Thursday, December 28, 2017

Understanding the Holy Spirit's work of salvation in the Old and New Testaments

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Ezekiel 36:26-27 “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27“I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.


Salvation is identified in both Old and New Testaments (or Old Covenant and New Covenant scriptures) as being "of the Lord". (see Isaiah 43:10; Jonah 2:9; Romans 10:13) The distinctions lie in the level to which the Spirit manifests Himself in the lives of His people. In the Old Testament the Spirit worked "upon" and "with" people; whereas in the New Testament we find the Spirit working "within" and "through" people. (see John 14:17). 

The Holy Spirit was already doing a work in human hearts, a precursor to the New Birth called "circumcision of the Heart". (see Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6)  Both types of work were needed in order for believers to respond and receive God's well-meant offer of salvation. (see Genesis 15:16; Romans 4:3; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:4-5; James 1:17-18) 

In seeing the Spirit's work in the Old Testament, the time would need to be inaugurated for a new, deeper and more abiding work.  Old Testament prophets like Ezekiel and Jeremiah gave readers a glimpse into what would be the New Covenant work of the New Birth. In this post today, we want to sketch out the distinctions between what is called "the Old Covenant" and "the New Covenant" as it pertains to the Spirit's work in salvation.

The functions and limits of the Old Covenant

Israel as a nation had failed in her covenant obligations to God that He had outlined for them in Exodus 19-20.  Though God had given His promises to His people through the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants, it was in the Mosaic Covenant of Exodus 19-20 that God outlined their redemptive identity.  The Mosaic Covenant or Sinaitic Covenant (so-called because it was made by God with His people at Mount Sinai), spelled out the type of righteousness God expected if anyone were to have any relationship with Him.  

The covenant that God made at Sinai demanded righteousness, but could not deliver it.  God knew that the people of Israel would try to get to Him apart from grace through faith, and so He gave the law to show them their inability to do so.  

The Covenant of Sinai, also called "The Old Covenant", awaited the day God would reveal a "New Covenant" to His people.  Since the people of Israel came to be identified with Moses and the "Old Covenant", the entire age leading up to the cross is called the "Old Covenant" or "Old Testament Age".  A " New Covenant" was needed.  Hebrews 8:7 states:

"For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second."

The glorious revelation of the New Covenant

When God began to reveal His New Covenant promises to Israel in passages like Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:25-27, He pointed to a future age.  That final age will entail Christ's reign on earth - i.e "the Millennium". (see Revelation 20)  Israel the nation was promised by God to be restored at Messiah's second coming.  The people as a nation would look upon the One whom they had pierced and be saved. (see Zechariah 12:10; Revelation 1:7)  What the New Covenant promises were designed for was to give hope to a nation that had been sent to exile in Babylon for 70 years.  They would become not only a nation once again, but would end up fulfilling their original calling. (see Genesis 12:1-7; Deuteronomy 7:1-7; Amos 3:1-7). 

That time for Israel will come. (see Romans 11:25-26). However, from what we gather in the New Covenant scriptures (another name for the New Testament), these New Covenant promises have been spiritually inaugurated in the life of the Church.  Whenever one reads 2 Corinthians 3-5 and Hebrews 8-9, it is discovered that the "Age to Come" is overlapping with this current church age.  We as Christians, by way of the New Birth, are partaking spiritually of the promises communicated in Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  

How the New Covenant exceeds the Old Covenant

When we turn to passages such as Hebrews 8:7-13, we discover just how wonderful our salvation is in light of the fact that we are spiritual partakers of the New Covenant.  Let the reader take note:

Old Covenant        vs         New Covenant

Hebrews 8:10                   Hebrews 8:10

-Demands godliness         -Delivers godliness

-Principles for holy living   -Power for holy living

-God was unapproachable  -God is approachable

Hebrews 8:11                    Hebrews 8:11

-I know about God            -I come to know God

Hebrews 8:12                   Hebrews 8:12

-Sin is shown as sin          -Sin is forgiven

Hebrews 8:13                   Hebrews 8:13

-change is not available     -change is expected

As you can see, by gaining an understanding of the New Covenant versus Old Covenant systems, we can better appreciate the background leading up to the work of the New Birth. The Old Testament saints needed to receive the working of the Holy Spirit like New Testament Christians do today - by faith. Such faith is a gift of God that attracts the sinner to respond freely to God's overtures of grace. Such grace was made known in the types an shadows of the Old Testament which were based upon what would be the New Testament coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. (see 1 Peter 1:10-11)  

Why understanding the Old and New Covenants matters to you

I hope this brief summary today has shed light and edified your heart dear reader. So why is this important? Make no mistake about it, the New Testament teaching on salvation includes the Old Testament background. The starting point of salvation is the New Birth. Whenever Jesus was teaching Nicodemas in John 3 that one "must be born-again" to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, He assumed Nicodemas, a teacher of Israel, knew about the Old Covenant background. Nicodemas' confusion demonstrated how much he was in need of salvation. He was religious but not right with God. Understanding these truths aid us in seeing the unity of scripture's testimony of how someone is brought into right relationship with God. Furthermore, knowing that the Holy Spirit is vital in salvation leads us to rely upon Him in life that follows from salvation. Unless God in His grace calls us and sustains us, none can be saved and none can live the Christian life. Whether we are talking about Old Testament or New Testament believers - the point is - salvation is of the Lord.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Connecting The Cradle At Bethlehem To The Cross At Calvary - A Christmas Meditation

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Matthew 1:21 “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”


Merry Christmas to all who have decided to visit this site today. In today's post, the aim is to draw as many parallels as possible between the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke to the crucifixion account of the Lord Jesus Christ.  John 18, 19 and 20 will be our main text for the crucifixion account, with connecting points being drawn from Matthew and Luke.  Below I will list some main headings and associated verses to aid you, the reader, in connecting the Christmas event of the cradle at Bethlehem to the Mission of the Savior at the cross. 

1. The Shepherds told about the Savior born, who would die for the people

Luke 2:11 "for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."

John 18:14 "Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people."

What links these two passages together is the fact we see Jesus, our Good Shepherd. 

2. He was Born and Died "The King of the Jews." 

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.”

John 19:19 "And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS."

What links these two passages together is the fact we see Jesus our True King.

3. The Roman Empire was included in His birth and death.

Luke 2:1 "Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth."

John 19:23 "Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout."

What links these two passages together is the fact we see Jesus the Ultimate Ruler. 

4. The Prediction of Mary's agony at His death spoken after his birth

Luke 2:35 "and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many  hearts may be revealed.”

John 19:26-27 "When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! 27 Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home."

What links these two passages together is the fact we see Jesus the Obedient Son.

5. The presence of myrrh in the accounts of His birth and death

Luke 2:11 "After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh."

John 19:39 "And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight."

What links these two passages together is the fact we see Jesus the Satisfaction of wrath.

6. Angels were present at His birth and resurrection

Luke 2:13-14 "And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host  praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

John 20:12-14 "and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 And they said to her, “Woman, why are you  weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. "

What links these two passages together is the fact we see Jesus the Victorious Savior.

Closing Thoughts

When one considers the linkage between the manger and the cross, the lines of connection are extraordinary. It was said once that the shadow of Calvary ever fell on the cradle in Bethlehem. In the midst of this Christmas Day celebration, let us not ever separate the cradle and the cross. We noted the following six truths about Jesus in today's post:

1. Jesus, our Good Shepherd
2. Jesus, our True King
3. Jesus, our Ultimate Ruler
4. Jesus, the Obedient Son
5. Jesus, the Satisfaction of Wrath
6. Jesus, the Victorious Savior 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Let Us Have Great Faith In God - Matthew 1:18-25

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Matthew 1:18-21 "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit."


Whenever we consider the opening chapter to Matthew's Gospel, we are treated to the truths of grace and faith. Grace is God doing for man what he could not do otherwise for himself. Matthew 1:1-18 deals with how God would manifest His grace by way of the preparatory bloodline of the Messiah. Grace, as it would turn out, was not just an abstract idea. Christ Himself would reveal this attribute of God by inserting Himself into the human family by way of the virgin birth. (see Romans 5:16; Titus 2:11) 

If grace is the gift box presented by God, and Christ is the gift to be treasured, then faith is the wrapping paper used by the Spirit to draw us to Jesus Christ. People that express faith are exercising a receptive trust of God's grace. True faith that takes God at His word is a great faith. Great faith refers to the conviction that nothing is impossible for God. 

Great faith in God is expressed by Job when he states in Job 42:2 “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted." Hebrews 11, for instance, lists 17 different people known for their great faith. Great faith can be expressed by God's people, whether young (like David in 1 Samuel 17) or old (such as Abraham in Genesis 12). Today's post will feature Joseph - the man whom God would use to be a father-figure in the human life of the virgin-born Son of God.  

Great faith is possible for any Christ-follower, not just a select few

Great faith is accessible to all Christ-followers as a result of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the Word of God and prayer. How often do we read of the early Christians in Acts exhibiting great faith? James 5:17 compares a prophet like Elijah to so-called "average" Christians today by the statement: "Elijah was a man just like us...". So let the reader be encouraged. Great faith (the focus of this post) is not just for the select few "super-saints". It is the privilege that any follower of Jesus can have in moments that call for it.

Whenever we consider the remainder of Matthew 1:18-25, we find a man by the name of Joseph. The more I read about Joseph in the Gospel's of Matthew, Luke and John - the more impressed I am by the faith he expressed in walking with God. Joseph had a bold faith. He had great faith. We find such faith described by Jesus in the way it trusts God to do the impossible in such passages as Mathew 8:10; 15:28 and Luke 7:9.  

The only way there can be such great faith is if it is initiated by God in the life of the person open to the truth of God. (see Ephesians 2:8-9; James 1:18) As noted already, we want to briefly consider great faith as expressed in the life of Joseph.

1. Joseph's faith was great due to quick obedience. Matthew 1:18-23

Joseph and Mary were betrothed. In 1st century Israel, betrothal was the legal prelude to actual, physical marriage. Other than the physical union of the man and woman, betrothal was considered a moral and legal relationship as binding as marriage. 
The purpose of the 6-12 months of betrothal was to establish the purity of the woman, to prepare for actual married life and for the husband to build a home for the time he and his wife would live together. Any sign of infidelity on the wife's part or proof that she was not a virgin would be grounds for the annulment of the contract.   

Joseph's hearing of Mary's pregnancy during their betrothal placed him in the uncomfortable dilemma. By legal rights Joseph could annul their legal marriage or betrothal. Such an action could be grounds for the death penalty for Mary, since Old Testament legislation included the penalty of stoning for such persons. (see Deuteronomy 20:7; 22:13-29) On the other hand, if Joseph decided to marry her, he would take on the reproach of those accusing her of infidelity and questioning his judgment. We know that the Jews thought such things about Jesus, implying that he had been born as a result of fornication.(see John 8:41)

Joseph was considering the first option of private annulment when angel appeared to him. (Matthew 1:21-23) God knew what Joseph was thinking, reminding us that He is ever omniscient. (see Psalm 139:1-7) God sending Gabriel to Joseph confirms this truth of God's omniscience. The angel's urging of Joseph to: "not be afraid" as to encourage him to take Mary as his wife. So what did Joseph do? He did what the angel told him. Joseph never hesitated. He responded quickly to God's word. We find his great faith in other passages. (Matthew 2:14 and 2:21) So Joseph's faith was great due to its quick response. Now notice a second trait of this great faith....

2. Joseph had great faith by the courage he had to trust God. Matthew 1:24b

Joseph's faith was great due to his quick response to the Word of God. We find another trait of great faith in Joseph's life - namely the courage to trust God. The dilemma explained above required great God-given courage for Joseph. He made the choice to trust God more than care about the opinions of people. To take Mary as his wife meant Joseph would undergo possible ridicule or questions about his character. 

Having the courage to trust God is never popular. In our 21st century world, there are pleas from every quarter to do-away with Christ from Christmas. Moreover, the secular notion that believing in the God of scripture is not merely irrational but immoral characterizes our age. Courage as the backbone of great faith is needed in our day.  

An Old Testament illustration from the book of Joshua can illustrate the place of courage in the life of faith. When Joshua was leading the ancient Jews into the promised land in the Book of Joshua, God told him on several occasions: "be strong and courageous". (see Joshua 1:9) This virtue of courage, valor and inner strength is prized as part of spiritual growth. (2 Peter 1:3-11) In over 200 places in God's Word we are told to "not be afraid". 

Imagine the pressure Joseph felt. Not only from potential pressure from his culture, but also the prospect of being a father-figure to the Savior of the world. Thank the Lord that God had a Joseph to whom He had prepared to have great faith. God is doing this very thing in our 21st century world. In the context of culture pressure, God is preparing His people to act courageously. Courage is the backbone of faith. To have great faith, like Joseph, entails quick obedience, courageous faith and one more characteristic....

3. Joseph's faith was great due to his complete follow-through. Matthew 1:25

We read in Matthew 1:25 "but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus." Joseph had by this point made the marriage public and official. No longer were he and Mary betrothed or, as the Jews called it in the ancient world, "kiddushim". They were now "physically-married" or "chupah". Joseph was compelled to keep his wife a virgin till the birth of Jesus. Joseph knew his role and place. In Luke 2:22 we see Mary and Joseph bring the eight-day old infant Christ to the temple. The text notes: "And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord." 

Joseph is completing his follow-through. Great faith aims to complete the good work God began. (see Philippians 1:6) We find Joseph mention only a few times more in the New Testament. (see John 6:42) We're not sure when Joseph passed off the scene. What we do know from the New Testament record is that Joseph followed-through in his role as a father-figure to the virgin-born Messiah. It takes great faith to both get on the saddle and to remain in it.

When I think of complete follow-through in the realm of great-faith, I think of my grandmother. She read her Bible through every year while helping to raise my cousins, deal with health issues and tough early years in her marriage. She endured. She persevered. My grandmother got to witness my uncle and grandfather get converted to Jesus Christ. Today, one of my cousins is following the Lord. I thank the Lord for the examples of great faith we not only find in the Bible, but in our lives - if we but look with open eyes and hearts.

Closing thoughts

In today's post we explored the subject of "great faith" as exhibited in the life of Joseph in Matthew's Gospel and other places. We noted that "great faith" is that type of faith that concludes that with God, all things are possible. In describing what such faith looks like, we noted three traits in the life of Joseph.
First, Joseph expressed quick obedience to God's Word. Second, Joseph expressed courage to follow God, no matter what. Lastly, Joseph exhibited complete follow-through in what God called-him to do. Amazingly, Joseph's resolve foreshadowed what Jesus Himself would do in going to the cross and rising from the dead. (see 1 Peter 2:21ff) The take away for you and me is to ask for and live out great faith. Might we be like Joseph during this Christmas season and for the upcoming year. Let us be those who have great faith!  

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Your Countdown To Jesus

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Matthew 1:17-18 "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. 18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit." 


Children count down the days until Christmas. The wonder of anticipation drives such child-like wonder. We find an incredible stage set for the coming of Jesus the Messiah at the opening of Matthew’s Gospel. Are you and I thankful for His arrival over 2,000 years ago? Are we as eager for His return as our children are for Christmas day? This post aims to stir reflection upon the wonder and need of God’s grace. 

Various New Testament passages speak of how the incarnation of the Son of God was the appearance of grace. John 1:17 “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:21 “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” Then one more passage, Titus 2:11 “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men.” 

The grace of God has to do with God Reaching Across to Comfort Enemies. Grace is God reaching to you and me. Matthew introduces his Gospel with a genealogy. Much life-practical and spiritually profound truths are found when studying any portion of God's Word. (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17) To explore this incredible opening to Matthew’s Gospel, we will note details of it in a count-down fashion that will lead us to Jesus Christ.  

1. Four people in need of grace. (The story of you)

We find four women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy. The background of each of the following women portray the story of all humanity born in Adam, into this world.  

First, there is Tamar in Matthew 1:3. Tamar’s complete story is found in Genesis 38. 

Second, we find Rahab in Matthew 1:5. Rahab lived a reckless life as a prostitute. God’s grace reached her and by her aid of some Hebrew spies sent by Joshua, the walls of Jericho would come tumbling down. God had a plan for her. (see her story in Joshua 2 and particularly Joshua 6:25) 

The third person in need of grace in Matthew genealogy is Ruth, the Moabitess, found in Matthew 1:5. Ruth’s story is found in the Old Testament book bearing her name. Per Deuteronomy 23:3, Moabites were considered outside the covenant – hence making Ruth the Moabitess an outsider. Nonetheless, God had chosen her, called her and drawn her in faith to be an insider. 

Lastly we come to Bathsheba in Matthew 1:6. By David’s treacherous act of murdering Bathsheba’s husband and then forcibly seducing her, Bathsheba’s life became ruined. (see 2 Samuel 11:26-27)

These four women give us a profile of you and me born into this world: desperate, reckless, outsiders and ruined. Such persons as ourselves and these women needed of grace – the grace found in Jesus Christ. The genealogy of Matthew features four women in need of grace and three people in their response of grace. 

2. Three people and their response to grace. (Which one are you). 

By looking at Abraham (Matthew 1:2); David (1:6) and Jeconiah (1:12), we can note each man’s response to God’s revelation of His word.

Abraham received such grace by faith. Romans 4:3 reminds us that Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham was transformed from an idolater to a true worshiper. (see Joshua 24:1-3)

Next we see David, whose testimony of grace would result in his positive response to God’s word. (see Psalm 32; 2 Samuel 23) David would go from being a pauper to a king. 

Lastly, we see Jeconiah. (see also Jeremiah 22:30) Jeconiah’s father, Jehoiakim, attempted to destroy God’s word in Jeremiah 36. God’s word cannot be broken (John 10:35) nor destroyed (Matthew 5:16-18). God would end up pronouncing a curse on Jehoiakim, with said curse extending down through his bloodline. As far as we know, Jeconiah never followed the Lord. His rejection of God’s Word followed in the train of his father. 

The bloodline of the Messiah stood jeopardized as a result of this tragic course of events for Jeconiah. Thankfully, God had other plans and by way of Jeconiah’s grandson Zerubbabel, God’s pledge made to David would continue, meaning that Messiah’s bloodline would ultimately continue unbroken. (see Haggai 2:23) 

So, which one of these three men describe you? The first two are those who by grace responded freely to God’s well-meant offer. Jeconiah, the last man, rejected it of his own accord. The bloodline of Jesus’ humanity is littered with sinners. Those sinners tell our story. Thankfully, God sent His Son into the world to save the likes of us. So four people in need of grace and three people in their response of grace captures the plight of humanity. The countdown of history is really your countdown. The question is always – what will you do with Jesus? 

One thing is for certain: God’s motive in revealing His grace in the incarnation of the Son of God rests not in man but in God. 

3. Two reasons for the appearance of grace (God to you)

Two reasons can be discerned from Matthew 1:1-17 that suggests why God made His grace appear in Jesus Christ. 

First, God’s preparation of history. The genealogy tells it all (2,000 yrs; 42 generations; 3 eras 1,000yrs / 400 yrs / 600 yrs). God is a God of what we call "providence". Providence refers to the exercise of Divine authority in guiding the course of history, humanity and the tracks of nations to God's intended purposes. (see Ephesians 1:11) 

The numbers associated with Matthew’s genealogy were mainly to aid memorization. However, their arrangement speaks of intention on God’s part. Three divisions speak of a unified, Divine plan, since three is the number associate with God’s Divine plan. The fourteen generations assigned to each division of the genealogy point to the culmination of God’s plan at a particular point. The number fourteen is found in places where God’s plan for His people is brought to a completion. The total number of generations, 42, is associated with a number pointing to affliction, testing. Humanity is full of affliction due to sin. The need of all time was for the babe in Bethlehem’s cradle. 

So, we see God’s preparation for history, but notice a second reason for why He wanted to manifest grace through Jesus – plan of salvation. The three heads of the branches of the genealogical tree in Matthew tell the whole Gospel story. 

Abraham speaks of a Promise made by God. David reminds us of a Pledge. Jesus of course is the Person to whom the promise and pledge point. God promised Abraham an ancestral line leading to a nation – Israel. 

God then pledged to David a lineage of royalty – enduring for all time. The Person of Christ would make what God promised to Abraham and pledged to David a reality. God’s plan for history and for salvation is relevant to you and me today. As we wrap up this “countdown to Jesus”, let’s conclude with a focus upon Matthew 1:18, namely…

4. One Personification of grace (Christ for you)

We have already cited John 1:17; Romans 5:21 and Titus 2:11 as expositions on God’s revelation of grace as Jesus Christ. All of eternity, history and the humanity of Matthew’s genealogy funnel down to one Person – the Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew 1:18 states – “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.” 

Closing thoughts:

Grace is needed for faith to come forth. Jesus Christ is the Author and Finisher of Faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). Christ was given for you. Will you respond in Faith to Him.

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."


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.”


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 ( ). 
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.