Monday, December 31, 2012

A Look Back At 2012, What To Expect In 2013 - Priceless Eternity Update

With 2013 right around the corner, this seemed to be the best time to look back at 2012. Earlier this year, I wrapped up my lengthy series of posts on Genesis with this post: The Darkest Ages Of Human History - Summary of Genesis 4-11. This post marked a major milestone for this blog (after all, I wrote the first post in the series all the way back in 2010: Cain and Abel: Two Routes).

After the Genesis series, I returned to the book of Matthew with the post: Jesus' Flight To Egypt: The Command From The Angel - Matthew 2:13-15. Throughout the year, I posted quotes and ended up getting midway through Matthew 4.

In 2013 you can expect to see more of the same: quotes and Scripture posts (including new posts on Matthew). You can also expect to see some posts popping up about memorization and Greek, along with (perhaps) some other surprises.

Also, if you have never read Jonathan Edwards' resolutions, I encourage you to take a look at this post I made at this time last year: Jonathan Edwards' Resolutions.

As always, if there is a topic that you would look to see a post about, feel free to leave a comment with your suggestion or send an email.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

You Shall Worship The Lord Your God Only, The Third Temptation - Matthew 4:8-11 Bible Commentary

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Then Jesus said to him, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
"'You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.'"
Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Matthew 4:8-11)
Jesus stands on a high mountain. There, in every direction, he can see all the works of man: the buildings, the palaces, the monuments—everything. All the kingdoms of the world and all their glory lie before Him.

No doubt, it was a passing and fading glory that lay before our Saviour. Yet still, it was an enticing glory— a glory that has enticed people of every age. For how many people, both kings and peasants, have made the glory of this world their pursuit? Its joys and its splendors— its riches and its crowns. Such things are a temptation to fallen people, for what person is there who has not at some time wished to say as Nebuchadnezzar did, "Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?" (Daniel 4:30).

The devil, speaking to Jesus, sets the enticements of this world before Him, saying, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” The First Adam fell to Satan’s lies. Satan left that scene victorious, but he wins no such victory on this occasion. The Second Adam cannot be enticed. Our Saviour, as on the previous two occasions, pulls out His sword of truth. His weapon is Scripture, quoting it, He proclaims, "You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve."

The surest way to defend yourself from any temptation is with the sword of the Scriptures. Don’t settle for a dull weapon. Though you may be successful using some other method to combat temptation for a time, nothing compares to the potency and power of the sword of truth. Should we not imitate our Saviour in how he faced temptation?

Sometimes the Scriptures will not make the devil or temptation immediately depart. Notice that our Saviour used His sword three times before the tempter departed. Do not be discouraged, then, when temptation continues to attack. Continue wielding the sword of truth, and though the fight may be long—though it may last your entire life—you will emerge a victor.

Matthew says that after the third temptation the devil left. Luke adds farther that the "devil departed from him until an opportune time" (Luke 4:13). If the Saviour could not entirely escape temptation in this life when clothed with flesh, should we expect to? Yet notice that God knows just what to provide His servants when they need it. After Jesus' great trial, angels come to minister to Him. And with that, the real truth of Psalm 91— the very same text Satan had twisted earlier— was demonstrated. Just as the text says, "For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways" (Psalm 91:11).

Coming down from the mountain, Jesus surely must have known that one day He would come down from a place much higher. On that day, He would reach out and claim everything to be rightfully His. Everything on that day would be made new, and the corrupted glory of the kingdoms of this world would pass away. But the time for that had not yet come. For He had come to do the will of His Father. The time of judgment had not yet come. Our Saviour had not come to judge, but to save.

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Quote of the Day #220 - Charles Spurgeon

A quote from Charles Spurgeon:
You shall never be a fool if you follow Christ, except in the estimation of fools—and who wishes to be wise in a fool’s esteem?
~Charles Spurgeon (The Fourfold Treasure 991)

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Quote of the Day #219 - F. W. Krummacher

A quote from F. W. Krummacher:
When enraged at the loud rejoicings of His disciples and the people, the Pharisees called upon the Lord Jesus to reprove them, He uttered the following significant and ever memorable words: "I tell you that if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out." The Lord, in these words, could not have more clearly evinced His inmost conviction of the invaluable blessing the world enjoyed in Him, and the object of His mission. For what else do they imply than that "I am such a Saviour and bring you such aid, and offer you such felicity, that if it produced no exultation and rejoicing among mankind, the Almighty would animate the lifeless creation to celebrate His love and compassion!” The Lord, in these words, gives us also the assurance, that earth shall never be silent concerning Him and His salvation; for should Israel and Christendom be silent, He would animate the sons of the desert, the dead heathen world, to sing hosannas to Him.
~F. W. Krummacher (The Suffering Saviour, Chapter 3)

This quote was taken from Samuel Jackson's translation of F. W. Krummacher's book The Suffering Saviour: Meditations On The Last Days Of Christ.

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Saturday, December 08, 2012

Quote of the Day #218 - William Gurnall

A quote from William Gurnall:
The most flaming affections can quickly cool in the heart of man. His love is like fire in the hearth - it blazes, flickers, and then goes out. But God's love is like fire in the sun. It never fails. In the creature, love is like the waters of a river, rising and falling again; in God, like the waters of the sea, which is always full and knows no ebb or flow. Nothing can destroy or change His love where He has sent it; and neither can it be corrupted or conquered.
~William Gurnall (The Christian in Complete Armour Volume 2, Chapter 1, Part 2).

This quote was taken from the book The Christian in Complete Armour Volume 2 - A modernized abridgement of the Puritan Classic by William Gurnall, published by Banner Of Truth.

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Saturday, December 01, 2012

Quote of the Day #217 - Thomas Watson

A quote from Thomas Watson:
Take every word as spoken to yourselves. When the word thunders against sin, think thus: "God means my sins;" when it presseth any duty, "God intends me in this." Many put off Scripture from themselves, as if it only concerned those who lived in the time when it was written; but if you intend to profit by the word, bring it home to yourselves; a medicine will do no good, unless it be applied."
~Thomas Watson ("How We May Read the Scriptures with Most Spiritual Profit")

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

You Shall Not Put the Lord To The Test - Matthew 4:5-7 Bible Commentary

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
"'He will command his angels concerning you,' and
"'On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.'"
Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'" (Matthew 4:5-7)
Our hunger-stricken, yet steadfast Saviour is taken to Jerusalem, the holy city. There the devil sets Him on the pinnacle of the temple.

Thirty years before, Herod the Great tried to kill Jesus (Matthew 2:16). Now Jesus stands high upon the very same temple that Herod, years before, ordered to be built. Herod, now dead, can no longer kill the King of Kings, but the devil is alive and active.

"If you are the Son of God," says the devil, "throw yourself down!" It's as if the devil were saying, "Show me that you truly are divine! Although you are opposed to turning stones into bread, what wrong is there in this request? Just think of all the supposed power that you have! You can command angels to come whenever you wish! You even have a promise in Scripture. For it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you,' and, 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.' So do it! Throw yourself down! Are you not the Son of God?"

Our all-knowing, incarnate Saviour, responds- and his answer is not a leap of "faith" off the temple.

Even in this moment of trial, Jesus does not forget the Scriptures. He knows the devil has ripped Psalm 91 out of context. The intent of Psalm 91 is that the person "who dwells in the shelter of the Most High" receives protection from the Lord (Psalm 91:1). He will be delivered "from the deadly pestilence," not fearing "the terror of the night" (Psalm 91:3,5). Because such a person has made the Lord his dwelling place, it is said of him:
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone. (Psalm 91:10-12)
Our Saviour, recognizing that the devil had twisted the truth into a lie, responds with a quote from Scripture, saying, "Again it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test'". Christ takes this quote comes from the words of Moses, who said to the people of Israel, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah" (Deuteronomy 6:16).

Recall that at Massah, the Israelites quarreled with Moses about water (Exodus 17:2). If the people of Israel at Massah asked for water in such a way that they tested the Lord, how much more would our Saviour have tested His Father if He had thrown Himself off the temple? It would violate what He had come to do. He had not come to perform self-exalting miracles; rather, he had come to heal the sick, to give sight to the blind. He came as a humble servant. He came for the cross.

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Quote of the Day #216 - Charles Spurgeon

A quote from Charles Spurgeon:
To know Christ is the best of all philosophy, the highest of all sciences. Angels desire to look into this—but I do not know that they care a fig for half the sciences so valued among men. If you know Christ you never need be afraid of being ashamed and confounded whatever company you may be in. If you stood in a senate of emperors, or amidst a parliament of philosophers and only told them of the God that came in human flesh, and loved, and lived, and died to redeem mankind—you would have told them a greater mystery and a more profound secret than reason could discover. Be not ashamed, then, amid the intellectual pride of this boastful age.
~Charles Spurgeon (The Fourfold Treasure 991)

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Friday, November 09, 2012

Man Shall Not Live By Bread Alone - Matthew 4:2-4 Bible Commentary

And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
(Matthew 4:2-4)
For forty days now, Jesus had fasted from food, just as Moses and Elijah had once done. People often fast when they face something extraordinary. Moses had no desire for food when He came face to face with God (Exodus 34:28), nor did Elijah when he was in the midst of an extraordinary event (1 Kings 19:8). The same can be said of Jesus' forty days in the wilderness.

During those days, Jesus faced one of the greatest trials of his life, lesser only than His trial in Gethsemane. In either of these great trials, can you imagine Jesus casually taking a break to have a snack? The thought, of course, is absurd. Can you really imagine Jesus, at one moment, sweating blood and crying out, "Let this cup pass from me!" and then, in the next moment, taking a break to eat a fish sandwich?

There are times when food does not come to mind, when the thought of it is disgusting. Such was the case for Jesus' forty days in the wilderness. We can imagine Jesus, now, on the last of these forty days frail and weak— his humanness on full display. Satan appears to the hungry Christ, saying, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread".

Four thousand years ago, the first Adam fell. He gave into temptation and ate what was forbidden. Now, four thousand years later, Satan tries to push the Second Adam into the same trap. "Go ahead," says Satan, "Eat. Be satisfied. Why hunger any longer? Think of the power you have! The authority you have! If you really are the Son of God, then bring an end to your misery."

This brings up a challenging question. Why was it wrong for Jesus to turn stones into bread? The other two temptations make sense. There is something intrinsically evil about them. But what is so bad about eating?

Was it inherently wrong for Jesus to eat? The answer, I think, must be no. But if this is the case, why was it wrong for Jesus to eat as the devil wanted Him to eat? Was there something inherently wrong about turning bread to stones? The answer to this question, I think, is— in this situation at least— yes.

The clue to why this was the case can be found in the passage from which Jesus quotes. The phrase, "man shall not live by bread alone," is taken from a speech delivered by Moses to the people of Israel. Here is the full context of the quote:
And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. (Deuteronomy 8:3-6)
If Jesus had turned the stones into bread, then He would have stopped depending on His Father to provide for Him. It was not yet time for miracles. It was not the time to put His divinity on display. Now was the time for Jesus' humanness. Now was the time of His trial— the time to be tempted just as we are, yet without sin.

Notice that in Moses' speech from Deuteronomy, he mentions that Israel was in the wilderness forty years. So too Christ was in the wilderness for forty days. It's almost as if Matthew wants us to see Christ in this passage from Exodus. Just as Matthew has already explained that Jesus fulfilled prophecies by experiencing both exodus and exile (Matthew 2:15, 16-18), here too we see Christ experiencing Israel's time in the wilderness. Here in this great hour of trial, Jesus is completely dependent on His Father. Unlike Israel, He doesn't complain. He doesn't whine and long for the good food of Egypt. Instead, Christ is obedient to His Father, waiting patiently for the manna to fall from Heaven.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Quote of the Day #215 - F. W. Krummacher

A quote from F. W. Krummacher:
Above all things, therefore, let us draw nigh to Jesus as our sole and everlasting High Priest, as our Mediator, Surety, and Ransom. "Without shedding of blood there is no remission." "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin." The saints above "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." O delay no longer, therefore, to follow their example! Jesus, in His crown of thorns and bleeding wounds, must be the object of your love and the ground of your hope, or else He is nothing to you, and you are in danger of eternal perdition.
~F. W. Krummacher (The Suffering Saviour, Chapter 2)

This quote was taken from Samuel Jackson's translation of F. W. Krummacher's book The Suffering Saviour: Meditations On The Last Days Of Christ.

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Jesus, Led By The Spirit Into The Wilderness - Matthew 4:1 Bible Commentary

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:1)
When John raised Jesus out of the Jordan River, Jesus' ministry began. There was the voice from the Father in heaven, and there was the Spirit, descending like a dove. What happened next, however, isn't necessarily what would be expected. After this magnificent revelation of all three Persons of the the Godhead, Jesus was led by the Spirit, not to the shepherdless people of Israel, but into the wilderness.

There, Jesus' obedience to the Father was put to the test— a trial that was dwarfed only by the blood-filled anguish of Gethsemane. In this trial, Jesus was tempted by the head of the kingdom of darkness, Satan. Long ago, Satan had rebelled against the Lord, taking many of the angels with Him. Now, in the wilderness, the serpent had the opportunity to battle the Second Adam face to face.

This Second Adam, the Messiah, the incarnate Son of God— He is the very one who was prophesied in Genesis 3:15. He is the seed of the woman that would bruise the head of the serpent.

In this encounter between Satan and Jesus Christ, we can learn how we ought to battle temptation. Each of Jesus' three temptations show us the importance of knowing Scripture and keeping our eyes fixed on God.

As is evident from this first verse, a glorious moment is no sign that a trial isn't just around the corner. Jesus heard the Father's voice, and the Spirit descended upon Him. But then the Spirit immediately drove Him into the wilderness to be tempted. Take warning, then, from this event in our Saviour's history. Just because you are enjoying sweet communion with the Father today doesn't mean you will not face the severest of trials tomorrow.

While you are on this earth, you will be tempted to let your guard down when you experience a "glorious moment". Resist this temptation. Keep your eyes fixed on God, not on yourself. For though the Spirit Himself may lead you into a trial, it is for your benefit. It is so that you might look only to God for your strength— the one who provides for all your needs— the one who is your protector, who alone is worthy of worship, even in the midst of the hardest of tests.

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

If The Angels Say: Do Not Be Afraid... - The Gospel (Part 11 of ∞)

Our culture's modern, marketed version of an angel does not resemble the angels described in Scripture. Angels are frightening creatures. This is because they belong to a different, supernatural realm. Only a few people have had the privilege of seeing an angel, and I doubt any of them forgot the sight. Would you? If you, like Elisha's servant (2 Kings 6:17), saw an angelic battalion destroy an entire army coming to kill you, would you forget?

When angels appear in Scripture, they almost always preface their message with the words, "Do not be afraid!" As humans, we don't like to do or see things out of the ordinary. While it's true that some people are more adventurous than others, there's a point in which something becomes so unexpected that anyone would recoil in fear.

If a spaceship full of martians landed tomorrow, everyone would be freaking out. No one in their right minds would walk up to the new arrivals, shake their hands (if they had any), and give them a warm welcome. Instead, a few, carefully selected, heavily trained people would make an extremely cautious approach. Why? Because that's how people react when they face the unknown— they're terrified.

Angels, however, aren't just different— they're glorious. In this present age they are, as far as we know, the closest beings to God. The angel Gabriel, after identifying himself, told Zechariah, "I stand in the presence of God" (Luke 1:19). Angels reflect God's holiness and justice. It is the overwhelming purity of angels in combination with their differences from the natural realm that makes them so fearsome.

Consider this then: if angels are so fearsome that they must say "Do not be afraid," what is Christ like in all His glory? What is it like to see Christ unveiled, seated at the right hand of the Father?

Jesus Christ must be the most fearsome of sights. Daniel fell down at the sight of Christ (Daniel 8:18), so did the apostle John (Revelation 1:17). If it were not for Christ's own righteousness that clothes us and makes us pure, how much more terrifying would the sight of Him be! Let us always be aware of Christ's fearsome glory, always looking to Him in eager, awed anticipation. For one day, we will be with Him. One day, we will be like Him, and we will reign with Him forever and ever!


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Thursday, October 04, 2012

Quote of the Day #214 - William Gurnall

A quote from William Gurnall:
A beautiful person without true grace is like a pretty weed - It looks best if you see it from a distance.
~William Gurnall (The Christian in Complete Armour Volume 2, Chapter 1, Part 2).

This quote was taken from the book The Christian in Complete Armour Volume 2 - A modernized abridgement of the Puritan Classic by William Gurnall, published by Banner Of Truth.

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Jesus' Baptism - Matthew 3:13-17 Bible Commentary

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:13-17)
The climax of John's ministry was at hand. All of his preaching, all of his pleading for Israel's repentance— even his encounter with the Pharisees— all of it had been leading up to this moment: the coming of the Messiah.

John had labored hard in preparing the Messiah's way. Now he had the privilege of preparing the Messiah Himself for His ministry. This was, in a sense, the fulfillment of all that John had come to do. What better way was there to prepare for the Messiah than to baptize Him? Indeed, Jesus' baptism marked the beginning of His ministry and the descent of John's.

John almost "descended" his ministry too quickly: in his desire to honor Christ, he was nearly blinded to the purpose of his mission. For a moment, He was going to refuse to baptize Jesus, and it was only when he was told, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness," that John remembered the work he had been sent to do.

Imagine the splendor of this baptismal scene, nearly equaling in many ways that of the Transfiguration. There stands John, the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, who had gone forth "in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17). On the other side stands Jesus, the Lamb of God, the very One who would take away the sin of the world.

John lowers Jesus into the water, immersing Him completely. Then Jesus reemerges, marking the beginning of His ministry. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit descends upon Christ like a dove, just as Isaiah had prophesied:
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
(Isaiah 11:2)
Then came the Father's voice from Heaven, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Here, at the beginning of Christ's ministry, is the Trinity in full display. From His baptism to His resurrection, the divine nature of Christ was obvious. He was none other than God in human flesh. This Trinitarian baptismal scene shows us what heresy it is to say God is merely one Person, taking upon different forms at different times. For here at Christ's baptism we see the three distinct Persons of the Godhead: the Son clothed in flesh, the Spirit moving like a dove, and the Father speaking from heaven.

What a picture this is of the unity of the Godhead! Here is God, in three Persons, united in the task of the Messiah's mission. Notice especially the glimpse we get in this passage of the love of God. The Son is beloved by the Father! This is not some secret, hidden truth, for the Father's words were not whispered to Christ in midnight solitude— instead, they were proclaimed for all to hear, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Jesus' ministry on earth began with baptism, and it would also end with baptism. The second baptism, however, was not with water, but with wrath. On the cross, Christ drank the cup God's terrible, righteous fury, bearing the blow of the axe meant for all sinners, and was submerged in death. On the third day, He rose again from His baptismal grave, defeating the sin's power forever. Let us praise our great Saviour, who was so humbly prepared by John, in order that He might suffer and rise again for us!

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Winnowing Fork and an Unquenchable Fire (Part 2) - Matthew 3:11-12 Bible Commentary

This is part two of a two part series, to go to part one click here.

Picture John now, in the middle of his hellfire and brimstone sermon, splashing around in the Jordan River, proclaiming to the crowds that the coming Messiah, "will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire!"

In other words, John was once again recognizing that He was not the Messiah. The One who was coming was greater, and He would have a greater baptism to offer. Through Christ a baptism with the Holy Spirit would come, but Christ would also bring with Him a baptism of fire— of judgment— a baptism of flaming judgment upon all those who refuse to worship Him.

John was not in the business of preaching light, feel-good messages. He preached the truth, regardless of its terror. John further proclaimed to the crowds concerning the Christ, saying, "His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

The crowds would have instantly connected with this illustration. At the end of the season, farmers would harvest their crop. But not everything they harvested was worth keeping. To get rid of the worthless, inedible parts of the gathered wheat (the chaff) farmers would toss their crops up into the air with a winnowing fork. All the chaff, which was lighter than the wheat, would blow to the side, but the wheat would fall back down in its place.

That is the image John is after. Christ will find all the hypocrites. When He tosses up the mass of humanity, all the hypocrites will be blown toward their destruction. And what kind of destruction is it? John tells us that they will be burned with fire. That alone would be terrifying, but John tells us more. They will not be burned merely with fire, but with an unquenchable fire.

The penalty for rebellion against God is serious. It is not a momentary thing. You aren't just burned at the stake for five minutes until you suffocate and your body disintegrates. No, it's far worse. This is an unquenchable fire, a fire that cannot be put out.

Oh let us worship and praise the Christ whom John exalts in his preaching! Think for a moment of what Christ bore for you, oh believer! He bore an unquenchable fire, a fire that would be upon you forever and ever. Let such awful thoughts drive you closer to Him, to honor Him more, and to see the greatness of His love.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Winnowing Fork and an Unquenchable Fire (Part 1) - Matthew 3:11-12 Bible Commentary

I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. (Matthew 3:11-12)
Picture the scene: John the Baptist is standing knee-deep in the Jordan River. He's in the middle of a sermon. The size of the crowds is at an all time high. People from all over the country, even the Pharisees have come to hear him.

John's sermon on this occasion was especially directed towards these Pharisees, but still applicable to everyone present. See John now, perhaps stooping down, lifting up a cupped-hand full of water, and proclaiming, "I baptize you with water for repentance!"

From the beginning, John's ministry had been about repentance. It was his constant cry that the kingdom of Heaven was at hand, that all sin therefore must be abandoned.

John continued his message on this occasion, saying, "But He who is coming after me is mightier than I." The crowds, perhaps, perked up at this statement. John was talking about the Messiah, the one who would save all of Israel (the home country of most of the listeners) from oppression. John spoke further, saying that this coming King was someone "whose sandals I am not worthy to carry."

This statement might have been too much for some in the crowds. Doubtless, many of the Pharisees in the crowd must have thought that they would be the ones marching beside the Messiah. After all, they had earned it through their piety. The thought of being unworthy to even carry the Messiah's sandals was strange, perhaps offensive.

You see, the Pharisees read the Scriptures. They knew them inside and out, but many of them did not know the God who wrote them. They knew that God was holy, but that truth didn't affect their lives. Although they may have been able to define sin, they were convinced they were free from it.

Sadly, the thoughts among many people in the crowds would not have differed from the Pharisees. After all, the Pharisees were their teachers. The Pharisees were the blind guides, leading their nation into a pit (Matthew 15:14).

Thankfully, not all of Israel followed the Pharisees. There was a remnant of believers who, like John, knew their sin, who knew that they deserved nothing. Like John, they too would have confessed that holding the position of a sandal-carrier was too noble a rank.

Here's the amazing truth, though: the Messiah who came took the position of a sandal-carrier! Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve others, even going so far as to wash his disciple's feet! Let us praise our risen Saviour who, for His own pleasure, bore the blow of the axe meant for our own trunks, who saved us from the wrath we justly deserve!

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Tuesday, September 04, 2012

John The Baptist's Message For the Pharisees And Sadducees - Matthew 3:7-10 Bible Commentary

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:7-10)
News about a man named John was spreading. People all over the country were coming. The low and high, the rich and poor, all sorts of people were coming, even the Pharisees and Sadducees.

John must have perked the curiosity of the Pharisees. In John's Gospel, we learn that the Pharisees had sent priests and Levites to question John the Baptist (John 1:24). The Pharisees must not have been satisfied with John's answer, because we soon see them show up in person.

John's first words to the leading religious figures of his day were less than pleasant. John knew that the Pharisees and Sadducees had no desire to repent, so he immediately launched his assault by calling them a "brood of vipers."

Vipers are highly poisonous snakes. John was not complimenting the Pharisees. Instead, he was associating them with death, with Satan himself, who through a snake deceived Eve.

Matthew tells us that John the Baptist directed his attack, "You brood of vipers," at the Pharisees and Sadducees. In Luke, we read that John spoke these words to the crowd (Luke 3:7). Evidently, John's "discussion" with the Pharisees was not private. Instead, this was a message for everyone in the crowds, but it was specifically directed toward the Pharisees and Sadducees— the leaders who were supposed to be guiding Israel in righteousness.

John continues with the words, "Bear fruit in keeping with repentance." As if to say, "Show me the evidence of your repentance. True repentance produces fruit, but where is your fruit? Is your fruit the long prayers that you pray? The large gifts you donate to the sound of trumpets?" Clearly, there was little fruit to be found, and that was John's point.

Any good preacher knows the importance of cutting off objections before they can be made, and that's what John does next, saying, "And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham."

John knew what the response from Pharisees and Sadducees would be; he knew that they would claim that their ancestry was what gave them favor before God. But John's message was clear: the axe was laid at the root of the trees. Their ancestry did not matter because they lacked any evidence of inward transformation. They did not truly love God. Thus John warns them, "Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

How sharply this must have struck the hearts of the religious authorities and those in the crowds! This was a very different message, one that forced them to examine themselves. And was that not the point of John's ministry, of his life? Had he not been sent by God to prepare the way for the Messiah?

By the grace of God, there were some who were transformed by John's preaching. So great was the transformation of John's followers, that those who truly changed became followers of Christ upon hearing of His death and resurrection (see Acts 19:1-5).

But the Pharisees, for the most part, were not changed by John's preaching. It may have startled a few. It may have led a few to repentance, but for the most part it hardened their hearts even farther.

You see, John the Baptist prepared for the Messiah in more than one way. Yes, he preached repentance and, yes, he also transformed many hearts. But John the Baptist also hardened many hearts, including those of the religious elite, the very same people who three years later had hardened their hearts to such an extent that they handed the Son of the Living God over to be crucified. Let us take such an awful thought as a warning! You must be careful to examine your own life, making sure that you truly belong to Christ. For, if you do not, the axe is laid at the root of your tree. Make sure, then, that you are found in repentance, trusting in Christ!

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Quote of the Day #213 - Charles Spurgeon

A quote from Charles Spurgeon on "mingling" Jesus Christ with everything:
Beyond all question the name, Person, and work of Jesus are the salt and savor of every true Gospel ministry and we cannot have too much of them. Alas, that in so many ministries there is such a lack of this first dainty of the feast, this essence of all soulsatisfying doctrine. We may preach Christ without prescribing how much, only the more we extol Him the better. It would be impossible to sin by excess in preaching Christ Crucified. It was an ancient precept, "With all your offerings
you shall offer salt." Let it stand as an ordinance of the sanctuary now—"With all your sermonizing and discoursing you shall ever mingle the name of Jesus Christ, you shall ever seek to magnify the Alpha and Omega of the plan of redemption."
~Charles Spurgeon (The Fourfold Treasure 991)

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

John's Baptism Of Repentance - Matthew 3:5-6 Bible Commentary

Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:5-6)
People from all over were coming to John to be baptized. But why baptism? What was its purpose?

The general consensus of Jesus' day was that in order to convert to Judaism, a Gentile had to be circumcised (males only), offer a sacrifice, and be baptized. The inclusion of baptism makes sense because in the Levitical Law, even a converted Jew was required to wash with water to cover impurity— so how much more should a heathen Gentile do the same upon converting?

It's possible that the people John baptized were recognizing the fact that their ancestry didn't earn them salvation. Just like a Gentile convert, they needed to be baptized. They needed to be converted.

John preached that entrance into the kingdom of heaven isn't based on ancestry. So daring was John, that he preached to the Pharisees, saying, "do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham" (Matthew 3:9).

John the Baptist attracted people from "Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan". I think it's safe to assume that it wasn't John's dress or diet that attracted his followers (Matthew 3:4). Instead, it was his message and his baptism— a baptism that was not from man, but God (Matthew 21:25).

The four-hundred year silence since the last prophet had been broken. The Messiah's way was being prepared, and people from all over Israel were flocking to John. Though some came for reasons other than repentance, like the Pharisees, there were those who came to humble themselves, who came to be baptized by John in the Jordan and confess their sins.

As Christians, John's baptism should be a reminder to us of our need to always be in repentance, to always humble ourselves before the throne of God. Although we aren't part of John's preparatory work for the Messiah, let us always remember that the Messiah is coming again. Christ could come back at any moment, and, oh, let us be found walking on that day in fruitful repentance!

Sources Used:
  Edersheim, Alfred. Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Appendix XII: The Baptism of Proselytes.
  Schurer, Emil. A History of the Jewish People in the Times of Jesus Christ Volume II. Chapter 31: Judaism In The Dispersion.

If you're interested in reading more on this subject, Edersheim's writing is a great place to start. Edersheim also cites plenty of primary sources if you want to explore the subject even farther.

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Monday, August 13, 2012

John the Baptist: Camel's Hair, Locusts, and Honey - Matthew 3:4 Bible Commentary

Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. (Matthew 3:4)
John the Baptist didn't care much for fashion. He was a prophet, and his clothing matched his mission. John's clothing was similar to his predecessor Elijah, who wore "a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist" (2 Kings 1:8, also see Zechariah 13:4).

John was not a king, nor did he pretend to be one. Jesus, later in his ministry, spoke to the crowds about John, saying, "What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet" (Matthew 11:8-9).

The gospels portray John as a rough kind of man. He didn't live in a king's house, but in the wilderness. He didn't eat kingly food; instead he ate locusts and wild honey.

Locusts are not something I eat for dinner, and if you live in the West, I'm guessing you don't either. But in the East, locusts don't have the same stigma attached to them. In fact, locusts are listed as one of the allowable foods in the Levitical Law (and if you're still not so sure about eating locusts, don't worry, grasshoppers are also permitted): may eat: the locust of any kind, the bald locust of any kind, the cricket of any kind, and the grasshopper of any kind (Leviticus 11:22).

John also ate raw honey. The Old Testament makes many references to Israel being a land "flowing with milk and honey." As such, John must have had plenty of fructose and glucose to digest in between his locust feasts. Perhaps sometimes he combined locusts with honey for his main dish. You can imagine the vast (well, sort of...) number of recipes he must have had: honey roasted locusts, honey dipped dried locusts, maybe even a honey-locust flavored drink.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm sure John ate something other than locusts and honey. However, for at least the time of his ministry, he was known for having a diet primarily consisting of locusts and honey.

The words that Jesus spoke later in His ministry were true. John certainly "did not come eating or drinking" (Matthew 11:18). John's diet was simple. He was a voice, calling out in the wilderness, and what he ate and wore matched his mission.

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Thursday, August 09, 2012

Quote of the Day #212 - F. W. Krummacher

A quote from F. W. Krummacher:
It may indeed be the case that men will revile and persecute thee; but if thou faithfully endure, thy reward shall be great. The light shall always rise upon thee after the darkness; and after sorrow, joy shall again visit thy threshold. Nor shall anyone be able to snatch thee out of the Lord’s hands; but after having fought the good fight, thou shalt finally receive the crown of righteousness, shalt not see death, but pass from death unto life, and triumph eternally.
~F. W. Krummacher (The Suffering Saviour, Chapter 1)

This quote was taken from Samuel Jackson's translation of F. W. Krummacher's book The Suffering Saviour: Meditations On The Last Days Of Christ.

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Monday, August 06, 2012

John The Baptist's Preparations: A Fulfillment of Isaiah's Prophecy - Matthew 3:3 Bible Commentary

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’” (Matthew 3:3)
We make preparations for all sorts of things: for birthdays, weddings, holidays, funerals, and more. Whether it's baking a cake or sending out invitations, most big events require preparation.

The biggest event in history, the coming of the Messiah, also required preparation. John the Baptist was the man who did the preparing, just as Isaiah prophesied:
A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3-5)
Think of the impossibility of John's task. He, a mere man, had to prepare the way for the Son of God— for the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords— for the very One who sustains the universe by the power of His word!

So great was John the Baptist's task that he was filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother's womb! To put it loosely, John was born again before he was born. From the earliest stages of his life, he was led by the Spirit (Luke 1:15). That's not to say that John lived a perfect life. No, he was still fallen, still in need of the Saviour.

John preached a message of repentance. He was convinced that Israel was unclean in God's eyes, and in order to prepare for the Messiah, repentance was needed. Soon enough, repentance came. Perhaps not on the scale that John had imagined, but it came. People from all over the country heard his preaching, everyone from the common citizen to the Pharisee, even soldiers.

Eventually, John finished his preparation. He stepped aside from the spotlight, recognizing that he had to decrease and the Messiah had to increase. How else could the words from Isaiah, written shortly after the prophecy cited by Matthew, be fulfilled?
Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:10-11)

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Thursday, August 02, 2012

Quote of the Day #211 - William Gurnall

A quote from William Gurnall on truth and the fading pleasures of this world:
It is a mystery to the world why men will risk their lives for what it thinks are only opinions. When our Saviour told Pilate that He had come into the world to 'bear witness to the truth,' Pilate asked, 'What is truth?' (John 18:38). It is as if he had said,' Is this any time to be thinking about truth when your life is in such danger? What is truth anyway, that you should venture so much for it?' The saint full of God's grace might better ask in holy scorn, 'What are the riches and honors and the fading pleasures of this cheating world? What is life itself, that any or all of these should oppose truth?'
~William Gurnall (The Christian in Complete Armour Volume 2, Chapter 1, Part 1).

This quote was taken from the book The Christian in Complete Armour Volume 2 - A modernized abridgement of the Puritan Classic by William Gurnall, published by Banner Of Truth.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

John The Baptist's Message Of Repentance - Matthew 3:1-2 Bible Commentary

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 3:1-2)
John the Baptist was the last Old Testament prophet, but he was also the greatest of them all. He was given a privilege that no other prophet had received: he got to both meet and baptize the Messiah!

John the Baptist prepared the Messiah's way. He preached a simple message: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

The people of Israel were daily oppressed by their Roman rulers. They longed for freedom, for the kingdom of heaven to be established by the prophesied Messiah. Only then would their enemies by destroyed.

Israel was focused on the outward. The coming of the kingdom meant that violence and judgment would be poured out on their enemies. Swords would be raised and slaughter would come.

That is the mindset John the Baptist combated in his preaching. He preached to a nation so focused on the outward that they forgot the inward. They forgot to examine their own hearts.

The people of Israel needed to yearn for freedom from sin as much as (if not more than) they longed for freedom from Rome. Thus John preached a message of repentance.

Oh that all believers would take John's message to heart! It's easy to condemn the world around you. It's easy to blame the world for the temptations you face. But as a Christian, remember that you always must look inward first. You must examine your own heart. Let us never, as Christians, become so focused on combating the evil around us that we forget to put to death the sin that remains in our own flesh!

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Summary of Matthew 2

Around two years of silence bridge the gap between the first and second chapters of Matthew. The narrative picks back up to tell us of a plot on Jesus' life. The Pharisees were not the first ones to seek to kill Jesus. Long before that, King Herod tried to do the same (Matthew 2:7-8).

Matthew's account begins with the wise men. Whether there where exactly three of them we do not know, but we do know that they came from the East, seeking for Jesus so that they could worship Him (Matthew 2:1-2). When Herod heard of their purpose, he "inquired of them where the Christ was to be born" (Matthew 2:4).

Although Herod was near the end of his life, he did not want any rivals to his throne— even if that rival happened to be a child. And so, Herod sent away the wise men so that they could find Jesus. Then Herod waited for them to come back.

But the wise men never went back. When they found Jesus, they worshiped Him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). Then, after being warned in a dream, the wise men left without seeing Herod (Matthew 2:12).

Herod stopped waiting. The wise men were not coming back. Even though Herod did not know where Christ was in Bethlehem, this did not stop him. To play it "safe," Herod ordered all boys two and under in Bethlehem to be slaughtered (Matthew 2:16).

Yet in all the death, God was still in control. Before Herod's order was carried out, God commanded Joseph to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt (Matthew 2:13). This was done in order that the words of the prophets would be fulfilled. Christ, as had been spoken long ago, experienced exile in Egypt, and later, once Herod died, He experienced an exodus from Egypt (Matthew 2:18, 15).

After Herod's death, Jesus eventually ended up in Nazareth, likely the place where Mary grew up (Matthew 2:19-23). This took place in order to fulfill what the prophets had expressed concerning the Messiah: "He shall be called a Nazarene" (Matthew 2:23). What follows this final citation in Matthew chapter two is more silence— not two years this time, but almost thirty.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

What Was Matthew Citing When He Said That Jesus Would Be Called A Nazarene? - Matthew 2:23 Bible Commentary

Matthew 2 is filled with Old Testament prophecies, some of which are hard to understand. But the last one Matthew cites is the hardest:
And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene. (Matthew 2:23)
It's hard to interpret this verse because the words of the prophecy, that "he would be called a Nazarene," do not appear in the Old Testament.

There are three main views on what Matthew is quoting: the Judges 13 view, the Isaiah 11 view, and the general summation view. Below I have summarized each view and explained why I believe the general summation view is correct.

The Judges 13 View

Judges 13 discusses the encounter that Monoah, Samson's mother, had with the angel of God. In Judges 13:5, the angel tells Monoah about the son she will give birth to: "No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb" (Judges 13:5).

This view's strength is that the wording of Judges 13:5 is similar to the prophecy Matthew cites. But that's all there is going for this view. The words in Judges 13:5 might be similar, but it just doesn't make sense why Matthew would cite this passage.

Matthew does not have the Nazarite lifestyle in view in citing this prophecy. Matthew has in mind a physical location. Just as Matthew had a physical location in mind for the previous prophecies in Matthew 2, so it is logical to to assume his citation in Matthew 2:23 follows the same pattern.

The Isaiah 11 View

This view seeks to find Matthew's citation in Isaiah 11:1, which states: "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit". The word "branch" in this verse has the same meaning as "Nazarine". Thus some think Matthew is referring to Isaiah 11:1.

Although I find this view more satisfying than the Judges 13 view, it shares the same weakness in that it doesn't make sense in the context of Matthew 2:23. Matthew says that Jesus was called a Nazarene because he lived in Nazareth. Thus any attempt to explain why Matthew brings up that Jesus is called a Nazarene must deal with the significance of the town of Nazareth in Jesus' lifetime.

So what, then, was significant about the town of Nazareth in Jesus' lifetime?

The General Summation View

In Scripture, Nazareth (located in Galilee) is regarded as a lowly, insignificant place. It is the place of which someone said, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?". The Pharisees also revealed their disregard for the region when they said, "Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee" (John 1:46, 7:52).

In saying that Jesus was a Nazarene, Matthew is letting us know that Jesus was raised in a place suitable for One who was prophesied to be without majesty, beauty, or esteem (Isaiah 53:2-3).

The general summation view, then, sees the citation in Matthew 2:23 as a general summary of what is in the books of the Old Testament prophets. This also provides an explanation for why Matthew used the plural form of "prophet" in his citation: "so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene".

Good arguments can be made for all three of these views. But when it comes down to it, I think the arguments for the general summation view are the strongest. It both takes into account Matthew's plural use of "prophet" and also follows the pattern of the other citations in the chapter (Matthew 2:5-6,15,17-18).

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Monday, July 09, 2012

Jesus' Exodus To Nazareth - Matthew 2:19-23 Bible Commentary

But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, "Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead." And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene. (Matthew 2:19-23)
Scripture tells us nothing specific about Jesus' stay in Egypt. The people He met in Egypt, the ancient sights He saw, even where He stayed— all these details remain a mystery. The only thing Matthew writes about is the reappearance of a familiar messenger: an angel of the Lord.

An angel of the Lord had visited Joseph already, multiple times in fact— and always in his dreams. Last time, the angel had said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him" (Matthew 2:13).

This time, the angel said, "Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead" (Matthew 2:20). These two angelic messages act as bookends in Matthew's gospel, marking both the departure to and return from Egypt.

Note the difference in the angel's tone in telling Joseph to leave Egypt. Joseph was commanded to flee to Egypt, but only to go to Israel. Matthew lets us know that Joseph departed by night when going to Egypt. Those words, "by night," do not appear in Joseph's return from Egypt, which means that Joseph could take a day or two to pack up and move out.

We don't know how long it took Joseph and his family to arrive in Israel (I can assure you that it took less than forty years!). Upon arrival, the words of Hosea, earlier recorded by Matthew, were fulfilled: Out of Egypt I have called My Son (Matthew 2:15).

Yet even in Israel Christ was not safe. Herod was dead, and that was good, but Archelaus now reigned in Herod's place. Though Joseph probably didn't realize it, Divine Providence was at work. God, after all, never intended His Son to be raised in Judea, where Bethlehem is located. God, who does whatever He pleases, was guiding history so that His Son would end up in Galilee, in the town of Nazareth.

Nazareth was where Mary lived prior to marrying (Luke 1:26). In all likelihood, it was where she was raised and probably where she met Joseph. The town was no foreign place to the young couple. They had come home.

What news they must have had to share! The miraculous birth! The angels and the shepherds! The visit of the wise men! And then, the flight to Egypt... but now, at long last, they were home. Whether they even wanted to be home is another question.

Sadly, we cannot have any confidence that they were warmly welcomed. Mary was the girl who lied and claimed that she became pregnant without a man. Joseph was the guy who was stupid enough to believe the lie and marry her anyway. Yet surely there were some who extended a welcoming hand, who made home feel like home to the young couple that had seen God work in the most miraculous of ways.

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Saturday, July 07, 2012

Quote of the Day #210 - Charles Spurgeon

A quote from Charles Spurgeon on one of the marks of a true Christian:
In his anxiety to be pure from evil, the godly man will be eager to notice and quick to detect the least particle of defilement. And for this reason he discovers more of his blackness than any other man is likely to see. He is no blacker, but he looks more narrowly, and therefore he sees more distinctly the spots on his own character. The genuine Christian, also, tries himself by a higher standard. The professor, if he is as good as another professor, is well content. He estimates himself by a comparison with his neighbors. He has no standard but that of ordinary commonplace Christianity. Far otherwise is it with the Believer who walks near to God. He asks himself, “What manner of persons ought we to be, in all holy conversation and godliness?”

He knows the Law to be spiritual and therefore he judges many things to be sinful which others wink at. And he counts some things to be important duties which others regard as trifles. The genuine Christian sets up no lower standard than perfection. He does not judge himself by others, but by the exact measure of the Divine requirements, by the Law of God, and especially by the example of his Lord and Master. And when he thus sets the brightness of the Savior’s Character side by side with his own, then it is that he cries out, “Look not upon me, for I am black.”
~Charles Spurgeon (Self-Humbling and Self-Searching 990)

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Monday, July 02, 2012

Jeremiah's Prophecy: Rachel Weeping - Matthew 2:16-18 Bible Commentary

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

"A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more."
(Matthew 2:16-18)
Slaughter was unleashed upon Bethlehem. Herod massacred all the boys two and under. It was a killing spree that filled Bethlehem's residents with immeasurable pain. So immeasurable was it that Matthew quotes Jeremiah's mournful words regarding Israel's pain during the Babylonian Exile.

But why does Matthew say that Jeremiah's words (quoted from Jeremiah 31:15) were fulfilled? You could argue that Bethlehem's pain was similar to Israel's pain during the Babylonian Exile. But isn't that response somewhat unsatisfying? It seems that there must be something more. And there is.

I believe that Matthew is connecting the exile pains in Jeremiah 31:15 with the angel's command to Joseph in Matthew 2:13: "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt".

Jesus, as typified by Hosea, experienced His own, personal exodus. But there's a problem. Jesus needed to meet a requirement in order to experience an exodus: he needed to first experience exile.

The pain experienced during the Babylonian Exile pointed to the pain experienced during the massacre in Bethlehem. The Babylonian Exile itself pointed ahead to Christ's own exile, from Bethlehem into a foreign land.

The verse that appears after Jeremiah 31:15 (the passage Matthew quotes) is especially interesting:
Thus says the Lord:
"Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears,
for there is a reward for your work,
declares the Lord,
and they shall come back from the land of the enemy."
(Jeremiah 31:16)
The exile of Christ began with terror, but hope did not fade. Just as God did not abandon his people after the Babylonian Exile, neither would He abandon His Son. Although Jesus was "forced" into Egypt, God also brought Him back out again.

This must be why Matthew explains, immediately after quoting from Jeremiah, that Christ returned from Egypt to the district of Galilee (specifically, to the town of Nazareth). This event marked the fulfillment of Hosea's words, already quoted in Matthew 2:15: "Out of Egypt I have called My Son".

In the earliest times of Christ's life, God's providential hand was there: guiding, working, and governing all events. Not even the tiniest prophecy about the life of our Saviour went unfulfilled. What a great encouragement that should be! God is always faithful to His word. Let us rejoice in our great God who "works all things according to the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11).

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Friday, June 29, 2012

Quote of the Day #209 - F. W. Krummacher

A quote from F. W. Krummacher on the importance of not relying on past experiences:
There are many Christians who know of no other nourishment for their inward life than the moldy bread of long past experience. But no true peace results from this. Inward religion does not consist in a life of morbid security, arising from the recollection of having once received the forgiveness of sins. Where a real spiritual life exists, there is also constant activity, unceasing striving against sin, repeated humiliation before God, and renewed experience of His favor. Were it otherwise, why should the Lord put into His children’s lips the daily petition, "Forgive us our trespasses!"
~F. W. Krummacher (The Suffering Saviour, Chapter 4)

This quote was taken from Samuel Jackson's translation of F. W. Krummacher's book The Suffering Saviour: Meditations On The Last Days Of Christ.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Herod's Murderous Plot - Matthew 2:16 Bible Commentary

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matthew 2:16)
Herod was the king over Israel. No one else could claim the title. Anyone who tried would receive no mercy. Herod had come too close to death— too close to losing his throne to rivals— to ignore even a single potential rival.

At one point in his career, Herod had lost his throne to a rival. Yet Herod was a master politician. According to Josephus (a first century Jewish historian) Herod fled to Rome where he formed an alliance (The Wars Of The Jews 1.14.3-4) Eventually, he mounted a force large enough to retake Jerusalem (1.18).

Herod trusted no one. Like many politicians, he did what he did to advance his name and power. He was above the common law, and he lived for his own glory. When he faced cruelties in life— such as the times when his father and siblings died in enemy hands— he did not respond by looking to the God of Israel. Instead, he responded with greater cruelty.

By the end of his life, Herod was a bitter, angry tyrant. It was in those final years that the wise men visited Herod. If Herod had expected lavish gifts and praise from them, he must have been disappointed; for they brought him news of yet another potential rival. Doubtless, this rival must have seemed somewhat different to Herod: this rival was still a child, and yet, He was already being referred to as the King of the Jews!

Whether or not Herod was aware of the prophecies concerning this King of the Jews is unknown. There is no doubt, however, that Herod saw Jesus as a rival to his throne. For even though Jesus was a child, wise men from the East were already seeking to worship Him!

Herod instructed the wise men to tell him where Jesus was. After all, he too wished to worship Jesus. Obviously, Herod was lying. For he wanted nothing more than to kill Jesus. And so, after the wise men departed on that troubling night, Herod waited.

And he waited.

And he waited some more. But the wise men did not come back.

Herod's murderous anger grew. It rose higher and higher. And just as a volcano's magma can rise only so high before spewing out, so too did Herod's anger. When he realized at last that he had been tricked, the final trigger was pulled. Herod's flaming anger erupted, and all the heat was poured out on the tiny town of Bethlehem.

Sadly, Herod's life was characterized by such eruptions of anger. Aside from his outburst recorded in the Scriptures, none other characterizes Herod as well as the atrocities he ordered to be carried out on his deathbed. Josephus writes of this incident:
He [Herod] then returned back and came to Jericho, in such a melancholy state of body as almost threatened him with present death, when he proceeded to attempt a horrid wickedness; for he got together the most illustrious men of the whole Jewish nation, out of every village, into a place called the Hippodrome, and there shut them in. He then called for his sister Salome, and her husband Alexas, and made this speech to them: "I know well enough that the Jews will keep a festival upon my death however, it is in my power to be mourned for on other accounts, and to have a splendid funeral, if you will but be subservient to my commands. Do you but take care to send soldiers to encompass these men that are now in custody, and slay them immediately upon my death, and then all Judea, and every family of them, will weep at it, whether they will or no." (1.33.6)
Josephus also tells us that Herod was thrilled on his deathbed (five days before died) when he received permission from Rome to execute his son, a potential threat to his throne (1.33.7).

What a pitiful life Herod lived! And yet, this is what the end of life looks like for every unbeliever. There is no hope for the unbeliever after death. Thus the unbeliever desperately clings onto life, for he has nothing else to hope in but himself. But oh how different it is for the believer! For the believer, there is hope beyond death. Believers depart this life in peace, knowing that they will be ruled forever by the true King of Israel: Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God!

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Why Heaven Will Be Different Than The Garden Of Eden

Have you ever thought about how heaven is going to be perfect, just like the Garden of Eden? I will confess that I also once had this foolish thought. Yes, you read that right: foolish.

You have probably heard people say that the Garden of Eden was "perfect". Since heaven can also be described as "perfect," you have probably subconsciously equated the Garden with Heaven. But this is a mistake. Although the Garden and Heaven can both be described as perfect, they are perfect in two different senses.

The Garden was perfect in the sense that it was part of God's sovereign plan for history; God created the Garden for a specific purpose, and it fulfilled that purpose perfectly. The Garden can also be described as perfect since it was (at first) untainted by the stain of sin.

Yet in spite of the Garden's many perfections, Heaven will be better. In fact, in comparison to Heaven, the Garden should be undesirable. Why? Because sin was a possibility in the garden! Though the Garden was perfect in many ways, it was lacking in an essential perfection: the assurance that sin would never occur! Heaven is superior to the Garden because in Heaven sin will no longer be a possibility!

Can you imagine the horror of living in a place like the Garden of Eden for all of eternity? A place where you could fall into sin at any moment? A place where even after a hundred or a thousand or a billion years had passed, you would still have no assurance that you would continue in faithfulness to God? Every day would be one more day in which there would be a possibility of falling. Could such a place rightly be called "heaven"? There's a reason the Garden of Eden didn't last forever, because it would not have been heaven.

Don't get caught up in the language that God is planning to one day restore creation to exactly how it was in the beginning. He isn't. Instead, He's planning on doing something better. Much better.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5)

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