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Monday, July 7, 2014

Is God Really Good? - A Study of Psalm 73

We took a break from our study of Matthew this week at Raiford Road. Instead we turned to one of my favorite Psalms. I have written on Psalm 73 before (The Problem of Evil and the Goodness of God: Finding Help in Psalm 73), but this was my first opportunity to preach on it.

The Central Truth of Christianity
The Psalm starts out with what I believe is the most fundamental truth in all Christianity: that God is good. Asaph, the writer of this Psalm, repeats this fundamental claim, and elaborates with another claim that logically follows the first: That God is good to the pure in heart.

In other words, if it is true that God is good, then Asaph is pointing out that it must also be true that it is better to follow Him than to rebel against Him. If God is truly good, then certainly He is good to those who follow Him.

When The Truth Doesn't Seem True
But, in verse 2 Asaph admits that he is having trouble believing that God really is good. When Asaph looks around, it seems that the wicked people have a much more comfortable life than the people who are trying to follow God. Asaph had worked hard to obey God, but when he looked out at the world, it seems that the people who don't care about God have more food than him, more money than him, and more fun than him.

In verse 10 he points out that most people look at the success of the wicked and think they want to join in on the fun. And, starting in verse 13, we see that Asaph is starting to wonder if that's what he should do too. He is getting depressed and it is causing him to wonder, "did I wash my hands in vain," or "is following God really worth it?"

The Moment Everything Changes
Verses 2–16 leave us with a pretty bleak picture. Asaph is depressed and downcast and he is considering walking away from the faith altogether. But in verse 17 something happens that changes everything. In verse 17 Asaph "steps into the sanctuary of God."

Obviously Asaph is using metaphorical language here. Asaph's change has nothing to do with a physical change of location. Instead, his change has everything to do with a spiritual change. In verse 17 Asaph meets God and it changes everything. Once he meets God he realizes that God is indeed good. In fact, God is far better than he ever imagined, and that makes all the difference.

God's Goodness Guarantees that He Will Judge Evil
Once Asaph meets God, he's immediately convinced that God is good. In fact, Asaph is so impacted by God's goodness that we see three distinct changes in him. First, Asaph realizes that because God is good, perfectly good, he can rest assured that God will judge all evil.

In the verses 2–16 Asaph was embittered that God was allowing these wicked people to prosper. Now he realized, that God's goodness means that every wrong will be judged. Wickedness will not get a free pass. All evil will be judged.

God's Goodness Provides Us with an Opportunity to Repent
But, once Asaph realizes that God's goodness means that He will judge all wickedness, Asaph becomes less concerned with the wickedness of others and more concerned with his own. Asaph realized that God's not just pretty good, He's perfectly good. That means that God won't only judge the "big" sins, God will judge all sin. That means, Asaph is one of the wicked.

So Asaph responds with confession. He admits to God that he was wrong to ever question God's goodness. He was wrong to be angry and embittered with God. He was wrong to think everyone else was wicked, but that he was not.

What Asaph didn't yet fully understand is how God would reconcile these two aspects of His goodness. How can God fully judge evil and still show grace? What benefit is there to repentance if God's goodness requires that justice be served?

God answers those questions for us in the cross of Jesus Christ. In the cross of Christ, God fully punishes sin, exacting the full weight of the death penalty we deserve. Simultaneously, by offering his own Son, the one who knew no sin, God offers us the opportunity to find our death in Him. Jesus acts as a substitute for all those who repent so that God can be both just and the justifier (Romans 3:26). Jesus death means that God can be perfectly good, and judge all sin, and still be perfectly good and offer salvation to all who will repent.

Not Only is God Good, God is the Good
Of all of Asaph's changes, I believe he saves the most exciting for last. Asaph starts by pointing out that the goodness of God means that there are consequences for sin, so he commits to following God to avoid those consequences. But in this third aspect of God's goodness, Asaph realizes that knowing God is its own great reward. Asaph follows God, not merely to avoid the negatives, but to pursue the one great positive.

In the first 16 verses, Asaph looked at the fun that the wicked people were having and he was jealous. But when he meets God, all that fun looses its appeal. The wicked found their own little rewards, but Asaph has found a much better reward. There is no more room for envy. Asaph has finally found the only thing that can ever make him happy. All the other little joys seem insignificant in comparison.

When Asaph considers the joys of knowing God, he reflects,
Who do I have in heaven but You?
And I desire nothing on earth but You.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever.
But as for me, God’s presence is my good.
How to Respond to the Goodness of God
Asaph is a model for us that teaches us how to respond to the goodness of God. First, he teaches us to repent of our wickedness and to trust His goodness to cover our sins. Second, Asaph teaches us to find our all in Christ. To look to Jesus as our highest treasure.

Main Idea of the Message: When confronted with the evils and sufferings of this world, the Christian should respond by believing that God will bring justice, by repenting of our unbelief, and by looking to God as our greatest good.
You can listen to the message below or download the podcast from iTunes.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Unlikely Dawn of the Kingdom: Matthew 4:12–25

There is an old hymn we used to sing at church called, "We've a Story to Tell to the Nations." The chorus of the hymn reads,

And the darkness shall turn to dawning,
and the dawning to noonday bright.
And Christ's great kingdom shall come to Earth,
the kingdom of love and light.

Christians believe that Christ's kingdom did come to Earth, and we also believe it's coming back. We believe that the kingdom has dawned, and we are looking forward to the noonday bright. While we don't know exactly when Christ will return and the dawning will turn to noonday bright, we do know exactly when the darkness turned to dawning and Christ's great kingdom first came to earth. Matthew 4:12–25 tells us exactly how the kingdom dawned, and it's not at all what we would have expected.

The Kingdom Started in an Unlikely Place
The arrest of the John the Baptist tells us that his ministry has come to a close. The path has been prepared and the roads have been made straight. It is time for Jesus to begin his ministry. And because Jesus is the King of the Jews (chapter 2) and the new and better Israel (chapters 3–4), we would expect Him to head south to Jerusalem. but he doesn't. Jesus heads north, further into Galilee, to a town called Capernaum.

Capernaum seems a strange choice by all accounts. It's in the wrong direction, the wrong people live there, and they are known for doing the wrong things. Commentator Dale Bruner explains,
Galilee is a strange place for the Messiah to work. The distance from Zion was not only geographic; Judeans thought Galileans sat rather loose to the law and were less biblically pure than those in or near Jerusalem. Therefore, when Jesus “retreated to Galilee,” he did more than head north, he seemed to veer off.
The move further into Galilee is so astonishing, it seems that it was strategically chosen to make us ask, "Why Galilee?"

The answer is probably multifaceted. Matthew explains that it is to fulfill the prophet Isaiah, who he quotes from the 9th chapter.
Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
along the sea road, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles!
The people who live in darkness have seen a great light,
and for those living in the shadowland of death,
light has dawned.
Of course, Jesus' move to Galilee can be explained as fulfilling prophecy. But we must also ask, why did God prophesy this in the first place? I think D.A. Carson is right when he suggests that it is to teach us a lesson. Carson says,“if the messianic light dawns on the darkest of places, the Messiah’s salvation can only be a bestowal of grace — namely, that Jesus came to call, not the righteous, but sinners.” In other words, Jesus starts His ministry in Galilee to teach us that His ministry is all about grace. If you and I want to be part of Jesus' kingdom, we get there by grace, not by religious pedigree.

Jesus Calls Unlikely Followers
Again, we must keep in mind that Jesus is establishing a religious and political kingdom. We would expect that his inner circle, his "presidential cabinet," would be made up of people with religious and political clout. We would expect to see Jesus calling priests, rabbis, and scribes. Or perhaps even governors and political visionaries.

Instead, we see Jesus call four lowly fishermen. These four men, Simon, Andrew, James and John, seem to have nothing to offer Jesus. But again, that seems to be the point. This is Jesus' kingdom. He isn't calling the worthy, but the unworthy. And His offer to these four unworthy men is that if they follow him, He will make them fishers of men.

These four fishermen give us a great example of what it looks like to follow Jesus. David Platt described it as "radical abandonment." They radically abandon everything they knew and depended on. They leave their jobs behind and they leave their families behind and they follow Jesus.

These four lowly fishermen from Galilee left everything to follow Jesus. Nearly 2,000 years later, people all over the world are named after these men. Without a doubt, no other group of fishermen have impacted the world like these men. They stand in history as another marker of God's amazing grace. Not only will God start his kingdom in the lowly town of Capernaum, He will launch his ministry through lowly Galilean fishermen. Truly, His strength is displayed in our weakness.

Jesus Serves Unlikely People
When a business wants to prove that their product is superior, they offer it to a superior clientele. For instance, Nike tries to sell us shoes by telling us that this is the shoe that Michael Jordan wears. Jesus strategy for reaching the world was the exact opposite. Jesus ministry is launched in service to the lowly, the sick, and the suffering.

Verse 23 gives us a picture of what Jesus ministry was like.
Jesus was going all over Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
This verse tells us that Jesus ministry is characterized by two primary things: preaching the gospel and healing the sick. Preaching and healing, or words and deeds; for Jesus ministry included both his message and his actions.

As people who seek to follow Jesus today, it is important that we follow His lead in both words and deeds. Just today, while reading "When Helping Hurts," I read an account of how we often fail to follow Jesus' lead in these two areas.

The author, Steve Corbett, recounted the story of Reverend Marsh, who pastored in Mississippi during the civil rights era. Reverend Marsh, was from all accounts, a godly man, but refused to involve himself in the civil rights movement because of the lack of piety and obedience in the lives of many of the civil rights leaders in his area. Corbett reflects,
In one sense, Reverend Marsh was right. Many of the civil rights protestors longed for the peace, justice, and righteousness of the kingdom but did not want to bend their knee to the King Himself, which is a prerequisite for enjoying the full benefits of the kingdom. In contrast, Reverend Marsh embraced King Jesus, but he did not understand the fullness of Christ's kingdom and its implications for the injustices in his community. Both Reverend Marsh and the civil rights workers were wrong, but in different ways. Reverend Marsh sought the King without the kingdom. The civil rights workers sought the kingdom without the King. The church needs a fully orbed, kingdom perspective to correctly answer the question: "What would Jesus do?"
Jesus served the lowly, the sick, and the suffering. He did that by proclaiming the gospel with his mouth. He spoke of the kingdom and called people to leave everything and follow the King. But Jesus also met needs. Jesus healed the sick and comforted the suffering. Jesus searched out the lowest in society and made a difference right there. If we are going to follow the King, we too must do so in word and deed.

Main Idea of the Message: We should recognize our unworthiness and respond by following Christ in our words and deeds..
You can listen to the message below or download the podcast from iTunes.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Trustworthy, Tested Messiah: Matthew 4:1–11

Every single week I have had to leave out some important and challenging parts of the text. But this week I felt that I had to leave out more than I could fit in. I blame that feeling, in part, on Russell Moore and his book Tempted and Tried. In just under 200 pages, Dr. Moore gives us excellent analysis and application of the temptation of Christ by the Devil in the wilderness. If my message spurred a desire in you to study the temptations more fully, then I heartily recommend this book as your next step. But don't take my word for it, look at Rick Warren's endorsement,
I've read many good works dealing with temptation, but this one stands out in a class by itself. I can guarantee that your spiritual health will benefit greatly from giving serious attention to this book. It will help you not only understand how temptation works, but also how to defeat it.
With that endorsement behind us, let me summarize last night's message.

A Purposeful Temptation
In the very first verse, Matthew brings up one of the most difficult concepts of the entire passage. The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. "To be," that indicates purpose. The question is, what was the Holy Spirit's purpose for allowing this temptation?

The answer, I believe, is two-fold. First, the Holy Spirit wants Jesus to face the same temptations that Israel faced in the wilderness. Matt Woodley explained, "As Matthew's Gospel tells us so often, Jesus our Immanuel must be with us, standing in solidarity with a fallen and broken creation in order to raise and reconcile us to the Father's heart." Jesus walks through the same temptation that Israel did, and ultimately the same temptation that we face, so that he can fully identify himself with us.

There is a second purpose for Jesus' temptation, and that is to prove himself as the ultimate Son of God. Israel faced tests in the wilderness, but they failed. But when Jesus steps into their story, he is tempted in every way just like them, yet he is without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Again, Matt Woodley explains,
Jesus stepped into Israel's story. As the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years and failed, Jesus faced forty days and forty nights of testing and prevailed. In the story of Israel... humans wanted autonomy because of their failure to trust the Father's goodness and love. In contrast, Jesus trusted his Father and thus recapitulated – or took up and transformed in his own life – the broken stories of Israel, of humanity and of us personally. He lived the life we were called to live and thus achieved the mission of God's Son.
In other words, the second purpose of Jesus' test is to prove that he is the new and better Israel. He is worthy of our trust. He is the one who will finally achieve the mission of God's Son.

The Three Temptations
To prove himself as the new and better Israel, and the trustworthy Son of God, Jesus faces off with the devil in a series of three temptations. We see in each temptation that the devil has a motivation that is much deeper than the specific action he is presenting to Jesus. Ultimately, the devil's goal is to sabotage Jesus' relationship with His Father.

In the first temptation, the devil tries to convince Jesus to put an end to his suffering through self-reliance. In the second temptation, the devil tries to convince Jesus to put an end to His suffering by testing God, manipulating God, or forcing God’s hand. In the third and final temptation, the devil tempts Jesus to simply find a God who will not ask him to suffer. In each instance, the devil seems to be suggesting that Jesus would be better off if He would stop relying on God. God's plan included suffering, the devil insisted that there was a shortcut that could avoid it.

Again, Matt Woodley nicely explains the implications of these temptations (at this point it is obvious that I really benefitted from Matt Woodley's commentary on Matthew and recommend it highly).
Throughout [Matthew's] Gospel, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus down before he goes up: down into the incarnation, down into Mary's womb, down into the stable, down into the bloody mess at the slaughter of the innocents, down into the waters of baptism, down into the presence of human disease and demonic attack. For Jesus, the way up is always down. He arrives at the resurrection life only by walking into and through the crucifixion. So Jesus, like a strong man lifting a boulder, must stoop low, getting his body underneath the dangerous load of sin and suffering, even allowing the load to crush him, as he finally rises again to lift the boulder out of the mud.
The devil ties to offer Jesus a way up without going down first. But our salvation is at stake. If Jesus won't first identify with us, stoop to our level, and put our sins upon his back, then we have no hope of salvation. Fortunately for us, Jesus resists the devil in all three tests.

Where Do We Come Into the Story
At the end of this story we must ask ourselves where we fit in. Most often, when we turn to this passage we look at Jesus' example in hopes that we can resist temptation just like he did. While I think there is wisdom here, I think Matthew is pointing us to a different truth first. In this story, we aren't like Jesus, we are like Israel.

Matt Woodley poetically describes our own experience with temptation. He says,
At many points in our journey through life we will face the soupy fog of temptation. It will swirl around us and penentrate into us. We will question and then reject the Father’s good heart, repulsing his hand of mercy and grace. As we attempt to meet our own needs our own way, we’ll get lost in the fog, gashing our leg against the rock or plunging off a cliff. It happens so frequently we assume it’s normal.
Jesus faced the tempter and he prevailed. You and I face tempter, and time and time again, we fail. If we place our hopes in our ability to stand up against temptation, we will quickly realize that we are without hope. But that is Matthew's point. Where we failed, Jesus prevailed. Where we were proven untrustworthy, Jesus has proven himself trustworthy. Our great hope is not that we can resist the devil, but that we can follow the one who already has.

It is this great reality that Matt Woodley captures in this final paragraph.
In His love and mercy, Jesus Immanuel walked into our fog. It swirled around him and threatened to destroy him, as it does every other human being. But unlike Israel, and unlike you and me, Jesus never lost his footing. The fog didn’t engulf him. By trusting in his Father’s love and goodness in the midst of howling temptation, Jesus showed us how to walk through Satan’s soupy fog. As the fog-bearer and the fog-defeater, the triune God invites us with reassuring words: “Take my hand. Trust me. I’ve been through the fog and I know how to lead you out of if.”

Main Idea of the Message: Because Jesus has proven himself to be the trustworthy Son of God, we should place all our hopes of beating sin and sin's curse in him alone.
You can listen to the message below or download the podcast from iTunes.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Messiah's Baptism: Matthew 3:1–17

This week we covered the third chapter of Matthew, and though the third chapter is chock full of stuff, the passage can be easily broken down into three main sections. In the first section we find out who John the Baptist is (vs. 1–6). In the second section we get a glimpse of his message and his battle with the religious leaders of his day (7–12). And in the final section, we watch as he baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River.

Who is John the Baptist?
In the first six verses we focused on two main things about John the Baptist. The first thing we notice in verses 3 & 4, he is the promised prophet. Twice Matthew suggests that John the Baptist is the prophet promised in the Old Testament. First, Matthew quotes Isaiah 40:3 which tells us about a prophet in the wilderness who prepares the people for the coming of God. Matthew is telling us that John the Baptist is the prophet promised in Isaiah.

Then Matthew describes John as a man who wears a coat of camel's hair and lives on a diet of locusts and honey. This description may make us think of John as fairly strange man. But Matthew wants us to think of him as a very specific strange man. Matthew is describing John in almost the exact same way Elijah is described in 2 Kings 1:8.

To compare John with Elijah is a very deliberate choice. Matthew is taking our minds back to the very last paragraph of the Old Testament. In Malachi 4:4–6, we are told to wait for the day of the Lord, but before that day comes, God will send the prophet Elijah. Matthew is telling us that John the Baptist is the prophet like Elijah we have been waiting for.

While it is amazing to see that the promised prophet has come, he is really just a sign of the one who is to come. John the Baptist is the Braxton Hicks contraction that reminds us that labor is on the way. John the Baptist is the herald, that tells us to look for the king.

In addition to seeing that John the Baptist has come to prepare the way for the king, the first six verses also give us a picture of how he does that. John calls people to prepare for the coming Messiah with what we called the "baptism of repentance." John the Baptist was offering a baptism that foreshadowed the baptism we practice in the church today. In many ways it is very similar, but as we will see, the coming of the king will build on John's baptism and expand it so that it gains an even greater significance in our lives. As Dale Bruner says, "Jesus' baptism will be much more than [John's] water baptism, but nothing less."

John's baptism looks back on the washing of Naaman in 2 Kings 5. Naaman was a Syrian, not a Jew. He had become sick with leprosy and his Jewish servant girl suggested that the God of Israel could cure him. Naaman eventually comes to Elisha the prophet who tells him to dip himself in the Jordan River seven times and then he would be healed. After the seventh washing, Naaman was indeed made clean, and he responded by denouncing his Syrian gods and claiming "I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel." And, looking back on this event, Gentile converts were permitted acceptance into the nation of Israel through baptism in the Jordan River.

John's baptism looked back on this event too. He was asking his baptism candidates to admit that they were dirty, sinful, and unclean, just like Naaman the leper. But there was an extra layer of meaning in John's baptism service. John was baptizing Jews, not Gentiles. He was, therefore, asking his followers to recognize that their sins had separated them from Israel and from the God of Israel. He was asking them to recognize that from God's perspective, these Jews were more closely associated with the Syrians than they were with their own God.

John's Battle with the Pharisees and Sadducees
As we might imagine, John's message didn't set well with the Jewish leaders of his day. So when the Pharisees and Sadducees show up, the tensions quickly mount.

John quickly lets these Jewish leaders know that they aren't welcome at his baptism service because they aren't proper candidates for baptism. He gives them two reasons. The first, in verse 8, is that these leaders haven't shown any signs of repentance. John believed that baptism was only for those people who viewed themselves as dirty outsiders who needed to be washed by God. These Jewish leaders were too proud to admit their need and therefore had no right to be baptized. John also denies them baptism because of their misplaced faith in their lineage. He explains, being children of Abraham is of no value before God. God demands individual, personal repentance.

John then turns up the heat even further. He warns these arrogant spiritual leaders that they should be afraid. While it is true that the Messiah was coming to bring life, it is also true that he comes to bring judgment. The Messiah was coming to cut down the tree of Israel and to seperate all the true followers of God from those who are merely deluding themselves. Those who are found unworthy, the false disciples, will be thrown into the unquenchable fire.

John's message was one of fear and judgment. Our tendency is to suppress the wrath of God. We sing praises of God's love, but often ignore the reality of his judgment. John the Baptist warns us against this imbalance. Dale Bruner explains,
The Kingdom of God is much more than the wrath of God, of course, but it is nothing less. The coming of God in Scripture is always at least also the coming of burning justice. A coming of the kingdom with judgment for evil doers does not exist except in the imagination of the sentimental.

[But] the wrath of God is not the irritability of God; it is the love of God in friction with injustice. It is the warm steady, patient, but absolutely fair grace of God in collision with manifest selfishness. God’s wrath does not contradict God’s love, it proves it. A love that pampers injustice is not lovable.
John teaches us that Jesus comes to bring life, but he also comes to bring death. He will destroy all injustice. If we are wise, we will be prepared.

The Baptism of Jesus
John's message is bleak, and leaves us with a sense of fear and trembling. But when Jesus arrives in verse 13, the mood quickly changes. In Jesus we see life, the Spirit, and hope.

Jesus' baptism confirms to us that Jesus is not only the new Israel (a theme we saw in Matthew 2:13–23), He is the better Israel. John the Baptist brought a message of condemnation for the people of Israel. John makes it clear that God is not pleased with them. But when Jesus is baptized, the skies split open, the Holy Spirit descends like a dove, and a God declares, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." Jesus is not only the new son of God, he is the pleasing son of God. He is not only the new Israel, he is the better Israel.

We also see a message of great hope and purpose in Jesus' baptism. We see two great purposes for Jesus' baptism; (1) it allows him to associate with us, and (2) it teaches us to associate with him.

Certainly Jesus did not need to be baptized. He didn't have any sins that needed to be washed away. John the Baptist even tries to forbid it. But Jesus said that he must be baptized to fulfill all righteousness. This is because Jesus understood that baptism is about association. The gentiles were baptized so that they could be associated, or counted as one of the Jews. Jesus was baptized so that he could be associated, or counted as one of us.

Adolf Schlatter commented, "Jesus is baptized not because he shares our need but in order to share our need." That is, when Jesus is baptized, he is taking us to himself. He is taking our sins he makes them his sins. As the hymn "I Stand Amazed" says, "He took my sins and my sorrows and He made them His very own."

In addition to associating Himself with us, Jesus' baptism provides us a model for how we can associate with him. Dale Bruner says, "the practical purpose of Jesus' Baptism... is to teach the church what happens to her in [this event]: a great deal!"

But what exactly does happen? I think it is best summarized by Paul in Romans 6:3–5
Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life. For if we have been joined with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of His resurrection.
In other words, in the same way that Jesus associates with us in His baptism, we associate with Him in ours. When we are baptized, we are saying that His death is our death and His life is our life. By going under the water, we are signifying that His death on the cross counts in the place of the death we have earned by our sins. And when we are raised out of the water we are signifying that the new life that Christ lives is also being lived in us.

Baptism is all about association. It admits that we are already associated with the lepers, the unclean, the sinners, and the outsiders. But because of Jesus, we can be baptized into Him and find a new association. The old associations are washed away. Now we find our death in His death and our life in His life.

What a wonderful hope!

Main Idea of the Message: Repent of your sins, especially your spiritual arrogance, and be baptized into the new and better Israel
You can listen to the message below or download the podcast from iTunes.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Humiliation of the King: Matthew 2:13–23

In our most recent study of Matthew, the story shifts to a much more somber tone. We go from Jesus being crowned king, to Jesus in exile, fleeing for his life. We go from rejoicing with exceeding joy to weeping and loud lamentation. We go from angels and a miraculous star announcing his arrival to lowliness, humiliation, and relative obscurity. But even in the midst of the humiliation of our king, we see that we have reason to hope.

Jesus is the New Israel, Sharing in All Their Lowliness.
Matthew organizes this passage around three fulfillments of the Old Testament, and each of these fulfillments show us that Jesus is "fulfilling," or "filling up," what it means to be Israel. (For more info on Jesus as the fulfillment of these prophecies, and the new Israel, see this excellent article by Kevin DeYoung). Matthew begins by showing us that just as Israel was exiled to Egypt, Jesus was exiled to Egypt (Matthew 2:15). The next fulfillment passage shows us that just as Israel's deportation was marked by weeping and lamentation, Jesus life was also marked by weeping and lamentation (Matthew 2:18).

The third fulfillment passage was a little more difficult because Matthew isn't directly quoting any of the prophets. Instead he provides a summary of an idea repeated throughout the Old Testament. He summarizes the idea by saying, "He shall be called a Nazarene."

Many scholars point out that the Old Testament repeatedly mentions a coming Messiah who will be despised by and suffer for his people. Perhaps no passage more famously reflects this sentiment than Isaiah 53:2–3,
He grew up before Him like a young plant
 and like a root out of dry ground.
 He didn’t have an impressive form 
or majesty that we should look at Him, 
no appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men,
 a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. 
He was like someone people turned away from; 
He was despised, and we didn’t value Him.
Certainly it would be hard to find a passage that better encapsulates what it meant when Matthew called Jesus a Nazarene.

However, I think this is only part of Matthew's intention in this third fulfillment passage. At every step Matthew has pointed out that Jesus is just like Israel. At this point, I believe, Matthew is subtley reminding his Jewish audience that they are just like Nazareth. Of all the nations in the world, Israel has been the most mistreated, most despised, most enslaved. Matthew is both reminding Israel of the lowliness and assuring them that Jesus is just like them.

Incidentally, the Jews problem throughout the gospel of Matthew is they forget that they are like the Nazarenes. The Jews fancy themselves politically developed and spiritually sophisticated. Matthew, however, is not impressed. He insists that Jesus didn't come for the exalted, but the lowly; not the righteous, but the sinners.

Hope in the Humiliation of Our King
Tom Nelson of Denton Bible Church preached a wonderful sermon on this text that he concluded with a reflection on a sermon by Warren Wiersbe. I found the illustration extremely moving and did my best to replicate it. But for the sake of brevity, consider this quote from Wiersbe's book, The Names of Jesus,
[Jesus of Nazareth] speaks to us of the Grace of God. When Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into this world, he didn’t identify with Jerusalem, Rome, or Athens. Where did he go? He went to Nazareth; he identified with the people who were despised and rejected, the poor and needy.
Hope is to be found in the humiliation of Jesus because it shows us that God cares for the poor and needy. God cares for us when we are at our weakest, our ugliest, and our most vile.

The author of Hebrews develops a similar thought. He explains that it is the humiliation of our King that gives us the boldness to approach Him.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with every confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in the time of need. (Hebrews 4:15)
If Jesus had come to Earth, but lived a life worthy of a king, we would wonder if he could truly understand us in our weakness. But Jesus suffered. Jesus was despised and lowly. Jesus became just like us, and that is precisely why we can believe that he will hear us when we are in our greatest need.

Main Idea of the Message: King Jesus is humiliated to show that he is the new Israel, which is a great hope to the poor, despised, and the lowly.

You can listen to the sermon from the link below, or you can access it via iTunes.

Monday, May 5, 2014

O, Worship the King: Matthew 2:1-12

Last night at Raiford Road we continued our study of Matthew. This time we turned to Matthew 2:1–12 to look at the story of the wise men who came to worship the king. We focused on three major points: Matthew tells us that Jesus is the promised king, Matthew warns us not to reject the king, and Matthew invites us to worship the King.

Matthew Tells Us that Jesus is the Promised King
Matthew presents the Jesus as king in several ways, but one particular way really stood out to me. These wise men as a sort of ambassadors representing the nations. In verse 2 they do something very strange; they come up to Herod the king and they ask him, “where is the one who is born king.” Think about how rude that must have seemed. These wise men travel from another country to meet the new king, but when they are actually standing before the king of the Jews… nothing. Herod gets no special attention. He gets no gifts, no homage. Herod was the king of the Jews, but only because he was appointed so by the Roman Caesar. These wise men had come to see the real king. They came to see the one who was born king.

I think Matthew is making it clear that Jesus isn’t just another king, there is something special about him. Israel already had a king, but Jesus was born king. Even when he was just an infant in the little town of Bethlehem, he outshines the kings of Persia and he outshines the king of the Jews. In other words, Matthew is saying, Jesus is a king, but not just any king. Jesus is the king.

Matthew Warns Us not to Reject the King
Fredrick Bruner reminds us that Herod's rejection of Jesus isn't just a historical phenomenon. Matthew presents Herod as a sort of mirror that helps us see ourselves in our natural state. He explains,
In Herod we see in person what theology calls Original Sin, which I will occasionally call "Deep Sin." Herod is not merely the gospel villain; he is Everyman. 
Herod teaches that a reaction of raw human nature to the kingship of Jesus is rebellion. If Jesus is Lord, then we are not. Herod's response to a center of the universe other than himself is dis-ease, mal-aise. Paul puts this systematically when he began his anthropology by writing, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of persons who suppress the truth" of God given knowledge in creation (Rom 1:18-20)... 
Thus, Herod, though an extreme case, is not an isolated one. Herod is what I am deep down inside.
With this in mind, we looked at Herod as an example to avoid. We looked at him and asked, what attitudes and actions can keep me from meeting and worshiping the King?

In verses 3-8 we saw three major errors to avoid. We recognized that we will miss the King if we already have another king. We recognized that we will miss the King when we don't meet Him in His Word. Finally we recognized that we will miss the King when we merely go through religious motions, as opposed to seeking God with all our hearts.

Matthew Invites Us to Worship the King.
At the climax of our passage, the wise men anoint Jesus as the King. And as we watch their response to the king, we get a glimpse of how we should respond as well.

In verse 10, the wise men are so excited to meet the king that they rejoice with exceeding great joy. It’s the exact opposite of Herod and the Jews who were troubled. They are about to meet the king, and they couldn’t be happier.

Then, in verse 11, this great joy spills over into worship. Worship here is simply acting out the joy they feel. They are giving outward expression to their inward excitement. They do that by falling down before him this child king. I imagine they are talking or singing, or somehow recounting how excited they feel to be in the presence of the king. They also give him gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. In addition to being gifts that recognize Jesus as king, they are costly gifts. They are sacrifices. But they are gifts that the wise men are excited to give as gratitude for being able to meet the king.

Certainly, Matthew recounts the adoration of the wise men to show us that Jesus is King, but just as certainly, he is inviting us to join the wise men. Matthew is inviting us to come and worship the King. To that end we closed the service with this video. As Dr. Lockridge introduces us to the king, we are conscious that the only appropriate response is exceeding joy that overflows into worship.

Main Idea of the Message: We should avoid sins of Herod and join the wise men in the worship of our King.

You can listen to the sermon from the link below, or you can access it via iTunes. In the first seven minutes I introduce my newborn daughter, Dorothy. You can skip to the 7 minute mark to begin the study of Matthew.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Believe the Unbelievable: Matthew 1:18-25

Tonight was our second week in Matthew's gospel at Raiford Road Church. We took a look at the miraculous conception of Jesus in Matthew 1:18-25. Here are some highlights from the study.

An Unbelievable Truth (vs. 18-19)
The story begins with Joseph being confronted with an unbelievable truth. He finds out that Mary, to whom he is engaged, is pregnant and he knows that the baby isn't his. But the most unbelievable part of the story is that Mary claims that the baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Literally, she is carrying the Son of God.

Perhaps it's because many of us have grown up in church, but most of us pass over how impossibly hard it would have been for Joseph to believe this story. And verse 19 tells us that he couldn't believe it. Of course, Joseph wanted to be nice about it, but he decided to separate from Mary, because in the end, he just couldn't trust her story.

A Series of Miraculous Events (vs. 20-23)
But things change for Joseph through a series of five miraculous or supernatural encounters.
  1. A supernatural messenger
  2. approaches him in a supernatural dream
  3. to reveal a supernatural conception
  4. that will result in a supernatural savior
  5. who will accomplish God's supernatural plan
Each of these supernatural encounters are specially designed by God to get Joseph to believe the unbelievable. They are a series of proofs to show Joseph that he can trust God.

Consider the progression. If God can miraculously reveal himself by an angel in a supernatural dream, then perhaps he can miraculously cause Mary to conceive. And if God can miraculously place his son in the womb of a woman, then perhaps, miraculously, that son can be the savior of the world. And if God can miraculously provide a savior, then perhaps he can miraculously accomplish all that he has promised.

The point is, each miracle is like a shining beacon that reminds us that God can do the impossible. Each miracle is God's message to us that we should believe the unbelievable.

The Appropriate Response is to Trust and Obey
After Joseph encounters God through this progression of miracles, he has a choice. Will he trust God or not? Matthew tells us that he does trust God, he doesn't send Mary away, and he names his Son Jesus!

As Matthew continues his gospel, he makes it clear that Jesus has come for people who realize that they need a miracle in their lives. The Scribes and Pharisees will reject Jesus because they believe they have it all together, it's only the people who realize they need a miracle in their lives who truly experience his saving power. In Matthew 9:12, Jesus says, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick," Our story of the miraculous conception of Jesus reminds us that even if we are so sick we can hardly believe there is hope, Jesus can do the impossible.

Matthew 1:18-25 presents the supernatural beginnings of Jesus Christ to show us that we can have the confidence to believe the unbelievable concerning our salvation!

Main Idea of the Message: The supernatural beginnings of Jesus Christ call us to believe the unbelievable concerning our salvation!

You can also find the sermon as a podcast on iTunes.