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  • Writer's pictureMarco Inniss

Why Were Gold, Incense, and Myrrh Appropriate Gifts for Jesus?

We Have Come to Worship Him

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. . . .’

And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:1–2, 11)

From the Bible story, we know very little about the wise men. Millions of Christmas cards show three kings presenting gifts to a tiny child in a manger. People sing “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” But we do not know that there were three wise men who brought the gifts. We are not told that they were kings, or even when they arrived in Bethlehem. It is likely, actually, in view of their long journey and of Herod’s command that all children under two years of age be killed, that they arrived when the infant Jesus had already become a young child.

The fact that so little information is given about the wise men clearly shows that Matthew’s interest was not focused upon the wise men themselves. Rather, he was interested in the fact that Gentiles came to worship the Jewish Messiah, and in the gifts they bore. A literary critic would draw special attention to the gifts, for they occur at the end of the story after the child has been found and thus occupy a place of prominence.

Gold

It is easy to see why gold is an appropriate gift for Jesus Christ. Gold is the metal of kings. When gold was presented to Jesus, it acknowledged his right to rule. The wise men knew Jesus was the King of kings.

When gold was presented to Jesus, it acknowledged his right to rule.

Incense

Incense was also a significant gift. It was used in the temple worship. It was mixed with the oil that was used to anoint the priests of Israel. It was part of the meal offerings that were offerings of thanksgiving and praise to God. In presenting this gift the wise men pointed to Christ as our great High Priest, the one whose whole life was acceptable and well pleasing to his Father.

Myrrh

Myrrh was used for embalming. By any human measure it would be odd, if not offensive, to present to the infant Christ a spice used for embalming. But it was not offensive in this case, nor was it odd. It was a gift of faith. We do not know precisely what the wise men may have known or guessed about Christ’s ministry, but we do know that the Old Testament again and again foretold his suffering.

What Gifts Do You Offer?

There is a sense in which by faith we too may present our gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh.

Begin with your myrrh. Myrrh is not only a symbol of Christ’s death but also of the spiritual death that should come to you for your sin. Lay it at Christ’s feet, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, I know that I am less perfect than you are and am a sinner. I know that I should receive the consequence of my sin, which is to be barred from your presence forever. But you took my sin, dying in my place. I believe that. Now I ask you to accept me as your child forever.”

After you have done that, come with your incense, acknowledging that your life is as impure as the life of the Lord Jesus Christ is sinless. The Bible teaches that there is no good in man that is not mixed with evil. But is also teaches that Christ comes to live in the believer so that the good deeds produced in his or her life may become in their turn “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”

Finally, come with your gold. Gold symbolizes royalty. So when you come with your gold you acknowledge the right of Christ to rule your life. You say, “I am your servant; you are my Master. Direct my life and lead me in it so that I might grow up spiritually to honor and to serve you accordingly.”

If you have come believing in all that the myrrh, incense, and gold signify, you have embarked on a path of great spiritual joy and blessing. For those are the gifts of faith. They are the only things we can offer to the one who by grace has given all things to us.

This article is adapted from Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, by James Montgomery Boice.



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