VIDEO Carols That Count: “I Saw Three Ships”

And when [the Magi] had 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 gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2:11

A popular Christmas song arose in seventeenth-century England—we know it today as “I Saw Three Ships (Come Sailing In).” As is true of many traditional songs that became Christmas favorites, the origin is obscure. But in this case, the meaning is also a mystery.

The singer says, “I spy’d three ships come sailing by … on Christmas Day in the morning.” What three ships? Mary and Joseph are mentioned as being “with” the three ships, celebrating the birth of Jesus. An obvious possible meaning is that the three ships refer to the “three” Magi. The Bible doesn’t say there were three Magi; it is assumed because they brought three valuable gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Whether they are the “three ships” in the carol or not, we can draw from their actions this Christmas season: They gave their best to Jesus.

As you consider what gifts you might give to Jesus and to others this Christmas, follow the Magi’s example and give your very best.

My talents, gifts, and graces, Lord, into thy blessed hands receive.
Charles Wesley, “Give Me the Faith Which Can Remove”

What the Magi Mean to Christmas

Well Done!

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

The school where my son Brian coaches football lost the state title game in a hard-fought battle. Their opponent was undefeated over the past two years. I sent Brian a text to commiserate with him and received a terse reply: “Kids battled!”

No coach shamed the players after the game. No one shouted at them for their mishaps or bad decisions along the way. No, the coaches showered the young players with praise for what could be praised.

Along the same vein, it’s good to know that believers in Jesus will not hear harsh words of condemnation from Him. When Christ comes and we stand before Him, He won’t shame us. He’ll see what we’ve done as we’ve followed Him (2 Corinthians 5:10; Ephesians 6:8). I think He’ll say something like, “You battled! Well done!” The apostle Paul testified that he had “fought the good fight” and looked forward to being welcomed by God (2 Timothy 4:7–8).

Life is a relentless struggle with a fierce, unyielding foe devoted to our destruction. He will resist every effort we make to be like Jesus and to love others. There’ll be a few good wins and some heartbreaking losses—God knows—but there will be no eternal condemnation for those in Jesus (Romans 8:1). If we stand before Him in the merits of God’s Son, each one will “receive [his] praise” from God (1 Corinthians 4:5).

By:  David H. Roper

Reflect & Pray

Does the thought of standing before God fill you with dread or delight? What would make the difference?

Thank You, God, for the promise that because I have Jesus as my Savior, I’ll never be condemned.

Why God Emphasizes Christ’s Return

We should all try to live blameless lives that encourage others to come to Christ up until His second coming

Colossians 3:1-4

Because we live bound by time, eternity is a hard concept to grasp. Nevertheless, Paul reminds us to set our minds on heavenly things rather than earthly ones. And keeping Christ’s return at the forefront of our mind helps us do this. Then, as we live each day, we’ll be reminded to consider the eternal impact of our choices.

Realizing that Jesus could return at any time keeps the church focused. We have the responsibility to share the gospel widely so that salvations will multiply. Believers and the church as a whole should want to take along as many people as possible into eternity.

Remembering Christ’s return also has a purifying effect because it motivates us to abstain from sin and live righteously (1 John 3:2-3). We want “to be found spotless and blameless by Him” when He returns (2 Pet. 3:14).

There is great comfort in knowing that one day we will be free from sin and its consequences—and we’ll live in a perfect environment, with our Lord reigning as King over the entire earth. So we say, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

The Beginning of Wisdom

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.” (Psalm 111:10)

This age has rightly been called the “age of information.” With multitudes of books and periodicals in every field of study and practice, with billions of dollars devoted to all kinds of research, and now even the “information superhighway” of the internet. It seems everyone and every organization is posting information of some sort on its own website and email. The world is almost drowning in information.

“But where shall wisdom be found and where is the place of understanding?” (Job 28:12). Job’s urgent question can never be answered online, but only in an ancient book. “Behold, the fear of the LORD, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28).

This spiritual truism is found often in that book. King Solomon, to whom God had granted special wisdom (1 Kings 3:11-12), penned divinely inspired words when he wrote: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,” and then “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10).

If anything is missing in our information age, it is surely the fear of God, at least among most people—even most religious people. But, as our text says: “A good understanding have all they that do his commandments.”

From our New Testament perspective, we now know that “in [Christ] are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). “And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment” (1 John 3:23). Herein is true knowledge and understanding and wisdom. HMM

Praising His Greatness In Creation

Hallelujah! My soul, praise the Lord. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing to the Lord as long as I live. Do not trust in nobles, in man, who cannot save. When his breath leaves him, he returns to the ground; on that day his plans die. Happy is the one whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them. He remains faithful forever (Psalm 146 vv. 1-6).

Music has always been as necessary to me as breathing. Melodies tend to stick to me like glue, playing over and over in my “inner ear.” A moving praise song such as “His Name Is Wonderful” evokes a whole emotional gestalt of feelings, memories, and associations. Certain songs, such as “In the Sweet By and By, ” “O That Will Be Glory for Me,” and “When We All Get to Heaven” remind me of friends and loved ones who are waiting for us there. For me, music is a big part of the rhythm and meaning in life, and like David, I want praise to be the top priority of my life.

It’s easy to praise the Lord when I see him at every turn—at the seaside, in the mountains, in the snow frosting the trees.

But God’s unshakability is appreciated even more when seen against the backdrop of human weakness and transience. As David pointed out, “Man … cannot save” (v. 3). Their final destiny is the grave; on the day of death their well- strategized plans come to nothing.

As the year draws to a close, I need to reevaluate my commitment to the Lord. Have I kept my priorities in order? Have I praised the Lord every day through meditating on his Word, through prayer, through music? Have I let the plastic things made by humans blind me to authentic masterpieces created by God? Have I cultivated a sense of his presence, so that I can know him whom I’ve never seen? Am I worshipping him with my whole person or with my head? Objective knowledge is a poor substitute for subjective intimacy and involvement!

Personal Prayer

Dear Lord, I want to praise you as long as I live. Make me sensitive to your beauty in creation, and may I move from an awareness of your power and might to a warm, personal relationship with you.

The Standard Note

Let me experience Your faithful love in the morning, for I trust in You.—Psalm 143:8

Jesus felt the need for three simple habits in His earthly life: (1) He stood up to read; (2) He went up a mountain to pray; (3) He taught people the Scriptures—all “as usual” (Lk 4:16).

These three habits—reading the Scriptures, exposing oneself to God in prayer, and passing on to others what one has found—are basic to the spiritual life. If Jesus Himself couldn’t get along without them, how can we?

I am often asked by interviewers how I maintain my spiritual life. I usually reply that it centers on a daily quiet time with God. There are some days when a morning quiet time is not possible, but most of my mornings begin with a time closeted with God in prayer.

Someone sent me a brochure once, telling me of a home that had opened, which they described as “a place in the country where those who have lost their spiritual freshness may come to tone up and be invigorated.” My quiet time is such a “place.”

A sheep rancher in Australia found that his violin was out of tune, and being unable to find another musical instrument to provide him with a standard note, he wrote to a radio station asking them to strike that note. They did just that—stopped a program and struck the note. The sheep rancher caught it, and the violin was in tune again. Your daily quiet time will help you hear God’s “standard notes.” Then you can tune your flattened notes to His.


O God, I know there is nothing better than what I have found in You—except more of what I have found in You. Help me today to catch Your “standard note” and tune every part of my life to it. In Christ’s name I ask it. Amen.

Further Study

Ac 10:1-8; Lk 6:12; 2Ch 29:2

What is recorded of Cornelius?

What is said about Hezekiah?

What If?

1 John 4:9

Who has not played the mental game of “What if?” What if you had been born at a different time, in a different place? What if you were of the opposite sex? What if you were of a different race? What if you had been raised in a different country, by a different family?

Let’s play our little mental pastime with the historical occurrence of Christmas. What if God, through the Holy Spirit, had not placed His sacred seed within the womb of His chosen handmaiden, Mary? No reference ever again would have been made of an innkeeper, still unknown by name. Shepherds in Bethlehem fields would have slept through another cool night, with no angelic chorus to startle the world with a “Gloria in Excelsis” to resound with grandeur through years yet unborn.

What if God had not sent a great shining star coursing through the sky? What if no “little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay,” or holy child “born to be King?”

In my own heart, I know it’s much too good not to be true. But what if Christmas had never happened, if Jesus had never come?

Peter would never have been heard of. Paul’s Damascus Road experience would be unknown. No, it is really too good not to be true.

No cross would have found its sacred place in history, cherished, to be sung about and to be knelt before in worship of the figure hanging upon it. No “It is finished” (John 19:20) would have been spoken to make it possible for mankind to be freed from death and to enter into life forever with God himself. No empty tomb would announce victory over man’s last enemy.

This season of the year would not be happening. No Handel’s Messiah, no Bach’s Magnificat, no singing of “Silent Night.” No Christmas tree in the parlor, no children opening their gifts, no bells ringing their joyous carillon, no glowing candles splitting the darkness, no greeting cards from a myriad of friends, no sharing the thrilling announcement, “Unto you is born… a Savior which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11 KJV).

What if? Then, where would I go? To whom would I pray? How could I know that I am forever cleansed, redeemed, made holy and loved of God? Really and truly, it’s all just too good not to be true!

But what if, in sad absence of personal faith, you choose not to believe it? Yes, what if?

Stanley E. Ditmer, The War Cry