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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.

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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 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.

Restoration of Israel June 3, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 30-31.

Summary: In this passage, God instructs Jeremiah to declare this message to His people: He will bring them out of exile in Babylon and restore them to their homeland.

Moreover, He will:

  • not inflict a lasting punishment on them for their sins
  • inflict a lasting punishment on the Babylonians for the war crimes that they will commit against them
  • rebuild Jerusalem
  • heal their land
  • place a new king – from the house of David – over them
  • establish a new covenant with them
  • permanently remove their sinfulness
  • enable them to respond to these actions with praise and thanksgiving
  • never leave them nor forsake them.

Thoughts: This passage contains a brief description of the work of God the Son and God the Spirit in restoring His people to a proper relationship with Himself. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 9 of chapter 30:

It was the office and work of God to raise up Christ. We must always come to the fountain of God’s mercy if we want to enjoy the blessings of Christ. We will find in Christ whatever is necessary for our salvation.

Also, verses 33 and 34 of chapter 31 describe the work of God the Spirit in this regard. The truths that are contained in these verses should spur us to reflect on the nature of the Trinity – and rejoice in the fact that we worship God in Three Persons. Each member of the Trinity is invaluable in God’s great plan of salvation. In contrast, only God the Father plays a role in the old covenant – and that covenant was not effective in maintaining His relationship with His people. When He introduced that covenant, though, He already knew its primary purpose – to point to a new covenant that would also glorify the other (two) Persons who share His nature.

Here, we see that God’s love of His people is boundless. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 37 of chapter 31:

But God brings before us these strange and impossible things so that we may know that he will at length be reconciled to his people after having justly punished them…The prophet reassures them that God cares for them and would gather his scattered seed.

The beauty of these verses is evident, as they are replete with phrases including

‘Only if these decrees vanish from my sight…will Israel ever cease being a nation before me’

and

‘Only if the heavens above can be measured…will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done.’

The extent of God’s love of His people is amazing – especially as there is nothing in them that would merit His favor. As modern-day believers, we should ponder this point. Why has God chosen us? Why does He love us so much that He sent His own Son to die for our sins? It is difficult to even begin to formulate answers to these questions – yet we can still rejoice in His love for us and rest in His loving arms on a daily basis.

Given that this passage was written to the people of Judah, I am curious: how – and when – did they first hear it? Was it read to them before they were transported to Babylon? Or was it read to them during – or even after – their time in Babylon? How did they respond to the abundant promises in this passage? Did they interpret this passage as a long prophecy concerning a political Messiah who would restore the glory that Israel had enjoyed during the reign of David? What was their understanding of the new covenant that is described in this passage? Did they merely assume that God wanted them to recommit to the old covenant that He had established with Abraham?

Philip and the Ethiopian June 24, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 8:26-40.

Summary: In this passage, the Lord commanded Philip to go to the desert road connecting Jerusalem and Gaza; there, he met an Ethiopian eunuch who had gone to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. The eunuch had been reading from Isaiah 53:7-8 – though he could not comprehend those verses. Philip explained how those verses actually referenced the Messiah – Jesus of Nazareth. The eunuch responded to this revelation by declaring his belief that Jesus is the Son of God. After Philip baptized him:

  • the eunuch rejoiced at his salvation as he returned to Ethiopia
  • Philip preached the Gospel in the towns between Azotus and Caesarea.

Thoughts: An Ethiopian eunuch is a central figure in this passage. Calvin offers some insights regarding this eunuch in his commentary on verse 27:

Candace was not just the name of one queen. Pliny tells us that the Ethiopians called their queens Candace in the same way that the Romans called their emperors Caesar. Historians report that Ethiopia, whose capital was Meroe, was a noble and wealthy kingdom, and this is relevant to this incident because it tells us how exalted this eunuch was. Secular writers confirm Luke’s account by reporting that women used to reign there.

I certainly anticipate meeting this eunuch in the next life and learning more about him. How did he attain his high position in the kingdom of Ethiopia? How did he come to believe in the God of Israel? How did he acquire a scroll with the words of the prophet Isaiah? Was he able to share the Gospel message after his conversion? Did the Ethiopian monarch tolerate his newfound faith, or did she conduct a purge to remove him from office?

This passage displays God’s providence regarding His salvation plan, as He:

  • spurred Philip to go to the desert road connecting Jerusalem and Gaza
  • enabled Philip to encounter the Ethiopian eunuch on that road
  • had already brought the eunuch to faith in Him as the God of Israel
  • had already furnished the eunuch with a written copy of the words of the prophet Isaiah
  • caused the eunuch to read from the “suffering servant” passage – referencing the Messiah
  • enabled Philip to explain that obscure passage to the eunuch
  • enabled the eunuch to believe in Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God.

After I read this passage, I wished that God would display His providence by working in the hearts and minds of unbelievers who are close to me – especially family members. While this eunuch outwardly pursued God, I find that the unbelievers who are close to me are unconcerned with deep philosophical issues, including the purpose of their existence. This is quite frustrating, and I often grow discouraged when I pray for them. Perhaps this passage should spur me to renew my 1) trust in God’s sovereignty regarding salvation and 2) commitment to the Great Commission – since my free will shapes my response to His calling.

Peter Speaks to the Onlookers April 29, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 3:11-26.

Summary: In this passage, many astonished Jews gathered around Peter, John and the beggar whom they had just healed. Peter swiftly glorified God in light of this miracle, and he used this opportunity to preach the Gospel message to them – including the fact that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. He then called them to repent of their sins and anticipate the Second Coming of Christ. To spur them in this regard, he asserted that in their cherished Old Testament, God had foretold the First Coming of Christ – and stressed the necessity of obedience to Him – through many prophets, including:

Thoughts: We see that the initial presentations of the Gospel message in the early church relied on the Old Testament; this was a sensible strategy in that Peter wanted to prove to Jews that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. One could argue that preaching the Gospel to Jews was relatively simple, as they already accepted the truth of the God of the Old Testament and His promise of the Messiah; they only needed to be convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. Yet many modern-day unbelievers who lack a Jewish background reject the truth of the God of the Old Testament. While this can be discouraging for believers as we aim to carry out the Great Commission, we can draw strength from the forthcoming anecdotes in this book – where the Gospel is successfully preached to many Gentiles.

We also see that all of the Old Testament prophets eagerly anticipated the arrival of the Messiah as the One who would redeem Israel. They likely mulled over the following questions:

  • when would the Messiah be born?
  • where would the Messiah be born?
  • what would be the (earthly) name of the Messiah?
  • how would the Messiah redeem Israel?

While these prophets had to anticipate the arrival of the Messiah, modern-day believers are blessed in that we can look back to that historical moment. Yet we join these prophets in our anticipation of His (Second) Coming; thus, we ponder the following questions:

  • when will Jesus Christ return?
  • will Jesus Christ return at the Mount of Olives?
  • when Jesus Christ returns, what will I be doing?
  • when Jesus Christ returns, will He approve of me?

While we long for the answers to these questions, we must continue to trust in God – as only He knows the hour of the Second Coming.

Peter Addresses the Crowd April 14, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 2:14-41.

Summary: In this passage, Peter addressed the Jews from the previous passage – including those who dismissed the Twelve as drunkards. In particular, he used the following Old Testament passages to prove their sobriety:

  • Joel 2:28-32, where God asserts that He will pour out the Holy Spirit on all people after the coming of the Messiah
  • Psalm 16:8-11, where God asserts that He will raise the Messiah from the dead
  • Psalm 110:1, where God asserts that the Messiah will be seated at His right hand in heaven.

Peter then asserted that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled all of these prophecies; he also stated that the other members of the Twelve concurred with him in this regard. Therefore, Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. Many of the Jews were mortified by Peter’s assertions and were befuddled as to how to respond to them; he stated that they needed to:

  • repent of their sins
  • accept the forgiveness of Jesus Christ
  • be baptized as an outward sign of this fact.

About three thousand Jews responded appropriately that day, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Thoughts: In this passage, Peter makes several salient points:

  • the Old Testament states that the Messiah will die
  • the Old Testament states that God will raise the Messiah from the dead
  • the Old Testament states that the resurrected Messiah will sit at the right hand of God in heaven
  • the historical person, Jesus of Nazareth, fulfills all of these prophecies
  • therefore, Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah.

These points are essential components of the Christian worldview; thus, believers – and nonbelievers – should ponder them in their hearts. For example, we should consider the true meaning of the name “Jesus Christ”. Also, we should consider the fact that Peter’s salient points are interdependent; if any of them were to be falsified, then all of them would be called into question. This reminds me that I should read The Resurrection of the Son of God at some point.

In this passage, it appears that Peter serves as the spokesman for the Twelve. Now since his audience on the day of Pentecost consisted of Jews from sundry parts of the Roman and Parthian empires who spoke different languages, how did he communicate with them? Did the other members of the Twelve act as interpreters for those Jews who could not understand him – and if so, was the audience divided into linguistically homogeneous groups? What language did he use to convey these important truths to his audience?

In verses 37 and 40, we see that some of the Jews in this passage “were cut to the heart” by Peter’s message, while “he pleaded with” other skeptical Jews. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 40:

It was not easy for the Jews to leave their erroneous ways and break away from the priests whose rule they were accustomed to. So it was up to Peter to haul them out of this mire. They could not belong to Christ unless they parted company with his professed enemies. The priests and the scribes were very powerful, and under the guise of leading the church they deceived the simple.

I certainly hope to meet at least some of the Jews in this passage in the next life and learn how they initially responded to Peter’s message. Had they heard about the historical person, Jesus of Nazareth, before the day of Pentecost? If so, did Peter’s message furnish them with a new perspective on Jesus? Did they view themselves as being complicit in the execution of Jesus? Were they convinced by Peter’s arguments that Jesus had been raised from the dead?

Jesus Taken Up Into Heaven April 4, 2016

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I’ve recently started reading through the Acts of the Apostles with the aid of a commentary by John Calvin. I should note that I’ve previously read through Acts. As in my recent stroll through the book of Revelation, I hope to comprehend Acts as a whole. I also hope to be inspired to engage in the mission of the New Testament church: preach the Gospel to all nations.

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

For starters, here are my thoughts on Acts 1:1-11.

Summary: In this passage, Luke begins with a concise description of his previous book. He then mentions some of the events that occurred after the resurrection of Jesus; in particular, Jesus reinforced His prior teachings to His apostles. Although they still viewed Him as their political Messiah, He asserted that He was their spiritual Messiah. In light of this great truth, He commissioned them – through the power of the Holy Spirit – to proclaim His true Person and deeds throughout the world. After this, He ascended to heaven; two angels then promised them that He would return someday.

Thoughts: As I am a history buff, I have always enjoyed reading through Acts. In particular, this book features a plethora of fascinating personalities who play critical roles in the growth of the New Testament church – in spite of fierce opposition and internal struggles. For this stroll, though, I hope to gain a greater appreciation for the work of the Holy Spirit throughout this book – especially as the same Holy Spirit works in all believers today. While God does not guarantee that we will bear the same fruit that the apostles bore in the early church, I pray that I would be inspired to match them in terms of their faithfulness. I am certainly curious as to how God will lead me in that regard during this stroll.

In verse 6, we see that the apostles still viewed Jesus as their political Messiah. Calvin offers some intriguing thoughts on this point:

Their stupidity is incredible. They had been carefully taught for three whole years, yet were as ignorant as if they had never heard a thing!

My opinion is that Calvin’s thoughts are a bit harsh. In particular, I believe that if I had been in the apostles’ position, I would have also failed to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ teaching regarding His identity as their spiritual Messiah. The disciples had been taught – from a young age – that the Old Testament predicted the arrival of a political Messiah; thus, it would have been difficult for three years of intense instruction from Jesus to overcome the biases that they had developed at a young age. While hindsight is always 20/20, in this passage it is evident that the apostles were still struggling to comprehend the wondrous sequence of events that began with Jesus’ death on the cross. It would take another miracle – Pentecost – for them to truly comprehend His teachings.