“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” Matthew 2:2 NASB
Every year since childhood I have heard the story of the the three wise men who traveled from the east to worship Baby Jesus. Was there three? What did they see in the sky? Why gold, frankincense and myrrh?
These are things I have wondered over the years. It is safe to say after studying and research and multiple sermons and documentaries, I believe I can answer these questions to the best of my ability. Though I am not a scholar, I do encourage you to research for truth and prayerfully seek God if you are wanting the answers. I am going to somewhat skim the surface of each of these. I know having to read a huge long blog can be a bit much. But, I hope you can a learn a bit from what I share with you.
Was there three?
Many scholars believe that there were perhaps more than three or less than three. Christians, claim three magi(or wise men) traveled, from the far east, to worship Jesus at his birth. They have handed this tradition down through the centuries. The thought that it was three was due to the three gifts. The three gifts were gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It was the way of the Roman catholic church to set the traditions and thoughts of Christendom, being the main voice of the times. So many took to what was pronounced as truth. However, today, having resources readily available, historians and archeologist can give us a better clue as to information pertaining to scripture and the times during the bible days.
So what do we know? We know that there were three gifts. We know that these wise men came from the east. Perhaps being from the east they were part of a special school or order. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendigo had been captives of the Persian empire several years earlier. It is believed, that Daniel stayed and opened a school for the soul purpose to study of the things of God. So, perhaps, these “wise men” had studied Daniels teachings. They had made themselves aware of the prophetic things that were to come. And knew that this star was important. So important and unique to see in the sky that they had to go and follow it. Perhaps almost in an excitement too. Knowing the prophetic things of Daniel and his teachings about future event.
Typically in a school like this there would have been more than three in attendance. One would think. Most schools we know of that are similar to this (like monasteries) usually have a group of men. Therefore when they saw this strange sight in the heavens. they knew it was of importance. But, perhaps three volunteered to travel the distance, which ended up being an 800-900 miles journey. Or maybe it was an entourage. Which could have easily consisted of animals, carts, servants as well as several magi. This makes our perspective of the nativity scene a bit different. And of course a side note: the magi did not show up at the birth of Jesus but several months later.
We see that in scripture it does not emphasis the number of the magi. We can only speculate, based on the gifts. Knowing they had valuable things they had to have had “protection” of a sort. Perhaps a special security force or fighter to ward off any robbers. Not only for the gold, but for the special perfume and spice which were valuable as well. We know this because Joseph and Mary were conveniently given these gift and then fled to Egypt. A trip that would not have been cheap! Having these gifts to sell would have provided food and shelter for their flight. We could safely assume that there were more than three wise men.
What did they see in the sky?
The magi were obviously men of education. They knew this Star was of importance. Assuming they were from this “Daniel School” they may have studied to know that in Numbers 24:17 it says,
“I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
a scepter will rise out of Israel.
He will crush the foreheads of Moab,
the skulls of all the people of Sheth.“
They knew the prophecy and seeing the star rise, they knew it had to be the star that has “come out of Jacob”. According to Rick Larson, ( Bethlehem Star link info ) the Star was actually the joining of three host: Regulus, Jupiter and Venus. The King star, the King planet (named after the King god), and the planet named after a goddess. See how God has things in control. These magi joined together to form a bright “star” in the sky. Its “track” through he sky led the wise men to Jesus.
Matthew 2:2 says:
“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”
This “Star” was special. They, the wise men, had to go and see why. They set out know the importance of this even and had to find the One who the star would lead to. They knew this was special because they brought gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.
Why the Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh?
This is about the coolest thing I have come across in my study of the Magi (other than the Rick Larson information on the Star) When we hear this part of the story at Christmas time as a kid we think, “see Jesus got gifts!” But there is some great importance to these gifts.
Gold represents: success, achievement and triumph. Exactly what a king would bring to his kingdom or has when we begins his reign. Jesus IS the King of our hearts. He reigns victorious as we know. But, did the magi know this? Perhaps if they studied old prophecies they did. From our previous mention from above, God knew Mary and Joseph would have to leave quickly. Herod had found out about Jesus, and being jealous made a decree to kill all babies who were born up unto a certain age. Joseph had been warned in a dream by God to leave quickly. See, Mary and Joseph had not lived there for long and may not have had the means to travel all the way to Egypt so quickly, to escape. But…God provided.He provided before hand with these gifts to pay for any travel expenses. God is amazing to provide the escape and the means to do it. So, what the magi brought to honor the king of kings God used as provision.
Frankincense is a resin used in perfumes and incense and or oils. In the temple priest would burn incense as they prayed. A smell that would raise to the heavens as their prayers were lifted up. Incense was given as a symbolism as to things to come. Things that Jesus would do on our behalf to the Father. He is the high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
“24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.26 Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.” Hebrews 7:24-28
Like frankincense, Myrrh is also from the Persian regions (thus confirming the magi were from this region) Why bring myrrh? Though myrrh can be used as a fragrance or oil it is also used in medicinal purposes. As well as, to dress wounds or injuries. The magi may not have known the significance of what they brought. But, if they had studied prophecy from Daniel they just may have. Knowing that one day the Savior of the world would come, suffer and die. And to honor this special child, the magi brought what would foreshadow the suffering that he would go through.
Maybe the Magi knew just what to bring. I like to believe God put it on their heart. However it happened, the Magi brought gifts to honor this babe, And It was provisions for the holy family as they escaped from the evil king.
What does this all mean?
It means, God is in control. He sent His only Son for us to have salvation. The Magi had recorded the significance of this Star. Maybe they never kept a record of who they saw, but there is a record of the Star. We know this because even today in certain museums they have shows on the Bethlehem Star and is track through the sky. In fact, this year the Bethlehem Star made its appearance(2015). Many were interested because the timing of the Star and being around a significant and rare four blood moon cycle.
This season as you hear the story again, listen with a grateful heart. Grateful that we know a God who loves us, who provides for His own, and who is willing to come and save us.