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 tell 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 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 the 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

Gather as you usually do with a time of prayer and praise or just refreshments and conversation. If you enjoy singing together, take turns suggesting Christmas favorites. You could also use this version of “Joy to the World” as you celebrate that Jesus is the good news for ALL people!

Then explore the theme of Christmas being for people of all kinds all around the world by watching Christmas Around the World together.


If you have time, you may also enjoy learning to say Merry Christmas in a few different languages, using Merry Christmas From Around the World in 26 Languages. 

Symbol - Welcome

Step 2: Exploring God’s Word

What We’ll Need

Option 1

  1. Visitors from the East video
  2. Visitors from the East Discussion Questions

Option 2

  1. Bible Study: The Magi and the Christmas Story

Option 3

  1. Matthew 2:1-12: Readers Theater
  2. Visitors from the East Discussion Questions

Choose one of the following approaches to explore God’s Word together.

Option 1: Bible Story 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.. That may be something your group wants to talk about.

Then, as discussion pairs and/or as a group talk about the Visitors 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 hearing 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: Reader’s Theater: Matthew 2: 1-12

Decide who will read each of the roles. Then read through the Scripture together. After the reading, use Visitors from the East Discussion Questions to guide your conversation about the Scripture.


Step 3: Responding to the Story

What We’ll Need

Invitations—we get them to weddings, birthday parties, memorials services, housewarming parties, showers, and much more. Some of the invitations are pretty ordinary.  Others are extremely creative, including videos, pictures, and unusual folds.  Tell each other about some of the most creative invitations you have received or sent.

You’ll have to admit, though, that while these ideas are truly interesting or novel, God wins the prize for the most creative birth announcements or invitations!  When Jesus was born, God invited people to know about that earth in truly stunning ways.

Ask a member of your group to read one of those invitations–the one issued to the shepherds–from Luke 2:8-15. Who could turn down that invitation?

Then think about the story from today and the amazing way God invited the Magi to find the newborn King: a new star in the sky!

Fortunately for us, the invitation to see and worship and believe in Jesus didn’t end with the shepherds and Magi. It didn’t end with people in Bible times. Each of us is invited to know Jesus and the good news of salvation. Take a few minutes to share stories about how God invited you to a life in Jesus Christ. Celebrate each story!

The amazing news is that the same invitation goes out to everyone–not just to people we might expect to be invited. Everyone! One of the gifts of our story today is that it’s about how God specifically invited people we might not have expected to be at Jesus’ birthday party.

The amazing news is that 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 our lives, too. Spend a little time together remembering the Jesus love story to us by watching The Good News of Christ.


Step 4: Taking it Home

What We’ll Need

Distribute a copy of the take it home “Who’s Missing?” to each person. Talk together about how you will be celebrating the birth of Jesus–both as a church and as a group. Then start thinking of ways to invite everyone God wants you to invite to one or more of these celebrations. The take it home will give you many ideas–both about who is missing and how you might invite them. Make a plan and decide how you will implement it!

Don’t have time to do this during your session today? No worries. Check out the At Home section on page 2 of the Take It Home. It suggests that you work with family, friends, or another group you are part of 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! 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 yourselves again that groups from all over our world are celebrating the joy of Jesus’ birth.

Then take turns suggesting and singing some of your favorite carols. Links to several well-loved carols are included above.

If you have time, listen to and enjoy O’ Sifuni Mungu, a song from South Africa. It’s not a Christmas song, but it’s a wonderful reminder that we praise and celebrate our God not only at Christmas but all year long–all around the world.