All Talk But No Action

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

What people were saying about Jesus from His birth—before He preached a sermon, performed a miracle, or stepped on the toes of religious or political leaders—was revealing the truth. I’ve already discussed the words of the Magi and King Herod the Great, but all of these men also interact with another group (Matthew 2:1-6). Matthew calls them “all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law.” 

This group was commonly called the Sanhedrin. It was an influential body of 70 + 1 leaders (Numbers 11:16), whose influence was felt in the temple in Jerusalem, in the synagogues in small villages, in King Herod’s throne room, and in the palace of the Roman governors. 

Notice that Matthew says “chief priests” in the plural. At the time of the birth of Jesus, Caiaphas was high priest and Annas his father-in-law was the former high priest. In the time of the early church, Annas is again called the high priest (Luke 3:2; John 18:13; Acts 4:6) 

Even under the Roman government the Sanhedrin held tremendous power…

  • they were experts in the Mosaic law and its application (Matthew 22:35) 
  • Jesus said, “the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses” (Matthew 23:2 NLT) 
  • Jesus also said they had storehouses of helpful knowledge (Matthew 13:52) 
  • they decided who would get to use their authority (Mark 11:27-28; 1:22) 
  • they were keepers of the traditions and became “indignant” when those traditions weren’t followed (Mark 7:5; Matthew 21:15) 
  • they were exorcists (Mark 9:14-17; Acts 19:13-14) 
  • Jesus said these leaders would be instrumental in His death (Matthew 16:21) 
  • they had their own armed guards and prisons (Mark 14:43; Acts 4:1; 5:18) 
  • yet they were afraid of the opinions of the people (Luke 22:1-2; Mark 11:31-32) 

(check out all of the above Scriptures by clicking here)

Jesus said they were “the official interpreters of the law,” yet they oftentimes interpreted the law to benefit themselves. 

When Herod asks them where the Messiah is to be born, they quote Micah 5:2 as saying, “a Ruler who will be the Shepherd of My people Israel.” But the word they use for “Ruler” means a leader with authority, or a governor (the same word is used for Joseph in Acts 7:10). Remember Herod’s violent temper and his insane suspicion? The word these religious leaders used gave them an “out.” They were almost saying to Herod, “When the Messiah does come, He will be a governor, which means there’s a good chance that He would report to you.” This “tame” interpretation was an attempt to keep them in the good graces of King Herod the Great 

But Micah himself uses the word for “Ruler” that means one with absolute dominion. Jesus will be THE Sovereign King. 

After hearing that this long awaited Messiah had finally been born in fulfillment of the prophecies, take a look at their response—

  • they said   . 
  • they did   . (even though Bethlehem was only 6 miles away!) 

How sad! 

But I think this is because they believed themselves to be “in” with Jehovah because they so carefully kept the rules. They didn’t need a Messiah to save them because—in their minds—they believed they were already saved from God’s punishment. 

Keeping religious rules doesn’t save anyone. 

Honoring age-old traditions doesn’t save anyone. 

Only coming to Jesus saves anyone! 

A key prophecy about Jesus in Isaiah 9:2 says that the Messiah will save us from darkness and shadows. What exactly are these? 

The writer of Hebrews tells us that the law and rules are merely shadows of the True Substance. God said through Isaiah that relying on the rules keeps us trapped in meaningless religious traditions. But Jesus came as the Light and as the Substance that set us free. His death and resurrection made it possible for our sins to be forgiven (see Hebrews 10:1-7; Isaiah 1:11-14, 18).

Rules don’t take us into God’s presence, but Jesus does. Not just talking about Jesus, but coming to Jesus as our Savior and Lord. 

People will talk about Jesus—even you may talk about Him. That doesn’t do anything. But when we do more than talk—when we come to Him to follow Him as our Ruler and Shepherd—then we find forgiveness and freedom. 

Let’s not just talk about Jesus, but let’s be actively obedient! 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our Advent series People Will Talk, you can find those messages by clicking here. 

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The Sovereign King

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

What people were saying about Jesus right from His birth—before He preached a sermon, performed a miracle, or stepped on the toes of religious or political leaders—was revealing the truth. 

As the Gospel of Matthew’s account of Christ’s birth begins, Persian Magi came from Babylon, having been keepers of the Truth handed down to them for over 500 years from Belteshazzar the Chief of Magician. This was the Babylonian name given to the Hebrew exile Daniel. 

Daniel served under multiple kings, even as the regimes changed from Babylonian, to Median, to Persian. He never waiver in his adherence to the Truth that God had spoken. He fearlessly told these world leaders, “The Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone He wishes” (Daniel 4:25). 

Most leaders forget this the moment they obtain power. Such is the case of the man the Magi met: King Herod the Great. Listen to how William Barclay describes this monarch: 

“Herod the Great was always despised by the pure-blooded Jews because he was half an Edomite; and we can see the importance that even Herod attached to these genealogies from the fact that he had the official registers destroyed, so that no one could prove a purer pedigree than his own. … 

“He had made himself useful to the Romans in the wars and civil wars of Palestine, and they trusted him. He had been appointed governor in 47 B.C.; in 40 B.C. he had received the title of king. … 

“But Herod had one terrible flaw in his character. He was almost insanely suspicious. He had always been suspicious, and the older he became the more suspicious he grew, until, in his old age, he was, as someone said, ‘a murderous old man.’ … He murdered his wife Mariamne and her mother Alexandra. His eldest son, Antipater, and two other sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, were all assassinated by him. Augustus, the Roman Emperor, had said, bitterly, that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son. … 

“When he was seventy he knew that he must die. … He gave orders that a collection of the most distinguished citizens of Jerusalem should be arrested on trumped-up charges and imprisoned. And he ordered that the moment he died, they should all be killed. He said grimly that he was well aware that no one would mourn for his death, and that he was determined that some tears should be shed when he died.” 

Lord Acton famously said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. …  Despotic power is always accompanied by corruption of morality.” This is so obvious in Herod! So we can understand why the city of Jerusalem was disturbed when the Magi arrived! Whether Herod knew the prophecy of the coming Messiah or not, it’s inescapably true that his days and his legacy were numbered (see Isaiah 9:2-7). 

When King Herod heard the announcement from the Magi, his reaction was violent. Perhaps Herod lashed out so ferociously because these words of Truth from the Magi reminded him his end was near, his power was not absolute, he had to answer to The Most High who is sovereign over all. 

We are no better. Oswald Chambers defines sin as “my claim to my right to myself.” We want absolute sovereignty over ourselves, but Jesus will allow no rival to His throne! He is either King over all or else He is not King at all. 

Beware of your own reaction when the Holy Spirit convicts you of a rival to Christ’s throne in your heart. If you lash out like Herod, dismiss it, or try to justify it, that is proof that you needed to hear that word of Truth. Don’t delay: Repent and allow Christ to have His rightful throne.

Jesus came as a Baby and a Savior at his First Advent. He opened the way for us to enter the presence of The Most High God, but it will cost us something to enter. Oswald Chambers tells us: 

“Redemption is easy to experience because it cost God everything, and if I am going to be regenerated it is going to cost me something. I have to give up my right to myself. I have deliberately to accept into myself something that will fight for all it is worth, something that will war against the desires of the flesh, and that will ask me to go into identification with the death of Jesus Christ, and these things produce a struggle in me.” 

Christ’s Second Advent will be as the conquering King and righteous Judge of all humanity. We have precious little time to tell others the good news. People may react violently like Herod did, but that is simply proof that they needed to hear that Truth. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series People Will Talk, you can find the complete list by clicking here. 

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More Than A Legend

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Many in-the-public-spotlight people will hire a publicist to make them look good. Although this publicist can try to direct the public’s opinion, they cannot control the actual word on the street about their client. What people are talking about in their private conversations is closer to the truth than the publicist’s spin. 

Some skeptics of the claims of Christianity have tried to claim that the New Testament is really a publicity stunt: That the New Testament authors wrote their documents to try to control the narrative of the story of Jesus. But I find it fascinating what people were saying about Jesus from His birth—before He ever preached a sermon or performed a miracle. 

Skeptics may want to claim that what Jesus said or did is a myth. But we need to ask, “Where do myths originate?” Myths come from legends, and legends come from historical facts. J.R.R. Tolkien says in the opening of the Fellowship Of The Ring, “And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for two and half thousand years, the ring passed out of all knowledge.” 

There are those that steadfastly cling to Fact long after others have gotten tired of the Legends, and now only see a Myth. Throughout history those that cling to something others think are out-dated have often been able to bring clarity to confusing things that the modern science of the day couldn’t do. Sometimes these Fact-clingers have been called seers or sorcerers or magicians.  

Some of these magicians show up shortly after the birth of Jesus: 

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:1-11) 

Some English translations of the Bible translate Magi as “wise men.” This is pretty accurate, but magi can also mean teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, interpreters of dreams, or magicians. These Babylonian Persians had seen some sort of astronomical occurrence that led them to make a nearly 900-mile journey to Jerusalem. 

For over 500 years these magicians had been clinging to a Fact taught to them by the chief magician of Babylon. Not a fellow Babylonian, but a Hebrew given the name Belteshazzar. He was one who could…

  • …tell someone what they had dreamed about and then interpret it 
  • …solve the deepest riddles 
  • …read and translate an unknown language 
  • …call on supernatural powers to shut the mouths of lions 
  • …foretell future world events 

Belteshazzar the Magician also saw a vision of the pre-incarnate Jesus before Time even began, One whom he called “the Ancient of Days.” And he even saw all the way to the end of Time when this King of kings would judge the entire world.  

These Persian magicians didn’t make an arduous 900-mile journey for a Myth. They didn’t bring gifts fit for a king to honor a Legend. They did all of this because of a Fact: Jesus is Fact. 

We meet another magician on Barnabas and Paul’s first missionary journey. He was a man named Elymas. The English version of the Bible calls him a sorcerer, but in Greek the word is magos, the singular of the word magi. 

He’s called a sorcerer because he tried to make Jesus a Myth. He worked for the Roman proconsul, a man called Sergius Paulus, whom Luke describes as “an intelligent man.” Elymas in essence said, “Sergius, use your intellect. There may have been someone called Jesus (in fact, my own father had that same name), but the stories about His miracles, death, and resurrection have to be mythical!” Sergius Paulus was convinced that the accounts of Jesus were myth until he heard the words of fact spoken by Barnabas and Paul. 

C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, 

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great man or a moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool… or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.” 

So who do you say Jesus is? Is He a Myth? A Legend? A liar? A lunatic? Or is He the Ancient of Days, the Light of the world, the Lord of all Creation? 

Christians, we must have this Fact clear in our own minds, and then—just as the Persian Magi did and as Barnabas and Paul did—let’s clearly tell about this Fact to the world’s skeptics, especially as the world’s modern telling of Christmas seems to be becoming more and more mythical. 

Don’t rail on the Myths and Legends, but use them to show others the Fact of Jesus Christ—the Ancient of Days, Savior, and King! 

(Watch the full message More Than A Legend by clicking on the link below.)

To catch up on all of the messages in our Advent series People Will Talk, please click here. 

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How Will You Respond To Jesus?

Although most nativity scenes show the wise men visiting Jesus alongside the shepherds the night He was born, in reality the Magi showed up much later. 

They came first to Israel’s capital city—Jerusalem—and went to the man who currently bore the title King of the Jews—Herod—with an odd question, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? We’ve come to worship Him.”

The call to come to worship the Christ has always stirred different responses in people’s hearts. But I have noticed that the responses today aren’t any different than they were over 2000 years ago at Christ’s first Advent. 

Notice these four responses in the Gospel of Matthew:

  1. King Herodwhen King Herod heard this he was disturbed.

The word disturbed means an inward commotion, someone robbed of any calmness; someone who has become restless and agitated. 

King Herod wasn’t all that different from a lot of people today who have their personal lives organized according to their own plans. They have everything figured out. They are masters of their own fate. They know how everything is supposed to work. They are god of their own world. 

But inside it’s a different story. They may not acknowledge it to anyone else, but they are uneasy. King Herod was political, not religious. He knew how to play the games with the right Jewish leaders and Roman politicians to get and keep his throne. So when he hears, “Where is He who is born KING OF THE JEWS?” you can understand why he instantly becomes so agitated! He feels like his well-ordered world and best-laid plans are about to crash in on him! 

  1. All JerusalemKing Herod…was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 

The people of Jerusalem had a love-hate relationship with King Herod. If you were on his side, he could be quite generous with his gifts and favorable with his influence. But if you were against him, he could be incredibly cruel (just take a look at verse 16!). 

So when Herod got upset, you can imagine why the citizens of Jerusalem were as well. They all longed for the Messiah—the Christ—to come and set them free, but in the meantime they were trying to keep their options open. They wanted the Messiah, if they could have Him, but they didn’t want to abandon Herod yet, just in case the Messiah couldn’t follow through.  

  1. Religious leadersHerod…called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law. 

Of all the people looking for the Christ, you would think the chief priests and teachers of the law would be the most excited! When Herod asked them for the birthplace of the Messiah, they immediately knew the answer, but after they delivered this information to King Herod they aren’t mentioned again in this narrative. Bethlehem was only 6 miles away, but they didn’t do a single thing! The Messiah being born in such a lowly manner didn’t fit the image they had concocted in their minds. Later on, Jesus would challenge them on this (see John 5:38-40). 

  1. MagiMagi from the east came to Jerusalem. 

Whereas the Jewish religious leaders were only 6 miles away, the Magi that came from the east might have been anywhere from 400-800 miles away. They left the comforts of their home to travel perhaps as long as 4 months. But, Oh! the journey was so worth the effort! They got to see the Christ with their very own eyes! We read that they were overjoyed, and that they bowed down and worshiped Him and opened their treasures. 

What’s your idea about Jesus? 

  • King Herod wanted a Savior that would enable him to continue to run his own life, but he didn’t want a King that would call the shots. 
  • The people of Jerusalem wanted access to God’s power, but they didn’t want to give their full allegiance to Jesus. 
  • The religious leaders wanted Jesus to fit their mold, but they didn’t want to have to change anything about their own lives. 
  • Only the Magi accepted Jesus as both Savior and King, willingly laying everything at His feet. 

What about you? What’s your idea about Jesus? He isn’t just a Baby in a manger; He’s also King and Judge and Ruler and Lord. When you hear the call to come worship Him, what will your response be? 

The First Noël

romans-3-22When I worked in the business field, I was invited to be a teacher for a program called GROW (Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women), where I taught a class on marketing. Then later on, I served as a reviewer as the students turned in their marketing plans.

One of the main points I tried to drive home to my students is a basic Marketing 101 principle which says—you can’t be all things to all people. You have to pick a niche market and then try to dominate that market. There are two general ideas here: (1) Make your product or service pricey and therefore exclusive to a select group, or (2) Make your product or service affordable and accessible for the mass market.

The Incarnation of Jesus totally violates this Marketing 101 principle. (Which goes to show you that God knows more than all the world’s so-called “experts”!)

First, there was a marketing message to shepherds (see Luke 2:8-11). This would have been the “mass market” as shepherds represented the every-day, working-class man. The first two verses of The First Noël carol addresses these “certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay.”

But then there is this appearance of a very exclusive group of Magi (see Matthew 2:1-2, 11). These men were highly educated and had gained great influence and affluence. Verse 3 of The First Noël references these “wise men…from country far” who could present such lavish gifts to Jesus.

God did exactly what I told my GROW students they shouldn’t do if they wanted to be successful!

The Incarnation of Jesus is one of those rarest of rare things that actually can be all things to all people! Why? Because ALL people need what the Incarnation of Jesus brings. That’s why the final verse of The First Noël calls for ALL of us to join in singing our praise to God because of the salvation Jesus had purchased for ALL mankind.

Here’s the reason—

  • ALL we like sheep have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6)…
  •    …and the penalty for that straying from God is death for ALL sinners (Romans 6:23).
  • But Jesus came to ransom ALL from that penalty (Mark 10:45)…
  •    …so that ALL who believe in Him will be saved (Romans 3:22)!

“The coming of Jesus was a search-and-save mission. ‘The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.’ So Advent is a season for thinking about the mission of God to seek and to save lost people from the wrath to come. … ‘As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you’ (John 20:21). It’s the story of how the vertical Advent of God in the mission of Jesus bends out and becomes the horizontal Advent of Jesus in the mission of the church. In us.” —John Piper

You have been rescued, now go be a rescuer. Take this Noël message to ALL … young/old, rich/poor, Black/white, educated/illiterate, healthy/sick, friend/enemy…. the message in the First Noël and every Noël is for everyone! 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series The Carols Of Christmas, you can find the full list here.

Now What Will You Do With Christmas?

Now that Christmas is over, are you thinking to yourself, “Finally! I can get back to my normal routine”?

For some people, the past weeks have been a hectic whirlwind of activity, and the days leading up to Christmas seem like a blur. So now what?

I guess it depends on your attitude about the season. Was it just a regular, it-comes-every-year Christmas for you? Or was it an exciting CHRISTmas: the time to reflect on the birth of Christ? For those in the second category, we cannot—we dare not!—go back to a “normal” routine.

For those that encountered Jesus on (or near) the day of His birth in Bethlehem, look how they responded:

The Shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.

Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms and praised God.

Anna broke into an anthem of praise to God, and talked about the child to all who were waiting expectantly for the freeing of Jerusalem.

The Magi were overjoyed, and they bowed down and worshiped Him.

My prayer for myself—and for you, too—is that our encounter with Jesus this Christmas was so real, that we will continue to glorify God, and worship Him with overflowing joy, for the rest of the year. Let’s not just get through Christmas, but let’s make sure the reality of CHRISTmas continues to resonate throughout the year.

Nothing Left But Ashes

In the “Your Gift To God” series at Calvary Assembly of God, we have been following the pattern of the gifts that the Magi gave to Jesus as a pattern for the gifts that we, too, should give to God.

First, the Magi gave gold. The king of metals for the King of kings. They acknowledged that this was the Eternal King. Gold is a gift for a king.

The second gift is a bit of a head-scratcher gift: frankincense. This type of incense was used in the Old Testament in worship and sacrifices in the Tent Of Meeting. Incense is a gift for a priest. But would the Magi give a priestly gift to a king?

Jesus came as both King, Priest, and Sacrifice. The frankincense was used as the high priest went from the Holy Place to the Most Holy Place to offer the sacrifice of atonement. But look what the Bible says about Jesus:

…Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

And because of what Jesus did for us:

And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus.

When we offer a sacrifice of frankincense to Jesus our High Priest, we’re saying, “I trust You with this. I don’t want to carry this any longer. I give it to You completely.” That means what we offer to Him is completely consumed.

Yesterday our congregation wrote down their burdens and concerns and challenges on a slip of paper. Then we brought those concerns to Jesus and burned them up like frankincense in His presence. As I smelled the aroma, I could only imagine the incredible scent that Jesus detected.

All of the concerns people wrote down were reduced to ash yesterday morning!

I believe people were set free! The concerns were burned up like a sacrifice before our High Priest! No longer do they have to carry these heavy loads:

Casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully.

Your greatest gift to God could be all of the things that have burdened you for way too long. Give them to Him because He cares for you. Let them be consumed completely, and never pick them up again.

Live free!

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