One of our favorite Christmas decorations is our Willow Tree Nativity set. It took us several years to accumulate the entire set, but we have it all. Well, almost all. All we are missing from the collection are the three wise men. Before you go out and buy us the wise men as a gift, let share this with you – my wife is adamant that she will not put them with the rest of the set. If she ever does get wise men figurines, they would be set up somewhere on the other side of the house.
The only Biblical account of the wise men from the east is found in Matthew 2, and it is quite a bit different from the account of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2. Luke includes details about shepherds seeing angels and worshiping Jesus at the manger scene (Luke 2:8-18). Matthew has no details of the night of Jesus’ birth, only that Mary was a virgin (Matthew 2:25). Luke tells us that Jesus is born in some type of stable (Luke 2:7). Matthew records the wise men arriving at a house (Matthew 2:11). Luke tells us that the shepherds would find a baby – literally a newborn (Luke 2:12). Matthew tells us that the wise men found a child (Matthew 2:9, 11). There are indications that Jesus was up to two years old before the wise men appeared (Matthew 2:16). It’s safe to conclude that Matthew is relating a different, later story than Luke and that the wise men were still traveling the actual night of Jesus birth.
Does any of this even matter? Who cares whether or not the wise men were present the night of Jesus birth? I care. And you should too. Let me share with you 2 reasons why.
1. Tradition shouldn’t drive our understanding of the Bible. This is a minor issue when debating the location of the wise men. No one is lost or saved depending on where they place figurines at their nativity. However, if our practice is to let the tradition of man dictate our theology, we lose the saving message of the gospel. Colossians 2:8 says, “Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.” We cannot allow what people say about God replace what God says about Himself.
2. The Bible should drive our understanding of tradition. To say it positively, how we act should be based on obedience to the Bible. Biblical traditions are wonderful. They demonstrate an understanding of the Bible and reflect the importance of the Word of God. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 says, “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught, either by our message or by our letter.” The traditions we practice can be beautiful reminders of God’s Word. Or they can be signals that the Bible is less important than our tradition.
The controversy of the wise men is a poor indicator of our salvation. But it can be an indication of how seriously we view the Word of God. Are we willing to knowingly ignore truth from Word of God for the sake of what others say or what we’ve always done? More importantly, is our attitude toward the Word of God so serious that we take special care to study it and apply it in every aspect of our lives? Let the wise men remind us that everything we hear about God must be measured against what God says about Himself in the Bible. Let us be like to people in Acts 17:11 who “examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”