All According to Plan

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:13-18 ESV

After having spent more than three years of his life with Jesus, Matthew had come to believe in two things: The Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah and the providence of God. Over time, he had come to recognize that Jesus was the fulfillment of all that the prophets had written concerning long-awaited “anointed one” of God.

Matthew would have remembered the words of Jesus, spoken at the synagogue in Nazareth immediately after He had read the following passage from the scroll containing the writings of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
– Luke 4:18-19 ESV

Jesus had read from Isaiah 61:1-2, a text that the Jews in His audience would have known carried Messianic implications. And when He had finished, He had sat down and stated: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV).

Jesus had boldly claimed to be the fulfillment of this passage. He was the anointed one of God, who possessed the Spirit of God and had been sent on a mission by God. And more than three years later, after Jesus had died and resurrected, He had suddenly appeared to two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus. Once they recognized Him as their risen Lord, Jesus had provided them with insight into His Messianic pedigree.

…beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. – Luke 24:27 ESV

Those disciples had returned to Jerusalem, where they shared the news of Jesus’ resurrection with the rest of the disciples, including Matthew. And Luke records that Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst and said to them:.

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. – Luke 24:44-45 ESV

Matthew fully believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. But he also believed that God had been working providentially in the life of Jesus from the moment of His birth to the final minutes of His life on the cross. Nothing had happened that God had not ordained and providentially orchestrated, including the arrival of the Magi and the sinister reaction of Herod to the news of the birth of Israel’s new king.

All of the events surrounding Jesus’ incarnation were planned by God from eternity past. He was not operating in a reactionary mode, responding to events as they happened or forced to alter His plans based on the whims of men. Nothing was a surprise to God. There was never a moment when He was caught off guard or found Himself having to come up with plan B. 

Matthew had come to recognize that every detail concerning Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection had been providentially planned by God. Even the flight of Joseph, Mary, and their newborn son to Egypt had been part of God’s divine strategy. Matthew records that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, warning him in advance that Herod had evil intentions for their son.

“Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” – Matthew 2:13 ESV

Joseph had done as the angel commanded, taking his young wife and newborn son to Egypt in order to escape the wrath of Herod. And we know from the following verses, that the threat had been real, because Herod had all the male children under the age of two murdered, in a vain attempt to eliminate any potential threat to his throne.

But Herod’s plan would fail. He would prove unsuccessful in his efforts to kill the rightful heir to David’s throne. In fact, according to the Jewish historian, Josephus, Herod would die a painful and miserable death. Even Luke records that Herod would be “eaten by worms” (Acts 12:23 ESV).

But Jesus would find refuge in Egypt, much like the people of Israel had done hundreds of years earlier. Jacob and his family had also turned to Egypt when faced with a famine in the land of Canaan. And 400 years later, God would lead the people of Israel out of Egypt and return them to the land of Canaan. And the prophet Hosea would later record the news of God’s providential rescue of His people from their captivity in Egypt.

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son. – Hosea 11:1 ESV

Matthew uses this very same Old Testament passage to illustrate how Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of what happened when God had returned His “son” from Egypt. Jesus would return from a distant land “to proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, (and) to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

When God had led the people of Israel out of Egypt, He had done so in fulfillment of His promise to Abraham. He had plans to return them to the land of Canaan, which He was going to give them as an inheritance. He had promised to give Abraham a land, a seed, and a blessing. But while the Israelites finally made it to the land and eventually occupied it, they had never fully lived up to God’s expectations for them. They had proved disobedient and unfaithful. But God was still going to bless the nations through the “seed” of Abraham. And Jesus was the fulfillment of that promise. The apostle Paul made this point perfectly clear when he wrote:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:13-16 ESV

God would once again call “the seed” of Abraham out of Egypt, but this time the blessing would come to the Gentiles. Jesus would do what the Jews had failed to do. He would live in perfect obedience to the will of God, carrying out His commands and accomplishing His will. And there was nothing Herod the Great or his son and successor, Herod Antipas, could do to thwart the plans of the sovereign God. Jesus would not only return from Egypt, but He would also survive childhood, grow to be a man, and begin His earthly ministry just as God had sovereignly ordained. All according to the divine plan and in keeping with on God’s predetermined timeline. 

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. – Galatians 4:4-5 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

God With Us

18 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. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 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. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

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

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. – Matthew 1:18-25 ESV

In this section of Matthew’s Gospel, he takes his defense of Jesus’ messiahship one step further. Not only was Jesus the fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, but He was also the Son of God. Right from the very start, Matthew establishes Jesus as being divine, referring to Him by the name pronounced by the angel of God: Immanuel. And, just to make sure his readers understand the significance of that name,  Matthew provides them with its meaning: “God with us” (Matthew 1:23 ESV). 

In announcing the coming birth of Jesus and declaring His name and identity, the angel reiterated the words of God recorded by the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” – Isaiah 7:14 ESV

As with many of the prophecies found in the Old Testament, this verse from Isaiah passage had a now/not yet aspect to it. In its original historical context, this message from God was delivered by Isaiah to Ahaz, the king of Judah. It spoke of a child being born during the days of Ahaz and this birth would give evidence that the military alliance between Syria and Israel against Judah would be unsuccessful. The essence of the message was that life would go on in Judah, while the northern kingdom of Israel would suffer defeat at the hands of the Assyrians.

“Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and rejoice over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.”

Be broken, you peoples, and be shattered;
    give ear, all you far countries;
strap on your armor and be shattered;
    strap on your armor and be shattered.
Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing;
    speak a word, but it will not stand,
    for God is with us. – Isaiah 8:6-10 ESV

Matthew picks up on this prophetic vision, recognizing its future fulfillment in Jesus. The primary focus of the message delivered by Isaiah to King Ahaz was that God would be with the people of Judah. The Assyrians would come upon the northern kingdom of Israel like a river that has overflowed its banks. They will devastate and destroy everything in their path, even making their way into the southern kingdom of Judah. But they will fail in their efforts to defeat Judah. Why? Because of the presence of God.

And Matthew, knowing that the angel of God had designated Jesus as Immanuel, “God with us,” understood that His birth signified that God had determined to dwell with His people once again. In the darkness that cloaked the land of Israel, a light was shining. The apostle John picked up on this imagery.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

And John went on to describe Jesus, the Word of God, as dwelling among the people of God. The Greek word John used is σκηνόω (skēnoō ), and it literally means “to fix one’s tabernacle.”

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:1, 14 ESV

Jesus was God in human flesh, pitching His “tent” among His people once again. But rather than a tent made of animal skins, this tabernacle would be that of a human body in which God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, would take up permanent residence. Jesus became the God-man, and rather than the Shekinah glory that hovered over the mercy seat in the tabernacle in the wilderness, Jesus would become the glory of God living and walking among men. Jesus was “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 ESV) and “he has made him known” (John 1:18 ESV).

The birth of Jesus was both ordinary and extraordinary. He would be born to an obscure Jewish couple who hailed from the nondescript town of Nazareth. But Joseph would not be the father of Jesus. No, Jesus would be conceived by the Holy Spirit, which meant that His birth would be anything but ordinary. Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph, had not yet consummated her marriage to him. This is clear by Joseph’s response to the news that she was pregnant.

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. – Matthew 1:19 ESV

Joseph was shocked by the news but, out of love for Mary, determined to keep the situation under wraps, doing all that he could to protect her name. But the angel of God let Joseph know that his worst fears were unfounded. Mary had not been unfaithful to him. She had been chosen by God to bear the Savior of the world.

“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.” – Matthew 1:20-21 ESV

“Jesus” is the Latin form of the Greek name Ἰησοῦς  (Iēsous). It is the same as the Hebrew Yeshua (Joshua), which means “Yahweh saves.”

This entire section is intended by Matthew to convey the miraculous nature of Jesus’ birth, but it’s also meant to support his premise that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one of God. Matthew declares that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy found in Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

As we have seen, this prophecy was originally fulfilled during the days of King Ahaz. But Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is letting us know that there was another aspect of this prophecy that had long-term ramifications. God was looking far into the future and declaring that another birth would take place and another son would be born, whose arrival on the scene would signify that “God is with us.”

Matthew’s primary purpose has been to establish Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ. And he has done so by presenting three powerful proofs: His fulfillment of the Old Testament covenant promises made to Abraham and David, as evidenced by the indisputable record of his genealogy, and the miraculous nature of His birth. Jesus was the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, and the Son of God. He was Immanuel, God with us, the very image of the invisible God, who came to earth in order that He might redeem a lost and dying world cloaked in the darkness of sin. And, as the apostle Paul explains, God shattered that darkness by sending His own Son as the light of His glory.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. – 2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

He Is Risen!

1 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a greatå earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” 8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” – Matthew 28:-10 ESV

Early on Sunday morning, Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Salome made their way to the tomb of Jesus. Mark makes it clear that they had no expectation of finding the tomb empty or Jesus resurrected. In fact, they had “bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him” (Mark 16:1 ESV). They even discussed along the way who they could get to roll away the stone so they could access the body of Jesus. They were fully expecting to find a dead body, not a risen Savior.

But they were in for a surprise. When they arrived at the tomb, something miraculous had happened. An angel had rolled away the massive stone sealing the entrance to the tomb, and this spectacular event was accompanied by an earthquake. And, as can be imagined, the guards who been assigned the task of preventing the theft of Jesus’ body, were petrified at what they witnessed. Matthew describes them as becoming ‘“like dead men.”

The three women, having witnessed this remarkable event, still made their way into the tomb and were perplexed to find it empty (Luke 24:3-4). They body was gone. Luke records that the angel who rolled away the stone was accompanied by a second angel. And these two heavenly beings confronted the women, asking them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5 ESV). But they didn’t wait for answer. Instead, they informed the women, “He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:6 ESV).

They had sought a dead man. But, to their shock and surprise, they were informed that the one they sought was alive. This entire encounter must have left the women dealing with a strange mixture of elation and confusion. Could it be true? Was Jesus really alive. For Mary, this news must have been too good to be true. But the angels didn’t give the women much time to dwell on the shocking nature of the news. They commanded them, “go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you” (Matthew 28:7 ESV). And they did as they were told and Matthew reports that they did so “with fear and great joy” (Matthew 28:8 ESV).

As if this news was not enough to elevate their endorphin levels and raise their heart rates, they had a personal encounter with Jesus Himself along the way. Matthew records that “Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’” (Matthew 28:9 ESV). This totally unexpected reunion with their once-dead friend and master was too much for them. All they could do was bow down and worship Him. And Jesus calmed their fears, telling them to take the news of His resurrection to His disciples and to request that they meet Him in Galilee.

When reading the various gospel accounts of this event, there seem to be contradictions. Was there one angel or two? Did Mary arrive at the tomb on her own or with the other two women? But if you piece the various gospel accounts together, you can arrive at a credible chronology that provides an accurate accounting of the order of events.

First, Luke records that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome started for the tomb (Luke 23:55-24:1). When they arrived, they found the stone rolled away (Luke 24:2-9). According to John’s account, Mary Magdaline was the first to arrive at the tomb and find it empty. She ran to tell the disciples the news (John 20:1-2). It was Mary, the mother of James who arrived next and encountered the angel (Matthew 28:1-2). She ran back to tell the other women following with spices they had prepared to anoint the body of Jesus. In the meantime, Peter and John arrived on the scene, discovered the tomb empty, just as Mary Magdalene had said, then they departed (John 20:3-10). The disciples had evidently outrun Mary Magdalene, because she returned weeping, still unaware that Jesus was alive. All she had known was that the tomb had been empty. But she sees the two angels and then Jesus (John 20:11-18), who told her to tell the disciples (John 20:17-18). According to Luke’s account, Mary, the mother of James, returned with the women (Luke 24:1-4), sees the two angels and hears their message (Luke 24:5; Mark 16:5; Matthew 28:6-8). It was on their way to find the disciples, that these women were met by the risen Christ (Matthew 28:9-10).

What an incredible morning! What a shocking sequence of events. None of these people had expected this to happen, even thought Jesus had repeatedly told them He would rise again the third day. He had tried to assure them that His death would be followed by His resurrection, but that part of the story had never registered with them. Until now.

He was alive. As the angel had said, “He is not here, for he has risen.” The tomb was empty. The Savior was alive and well and they had seen Him. The one they had watched die a brutal death on the cross, just three days earlier, was fully alive. The women had touched His feet. They had heard Him speak. And He had promised to meet them in Galilee. All of this beyond their wildest imaginations. Their sorrow had suddenly been turned to joy. Their weeping had turned to laughter. Their disappointment and disillusionment had turned to hope and happiness.

Jesus had won a stunning victory over death. He had conquered the grave. And His actions would leave the enemy, Satan, reeling from the shock of it all. The high priest and the Sanhedrin would refuse to believe it. But it was true. He was alive. And, as the apostle reminds us, that irrefutable news is good news to all those who place their faith in Jesus Christ.

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Worth the Sacrifice.

14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.

20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. 21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.” – Matthew 26:14-253 ESV

Mary, the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead, had just anointed the head of Jesus using “an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment” (Matthew 26:7 ESV). In reaction to her exorbitant display of gratitude to Jesus, the disciples become incensed at what they believed to be an unnecessary waste of resources. But, in his gospel, John makes it clear that the disciple who showed the greatest concern for Mary’s actions was Judas. 

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” – John 12:4-5 ESV

John goes on to explain that Judas was responsible for the combined financial resources of Jesus and the disciples. And, at first glance, it would appear that he was just practicing good stewardship. But John provides us with a less-than-flattering insight into the character of Judas.

He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. – John 12:6 ESV

He saw Mary's display of worship as nothing more than a waste of money. Had the perfume been sold and the money turned over to him as treasurer, he could have benefited personally. But by pouring the expensive perfume on the head of Jesus, Mary had “robbed” Judas of the opportunity to line his own pockets.

Yet, Jesus described what Mary had done as beautiful. He stressed that His time with them was short. His death was imminent and Mary’s actions could be construed as an anointing of His body for His coming burial. In this scene, we have the conflict between the selfless sacrifice of Mary and the selfish mindset of the disciples, exemplified by the words of Judas. They weren’t thinking about Jesus. They were seemingly unconcerned about His pending death. It’s all reminiscent of another scene involving Mary and Jesus. It’s recorded in Luke’s gospel.

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”  – Luke 10:38-42 ESV

On this occasion, Mary had chosen to sit at the feet of Jesus, listening and learning from Him as He taught. In contrast, her sister, Martha, had busied herself with activities that left her no time for Jesus. She was so busy doing things for Jesus that she didn’t have time to receive from Jesus. And Jesus informed Martha that Mary had “chosen the good portion” (Luke 10:42 ESV). She had made time for Him.

And in this passage, Matthew reveals that Mary, once again, had chosen the good portion. She had done the right thing. Her focus was on Jesus, not herself. She showed no concern for the cost of her actions. But the disciples did, especially Judas.

Matthew records that, after the scene at Bethany, Judas made his way to the religious leadership of Israel. Nowhere in the gospels are we given a rationale behind Judas’ actions. We are not told what motivated him to betray Jesus. But as John pointed out, Judas was a thief and, as a thief, he was driven by a love for money. Like the rest of the disciples, Judas had chosen to follow Jesus because he hoped Him to be the Messiah. And, as was true of the other disciples, he his association with Jesus was tainted by purely selfish motives. If Jesus truly was the Messiah, Judas hoped to personally profit from his membership in Jesus’ inner circle of followers.

Perhaps, when he began to hear Jesus speak of His coming death, Judas began to have second thoughts and doubts about His Messiahship. He knew he could not gain from following a dead Messiah. So, he decided to make the best of a bad situation. He came up with a plan to betray Jesus to the religious leaders, asking them, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” (Matthew 26:15 ESV). They offered him the sum of 30 pieces of silver, not exactly an exorbitant amount. Notice that Judas had estimated the worth of the perfume Mary had used to anoint Jesus as being 300 denarii. A single denarii was the equivalent of a day’s wage for a common laborer. So, Mary had sacrificed 10-months-worth of income to express her love for Jesus.

And if the silver coins Judas was given were denarii, it means he willing to betray Jesus for a single month’s income. He put little value in Jesus’ worth and placed his own desires above any display of love or loyalty to His master. The sum of 30 pieces of silver is important, because it was the exact amount determined by the Mosaic law for restitution the lost value of a slave.

If the ox gores a slave, male or female, the owner shall give to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. – Exodus21:32 ESV

Judas had bargained away the life of Jesus for the price of a common slave. Unlike Mary, he placed little or no value on the life of Jesus. And his actions revealed that he had no true love for Jesus. Judas loved Judas.

One of the incredible aspects of this little vignette in the life of Jesus is its direct correlation to the prophecies of the Old Testament, Over in the book of Zechariah, there is a prophetic passage that tells of the coming Shepherd of God, who was to “shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter” (Zechariah 11:4 ESV). Zechariah goes on to say that this Shepherd would attempt to show favor to the doomed sheep, attempting to unify them under His leadership (Zechariah 11:7). But they detested Him. So, the Shepherd removed his favor and said, “I will not be your shepherd” (Zechariah 11:9).

This is where it gets interesting. The rejected Shepherd demanded his wages.

Then I said to them, “If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. – Zechariah 11:12 ESV

And then, Zechariah records that God demanded that the Shepherd refuse the payment.

Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, to the potter. – Zechariah 11:13 ESV

And in the very next chapter, Matthew reveals what happened to Judas and his ill-gotten gain. He had second thoughts about his decision to betray Jesus.

Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. – Matthew 27:3-8 ESV

For 30 pieces of silver, Judas had been willing to sell out the Messiah. He had lined his own pocket with blood money, made from his betrayal of the one he had followed for 3 years. Mary had willingly given the best of what she had in an attempt to express her love and appreciation to Jesus. Judas had sold out His master and friend, not to mention his fellow disciples, all in order to make up what he thought were his losses for having decided to follow Jesus. But Judas had missed the point. He had not listened to the words of Jesus when He said:

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.
 – Matthew 19:29 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Beautiful Thing.

1 When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, 2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”

3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4 and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 5 But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”

6 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” – Matthew 26:1-13 ESV

Jesus ended His discussion regarding the Kingdom of Heaven with a jarring reminder to His disciples of His upcoming crucifixion. Not only was the inauguration of His Kingdom going to be delayed, He was going to die. And while Jesus had made it clear that the coming of His Kingdom was not going to happen for some time, His death would take place in just a matter of days. What a rude wake-up call for the disciples. And what an unpleasant reminder that things were not as they had hoped or supposed. Their king had come, but not as they had expected. His Kingdom was not of this earth. And, as they would soon discover, the crown He was destined to wear would be made of thorns, not gold. He would hang on a cross, not sit on a throne. And yet, it was all part of God’s sovereign plan.

And so was the plotting and planning of the religious leaders. Their role in the entire affair was not in opposition to God’s will, but an essential part of it. They were nothing more than instruments in His hands, unknowingly accomplishing His will even through their disobedience and rejection of His Son. What they did, they did in secret. They plotted behind the scenes. They hid their intentions from the people, because of Jesus’ popularity. But God was fully aware of their every move. And He was in total control of the entire timeline of events. From the clandestine collusion of the religious leaders to the self-serving plans of Judas to betray Jesus, nothing escaped God’s divine attention or threatened the outcome of His redemptive plan.

And this includes the anointing of Jesus by Mary Magdalene. This has always been a fascinating story to me. It is full of interesting twists and turns, and raises more than just a few questions. One of the most intriguing things about this passage is a statement by Jesus. It is one that I overlooked for years. After having been anointed and hearing the protests of Judas about the wastefulness of this action, Jesus responds by saying, “I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed” (Mark 14:9 NLT). I can’t help but read that statement and ask, “Was He right?” Have the actions of this woman been remembered and discussed wherever the Good News has been preached? There is no doubt that this passage has been preached and the events contained in it have been discussed, but I really question whether her deed has been remembered and discussed. I am not saying that Jesus was wrong, but I am suggesting that we have perhaps missed the significance of the moment as Jesus saw it. His statement suggests that the actions of Mary were not to be overlooked or misunderstood. The disciples, especially Judas, saw what she did as wasteful and unnecessary. It seemed extravagant and a tad over-zealous on Mary’s part. But Jesus said that what she did should be remembered and discussed among all believers everywhere for all time. Why?

I think there are several things going on here. First of all, it is just days before Jesus’ trials, crucifixion and death. He had told His disciples what is going to happen in Jerusalem, but they had refused to believe it. Jesus had His attention focused on the task at hand – His sacrificial death for the sins of all mankind. The disciples were focused on something altogether different: Jesus becoming the king of Israel. They were still anticipating that Jesus was going to establish His earthly Kingdom, with them ruling and reigning at His side. They had no room in their plans for a suffering Savior or a martyred Messiah.

Yet, Jesus was fully aware of all that was about to happen to Him. He knew about Judas’ plans to betray Him. He was painfully aware that Peter was going to deny Him. He knew that every one of the disciples would eventually desert Him. So, when He walked into the home of Simon the leper in order to attend a special dinner held in His honor, His mind was on the events that faced Him in the days ahead.

But this dinner was meant to be a celebration. Simon, the host of the event, had been healed from leprosy by Jesus. In attendance was Lazarus, who Jesus had miraculously raised from the dead just days before. Along with him were his sisters, Mary and Martha. This was a joyous occasion, and all in attendance were celebrating the life, health, and wholeness of these two men: Simon and Lazarus. Jesus was the center of attention, because He had made it all possible. It was a feast, complete with fine food and good wine. And then, in the middle of it all, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, stood up and took a bottle of costly perfume and poured it on Jesus’ head and feet. This would have been a stop-down moment. The smell would have been overwhelming, as the pungent aroma of essence of nard filled the room. All eyes would have been riveted on Mary as she knelt at Jesus feet, weeping and wiping up the excess perfume with her own hair. Jaws would have dropped. Whispers would have been passed back and forth. Mark tells us that some at the table were indignant at what they saw. Judas, the acting treasurer for the disciples, spoke up and commented on the wastefulness of it all. “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor” (John 12:5 NLT).

But what was Mary’s motivation? Jesus seemed to indicate that Mary knew what she was doing. He said, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial” (John 12:7 NLT). But I don’t think that was Mary’s intent. I don’t believe she anointed Jesus, aware that He was going to be dead in just a few days. Her action was purely out of gratitude for what He had done for her brother. He had raised Lazarus from the dead, and she was overwhelmed with gratitude. So, she took the best that she had and gave it to the Lord. She blessed Him for having been a blessing to her. Unknowingly, she was anointing Jesus for burial – while He was still alive. The fragrance of that perfume would have been with Jesus even when He hung on the cross. The oil from the essence of nard would have mixed with His blood as He was scourged by the Roman guards. It would have mingled with His sweat as He hung on the cross, enduring the physical pain and the verbal abuse of the religious leaders. And as Jesus breathed His last breath, the smell of that perfume would have filled His nostrils.

This selfless, sacrificial gift would last much longer than the meal or the accolades of the guests. Even the shouts of “Hosanna” that had accompanied Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem that previous Sunday had died away, and changed into screams of “Crucify Him!” The people at that dinner were there because they had either seen or heard about Jesus’ miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead. Jesus was a celebrity. He was a rock star. But none of them went out of their way to sacrificially thank Him for all that He had done. One person, Mary, took the time and sacrificed her resources, to express gratitude to Jesus for His ministry in her life. And her thankful actions were seen by Jesus as a preparation for His coming death.

Jesus was on His way to die – on their behalf. The disciples were busy planning for the Kingdom, even debating who would have the highest positions in Jesus’ new administration. The people were thinking that things were looking up. The Messiah was here and, once He claimed His rightful throne, He was going to get rid of the Romans once and for all. But Mary could think of nothing else but expressing thanks for what Jesus had already done in her life. She showed Him her gratitude.

Jesus made a point of saying that what Mary had done for Him should be remembered and discussed among believers everywhere and for all time. Why? Because she alone expressed the proper response to Him. She was not asking for more. She was not demanding that He set up His Kingdom. She was not wanting Him to perform more miracles or prove Himself in any other way. He had already done more than enough for Mary and she showed Him just how grateful she was. And in doing so, she helped prepare His living body for His coming death. Her action of gratitude would have more impact than even she intended. She did what she could. She gave what she had. She showed how she felt. And she should be remembered and serve as a model for us all.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

An Unlikely Salvation.

18 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. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 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. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

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

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25 ESV

One of the unique attributes of the genealogical record provided by Matthew is the inclusion of the names of several significant women. Included are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba.

3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar).

5 Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).
Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).
Obed was the father of Jesse.
6 Jesse was the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah). – Matthew 1:3, 5-6 NET

Each of these women play an important role in the history of the nation of Israel. And because Matthew began his list with the name of Abraham instead of Adam, as Luke did, it is clear that Abraham was only interested in establishing the Jewish heritage of Jesus. It is quite significant that these four women are included because the Jewish people usually traced their lineage through their male ancestors. And yet, the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to include these four particular women for their role in the birth of the Messiah. The first mentioned is Tamar, who had been married to Perez. This woman adds an interesting story line to the lineage of Jesus. According to the book of Genesis, Tamar had been by Judah to one of his sons as a wife.

6 And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death. 8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother's wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother's wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother. 10 And what he did was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also. – Genesis 38:6-10 ESV

At this point, Judah promised to make Tamar the wife of his next son, Shelah, but he was too young. So, he asked Tamar to remain in his house as a widow until his son was of age. But he had no intention of making her his wife because he feared he might lose a third son. So, he left her as a widow in his home. Tamar, frustrated by her status as damaged goods, twice a widow and therefore an unattractive prospect for marriage, was desperate. She had no husband, and no recourse for pleading her case. In that culture, as a woman, she was little more than property. But God had plans for her. Judah, after having mourned the death of his wife, had sexual relations with Tamar, mistaking her for a temple prostitute. She became pregnant as a result. And when her pregnancy became known and she was accused of immorality and condemned to die, she revealed that the father was none other than her own father-in-law, Judah. Sensing his own sin in the affair, Judah responded:

“She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” – Genesis 38:26 ESV

This twice-widowed and all-but-forgotten woman would become the mother of Perez, whose name would show up in the lineage of the Messiah. And her name is included again in another Old Testament book that bears the name of the second woman in our list.

11 Then the elders and all the people standing in the gate replied, “We are witnesses! May the Lord make this woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, from whom all the nation of Israel descended! May you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.” – Ruth 4:11-12 NLT

Boaz was taking a young Moabite woman to be his wife. She too, was a widow and was living in the land of Israel with her mother-in-law, Naomi. Boaz, acting in the role of the kinsman-redeemer, was rescuing this young woman from a life of destitution and degradation. She, like Tamar, was a helpless widow who had no one to stand up for her and no hope for the future. She was childless and an unattractive prospect as a wife. But Boaz redeemed her, married her and she bore to him a son named Obed. And Boaz himself had been born to a woman named Rahab. She is the same woman listed in the book of Joshua and described as a prostitute. She was a pagan, a non-Jew who hid the two men whom Joshua had sent to spy out the city of Jericho. Because of her willingness to risk her own life by protecting the two spies, Rahab and her family were spared when the city of Jericho was destroyed. And she, a pagan and a prostitute, became the mother of Boaz.

The final woman mentioned in the list is Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah. Her story is a particularly sordid one, involving the great king, David, who had an affair with her. She was a married woman and, when she became pregnant, David had her husband murdered, in an attempt to cover his sin and legally take her as his wife. But their sin resulted in the death of their infant son. But God would replace the son He had taken with another son, Solomon, who would go on to become David’s heir to the throne of Israel.

Of these four women, two were Canaanites, one was a Moabite, and Bathsheba was likely a Hittite. So, they were all non-Jews. And three of the four were marred by sin. And yet, God chose to include these women, not only in the list, but in the actual lineage of the Messiah. The line of Jesus the Messiah is not filled with perfect people who lived sinless lives, but with men and women who were flawed by sin and in desperate need of a Savior. Out of the mar and mess of their lives, God brought a sinless Savior who would redeem them, not because they deserved it, but because God, in His grace, had decreed it.

And it’s interesting to note that even Mary, the mother of Jesus, was accused of immorality because she became pregnant while still betrothed to Joseph.

18 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. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. – Matthew 1:18-19 ESV

This young, unknown Jewish girl, had her life rocked. She was chosen by God to bear the Son of God. And her unexpected and unwanted pregnancy made her a target for abuse and the cause of Joseph’s plan to call off the marriage. She would have become a social outcast and undesirable as a wife. And yet, God was at work in her life, calling her to be the one woman who would bear His Son and make possible the salvation of the world.

God intervened, assuring Joseph of Mary’s innocence and the divine nature of His plan.

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

God’s plan was far bigger than anything Joseph had ever imagined. Mary’s pregnancy was far from a mistake or the result of sin. It was the work of God Almighty. And the Son she was to bear was to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. He would be Immanuel, which means “God with us.” God was going to take on human flesh and live among men. Through the lives of sinful women like Rahab and Bathsheba, God would bring a Savior who would take away the sins of the world. Through the lives of hopeless, helpless women like Ruth and Tamar, God would bring the hope of the world. And they would call Him Jesus, which means “Yahweh saves.” Through the most unlikely of people and the most unbelievable circumstances – a virgin birth – the Savior of the world came to dwell among men and women. God came to earth and salvation came to mankind.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Conceived of God.

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.”  – Matthew 1:18-20 ESV

Matthew was rather matter-of-fact in his opening line to his gospel account. He simply said, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” No timidity or hesitancy. No question as to the validity of his statement. Two times in three verses, Matthew mentions that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, not a man. This fact, which many still debate today, is the basis for the Christian belief that Jesus was born of a virgin. In his gospel account, Luke records further details regarding this amazing miracle of God. “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’” (Luke 1:26-28 ESV). Gabriel went on to tell Mary, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:31 ESV). Understandably in shock at this surprising visit from an angel and upon hearing this shocking news, Mary asked, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34 ESV). That’s a fair question, right? She was being told she was going to have a baby, and yet she had not even had sex yet. Mary may have been a young, uneducated country girl, but she knew enough about human biology to know that what the angel was telling her required something more. There was something missing. Mary basically told the angel, “This is impossible, because I have never even been with a man!”

But while Mary may have been confused by this angelic announcement and seen all kinds of flaws and impossibilities linked to it, Gabriel simply told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35 ESV). This was not going to be an ordinary conception and birth. And while every child born is a miracle of God, this particular child was going to come into the world without the normal contribution of an earthly father. He would be the Son of God. There are still those today who, like Mary, struggle with the virgin birth. They go out of their way in an attempt to discount and disprove what the Scriptures clearly teach. Having a hard time believing the possibility that such a thing could happen, they simply reject it.

But if all things are possible for God, why would the virgin birth prove to be a problem for Him? If God could create the universe simply by speaking it into existence, could He not create life in the womb of a young girl? The thing that amazes me about this story is not that Mary had a baby without the assistance of a male, but that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. That reality gives me a serious case of brain freeze. I have no trouble at all believing that God could create life in the womb of a young virgin girl without the normal interaction of the female's egg and a male's sperm. After all, He created Adam out of dirt. But what blows me away is that the Holy Spirit, a member of the Trinity, was the source behind the conception of Jesus. According to Luke, the angel told Mary, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35 ESV). This was to be a miraculous, God-ordained, Spirit-empowered conception. How did it happen? We're not told. Neither Luke or Matthew provide us with specifics, because Gabriel didn't provide them. It was enough for Mary and Joseph to know that this child was going to be “holy – the Son of God.”

When I think about this incredible event in human history, I am amazed, not that it happened, but that a similar miracle has resulted in my own new birth. The Holy Spirit has made possible my new life in Jesus Christ. It is He who has made me a new creation. Jesus made this fact abundantly clear in His conversation with the Pharisee, Nicodemus. Jesus told him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 ESV). Like Mary, Nicodemus was confused by what he heard. So Jesus clarified. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6 ESV). Then, knowing Nicodemus was still wrestling with this concept, Jesus said, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:7-8 ESV).

I have been born of the Spirit. I have within me a new sinless nature, just as Jesus did. I can live holy and set apart because I am a new creation, born of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus was. John tells me, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9 ESV). It's interesting to note that John used the Greek word, sperma, which should be self-explanatory. Here he refers to the Holy Spirit, as the generative force that makes possible our conversion from condemned sinners to consecrated saints – conceived by God through the power of the Spirit of God. And made possible through the sacrificial death of the Son of God.

Courage to Pray.

For you, O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, “I will build you a house.” Therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant. Now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you. For you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever. – 2 Samuel 7:27-29 ESV

2 Samuel 7:18-29

God had promised to build David a house. Not a building made of wood and stone, but a lasting heritage. His promise concerned the future of the Davidic kingdom. One of David's descendants would sit on his throne in Jerusalem and to his kingdom there would be no end. Of course, we know now that this promise to David had far greater ramifications than David could have realized at the time. Hundreds of years later, the angel, Gabriel, would announce to Mary, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33 ESV). So while the short-term fulfillment of God's promise to David would involve the reign of his son Solomon, God had far greater things in mind. There is a day coming when Jesus, the Son of God and a descendant of David, will sit on His throne in Jerusalem and reign over the world in righteousness and truth. Part of the vision given to John that he recorded in the book of the Revelation tells us, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15 ESV).

Everything that God had promised to David came to pass. We can look back and see that God fulfilled every aspect of His promise to David. And the amazing thing is that God did so in spite of David, in spite of Solomon, and in spite of the people of Israel. God's promise would remain intact even while the kingdom of Israel went through a split and its people suffered two deportations and captivities at the hands of their enemies. God's promise would survive hundreds of years of an empty throne and the subjugation of the people of Israel to outside forces. He would eventually send His Son as the fulfillment of His covenant promise to David. When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He boldly proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15 ESV). In a real sense, His kingdom had come. He was the Messiah, the long-awaited descendant of David who came to rule and reign over the people of Israel. But Jesus did not set up His earthly kingdom at that time. Of course, that was what the disciples were anticipating. That was what they were hoping he would do, which is what led them to argue over who was going to get to sit on His right and His left when He established His kingship. But as Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36 ESV). At His first advent, Jesus did not come to establish an earthly kingdom. Yes, He came as King of kings and Lord of lords, but His was a heavenly kingdom. He came to rule and reign over the hearts of men. He came to defeat sin and death, not the Romans. He came to set people free from slavery and subjugation to sin, not from the tyranny of Roman rule. But the day is coming when He will fulfill God's promise completely. At His second advent or Second Coming, He will come once again to earth, but at that time He will come to reign. He will come in might and power, and prepared to finish what He began. The book of Revelation describes that scene. “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:11-16 ESV).

Like David, we wait for the final fulfillment of God's promise. And like David, God's promise should give us courage to pray. We should be able to come to Him in boldness, based on His promise to us, and ask that His will be done. Especially at times like we are experiencing as a nation, we should pray that God bring about the final fulfillment of His plan. We should long for and pray for the coming of Christ to take away His Church. We should regularly ask God to bring about the Second Coming of His Son. We should desire what God has promised and planned. He has said it. He will do it. We should pray for it – courageously and expectantly.

Who Am I?

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God. You have spoken also of your servant's house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord God! And what more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord God!” – 2 Samuel 7:18-20 ESV 2 Samuel 7:18-29

David desired to build a temple for God. He had enjoyed great success and his kingdom had grown strong and prosperous. As a show of gratitude, he wanted to construct a suitable house for his God. But Nathan the prophet, under instructions from God Himself, informed David that he would not be building a temple. First, God made it clear that He had never asked for anyone to build Him a permanent dwelling place. “In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’” (2 Samuel 7:7 ESV). Not only that, God told David that He would build his house. But instead of talking about a dwelling place, God was speaking of David's dynasty or lineage. God told David, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son” (2 Samuel 7:12-14 ESV). God was speaking of David's son, Solomon. It would be he who would build the temple David envisioned. But it would be God who made it all possible, providing Solomon with a prosperous and peace-filled reign. And as a final word of promise to David, God said, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 ESV).

While David's initial reaction to this news was probably disappointment, because he was not going to get to fulfill his dream of building a temple for God, his prayer reflects his amazement and gratitude at the grace of God. His immediate response was one of awe, leading him to ask, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?” God had reminded David of how he had gotten to where he was. “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth” (2 Samuel 7:8-9 ESV). David's rise to prominence had been totally God's doing. He had taken an obscure shepherd boy and transformed him into a mighty warrior-king. And this reminder led David to wonder out loud why God would have ever chosen him as the recipient of such an amazing blessing. God had done great things for David and that fact had not escaped the king. And now God was promising David a dynasty – an ongoing, unbroken succession of kings who would be his own descendants. This was a first for Israel. Saul had been their first king, but David had succeeded him. Now David was being told, “your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 ESV). This was an incredible piece of news for David. He was being promised by God that his throne or kingdom would have no end. David knew that for that to happen, it would have to be the work of God. No dynasty lasted forever. No earthly kingdom went on without interruption or end. So God was promising something extraordinary and seemingly impossible, and David reacted accordingly.

But little did David know what this covenant really meant. God had something far greater in store than even David could imagine. We know that Solomon's reign would not end well. In fact, his disobedience to God would end up splitting the kingdom in half. The coming years would see a succession of kings, most of whom would not serve the Lord faithfully. Eventually, the northern kingdom of Israel would be defeated and taken captive by the Assyrians. Not long afterwards, the southern kingdom of Judah would fall to the Babylonians. And then there would be a long period of time where no king reigned over Israel. It would appear as if God's promise to David had failed. But God was not done. It was all part of His divine plan of redemption. Because eventually, He would send His own Son, born to Mary, a descendant of David, making Jesus a legitimate heir to the throne of David. God made this clear to Mary when He gave her news of her unexpected and miraculous pregnancy. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33 ESV).

God had chosen an unknown shepherd boy and made him a king. He chose an obscure peasant girl and making her the mother of the Messiah. God is always the instigator. As Paul reminds us, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 ESV). No one deserves God's blessing. No one merits God's salvation. All of us who have experienced the joy of forgiveness of sins and restoration with God through faith in Jesus Christ could say along with David, “Who am I?” We must never forget our own undeservedness and the reality that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). Our salvation is the work of God and of His Son Jesus Christ. It is not our doing. Which is why we should never cease to be amazed that God chose to extend His love, grace and mercy to us.

I Have Seen Your Salvation.

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel. – Luke 2:29-32 ESV

Simeon was a Jew who is described as “righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel” (Luke 2:25 NLT). The Holy Spirit “had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah” (Luke 2:26 NLT) and so had led him to the temple that day. It had been 40 days since Jesus' birth and, according to Levitical law, it was time for Mary to offer a sacrifice in the temple to atone for her ritual uncleanness (Leviticus 12:6-7). So God was arranging a divine appointment between Simeon, Mary, Joseph and the infant named Jesus. Like many Jews in his day. Simeon longed to see the Messiah. But while many of his fellow Jews had long given up, Simeon lived with a high degree of expectation and anticipation. The Spirit of God had told him that he would live long enough to see the coming of the Messiah. Evidently, Simeon was advanced in years and knew that his time was running out. But he also believed that God would be faithful to fulfill what He had promised. So on that particular day in the temple, Simeon came face to face with the long awaited Messiah. Jesus, the baby born to Mary, did not have a particularly unique name. In fact, it was common among Jews. But in His case, it carried particular significance, because it meant “Yahweh saves.” When the angel Gabriel had told Mary that she was to bear a child, he told her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” (Luke 1:30-33 NLT). This was to be no ordinary baby. This child was going to grow up to be the Son of God, the Messiah of the Jews and the Savior of the world. The very one for whom Simeon had been waiting.

Mary and Joseph, having offered their sacrifice, also offered Jesus to the Lord. This was in keeping with God's instruction regarding the dedication of the firstborn (Exodus 13:2, 12, 15). Jesus, as the firstborn male son, belonged to God. And it was as Mary and Joseph entered the temple to dedicate Him to God, that Simeon got his first glimpse of the Messiah. His response came in the form of a prayer or praise to God. He is blown away by the experience. He basically says, “I can die a happy man now because I have seen Your salvation.”  Keep in mind, all Simeon saw was a baby and His relatively poor Jewish parents. For all intense and purposes, they were just another Jewish couple coming to the temple to dedicate their firstborn. There was no grandeur, no pomp and ceremony. They were not greeted at the doors of the temple by dignitaries. There was no parade. There weren't even any angels singing praises like there had been with the shepherds. But Simeon knew. He understood that he was looking at God's salvation. Yahweh saves.

What strikes me is that this was probably not what Simeon expected. Like most Jews, he was probably anticipating a more robust, impressive, warrior-like Messiah. After all, even if Jesus grew up to be a king like David, Simeon would not live to see it happen. He would never get to watch Israel's salvation take place. But he was okay with that. He expressed no disappointment. He revealed no hint of dissatisfaction. It was enough for him that he saw God's salvation. He described Jesus as “light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” Jesus was to be a light shining in the darkness of Simeon's day. John wrote in his gospel, “John (the Baptist) himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:8-9 NLT). Paul would later write,  “the Messiah would suffer and be the first to rise from the dead, and in this way announce God’s light to Jews and Gentiles alike” (Acts 26:23 NLT). Simeon was seeing a glimmer of the light to come. This innocent, helpless baby would grow up to be the light of the world. He would shine in the midst of the darkness and bring the salvation of God to all of mankind, not just the Jews. Simeon would go on to bless Mary and Joseph and to tell them, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him” (Luke 2:34 NLT). God's salvation would not be accepted by all. Many would reject Jesus as the Messiah. He would even suffer death at the hands of His own people. But this was all part of God's divine plan. It was all part of God's remedy for man's sin and rebellion. As Isaiah the prophet had written many years earlier, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6 ESV). Simeon lived to see the salvation of God and was satisfied. Many of us who have experienced the salvation of God through Jesus have received eternal life, but are still unsatisfied. It is as if, God's salvation is not enough. Yes, we cannot see what is to come, but isn't God's Word enough. Isn't His promise of abundant life now and life eternal enough? Oh, that we could say along with Simeon, “I have seen Your salvation!”

Something Worth Proclaiming.

that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. – 1 John 1:3 ESV

John had enjoyed an intimate, eye-witness relationship with Jesus. He had listened to Him teach and preach. He had watched Him heal and even raise Lazarus from the dead. He had stood with Mary, the mother of Jesus, at the foot of the cross on which Jesus was being crucified, and heard Him say, “Behold, your mother.” From that day on, John would take Mary into his home and care for her. John was close to Jesus. He loved the Lord and was loved by Him. But what John was proclaiming in the opening verses of First John was far more than a knowledge about Jesus the man. He was proclaiming the truth regarding Jesus, the God-Man. The entire letter of First John is based on the foundational principle and reality regarding the incarnation of Jesus. John was not just giving an historical, eye-witness account of Jesus' birth, life and death. He was proclaiming His deity and His role as the spotless sacrifice for the sins of mankind. There were those in John's day who denied the deity of Christ. They rejected the idea that He was God come in the flesh. As we will see later on in John's letter, these people claimed to be Christians and bragged of having a relationship with God, but they denied the Christ. Many viewed themselves as sinless and therefore, in no need of a Savior. But John will make it clear that fellowship with God is impossible without acceptance of His Son as Savior. John had heard Jesus Himself boldly claim, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). Jesus was NOT just a good man attempting to live a morally exemplary life. He wasn't just another martyr who had sacrificed His life for a good cause. What John was proclaiming about Jesus was radical and risky. Jesus was the Son of God and through Him and Him alone, man could enjoy a restored relationship with God.

Jesus had told His disciples, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves” (John 14:10-11 ESV). What John is proclaiming in these opening verses is unbelievable. It sounds more like fantasy than reality. But John believed it whole-heartedly. He proclaimed it boldly and without apology. Because of who Jesus was and what He did, men can be restored to a right relationship with God. They can enjoy fellowship with the God of the universe. The apostle Paul reminds us, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). But there's more. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:10-11 ESV). We have been reconciled, made right with God. Which is what allows us to enjoy fellowship with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Which should produce in us a joy that is full and complete, lacking in nothing. Jesus Christ, the word of life who gave life to creation, is also the eternal life, God Himself. The Son of God took on human flesh and then took on the sins of man. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV). John was proclaiming what God had long ago prophesied. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 ESV). It was Jesus' deity that made possible His sinlessness. It was His humanity that made Him an appropriate sacrifice. It was His death that paid for our sins. It was His resurrection that proved He was who He claimed to be: the sole source of eternal life. Now that is something worth proclaiming.

God's Mercy and Israel.

Romans 9:1-15

Are we saying, then, that God was unfair? Of course not! For God said to Moses, "I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose." – Romans 9:14-15 NLT

In spite of being the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul was an Israelite and proud of it. He referred to himself as "a Hebrew of Hebrews." Prior to his conversion, he had been a Pharisee and an expert in the law of Moses. He knew his Old Testament Scriptures well and loved the people of Israel greatly. In fact, his "heart was filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief" (Romans 9:2 NLT) for his people, his Jewish brothers and sisters. He even expressed a willingness to be cut off from Christ – if it meant that some of them would be saved. Virtually every time Paul went into a Gentile city to share the Gospel, he made it a point to go to the local synagogue first, in order to share the Good News regarding Jesus Christ with his own people. He knew that God was not done with them yet. He knew that they were still the chosen people of God, to whom God had revealed His glory, entered into covenants, and received His promises. Even Jesus Christ had been born an Israelite. So what was God's intentions for the people of Israel? And speaking of His promises to them, had God failed to keep them? Paul answers with a resounding, "No!"

God had chosen the people of Israel for a reason, and we find that reason recorded in Exodus 19:5-6: "'Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel." But they had failed. Their history is a record of disobedience and rebellion against God. They had not kept their end of the Mosaic covenant. Even when they got into the Promised Land, they had failed to obey God and remove the occupants of the land. As a result, they intermarried with them, and worshiped their gods. Paul's whole point in all of this is to remind his readers that even among God's chosen people, the Israelites, not all would be saved. Just as God had chosen the Israelites as His own, from among all the peoples of the earth, He would choose some from among the Israelites to be saved. In order to be made right with God, the people of Israel were going to have to accept the same free gift that had been offered to the Gentiles – the gift of Jesus Christ. "Well then, has God failed to fulfill his promise to Israel? No, for not all who are born into the nation of Israel are truly members of God's people!" (Romans 9:6 NLT). That's a bold statement, and a controversial one, as much today as it was in Paul's day. For generations, the people of Israel had counted on the fact that they were God's chosen people. They even allowed themselves to believe that this special distinction was like having a "get-out-of-jail-free card" that allowed them to sin with impunity. They somehow believed God was obligated to bless them because they were descendants of Abraham. Interestingly enough, John the Baptist, when confronted by the Pharisees and religious leaders who had come to watch him baptize in the wilderness, spoke these harsh words: "Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones" (Matthew 3:8-9 NLT). And here in Romans 9, Paul says, "Being descendants of Abraham doesn't make them truly Abraham's children" (Romans 9:7 NLT). Just being a descendant of Abraham didn't make someone an heir to the promise. It was through Isaac that the promise was to come. It would be through Jacob and not Esau that the promise would flow. Paul is trying to show that God chose to bring the fulfillment of the promise that He made to Abraham through a specific line of his descendants. God's focus was not just on a particular people, but on one who would be born through a branch of Abraham's family tree – all according to God's foreordained plan. Paul clarifies this point in his letter to the Galatians. "God gave the promises to Abraham and his child. And notice that the Scripture doesn't say 'to his children,' as if it meant many descendants. Rather, it says 'to his child' – and that, of course, means Christ" (Galatians 3:16 NLT). Christ was the key. God was going to bless all the nations through Jesus Christ. And He would come through the line of Isaac. He would be a descendant of Jacob, not Esau.

Paul's point? Just being born an Israelite was not enough. Being one of Abraham's physical descendants did not necessarily make one a child of God. And Paul knows what some would conclude from this statement. "Then doesn't that make God unfair?" But he replies, "Of course not!" All the way back to the days of Moses, God had made it clear, "I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose" (Romans 9:14 NLT). God had chosen Abraham. God had chosen Isaac. God had chosen Jacob. God had chosen Moses. God had chosen David. All along the way, God had made clear choices when it came to whom He would reveal Himself. He even chose Mary to bear His Son. God had also chosen to have His Son be born as an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

God's choice in all these things had nothing to do with merit or worth. He chose Abraham, not because he was worthy, but simply because it was His divine will. He chose Isaac and Jacob, not because they were somehow more deserving, but because that was part of His plan. God chooses whom He will. He shows mercy on whomever He wills. This whole section has to do with the divine will and sovereign control of God in the lives of men. Salvation is God's doing. He shows mercy and compassion on whomever He chooses, never as a result of their worth or merit, but simply because He chooses to do so. Paul will continue to unpack this topic in the verses to come. His goal seems to be to get us to understand that God's incredible grace and mercy is unearned and undeserved. Like salvation, it is a gift, provided by a loving, gracious and merciful God – in spite of us, not because of us.

Father, something in our wiring makes us believe that we somehow deserve to be chosen by You. We want to believe that we are somehow good enough to be considered as recipients of Your grace and love. But if we deserve it, it ceases to be grace. You have chosen to extend the gift of Your Son to us – in spite of us. You have divinely ordained that we receive Your mercy, not because we deserve it, but because You have graciously chosen to extend it to us. Never let us lose sight of that reality. Amen.

The Background To His Entrance.

Matthew 21:1-9; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19


The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted, “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel!” – John 12:12-13 NLT

The Triumphal Entry of Jesus. Like His birth, Last Supper, crucifixion and resurrection, this is one of those moments in the life of Jesus that has been seared into our memory. It has taken on the quality of a Hallmark card, complete with the idyllic scene of Jesus sitting on the small colt of a donkey, surrounded by an adoring crowd of people waving palm branches and shouting His praises. We don't doubt that it happened, but it has become so familiar a scene to many of us that we no longer look at it with any sense of credulity or wonder. When I read the account of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem I can't help but ask, “What is really going on here?” Even as a young boy, I would wonder why these people were so excited about Jesus coming into Jerusalem, when none of them ever seemed to believe in Him before. Why were thousands of people suddenly hailing Him as the King of Israel and acknowledging Him as the Messiah, “the one who comes in the name of the Lord”?

As is always the case when reading Scripture, context is essential. But many of us have been raised on a steady diet of Bible stories lifted out of context and forced to stand on their own as isolated little vignettes, each carrying their own moral message or story line. But the Triumphal Entry did not happen in isolation. It was part of a series of events that were all working together to help set the stage for the final days of Jesus' life on this planet.

To understand what was going on in the streets of Jerusalem that day, you have to back up to the first part of chapter 12 of the book of John. There you will discover that six days before Passover, Jesus had been in the village of Bethany. He was there to visit the home of Lazarus, the man He had miraculously raised from the dead not many days before. This event had caused quite a stir. Those who had come to mourn the death of Lazarus, and then witnessed him walking out of the tomb alive, couldn't help but be impressed with this man called Jesus. News spread quickly. John tells us, “Many of the people who were there with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen” (John 11:45 NLT). But when the religious leaders heard what had happened, there response was to begin to plot the death of Jesus. This was the last straw for them. Jesus was garnering far too much attention. He was creating too much of a distraction and causing too great a disturbance to their way of life to be ignored any longer. This all took place in the village of Bethany, located just about two miles east of Jerusalem. John also tells us that since it was almost time for the Jewish Passover celebration, people from all over the country were arriving in town early in order to go through the required purification process for Passover. There would have been millions of people flocking into Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, looking for places to stay during the Passover celebration. Bethany, being so close to the city, would have been a likely stopping point for many of them. Because the fantastic news of Jesus' raising of Lazarus from the dead had been spreading like wild fire, these visitors to Jerusalem were all looking for Jesus. John tells us, “They kept looking for Jesus, but as they stood around in the Temple, they said to one another, “What do you think? He won't come for Passover, will he?” (John 11:56 NLT). The Pharisees and leading priests had spies out looking for Jesus so they could arrest Him. But Jesus had left the region for a time and chapter 12 records His return just six days prior to Passover.

He had dinner with Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. It was Mary who anointed the feet of Jesus, a sign of gratitude for what He had done for her brother Lazarus. While Jesus acknowledged that this was in preparation for His coming burial, there is no indication that Mary had this in mind when she did what she did. John tells us that when news of Jesus' arrival got out, people “flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead” (John 12:9 NLT). The crowds gathered and the religious leaders plotted. Now they decided to kill Lazarus as well, probably in an attempt to eliminate the evidence to Jesus' miracle. The fact was, Lazarus had become a celebrity and a walking witness to the Messianic claims of Jesus. He was living proof of Jesus' power and was not afraid to talk about it. John tells us that it was the very next day, right after Jesus' dinner at the home of Lazarus, that He instructed His disciples to find the colt and prepare for His entrance into Jerusalem. The key to understand what went on that day is found in verses 17-18 of John 12. “Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others about it. That was the reason so many went out to meet him – because they had heard about this miraculous sign” (John 12:17-18 NLT). It was the raising of Lazarus from the dead that guaranteed Jesus' a huge welcome that day. It was also His raising of Lazarus from the dead that guaranteed that the religious leaders would determine to kill Him. This amazing, miraculous, awe-inspiring event, which should have been more than enough proof to support Jesus claims to be the Messiah, would set in motion His ultimate death. The people waving palm branches and shouting praises that day didn't really believe in Jesus. They were enamored with His miracles. The religious leaders weren't impressed with Jesus' power, they simply wanted to eliminate His presence. Back in Luke 16, Jesus told the fictional story of the rich man and a poor beggar named Lazarus. I think Jesus chose that name for the beggar for a reason. At the end of that story, Jesus has the great patriarch of Israel, Abraham say, “If they won't listen to Moses and the prophets, they won't listen even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31 NLT).

Now, not long after raising Lazarus from the dead, and just days after His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Jesus would be rejected, tried and crucified. His message and His miracles would be forgotten. His claim to be the Messiah would be ignored. Their own assertion that He was “the one who comes in the name of the Lord” and their shouts of “Hosanna!” would turn to screams of “Crucify Him!” But the raising of Lazarus made possible His rousing welcome by the people and guaranteed the blood-thirsty response of the religious leaders. It was all necessary for God's plan to be fulfilled and Jesus' mission to be completed.

Father, it is incredible to read the details required for Your redemptive plan to work the way it did. So many things had to happen at just the right time and in just the right way for everything to line up the way it did. So many individuals had to be involved, many of them in ways they were totally oblivious to. Judas had to betray Jesus. Peter would have to deny Him. Lazarus would have to die. Mary would anoint Him. The people would wildly welcome Him. The disciples would desert Him. But it was all part of Your divine redemptive plan. What an amazing God You are! Amen.

Good and Angry.

John 11

When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up withing him, and he was deeply troubled. – John 11:33 NLT

Chapter 11 of the Book of John contains the well-known and often recounted story of Jesus' miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead. This wasa watershed moment in the life of Jesus and was going to set up a dramatic shift in emphasis for His ministry. The end was drawing near. Jesus knows that He is entering the last part of His mission as God's servant. He has one last thing to do before that mission is accomplished and it will require Him to go to Jerusalem one last time. It there that He will be betrayed into the hands of His enemies, be beaten, mocked, unjustly tried, and undeservedly crucified. The event recorded by John will help set up all that is to come in the days ahead. It will help explain much of what we see happen as Jesus enters into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. But we must look closely if we want to see some of more hidden or difficult messages contained in this story. While the raising of Lazarus from the dead is spectacular and worthy of our wonder and attention, there is so much more going on that is often overlooked.

Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha. They were friends of Jesus and He had been in their home on other occasions (Luke 10:38). They lived in the village of Bethany, which was about two miles outside the city Gates of Jerusalem. This village and, more than likely, their home, would become Jesus' base of operations during the final week of His life. During the Festival of Passover, which was coming up in just a few days, Jesus would return to Bethany each evening after having visited in Jerusalem all day. The path from Jerusalem to Bethany would have taken He and His disciples through the Mount of Olives on the east side of the city. This would become an important venue in the days ahead.

Jesus received an urgent message from Mary and Martha that their brother Lazarus was sick. They begged Jesus to come to His aid, believing that if He came, Lazarus could be healed by Jesus. But interestingly, upon hearing the news, Jesus delayed His departure for an additional two days. Then He informed His disciples that it was time to return to the region of Judea. Jesus and the disciples had been ministering in the region east of Judea called Perea. When they heard Jesus say it was time to return to Judea, they tried to talk Him out of it, because just days earlier the people of Judea were ready to stone Jesus to death. But Jesus waves off their concern, knowing it is necessary for Him to go. He also had a reason for His delay. Jesus knew full well that Lazarus would have died by the time they arrived. He even told the disciples so. "Lazarus is dead. And for your sakes, I'm glad I wasn't there, for now you will really believe. Come, let's go see him" (John 11:14-15 NLT).

When they arrived, they found the entire village in a state of mourning. Mary and Martha were beside themselves with sadness and could not process why Jesus had not come sooner. He could have saved their brother, but now it was too late. While they believed in Jesus' power, they didn't think He could do anything about their brother's death. What happens next is significant. I'm not referring to the raising of Lazarus from the dead. It was what John tells us just before that miraculous moment. Jesus saw the tears and agony of Mary, and looked at the other people sadly mourning the death of their friend Lazarus, and "a deep anger welled up within him" (John 11:33 NLT). While some translations simply say that Jesus "groaned in His spirit" and was "deeply troubled," I think there is far more going on here. The New Living Translation gives what I believe to be a far better feel for what is really going on. Jesus wasn't just troubled, He was angry. The word used here in the Greek is from a root word that means to "snort with anger." Jesus is not just sad, He is angry. Why? Jesus knew that Lazarus would be dead, so I don't think He is upset about that. His anger seems to be related to the tears, agony, sorrow and sadness He sees displayed before Him. Death has brought that about. And death is the direct result of sin. Jesus is having to watch the byproduct of the very thing He came to eliminate and eradicate: Sin and its residual effects. I believe Jesus is angry at the devastating impact sin brought on the world that He Himself had created. Jesus is watching people who have had to live with the reality and permanency of death all their lives. But He had come to change all that. Which is what He told Mary when He arrived on the scene. "I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die" (John 11:25-26 NLT).

Jesus wept when He arrived at the tomb. But why? He knew He was going to raise Lazarus to life again, so why would He be crying? Was it simply out of sympathy for the people? I don't think so. He knew their sadness would be turned to joy in just a matter of minutes. Once again, I believe Jesus is angry and upset because of the dominion death had over the lives of those He came to save. He knew that in that crowd that day were countless people who would never believe in Him and as a result, would never receive everlasting life. Death would end in their eternal separation from God the Father. John says that Jesus was still angry when he arrived at the tomb. He was good and angry. He was going to give Satan and death a small glimpse of what was about to come in the days ahead. He would raise Lazarus to life. But in just a short period of time, God the Father would raise Jesus to new life, conquering sin and death once and for all. Paul reminds us of what Jesus' death and resurrection accomplished: "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:55-57 NLT). This moment at the graveside of Lazarus was a galvanizing moment for Jesus – not that He needed anything to encourage His obedience to the will of His Father. But He would leave the town of Bethany more focused than ever at the task at hand. News of this event would spread like wildfire. Many people believed in Jesus because of what they witnessed. But when the leading priests and Pharisees caught wind of what happened, they began to plot Jesus' death more vigorously than ever.

Jesus' anger at sin and death would soon culminate with His own death on the cross. He would defeat sin and death by taking all the sins of mankind on Himself and dying a sacrificial death on the cross – once for all. Jesus was good and angry, and it would result in good news for mankind.

Jesus, You had a right to be angry that day. You were watching the devastating effects of sin on the very ones You had created. You were having to watch what sin had done to those whom You loved. But You did something about it. You dealt with it. You conquered sin and defeated death once and for all. And I think You that I am the beneficiary of Your righteous anger.  Amen.

Born of a Virgin.

Matthew 1:18-25

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way. While his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.” – Matthew 1:18 NET

The virgin birth. For centuries, men have debated and discussed the validity and necessity of the virgin birth of Jesus. Some have denied it ever happened. Others have argued that it doesn't really matter. At the core of these ongoing debates is the human mind's need to be able to explain and understand everything. A virgin birth is impossible. It is scientifically indefensible. Anyone with a rational mind would refuse to believe something so ridiculous and obviously mythological. But our inability to understand or explain the virgin birth does not make it untrue. Ultimately, this is a matter of faith. It requires belief in the miraculous because it involves the divine, the Holy, all-powerful, inexplicable God. He does not do things man's way. He is not required to operate within our limited sphere of understanding. Yet, whenever man runs into things involving God or His Word that are difficult to explain or understand, he begins to rationalize and reason. His struggle with belief and his need to connect all the dots and explain away all the inconsistencies forces him to reject things like the virgin birth.

But our inability to understand or explain does not eliminate the reality of the event. Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. We don't know how it happened. God's methodology is hidden from us. But His reasoning is clear. Jesus, as the Son of God and the Savior of the world, had to be sinless. And since the sin nature was passed down from Adam through man, it was essential that Jesus not have an earthly father. It's interesting to note that in the genealogy that ends a few verses earlier, Matthew records "Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary" (Matthew 1:16 NLT). In every other line of the genealogy, it lists the man as the father of his son. "Eleazar was the father of Matthan" (Matthew 1:15 NLT). But Joseph was listed as the husband of Mary. He is not recorded as the father of Jesus, because he wasn't. Mary's pregnancy was the result of the Holy Spirit.

A virgin birth. Miraculous? Yes. Difficult to comprehend? You bet. Necessary? Without a doubt. For Jesus to be our sin substitute, He had to be without sin. To be an acceptable sacrifice for the sins of mankind, He had to be sinless. He could not inherit the sin nature of Adam passed down through Joseph. So God did the impossible. He arranged for His Son to be born of a virgin. But is that any less implausible than God taking on human flesh in the first place? If you think about it, the virgin birth is the least difficult thing to believe in this entire story. God becoming man, being born as a baby, living a sinless life and dying a sinner's death on a cross three and a half years later, all in order to save mankind from the penalty of death – now that's hard to understand and impossible to explain. But it is the Good News. It is unbelievable, implausible, inexplicable, and yet, completely acceptable when you factor in the reality of God. This is His story, not ours. He doesn't operate according to our standards. He is not limited by our ability to understand. Everything about this story is outlandish and unbelievable. It requires faith. It requires trust in the reality and reliability of God. The writer of Hebrews reminds us: "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen" (Hebrews 11:1-3 NLT). I have no struggle with the reality of the virgin birth. For the God who created the universe out of nothing, that was nothing.

Father, everything about You is inexplicable and unbelievable. You are a great God who does things we can never fully understand. There are things about You that are unknowable to us. Yet in our pride and arrogance we try so hard to explain everything. If we can't, we simply reject it as untrue. But Father, help us to understand that You operate outside the limited boundaries of human understanding. That should bring us comfort, not consternation; peace, not perplexity. You are the God of the impossible. Amen.

In the Fulness of Time.

Luke 1:5-80

“For nothing is impossible with God.” – Luke 1:37 NLT

Galatians 4:4 tells us, "But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children." At just the right time. The imagery here conjures up pictures of a pregnant woman ready to give birth. Her day has come. After months of preparation, the day of delivery finally comes. Something long-awaited and highly anticipated is about to take place. The same is true of the situation in Israel as we read Luke's account of the coming of Jesus. For more than 400 years, the Hebrew people have been waiting anxiously for a word from God. They have been desperately and eagerly waiting for the promised arrival of the Messiah. But unlike a pregnancy, they have no timeline to go by. They have no idea when the Messiah might come. During the period between the close of the Old Testament and the time recorded in the Gospel accounts, God has been silent. He has cut off communication with His people. There have been no prophets and therefore, no word from God. There have been no miraculous manifestations of God's presence. It is a dark period, a virtual blackout, void of God's abiding presence. And it would have been easy for the people of Israel to have lost hope. During those 400 years they had suffered considerably. They had had to endure repeated invasions by various enemies, and it culminated with the taking of Jerusalem by the Romans. By the time Jesus came onto the scene, the Jews were living under Roman rule, subject to Roman laws and Roman taxes. Herod the Great sat on the throne, having been appointed "king" over all of Palestine by the Romans. He was wicked, oppressive and a political schemer who had clawed his way to the top. Things could not have looked worse for the average Jew living in Judea at that time.

But at just the right time, God put His long-awaited plan into action. Luke records it for us. Breaking the long silence, suddenly God begins to speak again. He sends angels to Zechariah and Mary. He begins doing works of power and wonder. An elderly and barren couple miraculously give birth to a son. A young virgin girl becomes pregnant – by the Holy Spirit. Luke records for us the birth of John the Baptist, the conception of Jesus, and the foundational events that would set up the birth of Jesus, the Son of God and the Savior of the World. At just the right time – God acted. When things looked bleak and impossible – God did the impossible. "For nothing is impossible with God" (Luke 1:37 NLT). Mary echoed this sentiment when she sang, "For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me" (Luke 1:49 NLT). "His mighty arm has done tremendous things!" (Luke 1:51 NLT). Zechariah praised God saying, "Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited his people. He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David" (Luke 1:68-69 NLT). God was fulfilling the promises He had made centuries ago to Abraham and David. He was doing exactly what He said He would do, at just the right moment in time.

Nothing is impossible with God. Circumstances are no match for Him. Wicked kings and powerful nations can't stand in His way. Barrenness and old age are no problem for God. Normal human biological and reproductive requirements don't limit God. Mary's virginity, Elizabeth's barrenness, Zechariah's old age, Herod's wickedness, Rome's dominance, and Israel's weakness were not going to keep God from accomplishing His will and unleashing His redemptive power on the world.

"Because of God's tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace" (Luke 1:78-79 NLT).

Father, nothing is impossible with You. You are limitless in Your power and unstoppable in regards to Your will. Yet I tend to place limits on Your effectiveness and doubt Your ability to handle all that goes on in my life. Forgive me for my fear and floundering faith. Use the story of Your Son's coming to remind me of Your sovereign control over all. Amen.