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Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Wise Men and the Star

            Individuals and groups of other people have searched for the Savior of the world for thousands of years. Many of these people search in vain because they know not where to find Him. Some have searched for Jesus Christ in the scriptures, while others search for Him by visiting various churches. Still others seek Him in the wilderness of the desert or the mountains. President Thomas S. Monson speaks of this search for Christ. 

For generations, enlightened mankind in the old and new worlds anxiously sought the fulfillment of prophecies uttered by righteous men inspired of Almighty God. Then came that night of nights when the angel of the Lord came upon shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock, and the pronouncement, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11.)

Thus, personally invited to undertake a search for the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manager, did these shepherds concern themselves with the security of their possessions? Did they procrastinate their search for Jesus? The record affirms that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem…. And they came with haste” (Luke 2:15-16).

            The scriptures tell us that the shepherds found the newborn Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. After they visited the place of Jesus’ birth, they left the area praising God and witnessing to all that they had seen the Savior of the world. The shepherds were not the only group of people that searched for the newborn Babe. Matthew tells us that wise men saw a new star in the east and recognized it as a sign of the Savior’s birth. They traveled from somewhere east of Jerusalem to find the newborn King of the Jews.

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him….

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

And when … they saw the young child with Mary his mother, they fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:1-2, 10-11). 

            The wise men lived in a country east of Jerusalem. They apparently had to travel a long distance because they arrived in Jerusalem to find a Child rather than a newborn Babe. They said that they had seen a star that told them that the King of the Jews had been born. Apparently, the star was not constantly before them because “they rejoiced with exceeding great joy” when they saw the star over Bethlehem.

            The chief priests and scribes of the king knew that Christ would be born in “Bethlehem of Judaea” and said that a prophet wrote, “And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.” (See Matthew 2:4-6.) It does not say who the prophet was, and it does not say anything about a star. So, how did the wise men recognize the star as a sign for the birth of the King of the Jews? Wilcox asks a similar question in the title of his article titled, “How Did the Wise Men Know to Look for a Star?” This is an interesting question, and one that this author had not previously considered. Wilcox explains how he discovered this question.

I once attended a Christmas devotional where Elder Craig A. Cardon of the Seventy spoke. He asked, “How did the wise men know that the star was a sign of Christ’s birth?” I assumed it had been prophesied somewhere in the Old Testament, but then Elder Cardon pointed out that our current Old Testament shows no such prophecy. He said, “Every year at Christmastime, people in nearly every Christian denomination celebrate the birth of the Lord by depicting or reenacting the Nativity, complete with wise men following a star. Today we read of `His star’ in the New Testament (Matthew 2:2), but how did the wise men, who didn’t have the New Testament, know of the sacred sign?”

Elder Cardon continued, “Most Christians believe there is no scripture or revelation beyond the Bible, yet of the 43 occurrences of the word star in the Old Testament, only one has reference to the Savior (see Numbers 24:17), and in that instance the word is a title, not a heavenly object. How did the wise men know to look for a star? People may not realize it, but anyone who believes wise men came at Christ’s birth is acknowledging that there had to be other scriptures and revelation in addition to the Bible.”

            Wilcox says, “Elder Cardon’s insight impacted me deeply,” and the same is true of this author. Even though she knew the story of the wise men well, she had never considered how they obtained their knowledge. She mostly assumed that it was in the Old Testament somewhere but did not know where. However, she did know that the star was given to another group of people as a sign of the birth of Jesus Christ. The people were the Nephites living in ancient America, and their record is found in the Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ.

            About 595 years after Lehi left Jerusalem, a Lamanite prophet by the name of Samuel appeared in the land of the Nephites to do some missionary work. In the process he prophesied that the Savior would be born in five years.

And behold, he said unto them: Behold, I give unto you a sign; for five years more cometh, and behold, then cometh the Son of God to redeem all those who shall believe on his name.

And behold, this will I give unto you for a sign at the time of his coming; for behold, there shall be great lights in heaven, insomuch that in the night before he cometh there shall be no darkness, insomuch that it shall appear unto man as if it was day.

Therefore, there shall be one day and a night and a day, as if it were one day and there were no night; and this shall be unto you for a sign….

And behold, there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you (Helaman 14:2-5).

            The record continues and tells of various events that took place in the five-years between Samuel’s prophecy and its fulfillment. The people looked steadfastly for the sign, and wicked people threatened to kill the believers if the sign did not come to pass. The night before the scheduled day of death, the sun went down but no darkness appeared.

And it came to pass that there was no darkness in all that night, but it was as light as though it was mid-day. And it came to pass that the sun did rise in the morning again, according to its proper order; and they knew that it was the day that the Lord should be born, because of the sign which had been given.

And it had come to pass, yea, all things, every whit, according to the words of the prophets.

And it came to pass also that a new star did appear, according to the word 

            The Nephites knew that a new star would be the sign of the Savior’s birth. However, the wise men did not have the Nephite records, so how did they know that a star would be the sign? There is nothing in the scriptures to answer this question, so we now have two great questions concerning the wise men. The first question is how many wise men traveled to Bethlehem? (The scriptures mention three gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh – but not a number of wise men.) The second question is how did they know to look for a star? 

            This author has no idea how many wise men there were or how to find the information. However, she believes that the obvious answer to the second question is that the wise men had other records than what we have in the Old Testament, or they received personal revelation to prepare them for the event. Both questions are good ones to ponder this Christmas season.        

             President Ezra Taft Benson speaks of the wise men and counsels his listeners to follow their example and to seek Jesus Christ by following His light. 

And now, my beloved brothers and sisters, what must we do this Christmas season--- and always? Why, we must do the same as the wise men of old. They sought out the Christ and found him. And so must we. Those who are wise still seek him today.

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