From a distance, the wise men saw so much. At the same time, Jewish King Herod and his best advisers were oblivious to the most important moment the people of Jerusalem could imagine, the coming of the Messiah just six miles away from Herod’s court.
How do you see so much from afar? How do you miss such a big event when it’s happening right under your nose?
The wise men, most likely astrologers who advised rulers living in what we now call Iraq, responded to a sign in the sky by packing their camels and making a months-long journey to Jerusalem. For them, whatever was going on in Jerusalem was huge, and they needed to get there despite the hardships.
When the wise men arrived, however, no one in Jerusalem seemed to know what they were talking about. Jewish King Herod had to ask the wise men when the sign in the sky had occurred, despite having consulted with his chief priests and scribes.
So much for the “Little Drummer Boy” television version of Christ’s birth, where a star shines so brightly that its tail points toward the manger like a neon sign at a roadside motel.
The best astronomical explanation for the wise men’s sign in the sky probably lies in a series of conjunctions involving Venus and Jupiter near the constellation Leo and its bright star, Regulus. Such conjunctions would have screamed “a king is born in Judah” to these astrologers while going unnoticed by others. (For a detailed explanation of this theory, view this slide show.) It’s also possible the star was a supernatural event, unusual in that it was intended for the wise men and no one else.
Regardless of exactly what motivated the wise men, it seems God spoke to them in signs for a simple reason. They were seekers. They spent their lives anticipating great events, looking for signs in the skies. God grants guidance to those who actively seek his will.
I’m not suggesting everyone take up astrology to hear from God. In this case, I think God simply was speaking to these seekers in a language they understood.
They also were the kind of men who were not afraid to go out into the world. These weren’t ivory-tower academics. They knew how to get those camels across the desert; with God’s guidance, they knew how to deal with the evil, wily Herod, heading home “by another way” to keep the Christ child safe.
And perhaps most importantly, they were ready to respond to the truth that had been revealed to them. They accepted God’s revelation, and they acted accordingly, honoring the Savior of the world.
The wise men stand in stark contrast to the corrupt King Herod, a man who sought his own glory rather than that of the God he should have been serving as the leader of the Jews. In many worldly ways, Herod was a great king. Certainly, he was a great builder, expanding the Second Temple and building the fortress at Masada.
He also was mercilessly shrewd, murdering his own wife and two of his children when he began to consider them threats. That ruthlessness is seen again in what we call “the massacre of the innocents,” the slaughter of all children in Bethlehem under the age of 2 in an attempt to kill the Messiah. Blinded by his worldly concerns, Herod could not have seen God’s glory if the baby Jesus had been born at his feet. Here was a Jew who should have spent a little time studying Psalm 2.
It’s not hard to see which model we should follow. Like the wise men, Christians should be seekers of God’s truth, listening for God’s sometimes subtle answers.
As seekers who begin to hear, it also is important to respond bravely. Do we put our possessions and even our lives at risk? What is our equivalent of getting on a camel and riding into the desert?
I would like to know more of the wise men’s story. I feel certain they were changed forever by the experience. For some reason God chooses not to give us those details through Scripture, however.
At least we are allowed to make a similar journey. We can be wise men and women ourselves, pursuing and worshiping Jesus as the Christ.