To the ancient mind, stars had to be more than twinkling lights in the night sky. They had to mean something.
They had no idea that stars were really suns and the distances involved were well beyond their understanding. Night after night wise men studied the stars, noting what seemed to be their movements across the sky. With imaginations more highly developed than their science, they created meanings and gave them significance in their own lives.
Wise Men from the East
Matthew tells us of a group of these men of intelligence and careful observation. They saw a new star and determined that it was there to lead them to Messiah. Like the ancient astronomers who filled in the details with their imaginations, Christian tradition has filled in missing details about the Wise Men.
- Because three gifts are mentioned, there were three Wise Men.
- They were Kings.
- Their names were Caspar and Balthazar and their leader, Melchior.
- In addition to the stars, it is possible they had copies of the writings of the Hebrew prophets left over from the Babylonian Captivity.
- They arrived the night Jesus was born and joined the shepherds at the manger. The account of Matthew hints that perhaps they came later but the image of kings and shepherds kneeling together at the manger is irresistible and speaks to the meaning of Christmas.
When writing about the Wise Men, these inventions come in handy. In this telling we will hold to the details given by our reporter, Matthew.
Kings and More Kings
If the Wise Men were indeed kings, it makes sense that they consulted with King Herod.
“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
If these men had any sense of discernment at all, they sensed that Herod was not a friend of the Child they were seeking. Troubled by their inquiry, Herod assembled his advisors to learn what they knew about where Messiah was to be born. Bethlehem was the place foretold by prophecy. Herod met again with the Wise Men to find out when the star appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem with a false promise to join them in worship of the child.
Following the Star
Uneasy from their interview with Herod, they followed the star to Bethlehem where it stopped over the house where they found the Christ-child. Forgetting Herod for a moment they rejoiced with great joy. Entering the house they were overcome by the holiness of the presence of Jesus and they fell to the floor in worship. They recovered enough to present their valuable gifts, each one significant in its own way:
- Gold, a precious metal and provision for the family,
- Frankincense, a precious resin used in the sacrifices of worship in the Temple, and
- Myrrh, a holy ingredient in the anointing oil used to indicate God’s choice of an individual.
Being warned in a dream of Herod’s treachery, their scene in the Jesus Story completed, the Wise Men returned to their homes. It is certain they would never be the same. The presence of Jesus does that to people.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.'” Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.”
Lord Jesus, You are the Morning Star! My guide through this life! I will follow You wherever You lead. Like the Wise Men, I will seek Your face and fall prostrate before You in deepest worship. I will offer to You the best gifts of my life. May Your Spirit give me discernment to see the hearts of those who hate You and avoid their schemes. As I behold Your glory in worship, change me, O Lord, from glory to glory until Your likeness can be seen in me. Thank You, Lord. Amen.
In Your Presence
Words and Music by J.D. and Stephen Phifer
1. When the chill of life’s cold wind blows ‘round me,
I can call on Your name in my grief.
And You are there every time when I need You.
Wrapping me in a blanket of Peace.
In Your presence, In Your presence, there is joy.
In Your presence, In Your presence, there is peace.
Let me linger, let me stay in Your presence, I pray,
Till Your likeness can be seen in me.
2. O how sweet just to wait in Your presence,
Just to know in my soul You are near.
I’m restored by the touch of Your hand, Lord;
Lifted up when it’s Your voice I hear.
3. How we need to spend time in Your presence,
To draw away from this world’s frantic pace.
Let us dwell in the glow of Your nearness,
Hold us close in Your healing embrace.
© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved