Thursday, December 3, 2009

THE WISE MEN, by Wayne W. Livesay

"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, Behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem."

In the second chapter of Matthew we see events which are usually presented in con­junction with the birth of Christ, but which actually took place twelve to eighteen months later. Christmas programs usually picture shep­herds visiting the stable, and before they move from the stage three wise men appear on the scene.

The Word of God shows that the shep­herds came to a babe in a manger but the wise men visited a young child in a house. Let us remember that these wise men came from the east, which could have referred to Babylon, India or perhaps China. No fast modes of travel were available and there were very few roads except for the camel paths used by traders of that area. The actions of King Herod after he was out­smarted by the wise men adds further proof that the wise men came at a much later time than the shepherds. The wicked king set out to kill all the male children from the age of two years old and younger which clearly indi­cates that there was a considerable lapse of time before the visit of the wise men. The decree from Herod was to make sure that the young Jesus could not survive.

It was very significant to note that the journey of the wise men was a westward trek. In the Old Testament record we see that every time the tabernacle was set up in the wilderness the open door always faced the east. This made it necessary for the priests to turn their backs to the east and move west­ward as they entered the tabernacle. East is the favored direction in all pagan worship, so man, if he is to worship the true and living God, symbolically turns from the east and moves in a westerly direction. It was no acci­dent that these wise men came from the east.

How many wise men were there? Although most artists and Christmas story writers have settled upon three as the number, there is no Scripture to substantiate the claim. They brought three gifts, but the number of wise men could have been two or 102. The important thing is to see the purpose of their visit and the meaning of the gifts they brought with them.

They came to worship, but what power moved them over those many miles to see the Saviour? When we accept the simple truth we will say that they saw a star and then followed it until they found the young child. We have no record that anyone else saw the star and it is an injustice to Scripture to assume that they did. The man who denies the sovereignty of God will have a lot of difficulty with this point for there is no other way to explain this event but to realize that God chose these men and revealed unto them the message of Christ's birth. They responded as the elect of God always do. Whether it be an Abram living in a pagan land or a Saul on the road to Damascus, people receive salvation when God's selec­tive grace moves in their direction. This is not a religious work, not a reformation, not sim­ply a changing of the mind. Salvation is a divine revelation.

The gifts brought by the wise men picture the three aspects of worshipping Christ. The order in which they are mentioned is also of much importance as they give forth the message of Christ to a lost and dying world.

GOLD - The first substance mentioned among the gifts from the wise men was GOLD. Literal gold is referred to as the ultimate in wealth and power. In the symbolic sense, gold represents purity, that which is precious and of a divine standing. A study in the struc­ture of the Hebrew tabernacle teaches us that numerous articles of the furniture con­tained pure gold or wood overlaid with gold. In type, these all spoke of the deity of the Messiah who was to come. Today, in fulfill­ment, the first order in the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ is to see Him as God. Unless we see the child of Mary as the Son of God, we miss the basic point of worship.

FRANKINCENSE - Frankincense is a gum which comes from trees in Arabia, Africa, and India. It was used in tabernacle worship as one of the ingredients in the incense used at the altar of incense. Frankincense put forth a sweet aroma and as such it was a type of the human perfection of Christ. This reveals to us the second point of worship as Jesus was perfect in every aspect of his humanity. He did no sin and no guile was found in Him. At the outset of His ministry, John the Baptist said to Christ, “I have need to be baptized of thee,” while at His trial Pilate stated, "I find no fault in this man." In all true worship of the Lord Jesus Christ we must recognize His sinless humanity.

MYRRH - Myrrh, the gum from a small tree grown primarily in Arabia, has a strong and bitter taste. The myrrh tree produces no fruit, but it is important to note that numerous thorns are put forth from every branch. Thorns first appeared as a result of sin when Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Gen 3:18). All through the Word of God thorns are used as a symbol of sin as the path of man's depravity pollutes all of mankind with the legacy of eternal death. This renders man hopeless and alienates him from God's blessing and fellowship.

At Calvary, Christ was lifted up as the one and only mediator between sinful man and a Holy God. It was very appropriate that the crown He wore was fashioned with thorns, for every king must be properly dressed for his hour of coronation. Peter saw the significance of the scene when he recorded, "Who His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree" (I Peter 2:24).

The pattern for worship becomes complete when we see Christ as DEITY, as PERFECT HUMANITY, and as the one who SUFFERED FOR OUR SIN. The gold, frankincense, and myrrh reflected the true wisdom of men who traveled for several months in order to see their Saviour. At this season of the year, when the world speaks of these wise men, let us proclaim the real message of their visit with a renewed zeal so that others might see the child as the Saviour who bled at Calvary for their sin.

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