We all know this story. The story of how three wise men from afar came to give the Lord Jesus gifts as he slept on his makeshift crib made from straw and hay. They gave this young child the gifts, seemingly knowing exactly what they were looking for. They were happy to bestow these gifts upon the child, while the shepherds, sheep, and other animals peacefully looked on, and angels softly sang in the background. The story is wonderful and we love to tell young children about it as we point towards displays of our Saviour’s birth. But is this accurate? Well, the truth is, no. It is not.
The Bible tells us the actual story in Matthew 2:1-2, “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him” (KJV). The actual number of wise men is one of the things that we are unsure of, as the Bible never tells us how many there are. Also, we know that they didn’t arrive at the same time as Jesus’ birth, as they have travelled from a city so far east that the Bible does not mention it.
The Bible also says in Matthew 2:9-11 “When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.” They would follow the star until they found the child with Mary in “the house,” while Jesus was born, as we are all reminded of so frequently this time of year, in a manger. People only suppose there to be three wise men as there were three gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh.
So, as you can see there are many misconceptions about this story, but now that we have established a more reliable basis, let’s make some accurate conclusions. First off, it is uncertain that these men were Jewish. They had travelled far and long, and if a Jew is committed and wealthy, he will live as close to Jerusalem as possible. These men were quite well off, judging by their gifts, and living very far off, so their heritage as Jewish men is a doubtful assumption.
Why did they come? How did they know what they would find at the end of their journey, following the star? Well, the only answer is faith. These men had faith enough to travel, heaven knows how far, to follow a light of the star. Would we do that? Even as believing Christians? Think of the Jews who saw them pass as they entered the city. These people were supposed to be an example to the nations around them of how God’s people act, but they failed. They were showed up spectacularly by people traveling for ages, when they would not even walk next door.
Think also of the precious homage they were paying to this new-born king: gold, frankincense, myrrh. These are valued and expensive gifts that these people gave, to a child, accompanied by tears of joy and mouths full of praise. As Christians today, we are beyond stingy with our funds. We could give our treasures to Christ, just as these Gentile men did, yet, we hold back and keep our wealth to ourselves because we like our money too much. How much do you give as tithing? Do you tithe? How much more can you give towards Christ, yet don’t, because you’ve already paid your tithes.
These thoughts did not cross the minds of the wise men of the East. They had. They saw Jesus. They gave. It was just that simple. Yet, they knew nothing of what this boy would do for them. We know! We have the whole story and can read all of the chapters. Why, then, do we hold so much back? These men were wise for a reason. They showed faith and generosity, even when no one expected them to. Are you wise?