He Is Risen!

1 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a greatå earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” – Matthew 28:1-10 ESV

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Early on Sunday morning, Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Salome made their way to the tomb of Jesus. Mark makes it clear that they had no expectation of finding the tomb empty or Jesus resurrected. In fact, they had “bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him” (Mark 16:1 ESV). They even discussed along the way who they could get to roll away the stone so they could access the body of Jesus. They were fully expecting to find a dead body, not a risen Savior.

But they were in for a surprise. When they arrived at the tomb, something miraculous had happened. An angel had rolled away the massive stone sealing the entrance to the tomb, and this spectacular event was accompanied by an earthquake. And, as can be imagined, the guards who been assigned the task of preventing the theft of Jesus’ body, were petrified at what they witnessed. Matthew describes them as becoming ‘“like dead men.”

The three women, having witnessed this remarkable event, still made their way into the tomb and were perplexed to find it empty (Luke 24:3-4). They body was gone. Luke records that the angel who rolled away the stone was accompanied by a second angel. And these two heavenly beings confronted the women, asking them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5 ESV). But they didn’t wait for answer. Instead, they informed the women, “He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:6 ESV).

They had sought a dead man. But, to their shock and surprise, they were informed that the one they sought was alive. This entire encounter must have left the women dealing with a strange mixture of elation and confusion. Could it be true? Was Jesus really alive. For Mary, this news must have been too good to be true. But the angels didn’t give the women much time to dwell on the shocking nature of the news. They commanded them, “go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you” (Matthew 28:7 ESV). And they did as they were told and Matthew reports that they did so “with fear and great joy” (Matthew 28:8 ESV).

As if this news was not enough to elevate their endorphin levels and raise their heart rates, they had a personal encounter with Jesus Himself along the way. Matthew records that “Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’” (Matthew 28:9 ESV). This totally unexpected reunion with their once-dead friend and master was too much for them. All they could do was bow down and worship Him. And Jesus calmed their fears, telling them to take the news of His resurrection to His disciples and to request that they meet Him in Galilee.

When reading the various gospel accounts of this event, there seem to be contradictions. Was there one angel or two? Did Mary arrive at the tomb on her own or with the other two women? But if you piece the various gospel accounts together, you can arrive at a credible chronology that provides an accurate accounting of the order of events.

First, Luke records that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome started for the tomb (Luke 23:55-24:1). When they arrived, they found the stone rolled away (Luke 24:2-9). According to John’s account, Mary Magdaline was the first to arrive at the tomb and find it empty. She ran to tell the disciples the news (John 20:1-2). It was Mary, the mother of James who arrived next and encountered the angel (Matthew 28:1-2). She ran back to tell the other women following with spices they had prepared to anoint the body of Jesus. In the meantime, Peter and John arrived on the scene, discovered the tomb empty, just as Mary Magdalene had said, then they departed (John 20:3-10). The disciples had evidently outrun Mary Magdalene, because she returned weeping, still unaware that Jesus was alive. All she had known was that the tomb had been empty. But she sees the two angels and then Jesus (John 20:11-18), who told her to tell the disciples (John 20:17-18). According to Luke’s account, Mary, the mother of James, returned with the women (Luke 24:1-4), sees the two angels and hears their message (Luke 24:5; Mark 16:5; Matthew 28:6-8). It was on their way to find the disciples, that these women were met by the risen Christ (Matthew 28:9-10).

What an incredible morning! What a shocking sequence of events. None of these people had expected this to happen, even thought Jesus had repeatedly told them He would rise again the third day. He had tried to assure them that His death would be followed by His resurrection, but that part of the story had never registered with them. Until now.

He was alive. As the angel had said, “He is not here, for he has risen.” The tomb was empty. The Savior was alive and well and they had seen Him. The one they had watched die a brutal death on the cross, just three days earlier, was fully alive. The women had touched His feet. They had heard Him speak. And He had promised to meet them in Galilee. All of this beyond their wildest imaginations. Their sorrow had suddenly been turned to joy. Their weeping had turned to laughter. Their disappointment and disillusionment had turned to hope and happiness.

Jesus had won a stunning victory over death. He had conquered the grave. And His actions would leave the enemy, Satan, reeling from the shock of it all. The high priest and the Sanhedrin would refuse to believe it. But it was true. He was alive. And, as the apostle reminds us, that irrefutable news is good news to all those who place their faith in Jesus Christ.

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 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
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Worth the Sacrifice.

14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.

20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. 21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.” – Matthew 26:14-25 ESV

30 pieces of silver.jpgMary, the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead, had just anointed the head of Jesus using “an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment” (Matthew 26:7 ESV). In reaction to her exorbitant display of gratitude to Jesus, the disciples become incensed at what they believed to be an unnecessary waste of resources. But, in his gospel, John makes it clear that the disciple who showed the greatest concern for Mary’s actions was Judas. 

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” – John 12:4-5 ESV

John goes on to explain that Judas was responsible for the combined financial resources of Jesus and the disciples. And, at first glance, it would appear that he was just practicing good stewardship. But John provides us with a less-than-flattering insight into the character of Judas.

He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. – John 12:6 ESV

He saw Mary’s display of worship as nothing more than a waste of money. Had the perfume been sold and the money turned over to him as treasurer, he could have benefited personally. But by pouring the expensive perfume on the head of Jesus, Mary had “robbed” Judas of the opportunity to line his own pockets.

Yet, Jesus described what Mary had done as beautiful. He stressed that His time with them was short. His death was imminent and Mary’s actions could be construed as an anointing of His body for His coming burial. In this scene, we have the conflict between the selfless sacrifice of Mary and the selfish mindset of the disciples, exemplified by the words of Judas. They weren’t thinking about Jesus. They were seemingly unconcerned about His pending death. It’s all reminiscent of another scene involving Mary and Jesus. It’s recorded in Luke’s gospel.

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”  – Luke 10:38-42 ESV

On this occasion, Mary had chosen to sit at the feet of Jesus, listening and learning from Him as He taught. In contrast, her sister, Martha, had busied herself with activities that left her no time for Jesus. She was so busy doing things for Jesus that she didn’t have time to receive from Jesus. And Jesus informed Martha that Mary had “chosen the good portion” (Luke 10:42 ESV). She had made time for Him.

And in this passage, Matthew reveals that Mary, once again, had chosen the good portion. She had done the right thing. Her focus was on Jesus, not herself. She showed no concern for the cost of her actions. But the disciples did, especially Judas.

Matthew records that, after the scene at Bethany, Judas made his way to the religious leadership of Israel. Nowhere in the gospels are we given a rationale behind Judas’ actions. We are not told what motivated him to betray Jesus. But as John pointed out, Judas was a thief and, as a thief, he was driven by a love for money. Like the rest of the disciples, Judas had chosen to follow Jesus because he hoped Him to be the Messiah. And, as was true of the other disciples, he his association with Jesus was tainted by purely selfish motives. If Jesus truly was the Messiah, Judas hoped to personally profit from his membership in Jesus’ inner circle of followers.

Perhaps, when he began to hear Jesus speak of His coming death, Judas began to have second thoughts and doubts about His Messiahship. He knew he could not gain from following a dead Messiah. So, he decided to make the best of a bad situation. He came up with a plan to betray Jesus to the religious leaders, asking them, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” (Matthew 26:15 ESV). They offered him the sum of 30 pieces of silver, not exactly an exorbitant amount. Notice that Judas had estimated the worth of the perfume Mary had used to anoint Jesus as being 300 denarii. A single denarii was the equivalent of a day’s wage for a common laborer. So, Mary had sacrificed 10-months-worth of income to express her love for Jesus.

And if the silver coins Judas was given were denarii, it means he willing to betray Jesus for a single month’s income. He put little value in Jesus’ worth and placed his own desires above any display of love or loyalty to His master. The sum of 30 pieces of silver is important, because it was the exact amount determined by the Mosaic law for restitution the lost value of a slave.

If the ox gores a slave, male or female, the owner shall give to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. – Exodus21:32 ESV

Judas had bargained away the life of Jesus for the price of a common slave. Unlike Mary, he placed little or no value on the life of Jesus. And his actions revealed that he had no true love for Jesus. Judas loved Judas.

One of the incredible aspects of this little vignette in the life of Jesus is its direct correlation to the prophecies of the Old Testament, Over in the book of Zechariah, there is a prophetic passage that tells of the coming Shepherd of God, who was to “shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter” (Zechariah 11:4 ESV). Zechariah goes on to say that this Shepherd would attempt to show favor to the doomed sheep, attempting to unify them under His leadership (Zechariah 11:7). But they detested Him. So, the Shepherd removed his favor and said, “I will not be your shepherd” (Zechariah 11:9).

This is where it gets interesting. The rejected Shepherd demanded his wages.

Then I said to them, “If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. – Zechariah 11:12 ESV

And then, Zechariah records that God demanded that the Shepherd refuse the payment.

Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, to the potter. – Zechariah 11:13 ESV

And in the very next chapter, Matthew reveals what happened to Judas and his ill-gotten gain. He had second thoughts about his decision to betray Jesus.

Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. – Matthew 27:3-8 ESV

For 30 pieces of silver, Judas had been willing to sell out the Messiah. He had lined his own pocket with blood money, made from his betrayal of the one he had followed for 3 years. Mary had willingly given the best of what she had in an attempt to express her love and appreciation to Jesus. Judas had sold out His master and friend, not to mention his fellow disciples, all in order to make up what he thought were his losses for having decided to follow Jesus. But Judas had missed the point. He had not listened to the words of Jesus when He said:

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.
 – Matthew 19:29 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.

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

A Beautiful Thing.

When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” – Matthew 26:1-13 ESV

Jesus_Anointed_by_Mary_Magdalene.jpgJesus ended His discussion regarding the Kingdom of Heaven with a jarring reminder to His disciples of His upcoming crucifixion. Not only was the inauguration of His Kingdom going to be delayed, He was going to die. And while Jesus had made it clear that the coming of His Kingdom was not going to happen for some time, His death would take place in just a matter of days. What a rude wakeup call for the disciples. And what an unpleasant reminder that things were not as they had hoped or supposed. Their king had come, but not as they had expected. His Kingdom was not of this earth. And, as they would soon discover, the crown He was destined to wear would be made of thorns, not gold. He would hang on a cross, not sit on a throne. And yet, it was all part of God’s sovereign plan.

And so was the plotting and planning of the religious leaders. Their role in the entire affair was not in opposition to God’s will, but an essential part of it. They were nothing more than instruments in His hands, unknowingly accomplishing His will even through their disobedience and rejection of His Son. What they did, they did in secret. They plotted behind the scenes. They hid their intentions from the people, because of Jesus’ popularity. But God was fully aware of their every move. And He was in total control of the entire timeline of events. From the clandestine collusion of the religious leaders to the self-serving plans of Judas to betray Jesus, nothing escaped God’s divine attention or threatened the outcome of His redemptive plan.

And this includes the anointing of Jesus by Mary Magdalene. This has always been a fascinating story to me. It is full of interesting twists and turns, and raises more than just a few questions. One of the most intriguing things about this passage is a statement by Jesus. It is one that I overlooked for years. After having been anointed and hearing the protests of Judas about the wastefulness of this action, Jesus responds by saying, “I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed” (Mark 14:9 NLT). I can’t help but read that statement and ask, “Was He right?” Have the actions of this woman been remembered and discussed wherever the Good News has been preached? There is no doubt that this passage has been preached and the events contained in it have been discussed, but I really question whether her deed has been remembered and discussed. I am not saying that Jesus was wrong, but I am suggesting that we have perhaps missed the significance of the moment as Jesus saw it. His statement suggests that the actions of Mary were not to be overlooked or misunderstood. The disciples, especially Judas, saw what she did as wasteful and unnecessary. It seemed extravagant and a tad over-zealous on Mary’s part. But Jesus said that what she did should be remembered and discussed among all believers everywhere for all time. Why?

I think there are several things going on here. First of all, it is just days before Jesus’ trials, crucifixion and death. He had told His disciples what is going to happen in Jerusalem, but they had refused to believe it. Jesus had His attention focused on the task at hand – His sacrificial death for the sins of all mankind. The disciples were focused on something altogether different: Jesus becoming the king of Israel. They were still anticipating that Jesus was going to establish His earthly Kingdom, with them ruling and reigning at His side. They had no room in their plans for a suffering Savior or a martyred Messiah.

Yet, Jesus was fully aware of all that was about to happen to Him. He knew about Judas’ plans to betray Him. He was painfully aware that Peter was going to deny Him. He knew that every one of the disciples would eventually desert Him. So, when He walked into the home of Simon the leper in order to attend a special dinner held in His honor, His mind was on the events that faced Him in the days ahead.

But this dinner was meant to be a celebration. Simon, the host of the event, had been healed from leprosy by Jesus. In attendance was Lazarus, who Jesus had miraculously raised from the dead just days before. Along with him were his sisters, Mary and Martha. This was a joyous occasion, and all in attendance were celebrating the life, health, and wholeness of these two men: Simon and Lazarus. Jesus was the center of attention, because He had made it all possible. It was a feast, complete with fine food and good wine. And then, in the middle of it all, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, stood up and took a bottle of costly perfume and poured it on Jesus’ head and feet. This would have been a stop-down moment. The smell would have been overwhelming, as the pungent aroma of essence of nard filled the room. All eyes would have been riveted on Mary as she knelt at Jesus feet, weeping and wiping up the excess perfume with her own hair. Jaws would have dropped. Whispers would have been passed back and forth. Mark tells us that some at the table were indignant at what they saw. Judas, the acting treasurer for the disciples, spoke up and commented on the wastefulness of it all. “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor” (John 12:5 NLT).

But what was Mary’s motivation? Jesus seemed to indicate that Mary knew what she was doing. He said, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial” (John 12:7 NLT). But I don’t think that was Mary’s intent. I don’t believe she anointed Jesus, aware that He was going to be dead in just a few days. Her action was purely out of gratitude for what He had done for her brother. He had raised Lazarus from the dead, and she was overwhelmed with gratitude. So, she took the best that she had and gave it to the Lord. She blessed Him for having been a blessing to her. Unknowingly, she was anointing Jesus for burial – while He was still alive. The fragrance of that perfume would have been with Jesus even when He hung on the cross. The oil from the essence of nard would have mixed with His blood as He was scourged by the Roman guards. It would have mingled with His sweat as He hung on the cross, enduring the physical pain and the verbal abuse of the religious leaders. And as Jesus breathed His last breath, the smell of that perfume would have filled His nostrils.

This selfless, sacrificial gift would last much longer than the meal or the accolades of the guests. Even the shouts of “Hosanna” that had accompanied Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem that previous Sunday had died away, and changed into screams of “Crucify Him!” The people at that dinner were there because they had either seen or heard about Jesus’ miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead. Jesus was a celebrity. He was a rock star. But none of them went out of their way to sacrificially thank Him for all that He had done. One person, Mary, took the time and sacrificed her resources, to express gratitude to Jesus for His ministry in her life. And her thankful actions were seen by Jesus as a preparation for His coming death.

Jesus was on His way to die – on their behalf. The disciples were busy planning for the Kingdom, even debating who would have the highest positions in Jesus’ new administration. The people were thinking that things were looking up. The Messiah was here and, once He claimed His rightful throne, He was going to get rid of the Romans once and for all. But Mary could think of nothing else but expressing thanks for what Jesus had already done in her life. She showed Him her gratitude.

Jesus made a point of saying that what Mary had done for Him should be remembered and discussed among believers everywhere and for all time. Why? Because she alone expressed the proper response to Him. She was not asking for more. She was not demanding that He set up His Kingdom. She was not wanting Him to perform more miracles or prove Himself in any other way. He had already done more than enough for Mary and she showed Him just how grateful she was. And in doing so, she helped prepare His living body for His coming death. Her action of gratitude would have more impact than even she intended. She did what she could. She gave what she had. She showed how she felt. And she should be remembered and serve as a model for us all.

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

An Unlikely Salvation.

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

One of the unique attributes of the genealogical record provided by Matthew is the inclusion of the names of several significant women. Included are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba.

Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar).

5 Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).
Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).
Obed was the father of Jesse.
Jesse was the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah). – Matthew 1:3, 5-6 NET

Each of these women play an important role in the history of the nation of Israel. And because Matthew began his list with the name of Abraham instead of Adam, as Luke did, it is clear that Abraham was only interested in establishing the Jewish heritage of Jesus. It is quite significant that these four women are included because the Jewish people usually traced their lineage through their male ancestors. And yet, the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to include these four particular women for their role in the birth of the Messiah. The first mentioned is Tamar, who had been married to Perez. This woman adds an interesting story line to the lineage of Jesus. According to the book of Genesis, Tamar had been by Judah to one of his sons as a wife.

And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother. 10 And what he did was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also. – Genesis 38:6-10 ESV

At this point, Judah promised to make Tamar the wife of his next son, Shelah, but he was too young. So, he asked Tamar to remain in his house as a widow until his son was of age. But he had no intention of making her his wife because he feared he might lose a third son. So, he left her as a widow in his home. Tamar, frustrated by her status as damaged goods, twice a widow and therefore an unattractive prospect for marriage, was desperate. She had no husband, and no recourse for pleading her case. In that culture, as a woman, she was little more than property. But God had plans for her. Judah, after having mourned the death of his wife, had sexual relations with Tamar, mistaking her for a temple prostitute. She became pregnant as a result. And when her pregnancy became known and she was accused of immorality and condemned to die, she revealed that the father was none other than her own father-in-law, Judah. Sensing his own sin in the affair, Judah responded:

“She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” – Genesis 38:26 ESV

This twice-widowed and all-but-forgotten woman would become the mother of Perez, whose name would show up in the lineage of the Messiah. And her name is included again in another Old Testament book that bears the name of the second woman in our list.

11 Then the elders and all the people standing in the gate replied, “We are witnesses! May the Lord make this woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, from whom all the nation of Israel descended! May you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.” – Ruth 4:11-12 NLT

Boaz was taking a young Moabite woman to be his wife. She too, was a widow and was living in the land of Israel with her mother-in-law, Naomi. Boaz, acting in the role of the kinsman-redeemer, was rescuing this young woman from a life of destitution and degradation. She, like Tamar, was a helpless widow who had no one to stand up for her and no hope for the future. She was childless and an unattractive prospect as a wife. But Boaz redeemed her, married her and she bore to him a son named Obed. And Boaz himself had been born to a woman named Rahab. She is the same woman listed in the book of Joshua and described as a prostitute. She was a pagan, a non-Jew who hid the two men whom Joshua had sent to spy out the city of Jericho. Because of her willingness to risk her own life by protecting the two spies, Rahab and her family were spared when the city of Jericho was destroyed. And she, a pagan and a prostitute, became the mother of Boaz.

The final woman mentioned in the list is Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah. Her story is a particularly sordid one, involving the great king, David, who had an affair with her. She was a married woman and, when she became pregnant, David had her husband murdered, in an attempt to cover his sin and legally take her as his wife. But their sin resulted in the death of their infant son. But God would replace the son He had taken with another son, Solomon, who would go on to become David’s heir to the throne of Israel.

Of these four women, two were Canaanites, one was a Moabite, and Bathsheba was likely a Hittite. So, they were all non-Jews. And three of the four were marred by sin. And yet, God chose to include these women, not only in the list, but in the actual lineage of the Messiah. The line of Jesus the Messiah is not filled with perfect people who lived sinless lives, but with men and women who were flawed by sin and in desperate need of a Savior. Out of the mar and mess of their lives, God brought a sinless Savior who would redeem them, not because they deserved it, but because God, in His grace, had decreed it.

And it’s interesting to note that even Mary, the mother of Jesus, was accused of immorality because she became pregnant while still betrothed to Joseph.

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. – Matthew 1:18-19 ESV

This young, unknown Jewish girl, had her life rocked. She was chosen by God to bear the Son of God. And her unexpected and unwanted pregnancy made her a target for abuse and the cause of Joseph’s plan to call off the marriage. She would have become a social outcast and undesirable as a wife. And yet, God was at work in her life, calling her to be the one woman who would bear His Son and make possible the salvation of the world.

God intervened, assuring Joseph of Mary’s innocence and the divine nature of His plan.

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:21 ESV

God’s plan was far bigger than anything Joseph had ever imagined. Mary’s pregnancy was far from a mistake or the result of sin. It was the work of God Almighty. And the Son she was to bear was to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. He would be Immanuel, which means “God with us.” God was going to take on human flesh and live among men. Through the lives of sinful women like Rahab and Bathsheba, God would bring a Savior who would take away the sins of the world. Through the lives of hopeless, helpless women like Ruth and Tamar, God would bring the hope of the world. And they would call Him Jesus, which means “Yahweh saves.” Through the most unlikely of people and the most unbelievable circumstances – a virgin birth – the Savior of the world came to dwell among men and women. God came to earth and salvation came to mankind.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

Conceived of God.

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. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 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.”  – Matthew 1:18-20 ESV

Matthew was rather matter-of-fact in his opening line to his gospel account. He simply said, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” No timidity or hesitancy. No question as to the validity of his statement. Two times in three verses, Matthew mentions that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, not a man. This fact, which many still debate today, is the basis for the Christian belief that Jesus was born of a virgin. In his gospel account, Luke records further details regarding this amazing miracle of God. “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’” (Luke 1:26-28 ESV). Gabriel went on to tell Mary, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:31 ESV). Understandably in shock at this surprising visit from an angel and upon hearing this shocking news, Mary asked, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34 ESV). That’s a fair question, right? She was being told she was going to have a baby, and yet she had not even had sex yet. Mary may have been a young, uneducated country girl, but she knew enough about human biology to know that what the angel was telling her required something more. There was something missing. Mary basically told the angel, “This is impossible, because I have never even been with a man!”

But while Mary may have been confused by this angelic announcement and seen all kinds of flaws and impossibilities linked to it, Gabriel simply told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35 ESV). This was not going to be an ordinary conception and birth. And while every child born is a miracle of God, this particular child was going to come into the world without the normal contribution of an earthly father. He would be the Son of God. There are still those today who, like Mary, struggle with the virgin birth. They go out of their way in an attempt to discount and disprove what the Scriptures clearly teach. Having a hard time believing the possibility that such a thing could happen, they simply reject it.

But if all things are possible for God, why would the virgin birth prove to be a problem for Him? If God could create the universe simply by speaking it into existence, could He not create life in the womb of a young girl? The thing that amazes me about this story is not that Mary had a baby without the assistance of a male, but that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. That reality gives me a serious case of brain freeze. I have no trouble at all believing that God could create life in the womb of a young virgin girl without the normal interaction of the female’s egg and a male’s sperm. After all, He created Adam out of dirt. But what blows me away is that the Holy Spirit, a member of the Trinity, was the source behind the conception of Jesus. According to Luke, the angel told Mary, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35 ESV). This was to be a miraculous, God-ordained, Spirit-empowered conception. How did it happen? We’re not told. Neither Luke or Matthew provide us with specifics, because Gabriel didn’t provide them. It was enough for Mary and Joseph to know that this child was going to be “holy – the Son of God.”

When I think about this incredible event in human history, I am amazed, not that it happened, but that a similar miracle has resulted in my own new birth. The Holy Spirit has made possible my new life in Jesus Christ. It is He who has made me a new creation. Jesus made this fact abundantly clear in His conversation with the Pharisee, Nicodemus. Jesus told him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 ESV). Like Mary, Nicodemus was confused by what he heard. So Jesus clarified. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6 ESV). Then, knowing Nicodemus was still wrestling with this concept, Jesus said, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:7-8 ESV).

I have been born of the Spirit. I have within me a new sinless nature, just as Jesus did. I can live holy and set apart because I am a new creation, born of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus was. John tells me, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9 ESV). It’s interesting to note that John used the Greek word, sperma, which should be self-explanatory. Here he refers to the Holy Spirit, as the generative force that makes possible our conversion from condemned sinners to consecrated saints – conceived by God through the power of the Spirit of God. And made possible through the sacrificial death of the Son of God.

Courage to Pray.

For you, O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, “I will build you a house.” Therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant. Now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you. For you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever. – 2 Samuel 7:27-29 ESV

2 Samuel 7:18-29

God had promised to build David a house. Not a building made of wood and stone, but a lasting heritage. His promise concerned the future of the Davidic kingdom. One of David’s descendants would sit on his throne in Jerusalem and to his kingdom there would be no end. Of course, we know now that this promise to David had far greater ramifications than David could have realized at the time. Hundreds of years later, the angel, Gabriel, would announce to Mary, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33 ESV). So while the short-term fulfillment of God’s promise to David would involve the reign of his son Solomon, God had far greater things in mind. There is a day coming when Jesus, the Son of God and a descendant of David, will sit on His throne in Jerusalem and reign over the world in righteousness and truth. Part of the vision given to John that he recorded in the book of the Revelation tells us, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15 ESV).

Everything that God had promised to David came to pass. We can look back and see that God fulfilled every aspect of His promise to David. And the amazing thing is that God did so in spite of David, in spite of Solomon, and in spite of the people of Israel. God’s promise would remain intact even while the kingdom of Israel went through a split and its people suffered two deportations and captivities at the hands of their enemies. God’s promise would survive hundreds of years of an empty throne and the subjugation of the people of Israel to outside forces. He would eventually send His Son as the fulfillment of His covenant promise to David. When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He boldly proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15 ESV). In a real sense, His kingdom had come. He was the Messiah, the long-awaited descendant of David who came to rule and reign over the people of Israel. But Jesus did not set up His earthly kingdom at that time. Of course, that was what the disciples were anticipating. That was what they were hoping he would do, which is what led them to argue over who was going to get to sit on His right and His left when He established His kingship. But as Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36 ESV). At His first advent, Jesus did not come to establish an earthly kingdom. Yes, He came as King of kings and Lord of lords, but His was a heavenly kingdom. He came to rule and reign over the hearts of men. He came to defeat sin and death, not the Romans. He came to set people free from slavery and subjugation to sin, not from the tyranny of Roman rule. But the day is coming when He will fulfill God’s promise completely. At His second advent or Second Coming, He will come once again to earth, but at that time He will come to reign. He will come in might and power, and prepared to finish what He began. The book of Revelation describes that scene. “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).

Like David, we wait for the final fulfillment of God’s promise. And like David, God’s promise should give us courage to pray. We should be able to come to Him in boldness, based on His promise to us, and ask that His will be done. Especially at times like we are experiencing as a nation, we should pray that God bring about the final fulfillment of His plan. We should long for and pray for the coming of Christ to take away His Church. We should regularly ask God to bring about the Second Coming of His Son. We should desire what God has promised and planned. He has said it. He will do it. We should pray for it – courageously and expectantly.

Who Am I?

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God. You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord God! And what more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord God!” – 2 Samuel 7:18-20 ESV

2 Samuel 7:18-29

David desired to build a temple for God. He had enjoyed great success and his kingdom had grown strong and prosperous. As a show of gratitude, he wanted to construct a suitable house for his God. But Nathan the prophet, under instructions from God Himself, informed David that he would not be building a temple. First, God made it clear that He had never asked for anyone to build Him a permanent dwelling place. “In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’” (2 Samuel 7:7 ESV). Not only that, God told David that He would build his house. But instead of talking about a dwelling place, God was speaking of David’s dynasty or lineage. God told 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. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son” (2 Samuel 7:12-14 ESV). God was speaking of David’s son, Solomon. It would be he who would build the temple David envisioned. But it would be God who made it all possible, providing Solomon with a prosperous and peace-filled reign. And as a final word of promise to David, God said, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 ESV).

While David’s initial reaction to this news was probably disappointment, because he was not going to get to fulfill his dream of building a temple for God, his prayer reflects his amazement and gratitude at the grace of God. His immediate response was one of awe, leading him to ask, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?” God had reminded David of how he had gotten to where he was. “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth” (2 Samuel 7:8-9 ESV). David’s rise to prominence had been totally God’s doing. He had taken an obscure shepherd boy and transformed him into a mighty warrior-king. And this reminder led David to wonder out loud why God would have ever chosen him as the recipient of such an amazing blessing. God had done great things for David and that fact had not escaped the king. And now God was promising David a dynasty – an ongoing, unbroken succession of kings who would be his own descendants. This was a first for Israel. Saul had been their first king, but David had succeeded him. Now David was being told, “your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 ESV). This was an incredible piece of news for David. He was being promised by God that his throne or kingdom would have no end. David knew that for that to happen, it would have to be the work of God. No dynasty lasted forever. No earthly kingdom went on without interruption or end. So God was promising something extraordinary and seemingly impossible, and David reacted accordingly.

But little did David know what this covenant really meant. God had something far greater in store than even David could imagine. We know that Solomon’s reign would not end well. In fact, his disobedience to God would end up splitting the kingdom in half. The coming years would see a succession of kings, most of whom would not serve the Lord faithfully. Eventually, the northern kingdom of Israel would be defeated and taken captive by the Assyrians. Not long afterwards, the southern kingdom of Judah would fall to the Babylonians. And then there would be a long period of time where no king reigned over Israel. It would appear as if God’s promise to David had failed. But God was not done. It was all part of His divine plan of redemption. Because eventually, He would send His own Son, born to Mary, a descendant of David, making Jesus a legitimate heir to the throne of David. God made this clear to Mary when He gave her news of her unexpected and miraculous pregnancy. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33 ESV).

God had chosen an unknown shepherd boy and made him a king. He chose an obscure peasant girl and making her the mother of the Messiah. God is always the instigator. As Paul reminds us, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 ESV). No one deserves God’s blessing. No one merits God’s salvation. All of us who have experienced the joy of forgiveness of sins and restoration with God through faith in Jesus Christ could say along with David, “Who am I?” We must never forget our own undeservedness and the reality that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). Our salvation is the work of God and of His Son Jesus Christ. It is not our doing. Which is why we should never cease to be amazed that God chose to extend His love, grace and mercy to us.

I Have Seen Your Salvation.

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel. – Luke 2:29-32 ESV

Simeon was a Jew who is described as “righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel” (Luke 2:25 NLT). The Holy Spirit “had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah” (Luke 2:26 NLT) and so had led him to the temple that day. It had been 40 days since Jesus’ birth and, according to Levitical law, it was time for Mary to offer a sacrifice in the temple to atone for her ritual uncleanness (Leviticus 12:6-7). So God was arranging a divine appointment between Simeon, Mary, Joseph and the infant named Jesus. Like many Jews in his day. Simeon longed to see the Messiah. But while many of his fellow Jews had long given up, Simeon lived with a high degree of expectation and anticipation. The Spirit of God had told him that he would live long enough to see the coming of the Messiah. Evidently, Simeon was advanced in years and knew that his time was running out. But he also believed that God would be faithful to fulfill what He had promised. So on that particular day in the temple, Simeon came face to face with the long awaited Messiah. Jesus, the baby born to Mary, did not have a particularly unique name. In fact, it was common among Jews. But in His case, it carried particular significance, because it meant “Yahweh saves.” When the angel Gabriel had told Mary that she was to bear a child, he told her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” (Luke 1:30-33 NLT). This was to be no ordinary baby. This child was going to grow up to be the Son of God, the Messiah of the Jews and the Savior of the world. The very one for whom Simeon had been waiting.

Mary and Joseph, having offered their sacrifice, also offered Jesus to the Lord. This was in keeping with God’s instruction regarding the dedication of the firstborn (Exodus 13:2, 12, 15). Jesus, as the firstborn male son, belonged to God. And it was as Mary and Joseph entered the temple to dedicate Him to God, that Simeon got his first glimpse of the Messiah. His response came in the form of a prayer or praise to God. He is blown away by the experience. He basically says, “I can die a happy man now because I have seen Your salvation.”  Keep in mind, all Simeon saw was a baby and His relatively poor Jewish parents. For all intense and purposes, they were just another Jewish couple coming to the temple to dedicate their firstborn. There was no grandeur, no pomp and ceremony. They were not greeted at the doors of the temple by dignitaries. There was no parade. There weren’t even any angels singing praises like there had been with the shepherds. But Simeon knew. He understood that he was looking at God’s salvation. Yahweh saves.

What strikes me is that this was probably not what Simeon expected. Like most Jews, he was probably anticipating a more robust, impressive, warrior-like Messiah. After all, even if Jesus grew up to be a king like David, Simeon would not live to see it happen. He would never get to watch Israel’s salvation take place. But he was okay with that. He expressed no disappointment. He revealed no hint of dissatisfaction. It was enough for him that he saw God’s salvation. He described Jesus as “light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” Jesus was to be a light shining in the darkness of Simeon’s day. John wrote in his gospel, “John (the Baptist) himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:8-9 NLT). Paul would later write,  “the Messiah would suffer and be the first to rise from the dead, and in this way announce God’s light to Jews and Gentiles alike” (Acts 26:23 NLT). Simeon was seeing a glimmer of the light to come. This innocent, helpless baby would grow up to be the light of the world. He would shine in the midst of the darkness and bring the salvation of God to all of mankind, not just the Jews. Simeon would go on to bless Mary and Joseph and to tell them, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him” (Luke 2:34 NLT). God’s salvation would not be accepted by all. Many would reject Jesus as the Messiah. He would even suffer death at the hands of His own people. But this was all part of God’s divine plan. It was all part of God’s remedy for man’s sin and rebellion. As Isaiah the prophet had written many years earlier, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6 ESV). Simeon lived to see the salvation of God and was satisfied. Many of us who have experienced the salvation of God through Jesus have received eternal life, but are still unsatisfied. It is as if, God’s salvation is not enough. Yes, we cannot see what is to come, but isn’t God’s Word enough. Isn’t His promise of abundant life now and life eternal enough? Oh, that we could say along with Simeon, “I have seen Your salvation!”

Something Worth Proclaiming.

that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. – 1 John 1:3 ESV

John had enjoyed an intimate, eye-witness relationship with Jesus. He had listened to Him teach and preach. He had watched Him heal and even raise Lazarus from the dead. He had stood with Mary, the mother of Jesus, at the foot of the cross on which Jesus was being crucified, and heard Him say, “Behold, your mother.” From that day on, John would take Mary into his home and care for her. John was close to Jesus. He loved the Lord and was loved by Him. But what John was proclaiming in the opening verses of First John was far more than a knowledge about Jesus the man. He was proclaiming the truth regarding Jesus, the God-Man. The entire letter of First John is based on the foundational principle and reality regarding the incarnation of Jesus. John was not just giving an historical, eye-witness account of Jesus’ birth, life and death. He was proclaiming His deity and His role as the spotless sacrifice for the sins of mankind. There were those in John’s day who denied the deity of Christ. They rejected the idea that He was God come in the flesh. As we will see later on in John’s letter, these people claimed to be Christians and bragged of having a relationship with God, but they denied the Christ. Many viewed themselves as sinless and therefore, in no need of a Savior. But John will make it clear that fellowship with God is impossible without acceptance of His Son as Savior. John had heard Jesus Himself boldly claim, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). Jesus was NOT just a good man attempting to live a morally exemplary life. He wasn’t just another martyr who had sacrificed His life for a good cause. What John was proclaiming about Jesus was radical and risky. Jesus was the Son of God and through Him and Him alone, man could enjoy a restored relationship with God.

Jesus had told His disciples, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves” (John 14:10-11 ESV). What John is proclaiming in these opening verses is unbelievable. It sounds more like fantasy than reality. But John believed it whole-heartedly. He proclaimed it boldly and without apology. Because of who Jesus was and what He did, men can be restored to a right relationship with God. They can enjoy fellowship with the God of the universe. The apostle Paul reminds us, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). But there’s more. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:10-11 ESV). We have been reconciled, made right with God. Which is what allows us to enjoy fellowship with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Which should produce in us a joy that is full and complete, lacking in nothing. Jesus Christ, the word of life who gave life to creation, is also the eternal life, God Himself. The Son of God took on human flesh and then took on the sins of man. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV). John was proclaiming what God had long ago prophesied. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 ESV). It was Jesus’ deity that made possible His sinlessness. It was His humanity that made Him an appropriate sacrifice. It was His death that paid for our sins. It was His resurrection that proved He was who He claimed to be: the sole source of eternal life. Now that is something worth proclaiming.

Roman 9:1-15

God’s Mercy and Israel.

Romans 9:1-15

Are we saying, then, that God was unfair? Of course not! For God said to Moses, “I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.” – Romans 9:14-15 NLT

In spite of being the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul was an Israelite and proud of it. He referred to himself as “a Hebrew of Hebrews.” Prior to his conversion, he had been a Pharisee and an expert in the law of Moses. He knew his Old Testament Scriptures well and loved the people of Israel greatly. In fact, his “heart was filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief” (Romans 9:2 NLT) for his people, his Jewish brothers and sisters. He even expressed a willingness to be cut off from Christ – if it meant that some of them would be saved. Virtually every time Paul went into a Gentile city to share the Gospel, he made it a point to go to the local synagogue first, in order to share the Good News regarding Jesus Christ with his own people. He knew that God was not done with them yet. He knew that they were still the chosen people of God, to whom God had revealed His glory, entered into covenants, and received His promises. Even Jesus Christ had been born an Israelite. So what was God’s intentions for the people of Israel? And speaking of His promises to them, had God failed to keep them? Paul answers with a resounding, “No!”

God had chosen the people of Israel for a reason, and we find that reason recorded in Exodus 19:5-6: “‘Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.” But they had failed. Their history is a record of disobedience and rebellion against God. They had not kept their end of the Mosaic covenant. Even when they got into the Promised Land, they had failed to obey God and remove the occupants of the land. As a result, they intermarried with them, and worshiped their gods. Paul’s whole point in all of this is to remind his readers that even among God’s chosen people, the Israelites, not all would be saved. Just as God had chosen the Israelites as His own, from among all the peoples of the earth, He would choose some from among the Israelites to be saved. In order to be made right with God, the people of Israel were going to have to accept the same free gift that had been offered to the Gentiles – the gift of Jesus Christ. “Well then, has God failed to fulfill his promise to Israel? No, for not all who are born into the nation of Israel are truly members of God’s people!” (Romans 9:6 NLT). That’s a bold statement, and a controversial one, as much today as it was in Paul’s day. For generations, the people of Israel had counted on the fact that they were God’s chosen people. They even allowed themselves to believe that this special distinction was like having a “get-out-of-jail-free card” that allowed them to sin with impunity. They somehow believed God was obligated to bless them because they were descendants of Abraham. Interestingly enough, John the Baptist, when confronted by the Pharisees and religious leaders who had come to watch him baptize in the wilderness, spoke these harsh words: “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones” (Matthew 3:8-9 NLT). And here in Romans 9, Paul says, “Being descendants of Abraham doesn’t make them truly Abraham’s children” (Romans 9:7 NLT). Just being a descendant of Abraham didn’t make someone an heir to the promise. It was through Isaac that the promise was to come. It would be through Jacob and not Esau that the promise would flow. Paul is trying to show that God chose to bring the fulfillment of the promise that He made to Abraham through a specific line of his descendants. God’s focus was not just on a particular people, but on one who would be born through a branch of Abraham’s family tree – all according to God’s foreordained plan. Paul clarifies this point in his letter to the Galatians. “God gave the promises to Abraham and his child. And notice that the Scripture doesn’t say ‘to his children,’ as if it meant many descendants. Rather, it says ‘to his child’ – and that, of course, means Christ” (Galatians 3:16 NLT). Christ was the key. God was going to bless all the nations through Jesus Christ. And He would come through the line of Isaac. He would be a descendant of Jacob, not Esau.

Paul’s point? Just being born an Israelite was not enough. Being one of Abraham’s physical descendants did not necessarily make one a child of God. And Paul knows what some would conclude from this statement. “Then doesn’t that make God unfair?” But he replies, “Of course not!” All the way back to the days of Moses, God had made it clear, “I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose” (Romans 9:14 NLT). God had chosen Abraham. God had chosen Isaac. God had chosen Jacob. God had chosen Moses. God had chosen David. All along the way, God had made clear choices when it came to whom He would reveal Himself. He even chose Mary to bear His Son. God had also chosen to have His Son be born as an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

God’s choice in all these things had nothing to do with merit or worth. He chose Abraham, not because he was worthy, but simply because it was His divine will. He chose Isaac and Jacob, not because they were somehow more deserving, but because that was part of His plan. God chooses whom He will. He shows mercy on whomever He wills. This whole section has to do with the divine will and sovereign control of God in the lives of men. Salvation is God’s doing. He shows mercy and compassion on whomever He chooses, never as a result of their worth or merit, but simply because He chooses to do so. Paul will continue to unpack this topic in the verses to come. His goal seems to be to get us to understand that God’s incredible grace and mercy is unearned and undeserved. Like salvation, it is a gift, provided by a loving, gracious and merciful God – in spite of us, not because of us.

Father, something in our wiring makes us believe that we somehow deserve to be chosen by You. We want to believe that we are somehow good enough to be considered as recipients of Your grace and love. But if we deserve it, it ceases to be grace. You have chosen to extend the gift of Your Son to us – in spite of us. You have divinely ordained that we receive Your mercy, not because we deserve it, but because You have graciously chosen to extend it to us. Never let us lose sight of that reality. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org