Tag Archives: Jesus

Friday Night Ramblings

2 Mar

A few random thoughts on a Friday evening . . .

  • Good fiction and good biography share the common trait of compelling narrative. We seem to be wired for story. Interesting that so much of the Bible is story (and the whole book has an overarching storyline).
  • Reading poetry is a wake-up call for those enmeshed in the information age.
  • I believe most of us would lose weight and feel better if we gave up sugar and simple carbs.
  • I believe giving up sugar and simple carbs is for many of us as difficult as a two pack a day guy quitting smoking.
  • Doing the hard things early in the day is often wise.
  • I would prefer to listen to a “secular” song that grapples with life and reality over a “spiritual” song that is empty or lacking in biblical content.
  • For modern day “spiritual” music that is not lacking in biblical content, I don’t think you can do much better than Andrew Peterson.
  • I admired Billy Graham. Never met him and only heard him once in person. I like the fact that the good news about Jesus went out in his death as it had in his life.
  • Why can’t we look at school shootings in a holistic way instead of running to our ideological corners to defend what we care about or destroy what we detest? Why not instead come together and work together, leaving nothing off the table, using an evidence-based approach to develop policies that will save lives.? We can’t prevent evil behavior but is there a way to protect people while also upholding personal freedom?
  • My favorite movies of the last few years (in no particular order) . . . Lion, Fences, Les Miserables, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Rogue One, LaLa Land, Hidden Figures, Doubt
  • My favorite movies of all time . . . To Kill a Mockingbird, Jaws, On the Waterfront, A Face in the Crowd, A Few Good Men, Shawshank Redemption (TV version), In the Heat of the Night, Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, The Natural, Lord of the Rings Trilogy
  • With all that said, I am not a huge movie person. I may go to two movies a year and don’t watch many on TV.
  • Fiction I enjoyed (but didn’t read until after the age of 40) . . . Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jayber Crow, Hannah Coulter, P.G. Wodehouse books (hilarious).
  • If I could only have one style of music to listen to for the rest of my life I think I would choose the singer-songwriters of the 70’s (James Taylor, Carole King, Bread, Cat Stevens, etc.).
  • Why do some people think being against abortion is only a religious issue? I’d be against it based on the science alone.
  • How many of the decisions we make are rooted in our idolatries? (scary thought)
  • You’re always going to let people down, and they are always going to let you down. When it happens, gratitude is better than bitterness.
  • Jesus is great and He is good. He is full of grace and truth. In His cross we find a firm place to stand and a soft place to fall. We find in His perfect life not only a model but His very righteousness accounted to us through faith. We find in His death on the cross the only way to be delivered from the righteous wrath of God against sin. We find in His empty tomb the proof that He is who He says He is and that as He lives, so will we. This is my hope. I pray you will find life and hope in Him too, the way, the truth and the life.

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 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 1:2-11 “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 — Week Ten, Day Three

2 Aug

Today’s study focused on formal efforts to alter the Jesus of truth presented in Scripture to a more acceptable Jesus. Thomas Jefferson did this with his Jefferson Bible which removed elements of the supernatural. Nineteenth century scholars did this with their “quest for the historical Jesus.” Twentieth century scholars like Rudolph Bultmann did this with their program of “demythologization.” In the late twentieth century scholars of the Jesus Seminar tried to discern in the gospels which were the core teachings of Jesus and which were later additions from His followers. Finally, in the twenty first century we have the immensely popular Dan Brown novels The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons. Brown’s novels revolve around the idea that the truth about Jesus has been obscured by a conspiracy of Church powers.

All of these formal efforts to alter our understanding of Jesus have affected our culture profoundly. But the more profound change has taken place in the hearts of countless people who have altered their concept of Jesus without telling anyone. A little shift here, a little change there, and suddenly I have made a god in my own image. This is a real danger. The only antidote is prayerful attention to Scripture and a willingness to believe what God says even if it is difficult to accept or understand. Sometimes, things are difficult for us because of our background. For example, we might be tempted to overemphasize or underestimate Jesus’ teachings on poverty and wealth based on what kind of political background we were raised in as children. We have to honestly face the words and works of Jesus and come to terms with who He really is and this is part of worship. Getting to know Him more accurately is a means of drawing near to Him. Any other approach leaves us in the end worshiping a god of our own making.

Behold Your God — Week Ten Introduction

30 Jul

We are now heading on to the homestretch of our Behold Your God study this summer.

This week, we explore two particular dangers on the road to beholding God: idolatry and pragmatism. We will get into these two dangers as the week.

Have you ever heard anyone say, “I like to think of God as . . .” or “my God would never . . .?” If you’ve heard these kinds of phrases or used them yourself, you are in a danger zone. When it comes to who God really is, it is absolutely irrelevant what I think. Now for my own life, it is essential what I think of God. But my thoughts of God do not change who He is at all. He is who He is whether I believe in Him or not, whether I twist His reality to fit my conceptions of who He ought to be or not.

So the question really isn’t “what do I think about God?” the real question is, “what, if anything, does God say about Himself?” If God tells us who He is, then we really have a basis on which to believe in Him. If He doesn’t tell us who He is, we are left with the best thoughts of the highest minds, but they are all human just the same. So our understanding of God comes down to whether He has authentically revealed Himself and whether we can learn from that revelation.

God has revealed Himself to all people through the book of nature. The universe displays an order and design, a symmetry and a power that points to a great God. But understanding this is insufficient to save us. We cannot be saved just by believing God exists. But God has revealed Himself also through the Word of Scripture. God has revealed who He is by giving us His inspired Word. So we must strive to understand what He has revealed and walk in those truths. In Scripture, we can find the way to salvation and life with God. That way is Jesus, the living Word, who is the God-Man, who came to live and die and rise for the glory of God and the good of His people. God has spoken to us through His Son, but the truth about His Son is given to us in the Bible. Therefore, if we are to know Jesus well, we must know the Bible. Otherwise, we are in danger of creating a Jesus of our own conception rather than the One God has revealed. In so doing, we will be sitting ducks for the kind of idolatry and pragmatism explained in this week’s study.

The Key to Joy

1 Jul

Yesterday I acknowledged in a post that I do not always have a sense of the joy I should have at such a great salvation as that which I’ve received in Christ. I confessed several reasons for that and promised that I would write further about joy in a later post.

How do we live a life of sustained joy and the other aspects of the fruit of the Spirit God describes in Galatians 5? I believe the key is to realize that joy must be found in Jesus and not in myself or my circumstances. All other joys, all other sources of hope, all other things I value will ultimately wither and fade. Every other thing I look to, including myself, is a house built on sand. So God must show me how eternal and precious and valuable Jesus is, or I will constantly be trying to find life elsewhere and coming up short.

That said, is there anything for me to do in this, or do I just wait for God to open my eyes? The Bible answers strongly that yes, we do have a calling on our lives. It is not to try harder or be better. The calling is not even primarily to ministry to others. The calling God has given us is to look to Jesus. We are called to behold His beauty, to see His glory. We are called to delight our hearts in Him. We are called to seek and draw near and hold fast and encourage one another in this journey. We are called to renew our minds in view of God’s mercy to us in Christ. When God opens our eyes to Jesus’ saving work and we trust Him, we are justified, made right in God’s sight on the basis of what Jesus has done. But the life begun by faith is also continued in faith. We keep living that life of looking to Jesus and we find as a by-product the fruit of His Spirit growing in our lives. Now to be sure, God uses other things to shape us and grow us as well. Circumstance, other people, the Church and many other things are tools in God’s hands He uses to move us forward with Him. But if I had to put forward the one key to a life of joy and holiness, it would be this: Understand that Jesus is the fountain of living waters and keep coming to Him to drink every day of your life. Give up on all the broken cisterns of good works and approval by the culture and traditionalism and trendiness. Resolve to know Jesus Christ. Fix your eyes on Him. Press toward that goal. Live in His Word. Walk with Him. Other things will begin to align when we do that. If you are really looking to Jesus, you’ll have a life that begins to look more and more like His, a life characterized by joyful sacrifice.

 

Behold Your God — Week Four, Day Three

21 Jun

Whereas the Old Testament speaks of Christ in types and shadows, the gospels reveal Jesus in the fullness of His majesty. Jesus’ story leaps off the pages of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We must never allow these accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry to grow cold to us. Read and meditate over the gospels often.

But beyond this danger, there is another danger when we come to the gospels. We may come looking for what the gospels say to us rather than looking to what Jesus’ life says about God. When John says of Jesus in John 1:18, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side (Jesus), He has made Him known” we see there the truth that if we want to know what God is like, we should look to Jesus.

Jesus came to manifest the glory of God and to display the holiness and mercy of God. If we go to the gospels beginning with what they say to us, we might miss who Jesus really is and not know God as we should. Many people who do not believe in God at all find some value in the teachings of Jesus. How tragic would it be to find moral values or direction for living but not find Jesus? After all, Jesus teaches us many good things: to love the unlovable, to sacrifice for the greater good, to care for human need, to live simply, to live for others, to not be attached to money, to not be caught up in religiosity, to reject hypocrisy, to be truthful. On and on we could go with the excellent moral values of Jesus. But it would be a tragedy to know and practice all these things without bowing to Jesus as Lord. Unless you focus on His person, and what He reveals of God, it is possible that you might like His values without ever coming to know Him at all.

So when you come to the Gospels, ask this question: what does this passage teach me about God? If you start with this question, you will begin to re-orient your life around God and relationship with Him and as a wonderful by-product of this relationship you will find many personal blessings. There are great blessings to be found in the Christian life, but they are tied up in the Person of Jesus. Many people are defeated in their lives because they are trying to live Christian values without a close and growing relationship with Christ. Beholding God in the face of Jesus Christ will reshape your whole life.

Behold Your God — Week Four, Day Two

20 Jun

One of the most significant verses in the New Testament is shared in today’s study. Luke 24 recounts the story of Jesus’ meeting with the two men on the road to Emmaus. Jesus walks with them after His resurrection, His true identity hidden from them. Jesus asks the men what has been going on and the men tell Him of the death of Jesus and reports of His resurrection. The men seem bewildered about what has happened, but Jesus stops them cold — “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” And then the great verse from Luke . . . “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”

Luke 24:27 is so important to me because it establishes the fact that the story of the Old Testament is the story not only of God and Israel. It is also the story of Jesus. When Jesus wanted to explain the cross and the empty tomb, He went to the Old Testament. The story of the New Testament is inextricably linked with the story of the Old Testament. And notice not only Jesus’ commitment to Scripture, notice also His view of the importance of the order of things. He began with Moses. Here the text doesn’t mean that Jesus began with the story of Moses, but with the first five books of the Bible, whose authorship is attributed to Moses. So what Luke 24:47 is saying is that Jesus began with Genesis and then traced the story of God throughout the Old Testament.

I love the fact that every time I go to the Old Testament, more than likely I will see some promise, some shadow, some connection to Jesus.

In taking all of this back to the attributes of God, we can trace the continuity of the Scriptures to God’s sovereignty (through inspiration) and immutability. The Old Testament and the New Testament are not two totally different stories because God is unchanging. He hasn’t changed His plan in the New Testament. His plan has been building throughout the Old Testament to reach its fulfillment in Jesus but the plan itself to bring sons and daughters to glory has not changed.

Behold Your God — Week Four, Day One

19 Jun

Today’s study contains two of my favorite Scriptures — John 1:14 and Hebrews 1:1-3. These passages, along with Colossians 1 and other passages, establish the fact that Jesus is God. Let’s look for just a minute at Hebrews 1:1-3 . . .

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

This passage speaks first of TWO ERAS . . .

Long ago — When God spoke through His prophets to the people of Israel.

These last days — When God has spoken to His people by His Son. Note the last days are marked by the coming of Jesus. We have been living in the last days for 2000 years.

There is continuity in God’s speech, because God never changes. But with Jesus, the promises to the prophets have found their fulfillment.

The passage then speaks of the PERSON OF CHRIST in a very interesting way . . .

He is heir of all things (Emphasis on Jesus’ Lordship)

He is the one through whom the world was made (Emphasis on Jesus’ Power)

  He is the radiance of the glory of God (Emphasis on Jesus’ Divinity)

 and the exact imprint of His nature (Emphasis on Jesus’ Divinity)

He upholds the universe by the word of His power (Emphasis on Jesus’ Power)

He sat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, after finishing His work of   redemption (Emphasis on Jesus’ Lordship).

So in the center of the passage is this message — Jesus is God!

Radiating from this center is the truth that He is the Almighty Lord, the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer of the world.

It is a beautifully-written passage and a beautiful truth. But the question we must face this week is, do we believe it? And will we live on the basis of this truth?

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