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VISIT OF THE WISE MEN
III. QUAR., LESSON III., JULY 15, MATT. 2:1-12
Golden Text—”They saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down and worshipped him.”—Matt. 2:11
VERSES 1,2. That even the Gentile world was in expectation of the coming Messiah (Luke 3:15) is manifest from this visit of the wise men (Greek Magi, sages) from the east—possibly from Persia. The term originally belonged to a class of priests among the Medes and Persians who constituted the king’s privy council and who cultivated astrology, medicine and occult and natural science. Ancient authors make frequent reference to them. Later the term was applied to all eastern philosophers.
In the far east, the Chinese and Japanese and other nations have cherished a very ancient tradition that God would descend to the earth in visible form, to enlighten men and to redeem them from their sins. Tacitus, Suetonius and Josephus all testify that there prevailed throughout the entire East at this time an intense conviction, derived from ancient prophecies, that ere long a powerful monarch would arise in Judea and gain dominion over the world. Virgil, who lived a little before this, tells that a child from heaven was looked for who should restore the golden age and take away sin. Confucius, in China, about B.C. 500, prophesied the appearance of such a deliverer, and a deputation of his followers going forth in search of him was the means of introducing Buddhism into China. Zoroaster
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taught the Persians that a pure virgin would bring forth a child, and that as soon as the child would be born a star would appear, which he added, “follow wheresoever it leads you, and adore the mysterious child, offering your gifts to him with the profoundest humility. He is the Almighty Word, which created the heavens.”
These expectations doubtless arose from the intermingling of the Jews with foreign nations. The Prophet Daniel was himself associated with some of their wise men. (Dan. 2:48.) His prophecies were made known to them, and the calculations by which he pointed to the time of Messiah’s advent. These in course of time were woven into their literature. Nearly all of the ancient religions are confessions of human need: and in their blind gropings in the dark, they reveal the depths of man’s degradation and misery.
The miraculous star in the east, for which some of the Gentile wise men had been taught by a mere vague, groping superstition to look, finally made its appearance, and guided those blind feelers after God to
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the wonderful light of the world. Thus kindly God condescends to human ignorance and weakness. “A bruised reed will he not break, and smoking flax will he not quench.” All men will in due time have full, clear testimony to establish their faith in the Holy One of Israel and all who love righteousness will gladly accept him. Those who now can walk by faith have all the evidences which hopeful, loving faith requires. But none the less shall all the doubting Thomases and all the now blinded world in due time have the more tangible evidences in store for them. But more blessed are those who can now walk by faith.—John 20:29.
The inquiry of the wise men (verse 2) betokened a proper condition of heart—(1) It showed that they had respect and reverence, and that they desired to render homage to the mighty God of Israel, and to his messenger to men. (2) It showed faith in the divinely inspired prophecies which had been irregularly interwoven with their own vague ideas and traditions. (3) It showed their zeal as truth-seekers, and their humility of heart in leaving their own philosophies, etc., and coming to inquire of the God of another nation. They seemed to desire truth on the great subjects of God and of human destiny, regardless of all other considerations. And they accordingly declared their disposition to render the homage due to the appointed ambassador of Israel’s God, when they should find him.
Jesus was born to be a king as well as a savior. The latter term includes the former; for the great salvation is secured by both his humiliation (even unto death) and his exaltation (as a king and deliverer). By his vicarious sacrifice our salvation was made legally possible; and by his glorious reign it will become an accomplished fact.
VERSES 3-6 show the faith—though it was an irreverent and selfishly jealous faith—of Herod and his official staff in the God of Israel and in the words of his inspired prophets; and also the thorough acquaintance of the Jews with the prophecies. Without hesitation they pointed to the predictions of time and place and repeated Christ’s foretold mission. Indirectly, we have here strong evidence of the esteem which the Hebrew Scriptures everywhere commanded. Herod’s selfish faith, which sought the infant king that he might kill him, was in strong contrast with the reverent and devotional faith of the wise men. Fearing the overthrow of his own power, he was moved with envy toward the infant rival who was already attracting the world’s attention. But, as usual, the wrath and duplicity of an evil man was overruled for good; for the king gave to the wise men the directions from the Jewish prophets—to go to Bethlehem,—an additional assurance to that of the star that they were being rightly guided, and that too by the God of Israel.
VERSES 7,8,12 show the duplicity of Herod’s wicked heart, which the wise men could not discern, but which God knew and guarded them against by a warning dream. The devout wise men obeyed the warning and, disregarding the kings command, departed into their own country another way, bearing the good tidings with them.
VERSES 9-11. Leaving the king’s presence, they observed that the star also led in the direction of Bethlehem, and, standing over where the young child was, the miraculous luminary had accomplished its mission: the infant Redeemer and King was found and reverently worshipped and presented with the choicest and most costly gifts.
Thus even in his infancy this light that was to lighten the Gentiles began to shine into some waiting and devout Gentile hearts.
— July 1, 1894 —