"In my beginning is my end," wrote T. S. Eliot in his poem "East Coker." That is certainly true for Jesus. As Matthew tells it, His birth foreshadows His death.
Already at His birth, Jesus provokes murderous and paranoid rage among the leaders of Israel. Already at His birth, there is a bloody slaughter. Already at His birth, the chief priests and scribes gather together to determine what to do with Him. It is appropriate that the magi bring along myrrh, an ointment used for burial (John 19:39), for Jesus was born in blood.
The gifts of the magi are materials used in the temple at Jerusalem. Gold covered the temple walls and was beaten into cherubim; frankincense was one component of the incense that ascended to Yahweh; myrrh was included in the holy oil that consecrated priests.
At the same time, the magi bring gifts fit for a king, and acknowledge that Jesus is the King who resides in Jerusalem’s temple. They honor Him as a divine king.
These two aspects of Matthew's birth narrative seem to be in tension: His birth foreshadows His death, yet at the same time He is hailed as King of the Jews. Kings are supposed to kill people, not die. Right?
Kings do deal in death, but in Scripture the supreme act of kingship is when the king gives his life for His people. Jesus is never more kingly then when He stands between the serpent and the bride, so that His bride can be saved. Jesus is never more glorious than when He is lifted up on the cross.
In another poem, "The Journey of the Magi," Eliot speaks of the magi seeing "three trees on the low sky" and "six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver" as they make their way to Jerusalem. Truly, for the King of the Jews, His beginning is His end.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Sunday, May 20, 2007 at 08:27 AM
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