Robert Jeffress - Wise Men Still Seek Him
Well, they appear on our Christmas cards. They are they subject of some of our most beloved Christmas carols. Many times you see them in nativity scenes, standing next to Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus. No, I'm not talking about Santa Claus and the reindeer. I'm talking about the wise men. You know, the wise men are the most enigmatic, the most mysterious of all of the Christmas characters. They appear out of nowhere, we really don't know much about them. And many times we have trouble relating to them, we're much more related to Mary and Joseph and perhaps the shepherds who are the common people of everyday life. But the wise men? It's hard to find a connection with them.
But as we're going to discover today, of all the players in the Christmas story, perhaps it is the wise men who are most like us. Because they represent the first non-Jews, the first gentiles who ever came to Jesus Christ. And in their search for Jesus Christ and their response when they found Jesus Christ they illustrate for all of us the essence of true wisdom in life. If you have your Bibles, I want you to turn to Matthew chapter two as we discover why it is that wise men still seek him. Matthew 2.
Now you remember there are differing accounts of the birth of Christ in the different Gospels. Not contradictory, but they tell the story from a different perspective, because each Gospel has a unique purpose. Now when we read the Christmas story, and I'll read it on Christmas Eve to our children, we always read from Luke's Gospel. Because Luke contains the most detail about the actual event of Christ's birth of any of the Gospels. Luke was written to the gentiles. But Matthew's Gospel was written to the Jewish people to prove that Jesus was the long-anticipated Messiah promised in the Old Testament. That's why you find more references to the Old Testament in Matthew than in any of the other Gospels.
And so Matthew approaches Jesus's birth a little bit differently. He starts the first half of chapter 1 showing how Jesus is a descendant not only Abraham but of David, which was important for him to meet the Old Testament qualification for the Messiah. And then he spends one verse talking about the actual birth of Jesus. And then he talks about how he is the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. And when we come to Matthew 2, we fast forward past the birth of Christ several months, perhaps even up to a year. And that's where our story picks up in Matthew 2:1. "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the East arrived in Jerusalem".
The magi, that's who the wise men were. They were referred to as the magi. And the magi came from the East. We don't know exactly where in the East, but we know that they appeared around the 7th century BC. They were certainly in Persia, which is modern day Iran. As we'll see in a moment, they were in Babylon as well. But the word magi refers to a special class of men who were skilled in astronomy and in astrology. In fact, they were so wise that if you were in the East, you could never become a king without having mastered the knowledge of the magi and being crowned as king by the magi. They were the king makers of their day.
Now that's important to our story, as we'll see in just a moment, and it explains Herod's reaction when he heard the news of the Christ child. So you've got these magi arriving in Jerusalem, saying. Verse one says they were saying. That indicates a continuous action. They didn't just ask one time, they kept on inquiring everyone around them. Verse 2, "Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the East and have come to worship him". Now we'll talk in a moment where did they come up with the idea that there would be a Christ, a Messiah. It's very interesting, we'll come to that in a moment. But not only did they know there was a Christ coming, they were looking for a sign. And apparently it is this star that led them to believe that the Messiah had arrived.
Now I wanna stop here and make a very practical point. You know, one of the questions I'm asked all the time is, pastor, if you really believe that Jesus Christ, faith in Christ is the only way to salvation and there is no other way to him, what about people all around the world who have never heard of Jesus Christ? How could God rightly condemn them to hell because they never have heard of Jesus? Now let me make something clear. The Bible is clear there is no other way to God than faith in Jesus. Jesus said, "I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life. No man comes to the Father but by Me". You look in the New Testament, you can't find one example of anyone anywhere in any part of the world who was ever saved apart from personally trusting in the name of Jesus Christ for salvation.
You remember when Jesus knelt in Gethsemane, he said, "Father, if it be your will, let this experience, the experience of the cross pass from me". He said, "Lord, if there is any other way, make it known now". But heaven was silent because there was no other way. Listen to me, if there's an opportunity for people to come to God other than through faith in Jesus Christ, then the death of Christ was totally unnecessary. The way we know there's one way is not just by Jesus' word but what he did. He gave his life because there was no other way. Well then, how can people who've never heard of Christ come to him?
Look at the wise men, the magi. When God saw these men who sincerely wanted to know God, he was willing to do whatever it took to bring them to faith in Jesus. He was willing to put a star in the sky or whatever it was to lead those people directly to Jesus Christ, and he does the same thing today. When God sees a man or woman or boy or girl anywhere in this world who really wants to know him, you can trust that God will do whatever it takes. God is much more interested in their salvation than you are or I am. That's the kind of loving God we serve. And by the way, sometimes he'll use a miracle like a star. Other times he uses other types of miracles.
That's what the star tells us. God wants to redeem people and he's willing to lead anybody to a knowledge of Christ who truly wants it. They wanted to find Christ to worship him, they said. Herod wanted to find Christ but for an altogether different reason, look at verse 3. "And what Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him". When he heard that there might be a King of the Jews coming, he was troubled. That word in Greek means agitated. Stirred up. And not only was he stirred up, but all of Jerusalem was stirred up as well.
I've often heard it said the reason the people were stirred up was simply this. When the king wasn't happy, nobody was happy. And that's true, they felt the wrath and the anger of the king, but I think there's another reason all of Jerusalem was stirred up about this announcement that there might be a king coming, and it was associated with the magi. You know, when we think about the magi and we see them portrayed in Christmas pageants, what do we see? We see three of them, don't we? But did you know there's no reason to think there were just three? The reason we say three is because there were three gifts, but it doesn't mean there were only three magi. And what do we see them portrayed as? These old men with beards and funny-looking hats. And they're riding on old broken down camels, moving at slow motion speed to the tempo of the music. "We three kings of orient"...
That's our idea of the magi. There's nothing in the Bible that indicates that's true. The truth is, because they were aristocrats and because they were king makers, they didn't come in on camels. They probably rode in on high-speed Arabian horses or Persian steeds, they came from the East. And they didn't come alone. They would have traveled, as one Bible scholar says, with a group of soldiers with them, and servants with them. When they entered Jerusalem, everybody knew somebody important has arrived. The king makers have come looking for the king to anoint.
And no wonder Herod was scared. He was scared first of all 'cause he didn't want his position taken. He was on shaky ground with Caesar Augustus already who had appointed him as king. And not only that, if you had these soldiers coming in the East with the magi, it meant a coming invasion was on the horizon. Maybe they were looking for the king who was about to overthrow Herod. And Herod couldn't afford a war right now, his soldiers were outside of Jerusalem. They were stationed up and down Israel conducting that census that Caesar Augustus had ordered. And that is why Herod and the residents of Jerusalem were stirred up. And so verse four, "Gathering together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, Herod began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born".
Herod was a non-Jew but he knew something about this promised Jewish Messiah. So he got together with the Jewish scribes and he said, "Now where is it this guy is supposed to be born"? And they said, "King, that's an easy one. 700 years ago, the prophet Micah in Micah 5:2 said he was to be born in that tiny nondescript little dusty village, Bethlehem, six miles south of here. That's where he's supposed to be born". So when he talked to the magi, Herod said to them, "Now you go to Bethlehem. And when you find him, find all the information out you can about him and come back and report to me so that I may go and worship him too". Sure. He had a motive for wanting to find the Christ child. But the magi weren't aware of it at that time.
Later on, remember, the angel appeared to them just like he did to Joseph and said, "Don't come back to Jerusalem, go another way". And so they headed to Bethlehem, look at verse nine. "And having heard the king, they went their way: and lo, the star, which they had seen in the east, went before them until it came and stood over where the Christ child was". And look at their response in verse 10. "And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy". Matthew was in a loss for words to describe the joy they felt when they found the Christ child, and so he, as one writer says, just piles superlative on top of superlative. They rejoiced. They rejoiced exceedingly. They rejoiced exceedingly with great, I have to use the word again, joy. That's all Matthew could think of saying. That's how happy they were to find the Christ child.
And notice they came to the house where they were. They were no longer in the stable, telling us that some months had passed, perhaps a year had passed when they came to the place Christ was. And they brought gifts with them, verse 11 tells us. One wag said, had the three wise men been wise women instead, think of how different this story would be. First of all, if they were women who had come, they would have arrived on time. They would have stopped and asked for directions. They would have helped with the delivery of the baby, they would have cleaned the house, they would have baked a casserole, and they would have brought practical gifts for the baby. Well, there may be some truth in that, but the magi brought gifts and they may have been more practical than you think.
Look at them in verse 11. The late James Montgomery Boice points out some interesting aspects about these three gifts. First of all, the offering of gold. Now gold was an appropriate gift. It was the medal of the kings. There was probably a practical aspect to this gift. Remember God was about to send Mary and Joseph and Jesus to Egypt to protect them from Herod. And this gold very well could have been the means of their livelihood for the time that they were in Egypt. So God brought them gold through the magi.
Secondly, the offering of frankincense, or incense. Now again, this was understandable. Remember, incense was used in the worship in the tabernacle later in the temple. It would be mixed with flour and wheat offerings. Not the sin offering but the flour and the wheat offerings, providing a pleasant aroma that would come up from the sacrifice, signifying that God was pleased with the offering of his people. Of course, Jesus Christ was going to be the ultimate offering to God for the sins of the world. But by bringing him incense, aroma, it was as if the magi were saying, "You, Jesus, are going to be the most pleasing offering to God ever. Your entire life is pleasing to God because it's lived with perfection". That was an appropriate gift for the Messiah.
Gold, frankincense. But this final gift, myrrh. They brought myrrh. That was a strange gift to bring to a baby because in Jesus' day, the primary use of myrrh was as a preservative for a dead body. The way you would preserve a corpse was with myrrh. Now can you imagine how strange that would be for Mary and Joseph to open the baby gifts and there is a vial of myrrh? It would be like you going to a baby shower today and bringing with you as a gift for the baby a miniature casket. Imagine what reaction you would get from the parents when you did that. But that's exactly what they did because they were saying, "Here is a baby that was born to die. That was his purpose in coming".
Through the gifts the magi brought, they were showing the deity of Jesus, the acceptableness of Jesus to God the Father, and the sufficiency of Christ's death for our sins. What application can we derive from this story for us? What does this mean to us 2.000 years later? Again, let me go back to the late Dr. Boice and point out and expand upon two principles I find from this story about the wise men. First of all, the wise men were wise enough to search for a king. They were wise enough to search for a king.
Remember I asked the question earlier, how did the wise men, these magi, even know about the God of Israel and having a Son who would come and die? How did they ever get that knowledge if they were in Babylon or in Persia? How did they get that knowledge? Think about Babylon, that was later taken over by the Medo-Persian empire. Think about Babylon. Who was in Babylon, do you remember? Remember, it was not only the Babylonians, but the king Nebuchadnezzar invaded Israel and he took Daniel captive, and some friends of Daniel, and later all of the residents of Judah for 70 years.
And remember the story in Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar had a troubling dream, and he wanted who to interpret it? The magi, the wise men. And he said, "By the way, you better get this right, because if you don't, I'm gonna have you torn limb for limb". And so they gave it some extra attention, they couldn't come up with the right interpretation. Remember it was Daniel who came up with the right interpretation. And it so pleased the king that Daniel specifically asked him to spare the lives of the magi, the wise men.
Daniel immediately became a hero to the magi. And I believe, knowing Daniel, he used that place of influence to share with them the truth of scripture about the God of Israel and about his promise of a son not just to save Israel but to save all who would believe in him. Daniel was a hero and so was his teaching, and it was passed on from generation to generation until that present day of magi. They knew there was a Christ coming. And when they saw the sign, what did they do? They said, "This is it, we've got to go search for him. We must find him if he's here. That's the only logical thing to do. If there is a Savior of the world who's gonna take away my sin and ensure eternal life for me, the only wise thing to do is to do everything I can do to find him".
And to they laid aside their religion, their tradition, their heritage, to go search for the king. That's what wise people do. And that's true today as well. If you are searching today for meaning in your life, if you are searching for the answer to life, death, and eternity, that search will always bring you to the feet of Jesus Christ. The wise men were wise enough to search for him. And secondly, they were wise enough to worship the king. They not only searched for the king, they were wise enough to worship the king.
The Bible says that when they arrived at the home and saw the baby Jesus, they didn't study him. They didn't debate about him. They didn't say, "Well, we'll wait and hold our verdict to another day". No, immediately they fell down on their face and they worshiped him. When you come to believe in your life that Jesus is really who he says he is, he's not just a good moral teacher, he's not just a religious leader, he is the Son of God who came and died and rose again that you can have eternal life, the only logical response is to accept his gift of salvation and to dedicate your life to following him, whatever the cost. What was true 2.000 years ago is still true today. Wise men still seek him. And when they find him, they worship him with all of their hearts.