Visit of the Wise Men
Today is the Day of Epiphany; the day after the twelfth day of Christmas, officially marking the end of the Christmas season and moving the church into the season of Epiphany. It is the celebration of the first manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi from the East coming to worship the Christ-child. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the East came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.’” (Matthew 2:1–2).
Who were these Magi? Most of what we know about them comes from church tradition, because little was written about them in the Bible. However, from context we know that they were most likely well-educated in the Hebrew texts of the Messianic prophecies, enough to know that the appearance of Christ’s star was very significant and should therefore be pursued. We know they practiced astrology – looking for signs in the stars. And we also know they were most likely from Persia (Babylon), judging by the gifts they presented to Jesus; it was customary for Persians to present a king with gold whenever visiting him. We don’t know how many Magi went to seek out the Christ-child, the newborn King of Kings, but we are told they brought Him gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The story of the Magi actually starts hundreds of years before Jesus was born. When Daniel and his friends Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abednego) were taken as captives from Israel to Babylon, all four men showed incredible faith that left a lasting mark in that foreign land. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into a furnace for not bowing to a golden image erected by King Nebuchadnezzar. Not a hair on their head was singed and their clothes didn’t even smell of smoke, because the Lord protected them. Because of this, King Nebuchadnezzar then praised God for the miraculous sign. Daniel was later thrown into the lion’s den by King Darius to be put to death for praying to the Lord, but came out completely unscathed because the Lord protected him too. King Darius then praised God for the miraculous sign.
Fast-forward generations to the time of Jesus Christ’s birth. The Magi who came to worship Him after seeing the Star of Bethlehem appear in the night sky were clearly well-educated in the Messianic prophecies that had been passed down through generations of wise men. And the first wise men most likely learned of these prophecies from Daniel’s teachings hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth! Nothing that God lets happen is by accident. Daniel and his friends were taken to Babylon in captivity, but God’s plan was for them to spread His Word and prophecies so that one day, Magi would read the heavenly signs in the stars announcing the birth of the Messiah and drop everything to travel to worship Him.
Fear of the Lord produces two distinct responses: joyfulness or great distress. “After [the Magi] had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:9–11). The wise men’s hearts, souls, and minds were so filled with joy at the sight of the Star of Bethlehem, they loaded up their camels with very valuable gifts and made a very long and arduous journey to find the Christ-child. Once they found Him, they immediately bowed and worshipped Him. They knew that the prophecy had been fulfilled, and that gave them great joy.
On the other hand, King Herod was fearful and jealous at the thought of this new child king here to take his throne. He took extreme measures to thwart God’s plan, killing all the boys in the vicinity of Bethlehem who were two years old or younger. “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’ Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find Him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship Him.’ … And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. … When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” (Matthew 2: 3–8, 12, 16).
The celebration of Epiphany reminds us that we should have a heart for seeking out Jesus Christ, submitting to His Word, and sacrificing for others as Jesus Christ did for us. We should have a Fear of the Lord, like the Magi, that produces an abundance of joy in our hearts, souls, and minds. And we should have a Fear of the Lord like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego such that we obey God and trust Him, even in the face of death. You never know how God will use a faith-filled decision as part of His plan. All glory be to God!