Matthew 2:1-12 (Visit of the Wise Men)
As I sank down in my chair, I felt deeply frustrated. Another ‘through the bible in a year’ reading finished. My smartphone app congratulated me with a ‘great job,’ but it felt hollow and empty. I had read the words, but they weren’t transforming me.
Have you ever felt that way? Like you understand what you’re reading, but that it’s doing little to reach the rest of you or impact your life?
As we experience Advent once again, we’re reminded that God in Christ has broken into our world. He did it before and he can do it now, in our lives.
Let’s take a look at what he did for some intellectuals—the wise men from Matthew 2—some 2,000 years ago. Through the story of their journey to Jesus, we can learn a great deal about what it means for us to worship God freshly in our own lives today.
We don’t know a lot about them. The bible simply calls them magoi (Greek), men who were well-versed in interpretation of dreams, astrology, wisdom, magic, and sacred writings. These writings likely included the Old Testament Scriptures, since many places in ‘the east’ (v.1) had large populations of Jews who had been living there since the time of the exile.
So although the focus of their studies differs from ours, these magi were wise, careful intellectuals who have a lot to teach us. Here are five lessons that have impacted me and may be helpful to you, as scholars and academics, in re-engaging Christ as we approach Advent with a sense of fresh hope and imagination.
- Worshiping Jesus is personal. Although the wise men were intellectuals, Jesus was not simply a fact or interesting person for them. He was worthy of their worship and they were, well, emotional when they saw the star that would lead them to Christ (v.10). Jesus wants us to love him with our whole beings, not only our minds (see Matthew 22:37-38).
- Worshiping Jesus is costly. In an age before trains, planes and automobiles, this was no easy journey. If the magi came from Babylon, for example, the trip probably took about 800 miles and 40 days! They also gave the new King their very best gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh. It will look different for us, but worshiping Jesus will prove costly for us, too. For example, a vibrant walk with Christ will cut into our research and study time. I know one prominent researcher who writes a third of the papers that he could to make adequate time for Christ and his family.
- Worshiping Jesus will lead to opposition. After King Herod’s seemingly nice attempts to thwart the newborn king failed, the gloves came off and he ordered that all the male children age 2 and under in Bethlehem be killed (see Matthew 2:16). It’s unlikely that the academy’s response to us will be this intense, but we will face opposition, sometimes covert and sometimes more direct. One believing friend in academics, for example, knows that he would lose his job for openly discussing his views on sexuality.
- Worshiping Jesus will humble us. The magi were wealthy, respected, and highly intelligent. They likely traveled with large groups of attendants and servants. And yet, without shame, when they saw the child Jesus they ‘fell down and worshiped him’ (v.11). Scholars and intellectuals are not used to responding this way. It can seem foolish and weak. And yet, this is our clear calling as we encounter Jesus, the ‘wisdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:24).
- Above all, worshiping Jesus is worth it! Worshiping Jesus cost the wise men dearly in terms of their time, energy and resources. And yet, it was entirely worth it. They experienced a deep, internal joy and satisfaction in their pursuit of Christ: ‘when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy’ (v.10). They gave up a lot but gained something greater: the opportunity to meet and worship the King of Kings. No matter what God asks us to offer, giving ourselves to Christ will always result in far more blessing than we could ever imagine.
The wonderful news of Advent is that, no matter how far we’ve drifted, God in Christ has burst into our world, giving each of us fresh forgiveness, freedom and hope. I pray that God makes this just a bit more real for each of us as we approach Christmas once again.
- Be honest: as we experience Advent, are you, like the wise men, deeply and personally focused on Christ? Or, do you feel relatively flat and unenthused?
- What one small step could you take to worship Christ more deeply during this Advent Season?
Lord, help us to be honest about where we are in our relationship with you. And give us grace to grow in awe and wonder at the fact that You became one of us so that we would be forgiven and free. We ask for special wisdom to know what practical steps you’re calling us to make as we head into this Advent Season. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Notes to The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008.