Matthew 3:1-6

Study Notes on Matthew’s Gospel

Matthew 3:1-6 (NIVUK): “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’

This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”’

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt round his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan.”

(First Draft)

The Man: John the Baptist

In Matthew 11:11,14, we hear Jesus say something quite amazing about John: “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. … And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

And what are we told about this amazing man, was there anything about his background that stood out, such that the average person would have been impressed by his status? Was he a powerful ruler, or an extremely wealthy man, or did he exert a great influence over the religious teachers and other celebrities of his time? No, he stood out because he appeared to be the opposite of a successful and influential leader of high social standing. In regard to social standing, John the Baptist had more in common with his young, carpenter cousin living in Nazareth than with the ruling royal class.

Jesus tells us that John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah (Matthew 11:14), meaning that there was going to be a prophet of similar nature to Elijah, who would proclaim the coming of the Messiah. This is not to say that John was literally Elijah.

[In John 1:21a, we hear this response from John to this question: “They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’” That’s a very clear response.]

However, there are some intriguing similarities, we read in 2 Kings 1:8, “The king asked them, ‘What kind of man was it who came to meet you and told you this?’ They replied, ‘He had a garment of hair and had a leather belt round his waist.’ The king said, ‘That was Elijah the Tishbite.’”

Looking back to 1 Kings 17:1, Elijah appears (unannounced) on the scene when the northern kingdom under king Ahab has entered a particularly evil phase: Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.’”  If we compare this to the sudden appearance of John after years in the wilderness, Matthew 3:1, “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea.”

Yet, the most striking similarity is their anointing of the Holy Spirit. Let’s look at Luke 1:14-17, “He (John) will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’”

It’s also clear that Elijah was anointed with God’s Spirit, 1 Kings 17:23b-24, “He gave him to his mother and said, ‘Look, your son is alive!’ Then the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.’”

Just before we leave this point that John was a man in the spirit of Elijah, we should look briefly at Elisha, 2 Kings 2:14-15a, “He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. ‘Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’ he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over. The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, ‘The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.’”

In essence, the ‘spirit’ of Elijah is a manifestation of the powerful anointing of God’s Spirit.

THE MISSION

John the Baptist key mission was to prepare the hearts of the people to receive the Messiah.

In the first 39 chapters of Isaiah we hear harsh words of judgment, and now let’s look at Isaiah 40:1-5, Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’”

In addition, we have the last two verses of the Old Testament, which point to what will happen next – after a long period of silence; Malachi 4:5-6, “‘See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.’” (See Luke 1:17 above, he will turn people’s hearts from their evil ways, to prepare them for the Messiah’s message of salvation.)

Returning to Luke 1:67-80, Zechariah’s Song, regarding his son John: “His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us – to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.’

And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.”

This is a rather beautiful song: and it summarises perfectly the mission of John the Baptist: ‘to prepare the way for Jesus, to give God’s people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins’.

THE MESSAGE

John’s message was simple: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’ (Matthew 3:2). It was the same message to be preached by Jesus (Matthew 4:17).

Before we can continue. it’s important to have a clear understanding of what repentance means in a Christian context. It is not a general feeling of sorrow caused by an awareness that you have done or said something wrong. The wrong inflicted on another is not resolved by saying ‘sorry’, even non-Christians know it means more than that, and that it carries with it a resolve not to ‘trespass across the line’ in the future.

In the Christian context – repentance means total change – a re-birth into a new creation, in-Christ.

The Greek word used in Scripture for ‘repent’ means to ‘turn around’. To turn around your heart and mind away from sin to holiness. It means conversion from our old sinful nature to becoming a child of God, in the likeness of Jesus.

Jesus covers this aspect in His discussion with Nicodemus, John 3:5-8,17-18: “Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’ … For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

The good news is that salvation is found in Jesus; the bad news is that whoever does not believe, those who refuse to turn their lives around, ‘will be burnt up like chaff with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:12)’.

This was the simple message of John the Baptist, that the Jews were not ready to accept their Messiah until they had repented of their sins.

THE SUCCESSFUL MINISTRY OF JOHN THE BAPTISTL

We are told that John’s ministry was successful. Matthew 3:5-6, “People went out to John the Baptist from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan.”

As John was speaking words of truth as inspired by the Holy Spirit, his words convicted the hearts and minds of those Jews who mourned their sinfulness, and they responded by coming from all parts of Judea, including Jerusalem, to publically declare their repentance through their baptism in the Jordan River. Such is the power of God’s Spirit.

Secondly, he knew his mission was over after he had baptised Jesus, (John 3:26-30: “They came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan – the one you testified about – look, he is baptising, and everyone is going to him.’ To this John replied, ‘A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, “I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.” The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.’“)

CONCLUDING REMARKS

John the Baptist is a role model for all of us, he was recognised by Jesus as a great man and we have covered some of the reasons which contributed to his greatness. Yet Jesus had this to say: “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matthew 11:11)”

We are not necessarily greater than John in terms of human character but we are greater in terms of privilege when we understand that we “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that we may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)”

Any comments?

References: 

  • Bible Study Notes prepared by the late Rev. Eric Bird (mostly used for framework and headings). His notes were, in turn, based on the following primary source: “The MacArthur New Testament Commentary – Matthew, Volumes 1-5″, published by the Moody Bible Institute. [Note: I don’t fully endorse Dr John MacArthur’s work, so I’ll try to steer away from any detailed references or quotes.]
  • Extensive on-line searches – especially in the area of translation variations.
  • Notes on Matthew’s Gospel as compiled by Fr. Bernie Patterson, sourced from multiple references.
  • Overall – I’ve selected material, which fits into my view of Matthew’s Gospel – naturally!

Matthew 2:16-23

Study Notes on Matthew’s Gospel

Matthew 2:16-23 (NIVUK): “When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.

Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.’

So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.”

In these verses we look at two more prophecies, fulfilled by the King, as revealed by Matthew.

The first one is to do with Herod’s murder of all the boys in Bethlehem, their mothers weeping inconsolably because their sons were no more. The prophet Jeremiah (31:15), mentions this town (and there has been some debate about its precise location), however, there is a town with a similar name near Bethlehem and Rachel’s tomb is located near it.

Now, there are some commentators who suggest that the town of Ramah was the place the Israelites (Judah) were held before they were carried off into exile to Babylon. The next two verses of Jeremiah are interesting: ‘This is what the Lord says: ‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,’ declares the Lord. ‘They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your descendants,’ declares the Lord. ‘Your children will return to their own land.’ Even in the despair of exile there is future hope.

One commentator has written: “Rachel is a symbol of all the mothers of Israel and Ramah is a symbol of the deportation of the children of Israel” – a symbol of loss.

Again, the connection of Jeremiah’s words with a prophecy concerning Jesus is only brought to light by the revelation of the Holy Spirit through Matthew’s writing. As we are told elsewhere in Scripture, prophets often did not know or understand the full message of their prophecies.

Jesus would be called a Nazarene

This next prophecy needs to be given some background. The Jewish religion at the time of Jesus had a rich oral tradition, that is, not everything that was recognised as the saying of a prophet was written down. Likewise not all Jewish law was codified and listed in scrolls, much of the detail was passed down as oral traditions, and they had excellent memory aids to assist with the recollection of this important oral information.

This is one such prophecy, there is no written record of it (except this account in Matthew).  If, we just consider for a moment that Matthew had a good in-depth knowledge of Jewish Scripture and would also have had a working knowledge of Jewish oral traditions. If, he was wrong regarding the existence of this prophecy then his peers would have quickly alerted the early church to this type of error – but there is no such objection on record.

When Joseph was called out of Egypt back to Israel by God; ‘he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth.’ Archelaus was just as ruthless as his father Herod in many ways, consequently it would not have been wise to settle down in his territory; whereas Herod Antipas who ruled the Galilee area was a more reasonable ruler.

In summary, Matthew says: So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets (more than one), that he would be called a Nazarene.” It should also be remember that Nazareth was not seen as a prestigious place and people who came from there were generally despised. “Significantly, the Old testament said again and again that the promised Messiah would be rejected, He would be hated and He would be looked down upon.”

Even in John 1:45-46, we read: “Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked. ‘Come and see,’ said Philip.”

Indeed, that’s the truth we need to meditate upon – Come and see!

Any comments?

Matthew 2:13-15

Study Notes on Matthew’s Gospel

Matthew 2:13-15 (NIVUK): “When the Magi had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.'”

Matthew goes to great lengths to demonstrate that Jesus the Christ, is King of Kings. Not only is He the King of eternity, He is also the Creator of the Universe.

In chapter 1, we are told by Matthew of Jesus’ royal genealogy, then His royal nature is confirmed by the visit of the Magi, gentiles who recognise the signs that a King had been born. Woven through the story of Jesus’ birth and early life are the fulfilment of a number of prophecies, which confirm that Jesus is the anointed Messiah.

If we go back to these earlier verses, Matthew 2: 4-6, “When Herod had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet (Micah 5:2,4) has written: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”

It’s curious that Herod did not ask where a ‘king’ was to be born, but where the Messiah was to be born; that he planned to kill the anointed One of God shows us just how much influence Satan had over him.

Flight into Egypt

Egypt had changed a lot over the centuries and it had become place of refuge for many Jews during times of turmoil. The city of Alexandria already had a large Jewish population around 200 BC and had increased in number up to  the Maccabean revolution (167-160 BC); they could freely worship and there was some freedom of movement. [The Jewish community in Alexandria, continued right up to the second Jewish revolt of 115-117 AD, when they were vanquished by the Romans.]

God was able to protect Jesus from the murderous intent of Herod without the need for the family to flee, but one of the main reason for the family to seek refuge in Egypt was to ensure that another prophecy was fulfilled.

It’s interesting that the word used by the angel, when telling the family to escape to Egypt is a Greek word that is closely related to our word ‘fugitive’. It’s amazing that our King of Kings started life as a fugitive, perhaps we could pause here and think of what that means in regard to the way that we treat fugitives, those refugees fleeing possible death in their own homelands.

The Prophecy

Matthew 2:15b: “And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.'” The words of the prophet Hosea are used by Matthew, to signify that out of Egypt, God would call His Son. It has two layers of meaning, one is the nation Israel being called out of Egypt to be God’s special people, His holy nation; but they proved to be an adulterous people and they failed to uphold their side of the covenant.

The second layer is that although Israel had sinned and failed, God had a better plan in mind and that unlike unreliable Israel, a permanent salvation would come through God’s own Son, who was one with His Father and the true expression of the Father’s great sacrificial love for Israel, so that a remnant would be saved. The amazing thing is that there are over 300 prophesies in Scripture concerning Jesus and we have a little time to look at just a few of them.

Summary

The royal family stayed in Egypt for a short time, we are not told just how long. In Matthew 2:19-20, we read: “After Herod died (around 4BC), an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.’”

The remarkable thing for us to remember is how well, the King fulfils prophecy, and we can thank Matthew for carefully pointing out these incredible sequence of events that leave us in no doubt that Jesus is the promised Messiah.

Any comments?

Every Day with Jesus – Pursued by Grace – July/August 2015

The current issue of Every Day with Jesus, published by CWR, has the title: ‘Pursued by Grace.

The signature verse, for this issue, is from Jonah 4:2 (NIV): ‘I know that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love’

Mick Brooks, Consulting Editor, provides a good summary in his introduction: ‘In this issue, Selwyn leads an almost verse by verse exploration of the book of Jonah and highlights example after example of God’s consistent, persistent, unfailing love, faithfulness and grace in the face of inconsistent, vacillating human nature.

The notes on the back cover of the publication provides us with another perspective: “For the next two months, we follow Jonah’s journey and the issues he struggled with, such as self-deception, self-interest and relating to God on his own terms. In exploring his resistance we can learn to become spiritually mature and understand that God is ever-patient.

Make sure you acquire your copy if you have not already done so; then feel free to join in the discussion on www.tofollowjesus.org

Sin, Sex and Sodom City

In this post, I’m addressing the sin of Sodom and the relevance of this ancient story with today’s western culture.

My wife is currently reading an interesting book: ‘The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert – an english professor’s journey into christian faith’, written by Dr Rosaria Champagne Butterfield [Crown & Covenant Publications, Library of Congress Control Number: 2012933827  ©2012]

I was glancing through the pages just before lunch, and I spotted Rosaria’s excellent comments on the following verses, I’ve read similar material before yet her comments are so concise and well-written.

Ezekiel 16:48-50 (NKJV): ‘“As I live,” says the Lord God, “neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you (Jerusalem) and your daughters have done. Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.”

I normally use the latest version of the NIVUK, but the words used in the NKJV convey a better sense of some of the issues.

In these few verses we can see that pride is a sin which gives birth to a range of other sins, including sexual sins.

I’ll now use an excerpt from Rosaria’s book, because she is an English professor and a much better communicator than ‘me’; and I guess it’s covered by ‘Fair Use’.

“Why pride? Pride is the root of all sin. Pride puffs one up with a false sense of independence. Proud people always feel they can live independently from God and from other people. Proud people feel entitled to do what they want when they want to.

Second, we find wealth (“fullness of food”) and an entertainment-driven worldview (“abundance of idleness”). We develop a taste for godly living only by intentionally putting into place practices that equip us to live below our means. We develop a taste for God’s standards only by disciplining our minds, hands, money and time. …

Third, we find lack of mercy (“neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy”). Refusing to be the merciful neighbour (like the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25), leads to egregious sin. … God calls us to be merciful to others for our own good as well as for the good of our community. Our hearts will become hard to the whispers of God if we turn our backs on those who have less than we do.

Fourth, we find lack of discretion and modesty (“they were haughty and committed abomination before Me”). Pride combined with wealth leads to idleness because you falsely feel that God just wants you to have fun; if unchecked, this sin will grow into entertainment-driven lust; if unchecked, this sin will grow into hardness of heart that declares other people’s problems no responsibility or care of your own; if unchecked, we become bold in our sin and feel entitled to live selfish lives fuelled by the twin values of our culture; acquiring and achieving.

You might notice that there is nothing inherently sexual about any of these sins: pride, wealth (mean spirited), entertainment-driven focus, lack of mercy, lack of modesty. … Sexuality encompasses a whole range of needs, demands and desires. Sexuality is more a symptom of our life’s condition than a cause, more a consequence than an origin. … Sin is progressive.”

There are certain issues that could be expanded further, for example, the ‘abundance of idleness’ associated with unemployment is also an area where sin can thrive.

In reading through the above excerpt, did you get the feeling that the issues described could equally apply to any current city, influenced by western culture? From my perspective, there’s not much difference, in a morality sense, between modern New York, London, Paris or Sydney as compared to Sodom.

Now, one more sobering quote from Rosaria’s book:

“The example reveals that God is angrier at the religious people of Jesus’ day than the inhabitants of Sodom. Jesus says this to the people in Capernaum:

Matthew 11:23-24 (NIVUK): ‘And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.’

Jesus tells us clearly that had Sodom seen God’s power manifested before them as Capernaum had, they would have repented and lived. Jesus’ injunction that God is more greatly grieved by the sins of those who claim to know him than by those who know him not, struck a chord for me.”

The reason I’ve added the above quote is that more and more church leaders are putting forward views that are not fully aligned with Scripture; often, the erroneous explanation put forward, is that the words in Scripture were for a different culture, a different time –  they say – ‘we’ possess superior knowledge, and we now ‘know’ what’s right for our time and most agree. Has the Holy Spirit become a silent voice, to these people?

I don’t think there has been a time like ours, when the views of Spirit-filled Christians are being rejected in their own churches.

In Romans 8:5-8 (NIVUK), we read: “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

Now, another set of relevant verses, 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NIVUK): “But mark this: there will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”

The next lot of verses to look at is, 2 Timothy 4:1-4, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather round them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

If we look at these verses and reflect at what is happening in our world, you may be left with the view that in this age, people have become rampant lovers of themselves (the startling rise of the ‘selfie‘ and similar social media activities). Yet, thinking about this – it’s more love of the ‘celebrity’ person they want and dream to be; often, I feel, they are not satisfied with their current situation. I think this is a very different situation to all the previous difficult times that the world has experienced in the last two thousand years.

Another point, is that there are now, many ‘Christian’ (so-called) teachers who are preaching myths to match popular opinion, that is, deceptive views that their audiences want to hear.

On a different but related issue: I was interested in the arguments put forward by a number of social commentators, in support of the ‘Yes’ vote, regarding the recent national referendum in Ireland on gay marriage. In general, God was left out of the debate, and the focus was more on compassion, and the desire to let people live their lives as they saw fit because life was all too short. And, it is, however – eternity is a lot longer – and that’s where we should focus our attention.

What is sad, is that the Catholic Church in Ireland is no longer seen as the voice of authority on moral issues for the majority of people; manly due to the horrific child abuse cases. I can’t help feeling that if biblical principles were followed in their dealing with child abuse offenders and proper support of their victims then it could have been a very different outcome regarding the public’s view of the Catholic Church.

Now, to put all of this together, I think we are in the age of the ‘last days’, yet I have no idea of how long it will last before Jesus returns.

In Matthew 24:10-14, 32-33 we hear Jesus say: “At that time (the last days) many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” … “Now learn this lesson from the fig-tree: as soon as its twigs become tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.”

In summary, when we see all these things: cities full of proud people, lovers of themselves, unforgiving, and demonstrating a lack of self-control, that is, all the characteristics of Sodom, which can now be seen in cities like New York and London (and, remember sin is progressive, it would have taken some time for the number of righteous people in Sodom, to fall below 10); then we will know that Jesus’ return is near.

***

Oh, perhaps I should have mentioned this earlier; these are some of Rosaria’s opening statements in her book: “When I was 28 years old, I boldly declared myself lesbian. … At the age of 36, … Christ claimed me for himself, and the life that I had known and loved came to a humiliating end.”

It’s a good book, just based on the little I’ve read; I understand that the last half of the book may not be as inspiring as the first half because Rosaria comments in support of her views, such as the Reformed Presbyterian (RP) denomination, could be too heavily weighted by her personal situation. One thing I didn’t know is their (RP) adherence to ‘a cappella’ psalm singing (re worship music) to the exclusion of all other music. Their biblical reasoning behind this view did not convince me.

Any comments?

Every Day with Jesus – Our True Home – May/June 2015

The current issue of Every Day with Jesus, published by CWR, has the title: ‘Our True Home.

The signature verse, for this issue, is from 1 Peter 1:4 (NIV): ‘ … an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you

As Mick Brooks, Consulting Editor, says in his introduction: In this issue there’s the theme of homesickness – which C.S. Lewis describes as ‘inconsolable longings’; there is also the theme of ambassadorial calling – that we are residents of earth but citizens of heaven – a life changing truth alone, which if we allowed to grip us, would change how we view our lives radically and completely.’

However, the dominate thought is expressed by Selwyn, in his final remarks: “What is our conclusion when we reflect on this thrilling theme of heaven? It must be this: the one thought above all others that should dominate our thinking as we go our way through this alien world is that we are going home. Our final destination is heaven, where we will be with our God forever.”

Make sure you acquire your copy if you have not already done so; and, then feel free to join in the discussion on www.tofollowjesus.org.

A word that brings grace

At church this morning I was telling one of the ‘elders’ (a person older than me), that I had stopped chemotherapy because it was doing more harm than good; and that there was no further medical options. He then reached into his bag and gave me a copy of the words to this song. It really spoke to me.

1. There is a hope that burns within my heart,
That gives me strength for every passing day;
A glimpse of glory now revealed in meagre part,
Yet drives all doubt away:
I stand in Christ, with sins forgiven;
And Christ in me, the hope of heaven!
My highest calling and my deepest joy,
To make His will my home.

2. There is a hope that lifts my weary head,
A consolation strong against despair,
That when the world has plunged me in its deepest pit,
I find the Saviour there!
Through present sufferings, future’s fear,
He whispers ‘courage’ in my ear.
For I am safe in everlasting arms,
And they will lead me home.

3. There is a hope that stands the test of time,
That lifts my eyes beyond the beckoning grave,
To see the matchless beauty of a day divine
When I behold His face!
When sufferings cease and sorrows die,
And every longing satisfied.
Then joy unspeakable will flood my soul,
For I am truly home

Stuart Townend & Mark Edwards Copyright © 2007 Thankyou Music

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qyMWBx6vvJo

March/April 2015, Issue of Every Day with Jesus

The current issue of Every Day with Jesus, published by CWR, has the title:The Servant’.

The signature verse, for this issue, is from Isaiah 43:10 (NIV): “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord “and my servant whom I have chosen.”

In this issue Selwyn looks at the passages in Isaiah that are known collectively as the ‘Servant Songs’, which begin in chapter 42. The underlying theme is: “How can a sinful, corrupt people become the servants of God?”

The first step in responding to the call of Jesus, to follow Him; is to seek His help in developing a servant’s heart, so that we may overcome the self-serving pride found in all our hearts.

Make sure you acquire your copy if you have not already done so; and, then feel free to join in the discussion on www.tofollowjesus.org.

Matthew 2:1-12 The Wise Men and Fools

(Work in progress, feel free to ask any questions on this set of verses, while I’m working through them.)

Matthew 2:1-12 (NIVUK): “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.

‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: ‘“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”

The Magi

In verse one, Matthew introduces the Magi, all we are told is that there were a number of them (Magi, is the plural form of Magus), and they were from the east. Now, it’s difficult to say exactly; who they were, how many were in the group, or which eastern nation they had came from – tradition has blurred the facts.

For example, tradition has it that there were three wise men, based on the fact that Jesus was presented with three gifts, however, Matthew does not say how many there were, and he does not call them kings. Next, we know this group was interested in astronomy, and knew the night sky such that they could say: “We saw his star when it rose.”

You can read a lot of material on the Internet as to who the Magi may have been, however, much of it is speculation. Around four hundred years before the birth of Jesus, there are details recorded by the historian Herodotus, in which he describes the Magi as a priestly tribe, who were associated with the Medes. The Medes were around at the time of the Babylonian empire (626BC – 538BC), and then formed part of the Medo-Persian empire (539BC – 330BC).

In Daniel 4:4-9, NIVUK, we read: “I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous. I had a dream that made me afraid. As I was lying in bed, the images and visions that passed through my mind terrified me.

So I commanded that all the wise men [Magi] of Babylon be brought before me to interpret the dream for me. When the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners came, I told them the dream, but they could not interpret it for me. Finally, Daniel came into my presence and I told him the dream. (He is called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy gods is in him.)

I said, ‘Belteshazzar (Daniel), chief of the magicians [Magi], I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you. Here is my dream; interpret it for me.'”

Consequently, we know that the Magi were once an influential priestly group (tribe), who were advisers to rulers of powerful nations, located in lands east of Israel; who were interested in the art of astrology, as well as the science of astronomy. and who were also seen as expert interpreters of dreams. Obviously, after these lands were ravaged by Alexander the Great, their role may have diminished, we just don’t know the details.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Roman empire was in control of nations in the west. Herod as “Friend of the (Roman) Senate’, held a special status in the eyes of the Romans; and it was in his best interests to ensure that there was stable government in his kingdom.

Just prior to this era (63BC, 55BC and 40BC), the Romans had fought a number of violent wars with the major power in the east, the Parthian Empire. It is thought, by some scholars, that there was a remnant of the Magi tribe, still involved in advising the Parthian rulers and perhaps even endorsing the selection of new kings.

There could have been other remnants of this group in other eastern countries, we just don’t know. It’s just does not appear to be a very wise move for a caravan of ‘wise’ men and their support staff, to travel all the way to Israel, from Parthia without drawing a lot of attention from the Roman garrisons based along the way.

In addition, Herod would have certainly sent some of his men to accompany then to Bethlehem (it’s not far from Jerusalem), just to monitor their movements, if there was a remote risk they were on some type of Parthian mission.

We are told by Matthew that Herod was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him, when they heard that the wise men were looking for the ‘King of the Jews’; not because of some political manoeuvrings of nations like the Parthians – but because of his own self-interests – keeping in mind that he had already killed a number of his relatives, who were perceived threats to his throne.

Well, I’ve covered some historical detail to provide a sketch of the political background, but the main point is not who these wise men were, or where they may have came from; it is to demonstrate that people (Gentiles) of other nations recognised Jesus as King. And, that would have really disturbed the Jews!

Matthew 1:18-25 The Virgin Birth

The VIRGIN Birth

Key point: A follower of Jesus, our divine King, must believe through faith in the virgin birth. We can accept this truth even though we may not understand the process employed by God to achieve His purpose.

The text we are going to be looking at is

Matthew 1:18-25 (NIVUK): “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”

There is a lot going on in the above verses, and a lot of discussion has been generated over the centuries. Much of this discussion has been fuelled by people who want to disprove the divinity of Jesus. And, this is the central issue, if Jesus is not God then much of the New Testament is based on a lie, and we are all dead in our sins – we live without hope.

First off, let us despatch a few distractions, in the above verses we find a reference to Isaiah 7:14, which reads: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (God with us).”

Now, there will be a number of people who will say that the Hebrew word for ‘very young woman’ is used in Isaiah, and it’s not the same as the Hebrew word, commonly used for ‘virgin’.

A second issue, often raised by the same people, is that Jesus was not named ‘Immanuel’; consequently, the prophecy is not relevant.

In Scripture, we find that the ‘names’ used to refer to a person, can change in regard to their role (as defined by God) or to their character. For example, Matthew 10:2, “These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) … “.

An Old Testament example is 2 Samuel 12:24-25, “Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and made love to her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon. The Lord loved him; and because the Lord loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah (Loved by the Lord).” However, we know him as Solomon. I’m sure you can find further examples, especially in the Old Testament.

To further illustrate this aspect, a look at Isaiah 9:6 (NIVUK): “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” He will also be called ‘God with us’. We know Him as Jesus (Joshua, Yeshua).

Now, a quick look at the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy. In general, I think that the Jews at the time of Jesus did not know that this prophecy referred to the promised Messiah, in essence, its relevance was veiled; and, it needed Matthew (under the guidance of God’s Spirit) to ‘join-the-dots’.

Obviously, the sign meant something in King Ahaz’s time, yet it also had a wider meaning, in that it served as a general sign to the house of David in regard to the future Messiah. You may recall that King Ahaz is listed in Jesus’ genealogy – in the royal line – linking Jesus to King David.

The last point is that it doesn’t matter if the term used in Isaiah was ‘very young woman’ or ‘virgin’. Both Matthew and Luke, refer to Mary as a ‘virgin’, and it’s Mary’s status that is our real concern.

In Luke’s account, we have Mary saying that she was a virgin (as can be seen in the following verses), and this is perhaps the most definitive statement on this issue.

Luke 1:26-38 (NIVUK): “In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants for ever; his kingdom will never end.’

‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’

The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.

‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ Then the angel left her.”

One way that I find useful is to approach the ‘virgin birth’ along these lines, Joseph played no part in Jesus’ birth; and, Mary also had no sexual role, when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Mary’s ovum was not used. Now, this is purely my speculation, it’s not support in a direct sense, by either Matthew or Luke.

Why I find this approach useful is that it puts aside all the debate on Mary’s status as a sinner; and the need for her to remain a virgin. Her sexuality is no longer relevant, her role as a human mother becomes the focus. Now, I know that this is at odds to what is taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church; yet, more importantly, I find the excesses of Marion theology as practised in some places (South America, in particular) to be a worrying trend.

[As an aside, the Catholic Church has placed Mary into a special position of worship (just below God), from which they cannot withdraw because of the ‘infallible’ label placed on parts of their dogma concerning Mary. For example, the document ‘Munificentissimus Deus’, issued as an Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius XII, on 1 November 1950, defines the dogma of Mary’s assumption into heaven, which is based more on tradition than on Scripture.

It was one of the first documents issued after papal infallibility was defined dogmatically in the First Vatican Council of 1869–1870. Consequently, they now, can’t change their view on certain aspects of Mary’s special status. ]

In general, I’m not interested in which Christian denomination has the better understanding of Scriptural truths. My focus is on those people who follow Jesus, and are members of His Church, which denomination they may serve in, is really a side issue, for me.

This verse from 1 Peter 2:9, is a good summary: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

We have been called out of darkness by God and we now walk in the wonderful light of Jesus – that’s what it’s all about!

Joseph and Mary

One other point that is worth raising is God’s grace towards Mary and Joseph; to both, God sent an angel to tell them the news and to explain in part, what was going to happen. Exceptional news required an exceptional messenger, who would be believed; the following verses would have provided comfort to Joseph for him to know that Many was not unfaithful.

“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The outcome was that Joseph believed the angel and married Mary, most likely after the normal 12 month betrothal period; in essence, Joseph was a person who wanted to do the will of God, even under very difficult circumstances.

Another act of kindness for Mary was for her cousin Elizabeth to be blessed with a child (John the Baptist). In Luke 1, we are told that Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and she and her husband, Zechariah, were very old. Then Zechariah is told by an angel that Elizabeth will bear a son.

It would be a blessing for Mary, in that she and Joseph would have been able to talk to Elizabeth and Zechariah about their common experiences, as it was only six months later when the angel appeared to Mary. Being able to talk to someone else, who understands what you are going through, helps take away any feelings of isolation. The comfort for us is that we follow the same God, and I’m sure He helps us out in the same way.

Any comments?

References: 

  • Bible Study Notes prepared by the late Rev. Eric Bird (mostly used for framework and headings). His notes were, in turn, based on the following primary source: “The MacArthur New Testament Commentary – Matthew, Volumes 1-5″, published by the Moody Bible Institute. [Note: I don’t fully endorse Dr John MacArthur’s work, so I’ll try to steer away from any detailed references or quotes.]
  • Extensive on-line searches – especially in the area of translation variations.
  • Notes on Matthew’s Gospel as compiled by Fr. Bernie Patterson, sourced from multiple references.
  • Overall – I’ve selected material, which fits into my view of Matthew’s Gospel – naturally!