Summary: Part 2 in series The Three Gifts. Scripture records that the second gift given to Jesus by the Magi was frankincense – a gift given to a priest. In what way(s) is Jesus a priest?
The Gift of Frankincense
The Three Gifts, prt. 2
Wildwind Community Church
December 6, 2008
Matthew 2:11 (NRSV)
11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Last week we talked about how gold is a gift for a king. Frankincense (which is just incense) primarily was a gift for a priest.
When you hear the word “priest,” do you instantly think, “Catholic?” If so, we need to correct that tonight. So I want to start by just talking to you for a moment about the word priest because if we don’t understand that word we’re going to miss not only what I’m saying in this sermon, but one of the main aspects of the character of Jesus Christ.
So let’s start with what a priest actually is. First I’ll give you a definition out of the dictionary, then I think I’ll probably need to explain the definition a little, then we can move on with the rest of the message tonight!
Merriam Webster’s dictionary says a priest is a person authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion especially as a mediatory agent between humans and God. A mediatory agent. What’s that? Have you ever had a disagreement with somebody that was so significant that you couldn’t see your way through it and had to bring in an objective third party? This happens between children all the time, right? As much as we parents want to teach our kids to resolve their own problems, there are times when it’s too messy and we have to step in and help them iron it out. We serve as a mediator – one who helps to connect our children to each other and work out an agreement. Sometimes if someone is suing somebody, both sides might agree to mediation – an out-of-court thing where a third party comes in and helps both sides to work out an agreement. Marriage counselors are always mediating when they are working with couples – trying to help them see through the mess they are in and make their way back to each other. Mediators are always people in the middle, trying to connect two or more parties to one another.
So a priest is a mediator – someone who tries to connect two parties to each other – one party is God, and the other party is humanity! In Judaism, you go to the temple but cannot offer sacrifice or penitence for yourself; it is done through a priest. This is a person who has observed special rituals involving purity and holiness of life, perhaps physical washing in certain ways, and is therefore able to serve as a pure vessel through which other people can approach God.
Catholicism holds a similar idea about its priests. This snippet from WikiAnswers.com seems like a great explanation of the role of a Catholic priest.
The priest’s primary role is to sanctify himself and others through the correct execution of his duties. By his consecration he truly acts in the Person of Christ when dispensing the sacraments for he participates directly in Christ’s priesthood
So it is that in Catholicism, you confess your sins to a priest. A priest daily performs the Mass, which is essentially what we would call “communion.” The Catholics do state that Christ is the only true mediator between God and man, and they are correct, but in Catholicism, the priest is acting in the person of Christ when performing his duties, perhaps like an ambassador of a country acts in the person of the President of that country. Condolleezza Rice doesn’t get to go to another country and deliver her message. She delivers George Bush’s message. A priest doesn’t declare his message, he declares the message of Jesus.
Now in Protestantism, which is us – we are not Catholic, but Protestant pastors are called pastors and not priests. This is because we believe that since Christ is the mediator between God and man, since Jesus is the one who can connect us to God, no human mediator is needed. But this is not because we think church is all about what happens between you and God in the privacy of your own room, in your own head and heart. I don’t want you to make the mistake of thinking that we don’t use priests because we don’t believe confession is necessary.
Confession is essential! Confession is something a lot more of us ought to be doing. Our small groups need to offer opportunities for members to confess to one another. It is required of us as believers. Jesus is the mediator between us and God. We share that belief in common with the Catholics, and it is a scriptural belief. However, Protestants focus on this passage of scripture: