What Shall We Give Him? Surrender to the King

At West Lisbon this Advent season, we have been exploring the Miracles of Christmas each Sunday morning. These miracles have caused us to think about gifts that we may give to Christ or to others that are uniquely spiritual in nature. Some of the gifts have included giving Jesus our fellowship and our hope. Last Sunday, we learned how the angels came to announce the presence of the Christ in the first advent. The message challenged us to give the gift of unconditional presence to our own family and friends—no matter what. In this blog post, I want to explore another gift that we can give to the Lord—the gift of surrender.

War Elephants . . . Now That’s a Gift!

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln wrote a cordial letter to the King of Siam to politely reject the offer of a most generous gift. President James Buchanan was the actual addressee of the two letters from the King, which were received on February 14th, 1861—the same year the Civil War began—but President Lincoln was left with the responsibility of responding to the King’s offer. The gifts of the King were fourfold—namely, a sword of costly materials and exquisite workmanship; a photographic likeness of His Majesty and of His Majesty’s beloved daughter; and also two elephants’ tusks of length and magnitude indicating that they could have belonged only to an animal which was a native of Siam . . .

The fourth gift was really something. President Lincoln wrote,

I appreciate most highly Your Majesty’s tender of good offices in forwarding to this Government a stock from which a supply of elephants might be raised on our own soil. This Government would not hesitate to avail itself of so generous an offer if the object were one which could be made practically useful in the present condition of the United States. Our political jurisdiction, however, does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant, and steam on land, as well as on water, has been our best and most efficient agent of transportation in internal commerce.

The President ended the letter: Your Good Friend, ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

It is very interesting to study the gifts given between the leaders of nations and the occasions that prompted their international generosity. The beauty and thoughtfulness are striking at times. As I looked into this a little, I thought to myself,

Yes, a king knows exactly how and what to give to another king. But what do you and I know about giving gifts to a king?

I think we all probably feel a little like Clark W. Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation when he delivers his gift to his boss, only to find a mountain of other, unopened, underwhelming gifts that preceded his own. You can see and sense the feelings of both resentment and insecurity that begin to take hold of Clark.

He doesn’t need anything, but I have to give him something . . . I can’t look bad, but, really, what can I give to him?

It’s Christmas time. The King with whom we are concerned during these days is the Lord Jesus. What do you give such a King? The King of Kings. The One who has the name above all names, before whom one day every knee will bow and tongue will confess that he is indeed Lord and Master of all creation. What do you give to God?

Perhaps, and quite honestly, it hasn’t occurred to you that you should give God anything at all. Maybe others of you have wondered about this question. Possibly, you’ve given it some extensive thought — what does God want from me and my life? What should I give him? Maybe others of you are in a place where you feel that you’ve given God quite enough—life has been hard this year. Yet, deep down, you know that Jesus possess the words of life, and you love him even in the midst of difficult days.

If we read the story of the manger scene where the Shepherds flocked to see the baby King or the narrative about the visit from the wise men to the young child Jesus, we can envision quite a reception. Time has passed since the infancy and childhood of the Lord Jesus. The mature King eventually offered his life as an atonement for the sins of the world – the righteous one for the unrighteous ones – and he demonstrated his power and right to rule by defeating death through resurrection, wherein the church places her hope for life eternal.

Shepherds and wise men aside, what now does the modern person have to offer a resurrected and returning King like Jesus? I’d like to suggest to you that Jesus answers this for us himself. He tells us in the Gospel of Mark 12:13–17 just exactly what he wants from us. In a word, he wants you. He wants you to surrender yourself, your life, to him as King.

WDJW or What Does Jesus Want?

And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him (Mark 12:13–17).

King Jesus is very clear about what he wants in this passage. God wants those on which he has stamped his own image. He wants boys and girls, and men and women. He wants YOU. The idea of surrender to Jesus as King brings three thoughts to my mind, and they illustrate the internal process we go through as we weigh the meaning of surrender.

First, We Resist Surrender to God’s Ownership.

Maybe we, like the men in this story, try to avoid surrender by means of flattery. We flatter Jesus with our bumper stickers, with our wristbands, with our donations, and even like these men, with our words. But Jesus did not come to be flattered by people. He came to rule. Jesus seeks to rule the heart by his grace and with his power, for the heart, he says, is the place, the source, out of which his image is defaced daily by evil deeds, thoughts, and feelings. God wants to restore his glorious image in you by transforming your heart. The King does not receive flattery from an unyielded heart; he despises it.

Maybe you don’t flatter Jesus, but also like these men, you look at King Jesus with false pretenses—false pretenses about who he is and why he has come and what he will do to cause you to remain unsurrendered to him as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Maybe you don’t believe him and his claim upon you as someone on whom he has stamped his image of ownership.

Sometimes our process of surrender stops there. We resist and that’s it. End of story. But some of us hear the Scriptures and are willing to go a little further, discovering within ourselves a bit more humility toward God about this whole surrender thing. The next step in the process of surrender is a place of insecurity.

Second, We Question the Value of Our Surrender to God’s Ownership.

We come to believe that, yes, indeed Jesus is King, and he has stamped his image on me. He’s not only the King, but he’s MY King.

But then, we look at what we have to offer him, and we grow insecure, which results either in despair of ever bringing anything worthy to offer to God, or in an endless attempt to try to bring him something to earn his favor.

Consider our FEEBLE KNOWLEDGE in light of the all-knowing God.
Measure our FALLIBLE WILL in light of the holy God.
Discern our FICKLE EMOTIONS in light of the God who is perfect in justice and mercy.

There is some truth here about the insecurity of the value of our surrender to God, for even the Scriptures say,

There are none righteous, not even one,” and “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

It is proper to feel insecure before such a God, such a King, no matter the quality of life we may think we have brought to him. Perhaps, we could call this healthy insecurity “the fear of God.”

However, the wrong kind of insecurity can breed anger and bitterness, and these are certainly the wrong gifts to bring the King. Rather, the right response to the insecurity over the life that we have to surrender to God is humility—a crushed and lowly heart, made so by an encounter with the greatness of God.

The realization that not even my life is of great enough value to win the favor of this King—this realization should crush us and bring us low, low enough to bow the knee, the head, and the heart before the King of Kings. And it is here now that our surrender meets grace and favor. For it is written,

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite (Isaiah 57:15 ESV).

At this crushing point of surrender, the heart bows low before God, and we can understand exactly what it is that God has done—why it is that the Holy Child came to earth. He came so that the humble heart may rejoice in the hope of salvation.

Lastly, We Welcome Surrender to God’s Ownership.

As the Holy Spirit opens the heart in surrender, humility leads us into the hope of salvation. When we give to God what belongs to God, as Jesus said, we are ready to experience the hope and treasure given to us in the work of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 8:9 offers the basis for why Christians should be generous to one another by restating the good news about Jesus Christ’s coming into the world. The first part reads,

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .

God’s grace finds the one who has been brought low in surrender. You say, that’s it?! I mean, the King of Siam sent a flawless stock of war elephants to President Lincoln—war elephants! But remember the words of the songwriter,

Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

By God’s grace, such a humble offering satisfies him.

The passage goes on,

. . . that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Here the writer speaks to us of the Great Exchange that took place at Christ’s first coming. He become poor, so that you and I could possess all the treasures that are in Christ and his gospel—pardon, forgiveness, freedom from guilt, a new birth, a new life, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, a new talk, a new walk, fellowship with God, justice and creation made right, eternity with God in his glorious presence, forever and ever. God offers these treasures in Christ. When you welcome surrender to God’s ownership of your life, you discover the fullness of the Great Exchange of Jesus Christ, that by his poverty you are made wealthy in him.

Surrender Your Heart to the King

Will you welcome surrender to King Jesus this Advent season? Invite God’s ownership into your life. Will you let his ownership spread, allowing his rule in every nook and cranny? Will you, as the children sing, “give him your heart”? Has God’s Spirit been working in your heart and life leading up to this reading? The Lord Jesus became poor—he died on the cross and was resurrected out of a borrowed grave—so that you could be made rich in him. Are you ready to begin experiencing the treasures that are in Christ Jesus?

From Lament to Life: Remembering Jesus As a Fellow-Sufferer

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

(Matthew 2:16–18)

While perusing the Facebook newsfeed one day this December, I noticed a link that a friend had posted from Crossway Publishers that described a dramatic poetry reading from Pastor John Piper called The Innkeeper. As I listened, I began to realize where the story was headed, and I discovered two reactions in my soul—first, I was surprised that I had never considered the powerful implications behind the text of Matthew 2:16–18, which is quoted for you above; and second, I was determined to take a deeper look at this text.

[Watch The Innkeeper by John Piper.]

Matthew 2:18 is the fourth Old Testament (OT) passage quoted in Matthew’s Gospel, which indicates that the writer establishes early on that he intends to interact heavily with the OT as he writes about the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah. I tend to agree with Blomberg and Hagner on the reason for Matthew’s oft quoting of the Old Testament,

Again, in Matthew’s perspective Jesus is understood as summarizing the whole experience of Israel as well as bringing it to fulfillment.

For example, the previous paragraph quotes Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Hosea is referring to Israel’s experience of the exodus out of Egypt. Like Israel, Jesus too would be called out of Egypt.

Moving to the primary text of this article, Matthew 2:16–18 paints a grim scene. As we recite Matthew’s telling of the Christmas story this year, we should not skip over this part. The passage can be divided into two parts: (1) The Wrath of Herod upon Bethlehem and (2) The Weeping of Rachel at Ramah.

The Wrath of Herod upon Bethlehem

Remember, Herod was not the the first to order the slaying of young Hebrews. Do you recall what happened in the days of Moses? Remember how Pharaoh ordered the Hebrew midwives to execute the male Hebrew children? The Hebrew midwives feared God (Ex. 1:17) and refused to obey the command of the king of Egypt. Although I am not certain, I wonder if the Hebrews in their oppression began to remember the promises of God to their fathers, believed that God may send a deliverer to them, and therefore, the midwives feared and obeyed God rather than Pharaoh because they were waiting for a deliverer? We do know that the people of Israel began crying out to God for help (Ex. 2:23–25). In the face of tragedy, God sovereignly raised up Moses in the midst of Egypt to deliver his people from bondage.

The wrath of Herod fueled by his wounded pride brought great tragedy upon the town of Bethlehem. Apparently, it took place nearly two years after Jesus was born. As indicated in 2:16, Herod had calculated the number of years based upon the previous information he had received from the magi, and in calculating the number, he determined to execute a raw expression of his rage. Every male child two years of age and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding region was mowed down to the grave by Herod’s soldiers. Can you imagine being a parent in Bethlehem at that time? No warning. No refuge. The life of your child taken away—and perhaps your own—because you were the town that made room for the Deliverer. A tender population of your town wiped out because you sovereignly became associated with the Son of God. Bethlehem was not a booming metropolis. Estimates during the reign of Herod suggest that approximately one thousand people populated the town, from which we may gather that possibly “twenty boys would be born in two years, and several of those would have died in infancy” (from R. T. France, “Herod and the Children of Bethlehem”). However, even though we are only talking about the slaying of a dozen or so young boys, the tremors of tragedy reach deep into the context of a small town. The whole town feels it, and whether directly or indirectly affected, such a thing became part of everyone’s story. The history books have no record of Herod’s attack upon the children of Bethlehem, but God did not forget and chose Matthew to remind us of the price Bethlehem paid for its association with the new born King.

The Weeping of Rachel at Ramah

While the life and experience of Jesus in Matthew seems to have some parallels with Moses’ day, Matthew 2:17 reveals to us that Matthew primarily has in mind the words of the prophet Jeremiah, which are then quoted in 2:18. Jeremiah 31:15 is the exact reference here. Remember, Jeremiah lived during the tragic days of the Babylonian captivity and the fall of Jerusalem. Besides a brief period of revival and reform under king Josiah, Jeremiah faithfully and painfully proclaimed the word of God to idolatrous Israel. However, Jeremiah 31 is a rare chapter filled primarily with hope of restoration following the captivity. In verse 15, the message of hope digresses for just a moment because the Lord hears the lament of Ramah, the weeping of Rachel as her children are led through the town into captivity. Ramah was a town located approximately 8km north of Jerusalem. Interestingly, Bethlehem was located about 7–8km south of Jerusalem and was located along the same road. Even so, Matthew’s parallel between Ramah and Bethlehem is more than geographical—it is social, emotional, and theological. Blomberg further highlights the appropriateness of Matthew’s connection between Ramah and Bethlehem—they were both towns familiar with sadness and suffering. There is also one more thing that draws these two towns together—Rachel. Rachel was thought to have died and been buried near Ramah (1 Samuel 10:2) while Jacob and his family were on their way to Bethlehem (Genesis 35.16–21). Therefore, these two towns have a connection in biblical history, both being marked by the weeping Rachel, the mother of all Israel. Returning to Jeremiah 31, Rachel was heard weeping over her children as they were taken away into captivity to Babylon. She struggles to be comforted even by God’s promise to restore her children. Thus, Matthew once again sees Rachel weeping for her children in 2:16–18 when he compares the pain of the Babylonian captivity to the ruthless slaughter at Bethlehem. This is a fitting comparison, for where else could he have gone but to the darkest period in Israel’s history to describe the pain and mourning of the families of Bethlehem?

From Lament to Life

Just as there was suffering in the midst of the grand promise given by God and proclaimed through the prophet Jeremiah, there was suffering in the midst of the fulfillment of that promise when the Son of God became incarnate. Consider the words of comfort given by the Lord through the prophet Jeremiah to the weeping Rachel:

The LORD says to her,
“Stop crying! Do not shed any more tears!
For your heartfelt repentance will be rewarded.
Your children will return from the land of the enemy.
I, the LORD, affirm it!
Indeed, there is hope for your posterity.
Your children will return to their own territory.
I, the LORD, affirm it!
I have indeed heard the people of Israel say mournfully,
‘We were like a calf untrained to the yoke.
You disciplined us and we learned from it.
Let us come back to you and we will do so,
for you are the LORD our God.
For after we turned away from you we repented.
After we came to our senses we beat our breasts in sorrow.
We are ashamed and humiliated
because of the disgraceful things we did previously.’
Indeed, the people of Israel are my dear children.
They are the children I take delight in.
For even though I must often rebuke them,
I still remember them with fondness.
So I am deeply moved with pity for them
and will surely have compassion on them.
I, the LORD, affirm it!

(Jeremiah 31:16–20)

The proclamation of hope and restoration is accompanied by the future repentance and turning of Rachel’s children back to the Lord. God sent them into exile due to their idolatry and rebellion against him. But what are we to make of Bethlehem? Why the slaughter? We know why Judah was taken away into Babylon. But why this tragedy upon Bethlehem? Ultimately, I don’t know. Evil happenings in our world escape the reaches of human reason much of the time. Yet, I do know that they do not escape the reach of my all-knowing God, and I do take comfort in him because of this.

I feel that there is also one other possible explanation (perhaps among many) that may speak to us about this tragedy in Bethlehem that accompanied the glory of the Lord’s birth. Bethlehem sovereignly became associated with the Messiah. Which causes us to ask, what does it mean to be sovereignly associated with the Messiah? What a wonderful thought for meditation this Christmas season. Listen to what Dale Allison writes,

Jesus is literally sympathetic; that is, he suffers along with others. His identity as God’s beloved Son (3:17; 11:25–30; 17:5) does not render him immune from agony or despair. He is, on the contrary, especially subject to misfortune and pain: in Matthew’s story, Jesus suffers far more than anyone else. The savior is the innocent victim writ large. Now for those who believe in him, there is surely something reassuring in this. One recalls Heb. 4:14–15 and 5:8, where Jesus learns through suffering and so can sympathize with human weakness. Suffering shared is more easily endured. And as in Hebrews, so in Matthew: the principle has become christological. It is not just that one does not suffer alone, but precisely that one suffers in the company of Jesus, God’s Son. This must mean that the divinity does not remain aloof from suffering, for God knows the Son (11:27) and the Son knows suffering. If the Son is a person of sorrows, acquainted with grief, his Father must likewise be beset by grief and sorrow. This does not, to be sure, do anything to unravel the mystery of iniquity. It does, however, put God on the side of the hapless Rachel weeping for her children, and on the side of the disciples tossed grievously to and fro by persecution. And perhaps that thought matters far more than any rational apologetic.

Matthew knew very well what it meant to be sovereignly associated with Messiah—it meant he would take a journey from lament into life. You see when Jesus called Matthew to follow him (see Matthew 9), he would have been best described as a publican thug, barred from the temple and the synagogue because of his sins and treason against his own people. However, there is good reason to think that at some point, Matthew developed a heart for God (how else did he know so much of the Old Testament?!). Yet, the religious scene of his day did not allow him to seek God. Then, Jesus comes along and says to him, “Follow me.” Matthew perhaps did not know what was in store for him at that point, but as he followed Jesus, he surely came to realize that to be associated with Jesus meant a life associated with Jesus’ suffering but also with his glory.

I suppose now that Rachel may still be weeping for her children to return to the Messiah. However, perhaps there is also hope stirring in her soul because from afar she saw the birth of a new covenant, she saw Messiah conquer the enemies of her soul, and now she awaits repentance and revival as God promised to her.

What is it to be associated with the Messiah this Christmas? Is it not to believe in him and be saved—the glory of salvation? And is it not to willingly suffer with him and for him in a dark and unbelieving world? Is it not as Paul said, “It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29)? At the close of The Innkeeper poem referred to above, the Lord Jesus responds to Jacob’s tears of sorrow and faithfulness with the following,

I am the boy

That Herod wanted to destroy.

You gave my parents room to give

Me life, and then God let me live,

And took your wife. Ask me not why

The one should live, another die.

God’s ways are high, and you will know

In time. But I have come to show

You what the Lord prepared the night

You made a place for heaven’s light.

In two weeks they will crucify

My flesh. But mark this, Jacob, I

Will rise in three days from the dead,

And place my foot upon the head

Of him who has the power of death,

And I will raise with life and breath

Your wife and Ben and Joseph too

And give them, Jacob, back to you

With everything the world can store,

And you will reign for evermore.”

This is the gift of candle three:
A Christ with tears in tragedy

And life for all eternity.

May the love of Christ cause you to rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, and persist in prayer this Christmas and beyond as you follow Jesus to the cross and into glory.