Matthew 4:12-25: Only One Gospel

Read: Matthew 4:12-25

Matthew invokes Isaiah 9:1-2 as being fulfilled by Jesus’ itinerant preaching ministry. Jesus travels through the regions that were historically occupied by the tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali and adds how Jesus will honor the “Way of the Sea”, the gentile Galilee, and beyond the Jordan – all places that Jesus had been. Matthew 4:25 lists the first century names of the places that the Isaiah prophecy lists. Jesus’ fame spread the more broadly he traveled and the people, both Jews and gentiles, came from all over to hear him preach and be healed of their infirmities.

Matthew notes that Jesus preaches the same gospel as John: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2). This message is what Matthew also calls the “gospel of the kingdom” in verse 23. In a manner of speaking, this is showing that Jesus’ message and John were preaching about the same thing, which was about the coming Messiah. The main difference was that Jesus is the Messiah and John was his prophet. Interestingly, interspersed between summary statements about the message that Jesus was preaching is the calling of the first disciples. Here, Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James (John’s brother), and John to be his followers, and he declares that he will make them “fishers of men”. They too would become evangelists in the same manner as Jesus and John were. The fulfillment of this is seen in the book of Acts and even beyond Acts as the gospel has been carried to the ends of the earth.

The unity of the message that John and Jesus preached is also underscored by the message that Paul preached too. In Galatians 1:6-24, Paul says there is but one gospel, and Paul himself claims to have received this gospel by direct revelation from Jesus himself before he started to preach. He later came in contact with Peter and James (Jesus’ brother), two of the leaders in the church in Jerusalem. Paul preached this gospel for 14 years then went back to Jerusalem where Peter, James, and John all affirmed the gospel that Paul preached and appointed him as the apostle to the Gentiles. Peter and John were both present that day when Jesus called them from fishing and heard him preach the same gospel John did (Galatians 2:1-10).

The biggest difference between what John preached, what Jesus preached, and what the apostles went out and preached was tense: John was looking forward to the Messiah, Jesus is the Messiah, and the apostles were looking back Jesus. In all cases though, they were all looking forward to the second coming of Christ when Jesus will come in glory, as Isaiah proclaims in Isaiah 9. He will be on David’s throne and will be given titles of honor and praise like “Prince of Peace” and “Wonderful Counselor”. Christians today are in the same boat as the apostles were, looking back to Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. If one is a Christian, then one is a “fisher of men” who is a gospel proclaimer sharing the same message that has been passed down through the ages and the future of hope eternal life. Christians thereby should be about the task of fishing for men so that even more can come to know the one gospel Jesus proclaimed and be saved!

Lord, make me a fisher of men!

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!

Matthew 2:13-23: “Spoken By The Prophet”

Read: Matthew 2:13-23

Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecies is a recurring theme in Matthew. Here in the latter part of chapter 2, Matthew shows how Jesus’ flight to Egypt as a baby fulfills at least three distinct prophecies (probably more) from the Old Testament.

  • v15: The first prophecy comes from Hosea 11:1, a prophecy about how God called Israel out of Egypt to be his people. Matthew likens this to Jesus, who sojourned in Egypt for a while and was called out. Jesus in a symbolic fashion spent time in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). In all this, Jesus remained obedient and faithful to God so that he might fulfill the requirements of the Law, unlike Israel.
  • v18: The second prophecy comes from Jeremiah 31:15. The entire chapter of Jeremiah 31 is a series of prophecies concerning the future blessings that would be given to Israel. Matthew invokes Jeremiah to show how mothers grieving over their children slaughtered by Herod points to a prophecy concerning the children “coming back”, speaking to a future time that even though they have lost them in the moment, they are certainly redeemed by God and Jesus’ coming makes this possible.
  • v23: The third prophecy is really more a generalized statement from many prophets, which is plural in the text. The root word for “Nazarene” in the Hebrew means “root” or “branch”. Many believe that Matthew may have originally been written in Aramaic, but nevertheless Matthew was undoubtedly familiar with this word. Without a specific reference, it is impossible to know what prophecies Matthew had in mind, but Isaiah 11:1-16, specifically verses 1 and 10, Zechariah 6:12, Jeremiah 23:5, and Jeremiah 33:15 area few possibilities. These all speak of a future king in David’s line – a very familiar theme in Matthew.

The number of prophecies that Jesus fulfills is amazing. While it is difficult to quantify this probabilities, most all estimates put the probability of Jesus fulfilling just a few prophecies as odds that are so astronomical that the numbers become a statistical impossibility that he fulfills dozens if not hundreds of prophecies. In other words, it is no mere coincidence. The fulfillment of prophecies themselves are intermingled with historical events too. Matthew is not merely showing that Jesus fulfills prophecies, but that the fulfillments are anchored in real world events, not some vague references to motifs from the Old Testament. Given this, the fulfillment of prophecy vindicates Jesus’ message and mission as being true and from God! The message of Christ is not pie in the sky, rather it is realm message grounded in history that simply cannot be written off as legend. Christians can use the power of this testimony to Jesus as tool to point people to the reality of Jesus and the salvation that he brings!

Lord, all of history points to you! Help the world to know this truth!

Matthew 2:1-12: “We Have Come To Worship Him”

Read: Matthew 2:1-12

The Visit of the Magi or “Wise Men” as they are called in some translations has been the source of much speculation concerning both who the Magi actually were and the nature of the star that the observed in the sky that prompted them to travel to find and worship Jesus. While little is actually known about the Magi that visited Jesus, history does speak to the Magi in general. They were a priestly sect in Babylon that were known as astrologers, soothsayers, and magicians which is the same sect that couldn’t interpret the dreams in Daniel 2. They traveled the land seeking fulfillment of their visions. There is evidence that they traveled as far east as China and far west as Rome during the first centuries before and after Christ.

Those that did visit Jesus were obviously astrologers because they observed a celestial event. In the Greek language and in the Ancient Near East, all celestial bodies were called “stars”, even planets and comets. They did observe that some of these stars moved against the background of what appeared to be fixed stars. The star that the Magi observed for Jesus was one of these moving stars. In the Ancient Near East, when one of these wanderers would pass near another star or “wanderer”, such an even was called a conjunction and these events were seen by the astrologers as major events in history such as the birth of a new king. Exactly which event the Magi observed is unknown, but there were several events like this around the time of the birth of Christ.

The Magi upon traveling to find Jesus went to the place they would expect to find this child: the palace where the king would be. But Herod had not had a new son and most of them were already teenagers or grown by then. The news of a new King being born caused quite a stir, so they summoned the scribes to ascertain where this new king was born. They quote from Micah 5:2. Micah 5 is another prophecy given about the King of a Assyria and this tells of a king from Bethlehem that would deliver them from the hands of the Assyrians. (The Jews were likely expecting a political leader to deliver them from Rome, their contemporary “Assyria”). Herod obviously didn’t like this news, so he conspired to have the baby killed, but the Magi went back home another way.

For Christians, it’s hard to know what to make of the Magi. They were pagan astrologers, something that is actually frowned upon in the Bible (Deuteronomy 4:19, Isaiah 47:13-14). There’s no evidence that they went away converted either even though they had seen Jesus. Even their warning dream makes no mention of an angel unlike all the other dreams of Joseph that do make mention of an angel. Yet Matthew mentions them and that they did pay homage to him with traditional gifts given to kings. What can be said though is that the Magi were there to vindicate the fact that Jesus was the fulfillment of a prophecy from Micah 5:2 telling that a a king would be born in Bethlehem and deliver God’s people. The worshiped him and paid homage to him as if he were a king. This is certainly keeping with one of Matthew’s theme to establish Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and rightful heir to the throne of David. One day, every knee will bow before Jesus (Philippians 2:9-11). The question is not who, but how: some will do it in praise and adoration while others will do it in judgment. Christians can rest in the fact that they will do it in praise!

Lord, your are King! I worship and adore you!

Luke 4:14-30: Receiving Good News

Read: Luke 4:14-30

As Jesus went about preaching in Galilee, many received his message and glorified Jesus because of his message, but Jesus’ hometown spurned him when he preached in their synagogue. In the customary manner of synagogue, they would read from a scroll. On this day, Jesus read from Isaiah 61 which is a prophecy relating to how the prophet would preach good news that would be for the foreigner, poor, sick, captives, and brokenhearted. It notes how the one receiving the prophecy would be seen as a blessed people among the nations.

What Jesus says next though raised eyebrows – he claimed that the prophecy was being fulfilled “in their hearing”. There are two reason why. First, Jesus was the one preaching and the one’s hearing the message that was for the poor, captive, blind, oppressed among other traits listed in Isaiah. They took offense because they perceived that Jesus was indicating people of Nazareth were among these undesirable states. Second, they marveled at the “gracious words” coming from his mouth, but questioned his authority, saying he was merely “Joseph’s son” – not a prophet or anyone special for that matter that could fulfill this messianic prophecy. So they demanded a sign. They wanted Jesus to vindicate himself when they said “Physician, heal yourself”.

Jesus replies to their demand for a sign by noting that a prophet is without honor in his hometown, yet is well received by foreigners. He illustrates this from 2 Old Testament examples. The first he gives is from 1 Kings 17:8-16 where Elijah goes and lives in Sidon, which was in Pheonecia. The second was from 2 Kings 5, where Naaman the Syrian is healed from leprosy. In both cases, the prophets preached to foreigners, and in both cases the foreigners received the word from the prophet. In doing so, Jesus implicates Nazareth as being like a hard-hearted Israel, and they were enraged so much so that they wanted to kill by running him off a cliff.

Luke’s emphasis on social outcasts, women, and foreigners is evident here. But at the same time, Jesus’ message was for all that would receive it, even the Jews. The problem with the Jews though is they did not perceive themselves to be in need of a message for the downtrodden because they believed they had it all together. The ones that did receive it though were not from Jesus’ people, rather precisely the ones that Isaiah 61 speaks of. The truth of the matter is that everyone even today needs Jesus’ message because of sin (Romans 3:21-25). The question though is whether or not one will acknowledge that. One can be like the people of Nazareth and outright reject it or be like those from other towns and receive it gladly.

Lord, you bring good news! Let me receive it with arms wide open!

Luke 3:2-6: “Prepare the Way”

Read: Luke 3:2-6

John the Baptist was a kindred spirit to Jesus and apparently a relative too. His birth took place on months before Jesus’ birth did (Luke 1). The scriptures don’t contain anything about John’s early life, but the story of John picks up around the same time Jesus’ does in 29 AD. Luke likens John the Baptist to Isaiah as a prophet that “received the word of the Lord” (John 1:21) and went out into the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. John’s status as a prophet is confirmed by likening him to Elijah (Luke 1:17, John 1:25) and Jesus himself appealed to the testimony of John about himself as a witness to confirm the veracity of his message (John 5:31-34) because n that day and having a second testimony other than one’s own was necessary to deem a testimony as true. John’s witness to Jesus was set in place that when Jesus did come, he could point others to Jesus, as he did. John was calling people to repentance to prepare hearts to receive Jesus for salvation.

To drive the point home and link it to his theme of universally accessible salvation, Luke quotes from Isaiah 40:3-5 from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) noting that there was a voice crying out in the wilderness to “prepare the way of the Lord” The text in Isaiah is in the context of a text to no condemn people, rather to comfort them telling them of a one who is coming and will shepherd them. The chapter ends with the famous verse talking about how those that wait on the Lord will renew their strength and soar. John is the the voice calling out the wilderness who is preparing the way for Jesus, who is the Lord in Isaiah 40. Luke extends the quote from Isaiah more than Mark 1:3 does to include a quotation about the “salvation” of the Lord. Luke’s regard for the salvation of “all people” is evident here and elsewhere in Luke 2:30-32 and Luke 2:10.

Salvation was never intended to be limited only a select group of people, rather it is intended for all people everywhere. But salvation isn’t automatically applied to everyone, rather it requires that one have faith in Jesus. Christians that receive salvation then should be about the task of preparing the way for others to receive Christ. The Isaiah text speaks of level mountains, raising valleys, smoothing rough areas, and straitening paths so that the coming of the Lord will be easy and without resistance. Part of evangelism requires that removal of barriers so that everyone everywhere has a chance to receive Jesus without hindrance. Some barriers are cultural such as language or cultural beliefs. Other barriers may be preconceived notions about what it means to be a Christian. Whatever it may be, removing barriers people can come to Jesus, repent of their sins, and be saved!

Lord, show me the barriers that hinder the gospel and help me to remove them so more can be saved!

Luke 2:25-35: Blessing Through The Spirit

Luke 2:25-35: Blessings Through The Spirit

Luke notes that Simeon was a devout and righteous among Jews waiting for the “consolation” for Israel, which that is the comfort or solace of Israel, but more than that Luke notes that the Holy Spirit was with Simeon which was rare indeed prior to the ascension of Christ. The Holy Spirit had told him that he would not see death until he had seen the Christ, which was Jesus. Luke doesn’t say, but it is probably safe to assume that Simeon had been waiting for a long time for this day, and after seeing Jesus he praises the Lord, saying that he can die in peace.

Simeon also offers two blessings that are also prophecy in response to seeing Jesus – one to God and one to Mary. The first blessing Simeon notes that Jesus is God’s salvation for not only the Jews but also the Gentiles. He says that Jesus was the salvation prepared for “all people” and that Jesus light to the Gentiles. Mary and Joseph were both “marveled” about this, but then Simeon says to Mary a blessing that on the surface may not seem to be much of a blessing. The nature of the blessing notes that Mary’s heart would be pierced and that the child would be for the rising and falling of many in Israel. In other word, Jesus would be a stumbling block for some, but for others would be salvation, ultimately through his death and resurrection.

The connection between the Holy Spirit to blessings and prophecy is remarkable here and elsewhere in the New Testament. John 14:16-18 and later in John 14:26 calls the Holy Spirit a “helper” or “counselor” depending on the translation. The Greek word here is the noun form of the word Luke used in Luke 2:25 when he notes that Simeon was waiting for the “consolation” of Israel, which is “paraklētos”. It was through the Spirit that Simeon was able to know Jesus when he saw him, bless God and bless Mary, and ultimate prophecy concerning Jesus. The Spirit was also upon the disciples when they spoke at Pentecost to in a similar manner (Acts 1:4-8, Acts 2:1-4).

It was after Pentecost though that the Spirit became available to all those who repent and believe in Jesus (Acts 2:38), not only Jews but Gentiles as well. For Christians that are in the in tune with the Spirit there is much that they can sense that those that are not in tune cannot. God works through the Spirit which enables Christians to do the work that God has set out for them. It is imperative then to seek out the will of God by devoutly walking in righteousness the way as Simeon did, and in doing so the Spirit can work!

Lord, use your Spirit to do your work through me!

 

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!

Luke 1:67-80: Praise and Prophecy

Read: Luke 1:67-80

After Zacharias and Elizabeth had named John, Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit. He issues up a song that is both praise and prophecy. The song starts with an accolade to God’s grace and mercy. He notes the “horn of salvation’ in the “house of David”. Zacharias was a priest so he was likely from the Levitical line. His wife Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron from which the Levitical line came too (Luke 1:5). Zacharias notes later that John would prepare the way for the Lord and notes that he would proclaim the message of Salvation which is Jesus who is the horn of Salvation from the house of David. Zacharias also recalls the promise to Abraham. This alludes to the when Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, but the Lord stopped him. And from this, God promised to Abraham that he’d have countless descendants that would bless the nations (Genesis 22:16-18).

The second part of the song is a prophecy pertaining specifically to John, where Zacharias tells what John would do: he would prepare the way for the Lord and proclaim the message of salvation to the people of Israel. John did precisely this before Jesus started his ministry. He proclaimed a message of salvation and repentance of sin in proclaimed that Jesus would come. And at this point, John would point to Jesus as the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world (Luke 3:1-23).

Zacharias’ prophecy was fulfilled during the lifetime of Jesus. There are many other prophecy in the New Testament though that have not been fulfilled. While Christians wait for these prophecies to be fulfilled, Christians can praise God for what he has done in the work of Jesus – the horn of Salvation that came to save the nations from their sins.

Lord, I praise you for what you have done and what you will do!

Luke 1:57-66: “What Then Will This Child Be”

Read: Luke 1:57-66

Jews were people of tradition, and they kept detailed records of family genealogies. Many times, sons were known by their fathers or a significant ancestor. Naming a son or daughter after a significant relative was a way of honoring that relative, as it is many cultures even today. When Elizabeth and Zachariah broke from tradition and name their son a name that hadn’t been used was a marker of significant—there was something special about this child. Elizabeth and Zacharias independently choosing cemented what they already believed to so. Elizabeth spoke the name, but Zacharias could not speak because he had doubted God, so he wrote down the name. Nevertheless, God had given them a son in their old age and they weren’t the only people who saw the significance of this. When the news spread of what happened, many were amazed and asked, “What then will this child be”.

On this side of history, we know the significance of John. He would be the one to prepare the way for Jesus as a prophet likened to Elijah. When Jesus did come John baptized Jesus. John’s message was a message of repentance and forgiveness that lead up to Jesus who would be the savior of the world.

From time to time, God breaks into the repetition and traditions of the lives of Christians reveals something significant. Like Elizabeth and Zacharias, we should be in tune with the Holy Spirit in such a way that we recognize where God is at work and respond appropriately. And at times things will unfold in such a way that people will ask, “What then will this be?” and watch as God’s plan unfolds.

Lord, help me see where you are at work and join in!

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