The Wise Men From The East

Matthew is the only writer of the gospels that describes the visit of certain wise men from the East. In Matthew 2:1, it reads, "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." They are men of stature in the realm of man's wisdom but chosen of God to visit the young child who would save the world from sin.

We know little of these men and that is how God planned it. It would satisfy the curious mind to know who they were, why they were chosen, how many there were (tradition holds there were three but no proof is offered) and what they did after they left the child and returned home. There are some things we know about these distant visitors and we would not know about those facts without the divine revelation of God.

They were chosen of God to be special visitors to the "King of the Jews." Coming from the East would indicate they came from beyond the Euphrates. Luke records that at the birth of Jesus, shepherds living out in the fields were visited by a angel of the Lord and told of the birth of Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:8-20) They were able to visit Jesus while he still lay in the manger. The wise men had a great distance to come to see the child. They had to travel 500 to 1000 miles to present their gifts of homage to the young Christ.

The wise men had faith and trust in God. The record does not reveal why God chose them to come but they came to worship him. (Matthew 2:2) They were led on their way by a "star in the east." God did not reveal to them that Jesus was born in Bethlehem or they would have only traveled to the city and found the child. Upon their arrival in Jerusalem they asked, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?" After Herod inquired of the chief priests and scribes where the Christ was to born, he was told, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.'" (Matthew 2:5,6)

The wise men left their secret meeting with Herod who had implored them to let him know where the child was (he planned on killing the child) and "Behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way." (Matthew 2:9-12)

The star was a divine sign to lead them to where the Christ was as it shone upon the house where Joseph and Mary were staying. Upon seeing the child, these great men of wisdom fell before the King of Kings and worshipped Him. They recognized the importance of this little boy and how God had blessed them with the opportunity to see Him face to face. The greatest of their place in life paled in comparison to the greatness of the Christ child.

As the custom of rendering honor to great kings and men of greater honor, the wise men presented gifts to the child. These gifts were the best that man could offer in showing honor. How appropriate for the gift that God had offered man - His only begotten Son. Even at the best man could offer so little while God offered so much. There can be some parallels to the types of gifts offered. Gold is representative of the Kingship of Christ as he would become the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Frankincense was used in worship as it is highly odoriferous or fragrant. Aaron was instructed to light the lamps at twilight and to burn incense on the altar of incense as a perpetual incense before the Lord. (Exodus 30:1-10) Jesus would become that incense of sacrifice that still burns today as a perpetual offering of love. Myrrh is a bitter gum and costly perfume that is used for embalming and also as an antiseptic. Jesus was offered wine mingled with myrrh while on the cross but He refused it. (Mark 15:23) Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes to anoint the body of Jesus along with the help of Joseph of Arimathea to prepare Jesus body for burial. (John 19:38-40) It is interesting to note that myrrh comes from a thorny tree. It is not to suggest the crown of thorns platted by the soldiers was myrrh but the thorns of the cross would be deep upon Jesus. Even at His birth, the life of Jesus was shown.

The wise men honored and worshipped the Savior of the world. What a wonderful time that must have been and how marvelous it would be to Joseph and Mary as they witnessed all these things. I am certain the feeling of the wise men was the time went to quickly. They would have to leave and return home. Their good-byes were made and they left. The small town of Bethlehem became just a small speck in the distance but how their hearts swelled within them.

The shepherds would give us some feeling of the thoughts of the wise men as they returned home. "Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them." (Luke 2:20) What a glory filled trip that must have been. The smiles on the faces of those wise men who had been blessed by God to visit the Christ. Their faith had led them to Bethlehem and their faith would lead them home.

They feared God more than they feared man. It may not have been clear to them the intent of Herod but they obeyed God when warned not to return to Herod. Choosing to return home another way, they showed their obedient faith to God.

What did they tell people when they returned home? What impact did these men have on the lives of others as they told them the wondrous story of the Christ child? Would these men know that 2000 years later we would still be talking about their marvelous visit and obedient faith? God had a plan and these men were part of it.

If there is any lesson to learn from these men of great wisdom, it is to be found in the writing of Paul from his first letter to the church at Corinth.

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.' Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

Wise men from the east came and bowed before the Son of God. All men will come and bow before the Son of God. (Romans 14:11) The greatest of man's wisdom cannot compare to the wisdom of God's Son in His birth, His life and His death. The cross of Jesus is the mirror image of the wise men worshipping the Child. Salvation can only come to those who kneel at the cross. Wisdom will avail nothing when seeking to understand the gospel of Christ. It is rooted in the love of the Father who gave His only begotten Son to die on the cross.

The cross is the power of God unto salvation. Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God is found the death of the Child born in Bethlehem, worshipped by shepherds and wise men from the east. Christ is for all men, in all walks of life and from every nation. As all men are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) then all men must come and bow before the Christ.

By Kent E. Heaton

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