Rev. Miersma is a missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches, currently serving in Ghana, West Africa.
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.
Jesus Christ, born King of the Jews, far transcends the limits of the Jewish nation. While the carnal Jews do not receive Him, the called of God come from afar, from the Gentiles, and acknowledge Him as their God and King. Of this coming of the Gentiles we have the firstfruits and prophecy in the incident of the wise men coming to visit the Babe of Bethlehem.
According to tradition the wise men were three in number and were kings. It is even pointed out from what land they came, the Orient. However, this is all a matter of conjecture. The fact of the matter is that we do not know their number and they were not kings. The Scriptures call them wise men, who in the east were quite distinct from the rulers of the Gentiles.
Several things we can determine. They were Gentiles who came to Jerusalem from a heathen country. They were magi who occupied their time by studying the book of creation, paying special attention to the starry heavens. Somehow they had come into contact with the revelation that God had given to Israel, for they knew of the expectation of the Jews with respect to the Messiah. Their definite language reveals this when they ask, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” Such knowledge cannot be learned from the revelation of God in creation. The magi must have come into contact with the Old Testament Scriptures. This is possible, for Jews had not only been carried away into captivity in Babylon, but were dispersed over the whole world. In addition, the Old Testament had been translated into the Greek language, which was the universal language at the time.
Quite some time must have elapsed before they made their visit, for immediately after they left Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary, with the Babe, fled to Egypt. That implies that the presentation at the temple after the forty days of purification had already taken place. Simeon and Anna in their old age had seen their Savior. Joseph and Mary were now living in a house. That some time had elapsed we also gather from the fact that when Herod realized that he was mocked of the wise men, he set the age limit of those to be killed at two years. This lapse of time is all proper, for salvation begins with Israel, with the church, in order then to include the Gentiles also.
They had seen His star. This is the reason why they made the long journey to Jerusalem. Although many ideas have been set forth to explain the star, none of them fit our text. The magi had seen this star in its rising in the east where they lived. This induced them to go to Jerusalem in quest of the born King of the Jews. While on their journey they did not see the star, but it reappeared when they left Jerusalem for Bethlehem. Verse 9 reads, “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.”
Indeed, unique and miraculous! Unique in that it occurred only once, at our Savior’s birth. It had followed a special course in the heavens for the purpose of being a sign of the birth of Christ. It had been predestined for this special purpose.
Miraculous! It served the purpose of grace in a special manner, and was a special symbol of the bright and morning star. It is evident that the wise men beheld in this star a sign of the coming of the King of the Jews. No doubt this revelation came to them through the Old Testament Scriptures, which speak of Israel as the stars in multitude, and of the star that would arise in Jacob, and of the expectation of the Jews that a special star would announce His coming. The wise men must also have received special assurance from God that they would see His star, and a special revelation through the Spirit that this was the star.
To Jerusalem therefore they go. Surely He that is born King of the Jews will be found in the city of the kings. Disappointed they must have been when they arrived, for the city showed no interest in their King, or knowledge that such a birth had taken place.
Even though it was natural for the wise men to go to Jerusalem, God had a deeper reason for leading them to Jerusalem rather than to Bethlehem. This reason is threefold. First, the visit to Jerusalem had to impress upon their minds that Jesus was no king of the world. That is why He was not born in a palace, but in a stable, and now lived in a lowly dwelling in Bethlehem. Secondly, it was God’s purpose that they visit Herod, who was now king. The visit would induce the occupant of the throne of David to try to kill the born King of the Jews. Already Christ was being persecuted by the power of the world. Thirdly, it was the divine purpose to reveal that Christ came to His own, but His own received Him not. Scribes and Pharisees hardened their hearts. Seeing they see not; hearing they hear not. Israel is ripe for being rejected and cast out by God.
The arrival of the magi had a profound effect on Herod. We read in verse 3 that he was troubled. “When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” Herod could only look upon the Christ child as a rival to him for the throne. He therefore attempted to find Him and kill Him, as he had done before to many others who he thought posed a threat to his kingship.
However, this is not simply history; this is also biblical prophecy. Herod’s hatred and his attempt to kill the Lord is prophetic of the opposition of the world power against Christ and His people. This opposition and persecution shall culminate in the Antichrist. The reason is that the kingdom of Christ is not of this world. He will not antagonize the kingdoms of this world by an arm of flesh, as Herod suspected. To the contrary, the kingdom of Christ is a spiritual kingdom. He will overcome the kingdoms of this world by a spiritual power. He will be King of kings, and Lord of lords! He will condemn the world and the ideals of world power and establish His eternal kingdom of righteousness and peace.
The arrival of the wise men also had its effect on all Jerusalem. They too were troubled. We are not talking now about the spiritual babes such as Simeon, Anna, the shepherds, and the many others who believed, but of carnal Jerusalem as represented in the Scribes and Pharisees. They had heard many rumors about His birth in Bethlehem, which was now announced to them through the mouths of these Gentiles from afar. When asked by Herod where the Christ would be born, they were able to give it. They knew the Scriptures. “And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel” (vv. 5, 6).
Thus, they serve to bring the Word to the Gentiles, but they themselves perish. Knowing the Scriptures and proclaiming them to others, they are not interested and do not go to Bethlehem, nor even ask the wise men to report to them what they had seen. There is in their heart no seeking after the righteousness of the kingdom of God. The coming of the Messiah can bring for them nothing but trouble and judgment.
The reaction of Herod and the Scribes and Pharisees had its effect on the wise men. No doubt at first they were disappointed. They had come to see and to worship the hope of Israel, expecting to see Jerusalem rejoicing because the King was born. Instead they find troubled hearts and ignorance of what had happened; knowledge of Scripture, but lack of spiritual interest.
However, they also had joy in their hearts. Undoubtedly the hope of Israel had been born. Therefore they did not leave for their own country but followed the directions and started for Bethlehem. And the Lord comforted them. The star that they had seen in the east appeared again and led them to Bethlehem, even to the very house. We read that they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
A strong and profound faith they expressed. They had faith, the evidence of things not seen. The Christ child was indeed Immanuel, God with us, born King of Israel, destined to rule over all things. But none of this could they see with the natural eye. All they could see was a lowly babe, weak and helpless, like all other babes. Yet, they fell down and worshiped and gave Him their gifts as an expression of their adoration.
Thus, in these Gentiles the prophecy of Isaiah 2:2, 3was realized. “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”
To these Gentiles we also belong. Even with the first weak beginnings of our Savior’s earthly life, there is a foretokening of the wide embrace of that kingdom He came to establish. Here we have the first fulfilling of the ancient prophecies that had foretold that the Gentiles should come to this light, and kings to the brightness of its rising; that all they from Sheba should come, bringing gold and incense. These wise men were the earliest ambassadors from heathen lands, the first shadowy precursors of that great company to be gathered in from the east and west, north and south, to sit down with Abraham in the kingdom of the just. In these persons, and in their act, the Gentile world gave an early welcome to the Redeemer, and hastened to lay its tribute at His feet.
In fact, they were our representatives at Bethlehem, making for us the first expression of our faith, the first offer of our allegiance. In our name they worshiped and gave the best and richest things they had. Let us also go to Bethlehem and worship our King. Let us not come with idle or empty hand, nor grudge the richest thing that it can hold, nor the best service it can render. This is true thankfulness for the great salvation that He has wrought.