Does God hear a melody when we cry?

There is a song that has been popular in christian music for a while that has bothered me every time I hear it.  It is catchy, emotional and engaging at first listen.  The first verse and chorus are as follows:

God loves a lullaby
In a mother’s tears in the dead of night
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes

God loves the drunkard’s cry
The soldier’s plea not to let him die
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

For the first few months whenever it would start playing on the radio, my spirit would say, “How do you know?”  (We leave KLOVE radio playing all day at my work.)  I am not typically a cynical person, nor do I often find the negative in situations, but for some reason when people try to state what God values and thinks apart from what Scripture says, I can become quite analytical.

If the song had a profound message of us truly turning to God and relying on Him for strength in the midst of our troubles and sorrows, and directly compared that to a false rejoicing, then we can find truth here.  Almost.  But the fact of the matter is that God finds no pleasure in a false “hallelujah”.  If I set out to make my own way in life and whenever I attain my own goal apart from Him and His help, and then say “Praise God!”, He and I both know that to be insincere and fake.  And God takes no pleasure in it whatsoever.  So my dependence on Him would be a good thing, and my self sufficiency a bad thing.  Not both good, and comparable.

But as the song played on yesterday, what truly grabbed my attention is the sick and ungodly perspective on which this song is written.  God most certainly does not hear a melody when we cry out in despair.  He takes no pleasure in our suffering.

The example of God’s heart towards His people throughout the Old Testament is that of a disciplining, holy and just God.  His heart was broken when His people rebelled and He gave them over to suffering and bondage as discipline, judgment and to refine their faith.  He did not give them over to suffering because He enjoyed hearing their cries.

“‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’”

– Ez 33.11

We even know from the Psalms that God takes note of our heartache and keeps our tears in a bottle, as it were:

“You have taken account of my wanderings;
Put my tears in Your bottle.
Are they not in Your book?”

– Ps 56.8

Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb (John 11.32-36), and not because Lazarus had died but because his heart was broken for his friends and others who were grieving Lazarus and doubting Him.  Jesus also wept over Jerusalem for their lack of faith and for the trouble that would come against them because of it (Luke 19.43-43).

God is not sadistic.  He does not inflict pain on us for His pleasure.  Nor does He take pleasure in our tears when we turn to Him in the midst of pain.  Yes, He does want us to turn to Him.  Yes, He does want us to cast all our cares upon Him (Ps 55.22).  Yes, He will sustain us through the trials and calls us to suffer as Christ suffered (Is 40.31, 2 Tim 3.12).  And yes, many of us will come to faith at a point of crisis in our lives when we have no where else to turn!  But a cry for mercy is not Biblically definably more sweet to His ears than praise.  Rather, we can expect that He weeps when we weep (with Him) and that He rejoices when we rejoice (in Him) – as He commands us to do towards our brothers (Rom 12.15).

We can be confident of this because of redemption’s story.  God is actively working out our sanctification.  He is causing all things to work together for good for those who love Him (Rom 8.28).  So while it is true that we see that it pleased God to put Jesus to death (Is 53.10), we know that this is the case because God established the perfect standard to which we all must adhere to please Him – and also the perfect sacrifice to satiate His wrath for our inability to keep that perfect standard and to offer us salvation.  God delights in good.  In Him there is no darkness.  And He is causing all things to culminate in eternal life where there will no tears.  There are times that God will allow and cause things in our lives that will test us, like Job.  But all, and only, to His perfect end and our sanctification.  Not for suffering’s sake.

If His end goal is a life without suffering and a life without tears, we indubitably know that He prefers a Hallelujah to tears.

He will swallow up death for all time,
And the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces,
And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth;
For the Lord has spoken.

And it will be said in that day,
“Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.”

– Is 25.8-9

Have you ever in your life studied or memorized a catechism?  Westminster Catechism is perhaps the most well known and most memorized today and begins with the same question as most:

Q. 1. What is the chief and highest end of man?
A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.

It has been Biblically and traditionally understood that God created us for relationship, and it is our chief end to enjoy Him forever.  Let’s not over spiritualize this.  Let’s turn to God in good times and bad, and let’s trust His sovereign plan over our sorrows and joys.  Let us never be so audacious as to claim what God prefers extra-biblically.  Let us be confident that He has our best interest at heart and He will faithfully see us through to salvation, and let us be confident that He hears our prayers, He carries our burden, and He is our strength and our fortress.

Enjoy Him forever!

"And Jesus Wept" sculpture faces awa...

“And Jesus Wept” sculpture faces away from where the children where. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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One thing all Christians should stop saying

 

I am guilty.  If you are a Christian, have spent any time in a church, or have even just had a friend go through a rough patch in life, you are probably guilty too.  It flows off the tongue so easily, but then taking action is so difficult.  When someone is in the midst of deep pain, we are looking for a way to comfort and console him.  We often feel awkward and without an answer to the problem of evil and suffering, so instead of simply listening and grieving with him, we throw out the empty phrase,

 

“I’ll be praying for you.”

 

We said it.  We sound spiritual, we feel as though we have offered a bit of comfort and have given ourselves a graceful exit from the conversation or situation.  We walk away, relieved to no longer be in the presence of the unanswerable and even though we feel badly for the person it slips out of our thoughts while we go on with our busy lives.

 

I was in college.  I had a friend who was going through a hard time, and I told her I would be praying for her.  I walked away and her heartache did not cross my mind again until I saw her a few days later.  When I saw her face I instantly remembered our conversation and I wanted so badly to ask her about any progress and to affirm that I had indeed been praying for her, but the reality was that she and her problem had not crossed my mind.  Even keeping a prayer journal with a list of “prayer requests” had not drawn me to prayer; none more deep than “God help so-and-so”.  I decided then and there that I no longer will make that empty promise.  Instead, when the pleasantry sought to roll off my tongue, I would snatch it up and say, “May I pray for you right now?”

 

Six years later I moved overseas.  I knew – academically – the importance of prayer, I had heard sermons, read testimonies and seen God radically changing and healing people, but prayer was not my default.  I spent a year in language school and I became friends with a couple who was about two months ahead of me in the program.  They are from England and they have a faith the likes of which I have rarely seen.  Finding solace in speaking English, we would get together fairly regularly just to be able to speak without having to utilize every mental faculty and enjoy the company of close-culture friends.  The first time they came to my house, we sat and talked, laughed and had a great evening reflecting on the things that we had been learning and experiencing.  Suddenly, in the middle of dinner, and in response to a small topic – one that was not a pressing need but just light conversation – they said, “Let’s pray”.

 

That felt weird.

 

Why?  Because prayer, to me, was when I woke up, before meals, during my quiet time, before bed, and at prayer meetings and church.  And, of course, on the occasion that I ran into someone who was going through a tough time and I had vowed to pray for them on the spot so as to not lie to them with the empty comfort that I would pray for them when in fact I would not.

 

But then we proceeded to have a lighthearted time of prayer where we laughed – mid prayer – and also lifted up these people amongst whom we lived and with whom we could not communicate.  It was inexplicably refreshing.

 

I was inspired.  I wanted to be like them.  Nearly every time we hung out that type of random, unplanned and encouraging prayer happened.  Never by my initiation, however.  They have a spirituality in which they turn to God – not just in their time of need and distress, but when they are happy, encouraged, thankful, hungry, tired, excited – anything!  They want to interact with God in all things.  And they know that God wants to interact with them in all things.  He is not just a cosmic problem solver.  He is a loving father.

 

“Pray without ceasing.”

 

 – 1 Thess 5.17

 

Praying without ceasing necessarily means you are not asking all of the time.  It is reflecting on and enjoying God for who He is.  It is thanking Him for His provisions, for His faithfulness, for salvation, etc.  It is confessing sin to Him.  It is remembering and interacting with Him as a real and vibrant being.  Children are dependent.  They need their parents to survive, and they ask (sometimes aggravatingly) for what they want and think that they need.  But they also play, cuddle, learn from and are disciplined by their parents.  Do you ever play with God?  Enjoy His company?

 

“…in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

 

– 1 Thess 5.18

 

God hears our prayers.  He loves us as His children.  So let us turn to Him.

 

I love the Lord, because He hears
My voice and my supplications.
Because He has inclined His ear to me,
Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live.

 

– Ps 116.1-2

 

And when we encounter a friend, a fellow Christian, a stranger who is in their time of need, let us remember that we are to:

 

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

 

– Rom 12.15

 

If someone is hurting, take a moment and pray right there.  Stop lying to people.  And if you truly do pray for someone when they are not around, send them an email or give them a call to check in on them and let them know that you are praying for them.  We feel isolated, alone and uncared for most when we are hurting.  Bringing someone before God is the ultimate blessing to bestow upon someone, and letting him know it has been done or doing it in his presence is dynamic and encouraging.  You do not have to have the reason or an answer to their suffering.  Most people are not looking for an answer.  Just do as God instructs us:  cry with those who cry.  Rejoice with those who rejoice.  Pray in all things.  Love and enjoy God, and help others to do the same.

 

Prayer

Prayer (Photo credit: Boofalo Blues)

 

Feeding the hungry.

A worker’s appetite works for him,
For his hunger urges him on.

 – Prov 16.26
DSC_1596

Few things lead to introspection and self-evaluation more than living in a foreign culture.  My host culture of four years had some beautiful, simple and amazing traits – as well as some not-so-endearing ones, just like any culture.  One thing that I noticed early on was the fact that there is not typically a “dinner table” around which families gather.  Often times food is prepared, people sit on the floor in a big circle, or meals are just grabbed and eaten wherever they happen to be.  Children are tied on to their mothers with a sarong, and typically stay on their mothers’ backs or hips while she works – in the rice paddy, in the market, and in day-to-day activities.  They often do this until the child is a few years of age!  The women are very strong.

M3367S-4507

When it comes to feeding a child, it is a very common sight to see a mother carrying a bowl of rice or noodles and following her child around trying to convince him to eat and sneaking a bite in his mouth at every opportunity.  I have watched mothers attempt to force feed children in this manner that are upwards of seven years old!

My dad was reflecting on children’s eating habits while I was home for Thanksgiving.  He noted that when my sisters and I were growing up, we really only wanted to eat two meals a day.  There was no benefit in forcing us to eat a meal, because we would be hungry by the next one and eat well.

You truly cannot force someone to eat who is not hungry.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

– Matt 5.6

Sometimes I imagine pastors and Sunday School teachers as Asian mothers chasing children around with a bowl of food trying to force feed us.  But we do not want what they have.  But Jesus says we are blessed if we hunger for Him, and for righteousness.  Only those who are hungry will be satisfied.  Only those who seek after Him will be made righteous.

“He has filled the hungry with good things;
And sent away the rich empty-handed.”

– Luke 1.53

Are you hungry?  If not, let us pray for the Lord to stir our appetite.  Because if we are not hungry, we are not striving to be filled.  If we do not desire Christ, we are not of Him.  But praise God if there is a tugging at your spirit to desire that hunger.  Act on that now, before it is too late and your peaked curiosity is distracted.

Are you trying to feed people who are not hungry?  The call of Christianity is, in part, to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28.18-20).  Are you trying to teach and train people who do not want to learn?  If someone is coming to church regularly but is not hungry, encourage him and pray for him.  There is something drawing him.  But do not pour out all of your energy on those who are not seeking to grow.  Look for the Cornelius in whom the Spirit is moving.  Look for the one who is teachable.  Invest in those who love and want to know Christ.  And let us pray for those who are not hungry.

Do Ghosts Exist?

American culture takes pride in our advanced logic, our scientific method by which we can explain the natural world around us.  We often think of developing nations as uneducated or backwards for interacting with the spiritual world.  At least that is what we say verbally.

But we, as a nation, clearly have an intrigue with the supernatural.  Many of our movies are fantastical – dabbling in magic and superstition.  We have light-hearted stories for children and families like Bewitched and Harry Potter, but also heavy and dark stories like Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.  And on the far end of the spectrum we have a curiosity with hauntings and the spiritual world around us, with Ghost hunters making a living on trying to document their existence and stories like Exorcism, Haunting in Connecticut and Haunting of Emily Rose.

But what does the Bible have to say about Ghosts?  We know that God forbade sorcery in the Old Testament (Deut 18.10) and also in the New Testament (Gal 5.20).  We also see Jesus cast many demons out of people throughout the whole of the Gospels, and new converts in Acts brought their magic books and burned them in public to put away their dark ways (Acts 19.19).  So were they just tribal, uneducated people who did not yet understand science?

Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. And Saul had removed from the land those who were mediums and spiritists.  So the Philistines gathered together and came and camped in Shunem; and Saul gathered all Israel together and they camped in Gilboa.  When Saul saw the camp of the Philistines, he was afraid and his heart trembled greatly.  When Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets.  Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a woman who is a medium at En-dor.”  Then Saul disguised himself by putting on other clothes, and went, he and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night; and he said, “Conjure up for me, please, and bring up for me whom I shall name to you.”  But the woman said to him, “Behold, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off those who are mediums and spiritists from the land. Why are you then laying a snare for my life to bring about my death?”  Saul vowed to her by the Lord, saying, “As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.”  Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” And he said, “Bring up Samuel for me.”  When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice; and the woman spoke to Saul, saying, “Why have you deceived me?  For you are Saul.”  The king said to her, “Do not be afraid; but what do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a divine being coming up out of the earth.”  He said to her, “What is his form?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped with a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and did homage.  Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” And Saul answered, “I am greatly distressed; for the Philistines are waging war against me, and God has departed from me and no longer answers me, either through prophets or by dreams; therefore I have called you, that you may make known to me what I should do.”  Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has departed from you and has become your adversary?”

– 1 Sam 28.3-16

Apparition of the spirit of Samuel to Saul, by...

Apparition of the spirit of Samuel to Saul, by Salvator Rosa, 1668. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Old Testament is full of amazing stories.  Historically accurate accounts of the nation of Israel, from its founding to conquering of modern day Israel and captivity to Babylon, Assyria and other nations.  And this story is an historical account of Saul, the first king of Israel, having the ghost of Samuel, the prophet who had counseled him, brought from the dead to ask advice.

So we see in 1 Sam that it has happened before that the Spirit of Samuel was brought from the dead to interact with Saul.  There are many stories in Scripture that are one-time events.  It has never been recorded of another man being swallowed by a giant fish and surviving for three days, only to be vomited safely on the shore – other than Jonah.  It has also never been recorded that someone has walked on water or a world-wide flood killing everyone save one family who followed God’s instructions to build an ark.  Therefore, it is possible that the conjuring of Samuel was a one-time event which was never duplicated.

However, one day Jesus took Peter, James and John up on a mountain and changed into His holy form, “His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light” (Matt 17.2).  And Moses and Elijah appeared to the disciples and were talking with Jesus.  Were they ghosts?  The spirits of Moses and Elijah?  Or were they in bodily form?  That, unfortunately, is unclear.

We also know that at the moment Jesus died, “The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many” (Matt 27.52-53).  However, these saints were in their physical bodies, so I guess that would be more along the lines of zombies?  Zombies who returned to their cognitive state anyway.

So do ghosts exist?  We all have Spirits that are eternal – embodied in our flesh – that will live on after the body has passed away.  And yes, God has the supernatural power and ability to revive those bodies or let the spirits appear in their spiritual, body-less state to human beings.  We also know that demons exist – angels of Lucifer that exist amongst human beings for negative influence, and angels are ministering spirits sent out to help Christians (Heb 1.14).  We regularly see Jesus interact with demons – even speaking to them at times (Matt 8.28-32).

Let us not be too quick to reason God and the inexplicable out of our worldview.  He is supernatural.  The very fact that He spoke the world into existence is extraordinary, and He has the freedom and ability to break the natural laws that He wrote.  However, let us remember that even if and when we encounter demons or inexplicable situations, “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4.4).

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

– Eph 6.11-12

God is in control.  There is nothing to be afraid of.

Guilty. Punished. Redeemed.

courtroom

“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.”

– Heb 7.25

Have you ever had to go to court?  I have not.  However, I just received my first call for jury duty after only six months of residency in Colorado.  And in reflecting on my upcoming civic obligation, I have been meditating on my standing before God.

The court system is modeled after a Heavenly example.  Most societies have a method of examining citizens and people within their country, determining guilt and innocence and declaring punishment against law-breaking.  And the picture of judgment is prevalent throughout the entirety of Scripture.  In the Old Testament, under the Law, God is on His throne and the priests functioned as intercessors for the people.  They would come to God and make blood sacrifices to atone for their own sins and then offer sacrifices for the people, because God established the law that “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb 9.22).  And they had to pay for their sins before they could intercede for the people.

When Jesus came, He lived a sinless life and died the death that you and I deserve.  His blood became the final and perfect sacrifice needed to atone for the sins of the world.  Therefore, no one ever has to make blood sacrifices now, they need only accept the free gift of redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ.  And Jesus, as God, raised from the dead after paying the penalty of death, and now lives to make intercession for us.  He is the perfect priest because He does not have to make sacrifices for His own sin, and he paid the perfect price to finalize the sacrificial system.

The picture is this:  God is on His throne.  Satan, the accuser – or prosecutor, is in the Heavenly court making accusations against us (Rev 12.10).  Jesus, our intercessor – or defense, stands always to say, “Yes, he did that, but the sentence has been served”.  Jesus’ death on the cross does not make it as if you never sinned.  Jesus’ death on the cross also does not make you not guilty.  Jesus’ death on the cross counts your sins as punished.

And God is the judge.  We do not need to be saved from Satan, he only is fighting against us in the Heavenly court.  God’s wrath for sin is the terror from which we need saving.  God’s sentence of “guilty” is damnation to Hell.

While we are still living on the Earth, we will all fall into sin.  No one can maintain a sinless state.  Scripture promises that we are set free from the bondage of sin, meaning that we are able to glorify God – we are able to choose to not sin – once we have been forgiven and saved (Rom 6.22).  But we will sin.  We do sin.  And when we sin, we have a perfect advocate with the Father (1 John 2.1).

The only genuine and true response to this forgiveness is love and out of that love flows obedience.  If we love Jesus and are thankful for the price He paid to redeem us, we will seek to not insult His honor.  For every sin that we do is another lashing of the whip, another beating of the club, another nail in his hand.  If we go on sinning, we again crucify Him and put Him to open shame (Heb 6.6).  We cheapen His grace to wicked freedom.  If that is your response to grace, then you have not received grace for “by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments” (1 John 2.3).  And, “for this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5.2).

And ultimately, in the end, Jesus is the one who will carry out the final sentence against all those who have not come to Him for forgiveness.

Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

– Rev 6.15-17

So Jesus paid the sentence we deserve.  If we draw near to Him (Heb 7.25), and receive His forgiveness then we are atoned.  We are welcomed.  He stands before the judge every time you fall and says, “I paid for that”.  And when He comes in His wrath to exact justice against sin at the end, we will be found justified, we will ride with Him into battle against sin, evil and darkness.  Not because we are righteous, but because His righteousness covers us and we have become His righteousness (2 Cor 5.21).

There is no better defense.  The prosecutor knows all the facts.  He has all the evidence.  He will prove you guilty.  Do you want to hide yourself in Him who is willing to pay your punishment?  And if so, when you understand the weight of penalty that has been covered, you cannot help but love.  And obey.  To honor Him and glorify Him, always!

Born to Die

Jesus came to the Earth with a purpose:  to die a propitiatory death for all who would believe so that we can be forgiven and have right standing with God.  He was born to die.  I grew up listening to my mom sing this song:

Shepherds gaze in wonder
While angel voices sing.
The night of nights has come
And brought the world
The long-awaited King.
The earth is filled with gladness
And yet the heavens weep.
For heaven’s eyes can see
He was born to die for me.
Jesus, baby Jesus,
Is that a tear in Your eye?
Jesus, sweet baby Jesus,
You must know
That You were born to die.It must have broken God’s heart
For the future He could see.
Yet He formed the hands
And feet knowing one day
They’d be nailed to a tree.
So all the world could know Him,
A gift came from above.
For God so loved the world
That He gave His only Son.

Jesus, baby Jesus,
With a tear of love in Your eye.
Jesus, sweet baby Jesus,
You knew You were born to die.

So, Jesus, thank You, Jesus,
For Your gift of eternal life.
My Jesus, Jesus,
‘Cause for me You were born to die.

As with many Christian songs from the 80’s, there is a bit of poetic interpretation that is not present in Scripture – like the tear in the infant Jesus’ eye because of His understood fate.  And we also have record of the angels rejoicing and praising God, not weeping over the birth of Christ in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth.  But that last applicational chorus rings through my mind often during the advent season.  Yes, thank you Jesus, for your gift of eternal life.
There are characters who grab my attention in the Christmas story today, and they are the magi.  The wise men from the East.  There is much tradition and interpretive differences throughout the centuries as to from where exactly these men came, some saying they were Jews from Yemen, or Persia or Babylon – while some guess as far as from India.  But what grabs my attention is the gifts that they presented to the infant.
We see in Matthew chapter 2 that the magi (wise men) came from the East and immediately requested and audience with Herod to find out where the King of the Jews had been born.  It is uncertain if the star appeared at the moment of his birth or beforehand to lead them to Christ shortly after his birth, but we do see that because of the timing of the appearance of the star, Herod had all male children two years of age and younger murdered – to be sure that Christ was killed.  Logic therefore lends that Jesus was approximately two years old when the magi arrived.
While Scripture does not say how many wise men there were that came to worship Jesus, we do see that there were three gifts given:  gold, frankincense and myrrh.  While it has been argued that these were normal gifts for royalty, with myrrh being commonly used as an anointing oil and frankincense as a perfume, it is also indubitably clear that these gifts were used in the preparation and burial of the dead.  Frankincense was used in many religious ceremonies as outlined in the Old Testament, most notably for the general perfume of the temple, as well as an additive for the meal offering and an emblem of prayer.
Myrrh was invented by the Ancient Egyptians for the purpose of mummification.  It was also used in temple rituals such as the anointing of the temple and priests.
Gold is clearly a gift for a king, or for the wealthy.
The Christmas Carol “We Three Kings” denotes the traditional interpretation of these three gifts and their symbolism to the purpose of Jesus:
We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain,
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign.Frankincense to offer have I.
Incense owns a Deity nigh.
Prayer and praising all men raising,
Worship Him, God on high.

Myrrh is mine: it’s bitter perfume
Breaths a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.

Jesus is the King of kings, and Lord of lords.  He also is God:  full deity.  Lastly, He came to earth to die.  To fulfill redemption’s plan, to pay the penalty for our sins.
Is it possible that these three gifts were not allegorical in meaning?  Perhaps.  Scripture does not tell us specifically that this is the application and meaning of the gifts.  However, Church fathers such as Origen from the second second century AD considered this a worthwhile mediation.  Jesus was not a regular guy who happened to be a good prophet and teacher and consequently God asked Him to take on this role of being the Savior of the World.  No, this was the plan from the beginning.  From before the World was created.  Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world!
He came, on that first Christmas day, to die to pay the penalty for our sins.  For your sins.  For my sins.  Receive that greatest gift today.  And if you have already received it, let us rejoice anew at its wonder.

Sweet Baby Jesus

 

It is Christmas Eve, we are here once again!  You have probably gathered with family or will in the next 24 hours to give one another an abundance of gifts, eat an absurd amount of food, laugh, cry, relax, stress out and celebrate Christmas.

Chances are high that you have heard the story of Christmas:  the true reason this day is set aside as a holiday.  A holy-day (the origin of the word).  Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God was born of a virgin in the “Little town of Bethlehem” on a “Silent Night” when there was no room for them in the inn, so He was born “Away in a manger”.

Nativity

This is a glorious day.  Were it not for the birth of Jesus, we would not have a Savior.  The angels announced on the night of Jesus’ birth to a group of shepherds this unprecedented, unfathomable news:

“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

– Luke 2.10-11

Jesus forever changed the world, religion and humanity’s ability to have a relationship with God by coming to Earth.

But not just by coming to Earth.

Jesus’ name has become household for many people, but for some it is only in profanity.  Have you ever heard someone swear, “Sweet Baby Jesus”?  It can sound almost humerus when you hear someone say that, but we must remember that is it taking the name of Almighty God in vain.  However, what catches my attention more is the concept of Jesus as a baby.

Jesus is no longer in the manger.

There is an appeal to keeping Jesus in the manger.  He is a precious baby.  He is dependent on His mother.  He cannot speak or walk or expect anything of us.  We can look down on Him, because He is helpless, and we can meet His needs.  When Jesus is in the manger, we have the miracle of a virgin giving birth, and a sweet story of a young couple making the best of their situation, shepherds coming to see Him, and a beautiful star marking the location of  His birth, but no demand for a response. 

But Jesus grew up.  The reason His birth is important enough to make it into a holiday is the life that He lived, the death that He died and the resurrection that He preformed to pay the penalty of our sin to offer us eternal salvation.

Eight days after Jesus was born, His name was given to Him and then He was circumcised and brought to the temple to be presented to the Lord.  There was a man in Jerusalem who was of the Lord, with the Holy Spirit upon him who had been promised, by God, that he would not die until he saw the Messiah – the one who would save Israel.  God led Simeon to the temple at the moment Mary and Joseph brought Jesus in to be presented to God, and he announced that God had fulfilled His word:  He had seen the Savior.  After blessing God, he said to Mary:

“Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

– Luke 2.34-35

Even though the nation of Israel was looking for a King, a political leader who would set them free from the tyranny of Rome, there were an abundance of prophecies that spoke of Jesus’ death and sacrificial work.  Is 64 spoke of Jesus on the cross, and here in this dedicatory blessing, Simeon tells Joseph and Mary that Jesus would cause the rise and fall of many in Israel.  Many would reject Him, and to them He was/is a stone of stumbling (1 Peter 2.8) – those would fall because of Him.  Many would receive Him, and them He raises up (Eph 2.6)!

Jesus was a sign to be opposed.  He Himself spoke of His death, burial and resurrection as the fulfillment of the sign of the prophecy of Jonah in the belly of the fish (Matt 12.39, 16.4).  And while His redemptive work on the cross was much more than a sign, His existence and claims were both verbally opposed and called heresy (Matt 26.64-65), but it was also physically opposed when they crucified Him.  And it was this crucifixion that pierced Mary’s soul.  And this all to the end that the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed.

The thoughts from many hearts may be revealed:  Some will rise and some will fall.  Some will embrace Jesus and His salvation, and some will reject Him and fall.

Jesus is sweet in a manger.  We can all accept Him as a baby, swaddled in cloth and surrounded by animals.  We can pity Him.  We can coo over Him.

But Jesus is not sweet on the cross.  He was crucified for my sins.  For your sins.  And as the risen savior, He demands a response:  Repentance or rejection.  Surrender or dispute.  Submission or rebellion.  And at His return, your heart will be revealed.  My heart will be revealed.

Let us not keep Jesus in the manger.  Let us know Him as the Savior of the World.  The king of kings and Lord of lords.  Let us know Him as God, and bow to him in submission and receive His salvation.