Magi: Unexpected Guests

by Barb Newman

Magi: Unexpected Guests


Matthew 2:1-12

The Main Idea

The Magi remind us that Jesus is the Savior for all people.

Together We Will

  • tell how God used the Magi to show us that the Good News is for everyone.
  • be assured that the Good News of Jesus Christ is for all people, including us!
  • celebrate Christmas by planning to include or show God’s love to people we sometimes forget.

Click to download or print entire lesson.

Focusing on God’s Word

In his gospel, Luke tells us about shepherds who came to visit Jesus on the night that he was born. In contrast, Matthew tells us about strange travelers who came from far away and who might have arrived as much as two years later! These visitors from afar tell us something important about who Jesus is and what it means to follow him.

Jesus is the Son of Abraham

Matthew begins his gospel by giving us Jesus’ family tree, proving that Jesus is related to such heroes of Israel’s past as Kings David and Solomon, and to Abraham, who is the “father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5). Matthew wants us to know that Jesus is properly Jewish and an heir to promises that God made to his ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as well as to David.

Jesus lived in a world where ancestry mattered much more than it does to us today. By revealing Jesus’ family tree, Matthew was assuring his Jewish readers that Jesus was “one of us.” But Matthew also uses that family tree to remind his readers that God loved and included people from other places too–people like Ruth, who was a Moabite, and Bathsheba (the wife of Uriah), who was a Hittite. In fact, by tracing the family tree back to Abraham, he is also reminding us that God’s promise to Abraham was “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3).

Jesus is the Lord of Gentiles

Matthew tells us that Magi or “wise men from the East” saw signs in the stars that told them that a new king had been born in Israel, and so they traveled there to show their respect. We do not know the identity of these Magi or even their number (many people have imagined that there were three because they brought three gifts). What we do know is that they were from far away in a land to the east of Israel, which includes what is today Iran and Iraq or even India and China. We also know that they studied the stars and that they must have been very wealthy to have traveled so far and to have given expensive gifts like gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These clues tell us that the Magi were Gentiles—people who were not from Israel and who did not worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even so, these strange, foreign men are the first people who “bowed down and worshiped [Jesus]” (Matthew 2:11) in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus is not just “one of us” or an heir of King David’s throne–he is also the but also Lord of the Gentiles!

Unexpected Guests at God’s Party

The early church was full of division. Even leaders like Peter and Paul disagreed about who could be included in the new community. “Who does God love? Who belongs?”

Some people in Israel had come to believe that God only loved them and people like them. When these people began to follow Jesus, many of them continued to think that way. Matthew told this story to teach the new church that God loves both Jews and Gentiles because Jesus is both a “Son of Abraham” and “Lord of the Gentiles” at the same time. He wanted them to know that while the Magi were unexpected guests to Jesus’ birth, they were not uninvited. God had announced the birth to “all peoples on earth earth” in the stars!

Sometimes the church today struggles with those questions of inclusion too. When we do, this story continues to be a powerful reminder that God’s loving invitation knows no boundaries.

—Barry Chance


To prepare to teach this Christmas session on the Magi, you’ll need to do a little up-front work. Consider finding volunteers for the following tasks:

  • gathering materials, printing out worksheets, Take It Home cards, and other resources
  • setting up and running technology (videos, music, etc.)

Before you set your volunteers to work, read through the content of the session carefully and make decisions about which options will work best for your group.
In addition to the materials listed in each step, you will need the following:

  • computer or tablet
  • projector or TV screen

Many individuals appreciate a visual schedule. Consider using the icons provided for this session to make an order of events for your group. Simply print out the icons, cut them apart, and glue them to a strip of paper or attach them with magnets to a board. Some group members might like to remove the icon when that portion of the group meeting is done.

Make sure you reference the tips for persons who may have challenges in certain areas as you plan your gathering (See Adapting the Sessions to the Needs of Your Group). By having pictures to point to or including actions, you may more easily welcome each person into your group.

Step 1: Gathering and Theme

What We’ll Need
Before the session
  • Wrap up a gift box with a small gift inside for each participant. (Some ideas might include a type of candy or fruit that everyone can eat and enjoy, a picture of the group duplicated for each person to have one, or a small ornament for each person).
  • Place the picture of baby Jesus in a large manila envelope. (Note, you will need a second copy of this printable in another manila envelope for a later step.)
  • Set out self-stick gift tags.

As people arrive, invite each of them to write their first name on two gift tags and stick one to the box and one to the manila envelope. (Make sure you choose a box big enough to display the multiple gift tags! If your group is large, you may need multiple copies of the manila envelope.)

Then set the gifts aside and continue your gathering time as usual with a time of prayer and praise or just refreshments and conversation. If you enjoy singing together, invite Christmas favorites from the group. You could also use this version of “Joy to the World” as you celebrate that Jesus is the good news for ALL people!

Comment to the group that Christmas time is filled with great traditions! But we usually think about our own traditions–not what Christmas is like for people who live in places like Australia or Japan. Enjoy learning how to say “Merry Christmas” with a variety of languages, using Merry Christmas From Around the World in 26 Languages. You may want to bring a globe or world map and point to some of the places as the languages are used.

Then continue to introduce the theme of today’s Christmas celebrations in other places by watching Christmas Around the World together.

Symbol - Welcome

Step 2: Exploring God’s Word

What We’ll Need
  • World map or globe (Optional)

Option 1

Option 2

Option 3

  • Unexpected Guests Drama
  • Doll or wrapped blanket to represent Jesus
  • Boxes or containers to represent gold, frankincense, and myrrh

If you brought a globe or world map, briefly show the group a few places before you dive into the story: Show where Jesus was born, where the Magi came from (likely Iraq or Iran area), and where we live. Then choose one of the following approaches to explore God’s story together.

Option 1  Bible Story on Video

Watch today’s Scripture story on video. Visitors from the East is an excellent retelling that will help the group live into today’s story. Be aware, though, that there is a lot of disagreement about when the Magi actually reached the place where Mary and Joseph lived. Our theologian, Barry Chance, thinks Jesus was probably not an infant but rather around two years old.

Then, as discussion pairs and/or as a group, talk about the Visitor from the East Discussion Questions. Either make copies for each pair or project the questions for all to see.


Option 2: Bible Study: The Magi and the Christmas Story

If you choose this option, you will be reading and discussing actual words from Scripture with your group, using a video presentation called The Magi and the Christmas Story. Be sure everyone is seated with a discussion partner before you begin. Pause the video in places where it calls for discussion.

Bible Study

Option 3: Drama: Unexpected Guests

If you choose the drama Unexpected Guests, you will need one very good reader for the Narrator role. The Chief Priest, Crowd and Magi all have shorter parts. Mary and King Herod (and possibly two of the Magi) have no-words parts. You will also need several props–a doll or blanket to represent baby Jesus and some gifts to represent the gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Identify places in the room for the home of Mary and Joseph, the country the Magi travelled from, and King Herod’s palace. And be sure you have some people available to prompt actors where needed! Give group members a few moments to prepare. Anyone who doesn’t have an individual part can be part of the crowd, who can remain seated as they speak their lines together.

After the drama, talk about all or some of the following together:

  • Who do you think placed the star in the sky?
  • Yes or No? Did God want the Magi from another country to visit baby Jesus?
  • Yes or No? Did Herod really want to worship the baby too?
  • Name one of the gifts the Magi brought to the baby king.
  • Yes or No? Was God more powerful than King Herod?
  • Yes or No? Does God want all kinds of people to worship Jesus today, too?

It may be easiest to just have one of the Magi read their lines; it will also open up two more non-speaking roles to involve more members of the group.


Step 3: Responding to the Story

What We’ll Need

Place the manila envelope that is covered with the names of your group members in the middle of the group and ask: Who is this gift for? Agree with the group that it’s for all of you!

Next, show the plain manila envelope and explain that there’s another gift inside this envelope. Then hold up the All Kinds of People gift tag. Talk about some of the people mentioned on the tag and remind the group of the Christmas traditions you talked about earlier: the person from Japan and the KFC tradition, the person from South Africa and the caterpillar tradition. You’ll also notice additional countries on the gift tag (e.g., Iran and Mexico). Invite group members to tell a few things they know about these places too. Then attach the big tag to the second envelope.

Ask a group member to open the envelope with the names of all group members. Invite him or her to pull out the picture and remember together that Jesus is God’s gift to us at Christmas! But we are not the only ones who get this gift. It’s for people in our neighborhood and all around our world. Ask someone to open the envelope with the tags from around the world. Again, invite them to discover the picture inside.

Comment that just as God invited the Magi from another country to be part of the Jesus story when he was very young, God invites our whole world into the love gift of Jesus today. That gift of Jesus started at Christmas, but it continued into the life of Jesus and keeps going into the lives of everyone who loves him. Remember together the whole Jesus love story by watching The Good News of Christ.

After the video, take out the gift box the group first saw in step 1–the one covered in tags. Comment that you’ve already “opened” the very best Christmas gift of all–the baby Jesus. But sometimes we celebrate that birth by giving each other little gifts too! Invite several group members to help you unwrap the box. Remind them that there’s something inside for everyone in the group. Pass the box around, inviting each participant to take one of the small gifts you included inside.


Again, if you brought a globe or world map, you may want to point to each of the countries you mention!


Step 4: Taking It Home

What We’ll Need

Ask group members to set their gifts aside until it’s time to go home (unless it’s a treat, and it’s already been consumed!). Then distribute a copy of the Take It Home to each person. Talk with the group about how you will be celebrating the birth of Jesus together–both as a church and as a group. Then start thinking of ways to invite everyone God wants you to invite. The take it home will give you many ideas–both about who is missing and how you might invite them. Plan together or in pairs to do one of the invitation activities.

Don’t have time to do this during your session today? No worries. Draw the group’s attention to the At Home section at the end of the Take It Home. Challenge them to work with family, friends, or group home to invite others to a Christmas celebration!

Spend time praying over the invitation project and invitations you chose in step 4 or will be planning at home. Pray for people to respond to your invitations and make your celebration complete with their presence.

Take It Home

Step 5: Closing

What We’ll Need

End your time today with celebration! If your group enjoys using streamers and playing rhythm instruments, have them available today to accompany your singing.

You may want to begin the celebration by playing and singing Joy to the World again–this time in English and French and Spanish to remind the group again that people from all over our world are celebrating the joy of Jesus’ birth.

Then invite the group to suggest some of their favorite carols and sing them together. Links to several well-loved carols are included above.

If you have time, remind the group that we praise God not only at Christmas but all year long. And Christians all around the world do too! Point to South Africa on your map and explain that the song they are about to hear (and move to and use rhythm instruments to accompany) is a praise song in Zulu, one of the languages spoken in South Africa. O’ Sifuni Mungu is a wonderful way to end your celebration together.