Wise Men, Gifts of Faith, and Worship
INSTITUTE FOR CHRISTIAN WORSHIP LECTURES
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Today’s WORSHIP QUOTE is a meditation by pastor-author James Montgomery Boice on the gifts presented to Jesus by the wise men. In application for modern-day followers of Jesus, Boice explains how you and I can bring our "gold, incense, and myrrh" as gifts of faith in worship to the Lord.
WISE MEN, GIFTS OF FAITH, AND WORSHIP
From the Bible story we know very little about the wise men. Millions of Christmas cards show three kings presenting gifts to a tiny child in a manger. People sing "We Three Kings of Orient Are." But we do not know that there were three wise men who brought the gifts. We are not told that they were kings, or even when they arrived in Bethlehem. It is likely, actually, in view of their long journey and of Herod's command that all children under two years of age be killed, that they arrived when the infant Jesus had already become a young child.
The fact that so little information is given about the wise men clearly shows that Matthew's interest was not focused upon the wise men themselves. Rather, he was interested in the fact that Gentiles came to worship the Jewish Messiah, and in the gifts they bore. . . .
It is easy to see why gold is an appropriate gift for Jesus Christ. Gold is the metal of kings. When gold was presented to Jesus, it acknowledged his right to rule. It has often been pointed out that when the wise men brought gold to the infant Jesus they were being used by God to provide the funds necessary for Joseph to take the young child and his mother to Egypt to escape Herod's attempt on his life. That is probably true; but although it is true, it is far overshadowed by the significance of the gift itself. Jesus was a king, as the wise men knew. He was the King of kings. . . .
It is also easy to see why incense was a significant gift. Incense was used in the temple worship. It was mixed with the oil that was used to anoint the priests of Israel. It was part of the meal offerings that were offerings of thanksgiving and praise to God. In presenting this gift the wise men pointed to Christ as our great High Priest, the one whose whole life was acceptable and well pleasing to his Father.
It is interesting that incense was never mixed with sin offerings. The meat and wine offerings were offerings for sin, and those were not to have incense mixed with them. Only the meal offerings, which were not for sin, were to receive the incense.
When we discover that, we think naturally of Jesus, to whom the incense was given. He was without sin. When his enemies came to him on one occasion, he challenged them with the question, "Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?" (John 8:46). They were speechless. Earlier he had said of his Father, "I always do what pleases him" (John 8:29). None of us can say that. Since only the Lord Jesus Christ was sinless, it was extremely fitting that incense should have been offered to him.
Just as gold speaks of Christ's kingship and incense speaks of the perfection of his life, so does myrrh speak of his death. Myrrh was used in embalming. By any human measure it would be odd, if not offensive, to present to the infant Christ a spice used for embalming. But it was not offensive in this case, nor was it odd. It was a gift of faith. We do not know precisely what the wise men may have known or guessed about Christ's ministry, but we do know that the Old Testament again and again foretold is suffering. Psalm 22 describes his death by crucifixion; it was a verse from this psalm that Jesus quoted when he cried out from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1; Matt. 27:46). . . . Christ was to suffer, to die for sin. It was myrrh that symbolized this aspect of his ministry. . . .
There is a sense in which by faith we too may present our gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh.
Begin with your myrrh. Myrrh is not only a symbol of Christ's death but also of the spiritual death that should come to you for your sin. Lay it at Christ's feet, saying, "Lord Jesus Christ, I know that I am less perfect than you are and am a sinner. I know that I should receive the consequence of my sin, which is to be barred from your presence forever. But you took my sin, dying in my place. I believe that. Now I ask you to accept me as your child forever."
After you have done that, come with your incense, acknowledging that your life is as impure as the life of the Lord Jesus Christ is sinless. The Bible teaches that there is no good in man that is not mixed with evil. But it also teaches that Christ comes to live in the believer so that the good deeds produced in his or her life may become in their turn "a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God."
Finally, come with your gold. Gold symbolizes royalty. So when you come with your gold you acknowledge the right of Christ to rule your life. You say, "I am your servant; you are my Master. Direct my life and lead me in it so that I might grow up spiritually to honor and to serve you accordingly."
If you have come believing in all that the myrrh, incense, and gold signify, you have embarked on a path of great spiritual joy and blessing. For those are the gifts of faith. They are the only things we can offer to the one who by grace has given all things to us.
—James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000), from THE CHRIST OF CHRISTMAS (Chicago: Moody Press, 1983), Excerpted in COME, THOU LONG-EXPECTED JESUS: EXPERIENCING THE PEACE AND PROMISE OF CHRISTMAS, edited by Nancy Guthrie. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008, pp. 116-19. ISBN 978-1-4335-0180-7. (Highly recommended. Other authors represented in this Christmas volume are Martin Luther, Martyn Loyd-Jones, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Saint Augustine, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, as well as many modern pastor-scholars.)
MORE WORSHIP QUOTES FOR ADVENT & CHRISTMAS
www.wqotw.org/quote.php?date=2005-12-06 (“O Come, O Come, Immanuel”)
www.wqotw.org/quote.php?date=2000-12-26 ("Thou Who Wast Rich")
www.wqotw.org/quote.php?date=1995-12-20 (C. S. Lewis)
www.wqotw.org/quote.php?date=2004-12-21 (Ambrose and Luther)
www.wqotw.org/quote.php?date=2005-12-20 (Dutch Carol)
www.wqotw.org/quote.php?date=1996-12-24 (Ulrich Shaffer)
www.wqotw.org/quote.php?date=2006-12-12 ("The Gift of Gifts")
www.wqotw.org/quote.php?date=2004-12-07 ("Of the Father's Love Begotten")
www.wqotw.org/quote.php?date=2006-12-26 (Augustine and Lewis)
www.wqotw.org/quote.php?date=2007-12-18 (Thomas à Kempis)
www.wqotw.org/quote.php?date=2007-12-25 (Clarkson, Communion Hymn)
Another "Merry Christmas!" to all.
"Let every heart prepare Him room."
Director, Institute for Christian Worship
School of Church Ministries
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
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