Are You a Wise Person?

In Matthew 2nd chapter we are introduced to a group of men call Magi or wise men. These were men highly skilled in astrology, astronomy, predicting the future, and were sought after by kings and emperors as advisers to them. In the world of their day they would have been unsurpassed yet I believe that is not what made them wise. Instead I believe there is something else about them which in fact made them wise men and can speak to us in the 21st century.

In the beginning of the chapter we see the Magi following a star that they believe points to the birth of a king. Each of us is following our star which will lead us to the Christ child even as it did the Magi ultimately. However there is a danger here in following that star which can cause us to miss the Christ entirely.  In Matthew 2:1 it says the Magi come to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the social, religious and political capital of Israel. Its name means city of peace. One of the titles that Jesus would bear is Prince of Peace.[1] Therefore it would make sense that Jesus would be born in the city of peace. However that would be wrong.

There is a king ruling in Jerusalem called Herod. One of the meanings for the name Herod is “song of the hero”.  Herod wants to be seen and thought of as a hero. He spends over 40 years building a temple to try and curry the favor of the Jews. In the end it never happens and he will die, despised and hated by the very people whose favor he sought.

This is because of another meaning for the name Herod.  Another meaning for Herod is freeman, wanderer, fugitive, trembler and coward. It can also mean to be free or to flee.

Herod wanted to be a free man, respected and loved by the people he ruled. On the surface it might seem that he was a free man. After all he was the king, top guy in Judah, however looks can be deceiving.  For you see Herod was actually a coward who, when confronted with the truth, trembles and fears it, but rejects it, thus causing him to wander from the truth, and to become a fugitive to it.

Jew comes from the word Judah, meaning praise.  So the news that a king, the long awaited Messiah, spoken of by the prophets, should have been received as good news leading the people to praise God for the fulfillment of his word.

Doesn’t happen.  Instead Herod and everyone else see a threat and are filled with fear and consternation.  To Herod, this baby has to be destroyed, as only he can be the rightful king and be praised.

He pretends to be religious and one who wants to worship this new king. However it is all a charade in an effort to find out where the child was so Herod could have it killed. Thus no peace or rest in the city of peace, only deception and a façade. [2]

It is not wrong necessarily to want fame or fortune. However Herod’s way of self promotion and demanding respect is not the way to obtain it. In fact it can lead us to miss the very thing we say we are looking for and to kill it instead.

To avoid that mistake we need to continue to follow the Magi and see what they point us to as the means to find Christ in our lives.

As we move on we see the Magi leaving Jerusalem to go to Bethlehem where the Christ was to be born. Immediately they see a star which leads them to where the child was. [3]

Bethlehem means house of bread.   In the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to himself as the living bread which came down from heaven.[4]

So the living bread, Jesus, is born in the house of bread, Bethlehem. That is a good place to start but it can’t end there lest we die.

The church can offer us a lot of good, a place to learn and grow, worship God and enter into his presence. It can also offer forgiveness, healing and rest to weary souls. However it can also be a place of corruption, hypocrisy, power seeking and grabbing with a lot of commotion but no locomotion.  That, we need to be aware of, and avoid at all costs.

As we move on we see the Magi coming into the house where Jesus is.  They fall down and worship him, presenting gifts to him.[5]

In the Greek here the word means to kiss, lick like a dog licking his master’s hand to prostrate oneself in homage to a superior by acts of reverence and adoration and worship. This they do by offering gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and gold.

Frankincense comes from the resin of trees and was highly valued throughout the ancient world of Jesus time. It was very expensive, with a sweet smelling fragrance used for making incense, and as an ingredient in sacrifices. 

Primarily used in worship, frankincense speaks of the worship of God. However to be true worshippers of God we must die to self, which is represented by myrrh, which was used to anoint the body of Jesus at his death.[6]

This death is to allow us to become pure gold for the Master’s use.

John, the Revelator, quotes Jesus as telling us to buy gold that has been tried and refined by fire.[7]  This has a twofold purpose.

The first is revealed to us by the prophet Malachi. He says that the Lord is making up his jewels to spare and show off to the world of what he will do for a people wholly surrendered to him. [8]

However, there is a far greater purpose God has for us, and which the Magi point us.

Joseph has a dream, in which he is told to take Jesus, Mary and himself, and flee into Egypt,[9]  Had Joseph not listened and obeyed he would have died with his entire family at the hands of Herod when he comes to slay Jesus.  In the same way, Jesus is not just for us alone, but for us to take to Egypt or the world, which Egypt symbolizes.

Egypt can be a good place for awhile. We can still go to church and receive and learn from it.  However in the end there has to be more.  There must be a time when we have to be alone with God and find out for ourselves what he has for us and wants of us.

No church or pastor, counsellor, friend, confidante, can speak directly to our hearts like Jesus can, and reveal his will and plans to us.  Thus when Jesus and family leave Egypt, they go to Nazareth of Galilee and settle there. [10]   

Galilee means circle, circuit or district. It was about 90 miles north of Jerusalem. In Jesus' time it would have been about a five day journey to get there.

Nazareth meaning is uncertain but some think it may from the Hebrew word nazir meaning branch or rod.

The prophet tells us from the stem of Jesse a root shall come forth and a Branch.  It then tells us that the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him, giving him power and wisdom from which he will rule the earth in peace.[11]   

How can this be, and what part will God’s people play in it?

Jesus says in his Sermon on the Mount “Blessed are the peacemakers…”[12]

The writer of Hebrews tells us to follow after peace and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.[13]

The early church took the call to peace seriously, refusing to take up arms against anyone or to support and be a part of any group or government that did that. They also refused membership to anyone in the military or government. By doing this they obtained a reputation as those who turned the world upside down.[14]  They also were admired for how they loved one another.  It was this attitude that took the early church from a small persecuted sect to a major force, which can change our world today.

The Magi message now points us to Christ and the cost it takes to follow him and change our world. It is not for the faint-hearted or those wanting to play it safe. It is, however, for the brave who are willing to go forth planting seeds of love and peace in all whom they meet.

It is to recognize no enemies, no inferiors or superiors, no sexual differences but only fellow travellers and seekers of truth, like us.

As we extend brotherly love towards all we meet we come to realize we are all born of God and loved by him.[15]  

This is the message of Jesus to his church today, and what the early church would tell us today too.  May we take that message to heart and run with it and change our world leaving our world far better than we found it.  Amen.

[1] Isaiah 9:6

[2][2][2] Matthew 2:1-8

[3] Matthew 2:9-10

[4] John 6:51

[5] Matthew 2:11

[6] John  19:39

[7] Revelation 3:18

[8] Malachi 3:17

[9] Matthew 2: 13-15

[10] Matthew 2:19-23

[11] Isaiah 11:1-16

[12] Matthew 5:9

[13] Hebrews 12:14

[14] Acts 17:6

[15] I John 5:7-8