Those Gifts of the Wise Men
December 22nd, 1985 @ 8:15 AM
THOSE GIFTS OF THE WISE MEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-22-85 8:15 a.m.
We welcome you who are listening on radio. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Those Gifts of the Wise Men. It is a message taken out of the second chapter of the Book of Matthew. Matthew chapter 2:
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, 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.
The time of the coming of these Magi, these wise men, was within two years after the Lord was born. It took a long journey from where these kingly priests lived to arrive in Judea. And in the eleventh verse it writes, “When they were come into the house”; so they are no longer in a stable, they are now housed in the city. And it says, “And when they saw the young Child” [Matthew 2:11]; so He is no longer a babe, He is a little child. And when Herod edicts that the children in Bethlehem be destroyed, he places the age from two years old and downward [Matthew 2:16]. We know therefore that when the Magi came, that it was something like between a year and two years after the Savior was born. That does not mean that we are not—we’re not offended by the shepherds and the wise men coming at the same time in all of our nativity scenes; it’s just how it happened.
Now, these Magi, they are Parsee king priests. They come from the Medes and the Persians. Evidently, in the three hundred years that Persia ruled the Jewish nation and people, they became acquainted with these prophecies of the coming King Messiah. They also studied the heavens, which makes me think that God speaks to people in areas beyond our own Christian circumference. God spoke to them through the stars, and having found in the star a message from God that the great King of all the earth had come to dwell with men, they made the journey, a long, long, long journey from Persia to Judea. And it says in the eleventh verse that when the star came and stood over where the young Child was, that “They fell down, and worshiped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh” [Matthew 2:11].
That is primeval in the human heart: to offer a gift unto God. Sort of strange sometimes when I think of it, because God doesn’t need anything that we have. In the fiftieth Psalm, He says, “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee [Psalm 50:12]: for the cattle on a thousand hills are Mine, the beasts of the forest are Mine [Psalm 50:10], the gold and the silver are Mine” [12; Haggai 2:8]. And yet, from the beginning of the story of the human race, our response to God is always with an offering, with a gift.
When you read in the Book of Genesis, in the fourth chapter, Cain and Abel came before the Lord, and the Hebrew says that they brought a minchah to God. Cain was a tiller of the soil, of the ground; and from the fruits of the ground he brought a minchah to the Lord. Abel was a keeper of the flocks; and out of the flocks Abel brought a minchah to the Lord. In our King James Version you have it translated, “He brought an offering to the Lord”—which is all right—but the word minchah actually is “a gift.” In the beginning, Cain and Abel brought gifts to the Lord [Genesis 4:1-4]. All through the story of humanity, that same response is ever present.
When Abraham was met after the battle with the kings, was met by Melchizedek, described as the priest of the Most High God, Abraham gave to Melchizedek a tithe, a tenth, of everything that he possessed [Genesis 14:18-20]. In the story of the Lord Jesus, sweet Mary of Bethany broke an alabaster box of precious ointment over the head of our Lord [Matthew 26:7]. When He was crucified [John 19:17-37], Joseph of Arimathea offered to them his new tomb, wherein never a man had laid. And Nicodemus came, and wrapped the body of the Lord with a hundred pound weight of spices [John 19:38-41]. It’s just our human nature.
If a boy falls in love with a girl, the first thing he’ll try to do is to please her with a gift. And when we think of the Lord and count our blessings from God, our reaction to the Lord is just that: it is a way of expressing our love and gratitude to Him, with a gift; we bring a gift to the Lord. And that’s reflected in the response of these Magi: “They opened their treasures, and presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh” [Matthew 2:11].
They offered unto Him gold, a gift of gold. I see in that a gracious providence of our dear Lord. He watches over us, and His guardian angel is assigned to each one of us. When we came into the world, there was one of those angels assigned to each one of us [Matthew 18:10]. And God’s provision for us is ever, ever careful and beautiful and precious, and full of kindness and generous remembrance. If we could just learn to trust in the Lord and lean upon His kind arm, think of the worry and the perplexity and the frustration from which we would be delivered. Gold—you see, the family was very poor. “Pastor, how do you know the family was very poor?” Because in Luke, when the family came for the purification of the mother—any mother that gave birth to a male, to a son, redeemed the lad; and the redemption for someone who was poor was a pigeon or a turtledove [Leviticus 12:8]. And I know that this family was poor because they couldn’t bring a lamb for the redemption, so the law provided if the family was poor they bring a pigeon or a turtledove, and that was this family. The Child was redeemed by a pigeon or a turtledove [Luke 2:21-24]. Think of how poor they were.
And also, God’s provision to help them in their flight to Egypt and their sojourn there—you see, the king of the Jews was an Edomite. He was an Idumean. His name was Herod, the son of the usurper Antipater. And God, providing for the little family, warned them to flee from the king to Egypt [Matthew 2:12-14], and they had to be provided for in a strange country and for the journey, so the Lord brought to the Child a gift of gold [Matthew 2:11].
If we would give something to Jesus today, where would we find Him? Because I can’t see Him in the flesh. Raised from the dead, He now is at the right hand of God in heaven [Colossians 3:1]. And if I have it in my heart to bring a gift to the Lord, where would I find Him? The wise men are so different from us. Had they been as we are, they would have given gifts to one another; that’s the way we do. But they brought gifts and laid them at the feet of the Savior [Matthew 2:11], and let’s say we would like to do that. Instead of giving gifts to one another—which is fine and beautiful, that’s Christmas—but I would like also to give a gift to the Lord, where would I find Him today? The Holy Scriptures are very, very plain, and beautifully so, about that. Do you remember when the Lord appeared before Saul of Tarsus on his way to Damascus, to hale into prison those who called upon His name there? [Acts 9:1-3]. Remember what the Lord said to him? “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” [Acts 9:4]. And I’m just like you, and all of us are just like Saul: he looked at that glorious figure and said, “Lord, who are You? [Acts 9:5]. I am persecuting You?” And the Lord replied, “Saul, Saul, you are persecuting Me.” That is, Christ always identifies Himself with His people, always. We are a part, the Bible says, of His body; we are a part of His flesh, and of His bones. It spells it out in the fifth chapter of Ephesians with those words: flesh and bones. We are the body of our Lord [Ephesians 1:22-23, 5:30].
When He spoke to Simon Peter, “Simon, do you love Me?” and he said, “Yea, Lord, You know I love You,” then He said to him, “Feed My sheep. Feed My lambs. Take care of My little ones” [John 21:15-17], He identifies Himself with His people. In the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Matthew, the incomparable story of the great judgment: “Lord, when did we ever see Thee hungry, or thirsty, or naked?” and the Lord replies, “Inasmuch as you did it unto one of the least of these My brethren, you did it unto Me” [Matthew 25:37-40]. The Lord identifies Himself with His people.
And how do I find Him, and where? I find Him with His people, and when I give to His people and to the cause of His kingdom, and when I give to His church and all of those wonderful, many-faceted ministries of His church, I give to Him. And it’s a beautiful and precious and loving remembrance: this I bring before the Lord. It’s for Him, and I give it to the ministries of His people.
Scottie, I think of you and our twenty-five missions. Could anything in the earth be more full of the gospel than in ministering to these twenty-five missions that circle this great metroplex, lovingly cared for and sponsored by our church? And the whole world, and the whole kingdom and patience of Jesus, a gift for Christ.
Gold, and frankincense; frankincense [Matthew 2:11]. When you read in the thirtieth chapter of the Book of Exodus, you read this: that before the veil there was to be a golden altar of incense [Exodus 30:1, 3, 6], and it represented, the Bible says, the ascending prayers of God’s people before the Lord—frankincense [Revelation 8:4]. When the angel appeared to Zacharias to announce the birth of the great forerunner of Christ, the angel stood there on the right side of the altar of incense, and spoke to Zacharias [Luke 1:11]. In the Book of the Revelation, in the fifth chapter and the eighth chapter, the angel has a golden censer, and the frankincense that came up before God on the throne, the Book of the Revelation says it is the prayers of His people, the prayers of His people [Revelation 5:8; 8:3-4]. And the Lord is pleased to listen to the intercessions of those who look up to Him. Frankincense, intercession, bringing before God these that are dear to us, whose cause and purpose and life are on our hearts: frankincense, praying unto God.
And they brought unto Him myrrh, myrrh [Matthew 2:11]. From forever in ancient times, myrrh has been a symbol of the burial of the dead. In the story of the crucifixion of our Lord [John 19:16-37], when they took His body down from the cross, Nicodemus came with myrrh and aloes, and when they wrapped the body of our Lord in the linen cloth they enfolded it with myrrh [John 19:38-40]. Myrrh is always a symbol of the sacrificial life, the life poured out unto death.
And you know, it is a strange thing how different the Scriptures reveal to us the servitude of God than what we think; and I sometimes have trouble trying to conclude my own reaction and understanding to that discipleship. I know, for example, I know that it is well with those who serve the Lord. God blesses them, and He prospers them, and He works with them. If a man will take the Lord into his business and make God his partner, he’ll have almightiness at his right hand. If you take Him into any area of your life, in the rearing of children, in the planting of the crops, in the decisions made in the store, in every area of life, God blesses. But in the Holy Scriptures, the allotment and the assignment of God’s people in the earth is so different. In the Old Testament, in the Old Covenant, in the book of the heroes of the faith, He says, in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews:
They were tortured…
Others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:
They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;
(Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
What a different description than what I think.
And when I come to the new dispensation, this one in which we live, I think of the apostles: Peter, crucified upside down; John in his age, burned at the stake; all of them suffering martyrdom, and the story of the Christian faith written in human blood; myrrh, the pouring out of life unto death [Isaiah 53:12; Matthew 2:11].
And I think of the kingdom of God as I have seen it in my own lifetime. I stood at Serampore, where William Carey brought the gospel message to India. He is buried there; and on his grave, I was amazed and astonished to read these words: “[A wretched poor and helpless worm]. On Thy kind arms I fall.” As I looked at it, there in Serampore on one of the branches of the Ganges River, it just revealed to me a whole volume of the burden of the life of that first missionary to India.
When I was in college, I was a guest in the home of families whose daughters had died in Africa. As the days passed, I stood at the graves of those three young women in Africa. They had died in an epidemic of yellow fever, and buried there in that dark continent. I stood at the grave of Henrietta Hall Shuck in Hong Kong, buried in a place they call Happy Valley. She was the first—they use the word “female,” that’s on her tombstone—she was the first woman missionary to China, and she died in her twenties. The hardships of the assignment was too great, and the young wife died in her twenties, and buried there in Hong Kong.
I said to the missionary in Kobe, Japan—out of the harbor of Kobe rises a mountain, and the home overlooked Kobe Bay; he had a porch on the home, and I said, “If you don’t mind, just leave me here alone,” and I sat there on that porch looking down into the bay. In that bay Lottie Moon died. She was cremated according to the laws of Japan. And I visited her grave in Virginia.
Myrrh: life poured out unto death [Isaiah 53:12; Matthew 2:11]. And when I review the story of God’s sainted people, I am ashamed of how little it costs me to be a Christian. I am rebuked at how little actually I dedicate unto Him. Myrrh: the pouring out of life unto death. And as I pray and read my Holy Scriptures, Lord, that there could be less and less of me, and more and more of Thee.
You know, human nature is so strange. I must close; the time is gone. You would think that the call to sacrifice and hardship would repulse people. It’s just the opposite. A denominational worker came to a group of students in college, and he outlined for those students the soft, beautiful life of a missionary: “We will provide you a home. We will take care of you all of your life. We will give you an annuity. All of your expenses in life cared for. Now who will respond and volunteer to be a missionary?” And there was something like two or three. There was another representative from a faith mission who came to that same student group, and he said, “The way is difficult and hard. It is uncivilized. It is barbaric. It is fraught with daily danger, but the people are in darkness, and somebody must bring them the light of God at the cost of life. Who will go? Who will respond?” and there were hundreds of those young people who responded. That’s the strangest thing in the earth! You make it easy and soft and secular and worldly, and nobody will respond! You make it difficult and sacrificial and costly and hard, and hundreds will respond.
So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So close is God to man
When the Lord whispers low, Thou must,
The youth replies, I can.
[adapted from “Voluntaries,” Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1863]
The Christian faith, if it is actually lived, is always at a cost. Myrrh: the pouring of life unto death; but these are the true disciples of our Lord. Lord, unworthy as I am, I’d like to be one. I’d like to be included. Lord, put my name down; add me to that roll. I would like to be one to follow Jesus unto death: the gift of myrrh [Matthew 2:11].
We’re going to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, as the Spirit of God shall lead you in the way: “Pastor, today I open my heart to the blessed Jesus, and here I stand” [Romans 10:9-10], or “Pastor, this is my family; we’re all coming into the fellowship of this dear church,” or “Pastor, God has spoken to my heart, and this day I want to answer God’s call for me.” As the Spirit shall press the appeal, make the decision now, and in this moment when we stand to sing our hymn, on the first note of the first stanza, that first step will be the most meaningful in your life. In the balcony round, down one of these stairways; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles: “I give you my hand, pastor. Today I’m giving my heart in a new, deeper way to God.” Do it now. Make it now. Answer now, while we stand and while we sing.