Merry Christmas to you all. It is a pleasure to be able to write and share these thoughts with you and I thank you for your patience and participation in the blog this year. It feels like I just finished the Advent posts for last year and yet, here we are again.
The story of the birth of Jesus is full of details and applications. Each year preachers, Sunday School teachers, youth group leaders, and individuals and families read the story from the Bible and are rewarded with the joys of God’s salvation and goodness to us.
As we think about the birth of Jesus as told to us in Luke 1-2 and Matthew 1-2, I think the oddest characters are the Wise Men.
In Matthew 2, right after the angel promises Joseph that the baby Jesus will save His people from their sins, we get a reminder that “His people” are not just the people of Israel, but the entire world is being invited into the family of God through the gift of God’s Son, Jesus. The only reason you and I talk about a baby born 2000 years ago in ancient Israel, is because that was the whole point. Jesus came to save the world.
So, these strange foreign gentlemen show up to worship Jesus and are divinely instructed not to return to Herod, but to return to their country by another way. They come out of nowhere and they fade back into the unknown.
What they leave behind are three gifts. These three gifts are not your average baby shower gifts, but by the sovereign hand of God, they point us to the man this child in the manger would grow to be. Let’s consider what we can learn from the gifts of the magi.
The first gift that the Wise Men give is gold. Gold is a gift for a king. When the queen of Sheba came to see the legend of Solomon for herself, she brought, “very much gold and precious stones (1 Kings 10:2).” Gold has always been a royal gift. This is the only gift that we can explicitly link to the Wise Men’s purpose in coming to Israel. Matthew records that, “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’ (Matthew 2:1-2).” These men came to see and worship the king.
Gold reminds us that Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The universe is his to rule and reign over with complete sovereignty. By the time the baby who receives this gift of gold is finished his work “all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18)” will have been given to him. Jesus is the King.
This week, we were listening to the Christmas hymn, “O Holy Night”, the third verse says this,
“Christ is the Lord; O praise His name forever!
His power and glory evermore proclaim.”
Out of the five or six versions of this song Esther and I listened to, only two of them included these lyrics. The other versions went back to the lyric, “fall on your knees” from verse 1. This world is happy with Baby Jesus but they are very uncomfortable with King Jesus. Paul makes this point clear in his first letter to the church in Corinth, “no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).” The celebration of Christ as king is the mission God sent his Son and Spirit to accomplish. If, this Christmas, you delight in the truth that Jesus is King be thankful for that miracle of transformation and serve him with everything you have.
A few years ago, I could have said, “none of you have frankincense in your house”. But with the growing trend of essential oils, many of you probably have frankincense oil in your homes. I actually have a jar in my desk for a small diffuser I use to brighten up the office.
Frankincense is not a mystery spice that shows up from the East and leaves us scratching our heads, it has significant meaning in the worship of Yahweh in the Old Testament, Exodus 30:34,
“The Lord said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy.”
This incense was burned before the LORD daily (Exodus 30:7) in the tabernacle and was added to sacrifices and offerings as “a pleasing aroma to the LORD (Leviticus 2:2).”
Frankincense represents Jesus’ role as our Priest and our substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. It foreshadows his perfect life and wrath-satisfying death on behalf of sinners before a Holy God. Jesus completed all the work the Father gave Him to do (John 17:4), “He became sin who knew no sin that so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).” And now he is resurrected and ascended to the right hand of God where he intercedes for us (Romans 8:34). Jesus is still acting as a pleasing aroma before the Father on our behalf.
When we think of the gift of frankincense, we should be thankful that it is not our efforts that provide our salvation and good standing before God. It is the work and perfection of Jesus that makes us acceptable before God and pays the penalty for our sin. In this strange gift, we get a reminder that the old covenant is coming to an end as Jesus fulfills and completes the sacrificial system by laying his own eternal and perfect life down for us.
I think it is safe to say that myrrh is not something you have in your house, even if you have a large collection of frankincense. (editors note: my mother, in editing this, did send me a picture of a candle she has at home that has myrrh listed as an ingredient, so perhaps I am wrong!)
Myrrh, in the Old Testament, was an ingredient in the sacred anointing oil of the tabernacle and the priests. Each priest and tool used in worship in the temple was consecrated, or set apart, in a ceremony using this oil.
In the New Testament, myrrh is closely related to Jesus’ death. On the cross Jesus is offered, “wine mixed with myrrh” (Mark 15:23) which he refused. It has been suggested that myrrh has some anesthetic properties, which means the pain and torment of the cross would have been dulled. Jesus refused this concoction so that his sacrifice and endurance of the wrath of God for us would be complete.
The other place myrrh shows up is in Jesus’ burial,
“Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.” – John 19:39-40
Myrrh is a gift that reminds us that this baby, or toddler perhaps by the time the Wise Men showed up, has been born for a purpose. He is a baby born to die. The gift given to him at the beginning of his life will be buried with him. And the expectation was that myrrh would cover the stench of blood, decay, and death. But rather than stay in that tomb, the body of Jesus was resurrected, the wounds were healed, the stench of death was destroyed and replaced with victory. Only the holes in his hands, feet, and side remain as a testimony that he who died lives again. Myrrh points us to the finished work of Christ as our sins are bound with him into the tomb where they remain forevermore for those who trust Jesus for salvation by faith. Only the victorious Saviour Jesus emerged from that tomb. Our sins were crucified with him, and removed from us as far as the East is from the West (Psalm 103:12).
Jesus Offers Us a Gift
We can’t be sure if Mary and Joseph thought the gifts of the wise men were strange or not. I assume the gold was used to fund their life in Egypt where they had to flee after God’s warning. The frankincense and myrrh were probably sold to provide for the family and rebuild their lives in Nazareth. But to us, they remind us that the King of Kings humbled himself to become a baby, to take on flesh and live in our place as a fragrant offering to God. That perfect life was then slain on the cross. He became the perfect lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus was buried and wrapped in spices that would cover the reality of his mortality. However, that burial was only temporary as he rose from the dead to live and reign forever.
It seems odd to the world that we would celebrate a baby’s birth in light of the day that baby would die. But we know that the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are our only hope in all the world to have peace, joy, and hope. Jesus now lives and reigns to offer the gift of salvation for all who believe. Don’t let this Christmas go by without thanking God for the gift he has given you. If you have not received the gift of salvation and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, then consider what the gifts above tell us about this man that millions have called “Lord and Saviour”. This Christmas you can bring the gift of your worship, devotion, and need to Jesus knowing that he is loving, gentle, and true.
Merry Christmas my friends. Enjoy your time with family, food, and rest. You are loved.