It is hard to believe, but Christmas day is actually here again. I think you’ll agree with me that every year seems to be passing by faster than the previous year. For most people Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, for some it’s a time of sadness and grief because of lost loved ones, and for others it is just another day. On the other hand Christmas takes on different meanings for people across the globe. For some people Christmas is a time of caring and sharing, while others emphasize on the giving and receiving of gifts. However, for Christians, Christmas is a time when we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some may argue that Jesus was not born on December 25th to make the case that we should not celebrate Christmas on that day. I must say that I agree that the exact birthday of Jesus is an argument in silence. No one can know with absolute certainty that Christ was born on Christmas day.
However, the one thing that is without dispute is the fact that Christ was born to a virgin in a manger in the small town of Bethlehem. It is also without dispute that the man Christ grew up in Nazareth, became a man and walked the dusty streets of Jerusalem. He was betrayed by one of His own and later crucified, just like the scripture prophesied would happen. Therefore, since the question of whether or not he was born does not even arise, it behooves us then to celebrate His birth and His life, not just on Christmas day but every day that we live. More importantly, since we claim to be celebrating the birth of Christ, then Christmas should be more about what we bring to Him (Jesus), rather than what we give to each other. In light of this, I chose to write this article featuring the famous wise men who came to visit the baby Jesus the night he was born. Let’s take a closer look at these wise men – who they were, what they brought to Jesus, and why they came?
Who they were?
The three wise men are also known as The Magi. Magi is Greek ‘magoi’, and is also referred to as the Three Kings. For the sake of this article I will use the terms Magi and Wise men interchangeably. Before we look at who they were, let us look at who they were not. There are two myths that have been allowed to perpetuate from generation to generation that must be addressed. Firstly, most of us, if not all of us, have been told that there were actually three wise men. Here is what the text says, “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” (Matt. 2:1). This is where the saying, “wise men come from the east” originated. Contrary to what the scripture said, it is widely taught, sang about, and portrayed in nativity plays everywhere, that there were three wise men. Tradition has it that there were three wise men simply because the bible mentions three gifts – gold, myrrh, and frankincense. “And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matt. 2:11b). While it may be reasonable to assume such, the text did not say there were only three men. In fact, since they all travelled for probably hundreds of miles, there very well may have been much more than just three of them.
The second myth and farther from the truth is that we know their names. Traditions in the Western Christian church identify the three wise men as: Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar. Encyclopedia Britannica states: “According to Western church tradition, Balthasar is often represented as a king of Arabia, Melchior as a king of Persia, and Gaspar as a king of India.” These names apparently derive from a Greek manuscript probably composed in Alexandria around 500, and which has been translated into Latin with the title Excerpta Latina Barbari.” Early Syrian Christians named them Larvandad, Gushnasaph, and Hormisdas. In the Eastern churches, Ethiopian Christianity, for instance, has their names as Hor, Karsudan, and Basanater. While the Armenian Christians have Kagpha, Badadakharida and Badadilma. Nonetheless, Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar are the most prominent names for the Magi. To me whether there were three wise men, or whether we know their names or not is of no significance. What is more important is their reason for going to see the child and what they brought to Him.
What they brought to Him?
Matthew 11b says, “And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” The three gifts had a spiritual meaning: gold as a symbol of His Sovereign Dominion and kingship on earth, frankincense (an incense) as a symbol of His deity, and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of His sacrificial death. In other words, Gold as to a king; myrrh as to one who was mortal; and incense as to unto God.
Gold: was a gift presented to a king. Unlike today, it was the most precious metal of that day and it symbolized royalty. The wise men recognized that this child who was born in a manger was no ordinary baby—this was the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords! The wise men told King Herod that they had come to see the one born King of the Jews. Therefore it is clear that they recognized the kingship Jesus. The Magi had seen the star and they recognized the importance of the star in the sky as a sign of a spectacular birth. The Magi brought gold in some form, whether it was jewelry, coins, or an ornament, we are not sure. The importance of the gift was that it represented the fact that Jesus was royalty
Frankincense: Frankincense was a highly valued commodity and somewhat rare. The Jewish people had a common use for frankincense that was directly connected to the worship of God. In the Jewish Tabernacle and Temple, the Jews prayed before the Altar of Incense which was always kept burning. The substance burned on that altar was known as frankincense. When frankincense is burned it gives off a sweet smelling white smoke. The smoke rising from the altar of incense represented the prayers of the people rising to God in heaven. The only use of frankincense for Jews was at this altar and it was reserved for the worship of God. The Magi presenting this gift to Jesus represents the fact that they acknowledged his divinity.
Myrrh: The third gift the wise men brought was a valuable gum-like substance called myrrh. The gift of myrrh seems like the most odd of the gifts. Myrrh was tremendously valuable and had several uses. It was commonly used was as a perfume. Sometimes myrrh might be used in the homes of the rich to create a pleasant fragrance for special occasions. However, the most common use of myrrh was for burials. Myrrh was placed on the cloths used to wrap bodies for burial to help prevent the smell of decay following death. Myrrh was also used as a sedative to dull pain. Mark 15:22-23 tells us, “And they bring Him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, the place of a skull. And they gave Him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but He received it not.” The Magi presented this gift to Jesus as a representation that He would one day die. The gift almost seems to convey the fact that Jesus was born to die. The giving of these gifts clearly indicates that the Magi were well educated about this special child. Based on everything they said, we can conclude that they studied the Old Testament prophesies about the coming Messiah. They knew exactly who He was, and what was His purpose. None of this was by chance or by accident. Of everything that they could have given as gifts to Him, the wise men brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh, respectively symbolic of His sovereign dominion, sacred deity, and sacrificial death. Having said that, on the authority of scripture, I submit to you that the wise men presented baby Jesus with a fourth gift.
Why they came?
Upon their arrival to Bethlehem where the child was born, the wise men asked, “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.” (Matt. 2:2). The wise men knew who Jesus was and recognized that he was worthy of their worship. After they inquired of Him and their encounter with Herod, Matthew 2:11 says, “And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary His mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.” After they had laid down their gifts, they bowed down and began to worship Him. Therefore the fourth and most important of all of their gifts was the gift of worship.
The wise men did not cuddle Him or stood in amazement of how cute He was. Instead they bowed their knees in total reverence to the King of Kings. Secondly, often overlooked in the nativity story, are the angels and the shepherds in the field. The shepherds, the wise men, and the angels all had one thing in common. They all came to Jesus for one reason; to WORSHIP HIM. Luke tells us that the angels announced the birth to the shepherds and began to sing, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14). After the shepherds were told of the birth of the Messiah, they visited Him and returned praising and glorifying God.
More than anything we can give to God, He is more interested in our worship. It is Jesus who said, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23, 24). Furthermore, God is not so much concerned about anything we can do for Him, as He is about our relationship with Him. In other words, He is interested in your relationship and not your workmanship. He wants true worship and not empty wordship (lip service). He desires to have the heart of someone who is adamant on giving Him the glory He so well deserves. Revelation 5:12 says, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” John goes on to write, “And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power, Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever! Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four[h] elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever” (Rev. 5:13, 14).
One person we know for sure was not interested in worshipping the child was Herod. Upon hearing of the birth of a King, Herod was immediately felt threatened and was ready to take Him out. He did not know that Jesus was not at all interested in his earthly throne. He left the right hand of His Father in heaven and came to die for the sins of men. He said to the Magi, “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” (Matt. 2:8). However, being warned by God in a dream, they departed without returning to the power-hungry, wicked Herod. When he realized he was deceived by the Magi, he was enraged and gave an order to kill every male child two years and under. Had he paid closer attention to the scriptures and Jewish custom, he would have known that Jesus would have to be circumcised and dedicated at the temple, less 1/4 mile from where he lived in his palace. All this senseless killing was simply because Herod was obsessed with his power and would do anything to keep it. However, little did he know that Jesus’ time to die had not yet come and He would live for another thirty plus years before His crucifixi on. Worshipping Jesus was the furthest thing on Herod’s agenda.
As you celebrate Christmas, what’s on your agenda? What will you give Jesus this Christmas? Is Christmas about giving and receiving gifts, or is it about giving the gift of worship to the Christ. Secondly, where does Jesus fit into your picture of Christmas? Where is He on your Christmas schedule? And is He on your gift list? Unlike others who will ask you to give an offering or a Christmas seed gift, I ask you to give Him the gift of your worship. Take some time off with your family to acknowledge His sovereign dominion, His sinless deity, and His sacrificial death. You don’t have to bring Him gifts like the Magi did, the greatest gift that you can offer to Jesus this Christmas is your praise and worship. Merry Christmas to you and your family. And don’t forget to WORSHIP HIM!