Matthew

Chapter 5, Part 2

Matthew 5:13 – You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

We are still looking at teaching from what is known as the Sermon on the Mount.  Our last post pointed out that Jesus taught while sitting on a mountain slope.  This setting allowed him to be both seen and heard by all those who came to hear him.  It was obviously not a truly remote place, because the crowds were able to get there, but it was far enough away from the hustle and bustle of daily life to allow the hearers to concentrate on what Jesus was saying.

Let’s take a moment to consider salt, since that is what Jesus is comparing his followers to.

Here is a fact about salt that you may never have considered before:  You only salt things that are dead.

Now, I admit, that sounds strange, but if you think about it, you will find that it is true.  We don’t go out into our gardens and salt the green bean plants; we add the salt after the beans are picked and we are cooking them.  Since the beans have been separated from the plant, they are technically dead and eventually they will rot.

Likewise, we don’t go out into the fields and salt the cattle as they graze. 

We wait until the animal has been butchered, then add a sprinkle or two of salt on a steak as we are grilling it.

What does salt do for dead things?  It preserves, it enhances flavor and texture and it is also a binding agent in foods like sausage.

In the same way as salt preserves, enhances and acts as a binder for food, the Christian acts as a preservative, enhancer and binder for the human world.

It is the faith, works and prayers of Christians which bring the blessings and favor of God down upon our society.  Without Christian influence, the world would soon become totally corrupt and rotten, much like a steak left in the hot sun for a few days.  We already have evidence of this; the bible tells us that during the time of Noah, there were only a handful of righteous people left.  The rest of the world was entirely unrestrained and corrupt.

Genesis 6:11-12 – Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.  And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.

This was not a ‘one time’ exception; any generation left without a witness to the truth and power of God Almighty will end up in the same state of death.

Psalms 14:2-3 – The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.  They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt, there is none who does good, not even one.

Therefore, it is essential that each disciple of Jesus act as salt in his/her community. In order for the salt to do its work, it must be separate/distinct/different from the food it is preserving.  Otherwise, it can do no good.

In the same way, we must stand out and be different from the culture around us.  If there is no discernable difference between you and the world, how can you function as salt?

One way to measure your influence as salt is to see how you are different from those around you.  For instance, do you have the same goals as those without Christ?  I certainly hope not!  They are looking to gain the whole world, while you should be looking for a heavenly home.

The world seeks to spend their days in idleness and pleasure.  You should be working in the fields of righteousness, because there is a great harvest of souls to be gathered, but the workers are few.

The world is fearful of the future, but you are a person of peace – peace that passes understanding.

The world seeks to find meaning and satisfaction through money, power, sex, alcohol, drugs and other things.  However, the Christian knows that true satisfaction and fulfillment are found in a relationship with the God of the universe.

The bottom line is this – If you are going to be the salt of the earth, you must be different from the world. Your holiness and good works will stand in contrast to the carnality of your generation, giving unbelievers an example of the love, peace and fulfillment available to those who follow Jesus Christ.

If we are no different than the unbelievers around us, then we have lost the ability to act as salt; we can no longer preserve or enhance or hold together the society in which we live.  If that is the case what good are we to the world around us or to our King?

Matthew 5:14-15 – You are the light of the world.  A cit set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.

The ‘light’ metaphors in these verses are much the same as the ‘salt’ metaphor above.  Just as God designed the sun to illuminate the earth, so he designed the Christian to illuminate the hearts and minds of those around us to the gospel of Christ.

If a city is built on a hill, it will not be a secret, especially at night when the lights are on.  Anyone will be able to see it, even from a distance.  The city will be a place of refuge and respite for the weary traveler.

In the same way, the church of Jesus Christ is like a city.  It is not hidden, but it is out in plain view shining with the light of Christ.  Anyone who looks for it can see it.  The church should be a place of shelter and comfort to those who are weary from life.

Matthew 5:16 -In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Live your own life by the light of the gospel.  Let the world see your holiness and your good works to others.  Let them notice and marvel at your love for all mankind.  Let the world see the true peace and joy that you posses, which is not affected by either good or bad circumstances.  Let them see you glorify and praise your King.  Let them eat of the fruit of the Spirit that you bear in your life.

In so doing, you will point them back to your heavenly Father.  He is to receive the glory and honor and praise for all the good things exhibited in our lives.

This is the opposite of what the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were doing.  They performed good works and prayed public prayers so that they themselves would receive the glory of men.  This is not true Christianity, which acts in order to glorify God alone.

Matthew 5:17 – Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

The ancient scriptures (what we know as the Old Testament) had three divisions:  The Torah, the Prophets and the Writings (Ketuvim).

The Torah is the law of God as revealed to Moses, which is recorded in the first five books of the Old Testament. It is also called the Pentateuch.

The Prophets are just what you imagine – the Old Testament books written by the prophets.  These include (but are not limited to) Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Samuel, Joel, Jonah, Micah, and others.

The Writings were everything else, including the Psalms and Proverbs.

Essentially, when Jesus speaks of the Law and the Prophets, he is referring to the whole Old Testament or the current covenant between God and the Jews.

Let’s consider these words from the Jewish point of view.  If you were a devout, God fearing Jew back then, you would probably be alarmed at Jesus’ teaching.  You might naturally assume that if the kingdom of heaven was at hand and a new era was beginning, that the law you so loved and cherished would be destroyed.  This would almost be considered blasphemous by the devout Jews, because the law was clearly the word of God.

On the other hand, if you were a Jew who despised the law, you might be very glad to hear that a new covenant was at hand – perhaps it would be more to your liking that the strict rules of the law!

However, Jesus makes it clear from the beginning that he has no intention of destroying the law.  Rather, he has come to fulfill it.  Jesus will be the literal fulfillment of the ceremonial law; he will be the true, perfect sacrificial lamb who would atone for the sins of all mankind.  He would also be the fulfillment of the moral law.  This means that by his life and doctrine Jesus would establish, illustrate and live out the highest meaning of moral law.

It makes sense that Jesus was come to fulfill the law rather than to destroy it.  After all, the Old and New Testament scriptures form a single unified whole.  The law and the gospels are not opposing teachings; they are a single perfect unified whole.  God’s revelation would never contradict itself.

This brings us to another point.  The moral law as taught and lived by Jesus was going to look a whole lot different than the moral law as practiced by the Pharisees and other religious leaders.  This accounts for a lot of the tension between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day.

Matthew 5:18 – For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Clearly, Jesus is teaching that the law was to remain in full force until it was fulfilled.  He is also telling us that the smallest or least element of holiness in the law has more reality and durability than the whole visible universe.  The heavens and the earth will one day pass away, but not the word of God!

Matthew 24:35 – Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

Matthew 5:19 – Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

The religious leaders of Jesus day had a bad habit of dividing up the commandments of God into ‘lesser’ and ‘greater’ commands.  If you broke one of the lesser commands, it meant you were guilty of only a trivial offence.  If you broke one of the greater commands, that was a serious offence.  Then, there were the commands that did not suit the purposes of the religious leaders, so they maintained that their traditions made those commands null and void!

While that may seem laughable to us, don’t mock them just yet, because we do essentially the same thing!

For example, which sin is greater:  a little white lie or murder?  How about cheating a little on your taxes or robbing a bank?

You see, even our generation considers some sins to be little (the white lie or cheating the IRS) and some sins to be big and serious (murder and robbery).

God doesn’t see it that way at all.  Each and every breach of the law is sin.  Jesus was saying that he was going to raise, not lower, the standard of righteousness which had previously been accepted by the Jews.  We will find him teaching on this subject in greater detail very soon.

Matthew 5:20 – For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The righteousness of the religious leaders was based on the outward observance of ceremonial law.  They offered sacrifices, fasted regularly, never missed ceremonial washings and paid tithes down to the exact amount of spices in their gardens!

But Jesus wasn’t speaking of outward righteousness.  He is concerned about the righteousness that springs from the heart of a person.  It consists of things like justice, truth and purity of heart and mind.  If we have righteousness in our hearts, our actions will follow suit.

Matthew 5:21-22  – You have heard it said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says ‘you fool’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Jesus now goes on to give an example of his previous statement.  The teachers of the law told the people that if you murder, you are liable to judgment.  There can be no doubt that this was a correct interpretation of the law.  However, their conclusions and teachings are solely based on outward actions.  No concern is given to the motivations of the heart.  This was the fundamental mistake of the Pharisees and other religious leaders, which they continued to make again and again. 

Jesus, however, is teaching that the law entails more than just your actions – it also includes your inward thoughts and motivations.  Thus, anyone who has malice, hatred, ill-will or scornful anger against a brother is also guilty of murder, just like the man who literally kills his neighbor!

Matthew 5:23-24 – So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go.  First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

The religious leaders believed that as long as a person performed an external act of worship, they were in right standing with God, regardless of what was in their heart.  For instance, they believed that a person could pay his tithes and it would be an acceptable sacrifice to God, even if he had hatred or jealously or pride in his heart against a fellow man.

But Jesus teaches something far different.  He exemplifies the fulfillment of the law when he says that we cannot offer acceptable worship to God while holding hostile feelings toward another person.  Neither can we offer acceptable worship to God if we have failed to make restitution to someone for an injury we have done to him.  So Jesus explains that we must defer our worship until we make peace with our brother.  Only then will our sacrifice be acceptable to God.

Matthew 5:25-26 – Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.  Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Here Jesus gives a real world example of his teaching.  The gist is this:  if you have a quarrel with someone, you need to make things right as soon as possible, before your adversary sets the law into motion.  Once that happens, you will suffer the unrelenting wheels of justice where you will be held responsible to pay every last cent.  Instead of doing that, cast off your pride and anger; make peace with your adversary so you are not caught in judgment.

Likewise, we need to make things right with our fellow man during the time that mercy is still possible.  If we are stubborn and refuse to lay down our pride and anger, we will soon enter a time when judgment without mercy is the only possible outcome.

I hope you are enjoying our study of Matthew!  Before we end this installment, let me give you a little encouragement:  As a Christian, you shine the light of Jesus to a lost and dying world!  What an honor it is to reflect the love and grace of our Savior and King.  I encourage you to shine your light just a little brighter this week.  Try being just a little more bold in expressing your belief in Jesus!

Let me offer you some relief:  If you have a long list of rules for being a Christian, ease up on yourself a bit.  Rather than focusing on ‘do’s and don’ts’ keep a close watch on the intents and motivations of your heart.  If your heart is right, your actions will follow.

Let me offer you some strength:  It is our job to lift up Jesus; it is the Holy Spirit’s job to call people to repentance.  That means that you may do a fine job being salt or light, but others may still reject your witness.  Don’t be worried if this happens; you may be watering or planting a seed that will sprout up at another time.  Continue to shine your light and let the Holy Spirit worry about the results.

Matthew

Chapter 5, Part 1

Matthew 5:1-2 – Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.  And he opened his mouth and taught them saying,

Chapters 5-7 of Matthew’s gospel are collectively known as the ‘Sermon on the Mount’.  Jesus did not call it that; it is a title that was given much later by those who studied the scriptures. 

The name is simply taken from verse 1, which states that Jesus went up on a mountain to speak to his disciples.

If Jesus were going to speak to a crowd today, we would have him in a large auditorium with lights, a microphone/sound system and lot of enormous TV screens.  Jesus did the equivalent of that for his day.  He sat down on the mountain/hillside, which elevated him a bit above the crowd.  In this way, everyone could see him.  The acoustics of the area probably let his words go forth for all to be heard.

Clearly, the place Jesus chose was not extremely remote, because we see that crowds were able to get there.  On the other hand, it was certainly removed from the busyness of their daily lives.  This is a good principle for all of us.  Take time to shut yourself away from the busyness and distractions of everyday life.  When you do, you will find it is much, much easier to hear what God is saying to you.

Jesus sat as he taught; that was the normal method employed by all Jewish teachers.

Many scholars make note of the fact that the Old Testament Law was given on a mountain (Sinai) with God’s people in attendance. During that encounter, God was hidden from them by dark clouds; it was a time of great fear.

Jesus also delivers the principles of the kingdom of the New Covenant on a mountain with God’s people present, but this time he is plainly visible and there is an atmosphere of blessing and peace.

While the Holy Spirit prompted Matthew to write down the teachings of Jesus orderly and concisely in chapters 5-7, there is no indication that all of this teaching was delivered at one time.  There is so much teaching in these chapters, no one could have comprehended it all in a single sitting.  If it was delivered all at once, that would have been one long church service!

Matthew 5:3 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”

This is the first of the 9 ‘beatitudes’ listed in verses 3-12 of chapter 5.  The beatitudes are a section of teaching within the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7).  Beatitude refers to a state of bliss or happiness.  Therefore, these 9 things will tell the Jewish people what will make them truly happy.  Each principle builds upon the one before it.

Keep in mind that the Jews still had a lingering expectation that the Messiah was going to immediately set up an earthly kingdom and expel the Romans from their land.  Therefore, these teachings were a bit like a splash of cold water on the face. It wasn’t at all what the Jews were expecting. Jesus’ teachings showed that his kingdom was a spiritual one; the kingdom of heaven is really the rule of God through Christ.

While these teachings applied to the Jews back in Jesus’ day, they also have lessons to teach the modern day Christian.

Let’s get started!  The beginning of all happiness is to be poor in spirit.  In this case, the word ‘poor’ has nothing to do with earthly wealth.  A person can be rich but still be poor in spirit.

Poor in spirit deals with three main issues:  humility, submission and gratitude.  To be poor in spirit means to be humble or to have a humble opinion of ourselves.  Those who are poor in spirit understand and acknowledge that they are sinners and have no righteousness of their own. They cannot save themselves (gain entrance to the kingdom of heaven); they must rely on God to do it for them.

Romans 3:23-24 – For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…

Not only are the poor in spirit are willing to depend on God for forgiveness of sin, they are willing to submit to him, doing what he commands, giving as he instructs, going where he leads and bearing the light burdens he places upon us.

Those who are poor in spirit will exemplify gratitude for the blessings bestowed upon them by Christ.  One who is truly poor in spirit will be actively involved in praise and worship of God.

What is the result or reward of being poor in spirit?  Those who are poor in spirit are ready to accept forgiveness by the blood of Jesus and consequently, will be admitted into the kingdom of heaven.

At the close of this age, they will find themselves in heaven, in the presence of Jesus, Father God and the Holy Spirit where there is no more sin or death or sorrow.  Scripture tells us that we cannot even comprehend what God has in store for us in the next age.

Isaiah 64:4 – For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither has the eye seen, O God, besides you, what he has prepared for him that waits for him.

So, the beginning of blessing starts with an acknowledgement of our sinful nature and our dependence on God.  

Matthew 5:4 – “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

The bible speaks of two different kinds of mourning or sorrow.  One is worldly sorrow and the other is godly sorrow.

2 Corinthians 7:10 – For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation not to be regretted: but the sorrow of the world works death.

How do we know the difference?

Godly sorrow involves sorrow for our own sin, the sins of others or the sin of a nation.  Sorrow is caused when we understand and view sin as God views it – something that is putrid or rotting and, if left unchecked, produces death.  Strange as it may sound, godly sorrow has a good outcome.  Though unpleasant for a time, it produces true repentance and a return to the ways of God.  This leads to spiritual life.

In Matthew, Jesus tells us that those who mourn or express godly sorrow, are blessed for they shall be comforted.  God comforts the sinner by removing the sin as far ‘as the east is from the west’.  Once that burden is removed, the sinner is no longer sorrowful.  Through Christ they can win victory over the sin, which no longer holds any power over them.  They now have full assurance that regardless of what earthly life holds, they will be blessed for eternity.

Worldly sorrow is different.  Worldly sorrow is mourning for failure, not sin.  It includes things like life’s disappointments (if only I had sold that stock), loss of property or people (my house burned down, my spouse died), or guilt and disgrace (I was publicly chastised for theft in office, I was arrested for vice, etc).

Worldly sorrow leads only to the hopelessness of guilt and despair, which in turn leads to a broken heart and eventually death – death of the body and death of the spirit.

I encourage you to turn to Christ immediately – he is the only one who can turn your mourning into joy!

Matthew 5:5 – “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

How do you define meekness?  Does it conjure up images of people who are like ‘wet noodles’ – powerless and unable to stand up for themselves?  Do you imagine people who are weak and afraid of confrontation or people who are over run by anyone who challenges them? 

If so, you may be in for a surprise.  Meekness is not weakness.  The best definition for meekness is ‘power under control’.   What you may be mistaking for weakness is actually forbearance and self control.

Let me give you an example.  Do you think that Jesus was meek?  We would say yes, wouldn’t we?  So when the Romans and the Jews conspired together to crucify him on the cross, was he weak and powerless and unable to stand up for himself?

No!  The scriptures tell us that Jesus was in total control of that situation.

Matthew 26:53-54 –  [Jesus asked Peter] Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?

When the Romans came to arrest Jesus, Peter pulled out a sword and cut off the ear of one of the soldiers.  Jesus healed the man’s ear, and plainly told Peter that he had the power and the authority to call down thousands of angels at any moment.  Before Peter even blinked, Jesus could have been rescued from the crucifixion.

But Jesus chose not to do that.  He chose to overlook the offence of these men so that he could accomplish his plan of redemption.  Jesus had his power and his authority under control; he could decide what kind of action to take against these men.

The scripture says that you and I can find happiness by exemplifying meekness.  We too, can control our passions and emotions.  Rather than reacting to an attack, we have the ability to take a moment and decide the best way to act.  It is possible to treat others as we would like to be treated.  All it takes is meekness and self control.

Why don’t you watch yourself this week and determine your level of meekness?  Find out if this is an area where you need to grow.  If so, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to assist you in gaining control over your passions so you can glorify Jesus.

Matthew 5:6 – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

What is righteousness? First of all, it can be defined as freedom from sin/guilt.

The Bible says that we have righteousness (freedom from sin) through the sacrifice of Jesus.  We do nothing to earn or deserve it; it is a free gift from God.  This righteousness is instantaneous; we are righteous in God’s sight the second we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

2 Corinthians 5:21 – For He [God] has made him who knew no sin [Jesus], to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

There is also a second definition of righteousness, which is conformity to God’s will or acting in accordance with divine law.  This includes personal purity/holiness and it takes the form of doing what is right.  It is closely associated with justice which is integrity in our dealings with other people.

This kind of righteousness is formed in us little by little as the Holy Spirit transforms us into the image of Jesus.

2 Corinthians 3:18 – And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

The work of the Holy Spirit produces righteousness that is a state of mind and heart; it is the soil out of which all virtues grow.

So, righteousness is both instantaneous freedom from sin as well as the continual sanctification of ourselves which leads to personal holiness, acting justly towards others and being aligned with God’s will.

Notice that Jesus compares our desire for righteousness to hunger and thirst. 

Have you ever been so hungry you felt weak or ill? Maybe you skipped lunch and now your stomach is growling like a lion! When you are that hungry, even food you don’t really like starts to look appetizing!

What about thirst?  Can you remember a time when you were so dry and parched that you couldn’t concentrate on anything other than satisfying your craving for some clear, cold water?

Here is some good news – Jesus promises us that if we intensely desire righteousness like we would food and water, we are blessed because we will be filled!

Conversely, if we hunger and thirst or intensely desire the things of the world like money and pleasure, we will be disappointed because these things cannot truly satisfy or make us happy.

What sort of things are you longing for?  I encourage you to choose the things that are eternal, not the things of this world.

Matthew 5:7 – “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.”

To be merciful means to pity, to help, to support or to give relief to people who are in difficulty, want or distress.  It means to assist and deliver from suffering.

That being the case, we don’t have to look very far to find instances in which we can show mercy.  All around us there are hurting people who need food, shelter and clothing.  All around us are people who are slaves to addictions and diseases.  All around us are people who need love, hope and words of affirmation.  And everywhere you look there are people who need to know Jesus as savior.

In fact, each day brings new opportunities for us to help alleviate some of the suffering that we see in the world.  Do you need some motivation to get involved?  How about this – Jesus promises that if we will reach out and help others, we too shall obtain mercy in our hour of need.  Are you actively involved in showing mercy?

Matthew 5:8 – “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

To have a pure heart means that your motives and thoughts are pure.  This is in contrast to a person who is externally pure by obeying laws and rules. The Pharisees and Sadducees are good examples of those who were outwardly pure, but who had hearts full of corruption and sin.   Remember, these were the people that John called to repent for the kingdom of Heaven was coming!

Those who are pure in heart receive an incredible blessing – they shall see God.  To see God implies being in his presence; the pure in heart will be God’s friend and experience his favor and blessing.  The pure in heart will dwell with him forever in his kingdom.

Matthew 5:9 – “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Peacemakers are those who not only seek to eliminate conflict in their own lives, but also labor to settle differences among others.  Instead of fanning the flames of strife, the peacemakers use their influence and wisdom to reconcile the separated parties and restore them to a state of unity and peace.

Since all men are in a state of conflict or hostility with God (and each other), the gospel is called the gospel of peace because it reconciles men to God and to each other.  Since God is the Father of peace, the peacemakers would naturally be referred to as his children.

Matthew 5:10-12 – “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

To persecute means to pursue someone with the intent to grieve, afflict, vex, torment, oppress or put them to death.  Religious beliefs of all different kinds are often the basis for persecution.

Let us take a moment and consider a Christian who has been closely attending to the beatitudes found here in Matthew. 

Such a person is a peacemaker.  He is one who sows mercy in a hurting world.  He is meek, holding his power in check and acting according to God’s wishes; he loves his neighbor as himself.  He mourns over sin and evil.  He is poor in spirit, meaning humble, submissive and grateful for what he has.  So why would those in the world persecute such a person?  If all people exemplified these virtues, wouldn’t the world be a better place?

The bible tells us that Christians will be persecuted because those in the world love darkness/evil and hate light/righteousness.

John 3:19-20 – And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For everyone that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

So, it should not come as a surprise when Christians are persecuted.

In these last verses Jesus is warning and urging us to walk worthy of our calling.  Those who are persecuted are considered as one of the prophets of old.  We share their calling as people who illuminate darkness by shining our lights brightly before a lost and dying world.  It is our duty to bear witness to the truth of God, even though the world does not want to hear about it.  It is our pleasure to remain pure in our faith, not being stained or defiled by the world.  The purpose in all of this is to lift up the name of Jesus so the world may see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven.

Our motivation for enduring suffering is our love for God.  We love him because he first loved us, forgave us and blessed us with eternal life in his presence.  While this would be reward enough for eternity, God graciously grants us even more.

In fact, Jesus says the persecuted will have great reward in heaven.  This tells us that the reward is positively assured.  At the present time it is out of sight (as are all of our heavenly rewards), but it is real nonetheless.  The persecuted will have an everlasting, abundant recompense for all that has temporarily happened on earth.  The persecuted Christian is laying up treasure in heaven where moths and rust and thieves cannot touch their reward.

So let me give you some encouragement: Don’t give up on yourself or others!  Every single day the Holy Spirit is working in your life to transform you into the image of Christ.  This process takes time and there will surely be some failures along the way, but eventually, you can become the Christian described in the beatitudes.

Let me give you some relief:  When you stand for the truth, the world will notice and they will most likely hate you for it.  Don’t worry – this is normal, so continue to stand firm.  There will be those who come to accept Christ through your witness.

Let me give you some strength:  We don’t know exactly what the future holds, but we do know that God is right here with us, even to the end of this age.  We also know that he will not place any burden upon us that we cannot carry.  So take heart – no matter what we may face, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us!

Matthew

Chapter 4, Part 2

Matthew 4:12 – Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee.

There is a gap of time between verses 11 and 12 of about a year.  What happened during that time?  The book of John gives us some of the details.  Jesus was very busy ministering to people. He preached in the synagogues, attended Passover in Jerusalem (John 2), had a discussion with Nicodemus (John 3), spoke to the woman at the well (John 4), performed a miracle at the wedding at Cana and much more.

So we see that for a time, the ministries of Jesus and John overlapped.  Both of them were both calling people to repent in light of the coming Kingdom of Heaven.   God was allowing time for John to fully complete his ministry of preparing the way for Christ.  Once that was done, John’s ministry needed to decrease while Jesus’ ministry increased.  Otherwise, people would be divided with some following John and some following Jesus.

Matthew 4:13-16 – And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.’

‘By the sea’ refers to the sea of Tiberias also called the lake of Gennesaret.  This place was in the ancient territory of the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun.  Isaiah prophesied about this land back in chapter 9 of his book.  He declared that a great light would dawn on this region, which had been dwelling in the shadow of death.

Back in the era of 2 Kings 15 this was literally the case because that region was the first to be attacked by the Assyrians.  There can be no doubt that those people were indeed living in the shadow of death.

However, there was more than one kind of death going on.  There was physical death from the Assyrians, but there was also spiritual death for those Jews who had rejected the covenant with God.  In other words, dwelling in the shadow of death was the same as living in sin, because the final outcome of sin is always death.

To those who are living in sin (spiritual death), the preaching of Jesus were a great light, which led them to salvation and eternal life.

 So it is for us.  We were in the darkness of sin and under the influence of spiritual death.  We could not rid ourselves of the stain and bondage of sin.  What we can do is embrace the light of the gospel when it is shined on our lives.  In so doing, Christ cleanses us and sets us free from death, through his blood sacrifice.

What a blessing it is to read that Christ’s message reached far and wide, extending even to Galilee of the Gentiles.  Thus, we see yet another hint of God’s great plan to offer salvation to the Gentiles.

Matthew 4:17 – From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

After John’s imprisonment, Jesus continued to preach the message of repentance.  Repentance is always the starting point of spiritual life.  We must first repent before we can obtain salvation.  We must obtain salvation before we can reach great heights of faith and spiritual maturity.

Matthew 4:18 – While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.

The time had come for Jesus to gather his disciples to himself.  These men would be witnesses – witnesses of miracles, witnesses of healing, witnesses of the power of God over the enemy and witnesses of the gospel message.  In fact, after the death and resurrection of Jesus they would be preaching of the gospel after being baptized in the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.  God would then work similar miracles through these men, just as he had through Jesus.

Matthew 4:19-20 – And he said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”  And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

We can’t help but notice that Jesus did not go to Jerusalem to find his disciples.  He did not choose anyone from among the chief priests, the elders, the Pharisees, Saducees or Essenes.  He did not choose men who were refined or noble.  Rather, he choose the humble of this world.  Galilee was a remote part of the nation and its inhabitants were not cultivated or refined as those of Jerusalem.  In fact, they were considered ‘coarse’.  Yet, these were the people God chose.

1 Corinthians 1:27 – But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty…

This shows that you can be used by God no matter what your station in life.  You can be rich or poor, smart or simple, educated or uneducated; God can (and will) work through any person who yields themselves to his will.  Get into alignment with what God is doing, and watch him work through you!

Matthew 4:21-22 –And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them.  Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

The men that Jesus chose were uniquely qualified to fulfill their purpose.  They were laborers.  They were used to hard work and long hours.  They were content without luxurious clothing and food.  They were used to being wet, cold and uncomfortable.  They were no strangers to peril.

Similarly, we remember that David and Moses were both shepherds before rising to positions of prominence in God’s kingdom.  Their early training helped prepare them for future ministry.

Just like David, Moses and the disciples, you are uniquely qualified to serve God.  Your talents and experiences make you different from everyone around you.  So let me ask you this – are you actively seeking the good works that God has prepared for you to do?  Are you advancing the kingdom here on earth?

If not, look around you and find a place to begin ministering.  Once you have begun, other doors of opportunity will open for you.  Just like the disciples, you may be surprised where God takes you!

Matthew 4:23 –And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.

Here we have a great example of how to spread the gospel.  People came to Jesus with physical needs; he met those needs then introduced spiritual healing as well.  People know when they have physical needs, but they don’t always understand that they are spiritually sick as well.  Therefore, the physical need opens the door to preaching of the gospel, which heals the soul.

This example still works today.  The church should not be a closed community of righteous people.  Rather, sinners should feel welcome there.  This does not mean that we embrace and love their sin; it means we love them as they repent.

This also means that all of us need to support our local churches financially so that the church can reach out to the needs of the community around them, bringing both physical and spiritual hope and healing.

Jesus also gives us hope for the future.  By atoning for sin, he has broken the curse of sickness and death.  One day, these will be totally destroyed!

Matthew 4:24-25 – So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

Wherever Jesus went he confirmed his divine mission with miracles performed by the influence and power of the Holy Spirit.  No sickness, disease or torment was powerful enough to stand against him.  He healed them all.  But he also brought an even greater miracle – healing of the soul by becoming a sacrifice for our sin.

Let me give you some encouragement, relief and strength: There is no one on planet earth like you! Don’t try to imitate others; be yourself. You can do things for God that no one else can – step out in faith and begin to minister for Jesus. There’s no telling where you might end up!

Matthew

Chapter 4, Part 1

Matthew 4:1 – Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

The first 11 verses of this chapter are the temptation of Christ.  It is an incredibly important and complex portion of scripture with many significant ties to the Old Testament law and the original fall of man.

We should not be surprised that Jesus was tempted to sin because Satan tempts all people, however, this was no ordinary temptation.  The outcome of all that God had pledged to do for mankind hung upon this encounter.  If Jesus failed/sinned, he was no longer fit to be the Messiah. The eternal outcome of all mankind was on the line that day in the wilderness.

The problem of sin started back in the Garden of Eden.  As you recall, Adam was in perfect relationship with Father God.  He lived in a place of beauty.  He had all he wanted to eat. There was no such thing as sickness or death.  In this state of perfection, Satan came to tempt him.

The temptation of Adam contained the three principle classes of sin:  the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life.  Adam failed in all three categories, bringing sin and death upon all men.

1 John 2:16 –For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life – is not from the Father, but is from the world.

The temptation of Jesus must also include the three classes of sin.  He must also face temptation as a man, but he must overcome it, so that he can be the perfect blood sacrifice for sin.  Praise be to God, Jesus was victorious over Satan!  Because of this victory, we can be justified by faith in the sight of God.

Romans 5:19 – For as by the one man’s disobedience (Adam) the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience (Jesus) the many will be made righteous.

While Jesus’ victory over sin allowed him to be our savior, it also had another benefit.  The temptation allowed Jesus to experience and understand what it is like for you and I to be tempted.  Since he knows what it is like to be tempted, he can help us in our times of temptation.

Hebrews 2:18 – Because he [Jesus] himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Not only does he sympathize with us, he also makes a way of escape for us!

1 Corinthians 10:13 – There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Think about that for a minute… when we are tempted, we are not doomed to fail, rather we are set up to win!  Jesus has made it possible for us to resist sin and send the devil away empty handed.  How can we accomplish this?  Let’s take a look at how Jesus did it.

Matthew 4:2-3 – And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  And the tempter cam and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

Interestingly, Moses fasted 40 days up on Mount Sinai, before God gave him the old covenant/law (see Exodus 24).  Now Jesus fasts 40 days before embarking on the ministry that would bring us the new covenant.

Jesus’ baptism marked the beginning of his public ministry, which would end in his sacrifice on the cross.  It makes sense that immediately after his baptism, he separated himself for a time, in order to prepare himself for the three year ministry that he was about to perform.  In preparation, he spends 40 days in fasting and prayer.

Obviously, at the end of this period, Jesus is starving!

It is during this time of weakness that Satan tempts Jesus with the first temptation, the lust of the flesh.  And the temptation is very tricky, isn’t it?  Jesus has just recently been declared the Son of God.  He has power and authority.  He is very hungry.  What could be easier than turning the stones into bread?  What could be sinful about using his power to satisfy his own needs?  After all, it wasn’t God’s will for him to starve to death, was it?

By telling Jesus to turn the stones into bread, Satan implies that God is not a good Father; that he does not care about Jesus or his needs and that he cannot be trusted.  If that is the case, then the logical thing is for Jesus to use his power to take care of himself in the way that seems best to him; Jesus should rely on himself and not the wisdom and provision of his heavenly Father.  Essentially, this is rebellion against God.

Notice how closely this mimics the fall of Adam and Eve!  Satan came to them in the Garden of Eden and got Eve to point out that there was a single tree they were not permitted to eat from.  He tells Eve that they would not die if they ate its fruit, in fact, they would become as gods, knowing good from evil.

Satan implied to Eve that God was not a good Father.  He was holding out on her – he had wisdom and knowledge that she needed but he would not allow her to have it.  Therefore, she should take matters into her own hands.  She should use her power to pick the fruit and eat it.  Thus, she and Adam were both convinced to rebel against God and sin entered the world.

Jesus, however, was not so easily fooled.  Jesus was fully convinced that his Father cared for him and would not refuse to give him any gift or provision that would be good for him.   He also knew that God would deliver those provisions at the perfect time; to use his own power to make it happen sooner would be to short circuit the plan of God and it would be tantamount to rebellion.  Also, Jesus was not taking council or orders from Satan.  He consulted God, he waited for God and he would receive all that God had for him at the perfect time, including bread.

Hint:  Satan tempts us in the same way.  For example, maybe you are looking for a spouse to share your life with.  There is nothing wrong with that desire, in fact the Bible says it is a good thing.  But maybe, even though you have prayed about it, the right person has not come along.

At that point, Satan is likely to come and whisper things in your ear like these:  God isn’t very good to you, is he?  It’s God’s fault that you are lonely.  He could give you the perfect spouse right now but he won’t because he is keeping all the good stuff from you.  Or maybe he hasn’t given you a spouse because he forgot to make one for you!  How careless of him!  Since God does doesn’t care about your and isn’t stepping up for you, why don’t you just take matters into your own hands?  Why not relax your standards a bit and find a fun exciting new mate on your own!  You can be married by the end of the year, if you want!

Sometimes the thing Satan tempts you with is not an evil thing. 

Sometimes it is a good thing (like bread or a spouse), but if you try to obtain it in a sinful way or through sinful means, it becomes a sin and a snare to you.

Matthew 4:4 – But he answered, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Jesus shows us how to recognize and repel this attack of Satan.  We do it through the word of God.  Notice that in all the temptations of Satan, Jesus uses the word to defeat him.

Interestingly, Jesus himself was the word of God incarnate, yet he does not quote himself to defeat Satan.  Instead, Jesus quotes the Old Testament law, which was the current covenant during his temptation.  There were no secret unattainable documents – he used a resource that was available to everyone.

In the same way, we can use the word of God, the Bible, to repel the attacks of Satan.  The truth of the word will give us that ‘escape hatch’ whenever we are faced with temptation.

The key is that you have to know it!  You can’t wait until the time of the temptation and then wonder what the scripture has to say.  You have to read it now and hide it in your heart as a weapon to be used in combat.

Psalms 119:11 – They word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee.

Why not begin today?  Pick up your Bible and read it consistently, even if it’s only 15 minutes a day.  You have 15 minutes don’t you?  You can access the bible on your tablet, cell phone, computer or you can use an old fashioned paper copy.  No matter how you access it, make the time to read it on a daily basis.  Use it to fill up your arsenal of weapons against the enemy.

Matthew 4:5-7 – Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle o the temple 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, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”   Jesus said unto him, “Again it is written, you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”

This second temptation involves the sins of pride and presumption.  Satan and Jesus are at the tallest point of the temple, a holy building which was revered and admired by all people.  Satan is encouraging Jesus to do as he wishes or to do what he ‘feels like’ doing (in this case, jump off the pinnacle) regardless of what God’s will was for him.  Presumably, if Jesus jumped, it would force God to come to his rescue because of the promise of protection in Psalms 91.

Notice that in this case, Satan is the one quoting scripture.  However, he actually misuses it.  Some of what he says is correct, while some of it is wrong or missing.

Satan correctly states that God has ministering angels which protect the saints of God.  However, he leaves out a key phrase in the promise of Psalms 91 which is “to guard you in all your ways’.  In other words, the promise of protection is for children of God who are walking in the ways or paths of righteousness that God has laid out for them.  It does not apply when we are intentionally sinning and going against what we know to be God’s will.  We cannot manipulate God into performing for us by twisting his word.  If we could, it would be like blackmailing God.  Therefore, since it was not God’s will for Jesus to jump off the pinnacle of the temple, the promise would not apply and Jesus may have jumped to his death.

This brings up a couple of important points for our consideration.  First, you need to know the scriptures, because Satan knows them too and if you are not knowledgeable, you can be tricked by him.  There are even ministers and teachers who twist the word of God, so be on your guard against false teachings even when they come from a pulpit!  Make sure that everything you are being taught is lining up with the Bible.

Second, don’t try to manipulate or blackmail God to do your bidding.  Do not presume to sin thinking that all will be well because you can run into grace.  The scriptures are very plain that as Christians, we are to lead lives of personal holiness, following God’s plan for our lives. Only then can we lay claim to his many life-giving promises.

Matthew 4:8-9 – Again the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

We do not know exactly how Satan did this, but we can be sure it was done and that it was a very real and difficult temptation for Jesus.

Imagine the dazzling things that Satan showed him.  All the glory, splendor, adoration, power and pomp of the mighty kingdoms of earth.  All the food, entertainment, wealth and luxury imaginable.  How wonderful it all must have looked!

The ‘lust of the eyes’ is one of the three major categories of temptation that Satan uses (pride is also at work in this temptation as well).  Our eyes have a habit of being dazzled by vanity or empty promises while being blind to the sorrow and horrible consequences that come along with sin.

The truth is that all Satan has to offer are ‘baits’.  They look flashy and good, but when you latch on to them, you are ensnared by false promises (just ask any fish!).

Such was the case here.  Satan’s bait really contained three snares:

Satan was offering dominion of the earth.  However, that was a lie because he could only offer Jesus a temporary dominion over the earth, while Father God was going to grant Jesus an eternal kingdom that was spiritual and also physical.

Satan was offering immediate gratification – Jesus could be king right now presumably without any pain or work involved.  However, that was not God’s plan.  Jesus would be the eternal, almighty King of Kings, but that honor and title came only through obedience to the cross.  It came with a price.

Satan did his best to tempt Jesus to worship him.  If Satan could get Jesus to gain a kingdom by bowing down to him, that would make Jesus a servant of Satan and all his rule and authority would come from Satan, not from God.  What a tiny, limited, futile kingdom that would be!

Satan offers us a similar deal.  We are willing to bow down to false idols of money, pleasure, entertainment and other things as well.  There is nothing wrong with these things, but we must acknowledge that all good things come from God, and they must be kept in their proper perspective – secondary to the will of God for our lives.  If they take precedence over God, they become an idol and worshipping an idol is the same as worshipping Satan.

Matthew 4:10-11 – Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”  Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

Jesus again uses the word to rebuke Satan.  You can almost hear the disgust in his voice as he strikes the winning blow and sends Satan away.  In this case, the scriptures he used were Deuteronomy 6:13 and 10:20.  These are scriptures that we should remind ourselves of daily!

Three times Satan had tempted Jesus and three times he was soundly defeated.  Victory over sin is ours, through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So let me offer you some encouragement, relief and strength:  Temptation does not have to be a losing battle.  Through the Word of God and the blood of Jesus, you can resist the devil and he will flee from you!

Matthew

Chapter 3

Matthew 3:1 – In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea…

Matthew introduces John the Baptist rather abruptly in his narrative, but fortunately the gospel of Luke gives us a much fuller picture of this prophet.

John was the son of the priest Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth.  Interestingly, Elizabeth is a relative of Jesus’ mother Mary, which makes John the Baptist a relative of Jesus; possibly a cousin.

Luke also reveals to us that John is 6 months older than Jesus.  Since we know that Jesus began his public ministry at around 30 years of age, we can surmise that there is a gap of about 25-28 years between Matthew chapter 2 and chapter 3.  John the Baptist and Jesus are both about 30 years old during the events of Matthew chapter 3.

John the Baptist

John’s ministry did not take place in the city of Jerusalem, but out in the ‘wilderness’.  What do you picture in your mind when you hear that word?  Do you picture thick forests with wild animals where no one lives?  Or do you perhaps think of a barren desert plain? Both of those descriptions would fit our modern understanding of the word, but it meant something a bit different back in the time of Christ.

Back then, a wilderness was an area that was thinly populated and somewhat mountainous. Although it had trees, it was not an impenetrable forest.  It was better suited for pasture than growing crops.  For the most part, the land was unsettled.  Today, we would say that John ministered in the ‘country’ or ‘countryside’.

Matthew 3:2-3 – …and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’

John was the last Old Testament prophet.  God used him as the transition between the old covenant of the law and the new covenant of grace.  He clearly proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven and the coming of the messianic age had arrived; as a result of that transition, people should repent.

What is meant by the phrase ‘the kingdom of Heaven’?

First, we must remember that John was speaking exclusively to a Jewish audience.  Based on Old Testament scripture, [Daniel 7:13-14, Jeremiah 33:14-18, 1 Kings 2:4 and many others] the Jews expected that the Messiah would be the successor to the throne of David and that he would be a great national deliverer.  They believed that his coming would usher in judgment, that the dead would be raised to life, that the enemies of the Jews would be destroyed and that the Jews as a nation would be elevated to a place of great national honor.  They were expecting big changes here in the physical world.

In light of this, we can see why the Jews, who had long been under the rule of ruthless Gentile powers, were eagerly looking for the coming of this messianic age. 

But were the Jews correct in their views?  The answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’.  Or perhaps a better answer is that they had a limited understanding of what God had planned to do. 

The bible does speak of the literal reign of Jesus on earth in many different passages, like these:  

Jeremiah 23:5 – Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

Revelation 20:4 – …I saw the souls of those who has been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus…they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

But the reign of the Messiah actually began in the spiritual realm.  We find evidence of this when Jesus spoke to Pilate just before his crucifixion:

John 18:36 – Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world.  If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews.  But my kingdom is not from the world.”

So we see that God first establishes his spiritual kingdom, and when that comes to full fruition, he will establish his earthly kingdom where he will reign for a thousand years, as stated in Revelation chapter 20.

This explains why John preaches a message of repentance.  Instead of gathering an army and practicing military exercises, which would have been in line with the Jewish expectations, John called them to a change of life – repentance – which was in complete alignment with the spiritual kingdom of heaven coming to earth.

This is probably a good time to look at the concept of repentance.  What exactly is repentance?  It means that you acknowledge that you have sinned against a holy God and that you are sorry for the offences you committed.  It also means that you make a conscious effort to turn from your transgressions and seek to live a holy life.

In other words, repentance has two aspects or parts:  sorrow/regret that you have sinned and a change of your conduct.

Matthew 3:4 – Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.

A lot can be said about John’s manner of dress, his food and his lifestyle.  But all of these are secondary to the most important thing – fulfilling the task or purpose that God intended for his life.

What about you?  Do people judge you on your clothes or your weight or the car you drive?  Remember this:  other people don’t determine your true value; God does and you are priceless to him!   Man can only look on the outward appearance, but God is looking at your heart.  He created you with a purpose in mind.  Are you seeking his direction in life?  If so, you can be sure you will find the awesome plan he has for you!

Matthew 3:5-6 – Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

These verses show that there was a constant stream of people coming out to the Jordan to be baptized by John.  What is baptism?

Baptism means to cleanse or wash by the application of water.  Did John invent the concept of baptism?  No; it was a rite already used by the Jews, especially after the Babylonian captivity.  The Jews would administer the rite of baptism or washing to any Gentile who became a convert (proselyte) to the Jewish religion.  The purpose of the baptism was to signify that they renounced their errors/sins and worship of pagan gods.  By being baptized, they were purifying and committing themselves for service to Jehovah.

So, the Jews used baptism to call the Gentiles into a new dispensation of religion, namely Judaism.

Likewise, John used baptism to call the Jews into a new dispensation of religion, namely the kingdom of heaven under Jesus the Messiah.

When John baptized people in the Jordan, it signified the repentance from their sins and the putting away of impurity.  It was a commitment to change the way they were living and to ready themselves for service to the Messiah.

Have you been baptized since confessing your sin and accepting Christ as your savior?  If not, please consult your local church.  God places a high priority on obedience and since Jesus was baptized we should follow that example.  If you were baptized as a child by your parents, you might want to consider being baptized a second time so that you can reaffirm the rite of baptism as a consenting adult.

Matthew 3:7-8 – But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”

The Pharisees and the Sadducees were sects or subgroups of the Jewish religion (there were actually three subgroups, the two listed above and the Essenes who are not mentioned in the scriptures).

The Pharisees devoted themselves to strictness in the practice of their religious beliefs.  They not only adhered to the law but to many ancient traditions.  Unfortunately, this did not bring them closer to God.  Instead, it made them proud/haughty and self righteous.  They thought of themselves as better than ordinary Jews.  They were very big on external cleanliness and ceremonial washing.  They were also very ‘showy’ in their religious acts.  In other words, they would wait until a large crowd gathered before giving a big offering, or they would pray loud prayers while standing on street corners, so all the world could see.

Meanwhile, the Sadducees rejected all tradition and believed only in the law.  They were not as concerned with public displays of worship nor did they practice great amounts of ceremonial washing.  They are mostly remembered for their belief that the soul dies at the same time the body does, and there is no resurrection of the dead.  This sect was much, much smaller than the Pharisees, but it had a very great number of wealthy men. The Sadducees, like the Pharisees, believed that they were righteous before God because they were offspring of Abraham.

It’s easy to imagine that John and his ministry would be on the lips of all the Jewish people.

They were excited to think that the Messiah was coming and they were all about repenting and getting ready.  Therefore, we are not surprised when the Pharisees and Sadducees also come to see John, although their motivation may not have been to repent, but rather to see what all the fuss was about.  They were probably ready to pass judgment upon John and his message.

When they arrived, I don’t think they received the welcome they were expecting!  Instead of addressing them with a title of respect like ‘Rabbi’, John addresses them as a generation or brood of snakes!  John recognized that they were full of the poison of self righteousness, pride and wickedness.  They loved to serve God on external matters, but their hearts were hard and full of sin.

John wasn’t being mean; he was attempting to break through their hard hearts with a message of truth – they too needed to repent.  All of their external works were not enough to make them righteous before God.  They needed to comply with the two parts of repentance – sorrow over sin and a change of ways – just like everyone else.

Matthew 3:9 – And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.

Here John ‘touches a nerve’ so to speak.  The Pharisees and Sadducees knew that they were descendants of Abraham, who was the father of the Jewish nation.  This was one of their main sources of pride.  They felt that because they were physical descendents, they would automatically inherit or obtain the kingdom of Heaven.

However, John is telling them that physical genealogy meant nothing.  God is looking for people who are spiritual descendants of Abraham, that is, people who will inherit the kingdom through faith in God and the blood of Jesus.

Matthew 3:10 – Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.  Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

John is giving a word picture. The unrepentant religious leaders are like trees that bear bad fruit and as a result of that, they are about to be cut down/destroyed.  The meaning of the picture is that God is offering a chance for repentance and mercy, but you must accept his offer quickly and repent, or destruction will overtake you.

Matthew 3:11 – I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Here John is comparing his ministry to the ministry of the Messiah.  John baptized people with water, which was an external rite.  It was a symbol or pledge of repentance.

Jesus, however, would soon baptize people with the Holy Spirit which was an internal baptism.  This baptism was first bestowed on the followers of Jesus on the day of Pentecost.  You can read about that astonishing event in Acts chapter 2.   Through the blood of Jesus, people could repent and be truly cleansed from sin.

Matthew 3:12 – His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

Here is another word picture from John, which would have been easily understood by those who were listening.

A winnowing fork was a tool used to separate grain from its stalk.

  The worker would use the fork or shovel to throw the strands up in the air.  Since the stalk was light and useless, it would blow away in the wind while the grain would fall to the ground in a pile.  The grain was then gathered up and stored for use, while the stalk was lost.

John was using this agricultural illustration to demonstrate a spiritual truth.  Jesus was coming to preach the gospel.  The effects of the gospel would separate the spiritually worthless people from his true followers.  These saints would be ‘stored up’ or be admitted to his kingdom, but all those who practiced empty religion would be lost or burned up, meaning that they would be utterly destroyed.

This has not changed in the last 2000 years.  The gospel of Jesus is still being actively preached today.  There will always be people who accept the gospel message, repent and place their faith in Jesus.  These are the ones who are admitted to the kingdom of Heaven.

Sadly, there are also people who hear the gospel and refuse to believe it.  What have you done with the gospel message?  Have you trusted Christ as your Lord and Savior?  If not, don’t delay!  Stop right now and pray for Jesus to be Lord and Savior of your life!

Matthew 3:13-15 – Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

Jesus was sinless and did not need to repent.  So why did he come to be baptized by John?  Jesus tells us the answer – he submitted to the rite of baptism to fulfill all righteousness.  Here are a couple things to consider:

The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is our perfect High Priest.  All of the things that pertained to the Old Testament priesthood were a foreshadowing of the perfect priesthood of Jesus.

Hebrews 2:17 – Therefore he (Jesus) had to be made like his brothers in every respect so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

When the Old Testament priesthood was established, the priests were washed before assuming their office:

Exodus 29:4 – You shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and wash them with water.

So, by submitting to John’s baptism, Jesus was fulfilling the Old Testament law by being ‘washed’ before he assumed his public ministry.

Another reason to be baptized is found in that same verse in Hebrews.  He was identifying with us, sinful man, and showing us that baptism (and repentance) were commanded for those who would be a part of the kingdom of God.

Also, baptism was a perfect bridge to his public ministry.  John had been recognized as a prophet of God with a single message – repent for the kingdom of Heaven was at hand; the long awaited Messiah was coming!  Therefore, it made sense for Jesus to be a part of John’s ministry; it connected Jesus to the role of Messiah in the minds of the people.

Matthew 3:16-17 – And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

And here we see that God sanctioned all that Jesus did regarding baptism.  The appearance of the Holy Spirit and the voice of Father God were signs of his approval.  Jesus had started his Messianic work.

He entered into the work with the Holy Spirit upon him; the Spirit qualified and equipped him to perform his duties.  If Jesus needed the Holy Spirit, how much more do we need to be baptized by him?  Fortunately, on the day of Pentecost Jesus made the Holy Spirit available to all of us!  All we need to do is ask him for this great blessing to assist us in doing all that God has called us to do for him!

Let me give you some encouragement: If you have neglected to be baptized, why don’t you just go ahead and submit to this act of righteousness?  God will be pleased by your obedience.

Let me give you some relief: You don’t have to walk alone in this life!  God has given us the gift of his precious Holy Spirit.  The Spirit’s work in our lives is invaluable.  He guides us, reveals the word to us, helps us pray and many, many other things.  You can talk to the Holy Spirit the same way you talk to Jesus or the Father.  Invite him in today and find out what a help he can be!

Let me give you some strength:  The kingdom of Heaven has come and if you have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, you are a part of it!  So take heart – our king has overcome the world and through him, you are also an over-comer.  One day, Jesus will return to earth to establish his earthly kingdom, just like the Jews pictured.  It will be a glorious time for all who belong to Christ.  Lets vow to work for the master here on earth while we still can!

Matthew

Chapter 2

Matthew 2:1-2 – Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?  For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, about 6 miles east of Jerusalem.  At the time of Jesus’ birth, the world was united under a single government – The Roman Empire.

Judea had been under Roman rule for about 63 years. Herod (or Herod the Great) was named ‘king’ or authority over that region by the Romans.  He was in his 34th year of rule when the events of Matthew chapter two take place.

Because of the united Roman Empire, there was easy and free trade between the nations in the empire.  There were no travel restrictions between individual nations.  The laws were uniform throughout the empire.  There was a single, standard language – Greek.  All of these circumstances paved the way for the easy and rapid spread of the Gospel throughout the world. It is obvious that God arranged a set of circumstances that were perfect for the birth and ministry of the Savior!

Right now, God is also working behind the scenes in your life!  Even when it looks like nothing is happening in your situation, you can be sure God is moving!  Look back on some of the major events of your life – can you see where the hand of God was at work?

At the same time that God was miraculously arranging things in the political world, He was also awakening the minds and expectations of people (both Jews and Gentiles) for the coming of a new king.  Historians tell us that for many years there was a prevalent expectation regarding the coming of a great king who was to rise from among the Jews.  This expectation rested on the content and timing of ancient Messianic prophesies such as Isaiah 9-11 and Daniel 7.  Balaam also speaks of it in Numbers 24:17.

Numbers 24:17 – I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel… 

So here is a good question – If God was stirring up the hearts and minds of people to look for the Messiah, how did they miss him?  Specifically, how did the Jewish priests miss him?  They were the spiritual leaders of their generation, and it was their job to be diligently looking for the coming of the Messiah, so they could lead others to him. 

Well, here is at least part of the problem.  They had built up their own expectations of what the Messiah would do, and how he would do it.  They were looking for a Messiah King who would immediately reclaim the throne of David, oust the Romans and vindicate the Jewish people.  When Jesus came as a humble servant, proclaiming the spiritual kingdom of God, it was diametrically opposed to what they were expecting. Therefore, they had trouble accepting him. 

Let’s not make the same mistake.  Our generation is looking for the return of Christ.  The events leading up to his return may not look like we feel they should.  We might be surprised by what God has planned.  However, let us be open to the Holy Spirit that we might see the signs of his coming, and lead sinners to his grace before it is too late.

Now, what about those wise men from the east?  They likely hailed from either Persia or Arabia.  The original Greek word for wise men is ‘magoi’, from which comes our word “magician”.  That word had a negative connotation for us; it speaks of trickery or falseness, but that was not the original use of the word.  The wise men were men of great learning who devoted themselves to astronomy, religion and medicine.  They were highly revered and sought after in their own lands.

They had seen a ‘star’ or more likely a comet, which lead them to the King of the Jews.  They had rightly discerned the sign and had come to worship the new King.  This is a wonderful glimpse of God revealing himself to the Gentiles.  Also, we will see that the gifts they brought financially sustained the family during the coming turbulent times. Thus, God allowed the Gentiles to assist in the mission of the Jewish savior!

Matthew 2:3-4 – When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

Why do you think Herod was trouble by this news?  Well, he had obtained his power through cruelty, wickedness and the death of those who opposed him.  He had his own wife as well as some of his sons put to death because he considered them a threat to his throne.  Naturally, when he heard that a long awaited King of the Jews had been born, he was jealous and suspicious, because he felt his own throne was in danger.  He, like the Jewish priests, was looking for an earthy king, not realizing that Jesus’ first coming was to establish his spiritual kingdom.

Here is the really bizarre part – he asked the religious leaders when God was sending his son to earth, so that he could thwart the plans of God with a deliberate act of hostility.  He thought he could fight against God and be victorious.  How incredible!  Clearly his anger and hatred were interfering with his common sense!

Matthew 2:5-6 – They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means the least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel’.

The religious leaders answer Herod with a direct quote from the Old Testament, namely Micah 5:2, which clearly revealed the place of Jesus’ birth, almost 700 years before he was born.

Matthew 2:7-8 – Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.  And he sent them to Bethlehem saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”

Having discovered where the child was, Herod now wishes to know how long ago he was born.  Naturally he believes that the star/comet appeared at the birth of the new king.  Therefore knowing the exact date of the star/comet would give him a good estimate of the child’s age.  He then deceitfully requests that the wise men send him word of the exact location of the child when they find him.  As we know, his true motivation is to not to worship the child, but to kill him.

Matthew 2:9-10 – After listening to the king, they went on their way.  And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.

Eventually, the wise men find the Messiah.  This is exactly as we would expect; hundreds of years before this, King David tells us that God reveals himself to those who seek him. 

I Chronicles 28:9 – …If you seek him (God), he will be found of you…

The Lord himself proclaims this fact through the prophet Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 29:13 – And you shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart.

Keep in mind that these verses are still true.  Seek God.  Seek his wisdom, his peace, his guidance, his provision, his will and his healing.  You will find him!

The unexpected part of this verse is that the wise men went to Bethlehem alone.  None of the Jewish priests or scribes cared enough about this event to accompany the wise men on their trip.  The wise men had traveled a very great distance to honor the Messiah, but the Jewish people couldn’t be bothered to go to the next town to seek him out.  How sad that the Jews would have so little value for the gift of God!

What about you?  Are you seeking deeper levels of fellowship with Christ?  Or, having obtained salvation, have you stopped seeking him?  There are Christians in other countries that go to great lengths to find God and worship him, even risking great persecution.  You and I live in a place where we may freely and publicly seek him.  Are we doing so?

Matthew 2:11-12 – And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.  Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.  And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

When the wise men find Jesus, what do they see?  A manly king in the prime of life, living in luxury, surrounded by servants and wealth and all the other trappings of royalty?  Because, honestly, it would be easy to worship a king like that.  But that is not what they found, is it?

So what did they see?  A little child from a poor family living in relative obscurity.  Perhaps his face and hands are dirty from playing.  Perhaps his hair is a little too long.  Maybe he has a tear in his robe.  That is a king who is a little bit harder to worship, isn’t it?

Many of us would have hesitated to worship that small child.  Our pride would have never allowed us to bow down before one so young.  Perhaps his situation was not what we might have expected, and as a result, we would have hesitated to worship.

Yet, this sight in the natural realm did not stop the wise men from seeing or believing that Jesus was divinely appointed to be a king.  They did not consider what he was at that point, but what he would one day be.  Because they were certain that he would one day be different from how he appeared in the present, they are not ashamed to bow before a mere infant and render to him honor fit for a king in the prime of life.

What kind of honor are you showing our King?  In a way, we are in the same circumstance as the wise men – we have not yet seen our King in all his power, splendor and glory. We have hints of it… we have glimpses of it, but no one has seen God in all his glory and lived to tell of it.  If God would ever choose to reveal his glory to humans (and we lived), we would have no choice but to fall down on our faces and worship.  It would be an automatic response to his glory and power.  Indeed, scripture tells us that one day “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11).

Until that happens, we have the privilege to serve and worship our King in faith, right now.  We should do so with our whole hearts and entire beings.  Search the scriptures.  Read about God’s honor, his power, his majesty, his mercy and his love.  Recall the times he has moved mightily on your behalf.  Then, worship him for who he is, for one day you will see it with your own eyes!

The wise men considered Jesus an earthly king and they brought him gifts from the earth – gold, frankincense and myrrh.

As a spiritual son or daughter of Christ, the proper gift for you to bring him is a spiritual one – yourself!

Romans 12:1 – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Matthew 2:13-15 – Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him.”  And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod.  This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Egypt is about 60 miles from Bethlehem.  It too, was a Roman province; Joseph could take his family there without any special paperwork or restriction.  The Greek language was spoken there, as it was in all of Rome.  There was a big population of Jews in that place; there were temples and synagogues.  This meant that Jesus could be raised Jewish, among his own countrymen, yet be beyond the reach and authority of Herod.

Side Note:  Joseph reacted quickly to the dream that God gave him.  There is a lesson there – When our direction is clear or has been made plain by God, compliance needs to be speedy.  Don’t hesitate and don’t wait – immediately do as God has commanded you!

Matthew 2:16-18 – Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.  Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Eventually, Herod figures out that the wise men are not going to return to him.  His cruelty and anger boil over, and he decides to kill all the male children in that area that are 2-years-old and under, so he can be sure to eliminate the new King of the Jews.

At that point, Herod was fighting against God himself, and that could only end in his destruction.

Psalms 2:2- The kings of the earth set themselves…against the Lord and against his Anointed … He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.  Then he will speak to them…”I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

Jesus was indeed going to die, but not by the hand of Herod!  Jesus was delivered from death on this occasion, so that his ultimate purpose could be fulfilled; namely that he might die for the salvation of all.  These innocent martyrs will one day receive justice from the Lord, as will all who give their lives for Christ.

Matthew 2:19-21 – But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.”  And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.

Again, we find God’s leading and direction given to Joseph.  Again we find Joseph immediately taking action to leave Egypt and return to Israel.

Matthew 2:22-23 – But when he heart that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in the place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee.  And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.

Joseph was a good God-fearing, obedient man.  Yet, we notice that God did not give Joseph all of his instructions at once.  God first told Joseph to return to Israel.  Once Joseph had been obedient to this word, then God revealed the next step – to leave the area of Judea and settle in Galilee, specifically in the city of Nazareth.

God often works this way in our lives too.  He may prompt you to start a new ministry or a good work, then wait for your obedience before he reveals your next step.  This keeps us dependent on God and ensures that we do not veer off course.

So, let me offer you some encouragement:  God knows what you will need, even before you know that you need it!  He also has the answer already lined up for you!  God knew about the threat of Herod before Joseph did.  God sent the wise men with gifts which provided the money needed for them to take the journey to Egypt.  The next time you find yourself in need, remember this:  God has your provision already planned out.  Keep your eyes and ears open so that you find it.

Let me offer you some relief:  You don’t have to understand the entire plan of God for your life all at once.  You don’t have to worry about working it out for yourself.  If you will step out in faith and take the first step, as Joseph did, God will then show you the next step to take.  While God does expect you to use wisdom and good judgment, he will work out your life and ministry as you look to him for guidance.

Let me offer you some strength: God is never going to leave you wondering what to do.  He will speak to you through his word, through prophetic words delivered by other Christians, through the Holy Spirit, through dreams, even through angels, if necessary.  You don’t have to wonder what God’s will is.  Look to him and he will be found by you!

Matthew

Chapter 1

Let’s examine some background information about the gospel of Matthew:

Who – The author of this book is Matthew, the son of Alphaeus.  His surname (last name) was Levi.  He was a tax collector.

What – Matthew wrote one of the four gospels – a narrative of the ‘good news’ of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When – We know that Matthew wrote his book before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, but there is disagreement as to the exact date.  The most probable timeline was 50-60 AD, but some favor a later date between 65-70 AD.

Where – Scholars are split as to the location where he wrote his book.  The opinion of the majority is that he wrote his gospel in Antioch of Syria, in the Greek language.  Others believe he wrote his gospel in Palestine, in Aramaic.

Why –  Matthew recorded selected events from the life and ministry of Jesus in order to confirm/prove to a Jewish audience that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.  He also shows how God’s plan includes the Gentiles as well.  He emphasizes that the life of Jesus was not just another historical event, but the supreme, ultimate event of history, planned and prophesied by God centuries before it occurred.  Matthew shows how the life of Jesus fulfilled the words of ancient prophesy. 

Matthew 1:1-2 – The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.  Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers…

Matthew begins his book with a genealogy.  A really loooong genealogy that lasts for 16 verses and has more than 30 names in it.  Most of the names are people we do not know anything about.  If you were writing a book, would you start it with a long list of unknown dead people’s names?

Probably not.  We would start a book with some amazing action scene or some astounding event that forever changes the characters of the book. 

We would want our opening to be attention grabbing and important.  We would want it to foreshadow significant events that are yet to come in the book, wouldn’t we?  Does that sound right to you? Does that sound like something you might want to read?

Oddly enough, that is exactly what Matthew did! Consider this:

Was the birth of Jesus an astounding event that forever changed all of us?  Did his birth foreshadow significant events yet to come in the book?  Of course!

Was Matthew’s genealogy attention grabbing?  In all fairness, it does seem unimportant and boring on first glance, but it isn’t.  It establishes several important facts.

First of all, the genealogy places Jesus in a specific historical context.  Think about it this way – what is the first line in every fairytale?  Isn’t it ‘once upon a time there lived…’?  If the gospels did not include the genealogy, it would be just like saying ‘once upon a time there lived a man named Jesus…’.  He would have no historical credibility.  People would write him off as a fairytale.  Matthew’s genealogy places Jesus in time and space, proving that he was a real person who really lived.

Matthew clearly divides the genealogy into three separate sections.

Matthew 1:17 – So all the generations from Abraham to David were 14 generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon 14 generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ 14 generations.

The first section represents the rise of the Jewish nation to the monarchy, the second represents the failure of the monarchy and the third refers to the restoration of the kingdom under the Messiah.

Therefore, Jesus (the culmination of the genealogy) is the long awaited Messiah!  What began with Abraham was fulfilled in Jesus.  While this may not be an earth shattering fact to us, it was to the Jews.  If Matthew is correct, the Jews just rejected, tortured and murdered the Messiah they had been waiting thousands of years for!  Trust me, that conclusion would have grabbed the attention of every Jewish person back in that day!

Thirdly, the genealogy shows that God is no respecter of persons.  It includes Jewish men, Jewish women and even Gentiles.

The genealogy also airs a whole load of dirty laundry.  If you take a few minutes to read the names, you will find several you never heard of, but you will also find that the Old Testament gives us a glimpse into the lives of quite a few of them.

It doesn’t take long to discover that they are real people with very real spiritual failures. 

  • David committed both adultery and murder. 
  • Tamar and Bathsheba both had out of wedlock pregnancies.
  • Rahab was a prostitute. 
  • Manasseh desecrated the temple, filled Jerusalem with the blood of the innocent and worshiped false gods. 
  • Judah had twin boys by his daughter-in-law. 
  • Solomon allowed his wives to draw him into idol worship. 

Matthew shows us that God was willing to identify his Son with sinful humanity through the incarnation.

Finally, the genealogy proves that Jesus is the rightful heir to the throne of David.  Even though Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father, he was his legal father here on earth.  Therefore, since Joseph was a descendant of David, Jesus had a legal right to the throne.

Starting with the genealogy, Matthew records selected events from Jesus’ life and ministry in order to prove to the Jews that Jesus was indeed the long awaited Messiah.  He is going to show them God’s plans for mankind in light of the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah.   Let’s take a look at what Matthew has to say!

Matthew 1:18-19 – Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.  When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

In order to understand what Matthew is telling us, we first need to understand some of the culture and customs of the Jews.  When a woman or maiden was ‘betrothed’ to a man there was a formal ceremony and the man typically gave the maiden a ring and/or other jewels. 

The betrothal period usually lasted a whole year.  During that year, the maiden would remain in her own home with her parents and family.  She did not see her future groom until he came to get her and take her to his own house! Can you imagine that?  Also, all communication between the two happened through a third-party, the ‘friend of the bridegroom’. 

However, once a woman was betrothed, she was considered to be the man’s legal wife, even though she still lived at home and the relationship was not consummated.

So, sometime during that year of betrothal, Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant.  Because of the legality of the situation, he couldn’t simply break off the engagement as we would do in our society.  He basically had three options.  He could go ahead and marry her, he could divorce her, or he could bring charges against her.  [Since Mary was legally bound to Joseph, any breach of that contract was considered adultery and could be punished according to law. Specifically, she could be stoned to death.  See Deuteronomy 22:22-23]. 

Matthew’s account focuses on Joseph’s point of view. (Mary’s point of view is recorded in Luke).  Imagine for a moment the heartache and humiliation he experienced when this devastating news reaches him.  All the trust he placed in Mary, all the dreams he had of their life together have been dashed in an instant. 

This beautiful girl, who captured his heart and seemed like such a perfect match, has betrayed him! 

In the midst of his anguish and sadness, Joseph must make a decision – what will he legally do with Mary?  I imagine that the decision was not an easy one.  I imagine that he spent a few sleepless nights considering the options.

The scripture gives us an insightful glance into the character of Joseph.  It says he was “a just man”.  This tells us that he hated wickedness and loved justice.  That being the case, he would never choose to marry Mary; he believed she was a liar and an adulterer and he couldn’t marry a person of that character.  At the same time, it seems that he was moved by kindness and compassion, because he decided against publicly humiliating her and seeking the death penalty.  Thus, he decides to quietly divorce her.

As a side note, Joseph is a good example of the principles of forgiveness that we discussed on our last few posts.  Notice that he did not allow his emotions to lead the way, but he looked to the truth/God’s laws first.  He felt that he could not marry her because she was unrighteous, but neither did he seek death.  He chose to forgive her, and move on.

Matthew 1:20-21 – But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

As Joseph was considering the best way to carry out his plans, God spoke to him in a dream, changing his decision.  Dreams are a method of communication that God had employed extensively in the Old Testament, and he uses it many times during the critical infant years of Jesus.  God still uses dreams to speak to his people today; see Joel 2:28.

I believe that God wants to speak to all of us.  As we struggle with the different decisions we need to make in life, God wants to offer us council through his word, through the leading of the Holy Spirit and yes, through dreams.  If we seek God, we can be confident in the decisions we make, knowing that He guides our footsteps as we walk in this life.

In the dream, God reveals that Mary is innocent of sin, and he endorses the marriage.  What great news for Joseph!  He could now marry his bride and their relationship would never be tainted by mistrust or doubt.

Notice that the angel addresses Joseph as the son of David.  This greeting reminds Joseph that he is in the direct line of David, through whom the Messiah would come.  Joseph may have felt like he was just another Jewish man and a poor carpenter at that, but the truth is that his life was significant.  He was a child of David and his heritage made him important.

The same is true for YOU.  You may not consider yourself important or noteworthy, but you would be wrong!  Joseph was a child of David, but you are a child of the Most High God!  Your life is significant in every way.  God created you to live in a specific time period.  He gave you specific gifts and talents.  He designed a specific plan for your life.  You are significant and important in the kingdom of Heaven!  While pride has no place in the life of a Christian, you should be confident of who you are in Christ.  God has given you authority to be his representative here on earth.

The angel reveals to Joseph that the child of Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  This means that he was divine, yet human.  He was born in the flesh, but did not have a sinful or fleshly nature.  He is God, yet he can identify with humanity.  He is sinless, and therefore the ONLY BEING who can atone for sin.

The angel further reveals that the child’s name will be Jesus (or in the Hebrew, Joshua), which means ‘to save’ or ‘savior’.  This reveals the true purpose behind his birth – he is the long awaited Messiah, who will save mankind from sin and death!

Acts 4:11-12 – This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.  And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Jesus is also the ultimate fulfillment of a promise made to the Jewish nation.  Back in Genesis, God declared that through the Jews, all nations of the earth would be blessed.    This shows God’s ultimate plan – salvation was not limited to only the Jews, but it would include the Gentiles as well.  Jesus would be the savior of all.

The virgin birth was an amazing event that had been predicted long, long ago by the ancient prophets:

Matthew 1:22-23 – all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means God with us).

Here, Matthew is quoting from Isaiah 7:14.  When Jesus was born, it could truly be said that he was Immanuel – God incarnate was among mankind!

Matthew 1:24-25 – When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him:  he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son.  And he called his name Jesus.

And so, being fully convinced of the path he was to take, Joseph takes Mary as his wife without delay.  The marriage is legally finalized, though not yet consummated.  When the child is born, he is named Jesus.  He is the legal heir of Joseph; his true Father, God, will soon make him heir of all things.

Here in Matthew we find the perfect will of God occurring at the perfect timing of God for the prefect purposes of God.  This kind of perfection can happen in our lives as well, if we will allow God to direct our paths.  God cares about your life and its struggles just as much as he cared for Mary and Joseph.

So, let me give you some encouragement:  You are not a ‘nobody’.  You are an important part of God’s kingdom and his purposes.  Don’t let the world convince you otherwise.

Let me give you some relief: You don’t have to make all of life’s decisions alone.  The Holy Spirit is present to assist you and guide you.  Seek him and he will be found by you!

Let me give you some strength:  Joseph (and Mary) went through some tough times, but God encouraged and strengthened them through those difficulties.  God will do the same for you!  Whatever you are walking through today, you will come out victorious in Christ!