Matthew 8:29 | Demons

Do you believe that demons exist? When I was younger the idea of creepy monsters or evil aliens would make me unnerved. I remember as a teenager watching, of all things, Larry King on CNN. He was broadcasting his show from the middle of a cornfield at night. They had set up a stage with bright lights focused on him on this stage. He sat at his desk in the normal talk show format, but in the background was darkness and the outline of corn stalks. His topic was a special on aliens and I was completely unnerved and found the setting a little scary. I would not have been surprised if Aliens announced their presence to Larry King on that stage at that very moment.

Any look through history will find stories of demons, goblins, and monsters off all forms that kill and terrorize the population. In contemporary America one would not be hard pressed to find mainstream scientists or celebrities convinced that aliens exist. Yet from within these same groups one might be hard pressed to find public acknowledgment that demons and specifically Satan exist because we are now “civilized”. This is because contemporary America is a materialist society. Only the material world matters. Only the physical world is real. Ghosts, goblins, and demons are fun stories but Aliens are real because they exist in the material world. It is hard to believe in God let alone evil demons when one is cutoff and blind to the spiritual nature of humanity.

28 And when [Jesus] came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way.29 And behold [the demons] cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Matthew 8:29 ESV

The gospel accounts make regular notice of Jesus encountering “demon possessed” people. All four gospels reference demonic encounters as if this was normal. In this instance the author uses the Greek word δαίμων (daimōn) which means inferior gods to describe that these men living in the cemetery were possessed by. While these so called gods were tormenting the people they possessed they also tormented anyone that came near. When they approached Jesus the demons cried out asking if he had come to torment them before the appointed time. It is an interesting exchange.

While all this talk of demons is normal in the New Testament one would think that demons would be spoken of in the Old Testament but that is not the case. Very few times do scholars translate any Hebrew texts using the word demon. The Hebrew word for demon שֵׁד (shed) only occurs twice and in both instances the author is referencing rampant idol worship making clear that the idols of wood, metal, and stone that the people worshiped were the retail front of evil demons.

37 They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; 38 they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters. whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood. Psalms 106:37-38 ESV

Every generation deals with this spiritual reality in their own way. The ancient people worshiped demons by way of idols and false Gods and contemporary Americans worship demons by way of materialism. The contemporary culture ignores that we are more than our physical bodies. Most ignore any spiritual reality at all fooling themselves into thinking that the materialism or science they worship is somehow void of spiritual truth. Worshiping themselves they are influenced by the demonic without even being aware.

Demons hate God and want to destroy his image on earth. Since mankind was created in the image of God then we are all a target of their hate. It is no wonder that child sacrifice has always been a marker of their presence. Imagine God’s people sacrificing their own children to a demonic idol in the old testament. Is it not horrifying? How could they be so barbaric we think. Now realize that this same child sacrifice continues today but in a much more accepted way through abortion. Babies are sacrificed to the gods, demons, of materialism and convenience every day.  

They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded. 18 You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth. Deuteronomy 32:17-18 ESV

When I was younger the idea of occult or aliens caused me to fear. As an adult I recognize the demons that they represent and my fear of the unknown is no more. Jesus was not afraid of the demons in fact they were exposed from their hiding places and became afraid of Him. The four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) reference demons more than 40 times between them. This is far more than the rest of the Bible combined. Jesus deals with our physical needs but he primarily is concerned with our eternal spiritual state. Is it no surprise that the demonic was exposed and dealt with everywhere he went?

Where have demons set up shop in your life? What do you worship that is not the one true living God? Jesus came that we would have freedom and life restored to worship our maker.

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Matthew 4:10 ESV

Matthew 8:10 | Marveled

I love the word “marvel” it is an interesting word. I liked reading Marvel Comics when I was young the art work and the words used to tell the story of a superhero doing “marvelous” things or having marvelous abilities. In real life we might say that athletes on the court or on the field perform marvelous feats of skills. Sometimes I marvel at things my kids say or take an interest in. To marvel at something is to be surprised and to wonder in amazement. In the gospels we find a time of marveling. Mary marvels at her son Jesus. The crowds marvel at Jesus. Roman governors marvel at Jesus. The disciples marvel at Jesus. Even the Pharisees marvel at Jesus. Can we blame them? Jesus walks on water. He controls the wind and waves. He raises the dead. How can they not marvel at this man, his authority, and his miracles? God in the flesh is something to truly marvel at.

While the Greek word for marvel or wonder (θαυμάζω – thaumazō) is used eight times in the book of Matthew it is also used freely in the other gospels of Luke, Mark, and even John. Luke the physician uses the word in his gospel even more than Matthew. The impact of Jesus on these men is profound. Yet Matthew and Luke recount a moment when a Roman Centurion (commander of 100 men) ask for Jesus to heal one of his servants.

10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. Matthew 8:10 ESV

The way this man approached Jesus. The faith of this foreigner in Jesus is amazing and both Mathew and Luke use the world “marvel” to describe the reaction from Jesus. Here is God working miracles and teaching the people how he wants them to live and he marvels at this soldier. Now God can’t learn anything new so he knows this man but the moment of wonder is still amazing to God.

What is it that this man said or did that moved Jesus to amazement? Did this solider go out and win a battle to make God marvel? Did he earn a billion dollars to elicit such marvel? What act of good deeds did this soldier undertake? What is it that makes God marvel? Jesus explains his marveling in the very same verse. Here is Luke’s version of the same.

9 When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Luke 7:9 ESV

I marvel at the fact that Jesus was impressed by the faith of this soldier. This solider came to Jesus and trusted him to take care of the problem. This solider had more faith than anyone else in all of Israel. I marvel at that. Jesus is recorded as marveling one other time in the Gospels. Any guess what he marveled at? The answer is “Faith” he marveled at the faith of an entire town but with a twist.

He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him… And [his hometown] took offense at him… 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief. Mark 6:1-6 ESV

This is the only other time that Jesus marvels, not because of great faith, but because of unbelief or a lack of faith. Faith in God is clearly what moves God and makes him marvel.

6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6 ESV

What moves God? A blessed life, a big home, a large family, athletic ability, smarts, money, or power? No God is not impressed by any of those things. Faith! God can be impressed with our faith in him. If you have not already done so is now the time to draw near to him in faith trusting the unseen God who is ever present? Jesus is the priest and he facilitates our connection with God. Will you submit to him and see him marvel at your faith?

22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:21-22 ESV

Matthew 6:6-13 | How to Pray

According to the Pew Research center 55% of Americans say they pray every day. That seems high to me. Do people lie about praying or do they actually pray every single day? It begs the question what is “prayer”? Is this prayer formal recitation of the Lord’s Prayer? Is prayer a type of yoga meditation? Is prayer a quiet conversation between God and an individual? Do families say grace before dinner and does that count? Looking up a formal definition of prayer one might find something similar to this: “A petition made to anything that one might worship”. Maybe a portion of those who say they pray every day are praying a fox hole prayer asking God so save them from the deadly mess of life gone wrong.

7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:7-8 ESV

When Jesus taught his disciples about prayer, he spent time on what prayer should look like. Jesus himself prayed and reading the gospel accounts of Jesus gives a window into his prayers and his methods. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus is shown praying at least 5 times.

In addition to the example that Jesus set with his own life we have the response Jesus gave the disciples when they asked him teach them how to pray. Jesus responded with the Lord’s Prayer and it is a template or a model to see if our prayers real and honest.

9 Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

Matthew 6:9-13 ESV

Prayer is not a chant. Prayer is not Shakespearean prose. And prayer is not a demand to God. Prayer is not mindless words spoken over and over again. When I start a small group of new Christians and I ask if anyone would like to pray and there is an uncomfortable silence that falls on the group because most likely none of them have ever prayed out loud and they are afraid that they are doing something wrong or will say the wrong thing. But anyone who has been a Christian for anytime already knows the Lord’s Prayer.

In addition to the Lord’s prayer we also have the prayers Jesus prayed right before being taken to the cross.

39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:3

Jesus prayed an honest heart felt real conversation with God. Much may be learned from this prayer of Jesus but I want to focus on an interesting fact… Jesus did not get what he wanted from God. I will say that again. Jesus asked for the pain, abuse, and death of the cross to pass by. Jesus was not looking forward to his death anymore than any other person. He prayed asking if there was another way to let this event pass him by. Jesus knew that there is was no other way. Jesus knew this is what God wanted for him. So, Jesus being honest with God asks for another plan, but then yield’s to God’s perfect plan. It is a profound example for me to think on. Not my will Father but yours.

Do your prayers have any of these attributes found in the Lord’s Prayer or this prayer that Jesus himself prayed to God? In the Lord’s prayer we find him giving glory to God, acknowledging God’s Kingship on earth and in heaven, asking for what is needed to get through today, that we should ask for forgiveness of our sins just as we have forgiven people who have sinned against us, and a request to be safe from temptation and sin. If your prayers are all God give me give me give me then yes that is wrong. Pray by telling God that you will yield to his will and his plans. Take a moment and tell God from your own lips that you know he is the Creator and that all good things come from him for his glory. Ask him to forgive you and in your heart forgive others. This is what real relational prayer with God looks like.

Matthew 4:17 | The Way Forward

What is the primary message of Jesus when he was on earth teaching? Would any of the following be able to sum up what Jesus taught… God is love, help the poor, don’t judge, love everyone, be a good person? While true to a degree none of these summaries is even close to true on their own. Many want to use their conception of Jesus as a talking point to support an agenda, a political view, or to justify some lifestyle. The reality however is that the message of Jesus demands a radical change of heart in the hearer.

17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17 ESV

When Jesus started his ministry before he calls any of the disciples Matthew writes that Jesus preached a message of “repentance”. This word “Repent” means to reconsider the morality of your life. Jesus preached saying “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. Jesus started his ministry telling people that they needed to change the focus and priority of their life from one of selfishness to one that is focused on the priority of God in heaven. For example are you focused on making money because you want to be rich. Repent! Money will buy you nothing in God’s kingdom. Are you seeking to fulfill lusts of the flesh by living the mantra if it feels good do it? Repent! Your lusts will lead you to death and will have no part in God’s kingdom. Do you hate those who have wronged you? Repent! Hate reveals a murderous heart and murders have no part of the kingdom of God. I could go on. Paul sums things up better than me…

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 ESV

Jesus taught the disciples a message of Repentance. Paul continued that teaching and the disciples continued that teaching. Peter in his first sermon after Jesus ascended to heaven concluded his preaching with a message of repentance.  

38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38 ESV

The “gospel” of Jesus Christ (his main message) is a message of repentance. The gospel is not a message that God loves but you can continue to do whatever you want. The gospel message of repentance means that you will want to turn away from anything that is wrong and turn to God who is right.The gospel is not do good stuff and maybe God will let you into his kingdom. The gospel is good news that God became a man (Immanuel = God with us) named Jesus (Jesus literally means “God Saves”) to provide a way for us to repent and restore ourselves in right standing with God. In church talk this is summarized by saying Jesus Saves.

4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. Romans 2:4-8 ESV

God loves so much and He has been so kind to us that he is giving men and women a chance to repent. The good news is that repentance is possible. Turn from the way the world operates in selfishness and sin. Run from the death of whatever feels good do it and turn toward the selfless, servant like morality that Jesus offers. Peter in his sermon clearly states that Repentance leads to forgiveness from God and that God who is loving will give to you His Holy Spirit that will change us to an acceptable citizen of the kingdom that is at hand.

Matthew 4:3 | The Tempter

Satan is a topic that generates views. Some of the posts to this blog that receive the most views over time deal with the topic of Satan. Good vs. Evil. Evil is everywhere it is in every family. People are looking for assurance that good will win. The sad part is that evil does in fact have a power on earth right now. There is a spiritual war that spills over into this physical creation. People are slaves to the evil in this war. We like to think that people are basically good but in reality, people are basically selfish and self-absorbed and God calls that nature in us evil. The good news for any reader that is overwhelmed and overcome by evil is that God has already won. Satan is not a co-equal force balancing out God’s good. The truth is that Satan already lost the war and God is working out the last of his perfect plans to restore all that was broken by our evil.

It is hard to believe that Satan has already lost but he has. If we back up to the moment that Jesus is about to start his ministry we will see where Jesus overcame Satan. Jesus has gained a few followers but he has not yet started the calling on his life. Jesus approaches John the Baptist who has a ministry that is already in progress and he asks John to baptize him. At the conclusion of the baptism God himself in an audible voice for all to hear establishes Jesus to start teaching, performing signs, and calling followers.

16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:16-17 ESV

Imagine this moment. One of the few times where God, with a voice from heaven, speaks audibly. Jesus is “my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”. Could God be any clearer to both the physical world and the spiritual world who Jesus is to him? Jesus heard this voice. Satan heard this voice. Yet Satan in his first approach to Jesus in the wilderness questions just that.

3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Matthew 4:3 ESV

“If you are” is the opening line. “If you are” is a slap in the face to God and Jesus since God just spoke into the physical world that Jesus is God’s son. Satan knows Jesus is the Son of God yet he tries to put doubt in Jesus as to if that is true. If Jesus already knows it to be true why does he need to prove anything to Satan? I see this line all the time when people demand I prove God exists. They say “If God exists then he should be able to show himself” as a mocking challenge. God does not perform tricks for our amusement. It is like the jester demanding the King perform a juggling act. It is clear to me that God does exists just looking at the complexity of this physical reality. It is foolish from my perspective to think that this happened randomly. And even more foolish to imagine the physical world coming from of nothing. There was nothing and then bang. The princess kissed the frog and then in a billion years the frog became a prince.

Questioning God is Satan’s first line of attack and it seems to be the most successful since so many fall for the lie just like Adam and Eve did at the start.

3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Genesis 3:3 ESV

Satan comes at Jesus with the same line he came to Adam and Eve. Did God really say that? If he did this to Adam and Jesus then maybe we should all stop and ask ourselves if we are hearing such a line. “Did God really say” and fill in the blank. Did God really say… don’t lie, don’t be sexually immoral, or Did God really say worship me and me alone? This is probably the same lie Satan tells himself when he is alone. God said he created me but did he really?

Jesus unlike Adam and Eve did not question what God had plainly spoken “my beloved Son”. Jesus knew where he stood with God and Jesus speaks the truth back to Satan.

But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Mathew 4:4 ESV

Jesus reminds Satan of the truth. Words spoken “from the mouth of God” that he is indeed the Son of God. Jesus rejected the lies and lies are the only power Satan has in this confrontation.

44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 1 Corinthians 15:44-47 ESV

Jesus overcame Satan in the wilderness that day. Jesus a man from heaven overcame what the man from earth failed. Dear reader now is the time to embrace and live by the words that come from the mouth of God.

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Matthew 4:10 ESV

Matthew 2:11 | Wise Indeed

worship

It is an interesting phenomenon that we can be blind to our own shortcomings. We can look at others and quickly point out all the things they are doing wrong, but never see ourselves through the same critical lens. Religious peoples and even peoples within a same ethnic group are the same way. We get caught up in an echo chamber hearing only the words we want to hear about how great we are. Or people get caught up in their own bubble never seeing the world outside that bubble as it actually is. A friend once claimed that he would only read theology from authors who wrote at least 100 years ago so that he would not be caught up in group think that flows from today’s mega church settings. While extreme I agree that it would be wise to diversify the kinds and types of input one uses to be informed and to learn. One great example of learning from others is found in the gospel of Matthew where the wise men come to worship Jesus.

10 When [the wise men] saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:10-11 ESV

When Jesus is born and then started his ministry few people seemed to recognize exactly what he represented. A majority of those in power actively fought against everything that Jesus taught. While there are numerous examples of Jewish peoples who recognized and worshiped Jesus the idea that Persian astrologers traveled some unknown distance following a star to worship the King of the Jews is amazing to me.

Here we have an educated group, with means, traveling from faraway lands hunting for a new born king that they may worship him. These same people have enough pull that they gain an audience with the Roman king of this territory. Yet when they find Jesus as a poor child in a backwoods town they fall at his feet to worship. Of all the incredible events of the New Testament this must rank right up at the top of the list. They discovered all this from following a star? It is shocking to see God speaking to the hearts of pagan gentiles in such a way. But why is it shocking? The Biblical record is full of gentiles who have more fear and respect for God than the Hebrews, God’s chosen people, and Jesus points this out at the beginning of his ministry in his own home town in such a way that the leaders of the Synagogue tried to kill him on the spot.

25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away. Luke 4:25-30 ESV

God is creator of all peoples. All people over all the earth have a common set of parents. Adam and Eve. God is near to all peoples be they Gentiles or Jews. I am a Gentile yet God has call me to be his child. Jesus died on the cross for my sins. Why me? Someone living in land far from Israel? I can’t say because it is not something I did or something I wanted. I will say that because of His love he has my attention and has more than earned my trust. Romans Chapter 9 is a difficult section of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. In this section he explains how these pagan astrologers came to worship the one true king and how someone like me born thousands of years later on the other side of the planet came to worship the same one true king.

30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” Romans 9:30-33 ESV

These wise men did something incredibly wise in that they by faith listened to the instructions given to them and followed the star provided by God. Dear reader I would challenge you in the same way to listen to the call of God. Who has been praying for you? Who among your friends and family knows where you are and can see what you are doing wrong? Maybe God is speaking through them. He is near. It is an extravagant moment of grace from the Creator that such a moment is given for you and I to obtain God’s righteousness by faith. David Platt in his commentary of Matthew links these wise men to another gentile prophet of the Old Testament who proclaimed a star would come from Israel. Balaam was hired by a gentile king to curse Israel but he instead he delivered a promise about the future king Jesus.

17 I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; Numbers 24:17 ESV

Matthew 1:21 | Christmas Rejoice!

names

Christmas is just a few short days away. I love it. Christmas is one of two main holidays that Christians celebrate. Easter is the other holiday and it is in many ways more important, less celebratory, but more reflective. I love both and what they mean for me as a Christian. Christmas and Easter are linked from the very first Christmas. Part of that link is one of the things that seems odd when we read the Christmas Gospel. The Angel tells Joseph to call the child “Jesus” and then references the prophecy of Isaiah that says his name will be “Immanuel”.

21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:21-23 ESV

I am familiar with the name Immanuel because it is part of the Christmas tradition every year. One of my favorite Christmas songs is centered around this name. It is an old hymn hundreds of years old even before being translated from Latin to English generations ago.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here,

Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

Matthew was kind enough to translate Immanuel from Hebrew for us so that we can know the name means “God with us”. Jesus being born of a virgin is God himself taking on the form of a man. God with us is a profound thing to contemplate. Could it be that the Creator of all things would limit himself to the physical form of a baby? God is giving himself as a gift to all people. Rejoice! Because a king is coming to restore Israel. A king is coming to set right all the wrongs. A king is coming to provide the ransom to those in captivity. Matthew in the opening genealogy of chapter 1 takes extra care to make sure the audience knows that Jesus is linked to king David and Abraham as the rightful king of Israel.

 

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Matthew 1:1 ESV

 

If the prophecy said the son’s name would be Immanuel then why did the Angel instruct Joseph to name the baby “Jesus”? The Angel hints at the reason by telling Joseph exactly what this baby will accomplish in life.

 

21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21 ESV

 

This baby who is God with us will “save his people from their sins”. God has come, Rejoice!, to save people from their sins. If God coming to earth in the form of man is profound then God coming to earth to save humanity is even more amazing and that is a nod to the future reflective holiday in Easter. What is required of Jesus in order to save his people, the ransom to be paid, comes at an extreme price.

 

Jesus is not a random name. The Angel was instructed to provide this name because this name also reveals more of God’s intention for Immanuel.  Jesus means “Jehovah is salvation”. Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Yĕhowshuwa`” which means “Jehovah saves”. Matthew’s audience would have understood Jehovah to be the formal name of the one true God. The name Jesus literally means “God Saves” and Immanuel is the promise that God is present and God has not abandoned his creation. Do not believe those that think God does not exist or that God is not an active participant in this life. God is with us now and God is actively involved.

 

Salvation belongs to the Lord [Jehovah]; your blessing be on your people! Psalms 3:8 ESV

 

Jesus is God and Jesus saves. Jesus will save people from their sins. The Angel as a messenger of God is revealing the next step of God’s grand plan to restore Creation and to reconcile people. This baby we celebrate today will save us tomorrow. Does this king know you? Will he count you numbered in His kingdom? Dear reader if you have not already done so now is the time call on Jesus “God Saves”.

Isaiah 11:3 | Justified before the King

justify

There is an interesting, and scary, shift in government power when it comes to application of the law. For the most part in America what you think or say is not a crime. Crime is based on actions. For example, I could say out loud that I want to rob a bank but unless I actually attempt to rob a bank the police cannot arrest me. I could be a gross, nasty, evil person but unless my evil is converted into some outward action then government would leave me alone.

While that has been historically true there is political pressure for government, and even social media companies to police what people think and say. Kevin Hart was removed from hosting the Oscars because of tasteless jokes that were quasi acceptable 10 years ago that have now been deemed offensive today. Political parties want to make even having certain thoughts a crime. A first attempt at policing thoughts takes on the form of “hate crime” laws. If someone vandalizes a building there are laws against damaging property. However, if someone vandalizes a building and it can be proven that the intent was born out of discrimination then hate crime laws would allow for conviction of even more time added to the sentence because of thoughts and evil intent.

Beyond the problem of tying to prove what people are thinking a problem with Governments having policing power over thoughts is that acceptable think today might be wrong think tomorrow. Laws on action are almost never retroactive when changed but wrong thinking is almost always retroactive requiring those who held the now outlawed thoughts to apologize and even then, that apology may not be enough. Anyone who gains a public spotlight will have their past media history searched for any spoken offense.

The second coming of Jesus is predicted in the Old Testament as a powerful king that will rule over the people. As any king or government Jesus will have the power judge and make laws. Will Jesus judge based on actionable crimes or will he also judge our thoughts like many want government to do now?

And his [Jesus] delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear Isaiah 11:3 ESV

God’s judgment will not be based on actions. His judgment will be based on what is inside the heart of people. Yet unlike earthly governments who judge on the whims of social right and wrong Jesus will judge on an unchanging law that is written into the hearts of his creation. He knows all things so when he looks into your heart what will he find to be true?

12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4:12-13 ESV

The wicked seem to always gain power and influence in governments. President Trump is under endless investigation. The rival candidate Secretary Clinton was under investigation and even today the opposing crowds of voters chant “lock her up” at rallies. Yet people want government to function in the role of God administrating justice as seen fit by those in power. When the judge is corrupt then how can there be justice? God through Jesus however will judge will full knowledge even of intent in the heart of man. God unlike man is not corrupt and his justice will be perfect.

None of us can stand to such perfect justice because it knows our hearts. That is why Jesus took on our crimes and took on the punishment of that righteous judgment. The Bible word for what Jesus did for his children is “justification”. God is who is just is also loving and has provided justification to those who desire to be made right before God. I deserve punishment for my crimes before the king but Jesus who is perfect took my punishment making me justified before the king.

22 That is why his [Abraham] faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Romans 4:22-25 ESV

Genesis 6:6 | Godly Sorrow

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Does God have regrets? I have regrets but I am not God. Sometimes my regret is over something out of my control. If only I had more information at the time. God is never at a lack of information. I make selfish choices and many times that choice will hurt someone else. This will cause regret but does God make wrong decisions? The Bible states that God is sorry that he made mankind and that shocks me based on who I know God to be. God does not make mistakes. He is not surprised by anything. And God always does the right thing.

By the time we get to Genesis Chapter 6 the creation that God saw as good has become so evil and corrupted that God regrets that he had even made mankind. When I regret something, the underlying thought is that I made a mistake but that is not the case here. Regret is a form of disappointment. God is truly disappointed in the rebellion and evil of men. God is not regretting anything he has done. God is regretting the choices that men are making. He is sighing in sorrow at what we have done to what he created good. But this does not mean that God was wrong or that his plans are not to be accomplished just as he desires.

5 The Lord saw that the people on the earth were very evil. He saw that they thought only about evil things all the time. 6 The Lord was sorry that he had made people on the earth. It made him very sad in his heart. Genesis 6:5-6 ESV

The word used for sorry or regret in other translations means to breath strongly… a sigh. God has reached the end of what he can endure from man’s wickedness. God is prefect so his regret and sorrow are perfect also.

10 The kind of sorrow God wants makes people decide to change their lives. This leads them to salvation, and we cannot be sorry for that. But the kind of sorrow the world has will bring death. 2 Corinthians 7:10 ESV

God’s sorrow and regret is a Godly sorrow that results in a change to the situation. Paul writes that when we in the world have sorrow it leads to death because worldly sorry does not lead to any kind of change. This kind of sorrow is depression and is it any wonder that depression seems to be a common issue for people living in this day and age. God’s sorrow on the other hand results in a change. He has put up with evil from men as long as his just nature will allow and his sorry sad heart signals a change in the situation. Judgment has arrived. Paul goes on to elaborate what Godly sorrow looks like.

11 You had the kind of sorrow God wanted you to have. Now see what that sorrow has brought you: It has made you very serious. It made you want to prove that you were not wrong. It made you angry and afraid. It made you want to see me. It made you care. It made you want the right thing to be done. You proved that you were not guilty in any part of that problem. 2 Corinthians 7:11 ESV

Godly sorrow makes one serious, angry, afraid, it makes one want to do the right thing, and it makes one care. One other thing is that it demonstrates that one is not guilty by being part of the problem. When God saw that the “people on the earth were very evil” it made him sorry with a Godly sorrow.

7 So the Lord said, “I will destroy all the people I created on the earth. I will destroy every person and every animal and everything that crawls on the earth. And I will destroy all the birds in the air, because I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah pleased the Lord. Genesis 6:7-8 ESV

God’s response to the evil before him is reflected in Paul’s description of Godly sorrow. God got very serious about the evil. God cares deeply about this creation and what is happening to it. God is angry and afraid at the evil that men have perpetrated and God knows that he cannot be made guilty by continuing to allow it to grow. God is not part of the problem caused by men. However, God is the only one who can address the problem. God’s sorrow leads to a Godly course of action that found a way to temper the evil of men.

Noah pleased God and Noah is a precursor to a future salvation found only in Jesus Christ. God’s sorrow at sin and evil lead him to a radical action of love. This is what Godly regret looks like.

6 Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him would not be lost but have eternal life. John 3:16 ESV

Acts 4:12 | Focused Courage

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If asked to describe yourself in one word what word would be used? If others described you what word would be used? At a funeral today for a relative that I did not know as closely as I would have liked there were several words about this person’s life that stood out from those who knew the individual well. Determined, driven, lived for the spotlight were a few. Funerals are a sobering event and I am reminded of the biblical wisdom about funerals.

Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies—so the living should take this to heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2 NLT

The life finished and the life complete is an event that will overtake all people rich or poor. So take to heart that maybe we waste precious time in vain pursuits, selfish ambitions, and pointless unforgiveness. The disciples understood the gravity of a funeral and that knowledge fueled a focused courage. When their lives were done the one word used to describe them was disciple. They embraced Christ the first born of all creation and truly lived the words they shared to all people rich and poor.

12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 ESV

Salvation is an eternal treasure. Money is temporary. Salvation is final success. Liars gain for but a moment’s advantage. Salvation is a secured hope. Sexual lusts apart from God’s design secure lonely despair. Salvation serves the triumphant King of Kings. Politics serves a selfish movement that will eventually fail. The disciples grasped these truths and submitted to the one name under heaven that is in complete control. Jesus is the only name that saves.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV

Courage is what the disciples demonstrated when they told their jailers that they would obey Jesus and not the jailer. The author of Hebrews drawing from their example tells me a would be disciple to take courage in the name of Jesus. Set aside the politics, the sexual identity, and the selfish ambition that are all fleeting and temporary. Throw off those chains and look to the one name, the one identity, that brings Glory to God and salvation to those who have placed their hope upon his eternal salvation.

16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” Acts 4:16-17 ESV

I pray for courage, and wisdom to speak the name of Jesus. There is no other name or identity only Christian. There is no other group to be called into fellowship only fellowship as a Disciple. What will you dear reader do when confronted to speak no more this name? I pray you are running the race now in such way that the answer will be Christ only always.