1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
11 And when they were 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 unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.
12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
John Naisbitt in his book Megatrends said that we are living in the “information society.” There was a time when most people were involved in industry—in the manufacturing and the selling of goods. Today most people added to the laboring force are involved in either collecting, assimilating, or distributing information.
While our society abounds in information and knowledge it is sadly lacking in wisdom. There is a difference in the two. Knowledge has to do with learning and wisdom has to do with discerning. Knowledge has to do with information and wisdom has to do with judgment.
There is an example of the kind of wisdom we need in the story of the birth of Christ and the wise men. There is much that we do not know about these wise men. We do not know how many there were—we assume that there were three because there were three gifts mentioned. But the Bible does not tell us how many. We do not know where they came from except from the east. We assume Persia or Babylon but there is no record of this. We do not know what they did—we assume that they were astronomers or philosophers because they knew the scriptures and followed the star. But that is just an assumption. We do not know if they were considered wise men in the East. We only know that they were wise in the eyes of this inspired writer. Whether they were wise in the eyes of others or not, we do not know.
True wisdom lies not in learning but in discerning. There are three marks of true wisdom in this story. Their experience shows us the kind of wisdom we need. We can tell why they were called “wise men” by observing what they did.
1. Wise men believe the scriptures.
Somehow they had a knowledge of the word of God. They knew that a king was to be born of the Jews and they looked for his star. It was their knowledge of scripture that caused them to follow the star. These wise men were probably religious philosophers from Persia who had become familiar with Jewish prophecy through contact with the Jews scattered throughout the East. Perhaps the influence of Daniel and his writings as well as other scriptures had touched their lives. Whatever the case, they knew scripture and responded in obedience to it.
The priest and scribes knew the scripture and taught them to others but they did not obey the scriptures themselves. What a tragedy it was for them to know about the birth of the Messiah and not go to worship him. It is tragic to know the Bible and not come to Christ yourself.
Herod believed the scriptures when he was told about the Messiah for he was afraid. But he goes right against it, trying to prevent what it says from being done. While the scribes and the priest ignored scripture he resisted and sought to break scripture.
The pious wise men from the east believed God’s word and acted upon it. Their theology was incomplete but their obedience was total. If they had not followed the scriptures that they knew they would have missed out on the greatest event in time and eternity.
If we do not know the scriptures, we will miss out on God’s great plan also. We will miss out on his plan for forgiveness, life, hope, guidance, and heaven. The scriptures need to be our guiding star.
One day a tall middle-aged man pushed his way through the Christmas crowd and asked a clerk for a compass. She led him to the counter displaying mechanical drawing sets and laid out several instruments.
“Oh, I don’t want one that draws circles,” the customer protested. “I want a compass that gives directions.”
“Sorry,” came the reply, “we don’t carry the kind with pointers.”
No straight lines—only circles! That is the story of some lives, is it not? And more seem to be joining the club every day.
Many of us stand at the road sign marked “December” with a nagging suspicion that something is wrong. We feel like a hiker lost in the woods who suddenly recognizes a tree marked hours before. We have been traveling in circles!
Where can one obtain a chart and a compass? How can one step out of the rush of the Christmas crowd and regain one’s bearings? The answer is as old as the Bible, for it is the Bible. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).
Here is a guide through the days of human problems—but more than that, here is explanation and hope! Here is the good news to keep us going in a world of bad news. Our Father in heaven made a divine invasion into earth by way of a manger in Bethlehem.
According to the great Danish philosopher Kierkegaard, the Bible is, “A letter from God without a personal address upon it.” It is for all of us, and it is our responsibility to live by it.
We can get lost in this world. Whether we travel by slow jalopy or executive jet, we can still go in circles. But the Bible is our compass.
2. They worshipped Christ.
These wise men were wise because they did. This story is shot through and through with worship. The wise men say they have come “to worship” the king. Herod asked them to bring word of Jesus’ whereabouts so that he may “worship” him. And when they find the Christ, they fall down and worship him giving him their gifts.
The Greek and Hebrew words for worship mean to “prostrate one’s self.” To lay yourself down before your superiors. When these men saw Jesus they recognized him as their superior, their Lord, and so they worshipped him.
There is a phrase all of us who watch football on television have heard often. The announcer will say, “We’re going to take a break in the action. We’ll be back in a few moments after a word from our sponsor.” The action in life, as in a football game, cannot go in incessantly at an intense pitch of activity. There must be a break in the action and during that break we need to hear a word from our “sponsor.” That’s what worship is—break in the actin to worship our Lord and King.
3. We need wisdom to follow the Lord.
God led these wise men in many ways. He led them through scripture, through a star, and through a dream. And in the same way he leads us in multiple of ways if only we have the wisdom to follow him—God’s wisdom.
The wise men understood that. Perhaps the greatest demonstration of their wisdom was in the fact that when they found the King, they laid their precious gifts at his feet and went home happy. The round trip probably took a year’s time, but it was the finest year they ever spent. I can say the same of my own life. If I could live a million years upon earth I would always know that the year of 1948 was the best of all, for in that year I two found this King, and I was found of him.
Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us the secret to a God-directed life: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Let God be your compass and he will lead you to wisdom.