Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Wise Men Who Missed The Savior

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matthew 2:1-12)

Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with the story of the wise men that traveled from the east to Jerusalem in search of the Christ child. It is a favorite subject of many Christmas sermons, children’s plays, and holiday television specials.

According to the story:

• The wise men followed a star in the sky – a star known as the Star of Bethlehem.

• They first went to Jerusalem to ask where the “King of the Jews” had been born.

• They were secretly brought before King Herod who questioned them thoroughly about their quest.

• King Herod sent the wise men to Bethlehem in search of the child, and he requested they tell him of the child’s whereabouts.

• The wise men found the young Savior, and they presented him with three gifts -- gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

• The wise men were warned in a dream not to return to King Herod.

Yes, we know about these famous wise men that traveled from the east in search of the Savior. However, there is another group of wise men who did not go to Bethlehem in search of the Christ child. In fact, these wise men missed the Savior all together.

First, I want you to know that King Herod’s wise men knew the location where the Christ child was to be born, but they did not believe the Lord had come.

When King Herod heard that there were foreigners asking about the birth of a King, he called several wise men together to advise him about the birth of the child. According to Scripture, these wise men consisted of the chief priests and scribes of Jerusalem.

This group of wise men knew a lot of things. They knew the location where the Christ child was to be born; they were very knowledgeable about Scripture and the prophecy about the birth of a Messiah; and they knew that the Messiah was to rule over the Jewish people. However, as we are about to learn, knowledge is useless without action.

For the benefit of those who do not know what the word Messiah means, it literally means “the Anointed King.” It refers to someone who is divinely chosen. Most Christians use the term Christ when referring to the Messiah, which we refer to as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

When King Herod called together the chief priests and scribes, he demanded they tell him where the child would be born. They did not hesitate in their answer to the king because Christ’s birth had been prophesized over 700 years before.

These wise men were very familiar with that prophesy and were able to tell the king that the child was to be born “in Bethlehem of Judea.”

Bethlehem is located about five miles south of Jerusalem, and has long been a place of biblical importance. You bible scholars out there may remember from the book of Genesis that Jacob’s wife Rachel died in Bethlehem after giving birth to Benjamin. Today, Rachel’s Tomb is an important Jewish holy site, and is located at the entrance of Bethlehem.

You may also recall from the book of Ruth the beautiful love story between Ruth, the humble Moabite believer, and Boaz, the wealthy landowner. Their romance also took place in Bethlehem.

Finally, you may remember that it was the town of Bethlehem that God led the prophet Samuel to in order to find a new king for the nation of Israel. It was in that small village where Samuel found a young sheepherder by the name of David.

I want you to know that King Herod’s wise men knew the location where the Christ child was to be born, but they missed the incarnation. They knew that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, but they were blind to the signs that He had been born in Bethlehem.

In fact, these so called wise men of Jerusalem would always doubt Jesus’ deity. Even when a grownup Jesus performed all kinds of miracles right before their eyes, they doubted He was the true Savior.

These men knew and believed that the Messiah would come, but they just could not accept the fact that He had come and that Jesus was that person.

Today, there are so many people like King Herod’s wise men.

• They give Jesus credit for being a good man.

• They acclaim Him as being a great teacher.

• They talk about His wonderful philosophy of life.

• They speak of Him as a great prophet.

However, all of these people stop short of receiving His gift of salvation. The facts about Jesus are right in front of them, but they just do not connect the facts with the person. They believe Jesus existed only as a man, and they do not accept Jesus as their Redeemer. They too miss the Savior.

Second, I want you to know that these wise men knew the Scriptures, but they did not believe the prophecy was really happening.

The reason King Herod’s wise men knew where the Messiah was to be born was because they knew Scripture.

When King Herod asked the chief priests and scribes where the Christ child was to be born, they immediately went to the Scriptures for the answer. They knew the right place to go to find the answer to life’s questions. They just didn’t apply the answers.

These men were well acquainted with the book of Micah, which prophesized of the birth of the Messiah.

You can find the book of Micah in the Old Testament, tucked in between the books of Jonah and Nahum.

Micah was a prophet who was born in the Southern Kingdom of Judah some 700 years before the birth of Christ. His ministry lasted some 50 years, and spanned the reign of three kings of Judah: Jotham (joe-thumb), Ahaz (A-haz), and Hezekiah.

There are a total of three prophecies contained within the book of Micah. In the first prophecy, Micah predicted the Assyrian invasion, which occurred during his lifetime. Assyria first invaded the northern part of Israel, and carried the people back to Assyria. Later they would invade parts of the southern part of Israel, but Jerusalem remained standing.

In the second prophecy, Micah predicted Israel’s Babylonian captivity, which would not happen for over a hundred years. The Babylonians would destroy the southern kingdom of Israel, to include Jerusalem. They too carried away the people, but the people were later allowed to return and rebuild Jerusalem.

In the third prophecy, he predicted the birth of Christ, which would not occur until 700 years later.

The prophecy of the birth of Christ is not only Micah’s best-known passage, but is also the central promise of his book. Micah 5:2 reads, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephrathah, (ef-rawth-thaw) though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”

Ephrathah was a district within the small village of Bethlehem. Scholars believe that Micah mentioned Ephrathah specifically because there was another Bethlehem located in the north, and he didn’t want people confused as to which Bethlehem he was referring to.

Yes, King Herod’s wise men knew Scripture and they knew about the prophecy. They had the biblical answer … but they still missed the Savior.

It is important for us to understand that we can know a great deal about the Bible and still be lost. We can know what the Bible says about love, forgiveness, faithfulness, repentance, or salvation, but we have to apply these things in our daily lives for them to mean anything. We have to put that knowledge into action, or that knowledge is of no value.

Third, I want you to know that King Herod’s wise men knew Christ was destined to rule, but they would not let Him rule them.

Once King Herod discovered that the wise men from the east had ignored his request that they tell him where the Christ child was located he grew very angry. Herod ordered the death of every child under the age of two who lived in Bethlehem and the coastal areas.

God already knew what was in King Herod’s heart. So He sent an angel to Joseph in a dream to warn him that the king planned on destroying Jesus. When Joseph awoke from the dream he immediately took Mary and Jesus to Egypt where they lived until Herod’s death.

The king’s wise men knew that it was possible the Messiah could be among those murdered by the king’s men. However, there is no biblical record that any of the king’s wise men attempted to stop the killing. As far as they were concerned the child rumored to be the Messiah was gone, along with any chance that He would rule over them.

What they didn’t know is that the Messiah lived, and that He would return again. As Jesus’ began His ministry rumors began to be spread that He was the Messiah. However, once again Jerusalem’s wise men closed their eyes to the signs that Jesus was the Christ.

Instead they would be a constant thorn in Jesus’ side. They would question, challenge, and plot against Him throughout His ministry.

We can find numerous examples of this in Scripture. For instance, during one event the scribes thought that Jesus had blasphemed because He forgave a sick man of his sins. Another time, the Pharisees questioned why Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. They also accused Jesus of being in league with Satan because He had the ability to cast out devils.

Not only were these men thorns in Jesus’ side, but they would help bring thorns to Jesus’ brow. These men rejected Jesus. They discussed how they might have Him killed. They conspired with Judas Iscariot against Him. They had Jesus arrested. They pressured the Roman authorities to have Jesus crucified. And, finally, they mocked Jesus as He hung on the cross.

So much for calling them “wise men.”

Yes, King Herod’s men knew the location of the birth place of the Messiah; they knew Scripture and the prophecy; and they knew that the Messiah was to rule over them. They had all that knowledge, but they never knew Jesus.

Today we are faced with another prophecy; this one coming out of the book of Revelation. God saw fit to give the Apostle John a vision of the future; a vision of the return of our Savior.

Many people have heard that Jesus will return again, and most Christians believe this will truly happen. It is one of the corner stones of our faith. Jesus Himself said that when we see certain signs we will know that the time of His return is near. In the book of Matthew He said:

• There will appear “the sign of the Son of man in heaven.”

• We will “see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”

• “And, he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet.”

Jesus said, “Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.”

King Herod’s wise men knew that Micah’s prophecy foretold the birth of the Messiah, but they were not ready when Jesus came, and they missed the Savior.

We too have been given a prophecy that foretells of the return of the Messiah. Will you be ready? Or, will you too miss the Savior?

Many people have heard about Jesus, but they do not act. They have heard that Jesus will return, but they do nothing.

It is important that we understand that just knowing Jesus will return is not enough. We must act on that knowledge, or we too will miss the Savior. We must seek Him out and make Him ruler over our lives.

So, why didn’t King Herod’s wise men hurry to Bethlehem to find Christ?

Why didn’t these wise men go with the wise men from the east to find this child, if they knew that the Messiah was supposed to be born in Bethlehem?

Perhaps these wise men were uninterested. They may have heard the news, but simply went back to business as usual. Even today some people are simply uninterested in making Jesus a part of their lives.

Or, maybe these wise men had good intentions on checking out the story to see if the Christ child really had been born, but they got busy with their present life and forgot. So many people in our society are so busy they don’t even take the time to come to think about Jesus, much less come to church.

Or, perhaps these wise men feared being ridiculed by the other scribes and priests. They may not have been able to handle the fallout if the rumor was proven to be false. There are people today who do not come to Christ because they are afraid of what their friends or family might say.

Or, perhaps King Herod’s wise men did not go with the wise men from the east out of fear for their life. They may have thought that if they went to seek the child that King Herod would suspect them of being a trader and possible kill them. After all, how safe could they be since King Herod had already had several members of his own family executed because he was afraid they wanted to take his throne.

What we need to know today is that “wise men risk all to seek and find the Savior.” The wise men from the east traveled a long ways to find Jesus. However, to them it was worth the effort.

Now, I want to ask you, “How wise are you?”

Are you willing to make the effort and seek the King?

Are you willing to use the knowledge you have about the Savior and take the necessary steps to accept Jesus in your life?

Yes, these wise men knew a lot of things. They knew the location where the Messiah was to be born; they were very knowledgeable about Scripture and the prophecy; and they knew that a Messiah would come and rule. But they stopped there and totally missed the Savior.

This holiday season, don’t be like King Herod’s wise men and miss the Savior.  Open up your heart and let Him in.

(Marking The Path will not be updated during the weekend of Christmas, but will return January 2, 2010. May God bless you and your family during this Christmas season and in the coming year.)

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