Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Gifts To The Messiah

Over the past 3 weeks I did a short study with my Sunday School class on the 3 gifts listed that were brought by the Magi (Wise Men) to Jesus in Bethlehem. Admittedly I had thought, "Gold? Yes, I can see that. Frankincense? Uhm....... whatever. Myrrh? What is myrrh anyway?

In our culture we lose what these last two gifts actually are. To the audience that the Gospels were originally written there would have been no denying what these other two, seemingly lesser to us, gifts actually were.

I just wanted to briefly highlight the significance of each of these gifts. This is in no way exhaustive, but I would encourage you to do a deeper study to open the deeper meanings within these three "gifts".

Gold, as we know in our culture, is very valuable. I have seen, in my lifetime, gold increase in value from $39/ ounce to nearly $2,000/ ounce in 2011. That is a large range, but it shows how much value we place on material things. Of course, even in the days of Christ gold had great value, probably more than today as it was much harder to come by. Today we have heavy excavating equipment removing tons of dirt to filter out mere ounces of gold. There are even reality shows, such as Gold Rush, that chronicle the elusive search for the riches contained in the Earth. Just watch an episode or two of this series and you will see just how difficult it is to mine gold. It is not easy. So, I look at how valuable and scarce gold must have been 2,000 years ago and understand that you couldn't walk to your corner Zales and purchase a gold ring or necklace.

Gold in the days of Christ was, for the most part, owned by the elite, wealthy and royalty. So, the gift of gold was to signify that Jesus was royalty, the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; Revelation 19:16). 

Frankincense is one that we lose out on, because it has no perceived "value" in our society. We think, "Oh great, they brought Jesus incense." But when you realize what frankincense was to the audience of Matthew 2:11 it begins to open up a bit and reveal much more.
Frankincense was used in temple ceremonies as part of the worship to God. This was prevalent in the Old Testament, but was also mentioned in the New Testament, Jesus' time, as well. Our understanding of O.T. worship ceremonies is not really good, but the N.T. also uses this same type of worship ceremony (Matthew 2:11). We also know that the name frankincense in the Hebrew language meant "white", which we can also assume stood for purity. Putting all that together allows us to see that the gift of frankincense was an act of worship to Jesus the Messiah.

The last gift on the list was myrrh. This one was always a mystery to me. Even the name sounds odd and the spelling is quite odd in our English spelling. Myrrh is mentioned 16 times in the KJV version of the bible and as many as 19 in other versions (ESV). We know the myrrh was a spice and that it's most common use was as a perfume. Also, it was used during the burial rituals after the bodies were wrapped, the myrrh was applied. This was more than likely done to help mask the odors that would emanate from the body as it decomposed in the tombs. We also know that it was a very valuable commodity in the days the bible was being written.
If you read Matthew 26:6-13 you see the story of a lady that did something that some of the disciples got a little upset about. This lady, in the house of Simon the leper, came to Jesus and poured, what is believed to be, myrrh on the head of Jesus. They began to rebuke this lady for "wasting" the oil that she had poured upon Jesus' head and that it should have instead been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus stopped their rebuke and said; "“Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”

We can then start to see that the gift of myrrh was to signify that Jesus would die, that He would be our Sacrifice. The myrrh was somewhat of a prophetic gift to the babe in Bethlehem. The obscure view that we have in the 21st Century would have meant very much to the readers of Matthew 2:11. Our view in this, as a side note to the gifts, means we must always look at the context of whom the bible was written. We cannot try to force into scripture our 21st Century lifestyles and instead should first look at the original audience and their understanding.
So, we now see a whole different and wonderful meaning to the gifts of the Magi. Instead of just simply being gold and a couple other expensive things we can see that each gift pointed to something wonderful about Jesus Christ, the Messiah. He was royalty, He was being worshiped and He was our sacrifice. No longer will I look upon the gifts as I have my entire life, I will see their beauty in proclaiming to the world that "God is with us!"

(As a side note: nowhere in scripture are there "3 wise men" listed. This is an assumption made because there were 3 gifts listed. The gifts would also be used by Mary and Joseph as they fled to Egypt to finance their journey and life in Egypt.)

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