Friday, November 25, 2016

Hell Hath No Fury ...

There is an expression we sometimes use, most often associated with a woman rejected, or deceived.  But while we may like to convey the idea that the anger of a woman is no small thing, I believe the real fury the kingdom of Satan prefers is the mass casualties of war.  When Satan is able to convince us we need to kill each other (for whatever reason), he wins.  It does not matter which human side of the war wins, the idea that both sides participate, is a victory for Satan.  Murder has the same effect, but its victims are too limited for the kingdom of Satan.  Mass casualties works better for him.  And if, in those mass casualties you can end the lives of children, you have hit the satanic jackpot.  Ending the lives of the most innocent, the lives of those who had the most life left, is the best fury hell has to offer.
Every time hell gets to show us a glimpse of this fury, they rejoice, while we suffer and die.  When Jesus came to our world, it is only logical that He will be at His weakest as a baby.  If hell was going to make an attempt on His life, better sooner than later.  Herod had already determined to kill Him.  So there was already a human patsy to take the fall, and very willing to participate.  Herod was a jealous king; infantile, deranged, obsessed, and very unpredictable.  Herod was not much different than any jealous spouse has ever been, but regarding his kingdom and power, not the love of another person.  But what was to transpire was not just a random series of events.  It was foretold.  It was a look into the heart of evil, a look at the fury of hell, a revelation of how far Satan will go in his quest to kill the source of all love.
Normal people have rules.  Normal people, even ones who have committed murder, do not usually focus on babies as their preferred targets.  Babies hardly understand what is going on.  Only the parents are left with the pain of loss that cannot be comforted in this world.  But Satan has no human version of normality.  His kingdom has no limits defined by our sense of right and wrong.  Nothing is too far.  Nothing is ever wrong.  Killing babies for sport is just another entertainment venue in the kingdom hell would rule.  And Herod was about to distinctively prove this point, not just for us.  Not just to fulfill prophecy, but that the universe of witnesses could see this was no bluff, this was no test, this was and this is, who Satan is.  And if left to our embrace of sin, this is who we would become.
Matthew begins by setting the stage for the anger of Herod as his plans to kill Jesus will not be so easy to accomplish.  In chapter two of his Gospel beginning in verse 12 saying … “And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.”  The Magi or kings and nobles of the East, were warned of God to return home a different way, never to return to Herod’s courts again.  Imagine the context.  They have followed a miraculous star here for hundreds or thousands of miles.  They arrive to see Jesus.  And immediately God appears to them in a dream, protecting the life of His baby Son.  Surely this is the long waited for Messiah.  But the warnings did not end here.
Matthew continues in verse 13 saying … “And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.”  The Magi leave first.  There will be no accidental witnesses to where Joseph will take his family.  Then the angel comes again to Joseph (I wonder if Joseph knew his name by now).  The angel warns them to flee into Egypt until he rescinds this warning.  Herod is bent on killing Jesus.  If Herod can find Jesus, Jesus is dead.  It will take divine protection to keep Jesus from suffering this fate whether as a baby or even as a small boy.  But what was happening was not a series of random incidents.  Even the evil of Herod was foretold, both the cause, and the effects.
Matthew continues in verse 14 saying … “When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: [verse 15] And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.”  Some timelines put this sojourn to Egypt lasting about seven years.  Over this time other siblings would be born.  Even though Joseph was a carpenter by trade, the gifts of the Magi would have gone a long way towards sustaining this young family in Egypt.  They could have secured the purchase of a home (or rental of).  They could have secured food, tools, and supplies; particularly considering the young family had little to bring with them.  But Matthew again reminds his audience that the Messiah would be called out of Egypt, as Jesus was, by the prophets ages ago.
The story of Herod and aftermath continues in verse 16 saying … “Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.”  Herod did to the people of Israel what Pharaoh had done so long ago.  Herod orders the death of all children (presumably male, but Matthew fails to make this distinction), two years and under.  In addition, this scripture expands the reach of Herod beyond Bethlehem to “all the coasts thereof”.  Herod was not going to make any mistakes of omission.   If Jesus was nearby He would be killed.  But even this evil was foreseen.
Matthew continues in verse 17 saying … “Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, [verse 18] In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.”  Matthew adds the voice of the prophet Jeremiah to the growing list of Old Testament prophecies that are fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ.  It would appear one cannot go more than 5 or 6 verses in Matthew’s Gospel without finding a reference to prophecies of the past fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ.  Yet even the epitaph of Herod finds prophecy to fulfill.
Matthew continues in verse 19 saying … “But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, [verse 20] Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life.”  The Angel of the Lord, as promised, rescinds his warning of those who sought the life of young Jesus.  I should imagine there was no parade of those paying respects at the funeral of Herod.  He had killed their children.  He was probably the most hated man in all of Israel.  That comes when you kill kids.  But even in this infamy there is no place of honor for Herod in the kingdom of Satan.  Satan does not grant honor, only apathy.  Satan has no heroes, only those he would kill again and again.  Such is the fury of hell.
Matthew continues in verse 21 saying … “And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. [verse 22] But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: [verse 23] And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.”  Even the unplanned responses are chronicled in prophecy.  Joseph was to return to Bethlehem, but fear kept him from doing so.  Joseph who had so often heard the voice of the Angel of the Lord, as they return, loses trust in that voice and turns aside to Galilee, to Nazareth to be precise.
This was not God’s intended plan, but it is what Joseph did.  What might have been different for Jesus if He had returned to Bethlehem.  Would His acceptance by the leaders of the religion been better if Jesus had been closer, and a full-time resident of the City of David?  The Angel did not instruct Joseph to do as he did, fear caused that action.  It was unplanned, even from the perspective of Joseph.  But it was still prophesied about and cited by Matthew.  Fleeing to Egypt was a result of the fury of hell.  Returning and winding up in Nazareth was a response of fear.  How often do we respond in fear, no matter the assurances of our God?  How often do those responses wind up making our lives worse, instead of better?
This was to end the Gospel of the Hebrews regarding the topic of early years of Jesus.  As Matthew would continue writing, he would jump ahead to the ministry of John the Baptist.  Much is lost to us of these formative years.  We assume Jesus kept His hair in the style of the Nazarene’s.  We assume He was taken to Passover every year.  We know about His encounter with the Temple Priests when He was twelve years old.  But Matthew covers none of this.  Perhaps because these events were not as prominent in prior prophecies.  Perhaps Matthew was more interested in tying the Old with the New, and stories of the childhood of Jesus would not facilitate that goal as well.  In any case the Gospel of the Hebrews was nowhere near an end …

Friday, November 18, 2016

Third-Party Verification ...

We use E-Verify to help others be certain we are who we say we are; and we are eligible to work in our United States.  We have documentation like our driver’s licenses, our birth certificates, our social security cards to provide further evidence.  Our systems are built to trust paperwork.  Our systems nearly always require the word of a witness to that same paperwork.  But just the “word” of someone else, is rarely enough.  Even when that person claims to be our best friend, having known us our entire life.  A parent’s “word” is also rarely effective.  Mom and Dad can rarely help establish who we are, and our right to work in this country must require something beyond the words of those who know us.  Our identities hinge on documents like passports and birth certificates to make us solid.  In a digital age this trend will only continue.  The “person” of who we are gives way to the digital footprint of who we are.  And while the means have changed, this method was no less effective in the days of Jesus.
Matthew is determined to illuminate the Old through the life of the New in Jesus Christ.  From His ancestry to His birth Matthew begins to tie the prophetic of the Old, with the reality of the New.  Matthew does not just do this through a first-person account of what he himself has witnessed and been told; but he does this through a careful comparison of scripture and its fulfillment in Jesus.  The documentation trail is set in motion.  The audience Matthew is determined to witness to through his Gospel, will be quick to argue with only the words or opinions of Matthew.  But that same audience will be slow to discount the prophecies of Isaiah, or of David.  When the prophets of Old, the prophets of ancient days begin to speak: the penitent become reverent and listening becomes an art.  The documentation of scripture begins to validate the circumstances of the life of Jesus Christ.
But the gospel of Old is not constricted to the land of Judea and the city of Jerusalem.  As much as a proud Jewish nation might have wished it to be so; the disobedience of the past planted seeds of a Messiah in lands of captivity.  Yet before the Babylonian captivity would spread the gospel of a Messiah to every nation in the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar; King David would pray for his son Solomon, and without realizing it, would prophecy of the coming Messiah.  The reference can be found in the book of Psalms in chapter 72.  David begins by asking for blessings, and then transitions into what the coming of Messiah will be like.  Verse 4 speaks of the salvation of the “needy” and of breaking in pieces the oppressor (arguably Satan, not Rome as the Jews would misinterpret).  Verse 10 however is what Matthew is intent upon focusing on now.  Verse 10 speaks of the … “the kings of Tarshish, and of the isles, shall bring Him presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.”  It follows in verse 11 … “Yea, all kings shall fall down before Him”. 
So, years after David sleeps with his fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, captivity does what an informed people would not; it spreads the gospel.  Nebuchadnezzar and Darius both make proclamations that the God of Daniel shall be worshipped throughout the land.  The scriptures would be copied in pristine form and sent to the far corners of the earth.  Every nation would be exposed to the Jewish faith.  Every nation would hear the prophecies of the coming Messiah.  And some of them, would be led by the Holy Spirit to know the truth of the mission of the coming King; a mission of redemption from our slavery to sin.  There would be converts in the East who were not looking for a solution to the Roman problem.  Those converts only awaited the longed-for hope of the ages, the promise handed down since Adam and Eve, soon to arrive in the land promised to those who first sought our God. 
The people of the east were not distracted by the religious power brokers in Jerusalem.  They did not need to submit to a central religious authority.  Their wisdom was given of the Holy Spirit, and their own interpretation of scripture and of the prophecies was correct.  In addition, they were given a sign in the heavens to reward their faith.  This symbol would lead them to the baby they had so long waited for, and so long hoped for.  It was a sign that they would follow, coming out of all the major lands of the East, where the hope of the Messiah had not been given over to misinterpretation.  Each night the star would lead them West.  As they traveled their company grew.  More and more of the wisest men would join, bringing gifts fit for the Giver of all Things.  This story was a reality of the New that was foretold by David in the Old, and Matthew was determined to share it.  Only Matthew would ever reveal these facts.
In chapter two of the Gospel of the Hebrews, Matthew writes beginning in verse 1 saying … “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, [verse 2] Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.”  Imagine the disconnect.  The company of kings from the east, the wise and noble men who had journeyed so far, have finally arrived at the city of Jerusalem.  They expected to find it a-buzz with excitement and delight as the time of the Savior’s birth had arrived.  The star in the heavens had led them here, after hundreds, and perhaps even thousands of miles, they were here at the center of it all.  They had arrived at the city center of where the worship of the Messiah was to take place.  And the only ones excited about it, were them.  Everyone else was completely unaware.  Everyone else was oblivious.  Even the priests were dead to the idea.  This day was like every other for the people of the Messiah.  No one knew, no one seemed to care.
How could this be possible?  How could people not born to this, actually care about it more than people who were raised with it from birth?  Perhaps the better question is, are we repeating the very same behavior today?  People raised in an Advent movement, a movement spanning many protestant churches and generations; that the time of His second returning was near at hand, have grown tired and asleep at the wheel.  New converts seem more excited about this than we do.  New converts seem to experience Jesus in a way us long-timers seem to have never experienced.  And we, like our Jewish forefathers, who claim to worship in the right churches, doing it the right way, have lost all passion for the soon coming of His return.  We have collectively decided that “soon” is a relative term, and frankly does not elicit much response in us.  Just like the deadbeats the Magi found in Jerusalem; people who have a real relationship with Jesus find in us.  The same responses, the same apathy.  This day is just like the last one, just like the next one.
The effects of a centrally controlled religion seem to have chilled the passion for God, then and now.  It takes an uproar to finally elicit a response.  Matthew continues in verse 3 saying … “When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. [verse 4] And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.”  The Magi were determined, excited, and not going home, or giving up.  They made such a commotion.  They awoke an apathetic people from their malaise.  Even the King heard about this, and demanded to know an answer.  Ironically, he demanded to know something, from the source who should have known it, should have cared about it, but were keeping largely silent.  No one can imagine why, at least the group of nobles from the East could not imagine.
Matthew continues in verse 5 saying … “And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, [verse 6] And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.”  Think of the context of this for a minute.  The same star that guides the kings of the east to Jesus is visible to anyone else who looks up at night.  The star had to be low enough to earth to provide guidance, and bright enough from earth to outshine other objects.  It moved slow enough and settled where it needed to.  Jews could have seen this.  Jews might have been just a bit curious.  But even in the face of an astronomical miracle, the leadership of the church seems totally unconcerned.
Then think about the context of preparation.  The Magi have traveled great distances in time to witness a miraculous birth.  They have prepared extensively.  They were not planning on just picking up some trinket at the last minute at the airport and giving that to Jesus.  They brought great wealth a great distance, guarding it, hiding it, and carrying it with them.  They were prepared as they could be.  The priests, who knew this answer, and could see this star, made ZERO preparations.  No one was looking for Jesus.  Literally NO ONE, except a group of kings from the east, representing nearly every nation outside of Israel touched by the message of the Messiah.  No preparation at all by those who claim His name.  The people of Jerusalem were actually “troubled” by what these kings were saying.  Imagine the new guys were aggravating the old guys with their incessant excitement and anticipation.  And it is not as if anyone started preparations late, still nothing got done.
But Herod had his own ideas on this topic.  Matthew continues in verse 7 saying … “Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. [verse 8] And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.”  Here is where the crafty old king gets lazy.  Instead of sending his own guy with this delegation to report back, Herod decides to trust these kings will report back as ordered.  And in fairness, they would have done just that without the interference of God to redirect them to another path home.  Herod, it would appear though, is the only one making preparations.  He is preparing to kill the competition for his own throne.  It does not matter that a child born then would take long enough to grow up that Herod was not really threatened at all.  Despite the star, despite the kings from the east, despite scripture and prophecy; Herod is intent on killing Jesus at the get go.
Matthew continues in verse 9 saying … “When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. [verse 10] When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”  Witness the disconnect once again.  The kings continue to follow the star, which incidentally goes to Bethlehem as predicted in scripture.  The kings of the east are again elated at these events.  The star moving forward again coming to rest over the new baby and His mother; are earth shattering events of joy for this delegation from the nations of the East.  And yet Matthew records not a single Jew joining the delegation, or sharing in the great joy of the arrival of the Messiah.  The eastern kings entered Jerusalem, stirred up quite the commotion with their questions and their implications and news, and yet once they leave, all the deadbeats go right back to their lives without the slightest change.  Are we any different?
Then must come the fulfillment of the documentation, the witness to it, the third-party verification of the authenticity of who Jesus is.  Matthew concludes this section in verse 11 saying … “And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.”  David said the kings of the East would fall before Him, and bring Him presents.  And the fulfillment of scripture is retold by Matthew in his Gospel.  Years before the captivity, the servant of God prays for his son, and prophecies of events that would take years further to come to pass.  Babylonian and Persian edicts, copies of scriptures, the leading of the Holy Spirit, a journey of great distances following a star of miracles, and a virgin who has recently given birth to the Messiah.  The culmination of these things provide a testimony, a verification of who Jesus is.
E-Verify is not this accurate.  No documentation we have in place today can coordinate itself over centuries, generations, and thousands of miles on foot and camelback, with timing accurate to a week.  As far as third party verification systems go, this one was in a category of its own.  In modern Christianity, we assume it was only three wise men, because there were only three gifts cataloged by Matthew.  But earlier studies suggest it may have been as many as 12 representatives from just as many countries who made up the final delegation who sought to witness the birth of the Messiah.  But these men we call Magi returned to their native homelands and their faith did not die on this journey.  It was affirmed.  The good news of the gospel was spread far and wide in the East long before disciples could carry it there.  It has been suggested that even as far as the Mongol empire where Genghis and Kublai Khan would emerge that Christianity held roots with no benefit of missionaries beyond the descendants of the Magi who sought the baby Jesus so long ago. 
Uncorrupted from a set of religious leaders who sought only control, the Magi would return home spreading only the good news that the Messiah had come.  God was with man.  The salvation of our souls, of the “needy” as David had identified was upon us.  The Magi had the benefit of the prophecy of David, combined with the witness of their own eyes.  Their passion could not be squelched.  Ask yourself, are you the passionate convert troubling the hearts of the established believers; or are you troubled by the questions you hear today by those who seem to seek only the love of Jesus …

Friday, November 11, 2016

Conditions of Birth ...

There is no greater joy in the mob, than to condemn sin in others, particularly a public sin.  The mob is not interested in redemption; nor is it interested in forgiveness.  The mob claims interest only in justice.  But more often, the mob is only really interested in vengeance and humiliation.  If this were an old west movie, and the town’s people were chasing some criminal, it might be more tolerable.  But when the mob is a religious one, the first goal is to make everyone aware of the sin of its target.  The second goal is to see that the sinner is punished appropriately for what they have done.  The mob holds itself guiltless no matter the truth.  The mob holds itself as arbiter of the will of God.  The mob believes its actions are only just and deserved, and perhaps it even has a point.  But this is not the story of our God, or the story of His plan, for His plan redeems that which does not deserve redemption.  Our God forgives that which should not be forgiven.  Our God transforms the life of the guilty sinner into one of passionate love for others that makes obedience not only possible, but the lowest rung upon which to measure success.
Our modern Christians too often equate with the mob.  Our American idealism understands frontier justice, even if we personally do not participate in it.  We look on public sinners like Anthony Weiner and decide that his repeated behaviors are proof that he is not really sorry, and will do it again, the minute he has a chance.  Getting caught appears to be the only thing he is sorry for, as many a sinner will be in “the day of punishment at the end of all things”.  If mob justice were to arise, even our modern Christian churches would somehow sympathize.  We do not appreciate those with sexual sins.  We appreciate even less the ones who get caught and parade their weaknesses in public.  And when the sinner impacts the life of a child, our tolerance completely vanishes, and only our sense of justice emerges.  And so even where there is no pitchforks and lanterns on the streets, there is still an equal sentiment in the hearts of those watching the news in their living rooms, who call themselves followers of Jesus.
So what is the just punishment for sexting with anyone, let alone a minor, from a religious perspective?  The quick answer is a pending trip to the fires of hell, but that seems rather far off, and not immediate enough to satiate the crowd here.  In Biblical times there was no concept of sexting.  Photography itself would take many centuries to appear.  And electronic transmission of images in an instant across thousands of miles was just conceptually unheard of in the days of Jesus.  But exposing oneself to others in person was something they have had since before the flood.  And women who did not turn away from such exposure but rather turned towards it with thoughts of their own, is also something that has existed since before the flood.  So while the methods may differ, the sexual sins are based largely on the same inner thoughts and outer actions. 
For a member of the right religion (the Jewish faith) to find herself pregnant prior to marriage was a pretty terrific and dangerous sin for her.  Since the Jewish faith was very much a male dominated society, the penalties for the men seemed to have largely dissipated, but the penalities for the women in such conditions were as sharp as they ever were.  The woman would be stoned.  Now for your average woman who was not officially known as a prostitute, options were limited.  A fiancée such as Mary was, engaged to a good man like Joseph, had few if any.  From the mob’s point of view, if Mary was caught cheating on Joseph, stoning would be in her future.  If however, Mary and Joseph just jumped the gun a little on the wedding date, and got pregnant a bit earlier than was planned, this could be forgiven as long as neither party was cheating in any of this.
But Matthew had a problem.  Matthew was writing his gospel from a very traditional Hebrew perspective.  His audience would care very much about the conditions of the birth of Jesus.  They may have accepted His ancestry as being from the lineage of David and Abraham.  But there were a lot of questions swirling around the birth of Jesus Himself.  Was Mary a slut or not?  Joseph was obviously a good devout man, but the Pharisees made a ton of innuendo about Mary being a full-on-slut, caught with her pants down so to speak, and Jesus being born a bastard at best.  How could a bastard ever be the Messiah?  The penalties were clear, and the mob was ready to pounce.  This was the mindset of the audience that Matthew was determined to share the Gospel with.  Matthew must unite Old and New Testaments.  If He could not, the one or the other was a lie.  Could God lie?
Matthew lays out the conditions of birth picking up in chapter one and verse 18 saying … “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.”  Matthew dives right in from his audience’s perspective, the problem was clear.  Mary was engaged to Joseph.  But before the two of them could come together as husband and wife (in effect before Joseph “knew” Mary in ancient terms).  Mary was found to be with child of the Holy Ghost.  Mary was pregnant.  Mary was showing.  It’s not like Mary could go around her home town advertising that the Holy Spirit had come to her explaining all this in advance.  Who would believe her?  Who would believe any girl who claimed to not only have heard the voice of the Holy Spirit, but was getting pregnant from the Holy Spirit?  That was crazy town talk.  So she kept silent.  The gospel was shared with Mary, but fear kept it locked up inside, until the evidence of the gospel could not be overlooked.
Matthew continues in verse 19 saying … “Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.”  The problem continues.  While Mary knew the gospel of the Messiah was now developing in her womb, not even her fiancée knew it.  Joseph could see the evidence of pregnancy.  Joseph could see the evidence of her unfaithfulness.  Mary must have cheated on him as that was the only way this condition could have emerged.  Some men would have led the mob with pitchforks and stones.  Some men would have slinked away and let the mob do its own justice unable to watch the outcome.  But Joseph was of a mind to forgive Mary, preserve her life, but put her away, and never trust her again.  Joseph would preserve the life of mother and child that was not his, but the life he had planned was over.  This was to be private pain for Joseph, private distrust, private betrayal.  He must take responsibility for this sin he did not commit with the outside mob, but the life that was destroyed on the inside was his.
Matthew continues in verse 20 stating … “But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.”  The Gospel was now declared by an Angel of God in a dream to Joseph.  There was no arguing.  There was no doubts.  Mary had not deceived or betrayed him, Mary was faithful to Joseph.  This baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  But wait a minute.  If no man was the father, that left only one choice for who was the father.  It had to be the Father God.  If the Father God was the father, then this son would be a Son of His.  Joseph would be raising God as his own son.  The life Joseph had thought to preserve was now the only life that could preserve his own.  The forgiveness Joseph was of a mind to grant Mary and her baby, could only be granted by the baby to Joseph.  The responsibility was enormous.  He was not equipped to raise God.  What do you even call God?
Matthew continues in verse 21 saying … “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.”  There it is.  There is the Gospel in a single sentence.  Call Him Jesus.  The Mission of this Messiah, of the only and true Messiah, will not be the ascendency of His own power.  It will not be a mission of condemnation for those who are plainly guilty.  Instead, this Jesus, will save His people from their sins.  It remains so today.  We are not called only to forgiveness.  We are not called only to grace.  We are called to be transformed by a love that creates passion in us for others and none for ourselves.  We are called to be saved from our sins, freed from them, freed from our slavery to them.  We are not saved from the devil.  We are saved from ourselves.  We are saved from the creatures we have become.  Salvation is salvation from us.  This is the mission of the Messiah, of our Messiah, and of theirs.  There is no mob in this message.  There is no justice in it, only mercy, for mercy has outdone justice due to love.  And none are immune from it.  Even those caught in repeated sin, horrific sin, public sin.  All can be saved from who they are.  All they need is Jesus.
These were the conditions of birth.  This is how Jesus came to be.  These are the facts of it.  But how does this tie back to what was foretold?  Matthew continues in verse 22 saying … “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, [verse 23] Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”  These are not just the words of Matthew spoken after they have occurred.  The God of our scriptures was the same God from before the arrival of Jesus.  Matthew quotes the very prophet Isaiah to his audience.  Isaiah was given the foresight to prophecy these words centuries before they would be fulfilled.  But they were fulfilled in Jesus.  This Gospel of the Hebrews will be a series of prophecies of Old fulfilled in the New, fulfilled in embodiment of Jesus Christ.
The audience of Matthew might be willing to argue with Matthew.  They may not like his words, or his former profession.  But Isaiah was revered.  Isaiah was sacrosanct.  No one dare argue with Isaiah, and Isaiah said it would occur just like it has occurred.  The Pharisees were wrong.  The leaders of the right religion were wrong.  Isaiah had said it, and it occurred.  Mary was not a slut, she was honored and her virginity intact at conception.  God is with us.  God, the very God of the entire Old Testament was with us.  Here with us.  How could it get any better than this?  And the religious leaders of the right religion pissed it away.  They did not only squander the opportunity.  They attempted and succeeded (for a moment) at cutting it short by killing the very author of their own religion.  This is what control does to a Jesus who asks us to abandon it to Himself.
But this condition was not just to be documented for conception, Isaiah words were to last for the entire pregnancy and carry even more weight.  Matthew continues in verse 24 saying … “Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: [verse 25] And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.”  Joseph did as the Angel instructed.  He not only forgave Mary who needed no forgiveness, he embraced her as his wife as a full partner in the life he had envisioned.  But he also preserved her virginity until AFTER the birth of Jesus.  Only then did He come to “know” Mary as her husband.  Mary was not a slut.  Nor was she some sort of aberrant depiction of the goddess Diana, or some moon goddess, or some picture of perpetual virginity.  She was his wife.  After a virgin birth, she was his partner, and the object of his sexual expression.  And they had other children who were siblings of Jesus.  They were a family.  A human family tasked with raising God among them.
There would be no mob mentality to deal with “sins” that were not even sins.  The judgment of humanity is not judgment at all, it is only condemnation of what they cannot understand.  The sins we commit are never right, or excused; only forgiven.  Our chains to them, our desires to do them, are what Jesus came to save us from.  The entire Gospel summed up in one sentence.  He came to “save” His people from their sins.  Not to excuse them in perpetuity.  He came to change the lives of those who are in bondage to sins.  He came to make us different.  He came to remove from us the things that must be removed if perfection is ever to be our result.  Obedience is not a precondition of our salvation.  Obedience is a evidentiary result of our salvation.  It cannot occur until transformation of who we are occurs.  This is what Jesus came to do.  No mobs need ever form.  Redemption and reclamation is His only goal.
Matthew had made his first foray into tying the Old with the New.  But this was far from finished …

Friday, November 4, 2016

A Son of Abraham ...

The Messiah must be a Jew.  This was the promise given to Abraham 2000 years before it would be fulfilled.  Abram (the Canaanite) not many years after the flood (Noah was still living), would search for the true God, and would find Him.  He would have his name changed to Abraham.  He would become the father of a nation, in point of fact, of several.  But through the nation of Israel would come the hope of this world, the Messiah.  So the Messiah must be a Jew.  He must trace His bloodline back through David all the way to Abraham.  His lineage must be preserved (or the records of it anyway) through the captivity in Babylon, and the days of slavery in Egypt.  This would require meticulous record keeping.  It would take a forensic accountant to uncover it, to reveal it, to prove it to those who might bring up a question about it.  This is where the skills of a former tax collector for Rome might now come in useful for something far more important.  And so Matthew enters the scene, and he offers a proof to those he will minister to.
In chapter one, verse 1 states … “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  Matthew begins with what Jews will want to know most; is He one of us?  Is His bloodline pure?  For upstanding Jews to accept Jesus they must insure He was not part of the Samaritan ilk.  Jesus must share no gentile blood, no mix of Egypt, or Babylon.  He must be of pure blood, like themselves.  This was important to Jews.  But why?  The location of the land given to the Jewish people was central to the largest population base after the flood.  Only small numbers of native peoples migrated to the far ends of the world.  The bulk of peoples migrated much nearer and grew up as neighbors with each other.  To reach the most of them, the location of the people of Israel would play a central role.  The entire pick was designed not to seal the gospel or good news of a God who loves mankind, behind the walls of a pure bloodline religion.  It was picked in order to make sure every traveler from every land could know it.  Purity of blood was not supposed to equate with hoarding the good news of God.
But it did.  And in our day, we erect similar walls of purity for our church to hide behind.  Some erect the walls of doctrinal differences, and claim all those on the outside of what we believe, are simply not right with God.  To maintain purity, we must hide behind our walls, never venturing out to touch our brother, lest the purity of our ideas be tarnished.  In our day, some elect the walls of socio-economic status.  We fellowship only with those of like income, like interests, and like health.  We do not wish to be seen with the sick, the imprisoned or guilty, and those who cannot afford the lifestyles we have been blessed to receive.  We like our Jewish forefathers believe that poverty is a sign of God’s displeasure.  So mankind erects barriers for the gospel to hide behind, to keep it pure.
Matthew continues in verse 2 saying … “Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren;”  This was the holy beginnings of the Jewish people.  Isaac and Jacob are nearly always mentioned in the same breath as Abraham himself.  And Judah would be one of only two tribes who remained pure after the other ten separated past Solomon the son of David’s rule.  The other ten would become Samaritans.  Matthew continues in verse 3 saying … “And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; [verse 4] And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; [verse 5] And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse;”  From Judah, the generations are tracked through the slavery of Egypt, the Exodus, and the time of the Judges down to David’s father Jesse.  But alas, the bloodline now includes a few women of significantly less pure blood.  The harlot Rachab from the wall of Jericho is listed.  The daughter Ruth a Moabite is also included in the list.  Proof that our God includes those who seek His face, not just those who were supposed to be born to it.  Proof that starting life as a prostitute does mean one must end their life in the same condition.
 Matthew continues in verse 6 saying … “And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias; [verse 7] And Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa; [verse 8] And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias; [verse 9] And Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; [verse 10] And Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias; [verse 11] And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon:”  Matthew calls out again for us that the wife of Urias is included in the bloodline of Jesus.  Great sin does not end our life, if great redemption is sought.  He carries through the names until the time of the captivity in Babylon is reached.
Matthew continues in verse 12 stating … “And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; [verse 13] And Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; [verse 14] And Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; [verse 15] And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; [verse 16] And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”  It is here where the fallacy in Jewish logic is revealed.  The bloodline of Joseph is traced and recorded, but Joseph will have no participation in the bloodline of Jesus, only Mary will do that.  Mary too, was from the house of David, and to be perfectly accurate it is her ancestry that should have been tracked.  But Jews will not accept the dominance of a female in the lineage.  So they accept Jesus based on the lineage of Joseph the husband of Mary, the adopted father.
Matthew then notices the symmetry of the numbers recounting the generations in verse 17 saying … “ So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.”  14 times 3 or 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus.  42 generations to span around 2000 years of our history.  The work of the forensic account was complete.  The purity of the bloodline of Jesus was enumerated, not just to apply a list of names of father to son; but to fulfill the promises made to Abraham, to Ruth, to David, to Solomon.  Many of the generations that precede the birth of Jesus have been promised to participate in it through their descendants.  This is not just a single generation affair, it spans the millennia.  Fulfillment has already begun.
The Messiah must be a Jew.  The Messiah is.  For any who had a question about His lineage, Matthew has singlehandedly put their fears or doubts to rest.  But why?  Does the fact that I descend from someone great make me great?  We would all like to think so.  But the deeds of David belong to David, not to his son, or to me.  The faith of Abraham belongs to Abraham not to me.  I did not offer my firstborn as a sacrifice to our Lord at His command.  I can barely get out of bed to honor the Lord I serve.  Hardly seems like the faith of Abraham in comparison.  But the comparisons hardly end there.  How many of us look back to our church fathers, the founders of our faith, at the great deeds they have done and take some sort of pride in them, as if we participated in those acts as well?  We didn’t. 
The church founders who accomplished so great deeds of faith and study belong to them not me.  Just because I subscribe to the same set of doctrines they discovered does not make me some sort of pioneer.  At best it makes me a plagiarist.  Because I hold similar beliefs does mean I have had to tread the road of faith and personal discovery with Jesus that they did.  My road is my own.  What I do, what I will be remembered for (if I am remembered at all) will be what I have offered to the world.  The purity of my heritage means nothing without an execution of greatness from me as well.  Our Jewish forefathers, who held to the right religion before we did, who held the right scriptures we still read and base our thinking upon; they had an advantage of birthright, but without action decay into history without so much as an afterthought.
We can call ourselves a son or daughter of God because of what Jesus Christ did for us.  But in so referring to ourselves, do we rightly represent the Father we claim lineage to?  Do we too, burn with a passion for loving others?  Not just the easy folks to love, like family, church members, and co-workers (and I understand easy is relative), but to love strangers, and enemies, and people with different political beliefs that horrifically conflict with our own.  Loving others gets tricky sometimes.  Am I willing to give up everything I have for someone I hardly know, or hardly like, or can’t stand?  Jesus did.  Jesus did not think twice about it.  It is not the bloodline that distinguishes the life of Christ, it is what He did with His own while He was here.  It is that He loved people who called themselves His enemies.  He loved the guy who spit in His face.  He loved the guy who put a nail through His hands and feet.  He loved the religious leader who had ALL the doctrine completely wrong and lived like a complete hypocrite.  And He loves me, even with all the crap that makes up my life.  His life is remembered, because when you think of Him, you cannot hardly stop talking about how much He loved.
When we think of ourselves as a son or daughter of God, is the first description of what that means, a passionate way of loving that takes over how we live.  If so, you are destined to be remembered.  It may be the only measurement of a life worth taking.  Matthew had a lot more to say about that …

Matthew (The Gospel of the Hebrews) ...

Prologue ...

The disciple Matthew was called by Jesus from his job of collecting taxes for the Roman empire.  Most tax collectors of that day were crooked.  They asked for more than Rome demanded and pocketed the difference themselves.  The people were unable to refuse, for to refuse to pay the Roman tax was an invitation for a death sentence, and for slavery for the remainder of the family.  So the people could not argue, they could only pay whatever was asked.  As a tax collector Matthew was a record keeper.  He had to be fluent in more than just the local language.  He had to both read and write.  Within the Jewish faith, where he was hated, his job would make these skills of no effect.  But within the Christian faith, these skills could be employed to great effect. 
As with any book contained in our scripture, there are always plenty of theories about when it was written, additions placed in it over the years, and doubts as to the original author.  If faith were based entirely upon human efforts, human science, and human history; this book might be considered nothing more than a collection of “sayings” and stories about the life of Christ.  But those who believe that our God would not allow it to survive if it were nothing more than a collection of lies to base His church upon; for those believers, Matthew offers so much more.  Matthew was a Jew, who appears to offer a Jewish traditional perspective on the Messiah.  This is not in opposition to the Gospel of Jesus, it is in full support of it.  Matthew shows Jesus as the fulfillment of every hope, of every prophecy regarding the Messiah that the Jewish people had so longed for.  His Gospel was written from this perspective.  The Old scriptures that foretold the Messiah were not in error, they were correctly fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
The body of our church is stronger because each of us have a different perspective on Jesus Christ.  No single perspective is correct or rather complete.  Each perspective builds upon the other, until a fuller picture begins to emerge.  The Gospel of Mark, recalled to him by his friend Peter, was sufficient in telling the story of Jesus.  But the Gospel of John offered it from a Greek perspective, and used methods and comparisons they would understand better.  Here the Gospel of Matthew looks to reach a Jewish audience and explain how the Old Testament scriptures remain in harmony with the reality of Jesus Christ.  Something our present-day churches would do well to remember.  All scripture should be examined through the prism of Jesus Christ.  Without the lens of His life, and His love, we lose the truth of what has been written.
So let us give Matthew’s Gospel a second look and add to the fullness of our picture of Jesus Christ …