by Jeannette Haley
Once again, we draw near to Christmas. This is the time when Christians focus on the miraculous coming of the Christ child. Pictures and manger scenes depicting the event abound, complete with Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and very often with the three wise men.
However, Scripture renders this scene as partially inaccurate. We read in Matthew 2:11 that the wise men came into the house (not stable) where Jesus lived, as a “young child,” with His mother and Joseph. There they fell down and worshipped Him.
Just who were these wise men? According to Smith’s Bible Dictionary, these wise men were from Persia. In ancient times, astronomy was cultivated by the Chaldeans who lived along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. These people believed in one God and they did not worship idols. Historians tell us that everywhere throughout the East, men were looking for the advent of a great king who was to rise from among the Jews. The expectation of a child from heaven who would take away sin and restore the golden age arose largely from the Jews who had been dispersed among all nations. They carried with them the hope and promise of a divine Redeemer. (See Isaiah 9, 11 and Daniel 7.) Furthermore, these people were undoubtedly familiar with Balaam’s prophecy about “A Star out of Jacob” (Numbers 24:17).
The number three denotes divine completion. In the Scriptures, this completion becomes Divine, and marks Divine fulfillment or completeness, i.e., the godhead (see “Number in Scripture” by E.W. Bullinger). The three wise men give us a picture of the pinnacle of human wisdom in three areas, namely, 1) A keen awareness and unshakeable belief in the Divine Creator and His promise of redemption to fallen mankind, 2) unwavering vigilance in order to discern God’s divine order, will and direction, and, 3) complete dedication to the task of seeking, finding, worshipping, and adoring the only begotten Son of God.
Let us consider these three areas of wisdom. Keep in mind that knowledge, however vast, without wisdom is vanity. First, the wise men believed. Hebrews 11:6 says, “But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” These kings of the East were one-hundred percent serious concerning God and His promise. In keeping with wise Job (also a man of the east), they knew that “the price of wisdom is above rubies” Job 23:18b. Undoubtedly, they lived in the fear of God for “the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom: and to depart from evil is understanding” Job 28:28b.
We need to remember that the early post-flood civilizations possessed knowledge of the pre-flood civilization and God’s dealings with mankind, including His first promise of a redeemer as recorded in Genesis 3:15. The three wise men understood the signs of His coming. That mankind could write prior to the Flood has been proven by inscriptions on ancient tablets. According to Halley’s Bible Handbook, page 44, “An ancient Babylonian king recorded that ‘he loved to read the Writings of the age before the Flood.’ Assurbanipal, founder of Nineveh’s great Library, referred to ‘inscriptions of the time before the Flood.’
The valuable lessons of history appear to be lost to our age of self-centered, “enlightened,” global thinkers. Advanced technology does not necessarily mean that the attainment of wisdom is high on our priority list. Both archaeology and history bear witness to the fact that technological inventions and advances in science do not generate wisdom. In fact, usually the opposite is true. Even a cursory study of the history of mankind from ancient times to the present reveals an appalling decline in true wisdom which is always aligned with the fear of God, humility, righteousness, godly character and integrity.
Can it be said that the average Christian of today possesses sobriety and genuine fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom? Or, are we guilty of a type of silly, mindless, flippant familiarity with the Almighty? Are we conscious of Who God is when we approach Him—the One who walks among the stars and calls them by name, who created the Universe by the breath of His mouth, who weighs the nations as dust and who knows the thoughts of every heart—or do we casually treat Him as an equal?
The three wise men, by faith, traveled over great distances of unfriendly terrain to pay homage to God’s greatest gift to mankind. They diligently watched and sought for Him. Can we say that today the real Jesus is being watched and sought for? Or, are we content to play our fruitless religious games? Is our entire reason for being to seek the Person of Christ alone, to have a personal and intimate relationship with Him? Or, are we content instead to sink to the level of pagan religious superstition in our pursuit for what we consider “positive” because it “feels” better?
Those who do personally search for Him can also find themselves traveling in unfamiliar and dangerous terrain. This spiritual terrain is ruled by the master of deceit, the father of lies, and the god of this world. His name is Satan. He will do everything in his power to detour those who diligently seek the Lord. Our flesh will also rise up and war against our spirit. And, the world will continually seek to distract us with its vain promises. But, God has promised us in Jeremiah 29:13, “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”
The wise men not only believed, but once they saw His star, they roused themselves to action. They didn’t sit around analyzing it to death. They didn’t argue with God about His timing because it didn’t coincide with their plans, nor did they form a committee in order to determine His will. They didn’t strip the people of their resources, so they could build a big monument to this historical event or try to make a big name for themselves. They didn’t run around telling everybody that they should be honored and exalted because they had a “new revelation.” And, they most certainly did not use their status at that time to “legislate righteousness.”
The wise men demonstrated, more than once and without a word, that “to obey is better than sacrifice” 1 Samuel 15:22. When they arrived in the Holy Land, King Herod accepted them as equals which is an indication as to the high position of these men. Herod’s wicked and foolish heart, however, underestimated the wisdom of these men when he told them to return once they had found the child, so that he, too, could go and worship Him.
Being wise, however, they had no respect of persons—including King Herod. They hearkened unto God’s warning and secretly returned to their own country. These men possessed both integrity and humility. How many today, who consider themselves to be “wise,” would pass up an opportunity to impress a great ruler? Pride would tempt many to deliberate as to whether God really spoke to them or not. They might dash off to the nearest psychologist to seek a “professional” opinion. Perhaps they might cave in to the king out of fear for their own lives, or they may have argued with God that they were supposed to obey the laws of the land. The wise men didn’t return and debate with Herod, trying to convince him that he had an attitude problem and that he wasn’t “politically correct.” Instead, being wise and completely dedicated to God, they feared no man.
My personal belief is that if the wise men had agreed to return to Herod with news of where the Christ child was, thus endangering His life, God would have struck them dead. It is a frightful thing for anyone to become a means by which the life of Christ is either denied, threatened or destroyed in others. Christians are called to be the salt and light in this world. But, if our disobedience to God causes others to shy away from Christ and the Gospel, then will we not be held responsible?
When the wise men found the child, they “rejoiced with exceeding great joy” and they “fell down, and worshipped him” Matthew 2:10, 11. Finally, at long last, after faithfully watching for His sign, and then diligently seeking Him, they found Him. The joy they expressed was beyond words. For these three travelers to rejoice with “exceeding great joy” must have been a sight to behold. Centuries later, we can only imagine this incredible scene. That which they had looked for, longed for, and lived for had finally been found. Here, before their very eyes, was the promise of the ages, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. As their wondering eyes beheld God Incarnate, they fell before Him and worshipped Him.
Wonderful gifts were brought by these kings from the east—gifts that represented the depth of their understanding and wisdom. Matthew 2:11 tells us, “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.”
In their presentation of gold, they first and foremost acknowledged Jesus as divine, or God Incarnate. Gold, in the Old Testament Tabernacle, always represented God. This Scripture reveals that these wise men understood divine order because they presented gold to Him first. God is first, the Lord always begins with Himself. “In the beginning was the word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him: and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” John 1:1-5. “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending. Fear not; I am the first and the last” Revelation 1:8, 17b.
Frankincense was the second gift they presented to the Christ child. Frankincense is a resin that is obtained by successive incisions in the bark of a tree that grows in barren places. The first incision yields the purest and whitest resin. This whiteness represents the purity of Christ. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” Hebrews 4:15.
Because frankincense can only be obtained by making an incision in the tree, it represents Jesus’ sufferings on the cross for the sins of all mankind. “For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” Hebrews 2:10.
The tree from which frankincense is derived grows in barren places. This points us to Jesus who was born in an obscure village in Israel, taken to Egypt until after the death of Herod, and who lived in obscurity until He reached the age of thirty. He was tempted in the barren wilderness, and He overcame as the Son of Man alone in the garden of Gethsemene. His life on this earth was “barren” according to worldly standards. He never accumulated worldly possessions or wealth. He never built a monument or cathedral to Himself. He always walked in total submission to the Father’s will, and He died alone upon the cross. Hebrews 13:1 says, “wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.”
Frankincense derives its name frank because of the freeness with which it gives forth its odor when burned, and it burns for a long time with a steady flame. The ability of frankincense to burn with a steady flame for a long time represents the unwavering steadfastness which Jesus displayed during His entire sojourn on earth as the Son of Man. The life He lived was a sweet fragrance to God, and an acceptable sacrifice to God. The fragrance of Christ, through His sacrifice, is perpetual or never ending.
This fragrance also represents the life of the Son of God in the true Church, His Body, who burn with the flame of the Holy Spirit. Every born again saint is a sweet fragrance to God. “For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life” 2 Corinthians 2:16,17a.
Finally, frankincense is bitter to the taste. This points to the bitter cup that Jesus drank for you and me. In the Garden of Gethsemene, He prayed, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” Luke 22:42. The bitterness of life is death which is the result of sin, falling short of the mark, and doing it our own way. Those who shun Christ in this life will drink the bitter cup of their own sins of rebellion, pride and idolatry. There is no hope for the soul who rejects the One who drank the bitter cup in their place. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” John 14:6.
This brings us to the third gift, myrrh. Myrrh in Hebrew means “mor” from “marar.” “Mor” means to drop on from a container above, and “marar” means bitter. Myrrh is a gum from the stem of a low, thorny, ragged tree. To obtain its sweetness, it must be crushed. The wise men in offering myrrh signified their understanding that the Savior of the world came from above and must be brutally crushed in order for the sweetness of eternal life to come forth.
Myrrh also represents purification. We are purified by the blood of Christ. “For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Hebrews 9: 13, 14.
Ruth Lascelle wrote, concerning myrrh, “As we stand before King Jesus, the holy anointing oil with the sweet smell of myrrh should be upon our garments of salvation. Freely we are to give ourselves, even as He freely gave. Die to self, for ‘Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit’ John 12:24. We are daily to apply this anointing oil, to purify ourselves even as He is pure, as we prepare for the marriage of the Lamb!” (A Dwelling Place For God, pg. 224.)
My wish for you this special season is that God will grant you the secret of the wisdom of the wise men, that the symbolic importance of their gifts be imparted to your life, and that the things of this world grow dim in light of His glory and grace.