Each of the gifts given to Jesus paint a unique picture and they reveal many things about those who gave them. We may not know how many Magi or wise men gave these gifts. Some believe there were three because there were three gifts while others think twelve to represent the twelve tribes.
We do know that the Magi term is plural, meaning more than one. While we do not have a figure, we do know much about the gift givers and their knowledge of the one they were giving to. The term Magi is first seen in Scripture in the times of Daniel and the exiles. In Daniel 2:2, the King sought many wise men including astrologers. In Daniel 5:11 we see the prophet Daniel become the leader of them in Babylon, an oriental city. Some considered this group of “wise men” to be sorcerers, but we also see Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who served God alone. It could be possible because of Daniel’s influence that the wise men would continue to know of Hebrew prophecy, including the coming Messiah.
In the New Testament Greek, the term “magi” meant oriental astrologer. This means these gift givers were probably from Persia or Babylon.
In Matthew 2 we pick up their part in the Christmas story. They went directly to the King over the region at the time, King Herod. They asked, “Where is the one who has been born the king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (verse 2)
How amazing is it that God used the very area of their expertise to get their attention? Through a star! God is so wonderful to use our daily walks, places, and giftings to grab our attention. He grabbed experts who would know the stars, to lead them to Jesus in such a personal way. Hasn’t He done this for all of us? Brought us to Himself in the most personal and sometimes unexpected ways!
To me the most heartbreaking part of Matthew 2 comes in verse 3, “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all of Jerusalem with him.” They were missing it, but the wise men weren’t about to follow in their steps.
For possibly the first time, King Herod asks where the prophecy said the Messiah would be born (verses 4-5). The chief priests and teachers of the day replied to him that the place would be Bethlehem because of the prophecy in Micah 5:2-4.
The King then calls the Magi in secret to use their expertise for his own gain. To discover when the star had appeared and thus, the baby. The Messiah. His threat.
Then in deception he sends the Magi on their way to Bethlehem, “As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too many go and worship him.” (verse 8)
They left and followed the star “when it rose ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.” (verse 10) And what was their reaction? Unlike Herod and the people of Jerusalem, they were overjoyed. Upon seeing Jesus, verse 11 tells us they “bowed down and worshipped Him”. He was no longer just the King of the Jews. He was precious to them. Their journey to Jesus was deeply personal.
After worshiping Jesus and being in His presence, they presented their gifts to Him. These being gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I think it is wise to take a moment to talk about these gifts for they were chosen specifically whether by the purpose of the Magi or the will of God. They can tell us so much about the one they were giving them to.
Let us look at each of them:
- Gold has always been a symbol of wealth, royalty, and even power. This gift represents the King they knew they were meeting. It is also possible that this gold helped Mary and Joseph afford their escape to Egypt to protect the Messiah (Matthew 2:13-23)
- Frankincense was used throughout the Old Testament for incense and anointing oil. In this gift we see the lineage of priests and also that Jesus would be the great High Priest as Hebrews 4:14-16 reveals.
- Myrrh was used in many ways during Biblical times, some being for purification, anointing, embalming, painkiller, etc. It is easy to see how this gift could resemble the future of the Messiah and His death. I recently learned how myrrh is derived. It is from dried sap that can only be extracted by cutting or piercing the tree, allowing the gum to come out. But get this, the gum sap comes out in such a fashion from the trunk that they are tear-shaped droplets that dry in a red color. Much like the blood we later see Jesus spill at the cross.
After giving their gifts and worshiping the Messiah, God gives the Magi a dream as a true warning about the motives of King Herod. They return home another route to avoid the King and the dark intentions he held. And then, God gives Joseph a dream to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to hide. This fulfilling another prophecy found in Hosea 11:1, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”
How beautiful is it that God is so intentional with us! He speaks our language (like the star for these astrologers) and meets us in our daily places. Where has God been showing up for you? Where maybe have you been ignoring His light in your life, leading you closer to Him? The best gift is waiting for you, His presence is available in every moment. Your journey to Jesus is highly personal, and it is meant to be because God had you in mind. He had you in mind through the birth and atonement of the Messiah. He has you in mind, every moment of every day and time.