Saturday, April 22, 2017

Genealogy of David

Here begins a lengthy series on David, and of course Jesus.  We begin with the genealogy of David.  This is from the end of the book of Ruth:

Now, these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nashon, Nashon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David. (Ruth 4:18-22)

If we look at Christ's genealogy from the first chapter of Matthew, we see something interesting:

"Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth." (Matthew 1:5)

Twice in a row, in Christ's (and David's) genealogy, men from Israel have married gentile women, incorporating "unclean" foreigners into the bloodline.  This is especially important, because Christianity, or true Israel, is not limited to the bloodline of Abraham.  Indeed, outsiders are grafted into the true vine.  Hear what Paul says in Romans 11.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. (Romans 11:17-24)

Even though the genealogy comes before Christ, it ends with Christ, and we can look back and see that the root is in fact Christ--remember he was begotten of God before all worlds--and so the ancestry is purposefully selected by God, who knew the bloodline beforehand.  So Ruth was chosen by God.  Rahab was chosen by God.  Likewise, after Christ there is a spiritual "adopted" genealogy by faith alone that includes all believers.  Christ is the root and all believers are the branches.  Paul tells us to stand fast through faith, for wild and natural branches can not only be grafted in but removed at God's will.

Faith alone. Hebrews 11:31 says, "By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies."  By faith she chose Christ over the world.  The scarlet thread she hung in the window to save her and her family's life was Christ.  James 2:25 says that Rahab the prostitute was justified by works and not by faith alone.  But when we read Joshua 2 we find that her work was completely grounded in faith.  She acted completely on faith.  She had faith in Israel that she would not be destroyed along with the rest, and so she acted accordingly, even though by all rational means, the people of Jericho would be more dangerous to one who betrayed them than the unlikely fall of the great walls by a group of people on foot who marched around and shouted at the walls.  Rationality tells Rahab to betray the spies and go with her own people.  Faith tells Rahab to save the spies and lie to her people.

Here's Joshua 6:23: "So the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab and her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her.  And they brought all her relatives and put them outside the camp of Israel."  Although they were outside the camp of Israel, outsiders, Salmon extended his hand to Rahab and married her.  Then they fathered Boaz in the line of David and Christ.  Likewise, Ruth was "outside the camp," a Moabite woman brought to Israel by the mother of her dead husband.  Through faith in Naomi's words, Ruth found herself in a place where Boaz could extend his hand to her and marry her.  They fathered Obed in the line of David and Christ.

Things we need to remember along the lines of the doctrines of grace:

1. To God, we are all prostitutes.  To God, we are all Moabites.  Remember the Moabites were spawned by illicit relations between Lot and his daughters.  We all come from a corrupt bloodline.

2. God saves us anyway.  He is rich in kindness and elects us without conditions into his family.  No matter where we are from.  No matter what evil we have done.

3. Christ died on behalf of branches that grew naturally on his tree, and he died for wild branches that were grafted on later.  Also, there are natural branches on the tree that have been removed and are not covered by the atonement.  There are, of course, wild branches that are never grafted on.

4. Rahab and Ruth did not graft themselves onto the root of Christ.  God grafted them.  They did the right thing because they were irresistibly drawn to the truth in Jesus Christ.

5. Rahab and Ruth persevered to the end, since Jesus was begotten before all worlds.  His human genealogy was known to our Lord.  God knew Rahab and Ruth from the beginning and he provided not only the protection of life they needed to be permanently grafted onto the vine, but he also provided the narrow course they needed to follow to get there.  As children of God, he will never let us fall.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Seeking the Living

"Why do you seek the living among the dead?" Luke 24:5

These words were spoken by two angels to the women who had gone to the tomb on Easter morning and found it empty.  They were telling the women that they need not seek Jesus any further among the dead of this world, because he had risen.  Indeed, he is still risen.

However there is more in this statement than the mere physical state and locality of Christ.  It is a strong message to every believer. 

Why do we seek the living among the dead? Why do we seek Christ among the dead things of this world?  Why do we try to synchronize Christ and the dead things of this world.  Why do we try to make Christ worldly?  Furthermore, why do we try to find life in the world when it can only be found in Christ.

In him was life, and the life was the light of man. John 1:4

Life eternal can only be found in Christ, and faith in Christ is the only way into that life.  Therefore, we must seek the living within the living one, life itself, Jesus Christ.

"For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself." John 5:26

Christ also told us that the only way to the Father is through the Son.  The Father has life in himself, but he is unobtainable, except through Christ.  Thankfully, the Father has granted the Son the same life.  Therefore, we must seek the living within the living one, Jesus Christ.

"I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die." John 11:25-26

Christ is the only path from the world of the dead into the world of the living.  Not only is he the source of life, but he is the way to the light as well.  Faith, once again, is the salve that keeps us from death.  Faith in Christ resurrects us.  Faith in Christ bestows eternal life.  Therefore, we must seek the living within the living one.

"Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." John 20:30-31

The scriptures build our faith in Christ.  The more we learn about who Christ is, from the Bible alone, the stronger our faith becomes.  The Jesus of the Bible is the Son of God, and faith in that Jesus will give you eternal life.  Therefore, we must seek the living within Christ alone.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a man has come the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:20-22

Christ not only makes us spiritually alive, but he physically resurrects us from the dead.  We receive physical bodies.  We live for eternity, physically, with Christ.  He is our life and our light, which we will see clearly and learn by.  All are dead in their trespasses, but Christ makes those who believe in him alive again, both spiritually and physically.

Finally, there is another phrase that the two angels (are they the same angels?) tell the disciples.  As the disciples look up into the sky after Jesus' ascension, the angels tell them, "Why do you stand looking into heaven?"  Acts 1:11

Now that we have life in Christ, let us prepare for his return.  Although we are not of the world, we are still in the world.  So, go among the dead of this world and share the gospel of life with everyone.  Let them know that only in Christ can we find the living.  Many will reject this message, but a few will respond with joy.  This is what it means to seek the living among the dead and actually find them.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Following

And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. (Luke 23:26-49)

Following Jesus is to be Simon of Cyrene.  We are exiles from a different land, and the world lays upon us a cross of burdens and persecutions.  We are hated because of Jesus and following him leads us to pain and suffering.

Following Jesus is to be the Daughters of Jerusalem.  We mourn an lament for our savior.  He comforts us by telling us that we should be weeping for ourselves, because the trials of the world increase and inflame.  Following Christ is mourning.

Following Jesus is to be the thief on the cross. We shun the world, we understand the truth, we repent, and we ask Christ to remember us.  He rewards us by taking us to paradise with him.

These are difficult and depressing things! Who wants to carry a cross?  Who wants to mourn all the time?  Who wants to be penitent?  Well, not to worry!  Because we fail at each of these three things.  We don't carry our crosses, we rarely mourn, and we are far from penitent.  Listen to this verse from Johann Heermann (1630): "Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, has undone thee. 'Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee: I crucified thee."

Let's back up.  Are we Simon of Cyrene?  Are we the Daughters of Jerusalem?  Are we the thief on the cross?

No, we are "they."

And as THEY led him away, THEY seized one Simon of Cyrene.  We are THEY.  We lead Jesus away.  We seize the sojourner from another land.  We lay upon him Christ's cross.  We force him to carry the cross behind the Lord.

We are THEY. We will begin to say to the mountains, "Fall on us," and to the hills, "Cover us."  When Christ returns we will be so frightened, because we have abused the lives that he has given us, and we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.  We were the green wood, and we are the dry wood.  We are the evil that killed Christ.

We are the thief on the cross, yes, but we are the FIRST thief.  We are the thief who challenges Jesus to save himself and us.  We try to tempt him.  We ridicule him.  We put ourselves first and try to get Jesus to do our bidding.

Is then no one saved?  No.  Christ transforms us into Simon of Cyrene.  He transforms us into the Daughters of Jerusalem.  He transforms us into the second thief on the cross.  But we are never originally those three to begin with.  As Paul tells us in Ephesians, "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—" (Ephesians 2:1-5)

We only become Christians when Christ saves us and not one moment before.  Our deeds are evil until Christ changes our hearts, until he forgives us.  How does he forgive us?  That is exactly what he did on the cross.  He shed his own blood to forgive the debt that we owed God.  It was the only possible transaction.  It is the only forgiveness possible.

Read Luke's passion narrative further.  "Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!"  And having said this he breathed his last.  Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, "Certainly this man was innocent!"  This Centurion had a hand in crucifying Christ, and the moment Jesus died, he was forgiven.  He immediately took on the attributes of the second thief on the cross: "this man has done nothing wrong."  The centurion will now begin to carry his cross like Simon of Cyrene.  He will begin to mourn for the world like the Daughters of Jerusalem.  He will begin to be penitent like the thief.

The great news is that this forgiveness is free.  Jesus bestows it upon us freely.  There is nothing we can do to earn it.  We receive it by faith alone.  Realize that you crucified Christ and have faith that he has forgiven you.

Following Jesus is to be forgiven.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Art Thou Weary?

Here is a hymn we sing that really brings home not only true songwriting but also a true attitude toward Christ that I think is sorely lacking in Christian music today:

Art thou weary, art thou languid,
Art thou sore distressed?
“Come to Me,” saith One, “and coming,
Be at rest.”

Hath He marks to lead me to Him,
If He be my Guide?
In His feet and hands are wound prints
And His side.

Hath He diadem, as monarch,
That His brow adorns?
Yes, a crown in very surety,
But of thorns.

If I find Him, if I follow,
What His guerdon here?
Many a sorrow, many a labor,
Many a tear.

If I still hold closely to Him,
What hath He at last?
Sorrow vanquished, labor ended,
Jordan passed.

If I ask Him to receive me,
Will He say me nay?
Not till earth and not till Heaven
Pass away.

Finding, following, keeping, struggling,
Is He sure to bless?
Saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs,
Answer, Yes!

John Mason Neale, 1862

There seem to be three kinds of religious lyrics.  The first are lyrics that are so general that any religion can own them.  "God, you are worthy to be praised!" Any religion, even ones that believe the universe is god, even polytheistic religions can sing this.  Second, we have the lyrics that are specifically Christ-centered, because they have details about his life, teaching, and even death, but they lack the correct attitude about ourselves.  They are the "Jesus is awesome!" songs.  Jesus did something incredible for me.  He can do the same for you.  Just realize how amazing he is.

Finally, we hymns like that above.  They are Christ-centered.  They have details about Jesus, AND they have details about ourselves.  They contain the problem of sin.  They contain trials and tribulations.  They focus on Jesus as savior, Lord, and comforter.  They are complete, and they are specifically Christian with proper Christian theology.  More specifically, they draw the curiosity of the unbeliever, because he is not used to hearing the struggles and trials of being a Christian.  Jesus' salvation is made clear and is given depth.

Are you weary?  Are you sickly and faint?  Is life a struggle?  These aren't lyrics to your typical praise tune.  Are you sore distressed?  Come to Christ and you will find rest, but you will know him by wounds and a crown of thorns.  Will following him be awesome?  No, actually.  Your earthly rewards for following Jesus are sorrow, labor, and tears.  But if you hold him close to the very end, all the sorrows and labors go away forever.  He will not reject you, and throughout all your struggles he will bless you.  Can you hear a more comforting and inspiring praise song than that?

I think it all boils down to the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Who do you see yourself as in the parable?

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ " (Luke 10:30-35)

Religious and non-religious people alike see themselves as the Good Samaritan.  They at least set themselves the goal of becoming like the Samaritan.  Even Jesus tells us to go and do likewise.  Actually, we are all more like the priest and Levite because of sin.  We try to creep into the Samaritan realm, but mostly we are firmly in that priest and Levite category.  Until we put a true, penitent faith in Christ.  And then we become the beaten man.  We are suddenly aware of our true state and we cry out for someone to help us.  We await the Samaritan.  But the Samaritan is not another sinful man.  The Samaritan is Christ.

The Christian walk is that of a man beaten by robbers.  We are weary, laden, sore distressed.  We are left half-dead.  The world rises against us. If we hide that fact from our praise music, we are hiding the most important part of Christianity: the need for Christ.  We need him to deliver us from this life of sin that is killing us.  Sin is the robbers.  The Levite and priest are those who believe they have no sin.  They are lost.  The New Christianity believes it has no sin either.  It is lost.  Jesus can't help those who have no sin. 

But Christ goes out of his way to help the needy and the downtrodden.  The Christian is the one who has been beaten down by the world, the devil, and his own flesh.  Christ picks us up, binds our wounds, brings us to the Church and bids it--fellow beaten men and women--to care for us until he returns, and return he will.  He shall return to save all the weary and distressed children and separate out the wicked for all eternity.  He will lead us to eternal life by his wounds and his crown of thorns.  He will not deny us.  He will bless us.

Isn't that worth singing about?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Sign of Jonah

In Matthew 12, Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees the following:

"An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matthew 12:39-40)

This turns me to the great prayer of Jonah that he prayed in the belly of the fish.  Let's read it and imagine Christ praying this same prayer during his three days in the heart of the earth:

“I called out to the Lord, out of my distress,
    and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
    and you heard my voice.

For you cast me into the deep,
    into the heart of the seas,
    and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
    passed over me.

Then I said, ‘I am driven away
    from your sight;
yet I shall again look
    upon your holy temple.’

The waters closed in over me to take my life;
    the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
    at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
    whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
    O Lord my God.

When my life was fainting away,
    I remembered the Lord,
and my prayer came to you,
    into your holy temple.

Those who pay regard to vain idols
    forsake their hope of steadfast love.
But I with the voice of thanksgiving
    will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
    Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

When we hear Christ praying this, we learn:

1. As Christ was fully human, the experience of death was an excruciating one.  Just because he was also fully God does not mean he didn't experience pain and desperation.

2. Jesus had the closest relationship possible with the Father, but throughout this whole experience, he felt detached.  We hear him cry out to the Lord before he dies, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  In the heart of the earth, he cries out to the Father, and the Father responds.

3. Christ's crucifixion and death is ultimately an act of the Father, agreed upon by the Trinity, volunteered for by the Son.  The plan was set into action, with the Father allowing his only begotten son to be sacrificed for our sins.

4. The Son had perfect faith and knew that he was going to be restored to his rightful place in the Kingdom.

5. Christ descended to the dead, and the Father rescued him, raising him up.

6. Faith is always remembering the Lord as first and foremost.  Our prayers and discourse with God come bubbling out of a heart that is continually inclined toward him.

7. Those who put their faith in anything other than the God of the Bible are forsaking their hope of steadfast love.  They have rejected the salvation that only comes from the Lord.

8. The fruit of faith is thanksgiving.  We thank Jesus for saving us.  He also thanks the Father for rescuing him from death. 

9. Christ's sacrifice is to the Father and is the only sufficient sacrifice possible for the sins of the whole world.

10. Christ vowed payment for the sins of the world, and his payment was indeed made in his own blood.

Jonah was a type and shadow of Christ in his aquatic tomb, the belly of the fish.  Just so, believers in Christ experience trials and persecutions that feel like inferior copies of Christ's death.  See what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

Jonah was put through his trial to rely on God.  Christ went through his sacrifice to rely on the plan that the Trinity had conceived at the beginning of time.  Christ had the most faith, even though he was God.  He put himself into a situation where he could exercise his faith in the greatest plan ever conceived.  Trials that feel like death--even death itself--instill us with hope for the deliverance from such death.  God delivers us from the temporary failings.  He will deliver us from everlasting death into everlasting life.

Christ is our only hope.  He will deliver us.