Monday, January 15, 2018

Portraits of Faith - the wise men

This is the second in my series, Portraits of Faith, in which I look at the faith of all those folks in the Christmas story as recorded in Matthew 1 & 2  and Luke 1 & 2. I wanted to call this, Dioramas of Faith, but I was concerned that folks might not remember what a diorama was!

The Wise Men – faith to obey
Matthew 2:1-2  Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

How did the wise men or magi know to expect Christ? I looked at this here  (and the star here )

As I said then, I’m persuaded these magi knew the ancient prophecy in Numbers 24:17

 I will point to him, but not now; I bless him, but he draws not near: 
 a star shall rise out of Jacob, a man shall spring out of Israel; and shall 
 crush the princes of Moab, and shall spoil all the sons of Seth. (LXX)

But I have to be honest, the Scriptures are silent on this – it doesn’t explain how they knew to expect Christ. I conclude it doesn’t matter how they knew Christ was coming and would be announced by a star, the facts are: they did know and when they saw the star they immediately set off to find and worship him. They believed he was coming, they believed the star announced he had just been born, and as a direct result of this belief they went to worship him. They had faith to obey.

As I said in my last post, “When you believe you obey: obedience springs from faith. Faith and obedience are like Siamese twins – you never see one without the other. If I say I believe but I don't obey, then I do not have saving, sanctifying faith; I do not have the faith that pleases God. Throughout the entire Bible, whenever someone believed the Lord it affected what they did; and whenever folks did not obey they were charged with unbelief (Hebrews 3:17-19).” Rather than sharing the testimony of Israel in the wilderness, I did not believe nor did I obey, I would prefer my testimony to be:

Trust and obey,
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus,
But to trust and obey. (Trust and Obey, by John H. Sammis)


The composer of the music for this hymn, Daniel B. Towner, provided the following account of the birth of this song:

“[In 1886] Mr. Moody was conducting a series of meetings in Brockton, Massachusetts, and I had the pleasure of singing for him there. One night a young man rose in a testimony meeting and said, ‘I am not quite sure—but I am going to trust, and I am going to obey.’ I just jotted that sentence down, and sent it with a little story to the Rev. J. H. Sammis, a Presbyterian minister. He wrote the hymn, and the tune was born.”

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Portraits of faith - Joseph

In my advent series, The Christmas Story in Matthew 1 & 2, I mentioned the faith of Joseph and Mary. As I pondered this, I realized all those folks in Matthew 1 & 2 (as well as in Luke 1 & 2) teach us many things about faith that would be worth looking into.

I wanted to call this Dioramas of faith but I was concerned that some people might not remember what a diorama was!

Instead I am calling this Portraits of faith. I will look at the characters in these four chapters, in the order they appear, and see what I can learn about faith. It follows then that I will begin with Joseph.

Joseph - faith to obey

First up is Joseph and his encounters with angels. All these are found in Matthew 1 & 2

1:20, 24  But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost . . . Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:

2:13-14  And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:

2:19-21  But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.

2:22-23  But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

OK, we see that Joseph had a lot of dreams, but how does this illustrate faith? I don’t see faith mentioned one time. Well, clearly Joseph believed what the angels told him; he believed this to be the word of the Lord to him and for his situation. And what does this say about Joseph's faith? Each time he had a visit from an angel, he believed what he was told to do was from God, and he did it. Every time. Immediately. Joseph had faith to obey

As I pointed out in my Advent series, “When you believe you obey: obedience springs from faith. Faith and obedience are like Siamese twins – you never see one without the other.” If I say I believe but I don't obey, then I do not have saving, sanctifying faith; I do not have the faith that pleases God. Throughout the entire Bible, whenever someone believed the Lord it affected what they did; and whenever folks did not obey they were charged with unbelief (Hebrews 3:17-19). Rather than singing the song of Israel in the wilderness, "I don't believe and won't obey", I would prefer my song to be:

I'll say yes, Lord, yes
To Your will and to Your way
I'll say yes, Lord, yes
I will trust You and obey
When the Spirit speaks to me
With my whole heart I'll agree
And my answer will be
Yes, Lord, yes  (Lynn Edward Keesecker, 1983)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

He shall be called a Nazarene

This is the second follow up to Out of Egypt have I called my son

Matthew 2:23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

There seems to be a small problem with this, no one can find this in any prophet! I offer just a few explanations of this.

John Chrysostom
And what manner of prophet said this? Be not curious, nor overbusy. For many of the prophetic writings have been lost. For being negligent, and continually falling into ungodliness, some they suffered to perish, others they themselves burnt up and cut to pieces. He who composed the fourth book of Kings [2 Kings], saying, that after a long time the book of Deuteronomy was hardly found, buried somewhere and lost. But if, when there was no barbarian there, they so betrayed their books, much more when the barbarians had overrun them.

John Gill
that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet. This affair of going into Galilee, and settling at Nazareth, was brought about with this view, to accomplish what had been foretold by the prophets, or prophet, the plural number being used for the singular, as in John 6:45; and designs the prophet Isaiah, and respects that prophecy of his in Isa 11:1 "and there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and "a branch shall grow out of his roots"; a prophecy owned by the Jews themselves to belong to the Messiah, and which was now fulfilled in Jesus; who as he was descended from Jesse's family, so by dwelling at Nazareth, he would appear to be, and would be "called a Nazarene, or Netzer, the branch"; being an inhabitant of Natzareth, or Netzer, so called from the multitude of plants and trees that grew there.

Now though Christ was not born [there], yet because he dwelt at Nazareth, and was educated there; hence the Jews frequently call him , "Jesus, the Nazarene"; and sometimes only "the Nazarene". They also design him by , "Ben Netzer", of whom they say a great many evil things: and that Christ is often called Jesus of Nazareth, or the Nazarene, and his followers Nazarenes, from the place of his habitation, is known to everyone.

E.W. Bullinger
Through missing this Hysteresis, the commentators have created a difficulty of their own.

First, they cannot find such a prophecy in any of the prophets.

Then, they try to make a connection between netzer, a branch, and Nazarene; and, as there is none, the difficulty is only increased.

Even if the connection could be established, the difficulty would not be removed: for it says "prophets" (plural) and the word netzer is used of Christ in only one prophet, Isaiah. So the difficulty is further increased.

But there is really no difficulty at all. It is absolutely created. It is assumed from the outset that it says “which was written.” But it does not say so! It says “which was SPOKEN.” The fact is, some prophesies were written down and never spoken; some were both written and spoken; while others were spoken and never written. This is one of the latter class: and there is all the difference in the world between το ρηθεν (to reethen), which was spoken, and ο γεγραπται (o gegraptai), which standeth written!

Thus, this beautiful Hysteresis reveals to us the historical fact that several prophets had declared by the Holy Spirit that the Messiah should be called a Nazarene. But for this Hysterresis we should never have known it.

Adam Clarke
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets - It is difficult to ascertain by what prophets this was spoken. The margin usually refers to Jdg 13:5, where the angel, foretelling the birth of Samson, says, No razor shall come upon his head; for the child shall be a Nazarite (נזיר nezir) unto God from the womb. The second passage usually referred to is Isa 11:1 : There shall come forth a rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch (נצר netser) shall grow out of his roots. That this refers to Christ, there is no doubt. Jeremiah, Jer 23:5, is supposed to speak in the same language - I will raise unto David a righteous Branch: but here the word is צמח tsemach, not נצר netser; and it is the same in the parallel place, Zac 3:8; Zac 6:12; therefore, these two prophets cannot be referred to; but the passages in Judges and Isaiah may have been in the eye of the evangelist, as well as the whole institution relative to the Nazarite (נזיר nezir) delivered at large, Num. 6. As the Nazarite was the most pure and perfect institution under the law, it is possible that God intended to point out by it, not only the perfection of our Lord, but also the purity of his followers. And it is likely that, before St. Matthew wrote this Gospel, those afterwards called Christians bore the appellation of Nazarites, or Nazoreans, for so the Greek word, Ναζωραιος, should be written. Leaving the spiritual reference out of the question, the Nazarene or Nazorean here may mean simply an inhabitant or person of Nazareth; as Galilean does a person or inhabitant of Galilee. The evangelist evidently designed to state, that neither the sojourning at Nazareth, nor our Lord being called a Nazarene, were fortuitous events, but were wisely determined and provided for in the providence of God; and therefore foretold by inspired men, or fore-represented by significant institutions.

Matthew Henry
thither they were sent, to Nazareth, a city upon a hill, in the centre of the lot of Zebulun; there the mother of our Lord lived, when she conceived that holy thing; and, probably, Joseph lived there too, Lu. 1:26, Lu. 1:27 . Thither they were sent, and there they were well known, and were among their relations; the most proper place for them to be in. There they continued, and from thence our Saviour was called Jesus of Nazareth, which was to the Jews a stumbling-block, for, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? In this is said to be fulfilled what was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene. Which may be looked upon,
(1.) As a man of honour and dignity, though primarily it signifies no more than a man of Nazareth; there is an allusion or mystery in speaking it, speaking Christ to be, [1.] The Man, the Branch, spoken of, Isa. 11:1 . The word there is Netzar, which signifies either a branch, or the city of Nazareth; in being denominated from that city, he is declared to be that Branch. [2.] It speaks him to be the great Nazarite; of whom the legal Nazarites were a type and figure (especially Samson, Jdg. 13:5 ), and Joseph, who is called a Nazarite among his brethren (Gen. 49:26 ), and to whom that which was prescribed concerning the Nazarites, has reference, Num. 6:2 , etc. Not that Christ was, strictly, a Nazarite, for he drank wine, and touched dead bodies; but he was eminently so, both as he was singularly holy, and as he was by a solemn designation and dedication set apart to the honour of God in the work of our redemption, as Samson was to save Israel. And it is a name we have all reason to rejoice in, and to know him by.
Or, (2.) As a name of reproach and contempt. To be called a Nazarene, was to be called a despicable man, a man from whom no good was to be expected, and to whom no respect was to be paid. The devil first fastened this name upon Christ, to render him mean, and prejudice people against him, and it stuck as a nickname to him and his followers. Now this was not particularly foretold by any one prophet, but, in general, it was spoken by the prophets, that he should be despised and rejected of men (Isa. 53:2, Isa. 53:3 ), a Worm, and no man (Ps. 22:6, Ps. 22:7 ), that he should be an Alien to his brethren Ps. 69:7, Ps. 69:8 . Let no name of reproach for religion’s sake seem hard to us, when our Master was himself called a Nazarene.

Albert Barnes
The words here are not found in any of the books of the Old Testament, and there has been much difficulty in ascertaining the meaning of this passage.
It is much more probable that Matthew refers not to any particular place, but to the leading characteristics of the prophecies respecting him.
The leading and most prominent prophecies respecting him were, that he was to be of humble life; to be despised and rejected... The character of the people of Nazareth was such that they were proverbially despised and contemned. To come from Nazareth, therefore, or to be a Nazarene, was the same as to be despised, or to be esteemed of low birth; to be a root out of dry ground, having no form or comeliness. This was what had been predicted by all the prophets.
When Matthew says, therefore, that the prophecies were “fulfilled,” his meaning is, that the predictions of the prophets that he would be of a low and despised condition, and would be rejected, were fully accomplished in his being an inhabitant of Nazareth, and despised as such.

I think this pretty much sums up the different solutions offered. While I like some of the suggestions, I think Charles Spurgeon said it best, “It is best to confess that we do not know.” It is enough for me that Matthew said it, as in, “Matthew said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me.”

<>< <>< <><
John Chrysostom - Archbishop of Constantinople; 349–407
John Gill - English Baptist pastor, biblical scholar, and theologian; 1697-1771
Adam Clarke – English Methodist theologian and biblical scholar; 1760-1832
E.W. Bullinger – Anglican clergyman, Biblical scholar, ultradispensationalist theologian; 1837-1913; in Figures of Speech Used in the Bible
Hysteresis – to come later. When a record, written much later gives supplemental or new
particulars, quite disconnected from the original historical record, it is called Hysteresis: and hence has been called HISTORICAL HYSTERESIS by which the Holy Spirit, in later and subsequent Scriptures, adds supplementary details which were not given in the history itself; and sometimes even historical facts, of which no mention had before been made.
Matthew Henry – Nonconformist minister & author, born in Wales, lived in England (1662–1714)
Albert Barnes – American theologian & Presbyterian minister; Barnes is best known for his commentary on the Old and New Testaments; 1798-1870
Charles Spurgeon – English Particular Baptist preacher; known as the "Prince of Preachers"; 1834-1892

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Dreams & Visions

This is the first of two follow ups to Out of Egypt have I called my son

When you read through the first two chapters of Matthew, one of the things you notice is the high level of supernatural occurrences. I mean, the star that guides the magi and all those dreams with angels. These are, of course, secondary to the main event – a virgin conceives and brings forth a son, whom they name Jesus (Savior), who is called Emmanuel (God with us), and who is the long awaited Christ.

God spoke five times in dreams in these first two chapters - four times to Joseph, once to the magi (1:20, 2:12, 2:13, 2:19, 2:22). This is a highly charged supernatural time and God is very active through these dreams and angels to guide Joseph and to protect the Child.

What does the Bible say about dreams? Dreams occur in the Old Testament more than 80 times, 5 times in these two chapters, and once more in Matthew 27:19, When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him. I was surprised to learn we only read of dreams one more time in the New Testament. That would be in Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost:

Acts 2:17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: 

Peter is quoting from Joel 2 to explain what was happening to the apostles: the Holy Spirit had been poured out and the disciples were speaking in tongues. Wait, other than the Spirit being poured out, nothing Joel said would happen happened on Pentecost and nothing that happened on Pentecost was mentioned by Joel. Peter introduced this quote from Joel by saying, this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; Joel spoke of manifestations of the Spirit and this is what happened. Joel did not speak of the gifts of the Spirit (word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues), but he does say, your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

As I pointed out, there is no mention of dreams after this. Interesting. Does this mean no one did or should ever expect to have a dream from God? I don’t think so. I mean, the only epistle to mention the Lord’s Supper is 1 Corinthians, does this mean no other church observed it. Of course not.

Dreams may not be common but we should remain open to God speaking to us this way. There have been many people throughout church history who have had dreams from the Lord. Patrick for example. “And, of course, there, in a vision of the night, I saw a man whose name was Victoricus coming as if from Ireland with innumerable letters, and he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter: ‘The Voice of the Irish’; and as I was reading the beginning of the letter I seemed at that moment to hear the voice of those who were beside the forest of Foclut which is near the western sea, and they were crying as if with one voice: ‘We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.’ And I was stung intensely in my heart so that I could read no more, and thus I awoke.” This is not uncommon in early church history.

There are innumerable stories today of Muslim men and women declaring that God spoke to them through dreams, telling them Jesus is the Savior. I’m not a Patrick or a Muslim convert, but I can testify to God speaking to me in dreams. My dreams are often vivid and I remember many of them, but these were different and made an impact on my spiritual life. Now, Joseph had more dreams from God in two chapters than I have had in 44 years as a believer, but this doesn’t change the reality of the promise, God can and does speak to us in dreams.

There are no visions in Matthew 1 and 2, but Joel speaks of visions after the Holy Spirit is poured out. And the New Testament mentions a number of visions: Matthew 17:9, Luke 1:22, Acts 9:10, Acts 10:3, 10:17, Acts 16:9, Acts 26:19, and of course the book of Revelation is a series of visions. (The Old Testament mentions visions more often than I cared to count.) There is one occurrence that is especially interesting:

Acts 18:9 Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: Spoke by night in a vision. Is this a dream or a vision? My working definitions have been – A dream is something that you have when you are asleep; A vision is something you see when you are awake. I may need to reconsider.

If a vision is something you see when you are awake, I’ve never had a vision. Well, as I pondered this I recalled something that happened once when I “was trippin’ on LSD.” I didn’t really like LSD so I didn’t ‘drop acid’ very many times, but those few times I did I saw things. Most can be filed under ‘hallucinations’, but one time was different – I saw demons. It scared me. Does that count as a vision? I clearly saw something in the spiritual realm, but I don’t know that it was from the Lord.

Perpetua was a believer who was martyred in AD 203. Here is an excerpt from her story:

"Then my brother said to me, 'My dear sister, you are already in a position of great dignity, and are such that you may ask for a vision (1), and that it may be made known to you whether this is to result in a passion or an escape.' And I, who knew that I was privileged to converse with the Lord, whose kindnesses I had found to be so great, boldly promised him, and said, 'Tomorrow I will tell you.' And I asked, and this was what was shown me. I saw a golden ladder of marvellous height, reaching up even to heaven, and very narrow, so that persons could only ascend it one by one; and on the sides of the ladder was fixed every kind of iron weapon. There were there swords, lances, hooks, daggers; so that if any one went up carelessly, or not looking upwards, he would be torn to pieces and his flesh would cleave to the iron weapons. And under the ladder itself was crouching a dragon of wonderful size, who lay in wait for those who ascended, and frightened them from the ascent. And Saturus went up first, who had subsequently delivered himself up freely on our account, not having been present at the time that we were taken prisoners. And he attained the top of the ladder, and turned towards me, and said to me, Perpetua, I am waiting for you; but be careful that the dragon do not bite you.' And I said, 'In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, he shall not hurt me.' And from under the ladder itself, as if in fear of me, he slowly lifted up his head; and as I trod upon the first step, I trod upon his head. And I went up, and I saw an immense extent of garden, and in the midst of the garden a white-haired man sitting in the dress of a shepherd, of a large stature, milking sheep; and standing around were many thousand white-robed ones. And he raised his head, and looked upon me, and said to me, 'Thou are welcome, daughter.' And he called me, and from the cheese as he was milking he gave me as it were a little cake, and I received it with folded hands; and I ate it, and all who stood around said Amen. And at the sound of their voices I was awakened (2), still tasting a sweetness which I cannot describe. And I immediately related this to my brother, and we understood that it was to be a passion, and we ceased henceforth to have any hope in this world.”

I have highlighted two parts for observations: (1) visions were a normal part of the Christian life in her day; (2) looks to me like she had her vision while she slept, in other words, in a dream. Interesting. Maybe dreams and visions are like a hand in a glove.

Dreams and visions are promised as a part of this new day of life in the Spirit. I believe they are a genuine way that God may speak to us today; a natural part of a supernatural life. Yet, and I find this interesting, we have no guidelines concerning them. They don’t appear to be as common or frequent as spiritual gifts, but like spiritual gifts, they are subject to the Word of God - that is, a dream that contradicts the truth revealed in Jesus and recorded in the Word is not from God and is to be rejected.

I’m aware of people who have dreams/visions as often as I eat supper. They have them more frequently than any prophet or apostle. I’m not impressed nor inclined to believe them. I know that Joseph had four dreams in two chapters, but in the rest of the New Testament they are not nearly as frequent.

Spiritual Gifts and Dreams
Spiritual gifts are supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit: the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal, that is, for the profit of the church. (The exception being tongues when used as a prayer language: For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God...He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself...But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.) And even though gifts are supernatural, there is still a participation required. Dreams are also supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit, but they are personal and private. And, they are just given to you; you can have a word from God for the church and fail to share it, you just have a dream. Perhaps this is one reason there are no guidelines, they happen when God gives them period.

Dreams and the promise in Joel 2:28-29  
28 And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: 29 And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.

What a wonderful promise! This was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost and continues for us today. Joel seems to be rather specific: sons and daughters prophesy, old men dream dreams, young men see visions, but I don’t accept for a minute that he is being restrictive – only old men dream dreams etc. I understand him rather in an inclusive way – I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, young and old, men and women, servants and handmaids; and there will be manifestations for all of them. In other words, everyone who is filled with the Spirit can expect any of these manifestations (or any of the gifts, for that matter). Amen. And when he says, “upon all flesh”, he clearly does not means every person in the world will receive the Spirit; he means every covenant person, every believer has the promise of the Spirit.

What a day we live in: Christ has come; and Joel says of this day (later in the same chapter), And it shall come to pass that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved; and here, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh and they shall prophesy, dream dreams, and see visions! Amen and amen! Let us open our hearts to all that God has for us in Christ.

The Comforter has come!
The Comforter has come!
The Holy Ghost from heav’n,
The Father’s promise giv’n;
O spread the tidings ’round,
Wherever man is found—
The Comforter has come!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Out of Egypt have I called my son

Advent 2017 The Christmas Story in Matthew 1 & 2

2:12  And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
God spoke five times in dreams in these first two chapters - four times to Joseph and once to the magi. What is interesting about this is when speaking to Joseph we read, “behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream” and when speaking to the magi we read simply, “being warned of God in a dream.” We are not told how God warned the magi in this dream, but warn them He did: and they obeyed.

See Dreams & Visions

2:13  And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.
This is a highly charged supernatural time: Messiah is a defenseless baby and Herod wants to kill him - the whole plan appears to be in danger of being derailed right at the start. But God! The angel of the Lord tells Joseph to flee to Egypt. How long should he remain there? until I bring thee word.

“And there is another lesson also... Of what kind then is it? To look from the beginning for temptations and plots. See, for instance, how this was the case even at once from His swaddling clothes. Thus you see at His birth, first a tyrant raging, then flight ensuing, and departure beyond the border; and for no crime His mother is exiled into the land of the barbarians: that you, when you see yourself suffering incurable ills, and enduring countless dangers, should not be greatly troubled: but that having this example, you might bear all things nobly, knowing that this especially is the order of all things spiritual, to have everywhere temptations in the same lot with them.”  (Chrysostom)

“Joseph, when he had heard these things, was not offended, nether did he say, 'The thing is hard to understand: Did you not say just now, that He should save His people? and now He saves not even Himself: but we must fly, and go far from home, and be a long time away: the facts are contrary to the promise.' Nay, none of these things does he say: neither is he curious about the time of his return; and this though the angel had put it indefinitely thus: Be there until I tell you. But nevertheless, not even at this did he shudder, but submits and obeys, undergoing all the trials with joy.” (Chrysostom)

2:14  When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt - Joseph was indeed a just man, he obeyed. Did he wake up from the dream and leave right then? Sort of looks like it.

2:15  And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.
“And was there until the death of Herod - Which was in a very short time; for Eusebius says, that in a very little time after the slaughter of the children at Bethlehem, the divine vengeance inflicted diseases on him, which quickly brought him to his end; so that, according to the learned Dr. Lightfoot, Jesus was not above three or four months in Egypt.”  ~ John Gill

The prophet is Hosea, and in Hosea 11:1 we read, When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.

A comparison reveals Matthew is quoting the Hebrew Old Testament, so why isn’t it exactly the same? It is actually. The KJV has changed the word order in Hosea - both the NKJV and ESV have it, out of Egypt I called My son.

2:16  Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.
This is horrible! Indescribably sad!

“Here attend to me carefully. Because many things are uttered by many touching these children, and the course of events is charged with injustice, and some of these express their perplexity about it in a more moderate way, others with more of audaciousness and frenzy... What then is the solution of these things? Or what fair account of them can we give? What we may suffer unjustly from any one, it tells either to the doing away of our sins or unto the recompense of rewards... But what kind of sin had these children? Did you not hear me say, that though there were no sins, there is a recompense of rewards hereafter for them that suffer ill here?” (Chrysostom)

2:17  Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, 18  In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
He quotes Jeremiah 31:15. Jeremiah 31 is a wonderful chapter, full of promises of restoration and renewal, and ends with the promise of a new covenant. In the midst of this chapter is the verse quoted by Matthew, and here it is with the rest of the thought:

15 A voice was heard in Rama, of lamentation, and of weeping, and wailing; Rachel would not cease weeping for her children, because they are not. 
16 Thus saith the Lord; Let thy voice cease from weeping, and thine eyes from thy tears: for there is a reward for thy works; and they shall return from the land of thine enemies.  
17 There shall be an abiding home for thy children. (LXX)

A comforting word in such sorrowful times.

2:19  But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20  Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life.
When Herod was dead – and he died a miserable death.

Now the angel bids Joseph return to Israel . . .

2:21  And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.
. . . and he does, for as we have seen, Joseph is a righteous man. “He exactly conformed in every circumstance to the orders given him, with respect to the persons he took, the place he went to, and the expeditiousness of doing it; and is an example of ready and cheerful obedience to the commands of God, worthy of imitation.”  (John Gill)

2:22  But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:
Another dream!

2:23  And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.
Here then is how Jesus, born in Bethlehem came to live in Nazareth. This poses a small problem in that no one can identify the prophet. See He shall be called a Nazarene for some solutions.

Have you noticed that Matthew relates the story of the birth of Jesus from Joseph’s perspective? (Luke tells us the story from Mary’s perspective, after all, she is the mother!) What do we learn from Matthew by looking at this from Joseph’s side? Even though God is doing a marvelous, miraculous work through the virgin Mary, Joseph is still an important part of this story. It looks like God spoke to him more often than he did to Mary and he was in fact the one the Lord spoke to concerning guidance, after all, Joseph was the husband, the head of the house.

Joseph is described as a just man. What can we learn about being righteous from Joseph? Being a righteous man for him meant being merciful, walking in faith, and being obedient. 

He was merciful and compassionate toward Mary, caring and considerate of her. He was concerned about doing the right thing, but mercy and compassion are always the right thing.

He was a man of faith. We saw that faith, like a coin, has two sides. One side is faith to receive the work of God. This is exemplified by Mary: there was a mighty work that needed to be done and she could not do it, so she believed and received. The other side is faith to obey. This is Joseph. By faith Mary received grace to conceive; by faith Joseph married that girl.

Joseph was obedient: “Marry the girl. Call him Jesus. Go down to Egypt. Return to Israel. Live in Galilee.” And it appears it was always instant obedience.  Joseph lived that A.B. Simpson hymn,

I will say “Yes” to Jesus
To all that he commands
I will hasten to do his bidding
With willing heart and hands
I will listen to hear his whispers
And learn his will each day
And always gladly answer “Yes”
Whatever he may say

I will say “Yes” to Jesus,
Yes Lord, forever, “Yes”
I’ll welcome all thy blessed will
And sweetly answer, “Yes”

But most importantly, what does this tell us about Jesus? He is indeed the son of David, the Christ promised by God. This is the gospel, the good news: Christ has come! He is Jesus of Nazareth. He is the Savior and he saves his people from their sins!

<>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <><
John Gill - English Baptist pastor, biblical scholar, and theologian; 1697-1771
John Chrysostom - Archbishop of Constantinople; 349–407
LXX – Septuagint; Greek translation of the Old Testament
A.B. Simpson 1843-1919; successful Presbyterian pastor who left the Presbyterians to start a deeper life and missionary organization called the Christian & Missionary Alliance

Advent 2017
Introduction The Christmas Story from Matthew 1 & 2
First Week of Advent The book of the generation of Jesus Christ
Second Week of Advent Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise
Third Week of Advent There came wise men from the east

Sunday, December 24, 2017

With all my heart, yet each one differently

When Anne, my first daughter was born, I loved her with all my heart. What a joy and delight she was!

Three years later her sister was born. As the time drew near for her to join the family, I had an internal struggle - “I love Anne with all my heart, will I have any love left for Sarah?” When she was born I made an amazing discovery – I loved her with all my heart!!

Four years later, Mary K arrived. Y’know what? I loved her with all my heart!

Two years later Erica Jane put in her appearance. Yep, with all my heart!

This is incredible – four daughters, one heart, yet I love each one of them with all my heart. No sharing of love. No dividing of love. Each one with my whole heart. If you asked each one privately they might say I loved one more than the others - but they would be wrong.

Some time ago I had another insight: While I love each one with all my heart, I love them differently. What? I love them individually. It is not some generic thing, like a blanket that covers the whole bed. No, it is person specific. I can’t really explain it, but I love Anne, and Sarah, and Mary K, and Erica, each in their own way.

Merry Christmas, girls. I love you with all my heart - yet each one differently!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

We have seen his star in the east

This is a follow up on the post There came wise men from the east

we have seen his star in the east What was that star? I admit, I have heard about the ‘star of Bethlehem’ all my life but I have never really thought about it or tried to explain it. I did not know for example that it not only stood over the house where he was, but shone on him! How neat is that?

But, back to the question of what it was. Here are some explanations:

John Chrysostom
“Moreover, the star, when it stood over the young Child, stayed its course again: which thing itself also was of a greater power than belongs to a star, now to hide itself, now to appear, and having appeared to stand still. Hence they too received an increase of faith. For this cause they rejoiced also, that they had found what they were seeking; so great a longing had they for Christ. For first it came and stood over His very head, showing that what is born is Divine; next standing there, it leads them to worship Him; being not simply barbarians, but the wiser sort among them.”

For if you can learn what the star was, and whether it were one of the common stars, or new and unlike the rest, and whether it was a star by nature or a star in appearance only... Whence then will these points be manifest? From the very things that are written. Thus, that this star was not of the common sort, or rather not a star at all, as it seems at least to me, but some invisible power transformed into this appearance, is in the first place evident from its very course. For there is not any star that moves by this way...In the second place, one may see this from the time also. For it appears not in the night, but in mid-day, while the sun is shining...In the third place, from its appearing, and hiding itself again...In the fourth place, one may perceive this clearly, from its mode of pointing Him out...How then, tell me, did the star point out a spot so confined, just the space of a manger, unless it left that height and came down, and stood over the very head of the young child? And at this the evangelist was hinting when he said, Lo, the star went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.

And for what intent did it appear? To reprove the Jews for their insensibility, and to cut off from them all occasion of excuse for their willful ignorance. For, since He who came was to put an end to the ancient polity, and to call the world to the worship of Himself, straightway He opens the door to the Gentiles, willing through strangers to admonish His own people. Thus, because the prophets were continually heard speaking of His advent, and they gave no great heed, He made even barbarians come from a far country, to seek after the king that was among them. And they learn from a Persian tongue first of all, what they would not submit to learn from the prophets.

John Lightfoot
For we have seen his star in the east. - We, being in the east, have seen his star : — that heavenly light, which in that very night wherein the Saviour was born shone round about the shepherds of Bethlehem, perhaps was seen by these magicians, being then a great distance off, resembling a star hanging over Judea ; whence they might the more easily guess that the happy sign belonged to the Jews.

John Gill
and lo, to their great surprise and joy, the star, which they saw in the east, then appeared; for, it seems, it had for some time disappeared: it looks as if it had been only seen at the time of Christ's birth, and when they were in their own country; for both here, and in Matthew 2:2 they are only said to have seen it "in the east", that is, when they were in the east country; so that it seems from that time they had had no sight of it, not while they were on their journey, nor at Jerusalem; nor was it necessary they should. When they saw it in their own country, according to their best observation, it was over the land of Judea, and they were persuaded of it, that it was a certain sign that the king of the Jews was born: they therefore determine upon and prepare for a journey to Jerusalem, the metropolis of the nation, and where the king kept his court, to inquire for him; nor needed they the guidance of the star to direct them to a place so well known; but being in quest of him in an obscure place, and without any guide, this star appears to them; and, which is something very extraordinary,

went before them, till it came, and stood over, where the young child was. This star had a motion, kept pace with them, and was a guide unto them, till it and they came to the place where Christ was; and then it stood directly over the house, so that they had no need to inquire of any person for him. It is certain from hence, that this star was indeed a very unusual one; its being seen in the daytime, its motion and standing still, its situation, which must be very low, and its use to point out the very house where Christ was.

By the star they saw, some understand an angel, which is not likely. The learned Lightfoot is of opinion that it was the light or glory of the Lord, which shone about the shepherds, when the angel brought them the news of Christ's birth, and which at so great a distance appeared as a star to these wise men; others, that it was a comet, such as has been thought to portend the birth or death of some illustrious person: but it seems to be properly a star, a new and an unusual one, such as had never been seen, nor observed before; and is called his star, the star of the king born, because it appeared on his account, and was the sign of his birth, who is "the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star", Rev 22:16. This they saw "in the east"; not in the eastern part of the heavens, but they saw it when they were in the east, that is, in their own country; and according to the best observations they were able to make, it was in that part of the heavens right over the land of Judea; from whence they concluded that the king of the Jews was born; but the question is how they should hereby know and be assured that such a person was born? To this it maybe replied, that there is a prophecy of Balaam's which is thus expressed, "there shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel", Numbers 24:17 which is owned by some Jewish writers to be a prophecy of the Messiah; though the star there mentioned is considered by them as one of the Messiah's titles; but I rather take it to be a sign of the Messiah's coming, and the meaning is, when a star shall "walk" or steer its course from Jacob, or above, or over the land of Israel, then a sceptre, or sceptre bearer, that is, a king, shall rise out of Israel. Now this prophecy of Balaam, who lived in the east, might be traditionally handed down to this time, and be well known by these men; and who, observing such a star appear over the land of Judea, might conclude that now the sceptre bearer or king was born. Besides, Zoroastres, the author of the sect of the Magi or wise men, and who appears to be a Jew by birth, and to be acquainted with the writings of the Old Testament, and with this prophecy, spoke of the birth of Christ to his followers; and told them when he should be born, a star would appear, and shine in the day, and ordered them to go where that directed, and offer gifts, and worship him.
An Eastern writer, who affirms what I have now mentioned, relates the following speech as spoke by the wise men to Herod, when in conversation with him, about this matter:
"A certain person, say they, of great note with us, in a book which he composed, warned us in it, mentioning these things; a child that shall descend from heaven, will be born in Palestine, whom the greatest part of the world shall serve, and the sign of his appearance shall be this; ye shall see a strange star, which shall direct you where he is; when ye shall see this, take gold, myrrh and frankincense, and go and offer them to him, and worship him, and then return, lest a great calamity befall you. Now the star has appeared unto us, and we are come to perform what was commanded us.''

☼   ☼   ☼   ☼   ☼   ☼   ☼

Wow. And I could have produced more! No one seems to know for sure what this star was, but it is certain that a star appeared and supernaturally guided the magi to Jesus. I find this interesting, it seems no one but the shepherds and the magi saw the star and the glory.

Many believe that the star of Bethlehem can be explained in a thoroughly natural way – such as super nova, comet, conjunction of planets...

Christian commentators generally come to one of three conclusions regarding the star of Bethlehem: (1) a few ignore the question of the nature and behavior of the star altogether; (2) some accept a naturalistic explanation; and (3) some say the explanation is supernatural and miraculous but leave it at that. from the article The Star of Bethlehem. (in which he offers his own explanation!)

So what is my understanding of the star and its explanation?

1) This was a real, historical, literal phenomenon, yet one that was supernatural
2) No one knows what it was. I repeat, No one knows what it was.
3) If anyone claims to be able to explain it definitively they are, uh, not telling the truth

The Star of Bethlehem is part of the story of the birth of Jesus. It is one of the many witnesses God provided for us that we might be assured that he is the Christ.

lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, 
till it came and stood over where the young child was.

<>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <><
Adam Clarke – English Methodist theologian and biblical scholar; 1760-1832
John Gill - English Baptist pastor, biblical scholar, and theologian; 1697-1771
John Chrysostom - Archbishop of Constantinople; 349–407
John Lightfoot 1602-1675, "Horae Hebraicae et Talmudicae : Hebrew and Talmudical exercitations upon the Gospels, the Acts, some chapters of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, and the First Epistle to the Corinthians"