A Gift for Christ
December 19th, 1954 @ 10:50 AM
A GIFT FOR CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-19-54 10:50 a. m.
You’re listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message – a Christmas message from the second chapter of the first gospel. Matthew, the second chapter:
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came magi –
Parsi priests –
there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
Saying, "Where is He that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him."
When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him.
And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
And they said unto him –
and they quote from Micah [Micah 5:2] –
"In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
‘And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the little towns of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule My people Israel. ‘"
Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, "Go and search diligently for the young Child; and when ye have found Him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship Him also."
The low-down hypocrite! What he intended to do was to slay the Child.
When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, and it came and stood over where the young Child was
And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
– to get out of that place where Herod was and to find the Child –
And when they were come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
And my text and the sermon is in the last: "And when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh" [Matthew 2:11].
It is primeval in the heart of the man God made that he bring to God a gift. It is a natural reaction. One, and the most ancient, of the Hebrew words translated "sacrifice" is minchah. And the meaning of minchah, the Hebrew word, is "a present, a gift." You find it in the fourth chapter of the Book of Genesis:
And Abel, when he brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his minchah – to his sacrifice, to his present, to his gift, to his offering.
But unto Cain and to his minchahHe had not respect.
Who taught those boys to bring a gift, a minchah, a present, to God? It came out of the nature of their souls. You are that way. If there is somebody you love, there is no higher joy in your life than to bring to that someone a minchah, a gift, an offering, a present.
So it is a natural reaction of one’s heart who loves Christ to dedicate to Him an offering and a gift: "And they opened their treasures, and presented unto Him gifts" [Matthew 2:11].
Judas Iscariot was the only one that couldn’t understand Mary when she took her alabaster box and broke it and all of the perfume filled the house [John 12:3]. The odor filled the house, and it covered the body and the feet of the Lord Jesus. He [Judas] didn’t understand that [John 12:4-5]. He had a loveless heart, and he had a scarless life [John 12:6]. He didn’t understand it, but anybody else would. It was Mary’s reaction to the Lord Jesus. She gave Him the best, most precious gift that she had.
When our Lord Jesus died, Joseph of Arimathea said, "He may have my own tomb. I give it to Him" [Matthew 27:57-60]. Nicodemus said, "I will buy spices and embalm His body" [John 19:39]. And do you know how much he bought? The Bible says he brought one hundred pounds [John 19:39]. Think of how many spices that is. He brought one hundred pounds! It was for the Lord. And if it had taken five hundred pounds, Nicodemus still would have brought it to the Lord: his minchah – a gift, an offering.
And so with these wise men, these magi, these Zoroastrian priests who found God in the heavens and in the stars: when they found the Child, they opened their treasures. They had brought them along. "They opened their treasures, and presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh" [Matthew 2:11].
And they gave Him gold. He was poor [Luke 2:24]. The Lord Jesus was born in a stable, laid in a manger, wrapped in rags – swaddling clothes – didn’t have any pretty little garment like a child born in your home [Luke 2:7]. Poor mother had no clothes, had no garments, so she wrapped Him in rags.
Poor people on their way to Egypt [Matthew 2:13-15] and down there in their sojourn in Egypt, poor people had to have help, and so God provided them help. In the heart of one of those Magi priests, God placed the disposition to bring to the Child a gift of gold [Matthew 2:11].
We’d do so today, but where would you find Him? How do you find Christ today? "I have a gift of money. I’d like to give it to the Lord. How shall I do it?" Where would you find Him?
One of the very and most beautiful of all of the parts that are woven in the gospel message of Christ is this: that He identifies Himself with His people.
Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, "Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
For I was an hungred, and you gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you took Me in;
I was naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came unto Me."
Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, "Lord, when did we ever see Thee an hungred, and fed Thee? Or thirsty and gave Thee drink?
When saw we Thee a stranger and took Thee in, or naked and clothed Thee?
When saw we sick and visited Thee, or in prison and came unto Thee?"
Then the King shall answer and say unto them, "Verily, truly, I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me."
When the Lord Jesus appeared to Paul, Saul of Tarsus, on the road to Damascus, He said, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" [Acts 9:3-4] – identified Himself with His people.
When the Lord turned to Simon Peter and said, "Simon, lovest thou Me?" Simon said, "Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love You." Then, Jesus said, "Feed My lambs; take care of My sheep" [John 21:15-17].
Where shall I find the Lord, and how shall I bring Him my gift? The Lord identifies Himself with His people: the hungry, the poor, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned, the needy. There is the Lord.
So when I come to church tonight, I shall bring a gift for Christ. Some shall be foodstuff wrapped in white paper. Some will be clothing wrapped in white paper. And in my hand I shall bring a gift of money, and it shall be for the poor of other continents and other nations and other languages and other tribes and families. In that way shall I bring a gift for the Lord.
These three wise men could have given gifts to one another, and I guess it would have been all right. But, oh, we’d not had that story nor its message and its meaning. For you and I to give gifts to one another at Christmastime is all right. The Lord would not find fault with your doing it. But oh my soul, my soul! For us to give gifts to one another on His birthday and forget Him seems to me unpardonable and unspeakable and inexplicable. I shall bring a gift for the Lord.
And how shall I find Him among the needy of His world? A black African Congo came to me one time. I don’t know how he had become a Christian and, evidently, had gone to a Christian school. But in the card that he gave was – at the top of it was the picture and below was a piece of doggerel that he had written. It’s not poetry, but it had a barb that stayed in my heart. And this is the poem that that black Christian, Congo African had written below his picture. He called it "A Cry from the Congo":
We appeal to you, O Christians,
In lands beyond the sea,
Why didn’t you tell us sooner,
"Christ died for you and me"?
Nineteen hundred years have passed
Since disciples were told to go
To the uttermost parts of the earth and teach.
Why didn’t you let us know?
Hear this pathetic cry of ours,
O dwellers in Christian lands,
For Africa stands before you
With pleading, outstretched hands.
You may not be able to come yourself,
But some in your stead can go.
Will you not send us teachers?
Will you not let us know?
Yes, we will; and our way is in these gifts that we bring to the Lord Jesus Christ. "And they presented unto Him gifts; gold" – an offering of money.
"And they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense" [Matthew 2:11]. Frankincense: from time immemorial, from the time of creation, frankincense, the burning of incense, has been emblematic of the ascending prayers of God’s people to the Father in heaven. When Zacharias [Luke 1:5], of the course of Abijah, went into the Holy Place and there on the golden altar offered up incense to God at the time of the evening prayers [Luke 1:8-9], the people were outside praying as the smoke of the frankincense turned upward to God in heaven [Luke 1:10]. And it was then that the angel Gabriel appeared on the right side of the golden altar and made the announcement of the birth of the forerunner and of the birth of the Christ Child [Luke 1:11-20]. It is a picture of the ascending prayers of the people. At this time of the year, especially, our prayers ascended are offered unto God in behalf, first, of the peace of the world.
When I think of Christmas, I think of peace. I think of the stars that shine brightly. I think of the hope of the world. Christmastime: peace time; Christmastime – the very antithesis of war and hatred. And the angels sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace" [Luke 2:13-14]: peace, peace. And in this day of terrible, and paralyzing, and indescribable atomic warfare, how earnestly should all men everywhere who believe in God and who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, how earnestly should their prayers ascend for the peace of the world.
I do not deny, nor am I persuaded otherwise, but that America could come out triumphant in any war. I think America could almost wage war against any combination of nations in the earth, but I also think that when we destroy them, we destroy ourselves. I think it’s the same thing as if two men were wrestling and fighting on top of a forty-story building and both of them fall off in the fight. That shall happen to America in any war that we wage.
We would win it, I suppose. But after we won it, what kind of a Marshall Plan would you employ to take care of the devastated millions who survive and of the nations that were torn – their railroads, their communications, their cities in dust and ashes? What would you do and where would you turn? It would be a world of woe and despair and hopelessness and poverty. War: the specter of war today is paralyzing in itself.
They offered unto Him frankincense [Matthew 2:11]: a picture of prayer – our praying for the peace of the world, our praying for the deliverance of the captive. And I’m using phrases here that I used at Christmastime – "for the peace of the world, praying for the deliverance of the captive."
I mentioned a while ago how many people are captive and subject today nobody knows. Only God could total up that vast and illimitable multitude, but they are millions, and millions, and millions, and millions. Almost half of the world’s population today lives under a tyrant’s heel. They know not what any day may bring forth: the arrest in the middle of the night, the tearing up of families at home, the sending away into concentration camps, the destruction of all things that you and I hold dear and precious. They are held captive. Who breaks that awful grip that holds the nations and the people in tyranny? Who does it?
I go back to my first premise. If we tried by force, we not only destroy them, we destroy ourselves. There must be some recourse and some appeal to a higher power and a more glorious way than the way of the use of the hydrogen and the atomic bomb. That power must lie in the power of prayer. Alfred Lord Tennyson said, "More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of" [from "Morte D’Arthur," by Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1842].
It is easily possible, easily possible – it could be easily probable that there could be a revolution on the inside of those Soviet countries, those great Red nations. They could quarrel among themselves and in their own civil wars among themselves – those leaders in Kremlin [Moscow, Russia] and in Peking [Beijing, China] – it is easily possible that out of their own disastrous inner feuds, there might be found a way to bring liberty to the captive millions of the earth.
Why not ask God for it? "Lord, rather than the offering of the blood of our men and of the nations of the world upon the sacrifice of the altar of Mars and of war, O God, bear Thy strong arm to intervene and deliver the captives of the world."
"And they offered unto Him frankincense" [Matthew 2:11] – prayer for the deliverance of the captive. "And they offered unto Him frankincense" [Matthew 2:11] – prayers for the remission of sins, for the saving of the lost of the world.
"And by the knowledge of Him" – said Zacharias in his paean of praise and glory [Luke 1:67-69] – "And by the knowledge of Him shall there be remission of sins" [from Luke 1:77]. Men are lost without Christ. However you say that – theologically, metaphysically, scientifically, astronomically, terrestrially, historically – any way in the world you say it, men are lost without Christ [Matthew 7:21-23]. This whole universe is chaos itself. History has no destiny, and there is no certain goal or aim for any life, nor does it have meaning outside of the Lord Jesus. Our whole fabric of life has its key power in the Lord Jesus [Colossians 1:16].
Men are lost without Christ. They die in hopeless despair without the Lord Jesus [Ephesians 2:12]. We pray for their conversion – that they might come to know God, that they might come to know Him in Christ Jesus. That’s the great missionary propaganda that lies back of all that we try to do in the churches of the Lord Jesus [Acts 1:8; Romans 10:9-10, 14-15]. "Offered unto Him frankincense" [Matthew 2:11]: prayers for the conversion of the world, for the saving of the lost.
I never had anything that stayed in my mind more beautifully than when I was a student in the seminary and a pastor from Lebanon, Kentucky said that an attorney, a lawyer, in his town and in his church came up to him and said, "Pastor, I have come upon happy days. I have come upon affluence and prosperity, and I want to do something for God. What shall I do?"
He was a wonderful preacher and a wonderful pastor, and he said to his prospering attorney – he said, "Why don’t you support a missionary?"The attorney thought about it, said, "I will." So he supported a missionary. He took a missionary himself and the missionary was sent to Korea, and the pastor said that attorney got a picture of his missionary and put it at the head of his bed. And he said the attorney prayed twice a day. He’d get down on his knees at night, and he’d look up at his missionary, then he’d pray, "Now, Lord, bless my missionary while he works and I sleep."
Then, the next morning, when the sun rose in America, he’d get down by his bedside again and look up at the picture of his missionary and he’d pray, "And now, Lord, bless my missionary while he sleeps and I work" – frankincense: prayers for the saving of the world.
I am not in a persuasion, I do not have that doctrinal position, that by our preaching and by the gospel message we’ll ever take out of human nature the claw, and the tooth, and the iron fist, and the greed, and the hatred that seems to be inherent – the backdrop in human nature. I do not have that theological persuasion. But I do believe that God meant in the great rendezvous in glory that out of every nation, and kindred, and tribe, and language, and family there should be those who would praise the Lord for the gift of His Son [Revelation 5:9, 7:9-10] – cleansed, saved by the blood of the Lamb. And that’s why we’re doing. That’s why we’re preaching. That’s why we’re praying. "They offered unto Him gold, frankincense, and myrrh" [Matthew 2:11].
A brief word: myrrh. What is myrrh? Myrrh was a spice itself, sort of, and it was especially used for the embalming of the dead.
I mentioned a while ago Nicodemus buying a hundred pounds of spices [John 19:39]. What he bought them for was in that long, winding sheet of our Lord. As they wound and wound and wound, he would take that one hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes – he would take that one hundred pounds and as they wound the body of the Lord Jesus, he would put the spices, wind and wind, pouring the spices in the folds, in the folds, in order to embalm the body of the Lord Jesus [John 19:40]. Thank God it didn’t turn out that way! Thank the Lord He rose from the dead! But he intended to do it. That’s why he brought it, was to embalm the dead body of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, myrrh – myrrh. Myrrh is a frequent term in the Bible. Over there in the Book of Solomon, in the Song of Songs, myrrh represents life in its fullness and in its glory and in its best – the joy, the wild joy of life and living [Song of Solomon 1:13, 5:1]. Myrrh represents that in the Song of Solomon. And, as I say, myrrh was used for the embalming of the dead.
So if I could put the two together, they presented Him the gifts: gold and frankincense and myrrh. Myrrh represents the offering of life, the sacrifice of life, the gift of life unto death. "And they offered unto Him myrrh" [Matthew 2:11] – that is, they dedicated their life unto death; the gift of life.
When I was in Hong Kong, China, one of the places I was eager to visit was Happy Valley. There’s not a woman in the Missionary Society or anybody interested in missions in the world that has not heard of the beautiful little valley. It’s just a little vale because Hong Kong itself is just a small island. It’s just a little vale running down from the mountain and out to the sea called Happy Valley.
The reason I say that a missionary would know of Happy Valley, so many of our first missionaries to China are buried in that valley – just a little vale. And as I walked among the cemetery there in Happy Valley, I came across the tomb of the first American woman missionary to China. Her name is Henrietta Hall Shuck. And on that ancient tomb, there above her grave, I copied the inscription: "Henrietta, first American female missionary to China. Daughter of the Reverend Addison Hall of Virginia, USA. Consort of the Reverend Jay Lewis Shuck. Missionary to China from the American Baptist Board for Missions." Then the dates of her life. Then this: "In the prime of life, in the midst of her labors and in the meridian of her usefulness, suddenly, but peacefully, she died in Hong Kong, November 27, 1844, aged twenty-seven years. Hallowed and blessed is the memory of the good."
Well, a little piece of her life: born in a preacher’s home, read the story of Ann Hasseltine Judson [1789-1826] who had given her life to be a foreign missionary in India. When she was converted, gave her life to be a foreign missionary, completed her education a little less than eighteen years of age. Married a boy named Lewis Shuck who himself had given his life to be a missionary to China.
Two days after they were married, they were standing on the Boston pier and the families were waving them good-bye as they sailed away from the shores of America. They planned never to return, and they didn’t. When they went out, they went out forever to give their lives to Christ in China.
Took them a year to arrive. They arrived in 1836, began their work in Macau which is just below Canton – a Portuguese colony. Met a funeral procession – a father had died. And the little boy, after the burial, the little boy was seated by the grave crying bitterly. And Henrietta asked if she could have the boy, the family being poor. They surprised her in an immediate consent. So she took the little boy.
A little while after that, found a little girl that her mother had sold. And in cruel treatment, the little girl was almost dead in the cruel hands of the people who bought her. Henrietta paid ten dollars for the little girl and took her to herself. And so began her missionary work teaching those little boys, those little girls. After a while they moved to Hong Kong. And two years after their ministry began in Hong Kong, she died in childbirth, twenty-seven years of age.
Well, as you walk up and down and look at those graves and call to mind the tremendous sacrifice in those days, this girl, had she been here in America under the care of a physician, she would have been just like all of the rest of our mothers. We wouldn’t lose one out of ten thousand. But over there in Hong Kong giving birth to a child, twenty-seven years of age, died in vain. In vain?
"And they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh" [Matthew 2:11] – the offer of a dedicated life to the Lord Jesus. And it never is in vain [1 Corinthians 15:58]. It never falls to the ground. It never turns void in the hand of God.
Through them and the offer of their life, a whole century of Christian missions has followed after. And the end is not yet. Anybody who would stand up and say, "At last, at long last, Mao Tse-Tung [1893-1976] has conquered Christ. At long last, the denouement of the Christian faith is found in the abysmal blackness of the triumph of Communism, "I think the angels themselves would laugh in his face. The triumph belongs to the people of God who offer unto Him gifts [Romans 8:37] and among those gifts, the dedication of themselves – a life for God [Romans 12:1].
Now we sing our song. And while we sing it, while we sing it – while we make appeal this morning, while we make appeal this morning – in that topmost balcony, anywhere, somebody give his life to the Lord, you come and stand by me. Anybody devote his life here in our church to Christ, you come and stand by me. "Here’s my hand, pastor, and I give my heart to Christ, " or, "Here we are coming into the fellowship of the church." One somebody, two somebodies, or a family of you: "We’re all coming today, pastor. All of us are here." And while we sing and while we make appeal, would you do it now? Would you do it now? Anywhere – while we stand and while we sing.