Whispers of the Spirit
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 3:22).
Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh
“After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshipped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11). Most people would likely be able to tell you that what was given to Jesus were gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The question then is, “Why were these three gifts given to Him and not something else”?
Nothing is in the Bible by mistake. Everything has a reason, a purpose, and part of studying the Bible is to find out what that reason or purpose is. You may think that what the Wise Men gave Jesus has no special importance or value, that the gold, frankincense, and myrrh just happen to be what they had available to them. However, that type of reasoning is a little shallow. If you were going to give a gift to someone you love and care for deeply do you take the first thing you see in the store and buy it. Not likely, because it is the thought that counts. These Wise Men were bringing gifts to a King, someone they found worthy of worship. Is it reasonable to assume that the gifts they brought were an afterthought, an insignificant gesture with no meaning? No! Then why was it gold and frankincense and myrrh rather than gold and silver and clothes? At least those things would have had material value. They would have been things that could be used by a new family starting out in life. Joseph and Mary were probably grateful for whatever they received, but were just as likely to have been baffled by these gifts. The gold would have obviously been welcomed, but of what value were the frankincense and myrrh?
It is interesting to note that the name “Pishon”, one of the four rivers (four is the number for creation, the earth), mentioned in connection with the Garden of Eden, means “spreading”. It is almost as if the Lord were hinting even then that a time would come when His Spirit - the gold - would spread throughout His creation. Later we learn this to be true. “It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind” (Joel 2:28). This verse was used later by Peter to explain what the people of Jerusalem were experiencing upon hearing the Apostles preach after they were filled with the Holy Spirit, that is, after the Holy Spirit had spread to them (Acts 2:14-18).
As Moses had the Tabernacle in the wilderness built, he was instructed by God to construct the Ark of the Covenant out of acacia wood (symbolic of humanity) and overlay it with gold. The mercyseat (lid) of the Ark was to be made of pure gold, as were the two Cherubim that were to be placed atop the mercyseat (Exodus 25:10-21). It was then to be placed in the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was the meeting place between the High Priest and God. It was a place so holy that the High Priest, and he alone, entered only once a year to offer sacrifices for himself and the people of Israel for the cleansing of sins. It corresponds to the spirit, that part of man that allows us to be God-conscious and makes possible communion with the Father. “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). It is significant that everything to do with the Tabernacle that had to do with the worship of the Lord – the Ark of the Covenant, the Mercy Seat, the golden alter of incense, the lampstand, the utensils – were either made of pure gold or acacia wood overlaid with gold.
Job, as he was going through his intense trials, not being able to sense the presence of the Lord, nevertheless said, “But He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). Job was looking forward to the day when he would share the divine nature with the Lord. “For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). This divine nature is the result of the gift of salvation.
When we speak of being “born again”, what is first brought back to life is our spirit. It was the spirit (what I believe to represent the masculine within us) that died the day Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit. The soul (what I believe to represent the feminine within us) then assumed the place of authority that the spirit had occupied. Then the body, along with creation, began to die. With the new birth the spirit is “born again” and is returned to its rightful position of authority. The soul once again submits to the spirit’s God ordained authority, and the body is assured of resurrection in a glorified, non-corruptible state. Thus, we have justification, the spirit (masculine) being given divine life and being restored to its rightful position to receive guidance and direction from the Holy Spirit to pass along to the soul; sanctification, the soul (feminine) submitting to the direction and leadership of the spirit; and glorification, which is the promise that the body will be resurrected incorruptible, like unto the body of Jesus.
The gift of gold was given to Jesus to symbolize that He was God in the flesh. It is no accident that so many times the idols described in the Old Testament were made of gold. It spoke of the deception that clouded man’s thinking. They desired divine life, just as people today do, but they wanted to control it, to shape it. Fallen man does not want to believe that Jesus is the only way to Heaven, the only way to come to the heavenly Father. They want to believe that their own goodness (fool’s gold) will be acceptable to God. The Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and even false Christians do not want to believe Jesus when He says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6). They may accept Jesus as a good man or a moral teacher, but not divine, not God. They have rejected the true treasure of gold and instead chosen an idol.
Frankincense was the resin from a tree. It was obtained by cutting the bark of the tree and letting the resin harden. It was then ground into a powder. Though it tasted bitter, it was known for how freely it burned, leaving nothing behind. This is symbolic of a life of holiness and righteousness and being sold out to the Lord. Having received salvation (Gold) we are told that, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). This is not so much a command; as it is a promise. Because the Lord is holy and because we have received the gift of salvation (gold) we shall be holy. Though we are sinful creatures, by the gift of salvation we will be holy. “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool’” (Isaiah 1:18).
The gift of frankincense given to the Christ Child symbolized His holiness, His purity, His willingness to freely and wholly give Himself up as a burnt offering. Just as frankincense is gathered by cutting the bark of a tree, the Lord was broken upon a tree – the cross – that we might share in this gift. However, it is no accident that this gift comes after the gold – salvation – for holiness in the hands of the unsaved would be used for self-righteous glorification. Holiness would destroy the unsaved, just as fire destroys wood, hay, or stubble, while it purifies gold. For the children of God this gift of holiness becomes the cry of our hearts. “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).
Frankincense was burned in worship to the Lord. Thus, it should not surprise us to learn that fire is closely connected with holiness. “Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory’” (Isaiah 6:2-3). The Hebrew word for “seraphim” means burning and has also been translated as “fiery serpent”.
It is first used in Numbers. “The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died” (Number 21:6). I believe these serpents were in fact holy angels, seraphim, rather then snakes, for the Hebrew word for snake is completely different. Perhaps they resembled tongues of fire and that caused the people to think of them as serpents. Again, holiness will destroy that which is not of God, that which is not divine – gold. The people were rebelling against God and Moses. They were becoming impatient in the wilderness; therefore, God sent the fiery serpents to destroy them or more accurately to destroy their rebellious spirit. Once the people confessed that they had sinned, God told Moses to make a snake (not seraphim) of bronze (a metal associated with judgment) so that any who had been bitten by the fiery serpents could look at the bronze snake and live. There is much truth hidden here, but at this time we cannot go into all of it.
We are to be holy for only holiness can survive the presence of God, a God that describes Himself as “a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24). We are told that “each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:13-15). Everything that we think, say, and do is to come from the holiness that is imparted to us as we grow spiritually. If it does not, even if it looks good on the outside, the holy, consuming fire that God is will destroy it.
This gift of frankincense, this holiness, this whiteness, becomes ours when we realize that “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27). We are told to “put on the new nature (the regenerate self) created in God’s image, (Godlike) in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24 AMP). The promise given to the true Christians in Sardis, a church that “talked the talked”, but did not “walk the walk”, was this gift of frankincense, this whiteness. “But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy” (Revelation 3:4). As we experientially become one with Jesus Christ we will possess more and more of this precious gift of holiness.
Why is gold and frankincense mentioned only at the beginning of Jesus’ life, but myrrh at the beginning and the end? It is because gold – salvation – is a one-time gift. Once it is given it is never revoked. “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). Holiness, the frankincense, is also a gift that, though it grows and expands as we experientially clothe ourselves with Jesus Christ, is given to us all at once at the beginning of our walk with Him. From the Lord’s point of view once we have accepted the gift of salvation we are as holy as we will ever be. We do not become more holy, from God’s viewpoint, as time goes by. We are instantly called “saints” (Greek – hagios – same word for holy) regardless of how carnal we are.
But the myrrh is different. It symbolizes suffering, trials, tribulations, and afflictions. The church of Smyrna is known as the “Suffering Church”. This makes sense when one realizes that the name “Smyrna” comes from myrrh. Suffering and persecution is something that Jesus experienced from the beginning of His life, from the flight into Egypt to avoid the wrath of King Herod, to the end of His life, to His wrongful crucifixion. In fact we are told that suffering was such an integral of Jesus’ life that, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). Jesus never escaped the myrrh, the persecutions, throughout His entire life. No one has suffered more unjustly than He. And just as He was given the gift of myrrh by Wise Men, so we too, along with the gift of gold (salvation), and the gift of frankincense (holiness), are to receive the gift of myrrh (suffering) from the hand of the Lord, the wisest of men. It is not done to destroy us, but to teach us obedience. Suffering, trials, tribulations, and persecutions are a natural part of this life. “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
The Bible is full of stories of suffering. Adam and Eve gave birth to Cain who murdered his brother; Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers; Job lost his wealth, position of influence, and his health; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace; Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den; John the Baptist was beheaded; The Apostle James was slain by King Herod; Peter and John were thrown into a dungeon; Paul was hated and stoned. We are not alone in our suffering; it is not unique to us. Paul said, “To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now” (1 Corinthians 4:11-13). Suffering – myrrh – will be a major part of our lives.
So, are we to accept the gold and frankincense from the Lord and not the myrrh? Job faced this question after having lost everything and his wife encouraged him to turn away from God. “But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil’” (Job 2:10 ESV)? That is faith. Job recognized the sovereignty of God and willingly received not only the good – the gold and frankincense – but what appeared to be bad also – the myrrh. The gift of myrrh is not to destroy, but to purify. “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).
Let us accept from the hand of our Lord the gifts He desires to give to us; the same gifts He received. Gold (salvation), frankincense (holiness), and myrrh (bitterness), that we might be one with Him as He is one with the Father.