Real Wise Men

“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.” (Matthew 2:1, 2)

“Wise men from the East.” This phrase may leave different impressions with different people, but many hearers will probably think of the Christmas story. But for a first century Jew in Jerusalem, “Wise men from the East” could only mean one thing—Gentile astrologers. That’s basically what the terms “wise men” or “magi” would have meant at the time. “Magi” indicates foreign magicians or enchanters who specialized in star constellations and fortune telling. We may very well scratch our heads too, wondering how a group of magicians from a royal pagan court would know about the Messiah’s birth as foretold by Israelite prophets.

What’s really astounding though is that they’re ahead of the scribes and priests who had spent a lifetime studying the Old Testament. Matthew 2:3-6 tells us King Herod’s reaction: “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.’” The Jewish priests were known for their strenuously detailed exposition on the prophets’ writings. Yet they’re pointed to Christ’s birth by a group of Gentile astrologers following a star. How could this be? I’m sure the answer is more complex than this, but a big part of it comes from their preconceived ideas of what the Messiah would be like. Based on the prophecies of Isaiah and others, they had bought into a political Messiah who would vanquish the Romans rather than a Savior who would rescue us from sin.

There’s a lesson in this for us friends. Our study of scripture may be deeply focused and earnest, but unless we’re coming to the Bible with a humble student’s attitude of learning from the Holy Spirit, we can miss some of the greatest gems. As we look beyond the Christmas season towards a new year, let’s be open to the Bible’s lessons and trust the Holy Spirit to guide us!