Thursday, December 27, 2007

Matthew 3:15-17 The Baptism of Jesus Part III

Jesus was capable of a stinging rebuke when it was necessary. He routinely called the Pharisees and Sadducees vipers and children of the devil. Twice in His ministry, He drove people doing business in the temple out with a whip. However, Jesus was also compassionate and caring when dealing with people who were honestly seeking God. His response to John in verse 15 is just such a case.

John had wanted to refuse to baptize Jesus because he did not feel it was appropriate. We noted in the previous lesson why John felt this way. Jesus responded to John by telling him to “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus didn’t demand John’s obedience though He could have done so. He reassured him. He used John’s question to draw a response of faith and obedience from him. Also, He used the opportunity to reveal Himself to John in a supernatural way.

As I read this verse, I struggled for some time over what Jesus meant when He said that the baptism was “fitting to fulfill all righteousness.” We know that baptism does not save. The testimony of scripture is overwhelming that baptism is simply a rite administered to those who profess faith in Jesus Christ and have repented of their sins or, in the case of John’s baptism, the baptism was administered to someone who publically confessed and repented of their sins in preparation of the coming of the Messiah. Therefore, the baptism of Jesus could not have made Him righteous or added to the righteousness that He would impute to believers by His death, burial, and resurrection. We know that Jesus didn’t do anything unless it was the will of God the Father (Luke 2:49, John 8:28, John 12:49, John 14:31). Therefore, the baptism of Jesus did fulfill all righteousness because Jesus was obedient to God’s will. Since Jesus went to John to be baptized, God must have sent Him to do that. Further, if Jesus went to John to be baptized, that would mean that God wanted John to baptize Him. Therefore, they were both being obedient to God the Father. Also, Jesus’ baptism signified His approval of John’s ministry. If the God of the universe was willing to allow John to baptism Him, that meant John’s baptism must have been valid for those who repented and were baptized. In addition, by being baptized by John, Jesus indentified Himself with the other sinners who were baptized and with all sinners who He would save by His precious blood. Finally, this baptism announced the entry of Jesus into public ministry. In much the same way as Moses was commanded to wash Aaron and his sons prior to their beginning of the Levitical priesthood, so our true High Priest presented Himself to be washed as a symbol of entering into the work of ministry.

We notice a supernatural affirmation of Jesus and His life up to this point. This is an important statement for us to take note of because there are people who teach lies about the Son of God in churches today. According to a survey I’ve heard of (probably Barna), a troubling percentage of people who call themselves Christians believe that Jesus was a sinner just like everyone else. People actually teach that in churches as crazy as that sounds. Furthermore, people teach that Jesus was not divine but was a man that was inhabited by God after this baptism. However, we notice a supernatural sign as Jesus comes up from the water in verse 16. The verse says that “the heavens were opened to Him and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him.” This supernatural sight was followed by the very voice of God. From God’s own statement, we can tell that Jesus was divine and had lived a perfect, sinless life. God said in verse 17 “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” God identifies Jesus as His Son. Therefore, He must have been divine. A human being can become a child of God through the power of Jesus and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, but we do not start out being the children of God. God doesn’t say Jesus became His Son but that “this is My beloved Son”. Also, He dismisses any doubt of the purity of Christ’s life to this point by saying that He was well pleased with Jesus. Psalm 1 teaches us that God will not have sinners in His presence. If He calls the life of Jesus a life with which He was well pleased, that life must have been a sinless life.

As we read these words of Jesus and God the Father, we can be encouraged that we have a faithful, compassionate High Priest who is able to redeem us and present us faultless before God. Praise the Lord.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Matthew 3:14 The Baptism of Jesus Part II

John the Baptist testified numerous times that he was not the Christ and that the Christ was to come after him. John was humble and recognized his role as the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah. Sometimes in life, we have people who are convinced of their own importance and want to draw attention to themselves. Their motto seems to be “Look at me everyone.” John the Baptist was the antithesis of that type of person. We can observe his humility in his response to Jesus when He came to the Jordan to be baptized.

First of all, we notice that Matthew records John’s attitude toward Jesus coming to be baptized. John is said to have tried to prevent Him. The Greek word translated prevent is diakoluo. According to Vincent’s Word Studies, this verb is in the imperfect tense which means John had it in his mind to prevent Jesus from being baptized. There is also a Greek proposition attached which intensifies the force of the verb. In other words, John had strong objections to Jesus coming to him for baptism. So much so that he would have barred Him from taking part in the sacrament.

As we study further in this verse, we see why John had such strong feelings about this. First of all, John recognized not only who he was but who Jesus was. He said to him in verse 14 “I need to be baptized by You”. As a preacher to those in the wilderness of Judea, John was content to baptize those who came to him and repented of their sins. He was known as a wilderness man but he was also someone who sought the righteousness of God and had been filled with the Spirit of God since he was born. All in all, I think I’d be doing pretty well if I could be half as faithful to God as John was. But when he stood before God in human flesh, he shows humility. Not that he was proud and haughty before, but he recognizes that he is a sinner and is in the presence of the One who forgives sins. He knew the baptism he administered was merely a symbol of the spiritual reality that Christ would bring into this world. Therefore, he rightly recognizes that he needs what Jesus offers-true cleansing from sin. We should all pray for this kind of humble evaluation of ourselves. Whether we are pastors or laypersons, we all need to realize that we cannot achieve righteousness apart from our Lord Jesus.

Not only did he recognize his need of Christ’s baptism, but also Christ’s lack of need of his baptism. He said to him “…and are You coming to me?” He recognized the significance of the baptism he administered to those who come to him at the Jordan river. Those who came publically confessed of their sins and announced their repentance from those sins. Therefore, the baptism pictured a cleansing from sin. However, Jesus had no sin. John, in his question, not only recognizes Christ as the Messiah but also as the spotless Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. He acknowledges in his question not only his need of Christ but Christ’s sinlessness. This is an important point for us to consider. I have heard that an alarming number of Christians (professing) from all denominations have stated that they do not believe Jesus was sinless. Well, friend, if Jesus committed sin you and I have no hope whatsoever. The only way he could pay the price for our sin was for him to have no sin of his own. It is very important, therefore, that we observe not only John’s humble admission of his sinful state but also of Christ’s sinless perfection. We should praise God for clearly revealing these truths to us.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Matthew 3:13 The Baptism of Jesus part I

God is very particular in His timing. In Genesis, He told Abraham that his descendants would be in bondage in Egypt for 400 years and they were. He told several prophets in the Old Testament about the exile of Judah for 70 years and it came to pass. Jesus Christ lived for 30 years on this earth before he began His earthly ministry. While God did not choose to reveal why Christ labored in relative obscurity for those years, we do know that Jesus began His ministry in accordance with the will of God the Father. To begin that ministry, we see Him come to John to participate in John’s baptism at the Jordan River.

Observe with me first of all the great distance that Jesus traveled. The journey took Jesus from “Galilee to…Jordan”. Jesus grew up in Nazareth as noted in Chapter 2. As we read earlier in this chapter, John was baptizing in the wilderness of Judea. According to Bible scholars, this would have been about a 3 days journey. We’re not talking about a trip to the Quickie-mart to pick up some Diet Dr. Pepper. This was a journey made with a purpose. He had a single intent on this trip. Not only was the trip arduous, it was also voluntary. No one compelled Him to go to John. Of course, we know He was obedient to God the Father. However, as far as anything in the world was concerned, He was under no obligation to go and be baptized by John.

We notice also the humility our Lord demonstrated. He was the Lord of all creation. All things that were made were made through Him. He was the Light and the Life of men. He came as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to a sinner for baptism. Now, we know John was a righteous man in the sight of God. However, we also know that in Romans 3:23 that we all have sinned. Therefore, the God of the universe condescended and came to John. By rights, He could have sent for John and commanded him to come to Nazareth. Instead, He makes this trip and in doing so validates the baptism of John. Obviously, if God in human flesh is willing to come and participate in this baptism, that is about the best seal of approval you could get. When we are tempted to demand our rights and our own way, we should remember this example of humility that our Lord gave us and pray for the strength to behave likewise.

Finally, however, we notice that Jesus came to John for the purpose of being baptized. As we read this, I think a good question for us to ask is “Why?” John’s baptism was one of repentance. Repentance from personal, specific sin was the message John preached. However, Jesus was perfect. He had no sin nature and he never sinned. We’ll look at this more specifically in the next few verses, but Jesus’ baptism had nothing to do with sin but it did accomplish 3 things. First of all, as we observed earlier, it validated John’s baptism. 2nd of all, it gave the opportunity for a miraculous sign as a proof of His Divinity when the voice from heaven spoke. Finally, it signified that He was being set apart for His ministry by being ceremonially washed. By humbly making the long journey from Nazareth to Judea, Jesus publically demonstrated His commitment to His Father’s will.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Free at last!!!!!!!!!!!!


I should be back to a regular weekly posting schedule this week (maybe more than once a week). Our team finished the audit just in the nick of time on Friday. I can honestly say that the financial statements of the entity dated fiscal year end 6-30-07 fairly represent, in all material respects, the financial condition and activities reflected in those financial statements. That, by the way, is my PROFESSIONAL opinion.

Thank you for your paitience. God bless you.

in Him

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Workin' for a Livin'

I really intended to update this blog every week. The past month or so has been kind of tough. I work as an auditor. Right now, I'm on an audit of the financial statements. I am on the team responsible for auditing this lovely piece of accounting work and I am currently working harder than a one legged grape stomper. I will finish that audit and the ridiculous overtime December 7th. Until then, I may not be as regular as I like.


in Him

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Matthew 3:10-12 John’s Rebuke Part II

A common trend in modern evangelism is to concentrate on telling people the good news of Jesus and His love. In fact, the pastor of America’s largest church has said publicly that people already know how bad they are. They don’t need to be told about sin. God’s goodness is what will draw people to God. I imagine if John the Baptist were to evaluate that statement he would find it quite unbiblical. In fact, we can see from his rebuke of the Pharisees that rebuking people because of their sin and proclaiming God’s righteous judgment on that sin were core parts of his message. While we recognize that God is love and He is ready willing and able to forgive a truly repentant sinner, He is also too holy to allow sin to go unpunished. We see in these verses the hopelessness and helplessness of those who must face God’s judgment with their own righteousness rather than the righteousness of Christ.

John proclaims the hopelessness of the lost person in verse 10 of this chapter. He says that “the axe is laid to the root of the tree.” Trees are pretty defenseless against people with axes. I mean, they’re about as mobile as Drew Bledsoe. They are not going to dodge or get away from the One wielding this axe. They are also not going to recover from this judgment because the axe is laid at the “root” of the tree. This is final and absolute. And there is going to be no “faking it” during this judgment because the One wielding the axe is going to evaluate each tree based on whether the tree bears good fruit and that “every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” This is a picture of hopeless, absolutely final judgment. We know that judgment of the lost will include punishment in the lake of fire as described in the book of Revelation. The judgment will include total separation from God for all eternity. The lost will not be completely destroyed but instead will suffer forever in torment.

John teaches them that the baptism he brings was a picture of the coming future baptism which would come upon true believers. He performed a wet baptism whereby the person being baptized declared themselves to be a sinner in need of God’s saving grace. The Person (Jesus) who would come after him would perform the permanent baptism when He would baptize the believer with the “Holy Spirit”. The King James and New King James are based on a Greek text which adds “and with fire”. I’m not going to get into some huge discussion of textual criticism. I will say, however, that the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit does provide the means to purify us from sin and allow us to live holy lives. In that sense, the Holy Spirit is like a fire. In any case, John wanted the Pharisees to know that his baptism was a physical picture of the kind of spiritual reality that Christ would usher in with His death, burial, and resurrection.

Finally, John described the helplessness of the lost person facing the judgment of God. He states that the Messiah will come with His “winnowing fan in His hand” and that He would “thoroughly clean out His threshing floor.” Here is a picture of a farmer after harvest. He is on his threshing floor and with his winnowing fan he lifts the bundles of wheat and chaff on the floor into the air. The chaff is then caught by the wind and blow away. Therefore, he is able to separate the good from the bad. The Messiah used His winnowing fan (the gospel) to separate the wheat (the elect who were saved) from the chaff (those who rejected the gospel). And just to make sure they didn’t miss the point, he tells them the wheat will be gathered into the barn, but the chaff would be “burned up with unquenchable fire”.

The judgment of God on sin is not a popular conversation starter. Most people don’t like to be confronted with their own sin. However, the knowledge of our personal sin and the fact that it separates us from God is paramount. Unless we realize that fact, we will not repent. God is sovereign in the area of salvation and He will work His work in the lives of the elect. However, as Christians, we must follow John’s example and be willing to lovingly confront sin and proclaim God’s judgment in order to create what Paul calls in 2 Corinthians a “godly sorrow” that leads to repentance.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Matthew 3:7-9 John’s Rebuke Pt. 1

John the Baptist is one of my favorite Bible characters. Here was someone who was totally sold out for God and was willing to call it as he saw it. Actually, he was willing to call it as God saw it. Some people try to be diplomatic and not ruffle too many feathers. And as my friend Corey pointed out in his comment to my last post on Matthew, we should never be abrasive simply to be abrasive. Certainly, that is true. What we see in John the Baptist is a godly example of confrontation not just in these verses but elsewhere in Matthew. He stood for what was right without thought or care for his safety or comfort. His stinging rebuke of these religious leaders is an encouraging example of how he stood up for God.

In verse 7, we have seen how John rebuked the Pharisees for their purpose in coming out to his baptism. He asked them who had warned them to “flee from the wrath to come.” In fact, we find as we read the comparison passage in Luke chapter 3 that he said this to those who had come to him to be baptized. What it seems like happened was he addressed everyone the same way. Those who came out to him with a repentant heart responded by confessing their sins publically and specifically before being baptized. However, the Pharisees did not confess their sins because they did not believe they had sins. Their answer to his question would have been “No one warned us to flee”. God did not inspire the gospel writers to reveal the motivation of these men. However, it was not the same as the motivation of the crowd. Their purpose was not to prepare themselves spiritually for the coming of the Messiah. In fact, we know that they were actually enemies of our Lord.

John continued his rebuke of these godless hypocrites by pointing out that they had no proof of spiritual life within them. Oh, they were very religious. Outwardly, they looked righteous. However, inwardly they were spiritually dead. They could and did fool men but they could not fool God. John admonished them to “bear fruits worthy of repentance”. As I mentioned in my exposition of Psalms 1 verse 3, fruit trees bear fruit because they are fruit trees. It is a result of them being fruit trees assuming they have what they need to live (water, sunlight, etc.). They don’t strain or groan. I have never heard a fruit tree even once grunt with effort trying to produce fruit. They produce fruit in season. Also, they don’t get a choice as to what kind of fruit they produce. A green apple tree does not one day wake up and say “You know, I think today I’m going to produce some red apples just to shake things up a bit.” They produce fruit according to the kind of tree they are. Therefore, since these Pharisees were not good trees they did not produce the good fruits that would demonstrate that they had truly repented. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Finally, John rebuked them because of their pride. Ultimately, that is the root cause of all sin. When Satan rebelled against God, he said “I will ascend” and “I will be like the Most High”. Pride leads to spiritual downfall. Why? Because you cannot get help before you acknowledge there is a problem. These men assumed their spiritual condition was righteous and that they were right with God due to their biology. They believed that because they had descended from Abraham that they were spiritually secure. According to John MacArthur in his commentary on Romans, Abraham actually stood at the door to hell to make sure no Jew accidentally went there after death. However, John tells them not to rely on their relation to Abraham because it did them no spiritual good. In fact, he said that God could “raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” Talk about being replaceable. I mean, the thing that they thought made them so special suddenly was exposed by John to be meaningless. Today, we might say they had no job security. When we depend on anything other than the righteousness of Christ to make us right with God and empower us to live the Christian life, we are taking the same prideful attitude as the Pharisees.

As we see John reveal the hypocrisy of these men, we should be encouraged ourselves to stand up for the truth and to faithfully proclaim God’s word. God’s word is the means that we have to rebuke sin and call sinners to repentance. Let us ask God for the boldness to do just that.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Matthew 3:7 “You can fool some of the people some of the time…..”

As we read verse 6 of this chapter in Matthew, we saw a glorious picture of people coming to repentance as a result of the call of the Holy Spirit working through the preaching of John the Baptist. The true repentance of these people was evidenced by the public and specific confession of their sins. However, while their motives were pure, there were people who would come to the Jordan whose motives were not so godly. As we see John’s reaction, we are reminded that religious hypocrites still exist and we must be on guard for them even today.

Matthew records that while John was baptizing the truly repentant, “…he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism…” We should mention something about these two groups. As John MacArthur notes in his study bible “The Pharisees were traditionalists, the Sadducees were liberals. The Pharisees were separatists, the Sadducees were compromising opportunists.” Also, as noted elsewhere in scripture, the Sadducees rejected all scripture other than the 5 books of Moses and totally rejected anything supernatural. Furthermore, they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Basically, they lived life for the “now” and were probably what we would think of as theologically liberal. The Pharisees, on the other hand, were conservative to the point of being legalistic. They viewed law and tradition as a means to attain righteousness and strived to live a life separated from sin. However, as we will see over the coming months of studying this wonderful gospel, their blindness to the truth of God’s purpose in the law led them to the greatest sin off all-the rejection of Jesus Christ. Needless to say, it was highly unlikely that these men came to the baptism of John with truly repentant hearts.

John was able to recognize their true motivations. I love John’s address to them here. We have a man in John who was willing to call an ace an ace and a spade a spade. Sometimes, tact and diplomacy is required in dealing with a situation. Dealing with a false teacher or religious leader is not one of those times. John begins his rebuke of them by calling them a “Brood of vipers”. Certainly, this was not the kind of response these men were used to. Because John lived in the wilderness, he was probably used to seeing broods of snakes that lived their in the desert. He knew that, while they may look small and harmless, that they are full of deadly poison. By addressing them as such, John insulted them and rebuked them for their religious hypocrisy. The people respected these leaders and it would probably have been somewhat shocking to hear them rebuked so strongly.

However, John didn’t stop there with his rebuke. The main point of his proclamation was to reveal the hypocritical motivations behind their arrival. He asked them “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” The answer, of course, was “No one.” They were not out there because they wanted to prepare themselves for the arrival of the Messiah. To them, it was a show. Perhaps they came because they were curious. Perhaps they came because they wanted the people to see them take part in the baptism so that they would still be seen as the head religious leaders. Whatever their reason, they did not come with right motivations. To them, it was just another religious activity-something to add to their resume. Very likely, John’s rebuke was quite stinging.

As we will notice in the coming weeks, John did not baptize them. I think sometimes in churches, we are too ready to accept someone into our local congregation without making sure they realize the seriousness of the commitment or making sure they are actually saved. Of course, you can’t be 100% sure because anyone can fool people. However, the church is not a social club for networking opportunities, but a holy congregation of saints who worship and serve the Lord together. People can come, just as the Pharisees and Sadducees did, for selfish purposes. Like John, we should not accept those kinds of people in our congregation but we should faithfully proclaim the word of the Lord to them and everyone who has not professed saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Well, well, what do we have here?


I've been posting on this blog for several months now. If you've been here before, welcome back. If this is the first time you've visited, welcome. I thought it might be helpful if I offered a brief explanation of the format here. As the title says, I started this blog with the idea of teaching through books of the Bible verse by verse. I had been going through Matthew but have recently added Psalm 1. I also posted some teaching from Philippians because I had the opportunity to sub for my Sunday School teacher and since I was going to write the lesson out anyway, I decided to post it. Obviously, though, Philippians is not verse by verse. The teacher only asked me to sub for 3 weeks and they were not consecutive.

Anyway, you will notice on the left something called "Labels". The item Matthew 1 has all the blogs for Matthew chapter one and Matthew 2 is all the blogs from Matthew chapter two and so forth. I got to thinking while it made sense to me it might not be clear to everyone.

Also, if you stop and read something, I would be encouraged if you would leave a comment. You don't have to name yourself or even agree with me. My email is in my profile, also, if you want to contact me. I simply have comment moderation on to prevent sexually explicit comments from being posted. I know, "Why would anyone post a comment like that here?" I'd just rather be overcautious than not cautious enough.

In closing, thanks for stopping by and reading a bit. I hope you are encouraged by the truth revealed in God's holy and precious word.

in Him

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Psalm 1:3 Righteousness and success

When we look at the life of Joseph, Jacob’s son, we see a man supernaturally blessed by God. He rose from the ranks of slavery to the heights of being the 2nd in command of the nation of Egypt. Likewise, Daniel was extraordinarily successful as an administrator and adviser to the Babylonian and Medo-Persian Empire. Certainly, God allowed these men to succeed and enabled them to perform these great tasks. However, if you were to listen to most ministers on TBN, you would get the impression that success and wealth are results or even proofs of salvation. I’m afraid as much as I would like to be guaranteed success and wealth, the Bible does not promise those things to every believer as the world defines them. As we read this verse, we can get a clearer glimpse of what God does in fact promise those who have saving faith.

As we have read, persons who are true followers of Christ do not associate themselves closely with those who reject the truth. In fact, we have seen that a person who loves God also loves His word. In this verse, we see the result of this relationship. We are told this person “shall be like a tree planted”. Now, trees are completely dependant on someone else for their survival. They don’t, nor can they, work or save or exert effort to take care of themselves. Either they are taken care of by a man or by God. In much the same way, regardless of how we like to think of ourselves as self sufficient, we are totally dependant on God. God chose us before the foundation of the world. God numbered our days before we were even born. Like it or not, we are God’s property. We didn’t just happen to come into existence by chance but we were “planted”. We are where we’re supposed to be. We are tended by a loving Gardener who tirelessly provides for every need. For instance, we are not planted just anywhere. Rather, we are planted by “rivers of water”. Our loving Father wants us to be taken care of so we aren’t just planted near one stream but by “rivers” (plural). There have been times where I haven’t had everything I wanted and there have also been times where I wondered how a need was going to be met. However, my God has never once failed to provide for my or my families needs.

In addition to providing for my needs, He also provides for my growth. A person whom God has planted will, according to this Psalm, “bring forth [his] fruit in season”. Now, the last time I was around a fruit tree was the Bradford pair tree in my mother-in-law’s yard. I have never once heard that tree, or any fruit tree, strain with effort to bring forth fruit. They bear fruit because they are fruit trees. It is a result of their existence. We, as Christians, bear spiritual fruit. As Jesus said in Matthew 7 “No good tree bears bad fruit and no bad tree bears good fruit”. God may at times have to prune us to make us more fruitful, but the fact is that fruit trees bear fruit based on the kind of tree they are. Of course, none of us are on the same level of maturity spiritually. Therefore, we bring forth our fruit “in season” in keeping with the will of the Master Gardener.

Now, some people could read this Psalm and say “Hey, look at these next two verses. See. There’s proof that all Christians will have success.” However, let’s think about what these next two phrases and remember that this is talking about someone who has a right relationship with God. I live in Tennessee and here it is turning fall. Just barely but the leaves are turning none the less. I believe this is my favorite time of year because of the beauty of the falling leaves and the dead grass (I hate cutting grass). When I read this verse, I wasn’t exactly sure what it would mean that the subject of this Psalm had leaves that “shall not whither”. However, when I reflect on the fact that the leaves that are falling have died I remember that I will live forever in heaven with God and my Christian brothers and sisters. I’m going to die (or be raptured) physically but I will never die as far as eternity is concerned. Likewise, I may suffer loss and misfortune in this world. In fact, I have. Some things were due to my stupidity and some were not my fault. However, they were all in the providence of Almighty God. Even though I have had success and failure here in this world, ultimately “whatever [I do] shall proper” because I will eventually shed this mortal body and leave this sinful world for a perfect home in heaven. No matter how ugly things get here, I know that ultimately I will have true joy beyond anything I could ask or imagine when I come to live forever in heaven with Him who “planted” me in His garden not because of my worth but because of His grace and mercy.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Matthew 3:5-6 The Baptism of John-A Baptism of Repentance

For years as a Christian, I floundered. I didn’t grow or produce spiritual fruit because I wasn’t studying the word of God. I don’t think I’m the only Christian that could say that was the case in their lives. That is why I am convicted as a teacher of God’s word that the Bible must be taught from cover to cover. I am totally sold out for God’s word because of the power that it had to change my life. True Biblical preaching produces change in the lives of people who are willing to submit to it. We see this is the case as we study these verses today.

First of all, we must remember the context of these verses. John had, for some time, been preaching in the wilderness of Judea that because of the advent of the Christ people needed to repent. He proclaimed that they needed to prepare themselves spiritually for the arrival of Jesus. We find that his preaching had an effect on some of the hearers. Matthew records that “Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan” responded to his message. Now, as we read that, we recognize that Matthew couldn’t have possibly meant every single person came in response. The picture the evangelist paints here for the reader is that of a large, diverse crowd coming in response to this message. They came from the city, from the county and from the boondocks. The message of the gospel, as Paul notes in Colossians, is for the whole world. We see by the response of the people in this region that Biblical message preached by John drew people regardless of where they came from.

Not only do we observe the variety of people who came in response, but we notice the result the preaching had on their hearts by their actions. First of all, they exhibited their true repentance by agreeing to be baptized. The Greek word that is transliterated “baptized” is the word “baptizo” which means “to immerse in liquid”. As John Gill notes in his commentary, Jews had practiced baptism of Gentiles who would convert to Judaism to symbolize that they were now ceremonially clean. Therefore, when these Jews participated in this baptism, they were making the startling profession that they had, in fact, been Gentiles all along spiritually speaking. They were recognizing their need of a savior and the inability of their form of religion to produce the righteousness that God would require.

They also come to be by the one who exhorted them to prepare spiritually. They came to John in response to his preaching. The message of repentance had pierced their dead hearts and they came to John in the same spirit of the jailer who fell at Paul’s feet asking “What must I do to be saved?” Some of these people may have had money or power. It is easy to imagine that most of them were better off than John was because, after all, he lived in the woods. Coming out to this man was an act of humility for these people and speaks to the genuineness of their motivations.

Notice also the exclamation of the people. They came to John “confessing their sins”. The Greek word “exomologio” and it can mean “to acknowledge or agree fully.” In confessing their sins, they were agreeing with God that their sin was wrong. This confession was probably public, with people lining the shores of the Jordan while the person was being baptized. It was probably specific. I can’t imagine anyone confessing their “sins” (plural) and not listing the specifically.

This awesome sight of truly repentant people demonstrates the power of God’s word to change lives. This man of God faithfully proclaimed his message. He sowed the seed of the word. Of course, God was faithful, as he always is, to produce of harvest of truly repentant people who would bring glory to His name by allowing people to see His love and mercy in forgiving them of their sins.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Psalms 1:2-What do you delight in?

Some of the men at my church are going through a Bible study called “The Exemplary Husband”. One of the points made by one of the guys was that how we spend our time demonstrates what we value as a priority. I would add to that statement that if we claim to be Christians and to love the Lord but our lives do not reflect that, we are deluding ourselves. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. In this verse, we see a practical observation about the reaction of a godly person to the word of God.
Scripture records in Psalm 1:1 that a godly person wants nothing to do with ungodly people or activities. Verse 2 informs us why a godly person has this mindset. To them, the Bible is not just a book. It doesn’t just sit on the shelf and collect dust or hang around in the car until next time they go to church (unless, of course, they have a copy in the house that they read). The psalmist writes “his delight is in the law of the Lord”. In our society, we are bombarded with a constant barrage of suggestions as to what will make us happy. We are told that more money, more power, or more prestige will bring true satisfaction. However, the Bible here tells us that a godly person’s “delight” should be in the law of the Lord, the Bible. The word “delight” translates the Hebrew word “hepes” which could be used not only as “delight” but also “treasure”. In other words, a godly person finds the Bible to be a treasure. Now, if someone values something, they will treat it as special to them. When I was in school studying music, I had a tenor saxophone that my parents gave me. I polished it regularly. I treated it like a piece of jewelry. The way I treated it was proof of how much it meant to me.
A person who loves the Bible will spend time reading it, as the psalmist notes. “In His law he meditates day and night”. Now, if he is meditating on the Bible day and night, he is meditating on it all the time. There may be times when you cannot actually read through the scripture, but you can still meditate on it. I was the part time pastor of a small church in Northeast Alabama. For a full time day job, I ran a pizza restaurant. Many times, I would have to cover for drivers who didn’t show up to work. I didn’t have unlimited time to study. Most of the time, then, I would be working on a passage 2 or 3 weeks before I would preach it (one of the advantages of sequential exposition). I would be driving around delivering a pizza and thinking about a few verses that I had been studying. The psalmist paints the same sort of pictures here. This person is constantly consumed with God’s word. Now, let us imagine what kind of life this person must live. When someone treats him rudely, what kind of reaction would God’s word lead him to have? When he is fearful, what kind of comfort would it give him? How would our lives be different if we meditated on God’s word day and night?
Observe, however, that he doesn’t simply read the Bible. He “meditates” (haga-Hebrew) on it. The Hebrew word can be used for “study”. We are admonished that as we mature, we should move from spiritual milk (the elementary principals of the faith) to solid food (doctrine). We can’t expect to learn the Bible by simply reading it. When I eat a steak, I don’t just shove the whole thing in my mouth. Well, most of the time. I cut it up. I have to work to prepare my food for consumption. Even when I have a piece of steak in my mouth, I have to chew it before I swallow it or hope for someone to know the Heimlich. Now when I eat cotton candy, it dissolves on contact with my tongue. God’s word is spiritual steak. To study it and learn it is going to take some work. We have to read it, read commentaries about it, go and hear it preached, and study as much as we can of the original languages.
As we read in Hebrews 1, God spoke through the prophets. We know He spoke through the apostles as well. Therefore, when we delight in the law of the Lord and focus on studying it, we grow closer to Him because He is revealed in each and every verse. To study the Bible is to study God. Our love of the Bible demonstrates our love for our Lord who inspired it to be written.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Matthew 3:4 John the Baptist-An Uncommon Prophet Pt II

Most people have preconceived notions about what a pastor or preacher should look like. I think they expect them to be wearing a suit or at least dress clothes all the time in the same manner as an accountant, maybe. I remember once when I was pastoring a church I ran into a member of my congregation at the eye doctor. Now, I had spent the morning cutting the grass and had not showered before my appointment. Yes, I know that is kind of gross. Well, I ran into Miss Nancy. She was sitting in the waiting room next to someone she knew. She introduced me as her pastor. Now, I was wearing a pair of sandals, a grass stained tee shirt, and a pair of cut off jeans. That friend of Miss Nancy’s looked up and down and I could tell she was thinking to herself “That ain’t no preacher.” John the Baptist might have had to deal with the same sort of thing. He certainly didn’t look like any of the religious leaders. As we look in this verse, we see some things that made him uncommon in his appearance.

First of all, Matthew records that John was “clothed in camel’s hair”. This was a rough, uncomfortable, cheap kind of clothing. Since John lived in the wilderness and apparently lived off of the land, it makes sense that his clothing would not be expensive. However, I believe, in addition to revealing his humble state, the clothing suggested the same thing that wearing sackcloth did. When people would wear sackcloth and ashes, they signified that they were repenting. In a sense, they would willingly forgo comfort in order to demonstrate their repentance. Repentance from sin is never comfortable. When we recognize the offense of our sin to a holy and righteous God, we should be uncomfortable. This might not be the kind of outfit that a preacher who was preaching in a mega-church today might wear. In fact, someone wearing unkempt clothes like John might not be treated very friendly in a church, much less be allowed to preach in it. Obviously, he did not “dress to impress”.

Not only did he wear rough, hairy garments, but Matthew records that he also had a “leather belt”. Elijah was described as being a hairy man wearing a leather belt and John could have consciously taken him as a role model. However, the belt also suggests someone who is ready to get up and go. This man was called by God to deliver a message of repentance and he went throughout this wilderness to do just that. Because of the life God had called him to live, he needed to be unencumbered. He lived in the wild and so needed to be able to go where and when he needed to go. This man who came in the spirit and power of Elijah was ready and able to go where God sent him. Can you and I say the same thing?

Finally, we observe what the man ate. “Locusts and wild honey” were on his menu on a daily basis. Practically, it made sense. The locust was readily available in this wilderness. The wild honey Matthew mentions could have been found in rock crevices. Now, what does a diet like this tell us about this man. First of all, he depended on the providence of God. He ate the food he found. I would also see him as focused. His concern was not for his comfort or his pleasure. He also wasn’t worried about his health, I would wager. I mean, he ate “honey from the rock”. Somebody call Andy Griffith. I think we’ve found something that won’t taste good on a Rits. Food didn’t concern him. Clothing didn’t concern him. Shelter during the heat, cold, and rain didn’t concern him. The dangers of the wilderness didn’t concern him. God called. He obeyed to the point that he sacrificed every comfort that you and I take for granted. Let us pray for God to give us that kind of obedient, single minded spirit that focuses on Him and His glory.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Philippians 3:11-12 Don’t mind me. I’m only passing through.

Christians live in two realities in a sense. Of course, we live and minister in this world as Christ Jesus said in John 17:15 “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world but that You should keep them from the evil one.” However, Paul notes in Ephesians 2:6 that God has “raised us up together and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Quite simply, we are strangers in this world and we long in our spirit to be completely redeemed and at home with our Lord and Savior. The fact that we are not home here even though we reside here creates a tension in our lives. The apostle Paul, in the above verses, explains to us this struggle in his own life and gives us insight into what he does in response to this kind of “dual” existence.
The Christian’s Future Condition
Paul writes in Philippians 3:11 “if, by any means, I may attain resurrection from the dead”. He is concluding a thought he began he began in verse 8. In short, since his conversion, Paul came to realize that his man-made righteousness was not sufficient to please God and that true righteousness was found only in Jesus Christ. He says in verse 9 that this righteousness comes “through faith”. When we read Paul’s statement in verse 11, we must keep the facts about his conversion in mind. In other words, he does not say “if” in order to suggest that he doubts the truth of his salvation. In fact, he says “if, by any means, I” with a sense of humility. Paul was humble and realized the kind of life he had lived and was grateful that God would chose to save him. In 1st Timothy, he called himself the chief of sinners. Paul also says, in this phrase, “by any means” meaning that there is no other way that he is going to be saved. If God saves someone, he always accomplishes this by faith. Therefore, Paul is not expressing doubt about his future but proclaims the source of his hope about the future. In others words, the “means” he mentions in verse 11 is the “faith” he mentions in verse 9.
He acknowledges that his ultimate redemption is still in the future. He says “I may attain resurrection from the dead”. In my study of this passage, I have read theologians who debate what resurrection Paul is referring to. Is he talking about the general resurrection before the White Throne judgment or is he talking about the resurrection of the dead at the Rapture. To be perfectly honest, I don’t claim to know and I’m not 100% sure it even matters. I mean, at the end of the day, when we stand before God after we are resurrected we will be fully, completely redeemed. We won’t hurt anymore. There will be no more death, no more sin, and no more pain. We will praise Him forever more and live in perfect fellowship. Paul recognizes that he has not arrived at that destination of being resurrected. The word “attain” translates a Greek word katantao (2658) which means literally “to arrive at”. Paul is saying, then, that he has not “arrived” at the resurrection. We can be encouraged by this statement of Paul as he reminds us that our redemption is still ahead. The best is yet to come.
The Christian’s Present Condition
Our present condition is summed up in one word: “Not”. We’re not there yet. We’re in this world and, as our Savior told us, we will have trouble. As Peter told us, we will endure fiery trials. While spiritually we have been sanctified positionally, we grow and mature as Christians as we walk the Christian walk and become more and more sanctified practically. In the 12 verse, Paul states “Not that I have already attained or am already perfected”. Now here was the greatest evangelist, theologian, and pastor that has ever lived who was a mature teacher and preacher of God’s truth and he realized that he was not yet perfected. If he realized that he still had growing to do, how much more room for growth do we have as Christians. He says that there is still a goal in his sights-a prize to be won. He says “Not that I have already attained” and in verse 14 he says his goal is “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”. He pictures this prize he seeks to attain as something external to him. He uses a word lambano (2983) which is often translated “to take”. He sees this prize as a goal in his future that he wants to lay his hands on. He also sees a personal transformation that will occur when he is redeemed. Paul says that he also is not “already perfected”. In the New Testament, the idea of perfection means to be complete or finished. Paul recognized that, in this life, we should grow more Christ like but we will never attain perfection until we are with Christ. In Romans 8:29, Paul writes that God “predestined [us] to be conformed to the image of His Son”. Paul also says that Christ intends to “present [us] to Himself, a glorious church, not having a spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing”. Eventually, we will be perfect and complete. However, in this world, we’re not there yet.
So, what do we do? Paul set an example that I think we should follow. He said “I press on”. We do not cooperate with God in our salvation and it is through His power that we are able to become more Christlike. However, we must exercise our spiritual muscles to develop them. When I use a pen to write, that pen lays the ink on the paper but I am the one doing the writing. In much the same way, Paul tells us to “work out” our own salvation but that God is the one working in us. The Greek word Paul uses here that is translated “press on” is dioko (1377) and it is used to describe an athlete exerting maximum effort in a competition. It is the same word that Paul uses in verse 6 of this chapter to describe persecuting the church. In other words, the same effort and intensity that Paul showed in his effort to imprison and kill God’s church was the same effort and intensity that he displayed in his pursuit of godliness. This was not a passive, halfhearted kind of faith. He was chasing this prize. As he states in verse 1st Corinthian 9:24, we should run as if we were trying to win a prize. We should follow Paul’s example then and “Go for the gold” in our pursuit of God.
Paul also displays intensity in how he describes his goal. He says that he presses on in order that he “may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me”. The word translated “lay hold of” is katalambano (2638). The preposition kata is used to show intensity of the verb lambano which he used earlier in this verse. When he said lambano it was translated “attained” and he was expressing the idea that he wanted to take the prize. Now, he has said he would “press on” (chase after) this prize so that he may “lay hold” (seize, take as his own) of it. He also recognizes that ultimately this desire to become more godly is given to him by God. In His providence, God chose Paul before the foundation of the world just as He also chose us. Paul recognizes that he was chosen as an instrument of God’s sovereign will and that it was Christ who “has also laid hold of” Paul. We read in the book of Acts how God called Paul on the road to Damascus. He intervened in Paul’s life and took Paul as His instrument to share the gospel with the Gentiles.
As Christians, we are being transformed by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. In this life, we will never reach perfection. However, we are called in the Bible to give our effort to putting into practice the faith that we believe. We do not live godly lives to obtain salvation. We live godly lives as a result of our salvation. Let us pray for a desire like Paul to “press on” and win the race.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Psalm 1:1-What does the Bible say about true happiness?

There are few, like less than 3, TV preachers I would ever listen to if I wanted to learn something. Until John MacArthur started his TV ministry last year, that number was less than 2. That one preacher was Ravi Zacharias. However, I do watch TV preachers sometimes. Why, you ask? Because it is so side-splittingly funny. It is literally like watching a comedian. You have people teaching doctrine that is absolutely heretical and some people actually believe what they themselves are saying. “It isn’t God’s will for you to be sick.” “God intends for all believers to live with an abundance of money.” They preach that Christianity exists to make people happy. The pastor of America’s largest church has written a book that appeals to peoples self esteem and greediness. These people purport to tell people how they can be “Happy”. However, what does the Bible say about true happiness and fulfillment? Does it line up with what these used car salesmen who pass themselves off as teachers of God’s word claim? Let’s look at Psalm 1 and find out for ourselves.

Psalm 1 verse one begins by saying “Blessed is the man”. The word translated blessed is the Hebrew word esher and can be taken to mean “how happy”. We will study the specifics of what causes one to be happy according to the verse, but we do notice that the state of being blessed or happy is not the result of having things. People are not happy because of their home, their car, or their job. In fact, true Biblical happiness doesn’t have anything to do with material possessions. It has to do with our relationship with God. Notice, therefore, that this verse also talks about the absence of situations in a person’s life that make a person happy. It doesn’t talk about what a person who is happy has or does but, rather, what they do not do. We should note as Paul teaches in the book of Romans that we, as Christians, were once slaves to sin. Now, in our redeemed state, we are slaves to righteousness. Therefore, we have been set free from sin in order to serve God. Because of that, there are some things that a Christian should not do. This does not mean that we keep a legalistic list of do’s and don’ts but because we have a new nature inside of us we will live differently.

Notice the verse says someone is happy who does not “walk in the council of the ungodly”. Throughout scripture, “walk” is used to describe the course of our life. How we conduct ourselves is a direct reflection of what we think and what we believe. A happy person, in this verse, is one who does not let his actions be controlled by ungodly advice. The world and its wisdom will always be contrary to the wisdom of God. This is because, as Paul notes in Ephesians chapter 4 the ungodly people in this verse have “futile” minds. Therefore, they have an inaccurate view of the world in which they live. In that case, a person is better off not listening to worldly wisdom and ideas but, instead, should turn to God’s perfect holy word and godly preachers/teachers for council. As the apostle notes in Romans 12, we are to be “transformed by the renewing of [our] minds”. To fail to do so invites folly into one’s life.

Next, the author writes that a person is happy if they do not “stand in the paths of sinners”. It is instructive to note that the action in this verse progresses from walking to standing to sitting. The Hebrew word for path is derek. This word can be used figuratively to mean “course of life” or “mode of action”. As I said earlier, how we live proves what we think or believe. If a person fills his or her mind with the thoughts and teachings of this world, it will show in how they live. They will find themselves standing with those whose mode of life conflicts with the teaching of God’s word. The Bible teaches here that those who are happy do not have the same “course of life” or “mode of action” as those who are unredeemed. Certainly, all of us fall short of the standard that God sets from time to time. However, if a person is truly a Christian they will live differently than the rest of the world because they have been reborn and filled with the Holy Spirit. Happiness, then, is a result of being separated from this evil world system.

Finally, the author says that those who are happy do not “sit in the seat of the scornful”. As the action progresses in this verse, so does the godlessness of the people with whom we should disassociate ourselves. They have gone from ungodly to sinners to people who are scornful. Now, they are pictured not only as ones who sin but who mock the righteousness of God and His holy word. People who live contrary to scripture should be avoided as close companions. However, we should be even more careful to avoid those who speak and teach against the word of God. As this verse notes, those who are happy will not “sit (abide) in the seat (dwelling place)” of those who contradict God’s word. When people disregard and verbally mock God and the Bible, we need to remove ourselves from their influence (council), forsake their behavior (path), and remove ourselves from their abode (seat). When we do that, we can focus on the word of God. The study of the Bible and fellowship with other Christians is what produces true happiness.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved

Monday, August 27, 2007

Matthew 3:3-John the Baptist-An Uncommon Prophet Pt.1

My titles for this blog stink. I confess it. I’m just not that creative or interesting to come up with cool titles that catch the eye and motivate people to come into a church on a Sunday. Actually, I tried putting a sermon title on the board outside a church one time to motivate people to come in and it sort of worked. It was called “There is a bomb on your bus.” Ok, that didn’t happen.

John the Baptist was the last Old Testament prophet and he had a clear, direct message for the people. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” A call to turn from sin and to a life of holiness is not a message one would preach to gain popularity, to be sure. However, his message was not the only thing that was unique about this prophet of God. First of all, his role was unique in the plan of God. Matthew quotes Isaiah 40:3 and states that John was “the voice”. He doesn’t say herald, or person, or envoy. Isaiah gives to John the impersonal title of “voice”. He is pictured without form or face, just sound. In my head, I almost picture being in the woods and hearing a sound but not being able to identify where the sound is coming from. In truth, sometimes in those settings it feels like it comes from all around with no discernable location. This is certainly not a description most people would want others to use to describe them. People want to be remembered. Very few people prefer a behind the scenes role to one where they get attention and praise. I remember one dear saint at a church I served as a minister of music. This lady set up the floral arrangements for every service and special occasion. She never got publicly praised for it. Her spiritual gift was service and she enjoyed doing it. During one week long revival service, I made the point to publicly acknowledge her. In much the same way, John the Baptist had a less than glamorous role but he recognized it and played his part. As John records in chapter 3 verse 30 of his gospel, John the Baptist says about Jesus “He (Jesus) must increase and I must decrease”. John recognized that Jesus should have preeminence and glory in all things and he was willing to submit himself to the task that the Lord had appointed him to do.

Adding to this lack of distinction is the description of what this voice was doing. Matthew records that this voice was the voice of one “crying” or shouting. This is not a subtle, easy going request for repentance. This “voice” is loudly, boisterously calling for response from everyone that can hear. It is not a dialog or discussion. It is a very take it or leave it method of delivery for this message. As I had mentioned a few weeks ago, this was almost like a newspaper salesman shouting “Extra, extra!! Read all about it!!!” The purpose of the delivery is to disseminate information to as many people as possible leaving the hearer responsible for the response to the message. We also notice the location where this voice was crying. Isaiah said the voice would be “in the wilderness” which is exactly where we find John the Baptist. Modern evangelism strategies would tell you to “Go where the people are.” However, as my pastor often says, that is a “bottom line strategy”. As Christians, we are called to be “top line” people. In other words, we obey what God says and trust Him for the results. The Bible records the prophecy by Isaiah about John and his message. The Bible does not record how God revealed to John that this was His will for him. We can know, however, that if we follow John’s example and obey God not matter what human wisdom what tell us that God will bless the effort.

Finally, we see that John’s message of repentance was divinely prophesied by Isaiah. Isaiah records that the message being proclaimed by this voice is to “Prepare a way for the Lord, make His paths straight.” Obviously, this refers to the repentance called for by John. As Albert Barnes notes in his commentary, it was customary for Eastern kings to send harbingers ahead of them to tell the people to prepare for the coming king by removing any impediments (rocks, rough roads, etc…) to his coming. In much the same way, the Lord’s herald calls for the people to remove the impediments in their life (sin, self righteousness, etc…) in preparation for the coming Messiah.

We should be challenged as we read these verses to live our lives focused on the glory of God doing what God has called us to do where He has called us to do it. Our reputation and comfort should not be our primary concern. Our primary concern should be His glory and His kingdom.

"Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Matthew 3:2-John the Baptist-The Herald’s Message

A television “preacher” was interviewed on television. This man is the “pastor” of America’s largest church and has a wildly popular television ministry. The interviewer asked him about sin and this “preacher” said something along the lines of “I don’t preach about sin. We hear all the time about God’s wrath and things that will keep us out of heaven. I would rather preach about God’s goodness and His love. That is what will draw people to Christ.” Like Col. Potter used to say on MASH, “Horse feathers”. The fact of the matter is that apart from recognition of our sin and the penalty for our sin, none of us would have ever turned to Jesus Christ. In order to tell people the Good News of the gospel you have to tell them the bad news that they are lost and that they are going to spend eternity in hell suffering forever, separated from God apart from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is not a popular message. A preacher preaching this kind of sermon is probably not going to end up with 20,000 or more people in his services every week. However, as we see in this verse, this is exactly the kind of message that draws sinners to true repentance by the grace of God through the Holy Spirit.

John the Baptist called the people who heard him preach to “Repent”. Metanoeo, the word that is translated as “repent”, means to change ones mind. It does not mean to feel sorry or to fear the consequences. The perception of a lost person of their sin is that it is no big deal. They don’t recognize the acts they commit as offensive to God but rather they see their sin as them exercising their rights to live as they see fit. The perspective of a Christian is altogether different. We recognize that our sin is filthy before God and that God demanded a penalty for that sin. The crucifixion of our Lord Jesus satisfied God’s demand for justice. When we recognize our sin as the offense that it is, our perspective is changed and we live differently. Essentially, this is the idea of repentance. Our minds are changed so that our perspective on our sin is changed. When we see our sin as what it truly is, our hearts are broken because of it and we change directions. We turn from sin and turn to Christ.

As an illustration, let’s look to the Bible to see an example of what repentance is and what it isn’t. In 1 Samuel 15, Saul is told to kill all the Amalekites. Instead, he killed most of them and kept the king of the Amalekites and the best of their stuff. When Samuel confronts him, Saul proudly proclaims his innocence. After several interchanges between the two, Samuel announces that God has judged Saul and the kingdom would be taken away from him. At that point, Saul exclaims “I have sinned.” This is not repentance. This is a man that has been caught and is sorry he was caught. He was not sorry about what he did. In fact, from his perspective, what he did was not sin. He repeatedly justified himself before the man of God. In contrast, in 2 Samuel 12, Nathan confronts David about his sin with Bathsheba. When Nathan calls him out, David doesn’t defend himself with butter. Yes, butter. He doesn’t say “Yes, I sinned, but, er…umm…you see”. He flatly, bluntly says “I have sinned.” That is repentance. It is honest and transparent. When are hearts are broken because we committed the sin, not that we have been caught, we are repentant. As Paul notes in 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 “8For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. 9Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” Essentially, then, John begins his first sermon with a call to spiritual cleansing.

He also gives his audience the reason that they should get cleaned up. He tells them “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. In other words, the kingdom of God was on the horizon. The book of Malachi ended the Old Testament with a call to repentance and a promise of judgment. John the Baptist arrives here on the scene telling people to get ready because the King is coming. To prepare themselves for this spiritual kingdom, they must be cleansed spiritually. This kingdom of God (he used heaven as a euphemism for God so as not to offend his target Jewish audience by using God’s name) would require spiritual purity. This spiritual purity would require repentance from sin. In order to repent, the people would have to recognize their sin as being an offense to God so as to turn in faith and ask Him to make them clean.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc Used by permission All rights reserved

Friday, August 3, 2007

Philippians 3:3. Characteristics of Genuine Saving Faith

Paul, in verses one and two of this chapter, gives the Philippians markers that identify the false teachers who were trying to come in the church to spread their poisonous doctrine. These teachers claimed to have authority and appeared to be religious. Therefore, Paul writes in this verse a description of what a true follower of Christ looks like to remind them of the purity of their faith in contrast with the religion of the false teachers.

The Identity of Genuine Saving Faith

Paul, in verse 3 of chapter 3, tells the believers that “we are the circumcision”. The emphasis in the phrase is on the word we in the Greek. Paul wants to stress to the believers that it is they who are the true circumcision as opposed to the Jewish legalizers who are in fact the false circumcision or “mutilation” as he calls them in the previous verse. As we noted last week, the Jews were proud of their circumcision and felt that it gave them a spiritual advantage before God. However, scripture has a different testimony regarding circumcision.

First of all, we should realize that circumcision itself was not a Jewish invention. It was actually practiced by other people before Abraham was told to do it as the sign of the covenant. The spiritual significance of the procedure was totally missed by the Jews. God required a spiritual purity. No physical procedure could provide that. However, the physical here is used to point to a spiritual truth. In fact, the Old Testament records that God in fact revealed this truth about circumcision to the Jewish people. For instance, in Deuteronomy 30:6, scripture records that “the Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your children to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, that you may live.” Also, Moses called the people to “circumcise the foreskin” of their hearts in Deuteronomy 10:16. To have their hearts circumcised means to have their sin nature put off so that they would be clean before God and able to serve Him with a pure heart. Paul also wrote about this truth in the New Testament. In Colossians 2:11, Paul refers to this spiritual circumcision as “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.” Also, in Romans 2:28-29, Paul writes, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is in the outward flesh but he is a Jew who is one inwardly and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter, whose praise is not from men but from God.” Therefore, the title Jews claimed for themselves in a prideful way actually belonged to Christians because the Jews missed the true spiritual application.

The Activity of Genuine Saving Faith

Christianity is not a spectator sport. We, when we gather as the body of Christ for worship, are not an audience being treated to a free show. As Christians, we are called to service. Paul teaches the Philippians this when he tells them that they are the circumcision “who worship God in the Spirit”. The English word worship is used to translate several Greek words in the New Testament. Sometimes, worship is used to translate the Greek word proskuneo (4352) means to prostrate oneself or fall on your knees and touch the ground with your forehead in reverence. In other words, it means to bow. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 14:25, Paul writes “…falling down on his face, he will worship God…” Also, in Matthew chapter 2, when the wise men came from the East, they stated they had come to worship (proskuneo) Jesus. However, the word translated worship here is the Greek word latreuo. The root word of this word is the word latris which means “a hired servant”. The word latreuo is usually translated as serve. In fact, Jesus Himself uses this word when being tempted by Satan. In Matthew 4:10, He says “Away with you Satan! For it is written ‘You shall worship (proskuneo) the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve (latreuo)’.” Certainly, worshipping our God corporately and singing praises to Him is proper and edifying. Corporate worship is important and God certainly deserves the praise of our lips. I was personally drawn into the church through children’s choir and youth choir. However, if that is the only way we worship our God, something is missing. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that true saving faith will change the way we live and give us a desire to serve our God. Romans 12:1 tells us that presenting our bodies as living sacrifices to God is our “reasonable service”. The word service is the translation of the Greek word latreia (2999) which is similar to latreuo. In the NASB, this verse calls our sacrifice our “spiritual act of worship”. We do not serve in order to obtain salvation. Rather, we serve because we are so thankful for what Christ has done for us.

Our worship as service comes from heart that is thankful. The power that enables us to serve is spiritual. In the New King James version, the text reads that we “worship God in the spirit.” Other versions read that we “worship in the Spirit of God.” In either case, our service is not just something we do but it is rather action that is the overflow of the effect of the Holy Spirits presence in our lives. The action of service is physical but the motivation behind it is spiritual. In fact, Jesus said in John 4:24 that the worship of God must be in “spirit and in truth”.

Paul says that true believers “rejoice in Christ Jesus”. The word that is translated rejoice is the Greek word kauchaomai (2744). The word means to boast or to glory. Therefore, Paul is saying that Christians should boast in Christ. Why? Obviously it is because we have nothing to do with our salvation. Romans 8:29-30 tells us that He foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified us. Ephesians 2:8 tells us that even the faith we have to believe was not ours but that it was the gift of God. Boasting in Christ Jesus and recognizing the miracle of salvation is a humbling activity. It is also exclusive in the sense that proclaiming salvation through Christ alone means that there is no salvation available anywhere else. In this day and time, people don’t like absolutes. Even people who call themselves Christians appear squeamish when faced with the possibility of proclaiming Jesus as the only way. Our culture of “tolerance” loves to talk about spirituality and even God. However, when you bring up Jesus people are ready to argue that point to the end.

The Mentality of Genuine Saving Faith

The reason Jesus is such a touchy subject to non-Christians is because of what He represents. Most people, have been blinded to the truth of the Gospel by the Devil, regard salvation and heaven as something they can earn through their own goodness. They believe either they are capable of attaining righteousness on their own or that they are already righteous. However, Christ’s death on the Cross destroys that theory. By His death, He affirmed that sin demanded a penalty. He also demonstrated that sin’s penalty was death. Therefore, if I recognize that He paid my debt by His death and His resurrection is true, then I must conclude that He is God and I have to stop doing things my way and submit to Him. To do so, I would have to acknowledge my sin and my inability to make myself right with God. People want to create their own righteousness and earn their way to heaven so they don’t have to submit to God. However, we who are Christians, have ”no confidence in the flesh”. We do not believe that our flesh has any power to save us. In fact, we have come to Christ and trusted in Him for just that reason. In Romans 7:18-25, Paul says “18For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” We submit to God and trust Christ when we have come to the conclusion that we are incapable of producing righteousness.

A true, saving faith is characterized by our mindset and our actions. Ultimately, those who trust Christ for their salvation rather than trusting themselves and those who serve the Lord are the ones who are spiritually circumcised.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Matthew 3:1. John the Baptist-The Lord’s Herald

I recently taught Vacation Bible School at my church. I was assigned the 3rd and 4th grade boys and girls. One of the lessons I taught was on John the Baptist. To me, he is one of the most interesting characters in the Bible. As the Scripture records, he knew that he wasn’t “the man” and he was willing to play his role. There is certainly something for the Christian to learn from the life of this greatest of the Old Testament prophets. His humility, integrity, and tenacity shine as an example to all of the body of Christ.

First of all, we should notice who this man was. John the Baptist was the son of a priest, Zacharias, and his wife Elizabeth. An angel of the Lord, in Luke chapter 1, announced his birth to his father. The angel told him that he would be great in the sight of the Lord (Luke 1:15). John’s father did not believe the angel and was struck mute until the child was born. His surname, as it were, was the Baptist or baptizer. As Albert Barnes notes in his commentary, Jews had practiced baptism of proselytes so the practice was not unheard of in Israel. However, the reason for John’s baptism was not to convert Gentiles to Judaism. We shall observe the spiritual significance of it in a moment. We should note that the word Baptist is a transliteration of the Greek word baptistes. The root of this Greek word is probably bapto which means to fully immerse in liquid. John came to baptize people in order to use a physical act to demonstrate a spiritual reality.

Furthermore, let us observe what this man was doing. The scripture records that he was preaching. The word translated preaching is the Greek word kerusso which means “to proclaim as a herald”. This isn’t the sort of preaching where a preacher today is expounding upon the word of God and teaching it to his church. This is more like a newspaper person years ago in a large city crying out “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” John came to proclaim the message of the Lord and bring that message to those that would hear it. He wasn’t engaged in apologetics nor was he looking to garner for himself the praise of men. His message was uncompromising and so was his delivery. He proclaimed the message. Here it is. Take it or leave it.

In addition to these observations, we should also take note of where he was preaching. He was in the wilderness of Judea. This land was located east of Jerusalem along the Dead Sea. This wilderness was actually more of mountainous, sparsely populated land. Probably it was used as much for pasture as it was for anything else. This was not the place you would go if you were trying to draw a crowd. The Willow Creek association would probably saw this was not a sound church planting strategy. Our ideas about church growth and evangelism tend to be people oriented rather than God oriented. We go where the people are with the message we think people want to hear. However, here we see God’s messenger in the last place anyone would expect proclaiming as a herald the message of God.

John the Baptist was a unique man who delivered an uncompromising message in an equally uncompromising way. Let us pray for the same kind of tenacity as John had as we carry God’s word into this world that wants nothing more than to rebel against it.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc Used by permission All rights reserved

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Security of Sound Doctrine: Philippians 3:1-2

Roach poison is made of over 98 % dog food. Less than 2% of the substance used is poison. When I found that out, I was quite surprised. A little bit, so the saying goes, certainly goes a long way. In much the same way, false doctrine, if tolerated in the church, doesn’t have to rise to the level of outright heresy to be deadly. People can mix in a little pop psychology, secular business models, or culturally relevant ideas and create confusion among Christians. In the world today, it is paramount that the Bible be taught as meaning what it means and saying what it says. To fail to do so leaves people vulnerable to the trappings of false teachers who have as their goal to lead people away from the truth to destruction.

Paul’s Celebration

In verse one of chapter 3, we find Paul concluding a thought that he had begun in chapter 2 verse 18. In verse 17, Paul asks the Philippians that even if he was “poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith” to “be glad and rejoice” (v.18) with him. Paul called for the believers to model Christ’s humility in serving (2:5) just as he (2:17) and his companions (2:22, 30) also serve sacrificially. Because of these examples, Paul calls them to “rejoice” with him in verse 18 and again in verse one of chapter 3.

Paul’s Concern

As Paul writes asking these believers to join with him in rejoicing, he also writes to reaffirm doctrine he has taught them before. With the heart of a true pastor, he writes these believers in verse 1 that “For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe.” Paul, in all his epistles, wrote a consistent doctrine as revealed by God through the Holy Spirit. While it is not clear if Paul is referring to another letter he may have written the Philippian church (not a lost book of the Bible, just possibly another letter he wrote) or simply other epistles that he had written that they had obtained copies of, Paul includes doctrine in this epistle that is found in other of his epistles. However, at no time does he feel like “Here we go again. I thought I had already taught you this. Haven’t you already learned your lesson by now?” Paul tells them that writing them about doctrines he has already written about is not “tedious” or tiresome. The word that is translated “tedious” is the Greek word okneros (3636). According to Vincent’s Word Studies, this word reflects “the vexation arising from weary waiting”. When I read that, I got the picture in my head of a person waiting for another person to get ready to go somewhere. Because he loves these people and wants to help them grow and mature in Christ, Paul brings the Word of God to the people of God. To do so is not a source of frustration to him nor is it the feeling of having to wait on somebody to finally catch up.

He brings God’s Word to God’s people because, as a shepherd, he is responsible for the safety of sheep. The surest protection for the flock of God from the deadly poison of false doctrine is to teach God revealed truth. Paul says to the believers in Phillipi that “for you it is safe” when he talks about writing the “same things”. The word translated “safe” is the Greek word asphales (804). This word is translated certain in the book of Acts (21:34, 22:30, and 26:26) and as sure in Hebrews 6:19. Therefore, the idea that Paul is trying to convey seems to be that he writes these same things to provide them security through a solid foundation of doctrine that they can be certain of. The churches Paul wrote to did not have a New Testament, commentaries, or seminary trained pastors. They didn’t the luxury of studying the work of great preachers and teachers of God’s Word throughout the centuries who have taught the true doctrines of our faith. They had the apostles and prophets who had been given to them and God’s Word as revealed in the Old Testament. However, as Paul and others brought new revelation that would become the New Testament that shed light on the Old Testament, believers were learning things about God and salvation that had never been revealed before. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul continually and consistently taught these doctrines in his writings. He didn’t view it as laborious or tedious because of his love for his fellow Christians.

Paul’s Caution

Paul, when writing to these believers, gives them a word of caution in verse 2. Even with the safety provided by his God inspired epistle, Paul instructs the believers to “Beware” three times. As Christians, we should beware of false doctrine. It promotes disunity, causes confusion, and undermines evangelism. Quite frankly, it is a spiritual poison and must be avoided along with anyone who teaches it. The Greek word Paul uses which is translated here as “Beware” is blepo (991), which is translated elsewhere as take heed (Mark 4:24, Luke 21:8). In Greek, the sense of the verb is that the believers should keep being aware. They should be vigilant and always on guard. There is no room for middle ground. False doctrine cannot be tolerated or permitted in the church. Compromise is not an option.

In identifying those who would corrupt the church and lead people astray with false doctrine, Paul uses three different terms. First of all, Paul calls these people “Dogs” which is kind of funny because Jews used this term for Gentiles. Here, Paul takes their own slur and turns it around on them to describe their character. We must remember that these are not cute little furry pets that sleep at your feet at night and play fetch with you when you’re playing in the front yard. These are snarling, vicious, carnivorous, disease ridden, filthy, nasty, mean creatures. They were quite dangerous. In Vincent’s Word Studies, the author writes about these animals that “[t]hey lie about the streets in such numbers as to render it difficult and often dangerous to pick one's way over and amongst them - a lean, hungry, and sinister brood. They have no owners, but upon some principle known only to themselves, they combine into gangs, each of which assumes jurisdiction over a particular street; and they attack with the utmost ferocity all canine intruders into their territory. In those contests, and especially during the night, they keep up an incessant barking and howling, such as is rarely heard in any European city.” They roamed in packs and were guided by their own hungers. In much the same way, a false teacher is more dangerous than any foamy mouthed dog. The false teaching they spread is worse than any disease spread by these mangy mutts, and they also follow their own lusts. As Peter notes in 2 Peter 2:12, these false teachers are “like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption.” These people lead others astray for their own selfish gain. They truly are vicious “dogs”.

Paul also tells these believers to “beware of evil workers”. If you were to look at the website for the National Council of Churches, you would find that they have lots of activities going on. They work to feed starving children. They work to bring disaster relief to storm damaged areas. These are worthwhile activities. Certainly meeting people physical needs is one way to minister to them. I would have to imagine if you asked most of the people involved in these activities why they were doing them, their answer would be something like “For Jesus, of course.” However, the NCC represents churches that deny the virgin birth of our Lord, the inspiration of the Word of God, and they allow homosexuals and women to serve in pastoral roles. These people are doing things that they call ministry. They are quite active and work hard at what they do. However, since their heart is not right with God, they are not good workers but “evil workers”. The word “evil” translates the Greek word kakos (2556) which can mean worthless, injurious, or evil. The Greek word ergates is translated “workers” and literally means a toiler. When Jesus Himself spoke of these people in Matthew 7:22 that “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” In much the same manner, Paul reminds the Philippian church that these people, because of the wrong condition of their heart, are not actually performing good works but evil works. We must remember, as Paul here warns these Christians, that activity is never a substitute for a relationship.

Finally, Paul tells the Philippians to “beware the mutilation”. Jewish people placed great spiritual significance on circumcision. They are even called the Circumcision by Paul in Ephesians 2:11. According to rabbinical tradition, for a Jew to go to hell, his circumcision would have to be undone as John MacArthur notes in his commentary on the book of Romans. Some false teachers taught that a Christian had to convert to Judaism before they could become a Christian. Therefore, these Jewish legalizers taught that Christians had to agree to become circumcised. However, they failed to see that the circumcision that God would perform would be a circumcision of the heart (Deu 30:6). Paul uses a Greek term here katatome (2699) that is translated as mutilation. The same word is used in the Septuagint in Leviticus 21:5 when the nation of Israel is forbidden to make any cuttings in their flesh. Paul was probably using a play on words here by calling them the mutilation (katatome) and in the next verse referring to those who are truly saved as peritome (the circumcision). Paul realized by attempting to require these believers to be circumcised, the false teachers were actually trying to force them to submit to their legalistic observance of Mosaic code and their tradition rather then relying on faith in Jesus Christ to save them and transform them. In Galatians 4:10, Paul writes that those Christians were attempting to follow Jewish law in regards to feasts. Paul admonishes them that they were leaving their faith in Christ to turn to “weak and beggarly elements” in order to be saved (Galatians 4:9). Paul says they should not do this. In fact, in the book of Galatians, Paul goes further and says he wishes that those false teachers who troubled those believers with their insistence on ritual circumcision for salvation would simply go ahead and cut themselves off (Galatians 5:12). These false teachers had completely misrepresented the truth of salvation and were attempting to compel others to follow their legalistic standard of righteousness.

Even as they did in Paul’s day, we still encounter false teaching today. The only sure defense that we have against false teaching and false teachers is the truth. The only source we have for divine truth is the Word of God. Let us faithfully and boldly proclaim God’s powerful truth in this dark, perverse world.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc Used by permission All rights reserved

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Matthew 2:19-23. Responses to Christ-A father’s faithful obedience

Before I began studying through the book of Matthew, I knew who Joseph was. I don’t think I realized what a godly man scripture reveals him to be. In this passage, God reveals through Matthew once again what an obedient man Joseph was. Also, we see Matthew reveals more about the character of the Messiah as revealed from the Old Testament to continue to drive home the message to his audience that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Jewish people.

Scripture records in verse 19 that sometime after the massacre that occurred in the passage we studied last week that Herod was dead. This evil man who had caused so much pain and suffering and even tried to murder our Lord and Savior met his death in an excruciatingly painful manner. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, Herod had “a burning fever [which] seized him, with an intolerable itching all over his body, and continual pains of the colic; his feet swelled with a dropsy; he had an inflammation in the lower part of his belly.” Scripture does not record that this was God’s judgment. We can take note, however, that a person can never know how long they have left on this earth. Because of that, we should not presume on God’s mercy to allow us time to repent. We should come to faith in Christ or suffer a punishment that will make Herod’s suffering seem like a vacation.

We further observe that Joseph received another visitation by an angel of the Lord while he was dreaming. God had told Joseph in verse 13 to stay in Egypt until He sent word for Joseph to go elsewhere. Joseph is found here in verse 19 doing what we have seen him do time and time again in this book-he is being obedient. The angel, in verse 20, brings instruction from God for Joseph to return with Jesus and His mother to Israel because those who sought the young Child’s life were dead. The danger had passed. We see that, as He always does, God worked this situation out to bring His will to pass. Joseph and Mary didn’t know what the future held or how long they would have to stay in Egypt. Even though they may have felt that they were just “marking time”, God was working in the situation. Isn’t it wonderful to serve a God who takes care of all the details perfectly and works behind the scenes even when we can’t see it? Again, when Joseph receives instructions from God about what to do and where to go, he obeys immediately. Matthew records that Joseph took Jesus and Mary and departed for Israel. I love the simplicity of Joseph’s faith. When God calls, Joseph responds.

However, God gave people the ability to reason and He expects us to use that ability. There is a difference between trusting God and tempting God. If I were to walk through a dangerous neighborhood after dark just to see if God would protect me, that would be foolish. If I spend mu paycheck on pizza and video games just to see if God will truly provide for me, I am making an unwise decision in doing so. Joseph learned, while traveling back to Israel, that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod. Now, Herod was a fruit-loop. His son, Archelaus, was just as nutty as his father and just as dangerous. Joseph became afraid when he heard this news. Matthew then notes that Joseph was warned by God in a dream and told what to do. We don’t know if the dream was the result of Joseph seeking God’s guidance or not. However, God provided the direction and Joseph was obedient to follow it. He took the Child and Mary and went to dwell in Nazareth. Even this choice, however, was directed by the providence of Almighty God. Matthew records that this home in Nazareth would fulfill prophecy that “He shall be called a Nazarene”. However, the Old Testament does not record this specific prophecy. Some Bible scholars debate exactly what this prophecy that Matthew records means and, to be honest, I’m not sure that we have a satisfactory “right” answer. Let’s look at a few things in scripture and see if we can at least get a good idea of what Matthew was getting at in this passage.

First of all, Nazareth was a small village in Galilee and it didn’t have the best reputation. I imagine people from Nazareth might have been regarded much the same was as “rednecks” are today. For whatever reason, people looked down on them. In fact, scripture records in John 1:46, Nathanael said of Jesus “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The book of Isaiah 53 says that the Messiah would be despised and would not be attractive to people. It was prophesied in this scripture that the Jewish people would reject Him. In fact, the Bible says He would grow up as a “root out of dry ground”. Further, Isaiah records in 11:1 of His prophecy that the Messiah would spring up as a “Branch” that would grown from Jesse’s roots. The Hebrew word for branch is netser and this word is one of the roots of Nazarene. In short, Matthew here quotes the prophets (plural) because the Messiah was revealed in the Old Testament as someone who would suffer rejection. He recognized, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, that even from a young age, Jesus was one who was rejected. By living in Nazareth, Jesus began His life in a humble manner. Truly, He was a “Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3)

Scripture taken from the New King James Version Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc Used by permission All rights reserved

Monday, July 16, 2007

Matthew 2:16-18. Responses to Christ-Murder

I have heard that people who are convicted of abusing children are often treated badly by other prisoners when they are incarcerated. I think it is interesting that even people that would represent to most of us the worst of society are outraged by the idea of someone abusing children. Certainly it is wrong for them to basically take revenge on these people. However, I suspect most people understand how those prisoners feel. Normal people find the abuse of children repugnant and the murder of a child is one of the most horrible acts a person can commit. In these verses, we read about one of the most horrible crimes recorded in the Bible and we see how even in this wicked act that God was at work.

Verse 16 records that Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, became exceedingly angry. The word translated deceived is the Greek word empaizo which is used only in the gospels and is usually translated as mocked. The word can also mean deceived as is translated here. I suppose it carries with it the idea of making light of something or making a fool out of someone. In any case, Herod felt he had been disrespected because the wise men did not return as he expected. We know of his evil plan from what we have read and studied so far in this chapter. He had his target in his sights. He knew where and when the Messiah was to be born. However, he wanted to make sure beyond the shadow of a doubt that he exterminated his target so he sent the wise men to find exactly where the Christ child was. He was angry because without that information, he might not have a chance to murder the One he saw as a rival to the throne.

When he saw that his plan was in danger of being thwarted, he came up with a Plan B. He murdered innocent children in an attempt to make sure that he killed his target. He didn’t have to take a vote or wait on confirmation from his superiors. He was a power mad despot in total control of this region and had the power of life and death over the population. He sent his soldiers out with specific instructions. They were to kill all the male children in Bethlehem and all its districts, from two years old and under. He knew the Child was born in Bethlehem, but expanded his “target” with a larger bull’s-eye even though he knew most of the victims were innocent. He also knew precisely when the star had appeared to signal His birth but expanded his “target” yet again to include babies who had never done him harm and were born well after the star's appearance. Scripture does not record how many children died. However, even 1 death would have been a tragedy. The grief this jealous tyrant caused with this merciless slaughter is unimaginable.

However, Romans 8:28 tells us that God works all things for the good of those who are called according to His purpose. God was working His eternal purposes out even in the midst of this tragedy. Scripture records that the prophet Jeremiah recorded a prophecy that spoke of Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted because they were no more. Rachel was the wife of Jacob and was pictured by Jeremiah as weeping when the tribe of Judah was led captive by the Babylonians. Matthew reveals under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that Jeremiah was also prophesying this terrible tragedy. Therefore, while we know that God does not cause sin or evil, the sin and evil in the world occur within the scope of His sovereign will.

Someone might ask the question “How can God allow evil like this to happen?” I, for one, would agree that such evil is beyond comprehension. However, we know that God is just, fair, loving, kind, compassionate, and always works for our good as Christians. He settled the question of whether He loves us or not once and for all on Calvary’s cross when He sent His own Son to be crucified for our sin. Does this mean the parents who lost their children on that terrible day that was prophesied by Jeremiah had no reason to grieve? Certainly not. However, it does mean that in the midst of tragedy that we can trust Him. When you and I face the sorrows and pain that this life can bring, we can know that our God is in control. Circumstances don’t have to shake our faith in God. We know that He loves us. Because of that, we can trust Him, no matter what.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc Used by permission. All rights reserved.