Imagine waiting and searching the stars for some kind of sign that the world’s greatest king would be born. The wise men received the news of this promised star when God’s people became exiles in 597 B.C. and 587 B.C. For nearly six hundred years they waited and searched the heavens for the rising of this star.
Who were these wise men? They were probably from the land of Babylon or Persia (the early church, in the Roman catacombs, have the wise men dressed in Persian garments). Their role in society was to acquire all kinds of wisdom so that they could advise their leaders and people in the areas of medicine, religion, astronomy, divination and magic. They especially would study the skies for any messages that “the heavens” might have; ever mindful of the prophecy recorded in Numbers 24:17: “a star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.”
The appearance of this star alerted the wise men that something very special was taking place in the land of Palestine. Jupiter as the “king’s planet.” Saturn was viewed as the planet of Palestine. The Pisces constellation represented world-changing events. Thus, Jupiter encountering Saturn in “the sign of the fishes” would have meant that a divine and cosmic ruler was to appear in Palestine. Noted author and theologian Paul Maier believed that this star first caught their attention; and then the Lord provided a “special star” to guide them to Jerusalem and from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.
When they found the Child, they fell down and worshiped Him. They also brought Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh: gold – the kind of gift one would give to the king, denoting His kingship; frankincense – a fragrant gum resin that a priest used in his temple duties, denoting His future priesthood; myrrh – an aromatic resin used in perfumes, and as an oil for anointing and embalming, denoting His death as the Anointed One of God – the Messiah.
Two things stand out for me as I again read this story: (1) the wise men traveled a great distance to worship Jesus – hundreds of miles on a camel, over a period of several months; (2) they gave Jesus the very best that they had, gifts worthy of their King.
Several years later, at just the right time in human history, Jesus began His ministry in the region of “Galilee of the Gentiles;” fulfilling another ancient prophecy: “the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:1-2; Matthew 4:15-16).
Jesus was that promised Light – “the true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world knew Him not. He came to His own home, and His own people received Him not. But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:9-13; 3:1-21)
A poor Scottish farmer named Fleming heard a cry for help from a bog near where he was working. He dropped his tools, ran, and found a terrified boy waist deep in black muck. He was screaming and struggling desperately to free himself but could not. Fleming, that day, saved the boy from what could have been a slow and terrifying death.
The next day an elegant carriage pulled up to the Scotsman’s humble house. The nobleman who stepped out introduced himself as the father of the boy Fleming had saved and said: “I want to repay you. You saved my son’s life.”
Fleming waved off the offer saying: “I can’t accept any payment.” At that moment the farmer’s son came around the corner. The nobleman asked: “Is that your son?” to which the farmer said: “Yes.” “I will make you a deal,” the nobleman offered. “You won’t accept any payment but let me give your son a good education.” And he did.
Later the farmer’s son grew to become Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin. Some years after that the nobleman’s son was stricken with pneumonia and was saved by the penicillin. That nobleman’s son, saved by farmer Fleming from the muck, and then saved by his son with penicillin, was Sir Winston Churchill.
This is God’s way of working in the world -- to place the right people in the right place at the right time to accomplish His purposes and mission. At just the right time Jesus came to save us all. This same active God has placed us here in this place, at this time, so that we might be His light in the world today. Just as Jesus was sent to a people living in darkness, we are His sent ones today so that we might make known Jesus as the Light of the world and the Hope of the nations.
We close with these words from Peter as he encourages us to remember who we are in Christ and what is our mission as His people: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were no people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).