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,
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.
We came a bit too late to accompany the shepherds on their visit to the Babe Jesus in the cattle stall. But we did arrive exactly on time according to God’s plan, for the fullness of time had come when God’s promise would be realized that Japheth should dwell in the tents of Shem.
We, children of Japheth, were represented by wisemen from the east who had come to Jerusalem to inquire about the new heir to the throne of David, for they had seen His Star in the east.
They called it the Star. They were confident that there could be only one. And they were also confident that the Star they had seen in the east, or, in its rising, was indeed His Star. Among all the countless stars of the heavens there arose one Star, larger, different, more impressive in scintillating brightness than any other star. For many centuries, since the dawn of creation the stars in the heavens had sung the praises of their Maker. For the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth His handiwork. Night unto night shows wisdom. To Abraham as the father of all believers, and therefore to us God gave the numberless stars as a sign of His covenant seed, the church, which becomes a multitude that no man can number in the new creation. Even now the night may be ever so dark, storms may rage under threatening skies, the earth may rock and shake on its foundation, and nations may be engaged in bloody conflict, but the stars in the heavens remain serenely undisturbed as they await the renewal of all things in the new creation.
In the fullness of time Christ’s Star arose among the myriads of stars. Scientists have tried to find a natural explanation for this strange phenomenon. Some consider it a conjunction of three planets in the eastern sky. Others think it might have been a large comet or a nova. But the fact remains that there is no scientific explanation for this Star, which itself is a wonder of God, a miraculous sign of the great Wonder of wonders who has come into our lives as the Bright and Morning Star.
This Star was in its rising, even as the King of the Jews was born in Bethlehem. True, He was born in poverty and weakness, His life would be a path of suffering which reached its climax on the cross. For He was the great Servant of Jehovah who came to challenge Satan and all the forces of darkness, meeting them in mortal combat and entering into the very citadel of Satan in hell to crush him and break his power over the elect, and to march triumphantly through death and the grave to take His divinely appointed place at the Father’s right hand in the heavens. The Star arose to its zenith amid the stars of heaven. All power was given to Him in heaven and on earth. From His throne He rules the nations with a rod of iron, carrying out the counsel of God for the salvation of His people. He is, indeed, the Bright and Morning Star who sends His rays of eternal light and life into our hearts to lead us ever onward to the eternal Day. His very presence among us assures us that He is hastening toward the hour when He will appear with the clouds to take us unto Himself in the new creation, where we will shine as stars of the universe to the glory of the Father, world without end!
As wonderful as the Star itself, so wonderful is the amazing fact that this Star should appear to us in our representatives; of whom we actually know so very little. Whether only the wisemen saw the Star, and no one else, we do not know. We do not even know the names of these wisemen, whom Matthew calls magi. We sing “We three kings of Orient are,” but we do not know whether there were three. The only basis for thinking that there were three is the three gifts they brought to Jesus. Although the prophets spoke of kings coming “to the brightness of thy rising” (Isaiah 60:3, see also Ps. 68:31, 72:10), Matthew speaks of wisemen, or magi, who may have been learned men, possibly astronomers or astrologers. Nor is there any evidence that they came from the East, that is, from the Orient. They may have come from Babylon where there were still Jews remaining after the Babylonian captivity. From them the magi may have heard of the prophecy of Balaam, that “there shall come a Star out of Jacob and a Sceptre shall arise out of Israel” (Num. 24:17). Indeed, we know so very little about these wisemen, yet God has revealed that which is important for us: They are the gentiles who come from afar, for they had seen His Star in the east.
Where is He that is born King of the Jews?
We marvel at the confidence of our representatives as they take up their long journey to find the King. Was it mere curiosity that spurred them on their way? That hardly explains their confidence, their eagerness and determination. Was it pagan superstition that God used to bring them to the Savior? That also fails to explain their desire to find and worship the King of the Jews. No, here we see a second wonder: God not only displayed to them the wonder of the Star, but also added the wonder of faith wrought in the hearts of these gentiles.
With the power of grace spurring them on, these magi travel toward Jerusalem. It is not true, as we sometimes sing of the Star, “Westward leading, still proceeding,” for these men did not see the Star on their way to Jerusalem. They were on their own, and actually they were off the right course. God purposely left them with the assumption that the newly born King of the Jews would be born in the capital city, Jerusalem. God did this as much for their sakes, trying their faith, as for Jerusalem’s condemnation. What a disappointment met these magi as they arrived in Jerusalem and failed to find any evidence of celebration, any flags or banners honoring the royal Babe. A worse shock awaited them as they stood in the palace of wicked Herod, who obviously could not hide his consternation when he heard the mission of these magi. Herod was troubled, we read. He trembled in fear of God’s judgment as his throne seemed to totter under him. And all Jerusalem was deeply disturbed with him. Foreigners from a pagan country are inquiring about their promised King. They speak of a sign from heaven, a Star. Balaam’s prophecy comes to the minds of these scribes, doctors of theology. There is a recollection of recent rumors of a Babe born in Bethlehem, of shepherds, of a visit of angels. And all this in David’s city, of which Micah had prophesied! All this was so contrary to their idea of how the promised Messiah should come to them. Why, if He were indeed the Christ, was He not born of royalty, in pomp and splendor, in Jerusalem. Their pride was hurt that they had not been the first to be informed, the first to greet Him. And now, as if to add insult to injury, foreigners from heathen lands came to worship Him who was supposed to be theirKing! Since Herod insisted, they got out their scrolls and soon pointed out that Micah had spoken of Bethlehem Judah as the birthplace of one who was to rule Israel, whose goings out have been of old, from everlasting (Micah 5:2). To their own condemnation they read, informed the king, and then rolled up their scroll in unbelief. Let the wisemen continue their search, these learned men will not bother to investigate. They want no part of this Christ, the only and eternal Lord. Jerusalem heard the Word and hardened itself against it, already rejecting Him who was born King of the Jews.
Would that not be enough to cause the magi to turn back to their country in total disgust? Unwittingly they had served to harden the inhabitants of Jerusalem with another witness of the birth of the Savior. They had served their purpose and could now continue on their way.
Yet the scribes had helped them in their search by pointing their learned finger to the prophecy of Micah that spoke of Bethlehem as the birthplace of the great King. In spite of their cold reception in the palace and the total indifference of the teachers in Israel they proceed toward David’s city. It is the power of God’s grace that refuses to be hindered by obstacles and even spurs them on to seek the newborn King. Much to their amazement, help comes from Jehovah when they need it most. Amazed, yet filled with relief, they see the Star appearing once more before them and leading them to Bethlehem. We read that they rejoiced with exceeding great joy as they followed the Star. Any attempt to explain this appearance from natural causes must fail again. With renewed confidence they commit themselves unto the guidance of Almighty God, Who causes the Star to rest above the house where Mary and Joseph have sought refuge for themselves and their Baby. Confidently these strangers enter, yet they are filled with awe and reverence as they approach the object of their search, the King of the Jews lying in the arms of a common, ordinary woman.
Worshiping in Faith.
How else can we possibly explain this worship of these gentiles except as the work of Almighty God by His Spirit in their hearts? How else can we explain these costly gifts, fit only for royalty, laid down at the feet of the Babe already rejected by His own people. How else can we explain this interest in the King of the Jews if it were not that He meant so much to these gentiles? God had made them realize that their idols were but wood and stone, while Jehovah, the God of Israel, is the, only true and living God. God gave them a deep awareness that their pagan superstitions and all their attempts to appease their gods could never give them the peace they sought. Against Jehovah they had sinned, and He alone could forgive and deliver them from their sins, and that only through the promised King. They believed that the marvelous Star that appeared before them, rising in the eastern sky, announced the birth of that King. It was that deep spiritual need for the Savior that virtually drove them to Jerusalem, and from hard-hearted Jerusalem to Bethlehem to find Him who alone can save. Nothing could deter them until they found Him whom their soul sought, before whom they could bow in worship and present their gifts of praise and thanks.
These were the firstfruits from heathendom, the fulfillment of the prophecy of Noah that Japheth would dwell in the tents of Shem. They were our representatives, harbingers of Pentecost, when the Spirit of Christ was poured out and began to gather the church from every nation, and tribe, and tongue, even to the ends of the earth and the islands of the sea.
Heathen lands and hostile peoples
Soon shall come the Lord to know;
Nations born again in Zion
Shall the Lord’s salvation show;
God Almighty shall on Zion strength bestow.
O come, let us adore Him, Christ, the Lord!