Summary: We ought to take our cue – not from Herod, who rejected God’s gift of Jesus – but from the wise men, who received it with glad and thankful hearts.
This is the last of our series on the theme of Faces at the Manger. We started with Joseph, remember, and we continued with the angels, the shepherds, and Mary, the mother of our Lord. And now we conclude with the wise men, or the magi, as they are sometimes called. Technically, they did not appear at the manger. We often picture them there, along with the shepherds, among the sheep and oxen, but Matthew says that it was “on entering the house” – not the stable – that “they saw the child with Mary his mother” (v. 11). So, it is likely that they arrived in Bethlehem some time after that first Christmas. But, with your permission, we’re going to include the faces of these magi among those that we know were at the manger.
Even as we do, we’re not sure just how many faces there were. I mean, we don’t know how many wise men came “from the East.” We usually think there were three of them, but Matthew doesn’t tell us that. He simply says, “Wise men…came to Jerusalem.” He doesn’t give us the number. There could have been two. There could have been twenty. And, of course, there could actually have been three. I suppose we think there were three of them because Matthew mentions three gifts: gold and frankincense, and myrrh. But we really don’t know. We don’t know their names either, although they have been given names. You won’t find their names in the Bible, but, according to tradition, they were called Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. So, there’s a lot we don’t know about these mysterious figures, but one thing we do know is this: they were not Jews; they were Gentiles. They were from the nations. And that is an important detail.
One of the ways we can break down the story of the magi is to divide it into four episodes. If we do that, we might call the first episode The Search. These wise men – however many of them there were; for simplicity’s sake, let’s say there were three – these three wise men came looking for Jesus. They searched for him.
They were watchers of the night sky – astronomers, perhaps. And they had noticed a star in the heavens, a star they had never seen before. And they took it, as they should, as a sign that a king had been born. And they were compelled to follow the star and to search out the new king so that they could acknowledge him.
We can imagine how long and perhaps how arduous their journey was. We are not told of any hardships they may have faced – or any sacrifices they may have made – to keep this appointment with destiny. But we can be sure that their travels were not without difficulty.
It’s not surprising that they went to Jerusalem. It was the location of Herod’s palace, and, of course, where would you go if you wanted to find a newborn king? You would go to a palace, right? So, that’s what they did.
And that brings us to the second episode in this account: The Inquiry. Verse 2 says that they arrived, “asking” – that is, making inquiry – and the question they asked was: “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?”