Visitors from the east (Matthew 2: 1–16)

A few weeks – or perhaps even months - after the birth of Jesus, Matthew records the events surrounding the visitors from the east.

He refers to them as the ‘Magi’, meaning ‘wise men’.

We are not told how many Magi there were.

The wise men followed the star and travelled to pay homage to the King of the Jews. They initially went to Herod for help, but he was insulted and fearful of the term they used to describe Jesus. Herod asked the wise men to let him know when they found the child so that he could pay homage too. In truth, he wanted to kill the child.

By the time the wise men reached Mary and Joseph they had moved into a house. They presented Mary and Joseph with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The gifts they gave are symbolic:

Gold - a symbol of royalty, because they saw Jesus as a king.

Frankincense – this was burned during worship in the temple, reminding us of God and how Jesus is His representative on Earth.

Myrrh – this was an oil used to anoint the dead, it was symbolic of the death Jesus would face to save humanity from sin.

The Magi were warned in a dream about Herod’s true desires so they returned home by a different route. Matthew notes how the holy family fled to Egypt to escape Herod.

The Christian festival of Epiphany is celebrated 12 days after Christmas, on 6 January, and commemorates the visit of the wise men to the infant Jesus. Epiphany literally means 'revealed', and this day also marks the day when Jesus was revealed to the world.

Matthew includes the event of the Epiphany because the story of the wise men travelling from the east symbolises the universalism of the gospel - ie it is for everyone, not just Jewish people. The wise men represent the Gentile world merging with the Jews in the following of Jesus Christ.