“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. And he (Herod) sent them to Bethlehem… And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down and worshiped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:1, 8a, 11
Dear Intercessors for Israel:
Greetings from Engeltal. This weekend the formal church observes Epiphany, a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of Jesus Christ as God incarnate, and remembers the visit of the Wise Men. Who were these men? Tradition accords that these Magi were named Melchior, Balthazar and Caspar. They came from the East, traveling by camel across the deserts to Bethlehem. Eastern church traditions state they were from Persia and may have numbered as many as twelve. Other traditions state that Caspar may have come from India, and was dark skinned. Chinese Christians also believe that one of these wise men came from their land, China, or as the ancients called it, Sinim (Is. 49:12). Other narratives claim the three Kings (Melchior, Balthazar and Caspar) represented Europe, Arabia and Africa respectively.
Were they kings? Matthew records they were “wise men” or magoi in the Greek. The Roman philosopher Cicero describes magi as being “wise and learned men among the Persians.” Daniel was a Magi, or a wise scholar who advised the king. An early church “Father”, Tertullian, considered that these night visitors to the Christ child were actual kings. He reasoned that their visit fulfilled Solomon’s prayer in Psalms 72: 10-11: “May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him gifts”. But he also discovered that Isaiah 60:6 prophesied the most compelling reason: “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn…and all from Sheba will come, bearing gold, and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.” The visit of the wise men initially fulfilled God’s word that not only the Jews but the gentiles “would come to [his] light.”
And what of their gifts? Gold was of utmost value, a present befitting to give a king, frankincense was a gum taken from the bark of a tree. Its incense was used in the Temple. Myrrh was a valued spice and perfume (S of S. 3:6). There is great symbolism in all three gifts. Gold suggests royalty, frankincense divinity, and myrrh Christ’s suffering and burial.
Tradition accords that the gold given to Mary and Joseph, was used later to support them after they fled into Egypt. Nicodemus, who first came to Christ by night, later returned upon his death with one hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes (Jn. 19:39). This mixture was used to embalm his body.
I still remember being in the third grade in a public school and hearing that Christmas hymn being sung for the first time: “We three kings of orient are…” I with wonder listened and watched the school play transfixed. Worshiping as a child, the beauty of his holiness was in my heart.
What gift would you bring to King Jesus? Mary anointed him with precious nard, a costly perfume, the widow gave her mite, and the Centurion offered his faith for healing. The highest gift would be our life: to love and serve him all our days. Make it your prayer this Epiphany: “Lord, I come before you, and filled with love, I look upon your face and offer my life to do with as you wish.” Trust him, do not be like the rich man who Jesus invited to be his disciple but he could not part with his riches, and went away sad (Lk. 18:18-29). Jesus declared that “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (Jn. 10:10b).
New Elections in Israel
Last week, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that he was calling for new elections in the country. Struggling with a divided Knesset and unable to solve the question of drafting Ultra-Orthodox men, Netanyahu is hoping to form a stronger coalition after the April 9th election. Current political polls show that his Likud party is leading with a projected 28-31 seats. Prime Minister Netanyahu also faces indictment charges for possible corruption. A recent poll of Israel voters showed that 51% of those polled favored the Prime Minister resigning if he is indicted. If this happens President Rivlin may choose to nominate a different Likud Member of the Knesset to lead the next government after the elections. Pray for the upcoming elections in Israel and that the LORD will place His people into government.
U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to change course on Syria on last Wednesday, by saying that he would not intervene in any Iranian activity in the country once American troops have left. “They can do what they want there, frankly,” Trump said of Iran’s presence in Syria. Most Israelis were left shocked by his remarks. An unidentified senior official in the Israeli government said, “Trump simply does not know what is happening in Syria and the Iranian entrenchment there” (www.ynetnnews.com ). Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet ministers have not yet responded publicly to Trump’s remarks. The Israeli government though is highly concerned about the possibility of Iran moving its forces into areas vacated by the United States forces, thus creating a military land bridge clear to Lebanon. Pray for the security and peace of Israel. Pray for wisdom for Israel’s leaders on how to deal with this ongoing situation.
New Airport Opened
Israel’s long-awaited second international airport near the southern Red Sea resort of Eilat is expected to open on January 22. The airport is jointly named in memory of the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon, who perished when the space shuttle Columbia broke apart on re-entry in 2003, and his son Assaf who lost his life in a F-16 crash. The terminal building is set to handle two million passengers a year, with expansion allowing a capacity of 4.2 million passengers by 2030. Plans are also underway to build a rail link to the city center. Many airlines will be operating flights from this airport, thus giving tourists greater direct access to Eilat, without having to transfer through Ben-Gurion airport.
Four Million Tourists in 2018
Despite ongoing Middle East tensions, Israel welcomed some four million tourists over the course of 2018, breaking a new record, the Tourism Ministry reported this week (www.timesofisrael.com). Statistics compiled by the Tourism Ministry show entries from certain European countries have soared in comparison to the same period last year, including an increase of approximately 90% from Poland, 40% from the Czech Republic, Romania, and Hungary, and 35% from Italy. Significantly more tourists also came from Holland, Germany, Spain, and the United States. Jerusalem is also the world’s fastest-growing tourism destination, a report by London-based market research company Euromonitor International revealed this week (www.jpost.com).
The House of Peace also has finished a banner year with many visitors, guests, and ministry outreaches. Marylois and I also thank you for standing with us as we stand for Israel. We deeply appreciate your support of ETH’s ministry House of Peace in Jerusalem.
Love and Shalom and our blessings to you and your family for 2019.
Gene and Marylois,
House of Peace