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.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Stability – 2 Peter 3:17-18

You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, beware lest you be carried away with the error of lawless men and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (RSV)

There are charismatic Bible teachers, who by persuasive words and even deceptive demonstrations of what they call the power of the Holy Spirit, lead people into error. There are others who repeat the error often enough that it finally sounds like the truth. Peter has taught us many things in this epistle so that this should not happen.

In chapter one, Peter has taught us that God has already given us everything we need to escape the corruption in the world and to live godly lives. He has affirmed that we are partakers of the divine nature – we have His Holy Spirit living in us. But we also need to make an effort to develop the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. If we don’t, we forget about our salvation and our lives are unproductive.

Peter also taught us about the certainty of the Scriptures. Unlike the teaching of false prophets, God’s Word, the Bible, is a product of the Holy Spirit working through the men He chose. Peter affirms his own eyewitness account of Jesus. He supports Paul and his letters as an apostle speaking with the same authority as the rest of Scripture.

He warns us about false teachers and how to identify them by their life style. In doing this, he also warns us about the judgment that will come upon the false teachers. If we are ever inclined to utter prophecies or teach, then we had better be careful, as that same judgment will come upon us if we are doing this out of our own power and not by the Holy Spirit.

What is even scarier is that Peter calls into question whether or not these people have ever been saved. These warnings are scattered throughout the book as he asks us to make sure of our own calling and talks about those who become entangled again in the corruption of the world after having had only head knowledge of Jesus. Eternal security only applies to those who have truly surrendered their lives to Jesus.

Peter reminds us of God’s patience and the judgment that awaits those who spurn His patience and kindness. While we wait for the final destruction of the heavens and earth, Peter calls us to live holy lives. Living as God want us will actually bring that day sooner. I suspect that for some, they may want to live godless lives so that the day will not come as soon. But even in that, God is sovereign and His plan will not be thwarted.

If we don’t hang on to the things about which Peter has reminded us, then we can become unstable. It isn’t surprising that counseling offices are filled with people who need these reminders. Jesus has been called The Rock. That is because He is stable. When we are firmly fixed on The Rock, we will also be stable. When we are carried away by error or our own sinful desires, we slip from The Rock and the warnings of Peter become manifested in our lives.

Peter’s final words are a command to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. That is the way to stay stable in our Christian walk.