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We actually know very little about them. And there has been quite a bit of tinkering and modifying done to their role in the story through the years. I’m speaking about those characters who appear in everyone’s nativity scene known as Wise Men.
Wise Men. Now there are two words that rarely go together Wise – Men. I’ve known some wide men, I’ve met a few wise leaders. And there’s certainly a difference between being a wise-guy and a wise man.
Again, there’s a great deal of Internet research and revisionist thinking going on about these characters in the Christmas story. Some of have suggested that things would have been considerably different if these wise men had actually instead been wise women. And things sure would have been different. If it had been ‘Wise Women’ instead of ‘Wise Men’, they would have asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts from Baby’s-R-Us, including diapers, wipes, bibs and formula. But that’s an entirely different story…
Matthew is the only gospel that tells us about the visit of these Magi. And the way he tells the story reveals a bit about his intentions I believe. Matthew is very concerned with Jesus being the promised Messiah – the fulfillment of the Hebrew prophecies and law. Matthew is very concerned with Jesus being the promise to Israel – the King of the Jews. And Matthew is also very focused on revealing the hidden purposes of Jesus – the secret ambition of this clandestine King – Deity wrapped and hidden in the confines of His own creation.
Matthew doesn’t reveal the place of origin of these Magi. He isn’t concerned with their role in their society or their place in hierarchy in government. Their presence alone, and their assumption and conversation with the local Governor, Herod, reveals their official status and purpose in seeking the newborn King. We don’t know much about how many people were traveling with them… Was this a small group sent to welcome a new ruler? Or was this a large, impressive entourage meant to impress and endear themselves to the new King? We don’t know, Matthew isn’t led by the Holy Spirit to give us those details. We don’t know their names, or their nationalities.
In fact, Matthew only gives us two details at all. First, the Magi are indeed seeking someone they are confident is a new King for the Jewish nation. Important. Secondly, Matthew takes a moment to mention the three coffers or treasures that the magi have brought as an offering to the newborn King.
They bring Gold. A gift of value still today – greatly significant – a gift suited for royalty. Also turned about to be fairly practical as well, as Joseph and Mary will very soon discover their need for a travel agent to Egypt.
These Magi also bring Incense. Incense is a gift given to Deity in worship. This demonstrates that the Magi have a deep respect and possibly an appreciation for the faith and worship of the Hebrew people
Both of these gifts also reinforce Matthew’s purposes in the authoring of His account. Remember, Matthew is trying to emphasize to Hebrew writers the Sovereignty and King-ship of Jesus and the Divinity and God-ness of Jesus. Here he demonstrates the baby being given very symbolic gifts of both.
But the third gift… Very different. Myrrh. Myrrh was a very aromatic resin – and
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