Matthew 2:11 says, On coming to the house, (the magi) saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The Magi brought three gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. As we all know, this does not mean three men came, but that there were three different types of gifts.
Before we get to the gifts, lets understand the magi’s journey.
Because the star led them, the only one of Herod’s palaces the Magi would run into coming from the east is Herodium. Remember, they were the ones who alerted him that a king had been born. Herod obviously was on the way, as why would they go out of their way to confer with him if the star wasn’t over his palace?
Herodium is a huge fortress only 6 miles southeast of Bethlehem. You actually can see the mountain the palace is built into from the city.
It was probably from here he decreed the killing of the babies two and under. This is horrible for us to think about, but for Herod, it was just another day at the office.
Herod was a paranoid. In his lifetime he had his wife and his mother in law killed. He also put two of his sons on trial for treason.
Herod built a lot of cool things, but he was not a nice guy. He wasn’t about to have any gifts for this “king”.
But these kings from the east, they had gifts.
Why did they bring gold, frankincense, and Myrrh?
The type of shrub frankincense and myrrh are derived from is only found in the Arabian Peninsula, northeast Africa, and in Southern China.* This gives more weight to the idea that the magi from the east came from the Orient (see here for more).
Culturally, the frankincense and myrrh would have been worth more than the gold. Many spices, resins, and even dyes of the day could trump gold in value, but in our culture, we don’t understand that fact.
In short, the magi brought some serious loot to Jesus.
So what did the gifts symbolize?
Gold is easy. It is the gift to a king. I guess regular neighbors even back then just got casseroles when a baby was born. But not a king!
The magi knew Jesus was a king – THE King – and wanted to honor him properly. Thus, gold was an obvious choice for a gift.
Frankincense was used in worship in the Jewish temple. It was thought to carry prayers to heaven when burned. It also was used for medicinal purposes, but the former use is why I think they chose to bring this gift.
Many kings were worshipped as gods, but this is different. These Magi came from a different country to worship a different king because it was personal to them. Culturally, that was far from normal!
They knew in their hearts this king was more than an earthly one. The bible says, “…they bowed down and worshipped him”.
Frankincense was a gift to be used in worship.
Myrrh is a sticky resin used to treat bruises and bleeding wounds. It was also used to embalm the dead. This is a symbol of the type of death Jesus would die. Not that they knew that – it was just an expensive, really nice gift for a kid who would need something for the bumps and bruises of growing up.
You can’t dismiss the symbolism, especially when paired with the other two gifts. But the magi coming in and of itself was s gift for Mary and Joseph. Why? It was one more amazing thing showing them Jesus was not just a baby, but the God of the universe in human form.
That is better than any other gift that could have been given.
*Got this information from here: http://www.history.com/news/a-wise-mans-cure-frankincense-and-myrrh
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