Following His Footsteps: “Starting Block” – Matthew 3-4; John 1

sprinterI am no sprinter, and I have never won a foot race on any track, anywhere – at least that I can recall. Like most of you, I am a sports fan – but I am no sports man. As such, I watch the athleticism of younger men and women, and feel the absolute right to comment on their technique as I watch – though I couldn’t begin to fathom the sacrifice involved in their preparation, nor would my body be able to do any of my suggested moves were I in their place. As a fan of many sports and a master of exactly none – I offer this amateur observation that I have observed: The race is often determined in the moment after the starting gun. The right positioning on the “starting block” often proves to be a supreme advantage. Getting started with strength and stability seems, at least from the view from my cushioned recliner (watching on television) an essential step toward winning. It seems that beginning well is important. It isn’t everything, but it is significant. Yet, I am not thinking primarily about sports…In our lesson I am thinking about how the earth ministry of Jesus began.

The earthly ministry of our Savior as recorded in the Gospels took place over two thousand years ago, and lasted a mere three to four years long. During that time, Jesus became popular and selected His disciples. I marvel that God’s invasion of His fallen planet was pressed into a few short years and took place in one small area of the globe – on a planet in one corner of one galaxy – yet His work is transforming the whole cosmos. What began as a work of human rescue and salvation, will not see its completion until the final transformation when all things that are made new. Our question to consider is this: “How did Jesus begin His ministry?” What were the very first moments of God’s reclamation of creation like? How did that beginning offer a portent of the whole ministry? In the simplest terms, the early record of Jesus’ ministry emphasized three aspects of ministry that would dominate the whole work…

Key Principle: The work of ministry is about three things: God’s call – selecting us for His work, the enemy’s obstruction – attempting to distract us from the assignment and the prime objective of building disciples in the midst of the battle.

Yes, we are referring to the opening of the ministry of Jesus. At the same time, the ministry we have been given is a continuation of the same priorities. We need not redeem man, but the message of that completed redemption IS in our hands, empowered by His Spirit. The record of the opening of Jesus’ ministry will help us define three issues:

• What is required to begin a work for God?
• What resistance should we expect when we begin to work out our ministry?
• What is the chief focus of ministry?

When I use the term “ministry”, I am not thinking in some professional sense, but in this way: “Ministry is using God’s power to accomplish God’s purpose in God’s way, according to God’s stated priorities.” Ministry is the LIFE of the follower of Jesus. We have the incredible privilege to live in service to Jesus – and to serve Him by serving others. Let’s look into the passages that share how Jesus began the work.

The Presentation of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17; Mk. 1:9-11 and Lk. 3:21-23)

In the story of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He was announced as the Deliverer at His baptism in the Jordan by His cousin John. As we look at the scene, ask yourself this question: “What is required to begin a life of service to our Father in Heaven?” In the case of Jesus, His ministry began with a CALL that acted in His case as a public endorsement – so that a handful of those who would follow Jesus had a stunning awakening to His presence. It was a shocking, verbal affirmation from Heaven:

Matthew 3:13 Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan [coming] to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 15 But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit [it] at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him. 16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove [and] lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

It is clear in the text that the baptism by John was God the Father’s announcement that Jesus had prepared well for the work to come, and that He was ready to commence His redemptive work. Yet, that was admittedly a unique feature that was designed for Jesus. Should I anticipate that God will open Heaven and make such a display for me as I begin to serve Him? No! Yet, there is an example here we should observe that is instructive for us…

First, notice in Matthew 3:13 that Jesus recognized the work God was already doing, and went to John’s baptism site. He didn’t forge off on His own, but began with a place that God was already moving in hearts, and where God’s Word was already being represented. Ministry and service for God isn’t about you “doing it all right on a path of your own”. Your call to ministry adds you to a team that has already been at work. You are JOINING A TEAM, not establishing the beginning of God’s work on earth. I am concerned about those who view themselves as so self-important they cannot place themselves in a position of “team” at all.

Second, John’s response to Jesus in Matthew 3:14 reminds us of the kind of ministry we should seek out when we want to be a part of God’s work on a team – a ministry that acknowledges the supremacy of Jesus. We need to expect ministry to do more than good works for helpless people. Pagans can fill soup bowls. We need to recognize that real ministry exalts Jesus, and recognizes His unique position as the Eternal Son of God. Good works are important but proper worship at the center of any ministry is essential for those works to have the right meaning.

Third, Matthew 3:15 reminds us that a proper ministry follows the Word of God. John’s thoughts were reverent but Jesus’ commands were Biblical. Jesus called the play, and John executed it as called – because that is what ministry is supposed to do. We go where Jesus points.

Finally, an essential point for our call to ministry is this: God sets us aside to do the work He gives us. It begins with His affirmation. Because Matthew 3:16-17 are so unique to Jesus, it is easy to obscure this point. I am not suggesting that God will open Heaven for us before a host of our friends and exclaim that we are called to do a work for Him. What I am saying is this: God will affirm your careful preparation, and God will call you to accomplish things for Him if you open yourself to His desires. The most frustrated believer is one who has a sense of duty without knowledge of God’s calling. God waits to be asked, and waits to be wanted.

Jesus began by going to where God was already working – a place where the Word of God was being explained and the priority of God was being fleshed out. He stood in the water and God affirmed the beginning of His earth ministry in a formal way. You may not see a light from Heaven, but if you yield the balance of your life to your Heavenly Father – He will acknowledge that in your life. He will show it to others. He will affirm that you are following His call.

The story is told of a time when Henry Ford was riding through the Michigan countryside and happened upon a man who was beside the road trying to get his “Model T” working again. The problem was not severe, but the man had no earthly idea how to get it working properly. Ford pulled over his car and jumped out of the driver’s seat. He asked the man if he could help. The man was very open to assistance, and Ford had the car purring in minutes. “What a miracle worker you are!” exclaimed the man. “Not really”, said Ford. “I am the designer of the automobile, so I know how it works.”

That makes obvious sense to anyone who hears of the story. Yet, think about it: People spend their lives searching for answers to make life work, but won’t take their broken lives to the Designer of life. If you do – expect more than restoration – expect a mission. Expect a call. God starts at the point that we surrender to Him – and then He moves us into things we NEVER could have imagined.

Ministry (“using God’s power to accomplish God’s purpose in God’s way, according to God’s stated priorities”) begins with our surrender and God’s affirming call… but that is just the beginning.

By the way, was God’s affirmation from Heaven recognized as an important event years after? Yes, indeed! Hebrews 1 opened with the argument of Jesus’ position based on that day:

Hebrews 1:1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world…5 For to which of the angels did He ever say, “YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU”? And again, “I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME”?

Jesus went to the right place with the right heart and right preparation – but God exalted Him and marked His life. You are not the Redeemer – but God will do the same for you. If you offer Him your life, He will affirm your choice, empower your work and attract others to you. That is the beginning place for your work to accomplish His purposes. When you do that, however, be warned… the complications of life are about to hit you…

The Problem for Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11; Mk. 1:12-13 and Lk. 4:1-13)

Affirmation and accomplishment are exciting to talk about, but they come at a price. God affirms and Satan attacks. If you have walked with God, I need say little about this to you. Let me address the one who is at the beginning of their road of surrendered heart and accomplished ministry. Look carefully at the words that mark out the work of TEMPTATION in our lives:

Matthew 4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 4 But He answered and said, “It is written, MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'” 5 Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU’; and ‘ON [their] HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.'” 7 Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'” 8 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'” 11 Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and [began] to minister to Him.

Look at the pattern – because it will become familiar if you follow God:

First, don’t ignore that temptation came while Jesus was led by the Spirit – it cannot be avoided by a walk with God because it is part of the walk (4:1a). We will pass into tempting situations and experiences. God will not forsake us, but He will not block all temptation from coming our way. He will do so at strategic times to protect us – and then expect we will use the armor He provided (Eph. 6:10-20) for the other times. God expects a believer to be wise, prepared and disciplined in areas of temptation.

Second, though not all temptation is directly from the enemy, it all originates with him and can be linked to his person and attitude of rebellion (4:1b). The devil isn’t interested in rebelling alone. He wants a degraded audience, destroying their lives beside him. He is at work in our day, “the prince of the power of the air” warping our world’s sense of justice to defend perversion as a right and convenience killing as a social necessity. He is laughing as we indulge in entertainments that enrich our rebellion while proclaiming Jesus as our Savior. He is very much behind the things tugging you away from a surrendered heart before God.

Third, temptation is most effective when we are at a position of need and in a state of dormancy (4:2). Matthew recorded in some detail the specific instance of the temptation of Jesus by His enemy – so that we would learn the pattern:

• The tempter began by questioning truth (“if you are the Son of God”) and raising Jesus’ attentiveness to His own hungry desires (“turn these stones to bread”). This was a call to self-absorbed thinking – focusing more on a desire or need than on careful obedience to His Father.

Here is the great tragedy of America. When the post mortem is done on how the west fell, it will show, I am confident, that a paganization of education was at the core of the fall. Instead of using God’s Word as the foundation of truth – we have deliberately replaced the truth with unending questions and bold assertions that such truths do not really exist. As we quadruple our social services budgets and clog the system with an unending number of dysfunctional people, we will see the error of that way. People cannot get life together when they don’t have a truth foundation to put it on. When any nation is taught to focus on fulfilling their desires without the balancing truth of taking joy from wholly serving their Creator – they lose their way.

• The second phase of the tempter’s work attempted to draw the Master into “proving” to the enemy His rightful position while using “half-truths” and “partial quotes” of the Word to do so. This was a call to self-reliant thinking – focusing more on one’s position and ability than on the pleasure of our Heavenly Father with our lives.

Here the enemy didn’t want to change WHO Jesus was, but rather try to focus Jesus on Himself rather than on His Father – for Whom the whole mission was conceived. Jesus was here for His Father’s joy – and focus on Who He is was a distraction from that chief end. Satan is a master at pulling our eyes from the MOST IMPORTANT to the LESSER THINGS – and once our eyes are following his prompting, he will pull our attention into rebellion. Jesus would have none of it. Even as the Eternal Son of God – He knew His call was to serve His Father, and keep His attention on that as His chief joy.

I wonder how many believers have been trained to think this way. Have we really instilled in those we disciple that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him in the process? The message of modern Christianity often sounds like the tempter’s voice: “Come to Jesus and YOU will find fulfillment and happiness.” Even though the words are true, can we not see that they beckon us to get Jesus for our own purposes – and not to surrender our lives to HIS? We must be careful about this, for how we motivate people will show up later in the discipleship process.

• The third phase of the temptation was all about exaltation and glory (“cast Yourself down from here”) – the enemy offering promised results. When Satan cannot get us to succumb to some warped version of self-desire, when he cannot delude our thinking with half-truths – he will beckon to a deep desire within us to be important and famous. He will summon us to do something that calls for the obvious recognition of our own importance. This is a call to our self-important thinking – focusing on glory for self and not glory for our Father.

I strongly believe we are living in a day of delusion -even within the community of the Christian faith. Many begin with the flawed foundational idea that God’s chief interest is their happiness (not holiness). Because of that, anything that would curtail their ability to express their inner desires and feelings could not be commanded by this “reshaped” god they now follow. If they feel they were “made with certain desires”, they cannot imagine a god that would tell them to deny their feelings – because their true god is their appetite. We live in a time where even believers have been subtly convinced that the center of the universe is how they feel, not Who they serve – and that separates the modern church from the message of its past.

This can sound harsh, but I truly mean every word of it in love, and it is a pleading question, not to the world, but to my friends who claim to follow Jesus: “What difference does it make “what you feel attracted to” if it conflicts with the Word of God?” Why would I spend my time trying to carefully dissect and discern my feelings instead of simply asking what the Master has said will please Him? Is not greater sacrifice the platform for greater joy in the time of reward? Are we not told to be like Jesus Who surrendered His desires, blessings and comforts to serve His Father’s end? With that in mind…Does not God have the right to call you to celibacy if he chooses? Can He not call you to childlessness – regardless of what you feel you desire? When did God give up being in charge of His own plan? Self-centered Christianity isn’t Christianity at all – it is a religion cloaked immature selfishness – and we need to see it for the bankruptcy it is.

The attempt Satan used has been a successful method against many. While ineffective against Jesus, the record offers us an ability to know in advance the enemy’s way of pulling us off track. It is a model… and we must watch for appeals to self-absorption, self-reliance and self-importance. On each are the fingerprints of a fallen angel.

Jesus answered the tempter’s melody with three responses from God’s revealed Word:

• In Matthew 4:4 Jesus faced the tempter and made the simple point that it is God’s Word – not man’s hunger – that is supreme. What a statement! Jesus literally said that what was more important than what He wanted at that moment (something to eat and drink) was subservient to the Word of God. That is Christian thinking put succinctly and powerfully. His Word moves me to place second my desires. My life here is about sowing; my life to come in Heaven is about reaping. When I get that truth confused I expect people here to be fair, and circumstances here to work out to my benefit. Sometimes they do, and that confuses my focus all the more. Yet, when I live for the eventual applause of Heaven, I gain peace amid the problems on earth. I drop my need for things to please ME, because I want ultimately to please HIM.

• Jesus made clear the issue wasn’t simply what we DO, but for WHOSE GLORY we do it (Mt. 4:7). A man who lives to make himself happy doesn’t live for God’s glory… period. When I live for my Master, I can and WILL enjoy life – but that cannot become the goal or I am changing the essential message and purpose of my faith.

• In the last retort of Jesus to His enemy (Mt. 4:10) the Master made clear that there comes a time when the best we can do is dismiss temptation with the Word and move on – reasoning with deception is often a lost cause.

The attack of the enemy was activated when God acknowledged that Jesus’ work of redemption was underway. We should expect nothing less. When we move ahead, the enemy dispatches those who push us back. They may come in the form of temptation to do wrong, or simply temptation to lose focus on the goal.

Here is the point: If we surrender we will be called. When we are called, we will face attack. Yet, there is more. We must understand the priority of ministry or we will spend our lives on the wrong effort – a great many have over the years!

The Priority of Jesus (John 1:29-51)

John 1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! … 35 Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 38 And Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they came and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John [speak] and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter)…”

Jesus left the tempter behind and fully fixed his gaze on the mission ahead. It was clear that mission was not simply about the crowds – though it included public ministry. His was a ministry of DISCIPLE MAKING. This was His initial priority, and based on the record of His final hours before the Cross – it was His CENTRAL priority. We must recognize this! The church is not primarily about preserving the culture – it is about replicating disciples that can live truth REGARDLESS of what the culture does.

Disciples came to Jesus because another follower (John) pointed out Jesus to them (John 1:29). If John was concerned with his own fame, he may have hid Jesus from his own followers – and many so called “Christian” leaders do that. They make disciples increasingly dependent upon them – not equipping them and encouraging them to carry the work. They will create ministry based on paid staff, instead of igniting and encouraging the work of the Spirit from the church pew. They will not bring people to MATURITY, but to DEPENDENCE. We must make every effort to do the work of equipping, and keep pointing people to God and His Word – and not to us.

How do you know when disciples are grown? When they are reproducing – when they are calling others to Jesus they are BEGINNING the process. That isn’t the end. Having babies doesn’t make you a parent – just a biologically functioning adult. Raising children is what makes one a parent. Don’t see John 1 as the END, but the beginning of making disciples that make disciples – a subject we will handle more deeply in coming lessons…

Here is the truth of our lesson: The work of ministry is about three things: God’s call – selecting us for His work, the enemy’s obstruction – attempting to distract us from the assignment and the prime objective of building disciples in the midst of the battle.

According to Mike Neifert in his writing called “Light and Life” (February 1997), staff members from the Bridger Wilderness Area in Wyoming reported receiving comment cards from visitors to their rustic wilderness park:

• Trails need to be reconstructed. Please avoid building trails that go uphill.
• Too many bugs and leeches and spiders and spider webs. Please spray the wilderness to rid the areas of these pests.
• Please pave the trails…Chair lifts need to be in some places so that we can get to wonderful views without having to hike to them.
• The coyotes made too much noise last night and kept me awake. Please eradicate these annoying animals.
• A small deer came into my camp and stole my jar of pickles. Is there a way I can get reimbursed? Please call…
• Escalators would help on steep uphill sections.
• A MacDonald’s would be nice at the trailhead.
• Too many rocks in the mountains.

Larry Sarver wrote a sermon that is included in the Sermon Central library on the subject of discipleship and he cited these complaints. I appreciated his insight, so I close with his words:

These comments and complaints indicate that the people who made them do not really understand what it means to stay in a “wilderness area.” They were looking for something convenient and comfortable, but not truly a wilderness experience. In a similar way, many people today do not understand what it means to be a genuine Christian. There are multitudes that often follow Jesus or claim to be a Christian but they do so on their terms and not his. They do not truly comprehend the biblical definition of discipleship. Because of this ignorance there are many who consider themselves to be followers of Jesus who are not, even though in many ways they do look like followers of Jesus. They go to church, have a profession of faith, read their Bibles, pray, even give in the offering, but they are not the real deal or at least are not living and thinking like the real deal. … there is no reason for anybody to be ignorant or self-deceived… To be a disciple of Jesus you must be committed to him above everything else… In our hearts Jesus must come before our loved ones, self-interest, possessions, careers, hobbies, goals in life, and even our very lives. In practice this commitment to Jesus will be tested and sometimes, in a moment of weakness, Jesus will not come first in our choices, but genuine disciples have made a sincere commitment in their hearts and will not continue to put other things before Jesus.” (Sermon Central illustrations).

Following His Footsteps: “Dad’s Big Dreams” – Matthew 1 and 2

One day a year we honor the place and work of fathers, yet all year long many of us have learned to appreciate the work they are called to do. I am a father, and now a grandfather – and I have been reflecting in the early morning hours during the feeding of “McGoo” (my nickname for my grandson Malachi) on the work God called men to do. It was fortuitous that the next page in our study of the”Life and Ministry of Jesus” as told by the four evangelists was about the stand-in man God chose to play the father’s role in the life of Jesus as he was born in Bethlehem, fled to Egypt and later raised in Nazareth. It didn’t escape my notice that not much was said about Joe…. It was my experience with my own dad that fathering was sometimes like that.

Mom and DadYou see, my dad wasn’t the “center stage” guy – but rather the quiet guy that dropped me off to the meeting and picked me up after it was over. He paid for my doctor and dentist visits, made sure they had purchased the necessary number of gym shorts for class, and took care of a tuition payment in a private, Christian school that could have easily made the payments for a new car every year. He did not stand on any stage, anywhere, and take a bow for what he did. He just did it, day in and day out…whether it was convenient or not, whether he felt like it or not. He never believed the modern myth that one can “have it all” – be a parent and still live for self.

In fact, it wasn’t until my graduation from high school that I learned how dad provided for more than a dozen kids. I applied to join the labor pool of the oil refinery my dad worked at his whole career… and I discovered a place that was filled with vulgarity, pornography and cynicism. It wasn’t that I didn’t meet some really good guys there – it was the fact that I was, perhaps for the first time, exposed overtly to the world my father worked to provide me with something different – something better – something where God would be honored and not maligned daily. In many ways, my father was a quiet discipler and provider that no one else ever would be. My point is that like my dad, Joe didn’t get a big stage and rousing applause from the crowd. He got the job of listening to God’s direction and then leading based on what God revealed – which the real job of any man. Joe is listed in the earliest pages of the Gospels, and then, like many fathers, he fades to the background as the son or daughter pushes ahead, not recalling until later the platform from which they launched.

In some ways Joe’s work was like any father – they were given a child by God, and they were to provide, protect and prepare them for the world they would face. Every dad has dreams for their child! In the case of sons in a godly home, they want them to be men of God, bold about their witness and loving and caring in their deportment. I cannot imagine that Joe’s heart was any different… God chose the right man for the tough job ahead!

It’s true that in SOME ways Joe’s job was similar to other men… but in other ways, Joe’s job was unique – beginning with the first public act a dad had in his time… naming their son. Joe didn’t choose the name – God revealed what it was to be. From the time of the first revelation of God to Joe through a dream… Joe knew the truth: his job wasn’t to live out his dreams through his son – but he would be a “stand in” for his Father in Heaven. The longer I parent, the more I see that as my role as well. We are stewards, not owners of our children.

In this lesson, I want to share a story about four dreams. The first one was in the heart of Joe before he ever knew Mary at all. Joe wanted to be significant, and he wanted to leave a legacy that mattered – like every man who ever held their son in their arms. His next four dreams required that he surrender his first dream to the Lord, so that God could do MORE with his life than he could have ever understood at the time – and answer his deepest longings through a Son that would change the world forever! The key principle for Matthew’s story of the beginning of Jesus’ earth walk is derived from watching Joe:

Key Principle: God will lead you if you surrender to His story and not make your life about your story! (Mt. 1:18-25).

To delve into the Joseph story, we have to look into the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel. Both Matthew and Luke record genealogies, but that isn’t the only feature of the beginning stories of the “Pre-ministry” they disclose…in fact, the two Gospel writers offered details on several events before explaining the launch of Jesus’ earth ministry at His baptism by John in the Jordan River.

• Matthew focused on how God directed Joseph.
• Luke focused more on right responses to the wondrous message that God sent Messiah.

These are our next two lessons…one on Joe, and one on responses to God’s gift of Jesus…Traveling through the Holy Land, year after year, I have often wondered what Joseph and Mary would say if, as they reflected back to the birth of Jesus, they sat and listened to our Christmas carols and watched our Christmas plays. Do you really think Mary thought it was a “Silent night, Holy night?” I don’t know, but having been in the delivery room with each of my children…I am thinking she was just relieved the child was born and healthy… and she was probably exhausted.

Revealing Dream Number One:

Look at Matthew’s account of what Joe went through, and let’s see if we can pick out what he learned from the text…

Mt. 1:18 “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” 24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

Before drawing conclusions, look at the details of the text of Matthew 1:18-25:

• First, the story was given to tell you the CONTEXT of the birth of Jesus (1:18a).

• Second, the TIMING of the pregnancy was clear – Joe had not “been with” her, and was unaware at first of who the father of the baby could be (1:18b).

• Third, the TROUBLES of Joseph show he was contending with many decisions (1:19-20a).

He was a “righteous man”, which may be a translation of the Hebrew idea of “tsaddik” – an elder in a congregation. If that was the case, the reputational troubles were not his alone, but would be shared by his congregation.

He was a “tender man”, and though he no doubt felt disrespected by her, he didn’t want her to be subject to public derision.

The angel’s word to him in 1:20 shows that he was also a “fearful man” – unsure of what kind of woman Mary truly was, and how much he could even trust his own feelings and measures of what he thought she was. Whenever we are betrayed, some part of us blames ourselves for not perceiving more accurately the people that drew us into deception.

Now step back and look at REVEALING DREAM NUMBER ONE:

• Mary was cleared of any guilt or wrong against Joe – the “guilty party” was God Himself (1:20).

• God’s plan was made clear – a Boy was coming to save His people (1:21). This fit what God had already revealed in His Word (1:22-23).

• Joe was thoroughly convinced the dream was from God, and he did exactly what the messenger told him to do – despite what ANYONE in his life could have counseled him to do (1:24-25).

Joe might offer the lesson learned this way: “God works in ways I never would have imagined. One day you are just moving through life, living within the boundaries, and following God’s Word, and the next thing you know… there is a whole new set of issues in your life! Here’s the thing I took away from those early days… do what God says even when the outcome isn’t clear. If it squares with His Word, it is truth no matter what all my friends think. If I obey what He has told me, He will direct my next steps into His will!

In just a few verses, God offered a great thumbnail sketch of a man used by God in a powerful way! He lived inside the boundaries of sexual purity and obedience. He learned the Scriptures and led a community with a careful, circumspect life. He sheltered the reputation of people in the story, and he was pliable when God spoke into his life. His path changed when God ordered it to change and verified that word by Scripture. In the end, Joe was a good man because he was a willing follower of God’s direction!

• Can you see in Joe a faithful leader without a vindictive spirit when hurt. Can you imagine his initial confusion, his embarrassment – maybe even anger?

• Can you identify that although he lived within the law, he understood authority but still wanted to show mercy. Joe was no Pharisee – just a guy trying to follow God and not wound people in the process.

Here is an important lesson that we cannot miss in his life: Joe’s fervent walk with God did NOT protect him from misunderstanding God’s program.

He responded to what God had revealed to him, and needed more revelation to alter course. Joe was told to abandon his plans to send her away – an overt call to surrender control of the situation based on experience and trust God’s Word. Joe was called to stop leading and FOLLOW. Remember: some men won’t take directions even when they are lost!

Joe was told to drop his mistrust and open his heart to raising a child given from the Spirit (1:20). Joseph should not fear taking this woman as his wife, for she had not been unfaithful to him – no matter what it would look like to friends and family (1:20). Marriage is a serious commitment, and faithfulness to that covenant is something God takes seriously. Without this revelation, Joseph should have feared. People who can’t make it faithfully through an engagement are a ticking bomb in a marriage, unless God transforms their heart!

Joe was told to reign in his emotions and ego and be obedient to the revealed Word. He could not shape this story – he was to FOLLOW. He was to give up the right to choose the name of the baby – a very great privilege that was well illustrated by Zecharias and John’s birth. The future of these sons was NOT in their earthly father’s hands – and they needed to surrender that in the beginning of the venture. At the same time, both Joseph and Zecharias got to fill the physical role of naming their sons. Joseph received the privilege of naming the boy according to God’s direction (1:21). Even though his role was diminished, he had a role. God didn’t cut him out, but loved him enough to include him.

magic eight ballThe greatest lesson in the first dream was this: You cannot PREDICT LIFE, you cannot always UNDERSTAND LIFE – but you are called to FOLLOW GOD.

Don’t overlook the fact that God gave His Son to a man that He could trust to follow instructions! That makes me pause and wonder: What would God entrust to me if He KNEW He could count on me to follow Him through ANYTHING?

In order for Joe to be used by God, he had to “get over” himself. He had to face that God’s leading meant that his momentary feelings had to be subservient to God’s plan. God was working a plan through the misunderstanding and pain… because God was doing something far bigger than Joe could have imagined.

• Joe was thinking of his family and his leadership in a congregation – both important issues. God was planning to SAVE THE WORLD – a bit more significant.

• Joe was concerned that his role in God’s work might be damaged by things said in relation to this pregnancy – but God was going to give HIM the unique privilege of handling His Son, caring for Him in a way Adam didn’t so long ago. Joseph was going to be the first to look at the baby and utter the name “Yeshua” – Savior!

What is God calling on YOU to do that is HARD? What habit is hindering your walk? What ego-driven pursuit is clogging up your walk with God? When you lay your head on your pillow at night, can you see what is keeping you from surrendering your heart to God and following His Word? Are friends telling you, “It’s really ok!” – but you KNOW it isn’t! It is time to hear from the ancient lesson of Joseph.

The dream matched what God had long before promised. God had shared that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). He told through Daniel the timing of the coming (173,880 days after the command to rebuild Jerusalem in Daniel 9:26ff). He said that He would send one who was “God with us” in Isaiah 7:14. He promised He would bring light to the Galilee highway used by Gentiles in their international travels (Isaiah 9:6). He promised the Messiah as a child, born to His people and that child would be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) as He was when Thomas saw Him after the resurrection and cried out to Jesus in John 20:28, “My Lord and My God!” or when Paul called Jesus both God and Savior (in Titus 2 and 3).

Joseph awoke and followed what the angel told him to do, agreeing to abide to the covenant marriage but not consummating the marriage (1:24-26). Soon a Roman census was announced and Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem (his ancestral home, Lk. 2:1-4) with Mary. The child was born… in the event that Joe wasn’t “going to make a big deal about it” – God announced it over the hillside to some noisy nighttime shepherds. I’m sure the birth of Jesus was the worst kept secret in Bethlehem that night!

Time for a SECOND DREAM

Joe stayed on in Bethlehem for the duration of the census. In Rome, Censors were chosen from former Consuls of Rome (Consul was the highest office at the time beside the Emperor). Censors were selected every fifth year and given “Imperium” (the right of command by the Senate of Rome) to conduct a census, then follow it with the giving of contracts for bridges, roads and public works projects. As a result, it appears people in Provinces had their lives routinely disrupted at intervals. Joe was still in Bethlehem well after the baby Jesus became the toddler Jesus – and was visited by some eastern Magi (2:1-12). This “secret” was getting harder to hide – and now Herod the King was involved.

Joseph had a second revelatory dream – and this one was not to settle something INSIDE HIM, but rather to help him perceive an oncoming peril. Joe’s family was in danger, and he needed to move them to Egypt (outside the jurisdiction of Herod the Great) for a time (Matthew 2:13-15). Let’s examine the record:

Mt. 2:13 “Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” 14 So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. 15 He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON.”

This – a second time God stepped in to work on behalf of Joe’s family – and to protect Jesus and the Redemption Mission. For Joe, the lesson of trust was deepened. The fact is that Joe was a dad, a husband, and a provider. His living was as a builder, and that work was not helped by all the interruption of forced moves. Rome moved him for a census – and now Herod moved him out of anger and jealousy… but in actuality GOD moved him. The “forced moves” of our lives are often God’s repositioning to get us to the right place for His plan.

From Joe’s perspective, it would be easy for him to conclude that he could not protect his family apart from God’s work on his behalf. He couldn’t choose to order where they would live. He was called to FOLLOW the One Who knew what he could not know.

protect homeThe big lesson of the second dream was you CANNOT PROTECT people from life’s hardships – even yourself. You are called to FOLLOW GOD and let His protection be your only covering.

THE THIRD AND FOURTH DREAMS CAME

Joe knew that he couldn’t PREDICT LIFE, nor could he PROTECT PEOPLE HE LOVED FROM LIFE – he was just following God’s direction as God offered it. He moved with the family…Some time passed, and Joe waited as God held his little family in Egypt. The language was strange. The customs were pagan. The place was hotter and more uncomfortable than you can imagine. He probably lived off the gifts of the Magi and waited as his saving sunk lower and lower. His male desire to LEAD had been trimmed – but this was getting old. His male ego based on accomplishment was being badly eroded. The surrender process is never easy on leader types – and many men find following God a difficult thing.

Sometime after the death of Herod the Great, Joseph dreamed a third time. The angel of the Lord told him to bring the baby back to Israel’s homeland, and he moved the family back up to Nazareth in the land of Zebulon (Matthew 2:19-23):

Mt. 2:19 “But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, 20 “Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.” 21 So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, 23 and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

Did you hear those verses? There were ANOTHER TWO DREAMS mentioned…Joe came back to Israel, heard who was on the throne and was afraid again. The continuing theme of his life is that he gets afraid – and that fear was matched, step by step with the direction of God’s Word. Joseph learned that God didn’t need him to be particularly COURAGEOUS… just carefully obedient to God’s revealed Word. When Joe followed, that was all the boldness God demanded to use His life for God’s glory.

immunizedThe fact is, that Joe learned that he cannot become IMMUNE to fear and pain – but he could carefully follow God’s Word.

Joseph was reported to have died when Jesus was young. He apparently did not live to see Jesus become well known. Yet, his name and character are the stuff of legend.

These were HARD lessons: I cannot PREDICT LIFE, I cannot PROTECT PEOPLE FROM LIFE, and I cannot become IMMUNE TO LIFE’S FEARS – but I can follow God’s Word.

Let me ask you something: “Do you think he will say in Heaven, ‘It was worth it! I obeyed the Lord and it was truly worth it!’” I think Joe will be an eternal testimony to this truth: God will lead you if you surrender to His story and not make your life about your story!

Jesus said it best: John 12:24 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. 26 “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”

Joe gave up HIS DREAM for GOD’S DIRECTIONS – but what did he truly LOSE? Nothing… nothing at all. He WAS SIGNIFICANT. He DID make a difference! He played his role for God… and that is all a man could ever DREAM of doing!

Following His Footsteps: “Jesus is for Losers” – Matthew 1, Luke 1 and John 1

introducing_manToday I want to introduce the most important figure in my life. I first heard of Him as a child, but didn’t meet Him until I was in High School. He continues to be my friend, counselor and constant companion through each of the seasons of my life… but He is much more than even those words can describe. He is also my Master, my Sovereign, my King and my Lord. He has no equal – not in my life, and not in the cosmos. There truly is NONE like Him, and there is no real and lasting answer found in any other. I want you to meet Jesus, not just in this lesson, but in a whole series of what the Bible records about Him. I want to look at His life, not in bits, but rather as one story – one harmonized story of the Savior. That is what this new series of lessons is all about. That means, we will leave our normal “book study” method, and be looking at four presentations of Jesus – side by side – the four accounts we call the “Gospels”. In fact, I want to take you to three passages in this lesson – each expressing the beginnings Gospel accounts, and begin to unpack the story of Jesus.

Before I do, I have to admit something. I believe wholeheartedly that Jesus is for LOSERS. A careful study of what He said and did will reveal, I believe, that He did not come for the strong, but for the weak. He did not come for the self-satisfied, but for the bankrupt in spirit – struggling souls who know that they have shipwrecked their lives by their own choices. Those who feel they can navigate life without Him will choose to do so. Some will call them “arrogant”, but the Bible calls them simply “fools”. I am no fool, but I am a loser. I am not a loser because of what I was when I found Jesus – but rather because of what Jesus told me to DO as a result of knowing Him. I was called to LOSE… but more about that a bit later….

Jesus came to change us. He was an example – but that wasn’t His primary goal. He was a helper to the fallen and weakened, the social outcast and the religious flunkie – but that wasn’t His main purpose. Jesus came to wipe out the atonement system – the “kill a goat for God” and replace that whole system with permanent, complete and total justification. He came to set us free from sin – the Bible repeats the claim again and again. In His redemptive plan, He also came to challenge us to surrender to God our lives as He surrendered His for us. He came to move us from where we were when we met Him, to where He intended us to be – in His service. The opening verses of the Gospel accounts will help us see a truth very clearly…

Key Principle: Christianity isn’t merely a belief system, it is a movement. It requires more than mental assent to a list of facts; it requires deliberate opening of my heart to God’s transformation of my life.

The Gospel writers were very open about what they wanted to present. They offered a clear picture of Jesus, and desired to enlist a clear response. Here is the truth: the Biblical notion of faith requires surrender or it is neither faith nor Biblical. That is a fact historic believers recognized that seems to be obscured in our time. Let’s look at how the writers shared Jesus.

First, the record of Jesus was presented with a clear purpose:

Luke: 1:1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write [it] out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Our faith is built on a set of truths that were passed to us, and must be accepted (Luke 1:1-2a). Let it be clear to all who embrace the Bible and its message that our faith is defined by the text, and recorded by our earlier faith family.

Our faith came from eyewitness testimony that followed Jesus from the beginning of the story, not loose rumors and idle imaginings from centuries after the fact (Luke 1:2b). The Bible is clear, and a simple sample makes the demand clear:

• 2 Peter 1:16 says “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty…21 “for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

• 2 Tim. 3:16 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness

Luke reminds us that our faith is rooted in an actual story that had both a progression of events, and evidence that these events were real (Luke 1:3). He was able to interview people, collect accounts, and gain evidences. He did his homework with a surrendered heart and the Spirit’s leading – and we have the product of his work.

Sir William Ramsay (15 March 1851 – 20 April 1939) was a Scottish scholar that undertook careful archaeological research to test the authenticity of the account of the Gospel of St. Luke. He began his work as a skeptic of the Bible, and was educated at the Universities of Aberdeen, Oxford and Gottingen, Exeter College, Oxford, and Lincoln College. In 1885 he was elevated to the position of Professor of Classical Art at Oxford, and in the next year Distinguished Professor of The Humanities at Aberdeen. He was immersed in the skeptical teaching that prevailed in his day, but forced himself to search for primary source materials and evidences that would lead him to a conclusion very unlike his peers of the day. After careful research, Ramsay astounded his fellows with the belief that the Gospel of Luke was actually written by Dr. Luke, and that it shared historically accurate information. After a time, Ramsay further concluded that the evidence he saw led him to believe the message of the Gospel of Luke – that Jesus WAS, in fact, the Messiah and Lord. He began his career as a mocker and skeptic, but closed his career as an ardent defender of the Gospel accounts.

Luke also made the point that our faith must be grasped from the text of the Scriptures, for they possess the exact truth about Who and what Jesus is (Luke 1:4). This isn’t a “I feel Jesus is this way” kind of faith. Our feelings are subject to the text – because it offers the true view of the Person of Jesus.

It is also worth noting that Luke made clear that our faith leads us to certainty about God and His work in us. Modern “scholarly mysticism” has made uncertainty into a “Zen-like” positivism – as if KNOWING makes one at least weak and at worst bigoted. It seems in the modern classroom, the only person considered a true scholar is the one who claims that “little or nothing can be truly known”. The Biblical message stands opposed to that sentiment. Note that Luke wrote that “you many know” (1:4) to a group of Jesus’ early followers. The purpose of the Gospels was not to offer a string of myths and pithy sayings that may or may not have come from the mouth of Jesus of Nazareth. The purpose of the Gospel record was to document the account and accurately record the history of a real man that walked on the earth, in order that believers would be able to fully grasp the model and meaning of Jesus’ life and work.

In times of trouble, fluffy feelings of camp Christianity won’t hold us together. In persecution, general musings about Jesus just simply won’t do. In times of searing pain, the weightless Hallmark Jesus won’t get us through the tears of the night. God offered SUBSTANCE in the “four windows into the life and work of Jesus” because He knew well that we would need carefully examined structures and principles that will help us when the world refuses the truth and the winds of culture turn coldly in the face of the Christian!

Jesus was truly introduced by the Gospel recorders with A CLEAR PURPOSE in their accounts, but that isn’t all… The record of Jesus was also presented with clear implications:

The record of Jesus MEANS SOMETHING. It isn’t simply the introduction to an ancient mythical hero like Achilles or Ulysses. This record is meant to CHANGE THOSE WHO ENGAGE IT. It forces us to look not only at the FACT of His coming, but the implications of that coming to the way that we conduct our lives. Take a few minutes to consider the ways Jesus was exposed in the narrative, and the implications will become quite clear.

First, Jesus came in the flesh, not as a simple mythical action figure of campfire stories. He is not “man idealized” as German skeptical scholars tried to cast. He came as a child into a real family, birthed from a real womb and suckled by a real woman. This tale was one of cold nights, uncomfortable journeys, near death traps, and nosy shepherds. It was the tale of a real child born into a real cave stable and warmly wrapped in cloth and placed in a pile of hay.

While we introduce Jesus in the records, we have to admit that there are TWO GENEALOGIES of Jesus presented by the evangelists – one in Matthew’s opening verses, and one in Luke 3:23 ff. Side by side, they offer some interesting and important opening notes about the record of the Savior that we don’t want to skip. Don’t flinch when you read the two accounts – Matthew and Luke – and find that they don’t agree. Remember, if the account were “doctored” by the church, every place the accounts didn’t match they would have been “edited” to do so. The fact that two genealogies are left in the text speaks to the veracity of the accounts. At the same time it begs the question: “Is one of them faulty?” Obviously, as one who believes in the historical veracity of the text, I would say a firm “No!” Yet, some explanation is necessary.

Look at Luke 3, and you will read a litany of unfamiliar names – all are offered to carefully demonstrate Jesus came as an Israelite child:

Luke 3:23b “….being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli, 24 the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, 25 the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Hesli, the son of Naggai, 26 the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, 27 the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, 28 the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, 29 the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, 30 the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, 31 the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David, 32 the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Salmon, the son of Nahshon, 33 the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Ram, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, 34the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, 35 the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Heber, the son of Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, 37 the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, 38 the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

His lineage is presented in reverse order of history, moving backward from Jesus’ parent to Adam, summarizing generations. Three important observations are in order:

First, “son” in antiquity was used for “descendant” and could mean a direct son, or a grandson of any generation following the father. Therefore, Luke included forty-two names in the list, while Matthew only included twenty-six names – each are legitimate records of “son ship”. The fact that Matthew omits names can be cross checked in the passages in Kings and Chronicles easily.

Second, Luke makes the point that the genealogy is “unusual” in that Jesus’ legal father was not His actual father. Note the awkward wording of Luke 3:23 “being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph”. Clearly the genealogy, were it to be that of Joseph, had a “legal character”, but did not represent the “physical genealogy” of Jesus – for He will be clearly presented by the same author as “from the Holy Spirit” and not from the “seed from a man”. This led many church historians to believe (as I do) that this genealogy is that of Mary’s line, leading to her grandfather Eli. Early church historians recognized this possibility, though some of them (like Julius Africanus in about 240 CE) that perhaps both were of Joseph’s line – and Eli was Joseph’s legal father while Jacob was his physical father. Before we get lost in the detail of that view, let’s just simply say it this way… If Joseph’s mom married Eli, but he died without leaving an heir, Eli’s brother Jacob could have fathered a child in the place of his brother (what was called a Levirate marriage) to raise up the name of the dead brother Eli). It is nice to know that families were NEVER simple! Some early church historians thought this was the case, but I am not convinced.

Third, the simpler understanding may be that Luke presented the PHYSICAL line of Jesus through the line of Mary, while Matthew presented the LEGAL line of Jesus through Joseph – His LEGAL dad. The reasons for this view are carefully documented in Thomas and Gundry’s Harmony of the Gospel (pp. 316-317), and need not be dissected in this summary.

The bottom line of the two accounts is this: Jesus was a Jewish little boy, a son of the tribe of Judah, born through the womb of a young woman. Though conceived through a miraculous act of the Spirit, His birth was conventional and physical. This fact will be explained again and again in places like Hebrews and Galatians – because it is necessary to understand the story.

In Matthew’s account, the baby was not simply a Jewish child – but Jesus came as an heir to the Judah’s throne:

Matthew 1:1 The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham: 2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. 3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. 4 Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon. 5 Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. 6 Jesse was the father of David the king. David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah. 7 Solomon was the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa. 8 Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah. 9 Uzziah was the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah. 10 Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, and Amon the father of Josiah. 11 Josiah became the father of Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. 12 After the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah became the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel. 13 Zerubbabel was the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor. 14 Azor was the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud. 15 Eliud was the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob. 16 Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. 17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

At least fifteen names off the Matthew’s list are easily identifiable as ancient kings of Judah. In the midst of the account, the claim was made three times that an even span of “fourteen generations” existed between Abraham and David, David and Babylon, and Babylon to Jesus – a claim that a modern student may find difficult because it is simply not true to the account of the Hebrew Scriptures. The issue was the indicative devise from first century numerology, common to the ancients, but lost in modernity.

In the ancient near east, much was made of the juxtaposition of names with their “numerical equivalents”. In Revelation 13:18 the “Antichrist” had a name that was numerologically determined as “666”. In Matthew, the name DAVID is the number fourteen – and the issue Matthew was driving at was that Jesus was of DAVIDIC ROYAL DESCENT. Matthew consciously chose the numerology and it was significant to early believers in Jesus, but the devise has been lost in modern generations.

Here is the point: Jesus came as KING. His was the position of RIGHTFUL SOVEREIGN – not a simple and humble teacher from the Galilee hills. He was a promised ruler, and will one day show exactly what that position means – but you must stay tuned for the Second Coming of Messiah.

Jesus came as an Israelite priest:

When we cited Luke 3, we skipped the first few words… Yet, in them is another piece of the story line…Note in Luke 3:23 the words: “When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age…”

Jesus began a “ministry” or “priestly work” when He was the age of inauguration of service for that purpose – age thirty (2:23). If He began His work at the time of a priest, could it be that His work was intended to be seen as priestly? Of course it can…

The point of all this information is this: Jesus was real child, born to a real mother, in a real village. He came as a promised king, and did the work of a Temple priest. All these truths have implications for how we respond to Him.

• If He is a King – I am not his equal.
• If I am His subject – than His desires and direction for my life are more significant that my own.
• If He came as man – than God literally poured Himself into the form of human flesh for my salvation – a fact that should stop me in my tracks. The God of Wonder, the Master of Heaven cares about my lost state, and wants me to know Him!
• If He came as a priest – I have One that can take me by the hand and lead me into God’s presence and full acceptance.

It is true there was a clear purpose in the story of Jesus, and that His positions have clear implications for us, but that is not all…The record of Jesus offers a clear portrait:

Look at the rich words of John’s introduction to Jesus. The text alternates between words about John and about Jesus. I am selecting out the verses dedicated to the introduction of the Savior in 1:1-5; 1:10-18

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, [even] to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.'” 16 For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained [Him].

Look carefully at the portrait of Jesus, because John knew Him very well. John followed Jesus, sat in warm rooms and listened to the Master’s teaching for hours on end. He stood horrified at the Cross, watching his mentor breathe His last breath. He was qualified to offer a close-up view of Jesus… Here is what he carefully shared:

First, John said that Jesus already existed before the creation of the physical world with His Father – the Creator God. He was the Word (1:1,15) for He was the One that came “and dwelt with us” (in 1:14).

Second, John claimed that His Savior was the very CREATOR of all that existed (1:2-3). John was not unaware of Genesis 1, but rather agreed with Paul’s words to the Colossians 1:16: “For by Him all things were created, [both] in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” John even adds that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING exists that He didn’t create (1:3).

Third, John made the case that Jesus brought the light of truth to a deceived mankind, and that light burned their eyes.

Max Lucado tells the story about a tribe of people who lived in a dark, cold cave. The cave dwellers would huddle together and cry against the chill. Loud and long they wailed. It was all they did. It was all they knew to do. The sounds in the cave were mournful, but the people didn’t know it, for they had never known joy. The spirit in the cave was death, but the people didn’t know it, for they had never known life. But one day they heard a different voice. “I have heard your cries,” it announced. “I have felt your chill and seen your darkness. I have come to help you.” The cave people grew quiet. They had never heard this voice. Hope sounded strange to their ears. “How can we know you have come to help?” “Trust me,” he answered. “I have what you need.” The cave people peered through the darkness at the figure of the stranger. He was stacking something, then stooping and stacking more. “What are you doing?” one cried, nervously. The stranger didn’t answer. “What are you making?” another shouted even louder. There was still no response. “Tell us!” demanded a third. The visitor stood and spoke in the direction of the voices. “I have what you need.” With that he turned to the pile at his feet and lit it. Wood ignited, flames erupted, and light filled the cavern. The people turned away in fear. “Put it out!” they cried. “It hurts to see it.” “Light always hurts before it helps,” he answered. “Step closer. The pain will soon pass.” “Not I,” declared a voice. “Nor I,” agreed a second. “Only a fool would risk exposing his eyes to such light,” said another. The stranger stood next to the fire. “Would you prefer the darkness? Would you prefer the cold? Don’t consult your fears. Take a step of faith.” For a long time no one spoke. The people hovered in groups covering their eyes. The fire builder stood next to the fire. “It’s warm here,” he invited. “He’s right,” one from behind him announced. “It is warmer.” The stranger turned to see a figure slowly stepping toward the fire. “I can open my eyes now,” she proclaimed. “I can see.” “Come closer,” invited the fire builder. She did. She stepped into the ring of light. “It’s so warm!” She extended her hands and sighed as her chill began to pass. “Come everyone! Feel the warmth,” she invited. “Silence woman!” cried one of the cave dwellers. “Dare you lead us into your folly? Leave us. Leave us and take your light with you.” She turned to the stranger. “Why won’t they come?” “They choose the chill, for though it’s cold, it’s what they know. They’d rather be cold than to change.” “And live in the dark?” she asked. “And live in the dark,” he replied.

Now we return to our opening… we who are called to Jesus are called to be LOSERS. We LOSE our own vision, and grab the hand of the Master of light. We lose self-determination of our life’s course, and we allow Jesus to take the lead. We do it because He is our KING. We do it because He is our CREATOR. We do it because HE UNDERSTANDS what life here is all about. We do it because the record concerning Him is the TRUTH!

The world persists with the claim that we follow “cleverly devised myths”. Jesus was a fake and there is no God. When we die, there is nothing else. God is a creation of the human mind. A hapless accident caused the world you see, the heavens in their expanse. Planets spin and whirl according to no particular design. The delicate web of cells that make the flowers of the field such a wondrous beauty are a cosmic fluke. There is no plan. There is no future. Man is an animal among the evolved DNA strands of the universe… yet you should behave and try to find meaning. You should do things to benefit others. You should care about how poor and suffering people live. You should try to keep the planet green. We should advance the knowledge of the species. We should live well and seek a meaningful life where – we essentially agree – there is none. Why?

The unbeliever offers a sad picture, but without a personal experience with God it is not hard to understand. One cannot see God by looking at RELIGION. In fact, religion more illustrates man’s hard heart and ego filled soul than the goodness of God. In the name of religion wars rage across the planet. One cannot see God by looking at MORALITY and CONSCIENCE for these change with the tide of public opinion in the age. No, to really understand God, you must MEET Him and have His eyes pierce your heart.

I titled this message “Jesus is for Losers” and I meant just that. We who follow Jesus are called to “lose our life” to Him. We are called to recognize that this Jesus was shared with a clear purpose, with clear implications concerning His holy work. We possess a clear portrait – but none of that makes any difference unless it transforms who we are. Mental assent acknowledging the existence of God won’t change my destiny – deliberate surrender of my life choices to Jesus will. Why? Because…

Christianity isn’t merely a belief system, it is a movement. It requires more than mental assent to a list of facts; it requires deliberate opening of my heart to God’s transformation of my life.

The Christmas Journey (Part Two) “Men and Diapers” – Matthew 1 and Luke 2

men and diapI want to talk about something that is utterly politically incorrect, and I am concerned that I may get a reaction in my inbox over the next few days. I have a reasonable expectation that my contract (if I had one) would not be cancelled for expressing it, but let me soften any such response by warning you now, I am not suggesting everyone will agree with me, because my view has been tainted by my own flaws and experiences. Here it is… I don’t personally believe that men were given sufficient, instinctive, practical tools to be good at “lone parenting”. Based solely on the men I know up close, I think babies need the practical hand of a momma. I believe if my children were raised only by me, we would visit them in our memories – because they would not have made it through their first twenty years of life. I know, I know, perhaps my deficits are more pronounced than that of other single parent homes that have only a man raising a family. In practical terms, with my limited experience, I just cannot understand how a guy could really pull off parenting. I don’t have the skills for it, and haven’t met other men who really do either. Of course, there is always YouTube and Google. I didn’t check, but I suppose there is a page for “how to diaper a baby” on the net, complete with “pee-pee tee-pee” instructions for changing little boys. I can’t imagine the net missed that engaging bit or emerging demographic!

In my humble defense, I am not the only one who thinks the way I do. Pastor Kyle Meador wrote: “Again, there’s a great deal of Internet research and revisionist thinking going on about these characters in the Christmas story. Some of have suggested that things would have been considerably different if these wise men had actually instead been wise women. And things sure would have been different. If it had been ‘Wise Women’ instead of ‘Wise Men’, they would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts from Baby’s-R-Us, including diapers, wipes, bibs and formula. But that’s an entirely different story…” (Sermon Central illustrations).

Do you see what I mean? Men just don’t seem, at least in our culture, as equipped to raise a child. For one thing, we lack the physical anatomy to feed a newborn without modern plastics… If you will permit me to suggest that we have such a lack, I want to gently propose that we view the story of several men in the text with both humor and honesty – but I ask you to be a bit understanding toward them. They are men, and trust me, most of us do “mean well”. Each of the men in the story of Jesus’ entrance to the world was in the midst of a growing and learning experience… and though my introduction to the subject has been light, Scripture never is. It engages our heart and transforms our thinking. So with a sober smile, let’s consider a truth…

Key Principle: Because men come from diverse perspectives, they each deal with Jesus differently. Yet, how they deal with Jesus changes the kind of men they become.

Herod: Selfish men use Jesus!

Ladies, I have a news flash: Some men are selfish. I know that comes as a shock! What is more, some of them have even made it to powerful positions, using their selfishness as an advantage in a society of “sheeple” that are often found following the tinsel and that loudest voice in the room. I want to introduce you to a man we know both from the Gospel accounts, as well as from ancient historians and archaeological finds. Meet King Herod called “the Great”. He appears in Matthew’s Gospel as follows:

Mt. 2:3 When Herod the king heard [this], he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6 AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.'”7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found [Him], report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.

In the passage, it is clear that Herod was King of Judea, and that he ruled from Jerusalem (2:3). He was dealing with a group of eastern men who came searching for the new king, marked by the ascension of a newly noted “star” in the heavens. Herod had authority under Rome that allowed him to call a tribunal of the local Jewish leadership, according to the text (2:4) and to pose specific questions concerning their ancient traditions, mostly found in the Hebrew Scriptures. When posed with the query about a coming King, the report paraphrased the work of the prophets like Micah (see Micah 5:2, cp. Mt. 2:6).

herod coin with starFor those who know about the physical finds from archaeology that relate to Herod, you smile when you read this passage. The symbol probably most associated with Herod in antiquity was a star. In perhaps the earliest coinage minted to signal Herod’s rise to power, the obverse of the coin was embossed with a helmet beneath a star in 37 BCE. The star was a common Octavian/Augustan iconography, and appears as a symbol of “the deification of Caesar” by the Senate. Herod later adapted the star inside a diadem crown as his own symbol – or sometimes a star inside a dotted circle. Some scholars suggest the star was from the Numbers 24:5 Messianic symbolism, something Herod co-opted from the Hasmonean rulers (Alexander Janneus) and their kin that he supplanted. The bottom line is this: Herod used stars as a symbol of ruling, and having astronomers visit following a new rising version was unsettling to him and an attack on his public mythology. Coins were the ancient version of billboards in the Roman world, one of the simplest methods of spreading a message far and wide.

Herod accepted the magi as scholars. Though much has been written about them, I believe they were Jewish sages from Babylon, left with the majority when about 50,000 Jews returned to the land of Israel after the captivity. Skilled in astronomy (probably due in part to interaction with the Zoroastrians of that place) they sought God’s guidance from His handiwork in the heavens. That may not have been the best way to find truth then or now, but in the Scriptures God often used people’s flawed methods to speak into their lives. A star got them to Bethlehem. Before we knock it, remember it has taken two thousand years to get a reliable GPS unit to do the same thing! If God could direct Moses with a cloud, He could certainly direct some magi with a star… but this star had significance in the Roman world that it did not appear to have in the Parthian world – it signified “deity” as one who “meets my needs” as Caesar did, and as Herod wanted to be known. The star stung Herod, and his reaction was predictably political…

Matthew includes the “tongue in cheek” note that Herod claimed a desire to know where Jesus was, so that he could WORSHIP Him. Of course, this came from a man who killed even his own offspring that rivaled his throne – but that wasn’t an uncommon thing for men in his position in his day. In fact, nor was his desire to gain control over the “Jesus message” as quickly as possible. News flash: politicians that can MANIPULATE religious belief, USE it to control people and win their favor. They do it for fame, and they do it for favor. Ultimately they do it for CONTROL.

The problem is that Jesus is a STUBBORN SAVIOR. Heaven isn’t so easy to manipulate. God’s standing Heavenly army of millions cannot so easily fooled, so God sent a dream to make clear to the Magi that Herod was not being genuine. God’s messaging systems in the Bible may seem crude, but His ability to invade even the dreams of our sleep should challenge us to re-think what effect texting truly is! Matthew continued:

Mt. 2:16 Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. 17 Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 18 “A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH, WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN; AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE.”

When politicians cannot control Jesus’ message, they try to SHUT IT DOWN. The kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ – but not until the kings of this earth do all they can to fight God for control. Men WANT to call the shots on their own destiny. If they cannot, they will pretend they control what they do not. They will preach about a world without a Creator, without a purpose, and without a destiny. Yet, in all of that, they will long for meaning that is more than about good meals, a few laughs, and aging fragile bodies. One hundred years here won’t be enough, because they have been designed for more. Selfish men use Jesus – and will stop at nothing to silence Him if He threatens their right to control…even though their “control” of anything is a temporary illusion.

Consider how pervasive sin and arrogance had become: On 11 May 2000, a lady found a new e-mail message on her computer, which simply said, “I love you”. It looked innocent enough, perhaps even a bit “romantic”. Like most of us would, in hopefulness she clicked to open the message, and the so-called “Love Bug” hit its first generation of unsuspecting recipients. With lightning speed it raced around the world, bringing politics and business to a halt in several countries. It was a deadly computer virus that caused millions of computer software programs to crash. It was only a one little, but it caused so much contamination. One violator cost millions to suffer… But it’s not the first time that a single virus has caused so much grief to mankind. In fact, it’s a kind of replay of a deadlier virus that hit Planet Earth more than six thousand years ago polluting the first human couple, Adam and Eve. Despite God’s warning not to click on to Satan’s message, they did so with appalling consequences for them and through them to all mankind. That virus is called “Sin”. (From A-Z Illustrations).

Shepherds: Simple Men seek and share Jesus!

Turn to Luke’s account of the night Jesus was born. The familiar story of the shepherds offers the setting for our next observation about the men of Christmas. Luke recorded:

Luke 2:8 In the same region there were [some] shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 “This [will be] a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” 15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds [began] saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

The shepherd’s story is very familiar to most of us. Luke tells us several important details about the men:

They were men of the region surrounding Bethlehem, and on a night during the dry season they were “on the job” camping outside the city with their sheep tucked in a sheepfold. The sheep weren’t out in the field – that isn’t the right way to read the text. The men were outside town in the open areas of the wilderness of Judea nearby. It was night, and sheep don’t eat on the hills at night. The men were likely sitting beside a small cooking fire, in for the night.

The choir wasn’t immediate. First, there was an unexpected visitor appeared (2:9). Like the bush that was on fire before Moses, this visitor got their immediate attention because his appearance was bright – so they were frightened! They weren’t expecting anyone, and they knew this guy wasn’t a shepherd from the next hill over.

The messenger spoke words to comfort them: “Stop being afraid! I have great news!” (2:10) He proceeded to describe in detail the coming of Messiah as a baby, and even details as to the place in Bethlehem they should look for the baby (2:11-12). He told them: “You won’t find the baby in the front room of the home, nor in the middle room of the cave or upper chamber called the ‘kataluma’ – the family didn’t allow that. You will find the child wrapped in the birthing scraps and placed in a manger in the rear of the cave of the Bethlehem home.

Just before the Heavenly Guardians appeared above them, Luke slipped in the directive given to the men to search for the child. It is so subtle, you could almost miss it! The messenger said: “You will find Him…” In other words, I am telling you about this because I want you to do something about it. I want you to go looking for Him. I want you to see what an incredible GIFT God has given man… a SAVIOR! Why? What audience did Mary need on a night after giving birth? None! Yet, God knew there were others that needed verification that the baby was more than He appeared to be, and Mary and Joe’s story had more behind it than just his and her word.

They saw the child, but they saw Him as more than a child. They heard the Word of God concerning the baby – and that made all the difference!

How like them we are, when we who believe the Savior has come stand gazing back into that manger. We don’t see a helpless baby. We don’t see shepherds bowing. We don’t think of Magi and their strange gifts… we see God’s hand giving us what we need. We see a RESCUER coming to pull us from the sweeping tide of sin that we have been drowning in.

I don’t want to take a swipe at the world – I will speak for myself. I am a selfish man. On my knees before Jesus I have found myself to be more than flawed… I am depraved. In myself, if left without the gentle touch of Jesus, I find no good thing. I could kill. I could lie. I could cheat. I could wound those who I profess to love so dearly. Do you think the shepherds were somehow chosen because they were better than all others? I KNOW that is not the case. I know it because I was chosen too – to seek Jesus, and when I found Him to recognize what God’s Word said about Him – He is my rescuer… and I need one!

People who have no commitment to Jesus will simply view Him as a cute baby that came on a selfless quest. They will enjoy the season, and think nothing more about Him when the day is passed. Sure, He was a good man. Sure, He healed sick people, and probably was a pretty good guy to live next door to. Sure, He died believing He could make a difference. If they are CHURCHED, they may even believe He rose from the dead. Yet in all this, they will miss WHO HE IS. He is the RESCUER of man whose fist has been raised in angry mutiny against God.

“I am not like that!” Many will say. Yet they will not surrender their life to the Creator. They will not acknowledge His right to demand changes in their behavior. They want the baby Jesus – the MUTE Jesus. They would like just enough Jesus to fill a manger, but not enough to make them change their selfish lifestyle. The difference between the believer and the unbeliever is usually not whether they believe Jesus came as a baby, but whether He came as a RESCUER from mutiny and the Divine penalty of it. Simple men don’t try to out-think God, they believe what He said about Jesus.

Joseph: Surrendered men value Jesus!

At long last, in our saga about men and the baby Jesus, we come to Joseph – the man close to the center of the story. Here was a guy who truly desired to follow God, but wasn’t sure HOW with all the turns in the road. His story shows up in four segments in the Gospels:

Mt. 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” 24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took [Mary] as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

The time for the census called Joe and Mary back to their ancestral home in Bethlehem. They were “married” but hadn’t consummated the marriage, so it was called a “betrothal” – the last step left incomplete. Off they went from Nazareth. Luke 2 records:

Luke 2: 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,

They arrived at Joe’s family home, and I suspect because the story of the pregnancy was too much for this old Jewish family to believe, they put them in the cave at the back of the house. The baby was born. The shepherds visited and let them know what the angels told them. They presented Jesus at the Temple a week later. Anna and Simeon both prophesied over the child. Time passed. Men from the east arrived when Jesus was a toddler and gave the baby expensive gifts, then left. Matthew tells the story:

Mt. 2:13 Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” 14 So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. 15 He remained there until the death of Herod. [This was] to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON.

The toddler, his mom and Joe stayed outside the realm of Herod the Great’s reach. Bethlehem families probably wouldn’t have thought highly of them if they returned and told how they were warned to leave, but hadn’t told everyone else. The weeping daughters of Rachel would have been incensed. More time passed, and so do King Herod. His death and burial outside of Bethlehem at the mountain called the “Herodion” signaled to the angel to again invade the dreams of Joe’s sleep. Matthew records:

Mt. 2:19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, 20 “Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.” 21 So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned [by God] in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, 23 and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. [This was] to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.

Joe bounced around more than a ping-pong ball in the hand of God! Three times in the Gospel accounts God re-directed Joe by breaking into his life and revealing truth to him that he did not already know. Each one was an essential direction, and looking back – the reasoning for each one is clearer to US – than it was when Joe received it.

Joseph’s life reads like a textbook on “lessons in resting during God’s re-direction”. If you truly read these few verses carefully – you will be HIT with a lesson that will wallop you in life.

In Matthew 1:20, God opened the door to truth when Joe’s life map got derailed by a baby announcement. He acted within what he knew, and then needed God to direct him in what he did not know. The first dream came in the backdrop of a deep interpersonal confusion. Joseph committed to marry Mary, but she appeared to be unfaithful.

If you pull aside Joe in Heaven someday, I suspect he would tell you that a BIG LESSON in his life was this: “I must understand that God can move in my life in a way that makes no sense to me at that time.” This is part of His Divine Prerogative. He is entitled as my Creator and my Master to do this, and we must not be surprised by this work. After all, isn’t the Bible filled with stories that make this truth obvious?

• Didn’t God push Noah into a building project that made little sense apart from God’s direction?
• Didn’t God lay out a “hard to believe” family expansion for an aging Abraham and Sarah?
• Wasn’t God’s call from the burning bush – a call for Moses, dressed as a Midianite shepherd to stand before a powerful prince – one that seemed mistimed and a wrongly cast part?
• Don’t you wonder if David felt uncertain about God’s protection when the bear appeared to take a young lamb? He didn’t know he was in combat training for giant slaying.

How long will it take for us to recognize that God’s call in our lives is to follow Him, not to figure Him out?

Over and over again, Joe learned a hard lesson…How we respond when we have been disappointed by another’s behavior, or even when we think we have been wronged is a water mark of our real maturity. When Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant (likely she told him after the visit of Gabriel recorded in Luke 1:26-38), any one of us would likely have backed Joe up if he stormed out angrily and slammed the door – and we would have been wrong. Who couldn’t understand that reaction? What friend, hurt for Joe, wouldn’t have consoled him that such an outburst was both normal and justified. The only problem is that our understanding would have blocked God’s lesson in Joe’s life. God didn’t pick a short-fused man – He seldom does for the delicate task. A godly person is patient, circumspect and gentle – they are not vindictive when wounded – no matter how deeply.

The bottom line on Joseph’s Christmas lesson was this: God works best with instruments that won’t wrestle Him for control, but will follow His lead. Uncooperative tools don’t get often used.

So let me ask you men: How are you doing in the SURRENDER department? Is God in charge of what you watch, what you listen to, what you laugh at, what you drink and how much, what you eat and how much? I am not asking you to BIND YOU TO LAWS AND LISTS, but to prompt you to the inner nudges of God’s Spirit in regards to your yielded-ness to Him.

You see, it it true… Because men come from diverse perspectives, they each deal with Jesus differently. How they deal with Jesus changes the kind of men they become.

Before I close, I want to mention ONE OTHER DAD – but it is not a fair comparison – for He is no MERE MAN. I want you to think about what the Father in Heaven passed through as He allowed His Son to become a baby, and deal with man’s depravity by a horrible death payment. The best way for me to explain Him, and to describe His love for you might be to end with a story…

Jeannette George tells a story about an experience she had on a short flight from Tucson to Phoenix. Across the aisle from her sat a young woman and her baby, both dressed in white pinafores. The baby had a little pink bow where there would eventually be hair. The mother was smiling, as the baby kept saying “Dada, Dada,” every time someone walked down the aisle. The mother said Daddy was waiting for them after they had been gone for a few days. She was so adorable – quiet – that all passengers enjoyed watching her. Unfortunately, there was a lot of turbulence, making the flight extremely rough, which of course was hard on the baby. But the mother had some fruit and a little Thermos with orange juice in it. Every time the baby cried the mother fed her a little bit more orange juice and a little more fruit. While this seemed like a good idea at the time, the turbulence seemed to spread from the air around the plane right down to that baby’s gastro-intestinal system, and pretty much all of the fruit that had gone down came up. However, the process of coming up was considerably messier than the process of going down had been. It also seemed to have increased in volume tremendously between the going down and the coming up, so that not only were the baby and the mother pretty much covered in it, but so were most of the passengers within a significant radius of the baby, [including Jeanette George, who was telling the story.] Fortunately for the mortified mother, all of the passengers were gracious and tried to help her and tell her it was OK. After all what could she do about it?? The baby was crying, and she looked awful. Even though they didn’t cry, her fellow passengers looked – and smelled – pretty awful, too. The mother was so sorry about it. As soon as they landed, the baby was fine and returned to calling: “Dada, Dada.” The rest of the passengers didn’t recover quite so quickly, being covered as they were in pre-digested fruit. Ms. George said, “I had on a suit, and I was trying to decide whether to burn it or just cut off the sleeve. It was really bad.” Waiting for the plane was a young man who had to be “Dada.” He was wearing white slacks, a white shirt, and he carried white flowers. Now what do you think that clean Daddy all dressed in white did when he saw his baby who had that sticky, smelly stuff all over her clothes and her face and her hair? He ran to the young mother, who handed the baby over pretty quickly so she could go get cleaned up. That Daddy picked up that baby, and he hugged her and he kissed her and he stroked her hair. As he held her close, he said, “Daddy’s baby’s come home. Daddy’s baby’s come home.” All the way to the luggage claim area, he never stopped kissing that baby and welcoming her back home. Ms. George thought, Where did I ever get the idea that my Father God is less loving than a young daddy in white slacks and white shirt with white flowers in his hand? [Jeannette Clift George, “Belonging and Becoming,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 93. Taken from sermoncentral.com]

My Father in Heaven loves me, and He sent me His Son to prove it. His Son rescued me, and I will ever be grateful!

Joseph’s Story: “Getting Direction from God” – Matthew 1

Christmas TreeOne of my favorite childhood memories at the always noisy and never dull Smith home was our family Christmas tree. A fixture at every Christmas, for as long as I can remember, was a Christmas tree stand that turned the tree around while playing favorite Christmas carols in a high pitched bell sound. Because you would be able to see every side of the tree, we needed to have a fake tree, or at least that is what mom and dad told us. There was also some bogus story about my younger brother Rodney being “allergic” to real trees, but we figured out early in life that if he truly was – going outside to play for hours on end would have bothered him. The tree turned about, and the lights would blink different colors and make different shadow shapes on the wall.

Another really neat part about that tree was that my mom would put on it pictures in little Gerber lids of the children of Christmas past. When you are in a foster family, the faces and names change year by year – and the tree was a quiet reminder of children that dropped by our home on their journey through childhood. My parents raised many children of many sizes, shapes, and colors. Our tree was like a picture album that came out every year, and reminded us of how life changes year to year. Every picture was simple, a snapshot of a child doing something that was probably unimportant at the time. Yet, capturing their image reminded us of the days and nights we spent together, and the many things God taught us as He led our family through its blustery highs and tumultuous lows. I am sure my memories of those children are not exactly as things really took place. Memories are tricky, you know.

You never really know what God is up to – do you? When you look back on the path of your life, you see times when God moved you out of one situation into another – but you couldn’t really see at the time what you see now. God was at work in your life – directing, caring, and leading – but you just felt frustrated, confused, and uncertain at the time. You wanted to believe the path you were on was His path (because you were trying to follow Him), but weren’t sure where the road was taking you. Things came up that were unexpected, and at the time, unwanted.

Key Principle: Mature believers discipline reactions to circumstances, and consistently allow God to speak a path of direction when the known map runs out!

It isn’t a problem unique to you. Maybe some of you can identify with one of these beloved brothers and sisters in Jesus:

  • One man recently faced an uncertain future when a challenge overtook him. He couldn’t see as well as before, and couldn’t react physically like he once could – so he surrendered his driver’s license. Now he tries not to be impatient – but waiting on someone else for every grocery store run means that he cannot even cook creatively without having every possible ingredient in stock before he begins. He can no longer just “hop in the car” and “pick something up”. To get supplies is now what feels like an imposition on others – and it is embarrassing and frustrating. After all he is an adult, not a child. He knows he did right, but the disappointment of that decision often brings frustration. He isn’t sure how to resolve the tension, and isn’t ready to simply surrender his creativity and spontaneity.
  • A young man went off to serve his country, and has struggled. His struggle was more related to what he felt about his young wife at home then what he was experiencing on duty. She started his service term writing him regularly. Now her infrequent letters have moved from personal journals and things from her heart, to news briefs. He knows she is changing without him – and there is nothing he can do to keep her heart. He is watching her slip away, all the while he is serving his country faithfully. He is uncertain of the future and begging God to hold together a marriage in his absence. God doesn’t seem to be stopping her from pulling away. He can see it – but he cannot understand why God won’t help him.

On and on the stories go…God is not always obvious in His directions. Frustrations rise when hurt seems left unattended – even when we cry out to God about our needs. Let me encourage you – look back. In your own life you can see God’s hand better at a distance. Look back. Look not only to your own history, but to those who were an example in His Word. Take a few minutes and consider the well known but often overlooked story of a frustrated step dad. His name was Joseph.

If Joseph could tell the story of the first Christmas, the tale might not sound anything like a Hallmark card. The scene opened with uncertainty, was a study in bad timing, and was filled with unwelcome impositions. What started with the promise to love a young woman soured into a feeling of betrayal, and quickly spiraled into a dizzying series of redirections from God that didn’t fully satisfy long term planning urges. If there is one prominent feature of Joe’s story in the Gospels it is this: Joe faced a consistent uncertainty of direction. Matthew introduced him this way:

Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” 24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

Take the arm of Dicken’s “ghost of Christmas past” and look back at Joseph intently. You will see some interesting and important details that lead us to essential life lessons. You will observe a spiritually mature follower of God – a leader in the local synagogue of Nazareth. You can observe his rough hands – he was a builder and stone worker. Stop for a moment and see if you caught the seven part sketch of Joseph given to us in the Scriptures:

• The first statement concerning (1:18a) in the text is Joseph was betrothed, and held up his end of the sexual purity bargain with her. Joe was without blame in his conduct with Mary. Joe was CLEAN.

• The second statement (1:18b) is that he discovered his betrothed was with child and that the claim was that the baby was from the Holy Spirit (the notion that it was sure is a wrong assumption based on the need for the dream in v. 20). Joe was SHOCKED.

• The third statement (1:19) was that Joe’s response was going to be proactive to protect both their reputations and get her to a confidential place to have the child. Joe was a PLANNER.

• The fourth statement (1:20) came from an angel in a dream. Joe was afraid, and the fear could drive his decision making. God answered through the angel’s assurance. Joe was a LISTENER.

• The fifth statement (1:21) offered evidence of the veracity of the angel’s words -you will have a son, but it coupled that evidence with a command – you will call Him Yeshua. He believed the words of the angel and got ready. Joe was PREPARED.

• In the sixth statement (1:22-23) the angel offered more evidence to underscore the truth of the event – It was Biblically sound. He appealed to Joe’s knowledge of the Word to settle him. Joe was KNOWLEDGEABLE.

• The seventh statement (1:24) revealed that Joe awoke with a commitment in his heart to do as the Lord revealed. He would call the baby Jesus. He would maintain the purity of the marriage. He would not endanger the reputation of the baby as Abraham was willing to do with Sarah before Isaac’s birth. Joe was OBEDIENT.

Sounds like a good guy to marry right? Sounds like a good potential step dad, right? He lived inside the boundaries of sexual purity and obedience. He learned the Scriptures and led a community with a circumspect life. He attempted to protect the reputations of people in the story, and was pliable when God spoke into his life. His path changed when God ordered it to. In the end, he was a good man, but that DIDN’T INSULATE HIM FROM LIFE’S PAIN OR THE NEED FOR CONSTANT DIRECTION from God!

Three times in the Gospel accounts God re-directed Joe by revealing truth to him that he did not already know. Each one was essential, and looking back – each one is clearer than it was when Joe received it.

Lessons about God’s Direction

We read about the first dream in Matthew 1:20. God opened the door to truth when Joe’s map ended. He acted within what he knew, and then needed God to reveal what he did not know. The first dream came in the backdrop of a deep interpersonal confusion. Joseph committed to marry Mary, but she appeared to be unfaithful. Look even more closely, and four truths will emerge:

Lesson #1: Even when you follow God – things don’t always work out the way you planned.

Joseph was Committed but Confused: Joseph made a promise to Mary and she appeared to have broken the promise, though she didn’t (1:18). He was thrust into God’s plan in an awkward way – at least that is how it looked to him.

I must understand that God can move in my life in a way that makes no sense to me at that time. This is part of His Divine Prerogative. He is entitled as my Creator and my Master to do this, and we must not be surprised by this work. After all, isn’t the Bible filled with stories that make this truth obvious?

• Didn’t God push Noah into a building project that made little sense apart from God’s direction?
• Didn’t God lay out a “hard to believe” family expansion for an aging Abraham and Sarah?
• Wasn’t God’s call from the burning bush – a call for a Midianite shepherd to stand before a powerful prince – one that seemed mistimed and mis-casted?
• Don’t you wonder if David felt uncertain about God’s protection when the bear appeared to take a young lamb? He didn’t know he was in combat training for giant slaying.

How long will it take for us to really grow to understand that God’s call in our lives is to follow Him, not to figure Him out?

I don’t want to pass over the hurt and disappointment that “hard to grasp” situations cause for us. Remember, a long and faithful walk with God may NOT protect me from misunderstanding and pain. God is not a man that we should demand to fully understand! (1:19; cp. Job 38). He was working a plan in Mary, and she was not driving the situation. Joe was going to be HURT in order for God’s will to be done. Why can’t we see that? Why are we so certain that God will only work in my when I am happy with that work?

Let me clearly say it: God can deliberately bring me into a path that includes pain to serve His purpose. He doesn’t do it cruelly, He does it lovingly… but He still does it. Yet, in the grip of pain, He offers me a place to cry when I cannot stand alone. God hears our cries! One writer said it this way:

God hears our cries. He hears our cry no matter the time of the day or night. He hears our cry no matter where we are. He hears the cry of every creature on the face of the earth. He hears the cry of a child who cries as her daddy drives away on yet another business trip. She will see him again on Saturday morning. Make that Saturday afternoon. He has a golf game on Saturday morning. God hears her cry.

He hears the cry of the teenage boy who cries himself to sleep in the security of his bedroom after spending his weekend with his step-dad and his mother. The rest of the week he will be with his Dad and his step-mother. He will repeat this same scenario next weekend, and the weekend after that, and the weekend after that. God hears his cry.

He hears the cry of the wife who cries as she wonders if the man she married so many years ago will come home today. They had a big fight and he left angry. Words were spoken that neither one meant to speak. She wants to call him, but she is afraid he will not answer his phone. God hears her cry. God hears his cry… wherever he may be.

He hears the cry of the executive who closes the door to his office and turns his chair away from the window so no one will see his tears. He has just gotten a notice that his position is being phased out. His wife moved out last week. He has no place to go. He has no one to tell. So he sits alone in his office and he cries. God hears his cry.

He hears the cry of the husband who walks down the hall toward the exit of the nursing home where he left his wife. She has not recognized him for quite sometime. He puts the key in the ignition and cries for his wife. God hears his cry.

He hears the cry of a lady who walks into a church and finds a seat. She sits alone. No one speaks to her. No one notices she is there. No one notices when she leaves. As she walks through the parking lot to her car she cries. She cries for the love of someone… anyone. God hears her cry.”

Lesson #2: Quick reactions kill God’s direction.

The Jewish sages offered a powerful proverb: “Who is truly strong? He who knows how to overcome his passions.” (Tractate Avot, 4:1)

How we respond when we have been disappointed by another’s behavior, or even when we think we have been wronged is a water mark of our real maturity. Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant (likely she told him after the visit of Gabriel recorded in Luke 1:26-38). Any one of us would likely have backed Joe up if he stormed out angrily and slammed the door – and we would have been wrong. Who couldn’t understand that reaction? What friend, hurt for Joe, wouldn’t have consoled him that such an outburst was both normal and justified. The only problem is that our understanding would have blocked God’s lesson in Joe’s life. God didn’t pick a short-fused man – He seldom does for the delicate task. Joe had the long fuse that Galatians chapter five attributes to the Spirit-filled believer. A godly person is patient, circumspect, and gentle – they are not vindictive when wounded – no matter how deeply.

Joseph was Considerate but Concerned: He had more than Mary and himself to consider, so he wanted to deal discreetly with her. Because he was a leader in the synagogue, he wanted to dispose of the contract without public scandal to himself or the girl (1:19). He was willing to draw up the papers and submit for a quiet finding of the rabbis on Deuteronomy 22:24-26 while she was away from the village.

Don’t skip that part of the story in verse 19… Joe’s response to what looked like betrayal was the key to all that God would do through him. If he publicly shamed her, the whole story would have changed. If he grabbed her and shoved her before the elders of the village – there would be no dream, no direction, no dad role appointed by God to protect His Son.

“Just a minute!” You say. “It isn’t like Mary was at fault. It is NOT a betrayal!” Well, from outside the story we can obviously see that Mary was not at fault. It is a valid observation – but only in retrospect. Put yourself IN the story. BE JOE. He cannot be expected to believe that she was telling the truth. Yet, he is quiet. Hurt, ego-bruised, but quiet.

Let me be direct with the point: God cannot entrust some work to us because He knows we will all too quickly whip out our “righteous indignation” sword and slash at His plan. We will never allow Him the opportunity to direct our steps. Brothers and sisters, we have become proficient at “Trust in our instincts with all our heart and lean not to His understanding, in all our ways acknowledge our right to be happy, and it will direct our paths.”

God is telling His story. He wanted to tell it through Joseph’s life, but that included wounding him, bringing him through a misunderstanding – and then making him a key part of the story. No man or woman of God should think God will do otherwise. If we would be used of Him mightily, we must place ourselves in His hand willingly – and be slow to react to the pains of His direction.

Lesson #3: God doesn’t leave struggling believers in the dark forever.

John’s Gospel opens with the presentation of Jesus as both the Word and the Light. He makes a simple statement: “The light came, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” He said in John 1. The light often brings pain to the eyes of people who have been dwelling in darkness and confusion – but the pain will pass. Sight will come. God will speak again.

Joseph was Convinced but then Converted: God stopped Joseph from executing a plan to put her away by revealing truth in a dream (Mt. 1:20-23). In the words of his dream God spoke clearly: 1: 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

God won’t leave those who are truly seeking Him in the dark (1:20a). When troubles come, we can seek Him about them. The Apostle James told early church believers that when they were under the grip of troubles they could ask God about them – and God would, in time, reveal the secrets:

James 1:2 “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials …5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

God knows WHO we are, WHERE we are, and WHAT we are facing (Matthew 1:20b). God can speak clearly and concisely – but He does so normally ONLY to the open heart of the hurt one. It is not that He cannot answer anyone – it is that He normally chooses not to answer the half-hearted follower or the demanding foe. Notice in the account of Joseph’s dream that God answered directly concerning all that really troubled him:

• God addressed the central issue: There is no need to fear this marriage – she has been faithful.
• God answered the great question: By whom did this girl get pregnant? The child is from God’s Spirit – she has been blessed.
• God illuminated His purpose: The child will be a Savior – all will be changed.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get in a jam and just GO TO SLEEP to get answers. Think of it: we could market in Christian bookstores the COMMUNION HAMMOCK. “Lay on this and get your answer from God – all while dozing off!” They would sell like “hotcakes” on Saturday morning. I am not trying to tease you, I am trying to make a point. We somehow think that when God speaks to us it always has to be tailor-made sky writing, including our name and details about the situation. That is not a mature view of God at all.

God’s Word speaks in principles to every need. Sometimes we have to work at understanding what He said. God isn’t easy – He isn’t trying to be. Understanding the promises of Messiah required a knowledge of a number of different texts of Scripture, so delicately woven together that even Pharisaic scholars of the first century missed the Promised One when He stood before them. Why? Because God speaks to the willing heart. Our problem is not so much ignorance – as it is WILL to obey. The issue is always the same – will I trust His Word? If I do, I will gain the inner qualities that offer fulfillment and sufficiency! (1:20).

God does not leave men in a night without end. The message of Messiah is that Light has come. He will not take you into a trial that He will not light up the path – that isn’t His nature. You and I have few PLANS to make – you have mostly PATHS to follow.

Lesson # 4: God confirms new directions by illuminating old passages.

When you are up against the wall of confusion and God begins to shine a light forward, we need to confirm the path by looking into His Word.

Maybe you aren’t sure about a new job opportunity. Maybe your issue is the choice of a school, or even a spouse. You are sweating a choice because you don’t want to get it wrong. You have wise counselors, friends with a long track record of following God – and they are helping direct you. Remember this: God’s voice will never lead you away from God’s written Word. Look again at Joe’s story:

Joseph was Confident only when Confirmed. God provided the sound evidence needed to settle him: The new word was tested by God’s revealed promises – and it was consistent with the Word (22-23). 1:1:22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.”

God confirmed new truth in ancient truth, because that is how He works. He will not call you to do the opposite of His Word – ever. At the same time, there is strength and security that settles confusion when we learn to look past our current problems and even our whole lifetime to the greater picture of what God is doing. We can give much for a cause that is greater than ourselves! (21). Ask anyone who volunteered to defend their country!

The key to becoming settled with God’s new work is understanding He has a PLAN and an OBJECTIVE, but it may not be found in our comfort or pleasure (Mt. 1:22-23; cp. Phil 2). God is at work – that is NOT the question. He awaits those who let Him work. The angel shared that God had a bigger agenda than Joseph’s family, He was busy saving the world! (1:21b).

• Does God have your permission to take your job away to serve a purpose in both changing YOU and reaching others?

• Will you allow God to use your life to reach others if it means He uses the platform of a hospital bed or even a funeral home?

• Does God have your consent to take away your child to reach a nation?

What has happened to our Christian message when we have come to believe that “He is Lord” only when my plumbing is fixed, my bank account is full, and I feel good about His path? Ask a martyred missionary like Jim Elliot if God’s plan is always found in the comfortable and comforting.

When a believer matures, they face the fact that God’s direction isn’t as confusing as it is demanding. My problem is NOT that I don’t understand so much, it is that I resist doing what God has already made clear – all the while insisting that He show more truth. Let me say it plainly: Know His Word. Follow the voices that are truly both teaching and living His Word. Check what you hear against His Word. Trust His Word – not the messenger, but the message.

Lesson #5: The cost of surrender to God’s direction is much less than the compensation.

We have talked a lot about the COST of following God. It may be interesting to you that Jesus spoke much of this same subject. At the same time, even though our primary focus shouldn’t be on “what we get” – God is careful to include in the story the way Joe was compensated for listening to God’s direction. Matthew reminds:

Matthew 1:24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

God desired and got obedience from Joe. But Joe got a privilege few of us can ever hope to have. He held in his arms the Savior, and was the first to pronounce His name and official purpose: “He is Yeshua – He is the Savior of man.”

Joe obeyed. Imagine the cost of that decision. Joe would probably have many snicker beside the village well at the tale of his angelic dream. Some would call him a fool or a romantic dreamer. Their words would sting at the scar of disappointment and hurt if Joe did not allow God’s healing balm to cover him. How many times have believers felt it…God sometimes asks the hard thing – but it is always a simple call to trust and obey. It is a simple call to exchange our experience and expertise, our accomplishment and developed insight – and humbly surrender to the demands of God’s Holy Word. The world may laugh at us, and our family may not really understand. Our dearest friends may call our trust in God a delusion – but it is the path of the believer. It is a call to fully surrender to the KNOWER OF THE UNKNOWN.

Now imagine holding in your hands the Creator of the Universe in the tender package of a helpless baby. Feel the thrill, and grab the weight of the responsibility of being His “fill in” dad.

Do you think he will say in Heaven, “It was worth it! I obeyed the Lord and it was truly worth it!” I bet when we gather in the great throne room of Heaven, and the King of Kings steps forward to the thunderous sound of the song, “Worthy is the Lamb! Worthy is the Lamb!” Joe will be upfront with the “proud pappa” smile. You will recognize him… He will have the tears running down his face and a deep thankfulness in his heart for the whole experience. He will be grateful to have been included in the plan… and so will you.

Mature believers discipline reactions to circumstances, and consistently allow God to speak a path of direction when the known map runs out!

Christmas Dreams – Matthew 2

The premiere of “White Christmas” in 1954 delighted American audiences as Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye were making people laugh, and the songs of Irving Berlin were making them sing… including the now popular song “White Christmas”. The movie was a comedic love story of Crosby and Kay with two sister – set in the drama of saving of the Columbia Inn in Pine Tree, Vermont that belonged to the retired Brigadier General of the 151st Division of the Army. Crosby and Kaye became a great act after the war, and discovered that their former general was losing his life’s savings, because an Inn was vacant due to lack of snow. The entertainers invited a variety show to bring all the men of the 151stDivision and honor the general that now felt forgotten. Packed with back in uniform “retired” soldiers, the General enters the hall of his Inn only to discover he was to be honored by his former men. At the end of the movie, the background of the set is removed to show the new snow falling in Pine Tree. All the guest a glass, toasting, “May your days be merry and bright; and may all your Christmases be white” – and the White Christmas song embedded itself in American Christmas culture. Since then, we have all been dreaming of White Christmases – except for Florida’s citrus growers!

Everyone has their own Christmas dream.

  • In Hollywood, it is to make the blockbuster film that will pull the Holiday crowds into the theatre and get the critics buzzing.
  • In Cupertino, California, your Christmas is already full to overflowing with news of the high tech purchases that make your devices named after your favorite fruit a smash hit.
  • If you are working on Madison Avenue in New York, you are laboring night and day to bring in the best revenue you have seen in 2011 – trying to get the advertising dollars for your client’s product to “hit” in the consumer marketplace.
  • If you are the American shopping Mall, you are hoping to make enough in profits to pay months of rent and facility costs, and break into the black between November 26th and December 31st.
  • If you are the mom and dad of a young family, you are trying to figure out how you can pay the mortgage and insurance, and still eek out enough for the ever more expensive toys for your kids that will light up their faces on Christmas morning.
  • If you are a single mom or dad, you are trying to figure out how you can make the best “family feel” out of an otherwise hurtful and broken time. Most of the time you deal with the family breakup just fine – but this is Christmas, and feelings come to the surface as the smell of the pine tree enters the front door.

In our study in the opening chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, we looked at five women deeply woven into the fabric of the Messiah’s story, and in fact, His DNA. In the second chapter, Matthew’s account shifted to the MEN involved in the Christmas scene. Biblically, the men had no genetic role in Jesus’ formation – for the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary (for the male seed carried in some special way the sin curse passed from generation to generation). The story of the men was not “in His genes”, but in His reception on the earth– and it is a fascinating story worth recalling this Christmas season. This text offers us a window into the answer to an important question

Have you ever come out of Christmas and felt like the whole thing was pretty empty?

Have you looked forward to time with family and friends – only to have the reality of that not measure up to the anticipation? Have the hassles of Christmas ever replaced any JOY of Christmas? If any of that is true, this passage is for YOU. This passage offers its own special Christmas gift… the answer to a question: To whom is the joy of Christmas given? What kind of person can PLAN to have a great Christmas and truly see it come to pass?

Key Principle: Power was threatened by Messiah’s coming, and the working man just tried to do what he could to meet his responsibility but it was the hungry seekers who really knew the JOY of the season – and it still is.

When you read the text of Matthew 2, you quickly notice individual men and groups of men are featured as the story unfolds:

  • Herod the King (and later Archelaus his son): men of power and prestige – the Herodian line had one clear desire – to remove any threat the baby born in Bethlehem posed to their most treasured asset – the throne.
  • Joseph the Builder: a working man with grave concerns about his family’s safety and well being, he passed through the most difficult experiences of his life in public embarrassment and private turmoil – just to keep the family going.
  • Chief priests and Scribes: studious and diligent men – who knew great facts about God but were not yielded to God. They could dissect the theological debate about a God they did not truly serve.
  • Magi from the East: anxious men who had pledged obedience and worship from afar, and had borne the cost of their commitment. These were men sensitive to the Lord’s leading and dedicated to the Lord’s honor.

Let’s take a moment, and read Matthew 2:

Matthew 2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6 ‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.’” 7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” 9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way. 13 Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” 14 So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. 15 He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON.” 16 Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. 17 Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 18“A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH, WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN; AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE.” 19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, 20 “Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.” 21 So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, 23 and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

In a way – three dreams collided in the early days of Jesus’ life in Bethlehem.

  • The first, was a dream of increased power and prestige – led by a successful King of the Jews.
  • The second was a dream of safety and provision – exemplified in a blue collar hard working man – a simple builder named Joseph.
  • The third was the dream of seekers of truth – seen in two kinds of students of the promises of God.

Let’s zoom in and look carefully at each person featured in the passage as our men and their dreams are introduced:

Dream #1: Men Hungry for Power and Prestige – Herod the King (and Archelaus):

Some people USE Christmas. There is no way to be delicate about it. In fact, they barely try to hide it… They put up the lights and tinsel before Thanksgiving, and – if the truth were told – they’d start about December 26th to push for the next year. They have shamelessly commercialized Christmas for their own objectives. One famous advertiser remarked: “If we didn’t have Christmas, the American economy would need to create one!” Many hijack the idea of Christmas… perhaps to make a killing financially, and grow their prestige and market share. Christmas is a sentimental and quaint idea they cash in on – that is their objective. Perhaps they do it to gain some other advantage… that IS as it ALWAYS WAS – all the way back in the first century.

Go back and look. Herod wasn’t trying to worship, sing or even meet the Messiah. He wanted to USE Him. The text offers an insider view of:

His time: Matthew 2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king…”  Herod the Great (born 74-73 BCE, died 4 BCE in Jericho), was a Roman client king of Judea who is most known for his colossal building projects in expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and the massive construction of the port at Caesarea Maritima. He amassed a fortune, and held the reigns of his realm tightly – leaving behind many monuments to both his paranoia and his splendor. Among them are palaces at the Herodion (named “in all humility after himself” according to Josephus Flavius), Masada –the fortress near the Dead Sea and the Huge construction above the tombs of the Patriarchs – the Cave of Machpelah. These were days of frenetic activity. These were days of economic prosperity. These were days of the rising notation of the Roman world – as Herod established famous Olympic style games and built world class cities. These were days of relative political stability – these were the days of the Pax Romana or Augustus fleshed out in the reign of Herod the Great, his long time friend.

His guests: Matthew 2:1b “…magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” Connection to the Jewish community was strong since the captivity in Babylon. The three waves of return over a 100 year period under Zerubbabel, then Ezra and finally Nehemiah didn’t bring home all of the Jews. In fact, it didn’t even bring home MOST of the Jews. Many of them remained in the east, and many of them continued studying the Law of Moses as well as the signs of the heavens. A few dropped by to visit the reigning King – on their way to the new born promised King.

His reactions: Herod’s reactions take up the rest of Matthew’s account concerning his part in the birth story. Herod was a calculating man, so his reactions were played out in three stages:

First Herod got the facts, so he could see how this might offer him an opportunity. He got advice on the possibility, place and timing of the birth: Matthew 2:3 “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6 ‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.’” 7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared.

Herod had the same opportunity as any Jew of his day to celebrate the coming of the Promised Onebut he was not interested in any other ruler than himself. That is not an uncommon reaction to the message of Messiah. One Pastor wrote: “Herod’s response is paranoia and intimidation. He was afraid of a new king… afraid that he would lose the power and authority which he had come to cherish.” The truth is that many a man or woman has feared losing the throne of their own heart to the King of Kings. They have played with God – learned to use “God words” – rather than surrender to Him.

Finally, Herod co-opted the event to use it for his own purposes. He USED the people who cared deeply about the event, and got them into a different cause – to do HIS bidding: Matthew 2:8 “And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” 9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was.” Herod became the prototype for the Hallmark Card company and the Macy’s department store… He grabbed the hearts of people who were longing for the meaning of the event and co-opted its meaning. He did the ancient version of substituting the original purpose of the story – bringing God’s long awaited Redeemer to the earth under the protection of a shield of angelic host –and converted the story into something else. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” has now been sung: “It’s the most wonderful SALE of the year” (in a current Nissan ad). For Herod, the story was converted to “I am going to worship” (but you should read the word KILL the baby). To our modern marketing firms it is substituting a God who “sees you when you are sleeping and knows when you are awake” to a fat and ever-friendly man in a red suit. The co-opting of Christmas is an OLD phenomenon.

Don’t forget what happened when co-opting the event didn’t get him what he wanted – he simply attempted to destroy the event! Matthew 2:16 Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. 17 Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 18“A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH, WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN; AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE.”  Without being cynical, am I wrong for assuming that our public rights to have and hold Christmas dear are being supported as much or more by the commercial gain community than by those who really care about Jesus as the reason for the season? In just a few years, if America finds a way to celebrate this event without ANY JESUS at all – they will kill the original message and replace it with the innocuous “peace on earth, goodwill to men” message taken up by Hallmark.

His lesson: Herod was hungry to use the event to erect greater power for himself – but it didn’t ultimately work. God’s work advanced in spite of the rulers of the Roman Empire that were largely evil men. Herod slaughtered babies. Emperor Caligula (37-41) was a ruler of the brought great wrath against God’s infant church movement – but we are still here. Emperor Claudius didn’t know Paul was doing mission journeys – but we are still learning from them. Emperor Nero saw Christians as a nuisance and then a scapegoat – but he ruled as the great writings of the Pastoral Epistles were penned and the church advanced. It didn’t matter who was ruling, and in the final analysis to the big plan of God – it didn’t matter how they ruled. A Sovereign God kept telling His story right over top of their earthly power!

Dream #2: Men just trying to Get By – Joseph the builder:

Herod may enrage us with his “adoption of Christmas”, but few of us identify with him Joseph the Builder is more our speed. Joe was an average guy – a working man with grave concerns about his family’s safety and well being. He was trying hard to get the bills paid and keep the government off his back. The first few Christmases for him were the most difficult experiences of his life. There was private family conflict and public embarrassment. His goals, like many of us today, were to GET THROUGH CHRISTMAS. In fact, the struggle of the trip to Bethlehem and the uprooting of the work that he was doing put a strain on him. He had serious private turmoil – and his closest companion was a woman about to give birth, whose pregnancy story was… well… impossible for his family to accept!  Too bad his whole family didn’t have the same dream of the angel that assured him of her fidelity. Step back into the scene when the baby was a toddler. The magi came and offered the baby gifts… and that put a bit of cash in the bank and took the pressure off the struggling family. They were finally going to be ok for awhile. Then God broke in again…

His problem: Matthew 2:13 Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.”

Has that ever happened to you? No, I don’t mean the angel of the Lord comes to tell you to move – although that could be the case. I mean, have you ever gotten the bills finally managed and it looks like there will be a time of relative calm, and the Lord throws a curve ball into your plan? All of the sudden the new money Joe got was portioned off to a caravan camel ticket. He KNEW that his family was in danger. He knew that God called him to protect the child and His mother. He knew that, just as things got settled, God pushed him out of his comfort zone. Another move, and this time FARTHER from the Nazareth village where he was when the whole thing started. Don’t you wonder if on his weaker moments Joe wondered if his life wouldn’t have been better if he never met Mary? Maybe… but ours wouldn’t be.

His protector: Matthew 2:14 So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. 15 He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON.” … 19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, 20 “Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.” 21 So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, 23 and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

Joe moved from Nazareth to Bethlehem, from Bethlehem to Egypt, from Egypt back to Nazareth. Every time, he needed to develop a new network to sell his abilities and make a living… not fun! The bouncing baby boy left Joe and his family bouncing from place to place for years. It wasn’t easy – it was the time of life many of you can identify with – the time of PROVIDING for your growing and changing family. Maybe your kids are small and you are struggling. Daycare isn’t cheap. Health care is ridiculous. Work hours compete for a few fragments of healthy family time. Bills climb and pay hasn’t. You get the picture… I want to offer a word of encouragement to you from Joseph’s life.

You are not simply getting by. You are raising our mutual future. Your child will help or hinder the future of our neighborhood – and even our country. You are constructing a HUMAN BEING.

It is a task of enormous pain at times – but incredible importance always. I would be personally remiss if I didn’t tell you a very personal lesson God taught me the hard way – they need your time, energy and assistance in very important ways VERY EARLY in life. Much of their character and personality will be shaped by the time they can speak. Cherish the days – don’t drag your way through them. They will be long days and hard days – and few will be the times you will feel like you are really succeeding – but do not look at this as anything less than a call of God. God gave you your children. God CALLED you to do this. Joy surrounds the busy believer who recognizes a greater purpose for their life’s journey than simply getting by… God has plans for you and your family.

Dream #3: Men who dreamed of finding truth – seen in two kinds of students of the promises of God.

One kind of student group found the TRUTH – but not the Savior! The Chief priests and Scribes were certainly studious and diligent men – who knew great facts about God but were not yielded to God. They could dissect the theological debate about a God they did not truly serve.

Matthew 2:4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6 ‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.’”

These guys knew the prophet Micah. They knew that four times in the book that bore his name he promised Messiah. In the first prophetic mention of Messiah in the book, He was called both King and Lord. In the second, He was coming from a small village of Judah named Bethlehem. If they truly hungered for God’s will – why weren’t they walking behind the magi to check out the baby? Because they were satisfied with KNOWING ABOUT GOD. How tragic, that so many people are willing to sacrifice a walk with God for an education about God. They want to be able to answer the Bible questions, and they may even think that knowing about God is enough – but they didn’t have any JOY in His coming – because they weren’t HUNGRY TO KNOW HIM!

A SECOND GROUP found the JOY of Christmas. That group gave up ease and comfort, and put it all on the line to discover the Messiah. THEY hungered and thirsted to see Jesus. They sought to have Him in their lives. They sacrificed time and treasure to honor Him! They alone got the blessing of JOY from Christmas. They were the WINNERS! These anxious men who had pledged obedience and worship from afar, and had borne the cost of their commitment found the greatest experience kneeling before the KING. These were men sensitive to the Lord’s leading and dedicated to the Lord’s honor.

Matthew 2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”(after Herod told them Bethlehem was the place prophesied) …8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” 9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.

Do you see it? “Christmas is a time for GOD’S love to TUG hearts back to HIM with the powerful grip of a tiny hand reaching out from a bed of straw.” Have you ever placed your finger inside the hand of a little baby and felt its grip reach all the way to your heart? Let it happen. You will have the real JOY Christmas can bring! Remember, it was the hungry seekers who really found the JOY of the season – and it still is.

Matthew 5-7: Sermon on the Mount Notes

Advertisers seek diligently for the slogan or jingle that will “buy some real estate in our minds”. They want to motivate us to buy their product by getting in our heads. Jesus wants a true disciple to understand that he bought the real estate of their heart, and wants that reflected in three areas: character, commitments (practices) and choices. For a look at the whole outline study used to teach the passage:

The sermon of Jesus was early in His earth ministry, and had three major parts:

  1. Character Traits of a True Disciple (5).
  2. Practices of a True Disciple (6:1-7:12).
  3. Choices of a True Disciple (7:13-29).

Advertisers seek diligently for the slogan or jingle that will “buy some real estate in our minds”. They want to motivate us to buy their product by getting in our heads. Jesus wants a true disciple to understand that he bought the real estate of their heart, and wants that reflected in three areas: character, commitments (practices) and choices.

Four Character Traits of My Disciples (5):

  1. You cannot be about YOU and ME (5:1-12) at the same time. I am seeking one who is not self dependent (3), not self secure (4), not self reliant (5), not self satisfied (6), not self focused (7), not divided (8), not agenda’d (9), not self defensive (10), not impatient (11-12). In short “other person centered (as in Phil. 2).
  1. You cannot be ALONE (5:13). This emphasized the loyalty of the believers together in their “salt”.
  1. You cannot remain anonymous (5:14-16). You will not be hidden, and you are not called to be hidden!
  1. You needn’t be unsure about the standards of discipleship (5:17-48). The law as given is my standard (5:17) when understood with my intent (5:18-48).

Eight Commitments (Practices) of My Disciples (6:1-7:12):

  1. Giving for One (6:1-4), we are to avoid sacrifice for God that is noted among men. There must be no intentional show (6:2), and must even be a concerted attempt to cloak the giving for the “Father’s eyes only” (6:3-4).
  1. Praying intimately (6:5-15), we are to avoid hypocrisy (5:5) in favor of privacy (5:6). We are to avoid meaningless expressions (6:7) and taking our cues from those who don’t know God (6:8). When we pray we are to acknowledge: the Person of God, the Place of God, the Perfection of God, the Plan and Purposes of God, the Petitions of need, the Pardon from God, the Protection of God, the Power o God and the Praise to God!
  1. Fasting for One (6:16-18), avoiding outward shows (6:16) and deliberately trying to hide the private work of God in us, that it is not cheapened and we are not tempted to be showy (6:17).

Nicholas Herman worked in the food service industry. He was a short-order cook and bottle-washer. But he became deeply dissatisfied with his life; he worried chronically about himself, even whether or not he was saved. One day Nick was looking at a tree, and the same truth struck him that struck the psalmist so long ago: the secret of the life of a tree is that it remains rooted in something other and deeper than itself. He decided to make his life an experiment in what he called a “habitual, silent, secret conversation of the soul with God.” He is known today by the new name given to him by his friends: Brother Lawrence. He remained obscure throughout his life. He never got voted pope. He never got close to becoming the CEO of his organization. He stayed in the kitchen. But the people around him found that rivers of living water flowed out of him that made them want to know God the way he did. “The good brother found God everywhere,” one of them wrote, “as much while he was repairing shoes as while he was praying with the community.” After Lawrence died, his friends put together a book of his letters and conversations. It is called Practicing the Presence of God and is thought, apart from the Bible, to be the most widely read book of the last four centuries. This monastic short-order cook has probably out-sold novelist John Grisham and Tom Clancey and J.K. Rowling put together. (sermon central illustrations)

  1. Saving in the Right Place (6:19-24), we are to center our focus of the future on eternal goals, not earthly – to help us keep our hearts on target (6:19-21). We must keep a clear agenda and open heart (6:22-23) determined to serve God above any other agenda or goal (6:24).
  1. Learning to Place our Trust Appropriately (6:25-34). We must not worry about the ability of God to provide for our basic needs, because God is powerful (6:25-26). We have no power over many things (6:27). God is able to meet our needs in elegant ways beyond our comprehension (6:28-30). Our confidence must be a testimony that marks us as different than the lost (6:31-32). If we focus on following God, He will take care of the rest for us (6:33-34).

Once time filming a movie in the desert and an old Indian walked up and said, “Tomorrow Rain.” The next day it rained. Week later the old Indian walked up again and said “Tomorrow storm.” Three days later walked up and said “Hail storm.” The director was amazed with the Indian, and he told his secretary to hire the Indian so He could predict the weather for the remaining of the shoot. However, after several accurate predictions the old Indian did not show up for 2 weeks. Finally the director sent for him. They found him and told him the director was counting on him for his weather predictions because there was a big shoot coming the next day if the weather permitted it. “What is the weather going to be like?’ The old Indian shrugged his shoulder and said, “Don’t know… radio is broken.” (sermon central illustrations)

  1. Examining properly our Companions (7:1-5). We are not to judge another with a standard different than we judge ourselves (7:1-2). We must not overlook our issues to spot theirs (7:3-4) but deal with our issues first (7:5).

A Buzzard and a Humming bird fly over the same desert. One is looking for something dead and rotting. The other is looking for pretty, colorful flowers. BOTH find what they’re looking for!

  1. Guarding Carefully God’s Truths (7:6). We are to understand the value of what God has given us, and be careful not to treat it as common. Guarding includes where and among whom we share God’s truth.
  1. Seeking Confidently God’s Provision (7:7-12). We are to ask for what we need (7:7-8) and understand that our Father is good, and is FOR us (7:9-12). He is not stingy, nor does He delight in withholding good things!

Four Choices of a True Disciple (7:13-27).

There are four couplets that emphasize the fact that a true follower must come to a place of choices concerning Jesus’ teachings:

  1. The Two Gates (7:13-14): A true disciple must choose the path less traveled, opting to forego the way “every one else” seems to be going! You have a choice!
  1. The Two Fruit Trees (7:15-20): A true disciple will be careful to watch the fruit of a teacher before following their message (7:15-17). He will recognize the fruit exposes the type and usefulness of the tree (7:18-20). You must evaluate my teaching as true!

Dr. Haddon Robinson writes: “Some people are attracted to Christianity because they have a leaky faucet that they want God to fix. Perhaps they struggle with a destructive habit and they would like to tap into God’s power to help them break it. Or maybe they have broken relationships that they want God to mend. But they learn from this Sermon on the Mount that God is not a plumber. Leaky faucets are minor league stuff to Him. God wants to tear the plumbing out entirely and deal with the well from which the water flows. He wants to change what comes out of the faucet, not merely stop its leak.” – The Solid Rock Construction Company, pg.122

  1. The Two Confessions (7:21-23). A true disciple won’t just speak as though they know me, but will live according to My teaching (7:21). Some will even be self-deceived into thinking they experienced My power in places where My presence was not even found (7:22-23). You must submit to obeying My words!
  1. The Two Foundations (7:24-29). If you hear and then follow My word you are building well (7:24-25). If you hear my teaching but don’t allow it to transform you – you are setting yourself up for a future collapse (7:26-27). My teaching must be transforming you!

The Apostle Paul worked tirelessly for 35-40 years to establish the church of Jesus Christ. He endured storms of rejection, of deprivation, of all kinds of difficulty. In the end, he found himself chained to a wall in a dark dungeon in Rome. Awaiting his death sentence to be carried out, he dictated these words: [2 Tim. 4:18] “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” He had entered the narrow gate and set aside selfish rights. He had built a foundation of trust in God during his day to day obedience to the Lord over the years. (sermon central illustrations).