Many of us remember Christmas Sunday School pageants with little boys dressed in bath robes and gold spray-painted crowns as they presented gifts to Jesus. But who were these Magi anyhow? In this last of my Christmas posts from December 2011 their gift-giving inspires me to be more thoughtful.
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the eastand have come to worship him…
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the eastwent ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.”[i]
As I was finishing my gift wrapping, I was thinking a lot about this passage of Scripture. And as many of us exchange and open gifts this Christmas Day, I hope we all pause and give thanks for the greatest gift we have ever been given – the gift of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. He is the giver of every good and perfect gift[ii].
A great deal of mystery surrounds these men from the “East” and many suppositions have been made about them. It has often been assumed there were three men, but Scripture only makes clear there were three gifts. The Magi who are mentioned in Matthew’s account are often traditionally referred to as “wise men” or “kings”. However, they were most likely well-educated “astrologers” who studied the stars. This would explain their keen interest in this new star that suddenly appeared in the night sky. They obviously had some knowledge as well that a new king was to be born to the Jews and they were eager to worship Him. Many have speculated where these men originated from – the Orient, Iran, and Iraq – we really don’t know except they came from east of Judea. Also, many people presume the magi visited Jesus at the manger, but Scripture clearly states they found Him in “the house”[iii]. Since we read later that Herod ordered all Hebrew boys two years of age and under to be killed, it is very possible that Jesus was not an infant when the magi worshiped Him.
The gifts the magi presented to Jesus are significant. Gold…a treasure truly fit for a king. Did they realize that this young child would one day be more than King of the Jews…that God would exalt Him to the highest place and give Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father[iv]? Frankincense…a bitter vegetable resin used primarily as a perfume or for fumigating at sacrifices[v]. Did these visitors from afar have any idea that such a gift might be used to embalm the body of Christ after His death? Myrrh…a bitter gum resin often used as an antiseptic, stimulant, perfume, or to dull pain[vi]. Did these learned men know that this little child would someday refuse this very gift as He hung dying on the cross?[vii]
The star the magi followed must have been very spectacular. They were “overjoyed” to see it. The Amplified Version says they were “thrilled with ecstatic joy” and the King James Version says, “they rejoiced with exceeding great joy”. Don’t you wish, like me, that we could have been there to see that exceptional star?
I love the verse in Luke 2:19 that describes Mary’s response to all that happened surrounding Jesus’ birth, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” I trust that will be my sentiment today and throughout the rest of this Christmas season.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my dear readers!
[i] Matthew 2:1-2, 9-12 (NIV)
[ii] James 1:17 (NIV)
[iii] Matthew 2:11(NIV)
[iv] Philippians 2:9-11(NIV)
[v] Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, W.E. Vine; Merrill F. Unger; William White, Jr., 1985 by Thomas Nelson, Inc., page255
[vi] Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, W.E. Vine; Merrill F. Unger; William White, Jr., 1985 by Thomas Nelson, Inc., page 423-424
[vii] Mark 15:23