The Visit Of The Magi

I’ve heard the story of the wisemen since I was a child. At one point, one of my favorite Christmas carols was “We Three Kings.” But when I learned the Bible never calls them kings and that we don’t actually know if there were three or three dozen, it kind of spoiled the song for me.

Largely their part in the Christmas story has been a mystery to me. I mean, is there some truth to astrology—God does tell our stories in the stars? Or were the wisemen experiencing a miracle? But how can you know to look for a miracle? Unless, as some think, these particular wisemen, more accurately called magi, came from Persia and had access to or had been influenced by Daniel’s writing, including some Messianic prophecy.

Mostly, we don’t know. It’s a mystery.

But what we do know is really interesting, and the pastor who preached at my church this Sunday drew a really interesting contrast. Others have done so in part, but there’s more than we often consider.

I’m talking about the contrast between the magi and King Herod of Judea.

The magi showed up in Jerusalem asking to see the new king because they wanted to worship him. That, in itself, is a little startling. I mean, Caesar likely took the role of a god in the Roman empire, but I don’t think the lesser kings who ruled in out-of-the-way places like Judea would have talked about themselves as deity.

In other words, there’s a spiritual aspect to the magi’s visit. They didn’t just come to make a political statement, though that would not have been unheard of. At various times in the Old Testament one king or another was traveling to a neighboring country or sending emissaries to honor a new king, the son of one who had recently died.

The thing was, Herod had not yet died and no son of his had recently been born. The magi could only be looking for one person—the promised King of the Jews, the Christ, the Messiah.

Herod knew this, which was why he turned to the Jewish religious leaders to find out where the Christ was to be born. Once he had the location spelled out for him via the scribes and priests who knew the prophecies, he passed the information on to the magi, for one reason and one reason alone: he planned to execute this “new king.”

Apparently historical records all agree about Herod: he was a power-hungry, barbaric ruler who would kill anyone he suspected of trying to usurp his position, including his own sons and his own wife. In other words, all Herod cared about when the magi showed up was putting down a new threat to his power. He wanted to hold on to what he had, at all costs.

The magi, on the other hand, had nothing to gain. Their mission was to give. Yes, the physical gifts they had brought: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But they also had adoration to give because when they came to the house and saw Jesus with Mary and Joseph, they prostrated themselves before the baby and worshiped Him.

Before that, they gave their knowledge—some amount of study had to go into their ability to recognize what this star that they saw rise in the east, referred to. Then there was the planning and the preparation to go to Jerusalem. I mean, you didn’t just hop in the car and take off to another country. Then there was the travel time. Maybe four months, maybe six, maybe eight, followed by the return trip.

In short, the magi went all in. They invested their talent, their resources, their time, their treasure, their worship.

And Herod? He wasn’t willing to invest in anything except a plan to kill the Christ Child.

Sadly, the priests and scribes who gave Herod the information about where the Messiah would be born, responded more like Herod than like the magi. I mean, Bethlehem was maybe five miles from Jerusalem, they knew that was where the Messiah would be born, and they knew the magi were looking for Him, so why didn’t they look too?

I suspect they were just as concerned about holding on to their religious power as Herod was holding on to his political power.

But one more cool thing about the magi: they opened the door to us Gentiles. The Messiah, after all, was King of the Jews. But Gentiles came and worshiped Him. Oh, I suppose the magi could have been of Jewish descent—descendants of those exiled to Babylon years before. But still, they came from a foreign place, which foreshadowed the worldwide ministry Jesus declared: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

Published in: on December 17, 2018 at 5:06 pm  Comments (3)  
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  1. Your Christmas posts have been so intriguing and such a blessing. Thank you!

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  2. Interesting, Becky! Heaven forbid I shatter anymore of our magi illusions, I mean the 3 kings are my favorite part in every Christmas pageant and I love the song too.

    We’ve been talking about the magi quite a bit at church and few men have speculated that Persia at the time, was in desperate need of a king of their own, one who would over throw Rome. So their gifts, rather than an act of worship,were actually more like a bribe, laying claim to their new found king. The magi rather then being honorable, were actually just the power brokers of the day, wheeling and dealing in politics. Ironically, the gifts they brought paved the way for the Christ child to be hidden in Egypt, safe from not only Herod, but from the magi too. They could not find Him once he was of age. In the bible, Daniel had basically been kidnapped, as had Joseph, and valued by royalty for their prophecies and dream interpretations,so there is a precedent for this tradition of raiding the Jews and stealing their prophets. The Queen of Sheba too comes to Solomon “bearing gifts and planning to ask him hard questions,” so the idea of foreigners coming to scope out the power and see what they could glean from it all, has precedent too.

    Of course this is all sheer speculation and what the magi may have intended for themselves, God simply worked for good, enabled it to serve His purpose.

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    • Interesting perspective, IB. I had not heard before of the idea that these particular magi, we were in the class of powerful “king makers” were schooled in Daniel’s writings. It is an intriguing possibility. But the idea you laid out is equally possible. The speculation on Sunday included the idea that perhaps the gifts were actually from the temple which the Babylonians stripped of all that was valuable before they destroyed it, and these Persians were returning to the King of the Jews what was rightfully His. Just speculation, as you said. It will be wonderful to hear the real story, if that’s something we even care about any more when we get to heaven.

      Thanks for adding to the possibilities out there for our consideration, IB.


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