Matthew 3:1-6: The Kingdom At Hand

Read: Matthew 3:1-6

John the Baptist lived as a man on the fringe of society, choosing to scratch a meager existence out of the Judean wilderness rather than enjoy any of life’s luxuries. Nevertheless, he attracted a following.

His message was simple: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In no uncertain terms, John is making a statement concerning the coming of Jesus and the impending judgment that would come as a result of Jesus’ second coming. For this reason, he was seen as a prophet, specifically fulfilling Isaiah 40 which is also echoed in Isaiah 57. Both of these prophecies speak of a voice calling for the people to make way for the coming king. Many of the laity in John’s day believed him to either be Elijah, who as taken up to heaven without dying (2 Kings 2:1-14) or someone like Elijah. The camel hair garment and leather belt herald back to the garb that Elijah himself wore (2 Kings 1:8). Jesus affirms this view in Matthew 11:7-14, where he applies Malachi 3:1 and Malachi 4:5-6 to John as well. Paul also affirms John’s prophetic ministry in Acts 13:24.

According to Jesus too John was the last in the line of prophets before Jesus came (Matthew 11:13). This is significant because it in a manner of speaking point to the end of the Old Testament prophecy and a transition to the New Testament era where the Apostles picked up the prophetic mantle, particularly the Apostle John. Jesus’ ministry was to fulfill the law and the prophets and Matthew is making a case for this here in chapter 3 and all through the book when he points to how Jesus fulfills various prophecies.

John himself is a prophet and a fulfillment of prophecy. This is important, because it does vindicate the ministry of Jesus as messiah and ultimately as king when his kingdom does come in glory. Recognizing the factual implications of this is what makes the need for repentance all the more important. Scoffers may look on, asking when Jesus will come back. After all, it has been 2000 years since Jesus supposedly ascended into heaven. 2 Peter 3 assures believers that scoffers will arise, but God will remain faithful to his promise. The warning against lawlessness and an encouragement to remain faithful in spite of scoffers that arise. His promises are true and he will do them.

Lord, your kingdom is coming! Help me to be mindful of this and live accordingly!

Luke 2:1-7: Humble Roots, Glorious Ends

Read: Luke 2:1-7

Luke is meticulous about the details of the historical setting of his Gospel. Here, he places Jesus birth during the reign of Caesar Augustus. The difficulty though with dating this text has to do with dating the census in reference to Quirinius was governor of Syria around AD 6, but Herod who was the king of Judea who had died sometime earlier. There have been a number of proposed solutions to this problem (some more reasonable that others) while others think Luke was simply mistaken. Given that Luke’s accuracy is impeccable on other matters, it would be jumping to conclusions to say he was mistaken. But it would also be jumping to conclusions to say that any one of the proposed solutions is indeed correct either without further historical evidence.

In any case, we can affirm that God used the most powerful political and military figure in the world at the time to fulfill his purposes in earth. The census that went out from Augustus forced Joseph to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem, his home town and the town of his ancestor, King David to register with Mary his espoused wife who was very pregnant at the time. When Mary gave birth, she gave birth to Jesus and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. In ancient times, inns were usually accompanied with a stable for animals. An upper room would be for guest and a lower room would be for the animals. The plain reading of this suggests that the inn was simply full. Some have suggested though that the innkeeper did not have room specifically for Mary and Joseph. Nevertheless, the picture of God using the most powerful man in the world to start a chain of events that would lead to the King of Kings being born in a lowly stable is intentional. God was fulfilling an age old prophecy from Micah 5:2-4 which tells of a King that will come from lowly Bethlehem that would be known to the ends of the earth.

What started from humble roots in a stable in the small Bethlehem has shaped the course of human history and is still shaping the course of human history. Jesus’ renown is still going forward into all the nations and more and more people are coming into his kingdom every day. The juxtaposition of the God exalting the humble and diminishing the proud is a theme in scripture (Psalm 138:6, Matthew 8:11-12, Matthew 19:30, James 4:6, 1Peter 5:5, etc). Caesar’s reign ended and the empire eventually crumbled. But Jesus after enduring the cross was exalted. His name is the name above all names and every knee will bow to it (Philippians 2:5-12). Christians are encouraged to be like Christ, and lay aside what we might have rights to and become humble, and in doing so God will lift them up to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:11-14)!

Lord, you humbled yourself for glorious ends: the salvation for all men.
Help me to be humble so you can be lifted up!

Hebrews 6:19-7:9: The Highest High Priest

Read: Hebrews 6:19-20, Hebrews 7:1-9: The Highest High Priest

The author of Hebrews has already shown that Jesus is God, that Jesus is superior to angels, and superior to Moses — as if that wasn’t enough already. Here in Chapter 7, the author of Hebrews argues for Jesus superiority over Abraham and the Levitical line of priests. He does this by showing a pecking order in terms of who was giving and who was receiving tithes. The author of Hebrews recalls again Melchizedek from Genesis 14:18-19. He recalls that Melchizedek name means “King of Righteousness” and that he was “King of Salem” – that is the “King of Peace”. He also recalls that Melchizedek was a priest of “El Elyon”, which means the “God Most High”, a title given to Abraham’s God in Genesis 14:22. Melchizedek was a priest-king who, as the author of Hebrews argues, was a priest with no lineage that entitled him or even a record of his birth and death. He was otherwise an obscure, foreign king, yet he was priest, and Abraham paid tribute to him, and he blessed Abraham. The blessing is significant, because generally speaking it is the greater who blesses the lesser. In this case, Melchizedek is blessing Abraham. The author Hebrews then argues that the Levites were descendants of Abraham making them a lesser to Abraham. In short, Melchizedek is greater than Abraham, and Abraham is greater than the Levitical priests. Likewise, author of Hebrews says that Melchizedek is like the Son of God. If this is so then Jesus is greater than even Melchizedek because Jesus is the Son of God. A priest of Jesus’ standing can be no higher.

Because Jesus is the High Priest, he can enter the “behind the veil”. In the temple and tabernacle, there was a place in the center that was called the “Holy of Holies”. Only the high priest could enter into the Holy of Holies, and he did so only once a year to make an offering for his own sin and the sins of Israel. Jesus, however, can enter in to the Holy of Holies on his own accord because he is without spot or blemish. Hebrews 6:19 calls this a “hope that enters in”, and this is on behalf of those who he represents before God. Hebrews 10:19-22 shows that through Jesus the hearts of those who believe are cleaned and consciences of sin are cleared. This is not done in timidity, rather in confidence because of who the High Priest is.

Lord, because you are my priest, I am confident that my sins are washed away!

Hebrews 4:14-5:10: Jesus is The Priest-King Forever

Read Hebrews 4:14-16, Hebrews 5:1-10

Jesus is a priest like no other. To show this, the author of Hebrews writes to shows Jesus’ humanity yet shows how Jesus does not fail as humans do. Jesus came to earth and while he was on earth he lived a perfect life, yet was tempted in the same manner in which all people are tempted. He had the same weaknesses that men have, yet was not succumbed to them. He was humbled, and did not exalt himself to the position of high priest, yet God chose him to be high priest. He was the Son of God, but learned obedience through his suffering. In every way Jesus was human, but he did fail as humans do.

Jesus’ was also rather unique in another way. The author of Hebrews calls a priest in the “order of Melchizedek.” Melchizedek is an obscure character mentioned only in Genesis 14:18-19 and not much is known about him.  But nevertheless the little that is known has huge implications. First, he is king of a town called Salem and a priest of the Most High God – a priest-king that is unlike the traditional priesthood where these were two separate roles. Second, priests usually had to be descendants of Aaron in order to be named priest, but Melchizedek was not. Being in order of Melchizedek allows for non-Aaronic priests such as Jesus, who was a descendant of Judah. (Hebrews 7:14 – Hebrews 6 and Hebrews 7 expounds on this more). The author of Hebrews builds on this further, saying that Jesus is a priest-king “forever”. Psalms 2 establishes that Jesus is a King of kings in that he will receive the nations as his inheritance. Psalm 110 establishes that Jesus is a priest “forever” in the order of Melchizedek, not a temporary priest as those who were of the Aaronic priesthood.

Having Jesus has a priest-king whose reign is eternal means that there is no longer a need for human to fulfill the role of high priest. People can draw near to God with confidence and plead for the grace and mercy at the throne of grace in their time a need. In reality, Christians and the whole world are constantly in need of grace. Jesus sympathizes with weaknesses, yet he himself does not grow weary as a man does. For this reason, Christians can call on him at any time and call on him at all times because his reign and term as priest will never end.

Lord, help me find mercy and grace in my time of need!