We don’t know very much about them. Matthew’s is the only Gospel to make mention of them, and they appear and disappear in just twelve verses. But I’ve always had a soft spot for the mystery men from the East.
One carol goes like this:
‘We three kings of Orient are,
One in a taxi, one in a car,
One on a scooter, blowing his hooter,
Smoking a big cigar’.
That, of course, is the unofficial version; although the real thing isn’t a whole lot more accurate. The Bible nowhere tells us that they were kings, nor even that there were three of them. That’s just assumed from their gifts.
However, the experience of the Wise Men illustrates that of all those who have a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. Their story is unique, yet if you take them seriously enough, then it’s possible to find your story in theirs.
The journey they took
‘After Jesus was born in Bethlehem … wise men … came to Jerusalem saying, Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star … and have come to worship him’ (Matthew 2:1-2).
It is striking that both the Old and New Testaments begin with questions. In the Old, it’s the sin question, as God asks Adam, ‘Where are you?’ (Genesis 3:9). In the New, it’s the salvation question, as the Wise Men ask, ‘Where is he?’ (Matthew 2:2). These are life’s two most important questions.
Like Adam, we are all estranged from God because of our sin. Like the Wise Men, we must understand that the answer to our deepest needs is to be found in Jesus. They were determined to find him. Are you?
The person they sought
King Herod heard that the Wise Men were looking for Jesus, whom they believed to be King of the Jews, and was troubled. He gathered all the chief priests and scribes together and inquired where Messiah was to be born.
Their answer was Bethlehem. ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel’ (Matthew 2:6, quoting Micah 5:2).
That Old Testament prophecy spoke not only of where Jesus would be born, but of what kind of person he would be. Jesus says, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep’ (John 10:11).
The gospel says to you, ‘Come to Bethlehem!’ See divinity clothed in humanity and lying in a manger. But it also says, ‘Go to Calvary!’ See Jesus nailed to a cross, suffering, bleeding and dying to take away your sin.
The worship they gave
Herod sends the Wise Men to Bethlehem. ‘And, behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was’ (Matthew 2:9).
We love to picture the scene. Although it is not quite as we often like to imagine. The typical nativity scene, where the Wise Men are crammed into the stable together with baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, etc. does not really fit the biblical narrative.
‘When they had come into the house, they saw the young child … and fell down and worshipped him’ (Matthew 2:11). Jesus was no longer in the stable, but in a house; perhaps now more a toddler than a baby.
But don’t miss this: the Wise Men fell down and worshipped the infant Jesus. The Baby of Bethlehem, the Child of Nazareth, the Man of Galilee and the Christ of Calvary is none other than the very Son of God.
The presents they brought
The Wise Men are famous for their gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Many school nativity plays have descended into hilarity, as some well-meaning child basking in their moment has said, ‘I bring you Frankenstein’, or blurted out ‘Frank sent this!’
More seriously, these gifts each have significance. The gold takes us to the palace and declares ‘Jesus is King’; the frankincense to the temple, proclaiming ‘Jesus is God’; and the myrrh to the cross of Calvary, heralding ‘Jesus is Saviour’.
This Jesus is King of kings, Lord of lords and Saviour of the world. No wonder the great hymn-writer Isaac Watts wrote so evocatively, ‘Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all’. He was spot-on.
The devotion they evidenced
Matthew 2:12 is often missed off the end, when the beginning of Matthew 2 is read at carol services: ‘Being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way’.
Herod had asked the Wise Men to find Jesus and then report back to him, but only so that he could kill him. Such was the Wise Men’s devotion to the Lord Jesus that they risked disobeying the king’s command. Another carol ends like this:
‘What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him: give my heart.’
Have you ever given your heart to Jesus? In one sense, the Wise Men are long ago and far away; but the gospel is always right here and right now. Have people been asking you ‘What present would you like?’
Perhaps you’ve been asking them the same question. Spare a thought for what the Lord Jesus wants. He has come looking for you. He wants your heart. Seek him and find him. Turn from your sin and trust the Saviour.
Jeremy Brooks is pastor of Welcome Hall Evangelical Church, Bromsgrove. He chairs the Dudley Reformed Ministers’ Fraternal, teaches ethics at the European School of Biblical Studies, and is vice-chair of EP Books. Married to Lydia, they are blessed with 8 children.