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The Wisdom of the Wise Men


The account of the coming of the Wise Men stands out as one of the highlights of the Christmas and Epiphany seasons. That account should be especially important to us, the believers of the Gentile nations. We look to the Wise Men as the first of the Gentiles to know and worship Jesus as their Savior and Lord. When they arrived in Jerusalem following a long and arduous journey, they immediately began asking about the newborn King. It seems they expected the entire nation to be caught up in the excitement of this momentous event, the coming of the long-promised Messiah. Yes, the question they posed was regarding the birth of the King of the Jews, but they made it evident that they had come to worship Him. This was something more than the usual honor paid when a new crown prince was born. They were searching for their king, a spiritual king.

The Wise Men reported that they had seen His star in the east. This miraculous star piques our curiosity. We want to know what it looked like. Many have attempted to find a natural explanation for this star. Others are focused on how it directed the Wise Men—how did they know to follow this star? In what manner did it direct them on their journey? We know only what the Scriptures reveal. This was a special star, a special heavenly body that the wise men in some manner knew was significant, and that announced for them the birth of the promised Messiah.

We need their wisdom. How did they attain this wisdom? We know that for centuries the kings of the eastern world had “wise men” (magi) upon whom they called for counsel and advice. Sometimes they were seen as magicians who conjured wisdom by mysterious powers. Others studied the stars not only as astronomers seeking to understand the universe but also as astrologers seeking signs from the sky from which they would derive their counsel for their king. Some would associate the wisdom of these Wise Men with such practices. However, such superstitious practices do not present true wisdom that leads to God or to salvation.

Then again, the wise men of the ancient world ought not to be dismissed as intellectually challenged; the libraries of the ancient world demonstrate the exact opposite. Indeed, writings from the east, the area from which these wise men came, form the framework of our legal system and still very much influence our modern society. They were indeed great thinkers. But it was not their superior I.Q. that gave these men the wisdom to search for and worship the Lord Jesus.

We know that “God made foolish the wisdom of this world” (1 Corinthians 1:20). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). It is knowing God’s Word that leads one to God and our Savior Jesus Christ. So it has always been, and so it shall be until the end of the world. While we will not be able to fully explain the wonder of that special star this side of heaven, we can be confident that it was access to and the reading of the Word that was used by the Holy Spirit to give the wisdom of salvation to these Wise Men who came from the east to worship Jesus. Perhaps the Word came to them from the Jews scattered by the Babylonian captivity, or from the writings of an earlier wise man named Daniel.

May the Holy Spirit lead us through His Word to a richer measure of this wisdom, so that we eagerly seek Jesus in our lives, worship only Him, and honor Him with our offerings.

Theodore Barthels is pastor of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Austin, Minnesota.