Monday, November 29, 2010

The Coming of the Christ part 1

The celebration of the birth of our Lord is just around the corner. I will be reposting over the new few weeks exposition that I did a few years ago of Matthew Chapter 2. I hope you are encouraged.


Matthew records events that occurred after Christ’s birth to give us a clear picture of the kinds of responses people had to His birth. In chapter 2, we see Christ sought after, feared, ignored, and worshipped. We ever see innocent people murdered in an attempt to kill Him due to jealousy.

In verse 1, Matthew records that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Bethlehem was south and slightly east of Jerusalem. It was a small town but it was important for several reasons. First of all, it was the birthplace of King David. Secondly, the town had prophetic importance. As noted in Micah 5:2, the Messiah would be born in this town. Therefore, the location of Jesus’ birth was significant.

Additionally, Matthew records the ruler who reigned at the time. Herod the king was the man assigned to govern this area by Rome. Essentially then, he was a governor. The Jews hated this man. First of all, he was not Jewish but a descendent of Esau and, therefore, a foreigner. Secondly, he was known for ruthlessness and cruelty. Because the horrible man was set over them as king and he represented Roman rule, he was a constant reminder that Israel was under the political rule of another country.

Into this tense political climate came wise men from the east. The word wise men is magios in the Greek. It referred to men who were devoted to the study of the sciences of that day as well as philosophy and religion. Since these men came as the result of seeing a star, it is reasonable to assume that they spent at least some of their time studying astronomy or astrology. We also know the general location these men came from because Matthew records that they came from the east. Many Bible scholars believe these men were Persian. In any case, it was fairly obvious that these wise men “weren’t from around these parts.” These men left their homes and went on an arduous, possibly even dangerous, journey to follow this phenomenon. Very likely, it had taken them a long time to reach their destination. They were obviously motivated by some intense driving force. As our Lord noted in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” The faith and persistence of these men is an example to us.

We find further evidence that these men were people of faith as we examine the inquiry they made when they arrived in Jerusalem. They went around to people saying “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” Again, we see these men were persistent in the manner in which they asked. As John MacArthur observes in his study Bible, the word saying is a present participle in the Greek text. This indicates that they were probably asking everyone they met this same question. They were also fully cognizant of Whom they were asking about. They identified Him as the king of the Jews. Evidently, they were aware of the position of royalty this baby boy was born into. They also must have read and been familiar with the Hebrew prophecies and knew the Messiah would be born under a sign; a star. While this star looked like it might have just been a heavenly body, it was probably supernatural since it led these men here and would eventually settle over the house where Jesus was living. They knew the Old Testament prophecies in Isaiah 60:3 and Numbers 24:17 that the sign of the birth of the Messiah would be a star. Finally, we see their faith further evidenced by the purpose of their visit. They came not as political envoys or curious men, but as people who were in fact seeking God. They were Gentiles and, therefore, outsiders to the Jewish community. They were not seeking religion nor were they Jewish proselytes. Instead, these men went on this long journey to find God in order that they might worship Him. Let us pray for God to draw us even closer to Himself as He drew these wise men. Let us also pray that he would give us a heart to seek the truth as persistently as these men did.

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

Monday, November 22, 2010

Who Are You Trying To Fool??

If you read verse 6 of chapter 5 in Matthew, you will see 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 you can see if you read on in the chapter, 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.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Matthew 8:30-34 “Great. You can command demons. Get out.”

I used to like Rodney Dangerfield. Well, “like” is probably a little too strong of a word, but I always thought he was pretty funny. Of course, his signature line was “I don’t get no respect.” You might apply that to this situation here as well. Christ performs a mighty miracle and instead of being worshipped and praised, He is treated rudely and told to leave.

Remember, He has come to this area known as the Gedarenes (or Gerasenes) and met these two demon possessed men. These men have been driven from society, living among the tombs, and are violent. The demons inside these poor, tormented individuals know who Christ is, probably even better than His disciples do. So the stage is set—it’s like a spiritual gun fight at the OK Corral. All that’s left is for someone to yell “Draw!”

Of course, these demons know that in a fight with the Holy One of God they’re going to lose. He has the power over heaven and earth and they know it. Therefore, they try to negotiate—“If You are going to cast us out, send us into the heard of swine”—the swine that were feeding near a cliff not too far from Jesus and these men. They just wanted to destroy something, most likely, and if they couldn’t continue to torment these poor fellows, since Jesus was there to deliver them, they might as well cause some kind of destruction and the pigs looked like as good an opportunity as any.

Now, notice that it was the demons who asked to enter the pigs—not Christ who commanded that they leave the men and go to the pigs. Christ, being the Sovereign Lord of creation, could have destroyed them right there. He could have commanded that they leave the area. In His providence, however, He permitted them to enter, and then destroy, these pigs. The most interesting part of this scene, however, is not the death of all these pigs (which would have been SO tasty after having been cooked over an open flame with some good barbeque sauce—sorry) but rather the reaction of the townspeople.

The Greek word translated "rushed" can also be traslated "danced".  Ok, that's not really true.

The owners of the livestock ran off to tell everyone what had happened. Notice, as we see in verse 33, they didn’t just tell them what happened to all that lovely pork, err, I mean those poor pigs, they also reported “what had happened to the demoniancs”. So, the people now knew that Jesus had the power to free people who were possessed with demons and had authority over those demons. Instead of a reaction of praise for One who had such power and reverence for His authority, the people asked Him to leave. Here is a Man Who can command demons to leave, demonstrating supernatural authority that must come from God and instead of falling on their face and calling Him “Lord” they show Him the door.

Are we any different though? Do we refuse to obey God and serve Him whole-heartedly when He calls? There are times where we most certainly do. The same Man who healed these two demoniacs is alive today, seated at the throne of God on the right hand. Let us not demonstrate the same disobedient lack of faith we see in these towns people, but let us demonstrate true, saving faith by our obedience to the Lord who saved us from our sins.

Monday, November 15, 2010

II Peter 3:11-13 Judgment is coming. Now what?

I read at some point before the elections about President Obama making visits to people’s backyards to talk to them about the economy and the general state of the country. Of course, these visits were all scheduled in advance, probably weeks in advance. I can only imagine the preparation a family would put into getting their yard ready for such a visit. I can see them busily getting the yard cut, trimming hedges, maybe even repainting the lawn furniture. As we read this verse in II Peter, our hearts should be stirred with similar anticipation. We’re waiting not for the arrival of an earthly ruler of a temporary government; we anxiously await the arrival of our Savior and the King of Kings.

Peter grounds his argument here, his call for a proper response on the part of his audience, in the truths of the preceding section. The judgment of God is coming despite the mocking of those who laugh at the thought of God’s judgment (v 3-7). This judgment will be cataclysmic with violent, devastating effects to the earth and the universe (v 10—take that tree huggers). Therefore, when Peter asks the rhetorical question “What sort of people ought you to be” he bases it on the revealed truth that “all these things (the earth and the universe) are to be destroyed in this way (a fiery, universe-wide destruction)”. His call, then, is for his readers, and us, to take into serious consideration the fact that the God who created this universe which became tainted by sin is going to destroy that universe as judgment on that sin. If God is going to do that, how should that affect us and how we live?

I believe Peter tells us it should affect us outwardly. He says we should be people of “holy conduct”. Now, as we look at how we spend out time, how we treat people, how we talk, what we read, and what we watch, can you and I honestly look in the mirror and say our conduct is “holy” (i.e. set apart for God)? I am ashamed to say that I would have to answer “No” because there are times I’m rude to people in the store or that I’m unkind to my children and wife—not to mention a veritable host of other things. When consider, as Peter instructs to here, the judgment of God which is the result of sin, we should confess our sins and repent. In fact, that seems to be the point Peter is making here as well.

Observe that Peter says not only should the judgment of God affect our conduct, but we should also be people of “godliness”. In other words, meditating on God’s judgment of sin should not just affect us outwardly, but also inwardly. We should grow in Christlikeness. As Paul says in Romans 7:18 “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh”. Therefore, we know that any “goodness” that is in us would be there because we are becoming more like Christ through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. This spiritual transformation would then lead us to more holy conduct. It’s not a matter, then, of right “doing” but rather of right “being” that Peter calls us to here.

Further, notice that Peter says that meditating upon the day of the Lord should be central to our affections. He says in verse 12 that we should be “looking for and hastening the day of the Lord”. Now, I’m not entirely sure what he has in mind here. I mean, the Greek word translated “looking for” means “to await, expect” which makes sense and I understand that. However, “hastening” is a bit trickier to figure out. It is used in the NT to describe someone doing something in a hurry or calling for someone to do something quickly (i.e. Luke 19:5-6). That doesn’t really help me much because as I read Peter’s admonition here, my question is “How do I hasten the day of the Lord?”

Perhaps Peter had in mind Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:14 that the gospel of the kingdom will be preached to the whole world “and then the end will come”. I think another and perhaps better way to understand what Peter says here is to imagine a kid at Christmastime. As a child, you remember feeling like the old Chipmunk’s song “Hurry Christmas, hurry fast”. You had this sense that you would just burst if Christmas didn’t hurry up and get here. Perhaps, rather than actually doing something since the day of the Lord will come when God wills it not when we act, the idea Peter is expressing here is that we should be eagerly anticipating this day of the Lord. We should be excited about the prospect of God putting an end to sin on the day when “the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!” We know on that day, as Peter describes in verse 13, we will have ended for good our struggle with sin because we will come to dwell in a “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” Amen, brothers and sisters.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fundamental Friday's--The Fallacies of Higher Criticism Part IV

In the early 1900's. a twelve volume work on theology titled The Fundamentals was published. This massive work, in my most humble of opinions, is just as relevant today if not more so with the ever increasing attacks on the faith of Christians--and that's just from folks inside the church. I wanted to publish some excerpts from this work that I think will be greatly encouraging to you.

Yet another fallacy of the higher critics is found in their teachings concerning the biblical miracles. If the hypothesis of evolution is applied to the Scriptures consistently, it will lead us to deny all the miracles which they record. But if applied timidly and waveringly, as it is by some of the English and American higher critics, it will lead us to deny a large part of the miracles, and to inject as much of the natural as is any way possible into the rest. We shall strain out as much of the gnat of the supernatural as we can, and swallow,as much of the camel of evolution as we can. We shall probably reject all the miracles of the Old Testament, explaining some of them as popular legends, and others as coincidences. In the New Testament we shall pick and choose, and no two of us will agree concerning those to be rejected and those to be accepted. If the higher criticism shall be adopted as the doctrine of the church, believers will be left in a distressing state of doubt and uncertainty concerning the narratives of the four Gospels-, and unbelievers will scoff and mock. A theory which leads to such wanderings of thought regarding the supernatural in the Scriptures must be fallacious. God is not a God of confusion.

Among the higher critics who accept some of the miracles there is a notable desire to discredit the virgin birth of our Lord, and their treatment of this event presents a good example of the fallacies of reasoning by means of which they would abolish many of the other miracles. One feature of their argument may suffice as an exhibition of all. It is the search for parallels in the pagan mythologies. There are many instances in the pagan stories of the birth of men from human mothers and divine fathers, and the higher critics. would create the impression that the writers who record the birth of Christ were influenced by these fables to emulate them, and thus to secure for Him the honor of a celestial paternity. It turns out, however, that these pagan fables do not in any case present to us a virgin mother; the child is always the product of commerce with a god who assumes a human form for the purpose. The despair of the higher critics in this hunt for events of the same kind is well illustrated by Cheyne (Bible Problems, page 86), who cites the record of the Babylonian king Sargon, about 3,800 B. C.. This monarch represents himself as having "been born of a poor mother in secret, and as not knowing his father." There have been many millions of such instances, but we do not think of the mothers as virgins. Nor does the Babylonian story affirm that the mother of Sargon was a virgin, or even that his father was a god. It is plain that Sargon did not intend to claim a supernatural origin, for, after saying that he "did not know his father," he adds that "the brother of his father lived in the mountains." It was a case like multitudes of others in which children, early orphaned, have not known their fathers, but have known the relations of their fathers. This statement of Sargon I quote from a translation of it made by Cheyne himself in the "Encyclopedia Biblica." He continues, "There is reason to suspect that something similar was originally said by the Israelites of Moses." To substantiate this he adds, "See Encyclopedia Biblica, `Moses,' section 3 with note 4." On turning to this reference the reader finds that the article was written by Cheyne himself, and that it contains no evidence whatever.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Roman Catholics and Biblical Inspiration

The Roman Catholic view of scripture is unorthodox and insufficient for several key reasons.  First of all, the Catholic Church believes that Christ gave His authority to Peter and that Peter passed that authority on to the next pope (Bishop of Rome) who in turn passed on this authority in something called apostolic succession.  In addition, the Catholic Church teaches that these popes and the apostles knew more than they wrote down and that they passed this unwritten tradition, called the Mageisterium, down through the church.  This collected body of teaching has the same authority as scripture in their minds.  Further, the church exercised apostolic authority in selecting the books that would be placed in the canon of scripture.  However, a serious student of scripture will observe several theological problems with this view. 
First of all, instead of the Bible being the word of God and being the final authority of truth, the church itself is the final authority.  Secondly, church teaching on certain topics (how a person obtains grace) is flatly contradicted by the clear teaching of scripture.  Further, church teaching has evolved over time.  Therefore, it is difficult to see how what is taught in Vatican II, for instance, could possibly be the same thing the apostles taught.  Finally, the process of canonization appears to have been one of recognition rather than selection and cannot be identified with any one particular church.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Inerrancy--Definitions and Qualifications

In examining the definition of inerrancy as published in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, it is important to consider certain important qualifiers to that statement.  As defined by that statement, inerrancy means “Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God's acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God's saving grace in individual lives.” 
However, while this definition is adequate, it is important to remember certain key concepts.  First of all, all facts (scientific, historical, etc) are not yet known to the reader of scripture.  Also, while scripture is inerrant, our interpretation is not.  In addition, if someone makes a claim that scripture in fact contains errors, they must demonstrate that those errors they point out are errors and in doing so provide the correct interpretation. 
A reader must also remember that while we have near perfect copies of the autographs of scripture, we do not have the original autographs.  Likewise, a student of scripture must be able to distinguish between texts which are descriptive (describing an event) and normative (describing an even that should be considered normal or routine).  Finally, the reader must bear in mind that a claim of inerrancy does not include a claim of scientific precision, perfect spelling or grammar, historical or technical precision, exhaustive comprehensiveness, exclusion of figures of speech (i.e. poetry), exact quotation, or infallible sources. 
The need to bear these facts in mind is important in any discussion of inerrancy since, while the Bible claims to be inerrant, the Bible does not assert any claims of mechanical, scientific, or historical exactitude as would be expected of a modern writer.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Dangers Of Rejecting Inerrancy

The likely consequences of abandoning the doctrine of biblical inerrancy are serious and worth examining.  First of all, if a person assumes that the Bible is not inerrant then one would also have to assume that either God has lied or God has allowed those who were the human authors of scripture to speak falsely in His name.  If God can and did lie, how could we ever assume that He has told the truth about anything—He would have violated his own character as a God who tells the truth (Numbers 23:19) and therefore the Bible would have no real authority. 
Secondly, a person who rejects inerrancy would have a difficult time maintaining a faithful hermeneutic.  There would be no basis for consistently interpreting scripture throughout the Bible if some parts are true and some are not true.  In addition, a person would have no need to develop any sort of systematic or biblical theology if they reject inerrancy.  Rather than being forced to explain how seemingly discordant texts actually fit together, the reader could simply dismiss both as the author’s opinion or decide that one is true and the other is false rather than having to reconcile them so that the reader understands how they both fit into the context of what is revealed in the Bible. 
Finally, because the Bible is the source of divine truth (John 17:17) and is our source of spiritual nourishment (Hebrews 5:13-14), a person who rejects inerrancy will hamper their spiritual growth.  A likely outcome of viewing the Bible as not inerrant is that the person would see the Bible as not authoritative and important.  Therefore, they would neglect to study them.  Failing to study the scripture would certainly impair a person’s spiritual growth.