JESUS WAS SOUGHT
Merry Christmas! I always smile when we include the visit of the wise men in the Christmas story. Through the centuries, the visitation has gotten more and more elaborate. The wise men became kings, they were named and they arrived in Bethlehem around the same time as the shepherds to find baby Jesus in a manger. Fanciful storytelling, creative hymn lyrics and a conflation of the Matthew and Luke infancy narratives have led to amazing details found in Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” but not in the Scriptures.
As students of the Word, please note that Luke 2 records some rites of passage related to Mary’s pregnancy and Jesus’ significant early events. Luke records the birth of Jesus, His naming and circumcision, His infancy visit to the temple, His adolescent visit to Jerusalem and transitional verses that fill in the blanks of Jesus’ life from birth to thirty years of age. Matthew provides other vital additions: angelic visitation to Joseph, visit of the wise men, flight to Egypt, slaughter of the innocents and family return to Nazareth after Herod’s death. We’ll focus our attention on the visit of the magi.
The Arrival (1–3)
They were wise men from the east, not kings. Following customary protocols, they requested an audience with King Herod in Jerusalem, who had been granted the title “King of the Jews” by the Roman senate decades earlier. These magi had discerned that a sign in the sky (“His star”) had appeared, so they came to worship the King of the Jews. Were they astrologers following an astronomical event, like the convergence of planets? Or were they Mesopotamian magi who were affected by prophecies of Daniel? Scholars hold a variety of theories as to their identity, but it is certain they had come to pay respect to the young king. Matthew indicates that the boy may have been up to two years old, based on verse 16.
The Direction (4–7)
Herod was unsettled by this inquiry, as was his political entourage. Early sources indicate that Herod was suspicious of conspiracies against him, suspecting even his own sons of planning a coup. He was going to protect his throne against any perceived enemy — foreign or domestic.
The religious leaders knew Micah’s prophecy, and so they informed the king and international magi that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea (formerly Judah). Prior to their departure from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, however, Herod requested that they return to him after their visit to the young king.
General revelation, through God’s creative order, provides enough information for us to know of God and His handiwork (Ps. 19:1–4; Rom. 1:19–20). Only special revelation, through His word, provides all that is necessary for us to come to saving faith. The sign in the sky brought them to Jerusalem, but Micah’s prophetic word regarding Bethlehem brought them to Jesus. Creation reveals enough to make us accountable to God. Salvation by grace through faith “comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).
The Discovery (8–12)
The king dispatched them to Bethlehem, with instructions to return to him and give him directions to the boy. When the wise men arrived, they went into the house — not a stable. They saw the child — not a newborn baby lying in a manger. And they brought expensive gifts in worship. Note CSB footnotes explaining that “to worship Him” also may be interpreted as “to pay Him homage.”
Three gifts were mentioned as the wise men visited the boy, but the text does not indicate how many visitors offered those gifts. Common explanations of the significance of the gifts are as follows: (1) gold represents His royalty; (2) frankincense represents His deity; and (3) myrrh represents His mortality. Jesus the Anointed One is our King of kings, our High Priest, and the Prophet promised in the Torah (Deut. 18:15).
Jesus is the greatest Christmas gift of all. Share the gospel today!
By Douglas K. Wilson, Ph.D.
Wilson is dean of Christian Studies at University of Mobile in Alabama.