Summary: A Christmas Message.
THE UNWISE WISE MEN
INTRO: One of the real dangers of the Christmas season is that we lose sight of reality in the midst of all the traditions we observe. There is nothing inherently wrong with Christmas lights, gifts, trees, and even Santa Claus. The value of each custom depends on the meaning we incorporate into it. However, we must continually remind ourselves what the reality is as opposed to the myth which surrounds it.
This is particularly true of the traditional way we view the Wise Men. Perhaps the carol “We Three Kings of Orient Are” best summarizes our tradition. While there is nothing wrong with the carol, we should remind ourselves that it is not historically or scripturally accurate.
I. THE MYTH.
Let us separate fact from myth on just a few points. First, the Bible does not say how many Wise Men were present. The traditional number of three arose because of the three gifts. This may or may not have been the case.
Second, the Wise Men were certainly not kings. The Greek word magi is the same root word from which our word “magician” is derived. The magi were probably a group of Medians who lost a bid for power and became a priestly tribe in Persia. Their particular interests included philosophy, medicine, and astrology. As astrologists, they heard the story of Jesus’ coming birth.
Third, the magi were not from the Orient, at least in the modern conception of the Orient. They were from the east, more accurately the northeast, but we must be careful not to place them too far east.
Fourth (vv. 9-10), the magi did not actually follow the star westward as the carol states. Being astrologers, the magi searched the heavens for unusual formations and phenomenon. One day they saw such a phenomenon “rising in the east.”
Having already heard rumors of an expected birth of a king in Israel, they naturally assumed a connection. They proceeded west as fast as they could. According to Scripture, they did not see the star again until they left Jerusalem and their fateful meeting with Herod.
Fifth (v. 11), the magi probably did not arrive on the scene until Jesus was six months to a year old. This becomes obvious when the accounts in Matthew and Luke are considered together.
So our manger scene with shepherds, magi, and animals viewing the newborn baby is quiet inaccurate. I must hasten to add that presenting the traditional scene is not wrong as long as we keep in mind what actually happened. The traditional scene allows us to condense the story for greater impact. The meaning of the story is not altered by the timing.
II. THE UNWISE WISE MEN.
The term: “Wise Men” is inaccurate. On several points the magi demonstrated anything but wisdom.
First, consider their belief in astrology. Guiding one’s life by the stars was big business then and now. However, the Bible frowns on the practice (Isaiah 47:13; Jeremiah 10:2) and modern science has proved the practice without merit. Thus, we must be careful in making the magi wise because we run the risk of raising astrology to an acceptable practice.