Something is Going on Here

…wise men came from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

Say you go to grab a bite to eat at the grand opening of a new restaurant. You get there and walk inside, hoping to get a good deal on lunch and try a new place. When you get there, the place is packed with famous people. Not just famous people, but powerful famous people. A governor jokes with a physicist while eating. A general holds court with a surgeon and a billionaire. As you look around, you are astounded that all of these people would come to try this new burger joint.

You would figure the restaurant must be something special, wouldn’t you? Maybe their food is out-of-this-world or maybe the owner is connected to the utmost.

Something is going on here.

When the wise men came from the east to see Jesus, they came to Jerusalem. Not Bethlehem – Jerusalem. This is significant, as Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem – a walk of several hours to the south. It is also significant that, though we always see three wise men in manger scenes and Christmas plays, we are not told specifically that there were only three wise men. We know that these powerful wise men gave gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but we don’t know that three men specifically gave each of these gifts. The Bible tells us that wise men came to Jerusalem to visit Jesus in a house in Jerusalem, not a manger in Bethlehem.

Aside from being interesting, these facts have substantial implications. First, it is possible that there were more than three wise men. It is possible that there were quite a few wise men who came to see Jesus. But let’s just say there were three. Three powerful men during this time period would not have just called an Uber and zipped to Jerusalem. Their trip was likely hundreds of miles and their travel methods were rudimentary. They would have had men for protection and assistance with animals and the load. So don’t picture these three wise men walking down the street in colorful robes to see Jesus. They traveled in a giant entourage several hundreds of miles, leaving their families and responsibilities as the followed the star that was to lead to their savior.

Further, since Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem and the wise men came to a house in Jerusalem, we can infer that some time has passed. This was not a matter of busybodies or gawkers going to check out some crazy happening that had just gone down. It was a rather quiet event, after all – a birth in a manger by an unremarkable woman and her husband. After Jesus was born, the star rose, and these educated men knew that Micah 5:2 foretold the star’s rising to indicate the new ruler of Israel. Some time passed before the men could get there. Jesus may have even been a toddler by the time they got there.

There has been no moment in my life that I have been tempted to worship a toddler. Even if you told me that a toddler was a baby king or something I would probably not be in awe for one second. Though cute, toddlers have trouble controlling their emotions and have no qualms about letting their bowels go while sitting in your lap. Not exactly worship-worthy.

So these powerful and educated men arrive with their entourage and worship this baby/toddler. They came on a long, dangerous, and expensive journey to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, “they fell down and worshipped him” (Matthew 2:11).

Something is going on here.

There is no ulterior motive that I can cook up that would make sense for these men to make this journey – except that they knew at the core of their being that Jesus, their savior, would be there. When they got there, Herod tried to manipulate them. And they didn’t acquiesce to Herod’s manipulation, which was a dangerous game. This blood-thirsty power monger didn’t play games, not even with wise men. The wise men risked their lives.

This whole wise men situation is interesting historically for sure. Maybe you geek out on this stuff like I do. But what is more important here is to consider our response to Jesus.

These powerful men knew who Jesus was. Not like a newspaper article that you read and just go hmm before moving on to the sports page. These men knew who Jesus was. And they dropped what they were doing – however important – and worshipped Him.

Do we do the same?

It was a beautifully humble thing for the wise men to hit the Jerusalem dirt to worship Jesus. But as big as this moment was, it pales in comparison to God coming to this messy earth in human form to save us. Jesus’ act of loving humility preceded the wise men’s act.

Jesus humbled Himself to the point of being nailed to a cross for us. Will we stop what we are doing to worship our King or will we stay in our comfortable palaces in the east? The star has risen. He has risen.

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God With Us

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” (Matthew 1:18)

 

I was in the room when my kids were born. I remember the doctors, the pattern on the couch, the look on Lindsay’s face, and the smell of the sterile hospital. I remember time went slowly at some points and quickly at others. I was there.

But I don’t know what birth is like.

Observing something and experiencing something are different. We can empathize when we observe and we learn by watching, but doing is another matter entirely. That’s why Jesus’ incarnation carries so much weight.

If you look at other faiths of the world, their gods are ethereal or detached. They are in the heavens or in some other realm and we are in this realm. So even if these other faiths presume divine creation, their gods don’t know what it’s like to be in creation. But Jesus does.

All of the human experience is known to Jesus, except the experience of sin. Jesus learned, wept, laughed, worked, went to the bathroom, and washed clothes. He did the normal stuff we do. And He did it perfectly. But He didn’t live perfectly so He could say, “Look people, you can be perfect like me – just try harder.” No, Jesus lived perfectly because He was earning a perfect record on your behalf (2 Cor. 5:21).

I appreciate the reverence of the paintings and sculptures that give Jesus flowing locks of hair, a perfectly trimmed beard, and 4% body fat. I think the goal is to show respect and honor to Jesus as God – which He is. But these renditions miss something, and that is the important fact that Jesus was also one of us. We know in Scripture that he wasn’t a real attractive guy (Isaiah 53:2), but rather He was just a regular blue collar guy. You wouldn’t look twice if He sat next to you at Starbucks.

Jesus entered the pain of being human for a purpose. So He could further bear the pain of the sin of all humans. It was a journey of pain and suffering. But you know what, Jesus didn’t do it begrudgingly. His love for us was bigger than the pain He endured. It was worth it to Him and it was worth it to The Father, who sent Jesus on this mission.

No matter what you’re going through, you have an Advocate. He has been there, not in some vague sense but in reality. He has been there.

His name is Immanuel, which means “God with us.”

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What if He Didn’t Come?

As we step into the Advent season, we look toward the birth of Jesus. We celebrate and anticipate our savior taking on flesh to rescue us from sin and death. The season is filled with great music, gifts, food, and celebration. It is truly a magical time and those who do not even know Jesus still celebrate, albeit for different reasons.

Jesus’ coming to earth changed the world forever. No one argues that, not even the aforementioned nonbelievers (as they sip their coffee in their cars listening to Christmas music heralding the good news of Jesus).

But what if He didn’t come?

I know, that’s a weird question to ask. Why bother asking that question? Sometimes we need to look at the absence of something (or someone) to understand the real value of its (their) presence. The coming of Jesus is so earth-shattering it is worthwhile to stop and think about what it would look like if Jesus hadn’t come.

Let’s step into the darkness of that thought for a moment.

If Jesus didn’t come, we would still be under the law of the Old Testament. We would be required to keep the perfect covenant with a perfect God, with the huge problem being that we aren’t perfect. Take the Ten Commandments. Could you keep them all? Well have you? Let’s see:

 You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21-22 ESV)

Do you pass the first test? Yeah me neither. Murderers all raise their hands (all hands go up). Guilty. We could go on and on with the other commandments. It doesn’t look good.

If Jesus didn’t come, we’d stand condemned, liable to judgment. His blood would not cover our filth and we would have to try like crazy to be perfect. Or maybe we’d just run from God altogether, terrified and exhausted.

Furthermore, if Jesus didn’t come we would still be eagerly waiting like a dog at the front door. When would our Master return? Is that Him? Nope, just the mailman again. But wait, don’t we already wait for Jesus to return? Aren’t we in the same position we’d be in if He hadn’t come to earth? Well, no. We do await the second coming of Jesus. As we watch the world crumble, we groan for His return. But we await His return as freed men and women. That’s a huge distinction. The Jews did (and still do) await their rescue.

If Jesus didn’t come, there’s no need to celebrate. There’s no time to celebrate when you’re trying to be perfect and righteous all the time because you’re too busy looking over your shoulder.

But He did come.

Jesus came, humbling Himself, to rescue us from our rebellion. His love was so benevolent we struggle to make sense of it. So with our chains thrown off, we have been set free. Free forever. Free to celebrate Advent with all the bells and whistles and what nots.

Because Jesus came, we can join together to sing:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King.

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