Dwight Fletcher | The praise of the wise - Pt 1
December is here and Christmas is in the air. Along with the 'pepper' lights, the shopping excursions, and the playing of Christmas songs, we are ready to go with the flow of the season. And as we do this, we make many assumptions about how it all started.
Some of our assumptions come from sources other than the Bible. Take the 'Wise Men' or 'Magi' of Matthew 2, for example. We may have a picture in our minds of "We three kings of Orient are, Bearing gifts we traverse afar, Field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star ... ." Between the song and modern Christmas imagery, we can get the wrong impression and arrive at the wrong conclusion. But there are a number of facts we can pick up and true lessons that we can learn from the Wise Men of the Bible.
1. They came from the Orient, so many surmise that they may have travelled at least 1,000 miles to get to Bethlehem. That's just a little short of travelling in a straight line from Jamaica to New York. The Wise Men's journey to Jerusalem would have taken them at least two to three months.
2. They started their journey on the appearance of an unusual star in the sky. And this was not a "safe" journey as the places they travelled would have been desolate and treacherous to cross. History has taught us that because thieves and robbers plagued many of the roads, merchants and others were forced to travel in large groups, called caravans, for safety.
3. But the Magi were not merchants. They were prominent men of society. One commentator posits, "... at a minimum, they would have brought with them a full military escort, along with their servants. The total party could have amounted to more than 300 people." (Brian Bill). So we are looking at more than just three guys out for a ride on their camels. This was a large band of men who travelled a great distance over dangerous roads.
4. That would have explained the stir they caused when they rode into Jerusalem. And the fact that these men had no trouble gaining an audience with King Herod indicates that they were men of prominence and power.
5. When the Magi did not go back to Herod to tell them where Jesus was, Herod "... sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the Wise Men's report of the star's first appearance." Matthew 2:16 NLT. Most scholars believe that the men didn't arrive until about two years after Christ's birth. So between the star's first appearance and when they arrived in Jerusalem was approximately two years. There are other hints in the text. Matthew 2:11 NIV says "On coming to the house (no longer a manger) they saw the child (no longer a baby) with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him ..."
Why would these men go to so much trouble for a young child? Jesus wasn't born in their country, so he wasn't technically "their" king. And to the outward eye, he was nothing but a peasant child born in dire poverty.
Matthew 2:1-2 NIV tells us that, "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 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.' Somehow these wise explorers saw beyond the natural and understood young Jesus' spiritual significance, and, responding with deep faith, they worshipped him. They somehow knew that this child would one day rule the world, and they were not ashamed to fall on their faces before Him.
They knew that He was Emanuel - God with us. Maybe they also knew that sickness and disease would flee at the sound of His name; that the lame would walk, the dumb would talk, the blind would see, the deaf would hear, the dead would live again, and the depressed would receive joy. But more important, they recognised that they were lost without Him. To the Wise Men, Jesus was king! And if they could understand it before He had given any speeches or convinced anyone, surely we can understand it when we are able to read a book filled with eye witness accounts of His life and miracles.
The angel had said to Joseph "... you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:21 NIV. So maybe these educated men knew that their wealth and prominence were all worth nothing if they did not surrender to His Lordship. Finding Him was worth more than all the riches they had. Do we recognise this about Jesus today?
We observe that Christmas is largely about the exchange of gifts. God's gift to us was His Son. Our gift to Him is our lives. So what gift will you bring to Jesus this year?
If you don't as yet belong to Jesus, this would be a great time to give Him the gift of your life. And giving it is as easy as anything man has ever conceived:
- All you need to do is believe that Jesus is who He said He was: the Son of God who came to offer Himself as our sacrifice.
- And because you believe that, you recognise that you need that sacrifice because you've sinned. You've messed up in your life and you want to turn it around. You want to repent of your past and your sins.
- And you want to confess Jesus as your Lord; that He owns everything you have and are.
- And then, you simply allow yourself to be baptised and rise up a new person.
- Dwight Fletcher is pastor of the Transformed Life Church. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org