What do you give a young king? The magi, after travelling more than five hundred miles away to see the child Jesus, brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh with them. Why those gifts? What did the gifts mean in relation to Jesus? And what did they mean for the men who gave them?
Gold. The magi, even before they arrived at Jesus’s home, knew they were searching for a king. As men who acknowledged Jesus as sovereign ruler, they brought a gift befitting someone of rank and authority. Gold has long been used as a medium of exchange — whether as coins or as the basis of the value of a coin. In gold, the magi brought a gift of great value, a symbol of sacrifice on their part as worshippers. Gold represented their willingness to give everything to God because He alone is worthy.
Frankincense. Worshippers in the Old Testament inserted the dried gum of frankincense into candles to make offerings in the temple. The frankincense candles released a fragrant scent that filled the room with an exquisite aroma. That the magi brought frankincense to Jesus demonstrates that they acknowledged the Child not simply as King but also as Priest who would intercede for humanity before God. In this way, the frankincense was a symbol of the magi’s humility before the Child, recognizing their dependence on a holy and just God.
Myrrh. The ancients used myrrh when embalming the dead, making the gift especially appropriate for Jesus, whose death would change history. While the magi likely had no concept of the death Jesus would die, the gift signified the importance of Jesus’s death. In fact, when Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took Jesus from the cross and prepared His body for the tomb, they used a mixture of aloe and myrrh. The gummy consistency of that mixture would help hold together the cloth wrappings that surrounded the body.
The King received the gold. Our Intercessor took the frankincense. And the One who died on the cross had myrrh wrapped about His body by His friends. The magi’s gifts to Jesus pointed to the utterly unique, glorious, and sacrificial ministry of the Lord Jesus.
See Matthew 2:11–12 and John 19:38–40
Excerpted from Charles R. Swindoll, A Promise Kept: A Pictorial Journey of the Coming of Christ (Plano, Texas: IFL Publishing House, a division of Insight for Living, 2010). Copyright © 2010 by Charles R.Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.