What Can the Story of the Magi Teach Us About Knowing Jesus?

You’re probably familiar with the story in Matthew 2 about the magi who came to worship Jesus after He was born in Bethlehem.

But have you ever thought this story might be applicable to our Christian life? Let’s look at Matthew 2:1-6 with the notes in the New Testament Recovery Version to discover how it’s relevant to us today.

The magi from the east

Matthew 2:1-2 says:

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star at its rising and have come to worship Him.”

The magi weren’t Jews, and they weren’t from Israel. They were pagans from the east, where a shining star had appeared to them. Guided by that star, they left their land and traveled a long distance to Jerusalem.

Note 2 on star in the New Testament Recovery Version explains what made them travel so far:

“The Jews had the Scriptures concerning Christ. The magi from the east saw Christ’s star (Num. 24:17). The Jews had mental knowledge in dead letters concerning Christ, whereas the magi received a living vision concerning Him.”

These pagan magi didn’t have or know the holy Scriptures. But they had a living vision concerning Christ that caused them to seek Him so they could see Him and worship Him.

The chief priests and scribes in Jerusalem

The story continues in verses 3-6:

“And when Herod the king heard this, he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him. And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. And they said to him, In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written through the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, by no means are you the least among the princes of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a Ruler, One who will shepherd My people Israel.’”

Unlike the magi, the Jewish chief priests and scribes in Jerusalem had the Old Testament Scriptures and knew them well. They even knew the prophecies concerning the Savior’s birth, including where He would be born.

Yet after the priests and scribes gave King Herod the accurate information about Christ being born in Bethlehem, they stayed in Jerusalem. They didn’t travel the short distance from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to see for themselves the newborn Ruler, let alone worship Him. Why is that?

Note 1 of verse 4 in the New Testament Recovery Version explains:

“The priests were those who taught people the law (Mal. 2:7), and the scribes were those who knew the Scriptures (Ezra 7:6). Both the priests and the scribes had knowledge concerning the birth of Christ (vv. 5-6), but, unlike the magi from the east, they did not see the vision, nor did they have the heart to seek after Christ.”

The priests and scribes were unmoved because they were content with the mere knowledge about Christ’s birth. They were unmotivated to seek out the One foretold in the Scriptures.

We need both proper scriptural knowledge and subjective experience of Jesus

Since the Scriptures are the foundation of our Christian life, we absolutely need to read and know God’s Word. The Word of God testifies to us concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. And we’ve also seen that it feeds us, washes us, and educates us.

In fact, the magi went to Jerusalem because they wrongly assumed the King would be born in the capital. The Scriptures educated them and corrected them, causing them to go on from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. When they arrived, they personally saw the Lord whom they had sought, and they fell down and worshipped Him.

Meanwhile, the chief priests and scribes, well-educated in the Scriptures, were satisfied with their knowledge. They lacked the heart to go to Him. They completely missed seeing Jesus, the living fulfillment of all the prophecies in the Scriptures.

From this, we can see that while we do need the proper knowledge of the Bible to ground us and educate us about the Lord Jesus, that can’t be enough. We must press on from only knowing about Jesus objectively to experiencing Jesus subjectively. We have to go on to contact the Lord in a personal way. We don’t want to miss experiencing the Lord Himself.

A practical example

For instance, let’s say in our Bible reading we come to John 6:48, where the Lord Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” We understand that the Lord presents Himself as the bread of life, and as the living bread which came down out of heaven in verse 51.

Are we content with just mentally knowing these words? Or do we want to experience Jesus being the bread of life to us? The mere knowledge about Jesus being the bread of life isn’t what feeds us; it’s the Lord Himself as the living bread. So we must come to Him and contact Him in our spirit to partake of Him. Then we’ll subjectively experience Jesus being the bread of life to us, feeding us and satisfying our inner hunger.

The Lord wants us to experience Him being everything to us. He died for us, resurrected, and became the life-giving Spirit so He could enter into us and live inside of us. Because He’s in us, we’re able to know Him subjectively. Like the magi who went out of their way to seek the Lord, let’s go beyond reading about the Lord in the Bible to contact Him in our spirit.  

We can pray simple prayers like this:

“Lord, don’t let me be content with only knowing about You. I want to experience what You are in a personal and living way. Lord Jesus, give me a heart to always seek after You and come to You. Amen.”

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