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January 4, 2015

The Gospel doesn’t tell us how many wise men, or Magi, journeyed to Bethlehem.  Popular tradition holds that there were three based on three gifts– Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.  But, according to Henry Van Dyke, there is also a tradition of a fourth wise man named Artaban. As Artaban prepared to set out and follow the star, he took with him a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl of great price as gifts for the newborn King, wherever he is to be found.

On his way to join the other wise men, Artaban stopped to care for a sick traveler.  If he stayed, however, he would miss the rendezvous with his friends.  He decided to stay, and the delay was just enough to make him late for the departure of the caravan.  Now Artaban was alone and he needed transportation and supplies to cross the desert.  So he sold the sapphire to purchase a camel and supplies.  He was saddened because the King would never have this precious gem.

Artaban journeyed onward and reached Bethlehem, but again he was too late.  There were soldiers everywhere to carry out Herod’s command that the children from 2 years old down should be slain.  Artaban, therefore, took out the brilliant ruby to bribe the captain and save the children of the village in which he was staying.  Children were saved, mothers rejoiced; but the ruby, also, would not reach the King.

For 33 years Artaban searched in vain, and finally found his way to Jerusalem on the day several crucifixions were to take place.  Artaban hurried toward Calvary in order to bribe the Roman guards with the precious pearl and save the man called Jesus.  Something told him that this was the King of kings for whom he had been searching all his life. Just then, a young woman being dragged along the street toward the slave market, called out to Artaban pleading for help.  With only a slight hesitation, he gave the last jewel, the pearl of great price, for her ransom.  Now Artaban had none of the precious gems he was going to present to the King.

Reaching the place where the crucifixions were to occur he was heartbroken when he saw that he could do nothing to help the King Jesus.  But then something remarkable happened.  Jesus looked over toward Artaban and said to him:

            “Don’t be brokenhearted, Artaban.

            You’ve been helping me all your life.

            When I was hungry, you gave me food,

            When I was thirsty, you gave drink,

            When I was naked, you clothed me,

            When I was a stranger, you took me in.”

Some say Artaban never found Christ.  Others say he was the wisest of the wise men.  What do you think?