Monday, May 28, 2007

Matthew 2:1-2: Responses to Christ: A Persistent Search for the Truth

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.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Sorry, folks.

I normally have been trying to post between Thursday and Saturday. I took off work early today and was going to type this week's post and decided it would be better to type it up Monday. I've pretty well studied the text but we're going out of twon for the weekend and
I don't want to rush through the post. I'll have it up early next week.

Thanks for your understanding.

in Him

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Matthew 1:24-25 “God’s Revelation/Joseph’s Response” Part 3

The short version of this Bible study is that Joseph responded to God’s revelation by obeying His command. However, I believe a closer look at the scripture will provide many practical observations that we can apply to our daily lives.

First of all, upon being aroused from sleep where he had received a heavenly dream with instructions from God on what to do about the situation with Mary, Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. We must assume, then, that he believed this message came from God. Taking advice from people in difficult situations is one thing. However, what he had been ordered to do in this supernaturally delivered dream was to trust God completely for his and Mary’s safety. Since Mary was now pregnant through supernatural means, people would assume that he and Mary had consummated the marriage before the wedding ceremony. By marrying her, people would have assumed that he was admitting guilt of sin. However, because he believed the message to have been from God Himself, he obeyed. We see his faith in God is proved here by his obedience. As James records in the 22nd verse of chapter one of his epistle, we should be “Doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving [our] selves.”

Now, of course, God doesn’t speak in dreams like this anymore. He has completely revealed Himself in a Book. The Bible contains God’s complete message to man and if we want to know about God and His will, we should read and study His Word. It is true that God also speaks through His people, circumstances, and the Holy Spirit and there are things He calls us to do that are not in His Word. A call to the mission field or vocational ministry would not be in scripture. When God dealt with me about preaching, there was obviously no verse that said “Joe, go preach.” However, had I not been studying His word, I would never have been sensitive to the call He made on my life. Some people want a supernatural call on their lives before they will obey the voice of God. I submit to you that the primary way you will hear God speak is through study of His word. In that way, you will be in close fellowship with Him and be more sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

We see revealed in Joseph’s character an obedient heart, we also see in this scripture that Joseph was able to restrain himself. We are told that Joseph did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son and that Joseph called his name Jesus. When people get married, they consummate the marriage after the ceremony (in private of course). However, even though he obeyed the revelation of God without hesitation, he restrained himself in this matter and Mary remained a virgin until she had given birth. We know it was not due to a fear of sin that he did this because, as Paul notes in 1st Corinthians, the “marriage bed is undefiled”. God did not choose to reveal exactly why Joseph chose this course of action. However, we can admire the fact that he was willing and able to deny himself the opportunity to consummate the marriage and assume that it was due to a conviction of his conscience. We do recognize that they did have normal marital relations after Jesus’ birth. While some teach that Mary remained a virgin perpetually, scripture tells us that Joseph did not know her till Jesus was born. Clearly, that indicates that he did know her afterwards. We also know this to be true from the gospel accounts of Jesus’ brothers and sisters (Matthew 13:55-56, John 7:3). We can be thankful for the obedient life of Joseph and Mary. They set a powerful example for us because they followed God even when the situation appeared difficult.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Matthew 1:22-23 “God’s Revelation/Joseph’s Response” Part 2

Hello. If you're here for the first time, I'd like to say welcome. If you've been studying this book of the Bible along with me before today, welcome back. I just thought I'd make a suggestion or two. First of all, if you feel led to leave a comment or ask a question, feel free to do so. I've turned comment moderation on because, since this is the internet, I didn't want to give somebody who is "Kookoo for Cocopuffs" a forum to say something that ought not be said. Secondly, I strongly encourage you to read the scripture in Matthew before you read the Bible study. I just think the study will make more sense to you if you do that. I use the New King James version but, of course, there are other translations that will work as well.

So, without further delay, here we go.

As we observed last week, Joseph was visited by an angel who brought revelation from God Himself regarding the special nature of Mary’s pregnancy. Matthew records here that the supernatural circumstances surrounding the birth of Christ were actually the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. He records that all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet. It is important for us to remember that the ultimate source for all scripture and revelation is the Lord God. As the writer of Hebrews observes in chapter 1 verse one of that book, “God…spoke through the prophets.” They were the intermediaries or heralds and they communicated the message that God sent them to speak (2 Peter 1:21) In this case, we see God as the ultimate source of this prophecy that was given to the people through Isaiah in Isaiah 7:14.

We should also take note of the substance of the revelation. In the book of Isaiah chapter 7, this prophecy is given by Isaiah to King Ahaz. To make a long story somewhat short, the land of Judah was in danger of being destroyed by armies of Israel and Syria. The king was contemplating the idea of calling in reinforcements from his neighbor Assyria. Isaiah was sent, as noted by Albert Barnes, to tell the king to ask God for a sign. In other words, he was told to look to God for help rather than look to his neighbors. Ahaz refused to ask God for a sign so God said he would give a sign for Himself. This sign, as recorded in Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23, was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ. We read that it is introduced with the word idou which is rendered in English as Behold. Back where I come from, we might have said “Look here, boy”. The word is not only used to draw attention to this miracle but also to indicate that it was something unusual and supernatural. The reason it was supernatural was a virgin shall be with child and bear a Son. The word translated virgin is the Greek word parthenos and it can mean a maiden or marriageable daughter in addition to virgin. However, we can be sure that God inspired Matthew to quote this prophecy in Isaiah to reiterate the idea that Mary was a virgin for several reasons. First of all, Matthew here uses the same Greek word that the translators of the Greek version of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Septuagent, used for Isaiah 7:14. In the Hebrew, the word translated virgin is alma. The word could be understood as a young maiden. However, the most reasonable explanation of what God was trying to communicate through Matthew was that this woman would be a virgin. Secondly, there would be nothing miraculous about the birth that is identified as a sign if it was simply that a woman became pregnant. However, if a virgin became pregnant, that would be a miracle. The only way something like that could be explained would be supernatural intervention. In much the same way as Abraham’s wife Sarah’s pregnancy in Genesis could only be explained as a work of God, so Mary became pregnant and bore a Son.

Matthew records the name or title that would be given to this Son by people. He writes that the Messiah would be called Immanuel which meant God with us. The fact that Jesus Christ was God in human flesh is one of the most important truths taught in the New Testament. Jesus Christ was fully human. He had all the same bodily organs and physical needs that you and I have. He got hungry (Matthew 4:3), tired (Mark 4:38), and was tempted in every way you and I are (Hebrews 4:15). However, since His mother was a virgin and, therefore, he had no human father, He did not inherit our sin nature. Sin is passed on from fathers to the next generation (Romans 5:12-14). Evey person born is both a sinner by nature (they were born a sinner) and a sinner by choice (we all choose to disobey). God was able to punish Him for our sins because not only had He never committed a sin willingly, He was also not a sinner by birth as you and I are. As Paul records in 2 Corinthians 5:21 God ”made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”. While Christ was fully man, He was also fully God. The miracles proved that He was God (John 14:8-11). He declared Himself to be God (John 8:57-58). Because He was God, He was able to forgive sin and promise eternal life to the thief on the cross who was crucified beside Him. Matthew was inspired by God to reveal that Jesus Christ was the long awaited Immanuel that had been promised almost 750 years prior by Isaiah. Because He was God in human flesh, He could pay for our sins by dying on the cross. When we repent of our sins (that means to change direction-we stop doing things our way and start doing things His way), ask His forgivness, and trust His death as payment for those sins rather than relying on our goodness to get us to heaven, we become His children. Praise God for His wonderful gift-the gift of Jesus.

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

Friday, May 4, 2007

Matthew 1:20-21 “God’s Revelation/Joseph’s Response” Part 1

Last week we ended on almost a cliffhanger in regards to Joseph and Mary. Joseph had decided to divorce Mary due to her being found pregnant. We can only imagine the emotional turmoil the young couple must have been in due to this crisis. Mary knew she was guilty of no sin. Of course, God had chosen ahead of time to reveal to her that she would become supernaturally pregnant. God, in His providence, decided to delay this revelation to Joseph. We now see Joseph and his response to the revelation of God.

Scripture records that while Joseph was pondering these things an angel of the Lord appeared to him. God often used angels to communicate His message to man. For instance, in the book of Judges, Gideon was visited by an angel and instructed to mount an army to save Israel. The father of John the Baptist was likewise visited by an angel. Before the coming of our Lord (the Living Word) or the writing of Scripture (the written Word) God sometimes spoke in supernatural ways to communicate his message (Hebrews 1:1-2). Here, while Joseph was dreaming, he receives a personal revelation from the Lord.

We should take notice of how the angel addressed him. He calls him “Joseph, son of David.” It is an individual, specific call to Joseph. When God deals with people, He deals with us as individuals. When He calls a person to salvation, He calls them by name. Of course, He does not call them in an audible voice. The call of His Holy Spirit is just as real, however. The angel also addresses him as “son of David.” Every Jew knew that the Messiah would come from the line of David. The angel probably addressed him like this to emphasize the important role that Joseph would now play in the plan to bring the Messiah into the world.

Further, we should observe the advice he gave to Joseph. He tells him to not be afraid to take Mary for a wife. The Greek actually reads “Do not become afraid.” In other words, Joseph is called to make a choice to trust God. A person usually becomes afraid because they do not know the future. However, we know that we serve a God who “works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Even in the middle of unusual or difficult circumstances, we can trust God. However, we have to make the choice. Joseph here is admonished to not become afraid. He, of course, did not have God’s perspective. Therefore, he had to choose to believe what God told him. Basically, he had to take God at His word. Joseph was told not to become afraid to take Mary as his wife. Joseph would likely have been worried about guilt by association. If Mary was pregnant and he married her, to most people that would be an admission that they had consummated the marriage before the actual wedding. They would have, in the eyes of the community, been guilty of sin. Joseph here is told by the angel that Mary was free of any guilt because the baby she was carrying was the result of God’s supernatural power. Only the power of God could explain a virgin being pregnant. Of course, if God had sent a message that Joseph should not fear to take Mary for his bride, we must recognize that God would also be the one who protected them in this situation. In short, God wanted Joseph to know that what was happening was part of His will. Since He had brought this to pass by the power of His Holy Spirit He would see them through whatever difficulties might lie ahead. Joseph’s perspective did not permit him to see everything that would happen or how things would work out. In our lives, often times, we suffer from the same problem. We have to make the same choice Joseph did. Do we obey God and trust His word or do we rely on ourselves and our abilities. Here, Joseph receives a promise from God that he can rely on in this trying circumstance.

Finally, we notice the announcement made to Joseph. He is told the supernatural circumstances surrounding the birth. Also, he is told that Mary would bring forth a Son and that they would name him Jesus. Before the Child was even born, the man who would be His legal father knew the Child’s name. Jesus was a fairly common name but it had a special meaning. Literally, it meant “Jehovah saves.” The Jews knew God to be a saving God. Throughout the history of their nation, God had moved in supernatural ways to save them. Jesus’ name, therefore, was a reflection of the character of God. The angel further announces the kind of salvation that would come through this Messiah. He says the He will save His people from their sins. Those who would place their faith and trust in Him would find the filth of their sin completely cleansed away. Those who reject them would be held responsible for that rejection and spend eternity separated from God the Father. He did not come, therefore, to provide emancipation from Roman rule. He didn’t come to draw people to a religious system in an attempt to earn salvation. He came, as the book of Revelation records, to be the Lamb of God, slain from before the foundations of the world. Through His death, burial, and resurrection, He provided salvation from all sin for everyone who would believe in Him. As the hymn writer Phillip Bliss writes “My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin, not in part but the whole is nailed to that cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh, my soul.” We, too, should praise God for his precious gift of salvation that He revealed to Joseph in a dream that fateful night.

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