We are in the final week of our four-part Christmas series entitled THE REAL MARY. This series is designed for us, as evangelicals, to gain a biblical view of who Mary, the mother of Jesus, was and how the nativity story should give us a proper perspective and understanding as to who she is and what transpired that first Christmas. So far, we have seen Mary as the willing servant, the obedient follower, and last week we looked at Mary’s encounter with the Shepherds.
Today I will conclude our series as we will look at one more significant aspect of the biblical Christmas story. Once again I will not focus primarily on Mary but I would like to look at our final encounter from a different perspective… today we will look at Mary’s encounter with the Magi.
In Matthew 2 we are introduced to a group of people known as the Magi, or more commonly known as “the three wise men” as they came to Jerusalem to see this new King. These visitors of Mary and Joseph are believed to be and often portrayed in the Nativity story as three kings or three wise men, but the truth is we do not know how many there were, and they were almost certainly not kings. There were definitely three gifts given (thus why we some believe there were three of them) but there was probably a larger group present.
Who were the Magi? Why were they following a star? What were they expecting to find as they sought this king of Kings? These are some questions I will answer today in our time together. “The Magi of old were a class of priests among the Persians and Medes, who acted as the king’s advisors, and cultivated astrology, medicine, and occult natural science. They are frequently referred to by ancient authors.”  The Magi also possessed occult skills in interpreting dreams. However, Matthew’s Magi do not interpret dreams, but they do discern and decipher the stars (or at least one), and they are from the East. Whether ‘the East’ from which they came is Arabia, Babylon or elsewhere is uncertain. Regardless the Magi of the Gospel of Matthew are regarded positively as they are the ones who receive guidance from God, and they are not adversaries to be dealt with. It is incorrect to read off this description any assessment of astrology, either positive or negative; the interest we have in this is account is elsewhere and it concerns the star and the child.
Matthew 2: 1 - 6
Vs 1: The Magi came to Jerusalem seeking a king who was prophesied to be born. Interestingly they were familiar with the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah. Even though they were pagan priests who had little regard for the Jewish God they had an interest in this particular prophecy because the prophet Daniel was a prince and the chief among this very class of wise men. Daniel’s prophecies were made known to them; and the calculations by which he pointed to the very time when Christ would be born became, through the book of Daniel, a part of their ancient literature.  For informational purposes or for the curious a reading of Daniel 4 gives insight as to how Daniel was in fact the “chief prefect over all the wise men or Magi of Babylon…”
Vs 2 - 3: The Magi came to Jerusalem following a star. They went to King Herod to inquire of this child’s whereabouts. This concerned Herod because this “so called” King who was to be born had the potential to put his “job” in jeopardy. Many people in Jerusalem didn’t think he (Herod) deserved to be the king since he was not from the lineage of David.
Vs 4 - 6: When Herod heard about this child king he inquires of the Chief Priests and they come to the conclusion that this King the Magi sought was to be born in Bethlehem. (according to Micah 5:2).
Matthew 2: 7 - 12
Vs 7 - 8: So, Herod meets with the Magi secretly to commission them to find this child so they would return to tell him where this king was. In Herod’s response we can see his devious nature as he blatantly lies to them and tries to use them for his advantage. We find later in the reading that Herod plans to have the child king murdered, but at this point he tries to convince the Magi to find the child and let him know where he is located, so he could “worship him.”
Vs 9: The Magi followed this star in the sky. Since they were star gazers, this came natural to them. As they followed the star it rested over the house Mary, Joseph and Jesus were in.
Vs 10 - 11: When they arrived, they “were overwhelmed with joy”. Some translations say, “They rejoiced with very great joy.” These pagan star gazers came seeking the Messiah and alas they found him. When they entered the house, they saw Mary and Jesus and their first response was worship. Matthew writes, “and falling to their knees they worshiped him.”They bowed down and worshiped him. The Greek word for bowing down means “to fall down, throw oneself to the ground as a sign of devotion, before high-ranking persons or divine beings.” The Magi knew they they were in the presence of greatness as they worshiped him and then gave their gifts.
Ironically, as Warren Weirsbe writes, “The magi were seeking the King; Herod was opposing the King; and the Jewish priests were ignoring the King.  The people most likely to seek the king of the Jews could care less and the people least likely to seek the King of the Jews fall down before him and worship Him.
Little Baby Jesus
Contrary to what most believe and have been taught the Magi did not visit a baby lying in a manger with the shepherds on the night he was born. Matthew tells us the Magi visited the child in a home. The way the story is told certainly sounds like everything happens one event right after the other in one night. Truth be told the Magi had to travel from a far distance, they went to Jerusalem first to find out where the King was supposed to be born and then travel Bethlehem. In a few verses (vs 16) we are told Herod had all children from the ages of one to two years old murdered. So, this would suggest the Magi visited a child who was probably 1 to 2 years old (probably 2 years).
The Significance of the Gifts
Vs 11: The Magi come bearing gifts. There is significance in the symbolism of the gifts themselves. They opened their treasures and gave the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
All three of these gifts were ordinary gifts given to a king. So, all of the symbolism points to Jesus as the King, the Deity, The Priest and the Savior. Most likely at the time they didn’t bring these gifts with these thoughts in mind, but it is suggested that they were costly gifts and would have been sufficient to fund the upcoming trip Mary and Joseph had to make to Egypt. Either way they, along with shepherd’s who had visited previously all understood that a King had been born and this King was truly be the savior of the entire world.
There is something important in the giving of the gifts… We see the Magi worship the Messiah and then offer him their gifts. I see this as significant because before we can truly give our gifts and talents to the King, we must start with worship and then offer them up as an act of worship.
What Can We Learn from the Magi?
I find it fascinating as we look at what the Magi represent to us in the Christmas story. In the Gospel of Matthew, the Magi come seeking the “King of the Jews” so they could come and worship him. So far in the birth of the Savior of the world was a story for the Jews. But once the Magi enter here in Matthew, we see the story open up for the Gentiles as well. In the Magi Jesus is not only the King to the Jews but he is also the King to all nations as these Gentile (even pagan) priests from the East come to visit AND worship the Messiah. Matthew through the Holy Spirit thought it was significant to begin his Gospel account by writing about these gentiles and how God ultimately accepted their worship.
So, what is our takeaway for today? We have seen by their response the Magi knew they were in the presence of a King and we see this simply by the way they inquired about him (“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews”) and their response to the presence of the King was appropriate (and falling to their knees, they worshiped him) and by the costly gifts they brought him. Unlike the Magi, we do not come and offer kingly and expensive gifts to the Lord or lords; instead, we offer a more costly gift, our lives as living sacrifices (offerings) to him and we seek His “presence” in our lives. We understand that when we come into the presence of the King, we should respond by falling down and worshiping the king and giving ourselves as offerings to Jesus as this the greatest gift God desires from us.
In return, the life he gives us and the presence or Spirit in us is indeed the greatest gift we can receive from Him this Christmas season. We are confirmed once again that Jesus is not an exclusive Messiah who is only to be worshiped by the Jewish people, the privileged, the powerful and the pious. He is the King of all nations, both Jew and Gentile, young and old, rich and poor, we all have the honor and privilege of worshiping the humble Son of God who came to take away the sins of the world. He is the Savior of all who come to worship him and put their complete faith and trust in him. We see that if God accepts the worship of Pagan Priests who offer themselves fully to him, He will accept the worship of anyone of us who comes to worship him.
As I conclude today, I leave you with a question… Are you like Herod who deems himself the only worthy and rightful king and who does not want to have anyone else to have control or placed on the throne other than himself? Or are you like the Jewish Chief Priest who, even though he knew a Messiah was coming, he chose to ignore this truth and go on with business as usual? We know the Chief Priest never fully acknowledged that Jesus was and is the True Son of God? He was hard hearted and an enemy of the Savior. Or will you be like the magi who will leave all behind and seek after the King and Savior and offer to him the greatest gift you can give (yourself) as a means of worship and offer yourself to him in humble adoration? Will you acknowledge that He is the true King of your life and worthy of all praise, adoration and worship?
Smith, W. (1997). Smith's Bible dictionary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Wood, D. R. W. (1996, c1982, c1962). New Bible Dictionary (713). InterVarsity Press.
Smith, W. (1997). Smith's Bible dictionary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Mt 2:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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