By now all your shopping is probably done and the stockings are hung. All the presents are nicely wrapped under the tree and the star shines brightly on the highest branch…But did you remember to get something for the most important person this holiday?
Our tradition of gift giving comes from many different sources. When asking young children in North America who brings presents on Christmas many would answer “Santa”. The myth of Santa is based on a real person, Nicholas, Bishop of Myra. Nicholas was born to wealthy parents in what is now modern day Turkey. Nicholas became an orphan with a large inheritance when his parents died early in his life.
Instead of wasting this inheritance on lavish living, Nicholas used his inheritance to help the poor. He also did his giving in secret. One account of his good deeds goes like this. A poor man had 3 daughters. Without any money for a dowry this poor man’s daughters were destined for a life of slavery. It is believed that Nicholas on 3 separate occasions threw a bag of gold through this poor man’s window to provide the dowry for each of his daughters. On the third occasion the man caught Nicholas in the act and Nicholas begged the man not to make his deeds known. Of course things like this always seem to get out and so we have the accounts of Nicholas’ good deeds with us.
In addition to Nicholas we also have the biblical account of the “wise men from the east” that came to worship Jesus at his birth. Almost all depictions of these wise man show 3 of them; however, the biblical record never indicates how many there were. We do know that they brought 3 gifts to the child Jesus: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
So what would a toddler want with gold, frankincense, and myrrh? We cannot help but guess that these gifts were prophetic rather than practical. This is mostly due to Jesus’ age at the time the wise men came. So much else about the Lord Jesus and his life was symbolic in nature also, hinting at an unseen spiritual reality rather than the visual and temporal elements of the world.
Gold for a King
Gold represents Jesus as a King. Let’s take Solomon for example. He had tremendous wealth and yet when we read of foreign dignitaries visiting his kingdom they almost always brought gold (1 Kings 10:25). Why would they bring gold to him when he had so much already? It was the only gift that was valuable enough to represent their thoughts of him. Likewise these wise men brought a gift that represented what they thought this child King was worth…the most valuable substance they could offer.
Frankincense for a Priest
Frankincense represents Jesus as a Priest. Frankincense comes from the sap of a tree. The bark is removed and the sap is scraped from the inside and then allowed to dry. The leftover resin is burned as incense in many religious ceremonies. Specifically, the old testament priests were offer this incense continually in the tabernacle on the altar of incense (Exodus 30:34). The frankincense shows us this child would be the intercessor that mankind needed. Greater than the Levitical priesthood, this intercessor would put an end to sin forever (Hebrews 2:17).
Myrrh for a Prophet
Myrrh represents Jesus as a Prophet. Myrrh was a burial spice. It comes from a very thorny plant and is a reminder of death because of its use as a burial spice. The picture of suffering demonstrated by this gift obviously relates to the Savior’s death. One of the most persecuted categories of followers of God were the prophets (James 5:10, Acts 7:52). God promised to Moses to raise up “a prophet” (Acts 7:37). This prophet was to be the one that Israel would follow. These symbolic gifts demonstrated all that this tiny little boy would one day grow to fulfill. Jesus ultimately came to die for the sins of the world and reconcile mankind to God. For that is the name given to him at his birth. “You shall call his name Jesus for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
Gifts at His death
It is not surprising then that these three “roles” of the Christ are also visible at his death as they were at his birth.
Mocking a King
First, we read that when Jesus had been condemned by the Jewish religious leaders they brought him to Pilate. Pilate had scourged him and was ready to release him. After being convinced to move forward in crucifixion he sent him to the soldiers to be mocked and further beaten. The soldiers put a purple robe on him and gave him a crown of thorns with a mock scepter. They knelt before him and pretended to worship him. They mocked his claim to be a king. (Matthew 27:27-31)
Gambling for the Priest’s garment
Next, we read that they led him out to crucify him. While He was hanging on the cross it is recorded that the soldiers gambled for his clothing (Matthew 27:35). One of the most distinctive things about the Old Testament priesthood were the garments that they wore (Exodus 28). The garments were representative of the role of a priest, to bear the people into the presence of God. They were made so that they could not be torn (Exodus 28:32). The soldiers ripped his garment in four and shared it among themselves, mocking his claim as a priest.
The pain of the Prophet
Traditionally, a crucifixion victim was offered sour wine to ease his pain. This pain reliever was wine mixed with myrrh which was the active ingredient. The Lord would not drink this mix, choosing to face this hour and experience the full suffering that was coming (Matthew 27:34). In addition to this we read that those that passed by and those that stood by mocked the Lord and his claim “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (Matthew 27:40)
In light of these things Paul exclaims in Romans 11
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways.
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
What can we give Jesus?
What then can we give Jesus for Christmas like the wise men who truly worshiped the Savior? Paul continues…
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1
What does God desire? He is looking for worship just like the wise men, with myrrh (living sacrifice), frankincense (holiness), gold (acceptable). As we consider this holiday season let’s choose to give the Lord Jesus all we are and have and surrender our lives in worship and thanksgiving to him!