“Three Kings Day.” “The Twelfth Day of Christmas.” “Epiphany.”
Whatever you call it, January 6 is it — an ancient church festival commemorating the magi’s trek to the Christ Child. The word epiphany means a manifestation or revelation. The holiday marks the appearance of Christ to the Gentiles, represented by the “wise men from the East.” In some churches, Epiphany also observes the baptism of Jesus and the miracle of turning water into wine — demonstrations of Christ’s divinity to the world.
The magi were a hereditary caste of priests from ancient Persia. They studied the stars, read signs and interpreted dreams. Though they brought a trio of gifts to the child Jesus, there were probably more than three of them. And they were likely not kings, though some interpret Isaiah 60:3 as a prophecy of their royal status.
So that’s the background. But what difference does it make? Can we learn anything from this venerable company of sages? Here are five lessons for your consideration:
THE WISE MEN SACRIFICED.
Assuming that the Magi traveled from the Persian capital of Susa to Jerusalem, they covered about 800 miles. That’s roughly the distance from Dallas to Atlanta. On the backs of camels. With no QuikTrips along the way.
Have you ever skipped worship because it was too cold or rainy? Do you consistently pass over prayer or Bible reading because you “just don’t have the time”? Have you ever heard people complain that they don’t tithe because “the church gives too much to foreign missions” or “the preacher’s salary is too high”?
We can make all the excuses we want, but there is inherent sacrifice in the devotional life. Do you remember the story of the plague in 2 Samuel 24? King David had sinned by taking a census of his military might instead of trusting God. An epidemic broke out, prompting David to humble himself. God directed him to a man named Araunah. The king wanted to buy the subject’s threshing floor so he could build an altar. Araunah was eager to give his liege whatever he wanted, but David would have none of it: “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24).
David paid a princely sum to acquire the threshing floor for a worship space. The Wise Men undertook an arduous journey to get to the Christ Child. There is always some kind of sacrifice — time, comfort, goods, reputation — in drawing closer to God.
THE WISE MEN SEARCHED.
When the Magi arrived in Jerusalem, they asked Herod, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2). The Wise Men wanted to know the location of the Holy Babe. They asked questions. In a ruse to find Jesus so he could kill him, Herod instructed the magi to “search carefully for the Child” (Matthew 2:8). The biblical word for “search” means to examine closely, inquire intently or approve by testing. The word for “carefully” can also be translated as “diligently” or “accurately.”
So many believers are content with a static faith. They do very little to nothing to grow their relationship with God or understanding of the scriptures. However, the Bible is pregnant with admonitions to pursue a deeper understanding of the Divine:
“…seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29).
“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33)
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).
I’ve been married for over 33 years. Just when I think I know all there is about my wife, she pulls something new — like the time she ziplined with me in Alaska or decided to try grits after years of announcing she didn’t like them (she loves them now, especially with melted cheese). The time we stop learning about a loved one is the time our relationship goes backward. It may be bumper sticker theology, but it still holds true: “Wise Men (and Women) Still Seek Him.”
THE WISE MEN REJOICED.
After the Wise Men consulted with Herod, they picked up the Nativity Star again and “rejoiced with exceedingly great joy” (Matthew 2:10). That’s a lot of joy, isn’t it? The word for “exceedingly” can also be translated as “violently” or “excessively.” The word “great” is the Greek “megas” — from which we get our word “mega,” meaning huge or extraordinary. The wise men’s joy wasn’t just a fleeting happiness. As the Star moved them toward their sacred destination, they erupted in “megajoy.” Can you imagine these regal visitors from the East dancing, shouting and giving each other high-fives? Okay, so maybe they didn’t fistbump each other, but they certainly celebrated.
There is definitely a time for reverence and holy silence in the presence of God — and there is also a time to laud Him with gleeful abandon. When’s the last time you really let loose with praise toward heaven?
THE WISE MEN HUMBLED THEMSELVES.
Matthew 2:11 states that when the Magi saw the Child Jesus with His mother, “they fell to the ground and worshipped Him.”
The word for worship literally means to fall prostrate or bow before a superior. Some scholars believe that the term originally meant to kiss the hand of a king as a sign of reverence and respect. What a scene – the most intellectual men of their day, scientists and scholars, bending their knees before a baby boy!
The French author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, wrote, “Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.” The Wise Men looked outward in the same direction and discovered God’s sign of a newborn Messiah. They kept looking and inquiring until they found Him. And when they came into His presence, they all fell down at once.
THE WISE MEN GAVE.
Gold – the metal of kings, a gift for royalty.
Frankincense – an aromatic resin that was burned in the Temple of Jerusalem before the Ark of the Covenant, symbolizing prayer.
Myrrh – an embalming spice, foreshadowing the entombment of the Lamb of God.
The point of this is not that we drop our gold jewelry into the offering plate next Sunday. But our giving should cost something. Whether we are giving time, talents or monetary resources, our gifts reflect our regard for Jesus.
Would you be great? Would you be honored? Would you be as wise as the Magi? Then worship the King. Bow before him. Bring him gifts of worship, devotion, loyalty. Draw strength from your fellow worshipers, who are on the same pilgrimage of faith. Relinquish your worldly wisdom, skills, strength, goods—and yield them all to Him whose birth was trumpeted by angels, marked by a Star and visited by lowly shepherds and Wise Men alike.