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.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Sorry again


Last week was a little bit crazy, and I don't have the post ready for this week. I'll try to have it up tomorrow.

Sorry for my tardiness.

in Him

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Matthew 2:12-15. Responses to Christ-Obedience to providential guidance

If you’re here for the first time, I’d like to welcome you. If you’ve been here to this blog before, I’d like to welcome you back. I encourage you before you read my commentary on the above verses that you read them in your Bible because I won’t actually include all the verses in my exposition. Also, I welcome any and all comments (even if you happen to disagree with me). I have turned comment moderation on, but that is more to prevent someone who is a few bricks shy of a load from posting something inappropriate here on this blog. So, without further adieu, here we go.

God inspired Matthew to write the scripture that we are studying in order to reveal His providential care of the Messiah. Because God, throughout the Bible, demonstrates His absolute control over all circumstances and His ability to work “all things for the good of those who love Him” we can trust Him and obey Him just as we see the wise men and Joseph do in these verses.

Matthew records that, after they had worshipped Christ, they set out to return home. However, instead of returning to Herod with news of the location of Christ as he had requested, scripture records that they were divinely warned in a dream and, therefore, went by another route. Herod thought he was in control of this situation. He had successfully determined where the Messiah was born with the help of the Jewish leaders and had nailed down when He was born thanks to these wise men. However, despite all his careful planning and his hypocritical cover story of wanting to worship Christ, God providentially directed these wise men for His purposes.

The wise men were not the only ones who received divine direction in the form of a dream, however. While he slept, Joseph was also visited with a heavenly directive. He was told to “Arise! Take the young Child and His mother and flee to Egypt and stay there until I bring you word, for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” We should note the urgency in the directive. Joseph is told to wake up. This was the spiritual equivalent of a fire alarm. They were in very real danger from an evil man with murderous intentions. We should observe also the significance of where they were told to go. God sent them to Egypt. I think it would be unwise to read too much into the mention of Egypt in scripture but suffice it to say this is an unusual place for a Jew to be commanded to go. In fact, unless I’m totally misremembering, this is the first time a Jew was told to go to Egypt since the Exodus. We’ll see the prophetic significance in a few verses. Suffice it to say, Joseph was probably not expecting to be sent to that country. Finally, we should see that people who plot and plan in secret do so in vain. Herod had told no one about his intentions to murder Christ. Of course, God knew the intents of his heart because He is omniscient. This should be especially comforting to remind ourselves of when we’re going through trials. The same God that was watching out for Joseph is watching out for us. Of course, He doesn’t speak through dreams like He did in this verse anymore, but He still watches over His elect. We can rest knowing that whatever happens in our lives, we serve a God that is big enough to take care of it.

Just as the wise men were obedient to the divine warning they received, Joseph also obeyed the voice of the Lord. We see that he didn’t wait to pack and take care of any business he had or find someone to check their mail while they were gone. Just as he did in chapter 1, when God told him to do something, he obeyed immediately (I think there’s a lesson in that, don’t you?). In fact, he arose and took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt. The trip was a hasty one and I suspect he woke up in the middle of the night after having this dream. He was faithful to obey not only immediately but also completely. He went when God told him, where God told him (Egypt), and he stayed as long as God told him to stay.

We can see in verse 15 that the country God sent Joseph to take refuge in also had prophetic significance. Matthew records that Christ living in Egypt and coming back into the land of Israel was prophesied in the book of Hosea 11:1. However, the verse in question actually doesn’t even mention the Messiah but in fact is about Israel. Therefore, the Exodus of Israel from Egypt is represented here as a type. Basically, a type in the Bible is where one thing prefigures another. In this instance, the Jews are seen as a type of Christ since they, like Christ, were called out of Egypt. Therefore, this is a different kind of prophetic fulfillment that when an actual event is prophesied. However, Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, reveals that Christ’s sojourn in Egypt actually served not only to protect Him from this evil Gentile king, but also fulfilled prophecy.

We again observe Joseph’s faith demonstrated by his obedience to the Word of God. When God revealed His will for Joseph, Joseph did as he was told. True saving faith is always characterized by obedience. While those of us who are saved may not always obey and we may not all reach the same level of obedience at the same time, if we are saved it will show by our commitment to obedience just as Joseph and the wise men showed their true saving faith by obeying God. As the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 7:16 “You shall know them by their fruits.”

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