Summary: The three different kinds of gifts have been suggested as representing various truths about the Lord Jesus. Every suggestion has it own special merit and message.
THEY PRESENTED GIFTS TO HIM
"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him." 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 So they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 6 ’But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ "
7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also." 9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.
11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way. " Matthew 2:1-12.
The typical manger scene is very beautiful but biblically incorrect. When the Magi arrived in Bethlehem they found Jesus living in a “house” and not in a manger. It is no “stretch” to assume that Joseph secured more suitable living quarters in Bethlehem for the family as soon as possible, probably within a week or two. By then the throng that had descended upon the town in compliance with the registration decree issued by Caesar Augustus would have returned to their homes.
I. THEIR BACKGROUND:
"…wise men from the east."
Probably Persian philosophers, versed in astrology, who had probably studied the writings of the Old Testament prophets and had read that Israel was looking for the coming of the Messiah. "Wise men from the east" (Matthew 2:1). In the first century only four countries had Magian priesthoods: Media, Persia, Assyria, and Babylonia. St. Maximus of Turin and St. Theodotus of Ancyra believed the Magi were from Babylon. Clement of Alexandria thought they were Persians. Justin, Tertullian, and Epiphanius believed that they were from Arabia.
We have good reason to believe they were from Persia (Iran). Second-century Christian art in the Roman catacombs depicts the Magi clad in Persian garments. Indeed, the majority of early theologians considered them Persian. Adding weight to this assumption is that the reason the invading Persians spared the Church of the Nativity in AD 614 was that they saw a mosaic over its doorway which portrayed the Magi in Persian headdress and clothing.
Legend suggests there were three Magi. The likelihood is that there were twelve or more. A journey of this great distance and transporting expensive cargo was perilous because of marauding bands of robbers and thieves. Circumstances such as these demanded a caravan.
II. THEIR OBSERVATION:
"…we have seen His star in the East."
The Bible refers to all heavenly bodies as “stars” except for the sun and the moon. Even angels were at times referred to as “stars”. We read where God asked Job: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?…When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (Job 38:4, 7). Here God refers to the angelic host as "morning stars and the sons of God."
We feel comfortable in ruling out a meteor, asteroid or some convergence of the planets. The altitude of such luminaries would make it impossible for them to “stop over the place where the young Child was”. Then what was it: an angel, or some other divine manifestation seen only by these wise men? In any event, it was a miraculous occurrence that perfectly served the purpose for which it was designed.
III. THEIR JOURNEY:
"…came to Jerusalem."
They went to Jerusalem because it was the capitol of Israel. We are not told how long their journey took, probably from two to six months. We cannot be certain how soon after the Magi saw the star that they commenced their long and arduous journey. They were learned men: philosophers, astrologers and astronomers. It is reasonable to think that they spent considerable time studying and discussing the meaning of the heavenly light that they were seeing.