Three wise men followed a star to find baby Jesus and give him gifts, according to the Christian Christmas celebration. The gifts weren't typical baby gifts, however, but they held great meaning to the wise men giving them and were meant to honor the new baby as the savior of the world. The image of the three wise men kneeling before baby Jesus remains an essential part of Christianity and the celebration of Jesus' birth.
The three wise men journeyed from the east by following a star that was positioned directly above where baby Jesus lay. The visit from the wise men is a culmination of a prophesy from the Old Testament speaking of kings that accept the baby as their Messiah and wish to bestow gifts of honor upon him. Each of the gifts held special significance to the wise men even though they were really of no use to Jesus or his family.
Gold is a precious metal, and it was customarily given to kings and those who held high offices of authority. The gold that was given to Jesus was meant to symbolize the realization made by the wise men that Jesus was much more than an earthly king. He was, in fact, the king of all kings. A gift of gold during Bible times also signified that the giver was offering the best of what he had.
The second gift offered to baby Jesus was frankincense, a highly expensive spice that gave off a strong and pleasant odor when it was burned. The spice was often used as part of sacrifice offerings where animals were burned out of respect for God. The meaning of frankincense is humility. It signified the wise man's desire to give himself completely to the following and worshiping of Jesus as the savior of the world. It also symbolizes the desire God has that his followers worship him in times of happiness and in times of sorrow.
The final gift bestowed upon the newborn king was myrrh, which was a spice used to make bitter wine taste better. Myrrh was also used to embalm the dead. The gift symbolizes divinity and reminds believers that Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice when he was born as the messiah who would die on the cross to forgive the sins of his followers. The wise men gave the gift of myrrh because they understood how bitter the sacrifice would be and wanted to make it more bearable for their new king.
- Life Application New Testament Commentary; Bruce B. Barton
- Life With God, Journeying With God; Jane Galicia-Caday, et al.
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