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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Skip Heitzig » Skip Heitzig - The Gift of Gold

Skip Heitzig - The Gift of Gold

Skip Heitzig - The Gift of Gold
Skip Heitzig - The Gift of Gold
TOPICS: The Gift, Christmas

Would you turn this morning, please, in your Bibles to Matthew, chapter 2; Matthew, chapter 2. Every Christmastime retailers bank on sales so much because sales for Christmas presents give retailers about 20 percent of their total revenue for the year. And this year it is estimated that Americans are going to spend 781 billion dollars on presents. It's a lot of gifts, 781 billion dollars. In a survey when people were asked, "Who's your favorite people to buy Christmas gifts for?" You can guess who topped the list. Children, especially their own children. What amazed me is that dead last on the list of favorite people to buy Christmas presents for were dads, only 2 percent. Seventy percent said children; 2 percent said dads. I went into depression when I found that out.

Well, we are entering the Christmas season, the Advent season, as it has been historically called by the church. And what we want to do, beginning this week, is look at the gifts that were presented to Christ after his birth by the wise men called the magi in our text. Now, I got to say that I always find it awkward at Christmastime, because I feel like I'm sort of battling the theology of Christmas cards and Christmas carols. I've discovered that lots of people get information about Christmas solely on the pictures that people paint on Christmas cards or lyrics that come from Christmas carols. They're the biggest culprits. They're wonderful songs. I love Christmas carols, but you can't take the theology from Christmas carols necessarily.

Here's an example. I love the song, but listen: "Silent night, holy night, all is calm", stop right there. Since when is the birth of a baby ever a silent night? Am I right? It's not silent. Add to that the confusion in the streets of Bethlehem as people are signing up for a census that has been taken forcing masses of population to travel around the country. Add to that the anthems of the angels and the sky breaking forth in voluminous praise. It seems to me that of all of the people in the Christmas story, the group that has the most confusion surrounding them are the ones that we're about to read about the wise men. And I say "confusion" because there was that great song, another Christmas carol, written in 1857: "We three kings of Orient are bearing gifts we traverse afar."

It's a beautiful song; however, the text says nothing about their number. It doesn't say there were three kings; it just says they brought three gifts. How many ever there were, it was enough to make Herod troubled, and I don't think three dudes on camels would have done it. An army would have, yes, an entourage, yes, but just three guys probably wouldn't. So the text doesn't say there were three, nor does it say there were three kings from the Orient as we understand the Orient. They were from somewhere east of Israel, probably ancient Persia. They were not kings. They were spiritual advisors, we will discover. They were kingmakers, in fact. And they did not come on Christmas night. They weren't part of the manger scene as the Christmas cards will tell you.

But by the time they show up, Jesus is not a baby any longer; he's a child, as you will see. So, what we learn from the cards and the carols isn't always right. What would be more accurate to sing, "We huge entourage of Parthia and astronomers from Iran traverse afar, bearing gifts..." But that would never pass the songwriting committee, so we have to dispense with that. We're going to look at the gifts that they give, this week, the following weekend, and the following weekend. And today we begin with the gold that is brought in chapter 2, verse 11. Gold, the metal of kings. And there was one thing the group knew about this baby who had been born, this was a King who was born.

And we're going to examine these gifts and go deeper than the Christmas carols and beyond the cover of the Christmas card and find out their meaning, their emblematic meaning. I don't know if you saw this a few years ago on America's Funniest Home Videos. Do you ever watch that? It showed a video of Christmas day a kid coming down the stairs and seeing this huge gift by the Christmas tree. He got so excited, ran over to it, started ripping the paper off. And paper's flying everywhere, and he looks at it, and he starts dancing around, dancing around the living room and goes, "Wow, I can't believe it! Wow! It's what I always wanted." And then he paused, this was in the video, no joke, and he went over to it and said, "What is it?"

And I feel that with these gifts, the gold, the frankincense, and the myrrh, it's like, "Wow! I love singing that Christmas carol! What is it? What do they mean exactly?" Well, we begin in verse 1 actually. We want to do that today. And we begin with a question, a question about a coming King that they come and bring to Herod. Verse 1, "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," we're not told really anything more than that, "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.'" As we begin the chapter, seemingly from out of nowhere this group from the East shows up in Jerusalem. They manage to get an audience with King Herod.

And whatever the conversation entails, whatever they saw, or whatever Herod saw in this group, it was enough to trouble him, the text will tell us, agitate him, perturb him, shake him to the core, and all of Jerusalem with him. It just says "wise men from the East." We're really not told much more than that. However, you should know that over the centuries many legends, myths, and traditions have developed around who these were, and everybody kind of goes to "the three wise men." It was believed by some, years ago, that these must be representatives of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the surviving families after the flood. In the Middle Ages by that time they had developed names. The name Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior were given to them, saying that one was from Arabia, one was from Ethiopia, one was from Tarsus, respectively.

Marco Polo even wrote that in his travels he encountered one Persian village and the villagers claim that it was the point of origin, the beginning part of the journey of the wise men to find the Christ child. By the twelfth century there was a German bishop named Reinald of Cologne, Germany, who claimed to have found the skulls of the wise men. Interesting that he found them in Germany, isn't it? And he said when he dug them up that he knew it was them. He knew it was their skulls, because their eyes were still in their sockets, and they were fixed toward Jerusalem. I kid you not. I mean, this is like goofy stuff made up through history. And it reminds me of the Sunday school story of the teacher who was giving the Christmas account to the children and wanted to make sure that they understood.

And so he asked the question: "What do we call the three wise men?" And one of the kids didn't quite get the name right, he said, "We call them the three maggots." And he just sort of overlooked that, and he said the follow-up question is: "And what did the magi bring the Christ child?" And another one piped up and said, "I know, gold, Frankensteins, and smurfs." Well, those ancient traditions aren't much different than what the kids thought it was as well. It simply tells us that, "Behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem." The word "wise men" is the Greek word magoi/magos where we get the term magi. History tells us, and I can't give it all to you today because of time. I'll kind of give you a little more information each week.

But history tells us that they came from ancient Media, ancient Persia. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, and that's where we get most of our information about them, they were a priestly caste of the Medes; that is, they were from Parthia and Mesopotamia. They had one time tried to overthrow Persia; they were unsuccessful. And they became a priestly tribe, advisors to kings and different royal monarchies. They were skilled in philosophy and science. They became known as men of wisdom and they were interpreters of dreams. Originally, they had a worship system of Zoroastrianism, some of you know what that is, called after Zoroaster the founder of that religion. It was a monotheistic religion where they believed in worshiping the god Ahura Mazda.

This is way before the car was developed. It was the chief deity they thought, the storm god, the fire god. More about him in weeks to come. But the magi, the wise men appear in the Old Testament, and one of the prominent places is in the book of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar had them hired in his court to become his own spiritual advisors. They were among the highest ranking officers in Babylon. And you'll recall that one young man saved their bacon, and that was a young man by the name of Daniel who interpreted a dream for King Nebuchadnezzar that the magi, the wise men of Babylon could not interpret. And because Daniel did that, he not only saved their lives, but Daniel was placed as the chief of the magi. He was the master over them all.

Now, why is that important? It's important because without it, you don't understand the question in verse 2. The question is this: "Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?" Why on earth would people from Persia come to Jerusalem asking that question? The answer can only be: Daniel had primed the pump of their ancestors. Daniel had spoken about, in prophetic fashion, that there would be a Messiah born who would be the King over Israel and eventually ruler of the world: Daniel, chapter 9; Daniel, chapter 12; even Daniel, chapter 2, the dream that Nebuchadnezzar saw. He gave those prophecies. And then Jews stayed in Babylon, multitudes of them.

And with them they had the Scriptures, so that the magi over time had access to all of the prophetic Scriptures in the Old Testament, like Numbers 24 that reads, "A star will come from Jacob and a [Ruler] from Israel," or Isaiah, chapter 9, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; and those who dwell in the shadow of death, on them a great light has shined." So they followed a star, and don't have time to talk about all of the different conjectures of what this star was. Every year there's some new National Geographic specialty and astronomers say it's this or that. Here's the point: even foreign, pagan worshipers understood that somebody significant had "been born the King of the Jews". So they come with a question, the question about the coming King: "Where is he?"

That's followed by the reaction, the reaction of the current king as seen in verse 3. "When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled." Tarassó is the word. Tarassó means greatly perturbed, highly agitated, deeply troubled. "He was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and the scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. And so they said, 'In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: "But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd my people Israel."' Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, 'Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found him, bring back word to me that I may come and worship him also.' And when they heard the king, they departed; and behold, a star which they had seen in the East went with them, until it came over and stood over where the young Child was."

Herod was troubled. And why was he troubled? Oh, by the way, why was all Jerusalem troubled? Because Herod was troubled. You'll find out that Herod was the kind of guy that when he's unhappy, everybody else is unhappy. Remember that old saying, "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy"? If Herod's not happy, nobody in town is gonna be happy.

And the reason he was troubled is by one word and the question they posited to him: "Where is he who has been born", what? "King." That's a word of competition to Herod, because it says Herod was the king. In fact, did you know that Herod was called by the title "the king of the Jews"? So when he hears that there is possibly a Jewish-born king, his ire is raised. Let me tell you a little bit about Herod. Herod was not Jewish. He was Idumean. He was an Edomite. He came from modern-day Jordan east of the land of Israel. And the way he arose to power was not because of him, but because of his father. His father was named Antipater. Antipater once helped Rome, and because he had helped Rome, Julius Caesar gave Antipater rule over all of Judea.

When he died, his son now called Herod the Great took over, and Herod the Great was given the title "king of the Jews." It was a title that he held onto very, very tightly, killing any possible rivals. History describes Herod the Great as cruel and paranoid. Here's an example: he killed one of his several wives. He killed two of his eldest sons, so that they couldn't occupy the throne. It was so bad that the saying went around: "It's safer to be Herod's pig than it is to be Herod's son." Herod was so vicious that when he was on his deathbed, eventually, and he knew that everybody would be excited about this. In fact, he knew that when he died, nobody would shed a tear. So, on his deathbed he commanded that all of the chief people in Jerusalem be imprisoned.

And the day that he died, he commanded them all to be killed, because he said, "Nobody will cry when I'm dead, but I want to make sure there's mourning on the day of my death, so kill them all." This is the one who in the story will attempt to kill Jesus himself, slaughtering all the babies of Bethlehem to get to the rival. That's the reaction of this king. But the story really centers around the last part, and I quickly want to move there because of time. After the question about a coming King, and the reaction of the current king, comes really the heart of this text; and that is, the adoration of the competent King, Jesus Christ. Verse 9, "When they heard the king, and departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was."

"And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child", now please notice that. They didn't go into a manger. They didn't go into a cave. They didn't go into a barn. It wasn't a baby. Now they're in a "house." This is sometime after Christmas, after the birth of Christ, and he's now a child. He's a "young Child with Mary his mother, and fell down and worshiped him. And when they opened up their treasures, they presented gifts to him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh." Would you please notice that before they gave their gifts, they gave their heart. They worshiped him. They worshiped him, then they presented presents to him, and I think this is an important example to us.

We often talk about Christians' responsibility to give their time, their talent, and their treasure, and, well, we should. Before we give any of that, we have to give ourselves, we give our very heart, so that all those things are simply an outflow of our worshiping heart to the Lord. They worshiped him and then they presented their gifts. And the first in the list is the gift of gold. Gold is mentioned in the Scripture 385 times, more than any other metal. It is considered the most precious of all metals. Of course, this is before modern metallurgy. Now we know that rhodium and then platinum are more precious than the third on the list; and that is, gold. But back then, it was just considered the emblem of wealth. If you had gold, you were royalty, and it symbolized, more than any other metal, it was associated with kings and royalty.

In fact, it was an ancient custom that if you ever approach a king, you must bring a gift, and it's always best to bring at least part of the gift to be the gift of gold. So here we have Matthew, and Matthew alone, telling us a story of these wise men. Doesn't surprise us, because the theme of the gospel of Matthew is that Jesus Christ is the King of the Jews. You know Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all have their own style, right, their own idea presenting Christ a certain way? Matthew wants to present Jesus as the King, so we're not surprised that he would include the story of Eastern Gentile kingmakers coming and presenting to Jesus the gift fit for a king, the gift of gold.

The church historian Tertullian in the second century believed that by giving Jesus the gift of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, it was the fulfillment of Isaiah chapter 60 verse 5, which reads, "The wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you." I want you to think for a moment what this gift of gold practically meant to a very poor couple. They had known poverty up to this. They were peasants. They could barely make the journey financially from Nazareth down to Bethlehem. Suddenly, they come into big money. Somebody gives them a pot of gold. What happened to it? We don't know, but I can only guess that it's the gold that they used to finance their trip that they had to take down to Egypt to hide from the wrath of King Herod and then come back to Nazareth sometime later.

This gold would come in handy. But this is what I'd like to focus on as we approach the Lord's Table. This shows us that we worship the Lord because he is King. Jesus Christ is King and I want you to consider that as we take these elements. In the Bible there is a term over and over again in the New Testament, "the kingdom of heaven," and another term, "the kingdom of God." The "kingdom of heaven" appears seventy times; the "kingdom of God" appears thirty-two times, a hundred times the idea of a "kingdom" and a "King" associated with Jesus is mentioned. So, we should be worshiping him as not just our Savior, but as our King, our Sovereign. Later on Jesus will come into Jerusalem on a donkey, and when he does, the people, the crowds will say, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!"

On the cross, Pilate will have ordered the statement: "THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH KING OF THE JEWS." When Christ comes back in Revelation 19, on his robe he will bear the sign: "KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS." So here's my question: Do you worship him as your King? Are you his subject? Are you his servant? Does he call the shots in your life? Is he on the throne or are you on the throne? Is he the King? Jesus taught us to pray, "Thy kingdom come," and that can be answered right now as he occupies the throne of your life, the throne of your heart. I read a story about a young naval recruit. He had just gotten in the Navy and he asked for a pass, a weekend pass to go to a friend's wedding that he was going to be in it. And his commanding officer surprisingly gave him the time off.

He got a pass, but the commanding officer said, "Make sure that you are back on base by 7:00 p.m. on Sunday." And the young recruit had the courage to say this back to his commanding officer: "You don't understand, I'm in the wedding!" To which the commanding officer quickly replied, "No. You don't understand, you're in the Navy. We now own your time." Jesus paid for you. He bought you. He owns you. He is your Lord. He is your King. Do you worship him as your King? Savior, yes; friend, yes; but certainly Lord of Lords, King of Kings. So ask yourself this: Are you like Herod? Are you like the religious leaders? Or are you like the magi? Herod followed the star itself. He didn't want God or anybody else to interfere with his plans, his glory.

What's interesting about Herod is he claimed to be a worshiper, didn't he? Verse 8, "Tell me where he is, so that I may worship him." He pretended to be a worshiper, but he wasn't. A lot of people pretend to be worshipers, but they're really worshiping them. Then there's the religious leaders. Herod was following the star of self; they were following the star of religion. They knew all the right answers; they had all the wrong actions. They could tell you verse and they knew the Bible, but they wouldn't get off their duff to go see if indeed Jesus had been born in Bethlehem. But then you have the magi. Oh how I love them. You've seen the bumper stickers, "Wise men still seek him"? They weren't looking for anything but a King, and when they found that King, they worshiped him.

There's one final verse before we have the communion board come. Look at verse 12. It says, "Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way." It simply means that they took a different route in going back home. But I thought about this verse, and I thought, you know, there is a truth behind that. Whenever Jesus becomes your King, you will go out differently than you came in. You'll leave a different way. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, old things have passed away, all things become new." And only you can answer this next question: Is he really King, authority? Does he have the authority in your marriage? Does he have the authority in your work life? Does he have the authority in your thought life? Is he King?

In Revelation 4 the twenty-four elders, I believe emblematic of the church, will cast their crowns down before his throne. I look at that and I say, why wait? Let's do it now. Let's cast any kind of rulership, ownership that we're holding onto in our lives and say, "You, not us, you are the King and we worship you." Let's pray, and as we do I ask the communion board to please come:

Lord, what a perfect way and a perfect day to celebrate the Lord's Supper. Even as we love to do it a few times during the year for our main weekend services, only you could have orchestrated this day, the day that we consider Jesus being our Savior, we consider that he is also our Sovereign. We understand that he came to die for sinners and to rule over them as their new Father, their new Master, their new Lord, their new King. Lord, as we take these elements, I pray that the meaning of the gold would be more awesome to us than ever before, that though Jesus came from heaven and was assigned the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, yet he humbled himself to the extent of being in poverty, growing up in those conditions as a human being, and facing cruel death in order to pay for us, which shows us the truth that if he's not our Savior, he's not our Sovereign; and if he's not our Sovereign, he's not our Savior. They go hand and hand, Lord and Christ. In an attitude of worship and song the elements will be passed out to you. We're asking that you hold onto them until we all have them together, and then we can take them.

If you don't know the Lord, if it's not personal with you, if it's not real with you, then just have the courtesy of passing the elements on to somebody next to you and don't take them. Because to take them means that it's real for you, and if it's not, then don't take them. A better option, however, is in this time for you to give your life to Christ, to ask him to forgive you of your sin, to let him become your Savior, and then freely take these elements with us.

As we hold these elements, we discover something: that we don't have to hold onto guilt because we have broken the laws, we have failed in our promises. So many times we have done those things. But we don't have to live in that guilt. There was One who came to take it away, to take it on himself on his body and by his blood. These elements speak of that and there's no reason why any of us should leave with a burden of failure and burden of sin. By holding these elements, it's personal. We're saying, "I know that God loves me and did this for me." And so we take the bread commemorating his body. And the cup which we hold, emblematic of the blood of Jesus Christ, whom John says "cleanses us from all sin." Father, we're thankful that by your death for us, we have life. Let's take together. Would you stand, please, as we close in song? So great to share the Lord's Table with you and begin this season aright.
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