We are in the throws of another Christmas season with all the festivity, family and food to enjoy!
Amongst all of that, I look forward to times in the Word of God being reminded of the Christmas story and all the details about it because it never seems to get old! Almost every year either through my personal reading or through church services, I always come away with a new angle, thought or tidbit of the Christmas story that I did not realize before.
This episode of our podcast is more of a fun one, and since we speak and teach on Biblical stewardship, I thought it would be good to look at the Christmas story, and specifically peer into the generosity of that the Magi (the three wise men) gave to Jesus. What was the meaning of Wise Men’s gifts? Do they hold any significance to us today?
The wise men’s gifts were: Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.
Matthew 2:1–11 (ESV)
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6 “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” 7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
Before we jump into the significance of the gifts, I would like to share a few other thoughts that I gleaned from the reading of this passage and from my previous study of this passage.
- Remember, these men are Magi (wise men), not kings. There is no mention in the Scriptures that these men are Kings.
- The Magi may have been inspired or influenced by the teachings of one of their ancient Hebrew leaders, Daniel. Consider that about 600 years earlier, during the Babylonian Exile, King Nebuchadnezzar assigned the prophet Daniel to the high office of “chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners” (Daniel 5:11). In other words, Daniel was appointed Chief of the Magi. The Magi of the first century would have most certainly studied the writing of Daniel and possibly other Jewish writings with which Daniel would have been associated, like the book of Isaiah. This connection between Daniel and the Magi may help to explain why six hundred years later, the Magi in question expected a Jewish king to arrive in Judea near the end of the first century B.C. It is very likely that the Magi followed the star based on their study of prophet Daniel’s writings.”
- These three Magi are not of Jewish descent. These are gentiles that have come far and are the first gentiles that we know of that worshiped Jesus.
- Not only was Herod troubled when the Magi arrived looking for the “King of the Jews,” but the text also says that “all Jerusalem” was troubled with Herod!
If you have been around the church for any length of time, I am sure that you have heard at least one, if not multiple messages during the Christmas season about the meaning or the symbolism of the gifts of the Magi. Let’s take a few minutes and look at them.
“The primary significance of the gifts lay in their great value—they were indeed gifts fit for a king. Beyond making it clear that these were great treasures given in an act of worship (Matthew 2:11), Scripture does not directly attach any other symbolic meaning to the gifts. However, without venturing too far off into extra biblical speculation, it’s reasonable to draw a few possible inferences from the gifts brought by the wise men. These valuable gifts were clearly intended to honor Jesus, but it’s possible they carried deeper theological significance as well” (Scott James).
What was the Meaning of the Wise Men’s Gifts?
Gold:“Gold” is the most-often mentioned valued metal in Scripture; as in modern times, it was prized throughout the ancient world as a medium of exchange as well as for making jewelry, ornaments, and dining instruments for royalty (NIV Application Commentary).
Frankincense, a glittery, fragrant gum resin that was ground into powder and burned. It was one of the ingredients of the holy incense used for worship in the tabernacle. Exod. 30:34–38 contains the recipe for a frankincense-based incense dedicated for ritual use. No other incense was permitted on the altar (Exod. 30:9) and secular use of the sacred recipe was absolutely forbidden (Exod. 30:38).
Myrrh, A dried gum obtained from the balsam tree, it served many ceremonial and practical uses. Exodus 30 mentions myrrh as an ingredient in the “oil of holy anointment”. It was sometimes a component of the temple incense. Myrrh also had a medicinal quality in areas like oral health and treatment of arthritis. The Jews used it to offer pain relief to those who were physically suffering. Finally, as it is mentioned in many, many sermons around Christmas time every year. Myrrh was used in the burying of the dead, specifically in embalming to reduce the odors and create a much better aroma.
SYMBOLISM – Meaning of Wise Men’s Gifts
Gold: Gold was a customary gift back then and even today to give as a gift to those that are considered royalty. As a norm in Scripture as seen in 1 Kings 10, when the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon, she brought large quantities of gold as a gift. This gift of gold to Jesus is the Magi’s non-verbal expression of the royalty of Jesus, realizing that Jesus was a King. We even see that verbally expressed in Matthew 2:2 where the Magi ask King Herod “where is this one who has been born King of the Jews”. I believe that one can clearly see that this gift of God from the Magi is a direct expression of their heart and head knowledge that they would be coming into the presence of a King.
Frankincense: Frankincense speaks of the worship of God! Many writers believe that this was a gift offering to Jesus to honor him as God, as Immanuel (God with us). Frankincense was burned as an offering to God as in Exodus 30:34. The symbol of holiness and righteousness and sacrifice is tied into this gift since it was primarily used in sacrificial worship times at the Altar of God.
Myrrh: Writer and blogger, Scott James said this about Myrrh, ”with regard to Jesus’ life, myrrh was a key ingredient in the mixture of spices that were used to prepare bodies for burial (e.g., John 19:39-40). Perhaps the wise men intended this gift as an indication of Jesus’ humanity and the manner in which he would save his people—namely, that he would die for them (cf. Isaiah 53:5).
Just like the first two gifts, there is a Temple connection with myrrh as well. Exodus 30 tells us that liquid myrrh was a main ingredient in the anointing oil used to ceremonially prepare the priests, the instruments, the altar, and the Temple itself before sacrifices could be made. Again, the parallels to Jesus’ consecrated life and sacrificial death are immediately noticeable (Crosswalk).
This gift, historically, has represented the death of Christ on the cross.
Clearly all three of the gifts that were given were not only very expensive, but they all had a connection to the life, ministry, and death of Jesus our Messiah.
- Generosity – The generosity of God giving His only Son to save us from our sins should in-and-of-itself cause us to be generous.
- Time – From what we can gather, the travels of the Magi were about 500 miles give or take…which would account for 50-75 days with no detours or complications…and this number of miles and days are one way! So, there was a commitment of 100-150 days or 3-5 months of travel time to get to Jerusalem and back to their homes. Are you willing to give, not just of your substance, but of your time back to the Lord?
- Worship – The Magi took enormous lengths to worship this newborn King of the Jews! As we stated moments ago, we see that through their time and treasure they worshipped Jesus…but they also did so with their words and actions in His presence. We ought to do the same, to worship Him with our hearts, our minds, and our words! Nothing can replace this verbal and emotional expression in His presence, and we ought to make sure that during this Christmas season, all of us listening to this ought to take at least one time, if not multiple times, and get before the Lord to just worship Him!
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