Jesus, Lamb of God

 

Introduction

I think it’s easy to underestimate everything that Jesus has done for us. I’ll go further – no matter where you are in your Christian walk, you and I have already underestimated and continue to underestimate everything the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords has done, is doing, and will do for you and me.

Today we are going to study Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Old Testament

We’ve been walking through the Chronological Bible this year, and we need to recap a little about God addresses sin. The first sin, of course, was in the Garden of Eden, breaking forever the unblemished relationship between man and our God.

God promised the serpent the sin would not go unpunished, in Genesis 3:15,

And I will put enmity
   between you and the woman,
   and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
   and you will strike his heel.

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As for Adam and Eve, whom He loved, God began the sacrificial system when God slew an innocent animal and covered man’s nakedness in Genesis 3:21,

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.

Slide3.JPGFor the next several centuries, those who walked with God understood this concept of substitutionary death. Alters were built and sacrifices made by Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

But God’s sacrificial system was taken to another level while the Israelites suffered under bondage by the Egyptians. In this first Passover, 4 days prior to their exodus out of Egypt, each Israeli household was to choose a lamb without defect. The lamb was slain, roasted, and eaten on the night of departure.   The lamb’s blood was smeared on lintel and doorpost of each Hebrew home, signifying to the angel of death that death had already occurred in that home. God’s wrath would then “pass over” that home.

Slide4.JPGIn the 40 years of the wilderness, God still had a desire to be close to His people, despite their sin nature. The sacrificial system was expanded, and introduced a high priest and an altar, the holy of holies, and substitutionary sacrifices were made annually on the Day of Atonement.

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The Israelites lived their entire year in their sin, anticipating their Day of Atonement to be free of their sin, living in the light of this promise of redemption.   The sacrificial lamb saved them from their sins.

But as we learned through the books of Kings and Chronicles, the people of Israel continued to do evil in the sight of the Lord. Despite God’s instruction to observe Passover every year, this celebration lapsed. The people God loved would not cleanse themselves regularly to restore their relationship.

God began to lay out the prophecies of a messiah who would rescue them from bondage, none of them so clear as Isaiah 53 when we are told our savior would bear our griefs, carry our sorrows, be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.   And in Isaiah 53:7,

He was oppressed and afflicted,
   yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
   and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
   so he did not open his mouth.

God would send a savior to pay the price for our transgressions. God’s own son would pay the price for our sins. As fully man, Jesus would identify with us, be tempted like us, understand pain like us. As fully God, though, He would be able to pay for the sins of the whole world.   But prophecy also said that when the Lamb of God was sent, He would be rejected by His own people.

God’s people fell into bondage again in the hands of the Babylonians and spent years enslaved and compromising their beliefs. God became silent. He seemingly stopped intervening, instructing or interacting with His people for over 400 years. During this time, the rituals, laws and traditions took on even greater importance to the Jewish people – not because they fully understood their need for a relationship with God, but because it was the thing passed down from generation to generation. It was their defining characteristic. That rigid structure was something tangible they could control, and they used it to create systems, divisions among the people and hierarchies.

The religious texts promised that God would send a deliverer, but unlike when He sent Moses, this savior would set up a kingdom greater than any they had ever known. The scriptures foretold of a Messiah that would save the Jewish people from oppression, and they clung to their understanding of what that meant. Now under control of yet another invader, the Roman empire, the Jewish people longed for the day their king would come. They just didn’t realize their king would look very different from what they expected.

Lamb of God – New Testament

And in our Chronological study, we arrived a few weeks ago in the New Testament, and John the Baptist is baptizing with water at Bethany, and the Jewish leaders accuse John the Baptist of being the Messiah.

John replies in the book of John 1:23,

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

John is quoting from Isaiah 40. And just a few verses later in verse 29,

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

When John recognized Jesus, John announced Him according to prophecy that Jesus is the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament promises of redemption. John understood that Jesus came to die as a sacrificial substitute, and that Jesus will rise from the dead to demonstrate God’s acceptance of Christ’s death as payment for guilty sinners. But not all prophecy had yet been fulfilled. Isaiah 53 had spelled out exactly how our Messiah must die.

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The Jewish leaders who had become powerful and wealthy based on their legalistic interpretations of Jewish law were horrified by the notion that Jesus was the foretold Messiah. The Jewish leaders wanted a kingdom to rule over the surrounding nations as had been done to them, but Jesus preached a very different kind of life. He encouraged the people to be meek and mild.   He preached that one should love even those who did not follow the commands they had been taught to fear. The more popularity Jesus gained among the people, the more the religious leaders set out to accuse and convict Him through both a Jewish trial and a Roman one – trials meant to execute Jesus and lasted less than a day.

Jesus is King

After the betrayal by Judas, Jesus was arrested in the dark hours of a Friday morning. He was bound and taken to Caiaphas, the high priest, and the ruling members of the Sanhedrin in what was really a preliminary hearing. Matthew 26:59-66 (Chronological Bible, November 2nd, pg 1409) –

Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none.

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 Remember, the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin are legalistic and use the Law to elevate themselves in positions of power. Here they are using the rules from Deuteronomy 17 about how the court system should work, particularly Deuteronomy 17:6-7a –

On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person [who blasphemes] is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting that person to death, and then the hands of all the people.

The hands of all the people are to be involved in the death of Jesus, but the Sanhedrin are first trying to find 2 people who agree, so they march a line of false witnesses that don’t tell the same story so the Sanhedrin can’t make a case. But then, continuing in Matthew 26,

But at last two false witnesses came forward and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.’ And the high priest arose and said to Him, “Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?” But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!” Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy! What do you think?” They answered and said, “He is deserving of death.”

Based on this brief exchange, Caiaphas (the high priest) and the Sanhedrin find Jesus guilty of blasphemy. The goal of the Sanhedrin, though, was not to bring a religious indictment. The Sanhedrin lacked the power of a death penalty under Roman law, and the Romans weren’t interested in a religious squabble.   So the goal of the Sanhedrin was to bring a political allegation that would anger the Romans.   If Jesus claimed to be king, Caesar would have Jesus executed.   So ironically, the Sanhedrin sought to prove that Jesus claimed to be king so the Romans would get rid of him.

The book of Matthew also makes the case that Jesus is king, but for a very different reason.   Matthew spends 26 chapters making a case that Jesus was the foretold Messiah and fulfilled all the prophecies of the coming kingdom of God so that the injustice of His trial and ultimately His death would be seen as fulfilling scripture for the coming messiah, and how Jesus’ actions before and after the Sanhedrin fulfilled Scripture’s promise of a final, atoning, sacrificial Lamb.

Isaiah 53:7 – He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. Matthew 26:63 – But Jesus kept silent.

Matthew 27: 12 – …He did not answer.

Matthew 27: 14 – And He did not answer…

Jesus is Lamb

Later, that Friday morning as the run was rising, with their charges of blasphemy documented, the Sanhedrin then send Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor. The Roman trial begins, but look how the Sanhedrin twist the charges to inflame the Romans in Luke 23:1-2 –

Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”  

So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.  

Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.”

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Pilate wants nothing to do with this. Pilate discerns that this is a religious matter and sends Jesus to Herod for interrogation. If Jesus claims to be king of the Jews, well, then Pontius will send him to the king of the Jews, Herod.

It says in Luke 23:8,

When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort.

Slide15.JPGHerod was happy to receive Jesus. Maybe he thought it would be great entertainment and see if Jesus would do some tricks. But Jesus stood there silently. So Herod questions Jesus and then mocks Him and sends Him back to Pilate dressed sarcastically as a king.

Matthew 27: 11-14 –

Now Jesus stood before the governor. And the governor asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.” And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing. Then Pilate said to Him, “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?” But He answered him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly. (Chronological Bible, November 3rd, p. 1411)

Pilate was amazed by Jesus’s willingness to accept the charges against Him.

Matthew 27:22-26 –

Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!” Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!” When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.” And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified. (Chronological Bible, November 3rd, p. 1413)

Though they knew he was innocent, the crowd demanded the blood of Jesus, thus fulfilling scripture.   Jesus was indeed the unblemished Lamb of God. The crowd wanted Barabbas instead to be released to them. Barabbas was known for leading groups of insurrectionists against the Roman government. The crowd chose Barabbas over Jesus. The crowd chose a “messiah” of their own design. The crowd chose one who tried unsuccessfully to overthrow Rome’s power over the true Messiah with the true power to save them.

Jesus is Savior

It’s only mid-morning on Friday, mere hours after Jesus’ arrest, but with the crowd’s decision, Jesus’s trials were over. Jesus was convicted, sentenced to be crucified at Golgotha.

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The scourging of Jesus was brutal. The crucifixion of Jesus was brutal. But yet again, Jesus fulfilled the scripture. Isaiah 53, remember, we are told our savior would bear our griefs, carry our sorrows, be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.

By the middle of Friday afternoon, the brutal crucifixion was nearing its completion.   Jesus would die by asphyxiation, unable to lift his body on the nail through His feet so He could draw His breath.   You may remember the last words of Jesus from John 19:30, “It is finished.”

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Which if you look at the original Greek, Jesus chose a unique final word. Our English translations use “finished” like it was the end of a race, which is true, but doesn’t convey the meaning I believe Jesus intended. Jesus chose an accounting term as His last breath. The word Jesus used was “τελέω teléō. Or two verses earlier, he uses the more commonly known form of the verb Τετέλεσται tetelestai, and the full meaning is that the debt is paid and nothing left is owed.

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It is finished.   Our debt is paid. We are freed.

And Jesus didn’t go out with a last gasp, a weak goodbye. Matthew 27:50 says the final words of Jesus were cried out in a loud voice.   They were the triumphant words of victory, it is finished! Jesus had completed what He had come to do – to be our King, the sacrificial Lamb of God, our savior.

Conclusion

Jesus didn’t just die for a cause He believed in. He wasn’t just a martyr. God raised to life, overcoming death, demonstrating God’s acceptance of the sacrifice of His son. Jesus did not just die. He overcame death, hell and the grave. His earthly story ends with a miracle just as big as the one with which it began.

Matthew 28:1-6 –

Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone from the door and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. (Chronological Bible, November 4th, p. 14151416)

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Over the centuries, there has been so much controversy around the question of who put Jesus on the cross. Did the Jews put Jesus on the cross? Saying that the Jews put Jesus on the cross is wrong and has fueled terrible acts of antisemitism over the years. But it is just as incorrect to say that the Romans put Jesus on the cross or even, as some claim, that “we” put Jesus on the cross – all of us for the wrong we do and the sin that separates us from God. None of those statements are accurate. None of those groups sent Jesus to His death.

Jesus put Jesus on the cross. Jesus died for the sole purpose of raising from the dead. He died willingly and sacrificially to save a world He loves who could not save themselves.

And not just the world – distant and unknown. He died for you. And me. His death is intimate and personal. It happened a long time ago in a place you may never visit, but it is personal and it matters. It happened TO Him, but it happened FOR you.

Yes, Jesus is King. Jesus’ death fulfills the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures concerning Messiah.

Yes, Jesus is Lamb of God. Jesus’ death satisfies the requirements for a sacrifice for sin.

Yes, Jesus is Savior. Jesus’ death is a substitutionary sacrifice for sinners. Jesus’ resurrection declares His deity and demonstrates the Father’s acceptance of His work on the cross.

But He is not just any king. Jesus is YOUR king. He is YOUR lamb, and He is YOUR savior.

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To God be the glory.   Amen.

The Keys to Happiness

I. Introduction

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Me, I wanted to fly a jet for the US Navy. Something about being at sea, landing on that aircraft carrier. Of course, if I understand it, they use a system of green lights and red lights to tell you when it’s ok to land. And I’m red/green colorblind. That would have been even more exciting.

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Doctors, lawyers, policemen. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, Business Insider ( https://www.businessinsider.com/american-kids-youtube-star-astronauts-survey-2019-7 ) did a survey of what today’s American kids want to be when they grow up. The number one answer? Youtuber.

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They want to be famous youtubers, be their own star of their own YouTube channel and be famous. Fame will make them happy. They see football sport stars, reality television stars, viral videos and think fame will make them happy.

And before we criticize them too much, we’re all guilty of seeking happiness from something worldly. Money, people, shopping, food, social media, toys. Of course we want to be happy. But these things don’t bring happiness. Even in the bible, Solomon was the richest and most famous king that Israel ever had. Solomon had wealth, fame, wisdom, his own YouTube channel… everything except happiness.

Over the years, I can’t tell you how many times somebody that’s going through difficult times has told me, “God just wants me to be happy.”   The most extreme version I’ve encountered in my life was a friend of my wife, who, 10 years ago desperately wanted a husband. And then she started dated a married man. She said, God told her it was ok because God just wants her to be happy.

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I know that God wants good things for His children, and good things make us happy. But way too often we go to God and tell Him to give us something we want that will make us happy. But that’s not how God tells His children to approach the problem of happiness.

God knows everything. He knows, better than we know, what will make us happy. God wants us to rely on Him, not on our ideas, on how to find happiness. Just ask God and He’ll tell you and me what we need for happiness.

In fact, He already did. And surprise surprise, He wrote down His instructions in the Bible for us to find. Today we are going to study the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

II.  The Beatitudes

The word “beatitude” is a weird word. It’s a kind of Englishized translation of a Latin translation of a Greek word, and it’s not even found in the bible. No wonder I don’t use it in everyday conversation. Matthew, author of our Good News today, wrote in Greek, and word he used was “makarios.” It means “divinely happy and supremely blessed,” or happiness that comes from the divine. Weirdly, the English word that is derived from this is “macro”, sort of like “I summed it all up” or “I’ve got everything.”

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Then one of the earliest bible translations from the original Greek into Latin translated this word into “beatus” which means “happy” or “blessed.”

And so Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, this first portion called The Beatitudes, are literally instructions on how to be happy. And just as we mistakenly believe happiness comes from fame or fortune, the Jews that were listening had their world upside down. They believed that Makarios, divine happiness, was based on material blessing and prosperity provided by God. They were also looking for a Messiah to rescue them from Roman occupation, physical happiness. Jesus turned everything upside down, challenging the people to reconsider their idea of blessed and happy by focusing on God’s desires. Moreover, this state of being blessed isn’t anything man can earn, but the result of a declaration from God.

III. Spiritual Bankruptcy

Matthew 5:3, Jesus begins,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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The word poor in the original Greek is “ptochos” which means having literally nothing, totally broke. It’s a recognition that everything we have – our jobs and our house and our family and the light of the sun and the air we breathe and gravity itself are all gifts from God. The world teaches that you can do it all, have it all, and you deserve it all.   But being poor in spirit means recognizing that we bring nothing into this world and we bring nothing out except the very soul God gives us.

In Isaiah 66:1-2,

“Thus says the LORD, “Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? “For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD. “But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”

What do you think you have that God didn’t give you?

Who do you think you are that God didn’t make?

One of the keys to happiness is learning to stop depending on yourself, and realize God already did everything. Poverty of the spirit is the most important of the beatitudes.   It is how you compare yourself to God.   Do you look at God as a power that can assist you in your goals? Or do you look at God as sovereign ruler of all and how you can assist God in His goals?   To experience true happiness, recognize that God is greater than anything you are, anything you can do, or anything you can imagine.

IV. Comprehension of Sin

The second beatitude, Matthew 5:4,

Blessed are those who mourn,

   for they will be comforted.

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You’re probably thinking I’ve lost it.   The 2nd key to happiness is to be unhappy.

Well, that’s not exactly what this verse means. Certainly there is sorrow in this world, and Revelation says every tear will eventually be wiped away, but remember, the beatitudes are teaching us not to tell God what makes us happy, but to ask God what makes Him happy.

This verse, then, is about spiritual mourning. Maybe we don’t think of God as having emotions – except anger, maybe. And love, for God so loved the world. But God mourns when His people turn away from Him.

Do we mourn for the lost? Do we mourn when God’s will is ridiculed? A lesson I seem to be learning when, as I get older, is that we don’t live forever on this earth. I know, I just found out. But when people die, there’s a great deal of emotion around the loss.   But usually those emotions are for us – we’ve lost someone – or for others – they’ve lost someone.

When somebody dies without accepting Jesus as their savior, God has lost someone. God gives them what they’ve always wanted, a life without God, and God mourns. I think of the story of Jonah I taught earlier this year, especially at the end when Jonah was upset when God didn’t wipe out those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Ninevites . And God taught Jonah that God gave them life and nurtured them and while God agreed that they were terrible, horrible, no good, very bad people, God mourned that He would never have a relationship with them.

Sin separates us from the love of God, paid for only by the shed blood of Christ. And you know God grieved when His son paid that price for us, but today Jesus is resurrected and sits at the right hand of the Father. And we, too, mourn over the sins that separate us from God, but we will be comforted that our sins are washed away so that we have fellowship with our heavenly father in a way we can barely comprehend today.

So the 2nd key to happiness is to mourn over our own sins and failures, the sinfulness of the world, and that God is not given the glory and honor due Him.

V. Humility in Outlook

Then Matthew 5:5, beatitude #3,

Blessed are the meek,

   for they will inherit the earth.

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The Greek word used by Jesus in 5:5 is “πραΰς“ or “praus” which means ‘mild, gentle, humble, kind, forgiving’. It is an attitude toward others of compassion and gentleness. Jesus used this word in Matthew 11:29 to describe himself:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Our daily challenge to meet this beatitude is also illustrated in Philippians 2:5 –

‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who … made himself nothing.’

That’s what we are – ‘nothing.’   Apart from God we are nothing.   We depend on him for our physical existence and for our spiritual life. To be ‘meek,’ to be gentle, is to live with an awareness that Christ lives within us. We want no glory for ourselves and we are therefore willing to be nothing in order to provide good for others.

“Meek” does not mean spineless or weak. Jesus, the Lord of Glory, was meek, and yet, He was tougher than nails. Being meek is deliberate, not passive, actively looking to be kind and good to others. Meek is Jesus, Almighty God, becoming man. Meek is Jesus, the King of kings, permitting the Roman soldiers to hammer the iron nails into his hands, and refusing to call down legions of angels because He loves us. The key to happiness is the gentleness of Christ being evident is everything we say and do.

VI. Need for Righteousness

Ready for beatitude #4? Matthew 5:6,

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

   for they will be filled.

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To be happy, we hunger and thirst for righteousness. There are two parts, a) hungering and thirsting, and b) righteousness.

It’s not enough to enjoy righteousness. It’s not enough to admire righteousness. To be happy, we hunger for it with a consuming passion. To be happy, we don’t seek happiness. We don’t seek fame or fortune or power or beauty or sexuality or anything else. We must understand the first 3 beatitudes of our spiritual bankruptcy, our sin nature, and letting the meekness of Christ live with us, and hunger for it. We should strive to know how far short we fall and hunger for His righteousness.

Too often, this hunger is misplaced.   We hunger for the righteousness of men.   We hunger to be accepted. We see society preaching at us to accept the immorality of the world in the name of loving our fellow man, and we want to be accepted, so we say yes. And this yearning for acceptance leads to destruction of lives and families because our hunger is for the wrong things.

Or we understand the need for righteousness, but it’s a passing thought. We have our busy lives. Who has time for righteousness when we’re looking for a new job or trying to find that perfect outfit to wear Friday night? And when there is no hunger for God’s righteousness, there’s no righteousness at all.

To be happy and blessed, we hunger and thirst for His righteousness. God knows what will make us happy, better than we know ourselves.   In Matthew 6:33, Jesus says,

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

To be happy, hunger for God.

VII. Empathy for Others

The next instruction for happiness is in the next beatitude, Matthew 5:7 –

Blessed are the merciful,

   for they will be shown mercy.

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This is not the same as the earlier beatitude of being meek and gentle toward others. This is a recognition that we live in a fallen world full of sin, in ourselves and in others, and to practice forgiveness.

Because we all sin and stumble in many ways. And when we sin, besides the separation from God, it can cause injury to others.

And when someone injures or insults us, of course there should be justice. They need to pay. They should be punished. But you know what? Not by us.   God promises to make everything right, and leave all vengeance to Him. Our job is to forgive.

When I hear about somebody offering forgiveness in an extraordinary way, it’s powerful. This week I heard it from a story in Dallas, you may have read about the trial. Officer Amber Guyger entered the wrong apartment and says she mistook it for her own.   Botham Jean was sitting on the sofa, watching tv and eating ice cream, when Officer Amber Guyger shot him and killed him, thinking he was a burglar. A jury disagreed and convicted her of murder.

But this next part is where I see Matthew 5:7 in action.

The victim’s brother, Brandt Jean, begged for permission to hug the defendant. He told Officer Guyger, “I forgive you. I love you as a person and I don’t wish anything bad on you.”   Afterwards, shocking many, the judge also hugged her, presented Officer Guyger with a bible, and the 3 of them prayed together.

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Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Because we all sin and stumble in many ways, and we all deserve punishment from God.   But thank our Lord Jesus Christ that He has mercy on us and that we do not bear the punishment for our own sins.   Jesus calls us to share that same forgiveness with everybody that sins against us, the same way He forgive us for our sins. In fact, He puts it this bluntly in Matthew 6:15 –

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

So let it go. You’ll find that the forgiveness you give is the happiness you receive.

VIII. Align with Christ

Matthew 5:8 –

Blessed are the pure in heart,

   for they will see God.

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Who can claim to be pure in heart?   We all know that we are not pure, we have thoughts, attitudes, desires which are not pure. We may hide it from others, but we cannot hide it from ourselves or from God.

And ‘pure’ is an absolute term.   You cannot say a heart is ‘purer’.   Being pure means that it is not defiled, polluted or mixed with impurities.

There are so many impurities that we may think will make us happy, but they don’t. They are empty, dead ends, failures. But true joy and happiness is realizing this world has nothing to offer, and Jesus offers everything.

So, how can we make our hearts pure? It is beyond our ability. It is God who initiates, sanctifies and perfects the heart of man who put his trust in Him. It begins when we realize that we cannot do it on our own. Throughout our life, we go through the process of sanctification that will be perfected when we are glorified in Christ Jesus.

This sanctification is a difficult process. Gold has to go through the furnace to be perfected, to burn off the impurities.   1 Peter 1:6-7 –

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith, of greater worth than gold which perishes even though refined by fire, may be proven genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

So, how can we be pure in heart?   By constantly seeking an active fellowship with God through daily personal time with God in His words and prayer, allowing God to purify us though His Holy Spirit in us.   Philippians 1:6,

Be confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

IX. Identify with Others

Two more beatitudes to go.   Matthew 5:9,

Blessed are the peacemakers,

   for they will be called children of God.

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Jesus said that to be happy, be a peacemaker. This statement would have shocked the Jews in the crowd. Jews were looking for a military messiah to overthrow the Roman Empire and establish an earthly kingdom. But Jesus supports peace and encourages the peacemakers. Once again, Kingdom of Heaven defies the norm of earthly kingdom, which is established by power and wars.

What’s interesting about peace is that the foundation of peace is the love received from God. But what about our enemies who hate us? Jesus says in Luke 6:27-28 –

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

It sounds counterintuitive, like many things from heaven, but to find happiness, don’t just find peace.   Create peace. Actively love our enemies.

The reward for peacemakers is very unique. “They will be called sons of God.” That would bring me happiness, to be called as one of God’s children.

X. Do What is Right

This last beatitude is the most contradictory of all the beatitudes. How can we be happy when we are going through insult, persecution, suffering, even death for doing what is right? Matthew 5:10 –

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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Jesus very clearly proclaims happiness for those who are being persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Now, two different ways we can be persecuted for “righteousness” –

[1] Gospel righteousness, by which we have ceased to trust in our own performance and depend solely on the righteousness of Christ, is offensive to both the nominal believer and the unbeliever, because people do not like to think that salvation is free. Somehow it must be earned.

Every religion of man tells them they have to, and can, earn their way to heaven. But Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship. And it is not about man trying to earn his way into heaven, but about our incredible loving God paying for our way to heaven. Gospel righteousness is therefore a threat to both human pride and human religion.

Some people think that the Christian’s assurance of salvation is actually ‘self-righteousness’ and therefore accuse believers of either hypocrisy or pride. But it is not self-righteousness that allows me to proclaim that I am saved. It is righteousness in Jesus and the trust in His promises that allow me to proclaim that I am saved because He is Lord.

[2] The practical righteousness or goodness which Christians demonstrate in their lives is threatening to the ungodly; it accuses them and exposes their ungodliness and guilt.   This persecution because of Gospel righteousness is the evident background to several of the New Testament letters, where those who trusted solely in the righteousness of Christ were persecuted by those who wanted to base their relationship to God with their own performance of law and ritual.

We find it difficult to grasp rejoicing in suffering because we have not seen the complete picture. Even among many Christians, there is a growing tendency to focus on earthly blessings.   It is not to say that we should not desire good in this life, but Jesus and His disciples always focused on future hope and glory.

There are parts of the world, where people are being persecuted for Christ. For them, following Christ means suffering, rejection and even death. They are blessed and privileged to share in suffering with Christ.

We may not go through physical persecution or suffering, but we all feel being constantly chased after by the enemy of Christ. When we pursue righteousness, we may find being constantly running or fleeing from the spiritual forces, who are after us to knock us down.

It is not in the suffering or pain, we rejoice, but it is in the hope of God’s glory to be revealed. We Christians rejoice in suffering for righteousness, because we participate in the suffering of Christ, that we bear his name, and that we will be overjoyed when Christ’ glory will be revealed in us. It is our privilege to suffer with Christ.

XI. Conclusion

So what are the keys to happiness?   Don’t tell God what will make you happy. Let God tell you what will make you happy.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
   for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
   for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
   for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
   for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
   for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
   for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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To God be the glory.

Denying Christ

I. Introduction – What Do We Do Under Pressure?
It is easy to be a Christian at church.  We are in our safe place.  We have no triggers.  We are surrounded by brothers and sisters who encourage us.  So, it is easy to stand here and say, “I am a follower of Jesus Christ.”
But when we are in a less-friendly environment, do we still profess Christ?  There are good, biblical reasons to share our faith; first and foremost is because Christ Himself calls us to do so.  Matthew 28:19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.”  You can’t make disciples if you don’t tell them about Jesus.  At least, not any method I’ve found.
We share the gospel because God first loved us, and God continues to love us and forgive us despite our many failings, and wants us to share that love and forgiveness to each other and with the world.  It’s our calling.  Why else would we be here?
And that love from the Lord compels us to extend an invitation of eternal life to a lost and dying world, that others may know eternal life and not be sentenced to an eternity of hell because they choose not to belief that Jesus is who he says He is.
But when I am in the world, there are less-flattering words to describe the demonstration of my faith.  Reluctance.  Shyness.  Embarrassment.  I care too much what people think about me, and I don’t want people to think I’m some sort of religious nut.  And there are far more worldly people ready to judge me than there are sympathetic religious nuts like you and me.
When I was a younger Christian, I was not an example of a good Christian.  You couldn’t tell I was Christian by my lifestyle even though I grew up in the Catholic Church and believed in Jesus.  If I had to fill out a questionnaire and check a box about my religion, I was not afraid to fill in the little bubble that said “Christian.”Slide2
When God is calling you, as I believe God was calling me, He challenges your own belief.  If I say I have faith, then God says, well, let’s see if you have faith.  And He puts me on the edge of that faith to let me honestly see that my view of myself can be hypocritical.  I think I am a good person, but I fall short.
So in 1996, I divorced my wife.  It was, as you can imagine, a most difficult time for me.  I still loved my wife, but I divorced her anyway.  I was scared, I was selfish and I leaned on my own understanding on what I thought was best for me.  And I had trouble coming to grips with my belief that I was a good Christian with the truth that I had divorced my wife.
And I hit my knees for the first time in my life.  No more faking it, no more pretending I was better than I was.  I told God I was finally ready to trust in His ways because my ways sucked.  Whereas before I was going to church for the wrong reason, mostly to improve my social life, now I wanted to get to know God better.Slide3.JPG
Where God challenges, God also provides.  During this time, a pastor took me aside and spent several weeks repairing my foundation.  I’m reminded of this passage from Matthew 7:24-27 –
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
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I didn’t even realize my foundation had been built on sand.  Who does, until the floods came?  But I’m on my knees and studying and trying to figure out what it means for my life to be built on Jesus.
But what held me back from living a new life?  My knowledge that I was an awful Christian.  I spent years chasing women and hanging out in bars.  I was divorced.  The only evidence of my faith was some obscure questionnaire somewhere where I had filled in that little bubble that said “Christian.”  I may want to know God better, but I didn’t blame God if He didn’t want to know me.  I was an awful example of a believer.
Two pieces of scripture were key to my development as a Christian.  First was Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God,” and second was the story of Peter denying Christ.  Let’s watch a little movie snippet.  This is from the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.”  Jesus has been arrested and taken to Herod in preparation for the Jews to turn Jesus over to the Romans for crucifixion.  Peter had told Jesus that no matter what trouble came, Peter would never leave Jesus.
II. Jesus’ Prophecy
The scene is chaotic; when I was young, I had pictured Peter in a safe place when He was asked about Jesus.  It was far from a safe place; Peter’s own life was in danger.
There are many things I learned from this scene.  The first thing I learned was that my failures were not secrets.  It’s not as though the failures in my life were completely unknown to an omniscient God.  Jesus knows all.  He knows exactly who I am, who I was, who I am going to be.
Theresa said something last week that I thought illustrated me perfectly.  I was frozen in my failure.
In the story of Peter’s denial, I found the story of myself.  I was Peter, and my faith was lacking.  Matthew 26:31, Jesus quotes from Zechariah 13:7 and tells of a future that has not yet happened.
Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:
‘I will strike the Shepherd,
And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”
Slide6.JPGBut Jesus is not just going to fulfill this scripture, he tells the disciples that they, too, will fulfill this scripture.  The sheep that follow Jesus Christ will abandon him and scatter.
Peter has a lot of pride in his belief in Jesus.  Pride is putting oneself on the throne of God.  God may have said something, but it doesn’t apply to me.  God may have a plan, but I have something even better planned, and God just has to get on board with it.  I am a good Christian man who drank, chased women, and then divorced his wife.  Peter, like me, has a better plan, and tells Jesus that Jesus is wrong.  Verse 33,
Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.”
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What arrogance to tell Jesus that Peter will never stumble, even though Jesus just prophesied that he would.  Peter knows better than God, just like I knew better than God what was best for me.
How is your pride?  Do you ever tell God what He needs to do?  Do you pray for people to change, for situations to change for your benefit, for good things to happen to you?  Do you do things that God disapproves of, but rationalize it somehow that it’s not *that* bad and God put you in this situation in the first place?
Pride is hard to eliminate.  Every time I think I’m getting a handle on humility, I think, “Wow, I’m getting really good at being humble.  In fact, I’m extraordinary at it.  I should get a medal or something.”  For me, it comes up most often when I compare myself to somebody else. Sometimes it’s skills – I am better at math, so I’m a better person than somebody who isn’t.  Sometimes it’s appearance: I may be overweight, but at least I’m not as overweight as *that* person.
Benjamin Franklin once said,
In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had compleatly overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.
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Pride is something we all suffer from.  If we think we do not suffer from pride, then it is possible pride is blinding us to our pride.  Pride is real easy to recognize in others, though, isn’t it?  It’s because when we see pride in somebody else, we’re smugly saying, “*I* don’t suffer from pride like *he* does.”  Like Benjamin Franklin, we are being proud of our humility.
C.S. Lewis has this to say about pride:
According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is pride. Unchastity, anger, grief, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea-bites in comparison; it was through pride that the devil became the devil; pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind… In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that- and, therefore know yourself as nothing in comparison- you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see Something that is above you.
Peter’s pride led him to tell Jesus that Peter alone would never betray Christ, even if all the other disciples scattered.
And Jesus response was that, not only were Jesus and Peter going to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah, there was a new prophecy just for Peter.  Matthew 26:34 –
Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”
III. Peter Denies Christ
You trying telling God you know better than Him and see how well that works out for you.  For me, it didn’t.  My sin led me to my knees, but I didn’t feel like my life was good enough to present to Jesus.  The Catholic Church had taught me to feel guilty, and that divorced people couldn’t receive communion.  I was a non-practicing divorced Catholic that chased women and was not allowed to accept Christ.  Where did I go wrong?
Of course when I was given an opportunity to tell people about Jesus, I hedged.  I changed the subject.  I talked about the weather.  I mean, seriously, I was such a bad example of a Christian there was no way I could tell people that Jesus was part of my life.  It would be an embarrassment to both me and to God.  I would never put a fish on my car because I was such a bad example, I didn’t want anybody to know.   I was afraid they’d look at the fish and then they’d look at me, and see right through my hypocrisy.  “You call yourself a Christian and you drive like that?  You are such a hypocrite.”
After the arrest of Jesus, the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin spit on Jesus.  They called Him names and struck Him in the face.  When they struck him, they taunted Him, saying, “Prophecy to us, Christ!  Who hit you?”
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And Peter was nearby.  Peter was not walking with Christ, but he was walking near Christ.  Peter was in the courtyard.  A woman said, “Aren’t you one of his students?”
Who me?  I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Another woman said, “Yeah, I’m certain I saw the two of you together.”
Um, nope. You’re mistaken.  I’m not one of the religious nutjobs.  I don’t know Jesus.
Others said, “You know, your accent gives you away.  You have a Nazarene accent just like him.  Your accent gives you away.”
And Peter got so frustrated that he cussed and said some sort of swear word, I. Don’t. Know. Him.
And the rooster crowed.
Of course, the prophecy of Jesus was fulfilled.  Of course, Peter denied Christ.  When the going got tough, Peter wanted to save himself.  He had a better plan than God.  It says in the book of Luke that at this point, Jesus turned and looked straight at Peter.
IV. Peter Weeps
Matthew 26:75,
And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” So he went out and wept bitterly.
Slide14.JPGI think many of us get to a place where we are broken.  When we realize we are not the person we wanted to believe we are and our eyes are opened to just how far we fall short of the glory of God, we’re broken.  Peter wept.
I used to look at Peter and say, “Man, what an idiot.    I can’t believe he’d deny Christ like that.  Doesn’t he know who Jesus is?”
And in my bible study with that pastor back in 1998, I realized I was Peter.  I was the idiot that denied Christ.  Despite telling myself that I was such a good person, I finally realized how far short of the goal I was.  I had decided I knew better than God what was best for me and I dragged around my religion like garbage I was ashamed of, and when it came time for me to choose between obedience and selfishness, between trust and pride, I chose me.  I denied the plan Jesus had for me because I wanted to save myself.  My plan was better than God’s.  And when I finally realized I was Peter, I wept.
No wonder Jesus had no use for me.  I was a terrible Christian.  I was lost.  I was on the outside looking in, and that I’d never be one of the sheep that Christ promised to hold in His hands.
Ever felt that despair?  That you’re not good enough?  Christ can’t use you because you’re flawed in so many ways?  I wouldn’t blame Jesus if He never spoke to Peter again, completely disowned him.  Just like I felt Jesus had disowned me because I had failed Him in so many ways.
I remember a story about a tribe with some skin disease, maybe it was leprosy, I couldn’t find the story again, but it was on that USB stick the church handed out, the audio version of the New Testament.  This tribe had lived apart, had a unique dialect, so these missionaries translated the New Testament into their language.  And when they got to the part where the unclean woman reached out to touch the robe of Jesus, they were all on the edge of their seats and they gasped.  And Jesus turned around and said, “who touched my robe?”  The unclean woman came and fell down at the feet of Jesus and confessed.
Then Jesus told her, “Your faith has made you whole, go in peace and be healed.
The tribe broke down and cried.  They identified with the woman as being unclean, and when Jesus turned around and said, “Who touched my robe?” they were sure Jesus would call down fire from the sky and punish the woman.  But Jesus responded in love.  Their disease did not prohibit them from receiving the love of Jesus.
I Repeat, have you ever felt that despair?  That you’re not good enough?  Christ can’t use you because you’re dirty and unclean?
V. Peter is Forgiven
But that’s not what Jesus did for Peter.  Despite Peter’s best efforts at running from Jesus, Jesus still loved Peter.   After the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Jesus appeared to His disciples and has breakfast with them after fishing.  And rather than shun Peter, Jesus finds Peter and asks, “Do you love me?”
Slide15.JPGJesus doesn’t hold grudges; that’s what our sin nature does.  We hold grudges.  Jesus doesn’t have a sin nature, and He welcomes us in love, despite our failures.  Sometimes I think it’s actually because of our failures.  If we resist His will, He’s not going use us.  He wants us to go with Him willingly, without resistance.  And it’s only when we realize our failures and that Christ loves us unconditionally that we truly begin to understand the character of God.   It doesn’t have anything to do with us.
Theresa talked about prophecy last week, and I though how insightful it was that Jesus knew Peter would deny Him and yet Jesus took Peter to the Garden of Gethsemane anyway.  God knows we are weak.  He loves us anyway, especially if we agree with God that we are weak.  Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 12 when he pleaded for God to remove the thorn from his flesh:
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
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I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Despite denying Jesus three times, Jesus loved Peter.  Not because of who Peter is, but because of who Jesus is.  Not because of who I am, but because of who Jesus is.
VI. Conclusion
Once I realized I was Peter and Jesus still loved me, it opened a door to a way of joy and peace for me.  I learned that my dirty life was not too filthy to be a follower of Jesus.  My filth helped me realize that I was indeed powerless to save myself, that thinking I was a good person was not the same thing as being a good person.  I had sinned, but I was in good company.  All have sinned and fallen short.  In fact, that’s the point, nobody is good enough.  But Jesus died for me, not because I was a good person, but because I wasn’t.  Without Jesus, I was destined for the fires of hell no matter how I tried to fool myself that it’ll be ok.  I needed a savior.
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Wherever you are in your spiritual growth, you’re not too bad that Jesus doesn’t want to get to know you.  There is nothing in your life that disqualifies you from a relationship with our loving, heavenly Father.
Despite our failures, or perhaps because of our failures, we just have to confess our sins to the Lord and he forgives and forgets as far as the east is from the west. Despite our failures, we are adopted children of the Creator of the Universe.
I am not ashamed of the gospel.  And now there’s a fish on my car.
To God be the glory.  Amen.

Offered to All

             I.      Introduction – The Parable

You probably cry at weddings.  Statistics show that 86% of all women cry at weddings, 36% of all men do, and over 77% of all statistics are made up.

The last wedding I attended was between two antennae.  The wedding was ok, I suppose, but the reception was amazing.Slide1

Last week when Chris taught from Matthew 21, he spoke on two parables, first the Two Sons and then the Wicked Tenants, and he explained how the two parables were related, the second being “salt on the wound” to the Pharisees and the “nail in the coffin.  In the very next verse in Matthew 22 is a third related parable directly related to the parables Chris taught about, so let’s keep in mind that the Pharisees are being condemned with the words of Isaiah, who claim obedience to God but reject His messengers, again and again and again.

Today’s scripture is all about a wedding reception, so open your bibles to Matthew 22 and let’s read verses 1-14.

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.  He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.  The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.  The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.  So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’  So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.  He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Slide5The parables of Jesus are interesting – sometimes they are easy to understand, sometimes difficult.  Sometimes seemingly impossible.  And sometimes the easy ones have a deeper meaning than we realize, like today’s parable.  God seemed to pour out His message to me this week, and we’re going to start with the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah, Daniel and Amos, then discuss what the coming Kingdom of God and Heaven means, then discuss our wedding feast parable, and finally end up in Revelation 19.  Are you ready?

Why a parable?  The mysteries of God’s purposes are revealed to those who seek His wisdom.  Jesus answer the question about parables in Matthew 13:10-17,

The disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.  Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.  This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.  For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

Slide9Whoever has ears, let them hear.  It’s interesting to me that these verses from Isaiah perfectly illustrate the parable of the Wedding Feast.  Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah when He speaks in parables, and illustrates that while the words in the bible are available to everyone, the understanding is available only to those who seek.  It’s ok that parts of the bible are hard to understand; listen and trust in the words you do understand, and God will open your eyes to more understanding in His perfect timing.

Speaking of fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, we’re going to visit Isaiah in a little bit, but let’s first go back to today’s scripture to see who Jesus is speaking to.  Context is important; the top three things to look for in understanding scripture is location, location, location.

Today’s scripture begins in Matthew 22:1,

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying:

Slide10Who is Jesus speaking to?  Jesus is speaking to Pharisees, legalistic Jewish scholars that were more interested in obeying the Law and making sure others obeyed the Law than making sure their own hearts were aligned with the will of God.

          II.      Old Testament – The Coming Kingdom

We continue in verse 2,

The kingdom of heaven is like…

Slide11This little phrase can be several weeks of bible study, because the kingdom of heaven is a complex issue.  I’m going to list just a few observations to consider –

Jesus is king, He is our savior.  Jesus brings a personal message of salvation to each and every one of us.  But that’s not what the Jews were expecting, they were expecting a theocratic kingdom on earth.  I used to believe the Pharisees were mistaken on this point, but I’ve come to realize they were correct in expecting a theocratic kingdom.  There are a great many verses that prophesy this, way too many to review today, so I’m just going to pick two of them.  First is Exodus 19:3-6,

Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

As part of the Mosaic Covenant was a condition, a big “if” statement.  If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then Jerusalem will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  This is the theocratic kingdom of God on earth that the Messiah would deliver.

The flipside to this “if” statement can be found beginning in Deuteronomy 28:15,

However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:

You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country.

Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed.

The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.

You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out.

These curses go on for many, many more verses and describe oppression, madness, sexual immorality, confusion, more madness, plagues and ruin.  For another 50 verses these punishments are listed, but let’s skip almost to the end to Deuteronomy 28:62-64,

You who were as numerous as the stars in the sky will be left but few in number, because you did not obey the Lord your God.  Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess.

Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other.

So the Old Testament prophets told of a Messiah that would come to make Jerusalem the center of God’s Kingdom on earth, Isaiah 11:10-11,

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.  In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the Mediterranean.

There are a great many other verses we could consider and we can’t get into them all, but here is a list of verses describing God’s theocratic kingdom on earth as described by Old Testament prophets:

Established by God Daniel 2:44
Eternal Daniel 7:27
The Messiah will rule directly Zechariah 9:9-10 (verse 9 describes Christ’s 1st Coming, verse 10 describes His 2nd Coming)
Earthly Zechariah 14:9, Job 19:25, Revelation 5:10
Land promises to Abraham fulfilled Genesis 15:18-21, Ezekiel 47:13-23, Joel 3, Ezekiel 31, Jeremiah 30:3
Israel’s preeminence Isaiah 49:22-23, Zechariah 8:23, Isaiah 2:2-3, Zechariah 14:16-18, Isaiah 14:2
Millennial Temple Ezekiel 40-46
Of the line of David Jeremiah 30:9
Righteousness Isaiah 9:6-7
Curses curtailed Isaiah 65:20-22
Peace in the Kingdom Isaiah 2:4
Prosperity Amos 9:13-14, Isaiah 65:22
Topographical Changes Ezekiel 47:1-12
Immediate Answers to Prayer Isaiah 65:24

All the people of Israel had to do was be obedient and welcome the Messiah when He came.

       III.      New Testamant – The King Rejected

Then the King arrived.  John the Baptist was fulfillment of prophecy, announcing the arrival of the Messiah, Matthew 3:1-3,

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,  and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord;

Make His paths straight.’”

Notice that John is saying the Kingdom of Heaven is “at hand” or “has come near.”  This is the announcement all of Israel had been waiting for, their Messiah had come.  But remember the big “if” given to Moses?  Israel had to be obedient, love the Lord, and welcome their Messiah.  And for understanding our parable today of the wedding feast, it’s important to realize that this offer was good only to Israel.

When Jesus arrived, He took His message to Israel alone as God’s chosen people, Matthew 10:5-8,

These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans.  But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.”

Notice two important things here in the early days of Jesus’ ministry; he tells the original twelve apostles only to go to the Jews and not any Gentiles, and also that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  Jesus is the Messiah that Israel has been expecting.  All they had to do is be obedient and accept their savior.

          IV.      The Postponed Kingdom

But Israel did not accept their savior, and they were not obedient.  They crucified their Messiah and rejected their king.  In accordance with prophecy, the theocratic kingdom of God was now postponed.  The kingdom would now be offered, not to Israel, but to the Church.  Jesus once told Israel the Kingdom of God is at hand, but now says in Matthew 24:36,

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Jesus once says the kingdom was imminent, but now He doesn’t know when it is coming.  And where once Jesus brought His message only to Israel, now He brings it to all who accept, Matthew 28:18-20,

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Paul summarizes all of this in Romans 11, that Israel’s rejection led to salvation of the Gentiles, but also that the Gentiles owe their salvation to Israel.  When Israel accepts the return of Christ, how much more glory will that bring!  Romans 11:11-12,

I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles.  Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!

So, that’s the background to our parable today.  Once a theocratic kingdom was promised to Israel if they would turn their hearts toward God and be obedient.  Instead, Israel rejected God’s will and crucified their Messiah.  The Church Age begins, as Chris mentioned the end of the dispensation of the Age of The Law and the beginning of the new Dispensation, the Age of Grace.  Gentiles are now called to worship the one true God, and the kingdom of heaven on earth would be postponed, and God is not slow about keeping His promise, not wanting anyone who would come to repentance to perish, and in His perfect timing, Christ will come again.

             V.      The Wedding Feast, the Church as the Bride

We started with a parable, so let’s return to that parable, and with this background I think we’ll have a great deal more understanding.  Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who are about to reject Christ and crucify Him.  Matthew 22,

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying:  “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.”

We will come back to the wedding banquet.  The eyes of the Pharisees were closed and they did not understand the parables of Jesus, but as Christians, we do understand.  Who is the king but the Lord God Almighty?  And who is the Son but Jesus Christ our savior?

“He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.”

Who doesn’t want to go to a Wedding Banquet?  Food and celebration for the wedding guests?  Or to put it another way, who declines a free offer of salvation?  The Lord God through the passage of time sent His prophets to tell His chosen people that the kingdom of heaven is at hand and it was time for the celebration to begin.  Israel was a stiff-necked people, though, and rejected the message.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.  The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.”

Israel killed the prophets.  They killed John the Baptist.  Israel would soon kill the King of the Jews.

In Matthew 23:37 through Matthew 24:2, Jesus prays for Jerusalem and says the temple of Jerusalem would be destroyed,

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!  See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”

Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple.  And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”

Slide25Back to our parable,

The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

In 70 AD, Romans legions surrounded the city of Jerusalem, destroyed the city and overturned the stones of the temple.

I’m starting to think this is less and less of a parable, and more like a straightforward prophecy.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.  So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’  So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

Because of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah, God invited all who would believe in the Messiah and our Lord Jesus Christ.  The bad and the good, the sinners and the saints, are all invited.  And they may have a seat at the wedding banquet under one condition.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.  He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

          VI.      Conclusion, Clothed in Righteousness

You and I are invited.  The good and the bad are invited.  Everybody is invited, including God’s firstfruits, the nation of Israel.

And we are all welcome under one condition, that we are properly dressed for the wedding feast.  The wedding banquet is reminiscent of the marriage supper of the Lamb which occurs after the rapture and before Christ’s second coming, a celebration of the marriage between the Lamb of God and His bride, the church.  In Revelation 19:6-9,

And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!  Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.”  And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.”

Let us clothe ourselves in righteousness that comes only from the shed blood of Christ Jesus who cleanses us all from all unrighteousness and who rules the Kingdom of God as Israel always believed He would.  We finish with the rest of Revelation 19:11-16,

Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.  His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns.  He had a name written that no one knew except Himself.  He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.  And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.  Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron.  He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.  And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:

KING OF KINGS AND

LORD OF LORDS.

Slide32

To God be the glory.  Amen.

What Is Required?

             I.      Introduction

Today’s scripture is a familiar one; Jesus has been teaching and preaching in Judea when He was approached by a rich man, and they had a conversation about sewing and zoo animals.  Let’s read the entire conversation and see if I understood it correctly.  Matthew 19:16-26:

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

 

When I was younger, my entire takeaway from this conversation is that rich people can’t go to heaven.  You can’t take it with you.  Only Mother Theresa can go to heaven because she was poor.  Also, this was a very big needle or a very tiny camel.

Slide5

But, as simple as this conversation is, there is so much more here than “you can’t take it with you.”  So today we’re going to do our best to understand all the nuances of what’s going on, one verse at a time.  And we’re going to begin with the question every soul wants to know: what do I have to do to go to heaven?  How much is good enough?  What good thing must I do?

Slide6

          II.      Obey the Law

I heard a pastor say recently, “Everything in the bible is for you, but not everything in the bible is about you.”  That’s partially true in this passage if we understand who Jesus is talking to and why.  Jesus is talking to a Jew who is under the Law.

Here in Matthew 19 the man is identified only as “a young man,” but this discussion with Jesus is so important to understanding the New Testament that it’s also reported in Mark Chapter 10 and in Luke Chapter 18.  Luke 18:18 refers to him as “a certain ruler,” so most likely he was a ruler of a local synagogue, a Jewish leader.  And he is asking Rabbi Yeshua about theology, and it sounds to me like he’s asking with brashness and confidence.  Wealth from man’s perspective is often associated with success, so if you’re a religious leader with money, then you must have God’s blessing.  The evidence is all around you.  The Prosperity gospel has a long, long history.

So the man, being a young, rich, religious leader, considers himself pious and full of religiousity and good deeds.  But something gnaws at him, he wants to know of all the good things he has done, what one thing must he do to inherit eternal life?

Jesus’ initial response, though, is not to the young Jewish leader’s question about eternal salvation, but Jesus answers,

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good.”

The root word for “good” implies “from God,” although those words are from 12th century Middle English.  But similar words exist in Greek; “agathos” vs “theos” or “ἀγαθός” vs “θεός”.  Jesus’s response is a question that can be rephrased,

If you ask me what is good, do you acknowledge me as God?

Jesus continues then, to answer the question accurately as God would answer Israel:

Be obedient to the law I have given you.

If you want to earn your way to heaven, then earn it through obedience.  Start with the Ten Commandments, work through the 613 mitzvots,

Jesus replied. “If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Before sin entered the world, God had one command for man.  “Do not eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”  Just one rule and be obedient.

 

But man was not obedient, he ate the fruit and gained knowledge of good and evil.  Without the knowledge of evil, then our actions before the Lord are innocent.  We are like innocent children that do not know things that are wrong.  We are untainted by the knowledge of evil, so all we have to do is be obedient and we have a close relationship with the Lord.

But once sin entered the world, and we gained a knowledge of good and evil, so did the laws increase.  One of the first sins in Genesis 4 were between the children of Adam and Eve.  Genesis 4:2-8,

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.  In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.  And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.  So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Cain offered “some of the fruits” but Abel offered the best of the best of his flock.  The Lord appreciated Abel’s offering, but knew that Cain wasn’t giving the Lord the best, and gave Cain instructions and a warning.  Do what is right and your offer will be accepted.  Otherwise, sin is crouching at your door.

So we need more rules.  One of the first commandments springs from Cain and Abel, “thou shalt not murder.”  And as man’s sin have multiplied themselves over and over through the centuries, so did the Law with God’s instruction continuing to be: just be obedient.

We have our Ten Commandments, we have our 613 mitzvots.  We have our human governments and our US Constitution and 25 volumes of United States Codes and US Statutes at Large that contain not just an overwhelming number of laws, but every year we pass new laws, some laws are passed to amend existing laws, and some new laws are passed that repeal old laws.  Then we have case law and regulations that have the force of laws.  I checked the US Federal Register ( https://www.federalregister.gov/ ) and there are currently 745,213 pages of laws, rules and regulations that we are required to obey, 109 new documents from 39 agencies are added every day.

My bible has 1,281 pages.  The Federal Register is 581 times bigger.  We’ve come a long way from, “Please don’t eat the fruit.”

       III.      Be Perfect

So Israel asks the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus says, “Obey the Law.”  And incredibly, the young ruler responds with,

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

I’m guessing he might be lacking humility.  Or maybe wisdom.

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

To be in the presence of a Holy God, have no sin in you.  Be perfect.

If you want to go to Heaven, you cannot drink or smoke or dance.  If you want to go to Heaven, you must belong to a certain church.  If you want to go to Heaven, you must attend church services every week and tithe 10% and attend bible study and sing in the choir and donate shoes for orphans and participate in Serve Houston.  And since we are also supposed to be good citizens, there another 746,213 pages of federal regulations we have to obey.

I thought Theresa’s quote from Mohammed Ali’s eulogy captured our thinking pretty well,

“For his part, he saw the good soul in everyone.  And if you were one of the lucky ones to have met him, you know what I mean.  He awoke every morning thinking about his own salvation, and he would often say, “I just want to get to heaven and I’ve got to do a lot of good deeds to get there.”

Have to do a lot of good deeds, obey a lot of rules.  By the way, I looked up the Bylaws of USA Boxing, and there are 50 pages of Bylaws, 31 pages of Technical Rules of Boxing, 47 pages of Competition Rules, and 35 pages of Medical Rules.

I think sometimes we recognize that it’s not all these laws we have to obey if we want to be a good Christian.  But other people?  *They* have to obey certain laws if they’re going to be good Christians.   My children have to clean their room, my spouse has to do what I tell her to do.  Even if I cannot follow all the rules, it doesn’t stop me from demanding that *other* people have to follow the rules.

 

If you look at this last question and answer between the rich young ruler and Jesus, you may notice that Jesus didn’t answer the question.  The question is wrong.

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

It illustrated the central error of the Pharisees, the central error of many legalistic churches.  It is not by *doing* something that man can inherit eternal life, but by *being* something.  The ruler asks, “What shall I do?” and Jesus answers, “This is who you have to be.”  If you want eternal life, you have to be perfect.  And apparently to be perfect, it appears Jesus is saying you can’t have money.

Or at least that’s the way some have interpreted this verse.  Jesus says give away all your money to follow Him, and if you don’t, you’re a camel trying to fit to the eye of a needle.

That doesn’t seem right, though.  What is Jesus saying?

          IV.      But What About the Money?

Is money evil?  Is giving away all our money something Jesus is really asking us to do? Let’s start with this familiar verse, 1 Timothy 6:10,

Money is the root of all evil.

Actually, that’s not what 1 Timothy 6:10 says.  The full verse is,

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Money by itself is not evil.  Jewish teaching establishes that your own needs are your primary concern, but not your only concern.  Caring for your own needs is essential to survive, but not to thrive.  Therefore, helping to provide for the needs of others is an essential part of living a fulfilling life.  The Jews celebrate this idea at the end of each Sabbath on Saturday night with a Havdalah service.  They fill a cup of wine to the brim and then let it overflow into a saucer beneath the cup.  The idea is to continue to fill your own cup so that it overflows even after it’s full so the excess can provide for others in need.

How big is your cup?  Our modern society tells us our cup is huge.  Fill it with everything you can get your hands on, look out for yourself.  All of your wants are needs.  And the cup never overflows because you are constantly trying to satisfy all of your needs and all of your wants.

But some say Christians should give away everything and have a small cup, live poorly.  But that’s not biblical, either.  1 Timothy 5:8 says,

 Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Ultimately, the size of the cup is between you and the Lord.  Your cup must be large enough to enjoy the fruits of your labor, but small enough to allow the blessings God has provided to overflow to those around you.

There have been plenty of people, both Old Testament and New Testament, that had money.  David, a man after God’s own heart, had a palace and a kingdom.  Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, was also the wealthiest who ever lived.  But Solomon said this about money in Ecclesiastes 5:10.

“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money.”

And Joseph of Arimathea is described in the book of Luke as a “good and upright man” and a follower of Jesus, who donated the use of his wealthy family’s tomb after the crucifixion of Jesus.  Interesting to me was that the wealth of Joseph was part of prophecy, Isaiah 53:9 –

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Slide24Besides, the absolute worst way to care for the poor is to give away all your money and become one of the poor that need help.

 

            V.      It’s About the Heart

So it’s not about the money.  It’s about the heart.  Do you treasure the things of God, or the things of this world?  Matthew 6:21,

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Slide25That’s the central point of Jesus’s message to the rich young ruler.  If you want eternal life, where is your heart?  Is it with your possessions, or is it with heavenly things?  And the ruler went away sad because he was a wealthy man.

If one problem with money is that it becomes our idol, our focus in this world, then another problem is that money keeps us from remembering that all blessings come from God.  I have this passage from C.S. Lewis, and it’s a little on the long side, but I think very appropriate to the dangers of complacency when one has too much:

C.S. Lewis – “One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give, and so fail to realize your need for God. If everything seems to come simply by signing checks, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent on God. Now, quite plainly natural gifts carry with them a similar danger. If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. “Why drag God into it?” you may ask. A certain level of good conduct comes fairly easily to you. You are not one of those wretched creatures who are always being tripped up by sex or dipsomania or nervousness or bad temper. Everyone says you are a nice chap, and between ourselves, you agree with them. You are quite likely to believe that all this niceness is your own doing, and you may easily not feel the need for any better kind of goodness. Often people who have all these natural kinds of goodness cannot be brought to recognize their need for Christ at all until one day, the natural goodness lets them down, and their self-satisfaction is shattered. In other words, it is hard for those who are rich in this sense to enter the kingdom.”

 

          VI.      Old Testament Vs New Testament

So money can’t buy you a ticket to heaven, but then neither can a lack of money.  So neither wealth nor poverty leads to eternal life.  Who then, can be saved?

And that’s exactly what the disciples of Jesus asked after the ruler went away sad.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

I spent a lot of time on this last sentence, and one of the things that dawned on me is that this is the line that separates the Old Testament from the New Testament.

You see, God made a unique covenant with Israel.  Be obedient and the Lord will deliver you to the Promised Land.   But those 745,213 federal regulations turned out to be too hard to follow, and the only reason there are so many regulations is that sin had entered the world and the wages of sin is death.

What’s the right size of your cup to make sure it’s overflowing?  That’s between you and God.  But what if you get it wrong?  What if getting the size of the cup built to the right size as specified in the regulations was necessary for eternal life?  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is to get my cup and your cup sized perfectly.  Man’s heart is full of deceit and we will get the size of the cup wrong, even if we give all we have to the poor and become a pauper for Jesus.

But the Lord can accomplish His will.  And with God, all things are possible.  Instead of trying through our own efforts at complying with all the regulations, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  The rules I don’t satisfy?  Christ paid the cost for me.  The rules I break?  Christ paid the punishment for me.

For Israel, it was indeed about “What can I *do* to inherit eternal life?”  But for those of us who have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus, it’s now, “Who can I *be*?”  We can be believers and trust that Jesus Christ, our Advocate, will satisfy all the requirements for us.  That’s what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:17,

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Christ satisfies every federal regulation we have to meet.  And now the laws we have to follow now are simple:

Romans 13:8-10,

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Galatians 5:14,

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 6:2,

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Jesus somehow takes those 745,213 federal regulations and reduces it to this:

Love one another and carry one another’s burdens.  Let me handle the details.

 

       VII.      Conclusion

So let’s remember today that in order to inherit eternal life, we have to be perfect.  In order to be perfect, we have to cover ourselves with the shed blood of Jesus Christ because He alone is perfect.  And that on our own merits, we cannot work our way to eternal life.  We cannot be perfect at fulfilling the Ten Commandments and 613 Mitzvots and 745,213 Federal Regulations, not to mention the boxing rules.  But we believe the Lord fulfilled the Law and took our punishment.

Pray that the size of your cup if large enough to enjoy this world and what God hath created, but small enough that it overflows.  Love one another and carry each other’s burdens.

Slide33

They say you can’t take it with you.  However, if you trust in Jesus, you can let Him take you with Him.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

My Yoke is Easy

  I.      Introduction

We’re only going to study 5 verses today.  How long can that possibly take?  Let’s start by turning to Matthew 11.

When I just sit down and read the bible, I often just read quickly without slowing to ponder the meaning.  But once I stop to examine a passage, often I find a deeper meaning, a revelation, a message to ponder.  When I find one of these passages, I highlight it in my bible.  And now, today, every passage is highlighted.

So I guess what I’m saying is that getting through 5 verses that hold an exceptional amount of meaning that can take all day.  I hope you brought your lunch.

Slide2

Let’s put the Matthew 11 in context.  Jesus has been speaking and teaching to Jews in the towns of Galilee.  Galilee is a province in the northern part of Israel, the other provinces being Judea and Samaria.  Jesus spent much of His ministry living and teaching here and his life and miracles are captured in the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Interesting, the book of John primarily focuses on Jesus’ life in Judea, not Galilee.

Beginning in verse 20, Jesus warns those that do not repent of their day of destruction, and the very presence of Jesus performing miracles in the towns of Galilee is to give evidence that Jesus is who He says He is, the very Son of God, and the miracles are given to give weight to Jesus words of repentance.  But a great many people see the miracles, and even want the miracles for themselves, but do not want to believe.  And we come to our first verse to study today, Matthew 11:25.

II.      Matthew 11:25, Truth Revealed to Little Children

Matthew 11:25,

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.

Jesus praises God the Father for who He is, and rightly proclaims God the father to be Lord of heaven and earth.  In John 10:30, Jesus says, “I and the Father are One.”  During the life of Jesus, though He was also God, He lived His life as man, and it was proper for Jesus to show us how to live, including giving all honor and glory to God.  Jesus, Son of God, God the Son, gives praise to God the Father.

Jesus is One with the Father, He is Emmanuel, God with us.  But to demonstrate to us what it means to live a life free of sin, Jesus talks to the Father, not as an equal, but as a faithful servant.  He speaks to God the Father as a man.

I looked up the Greek word for Father used here, and you might have heard plenty of sermons where Jesus uses the phrase “Abba” to call to His Father, a phrase a toddler might use when he just wants to be held.  But that’s not the word Jesus uses here, he uses “pater,” and uses the same word to begin the Lord’s prayer, “Our ‘pater’, who art in heaven.”  When applied to God the Father, Strong’s Dictionary defines it this way,

God is called the Father

  1. of the stars, the heavenly luminaries, because he is their creator, upholder, ruler

  2. of all rational and intelligent beings, whether angels or men, because he is their creator, preserver, guardian and protector

  3. of Christians, as those who through Christ have been exalted to a specially close and intimate relationship with God, and who no longer dread him as a stern judge of sinners, but revere him as their reconciled and loving Father

  4. the Father of Jesus Christ, as one whom God has united to himself in the closest bond of love and intimacy, made acquainted with his purposes, appointed to explain and carry out among men the plan of salvation, and made to share also in his own divine nature

 

Could there be a better description of our heavenly father?

Then Jesus says, “because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”

The “wise” that Jesus mentions here likely refer to the self-righteous Pharisees who obeyed the letter of the law but understood not the intent of the law.  From a human perspective, they were wise and learned.  They knew the Old Testament scripture, and were not afraid to apply to others and be judgmental about how other people lived their lives.

How can we best understand that being wise is foolish?  The first step toward wisdom is recognizing our own ignorance.  We do not, and cannot, know everything.  We will never be omniscient, knowing everything that ever was and is and is to come.  Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 2:4-8.  Paul says,

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.  We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.  No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.  None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

There are clearly two kinds of wisdom.  There is worldly wisdom and there is Godly wisdom.

The source of worldly wisdom is man’s own human intellect.  It is human ideas and human reasoning and human philosophy.  There is nothing wrong with human intellect as long as it is based on spiritual truth.  Building intellect on spiritual truth is like building or foundation upon rock.  The book of James talks about this at length.  You might be familiar with James 1:5 that says,

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

James tells us that if lack Godly wisdom, all we have to do is ask God.  Less well known is what James says about worldly wisdom in James 3:15,

Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

Worldly wisdom misrepresents truth and leads many Christians into gross errors.  It looks good.  It sounds noble.  It seems to make sense.  But worldly wisdom can lead us astray, from seeking God’s will.  It fosters doubt, makes us question God’s goodness, teaches us to put faith in ourselves and our own smarts.  The “wisdom of this world” appeals to the flesh and to our carnal nature.  We listen to worldly wisdom because we can do what we want instead of what God wants.

What does God want?  Well, knowing that comes from godly wisdom.  We just have to ask God.  He gives graciously.  But first we have to acknowledge that, compared to God’s incredible knowledge and wisdom, our own meager worldly wisdom pales in comparison.  We are like children.

And that’s not just a metaphor.   Jesus wants us to be innocent in worldly wisdom and abundant in godly wisdom.  That’s why he says in our verse today that God reveals his truth to little children.  Jesus reinforces this is verses like Matthew 18:1-5,

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Why does God hide his wisdom from the wise and learned?  Well, that’s the next line of scripture in our study today.

III.      Matthew 11:26, Because It Pleases Him

Matthew 11:26,

Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

I think that many times God works through weakness, and that belief is reinforced in scripture.  Paul had a thorn in his flesh, and when he asked for it to be removed, God said His strength is made perfect in our weakness. But then I want to ask, “Why?  Why can’t God’s strength me magnified in our strength instead of our weakness?”

This verse says this is God is pleased to do this.  I don’t really know why.  Well, part of me knows that when we depend on our own strength, we just give credit to ourselves for our good works.  We pat ourselves on the back and say, “good job.”  But when we can’t do it ourselves, we have to acknowledge we are not in control, and that our Creator has a plan bigger than us.

Job asked some of these same questions.  Job had a really bad day and lost his family, his property, and grew boils all over his body.  Job’s friends said it was because Job had some sort of hidden sin that he needed to confess, but Job said that that view wasn’t scriptural, and besides, Job was a righteous man.  But then Job got to wondering, “so why, then, am I being punished?”  And Job demands an audience of God.  Job believes that, since he is righteous, God owes him a good answer for these boils.

God finally does answer, but not in the way Job expects.  God asks Job some questions.  Where were you when I created the universe?  When I marked off the dimensions of the earth, where were you?  When I give the command to the morning where the dawn’s light should shine, where were you?  The Lord commands the constellations, counts the number of clouds, directs the lightning bolts, Job, where were you?

And Job realizes that his righteousness is insignificant compared to the majesty of the Lord.  God doesn’t provide any answers to Job.  God wants Job to be obedient because of God’s superiority.  There is no one like God. In essence, God’s answer to His children is, “Because I said so.”

This morning, while you and I were setting our alarm so that we would show up to church on time, and trying to decide what we wanted to wear, God was orchestrating the universe and telling the galaxies what to wear.  Isaiah 55:8-9 says,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

neither are your ways my ways,”

declares the Lord.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Because He said so.

So who can know the will of the Lord?

IV.      Matthew 11:27, To Know the Father, Know the Son

Matthew 11:27, Jesus says,

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Just two verses earlier, Jesus was praising God the Father and calling Him the Lord of heaven and earth, but Jesus has been given this authority.  All of these things have been given to the Son by the Father.    Jesus, as God’s only begotten son, has a special and intimate relationship with God the Father.  And because Jesus alone has intimate knowledge of the Father, it is only through Jesus that the Father can be known.  No one knows God the Father except through Jesus the son.

And here’s an interesting phrase at the end.  The scripture says that Jesus knows the Father, and those Jesus chooses can know the Father.

Who does Jesus choose?  Does He choose those who are already righteous and do good works?  Does He choose tall people, or people who are good in math?  No, Jesus chooses sinners like you and me.  Only those God calls can hear the message, and Jesus repeatedly invited those who had ears to hear.  Why?  Because God said so.

Again, I think it’s so God can demonstrate His power and glory through our weakness.  He didn’t choose me because I was some great whoop-de-do (although I am tall and good at math).  No, he chose me while I was still a sinner, and I am forever grateful.  Literally, forever grateful.

And to those Jesus chooses, He reveals the Father.  In Matthew 11.27, the word “reveal” comes from the Greek word apokalupto, to take off the cover; to disclose or reveal.

In Old Testament times, the Shekinah glory of God dwelled within the innermost part of the Tabernacle behind a veil. No one could enter behind that veil except the High Priest, and even then under the strictest set of rules.

Exodus 40:34

Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

 

When Moses received the Law, God’s Glory shone upon him so much that he “glowed” with the heavenly radiance.

Exodus 34:35

And whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with God.

 

God’s plan is to reveal Himself in the Son.  God sent His Son so that we may “see” the Father.

John 14:8-9,

Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”  Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”

 

When Christ died for us, the veil that separated us from God was torn in two from top to bottom.

Matthew 27:50-51,

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.  And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.

Whereas in Old Testament times only the priest could see the shekinah glory of God, now Jesus is our high priest forever and ever.

Hebrews 4:14-15,

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

When we want to see the Shekinah glory of God, we only need to look to Jesus.  Or, under the burden of the law, all we have to do is follow the 613 old testament laws to be saved.  Did you know the Old Testament specified 613 commandments?  There are 365 Negative Mitzvots (to remind us not to do bad things every day of the year) plus 248 Positive Mitzvots (the number of bones in the human body, so we can obey the laws with our whole body.)  Here’s a list:

Here’s a list of all 613 mitzvots.

Obey all 613 Mitzvots, and you will be saved.

  V.      Matthew 11:28-30

Goodness.  613 commandments.  If I thought following the Ten Commandments was difficult enough, how am I supposed to remember all 613 commandments, let alone follow them all?  That sounds like a lot of work, and I’m weary just thinking about it.  Fortunately, I know where to find rest for the weary.  It’s in our scripture verses for today.

Matthew 11:28-30,

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

 

The yoke of the law was not light.  613 Mitzvots is a lot of mitzvots.  What exactly is yoke, anyway?

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In a literal sense, the word ‘Yoke’ means a bar of wood, harnessed around the necks of two animals (usually oxen), enabling them to work in the fields, drawing loads, pulling farming equipment.  In the Bible, it is figuratively used as a symbol of bondage and oppression, such as in Isaiah 9:4,

For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders,

especially bondage to sin, as in Lam 1:14:

My sins have been bound into a yoke, by his hands, they were woven together

The farmer would bind the yoke upon the neck of the oxen so that it would not fall off or be shaken off.

Why did the Pharisees rebel against Jesus? Because the Pharisees were intellectually and spiritually proud and would not become little babes in humility and honesty.  The Father reveals Himself to the Son, and the Son reveals Himself and the Father to those who are willing to come to the Son in faith.  These verses indicate both the sovereignty of the Father and the responsibility of the sinner. Three commands summarize this invitation.

“Come.” The Pharisees all said “Do!” and tried to make the people follow Moses and the traditions.  But true salvation is not found in works, it is found only in a person, Jesus Christ.  To come to Him means to trust Him. This invitation is open to those who are exhausted and burdened down. That is exactly how the people felt under the yoke of legalism.

“Take.” This is a deeper experience. When we come to Christ by faith, He gives us rest. When we take His yoke and learn, we find rest, that deeper rest of surrender and obedience. The first is “peace with God” as shown in Romans 5:1 –

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

And then “Learn.” The first two commands represent a crisis as we come and yield to Christ; but this step is into a process.  As we learn more about Him, we find a deeper peace, because we trust Him more.  Life is simplified and unified around the person of Christ.

As we learn, we find the “the peace of God” in Philippians 4:6-8.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

 

Farmers, when binding their oxen, often bound an experienced ox to a younger, untrained ox.  They did this so the new oxen would learn in the experienced oxen’s ways.  When we submit to Christ, we yoke ourselves to Him so that we may learn.  The word “easy” means “well-fitting”; He has just the yoke that is tailor-made for our lives and needs.  The burden of doing His will is not a heavy one.  On the contrary, when we are in the will of Christ Jesus, we find abundant joy.

Jesus was saying that any kind of law-keeping is a burden and amounts to a “heavy yoke” of oppression because no amount of law-keeping can bridge the gap between our sinfulness and God’s holiness.  God says through Isaiah that all of our righteous deeds are like a “polluted garment.”  Paul said in Romans 3:20 that “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.”

Jesus brought good news.  To all who come to Him, He will give us rest from the heavy burden of trying to earn our way into heaven and rest from the oppressive yoke of self-righteousness and legalism.  Jesus encourages those who are “heavy laden” to take His yoke upon them, and in so doing they will find rest for their souls. The yoke of Jesus is light and easy to carry because it is the yoke of repentance and faith followed by a commitment to follow Him.

This is what Jesus says in Matthew 11:20.  His yoke is easy and His burden light.   Is there is really a difference between the commandments of Jesus and the Jewish Law?  Isn’t the same God responsible for both?  If anything, one might argue that the commands of Jesus are even more burdensome because His Sermon on the Mount actually goes above and beyond outward conformity to the Law and deals instead with the inner person.

What makes Jesus’ yoke easy and His burden light is that Jesus fulfilled the Law of God.  He has already carried the burden that we were meant to carry.  His perfect obedience is imputed to us through faith, just as His righteousness was exchanged for our sin at the cross.  Our obedience to Jesus then becomes our “spiritual worship”.

And we have the Holy Spirit who works in our lives to mold us into the image of Christ, thereby making the yoke of Jesus easy and His burden light. The life lived by faith is a much lighter yoke and a much easier burden to carry than the heavy and burdensome yoke of self-righteousness under which some continually strive to make themselves acceptable to God through works.

 

VI.      Conclusion

So are you striving hard to be a good Christian?  Are you trying to follow some man-made law that tells you who you are?  You are more than a set of rules.  You are more than a secretary or an engineer.  You are more than a mom or dad.  Your struggle for the approval of others can be set at the foot of the cross, it’s not a burden you were meant to carry.  You are an adopted child of God, righteous in His sight.  Worship our Lord with your obedience, but don’t make your obedience a definition for who you are.  Christ sacrificed Himself so that we are free from the burden of works.  His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.

To God be the glory.

Gifts of the Magi

   I.      Introduction

I have missed a few weeks due to travel again.  I was fortunate enough that the weekend wasn’t too windy or cold or rainy, so I got out to see a Victorian Festival in Otley UK.  The very first thing I saw was a brass band – I love brass bands, I used to play a brass instrument – so I whipped out my camera.  Just as they began to take a break.  And I said, “But I came all the way from Texas!”  And the leader says, ok, 1 more, just for you, do you have a request?

I thought about this upcoming lesson on the gifts of the magi, and said, “How about, ‘We Three Kings?’”  They mumbled to themselves and said, “I think it’s #90.”  And I said, “Yes, #90.”  As if I knew what page number it was on.

So they gave me this special gift of song that I’d like to share with you:

There.  Wait, there’s more to today’s lesson.

Christmas is approaching, and with it, another chance to reflect on the incredible gift God has given us.  During our studies in this class, we’ve considered the desires of God for man, how man has fallen, how God must punish all sin including the sin that is in our very nature, and how in God’s infinite love, He has given us a free gift to accept His sacrifice for our sins.

Open your bibles to Matthew 2 this morning; last week we read about the birth of Jesus, and today we’ll study the wise men who came to worship Him.   Let’s step through our verses one at a time today and get the full richness of God’s gift.

II.      Matthew 2:1

Matthew 2:1 –

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem

 

Did you know there are actually two towns named Bethlehem?  There is a Bethlehem in the tribe of Zabulon that is mentioned in Joshua 19:15, and it’s not the same as the town of Bethlehem in Judea which is located about 6 miles from Jerusalem.

Slide4

When I visited Israel 5 years ago, I didn’t go into Bethlehem, but I did get a chance to photograph it from a distance.  It’s primarily a Palestine town now, and I understand that over the centuries the original site was destroyed and rebuilt several times.  Today, the church doesn’t resemble the humble beginnings of our Lord.    What I find most interesting about the land of Bethlehem is that this land was used for raising sheep.  During Passover, Jews would select the best lambs to offer as a sacrifice at the Temple of Jerusalem.

This was during the time of King Herod – this is Herod the Great or Herod the Ascalonite, the son of Antipater.  It’s interesting to me that he wasn’t completely Jewish, his ancestors were Edomites whose ancestors had converted to Judaism, and Herod was raised as a Jew.  Last week Chris talked about the importance of lineage of Jesus, and how observant Jews study certain rabbis whip can trace their lineage to the tribe of Levi so they can say they came from “good stock.”. Herod did not have such good lineage.

Slide7

He was born around 74 B.C. and through a series of political manipulations with the Romans was appointed King of the Jews around 40 B.C.  His dedication to the Jewish faith was always questioned, so he married a Jewish woman named Mariamne, but Herod already had a wife named Doris and a young son Antipater who were banished after his second marriage.  Herod’s lifestyle was condemned by the observant Jews, but Herod had a habit of executing those who opposed him, including several members of his own family, including his second wife Mariamne.  He ruled Jerusalem with the support of Rome for 37 years, and Jesus was born in the 35th year of Herod’s reign.

After Jesus was born, Magi from the East came to Jerusalem.  There is no evidence there were only three wise men, that’s just part of the song.  The term “magi” was used for several occupations, not all of them considered wise.  They were wizards, enchanters, magicians, sorcerers.  The most likely origination of these wise men were probably from Persia, first appointed by Cyrus, to sing hymns to the gods and to sacrifice to them.  They likely arrived, not a Jesus’ birth, but to account for the long journey from Persia, most scholars agree that they arrived in Jerusalem about 2 years after Jesus’ birth.

Slide8

III.      Matthew 2:2

Matthew 2:1 –

[The Magi] asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

 

Some translations, like the King James, say “for we have seen his star in the east.”  That’s not phrased very well, because it wasn’t the star that was in the east, it was the magi who were from the east.

What was this star?  Some sources say it might have been an angel, but that’s not likely or the scripture would have said it was an angel.  Some are of the opinion it was the light or glory of God which shone about the shepherds, or perhaps a comet which tradition had appeared at the birth or death of some illustrious person.  But I think a star still makes the most sense, a new and unusual miracle from God the Father to mark the birth of His Son.  It fulfils prophecy, such as in Numbers 24:17 which says

there shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel.

 

The magi would have been very familiar with this prophecy, and journeyed 2 years to arrive at the birth of the new King of the Jews.

Can you imagine the wicked Herod’s reaction when wise men from Persia, following this star, shows up at his palace and asks to see the new king?  Herod must have been furious.  In the next verse, Matthew 2:3, it says –

IV.      Matthew 2:3

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

 

Herod knew he had no legitimate right to be the king of the Jews, and fiercely defended his power, and a threat to Herod’s power also brought fear to Jerusalem for the power struggle that would ensue.  The birth of Christ partially fulfilled the prophecy in Genesis 49:10,

The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.

 

Herod was not of the tribe of Judah, so the scepter of the king did not belong to him.

  V.      Matthew 2:4-6

When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.  “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

 

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for out of you will come a ruler

    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

 

This prophecy is from Micah 5:2, and they’re explaining to Herod that this prophecy has already come true, and that magi are here to pay homage to Him.  Herod likely gathered the priests and rabbis of the Sanhedrin, and in the NIV Herod sounds very nice, he asked them politely where Christ the Messiah would be born.  I think it’s more of a demand; Herod is the chief of the Sanhedrin and Herod wants to know if there’s any validity to this threat.

 

VI.      Matthew 2:7-8

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.  He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

 

I don’t think Herod’s being honest here, just sayin’.  Herod meets with the magi privately and interrogates them for intel.  No doubt he did this away from the Sanhedrin, for the Sanhedrin would understand exactly why Herod wants to know the time and place of the birth of Christ.  He would understand that Jesus may be as old as two years old now, given the length of the journey from Persia.

Did I mention earlier that Bethlehem is only about 6 miles away?  Don’t you think it’s odd that Herod know the fulfillment of prophecy is just a short distance, yet he sends nobody with the magi.  Herod certainly didn’t want the Jews to know what the magi already did, that the king of the Jews was born.  The Jews in Herod’s palace were likely to set up the newborn king as the new king of the Jews with the intention of overthrowing Herod.

VII.      Matthew 2:9-10

When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

 

To me, it’s interesting that the Jews, though they knew prophecy, did not accompany the magi.  Did the Jews even know the magi had been born?  This passage seems to indicate that the star had reappeared – that “lo” in verse 9 is an expression of surprise and joy.  The magi were gentiles from east of Israel, and no doubt overjoyed to have this star lead them to the child.  The birth of the child is the first noel; the star itself is the first GPS navigation system.

Herod was not overjoyed; we read later in this chapter that the magi didn’t return to Herod has he had commanded, and Herod, furious that the magi didn’t identify the specific child he was looking for, ordered every child in Bethlehem under the age of two to be slaughtered.  The evil of men and the horrors they commit to maintain their so-called grasp of power for a few more years is appalling, but rather than focus on Herod anymore, I want to study the magi as the met and worshipped the king of the Jews for the first time.

VIII.      Matthew 2:11-12, Gifts of the Magi

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.  And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

That last line is meaningful to me.  We all meet Jesus, and once we meet Him, we go another way.

The magi provided their gifts to the young baby, wealth of abundance.  When we see Christmas scenes of The Three Wise Men, they’re often shown holding a small decorative container with a gift.  It’s likely, though, that the magi brought substantially more – they certainly wouldn’t travel over a thousand miles just to provide samples.  No, they brought gifts for the King of Kings.  Scholars note that later, when Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt, this wealth surely sustained them during their exile.

Slide17

 

Let’s look at these gifts –

  • Gold certainly makes sense as a gift.  Gold is a gift fit for a king, and the magi recognized Christ the newborn as the rightful King of Israel.  Jesus traced His lineage to David and Abraham, just as scripture prophesied.  And Christ certainly was the rightful king of the Jews, but the book of Matthew illustrates these magi as giving the gold to the baby, something the other gospels don’t mention.  It’s as if Matthew wants to make sure we understand, as the magi did, that Jesus was born a king.Slide18
  • Frankincense is an aromatic balm used to make incense, used by priests during sacrifice.   In other words, a gift for a god.  Jesus is not just our king, the Lord of Lords, but he fulfills a unique role in our salvation that only He can fill – He is our High Priest.   Hebrews 2:17 says that Jesus is our merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, that He might make atonement for the sins of the people.  The magi worshipped Jesus as divine while at the same time Herod was trying to destroy Him.  This contrast characterizes much about the life of Jesus.  Some, like the magi, worship Jesus as Lord.  Others, like Herod, seek His destruction.  Which brings us to the third gift.Slide19
  • Myrrh is an odd gift for a baby.  Like frankincense, myrrh is an aromatic resin that is used to prepare bodies for burial.  From the very beginning, for Christ to give up His life was His purpose.  Mathew 20:28 says that His purpose was “to give His life as a ransom for many.”  And in John 12:27, just before Jesus went to the cross, Jesus prayed, “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’?  But for this purpose I came to this hour.”  Jesus lived His life with an awareness of His purpose – He was born to die. The story of the magi is a central part of the story of Christ’s birth, but the magi presented Jesus with a gift that honored his death.  We celebrate Christ’s birth because of His death.  Were it not for His sacrifice, His birth would have little meaning.Slide20

The Christmas tradition of exchanging gifts probably is influenced by the story of the magi, but the real story of Christmas is not about the gifts of the magi or the gifts we give to one another, but the gift of God’s only son.  When God gave us Jesus, He gave us everything Heaven had to give.  Ephesians 1:3 says that God has blessed us with *every* spiritual blessing in Christ, like a special Christmas package that contains every blessing of God.

There’s a story of a very wealthy man who came from generations of money.  His great-grandfather had made a fortune in trading spices.  His grandfather made money in real estate.  His father made money in smart investing.  And this man continued on the family tradition, and invested in art.  He had art from Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Picasso, Monet, and more.  He had an amazing art collection and kept it all in a gallery on his mansion’s estate.

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He met a beautiful woman; they fell in love and were married.  Not long after, the woman got pregnant with their first child, but tragically, she died giving birth to a son.

The father and his son were inseparable.  They spent their days together, playing ball and traveling the world and enjoying every moment.

The son grew up, and before taking over the family business, he thought he’d get some life experience.  He joined the military and was soon shipped off to war.  But he wrote to his father often.  And as each letter arrived, the butler would hand carry it to the father, knowing how eagerly he was waiting to hear from his son.

One day the butler came into the father’s study, holding one of the familiar envelopes.  The father took the letter but instantly noticed something was different.  It was not his son’s familiar handwriting.  The father began to tremble as he read the words, “Dear Sir, we regret to inform you that your son has been killed in the line of duty…” The father fell on his knees sobbing.

For weeks he was overcome with grief.  To celebrate his son, the father commissioned a local artist to paint a portrait of the son.  He hung that portrait right in the middle of the Picassos and the Monets.  It was entitled, “The Son.”  Out of all the priceless works of art, “The Son” was his favorite, and every time he looked at it, he would smile and remember his son.

Slide22

The years went by. The father grew old and passed on.  There were no living heirs, so the estate was to be auctioned.  The day of the auction arrived. Wealthy investors and art collectors from around the world arrived to bid on the art.

The auctioneer opened by announcing that they would begin with the piece entitled, “The Son.”  The name of the artist was unknown, and the restless buyers stirred impatiently as the auctioneer started. “We will start the bidding at $1,000. Can I get $1,000?”  There were no bids.  “Can I get $1000?”  At the back of the crowd, one hand went into the air.  It was the butler.  He was not a wealthy man and could never afford the Picassos or the Rembrandts, but it was this portrait of his master’s son that he wanted.  He had seen the son grow from a little boy into a man and had come to love him as his own.  “I’ll give $1000,” he said.

The auctioneer continued, “Can I get $1,500?”  No hands went up.  “Can I get $1,200? $1,100?”  By now the wealthy buyers were grumbling.  They were waiting for the prized art and wasting time with this worthless portrait. “Going once, going twice…sold!”  The gavel came down. The butler went forward to claim his purchase.

Then the auctioneer announced, “And with that purchase this auction comes to a conclusion. Thank you all for coming out today.”  The art collectors began to shout, “Wait a minute! What about the paintings, the cars, the house, the property? What about the rest of the estate?” The auctioneer explained, “I’m sorry, but there was a very specific instruction in the father’s will regarding the sale of his possessions.  He said that in the auction, we should start by offering “The Son,” and whoever takes The Son – gets everything.”

 

IX.      Conclusion

Romans 8:32 says,

“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”

Christ is the ultimate gift.   In Him, God has given everything else as well.  That baby two thousand years ago, was the treasure of Heaven and God’s gift to mankind.  “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…”

That is the true gift of Christmas.

To God be the glory.