May 21, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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“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.’ . . . And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him.”—Matthew 2:1–11 (NKJV)
Our idea of Christmas just wouldn’t be complete without certain things, and among them are the wise men that we’re introduced to here. If you’ve ever seen a nativity set, you’ve probably seen them represented by three men in fancy robes kneeling somewhere next to Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus in His manger. They’re Christmas “regulars” in our minds, but it may come as a surprise to learn that much of what we’ve traditionally come to accept about these wise men is just that . . . a tradition. When we take a closer look into God’s Word concerning them, we find something different than what we see in our nativities, something filled with much more meaning.
For starters, the term “wise men” is the single word magos in the original Greek text. We need to know this because it uncovers a lot concerning their identities. We’ve all known someone whose exceptionally wise, someone who always seems to have the right advice for every situation. We may even know someone primarily known for their sage sense of wisdom. But that doesn’t fully describe who these magos were.
When you do a deep dive into this ancient word, you’ll discover that it comes from the region of ancient Babylon and Persia (modern-day Iraq and Iran). This word was a title for men who studied and trafficked in the spiritual and supernatural. They were looked to as those who were able to look beyond the natural world. They were spiritual seekers, which explains them watching the skies for the signal that the Christ had been born into the world.
That signal comes as a star, and they begin their journey to Jerusalem “from the East.” They likely started out from Babylon or Persia, which means their journey would have been several hundred miles! This was a major feat that took some time in the ancient world. In fact, by the time they finally arrive in Jerusalem we can conclude that a couple of years have passed since the birth of Jesus. We know this because when they finally meet and worship Him, he is a “young child” (a toddler) who isn’t in a manger but living at home with His parents. This also explains why at this time Herod wanted to kill all the male children up to two years old (Matthew 2:16).
As a final side note, our nativities depict just three wise men because they present Jesus with three gifts. But in all likelihood, a caravan of magos made the long and dangerous journey to witness and worship the Christ.
So, where is all of this leading? Why deconstruct an image we’ve grown up with and cherish? The intent in sharing this is not to diminish our view of these men in any way, just the opposite! When we consider their persistent watchfulness, their courageous step of faith across hundreds of uncertain and uncomfortable miles, and their commitment to do whatever it took to bow before Jesus, we’ll see them as much more than figures in a nativity.
These men were not just wise, they were worshippers of the highest order. Nothing on Earth meant more to them than to be in the presence of heaven’s Ambassador, Savior, and King! If anything embodies the spirit of Christmas, it’s this desire to draw near to the One who drew so near to us. In this sense, their example belongs front and center in our understanding and celebration of Christ’s coming.
Pause: What surprises or impresses you the most about these wise men?
Practice: Consider how the example of these wise men challenge and encourage you when it comes to your own worship.
Pray: Lord, I confess that I’m all too easily distracted by the things of this world and that my worship of You can grow weak. Please use the example of these wise men and their depth of worship to remind me of where my heart belongs, bowed before You. Amen.
Pastor Dan Hickling serves our online community, also known as the Calvary Chapel Online Campus. He and his wife Becky have been married for 22 years and have two children, Lauren and Danny. Both Dan and Becky have been part of the CCFL church family for 22 years and have served in full time ministry for 20 of those years.