Each Christmas we tell the story of the wise men from the East who made their way to Bethlehem to worship the newborn king and laid their treasures at his feet. Henry Van Dyke has told us about another wise man who also followed the star not only to Bethlehem, but throughout his life, and found the king in a different way. His name was Artaban.
He lived in Persia and was a man of great wealth, great learning and great faith. He had searched the scriptures to find the time when the Savior should be born. Artaban and his companions knew that a new star would appear and they agreed that he would watch from Persia and the others would observe the sky from Babylon.
Artaban told his friends at his home, “My three champions are watching at the ancient temple in Babylon and I am watching here. If the star appears, they will wait ten days for me. Then we will all set out together for Jerusalem. I believe the sign will come tonight. I have made preparations for the journey by selling all of my possessions and have bought these three jewels – a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl. I intend to present them as my tribute to the king. ”
Then one of his friends said, “Artaban, no King will ever rise from the broken race of Israel. You will only be chasing shadows. ” They all bid Artaban farewell. Artaban put his jewels back into his saddle bag and went out on the roof to take up his vigil of watching the night sky.
As Jupiter and Saturn rolled together like drops of glowing flame about to blend into one, a bright blue spark was born out of the darkness beneath them, rounding itself with purple splendor into a crimson sphere. He got on his horse and began his journey. However, when he got to the desert, he had to use one of his jewels to buy a camel. This delay caused him to miss the others.
When he reached Bethlehem, the found out that the young family has gone to Egypt. Artaban, followed the king to Egypt, looking everywhere for traces of the little family. In Alexandria, a Rabbi told him to seek the king not among the rich but among the poor. He passed through countries where famine covered the land, and the poor were crying for bread. He made his dwelling in plague-stricken cities where the sick were languishing in misery. He visited the oppressed and the afflicted in the subterranean prisons. He searched the crowded slave-markets.
Though he found no one to worship, he found many to serve. As the years passed, he fed the hungry, clothed the naked, healed the sick and comforted the captive. He had used all his jewels that he was saving for the king to respond to those in need.
Thirty three years had now passed away since Artaban began his pilgrimage. His hair was now pure white. He knew his life was near the end but he was still desperate with hope to find the king. He had come at last to Jerusalem.
It was Passover and the city was filled with strangers. A large crowd gathered and Artaban asked what was going on. Someone answered, “We are going to the execution of two robbers and another called Jesus of Nazareth, who has done many wonderful works. The priests and elders said that he must die, because he claims to be the Son of God. Pilate condemned him to the cross, because he said that he was the ‘King of the Jews.’”
These familiar words fell upon the tired heart of Artaban. They had led him for 33-years over land and sea. Now that he found the king, he had nothing to give. Jesus stopped, looks at him and says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matt 25:40) He dies in a peace knowing his treasures were accepted.