Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh
Daily Meditations on the Bible
by Klaas Schilder
Translated by Roelof A. Janssen
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Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh December 27-31 in English
Goud, wierook en myrrhe in het Nederlands 27-31 December
Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh
. . . and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matt. 2:11.
Read: Matt. 2:1-12 Sing: Ps. 68:11
Last night, on New Years Eve, it was the last time in the face of a fleeting year, that God and our souls met each other. And when we felt He was there, did we then not discover two things in His presence? In the first place, from the beginning to the end of the year, He had worked differently than we had expected. In the second place, that we had spoken, prayed, and worked differently than we had promised Him at the beginning of the year. Behold, again we have a new beginning, and again we have spoken and prayed. Perhaps our prayers were very smooth this morning, without any stammering, even though we may have confessed that we did stammer. Perhaps we even told God that this year we would sacrifice to Him our gold, our frankincense, and our myrrh, the best and most noble things of our life. But later, when we come to the end of the year again, will Gods work also then not prove to have been different than we hope for now? And we ourselves, will we still redeem our promises, if at the hour of our sacrificial deed, Gods way again will be completely different than we in the hour of our vows had expected?
Now listen to what the wise men did. They came all the way from the east to greet the Child. They had filled their treasure bags with beautiful presents. They thought they would find a King with many people standing behind Him, with a throne already prepared for Himself. Who would not be glad to carry presents to a palace? "For whoever has, to him more will be given." For this reason the wise men came to honour the King with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But that was only at the hour of promise. Promises are not expensive. Yet, how God tested them when they found the Child! There was no throne for Him. And there were no people either. Their star did not rest above a palace. Then in their hearts they thought of another truth, "Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away." They would not have said it in these words, yet the question would have burned in their hearts, "Should we take the treasures back again? The King is not what we dreamt . . ." But God overcame them: they truly opened their treasure bags for Him and all was indeed for Him! The wise men understood that it is easy to imagine giving gifts to a Lord of our imagination, but it is difficult to give treasures to a King who makes no effort to be as we considered Him to be.
Thus, we also know it is easy to promise our greatest possessions to God today. That is correct: let us fill our treasure bags to the brim for Him! But let us also leave Him the right to continually say to us: "I am who I am." For if we do not let go of the God of our imagination for the God of reality, truly, our treasures will perish with us. Only because the true sacrifice is prepared by God Himself is it possible to bring a real sacrifice to the true God. As long as we sacrifice with open eyes.
A Silent Departure
And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
Read: Ps. 72:1-11 Sing: Ps. 72:6
Usually we read the story of the wise men in this manner: we admire God who made them travel along the highway, and we resign ourselves to the unavoidable that they had to depart via a back road, stealthily, with the ferry across the Jordan in a quiet departure. Why did Herod have to spoil the gospel of God?
Though it be far from us to claim that Herod is free of guilt, we do not believe in a God who lets Himself be forced by this Edomite to re-route the great river of salvation and revelation into a little stream: a stream which God would not have dug out if Herod had not been there. We quickly realize that the silent departure of the wise men was not a loss to the evangelist with his glowing story. Instead, the gospel of Gods Self-revelation finds its crowning factor in the wise men of the east. When those wise men took a detour to return to their own country, Gods plan was not cut short along the way, but was fully accomplished! Before and after the wise men came from the east to the west, many had come and would come to find the King of the west, as it used to be said. The east of that time looked toward the west because it was very tired of sacrificing to the gods, while from the west the light would arise over the world. This hunger for something new even caused a whole royal family to move to the west. At that time, this family decorated the temple of Jerusalem with gold and burned incense: for wasnt Jerusalem a great city? Yet, the wise men who came to Bethlehem left their gold and frankincense in the back of a house, poor and empty, far from the temple. For God caused them to believe in a King who indeed came from the west but would rule over the east and over all the nations. That is why, also in the east, they could wait for Him. Worship must be in spirit and in truth. When they came along the highway, their hearts were still going astray; they also were looking for a King in the west. And they wondered, how would the king of the west make do without the west of the king? But soon they would return via a detour, a back road. Then God taught them two things during every step along that starless road. First, this King did not need any people or country to become king because He Himself makes His people and prepares His country as well. Second, he who worships the King should go in quietude. Jerusalem would have honoured them as discoverers if they had returned to it. But they themselves found it very simple: they had not discovered, but had been discovered, discovered by that King and His God. And doesnt that indeed cause one to be very quiet and to move with utmost care? For silence endures prayer and prayers endure silence. And he who offers frankincense should not desire the smoke of frankincense for himself. The offering must be perfect: all the fragrance of the frankincense must go to Jesus.
The Other Way
. . . they departed into their own country another way. Matt. 2:12.
So he went another way . . . 1 Kings 13:10.
Read: 1 Kings 13:1-10 Sing: Ps. 119:45
Various people have mentioned that the wise men of the east were not the only ones who returned along another way than the way by which they had come. The same is told of a wise man, a certain Tiridates, who at a later date came from the east to the west to seek the rescuer of the world in the imperial palace at Rome. Several centuries earlier, the man of God who was sent from Judah to fling his flaming curses against the altar of the false religion, built by Jeroboam in Bethel, also returned along another way than the one by which he had come. Some people say: "The one copied the other."
After some reflection, we may be grateful for the reminder of the similarity between the wise men from the east and the man of God from Judah. Both chose an other way. And by that they made the people with whom they wanted no fellowship ashamed. The man of God, who startled Bethel with his strict preaching of repentance, immediately had to move on along an other way. By doing so he showed sinful Bethel that they no longer deserved a prophet of God. Thus, the return of the wise men from the east was also a slap in the face for Herod, his court, and his scribes: these hypocrites were not worthy of the fellowship of Gods favoured ones . . .
Now notice the double outcome the decision of taking the other way had for the souls of the unfaithful. There was a prophet living in Bethel who had endured the apostasy for a long time . . . because he had neglected to protest against the apostasy of Jeroboams well paid priests. When that man heard that the messenger of repentance had left Judah by another way, his conscience accused him, for this was also a humiliation for him. He saddled his donkey and tried to soothe his conscience by calling the man of God back for a cordial visit. It was wrong, certainly! But, at least that man was ashamed of himself, his conscience could still condemn him. But Herod . . . O, that Herod! When he noticed that the wise men could not entrust their pious secret of the Messiah to him, he also felt the slap in his face. But his conscience was hardened. He was full of anger. He took the sword and determined to murder the Child.
During the time of the old prophet living in Bethel, prophecy was still in the beginning of its apostasy . . . and one could still be ashamed. But in the days of Herod the prophecy had been completely spoiled . . . and one was no longer ashamed. Let us be careful with God and His Word. Whoever stains the revealed Word of God with his hostile ideas will obtain a conscience of stone and the hardening of hearts makes of those who search the Scriptures men who lift up the sword against God and His Anointed. "The other way" bypasses the official Church. No one who has seen God is allowed to choose that way on his own. But when God Himself directs the stream of salvation in a bypass around Jerusalem, the Church must take note: it is judgment.
And on their having withdrawn, lo, a messenger of the Lord does appear in a dream to Joseph . . . Matt. 2:13.
Read: Matt. 2:13-18 Sing: Ps. 40:3
Gods words are never superfluous. In all He says, there is meaning. Nothing just happens. When God writes a letter, the address itself is already part of it.
You see that with Joseph. God has a message about the Child Jesus. That heavenly message is not directed to Mary, but to Joseph. And now our hearts will ask, "Should not Mary, rather than Joseph, have received this heavenly appearance?" If we compare her position as mother to that of her husband, we would say, "Yes." The message concerns the Child, His future and care. Why does God bypass the mother, who suffered more for the Child than her husband? The message is directly connected to the appearance of the wise men. To whom could God possibly better appear than to Mary, who considered all that occurred there with the Child in the deepest considerations of her heart? (Luke. 2:19). The message does not so much touch the mutual relationship of the married couple as the relationship of the Child to the world. Now then, who would have reflected about that the most? Would Mary not have? Joseph laboured over the questions of who Mary was for him and who he was to be for Mary. But at the same time, Mary struggled for the Child. She considered more the question of who was to be the mother of the Child . . . and her husband, she thought he would simply remain who he was. For this reason we would have said, "Since now the way of the Child in the world is the subject of the heavenly tidings, the message should go to Mary, and not to Joseph . . . at least not to him alone . . .
Yet the angel bypasses Mary and speaks to Joseph. Why? Because the Child did not only descend from a woman, but also, and especially, was born under the law. Where the law dominates, the person steps back and the calling as office bearer comes to the foreground. Thus, Marys person is of less importance than Josephs office: isnt he the father of the house, the lawful caretaker of the Child, appointed by God? Indeed, he is. And Mary, Joseph, and the Child, must do everything in subjection to the law. And you, who read this, must also be subject to that law, for Christs sake. Gods secret counsel does not find those who seek themselves, who only want to hear about their own favourite subjects. Only those who spend their hours with God will be in heaven. And, the Marys and the Josephs have to discipline their joy by the law, with a practice of discipline that is singular for each person. When God comes to instruct you, tear up the wish list of your own favourite subjects; do it for the sake of your life!
For every privilege is a calling.
And for this reason all self-willed actions that do not recognize the authority of the calling, are a bereavement of the blessing.
. . . behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream . . .
Read: Joel 2:28-32 Sing: Ps. 110:5, 6
When Joel prophesied, he predicted the miracle of the coming Messianic age, the "day of the Lord." On that day not only the mighty men, robed and anointed with oil, but also the simple and quiet in the land, would dream dreams and see visions. They also would become bearers of Gods most special revelation.
When the Child was born in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary were of the simple and quiet in the land. And behold they dreamt their dreams and saw their visions. Also in the realm of revelation God sent the rich away empty, for He bypassed the scribes and filled with revelations the hearts of the poor, whose heads lacked oil. He had also told them that, with the Child, the Messianic age had come to all people. Voices from below had also said and sung it.
Thus prophecy was fulfilled, though only in part. At least, that is what it looked like. For Joel had said not only to the dreamers, but also to those on guard, that there would be astonishment on the messianic day. God was going to let the world crack, and blood, fire, and pillars of smoke would be His signs. Where now was thi s prophecy? Ah, all that came out of it was this: Joseph, Mary, and the Child had to flee because of the murderous desires of a tyrant. They dreamt the prophecy was being fulfilled. But the dream also said, "Do not count on a miracle, but flee to Egypt." How could slaves resist a king? What is a dreamer of God able to do against the whims of a ruler? Thus, prophecy was fulfilled and at the same time not fulfilled.
Then those two had to learn a hard lesson. God was silent and so was the Child. But God cannot lie. Nothing remained except to conclude that there was but one day of the Lord. That one day, however, was divided over several hours. The Messianic "age" spans several "ages." They dreamt out of God: thus the beginning of the end had come. But the miracle that was going to astonish the world didnt appear! It was still only the beginning of the end. And only faith and patience can wait for the end of this beginning. So they had to believe what seemed madness: that the dreams of those who were the called of God were the beginning of the tearing down of the world; that the particular action of God's revelation would uproot mountains and disrupt the foundations of the creation for His elect. For between the beginning and the completion of Gods work, and between the morning and evening of the "day of the Lord," lies a time, just long enough to make the faith of Gods dreamers of dreams perfect. This faith repeats the text: "Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven" (Heb. 12:26), even when nothing else is happening but a quiet dream at night and a secret flight in the sober early morning shimmerings. Because only faith is sober.
. . . flee into Egypt . . . Matt. 2:13.
Read: Job 19:5-15 [See Preface.] Sing: Ps. 103:7
Flee into Egypt. What is so difficult about that that they had to flee, or that they had to flee exactly to Egypt? Many say, "There was no better place of refuge than Egypt. Many Jews were living there. Mary and Joseph would be able to speak their own language there, maintain their customs, and find a synagogue to thank God right away that He had made the unsuitable escape so suitable. And Herod, whose lips longed for the blood of infants, had nothing to say in Egypt. The distance was not that far. The flight indeed was bitter, but the idea of Egypt was a sweet mixture in the bitter cup of gall."
Indeed, that is what many people think.
But we will have to reconsider this thought. God does not take back with the one hand what He gives with the other. Joseph had to flee. That was inconvenient. It was a riddle. But he had to flee to a suitable country, the choice of which was no riddle, but very reasonable. But now the burden does not become lighter but heavier, because two riddles are less of a burden to the soul than one; and three less than two, and four less than three. A whole row of difficult questions will hurt less than one major riddle which can torture one for days. If God had said, "Joseph, you and the Child must do nothing against Herod," then that already would have been difficult. For had the Messianic age not come, and was the Child not the One who shook the world? But if God now also said: "Joseph, you must stay where you are and I will strike Herods soldiers with blindness, or freeze their outstretched arm against the Child, or send fire from heaven against those who mock the Child," then the amazement about the one riddle (the fragility of the child) would have been consumed by the amazement about all those other mysteries. The one miracle would have repressed the other. Joseph would have given up about the one riddle and begun with the other, while Mary would not have kept anything in her heart, for she would very piously and sweetly have hopped from the one branch to the other.
Egypt was very suitable. But precisely because it was so suitable it was a terrible and unsuitable place for those who have to deal with God. Since God organized the flight so perfectly, all the attention focussed on that one difficulty: Why does He want the flight of His Son, seeing that He is the One who shakes the world? God put that one divine mystery in a whole range of practical human, nearly too human, considerations about the shortest way, the most safe asylum, and the greatest ease. Joseph did not get a chance to rid himself of the many problems of that one riddle. And Josephs God prohibits also us to play out the one difficulty against the other. Count your difficulties, count them one by one. But weigh them first! For it is easy to multiply riddles. Yet it is burdensome to appear with one question before God without drawing the attention away from it. All repressing damages the soul, and he who looks for problems is usually the most frivolous of people.
. . . that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet . . . Matt. 2:15
Read: Isaiah 24:13-23 Sing: Ps. 132:1, 2
Thus they went into exile, Joseph and Mary, and they did not know what they were up to with God and the prophets. In their dreaming of dreams the prophecy was right, yet not in the demonstrations of strength: the world was not lifted from its foundations, although the holy family was. At night the prophecy seemed to have been fulfilled, but not during the day. And who wouldnt rather trust the day than the night?
Yet all of this was arranged in such a way that prophecy would be fulfilled. God had not only said that the simple would dream dreams and that He would shake the world by the Child, but also that He would call His Son out of Egypt. Joel spoke of dreams, and Micah said of Bethlehem that it would be the city of the birth. Yet, Hosea had spoken of the son who was called out of Egypt. The dreamers had understood something of Joels dreams, and the scribes had understood everything of Micahs indications. But God Himself would now explain Hoseas word. No scribe had thought that the Messiah would tread from Egypt and for this reason would first have to go to Egypt.
But what the scribes could not say to the wise men from the east, God would now show to that worried couple fleeing to Egypt. "Does it worry you, Joseph, that the Child must go to Egypt? Do you think that the flight to Egypt stops the fulfilment of prophecy? No, Joseph, appearances deceive. The Messiah can only reach the cities and villages of Galilee and Judea, and the ways of the world, via Egypt. Thus, the journey into Egypt is no intermission in the process of fulfilling the prophetic promise, but the continuation and the fulfilment of it. Egypt is not a dead-end road but the passage way of the Saviour of the world. The flight is necessary not in spite of but because of the prophecy. Joel was right, but so was Hosea! All Gods words are one Word."
The choice which led to Egypt seemed too sober a human choice. Yet, it was in the highest sense Divine. It fulfilled prophecy. Here the human became Divine and the ordinary a miracle. The plain fields of human reasoning were chiseled out by the eternal council of God. The flight was a royal procession. And in that same hour when Joseph said, "Gods field isnt blooming yet," because the Child must go to Egypt, Gods land was flowering in abundance because of the good pleasure of the Lord. Behold, how joyful it continues! See, how "prosperously the King is riding"!
But there is also difficulty in living in the days of fulfilment, in the days of the ripening. Whoever desires to be with Gods simple servant, Joseph, in such critical times must be able to endure that the foolishness of God will prove to be wisdom, that the absence of office (when he escapes) will become by Gods providence pure fulfilment of the office (when the prophecy is being fulfilled in his flight). For the Father is always working and the Child is working too; yet we do not see it.
Calling and Calling Again
. . . and I called My son out of Egypt. Hosea 11:1.
Read: Ps. 81:7-17 Sing: Ps. 81:4, 5
Is it true, as it has been said, that "world history is the judgment of the world?" No. It is the delay of the judgment of the world. We see in world history not only the postponing of judgment, but also the establishing of mercy. For God, by putting in between the first sin and the last judgment a history of many centuries, opened for Himself the way for the sending of His Son.
Thus history can only be understood as a wrestling match of mercy against judgment. Gods mercy boasts against judgment. And this boast of mercy also explains the history of the Church, because judgment begins at the house of God. Therefore judgment calls out against Gods house. The call of judgment purifies Gods sons and cleanses His house. And in such days Gods people must go to Egypt to become black from bondage. In that way, people will again learn to cry for freedom, which it gambled away so rashly. But when Gods sons call from the depth again to God, mercy boasts against judgment. And in such days God calls His sons out of Egypt to freedom.
So it went with Israel. This people was Gods firstborn son. That son had to go to Egypt. For when the patriarchs sold Joseph as a slave to Egypt, they sold themselves at the same time. Did they not give up the spiritual freedom of Israels house for a few pieces of silver, which they had received from the hands of some heathens? It soon became a judgment, that they, who were sons, as beggars had to go to Egypt, because the bread was not in the barns of the free sons but piled up by God in those of a heathen people in bondage. To ask for bread and pay taxes that is the judgment for those who bargained away the freedom of their own house. Yet, when the sighing seed of patriarchs rises from the brick factories of Egypt to Gods throne, then again mercy boasted against judgment. And under the leadership of Moses, God called Israel, that firstborn son, out of Egypt.
God called. But He had to call again. When God calls this son out of Egypt t0day, He must call him again tomorrow. Because in this son lives sin (Hosea 11:2), and sin is the journey to Egypt. Thus, God must call and call always again. Mercy indeed boasts against the judgment, yet if God does not reach further than this son, namely the Israel according to the flesh, then all the boasting of mercy is in vain. He who boasts must indeed also triumph. Mercy must completely overcome judgment. God once had to call a Son, whom He had to call from Egypt but once. If that great Son had not come, then Gods call had been in vain. For deliverance is not with man. His sin caused the lawsuit between mercy and judgment to be inconclusive. Not in man will history come to its rest; sin always stops the solution; and the sinner wrestles against his own acquittal.
Called for Once and Always
. . . Out of Egypt I have called My Son. Matt. 2:15.
Read: Hosea 11 Sing: Ps. 81:8, 9
Yesterday we saw that history will not come to rest in man. For as long as sin exercises its desires, which are contrary to the freedom that is from God, so long the wrestling match of mercy will not gain the victory over judgment.
But what was impossible for the earthly son God has wrought in the Son who is from heaven. The great Son has come: Jesus Christ is His name. And He is Gods only begotten Son in a much higher sense than Israel ever could be called. Also, on this Son came frightening days when Joseph exchanged His gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the journey to Egypt, to live again from Egypts hand. Then judgment called against the holy family, against the house of God, because the Child came to "bear the wrath of God against sin during all the time He lived on earth." For this reason the Son went to Egypt. But then the miracle occurred: Gods Son was in Egypt, yet in Him, different than in His fathers, lived no sin. While sin was the journey to Egypt, there was no journey to Egypt in Him. When God sent this Son He was willing to go. He has always been willing to go to Egypt. He would go to Egypt to the end, for it was the time of fulfilment of prophecy. Thus, He always had to be willing to go to the bondage of Egypt, until He was crucified in the city which spiritually was called Egypt (Rev. 11:8). Yet being in Egypt, and eating the bread of Egypt, He nevertheless would not be of Egypt. There was nothing in Him Egyptian, because He was the Holy One of God, separated from sinners and having become higher than the heavens.
Soon God would call this Son from Egypt. Then Gods calling would reach its rest. Calling once would be enough. Christ would never let God call in vain. In Christ there was no sin. He would never serve any Baals. Because He was Israels true and pure son He would always be busy with the things of His Father. Let mercy now freely boast against judgment. For mercy was now busy overthrowing judgment. Into eternity Egypt would never again enslave the free sons of God. God had called His Son, the only begotten One, from Egypt. What the people of Israel lived through was not only fully completed in Jesus Christ, as a shadow into reality, but also cleansed from all its sinful additives. It was brought to perfection by purification. Israels history would have been a foolish ring of events without the Christ. But now that Christ has fulfilled that history in Himself and for Himself, we see in the zigzag line of Israel, and in the extreme trail of tears of Joseph and Mary, the straight line of Gods will. God explains all of history in the Christ and brings it to rest. The rest of history is found only in Christ. Because the battle between mercy and judgment was decided by Him.
Providence and Prudence
But when he heard that Archelaus had become king in Judea in the place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there; but being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee.
Read: Matt. 2:13-23 Sing: Ps. 37:2, 3
God sends His children out on pilgrims ways but does not give them directions or a map of the area. Just look at Joseph. He was directed by a particular providence of God, but also by a particular prudence of man. There was a particular divine providence which revealed its most peculiar mysteries to Joseph along distinct ways. In a dream God indicated to him to escape to Egypt. And faster than royal couriers could run, the heavenly messenger came to tell Joseph that Herod was dead. Thus, Joseph heard that he was allowed and had to return. This was Gods providence!
But in all of this, human prudence was not excluded. On the contrary: heaven correctly said as much as Joseph needed to know. No more was reported to him besides this. Gods words are distributed sparingly and, as a result, are also very valuable. For this reason the angel indeed told him that he had to go to the country of Israel but did not mention to which province in that country. The coachman of Gods holy Child had to reflect carefully which city and which village had been assigned to him. God had indeed told him that the one tyrant was dead, the tyrant who had killed some children. But that another tyrant had become king, who had not killed some dozens of children, but murdered thousands of adults, pilgrims on the way to the temple, a tyrant whose little finger was thicker than Herods loins, had not been revealed to Joseph by heaven. People had to inform him of this. And they had to inform him of this not when he was still in Egypt, but when he had already come to the border of the country of Israel. Joseph himself had to think about this, and with the most delicate care select the place where the Child, who was the most valuable Pledge, could live. He himself had to determine that Judea, where the new king ruled in his wickedness, was a dangerous place for them. Only when his mind was satisfied about what he had to do, did his prudence obtain approbation by a heavenly work of providence. For only then did God say to him, by a dream of revelation, that he was right, that Galilee, and not Judea, was the province to live in with the Child.
God is always at work in such ways. When He gave pillars of fire and clouds to Israel by His particular providence, then still the eyes of Hobab, the expert in the desert, had to serve the prudence of Israel. Gods work does not eliminate our work, but puts it into motion. Thus, you should also tread the paths of your life with fear and trembling, because it is God who works in you the supreme knowledge of His ways for His good pleasure. "Lift up your eyes on high" for that is where providence is. But also direct them down below in extreme prudence. Be then careful as a serpent, for you are nothing without prudence, but be also upright as a dove, for you are nothing without providence.
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