Showing posts from January, 2013

Until Heaven and Earth Disappear

Of all the Lord’s messages that we have recorded for us in Scripture perhaps the most famous is the one given to us in Matthew 5 through 7. Commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount, it covers a variety of subjects—and some pretty heavy ones at that—along with a lot of encouragement.

As I read Matthew 5 this morning verses 17 to 20 popped out at me. The chapter begins with the famous “blesseds” known as the Beatitudes (3-12). It’s a kind of mini-list of characteristics describing what a follower of Jesus should look like and what those believers should expect from God because of their faithful following of His example.

This then leads into a couple of illustrations. People who look like the Beatitudes are the salt of the earth, giving flavour to the world (vs. 13) and they are the light that points others to God (vss. 14-16).

These characteristics are what “righteousness” looks like. And, if we are looking for the perfect example of what righteousness is with skin on, Jesus says in ver…

Beware the Hired Help

I have an old framed picture left over from my parents’ day that depicts the old English countryside. Coming up the path in front of a thatched-roofed cottage is a shepherd with a flock of sheep. Contrary to popular notion, the shepherd is walking in front of the flock. He isn’t driving them from behind, he is leading from the front.

As I read Matthew 4 this morning, I looked closely at verses 18 to 22 which detail the calling of the first disciples. Jesus encounters a group of fishermen working along the shores of Lake Galilee. He says to them: “‘Come follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people” (vs. 19). The next verse tells us that they immediately left what they were doing to follow Jesus. This process is repeated with another pair of fishermen just a little while later.

A good shepherd leads. A good disciple follows. Obedience is immediate.

In John 10, the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep is described in great detail. We are told that the sheep …

Nearer Than You Think

After Jesus was tempted in the wilderness He returned to Galilee. John had been put in prison, his voice effectively silenced. But there was another voice now—that of the Messiah Himself. Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum, along the north shore of the sea of Galilee, This was reportedly the home of some of the fishermen who would become Jesus’ disciples and Matthew’s home.

The move was deliberate for another reason—it fulfilled the prophecy from Isaiah 9:1-7 that told of the Saviour who would come to “Galilee of the Gentiles” and bring light into the land of darkness and establish a kingdom of justice and righteousness that would last forever. It is interesting that Jesus, whose primary mission was to the people of Israel should, through the choice of where He would make His home base, signal hope for the salvation of the Gentiles.

…the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16).


Strength for the Challenges of the Day

One of the most amazing verses in the Bible is found in Matthew 4:1. “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

To fully identify with the people He had come to save, Jesus had to know, by personal experience, what it was like to be tempted. God the Father sent His Son into the wilderness and said to Satan, “Give it your best shot.” To add to the challenge for Jesus, He went forty days and forty nights alone and without food. He was physically at His weakest—the perfect moment for Satan to catch Him in some fault. That the devil even thought he had a chance to bring the Son of God down only reminds us how deluded our enemy actually is.

Hebrews 4:15 tells us “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

God the Father knew that His Son would not fail. Jesus knew He would not fail. So why go through the exercise? This event is re…

Prove It!

John the Baptist gained fame along the Jordan. People came for miles around to see this eccentric wild man and to hear his message. Some came out of curiosity—and John certainly was a “curiosity.” Others came because they were waiting for the kingdom John announced. Some came to criticize and other came out of conviction. “Repent and be baptized” was an “in-your-face” message at the best of times, but what we find in Matthew 3:7-10 would have had the PC police knocking on John’s door (if he had had one!).

The religious leaders of the day also arrived at the river’s edge and John pierced them with a steely gaze, pointed a bony finger at them, and declared: “‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, We have Abraham as our father. I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not …

Bridging the Baptism Gap

To prepare the way for the coming Messiah, John the Baptist, emulating the Old Testament prophets, called people to repentance. He also called them to physically demonstrate their renewed spiritual state by being baptized. It was, to the Jewish mind, a rite of purification similar to that of the priests who were to wash themselves, dress themselves in specially prepared garments and be perfectly clean before they began their priestly duties.

People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River” (Matthew 3: 5, 6).

In some traditions baptism takes place at the same time as a person accepts Christ as his or her Saviour. In other traditions, there are intensive studies and often a waiting period between the time a person becomes a believer and the time he or she publicly confesses that faith. The arguments for or against either position are many.

Personally, I suspect the waiting period…

Never Too Advanced to Repent

Most of us would choose to cross the street and walk on the other side of the road just to avoid him. They called him “John” which was common enough. But when people mentioned that this John was “the baptizer” the curious drew near and the cautious moved away.

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea” (Matthew 3:1).

He was a weird bird, dressed in camel’s hair and eating locusts and honey (3:4) and preaching, not from behind a pulpit, but from alongside the Jordan River.

His message was probably no more popular in that period than it is today: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 3:2). In a world where the religious establishment was more concerned with peripheral and superficial, John cut right to the heart of the matter—sin.

The curious drew near, the convicted stayed to listen, the callous of heart walked away.

John was the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, kinfolk of Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1), a miracle child born in his p…

There is Still Weeping In Ramah

I’ve been “missing in action” this week, down with bronchitis. This morning, brain fuzz cleared (though the weakness in the body is still evident) I sit down to continue my exploration of the book of Matthew.

When I read through chapter 2 earlier this week, I took note of two items that I intended to look at separately, but here I am at the end of the week with both of them still in my head. So let me share them both briefly.

The first comes from Matthew 2:13-15. After the wise men left the house where Jesus was, an angel appeared to Joseph to warn him that Herod would soon be coming to destroy the baby that posed such a political threat to him—or so he thought. Joseph was instructed to take the child to Egypt. Why Egypt? There would have been safe havens closer. Of course, this move was in fulfillment of a prophecy: “And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’” (2:15 as quoted from Hosea 11:1).

The child Jesus retraced the historic …

What the Kings Knew

January 6th is celebrated in many parts of the world as Three Kings Day. It commemorates the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem.  While we generally include the wise men in our Christmas story, the truth is that these men (perhaps not three at all) arrived sometime after the birth of Christ and set in motion one of the most terrible events in Biblical history.

But let’s back up a little. The Magi arrived in Jerusalem looking for the king foretold by the star they had been following (Matthew 2:1, 2). Of course, they thought that everyone would know what they were talking about. After all, shouldn’t the birth of a king be public knowledge?

When the news came to King Herod’s ears “...he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him” (2:3). It’s understandable why Herod was concerned, less so why the people of Jerusalem were bothered by a few strangers looking for a young child. In any case, Herod consulted his experts.

And here’s the rub; “When he had called together all the people’s chief pri…

A Few Good Men

Very little is said about Joseph, the earthy father of Jesus, in the Scriptures. In fact, very little is said about Mary either. But here in Matthew 1 we discover a little about the character of the man whose God-given responsibility was caring for the child, Jesus.

Mary was “pledged” to Joseph (Matthew 1:18) which was as good as being married. So when it was discovered that she was pregnant, and not with Joseph’s child, the man had options to consider.

The law said that Mary could be publicly stoned to death for her betrayal of the man to whom she was promised. Many men, to defend their honour (or satisfy their jealous and/or vindictive nature), would have been happy to throw the first stone. But not Joseph.

Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public shame, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (1:19).

A legalistic man would have had Mary stoned. A righteous man viewed her with compassion and wished to do her as little harm as possible.

But …

Dealing With Regrets

We got sidetracked in our Bible study last night. It wasn’t a bad sidetrack, but it did open a wound. We are finishing off the last few weeks of a series of studies on forgiveness and one of the participants mentioned that the hardest part of forgiveness was forgiving herself. She looked back on her child-raising years and wished that she had been walking with the Lord more closely then. Perhaps it would have made a difference in the lives of her children who now have nothing to do with God. That got the group talking about their own spiritual journeys, the wasted years, and family members who are not walking with the Lord. You could feel the pain.

As I was reading Matthew’s genealogy again this morning, I read this verse which brought me back to last night’s conversation. “...Ahaz was the father of Hekekiah, Hekekiah the father of Manasseh...” (Matthew 1:9a, 10b). I went back to the synopsis of the story of these three men found in 2 Chronicles 28-33.

Ahaz was an evil man who surpr…

Ordinary People in God's Extraordinary Plan

In the genealogy given to us in Matthew 1, there are four women mentioned. That Matthew includes references to these is probably unexpected. Jesus’ blood lines are being traced through Joseph as Matthew’s way of proving that Jesus was the promised Messiah, descended from David and the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham to bless the nations through his seed. Mind you, Matthew might have saved the ink in his pen since Jesus did not have one drop of his earthly father’s blood in His veins. He was the true Son of God and only the adopted son of Joseph, conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit.

And Matthew might have saved the ink in his pen by not referring to three of the four women mentioned in his list—at least under normal circumstances. But then again, the birth of the Messiah was anything but normal!

The name of the first woman mentioned comes in Matthew 1:3 where we read: “Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar.” If we look back at Genesis 38 we discover that Tam…

The "Name-Dropper"

I went to seminary with D. A. Carson. That’s the only name I can “drop” that might have any significance to the broader world beyond my own little one.

Matthew, as he begins his gospel, immediately drops some very impressive names. He does it quite deliberately because he wants to impress his Jewish audience, not with WHO he knows, but with the significance of WHAT he knows.

A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1) is how the book begins.

You see, Matthew had discovered that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah, the Redeemer sent from God to restore His people to Himself. Now his task is to try to convince his Jewish kinsman of that truth.

To the knowledgeable Jew, the promised Messiah would come from the kingly line of David. Just as importantly, religious Jews knew that the Messiah was the fulfillment of a promise made to the patriarch of all Jews, Abraham. In Genesis 12, God had told Abraham this: “I will make you into a great na…