“Now after 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.””
As a Christian family, I think it’s a given rule that at Christmas you must display at least one nativity scene somewhere in your home. The nativity scene presents the story of Jesus being born in the most humbling of atmospheres, a stable. A traditional display would include Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, shepherds, angels, and animals. The wise men are usually found somewhere within most people’s nativity scenes, but they weren’t actually there the night Jesus was born. The gospel of Matthew tells us by the time the wise men visited Jesus, He was no longer in the manger, but in a home. Actually, events of the wise men visiting Jesus could have happened up to two years after He was born. I will admit, when I first learned this, I took it upon myself to make sure to move the wise men in random places throughout my mother-in-law’s house to make her nativity scene more historically correct. My intent here is not for you to move your wise men to the other side of your home or to discredit their place in the nativity story, but to give some insight outside of our normal traditions on who the wise men were and how they possibly came to know to be on the lookout for the star in the sky that pointed to the coming of the Messiah–all the while, the religious people of the time had no clue of the events that were taking place.
To answer the question of the wise men’s identities, we need to start with where the Scripture tells us they came from. Matthew 2:1 states, “Behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem.” Most theologians believe they were of Persian descent and that their travels may have started from Babylon, which means they would have traveled over 700 miles. This means their journey would have taken at least a few months! That’s dedication to their cause. I mean, as a pastor, I can tell you that some people don’t want to take a 10-minute car ride to church on a Sunday morning when there is a chance of rain on Monday, so traveling for months following a star in the sky takes a great deal of faith.
Tradition has also referred to the wise men as three kings, but that’s most likely not the case. The Greek word that our English Bibles translate wise men from is μαγοι, which can be translated as ‘wise men’ or as ‘magi.’ Magi, I believe, is the better translation. The Magi in that time would have commonly been referred to as astrologers–hence them finding a new star in the sky and following it to find the newborn King just makes more sense than some random kings from the Orient. Also, the Bible never mentions the number of wise men that made the journey. The number three was most likely chosen since there were three gifts that were presented to Jesus. (We may want to grab several more wise men figurines to place around our nativities to keep accurate numbers.)
Knowing that the wise men were Magi helps to be able to dig deeper into the story. The Magi are also referenced in the Old Testament book of Daniel. The book of Daniel informs us that Daniel was a Jewish youth that was taken from his homeland and brought into Babylonian captivity under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar. Even while under captivity, Daniel’s faith never wavered, and because of this, he found favor from God, which earned him influence with the king. Daniel’s favor led to him eventually being named the “chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon” (Dan 2:48), also known as the Magi.
This is the cool part, where I believe everything ties together. Could it be that Daniel’s position and influence with the Magi is the reason that the Magi knew to be on the lookout for a star that pointed to the newborn King? Daniel was in a position to teach the prophetic words and visions that he had been given of the coming of Christ, to those that he had been placed in authority over. Daniel overcame being in a tight spot–he was basically working for the enemy, but was still able to have influence on the people within his reach that was able to stand the test of time. There were over 400 years between the events of Daniel and the birth of Jesus, and to be honest, I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning, but Daniel was able to teach and reach these men with the Gospel long before the Gospel took His first breath. God was able to use Daniel and his position to teach the truth about the one true God. He was able to lay a prophetic foundation of the coming Messiah that would save his people, including the Magi. It didn’t happen in Daniel’s lifetime, but he planted the seed that would be passed down through the generations until the sign in the sky came, right on time, just as the angel Gabriel had instructed Daniel in Chapter 9.
Daniel’s testimony to the people pointed them to the coming hope even in the midst of captivity and despair. Daniel never went back to his hometown of Jerusalem, but he did leave a legacy that pointed others to know when the Messiah was to come 453 years later.
I don’t know about you, but I believe we live in a time where people are in desperate need of some hope. Today more than ever, believers need to stand firm in God’s Word and point people to the true reason for the season, Jesus. The wise men all made a choice to believe a truth that was passed down 400 years before and make a long journey that would demand them to leave the comforts of their homes, a sacrifice of their time and even of their finances. They stepped out on a Word that was planted hundreds of years before by a young man that never had the opportunity to step foot back into his hometown again, but who held true to who God called him to be; those wise men were able to experience Christ, Himself, because of Daniel’s faithfulness and courage to speak truth even if it wasn’t popular.
The wise men’s actions teach to seek the Messiah, no matter the cost, and worship Him with our best gifts because He is ultimately worthy. Daniel’s actions teach us about influence. We can never underestimate the power of our influence in the places that God has given us favor.
I hope when you look upon those wise men that are now placed a distance away from the manger, that you see the importance of what God is calling and asking of you this Christmas season. Let’s not get so caught up in the busyness of life that we forget to be like Daniel and spread the good news of the Savior that can bring us all great joy and hope in the uncertainty of the times.
Roger Powers is passionate about sharing the life-giving message of Jesus Christ, and how to find freedom through a personal relationship with Him. He has been married to his wife, Stephanie, for 22 years and together they have three daughters: Selah, Zoe, and Hallie. He is the pastor of Thrive Church, a two year old church plant, in Searcy, Arkansas. Roger began his biblical education journey with Destiny Leadership Institute, and since graduating the program in 2013, has earned a Bachelor of Biblical Studies from Ecclesia College, as well as a Master of Divinity (Theology) from Liberty University. He plans to begin his doctoral program in the spring of 2024.