Treasures from the Orient; Thoughts on the Three Gifts
“After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” – Matthew 2:11
One of the most splendid scenes within the Christmas Story is when distinguished foreigners known as magi traveled from the east on mission to worship the child Jesus. Contrary to the nativity scene set up in your living room, Jesus was probably about two years of age when they arrived at the home of Mary and Joseph. And, interestingly, nowhere in the Bible does it say there were three wise men. People have automatically assumed there were three because of the three treasures given to the Christ child. The wise men came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, gifts that seem a bit strange for a two-year old. But as we unpack these three gifts a bit, we find that they were in actuality very appropriate.
The gift of Gold – Gold was an expensive commodity associated with royalty. These wise men had already acknowledged His kingship in Matthew 2:2 when they asked, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” Throughout the Scriptures, Christ’s kingship is clearly proclaimed. He was referred to as King prior to his birth (Luke 1:32-33), at His death (John 19:19), and even seven-hundred years prior to His birth by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 9:7). Gold is also one of the purest of all metals, reflecting Christ’s purity. Undoubtedly, the gift of gold was a gift fit for Jesus, the King of kings.
The gift of Frankincense – Frankincense was a resin or gum that was highly fragrant when burned, and was frequently used in worship to the Lord. Exodus 30:34-37 lists frankincense as one of the ingredients used to make a specific type of incense used in a burnt offering. This particular gift pointed to Christ’s holiness and that He alone is worthy of worship. And worship was one of the primary reasons why these wise men had traveled from afar in search for the child Jesus. In Matthew 2:2 they said, “We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” The frankincense also points to Christ as our High priest. He is the one and only Mediator between God and man. He pleads our case before the Father and continually makes intercession on our behalf.
The gift of Myrrh – Myrrh was a spice commonly used in ancient embalming practices to prepare a body for proper burial. It was associated with suffering and death. To be sure, it seems a bit strange to give a toddler a gift signifying suffering and death. Today, it would be like giving a little boy a gift certificate to a funeral home. I wonder what went through the minds of Mary and Joseph when they saw the Myrrh. Did they fully understand? Did they see the gift as somewhat morbid? But as bizarre of a gift myrrh might be, it reminds us of Christ’s earthly mission to die for the sins of the world; for He was born to die. Later, Myrrh’s theme of suffering and death would once again mark Christ’s life in the events that led up to the crucifixion. Jesus’ abusers offered Him gall to drink, a drink containing myrrh (Mark 15:23). Christ suffered and died as the propitiation for our sins, taking our punishment and penalty.
Soon after receiving the three gifts, the Angel of the Lord warned Joseph in a dream that King Herod would seek after the child Jesus in an effort to destroy Him (Matthew 2:13). Joseph heeded the warning, and hastily traveled to Egypt in effort to protect his family (Mathew 2:14). And because of the gift of gold from the magi, Mary and Joseph would have had the finances to cover their traveling expenses.
I pray these thoughts on the three gifts from the magi have enriched the Christmas story for you this year. Let us worship and adore the little baby boy born in Bethlehem; for He is Christ the Lord, the Savior of the world!
– Pastor Eric