When They Opened Their Treasures
December 20th, 1959 @ 8:15 AM
WHEN THEY OPEN THEIR TREASURES
Dr W. A. Criswell
12-20-59 8:15 a.m.
You who listen on the radio, you are sharing with us these services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early Sunday morning message entitled, When They Opened Their Treasures. And the reading of the Scripture story is in the First Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew, the second chapter, the first 11 verses.
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came magi 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, In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet Micah,
And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah: 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.
When they had heard the king, they departed; and lo, the star, which they saw in the East, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
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.
This is the beautiful, beautiful, story of the nativity of our Lord as Matthew tells it in the second chapter of his Gospel. And my text, “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” [Matthew 2:11]. My first comment on that would be that the response these magi made to the little Child, the King of the Jews, the Son of God, born of the virgin Mary, our Savior [Matthew 1:20-25], their response is the natural response of all of God’s people who come into the presence of the Lord. And may I show that to you from the beginning of time?
In the Book of Genesis, you have recorded the story of Adam and Eve and their two sons, Cain and Abel. And the Scriptures say that “In the process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground a minchah unto the Lord” [Genesis 4:3]. Then the next verse says that “Abel, of the firstlings of his flock brought a minchah unto the Lord” [Genesis 4:4]. You have it translated here, which is a good translation, in the King James Version of the Bible, you have that word minchah translated “offering.” Which is all right. “In the process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground a minchah” you have it translated “an offering unto the Lord [Genesis 4:3]. And Abel, of the firstlings of his flock he brought a minchah, an offering unto the Lord” [Genesis 4: 4].
That translation is all right if you will understand that by the word offering you mean a present unto the Lord, a gift unto the Lord. We take the word offering with the connotation of a sacrifice. That’s not what minchah means. The Hebrew word, the first word that describes what you use as a word sacrifice, the word itself actually means a present, a gift unto the Lord. I am saying that the natural, innate, congenital, inborn, first response of our first family, when Cain was blessed with a wonderful harvest, the natural response of his heart was to bring to God a minchah, and no less did Abel feel in his heart when the Lord blessed his herds and his flocks, he brought a minchah, a present unto the Lord [Genesis 4:3-4].
Now that story is repeated through all the record of the human race. A natural response to God is to offer to the Lord a minchah, an offering, a gift. Mary of Bethany did that with our Savior when she broke the alabaster box and anointed His head and His feet and the perfume filled the room [Mark 14:3; John 12:3]. It was a lavish gift in those days of great poverty; took an average working man a full year’s toil just to buy that much of the precious ointment. But she broke it and lavishly wasted it upon our Lord, a minchah for our Savior [Mark 14:4-5].
Joseph of Arimathea did the same thing. He took the tomb that was new, hewn for himself and his family and gave it to the Lord Jesus [Matthew 27:57-60]. He had no idea of the resurrection from the dead when he gave to our Lord the tomb. It was a gift from Joseph forever. It was to hold the body of our Savior for all time, as Joseph had thought. It was a minchah for our Savior, the tomb of Joseph.
Nicodemus took one hundred pounds of spice in order that it might be enfolded in the winding sheet to help preserve that precious body from what he thought was decay and inevitable corruption. It was a minchah to our Savior. It was a gift, a lavish one, and an expensive one, from the hand of Nicodemus [John 19:39-40].
It is a normal response on our part, when we come into the presence of our God, to present to Him a minchah, a gift. This season of the year is no other thing than a broad, universal appearance of this feeling in our hearts, to bring a gift, and to dedicate it to our Lord Jesus. “And when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts, a minchah; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh” [Matthew 2:11].
They presented unto Him gold. In the providence of the Lord, that was a most gracious and acceptable offering, for the family was very, very poor. They had before them the long trek into Egypt [Matthew 2:13-15]. They had before them the taking care of the little family in that far away, strange, and unknown land. And the gift of gold in the need and poverty of the family was a most useful and gracious and acceptable and appropriate gift [Matthew 2:11]. Gold for the poor, for the needy, for those who could be blessed by what we have to share.
Where shall I find our Lord today? For I have a gift in my hand. I would so love to lay it at His blessed feet. I feel that way in my heart. There’s no coercion in it. There’s no necessity that lies back of it. It is just something that I want to do. This is His birthday, we celebrate the incarnation of God’s Son. The nativity is coming down among men, and I have it in my heart to bring a gift to Him. Where shall I find Him? How can I? Where is He?
There is a sure and certain answer to that question in the Word of God, for the Lord is identified with His people, always, always. Yesterday, today, forever, our Lord is identified with His people. “And the great King shall 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 poor, and sick, and lost, and undone, and weary, and in despair, and in need, and cold, and naked, and hungry, and ye ministered unto Me; food for a hungry mouth, clothing for a cold and exposed body, medicine when I was sick, comfort and encouragement when I was in despair. And these on the right hand shall say unto Him, “Lord, Lord, we never saw You hungry, or naked, or cold, or sick, or a stranger. We never saw You that way.” “No,” said our Lord, “you do not understand, for when you saw these least, these least of My brethren, and ministered unto them, you saw Me and you ministered unto Me” [Matthew 25:34-40].
Identified with His people; not just the great, and the gifted, and the talented, and the affluent, and the mighty, and the famous, but identified with also the least of His people. My dear fellow church members, I tell you again as I’ve said a thousand times, it is worth it for us to have our Good Shepherd department and our church missions, if for no other reason just to remind us that the heart of our Savior is still among the poor and the humble of the earth; just to remind us, if for no other reason, a gift of gold, because they were poor and in need [Matthew 2:11]. What an acceptable gift!
Long time ago, it has been twenty-one years ago this Christmas, twenty-one years ago, in my first pastorate out of the seminary, it was in the days of the Depression, it was in Oklahoma, a poor state. It was in a town among a poor people, and they were cold in the wintertime, many of them, and hungry and needed clothing and food. And I conceived the idea of having a beautiful “White Christmas” program on the Sunday night before Christmas, for a reason, for a purpose, and that was that all of our people bring a white present to the Lord; food, clothing, anything that we could well share ourselves. Go through the house, up in the attic, in the closet, all through the house, anything that would bless a poor family that we can spare, wrap it up in white paper, or bring it to the church and there’ll be white paper here, and lay it at the feet of the Christ-child. Then for the remainder of the winter we give it out: canned food, staple groceries, used clothing; we give it out to the poor families among our people.
I’ll never forget the first one. They piled those white packages, it seemed to me they would reach the top of the church ceiling. And that first winter it was an untold and indescribable blessing. It still is. This will be the twenty-first year I’ve seen that develop under God’s hands and ours. It’s a sweet and precious thing to do, and through our several missions, all during the cold of these winter months, we distribute, and distribute, and distribute. God bless you as you come tonight and bring a gift.
Then we have, beyond that and beside that, our poor and our lost, our benighted, our darkened, our untaught beyond the seas. Any man who has ever made a trip beyond our shores, and especially in the Orient, or the Mid East, or Africa, can close his eyes and see the vast sea of humanity that has no possession in this earth. They are the great homeless. They are the great unwashed, the great untaught, the unlettered, the unkempt, the unkept, the uncared for. They are, by the millions and millions and millions, a sea of them, poor beyond any way we could describe; and most of all, poor in their souls and their hearts. So at this time of the year, our churches from one side of our communion to the other, our churches give our people an opportunity to make an offering for the poor beyond the sea. We call it our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Foreign Missions. To bring something for our Lord, something for His poor, His lost, His benighted and darkened. “And they presented unto Him gifts; gold” [Matthew 2:11].
“And they presented unto Him gifts . . . frankincense” [Matthew 2:11]. From time immemorial frankincense has been a picture, a type, a beautiful symbol of the ascending prayers of God’s people to the throne of glory and grace. “In the days of Herod . . . a certain priest named Zechariah, of the course of Abijah” [Luke 1:5], number eight out of twenty-four, as the great fortune to him, it was the lot on this day that he go in at the hour of prayer and at the golden altar of incense that stood before the veil, on one side of it to his right, the table of showbread; on one side of him to his left, the seven-branched lampstand; and in front of him, just before the veil, the golden altar of prayer. It was with his fortune, which came just one time by lot to a priest, to go into the Holy Place and to burn incense at the hour of prayer [Luke 1:9]; for the people in their petitions offered unto God their intercessions and requests. He burned incense on the golden altar, a picture of the ascending prayers of God’s people [Revelation 8:4]. And while he was there, the story said, there appeared unto him the angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar [Luke 1:11].
Now in the beautiful paean of praise on the part of Zechariah, I have taken three, and have thought this morning to make them the petitions that we would offer unto Christ today, our frankincense. Here they are. In the last part of that first chapter, he speaks of three things, among others: this blessed Child to guide our feet into the way of peace [Luke 1:79], to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death [Luke 1:79], and to give knowledge of salvation in the remission of sins [Luke 1:77].
So our offering of frankincense to our Lord, these three petitions. One: to guide our feet into the way of peace [Luke 1:79]. O Prince of Peace [Isaiah 9:6], bless the great statesmen and heads of state and government of our world as they meet in Paris, as they meet in Geneva, as they prepare for a summit conference, possibly in April. O Prince of Peace, grant to our nations of the families of the world freedom from nuclear war and the terrible, indescribable holocaust and devastation of this awful, awful, awful prospect.
We have no idea what the next war will be like. Heretofore war has been, to some extent, on the part of the soldiering. A man arms himself with a jet, with a plane, with a tank, with a gun, with a rifle, and in some way they march to certain places, and there they come in contact and in battle. This tank against this tank, or this plane against this plane, or, these men against these men, and these artilleries and rifles against other artilleries and rifles. That has been the story of war since the days that men took clubs, and then bows and arrows, and then guns, and then planes and tanks.
But this next war will not be fought like that. The front of the flaming battle will be the sky over your home. It will be fought with ballistic missiles and from launching pads in the heart of continents that are separated by seas. Men shall launch hydrogen and atomic weapons that shall be pinpointed over cities, and nations, and capitals, and factories, and homes, and people. Heart cannot conceive, mind cannot imagine the blood, the horror, the devastation of the next war. And though we outlive it, there may be a poisoned atmosphere that shall linger and destroy for hundreds of years after the conflict has allayed. O Prince of Peace, our offering of frankincense: to guide our feet into the way of peace [Luke 1:79]. For our children and our children’s children, for the families of this earth, O Lord, grant to us the way of peace.
Our offering of frankincense: to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death [Luke 1:79]. Some here in our church family, who sit by the bedside and wonder, “Is it this moment or the next? Shall it be today, or before the dawn of a tomorrow?” Light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death; but the pall and the shroud of the darkness of this physical and mortal life is as nothing compared to the darkness of the shroud of the covering of the night of hopelessness and lostness who know not God and know not our Savior. O Lord, to give them light that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death [Luke 1:79].
And his third petition, our offering of frankincense in prayer, blessed Jesus: to give knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins [Luke 1:77]. Lord, that we might be used of God to make known abroad the knowledge of salvation in remission of sins in Thy blessed and precious name.
The preacher one time I heard speak from Lebanon, Kentucky, said that an attorney, a lawyer, in his church came to him and said, “Pastor, God has wonderfully blessed me and prospered me and been good to me, and I want to give something in return to our Lord,” a minchah, a gift, an offering. “What shall I do?” He was a great-hearted pastor, and the pastor said to the attorney, he said, “I’ll tell you what you do, you be responsible for a missionary. You do it, just you. You pay his salary and you send him out, and let him be your missionary, and you support him.” The attorney said, “Wonderful. That will I do.”
So through the board, they arranged for this attorney from Lebanon to send out a missionary and to support him. And you know what the attorney did? One of the sweetest things I ever heard of in my life. He got a picture of his missionary who went over there to the Orient, he got a picture of his missionary, and he put the picture of the missionary at the head of his bed. And every night when the work was done, he would kneel down by his bed and the attorney would pray, “And now, dear Lord, bless my missionary while I sleep and he works.” It was night here at home in America, but the sun was rising in the Orient. “And now, Lord, bless my missionary while I sleep and he works.” Then every morning, when he arose, he’d look at the face of the picture of his missionary, and he’d kneel down by his bed and say, “And now, dear Lord, bless my missionary as he sleeps and I work.” Why, that is one of the sweetest things I ever heard in my life: a minchah for Jesus, a gift; frankincense. Lord, bless us here as we work for Thee, and bless them there as they work for Thee to give knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins [Luke 1:77].
Now the third gift, which—it’s time for me to close. Don’t you wonder, where does this time go to? The third gift: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh [Matthew 2:11]. Myrrh. Myrrh is a spice, an ointment, a perfume; myrrh. Myrrh is used in the Song of Solomon as a picture of the overflowing, abounding fullness of life; myrrh [Song of Solomon 5:1-13]. And myrrh is used, as a typical instance, in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of John; in the embalming of our Lord, myrrh is used [John 19:39]. In those ancient days myrrh was used in the embalming of the dead, the burial of the dead. So if I could put the two together: in the Song of Solomon, representing the abounding, buoyant, fullness, gladness, glory of life, and then in the ancient day and in the Scriptures a picture, a symbol of the embalming of the dead. Put them together, it would mean the pouring out of the fullness of life unto death; the gift of myrrh [Matthew 2:11].
It’s a wonderful thing and a blessed thing to offer unto God a minchah of what you possess, what you have. “This is what I possess, and the Lord shall receive a gift.” But it is a far more glorious thing to make a minchah, an offering, a dedication, a gift, a present of yourself. Myrrh, the pouring out of life unto death. It was a bountiful, abounding, gracious providence, kindness of God, to give us all of the wonders of the world about: the sun, the stars, the chalice of the sky, the abounding and fruitful earth, the verdant meadows, all the things that God has given us, the mountains, the seas, the oceans, the land, everything; but things are still things. How much more did the heart of God reveal the true spirit and love of our Lord God when He gave us Himself in Christ Jesus, and poured Himself out unto death for us [Isaiah 53:12]. The gift of myrrh, offering unto God ourselves [Romans 12:1].
I want to speak of this one thing, then I have to close. When you go to see our mission fields, the thing that will impress you most will be the missionary graves; the missionary graves, and around the missionary graves these that they have won to the Lord who have fallen asleep in Jesus. Out of all the places of the world that I have ever been, the most impressive to me of those cemeteries is Happy Valley on the island of Hong Kong. So many of our missionaries are buried in Happy Valley, and among them the first woman missionary from America: Henrietta Hall Shuck.
She was the daughter of a Virginia Baptist preacher. And away in a boarding school, she gave her heart to Jesus in an old-fashioned camp revival meeting. Reading the life of Adoniram Judson and Ann Hasseltine, his wife, she gave herself to be a missionary, and married, in the providence of the Lord, J. Lewis Shuck, who was the first missionary that the triennial convention sent out to the Orient. They were married, Henrietta Hall and Lewis Shuck, and two days after they were married they set sail from the port of Boston for Macau, near Canton in China. There was a great throng of people at the pier in Boston to bid the couple goodbye, for in that day when a missionary went abroad they never intended to return. And this couple never came back. They went to give their lives forever on a foreign field; took them a year to land.
They landed in Macau in 1836, and there began their ministry. First thing they saw was a funeral procession of Chinese people. And after the father was buried and the people had left, there sat down, disconsolate, by the grave, a little Chinese boy, the son of the man that was buried, nobody to care for him. And the little fellow was seated by the mound of earth, weeping pitifully. They picked up the little boy and made him their own. Not long after, a mother sold a little Chinese girl for ten dollars. And from one to the other she was bartered and traded, and to save the child from a horrible life and death, they bought the little child, and began their ministry in the name of Christ.
In 1844 they went to Hong Kong, established two little chapels there, and two years later, Henrietta Hall Shuck died in childbirth. I stood at her grave, and I copied the lettering on the tombstone. May I read it to you as I wrote it down there in Happy Valley in Hong Kong?
First American Female Missionary to China.
Daughter of the Reverend Addision Hall of Virginia, United States.
Consort of (we would say wife of) the Reverend J. Lewis Shuck, Missionary to China from the American Baptist Board for Missions.
She was born October 28, 1817.
Married 8th of September, 1835.
Arrived in China September 8, 1836.
In the prime of life, in the midst of her labors, and in the meridian of her usefulness, suddenly but peacefully, she died at Hong Kong November 27, 1844, age 27 years.
Hallowed and Blessed is the memory of the good.
Age 27 years. And they offered unto Him myrrh [Matthew 2:11]; a life full and rich, poured out unto death [Hebrews 11:32-38].
Now in the moment that we tarry, while we sing our song, somebody you, to give his heart to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13]; somebody you, to put his life in the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25]; a family, or just you, while we stand and sing this song, would you make it now, this morning, while we stand and while we sing?