Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. Matthew 2:1-12
How many of you have a Nativity scene in your house for Christmas? I know we have maybe half a dozen plus on in the yard. They all have Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. If yours are like ours they also have shepherds, an assortment of animals and three wise men. As long as I can remember the wise men are there at the same time as the shepherds. Yet when we read Matthew’s account of the wise men, it would seem that they came long after the shepherds. Maybe even two years after the birth. How do we know this? First, they came from a long way off. Most likely from Babylon or Persia as this was ground zero for astrology at the time. Also, men from this area would have been somewhat familiar with Jewish scripture due to the exile of the Jews to Babylon and the fact that Daniel was an important person in both the Babylonian and Medo/Persian courts.
Another hint that the visit happened up to two years after Jesus was born is the fact that Herod in an attempt to get rid of a possible rival to his throne had all male children two years old and younger killed.
Matthew is silent on how many wise men made the journey. Tradition has three most likely because three different gifts are mentioned. Once again we are left to speculate because Matthew does not say if there was one or more than gift of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
So, does it matter that we do not know how many there were or exactly where they came from? It shouldn’t. God did not think it necessary to fill in all the details. In fact I think the most important part of the wise men’s visit was the worship. Here we find one of the first times Jesus was worshiped. This time not by lowly shepherds but by learned men.
What make this especially telling is that for Jews only God was to be worshiped. Here we see a Jewish family allowing Jesus to be worshiped. If this was not Immanuel then what was happening would have been blasphemy. Instead God came into time and stayed with us.
Have a blessed day,