After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” —Matthew 2:1–2
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We know very little about these Magi [wise men]. In fact, all we know is in Matthew chapter two: they appear in verse one and disappear in verse twelve.
We don’t know for sure where they came from; just “from the east.” Most likely Persia or Babylon: in either case, a trip of close to 1,000 miles.
We don’t know how long it took them to make the trip. Best guess among commentators is about two years.
We don’t know if they travelled alone, or with an entourage. Probably the latter.
We don’t know how many there were. Every Christmas pageant you’ve seen and Christmas card you’ve received pictures three, an assumption based on the three mentioned gifts they brought: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. A Far Side cartoon had four instead of three—but they sent the fourth packing, because he brought fruitcake as his gift.
We do know that “Magi” was the name given to priests and wise men of the Medes, Persians, and Babylonians (see Daniel 2:12, 18, 24, 27; 5:7–8) and that they were students of the stars; experts in astronomy and astrology.
And we know they made a very long trip to pay homage to baby Jesus and worship him.
They didn’t know his name, or exactly where he was, but assumed that information would be easily obtained in Jerusalem.
When news reached Herod’s ears that these foreigners were asking, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” he was alarmed and laid plans to eliminate the pintsize competition. Herod’s M.O. was to execute anyone who was a threat to his throne. He orchestrated the murder of his brother-in-law, his mother-in-law, his wife, and his sons, among others. Now an old man, with only months to live, he was on the hunt for a wee baby.
Herod called a meeting of the chief priests and teachers of the law [scribes] and asked where Christ was to be born. The answer was a no brainer for these authorities in Jewish religion; they knew the prophecies regarding the Messiah by heart. He would be born in Bethlehem, they said, for that’s what the prophet Micah had announced seven hundred years earlier. That’s the information the king and the wise men wanted.
Bethlehem was only six miles from Jerusalem; less than a two hour walk.
So off went the wise men on this last leg of a long trip.
Wouldn’t you think the teachers of the law would tag along—if not outrun—the Magi to see this child of prophecy? They had been teaching about the coming Messiah for years. Now they hear that he has been born—just six miles south in Bethlehem—and not one of them slipped on his sandals.
Herod feared him. The Magi sought him. The scribes ignored him.
Six miles from the fulfillment of prophecy. Six miles from salvation. Six miles from eternal life.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come . . . Only six miles.
Let earth receive her King . . . Only six miles.
O come, all ye faithful . . . Only six miles.
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem . . . Only six miles.
O come, let us adore him . . . Only six miles.
Six miles from the Savior . . . Only six miles.