I have a longtime fascination with the “wise men” who followed the star to Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus.
Matthew’s Gospel tells us they were “from the East.” Immediately east of Judea was the nearly impassable Arabian Desert; he had to be referring to Persia. A new star would hold no real significance to an Arabian, but to a Persian Magi?
They were royalty, priests and superb astronomers. Some thought them to be magicians because their abilities were incomprehensible. But they did no “black magic.” In fact, sorcery was punishable by death. The Magi fiercely protected their irrefutable reputations.
By understanding Magian culture we can appreciate their pilgrimage. The earliest written record of their history, “The Zend-Avesta,” dates from the time of Moses. It evidences that their beliefs and worship came down to them from Noah.
Magi believed in a self-existent Creator of Good, “Ahura-Mazda.” The Zend-Avesta says of God, “His Holy body resembles Light as his spirit resembles Truth.” The Persians believed that all light held a representative piece of the Glory of God.
Wise through faith in addition to knowledge, the Magi believed in the sacred promise of a Redeemer to come. At the time of Jesus’ birth, there was widespread expectation that their oracle and prophecies were about to be fulfilled. The Magi were poised and waiting. When they looked into the night sky, the new star was nothing less than the brilliance of God and the fulfillment of His promise. Its sacred emergence told them that God was about to do something extraordinary that would change the world forever.
The Magi understood that the Creator of Goodness and Light would only conquer darkness through one sent directly and specifically to initiate a final battle with evil.
Even Herod was intimidated by Magi. When the paranoid despot king heard Persian kings were traveling through his land, he sent for them. Matthew tells us Herod was terrified. Were the Persians planning to take his kingdom? Usurp his authority?
The Magi inquired, “Where can we find the newborn King of the Jews? We’re on a pilgrimage to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2)
King of the Jews? Herod was already King of the Jews! Although he may have been afraid to harm them, he wasn’t above attempting manipulation.
“Go find this child. As soon as you find him, send word and I’ll join you at once in your worship.” It’s curious that no one under Herod’s rule was capable of looking at the night sky and following the same star. Instead, Herod commanded the slaughter of “every little boy two years of age and under who lived in Bethlehem and its surrounding hills.” (Matthew 2:16)
When the Magi found the baby king of all the earth, there were no priests, no Pharisees, no political royalty there to honor him. They found only a young girl with a new husband tending a tiny infant. The Magi were completely undaunted. Their faith was solid. God had done exactly what He promised.
Magi held a unique position in the nativity. Because their religious beliefs, ancient documents and science blended together perfectly in that one sacred event, they were able to arrive unexpected and worship the Son of God. When all of Jerusalem was skeptical, afraid and unbelieving, the Magi recognized the birth of the King of the Universe. The Magi stand as historical evidence that God was involved in every intricate detail of his son’s birth and had been for many centuries.
Consequently, we can trust that He is choreographing every event and detail that will precede Jesus’ return to vanquish evil forever.
Sylvia Peterson is a former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and an author. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at email@example.com.