As we consider anew the divine activity in the lives of the wisemen, we are met with the reality of God’s sovereign grace to those who were once far off from God. We are reminded of the way in which God chooses and calls pagans to trust in His Son.
Advent is a special season in which we are encouraged to refocus our attention on the instructive nature of the birth narratives of the Savior. Among the parts of the birth narrative of Jesus, the Scriptural record of the Magi coming from a distant land to seek, find, and worship the infant Christ, is far and away one of the most spiritually rich. The details surrounding it–though seemingly meager–are full of lessons that serve to build God’s people up in faith, while encouraging those who have never trusted in Him to do so.
We don’t know much about the background of the wisemen. They were almost certainly astrologers from Mesopotamia or some other part of the Eastern world–most likely part of the group of astrologers to which Zoroaster belonged. Many scholars conclude that this group of wise men were coming out of modern-day Iraq or Iran. In any case, they were far from the people of God, and far from the promises of God. Nevertheless, God had chosen them and was calling them to come to the newborn Christ. They were, in some respects, the first-fruits of the Gentiles, for whose salvation Christ had come into the world.
These wisemen had very little revelation about Christ. We can conclude that they have received some form of revelation. We do not know whether it was oral revelation or an immediate revelation from God. It might have been a mixture of the two. Jonathan Edwards, in his sermon, Seeking After Christ, speculates–on good grounds–that the magi had learned Messianic prophecies that had been passed down from the Hebrews’ time of captivity in Babylon. He explained,
“‘Tis most probable that those wise men that came from the east were some that had received instruction from the holy writing of the Jews that had been carried into the east, first to Babylon, which was many hundred miles to the east of Judea, and afterwards to Shushan in Persia, which was yet a great deal further to the east. There was Daniel, that great prophet exalted to great dignity, and there was Nehemiah, and there was Elisha and Mordecai; and these had the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning Christ with them. And Daniel himself, who was set over the wise men of the east as their master, was himself a great prophet and wrote one of those books of Old Testament prophecy— whose prophecy of Christ is in some respects more particular than [that] of any other prophets— and probably wrote it in Persia when he was in great dignity there, and doubtless left instructions among the great and wise men of that eastern part of the world, whose master he was, concerning Christ, and probably might leave his own prophecy and the other prophecies of Scripture concerning the Messiah in their hands.”