The Visit of the Magi
George Everard, 1884
In the days of Solomon, strangers came from afar to see his glory, and to hear the wisdom that God had put into his heart. The queen of Sheba with her retinue came bringing their gifts to the king of Israel. Nor were they disappointed. The queen returned to her own land, declaring that the half had not been told, and that great was the blessedness of those servants who waited continually in his presence.
Nearly ten centuries pass by, and another company of strangers from a far-off land come to the land of Israel to seek for the King, and to lay their gifts at His feet. And they too were abundantly rewarded. Their search was not in vain. A 'greater than Solomon' was He whom they found in Bethlehem, even the Prince of Peace, the Savior of mankind, the King who would "reign over the house of Jacob forever," and of whose "kingdom there would be no end." And in finding Him "they rejoiced with exceeding great joy," even a joy that no man could take from them, and that would illumine earth and Heaven with its eternal brightness.
I see these Magi on their journey. I ask them, Why do they come? They have heard the rumor that a great king should arise in Judah; their hopes and expectations have been raised; and in their own land of the East, they had seen a remarkable star or meteor in the western horizon. But was there nothing more?
It is not easy to say. Perchance some prophetic intimation had been given. Perchance the angel that spoke to the shepherds may have carried a message also to their distant home. Or at least we must believe that a secret touch of the Spirit had drawn them to undertake so long a journey on that which might have seemed so unlikely an errand. No cost of trouble, time, or toil deterred them. Those around them may have tried to turn them back. The dangers and perils of the way may have seemed to be formidable. But, nothing hindered — from Persia, or Arabia, or beyond the Euphrates, they came to behold Him who is born King of the Jews!
And what will they find? Surely the knowledge of His birth will have spread far and wide. Probably some weeks had elapsed since the marvelous vision of angels had been seen, and the message of good tidings proclaimed, and the song of the celestial choir had revealed that in Him there should be "glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will towards men."
And is not the name of Jesus on the lips and in the hearts of multitudes? Is not His presence sounding throughout the land? Nay, it is far otherwise. But few have cared to learn or carry the news. Simeon and Anna, and a little company of true-hearted ones, have tasted the cup of gladness, and welcomed the salvation of Israel. But the rest know nothing and care nothing about the wondrous tale of Divine love. Had He been born in Herod's magnificent palace, some mile or two from the village inn, or had He come in state and grandeur from some other land — many would have flocked around Him. But who cares for the Son of Mary? Who will pay court to Him who is born in a stable and laid in a manger?
Truly three wonders were in His birth.
"He was in the world." The glorious Jehovah, the Father's "Well-beloved, the Worship of the heavenly host, was born on earth and seen by men.
"The world was made by Him." Every object around Him was the work of His own hands.
"And the world knew Him not." Here was the greatest wonder of all! The mighty Creator came into the world which He had made — and none know or recognize His glory!
The Magi seek to discover Him. In spite of the ignorance and unbelief in Jerusalem, they are persuaded of the truth of His coming. Nothing can daunt them. To see Him, to worship Him, is the object of their search. And this they must by some means attain.
The rumor of a king of the Jews spreads fear and alarm. Herod is troubled and all the city with him. So he acts with subtlety. He will discover the evil, and nip it in the bud. He calls those learned in the law of God, and inquires of them where the Christ should be born. About this, there is no question. Bethlehem must be the place. Seven hundred years before has Micah prophesied, that from Bethlehem shall "a governor arise who shall be the shepherd of God's people Israel" (Matthew 2:6). So Herod gave the wise men orders, and sent them on their way. He bade them go to Bethlehem and search out the child, and then return and tell him, no doubt with the secret purpose to kill the child when he had found him.
The right guidance has been given through the lips of a wicked man. And now the star or meteor again appears and directs them to the very spot where the infant lies. Their joy bursts forth, and with glad thankfulness for their success, they come to the house and fall down and worship Him. They open their treasures and offer their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh; and being warned by God in a dream, depart into their own country another way.
Long ago these Magi filled their niche in the Church of God, and did their work in the vineyard of our Lord. What honor they brought to Christ in their own land — what part they were able to perform in preparing their countrymen to receive that gospel which would be preached after the descent of the Spirit — this we know not, but can only conjecture. Meanwhile the incident abides on the inspired page of Holy Writ, and suggests to ourselves profitable and instructive teaching.
1. Christ is a Savior for all sorts and conditions of men.The angels told of "good tidings of great joy which should be to all people," and in those around the Savior at His birth we see an illustration of the fact.
Joseph and Mary — the shepherds from the plain — Simeon and Anna in the Temple — and now the wise men from the East — all came and found blessing, and joy, and hope in the new-born Savior.
Here were Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, the learned and the ignorant; men in high position — and those in the humblest calling; those who had profited by the teaching of the law and the prophets — and those who had been living in heathen idolatry — all drawn as by a magnet to Him who came as a light of the Gentiles. It is so still. Around the now risen and glorified Savior, are found men and women once as far as possible diverse from each other.
Representatives of almost every nation upon earth are numbered among the true disciples of Christ. And from our own land we may find those drawn from the ranks of the nobility, from every profession and every calling, yes, and multitudes who once were sunk in the deepest ignorance and vice. Whoever you are, you may share the joy of the Magi and the shepherds, and take your place in the ranks of Christ's Church.
Are you a child of wealth? You may find still better riches — riches that last, riches that will sanctify whatever property you possess and enable you to use it aright.
Are you among the children of the poor? You are no less welcome. In the friendship and the love of Christ, you may possess a treasure which far outweighs all the gold and silver which the world contains.
Are you gifted with education and intellectual power, and knowledge of earth's mysteries? You may add to it that higher knowledge of the world's Redeemer, which will add a tenfold value to all other knowledge, making it a blessed instrument for the putting forth of Divine truth.
Are you but poorly furnished as to secular attainments? Yet through the teaching of the Comforter you may rise high in the understanding of the grace and covenant of God in Christ.
Are you a companion of the great, taking your place with ease in the highest circles? Only secure the friendship and favor of the very Greatest — the friendship of Him on whose will depends the life of earth's kings and princes, and when the society in which now you move has lost its attractions for you, you shall find a place ready for you among the nobility of Heaven.
Are you the lonely tenant of an attic or a cellar? Seek unto Christ, and you shall have the best company — the presence of a Father and a Savior in your solitude. Listen to the words of an aged woman in Edinburgh: "What would this garret be to me, without God?
Ah, it is grand to be a member of the blood-royal of Heaven, where sins are unknown, where tears and cold garrets are forgotten, and where sorrows and stinted food are things long gone by. If I have a cold house, and not too much to eat, Jesus is a "hiding-place from the wind and the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."
Yes, whoever you are, whatever you are, whatever you may have been — if only you come with a humble, believing heart, there is a welcome for you, and a true blessing from the Savior of sinners.
2. God never fails to direct the sincere inquirer.It is worth while to notice how in various ways the Lord led these Magi until they found the Savior. First, most probably by a vague rumor, then by a star, then by the words of Micah, and again by the leading of the star. So by manifold agencies, does He still lead those who seek the Lord.
It is ever in some way by the light of Divine truth, and therefore we can never be too diligent in teaching men to know the Scriptures. By all means let us use painstaking efforts in the Bible class, in the instruction of young and old, wherever we find an open door. In doing so, we shall often discover that the Spirit has taken the guiding star of some precept or promise or invitation to lead a soul to the feet of the Savior. Nevertheless, frequently by paths we should never have imagined, does the Lord bring home the truth and save the soul.
"It seems strange," said a young servant who found Christ in a mission in Devonshire, "that the Lord should have brought me from the north of Scotland to the south of England, that I might learn to love the Savior."
A Sunday-school teacher was commending a lad for his well-learned lessons. "But you should hear the language he uses on the week-day!" was the remark of another lad in the class. The teacher said nothing, but fixed his eye on the lad thus accused. That look was the means of his conversion. It led him to confess his sin, and to seek the cleansing power of the Savior's blood.
A young Hindu, the son of a rich man in Calcutta, had frequent opportunities of hearing the truths of the gospel. But they never touched his heart. He set out for England that he might qualify himself the better to practice at the bar in India. On the way a storm arose, and for three days the ship was in great peril. But through the storm the Spirit led him to the true harbor of refuge. He thought of Christ, sought Him in prayer, and before many days passed he could rejoice in His salvation.
In London he was led further in the knowledge of Christ, and was publicly baptized. When his father heard of it, he cut off his supplies, and he would have been utterly destitute but for the kindness of Christian friends.
At length he went back as a barrister, and his father seemed softened, and received him with open arms. But it was only a trap to draw him away from the faith of Christ. Soon after his father made him an offer. "If you will give up Christianity, I will at once give up to you everything I have. You need not practice law, but can enjoy life, and live as you wish in abundance and comfort."
But his faith was firm. He had found the pearl of great price, and was willing to part with all rather than lose it.
"Not for all you have done for me," said the son, "nor for all the love which you have shown me, and which I value most — dare I deny the Savior's name."
"Then," said the father, "you are no longer my son, nor am I your father. Begone, and never see me again!"
So he had to leave his home and all he loved, and practice in another city.
3. Those who truly love Christ will delight to lay precious gifts at His footstool.The Magi brought their precious gifts, and you may bring yours. You may have no gold nor silver, no costly offerings, that you can present. But you can bring the homage of a loving, grateful heart. You can bring prayers and praises, humble confessions and willing testimonies of that which He has brought for you. You can give, perhaps the fruits of self-denial on behalf of His kingdom. You can give yourself, by far the most worthy offering it is possible to lay on His altar.
Let love be foremost — then the King will accept any gift and any offering.
Say shall we yield Him in costly devotion,
Odors of Edom and offerings divine,
Gems of the mountain and pearls of the ocean,
Myrrh from the forest or gold from the mine?
Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
Vainly with gifts would His favor secure;
Richer by far, is the heart's adoration,
Dearer to God, are the prayers of the poor!