Reflecting on the Christmas story, particularly the account of the wise men, initially seemed relatively straightforward. These intelligent individuals arrived at the manger, guided by an unusual star, presenting three significant gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh—to baby Jesus, whom they worshiped then and there, right?
However, digging deeper reveals intriguing possibilities and some outright errors in the timeline, making the story of the wise men even all the more amazing:
First, contrary to common belief, these figures weren’t kings. Rather, they were close advisors to kings. They were indeed men of intelligence, or “wise,” leading some to believe they were astronomers, learned men of a priestly class, and perhaps even astrologers! Remember, there were no Apple Watches back then—so people relied on the sun, moon, and stars to tell them the times and seasons. Could God have spoken to them in that “language” they knew and understood to guide them to Jesus?
Secondly, and quite remarkably, they were Gentiles! Their culture may not have normalized hearing from God. Nevertheless, they might have been acquainted with the words of the prophet Daniel,
“I continued watching in the night visions, and suddenly, one like a son of man was coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. He was given dominion and glory and a kingdom so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will not be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13-14
Or maybe they knew the prophecy from Numbers,
“I see him, but not now; I perceive him, but not near. A star will come from Jacob, and a scepter will arise from Israel. He will smash the forehead of Moab and strike down all the Shethites.” Numbers 24:17
Thirdly, they came from the East. Followers of Eastern teachings believe in divine revelation from the gods, often deriving insights from celestial cues that influenced events on Earth. Many actively sought these signs, eager to witness their fulfillment firsthand. Scholars propose that these wise men likely originated from either Arabia or Persia. Those leaning toward Arabia associate it with the valuable gift of myrrh, which was a prized product from the region (more valuable than gold!). Conversely, proponents of Persia suggest these men belonged to the same order as the “magicians, enchanters, astrologers, and diviners” mentioned in Daniel 5, where the prophet Daniel held authority.
Regardless of their specific origin, Matthew 2:1 tells us they came from the East, marking them as the first documented Gentiles to worship Jesus! Their journey to the newborn King would likely have spanned weeks, if not months! Given the distance they had to travel and the fact that the Bible does not say they came to the manger but to “the place where the child was” (Matt. 2:9), they probably arrived in Nazareth when Jesus was approximately one year old.
Lastly, while it was customary to present extravagant gifts to leaders, with the expectation of reciprocation, the gifts of the Magi carried greater spiritual meaning. Gold symbolizes royalty, frankincense represents deity, and myrrh, used in anointing oil and embalming, foreshadowed Christ’s sacrificial death. Their gifts revealed a deeper understanding and belief in who Jesus was! These wise worshippers’ gifts provided Mary and Joseph with resources to travel to Egypt, where they remained until Herod’s death. And even though the Magi went home without a reciprocated tangible gift, God granted them the invaluable gifts of protection and safety through a dream, guiding them to avoid Herod and take an alternative route.
1. There may be servants of God in places where we should not expect to find them.
2. There is usually more to the story, making its meaning more profound and impactful. God is a God of detail. He does not do anything by chance.
3. The Gentile Magi came to worship the newborn King, while the Jewish priests and king did not.
4. The gifts presented were acts of worship and important to God. They demonstrated respect, honor, and acknowledgment of Jesus’ true identity, and the Magi worshiped Him accordingly.
Things to ponder:
• What would be an appropriate gift for you to bring to Jesus this season?
• Will you give God permission to work in your life in unusual ways, knowing His ways are best?
• In what ways can you utilize the gifts God has given you as gifts to share with others?
The Nativity is the story of the birth of Jesus. It is one of the most beautiful stories in the Bible. The whole story is far more involved than you may think. Read it here.