|International Bible Studies|
LESSON FOR DECEMBER 28, 1952
Wise Men Seek Jesus
GOLDEN TEXT: “And ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart.” —Jeremiah 29:13
THERE seems to be no reason to question the motives of the wise men who came from the East to seek and to worship the child Jesus whom they believed had been born King of the Jews. There has always been somewhat of a question, however, as to just who these men might have been, and whether or not the Lord led them to Jerusalem at this time.
The narrative concerning them seemingly is recorded mostly for the purpose of calling attention to an attempt which was made against Jesus’ life, and to the fact that this was in fulfillment of prophecy. The Lord thwarted this plan by appearing to the wise men in a dream and instructing them not to return to King Herod. This would not necessarily indicate that they were the Lord’s special servants, but merely that he was overruling in circumstances which would otherwise end in the defeat of the divine purpose in the birth of Jesus.
The expression, “wise men,” is a translation of the Greek word magos, English, Magi, which is the basis of our word magician. In other words, they were magic workers of the Orient, and doubtless also astrologers. This would account for their being so influenced by the star they had seen in the East. Their reference to this as being “his star” may have been prompted by a statement made by Balaam in his “parable” relating to Israel. Balaam said, “There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel.” (Num. 24:17) Balaam is not accredited as one of God’s holy prophets; however, the “wise men,” not being Israelites, would not have this in mind in giving weight to what he said.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that the wise men were not misinformed concerning the birth of Jesus, and they displayed a commendable desire to worship the newborn King. It is not their fault that tradition has since misconstrued historical records to put them at the manger in Bethlehem with the shepherds on the night Jesus was born. Nor is it the fault of the wise men that this erroneous tradition continues to be kept alive.
It is clear that the wise men did not reach Jerusalem for at least two years after Jesus was born—probably just two years. The record of Luke 2:39 shows clearly that Joseph and Mary returned directly to Nazareth from Bethlehem, after the customary rites in connection with the birth of children had been observed at the temple in Jerusalem. (Luke 2:21,22) There is no hint here of a sudden fleeing to Egypt the night Jesus was born.
Matthew 2:11 distinctly states that the wise men found Jesus in a “house,” not in a manger. In this verse, he is referred to as a “young child,” not as a “babe,” as in Luke’s record. Matthew’s narrative of the wise men’s visit in many ways indicates a lapse of time. They came to Jerusalem and asked where this new King of the Jews could be found. Herod learned about their visit and its purpose, and he was alarmed. The record states that all Jerusalem was alarmed “with him.” All of this could scarcely have taken place during that one night when Jesus was born.
Then Herod enquired of them diligently just when they had seen the star in the East. The account does not record their reply to this question, but Herod’s subsequent conduct does, for he gave command that all the male children in Israel two years old and under should be slain. This was in order that Jesus might be destroyed. This indicates that the wise men had told him they had seen the star two years previous to their arrival in Jerusalem.
Turning again to Luke’s record, we learn that Joseph and Mary ordinarily went to Jerusalem from Nazareth once a year “at the feast of the passover.” Apparently it was on the occasion of their second visit to Jerusalem after Jesus was born that the wise men arrived and found them in a “house.” It was then that Joseph was warned in a dream to take Mary and the young child and flee into Egypt. On the occasion of this visit, even as when Jesus was born, they probably lodged in Bethlehem, because at the time of the passover it would be even more difficult to find room in Jerusalem.
Presenting gifts to Jesus was an evidence of good will, and showed how deeply the wise men had been stirred by the appearance of the star and by the thoughts which they associated with it. Probably the custom of giving gifts at Christmas stems largely from this example of the wise men. Gifts can still be presented to the Lord, indirectly, that is, by contributing to the work of proclaiming the glory of his kingdom.
Actually, of course, the precious treasures which the wise men laid at the feet of Jesus were as nothing when compared with the gift the Heavenly Father made to the world in the person of his beloved Son. In the birth of Jesus there was represented the greatest of all gifts by the greatest of all givers. As Christians, we think it most appropriate to have this example of giving in mind when we express our good will toward others by means of gifts.
God gave that which cost him more than anything else he could have given. Jesus, in turn, gave his life that the world might live, and we are invited to follow in his footsteps—to bestow all our goods for the blessing of others, and to take up our cross and follow him. For those who may not have taken the step of full consecration to the Lord, we can think of no time more appropriate than now to present one’s self wholly to the Lord, in response to the invitation. “My son, give me thine heart.”—Prov. 23:26
Who were the wise men, and what was their motive in traveling to Israel to visit the newborn King?
Did the wise men arrive in Bethlehem the night Jesus was born?
What is the best example of giving to keep in mind when commemorating the birth of Jesus?