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.