The Worship of the Magi

“And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary His mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him; and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.” 

Matthew 2:11

“And when they were come into the house. . . .” 

The gospel narrator has in mind here the magi, or, as the translation has it, “wise men from the East.” 

We know not how many they were, nor are we told precisely from which country they came. Prom of old we have been told that they were three in number, evidently on the ground that the gifts they presented were three: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And tradition has speculated as to their geographical origin – some insisting that they came from ancient Babylon, while others believe they came from either Persia or Arabia. Yet there is nothing in the description in verse one which determines either their number or the country from whence they came. Very simply Matthew informs us: “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came magi from the rising unto Jerusalem.” Or, as our King James version has it, “wise men from the East.” It is evident, however, contrary to the explanation of some, that they were not Israelites of the Diaspora, but they appear as representatives of the Gentile world who, all their lifetime, had lived outside of the land of the Promise—as it were, in the shadows of death. Nevertheless, they are men now impelled by the grace of God, and enlightened by His Spirit and truth, who came seeking the Christ-Child, Whom they believed had lately been born King of the Jews. 

They came, first of all, to Jerusalem. Contrary to general belief, His star, which they had seen in its rising, had not directed them over the sands of the desert to the city of peace. Quite naturally, since they were seeking the King of the Jews, they would come to the king’s city, looking for the object of their hope. 

But Jerusalem and its king knew not the answer to their question: “Where is He that is born, King of the Jews?” 

O, indeed, there were some in Jerusalem and its environs who could have enlightened them, had they only known it. And, had the wise men gone directly to them, they would have been sufficiently informed. There was the aged priest Zacharias with his wife Elizabeth who would have rejoiced to instruct them in their search. And the aged Simeon, with Anna the prophetess, who would have exuberantly explained to them how they had seen Him with their eyes, and had lifted Him up in their hands. But these favorites of special revelation were not among them to whom the wise men had appealed. Rather, their question had been directed to the other inhabitants of Jerusalem, and its self-seeking king. That Jerusalem with its king was sore troubled when they heard the question of the magi can easily be understood. Herod, the king, who had already slain even the members of his family whom he suspicioned were aspirants to his throne, would quite naturally be disturbed by the announcement that there was born another Who was reputed to be King of the Jews. And the citizens of Jerusalem would also be perplexed when they imagined the awful consequences that might follow should the king give vent to his diabolical nature and the extremity of his wrath, if another should arise who would remove him from his office. 

The king, however, hiding for the moment his wrath, initiated an investigation, and instructed the chief priests and scribes to come up with an answer to the question wherewith the magi had confronted them. Mind you, they had the Scriptures, but had failed to pay attention to its contents; nor were they looking for the fulfillment of its prophetic word. Only after searching did they discover that in Bethlehem of Judea the promised King should be born. With that information given, the king, feigning piety, sends the wise men on their way to Bethlehem. 

Not only were the magi assured by the word of Micah the prophet, but their hearts were gladdened when once more the star appeared which they had seen in the East. That star now guided them—not to the lowly cattle stall, where the King had been born, but to the house, which Joseph evidently had procured for his family in the little town of the city of David. 

And so, we read in our text, when they came into the house, they saw the young Child, with Mary His mother. And they fell down and worshiped Him. For that purpose, and none other, they had come. 

Remarkably, in the brief description given in our text of their actions, no mention is made of any conversation which may have taken place, either on the part of the visitors or the visited. No special greeting is directed to the mother, nor is any mention made of their praise and rejoicing before God when they behold the Child, Who was the object of their quest. No words of astonishment are expressed on the part of the mother at the sudden intrusion of perfect strangers into her home. Remarkably, too, no mention is made of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and the foster father of Jesus. That he was alive and well is evident from verse thirteen, where the Lord appeared to him in a dream, commanding him to take the mother and Child into Egypt. 

Are we perhaps allowed here to conjecture that Joseph was busy elsewhere in the town of Bethlehem performing his occupation to earn daily bread for himself and his family? Is it permissible for us here to supply any conversation which may have taken place? 

In answer to these questions, it should be evident that because of the brevity of the announcement here, it is not the intention of the Holy Spirit that we should become romantic, and insert a novel based on our imagination concerning what may or may not have taken place. But it is obviously His intention that we should focus our attention on the Scriptural givens and take special note of the worship the magi rendered, and the presentation of the gifts they brought and laid before the Christ-Child. 

Then we note, first of all, their worshipful conduct. 

They fall down, prostrate themselves, with their faces to the ground, before the little Child. 

O, you must see this with me! These great, wealthy, mature men, falling flat on their faces before the holy Child Jesus! Here, indeed, was recognition by inspiration! There is no other interpretation possible. 

And they worship Him! Not His mother, as the Romish Church would have us believe. And the word which the gospel narrator uses here for worship signifies literally to bow down in reverence, while the worshipers kissed the hand of Him before Whom they had prostrated themselves. In holy reverence they acknowledge the little Child as their Lord and Potentate. . . . .Moreover, they recognize in Him more than His humanity. They know Him to be very God of God, Who alone may be worshiped. It is their understanding that He is indeed the God of their salvation, Who is come down unto them in the flesh to redeem them from all their sin and iniquity. 

Moreover, they recognize in this little Child their divinely appointed King. 

New-born King of the Jews! 

Him they had now come to acknowledge, and to present unto Him their regal gifts. 

And again, we stand amazed at their knowledge and worshipful conduct. 

All kinds of questions arise here that cry for an answer. How could they know that the star they had seen in its rising was related to Him? Did they perhaps have access to the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly to the Book of Numbers (24:17) which spoke of the star which would arise out of Jacob? Were they acquainted with other Old Testament Scriptures, which predicted that the Gentiles would also come under His dominion? Still more significant is the question: How is it to be explained that they know this particular Child to be their King? 

Once more, all these questions must be dismissed when we consider the brevity of divine revelation. All we must do is stand in awe and worship before God, Who is now performing the central wonder of wonders. How great is His grace revealed even to these Gentiles brought by Him to the Light! How marvelous is His work of grace in them who humbly prostrate themselves before God’s appointed King of kings! We need not make, nor should we offer all kinds of conjectures to explain how all this came about. When God works, we silently behold in humble adoration the mighty evidences of His loving kindness, shown here to the representatives of the Gentile world, whom He is pleased to bring into His everlasting kingdom. 

And having opened their treasures, they present unto Him their gifts which they had carried with them from the land of their origin. 

Gold, frankincense, and myrrh! 

How fittingly they enacted the fulfillment of prophecy! 

“The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before Him, all nations shall serve Him” (Psalm 72:10, 14). 

“The multitude of camels shall cover Thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come; they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall show forth the praises of the Lord” (Isaiah 60:6). And in the last part of the preceding verse, the prophet states that “the forces (probably, the wealth) of the Gentiles shall come unto Thee.” 

No matter that David in the above-mentioned Psalm prays concerning his son Solomon and for the exaltation of his kingdom; it is always the Christ to Whom the types refer. And when Isaiah penned his prophecy concerning the coming of the Gentiles with their gifts, he had in mind ultimately nothing less than the fulfillment of the kingdom of Christ, which in its beginning must be seen in the birth of the King of the Jews, here literally so acknowledged when these Gentiles bow down before Him, presenting unto Him their gifts. 

Gold! The very symbol of royalty, which they recognized to be in the Child before Whom they prostrate themselves. 

Frankincense! The symbol of divine worship, which they acknowledged Jesus is worthy to receive. 

Myrrh! Which prophetically pointed to His great humiliation! For this King would come into His kingdom only after He had first suffered for the sins of His people. 

Wonderful, indeed, was the appearance and the worship of the magi! 

Wise men endowed with profound, spiritual insights! Not to be understood in the light of natural phenomena.

Enlightened by divine revelation and motivated by the Spirit of God to bring their worship and gifts, as representatives of the Gentile world, to the Christ Child.

Significantly, they appear shortly after Christ’s birth, as examples of unexcelled faith. Never doubting, though from the point of view of the flesh there was much occasion to halt and stumble. When His star which they had seen in its rising as they searched the heavens was blotted out from their vision, they hesitated not to begin their long search, trekking to the Holy Land, looking for their King. Though Jerusalem’s inhabitants with their king appear to be oblivious of the birth of the King of the Jews, these men cannot rest until they have worshiped Him, Whom they believe to be their Savior. Though their King is surrounded with poverty and is only a Child, their faith moves them to prostrate themselves as His humble subjects. 

They appear as the first fruits of the Gentiles, who must also be gathered into the kingdom. 

They are our representatives at Bethlehem! That should bind them to us. For what they did was in our name and in our place. 

In this Christmas season, let us also bow down and worship Him, not only as the lowly Babe of Bethlehem, but as our eternal King!