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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.

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Stephen’s Speech to the Sanhedrin June 5, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 7:1-53.

Summary: In this passage, Stephen addressed the charges that the Jews had brought against him – namely, advocating the:

  • destruction of the temple in Jerusalem
  • abolition of the Mosaic law.

To this end, he rebuked the Jews, asserting that they:

  • focused on external things (e.g. the Mosaic law, the temple) – yet God wanted them to focus on spiritual things (e.g. the spirit of the law, His temple in heaven); Abraham was a paragon in this regard
  • hewed to the negative paradigm of their forefathers in resisting God’s call for them to focus on spiritual things; in particular, they consistently rejected those whom God sent to rebuke them – including 1) Moses, 2) the prophets, and 3) the final prophet – Jesus of Nazareth.

Thoughts: Here, Stephen furnished a lengthy response to the charges that the Jews brought against him. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 1:

Stephen’s answer may at first seem silly. He began at the beginning, then went on and on making almost no mention of the matter in hand; there can be no greater fault than to say a lot but wander from the subject. But whoever studies this long speech carefully will find nothing superfluous in it…

…The main point concerned the temple and the ceremonies, and so the introductory part of his speech argued that their fathers were chosen by God to be a special people before there was any temple and before Moses was born. In the second part he told them that all the external rites God gave them through Moses were made to a heavenly pattern, and those who ignore the truth and go no further than the signs are being foolish.

When I first read this passage, I also thought that Stephen was rambling; thus, I failed to grasp the main point of his response. After re-reading it, I actually focused on a secondary point – i.e. the Jews consistently rejected those whom God sent to call them to genuine worship. In particular, they rejected:

  • Joseph, as his brothers were fueled by jealousy when they sold him into slavery
  • Moses, whom they rejected at least twice (even after he had delivered them from bondage to the Egyptians)
  • the prophets who predicted the arrival of the Messiah
  • the Messiah Himself – Jesus of Nazareth.

Thus, reading Calvin’s commentary was invaluable for my understanding of this passage, as his thoughts compelled me to focus on the distinction between external worship and spiritual worship.

In verses 21-23, we see that Moses was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter and spent about forty years in a privileged state before he went to his people. If I had been in Moses’ position, I doubt that I would have willingly surrendered my privileged status. In particular, I would have likely clung to the following temptations:

  • a fantastic education, especially in terms of engineering; the pyramids are a paragon of Egyptian knowledge in this regard
  • opulence; Egypt enjoyed the advantages of its geography, especially the presence of the Nile River
  • a plethora of beautiful women.

Somehow, though, God compelled Moses to surrender his privileged status and seek out the Israelites. How did Moses know that he was an Israelite by birth? Did he bemoan his fate while he lived as a foreigner in Midian? Did he long to return to Egypt and the inherent luxuries of Pharaoh’s household? I hope to meet Moses in the next life and ply him with these queries.

In this passage, we see that God called the Israelites toward genuine, spiritual worship. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 49:

In short, when we receive the promise in faith, that causes God to listen to us and to reveal his power in the sacraments, as if he were present; but unless we rise up to him by faith, we shall not have his presence.

This caused me to ponder why believers often place undue value on external worship. I believe this stems from the fact that we rely on our senses; thus, our worship is shaped by our desire to quantify the world around us. We apply this principle in the following contexts:

  • evaluating our singing during worship services
  • determining the number of Gospel tracts that we have distributed during an outreach event
  • accounting for positive feedback after we have completed a service project.

Yet we cannot quantify genuine, spiritual worship of God; how, then, can we determine if God is pleased by our worship of Him? One thought is that God gives us a “warm, fuzzy feeling” if He is pleased with our worship of Him. While this feeling may be indescribable, God still chooses to communicate with us in this regard; thus, we need to be attuned to His Spirit at all times and respond to His internal feedback.

Faith and Deeds August 29, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on James 2:14-26.

Summary: James begins by describing a man who boasts about his faith to others – yet no fruit of holiness comes from it; he asks – rhetorically – if that man’s faith:

  • furthers the purpose of religion
  • saves him.

To drive home this point, he describes another Christian who is badly clothed and does not have enough to sustain life for a day. If his readers solemnly greet that Christian, telling them to be clothed and have food to sustain their hunger – yet do not do their duty, then that Christian will not thank them. Indeed, those who profess their faith – yet exhibit none of its fruits – show that they are void of the life of Christ.

James then asserts that a true believer would tell a boasting hypocrite that they:

  • are merely professing their faith
  • lack the truest demonstration of faith

while they:

  • produce deeds that are a real commendation
  • will demonstrate their faith to the world.

He concedes that those who assent to the fundamental truth in religion are doing a good thing – yet even demons assent to that truth with extreme fear and horror of spirit.

Now James asks boasting hypocrites – who are empty men – if they want to listen to what can be said against their faith, since they do not perform gracious deeds that would demonstrate their faith. First, he cites the example of their ancestor, Abraham, who was declared to be righteous because of his offering Isaac in purpose and vow. It is clear that Abraham’s faith had influence on his actions – and so his faith was bettered and improved. At that time, it might again have been said – as in Genesis 15:6 – that Abraham was approved and accepted by God, and so he was God’s friend. This example shows that people are found just and righteous by the parts and offices of their holy lives – not by merely professing their faith.

Second, James cites the example of Rahab, a woman of disrepute, who was shown to be sincere and honored by God before all the congregation for her actions as recorded in Joshua 2. James concludes by stating that just as the body without its soul cannot perform the functions of life, an external profession of faith without works is useless to all the ends and purposes of faith.

Thoughts: In verse 18, James presents a hypothetical argument between a genuine believer and a hypocrite. Manton offers some insights on this point:

So the dispute does not lie so much between faith and deeds as between faith pretended and faith revealed by deeds…That is, show me a warrant for your faith, and I will soon prove my own…That is, some true believer may come and argue like this with a boasting hypocrite.

I always found the “But” at the beginning of verse 18 to be rather confusing. It seems that verses 14-17 have clearly established the hypocrisy of someone who claims to have faith – yet does not meet the physical needs of a poor believer. Thus, one would assume that “But” indicates a new argument by the hypocrite to support their claim to a genuine faith. Manton’s commentary, though, implies that “But” introduces another argument by the genuine believer against the hypocrite. In an attempt to resolve this issue, I checked the NASB and ESV translations of this verse; they actually concur with the NIV translation in placing “But” at the beginning of this verse. Therefore, I suppose that Manton’s commentary offers an adequate explanation of this verse; perhaps I should ask James – in the next life – why he used “But” in this verse.

In this passage, James asserts that genuine faith differs from a mere profession of faith in its outward effects. Manton offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 24:

The main work in the discussion of this verse is to reconcile James with Paul…The orthodox, though they differ somewhat in words and phrases, still agree in the same sense in reconciling James and Paul. Thus, some say Paul is arguing about the cause of justification and so excludes works, and James is arguing about the effects of justification and so enforces their presence. Others say Paul is arguing about how we are justified and James about how we shall give evidence that we are justified.

I actually recall studying this letter on two different occasions at my previous church; those lessons were rather helpful in terms of reconciling the seemingly disparate viewpoints of Paul and James on the topic of justification. Thus, the tricky issue for me involves continually demonstrating that I have a genuine faith. Paul and James would probably agree that genuine faith should grow with time, allowing those who possess it to place more of their trust in God and take larger risks for His glory. Unfortunately, since I am a human being with a sinful nature, I often fall into the trap of assuming that I have achieved a “reasonable level of faith,” causing me to lose my desire to grow in that regard; moreover, placing more of my trust in God is always a frightening task. Thus, I need to come before Him on a daily basis and continually desire wisdom and strength from Him to trust Him more – as opposed to resting on my prior work for His glory. I hope to be able to share some encouraging testimonies on this topic in the years to come.

Melchizedek the Priest April 30, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on Hebrews 7:1-10.

Summary: The author begins by presenting the following facts regarding Melchizedek:

  • he reigned in Jerusalem
  • he was a priest in relation to God
  • after Abraham defeated a complete army of kings and took their spoils, he met Melchizedek
  • at that time, he made a solemn benediction to Abraham
  • Abraham gave him a tithe of the spoils that he had just taken
  • he ruled righteously and lived peaceably – and so he was a type of Christ
  • the Spirit of God says that he did not have a genealogy – and so he represented Christ in terms of His eternal, unchanging priesthood.

The author then calls his readers to think about the excellency of Melchizedek’s office; even Abraham, the first father of the Jews, gave him a tithe. Now they know that God has declared that the tithe of the land should be His; thus, they give this tithe to their brothers from the tribe of Levi. This highlights the excellency of Melchizedek’s office, as he did not trace his descent from among them – yet he still received a tithe from Abraham, who had become the father of the faithful, the heir of the world and the friend of God by His promises. Indeed, they know that the person who is blessed is inferior to the person who blesses, as this has been established beyond all reasonable contradiction. The author then further highlights the excellency of Melchizedek’s office by noting that:

  • on one hand, the Levitical priests – although they are subject to death – collect tithes
  • on the other hand, Melchizedek – who is a type of the everlasting life of Christ – also collects tithes.

The author concludes with the following assertion regarding the excellency of Melchizedek’s office: all of Levi’s descendants – especially those who were linked to the priesthood – gave tithes to Melchizedek. This stems from the fact that they are the complete posterity of Abraham, and one can deem Abraham’s action as being performed in and through him by his descendants.

Thoughts: This passage provides some interesting details regarding the person and work of Melchizedek. Of course, I – and, assuredly, others who have read this passage – have many unanswered questions regarding his person and work. For example, how did he become the king of Salem (by birth, by staging a royal coup, or by some other means)? Perhaps a more interesting question is: how did he become the priest of God Most High? Did God specially reveal Himself to Melchizedek and assign him the role of his priest? If Melchizedek was the priest of God Most High, then how did he carry out his assigned duties? Did he wear priestly garments, offer sacrifices to God and perform ceremonies that were designed to restore the relationship between God and sinful men? I certainly hope to meet Melchizedek in the next life and ply him with these queries.

In this passage, the author demonstrates the superiority of Melchizedek to both Abraham and the Levitical priesthood – both highly revered in Judaism – and prepares to show how Melchizedek merely points to Christ, demonstrating the ultimate supremacy of Christ. Owen offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 3:

Jesus is here called the Son of God to show that although Melchizedek was an excellent person, yet he was infinitely inferior to the person he represented, the Son of God. Melchizedek was not the Son of God, but he had many things that made him like Christ…This was the apostle’s main point in these verses. He wanted to show that there was in the Scripture, before the institution of the Aaronic priesthood, a representation of the eternal, unchanging priesthood to be introduced to the church, which he demonstrates to be that of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the entire letter could be summarized as follows: even though the Hebrews are tempted to renounce Christianity and return to Judaism, they should continue to respond to the Gospel with faith and obedience – because Christ, the author of the Gospel, is superior to Judaism. As modern-day believers, we are also beset with temptations to avoid all of the inherent difficulties of obedience to the Gospel and embrace an easier path in this life. Consequently, we need to maintain our trust in the supremacy of Christ, even when the world around us appears to mask His supremacy. I suppose this is tied to God’s call for us to cultivate a long-term perspective in this life; while the supremacy of Christ may not be apparent at times, we need to trust that His supremacy will manifest itself in the end.

The Certainty of God’s Promise April 25, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on Hebrews 6:13-20.

Summary: The author begins by reminding his readers that when God declared His purpose toward Abraham for his good, He gave him a higher pledge of His faithfulness; this pledge can be found in Genesis 22:17. Although Abraham was exposed to trials and temptations about the truth and accomplishment of God’s purpose toward him, he carried on depending on God and was freely justified in Christ.

Now the author appeals to his readers’ understanding of human society to show why God gave Abraham a higher pledge of His faithfulness: an oath that invocates God as the supreme governor of the world is necessary for the peace of mankind in the event of an argument between human beings. In particular, it was God’s will to manifest His unchanging nature to all believers under the old and the new covenant; thus, He gave them a higher pledge of His faithfulness. Now since His promise is immutable and it is impossible for Him to lie, believers who seek safety in the Gospel message and firmly keep it in their grip will be comforted and consoled. Indeed, the Gospel message cannot be moved, and it can be trusted; this stems from the fact that Christ has passed through the heavens and entered the place of the glorious presence of God for all believers. The author concludes by inferring that Christ is the forerunner of all believers; He has become a high priest – as represented by Melchizedek – and their Savior.

Thoughts: In verses 13-15, the author states that Abraham maintained his faith in God’s promise even though one might have doubted His faithfulness in that regard. Owen offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 15:

If there are not difficulties or delays, it is not possible to know if a person can wait patiently. Abraham did not become weary or exasperated by these delays…Continuing to believe, and trusting in God’s truth and power against all difficulties and oppositions, showed how Abraham was waiting patiently.

The Old Testament shows us that both Abraham and his wife, Sarah, should have been infertile at the time when Isaac was conceived. Thus, the fulfillment of God’s promise should have been impossible given their underlying biological constraints. Sarah found the prospect of childbirth at her advanced age to be laughable; also, Abraham’s friends and acquaintances likely mocked his trust in God at his advanced age. Yet God gave Abraham the requisite strength for overcoming his natural embarrassment and maintaining his belief that His promise would be fulfilled. Thus, Abraham was an excellent model of faith for the Hebrews, as they were called to maintain their faith in Christ – and the fulfillment of His promises to them – in the face of intense persecution. Abraham is also an excellent model of faith for modern-day believers, as we are called to maintain our faith in Christ – and the fulfillment of His promises to us – in the face of opposition from the world and our sinful nature. Indeed, we rest on the fact that God has not changed over the (roughly) two millennia since He gave His promises to Abraham.

Wives and Husbands May 30, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Peter 3:1-7.

Summary: Peter begins by exhorting believing women to subject themselves to their husbands; by living pure and holy lives, they might facilitate the conversion of their husbands’ souls. By subjecting themselves to their husbands, they display their chastity and fear of God. Now they should not become vain about their clothes; instead, they should be meek. To support this point, Peter cites the example of Sarah, who subjected herself to her husband, Abraham; in this way, she displayed her undaunted spirit and her pure conscience.

Peter concludes by exhorting believing men to esteem their wives – whom they love; in particular, they – and their wives – have received free grace from God in the form of eternal life. Thus, they must be at peace with their wives – giving them peace with God in their prayers.

Thoughts: In verse 7, Peter exhorts married male believers to love their wives. Leighton offers some interesting thoughts on this point:

People who have been bought with the precious blood of the same Redeemer will be loath to grieve or despise each other. As they have been brought into peace with God, they will have true peace between themselves and will not allow anything to disturb this. They have the hope of a day when there will be nothing but perfect concord and peace, and they live as heirs of that life now and make their present state as like heaven as they can.

While Leighton’s thoughts are pleasant, I think that many modern-day believers will admit that they fail to even approach this ideal. Perhaps we do not dwell on the fact that we have all been purchased by the blood of Christ, and so we repeatedly revert to our natural state, where miscommunication reigns. This fuels the formation of Christian cliques where the members of a given clique rejoice in their commonalities, while members of different cliques rarely mingle. I often doubt that we can truly make progress on this front, and this problem is compounded by the fact that “it takes two to tango.” Yet genuine believers should strive to promote unity and “concord” in the body of Christ. Perhaps each of us should strive to fulfill our individual responsibility of promoting unity in the body of Christ, as God will approve of our actions regardless of how others respond to us…

Abraham Justified By Faith January 24, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on Romans 4:1-25.

Summary: In the latter part of Romans 3, Paul introduced the concept of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Naturally, critics (especially Jews) would question the validity of this concept. In this passage, Paul proves its validity by referring to the example of Abraham. He begins by quoting from Genesis 15 to ensure that he and his critics are on the same page regarding Abraham’s justification (i.e. Abraham was declared by God to be righteous). We must then ask: how was Abraham justified? Paul asserts that Abraham’s justification was by his faith in God, and he establishes this assertion by examining the key events in Abraham’s life. In particular, Paul rules out the possibility of Abraham having been justified by his circumcision, as the events in Genesis 15 occur before the birth of Isaac. Paul also rules out the possibility of Abraham having been justified by his obedience to the law (either the Mosaic law or the natural law that is written on the hearts of men), since Abraham was trusting solely in God to provide him with the offspring that he desired. Thus, we are left with faith as the instrument by which Abraham was justified. Moreover, Paul infers that Abraham was the first, chronologically speaking, of a class of people who genuinely trust in God. Paul provides us with a clearer picture of the level of trust that is required for the members of this class by noting that Abraham believed God’s promise despite the following facts:

  • he was roughly a hundred years old, and so he was much closer to death than to fertility
  • his wife, Sarah, was barren.

Thus, believers must exercise faith even when faced with seemingly ironclad (from the world’s perspective) evidence. To conclude, Paul asserts that

  • believers share the same faith that Abraham exercised
  • believers are to trust and rely on God – the God who put His own Son to death to cover our sins and raised Him to secure our justification.

Thoughts: Reading through this passage raised the following questions for me: what, exactly, was the faith that Abraham possessed, and what was the promise that he had been given? From passages such as verses 13 and 18, it becomes more evident that this promise entailed:

  • the most awesome blessings (for those who put their trust in God)
  • having all nations be blessed through Abraham.

In fact, this blessing would be fully realized in the person of Jesus Christ; moreover, we know from John 8:56 that Abraham himself knew about Jesus Christ and looked forward to the time when He would inaugurate His kingdom on earth. From this, we see that Abraham’s faith entailed a firm trust and reliance on God to carry out that promise, even though it defied human logic. Since believers also trust and rely on Jesus Christ to (fully, in our case) inaugurate His kingdom on earth, in that sense we share the faith of Abraham. We believe that by putting our hope and trust in God, we will be blessed in ways beyond our imagination; we also believe that Christ’s love and mercy extends to all nations.

The word “father” appears seven times in this passage and is worth a brief investigation. Hodge notes that:

The word “father” expresses community in nature or character and is often applied to the head or founder of any school or class of men whose character or course is determined by the relation to the person so designated: as in Genesis 4:20-21, “Jabal…was the father of those who live in tents,” and “Jubal…was the father of all who play the harp and flute.”

It is clear that as believers, we share the faith that Abraham possessed. It should also be clear that we have “inherited” the promise that Abraham was given; he was the first person to receive the covenant that is solely based on God’s works, and not our own efforts.

According to Hodge, verse 25 is a “comprehensive statement of the Gospel.” First, we see that Christ’s death covered our sins by satisfying God’s justice. If we accept the legalistic interpretation of justification as expounded by Hodge, then this immediately follows – Christ is the perfect, and hence, acceptable, sacrifice in God’s sight. Second, we see that Christ’s resurrection is necessary for us to be declared righteous by God. This is more difficult to comprehend, and Hodge addresses this as follows:

First, it was a proof that his death had been accepted as an expiation for our sins…And, secondly, in order to secure the continued benefits of the merits of his sacrifice, he rose from the dead and ascended on high, where he appeared before God for us.

In the first part of this statement, we see that if Christ had not been resurrected, He would have been a liar, and His whole life would have been called into question. As for the second part of this statement, I did start to wonder how the Father would need the Son to constantly intercede for believers; how could He “forget” his Son’s sacrifice and resurrection? Hodge notes that this can be best understood by referring to the Old Testament tradition where the high priest would enter the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement to intercede for the people of Israel. In fact, this was an annual occurrence, and so intercession for the sins of God’s people had to be made on a continual basis under the former dispensation (and hence, under the current dispensation).