December 18, 2008
Gold, Incense, and Myrrh
“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 and of incense and of myrrh.”
Matthew 2:11 (NIV)
Whether you grew up in church or not, you’ve probably heard the story of the three wise men placing gifts before the baby Jesus, throwing their own little royal baby shower. Christmas carols tell of it and many a Christmas pageant has featured children with crowns askew, tottering in with their royal gifts.
Yet far from soft blue blankets and a selection of baby toys, these three kings brought seemingly odd gifts for the tiny Savior. They placed at His feet gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Bible doesn’t tell us what Mary and Joseph did with Jesus’ gifts, but I have to wonder. Unless she understood what they meant, I can almost picture Mary saying, “Wow, umm, thanks. I know just where I’ll put these!”
I recently learned that each of these gifts has a symbolic meaning. When we study these meanings, the wise men’s gifts take on much greater significance, a significance that is at once sobering and amazing.
Gold has always been a symbol of royalty. This gift signaled the wise men’s understanding of who this child was, and how we should receive Him. Because of this child, we are transformed from lowly paupers to royalty seated with Christ (Ephesians 2:6). He had to leave the perfection and grandeur of heaven in order to walk among us, trading His royalty for a time, but never losing His deity.
Incense was a symbol of His purity. Because He was born sinless and lived a perfect life, Jesus was that perfect lamb, without blemish, offered up for our sins. Incense was used as a fragrant offering to God. But the beauty of the scent couldn’t be released without being touched by fire. Jesus’ life became a fragrant offering through the flames of affliction. And in His death, we receive His purity.
Myrrh symbolized death, as it was used for embalming in those times. Nothing says “congratulations on the birth of your baby” like a little symbolic death! As these men laid this odd collection of gifts at the feet of this child, a little shiver had to have run down His mother’s spine when that last one was placed before Him. Already Lord? She had to be thinking. Do I have to start letting Him go already? But I suspect Mary knew that to accomplish His purposes on earth, Jesus’ life had to end. And now as we seek to follow Him, our lives have to end as He asks us to die to self and to take up our cross and follow Him.
Have you ever asked yourself why the wise men chose those gifts? While we will never know for sure this side of heaven, I think it’s because they listened to God. He directed them to bring these gifts as an outward statement of Jesus’ ultimate purpose. Each one points to suffering and death that ultimately leads to transformation. Jesus didn’t come to earth to be born, He came to earth to die so we could be reborn.
This Christmas I pray we keep our hearts focused on the meaning in the wise men’s gifts – and give our lives to Him, just as He gave His life to us.
Dear Lord, I praise You for being willing to come here, be born in a stable and endure an agonizing death so that I might be saved. I thank You for allowing me to know You, and I pray You would keep my heart focused on You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
A Recipe for Christmas Joy (e-book) by Marybeth Whalen
Pursuing the Christ: 31 Morning and Evening Devotions for Christmastime by Jennifer Kennedy Dean
In your personal quiet time, use your Bible concordance to look up additional verses on gold, purity, and dying to self. Write down a few and meditate on them this Christmas season.
Have you always wondered about the gifts the wise men gave the baby Jesus? Does this explanation help you grasp what their gifts said about the recipient?
How can you live your life in such a way that it is a gift to Him?
Job 23:10, “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” (NIV)
I John 3:2, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (NIV)
Isaiah 53:12, “Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (NIV)
© 2008 by Marybeth Whalen. All rights reserved.
Proverbs 31 Ministries
Matthews, NC 28105
Originally published Thursday, 18 December 2008.