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 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 1:46-56: Song of the Humble

Read: Luke 1:46-56

Mary’s song in response to Elizabeth’s greeting bring is about bringing the utmost glory to God for what he had done in her life concerning Jesus’ conception. God saw an unpretentious woman who feared him and he exalted her because of it. When Mary speaks her verse, she extols the Lord in a number of ways, but the point being that God extends mercy and blessings to those who are humble and seek him, yet scorns those who are proud for whatever reason.

The juxtaposition of Jesus exalting the lowly and scorning the proud is a common theme all throughout the New Testament (Luke 14:1, Luke 18:14, Matthew 5:3, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5-6 and many others) and the Old Testament (Psalm 138:6, Proverbs 3:34, Proverbs 15:33, Proverbs 16:18-19, Proverbs 29:23, Isaiah 57:15 and many others). God undoubtedly prefers such people who are humble because these are the people who truly know there place before God, and when something extraordinary happens they turn the glory back to God rather than themselves.

The theme of God opposing a proud heart was not new in Jesus’ day and is not something new even until now. God does not turn a blind eye to those that seek his face and do it with a pure heart. Genuine humility is not about trying to make sure that everyone else knows sees one’s humility, rather being mindful of God in a quiet way as one live his or her life as Mary was doing when God chose her. Because she was humble, obedient, and believed God, she was blessed. And she turned the glory back to God when she was.

Lord, help me to remain humble and praise you when you exalt the humble.

Hebrews 13:1-18: “Outside the Gate”

Read: Hebrews 13:1-18

If one could produce a list of similar to the 10 Commandments in the New Testament, Hebrews 13 could probably suffice. In this chapter, the author of Hebrews exhorts his readers with a number of commands to follow that are in line with Christian principles:

  1. Love one another (v1).
  2. Be hospitable to strangers (v2). You very well may be entertaining angels!
  3. Remember those in prison (v3). This is probably talking about those who had been imprisoned for the same of the gospel such as Paul and Timothy.
  4. Honor marriage (v4).
  5. Be free from the love of money (v5).
  6. Remember, obey and imitate your leaders (v7, v17).
  7. Stay true to the teachings of Jesus (v8-9)
  8. Pray for the author (18-19). Apparently, he had been sent away or taken away for some reason, perhaps imprisoned.
  9. Praise God with worship and service to others (v15-16)

In the midst of these commands, the author of Hebrews makes one final doctrinal point concerning the sacrifice of bulls that are made in the tabernacle. Part of the blood and parts of the bull were used as a sin sacrifice, but the rest of the body was taken outside the camp and burned. When Jesus made his sacrifice though, the entire sacrifice was made outside the camp – his blood along with his entire body. The location is key here, because Jesus was ultimately rejected by the religious establishment of his day. Nevertheless, it was through his sacrifice that people are sanctified. In light of this sacrifice, the author encourages his readers to offer “sacrifices” of praise to God and good deeds to others. These are the sorts of sacrifices pleasing to God anyways (Micah 6:7-8).

Christian ideas and principles aren’t always accepted in every culture in every time. Nevertheless, in the same manner Jesus suffered “outside the gate”, Christians ought to suffer scorn even when their ideas aren’t popular. But what awaits Christians when they meet Jesus face to face is of much greater value than anything that being accepted by the world can offer. Knowing this can help encourage Christians as they walk through life, keeping Christ’s commands and holding fast to the promises he has given.

Lord, you weren’t popular when you came, but you endured for my sake!
Help me to do no less for your sake!

Hebrews 12:18-29: Zion vs. Sinai

Read: Hebrews 12:18-29

The picture painted in Hebrews of Mount Sinai is a terrifying one. It’s a place shrouded in clouds and lightning and so holy that anything that touched the mountain would die (Exodus 19). Moses brought the people of Israel out of Egypt to this mountain and it was here that God gave them the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20). It was also here that the Israelites built a “god” for themselves – a golden calf – and those that worshiped it were also put to death (Exodus 32).  This mountain was unapproachable and menacing. The author of Hebrews doesn’t leave things there. He tells his readers of another mountain, namely Mount Zion in heaven. This is the mountain of God in heaven in the New Jerusalem that is a place of worship and joy. It is also a place in which those who have been redeemed by Jesus can enter into.

The author of Hebrews contrast between Sinai and Zion is deliberate to make a strong point: because God is approachable now, his warnings against sin should be heeded with even more fervor than before. This is because God here warns from heaven, and the testimony is given by a stronger blood than even that of the innocence of Abel (Genesis 4:10), namely the blood of Jesus. Furthermore, the author warns of impending judgment. One day, God is going to shake more than a mountain when he comes down – he will shake the heavens and the earth (Haggai 2:6-7). That which cannot shaken is that which will remain.

The Israelites at Sinai never saw God, but they did witness his presence and were terrified. Christians, having received the promise through Jesus, are able to enter into the presence of God through Jesus. But this should never be taken lightly, because while God loves all people, one cannot forget that God is a holy God who should be worshiped with awe and reverence. Hebrews calls God a “consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24) and rightfully so because God is holy, and one day he will exercise judgment.

Lord, I don’t want to be burned! Help be to love you by living righteously!

Hebrews 1:4-14: Jesus is Superior to Angels

Read: Hebrews 1:4-14

The author of Hebrews takes a two prong approach to showing the supremacy of Christ from Old Testament quotations. He shows that Jesus receives a status higher than the angels and also shows that angels are the messengers of God – a status lower than that of Jesus. The author of Hebrews draws upon a number of texts from the Psalms to show these two different statuses.

  • Verse 5a quotes Psalms 2:7. The author or Hebrews likens Psalm 2 about a king that is called the “son” of God who will receive the ends of the earth as his inheritance. The likening to Jesus is obvious here, as Jesus is the Son of God. Luke in Acts 13:33 picks up on this Psalm too as a pointer to Jesus.
  • Verse 5b quotes Psalm 89:26-27. Psalm 89 praises the mightiness of God, then turns to focus in a chosen one, namely David (Psalm 89:20), who calls God his “Father”. This chosen one will, like the king in Psalm 2, inherit the earth. The author of Hebrews likens this to Jesus as well in. These verses along with Psalm 2:7 show the father-son relationship between God the Father and God the Son.
  • Verse 6 quotes Psalm 97:7 and also from Deuteronomy 32:43 in the Septuagint. The Hebrew Old Testament uses the word “אלהים”, (pronounced “el-o-heem”). The Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) translates this to the Greek word for “angels” instead of “gods” likes like English Bibles do. The word “אלהים” is actually a plural in Hebrew, but the plurality can be used to show the majesty of the singular, one true God, which is the most common use of the word. When used as a plural, it can refer to angels, magistrates (Psalms 82), or gods in general. The author of Hebrews is applying the word to angels worshiping “him”, namely Jesus, who the psalm describes as magnificent.
  •  Verse 7 quotes Psalms 104:4. This psalm talks about the splendor and majesty of God. In the midst of the Psalm, the Psalmist says that God makes his “messengers” wind. In the Greek, the word for “angel” and “messenger” are one in the same. In any case, what the author is establishing that God makes his messengers (angels) winds that go out to do his bidding. Likewise, this verse talks about “tongues of fire” that are servants. Isaiah in a vision sees seraphim – blazing, serpent like creatures – hovering around the throne of God (Isaiah 6:2). This is probably a reference to these creatures. Both these allusions are to the servant-like roles the angels provide (Hebrews 1:14).
  • Verses 8-9 quote Psalm 45:6-7. Psalm 45 is a love song given to a king and to God, seemingly interchangeably. It praises the righteousness of God and how the king loves righteousness too. Because the king loves righteousness, the king is anointed by God. The author of Hebrews applies this anointing to Jesus.
  • Verses 10-12 quote Psalm 102:25-27. This psalm compares the eternalness of God to the finiteness of the created world. The author of Hebrews applies this eternalness to Jesus too.
  • Verse 13 quotes Psalm 110:1: This verse is quoted or alluded to many times in the New Testament (Matthew 22:41-46, Mark 12:35-37, Acts 2:34-35, Hebrews 10:12-13). This psalm speaks of a Yahweh saying to the psalmist’s “lord”, telling this “lord” to sit at the right hand of God. Hebrews likens this “lord” to Jesus, who claims the right hand of God in a number of places elsewhere in the New Testament (Mark 16:9, Mark 14:62 (paraphrasing from Daniel 7:13-14) Acts 5:31, Acts 7:56, Romans 8:34, Ephesians 1:20, Colossians 3:1, 1 Peter 3:22, and Revelation 5:7). Hebrews 10 later expounds on this psalm saying that Jesus is king who is also a priest like Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18).

These seven quotations show, as verse 14 concludes, that the angels are in subservient rolls while Jesus is in a roll of power, praise, and authority such that even the angels worship and bow down to him. The author of Hebrews wanted to establish that Jesus is higher than even the angels who worshiped around the throne, and in doing so shows the supremacy of Christ. This is important because Hebrews 2:6-9 establish that man was created lower than the angels. While Jesus was a man, his rightful was a place of authority that receives worship and from man and the angels.

Like angels, people too are the servants and ministers of Jesus. The authority, power, and majesty of Jesus elicit a response of awe and wonder from all who dare to gaze upon him. When Christians think about Jesus, they generally like to think about his love, compassion, mercy, and humanity. These things are certainly true, but one cannot forget the awesomeness of Jesus either! He truly is worthy of worship.

Lord, you are worshiped and served by angels and men alike. No one else is higher than you!

Ecclesiastes 5:1-7: Vows

Read: Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

Better not to make a vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it – these are wise words coming from the Preacher in Ecclesiastes. The Jews of his day were certainly religious. Israel had the temple in Jerusalem, and they would make offerings there to God and make vows before God. There offerings were made here too.  The Preacher’s concern for vows is that in not fulfilling one’s vows, one becomes a liar – that is he or she says one thing and does another. The warning is against rash vows made by what the Preacher calls fools. They would go before God and make grandiose promises without thinking them through to completion. The Preacher wants people to be slow to speak before God who is in heaven. God is exalted to be feared and the Preacher encourages one to consider his position before uttering anything before God.

Leviticus 27 covers an assortment of vows people make before the Lord. A person could dedicate himself, an animal, his house, a field among many other things to the Lord. These items were deemed “holy” and became property of the priests for the purposes of the priests. The person would make a vow to dedicate such items then the priest would determine its value. These acts were not compulsory, rather they were completely voluntary. There was no law prescribing how much or how little the Israelites should give or if they should give at all. The Preacher is encouraging his readers to consider what they are doing carefully before making any sort of commitment to the Lord concerning vows.

The nature of vows had become by Jesus day and probably long before then a means of displaying one’s piety in public for all to see. Jesus speaks to this matter in Matthew 5:33-37. Some were apparently swearing upon anything number of things from the temple to the footstool of God as if the level of whatever they were swearing undergirded the fecundity of the vow. Jesus says that one should not swear on anything at all, rather just in a manner of simplicity, one should fulfill his or her vow, rather than make grandiose promises among other things.

Peter’s denial of Christ is a principal example of the foolishness that the Preacher is warning against. Peter, on the night of the Lord’s betrayal made a grandiose promise to never deny Jesus (John 13:36-38). Jesus knew that this was not true. Rather he predicts that before the rooster crowed the next morning, Peter would deny him three times. Peter realized what he had done and wept bitterly. He had failed to fulfill his vow concerning never denying Jesus.

In the same manner Christians would do well to heed the wisdom offered by the Preacher – don’t make hasty vows before God. One should consider the cost of what he or she is doing. When one does make a vow, one should, as Jesus taught, let his “yes” be yes and “no” be no. Vows can be a rich act of worship, acting on one’s own initiative before the Lord in a voluntary manner rather than a compulsory manner as one would do in following commandments. The blessing of a vow is not the display of piety, rather the satisfaction of knowing that one has been faithful in an act of worship to God. In the end, God wants the faithfulness of his people rather than the grandeur of promises.

Lord, let my words be few and my “yes” be yes!

2 Timothy 2:8-13: “A Trustworthy Saying”

Read: 2 Timothy 2:8-12

Paul here commands Timothy to remember the basic facts concerning Jesus: He rose from the dead, and was a descendant from David, according to what Paul says is “my” gospel. 1 Corinthians 15:4-9 lays out some more basic facts concerning Jesus: he was crucified, buried, was raised on the third day, an appeared to many of his followers. These facts undergird the message that Timothy preaches. He is not to preach something that is speculation, but something that is grounded in real life events. Paul was convinced of these facts, and thus believed the implications of the facts as much as he did the facts themselves (2 Timothy 2:8-12). The facts compel him to suffer for the sake of the gospel. He had been imprisoned because of what he was preaching, but he knows that the gospel itself has been loosed to the world, and Paul is willing to endure so that all the more may obtain salvation.

This prompts Paul to recall a saying concerning. The saying expresses some facts and implications of these facts. The Greek construction of this saying is symmetrical such that many scholars think this is a hymn or poem that was recited by early Christians. The facts is followed by the implication in an “if this then that” form. The poem speaks of the fact that because Christians “die” with Christ, they will also live with him (implicit is the fact that he rose from the dead), the fact those who endure will be rewarded for faithful services, the fact that those who reject Christ will be rejected by Christ, and that even when Christians are faithless he is faithful. This saying served to remind the Christians of the rewards of faithful service, and the gravity of the task that they were fulfilling: that those that reject Christ face judgment.

When Christians think about hymns and songs in the Bible, thy will almost always think about the Psalms. Believe it or not, the New Testament contains hymns too. Here are some possible hymns: 1 Timothy 6:15-16,  2 Timothy 2:11-13,  Philippians 2:6-11, Revelation 15:3-4, 1 Timothy 3:16, Colossians 1:15-20, Hebrews 1:3-4. Sometimes these are difficult to spot because music in the first century was not the same as modern music. For Greek poetry, rhyme and rhythm were not that important, but rather they were metrical, a pattern of long syllables and short syllables. Hebrew poetry focuses on rhythm and parallelism. It is obvious what texts in the Old Testament are poetic, but for the New Testament these hymns are not obvious. Scholars are still not if all the passages that have been identified as hymn are indeed hymns. Some are more certain. The hymns themselves though would have had to predate the books that contain them in order to be recorded in the books. It is likely that the early Christian church composed hymns to be sung during worship times. This is analogous to man many cultures today that still have no complete Bible translation, but they have songs in their language that communicate the truth of Jesus. These Christian hymns show that much of the theology that is expressed in the New Testament was established before the New Testament was composed, mitigating the charge that the New Testament was fabricated because it was written long after Jesus ascended.

Paul calls the hymn in 2 Timothy a “trustworthy saying”, and indeed it is. Paul encourages the early churches to speak and teach one another in song (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16), and this likewise goes out to Christian today. Paul admonished Timothy with a song to remind him of the work that one does for Christ. Christians today have plethora of songs in many genres of music used to communicate the truth of God, and songs can be a means of encouragements or come as a way of reminder. They can also teach the truth of scriptures. Rather than bicker over what style of music is right for worship, Christians should be encouraging one another with songs of all sorts to help draw people closer to God rather than put stumbling block in their way. No matter what the style may be, the truth communicated through song is what most important!

Lord, let my song praise you, encourage others, and teach your truth!

John 4:19-26

Read John 4:19-26

Apparently, the woman at the well did not understand the “living water” that Jesus was talking was not actual water, rather a metaphor to speak of the sort of life that comes from salvation. Water is a common metaphor used in scripture because of its life-giving properties (Psalm 1:1-6, Psalm 36:8-9, Isaiah 12:1-3, Isaiah 44:3, Revelation 7:17, Revelation 22:1-2, Revelation 22:17). Jesus calls himself the source of this living water and the one who drinks it will have a spring within him welling up to eternal life. The difference between a well and a spring would have been obvious – rather than having to do the laborious work of drawing water out of a well, the water is brought to the surface by a spring. Jesus also uses the same metaphor in John 7:37-39. The promise here is that all who believe in him will have rivers of living water. John notes that this is the Spirit of God living in the life of believers, but the Spirit had not been given because Jesus had not been glorified.

It would seem that Jesus is trying to change the subject in John 4:16, but this is probably not the case. Jesus was trying to reach her. He knew she had no husband, but she had had five previously – a clear demonstration of Jesus’ omniscience. When the woman realized that Jesus knew so much about her, she calls him a prophet and drops a theological question pertaining to the temple’s location. The Samaritans had built a temple similar to the one in Jerusalem on Mount Gerizim that was probably within eye sight of where they were at the well. The woman claimed that “our fathers”, that is the common ancestors of the Jews and Samaritans, worshiped on that mountain. This was perhaps a true statement sense Abraham passed through there in Genesis 12:6 and Jacob bought the plot of land on which the well sat in Genesis 33:18-19. The Jews said that worship was to be Jerusalem at the temple per the command in Deuteronomy 12:1-15 to seek the place God will choose a site for sacrifice, and this was fulfilled in 2 Chronicles 7:10-12.

Jesus’ answer is probably no clearer to her than his previous answer, but it does answer the question. The Samaritans worship what they do not know, but the Jews worship what they do know. The schism between the Samaritans and the Jews had apparently caused the Samaritans to go astray in that they were worshiping something other than God, something other than the truth. But the Jews had the clearer revelation because salvation came from the Jews (Romans 3:2, Romans 9:5) – that is they had the truth.  Jesus says a day is coming and it is then and now when no one will worship in Jerusalem or on the Mount Gerizim. They will worship in “spirit and in truth”, and God is seeking such worshipers because. Because God is spirit, true worshipers must worship in spirit and truth. Worshiping in the truth would be the worship of the saved, which is all who believe in Jesus. Worshiping in spirit would be worshiping in the same manner of who God is. The contrast here is similar to the contrast between the well and the spring. The worship at the mentioned temples was ritualistic and laborious like drawing water from a well. But worship in spirit and truth is like the spring – it’s driven by the Spirit of God.

The woman at the well did get one thing right: she knew that when the Messiah came he would tell “all things”. Perhaps she was counting on the Messiah to set the record straight on who had the right place for the temple or maybe she realized that what Jesus had told her about her past was something only a prophet, or perhaps the Messiah, could do. Whatever her expectations were for the Messiah, Jesus was able to speak the truth about her past and about all things about true spiritual worship. Jesus then declares that he is the one of whom she spoke.

Believers in Christ are the true worshipers that God is seeking. The spring of living water that comes from the Holy Spirit abiding in one’s heart is what compels the believer to worship. It is often the desire of Christians to want to do something for God by going to church, tithing, or doing good things. While these things are not bad, what God wants more than deeds is a broken spirit and a contrite heart (Psalm 51:10-17). In addition to humility, God wants justice and mercy too (Micah 6:6-8). God can work with people who come to him in humility and accept is grace and forgiveness. He can fill them with the Holy Spirit and give them a well spring of living water!

Lord, I want your living water! Take my heart and renew it! Fill me with your Spirit so I can have the well spring of water in my life!