Friday, December 24, 2010

Was John the Baptist a Crackpot?

Matt 3:3-6 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.'" Now John himself was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. (NKJV)

My first thought of John the Baptist is that he must have been a very unusual sight even in 30 AD. I imagine a man with scraggly beard and unkempt hair squatting by a fire in the cold of the desert night. He scratches frequently because of the course camelhair robe cinched at his waist by a wide leather belt with a big buckle. His sunken eyes and scrawny arms reveal a poor diet of bugs and honey. Why in the world would someone go out into the desert to listen to someone like that? If you can’t image that, then think about the cartoons of a weirdo carrying a sign that reads, “The End Is Near.” How much do I miss in Scripture because I read in my own perspective?

After thinking about this for some time, I think that I have read more into the Scripture than is there. I’ve made conclusions that are not justified. According to Luke 1:15, he was not to drink any alcoholic beverages. I assumed that meant that he was a Nazirite, however the Nazirite restriction of never cutting his hair was ever mentioned. Even if he didn’t cut his hair, it is my own personal bias that would lead me to think it would be unkempt. Finally, why do I think that a camelhair coat would be itchy and rough looking? I once had a camelhair jacket and it was very smooth. In fact, camelhair fabric is very soft, lightweight, and warm.

I could be just as wrong about how healthy his diet was. John the Baptist could have been a very distinguished and well-dressed man. Living in the desert didn’t mean he camped out every night or wandered without shelter. It doesn’t mean that his life there was isolated either. There is nothing in the Word that should make me think that a strange or weird man. The image that he was weird is most likely fueled by today’s bias against people of faith who aren’t afraid to speak the truth.

As I consider this, I wonder how many times I’ve read a passage of scripture and viewed it out of my own experience instead of the reality of the time it was written. It certainly shows me that I must be very careful when I draw conclusions about how the Bible should affect my life. I can easily read into a passage something very different from what God originally intended and what He intends for every person since then to understand and follow.

This also brings up the fact that different forms of writing require different ways of understanding the meaning. The quote about one calling in the wilderness is taken from Isaiah 40:3. When I copied the quote in Matthew, I removed the formatting. Most versions of the Bible formats poetic passages differently so that it can be recognized. Matthew 3:3 or Isaiah 40:4 is show as poetic. Matthew most likely quoted this from the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament written two to three hundred years earlier. Therefore, it varies somewhat from the translations we now use. Since it is poetic, I can rightly assume that preparing a way for the Lord and making His path straight is not referring to building a physical road in the desert and filling in every valley and removing hills and mountains as Isaiah 40:4 says.

Instead, Matthew is pointing out that John’s ministry is exactly what the angel predicted in Luke 1:16-17 "And he will turn back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (NASB) John’s ministry was turn hearts back to God. This takes place as family relationships are restored and the attitudes people are turned back to righteousness. In doing this, he was able to get many people ready for Jesus to appear and accept Him.

In application to myself, I can see that I need to make sure my family relationships are loving. I can do this by following many Scriptural commands such as Eph 6:4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (NIV) I need to make sure I’m not disobedient in my attitudes about righteous living. Rom 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (RSV) Many passages describe unrighteous behavior and the behavior that should replace it.

I can also see that if I want to prepare someone to receive Jesus as his Lord and Savior, then I should also instruct him in these two areas. Especially important is explaining the attitude of the disobedient, helping him know that he is a sinner. Without this understanding, he will not see the need to repent. It is also one of the toughest things to do because it means I may be accused of being intolerant, arrogant, and other things. Later we’ll see that John was beheaded for pointing out sinful behavior.

Why would so many people go out to the desert to listen to John? I think it is because Luke 1:15 says that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. The fruit of the Holy Spirit must have been evident in his life. Gal 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (NIV) When God calls a person to a ministry such as his and his life is characterized by these virtues then it would make sense that he would attract people. If my life is filled with the Holy Spirit, then it makes the task of instructing others easier, whether it is a large crowd or just one.

If I’m honestly looking for God, I will listen to someone like John. Heb 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (RSV) One of the reasons that few people are looking for God today is that they have been taught that there is no God. Teaching the religion of evolution in our schools has replaced God with nature. It has reduced man to an animal that is has no more right to the earth than any other animal. I am no longer a being created with a special purpose – to worship God. If my faith is in nature, I would not seek God. A man like John would indeed sound like a crackpot – especially if he says that some of my evolutionary instincts are sin.

God may trip me (or knock me off my horse as he did to Paul) so that I’m suddenly aware of Him. Eccl 3:11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end. (NLT) Whether God trips me or simply awakens this yearning in my heart for eternity, a man like John will fill in the blanks so that I can begin to understand the beginning of God’s work. Like the multitude that went to John, I will confess my sin as I realize that the His work was to send Jesus to pay for my sins. Turning to Jesus, I to will be baptized as a public declaration of my repentance and a changed life.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Kingdom of Heaven

Matt 3:1-3 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.'" (NKJV)

When John said the kingdom of heaven was near, he knew it. He knew he was born to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3 as quoted in Matt 3:3. He knew it because that was the prophecy given to his father in Luke 1:16-17 even before he was conceived. He knew it because the Holy Spirit revealed it to him. John 1:32-34 Then John gave this testimony: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God." (NIV)

So what exactly is the kingdom of heaven? The New Testament has 32 references to the kingdom of heaven in Matthew and four references to the kingdom of God. There are another 62 references to the kingdom of God in the other books of the New Testament. The kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven are interchangeable since Matthew recorded Jesus using the Kingdom of heaven in Matt 4:17 and the kingdom of God in Mark 1:15 in exactly the same way. If I were to look at all of these references, I could come up with a lot of details about the kingdom of heaven. However, those who heard this first use of the phrase by John didn’t have all these verses. What did they understand?

At that time, people were familiar with the book of Daniel. They knew of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream that Daniel was able to interpret. God gave that interpretation to Daniel. Dan 2:28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnez'zar what will be in the latter days. (RSV) Daniel then tells that the dream was about kingdoms down through history, one replaces another as time passes and the “latter days” arrive. Dan 2:44 And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. (NASB) This is what the people understood when John or Jesus first spoke of the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. It would be a physical kingdom that God would establish and it would dominate every other kingdom on earth. It would last forever.

They didn’t view this kingdom as a kingdom of another spiritual realm. That view was also available to them from the book of Daniel. Dan 4:3b His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation. (NIV) Nebuchadnezzar, the first king in the interpretation above, provided that view. He knew and recognized it because God took his sanity from him until he humbled himself under God.

As the book of Matthew unfolds, Jesus’ primary references to the kingdom of heaven describe who will enter or not and who will be greatest or least. There are only two places where He gives any indication that it isn’t an eternal physical kingdom. Matt 12:28 But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (NIV) Jesus certainly did drive out demons by the Spirit of God, which means that the kingdom of God was right there at that time. Yet it was not manifested physically as prophesied in Daniel. Jesus had just spoken about Satan’s kingdom. With this in mind I can safely assume that just as there is a spiritual realm in which Satan is ruler, so is there a spiritual realm where Jesus in currently king. Speaking of God’s power to raise Jesus from the dead, Paul gave us a glimpse of the kingdom. Eph 1:20-21 [The power] which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. (NIV) This provides us with the dual nature of the kingdom of God, the current spiritual kingdom and the one to come.

Luke 17:20-21 Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." (NIV) The only way Jesus could make this statement is in reference to the spiritual kingdom when the Holy Spirit lives in us. This is a kingdom that can not be seen. However, Jesus also makes it clear that there is more to come. Mark 14:24-25 And He said to them, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. “ Truly I say to you, I shall never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." (NASB) I think He was referring to His millennium reign when we will reign with Him. Rev 20:6 Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years. (NASB)

This is all cool, head-knowledge type stuff. How does God want me to apply this to my life?

Since God’s kingdom is everlasting and endures from generation to generation it means I need to find out which side I’m on. Am I part of His kingdom or Satan’s kingdom? Jesus didn’t give any room to be anywhere else. There is no question that one day everyone will realize this. As I read through Rev 20 and 21 it is evident that everyone will be resurrected from the dead. Some will enter eternity in heaven in God’s kingdom and others will enter into eternal punishment along with Satan. I have to make sure that I’m in His kingdom before I die. Heb 9:27 And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, (NLT) makes it clear that there are no second chances after this life.

Assuming that I’ve decided that I want to be in God’s kingdom, I need to realize that I can’t act any way I want and call myself a Christian. Matt 7:21"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (NIV) John 6:40 “For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." (NIV) I can’t believe anything I want. I must believe Jesus and what He has said. Some of those things follow.

Matt 18:3-4 And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (NIV) A child is totally dependent on adults. When I depend on myself to earn my way into heaven, I will never make it. I have to be like a child and depend totally on Jesus and His atoning sacrifice for my sin. I can’t depend on baptism, being good, tithing, or any other work. If I don’t humble myself in this way, I’ll have no part of His kingdom.

Matt 13:45-46 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (NIV) Attaining God’s kingdom is so valuable that there is nothing in this life that is more important or valuable. If I’m not willing to give up everything in this world to enter, then I’m not worthy of the kingdom. This is not a matter of buying or working my way into heaven. It is about the attitude of my heart. When I face persecution, am I willing to die rather than denounce Jesus? Am I willing to do what is right in my business practices or work ethic and possibly lose everything so that I don’t tarnish the name of Jesus?

The chief priests and elders in Jerusalem were the religious leaders who believed they were going to earn their way into the kingdom of god but challenged Jesus’ authority. From Matt 21:23 through 43, Jesus has a dialog with them. He told them a couple of parables. The first had to do with obeying God and repentance. He declared that prostitutes and tax collectors were entering God’s kingdom before the leaders because these sinners had not initially obeyed but repented and obeyed. The religious leaders said they obeyed but didn’t. The second showed them that they would completely reject Jesus and even have Him killed. Jesus finished with Matt 21:43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” (NIV) I need to produce fruit that is consistent with His kingdom. By using a negative example (the religious leaders), and the parables, I can see that obeying God and receiving Jesus are things I must do.

If I want to see what my fruit should look like, I can look at Gal 5:22-24 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (NIV) When I belong to Jesus, I die to my sinful nature, passions, and desires and let His Holy Spirit control me to produce the fruit of His kingdom.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What Does Repentance Mean?

Matt 3:1-2 Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (NASB)

John called people to repent because the kingdom of heaven was at hand. So what does it mean to repent? The world’s view of repentance is described in various dictionaries. Repent is defined as follows:

1. To feel remorse or regret, as for something done or undone; be contrite.
2. To change one’s mind concerning past action because of disappointment, failure, etc: with of: He repented of his generosity to the old man.
3. Theol. To feel such sorrow for one’s sins as to reform.
4. To feel remorse or regret for (an action, sin, etc.)
5. To change one’s mind concerning (a past action): He repented of his decision.

Websters Comprehensive Dictionary (J. G. Ferguson Publishing Company, 1984) Volume Two Page 1068

As I look at these various definitions, a couple of things stand out. The first is that these are all based on emotions or feelings. Even the theological is based on a feeling of sorrow. While I would agree that repentance does incorporate a need to be sorry, I need to look to the Bible to tell me what true repentance is. I think that the following verses shed much light on what repentance is all about.

1 Kings 8:46-51 "When they sin against you — for there is no one who does not sin — and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to his own land, far away or near; and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their conquerors and say, 'We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly'; and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies who took them captive, and pray to you toward the land you gave their fathers, toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name; then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you; forgive all the offenses they have committed against you, and cause their conquerors to show them mercy; for they are your people and your inheritance, whom you brought out of Egypt, out of that iron-smelting furnace. (NIV)

The very first thing in this passage is a general confession of sin. The sin is against God. While we need to repent of sins committed against each other, the ultimate problem with sin is that it is an affront to God. There are consequences to our sins and the worst is that God becomes angry. When I sin, He will discipline me so that I will learn. Heb 12:9-10 Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn't we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God's discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. (NLT) God’s anger with His children seemed very harsh when He allowed them to be conquered, killed, and sent into exile. The N.T. puts it in perspective. Part of what happened in the O.T. was to demonstrate the seriousness of sin but the bigger picture is that God wants me to have a better relationship with Him. That can only be done as I live a holy life. His disciple pushes me in that direction.

Back to 1st Kings, I can see that the second thing that repentance requires a change of heart. Most people place a huge emphasis on a change of behavior when they talk about repentance. I usually think the same way; however, a change in behavior without a change of heart is not true repentance. Without a change of heart, a change of behavior is called reformation or turning over a new leaf. It has nothing to do with God but is done out of a person’s own power and strength of will. True repentance can’t occur without God. It is God who gives me the change of heart that is required. Ezek 36:26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (NKJV) This is a mystery. I have to have a change of heart, but it is only God who can give me that change. It is the same with the faith required for salvation. See Eph 2:8-9.

I can see that the third component of repentance in this example is a more detailed confession of sin. While this passage isn’t significantly detailed, the concept is apparent. The context of this example is Solomon praying for the future sins of the Israelites so the exact details are missing. However, the repetition of sinning, doing wrong, and acting wickedly shows that when I repent, I need to understand exactly what I’ve done. I can’t really repent of a sin that I don’t understand is wrong.

I need to admit my guilt to God. In this passage, Solomon says that if they plead with God. Guilt means that I’m legally punishable for my sin. I plead for forgiveness with the full knowledge that I should be punished for my sin. I’m throwing myself on the mercy of the court when I plead with my Lord. One of the reasons that many people reject God is that they don’t like the idea of pleading for anything. That is beneath them and they are too proud to beg for mercy. Pride is probably the worst sin or the root of it because it means I think I’m better than God.

That pride must be broken in order to turn back to God. Of course, if a person has never been with God, then it isn’t turning back to Him, it is turning to Him for the first time. As a Christian, when I sin, I must turn back to Him. Either way, the concept is the same. It is a change of attitude toward God as detailed above.

Matt 3:8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. (NIV) John explained that repentance must result in a change of behavior to prove that it has taken place. Just as my faith must be seen by my actions to prove my salvation (James 2:18), my change of heart when I repent must result in a behavioral change. The cart can’t be put before the horse. My works will not save me and my changed behavior will not change my heart.

Jer 26:13 But if you stop your sinning and begin to obey the Lord your God, he will change his mind about this disaster that he has announced against you. (NLT) Note that God knows the heart of each person. He knows whether or not a person has truly repented. So when He commands me to stop sinning and reform my behavior, He already knows that I can do it.

So where does being sorry fit in? The best explanation comes from 2 Cor 7:8-10 Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it — I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (NIV) The Greek word sorrow is most often translated as distressed or sad in the NIV. This is a strong emotion and strong emotions oftentimes work wonders. When those emotions pull me back to God, it results in a repentance that works in conjunction with God to produce a changed heart that He desires. This is a sorrow for having offended God.

The worldly sorrow that is mentioned is more like the dictionary definitions. It is a feeling of regret. It sometimes comes because I was caught, or even because I may have hurt someone. However, worldly sorrow doesn’t bring about true repentance. At the best, it will bring about reformation but without the change of heart that I need to turn back to God. At the worst, it will not even bring about reformation, but despair and even suicide.

When I am sorry as God wants, I will repent. When I repent, and confess my sin, then God is faithful. He will forgive me and purify me. (1 John 1:9) When He does this, I can depend on Him to remove my guilt. This means that I will not be punished for my sins in hell. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t any consequences in this life, but it means that in eternity, I’ll be able to stand before Him just as if I had never sinned.

The reason that worldly sorrow brings death is because there is no removal of guilt. I may confess my sin to another person and even a person I have offended. That person may even forgive me, however until I have dealt with my sin with God, my guilt is not removed and the end is death.

So John’s message was simple – repent – but with a lot of meaning packed behind it. He was preparing the way for Jesus – telling people what was needed to be saved. When Jesus died on the cross, He took that punishment for my guilt long before I ever existed. However, it wasn’t until I repented and turned to Him in faith that His payment was actually credited to me. So, if I never acknowledge Jesus as my Lord (changing my attitude and obeying Him) I would still be guilty. I repented by first confessing my sin to God and acknowledging my need for Jesus to be my Savior. There is no other way – Jesus said so.

Friday, December 3, 2010

When God Speaks – Matt 3:1

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, (RSV)

Why would John the Baptist start preaching? How does God communicate His will to me? Let’s check out John’s history. In Luke 1:17 John’s mission was announced by an angel before his birth. He was to go before the Lord and turn the hearts of Israel to the Lord. John’s father, Zechariah, was unable to speak after the announcement because he doubted what he had heard and asked for a sign. I think there is an important lesson to be learned from Zechariah.

To understand the lesson I need to understand who Zechariah was and what was going on. First of all, he was a priest and second he was the one who was selected to enter the temple to burn incense. He was all alone, in God’s dwelling place. Then an angel appears. His first reaction is fear. This is a very normal reaction to a true angelic appearance. You can look in Daniel 8:15-18 and observe the physical effects of the visions he had when Gabriel appeared to him. Since Zechariah was a priest and he was performing his duty in the temple, there is no reason that he should have suspected that this person was anyone other than an angel. The angel told him his prayer to have a son had been answered; another clue he was sent by God. Furthermore, he told Zechariah exactly what John’s mission would be and how he should be raised. This is very similar to the instructions and prophesy that was given to Samson’s mother when an angel appeared to her. (Judges 13:2-5) This would have been very familiar to Zechariah.

Given Zechariah’s position as priest, his location in the temple, and his knowledge of Scripture, it was an affront to God that he asked for a sign to prove that what the angel said was true. You can compare this to Gideon (Judges 6:11 and following) who asked for a sign. Gideon was not a priest, he was not in the temple rather, he was threshing wheat in a winepress out of fear of the enemy. He was the opposite of Zechariah in most ways. When he asked for a sign, God accommodated him because he didn’t know better. He needed encouragement to trust the Lord.

Zachariah got his sign. He was struck with the inability to speak until his son was born. I think he learned his lesson. After John’s birth in Luke 1:77, Zechariah prophesied that John would give people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. After such a dramatic introduction to his son’s mission, Zechariah would not have neglected teaching John what he needed to do.

What did I learn from all this? When God speaks, I better do what He says.

Fortunately, we have God’s Word for general direction. A great passage is 1 Thess 5:16-22 Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. (NASB) I think following these commands will not only enable me to follow God’s will for my life in general, but also specifically.

If I’m joyful in all circumstances instead of complaining, God can use me anywhere. If I’m praying always, He can lead me and help me. If I’m thankful for everything, He will be pleased. If I don’t suppress the prompting of the Holy Spirit and pay attention to prophetic utterances, then He can speak to me directly or through others. If I examine everything carefully, then my own sinful nature and those who claim they are speaking for God won’t trick me. If I always try to do what is right using my abilities to further His kingdom and abstain from sin, I’ll probably be doing what God wants. I don’t think He will need to tell me to do something specific. However, if He does, I’ll be ready without asking for a specific sign.

If a non-Christian wants to know what God wants him to do, I can always use Jesus’ response to that question. John 6:29 Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." (NIV)

However, I’ve heard people say they would believe in Jesus if God would give them a sign. Their sin is worse than Zechariah’s. Zechariah obeyed after receiving his sign. Jesus has already given everyone a sign; it is His resurrection. They don’t want to believe that sign just as Jesus said. Luke 16:31 "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'" (NIV) Jesus said that anyone who rejects the Bible will not be convinced by His resurrection. They will still ask for signs. Matt 12:39-40 But he answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (RSV)

Rejecting Jesus and the sign God provided by resurrecting Him is the ultimate affront to God who allowed His son to be killed as a sacrifice for our sins. It will result in eternal death, not just a few months with the inability to speak. The good news is that it is never too late to change your mind and believe in Jesus.

Friday, November 19, 2010


More questions from Matthew Chapter 2

7. Considering all the events of chapter two (Magi visiting, Herod's deception, angels' warnings and more), what would have happened if even one hadn't occurred?

This is all speculation because there is no way that we could ever know what could have occurred, however the exercise will point out God’s sovereignty and omniscience. Starting with the Magi, what would have happened if they had not seen the star or even if the star had led them directly to Bethlehem and they had not stopped to ask direction from Herod? Would things have been forever changed?

First, the people of Jerusalem, especially the chief priests and scribes would not have been put on notice that the Messiah had been born. Because they were told, they had no excuse. They couldn’t say that they didn’t know the time of the Messiah was near. Would this have changed anything when Jesus started His ministry? Probably not.

The common people didn’t remember when the Magi visited. John 7:41-42 Others said, "He is the Christ." Still others asked, "How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David's family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?" (NIV) I think it is interesting that many people knew that the Messiah must come from Bethlehem. This indicates that they knew the prophecies about the Messiah, yet others were totally misinformed. John 7:27 But we know where this man is from; when the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from. (NIV) If the Magi had not visited, they would have still been in the same state of unbelief. They were like many people today. They have heard of Jesus but choose to either not believe or are unwilling to find out enough information to overcome their ignorance. In a court, ignorance of the law is not a valid excuse for breaking the law.

In the realm of salvation, ignorance of Jesus is not an excuse. John 14:6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (NIV) When we look at what Jesus said and take Him at His word, then we must assume that the only way a person can find salvation is through Jesus. Someone may argue that it isn’t fair because people in some parts of the world have never heard of Jesus. However recent experiences of many missionaries in closed countries have surprised those of us who live in countries where knowledge of Jesus is readily available. In many of these countries, Jesus has been appearing to people in dreams and visions. Afterwards, they receive a copy of the Jesus movie on DVD or a Christian explains Jesus. Paul tells us in Eph 1:4-6 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (NIV) Think about this for a while. Jesus isn’t going to let people He has chosen to be lost because they haven’t heard of Him.

Take a look at the attitude the leaders expressed when Nicodemus confronted them about condemning Jesus. John 7:52 They replied, "Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee." (NIV) They were not willing to even ask Jesus where He was born so it makes little difference whether or not they remembered the events thirty years earlier. They were still guilty of rejecting the Messiah. John 5:39-40 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (NIV) Jesus made it clear that they didn’t need the Magi or anyone else to testify that He was the Messiah. The very word of the Scriptures would have revealed it to anyone who was willing to know the truth.

John the Baptist, in the gloom of his prison started to wonder if Jesus was the Messiah. Matt 11:2-6 When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (NIV) Jesus answered by pointing out what he was doing among the people. John the Baptist would probably have recognized this as a reference to Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners… (NIV) These are the words Jesus read when He first went to a synagogue to preach. (Luke 4:16-21) He said that the words were fulfilled that day. He announced He was the Messiah. His deeds proved it. Jesus reassured John and also condemned the religious leaders of the day because they wouldn’t acknowledge His works proved that He was the Messiah. (John 10:31-33)

So Jesus didn’t need the Magi to prove that He is the Messiah. The sad truth is that today many reject Jesus because they are like many of His day who are ignorant and don’t bother to look up the facts. Others know the facts yet reject Jesus because they don’t want to submit to His authority.

Of all the events described in chapter two of Matthew, the one of primary significance was Jesus’ protection. Jesus had to die, but He had to die on the cross at the right time. He first had to prove to the world that He was the Messiah; He had to die for our sins, and then be resurrected. He had to teach His disciples and be betrayed by one of them. If Satan, through Herod, had succeeded in altering this, then all of us would still be in our sins. It would have proved that God was not capable of carrying out His plans. We would be in bondage to Satan forever without hope.

Aren’t you glad that this isn’t the case? God is sovereign. He has complete control over all the circumstances of this world. He will not let any of His people die without salvation. How do you know you are one of His people? Do you know Jesus? If you do and He knows you, then you can have the assurance that all things will work out according to His will.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Why Do Bad Things Happen?

More questions from Matthew Chapter 2

6. How do you explain why God let all these children die?

This is a question that I would rather avoid. However, it is a question that most non-Christians would want answered. Of course, most use this as an excuse not to have faith or trust God, so the possibility of answering the question to everyone’s satisfaction is impossible. Rather than answering directly, I think we need to examine the Bible and see what God’s heart is like.

Did He let this happen because He doesn’t care? If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard people say that the God of the Old Testament is uncaring and a God of wrath I would be rich. Things like these children being killed in the New Testament just add fuel to their arguments that God is not someone they want to trust or obey. Well, God does care. Regarding death, He had this to say: Ps 116:15 Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. (NIV) or as the Living Bible paraphrases what this means, His loved ones are very precious to him, and he does not lightly let them die. (TLB) Yes, God does let people die, some of old age, others of disease, natural disasters and even at the hands of evil men but it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care. For even in these dreaded cases He has a plan.

Since Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being (Heb 1:3) we need to see how Jesus regarded children to see if He cared or not. In Mark 10:13-16 it was evident that the disciples didn’t think that Jesus should be bothered by children. Jesus response shows that God cares for children more than we can imagine. Against custom, He wanted the children to come to Him. He hugged them and blessed them. He gave a command that parents should consider strongly – do not hinder them. What is worse, Herod’s atrocity or parents that try to keep their kids from Jesus knowing Jesus? Our society says it was Herod’s actions, but I think Jesus would say it is worse to hinder a child’s faith in God and so cause him to lose his eternal life. Mark 9:42 "And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.” (NIV)

Would all of those children who died come to a saving faith in Jesus if they had lived? There is no way we can answer that question. No one can, except God. Are they safe in heaven now because they died at such a young age? There is certainly arguments in the Word that they are. Did God let this happen knowing that they would be eternally safe? I can’t say that for sure, but that’s where I think they are.

What about those who are not like children but are wicked, how does God regard them? Ezek 18:23 "Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign Lord. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live.” (NLT) Unfortunately for those who want to carry on their wicked deeds, God does sometimes bring punishment upon them that leads to death. However, even in these situations, God would much rather have them repent and turn from their evil rather than suffer the consequences of their actions. The book of Ezekiel reiterates several times that God will relent from His punishment when people repent and turn to Him. I might add that people who want to reject God are not usually doing it because they think that God is unjust, but it is because He is just and they think that by rejecting His authority, they may in some way be able to escape the eternal consequences of their sin.

There are sometimes when God allows bad things to happen because He has a purpose that is beyond our understanding. We can’t see the personal development that will occur in the lives of many people as a result of the affliction that they suffer. Many people respond afterwards, that they grew closer to God during these tough times than during their times of affluence or ease. Those who blame God for the evil rather than see the good that eventually comes miss out on a growing trust in Him as well as becoming better people. Gen 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (NIV) Joseph didn’t become bitter because of what his brothers did to him. Instead, he trusted God even in prison and enslavement. Perhaps he didn’t really understand the full implication of what happened until he became second in command to Pharaoh and his brothers came in search for food. However, there is no indication that he blamed God or was even bitter toward his bothers.

Joseph’s attitude was more like Job’s and is what ours should be when faced with adversity and bad things happening in the world. Job 2:10 He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. (NIV) Job 13:15 Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him (NIV)

People always want to blame someone when evil happens, even those who cause the evil. Eventually they get back to God and try to blame Him. Look at Gen 3:12-13 The man said, "The woman you put here with me — she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." (NIV) Adam blamed Eve for his own failure to obey God and he also blamed God for giving Eve to him. Eve blamed the serpent. Mankind is always able to find someone to blame for evil. Instead of blaming Herod for killing the children, people blame God for not preventing it. In a sense, we blame Adam for all the evil in the world. If he hadn’t sinned, then the children wouldn’t have had to die. God warned him against eating from the tree, but his own moral failure caused him to disobey.

At the point of Adam and Eve’s sin, the whole universe went through a dramatic transformation. It went from a perfect environment without death or decay to what we see today. Rom 8:20-21 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. (NIV) Everything wears out and dies. The worst part is that we inherited that sinful nature from Adam. But look at what Paul said. There will be a time in the future when all this evil will be finished. God will take action and say enough is enough. He will restore the universe to its original perfection and maybe even better. The only reason we see it still happening is that God is still waiting for all that He has called to come to Him.

While we wait for that future we must take the blame for our own evils and not blame God for natural disasters or the evils of mankind. It is only when we acknowledge our sinfulness that we will be able to trust God and His goodness.

When evil occurs because of mankind’s sins, Jesus made it clear that we must place our hope in Him. Matt 10:28-33 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (RSV) Do you have an unshakable faith in the goodness of God? Do you believe that He cares for you as an individual infinitely more than He even cares for a sparrow? Jesus made it clear that the soul – our immortal self – is more important than what happens to our bodies. While preserving life may seem like the most important thing to us, our souls are much more important to Jesus. He wrapped up His comments by telling us how to make sure our souls will survive. We need to acknowledge Jesus. If we don’t acknowledge Him as our Lord and our Savior, we will not be able to escape the eventuality of death and eternal death in hell.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Who Is First?

More questions from Matthew Chapter 2

5. How many verses refer to the Child and His mother and why is the reference to Jesus first?

The Child and His mother is referenced four times in this chapter. This phrase is not repeated anywhere else. As we look at the events that are occurring, this is a reminder that this is all about Jesus and not about Herod, the Magi or even Jesus’ mother. Jesus is the central figure of all history and even when the world appears to be at its best (the Magi coming to worship Jesus) or at its worst (Herod killing all the children,) Jesus is the most important.

Twice Joseph was commanded to get up and take the Child. Both times, he got up and took the Child. Joseph didn’t hesitate to obey God’s command whether it was to flee or return. There is no indication of urgency to the return from Egypt but his response was the same.

When everything is going well with us, how often do we make sure that Jesus is still first in our lives? When things get tough are we also prone to forget about or even blame God? The writer of this proverb knew exactly how weak we are. Prov 30:8-9 Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the Lord?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God. (NIV)

The writer was so concerned that he would wander from the Lord if he had wealth that he even prayed that the Lord would not bless him with riches. Doesn’t this just fly in the face of what is taught in many churches today? Many people believe that if they are “good Christians” with enough faith, then they will be prosperous and healthy. However, the truth is that God knows that wealth is a huge stumbling block that keeps people from the Lord. The rich young ruler that approached Jesus to find out how he could have eternal life had been blessed with riches. They were more important to him than was eternity with God.

Mark 10:22-23 At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" (NIV) Rather than telling this man that his riches were a sign that he pleased God, Jesus told him to get rid of them and give them to the poor. This man would rather have worldly riches than please God.

1 Tim 6:6-10 But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang. (NASB) One of the things that helps keep Jesus first in our lives is being content with what we have as long as it springs from godliness. Many people are content with what they have, but they don’t have godliness. So don’t be fooled by those who have achieved some contentment in their lives but don’t have Jesus. They are only fooling themselves into thinking all is well. The key thing to consider in these verses is discontent. Note, that those who want to get rich, those who love money, and those longing for money are the ones that are going to run into spiritual trouble.

Want, love and long are all words that should be reserved for the worship of our Lord, not the worship of money. Ps 63:1 O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (NIV) Do we long for a relationship with Jesus as a person who is dying of thirst longs for water? Do we long for Jesus as much as we long for riches? Or would we rewrite the verses so that the angles would tell Joseph to save his own skin – oh, yes take the child with you also.

How do we respond to the opposite of riches? When we are facing poverty, a daily lack of food, clothing, and shelter, how do we handle these? Are we willing in these cases to also put Jesus first? The author of the proverb was very concerned that he would steal if he were tempted by a lack in his life. Note however, that his primary concern was that stealing would dishonor the name of God. When Christians respond to adversity sinfully, they are witnessing to the world that being a Christian doesn’t make a difference. Why would a non-Christian want to become a Christian if we complain, are angry, bitter and even steal when things get tough?

Look at what Paul said. He had more adversity in his life than most people. Phil 4:10-13 I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (NIV) Paul had taken a remarkable step in his Christian life. He knew how to be content regardless of the outward circumstances. It hast to come back to the same thing as with not falling into traps because of riches. The Child, Jesus, has to be first in our lives.

Jesus put it this way, Matt 6:31-33 “So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (NIV) The only way Paul could make his claim to be content in every situation was to put Jesus and His kingdom first in his life. He knew that as long as we focus our lives on things here, we will be subject to discontentment. Col 3:1-4 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (NIV) Paul knew that the only way to overcome the hardships of this life was to focus on Jesus and the eventuality of being with Him in heaven. There is nothing in this world that we can trust that won’t disappoint us. The world is corrupt and we can easily end up being in desperate need. Calamity can strike quickly and remove everything we’ve trusted. Car accidents, floods, earthquakes, fire, persecution, random killings, or illnesses all can leave us destitute. Only focusing on Jesus and eternity can get us through the worst of these without succumbing to sin to alleviate our problems.

Remember that the angel told Joseph to take the Child and his mother. Mary was very important to Joseph, but he had to make sure that Jesus was first. We need to put Jesus first.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

King of the Jews

More questions from Matthew Chapter 2
4. What title did the Magi use for Jesus and what is unique in the way they used it?

The Magi called Jesus the King of the Jews. It is evident that the Magi knew exactly who Jesus was. It would have been a diplomatic courtesy for dignitaries of another nation to come and pay their respects to a king’s firstborn son – the one who would succeed him when he died. However they didn’t come to the reigning king, Herod, and ask to see his son. Instead, they were asking people in Jerusalem. They most likely knew that Herod was not Jewish even though he reigned as their king. It is unique that they were looking for a king to worship. This was not a diplomatic formality; they came to worship.

The fact that they came to worship is telling of the fact that they knew who Jesus was. They would be quite aware that asking to see someone so that they could worship would be blasphemous to the Jewish population unless that person was indeed God. The Greek word they used for worship is the same one that is used over and over in the New Testament. There was no confusion whether they were simply paying respect or honoring Jesus in a human way.

Matt 4:9-10 And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. (KJV) Both Satan and Jesus understood the meaning of worship. In fact, when Satan asked Jesus to fall down, he was being redundant as the Greek word worship means to prostrate oneself. Jesus’ response reflected the central Jewish belief and custom. No one was to be worshiped other than God. Later, we find that Jesus accepted worship. John 9:38 He said, "Lord, I believe"; and he worshiped him. (RSV) Jesus didn’t reject this worship and so confirmed His identity as our God.

As I looked up various verses in the Old Testament regarding worship, I found an interesting fact. There are very few verses that say that we should worship God. More often, we are commanded to fear and serve God. The verse that Jesus quoted when rebuking Satan is Deut 6:13 Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. (NIV) In practice, fearing the Lord and serving Him resulted in worship. Acts of worship are displayed abundantly throughout the Old Testament. Our command to worship is most often stated in a negative way. Ex 34:14 Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. (NIV)

I think the reason that this occurs is that it is too easy for us to bow down to God and then get up and walk away feeling we have filled our obligation. In modern day application, it would mean going to church, singing some songs, praying and listening to a sermon. Then we walk out the doors to continue our life as we want. But God commands us to fear and serve Him. The difference is that worship can be simple outward conformity while fear combined with serving God requires inward heart conformity.

The nation of Israel struggled with this throughout their history. Ezek 14:3 "Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all?” (NIV) The Israelites hedged their bets – they worshiped idols at the same time they continued to “worship” God with sacrifices. If God didn’t meet their needs, then the other gods might. They viewed God as some kind of genie that would take care of them as long a they followed the rules. Their biggest stumbling block was that they didn’t love and serve God, but that they loved and served themselves.

Is there any difference between them and us if we are not truly serving God but expecting Him to meet all our needs and so that we believe He is actually serving us? Even Christians who have the Holy Spirit living in us can set up idols in our hearts. We worship those idols when we give them our best instead of giving it to God.

Well, back to the Magi and the title they used for Jesus, King of the Jews. The title was only used in a few places in the Bible. When the Magi ask to find Him, when Pilate asked Him if He was indeed the King of the Jews, by the Roman soldiers when they mocked Jesus and lastly, the notice Pilate nailed to the cross. Jesus only acknowledged the title when Pilate asked Him and the Jews only mention of it is when they wanted Pilate to change the notice on the cross.

Jesus talked of His kingdom and the disciples were looking forward to it, however it wasn’t time for Jesus to be revealed as the King of the Jews. He had to come first as the Messiah, the anointed one. His first anointing was to be a sacrifice for our sins, not to be our physical reigning king. Before we can properly worship Jesus as our King, we must worship Him as our Savior. We must understand that He is our sin-bearer, the sacrifice that removes our sins. To do that we must recognize our sinfulness and God’s holiness, otherwise we will not have a reason to seek a Savior. The appropriate worship for Him as Savior is to let Him know we need to be saved by Him and accept His sacrifice for us. We need to ask for His forgiveness. Then, to worship Him as King, we need to repent of those sins and obey Him. Serving our King is the way we worship Him. If we don’t serve Him, then we don’t worship Him as King. If we don’t serve Him, then our brief moment of worship as Savior is meaningless and we can’t really claim that we are saved.

I made a distinction between worship as Savior and King for illustrative purposes. In all practicality, they should be done at the same time. A big problem with many churches is that they never speak of obedience and serving Jesus, only getting fire insurance from Him. They believe that they can accept Him as Savior then do whatever they want. They are exactly like the Israelites who thought that as long as they carried out the sacrificial system, they could do whatever else they wanted and God would take care of them. As a result, there are many attending churches who believe they can do what they want, believe what they want and will be saved. They won’t.

Where are you in your worship? Do you worship (serve) Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords – King of the Jews? Jesus said in Luke 6:46 “Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?” (NIV) He went on to clearly state that whoever doesn’t put His words into practice will be like a house on a bad foundation and will be destroyed.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Astrology and Traditions

More questions from Matthew Chapter 2
3. Who were the Magi and how many came?

The Greek work magos is used to identify these men who arrived to worship Jesus. It comes from a word in the Old Testament, rab-mag that referred to a Babylonian official. The Greek meaning is an Oriental scientist and by implication, a magician. The King James Bible translates it as wise men.

A very unfortunate paraphrase of the Bible uses the word astrologer. I suppose that the person who did this was thinking that these were people who would have corresponded to the officials in Nebuchadnezzar’s courts in ancient Babylon. However the source of the Greek word would not justify such a conclusion. He may have even used the word because they studied the stars. However, this should have led to using the word astronomer, not astrologer.

The modern day concept of astrology is associated with the belief that the stars, planets, moon and sun have some kind of effect on us. They believe that by studying the paths of the celestial bodies, they can predict our future or determine what kind of person we are by our time of birth. This is attributing god-like qualities to objects that God has made.

One of the problems that caused Judah to be destroyed was their worship of the starry hosts. Jer 8:1-3 "'At that time, declares the Lord, the bones of the kings and officials of Judah, the bones of the priests and prophets, and the bones of the people of Jerusalem will be removed from their graves. They will be exposed to the sun and the moon and all the stars of the heavens, which they have loved and served and which they have followed and consulted and worshiped. They will not be gathered up or buried, but will be like refuse lying on the ground. Wherever I banish them, all the survivors of this evil nation will prefer death to life, declares the Lord Almighty.'” (NIV) At the time that Jesus was born, the Pharisees and others in control of Jewish worship were extremely legalistic. They were very aware of what had happened to Judah as a result of their spiritual adultery. If the Magi had come to town looking for a Jewish king and if they were in fact astrologers, I don’t think they would have been concerned that the Messiah had actually been born. They would have been more concerned about them introducing their religions practices. Rather than cooperate with them they would not want anything to do with them.

There is a warning in this that needs to be emphasized. When we read the Bible, we shouldn’t be jumping to conclusions and assigning our own wisdom to what the Word says. In this case, calling the Magi astrologers would lend a subtle validation of the current practices of astrology. However, as we can see in Jer 8:1-3, this worship of the stars and planets is something quite abhorrent to God. A new believer can easily be led astray if we aren’t careful about our teaching.

The question about the number of Magi is only upheld by tradition. Tradition says that there were three. There is nothing in the Bible that would confirm or deny that there were only three Magi. Matt 2:11 says that they presented three kinds of gifts (a possible explanation why tradition says there were only three) – all expensive and would be targets of thieves on the long journey. Surely, wise men would not undertake that journey alone. If we were to understand the times of the Bible, we would conclude that however many there were, that they probably traveled in a caravan with many servants and armed guards. Such a caravan would have impressed King Herod to give them an audience when they arrived.

The question could be asked how should we treat traditions? Could a tradition cause the same kind of problem as incorrectly translating the Bible? That depends on the tradition and how we prioritize it in relation to God’s Word. In the case of believing that three Magi visited Jesus, there is nothing that is going to counter God’s Word or cause us to go astray. It is a benign tradition.

Mark 7:6-8 He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." (NIV)

However, look at what Jesus had to say regarding the traditions that the Jewish leaders were teaching. I’ll be writing more about this when we reach the parallel passage in Matthew. In the meantime, it would be prudent to start thinking about traditions that honor or dishonor God. There are some that cause people to become quite adversarial. Some are with good reason and others without. However, Jesus came down hard on the Jewish establishment when their traditions trumped the God’s commands.

In Mark 7:9-13 Jesus zeroed in on how they broke the commandment to honor their father and mother by devoting their wealth to God and not using it to help elderly parents. He added “And you do many things like that." (Mark 7:13b NIV) Think about things, traditions or not, that set up idols in our hearts. Things that cause us to violate God’s commands in order to worship them. Just a couple of example: Husbands, love you wives. Does worshiping at the altar of work cause you to abandon your wife? Wives, where does your beauty come from? Do you worship at the altar of appearances?

Whenever self is on the throne instead of Jesus, we will set up idols to worship. We will use all sorts of excuses to please ourselves and traditions are only one of many that we can use.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Disturbed about Jesus?

2. Who was disturbed by the arrival of the Magi and their questions and why were they disturbed?

First of all, Herod was disturbed but it wasn’t just him, it was all of Jerusalem. This is the first hint in the Gospels that the Jewish leaders were not open to receiving the Messiah. Their first thoughts were not on how they could honor God and the Messiah. They were more concerned with the possibility that they were going to be booted out of power by this new king. Certainly that was Herod’s attitude. He wasn’t Jewish, he was appointed by Rome to rule over Judea.

However, that leaves the rest of Jerusalem. Why were they disturbed? Weren’t they the religious leaders, the ones that were following God?

To make it personal, if you turned on the news and saw a live coverage of Jesus descending on the Mount of Olives, how would you feel? What would be your thoughts? You know that Jesus is returning to take control of the whole world and that He will be reigning as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Would your first thoughts be about yourself and how you life is now going to be changed? You don’t know what is going to happen to the economy, your job, or your savings. Would you wonder if your country would remain a sovereign nation, or would it suddenly have to obey a bunch of new laws as handed down by Jesus? What would happen to your church, your denomination? Would you have to change the way you worship, would you now have to keep the Sabbath or not work on Sundays?

If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior and Lord and saw Him coming with the clouds and those crazy Christians were shouting that He was coming as the supreme ruler of the earth, what would you think? Would you try to fight Him so that you could retain your independence? Or would you feign obedience just to protect yourself? Is it any different when you hear someone say that you need to turn to Jesus to be saved? You may say you don’t believe in Jesus, but why don’t you? Is it really because you know deep down that if you admit He is who He says He is, then you need to be obedient to Him – you simply don't want to change?

Or would you be like the Simeon, Anna, or even the shepards? Luke 2:25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. (NIV) Luke 2:38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (NIV) Luke 2:15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." (NIV) Simon was waiting for Jesus to appear. He was old but God had promised that he would see the Messiah. He was living for that moment. Anna was also old and when Jesus was presented in the temple, she recognized Him and spoke to others in Jerusalem who were also looking forward to the Messiah. The shepherds were open to God’s message and His leading. They wanted to see the Messiah.

We need to be open to change every day when God brings about that change. When we read the Bible, we should be looking for the areas in our life where we can welcome the Messiah into our lives and make the changes He wants. We should not be looking for ways to keep the status quo but should always be asking God to reveal His plan to us. He may not reveal great and wondrous things as He did to the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna. But He may reveal to us ways that we can become more like Jesus.

Eph 4:23-24 To be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (NIV) As an example of welcoming internal change, this is a great passage. These verses are preceded (verse 22) by talking about putting off your old self and putting on the new self. I’ve read this many times. However, when I started committing them to memory they opened up much clearer than ever before. What struck me most was that the new self is created to like God in true righteousness and holiness. I really had to stop and think about that. This new creation that God has brought about in me is created to be righteous and holy. It isn’t just my ideas about righteousness and holiness but true holiness – that means God’s ideas and even more, the reality of His righteousness and holiness. That inspires me to let Him renew the attitude of my mind to be more like Him.

However, if you have never surrendered to Jesus, you don’t have an old self to put off and a new self to put on. Only when you turn to Jesus as Lord and Savior (the Lord part is very important – that means obedience to Him) then you are a new creation and not before. 2 Cor 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (NIV) If you haven’t surrendered to Him, do it today before He does come and it is too late.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Messianic Prophecies in Matthew 2

1. List the three fulfilled prophecies found in chapter two and their significance.

The first prophecy listed it from Mic 5:2 "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." (NIV). It is interesting to note that those who reported to Herod didn’t use the very last part of the verse that speaks of the origins of the predicted Messiah. His origins reveal that this verse applies to the Messiah and not to an ordinary man who would become King.

It is significant in that after hundreds of years of prophecies, the first one to be publicly fulfilled had finally occurred and only foreigner and shepherds knew it had happened. The last book written in the Old Testament was some 400 years earlier. This means that the nation of Israel had not heard from God through a prophet for a very long time. They had been waiting and looking for just this event. When it finally happened, they should have been overjoyed and all ran to Bethlehem to worship Jesus. Instead, only some foreigners and shepherds knew it and went to worship. You would also think that if they knew that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, they would have kept a watch on the town and every boy born there.

However, I think they had become apathetic about their Messiah. The predictions were so long ago that they didn’t really expect them to come true. The same has happened with many in the Christian faith. Take these words for example. John 14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (NIV) Acts 1:11 "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." (NIV) It has been almost 2,000 years since they were spoken and many Christians do not really expect Jesus to return. They may say they do, but they don’t keep watch. They act as if Jesus were not really going to return. They are like the Jews who knew the Scripture prophecies but could care less. It has gotten so bad that many denominations have “spiritualized” His return denying that He will physically retrun.

Where are you at? Are you watching (living your life as if He is going to show up any second) and praying that today will be the day of Jesus’ return? Or do you look at the prophecies and consider the length of time since they were given and conclude that the probability is that it won’t be today or even in your life time? Does this cause you to be lax in your commitment to Him? If you are not watching and being ready, then you are being disobedient. Jesus said, “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." Luke 12:38 (NIV).

The second prophecy was from Hos 11:1. "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." (NIV) Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, this is another prophecy that would be hard to identify as a Messianic prophecy. Matthew and others wouldn’t have been able to understand that this applied to the Messiah. It is significant in that God had to make sure that Jesus was taken to Egypt before the disaster came upon Bethlehem. It was so important that the angel of the Lord had to tell Joseph specifically what to do. He could have fled to many places so the destination was made clear. In obedience, Joseph did what he was told and another prophecy came true.

The third prophecy is from Jer 31:15. This is what the Lord says: "A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more." (NIV) This is even harder to understand as a Messianic prophecy. Historically, this happened when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem and decimated the population of Judah. At first reading, this is all about the tribe of Benjamin. Ramah was a city near Bethlehem belonging to the tribe of Benjamin. Rachel was Benjamin’s mother. What is the connection to the Messiah?

This prophecy was fulfilled because of the cruelness and wickedness of Herod. He was so obsessed with protecting his own power and throne that he set out to make sure that no boy anywhere near the age of Jesus would live. To do this, he not only killed all the children in Bethlehem (including his own son) but also those in the vicinity and that included many from the tribe of Benjamin, thus fulfilling the prophecy.

This massacre shows the extent to which evil man, inspired by Satan, will go to try to stop God’s plan. If Herod had succeeded in killing Jesus, then the salvation of all mankind would have been at risk. It would have proved that God was not capable of foretelling the future, that He was not capable of controlling circumstances to protect His plan, and it would have left God with no other plan to save us.

However, Herod failed in two ways. First, he didn’t take into account God’s sovereignty and His ability to protect Jesus. The Magi’s gifts gave Joseph and Mary the needed funds to flee and safely live in Egypt. God’s ability to speak to the Magi in their dreams ensured that they didn’t report back to Herod and gave Joseph enough time to escape. Second, by killing all the boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding towns, there was no one able to claim that he was the Messiah other than Jesus. He is the only survivor of those born in Bethlehem when the star appeared.

If God can predict these details hundreds of years in advance, then shouldn’t we be able to trust Him? Rom 8:28-29 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (NIV)

There is also a final fourth prophecy regarding Jesus. It is that He will be called a Nazarene. It is not in reference to any specific prophecy of the Old Testament. One thing is clear, the people of Nazareth were despised. Nathanael’s asked if anything good could come from Nazareth in John 1:46. In Isaiah 53:3, within the greatest prophecies about Jesus, we see that it is predicted that Jesus would be despised. By settling in Nazareth, Joseph ensured that Jesus would be despised even before He had a chance to prove who He was.

Even today, people automatically despise Jesus. They want nothing to do with Him even though they really don’t know anything about Him. A lot of people will say that they love God but don’t want to have anything to do with Jesus. However, Jesus made it clear. John 5:23b He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. (NIV) John 15:23 He who hates me hates my Father as well. (NIV) What do you think? Can someone who has proved his hatred of God by despising Jesus possible expect to have eternal life? There is only one way to the Father and that is through Jesus, the Messiah.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Prophecy and Our Response – Matthew 1:18-24

10. Give two reason Jesus came according to the angel and prophecy.

The angel said that Jesus would save His people from their sins that is why He was named Jesus, which means “the Lord saves.” The prophecy stated that Jesus would be God with us. The prophecy named Him Immanuel to make it clear that this was indeed God with us. These two purposes are interrelated. It has been stated before and it bears repeating. Jesus is fully God and fully man. There is no other way that He could save us from our sins. If He were God but not also man, then there is no way He could have taken our sins on Himself. 2 Cor 5:21 states, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (NASB) Since God is Holy, He cannot be sin. Since Jesus was also man, He could become sin. It is vital to note that He did not sin but God placed on Him all of our sins. Heb 9:25-26 makes it clear that when Jesus did this, He did it for all our sins, past, present and future because He only had to offer Himself once. He doesn’t have to die daily like the O.T. daily sacrifices.

Paul explained it a bit differently in Rom 8:3-4. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (NIV) Jesus came in the likeness of sinful man.

In both of these verses, we see Jesus taking on our sin and, in Him, we are able to take on God’s righteousness. Apart from Jesus there is no way we can partake in God’s righteous nature. So, by being Immanuel – God with us – He was able to then become our Savior and save us from our sins.

11. How do we know that the prophecy was for a virgin to give birth and not just the firstborn child of the woman?

Isa 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (NIV) People who try to point out contradictions in the Bible will often say that the Hebrew word used for virgin could be translated as young woman. The RSV Bible uses young woman instead of virgin. While this is correct, we have to understand how the Israelites of Isaiah’s time and the Jews of Jesus’ time understood the Scripture. Part of the problem arises because this verse is actually two prophecies in one. The first and most apparent was that this was a sign to King Ahaz that Rezin and Aram would be destroyed and Judah would be spared. In Isaiah 8, the first prophecy is fulfilled when Isaiah’s wife bears a son. In this case, Isaiah is the father. There is nothing supernatural here except the timing. So “young woman” would be an appropriate translation. However, it is also interesting to note that the Lord told him to name the child Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz rather than Immanuel. Perhaps this is why the future prophecy was still expected.

As is the case in many O.T. prophecies, especially regarding the Messiah, the short term prophecy has come and gone but the future one still needed to happen. Jewish scholars identified many prophecies that I would never have see relating to Jesus. The virgin birth is one of them. It isn’t as if the early Christians looked at Jesus and then went back into the O.T. and tied verses to His life and claimed prophetic fulfillment.

I don’t know exactly how the concept that young woman would actually be a virgin was revealed by God. However, it is evident that He did. In Matthew 1:23, the word used in the Greek is translated virgin. In Luke 1:27, Mary is described as a virgin. The Greek O.T. translation (Septuagint) of Is 7:14 used the same word for virgin. This means that those Jewish scholars who translated the O.T. (before Jesus was born) knew that the meaning of the prophecy for the Messiah required a virgin to give birth, thus ensuring that the Messiah is uniquely God and man.

Joseph protected Mary by taking her home as his wife. Moreover, he protected her virginity by not having sex with her until after Jesus was born. No one could say that Mary wasn’t a virgin at the time of Jesus’ birth. While that would not have been the point, through Joseph’s obedience it hasn’t even been brought up.

12. How is Joseph’s response an example to us?

The first thing Joseph did after waking up was to do what the angel commanded. We should follow his example in the speed of our obedience. You may say that you haven’t had an angel give you any commands lately so you are doing OK in this area. However, God does convict of sin. When we realize we have sinned, how fast are we obedient in repenting, asking forgiveness, making restitution, getting rid of the things that make us or a brother stumble? Do we give back to the Lord from what He has provided?

Second, Joseph didn’t have the New Testament to guide him but he did have the Old Testament. When the angel spoke to him, he was able to discern the implication of his task and that it was a Biblical command. He was to be instrumental in raising the Messiah. We seldom hear of people getting such clear commands in dreams anymore but more often hear of people who get commands to do un-Biblical things.

Anyone can have a dream or even have an idea pop into his or her head. He can then interpret it to mean just about anything. However when it lines up with the Bible, then we better pay attention. Knowing the Bible is important if we are to try to understand God’s will for our lives. Too many people are falling for cults because the cult leaders are getting revelations and vision that do not line up with Scripture and are being used to control the members. People who are eager to do God’s will but don’t have a good foundation in the Word will do whatever a leader tells them when that leaders says, “The Lord told me to tell you …” are easy prey for these cults.

Another problem is when people allow others to interpret the Bible for them. They will believe anything written in the margins or the notes. There are some Bibles on the market that have some very un-Biblical notes written by people who are very cultish.

Being eager to God’s will is good. However this is the attitude we need: Acts 17:11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (NIV) Do you go back over a sermon to see if the preacher was accurate and to see what he said was true? How do you know that he didn’t slip in just a small error that after a few months or years will lead to major error? I just read an article that showed how a simple comment with good intentions was then used to lead to major heresy.

I would like to think that Joseph was like the Bereans in his knowledge of the Word. This enabled him to recognize God’s command and immediately obeyed.

Friday, September 24, 2010

God’s Sovereignty – Matthew 1:18-24

8. What does it mean that Mary was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit?

In a nutshell, this simply means that God caused Mary to become pregnant without sexual intercourse. More details can be found in Luke 1:28-35, which speaks of the Holy Spirit coming on her and the power of the most high overshadowing Mary to cause this to happen. The Greek word that is translated to overshadow is episkiazo. Episkiazo (ep-ee-skee-ad'-zo); to cast a shade upon, i.e. (by analogy) to envelope in a haze of brilliancy; figuratively, to invest with preternatural influence. Preternatural simply means supernatural or exceeding what is normal in nature.

Luke was a Greek, a physician, and historian. He undoubtedly interviewed Mary before he wrote this account as indicated in Luke 1:1-3 where he says he carefully investigated everything in the book of Luke and again in Acts. As a physician, it would have been very hard for him to explain something like the virgin birth of Jesus; however, he was able to explain it in terms of who God is – supernatural and all-powerful. What God wants to do, He can do. He can and has laid aside the laws of nature on numerous occasions to accomplish His will.

This has to be one of the hardest things about the Christian faith for people to accept. It is so hard that many have denied the virgin birth. In doing this they have made Jesus fully man and not fully God. They deny what the angel told Mary. Luke 1:35 The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. (NIV) Note that Jesus is called the holy one and the Son of God. Neither of these things could be true if Jesus were conceived by natural means and Mary was not a virgin. If Jesus were not holy, then He would have had to die for His own sins. Denying the virgin birth ultimately denies that our sins have been forgiven on the cross. Jesus then only becomes a “good teacher.” However, as I’ve discussed before, if Jesus were not God, then He couldn’t be a “good teacher” because He claimed to be God.

9. According to the Law, what kind of public disgrace would Mary have undergone had the Law been imposed?

God’s sovereignty is seen again in Joseph’s actions after finding out that Mary was pregnant. It was quite clear in Jewish law that a person who had sexual intercourse while betrothed to another was guilty of adultery and should be stoned. Lev 20:10 If a man commits adultery with another man's wife — with the wife of his neighbor — both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death. (NIV) See also Deut 22:13-21 which would apply even in the case of Mary as any unfaithfulness during the betrothal would be punishable by death.

Even though the law would have required stoning, it was not always practiced. This can be seen in John 8:3-9 where a woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus to see if He would follow the law and condemn her to stoning. If He agreed, then they could report Him to the Roman authorities. In John 18:31, the Jews verified that they didn’t have the authority under the Roman government to execute anyone. In addition, I suspect that stoning was unusual because King David and Bathsheba were not killed when their adultery was exposed. See 2 Sam 12:13 where he is told he will not die because of his sins.

So Joseph, not even wishing to expose her to public ridicule wanted to quietly divorce her. We can again see God’s sovereignty as His angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. Consider what the angel said. Matt 1:20 "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife …” (NIV) More than likely, part of Joseph’s reason for the divorce was to protect his own reputation. He was afraid of the ridicule and perhaps even being ostracized in his community. Think about the ridicule that Jesus faced later. In John 8:38-41 Jesus claimed God as His Father and the Jews essentially called Him illegitimate.

When God is moving and directing, He often tells us the same thing. “Do not be afraid.” When we have eternity in mind, we don’t fear what other fear. Death isn’t the ultimate fear but our entrance to being with Jesus forever. In the rest of Matt 1:20-21 the angel confirms that Joseph didn’t need to fear because God’s plan went way beyond the unpleasantness of people’s reactions. The angel confirmed that Mary had done nothing wrong. (It is always easier to face accusations when you know they aren’t true.) But the most significant reason not to fear was that Jesus would save us from our sins. At this point, Joseph had the opportunity to go with God in His plans to save all mankind or to protect his own feelings.

Fears often seem overwhelming. But look at what the Lord told the nation of Israel.

Isa 43:1-3 But now, this is what the Lord says — he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; (NIV)

Remember all the promises in these three verses. They are repeated many times in the Old and New Testaments. God has created us, formed us, redeemed us, and calls us by name. It doesn’t matter what disaster strikes us, He is with us and will never leave or forsake us. (Heb 13:5) He does this because He is the Lord our God, the Holy One, our Savior. Joseph was reminded that Jesus is the Holy One, our Savior. Perhaps these words from Isaiah came to him as the angel spoke to him.

What are you going through today? Do you have confidence that God is with you in it or are you going your own direction and can’t claim these promises? I certainly want to be going where God is and to go with Him.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Anointed One – Messiah – Christ – Matthew 1:16-17

6. Jesus is called the Christ. What does the word “Christ” mean?

The word means anointed. Christ is the English transliteration of the Greek word christos. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for anointed is mashiyach. The English transliteration is messiah. Being anointed is nothing special, however when we look at several of the O.T. verses we can see why we use the word Christ and Messiah with a capital letter – they refer to Jesus, who is God the Son.
7. What verses can you find from the Old Testament that refer to this definition of Christ?

Ps 2:1-2 Why are the nations in an uproar, and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed: (NASB). In this verse, God’s Anointed or Messiah is clearly seen as a conquering king. Anyone who claims to be the Messiah must fulfill this prophecy. While we still wait for Jesus’ return to take dominion over the earth, we find His claim in John 18:37 "You are a king, then!" said Pilate. Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." (NIV) However, Jesus’ first mission was not to take control but to save us from our sins. The truth is that we all need a Savior before we can serve our King.

Ps 2:7-9 "I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, 'Thou art My Son, Today I have begotten Thee. 'Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Thy possession. 'Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, Thou shalt shatter them like earthenware.'" (NASB) The relationship between God the Father and the Messiah is established in these verses. The Messiah isn’t just an anointed king. He is God’s unique Son. The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time knew this, but hey focused more on the verses that showed the Messiah ruling the earth. When Jesus claimed God as His Father, the Jews tried to kill Him because they knew He was claiming to be God as well. They couldn’t comprehend the concept of the Trinity, yet paradoxically, they knew the Messiah had to be God. See John 8:12-58 where Jesus makes His claims to be God’s Son and God. The climax of His claim is in John 8:58 "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" (NIV) The Jews called Him demon possessed and then tried to stone Him. Later, in John 10:24-39 Jesus makes the same claims and they tried to arrest Him.

Ps 2:11-12 Worship the Lord with reverence, and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, lest He become angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him! (NASB) Dan 7:13-14 "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (NIV) These verses declare that the Messiah is worthy of worship. Jews knew that to worship anyone or anything other than God was breaking the first commandment, yet Daniel plainly told them that the Son would be worshiped.

John 9:35-38 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" "Who is he, sir?" the man asked. "Tell me so that I may believe in him." Jesus said, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you." Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him. (NIV) If Jesus were not God, but was a “good” teacher, then He would have torn His clothes and protested when this man, whom He had healed of blindness, worshiped Him. Look at Acts 12:21-24 where Herod accepted being called a god (an act of worship) by the people. God killed him. Look at Acts 14:11-16 where people tried to worship and offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. They tore their clothes and set the record straight. It was unthinkable for a Jewish man to accept worship.

Not all of the promises of the Messiah specifically used the word anointed. There were many other descriptions of the Messiah. Ps 16:8 because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. (NIV) This verse clearly speaks of His resurrection.

Isa 53:6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (NIV) He was destined to bear our sins for us because we can’t pay the penalty for ourselves. Isaiah 53 clearly speaks of the suffering Messiah. He was rejected and crushed for our sins. He was silent before His accusers. He was killed, yet had committed no sin. It was God’s will that He suffered for us. The result of His suffering is found in Isa 53:5 … the punishment that brought us peace was upon him … (NIV) Isaiah 53 is such a clear predication of Jesus’ suffering and mission, proving that He is the Messiah, that Jews do not read it in their synagogues. When asked about it, they deny it speaks of the Messiah, yet they can’t explain what it means.

When you see the word Christ, think of our King that died for us and brought us peace with God.

Friday, September 10, 2010

God’s Sovereignty – Matthew 1:1-17

This study in Matthew will be a little different than others. In it, I’m answering questions to a Bible study that I prepared several years ago for our home Bible study group. The format will a question that was asked and my answer to that question.
1. What is the purpose of the genealogy in chapter one?

This genealogy is recorded to show that Jesus is the rightful heir of Abraham’s promises. This is the legal genealogy of Jesus showing that, even though Joseph is not Jesus’ biological son, He has the right to the blessings promised to Abraham and the promises that were added along the way. He possess the blessing that eventually lead to the Messiah. The legal blessing is passed from father to son so it is important that Jesus’ legal father, Joseph, had his genealogy listed.

Abraham’s most important blessing is found in Gen 12:3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. (KJV) Indeed, all of us are blessed because of Jesus. Without Him we would all be condemned and have no right to eternal life with God. However, we are legally sons of God and have also inherited His blessings. Eph 1:3-6 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (NIV)

The physical genealogy of Jesus is presented in Luke 3:23-38. Since it goes back to Adam, it shows that Adam’s inheritance belongs to Jesus. Gen 2:15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (NIV) The earth originally belonged to Adam but was forfeit to Satan when Adam sinned. This is made clear in Luke 4:5-6. The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. (NIV) Jesus didn’t debate Satan’s ownership of the world. Jesus knew that the time would come when the rightful ownership of the earth would be restored. He didn’t have to bow down to Satan to get it. We will see Jesus retake His position as Sovereign over the earth when the events of Revelation 19 are completed.

The importance of His physical genealogy is to show that not only does Jesus possess the legal title to the earth as a son of Adam but to show that He is fully human. As a human he lived a sinless life and death. Because of that, His sacrifice was acceptable for our sins and we can be made righteous when we turn to Him in faith and repentance. Rom 5:17-19 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (NIV)

When you read this genealogy, think about our sovereign God who has directed the events over thousands of years so that at the right time, Jesus was born. Satan tried to thwart God’s plan over and over. He led Israel astray hoping that the line of the Messiah would be broken. Even through the Babylonian captivity, the tribe of Judah survived. This is probably why it is specifically mentioned. If our Lord can direct work the events of thousands of years, we should have the confidence that He is also in control of each of your lives.

2. Promises of the Messiah were made to several of the people in the genealogy. List them and provide at least one verse describing the promise.

Abraham has already been mentioned.

Judah - Gen 49:10 The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. (NIV)

David - 2 Sam 7:16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever. (NIV)

3. Kingdoms are usually handed down to the oldest son. List several of Jesus' ancestors who were not the oldest son.

The first in the line is Jacob. He obtained the blessing and inheritance by tricking his father, Isaac. Judah was also not the firstborn but Reuben was. David was the youngest of eight sons. Solomon was way down on the list of sons but David received clear instructions from God to put Solomon on the throne instead of the oldest living son.

4. Why do you think the Lord arranged to have ancestors who were the oldest, the youngest and anywhere in between? (Any verses to explain this?)

God knows who will serve Him in the way He wants. He knows everything about us, what we will say next, were we will go and what we will do. (Ps 139 1-5) He chooses the ones that will fulfill His will even though we make mistakes along the way. Jacob is a good example. He was a scoundrel but God used him. In the case of David, God gave a clear reason for choosing him over his oldest brother. 1 Sam 16:6-7 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed stands here before the Lord." But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (NIV)

There are many times when we also judge people by their appearance. I’ve heard many people say that if a certain person became a Christian, God could use him because of his talents. God doesn’t choose because of a person’s talents, He chooses then gives the person the gifts need to carry out his assigned ministry. This prevents the person from getting the glory and instead, giving glory to God. Even Paul experienced this in his life. 2 Cor 12:9-10 but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (RSV) How are we doing in this area? Do we delight in weakness, hardship, and even pain? Do we see what God can do with us rather than what we can do for God?

5. What is the significance of the four women mentioned in the genealogy?

Rahab was not a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In fact, she was supposed to be destroyed along with the rest of the inhabitants of Jericho. Besides that, she was a prostitute.

Tamar was the wife of Judah’s son two eldest sons, both of whom died without leaving children. Tamar pretended to be a prostitute and tricked Judah into an incestuous union which resulted in twin sons.

Ruth was a Moabite. Deut 23:3 No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, even down to the tenth generation. (NIV) So how did David, her descendant become the king over Israel only three generations later? And why did God promise David that the Messiah would come through his descendants?

Bathsheba (Uriah's wife) was an adultery. That should have resulted in her death but God spared her and David.
I think the point of each is that they were either considered outcasts or sinners which we would rather not have show up in our genealogy. God, however, wants to show that there is hope for even the worst of sinners and there is no such thing as an outcast when we turn to Jesus.