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

Skip Heitzig - The Gift of Myrrh

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

Would you turn in your Bibles, please, to Matthew, chapter 2. Well, it was a Christmas afternoon when the pastor's wife fell into the couch in the living room and she said, "Boy, am I tired." And the pastor reeled his head around and he said, "You're tired? I did two services last night for Christmas Eve, three services this morning on Christmas Day. I've preached five times. How can you be tired?" She said, "I had to listen to every one of them." Well, you might be feeling like that about now. We have been in Matthew chapter 2 verse 1 through 11 for the third week in a row. And we've covered individually or are covering each one of these gifts presented by the magi, the wise men: the gold one week, then the frankincense, and then the myrrh this week.

But in so doing, in taking our time and going over it, we have learned some things. It's been good to spend a little extra time and meditate on a familiar passage. But we have learned, if you recall, that there weren't three of them. There were three gifts presented, but there was probably a large entourage of these magi, along with even a small army that would accompany them. Something to unnerve Herod the king and get him paranoid. And, as we said, three dudes on camels probably wouldn't have done that. So there weren't three of them, there were probably more. The second thing we made note of is that they were not kings, they were kingmakers. They had come from the East. They were a hereditary priesthood tribe and they were in charge of acknowledging who kings would become.

And they were also those who would be advisors to the king. And then the other thing that we noted is that they didn't show up the day or the night that Jesus was born, but that they came sometime later, as far as up to two years after his birth. He was a "young child" at the time, and he was now in a house. And what that means to you personally is that when you set up your nativity set from now on, you might want to move the wise men like six blocks away if you want to be accurate, because it took them a while to get there. But we also noted that the gifts weren't just costly, expensive items that they were emblematic of roles that Jesus would play, that he would perform. The gold was to acknowledge that he was the King.

And that's exactly what the wise men said they were looking for: "Where is he who has been born the King of the Jews?" But then they gave him frankincense. And as we noted last week, that was the substance that was used by the priesthood in the temple in Jerusalem. And now we consider the third gift, the gift of myrrh. Have you ever gotten a weird gift? I remember once when I was single, and I didn't even know what the stuff was. I worked for a doctor who for Christmas gave me some caviar. I didn't know what that was. All I know is that when I opened it up, it stank so bad, I thought, "I would never touch this," so I gave it to my cat for Christmas. It was just a weird gift to give a guy who had no clue.

I've given weird gifts before. Years ago, when I was a little kid, I gave my brother for Christmas his own book. He already owned it. It was in his closet. I just figured he really never saw it, never went in there, didn't know it was there anymore. Maybe he had forgotten about it. So I wrapped it up and I gave it to him. Well, he opened it up and said, "That's my book. You just gave me my book. I already own what you just gave me for Christmas." So that's weird. I was reading a little Reader's Digest quip. There was a young man who said he remembers one of the strangest gifts his dad ever gave to his mom was a DVD for Christmas. He said, "Not that that's a strange gift in and of itself, but, number one, it was a rental."

And he said, "Number two, we didn't even own a DVD player." So that was an odd gift. And of these three gifts that are mentioned in verse 11 of Matthew, chapter 2, the most curious of all, perhaps even insulting to the parents, was this third gift of myrrh. And, yet, it is of all of them the most inspiring, and it shows us the depth of God's love as we consider it. So let's consider it. Let's go to the verses themselves once again. Matthew chapter 2 verse 1, "Now after Jesus was born in 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 the King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him.'"

And again I take you down to verse 9. "When they heard the king," Herod, who claimed he wanted to worship him too, "they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, until 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 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." First what I'd like to do with you is consider this gift of myrrh in its significance in ancient history. The use of myrrh goes all the way back to the second millennia BC. One source I read said as far back as the sixth millennium BC.

That's the Neolithic Period. So it's an ancient item and it was used long ago. What is it exactly? Well, myrrh was, like frankincense, a resin that came from a tree or a plant. It was an aromatic resin that came from a reddish gum from a low-lying, low-growing, thorny tree in that part of the world. The exudate from the branches of that tree, the substance that came out of it yielded a very pleasant smell and hardened into a resin. That was myrrh. If you were to look it up in your Bible, you would discover the word "myrrh" appears seventeen times. At least in my version of the Bible, the one I looked it up in, seventeen times "myrrh" appears. Fourteen of those are in the Old Testament; three of them are in the New Testament. The Hebrew word sounds like the English word: mor.

It's called in Hebrew "mor," in English "myrrh." But the word that is used in the text that you and I are reading is a Greek word. And as I tell you the word, it should ring a bell if you have been a Bible student at all and you've read your New Testament. It's the word smurna, smurna. Now there was a city called Smyrna. And if you've read Revelation 2, it was the second of the seven churches that Jesus wrote little postcards to: "To the angel of the church of Smyrna." Smyrna was thirty miles north of Ephesus in Asia Minor. It's modern Izmir, Turkey. And for modern history, it was the place where Aristotle Onassis who married Jacqueline Kennedy, and she became Onassis, that's where he was from. But because it was this commercial port, and the chief export of that city was myrrh, they called it after the substance, smurna.

And that's the word that is used here. It was used several different ways in ancient times. First of all, it was used, women, as a beauty treatment. When Esther, before she even became queen, was brought in before the king in Esther, chapter 2, we read this: "Each young woman's turn came to go into King Ahasuerus after she had completed twelve months' preparation", here it is, "six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with perfumes and preparations for beautifying women." So it was like the ultimate spa experience, and it lasted a year. How's that for a treatment, six months with myrrh? So, it was a beauty product. Second usage in the Bible: it was a perfume. Psalm 45 notes that the king's garments are, quote, "scented with myrrh and aloes and cassia."

Some of you remember Proverbs 7 where the seductress says to the young man, "I have perfumed my bed with myrrh and aloes and cinnamon." And then I love the Song of Solomon where Solomon the groom says to his fiancée as she rides in toward him, "Who is this coming out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh..." So it was a beautifying treatment, a spa treatment. It was used as a perfume. The third usage: it was an analgesic. It was a painkiller. It took away the pain. By the way, it is still recommended in certain parts of the world for toothaches and for sprains and minor aches and pains. It was used in the Bible that way. In Mark 15 we're told, "They gave [Jesus] wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but he did not take it."

When Jesus was on the cross and he was dying the most excruciating death of crucifixion, the Romans offered him wine and myrrh to deaden the pain. What I find fascinating is Jesus refused it. It's as if he saw the importance, as the substitute taking on him the sin of the world, to feel every single ounce of pain and he refused to have that pain deadened. A fourth use is a modern use: as an antiseptic. Again, in many parts of the world it's used in mouthwashes, in toothpaste, and they say it even prevents gum disease. So there you have it. But the fifth usage is important and germane to this text. It was used as an embalming fluid. It was used to treat the dead. And I have quoted in this little miniseries Herodotus a lot, that ancient Greek historian, because I draw a lot of this stuff from him because of his record of it.

He says that it was used mostly for treating the dead. The Egyptians used it to embalm the inside of the body cavity before it was entombed. But not only them, the Jews also used myrrh to treat the outside of the body, and we find that in the case of Jesus Christ. After he died, at his burial in John, chapter 19, the Bible said, "And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds." Now, the reason they used it was for obvious reasons. Because bodies, once they corrupt, stink, and to mitigate against the stench of that tomb experience, myrrh and aloes were used to encase the body. Here's what's interesting: the same substance that was associated with Jesus' early life is also associated with the end of Jesus' life.

Myrrh was presented to him after his birth; myrrh is presented to him and used for him at his death. Now why this is fascinating is because I discovered that the ancient rabbis associated myrrh with sacrificial death. And I just discovered this, but it's fascinating to me. Rabbis associated myrrh with sacrificial death, and especially Abraham giving his son Isaac on Mount Moriah. And here is why: the Hebrew word for "myrrh" is the world mor, and that is the root word of the place where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac, on Mount Moriah the "mountain of myrrh." So, to an ancient Hebrew rabbi "myrrh" immediately connected with death, and especially the sacrifice of a father of his son.

Now, this really got my attention, because in that same area, Mount Moriah, is where Jesus Christ would be sacrificed by his Father for the sins of the world years later. No wonder, then, that ancient Christian scholars regard this gift of myrrh to the child Jesus as prophetic of his death. Okay, so now imagine that you're Joseph or Mary and these people knock at your door one day. You get a knock at the door, and you open the door, and it's like a whole army of people from the East. And everybody in town's going, "Wha-whaat!?" and "Why are they at your house?" And then they say, "Well, we have some gifts for you," and they give you gold, and you're just almost embarrassed. It's too much. You've never seen that kind of a gift, but you receive it graciously.

Then they give the frankincense. And you understand, being that Jewish male or female, that that's associated with the priesthood. But then they pull out the last gift and you don't know to say: "Oh, embalming fluid. How lovely. Thank you." Because you know that at that time in your own life it had been used as a beauty treatment as all these other ways, but now is principally used to treat the dead. Have you ever been given a gift that bombs at Christmas? My parents would give, like, underwear. They'd wrap it up. I go, "Why? Why bother?" It's like you open it up, "Ahh!" But that's what the angel said to Mary: "You will call his name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sin."

And how would he save people from their sin? He would save people from their sin by going to the place where myrrh was used most, the place of death. This was prophetic of this Child dying. I want to make a very important qualification here. You need to hear this. You need to know this: no one is saved by Jesus' life, example, or his words, but only by his death. Salvation only comes as you recognize Jesus took your place on a cross and died for you. You can say, "Well, you know, I've always liked the red letters of Jesus. I like to meditate on the red letters. I feel, feels so good whenever I do." Or, "I've always seen Jesus as a wonderful example of a human being. And I aspire to live by that example." Good luck. No. Salvation only comes through his death.

Now, let's just go there for a moment. We've considered the significance of myrrh in ancient history, now let's consider the symbolism of myrrh in Jesus' ministry. You see, we all know the Christmas story. We're familiar with it. We know about the manger. Know about the shepherds. We know about the singing angels, the wise men. But do you know the rest of story? The rest of story is this Child was the only person who was ever born with the distinct purpose of death. That's the part that most people overlook at Christmas. Here we are overlooking or looking over the manager while we overlook the cross. And that was the goal of the manager. Unless you see the shadow of the cross falling on the crib, you don't see the crib clearly at all. The purpose for the crib was the cross.

That's important that you know that. When Jesus died on the cross that was not plan B. That was not a divine "oops." God never goes, "Oh, this wasn't supposed to happen." No. It was always supposed to happen, always. God planned it that way from the beginning. Jesus is called in Revelation 13 "the Lamb slain from the foundations of the earth." There's a terrific painting that if you're not aware of, you should look up, not now on our mobile device, but later on. It's by Holman Hunt. It was painted in the 1870s. I'd seen it growing up, and I'd seen it in books, and then I chased it down on the Internet. But it's called The Shadow of the Cross, and it's a picture of Jesus at home in Nazareth in the carpentry shop that he took over from his dad Joseph.

And it shows our Lord laying down a saw. It is placed in front of him. And the evening/afternoon sunlight is coming through a window in front of him, shining on him. And it shows him sort of stretching out his arms after work, looking up toward the heaven. Something like this. And sunlight casts a shadow on the back wall where his hammer and nails are hanging, and it looks, the shadow looks as the form of a crucifixion, a cross. In the foreground is a woman, obviously Mary. She's down on her knees and there's a treasure chest in front of her, and in that is the gold, the frankincense, and the myrrh as she looks up at the shadow of the cross on the wall. And what's most notable about that painting is that the author understood that the cross cast a long shadow throughout history.

And we first see the shadow with this third gift. The beginning of it is here. This Child was born to die, which makes us wonder, at least it makes me wonder, how much did Mary know about what would the fate of this Child be? And at what point was it revealed where she said, "Oh, I'm starting to get it now." There's a very famous song, "Mary did you know that your baby boy...", you know, would grow up and go to the cross and take our sins. And so we wonder at what point did she know, because she was given hints all along the way, was she not? The first hint was the announcement of the angel: "You will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." The second hint came when they brought Jesus to the temple to be dedicated.

And that old man Simeon took the baby in his arms, and was so happy to see the Messiah, but then said to Mary and to Joseph, "This child will be rejected by many, and it will be their undoing. But he will bring the greatest joy to others." Then he turns to Mary and he says, "And a sword will pierce your very soul." How'd you like to hear that at a dedication service? It's like, "Look out! This child's going to be rejected. And you, Mary, are going to feel an immense pain," which she did when she saw him crucified. The third hint is the third gift, the gift of myrrh. What a thing to insinuate: "Your child is here to die." See, a parent doesn't think about that. When a child is born, the parent thinks about life, not death.

There are plans that go through the parents' minds: what they're going to become, who they're going to marry, what they're going to be like, what their personality, where they'll go to school. But to think about death? Max Lucado in one of his terrific books imagines that Mary understood this, and the night Jesus was born, offers a prayer. It's called "Mary's Prayer." He writes as if Mary is praying: "Rest well, tiny hands. For though you belong to a King, you will touch no satin. You will own no gold. You will grab no pen. You will guide no brush. No, you're hands are reserved for works more precious: to touch a leper's open wound, to wipe a widow's weary tear, to claw the ground of Gethsemane. Your hands, so tiny, so tender, so white, clutched tonight in an infant's fist. They are destined, not to hold a scepter nor wave from a palace balcony, they are reserved instead of for a Roman spike that will staple them to a Roman cross."

At this point you might be asking, "What kind of a father would give his son to be killed?" Only a Father who loves you enough to redeem you with the only way possible, and that is, his Son and his Son's death. So we've seen the significance of myrrh in ancient history. We have noted the symbolism in Jesus' ministry. Let's bring this to a close, not only of today, but of this little series; and that is, its signal to us personally, its signal to us personally. Now, I want to draw your attention to the response of the magi, just sort of coming full circle. Verse 10, "When they saw the star, they rejoiced", now watch this, "with exceedingly great joy."

Now, whenever the Bible says that, you just have to imagine that it's not like they cracked a smile. It's not like, "Heh," that's exceeding, that's not exceedingly great joy. I guess jumping up and down, hooting it up, that would be exceedingly great joy. They saw the star. The star took them to Jesus. They rejoiced. Then verse 11, "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." Here's what I want you to see: these wise men saw two things that caused them to do two things. They saw the star, they saw the Child, and they did two things to correspond with that.

First of all, they rejoiced when they saw the star with exceedingly great joy, and then they worshiped when they saw the Child. First of all, they were rejoicing. They found what they were looking for and what they found produced joy. Let me just ask you a simple question: How much joy is a part of your life? You know, we sing about it this time of the year: "Joy to the world!" We sang about it a moment ago in the song "O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant." I can just say this is happened to me. The day that I found Christ, or I should say more accurately, the day he found me. He wasn't lost. I was. The day I understood that I was saved, it brought to me a sense of joy that no earthly experience has ever been able to come close to.

It's the kind of joy that even when sad, bad things happen, it's the go-through-any-difficult-situation kind of joy. They found what they were looking for and they rejoiced. The second thing they did is they worshiped. They fell down. They fell down. These are wise men and it says they "worshiped." The Greek word I mentioned a couple weeks ago, proskuneó, a very strong word almost always reserved for worshiping God. These magi fell down, they bowed, and they worshiped. Now, wait a minute. We know something about the magi: they were important men, they were dignified men, they were kingmakers, they had political clout, and they're bowing in front of a kid? Why? Because they know their place. That's why. They know their place.

Oh, they may be important, but this Child is all-important. They recognized something about this Child. They know their place. You see, you don't brag about your crayon sketches when you're standing next to Picasso. And you may be a kingmaker, but when you're standing in front of the King of Kings, you bow. They knew their place. They bowed down and they worshiped. So, I draw your attention to this, almost belaboring this once again, just to show you that it answers for me two vital questions that we should ask every time Christmas rolls around: number one, What should my response to Christmas be?; and, number two, What gift should I give, if any, to him? First of all, What should my response be? Well, rejoicing would be a good one, rejoicing.

You can decide that when Christmas rolls around, and I know for many it's an anniversary that brings back a lot of bad memories because of things that have happened during this season. But you can make a decision that rejoicing will be part of your emotional palette this time of the year. I get a little weary of hearing some Christians talk about that they're "just too holy to celebrate this pagan holiday of Christmas." Well, bah humbug yourself. How about a little rejoicing that God sent his Son into the world to pay for your sins and mine. This is as good a time to rejoice about that as any time. They rejoiced. They rejoiced. And then, What do we give him? Well, you could give him what they gave him, they worshiped him.

Some commentators call this the fourth gift of the magi: gold, frankincense, myrrh, and worship. They worshiped him. You can worship him. Now, I want you to notice something: Who is it they're worshiping specifically? Jesus Christ. Please notice that. They are not worshiping God generically. They're not talking about the "higher power," the "great spirit." They're worshiping Jesus Christ specifically. That's who they're worshiping. And I'll say something about worship: worship is costly. True worship is costly. It's interesting that they gave and they worshiped. They worshiped and they gave gifts. And both of them go hand in hand. Worship is costly. Think of what it cost them. It took a pretty penny to finance a long trip with a huge entourage of people and then give gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Those things were expensive. It cost them financially. I remember years ago I used to think that it was somehow unspiritual to give announcements in a church service, especially announcements about giving, and "There's the agape boxes." Now, first of all, we are like the lowest key church I know when it comes to an offering, because we just have boxes. But I never wanted to interrupt a worship service and talk about giving. And then I read verses like this and I thought, "I was wrong. Giving is part of worshiping." I had a lady come up to me years ago, never forget her. She was a sweet gal. Her name was Mary Earl Wall. She drove this old Volkswagen bug that she had had for years. I looked at that bug and I wanted to restore that thing. It's like, "Oh, that's such a cool car." But she was just a sweet lady.

And one Sunday service, years ago, I failed to announce that we have opportunities to give financially. And she walked up to me after a service. I saw that firm step coming toward me with that look in her eye, and she put her finger out. And I went "Uh-oh." She said, "You didn't mention that we could give to the Lord this morning." I said, "I know. I'm sorry. I forgot." And she goes, "Let me tell you something, young man..." Schooled me right then and there, said, "To me giving is part of my worship, and when you don't make allowances for that, you take away my opportunity to worship." I said, "I will never ever make that mistake again, ma'am. Thank you very much." Martin Luther once said, "There are three conversions that are necessary in a person's life: the conversion of the heart, the conversion of the mind, and the conversion of the wallet."

And he said the third is usually the most difficult for most people. They gave as they worshiped. It will cost you financially. It will also cost your dignity. They didn't stand there. They got down. They bowed. These were important people, probably in their regalia, bowing. I think if you're go to worship, you may want to consider giving up your dignity, because it's undignified for some people to raise their hands up or to get down and bow in a church service. They justify it, going, "Well, I'm not that kind of person to outwardly, emotionally share those things. I think the appropriate posture is to just sort of fold my arms and look around at other people." Really? Why don't you lose your dignity every now and then? They did.

It will also cost you relationally. Some of you know what it's like to have friends and family turn against you because you worship Jesus Christ specifically. It's costly, but, oh, it's the right response and it's so, he is so worthy of it. So, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, we've spent three weeks on three gifts. And you, like the pastor's wife, have had to listen to them all: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

And I want to close this little series with a story. "It's Christmas night," this story says. "The house is quiet. Even the crackle has gone from the fireplace. Warm coals issue a lighthouse glow in the darkened den. Stockings hang empty on the mantle. The tree stands naked in the corner. Christmas cards, tinsel, memories remind Christmas night of Christmas day. And what a day it's been! Spiced tea. Cranberry sauce. 'Thank you, so much.' 'You shouldn't have!' 'Grandma's on the phone.' 'It fits perfectly.' Flashing cameras. It's Christmas night. The midnight hour has chimed and I should be asleep, but I'm awake. I'm kept awake by one stunning thought. The world was different this week. It was temporarily transformed. The magical dust of Christmas glittered on the cheeks of humanity ever so briefly, reminding us of what is worth having and what we were intended to be. It's Christmas night. In a few hours the cleanup will begin, lights will come down, trees will be thrown out. Size 36 will be exchanged for size 40, and eggnog will be on sale for half price." One of the best things of Christmas.

"Soon life will be normal again. December's generosity will become January's payments, and the magic will begin to fade. But for the moment, the magic is still in the air. Maybe that's why I'm still awake. I want to savor the spirit just a bit more. I want to pray that those who beheld him today will look for him next August. And I can't help but linger on one fanciful thought: If he can do so much with such timid prayers lamely offered in December, how much more could he do if we thought of him every day?" And so we savor, and we have for the last three weeks savored this era of Christmas, this whole month, looking at The Gift; and the gift of gold, he's a king; frankincense, a priest; myrrh, the Sacrifice, the one born for the purpose of dying. We savor that. We linger on that.

Here's something you should know. It's important that you know this: myrrh was the substance that gave off its best scent only when it was crushed. Ring a bell? Isaiah 53, "He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities... and by his stripes we are healed."

Father, that shadow that the cross casts on the crib we have thought about today. It is fitting that we do. It is just as fitting to acknowledge this as to acknowledge that he is our Great High Priest making intercession for us or that he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who will one day reign over the creation he created. But it is also fitting to know that he came for a purpose, and that was atonement, to be a sacrifice, to bear sin. And all of us have sinned, and all of us have come short of your glory, but we celebrate that a sacrifice, a Lamb, has come who would take away the sin of the world. And we rejoice, Lord, in humility, bowing down, thanking you, worshiping you, in Jesus' name, amen.

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