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Edward F. Markquart

Christmas: Children's Sermons
Artaban and the Three Jewels

(This Christmas story is an adaptation of Henry Van Dyke’s, THE STORY OF THE OTHER WISEMAN. In that famous story, Artaban pursued Jesus for more than thirty years, only to miss Jesus at every fortuitous moment. Along the way, Artaban used his gifts to help people in dire need. At the end of his life, Artaban had nothing to present to Jesus, when he finally found Jesus preparing to die in Jerusalem.)

Tonight, I would like to tell you a Christmas story? Do you know the Christmas story of The Three Wisemen who brought their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus? Of course you do. But you may not know the story of the fourth wiseman, the story of Artaban and his three precious jewels.

Artaban was a wiseman who lived in the mountains of Persia. He worshipped the god of fire, Ahazure-Mahazure. Arbatan was a very rich man and he was also very wise. Every star filled night on the Arabian deserts, Artaban studied the movements of the heavenly bodies and he began to understand the mystery of the starry skies.

One night, Artaban called together some of his closest friends from his village and said to them, “Three very wise men have seen a gigantic star in the East. It is a beautiful star unlike anything that we have seen before. We wisemen have studied all our textbooks about this mysterious star and we are convinced that this is the star of the Promised Messiah of Israel. My friends, The Three Wisemen, have already left to find that star. Their names are Melchior, Gaspar, and Bal-thalsar. Their journey has already begun.

“I have sold all my worldly possessions and I am going to travel to Israel to bring a gift of three precious jewels to my new king. I want you, my closest friends, so see the precious jewels that I am going to give. I am going to give my new found king this beautiful blue sapphire, as blue as a cloudless sky.” (The pastor then shows a large blue gem stone with its colors glistening through the light of a candle.) His friends gasped at the beauty of the sapphire.  “I am going to give my new found king a large red ruby (The pastor then shows a large red gem stone with its colors glistening through the light of a candle.) His friends were awed at the beauty of the rub. “I am then going to give my new found king a beautiful white pearl, the most perfect of all gems.” (Pastor shows pearl against the light of the candle.)  His friends were breathless when they saw the beauty of the pearl. “I have sold all of my possessions and I have bought these precious gems. These are all that I own and all that I have. I am going to take these precious gems and when I find my king, I am going to give these rare and previous jewels to him. I must leave immediately because I am to meet the other wisemen in Babylonia and travel with them onto Israel. The Three Wiseman are now waiting for me in the capital city of Babylon.”

And so Artaban said goodbye to his friends from his own home village.

On his way to Babylon where he was to meet the other three wisemen, Artaban was walking on a narrow, isolated, deserted road. That road was totally quiet except for the sounds of his own footsteps. He came up over a small rise and there in front of him, he saw a person, humped over, lying there in a heap on the ground. Immediately Artaban thought to himself, “Is it a robber who is playing a trick on me and has a plan to beat me up and steal my three precious jewels?” Artaban was afraid. He was very afraid. As he slowly approached the body curled up as a heap of rubble on the path, suddenly that body reached up and violently grabbed Artaban by the shirt. Artaban’s body exploded with fear. But just as suddenly, the man fell back to the dirt and fainted again. Artaban, stunned, looked closely at the unconscious man’s face. His face was bloody and beaten. It was obvious: this man had been robbed and brutally attacked. Artaban thought, “What should I do? If I stay here and help this man, the other three wisemen will go on their way without me to find our new king. But if I leave this man here now, he will certainly die. What shall I do?” Artaban was perplexed. As much as he wanted to go and be with the other wisemen to find the new king of Israel, Artaban knew in his heart that he had to remain with the injured man. So Artaban took his new-found friend, bound up his wounds and took him to a nearby village.  At a little hotel in that village, Artaban fed his friend and took care of his wounds. Ever so slowly, his new friend became well again.

Weeks passed and late one evening, the manager of the inn quietly approached Artaban and said, “I hate to bring it up, but you must pay me for the food, lodging and medicines that I have provided for you and your injured friend during this past month. You must pay me. I too have bills to pay.”

Artaban replied, “I have no money.”

The manager of the small hotel asked, “Have you nothing of value?”

“I have a beautiful blue sapphire. Here, look at it. (Pastor puts the blue sapphire gem stone against the light from the candle.) See, the stone is genuine.”

The innkeeper took the blue sapphire from Artaban, gently caressed it in his fingers, and carefully examined it. He murmured under his breath, “It is sufficient,” knowing that the gem was worth more than a month’s food, lodging and medicine.

The injured man, now almost well, looked at Artaban and said, “Thank you for saving my life. Thank you for paying for my food, my bed,  and my medicine.”

Artaban nodded. He gave the man a hug and they said their goodbyes.

The next morning, Artaban left. He still had two more precious jewels remaining to give to his new king, when and if he ever found his new king, the king of Israel. Artaban still had the red ruby and the white pearl, so he rushed off to the land of Israel to find his colleagues, the three wiseman. Rumors had spread that this new king was to be born in a specific village in Israel, the village of Bethlehem, so Artaban traveled to Bethlehem to find the other three wisemen and to give his two remaining precious jewels to the king.

When Artaban arrived in Bethlehem, he approached the front door to a house where there was a young woman holding her baby. Artaban came up to this young mother and questioned her, “Young mother, could you tell me where I would find a new king born to the Jews? I have heard that he was to be born here in the village of Bethlehem.” The young mother looked in both directions nervously and invited the old wise Artaban into her house and whispered quietly, “The new baby-king has been found out by King Herod.  He has already left Bethlehem with his mother and father. The family has fled to Egypt to escape the insanity of King Herod. King Herod is very dangerous and wants to kill all the baby boys two years and younger.”

At that very moment, soldiers’ horses came charging into the streets of Bethlehem. Suddenly, there were swords and shrieking and screaming and shouting. Mothers were hysterically screaming, “King Herod’s soldiers are killing the children. The soldiers are insane. They are killing our children.”

Suddenly, a captain of the soldiers burst into the home. The young mother’s face became whitened with fear and she grabbed her baby boy tightly to her body as the captain burst into her house and came towards her with his sword drawn. Artaban thought to himself, “What can I do? I have no weapons to protect the mother and child.” With his sword drawn, the captain rushed at the young woman as she clutched her baby in her arms. At that moment, Artaban shouted, “Captain, would you be interested in this beautiful red ruby here? It is yours if you leave this house in peace and do not ask any questions.” The captain stopped abruptly and looked intensely at Artaban. He saw the beautiful red ruby glistening in Artaban’s fingers.  (Pastor puts the red ruby gemstone so that it shines by the candle light.) Instantly, the captain’s eyes coveted the biggest ruby he had ever seen. He glanced at the young mother with baby. He glanced back at the red ruby in Artaban’s fingers. The captain paused. He then snatched the red ruby from Artaban’s fingers, pivoted and shouted at his soldiers, “There is no baby in here.” He slammed the door as he left.

After the captain of the soldiers had gone, the young mother was sobbing as she held her baby to her chest. As her sobs quieted down, she simply said to Artaban, “Thank you. You have saved my baby’s life.” Artaban nodded with his kindly eyes. Artaban blessed the child and the mother and left their house. He thought to himself, “I must go to Egypt to find my new king for I have a precious jewel to give to him, the whitest and largest pearl that you have ever seen.” Artaban then set off for Egypt.

Artaban traveled all the way to Egypt but he could not find his new king there.

For many years, Artaban walked back and forth throughout the whole Mediterranean world, trying to find his king. All the while, Artaban clutched his leather pouch in which was the most beautiful pearl in the world, the exquisite pearl that he wanted to give to his king. But the king was nowhere to be found. After all these years, Artaban still had the white and large pearl.

Time passed. After thirty years of traveling and searching, Artaban heard rumors that this king was now in Jerusalem. He had heard stories that this king was the kindest human being who ever lived. He had heard rumors that he was the prince of peace and the king of love. Artaban thought to himself, “Finally, I will travel to Jerusalem, find my king, and place my white pearl in my king’s hand.”

By this time, Artaban had grown very old. Artaban was a very old, old, man.

Artaban walked slowly, ever so slowly and feebly, to Jerusalem. Arriving in Jerusalem, he found total confusion. The buildings were burning and the mobs were rioting. What a mess. Artaban heard rumors that the mobs were going to kill his king. He also heard rumors that the governor, Pontius Pilate, was going to have his king crucified on a cross. Artaban didn’t know what to do, where to begin. Artaban slowly decided that he would visit Pontius Pilate and offer him the whitest and largest pearl if Pilate would free his king.

As the old man Artaban slowly and feebly walked to the home of Pontius Pilate, a group of slave sellers hurriedly rushed down the street, pushing a young girl who had been abducted from the home of her parents.  The young girl had a leash around her neck and her wrists were tied together, so she stumbled and fell, as the slave sellers moved her through the streets. As this mob of humanity came by Artaban, the old feeble man was pushed up against the wall, just as the slave girl fell to the ground right in front of him. She looked up at Artaban with her frantic eyes and pleaded with him, “Old man. Please save me. They are going to sell me into slavery. They have stolen me from my parents. Please, if you can, save me. You are my last hope.”

Artaban looked deeply into the eyes of the young girl. He clutched his purse with the white, precious pearl in it and softly said to the mob of slave sellers, “I will buy the girl.” The slave sellers laughed at the old man and said, “You have no money, old man. Get out of our way, you old feebled soul.” Artaban said, “It is true. I am old. I am feeble. I have no money but I have something better than money. Look at this.  See what I have in my hand.” (Pastor shows a large white pearl against the light of the candle.) The slave sellers eyes riveted on the while pearl. A sinister smile crept across their faces. They paused. They looked at each other. One growled, “Agreed, old man. We will take your pearl.” They snatched the pearl out of Artaban’s old withered hand. Before you knew it, they were gone. They disappeared into the busy streets.

Artaban looked at the girl, “I will take you back home.” The girl wept with exhaustion and said, “Thank you for saving my life.”

It was over. Life was over. Artaban was ready to die. Old, frail, and feeble. Totally penniless. All during his life, he wanted to find his king. All during his life, he searched for his king. And now it was over.

As he was dying alone in a deserted street on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Artaban murmured a prayer to God, “Lord, how I wanted to give you my three precious jewels. O Lord, how I wanted to personally give them to you.” And then, Artaban heard a voice from heaven speak deeply into his soul, “Artaban, you have already given me your three precious jewels when you gave them away to people in need. I loved the jewels that you gave to me.”

And so Artaban died on the deserted streets of Jerusalem and went to be with our loving God who had received  … the blue sapphire … the red ruby … and the white pearl. (Pastor shows each gem against the candlelight.)  Amen.

(This story is not to be read. A pastor is to memorize the flow of the story and then share it as any good story teller would do. Please do not read this story but tell it, with all its nuances, shades and subtleties. )

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