Of Stars and Wise Men

Matthew 2:1-12

Wise Men from the East

 1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:

‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’[a]

Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”

When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 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.

Admittedly, and to the peril of our understanding, we’ve narrowed this tale down to three kings because of the three gifts. The truth of the matter is, while it was probably more, the text doesn’t specify, and certainly all of them didn’t fit inside the house.

We also know that it wasn’t the same night the shepherds went evangelizing, otherwise there would be no reason for what follows. Journeys weren’t swift undertakings, but regardless of the logistics, it was certain that the wise men were following a supernatural sign. Granted, it was more subdued than the one given the shepherds, but no less spectacular, for it was visible in the daylight hours as well, and moved more dynamically than any other.

There are some who hold the star was an invention of Satan, since it led these men to Herod to announce the birth, and the resulting slaughter of innocent children, but Matthew ties it back to the prophet Jeremiah.

Truth be told, I don’t know why G-d would cull innocent souls in response to the birth of His Son, who gave His life for the rest of us, but this is where the sovereignty of the Father makes us question, and that’s okay. We can’t know.

We do know that the wise men didn’t return to tell Herod anything. In a dream they were told by the angel not to return, and to a man, they obeyed. None sought to curry favor or riches with the king.

When they got to the house (though all Nativity scenes place them at the manger), they worshiped Him (not Mary), and gave them gifts out of their treasures. While we’re not told if these men were specifically Jewish, they certainly would have heard of the prophet and Magi Daniel, who dwelt in their land, faithful to G-d even in His captivity, and delivered by the hand of G-d Himself.

This Christmas season, romanticized or not, we rejoice with our Persian brothers and sisters of the faith in welcoming  our Lord to the earthly stage. He certainly set it on a different path, and by calling us to Him, set us on one as well.

Let us honor Him with our own gifts, but mostly the gift of time, as we reflect on His mercy and grace, and the peace He imparts to us that passes earthly understanding.

Let us return that which we treasure to Heaven, where thieves can’t break in, and honor Him with the first fruits of our labor and our praise.

He is our divine dream, our Heavenly King, and the Redeemer of our lowly souls, G-d’s gift to us in our poor and wretched stats. Let us worship with exceedingly great joy, as the wise men did, for being extracted out of the world through the truth of His ministry, and remember that He is, indeed, G-d with us.

May it be to us as He has said.

Merry Christmas.

Devotional 75: Friend, Go Up Higher

Luke 14:7-11 

Take the Lowly Place

So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. 11 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

For a number of years, I played bass for worship bands. One of the most constant admonishments I heard was, ‘Turn it up.’ The reason I started out low was because the bass, although supportive in nature, can be extremely annoying at loud volumes. It is sparingly played, but can pretty much drown out everything else and cut through if it’s loud enough.

I could then find a comfortable volume that wasn’t overwhelming for the room. We respected the house we were playing in, if we were guests in another church. I was once told, “You’re the first bass player we’ve had to tell to turn up!”

But then too, I started playing bass in my 30’s, so the urge to ‘rock out’ was behind me. I was more mature, and more or less learning the instrument on the fly. And also, the reasons I started playing was to give a gift I’d neglected back to the Lord for saving me under the covenant of grace. We occupy a unique place as players. A bassist, for me, is the bridge between the rhythm and melody: we have to lock in step with our drummers, and keep up with the melodic instruments and singers, basically outlining what’s being played. It’s more challenging than it sounds, but it’s rewarding when done well. It’s a matter of yielding to the Spirit as well, because when His presence hits, there are deep places you go that weren’t planned.

I was honored that my worship leaders considered me good enough to use me, and doubly honored to play before my Father. It was humbling to be used as a vessel to lead people into worship. I didn’t take it lightly, or for granted.

So it is with G-d, and through our Lord He continued to send a message to those who were proud of heart and prideful of place.

“Humble yourself.”

We are, it seems, living in times of prideful overabundance. Everyone is marching for themselves, and protesting the pride of others. Don’t get me wrong, there are times to speak out against things we know are wrong that some justify (and sometimes through the Bible), but among all the marching, the air reeks of pride, self-righteousness, anger, arrogance, and hate.

It’s a powerful thing to be a champion, and a heady feeling to ‘strike a blow’ for something you care deeply about. But that’s where the thistles grow, and if we’re not careful, we forget to listen the way our Lord listened, and He listened to everyone who entreated Him.

He had compassion on us, even when He was tired, or needed to be alone.

The disciples He called couldn’t understand Him, or were afraid to ask Him things, or related heavenly matters to earthly things,”It’s because we don’t have any bread,” and “Who among us will be the greatest,” and “Should we call down fire from Heaven?”

We are admonished in Proverbs not to praise ourselves. (Proverbs 27:2)

Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth;
A stranger, and not your own lips.

We are told by Jesus not to put on a show. (Matthew 6:2)

Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

Indeed, we’re commanded to love our neighbors. (Matthew 22:34-40)

34 But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

And beyond that, to pray for our enemies and those who take advantage of us. (Luke 6:28)

28 bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.

How then, are we here, when even standing for right causes we get a sense of pride in ourselves at being selfless.

We have all kinds of pride parades now, and the slow descent into lawlessness under the guise of ‘rights’ is a clever, deadly trick of the enemy.

We celebrate the evil dead under the guise of ‘fun’ at Halloween.

We celebrate solstices under the guise of ‘freedom from religion.’

We celebrate gluttony on Thanksgiving, then, after we allegedly give thanks for what we have, go right into greedy consumerism at Christmas.

As believers, we are voices in a new wilderness. We should cry out all the more, from the lowly places. Let us also not be afraid, for G-d will exalt us, and lead us to those who have ears to hear.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, 

By the very act of coming to us, to tell us we are worthy of saving grace, you’ve humbled yourself more than anyone. A servant-king is an oxymoron to us. We have mistaken having dominion for ruling without stewardship of our world, ourselves, and each other.

The one to whom Adam handed dominion now blinds us with his own sins of pride, self-exaltation, and open rebellion against You.

Let us, in these haughty times, remember that the Father resists the proud, and brings them low.

We would be lifted up by You, Lord, longing to enter into Your rest, willing to take the lowly place to do the Father’s will. It’s a hard thing to do in an age of opulence, for we give no thought to the source of our comforts these days. 

Even the day that we celebrate Your arrival has become a mockery, but you were never about pageantry Lord, born in a manger, riding colts through the gates to topple an empire on its spiritual ear.

Help us to remember it is the Father who raises up and sets down. 

It is only through Your testimony of us before the throne that He does so, so we will continue to speak the goodness of Your name from the alleys and rooftops of our lives. We would call attention to ourselves shining Your light from a hilltop, turning neither left nor right.

Our reward is with You, our home is with You, and all that we have was made possible through You, who saw Satan fall like lightning for seeking equality with G-d. 

Let us remember Your words, that apart from You we can do nothing, but all things are possible with G-d. 

We humbly thank You for choosing to reveal Him to us, for reconciling us to Him, for our names in the Book of Life. While no one can take us from Your hand, let not our pride make us wriggle out of it, and walk our own path back to the darkness, in our own strength. Let us be ever reminded: there will be no refuge for the proud in the day of His vengeance.

I ask in Your Name, believing I’ve received.

Amen.

 

 

Devotional 74: Rejoice in the Spirit

Jesus Rejoices in the Spirit (Luke 10:21-22)

21 In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. 22 All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

Part of the sovereignty of kingship is that the King gets to pick who belongs in the kingdom, and who doesn’t. I’ll admit that seeing this verse, particularly verse 22, gave me pause because in my youth, though I believed in G-d, I did not serve Him, and I wasn’t interested in following Christ.

After all, like so many others say, “I wasn’t hurting anyone.” But I wasn’t helping anyone, either. I was an unfruitful branch, dormant, empty, like the cursed fig tree when my Lord needed me to fulfill an earthly need. My life was undisciplined, spent doing what I wished, not planning for the future, and pretty much coasting and drifting with a jumbled set of ambitions, up to when I had my first child.

Fast-forward to my first day of Pentecost, when the Spirit opened my eyes to all that G-d was and meant to me on a new level, and all that He wanted to do for me and through me.

That brings me back to verse 22. Christ, in His mercy, sent the Spirit to reveal Himself to me, and through Him, reveal the Father. I was a basket case for a few hours, kept asking why, kept feeling His presence all through me. It was a glorious day I’ll never forget.

Fast forward again: No longer a husband, a father of adult children on their own, and I find myself again being able to do what I want, when I want, if I want.

I still don’t always stick to the path and do what I know,  yet again Christ in His mercy, through the Word, tells us this (Luke 9:23-26)

23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. 25 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? 

Self-denial, aka ‘crucifying the flesh,’ is a requirement, not an option. Professing to be a follower when I’m not damages both our reputations, and I again become unfruitful.

Paul reminds us in Romans:

What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” 16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.

And the writer of Hebrews says this: (Hebrews 10:26-29

26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.[ And again, “The Lord will judge His people. 

Will we backslide? Of course. But we must repent as soon as we’re aware of it. It’s not something we should build up before we do. Again in Hebrews we read: (Hebrews 10:14-16)

14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.

15 But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” 17 then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” 18 Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.

Hold Fast Your Confession

19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.

And lastly, the words of Christ:(Luke 9:26)

26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels. 

If I don’t confess Him before men, I can’t evangelize effectively. More importantly, He will not confess me before the Father.

I, for one, don’t want to fall into the hands of the living G-d if I’m covered in sin.

Do you?

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, 

Let today be a day of praise and thanksgiving for Your mercy toward us, for taking our mustard seed of faith and planting it with the promise of eternal life to come, in Your presence, as we worship the Father in Your Kingdom.

We thank You for the gift of the Holy Spirit, who has revealed the Truth of the Father’s word to us, a word that He holds higher than His name, sending You to fulfill it so we are reconciled back to Him, spotless and blameless.

Bring to mind, Lord, that it is only through You we come to the Father, and only because You were willing to put our names into the Book of Life. We would not have them blotted out Lord, by foolishly making Your covenant with us a common thing, lest the Father’s wrath be on us in the day of the His vengeance on His enemies.

You tell us that no one can take us from Your hand, but let us also seek Your face, and know Your voice, holding fast to our confession of You in all that we say and do.

We thank You for redeeming us, for trusting us to do greater works in boldness, proclaiming the drawing near of Your kingdom. Help us to discern the times we live in, and know what to do. Help us not to go down when the enemy would call us from the work. 

And let us, like You, when our days here are done, be able to say: “It is finished,” and enter into Your joy in being with the Father also.

I ask in Your name, believing I’ve received.

Amen