A Gift For Christ
December 18th, 1983 @ 10:50 AM
A GIFT FOR CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-18-83 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled A Gift for Christ. It is a message taken from the second chapter of Matthew, in the story of the magi, the wise men, who came to Bethlehem from the East, following the star [Matthew 2:1-2] that finally stood over the place where the young Child was [Matthew 2:9]. And verse 10:
And 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.
A gift for Christ; primeval response to God, to bring Him a gift. In the fourth chapter of Genesis, in the story of the first family, Abel was a shepherd of the flock, and he brought to God a minchah [Genesis 4:2-4]. Cain, his brother, was a tiller of the soil, and he brought from the fruit of the ground, a minchah to the Lord [Genesis 4:2-3]. Many times in the Old Testament that word is translated “sacrifice.” In the fourth chapter of Genesis it is translated in the King James Version “offering.” They brought an offering to the Lord [Genesis 4:3-5]. The word minchah is the Hebrew word for “gift, present.” They brought a gift to the Lord.
And that is the unwearying, constant, same denominator that you will find in the response of the human heart to God through all of the centuries that have followed after. When Abraham came before Melchizedek, the priest of El Elyon, of the Most High God [Genesis 14:18-19], he gave unto him a tithe of all that he possessed [Genesis 14:20]. In the twenty-eighth chapter of the Book of Genesis when Jacob, Israel, awakens from his dream at Bethel, he says to the Lord: “If You will be with me . . . and bring me back to the Promised Land, out of all You bestow upon me, I will consecrate a tenth unto Thee” [Genesis 28:20-22]. And in the Mosaic legislation, throughout the Old Testament covenant, the tithe was holy unto the Lord, and the people appeared before the Lord with an offering.
Now tell me why: does God need something? Is He enriched with our gifts? Is that why, from the beginning, in primordial, primeval times, in patriarchal times, in Mosaic times, they brought gifts unto the Lord, because He needs them?
In the fiftieth Psalm, the Lord says: “Every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee, for the world is Mine, and the fullness thereof” [Psalm 50:12]. God doesn’t need anything that I possess. He already owns it all. He has it all, and anything that I have is but for a transitory, temporal, ephemeral moment. The world and the fullness of it, the heavens and all that God has created, belongs to Him. He needs nothing that I have. Then why is it, that from the beginning, the human heart has always responded to God with a gift? It is a way and it is an expression of our loving adoration of the great Jehovah Lord, who loved us, and gave Himself for us [Galatians 2:20]. It is a response out of our souls.
In the Psalms 95 and 96: “O come let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God: and we are the sheep of the His pasture” [Psalm 95:6, 7]. “Give unto the Lord glory and strength, all ye kindreds of the earth. Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name: bring an offering” [Psalm 96:7-8]. Bring an offering. Bring a minchah. “Bring a gift, and come unto His courts. O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: reverence Him, all the earth” [Psalm 96:8-9]. It is a response that we feel rising up in our deepest souls: to bring a gift to God. And that is universal, I say.
The beautiful story of Mary in Bethany; she broke over the head of our Lord an alabaster box of ointment [Mark 14:3-5]. It cost a full year’s salary. It was a response of the love of that beautiful woman Mary who lived with Martha and Lazarus in Bethany [John 11:1-3]. When our Lord died, Joseph of Arimathea asked for His body, and he laid it in his own new tomb: a responsive love to the Savior. And Nicodemus, the ruler of the Jews, brought a hundred pound weight of spices, and they embalmed, and wrapped in the winding sheet with the spices, the body of our Lord [John 19:38-42]: a response of love from his heart.
Thus we read in my beautiful story: when the magi came, they opened their treasures, and they presented unto Him minchah, gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh [Matthew 2:11]. They gave unto Him gold. I would suppose, in the gracious providences of God, that supported and sustained the holy family on their sojourn to Egypt, and it helped them in the paying of the ordinary expenses of the strangers and foreigners who had gone to another land, and another country. So they brought to Jesus a gift of gold [Matthew 2:11].
If I had it in my heart thus to respond to my Lord today with a gift, a monetary gift, where would I find Him? And how could I lay it before Him? In the Scriptures, Jesus says: “I am identified with My people. I and My people are one. They are I, and I am they.” In the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Matthew, our Lord says: “Inasmuch as you did it unto one of the least of these,” hungry, sick, poor, downcast, forsaken, needy, anytime you do it unto one of the least of these, the poorest of these, the humblest of these, “you do it unto Me” [Matthew 25:40]. He is identified with His people.
You so well remember, in the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts, when the Lord appeared to Saul of Tarsus, on his way to Damascus, to hale into prison any that called upon that name, the Lord said: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” And the response of Saul was natural: “Lord, who art Thou? I do not persecute You” [Acts 9:4-5].
“Nay,” says the Lord, “When you hurt My people, you hurt Me. When you touch them, you touch Me. When you persecute them, you persecute Me” [Acts 9:1-2,5]. Our Lord is identified with His people. Therefore, when I give to the people of need, I give to my Lord. They presented unto Him gifts: gold [Matthew 2:11].
Dr. Melzoni made appeal a moment ago. Tonight will be a “White Christmas” night for us: staple groceries, wrap them in white; or, bring them here, we’ll wrap them in white, and we will give them to Christ’s people. We give them to Him, giving to them. Or go through the house, and what clothing you don’t need, bring it to us. And in our nineteen chapels, throughout the remainder of the winter months, we’ll minister in His name to His people. Not only to these that are in need, but we minister in the name of Christ when we give for the evangelization of the world, that they might be saved.
There was a black man who came to see me. He was a convert from the Congo in Africa. He had a card that he pressed in my hand. On the large card was his picture and then his address. And then by the side of his picture and his address he had written a poem. He entitled it “The Cry of the Congo.” And this is what it read:
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?
When I give to the evangelization of the world, to the foreign mission enterprise, I give to Christ. And they presented unto Him gifts: gold [Matthew 2:11].
So many times is my heart almost broken with the appeal of fathers and mothers who come to me, saying, “My little girl, or my little boy, so wants to attend your First Baptist Academy, your Christian school. But we don’t have the money to send our child. Could you help me?” If I give to that little child, I give to my Lord.
Many times these young ministers who are being trained to preach the gospel in our Bible school will make appeal to me for help. They have families, and they so feel called of God to be a minister of His rich grace, and they ask for help. If I help, I am helping Jesus. If I give, I am giving to Jesus. He is identified with His people. Where can I find the Lord to present to Him a minchah, a gift? I find my Lord in the appeals of human hearts, in human need.
A gift for Christ: “And they presented unto Him gifts: gold, and frankincense” [Matthew 2:11]. From time immemorial, frankincense has been a type and a picture of the ascending prayers of God’s people to the Lord. In the story in Luke, it says that the priest Zechariah was ministering in the holy place, in the sanctuary. He belonged to the course of Abijah [Luke 1:5-10]. And the Levitical priests had been divided into twenty-four courses and they took their turn during the course of a year. Then by lot, one of them at the hour of prayer entered into the sanctuary—the table of showbread on one side, the seven-branched golden lampstand on the other side, and before the veil, the golden altar of incense. And once in a lifetime, if the lot fell upon him, the priest could enter in that sanctuary and offer incense, frankincense, unto God, while the people without prayed to the Lord.
In the Book of Exodus, that frankincense is called most holy [Exodus 30:34-36]. And in the Book of Leviticus, it is described as a sweet savor, a sweet aroma, a sweet fragrance that comes up to God [Leviticus 6:15]. In the fifth chapter and in the eighth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, these living elders have golden censers filled with frankincense [Revelation 5:8, 8:3-4]. And they offer frankincense to God, which the Revelation says is the prayers of God’s people [Revelation 5:8]. And it pleases God for us to speak in His name, to call upon His name.
In the one hundred sixteenth Psalm, the psalmist says: “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” That’s the twelfth verse of Psalm 116: “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” [Psalm 116:12]. What can I do for the Lord? Now four times—in verse 2, in verse 4, in verse 13, and in verse 17—he says: “I will call upon the name of the Lord” [Psalm 116:2, 4, 13, 17]. It pleases God for us to call upon His name, to talk to Him, to pray to Him, to come before Him with words of praise and worship and adoration—the gift of an ascending prayer to my Lord [Revelation 8:3-4].
And here in the Book of Luke, in chapter , this Zecharias, who is presiding over the offering of incense before the Lord in heaven. Zecharias outlines his supplication and his prayer as he speaks to the child in prophecy. He speaks of him in verse [76 to 79: “Hear child, thou shalt go before [the Dayspring from on high, who will] guide our feet into the way of peace”—Luke :79—“to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Isn’t your heart bowed down when you listen to the news on a radio, or a television, or when you read it in the headlines of the newspapers of our city—the violence and the bloodshed that simply drowns this world in human terror, in human blood? Can you imagine London being, as they described it, “a ghost city?” Even Scotland Yard saying to its citizens, “Don’t come out unless it’s necessary, because of the violence and the terrorism of these who hate God and hate peace.” I read a day ago that there are now going on in the world seventy-two wars. It is unimaginable: the heartache; the bloodshed; these families and their children, these refugees, who flee for their lives; the hatred and the violence.
Dear God, when will the Prince of Peace cometh to bring quiet and rest, blessing, to the troubled families of the world? To pray that He will guide our feet in the ways of peace! And Lord, how I pray for it for our own nation and our own men and our own people. Lord, grant us peace. He says: “Child, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” [Luke 1:79].
Dr. Keirstyn, our illustrious visitor from the Baptist World Alliance, is an East German. I have preached over there in East Germany, as I have preached in Czechoslovakia, and in Hungary, and in Warsaw and twice on preaching missions, in the Soviet Union. My heart bleeds when I think of the oppression of our Christian witness in those atheistic and materialistic and communist lands, people who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death [Isaiah 9:2].
I met a man in Kharkov who, on a dark night, walking by my side, took out of his robes a Bible. And he said, “This is my greatest treasure,” his Bible. I met a visitor from Kharkov some time after that. And he said to me, “Your friend has been executed. He was too blatant a Christian.” Dear me, that there might come light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death! [Luke 1:79].
In Hong Kong, by the thousands, have I preached to and talked to the refugees out of Communist China. In compassion, we took one of the families and put them on our church staff. Mr. Gu, for years, was in our business office, until just recently—a fine merchandiser, a store owner in China, fleeing before the communist advance. And Dr. Culpepper, a precious missionary, came to me and said, “Would you take this family and would you help them? Could you give him a place to work?” And we did. Why? Because of the darkness and the death that overshadows those vast communist billions of people, to pray. And He says: “To give knowledge of salvation unto His people by the remission of their sins” [Luke 1:77].
O Lord, how we need to pray that God will bless our emissaries, our plenipotentaries, our representatives who, in all of these lands and nations and tongues and tribes and peoples of the world, present the gospel of Christ, who alone is able to remiss, to forgive our sins, to save our souls from death!
I listened to a lawyer one time that moved my heart. He lived in Lebanon, Tennessee. He said God had wonderfully blessed him, so he went to his pastor and said, “God has wondrously blessed me. What can I do for God? I’d like to do something for God. He has been so good to me.” And the pastor said, “I tell you. You adopt a missionary, and you pay, and you take care of him, and let him be your missionary.”
It appealed to the lawyer, so that lawyer said, he said, “I made a big picture of my missionary. And I put him at the head of my bed. And there he is in picture today.” And the lawyer said, “Every morning, when I arise, I kneel by the side of my bed, and I point to my missionary. And I pray, ‘Dear Lord, bless my missionary while he sleeps and I work today’”—He’s on the other side of the world, in the Orient. Then the lawyer said, “At night, I kneel down, and I point to my missionary, and I say, ‘Lord, bless me while I sleep, and bless my missionary while he works’”—prayer, ascending to God for the salvation and conversion of the world. “They offered unto Him frankincense” [Matthew 2:11], ascending intercession [Revelation 8:3-4].
We must hasten. And they offered unto Him myrrh: gold, frankincense, and myrrh [Matthew 2:11]. Through all history and time, myrrh has been a symbol and a sign and a type of life poured out unto death. When Nicodemus came with his hundred pound weight of spices [John 19:39], it was myrrh and aloes. Myrrh: a type of death, life poured out in sacrifice unto death. And this is the greatest gift that we can offer to our Lord: ourselves, our life.
The Lord has done so much in endowing us and blessing us and enriching us. There are stars to shine over our head by night. There’s the sun to shine upon us by day. There’s the gentle rain from heaven to make the earth flower and fruit. There’s the gift of breath and strength. There’s home and house and family and friends. Oh, God has been so aboundingly good to us! The whole world, and the fullness thereof, has He given into our hands [Genesis 1:28-30]. But the greatest gift is the Lord Himself: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” [John 3:16]. Out of all of the gifts that we can dedicate to our Lord, none are comparable to the gift of ourselves unto Him [2 Corinthians 8:5]. And how preciously beautiful the privilege to give ourselves to the Lord: a minchah, a dedication, a gift, and, in many instances, a gift, a sacrifice unto death [Romans 12:1-2].
When I was a college student, I visited in the homes of some families whose missionary daughters had died in central West Africa. And in the years that followed, in the years that I became pastor of this church, one of the dreams of my life was fulfilled. I visited the graves of those two young women who had died of yellow fever and were buried there in central West Africa; the gift of life unto death. And they offered unto Him myrrh [Matthew 2:11].
When I was in Kobe, Japan, I said to the Shearers, our Baptist missionaries there, I said, “If you don’t mind, could I have a chair and place it on the front porch of the home, and just let me sit there for awhile?” There is a big descending mountain that goes down to the port in Kobe, and their house was about halfway up the side of that mountain and it looked down on that port in Kobe. They were gracious and kind, and they gave me the chair. And I set it on the porch and I sat me down in the chair. And as I sat there, and looked down on the port at Kobe I reviewed, in my mind the life of Lottie Moon, who died on a ship in that port of Kobe.
She was a missionary in northern China for forty years. And in the last part of her missionary ministries, when she was seventy-two years of age, a devastating famine covered North China. And her Christians began to starve to death. She sent word to the Baptist churches of America. “Help! One penny a day would keep one of these Chinese Christians alive, a penny a day. Help!” And no help came. She appealed to the Foreign Missions Board. “These Chinese Christians are dying. They’re starving. Help!” And no help came. Even the salaries of the missionaries were paid by borrowed money. And the Foreign Mission Board was increasingly sinking in heavier debt. She appealed to her kinspeople, “Help! One penny a day will keep a Christian Chinese convert alive.” And no help came.
And Lottie Moon took all of her salary and gave it for the starving Chinese. She took all of her savings and gave them to the starving Chinese. And finally, she took her own bread and gave it to the starving Chinese. The doctor was sent for, and just looking at her, immediately diagnosed the tragedy that was overwhelming her life. If her Chinese converts could not eat, she would not eat. If they were starving, she would starve. And if they were dying, she would die.
The decision was made by the mission to send her back home to America. A missionary nurse named Cynthia Miller was on furlough and they put both of them on a ship in Shanghai, bound for America, a ship that stopped in the port city of Kobe, Japan, on the way to our land. And while the ship was in the bay, when the eventide came, she clasped and unclasped her hands. She bowed her head in Chinese greeting and called the names of Ping Tu Christians she had known years and years ago, and so died in that bay in Kobe, Japan.
When I returned to America, and on a preaching mission in Virginia, I asked the pastor, “Would you take me to Crewe, Virginia?” He was kind to do so. And there in the cemetery, close to the Baptist church, is the tomb of Lottie Moon: her name, the dates of her life, forty years a missionary to China, and the last sentence: “Faithful unto death”—the gift of myrrh [Matthew 2:11], the outpouring and the sacrifice of life unto death.
How hallowed have these made our Christian faith! And what a privilege to follow in their train, offering unto Christ the energy and the resources of our lives! Lord, bless, sanctify, hallow, keep, use, as only God can, the gifts that we offer unto Thee! May we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven, looking down on us today, we offer ourselves unto Thee, precious Savior. What we have is Thine. We use it just for a moment. It is Thine. Our breath is Thine. All of our lives belong to Thee; all of it. And our Lord, to bring unto Thee a minchah, a gift out of the deep love of our hearts, is the highest privilege we could ever know. And above all, to offer Thee ourselves, our hearts, our hands, our homes, our families, our children; Lord, Lord, take us. Use us. Bless us. Help us. Glorify Thy name through us. Save the lost, Lord, in our prayers, in our gifts, in the dedication of our lives. And Lord, as we pray for the lost beyond the seas, give us souls here where we live in our Jerusalem, that these whom we love, who breathe our air, who walk up and down our streets, that they might be saved.
And in this moment that our people sing our song of appeal and pray their intercessory remembrances of You, a family you, come; a couple you, a one somebody you, “Pastor, God has spoken to my heart and I am answering with my life.” Make the decision now, and in this moment that we sing, down one of those stairways, down one of these aisles, “Here I am, pastor, I am on the way. I have decided for God, and here I stand” [Romans 10:8-13]. And our Lord, bless as only God can bless, the people as they come, in Thy saving, keeping name, amen. While we sing, a thousand times welcome.