Although most nativity scenes show the three “wise men” or “magi” visiting the baby Jesus, they were most probably not there. The Christian feast, known as Epiphany, or Three Kings’ Day, has traditionally celebrated the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. This day, January 6, remembers the visit of the wise men who worship the Christ Child, and bring Him the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The time between Christmas (December 25) and Three Kings’ Day (January 6) is known as the “12 days of Christmas.” Perhaps the wise men visited Jesus 12 days after His birth, but we simply are not told exactly when they made their visit. Perhaps it was days, or even years, after Jesus’ birth. We just don’t know.
Although we don’t know much about these “wise men,” we are rather certain that they were not really kings. They were probably Persian astrologers. And the truth is, the Bible never mentions how many wise men came to visit Jesus. Of course, the famous Christmas carol is entitled “We Three Kings.” Although tradition has stated that their names were Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar, we have probably assumed there were three men because there were three gifts.
So, there is much mystery surrounding these enigmatic astrologers who followed a star to visit Jesus. But we can learn a few things from them:
1. Wise men seek Him.
So, apparently, these pagan men were spiritually alert enough to know that the Messiah had come, and so they sought Him as they followed His star. Let’s be honest, most don’t seek God. But these men did. And so should we. We should seek Him first in our lives (Matthew 6:33).
2. Wise men recognize Him.
It’s interesting that the religious people of the day completely missed Jesus’ birth. Think about it…the Jewish people had been expecting a Messiah for centuries. And He finally comes to our planet…and they miss it completely! And the political people missed Jesus’ birth too. Isn’t it ironic that these religious and political leaders had to be told by some Eastern pagan astrologers that the King of the Jews had been born? I find it interesting that the first people in the world to recognize the arrival of the King were Gentiles. John 1:11 says, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”
3. Wise men worship Him.
They brought the Christ Child three gifts. They brought Him gold, which was fit for a king. They brought frankincense which was burned in the temple during worship and prayers. And they brought Him myrrh which was a spice used for embalming. Myrrh symbolizes bitterness, suffering, and affliction. The baby Jesus would grow to suffer greatly as a man and would pay the ultimate price when He gave His life on the cross for all who would believe in Him. So, gold was a symbol of earthly kingship; frankincense a symbol of deity; and myrrh a symbol of death. The wise men probably did not understand the symbolism of their gifts, but today we can understand their significance: The King (gold) was God (frankincense) who was born to die (myrrh). And this Christ is still worthy of our worship today.