Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Jesus' Ministry Begins (Matthew 4:12-25)

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he left Judea and returned to Galilee.
- Matt 4:12 NLT

I assume this is the arrest that lead to John's death.  The timeline is a bit off for me if that is the case.  Interesting to me that Jesus left Judea/Judah and went north to Galilee (Nazareth then Capernaum) (see map below) instead of to John's aid in Machaerus.

From then on Jesus began to preach, "Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the kingdom of Heaven is near."
- Matt 4:17 NLT

Matthew marks Jesus' first teaching as being a continuation of John the Baptist's... "Repent."  Today, do we shy from or gloss over Christ's first message?  We make repenting a prerequisite for salvation but then it seems to be deemphasized in sermons in favor of grace and love.  I do not think we should go as far as the Catholics, however, I think a dose of self-examination, identification, and remorse for sin is important... without pointing fingers.  

And they [brothers Simon (aka Peter) and Andrew] left their nets at once and followed him.
- Matt 4:20 NLT
They [brothers James and John] immediately followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind.
- Matt 4:22 NLT

David pointed out last week that some of these men may have already known of Jesus.  Would you have been intimidated to go with Jesus?  To be a member of His inner circle?  These men did not hesitate, they left their livelihoods immediately.  Why do we hesitate?  We know more of Him now then they did on the shore that day.  Seriously, do you plot a pros/cons list before talking to someone about Christ?  I do.


To grow spiritually I must examine my sins and figure out why I continue to repeat them.  Obviously some, like anger, can be a visceral reaction, however I can do better in controlling it.  Others like lust and pride are choices that I make.  I think if I reflect more on why they are bad for my relationships (esp. with God and my family) I will be more contrite and hopefully repeat them less. 

Focusing more on the long term, such as someone's salvation and God's kingdom, will help me ignore the short term risks for speaking more easily about the Gospel.  Isn't the other person worth it?  Isn't God worth it?  Most definitely.


Galilee, ca. AD 50 from Wikipedia.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11)

Three Temptations

Jesus was "lead by the Spirit" into the wilderness where He was tempted by the devil three times:

  1. To turn stones into food.
  2. To prove He was favored by God.
  3. Rule over the Earth.

The first is obvious, Jesus had been fasting and was starving.  After 40 days and nights I can imagine the average person would do anything for a bite of bread.

The second appeals to vanity and pride.  How incredibly helpful it would be to His ministry to definitively prove before all (including the religious leaders) that He was the Messiah by having angels protect Him in front of the temple.  However, if He were unquestionably the Messiah He wouldn't have been sacrificed on the cross.

The last temptation is the greatest; the devil would give the world to Jesus if Jesus would worship the devil.  If you think the world isn't the devil's to give please note that Jesus doesn't correct him on this point.*  Remember, Jesus' goal wasn't to rule the Earth; He needed to be a perfect, unblemished sacrifice for our sins.

[Post group discussion addition] David pointed out that there are only two ways Matthew could have known about this encounter: (1) Jesus told him or (2) the Holy Spirit dictated it.  Picture what the scene would have been like with Matthew if/when Jesus told this story.


Note that the temptations go from little to big to huge; the devil doesn't start by offering the world.*  Why should he?  How cheap are you to the devil?  Does he only have to offer a bit of pleasure or attention for you to sin against God?  The next time you sin think about how little the devil has to give for you to add a thorn to Christ's crown.

* Ideas marked by an asterisk came from BSF notes on Matthew 4.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

John the Baptist and The Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3)

I said, where'd you get your information from, huh?
You think that you can front when revelation comes?
- The Beastie Boys

Shouting in the Wilderness

John the Baptist was odd, however, this seems to be status quo for prophets.  What is interesting is not his dress, diet, or tenacity but this declaration: 

Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones.
- Matt 3:9 NLT

John calls for everyone to repent and turn to God, even the religious leaders whom he calls snakes.  Even though I am a Christian it doesn't mean that I do not have to repent.

The Christ Predicted

John says someone great is coming, so great John isn't even worthy enough to carry his sandals (or baptize him).  If I had been on the shore that day I would have been terrified of the image John paints of the Messiah.  If the Messiah selects me as a good guy then I am put in a fire with the "Holy Spirit" (which I would have assumed a powerful angel)... and if I'm a bad guy then I'm put in an eternal fire!  Either way I get put in the fire... ugh!

[Start notes added after group discussion]

Everybody explored the use of fire in these verses.  It was agreed that baptism by fire was a purifying fire while the eternal fire is not at all pleasant.

What does it mean to produce good fruit?  If it is only good deeds then, from the perspective of a non-Christian, how are we different from an ethical atheist?  Think about that the next time you say to yourself, "I witness through my lifestyle."  You should also speak the Good News.  Is good fruit creating seeds in others, bringing others to Christ?  I can't accept that it is simply good deeds or limited to having faith.

[End notes from group discussion]  

My guess is the image of an angel on the threshing room floor would be dramatic for a Jew.


The word "baptism" isn't in the OT, although a similar ritual was called a Mikvah.  Interesting that a Mikvah can use "living water" aka from a river, stream, and other natural bodies (as opposed to a tub, baptistery, etc).

Jesus' Baptism

Jesus, if He is without sin, does not need to be baptized.  Matthew alludes to this fact however Jesus instructs him to go ahead to "carry out all that God requires."  Where is this requirement?

[Post discussion addition]  David read from The Life Application Bible Commentary on Matthew* these two salient points:

  1. Jesus took on the people's sin and was getting baptized for them.
  2. Jesus was leading by example. 

Interesting reads:

Spiritual King

Matthew continues the king theme, now he is identifying Jesus as the Son of God.


I am a sinner, I am a sinner.  John's cry to repent is just as applicable to me as those on the shore that day.  I have chosen Jesus yet I still knowingly sin.

Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. - Matt 3:8 NLT

This verse is not a call to act like you are a Christian but for your actions to reflect that you are a Christian.  Do you really feel remorse for your sins?  Be honest, some maybe, but all? 

For those sins that you do regret but repeat, why repeat them?  Do the perceived benefits outweigh the true benefits of not sinning?  Perhaps because the perceived benefits are just that, more easily realized.  Is so, this is a symptom of separation from God which leads to further separation.

What sins you do not regret?  Why not? 

Remember what Christ said, "we must carry out all that God requires."  He didn't say "I must," He said, "we must."  He did not say "God requests" but "God requires."  John had to rise to meet God's plan (he didn't feel worthy to baptize Jesus) and so must the rest of us; we can do what God asks us to do. 

Let Christ be your model of self-discipline.  All through His ministry He knew how it would end, on a cross with a spear in His side.  However, He knew the true end...  and so do you:  God will be exalted among all the nations.  Look to God to buttress you and practice self-discipline so you can be a better disciple.

* Life Application Bible Commentary on Matthew by Bruce B. Barton, Mark Fackler, Linda K. Taylor, and David R. Veerman. Copyright 1996 by The Livingstone Corporation.  Published by Tyndale House Publishers in Carol Stream, Illinois.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Escape to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-23)

The titles of these posts come from the respective section of the New Living Translation of the Bible.  Honestly, for some odd reason I had a hard time writing this title.  That the [Son of the] Lord God should need to escape from the wrath of a human seems preposterous.  God controlled a star a few verses ago and now He needs to escape from a man!

I bet the Jews would also find this title odd as their idea of the Messiah is a military leader.  Would such a great military leader start his life by fleeing the country?

Joseph's Faith

Joseph receives another visit in a dream, however this one is a command to flee to Egypt.  Not an instruction to get ready to go or a request to leave soon but an urgent command: "Get up!"  So, in a matter of hours, the family collects what they can and embarks on a 250+ mile journey to Egypt.  Note verse 14 says they left for Egypt that night

This is the second life altering dream Joseph has received (according to Matthew).  He obeys immediately, putting his life in his faith of God, without asking for signs.

No Favors

Joseph's family packed their household and moved... in the night.  Stop for a moment and think about what this must have been like... now add a toddler!  Amazing that God didn't give them a little more warning, provide some super-natural protection or means of transportation.  

Mourning in Ramah

Rachel is Benjamin's mother and the town of Ramah is part of Benjamin's inheritance.  For this reason those who lived in Ramah were considered Benjaminites; Jerusalem is also a Benjaminite town.  When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem the captured Jews were assembled in Ramah before being taken to Babylon. 

This is the original interpretation of Jeremiah 31:15, that Rachel was weeping for her "children", the Benjaminites, who were killed or captured by the Babylonians.  The Jeremiah verse is figurative:  Rachel died just outside of Bethlehem after giving birth to Benjamin, her second son, so it would be literally impossible for her to weep for her "children" in Ramah.

Matthew now adds the young boys murdered by Herod saying Rachel weeps for them because they are also Benjaminites.  Bethlehem is considered a Benjaminite town as it is six miles from Jerusalem and was considered one of its "surrounding villages."  However, Bethlehem is not Ramah and Herod was a Jew, not a Babylonian.  Matthew's application of the Ramah verse seems a stretch.  

It is linguistically interesting that Jeremiah has Rachel weeping for Benjamin's children; Rachel named Benjamin Ben-oni, "son of my sorrow."  Therefore Rachel weeps for the children of "son of my sorrow."

Note: There are two Bethlehems.  The other Bethlehem is mentioned in Joshua 19 which says Bethlehem was Zebulun's inheritance; Leah was Zebulun's mother, not Rachel (Jacob was married to Rachel and Leah).  This is not the Bethlehem where Jesus was born (and David) even though it is closer to Nazareth.   

Again, a Dream

After Herod dies an angel tells Joseph in a dream to return to Israel.  The text does not say what part of Israel; Joseph starts off to Judea.  Joseph learns of Archelaus rule of Judea and is afraid.  His fear was prescient as he was warned in a third dream which lead them to Galilee, the town of Nazareth. 

He will be called a Nazarene.

Neither the word 'Nazarene' nor 'Nazareth' is in the Old Testament.  Where did this prophecy come from?   Nazarene can mean a "sprout" or "shoot" and it can also be a misinterpretation of Nazirite

Jesus probably was not a Nazirite because He didn't follow the rules (e.g. not drinking wine).  Give some thought to Jesus as a sprout ( a young shoot as from a seed or root; a young person) of God, especially in terms of the Trinity.


Even as a toddler Jesus' destiny was a burden and He went through it without privilege or convenience.  This is another illustration that God doesn't ask us to do anything that He hasn't done with the same limitations we have... You could even argue He was harder on Himself.  Can you get a fairer God than that?  Praise Him and then thank Him!


God asks for more than faith.  In this instance God needed obedience and immediate action from Joseph.  The  next time you feel the Holy Spirit pushing you to act remember what Joseph and Mary did and that God needs action from us. 

Joseph probably didn't want to go to Egypt.  Our desires are secondary to God's. 

Joseph feared Archelaus; obviously Joseph trusted and had faith in God.  Following God and using your head are not mutually exclusive.


This picture is from Wikipedia, the light/bright green area is Judea (aka Judah).

Map image

Egypt on the left, Israel on the right... note the big ol' Sinai Peninsula in between.


Rami Khader Ayyad a 32-year-old director of Gaza's only Christian bookstore was found dead today.  Ayyad regularly received anonymous death threats from angry people who accused him of missionary work, a rarity among Gaza's Christians.  By IBRAHIM BARZAK, Associated Press

Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Visit from the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12)

"Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand."
- Jesus

Jesus told stories that contained a deeper truth or meaning; he told these stories to convey a lesson.  For example, you could read one parable and think it is about not wasting food, not insulting a peer, how to take revenge when insulted... or see it as story of salvation.

Jesus' biography is very short even though the authors recognized the importance of His life.  We must conclude that everything in that biography is there for a reason.  Not just stories and parables, but even specific events in Christ's life are recorded for a reason as a lot was left out.  As every event is not recorded, we must then ask, "why is this here?" and dig for the deeper truth or meaning.  If we do not understand the true meaning, are we outsiders

Every time I've read or heard the story of the "three kings" I've only had the simple thought that Jesus is worthy of being worshipped by all people, regardless of class.  Is that the true purpose of this story or is there something more to be gleaned? 

A Game of Telephone
This has got to be the most fictionalized story in the Bible, except for maybe Noah's Ark.  I'm not saying the Biblical account is not true, I'm saying the story has been altered, romanticized, embellished, whatever.

Here we go:  there is nothing saying there were three Magi; they weren't kings; they did not visit Christ at the manger; and there is no mention of animals or shepherds visiting at the same time as the Magi.

This page explains the following:

  • Some early Christian records and art depict from 2 to 8 magi; eastern religion says there were 12.
  • Magi were religious leaders of the sacred caste of Medes and not kings or magicians.  It is possible they were educated in astrology (note: not astronomy).
  • They weren't necessarily from Persia, although they were probably from the Parthian Empire and crossed the Syrian Desert.
  • Christ was not an infant in the stable because He had already been presented at the Temple and Matthew mentions the visit occurring in a "house."

A Star
Was it a star, comet, planetary movements, or floating beacon?  Matthew writes in verse 2 that the Magi said, "...We saw his star as it rose..."  So we have "astrologers" calling it a star; comets and planets were known cosmological objects.  Can Magi, astrologers, wise men, not recognize a star when they see one?

Matthew later writes in 9 that the star guided them to Bethlehem and "went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was."  Neither the motion of the heavens, Earth nor paralax can explain such a phenomenon.  Remember, the Earth is spinning as the Magi walk; only the North Star is a fixed heavenly reference point.  Imagine now a star that first is used as a point of reference to a town, in a specific direction while they travel for hours (or days), and then stops over a house!  How would that look to the observer?  From the front door the star is over the house, walk around the back and it is still over the house?  A star!  Way, way up in the sky! How could they possibly get a bearing on one specific house off a star that is light years away?

Keep in mind no one else notices this star.

Not A Star
Maybe it wasn't a star, but like a star.  If you are thinking comets or odd planetary motion then apply the same arguments above except substitute "thousands of miles" for "light years."  I believe the "star" is a bright point of light that existed within our atmosphere, created by God.  After all, God has done things like this before.  A light created by God would explain the motion and also explain oddities such as:

  1. Why did only the Magi recognize the star?
  2. Why reveal the star to non-Jews?
  3. Why didn't the star lead them directly to Christ, making the visit to Herod unnecessary?

Regardless, we do not need to find a natural explanation for the "star"; if you can't believe God made a ball of light or made a natural star move then are you really equipped to believe He lived among us?

The Magi Seek Him...
Keep in mind these Magi were not Jews but pagans.  They obviously had some limited knowledge of Judaism because they knew of the Messiah and knew He was important enough to recognize, praise, and worship.  How much did they know?  Not enough to know where prophecy said the Messiah would be born and perhaps not enough to know what the Messiah was (God incarnate). 

The Magi came a long way to praise the Messiah.  This is obviously God inspired (unless you are a Jehovah's Witness, they think Satan did it).  I can't help but wonder why God would choose pagan, non-Jews for this roll.  I'm sure there were Jews in powerful positions in distant lands.  Regardless, they came a long way and valued Him greatly (both with gifts and praise) which is in stark contrast to the Jews who lived near Jesus and were "deeply disturbed."

A star rose and lead them West.  The star was specific enough to hover over Jesus' house but for some reason didn't guide the Magi around or through Jerusalem.  The Magi actually thought Herod would tolerate a  "king of the Jews," an unwise decision.  This mistake lead to the Massacre of the Innocents.  However, it also lead to Jesus being taken to Egypt to fulfill the prophecy in Hosea 11:1.

What to give God on Earth?  Talk about someone who has everything...  These gifts are "State" gifts, they basically say, "We Magi of Persia recognize and believe you to be king of the Jews."  This falls in line with Matthew's goal of showing Jesus' "kingship."  Obviously the Magi were looking for a king because they said so to Herod, again support for Matthew's goal.    Interestingly, the gifts fall off of the record.  I wonder if they were used as currency for the trip to Egypt.

If a star lead you to God on Earth would you go home or would you buy the house next door?  For this reason my guess would be they didn't understand the significance of the Messiah and it was simply a "State" visit, e.g. one government recognizing another.  Interestingly, these pagans believed in Him as the Jewish Messiah.  Are they saved by their faith?  Are they the first Gentile Christians?   

Everyone is Disturbed
Herod is disturbed for obvious reasons.  He is currently the "king" of the Jews (and in bed with the Romans) and doesn't want another Jewish king coming around making trouble...   The Jewish Messiah is a human who leads all Jews back to Israel where an era of piece follows.  How could this happen without kicking the Romans (and Herod) out?  The common Jews in the city were probably disturbed because (a) they were afraid of Herod's response and (b) they would recognize the coming of the Messiah as a future war call and didn't know how the Romans would react. 

However, this does not explain the "leading priests and teachers."  They told the Magi where to go yet did not go with them.  Why wouldn't these priests be excited and want to get in on the ground floor of the new administration?  Not to mention having an opportunity to put their eyes on the Messiah!  Maybe they, too, feared the implications with Herod and the Romans?     

This is an amazing Bible story that lead me down many paths.  Here is what I got out of it:

  1. Matthew already described how Jesus is the Jewish king via His lineage.  Now Matthew is showing how Jesus should be recognized as king by all of the world's leaders.
  2. This story foreshadows the pattern of the crucifixion.  When Herod and the Jews learn of the Messiah's birth the Jews reject Him and the Roman leader orders His death.
  3. Illustrates that those who have the greatest distance to reach God will value Him the most.
  4. Because we can not predict what God is going to do we should act like the Magi and look for how God reveals Himself to us; we should not be the religious leaders who are concerned about this world.
  5. Don't forget the star!  God can do anything and He is sovereign.  


Post Script
The paragraph on kneeling and prostration here is interesting, read more about it.