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, 2 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.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. – Matthew 2:1-12
There may have been three, but we really don’t know how many there were. They may have been thought of as wise men, but they are actually identified by Matthew as magi. In Greek, μάγοι, is “translated as “wise men” or “magi” depending on the English translation. This word was originally meant to refer to a class of Persian wise men that were something like priests, interpreters of special signs, and especially astrology.).” (Christianity Today)
It is highly unlikely that they were kings – although one of the most moving depictions of this event deeply touched me during a Christmas pageant at the church I served at the time. We borrowed lavish costumes from a local very large church, and three of our men dressed as kings came with their gifts. When they bowed down at Jesus’ crib, it struck me: Kings will bow to this One who is actually King of kings and Lord of lords.
Two things about this event are important to me. First: “Behold,” Matthew says. Look here! See this! Behold. Something noteworthy is happening. The Magi have come to Jerusalem. Pay attention: There are those who set a great example for us, by going to great lengths to worship the newborn king. And so today (although never should this be a matter that makes celebrities more important than ordinary folks), when notable people worship Jesus it does make an impression.
More important, however, is the purpose for which these magi are seeking Jesus. They want to worship him. They recognize a Greater King. The birth of a mightier and more worthy Lord has been revealed to them. They will go to great lengths to worship him. But as notable and wise, dedicated and exemplary as they may be, they are worshiping One who is far greater and more worthy, wise, dedicated, and notable than they. And even though Herod will seek to destroy this One who he deems a threat to his throne, he will not succeed. And even he will acknowledge one day that Jesus Christ is Lord. The king will worship this King who at that time was newborn, but nevertheless a true king.
So take note. Wise men are here. They have undertaken a great effort to come to worship. Perhaps that is the true gift of the magi: to help us recognize that Jesus is worthy of that even today.