[Matthew 2:1-12] 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, 2 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.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
The Fear of the Lord Is the Beginning of Wisdom
Are you wise? Are you capable of having wisdom? Are you educated or uneducated? There are many authorities on many topics who disagree with what you believe is true and who take issue with what you have believed is right. Are you certain? Is it that you are wise? Or are they, and you’ve been the fool all this time?
Many have accredited expertise. Many speak wise sounding words with a wise sounding voice. Many speak with authority. In our Gospel today, we encounter some who are called wise men and truly are – those Wise Men from the east. And, we encounter others who were certainly seen as wise in their day, but truly were not – those chief priests and scribes of the people who counseled King Herod, and Herod himself.
Who is wise? Scripture says this: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding” [Psalm 111:10]. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” [Proverbs 9:10]. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” [Proverbs 1:7]. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” [Psalm 14:1; Psalm 53:1].
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” To fear – not to be frightened – but to fear someone is to have an attentive ear which watches and listens for their words to pay heed to what they say. You fear, respect, revere an old teacher or a father or mother when you hear and pay heed to what their words reveal to you.
To fear the Lord is to pay heed to and receive as your greatest good what He reveals. To fear Him is to hear His Word, where He gives revelation of Himself, of His will, and of His promises - to live by what you hear from Him.
The Wise Men – those truly wise men who traveled from the east in today’s Gospel – paid heed to what they knew of the true God. These men, likely from Babylon, had a knowledge of God’s promises – they knew to look for the coming Savior, the King to be born in Judah.
They knew the promise of the Savior – and worshiped the true God – because they knew Him through the Scriptures. God’s people, the Jews, had lived in captivity in the east centuries before – and many of the Jews remained. Babylon and other areas of the east were riddled with synagogues and therefore with the reading of the Scriptures every Sabbath – “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues” [Acts 15:21].
These Wise Men were looking for a star to mark the birth of the Savior for whom they waited because of prophecy in the Old Testament – Numbers 24:17, which says, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.”
A star will come; a scepter, that of a king, will rise. So they asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose.” “And we have come to worship him.”
The star, foretold in God’s Word, led them as far as Jerusalem at first. Further inquiry into the Scriptures leads them more specifically to Bethlehem – “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel” – from Micah 5:2.
All of this knowledge is known. The Wise Men sought it in Scripture and knew it. The chief priests and scribes of the people were experts in the Scriptures who knew and reported that Christ would be born in Bethlehem. All this knowledge was reported to King Herod.
The same knowledge, different reactions. Herod plots to destroy the Child born. The chief priests and scribes have knowledge but do nothing. The Wise Men go to the house where the Lord is and worship Him – “And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.” “Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”
Many were given the same information, the same knowledge. The Wise Men feared the Lord. They knew their need of the Lord, as seen by their action of traveling to Him. They gave great gifts because they had knowledge of the greater gift given to them in that Child. They worshipped because they believed Him to be God and Savior.
Many have knowledge – perhaps more than you have. But you, brothers and sisters, are instilled with wisdom. Not from yourself, but because of what God your Heavenly Father has given to you – “knowledge of the Holy One”.
Like the Wise Men, you know the true God by knowledge of God’s Word, the Scriptures, and by knowledge of God’s Word made flesh – Jesus Christ – the one about whom the Scriptures speak.
You live in a world full of knowledge – knowledge flying far over our heads – and in a world full of authorities on knowledge, authorities often unwilling to be questioned. Yet, “knowledge of the Holy One is insight”, and “the fear of Lord” – hearing, respecting, revering, receiving, and believing His words and promises revealed in Christ and in Scripture – living by what He has given and said – this fear of the Lord “is Wisdom”.
What you know is that God is creator. That you are a creature. That God calls us to account. That we are sinners. That He has given a Savior, the only Savior Jesus Christ. That this one “born King of the Jews” is the Savior of all the nations – you know in Jesus “the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God” [Ephesians 3:9].
You know He is the one who has died for sinners – the one through whom God has loved and forgiven – and that He is risen and lives and reigns to be Savior still.
This knowledge is knowledge that can’t be known by all the strength of human reason or by natural inquiry, but is revealed – “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” [Matthew 16:17].
In a world so full of knowledge – which often makes you feel so little – know that wisdom is revealed. The wisdom of the Wise Men wasn’t their great learning but that they believed the promise of God revealed in Scripture and that they worshipped and received the world’s Savior as their own.
No matter how small and simple you may be, the wisdom of these Wise Men is a wisdom that you share – wisdom from God – and you are therefore Wise Men and Wise Women. In believing His commands and promises in Scripture – and in your knowledge of what He has done for you in Jesus Christ - you have Wisdom and Insight. Amen.