The Characters of Christmas: Wise Men
The Characters of Christmas: Wise Men
This sermon is part of “The Characters of Christmas” sermon series. See the whole series here.
Every manger scene includes the Wise Men and every Christmas season finds us singing the popular Christmas carol, “We Three Kings.” Have you ever considered the story of the Wise Men beyond what we traditionally accept concerning their visit? Do we focus only on the Wise Men giving gifts in order to justify our own gift-giving practices today?
Worship is what drove the Wise Men to visit Jesus. Their journey was long but their focus on finding and worshipping Jesus was intense. In the busyness of the Christmas season we may find ourselves focused intently, but on the wrong idea. The example of the Wise Men can challenge our personal worship of the King, not just at Christmas, but every day and week of the year. Sunday morning, that time we set aside to worship the King as a body of Christ, can be especially stressful, and our focus can be easily distracted from worshipping the King.
The next characters in our Christmas series are the Wise Men. Their desire to find and worship the King should cause each of us to consider our own personal worship of the King. The curtain opens, and the Wise Men begin their search for the King.
Searching for the King
It’s 7 am Sunday morning and the most stressful day of the week has begun. Our routine starts with coffee (nothing begins well without coffee). As the coffee gives you a jolt of energy, you seek to make this Sunday better than the past few. You attack the day with great optimism. You begin to wake up your children, which will go on for about an hour (with teenagers maybe two). Eventually your kids stumble out of their rooms like zombies and find their way to the kitchen to eat, then shower, and get dressed. It’s closing in on 8 am and Sunday School begins at 9 am. Frustration begins to intensify. Sunday morning is the day we come to a building to worship the King. We know his presence will be with us in the Spirit and deep down in our hearts we look forward to this hour and a half. But simply getting out of the house to enjoy this time is anything but joyful.
In Matthew 2 the story opens with the Wise Men traveling a long distance for the opportunity to worship the King. We learn in verses one and two that after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Wise Men from the East saw his star and came to Jerusalem to find the King of the Jews so they could worship him. The Wise Men were on a search for the King.
The Bible tells us they came from the East which is believed to have been Persia, possibly the city of Babylon. The journey would have taken weeks, perhaps months for that trek. They were not able to jump on Southwest and be in Jerusalem in hours. They simply took their camel from the garage and made the journey—moving at a very slow pace.
As you watch the hands on the clock getting closer and closer to the start of your morning worship service, you scramble to grab your things as you head out the door. Three minutes down the road you realize you forgot to turn on the crock pot for lunch and this begins a heated argument. Words are said that no one really means, blame is shifted for being late, and the ride to church is turning out to be a nightmare, once again. Not long after the crock pot incident, your kids in the back seat begin to argue. Their cell phones are starting to die and there is only one charger in the car. If someone does not get their phone charged, the world will surely end. Your twenty-minute ride to church does nothing to prepare your heart to worship the King.
An Interesting Response from Others
The Wise Men finally arrive in Jerusalem (Matthew 2:3-8). As they walk through the streets, they ask everyone they meet where the King of the Jews can be found. Matthew tells us that Herod the King was not very happy to hear about the King of the Jews, neither was all of Jerusalem. Since this visit was at least a few months after Jesus was born, one would think that everyone would know the King was born. Instead of feeling excited, people were troubled. This was probably not the reaction the Wise Men were expecting.
Like the people of Jesus’ time, people today have differing responses to the name of Jesus. Many are repulsed by the name, and others are confused concerning the true nature of Jesus. In 2017 we started a church. We had a couple visit the church and the wife responded to the message of salvation and trusted in Christ. A few weeks later, we went to a Texas Roadhouse to have lunch with the couple. We sat at a booth that was on the main walkway through the restaurant and where the waiters and waitresses would do the Texas Roadhouse dance (those of you who have eaten there know what I am talking about). There we sat, ignoring all the commotion, introducing a person to the King. This person was like one of the Wise Men, he wanted to see the King, so he could worship him. That day, this man’s life was changed forever, and today he worships the King. We must, with boldness, declare the truth about the King so others can come to know and worship him.
In a hurried fashion, Herod assembles the chief priest and scribes (religious leaders) asking them where the King of the Jews was to be born. This is one of those questions they can answer with certainty since the Bible tells us! They quote from Micah 5 a prophecy uttered a few hundred years before the actual event. This passage provided the GPS location everyone needed in order to locate the King of the Jews.
After Herod gets the GPS location, he summons the Wise Men. They visit with the King, who wants to know when the Wise Men saw the star (this information would be good to know as it would give us the timing, but Scripture is silent). Herod sends the Wise Men to Bethlehem to search diligently for the child. He tells the Wise Men to return to him after they find the child and tell him where the child is, so that he too can go and worship the King.
The Wise Men got the answer they were looking for, the city where they could find the King of the Jews. Finall, these men who had traveled so far, found themselves only a few miles away from their destination.
You have seen something like this if you have traveled to Disney World with young kids eager to see their favorite Disney character. When you announced you were almost there, excitement and glee consumed their expressions as they realized that what they had waited for so long is only moments away. The Wise Men were finally nearing the end of their journey and were anticipating their worship of the King.
Arriving to Worship the King
The last eight minutes of the car ride to church is in complete silence. Everyone in the car is beyond anger and unfortunately this anger stays with you for the duration of the service. Although no one at church will know because you make sure you look the part of a godly person, but deep down inside anger consumes your thoughts. You don’t really get anything from your time worshipping the Lord or from being challenged by God’s Word. What you were hoping would be an awesome day of worship has turned out to be a disaster and something needs to be done to bring reconciliation.
Back in Matthew, the Wise Men continue their journey to worship the King (Matthew 2:9-12). The star they saw moves and settles over the location where the King can be found. While we cannot be precise about the star’s identity, we can be certain this was a supernatural reality that led gentile men to come and worship the King of the Jews. The text also indicates that the star continued to appear nightly, because the Wise Men are exceedingly joyful at its reappearance in the sky.
The Wise Men, using this divine GPS system, find Jesus with Mary his mother, at her home. These details provide us clear information relative to the timing of this event. The Wise Men do not find a baby but a child. He is not in a manger or stable, but in a home.
As the Wise Men are invited into the home, the Bible tells us these men fall down and worship Jesus. They offer the King of the Jews, gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—gifts commonly given to people of royalty.
We sometimes conclude there were three Wise Men because there were three gifts, and we sometimes conclude that the gifts have some significance which we use as a reason to give gifts today. We sometimes overlook what was truly happening in the living room of Mary’s house as these gentile men from the East fell down to worship the King of the Jews.
The Wise Men are warned in a dream that they must not return to Herod to reveal the location of Jesus. Because of imminent danger, the Wise Men make the long journey home a different way that does not take them through Jerusalem.
The crock pot meal you had planned on is still uncooked on the kitchen counter, so after the service you all pile into the car and head to lunch. As you decide where you are going to eat, silence is broken when an apology is uttered. By the time you arrive at your favorite restaurant everyone is happy and reconciled. You wonder what worship would have been like had reconciliation taken place prior to entering the church to worship the King.
The Enemy works overtime to infect believers through conflict, stress, and distractions. What may look like a flesh and blood battle is really a spiritual battle designed with the purpose to divert worship away from the King. For the Wise Men, nothing would find its way between them and their worship of the King. It should cause us to consider our personal worship of the King.
Christmas continues to be “the most wonderful time of the year” but not in a way this favorite Christmas carol explains. If we are not careful, the Christmas season can be filled with decorations, cookies, vacation, snow, trees, and gifts. These are all good things and help give the Christmas season a jolt of energy. The Enemy wants to fill our lives with consumerism, however, so we forget the meaning of Christmas and shift our focus away from the King.
As I think about the Wise Men, I see that nothing got in their way to divert their attention away from their mission to worship the King. The distance to travel, the unknown location, and the troubled people in Jerusalem were not obstacles that would distract the Wise Men away from what they were intent on doing. Instead, as the star appeared, they were exceedingly joyful and when they found the King they fell down to worship and gave him their treasures.
This Christmas season, may we always consider the worth of the One whom we worship, Jesus Christ the King. Let us not allow the dinner disasters, arguments, and mishaps to get in the way of worship. May we focus our attention on the sacrifice of this King in order to make a way for sinful man to have a relationship with a Holy God. May we bring something to worship the King today, which is to live a life of obedience for his glory.
As you set out your manger scene this Christmas and place the Wise Men in it, may you be reminded of their desire to worship the King and may you be reminded that Christmas is about our personal worship of the King!
David Karn is the Senior Pastor at Grace Community Church in Goldsboro, NC.