Pharisees & Magi, a tale of two intellectuals

Here is the text I'm considering today:

Wise Men from the East
"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 have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”

"Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way." (Matthew 2:1-12).

This was the beginning of the long journey of hate between Jesus and the Sadducces, Pharisees, and scribes. Today we will be comparing them against the Wise Men, and look to the lesson we can learn from both of the groups' different responses to learning doctrine.

The chief priests of the day were from the highest class. They were the most learned men, the most advantaged, the richest, and the most powerful. Their role was to perform sacrifices, serve at the altar, and of course bless and teach the people.

The scribes were also higher class and powerful. They were learned men whose main job was the transmit the holy writings and to interpret them. Because of the intensive proximity to the holy writings, they became thoroughly familiar with them. They were held in esteem and they held authority of leadership.

The ancient writings contained information about the promised Messiah's coming. Christ is all throughout the Old Testament. There are ancient scriptures that describe what the Messiah will come to do, will be like, even when He was coming. The specific timetable is found in Daniel 9:24-27.

I mentioned that the relationship between the Sadducees, Pharisees, and scribes was a journey of hate because they hated Jesus from the moment his birth was announced in the above scriptures and really ramped up during His adult ministry, culminating in their plot to kill Him.

That was a thumbnail sketch of the chief priests and scribes. Now let's turn to the Magi.

The Magi, or wise men as they are known, were a sect of men in Persia, history indicating were a priestly tribe of people from among the Medes. Their main point of existence was to study astronomy (the heavens and the bodies within it) and astronomy (divination by those celestial bodies). They were such an ancient people and so learned that they became part of the highest classes and were powerful and well-respected. They had the king's ear. Their priestly line, like the Jewish Priests, was hereditary.

Now it came to pass that the Jews were taken into captivity to Babylon and the rising star among those taken captive so to speak was Daniel. Eventually, Daniel attained a very high place. When Daniel interpreted the King's dream, Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel master over all the Magi (Dan 2:48). There never was a more Godly man influencing a pagan people than Daniel.

Daniel's influence was so great that the Magi kept alive the knowledge of the future coming Messiah-King from generation to generation. They kept this information alive for 600 hundred years! The Magi went on, learning and learning, but always holding that important information from Daniel foremost, until the signs came to pass, and the star appeared. When the Magi saw it, they knew.

Let's contrast the pagan Magi with the "holy" chief priests and scribes. What you have are two groups of intellectuals. They both have kept information about the coming Messiah intact for hundreds of years. However, that is where the similarity ends.

The chief priests and scribes were caught flat-footed. When the Magi showed up, there is no scripture saying that the scribes or chief priests had been celebrating the Messiah's birth.

When the Magi saw the sign, what did they do? They put their knowledge into action. They packed up, assembled gifts, and set off across 900 miles of desert.

When the chief priests and scribes heard the news, what did they do? They were troubled. Later, they conspired against Jesus. (Matthew 27:1; John 11:57).

The Magi's response to the news of His arrival was proper: giving gifts, prayer, worship and adulation. (Mt 2:11). The took the knowledge they had protected through generations, and put it into action.

The chief priests and scribes were more interested in heaping up their treasures for themselves, retaining honor, and taking. The knowledge they protected through generations they used to feed their egos, pocketbooks, and through their inaction, ultimately squashed their faith into a dead, putrid thing.

Learning is good. We need to know doctrine, theology and proper principles for interpreting His word. But what will we DO with the information? Will we put it into action? Or will it rule us, and we become haughty with the knowledge but never reaching the heart? The faith the knowledge is supposed to inspire having become cold?

The lesson is clear: knowledge can be used for good or for ill. It can stiffen into something as hard and brittle as bones. It could be said that the chief priests and scribes were coprolites, petrified dung. It can be said that the Magi, the pagan diviners of a foreign culture, were a caravan of torches, marching across the pages of the bible from beyond the Euphrates to the little house in Bethlehem where the Messiah child lived- in search of the worthy King and object of worship.

Doctrine is all about the motivation for which you learn it and whether one uses that knowledge to exalt Him or to exalt the self. Do we take the knowledge we've gained and say "He's so wonderful?" Or do we say, "I'm so smart!" The chief priests and scribes took knowledge of God and made a fortress out of it, eventually preventing themselves from being able scale their self-imposed walls and meet the Messiah. The chief priests and scribes are good examples of the warning Paul gave to Timothy: always learning and never able to come to knowledge of the truth.' (2 Tim 3:7). The Magi were motivated to learn about the coming Messiah and took that knowledge and were led to worship.

My prayer for you is that what you learn about Jesus today inspires you to put the knowledge of Him into action, to exalt Him, worship Him, to give to Him, and to praise Him. We must be ever learning, coming to the knowledge that He IS truth.


  1. The Word of God was never intended to become just text that was idolized, which is what I think you are pointing out with those who "kept" the Word. They became "puffed up" in their understanding about themselves. The Word of God is like a sword and it is possible to use it incorrectly. Sadly, I am witnessing many who would discount it or use it as a weapon to hack people to shreds. We would do well to remember that God will raise up in unlikely group to worship Him, as He did with the Magi.

    1. LOL, exactly, their learning had become their idol. Your comment is thought provoking, it makes me sad to see so many people discount learning and doctrine as unnecessary. A new church has opened in our area that is taking off, it already has many satellite churches. It is a new, hip church that actively downplays 'stuffy old doctrine' for an exciting outreach. Sigh.

  2. We all need to remember that the church is our bodies not the buildings you meet in.


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