This is My Beloved Son

Matthew skips straight from the dream led wanderings of Joseph – Jesus’ step father – through the ministry of John the Baptist to the baptism in the Holy Spirit (and fire) of Jesus.  And then the Father is recorded as saying, without more ado:

“This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

I think Matthew is trying to bring out the point that the well pleasing of the Son was there anyway independent of anything He had done to that point.  That is the way a son ought to be to a father, well pleasing.  The beloved aspect starts at birth and goes on through all their mutual lives.  The well pleasing isn’t always consistently the case for any normal father son relationship.  In that way this particular relationship was different.jesus-being-baptised

But if there was any thing that triggered the comment from the Father that He was well pleased with Jesus, it was His submission to all the righteousness of the Spirit of God through baptism.  There is something significant about obeying God that way.  In this case the baptism in water was accompanied by the baptism in the Holy Spirit and both could be seen happening.

Matthew 2:19 – 3:17

Magi, Empires and Prophets

When Herod was king of Judea, there were two great empires that disputed the ownership of his land.  On the one side were the Romans who had conquered it some years earlier.  On the other were the Persians who had been there long before the Romans.

Hundreds of years earlier (586 BC) Jerusalem had fallen to the Babylonians.  Through a number of miraculous events that you can read about in the Book of Daniel, some Jewish exiles had risen to a place of great prominence in that empire.  It wasn’t long before the Medes & Persians conquered the Babylonians.  Remarkably, Daniel and his friends kept their positions of power through the transition.

The Pleiades

Daniel was probably the first of the Magi, the kingmakers of the Persian Empire.  There is some speculation here but it would appear that he knew what star (or events in the heavens) to watch out for and told his successors.  You can read all about the Star of Bethlehem and the astonishing (and verifiable) astronomical events that surround the birth of Jesus at this site.

When the Magi of Herod’s day saw the signs they headed off to Jerusalem following the star.  There were probably a lot more than three of them.  This was the Persian empire setting off a Cuban missile crisis type of event with their arch enemies the Romans.  They were laying claim to the land of Judah.  Herod and all Jerusalem were disturbed with bloody results.

A King had been born.  Wise men sought him.  They still do.

Matthew 1: 1-18

The Infinitesimal Drama of the Virgin Birth

Incomprehensibly constrained to the size of a pinhead, the Lord of the Universe marches down through the ages and arrives Immanuel in a young girl’s womb.

From the first glorious image of Adam through patriarchs and kings, Matthew parades the central march of God’s history before us and brings us to a place of wonder – a few cells in a wonderful dwelling.

“Did You wrap yourself inside the unexpected
So we might know that Love would go that far?”

That whole long march, funnels down and focuses like a laser on this tiny point.

Matthew 1.

Music taken from the album “Music inspired by the Story” 2011.  Song sung by Francesca Battistelli.

God Manifesting Himself

A boss of mine recently asked me why, in effect, God had been so silent since the time He sent Jesus.  I responded about the Church manifesting Him since, and now, but that didn’t really answer his question.

I’ve heard the same question asked in different ways.  If God is who He says He is then why doesn’t He just open up the sky, look down and say: “Hey, this is Me just so you know” or do or say something similarly earth impacting.

We could argue that every leaf and every created thing shows His glory, so people are without excuse (as Paul points out in Romans 1).  That is true but it still doesn’t really answer the question.

We could also point out how God has salted the earth with over 6 billion copies of the books that contain so many of His spoken words (apart altogether from it claiming that all 66 books of the bible are totally inspired by Him).  True again but also not really answering the question.

But there is a good reason why God doesn’t manifest Himself in that way these days:  He did it before and it didn’t work.

When Jesus came God had already spent 400+ years being quiet.  He spent centuries before that picking a special people – the Jews – and doing all the things you might expect God to do: parting the Red Sea, speaking in an audible voice (when speaking the 10 commandments from Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20), opening the earth up to swallow people, sending angels, hailstones, knocking down walls, etc.  The problem is that some people just don’t believe that the Old Testament stories are real.

But if you take it that they did in fact happen it explains a lot about why God doesn’t do that kind of thing nowadays.  Anyone who has read the OT will quickly see that one of its major themes is failure.  Despite persistent attempts and innovative means (like sending the prophets to warn them) most of the people of Israel and Judah ended up rejecting Him.  Their guilt was only compounded by the things He had done to show who He was, to gain their trust.  They threw it back in His face. Justice demanded retribution and they ended up losing a lot.

I think God came to the conclusion – or more likely He wanted us to see and understand – that no matter how clearly He manifested Himself physically the problem was always going to need a more drastic and different solution.  He wouldn’t be God-who-is-love if He kept sending people to untimely and sudden deaths by using a method of revealing Himself that had so spectacularly failed in the past to elicit the love and relationship He so longs for us to have with Him.

So enter the New Covenant:

“The new covenant is established on better promises.

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said[b]:

“The days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
    and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.
10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
    after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
    and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
11 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”[c]  

Hebrews 8: 6b-12 NIV

The beauty of the New Covenant relationship is that it is tailor made.  The Holy Spirit enters into a person and changes them from the inside out according to a timetable and using methods that are unique for each person.  It is not always that easy to see the changes, God moves at a snail’s pace if necessary, He is not pushy in the New Covenant. No showy displays, no major earth shattering events.  Just a gentle leading and coaxing into a love relationship.  And so the Church over the centuries grows like a beautiful young woman, being loved and loving in return and changing the world with her sweet influence.

This method works much better.  The world is a better place now than the Old Testament method could have made it.  But that was never His fault.

 

The threefold nature of success

Nature

Just like you had no control over what parents you have, the colour of your eyes or hair or where you were born, so also you do not have control of the talents you were born with. God the Father gave them to you and expects you to use them (Matt. 25:14-30).

Nurture

We are all given opportunities to develop at least some of our talents.  Hard work is a key to success when directed along the path of our natural God given talents.  It is Jesus who enables this also though.  As Paul said: “I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Cor. 15:10)

Anointing

If someone could bottle and reproduce the form of Leicester City in the Premier League or an athlete breaking a world record when they are not on drugs they might be able to capture the thing many observers call “flow”.  Flow is something that seems most akin to anointing by the Holy Spirit.  David knew it as did the prophets and we can know it too.  It is that difficult to explain thing that causes upsets in competitions and enables anyone to make the fullest use of their God given talents and hard work.  Ask and you will receive.

The Lord is my Shepherd

The image of us being sheep and God being our good shepherd is sprinkled lavishly across the Scripture both new and old.  Whole chapters are devoted to the idea (Psalm 23, John 10).  Men are like sheep to be slaughtered, lost sheep and scattered sheep.  Sheep bully other sheep.  The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep.

sheep

There are 7 billion people on the earth.  Of those a tiny fraction are ever in the news personally.  Often groups of people are mentioned and people are tarred with the same brush, but that never tells the story of a single soul.  There are wars and rumours of wars and too many people live in absolute poverty and in ignorance.

But lift your eyes from the news and see what God has done.  There are 7 billion people in the world and most of them are at peace.  For many the Lord is their shepherd and where that is the case they lack nothing, He supplies good food, He leads them in peaceful places and restores their souls.  These ones – and I like to count me and my family among them – walk in righteousness so as not to bring shame to the character of Christ.  Yes we go through bad times but He is always there with us.  He uses the long, thin rod of discipline to keep us on the right path at such times and we know that His staff is strong enough to beat away all wolves.  Even in the midst of the devil and his angels, thrown down to the earth and as angry as hell, we still enjoy His presence and our lives are full and overflowing.  He takes what we are and have and anoints us to bless us and cause our works to multiply.  As we go on with Him, we leave a legacy of goodness and mercy behind us.  It is truly wonderful to know that this living with Him continues forever.

The grace of God has abundantly produced good in this world despite the depravity of man.  Let us think about those things instead of always watching and believing the news.

Worship

I believe worship is primarily presenting our bodies a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1) before God.  Worship is surrendered presentation of our bodies, an out poured soul and an entering into the joy – sometimes ecstasy- of the Holy Spirit’s rejoicing in the finished work of Christ.  He spends all His time rejoicing and we enter into that when we worship.

Corporate worship is something better again.  This is worship together, ascending to the assembly of the first born in heaven, the spirits of just men made perfect and, again, the blood that speaks a better thing than Abel’s did – the vengeance was poured out on Christ and now, His blood, forgive them, oh forgive, it cries!

18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.”[c] 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”[d]

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.

[Hebrews 12:18-25]

So when we worship together we join angels and others worshiping around the world as well as those who have died in Christ.  But our focus is on the mercy seat where the blood is sprinkled (Daniel 7:13,14) and the Father is satisfied and comforted in the work His Holy Spirit is doing in His creation.  For He is making us those who lift Him up, he sits enthroned on our praises (Psalm 22:3).the-church-of-the-first-born-hebrews-12-23

More about Jesus

These lyrics from “When Love Sees You” by Mac Powell of Third Day capture Jesus’ way while on the earth.  He is still that way today:

Blessed are you as you weep on your knees
With perfume and tears washing over My feet
And blessed are you, beggar, hopeless and blind
Calling for mercy when I’m passing by

Blessed are you, shaking your head
At two tiny fish and some bread
And blessed are you as you tremble and wait
For the first stone thrown at your sinful disgrace

Tell Me your story, show Me your wounds
And I’ll show you what Love sees when Love looks at you
Hand Me the pieces, broken and bruised
And I’ll show you what Love sees when Love sees you

Blessed are you, walking on waves
To find yourself sinking when you look away
Blessed are you, leper, standing alone
The fear on their faces is all that you’ve known

Blessed are you, lonely widow who gave
Your last shiny coin to Yahweh
Blessed are you with your silver and lies
Kissing the One who’s saving your life

Tell Me your story, show Me your wounds
And I’ll show you what Love sees when Love looks at you
Hand Me the pieces, broken and bruised
And I’ll show you what Love sees when Love sees you

I see what I made in your mother’s womb
And I see the day I fell in love with you
I see your tomorrows, nothing left to chance
I see My Father’s fingerprints

I see your story, I see My name
Written on every beautiful page
You see the struggle, you see the shame
I see the reason I came

I came for your story, I came for your wounds
To show you what Love sees when I see you

 

The most beautiful name

Jesus is the most beautiful name of all.

Not the letters in the name or even the sound of the name itself.  No, it is His character that is the most beautiful.  The ideal image of a man as portrayed in movies by any hero strives to capture His character but never can fully.  Only Jesus has that combination of absolute authority, compassion, vulnerability and humility that comes with being the Son of God and Son of Man.

No one else can compete with Him either imagined or real.Superman

Prophesying in the name of the Lord

The Lord makes a point about prophesying in the name of the Lord in Jeremiah 23:34-40. He says that that phrase: “Thus says the Lord” and others like it have been misused so much that they now bring dishonor to His name. People have used this kind of phrase to give authority to their own ideas and in so doing have turned the words of God on their head.

However God is clearly saying in the same passage that we ought to ask each other what the Lord is saying.  It is the attitude expressed in the response that matters.

In Jeremiah 31:34 God says no one needs to teach those who know the Lord. You don’t need to say “Thus says the Lord” or anything like that to a listening ear. If it is the word of the Lord it will speak for itself.