“And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11 ESV)
Matthew’s account of the Magi’s visit is often overlooked during the Christmas season. It is not that people ignore the Magi’s visit to the Christ child or even the gifts they brought. What they fail to realize from today’s text is that the Magi did not visit Jesus while He laid in a manger. They also did not visit Him on the night when He was born as did the shepherds.
First of all, the Magi visited Jesus in a house and not a stable, cave or barn. The word house (οἰκία; oikia) means a family’s home or residence.
Second, Matthew described Jesus as a child. The word for child (παιδίον; paidion) means children under the age of puberty. This is to be distinguished from the word for baby (βρέφος; brephos) which means an infant or a very, small child. This is the word Luke used in Luke 2:12. Later on in Matthew’s account we will see how old Jesus may have been at the time of the Magi’s visit.
Matthew then recorded that the Magi fell down and worshipped Jesus. To fall down (πίπτω; pipto) means to prostrate oneself before an object. To worship (προσκυνέω; proskyneo) means to prostrate oneself in worship before an object. Matthew was emphatic in his description of the Magi’s reaction of seeing Jesus. They not only physically fell down before Him, but they prostrated themselves before Jesus in worship.
Their worship entailed the giving of gifts. There are three gifts mentioned. This is perhaps while we speculate that there were three Magi. Matthew described these gifts as treasures (θησαυρός ; thesaurus). The word literally means a treasure box. The gifts in the treasure boxes were gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Gold (χρυσός; chrysos) was the most highly valued metal in the ancient world. Not much has changed because gold remains the most highly valued metal in today’s world.
Frankincense (λίβανος; libanos) is an aromatic resin or gum from certain trees. It is also called a sweet smelling incense.
Myrrh (σμύρνα; smyrna) is also an aromatic resin or gum from certain bushes. Myrrh was a valuable substance in the anointing and preserving a corpse.
As one commentator notes, “These were gifts worthy of a king and this act by Gentile leaders pictures the wealth of the nations which will someday be completely given to the Messiah (Isa. 60:5, 11; 61:6; 66:20; Zeph. 3:10; Hag. 2:7–8).”
In light of this wonderful scene, I wonder what I may give Jesus which would resemble the gifts given by the Magi. Pastor John Piper has some insightful thoughts.
When the psalmist cried out, “What shall I render to the Lord for all of his benefits to me?” the reply was, “I will lift the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord” (Psalm 116:12-13). So, translating that into Christmas: Jesus gives us the gift of himself and we ask, “Now what can I render to Jesus for all the benefits of his fellowship?” Answer: Ask him for his help. That’s the gift he wants.
The reason Christ wants this is because he always wants to get the glory while we get the benefit. Glory comes to him when we depend on him rather than try to enrich him. If we come to him with gifts—as though he needed something—then we put him in the position of a needy person, and we’re the benefactors. He always wants to be the one who is infinitely self-sufficient. Therefore the only gifts that we can bring Jesus are gifts of praise, thanks, longing, and neediness.
Jesus doesn’t need the food or the clothing. What he delights in is receiving the honor that his name gets when we chose to say, “It’s his brothers that I’m going to love and sacrifice for.” So as long as we talk about giving to Jesus—in terms of Matthew 25:40—we should understand that what is happening there is that Christ is being honored, glorified, and valued, because these are Christ’s brothers that we are willing to serve.
May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.
Soli deo Gloria!