It’s Just Not Fair

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

It’s not uncommon to hear children on the playground complaining, “That’s not fair!” Common but somewhat expected. 

Unfortunately, it still seems to be common among adults who feel they got the short end of the deal to grouse, “That’s not fair!” Common but immature. Sadly, I have to admit that there are times that I find myself complaining that I didn’t get a fair deal. 

If anyone could complain about not getting His “fair share” it would be God. He gives His all to people who easily forget His blessings, quickly chase after other things, and still grumble that they aren’t getting a fair deal. 

God never complains, but He does ask questions: “My people, what have I done for you? How have I burdened you? Answer Me” (Micah 6:3). In the next two verses, God twice calls on His people to “remember” all that He has done for them. 

We must answer God. But it seems to me that our obedience to Him is the only reasonable response to all of the blessings He has poured out on us. God doesn’t demand burdensome sacrifices from us, but He simply wants us to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before Him (v. 8). 

What God asks of me is out of all proportion with what He has given me, who He is for me today, and the future He has secured for me. 

Fair? No way, it’s completely unfair. God gives me everything and what He asks in return is so minor. Let’s make it our daily joy to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before our loving God! 

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Idolatry

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

Right at the beginning of his book of prophecy, Micah asks four penetrating questions—

What is Jacob’s transgression? Is it not Samaria? What is Judah’s high place? Is it not Jerusalem? (Micah 1:5)

Idolatry is the elevation of anyone or anything to a place of adoration. Any place, person, or practice can become my god if I give it more attention than I give Jehovah. 

In Micah’s prophetic warning, idolatry had become symbolized by the capitol cities of Samaria and Jerusalem. The people were looking to the leaders and cultural practices in those cities instead of looking to God. 

I wonder if we do the same thing today?

  • Do we look to Washington DC for political help? 
  • Do we find our financial wisdom on Wall Street? 
  • Does the culture of Hollywood inform how we should live? 
  • Does the music of Nashville determine the song in our hearts? 
  • Do Harvard, Berkeley, or Stanford tell us how to think? 

When I’m in trouble, when I need answers, when I’m looking for comfort, where do I turn first? My first reaction—my go-to source—is a good indication of who my deity is. When Micah became aware of the idolatry of his people, his response was to weep, wail, howl, and moan over their sin (v. 8). This should be our response as well whenever we see idols replacing Jehovah in our heart or in the hearts of others. 

May God’s people repent of the idolatry of looking to other places, people, and practices instead of looking to Almighty God! 

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Name-It-Claim-It?

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This is part 4 in our series “Is that in the Bible?” 

Statement #4—Name it and claim it. Is that in the Bible? No! 

But in fairness, even the proponents of this belief don’t usually say it this way. Instead they quote words from Jesus like: “I will do whatever you ask in My name” (John 14:13) or “Ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7). 

They really want this to be true, I think, because in their minds happy, prosperous Christians make God look good. On the other hand, struggling Christians make God look bad. There is a whole branch of theology called theodicy which literally means: “a defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil.” 

This is nothing new. Religious people have always tried to have pat answers. In the oldest book of the Bible, Job’s friends were convinced that suffering results from sin and blessing results from righteousness. And yet according to God, Job was a righteous man (Job 1:1, 8, 20-21). 

At the advent of Jesus, the chief priests and scribes want the Messiah to be heroic so they modified a prophecy to make Bethlehem sound more impressive (compare Micah 5:2 with Matthew 2:6). 

So it follows that this name-it-claim-it group wants God to look good because His people look good, dress well, drive nice cars, live in big homes, fly private jets, and never get sick.

But Jesus Himself told His followers to, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Luke 12:33). And He said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:11). And Jesus also said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). 

This is not to say that God opposes wealth: He gave wealth to His leaders, Job was doubly-wealthy after his trial, and wealthy people funded the ministry of Jesus and the early church. But this isn’t the same as pursuing—or even demanding—wealth, or of making the erroneous connection that poor people are somehow out of favor with God. 

How do we avoid these errors? Here are three thoughts: 

(1) Study the whole counsel of God’s Word.  

Don’t just read your favorite passages, or the ones that make you feel good, but read all of the Bible. Jesus frequently had to correct the religious leaders’ beliefs by sending them back to the Scripture (Matthew 21:15-16; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 6:3). Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Spirit of truth (John 16:12-15). The Holy Spirit that inspired the Bible is the same Holy Spirit in a Christian that can illuminate the Bible as you read it.  

(2) Remember that context is king.  

The word “eisegesis” means to read something into the Word. But that is like creating your own beliefs and then going to the Bible to find phrases that support what you already believe. On the other hand “exegesis” is to read the Bible and have it speak to us by the Holy Spirit. 

Two of the phrases from Jesus that the name-it-and-claim-it folks use (John 14:13 and John 15:7) turn out to mean something entirely different than, “God will give me all of the things I demand from Him” when they are read within the context of the things Jesus was teaching at that time (see John 14:9-14 and 15:1-8). 

(3) Understand your terms.

If something is biblical, that is something the Bible says yes to. Unbiblical things the Bible says no to. But non-biblical are those the Bible doesn’t explicitly address. We have to be very careful of trying to make non-biblical things sound biblical or it may lead to some unbiblical attitudes and actions. 

This is exactly what the Pharisees did by giving their non-biblical traditions the weight of biblical statements, and then looking down on others in a very unbiblical way. 

God is sovereign. We do not tell Him what to do. We do not demand Him to respond to our needs. We trust Him and and we abide in Him. Then in the abiding, asking and understanding and fruitfulness are as natural as a flower sprouting from a branch that is attached to the vine. We don’t name things and claim things for our personal comfort, but we desire solely for God’s glory to be seen—whether in wealth or poverty, health or sickness, peaceful times or tribulation. 

Evaluating all biblical sounding statements by those three items—studying the whole counsel of God’s Word, understanding the context, and knowing our terms—will guide us from going astray. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series Is That In The Bible?, you can get a list of all of the messages by clicking here.

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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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Judging Like God

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

I may have heard more confusion, bad preaching, and even heresy based on Psalm 82 than almost any other passage! Most of the confusion comes from just verses 1 and 6, but if we read the entire psalm, I think confusions are quickly cleared up.

The biggest point of confusion is the use of the word “gods.” The Hebrew language doesn’t have capital and lowercase letters like we do. So the word God (with or without a capital “G”) is the same Hebrew word—el (singular) or elohiym (plural)—which means mighty One or mighty ones. Humans can be mighty ones, but only Yahweh is the Mighty One. 

Further adding to the confusion for some people is that Yahweh God is sometimes referred to in the plural in Hebrew: elohiym. This is understandable because we believe God is Three-in-One. Not three gods, but one God in three Persons. 

Bible translators have to use context clues to determine whether the biblical authors are referring to Yahweh or a pretend deity. Thankfully, English Bible translators have helped us out:

  • when the Hebrew word is Yahweh, most Bibles print it LORD 
  • when the Mighty One is implied in the text it’s God (with a capital “G”), and when it’s just a mighty person it’s typed god/gods (with lowercase a “g”). 
  • the NIV translators really helped us in Psalm 82 by designating the false deities in quotation marks (“gods”), almost as if they’re saying “the so-called gods.” 

When we were looking at the Selah in Psalm 81, I pointed out the importance of remembering that context is king. Clearly, from the context in Psalm 82, these are false gods (lowercase “g” and inside quotation marks).  

Asaph only speaks in the first and last verses of this psalm, but notice his commentary that “God presides…He gives judgment.” As in, God gets the final and decisive word. In fact, God does the most speaking in this psalm (in verses 2-7). God indicts wicked people for…

  • defending the unjust 
  • showing partiality to the wicked 
  • knowing nothing, understanding  nothing, walking around in darkness 
  • and notes “you will die like mere men” 

Now notice what the Selah pause connects. This is a pause for us to contrast two things: the righteous way and the wicked way. Or maybe we could say the contrast is between the way of the righteous Mighty One and His followers, and the way of wicked mighty ones. 

The Selah really begs an important question, “How long will your pride keep you doing these wicked things?” Notice what God calls on people to do in opposition to what the wicked are doing:

  • the wicked defend the unjust vs. the righteous are to defend the weak and fatherless 
  • the wicked show partiality to the wicked vs. the righteous maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed 
  • the wicked are concerned only about themselves vs. the righteous rescue the weak and needy from the hand of the wicked 

The Selah is intended to prompt us to ask ourselves: “Which are we? What am I doing or not doing?” 

The word for rendering a judgment is used four times in Psalm 82: 

  • God gives judgment on the activities of the “gods” 
  • the wicked defend the unjust, meaning that they condone their unjust activities 
  • the righteous defend the weak, meaning they speak up for those being oppressed by the “gods”
  • finally, Asaph declares in verse 8 that God renders the final and decisive judgement 

God wants us to exercise His righteous judgment on the earth. We have to Selah to examine ourselves first (see Matthew 7:1-5 and this short video), but then we need to act boldly and righteously (see Micah 6:8; Leviticus 5:1; Proverbs 31:8-9). 

We can judge like we are “gods,” or we can judge, defend, and speak up like ambassadors of the Mighty One—the Ultimate Judge.

Wicked people are punished for judging like “gods.” Righteous people are rewarded for judging like God. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series exploring the Selahs in the Psalms, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

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Spirit-Empowered To Do Good Works

Micah the prophet’s name means who is like God, or more literally: “who but God?” The implied answer, of course, is no one! 

Micah opens his letter by telling us his name, and then he closes his prophetic words with a play on his name when he says, “Who is a God like You?” (7:18-20). Who else but God could…

  • …pardon sin?
  • …forgive transgressions? 
  • …not stay angry at sinners? 
  • …delight to show mercy? 
  • …have such boundless compassion? 
  • …tread our sins under His foot?
  • …hurl our iniquities into the sea?  

NO ONE! 

In light of this, how should we respond to this amazing God? Micah asks a series of rhetorical questions about what sort of religious practices would somehow “balance the scales” for God’s amazing gifts to us. But here’s the deal: there is no way for us to balance the scales! Instead, Micah tells us this, “God has showed you what is good. What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” 

In other words, our response to God’s invaluable gifts must transition from a have to lifestyle to a get to lifestyle! Micah makes it clear that God’s Spirit empowers us to live this way (Micah 3:8). 

It is the Holy Spirit who empowers Christians to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. 

The apostle Paul agrees with Micah, even echoing some of Micah’s own phrases—God’s great love, His rich mercy, His unearned grace, His forgiveness of sin, His kindness, and His salvation (Ephesians 2:4-10). Why did God do all of this? So that we could “do good works”—like acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly—“which God prepared in advance for us to do”!

I am saved by grace SO THAT I am free to do grace-filled, Spirit-empowered, good things. 

All of this prompts me to ask myself three introspective questions:

  1. Do I continually remind myself that I was saved by grace and not by works? I need to check my have to vs. get to attitude. 
  2. Am I aware that people are watching me? What are they seeing? Do they see godly justice, loving mercy, and humility? 
  3. Am I living like Jesus? Peter explained that Jesus “went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). Can that be said of me too? 

Who but God could call us, forgive us, and forget our sins? NO ONE! 

Who but God could empower us to live in such a way that others see His greatness too? NO ONE! 

Let’s never, ever become self-reliant or works-dependent (that’s have to living), but let’s stay so Spirit-reliant that we cannot help be get to people! 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our series about major lessons from the minor prophets, you can find the full list by clicking here

The Role Of Prophecy

Micah may be classified as a minor prophet, but the prophecies in his book are fulfilled in a major way in as little as 20 years and as far out as 2700+ years! 

Here’s a question for us to consider: What exactly is the role of prophecy in the life of a Christian? 

Micah introduces himself in the opening verse. He was ministering in the country while Isaiah was in the city of Jerusalem at the same time. Micah’s ministry spans three kings of Judah in the south, and he overlaps the defeat of Israel in the north.  

Check out some of Micah’s most notable prophecies: 

  1. Judgment is coming to Samaria/Israel (1:6-7). This was fulfilled about 20 years later when the Assyrians defeated Samaria and took the Israelites into exile. 
  2. Judgment is coming on southern Judah (1:9-16). This was fulfilled about 30 years later when Sennacherib attacked Philistia and southern Judah, coming “even to the gate of Jerusalem” (v. 12). At the gate of Jerusalem was the miraculous deliverance God gave during Hezekiah’s reign (see 2 Kings 18-19; Isaiah 37). 
  3. Judgment is coming on Jerusalem (3:12). Micah even prophesied the Babylonians would defeat them (4:10). This is noteworthy because Assyria was the dominant world power at this time; it would be another 100 years before Babylon would even begin to rise to power. This prophecy was fulfilled about 160 years later, and this prophecy actually saved Jeremiah’s life around that same time (Jeremiah 26:7-19). 
  4. The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem (5:2). This prophecy was fulfilled about 700 years later when Jesus was born (Matthew 2:5-6). 
  5. How people will respond to the Messiah’s Advent (7:4-6). This prophecy was partially fulfilled 700 years later in a direct quotation from Jesus (Matthew 10:34-36). 
  6. The coming of the final Kingdom of God (4:1-3). This prophecy will be fulfilled at Christ’s second Advent. 

[you can read all of these prophecies yourself by clicking here

So what is the role of prophecy? 

First of all, fulfilled prophecy reminds us that God is sovereignly in control of everything (Isaiah 46:10). But right on the heels of that, fulfilled prophecy reminds us that there is still more prophecy left to be fulfilled (2 Peter 1:20-2:3). 

The Bible tells me that when I sin, God’s first response is not anger toward me but broken-hearted grief. In a similar fashion, the prophecies of coming judgment on sinners are intended to show us the incredible mercy of God in the forgiveness of sin that He made available (Micah 7:18-20). 

Prophecy is never, never to be used as a club to beat people into submission to God. When Micah prophesied the destruction of Israel and Judah, he wept (Micah 1:8). 

So did Jesus (Matthew 23:37). 

And so should we! 

We live in an age today—as Micah experienced and as the apostle Peter said would be coming—where people won’t want to hear the news that unforgiven sin brings God’s judgment. Our response to this should be brokenhearted grief, tears, and a steadfast commitment to speak the truth in love that Jesus has provided the only means to be rescued from that judgment. 

If you’ve missed any of the other posts in this series on the major lessons from the minor prophets, you can access the full list by clicking here.

Doing Justice The Right Way

Once I was asked to teach a class on business ethics but I said, “I can’t because there’s no such thing as ‘business ethics.’ There is only ethics: Either something is right or it’s not.” 

I think the same concept holds true for “social justice.” There is no such thing: Either something is just or it’s not. 

For those situations that are truly unjust, the Bible tells us how to handle them. But first, let’s get a sense of what the Bible actually means by the word “justice.” 

Psalm 50 is a courtroom scene, with God Himself presiding as the Judge, summoning all of creation into His presence (see Psalm 50:1-6). Just before The Judge begins to speak, the psalmist Asaph calls on us to Selah—or pause to consider—after saying, “The heavens proclaim God’s righteousness.” 

The New Living Translation has this verse saying, “The heavens proclaim His justice…” and the Amplified Bible uses both words: “The heavens declare His righteousness (rightness and justice)….” So which word is it: righteousness or justice? 

The Hebrew word (tsedeq) means something that is ethically right. In other words, something for which God sets the objective standard for rightness and wrongness. There is another Hebrew word that is often very closely associated with tsedeq, and that is justice (mishpat): that is the penalty for violating tsedeq. 

But here’s where things get really interesting. We usually associate the idea of justice with retribution (or payback), but God’s justice is usually portrayed as restoration. 

In other words, God’s mercy is so strong and His desire for us to be restored into right standing with Him is so passionate, that His default is restorative mercy. 

God’s response to our acts of unrighteousness wasn’t to rain down retributive justice on us, but to send His Son to earth to make restorative mercy available! 

In his first public sermon, Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah. The last words Jesus read about His mission on earth were “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He left off the last phrase in Isaiah which said, “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Favor (restoration) now; judgment (retribution) later for those who would not accept the restoration Jesus made available. 

Back in the Psalm 50 courtroom, God tells us the wrong way to address injustice: with angry, demeaning words (Psalm 50:19-20).  

We CANNOT do justice God’s way without two things: 

  1. Personal righteousness which comes from Jesus in us (Romans 5:1); otherwise, we’re just hypocrites pointing out the exact same injustice that’s in ourselves. 
  2. Kindness. “But let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know Me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:24)

And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

The darkness of injustice is the absence of light. Jesus says to us, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). 

The hate of injustice is the absence of love. Jesus says to us, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). 

Here are my takeaways—

  1. Let God be The Judge. 
  2. Make sure I am in right standing with God through my relationship with Jesus Christ. 
  3. If I see injustice, address it with kindness, light, and love.

If you have missed any messages in this current series in the Selahs in the Psalms, you can get caught up by clicking here.

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Born A King

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.

Born A King

     A very singular thing is this, that Jesus Christ was said to have been ‘born King of the Jews’ (Matthew 2:2). … The moment that He came on earth, He was a king. He did not wait till His majority that He might take His empire—but as soon as His eye greeted the sunshine, He was a King. From the moment that His little hands grasped anything, they grasped a scepter. As soon as His pulse beat and His blood begin to flow, His heart beat royally and His pulse beat an imperial measure and His blood flowed in a kingly current. He was born a King. He came ‘to be ruler in Israel.’ … 

     His goings forth as our Surety were from everlasting [Micah 5:2]. Pause, my soul, and wonder! You had goings forth in the person of Jesus from everlasting. Not only when you were born into the world did Christ love you, but His delights were with the sons of men before there were any sons of men! Often did He think of them; from everlasting to everlasting He had set His affection upon them. … 

     If He had not loved me with a love as deep as hell and as unutterable as the grave, if He had not given His whole heart to me, I am sure He would have turned from me long ago. He knew what I would be and He had time enough to consider it—but I am His choice and that is the end of it. … He knew me before I knew myself—yes, He knew me before I was myself. … 

     Sweet Lord Jesus! You whose going forth were of old, even from everlasting, You have not left Your goings forth yet. Oh, that You would go forth this day to cheer the faint, to help the weary, to bind up our wounds, to comfort our distresses! Go forth, we beseech You, to conquer sinners, to subdue hard hearts, to break the iron gates of sinners’ lusts and cut the iron bars of their sins in pieces! O Jesus! Go forth, and when You go forth, come to me!

From The Incarnation And Birth Of Christ

Think about that for a moment—Jesus had all of eternity to think about you, to see your whole life, and still, He loved you enough to die on a Cross for you! 

That God should love a sinner such as I 
Should yearn to change my sorrow into bliss 
Nor rest till He had planned to bring me nigh 
How wonderful is love like this

Such love, such wondrous love 
Such love, such wondrous love 
That God should love a sinner such as I 
How wonderful is love like this

That Christ should join so freely in the scheme 
Although it meant His death on Calvary
Did ever human tongue find nobler theme 
Than love divine that ransomed me

That for a willful outcast such as I
The Father planned the Savior bled and died 
Redemption for a worthless slave to buy 
Who long had law and grace defied

And now He takes me to His heart a son 
He asks me not to fill a servant’s place 
The far off country wanderings all are done 
Wide open are His arms of grace —C. Bishop, Such Love

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. 

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