The Gift of Wisdom

Cross and Clouds

December 29, 2013 ()

Bible Text: Matthew 2:1-12 |

You know...when I think of all the intelligent people who have ever lived, one of the first names that pops into my head is that of ALBERT EINSTEIN. He may have originated the concept of a bad hair day but no one will argue the fact that he was an intelligent person!

A few years ago I read of a true incident from Einstein’s life that occurred while he was on a lecture tour of our nation’s universities where he would present his theory of relativity. Now, Einstein didn’t have a driver’s license, so he had a chauffeur who drove him to and from each campus. As they were driving along one day, a couple of months into this lecture tour, the chauffeur said to the brilliant scientist, “You know, I’ve heard this lecture so many times now that I could give it myself.” Well, Einstein accepted the challenge and said, “Let’s try it. The people at the next university have never seen me, so they won’t know who I am. You put on my clothes and I’ll wear your uniform and cap. When we get there, you introduce me as your chauffeur and I will introduce you as Dr. Einstein.”

Everything went according to plan. The chauffeur delivered the speech on relativity flawlessly. And Einstein, sitting at the back of the lecture hall, enjoyed it immensely. But, then something happened that the two had not considered. The moderator of the lecture said, “We have fifteen more minutes, just enough time for some of you to ask Dr. Einstein a question.” A professor in the audience asked a very complicated, technical question involving higher mathematical formulas and language that the chauffeur of course did not understand. But, the chauffeur was quick on his feet and he said, “Sir, the solution to that problem is so simple that I am really surprised you would even ask it. Anybody can answer a question that simple. To prove it, I am going to have my chauffeur come up and answer it!”

Well, Einstein may have been intelligent -- but his chauffeur was obviously a wise man! And you know, all of us want to be wise. Every day we face complex decisions that require on the spot thinking and we wish we had the wisdom of Solomon so we would instantly know what to do.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we DO have knowledge....lots of it! Each year thanks to the labors of researchers across the globe we greatly multiply mankind’s knowledge, but KNOWLEDGE is not the same thing as WISDOM. Knowledge is just information that usually leads us from the SIMPLE to the COMPLEX. Wisdom is a PRACTICAL thing. In fact, it usually leads us from the COMPLEX to the SIMPLE.

Well, we need wisdom in our day and age. As Will Rogers said, “Common sense isn’t as common as it used to be.”

This leads us to our scripture for today and a look at the story of these figures we have come to know as the wise men. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, Who GIVES generously to all without finding fault, and it—WISDOM—will be GIVEN to him.” In the 2nd chapter of Matthew, we come across some men who God must have blessed with this gift because they have had the reputation of being wise for nearly 2,000 years. And, I think that if we examine their involvement in this chapter of the Christmas story we will learn a great deal about the kind of wisdom God gives.

So what was it about them that made them worthy of the title of WISE MEN in scripture? What can we learn about God’s gift of wisdom from the magi? Well, first of all, in this chapter of the Christmas story we see that a wise man....

1. ...knows that GOD is the only source of true wisdom.

Billy Graham once said, “Knowledge is horizontal. Wisdom is vertical....it comes down from above.” And these men were wise because their source of knowledge was not limited to what man knows. They also considered information that God provided. They made the most important journey of their lives based on prophecies they had read in the word of God, specifically the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah.

We don’t know how the Magi knew the Messianic prophecies had been fulfilled, but obviously God revealed it to them in some way. And the sight of the star would have confirmed it for them, especially if they had studied the Old Testament.

We should also note that the Magi did not arrive on the night of Jesus’ birth but many months...maybe as much as two years later. I say this for two reasons. First of all, Matthew 2:7 says that Herod ascertained from the Magi when the star appeared and became enraged and ordered all male babies 2 years old and younger to be killed. Secondly, this text says that the wise men found Jesus’ not in a stable but in a house. Obviously Joseph and Mary had decided to settle in Bethlehem.

Well, in any case, these wise men who visited Jesus had probably read Numbers 24:17 which says. “A star shall come forth from Jacob, and a scepter shall rise from Israel.” This by the way is the only verse in the O.T. that talks about a star being any kind of a sign. And the word, scepter would suggest a coming kingship.

So I’m saying that these men were wise because their based their life’s journeys on the only true source of wisdom, God Himself. And any one who wants to become wise will do the same. You see without an underlying belief in God all knowledge leads to a dead end.

This reminds me of I Corinthians 1:25 which says, “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” In other words, our greatest knowledge is nothing compared to even God’s foolishness! True wisdom begins with a world view based on a fear of God...a respect for God as the only source of true wisdom. And we see this quality in all wise persons including these strange gift-bearing travelers who made the journey of their life based on something God said.

A second identifying quality in people who have received God’s gift of wisdom is this. They know that...

2. ...wisdom is more than KNOWLEDGE....it is ACTING on that knowledge.

Matthew tells us that the Wise Men came to Herod and asked for his help in locating the King of the Jews. And Herod responded by calling in all the Jewish experts....the religious leaders of Jerusalem. He asked them where the Christ was to be born. And they knew! They weren’t even surprised by the question! They had read the same Old Testament writings that the Wise men had read. So they looked at these writings from God and they reminded their king of the prophecy in Micah that pinpointed the Messiah’s exact birthplace in Bethlehem.

Now don’t miss this. These religious leaders of the day had all the knowledge necessary for locating the true King of Kings -- but they DID NOTHING about it. Only these strangers from the east were wise enough to ACT on this knowledge. The Jewish theologians knew their Scripture and spoke truth to Herod but they didn’t join the magi on their journey of wisdom. Historical biblical truth did not make the slightest difference in they way their lived their lives. They were too engrossed in the study of theology and in the activities of temple ritual. So, tragically there were more people who saw the star and didn’t follow it than there were those who saw it and followed it as it led those men from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said, “Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal and are all the greater fools for it. To know how to USE knowledge is to have wisdom.” And Spurgeon is right! It is foolish to amass great knowledge—even religious knowledge—without acting on it, without applying it to our lives. James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word...DO what it says.”

You know even today many people believe in Jesus but they do nothing about that belief. Every Christmas they celebrate the birth of God’s Son but they don’t repent of their sin and make Him Lord of their lives. They believe but they don’t do anything about that belief. Well, knowledge is not enough. Wisdom is more than believing. It is more than knowing. It is DOING!

So, a wise man knows that God is the only source of true wisdom. He knows that wisdom is not just knowledge. It is acting on that knowledge. And then a third characteristic seen in someone who has received God’s gift of wisdom is this. He or she...

3. ...follows God even when His GUIDING LIGHT cannot be seen.

Matthew tells us that these wise men saw the star in the east and then traveled in that direction even after it disappeared. Then the star re-appeared to guide them from Jerusalem to the specific place in Bethlehem where Mary and Joseph had set up their first home. So, contrary to pictures on Christmas cards, the Wise Men traveled long miles of their journey in the dark, without benefit of the glorious star.

This is true to life, isn’t it? We spend a lot of our journeys in the dark. God guides us to attend a certain college, and we go there, not knowing what lies ahead. He leads us to a specific career or a profession and we go in that direction, not knowing any more than that. Again and again in life, we have a moment of great illumination, when everything becomes clear and we know that God has guided us in this direction; then the light gives way to stretches of darkness, with only the memory of the light to guide us. The star does not shine brightly at all times. When it doesn’t we must walk by faith, remembering it’s shining and hoping it will shine again. After all, Hebrews 11:1 says, ...”faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not SEEN.” All Christians go through times when it seems like God is hidden...and when this happens WISE followers will remember that God is always there guiding us even when we can’t see His guiding light.

Wise followers stubbornly cling to God in these times of darkness and hardship knowing that when they pray, more—much more—may be involved than they dream. They have the kind of faith that knows that God never abandons us no matter how distant He may seem.

And then one more quality of a wise man is this. A truly WISE MAN...

4. ....seeks GOD -- and when he seeks Him -- he always FINDS Him.

You know, there are many reasons that these men may have journeyed to pay homage to God’s newborn Son. They may have actually started seeking Him because of political motivations. Perhaps they thought this new King would help the Persians defeat Rome. Maybe they were even looking for a new king to unify the two empires. Possibly they were simply curious about the long-prophesied Jewish Messiah they had studied. But I for one think they set out on this huge road trip because they were genuinely seeking the true God. I believe they realized how empty the world’s knowledge is and so with hungry souls they set out to find the One true God. In Deuteronomy 4:29 God promised, “If you seek Me with all your heart you will find me.” Well, these men found God....I think...in answer to their sincere seeking. And when they found Him, Matthew tells us they fell down and worshiped Him.

God in His grace opened the eyes of these pagan men to something His own people did not see—that Jesus was God in human form. I take it from their response that they were converted and thus became the earliest Gentile believers in Christ. Scripture is silent on this but tradition says that Thomas, the doubting disciple, spent his life after Jesus’ ascension as a missionary in the far east and that in his travels he met the original magi and baptized them. I don’t know about that but I do know that God warned them in a dream and they departed to their country ANOTHER WAY. And this phrase can have a double meaning. They went back a different way...or route...AND they went back a different way. They were followers of another way in the spiritual sense—THE WAY....they were changed men.

You know there are basically only two kinds of people in this world: wise people who accept Christ and foolish people who reject Him. Colossians 2:3 says, “In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Like these wise men, whenever we seek God sincerely we find Him through Jesus Christ. God promised us this in Jeremiah 33:3, when He said, “Call unto Me and I will answer you.” And in Romans 10:13, where it says, “Whosoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” And in Matthew 6 where Jesus Himself said, “Seek and you shall find.”

Those first wise men were wise enough to follow where God was leading. We close our service to give you a chance to be just as wise. So I ask you, where is God leading you today?

Is He guiding you to a deeper walk with Him? Maybe you have a lot of biblical knowledge but you have not been acting on it. Perhaps you are a Christian and God is leading you to join this church or maybe for the first time today God has guided you as He did those wise men to the point that you have been confronted with the Savior of the world. And today you face a decision...to repent of your sin and accept Him as Lord of your life or to reject Him and walk another way. There is no better way to celebrate Christmas than to decide to accept God’s gift of salvation through His Son. Someone once said, “Christmas comes to those who let the Son of God be born in them.” Let God be born in you today.

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