Herod held his paranoid, murderous impulses together long enough to craft a subtle plan. He would deceive the wise men from the east into finding the child and then revealing his location to him so that he might kill him quietly.
(Herod said to them) “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:8)
The wise men left him and did indeed find the child at home with his mother, Mary, in Bethlehem. Scripture tells us they were “overjoyed” (Matthew 2:10) and “worshipped” him (Matthew 2:11). They opened their precious gifts before mother and child- gold, and frankincense, costly gifts fit for a king.
But what of the third gift? The contents of the third box must have given the young mother pause. Myrrh? Myrrh, piney and bitter of odor when burned? Myrrh, mixed with aloe and sprinkled among the wrappings of the dead? The gold and frankincense spoke of kingship. The myrrh was a somber foreshadowing of his greatest mission; With his life, he would redeem us all from the curse of sin. He would break death’s hold over humanity by entering into its cold clutches, and then emerging victorious.
Myrrh is mentioned four times in the New Testament. With the exception of the one in Revelation, all are in reference to Christ. This, the gift from the wise men is the first mentioning of it. We next find myrrh when it is mixed in wine and offered to Christ just before his crucifixion.
“Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he would not take it. And they crucified him.” (Mark 15:23-24a)
Then, in John 19, we find a Sadducee and a Pharisee, Joseph of Arimethea, and Nicodemus, their hearts heavy with sorrow and their arms weighted down with 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes as they lovingly prepare the body of Jesus for burial. (John 19:38-42)
Three gifts brought by the faithful from afar were presented to mother and child. Two, fit for a king, would soon fund the young family’s midnight escape and save the child’s life. The third hinted that one day the child in Mary’s arms would sacrifice his life to save us all.