Lessons from the wise men

I’ve been reflecting on the story of the wise men who visited Jesus [Matthew 2:1-12]. Matthew calls them magi, which could mean wise men, astrologers, teachers, physicians, seers or even sorcerers. It’s safe to presume they were erudite men. It’s also safe to assume they weren’t the only ones in their profession. So, what made them different from their equally learned colleagues who chose differently? Calling them wise men could be a way of recognising them as scholars, but I suspect Matthew’s reference was a nod to their decision to seek out Jesus and worship Him. Some records say they travelled over 1500 miles to Jerusalem. They likely encountered obstacles and challenges on their journey, but they completed their quest, and God ensured they were part of one of history’s most significant events.

If I’m right that the magi were called wise men because of their decisions, then there are things we can learn from their example. A good starting point is posing the question: “what does it mean to be wise?” Simply put, a wise person exhibits wisdom in what they say and do, and my favourite description of wisdom is: “knowledge rightly applied with understanding”. I love that definition because it’s life-applicable. Even my 6-year-old understands it and appreciates the value of being wise. That description emphasises that becoming wise is an active process which is knowledge-dependent. Yet, irrespective of how much knowledge one accumulates, if it isn’t understood and rightly applied, then it’s useless. Nevertheless, the breadth of knowledge attained and the depth of understanding or discernment of what is known matters. 

When the star the wise men followed appeared in the eastern sky, it was visible to anyone in that region who looked up. Some may not have seen it, but there would have been people who did and ignored or trivialised it. There would have also been people who noticed the star and were curious about it but took no further action because of other priorities or distractions brought about by the cares of this world [Matthew 13:22]. That’s often the case with attaining knowledge. It requires a degree of sacrifice to obtain it. But sadly, the cares of this world can dampen our intellectual curiosity. The truth is we’ll largely remain ignorant if we aren’t curious. Moreover, as a Christian, I’ve realised that the devil’s advantage over us is our ignorance, not his power. I lessen that advantage as I increase in knowledge, understanding and wisdom.

I suspect the curiosity of the wise men led them to Moses’s prophecy concerning the star [Numbers 24:17]. Some historians suggest that the magi may have had Jewish ancestry dating back to the exile. Their ancestors may have chosen to remain in Persia after the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem. That could account for their knowledge of the star’s significance [Matthew 2:2]. I suspect they also consulted the priests and religious elites of their day about others prophecies from Jeremiah, Isaiah, Micah, Malachi, etc., concerning the coming of the Messiah King. At some stage, they would have discerned that the star was pointing to a significant event and wanted to be a part of it. Scripture teaches that the Spirit of God gives man understanding [Job 32:8]. Nevertheless, even when God conceals a matter to the masses, Scripture urges the righteous to search it out – just like the magi did [Proverbs 25:2]. Understanding is God’s reward for our genuine interest in His agenda.

The wise men stepped out on a maybe – a leap of faith. There’s no way they could have been confident of their deduction, but they believed God’s word. It gave them sufficient evidence of what they couldn’t see and a confident expectation of what they hoped for [Hebrews 11:1]. It would’ve been an expensive trip. They knew their journey would take weeks, probably months. As such, they had to plan for food, shelter, security, etc. Their quest wasn’t for the faint-hearted. I suspect they probably encountered naysayers, rough terrain, bandits and other obstacles as they travelled from somewhere in modern-day Iran to somewhere near the Dead Sea. Discernment strengthens our resolve in the face of opposition. The wise men knew what they were doing; they had rightly divided the word of truth [2 Timothy 2:15] and anchored their faith on a God who rewards those who diligently seek Him [Hebrews 11:6]. So, while men may have questioned their decision to undertake such a precarious journey, they had made a wise choice from God’s perspective. 

The wise men married their faith with works [James 2:14-26]. They travelled with treasures fit for a King, convinced God would grant the desire of their heart [Psalm 37:4]. The reality that most of their compatriots were focused on other things while the most significant birth in humankind’s history was happening is food for thought. Some of them would probably have claimed to be wise – making the right decisions, but did they value the right kind of wisdom? What significant event in God’s calendar could you be missing because you’re distracted by the cares of this world? How curious are you to find out what God is doing? Do you thirst for understanding? Do you desire godly wisdom? The magi answered these questions with a resounding ‘yes’ and stayed focused to obtain the prize [1 Corinthians 9:24]. Are you willing to do the same? Their journey ended in worship, demonstrating that these men prized Jesus above their status, comforts and even personal safety. That’s the wisest decision of all – to recognise and worship your Maker [Matthew 2:11]. 

This Christmas, don’t be like those who missed it while the magi set out to write themselves into God’s story. Instead, resolve to make wise decisions and invest in pursuits that will stand the test of time [Ephesians 5:16]. 

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