Now, who are the Magi? Just exactly who are these kings that always show up at the birth of Christ? Let me give you a little bit of background. They came from the Persian Partheon Empire east of Palestine. The great eastern area, the area once ruled by the Babylonian Empire, followed up by the Medo-Persian Empire. And they really were descendants of the Persians, the Medes and the Persians. The Magi were a tribe of people from that part of the world. I don’t know whether it was genetics or whether it was the plan of God or whether it was environment or whether it was circumstances or what it was but they were unusually capable and gifted people . . . The Magi had been around since Daniel. In fact, when the Jews were taken captive into Babylon and stayed for the time of the Babylonian Empire and into the Medo-Persian Empire, these Magi were greatly influenced by those Jews…many devout Jews and no doubt Daniel himself who in his own prophecy is said to be the chief over the Magi. No doubt he influenced them greatly.
So, they had come to understand that there was coming a great king to that part of the world. They no doubt were familiar with Daniel’s prophecy and with the teaching of others of the people of Israel. They had risen to power in the time of Nebuchadnezzar. In fact, Nergal-sharezer who is chief of the Magi is named in Jeremiah 39 in the court of Nebuchadnezzar. So they were very powerful, highly influential and elite men.
When we read about the law of the Medes and the Persians, that is really the teaching of the Magi. They had been, as I said, instructed further by Daniel. Their religion had meshed with Zoroastrianism and then had been influenced by the teachings of the Jews. They were so powerful by the time of Christ that nobody could ascend to the throne in that part of the world unless appointed by the Magi. They were the ruling people. They appointed the kings. In fact they are called by historians “the king makers of the east.” They controlled also the judicial office. We learn from Esther that the royal judges in the court were appointed by the Magi. They appointed the kings, they appointed the judges, they dominated that culture in terms of authority. They had vast knowledge of astronomy, astrology, natural history, architecture and agriculture.
Their religion was monotheistic. They believed in the conflict of good and evil. They believed in a hereditary priesthood, blood sacrifices, supernatural revelation and even believed in prophecies so they had much in common with the teaching of the Old Testament. And that perhaps gave them an ear for what they heard from Daniel and others.
Now at the time of Jesus’ birth, they really had wrapped up the control in that Middle Eastern Empire. Their great enemy was Rome. They had fought against Rome in 63 B.C., 55 B.C. and 40 B.C. And they would like to have power over Rome. One of the things they wanted back was the land of Palestine which Rome now occupied. And so when the prospect of a great king rising in the Middle East came about, they were very anxious to come and see that king. And if indeed that was a king, have that king rise to authority and take back the land of Israel and defeat Rome. They had the absolute choice and selection of the next king for that Empire.
By the way, there was trouble in the Empire at the time of Christ. The king who was named Phraetes(?) IV had been deposed. Nobody was on the throne and the Magi were seeking someone to succeed that man. From Daniel’s prophecy of the divine king and from the star in the sky to which the Lord Himself supernaturally must have drawn their attention and they must have received information about what that star meant, they decided to follow that star to find this one who was to be the king, to crown Him king, as it were, and lend their support to His authority and His rule.
You can only imagine what it was like when they rode into Jerusalem. They probably came in on fine Persian horses. There’s no reason in the world to believe there were only three of them. They brought gold, frankincense and myrrh but that doesn’t have anything to do with how many of them there were. Estimates go into the hundreds and some say they were probably accompanied by about a thousand men on horseback. This is an army, folks, and it’s little wonder that Herod was a little nervous when they arrived. They were politically powerful and they were also honorable God-fearing believers in Old Testament prophecy. . . .
“And when they found the child, the Magi were warned by God in a dream to go back to the Persian Partheon Kingdom another way.” They never went back to tell Herod where he was. Herod was so furious he massacred every male child under two years of age thinking he’d catch the king in the killing of all of the children.
What I want you to notice particularly is that when the Magi arrived, verse 11, they came into the house…again we remind ourselves that time has elapsed and they’re now in a house, not a stable…saw the child with Mary His mother, they fell down and worshiped Him. Now there is the indication that these non-Jewish king makers from the east acknowledged that this is the promised Messiah. They are non-Jewish. They are…they are Gentile and they understand the words of Daniel and the others and they realize that this indeed is the king. And the people of Israel missed what these Gentiles saw. They worshiped Him.
He is king by royal worship. He was worshiped by the established king makers of the world. And opening their treasures, they presented Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. Gold for a king; frankincense which is a pure incense rising speaks of deity, it was offered to God as a sweet fragrance. Myrrh speaks of His humanity, it’s a perfume to make life more bearable and life more pleasant…to push away some of the odors of life. He is a king…the gold. He is God…the frankincense. He is God/Man…the myrrh, the God/Man who is king. They worshiped Him. (Sermon, “The Marvelous Birth of the King”)