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4

James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary,
his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him.
Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts:
gold, frankincense, myrrh.
Matthew 2:11

A Star Speaks

Magi

Last night I had a dream—at least I think it was a dream. An angel stood before me and told me not to trust Herod, but to leave without passing back through Jerusalem.

In days past, my nation, Babylon, took captive many people from many places. Most of the people we conquered were content to be alive and, over time, assimilated to our culture. I don’t suppose anyone liked slavery or living in foreign lands. But our king in those days, Nebuchadnezzar, would have our captives evaluated. He believed it was a waste to put great minds in the fields or strong bodies in the counting house. People were not as likely to revolt if they were capable in their occupations.

You’re probably wondering who I am and what I’m doing here in Bethlehem.  Some call my sect stargazers; some think we’re magicians. In reality, we’re students—students of the wisdom we’ve gleaned from the cultures we have conquered.

When I finished my apprenticeship about five years back, I took on the writings from a peculiar people, the Hebrews.

The strange thing about these Jews is that they would never assimilate. They never became Babylonians—not even Babylonian captives. They were Jews and only Jews. They kept their customs and their ways. They dressed alike and stayed together. There were some, of course, who intermarried and some who left the worship of their God. Some even mixed their religions with others in our massive melting pot of culture. But most Hebrews held tight to their traditions and to their God.

One notable Hebrew captive was a young man named Belteshazzar. His Hebrew name was Daniel. I call him “the dreamer.” He and a few of his fellow Jews rose to places of great influence in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. He was a seer. He could read dreams and was able to see into the future. He often spoke of a coming messiah revealed in the Hebrew writings. This deliverer would come to release captive Israel. He spoke of a king for the Jews who would come when the time was right.

One night about two years ago, a new star appeared in the heavens. We called it a star, but it was unlike any we’d studied before. Most of the other stars circled the night sky, but this star was always right overhead. We observed it for a few weeks, and there it stood every clear night, shining bright and strong.

We began calculations to determine what it might be and what it might mean, and everything pointed to Israel.

We brought this information to our nation’s leadership. They wanted nothing to do with a king born in the land now occupied by the Romans. Our day had past, and Rome was a force far beyond our grasp.

My fellow astronomers and I began to look to others to support a journey to see what this star meant. As we told of the ancient stories of a king born in Jerusalem and sent from the Hebrew God, many listened. There were many who still held to the religion of the Hebrews.

They donated supplies for our journey and gifts for this king—most notably gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It took a few months more to gather enough support to make the nine-hundred-mile journey. By the time we were ready to travel, we had not only accumulated much to offer this new king, but we’d gathered quite a following.

We decided to take the route used by Israel when they made the trek back to their land. 450 years ago, Ezra led many Hebrews back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and their temple. Rather than heading straight across the desert toward the star, we traveled northeast along the Euphrates and then south along the Jordan River.

We arrived in Jerusalem three days ago and met with Herod and his counselors. They directed us to Bethlehem. He offered us a handsome reward if we returned and guided him to this young king. I see now that he was plotting to destroy the child and this threat to his own reign.

Yesterday, after almost two years of planning and travel, we met with this child king. I was beginning to fear that the whole thing was a huge mistake, but nothing could have been further from the truth.

It was late afternoon by the time we reached Bethlehem. We asked around, yet no one knew of a boy king. We stopped and considered the star once more as evening approached. It seemed to be guiding us. I can’t explain how we knew, but we followed this guide right to the house where Jesus was staying.

We knocked on the door. The man who greeted us seemed unsure what to make of our foreign garb and the entourage that followed after us. I was not sure what to say either. My heart raced.

“Is this the home of the King?” I asked, unable to contain my excitement.

When I said it, I saw the tension leave his face.

“You must mean the child, Jesus. Wait here,” he replied.

I could see that the home was far too small to welcome our company, so we waited without while the man of the house left us. Moments later, he returned with a couple and their young child.

“This is Joseph of Nazareth and his wife, Mary, and her child, Jesus.”

Mary’s eyes grew when she saw our troupe, and she drew Jesus behind Joseph.

“What business do you have with us?” Joseph said.

I then fell to one knee as I looked upon the child. He looked like any other Hebrew boy, but there was something different in the air. I sensed a calm flowing out of the house. The curious boy peeked around Joseph’s legs and stared at us, his little head cocked. I’m sure we looked strange to these Jews, with our camels and colorful robes.

“We have come to pay homage to the One born King of the Jews. Is this the child? Is this the One the prophets foretold, the One called Emanuel?” I said.

“Yes,” Mary said. “His name is Jesus, and His miraculous birth was foretold by our prophets for hundreds of years.”

“We have come to worship this Messiah of the Jews with gifts from our nation.”

Then we presented our many gifts. The gold we carried made a fitting offering for a king and the frankincense a worthy homage to a holy man. The myrrh was a curiosity to me, because it was so melancholy. Yes, it was a precious and costly gift, but it spoke of death, which did not seem a fitting gift for child or king.

Our gifts accepted, the young couple took us into town to find a place for our party to stay the night. The inn was full but offered to let us rest in their stable. Before they left us for the night, Mary told me this was the place of the child’s birth.

How could it be that One so important, foreseen for centuries, could be born in such lowly surroundings and to such common people? Their house was tiny, and there were no attendants or servants to care for Him. This child of peace and grace should be in Jerusalem, in the great palace there.

It was as I slept in the hay that I had the dream. A man—an angel perhaps—stood before me and warned me not to return to Herod, but to go home another way. We returned to the house the next morning and told the couple of my dream. Some wanted to stay in Bethlehem and serve the young king, but his parents insisted we go, for our safety and theirs.

There is something within me that does not want to leave. This place has a hold on me. The child has captured my imagination. I don’t want to leave, but how can I stay?

What will become of this young king?

~~~

To read the original story, see Matthew 2:1-12.

Copyright - Benjamin Nelson - 2015

Encounters With Jesus - Available Now
Encounters With Jesus - Available Now

The story above is a chapter from my book Encounters With Jesus, which is a compilation of forty such stories. It takes you from Christ's conception to His resurrection through the eyes of dozens who were touched by His ministry.

You can get your copy today in paperback or kindle on Amazon.If you want both you can get the Kindle version for only 99c when you buy the paperback on Amazon.

3

James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary,
his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him.
Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts:
gold, frankincense, myrrh.
Matthew 2:11

A Star Speaks

Magi

Last night I had a dream—at least I think it was a dream. An angel stood before me and told me not to trust Herod, but to leave without passing back through Jerusalem.

In days past, my nation, Babylon, took captive many people from many places. Most of the people we conquered were content to be alive and, over time, assimilated to our culture. I don’t suppose anyone liked slavery or living in foreign lands. But our king in those days, Nebuchadnezzar, would have our captives evaluated. He believed it was a waste to put great minds in the fields or strong bodies in the counting house. People were not as likely to revolt if they were capable in their occupations.

You’re probably wondering who I am and what I’m doing here in Bethlehem.  Some call my sect stargazers; some think we’re magicians. In reality, we’re students—students of the wisdom we’ve gleaned from the cultures we have conquered.

When I finished my apprenticeship about five years back, I took on the writings from a peculiar people, the Hebrews.

The strange thing about these Jews is that they would never assimilate. They never became Babylonians—not even Babylonian captives. They were Jews and only Jews. They kept their customs and their ways. They dressed alike and stayed together. There were some, of course, who intermarried and some who left the worship of their God. Some even mixed their religions with others in our massive melting pot of culture. But most Hebrews held tight to their traditions and to their God.

One notable Hebrew captive was a young man named Belteshazzar. His Hebrew name was Daniel. I call him “the dreamer.” He and a few of his fellow Jews rose to places of great influence in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. He was a seer. He could read dreams and was able to see into the future. He often spoke of a coming messiah revealed in the Hebrew writings. This deliverer would come to release captive Israel. He spoke of a king for the Jews who would come when the time was right.

One night about two years ago, a new star appeared in the heavens. We called it a star, but it was unlike any we’d studied before. Most of the other stars circled the night sky, but this star was always right overhead. We observed it for a few weeks, and there it stood every clear night, shining bright and strong.

We began calculations to determine what it might be and what it might mean, and everything pointed to Israel.

We brought this information to our nation’s leadership. They wanted nothing to do with a king born in the land now occupied by the Romans. Our day had past, and Rome was a force far beyond our grasp.

My fellow astronomers and I began to look to others to support a journey to see what this star meant. As we told of the ancient stories of a king born in Jerusalem and sent from the Hebrew God, many listened. There were many who still held to the religion of the Hebrews.

They donated supplies for our journey and gifts for this king—most notably gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It took a few months more to gather enough support to make the nine-hundred-mile journey. By the time we were ready to travel, we had not only accumulated much to offer this new king, but we’d gathered quite a following.

We decided to take the route used by Israel when they made the trek back to their land. 450 years ago, Ezra led many Hebrews back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and their temple. Rather than heading straight across the desert toward the star, we traveled northeast along the Euphrates and then south along the Jordan River.

We arrived in Jerusalem three days ago and met with Herod and his counselors. They directed us to Bethlehem. He offered us a handsome reward if we returned and guided him to this young king. I see now that he was plotting to destroy the child and this threat to his own reign.

Yesterday, after almost two years of planning and travel, we met with this child king. I was beginning to fear that the whole thing was a huge mistake, but nothing could have been further from the truth.

It was late afternoon by the time we reached Bethlehem. We asked around, yet no one knew of a boy king. We stopped and considered the star once more as evening approached. It seemed to be guiding us. I can’t explain how we knew, but we followed this guide right to the house where Jesus was staying.

We knocked on the door. The man who greeted us seemed unsure what to make of our foreign garb and the entourage that followed after us. I was not sure what to say either. My heart raced.

“Is this the home of the King?” I asked, unable to contain my excitement.

When I said it, I saw the tension leave his face.

“You must mean the child, Jesus. Wait here,” he replied.

I could see that the home was far too small to welcome our company, so we waited without while the man of the house left us. Moments later, he returned with a couple and their young child.

“This is Joseph of Nazareth and his wife, Mary, and her child, Jesus.”

Mary’s eyes grew when she saw our troupe, and she drew Jesus behind Joseph.

“What business do you have with us?” Joseph said.

I then fell to one knee as I looked upon the child. He looked like any other Hebrew boy, but there was something different in the air. I sensed a calm flowing out of the house. The curious boy peeked around Joseph’s legs and stared at us, his little head cocked. I’m sure we looked strange to these Jews, with our camels and colorful robes.

“We have come to pay homage to the One born King of the Jews. Is this the child? Is this the One the prophets foretold, the One called Emanuel?” I said.

“Yes,” Mary said. “His name is Jesus, and His miraculous birth was foretold by our prophets for hundreds of years.”

“We have come to worship this Messiah of the Jews with gifts from our nation.”

Then we presented our many gifts. The gold we carried made a fitting offering for a king and the frankincense a worthy homage to a holy man. The myrrh was a curiosity to me, because it was so melancholy. Yes, it was a precious and costly gift, but it spoke of death, which did not seem a fitting gift for child or king.

Our gifts accepted, the young couple took us into town to find a place for our party to stay the night. The inn was full but offered to let us rest in their stable. Before they left us for the night, Mary told me this was the place of the child’s birth.

How could it be that One so important, foreseen for centuries, could be born in such lowly surroundings and to such common people? Their house was tiny, and there were no attendants or servants to care for Him. This child of peace and grace should be in Jerusalem, in the great palace there.

It was as I slept in the hay that I had the dream. A man—an angel perhaps—stood before me and warned me not to return to Herod, but to go home another way. We returned to the house the next morning and told the couple of my dream. Some wanted to stay in Bethlehem and serve the young king, but his parents insisted we go, for our safety and theirs.

There is something within me that does not want to leave. This place has a hold on me. The child has captured my imagination. I don’t want to leave, but how can I stay?

What will become of this young king?

~~~

To read the original story, see Matthew 2:1-12.

Copyright - Benjamin Nelson - 2015

Encounters With Jesus - Available Now
Encounters With Jesus - Available Now

The story above is a chapter from my book Encounters With Jesus, which is a compilation of forty such stories. It takes the reader from Christ's conception to His resurrection through the eyes of dozens who were touched by His ministry.

You can get your copy today in paperback or kindle on Amazon, or for your Nook at BN.com If you want both you can get the Kindle version for only 99c when you buy the paperback on Amazon.

Jesus said:

But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (Matthew 6:17-18 NASB)

Today I am going to detail seven types of fasting. Yes, I know I could have milked this for another couple weeks, but these descriptions won’t take that long, and besides, if I keep talking about fasting, I might feel compelled to give up a meal – sheesh – that would be over doing it.

1) The “Darius Fast,” a.k.a. the “Royal Fast.” The name come from when Daniel was in the lion’s den, and King Darius was upset.

Then the king went off to his palace and spent the night fasting, and no entertainment was brought before him; and his sleep fled from him. (Daniel 6:18 NASB)

Kris Vallotton of Bethel Church in Redding, CA, a favorite preacher of mine, jokingly talks about this fast often. He will tell you he has been doing a “Royal Fast,” where he fasted all night and then “broke fast” in the morning.

It is pretty funny, but there is some validity here. How many times have you tossed and turned in worry all night long because something big was happening in the morning? What if rather than toss and turn sleeplessly, you got up and spent the night in earnest prayer over that issue. Turn your fear into faith directed activity, until faith rises and sleep comes.

2) The “Water Fast.” This is what most people think of when they think fasting. Your basic zero calorie fast. When I do this, I often will have coffee or tea, and plenty of water. If you stay hydrated you can do this for a reasonable period of time.

There are many Christians who practice this one or the next one on a weekly basis. They will pick one day a week, and abstain from food. It would be good to plan your day in order that the temptations of food are less likely, and perhaps it would be a day when you were already scheduled for prayer – like a Church prayer meeting day, or a home group prayer day or something like that.

3) The “Liquid Fast.” Similar to above, only you would add in juices and broths. As I will reiterate when we get to the “rules” of fasting tomorrow, you set your own standard, so you can take this to any extent you want.

I remember we called a fast once, and a number in the group had never tried it before, and when we said liquids only, they spent the day drinking milk shakes. You know what. The fast still had a as great an impact on them, as it did on the ones who went on water only, and it was a great starting place.

This type of fast can be maintained for long periods of time. I know people who have done 40 days on a water fast. That is hard core, and if you plan to try long water fasts, you will need to modify your activities because you will run out of resources. A liquid fast is much more doable.

4) The “Daniel Fast.” Remember in the beginning of the Book of Daniel when he and the rest of the best of the Jews were taken into captivity and press into service of the Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. They were required to eat the kings meets which they knew might have been sacrificed to idols. Daniel threw down a challenge to the manager in charge to withhold from them the kings meet and his dainties (teehee – sorry that just strikes me funny.)

So the Daniel fast is the giving up of meets, breads and desserts. This one can also be done for long periods of time, since you body is getting nourishment, and you can continue to be active.

5) The “Benedictine Fast.” This is a traditional fast that has been used by various religious groups across the ages. It originated with the Benedictine order (bet you didn’t guess that) and put simply it is one meal per day. It is very similar to the fast that Muslims observe during Ramadan as I understand it, though I am not expert on either Muslim or Catholic traditions. But this is a valid fast, and after a good period of time will be just as fruitful.

6) The “Total Fast.” No food, no water – nothing! This can and should only be done for a very short period of time. Any more than a day or two is dangerous.

7) Finally what I would call the “Material Fast.” This would be the giving up of some thing or activity for a period of time to devote more of your time and resources to the Lord. Many Catholics practice this during lent. When I was a kid, I would hear about my classmates giving up Chocolate or TV during lent.

For years I did not think this was valid as a form of fasting, but for those who due to age or health restrictions can not do dietary fasting, I have found it to have the same effects in those with an honest heart and godly mind set.

Tomorrow I will finish this series with a few more details and precautions.

Thanks much for sticking with this for so many days.

See you tomorrow.

Ben


Jesus said:

But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (Matthew 6:17-18 NASB)

Here is one that might not be obvious, but it is so powerful.

Daniel was one of God favorites.

In Daniel Chapter 9 he records an amazing prayer and the response he received.

So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.

And he gave me instruction and talked with me, and said, “O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding. At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed; so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision.” (Daniel 9:3,22-23 NASB)

I highly recommend you read the whole text. Daniel 9 - Blue Letter Bible

Two things strike me about this.

First, notice the intensity with which he is pursuing his request. This was no throw away prayer. He was pressing in with everything he had to obtain his answer.

Prayer

Supplications

Fasting

Sackcloth

Ashes

Daniel was seeking God for one thing with massive intensity.

So what was the object of all this passion? This blows my mind. He is not praying for a loved one’s (or even his own) healing from some life threatening disease. He is not praying for help with some financial crisis. He is not praying for the right political regime to take office.

He is asking for understanding – for clarification of scripture.

Get this now – He was reading the prophecies of Jeremiah, and he wanted to make sure he had it right. He wanted to make sure he was not misunderstanding what he was reading. He was looking for how this passage should impact how he was living.

He did not just accept the common understanding of the passage from the main stream. He pressed in to hear what the heart of the Father would speak directly to his heart.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting you go out and create your own pet doctrines. But sometimes a verse jumps off the page at you – doesn’t it?

When it does, you need to be diligent and gain understanding that will impact your life.

When God calls your attention to a passage, you need to seek His face and learn from Him where He wants to apply it IN YOUR LIFE.

If the Word of God is not changing your life, you must change that.

Let me bring 2 more scriptures into this conversation.

Solomon said (and I love the old KJV for this one)

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. (Proverbs 4:7 KJV)

I might recommend all of Proverbs 4 here.

Solomon – the wisest man of all times - tells you with every ounce of “get” in you, you must get understanding. Don’t be satisfied if it is not making a change in your life.

The final text I want to bring to the table today is from James.

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. (James 1:22 NASB)

When you hear the word, and do not find its intersection with your life, no transformation is possible. [Tweet This] You become deluded into believing that by simply reading the Word you are justified.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

So then when God puts a passage on your heart, you might consider skipping a meal or two and pressing in for understanding. He promises that if anyone asks for wisdom, He will gladly supply it.

Thanks for stopping in today.

Ben

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