Christmas According to Matthew #1
A Very Wise Lesson from Very Wise Men
Matthew 2:1-12 | Sam Taylor | December 2, 2012
Central idea: The Power of a Seeking Heart: People who are far away from God but diligently seek Him find Him sooner than those much nearer to God but do not seek Him.
I. The Story of the Wise Men
A. Read Matthew 2:1-12
B. The Christmas story in Matthew records the sudden and completely unexpected arrival in Jerusalem of a mysterious group of wise men who came to worship the newborn king of the Jews. These mysterious wise men appear here and then disappear from history. But, for as long as men celebrate Christmas, we will always be blessed by the example of the wise men. Anything we say regarding their identity is only speculation, but still there are some details we can say with a reasonable degree of probability:
1. They were a group of ancient priest-astrologers. The phrase “wise men,” in our English Bible is the Greek word “mάg-oi.” Originally, the word referred to a class of Median-Persian wise men, and priests, who were interpreters of dreams and special signs, particularly in astrology. In some cases they were high officials in the Persian government. It seems that one function was that they served to interpret the dreams of the Persian kings, in much the same way that Joseph was called upon to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and Daniel was called upon to interpret the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.[i] Archaeology demonstrates that they practiced the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism.
2. The text tells us that they lived somewhere east of Jerusalem and that means they most likely were from Babylon, the first major city almost directly east of Jerusalem.[ii] (Show map.)
Now, this is a very important point. Since Daniel was in charge of the wise men of Babylon, and Babylon was conquered and ruled by the Persians, the Persian magi would very likely be familiar with Daniel’s prophetic writings. One of Daniel’s prophecies is of particular significance in regard to the birth of Jesus. Daniel 9:25 foretells very clearly and specifically when the Messiah will appear.
(Dan 9:25) Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince will be seven weeks and 62 weeks. It will be rebuilt with a plaza and a moat, but in difficult times.
The decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem is recorded in Nehemiah 2:1-8. It occurred during the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, on our calendar that is March 5, 444. Beginning with that date, when we add Daniel’s 69 weeks of years (483 years of 360 days) and adjust it for the difference in 360 lunar years Daniel used and the 365.4 days per solar year in our calendars, the date we arrive at is March 30, 33 A.D. And, that is the day of Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem when enter the gates on a donkey and formally presented Himself as Messiah—the exact day!
Now here is the point: The person in charge of all the wise men of Babylon was Daniel. He foretold exactly when the Jewish Messiah would appear. These wise men would almost certainly have been familiar with the prophecies of one of their most respected former leaders.
3. They were seeking to find Jesus. By studying the writing of their leader Daniel, they would have known that the great Jewish Messiah was due anytime to appear. Now when we couple their expectation of the imminent appearance of a Messiah with the dramatic appearance (Matt. 2:7) of an unusual star seen in the night sky, that was enough to signal to them that the Messiah had been born. And they embarked on a trip to find the new born Messiah.
It was an arduous trip of approximately 800 miles and could well have been on camel back. It typically required 4 months to make the trip from Babylon to Jerusalem. Add to that the time it would take for them to pack and prepare for such a long trip and it could easily have taken up to one year. As they crossed the Arabian Peninsula, the wise men would sleep night after night in outposts, small villages, or out under the open sky. They would be exposed to the wind and rain. Attacks from thieves who would steal their treasure or even kill them were a very real danger. Such a trip involved serious effort and risk, not to mention a great deal of time. All of this shows their seriousness of wanting to see the Messiah.
II. A Wise Lesson to Learn from the Wise Men.
A. There is a very important lesson we should all learn from these wise men. . . And for those who do learn this lesson, it can change your life forever. . . Here it is: People who are far away from God yet diligently seek Him will find Him long before than those who are much closer but don’t seek Him out.
B. Consider the irony in how King Herod and the religious leaders in Jerusalem reacted to the wise men. Their appearance was completely unexpected by Herod. Clearly, Herod was not thinking about or looking to find the Messiah. Perhaps we could understand King Herod being in the dark, but not his religious counselors. They had all the prophetic writings right under their noses and yet, they still were not expecting the Messiah. What more did they need? They had the Scriptures. They had the temple in which to seek the Lord. They had the responsibility to know the Word of God and to teach it. But they lacked just one thing:Herod’s religious counselors did not find out the truth because they did not seek out the truth! [iii]
C. That is the great wisdom we can learn from the example of wise men from the east:People who are far away from God yet diligently seek Him will find Him long before than those who are much closer but don’t seek Him out.
III. Now Let’s Apply the Point
A. Someone explained that the reason some people don’t find God is the same reason that a burglar doesn’t find a policeman—he isn’t looking for him!
B. Friends, whoever you are, never stop having a heart that diligently seeks for God. This is just as important for sinners as it is for saints; for those who have never met Jesus, and for those who have known Him for years—If you truly seek to know God, He will reveal Himself to you just as surely as He led the wise men to Jesus. You can be very sure of it. Jesus said, “Seek and you shall find.” Hebrews 11:6 says, “God is a rewarded of those who diligently seek Him.”
C. But here is an important condition to remember:
(Jer. 29:13) says “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
Notice the Lord doesn’t just say “seek me” but “seek me with all your heart.” This means that sometimes when people seek God, they don’t do it wholeheartedly. It is possible to come to church and to seek God half-heartedly. But, seeking God halfheartedly never works!
D. A. W. Tozer, in his devotional classic, The Pursuit of God ([Christian Publications], pp. 17, 15), wrote, “Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. . . Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God. They mourned for Him, they prayed and wrestled and sought for Him day and night. . .”
God is very near to you. And you can find Him if you follow the example of the wise men andseek Him; if you search for Him with all of your heart! The wise men found Him and you can too!
[i] Daniel, the Hebrew prophet, was placed as the chief ruler over all the wise men of Babylon. (Dan. 2:48). That makes it highly plausible that the magi who came to Jerusalem in search of the Messiah
would have been aware of Daniel’s prophecies that foretold of his arrival (Dan. 9:25).
[iii] Interestingly, when at the Triumphal Entry as Jesus approached Jerusalem to present Himself as Messiah, on the very day foretold by the prophet Daniel, Jesus wept and pronounced a coming judgment upon the city and said these words: (Luke 19:44) They will crush you and your children within you to the ground, and they will not leave one stone on another in you, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation." The people should have known because it had been shown to them but they had no heart to seek out the truth. And they missed finding Jesus though they were so close.