  And look at what Herod does:  First, when did this star appear… exactly… (I need to know so I’ll know how old this kid may be.  Easier to kill now than when he’s a man!)  Second, You go search for him… when you find him (when not if) let me know.

9 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. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

So they left the paranoid Herod, realizing they’d get no help there… but they didn’t search carefully.  In fact, they didn’t search at all!  The star they’d seen reappeared and took them right where they needed to be.  It couldn’t have been an ordinary star.  Nor could it have been an unusual, once in a blue moon alignment of the planets to create an extra bright ‘star’.  (Yes, I’ve seen the science TV shows too…)  This light isn’t in any way behaving like a star.  Go outside and look up tonight.  How many stars are over your house at any given time?  How many of those could lead you through a crowded city to a specific address?  They’re obviously much too distant.  This was something different… a light, provided by God, that was close enough to guide these seekers of the King.

So *why* is it important?  What do we learn from this?

Faith.

This is the first example of what faith requires… and it’s all in there!

Look at modern day “Christians”.  We ‘know’ Jesus.  We can quote scripture… especially the ones that don’t chastise us!  We build beautiful worship facilities.  If we have any money left after our multi-million dollar facilities; complete with comfy chairs, bookstores, audio-visual cutting edge technology, and popular coffee shop are completed… maybe we’ll send some to charity or missions. Especially if the missions include a chance for us to take an exotic trip, help build a few homes, and play on the beach a lot! We buy bibles with all of Jesus’ words marked in red so He doesn’t forget what He said.  We’ve got it all together.  We sit on our pedestal the chosen ones – and say to non believers, “Go search carefully, and when you find Him, come tell us and we’ll worship Him together.”  But while they search, we debate worship style, music selection, the need for dynamic personalities in the pulpit.  We play basketball and lead cheers and work on the ‘youth programs’.  And occasionally we feed the needy, send supplies to the underprivileged, or care packages to the sick… it makes us feel good.  We need a Royal lesson…

The wise men… however many there were… were probably not religious men.  It is doubtful they had read the prophets, but possible.  They were more likely pagans.  They were astronomers (astrologers, too?) looking to the night sky to determine the guidance they gave the rulers they advised.  They didn’t need a church, or a preacher, or a youth group, or missions projects.  They didn’t need music, or sports, or even a bible.  They just followed a light.

We don’t know the exact timeline here, the Bible doesn’t say.  We do know that the Star must have appeared two years before they arrived. Herod had all the baby boys under two massacred in an attempt to keep his throne.  We do know that it was a long trip.  These pagans saw a light.  Their hearts told them it was important, they needed to find the one the light heralded.  They prepared a caravan, bought expensive gifts – or coerced their kings into providing them, and set out on a journey of unknown length to an unknown destination with no proof that they would ever find anything.  They left their homes and their families.  They endured the physical discomforts of the journey.  They dedicated possibly two to three years of their lives.  They spent their money.  They followed a light.  And we call them ‘wise’ men?  Today we’d say it was a fool’s errand.  But it wasn’t.

Royal Lesson 1:  It’s not about me.

We don’t need cutting edge facilities or a dog and pony show or a degree from seminary to find Christ.  We can be laymen, we can even be pagan.  God doesn’t really care what or where we are.  He meets us there. That’s why He came. He just doesn’t want to leave us there.

We don’t give to make ourselves feel good.  I know – that’s usually what it’s about- but it shouldn’t be.  It’s not about me!  God provides for the needs of others through our gifts.  He furthers His plans using the resources we give.  It doesn’t matter if it makes *us* feel good.  It is about having the faith to turn things over to God and trust Him to use them best.  Soon after the men from the east visited, Joseph followed God’s instruction and took his family to live in Egypt for a time escaping Herod’s massacre.  It’s doubtful the kings ever knew the financial need their gift supplied.

Royal Lesson 2: Faith requires certain behaviors.

They searched for the light.  They braved highwaymen, desert brigands.  They gave time, left home, spent a fortune.  And what did they get in return?  They saw a kid.

And for them… that was worth it.  They were dedicated to the journey.  They weren’t looking for personal gain or comfort.  They simply wanted to see Christ.

Herod did too… for different reasons.  It struck me this year, as I reread the story, why didn’t Herod go follow the star?  It was in plain sight.  The magi followed it from the royal palace straight to the home where Jesus was staying.  But Herod didn’t engage in the right behaviors.  He could have had Jesus right then.  But he didn’t want to meet Him.  He didn’t want to know Him.  So instead Herod said, “You go… and come back and let me know.”

Faith isn’t about being comfortable, wealthy, or healthy.  Faith is about trusting God to be in control, and seeking Christ. It isn’t a dedication to a place, person or doctrine.  It’s a dedication to a journey.  It’s following the light.

The modern church no doubt has a lot to learn from the example of the wise men…

It’s what Isiah was talking about when over 500 years before Jesus he said:

Isaiah 9

1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.

(Isaiah 9:1-7 NIV)

And I can’t help but wonder  if Jesus was thinking about those men from the east when He said:

Matthew 5:

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

The Fulfillment of the Law

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

In Closing

The Royal lesson?  It’s not about religion… it’s about faith.  This year, are you willing to seek the light?