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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