Tag Archives: Christmas

Gentle Encouragement for Parents at Christmastime

7 Dec

Christmas is a time that can really bring families together. But in reality there is often relational strife, unmet expectations, disappointments, stress, anxiety, and just a feeling of being burned out and broken at this time of the year. If you identify with any of that, I have a few simple tips for you that may help you make your way through the season with Jesus at the center and your sanity intact.

First, Christmas is a great time to start (or re-start) Family Devotions. Called by many names (Family Devotions, Bible Time, Family Worship) the practice of gathering your children at a set time each day to read Scripture and pray is an important part of the spiritual life of the family. There are many reasons not to do family devotions (schedules, busyness, etc.) but the benefits far outweigh the challenges. It doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, this year our family is listening to a short Advent devotional from desiringgod.org and praying for missions in preparation for the Lottie Moon Christmas offering. It’s nothing complicated. But it is very meaningful.

Second, bring your family to church at Christmas. There are lots of unique opportunities and special services at this time of year, from cantatas to dinners to candlelight services to the regular Sunday morning and Sunday evening services of the church. I think at Christmas you ought to get your family in church every time the doors are open. I believe this because you need a respite from the hustle and bustle of the season. I believe this because you need to re-focus at a time when so many things are clamoring for your attention. But most of all I believe this because your children are watching you. If you set aside church attendance because of the rush of the holiday season, what does that say to them about the importance you place on worship? And as a side note, if you have extended family staying with you this holiday season, don’t let them keep you from church. Show your children that you place a high priority on worshiping God and let that be your testimony to your extended family too. It is not socially inappropriate to tell family staying with you on Saturday night, “We are going to church tomorrow morning. We would love to have you join us, but if you decide to stay here there are things for breakfast for you in the fridge and we’ll be back around noon.” Don’t leave it to them. Have a conviction about the importance of worship and stick to that conviction. You might think I am just saying this because as a pastor I have skin in the matter of church attendance. But my conviction is that weekly worship with a local body of Christ should be a non-negotiable in the life of a believer, unless they are providentially hindered. I am not saying this is a set-in-stone thing or that you are a bad person if you disagree with me, but I do throw it out there for your consideration.

Third, give special attention to cultivating your marriage during the Christmas season. The holidays are a strange mix of frenetic activity and empty time, of well-worn traditions which break the daily routines of life. The holidays are a time that can push couples apart unless they are especially mindful of each other. Serve one another in the frenetic times. Connect with one another in the empty times. Enjoy traditions together, even if they are not your thing. Try to make sure your spouse’s life is made easier because of your genuine sacrificial love and service. Spend some time every day talking together, but guard your heart and your words. In social settings, let your words be full of grace toward your spouse, or else let them be few. Let the wife or husband you are in private be the same as the spouse you are in public, provided that you are seeking to be a godly husband or wife. If you are just living for yourself, let Christmastime be a time that leads you to repentance as you remember that God so loved that He gave. Let Christmas be a time that binds you together rather than breaking you apart.

Finally, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Seek to enjoy this season for what it is rather than for what you hope it will be. Don’t be discouraged when things go wrong, because they always will in a fallen world. Enjoy the journey and don’t spend the whole season waiting for that one favorite thing you always do. And don’t forget those who are struggling with grief and hardship at Christmastime. Maybe the best medicine for your own soul will be to help somebody else.

I do not write these things as one who has mastered them. They are just principles I think are helpful for everyday living that I am striving to see at work in my own life. I hope you find something here that helps you enjoy this time of the year.

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.

Breaking the Starbucks Cycle

10 Nov

The Christian culture of Christmas grievance has started early this year, with a spat over Starbucks coffee cups being de-Christmasized to a generic red cup for the season. Seems some Christians are up in arms over this change, just another sign of cultural decadence in a world gone wrong.

Now if holes opened tomorrow morning all over the world and every Starbucks in the world fell into the ground I wouldn’t bat an eye (provided there were no people inside). I have no use whatsoever for 16 ounces of scorched bean juice with a fancy flavor additive all for just $5.95. And any place that just won’t name their sizes Small, Medium and Large lost me before I even go in the door anyway. So putting aside all the faux corporate hipsterishness of Starbucks, and my general crankiness about faux hipsters, what does this latest dustup teach us?

I believe what it teaches us above all is that the culture war is so out of control that we have lost all ability to reason. I love Jesus and reason. That sentence is not a contradiction. I believe reason is a gift of God. Our popular culture has lost it.

Here is an analysis of any Christmas dustup in a few simple steps . . .

  1. Some Christian somewhere objects to something a business or government entity does to shut down the full expression of Christmas sentiment.
  2. The objection gets picked up by social media, Fox News, etc.
  3. Christians respond on social media by either 1) agreeing with the objection or 2) telling everyone to lighten up or 3) telling everyone to stop nitpicking and get on with serving people and sharing the gospel.
  4. In almost every case, the overwhelming majority of Christians online voice either sentiment 2 or 3. And I mean overwhelming. Like 95% overwhelming.
  5. Despite the truth of #4 above, some on the other side of the Christian fence take the opportunity to bash all the Christians for their hatred and intolerance and general uptightness, missing the irony of their own uptightness at being outraged over someone else’s outrage.
  6. Further, some who oppose Christianity take the opportunity to rail against Christians for being obsessed with cups when they could be out feeding the poor, clothing the homeless, and generally doing good (conveniently forgetting the fact that much of the good that is done in communities is done through churches and other faith-based organizations).
  7. It all ends with everyone getting mad, being further entrenched in their positions and waiting for the next big controversy and of course the predictable, “See, this is why young people aren’t coming to church.”

How can we break this cycle?

Don’t go to Starbucks. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Seriously, for all the talk in our culture of tolerance, there is precious little of it anywhere to be found. Why are we so threatened by people who have different opinions than ours? Why do universities set up “safe zones” for students when Christian or conservative speakers come on campus? Are we really so weak? There are more opinions today than ever, and less real conversation. When did disagreement become so distasteful? When did being wrong become such a sin? When did acknowledging that I am not omniscient become such a scarlet letter?

So we can break this cycle in two ways . . . by really knowing people and by focusing more on a micro level than on a macro level.

I believe we are more connected and less relational than we have ever been. The Information Age has made us curators of information with empty souls. We now have unparalleled capacities to produce and consume information but so often this process is devoid of human contact. We need to look each other in the eye again, across the table. Do you know, really know, anyone? Do you have friends who are different from you? Christians, do you have friendships with anyone outside your denominational or theological bubble? Do you have friendships with any non-Christians? Just friendships, not projects? I could ask the same questions of the non-Christian.

I do not believe that if you develop friendships with people who think differently than you that you will lose your faith or your worldview. I do believe you will be kinder and more thoughtful in the expression of your worldview, which will actually serve to give it greater power in the long run. Shrieking bombast has an immediate effect, like yelling “fire!” in a crowd, but used too often it becomes easy to ignore. If I am aggrieved by every little thing my ideological opposites do, eventually I just become a bitter, mean-spirited curmudgeon making little positive impact on others around me.

Apart from relationships, we would also do well to bring things down to a micro level rather than a macro level. What I mean by this is that we so often want to solve the problems of the world or get consumed with things happening thousands of miles away while ignoring the bigger problems in our immediate sphere of influence. If Christians and non-Christians alike would simply focus on how they can bring blessing to their particular place in the world, we’d be a lot better off. There’s a place for tackling macro issues (like how to break the Starbucks cycle) but macro people who are not also micro people become clanging symbols in a stressed out world that needs to hear the gentle strings of love. It is harder to live on the micro level. No one is going to think you’re smart. No one will give you a “like” for changing your elderly parent’s diaper. But in the end, real life is always found here. The big ideas, the great conversation, it’s all good. But if it doesn’t touch who I am on the ground, it’s a waste, an exercise in pride and futility.

“Good will to men (and women)” is God’s gift at Christmas time. Seems like if we could regard each other with good will it would go a long way toward making this season (and all year) a lot better.

Sunday’s Sermon — Matthew 1:2-11, The Scandalous Grace of God

15 Dec

Have you ever noticed how untrue to life many Christmas songs 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. Let’s Pray.

Sunday’s Sermon — The Four Gifts of Matthew 1:1

12 Dec

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.













How Can You Bless Your Pastor This Christmas?

16 Dec

I have often thought that, in most churches, pastors get more credit than they deserve and more blame than they deserve. Most of the time, the third grade Sunday School teacher isn’t showered with compliments every Sunday and gifts at Christmastime, but neither is he or she asked why the sanctuary is so cold or blamed when offerings are low.

As an expression of appreciation, pastors are often given gifts at Christmas by members of the congregation. These gifts are appreciated. A restaurant gift card, a nice note, a gift for my children, other expressions like these are wonderful. But I want to share with you today the one way you can bless your pastor most fully this Christmas (if he is a good pastor). Are you ready?

Grow in love for God.

Any pastor with a real heart for ministry will be far more thrilled with a congregation of joyful worshipers than with a gift card or a box of candy. You will bless your pastor by sharing with him the things you are learning from God’s Word, not just through his teaching, but in your own reading. You will encourage your pastor by sharing with him answers to prayer. The best gift you can give your pastor is to not to love him or give him adulation. The best gift you can give him is to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle John expressed this heart’s desire in 3 John, verse 4, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”   The apostle Paul had this heart for the growth of those with whom he ministered as well. He wrote in the first chapter of 2 Corinthians, ” Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy.”

Of course, I’m not saying that your motivation for growth should be to please your pastor. I’m simply saying that if you and others in your congregation are growing, you are going to have a happy pastor, whether he receives a gift card at Christmas or not.

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