What Made the Wise Men Wise?

The story of the wise men (Magi) who visited Jesus in Matthew 2:1-18 is puzzling to many attentive Bible readers. Why in the world would an elite class of scholars, astrologers, diviners, scientists, and dream interpreters travel about 900 miles to visit a Jewish king (Matthew 2:2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?…”)? And why would they come to worship a king of a small country, which was really just another province of the Roman Empire (Matthew 2:2 “…For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”)? The Magi had never sent a delegation to any other Jewish king. Why would these men from Chaldea, Babylon, Persia, and/or India have any interest in this Jewish king?

The difference now was the star. The Magi had been around for centuries; in fact, Daniel had been one of them—in fact, more than just one of them, he’d been the chief prefect from a relatively young age (see Daniel 2:48). And Daniel had an edge over the other Magi, he was also a prophet of the true and living God, who foretold future events to Gentile kings, some of which we have recorded (see Daniel 1-12). And since we know he did this, is it not possible that Daniel left a prophecy specific to the Magi themselves about a Jewish king, who would be the divine Savior? And that this prophecy might be given a sign that that the stargazing Magi would be sure to see, and did see?

Even so, why did they follow this sign in the sky, a star? Because they judged that the coming of the Savior of the world was important. Really important. Not important like “Don’t forget to bring home some milk,” or “You need to get an A on this test,” or even “This project could make or break your career.” They appear to have understood that this was on a whole other level of importance—important like, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

The Magi doubtlessly knew (Dan. 2:44) that it would be this king’s kingdom that would never be destroyed, that would not be left for another people, that would crush and put an end to all other kingdoms, but itself would endure forever. The wise men were aware of the fact of God, of the next world, of their souls, and of the  transcendent importance of spiritual reality. They had made the calculation that following the star was more important than “me-time”, than a lazy Saturday, than ease, than hobbies, than any obstacles, than any distance, or than anything else that they could conceive of. These were wise men indeed.

And wise men still follow Jesus’ “star” (the Light of the world, John 8:12)—despite any personal sacrifices, any obstacles, any difficulties, any endurance required, or any opposition met. How? Why? They, too, understand the supreme priority of believing in and serving the Lord, the extreme importance of paying attention to their souls, the infinite length (if such a term can be used) of eternity, and the inconceivably high stakes (Heaven or Hell) involved.

This biblical story tells us that Christmas can and should be about much more than warm sentimentality. It also can and should be a time of serious reflection about the incomparable importance of seeking for and following Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God. What’s been at the top of your priority list?

About parklinscomb

I'm a minister for the church of Christ in Manchester NH where I've worked since the 1970's. I'm a big fan of my family, archaeology, the Bible, the Lord's church, and Gander Brook Christian Camp.
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