Happy Epiphany! The twelve days of Christmas are over and today, January 6, is Epiphany. It is a day set aside to remember the visit of the Wise Men as they brought their three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to worship the infant Jesus.
We sing the song “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” But in that first line, we have already made three mistakes.
- We don’t know if there were three.
- They were not kings.
- They were not from the Orient (Far East).
First, they brought three gifts, but the Bible nowhere mentions that there were three wise men. There could have been two. There could have been twenty. But the exact number is unknown to us.
Secondly, the Bible describes the Wise Men as Magi. There is no mention of them being kings. They may have served in the royal courts, perhaps as advisors. But kings they were not.
Third, these Magi were likely from Babylon, which was located in what is modern-day Iraq. This is the Middle East. There is no reason to believe that they came from China or another Far East country.
Also, contrary to popular belief, the wise men probably did not show up on Christmas night. The presumably came some time later. It could have been up to two years later. It would have taken them some time to travel from Babylon to Bethlehem after the star appeared in the sky.
Speaking of the star, the way the story is often depicted is that they saw the star rise in their homeland and they begin to follow it. This leads them to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem.
But I want you to think about this for a minute. How do you follow a star in the sky? How do you know when you have arrived under that star? In our nativity scenes, we see a star hovering just a few feet above the stable. But we all know that stars do not descend from the sky and hover over our homes. So how did the Wise Men know where to go?
If you go back several hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the people of Jerusalem were conquered by the Babylonians. The Babylonians took many of the people of Jerusalem and brought them back to Babylon as captives. This is where we come to the story of Daniel. The Gospel of Matthew is not the first appearance of Wise Men in the Scripture.
In Daniel 2:48 it says:
“Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.” (Daniel 2:48, ESV)
Notice Daniel is made the head of the Wise Men. As head of the Wise Men, he would have had tremendous influence over them. There is no doubt the Wise Men would have been familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. They would have likely read this passage from the Book of Numbers:
“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel . . . ” (Numbers 24:17, ESV)
Some translations of the Bible tell us that the star of Bethlehem appeared in the East. If you are in Babylon, and a star appeared in the East, it would take you away from Bethlehem. Bethlehem was to the west of Babylon. So following the star alone would not get them to Bethlehem.
Here is the point I want to make. The star certainly had a role in helping the Wise Men find Jesus. But it was not the star alone. When they saw the star, they knew to go to Jerusalem. But it was not because they followed the star. It was because they followed the Scriptures. Long before the star appeared in the sky, it appeared in the Scriptures. Apart from the Scriptures, they would have never known the significance of that star.
We might see the phrase repeated: “Wise Men still seek Him.” Indeed there this truth in those words. The prophet Isaiah echoes that sentiment:
“Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;” (Isaiah 55:6, ESV)
But if we are going to find the Lord, we need to go where he is found. He is not found following a star in the sky. He is found in his Word. If you want to join me in seeking the Lord in 2016, I would like to invite you to join me in the in seeking him in the Scriptures. One way you can do this is using the Greater Things 2016 Bible Reading Plan. Even though we are already a few days into the new year, know that it is never too late to join.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:16–17, ESV)
Questions for Reflection
- How did the Wise Men know the significance of the star?
- When God gives you a sign, how do you know the significance of that sign? How do you know where God is leading you?
- Where is God leading you today?
- Questions for Reflection