Socrates was called the wisest man in Athens. After diligently examining the wise men of his famed city, Socrates concluded that he was the wisest man in Athens because at least he knew he did not have the answers.
Where would you begin a search for wisdom in American culture today? Perhaps wisdom comes from the type of questions asked rather than the specific “sources” of wisdom consulted. Let us approach this lesson on the birth of Jesus by asking key questions.
First, how does one search for wisdom (Matt. 2:1-2)? All people are searching; yet, some people do not know for what they are searching. The search for something “more” is universal. Matthew highlighted the universal nature of search message through his mention these gentile astrologers who belonged to the upper echelons of their culture. Luke described the universal search through his story of lowly, outcast shepherds seeking.
The wise men modeled a proper method in the search for wisdom. First, the wise men responded to the revelation they received from God. They likely received two forms of revelation from God. The Jewish population of their home country likely told them about God’s promise connecting a star with a ruler from Numbers 24:17. Even Roman historians noted a wide-spread expectation of a ruler coming from Judea possibly due to Jewish telling of this prophecy. As well, they sensed a God-moment in the movements of a star. Second, the wise men’s search was costly. They pursued wisdom through a costly, long journey. An individual diligently pursuing wisdom regardless of cost will find it. Third, the wise men asked questions. In their homeland, they were the individuals others approached with questions. The men were not so prideful that they refused to ask. Fourth, the wise men were committed to change if necessary. They came to worship. Although the term could be translated “do homage,” the term occurs 13 times in Matthew to describe the proper response to Jesus. In other words, true wisdom is found in a person and a relationship.
Second, what hinders the search for wisdom (Matt. 2:3-8)? Herod was famed as a skillful diplomat and builder. Herod modeled the search method of fools. First, he sought to protect himself. He became troubled at the mention of one “born king of the Jews” because he regarded this one as a personal threat. Further, Herod practiced pretense and deception by expressing a desire to worship the newborn king. Even after receiving the message of the prophecy of Micah 5 delivered through the chief priests and scribes, he failed to act. No one discovers wisdom through deceptive practices.
The wise men searched for wisdom with a humble, honest, and costly attitude. Herod pretended to search for wisdom with selfish, apathetic, and deceptive attitude. The men deemed wise by their contemporaries discovered true wisdom. The one impressed by his position and power died without wisdom.
Third, how should one respond to the dis-covery of wisdom (Matt. 2:9-12)? The wise men encountered Wisdom incarnate—wisdom in the flesh – the Jewish Messiah, Son of God named Jesus. First, they responded with joy (v. 10). Secondly, they worshiped Jesus. Third, they offered gifts.
From the days of the early church, believers ascribed symbolic meaning to the gifts of the wise men. Gold symbolizes deity. Since incense was a part of temple worship, some thought incense symbolized Jesus as priest. Myrrh was used to anoint bodies thus this gift symbolized the death of the divine priest. Perhaps the gifts expressed the true heart of worship. His deity means He has the right to rule us—even our “gold.” Incense symbolizes our heart of worship—a beautiful fragrance. Myrrh symbolizes our death to self.
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