Why it matters: Follow this. This is not what we envision. The wise and the rich saw His star and were overjoyed. They sought Him out. That is the way it is with the truly wise. They seek after Yeshua [Jesus]. They are excited to find Him. They have gifts for Him. They worship Him.
When they found Him, they were overwhelmed. They fell to the ground and worshiped Him. They recognized that this child was their master. They saw that God was with us.
They opened their treasure and gave Him gifts. He was just a child. He had done “nothing” yet. What is up with that? Well … they were truly wise.
God’s goal: Wise men still seek Him. May we follow they steps of the wise men! May we bring to our King Jesus all our gifts. May we fall down and worship Him. God wants us to be wise when it comes to His Son Yeshua [Jesus].
Now after Yeshua [Jesus] was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah [Christ] was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
English Standard Version. (2016). (Matthew 2:1–12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
We must confess that we know little about these men. The word translated “wise men” (magi) refers to a group of scholars who studied the stars. Their title connects them with magic, but they were more like astrologers. However, their presence in the biblical record is not a divine endorsement of astrology.
God gave them a special sign, a miraculous star that announced the birth of the King. The star led them to Jerusalem where God’s prophets told them that the King would be born in Bethlehem. They went to Bethlehem, and there they worshiped the Messiah Child.
We do not know how many magi there were. From the three gifts listed in Matthew 2:11, some people have assumed there were three kings from the Orient, though this is not certain. But when their caravan arrived in Jerusalem, there were enough of them to trouble the whole city.
Keep in mind that these men were Gentiles. From the very beginning, Jesus came to be “the Savior of the world” (John 4:42). These men were also wealthy, and they were scholars—scientists. No scholarly person who follows the light God gives him can miss worshiping at the feet of Jesus. In Jesus Christ “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). In Him dwells “all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9).
The magi were seeking the King, but Herod was afraid of the King and wanted to destroy Him. This was Herod the Great, called king by the Roman senate because of the influence of Mark Antony. Herod was a cruel and crafty man who allowed no one, not even his own family, to interfere with his rule or prevent the satisfying of his evil desires. A ruthless murderer, he had his own wife and her two brothers slain because he suspected them of treason. He was married at least nine times to fulfill his lusts and strengthen his political ties.
The birth of Jesus likely occurred between the years 4–6 BCE. That this visit of the magi was later than Jesus’ time of birth is also confirmed by the phrase upon entering the house (v. 11). This is a quite different term than that given to his original place of birth in the hillside stable or manger. Once in the house, they go ahead to offer gifts to the new king—gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Each of these gifts is highly symbolic of spiritual truth. Gold was considered an expensive gift fit for royalty. Frankincense was often used as a perfume even for a bridegroom, as illustrated in Solomon’s love story. Myrrh (Hebrew mor) was often an anointing oil used in preparation for death.
All three ingredients are prophetic symbols of the purpose of the Messiah’s arrival—to be King, Groom, and Redeemer. Although the popular Christmas carol speaks of “we three kings,” the text describes only three kinds of gifts. There may have been three chachamim or a much larger entourage. Whatever the number, they bent the knee in worship, an act that would be offered only to God himself.