The Mystery of the Magi
All across the world right now, people are preparing for Christmas. For some, this time of the year brings joy and happiness and for others reflection, or even perhaps regret or pain as they look back over former years.
Whatever your personal feelings at this time of year, Christmas is meant to be a time filled with joy and hope. The Saviour of the world is born in an unassuming stable; He is Immanuel - God with us, born of a virgin; God himself wrapped in human flesh.
THE TRADITIONAL PICTURE OF CHRISTMAS
As we gaze upon the traditional nativity scene – the holy family, Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus, the shepherds, three wise men, together with a collection of farm animals, something seems wrong or even mysterious. Theologically something's not quite right. The answer can be found when we read the Christmas story in Matthew 2 and learn of the wise men.
The Gospel of Matthew is the only Gospel to mention the wise men. Matthew is helping us to make connections to the prophetic nature of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection. Matthew continually shows us how Jesus fulfilled the ancient prophecies about the coming Messiah; revealing who Jesus truly is – Saviour of the world.
The coming of the Wise Men was in itself, a fulfilment of a prophetic sign. It connected with something from the past, announced something about the present and predicting something about the future. The gifts that they gave of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh were significant. Gold for a King. Frankincense representing Jesus as our great High Priest, and Myrrh the burial ointment speaking about Jesus’ death – how He would pay the ultimate price for mankind’s sin, by taking the punishment of sin upon himself on the cross.
WHO WERE THESE WISE MEN?
There is something quite mysterious about these figures. Truth be told, we don’t know whether there were three of them or more, the bible doesn't tell us. We know that they were not present at the birth of Christ and probably came at some point when Jesus was between the age of 1 and 2 years old.
However we do know that they were Magi, the Hebrew word for astrologer. If we look back into history, we learn that these Magi were known for their fortune telling, astrology and dream interpretation. These men were pagan, heathen, foreign, non-Jewish, and non-kosher men. It seems strange that these men would turn up to acknowledge and worship the one who was born the King of the Jews. Where did the Magi come from?
THE ORIGINS OF THE MAGI IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
Matthew doesn't give us any specific background or context for these other than to tell us they were from the Far East. But if we check our bible, we can find other mentions for Magi in the bible. If we wind back 600 years before the birth of Jesus, we find the story of the prophet Daniel.
Daniel was selected from among the young people of Israel for his exceptional intelligence and talent. He was selected and taken to work for King Nebuchadnezzar, the ruler of the Babylonian empire.
We learn in Daniel 2 that King Nebuchadnezzar has a disturbing dream. He calls all of his wise men, or Magi together. They ask the King to share the dream and they will offer an interpretation. But the King didn’t just want any interpretation. He wanted them to tell him the dream and offer the interpretation. However as we all know, the pagan Magi were unable to give this revelation, so the King orders that they are all killed. Daniel hears of this and the Lord uses Daniel to reveal the dream to the King. Daniel ultimately prophecies and accurately predicts the rise and fall of certain empires, all of which historians have confirmed. The King then promotes Daniel with responsibility over all of the wise men and over the Magi.
Daniel was a prophet and prophesied many future events in the gentile world but also about the forthcoming Messiah. Daniel must have been a fairly extraordinary guy, because he was promoted to the highest levels in the Babylonian empire but when the Persian army defeated the Babylonians, Daniel is kept on in the Persian court and promoted to one of the highest offices in that Kingdom. Daniel served 4 different Kings across 2 separate Kingdoms and was appointed as head over the wise men and Magi.
In Daniel 7 v 13-14, Daniel delivers one of the most important prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah. Over the years, it is likely that the Magi came to respect Daniel as they saw all of his words coming to pass.
But now, fasting forward to the birth of Jesus, it was time for the fulfilment of one of the most important prophesies that Daniel gave.
Daniel was prophesying about Jesus coming to establish the everlasting Kingdom. Jesus taking his place on earth as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It is immortal and indestructible Kingdom, an eternal Kingdom that cannot be shaken. The magi, understood they were coming to worship the greatest Kings of all time.
MAGI ARRIVE IN JERUSALEM - A THREAT TO HEROD
The logical first place to look for the King of the Jews would be the palace in Jerusalem. They go to visit Herod. Israel had been conquered by the Roman Empire and it was their custom to appoint a local ruler from the conquered ethnic group to rule over the people – that person was used effectively as a puppet for the Roman Empire.
The roman senate gave Herod the title, “King of the Jews”. But he had no right to that title. We know that the title King of the Jews was going to be of the line or descendants of King David. So, we have a paranoid, phoney king, sitting on a throne that doesn’t belong to him and a group of Magi arrive telling you that they have come to worship the baby who has been born - King of the Jews.
King Herod goes to his own advisors, the Scribes and Pharisees, experts in the law and the bible. They confirm that the scriptures prophesy that the Messiah will be born in the City of Bethlehem which is the City of David. Herod tells the Magi to go and find Jesus and then return to him to bring news of his whereabouts so that he too can go and worship him. But of course we know that Herod didn’t want to worship Jesus, instead he wanted to kill Jesus.
RELIGION OR RELATIONSHIP?
Religion or The religious leaders of the day knew that the Christ was going to be born in the City of David, Jerusalem but they didn’t go looking. You see, those religious leaders were so consumed with their own power and influence that they missed the opportunity to seek out the Messiah. There is huge irony in the story here - Gentile, pagan astrologers from the East, discover a Jewish King by following the star. The scholars missed it, even though they had the scriptures. Pagan Magi came to worship the Messiah but Jerusalem’s royalty sort to kill him.
John 1 v 11 says, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
All of this fulfilled the prophecies in the scriptures about the Messiah. God will use the most unusual events, situations and people to give glory to his son. If the Jewish wise men won’t praise him then pagan ones will. And if we won’t praise him, the scripture tells us that even the rocks will cry out instead.
WISHING YOU A CHRIST-FILLED CHRISTMAS
Today, my prayer for you is that this Christmas you encounter the risen Lord Jesus personally. As you draw near to Him, He will draw near to you. From all of us at Christ for all Nations, we wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas!
Author: Daniel Kolenda
This blog has been taken from our latest two-part TV series.
Watch part 1 of the Mystery of the Magi here.