Tag Archives: Jesus

Wise men from the East – Pondering Jesus (19/07/14)

Over the next month or so, I shall be reflecting on the Gospel of Matthew and ‘pondering Jesus’ – thinking about who He is, and what that means for us. In so doing, I hope to delight more in my Saviour; and if I am able to help you (reader) to do so too, then even better!

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” […]

After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 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. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:1-2, 9-12 ESV)

One of the most mysterious parts of the narrative of Jesus’ birth has to be the visit of the wise men. The record of their visit can only be found in Matthew’s gospel account (and not in the other three), adding to the mystery. Who were they? Some clues can be gathered from the text itself:

  • They were ‘wise men from the East’ (v1), thus were not likely to be Jews.
  • They were astrologers of some sort – they ‘saw his [Jesus’] star when it rose’ (v2), that being the sign they had been looking for. Furthermore, they followed the star until it ‘came to rest over the place where the child was’ (v9).
  • The footnote informs us that ‘wise men’ is magi in Greek. According to the ESV Study Bible, in earlier times, ‘wise men’ (Greek magi) referred to priests and experts in mysteries in Persia and Babylon, but by this time it applied to a wide range of people whose practices included astrology, dream interpretation, study of sacred writings, the pursuit of wisdom, and magic.

So, in short, these wise men could be easily be described as pagan* sorcerers!

Yet, why did they come? Simply put, they came to worship ‘he who has been born King of the Jews’ (v2). When they saw the child, ‘they fell down and worshipped him’ (v11). And they brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Indeed, when they saw that the star had guided them to their destination (i.e. the house where Jesus was), they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. They were so happy to be able to find and worship the King of the Jews.

The account of the wise men bears much reflection. Might it be too simplistic to say that God, in His grace, reveals His salvation to those who seem to be so far removed from him – even pagan sorcerers? Perhaps. We see nothing in the text to suggest that they recognised Jesus to be the son of God; indeed ‘it is doubtful that these quasi-pagan religious men understood Jesus’ divine nature’ (ESV Study Bible). Besides, it is also perhaps unhelpful to ask whether these wise men were “saved” (cf Rom 10:9f).

However, at the very least we can see that God, in His mercy, and through His creation (the star), points lost people in the direction of His salvation. In other words:

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they [all men] are without excuse. (Rom 1:20)

Indeed, we see many examples on this theme even today. I have friends for whom the Christian ideas of sacrificial, other-person-focused love resonates so strongly within them – yet they cannot accept that such sacrificial love for others found its paradigmatic expression in Jesus on the cross. I have friends who are amazed by the wonders of creation in their scientific research – but will refuse to look beyond the creation to the creator. These are friends who, like Herod in Matthew 2, decide instead to reject Jesus’ kingly rule.

Two points of application by way of conclusion.

  1. Praise God for His great mercy, in pointing us in His direction, through his creation (i.e. general revelation), and definitively saving us through His Son (i.e. special revelation).
  2. Let’s continue to pray that many who may be far from God now — “pagan sorcerers” of our day — will see and recognise Jesus, for He is ever looking to draw them into His fold.

————————————————————

* For the sake of clarity, the word “pagan” here loosely refers to a follower of any of various religions that are based on the worship of nature or the Earth. The usage here is not intended to be pejorative. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Thoughts

What’s in a Name? — Pondering Jesus (12/07/13)

Over the next month or so, I shall be reflecting on the Gospel of Matthew and ‘pondering Jesus’ – thinking about who He is, and what that means for us. In so doing, I hope to delight more in my Saviour; and if I am able to help you (reader) to do so too, then even better!

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25 ESV)

What’s in a name?

I often think of Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, and so on, when I consider Jesus’ identity. All of this is true. But when considering these “titles”, I often neglect the name Jesus itself. In our modern context, we don’t think much – if at all – about names. For example, I have many friends called “Victor”, but never have I consciously associated them with being victorious, regardless of how successful they are.

The name Jesus, however, bears closer scrutiny. It is Yeshua‘/Yehoshua‘ (Joshua) in Hebrew, meaning “Yahweh saves” (ESV Study Bible). And in the text above, we know the reason why he is so called: “for he will save his people from their sins.

God came down in human form in the person of Jesus. And why did he come? He came to rescue his people from their sin, which leads to death and destruction. This was his main purpose. This rescue mission was so central to his purpose that it was even encapsulated in his name!

Sin is a big deal – that’s why we needed rescuing. But it is such a wonder of mercy that God himself would come down to save us. And notice how certain this salvation is: ‘he will save his people’. When we think of Jesus today, or when we call out to Him in prayer, let us remember that He is the God who saves.

Leave a comment

Filed under Thoughts

How can we possibly live again in what we have died to?

“Can a married woman live as though she were still single? Well, yes, I suppose she could. It is not impossible. But let her remember who she is. Let her feel her wedding ring, the symbol of her new life of union with her husband, and she will want to live accordingly. Can born-again Christians live as though they were still in their sins? Well, yes, I suppose they could, at least for a while. It is not impossible. But let them remember who they are. Let them recall their baptism, the symbol of their new life of union with Christ, and they will want to live accordingly.

So the major secret of holy living is in the mind. It is in knowing that our former self was crucified with Christ (Rom 6:6), in knowing that baptism into Christ is baptism into his death and resurrection (6:3) and in considering that through Christ we are dead to sin and alive to God (6:11). We are to recall, to ponder, to grasp, to register these truths until they are so integral to our mindset that a return to the old life is unthinkable. Regenerate Christians should no more contemplate a return to unregenerate living than adults to their childhood, married people to their singleness, or discharged prisoners to their prison cell. For our union with Jesus Christ has severed us from the old life and committed us to the new. Our baptism stands between the two like a door between two rooms, closing on the one and opening into the other. We have died, and we have risen. How can we possibly live again in what we have died to?”

– John Stott, The Message of Romans (IVP 1994), at 179-180

1 Comment

November 8, 2013 · 7:24 am

John Stott on the Mortification of Sin

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Rom 8:12-14)

In his commentary on the Epistle of Romans (The Message of Romans, IVP 1994), John Stott addresses verse 13, ‘a very significant verse on the neglected topic of “mortification” (the process of putting to death the body’s misdeeds).’ There are ‘at least three truths’ to be clarified:

First, what is mortification? Mortification is neither masochism (taking pleasure in self-inflicted pain), nor asceticism (resenting and rejecting the fact that we have bodies and natural bodily appetites). It is rather a clear-sighted recognition of evil as evil, leading to such a decisive and radical repudiation of it that no imagery can do it justice except ‘putting to death’. In fact, the verb Paul uses normally means to ‘kill someone, hand someone over to be killed, especially of the death sentence and its execution’ […] Elsewhere the apostle has called it a crucifixion of our fallen nature, with all its passions and desires (Gal 5:24). And this teaching is Paul’s elaboration of Jesus’ own summons: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’ (Mk 8:34) Since the Romans compelled a condemned criminal to carry his cross to the site of crucifixion, to carry our cross is symbolic of following Jesus to the place of execution. And what we are to put to death there, Paul explains, is the misdeeds of the body, that is, every use of our body […] which serves ourselves instead of God and other people. […]

Secondly, how does mortification take place? We note at once that it is something that we have to do. It is not a question of dying or of being put to death, but of putting to death. In the work of mortification we are not passive, waiting for it to be done to us or for us. On the contrary, we are responsible for putting evil to death. True, Paul immediately adds that we can put to death the misdeeds of the body only by the Spirit, by his agency and power. For only he can give us the desire, determination and discipline to reject evil. Nevertheless, it is we who must take the initiative to act. Negatively, we must totally repudiate everything we know to be wrong, and not even ‘think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature’ (Rom 13:14). This is not an unhealthy form of repression, pretending that evil does not exist in us and refusing to face it. It is the opposite. We have to ‘pull it out, look at it, denounce it, hate it for what it is; then you have really dealt with it’ (Lloyd-Jones). Or, as Jesus graphically expressed it, we must gouge out our offending eye and cut off our offending hand or foot (Mt 5:29ff). That is, if temptation comes to us through what we see, handle or visit, then we must be ruthless in not looking, not touching, not going, and so in controlling the very approaches of sin. Positively, we are to set our minds on the things the Spirit desires (Rom 8:5), set our hearts on things above (Col 3:1f), and occupy our thoughts with what is noble, right, pure and lovely (Phil 4:8). In this way ‘mortification‘ (putting evil to death) and ‘aspiration‘ (hungering and thirsting for what is good) are counterparts. Both verbs […] are in the present tense, for they describe attitudes and activities which should be continuous, involving taking up the cross every day (Lk 9:23) and setting our minds on the things of the Spirit every day.

Thirdly, why should we practise mortification? It sounds an unpleasant, uncongenial, austere and even painful business. It runs counter to our natural tendency to soft and lazy self-indulgence. If we are to engage in it, we shall need strong motives. One is, as we have seen, that we have an obligation (Rom 8:12) to the indwelling Spirit of life. Another, on which Paul now insists, is that the death of mortification is the only road to life. Verse 13 contains he most marvellous promise, which is expressed in the single Greek verb zesesthe, you will live. Paul is not now contradicting himself. Having called eternal life a free and undeserved gift (Rom 6:23), he is not now making it a reward for self-denial. Nor by ‘life’ does he seem to be referring to the life of the world to come. He seems to be alluding to the life of God’s children, who are led by his Spirit and assured of his fatherly love, to which he comes in the next verses (14ff). This rich, abundant, satisfying life, he is saying, can be enjoyed only by those who put their misdeeds to death. Even the pain of mortification is worth while if it opens the door to fulness of life.

This is one of several ways in which the radical principle of ‘life through death’ lies at the heart of the gospel. According to Romans 6 it is only by dying with Christ to sin, its penalty thereby paid, that we rise to a new life of forgiveness and freedom. According to Romans 8 it is only by putting our evil deeds to death that we experience the full life of God’s children. So we need to redefine both life and death. What the world calls life (a desirable self-indulgence) leads to alienation from God which in reality is death, whereas the putting to death of all perceived evil within us, which the world sees as an undesirable self-abnegation, is in reality the way to authentic life.

Holy Spirit, would you indeed give us the ‘desire, determination and discipline’ to reject evil. May we actively reject sin and embrace life.

Leave a comment

Filed under Quotations, Thoughts

Jesus, the misogynist?

“Jesus both elevates and underlines the equality of women as co-bearers of the image of God and the creation mandate, and he also redeems the roles given to man and woman at the beginning by inhabiting them, both as servant-head and ‘ezer-subordinate.

“Throughout the gospels, every encounter that Jesus has with women is a positive one. The women understand him before the men do; women are excused their housewifely duties in order to sit and learn with the men (Luke 10:38ff). Women stay with him at the Cross when his male disciples have mostly hidden; it is to women that Jesus shows himself first after his resurrection, and it is a woman, Mary Magdalene, who is for a few moments the entire church: She is charged by Jesus to tell his disciples of his resurrection and his commands — the first Christian, the first evangelist. (John 20:1ff) Jesus’s every interaction with women elevates their status in a culture that very much considered them second-class beings. The early church, having seen the Holy Spirit fall on women the same as on men at Pentecost, adopted such a radical attitude towards women that Paul had to remind women not to adopt a unisex approach to ministry. Even when engaged in the identical ministry as men, they should do it in a way that affirms their female role, rather than denies it. See 1 Cor 11, 14.”

– Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (co-authored with Tim Keller), at 174 and 266.

Leave a comment

Filed under Quotations

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)

How shall we explain these words? In what way did our Lord show “things concerning himself”, in every part of the Old Testament field? The answer to these questions is short and simple. Christ was the substance of every Old Testament sacrifice, ordained in the law of Moses. Christ was the true Deliverer and King, of whom all the judges and deliverers in Jewish history were types. Christ was the coming Prophet greater than Moses, whose glorious advent filled the pages of prophets. Christ was the true seed of the woman who was to bruise the serpent’s head, — the true seed in whom all nations were to be blessed, — the true Shiloh to whom the people were to be gathered, — the true scapegoat, — the true brazen serpent, — the true Lamb to which every daily offering pointed, — the true High Priest of whom every descendant of Aaron was a figure. These things, or something like them, we need not doubt, were some of the things which our Lord expounded in the way to Emmaus.

Let it be a settled principle in our minds, in reading the Bible, that Christ is the central sun of the whole book. So long as we keep Him in view, we shall never greatly err, in our search for spiritual knowledge. Once losing sight of Christ, we shall find the whole Bible dark and full of difficulty. The key of Bible knowledge is Jesus Christ.

– J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Vol. 2), at 501

Leave a comment

August 1, 2013 · 6:39 am

Let us learn a lesson from the two travellers to Emmaus. Let us speak of Jesus, when we are sitting in our houses and when we are walking by the way, whenever we can find a disciple to speak to. (Deut 6:7) If we believe we are journeying to a heaven where Christ will be the central object of every mind, let us begin to learn the manners of heaven, while we are yet upon earth. So doing we shall often have One with us whom our eyes will not see, but One who will make our hearts “burn within us” by blessing the conversation.

J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Vol. 2), at 499

Leave a comment

Filed under Quotations

Kevin DeYoung offers an insightful critique of the poem by Jefferson Bethke. Important here is a clarification of what is meant by ‘religion’ – Jesus did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it! (Matt 5:17-20)

Does Jesus Hate Religion? – Kevin DeYoung

Leave a comment

January 14, 2012 · 3:54 am

thoughts on good friday and easter sunday

(These are some thoughts that came to me while doing my QT last Thursday, and which I shared at CG on Friday.)

Holy Week is a time when Christians all over the world remember the pain and anguish suffered by our Lord Jesus Christ in the events leading up to the cross and his crucifixion itself, and this culminates in Easter Sunday where we rejoice in His resurrection – the victory over sin and death.

Good Friday is especially poignant in this scheme of things. It’s the day that Jesus was crucified, the most humiliating, inhumane, and painful way to be killed. (For the uninitiated, it is also where we get the word ‘excruciating’ from. True story.) Many Christians thus take it upon themselves to be reminded of this physical torment that Jesus suffered; they revisit scenes from The Passion of the Christ, visually stimulating within them a sense of guilt and remorse at, and consequent gratitude for, the ordeal that He went through.

However, the cynic in me rejects such an approach. But let me first say that I do not see anything intrinsically wrong with it; not only must we never forget, we must always remember the pain and suffering our Lord endured for us. We were bought at a price, and this price was a heavy and painful one. (But this begs the question: ‘Why do we only remind yourself of the cross on Good Friday? We must not just stop there; we must remind ourselves of it everyday.’ However, I would be well-advised to refrain from developing this point here; this would be the subject of another post for another time, perhaps.)

Now with that disclaimer out of the way, I return to my point. The cynic within me rejects such an approach. My situation is akin to that of the smoker who sees the gory image of the lung cancer / emphysema / skin disease on the pack yet knowingly procures the cigarettes despite the warning – he is desensitised to the gore, to the sensational images. I wouldn’t say that I am desensitised to the gore of the cross – Lord, may I never reach that stage – but like the smoker I simply cannot relate to the image; I cannot relate to the immense pain that my Lord Jesus Christ endured. Living in the sanitised, hygienic, sheltered world of the 21st century, the most pain I’ve ever endured would probably be when I tore my ankle ligament – hardly comparable to having nails driven through your hands and feet, suffering a slow death of asphyxiation.

As I came to the Lord in reflection last Thursday, and as I read the gospel accounts of His crucifixion, the cynic in me prevented me from truly relating to the state of my Christ. However, He showed me something that I’d forgotten about, but something all of us can relate to.

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. – Luke 22:20-23

This is the famous scene in the last supper: Christ announces that someone among the disciples will betray him, and they question amongst themselves who would be the traitor. Now even non-Christians with but a smidgeon of bible knowledge would be able to tell you who betrayed Jesus – Judas, duh. This task is made all the easier when it is mentioned by Luke at the start of chapter 22 that Judas had agreed to hand over Jesus to the chief priests for a sum of money. Easy peasy.

But let me put it to you that the answer ‘Judas’ is only partly correct. Every single one of Jesus’ disciples betrayed him. Not one of them stuck with him to the end at the cross. Not even Peter; he valiantly declared that he would go to ‘prison and to death’ with Jesus (Luke 22:33), but alas, we all know how that story turned out. Jesus’ closest friends and companions, with whom he had discipled, taught, had meals with, joked with, traveled, for the preceding 3 years or so all abandoned Him. With the exception of Peter, they all abandoned Him at the garden of Gethsamane; Mark doing so in such haste that he left his clothes behind (cf Mark 14:51-52)

And if this unanimous rejection was not enough, Jesus had to further endure rejection from God the Father on the cross. As He bore the weight of all sin, past, present and future, the hymn tells us “the Father turned his face away.” God the Father, being immeasurably Holy, had to turn away from God the Son at that very point. Ravi Zacharias put it best when he said:

The incredible truth was that at the very moment His Father seemed farthest from Him, He was in the center of His Father’s will.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And this is the point I wish to make. Though we cannot relate to the physical pain and torment that our Lord Jesus Christ suffered, we can relate to the rejection, the abandonment, the sheer loneliness of the cross. I know I don’t just speak for myself when I say that I am terrified of loneliness, of being rejected by everyone – it is a trite saying that “no man is an island”, and we all need companionship, or as Finnis puts it, the objective good of ‘sociability’.

Yet Christ endured all of that, for our sake. He was rejected by His closest friends, the disciples, and then He was abandoned (for that very moment, at least) by the closest friend of them all, God the Father.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. – Hebrews 4:15 (emphases added)

I can relate to this. And I will respond to this. Have a great Easter.

Leave a comment

Filed under Thoughts