Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Being Sensitive To Another's Conscience

I Corinthians 8

“I am allowed to do that, and nobody can tell me no!”  Have you ever heard someone say that, or something similar?  Someone wants to do something, and true, there is no law or regulation prohibiting it, and then someone suggests to them that maybe they shouldn’t do that, at least not in certain circumstances.  The first person, however, stubbornly proclaims that they will do whatever they feel like doing.  They don’t even care if it might hurt someone else, their freedom is what matters, not other people.  Rather selfish, don’t you think?  We’d never act like that!  Or would we?  Our Scripture today discusses circumstances like that, and the Apostle Paul’s admonition to avoid acting in this manner with regards to other believers.

The city of Corinth was a large, important port city at the time of Paul, with a multitude of pagan gods and goddesses worshiped there.  One practice done here was that when an animal was sacrificed to one of the many pagan gods on their altars, the meat was then frequently taken to the local butcher shop and sold.  This, naturally, didn’t bother any pagan.  It didn’t bother some Christians, either, as they knew that these pagan gods didn’t really even exist.  However, there were some Christians who felt strongly against eating such food as it had been offered to a pagan god, making it sinful, as if one were then partaking in such worship.  This became a big enough controversy in the Corinthian church that Paul had to address it.

The first thing that Paul did was to explain that these pagan deities do not really exist (vs. 4-6).  There is no other deity apart from Yahweh.  We do not serve one God among many.  We serve the only God.   We are not saved by the food we eat or avoid.  Paul stated that there was nothing wrong with eating the meat that had been previously offered in sacrifice.  Jesus said something similar when He said that it is not what goes in the mouth that defiles a person, but that which comes out of the mouth (Matthew 15:11).  God also revealed to Peter that if He calls a food clean, it is clean to eat (Acts 10:9-16).

Paul continued to explain that there are always some spiritually immature believers, those who don’t understand that what one eats or does not eat does not affect them spiritually.  Rather than get all proud and puffed up with our more spiritually advanced knowledge, Paul admonishes the spiritually stronger believers to be considerate of the immature and weaker believer, the ones who might be offended.  We should avoid anything that would weaken their faith.  If a weaker believer saw a stronger believer eating such food, it might weaken or defile their conscience, possibly leading them to do something that they believed was a sin (vs. 7-8).  Paul was saying that even though they had the “right” to eat whatever they wanted, sometimes they needed to abstain out of love and concern for others.

This is sometimes an issue in some churches today.  What one might consider wrong, another might feel is okay - alcohol, being a vegetarian or vegan or not, watching TV or movies, tattoos, dresses vs. slacks for women, make-up, etc.  It is destructive to disregard the sensitivities of another’s conscience.  It is not enough to be convinced that we have the liberty to do something, we must consider others, as well.  Where truth grants us the freedom to partake in some things that a weaker believer might be offended by, love sometimes demands that we exercise our freedom to abstain.

The spiritually stronger one, though, may complain that they have the right to eat this, drink that, wear this or that, and that the Bible does not say it is a sin.  Let’s look at a similar example.  Let's say I go to an archery field.  I pay the price, have my equipment, know how to shoot, and know the rules.  I have all legal right to shoot the arrows at the target across the field.  However, if a “weaker” child steps onto the field, I am required to stop.  What I am doing is not wrong. I have the right to practice archery, but the presence of the “weaker” one requires me to stop, to abstain.  I don’t want to hurt the child, even if he is in the wrong by being there.

Everything we do must be done with the idea of how it affects others.  Paul was willing to give up all of his rights if it meant bringing the lost to Jesus, or helping a believer grow in the faith.  Are we willing to practice some self-denial so that others may come to know salvation through the Lord Jesus?

Monday, January 29, 2024

The Works Of The Lord

Psalm 111

When a young man falls in love with a woman, or a young woman with a man, one of the first things that they do is to try and find out all they can about their beloved.  They want to know what foods they like, what music they listen to.  They want to know all about their job, their hobbies, etc.  They want to dig deep, just as if they were studying for an important exam.  It is only natural to want to know about someone you are interested in.  The same should hold true about the Lord.  Our psalm for this week gives us encouragement to pursue our knowledge of the Lord just as these young couples would.

Psalm 111 is one nine acrostic psalms in the Book of Psalms, where each line or verse begins with a different letter of the alphabet.  You might remember back when you were a young child, learning the alphabet, and had a picture book to help you - A is for apple, B is for bear, etc.  Psalm 111 has 22 lines (not verses, but lines), each beginning with a letter of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Our unknown psalmist dearly loved the Lord, and just like the young man in my example at the beginning, who wants to know all he can about the woman he loves, this psalmist wanted to learn everything he could about the Lord.  He studied everything he could to learn about His works, the great things the Lord has done in the world (vs. 2).  Do you and I really love the Lord?  If we do, then we should love to study the works of God recorded in the Bible.

When we look into all that the Lord has done for us, and all of His mighty works, we can’t help but bring Him praise (vs. 1).  The psalmist wanted to praise the Lord with his whole heart.  This goes hand in hand with statements made in the Gospels, when Jesus taught us to love the Lord with all of our heart (Matthew 22:37).  Believers should be both praising the Lord with all of our heart, and loving Him with all our heart, too.

As we look further into this psalm, examining all of God’s works, and things we can be thankful and praise Him for, we see that God is mindful of His covenant (vs. 5).  A covenant is a binding, legal agreement between two or more people.  When God makes a covenant, we can be certain that He will keep His end of the agreement.  Man consistently has broken the covenants that were made with God, but not the Lord.  The viability of the covenants the Lord makes rests in the Lord Jesus, not in man.  The Lord is always able to carry out what He has promised.  Because God has been faithful, we can trust His Word.  He can be trusted!

God’s many works especially include that of redemption (vs. 9).  Jesus paid the price to free us from sin’s power, giving His life as a perfect sacrifice.  Now all believers can freely approach God’s throne in prayer (Hebrews 4:14-16).  Our redemption, in addition to all of God’s works, is eternal because it is accomplished through Him (vs. 8).

Our author wraps up his psalm with a verse familiar to many, and that is that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (vs. 10).  The only way to become truly wise is not by experience or academic knowledge, but it is found in fearing God.  Fear of the Lord is having a reverential awe and a worshipful submission to Him.  Without God, all of our decision-making is shaky.  We are then prone to mistakes and foolish choices.  A healthy fear of the Lord will lead to respect for His commands, precepts, and principles.  When we fear the Lord, we will find it a joy to obey Him.

As we look through our own life, and the world around us, we can make our own list of all the works of the Lord that we have seen and experienced.  Perhaps we could even make our own acrostic, our own alphabetical list. I know for myself, it would take way more than just one go-through from A-Z.   Mere words can never plumb the depths nor scale the heights of the works which God has done!

Saturday, January 27, 2024

The Great Prophet

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Who can we trust to bring us the Word of God?  God has had his servants all through the ages who have proclaimed His message.  As long as they remain faithful and true to Him and the Bible, their message could be trusted.  Moses was just such a servant of the Lord, who faithfully brought God’s Word.  In our brief Scripture from the Book of Deuteronomy, we read of Someone who Moses promised, who would also come to bring God’s Word to us.  Let’s read who that Person is.

Most of us know of Moses, how he grew up in the royal courts of Egypt, and then spent years in the land of Midian.  Later he returned to Egypt and led the people of Israel out of slavery, crossing the Red Sea, and on to Mt. Sinai where he received the Law from the hands of God.  While at Mt Sinai the people feared hearing from God, and the display of His glory, and pleaded that God would speak only to Moses (vs. 16), and that he would transmit His messages (Exodus 20:18-21).  Our Scripture passage relates how God, through Moses, promised the people that one day coming He would raise up a Prophet for the people, like Moses (vs. 15, 18).  God told Moses that this coming Prophet would be from among the people, and he would be “like you”, like Moses.

The Bible clearly lets us know that this Prophet is the Lord Jesus Christ.  There are several ways that Moses and Jesus were similar.  Both Moses and Jesus were full of compassion and love for the people.  Moses had compassion on the people of Israel, knowing that they were like sheep without a shepherd (Numbers 27:17).  Jesus, also, looked out onto the multitudes, seeing their needs, both physical and spiritual, and saw that they were like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36).

Both were intercessors for the people.  Throughout the years in the wilderness, the people of Israel continually fell into sin, and Moses continually prayed for them (Deuteronomy 9:18).  The Lord Jesus is in heaven today, continually praying for us (Hebrews 7:25).  Moses spoke with God, and his face reflected God’s glory (Exodus 34:29-30; II Corinthians 3:7).   Jesus, the Son of God, came from His presence to earth, and returned there after His resurrection, and is seated at God’s right hand (Hebrews 10:12-13).

Jesus is a mighty Prophet in word and deed (Luke 24:19).  He is a Revealer of God’s will and purpose (Ephesians 1:11).  Jesus is a Mediator of the covenant (Hebrews 8:6-7).  He is a Teacher of the people (Isaiah 55:4).  Moses was all of these, as well, and Jesus fulfilled these positions even more.

Moses was rescued as a baby from death, when his mother made a basket and put him in the Nile to save him from Pharaoh's edict, where later a royal princess found him (Exodus 2:3-6).  Jesus was also rescued as a baby when His family fled Bethlehem and Herod had all babies in Bethlehem killed (Matthew 2:13-16).  Moses turned away from a royal throne to serve God (Hebrews 11:24-26).  Jesus also turned away from His heavenly throne to redeem mankind (Philippians 2:5-8).

A true prophet, such as Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, will faithfully bring God’s full message truthfully.  Jesus is more than a mere prophet.  He both gave God’s Word faithfully and truthfully, He also fulfilled all of the Messianic prophecies.  Right prior to our Scripture passage God warned not to follow those who use the occult to find one’s future (Deuteronomy 18:9-14).  The will of God is found through His messengers, the true prophets, not through fortune tellers, tarot cards, or horoscopes.

Today’s Scripture ends with two warnings - one for those who neglect the message of the true Prophet of God, and the other for those who give false messages from God (vs. 19-20).  Every person who hears the Gospel and turns away from Jesus will one day answer at the Great White Throne for what they have heard.  The Lord has also very strong judgment for false prophets who claim they have God’s message, but it is not His true Word, and who also mix the worship of God with those of false, pagan gods.

Let us look only to those who speak the true message of the Lord, through His Word, the Bible, and to His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Follow Me

Mark 1:14-20

Do you follow anyone?  That term has come to have a new meaning in the last 20 or so years.  If you ask that question to someone today, they will most likely think that you are referring to Social Media, where you can decide to follow someone’s Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or other Social Media site.  Most of us follow one or more people, keeping up-to-date with everything they have to say.  Perhaps after a while, for whatever reason, we might choose to “unfollow” them, and we no longer receive their information in our inboxes.  Before the days of the Internet, the term “follow” meant to go or come after or behind someone or something.  It still has that meaning today, but when most people hear the word “follow” today, they think of the Internet meaning.  In our Scripture for today from Mark’s Gospel, we see where several fishermen were called away from their jobs to follow another.  What did that mean to them?  Let’s see.

As our Scripture begins, we read that John the Baptist had been put in prison, and Jesus had returned to Galilee to begin His ministry there.  There He began to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God (vs. 14).  The word “gospel” basically means “good news”.  Jesus has good news for us.  Don’t we all want and need to hear that, especially in this day and age?  It’s important, though, that the news we hear is trustworthy, that it is something we can believe.  Over the last few years we have heard the term “fake news” thrown around a lot, often with one politician or political party accusing the other of putting out “fake news”.  Who can you believe?  Jesus gives us good news, words, and a message that we can trust.  The message from God’s Word, the Bible, is not “fake news”!

The first message that Jesus gave upon returning to Galilee was one of repentance and faith (vs. 15).  Repentance and faith are the required response to God’s offer of salvation.  We might not think that repentance is very good news, however, having a genuine remorse and contrition for our sins against God will bring us to a point where we will believe in salvation through the shed Blood and death of Jesus for us.  Everyone needs to repent, to turn from their sins, and turn instead to righteousness, not just outwardly, but with the heart.  Along with repentance must come believing, putting your trust in Jesus and His message.

It was at this point that the Lord Jesus saw four men, all fishermen along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Andrew and his brother Simon Peter, and James and his brother John (vs. 16-20).  Andrew had been a follower of John the Baptist before, but had returned to Galilee to resume his job as a fisherman.  Jesus called each of these men to follow Him.  This calling to follow wasn’t to just tune in and listen to a few of His messages and teachings now and then, like when we check in online with someone we “follow” on Twitter or YouTube to see what they are saying.  Plenty of people throughout Galilee and Judea would catch a teaching or parable of Jesus now and then.  If there would have been such a thing back in those days, they would have hit the “like” button, but they weren’t real followers.  A number of these folks may very well have made a further commitment later and gotten saved.

The “follow Me” request that Jesus called out to these four men was a lot more than that.  Jesus was calling for these men to leave their former way of life and to become His disciples, those who would learn from Him, learn His message and teachings, and then go out and teach others.  This was following with a major commitment.  Following someone online has no real commitment.  We can check on them and what they say today or not, depending on if we feel like it, or have the time.  The only effort given is a few clicks on our computer, and that’s it.  Jesus wants more than a few clicks from us.

Evangelism was the primary purpose for which Jesus called the apostles, and it remains the central mission for believers today.  We are all called to be fishers of men.  Jesus calls you and I to follow Him.  Following someone online doesn’t cost us anything.  There is a price, though, to follow Jesus.  It can cost us our friends, our family, sometimes a job, or even our life.  Are we willing to pay the cost of discipleship?  Are we willing to follow Jesus?

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Live As You Are Called

I Corinthians 7:17-23

Our Scripture for today may seem a little odd, talking about a subject that we don’t usually think about, much less talk about.  In order to understand what the Apostle Paul was writing about to the church in Corinth, we really need to have a bit of historical and cultural context for the subject to make any sense.  Let’s take a look at this rather unusual or different subject in our Scripture.

On the Day of Pentecost, what is traditionally considered the birthday of the Church, the believers, those early Christians, were almost exclusively from a Jewish background.  Jesus’ last instructions to His followers, on the day when He was taken back up into heaven, was to go into all the world and spread the Gospel, telling everyone about Him (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).  However, for several years, these earliest believers only witnessed to fellow Jews, and on a rare occasion to a Samaritan, but never to Gentiles.  As a matter of fact, when Peter, the chief of the apostles, finally did witness to a Gentile man, Cornelius and his family, he was strongly criticized by his fellow believers, not just for witnessing to them, but for even eating with them (Acts 11:1-3).

Slowly the Gospel began to be spread among the Gentiles.  However, there remained a strong faction among the Jewish believers that felt quite strongly that if the Gentiles were witnessed to, and they came to saving faith in Jesus, they had to be circumcised and adhere to the Old Testament Law.  This became a very contentious argument in the early Church.  There was one side which said that the Jewish Law must be followed, including by Gentiles.  This group came to be known as the Judaizers.   On the other side were those who said that was not the case.  Paul was very much in the latter camp, and he addressed this issue quite strongly in several of his epistles.

This became such an issue that after churches were started in predominantly Greek/Gentile areas, with a mostly Gentile congregation, Judaizers came in and demanded that all Gentile believers be circumcised (Galatians 5:1-6).  These Judaizers were telling the new believers that they couldn’t really be saved unless they were circumcised first, and also kept the other Mosaic Laws, such as with diet and other regulations.

The Council of Jerusalem was convened to address these issues, where it was decided by the leaders of the Church that the Law of Moses, the Old Testament Law, did not need to be followed, including the act of circumcision (Acts 15:6-29).  That didn’t sit well with some of the Jewish believers, and they continued to insist that Gentiles follow the Law, for all practical purposes to become Jews first, and then they can be saved and become a Christian.

Scripture teaches that after Christ’s death, circumcision is no longer necessary (Romans 4:9-11; Galatians 5:2-4; Colossians 2:11).  Pleasing God and obeying Him is more important than observing traditional ceremonies.  Rituals help us only insofar as they move us towards God.  In and of themselves they have no intrinsic value.  God values obedience far more than adherence to religious regulations (I Samuel 15:22; Philippians 3:3).

Jesus has fulfilled all of the old Levitical Law, so it is no longer binding. Abraham, the Father of Faith, was not justified or made righteous by circumcision, but instead, it was through his faith (Genesis 15:6).   When we trust and obey God, like Abraham did, we please Him more than just keeping a ritual.  We can keep every last ritual and tradition, but if we do not love God and our neighbor, it is nothing, as Jesus summarized in Matthew 22:36-40.  Culture, social standing, and external ceremonies have no bearing on spiritual life.  What matters is faith and obedience.

Paul told the Corinthian Church that what they needed to do was to remain in the same state that they were in when they got saved (vs. 20-22).  If they were an uncircumcised Gentile, remain that way. If they were a circumcised Jew, remain that way.  If they were a slave or they were free, remain that way, as we all are to be servants of the Lord.  People are slaves to sin until they commit their lives to Jesus, who alone can conquer sin’s power.  No bondage is as terrible as that of sin, from which Jesus frees the believer.  Sin no longer has any claim over us.

In closing, Paul ends this section of Scripture by reminding us that we were bought with a price.  What was that price?  Our ransom price was the Precious Blood of the Lord Jesus, which He shed on the Cross.  It was the Blood that was shed when He died for our sins, to redeem us from the power of sin.  Don’t become slaves to the ways of men and the world.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Down In The Pit

Psalm 130

Problems can sometimes overwhelm us so much that we feel like we are in a deep and sinking pit.  This happens to everyone now and again.  There is even a figure of speech, that of “being in deep trouble”, or we are “over our head in trouble”, that describes just how we feel when these things happen.  Whether we are literally in a pit, or whether it is a deep and overwhelming problem, we often can’t get out on our own.  We need help.  Who can we call upon who will hear us, be there, and have the strength and ability to give aid, whether it is our fault it happened, or not?   Our psalm for today will tell us that answer.

The author of today’s psalm was deep in some sort of trouble and distress.  We don’t know who the author of this psalm is, nor what his trouble was, but he felt quite overwhelmed (vs. 1).  The “depths” spoke of any place that felt desperate.  This was a time of severe distress.  Problems and despair can make us feel isolated and distant from God.  This is precisely when we need Him the most.  Our psalmist knew this, and that is Who he called upon.

Was this a “pit”, whether literal or figurative, that he fell into by accident, or was it a result of some sinful behavior he got involved in?  The psalmist’s words seem to hint that it might have been the latter.  The psalmist prayed to God, reminding Him that no one is without any sins, and that if God kept a record of everything everyone did (and He does keep just such a record), no one could stand and face Him (vs. 3).  However, he also knew that God is a forgiving God (vs. 4).

Though it isn’t always the case, some suffering is the result of sin.  We need to be careful not to judge others in their sufferings, and immediately assume that they are sinners because of what they are going through.  But there are times when it is because of sin, and this psalm seems to indicate it was with the psalmist.  Despair over sin should not cause us to turn from the Lord.  It should lead us to confess, and then turn to Him for mercy, forgiveness, and redemption.  In his time of need, our author turned to God and asked for His mercy.  When we turn to the Lord and confess what we have done, God delights to forgive.  He gives never-ending forgiveness to those who come to Him.

The psalmist reminds us that often we have to wait on the Lord for His answer (vs. 5-6).  God does not jump into action on our timetable.  When we are in despair we get impatient with God, and often try to do something on our own to solve the problem.  However, often the best thing we can do is wait on God.  Remember that He is in control.  The Lord waits for the best moment to intervene.  Waiting is the Lord’s training ground for building strong faith.  As we wait we learn to trust more deeply and surely in Him.

In closing, this psalm reminds us that many times we find ourselves deep in the depths, caught in a problem that is sometimes of our own making, but also sometimes not.  We live in a fallen world.  Panic never leads to anything good.  Instead, we need to stay calm and wait for the Lord to be attentive to our cries for mercy.  We need to put our hope in God’s Word, which will never fail (vs. 5).  When you find yourself in danger, put your hope in God.  Trust completely by faith that God will come to your rescue, as He has promised.  We can have that certain hope, because God’s Word, the Bible, cannot fail.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

The High Places

Jeremiah 3:21 - 4:2

Living in the Chicago area as I do, we are in the Great Lakes region, a rather flat part of the country.  No mountains here!  Fortunately when I was younger I had the opportunity to visit both the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains.  Mountains are very beautiful and majestic.  In some cultures, though, mountains have been worshiped, or have been the focus for worship of various false, pagan gods.  Mount Olympus, associated with the ancient Greek religion, is a prime example.  The people of Israel and Judah had a tendency to fall into that trap, too, as we shall see in our Scripture today from the Book of Jeremiah.

From the final days of Joshua on through to the Babylonian captivity, the people of Israel and Judah had a strong tendency to turn to the worship of the pagan gods and goddesses of the surrounding Canaanite tribes.  Often part of the worship of these false gods took place in “high places”, on the tops of hills and mountains, where they would erect shrines and altars.  Worship in these high places, along with the worship in groves, were specifically forbidden by Yahweh (Deuteronomy 12:2-3, 13-14).  However, the people went running after the ways of their pagan neighbors, and the worship on high places and groves became entrenched in their culture.  By the days of the prophet Jeremiah it was a very common practice, though it still greatly angered the Lord God.

As our Scripture opens, Jeremiah described the sound of weeping and prayers being heard from up in the heights, up in the hills, where the pagan shrines frequently were.  The people were up their pleading in prayer for the help of pagan deities, or even Yahweh, to help in the desperate troubles they were in.  However, God said that they have perverted their ways and have forgotten Him (vs. 21).  This was not the way God said to worship Him.

The worship of false gods was wrong, along with the combining of worship of Yahweh with a pagan deity.  He would not share the altar in the high places, nor in groves.  He would only be worshiped upon the specific altar in the Tabernacle, and later in the Temple in Jerusalem.  Jeremiah, on behalf of God, called the people back from their backsliding, from their sins, and then He would forgive them (vs. 22).

Sin should be seen for what it is.  All too often, either back in Biblical days, and certainly today, sin is whitewashed.  Too many people don’t even believe in sin today.  Everything is considered okay.  Anything goes.  If it feels good, do it.  It's all okay.  Those are the mantras today.  The world glorifies sin, and does not see it for how vile it is.

The prophet Jeremiah continued on by telling the people that trying to find help and deliverance from the hills and mountains is useless (vs. 23).  As surely as deliverance is vainly hoped for from the multitude of idols placed on the hills and mountains, so surely is salvation a certainty when sought from Yahweh.  No salvation can be obtained from hill or mountain gods.  Jeremiah pleaded with the people, and us today, to turn to the Lord God (Psalm 121:1-2).

The people had been crying out to these false deities for help and deliverance.  Instead, the Lord called to them, reminding them that if only they would return to Him, and put away their sins and abominations, He would hold them steadfast against their enemies and their troubles (vs. 1-2).  If we do the same, if we get rid of the sin in our own life, get the obscenities and evil out of God’s sight, and if we will not wander away from Him, but instead worshiping only the Lord Jesus sincerely, justly, and righteously, we will not be moved.  We will bless ourselves in Him, and He will be our glory.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Come And See!

John 1:43-51

When we find something exciting and wonderful, most of us like to share that good news with family and friends.  We hope that they will share in our excitement and happiness.  Sometimes, though, our news might be met with skepticism, scoffing, or scorn.  How do we respond then?  When our friends respond with a very sarcastic “Yeah, right!”, or say that our words are a bunch of nonsense, how do we react?  As we look into a portion of Scripture from the Gospel of John, we read of a similar scenario.  Let’s see what happened.

The day before when our Scripture takes place, John and Andrew decided to follow Jesus.  They had previously been disciples of John the Baptist, but after the Baptist’s words about Jesus, they turned and began to follow Jesus.  Andrew, knowing that the words Jesus spoke were the Truth, immediately went and told his brother, Peter, inviting him to come and meet Jesus (John 1:35-42).  Now it is the next day, and Jesus met another young man, Philip, who He called to also follow Him (vs. 43).  Philip responded and believed.

Just like his friend Andrew, Philip thought of some of his other friends, the people he cared about, and he wanted to share the Good News he had found with them.  Philip had a good friend named Nathanael, who he knew was waiting for the Messiah to come.  (Nathanael is called Bartholomew in the other three Gospels).  He knew that this was news Nathanael would want to hear, news that he believed this man, Jesus, just might very well be the long-awaited Messiah (vs. 45).

However, what was the response that Philip received from Nathanael?  When Nathanael heard that Jesus came from the village of Nazareth, he immediately scoffed.  Nazareth was an insignificant village without any importance.  Perhaps nearby where you live there is a village that has a reputation for being a “hick town”, a backwards, unsophisticated place.  That was the reputation Nazareth had by the communities closer to the Sea of Galilee, where the fishing and shipping businesses prospered.  Nathanael judged Jesus based on the community He had grown up in.  He felt that nobody of any importance could come from there! (vs. 46).

Nathanael sat in judgment before he even met Jesus.  Frequently we do the same thing.  We often judge the people around us, jumping to conclusions about people without knowing the whole story.  Philip could have then responded with an angry “Fine!  Be that way!”, and could have blown his friend off.  Fortunately Philip was an easy-going guy, and instead of arguing his point, he gave Nathanael an invitation to just come and see for himself.  He knew that if Nathanael would only meet Jesus, his eyes and heart would be opened.  Instead of arguing and getting all hot and angry, many of our friends just need to be invited to “come and see”, they need to just have the Bible opened up for them to read, and let God’s Word speak for Itself.

Though Nathanael had at first given a snap judgment based on where Jesus grew up, he did have an open, honest, and seeking heart, and he took his friend up on the invitation to come and see.  When Jesus met Philip’s friend, He declared that he was an honest man with no deceit in him (vs. 47).  That puzzled Nathanael, as he had never met Jesus before, so he asked Him how He would know anything about him.  Jesus’ response could be even more puzzling to us today (vs. 48).  Sitting underneath fig trees was often a place that devout Jews in the countryside would go to pray, read, and meditate on Scripture.  Perhaps Nathanael had some significant experience of communion with God during his last prayer time, and he saw that Jesus knew it, which no one else could have.  He saw that Jesus had been with him in his time of prayer and mediation.

Nathanael knew now that Jesus was Someone who could not be described in merely human terms (vs. 49).  He knew that Jesus could only be the Messiah!  Jesus invited Nathanael, as He had done for Philip, Andrew, Peter, and John, to come and follow Him.  There is a difference between just being a believer, and being a follower.  Being a follower requires getting up.  It requires leaving comfort, maybe family, friends, job, or hobbies.  Being a follower can require leaving all behind.  It can be costly, and it can sometimes hurt.

Have you heard something about Jesus, but have passed judgment on Him without any real solid knowledge?  I challenge you to have an open and honest heart, like Nathanael, and open up the Word of God and see for yourself.  As Philip said, “Come and see!”  If you, like Philip, have told friends or family about Jesus, and they have scoffed at you, rather than getting upset, just invite them, like Philip did, to check out the facts in the Bible.  Again, “Come and see!”.  Are you a believer in the Lord Jesus?  Great!  Now get up and become a follower.  See what the Lord wants you to do for Him and His kingdom, and be a follower like the disciples did.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Get Rid Of The Garbage!

I Corinthians 6:9-20

Most of us like to keep a clean house.  We don’t just throw our trash onto the floors.  You certainly wouldn’t see that in some of the grand houses of the world, such as the White House or Windsor Castle!  I’m sure that Christians would be quite upset, even appalled, if they went into the great cathedrals around the world, or even just a humble place of worship, and found open bags of garbage just strewn all over, including up by the altar!  We just wouldn’t tolerate that, would we?   In our Scripture today from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he speaks of a certain temple that some Christians have allowed to become polluted with all sorts of vile garbage.  Let’s take a look at what Paul is talking about, and see whether we might be one of those Christians.

As our Scripture opens, Paul gives a list of some rather grievous sins, sins that no Christian would want to admit in taking part in (vs. 9-10).  The Apostle then reminded his readers that some of them had taken part in committing one or more of these sins before they were saved.  However, after coming to the Lord Jesus and getting saved, they were washed and sanctified from those sins.

Paul wanted to clear up some faulty thinking and beliefs that were starting to be spread around in the Corinthian church, and other churches, as well.  This faulty thinking was that if God forgave each of the sins that a believer committed, both when they were initially saved, and then on throughout the remainder of their life, then what is the harm in continuing to sin?  They said that God’s grace and mercy will forgive them every time they commit a sin, so why not just indulge in their favorite sins.  These Christians said that they had liberty, had freedom to do what they wanted.  They stated that they were not under the Old Testament Law any more, and were free to do what they wanted.  Paul stated here in this passage that this thinking is not correct or godly.

Today we have people who claim to be Christians, and who think similarly.  They say they are free to do whatever they want.  They say that many of the activities that the Bible calls sinful are no longer so, and that God will bless anything that they feel like doing, that all is good, that their favorite sins are no longer sins.  God’s Word here in our passage says that this is faulty thinking.  We read in our passage that those who say they are Christians but who persist in these practices, with no sign of remorse, will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

The freedom of a Christian does not mean that we can do anything we want. Trying to live free from all control is a guaranteed disaster.  Just because Jesus has taken away our sin does not give us freedom to go on doing what we know is wrong (vs. 12).  Self control is important.  We have a lot of freedom, but we should not use that freedom to compromise our Christian walk.  We should be consistently asking ourselves if our actions will honor and glorify God.

In this Scripture passage the Apostle Paul specifically highlights sexual immorality, naming it not only as a sin, but one that is a sin against the body, one that defiles us (vs. 15-18).  Many people today say that this is an outdated prohibition, and that there is nothing wrong with any type of sexual activity.  However, God, in His divinely inspired Word, the Bible, says otherwise.  The Holy Spirit could never sanction the sin of fornication or immorality.  Sexual immorality is a black and white issue in the Bible.  No shades of gray anywhere here!

In closing, Paul reminded the Corinthians, and us today, that no one owns their body.  It either belongs to God or is enslaved by sin.  When a person is saved several things happen.  Their sins are forgiven them, their names are written in the Book of Life, they are adopted into God’s family, and as is mentioned here, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell that individual (vs. 19).  Our bodies become the Temple of the Holy Spirit.  Everything that had to do with the Tabernacle, and then later the Temple in the Old Testament had to be completely sanctified and purified in a specific manner.  Our bodies are now the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and should not be used for unrighteousness.

In other words, Paul is telling us to get all the garbage out.  No one would allow the grand cathedrals of Europe to become the village garbage dump.  You don’t see garbage trucks backing up to the doors and emptying all the filth in there!  Likewise, we should not be partaking of any of the sins listed at the beginning of our Scripture.  Remember, the Lord Jesus paid a price, that of His precious Blood, to purchase you (vs. 20).  You are valuable to your Heavenly Father.  Trust in His Word, not your feelings, and allow the Holy Spirit to change your perception.  Grace does not give us a license to sin, but rather it gives liberty to live a holy life.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Seeking After God

Psalm 63:1-8

Have you ever wanted something really badly?  I mean really, really, really badly?  You will do anything in your power to get that desired thing.  If you really want a certain house that is for sale, you might offer more than the listed price to get it.  If you knew that there was a buried treasure of jewels in a certain general vicinity, you might spend every spare moment of your time, even for years, trying to locate it.  If the desire is there, people will go to great lengths to get what they really want.  Our psalm this week speaks of David’s great desire for something.  Let’s take a look to see what it is.

Psalm 63 was written by David while he was in the wilderness of Judah, probably during the years when he was running for his life from King Saul.  The southern parts of Judah, along with east of the Jordan River, were a barren wilderness.  Some parts had large rocky outcroppings where one could hide, which is something David needed to do from King Saul’s murderous rage.  One thing about a wilderness area is that there usually isn’t a great supply of water.  Undoubtedly David knew what it was like to be very thirsty.  Have you ever been really thirsty, perhaps to the point of passing out from thirst?  All you can think about is getting a cool glass of water.  David knew that feeling, and as he opens this psalm, he compares his longing and desire for God as being like one dying of thirst (vs. 1).

David told us that he sought out God “early”.  David sought out God both early in his life, and also early in the day.  When David was a young boy his father set him to work watching the family’s sheep.  It was there, out in the pasture watching the flocks, that his relationship with God developed and grew.  He was a believer early in his life.  David also sought out God early in the daytime.  Upon awakening every day he carved out some time to spend worshiping, praising, and praying to the Lord.  His early moments were spent with the one he thirsted for.

What are some of the things that we prize the most, that we hold most dear, and would protect at all costs?  Quite high on that list must be our own life.  Just about everyone does what they can to keep themselves healthy and safe.  Self-preservation is a strong instinct.  However, in verse 3 we read that David prized God and His loving kindness better than his own life.  Can we honestly say that we feel that way?

After a big meal, we can lean back from the table, feeling that we are satisfied.  We are no longer hungry, and can't eat another bite.  David described this as the feeling he had when he had spent quality time with the Lord (vs. 5).  He felt like he had been dining on the choicest of foods.  Some cultures find bone marrow to be a choice addition to a meal, along with the fat of meat, while others might not prefer that.  The people of the ancient Middle East, though, prized that food, and to be well-satisfied after that meal would be a delight.  Again, David wanted his time with the Lord to be that satisfying.  Think of your favorite food, and eating a meal of that until you are well-fed.  Do you find your relationship with God that satisfying?

David continued by telling how he meditated on God all through the night watches (vs. 6).  Night watches is a reference to ancient military terms.  The nighttime was divided into several, often three, watches, where the soldiers would take turns staying awake and guarding the city, fort, or army camp.  If someone was awake for all the watches of the night, they were having a sleepless night.  It happened to David on occasion, and has probably happened to all of us at one time or another.  In those times, turn your thoughts to God in reflection, prayer, and worship.

God invites us to hold fast to Him (Deuteronomy 10:20; 13:4).  David clung to God in unfailing commitment.  No matter what the situation or where it leads, we need to follow God.  We need to seek after Him just as earnestly as some dogs who will travel hundreds, or even thousands of miles to get back home to the family they love.  No matter where we are, our desire should be for God, because only He can satisfy us fully.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Samuel And Eli

I Samuel 3

Today’s Old Testament Scripture for this week, from the Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer, gives the account of two men.  Actually one who was probably a young teen-aged boy, and the other a much older man.  Both were believers in Yahweh.  Only one, though, was following him closely and was fully obedient, and the other not nearly as much.  Which one do you think was?  Let’s look into our Scripture, as it might surprise you.

The young lad in our Scripture is Samuel.  His birth had been an answer to the prayers of his mother, Hannah, and in thanksgiving and gratitude to the Lord, she had brought him as a young boy to the Tabernacle to live under the care and supervision of Eli.  He was a priest at the Tabernacle in Shiloh.  As we begin our Scripture, we read that the word of the Lord was rare in those days (vs. 1).  Ever since the death of Joshua, a couple hundred years earlier, the people and nation fell deeper and deeper into sin.  There were periodic small revivals here and there, but nothing widespread or lasting.  By the time of Samuel, the apostasy in the land was so great that there were scarcely any who knew or preached God’s Word.

Unfortunately this included the priest Eli.  He personally knew God’s Word, as he taught the boy Samuel well, however he had greatly failed in the bringing up of his own two sons, Hophni and Phineas.  Those two young men were extremely corrupt and evil.  Not only did they take the choicest meats that were brought as a sacrifice to the Lord, but they took young women and had relations with them right there at the Tabernacle (I Samuel 2:12-17, 22).  Eli, their father, knew all this was going on, but only gave mild rebukes, and did not restrain them from these vile sins.  His love for his sons was misguided, and obviously more than his love and fear for the Lord, His holiness, and sanctity.  God must be first in everything,, and we must be obedient, no matter what he commands us to do, including, as Eli should have done, removing his sons from their position.

As we continue, we read the familiar passage of Scripture where Samuel had gone to bed, but was awoken when he heard a voice calling his name.  He naturally thought it was Eli, but the elderly man told him no, he didn’t call.  This happened several times, and finally, Eli realized it must be God, and instructed Samuel how to respond to Him the next time He called (vs. 2-9).  When we read in verse 7 that Samuel “did not yet know the Lord”, it didn’t mean that Samuel was an unbeliever.  Instead, it was that he did not recognize God’s Voice yet.  God wanted a close relationship with Samuel, and persistently called him.  He wants the same with us, and He has done everything necessary to make that possible by giving us His Word, the Bible, and His Son as Savior.

One might have expected that God would have spoken to Eli.  However, God’s chain of command is based on faith, not on age or position.  Eli’s spiritual perception was not what it should have been as a priest and judge of Israel.  Samuel was ready and listening to God’s Voice (vs. 10).  He chose to listen to Him, and to obey what God revealed.  That is why God chose Samuel and not Eli to begin bringing the nation of Israel back to Himself.  Samuel learned early in life to hear and obey the Lord.  We need to follow his example, and not wait until tragedy strikes to start a prayer relationship with Him.

The message that God gave Samuel was not a nice and pleasant one to hear (vs. 11-14).  It was not one of peace, love, and fluff that so many preachers like to give today, and what congregations like to hear.  Instead it was one of condemnation of the sins of the people, of Eli and his family in particular.  When they both woke up in the morning, Eli insisted that Samuel tell him what God had said (vs. 15-18).  Sometimes the message that God gives us is not easy to tell others.  No one wants to hear about their sins and need for repentance, but we must be faithful in sharing those messages, even when they are hard to say.  The preachers who fail to do so today are doing everyone an injustice, and are failing to obey the Lord.

Eli was implicated in the sins of his sons because he did not restrain them, or intervene with judgment.  Though the judgment of God did not happen immediately, it did a few years later.  Both of Eli’s sons died in battle, and the Ark of the Covenant was taken by the Philistines.  When Eli heard the news, he fell over, breaking his neck and dying (I Samuel 4:17-18).  A generation later Ahimelech died at the hands of Doeg, during the days of David (I Samuel 22:6-23).  The family line of priests died out when his son, Abiathar, was removed from the priesthood by Solomon (I Kings 2:26-27).  God’s promises may sometimes seem delayed, but He always keeps His Word!

Two men, two believers, one who closely followed God, and one who was careless and lackadaisical.  One who was blessed by God, and one who came to a tragic end, along with his family and descendants.  We must always be ready to listen to God, and to act on what He tells us.

Friday, January 12, 2024

The Blessings That Are Ours

Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19

Imagine a person who is living in poverty.  They can’t afford to get much heat in the winter, or keep the lights on at night.  They barely have enough to eat, frequently going hungry, and their clothes are old and thread-bare.  Yet they have a monthly benefactor, who provides them with way more than enough money every month.  They just have to ask him for it.  It is theirs for the asking.  However, this person either does not know that they have this benefactor who consistently gives them money, despite his frequently making it known.  Perhaps they don’t believe it is really there.  Or perhaps they don’t believe that they deserve it, so they don’t touch that money.  We might think that person is sadly foolish, especially when they have so much available to them to help them.  However, that is the case, spiritually, for so many Christians.  In our Scripture today from Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church, he lets believers know that we have spiritual blessings available to us.

Paul opens this passage by giving a blessing to the Lord, a thanks to Him for all the blessings He has bestowed upon His children (vs. 3).  As he continues, Paul used the past tense of the word bless - “has blessed”.  God has already given believers total blessings.  He has secured them in heaven where none can be stolen, damaged, or kept back.  They come to us from His heavenly dwelling.  These are heavenly blessings, and are eternal.  There are earthly blessings, material blessings, home, clothes, job, etc.  However, these are all temporary.  We may have them one day, and lose them the next.  The spiritual blessings that the Lord has given to us are eternal.  No one can steal them from us.  They won’t wear away or get lost.

These spiritual blessings are not for just anyone.  God’s abundant blessings belong only to believers, who are His children by faith in Jesus Christ.  He chose, before the foundation of the world, for those who put their faith and trust in His Son, to be His adopted children.  We are now brothers and sisters of Jesus, and what He has is also ours - righteousness, resources, privileges, positions, and power (Romans 8:16-17).  These blessings, and God’s adopting us as His Blood-bought children, the mystery of salvation, originated in the timeless mind of God long before we even existed (vs. 4).

Human parents cannot give their adopted children any of their features or attributes.  They do not inherit their looks, their hair color, eye color, or any other physical characteristics.  However, when we were saved and adopted into God’s family, He began to conform us into the image of His divine Son, Jesus Christ.

Paul prayed that the Ephesians and that we would have godly knowledge and insight to grasp the greatness of the hope and the inheritance that is ours in Christ Jesus.  The hope we have is not a vague feeling that the future will be positive.  It is a complete assurance of certain victory through God.  Our inheritance is the same as that of our Savior.  Everything He has is ours as well.

We are not saved because we deserve it, but because God is gracious, and freely gives salvation to those who come to Him through Jesus.  We cannot take any credit for our salvation, nor for the blessings He then bestows.  We need to come to Him for salvation, and then to accept all of His blessings.  Don’t ignore them, nor be ignorant of their existence, just like the person mentioned at the start.  When we do come to Jesus, though, we are special, accepted, and wanted by God.  We are accepted in the Beloved (vs. 6).  We are not refused, rejected, or turned away.  We are accepted! 

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

King Solomon And King Jesus

Psalm 72:1-2, 10-17

When an important event happens in someone’s life, such as a graduation, a wedding, or for the select few, a coronation, tribute speeches and homages are often written and given.  On occasion these might be given in a song or poem.  King David was a prolific poet and songwriter, and that was the best way in which he expressed his thoughts and feelings.  Towards the very end of his life, King David proclaimed his son, Solomon, to follow as the next monarch, and had him anointed king while he was still alive.  For this special occasion in Solomon’s life, his father David composed Psalm 72.  Though he wrote this psalm in honor of his son Solomon, David probably had no idea that these words would also be prophetic for the coming Messiah.

Psalm 72 opens as a prayer to the Lord that God would bless the new King of Israel.  David knew that the Lord had promised him that a son of his would sit upon the throne, and that his dynasty would last forever.  He had his son Solomon anointed before he died to squash the claims of Adonijah, (another of his sons), from claiming the throne.

In this psalm we read of several prayers that David made in honor of his son being king.  David prayed that the Lord would ensure that Solomon would reign as king with right judgments, with righteousness, and with justice (vs. 1-2).  He also prayed that, rather than declaring war against Solomon and attacking him, the kings of other nations would seek peace with him, and offer him gifts (vs. 10-11, 15).  David prayed that Solomon would be a good and caring king (vs. 12-14).  He prayed that Solomon would show compassion and concern for the poor and needy, which most kings at that time didn’t care for in the least.  David prayed for a fruitful and prosperous country for Solomon (vs. 16), and that he would be remembered forever (vs. 17).

Most of these prayers were answered in the person of his son, King Solomon.  Shortly after the death of David, the Lord spoke to Solomon, asking him what he would like Him to give him (I Kings 3:5-14).  Solomon asked for wisdom, and the Lord promised him great wisdom, in addition to the “usual” requests most people would ask, such as long life and riches.  The Lord blessed Solomon with great wisdom, ruling the people with right judgment and justice.  Foreign rulers came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, to see the greatness of the Temple he built, his palaces, and see his royal court, and they brought him gifts fit for a king.  We read in Scripture of just one of these visits, that of the Queen of Sheba (I Kings 10:1-13).  Solomon was perhaps one of the wealthiest people in his lifetime.  And we can attest to the fact that he is very famous to this day.

However, not only was this psalm written by King David with his son Solomon in mind, but this was also a prophetic passage of Scripture, as these words also apply to the Lord Jesus in an even greater sense than they do to Solomon.  Yes, we know that Solomon was wise, and ruled his kingdom with right judgment, that is, until he began to fall away from the Lord.  After Solomon began to marry foreign, pagan women, these wives turned his heart away from faithful worship of Yahweh, and instead he built altars to pagan gods.  He was no longer such a wise king.  When the Lord Jesus will reign, He will faithfully mediate God’s justice on all nations.

Though we know that Solomon was extremely wealthy, and his country was very prosperous, we don’t know if he, personally, was caring for the poor and needy.  When a country is prosperous, there are fewer poor folk, but they still exist.  However, Jesus cares for the needy, the afflicted, and the weak, because they are precious to Him.  Verses 12-14 very clearly refer to the Lord Jesus.  Very few rulers of any country, whether they are elected officials or hereditary monarchs, have been a champion of the poor and needy, but we know that Jesus is.

This psalm speaks of kings coming from the four corners of the known world to offer Solomon gifts.  Tarshish was the ancient name for where Spain is today, at the far end of the Mediterranean.  Few sailing ships traveled farther than there.  Sheba was in the southern Arabian peninsula, where Yemen is today.  And Seba is along the northern coast of Africa, where Tunisia and Libya are today.  When Jesus returns to set up His Millennial kingdom, all nations, far and near, will turn to Him for salvation.

As we read in Philippians 2:10-11, one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Only the Name of the Lord Jesus will last forever.  And most assuredly mankind can only be blessed through Jesus, and through no one else, no matter how great they may seem.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Shine Jesus Shine!

Isaiah 60:1-6

Being in the dark is often not a good place to be.  If someone is wandering around in a dark room or place, they might not see any hidden dangers, especially if they are in an unfamiliar place.  It can bring stubbed toes and bruised shins.  You might even step a little too close to a stairway and go tumbling down.  A dark room or location can also hide a criminal or someone out to hurt you.  There is a phrase, being “in the dark”, referring to being in a state of ignorance about something.  If you’re in the dark, you don’t know what is going on, and that is not good, either.  Even worse, though, than either being in a physically dark room or place, or not knowing what is going on, is being in a spiritually dark condition.  Left in that condition will lead to being eternally lost.  In each case we need some light.  Light to shine in the dark room to keep you safe, light to help you to understand what is going on, and spiritual light for your eternal soul.  Our Scripture today speaks of the day when spiritual light has come to us.

Our Old Testament Scripture for this week comes from the Book of Isaiah.  The prophet Isaiah lived and ministered in the Kingdom of Judah around 740 - 686 BC.  He lived during a rather dark time.  The northern Kingdom of Israel had completely forsaken the worship of Yahweh, and were worshiping pagan idols and false gods.  Many in the southern Kingdom of Judah had, as well, and mixed the worship of Yahweh with false gods.  There was crime, injustice, disregard for the poor, the orphans, and widows.  There was also the major threat from foreign empires attacking and overthrowing their country.  Though the Kingdom of Judah wouldn’t fall to the Babylonians for another hundred years or so, the Northern Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians during Isaiah’s time, in 721 BC.  There were no international “laws of war”, and soldiers were brutal in their attacks, including the wholesale slaughter of civilians, women, and children.  It was, indeed, a very dark time.

However, in this dark time, Isaiah spoke of light coming.  He told of the Lord God sending light, spiritual light, to His people.  And through His people, this spiritual light would spread out to the Gentiles, and the whole world.  This light would come, not in Isaiah’s day, but some approximately 700 years later, in the Person of the Lord Jesus.  Jesus, the Son of God, was born to a Jewish woman, and preached and taught people in Galilee and Judea.  The twelve apostles, and the first believers, the first Christians, were Jewish, but within just a few quick years, the Gospel message was being preached to Gentiles, and they were coming to faith in the Lord Jesus as their Savior, as well.

The whole world was in darkness since the Fall of Adam, but God brought a Light, and people could turn to that Light, including Gentiles (vs. 1-3).   The first Gentiles to come to faith in the Lord Jesus were the Magi.  They came to the spiritual light of faith in Jesus by following a literal light, that of the Star of Bethlehem.  They probably traveled by camel across the wilderness, and brought gifts of gold and incense, as prophesied by Isaiah (vs. 6).

Though Jesus primarily taught and ministered to the Jewish people, there were several notable times when He specifically ministered to Gentiles and Samaritans (a people who were sort of a half Jewish, half Gentile mix).  The woman at the well was a Samaritan (John 4:1-42).  Of a group of lepers He healed, one was a Samaritan, the only one who thanked Him (Luke 17:11-19).  Jesus healed the Roman centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13), and He cast the demon out of the Syro-Phoenician woman’s daughter (Mark 7:24-30), both Gentiles.  Jesus brought salvation’s light to each of these.  He fully intended that His saving message was to go out into all the world, to all nations and all people (Matthew 28:19-20).

Today’s world is equally as dark as in the days of Isaiah.  There are wars and the threat of war everywhere.  Crime is rampant everywhere.  All sorts of perversions are being taught to children as being normal and acceptable.  This world desperately needs the Light of Jesus to come and shine.  Do you have the Light of Jesus shining in your heart?  If not, come into His Light today.  If you do have His Light within you, reflect it out into this sin-darkened world, and bring others to Jesus.  “Shine, Jesus, shine!  Fill this land with the Father’s glory!”

Saturday, January 6, 2024

The Magi

Matthew 2:1-12

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, the day when the Church commemorates the day when the Magi came to baby Jesus, and the first Gentiles who worshiped Him.  The Magi have always seemed to hold an air of mystery to me, as we don’t know exactly who they were, where they came from, or how many there were.  The fact that they most probably traveled by night over multiple hundreds of miles just adds to the allure.  Their story is briefly given in the Gospel of Matthew, where they appear suddenly, and then are not heard of again.  On this day when the Church honors their faith, the first of the Gentiles to believe in Jesus, let’s take a quick look at the Magi.

As Matthew opens our Scripture passage, he tells us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem during the days when Herod was king (vs. 1).   This was Herod the Great, the first of the Herodian kings who reigned throughout the Middle East.  He reigned from 37 BC - 4 BC, was an Idumean or Edomite (descendent of Ishmael), and was a cruel and mentally unstable man.

Suddenly appearing in King Herod’s courts were “wise men from the East”.  Who were these men?  Matthew gives us no further information about them.  The Greek word that Matthew used, which was translated as “wise men” was “magos”.  The Magi were very well-educated priests, alchemists, and astronomers/astrologers from the Babylonian and Medo-Persian empires.  Similar wise men or Magi were mentioned in the Book of Daniel as being in the courts of the Babylonian and Persian emperors.  Though Matthew only stated that they came “from the East”, many believe they were from around Persia.

When these Magi arrived in Jerusalem, they stated that they were looking for the One who was born King of the Jews (vs. 2).  They stated that they had seen His star.  In addition to being priests, (possibly Zoroastrian), and alchemists, the Magi carefully studied the stars, planets, and other heavenly bodies.  When something unusual appeared in the night sky, they took this to be a portent of some sort.  The Magi were also very familiar with ancient religious manuscripts from all over the world, including the ancient Jewish prophecies of the Old Testament.  They were familiar with the prophecy that Balaam made when the nation of Israel was getting ready to enter the Promised Land, of a star arising out of Jacob (Numbers 24:17).

What was this star that they had seen, and which led them to Jerusalem?  It could have been a conjunction of the planet Jupiter (the “king of the planets”) with the star Regulus (the “king of the stars”), which occurred back then.  There was also recorded back in this time a conjunction of the planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars.  Also, Venus and Jupiter came close together several times in the early BC years.  Some scholars speculate that it could have been a one-time comet, or possibly a supernova.  Then, just possibly, it could have been a star that God placed in the sky for just that occasion.

When King Herod heard this, he became very troubled (vs 3).  He was a very mentally unstable man, ordering executions for any reason.  He had several of his wives and two of his sons, along with one of his fathers-in-law executed.  He also had executed several members of the Sanhedrin.  Herod was not the rightful heir to the throne of David.  Many Jews despised him as a usurper, especially since he was an Edomite, and not a Jew.  So news of a possible rival king would surely have upset him, and brought fear to the members of his court.

After inquiring from the chief priests and scribes as to where the Messiah would be born, and hearing that the prophecies stated in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), Herod directed the Magi there, with the instruction to tell him later exactly where the Child was (vs. 4-8) .  This was a ruse, though, as Herod planned on killing the Child.

When they found Jesus and His family, the Magi worshiped Him, and presented valuable gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (vs. 11).  Gold is a gift fit for a king.  It is something of value, a symbol of sacrifice on their part as worshipers, a willingness to give everything to God.  Frankincense is a gift for a Deity.  The Magi acknowledged that Jesus was not just a King, but also God, a divine Priest who would intercede for humanity.  Myrrh is an ointment used in ancient times to anoint the dead.  It is a gift for Someone who is going to die, as Jesus would die for the sins of mankind.

The Magi were Gentiles, and yet they recognized Jesus as the Messiah, when most of God’s chosen people did not.  They were the first Gentiles to come to faith in Jesus, and to worship Him.  When they saw the star, the sign from God, they left and searched for Him until they found Him.  There is a saying, “Wise Men still seek Him.”  Can that saying apply to you today?