For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NLT)
I will never forget the advice I received from a wise mentor about handling tough situations and navigating challenging interactions in life. He said, “Don’t get hung up on what is said, but instead, look a little deeper and consider: why is it being said?”
That thought, “why is it being said?” came to mind as I considered the Christmas story this year. In the account of Jesus’ birth, there were wise men from the east that travelled to Bethlehem to find the newborn king of the Jews, and when they found Him, “They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11, NLT)
Academic circles abound with controversy, debate, and skepticism concerning the specifics of the wise men in the Christmas story (were there really three?). In the Gospel of Matthew, it says that magi from the east saw a star and discerned the coming of a great king. They sought out the mystery, interacted with the infamous King Herod, and eventually found the child. The Scriptures say that the magi brought the newborn king gifts. There is a wealth of jokes and puns surrounding the tale of the wise men and their offerings, but beyond all the debates and jest, I found myself looking a little deeper and asking, “Why did God tell us about the wise men and their gifts?”
The gifts the magi brought to Jesus were unique, glorious and mysterious—full of foreshadowing and promise. The first gift mentioned was gold. Gold was the most costly and precious metal of the day and was equated with royalty. It was an extravagant gift—steeped in sacrifice. The gold of the magi tells the world that the baby Jesus is a royal king—the King, to Whom every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth (Phil. 2:10, NLT).
The second gift from the magi was frankincense, an aromatic resin made from tree bark. In the Old Testament, dried frankincense was a part of the temple candles that were used in the Holy of Holies. The sweet fragrance of incense, rising up from those candles, symbolized prayer and the Spirit within that Holy Place. The gift of frankincense, given to the baby Jesus, highlights his role as our great high Priest—interceding for us all at the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16, ESV).
The magi's final gift, myrrh, must have left Mary and Joseph scratching their heads, because the ancients used myrrh to embalm dead bodies. The birth of Jesus was about life, not death, … wasn’t it? The angel said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11, ESV). God sent baby Jesus into the world to save us, and this is where the symbolism of myrrh becomes apparent—Jesus saved us through his suffering and death on a cruel Roman cross. He came as a baby to die for you and me.
So, as you reflect on the Christmas story this year, be sure to look closely. Don’t get hung up on the words, but instead ask about the “why.” Consider the baby Jesus as royal King, great high Priest, and our sacrificial Savior, and then look even deeper . . . into the depths of God's love for you (John 3:16).