- They were probably political or religious elites.
- They came from a foreign (gentile) nation somewhere to the east of Israel.
- They were able to correctly interpret the special meaning of the unusual star which appeared in the sky at that season.
- They brought expensive gifts for the King of the Jews – which is a political designation, implying a worldly destiny Jesus has not yet realized. (He would not be referred to that way again until He stood before Pilate on the last, awful day of His life.)
- And, the wise men avoided Herod’s trap at some risk to themselves.
That’s it. That’s all we really know.
We don’t know that they wore turbans or rode camels or traveled afar. We don’t know whether there were three of them or what their names might have been. We don’t know their religion or their country of origin. We don’t know exactly where they found the baby or how old He was then. We speculate about them, sing about them, write stories about them, because they are enigmatic. And perhaps because they are a little like us.
Most of us also represent an elite, educated, wealthy segment of the world. We are, for the most part, gentile foreigners. This time of year we recognize the “signs” of Christ around us which other people misinterpret – we hear truth in Christmas carols played at the mall in much the same way those first wise men divined reality from the tail of a comet. We, too, travel far from our everyday culture to worship the King of the Jews, bringing Him our gifts of time and tithe and reverence. And it may be that some of those around us are only pretending to worship, disingenuous as Herod or Pilate.
We never hear of those wise men again in Scripture. I hope we will meet them a hundred years from now and learn the rest of their stories. But what we do know is that the journey was everything. It was the culmination of their lives, the historic act God wanted us to see and to emulate. It’s almost as though those magi lived their entire lives on the road between one thing and another, bringing their gifts to the Messiah, carrying Him in their memories as they escaped home by a different route. I like to think that the baby they found at the end of the starlight changed their hearts forever, that they lived the rest of their lives on earth hoping to see Him again, face-to-face. That would make their stories like ours, tangled in the confusion of their wealth and their wisdom and the secular culture around them. They would have lived with undefined longing, traveling through a fallen world burdened by the gifts and the knowledge they carried for Him – and yet it would be a journey toward hope, a passage bright with the light of truth, joyful with the wonder of knowing the surprising King of the Jews whose full destiny waits to be revealed to the rest of humanity.
I hope when you hear those fleeting strains about the three traveling kings (or sing about the 12 days of Christmas which end today – Three Kings’ Day) you ponder your own journey. Remember the beauty of meeting Jesus for the first time and touch the longing in your heart to meet Him again. I hope that all our gifts arise from worshipful hearts, that they never reek of Herod’s hypocrisy. And I hope for you, that your life is a journey toward hope, a passage bright with the light of truth, and joyful with the wonder of knowing the surprising King of the Jews.
This blog has been reprinted from last year with a few changes.
Read it in Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12
About Three Kings’ Day: