Our North American Christmas tradition is not complete without the story of “The Three Wise Men” also known as Magi or Kings of the Orient. Last year I wrote about this Christmas tradition, along with others, in my post Christmas Tradition vs. Christmas Truth.
The Bible does not state how many wise men there were nor does it call them kings. However, it does mention three types of gifts they gave to honour the birth of Jesus – frankincense, gold and myrrh.
Mat 2:11 And coming into the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother. And they fell down and worshiped Him. And opening their treasures, they presented gifts to Him, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
It may seem strange to be giving a baby these kinds of gifts, but the wise men were paying homage to someone they regarded as a king.
Mat 2:1,2 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men came from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He who is born king of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him.
In the ancient world, frankincense, gold and myrrh were costly gifts offered to honour a king. The wise men bestowed these gifts upon Jesus who would be called the “King of Kings”, not of just an earthly realm but of a spiritual one as well.
Rev 19:16 And He has on His garment, and on His thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
Although the Bible does not attribute any particular significance or purpose to the gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh, some scholars think that these gifts had special spiritual meaning in regards to Jesus – gold for his kingship, frankincense to represent his priestly role and myrrh to symbolize his death.
The gold may have held a practical purpose too, that of financing Joseph, Mary and infant Jesus’ trip to Egypt to escape Herod.
Frankincense is an aromatic resin harvested from a tree. It is highly fragrant when burned and therefore it was used in worship.
Lev 2:2 And he shall bring it to Aaron’s sons, the priests. And he shall take out of it his handful of flour and its oil, with all its frankincense. And the priest shall burn the memorial of it on the altar, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savor to Jehovah.
It is a symbol of holiness and righteousness. It is thought that the gift of frankincense symbolized Jesus sacrificing himself for us.
Heb 9:25, 26 Nor yet that He should offer Himself often, even as the high priest enters into the Holy of Holies every year with the blood of others (for then He must have suffered often since the foundation of the world), but now once in the end of the world He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
Myrrh was a spice also obtained from a tree. It was used in the embalming process and sometimes mixed with wine to make a sedating drink.
Jesus was offered a drink of wine mixed with myrrh when he was being crucified but he refused to drink it.
Mar 15:23 And they gave Him wine mixed with myrrh to drink. But He did not take it.
Myrrh symbolizes bitterness, suffering, and affliction. Jesus certainly experienced all those things for our sake when he was tortured and then crucified.
Isa 53:4 Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
Isa 53:5 But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was on Him; and with His stripes we ourselves are healed.
Isa 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, each one to his own way; and Jehovah has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
Isa 53:7 He was oppressed, and He was afflicted;…
1Pe 3:18 For Christ also once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, indeed being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit;
It is interesting to note that after Jesus was killed and Joseph of Arimathea had taken Jesus’ body, Nicodemus arrived with myrrh and aloes to help with the preparation of the body for burial.
Joh 19:38 And after these things, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus (but secretly for fear of the Jews) begged of Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus. And Pilate gave permission. Then he came and took the body of Jesus.
Joh 19:39 And Nicodemus also came, who at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.
Joh 19:40 Then they took the body of Jesus and wound it with linens with the spices, as is the custom of the Jews to bury.
Frankincense, gold and myrrh. Three gifts given to honour a King. Intentional or not, three gifts with seemingly symbolic meaning and importance. Did the wise men perceive the importance of those gifts? We do not know for sure. But, we know that the first gift giving at the birth of Jesus inspired our tradition of giving gifts on the day we celebrate his birth – Christmas.
I pray that the thoughtful and honouring example set by the wise men guide us as we rush around with our Christmas shopping in this material world.