It’s almost Christmas and I am prepping to preach on the 28th about the wise men. It’s probably the most miss-told part of the Christmas story. Sometimes I wonder if folks take the time to read the Bible account at all, by the way we tell this story. But I’m not here to rant today. I simply going to align a few facts to the only gospel account we have of these folks.
Spoiler Alert - The following may make you want to go out and get new Christmas cards.
So here are 6 myths about the wise men that we should re-think.
Myth 1: The wise men worshiped at the manger. In fact the wise men showed up after the birth of Christ, and met Him “in the house” (Matthew 2:11)
Myth 2: The wise men worshipped baby Jesus. In fact they showed up as much as two years after the birth of Christ. Herod asks very pointedly when the star appeared, and then later kills all the children in Bethlehem under the age of two. In the account in Matthew 2:8 Jesus is referred to as a child, not an infant, or baby, as He is in Luke 2:12.
Myth 3 & 4: They were kings from the orient. They were probably not from what we would now call Asia and were not kings. The famous Christmas carol calls them Kings of Orient, but this word ‘magi’ refers to they kind of folks Daniel and his friends met in Babylon. In fact the word is not a Greek word, but more likely Babylonian in origin, and points back to a word used by Jeremiah to describe Nebuchadnezzar’s chief councilors. The only other time the word shows up in the New Testament is in Acts 13 where Barnabas and Saul (Paul) meet Elymas the magician.
My guess (yes - guess) is that they were students or scholars of astronomy or perhaps students of religions from Babylon who would have studied the history of Israel from documents that nation stole when they raided the temple, and from wisdom gleaned when Daniel was put in charge of the lot of them during his captivity.
Myth 5: There were likely more than three in the party that traveled to Israel. We get three because there are three gifts enumerated, but we really don’t get a number. Even if they came in on camels dressed like we dress our kids in Christmas pageants, they probably would not have stirred the whole city up. If however a caravan of dozens or even hundreds descended on Jerusalem, it may have put the city in a bit of an uproar.
Myth 6: If they came from the east (vs 1) and they saw the star in the east (vs 2) they didn’t follow the star to Jerusalem. My guess (yep - there I go again) is that they discerned from their learning that this star was the star had something to do with Israel, so they went to Jerusalem. There they learned they needed to go to Bethlehem and in Bethlehem the star did guide them.
Hey - I could be wrong about all of this, but I encourage you to read the account found in the pages of your Bible (or at BlueLetterBible.com) and check it out for yourself. I don’t begrudge anyone a Christmas pageant, but the true story has plenty of drama and mystery without making stuff up.
Here’s the story from Matthew 2 in the NASB - enjoy - if you still can.
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “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.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:
6 ‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH,
ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH;
FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER
WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.’”
7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” 9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 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. 12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.
Hope I didn't break Christmas for you.
Walk in the light.