Gold and frankincense and myrrh

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Matthew 2:1-12; Psalm 72

What do you buy the man who has it all?

Advertisers pose that question this time of year.  And usually they answer: some kind of razor.  But here’s the one occasion where the question is not hyperbole.  Jesus really is the Owner and Inheritor of the universe.  As Colossians 1 puts it:

“By [Christ] were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers:  all things were created by him, and for him:  And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”  (Colossians 1:16-17)

So what do you give the Man who has it all?  The three wise men were faced with that conundrum.  And here’s what they came up with:

“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 2:11)

Perhaps through Daniel and the other exiles these wise men from the east had access to the ancient Scriptures.  Perhaps they had heard that the cosmic Messiah will receive gold from distant kings.  That’s certainly what Psalm 72 prophesied:

“The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents:  the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.  Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him… to him shall be given of the gold of Sheba:”  (Psalm 72: 10,11,15)

Isaiah repeats the thought and adds another appropriate gift:

“The Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising…  all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the LORD.”  (Isaiah 60:3,6)

Such gold seems the perfect gift for a lesser king to give to a greater One. And certainly gold placed on the head is a sign of kingly rule (Genesis 41:42; Psalm 21:3, Daniel 3:1).  As we’ve seen, Isaiah adds an accompaniment to gold: frankincense.  This is because the universal King is also a Priest.

Frankincense is almost always used in connection with the temple and priesthood (e.g. Leviticus 2).  So the wise men bring a priestly as well as royal gift to the baby Jesus.  He will not only rule man for God.  He will mediate man for God.

And how will He do so?  This brings us to myrrh.  And on one level, myrrh is just another fragrant gift like frankincense.  It is paired with frankincense on many occasions – especially when describing the Ideal Bridegroom of Song of Solomon (3:6; 4:6; 4:14).  Yet at the end of the Gospels we see a common use for myrrh – embalming corpses (John 19:39).  And here is how Jesus will reign; here is how He will offer humanity to God – through His death.

It’s a strange gift for a child, embalming fluid!  Granted it had other uses but, within the Gospels, myrrh is very much associated with death.  And so from the beginning of Jesus’ life, He was marked for the cross.  As King He would reign from the tree.  As Priest He would raise His arms in intercession for the world.  In His death He would be established as Royal Reconciler, bringing heaven to earth and earth to heaven.

These are the appropriate gifts for the Man who has everything.  Not additions to a needy Christ, but acknowledgements of His Person and work.  This Christmas, follow the wise men.  Be awed again by your Cosmic King, your Interceding Priest, your Humble Sacrifice.  There He lies in the manger for you.

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