God Seeks Out Wise Men
Good morning! As the year 2019 comes to a close and the year 2020 is ushered in, one of the ways that we can grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ our Saviour is through the reading of the Word of God.
And so, what I’ve done is I’ve put two different Bible reading plans on the table at the back, which you can check out, as you leave here today. If you are already involved in a Bible reading plan, that’s awesome. But if you are not currently involved in a Bible reading plan, or if you have never read through the Bible in it’s entirety, this is a good opportunity to do so.
This coming year, I will be using the 5-Day Bible Reading Program, so if you want some accountability, you can know that I will be working through that Bible reading plan throughout the year. But I thought I would leave that before you, in case you were interested.
If you can grab a Bible, I invite you to turn to Matthew 2:1-12. Since we are still in the Christmas season, I wanted to focus on something related to the Christmas story today, and then next Sunday we will be getting back into our sermon series on the Gospel According to Mark. But this morning, we will be looking at the story of the wise men.
And if you have any kind of liturgical church background, which follows the Church Calendar, you might be familiar with the festival celebrated right after Christmas called Epiphany. And Epiphany is simply the time of year when the Church celebrates the revelation of Jesus to the Gentiles. It’s what Epiphany means, it means “revelation” or “manifestation,” and it’s commonly associated with the visit of the wise men to Jesus.
If you are not familiar with Epiphany, why it is important for us to acknowledge is because, unless you are of Jewish descent, you are a Gentile, which I assume is most of us. And the good news for each one of us here today who are Gentiles is that, two thousand years ago, Jesus revealed Himself to the Gentiles, and that has carried on down the line to us.
You see, each one of us has a spiritual lineage that can be traced back to the Epiphany or revelation of Jesus. You and I came to know Christ, because a friend or a family member or a neighbour or a co-worker or a preacher shared the gospel with us, and they had the gospel shared with them, and those people had the gospel shared with them, and it goes all the way back to when Jesus revealed Himself to the world.
This was the prophecy made by Simeon in Luke 2. After Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple to dedicate Him to the Lord. And while they were there, a man by the name of Simeon, who had been waiting for the promised Deliverer of God’s people for many years, takes the baby Jesus in his arms and prays:
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
And in the text that we are about to look at, we see the unfolding of this prophecy that Jesus will be a light for revelation to the Gentiles, as Jesus appears to the wise men, who were Gentiles and very likely the first Gentile converts.
But then, after Jesus’ ministry on earth is complete, Jesus would tell His disciples that they would be His “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
And immediately after that, you have Peter going to the house of Cornelius the centurion, a Gentile, and his entire household comes to saving faith in Jesus. And you have the Apostle Paul going to Athens, a Gentile city, and he reasons with them about the One True God, and some believe in Jesus.
And on and on, it goes down the line, to the ends of the earth, until it comes to me and you. And this is why Epiphany should matter to us today, because it means that Jesus revealed Himself to the world, and we are saved today as a result of that glorious revelation.
And so, if you have your Bibles opened to Matthew 2, we’re going to begin by reading from verse 1: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6 “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’
“7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.’ 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.”
The wise men are an interesting group of people to include in the narrative of the birth of Jesus, because they seem to come out of nowhere. In fact, we don’t know exactly where they came from, other than that they were “from the east.” So, we don’t know exactly where they are from.
We also don’t know how many of them there were. The Bible doesn’t say how many wise men were going to see Jesus, but just that there were 3 gifts presented to Him. The fact that Scripture refers to “wise men” and not just one wise man would suggest that there were at least two of them, but there could have been a large group of wise men. We don’t know.
We also don’t know how they came to learn of “the king of the Jews.” For some reason, the wise men from the east associate the star in the sky with the birth of the King of the Jews, but we don’t know how they came to make that connection.
And we also don’t even know when exactly the wise men came to visit Jesus. Tradition tells us that they arrived twelve days after the birth of Jesus, but there are some sources that say they arrived up to two years after Jesus was born. But again, we don’t know.
And so, there is a lot of mystery and ambiguity concerning the wise men. We don’t know a lot about them other than what is in this short passage here in Matthew. But what we do know about them is significant to the Christmas story and significant in how we view God.
You see, regardless of who they were, or how many of them there were, or how they came to know about the King of the Jews, or when exactly they went to go see the baby Jesus, what we need to remember is that these wise men don’t see Jesus unless Jesus reveals Himself to them. The story of the wise men isn’t really about the wise men at all; it’s a story about God, and how God is seeking out the wise men, not the other way around.
Romans 3:11 is very clear: “No one seeks for God.” There is no part of us, in our unregenerate state, that is seeking out God. It’s not like we are trying to find God and He’s unable to be found. Any instance where we have seen God in a particular situation is because God sought you, not that you sought Him.
Now, there are these innate desires put in our hearts by God that cannot be satisfied by anything in this world. Blaise Pascal called this the “God-shaped vacuum” in the heart of each man that only our Creator God can fill. C. S. Lewis said that “if we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God “has put eternity into man's heart.”
And so, certainly, we have these innate, God-shaped desires that are put in the hearts of every human being. But what we need to recognize is that they are put in us by God for God. These desires are not put in us by God for something else; they are put us in us by God for God.
1 Corinthians 8:6 says that “there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”
We have been created by God for God. But what we so often do is we try to fill that God-shaped vacuum with other things. We worship and serve created things rather than the Creator, according to Romans 1:25.
And what God is showing us through the revelation of Jesus is that we were created for more than this. God is still seeking out men and women today, revealing to them that they have been created by God for God. And we see this so clearly in our text.
After Jesus has been born in Bethlehem, wise men from the east come to Jerusalem, saying, in verse 2, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
The wise men see this star rise in the sky. It’s not a supernova. It’s not a comet. It’s a providential, God-ordained star in the sky that’s guiding the wise men to Jesus. And what God is doing is He’s seeking out the wise men. This unique star is going to get their attention. It’s going to draw them in to worship Him.
And this is exactly what happens. The wise men see the star in the sky and they go to Jerusalem, where they figured a Jewish king would be born, and they ask where this new king of the Jews is, “for we… have come to worship him.”
And when Herod, who was the self-proclaimed king of the Jews, hears what the wise men have said, it says, “He was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” And Herod is troubled, because he was raised a Jew, and was thus very familiar with the Christ, the Messiah, the promised Deliverer of God’s people.
In other words, Herod is troubled at the thought that the true King of the Jews had finally come. And what would this mean for him? What would this mean for his reign over the Jewish people? And so, he inquires with the Jewish leaders as to where the Christ was to be born. And they tell him, “In Bethlehem of Judea.” And they read from the prophet Micah, where this prophecy is spoken of.
But here is the problem with the Jewish leaders: They know all about the prophecy of the Messiah coming out of Bethlehem. They have all the information about what to look for in the coming of the Messiah, and yet, they have not made the trip to go see Him.
You have a group of men with little knowledge about the Messiah, but who are making the journey to go worship Him, and you have the individuals who have the Scriptures that say the Christ is to be born here and this is the sign, but who are unwilling to make the journey.
God has just revealed Himself to them in the Person of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”
And the tragedy is that Herod and these religious leaders have no desire to respond to Him in worship. This is what happens when we become too comfortable in our religiosity. We might know what the Word of God says, but we have no desire to respond to it.
James, the brother of Jesus, calls this out in his letter, when he says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” James is saying, “You’re kidding yourselves into thinking that you’re good with God, if you only listen to the Word and don’t also do what it says.”
The very Word of God walked this earth. If you don’t have any desire to do what He has commanded, then you are just like Romans 1:18-19, you suppress the truth, even though God has made it plain to you. That’s what we’re seeing with Herod and the religious leaders. Their religiosity is hindering them from responding to the revelation of Jesus. Don’t allow yourself to be deceived into thinking that you can believe one thing and do another.
Herod tells the wise men, in verse 8, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”
Herod isn’t about to worship this new King whom he believes will take over his throne. Herod isn’t about to pay homage to the true King of the Jews. Herod wants to kill Jesus. In verse 16, we see how far Herod will go to have Jesus killed, as Herod sends and kills all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old and under.
But we see the opposite attitude from the wise men. When the wise men saw the star appear, in verse 10, it says that “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” God has created this space, this longing in their hearts, that could only be filled with God Himself, and the wise men are eagerly responding to Him. When they arrive at the house where Jesus was, they fall down and worship Him. And they give Him treasures, gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The gifts don’t seem very practical for a baby. I mean, what is baby Jesus going to do with myrrh? But the point of their gifts is that this child is worth everything they have. The wise men recognize that they were not created by God for their treasures, but that they were created by God for God. And so, what treasures are ultimately worth holding on to?
Now, listen, there’s nothing we can do to repay God for what He has done for us. Any attempt on our part to want to earn our salvation is going to fall way short of what we owe God. We are by nature dead in our sin. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s favour. But there is something that God is after, and it’s our heart.
In my sermon preparation this week, I came across this Christmas carol that I had never heard of before, but that I thought was absolutely beautiful. It’s called, In the Bleak Midwinter, and I just wanted to read the closing verse of the song, because it hits at the point this passage of Scripture is saying. It says, “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.”
Church, have you given your heart to Jesus? Have you put your faith in this baby in the manger, who would eventually grow up to die on the cross and bear your punishment? Have you come to Him, as poor as you are, to give Him all that you can—your heart?
We can chase after all these other things and we can hold on tightly to our “treasures,” but what we’ll find over and over again is that we’re missing something. Even if God were to give you all the desires of your heart, you wouldn’t be satisfied. And it’s because we were created by God for God. We weren’t created for that which can only temporarily satisfy; we were created for the One who ultimately satisfies the longings of the human heart.
Praise God that He has revealed Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ, and that He is still seeking out men and women. What is our response to Him? Have we given Him our heart? Have we laid our treasures at His feet? Have we bowed down and worshipped Him as the rightful King? Are we, like Simeon, satisfied to die, knowing that we have received the Christ? As we begin a new year, may our response to Jesus be as eager and joyful as that of the wise men. Let’s pray…