Jesus came to the Earth with a purpose: to die a propitiatory death for all who would believe so that we can be forgiven and have right standing with God. He was born to die. I grew up listening to my mom sing this song:
Shepherds gaze in wonder
While angel voices sing.
The night of nights has come
And brought the world
The long-awaited King.
The earth is filled with gladness
And yet the heavens weep.
For heaven’s eyes can see
He was born to die for me.
Jesus, baby Jesus,
Is that a tear in Your eye?
Jesus, sweet baby Jesus,
You must know
That You were born to die.It must have broken God’s heart
For the future He could see.
Yet He formed the hands
And feet knowing one day
They’d be nailed to a tree.
So all the world could know Him,
A gift came from above.
For God so loved the world
That He gave His only Son.
Jesus, baby Jesus,
With a tear of love in Your eye.
Jesus, sweet baby Jesus,
You knew You were born to die.
So, Jesus, thank You, Jesus,
For Your gift of eternal life.
My Jesus, Jesus,
‘Cause for me You were born to die.
As with many Christian songs from the 80’s, there is a bit of poetic interpretation that is not present in Scripture – like the tear in the infant Jesus’ eye because of His understood fate. And we also have record of the angels rejoicing and praising God, not weeping over the birth of Christ in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth. But that last applicational chorus rings through my mind often during the advent season. Yes, thank you Jesus, for your gift of eternal life.
There are characters who grab my attention in the Christmas story today, and they are the magi. The wise men from the East. There is much tradition and interpretive differences throughout the centuries as to from where exactly these men came, some saying they were Jews from Yemen, or Persia or Babylon – while some guess as far as from India. But what grabs my attention is the gifts that they presented to the infant.
We see in Matthew chapter 2 that the magi (wise men) came from the East and immediately requested and audience with Herod to find out where the King of the Jews had been born. It is uncertain if the star appeared at the moment of his birth or beforehand to lead them to Christ shortly after his birth, but we do see that because of the timing of the appearance of the star, Herod had all male children two years of age and younger murdered – to be sure that Christ was killed. Logic therefore lends that Jesus was approximately two years old when the magi arrived.
While Scripture does not say how many wise men there were that came to worship Jesus, we do see that there were three gifts given: gold, frankincense and myrrh. While it has been argued that these were normal gifts for royalty, with myrrh being commonly used as an anointing oil and frankincense as a perfume, it is also indubitably clear that these gifts were used in the preparation and burial of the dead. Frankincense was used in many religious ceremonies as outlined in the Old Testament, most notably for the general perfume of the temple, as well as an additive for the meal offering and an emblem of prayer.
Myrrh was invented by the Ancient Egyptians for the purpose of mummification. It was also used in temple rituals such as the anointing of the temple and priests.
Gold is clearly a gift for a king, or for the wealthy.
The Christmas Carol “We Three Kings” denotes the traditional interpretation of these three gifts and their symbolism to the purpose of Jesus:
We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain,
Gold I bring to crown Him again
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign.Frankincense to offer have I.
Incense owns a Deity nigh.
Prayer and praising all men raising,
Worship Him, God on high.
Myrrh is mine: it’s bitter perfume
Breaths a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.
Jesus is the King of kings, and Lord of lords. He also is God: full deity. Lastly, He came to earth to die. To fulfill redemption’s plan, to pay the penalty for our sins.
Is it possible that these three gifts were not allegorical in meaning? Perhaps. Scripture does not tell us specifically that this is the application and meaning of the gifts. However, Church fathers such as Origen from the second second century AD considered this a worthwhile mediation. Jesus was not a regular guy who happened to be a good prophet and teacher and consequently God asked Him to take on this role of being the Savior of the World. No, this was the plan from the beginning. From before the World was created. Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world!
He came, on that first Christmas day, to die to pay the penalty for our sins. For your sins. For my sins. Receive that greatest gift today. And if you have already received it, let us rejoice anew at its wonder.