Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Matthew Series, Week 4 - Parallel Prophet

  Throughout history parallel’s can be made about many different figures. Take Abraham Lincoln and JFK for example. 

Both were elected to congress in [a year ending in] ’46 (Lincoln was elected in 1846 from Illinois, and Kennedy was elected in 1946 from Massachusetts).

Both were elected to the presidency in [a year ending in] ’60 (Lincoln was elected in 1860, and Kennedy was elected in 1960).

Both have seven letters in their last names ("Lincoln" and "Kennedy").

Both were concerned with civil rights (Lincoln with slavery and Kennedy with Civil Rights).

Both married in their 30s to women in their 20s (Lincoln was married on November 4, 1842, Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, making him 33 years old at the time of his wedding. Lincoln's bride, Mary Anne Todd, was born on December 13, 1818, making her 23 years old at the time of the wedding. Kennedy was married on September 12, 1953,Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917, making him 36 years old at the time of his wedding. Kennedy's bride, Jacqueline Bouvier, was born on July 28, 1929, making her 24 years old at the time of the wedding).

Both lost a son while living in the White House (Lincoln lost his 11-year-old son, William, and Kennedy lost his infant son, Patrick).

Both sons' names, have 21 letters each (William Wallace Lincoln and Patrick Bouvier Kennedy) with each having 7 letters each [of their own] (first, middle and last name).

Both were shot on a Friday (Lincoln was shot on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, and Kennedy was shot on Friday, November 22, 1963).

Both were killed with a bullet to the head. (Lincoln and Kennedy).

Both were shot in the presence of their wives. (Lincoln and Kennedy).

Both were assassinated by Southerners (Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth from Maryland, and Kennedy was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald from New Orleans, Louisiana).

Both of the presidents' successors were named Johnson (Lincoln was succeeded by Andrew Johnson, and Kennedy was succeeded by Lyndon B. Johnson).

Both were succeeded by Southerners (Andrew Johnson was from Tennessee, and Lyndon B. Johnson was from Texas).

Both successors were born in [a year ending in] ’08 (Andrew Johnson was born December 29, 1808, and Lyndon B. Johnson was born August 27, 1908).

Both assassins, are known by their three names (John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald).

Each assassin's full name is composed of fifteen letters.

[And each assassin was killed] before [they could be tried] (On April 26, 1865, after refusing to surrender, John Wilkes Booth was assassinated by Sergeant Boston Corbett. On November 24, 1963, on his way to the county jail, Lee Harvey Oswald was assassinated by night club owner, Jack Ruby.)” (Quote take from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln–Kennedy_coincidences_urban_legend) (Additional article - https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/06/06/fact-check-1964-lincoln-kennedy-comparisons-only-partly-accurate/5311926002/)

Parallels between people’s lives can be interesting to see. These parallel’s are events that we can look back on and wonder at the happenstance of it all. But what if the parallels between two lives was on purpose? What if one of the people actually predicted that there would be another who who would parallel their life? And what if later we could find someone that so closely does parallel their life, that there would be no doubt that it was a fulfillment?

This idea of parallel lives is what brings us back into our Matthew series. Where, instead of opening to Matthew first, we’re going to be opening to Deuteronomy chapter 18, starting in verse 15. And as we open up to Deuteronomy 18:15, let’s look back on our previous weeks. 

In our first week, we talked about understanding the human author that God used to bring about this Gospel. We walked away from week one with the understanding that when we better understand the human author God used, the better we understand some of the details and purposes of the writing as we read. We’ll see some of this today on how Matthew connects us back into the Old Testament.

In our second week we walked through some of the names in the genealogy that Matthew gave, and we noticed two things about it. We noticed that Jesus’ genealogy shows us the scope and connection of God’s salvation work. We saw this in who God used in Jesus’ genealogy to bring it about. We also saw the fulfillment of prophecy within the genealogy, both a blessing and a curse.

Then last week, we looked at the Old Testament way in which God communicated through dreams, noticing that Matthew lets us know that God was still using these in the life of Jesus. We walked away from last week with an understanding that dreams are still an important vehicle for God’s communication with humanity. In fact, God still uses dreams today to give insight to humans into divine revelation of his established salvation work. 

Now as we open up to the Scriptures this week, we’re going to be doing a lot of flipping around.  This is because, before we start moving our way through the rest of the book, we need to see one of the overarching themes in which Matthew is tying his writing to the Old Testament. If you remember, I had mention in our first week how there is a parallel between how Matthew structures his Gospel, and that of the book of Deuteronomy.

In Deuteronomy the structure of the book is made up of six speeches by Moses. Matthew structures his Gospel similarly by structuring it around five sermons of Jesus.  In addition to this, both Deuteronomy and Matthew both have an opening that is roughly four chapters long that gives us an introduction to how we got to our first speech/sermon. In Deuteronomy, it’s the history of Israel up to that point; while in Matthew we get how Jesus ties into Israel and how he begins his ministry.

But there’s more going on than Matthew simply tying together through the structure of his writing to Deuteronomy. There are two passages from Deuteronomy that Matthew shows fulfilled in his Gospel. First, let’s look at these two passages and then we’ll see how Matthew shows that they have been fulfilled. 

In Deuteronomy 18, we’re halfway through the book, and Moses is coming to the end of his life. Starting in verse 15, Moses gives hope to the people who are concerned about the future. Let’s start reading in Deuteronomy 18, starting in verse 15. “15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, ‘Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.’ 17 The Lord said to me: ‘What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.’”

This is an important passage because it gives the people an understanding of the future, that there’s a prophet like Moses to come. The implication of God’s Word here is that the prophet will be comparatively similar or an equivalent to Moses. This is a prophecy of a life that will be parallel to another. 

But even though Joshua was to take over for Moses, we get these final words at the end of the book in Deuteronomy 34:10-12, “10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.” This is important stuff, because no where in the Old Testament does another prophet arise that is given parallel status with Moses.

Now when we come to the Gospel of Matthew, Matthew shows us throughout his book that Jesus is in fact the prophet that Moses spoke about. He does this through a couple of different ways. The first way is by showing the observant reader these parallels through the actual life of Jesus. The second is by presenting the question, is Jesus the prophet, and then answering it. Let look at these two ways.

First, we’ll look at six parallels that Matthew shows us about Jesus, and how a Jewish person reading these words, would connect them back to Moses. We’re going to go in order of where they occur in the book of Matthew, and not necessarily in Moses’ life, so that we can see how many fall just within the first several chapters of the Gospel.

First, Matthew shows us in chapter 2, verses 13-15, that Jesus was carried away to Egypt to grow up for a time. Moses, as recorded in Exodus 2:1-15, also grew up in Egypt. Therefore both spent their young lives in the land of Egypt.

Next, in Matthew 2:16-18, we get the passage where King Herod sends out a proclamation that all the boys in Bethlehem and it’s surrounding region, who are two years and younger, are to be put to death. This parallels the situation in Exodus 1:8-2:10 that Moses was born into in Egypt, where the Pharaoh called for a similar killing of the Israelite male children. In both cases, both escaped the king’s infanticide.

Thirdly, at Jesus’ baptism in Matthew 3:13-17, we learn that the audible voice of the Father gives his stamp of approval on Jesus in front of the crowd. This parallels God’s stamp of approval on Moses in the presence of the nation of Israel, when God spoke from Mount Sinai in Exodus 19:16-20:21. So both were approved by God’s audible voice in front of others.

Right after this in Matthew 4:2, we find out that Jesus fasted for forty days. Moses did the same on Mount Sinai in Exodus 34:28. Now, this one isn’t a big parallel, but we must see, even in the little details, how Jesus’ life parallel’s Moses’. Matthew is being led by the Spirit to help us understand these connections, no matter how small.

The last two are big ones. In Matthew 5:1-7:29, we find out that Jesus goes up onto the side of a mountain and takes the people through a ten commandments like sermon. Moses of course did something similar in Exodus 34:29-35:1. Therefore a monumental moment in Moses’ ministry is paralleled in Jesus’ as well. Both speaking the commands of God from a mountain.

Finally, like Moses, Jesus performed miracles. This isn’t something that should be overlooked. And though there are many miracles that booth either performed or were perform by God in their presence, there is one that I think is extremely substantial. One of the major ones is done twice by Jesus. Once in Matthew 14:13-21, and later in the next chapter of 15:32-39. This miracle was the feeding of the 5,000 and later the 4,000. This bread miracle is a parallel to the miracle that happen as Moses led the Israelites in Exodus 16:14-15. This mana or bread from heaven is given to the Israelites and Jesus would actually pick this up in John 6:35 in his teaching. And so a miracle of bread occurs with both of these lives.

Now there are a lot more of these parallels throughout Matthew. And if we’re not paying attention, we might miss these parallels because we’re not as versed in the Old Testament as a Jewish reader would be. Nor is Moses as much of a significant figure in our minds as he would be to a Jewish person. But as a Jewish reader made their way through Matthew’s Gospel, they would pick up on these parallel between Jesus and Moses. And even though we might not be attuned to these parallels, we must make the effort to be observant of them.

In addition to these parallels, Matthew shows us a question that to a Jewish reader would be starting to form in their minds. He does this because the question was asked of Jesus in Matthew 11:3. Notice how a lot of the parallels we covered happen before the question. In this verse, the disciples of John the Baptist come to Jesus and ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Now, we’ll get into the whole situation when we come to it, but the one who is to come that they were looking for, was the prophet who was like Moses. We would better understand the word Messiah at this point, because that is the role of the prophet, to be a Messiah like Moses. But this next prophet or Messiah was to be greater than Moses, because he would be the Messiah. In answering this question, Jesus puts it back on the questioner to answer, by saying, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” In the same way, it is the reader that must answer the question, is Jesus really the prophet like Moses?

And as Matthew brings along his Jewish audience, he reveals the answer through another moment in Jesus life. This time it’s in Matthew 21:11, where Jesus is entering into Jerusalem, and the crowds cry out, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” With this proclamation, the answer is yes Jesus is the prophet like Moses. The prophet that who was prophesied about has now arrived and we must follow him.

But these are just some of the parallels that Matthew shows through his writing, there are much more. And not just in Matthew’s work, but throughout the New Testament, this parallel between Jesus and Moses is brought to the forefront. This is why Peter, in his second sermon brings up Moses’ prophecy in Acts 3:22 “For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you.’” Peter does this in the context of referring to Jesus.

These parallels and recognization of Jesus being the prophet that Moses spoke about confirms, in part, Jesus’ identity.

And it’s here where we need to tread lightly. Though Matthew helps us see that Jesus is the prophet that Moses spoke about, Matthew also reveals that Jesus is more than just a prophet in line with the other Old Testament prophets. This is one aspect of who Jesus is, he is the fulfillment of Moses’ prophecy, but Jesus is more than it. We must not fall into the trap that others, such as Islam has done, where Jesus is a mere prophet. No, in fact, in Jesus final words to his disciples in Matthew, Jesus reveals just who he is. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus says, “…All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

All authority is Jesus’. Jesus’ name is equal with the Father and Spirit’s. It is Jesus who gives the commands, and it is Jesus who will be with his disciples to the very end of the age. These all give us a greater insight into who Jesus is. He is the prophesied prophet, the Messiah, but he is also the eternal Son the God come down to humanity. He fulfills all prophecies about his first coming, and he is coming to fulfill all the prophecies of his second coming. And we must recognize who he is, just as Matthew is trying to help us do. Because if we don’t, we miss him. We miss out on his salvation work. We miss out on the life he died to bring us into. We miss out on his grace. And Matthew writes his Gospel, so that we will not miss out on who Jesus is.

And so, as we make our way through Matthew’s writing, we must see Jesus’ true identity. Each aspect, is shown by Matthew, to help us fully realize who Jesus is, and at the end do as his disciples did, bow down, worship him, putting our trust in him as our Savior and then following him for the rest of our lives.

So, my challenge for you this week is to look up three groups of passages. These are just some other parallels between Jesus and Moses. These groups of passages are: Numbers 13 & Matthew 10:1-15; Exodus 34:29-35 & Matthew 17:1-13; And Exodus 32:30 & Matthew 20:28. I want to challenge you to see how Jesus is a prophet like Moses. So that as we make our way through the rest of Matthew’s Gospel you will be better prepared to see Jesus’ work in light of the Old Testament.

Let us be a people open to the work of the Holy Spirit that brought about Matthew writing down God’s Word. Let us see it, as God intended it to be seen, as best we can. So that we can be solid in our footing, as we stand on the Word of God. Understanding the full identity of Jesus, the Messiah. Amen.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Matthew Series, Week 3 - Dream a Dream

  I’ve shared this story before, but over a decade ago I had this dream. I was sweeping out a garage of a house in a neighborhood. It was a house I had never lived in, but in the dream I knew it was my house. The driveway was sloped up to the garage, and I had just finished cleaning the whole thing out and making it look nice. It was a spring day, and the sun was out, but it wasn’t hot. That’s when I saw it, a snake making its way into the garage. I didn’t panic, but instead, started poking the snake with the broom in my hand. I played around with the snake for a while and then I woke up. In the moment I woke up God spoke to me and I knew the dream was more than just regular dream. I knew in that moment that the dream meant something more. The house was me, my life. It was cleaned out, and looked good, on both the outside and the inside. The snake was sin, and instead of getting rid of the snake as soon as I saw it, I played with it. This is where God revealed to me that though he had saved me and made me clean, I was playing with sin in my life. 

Since that moment, I have understood that God still gives dreams today that can reveal something that he desires us to know.

This brings us back into our Gospel of Matthew series where we’ll be picking it back up in Matthew chapter 1, starting in verse 18. And as we open up to Matthew 1:18, let’s recap our first two weeks in our series. 

So far in our Gospel of Matthew series, we’ve talked about understanding the background and history of the Scriptures. In the first week we talked about knowing the human author that God used to bring about this Gospel. We walked away with the understanding that by knowing more about the author, we can better understand the way in which he writes. Because Matthew was both a Jew and a close disciple to Jesus, we talked about how we need to understand the Jewishness of Jesus as we read through Matthew’s writing. 

In the second week we talked again about understanding the background and history of what has been written, because even though it’s easy to quickly overlook the genealogies that the Bible presents, they actually contain valuable insight into both the salvation work of God and the trustworthiness of God’s Word. 

With that fresh in our minds, let’s open up to Matthew chapter 1, starting in verse 18 and read together.

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

This passage is the start of the Christmas story in Matthew. But it’s approached differently than in Luke’s Gospel. In Luke’s Gospel the emphasis in on Mary, but in Matthew’s Gospel the emphasis in on Joseph. The reason for this is probably because we just got done reading through Jospeh’s genealogy. We are following the adopted father of Jesus’ story. This is one of the reasons why having multiple Gospel accounts is important. By having Matthew focus mostly on Jospeh, and Luke focusing mostly on Mary, we get a more well rounded account of the whole situation. In addition to that, we get insight into why Matthew focus’ on Jospeh; this is because the Hebrew line follows the male descendant. This plays into first born and inheritance practices for the Jewish culture. 

But what happens to Jospeh in this passage? A lot of the time we tend to focus on the angel’s words in verses 20 and 21 about a son being born to Mary even though she is a virgin. Then we follow up these words, by focusing on Matthew’s own commentary in verses 22 and 23, that what the angel said was a fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14. 

Because this part of the passage gets so much attention, due to its connection with Christmas, I think that a simple understanding that we can take away from it, is that that Matthew is, again, helping us understand that God fulfills his spoken word. We saw this in the genealogies, and we see it again here with Matthew taking time to reveal it to us. 

But it’s here that I think we need to notice something else that is happening. Matthew lets us know that Jospeh has this encounter with the angel in a dream. This is different than Mary’s encounter with an angel (Luke 1:26-38), where the angel physically shows up. This reveals something very important. See a lot of the time there tends to be a disconnect for us Christians between the Old and New Testaments. Our reading of the Bible tends to focus on the New Testament, and the idea can develop that it’s for us as Christians, and the Old Testament is for the Jews.

Yet what the Holy Spirit reveals here, is that God consistently works in similar fashion throughout history. Dreams are an extremely important way in the Old Testament by which divine proclamations, or insights are given to humanity. Mathew is showing us that God still is working through dreams, which helps connect the New Testament work of God to his work in the Old Testament.

Let me given a few examples of this work in the Old Testament.

In Genesis 20, Abraham meets a man by the name of Abimelek. Being that Abraham’s wife was really pretty, Abraham told Abimelek that she was his sister. This was to save Abraham from being killed and his wife being taken anyway. So the Scriptures say that Abimelek takes her, which literally means to have as a wife for the marriage bed. But before he consummates the marriage, God comes to Abimelek in a dream and we get this back and forth between the two starting in verse 3 of Genesis chapter 20. Let read through the encounter, “3 But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, ‘You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.’

“4 Now Abimelek had not gone near her, so he said, ‘Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? 5 Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.’

“6 Then God said to him in the dream, ‘Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. 7 Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all who belong to you will die.’”

Even though Abraham is deceitful in this moment, almost causing another man to sin against God, God intervenes through the dream to make sure that Abimelek did not sin. This is an example of God using dreams to give insight into a situation for a human’s benefit. 

Later on in the Bible, in the book of Judges chapter 7, Gideon is called by God to attack an army, but Gideon is afraid. So, God tells him to go to his servant’s tent and listen. And so, starting in verse 13 of Judges chapter 7, we get this, “13 Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. ‘I had a dream,’ he was saying. ‘A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.’ 14 His friend responded, ‘This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.’”

In the next verse we get Gideon’s response. “15 When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, ‘Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.’”

God sending a dream to the friend of Gideon’s servant, gave strength and confidence to Gideon as he was called out to battle. This is an example of divine revelation being given out, so that encouragement could occur for the people that God called to action.

The final Old Testament example I want to given you is in 1st Kings chapter 3. Early in the life of Solomon, God came to him in a dream and had this interaction, “5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you.’

“6 Solomon answered, ‘You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

7 “‘Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?’

“10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, ‘Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.’”

In this dream, God comes to the new king of Israel and asks him what blessing would he like from God. Solomon asks for wisdom, and because he does, God blesses him with wealth and honor greater than any king living at that time. In this dream we see God using it as a point of interaction where he gives out a blessing on a human. 

In each of these situations, God uses dreams to bring about different outcomes. For one it was so he wouldn’t sin, for another it was for encouragement, and for another it was a blessing. These are just some of the instances of God using dreams. We haven’t even mentioned the dream and interpretations of both Jospeh and Daniel, or the other dreams that are given in the Old Testament. 

We must understand dreams are an important Old Testament vehicle, in which God reveals divine proclamations, or gives insights to humanity. And here in Matthew’s opening chapter, we see that God again is using this Old Testament device to reveal something to Jospeh. In fact, Matthew’s Gospel is the only place in the New Testament that we get God revealing things by dreams. In other parts of the New Testament we see that God uses another vehicle of revelation called visions. The basic difference between the two, is that your awake for a vision and asleep for a dream. 

It’s only in Matthew’s Gospel where we get revelation by way of dreams. Jospeh gets four dreams himself. First, the one we read about taking Mary to be his wife. Then in chapter two we get the need to escape from Egypt (v.12), the return from Egypt (v.19) and the need to live in Galilee (v. 22). In addition to Jospeh receiving dreams, two other parties receive dreams as well. The first is the Magi in chapter 2 verse 12, and the second is Pilate’s wife in chapter 27 verse 9. God gives these dreams at the beginning and end of Jesus’ life.  And these dreams are give to non-Jewish people, showing us, like in the genealogies, that God’s salvation work is for all of humanity. 

The only two times that dreams are mentioned again in the New Testament is once by Peter in Acts 2:1, where he tells the people that God gives dreams as a part of God’s pouring out his Spirit on his people. The other time is when Jude writes a warning to the Church that tells them to be on the lookout for people who relay on false dreams to push their agendas (1:8).

By showing us that dreams were a part of Jesus’ birth story, Matthew helps us understand that God’s work in the Old Testament, is carried over into the New Testament. That what we divide into two Testaments is one overarching story of God’s work to bring humanity out of its sin and back to its Creator. 

This should give us a moment of pause, to examine ourselves and ask do I do this? Do I separate the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament from each other. Do I look at the Old Testament as something that isn’t of value? We must realize that the God of the Old, is the God of the New. 

It’s easy to separate the work of God form the Old and New Testaments, but all of God’s Word and work is for our benefit, and we must recognize that it all works together.

Paul states in 2nd Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

When Paul writes this, the Scriptures he’s referring to are the Old Testament Scriptures. And Matthew shows us that there is no disconnect between the two. He does this through showing us the fulfillment of prophecy, and through the work of God in dreams.  

This week I want to challenge you to read through the dream accounts of Jospeh (Genesis 37-41) and Daniel (1-7), comparing and contrasting what God was doing in each of the dreams, and how God brings about his divine proclamations and insights to humanity.

Let us be people who seek the work of God in our own lives. The work that he has been doing since the beginning of time and into today. Amen.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Matthew Series, Week 2 - The Ancestry

  How many of you have a paper, or a book, or something like it that tells your family tree? Personal my family doesn’t have such a thing that I know of. In fact in my family, our extended family isn’t something that we have a lot of contact with. For a good chunk of my life all I knew was one of my grandfathers and a few cousins. There’s a lot of hurt and family issues that lead to my core family not having a lot to do with my extended family, so the family tree wasn’t a big deal growing up. But there are people that have an extended family trees that they can trace back hundreds of years. 

In fact, the trend of online groups that will help you look for connections in your family tree has only grown in the past decade. Places like Ancestry.com, 23 and me, and a host of others seek to help people connect with their ancestry. 

And it’s this idea of family trees, or as the Bible puts it genealogies, that brings us back into our Matthew series, where we’re going to jump into our first week of studying the book. So let’s start at Matthew chapter 1 verse 1. Now as we start in chapter 1 of Matthew, this is probably the first or second most skipped over section of Scripture in the New Testament. The only other one that could beat it, is Luke chapter 3, which is another genealogy of Jesus. And I think the reason that we tend to skip over genealogies is that in our culture, extensive genealogies aren’t that interesting. Instead we’re interested in the highlights of family trees. 

Take me for example, I know very little about both sides of my parents’ lineage. I’ve been told that we get our last name from a piece of land in England called Holcomb, that was taken by William the Conquer. I’ve been told that on my dad’s mom’s side that when the Scotts were fighting the English, an Irishman came over to help and was given the land of Buchanan as a thank you. To which I am related to the 15th President of the United States, James Buchanan. And all I know of my heritage on my mom’s side, is that my grandfather is from the island of Madeira off the Portugal coast, hence his last name was Maderios. There’s a little more, but that’s about it. Just some highlights.

Now, for us as individuals, our ancestry might be really interesting, but for others, maybe not so much. And I think that’s why we just want to hit the highlights, and skip over the things that don’t seem all that important. But for the Bible, genealogies are extremely important, because they set the historical background of how and through whom, things come about. And as we saw from last week, the understanding of the historical background of the Bible, helps us better understand just what God intended us to know.

So as we jump into Matthew chapter 1, verses 1-17, the way we’re going to approach this is by hitting some highlights of the genealogy and how God put it together. Hopefully by the end of today, you’ll see the importance of it, and dive deeper into for yourselves this week.

Now, we’re not going to read through the whole thing for two reasons: first, time and the second, you don’t need to see how good I am at saying biblical names. I don’t want to make others feel bad on how good I am, and how poor some of these scholars are in how they pronounce these names. So instead, will hit some especially important names and how Matthew ties all of this together. 

But first I want us to drop down to verse 17 and read this verse, so we can get it out of the way quickly. Verse 17 reads, “Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.”

Here’s the reality, technically speaking, there are more than fourteen generations between each of these. In Hebrew numbering, round numbers are ideal. For a modern example, when I go out to eat, to figure up the tip, I round up to the nearest dollar amount and then proceed to figure out what 10% is, then I double that to get 20% and from there I decide if I want to go up more. Round numbers make things easier, and the Hebrews were all about making things easier. This is referred to as idealized numbers. So Matthew is using a common Hebrew way of dividing three eras of genealogies into acceptable Hebrew numbering. The three eras that Matthew divides Jesus’ genealogy into are, theocracy, monarchy, hierarchy. 

Now let’s highlight some of the names that Matthew gives us. The first four are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah. These first four names establish Jesus all the way to the patriarchs of the Hebrew people. This lets the reader know that Jesus can trace his linage all the way back to Abraham through the fourth son of Jacob, which is Judah. This is important, because it brings us to the root of the Hebrew people in Abraham, and gives us Jesus’ tribal heritage in the person of Judah.  

But then we get a strange name, Tamar. This is the first of four names of women that Matthew sights, which isn’t customary to see in a Hebrew genealogy. Since this isn’t customary, we need to realize that the inclusion of these women is very important for both Jesus’ heritage and God’s overall plan. So let’s talk about each of the four women.

In Genesis 38, we get Tamar’s Story. Tamar was given as a wife to Judah’s oldest son Er. Er died without any sons, and as custom Tamar was given to the next oldest son. The next son died, again with no heirs, so Judah the father promised his third son to Tamar when he was old enough, but never delivered on this promise. Years later Tamar indulged Judah’s lust and slept with him, without him knowing that it was his daughter-in-law. Later when Judah heard that Tamar had prostituted herself and became pregnant, he became indignant and order that she be killed. That’s when Tamar revealed that it was Judah who was the one she prostituted herself to, and became pregnant by. In the biblical account, Judah makes this comment, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah (shell-a) (Genesis 38:26).” Tamar eventually gives birth to twins, with the first being Perez (Pee-rez), Jesus’ ancestor.

The next woman is Rahab, and we get her story in the second chapter of Joshua. Rahab was a prostitute in the city of Jericho when two Israelite spies came to gather intel on the city. Rehab recognized that the God of Israel was going to give victory to the Hebrews over her city, and so she helped keep them safe from the guards that were looking for them. Rehab and her entire family was saved, and brought into the nation of Israel as the wife of Salmon (Sa-mon).

Our third woman is Ruth and her story is told through an entire book of the Bible, the Book of Ruth: A woman named Naomi, her husband and two sons went to the land of Moab during a great famine in Israel. Naomi’s husband died and she married her two sons to two Moabite women. After ten years, the two sons died without heirs, and she released her daughter-in-laws to return to their families, and she would be returning to hers. Ruth decided to stay with her mother-in-law and worked as she could as a poor widow in the grain fields. Eventually she befriended and married a man named Boaz, an Israelite man and family member to her deceased husband.

Finally, we’re given the last woman’s name as, Uriah’s Wife, which is Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11. It’s interesting that Matthew doesn’t give us her direct name. I think this might be Matthew emphasizing the way in which her son Solomon came to be born. The story goes as, King David did not go to off to war with his army and instead stayed behind in his palace. One night he saw a woman bathing on her roof, he sent for her, slept with her, and she became pregnant. To cover all this up, David tried to get the woman’s husband Uriah, to come back from war and sleep with her. But he refused and David sent him to the front lines where he was killed. David took Bathsheba as his wife, and their first baby died. Their second child was Solomon, who became the king after David.

These four woman show us God’s redemptive work, not just for the nation of Israel, but for the world as a whole. Tamar was more than likely a Canaanite woman and not a Hebrew, but Rahab and Ruth definitely were not Hebrew woman. God’s intentional inclusion to make these women a part of Jesus’ linage, points to the inclusion of God’s work for not just the Hebrew people, but all peoples. Bathsheba being included, speaks to God’s redemption of our sin. Thereby pointing us to this understanding that no matter who you are, or what you’ve done, salvation is available for you. This makes the words of Paul in Romans 8:28, all the more poignant. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

God purposefully placed these women in the linage of Jesus, leading Matthew to include them uncustomary in this genealogy so that we may see the redemptive work of God in every aspect of Jesus’ life, even his family tree.

One finally highlight we need to see are some of the kings mentioned. I want to point out two briefly. There’s David, and Jechoniah (Jek-o-niah). What’s important here is David’s line. In 2 Samuel 7:16, God tells David, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” And in Jeremiah 23:5-6, God states through the prophet, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’”

In both these prophetic passages of the coming Messiah, God reveals that the Messiah must be in David’s line. But there’s a problem, Jechoniah. Jechoniah inherited the kingdom of Judah from his father, who lost a war against King Nebuchadnezzar, through which the father became a vassal king of Babylon. Eventually though, the father rebelled against Babylon, won a brief independence, but died soon after. Jechoniah took the throne at age eighteen and the Scriptures tell us in 2 Kings 24:9 that, “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father had done.” Within three months of Jechoniah’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar came, took back Jerusalem for himself, and brought the line of David into captivity, officially ending the Israelite monarchy. This is where the prophet Jeremiah prophesies these words in chapter 22 of his book, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah (Jeremiah 22:30).’” 

How can God both give David’s throne to a descendant and keep it from his offspring at the same time? God does this in two ways. First, Jospeh adopts Jesus, therefore Jesus is not a biological son. This fulfills the curse on Jechoniah’s line. The second way that God fulfills this is through Jospeh’s other half of his linage. In Luke 3:31 we’re told that Joseph is also connected to David through David’s son Nathan. On the one hand the curse is fulfilled in Jesus, because of his adoption, and on the other hand, Jesus fulfills the promise of God that a descendant of David would be the Messiah. In both cases, both through Jechoniah and Nathan, God fulfills his curse and his promise. 

In just what we have highlighted today, we can walk away with two reasons why the genealogies of the Bible are important. First, it gives us insight into the redemptive work of God throughout the ages. Every person that God writes down in his word, is a person that had some role in bringing about his salvation work. Some of those people followed God closely as Uzziah did; others did horrible things like Rehoboam. Yet, God worked through both to bring about his salvation work through Jesus. This should give us a realization that I am responsible for my own walk with God. I can learn from those who have come before me, and I can set an example for those that will come after me, but in the end, I must chose for myself to follow God.

The second reason why genealogies are important, is that is shows us God’s trustworthiness. God uses genealogies to connect people throughout time to show how a promise given to one, is fulfilled in another. In Jesus we see both a curse and a promise fulfilled in his genealogy. This should help us trust in God’s Word all the more. That what he says will come to pass, does. So when God says we are sinners, that’s true. When God says we can’t do enough good to fix our sin, he’s right. And when God’s Word says we need to accept Jesus as our Savior and walk with him, he’s trustworthy and we must. 

The genealogies in God’s Word open up a window to the salvation work of God throughout the centuries. So this week I want to challenge you to go through each of the names in Matthew 1:1-16 and discover who these people are. People God used to bring about Jesus. As you learn about each, be on the lookout to see how each was used in God’s salvation work. There are about 40 names listed in Jesus’ genealogy, which by the way is an interesting fact on its own, so I want to challenge you to research at least ten of those names apart from the ones we talked about today.

Because even though it’s hard to read through the genealogies given in Scripture, they are threads that connect the work of God through the centuries. Let us be a people that honor those that have come before us, because like them, if we have placed our trust in Jesus as our Savior, we are a name in the genealogy of Jesus, adopted sons and daughters in the line of the King. Amen.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Matthew Series, Week 1 - The Author

  One of my favorite series of books are the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. In fact, I love the whole world that Tolkien created. From Hobbiton to Mordor, to the Western shores, I love the depth of the lore and world building that the books contain. In fact I’ve read all the published books of Tolkien and some of the books that were prepared by his family through his notes. I’ve also listened to lectures on the background of how Tolkien brought together his world. From the lush country sides of England’s rolling hills for Hobbiton, to the smoke towers of London for Mordor. The world that surrounded Tolkien became the world that Bilbo and Frodo lived in. 

It’s the same for all great writers. The more you know about the author, the greater insight into their writings you get. From John Bunyan’s time spent in prison because he stood firm in his Christian faith coming out in Pilgrim’s Progress, to C.S. Lewis’ fascination with ancient myths that come alive in his Chronicles of Narnia series. The author behind the writings, gives insight into the writings themselves. 

And it’s this idea of knowing the person behind the writings that brings us to our summer series where we are going to be taking this summer, and most likely next summer, to go through the Gospel of Matthew. I say we might be taking two summers to go through Matthew, because it took us two summers to go through the Gospel of Mark. Mark only contains sixteen chapters, while Mathew has 28. 

As we open up into Matthew, for some of you, today might feel a little unneeded. We’re going to take this week so that we can walk through the background of the Gospel of Matthew. We’re doing this so that we can have a better understanding of the Gospel as we make our way through it. At first this might seem like a waste of time, but by the end, I hope that you will see why this is so necessary.

First, let’s talk about the author. In the book Ecclesiastical History the historian Eusebius quotes an early church father named Origen. Origen lived toward the end of the second century and is quoted as saying, “Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who was once a publican, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts of Judaism (6:25).”

Though the author of the Gospel of Matthew never states their name, since the second century the Church has held that not only was the Apostle Matthew the author, but it was the first of all the Gospels written. Without getting into all the scholarly work, we just need to know that even today, Matthew is the accepted author of the writing. He has all the necessary qualifications to write the account, being a tax collector for Rome and the insight needed to tell the story, being both a Jew and an eyewitness to the events.

Understanding that Matthew is the author helps us place the writing of the Gospel. Matthew is traditionally said to have died in the city of Nadabah, in Ethiopia, around 60AD (https://overviewbible.com/how-did-the-apostles-die/). That means that the latest we can have the writing would be 60AD; with scholars placing it earlier roughly between 50-55AD.

Knowing that Matthew is the author also helps us understand the purpose behind the writing. As we read from Eusebius earlier, Origen states that the the purpose was to help Jewish converts to Christianity. And as we walk through the Gospel of Matthew we will see the hard work that Matthew has done to bring out the Jewishness of Jesus. A reader of the Gospel cannot not miss the Jesus who is both the Savior of humanity from sin, and the long awaited Jewish Messiah of the Old Testament. Every verse of Matthew’s Gospel brings out the fulfillment of the Old Testament in the person of Jesus. From the opening genealogy to the final commission. Each page contains the bridge from the God at work in Israel’s past, to how he worked through the person of Jesus, and how that work is to continue into the future.

In fact, Matthew not only shows how the Old Testament is fulfilled in Jesus, he organizes his Gospel in line with the writings of the Old Testament. A parallel in how Matthew structures his writing can be found in the book of Deuteronomy. Matthew structures his Gospel around five primary discourses or sermons that Jesus gives. This is fashioned after the six sermons of Moses that the book of Deuteronomy is structured around. The purposeful connection in structure with a Mosaic book, is just another way Matthew brings out the fulfillment of the Jewish Messiah in Jesus. 

Finally, let’s touch briefly on the place that Matthew wrote his Gospel. Some scholars place the writing in Antioch, which was the first heavily non-Jewish church of the region. This is possible because Antioch had some problems with Jewish believers trying to get the Gentiles to follow the Jewish law and customs. This could have been a reason for Matthew to sit down and show how Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the law, which in turn would help the Jewish believers let go of the traditions that were no longer necessary as they pursued the grace of Jesus that was the fulfillment of the law of Moses. Because of this we can understand that by Jesus fulfilling the Old Testament Law, the grace of God is better seen in our own lives. As Matthew walks us through, point by point, the requirements of the law, we see how great the grace of God is through the cross at the end. 

But why did we just take a good portion of our time to look at the background of Matthew? Something that is very easy to do is to forget that God purposefully used certain people, at certain times, in certain places, to communicate his Word. Because of that, we must try to keep the books of the Bible in their rightful place. Matthew needs to be understood in the moment of time it was written. We cannot approach any part of Scripture from our own point in history, because when we do, there’s the good chance that we will read things into the text that were never intended to be there. If we do not try and place the Scripture in the time that God ordained it to be written in, we can make the writing say anything we want to. 

Let me give you a recent example. In Genesis 3:1-4 we get this interaction between Eve and the serpent, “1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”’ 2 The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.”’ 4 ‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. 5 ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’”

The common interpretation of this passage is that the death that God is speaking about is not instantaneous death. In other words, God’s intention, when he says, “…you will certainly die (Genesis 2:17b)…” is not that Adam and Eve would die immediately upon eating the fruit of the tree; as if one bite would drop them down dead.

But in a sermon given on February 25 in 2018 a man by the name of Branden Robertson takes this interaction and says that because Eve didn’t instantaneously die, that the serpent was telling the truth and God was the liar (https://vimeo.com/257414376). Robertson interprets this passage with God being the liar, because later on in his sermon, he makes the idea of truth, mean whatever we personally want it to mean. But his interpretation flies in the face of other Scripture passages such as Numbers 23:19 where Moses states, “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” Or Titus 1:2 where Paul states, “…in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time…”

But Robertson has an agenda that must be upheld at all cost, and to do so, he must change the interpretation of God’s Word to fit his beliefs. We must stay away from this. So, even before we jump into the Gospel of Matthew, let’s put it where God placed it.

When we understand the Scriptures as God placed them, by understanding the who, what, when, where, why, and how of it, then we will be better prepared to understand how God’s Word applies to our lives today.

In chapter 4 of Hebrews, the writer says this about God’s Word, “12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

One of God’s purposes for his Word is to help us come closer to him. God’s Word divides us from the world and all its trappings, so that we are brought into conformity with God’s will. But in order for God’s Word to work the way he intended it, we must allow it to speak for itself. I don’t know if you had this issue with kids, but we would constantly be telling our daughters not to speak for our son. That he needed to speak for himself so that we could understand what he wanted or needed. It’s the same with God’s Word. We must not manipulate the Word of God with our preconceived 21st century thoughts, but rather understand it the way God intended it. If we can do that, we will be transformed by it into the people that God created us to be. 

This week I want to challenge you to explore who Matthew is. Who is this man that God used to write this Gospel that we will be studying for the next two summers. A couple of places to read about Matthew is in Mark 2:1-17, and Luke 5:27-32. An interesting thing is, Matthew doesn’t tell us his own conversation story. One reason I think this is, is because Matthew’s emphasis is on the Jewish Messiah, and him being a take collector for the Romans might detract from that. 

But take this week and learn about Matthew from his conversion story, in the other Gospels so that when we come back next week, we’re ready to dive into his Gospel with a better understanding of who God used to write this part of his Word, for the purposes that we will explore.

In doing this, we will be a people brought closer to Christ and more inline with his will. Amen.