Learning from What is Said & Not Said - The Magi in Jesus Birth & the Message

When reading an article, we not only have the get the facts right but also getting the right interpretation to really benefit from it. We take an example from the birth of Christ about the magi from the East to illustrate.

An article like this one Christmas Timeline of the Biblical Account shows us how poorly our reading of the Bible is. It clarified many misunderstandings we have of the Christmas story such as:

  1. How many magi/wise men/kings from the East came to worship Jesus?
    Not three. But at least two and maybe more than 3. It was not stated in the Bible.
  2. How old was Jesus when they saw him? Not a baby. But around 1 year old. 
  3. Was Jesus born in a stable? etc.
Let's go deeper into the interpretation.

Matthew 2:11 
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.

The Facts:
  1. They - so there should be at least 2 and likely more but the exact number is not stated.
  2. the 'Child' - Jesus was not a baby at this time.
  3. the 'Gifts' - gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The Interpretations:

Since the number of the wise men was not stated but the specific of the gifts were. It shows that the author wanted his readers to pay more attention to the different types of gifts rather than be curious about the number of wise men. Our understanding of the gifts is more important than the number of people, or, the attributes are more important that number. The wise men and their gifts are important to our understanding.

The wise men --- from afar, took them many months to find Jesus, showing they came from far away. Then they were wise - people who seek and have an understanding of the coming events and then prepare for them. A wise person will try to understand and plan for the future but be not worry. In Matthew 6, Jesus told us not to worry but did not tell us not to plan. Because in Luke 14:28 Jesus told us to count the cost to see if we have enough money to complete the building first. It was re-emphasized again in Luke 14:31 to estimate whether we could win a war against a larger enemy. 

The good news of Jesus birth is to be shared far and wide. People from all over the world will want to receive this good news of Jesus birth. There is a reference to Isaiah 60:6  A multitude of camels shall cover you,  the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.

The gifts:

A quick check across some commentaries will give us the following interpretations:
  1. Gold - represent King. Jesus as King of Jews that the wise men came to seek.
  2. Frankincense - the ingredient for incense to give out the fragrance, showing Jesus as Priest and Jesus himself even as the sacrifice, the frankincense itself, to be offered and burnt up for us to God.
  3. Myrrh - the ingredient to preserve a dead body. It has a meaning of bitterness. It represents the suffering Son of Man.
So we can see that the gifts are a foretelling of the mission of Jesus, as King to be a fragrance sacrifice to God for the atonement of men sins that men may be recounciled with God through Jesus. The gospel of salvation is about making dead men alive to be children of God through Jesus.

So, the number of wise men is not the issue. The meaning of the gifts is the main theme. It is the story of the life of Jesus - as King but offered as the incense to make dead men alive in Him.

Lim Liat (c) 3 Dec 2017

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