The Magi

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. Mt. 2:1-2

There are a host of questions surrounding these mysterious individuals and the events surrounding their arrival in Judea. Who were they? The term “magi” had previously referred to a Persian priestly caste, but by the time of Christ it widely referred to those in the east who practiced astrology and magic (it is used to describe Paul’s nemesis Bar-Jesus in Acts 13:6 – there it is translated “magician” in the ESV).[1] It is thought by the authorities that their most likely origin was Babylon (where there was also a sizable Jewish community). Other than that, there is little we can say about them, except that they were almost certainly Gentiles, since they refer to the “king of the Jews” (instead of “our king”).

Another problem is that of the star. What did they see? There have been at least three explanations in terms of ordinary astronomical phenomena. (1) Some have said that what they saw was the conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in 7 B.C. (2) Some have said that what they saw was a comet – Halley’s Comet appeared in 12/11 B.C. (3) Some have said that what they saw was a supernova, which Chinese astronomers saw for 70 days in 5/4 B.C. Although (2) can be fairly ruled out (as least as far as Halley’s Comet is concerned) because it was too early, the other two can also be ruled out because such explanations fail to account for the movement of the star in verse 9: “And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was” (ESV). It seems to me that Matthew wants us to see this event as miraculous: this was a very particular sign to these men that Christ had been born and then later where he was born.

In contrast with Herod and the religious leaders, their response was the response of worship: “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh" (2:10-11). Whereas Herod was troubled, and the religious teachers were indifferent, these guys rejoiced exceedingly with joy.

Worship is the heart’s response to faith in Christ. And these men had faith. Think about it: “They believed in Christ when they had never seen Him--but that was not all. They believed in Him when the Scribes and Pharisees were unbelieving--but that again was not all. They believed in Him when they saw Him a little infant on Mary's knee, and worshiped Him as a king. This was the crowning point of their faith. They saw no miracles to convince them. They heard no teaching to persuade them. They beheld no signs of divinity and greatness to overawe them. They saw nothing but a new-born infant, helpless and weak, and needing a mother's care like any one of ourselves. And yet when they saw that infant, they believed that they saw the divine Savior of the world.”[2]

Do you have faith in Christ? That is the only appropriate response to his claims over your life. If you say that you do have faith, test it further with this question: have you sought him out? Do you seek him? Or do you yawn your way through the Bible and through sermons and through the exhortations of friends and family? God got the attention of these guys with a star, but once he had their attention, their faith led them to diligently seek Christ out. They traveled a great distance in a time when travel was much more perilous than it is today in order to find this king. Will you seek him? If you truly do, you will find him!

My friend, Christ is your king. But this is not bad news. It is the best news in the world. It is our self-centeredness – our wanting to be king – that is at the root of all our problem and sin and evil. There are 7 billion human beings who would be king on our planet, and this is the reason there is so much grief. If men were to surrender their rights to Christ and bow their knees to him as Lord, unspeakable peace would follow.

The amazing thing is that this king accepts the unlikeliest of people. The Magi certainly fit into that category. Perhaps you think that he would never receive you. But he says, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (Jn. 6:37). So come to him; “let earth receive her king!”

[1] R. T. France, Matthew (TNTC: 1985), p. 81.

[2] Ryle, Expository Thoughts.

By: Jeremiah Bass