It is not known who these wise men were. Their names and dwelling-place are both kept back from us. We are only told that they came “from the east.” Whether they were Babylonians or Arabs we cannot say. Whether they learned to expect Christ from the ten tribes who went into captivity, or from the prophecies of Daniel, we do not know. It matters little who they were. The point which concerns us most is the important lesson which their story gives us.
1. True Servants in Unexpected Places
These verses show us that there may be true servants of God in places where we should not expect to find them. The Lord Jesus has many “hidden ones,” like these wise men. Their story on earth may be as little known as that of Melchizedek, Jethro and Job. But their names are in the book of life, and they will be found with Christ on the day of his appearing. It is well to remember this. We must not look round the earth and say hastily, “All is barren.” The grace of God is not tied to places and families. The Holy Spirit can lead souls to Christ without the help of any outward means. Men may be born in dark places of the earth, like these wise men, and yet like them be made “wise for salvation.” There are some travelling to heaven at this moment, of whom the Church and the world know nothing. They flourish in secret places like the “lily among thorns,” and seem to “waste their sweetness on the desert air.” But Christ loves them, and they love Christ.
2. Those Who Give Christ Most Honor
Second, these verses show that it is not always those who have most religious privileges who give Christ most honor. We might have thought that the scribes and Pharisees would have been the first to hasten to Bethlehem, on the slightest rumor that the Savior was born. But it was not so. A few unknown strangers from a distant land were the first, except for the shepherds mentioned by St. Luke, to rejoice at his birth. “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11). What a mournful picture this is of human nature! How often the same kind of thing may be seen among ourselves! How often the very people who live nearest to the means of grace are those who neglect them most! There is only too much truth in the old proverb, “The nearer the church the farther from God.” Familiarity with sacred things has an awful tendency to make men despise them. There are many who, from residence and convenience, ought to be first and foremost in the worship of God, and yet are always last. There are many who might well be expected to be last, who are always first.
3. Head Knowledge Without Heart Knowledge
Third, these verses show us that there may be knowledge of Scripture in the head, while there is no grace in the heart. We are told that King Herod sent to inquire of the priests and elders “where the Christ was to be born” (verse 4). We are told that they gave him a quick answer, and showed an accurate acquaintance with the letter of Scripture. But they never went to Bethlehem to seek the coming Savior. They would not believe in him when he ministered among them. Their heads were better than their hearts. Let us beware of resting satisfied with head knowledge. It is an excellent thing when rightly used. But a person may have much of it, and still perish everlastingly. What is the state of our hearts? This is the great question. A little grace is better than many gifts. Gifts alone save no one; but grace leads on to glory.
4. Spiritual Diligence
Fourth, these verses show us a splendid example of spiritual diligence. What trouble it must have cost these wise men to travel from their homes to the house where Jesus was born! How many weary miles they must have journeyed! The fatigues of an Eastern traveler are far greater than we can at all understand. The time that such a journey would occupy must have been very great. The dangers to be encountered were neither few nor small. But none of these things moved them. They had set their hearts on seeing him “who has been born king of the Jews” (verse 2), and they never rested till they saw him. They prove to us the truth of the old saying, “Where there is a will there is a way.”
It would be well for all professing Christians if they were more ready to follow the example of these good men. Where is our self-denial? What pains do we take about means of grace? What diligence do we show about following Christ? What does our religion cost us? These are serious questions. They deserve serious consideration. The truly “wise,” it may be feared, are very few.
Fifth, these verses show us a striking example of faith. These wise men believed in Christ when they had never seen him; but that was not all. They believed in him when the scribes and Pharisees were unbelieving; but that again was not all. They believed in him when they saw him as a little infant on Mary’s knees, and worshiped him as a King. This was the crowning point of their faith. They saw no miracles to convince them. They heard no teaching to persuade them. They saw no signs of divinity and greatness to overawe them. They saw nothing but a newborn infant, helpless and weak, and needing a mother’s care like any of us. And yet when they saw that infant, they believed that they saw the divine Saviour of the world! “They bowed down and worshiped him” (verse 11).
We read of no greater faith than this in the whole volume of the Bible. It is a faith that deserves to be placed side by side with that of the penitent thief. The thief saw someone dying the death of a criminal, and yet prayed to him, and “called him Lord.” The wise men saw a newborn baby on the lap of a poor woman, and yet worshiped him, and confessed that he was Christ. Blessed indeed are those who can believe in this way!
This is the kind of faith that God delights to honor. We see the proof of that to this very day. Wherever the Bible is read the conduct of these wise men is known, and told as a memorial to them. Let us walk in the steps of their faith. Let us not be ashamed to believe in Jesus and confess him, though all around us remain indifferent and unbelieving. Have we not a thousand times more evidence than the wise men had, to make us believe that Jesus is the Christ? Beyond doubt we have. Yet where is our faith?