Little country kid came to the Christmas play dressed as a fireman. Director asked him why he dressed that way, he was supposed to be a wise man. He said, “Well, in the story it says they came from afar.”
As you did, I grew up singing We Three Kings of Orient are bearing gifts we traverse afar. It told the story of Matthew’s account of the Magi coming to Jerusalem seeking a newly born king and were directed to Bethlehem. We’ve accepted these men into the Christmas story and you’ll see them in nearly every nativity scene. Jan and I display them at our home. We even have them in our display out front of the church. Where did they come from? Why such gifts? Were they really there in Bethlehem? Yes. At the time of the birth? No.
Key factors that take them out of the nativity scene: specific word for young child not infant, went into the house not a stable.
Who were they? By our understanding, the Magi were men of mystical science. They studied the stars and constellations among other things. They were men who dealt in the mystical realm of magic and astrology, men acquainted with the mystical arts. Luke uses the same word in Acts for Bar-Jesus the magician. Strange phenomenon – like a new star – brought great curiosity.
When they saw the star appear, perhaps a comet God had set in motion from the creation of the universe, they watched it cross the eastern sky, then disappear over Jerusalem. The heavens were declaring the glory of God and the Magi recognized it.
But the answers for where they came from and why these gifts, remain a mystery after all the years. Traditionally, it’s been assumed they came from Persia because the Scripture says Magi from the east.
But to get to Persia from Jerusalem going directly east, you go through the upper part of what was called the Eastern Arabian Desert. Recent studies place the Magi coming from the lower Saudi Arabian Peninsula, particularly from the southernmost tip in what is today Yemen. In ancient days it was the country of Sheba.
You’ll remember that once a Queen from Sheba visited Solomon and was amazed at all his wealth and wisdom. A visit like that was not unusual. Dignitaries from other countries often visited new kings to establish diplomatic relations with them for trade and mutual welfare.
But in our story, these men were not seeking the newly born king for their benefit, or the benefit of their country, but His benefit. To Worship Him. You don’t worship kings. You honor them, negotiate with them, but not worship. What did they know and how were they being motivated to make this trip to Jerusalem?
Go back to OT prophecy:
Ps 72:1-15 Give the king Your judgments, O God, and Your righteousness to the king's son. May he judge Your people with righteousness and Your afflicted with justice. Let the mountains bring peace to the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he vindicate the afflicted of the people, save the children of the needy And crush the oppressor. Let them fear You while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations. May he come down like rain upon the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. In his days may the righteous flourish, and abundance of peace till the moon is no more. May he also rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. Let the nomads of the desert bow before him, and his enemies lick the dust. Let the kings of Tarshish and of the islands bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba offer gifts. And let all kings bow down before him, all nations serve him. For he will deliver the needy when he cries for help, the afflicted also, and him who has no helper. He will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy he will save. He will rescue their life from oppression and violence, and their blood will be precious in his sight; so may he live, and may the gold of Sheba be given to him; and let them pray for him continually; let them bless him all day long. Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, Who alone works wonders. And blessed be His glorious name forever; and may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen.
This Psalm of David appears to be written for the blessing of his son, Solomon, and does have some direct fulfillment that Solomon experienced. However, what David writes goes beyond the abilities or expectations of an earthly king. He shows that at the end.
But,like other times in Scripture, when God spoke through David prophetically, what he wrote about himself or his son was actually about Jesus. Ps 22 is one of the most dramatic examples of the crucifixion.
Ps 110:1 The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.
Matt 22:41-45 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question: What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He? They said to Him, "The son of David." He said to them, "Then how does David in the Spirit call Him 'Lord,' saying, 'THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, "SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I PUT YOUR ENEMIES BENEATH YOUR FEET"'? "If David then calls Him 'Lord,' how is He his son?"
Ps 2:7 I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, 'You are My Son, today I have begotten You.
Heb 1:4-5 Having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels did He ever say, "YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU"? And again, "I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME"?
So, Ps 72 says they will come from Sheba and bring gifts. Where else does the Bible reference Sheba coming with gifts?
Isa 60:1-6 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the LORD will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes round about and see; they all gather together, they come to you. Your sons will come from afar, and your daughters will be carried in the arms. Then you will see and be radiant, And your heart will thrill and rejoice; because the abundance of the sea will be turned to you, The wealth of the nations will come to you. A multitude of camels will cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba will come; they will bring gold and frankincense, and will bear good news of the praises of the LORD.
Isa 60 is a Messianic passage about Jesus coming.
But why Sheba? Sheba was known for its vast wealth from the gold mines of Africa. Trade with African nations brought in much gold – the commodity by which those nations exchanged goods with other countries. So, plenty of gold.
Sheba also had Boswellia trees – the sap from the Boswellia tree is used to make frankincense. Sheba was only one of two places in the world where these trees grew. And, it is in Sheba where you’ll find the Commiphora tree. The resin from this tree is used to make myrrh. It grows naturally no place else.
What were the three gifts the Magi brought? Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.
Why would they bring these? Great baby gifts? Not really.
If it had been three wise women, we know they would have made it on time for the birth, brought practical gifts like diapers and blankets. Brought a couple of casseroles, a jug of tea and then, cleaned up the stable before they left.
No, the hand of God is here, in this story, orchestrating the details, telling us something unique about Jesus through these men and the gifts that were brought.
Gold is a gift for nobility. At that time considered the most valuable gift one could give. They were searching for a king so what better gift to give him than what represented his value to the world. Gold identified Jesus as our King.
2Chron 9:9 Then she gave the king one hundred and twenty talents of gold and a very great amount of spices and precious stones; there had never been spice like that which the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.
Frankincense was one of the ingredients in the incense God designed for the fragrance of the Temple. There was a specific formula used to make the incense which was not to be used for any other purpose. It was set on the table of incense and placed before the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. That was where the presence of God was recognized. That aroma said – the Lord is here. Frankincense identified Jesus as God with us - the Lord.
Ex 30:34-36 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Take for yourself spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, spices with pure frankincense; there shall be an equal part of each. With it you shall make incense, a perfume, the work of a perfumer, salted, pure, and holy. You shall beat some of it very fine, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I will meet with you; it shall be most holy to you.
Myrrh was processed into an oil and used for anointing. With it the Temple and Priests were anointed for service. But it also was used for masking the odor of the dead. Myrrh was a strong fragrance and used in preparing someone for burial. Unknowingly, perhaps, the Magi were bringing Myrrh to a Savior who would die for the sins of the world. Myrrh identified Jesus as Savior. The one born to die.
John 19:39-40 Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.
Interesting, though, the Bible told us they would bring these gifts. Why? To help us connect the dots that this was all a part of God’s plan.
For most of us, winning at pool depends on a lot of lucky shots. We know what we want to do but can’t guarantee it will happen. It’s often just coincidence when a ball drops in the pocket. But there are some who can call their shots and tell you in advance what will happen before they strike the cue ball. For them, making that shot isn’t coincidence but intentional.
Whenever something happens God has told us about in advance, when it happens, we know it was His doing. It’s God doing what God does.
The Magi came to Bethlehem and presented unique gifts to Jesus, honoring Him as the King of the Jews but worshipping Him as the very presence of God on earth. The story is about them presenting to Jesus that that identified Him as King, Lord and Savior. But in this story one dot remains to be connected.
If we could decide on a gift to give Him that both honored Him and demonstrated our worship what would that be?
Let’s give Him what the Magi gave: gold, frankincense and myrrh. He doesn’t need or want that anymore.
Ps 95:3-6 For the LORD is a great God And a great King above all gods, in whose hand are the depths of the earth, the peaks of the mountains are His also. The sea is His, for it was He who made it, and His hands formed the dry land. Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
The God who has everything wants only one thing – our worship. Do you know what the word worship means in reference to what the Magi came to do? I go down on my knees to worship. Worship is the humble act of giving ourselves to our God. That’s the last dot to connect. It’s us.
Have you ever given yourself to God? Saying, God here is my life, I give it to You. Why is that so hard? Why do we struggle letting go? Because we want to control our lives.
If someone came in here and said I’m producing a play to do a world-wide tour of Hamlet and I need someone who can play Hamlet before audiences of thousands of people, do you think you could pull that off? We’d probably all agree there’s no way any of us could ever be Hamlet. Then why do we think we can play God? That we can do better than He can to run our lives? We can’t. So, give up trying and give yourself to Him. That’s the gift He wants from you this Christmas.
- Selecting gifts for someone who has everything and needs nothing is always hard.
- Knowing that, God doesn’t ask for anything other than ourselves.
- Once we have given Him ourselves, we can count on Him to accomplish what’s necessary in our lives.
- If we refuse to give Him ourselves, not only do we lose the blessings, but we are fighting against our only source of the abundant life Jesus promised, and if we are not a Christian, facing an eternity separated from Him forever.
Connect the final dot.