Why the Wise Men Were Wise
December 2nd, 1987 @ 7:30 PM
WHY THE WISE MEN WERE WISE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-2-87 7:30 p.m.
The message tonight, as I have announced in our program, is the beginning of the Christmas season. And I have a prepared message in keeping with that theme entitled Why the Wise Men Were Wise. The reading of God’s Word is in Matthew chapter 2, “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came magoi,” anglicized into magi, and translated in the King James Version as wise men:
there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem,
Saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the East, and are come to worship Him.
When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea; for thus it is written by the prophet,
And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule My people Israel.
Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young Child; and when ye have found Him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship Him also.
The biggest reprobate that I know and the most unmitigated liar I have ever heard of in human history is Herod. “That I may come and worship Him.” No! “That I might come and slay Him.”
When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the East, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.
So many times have I read where astronomers have sought in the heavens, in their charts, to identify that star. It was not a natural phenomenon. It was a miracle from God. The same star that sent them on their journey from the East [Matthew 2:1-2], there, from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, went before them [Matthew 2:9-11]. It is only five miles and you would not have a star up there in the infinitude to glory, to guide somebody five miles here in the earth. It was a miracle from God, and that star that they saw in the East went before them:
And when they saw it, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
And when they were come into the house—
by that time, they moved from a stable to a 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 unto Him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
Now the message, Why the Wise Men Were Wise. Who were they? They could have been Zoroastrian priests; Zoroastrianism was a monolithic religion. Almost certainly they were Median priests, a priestly caste in Persia, and they were teachers of religion and philosophy.
The King James Version, as I said, calls them “wise men” [Matthew 2:1]. They were introduced to the revelation of God, which carried with it the promise of the coming Messiah, through the deportation of the Jews from Palestine to Babylon and finally, to Persia. And in their midst, as you know, in Persia was Daniel, who, in the latter days of his life, lived in the court of the kings of Persia [Daniel 8:2].
So the King James Version, calling these Median priests wise men; why “wise”? [Matthew 2:1]. Number one, why the wise men were wise: seeking God, they found Him through the stars in the astronomical heaven. How could anyone, anywhere in the earth, look up into the glory of the infinitude above us and not feel in his heart a conviction that some glorious Somebody created it?
A scholar said, and I quote him, “I have heard many of the world’s famous astronomers speak, yet I never heard one claim to be an atheist. Sociologists and psychologists, those dealing in the slippery sciences,” and I like that description, slippery sciences, “these are the atheists. But the men who are dealing with the cold, hard facts of physics in the universe are never atheists. There is too much order in the universe for an astronomer to be an atheist.”
God spoke to the shepherds by the angels [Luke 2:8-14]. God spoke to Simeon and Anna in the temple by the Holy Spirit [Luke 2:25-38]. And God spoke to the magi astronomers by the stars [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11]. Why were the wise men wise? Because they saw the hand of God in the infinitude of the universe around them. They recognized God in the revelation of Himself, in the marvelous creation, the work of His omnipotent hands [Romans 1:18-20].
Why were the wise men wise? Number two: Seeing the stars, they heard the call of God and followed Him [Matthew 2:2]. Revelation from God often calls God’s people in the Bible to move. Abraham, he was not born where he lived his life, but he lived his life in a foreign country that would afterward be received as an inheritance to his descendants [Hebrews 11:8]. God called Abraham to move, and he left his native country in southern Mesopotamia, and under the hand of the Lord, moved [Genesis 12:1-7].
Moses was born in Egypt [Exodus 2:1-8], but he lived so much of his life in the Midian desert [Exodus 2:15], and finally, in the wilderness [Acts 7:35-36]. Daniel, as I referred to, was born in Jerusalem, but lived his life in Babylon [Daniel 1-6], and in Susa, the capital of Persia [Daniel 8:2]. Paul is not noted for having been born in Tarsus [Acts 21:39], the Roman capital of Cilicia, but he is known for his missionary journeys throughout the Roman Empire [Acts 13:1-28:31].
The wise men saw and heard the call of God, and they followed after [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11]. The wise men were not called to travel an easy road. The ancient Via Maris road circled the most desolate parts of the Arabian deserts, over mountain passes infested with bandits such as you read in the story of “the Good Samaritan” [Luke 10:30-37]. Why were the wise men wise? Because of their remarkable willingness to go, to move, to follow the stars [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11]. I’ve often wondered, were the wise men the only men who saw those stars? Were they the only ones that God called to worship His Son? I don’t know, I just know they were the only ones that the Bible says saw the star and followed after.
Why were the wise men wise? Number three: they sought guidance wherever they could find it. They did not claim to be omniscient. God does not tell us the end of the trail of life, to nobody. He tells us how to start, then He leads us on, step by step, mile by mile, day by day. We must have a willingness to go, to do, to move.
These wise men began their journey guided by a star [Matthew 2:1-2]. When they reached Jerusalem, they received further guidance through Herod, the most wicked reprobate I’ve ever heard of. Then, they further learned the progression of their journey through the scribes of the people [Matthew 2:3-6]. But do you notice nobody moved but they? Herod didn’t go, not a scribe went, not a Pharisee went, not a Sadducee went; nobody went. But they did, they were wise [Matthew 2:9-11]. Finally, as they prepared to return to their home, they listened to the guidance of God through a dream [Matthew 2:12].
Why were the wise men wise? Because of their willingness to learn, to be guided by all the providences of God. No one of us can see the end from the beginning; we have to look to heaven. And day by day God will guide us if there’s in our hearts a willingness to follow after.
Why were the wise men wise? A fourth reason: finding the Christ Child, they worshiped Him [Matthew 2:11]. I wonder what they expected? They went to the capital city; evidently, they expected to find Him there. They went to Herod the king; evidently, they sought Him in a royal household [Matthew 2:3, 7]. What did they find? They found a stable for a palace; they found cows and sheep and horses and donkeys for attendants. They found a humble peasant woman for a waitress, a servant. They found straw for a bed. They found an obscure village and, at that time, it was in the boondocks, for a capital. They found nobody for an army of protectors and worshipers, yet, this Child is the Prince, the King, the Savior, the Lord [Matthew 1:23].
Why were the wise men wise? Quoting the Bible, “They fell down, and worshiped Him.” Filled with joy, they humbly knelt before the Child. They gave unto Him gifts: gold, the gift for kings; frankincense, the gift for priests; myrrh, the gift for the suffering and the dead [Matthew 2:11].
Who were the wise men in the long ago?
Not Herod, fearful lest he lose his throne;
Not the Pharisees, too proud to claim their own;
Not priests and scribes whose province was to know;
But those who followed, weary and alone,
The star that led them to Bethlehem.
Who are the wise men now when all is told?
Not the men of the world. Not the great and strong;
Not those to whom a kingly diadem belongs;
Not those whose eager hands pile high the gold;
But those amid the tumult and the throng
Who find and worship still the Child of Bethlehem.
[“Who Were the Wise Men?,” by B. Y. Williams]
I close with a beautiful prayer by the incomparable British author, Robert Louis Stevenson:
O God, our loving Father, help us rightly to remember the birth of Jesus that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise men . . . May the Christmas morning make us happy to be Your children and the Christmas evening bring to our bed thoughts that are grateful, forgiving, and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.”
[from “A Christmas Prayer,” R. L. Stevenson]
Thus beginning our beautiful Christmas season, isn’t it a wonderful and beautiful thing that has come into the life of the church? The two most meaningful and beautiful of all the seasons of the year are built around our living Lord. First, His birth, that’s Christmas [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 2:8-16], and second, His death [Matthew 27:32-50], and resurrection, that is Easter [Matthew 28:1-7; Luke 23:26-46, 24:1-7]. How blessed we are! How fortunate that we know His name, can bow in His presence, can love and serve Him all the days of our lives.
Now, Brother Doug, we’re going to sing us a song. And while we sing the song I’ll be standing right here in front of this pulpit. If God speaks to your heart tonight to accept the Lord as your Savior, or you’d like to bring your family into the fellowship of our wonderful church, or if God moves you to give your heart in a new and a deeper way to the Lord, while we sing this hymn, you come. You all down here stay right where you are. I am going to move that stand, and there will be room for you to come. If the Lord speaks the word of invitation, this is a beautiful night to respond.
All right, Brother Doug, let’s sing.
WHY THE WISE MEN WERE WISE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. The passage
B. The star not a natural phenomenon, but a miracle from God
C. Magi likely Median priests of Persia, introduced to revelation of God through deportation of Jews from Palestine to Babylon to PersiaII. Seeking God, they found Him through a star
A. Astronomers usually not atheists: there is too much order
B. Wise men saw hand of God in the infinitude of the universe around themIII. Seeing the star, they heard the call of God and followed after
A. Revelation from God often calls people to move
B. No easy road for the wise men to travelIV. They sought guidance wherever they could find it
A. They did not claim omniscience
B. Their willingness to learn and be guided by the providence of GodV. Finding the Christ Child, they worshiped Him
A. What they expected to see
B. What they found
C. They gave unto Him gifts