Magi: Strangers from a Distant Land
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?’” (Matthew 2:1-2).
A great mystery surrounds the Magi.
Who are they?
Where do they come from?
The term “Magi” refers to a special class of priests in the Persian Empire. They had their own religion, their own priesthood, and their own writings. It appears from the book of Daniel that they existed in his day, and it seems Daniel was appointed head over the Magi in the time of King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 5:11).
They were the professors and philosophers of their day. They were brilliant and highly educated scholars who studied medicine, history, religion and astronomy. They were also trained in what we would call astrology.
These influential leaders served as advisors to the king. It would not be wrong to call them king-makers because they functioned as political advisors to the Persian rulers.
We know the Jews and Persians had intermingled for at least 500 years. The Magi may have been descendants of the “wise men” of Babylon. I believe God used Daniel (while he was in captivity in Babylon), to teach these men about future events, including the birth of the Savior of the world.
It is often said that “wise men still seek him.” That is true, and we should give these Magi all the credit they deserve because they risked a great deal to journey all the way to Jerusalem in search of the “king of the Jews.”
Jesus stands at the end of life’s road for all of us. There can be no middle ground. To ignore him is the same as to hate him because you end up without him either way. Perhaps hatred is nobler than casual disinterest because when you hate, you at least must pay attention to the object of your hatred. That very attention may someday lead to a change of heart. To ignore Jesus means to live as if he doesn’t matter at all. But no one can ignore him forever. We all have an appointment with Christ sooner or later.
Christ never turns away from any heart that is open to him. Those who seek him will find him every time.
Lord Jesus, grant us the zeal of the Wise Men first to find you and then to tell others where they can find you too. Amen.
Musical bonus: In 1857 John Henry Hopkins wrote a carol based on this story. I hope you enjoy this live performance of We Three Kings from Royal Albert Hall in London.