Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, December 20, 2020
Shavuah Tov *|FNAME|*,

Daily Bread, reading plan by Lars Enarson (https://www.thewatchman.org/)
Sun    20-Dec-2020        5th of Tevet, 5781
Ge 44:18-30        2 Sa 8-9    Ps 81        Lk 6:27-49    (2 Co 5)

For to us a child is born….
Yeshua’s Birth: Scriptural Truths, Man’s Myths – Part 3 of 3
by Dr. Raymond Finney

Through my typical disjointed thoughts, I conclude a series on Yeshua’s birth.

WHO WERE THE WISE MEN FROM THE EAST? “Wise men” translates magoi, (Greek) from which comes our English “magi.” Comparable people do not live today, but in Biblical times magi were respected scholars, astronomers/ astrologers, magicians, and counselors. Through study of the Tanakh and astronomy, the magi determined that prophecies about the birth of the king of the Jews was about to occur. They traveled to Israel to see the newborn king. Supposing the king’s birth would occur in the royal palace, they visited Herod the Great in Jerusalem. An aged Herod knew nothing of a royal birth. Herod, greatly agitated by news of a new king, plotted to kill this pretender to his throne.

“We Three Kings of Orient Are” is a popular Christmas carol. The magi were not kings. The Bible is silent on the number of magi, but tradition sets the number at three because the magi brought three gifts. These gifts– gold, frankincense, and myrrh– prophesied certain aspects of the Baby Messiah’s future life.

WHY DID THE MAGI BRING THE GIFTS MENTIONED IN THE BIBLE? There was no first-century Website, www.Newborn-Jewish-King-Store.com. Why did the magi choose the gifts they brought? Although the Ruach HaKodesh probably guided the magi with their “shopping,” let us examine the significance of their gifts. Recall that Yeshua came in three offices (conveniently all starting with P): Prince, Priest, and Prophet. The magi’s gifts fulfilled two needs:

● The gifts foretold and were appropriate for Yeshua’s three offices, and

● I suggest that the gifts may have funded the emergency exile of Joseph, Mary, and Yeshua to safety in Egypt. Consider these three gifts:

● Gold– a gift for a King: Gold prophesied Yeshua’s kingship. At His First Coming (First Advent) a little more than two millennia ago, Yeshua came as a Prince (Prince of Peace, Isaiah 9:6). At His future Second Coming (Second Advent) at the close of the Tribulation, Yeshua will come as a King (King of kings and Lord of lords, Revelation 19:11-16). Gold has long been the symbol of royalty. The streets of New Jerusalem (Heaven) will be a transparent (“like glass”) gold (Revelation 21:21). This magi’s gift prophesied Yeshua’s eternal position as King of Heaven, but could it have also financed the exile of the Holy Family to Egypt to avoid Herod’s maniacal wrath? (See Sidelight 2, following.)

● Frankincense– a gift for a Priest: Frankincense is an aromatic gum resin of Middle Eastern trees of the Boswellia species. This sweet-smelling resin (dried sap) prophesied Yeshua’s priesthood.

Burning frankincense produces a wonderful aroma, long associated with worship of a deity. Adonai instructed Moses to burn incense on a golden altar (Exodus 30:1-10). The Israelites included incense in their thanksgiving burnt offerings (Numbers 7:13-17). Psalmist David wrote (Psalm 141) that prayer should rise to Adonai as rising smoke of incense. In Heaven, the Apostle John witnessed an angel with a golden censer burning incense, mixed with prayers of the kedoshim(saints), with the pleasing aroma rising to Adonai (Revelation 8:3-5). The Roman Catholic Church still burns incense as part of worship in Mass.

Yeshua came as a Priest, according to the order of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110:4, affirmed in Hebrews 5:6, 6:20, and other verses in Hebrews). In a future RR, I will discuss now Yeshua fulfilled Jewish priest requirements and His connection to a most interesting, significant King-Priest, Melchizedek. Yeshua is eternally our High Priest in Heaven (Hebrews 4:14; 10:12). Yeshua, as High Priest in Heaven, is:

** Superior to all other priests (Hebrews 7:11, 16; 8:1-2, 6);

** Enthroned by being sacrificed for us (Hebrews 7:27; 9:13-14, 23, 25-26);

** Our Intercessor (Hebrews 7:25; 9:24);

** Our Eternal Redeemer (Hebrews 9:12);

** Source of our blessing (Numbers 6:23-26; Acts 3:26);

** Eternally perfect and of unblemished purity (Hebrews 7:20-21, 26, 28);

** The One to whom we make confession, appointed by the Father, (Hebrews 3:1);

** Seated on thrones as both High Priest and Ruler (Zechariah 6:13);

** The One who makes propitiation for our sins (Hebrews 2:17); [propitiation = redemption, reparation]

** Tasked with other duties and possessor of other Divine traits.

Yeshua is our Intercessor. For this reason, persons may end their prayers with a statement something like, “In the name of Yeshua, I pray.” Roman Catholics pray to the Virgin Mary as Intercessor (and, also, Co-Redemptrix). The Hail Mary prayer (Latin: Ave Maria) states: “Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with thee…. Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” I know of no Scriptures authorizing prayers to be made to Yeshua’s mother; or, directing us to pray to her; or, indicating her role is to pray (intercede) for sinners. Last year, Pope Francis decried some titles added to Mary stating: “[Mary] never introduced herself as Co-Redemptrix. No. Disciple,” meaning that Mary saw herself as a disciple of Yeshua. He classified some long-standing dogmas and titles as “foolishness.” Incidentally (if curious), Mary has been given dozens of titles, example including: https://www.catholic.org/mary/title.php .

● Myrrh– a gift for a Prophet: Myrrh is a gum or resin (dried sap) extracted from small, thorny tree species of the genus Commiphora. Myrrh resin has been used throughout history as perfume, incense, and medicine, and was a fragrant component of burial ointment during and before the first century. Women went to Yeshua’s tomb at daybreak after Shabbatfollowing the crucifixion to anoint His body with “spices” (Mark 16:1, Luke 24:1). “Spices” (“perfume”) translates the Greek aroma, which had a pleasing scent and most likely included myrrh.

The magi could not have known Yeshua’s future life. Why bring a gift of myrrh, which was used for anointing the body of a dead person? This would be like visiting a young woman in the hospital, who had just delivered a healthy baby, and taking a funerary spray of carnations with a “With Deepest Sympathy” ribbon. As the young mom starts crying, an insensitive reply might be, “Well, your baby will die some day. I’m just thinking ahead.” The Ruach HaKodesh knew that Yeshua had come as the Suffering Servant (Isaiah, chapter 53), and this beautiful little Baby must suffer the Passion and crucifixion some day, as He became the perfect Passover Lamb slain for the sins of all mankind. Yeshua was born for one primary reason– to die as the New Covenant sacrifice!

What connection does a fragrant perfume used in burial have to do with Yeshua’s First Coming as Prophet? Numerous Bible prophecies foretold the coming of a Messiah as Adonai’s New Covenant to save mankind from their sins. The birth of Yeshua– and, more importantly, His death, burial, and resurrection– form the cornerstone of our faith. The Apostle Paul perhaps said it best (1 Corinthians 15:13-19): But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Messiah has been raised! And if Messiah has not been raised, then our proclaiming is meaningless and your faith also is meaningless. Moreover, we are found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified about God that He raised up Messiah– whom He did not raise up, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Messiah has been raised. And if Messiah has not been raised, your faith is futile– you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Messiah have perished. If we have hoped in Messiah in this life alone, we are to be pitied more than all people.

Yeshua completed the Bible’s prophecies. The Tanakh is prophecy of a coming Messiah; the B’rit Chadashah is revelation (prophecy fulfilled) of the Messiah. The ultimate fate of the three offices filled by Yeshua’s First Coming are:

● Prince– Yeshua came as Prince of Peace, but He will be elevated to King of kings at His Second Coming, and He will forevermore reign as King;

● Priest– Yeshua came as Priest, but He ascended to Heaven, where He is now our one and only High Priest; and

● Prophet– Yeshua came as Prophet, fulfilling Messianic prophecies of the ages, but He will not serve as Prophet in Heaven. Heaven and Yeshua are the New Covenant fulfillment of all prophecies. In eternity, what can we possibly prophesy? Everything is complete and perfect. No more prophecy is needed.

SIDELIGHT 1: Did the magi’s gifts start the custom of exchanging Christmas gifts? Christians give Christmas gifts; Jews, Hanukkah gifts. Gift-giving at Hanukkah is fairly recent in origin, and may have received emphasis in order that Jewish children would not feel neglected when Christian children receive gifts in December. It is noted that the Romans celebrated the feast of Saturnalia in late December, and this feast may have been at least partially incorporated into Christmas. Elaborate feasting, candle burning, and gift giving were features  of Saturnalia.

Many years ago, I remember an advertising campaign. The advertised item was very expensive (a man’s luxury watch, if I recall correctly). Beneath a photograph of this luxury item, there was this caption: “What do you give the man who has everything?” What can we give God, who own the Universe? Quite a shopping dilemma, right?

We can give something God chooses to not claim for Himself, leaving that something in sole possession of each of His children. That “something” that you own exclusively is your will. God has free will. Because you are created in God’s image, you also have free will. You can use your free will to love or hate God; to praise or curse Him; to accept or reject His gift of mercy, salvation, and eternal life. In brief, you can give to or withhold from God the thing He will not claim for Himself– your life.

Yeshua gave us a “shopping list” for the perfect gifts for God. This “list” is contained in Matthew 22:34-39. Recall that the Pharisees conspired to trap Yeshua. They sent one of their group, a lawyer, to ask Yeshua an unanswerable question– which one of the Jews’ 613 commandments was the greatest. This  trick question is akin to: “Answer ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Have you stopped beating your wife, yet?” Yeshua distilled the Bible’s teachings into two commandments. These answers form our “shopping list” for gifts worthy to be given to God:

□ “Shopping list” item 1– apply the greatest commandment to your life (Matthew 22:37-38): [Yeshua said] “… ‘You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’” 

□ “Shopping list” item 2– apply the second greatest commandment to your life (Matthew 22:39): [Yeshua said] “… ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

There. Your holiday shopping for God is settled. Your gift costs no money; you did not have to visit a mall; even Amazon cannot ship it to you; you need not worry about sizes; it is something God may not have received from you in the past; it is something He has always wanted; and it is something He will always cherish. You’re welcome. END sidelight 1.

SIDELIGHT 2: To escape Herod’s slaughter of infant males in the Bethlehem region, Mary and Joseph escaped to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-14). There, they waited until Herod died (March 12 or 13, 4 BC, just before Passover), when it was safe for them to return to Israel (Nazareth). Two prophecies were fulfilled by this side trip to Egypt:

● By going into and returning from Egypt, Father God called His Son out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1b): “… out of Egypt I called My Son.”

● By returning to Nazareth, Yeshua could be called a Nazarene. This statement is made in Matthew 2:23, but there is no recorded Bible prophecy about this title for Yeshua. It may be that Matthew was thinking of Isaiah 11:1 in which “the Branch” referred to the Messiah. “Branch,” in Hebrew, is netser (from which “Nazareth” is derived). Hebrew used only consonants and netser would have been spelled with our English equivalents of NZR (the same base as Nazareth). Or, Matthew may have quoted a prophecy not in our Scriptures, but well known to his first-century audience. Or, Matthew may have used “Nazarene” to emphasize how despised and rejected Yeshua was. Nazareth and Nazarenes who came from this region were despised and ridiculed by most Jews.

This would be a good time to read “the Suffering Servant Chapter” (Isaiah, chapter 53). The Messiah– Yeshua, the Servant who suffered for us– came to be reviled, hated, mercilessly tortured, and killed.

Did you ever wonder how a poor, young Joseph and Mary could retreat to Egypt and live there until safe to return? When Linda and I were first married, we had our first child ten months after marriage. We were poorer than “dirt poor.” If our baby daughter had been threatened and we felt we needed to move to, say, Mexico for her safety, we could not have afforded transportation and living expenses.

How did Joseph and Mary afford this trip, lodging, and food in Egypt? The Bible is silent on this question. But, Joseph and Mary had been given valuable gifts by the magi. Could they have sold these gifts to finance an exile to safety? One of the names for God (Genesis 22:14) is Yehovah-yireh (“God will provide” or “God will see to it”). If God the Father provided travel funds from the magi’s gifts to save His Son’s life from Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, He once again proved His name of Yehovah-yireh– God provided! END sidelight 2.

SIDELIGHT 3: Consider two other aspects of the magi’s gifts:

● Harvesting frankincense and myrrh is significant. The fragrant component for each is tree resin (dried sap). The trees are wounded with a knife or ax. Tree sap “bleeds” through the broken bark, and solidifies upon resting in air. During His Passion and crucifixion, Yeshua was wounded many times, and His precious blood– the sign of the New Covenant– appeared to all who witnessed His death.

● The titles HaMashiach (Hebrew = “the Messiah”) and ho Christos (Greek = “the Christ”) both translate in English to “The Anointed One.” Since the time of Moses, Adonai has used an anointing oil composed of five ingredients– myrrh, sweet cinnamon, sweet calamus, cassia, and olive oil (Exodus 30:23-33). Note that one of the magi’s gifts (myrrh) is one of the oil’s ingredients. END sidelight 3.

WHY DID THE MAGI DISOBEY HEROD? An alarmed Herod asked the magi to report back to him after they found the newborn king. Herod, a type of antichrist,  was acting out Satan’s plan. He intended to “worship” the Baby Yeshua by killing Him. Of course, Adonai would never permit this act, and He sent the wise men away from Herod. An evil, obsessed Herod reacted by killing all male infants in Bethlehem, who were less than two years of age (Matthew 2:16). This heinous act has been called “the slaughter of the innocents.” This slaughter was prophesied in Jeremiah 31:14ff by Rachel weeping for her children in Ramah because they no longer lived. [Rachel = one of Jacob’s two wives, mother of Joseph and Benjamin. || Ramah = several place names in the Holy Land.]

WHAT ABOUT CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS, TRADITIONS? Some religious sects (Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example) teach that it is a sin to celebrate Christmas. Even America’s early settlers, the Puritans, although deeply committed Believers in the Messiah, refused to celebrate Christmas. The true meaning of Christmas is now lost, becoming secular and commercialized, rather than spiritual. A time of thanksgiving and praise for God’s Great Gift to the world, the Messiah, has been replaced by greed, excessive concern with cares of the world, heavy drinking, frantic shopping, and other activities unrelated to the birth of Yeshua.

The Christmas tree was originally chosen because, as an evergreen, it symbolizes eternal life. In December around the time of the winter solstice, a green tree could symbolize eternal life– eternal life of the Messiah and His followers. Decorated evergreen trees in homes date to sixteenth-century Germany. Candles (later, electric lights) symbolized Yeshua, the Light of the world. Reflective balls and tinsel highlighted the light from candles or lamps, as the Light– Yeshua– should be reflected from and through each Believer.

Other traditions have been passed from earlier generations. Such decorations and season’s trappings must be viewed only as secular traditions. Otherwise, they could pass into idol worship.

Santa Claus was invented for children. However, Santa has as much relevance to Yeshua’s birth as the Easter bunny and Easter eggs have to Yeshua’s death and resurrection. Santa Claus will “live” on, regardless of what we may feel, but we should emphasize aspects of Yeshua’s birth for the sins of mankind far more than tales of a “jolly old elf.” It is sad that American communities welcome Santa Claus, while banning Yeshua the Messiah. (A Santa Claus Parade is acceptable, but The Messiah Child Parade would be unacceptable and cause the ACLU to sue the local governing bodies.)

I wish you a blessed Yeshua’s Birthday (“Christmas”), although three months late. Until next Sunday, Shalom and Maranatha.