God’s Bridge Over Troubled Water (1/10/16)

Posted by on Jan 11, 2016 in Sermons | 0 comments

This message is the second in a three part series called “Three Men and a Baby.”  The first part focused on the gift of Gold; of how the Wise Men challenged us to give our best.  This second part focuses on the gift of Frankincense; of how Jesus is our great High Priest who bridges the wide gap between humanity and God.

Click the below “Play” button and scroll down to follow along (the recording is from the 9:30 service)…

Note:  Pastor Jim opens by inviting everyone to the Tuesday Night Series of studies.  Click Here for more info.


Our scripture reading was Leviticus 6:14-15 and Matthew 2:11-12.  Open the drop down box to read along…

Lev 6 and Matt 2

Lev 6:14-15

14 ‘This is the law of the grain offering: The sons of Aaron shall offer it on the altar before the Lord.

15 He shall take from it his handful of the fine flour of the grain offering, with its oil, and all the frankincense which is on the grain offering, and shall burn it on the altar for a sweet aroma, as a memorial to the Lord.


Matt 2:11-12

11 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.

12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.



Review from Part One…

One comedian observed:

“If it had been ‘Wise Women’ instead of ‘Wise Men’,

  • They would have asked for directions
  • arrived on time
  • helped deliver the baby
  • cleaned the stable
  • made a casserole.

And- Wise WOMEN would have brought practical gifts.  Gifts from Babys-r-Us.  Useful things like diapers, wipes, bibs and formula.”

Last week we began our three-week visit with the Wise Men…

What Gift Shall I Bring? (1/3/16)

Where From?   We learned that they probably came from Persia (which is modern day Iran), traveled about 1000 miles on camel back to get to Bethlehem (which is about the distance from here to Chicago).

How Many?   We also learned that there were not just Three Wise Men (or “Magi”).  Our Christmas Cards have picked up on the “Three Wise Men” image simply because the Bible says that there were three gifts.  But more likely there were many people who made this journey from “the East.”  They were prominent men of society.  It has been speculated that they bought with them a full military escort along with their servants.  The total party could have amounted to more than 300 people.

Why’d They Come?  They were probably influenced by a number of people in the Old Testament, especially the prophet Daniel.  Take a look at these verses…

Daniel 9:24-25    “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy.

“Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.   NIV

Ezra 6:6-7   Now then, Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and you, their fellow officials of that province, stay away from there.  Do not interfere with the work on this temple of God. Let the governor of the Jews and the Jewish elders rebuild this house of God on its site.   NIV

The Persians knew that God was up to something in Israel…

Numbers 24:17   “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near.

A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.

He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth.   NIV

When the Israelites were taken captivity by the Babylonians (who were then conquered by the Medes and Persians), they took along with them these prophecies.  The Persians (the forefathers of these “Wise Men”) were exposed to God’s special relationship with the Israelites, and they were aware that a King would come someday.

The Wise Men “Got It.”   They knew that something really special was happening, so they made the journey to see for themselves.  They came with a large caravan and they came with expensive gifts: Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.  Let’s find out more about Frankincense…



Incense_ burn-1119244__180_400x300

What is Frankincense? Resources like Wikipedia (and other more “scholarly books”) can describe what it is.  It is made from the sap of trees, which was highly valuable, and it was burned in worship to God in the Temple.  But what does it mean?  Why does the Bible mention is as a gift from “Wise Men”?

Frankincense was used as an element of worship… it was lit and spread around the altar by the priests leading worship.  You can see this in  these Old Testament  passages…

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take fragrant spices — gum resin, onycha and galbanum — and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts, and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of a perfumer. It is to be salted and pure and sacred. Grind some of it to powder and place it in front of the Testimony in the Tent of Meeting, where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you.

Do not make any incense with this formula for yourselves; consider it holy to the Lord.  Whoever makes any like it to enjoy its fragrance must be cut off from his people.” NIV

“‘These are the regulations for the grain offering: Aaron’s sons are to bring it before the Lord, in front of the altar. The priest is to take a handful of fine flour and oil, together with all the incense on the grain offering, and burn the memorial portion on the altar as an aroma pleasing to the Lord. NIV

Incense also depicts prayer.  Take a look at Revelation 8:3-4…

Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.  NIV


But these Wise Men understood who this Baby Jesus really was. They Got It.  These Gentiles from far away understood that this Baby was the fulfillment of God’s promise, and so they brought gifts that pointed to the identity of this Baby.  The Wise Men Got it… the religious leaders of Israel missed it.


Jesus is our High Priest

The Gold pointed to Jesus’ Kingship.  And it probably also helped to fund Mary and Joseph’s flight with Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod.  But the Wise Men also brought frankincense.  This pointed out that they recognized Jesus as our High Priest.  This gift affirms that Jesus is our priest.  It affirms that He is the one through whom forgiveness comes.

Frankincense symbolizes the following truths which were later explicitly described by the New Testament writers:

Acts 4:12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
John 3:36  Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
Matthew 1:21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
1 John 5:11-12  And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
1 Timothy 2:5-6  For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,  who gave himself as a ransom for all men — the testimony given in its proper time. 
Revelation 7:9-10 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Hebrews  2:3-4 How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.

Just as the Jews only had one High Priest at a time, God only has one High Priest throughout eternity.  The High Priest is Jesus the Christ!

And Jesus understood His unique role.  Luke 2:41-49 tells of the time Jesus’ parents took Him to Jerusalem for the Passover and then started on their way home before realizing Jesus wasn’t with them. The returned to Jerusalem to find Him teaching and  learning from the Jewish teachers.  Jesus responded- “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s House?”  This 12 year old boy knew He had a unique role; to be in His Father’s House.  He knew that He had to be in His Father’s Business of building a bridge to connect us to God.


Jesus Stands In the Gap

The prophet Ezekiel (in Ezekiel 22:30-31) posed the following dilemma of God’s…

 “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none. 

So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

There is a gap, a great divide between humanity and God.  Sin has driven a wedge between us and God.  It’s as if we’re standing on one side of a great rift and God is on the other.  How can we cross over to God?  How can this gap be Stand in Gap 236x118bridged?

It is bridged by our Great High Priest, Jesus!  As our Priest, Jesus grew up and died on the cross for our sins.  He reestablished the right relationship between God and humanity. In short, Jesus paid the debt we owed to God.  He made it possible for God to see us as being without the guilt of sin!


If there wasn’t a sin problem, why did Jesus have to die???


Jesus is the Bridge.  He is fully divine and yet He was fully human.  He knows about our problems; He experienced them Himself!  He knows all about hunger, temptation, and even death.  Because of His death on the cross,  He can “Bridge the Gap” between humanity and God.  You can’t separate Christmas from Easter!

This is what is wrapped up in the Frankincense. Paul puts it straightforward when he writes his letter to the Colossians (2:6-15)…

6 And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him.  Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.


8 Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.  For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.  So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.


11 When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature.  For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.


13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins.  He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.  In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.   NLT

Jesus Christ is the true “Bridge across the Troubled Water” of your sin.  He stands in the gap between you and God, and He’s the only one who can.

Because Jesus is our High Priest, we don’t need to have the forgiveness of the human agent serving in the role of “priest”-  we have been permitted to go straight to Him because He is our priest.  This is what is meant in Hebrews 4:14-16…

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin.

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  NIV

Jesus is Our Bridge Builder

The Latin word that we translate as “Priest” is “PONTIFEX.”  It’s notable that this word literally means “Bridge Builder”!  The word we apply to Priest or even Pontiff means “Bridge.”  A priest is a bridge between God and Man. But only our High Priest- Jesus- can bridge the gap between our sinfulness and God’s holiness.

The Frankincense tells us that Jesus is the High Priest and that He alone can “Stand in the Gap” and be our “Bridge over Troubled Water.”

We noted earlier from 1 Timothy 2:5-6 that Jesus is our only MEDIATOR between us and God.  But other passages say the same thing…

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect,

to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 

…yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. NIV


A mediator is always someone in the middle, bridging a gap, trying to connect two or more parties to one another.  For us to approach God, we may not need an earthly priest or a church.  But we absolutely do need Jesus to be our mediator. There’s a huge gap that only He can bridge…

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus,  by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body,

21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 


Jesus’ Church is the Construction Crew

There is a huge gap between us and God.  Only Jesus can make sinful us acceptable to Holy God. Our good deeds can’t bridge the gap; only God’s grace through Jesus can do that.

But, God wants us to deliver the Bridge to the Gap!  He wants us to serves as priests for the Priest.  Consider these verses…

5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,”and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message — which is also what they were destined for.

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

And you will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast.

Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ (Ex 19:5-6)


Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer,  taught this Biblical concept, much to the consternation of the religious authorities of his day.  Luther wrote:  “Therefore, we are all priests, as many of us as are Christians.

Luther called all Christians to live a life of being a “pontifex,” or God’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” to a sinful, lost, and hurting world.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, took Luther’s Priesthood of Believers and important step further in the late 1700s, empowering his Methodists to assume an active ministry in the Church.


What About Us???

When you’ve come to Jesus by faith as the Wise Men did, you begin to act like someone who’s in love.  You bring gifts, you read each other’s letters, emails, and texts… you can’t wait to get back together with the one you love.

The frankincense invites us to be priests together, as we walk in step in the unity of the Body of Christ.  We are invited by the Holy Spirit to participate with God and to be Bridge Builders.

  • Who do we know who is separated from God?   Show them the Bridge.
  • Who do we know that needs to know that God loves them?  Show them the Bridge.
  • Who do we know who needs a God who wants a relationship with them?  Show them the Bridge.





 Quiz Time!

As you reflect on what you’ve just heard/read, give this quiz a try.  If you don’t understand an answer (or if you disagree with the “correct” answer, post a comment)…


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