The identity of the magi is a mystery. Unfortunately, most of the popular notions about the magi are misleading. It is doubtful they were similar to the camel-riding travelers we usually see portrayed in pictures and Christmas pageants. The popular Christmas carol, “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” is wrong on several counts. There’s no evidence there were three of them—only that they brought three kinds of gifts. Scripture does not say they were kings; in fact, they almost certainly were not. As far as them being from the Orient, we simply have no information regarding their origin other than they came from the east.
The Greek word magi is the same root word from which our word magician is derived. The term magi is a Persian word that referred to a special class of priests in the Persian empire. We know from other sources the magi had existed for hundreds of years before the time of Christ. They had their own religion (usually thought to have been followers of Zoroastrianism), their own priesthood and their own writings.
Who were the magi? They were professors and philosophers of their day. They were brilliant and highly educated scholars who were trained in medicine, history, religion, prophecy and astronomy. They were trained in what we would call astrology. In our day, astrology has gotten a deservedly bad rap; but in the beginning, astrology was connected with the human search for God. The ancients studied the skies in order to find the answers to the great questions of life—Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? They were stargazers, experts in astronomy and astrology. A star seized their curiosity.
Who they are, however, is not as important as what they did. They came to worship Jesus—not a star but the King.
Have you ever wondered how they worshiped the King? I suspect they didn’t form a worship committee, put on robes or sit in rows and stare at the back of each other’s heads. I doubt they wrote a creed or got into an argument about technicalities.
All I know is they worshiped. They found the baby Jesus and were overjoyed. They saw the baby Jesus and bowed down. They acknowledged the baby Jesus and adored Him. They were grateful for the baby Jesus and gave Him gifts.
They provided a stunning example for us to follow in our worship.
1. Be filled with joy.
Joy is a flag that flies atop the castle when the King is in residence. When we find the King of kings at home in our hearts we, too, are overjoyed. When the King is in his rightful place, there is peace and harmony in our lives resulting in a joyful heart. If there is not joy in our heart, it may mean the King is not in control of our heart.
2. Bow in humility.
Humility is our recognition of who we are in contrast to the King of kings. When we come into the presence of Jesus, all we can do is fall on our faces before Him. In the presence of divinity, we recognize our humanity. Humility is the only acceptable position to worship the King. Unless we humble ourselves before God, we never will worship God.
3. Gaze in adoration.
Adoration is acknowledging the glory and the majesty and the sacrifice of the King. If we fail to adore Jesus who came to pay a debt He did not owe to free us from a debt we could not pay, something is greatly missing in our worship.
4. Give with generosity.
Generosity is our response to the King’s grace. When we comprehend who Jesus is (the King of kings) and what Jesus did (the One who sacrificed Himself for our debt of sin), our only response can be one of thankful generosity. Those who love Jesus wholeheartedly demonstrate it by offering their treasures—their very lives to Him.
A group of miners discovered gold. They vowed to keep it a secret when they went into town for supplies. As they were leaving, men were following them back to the discovery. “Who squealed? Who told them we found gold?” asked one of the miners. “No one did,” said a man in the pack, “Your faces showed it.”
If we could see the expression on the parched faces of those desert pilgrims we call the magi, we would discover the true meaning of worship.