Matthew

We Three Kings

One of the more fascinating stories in the Bible is the story of the wise men who came to visit Jesus when He was born. With little more than a bright star that lit the night sky as a guide, the wise men traveled a far distance to worship the newborn Messiah. What motivated their journey? How did they know of Christ?

There are a lot of good theories and stories out there, but since none are backed by scripture, we may never really know. The good news is that their motivation is not key to the message of the scriptures.

Matthew wrote His Gospel to record the life of Jesus, to record His teachings, to demonstrate the redemption He purchased on the cross, and to prove that He is the Christ based on how He fulfilled Old Testament scripture.

With that context, the message of the wise men takes shape. From this passage, we learn that Jesus Christ is real, that He redeemed us from sin, and that He fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy foretelling His birth in Bethlehem.

These lessons should make Christ more real and tangible to us, and should teach us to rest in His grace and salvation.

Grace, Mercy and Sacrifice in the Christmas Story

Matthew is one of the most fascinating individuals in the Bible. He was a publican who collected taxes from his own people on behalf of an occupying empire. The people saw him as a traitor. The Pharisees believed that he couldn’t go to Heaven. He was a social outcast, and his only friends were the other marginalized individuals of his day: prostitutes, sinners, disabled, and other publicans.

Matthew knew what the religious folks thought about him, and he was well acquainted with their hatred of him. When he held a dinner for Christ, Jesus was criticized for dining at his house.

Yet, Jesus called Matthew to be His disciple, and He called him while he was in the act of collecting taxes. What’s fascinating about Matthew is his rise from social outcast and wretched sinner to being one of the men closest to Jesus. Furthermore, he becomes one of the four authors who wrote an account of the Gospel.

Matthew was a tax collector. He was a financial guy with an eye for detail, and who knew how to find authorization for anything. Thus, as Matthew gives his account of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he is careful to point out how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament.

He gets right down to business in chapter 1, as he shows the genealogy of Christ, then records how His birth fulfilled scripture.

Enter Joseph.

No matter how you analyze his reaction to the news that Mary was expecting, he conducts himself with grace, mercy and faith. He was a very faithful man.

Tradition teaches that Joseph believed Mary to have been unfaithful… a rumor dispelled by the appearance of the angel of the Lord. Joseph, being a loving and forgiving man, was willing to give Mary a private divorce and spare her the shame and punishment for her alleged transgression. That is, until the Angel intervened, and Joseph learned the truth and stepped into his role as step-dad to the divine Son of God.

Had that been the case, then Joseph acted with Grace and Mercy. He was gracious in that he showed undeserved favor to Mary, in being concerned for her well-being. He showed mercy by considering a private divorce as opposed to a public stoning. All of these are Christlike attributes.

Despite our sin and rebellion against God, and our betrayal against Christ, the Lord gave His life on the cross to redeem us from sin. He showed grace and mercy in giving us time to learn the truth, to come to faith, and to repent and believe.

We should not only learn about God’s love for us, and realize the grace and mercy He bestowed upon us, but we should extend Grace and Mercy to each other.

However, suppose Joseph knew the truth. Suppose he knew exactly Who the child Mary was carrying was. Suppose he, believing that the virgin would conceive and bring forth a son, decided that he would not defile the virgin. To honor God, he would quietly break-off the engagement so that Mary could live the purpose God had for her.

In doing so, Joseph was giving up what was most precious to him, his beloved wife. That’s sacrifice, which is also a Christlike trait.

Jesus sacrificed the glories of heaven, comfort and adoration in order to live among sinful men, and give His life on the cross to redeem the very people who were mocking Him. He gave up what was precious to Him for our well-being.

From this, we learn how valuable we are to Christ, and we learn that, like Christ, we should not approach life with a “what’s in it for me” attitude, but rather, “how can I help?”

And finally, as we see the angel of the Lord give assurance to Joseph, we see Joseph respond in faith. Joseph’s faith was marked by his obedience to God’s will.

Obedience is an act of faith. Is your faith revealed in your obedience, life choices, and priorities?

There is a lot to learn from Joseph’s reaction to the news of the birth of Christ. May we all turn our hearts to the Lord so that He can transform us, so that our actions reveal the faith He was cultivated within us. God bless you, and Merry Christmas!

The End Is Not Yet (So, Don’t Panic) Matthew 24

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As more cases of COVID-19 are confirmed across the US (we have a local case here in Brown County, Texas), more people are asking the question, “Is this a sign of the end times?” Yes, and no.

In the days leading up to the return of Christ, Matthew 24:7 says “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.” Verse 8 goes on to say, “All these are the beginning of sorrows.”

“Sorrows” in scripture is often a euphemism for child birth. If you’ve ever had a baby, or if your wife or anyone close to you has had a baby, you know how this works. An expectant mother has a contraction. She doesn’t panic and run to the hospital, rather, she waits for the next contraction. There it is.

At first, the contractions are mild, and far apart (2 or more hours), but as time progresses, the contractions grow closer together, and become more severe. Ultimately, they become just a few minutes apart. Mom delivers the baby, and the joy of that newborn erases any memory of the pains of childbirth. (Or, so I’m told).

The end times, and the return of Christ works the same way.

The signs given in Matthew 24:1-8 are birth pangs, contractions, “The beginning of sorrows.” These signs repeat themselves with greater frequency and intensity until the Tribulation starts, ends, and Christ returns.

These signs both get our attention, and move the world closer to a place where the final events of this age can happen. It is all in God’s plan, and He is still in control of all things.

That’s why Jesus said in Matthew 24:6, “See that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.”

As the news continues to fill up with stories of COVID-19, outbreaks, and instability, remember the words of Christ. See that ye be not troubled, these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.

Watch, and pray. And use common sense.

Thrice Denied

Matthew 26:69-75 records Peter’s denial of Jesus Christ before two young women and a group of people who stood outside the house where Jesus stood trial before the chief priests and scribes of Israel.

It’s easy to be critical of Peter for this sin against the Lord, and his spiritual weakness in this unimaginable moment. After all, Peter had walked and talked with Jesus for more than three years, had seen first-hand the miracles Christ performed, and had even seen Jesus in His glorified state talking with Moses and Elijah. Jesus had even warned him, and foretold this moment.

Yet, here stood Peter, the only disciple willing to take up arms to defend Jesus, huddling with the masses outside the house where Jesus stood trial, trying to blend in. Here stood Peter, denying that he even knew Jesus.

It’s easy to criticize Peter for this, being 2,000 years removed from the arrest, trials, and crucifixion of Christ. It’s easy to wonder how a man who personally witnessed Jesus do so much could suddenly turn his back to the Lord. It’s easy, because we get to review this incident 2,000 years later, in the comfort of climate controlled offices, studies, living rooms and bedrooms, while looking at the screens of our laptops, smart phones and tablets.

I tend to have compassion on Peter, mainly because I see a lot of myself in Peter. He was rash, prone to sudden decisions and outbursts, and he tended to live in the “here and now.” Peter “lived in the real world” and often placed practicality over spirituality. If I am to be honest, I am guilty of the same things.

When Peter stood outside as they put Jesus on trial, no doubt he was scared, disillusioned, and confused. So, as he tried to make sense of things, people inquired about Jesus, and in order to buy peace so he could return to his thoughts, he denied Christ.

Peter could’ve spoke up, could’ve preached the Gospel, could’ve told the people that what they were about to witness would be their salvation, but he didn’t. Out of convenience and fear, he remained silent, and denied Christ.

Are we ever guilty of the same thing? Do we ever fail to speak up for Christ out of convenience or fear? Do we ever give blessing to things the Lord wouldn’t bless, all to buy peace or favor? Do we ever deny Christ by our words or actions?

The good news for us, and for Peter, is that the Lord forgives and offers redemption. Just as Peter denied Christ three times, Jesus offered Peter three opportunities to proclaim his love for the Lord in John 21. Just as we often fail to speak up for the Lord, or to represent Him well, He often gives us second and third chances to do just that- to speak and to represent for Him.

Sunday, we’ll study this passage during morning worship. Sunday School at 10, morning worship at 11, and we meet at the Early Chamber of Commerce, 104 E. Industrial, Early, TX 76802.

If You Can See It, You Can Do It

Many motivational speakers encourage their listeners to envision success. The popular motto is, “If you can envision it, you can do it!” At this point, conference attendees will then begin daydreaming about unparalleled success, fame and fortune. While most people set unreasonable goals and expectations, this approach has led to some setting realistic goals, then achieving success.

The tragic part of this is that the vision-to-action progression is not limited to good things like pursuing your dreams. It can also apply to sin and evil. Over the past few months, America has seen horrific acts of crime and immorality carried out in public view. In each of these crimes, there is documented proof that the offender had a preconceived notion of what he wanted to do. Whether you look at the Charleston shooter, Josh Duggar, or Vester Lee Flanagan, the former TV news reporter who shot and killed two former colleagues after being fired from the station, each offender had envisioned his sin, planned it, then carried it out.

It began with evil thoughts, grew into evil intentions, which then led to evil actions. The Charleston shooter, Dylan Roof, cultivated a hatred of African Americans, before planning and carrying out an attack on a Charleston church. Josh Duggar nurtured sexual fantasies through the use of pornography before using Ashley Madison to set up extra-marital affairs. Vester Lee Flanagan cultivated a hatred of Caucasian Americans before planning and carrying out the murder of two of his former colleagues on live TV. Like a seed that germinates, evil thoughts grow into evil intentions, which then bloom into evil acts.

And the thing that should scare you is that we all have these seeds planted within us. Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful, above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” Notice, the heart is deceitful. Deceit is the fine art of misleading and lying to people. One of the heart’s greatest deceits is the lie that it perpetuates upon the individual to whom it belongs. The heart deceives us into thinking that we’re good, okay, average, and salt of the earth Americans. Meanwhile, it harbors desperate wickedness.

Jesus addressed this issue in Matthew 15:18-19, “Those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:”

These sins begin as small thoughts, or small feelings of anger, desire, or rebellion. As they grow, they develop into the actions described in Matthew 15:18-19, and the actions we have seen on the national news recently. The scary part is, each one of us is capable of these things if we let this go unchecked.

The remedy is not to try to stuff these things deep within your own subconscious. You can’t hide them away, or wish them away. The way to handle these temptations, which are brought on by the sin nature, is to give them up to the Lord. As King David prayed in Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”

Pray to the Lord to cleanse your heart from these sins and sinful desires, and then refuse to cultivate their growth. The way you avoid growing these sins in your heart is by turning away from sin, and not being entertained by it. Or, as Psalms 101:3 says, “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.” Do not entertain yourself with movies and TV shows that glorify immorality and violence. Do not entertain sexual fantasies. Do not envision or plot revenge. Don’t indulge in get rich quick schemes.

Understandably, this post will not be the most popular thing posted on “The Point.” In fact, it may very well become the most controversial, due to the fact that it involves recent news stories and the idea that each of us has sin in our hearts. Still, I felt the need to post it, because each of us needs to be aware of his potential for sin, failure, and even evil. Each of us needs to turn to God for forgiveness and cleansing, and each of us needs to live a life on guard, that we do not give in to our sinful desires. May God bless you as you travel your path.