“When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
The wise men, the three kings, the magi . . . tradition has made these visitors of Jesus to be seen in different ways. We Christians may scoff at wise men in Nativity sets: “The wise men don’t belong in the manger scene! They didn’t get there for two years! They weren’t kings! We don’t know how many there were!” They have become, in many of our minds, the others; strange rich men who came from far away to see the newborn King. They are mysterious; their names aren’t given, and their place of origin is simply referred to as the East. They are outsiders to our usual Biblical narrative that largely follows the Jews up to that point.
The wise men are included in the Gospel of Matthew not because they are a novelty, but because their inclusion was one of the first indications of the new normal for the early New Testament church. They were outsiders, but they were welcomed to worship the newborn King of the Jews as their own King. Matthew himself was also seen by the Jews as an outsider. Working as a tax collector for the Romans, he was seen as a thief and a traitor. The Pharisees disapproved of Jesus’ meal with Matthew and other sinners (Matthew 9:9-13).
Near the end of Matthew’s Gospel, the future of the New Testament church comes into greater focus as Jesus laments His rejection by the Jews: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37) Jesus’ sincere sadness over the lost souls shows the necessity of being part of God’s family.
We are outsiders, too. We sinners are not born into God’s family; we are adopted as sons and daughters of the King through Christ’s vicarious atonement and the work of the Holy Spirit. “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-6) “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:19) Seeing the wise men as strange foreigners from mysterious lands misses the point of God’s plan of salvation. Jesus Christ came to seek and to save the lost.
The wise men assure us that we, too, are included in Christ’s saving work.
They were not Jews who had found assurance in the promise of the coming Savior since youth. They were educated men, following a miraculous star. Through the Holy Spirit, they recognized the miraculous and strange nature of this newborn King.
May the truth of our own welcome into God’s family fill us with joy, and hope for the blessings to come in our heavenly home. And may our hearts be moved to share this good news with the others in our lives.
Ross Kok is a teacher at Holy Cross Lutheran School in Phoenix, Arizona.