Psalm 34:8

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Jesus grows up
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In today’s Bible reading, Matthew applies several Hebrew (Old Testament) Scriptures regarding where the Messiah would be born and raised to show how Jesus fulfilled them.

These were three very different places. Bethlehem was a small town outside of Jerusalem. Herod would live in Jerusalem, so it’s logical that the Magi would come Herod’s palace to inquire about the new King of the Jews. Egypt was a country, the place the Jews had lived and then been enslaved for over four hundred years between Joseph’s death and Moses’ birth. Joseph and Mary fled with Jesus to Egypt for a few years. We aren’t told how long they stayed in Egypt and we aren’t told which city. When Herod died, God’s angel visited them and said it was safe to return.

And then there’s Nazareth. We don’t know how old Jesus was when Joseph and Mary moved back there, but that’s where they called home. (Luke 1:26) The surrounding area, Galilee, is where Jesus found His Disciples. But Matthew refers to a prophecy that doesn’t exist.

New Testament Scholar AT Robertson says this:

Matthew says “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets”. It is the plural and no single prophecy exists which says that the Messiah was to be called a Nazarene. It may be that this term of contempt (John 1:46; 7:52) is what is meant, and that several prophecies are to be combined like Psa. 22:6, 8; 69:11, 19; Isa. 53:2, 3, 4. The name Nazareth means a shoot or branch, but it is by no means certain that Matthew has this in mind. It is best to confess that we do not know. See Broadus on Matthew for the various theories. But, despised as Nazareth was at that time, Jesus has exalted its fame. The lowly Nazarene he was at first, but it is our glory to be the followers of the Nazarene. Bruce says that “in this case, therefore, we certainly know that the historic fact suggested the prophetic reference, instead of the prophecy creating the history.” The parallels drawn by Matthew between the history of Israel and the birth and infancy of Jesus are not mere fancy. History repeats itself and writers of history find frequent parallels. Surely Matthew is not beyond the bounds of reason or of fact in illustrating in his own way the birth and infancy of Jesus by the Providence of God in the history of Israel.[1]

In other words, Matthew — under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit — draws from several otherwise obscure and unrelated Bible passages and applies them to Jesus.

Application

Once again, we can see how Matthew — again, under the influence of the Holy Spirit — takes his Bible and applies it to Jesus. He sees Jesus throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. And you can too, if you’ll just look for Him.

Take your Bible and look up the cross-references. Look at the many passages from the Old Testament and how they point to Jesus. This isn’t a coincidence. The New Testament writers knew their Hebrew Bible. Oftentimes they would translate directly from the Hebrew. Other times, they would quote from the Septuagint (the Greek Translation of the Hebrew Bible). And other times, the writers do something like Matthew does here, loosely taking unrelated Scriptures and combining them to actually craft new Scripture.[2]

We shouldn’t be surprised by this. Again, He is operating under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Matthew is so excited to demonstrate that Jesus isn’t foreign to the Hebrew Scriptures, but is intricately woven into them.

[1] Robertson, A.T. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933. Print.

[2] Unlike the New Testament writers, we aren’t free to take unrelated passages and craft new scriptures because the Canon of Scripture is closed; God is no longer adding new revelation.

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"Virgin" or "young woman"?

Today’s Bible reading looks back to Isaiah 7:14 and finds its fulfillment in Jesus. Did Matthew go too far in applying this prophecy to Jesus?

Isaiah 7:14’s context is that God extends to King Ahaz an unusual offer to ask for a sign. When he refuses, saying he doesn’t want to test God, Isaiah steps forward and gives the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy. He says that in the time it would take a young woman to be married and give birth to a child and for that child to come to the “age of accountability”, God would deliver His people from their Exile. In other words, God would fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy in about a decade.

So what’s the problem? Isaiah says God would provide this sign in just a few years. Yet Matthew says Isaiah’s prophecy was about Jesus, born of a virgin young woman, Who came on the scene several hundred years later. So who’s right Isaiah or Matthew?

They’re both right!

Oftentimes, the writers of the New Testament — and even Jesus Himself — will quote from or allude to a passage from the Hebrew Scriptures (their Bible) and find the fulfillment of that passage in Jesus and the New Covenant. In this particular instance, Isaiah uses the Hebrew word for young woman, not necessarily a virgin young woman. (Note: Hebrew has two different words for 1) a young woman and 2) a virgin. If Isaiah meant virgin, he could/should have specified virgin; instead he used the general term young woman.) Yet, Matthew clearly understands the passage as referring to a virgin, specifically Mary, a virgin, a woman who has “known no man”. (Luke 1:34) In fact, Matthew points out that Joseph keeps Mary a virgin until after Jesus is born. (Matthew 1:25)

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Matthew freely reads and applies Isaiah’s prophecy to Jesus, just as Peter applies Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:28–32) to the Day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:17–21) In other words, even if Isaiah isn’t specifying a virgin in 7:14, Matthew sees that Jesus, born of a virgin fulfills the prophecy.

I said earlier that both Isaiah and Matthew are right. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Isaiah the deliverance of God’s people in a few years. He may have — but didn’t have to — see Jesus as the fulfillment. The prophecy was fulfilled in two ways: immediately, and several hundred years later.

Application

Why make such a big deal about this? Because it matters! Critics say that Isaiah’s prophecy wasn’t fulfilled in Jesus because Isaiah used the word for young woman instead of virgin. This is a backhanded accusation that Jesus wasn’t born in a virgin birth. It’s an attack on Jesus. And it’s an attack on the reliability of the Bible.

But Isaiah didn’t have to know that virgin-born Messiah would be the fulfillment of His prophecy. The Doctrine of the Virgin Birth doesn’t live or die on Isaiah’s prophecy. The Doctrine of the Virgin Birth lives or dies on Matthew and Luke’s testimony and description of the unique conception of Jesus in Mary’s body.

How did it happen? All I know is what the angel told Mary and Joseph: The baby was from God. (Matthew 1:18, 20) The angel didn’t give Mary and Joseph “The Talk”. He just said Jesus had been conceived in a unique way. (Luke 1:35, 37) And the coming of Jesus would bring a new intimacy with God and mankind. (Matthew 1:23b)

The Bible is trustworthy. Don’t let the critics try to convince you otherwise. The Bible can stand up to the allegations and accusations of the critics. Every one of them has died and will die. But the Word of God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

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There are no short-cuts to maturity

James doesn’t mince words about suffering. He begins his book urging his readers to rejoice whenever they experience trials. And he wraps up his book with today’s Bible reading, urging his readers to be patient in suffering. (James 5:7-11) He fills in the gaps about suffering in between. In fact, James never refers to suffering and trials as a remote possibility. He always refers to it as a given. One can only wonder how the Prosperity Gospel flourishes given the enormous weight of consistent Biblical teaching against it.

In Western Society, we don’t like to wait. The coming modern conveniences promoted on commercials in the 1950s only left us cramming more into our days rather than the promise they made that life would be easier and we would have more free time. I’m still waiting for that.

Take the microwave oven for example. With a microwave oven, you can boil water in a matter of a couple of minutes and make a nice glass of good Southern Sweet Iced Tea in half the time compared to boiling water and steeping your tea on a cooktop. But how often have you impatiently screamed at your microwave oven, “Hurry!”? Personally, I’d rather not answer that question!

Application

James seems to indicate that suffering produces patience. And you won’t gain patience without having to wait, oftentimes experiencing some level of discomfort or suffering. Is it any wonder why some Bible translations use the word longsuffering instead of patience.

The bottom line is that there are no short-cuts to maturity in the Christian life. Enduring hardship develops patience and other positive character qualities. So take James at his word when he tells you to rejoice whenever you encounter various trials. (James 1:2-4) Trust that God will use those trials for your good: That you would become more like Jesus. (Romans 8:28-29)

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ficticious Perfect Humility book

Pastor and Bible teacher Francis Frangipaine was once asked what spirit is most often the source of opposition to churches and ministries. He responded, “The Holy Spirit.”

How would you feel if you learned that the main reason your ministry (professional or otherwise) was difficult/impossible was not because you were opposed by the devil, but because the Spirit of God opposed you? In today’s Bible reading, James tells us that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. James is alluding to Proverbs 3:34, “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.” (ESV)

If you’re interested in purchasing your own copy of my memoir, Perfect Humility And How I Attained It, let me also interest you in some beachfront property available for sale in Arizona.

Application

Could it be that your ministry is unnecessarily hard because God is opposed to your pride? I know that’s a hard word to swallow. But it could very well be the source of your difficulty. Now, I’m not saying that all ministry should be easy, smooth sailing. In fact, I believe that all God-glorifying ministry will be met with opposition — sometimes significant opposition — from our enemy.

But as we press into God’s leading, seeking to glorify Him, edify other Believers, and testify to the lost and dying world, we should do all that we can to gain and maintain humility so that God will undergird our ministry rather than oppose it.

Spend a few minutes asking God to search you deeply and reveal pride. (Psalm 139:23)

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hold your tongue

In today’s Bible reading, James warns his readers against being an arsonist by not controlling their tongues. He argues that although it’s very small, the tongue can create a great deal of damage. Perhaps James has Proverbs 18:21 in mind.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. Proverbs 18:21 (ESV)

James spends a great deal of time talking about the tongue. It’s a good thing. The can easily create havoc in a church setting. Perhaps it’s “sharing a prayer request”. Actually, it’s slander, gossip, or backbiting. Perhaps it’s “speaking the truth in love”. Actually, it’s demeaning or berating. Perhaps, it’s “stretching the truth” or — a preacher’s favorite — “ministerially speaking”. Actually, it’s lying. There are other ways Believers sin with our tongue, but these may be the most “innocent”. Either way, it’s not using our tongue to edify and bless.

Application

The tongue can get you in a lot of trouble. The wise person who wrote the proverb was correct. Words can heal or words can kill. You get to choose how you use your tongue.

Before you say something, before you “share” something, before you post something on Social Media ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is it true? Have you personally verified it?
  • Is it helpful? Is it encouraging?
  • Is it the right time to say it?
  • Is it said in the right tone? Is this the best way to say it?
  • Does it involve the person(s) talked about? The person you’re telling, are they part of the problem/solution? (If not, don’t share it; it’s gossip, plain and simple)
  • If it’s a corrective word, have you confirmed with someone else (in confidence) if it needs to be said? Have you confirmed with them that now is the time to share it? Do you need to bring that person along to be present when you deliver the word?

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