Today, January 6 is the Epiphany (Greek ἐπιφάνεια “manifestation”). On this date the Christian church celebrates God’s appearing and manifesting Himself to man in the person of Jesus Christ. On this day, we mark the visitation of the Biblical Magi to the child Jesus, or his manifestation to the Gentiles.
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” 7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 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. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. Matthew 2:1-12(ESV)
There are many things we could say about this text. I could begin by pointing out that in the original language of the New Testament the word παιδίου translated child in verse 8 and 11 does not mean infant but “boy” or even “youth.” Were our nativity scenes biblically accurate no wise men would be present.
Instead I want to focus this devotion upon the gifts which each wise man brought to the boy Jesus. Matthew is writing his gospel to the Jews and as such he is attempting to show this Jewish audience that Jesus is the Messiah for whom they have waited and prayed. There is therefore great meaning placed by Matthew into each of the gifts each wise man brings. As a theocracy the Jewish nation was divided into three important offices. The office of King governed the people and was to administer justice. The Priestly office represented the people before God and most importantly offered sacrifices before God on behalf of the people. Finally it was through the office of prophet which God spoke to directly to His people.
Matthew uses the gifts which each wise bring to Jesus to remind his reader that Messiah would unite these offices and be a king, a priest and a prophet to His people. The wise man’s gift of gold symbolized the tribute which subjects owe their sovereign, the king. The frankincense represented the incense burned in the temple by the priests as a sweet-smelling offering to God.
And he shall take from it a handful of the fine flour and oil, with all of its frankincense, and the priest shall burn this as its memorial portion on the altar, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Leviticus 2:2 (ESV)
Myrrh was used to make perfume and anointing oil, signifying that Jesus would also be a prophet.
The lesson we should each remember from the Epiphany is that Jesus is the only true king. He makes the final and complete sacrifice for us before God. His words must be heard because through Him God speaks, and He has perfectly revealed God to mankind once and for all.