The Magi Entrance Into the Christmas Story
Matthew 2:1-12 (NKJV) 1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him." 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 So they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 6 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.' " 7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also." 9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
Who Were the Magi?
This from Grace to You
The magi first appear in history in the seventh century b.c. as a tribe within the Median nation in eastern Mesopotamia. Many historians consider them to have been Semites, which if so, made them-with the Jews and Arabs-descendants of Noah’s son Shem. It may also be that, like Abraham, the magi came from ancient Ur in Chaldea. The name magi soon came to be associated solely with the hereditary priesthood within that tribe. The magi became skilled in astronomy and astrology (which, in that day, were closely associated) and had a sacrificial system that somewhat resembled the one God gave to Israel through Moses. They were involved in various occult practices, including sorcery, and were especially noted for their ability to interpret dreams. It is from their name that our words magic and magician are derived.
We don’t know how many Magi came and worshiped Jesus Matthew just uses the plural so there were two or more. According to beliefnet.com, Christian art from the first centuries of the Church shows various numbers of Magi, ranging from 2 to 8. Matthew records three gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, leading to the thought that each Magi had a gift so there were three but that is purely speculation and really not important to the story.
The Source of the Magi’s Faith – A Star
After the Babylonian exile, many Jews continued to live in the Persian empire. Thus, by the time of Christ's birth centuries later, the Hebrew religion would have long existed in the "east." This might explain how the Magi had knowledge of the Messiah, the King of the Jews. – beliefnet.com
All attempts to explain the star as a natural phenomenon are inadequate to account for its leading the Magi from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and then standing over the house. Rather, it was a special manifestation used of God both when it first appeared to indicate the fact of Christ's birth, and when it reappeared over Jerusalem to guide the Magi to the place. Since a direct revelation to the Magi is recorded (v. 12), there is nothing improbable in assuming a direct revelation at the beginning to impart the significance of the star. - The Wycliffe Bible Commentary.
Difference between the Magi and the wise men (chief priests and scribes) of Jerusalem
- The Jews had the Old Testament prophecies - The Magi had a star
- The "King" was the "King of the Jews" - The Magi were surely Gentiles
- The Jews had 7 miles to Bethlehem - The Magi came from afar
- The Jews did not visit Jesus - The Magi did
- The Jewish king Herod sought to kill Jesus - The Magi came to worship, bearing expensive gifts
They disobeyed Herod, going home a different route resulting in the death of many male children two years and under.
Matthew 2:16-18 (NKJV)16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.
17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: 18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more."
Significance of the Magi’s Faith
God revealed the identity of Jesus as Messiah and King of the Jews to Gentiles. Luke records that Simeon said that Jesus would be a light of revelation to the Gentiles.
Luke 2:25-32 (NKJV) 25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. 27 So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, 28 he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: 29 "Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation 31 Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, 32 A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel."
#2 in the Faith at Christmas Series