Matthew 2:1-12 — More Than Just Props for Our Kids to Carry in a Play – A Look at the Gifts Given by the Magi

Posted: August 25, 2015 in Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 2:1-12 — Again, as we pass through this passage of Scripture, Matthew 2:1-12, we know this story so well. There are not many of us in America that have not heard this story on television, film, and in countless nativity scenes or plays across the country over the years. We have heard the story and seen the scene so many time that we tend to gloss over the individual pieces of this passage. It’s kind of like driving to work in the morning. You’ve done it so many times that you forget the scenery. But let us refocus today and look at little closer at the scenery. Today, let’s look at the gifts given by the magi. They are not just cute things for our kids to carry in a nativity play. They signify the three aspects of who Jesus Christ really is.

First, he was brought gold. In the time that Jesus was born, it was common practice to give gifts of gold to the male sons of kings as it was a symbol of the future kingship of the son. So, the gold was to signify that the Magi saw Jesus as a king. Gold was difficult to mine in those days so it’s scarcity made it even more valuable in those days that it is today. Therefore, gold was often reserved for king’s palaces and places of worship. The gift itself would not have been lost on Matthew’s Jewish audience. They would thought more of it than we do when we watch a nativity play and being more interested in the fact that little Jimmy was the wise guy who gave the gift of gold and did so without knocking over the stage. The Jews would have recognized that the gift of gold was because the magi recognized Jesus as a king. A king is someone who has authority to rule and reign over a group of people. Jesus is just such a king. He is called the King of the Jews by the Magi (Matt. 2:2), and Jesus accepts that title in Matt. 27:11, “Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor questioned Him, saying, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘It is as you say.’” Matt. 21:5 speaks of Jesus and says, “Behold your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey.” Remember, Jesus is King in that He rules and judges. “And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war,” (Rev. 19:11). The armies follow Him (Rev. 19:14). Jesus has complete authority over us and thus is rightfully our king. We are children of the one true king.

They also brought frankincense. Frankincense was once greatly valued throughout the Middle East, from Rome to India. It was very expensive and a gift having a wonderful fragrance. It was used for a variety of purposes such as incense (Ex. 30:34), medical treatment, and perfume (Song of Solomon 3:6; 4:14). We discover from the Bible that frankincense was used in worship. Thus, the presentation of this gift signifies the Magis belief that Jesus was a priest and had a priestly destiny. The priests were the ones in the Old Testament who offered sacrifices to God in order to cleanse of sin. Ultimately, all such priests were representations of Jesus who is the True Priest who offered Himself as a sacrifice (Eph. 5:2, Heb. 9:26-27, 10:12) by which He cleanses us of our sin (1 John 1:7). But, Jesus is called a priest after the order of Melchizedek. “Where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb. 6:20). Heb. 9:11 says, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation.” As a priest, Jesus is our mediator between God and ourselves (1 Tim. 2:5). In the case of the priest, he delivers the sacrifices of people to God from bottom to top. So, Jesus is a prophet who delivers the Word of God to us, and He is also the priest who delivers His sacrifice on our behalf to God the father.

Myrrh was less expensive than frankincense, but was still highly valued. It is first mentioned in the Bible in Gen. 37:25, where it was being carried by camels on a caravan. Myrrh was used for a variety of purposes, such as: a perfume (Song of Solomon 3:6; 4:14), an anesthetic, burial embalming (John 19:39), as an ingredient in anointing oil, and to deodorize clothes. According to Esther 2:12, it was also a cosmetic used by women. John 19:39 records that myrrh was used in Jesus’ burial. This gift thus signifies was to be our sacrificial savior in that he makes us beautiful (cleansed of our sins) through his death on the cross. That it was used so often as a burial anointing gives us a glimpse of Jesus as prophet. Prophets were typically killed for bringing God’s messages to the people that they often did not want to hear. Jesus’ message that kingdom of God was at hand in Him was not popular. His message of disdain for the hypocrisy of man (all pious on the outside and evil on the inside) was not popular. His message of the redemption of sinners regardless of how bad you have been was not popular. His message about the things that we place value in here on earth meaning nothing in eternity was unsettling to say the least. The frankincense was a symbol of the sacrifice that Jesus would make to bring the message of God to man.

Priest, prophet, king. Jesus was all of these things. He is the only person in the Bible to whom all three of these offices can be ascribed. Some have been two of the three but none have been all three. Priest, prophet, king. Jesus is all three. He is the divine ruler of man. He has authority over all creation. He has authority over each and everyone of us, regardless of whether you believe in Him or not. He is a prophet that gives us words that we need to hear but may not necessarily like. Priest, He is, because he intercedes on our behalf with the Father in heaven. He can enter into the holy of holies and plead our case before the Father. He is the sacrifice before the Lord that makes us right with God. Priest, prophet, king. May Savior.

Sometimes, we need to stop and examine the scenery a little more closely to take in the true value of the scene. The nativity is not just a cute story. It is packed with power, symbolism and meaning. Let us not go through the motions of the nativity scene. Let us brew on it like coffee to get its full value, taste, and meaning. The gifts are more than just props for our kids to carry in a nativity play. They are gifts that signify the greatness of the one and only true king, priest, and prophet, Jesus Christ.


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