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How Wise Were the Wise Men?

Wisdom and discernment

by Janice Ross

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To consider that there are different kinds of wisdom.

Preparation and materials

  • Have available a Christmas card that features the three wise men.

    Alternatively, you could use an image of the wise men, in which case you will also need the means to display it. An example is available at:

  • You will need four children to act out the scenario in the ‘Assembly’, Step 4. They will take the parts of Narrator, Wise Man, King Herod and King Herod’s Adviser and will need time to rehearse prior to the assembly.


  1. Show the Christmas card that features the three wise men or the image of them.

    Ask the children, ‘What do we know about the three wise men?’

    Listen to a range of responses.

    The main points to identify are as follows.

    - They followed a star to find baby Jesus.
    - They came from the east.
    - They brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus.
    - They are sometimes called ‘the Magi’.
    - Some people believe that Jesus was a little older when the wise men found him. This is because the Bible story speaks about them visiting a house rather than a stable.

  2. There werent any universities in the wise mens day, but they had studied for themselves what we now call astrophysics. They were scientists who specialized in physics and maths. They would have spent a lot of time watching the movements of the stars and planets, questioning what was happening in the night sky, all without telescopes or even binoculars! They were very wise and learned men.

  3. When the wise men arrived in Jerusalem, they went to see King Herod. This could have been for a number of reasons.

    - They were expecting to meet a king, so they might have assumed that he would be born in a palace.
    - They might have thought that the king of the region would be in the know about the birth of a new baby king.
    - They probably felt that it was the polite thing for visitors to do when they arrived in a new country.

    However, their decision turned out not to be very wise!

  4. Invite the four children to act out the following scenario.

    Wise Man: Where is the one who was born King of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.

    Narrator: King Herod was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. His wise men were summoned.

    King Herod: Where is this Christ to be born?

    King Herod’s Adviser: In Bethlehem, in Judea.

    Narrator: Herod called the wise men back to him secretly and found out the exact time the star had appeared.

    King Herod: Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me so that I, too, may go and worship him.

    Narrator: However, the wise men were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, so they returned to their country by a different route. An angel told Joseph to take his family and escape to Egypt.

  5. Explain that Herod had a dangerous hidden agenda. What the wise men saw on the outside did not reflect what was happening on the inside. What Herod was really thinking was, ‘Another king, in my country? A king worthy of wise men coming all the way from Persia? A king who will usurp my authority? Grrr!’

  6. When Herod realized that the wise men had outwitted him, he was furious. He gave orders that all boys aged two years old and under who lived in Bethlehem should be killed. However, God protected Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.

  7. Explain that there are different kinds of wisdom. There is the wisdom of cleverness - and the wise men certainly had that! However, what they seemed to lack was the wisdom of discernment, the ability to see what is really going on in a situation.

    The wisdom of discernment is a special kind of wisdom that God wants us to have. It can help us to know what people are really thinking and feeling. Sometimes, people can be very clever, but give little thought to the feelings of others. Sometimes, people might struggle with academic work, but have a special way of understanding how other people feel.

Time for reflection

Ask the children if theyve ever been asked if theyre OK and theyve quickly replied, ‘Yes, I’m fine!’ even though really, they were sad or feeling bad about something.

Explain that people often say that they are fine. Ask the children whether theyve ever stopped to think about whether its likely to be true.

Of course, sometimes, we really are fine! Sometimes, though, its an easy response so that we dont have to explain how we really feel. It can be a cover for our real feelings.

Ask the children to think about someone they know very well, perhaps a family member or close friend.

Ask the children whether they can think of any clues that might indicate that, although the person says that they are fine, they might not be fine on the inside.

Christians believe that God knows how they feel, and he always cares about them.

Encourage the children to think about using discernment – thinking about what people are really feeling - this year. Urge them to be thoughtful and to look for ways to help others.

Encourage the children to talk about their feelings. Remind them that no one in school needs to feel alone. There are always people available to listen and help.

Dear God,
Thank you for keeping baby Jesus safe.
Thank you that you knew what was really going on in Herod’s heart.
Thank you that you are wise and know what is going on in our lives, too.
May we trust you to help and protect us.
Please help us to listen to others and to look for ways to help them.

Publication date: January 2020   (Vol.22 No.1)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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