Tradition tells us that there were three wise men, or Magi, who travelled to find the Baby Jesus, but the Bible itself doesn’t specify how many of them there were. All we do know is that there were at least two! The story is told in Matthew 2:1 – 12. We find that these wise men visited King Herod in Jerusalem having followed an unusual star from the East to seek the birth place of this King of the Jews (v2). The word “magi” comes from the same Greek word from which we get “magic” and “magician”. However the title “originally referred to the Median priestly caste in Persia, who were both religious leaders and philosophical teachers” (The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, p896).
Interestingly Herod himself and the whole city of Jerusalem seemed troubled by the birth of this new King (v3) and appeared unaware of the Biblical prophecy which the wise men did know, despite the Scriptures not having been given to them (v6). It seems that Herod felt threatened by the kingship of this unknown Infant and sought to wipe out the competition. He had been made king by Augustus and Antonius who were at that time the chief rulers of the Roman state, and went by the title of Herod the Great. However, he was now an old man who had been on the throne for 35 years and his lies and cruelty were well-known. Perhaps he simply couldn’t stand the thought of a fresh new rival.
Again we see a common Biblical theme playing out, in that the Jewish nation who had been blessed with so many spiritual blessings didn’t want the Child born King of the Jews, but Gentiles from further afield travelled long distances to seek Him out for themselves. God spoke to them in a language they could understand, namely astronomy. Their people had worshiped the stars for centuries, now the Lord used that to point them to the true King.
Having been sent on their way by Herod under the pretence that he too wanted to join them in worshiping this new King, the wise men continued following the star until it rested above the place where Jesus lay. The Bible tells us that at this, “they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy” (v10). On entering the house and seeing the young Child with His mother, they “fell down and worshiped Him” (v11).
Surely there is something to be said here to us, in following the light that we do have. We may not know all the answers, but God has revealed just enough to us that we recognise the identity of His Son. If we do know that, what are we waiting for? Why don’t we, along with these wise men, fall down in worship at the feet of this infant King? The wise men didn’t have all the benefits of the Jewish nation, yet they still recognised the Messiah when they saw Him and reacted accordingly.
They gave Jesus their three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, offering the best that they had whilst also signifying the kind of life Jesus would have, as both Lord and King and our sacrifice in His death on the cross. Having seen Him for themselves they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod because his intentions were evil, as we see in the rest of the chapter.
At first glance this story seems like a great quest; a long journey from a distant land to find a King in an unknown place. However they were led by God Himself by the means of the star, and brought to the understanding that this Child was indeed the long-prophesied King of the Jews. Sometimes when we think of our own faith journey we get things back to front, and think it was us who started seeking after God off our own backs. We took the initiative, we looked for Him in places that were alien to us, we couldn’t rest until we had found Him for ourselves. If we think about it more carefully, though, surely like the wise men we were led to that new understanding of the person of Jesus and His relevance to our lives. Perhaps it was a sense of incompleteness, or a feeling of need that drove us on in our search. The Bible is very clear that no-one seeks God for themselves; in fact we are all dead in our sin until He breathes life into our lifeless souls.
Praise the Lord that He hasn’t left us to our own devices, that He Himself stepped into human history in the form of a tiny, vulnerable baby so that we might be lost no longer but found and saved by His precious blood! Rather like the wise men when they had found the Infant King, let’s bow down and worship while we rejoice at His salvation plan.