Matthew 2:1-12 Sermon – Journey of the Wise Men

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Today we are going to talk about one of the most famous journeys in the Bible, the journey of the wise men to visit Jesus.  Like us, they were not only on a physical journey, but were also on a spiritual journey. We will learn from them four aspects of the attitude we must have if we want to draw close to Jesus this Christmas.

Matthew 2:1-12 –

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.

Background – Before we get into the meat of the passage, we will quickly look at a few common questions about the background of this.

When did the event take place?

Most Christmas movies have the wise men arrive in Bethlehem right as Jesus is born. Most nativity scenes show the wise men at the manger together with the shepherds. In verse 1 it says that they they arrived in Jerusalem AFTER Jesus born. And in verse 7 Herod asks them when the star first appeared, implying that when the star first appeared is when Jesus was born. After that it would have taken considerable time for the wise men to travel to Bethlehem. And in verse 11 it says that they were welcomed into a house where the young child was together with Mary. Jesus was in a house at the time, not a stable. Finally, Herod killed all of the young male babies two years old and younger. So the wise men likely arrived in Bethlehem up to two years after Jesus had been born.

Who were the wise men?

Verse 1 tells us that they were “magi from the east.” Nothing else is said about their origin here. The word used for magi is the same Greek word from which we get the word “magician.” A similar group of people is mentioned in the book of Daniel. They are the group of advisers to the kings of Babylon and Persia. The king calls upon them to solve difficult mysteries, riddles, or dreams. Daniel himself belonged to this group. And he was admitted only after he studied for three years in their university.

In the Chinese Bible the word used for “magi” or “wise men” is PHDs. This reflects the idea that they were the highly learned of society. They were very well educated.

Were these wise men part of this same group from Persia? The Bible does not say, but it is possible that they had knowledge about YHWH and the coming Messiah from Daniel’s influence in the Persian kingdom. Through Daniel’s influence various kings in Babylon issued several empire-wide decrees recognizing Daniel’s God as the one true God. The fact that these Gentiles came to worship King Jesus is a reminder to us of the Old Testament prophecy found in Isaiah 49:6:

“You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus’ birth was a light to these Gentile wise men.

What is the star that they were following?

Have you ever wondered about the star they were following? Was this star like the stars we see (or perhaps don’t see here in this city)?

This star was very unique. In verse 9 it says, “the star which they had seen in the east went on before them until came and stood over the place where the Child was.” We see that it led them directly to Jesus. That is quite amazing. The star was like a GPS beacon leading them right to Jesus. No ordinary star can do this.

I will give you a simple test to see if you can follow normal stars in this way. Try going outside at night and looking up and following a star until you are directly under it. Can you? Normal stars are so far away you can’t possible tell if you are directly under it or not.

But this star was different. It was a supernatural light. It must have been within the earth’s atmosphere to lead them in this way. Some have speculated it was an angel shining as a light to lead them on. Perhaps it was.

Whatever it was, it tells us a simple lesson: God wanted those wise men there. He used miraculous means to make sure they came to the truth.

Application: God can use any and all means to bring people to Himself. The normal means He chooses is to use people like you and me to spread the good news. But God also is not limited by us. If He has called someone and they have responded positively to the little they already know, then He will show them more.

God has not only revealed His Son to the wise men. He also revealed Him to us. The wise men had an amazing story to share of how God led them to Christ. If you are a follower of Christ, you also have an amazing story to share. I hope you will find someone to share it with this Christmas season.

The wise men were not only wise in the eyes of the world. But they were wise in God’s eyes.

Proverbs 9:10 says that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

They were spiritually wise because they sought to know about the one true God and His Son. This desire to worship the king set them off on an amazing journey. We are going to look at four important aspects of the attitude they showed in their journey and from those learn important principles that can be applied to our spiritual journeys as well.

  • Their journey was a journey of sacrifice.
  • Their journey was a journey of faith.
  • Their journey was a journey of worship.
  • Their journey was a journey of obedience.

Their journey was a journey of sacrifice.

Traveling at that time was far different than it is today. They couldn’t just jump into a car or hop on a plane and set out and arrive later that day. Traveling was lengthy, wearying, and dangerous. We don’t know how they traveled, but the fastest way at that time was camels. Even if they took camels it would have been a lengthy trip of perhaps months.

Sometimes when I travel on a plane I feel uncomfortable because I’m a little bit tall and the seats are too close together for my legs. Let’s be honest for a minute, have you ever complained about air travel? Yet there is air conditioning, padded seats, and attendants to bring water and food whenever you click a button.

Side Application: Next time you are on plane don’t complain about the seats, but instead thank God you are not walking or riding an animal!

Have any of you ever ridden a camel? Was it comfortable? I have ridden a camel once and it wasn’t. Desert weather often varies greatly between the heat of the day and the cold of the night. There would be storms. Towns would be few and far between. It would also be dangerous. Maps were incomplete. Roads were not well developed. And there were a lot of thieves and bandits around.

Their journey was uncomfortable, inconvenient, and time consuming. We all have our comfort zones. Within those nice little areas we are OK, but often we are not willing to go outside of them. Would traveling on a months long journey by camel through the desert without a clear destination take you outside of your comfort zone? It would for me! The wise men sacrificed their own comfort for the King.

We should do no less.

Jonah 2:9 says, “But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”

Think for a moment about what God might be calling you to give up for the sake of following after Him.

  • It could be half an hour less in bed in the morning so that you can study the Bible and learn more about your king.
  • It could be sacrificing your luxurious lifestyle or even cutting down on the amount of expensive food you eat so that you can give sacrificially to the king.
  • It could be to stay in a city or country far from home longer than you planned because the king has called you to serve there.
  • It could be to take you out of your comfort zone by approaching new people in the church and starting conversations with them or inviting them to your home.

We are not called to a life of comfort and ease. We are called to a life of sacrifice.

Their journey was a journey of faith.

Imagine a friend asking them before departure. Where are you going exactly? We don’t know. How will you find them? Not sure about that either. How long will you be gone? Emm. That is yet to be determined. “Wow, for wise men you guys don’t know very much do you?”

The wise men didn’t have a lot of information in front of them. Though there was evidence in Scripture and the star itself, there was no 100% proof that they would find the King they were looking for. But they believed. We see evidence of this in their journey and also in verse 2 when they ask Herod “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

They believed that Jesus is the King of Jews and that this star would lead them to Him They were not the only ones to see the star, but most people ignored it while they took action. They had faith that it was a sign from God announcing the birth of Christ. They seemed to know some of the Scriptures and what the prophets had said about him and believed.

This belief led to action. They were willing to sacrifice comfort and security to see and worship him. They were willing to face the ridicule of their friends. They were willing to leave their homes, their places of comfort. It would seem they were also willing to forego their means of making money for this period of time. Not only were they not paid, but they brought expensive gifts with them. Why? Because of faith.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

These verses show us why the wise men did what they did. They hadn’t seen Jesus, but they were convinced of the truth of His birth. And so they set off in faith. And their faith was rewarded.

2:10 – When they saw the star they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.

God did not abandon them in the middle of their journey. Notice in verse the wise men say they saw the star in the east. And verse 9 says that “they had seen the star in the east.” While they were still in their own country before setting off they saw the star. Evidently in the middle of the journey they did not see the star for a while, which is why they went to Jerusalem, perhaps expecting the King of the Jews to be born in the capital and asked about where He would be born. But then at the very end of their journey God revealed the star to them again and they were overjoyed to see this sign from God once again and know they were nearly there.

From this we learn two simple principles:

  • Following God’s plan for your life is a joyful thing. When you know you are where God wants you to be, you too can rejoice with great joy.
  • God guides us to where He wants us to go, but He may only show you one step at a time. While He did this partially supernaturally for the magi, He also did this through His Word. Both the prophecies they knew and the one they didn’t that we read in verse 6 that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem guided them to their destination. God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.

We can learn from the faith of the Magi. When our King calls us, we must respond to any challenges and set off on the journey He has prepared for us, knowing He will reward our faith too.

The faith God wants us to have is much like a child jumping into his father’s arms. Illustration: When my boys were growing up and learning to swim I would sometimes ask them to jump into my arms in the pool from the edge. The first time was difficult. But after they jumped they learned I would catch them. The next time was easier and easier. Faith in God is much the same. If you jump, He will catch you. Your faith will be confirmed and as you see God’s faithfulness you own faith will be strengthened.

Throughout history, people of faith have been willing to respond to the challenges of the unknown over and over again.

Illustration: One example is William Cary. He was a shoemaker when one day he heard of the millions of people in India who had not heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. He believed the great commission to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.” He believed that that verse was speaking directly to him. So he volunteered to go to India. But he was not applauded, he was scorned.

A minister told him, “Young man, sit down. When God wants to convert the heathen, He will do it without your help.” Cary went anyway – supporting himself. For seven years he worked without seeing a single convert – but by the end of his life he saw hundreds of churches and thousands of converts. Today he is known as the “Father of Modern Missions.” He was a man of faith.”

Application: What about you? What journey of faith is God calling you on? Perhaps He is calling you to give up a job that is not bringing you closer to Him…but the salary is sooo nice. Will you have faith to quit and trust Him with the result? Perhaps you are single and want to be married, but the person interested in you is not a follower of Christ. Will you decide in faith to say “no” to that person trusting that God’s plan for you is perfect?

Each of us faces different challenges that need faith. But we have one Lord. And He will be faithful no matter what you face. If you know you need to embark on a journey of faith, but haven’t yet taken the first step, let today be the day.

Their journey was a journey of Worship.

Matthew 2:11 says, “After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

After a long journey, they finally arrived. Their action was very simple. They fell to the ground and worshiped. Have you heard of the popular Christmas song, “We Three Kings?” The Bible does not actually say they were kings. But they were well educated. Just the fact that they could travel to Jesus from abroad and bring such expensive gifts tells us they were rich. The magi were important people and likely used to having people serve them.

What did they do when they saw this young child? These great men who were full of wisdom and knowledge prostrated themselves on the ground before Him. Their actions showed humility and great faith. When you have visited with a friend with a new child, have you ever bowed down to worship the child? If so, please don’t raise your hand and admit it here!

This act was highly unusual. Very few people understood what this boy was, and what He would do, but it seems like at least in part the magi understood. Their faced many inconveniences on a long journey of faith and once they arrived all they could do was bow in worship.

What a great response! Jesus, the God-Man deserved their worship. Philippians 2:10 says that one day “every knee will bow” at the name of Jesus. The wise men were the very first in recorded history who ever did that. No one told them to. No one made them. They chose to worship him. They were the first of many.

Revelation 7:9-12 – After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.

This baby is not in the manger anymore. He grew up and died and rose again, conquering sin and death and Satan in one swoop. Now He is on His rightful throne. One day there will be a grand celebration in heaven as people from all tribes and tongues are going to be face to face with Jesus worshiping Him. Does this picture excite you? Do you look forward to it? If you are a believer in Christ then you will worship Jesus there.

We don’t have to wait to worship Jesus. Like the wise men, we can worship him now.

And worshiping Jesus is more than simply bowing our knees or saying we worship him. The wise men gave Jesus gifts to demonstrate their worship.

These gifts have a lot of symbolism associated with them. Many people have suggested that each gift shows a certain aspect of Jesus’ life and person.

Gold represents wealth. It is a gift fit for a king. (Jesus was the King of Kings)

Frankincense is the sap of a tree that was dried and hardened and used as incense to worship God. Thus we see a gift for his deity. (Jesus was the Son of God)

Myrrh is a fragrant perfume that was used to anoint the dead – to embalm and preserve them. (Jesus was The Sacrificial Lamb)”

We don’t know if the magi were conscious of the symbolism of these gifts or not, but it would appear that God in His sovereign plan used these gifts to show us who Jesus was and what He would do.

In 2 Samuel 24:24 David says he wouldn’t offer sacrifices to God that cost him nothing. We can see that the gifts the magi offered were treasures fit for a king. They weren’t stingy. They didn’t send servants to give them either. They went themselves. Their worship cost them a large amount of time and expense.

Application: For us we need to learn that worship requires sacrifice, both of our time and expense. In Romans 12:1 it says, “Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” That means that everything we have and even our very being must be devoted to God. It could mean something big like giving up a job. But more often it is the small daily decisions to sacrifice that are difficult.

I love popcorn. And sometimes at night I make a big bowl of popcorn. I add some hot butter, salt, parmesan cheese, and popcorn seasoning. I take it back to the room and get settled in ready for my tasty evening snack and then my wife Christy looks over and says, “Oh! That looks good. I am so hungry. And starts devouring it.” In my mind I might be thinking, “Nooo! Anything but my popcorn!” I have a decision to make. Will I sacrifice my own desire in this little thing? Sacrifice is a way of worshiping God. And though it may sound funny, I can worship God by sacrificing my desire for popcorn. Every little decision we make is a decision to either put ourselves first and act like we are the king or to put others first and serve Christ as our king.

God has called us to a journey of sacrificial worship in the little things as well as the big things.

Their journey was a journey of Obedience.

Matthew 2:12 says, “And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.”

This is the first direct command we see they received from the Lord to the wise men. They could have made lots of excuses for disobeying.

  • Perhaps returning through Jerusalem was the fastest way back.
  • Herod seemed genuine and nice, surely it wouldn’t be dangerous to tell him about the boy on the way out.
  • It was just a dream.

But they didn’t second guess what they knew God had commanded them. They followed a simple command with simple obedience. It doesn’t seem like a difficult thing to do, and it wasn’t. But a lot of times people disobey simple commands from God. Obeying this simple command was extremely important. It gave Joseph and his family time to escape before Herod murdered all the babies in that town. Disobedience could have been disastrous. One could argue that God would have saved Jesus in another way if the magi disobeyed and that is probably true. But we can also see from this that God uses our obedience to accomplish His plans.

If we trust in God and have a humble attitude to worship Him, our lives will also be characterized by obedience.

Conclusion: The wise men came to worship the king. They sacrificed their time and energy. They inconvenienced themselves. They presented him with marvelous gifts. On Christmas we too remember King Jesus.

He is worthy of our sacrifice.
He is worthy of our faith.
He is worthy of our worship.
He is worthy of our obedience.

Here are a few questions you can consider as you get ready to celebrate Christmas with the right attitude like the wise men:

  • Is He the center of your traditions?
  • If He joined your Christmas party, would He feel like the king?
  • Finally, I want to leave you with one question to think about. On Christmas we give and receive many gifts. But Christmas is supposed to be celebrating Christ’s birthday. So what gift can you give to Jesus this year?
  • And some of you reading today have perhaps never yet made Christ your King. Maybe you don’t like where you journey is led you or even don’t know where you or going. Today you can begin a new direction in your life. Pray to the Lord and ask Him to be your King. 
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