Theme: Royalty and Holiness
In this week’s lessons, we look at the three gifts brought to Jesus by the wise men.
Scripture: Matthew 2:1-2
It’s easy to see why gold is an appropriate gift for Jesus Christ. Gold is the metal of kings, and so when it was presented to Jesus, it was a symbol of his right to rule. Several years ago, when I was driving through Greece with my wife and our eldest daughter, who was then just a baby, I found that this kingly nature of gold was reaffirmed by archeology in the ruins of the town of Mycenae, which dates in its earliest strata from the time of the Trojan War. There’s an ancient cemetery in which the kings of the town were later buried. In the archeological museum at Athens, we saw objects found from the cemetery, and gold was the most prominent. One of the most precious finds of this period of Greek history is an elaborate death mask called the mask of Agamemnon, which was done in pure gold. Several years before that I had found the same thing, in the elaborate burial ornaments discovered in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes in Upper Egypt. This valley contained the coffin of King Tutankhamen as well as other golden objects from the same period of history.
It’s often been pointed out by commentators that when the wise men brought gold to Jesus, it was actually being used by God to provide the funds necessary for Joseph to take the young child and his mother to Egypt to escape Herod’s attempt on his life. This is probably true, but although it is true, it is overshadowed by the significance of the gift itself. Jesus Christ was a king. The wise men knew this, and hence their gift of gold pointed to his kingship.
Not only the gold, but frankincense was also a significant gift. Frankincense was a type of incense used in the temple worship. It was mixed with the oil that was used to anoint the priests of Israel. It was part of the meal offerings that were made in thanksgiving and praise to God. Frankincense gave the offering its most pleasant odor in the presenting of this gift. Because of its connection with anointing, the wise men pointed to Christ as our great high priest, the one whose whole life was acceptable and well pleasing to the Father.
It is a very interesting feature of frankincense that it was never mixed with sin offerings. The meat and the wine offerings were offerings for sin, and these did not include frankincense. Only the meal offerings, which were not for sin, were to receive the incense. When we discover this fact, we think naturally of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, to whom the frankincense was given. This was of course appropriate because he was without sin, even from his conception. He always carried out the will of God his Father and did what was pleasing to him. None of us can say that we have always done that. None of us can claim to be without sin. This is only true of the Lord Jesus Christ, and so it is perfectly fitting that frankincense should have been offered by the wise men to him.
“We see from the symbolism of these gifts,” writes one commentator,
that the eternal royalty and holiness of Christ were announced from his earliest years. He had come forth from heaven to perform the work of redemption, and he was prepared in every way to do the Father’s will so that he might fulfill every demand and obligation of the law. Thus only would he become eligible to die on the cross; and by that cross alone redeem the world. That life could show that he was the fit candidate for the cross, and we cling with surety to the work that was accomplished there at Calvary, since we know that our sin-bearer was himself without sin.1
1Donald Grey Barnhouse, The Gift of Death (Philadelphia: American Bible Conferences Association, 1935), p. 5.
What was the meaning behind the wise men’s gift of gold for Jesus?
What do we know about the use of frankincense in the Old Testament? What does it symbolize as a gift given to Christ?
Reflection: What in your life needs to change in order to better match the holiness of the Lord Jesus Christ? Evaluate such things as your interests, goals, motivations, attitudes, entertainments, relationships, actions, etc. Ask the Lord to show you the areas in which you need to improve, and for the grace of the Holy Spirit to work in you what is pleasing to God.