Sermon: Learning from the Wise Men (1.16.22)
Matthew 2:1-12 The Magi Visit the Messiah
It’s good to have wisdom. Biblically, the person with the most wisdom in the bible, other than Jesus, was Solomon. 1 Kings 4:29 says “God gave Solomon wisdom and great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom than the wisdom of al the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else…and his fame spread to all the surrounding nations.”
We also know that having wisdom can be a challenge. If you are considered wise, and you don’t come through with the “right” answers someone is seeking, you could lose your job or even perhaps your life. And wisdom alone is not sufficient for a successful and spiritual life. As we read more about Solomon we know he lost his wisdom when he became separated from the Lord by the multiple pagan wives and consorts he took as king. His wisdom may actually have contributed to his downfall, as people came from far and wide to test his knowledge. Maybe some of them were so impressed they stayed on which allowed them to bring their pagan worship with them and to help Solomon go astray. So, we have to be careful when we talk about the value of wisdom.
While we are in the season of Epiphany, I was thinking that maybe we could learn something from the behavior of the three wise men who visited Jesus after his birth.
Let’s start with what we know and what may or may not be true about the story. First, this whole event only took up a total of nine verses in the bible—all in Matthew. So, that’s not a lot to go on for an event which has become a major part of the Christmas celebration.
Let’s correct our understanding of the wise men:
-they were not kings, they were astrologers.
-there may have been three, but the Bible does not give us a number. Just because three gifts were mentioned doesn’t mean that there were only three visitors…there could have been two or as many as twelve.
-we can speculate where they traveled from, but we don’t know definitively.
-they may or may not have all been men, but again, we don’t know for sure.
Certainly, they were learned. As Magi, they would have been from a sacred caste of priests who the Persians adopted in their courts. One of the bases for their knowledge came from careful study of the stars which made them quite prestigious. Recognizing a new and brilliant star suggested to them that an important person had been born, and of course they had to find out who that was and where he was. Today, we have derived the word “magic” from the Persian word “magi.” Much was expected from the kings the Magi were attached to.
The three Magi used an established route to travel to Jerusalem. As they asked around for any knowledge of the important person highlighted by the new star, they were introduced to King Herod, who was immediately threatened by the potential arrival of a future competitor for his throne. He told them to search for the child so he, too, could worship him.
Here’s where we can see the wisdom of these three visitors emerge and where their wisdom can be a model for us. We aren’t interested in their knowledge per se—we aren’t astrologers or astronomers, so that’s not what we are interested in learning from them. The wise men had strong discernment and knew that what Herod was saying was untrue. After giving their gifts to baby Jesus (he wasn’t a newborn at this point, but was under two years old), they knelt down and worshipped Jesus. As non-Jews, they were among the first to accept Jesus as their Savior. We can also see their wisdom in going home a different way to confound Herod.
It’s not the wise men’s former roles as court astrologers which we can learn from, it is these six things we can take away from their story:
-they were searching for the Messiah
-they planned, organized, and made a long journey to find the Messiah based on his importance. This was a major commitment to the Lord.
-they brought gifts to Jesus and his family (which they probably sold to finance their escape to Egypt when Herod went searching for two-year old boys to murder.)
-they had the wisdom and discernment to see Herod’s true intention.
-when they found the Messiah they immediately bowed down and worshipped him.
-they avoided evil by taking a different route home.
If we think about this story of the wise men a little differently, we can establish the relevance to us today. When we seek God with sincere determination, we will find him. He is not hiding from us but wants to have an intimate relationship with each of us.