A couple of years or so after Jesus was born travellers from the East landed on his doorstep with three rather strange gifts for him; gold, frankincense and myrrh.
But they handily describe the three seasons of Jesus’ ministry – myrrh (used in embalming the dead) to picture the first season of his ministry as our Saviour who died for us, frankincense (used in the temple) to picture the second season of his ministry as our temple High Priest cleaning us up and healing us, and gold (used as gifts for kings) to picture the third season of his ministry as our King ushering in God’s kingdom to take over forever from the mess we’ve made. But as our Saviour, High Priest and King, how does he make all this happen?
There’s a clue in Ephesians 4:7-8, that Jesus graces US with gifts too, the purpose of which is to “build us up until we all reach ….the whole measure of the fullness of Christ,” also stated in Ephesians 3:19. That’s the ultimate goal, so what gifts do we need from him to make it happen?
Scripture mentions three gifts we need: forgiveness, faith and freedom. And just as the three gifts given to Jesus handily describe the three seasons of his ministry, these three gifts from Jesus handily describe the three stages in our journey as Christians toward that “fullness of Christ” – or, as Paul describes it elsewhere, our journey to being “transformed into Christ’s likeness” (2 Corinthians 3:18), and being “given the “fullness of his Deity in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9-10).
And all three stages of that journey to the fullness of Christ are necessary: Forgiveness is essential in getting us started, faith is what enables us to continue, and freedom is what we experience as a result.
On “freedom,” for instance, we have Romans 8:21 telling us “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” So on our journey to the fullness of Christ, we are going to experience true freedom, just as Jesus experiences true freedom as a child (or Son) of God. It’s part of his fullness, which he wants us to experience too (John 17:24-26). And as Colossians 2:10 says, it’s “GIVEN” to us. It’s a gift Jesus gives us, because we cannot create it on our own.
Which is where the second gift from Jesus comes in: faith – the kind of faith Jesus had, that every step of his journey was in the safe hands of his Father and being directed by the Holy Spirit. Well, that’s given to us by Jesus too. It’s “through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God,” Ephesians 2:8, so that we firmly believe we are “God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do,” verse 10.
It’s why Paul could say in Galatians 2:20, “The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God.” In other words, the faith given to Paul by Jesus enabled Paul to trust whatever God had in mind for him to do.
But none of this would have got off the ground if it wasn’t for forgiveness, because we’ve “all fallen short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23. We all missed out, therefore, on the faith and freedom we could have experienced as God’s children. But, fortunately, God included the gift of forgiveness too, “freely given us in the One he loves,” Ephesians 1:6. It’s “in him,” referring to Jesus, that “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us,” verses 7-8.
So, forgiveness is a gift, faith is a gift, and so is the freedom that comes with being a son of God. Every stage of our journey as Christians is a gift, and all provided by God through his Son.
How fitting, then, that the ministry of Jesus is described in three gifts given to him, and how his ministry is then fulfilled in the three gifts he gives to us, so that we as God’s children experience the same fullness he has as the Son of God. He received three gifts for that purpose, and he gives three gifts for that purpose too.