Sermon — Matthew 5:1-3

17 Nov

We begin today to take a look at some of the most profound words ever spoken: the Sermon on the Mount. The next three chapters of Matthew which we are planning to study give us the core teaching of the kingdom, what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus.

Jesus is at the height of His popularity as He begins the Sermon on the Mount and He takes this opportunity, when people are interested in Him, to teach about His kingdom. Jesus died for our sins and rose again on the third day. This is a fact, revealed in Scripture, happening in history and planned by God before the foundation of the world. It is the most important event that has ever taken place. But the death and resurrection of Jesus will not be real to you, it will not be precious to you, it will not make one bit of difference in your life unless the first verse in the Sermon on the Mount is true in your life. So let’s look at the beginning of Jesus’ great Sermon together.

We see in verse 1 that crowds are gathering and Jesus goes up on a mountain and His disciples gather to Him and He begins to teach them. And Jesus utters these words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Here’s the key. Here’s the key to the whole thing. If you don’t have this, you have nothing, if you have this, you have everything. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Why talk about this on Easter? Shouldn’t we be celebrating our risen Savior? Shouting for joy at His triumph over death? Yes. But what I want to say to you today is that many, many people, even some here today, have no excitement about Jesus’ empty tomb. Their lack of excitement is not because their life is hard. It is not because they doubt the truth of the Easter story. It is not even because they have just heard the story so many times before. Many, many people are not excited at all by Easter for one simple reason: they are not poor in spirit. That’s the connection. That’s why I talk about this today, because unless your life aligns with Matthew 5:3 you can’t really appreciate or even hope in the risen Christ. Matthew 5:3 is not only the key to the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, it is the key to our very life with God. That’s why it is worth talking about on this Easter Sunday. So let’s look at it for a few minutes together.

Blessed. The state of being happily favored by God. The state of joy and contentment that flows from living in the presence of God. This is not a shallow happiness nor is it the result of something good in us. It is a gift of grace, this blessedness. Many professing Christians are without this blessedness because they have ignored Matthew 5:3. There is a condition to this blessedness. Blessedness flows to the “poor in spirit.” If we are going to be blessed, we must be poor in spirit.

Jesus wasn’t the first to say this. We read in Isaiah 66; But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. When God says He will look to this one, He means that He will regard them with favor and blessedness. And who is that one? The one who is humble and contrite in spirit and who trembles at the Word of God. Blessed are the poor in spirit.

So Isaiah lets us in on what it means to be poor in spirit. It is not a lack of courage, it is a sense of our utter spiritual bankruptcy and our unending need of God’s grace if we are to know Him and grow in Him. It is the opposite of the proud Pharisee in Jesus’ story in Luke 18 who goes to the Temple to pray to himself, “God I thank you that I am not a sinner.” It is not self-confidence, nor is it a lack of self-confidence. To be poor in spirit means to be confident in God.

The world we live in worships at the altar of self-esteem and self-expression. Anything goes if it’s what I feel. The most important value is sincerity. But the Christian says with Jesus, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

Now everything around you and in you will fight this. The advertising world and the world of entertainment will hold up beauty and wealth and intelligence as the marks of honor and worth in our world. The pressure to achieve will outstrip all other values in the minds of many, so that if my grades are good enough or my job pays well enough or my volunteerism is noble enough or my children are sweet enough then I will be worthy, a cut above all the losers out there who just can’t quite get it together as well as I can. Or if I don’t think they’re losers, maybe I just pity their lack of enlightenment or ability. And when I fall into that way of thinking, I am walking right beside the Pharisee on the road to destruction, whether I am as religious as the Pharisee or not religious at all. You see, the people in our culture who yell the loudest about how mean all the Christians are so often act more like Pharisees than any Christian I know, because their focus is all on self, filled with pride and self-assurance. We love to boast in our accomplishments, which is why the linebacker does a happy dance when he sacks the quarterback even if his team is down 35-0. Blessed are the poor in spirit. If you get that, you’ve got it all, if you don’t, you’ve got nothing. As soon as you get away from your spiritual bankruptcy, you lose sight of your need of Christ. As soon as you lose sight of Christ, He ceases to be precious to you and you begin to lose the experience His power in your life. This can happen to Christians and non-Christians alike. Sometimes the more you come to know as a Christian, the more you come to rely on what you know rather than relying on Christ. Blessed are the poor in spirit.

Now let me be clear. To be poor in spirit does not mean that Christians are a bunch of underachievers who aim for mediocrity. Some of the greatest thinkers and greatest achievers in the world have been and are today strong Christians. Human achievement works on a different level, so that a God-hater may have a great voice or athletic ability, or a sharp mind, just as a God-lover may have these things. So I’m not saying Christians should aim low. We should strive for excellence to the glory of God. But here’s the thing — your excellence or lack of excellence does not define your worth in the sight of God and to hope in excellence or beauty or success or money is a surefire way to spiritual ruin. So do your best, the Bible urges us toward excellent effort in all things. But don’t lean on what you have or how you look or what you can do. Lean on Jesus. The person who is poor in spirit does not think too highly of herself and she does not think too lowly of herself. She really has just stopped thinking of herself much at all. Instead she is looking away from herself and to Jesus. “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness, I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name.” This is the freedom God intends us to have, a place where we can strive for holiness and for excellence without ever thinking of these things as a way to earn favor with God. We are already blessed because we look to God alone for our life and salvation. He is our God, so our track record of good works or our money or our work ethic never becomes our God, because He is our God. Blessed are the poor in spirit.

Oh, I want you to get this, because if you get it, you’ll understand the gospel and if you don’t, you’ll miss the gospel. The good news of the gospel is seen in the message of Easter: God brings life from death. As God raised Jesus from the dead so through the death of Jesus God makes us who were dead in our sins alive in Christ. We are saved by grace through faith, it is the gift of God, not what we do but what He has done, not our righteousness but the righteousness of Christ. Blessed are the poor in spirit. There is no way into the kingdom of heaven but this. There is no one in the kingdom of heaven who is not poor in spirit. Why? Because you can’t truly encounter God through Jesus Christ and not come away humbled. We see this when the prophet Isaiah saw the glorious vision of God in Isaiah 6 and his response was, “Woe is me! I am ruined. I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the king!” What happened to Isaiah when He saw the glory of God? Blessed are the poor in spirit. The same happens to us when we see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world dying and rising for sinner’s gain.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it this way. “The Christian and non-Christian belong to two entirely different realms. My immediate reaction to these Beatitudes proclaims exactly what I am. If I feel they are harsh and hard, if I feel that they are against the grain and depict a character and type of life which I dislike, I am afraid it just means I am not a Christian. If I do not want to be like this, I must be “dead in trespasses and sins”; I can never have received new life. But if I feel that I am unworthy and yet I want to be like that, well, however unworthy I may be, if this is my desire and my ambition, there must be new life in me, I must be a child of God, I must be a citizen of the kingdom of heaven and God’s dear Son. Let every man examine himself.”

My question for you this morning is which song are you listening to? Are you listening to the late John Lennon’s song called God, which ends with a long list of things he doesn’t believe in . . .

I don’t believe in Bible
I don’t believe in tarot
I don’t believe in Hitler
I don’t believe in Jesus
I don’t believe in Kennedy
I don’t believe in Buddha
I don’t believe in mantra
I don’t believe in Gita
I don’t believe in yoga
I don’t believe in kings
I don’t believe in Elvis
I don’t believe in Zimmerman
I don’t believe in Beatles
I just believe in me
Yoko and me
And that’s reality

That is one choice. Many people take that road. Jesus calls it a broad road that leads to destruction.

But there is another song out there . . . “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” “Just as I am without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me, and that Thou bidst me come to Thee, O Lamb of God I come. Yea, all I need, in Thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come.” Blessed are the poor in spirit.

Sermon — Matthew 3:7-12 — The Gospel: Comfort and Warning

18 Oct

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” I remember one time when I was a youth leader having a yard sale. Yard sales usually make very little money for the amount of time you have to put into them. So here I was with a yard sale at another church. And the people of the church brought all their stuff and we filled up the church fellowship hall and then people started coming. Before we started I noticed a big ceramic frog sitting on a table. I chuckled. It was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen. Big round bright green frog with a cartoon face. I said to one of the youth, “There’s no way anybody’s going to buy that frog.” Well, you probably know how the story ends. Somebody bought the frog during the first fifteen minutes of the yard sale. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And you know, that’s the way I think the gospel is to people. To some people, it’s worthless. To others, it is the greatest treasure in the world. Of course, in reality, it is the greatest treasure in the world, not because of how we feel about it but because God has made it so. The worth of all things is defined by God, not by us. Still, though, we often reject God’s view of things. Sometimes we even reject God’s view of things while still being very religious. There’s a whole category of people today who say, “I’m spiritual” but they totally reject what God has said about the realities of life. They are making a god in their own image and feeling good about it. And that is not unlike what the religious leaders of the Jews: the Pharisees and Sadducees, did. And this is why John the Baptist addressed them when they came out to see him. He wanted to call them away from their false image of God and themselves to a true and real repentance and faith. And so he points them to the comfort and warning found in the good news of the kingdom. This morning we’re going to look at Matthew 3:7-12.

 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

Wow, John, that’s kind of harsh! Calling these guys the offspring of snakes! Yet again, John is basically saying what we said last week, “Wake up!” The Pharisees and Sadducees were religious leaders, and as such they were the most likely to put their security in their own religious activities and not really consider the condition of the hearts before God. Have you ever wondered how preachers can fall into affairs and all kinds of terrible sin? It happens way more than we’d like to admit. And I think the reason it happens is because preachers, in bringing the Word of God week by week, sometimes lose the wonder of knowing God. We become inoculated against the very things we preach week by week. The condition of our hearts does not match the content of our words. The one thing all preachers and teachers must focus on most is their own heart. If I do not cultivate a heart of repentance and faith I am a sitting duck for hypocrisy. And so are you. This was the chief problem both John and Jesus had with the religious leaders: their inward life bore little resemblance to their outward life.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees were very different people. The Pharisees were numerous and popular, viewed as the upstanding, godly people of their day. They cared about the law of God and even built a fence around the law, coming up with additional regulations that were supposed to keep you far from breaking God’s law but which actually became a law unto itself that degenerated into legalism and formalism and self-righteousness and hypocrisy. Jewish heritage was all-important to the Pharisees. They saw their lives of purity as the key to national revival in Israel and the rule of God overcoming the rule of Rome. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were considered more liberal in their standards, rejecting the traditions of the Pharisees but also rejecting some truths that were clearly from God, like the reality of a future resurrection and a future judgment and the reality of angels and spirits. They were too sophisticated for such beliefs and they often cultivated a lavish lifestyle and sought cultural power.  They were respected because of their position and power and people in Jesus’ day, even as in our day, often considered a rich person blessed by God and a poor person cursed.

These Pharisees and Sadducees were coming to John’s baptism probably to check it out, maybe even to see if there was some way they could exploit John’s popularity for their own ends. John sees right through them and gives this stern warning.

John associates these religious leaders with the offspring of snakes. By calling them offspring John is probably connecting them to the corrupt priests of the Old Testament who persecuted the prophets. So John is saying the leaders of his day are just as bad as the leaders of yesterday. The religious leaders appear to be the cream of the crop but because of their hypocrisy they lead others away from spiritual life. In this way, they are like that original serpent, the devil, who led Adam and Eve away from spiritual life with the promise of a new and better life. Jesus will go on to make this association directly, calling the religious leaders children of the evil one.

John not only called out the religious leaders for their true identity, he also talked about the wrath to come. This would have struck a nerve with the Sadducees in particular, as John was making clear, contrary to their beliefs, that a judgment was coming, God’s wrath was going to be poured out. The way to get out from under that wrath is found in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.  Repentance and faith. Sadly, the religious leaders had neither. They were self-assured. This is why John gave them such a harsh message. The old cliché is right: “Good preaching comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” Consistent with the preaching of the New Testament, we find a holy boldness in confronting unrepentant people and compassion for those who repent. And both actions are loving, because without repentance no one will believe and be reconciled to God. If I saw my child in danger in the middle of the road with the truck bearing down on them but didn’t want to upset them by speaking to them harshly, I would not be loving them, I would be hating them. Having my child upset because I yelled to them, “Get out of the road!” is worth it, because that yell saved them from death. In the same way, a strong message of repentance to a self-assured people can be life-giving. John goes on to point to the weaknesses of the Pharisees and Sadducees in order, starting with verse 8 . . .

 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

This must have cut the Pharisees deeply. They were the pure ones, the examples of virtue for the whole nation, yet John says their fruit is rotten. Fruit in keeping with repentance is about recognizing our sin and turning to God in humble faith. The Pharisees were about recognizing the sin in others and trumpeting their own so-called acts of righteousness. Much like the fig tree with leaves but no fruit, the Pharisees had the outward appearance of spiritual life but there was no inward reality. The fruit of repentance for us is to walk in the light of the Lord, as we read in Ephesians 5:8-11, for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. So John’s first challenge, primarily to the Pharisees, is that their apparently fruitful lives are not so fruitful after all. His second challenge to them comes in verse 9 . . .

And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.

John goes after the Pharisees next on the matter of their heritage. Don’t trust in your hypocritical works and don’t trust in your heritage as children of Abraham. The people coming to be baptized were getting this. They were recognizing that they needed hearts of repentance and faith not merely blood relation to Abraham if they were to be the people of God. So they adopted the approach of the Gentile convert to Judaism by being baptized. “We’re just as needy as the Gentiles, we’re not trusting in Abraham’s bloodline.” This was an attack on everything the Pharisees stood for because they though salvation was theirs by right through their being part of the covenant people of God and here comes John saying what Paul will basically say in the book of Romans, “A Jew is not a Jew outwardly, but from the heart.” The heart is all-important. The kingdom is at hand. If you are going to get in on it, you have to repent. It’s really very similar to the discussion Jesus had with the Pharisee, Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” Everything you’ve been relying on will do you no good.

Isn’t it interesting that John doesn’t hold back from giving the bad news? I mean, we are so tempted to hedge on things like God’s judgment and hell because we don’t want to make anybody mad. We shouldn’t preach hell with a smile on our face, we shouldn’t want anyone to go there but we must be willing to warn people that hell is a reality with which we must reckon. So many times we want to get to the good news before we’ve really laid out the bad news. But that approach just leads to a bunch of unrepentant people professing Jesus with their lips and denying Him with their lives. Until we feel the weight of our sin against God and the reality of His judgment against sin, we will not be compelled to repent. And without repentance, there can be no true enjoyment of the good news.

So this is John’s message to the Pharisees: Don’t trust in your track record, and don’t trust in your heritage. Repent. In verse 10, I believe, he turns his attention back to the Sadducees . . .

10 Even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

The Pharisees were legalists, holding onto heritage and self-righteousness to make their way with God. So they needed to be warned that their works were not as good as they thought and their blood relation to Abraham was no guarantee of being in God’s family. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were worldly. They were about acquiring wealth and influence, they were very much focused on this life. So they needed a wake-up call about the true nature of reality, which John begins to give them in verse 10.

The ax is at the root of the trees. The root. That’s an unusual way to cut down a tree, unless you’re trying to be totally rid of a tree. Then you go at the roots. But here there is no stump, it is roots and all. Proud Sadducees, all your energies have gone into this life, building up your own little world of influence, making for yourself a legacy, but now the ax is coming down on the roots of that life, it’s all going to be taken from you and cast into the fire. There’s still time. The ax is there but it’s not swinging yet. So repent.

To bear good fruit is to live a life of repentance and faith. To bear bad fruit is to live a life of pride and self-reliance. Good fruit leads to life, bad fruit leads to damnation. So John is pleading with the Sadducees not to merely live for today, but to think about the future, to consider their destiny. In verse 11, he warns them of the coming of the King, a coming that comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

John makes a comparison between himself and the one to come: Jesus. John makes it clear that there is a stark difference between himself and Jesus. John is not worthy of to be Jesus’ lowly servant. Jesus is far more powerful than John. And Jesus will bring a very different kind of baptism than John, not a baptism of water for repentance but a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.

The comparison John makes is amazing because by earthly standards John is incredibly powerful and the Holy Spirit is with him. It is obvious that John was highly sought after by the people, deeply courageous in speaking the truth to the powerful and totally willing to give his life to the purposes of God. Jesus Himself would later say, “Among those born of women no one has arisen who is greater than John.” Yet here John says in comparison to Jesus he is not worthy to be the lowliest household slave. There can only be one reason why such a great man as John would say what he says here about Jesus. It can only be that Jesus is not a mere man. John is not speaking with false humility, he is just recognizing how much greater Jesus is than he is.

The same truth is clear when John talks about the Holy Spirit. It is clear that the Holy Spirit was active in the ministry of John. There is no way all those people would have gone out into the wilderness to be baptized if the Holy Spirit had not been working. I mean, it’s easy to get people to come out for a show. That’s true in church life and in life outside the church. Put together a show and people will come out. But John’s ministry was not a show. The people who came out were not coming out as spectators. John was calling them to an action, baptism, which would crush all their pride as Jews. Since baptism was one of the ways a Gentile converted to become a Jew, John’s ministry was a humbling and costly ministry to those Jews who participated in baptism. They were basically admitting that they were no better than Gentiles, that they too were in need of baptism. So John was not doing something that would have been naturally appealing to people. So for his actions to receive such a favorable response from the people is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work.

And yet John says that the One who is to come is far mightier than John. He says He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. So this coming One, Jesus the Messiah, will bring the work of the Holy Spirit to a whole new level. And of course we know the rest of the story: Jesus, dying for our sins, rising from the dead, ascending to heaven, on the day of Pentecost sends the Holy Spirit and He fills the believers there and all believers since. So John is not saying, before Jesus, no Spirit, after Jesus, the Spirit. He is instead saying, before Jesus: the work of the Spirit prepares the way, after Jesus: the fullness of the Spirit at work in God’s people.

And this is what the prophet Jeremiah had said would happen when the Savior came, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

So there is great comfort in John’s words because there is a great Savior coming who is going to deal with the sin the people are repenting of. It’s not enough to repent. That’s a starting point but repentance in itself doesn’t save us. Sin must not only be acknowledged and regretted and turned away from it must also be dealt with. And we, as sinners, cannot save ourselves from our sins. We need a Savior. Jesus has come to be that Savior. And when He saves us, he gives us freedom from God’s wrath, freedom from sin’s power over us, the promise of eternal life, the presence of the Holy Spirit and a thousand other gifts of grace. So John’s ministry, as powerful as it was, was limited. It was a preparatory, foundational ministry. Repent in order to prepare your hearts for the salvation that is coming. But if the salvation had never come the repentance would have been utterly meaningless. But salvation has come, full of grace and truth.

But I also believe John has given us a warning here, because not only will Jesus baptize with the Holy Spirit, he will also baptize with fire. Now this fire baptism has been debated through the years. What does John mean, he will baptize you with fire? And the reason it is debated is because fire in the Bible is used to illustrate both judgment and purification. Sometimes fire illustrates how God will bring judgment on a non-believer and sometimes fire is used to illustrate how God will refine or purify a believer. So which is it here? That is the question that people have discussed through the years. When I first started studying this passage I thought John was talking about the refining fire the Holy Spirit would bring in the lives of believers. But I now think the context of the passage points strongly to the fire Jesus brings here being the fire of judgment on unbelievers.

Jesus will bring the Holy Spirit to those who repent and believe, like the ones here who are coming for baptism. But He will bring the judgment of fire to the unrepentant and unbelieving, like the Pharisees and Sadducees who have come to see John. If you look at verse 10, you see a reference to fire, and it is the fire of judgment. If you look in verse 12, you see a reference to fire, and it is the fire of judgment. So here in verse 11, it seems that consistency would lead us to say that this fire too that Jesus brings is a fire of judgment.

 John MacArthur explains how this view of the baptism of fire being judgment in this passage is backed up by the prophecy of Malachi. He says, “It had been predicted by Malachi that the Messiah would purify the nation.  He predicted it.  He predicted that when He came He would come with fire, that He would purify.  But listen to me.  Listen to Malachi 3:1 “Behold I will send my Messenger he shall prepare the way before me”…that’s John the Baptist…”and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant…”  Now, what happens when He comes?  “…who may abide the day of His coming?  And who shall stand when He appeareth?”  Listen to this. “For He is like a refiner’s”…what?…”fire…And He shall sit like a refiner and purifier of silver…purify the sons of Levi, purge them like gold and silver…”  Now, this tells us that He’s coming to purify the nations.  But how?  By just removing the dross, just cleaning them up a little bit?  No.  Chapter 4, it tells us how, verses 1 to 3.  “…the day cometh that shall burn like an oven and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall be stubble…the day that cometh shall burn them up…”  In other words, this isn’t just purification; this is consummation…shall burn them up, see.  The fire predicted in chapter 3 is described in chapter 4 of Malachi as that which burns up, consumes the wicked like stubble.  And, beloved, John the Baptist, 400 years later, picked right up where Malachi left off and he says, Israel, He’s coming and He’s coming for salvation and He’s coming to baptize you with the Spirit, but if you reject Him, He’ll come with the baptism of fire, just as Malachi said it 400 years ago.”

Now you might say, “Well, I thought Jesus in his first coming did not come to bring judgment but salvation. And there is certainly truth to that, He came to save. But Jesus also by His very nature makes neutrality impossible: you must reject Him or receive Him. And this makes His coming, while a glorious gift of grace, also divisive. Jesus even says in Luke 12:49 “I have come to send fire on the earth . . . do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? No but rather division. From now on houses will be divided, family member against family member.”  So with his words about the ministry of Jesus, that He would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, John is comforting the afflicted (promising the repentant that they would have the Spirit) and afflicting the comfortable (warning the Pharisees and Sadducees that a fearful fiery judgment was coming). And verse 12 says that judgment is coming soon.

 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

The ax is at the root of the tree, the winnowing fork is in His hand. Words of warning. The winnowing fork is used to toss the grain into the air as a way to separate the good wheat from the chaff, the debris that is gathered along with the wheat when it is harvested. This verse is talking about the future judgment. Jesus will gather His people but the unbeliever will be like chaff that will be burned with unquenchable fire. The amazing comfort is in the security of the wheat being gathered into the barn. Nothing can touch it. It is safe and secure. And it is all gathered. And so it is for all who repent and believe. We are safe in the presence of God and forever can enjoy Him and one day will be gathered with Him forever. The grace of this passage cannot be overstated. For those who repent and believe there is the promise of salvation and a fruitful life and the Holy Spirit and the final gathering into the presence of the Savior, forever safe and secure. But the horror of this passage can also not be overstated. For those who reject Jesus the Savior, there is the reality of damnation, a fruitless life, the fire of judgment marking a person as chaff, worthless, only to be thrown out and burned with unquenchable fire. Unquenchable. Forever safe or forever damned, that is the picture Jesus is giving us here. Judgment and salvation will be thorough, no one will escape. And judgment and salvation will be right. There will be no mistakes. No wheat will be thrown out, no chaff will be retained. There will be no mistakes in separating believer from unbeliever.

This passage is a word of comfort to those who know they have nothing to offer God but empty hands of faith. It is a joy to those who are burned out, beat up and broken. All we need to do is repent and believe. Turn away from sin and turn to God.

But this passage is a terribly fearful passage for the secure. For those who feel like they have it all together, for those to whom outward appearance is everything. Our danger as churchgoers is that we never come to the waters to repent but we only come to observe. Our danger is that we never personally give ourselves to the life of the kingdom even as we are there watching it all unfold in other people’s lives. Our danger as churchgoers is that we become Pharisees or Sadducees, either leaning on our own righteousness or just writing off the reality of God’s judgment as being something not realistic. Trying to bring in the kingdom through our own wits and willpower or denying the kingdom altogether and just trying to build our own little kingdoms of wealth and fun and success. And John comes to us today and says, come to the One who is now here. Come to Jesus. He will forgive and restore and give you new life. The alternative is to go your own way and in rebellion face a fruitless life and a Christ-less eternity of punishment.  Isaiah 45:22 says, “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth. For I am God and there is no other.” Some today criticize hell. They act as if God is saying, “Love me and if you don’t I’ll send you to hell forever.” They don’t understand that we God’s judgment as the fruit of a faithless life. It is not arbitrary but is an expression of His holiness against sin and rebellion. As Christians, we do not celebrate hell but we dare not deny it. Our job is to offer hope to the hopeless and warning to those who are trusting in their own righteousness while at the same time making sure we don’t become hopeless or self-righteous ourselves. This is our message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is here.” That’s good news. 

 

Sermon — Matthew 3:1-6 — The Pathway to Revival

15 Oct

In America, there have been two Great Awakenings in our history: one in the 1700’s and one in the 1800’s. These were times of special spiritual revival that swept over our land and left our culture changed. There have been other outbreaks of revival here and there in our history but nothing as sustained as those two Great Awakenings. I think most of us would agree that we as a nation are in need of revival again. Not just an emotional stirring, but a deep work of the Holy Spirit that changes our lives and our community. Our year verse for 2015 was Psalm 51:12, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit.” This verse is a plea for revival because revival is about recapturing our joy in the Lord and re-establishing deep fellowship with Him. When He is changing us, He uses us to bless others. Spiritual fruitfulness comes when we are walking with God. But often for us there is a roadblock to that walk that keeps revival far from us. The passage we’re going to look at today is all about that roadblock. Turn with me to Matthew chapter 3. We’ll be looking at verses 1-6.

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

Many years have passed between the end of Matthew 2 and the beginning of Matthew 3. Jesus is now an adult. Matthew is not writing a biography with every detail of Jesus’ life at every stage. He is writing a selective history with a focus on the years when Jesus was most active in ministry. Verse 1 answers three questions: who?, what?, and where?

Matthew starts not with Jesus as an adult but with John the Baptist. John was a relative of Jesus, his mother Elizabeth was related to Jesus’ mother Mary. John became well-known for his ministry of baptizing people, so that even the Jewish historian Josephus makes note of John in his history of the Jews and calls him “John the Baptist.” So baptizing was John’s calling card, because the way he was baptizing people was so unusual.

The “what” in verse 1 is preaching. John is first and foremost a preacher. This word for preaching is connected to the word for announcing. John is a herald of the coming King, Jesus.

The “where” in this verse is the wilderness. This is where John spent his life and this is where he ministered. And there’s probably some meaning in that, although Matthew doesn’t come right out and tell us. John is walking in the way of prophets like Elijah, who ministered from the wilderness. But maybe John also ministers in the wilderness as a way of calling the Jews away from everyday life. I know for me I see life a lot more clearly when I get out in nature. The quiet of the land takes me away from everyday concerns and helps me focus on what really matters. The deserted wilderness with its quiet rolling hills would have been a strong contrast to the Temple in Jerusalem, with all its busyness and religious activity. Maybe the wilderness was part of the message. Get away from the hypocrisy of the religious leaders with their false worship. Get away from the power games and the use of God for self-advancement or self-aggrandizement. Come to this desolate place. See clearly. See that your own hearts are dry and dirty. In need of water to quench your thirst and water to clean you up.  In the city with all its hustle and bustle you can’t hear the message you most need to hear . . .

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

John’s message is simple but so profound. “Repent.” This word points to a total change of life and perspective. I see my true standing before God, I turn away from my sinful ways and I trust God for power to follow Him. And this was John’s message. And this is the roadblock to revival, our failure to repent. This message of repentance was a shocking message a message like the ones the prophets had given hundreds of years before. The reason it was shocking is because most of the Jews felt like they were secure. They were the seed of Abraham, the friend of God. The Lord had entered into covenant with them. They lived within a few miles of the Temple, the very center of Jewish religious life. And in the busyness of their lives and trying to get by in day-to-day life most people in Judea and the surrounding areas had assumed they were right with God because of this heritage and this background. And so there is a shocking sense to John’s message. Right from the start he is warning people that their religious heritage is not enough. He is telling them that if they are going to experience the coming kingdom of heaven, they have to repent. And so it is for us, if we would experience salvation, we must repent. Trusting in Jesus is about leaving and following, about turning away from sin and turning to Christ. Saying no to sin and yes to holiness. And yet many times people in church live in unrepentant sin and comfort themselves with the same kinds of things the Jews used for comfort. “I’ve gone to church all my life.” “I am a member of this church or that church.” “I was baptized in 1973.” “I read my Bible once in a while.” “I prayed a prayer when I was ten.” Am I saying we’re saved by works? No way. What I am saying is what the Bible says. A good tree produces good fruit and a rotten tree produces rotten fruit. We don’t seek to honor God in order to be saved, we seek to honor God because we are saved. And this honoring of God has to do with our hearts, with what we love and hate. It has to do with our affection for God versus our attachment to sin. So all these markers like walking the aisle or being baptized or joining the church or being involved in this or that in church, its all just rubbish if we don’t have a heart that hates sin and loves God. So John’s message is basically, “Wake up!” Stop making excuses.

Most of you who are tuned out right now are tuned out because you love your sin more than you love God. And you say, “No, I love God, it’s just you’re too boring or the music is too old-fashioned or the pews are too uncomfortable or somebody made me mad or the preacher didn’t talk to me enough.” And I just want to say to all of that, bull. If you’re tuned out right now, if you have no enthusiasm for God, no desire to worship Him, no joy in being here, the problem is 99 times out of a hundred that you love your sin more than you love God. Repent.

Why repent? Because the kingdom of heaven is at hand. What is this kingdom of heaven? It is God’s decisive action in the world to establish His rule. There is one sense in which God has always reigned. He created everything, He sustains everything. Yet there is another sense in which He people rebel against God and His reign. We try to build our own kingdoms and we can do a pretty good job of building a kingdom that looks pretty impressive on the outside. But the foundations are shaky, the structures are unstable and the story of history is simply the story of the passing of one kingdom after another. It will happen to America too eventually. We are a young nation. But there will come a time when our nation will be covered over by the sands of time. It happens to all earthly kingdoms, both personal and national. We spend so much time in our lives building our own kingdom or wealth or fun or family or friends or status that we fail to see that in the end our little kingdoms all crumble and we are soon forgotten. Most of us will only be remembered by a very few people, and truly known by even fewer.

This issue of kingdoms was something Daniel spoke about in the second chapter of his book. King Nebuchadnezzar had this dream about a statue made of four different materials: a head of gold, a chest of silver, thighs or bronze, and legs of iron, with feet mixed with iron and clay. And Daniel interpreted his dream. And here’s what Daniel said,

Daniel 2:b you are the head of gold. 39 Another kingdom inferior to you shall arise after you, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. 40 And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron, because iron breaks to pieces and shatters all things. And like iron that crushes, it shall break and crush all these. 41 And as you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom, but some of the firmness of iron shall be in it, just as you saw iron mixed with the soft clay. 42 And as the toes of the feet were partly iron and partly clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle. 43 As you saw the iron mixed with soft clay, so they will mix with one another in marriage, but they will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay. 44 And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, 45 just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure.”

Nebuchadnezzar was the leader of the Babylonian Empire. Then came the Persian Empire, symbolized by the chest and arms of silver. Then came the Greek Empire, symbolized by thighs of bronze. And finally the Roman Empire, the legs of iron. Yet even in Rome, there was the beginning of breakdown, as the Empire in its expansion became weak and diluted, like iron mixed with clay. There were four world Empires that ruled from the time of Daniel to the time of Jesus: Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. Then, the kingdom comes. That stone not made with human hands comes and breaks apart the statue, making it like chaff to be blown away by the wind. And the stone becomes a great mountain and fills the whole earth. This is the picture I believe John is referencing when he says, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” With the coming of Jesus we have God’s decisive action to bring the kingdoms of the world to nothing and to establish His reign over all. He will judge those who continue to rebel against Him and He will save those who believe. And He will do it all through His cornerstone, Jesus. Of course, the fullness of this reign and judgment is not going to happen not at the first coming, but at the second coming. But the point John is making is that with the coming of Jesus, God’s kingdom has entered into the world in a new way. Something decisive has happened, not out of line with what God has already done in the Old Testament, but as a fulfillment of what God has promised there. So the call to repentance is a call to not be left in the dust of the Savior but to be gathered to Him and to reign forever with Him in a kingdom that will not be shaken and that will not fade away. This is how high the stakes are when it comes to Jesus. It is the difference between earthly good and eternal life and earthly emptiness and eternal damnation. John wakes us up to the reality that what we talk about here on Sunday morning and what we do in our lives day-by-day is not a joke and it is not optional. We don’t play around with these things. We don’t try on the kingdom like a new sweater. We don’t say, “Let’s change the message so we can get a few more people in the door or keep the ones we already have.” We don’t back down not because we want to be stubborn but because the stakes are eternal. And we don’t water down because we don’t want to give people false assurance like so many of the Jews of John’s day had. We preach repentance and faith for salvation. Because we are part of a kingdom. And the King demands the allegiance of His subjects. Therefore repent.

There is no doubt that repentance is the key to revival. Not just sorrow over sin or sadness at being caught but a deep-down, gut-wrenching recognition of our sinfulness that results in our calling out to God for mercy and for power to live a holy life. Repentance is John’s message because he wants to see revival. Do you want to see revival? Be careful. Make sure your real heart is not, “I want to see us have more people, new members, so we can feel like the church is going well.” Watch out. Watch out that your heart is not more for West Hickory Baptist Church than for the kingdom of heaven. I’m talking to myself too. It’s so dangerous. No, we want to see revival because we want spiritual life and growth. Why be half-hearted? This is why God so hates the lukewarm. If these truths are touching your heart today, go for it. Don’t hold anything back. Believe the good news and walk with Jesus. Let go of your need to succeed or to possess or to control. Believe the good news that there is a King and you’re not Him. Repent, the kingdom is here. But John is not the King. Look at verse 3 . . .

For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

     “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

     ‘Prepare the way of the Lord;

make his paths straight.’ ”

I love Matthew’s insistence of sticking close to Scripture, don’t you? He’s always looking for connections to what God has said before. He doesn’t use the word “fulfilled” here, he seems to reserve that for words about Jesus. Yet he clearly thinks Isaiah 40:3 speaks about John. “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.” This verse reminds us of the passion of John. He is crying out in the wilderness. I am afraid that our own sin, the hard knocks of life and lack of affection for God has robbed us of our passion. I want to be like John the Baptist. I want to be passionate for Jesus. I know that there are lots of personalities in this room but there is no personality that keeps you from being passionate for Jesus. You may express it a little differently than me but by all means express it. Cry out to God in prayer and cry out for God in the world around you.

Verse 3 also reminds us of the necessity of repentance. John calls us to prepare the way of the Lord and make straight His paths. How do we do that? Through repentance, through turning away from our sin. The book of Joel contains the great promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit which was fulfilled in Acts. But right before the Spirit is promised in chapter 2, we read these words, “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. The promise of the pouring out of the Spirit follows a call to repentance. And with our year verse from Psalm 51, restore to me the joy of your salvation, remember that Psalm begins with David’s deep confession of his sin. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your love, blot out my transgressions. Against You, You only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” So it is here in Matthew as well. Repentance prepares us to receive God’s blessings.

Finally, verse 3 teaches us that John is only a forerunner to the true King. John’s role is preparatory. He is a messenger of the King. His ministry is meant to point to the King. How easy it would have been for John to make the ministry all about Him. We will see in this passage that he was wildly popular. Yet he was also incredibly humble. What a warning to all Christians, especially pastors and teachers, to remember that we are just messengers of the King. I get concerned when I see churches today that are recognized more for their Senior Pastor than for Jesus. I get concerned today when I see the culture of celebrity that surrounds so many Christian figures in our time. I can’t help feeling like Jesus is getting obscured. And it can happen in small places as well, where some person in the church, pastor or otherwise, can put themselves on a pedestal. But how dangerous is this focus on men and women. How careful we must be to keep Jesus first in our hearts. Verse four shows us John remembered who was King, not only by his words but also by his lifestyle.

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.

Many who have studied this passage have made note of John’s simple lifestyle. His highest concern was proclaiming Jesus. R.C.H. Lenski says, “His very appearance was a stern sermon. It was a call to all those who made food and drink, house and raiment their chief concern in life to turn from such vanity and to provide far more essential things. He was a living illustration of how little man really needs here below—something we are prone to forget. And by drawing people out into the wilderness John made them share a bit of his own austere life. Men left their mansions, offices, shops, their usual round of life, and for a time at least gave their thoughts to higher things.” And John stood in stark contrast to so many of the religious leaders of his day, especially the Sadducees, who tended to live luxurious lives. How about us? John’s simplicity should challenge us as we consider how much stock we often put in having this thing or that thing. They are just things. The new car, the computer, the new phone, the new outfit, the new book, the good meal. They are just things. John got along just fine in the wilderness eating bugs and honey wearing a scratchy suit of camel’s hair. Would we be OK with that? Or would we fall apart if all our props were taken away? Oh, this is challenging. We know Jesus said, “You can’t serve two masters. You can’t serve God and money.” And you know, it doesn’t really matter how much or little you have. It matters what you do with what you have, whether God has your heart or money has your heart. John shows us that a kingdom focus leads away from an obsession with possessions.

John was not only making a statement about single-minded devotion to God by his lifestyle, he was also again acting like a prophet. We read of the description of Elijah in 2 Kings 1:8 They answered him, “He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”

The prophet Malachi had said in Malachi 4, Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. Most Jews believed that the prophet Elijah, who had been taken up to heaven, would come back. But Jesus, in Matthew 11, gives us a different perspective. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. So Jesus is telling us, Elijah has come, the kingdom is here, repent and believe the good news.

This new prophet, coming some 400 years after the close of the Old Testament, was making quite an impression. Look at verses 5 and 6 . . .

Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

People from the regions all around are going to John. It is possible that John baptized thousands of people. It seems like the Holy Spirit is moving in this passage and I say that not because of how many people are going to John but because of what they are doing when they go to him. They are being baptized in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. The baptism was amazing in itself. The Jews had nothing like this in their experience. There were ritual washings in the temple and things like that. Where we find a parallel to what John is doing is among Gentiles who wanted to become Jews. Throughout history many non-Jewish people, in seeing the religion of the Jews, have desired to become Jews themselves. These Gentiles were allowed to become Jews through three steps: being circumcised, offering a sacrifice in the Temple, and being baptized. This baptism symbolized repentance and cleansing and entrance into the people of God. So what is so amazing here in verses 5 and 6 is that the Jews are submitting to baptism, something normally reserved for Gentiles. So they are admitting through baptism that they are no better than Gentiles, that they too need to be forgiven, inwardly changed and living with a heart of faith if they are going to be part of God’s family. So it is an amazingly humble thing they are doing here, especially since most Jews were taught to look down on Gentiles. And yet great crowds willingly submit to baptism, confessing their sins. What a joy! Visible and verbal signs of repentance. John’s mission is being accomplished. The way for the King is being prepared.

This morning, is your heart prepared for the King? Or has your heart grown cold because of obsession with the things of this world? Or has your heart grown dark because it is focused on sin? Is your heart hard because of bitterness toward others or even toward God? Is your heart calloused because you have repeatedly ignored the saving Word that comes to you? John’s message was so simple, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” My message is simple too, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is here.” Jesus has come. He has lived a perfect life. He has died on the cross in the place of sinners, the perfect, acceptable sacrifice. He has risen from the dead, defeating death and sin. He has ascended to heaven where He reigns and intercedes for us. He is coming again to judge all people, bringing home His own and damning those who have rebelled against His reign. If your heart is not singing over these truths, if your life is not bearing the good fruit of love, joy, peace and all the rest, repent. Maybe you need to repent and believe for the first time, maybe you’ve never trusted in Jesus to save you. There may be children here or young people or maybe even some older people for whom that’s true. Turn to Jesus today. There’s no age requirement for the kingdom. If you have understood what Jesus has done for you repent, turn away from your sin and trust in Jesus to save you. Just call on Him right now. And then, when we start to sing in a minute, come up here to the front and share with us what you have done. God would be honored through that. Maybe today you know you are a Christian. You have trusted Jesus to save you, but you have drifted. Your heart is not right. Today is the day to come home. Today is the day to re-align your heart to the heart of God. Today is the day for revival to sweep your heart. I want to say to everyone this morning, we may hope for more from our life as a church. And we may make plans or have ideas of how things can be better. Everyone does and most people’s plans for the church are more about what would make them comfortable and happy than what would honor God. But what I am calling us to today is not comfortable. The call to repentance will hurt, because it is an admission that we have been falling short. And the call to repentance will cost us something, because repentance means a change of life. But the call to repentance is worthwhile, because repentance is the gateway to revival.

Sermon — Matthew 2:1-12 — “The Wise Men of Worship”

10 Oct

There are really three main responses people have to Jesus: apathy, opposition or worship. In our world we see all three of these responses regularly and in fact probably all of these responses are present in this service this morning. Only one response is right and the wise men show us the way. Turn with me to Matthew chapter 2 . . . 

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

As we come to verse 1 we find that time has passed since the account we looked at last week from Matthew 1:18-25. Jesus has now been born. Matthew doesn’t give us the details of His birth, we have to go to Luke to find that story. Matthew focuses instead on the circumstances around Jesus’ birth, the people and places important to the story. We see Bethlehem of Judea highlighted. Bethlehem, the name means “house of bread,” the hometown of King David, prophesied in Micah as the birthplace of the Messiah and in fact the place where Jesus, the bread of life, was born. We see Herod the King highlighted. It was in his day that Jesus was born. Herod reigned 33 years in Judea. He was a descendant of Esau, an Edomite, thus he was looked upon by many Jews as a less than desirable king, since he was not from the family line of Jacob, of the people of Israel. Herod was a wicked king. He was deeply paranoid, putting one of his wives and at least two of his sons to death. He also accomplished much, building great works in Jerusalem and re-building the temple into a glorious structure, a project he began but would not live to its completion. Herod died within a year or two of Jesus’ birth.

And then we find these wise men from the east. Matthew tells us to behold them. He is clueing us in to their significance by telling us to sit up and pay attention. These wise men were from the east and that is about all we know for sure about them. The Greek word behind the English words “wise men” is the word magi and this word has a broad range of meanings. The best way to understand the magi is to say they were seeking wisdom and using the methods of their culture (seeking signs in the heavens) to do so. They were not fortune telling astrologers but they were not exactly scientific astronomers either. They were from the east. This means they could have been from anywhere east of Judea. Most likely they were from Babylon. The reason I say this is that they seem to have some knowledge of the Old Testament, in that they come to Jerusalem seeking wisdom about this sign in the heavens they had seen. They are connecting this star with the Messiah when they say, “Where is the one born king of the Jews. We saw His star when it rose and we have come to worship Him.”   The people of Judah had, about 500 years earlier, been taken captive to Babylon. It is there that the story of Daniel takes place. And it is there that the Scriptures Israel had received from God were preserved by a people in exile. We find something very interesting in Daniel 2:48. It says, Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. Daniel had been chief over the wise men centuries before. The Hebrew Scriptures had been in Babylon during that time. Could it be that these wise men from the east were men from Babylon who’d seen the wisdom of the Scriptures and connected the appearance of this star to what they knew of the God of Israel and His promise of a Messiah, a great King? Because of the importance the exiled Jews placed on the law of God, the wise men would have been especially exposed to the law, the first five books of the Old Testament. And in those books there is the prophecy of Balaam, found in Numbers 24:17, where we read, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;” And so these Gentile wise men from Babylon come in response to the Word of God and the sign they have seen, to Jerusalem. God’s heart for the nations shines through from the very beginning in the gospel of Matthew and here it is again. God goes to special lengths to show the nations the glory of His Son’s coming. These verses show us what a great and sovereign God we serve. God used the worst of circumstances, the exile of Judah to Babylon, to prepare the way for the star to be seen centuries later. God used Daniel and the other Jews in the exile in ways they couldn’t have imagined to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. In Judah’s darkest hour, God was bringing together His saving plan. Maybe He’s doing the same here at West Hickory or in your life right now. Praise our sovereign God, who rules in and through all things!

The wise men see the star, and they come to worship the Messiah. But when Herod hears this news, there is a very different response.

 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;

This verse seems to indicate that Herod came to the knowledge of the wise men second hand, they did not come directly to him but that he heard of it because the city had been stirred up by the arrival of the wise men. And when Herod heard it, he was troubled. What a different response than that of the wise men. The reason on one level is obvious. Herod is the king of the Jews. This one born the king of the Jews was a threat to his throne.  Herod was feeling threatened, threatened enough to lash out to eliminate this rival to the throne, as we will see next week. But Herod also feared this one born king because he understood that the wise men were not pointing merely to a king, but to the Messiah. Herod doesn’t seem to know much about the Messiah but the one thing he did know was that the Messiah would be a world changer. For the person in control change is a great threat. Everyone in Judea knew that Messiah would bring change and most people wanted that change, except Herod. The people wanted to be out from under Roman domination and out from under the thumb of the wicked Herod, so they were stirred up just as Herod was but not for the same reason.

Herod was troubled by the threat of a new king, even the Messiah, on the horizon. The people of Jerusalem were threatened probably by what Herod might do to any movement that arose in support of this Messiah King. So Herod was troubled by the news of the Messiah and the people were troubled by Herod’s possible response to this news. The next passage we will look at shows us that the people had good reason to be worried. But don’t miss the contrast here: the Gentile magi travel over land 800 miles to worship the Messiah King while Herod and the people of Jerusalem are upset at the thought of such a King.  He came to His own and His own received Him not, even from the beginning. Herod shows us more of his worst qualities in verse 4 . . .

and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

Herod does what any politician in the same boat would do, he calls together a committee of experts to get more information. He gets together the chief priests and the scribes, who were not just copyists of the Scriptures but were also experts in the contents of the Scriptures. And Herod asked them where the Christ was to be born. Notice that Herod asks about the Christ, so it is clear that he thinks the wise men, in talking about the one born king of the Jews are not just talking about a rival to the throne but are talking about the promised Messiah. Herod knew Messiah had been promised, but he knew none of the details. A prophecy that had been given 400 years earlier and was widely accepted by Jews to prophesy the birthplace of the Messiah, was totally unknown to the king of the Jews, Herod. So not only was Herod paranoid and power-hungry, he was spiritually ignorant. He had to call the religious leaders together for a basic fact about the Messiah. The wise men too had a degree of spiritual ignorance, for they seem unaware of this prophecy. But the difference is that the wise men were seeking to know the Messiah while Herod had no interest in the Messiah until He became a threat. Ignorance is not a problem as long as you are seeking to know the truth. Those who seek the Lord will find Him. Jeremiah and James and numerous other places tell us this: seek and you will find.

Herod wants to find so that he can destroy, so he listens to the answer in verses 5-6 . . .

 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet“ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

The scribes and chief priests knew the answer right away. The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. The prophet Micah foretold it. A ruler to shepherd the people would come from Bethlehem. You might think that doesn’t sound like the Messiah but just like an ordinary king. But Micah goes on to say in chapter 5, “His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity… And He will arise and shepherd His flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain, because at that time He will be great to the ends of the earth.” That definitely sounds like the Messiah. It even sounds like John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word.” And notice, “He will be great to the ends of the earth.” And what do we see here? We see wise men from the ends of the earth coming to worship Him. It really is the reverse of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, whether in Exodus or in Daniel or in other places, faithful Jews like Moses or Daniel overcome foreign magicians and wise men by the power of God. But here in Matthew 2 the roles are reversed, it is the foreign wise men who prove superior to the Jewish religious leaders and their king.

Herod is focused on the whereabouts of the Messiah, the wise men are focused on worshiping the Messiah. I think this has a great deal to teach us. We ask all kinds of questions in our lives. And that is good. We need to understand what is going on and questions are a good way to do that. We even ask questions of God. What? Why? How? Where? When? These are all real questions we ask of God and people in the Bible ask them at times. But the most important question we can ask God is Who? Who are you? If we know the Who of life so many other questions get answered. Don’t expend all your energies on why’s and how’s. Ask a lot of who questions and then seek out their answers in the Scriptures and prepare for your life to be transformed as you come to know God better and better each day.

We see in verse 7 that Herod is still asking the wrong questions . . .

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.

This time Herod wants to know when and his religious leaders can’t give him that answer, he has to get it from the wise men, who received the sign of the star. Only they can give him the info he wants. So he calls them secretly. The secret meeting was all part of his plan. Like a good politician, Herod is planning several steps ahead. He will call the wise men secretly and find out when they had received this sign. Then he can determine how old the child was. He does all this secretly so that he is not seen giving an audience to these wise men which might be seen as an endorsement of what they are saying. The secret meeting allows Herod to distance himself from the wise men’s claims of the Messiah while also allowing Herod to get key information to deal with the child born in Bethlehem.

 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”

Matthew doesn’t give us the reply of the wise men to Herod, but we assume that they told him something about when they had seen the star. So he sends them to Bethlehem on a careful search and tells them to let him know what they had found so that he too may worship this child. Of course, Herod had no intention of worshiping Jesus, he wanted Him dead. The wise men may or may not have known Herod’s true intentions, but his actions point toward evil from the beginning. He is interested in information about Jesus for his own purposes. He is not interested in worshiping Jesus. After all, if the Messiah has been born, why doesn’t Herod go check it out himself, or at least send a party to search on his behalf? And the religious leaders, the priests and scribes, why aren’t they involved? We have here the ultimate contrast. The Gentile wise men, with little knowledge but a great heart, search to the end for the Messiah with the goal of worshiping Him. The Jewish religious leaders, with great knowledge but a dead heart, don’t search at all for the one reported to be their Messiah. They have no desire to worship the one the very Scriptures predicted would be their Savior. In thinking about this I was reminded of Jesus’ later words to the religious leaders in John chapter 5, “You search the Scriptures because you think you have in them eternal life but you refuse to come to me to have life.” May we not be a people like the religious leaders, filled with knowledge but ultimately apathetic, with no desire to worship Jesus. The other contrast is King Herod, who had little knowledge and a dark heart, plotting to eliminate the Messiah when he found Him. So for us, let us not be like Herod, hostile to Jesus, seeking to shut Him out of our lives. These are the ways people respond to Jesus: apathy, hostility or worship. Which of these characterizes your life today? Any of these three responses is possible, but only one is good. The wise men show us the way . . .

After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.

After hearing Herod the wise men go straight to Bethlehem and Matthew tells us to behold, check it out, the star they had seen moves to rest over the place where the child was. This movement shows us that lots of the popular explanations for what the wise men saw, the conjunction of planets or a supernova or a comet are probably wrong. Like God led the Israelites through the pillar of cloud and fire in Exodus so here He leads the wise men through the star. God’s guidance supernaturally goes before them in the star. Again, I can’t answer all the how questions but I can answer the who question: Jesus is there. And these Gentiles are going to worship Him. And the reason they are going to worship Him is God’s sovereign grace. They were pagans. They looked to the earth for signs and searched for wisdom anywhere they could find it. But when God was pleased to reveal Himself to them they followed. And what knowledge they had they believed and literally walked in. God chose them and they followed and so they provide a great model for us of what it is to live as a godly man or woman. And the religious leaders provide us such a horrible model. Don’t worry about how much you know about God, just seek to live what you already know, and God will reveal more to you day by day. The lengths God goes to bring us to Himself are amazing. He moved the heavens so that these men could know Jesus. He moves in powerful ways to reveal Himself to us still.

And when He reveals Himself, our response is the same as what we see in verse 10 . . .

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.

Those who should have rejoiced at the coming of the Messiah shrugged their shoulders while the unexpected ones, the wise men from afar, rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. You can’t pile up your joyful words much more than that, can you? I want to recapture that joy, don’t you? I want that this year. This is our year verse, Psalm 51:12 “Restore to me the joy of your salvation. And sustain me with a willing spirit.” The wise men have both. Joy in Jesus and a desire to follow Him. Real worship is nothing less than true joy in God. We see Christ as so great and so worthy and so good and so lovely that we are overwhelmed with desire to praise Him. Our hearts overflow with His praise. If that’s going to happen we have to have a laser-like focus on Jesus. Fix your eyes on Him. If you’re focused on all that’s wrong with your life or all the ways you fall short you’ll never have that joy. But if you’ll focus on His sufficiency and His power, joy will overflow in your life and you really won’t be able to keep it in. And you won’t be able to help going one step further. Look at verse 11 . . .

11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Now many people think this verse means that the wise men came to Jesus not when he was a baby but when he was a young child. It is probably true that he was more than six weeks old because he was dedicated in the temple at that time and Joseph and Mary offered turtledoves for Him. If the wise men had arrived earlier they would have probably used some of the gold they received from the wise men to pay for a lamb to sacrifice as an offering of dedication. The world translated “child” here in Greek can be used of a child up to two years old and is not normally used of a newborn. The fact that Herod would later kill all the boys in Bethlehem two years old and under doesn’t tell us much because Herod would have likely gone overboard killed a wider range than he had to just to be safe. And the fact that they are in a house doesn’t tell us much either, since it is very likely that Jesus was born in a house in Bethlehem as ancient houses often housed the family and the animals much as our houses might have a house and a garage. Jesus was probably born in the attached stable of a local family, likely a relative. So I think Jesus at this point is probably somewhere between 40 days and one year old.

What is really significant here though is what the wise men do with this child: they worship Him. They see Him and they fall down and worship. There is a place for rejoicing with exceeding great joy and there is a place for falling on your face in reverent awe. Notice this awe is reserved for the child. They see the child with Mary his mother, but they worship the child. They don’t worship Mary. They worship Him by falling before Him and they worship Him by opening their treasures and presenting them gifts. Gifts worthy of a king: gold, frankincense and myrrh. The fact that there are three gifts leads many people to assume there were three wise men, but the Bible never says there were three. There were at least two, but that’s all we know for sure. And contrary to the song, “We Three Kings,” the magi almost certainly were not kings.  

The magi had followed hundreds of miles the guidance of God they had received. And now they come to their destination. And their destination is not a place but a person. They are a great model for us of perseverance, of faith, of obedience. They are like the queen of Sheba in 1 Kings 10:1-13 who came with her entourage to visit King Solomon. A foreign dignitary visited the son of David, king of the Jews, offering homage and gifts. Now these foreign dignitaries, these wise men, have visited the son of David, the true and better King of the Jews. And Matthew will quote Jesus later in 12:42 in speaking of Himself, saying, “Something greater than Solomon is here.”

Isn’t it an amazing thing that here at the beginning of Matthew the nations come to the child Jesus but in the end of Matthew the risen Jesus sends His children out to the nations with the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations! I love that.

Lots of significance has been given to the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Some people say that God sovereignly provided these gifts so that Joseph, Mary and Jesus could be supported financially when they had to escape to Egypt. That is certainly possible. Others say that each gift has a symbolic meaning: the gold stands for Jesus as king and the frankincense for Jesus as God since incense was used for worship in the temple and that the myrrh pointed to Jesus’ death as myrrh was used for embalming bodies. It’s possible that this is the meaning of the gifts but Matthew doesn’t tell us anything about their significance, except that they were the treasures of the wise men. The focus for Matthew is that these were gifts worthy of a King and that the wise men, on seeing Jesus, recognized Him as the Messiah-King and gave freely and joyfully to Him.

So for Matthew, the wise men are a model of discipleship: God reveals Himself and draws us, we follow and believe, we rejoice and bow down, we offer ourselves freely and joyfully to our Lord and Savior. And the final aspect of this discipleship is seen in verse 12 . . .

12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Those who follow God as His disciples can count on God’s continuing guidance and protection. Like Joseph before them, the magi receive a dream warning them not to return to Herod. This was no small thing in that day, to disobey a king. The consequences could be deadly. But having been warned by God the magi chose not to go back to Herod. They returned instead to their own country. The great truth we see here is one we also see in Acts and at several other points in the Bible: we must obey God rather than men. It is clear that the magi were more awed by God than by Herod.

 

So as we close this morning, have you found yourself in this story? Are you like Herod, threatened by Jesus and hostile toward Him? Are you apathetic like the religious leaders, having the Word and the good news and refusing to respond? Or are you like the wise men, ready and willing to follow the light the Spirit gives, ready to worship Jesus with joy, ready to give all your life to God as He leads you, confident that He will protect you and see you through? There’s really only one good alternative, isn’t there? Those who are hostile toward Jesus end up enraged and scheme to take Jesus down but they always fail. Even when they nail Him to a cross He rises again. And in our day attempts to shut up or shut out Jesus will fail. Hostility only leads to heartache and alienation from God. Those who are apathetic put all their hopes in this life only to eventually be disappointed when circumstances go bad, as they always will. Apathy leads only to aimlessness and depression and alienation from God. But there is a good alternative. Believe in the King. Trust in the Savior. Rejoice in God’s goodness. Bow in worship. Give your life to the King. Our destination is not a place but a person, not a growing church but a glorious Savior, not a career but Christ, not family but faith in Jesus. Turn to Him today. If we all turn to Him today and keep our focus on Him, He will bring renewal to our church and we will see conversions and we will see discipleship happening because He will lead us. If in 2015 you want to be a wholehearted worshiper of Jesus, come to the front as we begin to sing. Take your stand for Him today. Come as we sing, pray for yourself and others, if you don’t want to be apathetic or hostile to Jesus, if you want your heart to sing His praise all through this new year, come as we sing.

Sermon — Matthew 1:18 — The Genesis of the Earthly Life of the God-Man

9 Oct

We have seen how the genealogy pointed to the fact that Jesus was a great King, the greater David who would reign forever. So the genealogy tells us who Jesus is and the account in Matthew 1:18-25 tells us how and why He came. We are going to look at the first aspect of that account this week. In future weeks we’ll look at Joseph’s role and at how this text fulfills Old Testament prophecy. This morning we’re looking at the genesis, or beginnings, of the earthly life of the God-man. This message breaks into three parts. The first part is the first sentence in verse 18 where we will talk about the issue of genesis, or beginnings. In the second part we’ll focus on the earthly life of Jesus from the second sentence in verse 18. Then we’ll conclude this morning by looking at the last phrase in verse 18 and reflecting on Jesus’ nature as fully God and fully man.

Matthew 1:18 then is about “the genesis of the earthly life of the God-Man.”

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

We see first . . .

The GENESIS     (1:18a).

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.

In this first sentence the Greek word genesis is used for birth. It was a common word for birth but there were other options as well. I believe Matthew used it on purpose as a Jew writing to Jews to show the parallel between the coming of Jesus and God’s work in creation.

In Genesis, we read those wonderful first words, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form and void and darkness was spread upon the face of the deep and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light and there was light.” And then in chapter 2, when the account of the creation of man is given, God breathed into Adam the breath of life.

Now we know if we’ve read our Bibles that the gospel of John picks up the parallel between Genesis and Jesus. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. In Him was light . . . the light shines in the darkness.” So John shows one aspect of Jesus’ relation to creation, namely that as God He was there and was instrumental in the formation of the universe. So on one level Jesus never had a beginning, He is eternal God. But on the other hand, Jesus, in coming to earth, had a beginning as to His human origin and this is what Matthew addresses. Like John, Matthew connects Jesus to the creation account in Genesis but in a more subtle way. Matthew shows us that the actual birth of Jesus had many connections with the creation account in Genesis. First, we see in the word genesis that as God created the world in the book of Genesis now He is bringing the new creation through the birth, the earthly genesis, of His Son. Second, as the Spirit moved over the face of the water and was instrumental in bringing shape to the creation, so the Spirit is involved in the virgin birth. God does not tell us exactly how it happened, only that it happened. As in the creation account there is some mystery about how the Spirit was involved but no doubt that He was involved, so it is with the Spirit at the birth of Christ. And as the Spirit gave life to Adam in chapter 2, so the Spirit gives life to Jesus in the womb of Mary. Matthew intends for His readers to see this connection to Jesus and this new work of creation.

We are also reminded through this reference to the book of Genesis of the reason why Jesus came: Adam and Eve tempted by the devil sinned against God and brought a curse on humanity, leading to our separation from God and His eternal judgment of humanity. But even there, in Genesis 3:15, God made a promise to do something about the problem of sin. God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.” This is fascinating because even back in Genesis God promises that He will deal with the problem of sin. This is called in theological circles the protoeuangelion, the first gospel, because it is the first hint in the Bible that God is going to do something to deal with the problems sin has caused. And doesn’t it show the grace of God that He doesn’t wait at all to disclose the fact that He is going to do something about sin? He is going to do something to crush the head of satan. And did you notice what He is going to do? He is going to bring an individual man (notice “He” will crush your head) and He is going to bring that individual man through the woman. One of Eve’s descendants, a woman, is going to have a child who will crush the head of Satan. Now Adam had been the one whom God had instructed about obedience, Adam had been the one who was initially held responsible for the sin, but now Adam is not in the picture. It is through a woman that the Savior would come. And then when we get to Matthew, what do we find with regard to Jesus? Joseph, though an honorable man, has nothing to do with the coming of Jesus into the world. Instead, the Holy Spirit overshadows the woman Mary and she carries this baby and gives birth to the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15, the Messiah Jesus. Did you notice in verse 18 how he is called Jesus Christ? That name Christ is not His last name, it is a title, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Messiah, the Savior. So in Genesis, God promises saving seed from a woman and in Matthew, God delivers that seed through a woman.

As Matthew’s readers reflected on the fall of humanity in Genesis and read through this passage, another connection would become clear. In Genesis, a man is born who would succumb to sin. Adam would rebel against God and plunge the human race into condemnation. We have all inherited Adam’s sin nature and all follow Him in our rebellion against God. But in Jesus what do we have? Look down at the angels words in verse 21, “you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So in Adam we have one who gave in to sin but in Jesus we have one who saves from sin. This reminds me of the great contrast set forth in Romans 5, where Paul compares Adam and Jesus . . .

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

We see secondly in verse 18 a focus on the phrase . . .

Of the EARTHLY Life (1:18b).

When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child . . .

There are three aspects of Jesus’ earthly life which are worth noting here. First, the birth of Jesus was miraculous. Mary became pregnant before while still a virgin. She had been betrothed to Joseph but they had never had had sexual relations, nor had she been with anyone else in that way.

Betrothal was like engagement but was a stronger commitment. Usually marriages were arranged by parents in the Jewish world of the New Testament, so Mary and Joseph were set up with one another and betrothal was usually for about a year until the marriage ceremony could be held. You had to legally be divorced after you were betrothed, so it was not just a matter of breaking an engagement, it was a legal thing. But here she is pregnant as a virgin. This is clearly miraculous.

It is also mysterious. The Bible does not give us much detail about how Jesus was conceived and there are few details of the actual birth of Jesus. There is much mystery surrounding the birth of Jesus. How could Mary conceive a son in such a miraculous way? How could Jesus be fully human and fully divine? There are many mysteries in the Bible which are mysteries even though they are clearly taught in the Bible. We can’t fully understand the Trinity for example, but we believe it because the Bible teaches it. I view the virgin birth in this way. I can’t understand exactly how it happened but it is clear that it did happen, so I believe it.

Finally, the earthly life of Jesus in His birth is misunderstood. Obviously, a young woman (and Mary was probably about 14-16 years old) being pregnant without any sexual contact would be hard for others to believe. The text seems to say that Mary didn’t trumpet her pregnancy but that she was “found to be with child” meaning that she had started to show and was probably somewhere in the second trimester when Joseph discovered her pregnancy. There are indications later in the text that Joseph was disturbed about Mary’s pregnancy, and who wouldn’t be? He dealt with her kindly, but this had to have been a very difficult experience for him. He surely would have felt that Mary had betrayed him because a virgin birth seemed impossible. And for Mary, this would have been a very difficult experience as well. In spite of the fact that she knew her child was from God, it must have been hard for Mary knowing that she was going to be thought of poorly by many people around her and that perhaps her betrothed Joseph would reject her.

Isn’t it amazing that these three themes are a pretty good description of Jesus’ whole life? Miraculous, mysterious, misunderstood. You could trace that as a theme pretty effectively all through the gospels. I even think it is a pretty good description of life as a follower of Jesus. True Christian living is miraculous, mysterious and misunderstood.

So Matthew 1:18 is about the genesis of the earthly life of Jesus. And finally the last phrase . . .

Of the GOD-MAN        (1:18c).

from the Holy Spirit.

The baby born in Bethlehem is fully human and fully divine. He is the Son of Man and the Son of God. It is an amazing thing to think that Jesus came into this world as a baby. He cried, he did all the things babies do. The Christmas songs make it sound like everything was perfectly calm but the birth of Jesus was not the sanitized, serene picture portrayed by most nativity scenes.

In becoming human, Jesus took on the limitations of humanity. He had to grow and develop. He grew tired. He felt the range of human emotions. He became hungry. As a baby he was dependent on His parents. He learned as He grew up, growing in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and man, as we read in Luke 2. Jesus’ humanity was so complete that many of those closest to Him, like His half-brothers and those of His hometown, did not at first recognize Him as God.

Jesus was fully man and so is personally familiar with our struggles, our ailments, our trials. We have a Savior who knows what it is like to suffer as a man.

At the same time, Jesus was fully God. Matthew will show us throughout his gospel how Jesus is God. He has power over demons, He has power over nature, He has power over disease, He has power over the forgiveness of sins, He has power over death. So when we see Jesus’ miracles, it is no surprise. Jesus is God. Of course He can walk on water, He created water!

Jesus is the God-Man. Is He fifty-fifty? No. He is fully human and He is fully God. How is this possible? We can’t fully explain it. But we believe it because the Bible clearly teaches it. Jesus’ natures as God and as Man are unified. He can be an acceptable sacrifice for us because He is a human being, fully identified with those He came to save and He can be an effective sacrifice for us because He is God, perfect in all His ways.

As David Platt says, “The incarnation is the most profound mystery in the whole universe. This mystery is encapsulated in what Matthew writes about the virgin birth of Jesus. There are, after all, other ways Jesus could have come into the world. On the other hand, if He had come without any human parent, then it would have been hard for us to imagine or believe that He could really identify with us. On the other hand, if He had come through human parents – a biological mother and a biological father – then it would be hard to imagine how He could be fully God since His origin would have been exactly the same as ours. But God, in His perfect wisdom and creative sovereignty, ordained a virgin birth to be the avenue through which Christ would come into the world.”

So this morning as we recover from the celebrations and the presents and the family and the food, let us not forget that in Jesus we’ve already received our greatest gift. Have you received Him? Do you know Him? No matter your age today, no matter what your Christmas was like, you can finish the year in a wonderful way by bowing your heart to Jesus. Maybe today is a day for you to begin again. No matter who you are or what you have been through, I call you this morning to trust in Jesus this morning and begin following Him today.

Sermon — Matthew 1:12-17 — “A Trustworthy Word About a Virgin-Born King”

6 Oct

Let’s turn again to the first chapter of the gospel of Matthew. We have been looking at the genealogy in chapter one for the last two weeks and we are going to finish it up this week. The first verse of chapter one gives us a summary of Matthew’s gospel. We saw there that this gospel is “One Story, One Savior, One King, for All Nations.” Last week we looked at the first two sections of the genealogy where we saw God working in unusual ways to bring His grace to the world. Now this morning we look at the last of the three sections in this genealogy and the summary statement Matthew makes about what he has just written. Once again, our outline is a phrase.

The Gospel of Matthew is A Trustworthy Word About a Virgin-Born King.

Let’s look first at the phrase, “A Trustworthy Word.” This truth emerges as we look at verses 12-15.

The Gospel of Matthew is a TRUSTWORTHY WORD about a Virgin-Born King.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob,

There’s some more great names right? I’m expecting some little Zadoks to be running around here in the years to come. But seriously, have you ever heard of any of these guys? I know a little bit about some of them: Jechoniah and Zerubbabel mainly. But this list of non-descript names actually teaches us just how trustworthy Matthew’s account of Jesus’ genealogy is. You see, there is another genealogy of Jesus in the gospels, found in the gospel of Luke. And in this last section, Luke’s genealogy differs quite a bit from Matthew’s. The names are a good bit different after David all the way to Jesus. Now people have given lots of reasons for this. Some people have said that Luke traces Jesus’ genealogy through Mary’s family line while Matthew traces it through Joseph’s family line. That’s possible, because Mary is a big focus of the early chapters of Luke and many people believe Luke got some of his information for his gospel from Mary. And Matthew does seem to focus somewhat on Joseph in the next section of his gospel. At the same time, both gospels claim to be tracing the family line of Joseph. But how is this possible? How could Joseph have two family lines? The most likely explanation is that Matthew is giving us Jesus’ kingly line through Joseph while Luke is giving us the blood line. Now Luke is clear in his account that Joseph was not the father and so is Matthew. But in that time the son of an adoptive father, in this case Joseph, would be folded into his family line and Joseph’s line would be recognized as the family line of Jesus.

These explanations and others have been suggested through the years. But there are others who use these genealogies as an example of how the Bible is supposedly full of contradictions. The atheist Richard Dawkins ridicules the accounts of Jesus birth and says the two writers unknowingly wrote two different genealogies based on their sources and this is proof that the New Testament is not accurate. And New Testament scholar and skeptic Bart Ehrman has made much of the differences in the genealogy, again saying that differences like this illustrate that the Scriptures aren’t trustworthy.

But as I look at these two genealogies, I come to exactly the opposite conclusion. One of the big charges skeptics level against Christianity is that the early church changed the text. This is at the heart of Ehrman’s criticisms. The early church conspired to shape the text of the New Testament to conform to what they had come to believe about Jesus. Key truths have been emphasized, others have been covered up. This is also the spirit behind some of the most popular fiction of the last decade, Dan Brown’s books Angels & Demons and The DaVinci Code.  We love conspiracy theories, so many skeptics in recent years have maintained that the Word is fundamentally untrustworthy because of conspiracy within the Church. But let’s take our case here in Matthew. We go to Luke and find a different genealogy. If you were an early church leader, what would you do if you were trying to put forth a certain agenda? Do you not think that early Christians could see that there were two genealogies? They were not dumb. They knew there were differences. But they let the differences stand. There is no evidence in any manuscript that anyone tried to take away or alter the genealogies in either Matthew or Luke. If we had a conspiracy to change the Bible we would expect one of two things here: alteration or omission. We would expect the early Christians to either change one of the genealogies to agree with the other or we would expect them to drop one of the genealogies (which wouldn’t have been a big deal because Mark and John don’t have genealogies, it wasn’t a requirement that a gospel have a genealogy). But in this case there is no evidence at all that any attempt was ever made to change or delete these genealogies. Therefore, the genealogies, far from pointing to a Word that is filled with errors or is shaped by an agenda from outside the text, show us that the Word as we have it is fundamentally trustworthy. If there was ever a place the early church might have been tempted to harmonize accounts, it was here in these genealogies. Yet there is no evidence of any such attempt. We still have questions about why these genealogies differ and we may never know for sure. But what we do know for sure is that we don’t have a Word that was altered to fit an agenda. We have a trustworthy Word, even when we can’t fully understand differences like the ones we see here.

So this is a trustworthy Word. That is the message of verses 12-15. Verse 16 gives us the second part of our phrase.

The Gospel of Matthew is a Trustworthy Word about a VIRGIN-BORN King.

So read verse 16 with me . . .

16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

All through this section the emphasis has been on fathers. Abraham begat Isaac, Isaac begat Jacob. The phrase “was the father of” or “begat” appears forty times in the genealogy. So the emphasis is on the family line of Jesus figured through the fathers. So when we get to this last line, we would expect to find, “and Jacob the father of Joseph, of whom Jesus was born.” But we know the rest of the story, and we know that Joseph was not the physical father of Jesus. And Matthew knows it too and he points it out in two ways in this verse, two ways that point to the virgin birth.

Now hang with me here, I have to get a little technical but the payoff is worth it. First of all, we need to look at the word “whom.” To whom does this word refer? Is it talking about Joseph, Joseph and Mary, or just Mary. In English we can’t know for sure. We have one word for “whom,” the word “whom.” We have to determine who the “whom” refers to by looking at the context. So here, just looking at it in English, it is unclear whether this whom refers to Joseph and Mary together, or just to Mary or just to Joseph. But this is not the case in Greek. In Greek we can know exactly who the “whom” is referencing. In Greek the pronoun whom has a different form based on the gender of the person it is referring to. So if I am talking about a man I use a masculine form and if I am talking about a woman I use a feminine form. So if I use the word “whom” in Greek, I spell it one way if I am talking about a man and I spell it another way if I am talking about a woman. Are you tracking with me? OK, so which form do you think the “whom” in Matthew 1:16 is? If you said feminine, you are right. Matthew gives us all these fathers who father descendants all through this genealogy, one father after another but then when he gets to Jesus he says Jesus has been born through Mary. The pronoun puts the focus on Mary as the mother and away from Joseph as the physical father. And this of course sets us up for the next section, as Matthew will explain the virgin birth in verses 18-25.

There is one more hint of the virgin birth in this section, also from the Greek. In English we have active and passive verbs. If we are talking football and I say “I am passing,” that is an active verb, the subject of the sentence is doing the action, I am the one throwing the ball. But if we say, “I was tackled,” that is a passive verb, the subject of the sentence is being acted upon, I am not doing anything, something is being done to me. So let’s go to verse 16 and look at this phrase “was born.” Is it active or passive? It is referring to Mary giving birth to Jesus and it is passive. Now, how many of you have given birth? Was it active or passive? Active. So we’re not talking about the process of labor and delivery here were talking about physical descent. This child was given to Mary through an act of God, and Matthew, in his precise way, makes it clear even in his choice of verb form, a passive verb, that this was the way it was. The Greek word translated born here is the same word translated “begat” or “was the father of” all through the genealogy. It is the word gennao. And all through the genealogy it is in active voice. He fathered, he fathered, he fathered. All through the genealogy the focus is on the action of the men in carrying on their family line. But then we get to Mary and it is passive voice, because she didn’t beget Jesus, God begat Jesus through her. Again, he is setting up verses 18-25 in these verses and his original readers and hearers would have seen this and we can too thanks to the way the Greek Bible was carefully preserved through the centuries.

The final word of our sentence this morning is seen in verse 17 . . .

The Gospel of Matthew is a Trustworthy Word about a Virgin-Born KING.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.

So how do I get “King” out of that verse? Well, there are two ways. First, verse 17 brings to an end a focus in the genealogy on King David. He is mentioned twice here and several other times in the genealogy and he is the only one identified as a king in the genealogy as verse 6 calls him “David the King.” But where we really see the focus on Jesus as a great King like King David is in the use of the number fourteen. Matthew uses this number fourteen strategically for two reasons. First, it is a number of completion. Seven is the number of the creation week and seven times two would have the effect of doubling or emphasizing the completion and the perfection of God’s plan through His people Israel. In the world of the Old Testament, the most common way to emphasize something was to repeat it. You see this all the time in the Psalms and even in one of the favorite phrases of Jesus, “Truly, truly I say to you.” So Matthew doubles up his sevens to make these three sets of fourteen probably to show us that God’s plan for His people has found its completion and perfection in Jesus. But I believe there is one other reason Matthew uses the number 14. In the Hebrew language, and Matthew as a Jew writing to Jewish readers would have known Hebrew, there were no numerals in Hebrew at the time Matthew was written. So when Hebrews wanted to number things they used letters of the alphabet. So if they wanted to symbolize one they would use the first letter of the alphabet, aleph. If they wanted to use the number three, they used the letter gimel and on and on it went. So each consonant in a word also had a numeric value. So if we look at the name David, what do we find? We have three consonants, D – V – D. David did not invent DVD’s but those are his consonants. The letter “D” in Hebrew, like in English, is the fourth letter in the Hebrew alphabet so it would be assigned the value of four. The letter we translate “V” is the Hebrew letter “vav” and it is the sixth letter in the Hebrew alphabet. So if we put together the consonants in David’s name according to their numerical value what do we get? D=4 and V= 6. So 4 + 6 + 4 is the numeric value of David’s name. And what is the total? 4 + 6= 10 and 10 + 4 = 14. Fourteen. That number again. Matthew in his precise, organized, careful way, puts together a genealogy with three sets of fourteen generations and in that genealogy emphasizes Israel’s greatest king, who just happens to have a name with the numeric value of fourteen. And just to put the icing on the cake, the 14th name in the genealogy from the beginning is David. Why does Matthew go to all this trouble with the number 14? Is he just trying to be fancy? No, I don’t think so. I believe what Matthew is doing is showing us that in the coming of Jesus God’s plan through the Jews is being fulfilled and now the great King has come, greater even then King David. And again, I believe through the genealogy Matthew is setting us up for what is to come. When the wise men come to Jerusalem after following the star, they say these words, “Where is the one born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” And all through Matthew’s gospel we have this emphasis on Jesus as the great King and the focus on His kingdom. And then on the cross, as Jesus suffers in agony bearing our sin, a sign is put over his head and Matthew is careful to record it. It says, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” The Suffering Servant Messiah prophesied in Isaiah gives His life between two criminals but even in His suffering His true identity is broadcast for all the world to see.

Why did I go into all these minute details this morning? I didn’t do it to bore you or to put you to sleep. I did it because I want you to know what Matthew wants you to know, “This gospel is a trustworthy word about a virgin-born king.” There are all sorts of forces in our world today that are seeking to pull us away from sincere faith in Christ and true hope in His gospel. The scientific world tells us to put away our childish myths of a dying and rising God and embrace reason and a scientific worldview. Our own trials tempt us to despair. As we battle sickness or suffer loss our temptation is to question the reality of God. When life gets hard we wonder whether God is real or if He is real, whether He cares for us. We have the evil done in the name of religion which causes us to wonder whether there is any good reality to belief in God. When we see Muslim terrorism we are reminded that Christians too have sometimes oppressed others. And we wonder whether any faith, even Christian faith, is a positive good in society. Even our society with its desire to protect freedom for all can swing at times to an extreme that seeks to push religious expression out of the public square, along with the backlash where we choose to say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays as a political statement rather than as a wish for blessing to another.

So in a world where the true meaning of Christmas is increasingly dismissed or overwhelmed by a wave of materialism, I wanted to share with you this morning the simple truth that in the Bible we have a trustworthy word about a virgin-born king. These three truths will help you through a thousand storms of doubt and a thousand trials of life. That God has spoken, that He has acted, that He is Lord, faith in these truths will get us through life and into eternity with great joy, free from the despair of a merely material world and free from the detached, empty spiritually of self so prevalent in our culture.  I don’t have anything for you to do today. You’ve got way too much to do already. I’ve just got something for you to believe. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. He’s the King. Bow your heart before Him this Christmas and trust Him to shape you for a lifetime as His son or daughter.

 

 

 

Sermon — Matthew 1:1 — “The Four Gifts of Matthew 1:1”

5 Oct

I wanted to look this morning at the whole genealogy from verses 1-17, but I could not get past verse 1. As I kept looking at this verse, I just began to see it as the place to start and stop this morning. I believe that verse 1 of Matthew’s gospel opens up the whole book to us. It is like the key that unlocks the treasure box of blessings in this great book. If you understand this verse, you will understand the major themes in Matthew’s gospel and four major, life-changing themes about Jesus. These four truths are like four different gifts to unwrap under the tree. So here it is, Matthew chapter one, verse one . . .

 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Not impressed? I hope by the end of our time together this morning, you’ll see the greatness of this verse. This verse opens up four themes for us which are really the themes of Matthew’s gospel.

Gift Number One: One Story

First, there is theme of continuity with the Old Testament. It is the “book of the genealogy.” In the Greek translation of the Old Testament this phrase was the title of the book of Genesis. Matthew’s Jewish readers would have known this connection and would have seen Matthew’s efforts here in chapter one as an attempt to show that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. For a Jew, ancestry was tied to the covenants God had made with Israel. God’s greatest covenant was that one day He would send the Messiah to save His people. So Matthew, by going immediately to the record of Jesus’ genealogy, is showing us that Jesus is not abolishing the Old Testament, He is fulfilling it. This word “fulfilled” will become one of the most important words in Matthew’s gospel, as he will show many times how different events in the life of Jesus were the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. Matthew is the gospel of fulfillment.

As Christians, we do not need to shy away from the Old Testament, we just need to understand it rightly. The old saying is right. “The New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed and the Old is in the New revealed.” Three out of every four pages in your Bible is the Old Testament, so God put it there for a reason. One of the biggest reasons God gave us the Old Testament was to help us see Jesus more clearly when He came on the scene. So one of Matthew’s main themes is continuity with the Old Testament. Jesus doesn’t stand opposed to the great leaders of God’s people in the past, He stands at the end of the line as the fulfillment of that great line, a new and greater Abraham, a new and greater Moses, a new and greater David. The Pharisees and other religious leaders will try to undermine Jesus on the grounds that He is not teaching and living as a true Jew, so Matthew is careful from the start to show us right out of the gates that Jesus is the culmination of what God has been doing all along as recorded in the Old Testament. He is not a outsider to the people of Israel, He is Israel’s Messiah.

Gift Two: One Savior

And this Messianic theme is the second theme that emerges in Matthew 1:1, the name “Jesus Christ.” This name points to Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior-deliverer. The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew word Joshua, which means “God saves.” It was a common name in Jesus’ day but what an appropriate name for Jesus. And of course the title “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word, “Messiah,” the anointed One, the One the Jews expected to come and righteously rule God’s people. This is Jesus’ mission, as we will see in the coming weeks . . . He has come to save. We see this throughout Matthew. He has compassion on the outcast, He has authority over nature and demons and forgiveness of sins, He delivers people from hopelessness. As Isaiah had prophesied about the coming Savior, “the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the good news is preached.”

And here’s the good news for us . . . Jesus hasn’t changed. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” Jesus will still save all who call on Him in faith. He is the Messiah, the Christ. He will save you and walk with you in life and give you hope and help. But the truth we will see in Matthew is clear: He walks with those who draw near to Him. His disciples, the needy, people who trust Jesus, they all find help. The religious, the self-sufficient, the proud all find themselves on the outside looking in. So if we will humble ourselves and really seek to walk with Jesus we will see His goodness and grace and find help in time of need, both for the problem of our sins and separation from God and for the struggles of daily life. Nothing is more tragic than a person who is in the midst of truth about Jesus but doesn’t take up all the things God has provided them for growth in grace. It is like a child at Christmas surrounded by gifts but refusing to open any of them. It is unimaginable. But many Christians do precisely that. They are distracted or discouraged or riddled with guilt and they do not open up the blessings of Jesus for their lives. They profess faith in Christ but their lives are without the power of Christ. May we never lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas, Jesus has come to save us from our sins. This means deliverance from the penalty of sin, deliverance from the power of sin and in eternity deliverance from the presence of sin.

Gift Three: One King

The third theme in the gospel of Matthew that we see in this first verse is the phrase “son of David.” This phrase points to the theme of kingship. Jesus is from the kingly line of David. This is important not only because it was the expectation of the Jews that the Messiah would be from the line of David. This is important not only because Jesus’ kingly line fulfills the Old Testament scriptures. This is important because one of the biggest subjects of Jesus’ teaching in the gospel of Matthew is His teaching on the kingdom. The King has a kingdom. And the kingdom is a very important subject to Matthew. He quotes Jesus talking about the kingdom more than fifty times while Mark only mentions the kingdom fifteen times and Luke thirty five times. Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come.” Jesus tells parables that center around the kingdom. He pictures himself at the end of the age as the King sitting on His throne, separating the sheep and the goats. All through the Old Testament we saw Israel with kings, most of them mediocre at best. Even the great David had his sins and flaws. And Israel under her kings never achieved a real and lasting supremacy in the world as God’s people. But then comes Jesus, the true and better King, who establishes a kingdom not bound by national borders and not focused on the external. It is a kingdom of God’s work within the human heart. A kingdom that transforms from the inside-out. A kingdom with small beginnings that changes the world.

Paul says it best in Philippians, “our citizenship is in heaven.” In Jesus we are called not to pursue the American dream of self-satisfaction. We are called to pursue the glory of God in the face of Christ. We are called to a new focus, new priorities and new allegiance. We are called to serve our King with the strength He gives so that the first request of the Lord’s Prayer can be fulfilled, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Gift Four: For All Nations

Finally, we see in verse one the phrase, “the son of Abraham.” These words tie Jesus to the father of the nation of Israel, the great patriarch Abraham. It was this man who received God’s promise. “Leave your father’s house and go to the land I will show you. I will make you a great nation. I will make your name great. I will bless those who bless you and those who curse you I will curse. And in you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” I believe Matthew’s focus in bringing up Abraham is not to show us Jesus is a Jew, for His relation to David already does that. I believe rather that Matthew is picking up on the last part of God’s promise to Abraham, that through him all nations would be blessed. The reason I believe that is because Matthew’s gospel puts the focus on the gospel going to all nations quite often. Even in the next passage we will look at, the genealogy in verses 2-17, there are four Gentile women included in the listing. The baby Jesus will be worshiped by wise men from other nations. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that His followers are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Jesus healed the Roman Centurion’s servant in chapter 8. He tells us in His parables that the harvest field of souls is the world. He blesses the Canaanite woman for her great faith. He tells us in his teaching in chapter 24 that the gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world. And at His crucifixion, the Gentile Centurion said, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” And to top it all off, we have the Great Commission, where Jesus said, “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.” The good news of the gospel is that it is for all nations. People of all skin colors. People of all economic classes. The sexually immoral and the self-righteous. Jesus is the way for all to enter the kingdom of God.

How exciting to serve Jesus! We don’t discriminate against anyone. All may come to Jesus. All may trust Him. You don’t have to clean up to come to Him. You don’t have to have it all together. You just have to come to Him. We will stand on God’s truth but we don’t want to use that truth as a weapon to beat people over the head. We want to say as Paul does, we are the chief of sinners, but we have found mercy. Jesus is changing us and though we’ve got a long way to go we are glad to be on the journey with Him, followers of the Way.

What great gifts God has given us in this first verse of Matthew! We are followers of one story, delivered by one Savior, ruled over by one King who is working out His saving purposes for all nations. Jesus makes sense of the past, is a present rescuer and ruler and gives a future and a hope to a world in need of grace.  I hope these will be the great gifts that will guide your heart this Christmas. 

Sermon: Matthew 1:2-11 “The Scandalous Grace of Jesus”

5 Oct

Have you ever noticed how untrue to life many Christmas songs are? I know I’ll make you mad, but they are. How many of you have roasted chestnuts on an open fire? Has grandma ever really gotten run over by a reindeer? Christmas songs, except for the one about grandma, usually paint a nostalgic, sappy picture that only emphasizes the good. But we all know Christmas is not like that. There are lots of frustrations and hurts in every Christmas. There is the hustle and bustle of activity for some. The feeling that after all the parties and events what you really need is a vacation from your vacation. For those in the retail industry, there is a hustle and bustle of a different kind, as demanding customers and crazy hours make for a Christmas that doesn’t make visions of sugarplums dance in your heads. For some, Christmas is a time of immense loneliness and pain. Loved ones who have passed away, family relations that are strained, these are the issues that are on the minds of many people during this time of year. And even for children, they don’t always get what they want or if they do get what they want it is not always what they hoped it would be. I think it is important for us to acknowledge the reality that Christmas is a wonderful holiday but that Christmas, like everything, has its ups and downs.

Matthew, in writing his genealogy in chapter 1, shows us that in the background of Jesus there were lots of ups and downs too. Matthew writes mainly to Christians of a Jewish background and to other Jews who might be interested in learning about Jesus. He wants to establish right from the start Jesus’ credentials as Messiah. So the first thing he holds out to his readers is Jesus’ family line. We find that Jesus meets both the requirements needed to be the Messiah. But we also find so much more. This genealogy is amazing. Last week, we saw in Matthew 1:1 a simple phrase that summarizes the focus of Matthew’s whole gospel. Does anybody remember it? “One Story, One Savior, One King, for All Nations.” There is so much truth in that one verse and today we are going to see that there is a great truth in the next few verses as well. Let’s read verses 2-11 as we look for the truth God has for us here . . .

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

This genealogy is organized into three sets of fourteen generations, as verse 17 tells us. The first set runs from Abraham, the beginning of the nation of Israel, to David, the great king. The second set runs from David to the exile to Babylon, a tragic event in Israel’s history. And the third set runs from the exile to the coming of Jesus. The third set is much different from the first two because we know very little about the names mentioned in the third set, and I believe they teach us something different than the first two sets of names. I am taking the first two sets of names together because I believe they teach us the same truth: that the God of grace has worked in unusual and unexpected ways to bring His Son into the world.

Luke traces his genealogy of Jesus back to Adam but Matthew starts with Abraham. And we said last week that Matthew is showing us through the family line of Jesus His connection with Abraham and David, which establishes Jesus’ credentials to be the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament. Matthew’s purpose then in giving this record is to show us that Jesus is the Messiah promised to the nation of Israel. Matthew is anticipating the objection of many in his day and even today, “How could it be that this child of a lowly family born in an obscure place and in morally questionable circumstances be the Messiah, the great King of the Jews?” And what Matthew is going to answer through the genealogy is that this is exactly the kind of family the Messiah has come from, so don’t hold it against Jesus because He didn’t come with trumpet blasts and robes wearing a golden diaper in a golden crib surrounded by servants. God has been working out His saving plan in unusual ways all along.

God’s ways are unusual. Any of us who have really read our Bibles know this. We know the story of Abraham. God chose this old man to be the beginning of His nation and at 99 years old Abraham fathered Isaac. We see God’s unusual ways in Jacob, who deceived his brother and got both his birthright and blessing, fulfilling what God had promised when they were still in the womb, the older will serve the younger. We see God’s unusual ways of working through King David, the youngest son of the sons of Jesse, the unexpected king. And on and on we could go through this list of kings, some were godly, some were wicked, but all were part of the royal line of Jesus the Messiah.

But the real place we see this truth of God’s unusual ways worked out in this genealogy is through the way Matthew highlighted women in his story. It’s not that highlighting women in a genealogy was unheard of (it was rare but some women are highlighted in Old Testament genealogies) it is the women that Matthew chose to highlight that are so remarkable. He doesn’t highlight Sarah or Rebekah or Leah or other great women of the Bible. He highlights four women with checkered pasts and with great faith. Through these women who all found blessing in unusual and morally questionable circumstances, Matthew is showing us that what God has been doing all along, He is now doing with Jesus.

In the case of Tamar, she seemed to be a cursed woman, nothing went right for her. She was married to the son of Judah, but Judah’s son died. But Judah had two other sons, and it was expected in that day for the next oldest brother to take the widow Tamar as his wife to carry on the family line of his brother. But the second brother died as well, having been judged by God for being unwilling to carry on his brother’s family line through Tamar. Now Judah had one more son but he was reluctant to have him marry Tamar because he believed she was cursed. Tamar recognized Judah’s reluctance so she disguised herself as a prostitute and Judah went to her. Judah had nothing to pay her with so she gave her his staff and signet ring until he could come back with payment. So Tamar said OK and slept with Judah and became pregnant. It was found out that she was pregnant and Judah wanted to have her put to death for adultery but then she produced the staff and signet ring and Judah was forced to admit his double standard and his sin. She had twins, and Perez ended up being in the family line of the Messiah. God’s unusual, even scandalous ways, are on full display.

Then there is Rahab, the prostitute who protected Israel’s spies as they entered the Promised Land and prepared to attack Jericho. In spite of her occupation, she had come to fear the Lord and ended up turning away from prostitution and joining the Israelites and eventually having a child who would be in the family line of the Messiah. Again, unusual, scandalous, but of God.

Third there is Ruth, the Moabite who, having lost her husband to death came back to Israel with her mother-in-law Naomi, pledging her support and love to Naomi. Ruth was a godly woman, yet still there is a hint of scandal with her. First, there is the fact that she is a Moabite. The Moabites came into existence because of Lot’s daughters. Lot’s daughters, after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, saw no hope for themselves of every marrying again and having children, so they got their father Lot drunk and lay with him and each became pregnant by him. And one of the children born from that incestuous union was named Moab, and Ruth was a Moabite. So Ruth would have had this stigma attached to her name. In addition, having lost a husband some might think her cursed and then even her marriage to the older Boaz may have raised suspicions among some about her character. Yet there she is, in the family line of Messiah, great-grandmother to King David.

And finally there is the “wife of Uriah,” known to us as Bathsheba. She too is a woman whose character would have been questioned. She participated in adultery with David and became pregnant and David had her husband Uriah killed. After that David married her. Their first child died but then she gave birth to the great King Solomon. Again, God’s unusual ways, His scandalous grace on full display.

The other side of the coin is that these women were not only involved in morally questionable things, they were also each women of great faith. Tamar took great risks to carry on her family name and stood against a culture that would be against her to call to account her father-in-law Judah. Rahab housed the spies who were coming to check out Jericho, protecting them from the authorities. Ruth came to Israel with her mother-in-law as her caretaker and submitted her life to the Lord and trusted him to provide all she needed. And Bathsheba, when her son Solomon was grown, was instrumental in getting him into the position of king in fulfillment of God’s promise. So each of these women were women whose lives were shrouded in shame or even scandal and yet each was a woman of great faith who had a child who carried on God’s plan of salvation. Now who does that sound like? Yes, Mary. Matthew is setting us up through the genealogy for what is going to happen with Mary. She, while still unmarried, is going to be with child by the Holy Spirit. We know this is true, but what about the people that lived around her, her friends, neighbors and family. Would they have believed it? No, she would have been scandalized in the eyes of those around her. What about the skeptical Jew reading or hearing Matthew’s gospel? Would they have believed Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit? No, there is evidence from outside Scripture that a story circulated that Mary became pregnant through a Roman soldier. And we see in the gospels several times when Jesus’ origins are questioned. He is accused of being an illegitimate child. So Matthew’s genealogy provides a defense of the virgin birth and of Mary. His Christian readers could be comforted that Mary, though participating in an event that is unparalleled in history, the virgin birth, is nevertheless a lot like others in the family line that have gone before her: seemingly covered by scandal but actually living a life of great faith that God is working through for His glory and for moving forward His plan for the world.

God often works in ways that are strange to us. This is true not only in His plan of salvation but also in the shape of our daily lives. Our lives rarely unfold in a seamless, easy way. If we really read our Bibles we see this over and over. There are very few characters whose stories don’t go through many twists and turns of hardship and victory, failure and blessing. But I am afraid all too often we have bought the idea that our lives should be comfortable and smooth. We have let advertisers convince us that if we use this toothpaste or that shampoo that we will be irresistible. We have bought the lie that we can find happiness at the buffet or the fast food counter. We have believed that happiness is found in a shiny new car with a big bow on top. We have swallowed the idea that we should always succeed, that onward and upward is the only way to go. We have even imported this idea into our Christianity. And we have believed that when good things don’t happen for us, we are flawed, less than, even cursed by God. And I want to say to you that bad things or lack of good things does not mean you are cursed by God, it means you are human. We need to stop living in the fantasy land of false expectations. Many churches make their whole message one of false expectations. Come here, this is a happy place. Look at all the smiles. Look at all the plastic people. We need to resist that because it is neither true to the Bible nor reality. The Bible message is that of Paul, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” We enter into the muck and mire of life and we hurt and grieve and cry, but all along we know that God is working in and through and under everything we are doing to advance His purposes. So we are neither blind optimists nor dark pessimists. Christians are to be true realists, understanding that God is working in all things for His glory and our eternal joy. And this is the place of faith. We must trust that God is working in this way even if we never see the end of grief, even if the pain does not go away, even if the circumstances never change. The story of each of the women in the genealogy had a happy ending and our story will have a happy ending too, but sometimes it takes a lifetime to get there. I just want you to see this morning that God is at work, often in situations where it looks like He is not at work.

The grace of God is so evident in this passage. We didn’t talk about the fact that all four of the women in the genealogy have some kind of connection to Gentiles: Tamar lived among Canaanites, Rahab and Ruth were Gentiles and Bathsheba was married to Uriah the Hittite. Yet all of them are in Jesus’ genealogy. God so loved the world. The grace of God is also evident in the fact that so many in this genealogy were great sinners. From sneaky Jacob to Judah to David’s great sin to Solomon’s wives to wicked kings like Manasseh, many of the people in this genealogy were deeply sinful. And of course every one of them is a sinner in need of saving. And it is through this line that Jesus’ rights as Messiah-King are established. When the angel speaks to Joseph in chapter 1, verse 21, the angel says Jesus, “will save His people from their sins.” This genealogy establishes the fact that His people were a sinful people in need of saving. And yet Jesus is not ashamed to say, “This is my family line.” He is not ashamed to leave the glories of heaven to enter into this messy, sinful world. He is facing sin head on from the very beginning. He enters the sinful world and brings redemption through His sinless life, His atoning death and His victorious resurrection. And now He reigns, ascended and with the Father, constantly pleading His blood on behalf of His people.

So on we stumble, alternating between despair and arrogance, one moment so proud of our progress and the next crushed under the weight of our inability. We glory in the beauty of the world: sunsets and stars, oceans and mountains, the beauty of love and friendship. Yet we groan at the brokenness of the world: disease and death, the horror of racism and terrorism, the awful ways we treat one another.

And Jesus enters this beautiful and broken world as a tiny baby. He joins the limping march of humanity in all its tarnished splendor. And the plan of God promised as far back as the Garden of Eden and carried all through the Old Testament, is fulfilled. The hope of the world has come. In a most unusual way. This is the way God works.

And this is the way we face life. We don’t pretend there is no evil, we don’t act like bad things never happen, we don’t think no harm will come to us if we only do all the right things. And we hurt when we feel pain and we feel compassion for others who are in pain. Our souls groan in this fallen world. This is the way we face life. All you’ve got to do to know that is read the Psalms.

And yet. And yet. The brokenness of the world is not the final word because the Word became flesh. And because Jesus has come, there is strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. All your sins are forgiven through faith in the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Peace, purity and loving power are all yours through Jesus, who rose from the dead and ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to be with His people and to guide them and strengthen them. Through daily trust in Jesus, even in this broken world, you can live a life of joy and usefulness. And one day, the brokenness will be over. Jesus is coming again to renew all things. So we have the great future hope of reigning with Christ in a world where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain. Where the cries of our hearts are not cries of anguish over our pain and trials and tragedies but are cries of joy as we shout, “Worthy is the lamb that was slain to receive power and wisdom and riches and strength glory and honor and blessing.”

As Christians we face a beautiful, broken world in the full assurance that God sees it all, knows it all and works in it all for His glory and the eternal blessing of His people. And this scandalous grace, this unusual working, is at the very heart of the message we proclaim at Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FROM A TRUSTWORTHY WORD (12-15) . . .

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob,

 

Now there’s something very interesting.  Remember whose line is this in Luke – or in Matthew?  Joseph’s.  Joseph’s.  Okay?  And I want you to notice something.  Jeremiah 22:30.  Just listen.  Write it down.  Jeremiah 22:30.  Now listen to what it says.  “Thus saith the Lord, Write this man down as childless,” And the man to whom it refers is Jeconiah, the same man.  “A man who shall not succeed in his days: none of his offspring shall sit on the throne of David.”  Did you get that?  None of Jeconiah’s offspring will ever sit on the throne of David.  That was the curse on Jeconiah of Jeremiah 22:30.

Now listen to me.  If Jesus had been the real son of Joseph, he never could have sat on the throne of David.  Did you get that?  He would be under the curse.  And yet, he had to be the legal son of Joseph to have the right.  So God had to devise a plan by which he would be the legal heir to the throne, but that he would not be in the line of David descending through Jeconiah.  And so God did it by the virgin birth, bypassing the actual blood line of Jeconiah and yet carrying the royal right to reign and descending the blood through the side of Mary.

It’s a fantastic thing, isn’t it?  How God guarded every single detail.  And the virgin birth solved it.  So you see, the reason for the genealogy is to present the fact that this is the one who has the right to reign.  Listen, it may take me a long time to unscramble the significance of this, but all the Jewish people had to do was read it and they got the message.  They knew their Old Testament.  They knew the curse on Jeconiah.  They knew this line.  They knew their pedigrees.  And Matthew is establishing that he has the right to be king.

 

 

POINTING TO THE VIRGIN BIRTH (16) . . .

16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

Jesus is the rightful legal heir to the covenant promises associated with the Davidic throne (v. 6) as well as the rightful legal heir to the covenant promises related to the Abrahamic seed and land (vv. 1–2).

 

Spurgeon, “With one or two exceptions these are names of persons of little or no note. The later ones were persons altogether obscure and insignificant. Our Lord was ‘a root out of dry ground,’ a shoot from the withered stem of Jesse.”

In the 13th of Matthew in the 54th, “And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and they said, ‘From where hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?’ ” Matthew 13:54.  Where did he get this ability?  “ ‘Is not this the carpenter’s son?  Is not his mother called Mary?  And his brethren, James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas?  And his sisters, are they not all with us?  From where then hath this man all these things?’ And they were offended in him.”

He doesn’t have any right to this kind of stuff.  Who is he?  He’s come out of a lowly bunch up in Nazareth.  In the 7th chapter of John, again the kind of mockery about his origin.  John 7:27.  Jesus comes down to the feast of the tabernacles and the Jews get upset at him because of what he says.  And in verse 27, “Nevertheless, we know this man from where he is: but when Christ comes, no man knows from where he is.”  Listen, we know this Jesus.  I mean, this is not the Christ.  We know where he came from.  He’s a hayseed from Nazareth, up the hill.  I mean, you couldn’t believe that the Messiah would come from any place other than Jerusalem.  Such a thought is intolerable.  He’s a nobody from a nowhere.

And in verse 40, “Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, ‘Of a truth this is the Prophet.’ ”  This is the Prophet prophesied by Moses back in the Pentateuch.  “ ‘This is the Prophet.’  Others said, ‘This is the Christ.’  But some said, ‘Shall Christ come out of Galilee?’ ”  You kidding?

In the 8th chapter in the 41st verse, “You do the deeds of your father.”  He says to the Pharisees, Jewish leaders.  “ ‘You do the deeds of your father.’ Then said they to him, ‘We are not born of fornication;’”  What do you think they meant by that?  That’s slander.  “We’re not born of fornication.  We have one Father, even God.’”

Verse 48, “Then answered the Jews, and said to him, ‘Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a demon?’”  You’re a demon possessed result of fornication that came from a nowhere town and a nobody family.  Don’t lay us with any of your Messianic credentials.

So Matthew, you see, looks back on all this and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he writes down the book of the beginnings of Jesus Christ so there never needs to be a question about where he came from.

 

OF THE GREAT KING (17).

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.

Matthew does not mean all the generations that had lived during those times but “all” that he included in his list (for he evidently skipped some, such as three generations between Joram and Uzziah [Azariah] in v. 8; cf. 1 Chron. 3:10–12); cf. note on Matt. 1:6b–11. Perhaps for ease of memorization, or perhaps for literary or symbolic symmetry, Matthew structures the genealogy to count 14 generations from each major section. (According to the Jewish practice of gematria, the giving of a numeric value to the consonants in a word, David’s name would add to D + V + D or 4 + 6 + 4 = 14, and David is the 14th name on the list.)

 

 

Behold Your God — The End

18 Aug

We have come to the end of the Behold Your God study this summer. I hope you have enjoyed the study, benefited from the videos, been blessed by your small group, and been helped by these blog articles.

Many people have told me this study has been challenging and helpful. I am grateful for this. Now, as we come to the end, what do we do now? Here are some possible suggestions . . .

  1. Go through the book again. A couple of people have told me they are planning to do this. Much like an exercise program can have benefits if repeated, so this study will benefit you through repeated exposure.
  2. If you have been doing the workbook, continue to give significant time to Bible study.
  3. Take up and read some of the works of the figures presented in the videos. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and A.W. Tozer would be good places to start.
  4. Share what you have learned with others. Talking about the key ideas of the book will solidify them in your mind and help you continue to grow as you see the implications of the truth you are learning lived out in your daily life.

Thanks to all who participated this summer.

Behold Your God — Week Twelve, Day Five

18 Aug

Don’t expect perfection. Don’t let your zeal be misdirected. Don’t chase after feelings. Don’t give up.

These four statements summarize the final study in the Behold Your God book.

When seeking to know and live in the presence of God . . .

  1. Don’t expect perfection. You will not live a perfectly sinless life and your life’s circumstances will not be perfectly smooth. Hard days attend to the one who seeks God. Frustrating failures of heart will be common. Days of joy in God will be sidetracked by one action or comment. Expect this. Know that in this world you will have trouble. Know from the outset that while you should be growing in holiness, you will always fall short of perfection. One of the keys to healthy Christian living is perseverance. This can only happen if two things are going on in our hearts. First, we must believe the goal of our pursuit is worthwhile and second, we must not give up when we fail.
  2. Don’t let your zeal be misdirected. This can manifest itself in many ways. The book described the “Toronto Blessing” of the early ’90’s and the idea of “holy laughter,” discussing how this seemed to be out of step with revivals in the Bible. But there are other ways zeal can be misdirected too. In our excitement over knowing God, we may insist that everyone must know God in exactly the way we do. So if we came to know Jesus through the influence of great books, we will insist that everyone else must read these books. Or if it was through a small group Bible study, we become the world’s biggest cheerleader for Bible study. But there are many gifts in the body, therefore many expressions of those gifts should be expected and many different points of emphasis on many different points of need.
  3. Don’t chase after feelings. There is a way we can get so fixed on seeing revival that we begin to seek revival rather than seeking God. We may become religious consumers, looking to get a certain high from a worship experience and may fail to see the significance of knowing God is far greater than the warm feelings of a revival meeting. The two are not always synonymous.
  4. Don’t give up. When I think about the sin in my own heart, the sin of fellow church members, and the devastated world we live in, I am tempted to give up. I must remember that “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” I have resources for this life to see me through each day and God’s promises to sustain me. So I must never give up. “When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

I don’t want to end telling you what not to do, so let me list a few things Christians through the centuries have found helpful when it comes to knowing the Lord and walking with Him.

  • The Word is essential. Reading it, meditating over it, committing it to memory, all these things are key. I think it was said of John Bunyan that he was so immersed in Scripture that it was as if you pricked him, he would bleed the Bible.
  • Prayer is essential. Seeing God through the Word, we come into intimate fellowship with God through prayer. Prayer is not mainly about getting stuff we want, it is mainly about coming into God’s presence and knowing Him.
  • Church is essential. Church can take many forms, but gathering with other like-minded people is an essential part of your journey of faith. You need the other perspectives, the encouragement along the way, the shared ministry opportunities.
  • Service is essential. If you never put all you are knowing of God into practice in your daily life, you are missing out on knowing God more deeply than you could otherwise know Him. God is a giver. His love overflows. As people made in His image, we function best when we are giving, when we are overflowing with acts of love.
  • Ongoing learning is essential. The resources we have for spiritual growth in our day are absolutely amazing. If you don’t take advantage of the great books of the past, of conferences, of seminars, of online events and podcasts, you may be missing out on a great means of spiritual growth. To be sure, this can be an area where we overdo it. There is no salvation through reading, no sanctification by podcast. But ignoring the opportunities to grow God has given us in our day may be an indicator of pride or laziness. We must be judicious in what we take in, but the mentoring we can receive through resources by saints who have walked this path of life before us is invaluable.
  • Time is essential. This may be the most challenging thing of all. If you really want to behold God, you must devote time to Him. If you are working every hour of the day, don’t be surprised if you feel distant from Him. If you are filling free moments with games on your smart phone or social media, don’t be surprised if you have no intimacy with God. If you binge watch Netflix but don’t read your Bible, don’t be alarmed when you realize God is no longer very important to you. Love means an investment of time. Will you make the time commitment necessary to see the work of God flourish in your life? Will this study not be an end but the beginning of a life of earnestly seeking the Lord? I pray it would be so.
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