“We Three Kings”
What’s wrong with it?
Music is powerful. It can make us weep at the depth and richness of its beauty and it can make us rejoice in exuberant dance. A carefully written and orchestrated song can inspire, teach, and move us to action. Or, it can make us think or do the wrong thing. Please allow me to explain…
First of all, the song in question is NOT exactly wrong. It’s just the first line. (I’ll toss out several things, but feel free to skip to the Gospel text below to move along if you wish.) The only part we might specifically cite is “Kings” which was more of a translation issue. Likely, they were not kings but rather magi and an assortment of astrologers, enchanters, and other people desiring to see the fulfillment of a prophecy. There were probably a lot of soldiers as well. (Traveling a distance with gold necessitated having protection.) [NOTE: if you wonder about all of this, Daniel is a good Book to read. His God-appointed influence over the Babylonians / the East was astounding! Imagine the scene as he taught Numbers 24:17 and the excitement it built.]
And, to be fair, it’s not the writer’s (John Hopkins) fault that we read “Three” as only three and make them figurines that we put around the creche. There were three gifts and at least three presenters, but he doesn’t say ‘only’ three. (J Warner Wallace covers this concept extremely well in his book Cold Case Christianity in which he describes the accounts of witnesses. Different testimonies do not mean someone is lying. It simply means that they had different perspectives.) And, 100+ years ago, “from Orient” was an appropriate term to use for “the East”.
ALL THAT SAID, let’s jump to a truly beautiful aspect of the song as well as the gifts the visitors present. To set up the foundation, Matthew’s Gospel states:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2: 3-11 (Micah 5: 2-4)
Let’s look at these gifts, the amazing accuracy of the song, and why it all matters:
Gold is a gift for kings. Hopkins’ song: “Gold I bring to crown him again, King forever, ceasing never, Over us all to reign” describes it perfectly. The gift of gold was perfect for the King of kings and Lord of lords.
The second gift was frankincense. The song states: “Incense owns a Deity nigh. Prayer and praising, all men raising, Worship Him, God on high.” The verse doesn’t necessarily connect unless we know one thing – frankincense is a type of incense - and then do another thing – rewind to Exodus 30. As we interpret Scripture with Scripture, we can read about incense being offered on the altar of God. Check this out:
Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps. He must burn incense again when he lights the lamps at twilight so incense will burn regularly before the Lord for the generations to come. Do not offer on this altar any other incense or any burnt offering or grain offering, and do not pour a drink offering on it. … Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take fragrant spices—gum resin, onycha and galbanum—and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts, and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of a perfumer. It is to be salted and pure and sacred. Grind some of it to powder and place it in front of the ark of the covenant law in the tent of meeting, where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you. Do not make any incense with this formula for yourselves; consider it holy to the Lord. Whoever makes incense like it to enjoy its fragrance must be cut off from their people. Exodus 30: 7-9, 34-38 (emphasis added)
Isn’t that kind of cool? Frankincense is the only incense that could be offered on the altar of God. If you mixed up this particular formula and used it for any other reason was grounds to be cut off from God’s people.
The last gift is highlighted in the fourth verse of Hopkins’ hymn. Myrrh – “its bitter perfume, breathes a life of gathering gloom – sorrow, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone cold tomb. The hymn is very poetic in “life of gather gloom” – which is what you see around death. Myrrh was used for embalming a body. Draw your own conclusions as to why the magi would have brought this gift to a toddler and his family…
So, even though I’m not a big fan of the words “three” or “Orient” in the song, the rest of it is pretty on point.
And speaking of “on point”, we need to recognize what else the magi did and why WORSHIP MATTERS:
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2: 11
Worship is, literally, WORTH-ship. You are giving value or worth to someone or something. The magi bowed down, an act of humility, and worshipped this small child FIRST. And then, in giving value to Him, they gave gold to the king, frankincense – an incense reserved for God, and myrrh, a perfume that was used at death.
These magi, or wise men, had been given insight generations prior. And one of the amazing and astounding things to me was that they handed down these teachings to generation after generation. Look for the signs. When you see the signs, the Messiah will be born. Go and worship Him.
NOW COMES THE REAL QUESTION FOR YOU AND FOR ME…
Who else had been given those SAME signs? God’s Chosen People. The Scriptures were given to them by God through Moses. They could also see the same stars in the night sky that the magicians, enchanters, and astrologers could see
From the beginning, God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. He is demonstrating His love, His grace, His mercy, and everything else about His beautiful, wonderful, and amazing character. God the Son chose to come to this earth, to be born as a man, to live a sinless life, and to die for our sins. God the Holy Spirit is now present in our lives and with us each and every moment of every day. He is here to comfort, encourage, and guide us.
Here’s the thing. There are signs from God all around us. Yes, I’m talking about the obvious signs in the beauty of Creation. But I’m also talking about the living and active Word of God. I’m talking about how plain and simple the Scriptures truly are IF we are willing to stop, read, study, meditate, and allow the Holy Spirit to use our minds and hearts to draw closer to God.
And then, we have to respond.
Will we, like the magi and those with them, bow down and worship? Will we give to God the worship (literally - the worth-ship) He truly deserves?
It’s not (thank goodness!) about what we bring. Yes, the gifts of the magi were awesome and wonderful, but the WORSHIP was much, much, much more important. We will never be good enough, right enough, or perfect enough to bow down. We can’t wait until we get this in order or that in order.
It’s all about our willingness:
To bow down
What will you do today?
Yours in Christ,