Wise Men Still Seek Him

wise men starEvery 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

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Bread – The Gift of a Wise Man

ridge-chapel

Ridge Chapel, on Shoemaker Ridge, Lee County, Kentucky

The small congregation was devoid of the trappings of wealth or social status. I was preaching in a ‘church plant’ in the heart of the poverty pocket in Eastern Kentucky. Alcohol, drugs, and unemployment had decimated the community. The only church in the area had been deliberately set on fire nearly thirty years before. Now, we have rebuilt the small structure and are laboring to bring the light of the gospel to a spiritually dark place.

Christmas was approaching, and I was attempting to relate Matthew’s account of the visit of the Wise Men. I had just finished reading the Biblical narrative and was emphasizing the gifts the Wise Men presented to the Christ Child. I noticed one rough-appearing man whose thoughts seemed to waiver between what I was sharing and his own life circumstances. Attempting to bring him back in, I asked, “What do you think the Wise Men brought to baby Jesus?” He had apparently missed the part about the gold, frankincense and myrrh. Aroused to consciousness, he blurted out, “They probably brought him bread.”

Moments of silence followed as I tried to incorporate this man’s response into the message and not embarrass him. Fumbling for words, I was finally able to say something along the lines of, “That’s an interesting thought. The Wise Men brought treasures for a King that would later undoubtedly help finance the family’s flight from the murderous Herod. Perhaps one of them also thought of an immediate and practical need of something to eat”. I thanked him for his perspective. I realized this man’s world was often one of cold and hunger. I thought in that very moment of the scripture in which Jesus said of himself, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20, ESV).

In a Christmas hymn, C. Alexander pinned the words, “His cradle was a stall: With the poor, and mean, and lowly; Lived on earth, our savior holy.”  Poor, mean, and lowly seemed to describe the world my mountain friend lived in. What an amazing insight this man provided! Jesus meets us right where we are. He comes into our personal world to bring us hope and salvation. My brother, gripped by poverty and lacking an adequate home, thought that ‘bread’ would be a really good gift.

That day my sermon about the Wise Men had taken a different route than had I intended. The message became more of a conversation than a monologue. We talked about Jesus, the Son of God, being born in a stable, not a palace. We shared how he took on the life of a poor man and lived in this troubled world. He was called Immanuel, meaning “God with us”. We reasoned how He could understand the life of people like us who gathered in this little church. I asked the congregation what gifts we could give to the King of Glory. We decided we should give Him the best we have to offer. Some could give a little money to support the struggling church. In the name Jesus, others could give ‘bread’ to someone who was hungry. We decided all of us could share the message of hope because Jesus came to be with us in our world that first Christmas.

Like the Wise Men of old, we returned home that day “a different way” (Matthew 2:12).

~ Brother Roy

The Stable

the stableA stable is normally a dirty place. Animal droppings, potentially disease-carrying mice, dust, dirt, and germs associated with a stable make it less than sanitary. Yet, it was such a place where the Heavenly Father cradled His only begotten Son in a manger. The One to be called the Mighty God was born in a stable. Scripture says, For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). The birthplace of the Savior was a lowly manger. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn(Luke 2:7).

A comforting thought came to me this Christmas season. Because of my sin, my heart was a dirty place. It was not a fit place for God’s son. But, then I thought if God chose a stable for His son’s point of entry into this world, perhaps my heart also might a place that could welcome Him. I wondered, “Is it not possible that the presence of Jesus made the stable a clean and acceptable place?” Yes! He can “make the foulest clean”. Because of this truth, I believe His presence can make even my sin-soiled heart clean. Joy to the world, the Lord is come! 

A Christmas Prayer: Lord may my heart be as clean as the stable where Jesus was born.

~ Brother Roy

Don’t Stop Short

wise men starMatthew 2:1-12 relates the account of the Wise Men.  They followed a star to Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel. This surely would be the place where the newborn King of The Jews would be found. Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him’”  (2:2).

They must have been deeply disappointed when no one in Jerusalem was even aware of the Star or the event it signaled. Finally, King Harod sent them off to search for the child. Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!” (2:10, MSG).

The wise men undoubtedly must have been discouraged by their failure to find the King in Jerusalem – by the lack of knowledge about the birth of the Messiah among the leaders, by the disinterest among Israel, and by the weariness from the long journey. The reappearance of the Star must have brought great joy and encouragement to them. With new determination, the Magi set out to complete their quest.

Bless the Lord, they did not stop short of their goal. They stayed with the journey until they came to the right place where the Christ Child was born. They bowed down and worshipped Him. They presented the gifts they had brought. And then, … having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route(2:12).

The Christmas season leads people to reflect on “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men”. For a short time, most people treat each other with a little extra kindness and a smile. The music of the season, Nativity scenes, children’s Christmas programs, and gatherings with family and friends all lift our spirits. Momentarily, we take our minds off the troubles of this world. All too soon we return to face the same old problems in the same old ways. We may journey a long way toward finding the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, the Savior of the world, yet so many pull up short of actually coming into His presence.

Preconceived ideas and theories can obscure the search. Like the Wise Men of old, disappointment and disillusionment can settle in. We need the ‘light’ of the Star to reappear in our lives. We need to follow it all the way into the presence of Christ. If we worship Him, give Him the gift of ourselves yielded to Him, we can return to our daily lives a different way. Having personally experienced the Savior, we can journey on toward heaven echoing the refrain, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”  Our new route through the days of our lives can be with “Peace on earth, good will toward men”.

THIS CHRISTMAS SEASON, DON’T STOP SHORT OF HIS PRESENCE

~ Brother Roy

Too Much Stuff

too-much-stuffFrom mid-October on, junk mail and television unleash a constant barrage of advertisements. Marketers want to convince people they ‘need’ the merchandise being promoted. Children and youth are targeted for toys, electronics, expensive shoes, and clothing. On it goes across age groups as retailers hawk appliances, perfume, jewelry, and other items too numerous to mention. Credit card debt piles up and bank accounts dwindle. It’s the season for overindulgence.

We recently had a family meeting to discuss the problem. We agreed that we already have too much stuff. Like Esau of old, each of us concluded, “I have enough, my brother” (Genesis 33:9). We decided this Christmas would be different.  There would be no unrestrained gift buying. Basically, we agreed to purchase only one gift for each person on our list. We also agreed to limit the cost of gifts. As a family, we then decided to provide Christmas for a family trapped in poverty.

Relieved from the pressure of racing from store to store, spending too much money, buying stuff unneeded and unwanted, Christmas could take on renewed meaning. We could focus on faith in Christ, family, and friends. Church and the beautiful music of the season would resume its rightful place. How good it is to be able to truly enjoy this ‘holy day’!

Is Christmas at your house being crowded out by too much stuff? Perhaps your family needs to have a ‘come to Jesus meeting’. Let each one decide, “I have enough stuff”! As a family, resolve that faith, family, and friends will be the stars of the season. Make worship a central activity. Give the gift of yourself to the Lord this special time of year.

~ Brother Roy