Christmas: What about the three wise men?
The story of these “wise men” that came to visit and worship Jesus takes up a whole chapter in the book of Matthew. We’ll walk through it and note a few of the important and exciting things about this marvelous story.
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,
The Bible is silent about the names of these men. Tradition says their names were Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar. Whatever, it is believed that these men were descendants of the prophet Daniel who had once been taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar’s invading army around six centuries earlier. The word that has been translated “wise men” is the masculine form of the Greek word MAGI. It is from this word that we get the word magic. These men weren’t magicians [or even kings, as is sometimes thought] as we would think of them, but they were wise in their knowledge. Among other areas of knowledge, they were astronomers, not astrologers. All modern-day astrology is a perversion of truth. These men also had a knowledge of the Scriptures that foretold a coming Messiah.
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.
Exactly how this happened, no one knows! There’s a lot of speculation about this. But somehow these men were able to see that “his star” had appeared. They had gone forth with confidence that they were going to be led to Him to worship Him.
3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
Herod was a man who had worked and struggled all his life to worm his way to becoming king of Israel. But here he’s being told that someone has been “born king of the Jews.” That thought didn’t sit well with him at all. Instead of being excited about this, as he should have been, he is “troubled.” The Greek text says he was afraid and perplexed. Herod is an old man when these things occurred. Instead of focusing on right preparation for eternity, he continues to focus on his temporal power and possessions. But he knows his remaining days are few. History has a lot of information about his steadily deteriorating body in his elder years. Like so many foolish people in every generation, he had spent a lifetime looking for true happiness in all the wrong places. He had become quite the opposite of being a happy and content man.
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.
The chief priests and scribes were the “religious” leaders of the day. He wanted to know what they could tell him about this.
5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
These religious leaders of what was called the Sanhedrin proceeded to explain to him what the Scriptures had to say about it. This incident shows that intellectual knowledge of the Scriptures without a delight in them is worthless. Think of it! This prophecy they read from was written around seven centuries before then. Yet it is about to be fulfilled in their lifetime. We need to always realize that, though centuries come and go, all the prophecy of Scripture will eventually be fulfilled.
2 But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting [speaking of Jesus Christ who is eternal, being God personified]. [Emphasis added]
We now continue our passage–Matthew 2
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.
This is a quote from prophecy [Micah 5:2] concerning Christ’s coming time of ruling the world in an earthly kingdom [Revelation 20:2-4]. What people didn’t understand then was that this portion of the prophecy would not be fulfilled at that time. Even these many years later, it is still yet to be fulfilled sometime in the future.
7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
Here he seems to be trying to determine the age of this child that has been born to reign as the king of Israel.
8 And he sent them to Bethlehem [only five and a half miles from Jerusalem], 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.
He has no intentions of worshiping Him. This statement about worshiping Him tells us it was conveyed to the king that this was more than just a child becoming a king. Herod apparently realized that this “king” was thought to be the promised Messiah of Israel and worthy of worship.
9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east [back when they were east of Jerusalem], went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child [PAIDION—a young child, but not a newborn baby] was.
It seems that the star they had followed in their journey had disappeared, but now has reappeared.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
This is precisely the attitude that should have come from Herod and everyone of that day. The emotions people express and the things they get excited about tell a lot about their priorities and the things most important to them. I’ve always been amazed about the excitement and the disappointment people can express over a ballgame. Again, the expression of our emotions reveals a lot about us.
11 And when they were come into the house [OIKOS—a house (not a stable)], they saw the young child [PAIDION again] 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.
As I’ve noted, we know this occurs a while after the child’s birth because we read that they went to the house where he lived, not the stable where He was born. Therefore, all our present-day manger scenes with the wise men present are totally inaccurate. Unfortunately, tradition doesn’t even have the date right because there are no shepherds in the fields of Israel in the cold winter month of December. The gifts the Magi provided were very valuable and would serve as a part of the family’s means for survival in the trip they were about to make to escape capture by Herod’s men.
Now let’s note some things about these gifts. Gold speaks for itself. It has always been one of the most valuable of all commodities. Frankincense is the dried sap of trees whose scientific name is Boswellia sacra. These trees are native to Oman, Yemen, and the Horn of Africa, including Somalia and Ethiopia. After being dried, the sap is burned as incense, having a lemony, musky odor. It is believed to have several medicinal properties. Myrrh is the dried resin of tree species known as Commiphora. These trees are found in Somalia, Yemen, and eastern Ethiopia. Like frankincense, it is expensive. Sometimes it has been as expensive as gold. It is known for its medicinal properties and is burned as incense [often in religious settings]. Myrrh is extracted by using a crushing technique. It has a rich, distinct scent—earthy and bitter. Myrrh was mixed with wine and offered to Jesus at His crucifixion, but, because it was an anesthetic, He refused it [Mark 15:23]. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes to anoint Jesus’ corpse [John 19:39]. Interestingly, the city of “Smyrna” [Revelation 1:11; 2:8) derives its name from the Greek word translated “myrrh” in Matthew 2:11 and John 19:39. Myrrh can also be found in the context of gifts, spices, perfume, and incense in Genesis 37:25; 43:11, Exodus 30:23, Esther 2:12, Psalm 45:8, Proverbs 7:17, Song of Solomon 1:13; 3:6; 4:6,14; 5:1,5,13.
It is because of these three gifts that it is assumed that there were only three wise men. The reality is that there were probably many more. Also, please notice that these men did not come to worship Mary, for she’s never been worthy of such. Worshipping Mary is a form of idolatry.
Still other reasons have been given for these three gifts. Gold is for a King, frankincense is for a Priest, and myrrh is for a Prophet—Jesus is all three [King—Isaiah 9:6-7; Priest—Zechariah 6:13; Prophet—Deuteronomy 18:15,18].
6 The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the Lord. [Emphasis added]
You will notice that myrrh is not mentioned in this passage. That is because the Messiah will not suffer at His Second Coming. Myrrh will be unnecessary there. The only gifts needed in the coming prophesied Kingdom, the context of Isaiah 60:6, are gold and frankincense: Christ being a King [gold; Isaiah 9:6-7] and Christ being a Priest on His throne [frankincense; Zechariah 6:13]. Now let’s continue with our Matthew passage.
12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
Considering Herod’s excellent reconnaissance system, it is amazing [perhaps a miracle] that this large assembly of men was able to slip away unnoticed.
13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.
God’s peace and protection was provided, much as it is for us today.
2 Thessalonians 3:16
16 Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all.
None of us as believers who’ve accepted Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection as the sole means for our salvation should fear anything, even death. Death for us is a promotion to a far better situation than anything we’ve known here on Earth.
We now continue our passage–Matthew 2
14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:
It was God who provided for them a logical way to escape. Here I’m reminded of a wonderful promise to us that relates to many life situations.
I Corinthians 10:13
13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer [permit or allow] you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. [Emphasis added]
Joseph, Mary, and Jesus enjoyed a safe place God provided throughout this time.
15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.
This is another quote of prophecy. This one is from Hosea 11:1. You can always rest assured that God always keeps the promises He’s made to us. All things prophesied in Scripture will be fulfilled perfectly, even though many centuries sometimes pass before they are.
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked [EMPAIZO—deluded or deceived] of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.
All this happens as an indication of Herod’s desperation to hang on to his position of power and authority. Never be surprised at what desperate people will do to preserve the things they value.
17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet [Jeremiah 31:15], saying,
18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
Here these many centuries later the author, Matthew, refers to Rachel [Jacob’s wife] as “weeping for her children.” In this case, women throughout Judea were weeping for their children who were slaughtered because of the selfish and heartless thinking of Herod.
19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,
At the exact right time, needed information was provided. In this case, by an angelic visitation in a dream, something that does not occur in our time. In every generation many false claims of angelic visitations are made by people. You should never believe any of them. But in this case, specific directions were provided in just such a manner. All God’s revelations to us in our time have now been reduced to the things written in the Bible. But in this case, notice how God provided clear leadership.
20 Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life.
Notice their immediate response to the guidance they are given. Apparently having no fear at all, Joseph immediately arose to take his family back to their homeland.
21 And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.
22 But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea [a southern area of Israel] in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee [a northern area of Israel]:
As we’re seeing, dreams and visions of various sorts were provided of God in that day. But, again, these things do not occur in this present Dispensation of Grace. Such things will occur again in the coming period of tribulation that follows our time, but not now.
23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene. [Emphasis added]
As I noted earlier, they would there be sustained materially by the value of the things God had provided for them through the Magi. From this story many wonderful principles can be learned for application. One of them is God’s perfect provision for the protection and preservation of His people. We must always remember that no matter what our circumstances, no matter what happens, even through bad government, God will provide for us what is needed. Of that we should always be assured.
19 But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. [Emphasis added]
Eight Concluding Summary Principles:
1—True wisdom only comes from our study of the Bible, the Word of God.
2—Traditions must always be evaluated in the light of God’s Word.
3—The revelation of God’s Word troubles the unbelieving but blesses the faithful.
4—Power and possessions are incapable of providing true and lasting happiness.
5—Unbelievers are capable of extreme cruelty, but it never hinders God’s plan.
6—The Bible reveals valuable information that otherwise would be unknown to us.
7—We must always be patient for the fulfillment of the things God has promised.
8—God has promised to meet our every need no matter what our circumstances.
19 But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
In this case we’ve been studying, God used the Magi to meet needs of our Lord and His family through this difficult time of history. Never doubt that’ll He’ll meet yours!
Christmas: What is the source of real joy to the world?
Prayer: How should we pray?