Every year at Christmas time, my high school social studies teacher, Mr. Cundiff, would write the phrase, “Wise Men Still Seek Him” on the chalkboard in his classroom and refer to it often during the season.
The story of the wise men has had a profound impact on Christian culture. We barely get through Halloween before we start seeing advertisements on TV and in magazines about what to buy for friends and loved ones for Christmas. All of that craziness, spending, and bustle to which we have become so accustomed during this season can be traced all the way back to the gifts given to Jesus in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago by some unnamed men who journeyed from afar to worship the Christ child.
There are many variations and apocryphal elements of the wise men’s story, but what we can glean from the Gospel account is this: these men came, following a star in search of a child born King of the Jews, and bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They went to Jerusalem and began asking around for the child born king of the Jews. King Herod consulted his scholars, who identified Bethlehem as the likely location. The wise men found Jesus and Mary in a house in Bethlehem, where they presented their gifts and worshiped Jesus. Then, being warned by a dream, they returned home by a different route instead of returning to Herod.
I want to offer three observations that I believe illustrate ways in which these men were truly wise in their pursuit of Jesus, and how we may be able to apply those lessons to our own lives as we attempt to seek Christ wisely.
God drew the wise men with a sign they would recognize. These men were astrologers – they sought answers to the great questions of life from the stars. They were looking to the stars for a sign, and a sign was given to them.
If we took a poll of our fellow believers and asked them to share how they were introduced to Jesus, what range of answers would we get? Though I suspect that many of us were introduced to Jesus in Christian homes, that is not always the case. But everyone who comes to Christ must be led to Him in some way. We call that prevenient grace – that when we did not know how to come to God, He by some way drew us to Him. And God draws us to Himself in ways that we can recognize.
When seeking Jesus, the wise men took the counsel of Scripture. There is a growing trend in American Christianity that values personal revelation over scriptural foundation. You hear a lot of “I believe this” or “I don’t believe that” without any reference to God’s Word.
If you are going to explain who God is, if you are going to describe His character, if you are going to consider how He moves and operates in the world, you must study the Bible. If you want to define what is moral, what is pleasing to God, what draws His wrath, what is the acceptable way to live, you have to consult His Word.
When the wise men arrived in Jerusalem and began asking around for the location of the child born king of the Jews, nobody knew what they were talking about. So Herod asked his priests and scholars to consult the scriptures for the birthplace of the Messiah. When the people had no idea what was going on, when they didn’t have the answers, they went to the scriptures – a wise move indeed. Herod’s scholars turned to the prophecy of Micah, and, thus instructed from the pages of scripture, the wise men followed its counsel and continued on to Bethlehem.
Jesus is revealed to us in scripture. That is how God has introduced Himself to us – through the pages of His Word. And if we are going to seek Jesus in a way that is wise, the first thing we should consult is scripture.
When the wise men encountered Jesus, it changed their route. The wise men had found what they were looking for. And Herod had told them to come back to him after they had found the child. He wanted to worship too, he lied. (In reality he was planning how to find and kill the child to remove any threat to his throne.) Before the wise men could return to Herod, however, they were warned in a dream not to do it, and they returned to their country by another route.
Do you believe that an encounter with Jesus can change a person’s path? In Acts 17:30, Paul told the men of Athens that “God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent.” And sometimes we understand repentance as merely asking forgiveness, but it really has deeper meaning than that.
To repent is a 180-degree turn. The dictionary tells us that to repent is to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life. More than just a request for forgiveness, repentance is a commitment to begin walking the correct way. This is a proof of what has happened in our life. When we meet Christ, it should change our direction – once we were walking according to our own way, now we walk according to God’s way; once we did as we please, now we seek to please Him.
When we meet Jesus, we are faced with a choice – to accept Him or reject Him. If we reject Him, then nothing has changed; we travel on as we had before. But if we accept Him, we cannot remain unchanged. If we come to believe that Jesus is who He said He was, if we believe His claims, we cannot continue living in the same manner as we had before.
The wise men were changed by their encounter with Jesus. When they approached the house in Bethlehem, they were wealthy men – their expensive gifts tell us that, and some have suggested that they were kings themselves. They were certainly confident, intelligent adults – they believed enough in their own scholarship to undertake this long and dangerous journey. But when they entered that house and came face-to-face with the Christ child, they fell down and worshiped him. Can you imagine? These wealthy, wise men – bowing at the feet of a peasant girl and her little boy. I think they knew that they were in the presence of something divine. I think they realized that the world had changed forever. I think they knew that they would never be the same.
Wise men still seek Jesus. Let’s learn these lessons from the story of the wise men and follow their example.
~ Matt Kinnell
NHIM Board Chair