A FEW WORDS ABOUT THE WISE MEN

A FEW WORDS ABOUT THE WISE MEN

Isaiah foretold it.  “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”

The first example of this, as we edge toward the Epiphany season, is found not in the Gospel of Luke which we are currently studying.  It is rather in the Gospel of Matthew that we learn about the Wise Men.

The Wise Men, or Magi, arrive in Jerusalem asking:  “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.”

A star has risen in the ruddy morning sky of the east, a different kind of star, a miraculous star.  All of the attempts over the years to point to some unusual clustering of planets or to some comet in the heavens limp lamely along.  Such explanations do not account for the precise movements and pointing, the stopping and starting of this guiding star.  This is a miracle.  Period.  

To these Gentiles, these outsiders to the chosen people of Israel, this star signaled the birth of a King, not just any king, but the King of the Jews, the long waited Savior of the world, worthy to be worshiped.

By God’s revelation, by their study of the Old Testament Scriptures scattered throughout the world since the days of the Babylonian Captivity, these ancient scholars are given to know that the King has been born.  They perceived a fulfillment of the prophecy:  “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel”  (Numbers 24:17).

It doesn’t hurt to clear away a few cobwebs of tradition that have been tangled with the text of the Bible over the centuries.  

For instance, the traditional songs and nativity scenes of Christmas almost always tie the coming of the Wise Men to the actual birth of Christ.  But from the Biblical evidence, we know that the Wise Men did not arrive in Bethlehem until the Christ Child was a few months to more than a year old.  So while our nativity scenes often portray the Wise Men coming to the stable, the words of the Bible text – “on coming to the house” –  indicate that by this time Mary and Joseph had found more permanent quarters in Bethlehem.  

Tradition speaks of 3 wise men ever since the days of medieval monasticism – although earlier church fathers such as Augustine and Chrysostom say there were 12.  Tradition even gives names to the Wise Men (Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar).  But the Bible neither names them nor numbers them.  There may have been 2, or 3, or several.  The fact that they brought 3 gifts, gold, incense and myrrh, tells us nothing about how many Magi there were, any more than saying you got candy, toys and clothing for Christmas means you got them from exactly 3 people.  

So while there is nothing wrong with singing “We Three Kings Of Orient Are,” nor are you doctrinally suspect if you have a nativity scene on the coffee table with three wise men coming to the stable, it’s good to remember that these things are traditional, not textual.    It’s important to distinguish between such traditions and what the text of the Bible actually says.  

It is even more important to do what the Wise Men did – worship Him who was born King of the Jews.