When I was in middle school, I was chosen to play one of the three kings in our church Christmas program. What an esteemed role!
I got to wear a crown and a purple robe. I got to carry a big wrapped Christmas present to the front of the church, walking alongside the other two kings carrying their presents, while the choir sang We Three Kings. At that point in my life virtually everything I knew about this part of the Christmas story came from that song. Unfortunately, most of it was wrong.
It wasn’t until later that I realized that the text of Matthew 2:1-12 tells us something different than the words of this beloved Christmas song. First, these three individuals are not kings but Magi. They were counselors to kings (like Daniel and his three friends), but not kings themselves. Secondly, we have no way of knowing how many Magi there were. There were likely more than three, but the text doesn’t give us a number. Lastly, they are described as coming from the east, but not specifically the Orient.
But let’s look at what the song gets right. These Magi respond to the baby born in Bethlehem by worshiping Him! This is especially clear in the third and fifth stanzas.
Frankincense to offer have I.
Incense owns a Deity nigh.
Prayer and praising all men raising,
Worship Him, God on high.
Glorious now behold Him arise,
King and God and Sacrifice.
Sounds through the earth and skies.
The point of Matthew 2:1-12 is that while Herod, and the people of Jerusalem, and the chief priests & scribes all hear about Jesus coming and respond in various ways, only these outsiders from the east respond by going to worship Him!
Most people have heard of Jesus. Most people know who He is and some basic facts about His life. But fewer are those who feel compelled to bow down and worship Him. What is your response to Jesus? Before you can worship Him, you first must recognize Him, as the wise men did, as King and God and Sacrifice. This recognition can only be granted by God’s grace, which enables us to receive Christ and rejoice in Him.