“…and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
And when they were come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.” ~ Matthew 2:9b-11
The example set by the wise men who brought gifts to Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12) has made the giving of gifts an integral part of celebrating Christmas: Jesus’ birth. However, the gifts we give each other, today, bear very little spiritual resemblance to those originally bestowed by the wise men.
The gifts of wise men focused on Jesus and His purpose for mankind. However, the gifts we give at Christmas seldom have the same motivation. Let us, then, examine the significance of each gift given by the wise men and apply it to our lives and our own gift-giving.
GOLD: Give Holy Dedication (Your Best)
In constructing both the tabernacle and, later, the temple, gold was reserved to represent God. Everything outside the “Holy Place” was made of some other material. Every instrument of worship inside the Holy place, where God’s presence dwelt, was made of or overlaid with gold. There were the golden lamp/menorah; the golden altar, the golden table of showbread, and the gold-covered ark of the covenant, which contained manna in a gold bowl and had golden cherubim on its lid (e.g., Exodus 25:16-19; 37:1-29; 40:4-6, 25-27; 1 Kings 7:47-50; 1 Chronicles 28:14-16; 2 Chronicles 4:18-22; Hebrews 9:1-5).
Gold was reserved for God because it is the noblest of metals: Gold does not tarnish and it does not readily alloy with most other metals. Of all metals, gold best represents God’s holiness.
Also, in ancient times, gold was the most precious/expensive of all metals because of its rarity, its beauty, and its nobility.
Therefore, in giving Jesus Christ the gift of gold, the wise men acknowledged Jesus’ divinity AND gave Him the best they had to offer.
By application, we are similarly expected to give to Christ our gold. We are expected to serve and honor Him with the best we have to offer. Christ is to be given the best part of our days. We are to serve Him when our muscles are strongest and our minds are sharpest. When we reserve time to commune with Him, that time must be unalloyed: not mixed in with distractions and obligations.
When we examine our lives, is our best being spent on ourselves, or on Christ?
It is amazing that we spend so much of our mental capacity memorizing and analyzing sports/entertainment data/trivia, political diatribe, and similarly pointless miscellanea. Yet, we spend so little of our mental capacity on memorizing/analyzing God’s Word (under the guidance of The Holy Spirit). Likewise, we spend much effort getting our bodies in shape, which is good. But we spend so little effort getting our spirits in shape, which is much, much better (1 Timothy 4:8).
Jesus so seldom receives our best.
“Take ye from among you an offering unto the Lord: whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it, an offering of the Lord; gold, and silver, and brass…
…And they came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing, and they brought the Lord’s offering to the work of the tabernacle of the congregation, and for all his service, and for the holy garments. And they came, both men and women, as many as were willing hearted, and brought bracelets, and earrings, and rings, and tablets, all jewels of gold: and every man that offered offered an offering of gold unto the Lord.” ~ Exodus 35:5, 21-22
Only gold was used to represent God in the Holy place. Only our best will be used to represent Christ to the world around us. Christ is so poorly represented by the church in modern society because Believers have not offered their best to Him: we have not given our gold to Him.
Therefore, the world does not see Christ Jesus as king; the world does not see Him as holy; the world does not see Him as divine. And so the world does not celebrate Him.
FRANKINCENSE: Give Holy Worship
Under the Mosaic Law, frankincense had a special role in the worship of God. Specifically, frankincense was ONLY used for worship offerings. Frankincense was explicitly forbidden from being used in any sin offering (Leviticus 5:5-13).
Animals were typically presented as sin offerings, to be burnt on the brazen altar. The smell of burning meat is quite unpleasant and was useful in reminding the people of how offensive sin was to God.
Worship offerings, however, always included frankincense (Exodus 30:34-38; Leviticus 2:1-2, 14-17; 6:14-16). Frankincense made whatever was being burnt smell good. Hence, it signified how pleasant the worship of sin-cleansed men was to God. Indeed, it was so special to God that there was a special concoction of frankincense, with other spices, that was reserved for Him alone (Exodus 30:34-38).
And the Lord said unto Moses, “Take unto thee sweet spices… with pure frankincense… And thou shalt make it a perfume… pure and holy… and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee: it shall be unto you most holy.
And as for the perfume which thou shalt make, ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto thee holy for the Lord.
Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people.” ~ Exodus 30:34-38
Therefore, in giving Jesus Christ the gift of frankincense, the wise men acknowledged, that Jesus alone was worthy of worship AND that He was to be worshiped ONLY by those who were sin-cleansed.
After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.”
And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, “What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?”
And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
“Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple: and He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.” ~ Revelation 7:9-10 & 13-15
By application, Believers, those who have accepted Christ Jesus for salvation, are to worship Jesus and Him alone. The gift of frankincense challenges us first to be saved: to be made righteous by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. And, having had our sins washed away, to then worship Him in the beauty of Holiness (Psalm 96:8-9).
There is no way to truly celebrate Christ’s birth without requiring salvation and holiness from the celebrants. To attempt to celebrate Christ without salvation AND holiness is to defame His name; it is nothing less than detestable to God.
“Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His holy place?
He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.
He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” ~ Psalm 24:3-5
“The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord: but the prayer of the upright is his delight.” ~ Proverbs 15:8
Moreover, to the extent that we get lost in celebrating our selves and/or our loved ones more than we celebrate Christ, is to the extent that our worship of God is not exclusive and, therefore, unholy: not really worship at all. If Christ is who we worship in Christmas, then Christ must be central to our focus, even to the exclusion of everything else.
The wise men brought their gifts for Christ, to honor Him and Him alone. Our gifts, even the ones we give to each other, must do the same.
MYRRH: Give Holy Service
Many assume that myrrh was symbolic of Jesus’ eventual death as the sacrificial offering to redeem us from the penalty of sin. That interpretation may be appropriate. However, there is more.
In the system of worship described in the Mosaic Law, which Jesus came to fulfill (Matthew 5:17), myrrh had a very specific role. It was the crucial ingredient in a concoction used exclusively to anoint the tabernacle furniture and the priests (Exodus 30:22-33)—i.e., those who ministered to God and the instruments of their ministry.
Moreover the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, “Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh… and of sweet cinnamon… And thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment…
And thou shalt anoint the tabernacle of the congregation therewith… And thou shalt sanctify them, that they may be most holy: whatsoever touches them shall be holy.
And thou shalt anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office…
This shall be an holy anointing oil unto me throughout your generations… Whosoever compounds any like it, or whosoever puts any of it upon a stranger, shall even be cut off from his people.” ~ Exodus 30:22-33
Elsewhere in Scripture, we see myrrh was employed to prepare Esther to become the wife of king Ahasuerus (Esther 2:12). And it was a principal spice used in the love relationship between the bride and bridegroom in the Song of Solomon (Song of Solomon 1:13, 3:6, 4:6, 4:14, 5:1, 5:5, 5:13).
Therefore, in giving Jesus Christ the gift of myrrh, the wise men acknowledged, the entrance of the Kingdom of God, which Christ Jesus would introduce; with Believers as priests ministering to Him: doing His will. The gift of myrrh, also, acknowledges the birth of the church and her calling as the bride of Christ: the bride whom He would cleanse by the washing of water by the Word (Ephesians 5:25-27).
By application, the gift of myrrh is to remind Believers that we are consecrated to serve Christ: we are His. Therefore, we must live holy lives as His priests: confronting the world with the problem of man’s sinful state and pointing them to the One who can save them from sin: the ONLY worthy sacrifice: the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
As we celebrate Christmas, our celebrations must also herald our calling. Christmas cannot be celebrated without acknowledging our calling to share the news of salvation, which was the very purpose of Jesus’ birth (He was born to die for our sins), with all those around us. If we don’t share Christ in Christmas, for what reason do we celebrate His birth? If we celebrate His birth at all, then we MUST tell others why He was born: we must tell others why His birth is worth celebrating.
The narrative in Revelation 18:10-19 describes the reaction of the merchants to the fall of Babylon. In Scripture, Babylon represents the unsaved world, especially, its value system and its money-making marketplace. In the passage, an awesome statement is made about the merchants’/marketplace’s activity and the reasons for their sorrow, as shown in the following excerpt:
“…And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over [fallen Babylon]; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more: The merchandise of gold… and ointments [myrrh] , and frankincense… and souls of men.
The merchants of these things, which were made rich by [fallen Babylon], shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing…” ~ Revelation 18:11-15
We may choose to invest our gold, frankincense and myrrh in the marketplace (the world’s tabernacle), rather than in Christ (the tabernacle of God). However, beware, along with our goods, our talents, and our minds, the marketplace will also take our souls: anything and everything to make a profit.
If your soul hasn’t been invested with Jesus, then it is “up for grabs”, available to whoever would have it, saleable to whoever desires to control it.