By J.R. Miller
Matthew does not tell us much of the infancy of Jesus. There is something very beautiful, however, in the little we have in this first Gospel. It gives us a glimpse of the way the world, outside of His own country, received Him. There was no room for Him in the inn, and He was born in a stable; but Matthew shows the Far East waiting for Him and honoring Him. A little later, too, it shows Egypt sheltering Him. Jerusalem was the place where naturally the Messiah should have been first and most highly honored--but Jerusalem heard of the great event of His coming, from the Eastern Magi.
The coming of the wise men to the cradle of Jesus is an intensely interesting incident. The time was probably soon after the presentation in the temple. Paintings often wrongly represent the wise men and the shepherds together in the cave-stable, adoring the Christ-child. As the flight into Egypt came immediately after the visit of the wise men, and the Holy Child probably kept for many months away from the country, it is evident that their appearance was not at the beginning of the life of Jesus, and that they could not have been present with the shepherds.
Who the wise men were--we do not know with certainty. The historian speaks of the Magi as a priestly caste of the Medes. They were known as interpreters of dreams. They were also reputed to be observers of the heavens, students of the secret things of nature. Whatever the place of these Magi or wise men was, they were highly honored of God in this reception of Jesus Christ.
The birth of Jesus took place at Bethlehem. This was the most wonderful event of human history--the coming of the Son of God in human flesh into the world. Love was born that night. True, there was love in the world before. Mothers loved their children. Friend loved friend. Natural affection was common. But the love which we know as Christian love had its beginning in the birth of Jesus Christ. It is well for us to note, however, that the historical fact of Christ's birth, is not that which saves us. He must be born again in us.
The wise men came many hundreds of miles to find the newborn King. The journey was long, difficult, perilous, and very costly. If these men endured so much toil and danger in seeking Jesus--we should count no obstacle too great to overcome in our quest of Him. We should be ready to go thousands of miles, if need be, in seeking for Him. No search for Christ, however costly, will be without avail. He is the pearl of great price (see Matthew 13:46), and we shall be well paid for our search, though it costs us the sacrifice of all other things, and though we even have to lay down our life to find Him.
Surprisingly, this greatest event of history--made little stir in the world. A few humble shepherds came to look with wonder on the newborn Babe that lay in the young mother's arms--but that was all. The Jews had been looking for their Messiah--but did not recognize Him when He came. Their books foretold His coming; but when He came it was not known by His people that He had appeared. His advent was quiet. There was no blare of trumpets. Noise and show are not necessary accompaniments of true power. The mightiest energies in this world--are often the quietest. The grace of God always comes without observation. Angels minister noiselessly. The most useful Christians are not those who make the most ado at their work--but those who in humility and simplicity, unconscious of any splendor shining in their faces, go daily about their work for their Master.
For another thing, we do not always know when Christ actually comes to us. He had been born many months, had been welcomed by angels, had been presented in the temple and received with joy there; but Jerusalem had not known that He was there. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him--but the world knew Him not. We speak severely of the treatment accorded to Him by His own people, who were so indifferent to the coming of their Messiah. Yet, why should we complain so of the Jews? Our King is in our midst these very days--do we recognize Him?
We cannot understand just how the wise men were led to Palestine. They said they saw a star in the east, the star of the newborn King, and were led by it. There had been a great deal of speculation as to the nature of the star, whether it was a natural or supernatural appearance. But it does not matter; whatever it was--it led these men unmistakably to the feet of the Christ. Even the faintest glimmerings of spiritual light should be welcomed by us and their guidance accepted. We should not wait to know all about Christ, and to see Him in all His glory--before we set out to seek Him. We should follow the first faint gleams, and then, as we go on--the light will become brighter and we shall see more and more of Him, see Him more and more clearly, until at length we behold Him in all His blessed beauty, face to face. Certainly there is no one in Christian lands in these days that does not have a great deal more light to guide him to the Christ, than these wise men had.
The Herods have an unenviable record in New Testament history. Their hands are stained with crime. When this Herod, Herod the Great, heard the inquiries of the wise men, he was much troubled. He thought that he himself was king of the Jews, and it terrified him to hear of another King of the Jews, whom these strangers from the East had come so far to see. Hearing of Christ does not always bring joy. It brought gladness to the humble shepherds and to the wise men--but to Herod it brought great distress. His name makes bad men think of their sins--and then of the judgment. It is only when we love Christ and want to have Him for our friend--that the thought of Him is sweet and pleasant. "Unto you therefore who believe--He is precious!" Those whose faith is fixed upon Him are never terrified by thoughts of Him. There is nothing to fear--but everything to give joy and confidence to those whose trust is in Him.
Herod, himself unable to answer the question of the wise men, turned to the scribes. The wise men wanted to know where they could find the King who had been born in Judea. "We have seen His star," they said. Whatever it was that led them, we know that there was no illusion, and they were not deceived. They had been led, and they had come to the right place.
Herod could not answer their question--but he could easily learn what the Jewish books said about where the Christ would be born, so he called the priests and scribes and asked them where their Messiah should be born. It did not take them long to give the answer. They knew their Bible well. They could even give chapter and verse, and could tell the name of the town in which the Messiah was to be born. These facts were all down in their books.
Yet we do not see that they had made any use of their knowledge. They could tell the wise men where the Christ was to be born--but they had not themselves taken one step toward Bethlehem to seek for Him, nor did they become eager to see their King, when they were so close to Him. We must be careful not to repeat the mistake of these ancient teachers. Most of us know our Bible fairly well, and can tell others glibly enough where and how to find the Christ. But have we gone to the place where He is, to search for Him and to worship Him?
The scene when the wise men found the Child-king, was very beautiful. They were very glad. They saw now the child-king they had journeyed so far to find. They did not doubt for a moment that this was the object of their quest. When they saw Him, they fell down and worshiped Him. They saw only a baby lying in a young mother's arms. There was no crown on His head. No glory gleamed from His face. His surroundings were most unkingly, without pomp or brilliance. The child did nothing before them to show His royalty--spoke no word, wrought no kingly act of power. Yet the wise men believed and worshiped Him. Think of how much more we know about the Christ, than they did. We see Him in all his glory of His life, death, resurrection, and ascension. We see Him sitting at the right hand of God as King of kings, wearing many crowns. It is easy for us to find kingly marks in Him. Shall we be behind the wise men in our adoration?
The wise men did more than adore--they opened their treasures and offered the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, which they had brought all the way from their own home. The sincerity of their worship was thus attested, by the costliness of their gifts. The treasures they had brought were of great value--the most costly things they could find, the best they had to give. It is not enough to sing praise to Christ and give Him an homage that costs nothing. He asks for our gifts the offerings of our love, our service, the consecration of our lives. We need to guard against the worship that is only mere sentiment. Love that will not give and sacrifice, is neither deep or true. Giving is the test of loving. The measure of our love is what we are willing to give and sacrifice. Some people sing missionary hymns with great zest, and when the collection plate is passed--they have nothing for it. The wise men not only gave gifts--but gifts that were rich and costly. Some people give--but with such a pitiful attitude that it must pain the Master to receive their offerings. These Magi gave with gladness.
There are many ways of laying our offerings at the feet of Jesus Christ. He Himself does not need our money--but His cause needs it. The extension of His Kingdom in this world, at home and abroad, requires money; and this must be brought by His followers. Those who have no interest in the saving of others, in the sending of the gospel to those who have it not--have not themselves really tasted the love of Christ. Then we may give to Christ also in ministering to His needy ones. The latter part of the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew reveals to us this wonderful truth that those who serve the needy, the suffering, the troubled, in Christ's name--are serving Him.