When was Jesus born?

“Among those who have made a special study of the question we have advocates for almost every month in the year. The earliest attempts to fix the day of which we have knowledge are those mentioned (and apparently condemned as profane curiosity) by Clement of Alexandria. In his time some took April 21, others April 22, and others May 20, to be the day. What was unknown in his time is not likely to have been discovered afterwards respecting such a detail. December 25th cannot be traced higher than the fourth century, and it seems to have been adopted first in the West. We must be content to remain in ignorance as to the date of the birth of Christ.”

Alfred Plummer, The Gospel According to S. Luke, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1986, reprint 1975, p. 55.

The Prince of Peace

When my wife and I left Emily’s room at The James Cancer Center, things didn’t look very good. Her breathing was difficult and she had trouble communicating. As we sat in the room, it was hard to know what to say. It was finally time to go, so we took the elevator down to the ground floor. As we walked past the Bistro, we heard some beautiful Christmas music playing. I told my wife that the speakers in the ceiling made it sound as if it was live music. Then we turned the corner and saw that there were two violins and a cello playing before a small crowd.

The song played by the trio was from Handel’s Messiah. The song was “For Unto Us a Child is Born,” which talks about the birth of Jesus. The words of the song are taken from the Book of Isaiah in the Bible. Isaiah 9:6 speaks of a Child that would be born who among other things would be called The Prince of Peace. How fitting it was to hear a song about peace at such a difficult time.

With that in mind, I would like to talk to you about the peace that God offers to all of us.

  1. Peace for men

    During Christmas, we read about the shepherds who were out in the fields quietly watching over their sheep. Then all of a sudden, an angel appeared to them. The shepherds could hardly look at him because they were so afraid. So the angel calmed them down and told them about the Savior, Christ the Lord, who had been born in Bethlehem and who could be found lying in a manger.

    At the end of his announcement a multitude of angels appeared and praised God, saying:

    Luke 2:14“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

    Did you catch that? The angels were praising God because Jesus’ birth would bring peace to men. Peace. It’s something that we all long for. It’s something that we reach out for and desire, but few ever find it.

    I remember reading an article in the Sunday edition of the Columbus Dispatch newspaper many years ago. It was an article written by someone who had interviewed the actor Harrison Ford. The interviewer noted that the actor had made a lot of money and was known all over the world and then asked him a question. “What, if anything, are you still missing?” Harrison Ford answered with one word, “Peace.”

    Where can we find that elusive peace?

  2. Peace with God

    One of the problems most people have is a misunderstanding of where peace comes from. Several presidents have sought to broker peace deals with foreign leaders but these rarely last. Some people have tried to purchase peace by donating money to a charity or doing something nice for the needy. But no matter what you do, peace will always elude you if you seek to find it by your own efforts. Here is why.

    Before we can have peace in our hearts, we have to make peace with God.
    Listen to what the Bible says:

    Isaiah 48:22“There is no peace, says the Lord, for the wicked.”

    The main reason why we don’t have peace is that we have all sinned against God and are at odds with Him. God designed us to need and enjoy Him. And He wants to have a relationship with us, but our sin against Him is in the way. How can we have peace with God? That’s where Jesus comes in.

    Ephesians 2:14“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation.”

    What this means is that our sinfulness was like a wall between us and God. When Jesus became a man, he eventually went to the cross where He bled and died. It was there that He paid the penalty for our sin and broke down what separated us from God. Now instead of being at odds with God, we are able to have peace with Him. But that peace is only available through Jesus. How can you have this peace with God? You must turn from your sin and put your faith in Jesus. He died your sins and rose again so that you could be at peace with God.

    • It isn’t available for money.
    • It isn’t available in exchange for good deeds.
    • It isn’t available through a religious ceremony.

    It is only available through faith in Jesus. That’s the way God wanted it to work. If you have put your faith in Jesus, you have peace with God. But there is one more type of peace.

  3. Peace in your heart

    There are times when Christians go through hard times and long for peace in their hearts. Whether like today it is the death of a loved one, or some other situation, we long for peace to calm our hearts.

    Do you know that the Lord offers peace during your troubles?

    Philippians 4:6-7“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

    Let me ask you this: If God loved you enough to send Jesus to die for your sins, do you think He still cares about you? Yes! And he wants you to come to Him in prayer telling Him your hearts deepest needs. And when you do this, Christian brother and sister, He promises to give you a peace that is beyond your understanding, and it will comfort and help you during your troubles.

Conclusion

Many years ago, a preacher named Luther Bridges was faced with a great tragedy. While he was away from home, his house caught fire and his wife and children didn’t make it out. The grief was very difficult for him to handle. Later, as he was reading his Bible, the Lord encouraged him to keep trusting him. Though the tragedy was still on his mind, the Lord gave Bridges peace in his heart. He later wrote out his thoughts in the words of a song.

There’s within my heart a melody
Jesus whispers sweet and low
Fear not, I am with you, peace, be still
In all of life’s ebb and flow

All my life was wrecked by sin and strife
Discord filled my heart with pain
Jesus swept across the broken strings
Stirred the slumbering chords again

Though sometimes He leads through waters deep
Trials fall across the way
Though sometimes the path seems rough and steep
See His footprints all the way


Jesus, Jesus, Jesus
Sweetest name I know
Fills my every longing
Keeps me singing as I go

As we conclude our service, I want to ask you a question:

Do you have this peace of God in your life today?

The peace promised by the angels, the peace made between sinful man and God, and the peace that passes all understanding can be yours today if you will simply trust in the Lord. Will you trust Him today?




Christmas Wisemen – Matthew 2:1-12

When Jesus was born, very few people were searching for the Messiah. Like today, most people were just interested in figuring out how to live from day to day. While some like Simeon and Anna were anticipating His arrival, few in Israel were. However, there were wisemen in a faraway country who were searching for him and their arrival in Jerusalem caused quite the stir.

  1. The shocking arrival (Matt. 2:1-2)

    In the time of Herod the king, some time after Jesus’ birth, a group of wisemen from the east arrived in Jerusalem. They wanted to know where the newborn king was. They mentioned that they had seen his star in the sky. This must have been a shocking arrival to the people of Jerusalem.

    a. The timing (1a)

    Christmas cards usually have the wisemen at the stable. But the Bible paints a different picture. At the time of their arrival, Jesus had already been born, been moved into a house, and was referred to as a child who was almost two years old.

    b. The wisemen (1b)

    How many wisemen were there?

    “‘Behold there came three wise men from the east to Jerusalem.’ Is that what your Bible says? You say, ‘No, you’ve inserted the number three.’ Well, isn’t that what you’ve been taught by your Christmas cards? I think a great many people know more about the Christmas story from Christmas cards than from the Bible, and therefore they have many inaccurate impressions. I doubt whether three wise men would have disturbed Herod or have excited Jerusalem. I do believe that three hundred men would have done so” (McGee 14).

    Who were the wisemen?

    There is some conjecture as to who they were. The most plausible explanation is that they were magi from Babylon. During the Medo-Persian empire these men were the ones who served as the king’s advisors, astrologers, and king makers. Some, like Daniel, were good people who sought the Lord.

    Daniel 5:11 – “There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God. And in the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, were found in him; and King Nebuchadnezzar your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers.”

    No doubt, Daniel was a big influence on many of the magi in Babylon. So much so that, 500 years later, his influence was still felt in that area.

    c. The question (2a)

    They asked where the newborn king was. Notice that they did not have a perfect knowledge about the birth of Jesus. They had only a general knowledge that it had happened.

    d. The star (2b)

    God said the stars would be for signs.

    Genesis 1:14-15 – “Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth’; and it was so.”

    Whatever it was, the magi saw the sign in the sky. “Whether it was planetary conjunctions which are known to have taken place in B.C. 7-4, or transitory phenomena which cannot be calculated, that attracted the attention of the Magi, cannot be determined” (Plummer 12). “It was miraculous, and we needn’t try to find an explanation for it” (McGee 15).

    Should we still look for signs in the stars?

    While God did appoint signs in the stars, they are not clear signs. The magi knew that a king had been born, but they did not know from the stars where the child was. Thankfully, God has given us a much clearer way to reveal his truth to us. The Bible is full of disclosures about his goodness, his plan, and his desire for each of us. What we believe about God should be based on what God has revealed in the Bible:

    2 Timothy 2:15 – “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

    God did speak to the magi through the stars but notice what happened when they arrived in Jerusalem.


    2. The shrewd investigation (Matt. 2:3-8)

    If you were the king of a land and were visited by foreign dignitaries that had heard about the birth of a new king, what would your response be? Herod responded with a shrewd investigation.

    a. Herod’s response (3)

    Herod was troubled by the large retinue.

    As very important people, the magi would have traveled in a large group with plenty of soldiers to protect them. So, when they arrived in Jerusalem, they must have caused quite a commotion.

    He was also troubled by the thought of another king.

    “It is no surprise that King Herod … was disturbed when the magi came to Jerusalem looking for the One who had been ‘born King’ (v. 2). Herod was not the rightful king from the line of David. In fact, he was … an Edomite” (Barbieri 21-22).

    He “had recently (B.C. 7) put his own sons by Mariamne, Alexander and Aristobulus, to death, believing that they were a danger to his throne; which made Augustus (under whose eye they had been educated at Rome) remark, that it was better to be Herod’s pig than his son” (Plummer 16).

    b. Herod’s research (4-6)

    Herod summoned the chief priests and scribes to figure out what the wisemen were talking about. They actually knew the answer to his question. But instead of looking into the sky, the religious leaders went to the Bible.

    Micah 5:2 – “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.”

    c. Herod’s question (7)

    Herod secretly met with the wisemen and asked when the star had first appeared. Under the pretense of reverent curiosity, he was trying to figure out when the future king had been born. “This became critical later in the account (v. 16); it showed that Herod was already contemplating a plan to get rid of this young King” (Barbieri 22).

    d. Herod’s request (8)

    Herod sent the wisemen to Bethlehem to search for the child. He must have appeared to them as someone who was happy to find the newborn king. But he must have concealed his deceit well—especially for the magi who did not know him very well. After all we know about Herod, you will have little doubt as to his reason for finding the child.

    After all of Herod’s questions and help from the religious leaders, you would think that the wisemen would be closer to finding the child. But all they had learned was that the child was born in Bethlehem and that he would be a ruler over Israel. How were they to find the child?


    3. The joyful meeting (9-12)

    After their long journey to Jerusalem, the wisemen were looking for a conclusion to their journey. They wanted to see the newly born king and were willing to work with Herod if that meant them finding the child.

    a. They listened to the king (9a).

    The wisemen from some other country listened politely as the king made his request for them to search for the newborn king. He and his people had given them some insight into the location. So, they probably felt obligated to go along with his request.

    b. They followed the star (9b).

    As they left Herod’s palace, they must have been wondering what to do. But then God miraculously caused the original star to move and to eventually stop over where the child was. This made the wisemen rejoice and probably revealed to them that God was guiding them to the child.

    How could a star lead them to the child?

    “There is evidence to suggest that the star of Bethlehem was not a natural stellar phenomenon, but something unexplained by science. … Celestial bodies normally move from east to west due to the earth’s rotation, yet the star of Bethlehem led the magi from Jerusalem south to Bethlehem. Not only that, but it led them directly to the place where Joseph and Mary were staying, stopping overhead. There is no natural stellar phenomenon that can do that” (GotQuestions).

    This was a supernatural star which God used to guide the magi. Perhaps it was similar to the cloud by day and fire by night that led the Israelites through the wilderness. In any event, the star moved and hovered over the place where the child was living.

    What about the stable?

    “Modern portrayals of the Christmas nativity scene usually show the wise men visiting Jesus on the night of His birth. That is likely not what truly occurred. King Herod discovered from the magi the ‘exact time’ the star of Bethlehem had first appeared to them (Matthew 2:7), and he later ordered all male children two years old and under in Bethlehem to be killed (verse 16). Herod obviously thought the star of Bethlehem had first appeared when Christ was born; if he was right, then Jesus could have been up to two years old when the star of Bethlehem later guided the magi through the streets of Bethlehem. The Greek word translated ‘young child’ in Matthew 2:9 can mean anything from a newborn infant to a toddler” (GotQuestions).

    c. They worshiped the child.

    In those days, the proper way to show honor to a ruler was to fall to the ground and worship. This is what the wisemen did when they saw the little child. It was a sign of great respect. And it also makes me wonder if they knew more about Who Jesus was when they did this.

    As a side note: “If ever there was a time when Mary should have been worshiped, this was it. But they didn’t worship her—they were wise men! They worshiped Him…” (McGee 16). We are to worship the Lord Jesus and not His mother.

    The other part of their worship was their gifts. The gifts given to young Jesus “were gifts worthy of a king” (Barbieri 22). We are not told that the gifts had any religious significance only that they were given. But they were valuable and would come in handy later when Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt with the child.

    d. They were warned by God (12).

    The Magi were warned by God not to return to Herod. God knew that Herod’s intentions were not good. So, they did not report back to Herod and instead took a different route home.


    Conclusion

    You may have several questions after studying this passage.

    Were the magi believers?

    The Bible doesn’t tell us definitively. But the actions of the magi give ample evidence that they may have been. They desired to worship him (2). They rejoiced greatly when the star led them (10). They worshiped Jesus (11). They were obedient to God’s warning (12). We can’t say for sure, but doesn’t this sound like someone who truly believes?

    What should we think about this today?

    1. Maybe we should take this Christmas time to worship the Lord.

    It is very easy to get lost in the holiday gatherings, travel arrangements, giving and receiving presents, and watching Charlie Brown Christmas. While those things can be good, let’s not forget who the celebration is all about.

    2. Maybe we should look for those who are seeking the Lord.

    If the wisemen were seeking Jesus back then, is it possible that some are seeking Him still today? While nobody seeks the Lord on his own, God does work in hearts before they are saved. The only way to find these people is to interact with people and share the gospel with them. Perhaps the Lord will lead us to them this week.


    Bibliography

    Barbieri Jr., Louis A., “Matthew” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983, pp. 20-22.

    McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. IV, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983, pp. 1134-16.

    Plummer, Alfred, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to S. Matthew, Minneapolis: James Family, reprint n.d., pp. 11-15.

    “What was the star of Bethlehem?” as viewed at https://www.gotquestions.org/star-of-Bethlehem.html on 12/18/2022.

Christmas Child – Isaiah 9:6-7

As a newly married couple, we did not plan on having children immediately. We took some time to get used to living together. However, when we decided it was time to have children, nothing happened. We were a bit confused and wondered if we were unable. Perhaps adoption would be another option. But the Lord had other plans. He blessed and we were expecting a child to arrive some time in December. When the due date got closer, we were excited and wondering what the little boy would be like. He eventually arrived just before Christmas at the hospital in Iron Mountain, Michigan.

When Isaiah 9:6-7 was written, the Lord told Isaiah to tell the people to expect the birth of a Child who would be everything they needed. He would take care of all of their problems and have the characteristics of a perfect King. Those who believed in the Lord were looking forward to the birth of this child in earnest expectation. Little did they know that this child would be born some 700 years later. And yet, without a perfect understanding of the prophecy, the people still longed for the birth of this child, expecting Him to arrive at any time to help them through their current circumstances.

  1. Why did they need the Child’s help?

    a. The invasion of Syria and Israel (Isa. 7).

    As you may recall from a previous message, “Rezin, king of Aram, northeast of Israel, and Pekah … king of Israel (752-732) had made an alliance. … Rezin convinced Pekah to join him against Pekah’s southern neighbor Judah (2 Kings 15:37; 16:5). They threatened to replace Judah’s King Ahaz with a puppet king… . The prospect of such formidable enemies as Aram and Israel caused the people of Judah to be afraid” (Martin 1046).

    b. The invasion of Assyria (Isa. 8:7-8)

    “God had kept the flood tide of foreign invasions walled off from His people for over five hundred years. Now He opens the floodgates and permits an enemy to cover the land like a flood” (McGee 216). This was a judgment on the people for turning away from Him. Here is what would happen:

    “The king of Assyria (cf. 7:17) would sweep down on the Northern Kingdom like a river in flood stage overflowing its banks. Amazingly this ‘floodwater,’ that is, Assyria, would continue on into the land of Judah (701 B.C.). Assyria would cover Judah up to the neck, meaning that Judah would be almost but not quite drowned” (Martin 1051).

    The coming invasion would not annihilate Judah but would be devastating, nonetheless. This was something that would be hard to go through, but it would also reveal something else about the people.

    c. The darkness of the people (Isa. 8:19-22)

    What was the status of the people in Judah? “People in Judah were pulled into the pagan practice of consulting mediums and spiritists, who specialized in trying, by whispering and muttering, to contact the dead… .”

    Really? The people of God were consulting witches and having seances? Even Isaiah was mystified by their actions. He “questioned the rationality of going to the dead to find out the future instead of inquiring of the living God. The place to look was in the Law and … the testimony (cf. Isa. 8:16), which contained everything the nation needed to know about her future. A person’s failure to heed God’s Word means he has no spiritual light (cf. John 3:19-20)” (Martin 1052).

    You can see how dark the land was at that time. Not only was it gloomy because of the coming invasions. It was also dark because the people had turned away from God’s light and protection.

    Remember the name of the promised Child in Isaiah 7? It was Immanuel which means God with us. This was a sign to the people who were willing to trust God. “Because God has promised to be with His people they were to have faith in Him no matter how bad their circumstances. He would not desert them” (Martin 1051).

    But how is a child going to help with these circumstances?

  2. Who was this Child? (Isaiah 9:6-7)

    Notice what was promised in Isaiah 9:6. A child would be born and that child would be a son “born into the nation of Israel” (Martin 1053). If you study verses 1-7, you will see the child described clearly.

    a. He would bring light into the darkness (1-2).

    Have you ever been in a dark place without a flashlight? Nowadays, most of us have a flashlight built into our mobile phones. But what if your battery was dead and you had to feel around to find your way. This is how the people were in Isaiah’s day. They were needing someone to shine the light of God’s truth on them. The child to be born would bring light to their troubled situation.

    b. He would have divine character (6).

    Isaiah said that the child’s name would be… . This is another way of saying that these names would describe His character.

    Wonderful – He would stand out from everyone else in the crowd.
    Counselor – “The people will gladly listen to Him” (Martin 1053).
    Mighty God – He would be the all-powerful God.
    Everlasting Father – “The title ‘Everlasting Father’ is an idiom used to describe the Messiah’s relationship to time, not His relationship to [God the Father]… He is … everlasting” (Martin 1053).
    Prince of Peace – He is the one who would bring in the peace they needed.

    These characteristics all point to someone who is greater than any human being every could be: exceptional, listened to, Almighty God, everlasting, and a bringer of peace. But this does not conclude his description.

    c. He would rule with justice (7).

    According to verse 7, this future Son would sit on David’s throne, meaning that he would be king over God’s people. His kingdom would be (1) without end, (2) known for justice, and (3) empowered by the Lord. This describes a kingdom that would never end. It would not be corrupt like many are today. And it would happen because of the Lord’s doing. That sounds like a government that we would want today.

    The prophecy recorded by Isaiah was written about 2,700 years ago. That kingdom has not been instituted yet. So, we are left with an important question.

  3. Has the Child been born yet?

    By now, I would imagine that you know who this Child is. It is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is God who became man and lived among us. We know Him as Immanuel, God with us. But how does the prophecy apply to Jesus?

    a. He shone a light on their spiritual darkness (Matt. 4:12-16).

    Compare Matthew 4:12-16 to Isaiah 9:1. Isaiah spoke of Zebulun and Naphtali (northern tribes of Israel) as seeing a great light in their spiritual darkness. Matthew sees a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Jesus’ ministry to the people in those areas.

    “The people in … Galilee were in the darkness of paganism and religious tradition. … When the Lord Jesus began His ministry in that area, the people did see a great light. They saw the Lord Jesus Christ, the Light of the world. … (John 8:12)” (McGee 220).

    John 8:12 – “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.'”

    As the Light of the world, Jesus offered to show the path away from sin and trust in things that could not help. He shines on our lives and reveals our sinfulness but also show us that the remedy for our sin in found completely in Him.

    b. He is the coming King (Rev. 20:4)

    In another Christmas message, we looked at the genealogies of Jesus and found that He is from the line of David and thus able to be heir to the throne. But did Jesus reign on the earth when he first came to Bethlehem and Galilee? The answer is no. The people wanted Him to, but it was not in God’s plan for that time. He will reign on the earth during the millennial kingdom at a future, undisclosed date. So, we need to understand that “these verses … look forward to the second coming of Christ” (McGee 221).

    After Jesus died and came back to life, His disciples asked Him, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus told them it was not for them to know right then. So, when will Jesus reign as King on the earth?

    The New Testament reveals that there will be a seven-year Tribulation period after which Jesus will return to destroy his enemies and rule over the world. According to the Book of Revelation, Satan will be thrown into the bottomless pit and Jesus will rule the earth for 1,000 years (see Rev. 20:1-4). His reign will be known for peace and justice. While their will be a rebellion when Satan is released, that rebellion will be crushed and He will reign forever and ever.

Conclusion

Every Christmas, when we talk about the sweet, little baby in the manger, we think of a cute little baby wrapped up tightly, cooing, and looking up at His mother. Sometimes, we also think about what He came to do on the cross. These are good things to consider. But have you contemplated the thought that this little baby was born to rule over all the earth? That time is coming at some future date, unknown to any of us. But it will happen as promised by God through the prophet Isaiah and in the Book of Revelation.

As you go through life and experience the ups-and-downs, are you satisfied with the way things are? Be honest. When is the last time that you were completely satisfied with a president or politician? We never are. No matter how much we like Washington, Lincoln, JFK, or Reagan, they all had faults and were not completely successful in what they did.

Jesus is the promised Child in Isaiah 9 who will one day reign as the King over all the earth. While all of us would like a perfect ruler, are you ready for Him to be the King of your life? You can’t wait to make the decision in the future. Each of us needs to have a right relationship with Him now to be prepared for then. So how can you be ready?

  1. Repent of your sin. Repentance is not becoming perfect but turning away from your sin. God knows that all of us are sinful and unworthy of His love. But He wants us to recognize our sinfulness and to consciously have a change of mind about it. My sin is against God and I don’t want to live that way anymore. That is repentance.

  2. Trust in Jesus. The Bible tells us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” This means that everyone who believes that Jesus died for their sins and rose again will be saved from the punishment due for their sins. You escape judgment simply by putting your trust in Jesus and what He accomplished for you.

    When someone repents of his sin and puts his faith in Jesus, God causes him to be born again. This is a spiritual change made by God in the life of each person who believes. Have you had that change in your life? If not, this is the time to make things right with God. Turn from your sinfulness and place your faith in Jesus who died to pay for your sins and rose from the dead and you will be born again by God.

  3. Follow His directions. Sometimes, we talk about being saved or being born again and then stop thinking. Do you realize that Jesus is not just your Savior but is also to be your Lord. This means that He is in charge of your life. After being born again, you should read the Bible and find out what He wants you to do. That is a reasonable response after all that He has done for you. This includes meditating on what the Bible says, talking to God on a regular basis (prayer), and telling others about Him. It also includes living a life that is pleasing to Him. Thankfully, He doesn’t leave us alone to accomplish these things, but has given us the Holy Spirit to enable us to be and do what the Lord desires.

    For those of us who know the Lord, we gladly choose to obey Him. It isn’t a have-to but a want-to situation. When we have this kind of attitude about the Lord, we will be ready for His Second Coming. It may be today or at some time in the future. But why wait to serve the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Turn over your life to Him and enjoy serving Him today.

Bibliography

Leupold, H. C., Exposition of Isaiah Volume II Chapters 40-66, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977, pp. 169-187.

Martin, John A., “Isaiah,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (USA: SP Publications, 1989), pp. 1046-54.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. III, Proverbs through Malachi, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982, pp. 216-22.

Christmas Genealogies

“When I was a teenager, I became interested in the Bible for the first time, and I went to a summer conference where the Lord spoke to my heart. Our Bible teacher thrilled my heart as he taught the Word of God. One morning he asked, ‘How many of you young people have read the Bible through in a year?’ There were two to three hundred young people there, but not A hand went up. He asked the same question four times. Finally, one young man in the back put up his hand rather hesitatingly and said, ‘Well, I read it, but I only read the parts that were interesting. I didn’t read the genealogies.’ Everybody laughed, and the teacher laughed, too, and admitted that he didn’t read them either. At that very moment it occurred to me that since the Spirit of God has used so much printer’s ink to give them to us, there must be some importance in them for us” (McGee 7-8).

As we read this gospel, we should note that Matthew was trying to reach out to Jewish people. Think about this: If Jewish people were going to be convinced that Jesus is the Messiah and the Promised Son of David who would rule over Israel, what would they be looking for? They would want to see evidence that Jesus had descended from the royal line of David.

“If Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of these two great covenants, is He related to the rightful line? This is the question the Jews would have asked, so Matthew traced Jesus’ lineage in detail” (Barbieri 18).


  1. Matthew’s Genealogy (Matt. 1:1-17)

    a. Patriarchs

    Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are familiar to us because of the book of Genesis. We remember how Abraham was a friend of God, Isaac was deceived by his son, Jacob wrestled with God, and Judah gave an impassioned plea to spare his younger brother for the sake of his father.

    However, the most important thing about them is their relationship to God and especially “God’s promises to Abraham that his offspring would bless all the people of the earth (Gen. 12:1-3)” (Blomberg 53).

    While God’s blessings flowed through the Jewish people, God’s promise was that Jesus’ life would be a blessing to all the world not just the Jewish people. We obviously benefit from that.

    b. Women

    It was unusual in a patriarchal society to have women listed in a genealogy. However, Matthew lists Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba (as well as Mary). Each of these women had an interesting part to play in Bible history.

    Interesting note: “Why are the first four women included? Suggestions have included viewing them as examples of sinners Jesus came to save, representative Gentiles to whom the Christian mission would be extended, or women who had illicit marriages and/or illegitimate children. The only factor that applies to all four is that suspicions of illegitimacy surrounded their sexual activity and childbearing. This suspicion of illegitimacy fits perfectly with that which surrounded Mary, which Matthew immediately takes pains to refute (vv. 18-25)” (Blomberg 56).

    • Tamar (Gen. 38)

    Tamar married Judah’s oldest son. But God took his life because he was evil. This meant that he died childless. The custom of the day was for the brother of the deceased to marry the widow and the child born to them would continue the name of the deceased brother.

    Judah’s second son acted shamefully and did not fulfill this duty. So, God took his life. Judah was afraid for his remaining son’s life and did not give him to Tamar. So, Tamar took the matter into her own hands and pretended to be a prostitute. After seducing Judah, her father-in-law, she conceived and gave birth to twins who were named Perez and Zerah.

    • Rahab (Josh. 2:1-21; 6:22-25)

    She was a harlot who lived in Jericho. But … she hid Joshua’s two spies on her rooftop and lied to the authorities looking for them. But when you read Joshua 2:8-13, you see something else. Notice her faith in God. Of all types of people, would you have expected this? However, because of her faith in God and her kindness toward the two spies, her life was spared along with her family. Interestingly, she married someone who is in the line of Christ.

    • Ruth

    Ruth was a Moabite woman who married a Jewish man from Bethlehem. When her mother-in-law told her to go back to her family, Ruth refused (Ruth 1:16-17). Instead, she returned with her mother-in-law to Bethlehem and took care of her.

    While Ruth’s character was flawless, she was still a Moabite. Moabites were to be excluded from the people of Israel (Deut. 23:3-6). This was God’s punishment for their wickedness and poor treatment of Israel when they came out of Egypt. Remember Balaam and his donkey. The man who hired Balaam to curse Israel was a Moabite.

    She was a foreign woman from Moab who should not have been allowed into the community of Israel but who was shown mercy because of her godly character. She was the great-grandmother of David.

    • Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11:2-5)

    The story of Bathsheba is a sad one. When David stayed home from a battle, he was tempted and chose to commit adultery with the wife of Uriah, who was one of his 30 Mighty Men. When he could not cover his sin, he had Uriah killed before taking Bathsheba as his wife. One of their later children was Solomon, the son who succeeded David as king of Israel.

    When you look at the lives of those included in the lineage of Jesus, it is difficult not to wince as you read their stories. But at the same time, it is a thing of wonder that God would choose to use sinful people in his plan to save the world from sin.

    “He who came not to call the righteous but sinners (ix. 13), and who so commended the faith of those who were not of Israel (viii. 10, XV. 28), was Himself descended from flagrant sinners and from a stranger” (Plummer 2).

    c. David’s Line

    The most important part of the genealogy for Jewish people was whether the person was from the line of David. This would mean that he could actually sit on the throne of David as one of his royal offspring. While this genealogy proves that fact, it also poses a problem. According to this genealogy, Jesus was a descendant of Jeconiah. (“Jeconiah is a variant form of Jehoiachin, who with Shealtiel and Zerubbabel appear in 1 Chr 3:17-19” (Blomberg 55)).

    Take a look at Jeremiah 22:30. Jeconiah’s wickedness was so great that God excluded any of his descendants from sitting on the throne in the future. “Jeremiah’s prophecy related to the actual occupation of the throne and the reception of blessing while on the throne. Though Jeconiah’s sons never occupied the throne, the line of rulership did pass through them. If Jesus had been a physical descendant of Jeconiah, He would not have been able to occupy David’s throne” (Barbieri 18).

    We have a problem. Jesus, the promised Seed of David, was not qualified to be king according to this genealogy because of the curse against Jeconiah. So, how could Jesus be the promised Messiah, the son of David?

    The answer is this: This genealogy was Joseph’s line. He was Jesus’s adopted father. We must look at Luke’s genealogy for the answer to this problem.

  2. Luke’s genealogy (Luke 3:23-38)

    As you read through this passage, you will notice that the genealogy is somewhat different than the one in Matthew. What does this reveal to us?

    a. Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus.

    “Luke makes it clear that Joseph was not the father of the Lord Jesus Christ” (McGee 259). Luke was very careful in showing the ancestors of Jesus. He lists all the people by the father’s name but there is one important difference when it comes to Joseph. He refers to Jesus as “being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph.” This is the clue that makes us think that this genealogy was not through Joseph but through Mary’s ancestors.

    b. The genealogy was for Mary.

    “There is good reason to believe that Matthew and Luke are in fact tracing entirely different genealogies. For example, Matthew gives Joseph’s father as Jacob (Matthew 1:16), while Luke gives Joseph’s father as Heli (Luke 3:23). Matthew traces the line through David’s son Solomon (Matthew 1:6), while Luke traces the line through David’s son Nathan (Luke 3:31). In fact, between David and Jesus, the only names the genealogies have in common are Shealtiel and Zerubbabel (Matthew 1:12; Luke 3:27).

    Most conservative Bible scholars today take a different view, namely, that Luke is recording Mary’s genealogy and Matthew is recording Joseph’s. Matthew is following the line of Joseph (Jesus’ legal father), through David’s son Solomon, while Luke is following the line of Mary (Jesus’ blood relative), through David’s son Nathan. Since there was no specific Koine Greek word for “son-in-law,” Joseph was called the “son of Heli” by marriage to Mary, Heli’s daughter.” (GotQuestions).

    This makes the most sense to me. Through the line of Mary (not through Joseph) Jesus was a blood relative of David and able to become the king someday.

Conclusion

Some may consider the genealogies to be unimportant. But is any part of the Bible unimportant? God put it there for a reason. So, what can we learn from the genealogies?

1. Patriarchs

God honored the faith and obedience of Abraham and his sons and kept the promise to send someone who would bless all the earth. Be thankful that God fulfilled that promised through Jesus. The world, including non-Jewish people, has been blessed through Him.

2. Relationships

Several of the women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy were not of high moral character. And yet God still used them in the carrying out of His plan. This should give us hope. Despite our past failures, God is able to use people who repent of their sins, believe, and obey Him.

3. Kings

Some of the kings were mere “place holders.” They were part of the genealogies and passed along their royal blood, but they were nothing more than a person who filled that part of history and did not do it well. Don’t be a placeholder. Be something for the Lord today. Use your life for something that will count for Him.

4. God’s Plan

When you realize that the line of kings was cut off at the time of Jeconiah, this put in jeopardy Jesus’ ability to be the king. But, despite that king’s wickedness, God still had a “backup plan” to carry our His plan. Jesus was born of Mary who was also of the line of David just by a different route. From this we learn that no matter how bad things look, God has a way to fulfill His plan. Trust God to work out His plan in and through you.

Bibliography

Barbieri, Louis A., “Matthew,” in  in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, (USA: SP Publications, 1983), p. 18.

Blomberg, Craig L., Matthew, Nashville: Broadman, 1992, pp. 52-56.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. IV, Matthew through Romans, pp. 7-8; 259-60.

Mounce, Bill, “νομίζω” as viewed at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/nomizo on 12/11/22.

Plummer, Alfred, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to S. Matthew, Minneapolis: James Family, n.d., pp. 1-3.

“Why are Jesus’ genealogies in Matthew and Luke so different?” as viewed at https://printer.gotquestions.net/GeneratePF?articleId=1595 on 12/11/2022.

Christmas Hope

Some of the brightest hope is found in the prophecies recorded in the Book of Isaiah. The people lived under the rollercoaster rule of good and bad kings. They also faced the invasions of other nations on several occasions. You can imagine the feeling of hopelessness when evil kings and people brought about God’s judgment on the nation. However, although there were problems which needed to be addressed, the Lord’s prophecies helped the people to look forward to a time when things would be better. And they also looked forward to someone who would make that difference.

You are probably familiar with Isaiah 7:14 where the virgin birth of Jesus was prophesied. Then there is Isaiah 9:6 where He is described as “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” There we find that His kingdom will never end and that justice would be faithfully carried out under His rule. After so many bad kings, this must have been a wonderful thing to look forward to. But there is another prophecy found in Isaiah 61:1-2. It is a prophecy of kindness and hope and is what we will look at today.

  1. Hope to come (Isaiah 61:1-2).

    The prophecies of the Book of Isaiah record several descriptions of the Coming Messiah. In that book, He is called the child born to a virgin, the Servant who would suffer, and sometimes is not named but just described. As we look at the beginning of Isaiah 61, we see another description of Him. Here He is the bringer of hope.

    a. He would be anointed by God (1a).

    God’s plan was to anoint Someone to bring hope to the people of Judah. You may recall that King Saul was anointed by God and enabled to do great things at the beginning of His reign. King David was also anointed and enabled by God to do great things. This anointing was a sign that God was enabling that particular person to carry out His plan at that particular time. In this chapter, we see that this unnamed person would be anointed and empowered by God to do some wonderful things.

    b. He would help troubled people (1b).

    In verses 1-2, we find that God the Father sent this anointed One to do several things:

    • He would preach good tidings to the poor.
    • He would heal the brokenhearted.
    • He would liberate captives.
    • He would proclaim God’s favor.

    Have you ever been poor? There is something disheartening about being poor and unable to provide for your family. Think of the Old Testament woman who was making her last meal and getting ready to die. What would bring you hope? You would find hope if someone offered to help you with your needs. God has a way of caring for and meeting the needs of the poor.

    Have you ever been brokenhearted? There are people today who are heartbroken because of a sick family member, a troubled marriage, or a ruined reputation. What would bring hope to someone like this? Broken hearts need time to heal, but they also need hope. This can best be found with God’s help. He is able, where others are not, to heal these emotional scars.

    Have you ever been held captive? In the last year, a WNBA player was imprisoned in Russia due to having some illegal drugs. Her sentence of ten years in prison included time in a work camp. Things didn’t look good until the US traded a prisoner for her release. I would imagine that she is ecstatic and thankful for her release. But most of us don’t face this kind of captivity. However, people today are often held captive by their addiction to drugs, alcohol, immorality, etc. What would bring hope to these situations? Being set free from this bondage would be so helpful. But this kind of help can only come from God.

    Have you ever felt unaccepted by the Lord? Perhaps your sinfulness has caused you great shame, or your current situation makes you think that God could never accept you or show you favor. What would make you feel accepted by Him? If someone came to you and proclaimed that there was a way for you to be accepted by God, wouldn’t that bring you joy?

    Summary: Isaiah prophesied that God would anoint someone with the power to help troubled people. He would speak to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, free the captive, and proclaim God’s favor. Who was this special person? The answer to this question is found in the New Testament.

  2. Hope in Jesus (Luke 4:16-21).

    After the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus went back to Galilee and taught in many of the synagogues. He “initially was a popular Teacher, so when He went back to His hometown, it was natural for Him to teach in” the synagogue there (Martin 214).

    When given the opportunity to read the Scripture, Jesus took the scroll of Isaiah. “It was the custom in the synagogue for a man to stand while he was reading the Scripture but then to sit while explaining the portion he had read” (Martin 214). He stood and read these few lines from Isaiah 61 and then sat down. He then told the people that these words were fulfilled that day.

    a. Jesus is the fulfillment of this prophecy (21).

    “When Jesus added, Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing, the implication was clear. Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah who could bring the kingdom of God which had been promised for so long” (Martin 214). This must have been a shock to the home crowd. But it was true.

    Notice something interesting here. “When Jesus read from this passage He stopped in the middle of the sentence, after the word ‘favor’ (Luke 4:18-19). By doing this He was showing that His work would be divided into two advents. In His first Advent He did the things mentioned in Isaiah 61:1-2a; in His Second Advent He will do the things in verses 2b-3” (Martin 1116).

    b. Jesus brought hope to many people.

    If you compare the list in the prophecy to what Jesus actually did during his earthly ministry, you would find quite a bit of evidence of Him fulfilling it.

    • He preached to the poor (Mark 12:37b).

    When you think of poor people, you think of the common person as opposed to a wealthy person. Jesus spoke to all types of people, but he particularly reached the common people. And being that he came from a poor family, he was able to understand their needs. In Mark 12:37b, we find that the common people heard his preaching gladly.

    • He healed the brokenhearted (Luke 7:11-17).

    While visiting the city of Nain, Jesus came across a funeral procession. A widow woman had just lost her only son and was weeping as they carried his body out of the city. Our loving Lord had compassion on her and told her not to weep. He then commanded the dead man to get up… and he did! The brokenhearted woman must have been stunned, but her poor old heart was no longer broken. Jesus did the impossible for her and healed her broken heart.

    • He liberated captives (Mark 5:1-20).

    One of my favorite stories about Jesus is him healing the demoniac of Gadera. This man was unable to be bound with chains, but was totally bound by the demons who possessed his body. He often cried out with a loud voice and cut himself with stones. He was in a terrible predicament until Jesus cast out the demons. The happy man wanted to go with Jesus but was sent home to tell his friends what the Lord had done for him. How wonderful it must have been to hear his tale of being freed.

    • He gave sight to the blind (Mark 10:46-52).

    Jesus provided light to not only the spiritually blind but the physically blind as well. Blind Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus as he passed by to have mercy on him. He was unable to see and had to rely on others to get around. It was a terrible situation, but he knew that Jesus could help him. Jesus rewarded his faith by healing him that day.

    In each of these situations, Jesus showed the kindness of the Lord to those who were struggling under difficult situations. He preached to the poor, healed the brokenhearted, delivered the captive, and gave sight to the blind.

    c. Jesus was not accepted by some (28-30).

    We know all that Jesus did and are convinced that He is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. But the people in the synagogue were convinced. They “were amazed at His gracious words, but they immediately began to question the authority with which He could say these things. How could Joseph’s Son—the Boy they saw grow up in their town—be the Messiah?” (Martin 214)

    Sadly, the unbelief in Nazareth was very strong. It was similar to what it was like in Isaiah’s time. They refused to believe that Jesus was the fulfillment of that ancient prophecy of hope. And as a result, they did not find the very thing that they were looking for.

  3. Hope for today

    So far, we have looked at Isaiah’s prophecy of hope and evidence that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy during his earthly ministry. But what about today? Is it possible that Jesus could bring us the hope we desire?

    a. Do you fit into any of these categories?

    The same conditions that affected people in Isaiah’s and Jesus’ day are still prevalent today. There are some who are poor, who constantly struggle with paying the bills, who don’t know where the money will come from to meet the needs of tomorrow, and who feel that they will always be reliant on someone else. There are some who are brokenhearted, who don’t know how they will face the emotional toll their situation is handing them. They need healing. There are some who are held captive by sin at this very moment, who struggle with temptation and can’t seem to break away from it. There are some who feel unaccepted by God, who want to know how they can get past the guilt they feel because of their sin.

    b. Does Jesus care about you?

    Do you know that the same God who promised to bring hope in Isaiah’s and Jesus’ time has not changed? Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He cares for you and wants to help you through the struggles you are currently facing. Whether it is financial, emotional, sinful, or mental needs, God sent Jesus to help us. If you will turn to Him and seek His remedy for your situation, you will find the hope that you need.

    He wants you to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and to let Him meet your needs. He wants you to bring your broken heart to Him for healing and to find that His love is ultimately what you need. He wants you to see what sinful habits are holding you captive and how He can enable you to be free. He wants you to know that His love is available if you will turn from your sin to believe Him.

    There is hope and it is found in Jesus.

Conclusion

It is interesting how one of the Christmas carols fits in with today’s message. The fourth verse of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” says:

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing; –
Oh, rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing!

It may be that you have come today with a heavy load of care. The things that you have gone through recently are perhaps more than you know how to handle. I want you to know that the Lord cares for you and wants you to have hope. Take your cares to Him and let Him give you hope.

For those who do not know the Lord, your first step is to read the Bible and to learn about Jesus. Read through the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and find out who He is. As you study about Him, you will see that He can give you the hope you need. Ultimately, you need to come to the place where you turn from your sin to place your trust in the fact that His death on the cross paid the price for your sins. When you trust in Him, God will forgive you of your sins and change your life. He will give you hope where you did not have it before.

For those who do know the Lord, let me remind you that Jesus does care about you. He wants to help you through your difficult situations. Sometimes when we face those circumstances, we don’t do what we know we should. We need to trust the Lord and give Him our troubles. Remember what the Lord says in Philippians 4:6-7? He says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Will you take your cares to the Lord and let Him take care of them? You will be glad that you did.

Bibliography

Hendriksen, William, Luke, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978, reprint 2004, pp. 250-54.

Ironside, H. A., Expository Notes on the Prophet Isaiah, Neptune: Loizeaux Brothers, 1952, reprint 1979, pp. 338-40.

“It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” as viewed at https://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/it_came_upon_the_midnight_clear.htm on 12/10/2022.

Leupold, H. C., Exposition of Isaiah Volume II Chapters 40-66, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977, pp. 318-22.

Martin, John A., “Isaiah,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (USA: SP Publications, 1989), pp. 1115-16.

Martin, John A., “Luke,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (USA: SP Publications, 1983), pp. 214-15.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. III, Proverbs through Malachi, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982, pp. 335-36.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. IV, Matthew through Romans, pp. 263-65.

Doctrinal Statement: Baptism

The following statement is the proposed revision to our church’s doctrinal statement about water baptism.

We believe immersion in water to be the New Testament mode of baptism (Acts 8:36-39) to be administered only to believers upon their public confession of faith in Christ (Acts 2:41; 8:12). We believe that Jesus Himself commanded the ordinance (Matt. 28:19) to symbolize the believer’s death to the old life of sin and his spiritual resurrection to the new life in Christ (Rom. 6:1-4).

Philippians 2:12-16

In the previous verses, we have seen the example of the Lord Jesus who willingly submitted himself to the will of the Father even though this led to suffering. But He did it anyway and was rewarded for his efforts.

  1. Work out your salvation (12-13).

    While working at a job, a Catholic supervisor quoted this verse to support the idea that we have to do good works to secure our salvation. But is this what it is saying? No, please notice that it says “work out” and not “work for.”

    I hope that as we look at these verses, in context, we will understand exactly what Paul was saying.

    a. Work when not being watched (12 a).

    Don’t be lazy.

    We have all experienced working for a boss. When we are in his eyesight, it is easier to work hard. But when we are out of his eyesight, it is tempting to slacken the pace. This is true for coaches as well. The runners run when he is watching but slacken the pace when they turn the corner and are out of his sight.

    “When Paul was with them, they followed his instructions willingly and quickly. He reminded them of this before he asked them to do the same at the present time, even though he was far from them” (Lightner 655).

    So, as we do the things the Lord wants us to do, we should not be lazy. We should keep working at it even when nobody is around to see.

    Don’t rely on others.

    There are some who rely to heavily on others to do the things God intends each of us to do ourselves. Apparently, “there was a tendency to lean too heavily on Paul, that is, on his physical presence with the church at Philippi” (Hendriksen 119).

    Do you think back to those who have helped or are helping you today for the ability to do what you need to do? While we have pastors and Christian leaders that can help, it is our own responsibility to be at work.

    So, as we do the things the Lord wants us to do, we should not rely on others to get it done. We should take our own responsibility seriously and put in our own effort.

    b. Work out (12 b).

    “The special request he had for them, in view of their needs and in view of the example of Christ, is stated forcefully—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Lightner 655).

    What does this mean? “They were told to ‘work out,’ to put into practice in their daily living, what God had worked in them by His Spirit. They were not told to work for their salvation but to work out the salvation God had already given them” (Lightner 655).

    The idea is that each of us has a job to do personally. We are to consider what God wants us to do and how to grown personally and then work at it.

    c. Work with fear and trembling (12 b).

    I think this is a convicting statement to those who are not doing what God has said to do. Since they were either being lazy or too dependent on others, Paul told them to realize with fear and trembling that God was working in them and expecting them to respond. We are not to take this lightly.

    d. Work along with God (13).

    The prospect of being a godly Christians may seem too hard to do. Thankfully, God is at work in us.

    “God worked in them so that they could do His good pleasure and accomplish His good purpose. … God makes His own both willing and desirous to do His work” (Lightner 655).

    The point is that when we allow God to work in us (think letting the Spirit control us) He will enable and gives us the desire to do it.

    “The verb works (v. 13) means ‘energizes’ or ‘provides enablement'” (Lightner 655).

    So, do we just sit back and let God do the work? No. “Both divine enablement and human responsibility are involved in getting God’s work done. Believers are partners with God, laboring together with Him” (Lightner 655).

    Summary: God has called us to work out our salvation. This means that each of us should be thinking of how God’s work in our lives should affect the way that we live. We are living in a way that shows the work that God has done in us.
  2. Live the example God wants you to be (14-16).

    If we are working out our salvation with fear and trembling, there will be certain evidences of God’s work in us and evidences that we are doing what He wants.

    a. There are certain things not to do (14).

    Notice that Paul tells us that this should affect everything we do: do all things.

    We should not be complaining.

    Oh boy. Are we really going to talk about complaining? Yes, and it is a message from God not something based on anything anyone said recently.

    This “reflects a bad attitude expressed in grumbling. The apostle may have had in mind the behavior of the Israelites who often complained to Moses and in turn to God” (Lightner 655).

    When you think about it, complaining is not contentment in what God has put in your life. We do this too much.

    We should not be arguing.

    This “reflects a legal connotation of disputing and may refer, at least in part, to the practice of going to civil courts to settle their differences” (Lightner 655).

    Court cases are the result of not taking care of things in private. Instead of arguing and letting it get to that level, we ought to talk things out and work them out before they balloon into something bad.

    b. There are certain reasons why (15-16).

    It appears that there were some problems with the Philippian church.

    “Before their testimony for Christ could ever be effective in the community where they lived, the Philippians needed to set some things straight in their own assembly” (Lightner 655).

    As we look at these things, let’s consider our own situation as well.

    Their testimony was compromised.

    their testimony – “Evidently the believers were complaining (to God and each other) and arguing (with each other). As a result they were not without fault among the unregenerate; they were not shining like stars in their world (2:15). The Philippian assembly needed to show themselves as united and as one in Christ. Non-Christians were not being attracted to Him by the saints’ strifes and contentions” (Lightner 655-56).

    There are times when a church’s testimony becomes so bad that they are unable to do anything in the community. Their poor testimony hinders people from every wanting to hear the message they seek to proclaim.

    Their testimony could be repaired.

    What can a church do to repair their testimony to their community? They must take the time to rebuild it in at least two areas.

    blameless – “means ‘above reproach.’ This does not mean sinless perfection. The corporate testimony of the church is in view. … The people were to live so that those outside of Christ could not rightfully point an accusing finger at them” (Lightner 656).

    harmless – “a word that was used of wine which had not been diluted and of metal which had not been weakened in any way. Jesus also used the word when He told the Twelve to be ‘innocent’ as doves (Matt. 10:16)” (Lightner 656).

    Their testimony was a representative of God’s work in their lives.

    “The Philippians lived in a crooked and depraved generation (2:15). … The world today, like theirs, is unscrupulous and perverted. Most people have turned their backs on God and truth. In this kind of world God’s people are to ‘shine like stars'” (Lightner 656).

    You have noticed how wicked our society has become. We ought to have a proper testimony of the change God has and is making in our lives so that they can see what a difference He can make in their lives.

    Our testimony should enhance the Bible’s reception (16).

    “The Greek word epechontes, hold out (v. 16) means either ‘hold forth’ or ‘hold firmly.’ The former fits better here. It was used in secular Greek of offering wine to a guest at a banquet. As the Philippian saints held out (or offered) the word of life to others, Paul would then be able to boast (glory) on the day of Christ that he had not labored in vain with them” (Lightner 656).

    We have been talking about the importance of our outward testimony. While that is important, we also need to hold forth the truths contained in the Bible. The word or message of the gospel is what will change lives when someone believes.

    Don’t rely simply on a good testimony, hoping that someone will ask you why you live differently. Speak the word to others so that they can know and understand your example.

Conclusion

I want to conclude with two questions. You probably know what they are already. And as you hear these questions, I want each of us to consider what the answers are and what actions we should take.

1. Are you working out your salvation as God intended?

Remember that this is an outworking of what God has done and is doing in your life. Are you faithfully seeking to work with God to become and do what He intends? If not, please consider that you are working against God and need to be in fear and trembling. Consider that you are fighting against God when you resist His working in you.

2. Is our church a good testimony to our community?

I do not know what our testimony is in this community. Those of you who have been here for a long period of time probably know better than me. If our testimony has been compromised by certain things done in the past, we need to find a way to repair it. That begins with each of us working out our salvation, but is also means that we need to work together to be a better testimony to the world.

There is hope for each of us. When we fail, God does not desert us. But he wants us to get back up and make changes that will help us to do His will and represent Him better in the future. Will you let Him do His work in you and in us this week?

Bibliography

Hendriksen, William, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979.

Lightner, Robert P., “Philippians” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983, pp. 655-56.

Christmas with Ahaz

Our recent study of the tabernacle built in Moses’ time shows us that God is particular about how people worship Him. Those same principles were applied when Solomon built the first temple. But things deteriorated after Solomon’s death. The kingdom was split during Rehoboam’s reign. And the kings that followed were a mix of good and bad rulers. In our study today, we will look at a message given to one of the bad kings. His name was King Ahaz. Believe it or not, he has something to do with Christmas.

  1. Who was King Ahaz? (2 Kings 16)

    a. He was a young king (2 Kings 16:1-2a).

    The current US president was 78 years old when he was inaugurated. The youngest president, Theodore Roosevelt, was just under 43 years old. We usually expect our president to be a well-seasoned, mature person who is experienced and able to make good decisions.

    Ahaz was only 20 years old when he became king of Judah. That’s not very old at all. Not many 20-year-old men are mature enough to lead a country. But he was the next in line to the throne and became king. He reigned for only 16 years and died at the age of 36. Such a short reign probably makes you wonder what he was like.

    b. He was an evil king (2 Kings 16: 2b-4).

    The description of Ahaz in this chapter is not very flattering. “Unlike his ancestor David, with whom many of the Judean kings were compared, Ahaz did not do the will of God. Instead, he followed the examples of the wicked kings of the Northern Kingdom. He went so far as to sacrifice his son… as a burnt offering to an idol” (Constable 569).

    Instead of loving and serving the Lord, King Ahaz experimented with pagan rituals and did what the Lord hated. He was an evil king and one not remembered for doing any good thing.

    c. He was a troubled king (2 Kings 16:7-9).

    After the ten tribes split from Judah and formed their own nation, there were continual wars between Israel and Judah. It had been about 200 years since the kingdoms divided, but the animosity was still great. During the reign of Ahaz, the Israelites and Syrians joined forces to fight against Judah and eventually besieged Jerusalem, the capital city.

    In verse 7, we read that “Ahaz appealed to Tiglath Pileser III. … and sent a gift of silver and gold from the temple and palace in Jerusalem to encourage Tiglath-Pileser to get his harassing neighbors away from his walls. Tiglath-Pileser obliged by attacking and capturing Rezon’s capital Damascus. This diverted the Arameans from besieging Jerusalem; they had to return home to defend their own territory” (Constable 569).

    d. He was a disobedient king (2 Kings 16:10-18).

    Ahaz had not trusted the Lord to save him from his enemies. Instead, he trusted in a heathen king. So when his ally defeated Syria, Ahaz didn’t thank God. Instead, he traveled to Damascus to thank his Assyrian ally.

    “There he saw an altar… . Ahaz sent Uriah the high priest in Jerusalem a sketch of this altar with instructions to have one built just like it. The apostasy of the priesthood at that time can be seen in Uriah’s speedy acquiescence. When Ahaz returned home he had the Lord’s bronze altar of burnt offering moved aside to give a prominent place to the new altar. … Ahaz then commanded that all regular offerings be made on the … new altar” (Constable 569).

    If you were to read quickly through this chapter, you might not think much of this new altar. It seems that Ahaz just wanted to use a nicely designed altar to worship the Lord. But this was not the case. The ungodly king was replacing what God had commanded with his own version. Instead of following God’s requirements, he came up with his own.

    I have often heard from people who make excuses for not obeying what God commands in the Bible. When asked why they don’t attend church services, they reply that they can better worship God alone in a fishing boat while enjoying God’s creation. As nice as fishing may be, it doesn’t negate what God has prescribed in the Bible.

    Hebrews 10:25 — And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

    Replacing weekly church services with by-myself-time is not obedience. It is disobedience. And as was the case with King Ahaz, replacing God’s commands with something different may indicate not just disobedience but may indicate unbelief.

  2. What does King Ahaz have to do with Christmas? (Isaiah 7)

    One of the most famous Old Testament passages about the virgin birth of Jesus is found in Isaiah 7:14. But did you realize that one of the names mentioned in Isaiah 7 is the very king we just read about? Yes, despite the king’s disobedience and unbelief, God still sent Isaiah the prophet to speak to him and to point him back toward God.

    a. God used an army to get his attention (Isaiah 7:1-2).

    We read in these verses that Ahaz was troubled by the allied armies of Israel and Syria.

    “Rezin [Syria’s king] convinced Pekah [Israel’s king] to join him against Pekah’s southern neighbor Judah. They threatened to replace Judah’s King Ahaz with a puppet king, ‘the son of Tabeel’ (Isa. 7:6). … The prospect of such formidable enemies as Aram [Syria] and Israel caused the people of Judah to be afraid” (Martin 1046).

    With Russia currently attacking Ukraine, I am sure that the people in Ukraine are constantly in fear of what might happen. Will the Russians drop a bomb? Will they knock out Ukraine’s power? Are enemy soldiers about to invade the village? This is how Ahaz and the people of Jerusalem felt during this siege.

    b. God encouraged him to trust Him (Isaiah 7:3-9).

    Amidst all of the turmoil, God sent a message to King Ahaz by Isaiah the prophet.

    “God told Isaiah to … meet King Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool. … Perhaps Ahaz was there to inspect the city’s water supply in anticipation of an attack by Aram and Israel. … Isaiah told Ahaz not to be afraid of Rezin and Pekah, for they were mere smoldering stubs of firewood. Their lives would soon end; like firewood they would be burned up and gone. Both men died two years later in 732 B.C.” (Martin 1046-47).

    What a wonderful promise from God! But the prophecy was not limited just to the end of these two kings. The prophecy also revealed that Israel would not be a nation within 65 years (see v. 8).

    “Isaiah made the startling prophecy that within 65 years Israel would no longer even be a people because they would be so shattered (7-8). Isaiah gave this prophecy in 734 B.C., so 65 years later was 669. When Asyria conquered Israel in 722, many Israelites were deported to other lands and foreigners were brought into Samaria (2 Kings 17:24). However, in 669 many more foreigners were transferred to Samaria by Ashurbanipal (Ezra 4:10), king of Assyria (669-626). This ‘shattered’ Israel, making it impossible for her to unite as a nation” (Martin 1047).

    The people who were currently fighting against King Ahaz would not even be a nation in 65 years. Wow! This should have been a huge confidence builder for the king. But let me ask you a question. Do you think that King Ahaz believed what Isaiah told him? Verse 9b indicates that the Lord was giving the king an opportunity to believe. Did he?

    c. God gave him a sign (Isaiah 7:10-17).

    Think about the many signs God gave to people in the Old Testament. God gave the sign of the rainbow to Noah, the burning bush to Moses, the Ten Plagues in Egypt, and the wet/dry sheepskin to Gideon. The same thing happened in the New Testament. God gave the signs of healing, speaking in other languages, an earthquake, and many others. Each time, God was patiently showing people that He would do what He had promised. These signs were meant to boost the faith of those who experienced them.

    Offered a sign

    In order to help King Ahaz believe the prophecy given by Isaiah, the Lord told the king to ask for a sign to prove it. He could ask for anything in the depths of the earth or the heights above him. Ahaz had the opportunity to have a miraculous verification of what God had promised. “But Ahaz refused to request a sign, saying he would not … test God (cf. Deut. 6:16). This answer sounded pious but probably the way he said it showed that he was not believing Isaiah” (Martin 1047).

    Why didn’t Ahaz request a sign?

    “The point at issue is that Ahaz would be under necessity of believing if the sign asked came to pass, and Ahaz does not want to be under necessity of believing, strange as that may sound. He has a course of his own plotted. If the sign happens, this course must be abandoned. The pious sound of his answer masks a very stubborn unbelief” (Leupold 155). How strange it was for King Ahaz to reject this opportunity to see a sign from God.

    Given a sign

    Isaiah was not happy with the king’s response. He told King Ahaz that God was giving him a sign despite him not asking for one. What was the sign? Isaiah included three thoughts in a sign that included a child soon to be born. Look at verses 14-17.

    (1) The virgin would conceive and bear a son named Immanuel (14).

    Much has been written about the Hebrew word translated as “virgin” in this verse. While the word can be translated as “young maiden,” it is almost exclusively used in the Bible to describe a chaste, unmarried woman (see Leupold 156). Isaiah told Ahaz that this virgin would conceive and bear a son who would be named Immanuel, which means “God with us.” This, in itself, was a sign that God would be with them.

    (2) The lands of Israel and Syria would soon be destroyed (16).

    “Before the child can distinguish between what is good and what is bad for it, the land of the two confederate kings of v. 1, Rezin and Pekah, shall be forsaken, that is, largely depopulated. The big threat that Syria and Israel posed against Judah will have collapsed completely” (Leupold 160).

    (3) The Assyrian king would attack them (17).

    The last part of the sign had to do with Assyria being sent by the Lord against them. “What makes the expression so particularly emphatic is that it was the very king of Assyria on whom Ahaz had pinned his hopes for deliverance, and to whom he was shortly going to send an urgent appeal for help” (Leupold 160).

    Summary: The sign was that a virgin would conceive, give birth to a male child, and before he would be old enough to know between right and wrong, Israel and Syria would no longer be a threat to King Ahaz. This was the sign that God gave to this unbelieving king. And this is exactly what happened a few years after the prophecy was made.

    Purpose of the sign

    (1) The first purpose of the sign was to assure Ahaz that God was with Judah.

    Whether Ahaz had turned completely away from God at this point or not, I am not sure. But God graciously sent Isaiah to assure him that God could be trusted and that He was still with Judah. When the child was called “Immanuel” (God with us) it was a sign that God was still with them.

    (2) The second purpose of the sign was that the House of David would not be destroyed.

    Ahaz was afraid of the nations who were besieging Jerusalem. And when those enemy kings talked about replacing Ahaz with a king of their own choosing, it must have looked like it was the end of the line of David. If that happened, there would be no future Messiah who would sit on David’s throne. There would be no future hope.

    But God had other plans. No matter how hard the enemy fought to change the plan, God was always in control. This is clearly seen in the later fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 as seen in Matthew 1.

  3. What does the New Testament say about this? (Matthew 1:18-23)

    When we look at the prophecy in Isaiah 7, we naturally think that this was specifically given to Ahaz because of what was happening during his lifetime. The sign was given to show him that God was still on Judah’s side and would not allow the wicked to overtake their land.

    But God’s prophecies often include not only a close fulfillment but also one that will not be fulfilled until a later time. I think that this is the case with Isaiah 7:14. The current fulfillment was what would happen during Ahaz’s lifetime. But the New Testament reveals that there was a Messianic prophecy hidden in that same place. Take a look at Matthew 1:18-21.

    a. Jesus was born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18-21).

    “Mary and Joseph were in the one-year waiting period when Mary was found to be with child. They had never had sexual intercourse and Mary herself had been faithful (vv. 20, 23)” (Barbieri 20). Mary was a virgin but she was also pregnant. How could this be? Joseph didn’t know but figured that she had been unfaithful to him. Because of that, he decided to quietly end their betrothal.

    But before he took any steps, God sent an angel to explain what had happened. In a dream, the angel told Joseph that the child growing inside of Mary was placed there by the Holy Spirit. He also told him to name the child Jesus (which means Savior) because he would save His people from their sins.

    All of this points to the miraculous fact that Jesus was born to a virgin woman. That fact probably reminds you of something we recently read in Isaiah 7: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son.” You are not the only one who noticed this. Look at the next verses.

    b. Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy (Matthew 1:22-23).

    Matthew tells us that all of this happened to fulfill the prophesy found in Isaiah 7:14. He doesn’t talk about King Ahaz or the fall of nations because that part of the fulfillment had already taken place. Instead, he focuses on what was said in that one verse.

    • The virgin would be with child.
    • The virgin would bear a son.
    • The child would be named Immanuel.

    The first prophetic sign was an encouragement for God’s people to trust the Lord for deliverance from an enemy invader. The second prophetic sign was sent to show us that God had come to earth to be with us as a human child. Jesus, God’s only Son, came to earth to reveal God to man and to save His people from their sins. After his birth, Jesus grew and became a man. He lived a perfect life, cared for people, taught the multitudes, and eventually gave His life on the cross to save us from our sins and the judgment we deserve. All this was the fulfillment of a prophetic sign given by God some 700 years before the birth of Jesus.

Conclusion

Do you remember how Ahaz responded to God’s offer of a sign? He didn’t want a sign and didn’t want to believe what God was saying in the prophecy. This was a terrible way to respond to the loving God who wanted to show him kindness. And even after receiving God’s sign and hearing about what God would do, King Ahaz still turned to the Assyrian king for help instead of God. What a foolish decision after all that God had promised to do.

What about you? Today, God has shown you the fulfillment of the prophetic sign in Isaiah 7:14. God miraculously caused a young, virgin woman to conceive. She gave birth to God’s Son, Jesus. And He was the One sent to save you from your sins. My question to you today is this. Have you believed what God promised? Have you believed what God did? And have you believed in Jesus who came to save you from your sins?

If you have not, don’t follow the example of King Ahaz. Don’t ignore the sign given by God. Instead, turn from your sin and unbelief and trust in Jesus who died on the cross to pay the price for your sins. If you do, God will forgive you of your sins, save you from the coming judgment, and make you one of His children. Will you trust Him today?

Bibliography

* Note that The Abingdon Bible Commentary is a new book to me. I am reading with carefulness and discernment as I am unfamiliar with the writers. They sometimes include arguments from skeptics in their commentary. But other times they are right on with their comments.

Barbieri Jr., Louis A., “Matthew” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983, p. 20.

*Davies, J. Newton, “Matthew” in The Abingdon Bible Commentary, New York: Abingdon Press, 1929, pp. 957-58.

Constable, Thomas L., “2 Kings” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary Old Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1989, pp. 568-69.

Leupold, H. C., Exposition of Isaiah Volume I Chapters 1-39, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977, pp. 153-60.

Martin, John A., “Isaiah” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary Old Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1989, pp. 1046-1048.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. II, Joshua through Psalms, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982, pp. 335-36.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. III, Proverbs through Malachi, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982, pp. 211-15.

Morgan, G. Campbell, The Analyzed Bible Isaiah 1, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1910, reprinted 1984, pp. 50-54.

*Rogers, Robert W., “Isaiah” in The Abingdon Bible Commentary, New York: Abingdon Press, 1929, pp. 643-44.

How should a local church be governed?

This is my proposal for an update to our church’s doctrinal statement about the local church:

We believe that Jesus is the ultimate Head of the Church (Col. 1:12) and that the local church is to be led by qualified pastors/elders/overseers (1 Tim. 3:1-7; 1 Pet. 5:1-4) and cared for by qualified deacons (Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim. 3:8-13). We also believe that the local church should be self-governed (Matt. 18:15-17; Acts 6:5; 15:22) and free from the interference of any external hierarchy or organization. We believe that it can be good for local churches to cooperate with each other (Acts 15; Rom. 15:26) but that every church is the sole judge of the measure and method of its cooperation. On all matters of membership, policy, government, discipline, or benevolence, the will of the local church is final.