Thinking on Scripture with Dr. Steven R. Cook
Life, Death, and Eternity - Part 1

Life, Death, and Eternity - Part 1

October 16, 2021

God creates life. He created angelic life (Psa 148:2, 5; cf. Col 1:16), animal life (Gen 1:24-25), and human life (Gen 1:26-27; 2:7). People reproduce biological life, but God continues to impart soul life (Psa 100:3; Eccl 12:7; Zec 12:1), and this occurs at conception (Psa 139:13; Isa 44:2, 24). Furthermore, God has decreed the time and place of our birth (Acts 17:26), as well as the length of our days (Psa 139:16). He knows each of us personally (Jer 1:5; Gal 1:15), and is intimately familiar with us (Psa 56:8; 139:1-4; Matt 10:30). He is always present (Psa 139:7-10), is aware of our needs (Matt 6:8; 31-34), and asks us to trust Him as we journey through life (Pro 3:5-6; Heb 10:38; 11:6).

 

God knows how frail we are, “He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psa 103:14). David courageously asked the Lord, “Make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am. Behold, You have made my days short in length, and my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; surely every man at his best is a mere breath” (Psa 39:4-5). Job too perceived the brevity of his life and declared, “I will not live forever…for my days are but a breath” (Job 7:16), and James wrote, “you are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (Jam 4:14b). And the Lord is caring concerning the death of His people, as the psalmist wrote, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psa 116:15).

 

What we do in life is what matters to God and others. Every moment of every day is our opportunity to walk with God who gives meaning and purpose to life. And such a life is marked by truth, prayer, humility, love, kindness, gentleness, goodness, selflessness, and those golden qualities that flow through the heart of one who knows the Lord and represents Him to a fallen world. Furthermore, those who love God are naturally concerned with touching the lives of others, especially as they approach the end of life. As Moses was nearing death (Deut 4:22-23; 31:14; 32:48-50), he gave a farewell address to the nation of Israel. Deuteronomy was his farewell message to the Israelites who were about to enter the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. Moses left them what was important, what would guide and sustain and bring them blessing, if they would accept it (Deut 11:26-28). He left them the Word of God. David too thought this way; for as “his time to die drew near” (1 Ki 2:1), he gave a charge to his son, Solomon, saying, “I am going the way of all the earth. Be strong, therefore, and show yourself a man. Keep the charge of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies, according to what is written in the Law of Moses, that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn” (1 Ki 2:2-3). Our Lord Jesus, on the night before His death, spent His final hours offering divine instruction to His disciples (John 13:1—16:33). Jesus’ message was motivated by love, as John tells us, “Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1). Jesus opened His instruction with a foot-washing-lesson on humility and serving each other (John 13:3-17). Here, the King of kings and Lord of lords became the Servant of servants when He laid aside His garments and washed the disciples’ feet. Jesus’ display of humility was followed by a command to love, saying, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). He then comforted His friends, directing them to live by faith, and to look forward to His promise of heaven. Jesus said, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Jesus went on to offer additional instruction on how to know the Father, to love, pray, what to expect in the future, and how to live godly in a fallen world (John 14:4—16:33). He then prayed for them (John 17:1-26). Afterwards, Jesus went to the cross and died for them. He died for their sins, that they might have forgiveness and eternal life. What a loving Savior we serve!

The Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper

August 21, 2021

     The Lord’s Supper is mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew (26:26-29), Mark (14:22-25), Luke (22:19-20), and by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Christians at Corinth (1 Cor 11:23-34). The Lord’s Supper is also called the Eucharist, from the Greek word εὐχαριστέω eucharisteo, which means to give thanks, which is what Christ did when He instituted this church ordinance (Luke 22:19). And, it is called Communion, from the Geek word κοινωνία koinonia, which means communion, fellowship, or sharing (1 Cor 10:15-17), because it took place during a community meal where believers fellowshipped with each other during a time of Bible study and prayer (see Acts 2:42).

     The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus on the night He and the disciples were celebrating the Passover meal. This was the night before His crucifixion. The Passover meal celebrated God’s deliverance from the final plague on Egypt as the Lord passed over the homes of those who had sacrificed an unblemished lamb and placed its blood on the doorpost and lintel (Ex 12:1-51). The flawless lamb foreshadowed the sinless humanity of Jesus who is “a lamb unblemished and spotless” (1 Pet 1:19), “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus is “our Passover lamb” (1 Cor 5:7), and His death paid the price for our sins (Mark 10:45; Eph 1:7; Heb 9:22).

     Jesus’ death instituted the New Covenant which was given to Israel and will find its ultimate fulfillment in the future millennial kingdom. Because Christ inaugurated the New Covenant, some of the spiritual blessings associated with it are available to Christians today; specifically, forgiveness of sins (Jer 31:34; Matt 26:28; Heb 10:17) and the indwelling Holy Spirit (Ezek 36:26-27; 37:14; 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19).

     The elements of the Lord’s Supper include unleavened bread and red juice. The unleavened bread symbolizes the sinless humanity of Jesus (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5). The red juice symbolizes the “blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28). Throughout the church age, there have been four major views concerning the elements of the Lord’s Supper: 1) The Roman Catholic viewTransubstantiation—teaches that the bread and red juice, without losing its form or taste, becomes the literal body and blood of Christ. 2) The Lutheran viewConsubstantiation—holds that Christ is present in and with the bread and red juice in a real sense. 3) The Reformed viewSpiritual—teaches that Christ is spiritually present in the bread and red juice. 4) The Evangelical viewSymbolic—sees the bread and red juice as symbols that point to the body and blood of Christ. The first three views see Christ actually present in the bread and juice, whereas the last view sees the elements as symbols that point to Christ. The last view is similar to how one understands the sacrificial lamb in the OT, which sacrifice did not actually contain Christ, but rather pointed to Him and His atoning work on the cross. Likewise, the Lord’s Supper does not actually contain Christ, but points the believer to His sacrificial life and substitutionary death. 

     When Christians partake of the unleavened bread and red juice, we are recognizing our relationship with God through the life and death of Christ. Just as we are nourished bodily by physical food, so we are nourished spiritually by the life and shed blood of Jesus who died in our place. Eating the bread and drinking the red juice is a picture of the believer receiving the benefits that have been provided by the life and death of Jesus. There is a vertical and horizontal aspect to the Lord’s Supper. The vertical aspect indicates one is in a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus, for the Lord’s Supper has meaning only to the one who has trusted Christ as Savior and received forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28; Eph 1:7). The horizontal aspect of the Lord’s Supper indicates one is walking in love and living selflessly towards other Christians (1 Cor 10:15-17; 11:17-34), for it is a picture of the love and selflessness of Christ who gave His life for the benefit of others. It is a sin to partake of the Lord’s Supper while behaving selfishly toward other believers, and God will punish those who do so (1 Cor 11:27-30). Paul instructed the Christians at Corinth to partake of the Lord’s Supper retrospectively by looking back at the sacrificial life and death of Christ (1 Cor 11:23-25), prospectively by looking forward to Jesus’ return (1 Cor 11:26), and introspectively by examining their attitudes and actions (1 Cor 11:27-32). A proper understanding of the Lord’s Supper will lead to unselfish love towards others (1 Cor 11:33-34a).

Summary

     The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus while celebrating the Passover meal on the night before His crucifixion. The unleavened bread symbolizes the perfect humanity of Christ, and the red juice symbolizes the blood of the New Covenant that was shed on the cross. Christians who partake of the Lord’s Supper see themselves as the beneficiaries of the spiritual blessings of forgiveness and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Eating the bread and drinking the juice is a picture of receiving Christ and all He did for us through His life and death. The Lord’s Supper instructs us to look back to the selfless love of Christ, forward to His return, and inward to one’s values and actions.

Angels and Demons - Part 10 - The Christian Armor
Matthew 10:24-33 - Overcoming Fear

Matthew 10:24-33 - Overcoming Fear

March 14, 2021

The main point of this pericope is that Jesus warned His disciples that they would face persecution as His followers, but they should not fear their persecutors, but rather, should fear God who loves and cares for them. Click here for complete set of notes.

How to Advance Spiritually - Part 2

How to Advance Spiritually - Part 2

February 7, 2021

     God desires that we advance to spiritual maturity which glorifies Him and blesses us and others. This advance assumes one has believed in Christ as Savior and has spiritual life (John 3:16; 20:31; Acts 4:12; Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5; 1 Pet 1:3, 23).[1] To be clear, salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Only Christ’s atoning work at the cross is sufficient to save, and no works performed before, during, or after salvation are necessary. Though good works should follow our salvation, they are never the condition of it. The information taught in this lesson applies only to the Christian, for “The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14 NET; cf. John 8:43-44).

     The advance to spiritual maturity is a process that takes time as Christians learn and live God’s Word on a regular basis. There is always opposition, for we live in the devil’s world and are confronted with many obstacles and distractions that seek to push or pull us away from God. Though constant distractions are all around us, we move forward by “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). Bringing our thoughts into captivity means focusing our minds on God and His Word (Isa 26:3; Pro 3:5-6; Col 3:1-2), and not allowing our thoughts to be bogged down and trapped with the cares of this world (Matt 6:25-34). This requires spiritual discipline to learn and live God’s Word on a regular basis. Biblically, several things are necessary for us to reach spiritual maturity, and these are as follows:

  1. Be in submission to God. Scripture tells us to “Submit to God” (Jam 4:7), and “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1). Submission is a will surrendered to the will of another. Being in submission to God is a sign of positive volition that we’ve prioritized our relationship with Him above all else, and that we trust Him to guide and provide in all things. Like a good friend, He is naturally in our thoughts, and we live every day conscious of Him, being sensitive to what may offend, and making every effort to please Him through a life of faith. When we yield to God, His Word opens up to us, as Jesus said, “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself” (John 7:17; cf. Luke 24:45; Acts 16:14; 1 John 5:20).
  2. Continually study God’s Word. Ezra, the priest, was one who “had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezr 7:10). The growing believer is one whose “delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2). As Christians, we understand that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). We cannot live what we do not know, and learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will. From regeneration onward, we study God’s Word in order to grow spiritually, that we might reach Christian maturity. God has helped the church by giving Pastors and Teachers (Eph 4:11), “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature person, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:12-13). Christians have the individual responsibility of studying God’s Word in order to live the best life and grow to maturity (Deut 8:3; Jer 15:16; 2 Tim 2:15; Heb 5:12-14; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18).
  3. Live by faith. Living by faith means we trust God at His Word. The writer to the Hebrews states, “But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38; cf. Heb 3:7—4:2), for “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6). It is possible to learn God’s Word and not believe it. For example, the Exodus generation heard God’s Word and understood it; however, “the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard” (Heb 4:2). Our faith is effective when God’s Word is more real than our experiences, feelings, or circumstances.
  4. Restore broken fellowship with God through confession of personal sin. All believers sin, and there are none who attain perfection in this life (Pro 20:9; Eccl 7:20; 1 John 1:8-10). For this reason, familial forgiveness is necessary for a healthy relationship with God. David understood the folly of trying to conceal his sins, which resulted in psychological disequilibrium and pain; however, when he confessed his sin, God forgave him (Psa 32:2-5). John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). God forgives because it is His nature to do so, for He “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Psa 86:15; cf. Psa 103:8-14). And He is able to forgive because Christ has atoned for our sins at the cross, satisfying the Father’s righteous demands regarding our offenses (1 John 2:1-2). The challenge for many believers is to trust God at His word and accept His forgiveness and not operate on guilty feelings.
  5. Be filled with the Spirit. Paul wrote to Christians, “don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit” (Eph 5:18 CSB). If a believer consumes too much alcohol, it can lead to cognitive impairment and harmful behavior. But the believer who is filled with the Spirit will possess divine viewpoint and manifest the fruit of godliness, worship, and thankfulness to the Lord (Eph 5:19-20). Being filled with the Spirit means being guided by Him rather than our own desires or the desires of others. The Spirit’s guidance is always according to Scripture. Being filled with the Spirit does not mean we have more of Him, but that He has more of us, as we submit to His leading.
  6. Walk in the Spirit. Paul wrote, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). In this passage walking is a metaphor for daily living, which can be influenced by God (Deut 5:33; 10:12), other righteous persons (Pro 13:20), sinners (Psa 1:1; Pro 1:10-16; 1 Cor 15:33), or one’s own sin nature (Gal 5:17-21). To walk in the Spirit means we depend on His counsel to guide and power to sustain as we seek to do His will. The Spirit most often guides us directly by Scripture (John 14:26), but also uses mature believers whose thinking is saturated with God’s Word and who can provide sound advice.
  7. Accept God’s trials (Deut 8:2-3). Paul wrote, “we exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope” (Rom 5:3-4). James said, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” (Jam 1:2-4 CSB). The Lord uses the fire of trials to burn away the dross of our weak character and to refine those golden qualities consistent with His character. The growing believer learns to praise God for the trials, knowing He uses them to strengthen our faith and develop us into spiritually mature Christians.
  8. Pray to God. Prayer is essential to spiritual growth as we need to have upward communication with God to express ourselves to Him. Prayer is the means by which we make requests to God, believing He has certain answers ready for us, and that we just need to ask (Jam 4:2). Scripture directs us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:17), and “pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph 6:18; cf. Jude 1:20). To pray in the Spirit means we pray in the power of the Holy Spirit as He directs and energizes our prayer life.
  9. Worship and give thanks to the Lord. The writer to the Hebrews stated, “let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Heb 13:15). And Paul wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica, saying, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:18). To give thanks (εὐχαριστέω eucharisteo) is to have a daily attitude of gratitude toward God for His goodness and mercy toward us. Part of this attitude comes from knowing God is working all things “together for good” (Rom 8:28), because “God is for us” (Rom 8:31).
  10. Fellowship with other believers. The writer of Hebrews states, “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25). Spiritual growth ideally happens in community, for God expects us to exercise our spiritual gifts for the benefit of others (see Rom 12:10-13; 14:19; Eph 4:32; Phil 2:3-4; 1 Th 5:11-15).
  11. Serve others in love. We are part of the body of Christ and God calls us to love and serve each other. Paul wrote, “you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13), and “while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10). Peter states, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet 4:10). As Christians, we are told, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phi 2:3-4).
  12. Take advantage of the time God gives. Time is a resource we should manage properly. Paul writes, “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15-16). Solomon wrote, “Whatever you find to do with your hands, do it with all your might, because there is neither work nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave, the place where you will eventually go” (Ecc 9:10 NET). God has determined the length of our days, as David wrote, “in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for my life when as yet there was not one of them” (Psa 139:16). Every moment is precious and we must make sure our days are not wasted on meaningless pursuits, but on learning God’s Word and living His will, and walking in love with those whom the Lord places in our path.

     As Christians, we will face ongoing worldly distractions in our lives which are designed by Satan to prevent spiritual growth. We have choices to make on a daily basis, for only we can choose to allow these distractions to stand between us and the Lord. As Christians, we experience our greatest blessings when we reach spiritual maturity and utilize the rich resources God has provided for us. However, learning takes time, as ignorance gives way to the light of God’s revelation. Frustration is often the handmaiden of ignorance, but spiritual success comes with knowledge of God and His Word.

 

[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 version.

How to Advance Spiritually - Part 1

How to Advance Spiritually - Part 1

February 6, 2021

     God desires that we advance to spiritual maturity which glorifies Him and blesses us and others. This advance assumes one has believed in Christ as Savior and has spiritual life (John 3:16; 20:31; Acts 4:12; Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5; 1 Pet 1:3, 23).[1] To be clear, salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Only Christ’s atoning work at the cross is sufficient to save, and no works performed before, during, or after salvation are necessary. Though good works should follow our salvation, they are never the condition of it. The information taught in this lesson applies only to the Christian, for “The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14 NET; cf. John 8:43-44).

     The advance to spiritual maturity is a process that takes time as Christians learn and live God’s Word on a regular basis. There is always opposition, for we live in the devil’s world and are confronted with many obstacles and distractions that seek to push or pull us away from God. Though constant distractions are all around us, we move forward by “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). Bringing our thoughts into captivity means focusing our minds on God and His Word (Isa 26:3; Pro 3:5-6; Col 3:1-2), and not allowing our thoughts to be bogged down and trapped with the cares of this world (Matt 6:25-34). This requires spiritual discipline to learn and live God’s Word on a regular basis. Biblically, several things are necessary for us to reach spiritual maturity, and these are as follows:

  1. Be in submission to God. Scripture tells us to “Submit to God” (Jam 4:7), and “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1). Submission is a will surrendered to the will of another. Being in submission to God is a sign of positive volition that we’ve prioritized our relationship with Him above all else, and that we trust Him to guide and provide in all things. Like a good friend, He is naturally in our thoughts, and we live every day conscious of Him, being sensitive to what may offend, and making every effort to please Him through a life of faith. When we yield to God, His Word opens up to us, as Jesus said, “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself” (John 7:17; cf. Luke 24:45; Acts 16:14; 1 John 5:20).
  2. Continually study God’s Word. Ezra, the priest, was one who “had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezr 7:10). The growing believer is one whose “delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2). As Christians, we understand that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). We cannot live what we do not know, and learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will. From regeneration onward, we study God’s Word in order to grow spiritually, that we might reach Christian maturity. God has helped the church by giving Pastors and Teachers (Eph 4:11), “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature person, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:12-13). Christians have the individual responsibility of studying God’s Word in order to live the best life and grow to maturity (Deut 8:3; Jer 15:16; 2 Tim 2:15; Heb 5:12-14; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18).
  3. Live by faith. Living by faith means we trust God at His Word. The writer to the Hebrews states, “But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38; cf. Heb 3:7—4:2), for “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6). It is possible to learn God’s Word and not believe it. For example, the Exodus generation heard God’s Word and understood it; however, “the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard” (Heb 4:2). Our faith is effective when God’s Word is more real than our experiences, feelings, or circumstances.
  4. Restore broken fellowship with God through confession of personal sin. All believers sin, and there are none who attain perfection in this life (Pro 20:9; Eccl 7:20; 1 John 1:8-10). For this reason, familial forgiveness is necessary for a healthy relationship with God. David understood the folly of trying to conceal his sins, which resulted in psychological disequilibrium and pain; however, when he confessed his sin, God forgave him (Psa 32:2-5). John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). God forgives because it is His nature to do so, for He “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Psa 86:15; cf. Psa 103:8-14). And He is able to forgive because Christ has atoned for our sins at the cross, satisfying the Father’s righteous demands regarding our offenses (1 John 2:1-2). The challenge for many believers is to trust God at His word and accept His forgiveness and not operate on guilty feelings.
  5. Be filled with the Spirit. Paul wrote to Christians, “don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit” (Eph 5:18 CSB). If a believer consumes too much alcohol, it can lead to cognitive impairment and harmful behavior. But the believer who is filled with the Spirit will possess divine viewpoint and manifest the fruit of godliness, worship, and thankfulness to the Lord (Eph 5:19-20). Being filled with the Spirit means being guided by Him rather than our own desires or the desires of others. The Spirit’s guidance is always according to Scripture. Being filled with the Spirit does not mean we have more of Him, but that He has more of us, as we submit to His leading.
  6. Walk in the Spirit. Paul wrote, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). In this passage walking is a metaphor for daily living, which can be influenced by God (Deut 5:33; 10:12), other righteous persons (Pro 13:20), sinners (Psa 1:1; Pro 1:10-16; 1 Cor 15:33), or one’s own sin nature (Gal 5:17-21). To walk in the Spirit means we depend on His counsel to guide and power to sustain as we seek to do His will. The Spirit most often guides us directly by Scripture (John 14:26), but also uses mature believers whose thinking is saturated with God’s Word and who can provide sound advice.
  7. Accept God’s trials (Deut 8:2-3). Paul wrote, “we exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope” (Rom 5:3-4). James said, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” (Jam 1:2-4 CSB). The Lord uses the fire of trials to burn away the dross of our weak character and to refine those golden qualities consistent with His character. The growing believer learns to praise God for the trials, knowing He uses them to strengthen our faith and develop us into spiritually mature Christians.
  8. Pray to God. Prayer is essential to spiritual growth as we need to have upward communication with God to express ourselves to Him. Prayer is the means by which we make requests to God, believing He has certain answers ready for us, and that we just need to ask (Jam 4:2). Scripture directs us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:17), and “pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph 6:18; cf. Jude 1:20). To pray in the Spirit means we pray in the power of the Holy Spirit as He directs and energizes our prayer life.
  9. Worship and give thanks to the Lord. The writer to the Hebrews stated, “let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Heb 13:15). And Paul wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica, saying, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:18). To give thanks (εὐχαριστέω eucharisteo) is to have a daily attitude of gratitude toward God for His goodness and mercy toward us. Part of this attitude comes from knowing God is working all things “together for good” (Rom 8:28), because “God is for us” (Rom 8:31).
  10. Fellowship with other believers. The writer of Hebrews states, “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25). Spiritual growth ideally happens in community, for God expects us to exercise our spiritual gifts for the benefit of others (see Rom 12:10-13; 14:19; Eph 4:32; Phil 2:3-4; 1 Th 5:11-15).
  11. Serve others in love. We are part of the body of Christ and God calls us to love and serve each other. Paul wrote, “you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13), and “while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10). Peter states, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet 4:10). As Christians, we are told, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phi 2:3-4).
  12. Take advantage of the time God gives. Time is a resource we should manage properly. Paul writes, “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15-16). Solomon wrote, “Whatever you find to do with your hands, do it with all your might, because there is neither work nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave, the place where you will eventually go” (Ecc 9:10 NET). God has determined the length of our days, as David wrote, “in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for my life when as yet there was not one of them” (Psa 139:16). Every moment is precious and we must make sure our days are not wasted on meaningless pursuits, but on learning God’s Word and living His will, and walking in love with those whom the Lord places in our path.

     As Christians, we will face ongoing worldly distractions in our lives which are designed by Satan to prevent spiritual growth. We have choices to make on a daily basis, for only we can choose to allow these distractions to stand between us and the Lord. As Christians, we experience our greatest blessings when we reach spiritual maturity and utilize the rich resources God has provided for us. However, learning takes time, as ignorance gives way to the light of God’s revelation. Frustration is often the handmaiden of ignorance, but spiritual success comes with knowledge of God and His Word.

 

[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 version.

The Call of Matthew (Matt 9:9-13)

The Call of Matthew (Matt 9:9-13)

January 24, 2021
  • "As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, 'Follow Me!' And he got up and followed Him. Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, 'Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?' But when Jesus heard this, He said, 'It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 'But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'" (Matt 9:9-13)

     The above passage is Matthew’s personal account of being called by Jesus to be His disciple. The location of the event was probably in or near the city of Capernaum. The event occurred shortly after Jesus had demonstrated His power to forgive sins and heal disease (Matt 9:1-12). Matthew opens his account by telling us, “As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’ And he got up and followed Him” (Matt 9:9). This Matthew is the author of the Gospel that bears his name. He is also called Levi by Mark and Luke (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27).

     Matthew was identified according to his occupation as a tax collector. Tax collectors sat in booths at the entry points of cities and cross sections of commerce, collecting taxes for the Roman government, and sometimes taking a little extra for themselves. Matthew would have been regarded by many as no better than a robber. Being a tax collector for the Romans would have made Matthew despised by his fellow Jews, who would have regarded him as a traitor, an enemy of the state who took Jewish money and gave it to their overlords. Donald Hagner comments:

  • "Tax collectors, or tax farmers, in that culture were despised as greedy, self-serving, and parasitic. They grew rich at the expense of the poor by extorting from them more than was required by their superiors in order to fill their own pockets. They furthermore often compromised regulations for purity in their handling of pagan money and their dealings with Gentiles. That Jesus should call a tax collector to be his disciple must have been in itself scandalous. We hear no objection to that here, but when in the following narrative Jesus fraternizes with tax collectors and sinners (the “lower” end of society), we do encounter a protest."[1]

     Jesus called Matthew while he was working, telling him, “Follow Me!” The word follow translates the Greek verb ἀκολουθέω akoloutheo, which means, “to move behind someone in the same direction, come after…to follow or accompany someone who takes the lead, accompany, go along with.”[2] In this context, the word connotes following Jesus as a disciple. This began Matthew’s journey as a disciple of Jesus, and Matthew would eventually be counted among the apostles (Matt 10:1-4). In an instant, Matthew walked away from a lucrative and secure job to follow Jesus. This was a radical move for sure. Though he forfeited earthly riches, he obtained new life, a greater sense of destiny, and a personal relationship with the King of kings and Lord of lords. He also secured for himself riches in heaven, which are far greater than anything this world could offer.

     Matthew recorded a big dinner he gave for Jesus, telling us, “Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples” (Matt 9:10). Luke reveals the dinner was actually a “big reception” (Luke 5:29), revealing Matthew was financially well off. The banquet included several of Matthew’s friends who were fellow tax collectors, and a group of people identified as “sinners” (Grk. ἁμαρτωλός hamartolos). Sinners were the irreligious, “who did not observe the Law in detail and therefore were shunned by observers of traditional precepts.”[3] These were the outsiders who did not play along with the religious hypocrisy of the Pharisees, and were condemned for it. Matthew did not care. He was once classified among them, and now he’d been transformed and was ready to move on with a new life as a disciple of the One who was truly righteous. Matthew’s dinner party for Jesus was, in itself, a form of public confession concerning his new life.

     But the antagonists soon arrived and, in typical fashion, began meddling in other people’s business. Matthew records the event, saying, “When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, ‘Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?’” (Matt 9:11). In the first century Jewish culture, when people fellowshipped at a table of food, it was regarded as a picture of friendship and acceptance. The Pharisees were befuddled when they saw Jesus and His disciples eating with the dregs of society. In addition, the Pharisees had a growing abhorrence toward Jesus, so their observations were filtered through a lens of hatred. This prompted them to bring a question; not for clarification, but to impugn His character. The question they asked implied guilt by association. But Jesus’ disciples did not answer the Pharisees; rather, “when Jesus heard this, He said, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick’” (Matt 9:12). There was a common image in Jewish culture that compared teachers with physicians. These were regarded as soul-doctors who helped bring about spiritual and mental wellbeing. Of course, to need healing, one must admit sickness, and this the Pharisees were not willing to do. William MacDonald writes:

  • "The Pharisees considered themselves healthy and were unwilling to confess their need for Jesus. The tax collectors and sinners, by contrast, were more willing to acknowledge their true condition and to seek Christ’s saving grace. So the charge was true! Jesus did eat with sinners. If He had eaten with the Pharisees, the charge would still have been true—perhaps even more so! If Jesus hadn’t eaten with sinners in a world like ours, He would always have eaten alone. But it is important to remember that when He ate with sinners, He never indulged in their evil ways or compromised His testimony. He used the occasion to call men to truth and holiness."[4]

     The Pharisees were correct that Jesus was a Teacher, and He promptly gave them something to learn. Jesus said, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt 9:13). The phrase “go and learn” was a common expression used by rabbis when pointing them to a particular passage of Scripture to be considered. This was a poke at the Pharisees, for even though they regarded themselves as the experts of the Law, Jesus treated them as though they were novices. And the passage Jesus pointed them to was Hosea 6:6, which states, “I desire compassion, and not sacrifice.” Certainly, sacrifice was important to God, and there is much in the Mosaic Law that explains this, especially in the book of Leviticus. However, the activity of sacrifice, no matter how great the offering or sophisticated the occasion, meant nothing to God if the worshipper lacked the qualities of compassion, kindness, and mercy found in the One to whom the offering was brought. Hosea, and other OT prophets mentioned this repeatedly. Note the following examples:

  • "For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." (Psa 51:16-17)
  • "To do righteousness and justice is desired by the LORD more than sacrifice." (Pro 21:3)
  • "What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me? Says the LORD. I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed cattle. And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me. I am weary of bearing them. So, when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you, yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow." (Isa 1:11-17)
  • "For I delight in mercy rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." (Hos 6:6)
  • "With what shall I come to the LORD and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? 7 Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what the LORD requires of you: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." (Mic 6:6-8)

     The Pharisees, like the religious apostates in Hosea’s day, performed the outward rituals of sacrifice at the temple, but their hearts were far from God. They were careful to keep the ceremonial practices, but failed to capture the greater heart qualities the Lord expected of those who claimed to know and walk with Him. How the Pharisees treated the tax collectors and sinners demonstrated this.

     In summary, Jesus called Matthew to be His disciple, and the tax collector left everything to begin a new life with Jesus. Matthew celebrated his new life as a disciple by hosting a dinner party for Jesus and inviting other tax collectors and irreligious sinners to come and meet his new Master. The Pharisees arrived and filtered the event through their hate filled heart, and then tried to trap Jesus with a question concerning His company, which question implied His guilt. But Jesus corrected the Pharisees by pointing out He’d come to heal the sick and therefore needed to be among them. Jesus then instructed the Pharisees to learn a lesson from the book of Hosea, that God desires compassion and not sacrifice. How Jesus treated the tax collectors and sinners demonstrated His compassion, and how the Pharisees treated them demonstrated their self-righteous pride and hatred.

 

[1] Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1–13, vol. 33A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1993), 238.

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 36.

[3] Ibid., 51.

[4] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1235.

Matthew 2:1-11 - The Visit of the Magi

Matthew 2:1-11 - The Visit of the Magi

December 19, 2020

     Matthew 2:1-11 reveals the appearance of the Magi, godly Gentiles from the east, who came to worship Jesus as the newborn King of the Jews. This chapter opens with the report concerning Magi who arrived in Jerusalem from the east and were asking for directions to find “He who has been born King of the Jews” (Matt 2:1-2). Herod was not the rightful king, but had been appointed ruler over Judea by the Romans. The Magi were first mentioned in the OT book of Daniel and were called “magicians” (Dan 2:2, 4-5, 10). They were most likely astronomers, but some practiced astrology. It appears throughout history they were a mixed group, with some being believers and some unbelievers. The Magi mentioned by Matthew had traveled a long distance to meet the newborn King of Israel and to give Him gifts and worship Him. Concerning the identity of the Magi, Thomas Constable states:

  • "It is not easy to identify the Magi (from the Gr. magoi) precisely. The Greek word from which we get “magi” comes from a Persian word that means experts regarding the stars. Centuries before Christ’s time they were a priestly caste of Medes who could interpret dreams (cf. Dan 1:20; 2:2; 4:7; 5:7). Later the term broadened to include men interested in dreams, magic, astrology, and the future. Some of these were honest inquirers after the truth, but others were charlatans (cf. Acts 8:9; 13:6, 8). The Magi who came to Jerusalem came from the East. Probably they came from Babylon that had been for centuries a center for the study of the stars."[1]

     Matthew records no specific number of Magi, and it’s possible there were many, maybe a hundred or more. It is common to mention three Magi mainly because of the three gifts that were given to Jesus at His birth (Matt 2:11). Scripture is silent about the names of the Magi or any noble offices they might have held. By the end of the 6th century AD, some in the church had assigned kingly offices to at least three of the Magi and given them the three names: Melchior, Balthasar, and Gasper.[2] When Herod heard the news about the birth of the King of the Jews, he and all Jerusalem were troubled (Matt 2:3).

  • "These tidings, when reported to King Herod, troubled him, for he knew all too well the Jewish aspiration of throwing off the Roman yoke and his own rule over them. Herod was an Edomite, a people hated by the Jews, and there was always the possibility that Jewish hope, aroused by the arrival of a supposed Messiah, could inflame them to rise up against him. The tidings of the Magi are reported by Matthew as troubling Herod and all Jerusalem with him."[3]

     Herod called the chief priests and scribes to ask where Messiah would be born (Matt 2:4), and learned it was Bethlehem (Matt 2:5), according to the prophecy given in Micah (Matt 2:6; Mic 5:2). Having the location of the birth of Messiah, Herod tried to ascertain the age of the child, so he secretly called the Magi to determine when they saw the star (Matt 2:7). Herod sent the Magi out to find the child, asking them to return afterwards, with the false report that he too wanted to worship the newborn king (Matt 2:8). The Magi, not knowing Herod’s evil intent, innocently went on their way, being guided supernaturally by the star which they’d seen in the east, which “went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was” (Matt 2:9). The Magi rejoiced when they saw star at its final destination (Matt 2:10). Entering the house, the Magi fell to the ground and worshipped Jesus (Matt 2:11a), “Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matt 2:11b). These were treasures worthy of a king. It is noteworthy that by the time the Magi arrived to visit Jesus, Mary and Joseph were living in a “house” (Grk οἰκία oikiahouse, permanent dwelling) and Jesus was called a “Child” (Grk παιδίον paidionyoung child), and was no longer a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes (Matt 2:11). According to the Gospel of Luke, it was perhaps a year earlier that the Jewish shepherds came and expressed joy at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:8-20). The Magi recognized Jesus with gifts that honored Him as King and gave the worship that is due Him.

  • "These were gifts worthy of a king and this act by Gentile leaders pictures the wealth of the nations which will someday be completely given to the Messiah (Isa 60:5, 11; 61:6; 66:20). Some believe the gifts had further significance by reflecting on the character of this Child’s life. Gold might represent His deity or purity, incense the fragrance of His life, and myrrh His sacrifice and death (myrrh was used for embalming). These gifts were obviously the means by which Joseph took his family to Egypt and sustained them there until Herod died."[4]

     Like the Magi, we can offer Jesus the worship that is due to Him. After all, He is “the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim 6:15; Rev 19:16). As Christians, it helps to see the birth of Jesus within the larger theological context of Scripture, which reveals His righteous life, compassion for the lost, substitutionary death on the cross, burial, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. Christmas is significant for at least three reasons:

  1. Christmas represents the gift of God to a fallen world. Nearly 2,000 years ago, God the Son added true humanity to Himself (hypostatic union; John 1:1, 14), was supernaturally conceived in the virgin Mary (parthenogenesis; see Luke 1:26-38), the mother of His humanity (christotokos – bearer of Christ), and was born a Son of Abraham, in the line David (Matt. 1:1). As the God-Man, Jesus lived a sinless and righteous life before God and man (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5).
  2. Christmas represents love and sacrifice. On April 3, AD 33, Jesus willingly laid down His life and died a substitutionary atoning death on a cross (Mark 10:45; John 3:16; 10:11, 17-18). He died a death He did not deserve, “the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). Jesus’ death forever satisfied every righteous demand God had toward our sin (Rom 3:24-25; Heb 10:10-14; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), and is the basis for forgiveness and reconciliation to God (Rom 5:1-2; 2 Cor 5:21; Eph 1:7; Col 1:13-14; 20-22). God freely offers the gift of eternal life and the imputation of His righteousness (John 3:16; 10:28; Rom 5:17; Eph 2:8-9; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9; 1 Pet 3:18), to those who believe the gospel, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4).
  3. Christmas represents a future hope. After His crucifixion, Jesus was buried and resurrected bodily on the third day (Matt 20:18-19; Acts 10:39-41; 1 Cor 15:3-8), never to die again (Rom 6:9), ascending to heaven (Acts 1:9-10), with a promise of a physical return for His own (John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11; 1 Thess 4:13-18; Tit 2:13). Following His return, the King of kings and Lord of lords will reign in righteousness for a thousand years (Rev 19:11-16; 20:1-6), and afterward, will create a “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13; cf. Rev 21:1).

     As we think about the reasons for celebrating Christmas, let us also consider how to live a life that models the One we worship. Like Jesus, may we be willing to accept the Father’s will for us to go where He wants and do what He asks, no matter how difficult the task or great the price. And, may our hearts be motivated by love for others as we give sacrificially for their edification. Lastly, may we learn to keep our eyes on heaven and the future hope that is ours in Christ and not the cares of this world.

 

[1] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Mt 2:1.

[2] D. A. Carson, “Matthew” In , in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 85.

[3] John F. Walvoord, Thy Kingdom Come (Grand Rapids, Mich., Kregel Publications, 1974), 21-22.

[4]Louis A Barbieri, Jr., “Mathew”, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 22.

Luke 2:1-20 - The Birth of the Savior

Luke 2:1-20 - The Birth of the Savior

December 19, 2020

Manger images used in presentation

     Throughout the New Testament, at least five chapters mention the birth of Jesus,[1] whereas no less than sixty-six mention His death.[2] This shows the writers of New Testament Scripture, under the guidance of God the holy Spirit, placed an emphasis on Jesus’ crucifixion and death, which was an atoning sacrifice for our sins, for He “died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). However, the importance of Jesus’ birth cannot be understated, for it was His incarnation as the God-Man that made His perfect life and atoning sacrifice a possibility. Luke tells us about the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, and Matthew informs us about an attack on Jesus while He was a child.

  • "Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child." (Luke 2:1-5)

     Luke treats the birth of Jesus as occurring in time and space. That is, Jesus was born into a real world, with real people, living in real places, and engaging in real activities. The Bible treats the events and birth of Jesus as historical fact, not myth. God used the decree by Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1-3) to bring the young couple to the city of Bethlehem in order to fulfill the prophecy given by Micah the prophet (Mic 5:2). This reveals that God was controlling the events of Jesus’ birth, and that none of this was happening by chance. Remember, prophecy is not God looking down the corridor of history and telling us what will come to pass; but rather, what He causes to happen because He is controlling the events of history to direct it to the place He desires. 

  • "Augustus Caesar was ruling, but God was in charge, for He used Caesar’s edict to move Mary and Joseph eighty miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to fulfill His Word…God had promised that the Savior would be a human, not an angel (Gen 3:15; Heb 2:16), and a Jew, not a Gentile (Gen 12:1–3; Num 24:17). He would be from the tribe of Judah (Gen 49:10), and the family of David (2 Sam 7:1–17), born of a virgin (Isa 7:14) in Bethlehem, the city of David (Mic 5:2)."[3]

     The question is raised as to why Mary was traveling with Joseph at a time when she was advanced in her pregnancy? Perhaps because she knew the baby would be born soon, and did not want to be away from her husband, or because she knew they were traveling to Bethlehem and she knew about the prophecy given in Micah that foretold the birthplace of the Messiah, or simply because she wanted to get away from the wagging tongues of those who knew she was pregnant while still claiming to be a virgin. Whatever her motivation, ultimately it was the hand of God that brought her Bethlehem, which in the Hebrew means “the house of bread” a fitting place for the One who referred to himself as the “Bread of Life” (John 6:35).

  • "While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." (Luke 2:6-7)

     Mary gave birth to her “firstborn son,” implying there were others (Matt 12:46). The place of Jesus’ birth could not have been more lowly and humble; yet, it was like the holy of holies because Messiah was there. The Son of God, born of a virgin, lay that night in a manger. As a baby He was helpless, relying on His mother to feed and clothe Him, and yet as God He was holding the universe together by His power. Here was the God-Man, Jesus the Christ. Luke informs us Mary wrapped the baby in strips of cloth to keep Him warm and placed him in a manger. “Many scholars believe that our Lord was born in a cave where animals were sheltered and not in a wooden shed such as you see in modern manger scenes.”[4] The image of a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and placed in a feeding trough might well have symbolized the death and burial of Jesus. 

  • "In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2:8-14)

     The shepherds were low on the social order of Jewish life and would have been rejected by those who were higher in society. Yet, it was these lowly shepherds that God called to witness the coming of the Savior into a world of darkness. It is no small thing to note that God did not call kings, nobles, priests, or mighty men, but rather the shepherds in the fields surrounding Bethlehem, who spent their days caring for the animals used in the sacrificial worship of Israel, which lambs symbolized Messiah Himself. The shepherds who watched over the sacrificial lambs night after night would soon gaze upon the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Today God is still calling those who are insignificant by worldly standards (1 Cor 1:26-29).

  • "The shepherds were afraid at the first sight of the angels (Luke 2:8-9); however, their fear abated when the angel said, “"Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). The shepherds were given the sign that they would “find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). With this news, there suddenly appeared “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.’” (Luke 2:13-14).

     When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. (Luke 2:15-20)

     Today people rush around seeking gifts to give each other, whereas the shepherds rushed to find the gift of God lying in a lowly manger. The shepherds accepted the message and by faith went to visit the baby Jesus. The shepherds had perhaps checked several animal stables before they found the one which housed the Messiah. Their motivation was to “see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known” (Luke 2:15). Without revelation from God, man can know nothing about God or His workings in history.

     Upon finding Jesus in the place where the angels had said He would be, the shepherds shared their experiences with Joseph and Mary, and then went back to their place of work praising God “for all that they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20). The Holy Spirit tells us that Mary “treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). I suspect she went her entire life thinking about the night she gave birth to the Savior, recalling the sounds and smells of the nearby animals, and hearing the report by the shepherds. 

     It is a wonderful thing that God sent His only Son into a world of darkness, born miraculously of a virgin, in the line of David, according to the promise of Abraham, in the prophesied place of Bethlehem, at the time of history when God chose. The birth of Messiah meant God was executing His plan to bring the perfect sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world so that sinners could have salvation and hope for a future. Praise be to God for His wonderful promises and provisions!

 

[1] Two in the Gospels (Matt 1:25; Luke 2:7), twice in the epistles (Rom 1:3; Gal 4:4), and once in Revelation (Rev 12:5).

[2] Twenty-four times in the Gospels (Matt 16:21; 17:9; 20:18-18; 24:6-7; 26:2; 27:1-2; 28:4-5; Mark 8:31; 9:9; 10:32-34; 14:27-28; 15:39; 16:6; Luke 18:31-33; 23:33; 24:20; John 2:22; 10:17-18; 12:32-33; 18:14; 19:18, 23, 33; 20:9; 21:14), nine times in Acts (Acts 2:23; 3:15; 4:2; 5:30; 10:41; 13:29-30; 17:2-3; 25:18-19; 26:23), thirty times in the epistles (Rom 1:4; 4:25; 5:6-10; 7:4; 8:11; 10:9; 14:9; 1 Cor 1:23; 2:2; 8:11; 11:26; 15:1-4; 2 Cor 4:10; 5:14-15; 13:4; Gal 1:1; 2:20-21; 3:1; 6:14; Eph 1:20; Phil 2:8; Col 2:12; 1 Th 1:10; 4:14; 5:10; 2 Tim 2:8; Heb 2:9; 13:20; 1 Pet 1:21; 3:18; 1 John 3:16), and three times in Revelation (Rev 1:18; 2:8; 11:8).

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 175.

[4] Ibid., 175.

Proverbs 31 - A Woman of Excellence

Proverbs 31 - A Woman of Excellence

October 25, 2020

     Proverbs 31 describes the woman of excellence. The phrase an excellent wife (Pro 31:10; Heb.   אֵשֶׁת־חַיִלesheth chayil) was first used of Ruth, who was described as a woman of excellence (Ruth 3:11, NASB) or a woman of noble character (CSB). Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David, who married Bathsheba, who is perhaps the one who shared her wisdom with her son, King Solomon (Pro 31:1). If this is correct, then it’s possible Bathsheba saw in Ruth a template for the woman of noble character. A study of the book of Ruth reveals she was committed to God and His people (Ruth 1:16-17; 2:11), possessed a strong work ethic (Ruth 2:7, 17), listened to good advice (Ruth 2:8-9; 3:1-6), showed respect to others (Ruth 2:10), cared for the needy (Ruth 2:17-18), sought to marry a noble man (Ruth 3:7-10; 4:13), and was praised for her excellence and love for others (Ruth 3:11; 4:15).

     According to Proverbs 31:10-31, the excellent wife is precious to her husband (Pro 31:10), and he trusts her (Pro 31:11). It is said, “She does him good and not evil all the days of her life” (Pro 31:12). She delights to work with her hands, knowing she’s providing for the good of her family (Pro 31:13, 15, 17-19, 27). She’s a smart shopper (Pro 31:14), and savvy business woman (Pro 31:16, 24), who is recognized for her work (Pro 31:31). She uses her time well (Pro 31:15, 27), is energetic and strong (Pro 31:17), cares for the poor and needy (Pro 31:20), provides for those in her household (Pro 31:21, 27), and does not neglect her own needs or appearance (Pro 31:22). As she is respected in the home, her husband is respected in the community (Pro 31:23), and both he and her children give praise for her dignity (Pro 31:28). She has an optimistic outlook on life, as “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future” (Pro 31:25). She is also noted for her wisdom, and “the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (Pro 31:26). She is the ideal wife, for though many women have done nobly, she excels them all (Pro 31:29). What makes this woman so excellent? What drives her to possess all the virtues of a godly woman, for which her husband praises her? Solomon tells us. It’s not her personal charm, which is deceitful; nor her physical beauty, which is fleeting (Pro 31:30a). Rather, it’s because she is “a woman who fears the LORD” (Pro 31:30b). This one “shall be praised” by all who know and appreciate her godliness. What is prioritized is the inner qualities of godliness and virtue that make for an enjoyable, stable, and lasting marriage. Other qualities and features of godly women are as follows:

  • "I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness. A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet." (1 Tim 2:9-12)
  • "Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored." (Tit 2:4-6)
  • "In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear." (1 Pet 3:1-6)
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