A Deeper Look at the Birth of the Messiah - Part 2
As a child, I was obviously filled with many questions regarding the Christmas story. The Why Bethlehem? and Why a stable? as found here naturally led to Who were these wise men? Where did they come from? What in the world is frankincense and myrrh? Couldn’t they have brought better gifts than that?
Questions whirled around in my inquisitive mind. But, being more of an introvert in social settings, I kept these questions tucked inside, afraid to admit my lack of understanding. Little did I know that these questions and countless others like them would lead me to become the research lover that I am today. I want to know the nuts and bolts and the ways and whys. I want to know the backstory, study the customs and the culture, and understand the full context. It may be too deep or too meaty for some. But, for me, it makes the Scriptures come alive!
So, back to my eight year old self sitting in a tiny wooden chair in my Sunday School classroom hungrily absorbing and dissecting every little detail as the Christmas story was retold. Who were these strange visitors who saddled up their camels and brought gifts from afar? What made these gifts so special? What in the world is frankincense and myrrh? How were these gifts fit for a baby?
There is not a whole lot that we can ascertain about these strange visitors, aka The Magi, aka The Wise Men. We don’t know for certain how many men actually came and we only have a timeframe for nailing down when they came (between the 9th day of Jesus’ life up until two years old). All we know for sure is the direction they came from, why they came, and what they brought.
In what direction did they come?
Magi from the east. Matthew 2:1
Why did they come?
We…have come to worship him. Matthew 2:2
What did they bring?
They opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:11
There are many differing thoughts over the exact location the wise men came from and what their job description was. Were they the traditional diviners, enchanters, sorcerers, astrologers, or priests who frequented the king’s court and served as his go-to advisors like we see with Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and every other kingly ruler in all the ancient empires? We don’t know for sure. What we do know is they were watching and waiting for the Promised One, and, as soon as the sign of His arrival came, they set off to find Him. Whoever they were, one thing is for certain – these men were marked by reverence.
While theories abound, there are some Bible scholars who believe that these wise men were from the area of Persia (the East) and had come from the line of wise men who had been ruled over (and most likely had been taught the Jewish Scriptures) by our own beloved Daniel:
“Then the king (Nebuchadnezzar) placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men.” Daniel 2:48
We don’t know this for sure but it certainly makes for a logical explanation why non-Jewish stargazers in the East, which was possibly at least 1,000 miles away from the Jewish land, were looking intently at the night sky, night after night, for the first star sighting that signified that the King of the Jews had been born. Then, having spotted the star, packed up expensive gifts, left their lives behind, trotted through desert sand for months, and searched out a baby in an unfamiliar land – all so they could bow down to worship Him.
Unlike the innkeeper, these wise men knew the significance of this birth and were ready to welcome it.
Scripture says that when they came to the house that the star had stopped over they walked in and saw exactly what they had waited so long to see – they saw the Word made flesh. They saw Jesus.
Immediately, they fell down on their faces and worshipped Him. At last.
After they arose and got back onto their feet, the gift giving began. They opened up their treasure boxes, filled with some of the most precious, costly materials this earth has to offer and presented them to Him.
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. Matthew 2:11
Notice that they did not present these gifts to Joseph or Mary like one would at a modern day baby shower. They presented these gifts to Jesus.
What made these gifts so special? What in the world is frankincense and myrrh? How were these gifts fit for a baby?
While each gift held great monetary value, which could have easily helped with Joseph and Mary’s financial needs in the years ahead as they fled to Egypt and later as they established themselves in Nazareth, it is what these gifts represented that made them most significant.
The GOLD that was given to Jesus represented KING.
Gold is fitting for a king because of the immense wealth, power, and authority that it represents. It acknowledges royalty. Its brilliance, untouched by time or elements, gives it a long-lasting, enduring value. It was customary for kings in the East to wear large belts fashioned of gold positioned high up on their chests. In biblical times, there was no higher status symbol.1
And in the midst of the lampstands was one like a son of man. He was dressed in a robe extending down to his feet and he wore a wide golden belt around his chest. Revelation 1:13
Jesus, in all His heavenly splendor, is dressed in gold. The river Pishon that flowed out of the Garden of Eden was rich in gold. King Solomon’s palace was filled with gold. No other king compared to him. The articles in the Tabernacle were fashioned from pure gold. The Ark of the Covenant and the cherubim that sat atop the Ark and the Mercy Seat were made of gold. The streets in heaven are paved in gold. Gold – the most precious of all metals – fills the places where God dwells. And, after the wise men arrived, it filled the house that held His Son, our King.
The FRANKINCENSE that was given to Jesus represented HIGH PRIEST.
The Lord said to Moses: “Take spices, gum resin, onycha, galbanum, and pure frankincense of equal amounts and make it into an incense…You are to beat some of it very fine and put some of it before the ark of the testimony in the tent of meeting where I will meet with you. Exodus 30:34-36
Just as the dazzling display of gold filled the eyes of the priests in the Tabernacle and Temple, the strong scent of frankincense and other spices filled their noses. It was a multi-sensory experience. The Levitical priests burned the Holy Incense perpetually before the Lord in both the Tabernacle and the Temple where they would offer twice daily sacrifices and meet yearly with the Lord in the Holy of Holies and intercede for the Jewish people on the Day of Atonement throughout the generations.
But, the intercessions and sacrifices of the earthly priests, in all their weakness, would never be enough. The Law made nothing perfect.
If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood…why was there still need for another priest to come?
Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Hebrews 7:11, 24-26
Jesus came into this world to be that perfect High Priest. The aroma of frankincense fills His nostrils as He sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. Unlike the earthly priests, His intercession and sacrifice IS enough.
The MYRRH that was given to Jesus represented SAVIOR.
Myrrh was referenced extensively throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation for a whole list of uses but it was most notably used by the Jewish people for burial purposes.
Nicodemus…brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. John 19:39-40
Myrrh, a gummy resin, is harvested very similarly to the way frankincense is harvested. Both of them come from scraggly trees by slashing the bark, which is called striping, and allowing the exuded resin to bleed out and harden. The tree is wounded repeatedly causing it to bleed this gum.
The only way to obtain both frankincense and myrrh is by
the trees from which it bleeds.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24
Another notable feature of the myrrh tree is its thorns.
The Myrrh tree
When Adam and Eve sinned, their disobedience brought a curse upon the world. Part of the curse upon humanity was:
Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you. Genesis 3:17-18
While myrrh symbolizes death and burial, thorns symbolize the curse – the curse that Jesus came to rescue us from. When twisting together a crown of thorns as an act of mockery, the Roman soldiers unknowingly took the symbol of the curse and placed it on the head of the One who would deliver us from that same curse.
And then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ they said. Matthew 27:29
But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.' Galatians 3:13
This gift of myrrh given to baby Jesus at His birth held tremendous significance as to what His body would endure before He laid down His life as the perfect sacrifice, the forever atonement for all of our sins.
Myrrh represented death. In Jesus, death was overcome. The curse was broken.
No other plant depicts what was accomplished at Calvary more so than the tree of myrrh. He was born so that He could die. He is Christ the Messiah, our Savior.
The wise men, whoever they were and wherever they came from, laid at the feet of baby Jesus the three reasons why He came to this earth:
Once and for all.
Forever and ever.
That’s why these men devoted their lives to searching the sky. That’s why they made the long journey from afar. That’s why these treasures were given.
They knew that God was among His people. And, they set out to worship Him, bearing gifts fit only for Him.
The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel
(which means “God with us”).
To read Why Bethlehem? A Deeper Look at the Birth of the Messiah - Part 1 click here
First, I am a child of God. And, like a child, I am always learning and growing. The more I know Him, the more I love Him. Second, I am a wife to a good man. Missions is his thing while teaching women to love God’s Word is mine. Third, I am a mama to three plus a sweet cockapoo who thinks he’s #4. My children are my ongoing sanctification. Fourth, I am a passionate advocate of all things healthy & natural, an even 50/50 split of introvert/extrovert, and a dreamer/designer. Old friends call me Becky, newer ones call me Rebecca, and the most intimate ones call me Beck. You can just call me friend.