Monday, December 21, 2009

Who were the magi?

The circumstances surrounding Christ's incarnation were very humble- born to a tradesman rather than nobility, born in a cave or manger rather than a palace, born so that He might become a willing sacrifice for our sins rather than take His rightful place as ruler of the earth. However, we have several reminders in the Christmas story that Jesus is, in fact, the King of kings and Lord of lords, even though He chose to lay that aside for His first Advent in order to be the suffering servant. The heavenly host celebrating Christ's birth by praising God and saying glory to God in the highest is one such example. The magi who came from afar to worship Jesus is another and the one I want to focus on for this post.

Who were the magi? There is some speculation since the Bible tells us only that they were from the east and that they followed His star. It is thought that the magi, or wise men as they are sometimes called, were probably priests or court advisors (like Joseph and Daniel were). Because of what we know from secular history about how advanced the science of astronomy was in ancient Babylon, it is often suggested that the magi were Babylonians. How would they know about the star prophesied in Numbers 24:17? Well, some would have you think they didn't know about it, but that they just followed the star assuming that it signaled the birth of a great king. I believe differently. I think the magi knew about the prophecy of the coming Messiah and that they were searching the heavens for generations looking for the star that would signal His birth.

There are several ways they could have been familiar with the Scriptures. The most likely explanation is from the time of the Babylonian captivity of Judah. Many Jews were taken to Babylon for 70 years and integrated into the culture there. Daniel, whom we know stayed faithful to the worship of the Lord alone, had a significant impact on Nebuchadnezzar. In fact, it seems likely that Nebuchadnezzar himself ended up as a believer. He refers to God as the Most High multiple times and acknowledges God's sovereignty over all His creation. (Daniel 4:35) Then after Cyrus the Great of Persia conquers Babylon, he makes Daniel one of his chief advisors. So Daniel could also help explain how the magi knew about the star if they were from Persia.

Daniel was not the only one of God's people that held an influential position in an eastern kingdom, however. It's possible that Cyrus the Great was a believer. The Lord stirred up his spirit so that he sent the Jewish people back to Jerusalem in order to rebuild the Temple of the Lord. He also sent them back with the sacred vessels of gold and silver taken from the Temple by the Babylonians and profaned by Belshazzar. Of the Lord God of Israel, Cyrus says, "He is God." (Ezra 1:3) And remember Esther who married the Persian king Xerxes? His son was Artaxerxes who ruled about 100 years after Cyrus and also supported the Jews in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its wall. Nehemiah was the cup-bearer to Artaxerxes, who certainly seemed sympathetic with Nehemiah's cause. He even gave him a 12 year leave of absence to lead the Jews in rebuilding Jersualem. It seems likely that Artaxerxes was a believer. It's quite possible that his mother was Esther, the Jewish wife of King Xerxes of Persia. At any rate she would have had influence over his father and probably him as well.

It's fun to speculate, but what we know is that when the magi saw Jesus, they fell down and worshipped him. They did not behave as if they didn't know whom they were seeking. The gifts they gave to Jesus also seem to underscore the fact that they knew just who it was they had been searching for. They gave Him gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It has been said that the myrrh speaks to Christ's humanity, the frankincense his divinity, and the gold his kingship. At Christ's second Advent it won't be just the magi who acknowledge His sovereignty. Everyone on earth will bow down to Him as Lord of all. "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:10-11)
Let us remember when we look at our nativity scenes this Christmas season that Jesus came as a humble servant, but that He is coming back as Lord of all. I love Psalm 8 and a portion of it prophesies about the coming Messiah. "Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, because of Your enemies, that You may silence the enemy and the avenger." (v. 2) In other words, He was an innocent baby, but He wasn't weak. It was just a different kind of strength. Christ possessed the strength of moral purity and the strength of self-sacrifice and the strength of obedience and the strength of delayed gratification. He will return as a mighty conqueror. What an exciting thought for Advent!

1 comment:

  1. I love that celee! I think often of the wonder of that time. the Magi are so mysterious yet so God ordained. thanks for shedding some light on it.



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I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.