The wise men (Matthew 2)

It has been pointed out that in general the church experiences the truth that Paul says when he writes to the Corinthians that not many wise by human estimation worship Jesus. Yet sometimes there are exceptions and here we have one of them because some wise men came to worship Jesus. You may be interested to know that Chrysostom says there were fourteen of them.

In fact, we do not know how many of them there were, or where they came from, or how old they were. Apparently, the notion that there were three of them comes from Psalm 72:10 which mentions that the kings of Tarshish, and of the Isles, and of Sheba would worship the Messiah. Of course, that interpretation was based on the prior assumption that the wise men were kings, which is not credible.

In ancient times, there were three types of religious leaders: prophets, priests and wise men. We have an example of wise men in the Book of Job and in that book we can see that they had some knowledge of God and his ways. The wise men that came to see Jesus came from the east and so did Job and his friends. Of course, the east covers a big area and some people think that the wise men came from as far away as Persia and were astrologers. This would suggest that they had travelled quite a distance. The point is that we do not know where they came from.

In contrast to our lack of knowledge of where they came from, we can say that we know where they were going to. They were travelling to meet the Messiah. Wherever they came from, they thought that it was essential that they make the journey to see Jesus. What prompted them to come was a special heavenly body, which could indicate that they studied the heavens. 

What was the star? Some say a comet, others that it was caused by the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of Pisces in the year 7 BC. Some say it was like the pillar of fire that led Israelites through the desert, others that it was like the Shekinah because it could stop over places. Maybe it was invisible to others, otherwise Herod could have followed it. The wise men recognised its significance through, as Calvin says, a secret revelation of the Spirit. 

What did they know about Jesus? Their question to Herod indicates that they knew three things: first, they knew he was King of the Jews; second, they knew that he had been born; and third, they knew that he was divine because they wanted to worship him. So we can see that they knew that he was royal, that he was human, and that he was divine, which is an extraordinary set of details for people from such a background to have. Clearly here we have a marvellous example of the incredible way that the Lord can provide illumination in those who are spiritually ignorant.

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