Every year, all across the land, nativity scenes are carefully reconstructed so as to include all of the essential elements commonly believed to have been associated with the birth of Jesus. Comfortably settled in a manger (feeding trough) for His bed, the little Lord Jesus is sleeping on the hay. Along with an assortment of animals, Mary and Joseph’s attention is intently focused on the Christ Child. Also, included in the scene are the shepherds who had been “keeping watch over their flock by night” and had witnessed the glorious announcement of His birth by an angel of the Lord (Lk. 2:8-9). But, our attention is uniquely drawn to the three wise men and the treasures they presented to Jesus.
The Bible does not tell us that there were three wise men—only that there were three gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Mt. 2:11). But, how did these men arrive so shortly after Christ’s birth? While there may be some debate about the origin of their journey, it is generally believed that they had traveled a great distance. They would not have arrived on the evening of Christ’s birth but a considerable time later. At their arrival, Jesus was no longer in the manger, but in a house (Mt. 2:11).
When these men arrived in Jerusalem, they began asking “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” (Mt. 2:2). Perhaps, they thought His whereabouts would be common knowledge among the people. To their credit, the chief priests and scribes knew the Scriptures well enough to direct them to Bethlehem (Mt. 2:5-6).
Herod, too, was interested in the one who had been born King of the Jews, but for sinister motives (Mt. 2:7-8). Later, when Herod sought to destroy the Christ Child, he ordered that every male child in the vicinity of Bethlehem, two years old and under, be killed (Mt. 2:16). This was not an arbitrary number, but was based on information he had learned from the magi. While this number was likely inflated by Herod to make sure the perceived threat of another king was eliminated, it still shows that the arrival of the wise men was months after the birth of Jesus.
This begs the question: “Why does it take some so long to come to Jesus?” The answer lies in the distance which must be traveled to get to Him. Distance is not always measured in miles. To a scribe who had answered His question wisely, Jesus said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mk. 12:34). For others, like Saul of Tarsus, it is a longer, more difficult journey. But, what matters is that we get to Jesus.
The wise men were looking to the stars. We might say that they had their heads in the clouds. Had they known the Scriptures, they would have known where to find the Christ. Many, even among those who claim to know the Scriptures, never find their way to Christ. Jesus spoke to their prejudicial view of God’s word, saying, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:39–40). However, as long as life lasts, it is never too late to come to Jesus. But we must approach the Scriptures with an open heart and an open mind (Acts 17:11; 2 Tim. 2:15).