Friday, November 19, 2010

Speculation

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.