“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem.” — Matthew 2:1Read the full passage: Matthew 2:1–12
Today, we are going to take a look at Matthew’s account of the wise men. Our story includes:
- A pilgrimage to see the newborn King of the Jews
- Subtlety in keeping the location of the infant a secret from those who would do Him harm
- Gifts foretelling the purpose of the child’s coming
Without wandering through all of the historical debate and commentary concerning the wise men themselves, I want to skip right to the most significant aspect of the gifts. The wise men gave three gifts to Jesus, and they were not trite trinkets. These gifts are precious, and the advantage of gold needs little explanation. Gold is high-priced today and certainly was then. Frankincense and myrrh are less valuable and seldom used by typical Westerners. Both are plant resins found particularly in evergreen trees’ are distinct from other plant secretions, such as sap or latex‘ and historically, were used in various ways, such as wood varnishes, adhesives, and food glazing agents. Myrrh was also often mixed with wine and safely ingested.
However, these gifts were a foretelling of a future reality. You see, frankincense and myrrh had two other distinct usages: that of incense and an embalming agent. The fragrance smells good when burned. It’s aromatic. In embalming, frankincense and myrrh function to make something specific smell good—a dead body. Matthew tells us that the wise men brought Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh because Matthew was well aware of a reality that the wise men could not have been—at least, not entirely. Matthew knew that Jesus had died at the hands of the State. Just as today, funerals were not inexpensive affairs. Remember, Jesus’ grave was a gift as well. Furthermore, Matthew knew Jesus had been anointed before His burial and that Mary, Joanna, and Salome had gone to prepare His body on His resurrection day.
These gifts are significant but aren’t emphasized in the other Gospels. The treasures the wise men brought are substantial because they were given in anticipation of a more extraordinary gift. They were given in anticipation of the Son of God’s death, burial, and resurrection. Literally, in this case, to aid the greatest gift.
In the same sense, Christmas, with all its lights, wreaths, presents, carols, cookies, and feast, is only significant in light of resurrection Sunday—Easter. Jesus Christ became a man to redeem men through His death, burial, and resurrection. This Christmas, take time to remember that the story of Bethlehem ends at Calvary.