Theme: A Symbol of Death
In this week’s lessons, we look at the three gifts brought to Jesus by the wise men.
Scripture: Matthew 2:1-2
Yesterday’s closing quotation leads naturally to the last of the gifts. For just as gold speaks of Christ’s kingship, and frankincense speaks of the perfection of his life, so does myrrh speak of his death. Myrrh was well known because it was used in embalming; consequently, it was an important item of commerce. We receive an idea of how important myrrh was in the ancient world from a story in the Bible. In the account of Jesus’ burial we read that Nicodemus used 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes in order to prepare the body. If 75 pounds of this combination were used for just one body, there must have been a tremendous amount of myrrh bought and sold for funeral arrangements. Moreover, in the book of Revelation, we also read of a city of Asia Minor called Smyrna. This name was actually the Greek word for myrrh and the city was called Smyrna because the manufacture of myrrh was its chief industry.
By any human measure, it would be odd, if not offensive, to present a spice used for embalming to a child. But it was neither offensive nor odd in this case. It was a gift of faith. We don’t 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 and his death. Psalm 22 describes his death by crucifixion. It was a verse from this Psalm that Jesus quoted when he cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Isaiah 53:4-5 says, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” There are dozens of other passages showing that Christ was to suffer and to die for our sin. This gift of myrrh symbolized this part of his ministry.
There were also a few other uses of myrrh in the ancient world, and one of them is particularly important here. It was a use of myrrh that the Lord Jesus Christ refused. Every so often in the study of the Scripture, the student of the Bible can learn a great lesson from verses that seem to contradict each other on the surface, but on closer study, they are actually seen to teach some spiritual truth. In Mark 15:23 and John 19:30 there is an example of such an apparent contradiction that actually teaches us something spiritual and make sense only when we know about this additional use of myrrh.
In the first verse we read that, when Jesus was crucified, the soldiers who performed the crucifixion offered him wine mixed with myrrh and that he did not receive it. In the second verse we are told that later, when some wine was again offered to him, he did receive it. What was the difference? The difference was that in the first case, myrrh, which helped to deaden pain, was mixed with the wine. And since Jesus wished to bear all that suffering and death could bring to him, when he tasted it and realized that myrrh was mingled with the wine, he turned away. Later, in order to fulfill Psalm 69:21, which says, “They…gave me vinegar for my thirst,” he called for something and drank what was offered. Myrrh was used to deaden pain. Jesus refused it because he wished to suffer all that accompanied death when he died for us.
To what event in Jesus’ life does the gift of myrrh refer?
Normally, giving such a gift would be odd or offensive. Why was it not in this case?
When did Jesus refuse myrrh, and why?
Key Point: Myrrh was used to deaden pain. Jesus refused it because he wished to suffer all that accompanied death when he died for us.