MELVIN M. NEWLAND, MINISTER
THE WISE MEN
TEXT: Matthew 2:1-12
(PowerPoint slides used with this sermon are available free. Just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org & ask for PowerPoint - #264)
The story of the Wise Men is a story of mystery, for it presents questions that we cannot answer.
"Where did they come from?" We don’t know.
"How many were there?" We really aren’t sure.
"How did they know to follow the star?" We’re not told.
They just seem to come mysteriously out of nowhere to pay homage to the new born king, & then just as mysteriously they are gone.
Scripture doesn’t give many details, but tradition has had a heyday! Tradition says that they were 3 in number, & that they traveled on camels across the desert, silhouetted against the nighttime sky, graced with palm trees. Tradition gives their names as Casper, Melchior, Baltezar. Tradition tells us where they came from, what they did, & where they went.
Traditions tells us that they were baptized by Thomas, & when they died that their bodies were preserved in Constantinople. Centuries later their bones were moved to Cologne, & if you have the price of admission, you can still see their bones, even to this day. Tradition has told their story in its entirety. The only problem is that all of this is just tradition. There is no proof for any of what tradition tells us.
But I am certain about one thing - the number of wise men and women increases in every generation as more and more people follow what we know about the wise men, rather than what we don’t know.
So, this morning lets concentrate on what we do know about the wise men.
I. THEY WERE WILLING TO STEP OUT IN FAITH & FOLLOW WHEREVER GOD LED THEM
A. Why were they following the star? How did they know of its importance? Since the Bible doesn’t tell us, we can only guess.
The Bible does tell us that the wise men came from the east. The major empires to the east had been the Babylonian & the Persian empires. We also know that the Babylonians specialized in studying the stars.
We also know that during the Jewish exile that Daniel, a faithful Jew & prophet of God, rose in such prominence that he became chief of the wise men of Babylon & the third ruler in the kingdom. Then when the Persians conquered Babylon, Daniel became president of the presidents under King Darius.
Therefore, many scholars suggest that the wise men of the east had ample opportunities to know the O.T. scriptures & prophecies. Maybe they were familiar with Numbers 24:17, "I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, & a scepter shall rise from Israel."
So when they saw the star come from Jacob, they were ready to go & worship Him who was to wield the scepter in Israel - to be the King of the Jews - the King of Kings & Lord of Lords.
Whatever the case was, the important thing for us to realize is that they were ready to go - to follow wherever God would direct them. And God has always been faithful in His leading.
ILL. He led the children of Israel across the wilderness, providing a pillar of cloud by day, & a pillar of fire by night. He provided them food when they were hungry, drink when they were thirsty, & clothing when they were naked.
And now he was providing a star to lead these wise men to the place where the Christ child lay.
APPL: God may not lead us in quite as dramatic a way today, but God promises to lead us - if we will let Him. Someone said, "The eye of faith is one that is willing to take the next step, & trusts God to direct that next step."
We don’t know what tomorrow holds - or next week - or next year. But we know that when we are in His hands, He does lead, & He will guide each step if we will let Him. Jesus said, "I will not leave you alone. I will send you the comforter, the Holy Spirit, to guide you into all truth."
So we have God’s Spirit to lead us day by day, dwelling within us - on the throne of our lives - leading & directing & guiding each step. Even so, wise men of every generation have been divinely led, listening to & heeding the Word of God day by day.
B. But let us go back to the wise men as they were preparing to leave their homes & follow the star.
ILL. Can you just imagine how their neighbors reacted? "O, are you going on a journey?" "Yes, we are." "Where are you going?" "We don’t know." "Well, how long are you going to be gone?" "We don’t know."
"What are you going to do when you get there, wherever it is?" "We are going to worship the king." "What king?" "We don’t know." "Why are you going?" "We are going because we have read the scriptures, & we have seen a star in the sky, & we have a strange stirring within our hearts to go."
I imagine those neighbors shook their heads and said, "And we call you, ‘Wise Men’? How foolish to take off on a journey, not knowing where you are going, or what you are going to find when you get there, or how long you are going to be gone."
Yet, the journey of faith always has those characteristics.
ILL. They must have said the same thing to Abraham, when he left Ur of Chaldees to go to the land that God had promised him.
ILL. They undoubtedly said the same kind of things to Peter, Andrew, James, & John when they left their profitable fishing business to become "Fishers of Men."
Men of faith who have been willing to respond to the challenges of the unknown have heard the same kind of things over & over again.
ILL. William Cary was a shoemaker. One day he heard of the millions in India to whom no one had ever gone with the good news of Jesus Christ. He believed that the great commission to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" included him.
So he volunteered to go to India but was told, "Young man, sit down. When it pleases God to convert the heathen, He will do it without your help or mine!" He went anyway, supporting himself. For 7 years he worked without seeing a single convert - but he lived to see hundreds of churches and thousands of converts. Today he is called the "Father of Modern Missions."
ILL. Jim Elliott and 4 of his companions - Preach to Auca Indians - Book, "Through Gates of Splendor" - Movie. It is a tragic story - Killed by those savage indians to whom he sought to witness. "Tragic waste" "talented and gifted men - committed men - lives stopped short - tremendous waste" But was it really?
Maybe Elliott said it best - "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose."
We cannot keep our lives, people. It is ours for a fleeting moment - a vapor that appears and then disappears. When you "give up what you cannot keep to gain what you can never lose" - Indeed you are no fool! These were men who responded in faith, & wise men in every generation have always responded in faith!
II. THEY WERE WISER THAN THE MEN OF THE WORLD
Matthew records that the wise men ended up in Jerusalem. I guess it was the most logical place - the center of Judaism - the temple of God - the high priests of God. And of course, the palace of Herod the King. "If anybody would know of the birth of a new-born King it would be the present King - Right?" Wrong!
They went to King Herod & asked their questions. "We understand a king has been born. We have followed His star & have come to worship Him. Where is He?"
But King Herod knew nothing about it. He should have known. He was familiar with the O.T. prophets. Herod should have had answers to all their questions - but he did not.
But the most amazing thing of all was that when Herod finally had the answers, his decision was to try to kill the Messiah of God. Incredible! He was like a child standing before a locomotive and saying, "Stop!" Or like a man standing before a hurricane and saying, "Stop blowing!"
You cannot stop God! You cannot stop His Messiah! King Herod, of all people, should have been first in line to worship Jesus. Yet, he tried to kill Jesus, to stop God’s program.
Herod was a wise man in the eyes of the world. Herod had the glory, the power, the accolades of the world as king - but he was a fool.
Herod summoned the Chief priests. They were wise men. They knew the scriptures. They had read what the prophets had to say. They knew the prophecies backwards & forwards, & when they were asked about the new?born king they answered without hesitation - "He is to be born in Bethlehem!"
They knew it! They had it memorized. Yet, even though they knew it, they didn’t bother to go and find out if it were true. They were wise men in the eyes of the world - but they were fools!
ILL. The world today has a lot of "Wise men" - according to worldly standards. Some have many degrees & stand in great halls of learning. But the Bible still says, that a man is a fool, no matter how many degrees he may have, when he says that "There is no God."
Listen to me, people. I don’t care how wise the world may consider him, but when someone says that a virgin birth can’t happen - a sinless life can’t be lived - the resurrection cannot be a reality - He is a fool! The true wise men still come seeking Him & they are wiser than the men of the world!
III. THEY WORSHIPPED & GAVE GIFTS TO HIM
A. People are worshipping lots of different things today. Some are worshipping men. Others are worshipping things. And all of them are worshipping the wrong things. But these Wise Men came to worship Christ.
That is rather amazing, isn’t it? They were from a pagan world & worshipped the stars & pagan gods.
They were religious, sincere men - but their lives were unfilled. Despite everything they had - wealth, prestige, power - there was a deep emptiness in their life. Yet, when they came to the house & saw the Christ Child - they worshipped Him.
What are you worshipping today? If it is not the Christ it will not meet the needs of your life. There will always be an emptiness there. You will always be unfilled until you can come to where Jesus is & find Him for what He is - the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God. Then, and only then, will the deep longings of your heart be met.
B. When the wise men come to worship Jesus they brought gifts of gold, frankincense, & myrrh. These gifts have given rise to a lot of speculation about the symbolism of these gifts.
"Gold" represents wealth, obviously. Solomon sat on an ivory throne, inlaid with gold. Solomon’s temple was plated with gold. We read of "golden streets" in heaven.
Obviously gold represents wealth of the new king. Granted, He was born in poverty, & died in poverty. But, because He is God’s Son, all the wealth of the world is His.
"Frankincense" is derived by cutting a slit in the bark of an Arabian tree. The yellow sap has an agreeable fragrance, & is hardened & used as incense in worship. So frankincense represents worship - worship of the new king.
"Myrrh" comes from stunted trees. It is a brown, fragrant perfume that is used to anoint dead bodies - to embalm & preserve them. Myrrh represents the work & mission of Jesus. He came to die for us upon the cross.
Wealth - Worship - Work. What a tremendous outline for a sermon. But I doubt if the wise men sat down to figure all that out before they gave their gifts.
I imagine that when they saw the star, that they grabbed whatever was available & made haste to find the new-born king.
APPL: Love never really sits down & carefully calculates the symbolism of a gift. Doesn’t love just give because it must give? And it gives whatever it has available to give.
They gave to express their adoration and worship. We need to learn to do the same thing.
Isn’t it amazing that we give to everyone at Christmas time - except to the one whose birthday we celebrate? We squander more. We waste more. And we forget that the treasures laid up in heaven are laid up forever - drawing dividends for all eternity. We, too, need to give as the wise men gave.
IV. THEY WENT HOME A DIFFERENT WAY
Vs. 12 tells us that "They departed for their own country by another way." Men who have come to worship Christ throughout the generations have always gone home another way. You can’t go the same way after worshipping Jesus. You can never be the same again!
ILL. Saul of Tarsus was "breathing out fire and threatenings against the church." He was willing to kill Christians to preserve the purity of the Jewish religion. But one day he met Christ - & he was never, ever, to be the same again. He went a different way!
ILL. Vacillating, cursing, hard-boiled fisherman - Peter, Andrew, James & John. Yet when they met Jesus their lives were changed & transformed. They were never the same again.
It’s Christmastime & we think of the Wise Men. And they were Wise Men! Not in the way the world thinks - but they were Wise Men because they were willing to follow wherever God led - they were wiser than the men of the world. They worshipped Christ, gave their gifts, & went home a different way.
What about you?