This is the fourth in a series of four posts comparing the similarities between events or details in the birth and the death of Jesus Christ. In previous posts, I shared about Mary's Pondering, Strips of Cloth, and Events in the Heavens.
The fourth similarity between the birth of Jesus and His death that I’ve chosen to share is the offering of myrrh. Myrrh is not something that we in the West are really familiar with. In fact, I’d venture a guess that most of us never would have heard of it if not for its inclusion in the description of the gifts presented by the wise men at the birth of Christ. Although it isn’t common in Western culture, it is significant in ancient Biblical writings and in North African and Middle Eastern culture.
Myrrh is the product derived from the hardened resin of a small variety of prickly trees that are native to areas in North Africa and the Middle East. The sap, or resin, flows from holes in the bark and sapwood of the trees, similar to how maple syrup is harvested. After harvesting, the gum or resin dries, becoming glossy, then clear-to-opaque, and darkens as it ages. It resembles nuggets of rock, sometimes with white streaks present throughout.
Throughout the Bible, Myrrh was used in perfume, incense, religious practices, and for medicinal purposes. Beginning in Genesis with the account of Jacob’s son Joseph being sold into slavery, myrrh is mentioned as one of the commodities the Ishmaelite traders possessed (Genesis 37:25). In Exodus, God instructs Moses to use liquid myrrh to make a perfumed anointing oil for the Tent of Meeting (the wilderness precursor to the Tabernacle) and to anoint Aaron and his sons as priests (Exodus 30:23-25). Oil of myrrh is also used in the story of Esther as part of her year-long purification ritual in preparation of going before King Ahasuerus (Esther 2:12). In addition, myrrh is written about in 1 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Psalms, Proverbs, and Song of Solomon as well.
In the Gospels, myrrh is mentioned three more times, and this is where our comparison takes off. Myrrh was a featured item in the gifts brought to the baby Jesus by the wisemen. The gospel of Matthew depicts it by saying, “And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Mt 2:11). This is a strange baby gift indeed! While gold is said to represent Jesus’s kingship and frankincense His holiness, myrrh symbolizes the humanity of the Christ, the bitterness, suffering, and affliction of Christ, and foreshadows the sacrificial, agonizing death He will endure on the cross for all the people of the world.
Myrrh will be offered two more times to Jesus, once to alleviate suffering and once as part of the embalming process after His death. After Jesus is presented before Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, Pilate delivers Him to be crucified because the chief priests and mob demand it. Before they led Him away, Roman soldiers mocked Him, spat on Him, hit Him in the face, pressed a crown of thorns onto His head, and flogged Him. Then they led Him away to nail Him to a cross. “And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it” (Mark 15:23). Myrrh was often used as an analgesic to dull pain. The fact that Jesus did not accept the wine mixed with myrrh may indicate that He would not lessen the degree of punishment He bore on our behalf.
The last mention of myrrh in the life of Jesus is seen in the hours immediately after His death. The gospel of John describes briefly how Jesus’s body was prepared for burial by some of His followers. Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the council who had not consented to the crucifixion, was a follower of Jesus. After the death of Jesus, Joseph petitioned Pilate to take the body of Jesus and prepare it for burial. Another follower of Jesus, Nicodemus, helped to prepare the body as well. “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.” (Jn 19:39). The substance myrrh had come full circle in the life of Jesus, beginning as a gift for the Christ child and ending as part of an embalming mixture. Myrrh had fulfilled its purpose, just as Jesus, Who was born ultimately to lay down His life to save us sinners, had fulfilled His.
This Christmas, if you find yourself far from God, it's not too late to begin or renew a relationship with Him. He loves you; He wants to welcome you back to Himself. It's what Jesus was born to do, after all: to make a way for people to be reconciled with God. All it takes is a decision. Here's a simple prayer to help you get started:
Lord Jesus, I surrender to You. Lead me and guide me for the rest of my days. Give me a hunger for your Word and for discipleship. Amen.
If you prayed that prayer today, I'd love to hear from you! It would be a privilege to help you on your journey with the Lord. Merry Christmas, and blessings to you, my friend.