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Jesus Begins to Preach October 29, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 4:12-17.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus responds to the news that Herod has imprisoned John the Baptist by relocating to Capernaum – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Isaiah 9:1-2. At that time, he begins his preaching ministry, exhorting others to repent of their sins in light of the impending arrival of the kingdom of God.

Thoughts: This passage marks the commencement of Jesus’ preaching ministry. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

There is no job so honorable as that of the preacher. There is no work so important to human souls. It is a job which the Son of God was not ashamed to do. It is a job to which he appointed his twelve apostles. It is a job to which St. Paul in his old age specially directs Timothy’s attention – he charges him with almost his last breath to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2).

After mulling over this point, my current thought is that the ministry of preaching can be emotionally draining. After delivering a particular sermon, a pastor may be unsure as to whether they are maximizing their impact on their congregation. This feeling of doubt may be exacerbated by the reality that not all of their congregants will respond positively to a given sermon. This should spur us, as lay Christians, to continue to pray for our pastors. We should not pray that they would avoid discouragement, as that is impossible in this life; instead, we should pray that they would not be conquered by their discouragement. Moreover, we should pray that they would continue to fulfill their calling, as God is their ultimate judge.

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art October 29, 2017

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I recently visited The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The museum presents the history of various societies through the lens of their art.

Here are twelve nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. Many natives of Kwangtung migrated to present-day Thailand. They founded several kingdoms, including the:

They also practiced a conservative strain of Buddhism that was influenced by religious practices in Sri Lanka, as Muslim conquests of India marred its reputation as a stronghold of Buddhist orthodoxy.

2. Present-day Burma has been shaped by several kingdoms, including the:

The first king of Burma, Anawrahta, was a devout adherent of Theravada Buddhism. He also subdued the Mon people, enabling the Pagan to control Burma until it was toppled by repeated Mongol invasions.

3. The Srivijaya kingdom was a maritime and commercial power that originated in Palembang. It controlled the strategically vital Strait of Malacca. The early years of its influence overlapped with that of the Shailendra dynasty that controlled Java. The notable Buddhist monument of Borobudur was constructed during the reign of a Shailendra king.

4. The Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II rebuilt the city of Calah. His citadel was surrounded by a wall that was five miles long; it covered an area of 900 acres. It was guarded by two large statues; each statue included the features of a human, a bird and a bull. The extant reliefs from the citadel include a depiction of a sacred tree and Akkadian inscriptions; Akkadian was written in cuneiform script (“cuneiform” is derived from a Latin root that means “wedge-shaped”).

5. The Licchavi dynasty in Nepal actually originated in India. It was succeeded by the Thakuri dynasty; later, the Malla dynasty would rule over the Kathmandu Valley. Eventually the Kathmandu Valley was dominated by three city-states: Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. The Shah dynasty was the last imperial dynasty of Nepal, ruling until 2008.

6. The Chenla kingdom controlled much of present-day Cambodia. Later, Jayavarman II founded the Khmer Empire at Phnom Kulen. One of his successors, Yasovarman I, moved the Khmer capital to a location near Angkor. There, another Khmer ruler, Suryavarman II, constructed Angkor Wat. The Khmer Empire reached its greatest territorial extent under Jayavarman VII, who is often depicted with a protective naga, or snake spirit.

7. The Diadochi warred over Cyprus after the death of Alexander the Great. Eventually, Ptolemy I gained control over that island; he established his capital at Nea Paphos. The Cypriots would later devote themselves to the worship of various deities, including:

After Cyprus became a Roman province, Cicero briefly served as its governor.

8. The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula and The Denial of Saint Peter were the last two paintings of Caravaggio. The former work depicts the Hun siege of Cologne; the titular saint allegedly led eleven thousand virgins in an attempt to lift the siege, yet she was slain by an arrow fired by Attila the Hun. The latter work depicts a woman pointing two accusing fingers at the titular saint; a soldier is also shown pointing a third accusing finger at him.

9. The development of Norwegian art was facilitated by Norway’s declaration of independence from Denmark in 1814. Notable artists in this movement included Johan Christian Dahl and Peder Balke. Dahl’s status as the founder of this movement, though, overshadowed the contributions of Balke for many years. Balke successfully avoided military conscription by leaving his boyhood home for Stockholm. He would later travel to Dresden and study with Dahl. Some of his best paintings were influenced by his visit to the North Cape in Finnmark.

10. Kraters were large vases that often depicted prothesis – the laying out of the body of a deceased person while surrounded by mourners and soldiers in boats and chariots. Kraters exemplify the Geometric style and were often made from terra cotta.

11. The mao, the pi and the jian featured prominently on the battlefields of ancient China. In particular, the jian was optimized for close-range striking and stabbing. The rise of iron production during the Han Dynasty impacted the design and development of these Bronze Age weapons.

12. Inlaid celadon was developed during the Koryo dynasty, where slip was poured into carved clay and fired. During the Choson dynasty, buncheong ware was eventually replaced by porcelain, as it reflected the Confucian virtue of simplicity. The demands of the nobility for porcelain were met by the bunwon kilns near Hanyang.

The museum is expansive, and one can spend an entire day browsing through its numerous exhibits. I especially enjoyed the special exhibit that included a section on warfare during the Qin and Han dynasties; I was impressed by its detailed animal figurines and plethora of ancient weapons.

My only quibble with the museum is that the staff gradually closed the exhibits as the afternoon progressed. It would have been better to allow unrestricted access to the entire museum during its operating hours.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would recommend it to those who happen to be in the Big Apple.

The Temptation of Jesus October 27, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 4:1-11.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus fasts for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness. Satan then attempts to tempt Him by:

  • encouraging Him to turn stones into bread – since He is the omnipotent Son of God
  • encouraging Him to leap from the highest point of the temple in Jerusalem – since Psalm 91:11-12 states that He can rely on God to protect Him
  • offering Him the entirety of worldly wealth – if He will worship him.

Yet Jesus rejects these temptations by citing the following passages from Scripture:

  • Deuteronomy 8:3 – where God asserts that man obtains true life from His words
  • Deuteronomy 6:16 – where God warns the Jews in the desert against testing Him
  • Deuteronomy 6:13 – where God warns the Jews in the desert against idolatry.

At this point, Satan withdraws to plan further assaults on Jesus, while angels arrive to refresh Him.

Thoughts: This is a challenging passage, as it forces us to assess the truth of the following statements:

  • since Christ is fully human, it is possible for Him to sin
  • since Christ is fully divine, it is not possible for Him to sin.

After contemplating this passage, I think that as believers, we readily accept at least certain aspects of the humanity of Christ. For example, we have little difficulty assuming that His earthly sojourn was marked by:

  • hunger
  • thirst
  • physical pain
  • mental anguish.

Yet this passage – and His struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane – raises the following question: was it possible for Christ to commit a sin during His earthly sojourn? If not, then does this passage depict a legitimate struggle between Christ and Satan? Perhaps this passage inspired numerous heresies that attempted to explain it. If so, then we need wisdom and strength from the Holy Spirit to determine what God is saying to us in this passage and how we should respond to Him in light of it.

Here, we see that Christ responds to the temptations of Satan by quoting from the Old Testament. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

It will do us no good if it only lies still in our houses. We must be actually familiar with its contents, and have its texts stored in our memories and minds.
Knowledge of the Bible never comes by intuition; it can only be got by hard, regular, daily, attentive, wakeful reading. Do we grudge the time and trouble this will cost us? If we do we are not yet fit for the kingdom of God.

This passage spurred me to consider my responses to temptations. In those instances, I find that I recite statements that align with specific Biblical passages – i.e. while I do not quote from Scripture, my thought reflects the spirit of specific passages. Now I do wonder if I should quote from Scripture in those instances. Perhaps such quotations would constitute a stronger response to Satan when he tempts me, as that would demonstrate the firmness of my devotion to God and His words.

The Baptism of Jesus October 22, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 3:13-17.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus goes to the Jordan River in order to be baptized by John the Baptist. Although John is baffled by His request – knowing his standing in relation to Jesus – He persuades him to conduct that sacrament. Upon His baptism:

  • God the Spirit rests on Him
  • God the Father declares His approval of Jesus – His Son.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

This was his first step when he entered on his ministry. When the Jewish priests took up their office they were washed with water (Exodus 29:4), and when our great High Priest begins the great work he came into the world to accomplish he is publicly baptized.

Now believers agree that Jesus was not baptized to display repentance, since He never sinned. Thus, Ryle offers a neat perspective on His baptism, as it dovetails with Matthew’s emphasis on the continuity between the Old and New Testaments. I had always assumed that Jesus wanted to model that sacrament for us, since He calls us to observe it – though we display repentance in observing it. Perhaps His actions that day were designed to make multiple points; thus, I hope to query Him on this issue in the next life.

John the Baptist Prepares the Way October 21, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 3:1-12.

Summary: In this passage, John the Baptist proclaims the impending arrival of the kingdom of God – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Isaiah 40:3. In particular, he calls his compatriots to:

  • repent of their sins
  • display their repentance via baptism in the Jordan River.

When several Pharisees and Sadducees come to observe his ministry, he rebukes them – as they refuse to repent of their sins. While they place their confidence in their Jewish ancestry, he asserts that God requires them to:

  • repent of their sins
  • display their repentance via good deeds.

Moreover, he warns them that the Messiah is coming – and He will judge them based on their repentance, or lack thereof.

Thoughts: Here, we see that when John the Baptist addresses the Pharisees and Sadducees, he makes two references to “fruit.” This is a valuable reminder that good fruit naturally results from the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. In particular, reading this passage spurred me to consider how I can continue to bear good fruit as I continue my walk with God. One thought is that I can bear good fruit in situations where my faith is stretched – i.e., situations where I am not in my comfort zone. My prayer – with great fear and trembling – is that God would continue to place me in these situations and enable me to bear good fruit while experiencing discomfort.

This passage also reminds us that Jesus will judge the world – rewarding those who belong to Him while punishing all others. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

We need to be warned severely that it is no light matter whether we repent or not; we need to be reminded that there is a hell as well as a heaven, and an everlasting punishment for the wicked as well as everlasting life for the godly. We are fearfully apt to forget this. We talk about the love and mercy of God, and we do not remember sufficiently his justice and holiness.

In terms of evangelism, one thought is that nonbelievers reject the love and the justice of God. For example, they may:

  • be offended by the concept of hell
  • respond to a description of His love with difficult questions regarding evil and suffering.

Clearly we must rely on the work of the Holy Spirit – and His assistance in our prayers – when it comes to the salvation of unbelievers.

The Return to Nazareth October 17, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 2:19-23.

Summary: In this passage, an angel of the Lord commands Joseph to return to Israel with his family – as Herod has died. Joseph obeys this command; later, he discovers that Archelaus has succeeded Herod as king of the Jews. Although he is afraid of Archelaus, God works through his fears – guiding him and his family to Nazareth. In this way He fulfills another prophecy regarding Jesus.

Thoughts: When I first read this passage, I thought that Joseph’s fear of Archelaus constituted an act of disobedience. Then I perused the passage; my current hypothesis is that the angel merely told Joseph to return to Israel. In light of this general instruction, God gave Joseph sufficient latitude to express his natural fear of Archelaus. God then used that opportunity to fulfill a prophecy that Jesus would be labeled as a Nazarene. On a related note, since this prophecy does not appear in the Old Testament, I wonder if one can find an extra-biblical reference for it.

The Escape to Egypt October 13, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 2:13-18.

Summary: In this passage, an angel of the Lord commands Joseph to flee to Egypt with his family – as Herod is planning to kill Jesus. Joseph obeys this command – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Hosea 11:1.

The Magi fail to return to Jerusalem after worshiping Jesus in Bethlehem; when Herod realizes that they have disobeyed him in that regard, he is filled with rage. He then orders an infanticide in Bethlehem and its environs – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Jeremiah 31:15.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Herod sought to kill Jesus – as he viewed Jesus as a threat to his reign. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Do we think that Christ’s cause depends on the power and patronage of princes? We are mistaken. They have seldom done much to advance true religion; they have far more frequently been the enemies of the truth…There are many people like Herod. Those who are like Josiah and Edward VI of England are few.

Ryle’s thoughts spurred me to learn more about Edward VI of England. Perhaps Ryle and his contemporaries extolled Edward’s virtues because he:

  • was a passionate Protestant
  • died tragically.

In any event, Ryle makes an accurate assessment of the divide between politics and true religion. As modern-day believers, we should not trust in our political leaders to advance the kingdom of God. While we should still pray for them – as that is an act of obedience on our part – we must ask God how we, given our relatively limited sphere of influence, can advance His kingdom.

The Visit of the Magi October 11, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 2:1-12.

Summary: In this passage, Magi from an eastern land arrive in Jerusalem; they express their desire to worship the newborn “king of the Jews” and make inquiries concerning his whereabouts.

Upon learning of these inquiries, Herod the Great probes the Jewish ruling elite regarding the Old Testament prophecies of the birth of the Messiah. They inform him that Micah 5:2 predicts the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem.

Herod then:

  • sends the Magi to Bethlehem – so that they can fulfill their desire to worship the Messiah
  • orders them to report the whereabouts of the Messiah.

They travel to Bethlehem and find Jesus and Mary. They worship Jesus and present him with several gifts. Later, God warns them to avoid Herod on their homeward journey.

Thoughts: We now have consecutive passages in this gospel that each include a reference to the Old Testament. It is evident that one of Matthew’s goals in composing this gospel entailed proving to Jewish readers that the Old Testament was fulfilled by the person and work of Jesus Christ. Matthew was utterly convinced that the entire Old Testament pointed to the incarnation of Jesus. As modern-day readers, this fact should also strengthen and encourage us. Just as God fulfilled the promises of the Old Testament in the incarnation of His Son, so He will fulfill the promises of the entire Bible at the Second Coming.

Here, the actions of the Magi stand in sharp contrast to those of the Jewish ruling elite. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Third, these verses show us that there may be knowledge of Scripture in the head, while there is no grace in the heart…We are told that they gave him a quick answer, and showed an accurate acquaintance with the letter of Scripture. But they never went to Bethlehem to seek the coming Saviour. They would not believe in him when he ministered among them. Their heads were better than their hearts.

Ryle’s thoughts resonated with me, as I definitely identify with the chief priests and teachers of the law in this passage. If I had lived in Judea during the life of Jesus Christ, I think that I would have been a Pharisee in Jerusalem; I would have been well-versed in the law and rather proud of my external acts of obedience. Here, though, Ryle rightly rebukes the Jewish ruling elite. This should spur me to consider the following question: how can I leverage my intellectual abilities to bring glory to God – and bless others – as opposed to delighting in “head knowledge” as an end in itself?

The Birth of Jesus Christ October 8, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 1:18-25.

Summary: In this passage, Joseph discovers that his fiancee, Mary, is pregnant. He resolves to divorce her – yet an angel informs him that Mary has actually been impregnated by the Holy Spirit; moreover, his unborn child is the Messiah. The angel commands him to give his son the name Jesus.

In response, Joseph marries his fiancee; later, she gives birth to a son named Jesus. This sequence of events fulfills the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14.

Thoughts: In verse 19, we see that Joseph planned to divorce Mary as he “did not want to expose her to public disgrace.” That being said, I am curious as to how his relatives and neighbors responded to Mary’s pregnancy. Did Joseph and Mary attempt to conceal her pregnancy? Did anyone accuse Mary of having illicit relations during her betrothal? Did anyone criticize Joseph for failing to divorce Mary and call him a cuckold? Was Jesus taunted by his peers as he grew up in Nazareth? I certainly anticipate meeting Mary and Joseph in the next life and probing them on these points.

The Genealogy of Jesus October 7, 2017

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I’ve recently started reading through the Gospel of Matthew with the aid of a commentary by J.C. Ryle. I should note that I’ve previously read through Matthew. As in my recent stroll through the book of Lamentations, I hope to comprehend Matthew as a whole. In particular, I hope to sharpen my understanding of the teachings of Jesus Christ and be spurred to obey them by stepping out of my comfort zone.

I plan to blog about this experience as I read through both the gospel and Ryle’s commentary. Each post will correspond to a specific section in the NIV translation.

For starters, here are my thoughts on Matthew 1:1-17.

Summary: In this passage, Matthew presents the genealogy of Jesus Christ, including:

  • fourteen generations from Abraham – the patriarch of the Jews – to King David
  • fourteen generations from King David to King Jehoiachin – who was exiled to Babylon
  • fourteen generations from King Jehoiachin to Jesus Himself.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus’ genealogy was not devoid of sinfulness. For example, we know that Solomon’s parents had an unlawful encounter. Also, King Manasseh rejected the righteous policies of his father, Hezekiah. Yet Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Some of the names we read in this list remind us of shameful and sad histories…But at the end comes the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Though he is the eternal God, he humbled himself to become man, in order to provide salvation for sinners.

This is a valuable reminder that God could have chosen to permanently reject sinful man, leaving him to his just deserts. Yet He chose to identify with sinful humanity and dwell among those who repeatedly fell short of His righteousness. Truly we can be thankful for His abundant grace and condescension to all mankind.

In verse 12, we see that Jehoiachin was an ancestor – and possibly father – of Shealtiel. Having just completed a stroll through Jeremiah and Lamentations, I am curious: did Jehoiachin have any children while he was in exile in Babylon? If so, did he have any children during his imprisonment? Did the Babylonians dismiss any potential threat to their hegemony by the children of this exiled king of Judah? Did Jehoiachin have the faintest notion that the Messiah would be one of his descendants? I am curious as to whether I will be able to meet him in the next life and query him on this point.