Summary: The three gifts of the Magi symbolically represent gifts that we too can bring our Lord.
“What Gifts Do You Bring Him?”
Matthew 2: 1 – 12
Giving and Receiving
What do you enjoy more, giving gifts or receiving? I know that I was very excited to give Alisha some of her Christmas gifts this year. There were at least a couple of BIG surprises for her! And maybe we enjoy giving because we know what it’s like to receive. Jesus himself said that “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20: 35). And when we give, and someone really appreciates our gift, we ourselves are blessed. We receive more from giving than we do from receiving. Our story today is about some gift givers.
Story of the Magi
This story is a part of Matthew’s Christmas narrative. Often we see Nativity scenes with shepherds and Magi both present—like in our “Un-Christmas Pageant”—but most scholars believe that the Magi didn’t arrive in Bethlehem until several months later. Some think it might have been as long as two years later based on Herod’s decision to have every male child two years old and under murdered.
These Magi, wise-men, and scholars—traditionally, but not necessarily, three—travelled a great distance based on their study of the stars. They were members of a priestly class of Persian (Iran) or Babylonian (Iraq) experts in the occult, such as astrology and the interpretation of dreams.
They came to Jerusalem and first told Herod—the now sickly and still very paranoid king. Herod tried to manipulate the Magi so he could eliminate any threat to his rule.
The Magi found Jesus and his mother at home in Bethlehem—and our passage says they were overwhelmed with joy. They had come to journey’s end and found the king of the Jews. Indeed, they had come to worship him.
They brought Jesus gifts also of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Each gift would be an appropriate gift for a king (Ps. 72: 15 [gold], Isa. 60: 6 [gold and frankincense], and Ps. 45: 8 [myrrh]).
It’s interesting to note that some say the gifts the Magi brought represented the tools of their trade—what they would use in their astrology—and that here in this story they give those very things to Jesus. “By offering them to Jesus, they are declaring the end of their practices.”
These gifts can also represent the significance of Christ for us also, and can give us a good idea of how to respond to him—of what gifts we are called to give him.
Gold—the Gift of Loyalty and Obedience
This gift can be said to point to Christ’s kingship—gold is a gift for royalty. Christ is the final king of Israel—he is the king of kings. He is our king and we are his subjects. We, as his disciples, live in the kingdom even now. He is our Lord and ruler. We talk about accepting Jesus as Lord and Saviour upon conversion, but we are to spend our lives submitting to Jesus as Lord.
Have you allowed Jesus to be Lord in all areas of your life? What areas do you keep to yourself? As king, Herod forced obedience and compliance with his rule. Jesus doesn’t force himself on us, but he wants to have Lordship in our lives. Have you given him the gift of your complete loyalty and obedience?
Frankincense—the Gift of Trust and Worship
This gift can point to Jesus in two ways. First, it can point to Jesus’ role as our high priest since incense was used by priests in temple worship. Jesus is our intercessor, our mediator before God. He is our avenue to forgiveness. He is the doorway to God the Father. He is always interceding for us.
Our response to Jesus’ priesthood is faith. He is the one who we can depend on to know our situation and to be our advocate before the Father as high priest. He is the go-between between us and God. Our gift to Jesus is our trust that he makes this possible. Our gift to Jesus here is our prayer—for prayer is the ultimate act of trust, of turning over our situation to a God who draws close in Jesus and mediates our forgiveness through him.
This gift can also point to Christ as divine since it was used in worship. Scripture tells us over and over that Jesus is “image of the invisible God.” He is the Word made flesh. He is the exact imprint of God’s very being. In him the fullness of deity was pleased to dwell.
There are people who would have us believe and think that Jesus is a great moral teacher, a powerful role model, a revolutionary who changed the world. But most people stop short of calling him God. To call him God would be to admit that he deserves more than our admiration. It would be admitting that he deserves our worship. Our gift to Jesus here is our worship, to honour him as God, the one through whom we have life and existence, as well as hope and salvation.