Christmas is the day we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. His birth was unlike any other birth. His birth was a virgin birth. His birth was long anticipated birth, prophesied since the dawn of humankind. His birth, unlike our birth, was not his beginning. Jesus pre-existed his own birthday. That is because he is, was, and always will be God from eternity past to eternity future and beyond.
When Jesus was still very young, scholars a thousand miles away read the signs. These scholars were powerful men called Magi — the Wise Men. They read the prophecies. Read the signs in the sky. Read the events of history… and these Magi realized that the Savior had been born.
So began an amazing journey from Persia to Bethlehem.
The journey would cover over one thousand miles over hills and rivers and through valleys and desserts. The travel time probably lasted a year or more.
No expense would have been spared. They were possibly a dozen Magi, riding Persian steeds, each with a large group of soldiers and slaves. Tents and food and chefs and security — their caravan would have been an impressive statement of power and wealth.
The Christmas carol sings, We three kings of orient are…
Orient is simply the Latin word that means east. They came from the east. They arrived first in Jerusalem, the capitol city. There the Magi checked in, so to speak, with a ruthless, paranoid, powerful Roman king named Herod.
Based on the Jewish Scriptures, specifically the prophet Micah, the Persian Magi knew the Savior was born in Bethlehem, just a few miles away.
The sleepy little town of Bethlehem would have never before seen such a sight. The wealthy caravan rolls in and every head turns.
The gospels tell us the star “went before them, till it came and stood over” the place where Jesus was. One way or another, this star was a miracle of God’s power.
The Magi find a typical house of the region. Jesus is inside with his mother. They have no wealth to speak of Jesus might be wrapped in a blanket, Mary in her customary garb. Yet in come the Magi, dressed in royal finery, with turbans and gowns and jewelry and crowns. They touch their faces to the dirt floor, proclaiming their praises to the child.
The contrast could not have been greater.
Camels and steeds, porters and servants, wait outside, while inside their master worship the most unlikely king the world has ever seen.
Though Scriptures never say there were three wise men, Matthew says they opened their treasures and presented him with three very expensive gifts: gold plus two highly valued spices called frankincense and myrrh.
Over these next few weeks of Christmas season, I would like to explore with you the deeper meaning of each of these gifts.
Today… what does it mean that the Magi gave him frankincense?
Frankincense is an incense made from tree sap. The incense is concentrated and the aroma is strong. The Jews in Jesus’ day had a beautiful temple in Jerusalem. Inside that temple was a specialized altar. On that altar is where the priests burned the frankincense.
When the Magi gave Jesus the gift of Frankincense, they were recognizing him as a great priest. Because on Christmas day, God sent His Son into the world. The baby in the manger grew up to fulfill his destiny as the Great High Priest the world so desperately needed.
That is what I would like to talk about with you today.
The Magi gave him Frankincense to tell the world, and even to tell all of us here today, that the Ultimate Priest had finally arrived.
So, I would like you to think with me today on the simple truth that Christmas means we have the Priest we need. Let’s figure out what that means.
I want to give you a head’s up. At the end. Of my talk today, I want to make this personal. I want to help you flip a switch. It won’t be weird, and I won’t embarrass you. I’m not going to single you out. I’m inviting you to go from saying Jesus is a priest to saying, “Today, Jesus, be my priest.”
So, what does that mean?
Let’s look at two places in the Bible. Here’s the first one.
Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. -Hebrews 7:23-25
Okay. So this verse is talking about priests, all the priests of all the ages before Jesus. None of them lasted forever. Why? Because they had this nasty habit of dying. “They were prevented by death from continuing.”
But then comes Jesus. His priesthood is eternal. Why? Because he is eternal. So he is a priest forever.
But why does that matter? What does a priest do?
This verse tells us. A priest enables a person to come to God.
And look at what he does. He has the power to save “those who come to God through Him.”
Let’s land here for a minute.
Christmas is the season when God came into the world. He came down from heaven. He came to us. God because human without ceasing to be God. That was Jesus. That was the Incarnation. The baby lying in the manger was the Son of God and God the Son. On Christmas day, God came down from heaven, into the little town of Bethlehem, through the Virgin Mary, into this world.
So that we could draw near to him. But that pre-supposes something.
It presupposes that we were far from him. We were not his children. We were not his friends. WE were not in a relationship with him. We were far from him.
And the reason we were far from him is very simple. We are finite and fallen. God is infinite and holy. There’s a huge gap between us and God. It’s true of me. It’s true of you. It’s true of everybody.
God made us perfect, we messed it up.
I heard of a man say that he felt he was ready to stand before God. He was high enough and God was low enough, and he could come to God no problem.
For you to stand before God with the slightest imperfection would be like trying to stand on the surface of the sun. Good luck with that.
This is the human dilemma.
Here is God. Over here is you. And there is this gap in between. You can’t cross it. You can’t bridge it. You can’t shrink it or make it go away.
That is the big problem that Christmas exists to solve.
Because this is where a priest comes in.
Let me illustrate.
My dad, Roy – now in heaven – grew up in Chicago loving baseball, especially the Chicago Cubs. As a kid, he routinely rode the bus to Wrigley Field where he could breathe the air the “friendly confines.” Once there, he’d join the pack of kids waiting outside the ballpark, on Waveland Avenue, behind left field. If a batter was strong enough, he could slam an out-of-the-park home run; it would land on Waveland with a huge bounce, and all the kids would scramble for the prize.
The biggest prize, however, was to score a ticket and get inside.
One lazy Sunday afternoon, young Roy had a thought. He eyed the walls separating himself from his beloved Cubs. The smell of popcorn and peanuts, the roar of the crowd inside, and the thought of ivy-covered walls were too much. He couldn’t take being an outsider any more. So he did what any youthful, red-blooded baseball fan of that era would do: he started climbing the left-field wall. He scoped out a climbing path, and started climbing.
He made it about ten to twelve feet above the sidewalk before he got busted
A man in a suit called to him, my dad said, and made him climb down. “Son, get down here right now!”
“Come with me.”
Roy was scared. His mind ran scenarios of how his strict Italian parents would react. Roy thought of bolting, but the man had ushers with him. He thought of pleading, but the man looked too stern.
He walked along in silence, looking for any way out of his doom. His palms sweated. His heart pounded. The man walked my dad to the nearest entrance to Wrigley Field. He walked him through the gates, through the turnstiles, past the gatekeepers. Past security. His mind raced. Would they call the cops? On the way in, Roy heard the most magical words he could imagine: “Good afternoon, Mr. Wrigley.”
That man in that suit – that man who called my dad down from his climbing and escorted him to his personal front row seats to enjoy the game – that man was Philip K. Wrigley, son of William Wrigley, whose gum you’ve probably chewed, and whose world-champion baseball team you’ve probably cheered.
The son of the Father brought undeserving Roy past the barrier and gave him access to the best seat in the house.
God’s Son did the same for you.
Because that’s what a priest does, and, on Christmas day, Jesus came to be the priest you need.
Here is God. Over here is you.
You need someone who can stand in that gap. Someone who is qualified to hold God’s hand, and someone who is willing to hold your hand.
That’s the definition of a priest. A priest is a go-between. A priest is a mediator.
But you might say there have been millions of priests in thousands of religions. What makes Jesus any better than the rest of them?
Our verse is saying that all the priests of all the ages could not really do their job. They were imperfect, mortal, and temporary. All the priests and high priests of days gone by were not the actual priests — they were only pointers. They were living object lessons until the Ultimate priest could come.
And that is what Christmas means. That is why they brought him frankincense. They knew what I’m trying to tell you today: God sent a priest who would actually bring you to God and keep you there.
In fact this verse says, he is “able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him.”
He can save you “all-completely,” totally, once-for-all, with finality so that nothing must be added and nothing can be taken away.
So my question to you is have you ever come to God by him? By Jesus?
Maybe you have tried to come to God by your own performance.
Or by your good works.
Or by religious rituals like baptism and confession.
But you’re still not sure.
Or maybe you’ve kind of assumed that you were good to God, but you’re still not sure of that either.
Here’s a sure thing:
Jesus is the ONLY priest who is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
You can come to God today, and you can be saved today — which means forgiven and adopted into God’s family, and declared good enough for God, which means good enough for heaven, and a thousand other things. You can be saved today if you are only willing to come to God through Jesus.
And in just a few moments, I want to help you do that. No pressure. No weirdness. Just an invitation, and a silent prayer.
You can make this Christmas your first Christmas as a child of God.
I said there were two verses I wanted to share with you today. Here’s the second one.
And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. -Hebrews 10:11, 12
What can their sacrifices never do?
They can never take away sins.
The reference here is to that awesome temple in Jerusalem. Thousands and thousands of priests rotated through the Temple for hundreds of years. So many millions of sacrifices were offered, that a river of blood flowed down.
The Bible gives us a lot of description about that temple. But do you know what wasn’t there? A chair. There was no chair in the temple. The priests stood all day long. They stood for their whole shift.
Because there was always more work to do.
Always another sacrifice.
And why was that?
Because these sacrifices could never take away sin, and because they could never take away sin, they could never cleanse the conscience.
And so people with even half a conscience could never be truly free from guilt and shame.
It could be that describes you. When you think about God, you don’t feel right with him. You don’t feel ready. There’s guilt there. There’s shame. Your conscience nags at you. You haven’t done enough. There’s more to do and to change and to fix and to correct.
The gap between you and God isn’t just physical. It’s emotional and spiritual and moral. You feel the weight of your sin and your guilt.
I met a man in our lobby who was looking around with a dazed expression on his face. I introduced myself and welcomed him. He said, “Well the roof hasn’t caved in yet.”
He felt convicted, just by walking into a church.
He was getting beaten up by his own conscience.
And so it was so long ago in the temple, when worshippers offered round after round of offerings, and priests stood offering sacrifice after sacrifice, and none of it could take away sins.
But Jesus was a priest of a whole different order.
This man, the Bible says, after he had offered one sacrifice for sin… the other priests offered many sacrifices, but he only had to offer one.
What was his sacrifice? Himself. He sacrificed himself.
The baby in the manger became the man upon the Cross.
His one sacrifice stands in stark contrast to the countless millions of sacrifices of all the ages long.
His life was of infinite worth, so his sacrifice would cover infinite sins, and his resurrection would make him the only priest you’ll ever need.
The Bible says Jesus sat down.
Why did he sit down?
Because his work was finished. Once for all forever.
The law was fulfilled.
Justice was satisfied.
Sin was carried away, paid for, and forgiven.
Enemies were defeated.
Death was broken.
The curse was lifted.
Because the Priest you need has offered his sacrifice and sat down at the right hand of majesty on high.
It was a work no angel, no religion, no human, no other priest, could ever undertake.
You can have peace with God today.
You can have peace with your own conscience.
You can have the free gift of salvation.
The free gift of everlasting life.
You can be adopted into God’s family.
You can have God in your life like you have never known him before.
All because ancient Wise Men pointed a giant finger of revelation to the Priest to end all priests, when they opened their gifts and gave him frankincense.
There’s a great bit in the old I Love Lucy TV show — yes, a Lucy reference — to shine some light on what the priesthood of Jesus really means.
Lucy gets arrested in Paris. Ricky comes to bail her out. But the police only speak French, Lucy only speaks English, and Ricky only speaks Spanish and English.
So they drag another prisoner out of his cell. He speaks Spanish and German… and another guard speaks German and French. So get this?
There’s a line of translators.
The first officer speaks in French.
The second officer translates from French to German.
The other prisoner translates from German to Spanish.
Ricky translates from Spanish to English.
And Lucy gets the message in English…
And back and forth they go.
People think this about God. They need to talk to a priest, and the priest will talk to a saint, and the saint will talk to Mary, and Mary will soften up Jesus, and Jesus will soften up the Father.
The whole message of Christmas is that there is one and only one person who fills that space. His name is Jesus. As God he takes God’s hand. As human, he takes your hand. And as Priest, he brings you together without any help from you or anyone else.
Legend has it that the Magi became believers in Jesus. They went home by another way, and wherever they went, the told the world about the Savior who was born.
In a sense, they’re still doing that today. By their story that gets repeated again and again all around the world. Just like we’re doing here today.
The gave Jesus frankincense to tell you you have a priest if you will receive him.
So why don’t we do that right now?
For our prayer today, I’m going to use the words of a famous Christmas carol, called O Little Town of Bethlehem. The fourth verse is a prayer and it goes like this:
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
And let’s just add this final ABC prayer:
ADMIT. God, I admit I need you there is a gap between me and you. I feel it in my conscience, I feel it in my heart. I am fallen. I am broken. I am sinful. I cannot reach you by myself, and never will.
BELIEVE. But I believe that on Christmas day, you sent Jesus into the world. He came to be the priest I need. I believe he is your son. I believe offered the one sacrifice for all my sins, once for all. I believe he rose again. I believe he is the Priest, and today I believe he is MY Priest.
CHOOSE. So right now God, I choose to trust in Jesus as my Only Hope. I choose to believe in him. I’m telling you God, as best as I can, that I’m believing in Jesus and receiving him as my Savior and my one and only Priest. And I ask you right now, because of Jesus alone, please save me.