Friday, December 14, 2018

Devotional: Jesus the New Israel, Matthew 2:13-23

Outline of Matthew 2.12-23

Matthew concludes the account of Jesus’ birth and childhood with the story of how God preserved his life from Herod’s attempt to murder him and how that resulted in Jesus growing up in Nazareth of Galilee. Matthew is telling the story in a way that reveals Jesus as the embodiment of the nation of Israel who will accomplish what Israel was supposed to do and thus, will “fulfill” what God had planned to do through Israel. It is likely that the main background for this is the servant songs in Isaiah in which the Servant-Messiah brings in the kingdom of the age to come through his message, substitutionary death and exaltation (Isaiah 53). This was a common theme in the Hebrew scriptures and Matthew will cite Jeremiah, Hosea, and allude to many other passages to make his point. Jesus will not only bring in the peaceful worldwide kingdom promised to David and Abraham, but he will also recapitulate the slavery, suffering and exile of Israel. But, unlike the nation, he will live without sin, perfectly fulfill the covenant and accomplish Israel’s mission to bring blessing to the whole world. .

The Magi are the first of many Gentiles who will come, worship and follow Jesus. Herod, on the other hand reminds us that opposition to Jesus’ mission and rule is deep within the human heart and, wherever Jesus message goes out, there will also be persecution of the messengers.(2:13-15) The irony here is that pagans are honoring God's Messiah, while the religious leaders of the Jews, who know enough to know where Messiah will be born, are not willing to go out of their way even to go find him. Herod typifies the oppressor of God's people. He reminds one of pharaoh. And like the Israelites in Egypt (Hosea 11:1), Jesus's family become refugees fleeing Herod, but are miraculously preserved by God. Matthew reminds us of Israel's history to encourage us that when we follow God’s call he will also preserve us through suffering and persecution because Jesus leads us in a new exodus into God’s kingdom.

The journey to the new exodus is not easy. The worship of the Magi leads to the murder of the infants in Bethlehem.(2:16-18)  As throughout history, the desire to preserve the earthly power of leaders leads to the suffering of their people. Matthew likens the suffering of the people of Bethlehem to that of the people in the slaughter of the Babylonian invasion and exile of Israel when their children were slaughtered before their eyes (Jeremiah 31:15). But with this reminder of the “normal” intense suffering life in this evil world brings, Jeremiah 31 is also a reminder that, when suffering leads to a turning to God, there is restoration, a new covenant, and hope for  a new world. This is what Jesus came to earth to bring to us.

But tyrants die and God’s plan to bless the world goes on. The angel who has been guiding Joseph announces the good news of Herod’s death and tells Joseph to return to Israel. (2:19-23) But this time the angel directs him to settle in Nazareth of Galilee. The angel speaks to Joseph four times in this short section to direct him and save his life. Joseph’s attentiveness to God’s direction and quick obedient response is an example for how we should navigate difficult and chaotic times.

Matthew ends the story of Jesus’ birth and childhood with the note that he would be called a “Nazarene” “so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled.” (2:23) This is a puzzling statement because Matthew cites no specific prophecy. It is likely that Matthew is thinking about Isaiah 9:1 which predicts that the “great light” will come from “the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.” The word “Nazarene” is also a puzzle. It is possible that Matthew is making a word play off of the Hebrew word for “branch” (נצר natsar). This word is used in several places (Isaiah 11:1 for one) to describe the coming king as a son of David who will bring God’s final kingdom. Matthew’s point is that, like David, even though Jesus came from an insignificant town and a lowly background, he is the king of Israel and will fulfill the career predicted by the prophets.

The bottom line is that we can be sure that, despite opposition, suffering, and anything else this evil world can throw at us, Jesus has lived through it, has overcome it and will preserve us through it. We follow the path of the new exodus into blessing as we are attentive to the voice of the Spirit and as we trust and follow Jesus.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Devotional: The Birth of the King, Matthew 1:18-2:12

Outline of Matthew 1.18-2.12

The theme of Matthew’s Gospel is that the kingdom of God (heaven) has come to earth in the person of the king, Jesus Christ. In one sense, with Jesus walking on the earth the kingdom of God, as prophesied by the prophets was already present. But in another sense the full manifestation was yet to come. Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension would bring in a New Covenant (26:17-30) that would extend the blessings of God’s presence to all the nations of the world (the “already” blessing we live in now). God’s kingdom plan would then be completed at the return of the Son of Man (24-25) (the “not yet” completion of the kingdom when heaven and earth are renewed and joined). In telling the birth story of Jesus, Matthew looks back at how the history of God’s plan in the story of Israel pointed to Jesus and looks forward to how Jesus would accomplish God’s future plan to accomplish his purpose on earth to disciple the nations and to fully realize God’s presence and rule on earth.

The birth story is framed by two visions in which an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph to give him instruction about what his role was to be in God’s plan to bring his Son into the world. The first dream informed Joseph that Mary’s pregnancy was a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit and that he should not divorce her (1:18-25). Instead, he was to name the child Jesus as a sign that Jesus “will save his people from their sins.” (1:21) In the birth story of Jesus, while Luke emphasizes Mary’s story, Matthew emphasizes the righteousness of Joseph. Joseph chooses to obey what God tells him in a dream rather than cling to his honor which would have allowed him to divorce Mary. Joseph provides the example of what our devotion to Jesus should look like as he chooses obedience over cultural norms and the honor of his peers.

Matthew points out that Jesus is the “fulfillment” of the Immanuel prophecy of Isaiah 7-9 (1:22-23). Just as Isaiah’s children were a sign to the nation 700 years before that God was present with them to bring blessing and deliverance to those who trusted and acted on God’s promises in the Assyrian crisis, so Jesus was a sign that God was acting decisively in the world again. Isaiah had predicted that a greater Immanuel was coming who would bring God’s rule, rest, and peace to the entire world. (Isaiah 9:6-7) This greater Immanuel would bring God’s presence into the world in an even more concrete way. God himself would take on a human body and come into the world through a miraculous virgin birth. God himself was coming to free all people, not just from tyrants like Assyria and Rome, but from the dark spiritual forces behind them, from sin, death, and all its consequences. Like in Israel of old, our response to the sign child Jesus determines whether we receive the Immanuel of blessing or the Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (Isaiah 8) of judgment. Joseph models the proper response as he obeys completely.

In the next section (2:1-12) Matthew records the visit and worship of the Gentile Magi from Persia. The story of the Magi is another of the indications that Matthew is concerned for the mission to the Gentiles. It would have reminded Jewish readers of the many prophecies that, in God’s kingdom, people from all over the world would come and worship God and his king. This is the context of the prophecy in Micah 5:2 that the Jewish priests use to confirm that Messiah will be born in Bethlehem of Judea. This same prophecy (Micah 4:1-5) predicts that people from all nations will come to God’s king and worship. The Magi would be the first in a long line of Gentiles who would worship Jesus.

The worship of the Magi is a model for how we are to worship King Jesus. As they brought gold so should we worship by using our possessions and resources to serve Jesus’ mission and Jesus’ people. As they brought frankincense, the incense that went up to God in the temple symbolizing the prayers of the people, so we should privately and publicly lift up our prayers and praise to the throne room of God because we know he hears them. As they brought myrrh, burial perfume, so we should remember the cross of Jesus and what it accomplished and take up our own cross and follow him.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Devotional: The Family of the King, Matthew 1:1-17

Outline of Matthew 1.1-17

In each Gospel the writer lays out his purpose in his introduction. Mark identifies Jesus as Son of God, Messiah and Savior and then proceeds to prove it inductively. Luke declares his intention to provide an orderly account of Jesus’ life. John begins before creation and identifies Jesus as God come in the flesh, the Logos, the ordering principle of the universe, come to live with us in a human body. Matthew begins with a genealogy. It seems odd to us, but Matthew’s purpose can be seen quite clearly. He begins with a genealogy to show basic truths about Jesus' mission: He came as the culmination of God's plan for Israel to bless the entire world. The genealogy shows that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham to bless all the world through his family and the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant which promises that God would bring a ruler from the family of David who would usher in a new covenant which will result in the defeat of evil and death and produce a new earth fully joined to heaven and in alignment with God’s purpose to bring peace and blessing to the world. It is a kingdom which includes all nations but presents Jesus as the embodiment of Israel  who fulfills everything God planned to accomplish through them. Matthew presents Jesus as the coming king of Israel who brings the kingdom of heaven to earth and invites everyone, men and women, Jew and Gentile, “bad and good,” to join him, worship him, and live according to the values of his kingdom and be part of his family.

The genealogy is arranged in three blocks of fourteen, leaving out several generations, to make his point. 14 doubles seven, the number of completion. At the beginning of each set of 14 is a key figure who represents a major step in God’s plan to redeem and renew the world. Abraham received God’s covenant that promised blessing to the world through his family. God would make him into a great nation that would be the vehicle of God’s revelation of himself to the world..The second group of 14 begins with David through whom God narrowed the promise to an individual, a Messiah/King who would unite the kingdoms of heaven and earth into one. God’s temple would be with people. The second section ends and the third section begins with the exile which highlights the nation’s failure to do this. The final section of the genealogy ends with Jesus who fulfills God’s purpose through Israel to reveal God to the world and bring his blessing to all nations. He fulfills God’s purpose through David to build a “temple” where God can dwell with his people. Jesus is the temple made “without hands” to provide the way for holy God to dwell bodily within his creation. Jesus has the both the pedigree and the resume of a king we should all want to follow.

One oddity in the genealogy is the inclusion of four Gentile women and some unsavory characters. The Bible does not hide the fact that Jesus’ family has some “skeletons in the closet.” Right up front Matthew is telling us that Jesus’ kingdom is universal and open to all genders and nationalities. Jesus’ kingdom is not a kingdom “of this world” that operates by exclusion or coercion. He breaks down the barriers our sinful cultures have erected to keep us apart from God and from each other. Jesus connects with sinners and transforms them into citizens of the kingdom of heaven. He then calls his followers to go out and “make disciples” in the same way.

Thus, the Gospel of Matthew provides us a with a promise and a challenge. The promise is that all of us can now experience the “shekinah” the light and fire of the presence of God which indwelt the tabernacle and indwells each believer through the Holy Spirit. This demands a response from us of full commitment to him, despite the fact that in this present age we will experience similar rejection and persecution that he suffered. But we do this knowing that the full expression of his kingdom is coming and that Jesus promises “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Devotional: How To Defend the Faith, Jude 17-25

Outline Jude 17-25

Jude ends his brief. dark letter with a hopeful note. The opposition and persecution we face from false teachers and fake believers should be expected. Jesus and the writers of the New Testament expected it to happen and have already given us the method to combat it. First we must remember that God is in control of the situation and will use even the opposition and persecution to bring about his plan for his people, locally and worldwide. He calls us to take preemptive action to protect the church from false teaching by purposeful discipleship that includes teaching, corporate prayer and reminding people to keep a “kingdom perspective.” We are working for Jesus and he is coming back to evaluate and reward our efforts. We can do this boldly and hopefully because God is the one who will ultimately preserve the truth, grow believers into maturity and keep believers safe in judgment. Thus, we can confidently fulfill our responsibility to preserve the truth of the Word and pass it on to the next generation.

First Jude reminds us that Jesus and the apostles warned us to expect opposition and persecution. But they also predicted the even more dangerous opposition of false teachers who “have crept in unnoticed” (4) and cleverly lay error alongside truth to deceive and manipulate believers. (17-19)  Jude calls us to be discerning to recognize these dangerous people. We cannot look inside them to see that they are “devoid of the Spirit,” but we can recognize them by their teaching that does not conform to the scriptures, their immoral and selfish lifestyles, and their divisiveness. The best way to avoid deception is to know the truth well.

Jude counsels us to take preemptive action to keep ourselves in the faith. First, we are responsible to “build ourselves up.” This means that we make ourselves available to be mentored by faithful Christian leaders and, as we grow to mentor others. As we teach, train, encourage, and serve together we grow in knowledge and in the depth of our love relationship with God and with each other. This also involves “praying in the Holy Spirit.” In corporate and individual prayer we keep close accounts with God, pray for one another’s needs and listen for his leading in our daily lives. Finally we hold each other accountable to Jesus and encourage one another as we remind ourselves of the blessing coming when he returns. 

We are called to do this in a way that shows God’s mercy to the deceived and moves toward the goal of saving the person rather than condemning them. We must be honest and frank about false doctrine and practice (“hating even the garment stained by the flesh” 23) but merciful in our desire to restore. Sometimes it may take a “tough love” (“snatching them out of the fire”) that may even remove false teachers from the fellowship but, again, should have a goal of restoration if possible. Church should be a place where we defend the basics of the faith; freely, mercifully and openly discuss the more difficult unclear issues; gently and honestly deal with words and actions; and do this all in a context of seeking God together in his word and in prayer.

It is our responsibility to rely on the Spirit to lead us into creatively applying the truth to our present situation, It is also our responsibility to preserve the unchanging truths of God’s word and pass them on to the next generation. We know that it will happen because God will never let the truth disappear, he will complete his task of growing believers into the image of Jesus and he will bring us safely through judgment. We will win the fight..

Monday, December 10, 2018

Devotional: Defending The Faith, Jude 1-16

Outline Jude 1-16

The Letter of Jude is very similar to 2nd Peter (who knows which one came first and influenced the other) and deal with a very similar issue. Jude writes passionately to urge believers to see the urgency of opposing false teaching and to fight against apostasy to preserve the content of the witness of the apostles to the gospel contained in the New Testament. We need to recognize that, in every church, there are people who, some out of ignorance and others out of intentional rebellion, who are being used by the forces of evil to destroy the church’s witness to the gospel, pervert its witness and oppose God’s kingdom. Jude wants us to prepare ourselves to know and preserve the truth and rescue the church from false teachers in God’s strength.

Jude hints at the basic problem with the false teachers in the greeting of the letter (1-2). True leaders, “slaves of Jesus Christ,” who recognize their dependence on God who has called them into the faith, loves them and keeps them in the faith. One of the key characteristics of the false teachers is a self-reliance that breaks God’s boundaries and abuses the responsibility of authority.

The main job of Christian teachers is to accurately explain the special revelation of God contained in scripture and apply it to daily life. (3-4) This requires diligent study in the scriptures to properly understand it and continuing dependence on the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Jude sees the false teaching focusing on two issues. First, false teachers “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” That is they compromise the deity and authority of Christ, often by deemphasizing or redefining the Trinity and the nature of Jesus as the God-Man. Second they “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality” by twisting the idea “that God loves as we are” into “God is ok with leaving you just as you are,” in order to excuse their own immorality. The grace of God is always extended to everyone where they are but is always working to change those who believe into the likeness of Christ. Good teaching must keep this balance, God has entrusted us with this counter-intuitive special revelation and Jude wants us to avoid the condemnation that we bring on ourselves when we change or compromise it.

The main body of the letter presents examples of apostasy from the past as warnings of the danger of rejecting the truth. These rebels from the past lack submission to God and practice overreaching, abusive authority. Their rebellion and unbelief is recognized by their grumbling, complaining, immorality and greed. They are seductive, unreliable dangers that do not deliver what they promise. Eventually their prideful words and deeds will lead to devastating consequences in the near future and judgment when Jesus returns. Thus, Christians need to be able to recognize false teachers so that they can oppose them and avoid their judgment.

We would be missing Jude’s point if we only pointed his warning at others. All of us, especially Christian leaders, are prone to a self-reliance that forgets our dependence on God and fails to be accountable to God and one another as a “slave of Jesus Christ.” We can fail to keep the balance of the gospel and change grace to “sensuality” or spiritual discipline to human rules. We need to watch in ourselves the tendency to impose standards on others and then give ourselves a pass. As we fight for the faith, let’s make sure we are staying on the right side.


Saturday, December 08, 2018

Ready To Hit The Road Again


20181203_133531This is the view through the windshield of our van as we headed back home to El Dorado after a weekend of ministry at Gateway Bible Church in Scotts Valley. We enjoyed fellowshipping at the church on Sunday morning. We saw many old friends and met some new people. We were able to share what God has been doing in our lives and some of our plans (still somewhat tentative) at the Gateway DCL (Devoted to Changing Lives) dessert meeting on Sunday night. It was an encouraging time for us to be prayed for at the meeting and see how God is working in my old home town. We will back at Gateway on Sunday morning December 30th to share my “Vow of Praise” sermon about how God healed me from cancer in the morning services. We then drove back to El Dorado on Monday. Notice a new first: I shared the driving for the last half of the trip I am praising God for my continued recovery from the stem cell transplant. Getting a little better each day. I am enjoying being a little more active, but trying not to do too much. I will be preaching tomorrow (9th) at Camino Community Church in their 10:15 AM service. I am looking forward to that.

Joyce and I are looking forward to doing more ministry in 2019. We would like to spend some time with all our supporting churches as soon as we can,, We are also available for Bible studies. missions meetings, preaching or to just hang out and talk about stuff. We would love to see you.


Message of the Letter of Jude

Message Jude