Archive for August, 2015

Matthew 2:19-23 — As we conclude our look at this passage today, we will look at why Matthew felt it important to point out the significance of Jesus and his family setting down in a town called Nazareth and why “it fulfilled what the prophets had said, ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’” When you look in the Old Testament you will not find that specific statement. Is this a biblical error on Matthew’s part? Nazareth was an insignificant town in the New Testament era and it certainly was more so in the Old Testament era. What was Matthew referring to when he writes this in his gospel? So let’s dig a little deeper as to why this was considered an important point to Matthew.

According to the footnote in my Chronological Life Application Study Bible, there is no specific statement in the Old Testament that says the Messiah will be called a Nazarene. It goes on to state that most scholars believe that Matthew is referring to Isaiah 11:1 where the Hebrew word for branch is similar to the Hebrew word for Nazareth. The Hebrew word for branch is “netzer” and in Isaiah 11:1 it says, “”Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.” So, again, if this is the case, Matthew is tying Jesus’ lineage back to David. King David, the most beloved of Israel’s rulers, was the stem of Jesse, his father. And it was from David’s lineage that God said that a king from his line would rule on David’s throne forever. So, ever trying to point out Jesus’ royal roots and his Messianic fulfillment, Matthew sees the significance of Jesus being from a town called Nazareth. Though it did not seem like it to many, Jesus was the branch of which Isaiah spoke. He was the promised Messiah. Although he was not born to kings and was raised in a small, out of the way, town, Matthew sees that it could not be any other way and was pointing that out to people.

Their expectations of the Messiah had strayed far from Scripture and, certainly, most Jews thought that a prophet who died on the cross, was from Nazareth of all places, could not be the Messiah. It kind of reminds you of Ted Mosby on the television show, How I Met Your Mother. He was forever in the show looking for that perfect girl and would end a relationship with any girl because they did not meet his ideal of his perfect girl. So, it was with the Jews, with the Messiah having been right in their midst and lived out His life according to the prophecies for the Messiah, they would not see Him because He did not fit their idealized Messiah. Their Messiah was the one with the best horse, the best armor, the best superhero powers who would vanquish their Roman overlords and re-establish the political kingdom of Israel. The idealized Messiah was not the Messiah of Scripture any longer. They had morphed Him into what they wanted Him to be and not the suffering servant that was to save man from his sin as the Scriptures state. Matthew was pointing out to the Jews that, regardless of what their idealized Messiah was, Jesus held true to all the prophecies of the Messiah. Matthew might as well be pointing that out to us today. Don’t we often in modern society morph Jesus into what we want Him to be rather than what Scripture says? We need reminders from Matthew and the other authors in the Bible of who Jesus really was. Matthew was a stickler for Scripture. He knew it well. We should too so that we will not be led astray by people’s idealized Jesuses. We may not be making the Messiah into a war hero who was to vanquish and occupying force today but there are those who twist the Jesus of Scripture into something that He is not (1) because they do not know or read the Bible and (2) they want to confuse people and use Jesus to meet their own political or social agendas. Let us be like Matthew who studied Scripture and recognized that Jesus was the Messiah. Let us study Scripture so we do not miss the truth that lies within its pages. Let us study Scripture so that we do not lead ourselves or others astray about what the Bible says. Let us study Scripture so that we can defend our faith in the face of false teachers and in the face of hatred of our faith. Yesterday, we wanted to be like Joseph. Today, let’s add Matthew to that list.

I think the second thing that Matthew was trying to do here by saying that Jesus was a Nazarene was to make a commentary about the perceptions of the day of Nazareth. Nazareth was a small town in the back waters of Galilee. For us folk who live in Spartanburg County, SC who can identify with this statement, it would be like being from Gaffney! If they would have had the term “redneck” back in Jesus’ day, that’s the label he would have been given because He was from Nazareth. Nazareth was no cultural center. It was the regional crossroads town for farmers and shepherds. It was a farming town. In Nazareth, there was a lot of hard working folks so there wasn’t a lot of sitting around having theological discussions or discussions of the politics of the day. They were just trying to feed their families and have enough left over to sell at market. It didn’t have the best reputation because it was just a hick town. I imagine people from Nazareth might have been regarded much the same was as “rednecks” are today. For whatever reason, people looked down on them. In fact, scripture records in John 1:46, Nathanael said of Jesus “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The book of Isaiah 53 says that the Messiah would be despised and would not be attractive to people. It was prophesied in this scripture that the Jewish people would reject Him. Jesus, thus, knew of what it is like to be from the wrong side of the tracks. He knew what it was like to be rejected just because of who you were. Being from Nazareth growing up, people probably judged him as a hick, country boy with no education and as one not to be highly regarded. Thus, Jesus had humble beginnings just as Micah had predicted in Micah 5:2. Jesus was born humbly, lived humbly, and died humbly. If you feel like you are not enough, Jesus knows you. If you feel like your background prevents you from being an honored child of God, Jesus says you are wrong. He says I was born with no silver spoon in my mouth. He says I know you. If you think that your past keeps you from being in the fellowship of believers, think again. Jesus knows what it is like to feel rejected by the hypocrites of His day. Jesus says I know you. There is not one of us that is excluded from Jesus’ family just because of our past, our history, or where we are from, He says I know you and I can identify with you and I love you. Come, sit at my table.

We thank the Apostle Matthew for showing us that Jesus is the real Messiah of Scripture and helps us to see that fact even when we try to make Jesus into something that is different from what the Word says. Thank you Matthew for showing us that Jesus can make even what we consider insignificant and unwanted by human standards into something beautiful and special. Jesus is different from what we know and how we judge things and how we categorize things. He does not hold our past against us. Jesus knows your beginnings. Jesus knows your past. He knows where you from and everything you’ve done. When you come to Him with a repentant heart, He will make you into something beautiful and clean.

Matthew 2:19-23 — You know back in the 90’s there was a ad campaign and I cannot even remember the product but the jingle was “I want to be like Mike”. It featured Michael Jordon – the greatest basketball player the professional game of basketball has ever known. Michael worked hard at his game. And he wasn’t just a scoring machine. He was named several times the Defensive Player of the Year. He had a complete and well rounded game. He was simply the best all around basketballer around. It would be a high goal to be like Mike in anything endeavor. Focus, dedication, tenacity. We would do well to apply ourselves to our vocations the way Michael did.

But today, let’s talking about being like Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. He is to me the Michael Jordan-esque find of dad. Yes, this message is mainly for dads but I think all can gain some insight from being like Joseph.

Again, here we see Joseph hearing from the Lord in a vision or dream telling him first that Herod The Great had died (4 BC) and second that his son, Archelaus, had been appointed leader of Judea and Samaria by Caesar Augustus. Archelaus was such an evil king that he had about 40 conspiriators killed you removed the Roman eagle from the archway of the temple. Later, he order the killing of 3,000 Jews in the temple during Passover who were protesting against him for having killed the teachers and others who had tried to remove the eagle. He was as bad or worse than his father when it came to ruthlessness. In these two visions, Joseph learned that He needed to return to Palestine but not to return to Bethlehem. There are several things that are striking here but for today we will look at Joseph again hearing from God. It’s like Joseph has a God hotline or something. The dude is connected. But what’s all the more striking is that we know of other biblical characters who fight with God about his commands (Job, Elijah, just to name two) but with Joseph we hear no argument.

Again in this passage as in earlier passages of the first two chapters, Joseph has been given commands from God through his angels and then without question Joseph follows those commands. I think that we can learn several things from these repeated visions of Joseph.

First, I think it a testament to Joseph faith. He was to me a man of great faith. He must have prayed frequently. He must have listened to and possibly read Scriptures repeatedly and often such that God’s Word was hidden in his heart. He must have viewed his life through the filter of how does what I do give God glory. He must have viewed his life through a God perspective. He must have made God a part of his 24/7/365 life. Without this constant focus on God, I think it would have been impossible for him to hear from God directly so frequently. We should do well to have this kind of God focus in our lives. So many of us compartmentalize our faith. We may focus on God on Sunday mornings but we put our faith back in the box and put it on the shelf in the garage until next Sunday. We, particularly as men, think of our workplace as completely separate from God. We do not bring God to work with us. On weekends, we do not make God part of our Saturdays either. Yet, on Sunday, we remember that we have our God box out in the garage, metaphorically speaking. We make demands on God when we do pray on those rare occasions. We do not pray seeking God’s will. We want God to give us what we want rather than us seeking to be compliant with God’s will. Maybe this is why Joseph heard so frequently from God and we don’t. We don’t have laser-like focus on God. We don’t see our lives through a God lens (we see through our own lenses). We do not see God as integrated into every aspect of our existence. Joseph did I bet and I bet this is part of the reason that God entrusted Him with raising Jesus. With us, God will entrust us with little if we seek His will only a little. He will entrust us with more of his kingdom when we trust Him completely and make him a part of everything we do – work, home, play.

Second, in Joseph’s compliance to the will of God, Joseph gave Jesus (even though He was the Son of God) and earthly example of a father who was compliant with God’s will. Surely, in His humanness, Jesus must of thought of his earthly father’s complete willingness to follow God’s commands when was in His ministry years. He probably thought fondly of his earthly dad when praying and communing with His Father in heaven. Joseph was a mighty human example to his earthly children. Not only did He raise the Son of God but Jesus’ little brother, James, went on to become a leader in the early church. Sure, Joseph knew Jesus would become something special but Joseph set the example of a godly man not only for Jesus’ sake but for his other children as well. We should dare to do so well as Joseph as earthly fathers. He was compliant with God at every turn that see of him in the Bible. We may not have the extreme faith of Joseph and we are not charged with raising the child Jesus but we do as fathers have the Word of God at our disposal. May we be like Joseph as much as we can. Let us set examples to our children that we follow the commands of God as laid out in His Word. Let us look back years later and see sons and daughters who do the same because of seeing us as dads following the Word of God even when it was painful to us. Let us be Joseph-like fathers who realize everything we do has a impact on our children and our children’s children. Let us demonstrate to them honest, humble men who are seeking after God’s own heart.

Father in heaven, help me to have the laser-focus on you that Joseph had. Help me to make you a part of everything I say and do. Help me to seek after you daily and by minute. Help me to demonstrate to my family that I am a dad who loves the Lord with all my mind, all my heart, all my soul, and all my strength. Help me to realize that they imitate what they see us as dads do. Let them see an humble servant of the Lord. Amen.

Matthew 2:13-18 — Matthew quotes two Old Testament verses here in this single passage as hammers home the point to his original Jewish audience that Jesus was in fact the Messiah. He quotes Hosea 11:1 where it says, “I called my Son out of Egypt”. He quotes Jeremiah 31:15 when speaking in reference to the killings of the baby boys in Bethlehem. That verse says, “A cry was heard in Ramah — weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are no more.” Matthew is making the point that Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel’s destiny. Jesus is the true Israel. Everything Israel was supposed to be, Jesus would be. And the things that God did for and through Israel find fulfillment in the person and works of Jesus.
But Matthew sees the parallels between Jesus’ sojourn in Egypt, preservation from the killing of the children, and the return to Palestine, the Promised Land, having symbolic parallel to the history of Israel. israel was called to Egypt to escape certain death as result of the famine. Israel’s sons (and daughters) were saved by the blood of the Passover Lamb while the evil of the hard-hearted Pharaoh caused the deaths of Egypt’s sons. Israel was called out of Egypt to become God’s chosen people, to be God’s agent among the nations. Jesus went down into Egypt to be saved from the death sentence of Herod. Jesus was called out of Egypt to be the Passover Lamb for anyone who would believe in Him. He sees the old event as a preview of the new event. Jesus would walk through, in His life, the experiences of the nation, in order to fulfill all the needs of the nation and for the whole human race.
So Matthew sees that Hosea’s words that were written for the nation of Israel using the figure of a son find their fullest meaning in the experience of Jesus the Son as He is “called” out of Egypt to go to the land of Israel. Matthew is not simply connecting Jesus’ return from Egypt with the exodus of Israel from Egypt; he is connecting all that was involved with that exodus with Jesus. All of it was part of the plan so that God’s chosen people would see the connection between their history and Jesus. Matthew was pointing out that everything God did in their history was symbolic preparation for Jesus. Even the sacrificial system established by God for His people was a preview, a symbol, a preparation for Jesus being the fulfillment of the sacrificial system on the cross. He completed the symbolic sacrificial system in a literal act on the cross. Matthew is saying to his audience, Jesus is the real deal guys—don’t you see how it all fits together. Jesus is what all this Old Testament stuff was pointing to!
The second Old Testament reference is used in a similar way. It is a lament that comes from the Book of Jeremiah, 31:15. Jeremiah records his vision with tears of lamentation as he watches not only the city of Jerusalem being destroyed, but innocent children being slaughtered in the Babylonian invasion. He imagines, with his poetic vision, that Rachel, the wife of Jacob and mother of Joseph and Benjamin, is weeping for her descendants, her children. Rachel becomes the ancestral representative of all those mothers in the land who wept for their little children.
But his lamentation is in the middle of four chapters, Jeremiah 30-33, that are filled with comfort and consolation and joy. These chapters look beyond the grief of death to the dawn of a new age that will come with the Messiah’s coming, One whom Jeremiah calls the Branch. And with that new age there will be a New Covenant that will pave the way for everlasting peace and righteousness. Out of the chaos of violence and death at the hands of wicked rulers there would come a New Covenant, bringing forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life.
Matthew knew that Jesus is the Messiah, the Branch, and that in the upper room at the Last Supper He inaugurated the New Covenant (“This cup is the new covenant in my blood” [1 Cor. 11:25]). So when he reported the killing of innocent children in Bethlehem, he immediately saw the parallel with Jeremiah’s day. Once again God would bring life out of death, the life of Jesus out of the deaths of the innocent children, and with His life He would bring eternal life for those who died for Him in that little village of Bethlehem. Jesus would also bring eternal life to you and me through his violent death on the cross.
So, what does all this mean for you and me? First, I think that there is the idea no matter how chaotic that this world seems, God is working His plan toward its ultimate conclusion when Christ returns to establish his eternal kingdom, to judge, to set things right. God works things for good for those who trust and love Him even when it seems that evil has won the day. We may not understand the purpose of difficult things to deal with but we can trust that the Almighty will redeem it, use it, and make use of it in His grand redemptive plan for mankind. When you consider the symmetry of these early parts of Jesus’ life to the history of Israel, you cannot help but be moved to understand that God is working, working, working His plan.
Second, Jesus is the point of it all. Everything points to Him. He is the point of the Bible. He is the point of God’s plan. All other religions feel compelled to respond to Jesus whereas Christianity has no position as to the nature of the founders of those man-made religions other than that they were the men that founded those religions. We do not have to respond to them because Jesus is the real deal. He is the Son of God. He is God in the flesh. Matthew saw it and pointed it out to the people of Israel, but they refused to see. Many of us today have it pointed out to us but we refuse to see. Paul said that in the absence of the Holy Spirit’s action in our souls, all this Jesus as God stuff seems like foolishness. Their eyes and their hearts are closed off and are hard-hearted as Pharaoh and Herod. It is our job to continue to point out that Jesus is the Messiah. It was Matthew’s job and it is our job. Jesus is the point of it all. Let us never tire. Let us not grow weary of pointing it out.

Matthew 2:13-18 — When we read this passage, we are often thankful for Jesus being able to escape into Egypt, but we often ignore the hard question. In the beautiful story of Jesus’ birth, there is this ugly episode involving King Herod. There is a fundamentally hard question that often we Christians ignore because it is so hard to answer, particularly in the midst of this story that we tell our children over and over at Christmas time. With all of the “good vibrations” of the Christmas holiday, all the syrupy-sweet warm fuzzies our culture builds into the holiday, and especially here in the church where we celebrate our Savior’s birth and focus on its actual meaning…. Still, it’s kind of shocking, to be faced with such a gruesome story.

In this passage, we learn that Joseph is warned by an angel to flee into Egypt. Because Herod had learned of the Magi left town without re-visiting him he was enraged because they took with them the knowledge of the whereabouts of the would-be king, the Christ. Therefore, to cover his bases to keep a supposed rival king from arising from his midst, he ordered having all children under the age of two that resided in Bethlehem murdered. Although there has been conjecture as to whether this actually happened or not, it is completely consistent with the paranoid defense of his throne that Herod displayed during his reign which is well documented outside the Bible. He killed several of his sons and at least his first wife because of his fears that they were plotting to take his throne among many other such killngs. The fact that Bethlehem was so small at the time there was very few children under the age of two resided in Bethlehem (probably less than 10 in a town of approximately 300 at the time of Jesus’ birth). Therefore, to me, this did indeed happen.

This brings us to a troubling question, we can understand why Jesus was spared. He was God’s own Son, but why were the innocent children (even if it was actually less than 10) not spared from the mania of a diabolical earthly ruler? Did God allow this to happen just to fulfill the prophecies of Hosea 11:1 (out of Egypt I will call my son) and of Jeremiah 31:15 (A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more). Seems like God is either very callous in keeping to his prophecy fulfillment timetable or He is a weak God that cannot prevent such things from happening. We may not speak it out loud but we think it in today’s world when natural disasters happen or especially when senseless acts of violence happen. We certainly must ask this question here when there is this truly evil act of senseless violence.

This is a fundamental question of faith. Many people disdain the Old Testament today because of its violence and all the smiting that went on and the wiping out of entire groups of people. They say they are just going to stick with the New Testament. But here in the New Testament, you have this act of pure evil in which numerous innocents died, simply because of their age. So, this is a question we must deal with at some point or another. It is an ever present one in the Bible and it is an ever present one in our day and age. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why did 09/11/01 happen? Why did Columbine happen? Why did the Japanese earthquake and tsunami happen? Why did Emmanuel AME happen here in our state just a few short weeks ago? Just this week, why did two fun-loving energetic young people who were in the midst of advancing their television careers get gunned down for senseless reasons? We avoid this question and it seems that with all the background and examples I am laying down in this blog that I am too. This question brings us into several doctrines that are fundamental to the Christian faith.

First, we as Christians believe that man is born with a sin nature. As a result, evil exists. Paul says, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. With sin comes evil. Since the entrance of sin in the world, we see man unloading unspeakable evils upon one another beginning with Cain and Abel and degenerating from there. Evil is a real thing. Sin is a real thing. As we remember from Genesis, even the ground was cursed. Our planet suffers the effects of sin and evil. And Paul says even the ground groans under the weight of sin and wishes for the day when Jesus will return. Thus we live in a world filled with sin and on a planet groaning from the effects of sin. Because of the evil than can often go unchecked in the hands of someone in power such as a despotic king like Herod, unspeakable atrocities such as this can occur. Look at Hitler in Europe. He was essentially a king with no checks on his power. The holocaust was the result, World War II was the result, evil on a grand scale. Outside the Christian faith, many try to speak of the basic goodness of man. It is just not true. We are evil at our core. Just look at all the attempts at utopian societies. Each one has ultimately failed because of greed caused by the innate evil nature of man. This scene from Matthew is evidence of the fact that man is evil. Because of this evil nature of man, it amply points out our everpresent need for a Savior.

Second, God gave man free will. We have the power to choose our actions on a daily basis. In our free will, we daily choose to disobey God. When we sin, it has ripple effects. Our sins impact other people. Herod’s sins are all on display here and throughout his rein his sins have devastating effects on many, many people. We think of the children murdered here. But think of our own evil actions and the long lasting impacts they have on others. Just think of the disastrous effects of adultery on families. It may feel good to the person enjoying a dangerous liasons where the sex is fun and secretive and you may even be able to justify in your mind why you are doing it, but the ripple effects destroy families. Adultery impacts children deeply and can often ruin their lives. Adultery can have impacts for generations. Evil upon evil is dumped on all of us from the actions of others and our sins are dumped on other people too. Free will, what a dangerous thing that was that God gave us. It has had disastrous effects. It has been God’s grand experiment gone wrong it seems. Like leaving your kids home on the weekend while you and your spouse go on a weekend getaway and the house gets trashed in the process. However, free will with all his resulting troubles is necessary in God’s plan. It is a risk that He is willing to take. If we were robots of God, we would robotically obey God. He wants us to choose Him, not robotically obey Him. With free will, we come to God and seek Him out. With free will, we choose to reject evil and our evil ways and repent. With free will, we understand why we need a Savior. With free will, we have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. So, free will enables us to choose, but because of the sin of Adam, we choose evil over good and bad things happen to us and everyone around us. In our free will, we sin and we definitely need a Savior.

Third, we find the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. In this scene, we completely do not understand it. We do not understand it when a 16 year old is killed in a car accident. We certainly do not understand it when a mother who has sweet innocent children at hope is murdered. We certainly do not understand it when a young woman is raped and murdered. We certainly do not understand it when planes crash. We certainly do not understand it when a young man walks into a church and murders 9 people for no other reason that the fact that they were there. Sometimes, when the inexplicable happens, we simply have to trust that God has a purpose and plan in it all. We don’t have to understand it sometimes. We may even get angry at God about it at times. But ultimately God is sovereign and He does not have to explain Himself to us. Many times though we can ultimately see what His plan was. Often out of bad things, good things come. Often people’s eyes are opened. Often in our loss for words and explanations for life’s events, we see that we do not have all the answers and that we need God. Often bad things happen cause us to see our sins for what they are. Often bad things happen to force us to see our need for a Savior. I am not saying that this is why God allows what seems as a bad things in our limited nature to us. I don’t know that. Because God ways are higher than my ways I will never truly understand Him fully in this my limited nature in this human life. However, I am just saying that there are often the results of bad things happening is that we are drawn closer to the Almighty, All-Knowing God. It is often true that bad things happening show us the limited nature of our life and it points us to our need for a Savior. Bad things happening often force us to take stock of our mortality and forces us to our knees to see that we definitely need a Savior.

Tomorrow, we will look at this passage one more time from the point of view of the parallel of Jesus’ life and the history of Israel. But for today, we are dealing with this tough question. Sin. Free Will. God’s Sovereignty. Evil in the world. The tough questions of our faith. Right here in the middle of the nativity scene that we make so sweet at Christmas. Our faith forces us to deal with tough questions all the time. When we deal with these tough questions head on, we will, I think, grow in our faith. When we deal with the tough questions of life, we begin to understand why we believe what we believe and it all starts making sense and strengthens our faith and strengthens our belief in our need for a Savior. It demonstrates the wonderful grace that we live under in the name of Jesus Christ, the central character that was spared in this scene from Matthew 2:13-18.

Matthew 2:13-18 — In church leadership, you often find that no matter how many times or how many different ways you communicate with people, some will say, “Well, I never heard about that!” Sometimes, you have just have to smile knowing that there was multiple printed references in the bulletin, announcements from the stage, churchwide emails and social media posts, personal emails from leaders and so on. Sometimes, people just zone out and ignore the information that is readily available. Much of it can be traced the cluttered media age in which we live. People often have now so much much information to deal with that they become numb to it all. They tune out. I think this concept can be as true with our relationships with God as it is with the flow of information in church.

Have you ever wondered why some people are so in tune with God and why others, maybe you and me, who have trouble hearing from God. We have a perfect example right here in this passage. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, has now in this passage heard twice from God as it relates to his fatherhood and protection of the child Jesus. It is a reminder to us that divine guidance only can come through prepared hearts.

Although we do not hear anymore references to a living Joseph after Matthew 2, he is prevalent here in the first two chapters in Matthew. But the glimpse that we see of Joseph here is one of a devout believer in the God of Israel. He seems to be a man in tune with the Spirit of God. He hears from God when Mary’s life could have been in danger. He hears from God when young Jesus’ life could have been in danger. The fact that Joseph had these visions are obvious examples of a man that was a true believer in God. For him to hear from God in these direct ways, he must have been a person that lived out his faith everyday in every possible way. You wonder why Jesus was not born to a family of the religious elite in Jerusalem. I dare say that this is why. Joseph was probably one of the few people of the day that took his relationship with the Lord seriously and made it a part of his everyday life. When we are humbly submitted to the Lord and seeking Him in everything that we do, it is much easier to hear from the Lord. When the Lord is part of your every thought and every action, it is much easier to hear from the Lord. It is when we submit to the Lord in prayer and seek to be intimate with Him that we can hear from the Lord more readily. Intimate prayer with the Lord is more than prayer over a meal or talking to God while you are mowing grass or taking your morning commute. Intimate time with the Lord is when we seriously commit to paying attention to Him alone in prayer. It is similar to marriage in that we get out of it what we put into it. How much more intimate are our relationships with our spouses when we make time to give them our undivided attention. Husband who do not understand their wives often it is because they fail to truly spend time with them where they give them their undivided attention. The same is true for wives concerning their husbands. Based on the evidence of Joseph’s hearing from God, it is logical to believe that Joseph was amazingly devoted to His Lord.

If we are not hearing from the Lord, not getting guidance from Him, maybe it is because we are not intimate with the Lord. How is your prayer life? How much is God a part of your daily life? You hear is so many times from people. I say it myself sometimes. We say, why can’t I hear from the Lord on this issue. Why won’t God tell me what to do? I don’t understand why God will not give me guidance on this issue. You’ve said these things before. Haven’t you? I know I sure have. I think God speaks to us daily. It is a matter of whether we are listening or not. When we pray while we are doing chores, exercising, are we really listening? Do we really spend time with God giving him our undivided attention? We let the white noise of the world around get in the way all too often. We let life’s cares get in the way. We let ourselves get in the way. We let worry get in the way. We let bills get in the way. We let our responsibilities of life get in the way. We let ourselves and the things that are important to us get in the way. We try to be our own gods. We try to handle and manage our own affairs and we only go to God when we cannot do it ourselves. Have we ever tried truly submitting to the Lord? Have we let the Lord be the central focus of everything that we do. Do we make Him a part of our every move throughout the day? Do we think of how we react to everyday situations and how that reaction would or would not bring glory to God? Do we think of God being right there with us in everything we do? Only a prepared heart can hear what God has to say to us. Our hearts are prepared by being totally submitted to God. We seek His will and not our own. We treat God like He is the Creator of the Universe and the Master of All Things instead of like a last resort vending machine. Push a button and get what WE want from God. How wrong of a pecking order to we have when we demand things from God instead of listening to the Almighty God in submission to His Greatness. Maybe this is why we read of Joseph hearing from God so often.

Father, help us to clear out all the clutter of life and busy thoughts and focus on you. Help us to be intimate with you like Joseph. Help us to make you a part of everything we do. Help us to think of you every minute of everything we do. Help us to seek your will and not our own. Help us to recognize the order of things where you are first and we are something after that. Help us to put you first in our lives and not our spouses, jobs, children, our grown-up toys and hobbies. Help us to seek you daily and constantly. Help us to view life as to how everything we do should bring glory to you. Simply, Lord, help us to be more intimate with you such that we can recognize your voice and act upon what you guide us to do. Help us to have prepared hearts that are receptive and in tune with you. Amen.

Matthew 2:1-12 — The final verse of this passage tells us, “When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.” As we make the final blog entry for this passage, it reminds us of our own encounters with the King of Kings. From this verse, we can learn two things. Until we meet Jesus personally, we are searching and seeking and it is only after meeting Him that we can know God. And we cannot return unto the path which brought us here is the other.

Did you notice in this verse that the wise men were warned by God. These wise men are mentioned nowhere else in Scripture but after meeting, worshiping and bestowing gifts upon the child Jesus, they are able to hear directly from God. When this passage opens and from historical records, we know the magi were the academic class of the Babylonian and then Parthian empires. We know that they know of Scripture because of the legacy of Daniel. It is the legacy of Daniel and their study of Scripture that brings them into this scene in the Gospel of Matthew. They knew the prophecies of the Old Testament. They had all the book knowledge of Scripture, but they were still seeking. They were asking questions so that they could find the baby Jesus. They did not know how to find Him themselves. They were guided along the way. The seeds were planted in their lineage hundreds of years earlier. They had all the head knowledge of Scripture but yet they were still lost. It was not until they met Jesus for themselves that everything became clear. Their book knowledge became alive and real when they met Jesus. They understood what the Scriptures meant. They understood they were in the presence of the promised Messiah. God’s Word had come alive.

Is it not the same for us? We can be readers of the Bible without being saved. We can have all the book knowledge of Scripture that we need. We can see it is as an awesome collection of literature. We can discount the miracles as myth. We can discount Jesus as the Son of God and make Him in a radical rabbi martyr for the causes of the downtrodden. But it is not until we encounter Jesus on our knees seeking Him as our Savior that we truly understand and believe. It is only then that we begin to be more in tune with God through the workings of the Holy Spirit in our soul. We are finally able to clear through all the white noise of the idols in our lives and hear from God through the Holy Spirit. It was the same for the magi. After encountering Jesus and being moved by orchestra workings of God, they became believers, I think. They were able to hear from God when they were not able to before. The white noise of the idols in their lives was cleared away and they could hear from God.

What they heard from God was that they must not return to Jerusalem to see Herod. God likely warned them because He knew that Herod would most likely kill them for the information that they had. God had greater plans for them back home as new believers. Is this not true for us as well. After we have accepted Christ as our Savior, we cannot return to the path that brought us to the cross. We must go on a new path. We want to go on a new path. When I look back on the person I was before salvation, I don’t want to go back there. When I look at the person I was at salvation compared to the more mature Christian that I am now, I do not want to go back where I was. I think that this is the identifying mark of salvation compared to a spiritual warm fuzzy on a Sunday morning where you are emotionally moved by the music and the sermon. Being emotionally moved without life change is not salvation. When we encounter Jesus and we truly accept Him as our Savior, we know we are not the same anymore. We do, yes, have a couple of months of emotionally driven zealousness after salvation, but the fruit of salvation is when that wears off and we make both the mental and emotional choices to continue to follow Jesus and to make the tough choices about our lives and what needs to change and conform to the image of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit that spurs us to make the tough choices to change who we are. It is the Holy Spirit that changes us from the inside out in a painful and humbling process that takes a lifetime. That’s salvation. That’s turning away from my old life and seeking the new. That’s humbling desiring to be more and more like Jesus daily and acting on those ugly things about ourselves that the Holy Spirit reveals to us daily. A spiritual warm fuzzy may last a week or two and then we return to the route we came by. Same friends. Same playgrounds. Same behaviors. It is only through true salvation that we don’t see this Jesus thing as something restrictive but rather as a new way of life where everything is new. True salvation brings changes and we want the changes. True salvation shows us that the road we WERE on would have led us to destruction. True salvation shows what we have been saved from and why. We are changed forever. We cannot and do not want to go down the same old roads anymore. We are like the magi in that way. We leave after meeting Jesus and go on a new road, a different road, not the way we came.

This simple verse says volumes. We are changed by meeting Jesus. When we accept Him as our Savior we clear out all the clutter of the idols of our lives and we can begin to hear from God through the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that changes us from within to without, from the inside out. It is through the Holy Spirit that we change the roads that we are on. We no longer can ride the roads that we have been riding. We are changed. We want more out of life than our old life was giving us. We want to be changed. We want the new road, the different road, not the road that brought to the cross, but the new road behind the cross, in the shadow of the cross. Amen and Amen.

Matthew 2:1-12 — Again, as we pass through this passage of Scripture, Matthew 2:1-12, we know this story so well. There are not many of us in America that have not heard this story on television, film, and in countless nativity scenes or plays across the country over the years. We have heard the story and seen the scene so many time that we tend to gloss over the individual pieces of this passage. It’s kind of like driving to work in the morning. You’ve done it so many times that you forget the scenery. But let us refocus today and look at little closer at the scenery. Today, let’s look at the gifts given by the magi. They are not just cute things for our kids to carry in a nativity play. They signify the three aspects of who Jesus Christ really is.

First, he was brought gold. In the time that Jesus was born, it was common practice to give gifts of gold to the male sons of kings as it was a symbol of the future kingship of the son. So, the gold was to signify that the Magi saw Jesus as a king. Gold was difficult to mine in those days so it’s scarcity made it even more valuable in those days that it is today. Therefore, gold was often reserved for king’s palaces and places of worship. The gift itself would not have been lost on Matthew’s Jewish audience. They would thought more of it than we do when we watch a nativity play and being more interested in the fact that little Jimmy was the wise guy who gave the gift of gold and did so without knocking over the stage. The Jews would have recognized that the gift of gold was because the magi recognized Jesus as a king. A king is someone who has authority to rule and reign over a group of people. Jesus is just such a king. He is called the King of the Jews by the Magi (Matt. 2:2), and Jesus accepts that title in Matt. 27:11, “Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor questioned Him, saying, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘It is as you say.’” Matt. 21:5 speaks of Jesus and says, “Behold your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey.” Remember, Jesus is King in that He rules and judges. “And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war,” (Rev. 19:11). The armies follow Him (Rev. 19:14). Jesus has complete authority over us and thus is rightfully our king. We are children of the one true king.

They also brought frankincense. Frankincense was once greatly valued throughout the Middle East, from Rome to India. It was very expensive and a gift having a wonderful fragrance. It was used for a variety of purposes such as incense (Ex. 30:34), medical treatment, and perfume (Song of Solomon 3:6; 4:14). We discover from the Bible that frankincense was used in worship. Thus, the presentation of this gift signifies the Magis belief that Jesus was a priest and had a priestly destiny. The priests were the ones in the Old Testament who offered sacrifices to God in order to cleanse of sin. Ultimately, all such priests were representations of Jesus who is the True Priest who offered Himself as a sacrifice (Eph. 5:2, Heb. 9:26-27, 10:12) by which He cleanses us of our sin (1 John 1:7). But, Jesus is called a priest after the order of Melchizedek. “Where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb. 6:20). Heb. 9:11 says, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation.” As a priest, Jesus is our mediator between God and ourselves (1 Tim. 2:5). In the case of the priest, he delivers the sacrifices of people to God from bottom to top. So, Jesus is a prophet who delivers the Word of God to us, and He is also the priest who delivers His sacrifice on our behalf to God the father.

Myrrh was less expensive than frankincense, but was still highly valued. It is first mentioned in the Bible in Gen. 37:25, where it was being carried by camels on a caravan. Myrrh was used for a variety of purposes, such as: a perfume (Song of Solomon 3:6; 4:14), an anesthetic, burial embalming (John 19:39), as an ingredient in anointing oil, and to deodorize clothes. According to Esther 2:12, it was also a cosmetic used by women. John 19:39 records that myrrh was used in Jesus’ burial. This gift thus signifies was to be our sacrificial savior in that he makes us beautiful (cleansed of our sins) through his death on the cross. That it was used so often as a burial anointing gives us a glimpse of Jesus as prophet. Prophets were typically killed for bringing God’s messages to the people that they often did not want to hear. Jesus’ message that kingdom of God was at hand in Him was not popular. His message of disdain for the hypocrisy of man (all pious on the outside and evil on the inside) was not popular. His message of the redemption of sinners regardless of how bad you have been was not popular. His message about the things that we place value in here on earth meaning nothing in eternity was unsettling to say the least. The frankincense was a symbol of the sacrifice that Jesus would make to bring the message of God to man.

Priest, prophet, king. Jesus was all of these things. He is the only person in the Bible to whom all three of these offices can be ascribed. Some have been two of the three but none have been all three. Priest, prophet, king. Jesus is all three. He is the divine ruler of man. He has authority over all creation. He has authority over each and everyone of us, regardless of whether you believe in Him or not. He is a prophet that gives us words that we need to hear but may not necessarily like. Priest, He is, because he intercedes on our behalf with the Father in heaven. He can enter into the holy of holies and plead our case before the Father. He is the sacrifice before the Lord that makes us right with God. Priest, prophet, king. May Savior.

Sometimes, we need to stop and examine the scenery a little more closely to take in the true value of the scene. The nativity is not just a cute story. It is packed with power, symbolism and meaning. Let us not go through the motions of the nativity scene. Let us brew on it like coffee to get its full value, taste, and meaning. The gifts are more than just props for our kids to carry in a nativity play. They are gifts that signify the greatness of the one and only true king, priest, and prophet, Jesus Christ.