Have you ever wondered about the gifts of three wise men/three kings/the magi who visited the baby Jesus? If so, open your bible to the book of Matthew. Matthew chapter 2 verse 11 tells the story of the three wise men, or the three kings, that came to visit Jesus after his birth. As the story goes, the three wise men each presented the baby Jesus with a special gift. The first of the wise men gave Jesus the gift of gold. The second wise man gave Jesus the gift of Frankincense and the third wise man gave Jesus the gift of Myrrh.
Were these gifts just some random thought of kindness from the three wise men, or did these gifts carry some sort of symbolic importance? As you will see from reading below, the gifts from the wise men were not just some arbitrary items that they had picked up along their travels and thought might be a good gift to give someone. In fact, that could not be further from the truth. The gifts from the three wise men, besides being extremely expensive, also carried with them tremendous representational implications.
The Gift of Gold
Today, anything made with gold is expensive and only those with plenty of extra spending cash can afford items made in gold. In the ancient times, this was no different. In those days, gold was often associated with royalty since only the richest of people then could afford anything made with it.
So if gold then was just as expensive as it is today, why did the wise men bring Jesus the gift of gold? Were the three kings trying to show off how wealthy they were by giving away large sums of money? The answer to that question is unequivocally no.
The act of the wise men presenting the baby Jesus with gold was a symbolic demonstration to show that these three kings themselves, believed Jesus to also be a king. Did the magi believe Jesus to be the king of all creation as we do today?
No, the magi believed Jesus to be the next king of the Jews, but in a physical ruling sense like King Herod was at the time. Herod feared that this new born king was going to replace him and his dynasty. That is why Herod first put out a hit squad to find this new born king and then followed it up with a decree killing all first born male children of that year.
The Gifts of Frankincense and Myrrh
Frankincense and Myrrh are both a gummy tree sap that is produced when the bark of the Boswellia and Commiphora trees are cut. If you have ever climbed a pine tree and got some of that sap on your hands, then you know what I am talking about. Both of these saps are also edible and can be chewed like the gum that we have nowadays. However in the ancient times, the sap was often steamed so that it would give off its natural oils.
Frankincense oil was produced into a perfume that was used not only in Jewish worship, but also for worship services all over the Middle East. Ancient rituals show the Babylonians and Assyrians using Frankincense during their worship ceremonies.
Would this have been an odd gift for the three kings to give the baby Jesus? The answer is both yes and no. No it was not odd to give worship perfume in those days since they were items that most homes did keep in stock. Yes it was an odd gift to give because of the sheer cost of the Frankincense perfume. Frankincense was the best of the best of worship perfumes. The cost of just a little bit of this worship perfume was more than most households earned in an entire year or more.
Myrrh is oil that was used for anointing during burial ceremonies. Like Frankincense, Myrrh has a long history of being used in both Jewish and Middle Eastern burial services. You may now be asking yourself, “burial oil seems like a very odd gift to give someone.” In today’s world, yes, that would a very strange gift to receive.
However in the ancient times, households performed their own burial acts. There was no undertaker to have the embalming performed by. Also keep in mind that Myrrh is no ordinary or generic burial oil. Like Frankincense, Myrrh was also the best of the best in the burial oil department.
Why Give these 2 Oils
So why did the three kings bring these two particular gifts? Besides the sheer cost of these two items, was there anything special about them? The three kings believed Jesus to be the next king of the Jews, therefore, the gifts that they brought him must be worthy of a king. In the ancient times, expensive perfumes and burial oils were the highly sought after commodities and only the richest or most important people of the day could afford the best of the best.
Symbolic Meaning of the Gifts
As you may have read in my other posts on Christmas traditions, I like to leave the reader with something that they can share with their family and friends besides the history lesson. Here is my teaching moment about the gifts of the wise men.
All three of these gifts from the magi carry a significant symbolic importance. As mentioned above, gold is often associated with royalty. We can use the gift of gold to remind our family and friends that Jesus is a king. In fact, the bible often refers to Jesus as the King of all kings. Therefore, the gift of gold reminds us of his royalty.
Due to the fact that Frankincense was used during worship services. We can use this particular gift of the magi to teach our family and friends about the priestly role that Jesus carried out in his ministry. Remember, Jesus was often called Rabbi which means teacher to us. Besides Jesus being born to one day bear our sins upon the cross, his other mission was to teach us how to live God pleasing lives.
As mentioned above, Myrrh was used during burial services. We can use this special gift of the magi to teach our family and friends about the death that Jesus was to bear to conquer the grave.
The Greatest Gift
However, the greatest gift ever given was when God gave us Jesus. In the bible, the book of John tells us “for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son. That whomever believes in him may not die, but have eternal life”. The lesson to take to heart and share is that Jesus Christ is the reason that we all celebrate Christmas. Without God’s love and the forgiveness of our sins that Jesus bore on the cross, we would have no reason to celebrate Christmas at all.