Often, during this time of year, there is an emphasis placed upon the gifts brought by the magi to Jesus—“gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Mat. 2:11). They understood how Jesus was worthy of worship (2:2,11) and celebration (2:10). Their giving flowed from that recognition.
The book of Hebrews turns the tables and reveals the Jesus who is the gift-giver. The same Greek word used to describe the wise men’s gifts to Jesus is used twice by the writer of the epistle to talk about Jesus’ gift. He does so in the context of Jesus’ work as a High Priest, as contrasted with the gifts offered by priests under the Law of Moses. In Hebrews 5:1, the writer talks about the qualifications necessary to serve in that role—taken from among men, working on behalf of men in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sin. Chapter five deals more with His qualification to serve and offer, but the writer does deal with the gift itself later on. Later on turns out to be chapter eight. The writer uses that same word for “gifts” in Hebrews 8:3-4 to talk about what Jesus offered. His gift is contrasted with those that cannot make the worshiper “perfect in conscience” (9:9). He gave His own blood (9:10) and with it obtained eternal redemption which will “cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (9:14). The writer summarizes that gift, “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10), as the gift that sanctifies us to God.
But what do we give in return? We cannot repay His priceless gift. But God presupposes that we will be motivated to give. Jesus does, referring to worship in Matthew 5:23-24. He does again, referring to the monetary gifts of the wealthy and the sacrificial (Luke 21:1-4). The Hebrews writer will use Abel as an example of faith-fueled giving (11:4). But our most generous gifts to Christ, however moved by sincere love and unwavering commitment, is but a shadow and reflection of His gift. We give Him money, honor, time, energy, heart, and everything else we can, because He is the greatest giver of all. May we take the time, every day, to honor and give freely, to the Gift-Giver!
BBC reports that Historic Environment Scotland, Treasure Trove Unit, and the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrance’s conservation team have discovered an ancient Viking pot full of treasure, including six silver Anglo-Saxon disc brooches, a silver brooch from Ireland, Byzantine silk, a gold ingot, and gold and crystal objects wrapped in cloth bundles (read article here). The objects date from the 8th or 9th Century. The article goes on to tell us what the discover cannot tell us, at least without years of further research and theorizing. Stuart Campbell of the Treasure Trove Unit says, “”The complexity of the material in the hoard raises more questions than it answers, and like all the best archaeology, this find doesn’t give any easy answers. Questions about the motivations and cultural identity of the individuals who buried it will occupy scholars and researchers for years to come” (ibid.).
While we do not know whether the owner of this pot was a Christian or was more interested in laying up treasure in heaven, we do know that he (or she) was laying up treasure on this earth. We also know that this treasure did not continue to benefit the owner following his or her demise. The photographs released with the find also show that the objects have been worn and decayed with time. It seems like a fitting illustration of what Jesus taught.
In the Sermon on the Mount, he wrote, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mat. 6:19-21). He doesn’t condemn saving or even making money. He does continue to warn that one inevitably chooses God or money as master (Mat. 6:24). This find in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, reminds us of the ultimate futility in laying up treasures on the earth. What’s held and hoarded isn’t stored in heaven, but it does reflect what’s in the heart. Later, Paul urges Timothy to teach the need to fix the hope on God rather than riches (1 Tim. 6:17).
It would be great to find out that this was the church treasury of a congregation of God’s people being taken and used to help the poor or preach the gospel or the personal portfolio of a person who put his riches to good use in the kingdom. It’s not statistically probable, but it’s possible. What I do know is that there is a Perfect, Heavenly Accountant who knows what we treasure most. May our legacy be that we “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Mat. 6:33).