The Christmas story, the story of Christ’s birth and early childhood, will be on the minds of many over the next few weeks. Most of us are more familiar with the Christmas story than we are with any other story in the whole Bible — Mary discovering that she was with child, though she was a virgin; Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem, yet finding no room in the inn; Jesus born in a barn and laid in a manger; the angelic announcement to the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem, prompting them to visit the newborn King; the visit of the magi, the wise men, from the east; and the attempt of king Herod to kill Jesus, causing Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to flee to Egypt until after Herod’s death. And we all bring away certain feel-good lessons and reminders from the story — like the importance of family, that God still surprises, and love and generosity are good. But for the next few weeks, as we approach Christmas, I’d like to take the opportunity — since we’ll be thinking about the story anyway — to point out some lessons from the story that are less often noted. The first one being “Wise Men Still Seek Him”.
The wise men part of the Christmas story is found starting in Matthew 2:1. In the original story, these are more than just “wise men”, they are magi. The magi were an elite class of ancient astrologers (precursors to astronomy), philosophers, scientists, diviners, and general collectors of knowledge originally from the region of Chaldea. They were widely known and respected in the ancient middle east for their knowledge, insight, and intellect. Daniel was one of them in his day — in fact he was the chief of the magi (Daniel 2:48 / 4:9 / 5:11). But why are these mostly Gentile intellectuals mentioned in the Christmas story?
The likely answer has partially to do with Daniel, who was chief of the magi for decades, and who was apparently quite celebrated as a wise man in his day. This celebrated Jewish wise man and prophet left behind some prophecies that we know in the Bible as the book of Daniel. And since he wrote prophetically for both the Jewish people and even Gentile kings (Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius), it is quite likely that he wrote other things for his fellow magi — including something about a great King of the Jews, who would be worthy of worship, gifts, and a long trip from Chaldea to Bethlehem. The appearance of the magi in the story of Jesus’ birth is significant to Jewish readers, Matthew’s original audience, because of the Daniel connection. These magi, after reading and studying the writings from high-ranking, magi chief Daniel, saw the predicted sign in the night sky and came from far-away Chaldea (southern Iraq).
The other part of the significance of the magi coming from afar likely comes from the many prophecies in Isaiah that speak of even far-off nations streaming to the Messiah and His kingdom. We can read, for example, “Then in that day The nations will resort to the root of Jesse, Who will stand as a signal for the peoples; And His resting place will be glorious” (Isaiah 11:10 ). And the fact that they were the intellectual cream of the world who had come to seek Him makes the point of fulfilled prophecy even more compelling.
And wise men still seek Him. Now, it would seem that the recognized wise men of our age have no interest in seeking for Jesus. The Humanist philosophy, fueled by “scientism” (something different than true science), has gained the upper hand in our age, and many of our celebrated intellectuals have “toed the line” of atheism, the shibboleth of the “cool kids”. But there continue to be wise men of every nation who seek meaning, purpose, real life, and spiritual truth. And in their seeking, they recognize the signs of fulfilled prophecy, of the “ring of truth” to Jesus’ teachings, and the rock solid testimony of the resurrection of Jesus — the ultimate proof of His identity as the Son of God.
These are seldom wise men by the “celebrity standard” — I was reading an online news article today on Einstein’s brain, and one reader’s comment questioned Einstein’s real intelligence on the basis of his steadfast belief in God; I thought, “Really?!” But they are wise in seeking the spiritual over the material, the eternal over the temporary, Jesus over the wisdom of men. They are wise in seeking hope, not in this temporary and decaying world, but in the glorious and eternal world to come — available in Jesus. They are wise to recognize their human failings and inability to gain a righteousness of their own and to seek forgiveness and righteousness in Christ.
Paul summed it up so well (being inspired by God), when he said,
“Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:20)…Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory (1 Corinthians 2:6, 7).”
Indeed, wise men still seek Him. What are you seeking?