Fallen Magi and Us

Watching the star, they were overjoyed, and entering the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and bowed down in worship of Him.  Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, incense and myrrh.          Matthew 2:10-11

Dictionaries and Encyclopedias tell us that the Magi was the priestly caste of the Mede and Persian empire.  The Bible tells us that five hundred years before Jesus was born, one of the most influential leaders of this empire was a Jew [Daniel 5:11].  The Jew’s name was Daniel.

There were many Jews in favored positions in the Persian empire, as the books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Daniel demonstrate.  It was the Persians who financed and protected the rebuilding of Jerusalem at the end of the Babylonian captivity.  There was a long and strong connection between these two nations separated by the wilderness of the Sinai peninsula.  And even though Rome had control of Palestine during Jesus’ time, Persia still made its presence felt far too often for Rome to remain very comfortable.

During Daniel’s time Persia became acquainted – sometimes in very pronounced ways – with the God of the Jews.  Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had first-hand experience with this God in the episode of the three men in the fiery furnace, as well as when he was condemned by God to temporary insanity, grazing in the field like an animal, to learn that Jehovah was THE God to deal with in all the universe.  Darius, king of the Persians, experienced the power of God in the episode of Daniel in the lions’ den.

When in Daniel 4[:9] Daniel is given the title “Rab-Mag” or “chief of the Magi,” it is no surprise then that the group responsible for Persia’s spiritual relationships would be very familiar with the Jewish religion, the Jewish prophecies, and the Jewish nation.  Moreover, at the time of Daniel, Persia’s state religion was monotheistic, in fact, very close to the Jewish view, although with some important conflicts, notably in regard to forgiveness.

Over the centuries following, Persia reverted to a polytheistic, or many-god, religion, The sad irony is that these fallen Magi still retained a trust in God’s Word far more than their counterparts in Israel!  From Daniel’s leadership, in the old dusty prophecies they recognized the signs that the promised Christ – the born-King of the Jews – had come, and they were willing to take a dangerous journey in honor of God’s Word.  And after Jerusalem, they continued on their journey because of God’s prophecies in regard to Bethlehem.  And finally, they honored God’s Word by returning home through a different route than going back to Herod.

But their counterparts in Israel, those who all along were devoted to God’s Word alone, even when reminded of God’s prophecies, in fact were forced to look up God’s promises, still would have nothing to do with any of this.  These scribes and priests could debate the fine points of God’s Word, and yet never listened to nor obeyed it; meanwhile the fallen Magi risked their lives for it.

I find quite a humbling message here.  We have all around us a mix of what you might call “fallen Magi” – people who try to mix the God of the Bible into their own systems of belief.  It was quite startling to put it into those terms because I immediately think of such groups as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, and even the First Nations.

What I find is humbling is that the Jehovah’s Witnesses really take to heart God’s command to evangelize – and they do put the majority of us Christians to shame in regard to how serious they are about this task from the Lord, but unfortunately their motivation is for the sake of earning work-righteousness points.

The Mormons, particularly with their accents on the family and togetherness, can really put us to shame in regard to the building of love if we are to be the People of God, even though it so often is for their own glory rather than to the Glory of God.

And the First Nations with their consciousness of the presence of the spiritual world and its involvement in life can really put us to shame because often that is the last thing that we will pay attention to in our lives, but even they too miss the intensity of the presence of God in and among humanity as one of us, giving His own life for each of us, and dwelling personally in our hearts.

The tragedy is that these are the groups that are on the very doorsteps of our lives with the same question in the background: “Where IS He that is born King of the Jews?”  We too can have the answers as did those Jerusalem scribes and priests, and scripturally we can “send them on their way” with the truth.  But now what?  What about us?

Standing from the distance of time, we recognize that behind those Magi, God was calling His People, their spiritual leaders, scribes and priests to worship Him – He was calling on them to listen to and grab hold of His promises.  What a lesson in humility to have the “fallen Magi” remind them of what they weren’t doing even though they had all of God’s Word at their fingertips.  What about these groups which surround us?  What is our reaction to them?

I wonder if the scribes and priests back then got as irritated with the Magi we do with our “fallen Magi” of today – I wonder if they got as irritated with the voice of God behind the “fallen Magi” as we do today.

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Isn’t that what so often happens with our Christmas celebrations?  The story of the Baby in the manger is so familiar that some of us probably could recite the Christmas passages from memory – or close to them.  And we are so busy with our traditions and the mood and setting for even the candlelight service and all the rest – but have we really fallen down on our knees to worship and to give purposeful honor as these fallen Magi did?  Or are we back in Jerusalem maintaining our very obvious arrogant religiosity?

Are we so busy with our own agendas, our own busy-ness, our own pride that we can’t hear the voice of God?  Are we too wrapped up in our little worlds to fall on our knees in worship for an unfathomable act of love?  Can it be that we are to the point that WE are more fallen than the “fallen Magi”?

It is interesting where the story of the Magi ends, because they even had God speak directly to them through a dream, after they had worshipped at the feet of Jesus.  No longer were they the fallen Magi – they had become truly the wise men – they had listened, they had worshiped, and they would never be the same.

That can be for us as well – it’s not too late.  Despite the fact that Christmas was over a week ago, its celebration never really ends.  It isn’t too late to stop and go beyond the words and the debates and the trappings and really listen to the voice of God.  But most of all, it isn’t too late to surrender and fall on your knees before the Lord Jesus.

What an advantage we have over those Magi!  At least we know the whole story.  They, on the other hand, had only an inkling concerning Jesus and His destiny, and there were a lot of gaps in their understanding.  Yet what they did know drove them to their knees before this Baby Who was yet to become the Savior of the world.

But we have so much more.  We have come not to worship a Baby with an unknown future, but rather a Lord Jesus Who has shown Himself human as well as God, merciful as well as demanding, loving as well as just, dead as well as alive forevermore.  Have we heard the voice of God in all of this?  Just what is it that God is whispering over and over into a gradually rising crescendo until the day of Jesus’ resurrection?

Can you hear it?  Over and over God whispers, “I love you – see, this is what I would do especially for you!”  Over and over the voice of God is constantly in the background during the healings, during the preaching of Jesus, as Jesus pronounces forgiveness and life, as Jesus feeds and strengthens.  Over and over the voice of God is speaking to us as Jesus raises someone from the dead, and as Jesus faces His own betrayer.

Listen to how that voice builds to a hoarse cry as Jesus grabs hold of our pain and agony as the whip bites into His flesh and the nails pierce His hands.  Listen to how that voice never skips a beat, not even in the terrible loneliness of being forsaken by His father, not even when He bows His head in death, and particularly not even when He bursts the bands of the grave.

Listen! – as Jesus stands with His full majesty right now in front of you, still repeating “I love you!” in the absolution, in the lessons, in the sermon, in the hymns.   Listen as Jesus speaks in Holy Communion, as He comes once again in Flesh and Blood, as He repeats, “See, this is what I would do especially for you!”  Listen as in the words of the singing and the confession of faith all around you, God is saying, “I do love you – see, I would do all this especially for you – for where two or three are gathered in My Name, I am right there in your midst!”

You do hear His voice!  After all, that’s why you are here!  The Holy Spirit has already opened your ears and your mind and your heart, and you do hear that strong message from God, the “I love you” ‘s constantly echoing throughout your life.  You are here because you know that you can turn over to Him the failures, the burdens, and rebellions of your heart and life; because you have the confidence of the cross to know He will not bring condemnation but new freedom and life into your world.

Epiphany is such GOOD NEWS!  Here is the powerful declaration that all people can come to Jesus, but also especially even “fallen Magi” – us!  However there is also the realization that neither staying in Persia, nor staying in the religious circles of Jerusalem is sufficient, we must seek out our Savior where He bids us to find Him – in His Word, in His Sacrament, in His People, in His world – and then fall on our knees before our Lord, God the Son made flesh for our sake, and raise our hearts, minds and voices in worship and in lives conformed to Him!


For the interesting background in regard to the Magi, the star, and the Persians (Iranians), you may be interested in my book Creation’s Ballet for Jesus, available at

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