What Shall I Bring Him?
What Shall I Bring Him?
A Christian comedian once said this story would be far different had these been women instead of men. For one thing, women would have asked directions immediately, so they would have got there on time. Once in Bethlehem, women would have helped deliver the baby, cleaned up the stable, made a casserole for the new parents, and bought cute little outfits baby Jesus could wear on his trip home.
But the story is about men. Most of the popular ideas about them are wrong. For instance, “We Three Kings of Orient Are” is a familiar Christmas carol but the only thing the title gets right is that the men came from the Orient, or the East. The Bible does not say there were three. It does not say they were kings. The Bible says only that they were men (the word magoi is masculine, as are the pronouns rendered “them”) from the East; that they brought Jesus, gold, frankincense, and myrrh; and that they were not there the night Jesus was born. In fact, they did not show up until months after his birth. When they found the “young child” he was no longer in a stable but living in a house in Bethlehem. This means they brought him their gifts after Christmas in the new year. So, this is not a Christmas message. It is a New Year’s message.
The gifts these men brought were gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Or as a five-year-old in Sunday School put it, “Gold, Frankenstein, and Smurfs!” Each gift suggests a resolution we should offer the Lord in the new year. Starting today, let’s resolve today to:
Obey Jesus as King
The men brought Jesus, gold, the first metal mentioned in the Bible. All cultures and times have prized gold for three reasons. First, it is rare. By one estimate, all the gold ever mined in human history comes to about 171,300 tons (as of 2013). If melted into one mass it would form a cube about 68 feet on a side. That is not a lot of gold. Second, it has a brilliant natural luster. It is shiny and glitters. Third, it resists most acids and neither corrodes nor tarnishes. Due to its rarity, brilliance, and permanence, gold was linked to royalty from earliest times. Gold was a gift fit for a king!
So in the familiar Christmas carol one of the men says:
Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign.
A reporter from the Mobile paper called one day to ask what I thought most Christians did not understand about being a Christian. I did not have to think long. “Most Christians do not understand that they have a King to obey!” Perhaps that is understandable. People came to this country to get away from kings. They wanted to make their own way in life without being told what to do. Here people grow up as (small d) democrats who believe all men are created equal and in government “of the people, for the people and by the people.” Most have no clue what it means to live under a king with absolute authority! Taste that word “King” (C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 140).
In a kingdom the king is the law. In a kingdom people do what they are told without quibbling, questioning, or asking if the monarch might take less than he ordered. In a kingdom the king expects obedience instant and full.
Jesus did not ask anybody to make a little room—or even a lot of room—for him in his life. He called them to crown him King of their whole life. The King expects his subjects to do what he says without hesitating or resisting.
He expects us to obey him, like it or not. They may not like what he has told them to do—keep their marriage vows, do good to those who do bad to them, go on mission to the ends of the earth—but when they entered his kingdom they signed on to obey.
The King expects us to obey him, afford it or not! Tell the truth even if it means losing a job. Save sex for marriage even if it means losing a boyfriend/girlfriend. Tithe even if it means doing without something wanted or needed.
He expects us to obey him even if it means death! An old turpentine worker’s dog burned to death in a forest fire because the animal would not desert the dinner pail his master left him to watch. Tears in his eyes, the old man choked on his words. “I always had to be careful what I told him to do, ’cause I knew he’d do it!” Are you so serious about obeying Jesus that he has to be careful what he tells you to do “’cause he knows you will do it”? That is the obedience due King Jesus.
One of the men who helped ordain me to the ministry was Lester Carpenter. He was legally blind because of a childhood disease and could neither read nor write. But God had plans for him. Under deep conviction on a hot summer day, he fell on his knees between his plow handles in a corn patch and said, “Lord, if you will take the thug out of my soul and give me the joy and happiness I see in others, whatever you have for me to do, I will never say no!” (Sue Ellyn Carpenter Barton, Throw It in the Creek, Tarentum PA: Word Association, 2007, 47).
That is what it means to have Jesus as King. “I will never say No!” Resolve today to obey Jesus as King more and better from now on.
Worship Jesus as God
The men brought Jesus, frankincense, a gum resin from a tree native only to Yemen and Somalia. Rare and expensive, its fragrant odor made it one of the most highly prized of all incenses. The ancients ranked it as valuable as gold.
Frankincense was used for perfume and perhaps for medicinal purposes but primarily Israel used it for worship. Priests mixed it with three other ingredients to make the holy incense used only in the worship of YHWH (Ex. 30:7-8, 34). They also put frankincense on the showbread before YHWH in the Holy Place (Lev. 16:12; 24:7). Worshipers placed it on certain offerings to YHWH (Lev. 2:15-16). Because of its connection with worship, frankincense was a gift fit for God.
So in the Christmas carol a second man says:
Frankincense to offer have I,
Incense owns a Deity nigh,
Prayer and praising all men raising,
Worship him God on high.
As God in the flesh, Jesus is worthy of worship. Worship is God’s highest priority. God’s heart, God’s desire, is to see the nations worship. The goal of the gospel is worship. Missions and evangelism are temporary tasks. They exist only to lead people to worship. In heaven evangelism and missions end, but worship goes on forever. Too many have grown careless about the worship that God values so highly.
Bible study is worship of Jesus. But many look at Sunday School as an unimportant option. Praising, praying, giving, and preaching are worship of Jesus. But all too many who gather on God’s day just go through the motions. If they sing at all, it is with half a heart and an absent mind. If they pray at all their prayers are stale, the same words every time. If they give at all they “drop a dollar” on God without a thought about what God expects them to give. I suspect there are people who go through an entire worship service from beginning to end without thinking of God for one full minute. They “draw near him with their lips but their hearts are far from him” (Isa. 29:13).
For each one who goes through the motions there are ten who do not even go through the motions. These drop in occasionally, if at all, usually on Sunday morning only. Is Jesus not worthy of worship on Sunday night? Is he not worthy of worship on Wednesday night? When will you get serious about the worship of Jesus?
But do not stop there. Worship of Jesus is not just a matter of coming to church for an hour a week. The Bible commands the Christian to “offer your body a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). In the original language of the New Testament, “service” (latreia) means priestly service (i.e. worship). This means a believer must make all of life worship, in the home, office, school, on the hunt, the court, the lake, or the ball field. I ask again, when will we get serious about the worship of Jesus?
Resolve to worship Jesus as God more and better starting today.
Accept Jesus as Sacrifice
The men brought Jesus, myrrh. Like frankincense, myrrh is an exotic gum resin from a thorny shrub native only to Yemen and Somalia. In the ancient world it was rare and very costly, treasured for its strong scent. The gum was used medically to deaden pain (Mark. 15:23). But in Egypt (Herodotus 2.86), as well as Israel, they used myrrh chiefly to preserve mummies and to prepare bodies for burial (John 19:34). Its pungent perfume covered the stench of rotting flesh. Because of its connection with death, myrrh was a gift fit for a Sacrifice.
So in the Christmas carol the third man says:
Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom,
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.
Three facts are true of all people: 1) They know there is a high God in heaven. 2) They know they have offended that God. 3) They do not know what to do about it. Intuitively they sense that sin deserves punishment. Not just any punishment but CAPITAL punishment. Someone must die. Blood must be shed.
So, Canaanites and other pagans offered human sacrifices. Innocent maidens and captives died in the place of the guilty to win the favor of the gods. Some even offered their own children, “the fruit of their bodies for the sin of their souls” (Micah 6:7b). Others slaughtered innocent animals in place of guilty sinners. Even YHWH ordered animal sacrifices. So his people brought the best of their flocks and herds, animals without spot or blemish, and spilled their blood on God’s altar. A perfect sacrifice would perfectly cleanse sin once and for all. But worshipers had to repeat animal sacrifices endlessly, week after week, month after month, year after year. “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:1-4). Animal sacrifices served only as vivid reminders that a perfect sacrifice was needed.
So, Jesus came into the world. “Therefore when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me. … I have come to do your will, O God. … And by that will we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:5-7, 10). Jesus offered a single sacrifice, the perfect sacrifice for sin, the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, and then sat down at the right hand of God. He will never walk the Calvary way again. Never again will Jesus spill his blood on a cross. He does not need to. In the chilling winds of an April day in the 18th Year of the Emperor Tiberius Jesus the Perfect Sacrifice died the death of the guilty to take away sin once and forever. Transfer all trust to him today.
Somewhere I read a story about two men who went to pray (Luke 18:9-14). The good man stood up front and bragged to God that he was a better man than most. “I do not cheat people; I always play fair, and I am faithful to my wife. As for my religious life, I do more than it requires. It says I must fast twice a year; I fast twice a week. It demands I tithe my gain; I tithe everything I get, including what I buy or am given, in case the seller or giver did not tithe it. I will not use anything that has not been tithed.”
Meanwhile, in the back of the room stood a bad man who confessed he was a deep-dyed guilty sinner with no claim on God. All he could do was beat his breast and cry “God be merciful to me, the sinner.” Not just one sinner among many others but “the” sinner, the one in more desperate need than any other sinner in the world. Prayers over both men headed home. Most might think it was the good man who went home right with God, but they would be wrong. Jesus (for this was his story) said it was the bad man who went home “justified,” right with God. How in the name of all justice could that be?
Here is how. The good man went home condemned not because he was righteous but because he was self-righteous. “A man who thinks he is righteous is not righteous—for the reason, primarily, that he is full of spiritual pride, the most deadly form sin can take” (Elton Trueblood, Religious Quotations 535).
And the bad man went home right with God not because he was a sinner but because he did the one thing God requires of sinners. He faced the awful truth about himself and threw himself on God’s mercy (Caird, Lu, 203).
Which man are you like? The good man who thinks God owes him for being good? Or the bad man whose only hope is to cry for mercy and accept the sacrifice of Jesus to cleanse his sin?
A Mobile friend who claims she is an atheist said, “I do not believe in your God. But if I meet him after I die, I believe he will treat me fairly.” What did she mean? “God owes me because I am a decent, moral person.” That is self-righteousness. To get right with God she must transfer trust from herself to Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. So does every guilty sinner.
Resolve today to accept Jesus as the sacrifice for sin.
I give you Jesus, in the words of the carol, “King, and God, and Sacrifice.” What will you give him in this new year? The gifts of the Magi suggest answers.
Bring him gold. Obey Jesus as King!
Bring him frankincense. Worship Jesus as God!
Bring him myrrh. Accept Jesus as the Sacrifice for your sin!
Resolve today to give Jesus obedience, worship, and trust in the new year!
This is not a message for someone else or anyone else. Take it personally.
A long-time teacher of adult and youth Christian groups, Cecil infuses his video lessons with his personable, thought-provoking style.