There are not as many songs about the Magi or paintings of them as there are of the annunciation and birth of Christ. The story of the Magi broadens the recognition and worship of Jesus from the Jews to include the Gentiles, but interwoven as it is with the threat of Herod, it does not have the same unbridled joy of the shepherds in itis foreshadowing of the death of Christ.
This painting is Star of Bethlehem by Frederic Leighton. The explanation under the painting is “One of the Magi, from the terrace of his house, stands looking at the star in the East. The lower part of the picture indicates a revel, which he may be supposed to have just left.”
While the identity of the Magi is unknown, it is conjectured they were Persians from the area of Babylon who had some familiarity with the Old Testament from the prophet Daniel during the Babylonian Captivity.1
In his commentary on Daniel, Rodney Stortz, writes that in Daniel 2, after all of Nebuchadnezzar’s magicians, conjurers, and sorcerers were unable to tell him his dream or its meaning, God revealed the dream of the statue and its meaning to Daniel. An awestruck Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel chief of the wise men (Daniel 2:48).
“…most importantly we should rejoice because Daniel was made chief of the wise men…Imagine how impressed they must have been with Daniel’s ability to reveal Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. I think these men were ready to sit at his feet and learn.
“Where do you think Daniel would have directed these men to find the revelation of the mysteries of life? He would have turned them to the Scriptures that were written by the Revealer of Mysteries. I am sure he had them pore over the ancient prophecies…
“I think these wise men would have passed on the prophecies of Daniel’s God, this Revealer of Mysteries, from one generation to the next. Daniel did what “not a man on earth can do” (Daniel 2:10). We should not be surprised then, but rejoice that the descendants of these wise men and magi were the ones to come to Bethlehem when the Rock of the kingdom of God secretly slipped into the kingdom of Rome.”2
One of the Magi leaving the crowd, holding his crown, staring at the star: these were not obscure shepherds, but men of wealth, power, and prestige. Their presence at Christmas reminds us that Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
One day all the kings of the earth, all those of authority, all those of wealth, power, and prestige shall bow before Jesus and confess He is Lord.
The Star of Bethlehem: Frederic Leighton. Public domain.
1R. T. France, Matthew, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids MI: 1981) 81: “The wise men are, more correctly, ‘Magi’, originally the name of a Persian priestly caste…From what part of the East these Magi came can only be guessed; their gifts (v. 11) of most likely of Arabian origin, but would be available to and used by the Magi of Babylonia, and this is perhaps their most likely place of origin. Their reference to ‘the king of the Jews‘, and their need to enquire about the birthplace of the Messiah, imply that they were Gentiles, though with a limited knowledge of Judaism (which was well established in Babylonia).”
In John MacArthur’s sermon, “Who Were the Wise Men?” available for listening or reading at Grace to You, he goes into detail on the history of the Magi, their prestige and power, and Scriptural references to this group.
2Rodney Stortz, Daniel: The Triumph of God’s Kingdom (Crossway Books, Wheaton IL: 2004) 47.
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