Have you ever started out on a road trip knowing the highway you were going to take, but not quite sure how many miles you were going to travel, or exactly what would become your final destination? This was the kind of journey the “Magi,” or Wise Men from the East” found themselves on as the story is told in the New Testament Gospel of Matthew.
The Magi had seen a brilliant star appear which, as astrologers, they believed was a miraculous sign of the birth of a Messiah King. They thus had begun a journey full of hope seeking to find and worship Him.
With their huge Arabian camels, they followed the direction of the star to the city of Jerusalem in Judea. These large, stately beasts of burden could scarcely go unnoticed by Jerusalem’s inhabitants. And the Magi evidently began to ask everyone they met where they might find this newly born King. Matthew 2:3 verifies their zealous questioning as the verse says, “When King Herod heard this [talk of the Magi’s inquiry] he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him,” The Holy Bible, New International Version.*
Keep in mind that Judea was part of the Roman Empire at this time. And King Herod, a Jew, was the ruler of the Jewish state although ultimate power came from Rome. So, instead of being delighted by news of the long-awaited Messiah, Herod felt threatened when the chief priests and teachers of the law whom he had summoned told him what the Prophet Micah had said: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel whose origins are from old, from ancient times,” Micah 5:2, The Holy Bible, NIV.*
King Herod arranged a secret meeting with the Magi so he could be the one doing the questioning this time. He wanted to know from them the exact time the star had appeared as this would signal when the Jewish Messiah had been born. He also offered them the information he had gotten from the chief priests and teachers of the law, namely that the Baby had been born in Bethlehem. Under the pretext of wanting to pay homage to the Child also, Herod told them, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him,” Matthew 2:8b The Holy Bible, NIV.*
These Arabian visitors left Jerusalem and continued their journey to Bethlehem following the spectacularly luminous star. The Gospel Matthew’s relating of the story tells us it stopped right over the house where the Child Messiah was with His mother Mary. The Wise Men and their camels had reached their destination.
The Bible account doesn’t tell us what Mary’s reaction to these strangely dressed foreigners was. So we are left to wonder how she felt as they came into the house and bowed down before her Child in reverence and worship. She had however been told by an angel before her Son’s birth that He was not her betrothed husband’s child. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. He was the Son of God.
Unlike the paintings you have seen where shepherds and Magi together are bowing before an Infant Jesus lying in a manger, an animal’s feeding trough, the Scriptures are clear that the Magi entered a house. There they found a young Child, not a Baby. Undoubtedly it was an early artist’s decision to have shepherds and the Magi witnessing the Glory of the Lord at the same time and later artists followed suit.
In a house in Bethlehem is where the Magi presented the gifts they had brought—presents fit for a King—glistening gold, aromatic incense, and woody-smelling myrrh. Some have interpreted these precious gifts as also being symbolic. Gold represented the Messiah’s kingship. Frankincense was an incense to be burned in recognition of Christ’s deity. And myrrh oil was used to prepare a body for burial. Thus the myrrh presented to the Child foretold the suffering He would endure as an adult and His ultimate death on a cross through the trial, sentencing, and execution by the Roman government.
The last thing we know of the Magi is encapsulated in the twelfth verse of the second chapter of Matthew: “And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route,” Matthew 2:12, The Holy Bible, NIV.* These travelers had completed their journey to Bethlehem and their mission to find the Messiah was fulfilled.
* If you would like to listen to a reading of the Scriptures used to prepare this devotional, simply go to www.Bible.com. You can install the free Bible app on any of your electronic devices or you can simply click the “Read the Bible Now” bar. (BTW I don’t get paid for this–I just think their app is great!) At the top of your screen reading left to right, choose the book of the Bible, the chapter, and the version. Under versions a drop-down menu allows you to change the language. Next you may click to compare parallel versions. Then you may tap to hear audio recordings of some selected versions. Finally to the extreme right you may click to enlarge the size and change the font.
A Christmas Season Devotional Reading
By Connie Carlisle Polley, 2020-2021
From Events Described in Matthew 2:1-12