FIRST CHRISTMAS Series

  • We celebrate the coming of Jesus to earth each year at Christmas time. But what were the impressions, responses, and transformations of those involved in the very first Christmas? In this series we'll look at those first impressions, and in them, learn how we can and should respond to the reality that God in the Person of Jesus came to earth to bring transformation to human beings who respond to His love and grace. 
3. The Wise Mens' View (Matthew 2:1-12)
  • The wise men (also called magi) who came to see Jesus after His birth lived hundreds of miles away to the East, and they were not at all Jewish. What was their view of this most important event? Let's see what insight the Scriptures provide.
Sermon Preparation Guide
  • Importance – What are the central ideas of the text?
  • The coming of Jesus as Messiah is the fulfillment of prophecy. Matthew 2:4-6
  • Some will accept the messiah; others will reject Him; others will simply ignore Him. Matthew 2:2-5
  • Jesus is indeed the Messiah and He is worthy of our worship and our offerings. Matthew 2:10 & 11
  • Implications – What questions should the listener be asking?
  • What does it mean to you that Jesus‘ coming is the fulfillment of prophecy?
  • What is it that causes people to reject or ignore Jesus?
  • What is your response to Jesus’ birth?
Talk it Over Discussion Guide
  • Interpretation – What is the text telling/showing us?
  • Why did Matthew tell the story of the wise men coming to worship Jesus? What was important about the wise men?
  • What did the wise men understand about Jesus which led them to want to travel to see Him?
  • Why did the wise men come to Jerusalem?
  • What were King Herod’s thoughts and motivations in the way he responded to the inquiries of the wise men?
  • What were the thoughts and response of the chief priests and scribes to the inquiries of the wise men?
  • Why did King Herod gather the chief priests and scribes? How did King Herod know to equate the baby born king of the Jews with the Messiah?
  • Describe how the wise men responded to actually seeing the baby Jesus? Was there a progression in their understanding of this baby from verse 1 to verse12, and what was that progression?.
  • Implementation – What should the listener’s response be?
  • How does God reveal Himself to us? How did He lead the wise men to understanding about Himself?
  • What is it about what the wise men did that is laudable and you can learn from in your response to Jesus?
  • Compare the responses to Jesus of the wise men, of King Herod and of the chief priests and scribes? What do those responses tell us about responses to Jesus even in today’s age?
  • If you came to know of good news about a great event that could change your life, how would you respond?
  • Why should we worship Jesus like the wise men?
  • What gifts can we give to Jesus?
  • Who is the central character in the story told in these verses?
Sermon Teaching Notes (as prepared by Pastor Dick Murphy)
  • Investigation – What’s generally going on in this area of Scripture?
Jesus has been born in Bethlehem to Mary and Joseph; the shepherds have come to see for themselves the actuality of what the angels had told them, then left praising God and telling what they had seen and heard. In this study concerning the wise men, we find that more time has passed, perhaps as much as nearly two years, since Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:1, 16). During this time period from Jesus’ birth, there were certain wise men from the east who came to know from the appearance of a special star about the birth of the king of the Jews. Who were these men and how did they respond to what they learned?

The wise men, also referred to as “magi,” were from “the east.” These men were likely from Babylon in Persia (present day Iraq), and they were members of a class of individuals who were students of astrology, dreams and magic ,and who were particularly interested in the future and predictions about the future. They were also students of books written about these things, and about the activities of the deities in human affairs. (To get an idea about the ancient wise men, read the Old Testament book of Daniel in which the wise men of Babylon play an important part.) These men often became influential advisors, and could be wealthy as well, reaping significant compensation for their counsel. Given their interests and the fact that they could help others in their understanding of life and events, it was also the case that there were frauds who posed as wise men to make money by providing supposedly meaningful advice. The wise men in the text certainly do not appear to be such. Note that they were not kings themselves, and the description of them as “three kings” from the orient is not Biblical but is rather a later tradition that developed in the telling of this story. In any case, these wise men were students of the heavens and literature concerning events and the future, and they would use their learning and inquiries to discern and learn about events and people. Apparently, they had observed a special star (Matthew 2:2), which must have been a new celestial body or light of some kind (presumably appearing supernaturally, as there are no historical astronomical events that correlate with this star from that time). They deemed this new star to be “his star” (Matthew 2:2) and linked it to the birth of a “king of the Jews.” Perhaps they had read Numbers 24:17, or Isaiah 60:1-3, or Psalm 72, all of which speak of a Jewish king to come. If these wise men were indeed from Babylon, where there was a sizable Jewish community dating from the days of Daniel, that fact lends credence to their knowing Jewish Scriptures.

The wise men were so interested in the event and the coming of this one born king of the Jews that they wanted to come to worship him. At this point, their “worship” was likely homage to a new king as opposed to worship as we would understand it. So they left their homes to travel to Israel, a trip of some 800-900 miles which would have taken months of travel for the wise men to arrive at their destination, particularly if they were traveling with an entire entourage in caravan fashion which seems likely given their status in their own country. But they were determined to find this king, so to Jerusalem they went, supposing that this Jewish capital city would be where the baby would have been born. They arrived in Jerusalem and began asking about where the one born “king of the Jews” might be. Word of their arrival and questions quickly circulated and reached King Herod, who was the Roman appointed monarch of the area, having been so named in 40 B.C. Herod is referred to as Herod the Great and was of Idumean descent (Edom). He was wealthy, gifted, loyal to Rome and an excellent administrator. He initiated and completed a number of grand building projects in the territory, not least of which was the Temple in Jerusalem. However, he was also ruthless, having killed off all those of the Hasmonean family who had ruled before him, including his wife who was of Hasmonean descent. Because of his Idumean background, the Jewish authorities considered him a pretender to the throne, and hated him as a result. In the later years of his reign, which in fact was the time frame for the events of Matthew 2, he was even more paranoid about those who would oppose him, and also suffered an illness which fed his paranoia. He even killed two of his sons, among other associates, who were deemed to be a threat to his rule. You can imagine his thinking when he heard the news about these wise men who had come visiting Jerusalem and asking about a supposed king of the Jews. Matthew 2:3 says he was “troubled” and adds that the rest of the city was troubled as well, wondering not so much about the answer to the question of the wise men as about what King Herod might do!

King Herod gathered the Jewish authorities, namely the chief priests and scribes, and interestingly inquired about this “king of the Jews” by asking them where the Messiah was to be born. How did he know to ask about the Messiah as opposed to a king? Apparently King Herod had sufficient knowledge of Jewish writings and beliefs, and of pagan beliefs concerning stars and their purported predictive value, to know both about the expected Messiah and about astrological predictions, and he connected this knowledge with the baby the wise men were seeking to find. The chief priests and scribes were the Jewish religious hierarchy and were the experts in Jewish Scriptures and teachings; they were principally made up of Pharisees and Sadducees, two groups that did not like each other to say the least. Perhaps the King brought both groups in at the same time to be assured of accurate responses to his questions, with the one group balancing the other. These individuals knew the answer to the King's question immediately, and quoted Scripture from Micah 5:2 and II Samuel 5:2 to indicate that this ruler would come from Bethlehem. This was the answer the King needed, as he then summoned the wise men for a secret meeting to find out when the star appeared and send them on a “fact-finding” mission and instructed them to bring a full report to him. One thinks that he had already made up his mind to kill the child, this threat to his own throne, based on the events that occurred subsequently (Matthew 2:16). All he told the wise men, however, was that he wanted to worship this child along with them.

So off they went to Bethlehem (Matthew 2:9). The star that they had seen was still in the heavens, and it seemed to lead them along until it “stopped” over the place the child was located (Matthew 2:9). As they saw the star, they “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” (Matthew 2:10) What a marvelous response to knowing they were about to reach the end of their “quest” to find this king of the Jews. Everything they had studied and inquired about was coming to pass! Presumably through discreet inquiry in this small village, whose residents already knew of the baby from the shepherds who had come months earlier (Luke 2:17 & 18), they found the house where Jesus was living. That Jesus and his earthly parents were now in a house, and that Jesus is referred to as a child rather than a baby, are additional indications that significant time had elapsed since Jesus was born. Upon seeing the child with Mary, the wise men immediately bowed down and worshiped him. They then showered Jesus with gifts from their treasures, specifically gold, frankincense (a valuable incense) and myrrh (a valuable perfume). It was important in the eastern cultures for one to give gifts to superiors; so in this situation, it was quite appropriate and even expected that the wise men would give gifts to this new “king of the Jews.” We don't know how long these wise men spent with Mary, Joseph and their child, though one would think that having traveled so far and for so long, they would have spent some amount of time at least to talk and share with the parents and to hear from them what had transpired. In due course, they determined to return to their country; but they were warned by God in a dream not to return to King Herod, and thus they traveled home via a different route, by-passing Jerusalem entirely and adding many miles to their journey.

So what was the view of these wise men of the coming of Jesus? These were men who sought knowledge from outside themselves, in their case, from the stars and other heavenly bodies, from literature, from the writings of various religions including Judaism, and from dreams. It might be said that they were “seekers” of the truth, though undoubtedly many never found truth. Nevertheless, in their searching, they discovered the baby born to be “king of the Jews.” That discovery was brought about by God's sovereign leading through the star as much as by their own study. Yet they were indeed diligent in their study and did believe that one had been born who already was king of the Jews at birth (in contrast to one who was to become king), and who had his own star to signify his birth. This level of revelation to the wise men convinced them sufficiently that they undertook an arduous trip to Jerusalem, likely at great expense and personal cost, where they anticipated this child would be. They recognized that there were forces at work beyond themselves, and that those forces were focused on the birth of a baby. Did they understand that this was the work of the sovereign, all-powerful God of the universe? Probably not, though they were familiar with the Jewish Scriptures and presumably the God of those Scriptures. Yet they pursued what was revealed to them and sought after its meaning. They knew enough that this king of the Jews was worthy of worship, and they intended to do just that (Matthew 2:2). They experienced extraordinary joy is discovering more fully what had happened, as the star “led” them to the actual place where this child was living. And they worshiped Jesus, and gave Him gifts. As they listened to the whole story from Joseph and Mary, one can surmise that their spiritual eyes were opened further. At the very least, these non-Jewish wise men responded to the extent of their revelation, and responded with the appropriateness of worship, even if they did not fully understand who they were worshiping and exactly why. Yet they worshiped, they who were outsiders to God's work and His people; and in them we see that indeed God was in the process of bringing salvation to “all the people” (Luke 2:10), not just to His chosen people. And the contrast between the response of the wise men and that of Herod the Great and the chief priests and scribes is remarkable. To King Herod, this baby born king of the Jews was a rival, an enemy even; he was one to be eliminated no matter what the words of Micah 5:2 and II Samuel 5:2 said. The only thing King Herod was concerned about was his own power, his own ego, and his own self-preservation. To the chief priests and scribes, who knew the Scriptures and knew of the promise of the Messiah, and who expected that God would provide the Messiah for His people, this baby born king of the Jews sparked nothing in them by way of understanding, curiosity, or recognition. These ones, who should have responded given the revelation which they now had from God, were apathetic, uncaring and spiritually blind to what was happening. Here was news that a baby had been born that seemed to be the fulfillment of the very Scriptures they quoted to the King, and yet they did nothing, they felt nothing, and they believed nothing. And eventually, the successors to these Jewish leaders would reject Jesus outright as Messiah and ultimately arrange for His execution.


What a lesson to learn from the wise men, namely to seek after the truth with diligence, and with confidence that God will let Himself be known, and to respond to God in worship and devotion. God has shone the light of His grace and mercy in Jesus, offering in Him salvation and eternal life itself. Like the wise men, all should seek after this light and open up to to it. God is still calling people today. Would that people will respond in belief and worship.