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Monday, December 11, 2017

God's Providence And Grace In Matthew's Genealogy Of Jesus

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Matthew 1:17 "So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations."

Introduction:

The introduction to the New Testament Gospel of Matthew begins with a a genealogy of Jesus. Tracing the bloodline of Jesus' humanity served to establish Him as the legal heir of David's throne. These initial thoughts help us understand the purpose for Matthew's inclusion of 42 names, stretching 2,000 years to the birth of Jesus. Many might wonder if there is anything more to be said of Matthew's genealogy? After all, beyond proving that Jesus is fit to be Israel's Messiah, what theological, spiritual and life-practical purposes do these list of names serve? 

As one ponders on Matthew 1:1-17, several observations can lead to several applications for our lives.

1. God's Providence

God's providence is the exercise of His sovereign power in governing, sustaining and guiding creation and history to achieve His ultimate purpose. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 comments: 

"God as Father reigns with providential care over His universe, His creatures, and the flow of the stream of human history according to the purposes of His grace."

Several passages express the providential activity of God over and in His creation. (See Nehemiah 9:6-7; Psalm 90; 104; Romans 11:36; Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:3; Revelation 19). 

Whenever we view Matthew 1:17, we find a summation of two millennia of history. Matthew makes a point in presenting three sets of fourteen generations. Caution of course must be exercised when citing the meaning of certain numbers. However, we could say that some interesting correlations demonstrate God's guiding hand of providence in preparing our world for the arrival of the Messiah.

First, notice the total number of generations - forty two. Forty-two and the number forty are associated with testing and affliction. Think of the curse of sin brought upon humanity as a result of Adam and Eve's treachery in following the serpent. Even in the lives of Abraham, David and all human beings, the shadow of sin spoils our humanity. Israel, the biological cradle of Christ's humanity, was tested and afflicted. We are dead in sin and in need of the voice of the Spirit to call us forth to saving faith from our sin and affliction (see John 1:12-13; 5:24-25; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). 

Second, we find three divisions in the genealogy. The number three is considered by H.L. Wilmington to be the number of unity, accomplishment and the universe (The Complete Book of Bible Lists, page 217). Beyond the number itself, certain themes emerge. The first division is headed by Abraham - the patriarch of promise. The second set is headed by David - the patriarch of God's pledge to Israel's throne. The third division of the genealogy is headed by Jeconiah - the man who would bring about a curse on the remainder of the bloodline. 

We see then a promise, a pledge and a curse. Lest someone step-in to reverse the curse, the promise and the pledge would not come to fulfillment. This design is intentional by Matthew and the Holy Spirit so moving in his personality to write these words.  

Thirdly, we find that each set of Matthew's genealogy of Jesus is divided into fourteen generations. Many commentators have noted that this arrangement by Matthew is intended for memorization. Much like today, we have our social security numbers and driver's licenses to identify ourselves. To the Jew of the first century, recounting one's pedigree would serve as a means of identification and claim of certain rights. 

In exercising caution about the number "fourteen" itself, the number is found often in places where God's purposes or processes for a people are drawing to a completion. In Genesis 31:41, Jacob expresses how he had served his uncle for fourteen years. We know from reading his story that after fourteen years, he got to marry Rachael, who is significant in Israel's history and in prophetic history. 

The Passover celebration, central to Israel's festal cycle and the very night of our Lord's betrayal, occurs on the fourteenth day of the month of Abib (March/April). Both the Passover and Jesus' re-institution of that covenant meal to be the New Covenant meal for his church represent points of accomplishment in Biblical and prophetic history.

These observations demonstrate God's guiding hand of providence on the history of the world - and Israel in particular - leading up to the birth of the Messiah (see Galatians 4:4). Certainly God's guiding hand of providence is active in our lives today. He is ever orchestrating events, times and seasons wherewith He can extend His overtures of grace to sinners (see Matthew 24:14; Acts 14:16-17; 17:20ff). 

2. God's grace

For consideration of time, we will note how God's grace in saving sinners is shown in this remarkable passage. First, the heads of the three divisions of the genealogy represent the profile of all human beings in need of God's grace. Abraham - the former idolater. David - a murderer and adulterer. Jeconiah - a man who was the son of a man who tried to destroy God's Word and was himself a cursed individual (see Jeremiah 36; . 

Secondly, of these three, the first two, by grace, responded in faith to God's grace. We're reminded by the fact that though God's plan of salvation is extended towards sinners, each person is responsible to respond to the Gospel call. 

Thirdly, we see four women in Christ's genealogy that represent the plight of humanity. The first two women, Tamar (1:3) and Rahab (1:5), were Harlots. Ruth, David's great-grandmother, was a Moabittess, an ethnic group regarded as outside the covenant (see Deuteronomy 23). Bathesheba (1:6), was violated by David and was involved in an act that brought ruin on both she and David. Who of us can say we have a past that is not checkered? No one in the human race deserves salvation. Yet, God saw fit to include people of all sorts in the blood-line of the Messiah.

Fourthly, we see a reminder of Israel's failure - most prominently portrayed in the naming of the third-division of the genealogy. Matthew mentions in 1:11-12 of the deportation to Babylon. Jerusalem's exile to Babylon in 586 b.c. was a watershed moment of tragedy in Israel's history. Due to sin, idolatry and not trusting in God - the people of God ended up spending 70 years in that land. Much like Adam and Eve being exiled from Eden, Israel was exiled from the promised land. Only Jesus could bring about the reversal of the pain of sin and its collateral damage.   

Closing thoughts:

God's providence and grace figure prominently in Matthew's opening genealogy of Jesus. We ought to be thankful for how God is ever working, by His Spirit, Providentially and Graciously calling sinners to salvation. The purpose for which Christ came over 2,000 years ago was to save people from their sins (Matthew 1:21-23). 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Exploring Various Explanations Of The Christmas Star

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Matthew 2:2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

Introduction: 


Today's blog is going to attempt to deal with the question: "What was the star of Bethlehem?" In the literature on this intriguing topic, one will find three-types of explanations: purely natural, purely supernatural and a hybrid of the first two. Today's post is not claiming to have "the answer" to this mystery. Instead, the goal is to explore the various explanations of the Christmas star. At the end of this post, some final thoughts and applications will be offered that aid readers in applying the account of the Christmas star.

1. Some propose the star was a natural phenomenon. 

Some have suggested that the celestial object witnessed by the Magi may had been a comet or a brightly exploding star called a supernova (Supernova 1987a, the last supernova that could be seen from earth, pictured below). Whenever a star like 1987a reaches the final stages of its stellar development, if it is of sufficient size and mass, compression of its various layers will have it convert its chemicals into a final core of molten iron. Supernova 1987a went through such a process (making it what is called in the literature a "type II" supernova). 

Whenever the layers of the star cannot compress any further, a series of reactions lead to a violent explosion that results in the supernova exceeding its host galaxy in brightness for a relatively brief moment.

Supernovas are noticeable to keen observers. However, the way in which the "Christmas Star" moved and then hovered over Bethlehem would rule out this type of phenomena.
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Others have postulated that the Christmas star involved the alignment of certain planets to produce an extraordinary cosmic effect. Computer programs that can depict the appearance on the sky over any location on Earth at any date in history show some interesting results. Among those results are dates ranging in the the period of Jesus' birth (7 b.c to 2 b.c). Per such programs, the rare phenomenon of a triple planetary conjunction of three planets (Jupiter, Mars and Venus) is cited as a possible likely candidate for the "Christmas Star". A triple conjunction is pictured below:
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Although such an event is noticeable, it still cannot explain the ability of the Christmas Star to remain stationary over Bethlehem. This model covers the movement of the given phenomenon across the sky. However, since it cannot remain still for long, it is likely not adequate to explain the Christmas star.

A final naturalistic candidate proposed for the "Christmas Star" is what is called a "nova". A nova is a variable star that varies its brightness or "luminosity" over time. Such a star can suddenly become bright and then dim to near invisibility. This model might be the most plausible of the naturalistic models, since it could have been over Bethlehem and "brightened-up" at just the right moment and then dim once the infant Christ was discovered by the wise-men. Still, since nova stars can repeat their cycles, the uniqueness of the "Christmas star" is diminished.

Could these astronomical phenomena been used by God in guiding these wisemen? It would seem that as suggestive as any of these models might be, they are not adequate to explain the events of Matthew 2. The object in question, according to Matthew's record, "guided them" and then "stayed" over the spot where Jesus and his family were living.

2. Some propose the star was a supernatural phenomena 

If naturalistic explanations cannot adequately explain what the wisemen saw in Matthew 2, perhaps a series of "supernatural explanations" will suffice. 

In the Bible we find examples of various appearances of God in what theologians call "theophanies". Many point back to the times when the people of God were led through the wilderness by "a pillar of fire" by night. Could the "star" that led the wisemen been a form of the "pillar-of-fire" theophany described in Exodus and Numbers. Although we cannot dispute the supernatural origin of this star, it is unlikely to be the famed "pillar of fire". Such a theophany would have been noticed by all in Bethlehem. The text describes that the star was only noticed by the keen eyes of the wisemen.

When one does a word study for that word "stand" in Matthew 2:9, we discover that the star not only just "stood over" the place of Christ's dwelling, it "stationed, positioned itself". This tells us that the object in question had some level of intelligence (perhaps an angel for instance). Angels appear some twenty times in the four Gospels during the life of Christ - thus making this a plausible candidate. Angels do of course appear in the Christmas accounts. However, the star in Matthew 2 does not speak, approach the wisemen nor interact with the environment as angels do throughout the Gospel records. 
The only issue with this view is that like the completely natural explanation, we don't have enough information to make a judgment on what exactly the star was. 

Although a purely supernatural view is more probable than a purely naturalistic explanation, the reader is still left with an inadequate explanation of the Christmas star.

3. It is most-likely that the star was both natural and supernatural.

If we take both the natural and supernatural explanations together, we can say that whatever the Magi saw that night entailed God communicating through both the night sky and the supernatural realm. God in His providence or governance of history and the supernatural realm orchestrated this event. In a past blog I demonstrated how the prophet Daniel, over 600 years prior to the Magi in Matthew 2, had injected the prophecies of the Messiah into the thought life of these Persian Astrologers ( http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2011/12/where-did-magi-come-from.html ). 
If we take into consideration the combination of Old Testament scripture and the cosmic events in the night sky - we can at least propose an event that was a hybrid natural and supernatural event. 

If you look at Matthew 2:5 once again, the quotation of Micah 5:2 helps us to arrive at an explanation. We read in Matthew's text: 

"They said to him, 'In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’” 

Matthew's text includes the fulfillment of a prophecy which represents God's special revelation of His will in the Old Testament. Theologians have noted that God communicates to human beings in two ways: General Revelation and Special Revelation. 

General Revelation is the witness of God that we have in creation and the conscience. It proves His existence and our responsibility to Him, but it does not identify Who He is nor does it lead to salvation. This is where we need "Special Revelation" from the scriptures to fill in what is needed to lead a person to saving faith in Jesus Christ. 

When you scan the account of the Magi in Matthew 2:6, they do quote the prophecy in Numbers 24:17 concerning a star arising out of the tribe of Judah in Jerusalem. This suggests to us that they were operating on what they first detected from General revelation - the positions of certain things in the sky (as wells as some type of supernatural phenomena). The wisemen followed this "star" for some 800 miles from where they lived, journeying for two years to arrive at the location of the Christ-child. 


With the Magi already possessing ancient copies of the Jewish scriptures handed down through their number from the days of Daniel, God at that moment used a particular text in His special revelation to persuade them to worship the Christ child. We must remember what they ultimately sought and the only proper response. 

Closing thoughts and applications

Although we could offer a specific plausible scenario for what the Magi saw in the night skies over Babylonia and Bethlehem - one thing is sure - the star in question was a Divinely given natural/supernatural phenomenon. God is responsible for what transpired and certainly utilized both the general revelation of the cosmos and the specifics of fulfilled prophecy to produce an event that guided the wisemen. The mystery of the Christmas star complements the "Mystery of Godliness" revealed that night (compare 1 Timothy 3:15-16). The goal of the Christmas star was to point to the Christ-child who was God in human flesh - the Lord Jesus Christ. 

By the time these men reached Him, the Spirit of God, through the scriptures, had convinced them that this was the One they sought. They worshiped Him, and then went away exceedingly glad. May that be our response to Christ throughout this season and the rest of our lives: worship and exceeding joy.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Well Of Joy: Finding Joy In The Lord Whenever Everything Else Runs Dry

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Isaiah 12:2-4 “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid;
For the Lord God is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation.” 3 Therefore you will joyously draw water From the springs of salvation. 4 And in that day you will say, “Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name. Make known His deeds among the peoples; Make them remember that His name is exalted.”

Introduction: An Old Water-Well

When I was growing up, we had an onsite water-well that supplied water to our house. Five under-ground springs fed the well. The water supply to that well was so ample that water would commonly overflow the main shaft which contained the well-pump. I can scarcely remember a time when the water was not overflowing. Whenever the dry summers would come, even though our neighbors' wells would run dry - our well never ran out of water. That well was consistent. The water supply was virtually unaffected by prevailing weather conditions.

Defining Joy

Whenever I think of joy in Jesus, I think of that old well. We could define joy as "abiding, constant confidence in God despite the circumstances". Wells were common imagery used by God in describing the joy found in Him. Isaiah utilized the imagery of a well in the opening passage of today's post. The reality of finding one's joy in God is more prized whenever joy is sapped out of the things of life. 

Joy in God in the dry times

In the Middle East, finding water was tantamount to finding oil. Isaac, the son of promise born to Abraham and Sarah became a well-driller - a water well-driller that is. In Genesis 26:18-25 we find Isaac re-digging wells formerly dug by his father. Several had been filled-full of dirt and stones by the Philistines of Abraham and Isaac's day. Isaac would from one well to another in search of water. When opposition met Isaac at every stopped-up well, he kept digging until he found water. Isaac saw God's goodness in the circumstances and expressed joy in Genesis 26:22 

"He moved away from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it; so he named it Rehoboth, for he said, “At last the Lord has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land.” 

It wasn't long after Isaac made his statement about the well that we find God "showing-up" in Genesis 26:23-25 

"Then he went up from there to Beersheba. 24 The Lord appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham;
Do not fear, for I am with you.
I will bless you, and multiply your descendants, For the sake of My servant Abraham." 25 So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there; and there Isaac’s servants dug a well."

Now remember, there was a famine in Isaac's day. He had been in search of water. He found a well that he could finally call his own. He saw that well as a sign that God's favor was with Him. In recognizing the goodness of God, Isaac had demonstrated the capacity for greater illumination from the Lord. 

How joy in the Lord can provide what is needed for life in this world

Perhaps you reading this post today are experiencing "dried-up" wells. The joy of life's areas or "wells" have been drained. Maybe a relationship has went sour. Perhaps finances are dried up. A painful hurt has resurfaced and you're not sure how you will get over it. 

Oftentimes disappointments, worries, fears or troubles of all kinds can assail the Christian's faith. Joy in the things of life and in relationships are all from God (see James 1:17). But now, what happens whenever such joys diminish? What occurs whenever nothing else brings joy like it once did? This is where we must turn to the source of every joy - the One that is the essence of joy - God.

The wellspring of joy in God can never run dry. Jesus states in John 7:37-39

"Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified."

The Christian has an "inner-well" that never runs dry. The source of joy is in Jesus Himself. We flee to His word to find our joy. We flee to Him in prayer to be in His presence. Jesus meets us in the Word and prayer and quenches the driest of souls. I say these words not from the standpoint of sentiment. This truth is rubber-meets-the-road reality. 

God wants the Christian to discover joy in Him

What God is desiring to do in the life of the believer that has dried-up joys is to find joy in Him. The psalmist writes in Psalm 63:1-5

"O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory. 3 Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You.
4 So I will bless You as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
5 My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips."

Those who have the most joy in God are those that have learned to find joy in Him whenever all other wells run dry. This doesn't mean that the trials will go away or that the pressures of life will evaporate. Instead, God will give His "abiding, constant confidence" to push through and rest in Him despite the circumstances. Joy must be distinguished from happiness. Happiness is a fleeting bliss dependent upon circumstances. Joy is that inner, abiding confidence. True joy is the well provided by God in the dry seasons. In time, the joy of the Lord can provide what is needed to other areas of life. When we have Jesus, we have the joy we need - even when it may seem that joy is not to be found. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Spirit of Prophecy in the Christmas Story

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Luke 1:46-49 "And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name."

Introduction: 

In today's post we want to consider how the Holy Spirit operated as the Spirit of prophecy in the Christmas narrative of Luke's Gospel. Revelation 19:10 explicitly refers to the Holy Spirit by this title: Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” 

It seems appropriate to capitalize "spirit", since in the Greek text the word for "spirit" has the definite article "the". The 1599 Geneva Bible follows this pattern: "And I fell before his feet, to worship him, but he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellow servant, and one of thy brethren, which have the testimony of Jesus, Worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy."

The Person and work of the Holy Spirit in the Advent or first coming of Jesus Christ is a remarkable study. Luke mentions the Holy Spirit more often than any other Biblical writer in both his Gospel and Acts of the Apostles (some 50 times or so). Understanding the Holy Spirit's prophetic ministry aids to grasp the preparation for the incarnation of the Son of God. An immediate life-practical application is our need to be ready for Christ's second coming. Certainly, reception of what the Bible reveals about Jesus is made possible by the Holy Spirit. 

Before we move on, a question must be answered: what is prophecy? Prophecy exhorts God's people to be alert and ready. Prophecy reminds the Christ-follower of their true identity in Him. It urges us to action - no reaction. Prophecy speaks to the present - pointing us to what lies ahead. Prophecy reminds us from whence we came and to not repeat the mistakes of past generations of God's people. H.A Ironside once noted that prophecy is "pre-history", meaning that it describes events and persons before such comes to pass. The Holy Spirit is the chief agent behind all prophetic declarations in the Bible. 

The main thought of today's post

Truly then, the Holy Spirit is the "Spirit of Christmas". This post will aim to briefly explore how the Holy Spirit prepared Old Testament believers and history for Christ’s first coming. The Spirit of prophecy points to Christ. There is much application for our lives in considering these precious truths.

1. Promises to God’s people. 
Luke 1:67-80

There are a total of five prophetic songs in Luke 1-2. The second of these is that by John the Baptist's father - Zacharias. Luke 1:67 explicitly describes his response to John the Baptist's birth: "And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying." Now we don't have the time to lay out the full meaning of this incredible prophetic utterance. However, a brief outline and some general remarks can serve to show how Zacharias saw John' the Baptist's birth is relating to God's promises to His people.

a. God's promise of a king. 1:67-71
b. God's promise of a blessing. 1:72-75
c. God's promise of a people. 1:76-79

John the Baptist was chosen by God to be the forerunner of the Messiah. Even from birth, the call of God was uttered by his father in this prophetic utterance. The Spirit of prophecy was rehearsing through Zacharias God's covenants to David (2 Samuel 7:13-16), Abraham (Genesis 12:1-7) and all the people of God (Exodus 19:1-6; 1 Peter 2:1-12). This prophecy was given to connect John the Baptist to what would be the One He would announce about to other people. 

God's promises comprise the first component of what we could term: "the drive-train of prophecy. Just as a car as a drive-train (a motor, a transmission to convert power from the motor to the wheels), so too does the Spirit of prophecy take God's purposes of eternity and bring them to bear in the lives of His people in time. Promises preserve God's people (2 Peter 1:3-4). God's promises point to His character as the God that cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18-20; Titus 1:2). 

So clearly, in Zacharias' prophetic song, we see the Spirit of prophecy calling to mind the promises of God. The Latin title for Luke 1:68-79 is "benedictus", meaning "blessing". Truly to know that God had kept all those promises made to His people from one generation to the next ought to speak volumes to us today. 

2. Person of Christ. Luke 1-2

We had mentioned earlier a "drive-train" of prophecy with which the Holy Spirit uses to convey the prophecies of Christmas - or any prophecy for that matter. The basis is God's promises. The focal point is the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The most famous song of the five songs recorded in Luke's Gospel is what is termed: "The Magnificat" in Luke 1:46-55. This title is due to the first word of the song, "magnificat" or "exalts". The purpose of Mary's song is to call attention to the One who now resides in her womb. Like Zacharias' song, we will only give an outline of the contents of what Mary exclaims as she visits her cousin Elizabeth. In other words, what is there about Mary's song that points to the Person of Jesus?

a. Mighty Savior. Luke 1:46-49
b. Merciful Lord. Luke 1:50-56

This little outline doesn't come close to doing justice to the richness of what the Holy Spirit is saying through Mary. Mary sees the events of both John's pending birth and the miraculous conception of the Christ-child in her womb as a fulfillment of God's promises to His people concerning a Deliverer. In Luke 1:50 we find Mary quoting from Psalm 103:17, a psalm that rehearses God's work on behalf of His people Israel. The Old Testament saint looked forward to the time when Messiah would come. Mary was as close to that as anyone could be: she was carrying in her womb the God-man! 

Several places in the New Testament remind us of the fact that the Holy Spirit, by way of prophecy, points to the Person of Christ (Luke 24:44; 1 Corinthians 10:1-4; 1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:20-21). The Holy Spirit's task is to point anyone and everyone to Jesus Christ - the great Savior and great Lord (see John 16:8-12). 

3. Purposes of salvation.  Luke 2:25-35

We have noted how the Spirit of prophecy utilizes the promises of God to point to the Person of Christ. As we look at one more prophecy in Luke today, we consider briefly the words of a man by the name of Simeon. By this point in the narrative, Jesus has been born. Simeon is described as having waited for the time when He would behold Israel's deliverer with His own eyes. Older generations of the past assigned a Latin title to Simeon's prophetic declaration in Luke 2:29-32, namely: "nunc dimittis". This Latin phrase corresponds to the first two words we can translate as: "now release". 

Think of how God's salvation purposes release those who receive such by faith. Release from guilt (Romans 5:1). Release from the penalty of sin (Ephesians 1:7). Release from alienation from God (1 Peter 1:18). Release from future judgment (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Release from Satan's tyranny (Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8). Release from the sting of death (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). Simeon is expressing how beholding the Savior has set Him free. The purposes of salvation are concentrated in a Person - a Divine Person conjoined to a truly human nature. 

Simeon's words, though glorious, also contain a tone of warning to Mary and Joseph. In Luke 2:35 we read - "and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” The word translated "pierce" speaks of an object passing through something from one end to the other (such as Young's Literal Translation: "and also thine own soul shall a sword pass through." 

What possible event could Simeon be talking about? The only place where all of God's purposes are fulfilled - the cross. Jesus was there. Mary was there. John 19:25-27 records the pain of Mary's soul:

"Therefore the soldiers did these things.
But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He *said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household."

The shadow of Calvary stretched all the way back to Bethlehem's cradle. The Christ-child held in Simeon's arms would be the man with nail-pierced hands stretching out his arms. The one who carried Him in her womb for nine months would look to Him that would secure her faith for eternity. God's purposes of salvation found their place at the cross, their Person - Jesus Christ and their foundation - the promises of God. 

The Spirit of prophecy spoke through these events and people. Luke's record captures the wondrous reality of the Holy Spirit's work in making clear the advent of the Son of God in frail humanity. Would we, this advent season, heed His voice.  


Monday, November 27, 2017

The Holy Spirit's Identity And Ministries In Luke And Acts


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Luke 1:15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.

Introduction:

Today's post is aimed at introducing the reader to Luke's Gospel and his second volume, the Book of Acts, regarding what He has to write about the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. The Person and work of the Holy Spirit is among my favorite subjects to study in God's Word. The inevitable outcome of studying the Person and work of the Holy Spirit is that of focusing upon the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. To enter into this rich truth requires the aid of Biblical authors that expound upon the Spirit's ministry and identity - especially His work within the arena of the New Testament. No other writer in either Old or New Testament writes as much about the Holy Spirit's working as the Holy Ghost as does Luke (over 50 references in all!) 

To keep today's post at a readable length, I will give the reader headings with accompanying scripture from Luke and Acts that refer to the Holy Spirit. May the reader find these to be encouraging, informative and insightful to the glory of Jesus Christ!

1. Filling of the Holy Spirit.
In events or persons associated with the life of Christ: Luke 1:15,17,35,41; 2:25; 3:32; 4:1

In the life of the church: Acts 6:3,5,11:24; 13:52

2. Conception
In the humanity of Christ: Luke 1:35

The believer's New birth: Acts 2:33,38; 8:15,17,19; 10:45-47; 19:2

3. Leading/prompting
In Jesus' life: Luke 2:27,27

In the church's life: Acts 1:2; 8:29; 11:12; 13:2,4; 15:28; 16:6; 19:21; 20:22,23; 21:4

4. Baptism
Jesus' baptism: Luke 3:16

Spirit's baptism (to inaugurate New Covenant church) promised on the day of Pentecost by Jesus: Acts 1:5

5. Anointing of the Spirit
Jesus' anointing: Luke 4:18; 10:21; 12:12

Anointing of the Holy Spirit in the church: Acts 1:8; 4:8,31; 5:32; 6:10; 11:28; 13:9; 20:28; 21:11; 28:28

6. Warnings of blaspheming the Holy Spirit
Jesus' warnings: Luke 12:10

Possible blaspheming by individuals: Acts 8:9-24

7. The Person of the Holy Spirit is God
Jesus says the Spirit to be fully Divine: Luke 12:10

The Holy Spirit is explicitly equated to be fully Divine: Acts 5:3,4,9

Friday, November 24, 2017

Getting Ready For Advent 2018

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Luke 2:25-32 "And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your
salvation, 31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.”

Introduction:

This coming Sunday will be the first Sunday of what Christians call the season of "Advent". The term "advent" derives from a Latin word adventus meaning "coming" or "arrival". Advent season developed in the history of the church to focus believers upon remembering Jesus' first coming and anticipating His second coming. In many churches, advent season is inaugurated by the lighting of what is called an "advent wreath", pictured below:
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Different variations on the wreath's design and meanings of the candles will differ from one Christian tradition to the next. In general though, there are four candles: three purple and one pink. The first two candles respectively stand for "hope" and "faith". The third candle is a pink one, symbolizing "joy". The fourth candle signifies "peace" or with some varying it by the designation "faith". The final "white candle" pictures Christ Himself as the culmination of advent. In some versions of the wreath, this fifth candle, often deemed the "Christ candle", is usually lit on a Christmas Eve service. 

In nearly all versions of the advent season that this author has read, there is near uniform agreement that the first candle, representing the first Sunday in advent, carries the theme of "hope". Some vary these meanings, assigning the first candle as the "grace" candle and the second candle as that of "hope". Nevertheless, we know that God in His grace saw fit to send the Son to be incarnated and decisively revealed in the babe in Bethlehem. 

In the opening passage of today's post, we find the Christ child brought to the temple for the sake of dedicating Him to the Lord. We mustn't forget that the little babe held in Mary and Josephs' arms was the Person of the Son, being truly God. As a truly Divine Person, the Son came to have His Personality united to true humanity - resulting in Him, as One Person, possessing two natures (truly Divine and truly human). To speak of a "nature" is to express how a Person expresses their existence. Christ, as a Divine Person, had and never ceased being truly God along with two other Divine Persons: the Father and the Spirit. All three Persons have always and will forever be the One God revealed specifically in scripture and generally in creation. The way in which the Son was united to this truly human nature and birthed forth as the Christ-child was by having his humanity conceived by the Spirit in the virgin's womb. Now the Son, from the moment of the virgin-birth conception, would come to express Himself in two-ways: truly God and truly man.

John's opening prologue in John 1:9 indicates that the Person of the Son was the "light" that lights every man, meaning that through the general revelation of God's Deity, the Son's glory was made known to all people, in all places and in all times. According to Bible scholar Mark Bailey of Dallas Theological Seminary, there is a manner in which every person has had awareness of the Son of God in a general sense. Mankind in general had rejected the light of God's glory in general revelation. John goes on to indicate that when Jesus Christ came "to his own" (i.e the Jewish people) via the virginal conception of His incarnated humanity, His own people rejected Him. 

Thankfully, grace was at work in those days, with John reporting these words in John 1:12-13 "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." 

All humanity was plunged into darkness after the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. God had the torchlight of the Gospel dotting history through the communication of the Gospel by way of His prophets. All of those torches pointed the way to "hope", "The Hope", the hope of salvation brought by no less than God Himself. As the Old Testament would progress, God began to give hints in passages such as Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7 and Micah 5:2 that this coming one would not only be God, but God in human flesh. The light of uncreated deity would burn brightly on the frail wick of perfect humanity. 

Hence when Simeon was holding the infant Christ in His arms, He was holding "The Hope", advent's promise, Messiah, Son of God - Jesus Christ. Today as we think of Advent season 2018, let's reflect on how much hope Jesus Christ brings into the lives of those who trust in Him by faith. The wintertime months feature less light, and more darkness. As we journey further into history, times grow darker and shorter. Thankfully, whenever we think of Jesus Christ, the light of hope, His advent some 2,000 years ago provide "hope" in the midst of despair and light amidst the darkness. May His light of hope shine in your life today on this first Sunday of advent. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Observing How Jesus Gave Thanks

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1 Corinthians 11:24
and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”



1 Thessalonians 5:18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Introduction: 

Tomorrow is a day set aside to celebrate "Thanksgiving". Too often we rush by this important holiday to get ready for "Black Friday" or only focus on the food. Thanksgiving finds its purest expression in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. I can think of no more appropriate person to look to give thanks nor learn from in giving thanks than Jesus Christ. 

In today's post I wanted to consider how Jesus gave thanks throughout his ministry.  How He gave thanks sets the pattern for the Christian in cultivating a thankful heart. Since giving thanks was common for Jesus throughout His earthly ministry, then it stands to reason that giving thanks leads to Christ-like-ness. Below I will list all the references we find in the Gospel accounts concerning the times in which Jesus gave thanks.  My prayer is that they edify and encourage you and me in our faith walk. 

Matthew 15:36
"and He took the seven loaves and the fish; and giving thanks, He broke them and started giving them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people."

Matthew 26:27
"And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you."

Mark 8:6
"And He directed the people to sit down on the ground; and taking the seven loaves, He gave thanks and broke them, and started giving them to His disciples to serve to them, and they served them to the people."

Mark 14:23
"And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it."

Luke 22:17
"And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves."

Luke 22:19
"And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

John 6:11
"Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted."

John 6:23
"There came other small boats from Tiberias near to the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks."