Probably sometime before the birth of Christ, maybe beginning as early as the conception of Christ, a star appeared over Bethlehem. It was apparently not a very bright star for the inhabitants of Bethlehem and Jerusalem had not noticed the star. Some have argued that it was a very natural occurrence. The alignment of Jupiter with Saturn. Or the alignment of Venus and Jupiter. But there it was – unusual, out of place! Probably more supernatural than natural. So much so that Magi, or wise men somewhere from the East, probably Babylon came to see the meaning. These Magi were very educated and were very knowledgeable about astrology. They had been trained and gifted in the interpretation of dreams. Knowing and believing in the “one God”, they knew the Old Testament. NUM 24:17 “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth.
One gift that the magi brought to Christ exceeded all the others in value. One gift. One gift alone!
Was it the frankincense? Frankincense was a “white fragrant tree gum” from Arabia. I suppose if we look at the setting of the birth of Christ: born in a stable with all of those animals, there may not be a gift more appreciated than frankincense. It might mask the odors of the barn. But in truth, Matthew has nothing of the stable in its story, that is found only in Luke. Frankincense was used in the Temple offering. Used to mask the orders of the sacrifice. But not the sacrifice for sin. So the frankincense was a way of saying that Jesus was a gift to the world. That Jesus would be a sacrifice. Not a sacrifice of sin but a sacrifice to forgive sin.
So if it is not the frankincense that exceeded all the others in value, perhaps it was the myrrh. Myrrh was an extract from a tree that was used for embalming. JOH 19:39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. This gift of myrrh shows an understanding of who this child is and why He has come into the world. This child will die. The woman at Bethany will later pour costly ointment over Jesus and be praised by Him because “she has prepared me for burial.” This gift reminds us that the birth of this child brings us face to face with death: with its fear and pain, but also with its ultimate transformation.
Perhaps the richest gift is the most obvious one of all, gold. Money is always needed. Jesus is poor, the scripture says that He “had no place to lay his head.” Seems as wise as savings bonds! When my two were born, no one gave gold. We got things like diapers, bottles, baby powder, etc. Gold would have been helpful. If Joseph and Mary are to take the child to Egypt, the gold will be necessary. After all God does provide. Strange how God does provide our needs, before we are even aware of our needs. And yet how much value can gold represent to one who says that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as splendidly as a single lily in the field?
If the one gift of greatest value is not the frankincense, not the myrrh, not the gold, then what is it? It is the fourth gift which the magi brought. The fourth gift is there in the text. Matthew mentions it three times! Which is more times than Matthew mentions frankincense, myrrh or gold. This makes it important, much more important.
The fourth gift is to pay homage to Christ. To kneel, to worship, to adore, to give one’s whole being to Christ. Early in the text we find the whole purpose for the journey to Judea. “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. Why is Herod and all of Jerusalem disturbed? They have gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold. But they do not have the most important gift.
On coming to the house, they 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 and of incense and of myrrh. What was the greatest gift? “they worshiped Him.”