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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.

Strolling Through the Book of Lamentations September 29, 2017

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I recently strolled through the Book of Lamentations with the aid of a commentary by Calvin.

This post includes a summary of Lamentations and my thoughts on that challenging – yet important – book.

Summary: In this book, the author presents a plethora of laments concerning:

  • the decline and fall of Jerusalem and Judah
  • the desecration – and destruction – of the temple by the Babylonian soldiers
  • the executions of nobles
  • random killings by the Babylonian soldiers
  • widespread famine
  • the suffering of infants – and their deaths at the hands of their mothers
  • widespread rapes
  • child slavery
  • the exile of his compatriots
  • the glee of the enemies of Judah in response to her downfall
  • the insults of those who oppose his ministry.

Yet he asserts that these calamities are the natural result of the sinfulness of his compatriots, as God cannot ignore their evil deeds.

Thus, he exhorts his compatriots to:

  • reflect on their evil deeds
  • repent of them
  • beseech God to forgive them of their sins.

It should be noted that he wrestles with God throughout this book. On the one hand, he:

  • struggles with the fact that God has brought these calamities on His people
  • wonders if these calamities constitute an overreaction on His part
  • wonders if He has permanently abandoned His people.

On the other hand, he:

  • declares his confidence in God – given His permanence
  • entreats Him to punish the enemies of His people – especially the Edomites
  • entreats Him to punish those who oppose his ministry
  • entreats Him to restore His people to His favor.

Thoughts: This book contains many haunting phrases, including, “The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to her appointed festivals” and “He made ramparts and walls lament; together they wasted away.” Perhaps one could argue that anthropomorphisms are a valuable tool in the hands of a poet. On a related note, I wish that I could read Hebrew – as that would have given me an even greater appreciation of this book. For example, each of the first four chapters constitutes an acrostic poem in Hebrew; the beauty of that structure is lost in translation, though. Clearly, it is praiseworthy when the Holy Spirit works through His servants to leverage the power of language for His glory.

In verse 10 of chapter 3, the author compares God to a bear and a lion. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Harsh is the complaint when Jeremiah compares God to a bear and to a lion. I have already said that the apprehension of God’s wrath terrified the faithful of that day so much that they could not sufficiently express the depth of their calamity. We must also bear in mind that they were expressing themselves in a human way. They did not always curb their feelings but said some things that they deserved to be rebuked for.

Calvin’s thoughts raise the following question: when we, as believers, wrestle with God in our prayers, what constitutes appropriate dialogue in that context? Clearly God has given us the ability to think and reason; how much latitude, then, does He allow us in terms of questioning His will? He knows that we are not omniscient and that we lack His ability to see the future; does He account for those limitations when evaluating our difficulties in comprehending His will? How can we properly struggle with God in our prayers while maintaining our confidence and trust in Him? One must wonder if God disapproved of at least some parts of this book…

This book is replete with jarring images of the pain and suffering that pervaded Judah after the Babylonian invasion. While these images make for unpleasant reading, one thought is that they provide us with a better understanding of the infinite holiness of God. While we cannot measure the extent of His holiness, we can learn more about it in light of His response to sin. Indeed, it is evident that the people of Judah had committed a plethora of sins before the Babylonian invasion. Each of these sins had offended His infinite holiness – compelling Him to respond in a manner that defended His holiness. As modern-day readers, this book should spur us to ponder the extent of His holiness; moreover, in light of His permanence, we should consider whether our words and deeds properly reflect His holiness.

Overall I found this book to be a challenging read, as it contains seemingly contradictory messages. On the one hand, the author expresses his confidence in God in verses 21-24 of chapter 3:

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.

On the other hand, the author seems to express doubts concerning God and His faithfulness in verses 19-22 of chapter 5:

You, Lord, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation. Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long? Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.

Perhaps these seemingly contradictory messages are included to highlight the emotional turmoil within the author as he wrote this book. While the power of the Holy Spirit was upon him at that time, he was not immune to human weaknesses and frailties. As modern-day readers, we cannot ignore the extent of his pain concerning the downfall of his nation. On a related note, those of us who live in First World countries may have difficulty feeling empathy with the author. We often hear of calamities in less prosperous nations, yet since we often do not know those who have been directly affected by these events, it is relatively easy for us to gloss over them.

Jehoiachin Released September 9, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 52:31-34.

Summary: In this passage, Jeremiah notes that after a lengthy prison term, Jehoiachin is pardoned by the new king of Babylon, Amel-Marduk. Moreover, Amel-Marduk grants him a daily allowance until his death.

Thoughts: I should note that I was not particularly impressed with the Crossway Classic Commentary on this book. In particular, the commentary essentially consisted of a series of trite observations; I do not recall any in-depth discussions of a particular passage or larger theme. My experience with this commentary stands in sharp contrast to that of other Crossway Classic commentaries, especially the masterpieces originally written by Charles Hodge. Perhaps the original commentary was a sprawling text, constraining the editors, Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer. In that case, I would have preferred that the editors not attempt to include Calvin’s thoughts on most of the verses; instead, they should have focused on his in-depth discussions of certain overarching themes, including:

  • the relationship between God and His people
  • Jeremiah’s thoughts and actions
  • the depravity of Babylon.

In fairness, I have not read the original commentary, so I do not know if Calvin actually provided in-depth discussions of these larger themes in that text.

Now that I have completed my stroll through Jeremiah, I have a – potentially – better idea regarding the position of this passage in the text. On one level, this passage is a fairly mundane account of the last days of an exiled monarch. On another level, though, perhaps God used this passage to remind His people of His promise concerning their eventual deliverance from exile in Babylon. Just as Jehoiachin was released from prison, so He would eventually release them from captivity; moreover, He would enable them to return to their homeland – surpassing Jehoiachin in that regard. If my hunch is correct, then this book concludes on a positive note. While God justly punished His people for their sinfulness, He never forsook them; indeed, He blessed them and restored them to a right relationship with Himself – through His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Fall of Jerusalem September 7, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 52:1-30.

Summary: In this passage, Jeremiah repeats – and expands on – his account of the downfall of Jerusalem in Jeremiah 39. He reiterates that God was the impetus for this calamity.

He also states that the Babylonians:

  • plundered the temple – seizing all of its artifacts composed of precious metals
  • executed two leading priests and three doorkeepers of the temple.

In addition, he records the number of his compatriots who were exiled to Babylon.

Thoughts: While I was perusing my NIV Study Bible, I found that 2 Kings 24:18-25:26 is quite similar to this passage. Now the introduction to 2 Kings in my NIV Study Bible notes that at least some scholars believe that Jeremiah also wrote that book. Thus, I am curious: was Jeremiah – or Baruch – the actual author of 2 Kings? If so, why are these passages not identical? If not, was the author of the succeeding text aware of – and inspired by – the preceding text? Or did a third author compile an account of the downfall of Jerusalem that inspired both of these authors? I hope to probe Jeremiah on this point in the next life.

This passage may seem redundant in light of the above paragraph, yet after some thought, I believe that its inclusion – and placement – in this book is apropos. In particular, the discussion of the Babylonian desecration of the temple in Jerusalem provides the rationale for God’s anger towards – and judgment of – Babylon. Indeed, the Babylonian soldiers displayed an utter disregard for His holiness by treating the temple artifacts as mere sources of valuable metals. Their focus on material wealth blinded them to the true purpose of those artifacts. They dared to besmirch His holiness – compelling Him to display His holiness through His comprehensive judgment of their empire. One must wonder if they – or their descendants – regretted their actions in the temple during the Persian invasion of their land.

In verse 1, we see that Zedekiah assumes the throne of Judah at the age of twenty-one, and his reign lasts eleven years. One must wonder if his age had a negative impact on his reign, as he seemed to lack a coherent plan for addressing the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem and repeatedly sought the advice of Jeremiah in that regard. Before reading this passage, I assumed that Zedekiah had enjoyed a lengthy career as a government official before he assumed the throne of Judah, but that is clearly false. Perhaps his age also influenced Nebuchadnezzar’s decision to anoint him; if he had more political experience, then he could have organized an effective revolt against his political masters.