Remind Me

Matthew 11

Where is the darkest place you have been? So dark, you were scared to take a step? The most difficult place you’ve been? So difficult, you doubted? When have your dark, difficult, trying circumstances caused you to doubt what you previously knew to be true?

You are not alone. John has been there, too. Sometimes referred to as John the Baptist or the Baptizer for his message of repentance and baptism, John had faithfully worked for years. Known for his simple lifestyle, his ministry was not about him – but about the one who was to come – the Messiah. He had prepared the way for Jesus’ entrance. He had not taken the easy road. He had not backed down from authority. He continually stood for what was right and true – even when it landed him in prison. The ruling Herod didn’t appreciate John pointing out Herod’s many sins.

With his ministry and freedom taken from him, and his future in question, John had a lot of time to think in the darkness of his circumstances. Why? What if…? Was it worth it? Was this supposed to happen? Had he been right? Or wrong? We don’t know all the questions John asked in his prison cell. But, we do know the most important one. The one he needed an answer to. He sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3)

And Jesus answered. Restating the truth that John needed to hear again. Pulling up Old Testament scripture from Isaiah and giving evidence of how his own ministry lined up with what had been foretold: the blind see, the lame walk, the leper is cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the GOOD NEWS is preached to the poor (Matthew 11:5).

In our dark days and when we question what we knew to be true, we would do well to return to Jesus. Tell me again, Jesus. Give me proof of who you are. Read again who he is, what he has done, what he taught, what he did for me. The story of Jesus never gets old, but we do need to be reminded of what we know. And then we have the beautiful opportunity and mandate to tell others of what we have seen and heard.

In the rest of this chapter Jesus demonstrates that following him can be hard. People will criticize everything – our job is not to make people happy. There will be many unrepentant people (and cities) who do not accept the work that Jesus has done for them or the path that Jesus has laid out. Don’t be swayed, know that judgement will come and make sure you are on the right side. Stay close to the one who knows and reveals the Father. Jesus, the Son of God, is the only way. Work with him. Stay attached to Jesus. Take his yoke upon you (Matthew 11:29).

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 11

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 12:22-50 & Luke 11 as we are reminded again of the saving work of Jesus – and how he calls us to be yoked to him.

Jesus as a Child

Matthew 2, Luke 2:39-52

The Gospels describe only a few events associated with the childhood of Jesus. Considering the Greek word for “child” in Matthew 2:8, 11, and the fact that Herod sent to murder all the male children in Bethlehem that were 2 years old and younger, Jesus was months or even a year-old child when Gentile wise men came from the east to acknowledge the arrival of the King of the Jews.

What stands out in Matthew chapter 2 is the different reactions to the birth of the Messiah. The wise men asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” They came to honor the king. Most English translations have “worship” – but the word is often used in the Bible to designate proper respect and honor toward other human beings. These wise men represent Gentiles who acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah, the King of the Jews, and by extension, their own king.

Herod “the Great”, on the other hand, when he heard that these Gentile wise men thought the king of the Jews had been born – Herod was troubled. Ironically enough, Herod was called the “King of Jews” at the time. But he had been given that title by the Imperial Roman Government. He wasn’t born as a descendent of David and given the title by God. His anti-Christ murderous deed is emblematic of the high and mighty humans who refuse to acknowledge that Jesus is God’s chosen king.

The persecution and attempted murder of the King Messiah by Herod also is a parallel to the persecution of God’s chosen people Israel. Matthew quotes a passage from the prophet Jeremiah to illustrate the parallel. The nations opposed God’s work through God’s firstborn servant-son Israel. Even so they opposed God’s work through God’s ideal Israel, God’s servant-son Jesus.

And like Israel God’s son, Jesus God’s Son went to Egypt and was brought out of Egypt by God into the land of Israel. Note that the land was called “Israel” in Jesus’s day, not Palestine (Matt. 2:20, 21). Evoking the ancient name “Philistine”, Palestine was the name given to the land by the Romans 100 years later.

When Joseph, Mary and Jesus returned from Egypt, they originally intended to return to Judea (Bethlehem) since Jesus was technically a Judean of the line of David. But because of the murderous nature of the new ruler in Judea, they went to Galilee instead (cf. Matt. 2:22-23 and Luke 2:39. Luke doesn’t record Herod’s murders or Jesus’s travel to and from Egypt).

Luke describes one other event in the childhood of Jesus. When Jesus was 12 years old, he stayed behind in Jerusalem after the Passover festival. We can see that by this time Jesus knew he was the Messiah, who would relate to God as Father, according to the promise of God to David (2 Sam. 7:14, Psalm 2:7, 89:26).

The humanity of Jesus stands out in these events. There is no declaration, as traditional Christianity claims, of God who was born a human. Rather, “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).

-Bill Schlegel

Bill Schlegel is the author of the Satellite Bible Atlas and general editor of the One God Report podcast.

Bethlehem in Judah

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 2 & Luke 2:39-52

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 3, Mark 1 & Luke 3 as we continue on our Bible reading plan.

Some observations from 1 John, chapter 2

1 John 2 1

“From the beginning…”

 

The phrase “from the beginning” which was used in the first verse of the book (1 John 1:1), is used 5 more times in chapter 2. In John 1:1 “that which was from the beginning” was that which they had heard, seen and touched, “the word of life”. This “beginning” refers to Jesus the Messiah and his ministry on earth communicating God’s word, not to the beginning at creation. The occurrences of “from the beginning” in chapter 2 are verses 7, 13, 14, and 24 (two times). It is important to keep in mind that “from/in the beginning” in the Scriptures does not always refer to the Genesis creation.

 

Context must help determine which “beginning” is meant. For instance, in the Gospel of John, the phrase “from the beginning” does not usually refer to the creation, but to Jesus ministry on earth. Note these references:

  • “For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him” (John 6:65)
  • “So they said to him, ‘Who are you?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Just what I have been telling you from the beginning’” (John 8:25).
  • “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you” (John 16:24).
  • “And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning” (15:27).

In each case mentioned above, from the beginning means the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

With only two exceptions (John 8:44 and 1 John 3:8 which refer to the devil) “from the beginning” in the Gospel of John and in the Epistles of John (1 John 1:1; 2:7, 13, 14, 24; 3:11 and 2 John 1:5-6) refers to the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. This may help us understand “In the beginning…” of John 1:1. Some One God believers see John 1:1 as a reference to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Similarly, Luke mentioned “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” (Luke 1:2). Mark 1:1 mentions “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah.”

 

“My little children”

 

Several times the writer refers to those whom he writes as “my little children” or “children” (2:1, 12, 18, 28). This should not be understood as if the writer is derogatorily chastising his listeners for being immature. Rather, these references should be understood as a terms of endearment and care, just as when he calls his listeners “beloved” (1 John 2:7, 3:2, 21, 4:1, 7, 11). As children of God (3:1-2), those that believe that Jesus is the Christ are a family, brothers and sisters, who must love one another (5:1).

 

An Advocate with the Father

 

The writer explains that we do sin, but there is a path to forgiveness (1 John 1:8-10). He writes to us “so that we may not sin, but if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Jesus is our advocate, like a lawyer on our side. This should give us great encouragement. Jesus is the honest, righteous lawyer on our side. He is for us. As an expert lawyer, Jesus knows the rules. He knows how to take our case before the Father. He has access to the Father and successfully intercedes for us (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5 and Hebrews 8:1).

 

We lived in Israel and all our children were born there. Most countries do not grant citizenship to foreign children by virtue of being born in the country. Two of our young adult children applied to become citizens in Israel. They were denied several times over three years. However, not long ago a lawyer, an advocate, took up their case and presto, my children received their citizenship. The lawyer knew the rules, had the connections, authority and knowledge on how to present my children’s case, and succeeded. Jesus is our expert, righteous, successful advocate before the Father.

 

“Do not love the world…”

 

The author’s admonition to “not love the world or things of the world” are perhaps the best known verses of chapter 2 (vs. 15-17). He defines what “loving the world” is: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life. It is a love of the way of the world, or of this world’s system. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have an appreciation for the beauty and grandeur of God’s creation, the work of God’s hands, which is “very good” (Gen. 1:31). After all we wait for the regeneration of this world, and indeed the regeneration of this world’s system (Matt. 19:28, Heb. 2:5).

 

“The last hour”  and “anti-christs”

The author says it is the last hour. What a long hour it has been! He knows that it is the last hour since many anti-christs had already come. Specifically, here he says that the anti-Christ (anti-Messiah) is anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah). The text does not say, as many traditional trinitarian Christians say, that the anti-Messiah is anyone who denies that God is the Messiah, or that the Messiah pre-existed as God. Rather, the text says that the anti-Messiah is anyone who denies that Jesus, the man Jesus, is the Messiah. “Christ” (Messiah) is never a title for God himself.

 

Of these anti-christs, the author says: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us…” (1 John 2:19). It is easy to see how a text like this could be mis-interpreted and mis-applied. Especially as centuries passed, anyone could use the text to condemn any kind of a reformer. For instance, Catholics could apply it against Protestants.  Today it is leveled against anyone who denies that Jesus is God. But in its original context it was directed against anyone who denied that the man Jesus is the Christ (Messiah).

 

The promise of God – eternal life

1 John 2:25 says that God has promised us eternal life (immortal life in the age to come). We can take comfort and joy that God is pretty good at keeping His promises.

 

Having confidence, and not shrinking back in shame

 

1 John 2:28 says that if we abide in Jesus, that is, live according to knowledge of who he is, we can have confidence so that when he appears, at his coming, we won’t shrink back in shame. Since we know who Jesus is — the Messiah of God the Father, risen from the dead, exalted to God’s right hand, appointed to rule the world, we can look forward to his return. There is a similar admonition in Hebrews 10:39: “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls.”

-Bill Schlegel

Growing Christians

2 Peter 1

2 Peeter 1 5 7.png

The apostle Peter in his second letter to the churches encourages us and the early believers to exercise a life of righteousness  and to grow in those attributes on a continual basis.  The attributes or fruit that he refers to in verses 5-7 are the same fruits that are mentioned as the fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-25.  God by His spirit produces fruit in true believers.  By producing this fruit Christians stand out in humanity and shine when they display these attributes.  Even non-believers stand up and take notice of those people who demonstrate an extra amount of patience, or loving kindness, or those who do not loose their joy even in the face of dire circumstances.

Recently my mother went through her second diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.  I’ve seen the fruit of joy shine through her through this – even though she ended up losing a body part.  She has been a shining light to those around her – keeping her joy by not losing her sense of humor.  By being more concerned about others and their overall well-being rather than by wallowing in self-pity.  She has been continuing to bear fruit even in her circumstances.  Christians bear this kind of fruit and every good tree bears good fruit no matter what the circumstances.  Every tree is known by its fruit.  Peter is encouraging us and the early believers to continue to grow in bearing good fruit indicative of God’s spirit being multiplied within us.

In the last half of the chapter Peter fears that his time in instructing the believers will soon come to an end and he wants them to remember what is of most importance.  The important thing that he wants them to remember is that Jesus truly is the son of God  as was evidenced by him personally when the voice came from heaven declaring it so, and the importance of receiving Jesus as the promised Messiah.

In our walk with the Lord are we remembering what is most important and truly giving Christ first place in our hearts and minds as the son of God?  Are we allowing ourselves to be changed so that we continue to grow and produce good fruit by his spirit within us?  If we are not then we would do well to pay special attention to Peter’s words to the early church and apply them to our own hearts and lives as well.

-Merry Peterson

 

 

 

The Laughter was Far More Powerful

Romans Chapter 11 –
Paul completes his three chapter address of the fact that the Jews missed the Messiah here in chapter 11.  He emphasizes again that God did not completely reject Israel, for Paul himself is a Jew, and there is always going to be a remnant, until the entire nation will one day believe.

 

Verse 11 reads, “Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?  Not at all!  Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.”  This speaks to a great truth.  Very often, God is able to use transgressions or struggles in our own lives to bring about good.

 

My wife Susan and I have learned from mistakes in our marriage, and have shared those revelations with others.  I know of people who have wrestled with drug addiction who have then participated in programs to help others who are still wrestling.  In a very public example, Abby Johnson is a former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston, who came to the revelation that what was going on there was wrong, and began a ministry to combat abortion.  (There is a movie titled Unplanned opening in theaters this month about her experience.)

 

So, yes, things in our lives that we are not proud of can indeed be used for good and for God’s glory.  But Paul continues in verse 12, “But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater will their fullness bring!”  When we are fulfilling our purpose in Christ, that is when we are going to be used to our fullness!

 

greg 4This reminds me of the movie Monsters Inc.  You know the story.  The monsters snuck into kids rooms at night, in order to scare them and collect their screams. They then used the screams as a power source for the monster city.  Yes, it worked, but at a cost, and with a huge amount of effort.  But (spoiler alert) at the end of the movie, it was discovered that laughter was a far more powerful power source, that was much easier to collect.   Maybe this analogy is a stretch, but the point is that God would rather us make good choices (the laughter) and work with that instead of having to work with our mistakes (the screams.)

Speaking of analogies, Paul makes the analogy of Gentiles being a branch grafted onto the tree of Israel.  But he warns the Gentiles not to become arrogant or look down upon the Jews because they do not believe.  Paul says, “do not boast over those branches.  If you do, consider this:  You do not support the root, but the root supports you.”

 

There is a lot of anti-semitism in the world today.  New York City police records indicate that Jews are the most targeted group in regards to hate crimes.  There are many reasons for this hate, but let’s make sure we are not counted among the anti-semites of the world.  God is going to save a remnant of Israel in the last days.  I for one do not want to stand against God’s chosen people then or now.

 

Greg Landry