The story of the Magi (wise men) looking for the prophesied Messiah of Israel has captured the hearts and minds of millions of people for centuries.
“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, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘ But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.’ When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.”
The wise men in the Greek language were called majos (plural is majoi) and magus in Latin. The Magi were members of an ancient and sacred caste dating back to at least the 6th century B.C. The Greeks, as well as other ancient people, wrote about the religious wisdom of the Magi. Some of them were responsible for the religious training of kings and emperors. They were also known as “king makers” because of their powers of wisdom and knowledge to influence the choice of kings. The Magi were also close advisors of the king during his reign. Their involvement in the supernatural gave rise eventually to the use of the word magikos (English – magic) to describe what the Magi did. The 5th century B.C. Greek historian Herodotus wrote about the Magi coming from Persia (modern Iran).
Many scholars believe the Magi of ancient Persia had been influenced by the Hebrews taken into captivity. There is some thought that the Hebrew prophet Daniel, who was a leader during the reign of the Babylonians and later the Persians in the 6th century B.C., may have influenced the Magi greatly with the dominant spiritual wisdom and power that God had given him. The Magi may have had a copy of Daniel’s prophecy and known about the promised Messiah and the time of His coming (Daniel 9).
Through Daniel or other means the Magi learned about the promised Messiah King of Israel. They shared their knowledge about the Messianic promise through the centuries so that the Magi of Jesus’ time knew to look for a ‘sign’ of His birth and follow it to where they would meet the Messiah. They were “king makers” and knew they had an important role to play in the birth and life of the young King.
It’s interesting to note that the Magi of Persia knew more about the Messianic prophecy than the king of Israel at the time, Herod. The Magi told King Herod the time and place of Messiah’s birth. Herod said he wanted to worship the Messiah, but murder was in his heart. The Magi continued to follow the star until “it stood over where the young Child was.”
“When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.”
The Magi were filled with great joy when they saw the star stand in the sky over the location of the Messiah. The words “exceedingly great joy” in the Greek are charan megalen sphodra.
The first word, charan, is a noun that translates as “joy, rejoicing, gladness.” If that wasn’t enough to describe how the Magi reacted to seeing the star, the author Matthew added the words megalen sphodra. Megalen is an adjective that describes the “joy” as being “great, glorious, wonderful.” Sphodra is an adverb that means “excessive, very much.”
This noun, adjective and adverb give us amazing insight into how the star standing over the location of the Messiah affected these wise “king makers” from Persia. They “rejoiced with exceedingly great joy!” It was most likely the greatest moment in their lives and they knew what they were seeing with their own eyes was the culmination of centuries of prophecy. They had read about it in their ancient texts and been told specific details of the prophecy by elders of the Magi. They had been chosen by the God of Heaven to follow the star and see the Messiah with their own eyes!
Tomorrow, what the Magi saw and did when they entered into the presence of the promised Messiah King of Israel.