Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Gifts Pt. 3 Myrrh

And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume Breathes a life of gathering gloom; Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, Sealed in the stone cold tomb. *

The last two columns I wrote, just before Christmas, dealt with the gifts the wise men brought to Jesus and what we could similarly bring to God as our Christmas gifts. I purposely covered gold and frankincense before Christmas, so that the gift of myrrh could be considered after Christmas was over.

Gold symbolized Jesus’ royalty and frankincense symbolized His priesthood. Myrrh, however, symbolized something that we don’t like to think of at Christmas. Myrrh called to mind the death of Christ for our sins. Few people ever look at a baby or young child and think about their death, but that is exactly what the myrrh represented when the magi gave it to Jesus.

Myrrh is a dried sap that is extracted from certain trees, native to the area around Israel. It was used two ways in ancient society. It could either be burned as incense, or used as an embalming ointment. As incense, it was often used in funerals to mask the inevitable smell from the dead body. It is also mentioned in the Old Testament as an ingredient in holy anointing oils and perfumes.

In addition to being one of the gifts recorded as being given by the wise men, myrrh is mentioned twice more in the New Testament. The first occurrence is in Mark 15:22-23 when Jesus was crucified. And they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it. The next mention of myrrh is in John 19:39-40 when Jesus was taken down from the cross and buried. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. 40 Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.

What could we possibly bring to God as a gift that would be similar to myrrh? We should give our life for Him. Yes, we need to die for Him. No, I do not mean that we should kill ourselves. I mean that we need to die to our former lives and our former sinfulness. Paul says in Romans 6:6-9, Our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. 7 For he who has died has been freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him.
The thing that God most wants from us…is us! He wants all of us. He wants every part of our lives. He wants our body, our spirit, our mind, and soul. In order to give this to Him, we must put aside all of our wants and desires. We must understand and believe that they died on the cross with Christ. They were buried with Him in the tomb. However, Just as Paul says in the Romans passage above, we are raised with Him victoriously.

The paradox here is, that if we give God all of who we are and will ever be, then He will give us a new life that is far greater than we could imagine. This includes life here on earth and eternal life with Him in heaven.

We have much to celebrate! Christ is no longer a baby in a manger. He is no longer a simple man raised by a carpenter. He is no longer on the cross or in the tomb. He is risen and lives in us to bring us light in our darkness, and joy to our lives!

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2)

Glorious now behold Him arise; King and God and sacrifice; Alleluia, Alleluia, sounds through the earth and skies. (*We Three Kings. Words and Music by John H. Hopkins 1857)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Gifts Pt 2. Frankincense

And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)

Frankincense to offer have I; Incense owns a Deity nigh; Prayer and praising, voices raising, Worshipping God on high. (We Three Kings. Words and Music by John H. Hopkins 1857)

Twenty years ago or more, a preschool-aged member of my family was practicing for a Christmas pageant. He was not only singing with the group, but also had some lines in the play. His only line was, “The wise men brought gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.”

I was feeling pretty mischievous, so I thought I’d have some fun at the expense of a 6-year old. I told him I would rehearse with him. As he recited his lines to me I said, “No, it wasn’t frankincense, it’s ‘Frankenstein’.” I really didn’t think much more about it until I found out later that he really did go to the pageant and say that the wise men brought gifts of gold, Frankenstein and myrrh. I doubled over in laughter.

The problem was that he knew that Frankenstein was a monster with bolts coming out of his neck, but he had no idea what frankincense was. In fact, isn’t that the problem with most of us? We have heard this story many times since we were children, but most have no idea what these mysterious gifts were that the wise men brought.

Last week we discussed gold. We all know what that is. This week we will explore that second gift of Frankenstein…I mean frankincense.

Frankincense is a resin that is derived from the boswellia tree that is in the dry regions of north-east Africa and south of the Arabian Peninsula. The tree tolerates the most critical situations and is often on rocky slopes and ravines. This resin has long been used as aromatic incense, most often in worship.

The Hebrews used it in the temple and in the tabernacle before it. It was one of the ingredients in the altar incense. And the LORD said to Moses: “Take sweet spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, and pure frankincense with these sweet spices; there shall be equal amounts of each. 35 You shall make of these an incense, a compound according to the art of the perfumer, salted, pure, and holy. 36 And you shall beat some of it very fine, and put some of it before the Testimony in the tabernacle of meeting where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you. (Exodus 30:34-36) It is also mentioned in the book of Leviticus, Numbers, Nehemiah, Song of Solomon, and Jeremiah in the Old Testament.

In the New Testament, it is only mentioned twice. Once, as a gift that the wise men brought, and another in Revelation as an item that merchants sell. This gift has significance just as gold did.

Since the gift of gold signified Christ’s royalty, the gift of frankincense symbolizes Christ’s priesthood. He is our King and our Priest. He rules over us, but to Him we bring all of our worship, praise, burdens, confessions, and sins. Where once the Hebrews had to go to a priest to communicate with the Father, now we have our perfect salvation in Jesus. We no longer need a priest to gain access to God. Jesus is our High Priest. We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man.(Hebrews 8:1-2)

This is all great information, but what do we do with it today? Last week, we talked about how we should give God our material things this Christmas, but what can we give to our High Priest?

To Jesus, our High Priest, we offer…

Our confession. Romans 10:9 if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved

Our sins. Romans 6:18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness

Our selves. Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship

Give these gifts to God this Christmas, and release yourself from the guilt and shame of disobedience. He came to set us free from the chains of sin. He became our High Priest so we can go directly to Him with our praises and petitions. Go to the altar of your heart today.

Praise Him! Praise Him! Jesus, our bless├Ęd Redeemer! Heav’nly portals loud with hosannas ring! Jesus, Savior, reigneth forever and ever. Crown Him! Crown Him! Prophet, and Priest, and King! (Fanny Crosby 1869)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Gifts Part 1: Gold

Christmas is here! One Christmas song says that “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” It is certainly an exciting and busy time of the year. Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet? Have you even started?
It seems that finding the perfect gift for our friends and family seems to be an obsession at times. However, this Christmas, I have heard of many who are cutting back a bit due to a tough financial year. Whether you are staying with a budget or going all out for presents, please try to remember in all of this business, the reason we give.

The giving began with the gift of Jesus. God became one of us, so we could be forgiven of our sinfulness, and have a closer relationship with Him. That gift could never be matched by us. We simply do not have the ability to give that sacrificially. However, if we look to the first human gifts, given to celebrate the birth of Christ, then we may be able to begin thinking about what we can bring to God at Christmas.

Chapter 2 of Matthew tells us the story of the wise men who came to bring gifts to the newborn King. 
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:1-2, 11) 

These gifts were grand presents for the new King. However, they had spiritual and symbolic meaning as well. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we will examine each gift and discuss what they might teach us about the things we can bring to Christ this Christmas.

Gold is a wonderful precious metal. It is very expensive in today’s world and was equally so in the time of Jesus. Gold was not something that was necessarily brought to a newborn baby. However, scripture tells us not only that the wise men brought this gift of gold, but also that it was a fulfillment of prophecy. The multitude of camels shall cover your land, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come; they shall bring gold and incense, and they shall proclaim the praises of the LORD. (Isaiah 60:6) In other words, this gift of gold represented Jesus’ kingship. This was a gift traditionally given to royalty. The Magi, were well aware that they were giving this gift to a newborn King.

Gold also represents wealth and material goods. Perhaps the message of this gift from the wise men to Christ, is that we should also give Him our material goods. Jesus spoke many times in His ministry about the evils of loving money more than God.

Jesus told one young man who asked Him about how to acquire eternal life, to keep the commandments. When the young man replied that he had done so all of his life, Jesus pushed a little further, “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:21-22)
It is imperative that we be willing to give up all the possessions that we have if it means gaining Christ. Most of the time, we are not asked to do such, but we must be willing, if we are truly to be followers of Jesus.

What possessions do you need to surrender to Jesus this Christmas? If you look at what takes up most of your time, energy and money, you will find the answer. Are you willing to present it to Christ, just as the Magi laid their gift of gold at His feet? He gave His all for us. Pray and ask God for the strength and wisdom to give all that you have to Him.

When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? (Mark 8:34-36 NKJV)