The Gifts of Christmas

Lessons we can learn from the gifts of the wise men.

George Wright
Dec 22, 2019    39m
In this sermon Pastor George Wright talks about the tradition of gift giving at Christmas time. He teaches from the Book of Matthew chapter 2 to teach us some lessons we can learn from the gifts of the wise men to the baby Jesus. Video recorded at Columbia, South Carolina.

messageRegarding Grammar:

This is a transcription of the sermon. People speak differently than they write, and there are common colloquialisms in this transcript that sound good when spoken, and look like bad grammar when written.

George Wright: 00:00 Today we're going to pick up right where we left off in the story of the wise men, and we're going to talk specifically about the gifts of Christmas. Why do we give gifts, and what's the heart behind gifts, and what is this celebration really supposed to point us to in the midst of the Christmas season.

George Wright: 00:18 So let me invite you to stand with me as I read this opening passage of scripture to get us started here this morning. And again, if you're new to Shandon, you wonder why are we standing for the reading of God's word when we do this each week so that we can be reminded that the Word of God is our authority as a people of God. And for those who are followers of Jesus Christ, the Word of God serves as the foundation of our life. It's the foundation on which we stand and it is the Word of God that reveals to us what God says is right and good and true, so we stand at the reading of God's word. And this is what we see in Matthew 2 verse 10, speaking of the wise men, it says, "When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way."

George Wright: 01:34 Would you pray with me as we consider God's word and turn our attention to God's word? We want to ask God to reveal to us what he wants us to see this morning. As we think about Christmas, let's pray. Father, as we stand before you now in this room, and as we have some joining us online for this service, it is my prayer as we step into your word today, that you would have your way among us and that you would reveal to us that which you desire for us to see and hear this morning. So we pray, Lord, in the power of your Spirit that you would speak to each and every one of us as you speak to us as a whole, or let us see here at Christmas with greater clarity the love and the grace that you have poured out upon us to the good news of Jesus Christ. So we lift all of this up in his name, the name of Jesus. Amen. Amen. You may be seated. Thank you for standing.

George Wright: 02:42 As we start here this morning, in this message, I want to ask you to consider for a moment, what is that Christmas present that you have received that is the most memorable. What's the best Christmas present you ever received? Perhaps says as a kid, or maybe someone surprised you with something that was totally unexpected. Well, what's the gift that you think back on, that has left an impression, a gift that you will never forget. I can remember as a young child, the Christmas that I received my first bicycle. And even though many of you know, I grew up in Atlanta, our family would come to Columbia every year when I was little on Christmas Eve so that we could spend the night with my grandparents here in Columbia and wake up on Christmas morning all together as a family. Now I was asking my parents about this just this past week, and I said, now why did we do that? Because I know you had Christmas Eve services in Atlanta, my dad's also a pastor. And so Christmas Eve is a very busy day for a pastor, and for his family. And my parents just said, hey, when the kids were young, when y'all were young, we just, we just wanted to be together. And so we were making the effort to drive after Christmas Eve services from Atlanta to Columbia so that we could all wake up together. And they said, but the year it stopped was when the church had grown so much that we had multiple Christmas Eve services in Atlanta, and the final Christmas Eve service started at 11:00 PM. And my mom said the car was packed, and the kids were already asleep in the car waiting for dad to finish the service, so that he could get in the car and drive to Columbia to get here about 4:00 AM, to try and sleep a little bit to wake up for Christmas. Y'all that's crazy. I mean, any parents in the room go, that's the most ridiculous thing you could ever do, right? I mean, why would you, on Christmas Eve, do something like that?

George Wright: 04:51 But our family was a little crazy, I guess, and so that was the last year it happened. And it also was the year that I got my first bicycle, and I remember how excited I was, this red shiny bike with white fenders on the front and the back. I mean, this was an incredible ride. All right? And I was so pumped to go out and start riding it around the block at my grandparents' house, and so we were out on the street and I'm riding and going as fast as I can. Now that thing still had training wheels, right? I was just learning how to ride this, and figuring out the brakes and all this. So we went around a corner at my grandparents’ house, and I realized as I rounded the corner that I was headed downhill. Now what happens when you ride a bike downhill and you don't know how to use brakes? It's pretty exciting. Right? And this was before the days where everybody wore helmets, right? Because parents weren't afraid of everything I guess back then, or maybe they just didn't care, I'm not sure. But I didn't have a helmet on, and I turned the corner and I'm going downhill and I'm building up more speed, more speed. I'm trying to figure out the brakes. What do you do? What do you do? And then all of the sudden, thankfully I came to this abrupt stop, because I hit a parked car. And I absolutely destroyed my brand new bicycle, the fender was bent in, and the spokes were all messed up, and the chain popped off. And so that's the Christmas gift that left the greatest impression is the bike, it was exciting for a moment, but then was wrecked on Christmas day.

George Wright: 06:24 Do you have a story like that? Do you have a Christmas gift that you love? Do you have a Christmas gift that you remember? Do you have a Christmas gift that left an impression? You know the wise men, when they came to visit Jesus, brought some very extravagant gifts. And I was thinking about that this week, preparing for this message, extravagant gifts at Christmas are something that culturally is somewhat accepted, right? A lot of people spend a lot of money at Christmas. In fact, the average American spends $700 on Christmas gifts every year. And so if you think about that, based on all the different incomes of people, I mean that's a lot of money that's getting spent at Christmas. Somewhere around $460 to $480 billion spent on Christmas gifts just in the U.S., that's more than the gross national product for the majority of the nations around the world, that we spend on Christmas gifts. I mean, we go all out, and a lot of people go all out excessive, extravagant giving at Christmas. And there's a lot you could say about that, right? I mean, the materialism of that, the consumerism of that, the way that we get so obsessed with things.

George Wright: 07:43 But here's something I want you to consider this morning, the first Christmas, the gift that was given was incredibly extravagant. And then when the wise men came and visited Jesus, and brought gifts after he had been born, some say it was when he was a year or two years old, it was after he had been born. The gifts that they bring were absolutely extravagant, over the top, giving. What are we supposed to see with that? Here's the thing I'd ask you to consider right up front as we step back into the Word of God, the most important question I think we can consider when it comes to gift giving, and why we give, and how we give. Is simply the question that says, what do our gifts reveal about our heart? We're a couple of days away from Christmas, what will Christmas morning reveal about your heart? What will Christmas morning reveal about what is most important to you? Is it all about material things, is it all about having more, is it all about getting what you want on your wish list, or does our giving point does something greater? Does our giving point to a message that is that is bigger than just the present we unwrap.

George Wright: 09:13 With that in mind, we look back to Matthew chapter 2, and we see this story unfold as these wise men come following the star, and they give gifts for very specific reason. Verse 10 it says this, "When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy." What is in the heart of the giving for the wise men? Well, the scripture makes two things very clear to us and the first is this, at the heart of their giving, we see great joy. In fact, if there's any phrase that is synonymous with the story of Christmas in the scripture, it is the phrase great joy. This is a phrase that shows up in multiple places as it relates to the Christmas story.

George Wright: 10:04 I want to ask you to turn quickly to Luke chapter 2, another passage of scripture that is very common at Christmas, very familiar to many at Christmas. It's what the angels proclaim to the shepherds when they appear in the night sky, announcing the birth of Jesus to these shepherds out on the fringe of society. It says this in Luke chapter 2 verse 8, "In the same region, there were shepherds out in the field keeping watch over their flock by night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear." Right, because this is a crazy event, this is not a normal night hanging out with the sheep. All the sudden the sky lights up, and they are terrified, and it says, "The angel said to them, fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy..." There's that phrase, great joy. "...that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David..."peaking of Bethlehem. "...a savior who is Christ the Lord." The story of Christmas is a story of great joy. And here's something to consider in these two very familiar scenes, and these two groups of very familiar characters in the Christmas story, the shepherds and the wise men. How amazing it is to consider with the shepherds, that this ragtag group of misfits that made their living on the social fringes of society watching over sheep, they are the ones receive this message of great joy. Do not be afraid, the angel says, I know you feel unworthy. Do not be afraid, the angel says, I know this is a very different night for you, but there is great joy in the good news of what God has done.

George Wright: 12:17 We go back to the wise men in Matthew 2, we talked about this last week. These spiritual seekers from the East, journey a long distance following a star, to see this King that has been born, the King of the Jews. And even though they are outside of the lineage of the good religious Jews, and even though they are outside of what is accepted among the people of God, and even though they are seen as outsiders all together, this message comes to them that the savior has been born to bring good news of great joy for all people. I don't want you to miss this, this is incredibly important in the story of Christmas. Because you may be here this morning thinking, you know, I'm not sure if church is my thing, I'm not really sure what I believe about all this stuff at Christmas. I mean, I like to get gifts, and the trees are pretty, and I'm glad that we celebrate, but I'm just not really sure what I believe about Jesus. And through the shepherds, and through the wise men, we see the Word of God making it very clear to all of us, there is good news of great joy for all people who believe in what God has done and believe in the gift that has come to us through Jesus Christ. The social outcasts, the shepherds, they receive good news of great joy. The religious outsiders, the wise men, they receive good news of great joy. Outsiders, those who are unworthy, are invited to experience the good news of great joy that is the message of Christmas, that a savior has been born. He has been born for all people, and all who trust in him will find life through the gift that he brings. And when the wise men realize, in Matthew 2, that the star has in fact led them to the King who has been born in Bethlehem, they are overwhelmed with great joy, and so their giving is an overflow of this great joy that pours out of them as they see that the savior has come.

George Wright: 14:52 But secondly, back in Matthew 2 verse 11, we see that these gifts that are brought to Jesus flow out of great joy, but they are also an act of unrestrained worship. Look at the scripture, verse 11, it says, "Going into the house, they saw the child with Mary, his mother, and they fell down and they worshiped him." They fell down on the ground, on their faces, and they worshiped him. And these are men that are holding nothing back. This is unrestrained worship, falling down to worship, this is the ultimate posture of surrender and humility. And if you think about what worship is truly about, worship is all about surrender and humility, and so the physical posture of the wise men reveals the posture of their heart. This is an act of worship that is not about them at all, this is an act of worship that is all about the one who is worthy of their praise.

George Wright: 16:11 As you continue in the verse, Matthew 2:11, it says, "So opening their treasures, they offered him gifts." Their worship drives their giving, they lay their treasure before this King. Another way you could say this is, their giving flows out of their worship, their giving reveals their heart. And this is so important for us to consider as we think about the gifts of Christmas, and we think about what the gifts of Christmas communicate. Please don't miss this, giving is always a part of true worship. In the Word of God, they are always connected. They cannot be separated, they go together like a right and left hand, they fit one another. Giving and worship are always connected. And please hear this, this is more than just talking about giving financially. This is giving of our time, giving of our talent, giving of the gifts that have been entrusted to us by God, they always go hand in hand with what we truly worship.

George Wright: 17:24 Isn't that what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 6? You can turn over a few pages, we'll come back to Matthew 2. Matthew 6 is right in the middle of the most famous recorded sermon we have of Jesus in the Word of God, it's called the Sermon on the Mount, a sermon that Jesus preached outside of the sea of Galilee to a large crowd that gathered to hear from him, and he deals with many important issues of the heart in this sermon. And right in the middle of this sermon, he begins to talk about giving and worship. And listen to what he says, Matthew 6:19, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Now these verses are often talked about in a conversation around giving, and certainly they are pointing to giving, but these verses are far more about worship than they are about giving. Because Jesus is saying, worship is what leads to giving, and your giving flows out of what you worship. So what Jesus is saying here is, look, the thing you care about the most, your treasure, the object of your worship, that is what your time, your attention, your talents, your resources, that's where it goes. And so if you want to know what matters most to your heart, if you want to know what is the object of your worship, just look at where you place your treasure, look at where you place that which is most valuable to you. Look at where you give, where you put your resources, where you put your time, where you put your talent. Giving is a heart issue that reveals what we worship, it reveals what is most important to us.

George Wright: 19:45 You know, sometimes in church world when giving is brought up, it's kind the conversation is split into those who give, and those who don't. But here's the reality, everybody gives, just not everybody gives to the Lord. Everybody worships, but just not everybody worships the Lord. So what is your giving reveal about your worship, and what is the object of your worship? I want to read to you a great quote from Pastor Louie Giglio, in a book he wrote about worship, he says this, "So how do you know where and what you worship? It's easy: You simply follow the trail of your time, your affection, your energy, your money, and your allegiance. At the end of that trail you'll find a throne; and whatever, or whoever is on that throne is what is of highest to you. On that throne is what you worship." So who is seated, or what is seated, on the throne of your life? The wise men are giving out of their treasure, they are giving of their best, as an act of worship. And this is so important, this is not leftover giving, this is not, we got to the end of the month and we've got a little left, or we got to the end of the week, and I've got 30 minutes to spare, so I'll give that to the Lord. This is not stingy giving, this is not minimal giving. This is joyful, worship filled, sacrificial giving, of their treasure. They are holding nothing back as it relates to worship they're giving.

George Wright: 21:42 So what does your giving reveal about your heart? What is the object of your worship? As verse 11 continues, we then see the significance of these three gifts that are brought before the Christ child. Matthew chapter 2 verse 11 it says, "Opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, and the gifts were gold and frankincense and myrrh. And you may be familiar with these gifts, you may be familiar with even their significance, but it's worth noting what these gifts mean in their significance. Certainly gold, and gold is a gift that is fit for a King, it's a symbol of royalty, it's a symbol of authority, and power and kingship. And so as that wise men offer gold to Jesus, they are saying, this gift is for the King, the King of Kings.

George Wright: 22:41 Frankincense, that's a little bit unusual to us today, what is this all about? Well, frankincense points to the purity of Jesus as the Holy One. You see, frankincense was a special incense that would be burned at the altar of the Holy Place in the temple. Now, the Holy place in the temple in Jerusalem sat just outside of the Holy of Holies. And the Holy of Holies was the place that God alone could dwell, it was the most sacred place in all of the temple, and no man could enter the Holy of Holies lest he be killed. Except for once a year, the high priest would go into the Holy of Holies to bring a sacrifice, an offering to make atonement for the sins of the people. But the Holy of Holies was considered so sacred, then when the high priest would go into the Holy of Holies to make that gift once a year after going through a ceremonial cleansing process, the tradition States that the high priest would be wearing bells on his outfit, and have a rope tied around his waist, so just in case he dropped dead in the presence of God, his body could be drug out of the room. I mean, this was a place that the people of God took incredibly serious. And outside of the Holy of Holies was an altar of worship and sacrifice called the Holy place. In on that alter, frankincense would be burn as an incense, so that when the smoke and the smell from the frankincense was burning, it would drift into the Holy of Holies the place that God alone could dwell. What is this gift mean when the wise men bring it to Jesus? It means that Jesus is the Holy One. Jesus is the only one worthy of being seated in the Holy of Holies, because Jesus is the son of God, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lord. He is perfect in his purity, spotless, innocent and without sin.

George Wright: 25:04 But the third gift, myrrh, perhaps you're familiar with this, myrrh was an ointment or a spice that would be used in the burial process. It would be used to cover a body that was being wrapped, or or even embalmed. When that was done it was, it was used to help eliminate some of that smell of the body as it was beginning to decompose. Myrrh was often equated with a burial, with a death. And so as these wise men bring this gift, they are showing you and showing me exactly why Jesus came. We'll talk more about this on Christmas Eve, that the son of God came to die. He came to give his life for you and for me that perfect, spotless, sinless life was the perfect sacrifice for your sin and my sin at the cross.

George Wright: 26:00 And so the significance of these gifts is so beautiful as we consider that the King of Kings, the Holy One, that has come to give his life as a ransom for many. This is the gifts of the wise men. But then verse 12, we see something very significant that we often kind of blow right past in the story of Christmas. Matthew chapter 2 verse 12 it says, "Being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country." This is interesting, being warned in a dream, the wise men went home another way. Now please don't miss this, this is incredibly powerful, this is so significant. You ready? Unrestrained, joyful worship, and giving as an act of worship, opens our ears and opens our hearts to hear from God. This is so important, please hear me, I'm not saying that you can give to get something from God. I'm not saying that you can put God in your pocket through giving, or that you can somehow buy him off so that he's forced to give you what you want, that's not what I'm saying at all. But I'm saying when our heart is surrendered in worship, and when our heart is surrendered through giving, when we lay our treasure before Jesus, it opens our ears to hear from God. The wise men hear that they should go home a different way, and this is so clearly from the Lord, because they had been ordered by King Herod to come back to his palace and report to him where this baby was specifically born.

George Wright: 28:10 Do you remember what we talked about a little bit last week, you can read this in the beginning of Matthew 2, King Herod was a violent, ruthless tyrant. He was a paranoid King, that would kill anyone who was in his way, or is viewed as a threat to his kingdom. And so Herod wanting to manipulate the wise men when they showed up at his palace said, okay, go find this baby that you're talking about, go find this baby who's called the King of the Jews, and when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him as well. Herod was lying through his teeth. He didn't want to worship Jesus, he wanted to eliminate this potential threat. He wanted to kill this baby who might rise up as a King, that others would worship. Herod didn't want anyone to come in competition to his kingdom. And so he says, come back and report to me where the child was born. But the wise men through their unrestrained worship, through their joyful giving as they lay their treasure at the feet of Jesus, they hear the voice of God, they hear the prompting of the spirit that says, go home a different way.

George Wright: 29:40 I just want to ask you this morning, in the midst of a very busy Christmas season where there is a lot of noise and a lot of distraction, do you want to hear from God? If you want to hear from God, perhaps it's time to get on your face, and open up your treasure in worship. If you want to hear from God, perhaps it's time for you to pour out your heart, and lay your treasure at the feet of the King. Because there's voices fighting for our attention all the time. The wise man had the voice of a king in their ear saying, come back and report to me, come back and do what I command you to do. And typically the way you respond to a king who tells you to do something, is you do exactly what he has told you to do, or else your life is in danger. If the King says jump, you say how high. The wise men heard from God, and the wise men went home a different way. Do you need to hear from God? Perhaps you need to lay your treasure at his feet. Perhaps you need to worship who he really is, so the his voice can be clear in your ears.

George Wright: 31:11 I don't know how this hits you this morning, I don't know how this lands in your lap. But you may be here needing to hear from God, and perhaps you're not hearing clearly because your worship is not focused on Jesus. Maybe there's something else on the throne all together in your life. Perhaps you have selective hearing, because you have selective worship. Perhaps your ears are clogged, because you're holding tightly to your treasure, and you're not willing to trust the one who is the King. What voice are you hearing at Christmas? What voice are you following at Christmas?

George Wright: 32:03 I'm going to close this way. There's a fascinating quote in the book Hidden Christmas by Timothy Keller about a voice, a King that we often listen to. He writes this, "According to the Bible, the evil of the world ultimately stems from the self-centeredness, self-righteousness, and self-absorption of every human heart. Each of us wants the world to orbit around us and our needs and our desires. In every heart, there is a "little king Herod" that wants to rule and that is threatened by anything that compromise it's omnipotence and sovereignty. Each of us wants to be the captain of our own soul, the master of our own fate." Perhaps you're here this morning and you want to hear from God, but you also want to be the king. Perhaps you're here this morning and you want the blessings that God offers, but you don't want to lay your treasure at his feet. Perhaps you're here this morning and you would love for God to bless your life, but you don't want to surrender your heart to him. And yet the Word of God makes it clear, you can't have it both ways.

George Wright: 33:29 In fact, Jesus would go on to say in the Sermon on the Mount, after he says where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. You cannot serve God and man, God and money, God and things, you can't have it both ways. So the question becomes at Christmas, what voice are you going to listen to? What King are you going to bow before? What King sits on the throne of your heart. What is the object of your worship? Are you hearing the voice of God, or are you hearing the voice of a little king. Maybe a self-centered king in your own heart. Or maybe a king, or someone else, in your life that is always telling you what to do?

George Wright: 34:20 The final thought I'll leave you with this morning is simply this, throughout the New Testament, especially specifically in the gospels, when Jesus is teaching. At the end of his teaching, he sometimes makes this very simple statement, he who has ears, let him hear. He who has ears, let him hear. And I can remember being young in my faith and hearing that statement and going, well, why would Jesus say that? I mean, isn't that common sense? If you have ears, you can hear. If you have ears, you're listening. And yet what I've come to understand is that statement is so significant, because Jesus is showing us this statement is all about surrender. He who has ears, he who has surrendered to Jesus, he who has invited Jesus to sit on the throne in his life or her life, he who has ears can hear the voice of God. The way we hear the voice of God through surrender, is in our unrestrained worship. Where our worship is all about Him, and our joyful giving, laying down our treasure to the King of Kings who can do more with what he has entrusted to us than we could ever do if we held it for ourselves. Is He seated on the throne of your life? Is he the voice that you're listening to you? He who has ears, let him hear. There is good news of great joy for all people, for unto us the savior has been born. Will you worship the savior?

George Wright: 36:28 Let me pray for us as we close our time this morning. Heavenly father, I am grateful for this beautiful time of year, this season of Christmas that is such a gift in so many ways. We are reminded of the beauty of what you have done. We are reminded of your extravagant giving towards us. We are reminded through familiar songs of this beautiful love story, and this beautiful gift of forgiveness and new life that comes through Christ. And yet, in this beautiful time of year, there is so much noise, there are so many distractions, so much busy-ness, so much even on our to do list to finish between now and Christmas Eve. So Lord, I pray, I pray that you would open our eyes to see what is going on in our heart right now. What is the object of our worship? What voice are we listening to? And for those that desire to follow after you and hear the voice of God, it is my prayer, that through faith they would lay down their treasure. They would fall down in worship before the King of Kings and say, all that I have is yours. For those who are here today, or perhaps listening to this message online, that are just unsure of where they stand as it relates to what the Bible says about Christmas, perhaps they're unsure of whether or not they even have a relationship with God. I pray that today, through your Spirit's prompting, they would recognize the beautiful gift of Christmas that comes through Jesus Christ. And I pray that there would be some that this day would say, Jesus, I'm ready to trust you, I'm ready to follow you. And I believe that you are the one that forgives my sin, and covers me in grace, and gives me this gift of new life. And so I follow you with my heart, I invite you to sit on the throne in my life, that I can follow wherever you lead. Lord, we thank you for the gift of Christmas. I pray Lord, that our eyes and our ears and our hearts would be focused on who you are and what you have done. It's in Jesus' name I pray. Amen.

Recorded in Columbia, South Carolina.
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Shandon Baptist Church
5250 Forest Drive
Columbia, South Carolina 29206