Thursdays With Spurgeon—Why Bethlehem?

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Why Bethlehem?

     There [in Bethlehem] cleaved to [Naomi] Ruth the Moabitess, whose Gentile blood should unite with the pure untainted stream of the Jew and should thus bring forth the Lord our Savior, the great King both of Jews and Gentiles. … And in the streets of Bethlehem did Boaz and Ruth receive a blessing that made them fruitful, so that Boaz became the father of Obed and Obed the father of Jesse—and Jesse the father of David. … 

     There is something in the name of the place. Bethlehem Ephrathah. The word Bethlehem has a double meeting. It signifies ‘the house of bread’ and ‘the house of war.’ …

     Bethlehem, you house of bread, rightly were you called, for there the Bread of life was first handed down for man to eat.

     And it is called ‘the house of war,’ because Christ is to a man either ‘the house of bread’ or else ‘the house of war.’ While He is food to the righteous, He causes war to the wicked, according to His own words: ‘Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword…’ (Matthew 10:34–36).

     Sinner, if you do not know Bethlehem as ‘the house of bread,’ it will be to you a ‘house of war.’ If from the lips of Jesus you never drink sweet honey—if you were not like the bee, which sips sweet luscious liquor from the Rose of Sharon, then out of the selfsame mouth there will go forth against you a two-edged sword! And that mouth from which the righteous draw their bread will be to you the mouth of destruction and the cause of your ill. … 

     Ephrathah … the meaning of it is ‘fruitfulness’ or ‘abundance.’ … 

     If we are like trees planted by the rivers of water, bringing forth our fruit in our season, it is not because we were naturally fruitful, but because of the rivers of water by which we were planted. It is Jesus who makes us fruitful. ‘If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you’ (John 15:7). Glorious Bethlehem Ephrathah! Rightly named! Fruitful house of bread—the house of abundant provision for the people of God! 

From The Incarnation And Birth Of Christ

Bethlehem wasn’t just a random place for Jesus Christ to be born. God doesn’t do anything randomly. Everything He does has a plan and a purpose. We may have difficulty seeing what the purpose is. As Martin Tupper noted in one of his poems—

We look through a glass darkly, we catch but glimpses of truth;
But, doubtless, the sailing of a cloud hath Providence to its pilot…
Man doeth one thing at once, nor can he think two thoughts together;
But God compasseth all things, mantling the globe like air…

Not only was the birthplace of Jesus purposely chosen by God, so was your birthplace. And your birth parents. And, indeed, everything about you. You are not an accident or some chance encounter. You have been created by God on purpose and for a purpose. 

Let the birthplace of Jesus—all the rich meaning of Bethlehem Ephrathah—be an encouragement to you that God knows and loves you dearly. Your life has meaning and purpose, which you can discover through a personal relationship with your Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ. 

 

George Mueller On Meditation

“I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man may be nourished…. I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God and to meditation on it. The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words for the Lord’s blessing upon His precious Word, was to begin to meditate on the Word of God, searching, as it were, into every verse to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the Word, not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated on, but for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul. … So that, though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer.” —George Mueller, in his Autobiography (emphasis mine)

Whose Fight Is It?

In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups… (Genesis 32:7). 

Jacob’s brother Esau is approaching with 400 men! 

Esau is the man who sold his birthright to Jacob, and then had his father’s blessing swindled away from him by Jacob. And now he is rapidly approaching Jacob and his entourage. 

Jacob’s natural response is, well, natural: great fear and distress grip his heart (v. 7). In his agitated state of mind “he thought” of a strategy to try to appease his brother and save as many of his family members and possessions as he could. 

And then another strategy popped into Jacob’s agitated mind: Then he prayed (v. 9). He concocted his own plans first and then he prayed. Prayer should have been his first response, but at least he finally did get around to praying!

In his prayer, Jacob twice reminds God, “You said” (vv. 9, 12), and in-between those reminders he confesses to Him, “I am afraid” (v. 11). 

As he speaks to God, reminds God of His promises, and confesses his own heart-quaking, knee-knocking fear, God says:  [crickets chirping in the warm evening]. 

God is silent. 

So Jacob returns to his own strategizing—once again we read “for he thought” (v.20)—until he is utterly out of options. All he can do now is wrestle with God (vv. 22-30). All out of his own options, Jacob now tenaciously clings to God and will not let Him go! 

In the Hebrew language, the name Jacob means a man who struggles, thinks, and strategizes using his own abilities*. 

After finally submitting to God, Jacob’s name is changed to Israel**. Now Israel lets God do the strategizing and the fighting. Jacob tried to figure things out on his own; Israel lets God’s plan prevail. When Israel bought his first plot of ground after his name had been changed, he built an altar there and named it El Elohe Israel—The Almighty God is my God (33:20). 

Israel now says, “I’m done striving with men on my own. I’m done fighting people and trying to figure out how to make things happen for me. From now on I will only wrestle with God, and I’ll let Him fight the battles for me!” 

How often do I strategize on my own first, and only after I have run out of options do I run to God in prayer? This is a Jacob spirit in me! I don’t want to live this way. I want to be like Israel—clinging to God as my first and only Source of help. 

How about you?

* In the Faithlife Illustrated Study Bible, there is an interesting note on Jacob’s name. For instance, when Esau says, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob?” (Genesis 27:36), the FSB editors offer this commentary: “Esau uses the Hebrew word ‘aqab here, which is a wordplay on Jacob’s name in Hebrew, ya-aqov. … Esau suggests that Jacob’s name actually has to do with him being a person who supplants or cheats other people.” 

** Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel (Genesis 32:28). The FSB commentary points out, “Jacob’s name must be changed due to its association with his misdeeds. Here, the reasoning for the name Israel (yisra’el in Hebrew) is the verbal phrase ‘you have striven with (or struggled with) God.’ This suggests the name derives from the Hebrew verb sarah, meaning ‘to struggle,’ ‘to strive’ or ‘to fight.’ The name yisra’el itself could mean ‘God will struggle,’ ‘May God struggle’ or ‘God fights’….” 

As You Wish (book review)

I was visiting in my wife’s 3rd-grade classroom and I was asked by her class what my favorite movie was. Without hesitating, I said, “The Princess Bride.” Not surprisingly, several of these young children knew this movie! For a movie that is over 30 years old, that would meet the definition of a “classic movie.” Cary Elwes famously portrays a pivotal character—the man in black—in this wonderful movie, so he is the perfect person to give us a behind-the-scenes tour of this film in his book As You Wish.

I chose to get the audiobook version, and I’m so glad I did. This is a delightful remembrance of how this movie came to the big screen, but hearing Cary reading these remembrances in his own voice (and sometimes hearing him impersonate some of the people he is quoting) was an added dimension that I had not expected. In addition to Cary’s voice, you will also be treated to the voices of Princess Buttercup, Count Rugen, Prince Humperdinck, Miracle Max and his wife Valerie, and Vezzini, as well as director Rob Reiner and producer Andy Scheinman.

In As You Wish, you will hear about the cast selection, the struggles of getting a studio to agree to make this movie, the lengthy training that went into the amazing sword duel between Westley and Inigo, the injuries, the ad-libs, the faux pas, and so much more! 

Whether you have seen this movie or not, As You Wish is an excellent primer before watching this movie (again)! 

The Need For Confession

Jesus taught us to pray to OUR Father. This speaks of community and accountability. Ken Blanchard noted: “Accountability means: We owe each other for something we’ve agreed upon.” What have the saints of God agreed upon? That God is our Father, that Jesus is His Son and our Brother, and that the Holy Spirit is our Helper. We’ve agreed that if we are brothers and sisters in God’s family, we are mutually accountable to one another. 

The part of accountability that some people don’t like is the realization that I make mistakes: I let people down; I sin. In a community of saints, my shortfall not only affects me but the rest of the community too. But there is a remedy—The remedy for my sin starts with my confession of my sin. 

If people like David, Isaiah, Daniel, Nehemiah, and Paul confessed their sin and called themselves sinners, what makes me think that I’m exempt from that diagnosis or that cure?! 

Confession is an owning of my sin. It’s saying to God, “I have sinned. I need forgiveness. I will repent of this. I need Your mercy.” And it’s saying to my fellow saints, “I need your help so I don’t have to repeat this sin.” 

Unconfessed sin is life-draining (Psalm 32:1-5). The word confess in the Old Testament Hebrew means to “throw out your hand.” Expose it all! In the New Testament Greek confess means to acknowledge that my life does not measure up to God’s standard. 

Confession may start in my personal prayer closet, but it needs to move to the public domain of the community of saints. Jesus made it plural, “Forgive US OUR debts, as WE have forgiven OUR debtors.” 

Sometimes I cannot see my own debts that need to be forgiven (Psalm 19:12), so I need the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the loving confrontation of someone who loves me (Psalm 139:23-24; Proverbs 27:6, 2 Samuel 12:1-13). 

The apostle James helps us see how a loving community brings healing, deliverance, and restoration. The key components that James lists are prayer and confession (James 5:13-16). 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer echoed James when he wrote, “A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person. As long as I am by myself in the confession of my sins everything remains in the dark, but in the presence of a brother the sin has to be brought into the light.”  

Confession may be the most under-used resource for Christians to gain power in prayer and victory over falling into temptation!

Let’s continually make use of this wonderfully freeing discipline. 

Poetry Saturday—How Good Is The God We Adore

How good is the God we adore!
Our faithful, unchangeable Friend:
His love is as great as His pow’r
And knows neither measure nor end.

For Christ is the first and the last;
His Spirit will guide us safe home;
We’ll praise Him for all that is past
and trust Him for all that’s to come. —Joseph Hart

Thursdays With Spurgeon—All The Trinity In Salvation

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

All The Trinity In Salvation

     We are, alas, too apt to forget that while there are distinctions as to the persons in the Trinity, there are no distinctions of honor—and we do frequently ascribe the honor of our salvation, or at least the depths of its mercy and the extremity of its benevolence, more to Jesus Christ than we do to the Father. This is a very great mistake.

     What if Jesus came? Did not His Father send Him? If He were made a Child, did not the Holy Spirit beget Him? If He spoke wondrously, did not His Father pour grace into His lips that He might be an able minister of the new covenant? If His Father did forsake Him when He drank the bigger cup of gall, did He not love Him still? And did He not, by and by, after three days, raise Him from the dead and at last receive Him up on high, leading captivity captive?

     Ah, beloved, he who knows the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as he should know them never sets one before another. He is not more thankful to one than the other; he sees them at Bethlehem, at Gethsemane, and on Calvary all equally engaged in the work of salvation.

From The Incarnation And Birth Of Christ

All of the Godhead is involved in our salvation. God doesn’t separate Himself—He is One. 

God the Father planned our salvation and sent His Son (Micah 5:2; Matthew 10:40; Ephesians 1:4-5).

God the Son proclaimed the Father’s good news and purchased our salvation (Mark 10:45; John 3:17; Ephesians 1:9-10). 

God the Holy Spirit seals and confirms our salvation (Galatians 4:4-6; Ephesians 1:13-14). 

We come to the Father, through the Son, by the drawing of the Spirit. We need the full Trinity to bring us fully into His presence forever and ever! 

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