John H, Hopkins, Jr.
We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.Refrain:
O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.
Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign.
Frankincense to offer have I;
Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, voices raising,
Worshiping God on high.
Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorr’wing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.
Glorious now behold Him arise;
King and God and sacrifice;
Sounds through the earth and skies.
Matthew 2:1-12 (MEV)
The Visit of the Wise Men
2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, wise men came from the east to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who was born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”
3 When Herod the king heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where Christ should be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:
6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are no longer least among the princes of Judah;
for out of you shall come a Governor,
who will shepherd My people Israel.’[a”
7 Then Herod, when he had privately called the wise men, carefully inquired of them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring me word again, so that I may come and worship Him also.”
9 When they heard the king, they departed. And the star which they saw in the east went before them until it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with great excitement. 11 And when they came into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary, His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 But being warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they returned to their own country by another route.
Yesterday, I revisited the account of the shepherds; today, I’d like to take a closer look at the wise men from the East. First, a bit of clarification:
- They are (most likely) NOT three kings– at least not in the literal account given in Matthew. (See more about the number and possible names and places of origin of the wise men in various traditions here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_Magi)
- They did not arrive alongside the shepherds on the night of Christ’s birth. Again, tradition says they may have arrived as early as twelve days after his birth, or up to two years later. Matthew’s account is very vague. It quotes the prophesy about Bethlehem, but does not say that this is where the wise men actually found the child (notice that Matthew does not call him and infant or babe). Their arrival in Jerusalem to make inquiries suggests that some time had elapsed, and the travelers were expecting to find ready knowledge of the birth (or perhaps the child himself) in the capital city.
- They came “from the East”– which leads me to ask: Why were there no wise men in Judea studying this star and its significance? These wise men had traveled for weeks or months, bringing gifts. They were ready to honor a king they knew only from a few prophecies and their study of the night sky. Matthew’s account tells of their arrival and their questions. They came looking for “the king of the Jews”, suggesting that they were aware of some of the prophecies about Messiah, but they were unaware of Micah’s prophecy concerning his birth in Bethlehem. Yet the scholars and wise men of Jerusalem were “disturbed” rather than elated or excited by these revelations. God had not spoken through the prophets of Israel for over 400 years, but He had not forgotten His promises, nor had He abandoned His people. They, however, had lost their desire to study the prophecies; they had lost much of their hope and faith. Not everyone had fallen into complacency– the book of Luke points out two specific people who eagerly awaited the coming of Messiah (See Luke 2:21-40).
But it is not just the wise men that capture my attention…it is that miraculous “Star of Wonder.”
Scholars debate whether or not the “star of Bethlehem” was an actual star or another astronomical event. See one good explanation here: https://www.timesofisrael.com/can-astronomy-explain-the-biblical-star-of-bethlehem/
I am not an astronomer, but everything about this story brings a sense of awe… If this was an actual star (either a new star or a star exploding into a supernova of intense bright light), its light would be traveling several millions of miles, even light years to be visible on Earth. The star would have to have been burning several years before the birth it announced, and its light would have to reach the Earth in coordination with the events taking place across the vast emptiness of space. If the “star” was actually a configuration of planets or another astronomical event, the same impeccable timing needed to be activated across the span of eons– just waiting for this exact moment for all the planets and other cosmic elements to align. It is yet another incredible example of God’s sovereignty and omniscience that all of time, space, history, politics, and celestial objects came together to fulfill multiple prophecies given over multiple centuries and studied by people the world over.
What can we learn from all this? I pray that we would be open to the wonder and awe of every aspect of the Advent and Nativity. I pray that we would seek as intently as these wise men of the East– that we would not be “disturbed” and taken aback when God fulfills His promises and sends signs and portents. And I pray that we would shine in such a way as to draw people to the wonder of the Savior, even those from distant lands who have never heard the gospel.