It was a special night in the little town of Bethlehem. A baby had been born in a stable—the only begotten Son of God. His birth was accompanied by a heavenly display of lights—far greater than any fourth of July extravaganza of fireworks we have ever seen. Luke tells us that a multitude of the heavenly host joined the angel in the heavens to announce His birth as the glory of God shined down around the shepherds on the Judean hillside. A host is already a multitude or army. We can only imagine how many as multitude of heavenly armies would be. The shepherds, we are told, hastened to Bethlehem to see this newborn king.
However, it was not this dramatic scene that caused the kings in the east to search out the Christ-child. It was a star. They saw this star and related it to the prophetic scripture they had heard. They began seeking the King—and they found Him. They rejoiced with exceeding great joy, fell down, worshipped Him and gave Him gifts. That’s quite a baby shower! The gifts they brought were products of their own country. (We give back to God the first-fruits of all He gives to us!) These kings, referred to as “wise men”, were fulfilling scripture: all they from Sheba shall come; and they shall bring fold and incense; and they shall show forth the praise of the Lord. This is no surprise as the Queen of Sheba who came to see Solomon brought gifts of much gold.
The Bible does not tell us how many wise men, or kings, came that day nor does it tell us their names. We do know they brought gifts of three different types: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Most commentaries say there is no significance to the gifts except that they were expensive and therefore reflect the character and socio-economic status of those who gave them. However, we can research their various uses and origin. Together, the three types of gifts represent the roles of Jesus the Messiah: His kingly office is represented by gold, His divinity by frankincense, and His manhood by myrrh. “They offered him incense as their God; gold as their king; and myrrh, as united to a human body, subject to suffering and death.”
Just as the metal gold is unchangeable, so is God. When melted by fire, gold becomes liquid and flows. When we are tried by the fiery circumstances of life, the experience does not change our value or our substance. It simply causes the faith and love in our hearts to flow over into others, and causes our praise and worship to flow from our innermost being to the throne of God. In both the Old Testament tabernacle and the temple, gold was used plentifully, so we see that gold is associated with worship. We are told that in the heavenly city we will “walk on streets of gold.”
Gold was the usual offering presented to kings by their subjects or those wanting to pay respect. It seems that the metal we know as gold has always held extremely high value and used as a medium of exchange. All who have studied American History known of the “gold rush” period when people risked their lives to get to an area where they might be able to find gold. It is valuable because it is scarce and must be dug out of the ground. Several state capitols in our country sport gold overlays on the dome. In other countries, it is not uncommon today to see a palace with pure gold hardware and light fixtures, gold crown moldings around the ceilings as well as in other conspicuous places—all built by kings, queens, and other rulers centuries ago and still sparkling.
Gold is a precious metal and lasts indefinitely, thus it is the basis of currency. With enough of it, we can purchase nearly any object. God is the basis of all things—He is pure precious gold. He had seen to it that His son’s family would have the money they needed to establish their carpenter shop and raise His son. It was enough!
Frankincense was a valuable, all-purpose substance used in medicines and perfumes as well as worship. To obtain the Frankincense, a deep, longitudinal incision is made in the trunk of the tree and below it a narrow strip of bark five inches in length is peeled off. The milk-like juice which exudes is hardened by exposure to the air.
The gum and oil were used in soaps, cosmetics and perfumes as well as an astringent for the skin smoothing out wrinkles, first-aid for wounds and bites, a tonic for ulcers, genital infections, heavy periods, depression—even digestive problems. It was known to unplug the sinuses and soothe coughs, colds, and laryngitis and was very good for asthma sufferers as it would ease breathing.
Frankincense is highly fragrant when burned, and was, therefore, used in worship, where it was burned as a pleasant offering to God. Aaron burned fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tended the lamps. He burned it again when he lit the lamps at twilight so incense would burn regularly before the Lord for the generations to come. This teaches us that our worship is to be pleasing to God. Remember, this sweet smelling resin comes as the result of the tree’s woundedness and pain. When we can worship God in the midst of our sorrow, our brokeness, and our pain, then it is a sweet smelling offering.
Myrrh is a resin that has an aromatic odor but a bitter taste; its name is derived from Hebrew murr or maror, meaning bitter. Myrrh is produced from a thorn-bush and was obtained from a tree in the same manner as frankincense. When it oozes from the wounded shrub, myrrh is a pale yellow color at first, but as it hardens, it changes to dark red or even black color. Ancient texts refer to its use as a medicine, antiseptic and preservative. Modern research has shown that it stimulates the production of white blood cells, boosts the immune system and is an excellent way to promote oral health. Even today, mouthwashes and toothpaste found in natural health stores often contain myrrh as an active ingredient. Mixed with other ingredients, it can be a potent topical antiseptic salve and has been found to fight gum disease, is recommended as a gargle in cases of mumps, and helps fight tooth decay.
When Jesus was hanging on the cross, they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it. This would have taken the edge off His suffering, but obviously Jesus chose to allow His human side to be totally alert to the fact that He was dying as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. He had already drunk of the bitter cup by surrendering to His Father’s will and agreeing to the suffering.
Myrrh was used for the purification of women, likely because of its pleasant scent, thus Esther had to apply it to her body for six months in preparing to meet the king. It was said to keep its fragrance for several hundred years when kept in an alabaster pot and may well have been the costly perfume poured on Jesus’ head and feet at Simon’s house. Also known to be used in preserving the body for burial, Jesus said to the people: For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. After His death, Joseph of Arimathea asked for permission to take Jesus’ body, and Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.
At the time of the birth of Jesus, myrrh was one of the most expensive substances that could be collected and its uses were many. No wonder it was one of the gifts the Magi brought to honor the Christ Child. The Holy Spirit is our myrrh—He purifies, takes away the pain, comforts and strengthens us, attracts us and draws us to the Father, and preserves us for eternal life.
Three Valuable Gifts
Together, the three types of gifts represent three roles of Jesus the Messiah: His kingly office is represented by gold, His divinity by frankincense, and His manhood by myrrh. They offered him incense as their God; gold as their king; and myrrh, as united to a human body, subject to suffering and death.
The greatest gift of all is eternal life given us by Jesus Christ through His death on the cross.
(c) East of Bethlehem, C. Yvonne Karl, Brentwood Press, 2003. Chapter 14.
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