Matthew 2:1-2—Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.”
How did these magi come to worship Jesus? They followed the clues. They see a star, and somehow they know it’s pointing to something bigger than itself. It makes sense that they looked for the king of the Jews in Jerusalem, but how did they know the star meant a king was born?
Maybe God revealed Himself in a dream. After all, that happened to the wise men at least one other time (Matthew 2:12).
Or maybe they knew bits and pieces of Old Testament prophesy. For example, when Israel was wandering in the wilderness a Gentile prophet named Balaam prophesied that one day “…a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel…” (Numbers 24:17). Balaam prophesied that a day would come when a great star would arise in Israel, pointing to the birth of a great king.
Or perhaps the magi were familiar with the teaching of Isaiah the prophet. Hundreds of years after Balaam, he prophesied:
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD. (Isaiah 60:1-6).
Isaiah prophesied that the nations would see a great light, travel from afar and bring gifts (including gold and frankincense!) as they worshiped the Lord. Some have conjectured that perhaps the magi were spiritual descendants of Daniel’s legacy, and they were familiar with at least some of the Old Testament Scriptures.
The Bible doesn’t tell us how the magi knew what they knew, and that’s not really the point. The point is, they followed the light they had. They knew the star was pointing to the king of the Jews, so they did what seemed most natural to them and traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to go to Jerusalem, the city of king David.
But here’s the question for you, dear friend: Are you following the clues that God has given you? The Bible tells us that all of us have been given several clues to the existence of God.
The first clue is creation itself. Astronaut John Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth. After his final flight to space he said, “To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible. It just strengthens my faith.”
Glenn’s words echo King David who sang, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Psalm 19:1-4). Do you look at creation and see clues for the existence of a Creator?
A second clue God has hardwired into the universe is the human conscience. Over the weekend my family watched several 9/11 documentaries. The first explained the story on a level accessible to children. The second told the story of President Bush’s day, beginning with a morning run in Sarasota, Florida and ending with an evening press conference from the Oval Office. Both documentaries acknowledged the evil of what happened that fateful day.
In his speech that evening President Bush called the terrorist acts "evil,” “despicable,” and “the very worst of human nature.” A little girl on the family-friendly documentary simply said, "I thought that it was really sad that someone would want to hurt that many people on purpose, and I was wondering why they would want to do that." Both responses highlight the human conscience. We know instinctively certain things are wrong.
Wait a minute. Doesn’t the evil of 9/11 point to the absence of a human conscience? After all, the hijackers certainly didn’t have a conscience as they demonstrated such blatant disregard for human life. Or did they? If you could’ve interviewed those men before they took their own lives (and the lives of thousands of others), they would’ve told you they were doing what was right, holy, and just. They were operating according to their consciences too. A wrongly-calibrated conscience to be sure, but a real conscience nonetheless.
The reality is we all have a conscience. And yes, it’s possible for those consciences to be misaligned and wrongly calibrated, often with deadly consequences. But the very fact we instinctively call certain things “evil” and other things “good” is evidence of this God-given clue. Paul talks about this in Romans 2:14-16:
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
Do you look at the existence of good and evil and see clues for the existence of a Lawgiver? If you believe there is such a thing as good and evil, what is your standard for determining it? Without the existence of God it’s simply arbitrary.
If you see those clues and you follow them, you’re on the right track. But following these clues isn’t enough. In fact, it’s only enough to damn you. Romans 1:18-20 puts it this way:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
You can see the creation and observe the human conscience and determine there is a God. But unless you fall at the feet of Jesus, that’s not enough. Following the clues in the sky got the Magi to Jerusalem, but it didn’t get them to Bethlehem. To get to Bethlehem they needed to hear God’s Word. More on that tomorrow.