The Magi: Gifts for a King (Matthew 2:1-12)

The nativity accounts of the birth of Jesus contain some famous characters.  Some of those characters are the Magi, or wise men, whose appearance is described in Matthew 2:1-12.  These Eastern mystics travelled a long, long way from their homeland because they believed they had seen a heavenly sign that a special baby had been born.  As stargazers they had seen a star and interpreted it to mean that the King of the Jews had been born.  So they journeyed to worship Him (v2).

The faith of these men in their interpretation of the sign they had observed is impressive!  They saw a star and simply on the basis of their understanding of its meaning travelled for weeks on end across inhospitable terrain to find the king in order to worship Him.  They recognised the importance of the sign.  More importantly, they recognised the importance of the One to whom the sign pointed.

In their search for the newborn King they carried treasures from their collection in order to honour and bless Him.  They brought gifts for a divine King.  But this was no ordinary baby shower!

As they set out to find the King, they only had an inkling, a glimmer, of who the person was to whom the star led.  When they met Him they encountered a Person far greater than they ever dreamed.  So too, their presents.  They brought three gifts which pointed towards the fact that this child was special but, in fact, each gift symbolised so much more than the Magi realised.

The first gift was gold.  Gold is no ordinary gift.  Gold is a precious commodity.  It symbolises wealth and prosperity.  Ordinary people typically don’t possess gold.  Gold is for kings.  The Magi reasoned that if they were going to meet the King of the Jews they should arrive with kingly gifts.  And for that purpose, there is nothing more appropriate than gold.

The second gift was frankincense.  Frankincense is fragrant perfume.  It reminds me of the holy anointing oil used by the priests in the Temple (see Exodus 30:22-33).  This oil was used to consecrate the priests and set them apart for their priestly duties.  Frankincense is an appropriate gift for a priest.

The third gift was myrrh.  Myrrh is what was used to embalm bodies.  30 years later, Jesus body would itself be wrapped in linen with spices including myrrh (John 19:39,40).  Myrrh speaks of death.  Myrrh looks ahead to a life ended and a body preserved.  The gift of myrrh prophetically speaks of a life ended in sacrifice and of a body in a grave.

So gold speaks of kingship.  Frankincense speaks of priesthood.  While myrrh speaks of sacrifice.

The gifts spoke of more than the Magi knew.

Their gifts are signs of who this baby is and what He will become.  They are gifts given in the present which point ahead to the future.  They are gifts which speak of more than the givers realised and reveal who this Baby truly is.

Gold.  Frankincense.  Myrrh.

King.  Priest.  Saviour.

Each gift echoes louder than the essence of the gift itself.  Each gift points to Someone greater.

So this Christmas when you worship, when you pray, when you sing the lyrics of famous carols, you may well be speaking of more than you know!  Jesus, the Divine King in a manger is a profound mystery.  Immanuel, God with us, is a mind-boggling truth.  And so you could well find yourself proclaiming deeper truths than you realise.  You may be speaking of mysteries that you only have a glimmer of understanding about.  But when you do this, when you bow down in worship, He sees and hears.  He accepts our gifts and magnifies them.

So this Christmas simply come and worship the newborn King.

And as you do, you may offer a gift which speaks of more than you realise.

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  1. #1 by Ted Hickox on April 20, 2017 - 3:51 pm

    How do we know that the magi gave Jesus only three gifts? The Bible never states such a thing.

    • #2 by Simon Clay on April 20, 2017 - 5:44 pm

      Hi Ted, We don’t know how many gifts the magi brought but we do know they brought the three described. Given that Matthew 2:11 says, ‘Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh’ (NASB) it wouldn’t at all surprise me that they were carrying more ‘treasures’ than the three gifts we read they gave. What is of note is that gold, frankincense and myrrh are the three recorded gifts and they point to the greatness of the One receiving the gifts.

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