The Unexpected

In Matthew’s gospel, right after the birth of Jesus, he writes about some unexpected visitors, Magi from the east, seeking the whereabouts of the One who has been born king of the Jews. “We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him” Matthew 2:2.

Matthew, a Jew himself, writing to a Jewish audience, first tells about gentiles who come to worship the Messiah, while the Jewish establishment stays home.

Who are these Magi? They’re not kings, as one Christmas carol attests. They’re not wise men in the sense of sages. They are a combination of astronomers and astrologers. They observe the stars and speculate from the stars. These dignitaries play both political and religious roles.

Modern scholars guesstimate they come from either Persia or Babylon (modern-day Iran and Iraq). Visiting officials from either nation, coming to worship a Jew, would be unexpected, even today.

So why did they come? Why would wealthy Magi make such an effort to find and worship a Jewish king—a baby? And how did they even know about the birth?

The answer to the why is in the how. One night while stargazing, they see a new star rising in the sky. In their religion it means the birth of a significant person in the land over which the star is shining. God uses their pagan religion to lead them to himself.

They journey to Jerusalem, the logical place for the king of the Jews to be born. When they ask, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?” they disrupt the whole city including Herod, the reigning king. The chief priests and scribes are called in. How strange and unexpected—Jewish leaders don’t know about the monumental event that has taken place—nor do they seem to care.

The Magi are redirected to Bethlehem, a small city five miles south of Jerusalem. Now the same star begins to move ahead of them. The text reads, “When they saw the star they were overjoyed” Matthew 2:9. Why? In all their years of studying the stars, this is a unique event. The God of Creation, the One who made the stars, now leads them, like the shekinah glory leads the people of Israel in the wilderness. The star stops over the place where they find Jesus.

More unexpected visitors. First it was shepherds, now gentile Magi. “They enter the house, bow down and worship him. They open their treasures and present him with gifts of gold, incense and myrrh” Matthew 2:11. Originally, they thought they were coming to pay homage to an earthly king; their supernatural journey leads them to a Divine King.

We don’t know what else happens during their visit, but we can only assume that these unexpected participants exchange stories. Mary and Joseph tell the Magi about the miraculous conception and the promised Messiah. The Magi then share about the unusual star that God sent to alter their lives forever—and to give them a story to tell back home.

Why does Matthew include this peculiar event in his gospel? Perhaps, because he too was an unexpected worshiper. A despised tax-collector, considered a traitor by the Jews, Jesus pursued him and chose him to be his disciple. Pagan star-worshipers are not outside the realm of God’s reach. God reveals himself to unlikely people, using uncommon means.

He is the God of the unexpected.

12 comments to The Unexpected

  • Carmen Cole

    Thank you for reminding me that God uses the most unexpected people, which means He can use me!

  • Lynette Nobles

    The unexpected included King Cyrus, a pagan king, prophesied and even named many years before God would use him to help in the rebuilding of Jerusalem. I have been mindful of how God is using this mess in the Middle East to introduce Muslims to Jesus. Christians are not free to share the Gospel in there country so God is bringing them out to us. I am nervous about the terrorist threat this poses but I am excited to know that God brings glory to Himself in unexpected ways.

  • Jane MB Scott

    Thanks for these thoughts – Matthew, a Jew, writing to Jews about Gentile worshipers. I sometimes imagine what this party of magi would look like – not just the 3 camels we see on cards surely. I think it would have been a large party of people, servants, pack animals with food & tents – Imagine all this lot arriving in Bethlehem!

  • Dawna Debter

    What a timely “springboard” for our post Christmas mission trip to reach Muslims for Christ! His ways are higher than ours. His perfect Will cannot be thwarted to bring His own into His glorious Kingdom!
    Continue to bring the LIGHT!!☆☆

  • Janie Duty

    As I was reading the story about the Wise Men this week, I wondered, did Joseph and Mary stay in Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth? I wonder why they didn’t go back home?

    • Hi Janie, the verses that follow the wise men account tell that an angel appeared to Joseph and warned him to take Jesus to Egypt because Herod was trying to kill Jesus. Then later after Herod died, the angel told Joseph to come back, and they settled in Nazareth. Matthew 2:13-23. Good question

  • Richie

    Janet, thanks for reminding me of these small details that I sometimes read over without really taking it in. That was a huge effort for these 3 guys to pack up and set out for an known place for an unknown length of time. From their perspective there must have been something huge and very exciting to discover that made all the effort worth it. It’s a whole entire event in itself at which to marvel and ponder. Thanks for directing my mind to it! Merry Christmas everyone!

    • Hi Richie, that’s one of the things I love about the Christmas story, so many details in each part of the story. God went to extraordinary lengths to reach us.