So we are still in the midst of the Christmas season and the Wise Men are a way off but it is interesting to think about how prophecy and much of the world thought about this God who promised a messianic King who would be born under a star. At the bottom is a song I wrote a long time ago called “Wise Men”.
The wise men and the shepherds tend to get mixed up in our recollections of Christmas. But actually they couldn’t be more different. The shepherds were poor Jews. The wise men were rich foreigners. For the shepherds, the birth of Christ was a ‘bolt from the blue’ as they went about their ordinary business. For the wise men, Christ’s birth was a distant certainty that had directed their course for some time. For the shepherds, seeing Christ marks a beginning – they rejoice and spread the word. For the wise men, it marks an end to their long journey. Yet for both the low born and high born, for those with nothing to give and those with everything, for Jew and Gentile, for the expectant and the surprised, Christ’s birth proves to be the fulfilment of all their hopes.
In Jesus, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, learned and common, meet. And with the wise men especially, the whole incident proves that Christ is indeed the Desire of all nations. His birth is not just some parochial event for the tribe of Judah. It is truly global. Here is a baby to unite, redeem and rule the world.
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, 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. (Matthew 2:1-2)
The word for ‘wise men’ in the Greek is Magi from which we get ‘Magicians’. Traditionally they are called ‘three kings’, but Matthew doesn’t tell us their number nor whether they rule (though clearly they are wealthy). The questions we want answered are: Where have they gotten the idea that a baby could be born King? How would they know that the King of the Jews demands universal worship? And what is their view of the created world such that stars preach to them the birth of a universal King?
Well the human race can trace itself back, not only to Adam but also to Noah. Humanity has a collective memory, not only of the first Adam and Noah, but also a second Adam, one who would bring rest. The Jews prophesied that their coming King would rule the nations.
10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;[a]
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
They believed that the stars proclaimed His coming.
17 I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
Even the nations knew that this Jewish God was Lord of all. Rahab in Jericho before it was destroyed made this confession……………….
“I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have [a]melted away before you. 10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the [b]Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you [c]utterly destroyed. 11 When we heard it, our hearts melted and no [d]courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.
And when the Israelites went into exile, the Babylonians, Persians, Medes and Greeks came to hear about this Promised One.
It’s no surprise that wise men from the east would be eagerly awaiting this cosmic King. Jesus came not simply as the Jewish Messiah but as the Desire of all nations and hope of the ages.