Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Epiphany 2021 | Gracious Gifts of Faith for Journey Ahead

Les Rois Mages (Three Wise Men) by Vie de Jesus Mafa 24, rue du Marechal Joffre

¡Feliz día de los Reyes Magos!

We read of no greater faith than this in the whole volume of the Bible: The wise men saw a newborn baby on the lap of a poor woman, and yet worshiped Him, and confessed that He was Christ.  + James Montgomery Boice, "Gifts of Faith"

Wise Men Still Worship Him" excerpts from Bishop J.C. Ryle's, "Lessons of the Wise Men," Anna Case-Winters' "King of the Jews and Gentiles," and James Montgomery Boice's "Gifts of Faith"

Scriptures: Matthew 2:1-11

It is not known who these wise men were. Their names and dwelling place are both kept from us. We are only told that they came "from the east." Yet these wise men in Matthew 2:1-11 show us that there may be true servants of God in places where we should not expect to find them. The Lord Jesus has many "hidden ones," like these wise men. But their names are in the book of life, and they will be found with Christ on the day of His appearing. It is well to remember this. We must not look around the earth and say hastily, "All is barren." The grace of God is not tied to places and families. The Holy Spirit can lead souls to Christ without the help of any outward means. Men and women may be born in dark places of the earth, like these wise ones, and yet like them be made "wise for salvation." 

These wise men believed in Christ when they had never seen Him; but that was not all. They believed in Him when the scribes and Pharisees were unbelieving; but that again was not all. They believed in Him when they saw Him as a child on Mary's knees, and worshiped Him as King. This was the crowning point of their faith. They saw no miracles to convince them. They heard no teaching to persuade them. They saw nothing but a child needing a mother's care like any of us. And yet when they saw that child, they believed that they saw the divine Savior of the world! "They bowed down and worshiped Him" (v. 11).

As it is with the wise men, so it will be with the rest of the story, faithful people who stand at the margins will be the ones who follow Jesus and receive God's blessing. The wise men – strangers and foreigners – are a foreshadowing of the recognition and homage Jesus will receive from the Gentiles. The coming of these Gentiles from the East looks both backward and forward. It looks back to the Hebrew Scriptures that prophesy the universalizing of God's blessing to Israel. In that time, as Isaiah 2:2-4 anticipates, "all the nations shall stream" to the house of the Lord. The promise is reiterated in Isaiah 60:1-6, which declares, "Nations shall come to your light." The wise men come following the "light" of Jesus' star on the rise. The story of the wise men also looks forward to the point where the disciples are sent forth to "all nations" (Matthew 28:19) and even to his own day when Gentiles are entering the community of faith.

And Matthew's interest was not only in the fact that Gentile came to worship this Jewish Jesus, but that they also came with very special gifts. A literary critic would draw special attention to the gifts, for they occur at the end of the story after the child has been found and thus occupy a place of prominence.

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 is 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. The wise men pointed to his kingship with their gold.

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. 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 his 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?" (Ps. 22:1; Matt. 27:46). 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 read of no greater faith than this in the whole volume of the Bible. It is a faith that deserves to be placed side by side with that of the penitent thief. The thief that saw someone dying the death of a criminal, and yet prayed to Him, and "called Him Lord." The wise men saw a newborn baby on the lap of a poor woman, and yet worshiped Him, and confessed that He was Christ. 

There is a sense in which by faith we too may present our gifts of myrhh, incense, and gold. 

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 woman or 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 her or his 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.

+ Bishop J.C. Ryle, 1856 A.D.; Anna Case-Winters, 2015 A.D.; James Montgomery Boice, 1983 A.D.

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike “Sully” Sullivan

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