It may come as a surprise to you, but there may have been more than 3 wise men. All that the Gospel tells us is that there are 3 kingly gifts given. That is perhaps where the misunderstanding may come from, there is no mention of the number of the wise men being 3. Some Eastern Orthodox have a larger number than 3, maybe releasing them to speculate the number was greater and closer to the fact that no number is given of these travellers in the gospel.
Infact there is no mention either of them being Kings, they are only called wise men who come from the east. Again, the misunderstanding might arise from the fact that they give kingly gifts, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they were kings. The gifts may be kingly but that doesn’t mean that the men ruled over a kingdom or had royal blood.
And although we are told that they come from the East, we are given no further information about what country they hail from or whether they are known to each other.
The information that we are given about them is thin and sparse. There is mire that we don’t know about them than we do know about them
We do know from the history books that wise men, like them, existed in every culture and their knowledge and perception was sought out by rulers making decisions and by ordinary people in simple tasks of life.
Wise men were revered and regarded to be important. It’s clearly, therefore, an event in Jerusalem that wise men from the east should appear. They are received with utter respect and all due reverence. All Jerusalem is in upheaval, the king and all his wise counsellors are perturbed at the news that they bring.
Even today we are respectful of those wise men. The fact that they look to the star and see this new star gives us the clue to their wisdom, and what makes them wise men - they are star gazers. Such wise men made maps of the stars in the night sky and gave them the names we call them to this day; they watched the movement of the sun and the phases of the moon. They were able to give good information: times to sow and crops, when to hold feasts, how to travel by sea and land by the positions of the stars. They had charts and instruments and calculations. Some were clearly bogus, others were authentic and true.
But what they were also were astrologers, not a very reputable form of knowledge today. They saw things in the stars, portents, favourable signs, collisions of the stars, new stars that appear. People would consult with them when to travel, when to start things, Kings would consult with them when to go to war and the making of important decisions.
How strange it is that at the birth of Christ, Astrologers should be there too. Its an unlikely cast, shepherds and astrologers gathered for the birth of Christ. Especially astrologers who we wouldn’t give the time of day, are given prominence. We would be warned off such people, Darlinda and the like who would read us our horoscope, what the stars have in store for us. Today is the day you will be rich. Today you will meet the man of your dreams. Don’t go out today/ You are going to receive bad news and the like!! Although I am sure some of yiu hold great store by such things.
Those wise men who looked into the sky are reputed to have seen a new star in the night sky. Stephen Hawkings and our great scientists would simply have told them that it was a star billions of light miles away whose light had finally reached us. But for that ancient middle eastern mind it meant something different.
It’s actually surprising that the story of the Magi appears in the first place in the Gospel account of the birth of Christ. One of the things that the Jewish people were frightened of getting caught up in was some of the religions of their neighbours and especially in a religion that came from the east, from Persia (modern day Iran), called Zoroastranism, that still exists today. It was all about divine knowledge that could be imparted to us through looking at the stars. Over and over again alarm bells go off in the OT warning the people not to mix with people bring these innovations.
Maybe indeed. Although the NT doesn’t tell us, our visitors may have been from Persia, their star gazing may have been an attempt to find a message from Gods in the stars. These also from this strange foreign cult are in Bethlehem at the time this is happening.
How strange that they should be visitors to Bethlehem. How strange and cavalier that Matthew should record this in his Gospel, given the suspicion that such speculation would have been viewed. It may have convinced some, but it would have put off more people.
Today people look to the skies with no less sense of wonder than did those wise men who came in search if the new born king. We wonder at probes on Mars and probes in the dark side if the moon. Men and women in the past could only have dreamed of such realities. They looked at the heavens with their naked eye, but now we have instruments that allow us to see to the far end of the galaxy. We like them have instruments and maps and like them plan to make a journey not by the light of the star, but to the very stars themselves. To the moon that gives us light in the night and to the planets that surround us in unmanned probes and vehicles.
There is a lot that is more unsaid than said in the story if the Magi. We don’t know how many they were, where they came from, who they were. We don’t know about their knowledge or lack of knowledge about the stars.
But they are placed in the story by Matthew with clear intent. This birth was not only for the people of Israel but it was mean for the whole world, represented by these foreign visitors who had come from the ends of the earth. And this star in the sky was meant to signify that this birth was not only for the people of Israel and not only for the while world but it was for the whole universe and the stars in the sky.
That very truth has come to pass. It that dark shed if animals a light has shine out to all the corners of the world and throughout the universe. The wise men would prefigure, the countless people from every land who would travel in their mind to that place where he was born. It would be a light that would reach to the far ends if the world and to the far ends if the universe.