Someone recently pointed out to me that the Magi didn’t bow when they saw Herod. But they did, when they found Jesus, with His teenaged mama. Hmmm. I just want to hit pause, right there.
We are living in a time when the governments of the world are trying to make themselves seem really, really big. When the societal pressures are at a boiling point. When folks are so divided that they only seem to discuss the things they disagree with and if you don’t respond to this virus, or the government, or whatever, the way someone else thinks you should, expect to get bullied and judged.
But Herod was also a pretty big deal. And Rome ruled the world (including Israel). And the societal unrest in Jesus’ day was thick as Silly Putty. The world was divided. Some people complied with Roman rule, and some defied it. Some people clung to extra-Biblical Law and judged everyone who didn’t comply with their standard. Some were beaten to a pulp with the condemnation of others, and were famished to know heaven might be open to them to.
Enter the Savior of the broken. The Baby born as a bastard child of two betrothed teenagers, laid in a feeding trough meant for livestock. This is the One for whom the entire world still throws a Birthday Party a couple thousand years later!
These wise men knew what only the Spirit of God could teach… that this small Child was the King worth bowing to. Instead of bowing to Herod, they were on a mission to find God. Herod was just a stepping stone on the path to Him.
I also want to remember this… The times we’re in are so tumultuous, and there is much to make our knees knock together. Yet, these are only pebbles on the path leading to Him. In this year, I have seen more suffering in the lives of my friends than ever before. I am heard of so many hidden, wicked agendas unveiled that, should they fully manifest, we are on the verge of prophesied suffering like we’ve never seen. But it’s only suffering in the flesh. They are pebbles. Precursors to Christ’s return! As a Bible-adorer, I am reminded over and again, that all the impending, encroaching, violent threats of this world are putty in the hand of God. He rules sovereignly over all. I only have to bow to One.
I think the cruelty of this year is that we have almost all bowed to things we shouldn’t have. I know I have bowed to fear and frustration more times than I can count. And when I glance over my shoulder at this year, I am grieved that I wasted so much of it bowing in the wrong direction. Instead, my knees should have bent the other way… towards heaven.
The wise men knew they were coming to see the Messiah, the King of Creation. So they brought gifts. And they didn’t scoff when they saw what the Chosen One had come to earth dressed like.
Their gifts symbolize three of the greatest aspects of Who Jesus was and is… Prophet, Priest and King.
Gold was a gift for royalty. Or rather for God. The most significant use of gold in Scripture is found in the accounts of the Tabernacle and the Temple. The two places designed specifically for God to dwell. To read about these wonders, see Exodus 15-39, 1 Kings 6 and 2 Chronicles 3. In my studying, I ran across one verse that blew me away. It says “Now he made the room of the holy of holies; its length across the width of the house was twenty cubits (that’s about 30 feet), and it’s width was twenty cubits; and he overlaid it with fine gold, amounting to 600 talents. The weight of the nails was fifty shekels of gold.” It was nailed together with gold! Assuming the conversion tool I found on the internet is correct, and that talents weigh the same today as they did in Solomon’s day, the Holy of holies was overlaid with almost 40,000 lbs. of gold. That’s intense!
But what is most intense is the location. The Holy of holies was the place where the Spirit of God dwelt, and only one priest, once a year was ever able to enter. The Holy of holies was set apart, and people were exiled from entering where God dwelled… until a fateful day, a few decades later, when in His final exhale on a cross, the intensely thick (and impossibly high) veil that separated the Holy of holies from humanity was torn from the top down. It’s no wonder the wise men brought a gift to the Baby who was Emmanuel… God in flesh. God among us. He was bringing the Holy of holies into the arm’s reach of mankind.
Incense, specifically Frankincense, was used in the priestly service. It was a sacred ingredient for the ceremonial incense. I don’t recall where I read it, but I recall reading incense as symbolically representing prayer rising to the Father. Jesus, the Mediator between God and man, is the merciful and faithful High Priest who intercedes (prays) for us.
Frankincense, for the record has incredible healing properties. That is not written in the Bible, but from what we know of herbal medicine. I have read testimonies of people curing brain cancer with Frankincense, and knew of someone eradicating cancer out of her lungs by putting Frankincense in a nebulizer and doing breathing treatments with it. What a parallel that Jesus spent His ministry years touching people and healing them. And that His death brought the final healing for all mankind, or at least those accepting of such mercy. So, perhaps the Frankincense straddles the prophecy of Him as Healer, as well.
Myrrh was also used in the Priest’s anointing oil (the oil strictly used to sanctify-set apart- the priests and the temple. It was also commonly used for embalming. Their gift was a prophecy of His’ death. The death of one, who, with a Prophet’s voice, would say things which made unbelieving ears and hardened hearts want to kill Him. Myrrh is also antiseptic… a cleaning agent. Another way Myrrh was prophetic of His death… the ultimate cleansing for our souls.
All of this is easy enough to hold at arm’s length and turn over, but what I want to do is press it against my own chest and ask, “How am I doing at bringing these three gifts to God? At kneeling to the One King? How am I doing at sanctifying my heart like the Holy of holies for His Highness to dwell? How am I doing at offering up prayers that are fragrant, and not just demanding? And how I am I doing at surrendering my suffering to the One who suffered to heal the entire world?” The honest answer is, “Not well”.
But on the heels of my honest answer comes the knowledge that God convicts, but He doesn’t condemn. He can use the gifts of the Magi to show me the errors of my heart and mind, but would never use them against me, or love me any less for my failures, sins, and struggles. In fact, in Hebrews 4:16, He uses our need for mercy and grace as an invitation to draw near to Him, with confidence Only one who knows they are washed pure by the cross can enter His presence with confidence!
So, there you have it folks…. How the story of a few wise men continue to breathe grace, thousands of years after they existed on earth, to some little lady in Southeast Ohio. Because as much as I have had a lot of confessing and repenting to do, God floods me with grace! Just like He flooded the entire world with grace, through that Baby born among livestock who is just about to have another Birthday Party!