Halleluiah, Praise the Lord!


The last time I taught, it was from the Book of Jonah. I really enjoyed studying it, there is a plot, a life lesson, historical significance, miracles, and fishing lessons.

But Psalms is usually hard for me. I read today’s scripture and thought, “It’s a book about praise.  How am I going to find a complete lesson here?  There’s no plot, no life lesson, just praise.”

As usual, though, when I sit down to truly study the Word, I find out it’s not all about me.  I have to learn that lesson almost every week, and you’d think I’d catch on.  It’s never about me. It’s always about the Lord.

Today’s scripture is only 6 verses long. Not a single person is mentioned, no historical cities, no leaders or kings, no narrative, no character conflict. Let’s begin with a simple reading, and then, during our study today, we will see where we are led. Psalm 150, and let’s read it together:

1 Praise the Lord.

Praise God in his sanctuary;
   praise him in his mighty heavens.
2 Praise him for his acts of power;
   praise him for his surpassing greatness.
3 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
   praise him with the harp and lyre,

4 praise him with timbrel and dancing,
   praise him with the strings and pipe,
5 praise him with the clash of cymbals,
   praise him with resounding cymbals.
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

This Psalm is the final Psalm in the book of Psalms. Psalms addresses our joys and our sorrows, our tears and our trials, our pains and our pleasures. Our life is full of difficulties that our Lord knows full well. Just like in the book of Revelation that tells us at the end of time we will all be praising the Lord, the book of Psalms ends with praise, because of and despite our joys and sorrows. Psalm 150 is the final Psalm, full of praise and hallelujahs, and inspires to mobilizes us and all of creation to praise the Lord God. It’s a crescendo, a peak, the final Psalm that implores us to give unreserved adoration, praise, gratitude, and awe.   There are no reasons given.   There are no reasons needed.

We have some luxury of time to spend in our chapter today since it’s only 6 verses, so we’re going to study each verse one by one, because I believe we have much to learn about praise from Psalm 150.

Psalm 150:1a, Praise the Lord

Let’s start with the verse 1, “Praise the Lord,” but let’s switch to Hebrew for a moment, because oddly enough we’re going to spend a lot of time just on the first word of this Psalm. The first word is “הַלְלוּ יָהּ”and I understand if you don’t recognize it at first, but you will. It’s made up of two parts –

      • הָלַל, pronounced “halal.” This is a verb which means “praise”, but it has several other meanings that illustrate what praise is. It also means to shine, to flash forth light, to be boastful, and to act madly like a fool. In other words, go all out, give it everything you have.
      • יָהּ, pronounced “Yahh.”       This is a contraction, a shortened version of “Jehovah,” the proper name of the one true God, the name revealed to Moses at the burning bush.

If we put these two words together, it means “praise the Lord,” just like we read from Psalm 150:1.   But let’s pronounce the Hebrew words and see if you recognize it. “Halal Yahh”. That’s right, the word is Halleluiah.


Halleluiah, praise the Lord madly with all abandon, with everything we have. Halleluiah, for the Lord God is on His throne.   Halleluiah, for the Lord God reigns forever and ever. This phrase “Halleluiah” is used only 24 times in the Old Testament and they are all in the book of Psalms 104-150, and two of those Halleluiahs are in our study verses for today. And “halleluiah” is used three times in the New Testament, all in Revelation 19, and we’ll get to that in a little while. And “halleluiah” is used 145 times in Handel’s Messiah.

One of those translations of “halal” was to shine, to flash forth light. When Diane and I were first married, we took a honeymoon trip that included a day trip to an unusual place. My outfit that day was a swimsuit, hiking boots, a hardhat, an inner tube, and a flashlight. Sadly, I have no pictures of that outfit.

We put the hiking boots and flashlight in a plastic bag, then sat in the innertube and floated down a river that entered the mouth of a cave. We exited the river, put on our hiking boots, hardhat and flashlight, and hiked into the cave.

Deep in the cave, we entered a large cavern, and the guide had all of us turn our flashlights off.   I’ve never been in such pitch-black darkness. The phrase “can’t see my hand in front of my face” was literally true. There was nothing.


Genesis 1, “And God said, ‘Let there be light’”. The guide turned on his flashlight and it was blinding. And wherever the flashlight shone, that’s where you looked, because you could not see if you looked anywhere else.

Halleluiah, shine a light on the Lord, fix our eyes on our Creator, for He alone is worthy.   Halleluiah, praise the Lord.   Even if our circumstances are pitch-black, praise the Lord and shine our light on Him. Shine a light on the One who created light. Shine a light on the One who will never leave you or forsake you. Shine a light on the One who knew you in your mother’s womb. Halleluiah, praise the Lord.

So here I am, thinking I’m going to have trouble putting together a lesson from the book of Psalms, and 10 minutes into the lesson and we’re not even past the first word.   Halleluiah, the Lord God provides according to His mercies. Let us move on to the second word because at this rate this is a 2 hour lesson.

Psalm 150:1b, Praise Him in His Sanctuary

Verse 1,

Praise God in his sanctuary;

   praise him in his mighty heavens.

After the “Halleluiah,” each verse begins with a command, an imperative, to “Praise Him” for very specific things, beginning with His sanctuary and His mighty heavens.

His sanctuary then (and now!) was a specific place of worship that people could go to praise the LORD with other people. It was a corporate place of worship. They would hear scripture read from the scrolls, they would offer sacrifices and offerings. They would sing songs and pray. They came together as a community of believers to worship and praise God, not unlike what we do today in churches around the world.

The church is a place where we shine a light on the LORD. Sometimes I hear people might complain about a church, “Oh, I didn’t get anything from that sermon,” and we’re missing the point. It’s not about us. We gather to shine our light on the Lord.

We do it through bible study classes, we do it through worship services with choirs and orchestras and praise teams leading us in songs. We do it through the preaching of the bible. We do it through the giving of tithes and offerings.   We do it through baptism. We do it through prayer. We do it through coming forward to join the church to be part of this particular community of believers at this church. Each weekend when we come to this place for worship and bible study, we are living out Psalm 150:1.

But the next verse says to Praise the LORD in “His mighty heavens.” Other translations say “mighty expanse” or “mighty firmament.”   When we started this journey this year of studying the bible chronologically, we started with Genesis 1:1,

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

God created everything we see when you look up into the sky. The sun, the moon, the stars; the vastness of the universe. God also created what you see when you look around and down at the earth. The mountains, the trees, the flowers, the plants, the animals, the oceans, the ground, the vastness of planet earth.   We are to shine a light on the LORD both in His sanctuary and in the vastness of creation.

David said it best in Psalm 8:1-3,

Lord, our Lord,
   how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
   in the heavens.

When I consider your heavens,
   the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
   which you have set in place.


I love the ocean and the beach, it is spectacular. The vastness of the water, the unrelenting waves, the movement of ocean as it comes up to the sand on the beach and then recedes.

I also love the mountains, how they reach up to the heavens as far as I can see.

I love the plains of Texas, the flatness merging into the hill country. I love summer nights in west Texas where the sky is so black and you can see the milky way and the billions of stars and the moon and even some planets that can be seen with the naked eye. David knew this was a great opportunity for us to consider the Heavens of God, the work of His fingers that He has set in place.

Psalm 150:2, Praise Him for His Power

The first verse of Psalm 150 tells us where to Praise Him – in church and everywhere – and then the second verse tells us what to praise Him for.

Praise him for his acts of power;

   praise him for his surpassing greatness.

Praise Him for His mighty acts, which we saw over and over in the Old Testament. His mighty acts go far beyond just speaking the world into existence.

The mighty acts of God are not based on size or spectacular grandeur. The flood was definitely a mighty act. But the mighty act of the water receding and a rainbow in the sky to mark a covenant never to flood the earth again was a mighty act greater than the flood itself.

Taking a man named Abram who could not have a child with his wife Sara and making a covenant with him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars was the beginning of a mighty act. Abram’s name was changed to Abraham and He became not only a Father of a Nation, but the Patriarch of all Patriarchs. God would forever be known as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; 3 generations that began with a mighty act of God.

The 10 plagues of the Exodus Era were mighty acts of God that even Pharaoh couldn’t deny.   The parting of the Red Sea was a mighty act. The Lord broke down the walls of Jericho, gave water from the rock through Moses, delivered Daniel from the lion’s den, brought down fire on Elijah’s sacrifice, and sent chariots of fire to protect Elisha. And God provides rain from heaven and our daily bread and even the very air we breathe.

But we know the mightiest act of all was God sending His only Son, Jesus Christ to live a perfect, sinless life on this earth as a human being. Jesus gave His life on the cross, crucified to death for our sin, buried in a tomb. And then three days later Jesus rises from the dead, conquering sin and death. And He did this so that all who believe in Him would have eternal life. The death and resurrection of Jesus was the mighty act of God based on His love for us. It is a mighty act when God takes sinful, rebellious, complacent people and saves them unto Himself.

Beyond the mighty acts of what God has done, we are to Praise Him for His “excellent greatness.”

Sometimes we can be so focused on the acts of God, we forget about the character of God.

The excellent greatness of God is unsurpassed. We Praise Him for His sovereignty, His unchanging nature, His omniscience, His omnipotence, His omnipresence, His power, His grace, His mercy, His goodness, His kindness, His holiness, His faithfulness, His justice, His wisdom, and on and on and on.

He is great because He rules as sovereign over the universe. He is so sovereign that He can give people free choices and still retain full sovereignty. He is good; in fact, He is the good of the universe.   He is wise; His wisdom is so high that no one can even grasp His thoughts. He is merciful and just, kind and loving, gracious and tender, yet at the same time holy, just, and the judge of all humanity. His “excellent greatness” deserves praise from all His creation. There is nothing and no one that compares to God’s greatness.   David summed it up this way in Psalm 40:5 –

Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders which You have done, And Your thoughts toward us; There is none to compare with You. If I would declare and speak of them, they would be too numerous to count.


Sometimes in our lives, our prayers, our thoughts we tend to focus on what God wants us to do and what we want God to do. Psalm 150 calls us to praise Him regardless, just because of who He is.

We have looked at where to praise, what to Praise, and now let’s look at how to praise in verse 3.

Psalm 150:3-5, Praise Him with Music

Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,

   praise him with the harp and lyre,

praise him with timbrel and dancing,

   praise him with the strings and pipe,

praise him with the clash of cymbals,

   praise him with resounding cymbals.

Throughout scripture, music is an integral part of praise and worship. When Moses and the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, the first thing that they did was sing a song, Exodus 15:1-2 –

Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the LORD, and spoke, saying: “I will sing to the LORD, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea! The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him; My father’s God, and I will exalt Him.


Slide15.JPGMany times, in the Psalms it says to sing to the Lord, though in Psalm 150 it is all about the instruments. Trumpet, lute, harp, tambourine, stringed instruments, flutes, and cymbals. I like to think the euphonium would be included.

The musical instruments listed also had historical significance and carried memories, devotion and purpose. For instance, trumpets announced sacrifices in Jerusalem. Trumpets called people to worship. Trumpets announced the entrance of a King.

The tambourine and dance were a celebration of joy. Dancing to the tambourine was a way to celebrate the freedom, joy and happiness of who the Lord is and what He has done.

The cymbals are a sign of exaltation. It is like an exclamation point. The cymbals are even listed twice in verse 5.

Ultimately, praise is not about the instruments, it is about the heart. It is an expression of what is going on in your heart, mind, soul and spirit. Some people praise the Lord through song, through instruments, through writing, through artwork, through serving others, through prayer; there are countless ways to Praise the LORD.

Psalm 150:6, Let Everyone Praise Him

So far, we have seen where to Praise, what to Praise, how to Praise and finally, now we are going to see who does the praising in verse 6.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

If you are breathing, praise the LORD.

Regardless of circumstances, relationships, achievements, bank accounts, or anything else that would be temporary, praise the Lord.

Praise is the attribute of God’s people, but praise is the responsibility of every created being in the universe. God is seeking worshipers who will “worship Him in spirit and in truth.” God calls all nations to praise Him and to look to Him for their salvation. He is worthy of the praises of all people everywhere. When the apostle Paul defends his missionary ministry to the Gentiles in Romans 15:11, he quotes Psalm 117:1 to demonstrate that God is seeking praise from all nations.

“And again: ‘Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles Laud Him, all you peoples,’”

One motive for missionary trips is to bring praise to God from all the nations. Praise from every nation will come to pass; John’s vision in the book of the Revelation 5:9 reveals a song sung by people redeemed “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” They join with the angels and the elders in Revelation 5:12 to sing heaven’s sweetest song:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.”


God created everything to bring Him praise and commands everything that has breath to praise Him. One day Balaam’s donkey will praise the LORD; one day the great fish who swallowed Jonah will praise the LORD; one day the lions who refused to eat Daniel will praise the LORD. In fact, in Revelation 5:13, John writes,

“And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever’.”



Psalm 150 ends just as it began: “Hallelujah.” Praise the Lord. Ten times we are commanded to praise Him who sits upon the throne. Praise Him all the time and everywhere and with all we have.   God alone is worthy of this praise.

I learned a lot from Psalm 150 today. I’ve learned to embrace the beauty and the imperative of praising my Creator.   There is beauty found in this simplicity. This Psalm is absolutely timeless and a great reminder that whatever we are going through today, this Psalm comes at the right time. Whatever challenges we might have personally or with a family member, this Psalm comes at the right time. If we are having difficulty at work or perhaps finding a job, this Psalm comes at the right time. If we are one of the few where everything is going exactly right in your life on every level without a care in the world, this Psalm comes at the right time.   Halleluiah, praise the Lord.

We end today’s study in Revelation 19:6-7a, the only place in the New Testament that uses the word Halleluiah:

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
   For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
   and give him glory!


Amen and Halleluiah, praise the Lord almighty.

To God be the glory.


Bike for MS

First post in a long while that wasn’t a bible study. 🙂

I’m riding a bicycle for 150 miles in two day for a fundraiser, the MS150, benefitting Multiple Sclerosis.  I also set a goal to raise $1000, and I am oh so close.  Won’t you consider donating?  Here is my fundraising link:

Michael’s MS150 Fundraising Page

non-Facebook Michael’s MS150 Fundraising Page

Blessings & Curses

I.      Introduction

Our scripture is Leviticus 26, and my initial reading understood God saying to the Israelites, “here is a list of blessings if you do right, here is a list of curses if you do wrong.”  There are a lot of blessings and curses.  In fact, that’s really everything in Leviticus 26, blessings and curses.

And I want to make clear right up front that I’m not going to teach on the importance of legalism.  You must do the following things or the Lord God is going to provide a smackdown on you and your family.  Nope, I’m going to leave that to the Pharisees.  There might be some Pharisees here in class, please don’t raise your hand.

But as I read these blessings and curses, I wondered if there was a bigger picture.  Perhaps I could start in Genesis and end in Revelation again?  I think the answer is yes.  The lesson always seems to start in Genesis and end in Revelation for some reason.  So as I read these blessings and curses, I think that sometimes just a missing bit of information can change our whole perspective on a situation, give us a new understanding.

For instance, here’s a story that could use a new perspective.  I know of a man that is confined to a room.  He is surrounded by men in masks.  One of the men in a mask has a knife.  The man in a mask with the knife begins cutting into the man confined in the room, while all the other men in masks do nothing to stop the man with knives.

The new perspective?  The man with the knife is a surgeon.Slide2

II.      Progressive Revelation

I grew up Catholic with all the baggage that comes with it, works are necessary for salvation, you have to be in the Catholic Church to go to heaven, yada yada.  In college, I went to my first Protestant church which began my journey as a Christ-follower.  Before I fully committed my life to Christ, one of the first things I learned was that the Old Testament wasn’t applicable, or so the explanation sounded to me.  I was told only the New Testament was applicable to Christians and the Old Testament was for historical purposes and to demonstrate God’s character.  I think today I would word that differently, but the gist is sort of correct.  When you read in Leviticus 11 that one is not supposed to eat shellfish, all of a sudden a bowl of shrimp and grits takes on very confusing theological significance.Slide3

I hadn’t realized at the time that I was just dipping a toe into understanding progressive revelation about Old Testament Law.  While God is unchanging, because of man’s sinful nature man keeps changing, so God’s relationship with us changes.  His relationship with us in the Garden of Eden – see, I told you I’d start in Genesis – God’s relationship with us was changed forever when Adam and Eve ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.  God made covenants with man through Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and of course, Christ, and each covenant built upon the previous one.  Each covenant revealed additional information about God’s love for us.  It was progressive revelation for us over time.

So here in Leviticus, there’s more to this chapter than just a list of blessings and curses.  It’s the center of understanding the history of Israel and the messages of the prophets, it illustrates how the Lord uses both blessings and curses today to accomplish His will, and ends in a message of hope for all believers.

III.      Blessings, Leviticus 26:1-13

Let’s look at the beginning of Leviticus 26, verses 1 & 2,

‘You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am the Lord your God.  You shall keep My sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary; I am the Lord.

This is the preface to the chapter and declares the Lord to be not only worthy to be worshipped, but the only one worthy to be worshipped.  And while this is an Old Testament statement from the Lord, the Lord is unchanging, and I believe these words are relevant for today for Christians.

Whatever we do in this world, we should remember who created the world.  The Lord God is who he is, and worthy to be praised.  Things that are important to the Lord should be important to us.  We are too often distracted by something else we feel we have to do instead of going to church or reading our bible.  I mean, after all, we’re busy people, right?  But those things become idols, things we end up worshipping more than the Lord.

The next 11 verses of Leviticus are the promised blessings to Israel, but they are conditional promises.  They begin with the word “if” –

If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments

If.  When we get into trouble over our heads, it’s not uncommon to plead to the Lord, “Lord, please rescue me.”  And then we have the nerve to judge God on whether He responds.  But how did we get into trouble over our head in the first place?  Were we walking in His statutes and keeping His commandments?  If the Israelites walked in the ways of the Lord, the Lord promised the following blessings –

  • Rain for the crops
  • Trees with fruit
  • Abundant grapes
  • Eat until they’re full
  • Security
  • Peace in the Land
  • No fear
  • Enemies will perish
  • Many prosperous children

And finally, in Leviticus 26:11-13,

Moreover, I will make My dwelling among you, and My soul will not reject you.  I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.  I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt so that you would not be their slaves, and I broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.

God alone is worthy to be praised.  God reminds the Israelites that God alone is responsible for their freedom and that God wants to rain blessings on them and walk among His people.  All they have to do is fulfill the first “if” – honor the Lord alone and walk in His ways.

IV.      Curses, Leviticus 26:14-39

But there is another “if” in today’s scripture, but this half are the repercussions if Israel doesn’t honor the Lord.  It begins in Leviticus 26:14-15,

But if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments,  if, instead, you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhors My ordinances so as not to carry out all My commandments, and so break My covenant,  I, in turn, will do this to you:

Man, I don’t like to think God uses both a carrot and a stick to complete His will for us.  Some of the curses described here are directly from God, and others are more like warnings that bad behavior has bad consequences.  These curses include –

  • Crops consumed by raiding enemies
  • Rains will cease
  • Crops will fail
  • Infertility
  • Men killed by hostile animals
  • Pestilence and disease
  • People turning on one another
  • Cannibalism

Each one of these curses is an opposite to the blessing.  Here’s the list side-by-side:

Blessings and Curses in Leviticus 26
BLESSINGS (v1-13) CURSES (v14-39)
God Confirms Covenant (9) God’s Vengeance For Covenant (25)
God’s Presence God’s Absence
God turns toward His people (9) God sets His face against them (17)
God will dwell among them (11) God sends them into captivity (38-39)
God walks among them (12) God becomes their adversary (33)
Peace Peril
Security (5) Soul pines away/sudden terror (16)
Peace of mind (6) Terror, fear, panic (36-37)
Beasts won’t harm them (6) Beasts destroy and decimate (22)
Prevail over their enemies (7-8) Attacked by enemies – raids (16)
Struck down by enemies (17)
Ruled by enemies (17)
Flee, but none pursue (17)
Delivered into enemy hands (25)
Scattered among nations (33)
Destroy themselves – cannibalism (29)
Prosperity Poverty
God gives rains in season (4) God withholds the rains (19)
Crops will grow abundantly (4-5) Crops don’t grow (20)
Old grain cleared out for new (10) Enemies raid and steal crops (16)
Famine—lack of bread (26)
Land is desolate (32)
Israelites fruitful and increase (9) Consumption, fever, waste away (16)
Wild animals decimate (22)
Pestilence in cities kills (25)
Israelites kill and eat their own (29)

Obedience brings blessings of peace and security.  Disobedience brings insecurity, peril, and fear.  Israel will be defeated by her enemies, scattered, and ruled by others.  Instead of God dwelling among His people, Israel will experience separation.  In verse 17, God sets His face against His people.  Then, because Israel remains hostile toward Him, God becomes their enemy and God will drive them from their sanctuary into the hands of their enemies.  In their absence from the promised land, the land will enjoy the rest God promised.

I think people that do not study their bibles sometimes see God as being unpredictable or arbitrary.  They do not understand why good things happen to bad people, or why bad things happen to good people.  I don’t always understand, but sometimes I do.  God’s standards for Israel, the consequences for obedience or disobedience are clear, and they are given far in advance of any punishment or blessing.  The motivations are both positive and negative.  The purpose of Leviticus 26 is to motivate Israel to keep God’s covenant.

And it’s important to realize that, even though there are good things and bad things promised, the purpose is good and always positive.  God wants to dwell among His holy people.  Throughout Leviticus 26, as gruesome as the warnings are, the benevolence of God is apparent.  God’s first response to Israel’s sins is to discipline His people and bring them to repentance.  And every time Israel refuses discipline, God increases the penalty.  If you think you can win a fight against God, then you don’t know God.

Some might look at God’s responses as harsh, but remember, God’s first promises were blessings.  All Israel had to do was walk in the ways of the Lord.  And the harsh response from God is due entirely to Israel’s rejection of God’s laws and all that God stands for.  Let’s look at verses 14-15 again –

But if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments,  if, instead, you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhors My ordinances so as not to carry out all My commandments, and so break My covenant,  I, in turn, will do this to you:

His ways.  God wants what is best for His people.  Blessings if you walk in His ways, Curses if you reject Him.

V.      Past History of Israel

So what happened?  Despite these warning, Israel rejected the Lord’s ways.  The book of Joshua for the most part demonstrates that God delivered on the promised blessings.  Israel followed the Lord’s commandment and God was faithful in delivering abundant blessings.  But then the book of Judge showed the people os Israel rejecting the Lord’s ordinances, and God discipline was then forcefully delivered.

Leviticus 26, is the center of the history of Israel’s cycle of obedience, blessing, victory, apathy, disobedience, defeat, repentance, obedience.  Leviticus 26 is absolutely accurate.

God repeated his promises of blessings and curses through the prophets over the years to remind Israel that they were His chosen people.  Every prophet of Israel in the centuries to follow told Israel of the blessings to come if they followed in the Lord’s ways, and the destruction that follows disobedience.  And again and again, the cycle repeated.

VI.      Future History of Israel

So if God makes a covenant with Israel, but Israel repeats their cycle of obedience and disobedience despite the Lord’s promises of blessings and curses, who can fulfill the covenant?  Only the Lord can deliver Israel, and the Lord says at the end of Leviticus 26:44-45,

Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God.  But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord.

The Lord is saying in these last 2 verses that, despite obedience or disobedience, the Lord God will never turn His back upon His people.  He says specifically that He will never break His covenant.

So how does the Lord deliver His people when His people turn their backs in disobedience and bring down the curses promised in Leviticus 26?  If God is to deliver on His promise but the people will not hold up their end of the covenant, then God will fulfill their end of the covenant.  God will send a deliverer or a Messiah.  This Messiah will be God Himself as prophesied in Isaiah 49:1-3 –

Listen to Me, O islands,
And pay attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called Me from the womb;
From the body of My mother He named Me.
He has made My mouth like a sharp sword,
In the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me;
And He has also made Me a select arrow,
He has hidden Me in His quiver.
He said to Me, “You are My Servant, Israel,
In Whom I will show My glory.”

In this verse, the Messiah has been selected to show the glory and power of God from and through Israel, but since God himself is the deliverer, Isaiah prophecies that the Messiah will also call gentiles to serve the Lord in Isaiah 49:6 –

He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also make You a light of the nations
So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

After all those cycles of obedience and disobedience, God Himself steps into time to take the curses upon Himself and deliver His people, but it now includes gentiles like you and me, anybody that believes in the Lord.

VII.      The Messiah Fulfills the Law

So when I read Leviticus 26, I needed a new perspective.  How could these verses of blessings and curses be applicable today?  The new perspective is that God has provided the blessings and born the curses Himself to deliver His people.  Jesus is our Deliverer from the cycle of obedience and disobedience.

Now, the Old Testament Law hasn’t been abolished by Jesus.  Jesus specifically says that he came to fulfill the Law.  First in Luke 4:16-20, Jesus goes to the synagogue, reads from the book of Isaiah, then sits down.  Sitting down indicated that had had finished speaking and his message was complete, but then Jesus says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  And then Jesus says later in Matthew 5:17,

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

Jesus led a perfect life without sin in complete obedience to the Father, even up to and including laying down His life for His followers.  Not just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles.  In so doing, He completed the Old Testament and broke the cycle of obedience and disobedience.

We still have the Law with all the blessings and curses, but the Law has no power over us.  Paul tells us in the book of Romans that the Old Testament Law cannot save us.  We have demonstrated to God for centuries that we are disobedient; we cannot follow the law perfectly.  Instead, the Law demonstrated to us that we needs God to save us from the Law, so God sent His Son.

Are we free then from the law?  Well, yes and no.  We are free from following the 613 mitzvots that only demonstrated that we are sinners and needed a savior.  But many of the Old Testament laws are repeated as New Testament Christian principles.  Jesus gave us the example of one of the Ten Commandments that prohibited adultery.  The Pharisees focused on the behavior.  Jesus says we are responsible for even what we think, and if we think about adultery, then we are guilty.  But rather than focusing on 613 mitzvots, Jesus gave us a much easier understanding of how God wants us to live our lives.  Matthew 22:35-40 –

One of [the Parisees], a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him,  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.  Leviticus 26 opened with God telling the Israelites to remember that God is God, don’t worship anything else, and live your lives in a way that pleases God.  Those instructions haven’t changed in 6000 years.

We don’t suffer the blessings and curses that God promised the Israelites, but our Christian walk is still important, and the things we do or don’t do still have consequences.  Paul tells us in Galatians 6:7-8,

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

When we follow God’s plan, we receive blessings according to His will.  And when we do not, we still have to deal with the repercussions of our actions.  But we are no longer under the Law with all the blessings and curses that come with us.  Jesus fulfilled the Law for us in a way we did not earn.  Jesus provided grace so that we inherit eternal life, not through our own efforts, but through His.  In the Age of the Church, we are under Grace, praise Jesus.  Jesus bore our curses so that only God’s blessings remain for us.

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:




To God be the glory.  Amen.

Gifts ofthe 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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.