King, Priest, Savior
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 2:11a (Holman) Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped Him.
For ease of artistic expression, nativity scenes picture the Magi standing with the shepherds at the manger. Our text indicates Jesus was no longer in a stable when the Magi arrived. He was in a house. This reminds us we don’t know for sure how long the Magi’s journey lasted.
These Persian astrologers teach us a valuable lesson. How can we know if our search for Jesus is finally a success? When we fall down before Him. Until this happens, we don’t really know Him. When we adore Him and submit to Him, the goal of our spiritual pilgrimage has been reached, our mission is accomplished.
Matt. 2:11b Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The Magi demonstrated for us another evidence of true devotion. They remind us a heart yielded to Jesus wants to give offerings to Him.
In the East, no one entered the presence of a superior without a gift. Thus, the Magi brought offerings to give to God’s baby King.
Their gifts were rare and expensive. They had practical uses, and also expressed rich symbolism. We should not press too dogmatically the messages implied in their gifts, but the substances they brought did contain symbolism.
The meaning of gold was obvious. As the king of metals in the ancient world, gold was the gift most appropriate for kings. This gift was the Magi’s way of saying the baby was King Jesus, deserving to be obeyed.
Frankincense was a sweet perfume widely used in Temple worship to make animal sacrifices more pleasant by softening their smell. Priests used frankincense to help people approach God in the right way. Jesus did this for us. He became a Way-maker, Bridge-builder. He brought God to us; us to God. Jesus is forever more our High Priest. Without Him no one can come to the Father (John 14:6).
Myrrh was a local anesthetic often given to mother and child for postnatal care. It was most famous as a perfume customarily used as a fumigant to help embalm the dead. Nicodemus used myrrh on the dead body of Jesus (John 19:39). Jesus, even in His cradle, was pictured as our Savior, One born to die in our place. The gifts preach to us, proclaiming Jesus is King, High Priest, Savior.
Holman Hunt’s painting, “The Shadow of Death,” captures Jesus as King, High Priest, and Savior in a poignant way, something only art can sometimes do.
The painting shows Jesus in the carpenter’s shop. After a hard day’s work, He is stretching his back and arms as the setting sun shines through the door.
Above His head are two signs of His deity, of His being our King. The first sign is the Magi’s star carved in wood. The second is light shining through the window, giving the image of His head being adorned with a halo.
At Jesus’ feet are signs of His being our High Priest. Under His right foot is a wood-shaving that looks like a snake being crushed. Jesus made a way for us by defeating the snake of Eden. And how was this victory won? The scarlet sweat-band, near His left foot, foreshadows the blood He will shed on the cross.
These signs of King and High Priest encourage us, but are not what Mary sees. She had been rummaging in a chest, but is suddenly frozen in place, petrified by the sign of a Savior. She sees the shadow of a cross on the back wall.
King, High Priest, Savior–are we really bad enough sinners to require help this radical? Matthew answers the question by jerking us back to harsh reality.
Matt. 2:12 And being warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their own country by another route.
Herod proved humans desperately need help. The Magi had assumed Herod was sincere. Honest people usually believe other people are also honest.
We often have trouble believing people are as sinful as they really are, but Matthew used Herod to remind us we are sinners sick at heart. Every person needs a King to obey, a High Priest to make a way to God, a Savior to save them.