Have you ever read something in the past, only to read it again later and discover certain details you missed the first time? Or, perhaps the second time through you realize that you misunderstood some things the first time. How closely have you examined the details that are given in Matthew 2:1-12? Let's read the verses and then I will ask you two basic questions about the wise men - "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, saying, 'Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.' When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, 'In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: "But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel." ' Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, 'Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.' When they heard the king, they departed; 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. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had 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 gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way."
Question #1: How many wise men were there?
Three? That's what most folks think, but the text doesn't actually say three. Presumably, people get this idea since there were three gifts delivered to Baby Jesus. We can know that there were at least two wise men based on the plural wording, and there may have been three. Of course, there may have been ten or more; we simply don't know.
Question #2: Where did the wise men visit Jesus?
At the manger? Again, that's what most folks think, but the text mentions in verse 11 about the wise men entering a house (the shepherds of Luke 2:8ff are the ones who visited Him in the manger). It can be shown that Jesus is at least a couple months old when the wise men visit Him; He definitely wasn't in the manger anymore (cf. Luke 2:22ff).
I point these two things out to show you that although this is probably a familiar text to most of us, there are always things for us to learn (and be reminded of) in God's word. I believe there are some great lessons that we can learn from these wise men. In fact, I believe that their actions in this text clearly show us why these men were wise, and if we act in like manner, we too will be wise.
Stephen, how do the actions of these men indicate that they were wise? Let me show you in the following eleven points.
1. THEY WERE INTERESTED IN CHRIST.
Why else would they travel to Jerusalem inquiring about the One who had been born King of the Jews? They were genuinely excited about the opportunity before them. Not everyone in Jesus' day was interested in Him. Many people hated Him and even tried to kill Him. Many misunderstood His mission. But those who were truly wise had a positive interest in Jesus. On one occasion, after hundreds of followers forsook Jesus, He asked His apostles if they were going to leave too. Peter's response is recorded in John 6:68 - "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." Peter was wise enough to realize this--are you?
If a person is going to be saved, they must become sincerely interested in Christ and His church. Acts 4:12 - "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." Also consider John 14:6 - "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'" If you're wise, then you are a person interested in Christ!
2. THEY WERE READY TO SEARCH.
Some people want to accomplish certain things but are not willing to put forth the effort and dedication to attain them. This was not the case with the wise men; they were willing to search. Wise men and women today still search for the LORD. Isaiah 55:6 teaches - "Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near." Are you one who has diligently sought after God?
Jesus taught in Matthew 7:7,8 - "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." If we seek God with good and honest hearts, we will find Him (Deut. 4:29)! The wise men would have never found Jesus had they not been willing to search; no one today will find Christ until they seek Him. If you're wise, then you are willing to search for the truth, especially regarding spiritual matters!
3. THEY DID NOT HAVE TO BE BEGGED TO SEARCH FOR CHRIST.
The news of the birth of Christ troubled Herod, but it thrilled the wise men. Isn't it amazing how the same news can have such a different effect on people? It all depends upon one's perspective. The attitudes of the wise men were completely different than Herod's. No one had to beg these wise men to search for Jesus; they simply wanted to! Now think about America today. Often it feels like people have to be begged to come to Christ! How sad, especially since few choose to obey, even then! Why don't most people search for Christ? I believe the answer is that most people aren't very wise spiritually!
Jesus set forth the following invitation in Matthew 11:28-30 - "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." Jesus didn't beg people to come to Him, but He extended an invitation and tried to persuade men to do the wise thing (i.e., follow Him). John had this to say in Revelation 22:17 - "And the Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!' And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely." If you're wise, then no one has to beg you to come to the Lord in faithful obedience--you desire such!
4. THEY DID NOT LET SOMEONE ELSE DO THEIR SEARCHING FOR THEM.
Herod sent these men to search for Jesus on his behalf (Matt. 2:8). Doing such actually prevented him from finding Jesus (since the wise men were instructed to return home another way). Spiritually, when we let people do our searching for us, we will be hindered.
Have you ever let your spouse, parent, or friend do your spiritual searching for you? Have you ever said: "Whatever my husband wants to do religiously is fine with me" or "Whatever my parents did is good enough for me." There is great danger in allowing others to make our spiritual decisions for us. What if they make the wrong decision? Friends, don't ever be content to let a Bible class teacher, a preacher, a relative, or anyone else study the Bible for you. Study it for yourself! Do your own searching! It's your soul that is on the line! Be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11)! If you're wise, then you won't allow others to do all of your spiritual searching for you!
5. THEY WERE NOT TOO PROUD TO ASK FOR GUIDANCE.
Many women would suggest that these weren't typical men. They were willing to stop and ask for directions (Matt. 2:1,2)! All jesting aside, this is a significant point spiritually. Are you too proud to ask for guidance or advice? Do you always know the best course of action? If you believe you do, then you have a problem with pride.
What about the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:30,31? Was he too proud to ask for spiritual guidance? No. "So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, 'Do you understand what you are reading?' And he said, 'How can I, unless someone guides me?' And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him."
This point complements the previous one. It is good to ask for guidance, but one should not blindly accept everything he reads or hears. He must search on his own with discernment. If you're wise, then you are not a person who is too proud to ask for and receive spiritual guidance!
6. THEY WERE CONTENT WITH THE LIGHT THAT GOD HAD GIVEN THEM.
Matthew 2:10 - "When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy." They weren't merely content with it; they rejoiced to have it! Do you rejoice in the fact that you have God's word? Do you view the Bible as the Psalmist did? Psalm 119:105 says - "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."
Many treat the Bible with scorn. They don't value it whatsoever. Their condition is described in II Corinthians 4:4 - "Whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them." Many people are blind to the truth simply because they aren't looking for it. May we be content and rejoice in God's word, always remembering Matthew 4:4 - "...It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'" If you're wise, then you are content with God's word as your spiritual guide!
7. THEY LISTENED TO THE VOICE OF GOD RATHER THAN MEN.
Herod had instructed them to return to him after finding the young Child. God told them not to return to Herod (Matt. 2:8,12). Were these men afraid to disobey Herod? Perhaps, but even if they were, they did not allow their fear to hinder them from obeying God. This is the way it was with the apostles also. Even after being threatened and beaten, the apostles did not stop thinking that they should obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).
Admittedly, it is sometimes difficult to listen to God's voice over the shouts of our fellow men. But, what is even more difficult is hearing God's voice above our own desires and ideas that are contrary to His. Let us never forget Jeremiah 10:23 - "O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps." If we listen to men over God, we will fall under God's curse (cf. Gal. 1:6-9). If you're wise, then you will allow the Scriptures to guide you and not the wisdom of men--not even your own wisdom!
8. THEY WERE WILLING TO PAY THE PRICE TO FIND CHRIST.
Some people would not have ventured such a journey without first finding out whether or not the trip would justify the expense, time, and effort. These men were not concerned about these physical matters. Why not? Because they were wise! They knew the value of what they were trying to accomplish. Thus, the physical price tag was essentially irrelevant to them. Friends, it ought to be the same way with us today as we follow Christ. If we are truly wise, we will hear Jesus' voice in Luke 14:33 - "So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple." If you're wise, then you are a person who is willing to make great sacrifices in order to follow Jesus!
9. THEY DID NOT STOP UNTIL THEY FOUND CHRIST.
They had a goal in mind and didn't turn back until they had accomplished it. This is the type of spiritual dedication we all need. We need to make sure that we don't follow the example of Agrippa in Acts 26:28,29 - "Then Agrippa said to Paul, 'You almost persuade me to become a Christian.' And Paul said, 'I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.'" Agrippa was only willing to go so far. He wouldn't go all the way for the Lord. Agrippa was a fool. If you're wise, then you are a person who isn't content to "almost" be right with God; you won't stop until you are right with God!
10. THEY SHOWED THEIR DEVOTION BY WORSHIPPING.
Matthew 2:11 - "And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him..." God wants us to show our devotion through worship also. John 4:23,24 says - "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." If you are wise, then one way you will show your devotion to God is through worship!
11. THEY PROVED THEIR SINCERITY BY GIVING TO CHRIST.
The end of Matthew 2:11 reads - "And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh." Were they required to give? No, but they wanted to out of love and respect. It ought to be the same way with us today. The apostle Paul taught in II Corinthians 8:8,24 - "I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others...Therefore show to them, and before the churches the proof of your love and of our boasting on your behalf." The wise will reflect upon Psalm 116:12 regularly - "What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits toward me?" God has shown such great love toward man in many ways (John 3:16). If you're wise, then you prove your love to be sincere by giving generously to the Lord!
Dear listeners, we must all strive to be wise. James 3:13 teaches - "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom." I leave you with this question: Are you as wise as these men from the East were? If so, your actions will show it. Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.