The Love of Christ Made Visible

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Matthew 25:31-46 ESV

Matthew’s entire gospel has been centered around the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ right to rule as the heir of David. And Matthew has recorded the efforts of Jesus to correct His disciples’ errant views of that Kingdom. They fully expected that when the Messiah appeared, He would set up His kingdom in Jerusalem and restore Israel to its former place of power and prominence. But Jesus, as the fulfillment of all the prophetic promises concerning the Messiah, had been out to change their perceptions regarding the Kingdom.

First of all, rather than sitting on a throne in David’s former palace, Jesus would hang on a cross, wearing a crown made of thorns, not of gold. His first coming required His sacrificial death on behalf of sinful mankind. He had come to redeem, not reign. He had come to conquer sin and death, not Israel’s earthly enemies. He had come to restore men to a right relationship with God, not return Israel to its pre-exilic condition.

As His two parables inferred, Jesus was going to go away. He would die, be raised back to life, and then return to His Father’s side. But He would return one day. First, He would come for His bride, the church.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 ESV

This event will usher in the period known as the Great Tribulation. With the removal of the church at the Rapture, the Holy Spirit, who indwells each and every believer, will be removed. The apostle Paul refers to this reality in his second letter to the Thessalonians.

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed… – 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8 ESV

Jesus made it clear that only one thing kept the “man of lawlessness” from showing up: The Holy Spirit who indwells His church. When the church is removed at the Rapture, the restraining influence of God’s Spirit, in the form of God’s people, will allow the Antichrist to rise to power. The period of the Great Tribulation, which will follow the Rapture of the church, will be a time of unprecedented suffering, marked by unrestrained sin and unsurpassed rebellion against God. Jesus described this seven-year period in stark terms:

“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” – Matthew 24:21 ESV

And at the end of the seven years of tribulation, when Jesus returns to earth the second time, He will come as a conquering king. John describes His arrival in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

And this time, the Messiah will judge all those who live on the earth at that time. The book of Revelation makes it clear that many will come to faith during the period of tribulation. In spite of the absence of the church, God will continue to show grace and mercy to the world, bringing both Jews and Gentiles to faith. His Holy Spirit will once again move among the people of the earth, convicting of sin and leading many to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. But a great number of those tribulation saints will suffer martyrdom at the hands of the Antichrist. All of them will face persecution and endure the plagues, famines, wars, and cosmic upheavals that God will bring on the earth during those days.

But when Jesus finally conquers those in rebellion against Him, including Satan, the Antichrist, and the false prophet, He will judge all those on the earth. And that is what this passage is all about. Jesus told His disciples, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne” (Matthew 25:31 ESV).

Notice the conditional nature of this statement. Jesus stated that His reign would begin with His second coming. It will be then that He sits on His glorious throne, not now. And one of His first acts as King will be to judge the nations.

He will gather all the nations, including all Jews and Gentiles, and separate the sheep from the goats, the believers from the unbelievers. And “he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left” (Matthew 25:33 ESV). Then, Jesus will reveal how He made the determination between these two groups of individuals. He will make known the criteria for His judgment. To the group on His right, the sheep, He will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34 ESV). And He will tell them why they are going to inherit the kingdom. The word “for” could be translated “because,” and Jesus will explain that their judgment is based on their expressions of love for Him. He was hungry, and they fed Him. He was thirsty, and they provided Him with water. They had welcomed as a stranger. They had provided Him with clothes and visited Him while He was in prison.

But these people will wonder how they accomplished any of these things since Jesus was not even among them during the days of the tribulation. And Jesus will explain that their treatment of others was an expression of their love for Him.

It is important to point out that Jesus was not teaching a form of salvation by works. I other words, their acts of love to their fellow man will not be the cause of their salvation. But those tangible expressions of love will serve as proof of their salvation. It is exactly what James discussed in his letter.

“How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” – James 218 NLT

During the incredibly difficult days of the tribulation, these people will show incredible faith by loving the unlovely, meeting the needs of the helpless and hopeless, protecting the innocent, and caring for “the least of these.” All at great risk to their lives. Their love for Christ will show up in their love for others. And Jesus makes it clear that their selfless, sacrificial actions are an expression of their faith and love for Him.

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” – Matthew 25:40 ESV

But what about the rest? How does Jesus address all those whom He has gathered on His left? He flatly states: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41 ESV). Then He tells them why.

For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” – Matthew 25:42-43 ESV

They showed love to no one. They sacrificed nothing on behalf of others. They ignored the needs of all those around them. And in doing so, they revealed their lack of love for Christ. Their actions will give proof of their sinful state. Their failure to love will be evidence of their lack of faith in Christ. And Jesus makes the fate of both groups perfectly clear

“…these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Matthew 25:46 ESV

As James wrote, “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26 ESV). That truth applies today, and it will apply during the tribulation as well. Faith in Christ brings life change. It is tangible and transferable. Love for Christ manifests itself in love for others. His selfless sacrifice for us should instill in us a desire to sacrifice our own lives for the sake of others. And those who live lives of selfless, sacrificial love for others give the greatest evidence of true saving faith.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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Harsh Words for His Harshest Critics

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. – Matthew 23:13-36 ESV

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Woe_unto_You,_Scribes_and_Pharisees_(Malheur_à_vous,_scribes_et_pharisiens)_-_James_Tissot

The Pharisees and teachers of religious law were not fans of Jesus. In fact, they despised Him and had been searching for ample cause to have Him eliminated. So, at this point in Matthew’s account, he portrays Jesus amping up His rhetoric in an unabashed attack on these so-called religious leaders. As He prepares to follow His Father’s will and head to the cross, Jesus goes out of His way to expose the truth about His enemies. But Jesus’ words are not intended to be a vindictive attack on those who disagree with Him. He is pulling aside the veil and revealing the long-hidden truth regarding these men. They are not what they seem. And, before He leaves this earth, Jesus wants to ensure that His disciples understood what true religion should look like.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. – James 1:27 ESV

At this point, Jesus makes His message much more direct by turning His attention directly to the Pharisees and teachers of religious law. This is the part where He pronounces His seven woes or warnings against them. It is important to recognize that this is all about two distinctly different ways to approach God. What Jesus has to say is less about their behavior than the focus of their ministry.

Woe #1: They had a false view of the Kingdom of Heaven and how to enter it. Not only was their errant view making entry into God’s Kingdom impossible for them, but it was also slamming the door in the face of every person under their influence. They had made the attainment of righteousness all about human effort. In their minds, entry into the Kingdom of Heaven was reserved for law-keepers, and they viewed themselves as the quintessential keepers of the law.

Woe #2: Their false view of the Kingdom of Heaven had deadly consequences. Their refusal to accept Jesus as the Messiah was condemning themselves and others to hell. They were eager to convert others to their way of thinking and to their view of the Kingdom, but the result was that these individuals ended up as lost as they were. By following the teaching of these men, the people of Israel were being deceived into believing a lie. They were placing their faith in the faulty confidence professed by these false teachers.

Woe #3: In spite of all their knowledge of the Mosaic Law, they were blind to the one to whom the law and the prophets pointed. Jesus had already told these men that He was the primary focal point of the Hebrew Scriptures.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” – John 5:39 NLT

But in their arrogance and prideful knowledge, they had missed the whole point. They had misunderstood what was of real value in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus points out that the temple, which God had set apart as His own, was holy, not the gold used to adorn it. The altar, the place God had set aside for sacrifice, was holy and anything that touched it became holy as well. Ultimately, it is God who makes heaven holy and gives it its value.

The religious leaders were focusing their attention on the wrong things. They were materially-minded, rather than spiritually-focused. Their whole practice of making and keeping oaths was little more than a series of man-made loopholes and escape clauses designed to give them an easy out from having to do what they swore to do. They could appear to be holy and righteous without having to accept any of the cost or consequences. And Jesus pointed out that they were really minimizing and trivializing the holiness of God.

Woe #4:They misunderstood the true nature of the Kingdom because they tended to major on the minors. Since they believed that entrance into the Kingdom was based on the keeping of the law, they ended up nitpicking the law to death. Jesus accused them of being meticulously observant of laws concerning the tithing of fruit, grain, and other produce – to the point of absurdity. But in doing so, they conveniently overlooked the more important commandments concerning justice, mercy, and faith.

Jesus borrowed from their own Scriptures to remind them of God’s own words concerning this matter.

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 NLT

In all their zeal to tithe unscrupulously, they were failing to keep the two greatest commandments: To love God and to love others.

Woe #5: They had a false understanding of what constitutes righteousness in God’s Kingdom. God was interested in the INSIDE, not the OUTSIDE. Yet their focus was solely on the externals. They made behavior modification their goal, rather than heart transformation. Yet Jesus had taught just the opposite.

“But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a person. For out of the heart come evil ideas, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are the things that defile a person; it is not eating with unwashed hands that defiles a person.” – Matthew 15:18-20 NLT

These men were all about appearances. They lived to impress and were addicted to the praise of men. As long as they looked good, they believed they were good. External appearances and outward behavior were the criteria by which they judged a man’s righteousness, but God looks at the condition of the heart.

Woe #6: This one supports the previous one. It reveals their false concept of what it took to become clean or righteous. Again, they had replaced heart transformation with behavior modification. They spent all their time obsessing about outward appearances while ignoring the internal state of their souls. Rather than heartfelt repentance, they focused on outward reformation. Rather than acknowledge their sin, they simply attempted to cover it up with good deeds and religious effort.

Jesus described them as painted tombs. Not exactly a compliment. Their outward display of righteous behavior was like putting makeup on a pig. It didn’t change reality. A well-manicured grave, covered with flowers and its tombstone meticulously clean, can’t change the fact that beneath the surface lies death and decay.

Woe #7: In failing to recognize their own sinful condition, they had become just like their ancestors – rebellious, stubborn, and resistant to God. The Israelites had built tombs and monuments to honor the prophets of God but had failed to listen to their words of warning. In fact, they had killed many of them. And Jesus made it clear that the religious leaders of Israel had done the same thing in His day, rejecting the most recent prophet of God: John the Baptist. And in just a matter of days, they would arrange to have the very Son of God put to death. After Jesus was out of the way, they would end up persecuting and killing the disciples as well.

“Therefore, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers of religious law. But you will kill some by crucifixion, and you will flog others with whips in your synagogues, chasing them from city to city.” – Matthew 23:34 NLT

Misplaced passion

Why was Jesus so upset with these men? What drove Him to treat them so harshly? They were passionate. They were zealous. They were religious. BUT THEY WERE DANGEROUS! They had become obstacles to the Kingdom of Heaven. Their misplaced zeal had led them to become stumbling blocks.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Stumbling blocks are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him to have a millstone tied around his neck and be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.” – Luke 17:1-2 NET

These men DID NOT represent the way into the Kingdom of Heaven. They didn’t even know the directions. But where do we see this today? In the myriad of false and pseudo-Christian religions. We see it in anyone who denies that salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone. We need to learn to look for these characteristics.

  1. Posing as spokesmen for God, but denying people access to the Kingdom of God
  2. Giving people false hope by offering them a false gospel
  3. Providing easy workarounds to true holiness and commitment to God
  4. Judging righteousness based on their own standards, rather than God’s
  5. Refusing to acknowledge sin, while emphasizing self-righteousness
  6. Putting undue emphasis on the praise of men, rather than that of God
  7. Failing to see their status as enemies of God

The spirit of the Pharisees is alive and well today. It’s evident in every religion that refuses to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the only way. It’s prevalent in many main-stream denominations that preach a gospel of works, not grace. It can be found anytime legalism and rule-keeping replaces a love for God and others. It shows up whenever our religion becomes more important than our relationship with Christ. It takes the form of hypocrisy, when what we say we believe fails to impact the way we behave. When we love the praise of man more than pleasing God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

God With Us

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. – Matthew 1:18-25 ESV

In this section of Matthew’s Gospel, he takes his defense of Jesus’ messiahship one step further. Not only was Jesus the fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, but He was also the Son of God. Right from the very start, Matthew establishes Jesus as being divine, referring to Him by the name pronounced by the angel of God: Immanuel. And, just to make sure his readers understand the significance of that name,  Matthew provides them with its meaning: “God with us” (Matthew 1:23 ESV).

In announcing the coming birth of Jesus and declaring His name and identity, the angel reiterated the words of God recorded by the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” – Isaiah 7:14 ESV

As with many of the prophecies found in the Old Testament, this verse from Isaiah passage had a now/not yet aspect to it. In its original historical context, this message from God was delivered by Isaiah to Ahaz, the king of Judah. It spoke of a child being born during the days of Ahaz and this birth would give evidence that the military alliance between Syria and Israel against Judah would be unsuccessful. The essence of the message was that life would go on in Judah, while the northern kingdom of Israel would suffer defeat at the hands of the Assyrians.

“Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and rejoice over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.”

Be broken, you peoples, and be shattered;
    give ear, all you far countries;
strap on your armor and be shattered;
    strap on your armor and be shattered.
Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing;
    speak a word, but it will not stand,
    for God is with us. – Isaiah 8:6-10 ESV

Matthew picks up on this prophetic vision, recognizing its future fulfillment in Jesus. The primary focus of the message delivered by Isaiah to King Ahaz was that God would be with the people of Judah. The Assyrians would come upon the northern kingdom of Israel like a river that has overflowed its banks. They will devastate and destroy everything in their path, even making their way into the southern kingdom of Judah. But they will fail in their efforts to defeat Judah. Why? Because of the presence of God.

And Matthew, knowing that the angel of God had designated Jesus as Immanuel, “God with us,” understood that His birth signified that God had determined to dwell with His people once again. In the darkness that cloaked the land of Israel, a light was shining. The apostle John picked up on this imagery.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

And John went on to describe Jesus, the Word of God, as dwelling among the people of God. The Greek word John used is σκηνόω (skēnoō ), and it literally means “to fix one’s tabernacle.”

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:1, 14 ESV

Jesus was God in human flesh, pitching His “tent” among His people once again. But rather than a tent made of animal skins, this tabernacle would be that of a human body in which God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, would take up permanent residence. Jesus became the God-man, and rather than the Shekinah glory that hovered over the mercy seat in the tabernacle in the wilderness, Jesus would become the glory of God living and walking among men. Jesus was “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 ESV) and “he has made him known” (John 1:18 ESV).

The birth of Jesus was both ordinary and extraordinary. He would be born to an obscure Jewish couple who hailed from the nondescript town of Nazareth. But Joseph would not be the father of Jesus. No, Jesus would be conceived by the Holy Spirit, which meant that His birth would be anything but ordinary. Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph, had not yet consummated her marriage to him. This is clear by Joseph’s response to the news that she was pregnant.

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. – Matthew 1:19 ESV

Joseph was shocked by the news but, out of love for Mary, determined to keep the situation under wraps, doing all that he could to protect her name. But the angel of God let Joseph know that his worst fears were unfounded. Mary had not been unfaithful to him. She had been chosen by God to bear the Savior of the world.

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:20-21 ESV

“Jesus” is the Latin form of the Greek name Ἰησοῦς  (Iēsous). It is the same as the Hebrew Yeshua (Joshua), which means “Yahweh saves.”

This entire section is intended by Matthew to convey the miraculous nature of Jesus’ birth, but it’s also meant to support his premise that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one of God. Matthew declares that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy found in Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

As we have seen, this prophecy was originally fulfilled during the days of King Ahaz. But Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is letting us know that there was another aspect of this prophecy that had long-term ramifications. God was looking far into the future and declaring that another birth would take place and another son would be born, whose arrival on the scene would signify that “God is with us.”

Matthew’s primary purpose has been to establish Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ. And he has done so by presenting three powerful proofs: His fulfillment of the Old Testament covenant promises made to Abraham and David, as evidenced by the indisputable record of his genealogy, and the miraculous nature of His birth. Jesus was the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, and the Son of God. He was Immanuel, God with us, the very image of the invisible God, who came to earth in order that He might redeem a lost and dying world cloaked in the darkness of sin. And, as the apostle Paul explains, God shattered that darkness by sending His own Son as the light of His glory.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. – 2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Jesus Was Born

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

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

Today, we embark on a study of the Gospel of Matthew. This book is part of what is often referred to as the synoptic gospels, which also includes the accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry compiled by Mark and Luke. The term “synoptic” is derived from two Greek words, syn and opsesthai, which, when combined, provide the meaning, “to see together.” These three Gospels share a great many similarities but also provide us with distinctively different perspectives on the life of Jesus, as seen from the vantage points of the three authors. Two of them, Matthew and Mark, were disciples of Jesus; while Luke was a friend of the apostle Paul, who compiled his Gospel account for the benefit of an individual named Theophilus. In the opening paragraphs of his Gospel, Luke provides the purpose behind his compilation.

“…it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.” – Luke 1:3 ESV

Each of these men brought their own distinct personalities and insights to bear when writing their account of the life of Jesus. But each was also inspired by the Holy Spirit, who utilized their individual identities and skill sets to compile three contrasting, yet complementary portraits of the life of Jesus.

The Gospel of Matthew, as its name suggests, was written by the man who held the distinction of being one of the disciples of Jesus as well as one of the original 12 apostles. Some of the earliest Greek manuscripts of this book begin with the words, “kate Matthaion” which means “according to Matthew.”

The list of early church fathers who believed  Matthew to be the author of this book includes Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen. Because of Matthew’s close relationship with Jesus, this book carried significant weight among the members of the early church. Matthew’s former occupation as a tax collector would have ensured that he was able to read and write. And the book of Matthew contains more references to money and finances than any of the other Gospel accounts.

Matthew’s account of his own calling by Jesus is short and sweet, providing little in the way of details. Written in the third-person, Matthew described his initial meeting with Jesus in a rather pedestrian manner.

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. – Matthew 9:9 ESV

After making the decision to accept Jesus’ invitation to follow him, Matthew decided to return the favor by extending an invitation to Jesus and His other disciples to have dinner in his home.  And Matthew reveals some interesting insights into his own life when he records the details surrounding this rather eclectic dinner party.

Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” – Matthew 9:10-11 NLT

As a tax collector, Matthew would have been considered persona non grata by his fellow Jews. As evidenced by the response of the Pharisees in Matthew’s story, a tax collector was considered the lowest of the low, comparable to the most disreputable sinner. To the Jews, a tax collector was little more than a stooge for the Roman government, collecting exorbitant taxes from his own people and lining his own by adding fees that amounted to little more than extortion. Matthew was likely a well-to-do individual who, though viewed as a pariah by his own people, was well-liked by the less religious and socially unacceptable. Which makes Jesus’ selection of Matthew that much more significant.

And when Jesus heard the judging comment from the lips of the Pharisees, He had responded by saying: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do” (Matthew 9:12 NLT). This somewhat cryptic-sounding statement from Jesus was not as veiled as it may first appear. He was accusing the self-righteous Pharisees of misunderstanding the true state of their own hearts. They viewed themselves as spiritually superior to such people as the sinners who had gathered to dine at the home of a common tax collector. And, the believed, Jesus and His disciples had defiled themselves by choosing to associate with such scum. But as Jesus pointed out, He had come to save the spiritually sick, not those who viewed themselves as perfect specimens of righteousness.

It’s interesting to note that Matthew opens up his Gospel account with the genealogy of Jesus, in which he describes Jesus as the Son of David and the Son of Abraham. These are distinctively Jewish titles that link Jesus to the nation of Israel. Matthew is claiming Jesus to be a descendant of David and, therefore, a legal heir to the throne of Israel. But he also describes Jesus as the Son of Abraham, who was the patriarch of the Hebrew people.

In a sense, Matthew is presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of two promises made by God that are directly tied to the Jewish people. The first was made to Abraham. God had promised Abraham that He would bless him and that he would make him a blessing.

“…and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” – Genesis 22:18 ESV

Somehow God would bless all the nations through the offspring or seed of this one man, Abraham. And the apostle Paul provides us with Spirit-inspired insight into what this promise meant.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

According to Matthew, Jesus was the fulfillment of this Old Testament promise to Abraham. And, when Matthew declared Jesus to be the Son of David, he was letting his readers know that Jesus fulfilled the promise God had made to David.

“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.” – 2 Samuel 7:12 ESV

While this promise was partially fulfilled in Solomon, the son of David, it had a future aspect to it that would not be completed until the coming of Jesus. God went on to tell David, “your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 ESV). But the day came when there were no more kings in Israel. The nation would go without a king for hundreds of years. And yet, God had told Solomon, “I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel’” (1 Kings 9:5 ESV).

A major part behind Matthew’s purpose for writing his Gospel was to reveal Jesus as the rightful heir to the throne of Israel and the God-ordained fulfillment of God’s promise to bless all the nations of the earth. Both Gentiles and Jews would benefit from the arrival of Jesus on the scene.

Unlike Luke, Matthew begins his genealogy of Jesus with Abraham rather than Adam. He was interested in establishing Jesus’ Jewish heritage. The entire book of Matthew has a distinctively Jewish flavor to it. IT is not so much that Matthew was writing with a Jewish audience in mind, as much as he was trying to establish Jesus’ credentials to serve as the long-awaited Messiah of the Jewish people and as the Savior of the world.

It is interesting to note that Matthew closes out his genealogy by referring to Jesus as “the Christ,” the Greek word used to translate the Jewish word for Messiah, which means “anointed one.” This Greek appellation carries the full weight of the original Hebrew title of Messiah.

The Messiah is the same person as “the seed of the woman” (Genesis 3:15), “the seed of Abraham” (Genesis 22:18), the “Prophet like unto Moses” (Deuteronomy 18:15), “the priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalms 110:4), “the rod out of the stem of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:1 Isaiah 11:10), the “Immanuel,” the virgin’s son (Isaiah 7:14), “the branch of Jehovah” (Isaiah 4:2), and “the messenger of the covenant” (Malachi 3:1). This is he “of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write.” – M. G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson. 1897. Public Domain. copy freely

As we will see in tomorrow’s post, this genealogy was intended to illustrate and accentuate Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah of the Jewish people and their rightful king. But, even more importantly, He was the God-appointed Savior of the world. In sending His Son in human flesh, God was revealing His divine plan to redeem and restore that which was damaged by the fall. So, Matthew reminds his readers: “Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16 ESV).
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Lord is Faithful

1 Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 ESV

To Paul, the Christian life was anything but independent. He constantly stressed the vital interrelationship between believers within a local fellowship, and between different congregations that found themselves separated by distance and cultural differences. A good example of this is the fund Paul raised from the Gentile churches in Macedonia and Achaia to minister to the needs of the financially strapped and predominantly Jewish congregation in Jerusalem.

…the believers in Macedonia and Achaia have eagerly taken up an offering for the poor among the believers in Jerusalem. They were glad to do this because they feel they owe a real debt to them. Since the Gentiles received the spiritual blessings of the Good News from the believers in Jerusalem, they feel the least they can do in return is to help them financially. – Romans 15:26-27 NLT

This cooperative concern for one another was encouraged continuously by Paul. He knew the strength of the body of Christ was founded on God’s grace-filled love for each believer and demonstrated through selfless, sacrificial love for one another. Even the believer’s ability to love comes from God, as the apostle John makes clear.

We love each other because he loved us first. – 1 John 4:19 NLT

And one of the highest expressions of the mutual love believers are to share with one another comes in the form of prayer. Paul prayed faithfully for each of the churches he had helped to found, and he coveted their prayers for him. He fully believed in and relied upon the power of prayer, and took to heart the words of James.

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. – James 5:16 NLT

And Paul was not embarrassed to ask the Thessalonians to pray for him. But notice the nature of his request. It’s not personal or self-focused. He doesn’t ask them to pray for his healing from a sickness or for deliverance from a difficult situation.  No, Paul is very specific, asking for prayer “that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored” (2 Thessalonians 3:1 ESV). You might conclude that this is a personal prayer because Paul seems to be asking that God bless his work, but his real focus is on the spread of the gospel. Paul wasn’t in it for the glory. He wasn’t interested in how many converts he had made or whether he was getting all the credit.

At one point, while in prison in Rome, Paul had received news that there were others preaching the gospel out of jealousy and rivalry.  They were taking advantage of his situation and stepping into the gap his absence had created. And Paul was fully aware that some of these preachers had impure motives, stating, “They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me” (Philippians 1:17 NLT). Yet Paul was able to respond, “But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice” (Philippians 1:18 NLT).

Paul didn’t care who got the credit. But he did care that the gospel message was preached. And he wanted the Thessalonians to join him in prayer with that goal in mind. And knowing that the gospel was going to encounter opposition, Paul asked that they prayer for their protection.

Pray, too, that we will be rescued from wicked and evil people, for not everyone is a believer. – 2 Thessalonians 3:2 NLT

Again, this request has a personal element to it, but Paul’s primary concern is about the spread of the gospel and the spiritual battle that raged against it. As the Thessalonians well knew, the good news of Jesus Christ was not always met with open arms. They had experienced first-hand the kind of animosity the gospel could engender.

But almost as if saying, “enough about me,” Paul suddenly turns his attention to the Thessalonians, declaring to them, “But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3 ESV). This statement exudes Paul’s confidence in God, and it reflects his understanding that the believer’s dependence must ultimately be in God. He is the faithful one. He is the one who strengthens, guards, guides, and protects. Paul is not diminishing the need for or power of their prayers. He is emphasizing the undeniable nature of God’s role in the believer’s spiritual well-being.

And don’t miss what Paul says next: “we have confidence in the Lord about you” (2 Thessalonians 3:4 ESV). Notice that he doesn’t say, “We have confidence in you.” He wasn’t telling them, “You’ve got this!” He wasn’t inferring that they had their spiritual act together and were handling their walk of faith well. No, Paul’s confidence was in the faithfulness of God. And he knew that God was the one who behind the past, present, and future obedience of the Thessalonians. Any spiritual success they had enjoyed had been God’s doing, not their own.

Which brings us back to the topic of dependence. The Thessalonian church and every individual who belonged to it was totally reliant upon God for their salvation, sanctification, and ultimate glorification. Their placement within the body of Christ had been the work of God. And it would be God who kept them there, all the way to the end. Which is exactly what Paul had written to the believers in Philippi.

He who began a good work in you will continue to perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:6 BSB

And Paul shared the same comforting words with the believers in Corinth.

He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. – 1 Corinthians 1:8 NLT

Their future was in God’s fully capable hands. He had called them, and He would sustain them. He had chosen them, and He would keep them – all the way to the end. And knowing that to be true, Paul prays on their behalf: “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thessalonians 3:5 ESV). This isn’t a request for God to do something He doesn’t want or intend to do. Paul is praying that God’s will be done on behalf of the Thessalonians. Paul’s inclusion of this prayer in his letter to them was intended to remind them that their hearts remain focused on God’s remarkable love for them. He was not going to abandon them. As Paul had told the believers in Rome, “nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love” (Romans 8:38 NLT).

They needed to keep their hearts and minds firmly focused on God’s unwavering and unstoppable love for them. And, they needed to use the endurance of Jesus as motivation to remain faithful to the end. Jesus was loved by God, but He had to suffer to fulfill the will of God. God had chosen Him to serve as a ransom for many. The Father sent His Son to die on behalf of sinful mankind. And the suffering Jesus endured in His earthly life was not a sign that God had fallen out of love with Him. It was actually evidence of their love for one another, and proof of God’s love for us.

But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8 BSB

And Paul challenges the Thessalonians to focus on the steadfastness, the endurance that Jesus modeled in His earthly life. He remained dedicated and determined to fulfill the will of God – all the way to the end.

…he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:7 NLT

So, Paul wanted the Thessalonians to use Jesus as their model for endurance. Which is exactly what the author of Hebrews would have them do.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:2-3 BSB

And God makes it all possible. He provides us with the strength we need to model the perseverance and faithfulness of Jesus. And it is His incredible love for us that should motivate us to do as Jesus did.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

We Were Once…

1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. – Titus 3:1-7 ESV

For the believers on Crete to live consistently godly lives, they were going to have to be constantly reminded of what that kind of life looked like. Their natural human tendency would be to fall back into their old habits and to follow the patterns of this world. So, Paul charged Titus with the task of holding accountable the Christ-followers under his care. Christ-likeness does not come naturally or without effort. They would not become more like Christ without a willing desire to put to death the habits associated with their old way of life. Their new position in Christ should result in a determination to be like Christ. Which is why Paul told the Colossian believers:

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. – Colossians 3:5 NLT

But Paul knew that the task of putting to death the old nature was impossible without the supernatural assistance of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. – Romans 8:13 ESV

The Holy Spirit provides the power, but the believer must cooperate with and submit to that power. In his letter to the Galatian believers, Paul referred to this partnership as walking, living, and being led “by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16, 18, 26). It is a relationship built on dependence and reliance. The believer supplies the desire to put away their patterns and behaviors associated with their former lifestyle, and the Spirit provides the power to make it possible. It is impossible to defeat the flesh in the flesh. The Holy Spirit’s power is indispensable.

But Paul knew that the human sin nature was a powerful foe, capable of deluding and distracting believers and keeping them mired in spiritual mediocrity.  That is why he put such a high priority on behavior. It wasn’t that their actions could earn them favor with God or make them more acceptable in His sight. It was that the full hope of the gospel message was to be experienced in the Christian’s daily victory over sin. The power of the gospel was to be visibly manifested in life change. And that life change was to have positive and negative expressions.

As Christians, they were to willingly submit to the authorities in their lives, including those within the Roman government. They were to live lives marked by obedience, not just to God, but to those whom God had placed over them, which meant Titus, the elders of the church, and all governmental authorities. And they were to be constantly prepared to do the right thing – what God would have them to do. That is what it means to walk, live and be led by the Spirit.

But godly behavior is also to be characterized by an absence of negative actions. And Paul points uses slander and quarreling as examples. Speaking ill of anyone, especially those in authority, is not acceptable behavior for the Christian. “Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone” (Titus 3:2 NLT).  One of the important distinctions here is that a lack of slander is not a proof of gentleness or humility. The absence of quarreling in the life of a believer does not necessarily mean they are filled with love. Slander must be replaced with words of encouragement. The desire to quarrel, driven by the need to be right, must be superseded by the desire for unity, and the willingness to die to one’s rights.

Paul knew this call to righteous living was not easy, especially when surrounded by those who were outside of Christ and motivated by their sin natures. And Paul wanted the believers on Crete to know that the only thing that set them apart from their unbelieving neighbors was their relationship with Christ. Before coming to know Christ as Savior, they had all been hopelessly and helplessly lost and incapable of living up to the standard to which Paul was calling them.

Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. – Titus 3:3 NLT

Their former, pre-salvation condition had not been a pretty one. But something had happened. They had been miraculously transformed by the message of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us – Titus 3:4-5 ESV

God saved them. And not because of anything they had done to earn that salvation. Their best deeds done on their best day and with the best of intentions were nothing to God. No, God saved them “according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 ESV). Their salvation had been undeserved and unearned. They had gone from being enemies to heirs of God. They had experienced the unbelievable miracle of redemption, made possible by Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross on their behalf.

Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. – Titus 3:7 NLT

That reality produced in Paul a visceral reaction. He couldn’t help but respond to the unbelievable truth of what God had done for him by doing everything in his power to live in grateful obedience to God’s expectations of him. He lived to please God. He wanted his life to be a constant expression of his thankfulness to God for the priceless gift of salvation. Because God had graciously provided eternal life for Paul, the least Paul could do was live in grateful submission to God’s will in this life. And it was this attitude of gratitude that led Paul to say:

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20 NLT

Paul never got over the shock of what God had done for him. And he wanted the believers on the island of Crete to share his awe of God’s grace by living lives that demonstrated their gratefulness through Spirit-empowered acts of righteousness. God gave His Son so that sinful men and women might experience abundant life – not just in some future eternal state, but right here, right now. His Son died in order to pay the penalty for our sins. He was raised back to life to guarantee our future resurrection, but also as a sign that we have died to sin and share in the power of that resurrection made possible by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Paul was not calling the believers on Crete to do the impossible. He was reminding them that God’s power to save them was also meant to sanctify them – to transform them into the likeness of His Son. They had been redeemed by Christ, and now they were to seek to live like Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Think On These Things

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:8-9 ESV

Paul has challenged the Philippian congregation to make their unity a high priority. He has pleaded with them to see that their behavior lines up with their belief so that the way they live their lives fully complements their calling in Christ. That will require them to work out their salvation, or to put it another way, to put in the necessary effort so that their faith in Christ bears tangible fruit. He has encouraged them to stand firm in the faith – as expressed in the gospel message and made possible through the death and resurrection of Christ. They were to have the same attitude that Christ had, choosing to follow His example of humility, selflessness, obedience, and sacrifice. And, like Paul, they were to find reason to rejoice, even in the face of opposition and oppression. And if they did these things, Paul knew they would shine like bright lights in the darkness surrounding them in Philippi.

But before Paul closes out his letter, he offers one more word of wisdom. As if returning to his earlier admonition that they have the mind of Christ, Paul tells them to “think about these things.” The Greek word he uses is logizomai, and it means “to consider” or “to meditate” on something. But Paul leaves no uncertainty as to what kinds of “things” they are to consider or concentrate their minds upon. He provides them with a very specific list of subjects with which to fill their minds and on which to focus their thoughts and attentions.

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. – Philippians 4:8 NLT

The first item on his list is truth. They were to fill their minds with whatever is true and, therefore, trustworthy. Because Satan is the father of lies, we must constantly be on guard for the subtle falsehoods and deceptive half-truths he attempts to use against us. And since there is no greater truth than the gospel message, Christ-followers must constantly focus their minds on the reality that they were once condemned sinners in need of a Savior. At one time, they had been in debt to God and completely incapable of satisfying His just and holy demands, but He sent His Son to die in their place. And now they stood before Him as pure and holy, clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Paul was constantly reminding those under his care to consider the remarkable truth regarding their restored relationship with God.

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. – Ephesians 2:1-2 NLT

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) – Ephesians 2:4-5 NLT

Paul adds “whatever is honorable” to the list. That word has to do with anything worthy of veneration because of its character. In a sense, this is truth lived out. It is Christlikeness that shows up in trustworthy conduct.

Next, Paul encourages them to fill their minds with whatever is “right” or just. This has to do with righteousness, but according to God’s terms, not man’s. It carries the idea of living your life so that your way of thinking, feeling, and acting is fully conformed to the will of God.

It makes sense that Paul would follow “right” thoughts with right behavior in the form of moral purity. Sexual sin is fully outside the revealed will of God. And it’s not just the actual act that can get us into trouble. Even our thoughts can leave us impure and guilty before God. It was Jesus who said, “anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 NLT). Which is why Paul told the Corinthians:

Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. – 1 Corinthians 6:18 NLT

Purity is a high priority for God. He not only expects it, He demands it. He has called us to be holy, just as He is holy. And we must fill our minds with those kinds of things that are pure and undefiled, not contaminated and contrary to His will for us.

The next word on Paul’s list is “lovely.” It is purity lived out so that our conduct remains pleasing and acceptable to God. It was Peter who wrote, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12 ESV). When believers think about the things that bring pleasure to God, they tend to make those things a priority. And, when they do, the world takes notice.

Which brings us to the word, “admirable.” We are to fill our minds with those kinds of things that are worthy of praise. Not self-centered, ego-boosting praise, but praise that reflects on God and His power to transform our lives for the better. So much of what we spend our time thinking about is unworthy of praise. It has no redeeming value or worth. We can end up admiring the wrong people, showering praise on the wrong kind of conduct, and speaking highly of those kinds of things that God finds unworthy.

Throughout his letter, Paul has blended the ideas of belief and behavior. He was overjoyed with the thought of their newfound faith in Christ. But he knew that their spiritual journey was far from over. Which is why he had opened his letter with the words, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 ESV). They needed to be in it for the long haul. Their walk with Christ was going to require effort on their part and a commitment to live out their faith in practical, visible ways. They could not afford to stand pat, biding their time until the Lord returned. They had work to do. And they were going to have to work together in order to survive and thrive in the hostile environment in which they found themselves.

The Christian life was not going to be easy. But that didn’t mean it was going to be impossible. They had the gospel message, the resurrection power of the Spirit of God, and one another. They also had the teaching of Paul on which to rely. And he encouraged them to take what he had taught and put it into practice. He challenged them to look at his life and follow his example.

Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:9 NLT

Paul’s challenge to “think on these things” was more than a mind game. He wasn’t suggesting that they practice some form of positive motivational thinking. He was encouraging them to fill their minds, to concentrate their thoughts on the kinds of things that truly matter. Our thoughts cannot be separated from our actions. We must desire what God desires. We must fill our minds with those things that God finds true, pure, right, just, and worthy of praise. And one of the best ways to do that is by submitting ourselves to the indwelling power of the Spirit of God. In order to have the mind of Christ and to be able to think as He does, we must rely on the Spirit he has placed within us. Which is why Paul told the Galatian believers:

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. – Galatians 5:16-17 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Unity in Diversity

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.Philippians 1:18-2:4 ESV

Paul has expressed his desire to return to Philippi one day, and he has let them know that, while he would prefer to die and be with the Lord, he was of the impression that he would eventually be released from his house arrest in Rome. And that would be a good thing. It would allow him to continue his ministry of the gospel and to continue to encourage all the churches he had played a role in starting.

But, at the moment, Paul’s greatest concern was the spiritual well-being of his brothers and sisters in Philippi. And while he knew they would rejoice over the thought of him returning to see them one day, he had more pressing matters in mind.  It would seem from the content of this next section of Paul’s letter, that there was some serious disunity taking place in the congregation in Philippi. Paul is going to stress the idea of oneness. Three times in eight verses, Paul will use the word, “one.” He longs to hear that they are “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27 ESV).

Like any of the other churches of that day, the Philippian congregation was relatively new and trying to hold its own in the midst of a pagan and sometimes hostile culture.  They were constantly facing outside opposition. As a Roman colony, Philippi was filled with a plethora of false gods. One of the keys to Rome’s successful domination of the world was its willingness to accommodate and tolerate the gods of the nations they conquered. They allowed their subjects to continue the worship of their own particular deity(s). While this policy of tolerance made the management of Rome’s far-flung empire with its ethnically and religiously diverse populations much easier, it could also create an atmosphere of polarization and antagonism. In the atmosphere of forced pluralism, each group would go out of its way to maintain the distinctives of its religious traditions, resulting in a culture of conflict and competition.

And here was this fledgling congregation of relatively new believers trying to hold its own in an atmosphere that favored religious pluralism but actually fostered intolerance and open hostility. Christians were the new kids on the block. They were usually unwelcome and misunderstood. Some viewed them as a sect of Judaism, while others tried to portray them as a dangerous cult. And, each and every one of the members of the Philippian congregation would have been a convert to Christianity from some other and much older faith system. In accepting Christ as Savior, they had turned their backs on their former religion and, in doing so, alienated friends and family members who still held firmly to that ideology.

For Christians living in the 1st-Century, coming to faith in Christ was about much more than a decision to accept Jesus as their Savior. It could be an extremely risky and potentially deadly choice that had long-term and life-altering implications. And no one understood this better than Paul. His relationship with Christ had cost him dearly. And in his second letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul outlined all that he had suffered as a result of his faith.

Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not.[c] I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. – 2 Corinthians 11:24-27 NLT

Being a follower of Christ was not easy. And Paul knew that the key to the Philippian church’s survival was going to be their unity. They had to see themselves as a family. They were in this together. And they needed to see themselves as distinct and different from the culture around them. Which is why he pleads with them to “live as citizens of heaven” and to conduct themselves “in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ” (Philippians 1:27 NLT). This was a corporate call, addressing the entire congregation, not individual believers. They were to do this together, not alone. Their display of unity in the face of adversity and hostility would strengthen their faith and spread the news of the life-transformative nature of the gospel. That this diverse group of people from all walks of life and a variety of religious backgrounds could live together with one mind and one spirit would be a testimony to the power of the gospel.

And Paul commends them for “standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News” (Philippians 1:27 NLT). He has heard of their unity, but he knows that the enemy is always seeking to divide and conquer. They must not allow that to happen. Paul flatly states, “Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies” (Philippians 1:28 NLT). There were outside forces pressing in on this young congregation and Paul wanted them to remain unified in their love for one another and their commitment to the cause of Christ. This unwavering display of oneness in the face of opposition would be proof of the ultimate victory Christ-followers will enjoy. As Jesus told promised Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18 ESV).

Suffering was going to be a normal part of their faith experience. In fact, Paul tells them that they should see their suffering as a privilege, on equal footing with the privilege of trusting in Christ. For Paul, suffering was a necessary part of salvation. It came with the territory. And a bit further on in his letter, Paul will boldly declare, “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death” (Philippians 3:10 NLT). This was not an isolated statement by Paul. He held this view throughout his life and shared it frequently. To the believers in Rome he wrote: “if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering” (Romans 8:17 NLT). He told the Colossian church, “I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church” (Colossians 1:24 NLT). And the apostle Peter shared Paul’s sentiments regarding suffering.

…be very glad – for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.  – 1 Peter 4:13 NLT

Paul viewed the Christian life as a struggle. It was not meant to be easy. We are aliens living in a strange land. We are emissaries for the King and have been sent to declare the message of His Kingdom to a world that stands opposed to Him. We have the good news regarding Jesus Christ, but the majority of those with whom we share it will find it repulsive and simply reject it. And they will reject the messengers as well.

So, in order to survive in this hostile environment, we will need to remain unified and share a single-minded commitment to our mutual mission as the body of Christ. With all that the believers in Philippi were facing, Paul wanted them to understand that their shared faith in Christ had real value. Which is why he states, “if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy” (Philippians 2:1 ESV). Paul is not raising doubts concerning the efficacy of faith in Christ, he is doing just the opposite. There IS encouragement in Christ. There IS comfort that comes from Christ-like love. There IS real value in living together in the power of the Holy Spirit. There IS true affection and sympathy to be found in this thing called the body of Christ.

But all of this is available only when believers choose to accept the non-negotiable reality of their role as members of that body. Which is why Paul encourages the Philippian believers to be, “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2 ESV). There was no place for selfishness or self-centeredness in the body of Christ. Pride was out of bounds and of no value. Conceit and ego were to be seen as deadly to unity.

In order to survive and thrive, the believers in Philippi were going to have to have a different kind of attitude about life. It was going to require a counter-cultural take on what it means to succeed in life. And, just so they don’t miss what he means, Paul spells it out for them.

Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. – Philippians 2:4 NLT

And in the very next verse, Paul will provide them with the key to pulling all this off. It will not be accomplished in their own strength or according to their own standards of humility and unity. Christ is to be our model for living in Christ-likeness. He sets the standard for what it means to “live as citizens of heaven.”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

They Shall Declare My Glory

Isaiah 66:15-24

After 66 chapters, it would be easy to assume that the entire book of Isaiah is all about the nation of Judah. And while they are one of the main topics of the book and the key recipient of the messages contained in it, they are not its primary focus. God is.

All throughout the book, Isaiah has communicated the glory and greatness of God. What set the people of Judah apart was their God. He was the reason they were a nation in the first place. He had called Abraham out of Ur and made from him a great nation consisting of descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. The whole purpose behind Isaiah writing the book that bears his name was to express God’s glory and expose the guilt of the people of Judah for refusing to reflect that glory to the nations. They were to have been a living, breathing witness to the rest of the world of what it looks like to live in unbroken fellowship with God Almighty. But they had failed. Instead of bringing glory to the name of God through submission to His will and obedience to His commands, they had displayed an open disregard for His holiness and greatness by pursuing false gods. They had profaned the name of God by their actions and, while God was obligated to punish them, He was still determined to protect the integrity of His reputation by remaining committed to the covenant He had made with them.

Throughout this book, the glory of God is juxtaposed to the sinfulness of humanity. And the divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel are highlighted as glaring examples of mankind’s stubborn rejection of God’s revealed glory. He had chosen, rescued, led, protected, and provided for them. He had given them His law as a guideline for living in relationship with Him and one another. He had provided them with the sacrificial system as a means of receiving forgiveness when they inevitably failed to live up to His law. And each time God displayed His power among them, showered His grace and unmerited favor on them, and maintained His covenant commitment to them, He was revealing His glory. But rather than responding in gratitude and with a renewed determination to remain faithful to Him, the peoples of Judah and Israel had continued to treat God’s glory with disdain and indifference.

So, the book of Isaiah tells us what God intends to do. It reveals His plans regarding His disobedient children and the rest of mankind who live in open rebellion to Him. While the punishment of Judah is a major theme of the book, the future restoration of Judah and Israel is given far more significance. And the primary point behind their restoration will be the glory of God. Isaiah has already told us what will happen in that day.

And you will say in that day:

“Give thanks to the Lord,
    call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
    proclaim that his name is exalted.

“Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
    let this be made known in all the earth.
Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
    for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” – Isaiah 12:4-6 ESV

Notice that God is the main focus of these verses. He will receive thanks. It will be His deeds that are made known. His name will be exalted. Praises will be sung to Him and about Him. Because He alone is great. God’s restoration of His people will not go unnoticed by the rest of the world. They will recognize His glory and greatness as He displays His covenant faithfulness. But they will also see and experience His glory in the form of His judgment. As Isaiah has made clear, the day is coming when God will reveal His glory as He metes out justice to the nations.

“My mercy and justice are coming soon.
    My salvation is on the way.
    My strong arm will bring justice to the nations.
All distant lands will look to me
    and wait in hope for my powerful arm.
Look up to the skies above,
    and gaze down on the earth below.
For the skies will disappear like smoke,
    and the earth will wear out like a piece of clothing.
The people of the earth will die like flies,
    but my salvation lasts forever.
    My righteous rule will never end!” – Isaiah 51:5-6 NLT

Again, don’t miss the emphasis of these verses: My mercy and justice. My salvation. My strong arm. My righteous rule. It will all be about God and His glory. In fact, verse 18 of this chapter clearly states that the focus of all that happens in the end times will be about the glory of God.

“For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory…”

The Hebrew word translated “glory” is kabowd and it literally means “heaviness.” But it is primarily used to refer to the weight or significance of something or someone. Used of God, it is an expression of His greatness, magnificence, and majesty. God’s glory is what sets Him apart as the one true God. Isaiah 43:7 tells us that we were made for God’s glory. In other words, our very existence points back to His majesty as the Creator-God. The psalmist tells us that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1 ESV). The apostle Paul reminds us that, as believers, we are vessels of clay in which the very glory of God is contained (2 Corinthians 4:7).

God is all about His glory, and He can reveal His glory in a variety of ways. In fact, all that He does reveals His glory. When He saves, He receives glory. When He judges, He is glorified. When He displays His righteous indignation against sinful mankind, the glory of His character is revealed. God’s merciful and gracious gift of His Son as payment for the sins of man is a manifestation of His glory. And Jesus told His followers that, when they bear fruit, “This brings great glory to my Father” (John 15:8 NLT).

So, back to the closing verses of Isaiah 66. What does any of this have to do with God’s glory? God talks about coming in fire and rendering His anger in fury. He describes His judgment as resulting in the deaths of many. In fact, the very last verse in the entire book states:

“And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” – Isaiah 66:24 ESV

And while that description may leave us feeling a bit discomfited, we must not overlook the reality that it too reveals the glory of God. He is going to deal with rebellious mankind once and for all. And less we think that God is being a bit too harsh, we have to remember that He has been extending grace and mercy to the nations for centuries. He has been showing great patience for generations. But the day is coming when His patience will run out and His righteous judgment will be poured out. And, as the book of Revelation reveals, when the period of the Tribulation comes and God begins to pour His final judgments upon humanity, the vast majority of them will refuse to repent.

Everyone was burned by this blast of heat, and they cursed the name of God, who had control over all these plagues. They did not repent of their sins and turn to God and give him glory. – Revelation 16:9 NLT

…and they cursed the God of heaven for their pains and sores. But they did not repent of their evil deeds and turn to God. – Revelation 16:11 NLT

And yet, notice what God is going to do. Isaiah reveals that there is a day coming when God will display His glory in yet another way. He will send messengers to all those whom He spares from judgment, giving them a second and final chance to see and experience His glory in the form of salvation.

“I will perform a sign among them. And I will send those who survive to be messengers to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (who are famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to all the lands beyond the sea that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. There they will declare my glory to the nations. – Isaiah 66:19 NLT

God will be glorified as He redeems and restores a remnant of His rebellious people, Israel. But He will also be glorified when He spares and saves a portion of sinful mankind. And the outcome of all God’s activities in those days will be the worship of Him.

“All humanity will come to worship me
    from week to week
    and from month to month. – Isaiah 66:23 NLT

And the apostle John provides us with a marvelous description of that day, when God and His Son will rule over all the earth and their glory will fill the earth.

No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever. – Revelation 22:3-5 NLT

We shall declare His glory.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

New and Improved

Isaiah 65:17-25

As we saw in yesterday’s blog, God gave the faithful remnant of Judah His assurance that they could expect Him to do something new. And here He gets specific. He tells them that the day is coming when He will create new heavens and a new earth. While this statement most likely left the people of Judah scratching their heads in wonder, it would have reminded them of the very first verse in the first chapter of the first book of the Pentateuch: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1 ESV). Their God, the one who created earth and heavens as they knew it, was going to re-create all things. And the point seems to be that the same power used to form the universe out of nothing was behind the promise to do a new thing for them. If God could create the universe ex nihilo, literally, out of nothing, and He had plans to create an all-new heavens and earth, then fulfilling His promises to the faithful remnant would prove to be no problem.

God assures His people that one day He will replace the old, sin-damaged universe with something new and pristine, and there will be no longing for what used to be.  God is going to make all things new, including the city of Jerusalem along with the heart of every person who lives in it. The apostle John describes the vision he was given of this new Jerusalem.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. – Revelation 21:1-2 NLT

And the prophet Ezekiel records the promise concerning God’s renovation or recreation of the hearts of His people.

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God. – Ezekiel 36:26-28 NLT

This news was meant to bring joy to the people of Judah. As they faced the prospect of a coming invasion by Babylon, their hopes for the future looked bleak. But God was letting them know that He had a much better plan in store for them. He knew something they didn’t know. He had insights into their future to which they were blind and oblivious. And His pronouncement concerning the recreation of the heavens and earth, the city of Jerusalem, and the hearts of His people, was meant to encourage them. He wanted them to know that He was in full control of their fate and that they had reason to rejoice, rather than to despair.

God describes a day when there will be no more sorrow or tears. The painful results of living in a fallen and sin-fractured world will be non-existent. Infant mortality rates will drop dramatically because babies will no longer die just days after birth due to disease. Rather than experiencing premature and unexpected deaths, people will live to ripe old ages. In fact, God states that the average lifespan will be “like the days of a tree” (Isaiah 65:22 ESV). And people will live their extended lives in homes they have built and harvest grapes from the vineyards they have planted, without any fear of invasion from outside forces.

No longer will they have to fear that all their hard work will be in vain. There will be no enemies to confiscate their goods or plunder their property.  And the older generation won’t have to worry about the next one squandering their inheritance through misfortune or misbehavior. God’s blessing will span the generations.

For they are people blessed by the Lord,
    and their children, too, will be blessed. – Isaiah 65:23 NLT

Think about the sheer magnitude of this promise. It means that there will never be another occasion for anyone to write or read the following words:

And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. – Judges 2:10 ESV

When God states that they will be His people, and He will be their God,” He means it. And He gives them an example of what that new relationship will look like.

“I will answer them before they even call to me.
    While they are still talking about their needs,
    I will go ahead and answer their prayers!” – Isaiah 65:24 NLT

No more broken fellowship due to sin. No more unanswered prayers because of unfaithfulness and infidelity. They will enjoy the same kind of unhindered fellowship with God that Adam and Eve experienced in the garden before the fall. The entire creative order will be restored to its former pre-fall glory, with even the animosity between animals and mankind removed.

But all of this amazing imagery begs the question: When will all of this take place? It is easy to deduce that what God is describing here remains as yet unfulfilled. We still live in the same fallen world and experience all the pain and suffering that accompanies it. The descendants of the peoples of Judah and Israel live in the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem, but it is safe to say that they don’t experience the things promised in these verses. They are surrounded by enemies and plagued by the constant threat of attack. In his commentary on the book of Isaiah, Franz Delitzsch states:

But to what part of the history of salvation are we to look for a place for the fulfillment of such prophecies as these of the state of peace prevailing in nature around the church, except in the millennium? (Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah).

God is describing a future day that remains as yet unfulfilled. It will be part of the Millennial Kingdom established by Jesus Christ when He returns to earth at His second coming. In that day, all that God has promised will be fulfilled. His Son will set up His Kingdom on earth, where He will reign from the throne of David in Jerusalem for a thousand years. And, as part of that Kingdom, a remnant of the people of Israel will return to the land and be restored to a right relationship with God, just as these verses have promised. But it is important to note that this future physical and literal manifestation of Christ‘s Kingdom will be the culmination of the spiritual aspect of His reign that began with His first advent.

When God invaded the darkness of this world through the incarnation, the Kingdom made its entrance into the world. Jesus was just as much the King then as He is now and will be when He returns. But His subjects, the Jewish people, rejected Him as their King. They refused to acknowledge Him as who He claimed to be, the Son of God and their long-awaited Messiah. But their rejection of Him did not in any way diminish the reality of His right to be King of kings and Lord of lords.

He rules and reigns in the hearts of all those who have placed their faith in Him as their sin substitute and Savior. It is true that those of us who call Him Lord do not always submit to Him as such. We don’t always allow Him to be the King of our lives. But when we do submit to His authority over our lives, we experience the blessings that come as a result. We enjoy the peace that accompanies submission to His will. We experience the joy that obedience to His commands can bring. We have the privilege of knowing, in part, what it will be like in those future days. We get to experience a foreshadowing of the promises yet to come. As the apostle Paul put it:

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:12-13 NLT

All that God has described in these verses reflects His love. He has expressed His great love for mankind through the gift of His Son. And, one day, He will send His Son again, as a further and final expression of His love, renewing the world He has made and restoring mankind to a right relationship with Himself. And God punctuates His promise with the following statement:

“In those days no one will be hurt or destroyed on my holy mountain.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Isaiah 65:25 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson