Camels Approaching the Stable

I continue to examine our nativity scene looking closely at the animals. Each year as I set up our creche, I create particular groupings of people and animals. I place the donkey near Mary and Joseph. (After all, it was the donkey Mary rode while traveling to Bethlehem.) The sheep flock around the shepherds. (Sheep and shepherds belong together.) I nestle the camel with the Magi outside the actual creche. (They have not yet arrived on the scene.)

Although the camels and Magi were not present at Bethlehem’s manger, they are common figures in traditional accounts of the nativity celebrations. They have an important part in our Christian tradition. Camels were part of the animal world surrounding Jesus’ birth.

The account of the Magi and their camels is found in Matthew 2:1-12. For approximately two years, the Magi rode their camels and followed a star that ultimately led them to Jesus in Bethlehem. Verses 9-11 says, “. . . they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with great delight. On coming to the house, they saw the Child with His mother Mary, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.

In Bible times, camels were a symbol of wealth. They transported treasures and riches. These particular camels carried Magi. Also referred to as Wise Men, the Magi were part of the hereditary priesthood of the Medes. They exhibited profound and extraordinary religious knowledge. These camels transported respected men and expensive gifts. Extraordinary animals for an extraordinary purpose.

Most camels are dromedary camels, characterized by a single hump. They are usually 5.9 to 6.6 feet tall and weigh between 990 and 1,320 pounds. While standing, they are majestic animals that demand attention. My eyes look up.

However, as the camels sit or lie down, my eyes look down. They kneel on their knobby knees and gradually lower their bodies. As a camel lowers itself on its knees, it reminds me of a person kneeling in prayer. Psalm 95:6 says, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.” 

The purpose of the Magi’s journey was to worship the newborn king. Matthew 2:11 says, “On coming to the house, they saw the Child with His mother Mary, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.

The camels and Magi journeyed together sharing a common purpose. Camels and Magi reflected a prominent status by appearance. However, both knelt and worshiped Jesus. Let’s find our place with the camels and Magi. As God’s people, let us fall on our knees to worship Him.

The camels were privileged to carry great men on their backs and bring them into the presence of the King of kings and Lord of lords. They are an example for our prayer lives. As intercessors, we carry people to the Lord in prayer. Paul says in I Timothy 2:1-3,I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior.Ephesians 6:18 is also a significant verse. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Who do you need to bring before the Lord in prayer today? Kneel before Him and pour out your heart in prayer and praise.

The camels were coming. Are you coming? It was a long journey for the camels to finally kneel before Jesus. Currently, we are sharing an Advent journey. It will be our privilege to kneel before Jesus and honor His birth in another week. However, our pilgrimage will not end on December 25. Our life’s goal should be to draw closer to Jesus each and every day. Jesus was born in Bethlehem’s manger for a greater purpose than living on earth for 33 ½ years. He was born to die for our sins so we could be born again. Our destination in eternal life with Jesus.

A Golden Gift for Our King

Gold, frankincense and myrrh. These precious prophetic gifts were presented by the Magi to Jesus as a young lad. They were not gifts for Jesus to play with. They were gifts foretelling roles He would fulfill.

Today we give our attention to gold.

The Magi had been following a star for approximately two years trying to find the newborn king of the Jews. Throughout their journey, they carried these costly gifts. Joseph may have later sold the gold to pay for their trip to Egypt.

Gold represented Jesus as king. The gift of gold was symbolic of Jesus’ divinity. He was God in the flesh. Son of God and son of man.

Gold was a valuable commodity. It was a precious metal. Gold represented riches and royalty. However, Jesus’ royalty differed from what people expected.

Let’s see how and when Jesus was considered a king.

Throughout their journey, the Magi were looking for a king. They asked in Matthew 2:2, Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” I doubt that they expected to find their king in a little home in Bethlehem. The house certainly was not a royal palace.

This past Sunday we observed Palm Sunday – the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. John 12:12-15 says, “The next day the great crowd that had come to the Feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet Him, shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!’ Jesus, found a young donkey, sat on it, as it is written, ‘Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.’The people referred to Jesus as king. But, did they really understand His kingly role?

Pilate asked Jesus if He was a king. Their conversation included the following words from John 19:36-37. “Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’ ‘You are a king then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.’” Although both Jesus and Herod talked about a king, they had different understandings of the word. Jesus was a messianic king while Herod was referring to a political king.

John 19:2-3 says, “The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him; and they began to come up to Him and say, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” Jesus was not crowned with a kingly crown. He was mocked as a king while He walked the road to Golgotha.

Jesus hung on the cross. John 19:19 says, “Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.Jesus did not fit the Jews’ ideas of their coming king. They rejected Him.

Fast forward to our present day. We are now waiting for Jesus’ return. Selections from Revelation 19:11-13,16 describe Jesus as our coming king. “And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, . . . on His head are many diadems; . . . He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” When Jesus comes again, He will be riding a horse, not a donkey. He will be wearing a royal diadem, not a crown of thorns. His robe will declare Him to be King of kings and Lord of lords rather than a hand written note saying King of the Jews.

Let’s see how gold applies to us.

Jesus tells us in Luke 17:20, “The coming of the kingdom of God is within you.” Can we comprehend that God’s kingdom is in us?

In II Timothy 4:8, Paul talks about a crown of righteousness that we will be given. James 1:12 tells of the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him. I Peter 5:4 says we will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

These are three wonderful crowns awaiting us, but they are not golden crowns placed upon our heads. These are crowns that will not tarnish or perish. They are heavenly rewards that God promises those who are faithful.

What are we to do with our crowns? The elders give us our answer in Revelation 4:10-11, “the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.’Let us express our gratitude to the Lord and worship Him by laying at His feet any honors or possessions we acquire. It is all about Him!

Remember gold, frankincense and myrrh as you celebrate Resurrection Sunday in just a few days.

I conclude with the words of All Hail King Jesus by Jeremy Riddle. Sing with me if you know the melody.

There was a moment when the lights went out
When death had claimed its victory
The King of Love had given up His life
The darkest day in history
There on a cross they made for sinners
For every curse His blood atoned
One final breath and it was finished
But not the end we could have known

For the earth began to shake
And the veil was torn
What sacrifice was made
As the heavens roared

All hail King Jesus
All hail the Lord of Heaven and earth
All hail King Jesus
All hail the Savior of the world

There was a moment when the sky lit up
A flash of light breaking through
When all was lost He crossed eternity
The King of life was on the move

For in a dark cold tomb
Where our Lord was laid
One miraculous breath
And we’re forever changed

All hail, King Jesus
All hail the Lord of heaven and earth
All hail, King Jesus
All hail the Savior of the world
All hail, King Jesus
All hail the Lord of heaven and earth
All hail, King Jesus
All hail the Savior of the world





A Gift for Our Savior

Gold, frankincense and myrrh. This is the second week we are looking at these valuable gifts presented to Jesus by the Magi. Each gift portrayed a purpose and position the little boy Jesus would grow to fulfill.

Today, we will look at the message of myrrh.

Like frankincense, myrrh is a natural gum or resin extracted from a small, thorny tree. A myrrh seed is bitter. When broken, the seed emits a sweet fragrance. Myrrh has been used as an embalming spice. When mixed with wine, it can be consumed as a drink. It symbolizes bitterness, brokenness, suffering and affliction.

Myrrh prophetically pointed to Jesus as the Savior of the world. Myrrh was an expensive gift for the Magi to purchase. However, it signified something even more costly – our salvation. It cost Jesus His life.

Jesus referred to brokenness when informing His disciples what He would face after the Passover meal. He used broken bread as a symbol.

Jesus reclined at the table with His apostles. And He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before My suffering’. . . . And He took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body, given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you.’(taken from Luke 22:14-20)

Then came the reality. When Jesus was flogged and beaten, His skin was torn. When the thorny crown was pressed upon His head, the prickly points penetrated His skin. While He hung upon the cross, blood flowed from His hands and feet that were pierced by nails.

Paul echoss Jesus’ words of brokenness in I Corinthians 11:23-25 and adds in verse 26, For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” We are reminded of Jesus’ brokenness every time we hear these words spoken when partaking of the sacrament of communion.

The Seven Last Words are phrases Jesus spoke from the cross. Two of these phrases are applicable to myrrh and brokenness.

John 19:28-29 records, “. . . Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ . . . so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth.” Myrrh was an ingredient of this drink.

Matthew 27:46 says, “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” This verse reveals the broken relationship between Jesus and His Heavenly Father. God the Father, perfect and holy, could not look upon His Son who carried the sins of the world as He died upon the cross.

Jesus, who was holy, became broken so that we, who are broken, can be made whole. Romans 5:10 says, For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

Now let’s see how myrrh applies to us today.

Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.Although Christ was broken through crucifixion for us. there is still an aspect of crucifixion we must encounter. We must be broken, or separated from, our old nature to become new creations in Christ. We must be willing to crucify, or break away from, our fleshly desires. Embracing Christ as our Savior requires us to be broken from our past.

The breaking process may seem bitter but the result will be a beautiful fragrance. We will become the aroma of Christ. (II Corinthians 2:15) We embody both the bitterness and the sweetness of myrrh.

Hear the message of myrrh. Jesus tasted the bitterness and experienced its brokenness. Now the sweetness of salvation is available to us.

A Gift for Our Priest

Gold, frankincense and myrrh – the three gifts of the Magi. We usually think of these gifts in correlation with the birth of Jesus rather than His death and resurrection. However, we are going to look at these precious and expensive gifts from a different perspective as we prepare for Resurrection Sunday.

We will begin by focusing upon frankincense.

The Magi’s gift of frankincense was a prophetic picture of the role Jesus would fulfill as our Great High Priest.

Frankincense is an aromatic incense. It is a symbol of holiness and righteousness. The Old Testament priests used it when making sacrifices. In Leviticus 2, the priests put frankincense upon the grain offerings. In Leviticus 6, it was used with meat offerings.

The priests were from the tribe of Levi. They interceded to God for the people by offering the sacrifices required by the law. However, all the sacrifices only temporarily covered the people’s sins.

Jesus offered the final sacrifice when He became the sacrifice. Jesus was greater than any other priest, so He became our “Great High Priest”.

John 19:17-19 describes how the sacrifice of Jesus was made. They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between.”

The writer of Hebrews points out several distinctions between Jesus as the Great High Priest and the former Levitical priests.

“. . . we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God. . . . For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.Hebrews 4:14-15

The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.Hebrews 7:23-25

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” Hebrews 9:14

We no longer need to go through earthly mediators. When Jesus died on the cross, the temple’s veil was torn from top to bottom. Jesus restored our relationship with God and we no longer rely upon earthly priests.

Romans 8:34 says, “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” Jesus made the final sacrifice. However, His mediation for us continues. Jesus reveals the will of God to us through the Holy Spirit. John 14:26 says, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

I John 4:10 sums it up well saying, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

Yes, Jesus embraced the Magi’s gift of frankincense to the fullest by becoming the greatest sacrifice.

Can we apply anything about frankincense to ourselves? I think so.

I Peter 2:5 says, “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.”

Peter adds in verse 9, “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 marvelous light.” We are priests!

Romans 12:1 states, Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.There is a sacrifice for us to make. However, we are encouraged to be living sacrifices rather than a gum resin in a bottle.

II Corinthians 2:15 declares, “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.” Maybe the aroma of Christ that we emit can be compared to the fragrance of frankincense.

Frankincense was presented to Jesus by the Magi when He was about two years old. Frankincense was a prophetic symbol pointing to when Jesus would die on the cross approximately 31 years later. According to Romans 8:34, He now sits at the right hand of God interceding for us as the Great High Priest.

 

 

No Messy Manger for the Magi

 

While packing away our nativity scene for another year, I reminisce about the significance of each figure. I hold the Magi, or Wise Men, a little longer because I have not blogged about them in the past weeks. I must take time to ponder and print a few words about these men before this season is complete.

According to the Christian calendar, Saturday, January 6, 2018, is the church festival of Epiphany which commemorates the Magi coming to see Jesus. This was the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles because the Magi were not men of Jewish background.

Little is known about these mysterious Magi except that they were seeking a specific baby. Matthew 2:1-12 is the only scriptural account. For an extended time, these men determinedly followed a star. I think they would have visited a messy manger if God’s star had led them to that location. However, we can assume that they were still traveling when Jesus was born in the messy manger. Some say it possibly was as long as two years before the Magi found Jesus. Maybe these Magi represent those who are still traveling the road of life looking for Jesus today.

Although not historically accurate, these men have sometimes been referred to as kings. (Maybe because of the Christmas carol We Three Kings.) Chuck Missler has said that over time the truth and traditions about these men have been embellished. By the third century, the Magi were viewed as kings. I wonder if this perspective has anything to do with the fact that the day is coming when Jesus reigns as King of kings. (See Revelation 19:16) Missler has also written that these ancient men were part of the hereditary priesthood of the Medes. They were known for having profound and extraordinary religious knowledge. Here is another correlation – Jesus becomes the great high priest. (See Hebrews 6:20) If we associate kings and priests with the Magi, maybe we are types of Magi because Revelation 1:6 NKJV says, “(Jesus) has made us kings and priests to God his Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever!”

The Wise Men may not have been totally wise about whom they were seeking. They simply expected to find the one born king of the Jews by following a star. These men even stopped in Jerusalem to ask Herod what he knew about the baby. (see Matthew 2:2) While the Wise Men were not necessarily looking for an infant king in a castle’s cradle, neither were they expecting to find him in a messy manger. They just wanted to find Jesus! Matthew 7:7 says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Although the Wise Men may not have been wise in every respect, they were wise enough to seek him. There is truth in the quote, “Wise men still seek Him.” Today, Jesus wants us to seek and to find Him.

John 1:11 says, “He (Jesus) came to that which was His own (the Jewish people), but His own did not receive Him.” John MacArthur points out that the Magi were “God-fearing, seeking Gentiles.” They followed a star that led them to the Messiah they had heard about since the days of Daniel. Through scripture, we know that Jesus came first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. (See Romans 1:16) In a previous post, “Messy Shepherds at a Messy Manger,”  I noted that shepherds were the first to visit Jesus when he was born in a messy manger. They were of Jewish lineage. Significantly later, the Magi worshiped Jesus –  they were Gentiles. According to Romans 14:11, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord – that includes both Jews and Gentiles. Matthew 2:11 says, “On coming to the house, they (the Magi) saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.”

The word “epiphany” originated in the Greek language and means “manifestation.” The worshiping Magi portray the picture of Epiphany because this season of the church celebrates the appearance or “manifestation” of a divine being, namely Jesus. However, an epiphany can also be defined as a sudden perception or revelation. In others words, a new understanding is “manifested.” Each of us encounters our own epiphanies when we come to illuminating discoveries or realizations. An enlightening fact of faith is an example of an epiphany. Or, it might be a moment when we become increasingly aware of Jesus’ presence. Since it is the beginning of the new year of 2018, now is a good opportunity for each of us to set the goal of becoming more receptive to personal epiphanies. May our epiphanies cause us to bow down and worship our Lord Jesus Christ.