"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Category: Matthew

Christmas in the Middle East

This Christmas is a little different for my wife and me. We’re well over 6,000 miles from our children. For the first time we won’t be spending Christmas together. We’re not snuggled in our cozy home with a fire in the fireplace. We’re not gathering at our familiar Christmas Eve service. We’ve not come together around the familiar and comfortable. My heart aches.

This Christmas we find ourselves much closer than we’ve ever been to the where all the action which brought us Christmas took place. A mere 640 miles away is Bethlehem, the site of Jesus’ birth. Just down the road from ancient Nineveh and a few clicks north of what was once Babylon we are once again entering into our Christmas celebrations.

We rejoice over and with new friends. We have a new faith-family with which we gather, give gifts, and sing the songs of hope and faith that are familiar to us. We share food, laughter, love, and hope.

We celebrate Immanuel, “God with us” (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23). My heart rejoices.

Be it surrounded by the comfortable and familiar or the new and sometimes strange, He remains.

Though those we love deepest are distant and ones we newly embrace are at hand, He remains.

Though I cannot hug my children and though I still struggle with simple greetings here, He remains.

We are not alone. God is with us. The celebration continues. Praise His Name!

The Agony of Prayer

As we march toward the remembrance of Jesus on Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, consider again the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane.

See Him there, prayerfully wrestling with the suffering that lay before Him and the eternal realities that depended upon Him. Having called His Disciples to watch and pray, He stumbled forward, “fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will’” (Matt. 26:39). He rises. He finds the Disciples sleeping. He calls them again to watchful vigilance. Again He withdrew, crying out, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (v.42). Once again, He rises. Again, He finds the Disciples sleeping. Yet again, He withdrew and “prayed for the third time, saying the same words again” (v.44).

Clearly Jesus was wrestling with what the will of His Father required of Him. It made Him “very sorrowful.” So deep was His grief that He thought it might be the death of Him just trying to pray through it all (v.38). Jesus clearly wished for the Disciples to join Him in His struggle that would soon become their struggle. He wanted them to be prepared.

Almost immediately Judas and the arresting mob arrived in the Garden (vv.46-47). The betrayal by kiss (vv.47-50a). The brief, bloody skirmish (vv.50b-51). The rebuke by Jesus of His Disciples (v.52).

Consider then Jesus’ response both to the Disciples for their impetuous fighting and to the arresting mob in their blind arresting. Jesus reminded the Disciples that He could have called on His Father for a host of angel-warriors and been delivered from this entire affair (v.53). His next breath is telling: “But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (v.54).

No long later Jesus similarly rebuked the arresting authorities with a question about the timing and circumstances of their actions (v.55). Then He said, “But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled” (v.56).

Jesus’ response to both the Disciples and the arresting party was the same – there was no other way for Him (and them) to fulfill what the Scriptures revealed as the Father’s will. As Jesus struggled with the Father’s will, it was against what He knew the Father had described as His will in the Scriptures.

Picture it! Jesus, if you will, was struggling in prayer over an open Bible as it held before Him the difficult nature of His Father’s will.

It makes me wonder, will I so pray through what the Scriptures require of me as a disciple of Jesus Christ? Will I come to the same place of submission to the Father’s will?

When God’s Word is open before me, holding forth what God requires of me, am I bowed to its authority over me? Am I bowed over that open Bible, praying through what it holds before me, where necessary, weeping and wrestling with my own will and self-preservation? Do I come to the same conclusion as Jesus? Do I say, as Jesus did, “Rise, let us be going” and take the next step of obedience my Father, through his written Word, holds before me?

As difficult as that next step in your discipleship with Jesus may be, He understands—from experience—just what you are going through (Heb. 2:18; 4:15). He too uttered “loud cries and tears” in this struggle (Heb. 5:7). But “for the joy that was set before him” He took the next painful step of obedience (Heb. 12:2). And because He did, so can you, by His Spirit dwelling within you.

The Magi’s Worship

“… magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.'” (Matthew 2:1b-2)

One of my favorite Christmas carols ends with the exhortation: “Come and worship, Come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King!”  Notice, however, who it was that came to worship the newborn King.  It wasn’t the religious scholars of Israel (vv.4-6), it was pagan, Gentile astronomers.  Their worship of the Christ becomes a good model for ours.

The worship of the magi was passionate—pursuing Christ from as far as 1000 miles away (v.2).  They had only seen His star in the sky, but they were hungry for a peek at this new King.  What are you passionately pursuing this Christmas?  The magi were in passionate pursuit of the most compelling Person ever to live.  Are you?

The worship of the magi was also joyful—“when they say the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (v.10).  Because they were seeking Jesus with such intense desire, anything that would point them toward Him was an object of joy to them.  The phrase literally means “they rejoiced with a great joy exceedingly!”  These guys were beside themselves.  Can I ask you, what brings that kind of joy to your life?  Honestly, is it Christ?

The worship of the magi was also wholehearted—“they . . . saw the Child . . . and they fell down and worshiped Him” (v.11).  Literally its, “Falling down they worshiped.”  His majesty was such that they were thrown upon their faces before Him.  These men were religious leaders back home.  They carried political clout in their homeland.  They knew protocol in the presence of an earthly king, but what to do in the presence of the King of kings?  No posture was appropriate before this King but to be on one’s face.

I also notice that the worship of the magi was sacrificial—“and opening their treasuries they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh” (v.11b).  These were no doubt men of means, but these gifts cost them something.  Like David, they refused to offer to God worship that had cost them nothing (1 Chron. 21:24).

A few questions for reflection:

  1. How does the worship of the magi compare to the response of Herod and the Jewish religious leaders?
  2. Why were some moved to worship and others to rebellion?
  3. How and why is that true still today?

“O Come, All Ye Faithful”

Lo, star-led chieftans, Wise men, Christ adoring,

Offer Him gold and frankincense and myrrh;

We to the Christ-child Bring our hearts’ devotion.

O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him,

O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

Make some time to sing and pray this week, making sure to worship Christ for who He is.

Soul Rest

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)

Jesus’ gentleness and humbleness are not simply reasons to take His yoke and learn from Him, they are the very lesson He teaches us when we are yoked up with Him.  The pathway to rest is the journey of gentleness and humility.  We are too often un-restful trying to figure out what God wants from us.  Too much of my life has been lived not restfully, but fretfully.  It leads to sheer exhaustion of soul.

But here is Jesus telling us that the path to rest is down the lane of gentleness and humility.  The proof of the journey is rest in our souls.

But just what are gentleness and humility?  Gentleness first.  It is sometimes translated “meekness.”  It means “power under control.”  The old illustration is of a powerful horse which is restrained by a tiny bit in its mouth.  Its power is under control.  Training produced this.

But this is counter-intuitive, isn’t it?  Too often we try to control – exerting great amounts of mental, emotional, physical energy to control the direction of lives, circumstances, family, job, neighborhood, school, etc.  Instead of aiming to control the power we have been given, we aim to control people, situations, circumstances, and problems that seem to be in our way.  Little wonder we are exhausted!  We’ve been misapplying the power we’ve been entrusted with!

Perhaps this is the point: to restrain your power is itself an expression of power.  In other words: meekness is the first demonstration of true power.  Power proves itself by controlling itself.

Yet too often we think of it precisely in the opposite direction.  Power demonstrates itself in producing great and awesome results.  No!  The first proof of true power is that it restrains itself.

Maybe we’ve spent too much time praying for God to give us more power, when God has already given us His power – in the indwelling Holy Spirit.  The trouble is I haven’t always been using this power as He prescribed.  The anointing and power of the Holy Spirit is first proven in self-control – in thoughts, words, actions, attitudes.  There is no power for ministry outwardly when meekness is not found in the inner world of the soul.  Why would God entrust us with more power for outward ministry when we don’t apply inwardly the power He has given us?

Then there is humility.  There is far too much “me” in ministry.

God stands ready to fully empower any ministry and any person in ministry where gentleness and humility are the first order of the day and the first object of His power.  Such an expression of power will never be found deficient.  Ministries and ministers that demonstrate meekness and humility are never under-powered.

If we want this “rest” we each must yoke-up with Christ.  We each must take the place of learner (disciple) and enroll in the first two courses in the program: gentleness and humility.  His power must work in us before He will ever work it through us.  We must discover how this orientation to life enables us to let go of the things that so exhaust us … efforts to control and produce.

I suppose this is another way of saying that Jesus calls us to “be” before He calls us to “do.”  Reverse it and pay the price – fruitlessness, frustration and exhaustion.  Walk it and find rest for your soul.

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