Every Thought Captive

Wise Men

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.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the Child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the Child, to destroy Him.” And he rose and took the Child and His mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

Matthew 2:1-15

My sister has a pet peeve: nativity scenes that include the wise men. By far most of the nativity scenes we see during the Christmas season include the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, a couple of shepherds, and an angel – which should all be there as they were the key characters present when Jesus was born. Yet, most of the nativity scenes include three wise men. As we study Scripture, it is pretty easy to tell that the wise men did not arrive in Bethlehem until about two years later.  Matthew 2:11 refers to Jesus as a “child” and not as a “baby.” It also says that rather than in a manger, the wise men found baby Jesus in a “house.” It is also why King Herod, upon hearing of the threat of another king being born, ordered all the baby boys in the vicinity of two years old and under to be killed. My sister is correct about the error in most nativity scenes; however, the wise men tell us a great deal about the lengths those who care most about seeking Christ will go to in order to know God.

We typically see three wise men in the nativity scenes, although there could have been an entire entourage of wealthy, learned men who traveled a very long way from the East. We do not know exactly where that was, but we do know these wise men were also astronomers who studied the stars. They had noticed a very large star in the sky and were led by God to mount their camels and head in the direction of that star to find out who this newborn King was. 

Perhaps the Magi had a copy of the Jewish Scriptures, and they told them when the Messiah would come:

“A Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel.” (Numbers 24:17)

“And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.” (Is. 60:3)

“A multitude of camels shall cover you, young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba [the Magi’s homeland] shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD.”  (Is. 60:6)

When this star appeared before them, and they seemed to have learned the King of the Jews would come, they were compelled by God. They were moved by Him to set out on this very long pilgrimage to find and worship this new born King that was prophesied.

They even had enough understanding of what God was doing in sending His Son that they brought with them gifts for the Child, which symbolized their understanding of this King of the Jews:

  • Gold, for Magi from the East never came before a King without it.
  • Frankincense, a cinnamon incense that priests used to cover the odor of burning sacrifices. A gift for a priest.
  • Myrrh, an anointing substance for embalming and burial, something used only for a sacrifice. 

You are probably familiar with the rest of the story. When they arrived in Jerusalem, they came to the Roman King Herod first, seeking his knowledge about this supposed birth of the King of the Jews. Scripture says Herod and all of Jerusalem were rattled by their question. So, Herod called in all of the learned Jewish spiritual leadership of the day to see if they knew anything about this Baby’s birth. They easily pointed to the prophecy in Micah 5, which said the Baby would be born in Bethlehem. Then Herod privately talked with the Magi, getting a little more information as to the timing of this star’s appearance, and asked them to come back and tell him where the child was once they had found him so he too, could worship him. And apparently, he told them, “Bethlehem is 8 miles southwest of here, so be on your way.” The star guided them to Mary and Joseph’s house, and upon seeing little Jesus they fell to the ground, worshiping Him with a joy we can only imagine! After the gifts were exchanged and probably a robust evening of eating and enjoying the moment in history, the men were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they went back home via another route.

What baffles me as I read this story is that the most learned Jewish men, those who gave spiritual leadership to the Jews in Jerusalem, cared so little about checking out the truth of the prophecy that they quoted so easily to Herod. What a contrast their actions are to those of the Magi. The Magi had only pieces of Scripture to go on and an unusual star that caught their attention, and yet they traveled probably over a year to get to see baby Jesus. The Jewish leadership and scriptural experts didn’t care enough to walk 8 miles to Bethlehem even though their knowledge of God’s Word clearly told them this would happen. 

One of Satan’s favorite tactics is to trick Christians into believing we know God when in reality, we just know a lot about God. None of us are immune. Knowledge, even knowledge of Scripture, can puff us up when mixed with pride and not love (I Corinthians 8:1). We can go to church every Sunday, join Bible studies, never fail to be present, do all the homework, have all the answers, read lots of Christian books, and listen to Christian podcasts, but if we aren’t alert to the craftiness of Satan, these means of Grace will not change us by teaching us more about our Lord and Savior, Jesus.

What are some of the signs we are not growing in our knowledge of God?

  • We are unhappy with our life circumstances, but rather than seeking God, we stuff emotions down and develop a fake pretense of trusting Him.
  • We pray when we are with other Believers, but privately, we rarely pray deeply and intimately to our Lord.
  • We jump to applying convicting Scripture to others way before we apply it to ourselves.
  • We are “stoked” when we have the opportunity to hang out with the popular and respected Christian leadership of the day, and we love to quote them when given the opportunity.
  • We are so busy, that after hearing a wonderful message at church, we move quickly on to the next duty we have before us rather than applying it to our own lives.

Even though I am writing these things, I find it very convicting. I am often tempted to know more about God and not grow in my personal knowledge of Him. And yet, it’s absolutely amazing that the God of the universe wants a personal relationship with me! 

How do we stay in pursuit of the knowledge of God without becoming arrogant and prideful, and thus not caring about seeking God, as the religious leaders in Jerusalem apparently had done?

A friend I respect deeply challenged me to read the classic book, Knowing God, by J.I. Packer.  Packer offers four practices we can implement to guard our hearts against such deception from knowledge:

“First, listening to God’s Word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets it, in application to oneself; second, noting God’s nature and character, as His Word and works reveal it; third, accepting His invitations and doing what He commands; fourth, recognizing and rejoicing in the love that He has shown in thus approaching you and drawing you into this divine fellowship.”

May we be men and women who humbly and passionately seek after a deep knowledge of God the Father by following His Son, Jesus, who has made a way through His death and resurrection for us to know Him and make Him known. Wise men and women seek Him with all of their hearts.

About the Author

Photograph of Kari Stainback

Kari Stainback

Senior Director of Women's Ministries

Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Kari has been the Director of Women’s Ministries for nearly 25 years, where she has experienced one of the greatest joys of her life, which is seeing many women grow in their love for Christ and His Word as they have participated in Bible studies and events over the years. Kari received a Masters in Biblical Counseling from Dallas Theological Seminary in 1997. She has the privilege of using her counseling experience to exhort and encourage the women in our church family. Kari loves being with her family and friends and enjoys being an aunt to 11 nieces and nephews and 9 great nieces and nephews.