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The Sages, the Star, and the Savior [Part 2]

On Sunday morning of December 25th, 1870, Charles Haddon Spurgeon delivered a sermon on Matthew 2:2 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. We are posting this sermon in a four-part series. You can read part one here. The following is the second part in that series.

“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.”
Matthew 2:2

Last week, we introduced the wise men in the incarnation story. We now seek to learn a practical lesson from the story of these wise men who came from the east to worship Christ. Today, we look at:


Many things are evident in this question. It is clear that when the wise men thus inquired, there was in their minds interest awakened. The King of the Jews was born, but Herod did not ask, “Where is he?” until his jealousy was excited, and then he asked the question in a malicious spirit. Christ was born at Bethlehem, near to Jerusalem; yet throughout all the streets of the holy city there were no enquirers, “Where is he?” He was to be the glory of Israel, and yet in Israel there were few indeed who, like these wise men, asked the question, “Where is he?” My dear hearers, I will believe that there are some here this morning whom God intends to bless, and it will be a very hopeful sign that be intends to do so, if there be an interest awakened in your mind concerning the work and person of the incarnate God. Those who anxiously desire to know of him, are but a slender company. Alas! when we preach most earnestly of him, and tell of his sorrows as the atonement for human sin, we are compelled to lament most bitterly the carelessness of mankind, and enquire mournfully —

“Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by;
Is it nothing to you that Jesus should die?”

Their unique interest in Christ

He is despised and rejected of men, men see in him no beauty that they should desire him; but there are a chosen number who enquire diligently, and who come to receive him; to these he gives power to become the sons of God. A happy circumstance it is, therefore, when there is interest evinced. Interest is not always evinced in the things of Christ, even by our regular hearers. It gets to be a mere mechanical habit to attend public worship; you become accustomed to sit through such a part of the service, to stand and sing at such another time, and to listen to the preacher with an apparent attention during the discourse; but to be really interested, to long to know what it is all about, to know especially whether you have a part in it, whether Jesus came from heaven to save you, whether for you he was born of the virgin, to make such personal enquiries with deep anxiety, is far from being a general practice: would God that all who have ears to hear would hear in truth. Wherever the word is heard with solemn interest, it is a very encouraging sign. It was said of old, “They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward.” When a man listens with deep attention to the word of God, searches God’s book, and engages in thoughtful meditation with the view of understanding the gospel, we have much hope of him. When he feels that there is something weighty and important, something worth the knowing, in the gospel of Jesus, then are we encouraged to hope good things of him.

Their belief in who Christ was

But in the case of the wise men we see not only interest evinced, but belief avowed. They said, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” They were, therefore, fully convinced that he was the King of the Jews, and had lately been born. As a preacher I feel it to be a great mercy that I have to deal generally with persons who have some degree of belief concerning the things of God. Would to God we had more missions to those who have no sort of faith and no knowledge of Christ; and may the day come when everywhere Jesus Christ shall be known. But here at home with the most of you we have something to begin with. You do believe somewhat concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was born King of the Jews. Set much store by that which you have already believed. I count it no small advantage to a young man to believe his Bible true. There are some who have a hard fight to reach so far as that, for infidel training has warped their minds. It is not, of course, an advantage which will save you, for many go down to hell believing the Scriptures to be true, and thus they accumulate guilt upon themselves from that very fact; but it is a fine vantage ground to occupy, to be assured that you have God’s word before you, and not to be troubled with questions about its inspiration and authenticity. O that you may go from that point of faith to another, and become a hearty believer in Jesus.

These wise men were so far advanced that they had some leverage for a further lift of faith, for they believed that Christ was born, and born a King. Many who are not saved, yet know that Jesus is the Son of God. We have not to argue with you this morning to bring you out of Socinianism — no, you believe Jesus to be the divine Savior; nor have we to reason against doubts and scepticisms concerning the atonement, for these do not perplex you. This is a great mercy. You certainly stand in the position of highly favored persons. I only trust you may have grace given you to avail yourselves of the favorable position in which God has placed you. Value what you have already received. When a man’s eyes have long been closed in darkness, if the oculist gives him but a little light he is very thankful for it, he is hopeful that the eye is not destroyed, that perhaps by another operation further scales may be removed, and the full light may yet stream in upon the darkened eyeball. So, dear friend, be thankful for any light. O soul, so soon to pass into another world, so sure to be lost except thou have the light divine, so certain to be cast into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, be thankful for a spark of heavenly light; prize it, treasure it, be anxious about it that it may come to something more, and who knows but yet the Lord will bless thee with the fullness of his truth?

When the great bridge across the Niagara was made, the difficulty was to pass the first rope across the broad stream. I have read that it was accomplished by flying a kite, and allowing it to fall on the opposite bank. The kite carried across a piece of string, then to the string was tied a line, and to the line a rope, and to the rope a stronger rope, and by-and-by Niagara was spanned, and the bridge was finished. Even thus by degrees God works. It is a fair sight to see in human hearts a little interest concerning things divine, a little desire after Christ, a feeble wish to know who he is and what he is, and whether he is available to the sinner’s case. This hunger will lead to a craving after more, and that craving will be followed by another, till at last the soul shall find her Lord and be satisfied in him. In the wise men’s case therefore we have, as I trust we have in some here, interest evinced, and a measure of belief avowed.

Their ignorance admitted

Furthermore, in the case of the wise men, we see ignorance admitted. Wise men are never above asking questions, because they are wise men; so the magi asked, “Where is he?” Persons who have taken the name and degree of wise men, and are so esteemed, sometimes think it beneath them to confess any degree of ignorance, but the really wise think not go; they are too well instructed to be ignorant of their own ignorance. Many men might have been wise if they had but been aware that they were fools. The knowledge of our ignorance is the doorstep of the temple of knowledge. Some think they know, and therefore never know. Had they known that they were blind, they would soon have been made to see, but because they say, “We see,” therefore their blindness remains upon them. Beloved hearer, dost thou want to find a Savior? Wouldst thou fain have all thy sins blotted out? Wouldst thou be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ? Then blush not to enquire, admit that thou dost not know. How shouldst thou know if heaven teach thee not? How should any man attain the knowledge of divine things, unless it be given him from above? We must all be taught of the Spirit of God, or be fools for ever. To know that we need to be taught of the Holy Ghost is one of the first lessons that the Holy Ghost himself teaches us. Admit that thou needest a guide, and diligently enquire for one. Cry to God to lead thee, and he will be thine instructor. Be not high-minded and self-sufficient. Ask for heavenly light, and thou shalt receive it. Is it not better to ask God to teach thee, than to trust to thine own unaided reason? Bow, then, the knee, confess thine aptness to err, and say, “What I know not, teach thou me.”

They asked for the King of the Jews

Notice, however, that the wise men were not content with admitting their ignorance, but in their case there was information entreated. I cannot tell where they began to ask. They thought it likeliest that Jesus would be known at the metropolitan city. Was he not the King of the Jews? where would he be so certain to be known as at the Capital? They went, therefore, to Jerusalem. Perhaps they asked the guards at the gate, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” and the guards laughed them to scorn, and replied, “We know no king but Herod.” Then they met a loiterer in the streets, and to him they said, “Where is be that is born King of the Jews?” and he answered, “What care I for such crazy questions? I am looking for a drinking companion.” They asked a trader, but he sneered, and said, “Never mind kings, what will you buy, or what have you to sell?” Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” said they to a Sadducee, and he replied, “Be not such fools as to talk in that fashion, or if you do, pray call on my religious friend the Pharisee.” They passed a woman in the streets, and asked, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” but she said, “My child is sick at home, I have enough to do to think of my poor babe; I care not who is born, or who may die beside.” When they went to the very highest quarters, they obtained but poor information, but they were not content till they had learned all that could be known. They did not know at first where the new-born King was, but they used every means to find him and asked information on all hands. It is delightful to see the holy eagerness of a soul which God has quickened; it cries, “I must be saved; I know something of the way of salvation, I am grateful for that, but I do not know all I want to know, and I cannot rest satisfied till I do. If beneath the canopy of heaven a Savior is to be found, I will have him; if that book can teach me how to be saved, I will turn its pages day and night; if any book within my reach may help me, I will spare no midnight oil if I may but in the reading thereof find out Christ my Savior. If there be one whose preaching has been blessed to the souls of others, I will hang on his lips, if perhaps the Lord may be blessed to me, for Christ I must have: it is not I may or I may not have him, but I must have him; my hunger is great for this bread of heaven, my thirst insatiable for this water of life; tell me, Christians, tell me, wise men, tell me, good men, tell me any of you who can tell, where is he that is born King of the Jews? for Christ I must have, and I long to have him now.”

They came to worship

Notice further, that in reference to these wise men from the east, there was for their search after Christ a motive declared. “Where is he,” said they, “that we may go and worship him?” Ah! soul, and if thou wouldst find Christ, let it be thy motive that thou mayst be saved by him, and that then henceforth and for ever thou mayst live to his glory. When it comes to this, that you do not hear the gospel merely as a habit, but because you long to obtain its salvation, it will not be long before you will find it. When a man can say, “I am going up to the house of God this morning, and O may God meet with me there,” he will not long go there in vain. When a hearer can declare, “As soon as I take my seat in the congregation, my one thought is, “Lord, bless my soul this day?” he cannot for long be disappointed. Usually in going up to God’s house we get what we go for. Some come because it is the custom, some to meet a friend, some they scarce know why; but when you know what you come for, the Lord who gave you the desire will gratify it. I was pleased with the word of a dear sister this morning when I came in at the back gate; she said to me, “My dear sir, my soul is very hungry this morning. May the Lord give you bread for me.” I believe that food convenient will be given. When a sinner is very hungry after Christ, Christ is very near to him. The worst of it is, many of you do not come to find Jesus, it is not him you are seeking for; if you were seeking him, he would soon appear to you. A young woman was asked during a revival, “How is it you have not found Christ?” “Sir,” said she, “I think it is because I have not sought him.” It is so. None shall be able to say at the last, “I sought him, but I found him not.” In all cases at the last, if Jesus Christ be not found, it must be because he has not been devoutly, earnestly, importunately sought, for his promise is, “Seek, and ye shall find.” These wise men are to us a model in many things, and in this among the rest — that their motive was clear to themselves, and they avowed it to others. May all of up, seek Jesus that we may worship him.

All through there was about the wise men an intense earnestness, which we would delight to see in any who as yet have not believed in; Jesus. They were evidently not triflers. They came a long way, they underwent many fatigues, they spoke about finding the new-born King in a practical, common-sense way; they were not put off with this rebuff or that; they desired to find him, and find him they would. It is most blessed to see the work of the Spirit in men’s hearts impelling them to long for the Savior to be their Lord and King; and so to long for him that they mean to have him, and will leave no stone untamed, by the Holy Spirit’s help, but what they will be able to say, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, and he is become our salvation.”

Am I at this moment speaking to anybody in particular? What a blessing it would be today, if the cry may be heard from many a lip, “Sir, what must I do to be saved? Where is he that is born King of the Jews?”

(Please stay tuned for the next post, when we look at the wise men and their encouragement—”We saw his star…”)