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Lesson 103: Principles for Your Ministry, Part 2 (Romans 15:14-21)

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I’ve told you before about a recurring dream that I’ve had ever since my college days. Some of you have told me that you’ve had the same dream. Apparently, college is stressful, since many of us have had this same anxious dream. The basic format of the dream is that I’m in college and it’s near the end of the semester. Final exams are looming and I suddenly realize that there is a class that I am enrolled in, but I have not been attending. Now with the final exam staring me in the face I realize that I’m doomed. I can’t possibly prepare for the exam in a class that I didn’t even know that I was enrolled in. What a relief to wake up and realize that it was only a bad dream!

But what if it’s true and the exam not only affects whether I pass a college class, but how I will spend all eternity? I didn’t know that I was enrolled in this class, but now I’m standing before God who says, “Let’s see how you did. Hmm, you never attended class! You skipped the midterm! You didn’t do any of the assignments! In fact, you didn’t show up for the final! I’m afraid that I can’t give you a passing grade!”

You don’t want the day of judgment to be that kind of nightmare come true! As I said last week, whether you know it or not, if you’re a Christian, you’re in the ministry just as much as Paul was in the ministry or I’m in the ministry. True, you may not get paid to allow you to devote full time to your ministry. But God has given you spiritual gifts and a certain amount of time to employ those gifts for His kingdom purposes. As Paul says (Rom. 14:10, 12), “For we all will stand before the judgment seat of God…. So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” So as a gifted member of the body of Christ, you’re enrolled in the course. You’ll be graded on how well you did. You don’t want to get to the big final in the sky and realize that you haven’t been going to class or doing the assignments. You need to realize that you are in the ministry and you need conscientiously to be doing what God has given you to do.

Last time I summed up verses 14-21:

Following Paul’s example, we should affirm the ministries of others while serving the Lord in line with our gifts and calling, giving Him the glory for any results.

We saw:

1. Following Paul’s example, we should affirm the giftedness and value of others’ ministries in the body (15:14).

         Ministry Principle 1: If you’re a Christian, you’re in the ministry.

         Ministry Principle 2: To minister effectively to others, you must know and personally apply biblical truth in your walk with the Lord.

         Ministry Principle 3: Trust God to work through others in the body and affirm their ministries.

         Ministry Principle 4: Be sensitive towards others.

2. Following Paul’s example, we should pursue our ministries as offerings of worship to God, giving Him all the glory for any results (15:15-21).

         Ministry Principle 5: Don’t hesitate to be bold in challenging others or in reminding them of what they already know.

         Ministry Principle 6: Offer your ministry to God as an act of worship, pleasing to Him.

There are six more ministry principles in these verses that we need to explore. But first, let me read and explain 15:17-19:

Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.

Paul is explaining further his ministry to the Gentiles, giving the reasons why he could write so boldly to this largely Gentile church and why he could glory in ministering as a priest the gospel of God, offering up the Gentiles as an acceptable sacrifice (15:15, 16). So the “boast” of verse 17 refers back to verse 16 (C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans [T & T Clark], 2:757). Paul is boasting or glorying in his role of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles and in offering up the Gentile converts to God as an acceptable offering. This goes back to 12:1, where Paul said that we are to present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is our spiritual service of worship.

But why does Paul mention boasting at all? Back in 3:27 he said that faith excludes all boasting. Boasting or pride is the root of all sins. So why is Paul boasting here? The answer is that he’s doing here what he wrote (2 Cor. 10:17; citing Jer. 9:24), “But he who boasts is to boast in the Lord.” It’s wrong to boast in ourselves, but it’s right to boast in the Lord, so that He gets the glory for what He has done through weak human instruments, or “earthen vessels,” as Paul refers to us (2 Cor. 4:7). Paul’s boast here is “in Christ Jesus … in things pertaining to God” (15:17). He is glorying in what God has done through him, which is all “because of the grace that was given [him] from God” (15:15). As he goes on to explain further (15:18), he is only boasting of what Christ has accomplished through him, “resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles.”

“By word and deed” (15:18) is a summary of how God used Paul to bring about the obedience of the Gentiles. “Word” refers to preaching the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation (1:16). Verse 19 shows that the deeds included “the power of signs and wonders,” which were done “in the power of the Spirit.” Paul uses “obedience” for “faith” because saving faith is obedient faith (Rom. 1:5; 16:26).

The “signs and wonders” refer to miracles from different points of view. “Signs” points to the spiritual significance or purpose of the miracles, to point to the truth of the gospel. “Wonders” looks at the response that miracles produce in people, who recognize that God is behind them. Paul uses the phrase “signs and wonders” just two other times. In 2 Corinthians 12:12 he says, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” The miracles that Paul did authenticated him as a true apostle. But in 2 Thessalonians 2:9, he uses the term to refer to the activity of the man of lawlessness (antichrist), “whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders ….” He will use miracles to deceive those who perish. So we need to be discerning, because those performing signs and wonders may be from God, but they may be from Satan.

This raises the whole question of whether we should expect signs and wonders to accompany the preaching of the gospel today. Some claim that we should expect miracles as normative and if we aren’t experiencing miracles, we must not be trusting in God.

First, we need to acknowledge that God is the Almighty Creator and He can do miracles if and when He chooses to do them. So we should not limit His power by our unbelief (Mark 6:5-6). At the same time, we should recognize that in the Bible, miracles tend to be clustered around the exodus, the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, a few at the time of Daniel, and many during the ministries of Christ and the apostles. The purpose of miracles in those situations was to authenticate the truth of God’s Word at key points in history. In between these times, there are occasional miracles, but they do not seem to be the norm.

Also, as the apostolic era wound down, the number of miracles seems to have waned. In the early days of the gospel, both Peter and Paul saw frequent, extraordinary miracles (Acts 5:12-16; 9:36-42; 13:9-12; 19:11-12). But later, Paul seems to have been unable to heal Epaphroditus, although God mercifully spared him (Phil. 2:25-27). He didn’t tell Timothy to claim healing for his frequent stomach problems, but rather to drink some wine (1 Tim. 5:23). Paul didn’t heal Trophimus, but left him sick at Miletus (2 Tim. 4:20). And, writing to a second generation church, the author of Hebrews explains how the Lord testified through the apostles with signs and wonders and various gifts of the Holy Spirit as confirmation of the gospel (Heb. 2:3-4). If those things were normative in the second generation, he would have appealed to their current experience as proof of the gospel. But rather, he points them back to what God did through the apostles. Obviously the miracles that God did through Paul were genuine and well-known, or his claims would have been refuted by eyewitnesses. But those miracles did seem to be unique to authenticate the gospel in the early days.

So the application for us is that we should pray for miracles and believe that God is able to do miracles if it is His will. But to say that miracles are normative for the present day goes too far.

Before we look at the final six ministry principles, let me also comment on the last half of verse 19, where Paul says that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum he has fully preached the gospel of Christ. Illyricum is the area presently known as Albania and the Balkan countries (former Yugoslavia). We don’t know whether Paul went into that area (perhaps from Macedonia, just to the east) or whether he means to the border of Illyricum. We might say, “I traveled from Mexico to Canada,” but the meaning is ambiguous. Did I travel from Chiapas (far southern Mexico) to the Northwest Territories, or did I travel from southern Texas to northern Minnesota? So we don’t know exactly what Paul means, except that he had preached the gospel from its point of origin in Jerusalem to the Gentile areas far northwest of there.

Also, by “fully preaching the gospel,” Paul doesn’t mean that he preached in every village and city in those regions. Rather, he had planted strategic churches in those areas, so that from them the gospel could go out into the surrounding areas. For example, Paul spent two years teaching the disciples in Ephesus, with the result that “all who lived in Asia heard the gospel” (Acts 19:10).

With that explanation of verses 17-19, let’s draw out some principles for your ministry:

         Ministry Principle 7: Deflect all glory in your ministry to God, because all results come from His grace (15:15, 17-18).

It is always wrong to boast in ourselves, but it is right to boast in the Lord. Paul is at pains to make it clear that his ministry was (15:15) “because of the grace that was given me from God.” His boast was “in Christ Jesus,” in “things pertaining to God” (15:17). In case we missed it, he clarifies (15:18), “For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me ….” Paul never got over the wonder that God would save and then choose to use a former persecutor and blasphemer like him (1 Tim. 1:12-16). Neither should we. If God uses you to do anything for His kingdom, it is all because of His grace.

So, what should you do when someone comes up and gushes about something that you did that helped him spiritually? It comes across as false humility if you say, “Please, it wasn’t me—it was the Lord!” I think you should say, “Thank you! It’s encouraging to hear how the Lord worked in your life through what I did. Thanks for encouraging me.” If they keep gushing, however, it may be time to interject, “Really, I appreciate your encouragement, but it was the Lord. I was just the imperfect instrument that He used, so give Him the glory.”

And in your heart, no matter how much people may praise you, remember the wit and wisdom of Winston Churchill. He was once sitting on an outside platform waiting to speak to crowds who had packed the streets to hear him. The chairlady of the proceedings leaned over and said, “Doesn’t it thrill you, Mr. Churchill, to see all those people out there who came just to see you?” Churchill replied, “It is quite flattering, but whenever I feel this way I always remember that if instead of making a political speech I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big.” (James Humes, Churchill: Speaker of the Century [Stein and Day], p. 289)

         Ministry Principle 8: There is a legitimate sense of satisfaction that comes from realizing that God has used you (15:17).

Paul knew that he was merely a servant of God by His grace. When the Corinthians were dividing into camps following Apollos or Paul, Paul wrote (1 Cor. 3:5-6), “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.” He always knew that he was just a servant by God’s grace.

And yet, he also felt a sense of satisfaction at what God by His grace had accomplished through him. In 1 Corinthians 15:9-10, he wrote, “For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” And in our text (v. 18), Paul has a sense of satisfaction that God has used him to bring the pagan Gentiles into obedience to Jesus Christ.

The older I get and the longer I’m in ministry, the more I have to battle discouragement and a sense of failure. I often feel like quitting because I think, “I am not seeing anywhere near the results that men like John MacArthur and John Piper and R. C. Sproul see.” But then the Lord graciously gives me an encouraging email from someone who has been reading my sermons online or someone in the church tells me how God is changing them through His Word, and it revives me to keep going.

         Ministry Principle 9: The goal in your ministry should be to proclaim the gospel so as to produce genuinely converted, obedient disciples (15:18).

Romans is all about “the gospel of God” (1:1; 15:16; “gospel of Christ,” 15:19; “gospel,” 15:20), which results in obedience to God in the hearts of those who respond in faith. The gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (1:16). So the gospel is central to all ministry.

This means that you need to be able to give the gospel in a clear, succinct manner: “The bad news is, we all have sinned and are under God’s righteous judgment (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). We cannot be reconciled to a holy God by our good deeds. The penalty for our sins must be paid. The good news is, God sent His own Son to pay the penalty that we deserved. Jesus’ death on the cross satisfied God’s justice. But He didn’t pay the penalty for everyone, but only for those who will believe in Him (John 3:16). If you will turn from your sin and self-righteousness and trust in Christ alone, God will be merciful to forgive all your sins and freely give you eternal life (Eph. 2:8-9). Will you trust in Christ right now?”

Also, when you’re dealing with someone, do not assume that he is clear about the gospel or that he has trusted in Christ, even if he professes to be a Christian. Ask him, “If you were to die and stand before God and He asked you why He should let you into heaven, what would you say?” His answer will tell you what he’s trusting in for eternal life. Some give the right answer, but their lives contradict their profession. They need to know that saving faith is obedient faith. If someone isn’t growing in obedience, his claim to believe is suspect (1 John 2:4; 3:4-10).

Then Paul continues (15:20-21), “And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; but as it is written, ‘They who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand.’” Paul’s aim in his mission was to preach the gospel where Christ had not yet been named, as Isaiah 52:15 prophesied.

Paul’s ambition to preach where Christ was not yet known so that he would not build on another man’s foundation did not prevent him from ministering to the church in Rome, which he had not founded. Rather, it reflects Paul’s overall calling and his general philosophy of ministry. He was called to plant new churches and move on. He was a pioneer evangelist, who felt “crowded” by too many Christians (Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 896). Others were called to stay with those new churches and shepherd them. Both are needed. These verses lead to three final ministry principles:

         Ministry Principle 10: Understand how your ministry fits into the big picture of what God is doing (10:20).

Some are called to pioneer, but others need to stay long term in one location to build the church there. Some are gifted evangelists who can’t rest at night if they haven’t given the gospel to someone that day. Others see God use them more in encouraging and building up believers who are struggling. This doesn’t mean that the evangelist doesn’t disciple Christians or that the guy who focuses on discipling Christians doesn’t evangelize. It only helps you to know where to focus. You can’t do it all and you’re most effective when you’re doing what God has gifted you to do.

         Ministry Principle 11: Until the gospel has gone out to all people, we all should pray, support, and work toward completing the Great Commission (10:21).

John Piper wrote (Let the Nations be Glad [Baker, 2nd ed.], p. 17), “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” Our passion should be that God’s glory be known so that He is worshipped around the globe. Piper also has said, “You’re either a goer, a sender, or disobedient.” If you’re not passionate about missions, it may be because you’re not passionate about God.

         Ministry Principle 12: Base your philosophy of ministry on scripture, not on modern business or marketing techniques (15:21).

Paul cites Isaiah 52:15 to back his philosophy of taking the gospel to those who have yet to hear. That text comes out of Isaiah’s fourth “servant” passage, which points to Christ, the suffering servant. Paul saw his ministry to the Gentiles as a part of fulfilling the Old Testament prediction about the Gentiles coming to see and understand the good news about the Servant of the Lord (Moo, pp. 897-898). Paul based his ministry on Scripture.

In our day, there is a strong appeal to build your ministry on the latest business or marketing techniques. After all, these are “proven” principles that work. Successful pastors vouch for them. But you have to ask, “But are they biblical methods? Is it a philosophy of ministry based on Scripture?” If not, we should not follow it, even if it “works.” One example that I gave when we were studying chapters 14 & 15 is that the church growth movement urges pastors to utilize what they call the “homogeneous unit principle.” This is based on the philosophy that people want to be a part of a larger group that is just like they are. So you tailor one service for the older folks and another that appeals to the younger crowd. In other words, you design a product that appeals to your target audience. The only problem is, it isn’t biblical!

Conclusion

As I said, if you know Christ, you are enrolled in the lifelong class called “Ministry.” You will be graded on your performance. The final exam is coming. I pray that we all will take these ministry principles to heart so that we will hear one day (Matt. 25:21), “Well done, good and faithful slave…. Enter into the joy of your master.”

Application Questions

  1. How can a Christian figure out what his or her ministry should be? Does our main ministry change as we move through the stages of life?
  2. God’s glory should be our aim because it is God’s aim. How would you answer someone who said, “If God seeks His own glory, He must be an egotist”?
  3. Why must the gospel be central to all ministry? What does this mean practically?
  4. Is there a legitimate way to use business or marketing techniques in ministry? When are such techniques neutral and when are they harmful?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Ecclesiology (The Church), Empower, Glory, Pneumatology (The Holy Spirit), Spiritual Gifts

Lesson 104: Dreaming Big for God (Romans 15:22-29)

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In Don’t Waste Your Life ([Crossway], pp. 45-46), which you all should read, John Piper contrasts two stories. The first story is about two women, one over eighty, the other in her late seventies, who had given their lives to make Jesus Christ known among the unreached people of Cameroon. In April, 2000, their brakes failed, their car went over a cliff, and they were both killed instantly. Piper asks, “Was that a tragedy?” He answers, “No, that is not a tragedy. That is a glory. These lives were not wasted. And these lives were not lost. ‘Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it’ (Mark 8:35).”

The second story shows how to waste your life. The February, 1998, Reader’s Digest, told of a couple who took early retirement when he was 59 and she was 51. They moved to Florida where they cruise on their boat, play softball, and collect shells. At first Piper thought that the story was a spoof on the American Dream, but then he realized that this is the dream: “Come to the end of your life—your one and only precious, God-given life—and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells.” “That,” says Piper, “is a tragedy.”

It’s especially tragic when Christians waste their lives in light of eternity. Far too many Christians have been sucked into the American dream: to retire as young as possible and then devote your final years to living for yourself. The justification is, “I’ve worked hard for many years, so now it’s my turn to indulge myself for a while.”

I agree that we need to provide adequate financial resources for the time when we’re no longer able to work. I also understand the need for more leisure time as we get older, especially for spending more time with grandkids before they’re grown. But it seems to me that as those who are commanded by our Lord Jesus to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness (Matt. 6:33), we ought to think and even dream about how God might use our few remaining years on earth for His purposes. If you no longer have to work 40-60 hours a week to earn a living, shouldn’t you give some thought to how you could use at least 20-30 hours a week to help fulfill the Great Commission?

If anyone deserved a retirement condo near the golf course or seashore, it was the apostle Paul. The man had endured threats on his life, beatings, imprisonment, being stoned, three shipwrecks, and numerous other dangers and hardships for the sake of the gospel (2 Cor. 11:23-28). “Slow down, Paul! At least take a little vacation time! You’re not getting any younger!” But, here he is telling the Roman Christians that he wants to visit them, but he won’t be staying long. He wants to go to Spain to preach the gospel there. His driving ambition was to keep preaching the gospel where Christ was not yet known (15:20). As he looked toward the final years of his life, he was still dreaming big for God. Following Paul’s example here …

Dream big and plan for how God might use you, but submit to God’s will and seek His blessing in the outworking of your plans.

If God has left you on this planet, He has a purpose for you to fulfill. Perhaps due to bodily weakness, all you can do is pray. Then pray! Perhaps you can give to the cause of missions. Then give! But you may be able to do much more. Then do it! I just read in Eric and Teri Powell’s newsletter of a woman who recently retired to Green Valley, Arizona. While still in the Chicago area, she had been asking God how she could honor Him in her retirement, and she kept hearing the words, “Green Valley Mall.” She didn’t know what that meant until she met Teri and a co-worker with the Scriptures in Use mission. She asked them if they needed a volunteer in their office. She didn’t know it at the time, but the office is located in the Green Valley Mall, where she now serves with Scriptures in Use. There are three lessons that we can draw out of Paul’s future plans and dreams:

1. Dream big and make plans for how God might use you (15:22-24).

Romans 15:22-24: “For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you; but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while—”

Paul wanted to see Rome (Acts 19:21) and spend a little while with the saints there, but he didn’t want to stay for very long. He wanted to use Rome as a base to reach further west into Spain, at the edge of the Roman Empire. Did Paul ever get there? We don’t know for sure. Some scholars doubt it, but others think that he did. About 96 A.D., Clement of Rome wrote to the church of Corinth and mentioned that Paul had reached “the limit of the west” before he died. For someone who lived in Rome, “the limit of the west” arguably could have referred to Spain. Another work dating from the late second century, the Muratorian fragment, takes Paul’s Spanish journey for granted (F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free [Eerdmans], pp. 447-449). So it’s possible but not certain that after his first Roman imprisonment, Paul was released and went to Spain before returning to Rome, where he was arrested again and finally executed.

We can draw four applications from these verses:

(1). Dream big for God!

Have a holy ambition to see God use you in ways beyond what you can ask or think. We spend time thinking about how we can enjoy our retirement years. We plan and talk and dream about where we can go and what we can do. But why not spend time thinking about how God could use your retirement years to advance His kingdom?

William Carey was a self-educated shoe cobbler in England who had a vision of taking the gospel to India. When he shared that idea with some ministers, one seasoned pastor called him a “miserable enthusiast” and told him that God would reach the heathen in His own way without human aid (William Carey [Zondervan], Mary Drewery, p. 31). But Carey persisted and overcame setback after setback. He eventually got to India, learned and translated the Bible into almost 40 languages, founded a university that still exists, and saw God make a substantial impact on the Indian subcontinent (see The Legacy of William Carey [Crossway], Vishal and Ruth Mangalwadi). Carey’s motto was, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God” (Drewery, p. 39).

Maybe you’re thinking, “But I don’t have those kinds of talents. I can barely speak English, let alone learn another language! I don’t have much to offer in terms of advancing God’s kingdom.” But remember, in Jesus’ parable of the talents, the slave who received five talents and the one who received two talents both invested those funds on behalf of their master. The slave who only received one talent buried it and felt the wrath of his master (Matt. 25:14-30). Surely one lesson to take away from that story is that if you think that you don’t have much that you can do for the Master, you’re the one most in danger of doing nothing. And remember the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 from a boy’s meager lunch of five loaves and two fishes: Little becomes much when you yield it to the Lord Jesus.

So where should you begin? First, consider the local church. Talk to one of the pastors or our children’s coordinator about how you could use your gifts in ministry here. Become a mentor to younger men or women. Think about what you could do to reach others in your neighborhood for Christ. Volunteer to help tutor kids who need help in school or teach reading through the library literacy program and tell your students about Jesus. Help out at Sunshine Rescue Mission or Hope Cottage. Also, there are several local mission organizations that could probably use some help. If you can use a computer, there are ministries that will feed you contacts of those who want to know more about the faith. Use your creativity and your interests and ask God to use you to make an impact for His kingdom.

(2). Don’t let good things crowd out God’s best for you.

Paul wanted to get to Rome and that was a good desire. But something better had kept him from getting there, namely, preaching the gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum. And while Paul wanted to visit Rome, there was something better that meant that he could not stay long, namely, going to Spain.

It’s difficult to understand Paul’s comment (15:23), “with no further place for me in these regions.” Surely Paul could find much to do in those regions! But as Everett Harrison explains (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. by Frank Gaebelein [Zondervan], 10:157), we can only understand his comment in light of Paul’s “restless pioneer spirit.” There were plenty of good things that Paul could have done in those regions. But in light of his gifts and calling, the best thing that he could do was to press on to areas where Christ had not yet been named, such as Spain.

So ask yourself, “What is the unique contribution that I can make to the cause of Christ in light of my gifts and resources? Where can I best be used of God?” Don’t let good things crowd out the best way that God can use you.

(3). Work out a plan for God’s will for you in line with your desires.

Paul had a desire and plan to go to Jerusalem with the Gentile gift for the poor Jewish believers, then to visit the saints in Rome, and then to move on to Spain. As we know, things didn’t work out exactly as Paul had envisioned, in that he got arrested in Jerusalem, spent several years in custody, and finally went to Rome as a prisoner. But he wasn’t wrong to lay out a plan in line with the desires that God had put into his heart.

Sometimes Christians have the mistaken notion that if you hate the thought of going to the jungle to a primitive tribe as a missionary, then that’s what God will have you do. Maybe the idea is that it is more spiritual to do something that grates against your will! While it’s true that God wants you to be yielded to whatever His will for your life may be, He’s not a sadist who delights to make you miserable! He’s a loving Father who wants to see His children happy and fulfilled. He gives us the desires and personality bents that we have. If He calls you to go to a primitive jungle tribe, He will give you the grace to live there. I’m not saying that it will be easy, but at least you’ll be able to shrug off the inconveniences and hardship and love what you’re doing. When we were in Central Asia for a month this summer, there were things about the culture that grated on us. But the missionaries who have been called to serve there just shrugged these things off with a laugh.

So God works through our desires or gives us the grace to endure hardship cheerfully. Work out a plan for how He might use you in line with your desires and abilities.

(4). Serve God in relationship with other likeminded believers.

Paul always worked in conjunction with others. We’ll see this in 16:21-23, where he sends greetings to Rome from eight men who were with him, along with greetings from the whole church. Part of Paul’s strategy in stopping for a while at Rome was to get them on board as his western base to reach out to Spain. He may have hoped to recruit one or more brothers from Rome to accompany him to Spain.

When Paul says (15:24), “to be helped on my way there by you,” many commentators think that at least in part he is asking for financial help. But I respectfully disagree. In my seminary master’s thesis (which the faculty accepted!), I argued that Paul had a fixed policy of not asking for personal support or making his own financial needs known to potential donors. When he ran out of funds, he went to work making tents. When support came in, he devoted himself more fully to the ministry (Acts 18:3, 5; Phil. 4:10-18).

But what about this phrase, “to be helped on my way there by you”? This (or a similar phrase) occurs eight other times (Acts 15:3; 20:38; 21:5; 1 Cor. 16:6, 11; 2 Cor. 1:16; Titus 3:13; 2 John 6). In 2 Corinthians 1:16, Paul tells the church there that perhaps they can help him on his way to Judea. But he is not suggesting that they provide him with financial support, because he resolutely states later that he will not accept such support from them (2 Cor. 11:9, 12; 12:14). William Sanday & Arthur Headlam (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [T & T Clark, fifth ed.], p. 411) say that this phrase “need not mean more than to be sent forward on a journey with prayers and good wishes.” It was the custom for people to escort a respected guest for a short distance on his journey.

But here in Romans the phrase could be Paul’s asking the church there to partner with him in prayer (at the least) and perhaps for someone in Rome to go with him to Spain. Paul always worked with a team. So should we. Look for a local church or a mission agency that you can partner with.

So the first lesson from Paul’s future plans is, “Dream big and make plans for how God might use you in serving Him.”

2. In your planning, consider what will have maximum impact for Christ’s church (15:25-28).

Romans 15:25-28: “but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain.”

When you read Paul’s letters, you realize that this gift from the mostly Gentile churches for the poor saints in Jerusalem was a really big deal to Paul. He spends two chapters in 2 Corinthians (8 & 9) urging them to be generous in this effort. He spent several months that ended up (when he got arrested) being several years diverting his efforts from his normal priority of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles in order to administer this gift and make sure it got to Jerusalem safely. He could have delegated this to a trusted associate, but he felt that it was important enough to go personally. He even went against two warnings from believers that Luke says came from the Holy Spirit (Acts 21:4, 10-14) not to set foot in Jerusalem. Although most commentators would not agree with me, I think that Paul was so intent on going to Jerusalem that he wrongly ignored God’s direct warnings not to go. So you have to ask, “Why was this so important to Paul?”

My answer is that he thought that taking the gift to Jerusalem would have maximum impact for Christ’s church. In 15:25 he puts it, “serving the saints.” He saw it as putting his seal on this fruit of the Gentile churches (15:28). I think he means that this gift confirmed the bond of unity between the Gentile and Jewish factions of the church. Paul insisted that in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile (Gal. 3:28). The gift also authenticated the reality of the conversion of the Gentiles to the Jewish believers in Israel, who tended to be skeptical of Paul’s Gentile mission. It showed the power of the gospel to bring these former pagans to obedience to Christ and it authenticated Paul’s gospel. Also, it fulfilled the commitment that Paul had made to James, Peter, and John to remember the poor as he went to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:10). And, perhaps Paul saw it, at least in part, as fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies that the Gentiles would bring their wealth to Jerusalem (Isa. 2:2-3; 45:14; 60:5-17; 61:6; from Thomas Schreiner, Romans [Baker], p. 776).

There are several helpful principles of giving in these verses that I do not have time to develop. Note briefly that giving is both a duty and a delight. It is a duty to share in material things with those who have shared with you in spiritual things (15:27). And yet Paul mentions twice (15:26, 27) that the Gentiles were pleased to do it—it was a delight. The idea that the Gentiles are indebted spiritually to the Jews is the major theme of Romans 11. Also, note that giving is a form of fellowship. The Greek word translated “contribution” (15:26) is koinonia, “fellowship,” or sharing together. Giving to missionaries or to needy saints builds a bond of fellowship between you.

But the overall principle is, as you dream and plan for how God might use you, consider what will have maximum impact for Christ’s church. Finally,

3. Submit to the Lord’s will and seek His blessing for all your plans (15:29).

Romans 15:29: “I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.”

Paul is probably referring both to the spiritual blessings that he hoped to impart to the Romans and to the blessings that they would impart to him (see 1:11-12, 15). But in Paul’s case, it didn’t happen in quite the pleasant way that he envisioned! His trip to Rome was as a prisoner via a shipwreck. After he got there, some mean-spirited believers in Rome preached Christ out of envy and strife, thinking to cause Paul distress in his imprisonment (Phil. 1:15, 17). The point is that while Paul sought for and expected God’s blessing, he had to submit to God’s sovereign will in the outworking of what those blessings actually entailed. As Proverbs 16:9 says, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” Or as the saying goes, “Man proposes; God disposes.”

So we should seek God’s blessing in all that we dream and plan for how He might use us, but we have to submit to how all of that actually works out. It may not go according to our plans, but if we walk with God and submit to Him, He will use us for His glory.

Conclusion

To take action on these verses, first ask God to show you how to spend your life (both now and in the future) in light of eternity. Don’t waste your life! With Moses (Ps. 90:12), pray, “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” He concludes that psalm with the repeated plea (90:17), “And confirm for us the work of our hands; yes, confirm the work of our hands.” Give some thought to what abilities and desires He has given you to use for His purpose. If you’re married, talk about it with your mate. Think ahead to when you’ll be 75 or 80 and dream about how you would like for God to have used you by that time. Life is short—don’t waste it!

Then educate yourself about the needs of the world in light of the gospel. How can you strategically use your gifts and desires to have maximum impact for Christ’s kingdom? Work out some plans that will take you in that direction. Perhaps it will be to pray for and support missionaries or national believers to reach the unreached. But for some of you, it may be to go to the unreached with the good news of the Savior who has come. Whatever you do, dream big for God and use what He has entrusted to you for His kingdom and glory!

Application Questions

  1. If we “dream big” for God, there is the inherent danger of pride, of thinking that we are indispensable to God. How can we avoid this trap?
  2. What are some good things that might crowd out God’s best for you? What is God’s best for you?
  3. Many Christians rightly have plans for financial security. Why don’t we all have plans for how we can best be used by God?
  4. How can you determine what your spiritual gifts and abilities are? Then how do you figure out how to use those gifts for maximum impact in Christ’s kingdom?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Spiritual Life

Lesson 105: Praying Rightly (Romans 15:30-33)

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Whenever I speak about prayer, I want you to know that I speak as a fellow-struggler in the trenches. I’ve never found prayer to be easy. Also, many messages and books on prayer lay a guilt trip on the listener or reader for not praying enough. They tell about how Martin Luther was so busy that he had to spend four hours every morning in prayer. Somehow that is supposed to motivate me to get out of bed at 3 a.m. to pray, but it doesn’t work for me. So I don’t want this message to imply that I’ve got it together when it comes to prayer or to increase your guilt level.

But I do want for us all to learn how to pray rightly and be motivated to pray more by Paul’s request here that the Roman Christians pray for him. If we want God to use us individually and as a church in this New Year, we need to be people who depend on Him more in prayer. John Piper wrote (Let the Nations be Glad [Baker], p. 66),

Not only has God made the accomplishment of his purposes hang on the preaching of the Word, but he has also made the success of that preaching hang on prayer. God’s goal to be glorified will not succeed without the powerful proclamation of the gospel. And that gospel will not be proclaimed in power to all the nations without the prevailing, earnest, faith-filled prayers of God’s people.

I have a hunch that most of us would have to admit that our prayers usually focus on our needs or the needs of our immediate family. Of course we should take our needs and our family’s needs to the Lord in prayer. But in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13), Jesus teaches us first to pray that God’s name would be treated as holy, that His kingdom would come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. After this He teaches us to pray for our own needs. So to pray rightly, the Lord’s glory (“hallowed be Your name”) and the Lord’s work (“Your kingdom come, Your will be done”) should be uppermost in our prayers. The lesson for us from Paul’s request here is:

To pray rightly, pray for the Lord’s work with the right motivation, the right mindset, the right understanding, and the right relationship.

1. To pray rightly, pray for the Lord’s work with the right motivation: We have great needs and a great God.

Romans 15:30: “Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me….” This verse teaches us four things about praying with the right motivation:

A. The urgency of needs should motivate us to pray.

“Urge” is the same word that Paul used in Romans 12:1, “Therefore, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice ….” The English Standard Version translates it, “I appeal to you.” The Holman Christian Standard Version reads, “I implore you.” Putting aside the debate about whether Paul was right to go to Jerusalem, he knew that he faced some severe difficulties there. The Holy Spirit had warned him that bonds and afflictions awaited him at the hands of the Jews (Acts 20:23; 21:4, 11). He knew that even among the believers in Jerusalem, many were prejudiced against his ministry to the Gentiles (Acts 21:20-21). They might not accept the gift of financial help that he was bringing from the Gentile churches. And so he urges the Roman believers to pray for two things (15:31): that he would be rescued from the disobedient in Judea; and that his service for Jerusalem (the gift) would prove acceptable to the saints.

Paul often asked for prayer in his letters because he was constantly aware of his desperate need for God to work if his efforts for the gospel were to amount to anything. He asked the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 5:25), “Brethren, pray for us.” More specifically, he asked them to pray that the word of the Lord would spread rapidly and be glorified and that he would be rescued from evil men (2 Thess. 3:1-2). He asked the Philippians to pray that he would be delivered from prison, but that whatever the outcome, Christ would be exalted through him (Phil. 1:19-20) He asked the Ephesians (6:19-20) and the Colossians (4:3-4) to pray that he would have opportunities to preach the gospel and that he would do so with boldness and clarity. He asked the Corinthians to pray that God would deliver him from the peril of death (2 Cor. 1:9-11).

These repeated requests for prayer are all the more significant when you remember that Paul was one of the most gifted and godly men who ever lived. If there was ever anyone who seemed to “have it together,” it was Paul! Sometimes such great men come across as if they don’t have any needs. They try to project an image of self-confidence so that others will follow their leadership. But Paul freely and repeatedly let the churches know that he desperately needed their prayers. For Paul, prayer wasn’t a nice thing to do; it was a necessity for survival.

In his excellent book, A Praying Life [NavPress], p. 65), Paul Miller observes, “You don’t need self-discipline to pray continuously; you just need to be poor in spirit.” In other words, to be motivated to pray, don’t focus on more discipline; focus rather on how needy you and those you pray for really are. Unless God works, nothing will happen of any lasting spiritual significance.

B. The authority of our Lord Jesus Christ should motivate us to pray.

Paul urges us to pray “by our Lord Jesus Christ,” which is an appeal to Christ’s authority (C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [T & T Clark], 2:776). When Jesus gave the Great Commission just before He ascended into heaven, He said (Matt. 28:18), “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” That doesn’t leave any place where Jesus does not have authority (see Eph. 1:21-22)! So we can pray to God in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ with the confidence that He has the power and authority to answer our prayers that are in accord with His will.

If you’ve ever had a difficult matter to resolve, you know that if you try to go through a lower level bureaucrat, your chances of getting what you’re after are slim. But if you know someone in a position of authority and you can do directly to him or her, you have a much better chance of success. As Christians, we can go directly to the God of the universe through the authority of His Son, who has all authority in heaven and on earth! That should motivate us to pray.

C. The love of the Holy Spirit should motivate us to pray.

Paul urges them to pray “by the love of the Spirit.” While grammatically this could refer to the Spirit’s love for us or to our love for the Spirit, I agree with the majority of commentators who argue that this refers to the love that the Holy Spirit produces in all who walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 22). Paul is saying, “If the Holy Spirit has produced His fruit of love in you, show that love by striving together with me in your prayers to God for me.”

If you love people, you’ll pray for them. You pray for your kids because you love them. You pray for other family members (even if they frustrate you at times) because you love them. If you care about someone’s eternal destiny, you’ll pray for his salvation. If you care about a couple that is struggling in their marriage, you’ll pray for them. While Paul knew many of the believers in Rome (16:1-16), there were many there whom he did not know. But by reading this letter to them, they could sense Paul’s love for them. Even though they had not seen Paul, the love that the Spirit put in their hearts for all who love the Lord Jesus should prompt them to pray for him. So when we hear of fellow believers who are in great need, the love of the Spirit should motivate us to pray for them.

D. Because the God to whom we pray is the heavenly Father, we should be motivated to pray.

Paul mentions all three members of the trinity in this verse: We pray by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit to God, who of course is the heavenly Father. Jesus taught us to pray (Matt. 6:9), “Our Father who is in heaven.” What a great privilege that we can come to the God who spoke the universe into existence by His great power and address Him as “Father”! When we come to His throne through our great high priest, we can draw near with confidence, knowing that it is a throne of grace where we receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need (Heb. 4:14-16). So to pray rightly for the Lord’s work, pray with the right motivation: We have great needs and we have a great triune God.

2. To pray rightly, pray for the Lord’s work with the right mindset: Prayer is warfare.

Paul urges the Roman Christians (15:30), “strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.” There are two things here:

A. Strive in your prayers.

This is the only time this compound verb (“strive together”) is used in the New Testament, but Paul uses the root verb with reference to prayer in Colossians 4:12, “Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.” We get our word “agonize” from the Greek verb. It was used of athletic contests. Paul uses the noun most likely in reference to his own prayers for the Colossians (Col. 2:1), “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face.”

Paul describes his ministry as (Col. 1:29), “For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” He sums up his entire ministry by using both the noun and the verb (2 Tim. 4:7), “I have fought the good fight.” Although he doesn’t use the same word, the same idea lies behind Paul’s description of spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:12), “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

These verses all fly in the face of the popular teaching that the Christian life is an effortless matter of “letting go and letting God.” I’ve heard Bible teachers say, “If you’re struggling, you’re not resting in Christ.” I guess Paul needed to learn some things from them! He struggled, he strived, he wrestled, he fought.

This means that if you don’t find prayer to be easy, welcome to the Christian life! It requires striving and wrestling against the forces of darkness and against the desires of the flesh. If you have the mindset that prayer is easy and effortless, you won’t do much praying. Prayer requires striving.

B. Strive together in your prayers.

Paul was already striving in prayer for his upcoming trip to Jerusalem, but he asks them to join him in the battle. Sometimes I’ve heard Christians try to rally large numbers to pray for some urgent need and it seems as if the mentality is, “If we just get enough people praying, it will tip the scales and God will have to answer.” But that’s not why we should strive together with others in our prayers. The effective prayers of a righteous man (singular) can accomplish much (James 5:16).

Rather, when more people pray, God gets more glory when He answers. Also, when more pray and God answers, it strengthens the faith of all those who prayed. And, it lightens the load of the person who is praying if others come along and help carry the burden. It helps to know that others care enough to pray for your need. Since prayer is warfare, it’s better to go into battle with as many troops as you can muster, rather than by yourself.

John Piper has often pointed out that our prayers are often ineffective because we wrongly view prayer as calling for the butler to bring us another glass of iced tea, rather than rightly viewing it as a walkie-talkie to call in more supplies and ammunition to the front lines of the battle. In other words, our prayers should not be focused on trivial things to make us more comfortable, but rather on crucial things to advance the cause of Christ against the enemy.

So to pray rightly, pray for the Lord’s work with the right motivation: We have great needs and we have a great God. Pray with the right mentality: Prayer is warfare.

3. To pray rightly, pray for the Lord’s work with the right understanding: Prayer is powerful, but we must submit to God’s sovereign will.

Paul asks for two specific things: to be delivered from the disobedient in Judea (unbelievers); and that his service (gift) to the saints would prove acceptable. Those requests teach us two things:

A. Understand that God’s power flows through our prayers.

Paul assumes that in response to his and the Romans’ prayers, God can restrain the disobedient Jews from killing him and that God can work in the hearts of the prejudiced and untaught believers in Jerusalem so that they will accept the gift from the Gentiles. The fact that the Romans were over a thousand miles away from Jerusalem and didn’t know either the disobedient Jews or the prejudiced saints made no difference. God was in both places and He is powerful to restrain sinners and change the hearts of believers. The fact that people have a “free will” to do as they choose makes no difference. Without robbing people of their freedom to choose and their responsibility for their choices, God works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11; Ps. 103:19; Ps. 115:3; Prov. 21:1). He uses our prayers as a part of that process!

If salvation depends ultimately on the “free will” of lost, sinful people, then you should quit praying for their salvation, because God’s hands are tied! But if salvation is from the Lord, then pray that He will soften hard hearts, open blind eyes, raise dead sinners, and cause them to respond willingly to the gospel. It’s true that they must choose to believe in Christ, but it’s also true that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). So pray with the assurance that in some mysterious way that we cannot understand, God’s mighty power to restrain evil, to save the lost, and to sanctify the saints flows through our prayers.

B. Understand that God is sovereign in how He answers our prayers and so we must submit to Him.

Some of the “Word-faith” preachers arrogantly teach that we are to command God in our prayers and that He must do as we say! What blasphemy! God is sovereign; we are not. We should pray as specifically as we can in line with what we understand to be God’s will for His glory, but we have to submit to His sovereignty in how He answers.

Were Paul’s prayers here answered? Yes, sort of, but not exactly in the way that he probably was thinking when he asked for prayer. He was rescued from the disobedient in Judea, but only by becoming a Roman prisoner for the next four years. His service to Jerusalem seems to have been accepted (Acts 21:17), but the account is clear that many of the Jerusalem saints had a decidedly Jewish view of Christianity that wouldn’t have been enthusiastic about uncircumcised Gentiles being on equal footing with them in the church (Acts 21:20-21). They may have thought that by accepting the gift, they would be giving tacit endorsement of Paul’s work among the Gentiles. Or, they might have viewed Paul’s gift as a bribe to try to get them to endorse his breaches of the law among the Gentiles. Or, some may have been too ethnocentric to accept any help from the Gentiles. So we really don’t know to what extent Paul’s second request was answered.

Verse 32 expresses not a third request, but rather the desired result if the first two requests were answered. Paul wanted to “come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company.” Even though the first two requests were perhaps not answered exactly as Paul envisioned, and he arrived in Rome as a prisoner via a shipwreck, he did come to them in joy (Philippians, which is full of joy in the Lord, was written during his Roman imprisonment) and with fresh encouragement in the Lord because of the warm welcome he received (Acts 28:15).

As a side note, as a church, we should make sure that visiting missionaries who come to us find refreshing rest in our company. Have them in your home and ask them about their work. I’ve talked with missionaries who visited a church where no one even bothered to ask about their work or how they could pray for them. They’ve been living in a difficult place, facing loneliness, hardships, and discouragements. It would encourage them to know that we’ve been praying and that we want to know how things have been going on the front lines. But the main lesson is: Pray with the right understanding, that prayer is powerful, but we must submit to God’s sovereignty in the outcome. Finally,

4. To pray rightly, pray for the Lord’s work with the right relationship: “The God of peace be with you all.”

Verse 33 is Paul’s benediction or prayer for the Roman saints. It’s the third benediction of this chapter. Paul has prayed that the God of perseverance and encouragement would grant them to be of the same mind with one another (15:5). He prayed that the God of hope would fill them with all joy and peace in believing (15:13). Now he prays that the God of peace will be with them. In 16:20 he assures them that the God of peace will soon crush Satan under their feet.

Since God is with all believers, Paul’s prayer here must mean that he wants them to experience God’s presence as the God of peace. Because of the cross, we have peace with God (Rom. 5:1). We also should experience peace with other believers, especially with those who are different than we are (Rom. 14:1-15:6; Eph. mstances as we bring our requests to Him in thankful prayer (Phil. 4:6-7). So we pray rightly when we are in right relationship with the God of peace.

Conclusion

So to pray rightly, pray for the Lord’s work with the right motivation: We have great needs and we have a great God. Pray with the right mindset: Prayer is warfare. Pray with the right understanding: Prayer is powerful, but we must submit to God’s sovereign will. And, pray with the right relationship: “The God of peace be with you all.” Let me suggest a few ways that you all can join with me in praying for our church in this coming year. (If you need ideas on specifically what to pray for family members, pastors, missionaries, or yourself, see “What should I pray?” under “Resources” on the church web site.)

         Pray for conversions, both through the witness of our people and through the Word preached (here on Sundays and online).

         Pray for all our missionaries.

         Pray through the church directory. As you do, pray for harmonious marriages and pray for the conversion, growth in grace, and protection of our children.

         Pray for health, strength, growth, encouragement, and wisdom for our ministry staff and our support staff.

         Pray for healthy, spiritually nourishing relationships to flourish through our small groups.

         Pray that all who come here would be serving, disciple-making disciples.

         Pray for God to put on the hearts of some to devote their lives to reaching the unreached.

         Pray for adequate finances, the sale of the Equestrian Estates property, and the purchase of the parking lot across the street.

         Pray that our worship services would be marked by sincere, wholehearted worship in spirit and in truth.

May this be a year when we see God do great things through our prayers!

Application Questions

  1. What most motivates you to pray? What most discourages you from praying? How can you overcome this?
  2. Do you view prayer as a wartime walkie-talkie or as a bell to call the butler for more iced tea? Discuss how these opposing views might affect your prayer life.
  3. Why must we maintain the tension between God’s power to change resistant hearts and man’s responsibility to believe? What happens if either of these is out of balance?
  4. Read through some of Paul’s prayers (Eph. 1:15-23; 3:14-21; Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:9-14; 1 Thess. 3:9-13). What does Paul pray for? How can these prayers shape your prayer life?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Prayer

Lesson 106: Snapshot of a Church (Romans 16:1-16, 21-23)

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When you come to a section of Scripture like Romans 16 with its long list of names, it’s good to keep in mind Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” These verses, along with the lists of genealogies in the Bible, are inspired by God for our spiritual profit to equip us for every good work. So rather than skip over them quickly, we need to think about, “What food for my soul is here for me?” You have to dig a bit, but when you do you come up with some nuggets that make the search worthwhile.

Paul isn’t deliberately teaching here. Rather, he is greeting his friends in Rome and sending greetings from some who were with him in Corinth. But the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write these greetings to teach us. What we have here is a snapshot of these two churches that teaches us much about what our church ought to be. And the individuals greeted here can motivate and encourage each of us to be all that God wants us to be. We learn that…

The church is made up of ordinary, diverse people who know the Lord, are growing in Him, serve Him, and love one another.

I can’t comment on every name, but I want to point out seven features of this snapshot. But before I do, let me say that this chapter dispels the notion that Paul was a non-relational theologian who was so wrapped up in his study that he didn’t care about people. These verses show that Paul knew many of the saints in Rome by name and some of them closely, even though he had not yet visited Rome. The chapter brims with personal relationships that reflect Paul’s love for people. The best theologians are those who can form loving relationships. Let’s look at the snapshot:

1. The church is made up of ordinary, diverse people who are “in the Lord.”

Paul commends to the Romans “our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea” (16:1). Most scholars think that she was the one who carried the letter to Rome. She was probably a single, wealthy business woman (she was a “helper” or “patroness” or “benefactor” of many, including Paul). Her name comes from Greek mythology, and so she was probably saved out of a Gentile pagan background.

In fact a majority of the names in this list are Gentile, indicating the Gentile majority in the church (Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 918). And the majority of the names are those of either slaves or freedmen (freed slaves). Some in the list may have been a part of Caesar’s household (see Phil. 4:22, written from Rome). Aristobulus (16:10) was a grandson of Herod the Great and was a close friend of the Emperor Claudius. He was not a believer. When he died, his slaves would have become the property of the emperor, but would still be called “the household of Aristobulus.” The following name, Herodion, probably refers to a Jewish slave or freedman who was a part of that larger household of Aristobulus now in the emperor’s service (see J. B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians [Zondervan], p. 175).

The household of Narcissus (16:11) also probably referred to the slaves belonging to a wealthy, wicked freedman who was also friends with the Emperor Claudius. When Nero came to the throne, his mother Agrippina forced Narcissus to commit suicide (three or four years before Romans was written), so his slaves also would be part of the royal household.

Tertius, Paul’s secretary in Corinth (16:22), and Quartus, whom Paul simply calls “the brother” (16:23), were probably slaves. Their names mean “Third” and “Fourth.” They weren’t even the number one or number two slaves. Although they were third and fourth, they were members of the church (James Boice, Romans: The New Humanity [Baker], 4:1952, 1956). Tertius had the very important task of accurately recording Paul’s dictated words. Quartus is no longer just the fourth nameless slave, but is “the brother,” a noble designation.

In the same breath Paul mentions Erastus, the city treasurer, an important public position. An inscription has been found in Corinth mentioning an Erastus who was the public works administrator. It may refer to an earlier or later job of this same man who was now city treasurer. So in the church in Corinth you had low-level slaves right next to Erastus the important official.

Prisca and Aquila (16:3) were fellow tentmakers and fellow Jews with Paul, as were the others in this chapter whom he calls “my kinsmen” (16:7, 11, 21). As we’ve seen, there were tensions between the Gentile and Jewish segments of the church in Rome. Paul desperately wanted these diverse groups to work out their differences and grow in love as one body in Christ.

One other man who was probably a Jew was Rufus (16:13). A “Rufus” is also mentioned in Mark 15:21, where Mark says that his father was Simon of Cyrene, who was forced to carry Jesus’ cross. Since Mark’s gospel was probably written for the Romans, the Rufus there may be the one Paul greets here. If so, Rufus’ father was a Jew from Cyrene (modern Libya), who had gone to Jerusalem for the Passover. Through his forced encounter with Christ and the cross, he came to faith in Jesus as His Savior and Lord. Luke mentions that when the gospel first went to Antioch, it was men from Cyprus and Cyrene who first preached it there (Acts 11:20). It’s possible (although not certain) that Simon of Cyrene was one of those men. His son Rufus was now a prominent member of the church in Rome.

We don’t know why Paul singles him out as “a choice man in the Lord.” The Greek term is, “elect” or “chosen” in the Lord, which is true of all believers. John Piper suggests that maybe Paul and Rufus had had a long discussion about God’s sovereign election. Also, perhaps they had talked about how God’s sovereignty had brought Rufus’ father in contact with Christ, so that the truth of election was now especially precious to him.

So the church in Rome was made up of these ordinary but diverse people. Some were slaves, others were blue collar workers, and still others were wealthy. Some were men, but Paul mentions a number of women. What drew them together and united them? We find the answer in a phrase that Paul repeats eleven times in these verses: “in the Lord” or “in Christ.” He asks the Romans to receive Phoebe “in the Lord” (16:2). He commends Prisca and Aquila as his “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (16:3). He says that Andronicus and Junias “were in Christ before me” (16:7). He calls Ampliatus “my beloved in the Lord” (16:8). Urbanus is “our fellow worker in Christ” (16:9). Apelles is “the approved in Christ” (16:10). Perhaps he had endured some difficult trial in a commendable way. Paul sends greetings to those of the household of Narcissus, “who are in the Lord” (16:11). Tryphaena and Tryphosa are “workers in the Lord” (16:12). Persis the beloved “has worked hard in the Lord” (16:12). Rufus is “chosen in the Lord” (16:13). And Tertius, Paul’s secretary, sends his greetings “in the Lord” (16:22).

As we’ve seen in Romans, being “in Christ” through faith is the most important designation that can be true of anyone. Paul begins Romans 8 by stating (8:1), “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” He ends that chapter by saying (8:39) that there is nothing that “will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Whether you are wealthy or poor, ordinary or important, male or female, no matter what your background, those eternal blessings are offered to you in Christ Jesus if you will trust in Him as your Savior. What a tribute to the glorious gospel that saves ordinary, diverse people from every walk of life and places them “in Christ”!

2. The church is made up of ordinary people growing to know the Lord through sound doctrine.

It’s significant that although Romans is the most doctrinally deep letter in the New Testament, it was written to help common people, many of them slaves, to know Christ and grow in their walk with Him. Leon Morris (The Epistle to the Romans [Apollos/Eerdmans], p. 527) observes,

It was a letter to real people and, as far as we can see, to ordinary people; it was not written to professional theologians (although through the centuries scholars have found the epistle a happy hunting ground). As we consider the weighty matters Paul deals with, we are apt to overlook the fact that it was addressed to people like Ampliatus and Tryphena and Rufus. Clearly Paul expected this kind of person to be helped by what he wrote, a fact which modern experts sometimes overlook.

We live in a day when doctrine is shoved aside because supposedly it is either divisive or impractical. But Paul would have vigorously disagreed. He spends 11 chapters laying a solid doctrinal foundation before he gets around to the so-called practical section of this letter. And as noted, it was written for ordinary Christians, not just for theologians or scholars. It takes some mental effort to grapple with these profound truths, but it’s well worth the work!

3. The church is made up of diverse people who are deepening their relationships with one another in the Lord.

There are over 30 names in these two sections and it’s likely that Paul knew most of them personally. He mentions four of them as being especially close (“my beloved” or “the beloved”; 16:5, 8, 9, 12), including Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia. He calls Phoebe “our sister” (16:1) and Quartus “the brother” (16:23). He mentions Rufus’ mother as being his own mother (16:13). Apparently she had ministered to Paul as a mother would, perhaps when he was ill. Prisca and Aquila had risked their lives for Paul. We don’t know when this happened, but obviously there was a close bond between them because of this. He also directs the believers in Rome to greet one another with a holy kiss (16:16), a common custom in that culture (1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:26; 1 Pet. 5:14). It would have been men with men and women with women. It’s a holy kiss! Be careful about being too physical in greeting members of the opposite sex!

All of these personal, warm greetings reflect the love between Paul and these believers and between all believers. It’s amazing that he could remember all of these names! Clearly, he took a personal interest in people, and so should we. We are not called to be Christians in isolation, but rather in relationship with one another. I realize that some of you have been burned in relationships and that makes you hesitant to risk getting burned again. But Paul got burned too (2 Tim. 1:15; 4:10, 14), but that didn’t keep him from pursuing close relationships with other believers.

4. The church is made up of people who are family and thus are hospitable and helpful toward one another.

Paul urges the church to extend hospitality to Phoebe, whom he calls “our sister.” She was family. Quartus was “the brother.” Prisca and Aquila opened their home to host the gatherings of the church (16:5), which they also did in Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:19). Probably the two groups mentioned in 16:14 & 15 represented other house churches, which could perhaps hold as many as 70 or 80 people (Moo, p. 919). In Corinth, Gaius apparently hosted a church in his house (16:23).

For at least the first two centuries, churches had to meet in homes due to persecution. There is a renewed interest in house churches in our day. They have the advantage of forming close relationships, allowing for closer shepherding, and involving every member in ministry. They have the disadvantages of lacking solid teaching and getting off track doctrinally if they lack trained leaders. They can also spawn relational conflicts that come from being overly involved in one another’s personal affairs. Also, if they don’t maintain an emphasis on outreach and healthy growth by division, they can become ingrown. Our home fellowships provide all of these advantages and disadvantages!. But they’re worth the risk. I encourage you to plug in to one. This snapshot also reveals that…

5. The church is made up of people who work hard together for the Lord.

Paul repeatedly mentions how these people were involved in serving the Lord. Phoebe was “a servant of the church in Cenchrea,” a port city near Corinth (16:1). She may have held an official position as a deaconess (1 Tim. 3:11), although some scholars dispute this. But even though she probably was busy as a single business woman, she was devoted to serving the church.

Paul calls Prisca and Aquila “my fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (16:3). Paul had met them in Corinth, where they worked together as tentmakers after they had been forced to leave Rome when Claudius expelled the Jews (Acts 18:1-3). By the way, Paul always calls her Prisca, the more formal name. Luke uses Priscilla, which was the diminutive nickname (like Liz for Elizabeth). They later accompanied Paul to Ephesus, where after Paul left they helped Apollos get straightened out in his doctrine (Acts 18:24-26). Now they had moved back to Rome. Still later, they would move back to Ephesus again (2 Tim. 4:19). Wherever they went, their hearts were for building up the church. Husbands and wives can find great joy in working together for the Lord. Husbands, if you and your wife host a home fellowship, help her with the work!

Paul also mentions Mary, “who has worked hard for you” (16:6). He calls Urbanus “our fellow worker in Christ” (16:9). Tryphaena and Tryphosa (probably sisters, whose names mean Delicate and Dainty) were not fragile—they were “workers in the Lord” (16:12)! Persis (another woman) “has worked hard in the Lord” (16:12). And he calls Timothy “my fellow worker” (16:21).

As we saw in chapter 12, every believer has been given at least one spiritual gift that he or she is to use in serving the Lord. There should be no benchwarmers in the body of Christ. First Peter 4:10-11 puts it like this:

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

So the church is made up of ordinary, diverse people who are “in Christ.” These ordinary people are growing to know the Lord through sound doctrine, such as the Epistle to the Romans. They are deepening their relationships with one another, being hospitable and helpful to one another as family. They work hard together for the Lord.

6. The church is made up of both men and women who serve the Lord, but in different roles and capacities.

In the male-dominated culture of that day, it is significant that Paul mentions four women who worked hard in the Lord (16:6, 12), plus Prisca who along with her husband Aquila were “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (16:3). Paul entrusted probably the only copy of this precious letter to a woman, Phoebe, for safe delivery to Rome. In all, Paul mentions seven women by name, plus Rufus’ mother (16:13) and Nereus’ sister (16:15). Obviously Paul believed that women have an important role to play in serving the Lord.

But at the same time, we need to be careful not to “overinterpret this evidence” (Moo, p. 927). Those who argue for erasing all role distinctions in the church bring up two matters to support their cause. First, Prisca is mentioned before her husband in four out of six references in Scripture, which was against the common custom. We don’t know why. She may have been the more dominant personality of the two, the more gifted, the more socially prominent, or the one who was most significant in their home-based ministry (Moo, p. 919, note 11).

Second, although scholars for centuries have been divided over whether Junias (16:7) was a man or a woman, most today argue that it refers to the wife of Andronicus. “Outstanding among the apostles” could mean that the apostles regarded this couple as outstanding, or more likely it means that among those who were apostles, this couple stood out. So feminists argue that we have here a female apostle.

But if this is so, Paul was using “apostles” to refer to traveling missionaries (Moo, p. 924), not to those with special authority over the churches as was given to the twelve and to Paul. But to build a case on an unclear reference here to argue that Paul is going against what he clearly states in other contexts about men being in roles of teaching and leadership in the local church (1 Tim. 2:8-15; 1 Cor. 11:3-16; 14:34-38) is not sound interpretation (Moo, p. 927; Thomas Schreiner, Romans [Baker], p. 797).

So the point is, women can and should have significant ministries in the local church and in the cause of world missions in biblically appropriate roles. In his book, What’s the Difference? ([Crossway], pp. 57-58) John Piper lists dozens of ministries that women can serve in. But the roles of teaching men and overall leadership in the church are restricted to men.

7. The church is made up of whole families that have come to faith in Christ through the gospel.

Paul mentions two households (16:10, 11), which referred to both the biological family members and the servants, plus Rufus’ mother and Nereus’ sister (16:13, 15). In the Book of Acts, we see whole households coming to faith (2:39, “you and your children”; 10:1-48, Cornelius; 16:15, Lydia; 16:31-34, the Philippian jailer). If you’re in one of our home fellowships, you’re familiar with the concept that Pastor Tom Mercer sets forth in his book, 8 to 15: Your World Delivered. He says that we all have between 8 and 15 people that we have natural bridges to, whether as biological family or people that we rub shoulders with every day. They’re the ones that we should pray for and, as God opens the door, share the gospel with. So make a prayer list of these 8-15 people and ask God to show them their need of Christ and to give you an opportunity to tell them the good news.

Conclusion

None of the people listed in Romans 16 were famous or powerful in the world’s eyes. None of them knew that their names would be enshrined in Scripture for millions of Christians down through the ages to read. Even though our names will never be in Scripture and none of us will probably be recognized or remembered by the world, God knows your name and you are important to Him. He sent His Son to rescue you from sin and judgment. He has given you an important role to play in His kingdom purposes. It may be to be a loving homemaker and to rear your children to love and follow Christ. It may be to set a godly example as a loving husband and father. It may include serving in some capacity in the local church or in the cause of world missions. It may be to tell your neighbor the good news of Jesus Christ and to explain to him (or her) how he can have his sins forgiven and go to heaven.

Whatever your gifts and calling, the most important thing is that you know that Christ has saved you from eternal judgment because you have put your trust in Him as Savior and Lord. Then look for ways that you can serve the Lord, as these people did. Read through the descriptions again and ask yourself, “How would Paul have described me if he had known me?”

William Barclay observes (The Letter to the Romans [Westminster, rev. ed.], p. 220), “It is a great thing to go down to history as the man with the open house or as the man with the brotherly heart. Some day people will sum us up in one sentence. What will that sentence be?”

Application Questions

  1. How would Paul have described you if you were in this list? How would you like to be described?
  2. If Paul wrote a letter to Flagstaff Christian Fellowship, what would he say? How would he commend or correct us?
  3. Many churches now have women pastors and elders. Which Scriptures would you use to argue against this?
  4. Can you share the gospel clearly when you get the chance? Make a list of your “8 to 15” and begin to pray for opportunities to share the gospel with them.

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church), Spiritual Gifts, Spiritual Life

Lesson 107: A Final Warning: Beware of False Teachers! (Romans 16:17-20)

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Years ago, a seminary professor told his class at the beginning of the semester that they would work together on one major project during that semester. They would move systematically through the New Testament to categorize every area of truth and determine how many times each area is addressed. Their goal was to find what one thing is emphasized more than any other in the New Testament. When they completed the project, they were amazed to see that warning against false doctrine is emphasized more than any other thing, even more than love, unity, and experience (Renald Showers, in “Israel My Glory,” [April/May, 1995], pp. 24-25).

I have not verified their conclusion, but they’re probably right. Jesus warned (Matt. 7:15), “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Much of His ministry consisted of confronting the false teaching of the religious leaders of His day (cf. Matt. 16:11-12; 23:1-39). In His discourse on things to come, He warned (Matt. 24:4-5), “See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.”

The apostle Peter devotes most of 2 Peter to warning against false teachers. Jude devotes his entire short letter to the same theme. John in his epistles repeatedly warns of false teachers. Paul’s final words to the Ephesian elders warned them (Acts 20:28-30),

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.

His final letters to Timothy and Titus repeatedly emphasize the need for sound doctrine. He told Titus (1:9) that an elder must hold “fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” He goes on to explain that there are many empty talkers and deceivers who are upsetting whole households through their false teaching. In his final charge to Timothy, after telling him to preach the word, he explained (2 Tim. 4:3-4), For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”

So it should not surprise us that as Paul concludes his letter to the Romans, in the midst of giving and sending warm greetings to the saints, he breaks in with this warning to beware of false teachers. Some liberal commentators have thought that this paragraph is so abrupt and out of context that it must have been added by a later scribe. But Paul was constantly battling false teachers who hounded his steps and perverted the truth of the gospel. He was writing from Corinth, where false apostles posing as servants of righteousness had caused much damage (2 Cor. 11:3-15). As he thought of his many dear friends in Rome, he didn’t want them to be led astray. He had heard that they were doing well in the Lord (16:19a), but the present is no guarantee for the future. So his love for them prompted him to insert this warning against the dangers of false teachers.

Paul’s words here are totally out of sync with our current culture that holds tolerance as the chief virtue. Even many professing evangelicals argue that we should set aside all doctrinal differences, even with the Roman Catholic Church, and come together in the areas where we agree. They say, “Jesus didn’t say that the world will know we are Christians by our correct doctrine, but by our love.” And so they hold unity services with those who deny the gospel and other core biblical truths. In its most extreme form, they hold interfaith services with those who believe in other religions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam.

Even the respected evangelist Billy Graham fell into this serious error. He was always known for cooperating with Roman Catholics in his crusades. But even worse, as far back as 1978 McCall’s magazine quoted Graham as having said, “I used to believe that pagans in far countries were lost if they did not have the gospel of Christ preached to them. I no longer believe that.” (Cited by Iain Murray, Evangelicalism Divided [Banner of Truth], p. 73.) In May, 1997, in a TV interview with Robert Schuller, Graham said,

I think that everybody that loves or knows Christ, whether they are conscious of it or not, they are members of the body of Christ…. God’s purpose for this age is to call out a people for his name. And that is what he is doing today. He is calling people out of the world for his name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they have been called by God. They may not know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something they do not have, and they turn to the only light they have, and I think that they are saved and they are going to be with us in heaven (ibid., pp. 73-74).

Schuller was surprised by Graham’s words and asked for clarification, “What, what I hear you saying, that it’s possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they have been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you are saying?”

“Yes, it is,” Graham responded decidedly. At which point, Schuller exclaimed, ‘I’m so thrilled to hear you say this: “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy”.’ To which Graham added, ‘There is. There definitely is” (ibid., p. 74).

Of course there is a wideness in God’s mercy. As Romans 10:13 states, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But Jesus Christ is that Lord and He said (John 14:6), “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” So when a Christian leader as respected and popular as Billy Graham says that people of other religions will be in heaven apart from faith in Christ, it shows why we need to pay close attention to Paul’s warning here to be on guard against false teachers. He’s saying,

Even obedient Christians need to be on guard against false teachers who deceive others for their own gain.

Paul makes three points: First, believers need to be on guard against false teachers (16:17-18). Second, even obedient Christians need to be on guard against false teachers (16:19). Third, ultimately, it’s the God of peace and His grace that protect us from falling prey to false teachers (16:20).

1. Believers need to be on guard against false teachers (16:17-18).

“Urge” (Rom. 12:1; 15:30) is a word of strong appeal. Paul is talking to believers (“brethren”) and he shows us how to recognize these false teachers and how to respond when we encounter them.

A. Recognizing false teachers: to spot one you have to know what to look for.

Scholars debate exactly who these false teachers were. Apparently, they had not yet arrived in Rome, so Paul is giving a heads up so that when they arrived, the believers would be able to spot them. We cannot be certain, but since the Judaizers dogged Paul’s steps and tried to bring Gentile believers under the regulations of the Mosaic Law, they may be the ones in view (Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 929; Thomas Schreiner, Romans [Baker], p. 803). But the warning is generic enough that it applies to a wide range of false teachers. Paul lists four marks to identify false teachers:

(1). The motivation of false teachers is to promote themselves by causing dissensions and stumbling blocks.

Romans 16:17: “Keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned….” We need to understand that Paul is not saying that true teachers avoid all controversy! Jesus Himself provoked a lot of dissension by confronting the hypocritical religious leaders (Matt. 10:34-36; 23:1-36). Paul contended vigorously with the Judaizers in Galatians, where he tells how he confronted Peter publicly because he had come under their sway (Gal. 2:11-15). When the gospel or other core biblical truth was at stake, Paul believed in the necessity to contend strongly for the faith. In fact he sums up his entire ministry by saying that he had fought the good fight (2 Tim. 4:7). He was not opposed to controversy when the gospel was at stake.

But the word that Paul uses here translated “dissensions” is a deed of the flesh (Gal. 5:20). And these dissensions are “contrary to the teaching which you learned.” This dissension stems from self-centered, self-exalting motives. False teachers attempt to build a following because they love promoting themselves and being the center of attention. They’re after power, fame, money, or sinful sexual gratification. They don’t seek to exalt Christ and Him crucified. They don’t hold firmly to the gospel of justification by faith alone. By adding the word “stumbling blocks” (9:33; 11:9), Paul shows that these men created dissension by teaching damnable heresies. Invariably, those who stood for the gospel would rightly oppose them. The result was dissension in the churches. But at the root of it, these false teachers were motivated by promoting themselves, not Christ.

(2). The message of false teachers is to contradict core biblical truth.

Their message was “contrary to the teaching which you learned.” Paul is mainly referring to the truth of the gospel which the Romans had believed and which Paul had set forth so clearly in this letter. There are many areas of doctrine where godly Christians may differ and yet still be saved, such as various views of prophecy, baptism, church government, spiritual gifts, and other secondary issues. But there are core doctrines where all true Christians must agree or you cease to be Christian in any biblical sense of the word. All of the cults promote a way of salvation by works that detracts from God’s glory through the cross of Christ. All false teachers undermine the person and work of Christ. If you abandon these core doctrines for the sake of unity, the unity you end up with is not Christian unity. So pay attention to the message.

(3). The master of false teachers is their own appetites, not the Lord Christ.

Paul explains (16:18), “For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ, but of their own appetites.” False teachers are in the ministry for their own profit or gain. They take people’s money so that they can live lavishly. They love power and being in the limelight. Often false teachers take advantage of women in their congregation for their own sexual gratification. But they do not preach or live in submission to Christ as Lord. By the way, “our Lord Christ” clearly affirms the deity of Jesus Christ. True teachers seek to submit every area of their lives to Christ as Lord and God.

(4). The method of false teachers is to use smooth and flattering speech to deceive the hearts of the naïve.

False teachers are usually nice, likeable, and winsome. They flatter you by telling you what you want to hear. They smile a lot as they tell you how great you are and how you can have your best life now. They don’t talk about anything negative, like sin and the coming judgment. They say, “People are beat down enough as it is. When they come to church, they need to hear a positive message, like God’s love and acceptance” (apart from repentance, of course). They use biblical verses (often out of context) and biblical language, but they often change the meaning of the terms. For example, both the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses talk about believing in Jesus as Savior and Lord, but their “Jesus” is not the Jesus of the Bible.

Arius (d. 336), was a heretic who denied the deity of Christ and was the forerunner of the modern Jehovah’s Witnesses. He gained a huge following. The courageous Athanasius battled against him. Parker Williamson describes Arius (Standing Firm: Reclaiming the Chastain Faith in Times of Controversy [Lenoir, North Carolina: PLC Publications, 1996], p. 31, cited by John Piper, “Watch Out for Those Who Lead You Away from the Truth,” on DesiringGod.org):

Here was a bright, energetic, attractive fellow, the kind of citizen whom any Rotary Club would welcome. Singing sea chanties in dockside pubs and teaching Bible stories to the Wednesday night faithful, this was an immensely popular man. His story reminds us that heresy does not bludgeon us into belief. We are seduced.

Note also that the deception takes place on the heart level, which refers both to the mind and the emotions. Deceivers know how to manipulate people’s feelings. They tell you stories that tug on your heart. They get you laughing. They often ridicule those who stand firm for biblical truth and portray them as mean, angry, and unloving. They appeal to greed and the desire that we all have to be healthy. If you’ll just send them a gift, they’ll pray for your prosperity and healing. By preying on your feelings, they lure you into their web of deception. So to recognize false teachers, watch their motives, their message, their master, and their methods.

B. Response to false teachers: Keep your eye on them and turn away from them.

Paul says, “Keep your eye on them and turn away from them.” The noun related to the verb “keep your eye on” is used in Ezekiel 3:17 (LXX) to refer to the watchman on the wall. His job was to keep his eye peeled for the enemy and to sound the alarm when he saw them coming so that they could prepare for battle. Since these false teachers often disguise themselves as “servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:15) or as “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matt. 7:15), you have to be discerning to spot them.

Paul does not tell us to engage in dialogue with them or to invite them into our church to see if we can find some common ground as we discuss their ideas. Sometimes division or separation is both the necessary and the godly thing to do. Christian leaders especially have to be careful here. For example, when Billy Graham invited Roman Catholic leaders to sit on the platform with him at his crusades and he used the Catholic Church to follow up with those from Catholic backgrounds who responded to his message, he sent a strong message to the untaught that the Catholic Church preaches the same gospel that we preach. The problem is, they don’t. They preach salvation by grace through faith plus works, which is precisely the Galatian heresy. Paul preached salvation by grace through faith alone. The difference is not minor, because Paul said that the Galatian heretics were damned (Gal. 1:6-9)!

Should you invite cultists who knock on your door to come in and discuss their beliefs so that you might lead them to Christ? Maybe, but be very careful! The cults do a better job of training their people than we do. They can take you to every verse that seems to support their errors. If you’re not knowledgeable, they will confuse you and draw you into their heresies. I usually tell them that I have studied the Bible seriously for over 40 years now. If they’re seeking the truth of how to know God and go to heaven, I’d be glad to talk with them. But if their aim is to convert me to their errors, they’re wasting both their time and mine. Almost always, they say, “Thank you, have a good day,” and walk away.

So believers need to be on guard against false teachers. Also,

2. Even obedient Christians need to be on guard against false teachers (16:19).

Romans 16:19: “For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.” Why does Paul begin this verse with “for,” which seems to be explaining the warning of verse 18? The sense seems to be that Paul rejoiced to hear about the obedience of the Roman believers to the gospel, but that obedience also made them a prime target for these false teachers. False teachers rarely make converts out of raw pagans. Rather, they go for unsuspecting Christians who lack discernment.

Paul also says, “I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.” J. B. Phillips paraphrases it, “I want to see you experts in good, and not even beginners in evil.” Or, in Jesus words (Matt. 10:16, ESV), “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” In the context, “good” refers to sound doctrine in line with the gospel. “Evil” refers to the corrupt doctrine of the false teachers. While it’s helpful to have a basic knowledge of what the cults and other false religions teach so that you can avoid their errors and witness to them, it’s not edifying to study these errors in depth. Some who are targeting a particular false religious group may need to study their teachings more thoroughly. But our focus should be on being wise in the Scriptures. Knowing the truth will equip you to refute the errors of false teachers.

Paul concludes with a promise and a blessing:

3. Ultimately, it’s the God of peace and His grace that protect us from falling prey to false teachers (16:20).

Romans 16:20: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”

A. The God of peace is able to crush Satan under our feet as we trust in Him.

This is Paul’s first mention of Satan in Romans. He is no doubt thinking of the first temptation in the garden, when the serpent deceived Eve. God promised that her seed (Christ) would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). The implication is that Satan is behind these false teachers who deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting, just as he deceived Eve. Note that in this context of spiritual warfare, where God will crush Satan, Paul calls Him “the God of peace.” He makes peace both between us and Him and peace between believers through the cross of Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:14).

Satan was defeated at the cross (Col. 2:15). But until Christ returns the battle rages as the enemy seeks to deceive and devour Christians. We win the battles against him as we put on the full armor of God and resist his evil schemes (Eph. 6:10-20; 2 Cor. 2:11; James 4:7; Rev. 12:11). He will be finally defeated when Christ throws him into the lake of fire (1 Cor. 15:25; Rev. 20:10). While we should not ignore Satan and we should respect his cunning and power, we should not fear him. The Bible is clear that God will finally triumph and Satan will lose (1 John 4:4).

B. The grace of our Lord Jesus will protect us from the errors of false teachers as we walk closely with Him.

“Grace” takes us back to Romans 1:7: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Grace really is the theme of Romans because God’s grace is at the heart of the gospel. False teachers invariably subvert the grace of God, either by teaching salvation by works (legalism) or by promoting licentiousness. Knowing and experiencing God’s grace sustains us in the battle against the enemy. His grace motivates us to study His Word of truth, which protects us against the deceptive lies of false teachers.

Conclusion

J. C. Ryle was a champion for the truth in the Church of England during the 19th century. I’d recommend that you read him. In Warnings to the Churches ([Banner of Truth], p. 110), he wrote about how difficult yet necessary controversy in the church is. Then he added, “But there is one thing which is even worse than controversy, and that is false doctrine tolerated, allowed, and permitted without protest or molestation.”

After acknowledging that many would view what he writes as exceedingly distasteful, he states (p. 111), “Three things there are which men never ought to trifle with—a little poison, a little false doctrine, and a little sin.” Amen!

Application Questions

  1. Jesus told us not to judge others and yet a few verses later He said not to cast your pearls before swine and to beware of false prophets, both of which require judgments (Matt. 7:1-5, 6, 15). How do you reconcile these commands?
  2. Paul here gives at least four marks of false teachers (motivation, message, master, and methods). Can you think of others?
  3. When is it right and when is it wrong to discuss biblical truth with false teachers? What guidelines apply?
  4. How do we determine which doctrines are worth dividing over and which doctrines can be set aside for the sake of unity?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: False Teachers

From the series: Romans PREVIOUS PAGE

Lesson 108: The Goal of the Gospel: The Glory of God (Romans 16:25-27)

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How do you end a letter like Romans that has often been called the greatest letter ever written and the greatest book in the Bible? Normally, Paul ends his letters with a benediction, such as (1 Cor. 16:23), “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.” (See the end of each of his letters.) He has already given such a benediction in Romans 16:20 (16:24 is probably not in the original text). So now, as he thinks back over what he has written, Paul wells up with praise toward God, who has provided such a glorious gospel for people from all nations.

The problem is, in his burst of emotion, Paul piles up phrase after phrase and doesn’t supply a verb (in the original), so that the structure of the paragraph is difficult to decipher. I would not want the assignment of diagramming it! But many commentators observe that this short outburst of praise sums up all the great ideas of this epistle. William Sanday and Arthur Headlam (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [T. & T. Clark], p. 436) state,

The doxology sums up all the great ideas of the Epistle. The power of the Gospel which St. Paul was commissioned to preach; the revelation in it of the eternal purpose of God; its contents, faith; its sphere, all the nations of the earth; its author, the one wise God, whose wisdom is thus vindicated—all these thoughts had been continually dwelt on.

They go on to suggest that Paul wished to end the letter with its former loftiness and thus perhaps wrote these verses with his own hand, bringing his argument to this eloquent conclusion.

We saw a similar outburst of praise in Romans 11:33-36, as Paul thought on the glorious truths that he had been writing on:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

We saw there as we see here that the goal of theology is doxology. The goal of sound doctrine is a heart that overflows in praise to God. Paul reminds us in this conclusion that the goal of the gospel is not only our happiness. Certainly, we should be exuberant that God has rescued us from judgment and bestowed on us every blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3). But our happiness is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal of the gospel is God’s eternal glory. We can sum up our text:

The goal of the gospel is that we would glorify the only wise God through Jesus Christ as we live in obedient faith and proclaim Him to the nations.

As you know, the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” To glorify God, in simple language, is to make God look good as He truly is. J. Dwight Pentecost states (The Glory of God [Multnomah Press], p. 8), “Glory is displayed excellence.” Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology [Zondervan], p. 221) states that God’s glory “is the visible manifestation of the excellence of God’s character.” Robert Reymond (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith [Thomas Nelson Publishers], p. 165, italics his) puts it, “God’s glory is the sum total of all of his attributes as well as any one of his attributes.” John Piper (“To Him be the Glory Forevermore,” on DesiringGod.org, italics his) defines God’s glory as, “The glory of God is the infinite beauty and greatness of his manifold perfections.”

This concept, that the ultimate goal of the gospel is not about us, but rather about God’s glory, is a crucial and practical paradigm shift from the commonly held notion that the gospel is all about us. It affects, for example, our view of suffering. If the gospel is all about us and our happiness, then how do you deal with suffering and death, which aren’t happy experiences? But if the gospel is not ultimately about our happiness, but rather about God’s glory, then you can even face possible martyrdom as Paul did, with the goal that (Phil. 1:20) “Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”

Of course, as John Piper has often pointed out, our happiness and God’s glory are not at odds, because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. And we are most satisfied in Him when we get a glimpse of His “infinite beauty and [the] greatness of His manifold perfections.” Just as when you view a spectacular sunset at the Grand Canyon, you exclaim, “Wow!” so when you see the beauty and greatness of God, you spontaneously praise Him. That’s the goal of the gospel.

Let’s break our text into three parts:

1. To glorify God, we need to be established according to the gospel and live in obedient faith.

In other words, we need to believe the gospel and our faith must translate into a lifestyle of obedience to Christ in thought, word, and deed, so that others will see how great God is through us. We’ll look at five aspects of being established in the gospel:

A. God has the power to establish us according to the gospel.

Romans 16:25a: “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel….” The gospel is the good news that while we were yet sinners, God graciously sent His only Son to bear the penalty that we deserved. He rescues us from sin and judgment when we turn from our sins and trust in Christ alone. Paul calls it “my gospel” not because his gospel was different than the gospel of Christ and the apostles, but because Paul had received the gospel through direct revelation from Christ (Gal. 1:11-15). Thus he was certain of its content and truth. The other apostles later confirmed Paul’s gospel as authentic (Gal. 2:1-9).

He says that God is “able to establish you according to my gospel.” Other literal versions translate “establish” with the word “strengthen.” It originally meant to “fix something so that it stands upright and immovable” (Gunther Harder, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. by G. Friedrich, trans. by Geoffrey Bromiley [Eerdmans], 7:653). “The effect or aim of strengthening is the impregnability of Christian faith in spite of the troubles which have to be endured” (ibid., 7:656). In view of Romans 16:17-20, it especially means being established so that you will not fall prey to false teachers (John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], 2:240). C. E. B. Cranfield (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [T. & T. Clark], p. 809) says that it means that God is able “to confirm you in your belief in, in your obedience to, the gospel.”

There are two sides to this strengthening or establishing us in the gospel. In Romans 1:11, Paul used this word to emphasize the human side of it: “For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established.” Through Paul’s ministry, he hoped that they would be established in the gospel. Peter uses the related noun (“steadfastness”) also to put the emphasis on human responsibility (2 Pet. 3:17-18): “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” Peter is emphasizing the same truth, that as we are steadfast or established in the gospel and resist the errors of false teachers, God will be glorified.

But in Romans 16:25, Paul’s emphasis is on the God-ward side of things: God is able to establish or strengthen us according to the gospel. As Paul puts it (Phil. 1:6), “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Since it took God’s resurrection power to raise us from spiritual death to life (Eph. 2:1-5), God is able to sustain and keep us so that our lives glorify Him.

Before you can be established according to the gospel you must have believed the gospel. Make sure that you have turned from your sins and trusted in Christ and His death on the cross as the only payment for your sins. This means repenting of trusting in your good works to contribute to your salvation. If you had anything to do with your salvation, then you have reason to boast in yourself. But there is no room for boasting if all you did was to receive an undeserved gift that God provided at Christ’s expense. Once you have trusted in Christ, you never outgrow your need for the gospel. Meditate on it and let it warm your heart every day: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me”! Glory to God!

B. God establishes us through the preaching of Jesus Christ.

That phrase has two possible interpretations. It could mean that Christ is the one doing the preaching, either during His earthly ministry or through Paul. Or, more likely, it means that Jesus Christ is the one whom Paul preached. The gospel is the message about Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 1:23, Paul said, “But we preach Christ crucified.” In 2 Corinthians 4:5 he put it, “For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.” In Colossians 1:28 Paul explained his ministry: “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.”

Preaching Jesus Christ does not mean focusing on Christ to the exclusion of practical matters. In 1 Corinthians, where Paul said (2:2), “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” he went on to talk about how to deal with an immoral man in the church, lawsuits between believers, singleness, marriage, divorce, and many other practical topics. But in each practical area, Paul always brought things back to Jesus Christ as Lord. He didn’t just dispense helpful hints for happy living that could easily have appeared in Reader’s Digest. He related all matters to the gospel and to the lordship of Christ.

By the way, you don’t have to be a preacher to “preach Christ.” You should preach Christ to yourself as you read God’s Word each day: “What does this text tell me about Jesus Christ and His lordship over my life? What does it tell me about His love, His grace, His authority, His holiness, or His promises?”

And if you get an opportunity to talk to others about the gospel, focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ. People will try to divert you onto side issues: “What about evolution? What about all the errors in the Bible? How can a loving God allow all the evil in the world?” Etc. I’m not suggesting that you totally dodge these questions, but don’t get bogged down with them. At some point, turn the conversation back to Christ by asking, “Who do you think Jesus Christ is? Have you ever read the gospels to discover who Christ claimed to be and why He came to this earth? Have you considered the evidence that supports His bodily resurrection from the dead?” You can also ask, “If I can give you a reasonable answer to your questions, are you saying that you will turn from your sin, put your trust in Jesus Christ, and follow Him as your Lord?” Jesus Christ is the issue everyone has to face!

C. God establishes us according to the revelation of the mystery that has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested.

This phrase could refer to another means by which God establishes us, parallel with, “according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ.” Or, it could be modifying those two phrases Murray, ibid., p. 2:241). If so, by “the mystery” Paul is referring to the gospel, which God planned before the foundation of the world.

In the New Testament, “mystery” does not refer to something mysterious or to a puzzle that needs to be solved, but rather to something previously hidden that is now revealed. The problem is, if Paul is referring here to the gospel, then how it was kept secret for long ages past? After all, we see it in type when the Lord slaughtered an animal and clothed Adam and Eve after they sinned. The Lord prophesied about the gospel in Genesis 3:15, where He promised that the seed of the woman would bruise or crush the serpent’s head. We again see it in promise when God tells Abraham that He will bless all the families of the earth through him. It’s implicit in the story of God providing the ram as a substitute sacrifice before Abraham has to slay Isaac. It’s pictured in the Jewish sacrificial system as set forth in the Law of Moses. So how was the gospel kept secret in long ages past?

There are perhaps two answers. First, even though we can now look back on these Old Testament texts and clearly see the gospel, it wasn’t always so clear to the people then. They knew that God promised to send a Savior, but even the disciples who believed in Jesus as that Savior did not understand beforehand why He had to die (Matt. 16:21-23). Concerning the inspired writers of the Old Testament, 1 Peter 1:10-11 states, “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.” So in that sense, the gospel is “the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested.” We can see it much more clearly looking back than they could looking forward.

But Paul may be referring to a further aspect of the gospel here, namely, that the message would go out to the Gentiles and that they would be on equal standing with the Jews in the body of Christ. Paul has stressed this truth throughout Romans, especially in chapters 9-11. The Old Testament reveals in many places that the gospel would go to the Gentiles, so that was not a mystery. But the Old Testament never reveals that through the gospel the Gentiles would be fellow-heirs on equal footing with the Jews. God revealed this mystery to the apostle Paul (Eph. 3:4-6). That aspect of the gospel was often a stumbling block to the racially proud Jews. But it’s radically good news for the Gentiles. It strengthens and establishes us to know that God has given us equal standing with the Jews before Him through the gospel.

D. God establishes us by the Scriptures of the prophets.

This raises the question, “How could the gospel be kept secret in the ages past and at the same time be revealed by the Old Testament prophets?” The answer lies in the first aspect of the mystery that I just explained. There is a sense in which the gospel that we see clearly in the Old Testament on this side of Christ was in the shadows for those before Christ. It was in the prophets all along, but it didn’t come into sharp focus until after the death and resurrection of Jesus (Luke 24:25-27, 44-45).

The way that the Old Testament prophets establish us in the gospel is, as you read the Old Testament, look for Christ. Ask, “What does this text tell me about the sufferings of Christ and the glory to follow?” (You can refer back to my message, “Why You Need the Old Testament,” on Romans 15:4, for further detail.)

E. We know that God has established us in the gospel when we believe it and live in obedience to Jesus Christ.

The gospel leads to “obedience of faith.” We saw this phrase in Romans 1:5, where Paul said that his aim as an apostle was “to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake.” Paul does not mean that we are saved by faith plus our works. That would be contrary to everything he wrote about the gospel in Romans 3 & 4. Rather, he means that genuine saving faith always results in a life of obedience to Jesus Christ. Jesus was clear that if we say, “Lord, Lord” and even do miracles in His name, but don’t obey Him, our faith is worthless (Matt. 7:21-23). James 2 makes the same point, that faith without works is dead faith, not saving faith. 1 John 2:3 plainly states, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” Those who profess to know Christ, but who live in perpetual disobedience, do not glorify Him. To glorify God, we must be established according to the gospel and live in obedient faith.

2. To glorify God, we must proclaim His gospel to the nations.

Paul writes (16:26b), “according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations….” Although some understand “the commandment” here to refer to the Great Commission, it probably rather refers to “God’s own determination to make known the mystery at the time that he did” (Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 940). For reasons that we cannot fully know, before Christ came, God mostly restricted the gospel to His chosen people, the Jews. But after His resurrection, Christ commanded us to take the good news to the nations. Even then, the apostles were a bit leery of Peter going into the house of a Gentile centurion and preaching the gospel (Acts 10-11). But then God saved the militant Jew, Paul, and commissioned him as the apostle to the Gentiles.

When Paul says that the gospel “has been made known to all the nations,” he is not saying that the missionary task has been completed. He has just stated how he aimed to go to Spain (15:24, 28). Rather, he is emphasizing “the universal applicability of the gospel” (Moo, ibid.). God is glorified when people from every tongue, tribe, and nation believe in and obey Jesus Christ. We all need to labor to that end.

3. The goal of the gospel is that we would glorify the only wise God through Jesus Christ forever.

Again Paul marvels at the wisdom of God, as he did in Romans 11:33, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” When he says that God is “the only wise God,” he is not implying that there are some dumb gods out there, too! He is the only God and He is infinitely wise. His plan of salvation is not something that men could have thought up. It is not the composite of the best thoughts of all the religious geniuses down through the ages. We never could have come up with it on our own. Rather, God planned and revealed the gospel in accordance with His infinite wisdom to bring Him eternal glory through Jesus Christ.

Stephen Charnock discourses for over 100 pages on the wisdom of God from our text (The Existence and Attributes of God [Baker], 1:498-606). He observes (p. 502), “No man or angel could imagine how two natures so distant as the Divine and human should be united; how the same person should be criminal and righteous; how a just God should have a satisfaction, and sinful man a justification; how the sin should be punished, and the sinner saved.” God’s plan for the gospel reveals His infinite wisdom! Our eternal destiny is to worship and glorify God throughout the ages, so we had best start now.

Conclusion

Paul ends with “Amen,” which means, “This is true,” or “so be it.” The message of Romans regarding the gospel of God (1:1, 16) is true. It reveals the wisdom of God. You can stake your life and your eternal destiny on it. The goal of the gospel is that we would glorify the only wise God through Jesus Christ as we live in obedient faith and proclaim Him to the nations. Amen! So be it!

Application Questions

  1. What truth in Romans has most impacted your life? How?
  2. Do you live each day with the prayer, “Lord, be glorified in my life today”? If not, what would you need to do to begin?
  3. When you share the gospel, why is it important to stay focused on the person and work of Christ? How should you handle questions and objections?
  4. What are some of the practical benefits of “preaching Christ” to yourself each day?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Evangelism, Faith, Glory

The Gospel Of Matthew

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This expositionary series by David Anderson was preached at Littleton Bible Chapel beginning in 2012. Articles by him contain the audio message and an outline. Articles by others in this series may only contain the audio messages.

Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word), Christology, Gospels

Lesson 1: The Genealogy Of The Promised King (Matthew 1:1-17)

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I. Introduction to Matthew

a.       This is actually a fun message to start with because when we read a genealogy our expectations are low.  But God’s Word is inspired and there is always food for the hungry.

i.  Ron Blankley a former area director for Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU) was walking through the student union of the U of Penn and saw a student reading the Bible.  He remembered Phillip’s approach to the Ethiopian so he walked over to the student, introduced himself, and said, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”

ii.                        The student said, “No, as a matter of fact, I don’t.  I’m reading the genealogies of Matthew and Luke, and I don’t understand them because they seem so different.”

iii.                      Blankley explained it and as a result of that whole experience, the student came to saving faith in Christ.

iv.                      It’s like the down and out man who was without a home and without a job and found himself in a motel room.  He found a Gideon’s Bible, looked in the introduction and contents and saw the book of Job.  He thought to himself, “Well, I need a job, so he read Job, and ended up trusting Christ.”

v.                         The Word of God is inspired.  All of it.

b.      Author and date:

i.  When Jesus was born Israel had been under Roman control for about 60 years.

1.      Remember Nebuchadnezzar’s dream?

a.       The head of gold- Babylon

b.      The arms of silver- Medes and Persians

c.       The torso of bronze- Greece

d.      The legs of Iron- Rome.

ii.                        One of the black eyes of the Roman government was its heavy taxation.

iii.                      There were two main taxes:

1.      Toll tax= which was basically like income tax.

2.      Property Tax.

iv.                      The elite (senators and rich folks) could buy at a public auction, the right to collect the toll taxes in a given area, at a fixed rate for a five year period.

v.                         Whatever was collected beyond that fixed rate was profit.

vi.                      So if you held the rights to a specific area, you would then hire people to actually collect the money.  And you would usually hire people citizens of that country or regions to collect the money.

vii.                    And any money they collected, above and beyond their requirement, was profit for them.

viii.                  So there was a HUGE incentive to tax as much as possible, AND you had the backing of the Roman government and the Roman army.

ix.                      So naturally, if you are a Jew collecting money for Rome, at a rate that handsomely pads your wallet, you are not going to win the popularity contest at the local synagogue.

x.                         Usually tax collectors were not allowed in the synagogue.  Rabbis did not associate with them.

xi.                      In fact they were seen as traitors.  They were on the same level as prostitutes and Gentiles.

xii.                    That’s Matthew.  Or Levi as he is called else ware.  He is a tax collector and Jesus calls Him to be one of his 12 disciples.

xiii.                  Matthew’s gospel was written sometime before Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD.

c.       Why did we choose Matthew?

i.  One of the major themes of Matthew of the Kingdom of God, or “The Kingdom of Heaven” as Matthew calls it.

ii.                        We just finished Daniel, which makes a case for the coming kingdom of God, and Matthew picks this theme up.

iii.                      It’s almost like Daniel Part 2.

iv.                      In fact, Matthew is the most Jewish book in the New Testament.  He quotes the Old Testament more than any other gospel.  It is a continuation of the Old Testament.

d.      The Four Gospels all tell the same story in a different way:

i.  Mark is a bird’s-eye view.  It shows Jesus as the Suffering Servant.

ii.                        Luke is a Doctor and shows Jesus as being compassionate to the outsiders and outcasts.

iii.                      John is different.  92% of John is unique. Emphasizes that Jesus as the Son of God.

iv.                      Matthew is catered to the Jews.  He makes a case that Jesus is the Promised Messiah, the King.  He is the fulfillment of the OT.  Almost every paragraph in Matthew points to His Kingship.

v.                         So this is how Matthew starts off.  He starts off with a genealogy!

vi.                      Now at first this might sound like a great way to put people to sleep, but it’s actually fundamental.  Because if Jesus is NOT the fulfillment of God’s covenant to Abraham and David, then this isn’t the right person.

e.       The main point of this genealogy is this:

i.  Jesus Christ is the Promised Messiah.  The Promised King.

II.                      Matthew 1:1-18 (Four Highlights)

a.      #1- Jesus is the Promised King.

i.  The main point of these 17 verses is that the promised King is on the scene.

ii.                        So Matthew begins his book with a genealogy.

1.      Genealogy lit. mean “genesis” or beginning or origin.

2.      So this account is about the earthly origin of Jesus.

3.      The first two chapters will give us the earthly origin of Jesus.

iii.                      The importance of ancestry and origin.

1.      Let me ask a question, “How far can you trace your ancestry?”

a.       Most people can only go back grandma and grandpa or great grandma and great grandpa.

b.      Even if we are interested in genealogies, we still can’t go back more than three or four generations.

c.       But family history is important.

2.      This summer we had our grand finale Anderson Family reunion at our farm in MN.

a.       The oldest member of the family, uncle Tom gave a nice report and told the story of our ancestors immigrating, starting farms, settling down in Wisconsin, then MN.

b.      Very interesting.

c.       I grew up in a culture that was naturally interested in heritage.

i.  There were small towns that were predominantly Norwegian, or German, or Polish.  Almost all 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants.

ii.                        So there was cultural interest in last names and family trees.

3.      Moving in to college here in CO, and my roommates last name was Westerhoof.

a.       I asked if he was German, and he looked at be totally befuddled.

b.      He had no idea.

c.       I had another friend at college and she was Jewish.  Her name was Edith Zang, and she could tell you all about her heritage.

4.      If you understand where a person comes from, you understand more about the person.

5.      Family Trees are important, but they are REALLY important if you are royalty.

6.      So keep in mind that we are not the audience, first-century Jews are the audience, and they cared a great deal about their family history.

iv.                      Genealogies were really important to Jews. 

1.      The Jews are and were notorious for keeping accurate genealogies.

2.      The temple had an archive of ancestry that was meticulously documented.

3.      There were practical and legal purposes to these genealogies.

a.       For instance…

b.      It was legal proof of inheritance, of rights, kingship, etc.

c.       It was used to settle disputes over land, property, etc.

4.      So Matthew is basically making a legal case for Jesus.

5.      He is saying, “look at the records…go to the temple…read it yourself…this is public information…this is not a scam…reason with me…”

v.                         “of Jesus Christ”

1.      Jesus was the name given to Joseph by the angel.

2.      Jesus meant “He will save His people from their sins”

a.       Mat. 1:21

b.      Yeshua was a common name, but there is more to it.

c.       This name was synonymous with Joshua who led the people to the Promised Land.

d.      So this name indicates the type of person Jesus will be.  He will save His people, like Joshua did.

3.      “Christos”

a.       Meant messiah, or the “anointed one.”

b.      Israel’s prophets, priests, and kings were all anointed.

c.       Jesus is all of those.

vi.                      “The son of David”

1.      2 Sam. 7:12-16, “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. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever…16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”

2.      This promises was NOT fulfilled on Solomon.

3.      The Jews hung on to this promise, this covenant!

vii.                    “The son of Abraham”

1.      Abraham was a moon worshiping pagan just like everyone else, when God called him out of UR, and made a covenant with him.

2.      God made a covenant with Abraham and told him that through Abraham’s line the entire world would be blessed.  So it makes sense that Matthew mentions this.  To NOT mention it would almost seem like a denial of the main theme of the Old Testament.

3.      These words are a summary of the Old Testament.

4.      What Matthew is saying is that if you don’t understand and appreciate the background of Jesus, you won’t understand and appreciate the person of Jesus.

5.      The long-awaited, promised Messiah, the restorer of God’s kingdom and the redeemer of his people, is Jesus himself. This is Matthew’s central message, his purpose for writing his book.

6.      The Old Testament culminates with Jesus!

a.       World History is marked by the coming of Jesus.

b.      The whole of the Old Testament is coming together at this point in time.

c.       The whole Old Testament points to Jesus!

7.      Both Abraham and David received covenantal promises from God.

8.      Matthew is implying that these covenants find their fulfillment in Jesus, the new King of Israel who will extend these blessings to all nations.

9.      So when Matthew starts off with Abraham and David, he is essentially saying that God has remained faithful even though they haven’t.

viii.                  Matthew’s first point is that Jesus is the theme of this book.  Jesus is the Promised King. Jesus is essential.

1.      You can take away Buddha and you still have Buddhism.

2.      But you can’t take away Jesus and have Christianity.

3.      He is essential!

4.      Jesus is essential to forgiveness of sins, essential to our reconciliation to God, essential to our Eternal Life.  Essential to Joy.

5.      This is why Matthew starts off his gospel by saying this book is about Jesus Christ.

6.      Abraham was a great Patriarch, David was a great King, but this book isn’t about them, this book is about Jesus.

b.      #2- There are three sections of 14 generations.

i.  Why three sections? (v. 17)

1.      The three sections:

a.       14 generations from Abe to David (1:2-6a).

b.      14 generations from David to the exile (1:6b-11).

c.       14 generations from the exile to Jesus (1:12-16).

ii.                        Why does he do this?

1.      For memorization.

a.       Believe it or not, it was not uncommon to memorize genealogies.

b.      It’s not a complete list, but it serves Matthew’s purpose.

2.      For Kingly significance.

a.       There was a Jewish practice of assigning significance to numbers.

i.  It was called “gematria.

b.      Each Hebrew consonant had a number assigned to it. 

i.  DVD= 4+6+4

c.       So the name David would correspond to the number 14 in Hebrew.

d.      So by alluding to the number 14 three different times, the interested student would have no doubt been pointed to the fact that this Jesus is the Son of David, the Promised One.

e.       It’s also deliberate that David’s name is the 14th name listed.

f.        And David is referred to as the “King.”

g.      And, the title “Son of David” occurs more in Matthew than anywhere else.

h.      Clearly there is a special emphasis on the fact that Jesus is King.

iii.                      Summary:

1.      Jesus is the son of David.  If Jesus were to wear a jersey, His Jersey would have the number 14.

c.       #3- There is a difference between Luke’s genealogy and Matthew’s genealogy.

i.  Lots could be said about this, and I cannot answer all of the questions between the differences between the two genealogies, but let me propose this…

ii.                        Matthew’s genealogy highlights Jesus as the King by showing his legal descent from David to Joseph.  Joseph is the legal father, but not his natural father.

iii.                      Luke’s genealogy traces Jesus royal decent through his mother, Mary.  He traces it all the way back to David.

iv.                      Luke emphasizes the royal blood descent, and Matthew emphasizes the legal line.

v.                         In both cases, Jesus is doubly qualified to be the fulfillment of the Old Testament Covenants and Promises.

vi.                      One interesting fact:

1.      Notice in verse 16 Joseph is not the father, but is referred to as the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born.

2.      The virgin birth of Jesus was significant for a number of reasons, but one of them is that Jesus would have been disqualified if He was born of Joseph, his earthly, legal father.

3.      One of the great grandfathers, Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) was a really wicked king and God said, “

a.       Jer. 22:30, Thus says the Lord: “…for none of his offspring shall succeed in sitting on the throne of David and ruling again in Judah.”

4.      That would have disqualified Jesus as being a possibility of the promised King if he were the natural biological son of Joseph who was a great, great….grandson of Jehoiachin.

vii.                    So Jesus is circumvented from being disqualified as the King.  He does not come from the same blood line.

viii.                  His human, biological right to the throne comes through Mary, not Joseph. (Luke 3)

ix.                      So Jesus is both protected from being disqualified, but he is also uniquely qualified to be the promised King.

1.      He is legally qualified through Joseph and he is regally qualified through Mary.

d.      #4- Jesus is a friend of sinners.

i.  Martin Luther summarized it well when he said, “Christ is the kind of person who is not ashamed of sinners—in fact, he even puts them in his family tree!”

ii.                        Why does Matthew highlight the skeletons in the royal closet?

1.      Because Jesus is a friend of sinners?

2.      You might be tempted to say, “If God knows the skeletons in my closet, he won’t want anything to do with me.”

3.      Matthew is deliberately making the point that that is not true!

iii.                      The significance of women in the genealogy:

1.      It’s worth noting that Matthew mentions five different women in this list (which was rare).

2.      Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba were all women of questionable behavior.

a.       Odd people to highlight in your family tree, for sure.

b.      Tamar was a woman who was wrongfully denied motherhood by her husband and after he died, then her brother-in-law.  They both refused to sleep with her, which was immoral and illegal.  She disguises herself as a prostitute and ends up sleeping with Judah, the son of Jacob…

i.  And this is Jesus’ family tree!

c.       Rahab was a professional prostitute in Jericho.  She’s a Gentile.

d.      Bathsheba, was complicit in one of the most notorious adulteries of all time, not resisting the advances of the king while her husband risked his very life on their behalf. Hmmm.

e.       Ruth is a godly woman, but she is a Moabite.

3.      Interestingly, these women mentioned represent different time-periods in Jewish history where a Gentile displayed great faith when the Jews didn’t.

a.       Tamar verses Judah’s disloyalty.

b.      Rahab verses a faithless generation of Jews.

c.       Ruth verses the period of the Judges when everyone did what was right in their own eyes.

d.      Uriah’s (a Gentile Hittite) faithfulness even when David was unfaithful.

iv.                      So it’s probable that Matthew is doing a couple things here.

1.      He is showing us that the grace of God is wide.

a.       Jesus is a friend of sinners.

b.      His grace condescends to the lowest.

c.       His grace reaches to the Gentiles.

d.      He is suitable to be a King of Gentiles as well as a King of Jews.

2.      There is no pattern of righteousness in the line of Jesus.

a.       There are adulterers, prostitutes, warriors, heroes, and Gentiles.  Wicked kings and good kings.

v.                         So that’s the gospel of According to Matthew!  Jesus came for sinners!

1.      Pastor Matt Chandler writes about a time he and a couple of his friends invited a young woman named Kim to a gospel concert. Matt was hopeful that Kim would come to Christ that evening; however, what occurred was a "train wreck." In retrospect, Matt was grateful for the experience because it changed the way he saw how to proclaim holiness in light of the cross of Jesus. Chandler writes:

a.       The preacher took the stage, and disaster ensued …. He gave a lot of statistics about STDs. There was a lot of, "You don't want syphilis, do you?" …. His big illustration was to take out a single red rose. He smelled the rose dramatically … caressed its petals, and talked about how beautiful this rose was and how it had been fresh cut that day. [Then] he threw the rose out into the crowd, and he encouraged everyone to pass it around. As he neared the end of his message, he asked for the rose back …. [But by now] it was broken and drooping, and the petals were falling off. He held up this now-ugly rose for all to see, and his big finish was this: "Now who in the world would want this?" His word and his tone were merciless. His essential message, which was supposed to represent Jesus' message to a world of sinners, was this: "Hey, don't be a dirty rose."

b.      Matt didn't hear from Kim for a few weeks, until one day her mother called Matt to inform him that Kim had been in an accident. Matt immediately went to visit her.

c.       In the middle of our conversation, seemingly out of nowhere, she asked me, "Do you think I'm a dirty rose?" My heart sank inside of me, and I began to explain to her the whole weight of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that Jesus wants the rose.

d.      It's Jesus' desire to save, redeem, and restore the dirty rose.

e.       He WANTS the ROSE!

vi.                      In Luke’s gospel there was a sign given to the shepherd’s…

1.      2:10, “And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’”

vii.                    The sign will be a “baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a feeding trough.”

1.      He enters the world with the lowliest in the lowliest of places:

a.       This was spoken to the shepherd’s.

b.      God has been incarnated into human flesh and He chooses to identify with the shepherd’s.

c.       Think about it, His first residence is a feeding trough rapped in rags.

2.      Jesus enters into the dirt!  He makes his family tree a group of questionable riff-raffs.

viii.                  The Incarnation of Jesus into this world is a message that Jesus is not afraid of sin.

1.      He enters our dirty hearts.

2.      He is drawn to your inadequacies, and weaknesses, and sins.

3.      He wraps himself up in swaddling cloths our wicked hearts and takes up residence there.

4.      He enters the dirty mangers of our hearts.

ix.                      It is a holy invasion!

1.      He doesn’t ask you to clean up first.

2.      He’s not put off by us and our sin, rather He enters into it!

3.      He’s isn’t put off by our dysfunctional families, He becomes part of it!

4.      He seeks us out.  He comes to us.

5.      He becomes part of our family, that we might become part of His!

x.                         Jesus is for all people and He came to rescue us!

1.      “He did not sit in heaven pitying us from a distance: He did not stand upon the shore and see the wreck, and behold poor drowning sinners struggling in vain to get to shore. He plunged into the waters Himself: He came off to the wreck and took part with us in our weakness and infirmity becoming a man to save our souls.  As man, He bore our sins and carried our transgressions; as man, He endured all that men can endure, and went through everything in man’s experience; as man He lived; as man He went to the cross; as man He died. As man He shed His blood, in order that He might save us, poor shipwrecked sinners, and establish a communication between earth and heaven! As man He became a curse for us, in order that He might bridge the gulf, and make a way by which you and I might draw near to God with boldness, and have access to God without fear.” J.C. Ryle ‘Old Paths’

xi.                      Someone might ask the question, “How exactly is Jesus a friend of sinners?  How is for all people?”

1.      There is a clear link between this first verse of Matthew and the last section of Matthew, the Great Commission.

2.      In the very last section of the very last chapter in Matthew Jesus tells his disciples to make disciples of “all nations.”

a.      All Nations” is comprehensive of Gentiles and Jews. 

i.  This picks up on the first verse of the book 1:1 “Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

ii.                        God promised Abraham that the people would be blessed in his “seed.”  Jesus now fulfills this.

iii.                      This is how all nations will be blessed through the Abrahamic Covenant.

iv.                      The Bible is coming together in this passage.

III.                   Application (What are some take-aways from this?)

a.       What’s your Legacy?

i.  There are 42 names listed.  The list is not complete, but it’s full of all kinds.

ii.                        Some of these people we know very little about, and some of them we know nothing about.

iii.                      It brings up the question (even if it’s not the main point) of legacy and generations.

iv.                      It’s at least worth asking, “How will you be remembered?”  “What are you living for?

1.      John MacArthur’s father (Jack) died about five years ago and John pointed out, with great emotion… “Never a sexual scandal, never a financial scandal.  Just faithfulness and integrity to God’s Word and God’s people.”

2.      Don Carson wrote a biography on his father entitled, “Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor.”  In the final pages of the book Don says this about his father who was a pastor all his life.  He pastored small struggling churches of about 40-50 people in Canada.

a.       “When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcement on television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paid by the nation.  In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside.  There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would never need it again…But on the other side all the trumpets sounded.  Dad won entrance to the only throne room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man—he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor—but because he was a forgiven man.  And he heard the voice of him whom he longed to hear saying, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.’”

3.      It’s okay to be obscure by the way!  But what is your legacy?

v.                         Sarah Edwards (Married to Jonathon Edwards, the Great American Preacher and Theologian)  Sarah was quite a woman.

1.      Beginning on August 25, 1728, children came into the family—eleven in all—at about two-year intervals, this was the beginning of Sarah’s motherhood.

2.      In 1900, A. E. Winship made a study contrasting two families. One had hundreds of descendants who were a drain on society. The other, descendants of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, were outstanding for their contributions to society. He wrote of the Edwards clan:

a.       Whatever the family has done, it has done ably and nobly. . . . And much of the capacity and talent, intelligence and character of the more than 1400 of the Edwards family is due to Mrs. Edwards.

3.      By 1900 when Winship made his study, this marriage had produced:

a.       13 college presidents

b.      65 professors

c.       100 lawyers and a dean of a law school

d.      30 judges

e.       66 physicians and a dean of a medical school

f.        80 holders of public office, including:

i.  3 US senators

ii.                        mayors of 3 large cities

iii.                      governors of 3 states

iv.                      a vice president of the US

v.                         a controller of the US Treasury

4.      Members of the family wrote 135 books. . . . edited 18 journals and periodicals. They entered the ministry in platoons and sent one hundred missionaries overseas.  Winship goes on to list kinds of institutions, industries, and businesses that have been owned or directed by the Edwardses’ descendants.

5.      We might well ask with Elisabeth Dodds, “Has any other mother contributed more vitally to the leadership of a nation?”

vi.                      The book “Embracing Obscurity.” (written by “anonymous”)

1.      “The thought of being just another of the roughly one hundred billion people to have ever graced this planet offends us— whether we realize it or not.”

a.       Webster’s defines obscurity as, “relatively unknown: as . . . (b) not prominent or famous.”

b.      That pretty much sums it up doesn’t it?

2.      “Even those rare men and women who make a mark on our society— a passionate speaker, a star athlete, an active politician, a gifted musician, an empathetic humanitarian— they’re still “relatively unknown” in the grand scope of the world’s consciousness and especially in light of history.”

3.      Even when an overarching, global obscurity has been assigned to us, we still have a choice of whether to embrace personal obscurity— an obscurity of heart as much as position. And that is the message I believe God has for us, a message He modeled as well as taught.”

vii.                    It’s okay to be obscure.  In fact it’s good to embrace it.  Jesus did.  But what is your legacy?

1.      How will you spend your time and your life?  To what end?

b.      Let us worship the King!

i.  We will together spend the next year and a half beholding Jesus.  And I invite you to “Come and let us adore Him!  Come let us worship the King!”

ii.                        We are not a religion that primarily follows a code of ethics.

iii.                      We are not primarily a people committed to a specific philosophy.

iv.                      We are a people who follow, obey, worship, and enjoy a person.  The King Jesus Christ.

v.                         So let’s get back to basics.  Let’s get back to the simplicity of knowing, following, obeying, worshiping, and enjoying Jesus Christ.

vi.                      Become fascinated with Jesus!

vii.                    He is the fountain of everything good.

viii.                  He is the incarnation of every precious truth.

ix.                      Come and behold Him!

1.      May your capacity to appreciate and enjoy Christ only increase.

2.      May your fondness for Jesus Christ grow and increase.

3.      Let us enjoy and appreciate Jesus!

4.      “What makes one man more spiritual than another…appreciation for Christ.”  William Kelly

x.                         Lloyd-Jones and the “paying the bill” illustration.

1.      “Imagine that a friend of mine comes to see me and says, “Hey, I was at your house the other day, and a bill came due, and you weren’t there, so I paid it.”

2.      How should I respond?  The answer is that I have no idea how to respond until I know how big that bill was.  Was it just postage due?  Just a few cents.  Then I would say thank you.  But what if the IRS finally found you?  What it was ten years of back taxes?  What if it was an enormous debt?  Until I know how much he paid, I don’t know whether to shake his hand or fall down on the ground and kiss his feet.”

c.       Let’s re-commit ourselves to conforming ourselves to Jesus.

i.  He is the King!

ii.                        If He were to walk down this aisle right now would we all fall down and pay homage?

iii.                      If He were to stand before us this morning, we would all pledge our lives to Him?

iv.                      We are about to spend over the next year with Jesus.

v.                         We will listen to what He taught.

vi.                      We will learn what he did.

vii.                    We will be challenged and confronted by Jesus, loved and accepted by Jesus.

viii.                  At the beginning of this study Matthew wants us to know that this is the Son of David, the King!  The Lord!

ix.                      And people will respond to Him in different ways…(The four soils)

1.      Some will respond to this Gospel at first with excitement and anticipation, but then fizzle out.

2.      Some people will respond with excitement, but then be lulled away by drink, by money, and by pleasure.

3.      Some people will outright reject it.

4.      But a few will here this gospel of the kingdom, and respond, and bear fruit, and their lives will be totally different.

5.      He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

d.      You can be a part of Christ’s inheritance!

i.  The genealogy doesn’t end with Jesus…

1.      You can be a child of God.

2.      John 1:11-13, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

3.      Mat. 12:49-50, “And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

ii.                        No matter what your background is, no matter what your pedigree is, no matter what your last name is, you can be counted as one of God’s children.

IV.                    The Gospel.

a.       Come talk to us about the gospel.

Related Topics: Christology, Introductions, Arguments, Outlines

Lesson 2: The Birth Of The Promised King (Matthew 1:18-25)

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I. The Setting:

a.       When a baby is on its way, preparations are made.  Parents know that life is about to be very different.

i.  We have been preparing for our third baby for quite some time.

ii.                        Re-paint the babies room.  Order extra newborn diapers. Deep clean the house, again.

iii.                      Get the car-seat ready.  Time the contractions.

iv.                      Google some videos on “How to speed up labor?”  Try to find a magic bullet to get this baby out.

v.                         Finishing touches here and there.

vi.                      Because we know that when the baby comes, our lives will be different. We will be a family of five, not four.  Getting places will take longer, again. 

vii.                    Kiss the routine good-night sleep goodbye.

viii.                  People with multiple children are often asked, “What is a bigger change going from one to two, or two to three?”  People with more than four kids usually just say “After four it doesn’t really matter anymore.  It’s just a blur.”

b.      Everyone knows that when a baby comes, your life is changed in some ways.

i.  Well that’s what’s happening in this story.  Only it’s a bit different, because of the nature of baby that is about to come.

ii.                        But we will see that this baby who is on His way, will dramatically change some lives.

iii.                      And that’s the point…

iv.                      This baby is different.  The nature and essence of this baby is different.  And He will dramatically change the lives of some people.

c.       The story is told from Joseph’s perspective, not Mary’s, like in the gospel of Luke.

i.  Luke’s gospel account focuses on the incredible faith and character of Mary, Matthew’s gospel focuses on the incredible faith and character of Joseph.

ii.                        Mary, rightfully gets a lot of press, but it’s interesting Joseph doesn’t really get that much press.  He seems to kind of be in the background.

iii.                      But Matthew places him front and center.

d.      The story has three parts:

i.  An Awkward Situation.

ii.                        An Angelic Visitation.

iii.                      A Christmas Incarnation.

e.       The BIG IDEA or main point of this story is…When Jesus comes, he changes everything.  Has everything been changed for you?

i.  Sir James Simpson, the famous Edinburgh physician, was made famous with his discovery of chloroform and its use as an anesthetic.  He was asked what he considered to be his greatest discovery, and he answered, “That I have a Savior.”

ii.                        I pray to God that some will make that same discovery this morning.

 

II.                      An Awkward Situation (1:18-19). “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.”

a.       “Mary had been betrothed to Joseph”

i.  They were engaged to be married.

ii.                        A bride would be betrothed to a groom and it would be a firm commitment that would usually be about a year before the actual marriage.  During that year, the girl would remain with her family, but it was like the first stage of marriage, minus the consummation.

iii.                      Engagement frequently occurred when girls were 12 years old, but the bride would stay with her parents for a year or two before she came under her husbands authority and she moved in.

iv.                      So Joseph and Mary were engaged, publically and legally committed to each other, and virtually married.

v.                         For instance, an engaged woman could be punished as an adulteress, whereas, the punishment of a virgin who wasn’t engaged, was a different kind of punishment.

vi.                      So this was a very serious situation.

vii.                    Not like today, where guys will say, “No ring, no thing”

1.      Meaning, if she’s not actually married, then there is still hope.

b.      “before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”

i.  Matthew doesn’t really give any details, He just says that Mary is with Child, and it’s due to the Holy Spirit.

ii.                        This is the “Virgin birth” which is actually a misnomer, neither Matthew or Luke talk about a virgin birth, but technically it’s a virgin conception, which was hinted at in v. 16.

1.      Joseph is referred to as the “husband” of Mary, not the biological father of Jesus…

iii.                      We will look at this more in a minute.

c.       Joseph is put in a really awkward situation:

i.  It’s hard to overestimate how awkward and difficult and life-changing this situation is.

ii.                        This is an unprecedented situation.

iii.                      Imagine finding this out…

iv.                      Imagine the conversations…

v.                         He knows the public will be less apt to believe him.

vi.                      He will face accusations that he “jumped the gun.”

vii.                    Or…“Sure Joseph, your fiancé is pregnant by God…couldn’t you come up with a better story?”

viii.                  “Mary always seemed like such a good girl…I never would have guessed Mary…”

ix.                      It would literally take an act of God to convince someone of what Mary had claimed.

d.      Joseph was a “just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”

i.  Joseph is really an incredible guy. 

1.      Not many songs are sung about Joseph. 

2.      If you look through the hymns, you don’t read a lot about Joseph. 

3.      But Matthew puts him front and center.

4.      He is mentioned twice as much as Mary is in this story.

ii.                        “just” means he is a devout man who obeys the Law of Moses.

1.      Even though he obeys the Law of Moses, he is not willing to use the law in all its rigor to shame Mary.

2.      He basically had mercy on her.  He plans a quiet divorce.

3.      He could have given her a bill of divorce and it’s over.

4.      All he knows is that his fiancé is pregnant, and he is not the father.

5.      Mary at least, had a growing fetus to confirm the angels words.  But Joseph didn’t have the same kind of confirmation.  In a sense, he displays greater faith.

6.      There are men who are righteous, but not kind, and there are men who are kind, but not righteous.  Joseph is a righteous and kind man.

e.       Observation: The Coming of Jesus is disruptive.

i.  In a sense it’s an illustration of the gospel coming to a person.

ii.                        When Christ comes, will you welcome him, or will you spurn Him?

iii.                      It will change the way we live.

iv.                      It will change the way our family and friends think about you.

v.                         It will disrupt your life; but it will make all the difference in the world.

III.                   An Angelic Visitation (1:20-21) “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.”

a.       The angel gives Joseph five important details:

i.  First, it is God’s will that you marry Mary.

1.      Jospeh is wondering what to do…Do I marry her or not?

2.      When I was dating Lonnalee I quickly knew that this is the type of woman I wanted to marry.  But I was still not sure.  We had only been dating for a few weeks, but I wanted to know.  Then I met with Doyle!

3.      He gave me great advice… “Is she committed to Biblical principles?”

ii.                        Second, Mary’s pregnancy is supernatural, it’s miraculous, it’s the work of the Holy Spirit.

1.      It makes sense that an angels of God is they only way Joseph would be assuaged.

2.      But now he sees the whole picture, or at least more of it.

3.      Like any conversion, the scales fell from his eyes, the veil is removed.

4.      By God’s grace his eyes are now opened to reality.  He sees things clearly now.

5.      Mary is exactly who He thought she was…and now so much more!

iii.                      Third, your baby will be a boy.  A male.

1.      This is before ultrasounds.

iv.                       Fourth, the name of your baby boy will be ‘Jesus.’

v. Fifth, in connection with his name, your baby boy will be a Savior, and he will save his people from their sins.

1.      Your boy will be your Savior!

2.      This is quite a kid.  Not your average birth…that’s the point.

b.      This is a lot to take in…

i.  This is a life-changer for Joseph.

ii.                        Now you are taking in the woman who is publicly seen as unfaithful.

iii.                      For the rest of your life you will have to live with the accusations of naysayers.

iv.                      You are choosing to build your marriage on some hard-to-believe circumstances to the outsiders.

v.                         Certainly Joseph and Mary were convinced, but how convinced were their parents, or their uncles, or their neighbors, or their co-workers.

1.      “So yea, Mary is with child because of the Holy Spirit, huh?....”

vi.                      Let’s not underestimate how difficult this must have been.

vii.                    Only an angelic visitation could persuade someone.

c.       This is what happens when people come in contact with Jesus.

i.  Their lives are challenged.

ii.                        They are afraid.  It’s frightening.

iii.                      They realize that this will be life-changing.  Truly life will never be the same again.

iv.                      Christ changes everything!

v.                         And they couldn’t be more right!

vi.                      “Until this point, Christ had changed nothing in Joseph’s life.  From now on Christ would change everything. I wonder if everything has been changed by Christ, for you?”  Sinclair Ferguson

vii.                    When you open the door to Jesus, in simple faith and trust, it’s terrifying!

viii.                  Sometimes, I wish that more people would be terrified by Christmas…

ix.                      But the message from the angel is to not fear, do it!  Receive Him!  Open your lives and your closets, and your family to him!

d.      Will we trust the Word of God?  Or will we trust our own instincts?

i.  Christian blogger Tim Challies tells a story,

1.      One of the episodes unravels the story of a plane that only narrowly averted disaster. The airliner had been flying along with everything appearing normal when suddenly it began to experience all kinds of strange problems. It gyrated across the sky, plummeting thousands of feet at a time and turning violently to one side. One and then two of the four engines stalled and failed, leaving the plane without the power it needed to maintain level flight. The pilot and copilot responded instinctually, doing their best to right the course of the aircraft. Meanwhile hundreds of passengers waited in abject terror, not knowing if they would live or die. The pilots fought valiantly and eventually found they were able to control the plane. Mysteriously, the engines restarted and were again able to provide sufficient power. The pilots directed the plane to a nearby airport and landed safely. Only a handful of passengers experienced serious injury, though the plane sustained heavy damage from the immense loads placed on it during the erratic flight.

2.      In the aftermath, investigators found that almost everything that had gone wrong had been the fault of the pilots. When the plane encountered significant turbulence the pilots should have responded according to their flight training and according to the plane’s manual. Instead, they relied on instinct. And then, when the plane began to experience further complications, the pilots ignored the instruments that should have directed them to the source of the problem and the straightforward solution. They swung the plane violently from side to side attempting to right it because they ignored the aircraft’s instrument that told them where the horizon was and how to keep the plane level. They ignored the instruments that told them that their engine problem was not as serious as they thought. Blinded by the stress of the situation, they ignored the manual and did things their own way. It very nearly cost them their lives and the lives of hundreds of passengers.

3.      Those pilots refused to trust their instruments, relying instead on their flawed assessment of the situation. Even though they thought they saw the situation clearly, they were in fact flying blind because they refused to heed the information conveyed to them by their instruments.

e.       Joseph and Mary both illustrate for us what a simple trust in God’s Word is all about.

i.  They didn’t rely on their instincts, they relied on God’s Word.

ii.                        “Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.”

1.      Joseph is portrayed as a man who knew the Law, but practiced grace.

2.      Joseph is also obedient in the same way that Mary was.  They believed the Lord in spite of harrowing circumstances.

IV.                    A Christmas Incarnation (1:22-25) All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “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.”

a.       Notice Matthew’s comment, “This Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises of the OT

i.  In other words, this isn’t the beginning of new religion or sect.

ii.                        This is the fulfillment of God’s promises to the Jews.

iii.                      Salvation is from the Jews.

iv.                      2 Cor. 1:20, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”

v.                         Mat. 1:1, “son of David, son of Abraham”

vi.                      In the beginning, Adam and Eve dwelt with God.

1.      They sinned.  God’s presence has left.

2.      Years later, God graciously gives plans for the Tabernacle.  Now His presence has returned in a modified sense and location.

3.      Then the Temple.   A more permanent location for God’s presence.

4.      Then, Jesus comes to earth.  And He dwells among the people.  He literally “tabernacles” among His people.

5.      History ends with the Redeemed in heaven dwelling with God.

6.      “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.”

vii.                    So the Christmas incarnation is a foretaste of heaven.  A progressive stage of development in the history of redemption.

viii.                  This is the fulfillment of a specific prophecy:

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

b.      When Joseph woke up, he obediently fulfilled his obligation to his betrothed.

i.  Joseph takes Mary in, but does not “know her” until after Jesus is born.

1.      This is a euphemism and a gentile way of saying that Joseph didn’t have sex with Mary until after Jesus was born.

2.      This seems to imply that they did have sexual relations after Jesus.

3.      There is no indication in the Bible that Mary was a perpetual virgin, as some traditions claim.  In fact, Mary had other children—

a.       James, Judas, Simon, and others.

c.       The meaning of Christmas.

i.  Try to step back from this story for a minute…

1.      God is in the flesh…

2.      Try to imagine this…

3.      “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.”

ii.                        The Incarnation.

1.      Poem by By Glen Scrivener, an evangelist in England.

a.       “This God in the Manger uproots all our notions:
A heavenly stooping, divine demotion.


b.      Born in a stable, wriggling on straw, Fully committed to life in the raw. 

c.       Santa gives things and then goes away.  Jesus shows up, to befriend and to stay.


d.      Santa rewards those with good behaviour.  Jesus comes near to the broken as Savior. 

e.       If you don’t like God, I think I know why…
You probably think He’s St Nick in the Sky.


f.        You’re right to reject that far-away stranger!  This Christmas look down to the God in the manger.”

2.      Playing with my father.

a.       I loved when he would get down on all fours, come down to my level, and wrestle me and my brothers.

b.      He seemed more human.  He entered my world.

c.       I found this true with my own kids.

i.  When I play princesses with Mollie, or nerf gun with Ryle, or chase them around the house, you see them light up.

ii.                        Their eyes get bright.

iii.                      When I lay down and let them jump on me or wrestle me.  They love it.  It’s how I connect with them.

d.      It’s incarnational playing.  It’s incarnation.

3.      This is what God did; He stooped down to our level, and identified with us.

a.       It’s like becoming a dog to saves

d.      Sam Storms comments on the paradox’s of Christmas

i.  The Word became flesh!


ii.                        God became human!


iii.                      the invisible became visible!


iv.                      the untouchable became touchable!


v.                         eternal life experienced temporal death!


vi.                      the transcendent one descended and drew near!


vii.                    the unlimited became limited!


viii.                  the infinite became finite!


ix.                      the immutable became mutable!


x.                         the unbreakable became fragile!


xi.                      spirit became matter!


xii.                    eternity entered time!


xiii.                  the independent became dependent!


xiv.                  the almighty became weak!


xv.                     the loved became the hated!


xvi.                  the exalted was humbled!


xvii.                glory was subjected to shame!


xviii.              fame turned into obscurity!


xix.                  from inexpressible joy to tears of unimaginable grief!


xx.                     from a throne to a cross!


xxi.                  from ruler to being ruled!


xxii.                from power to weakness!

V.                       Application (What can we learn from this story?)

VI.                    The Significance of the Virgin Birth.

a.      Is it even reasonable to believe in a virgin conception?

i.  We live in an age of science and reason.  Is it reasonable to believe that this story is true?

ii.                        Is belief in the virgin birth backwards and backwoods?  Is it tenable in the 21st century?

1.      In one of his columns for The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof pointed to belief in the Virgin Birth as evidence that conservative Christians are “less intellectual.”

a.       “The faith in the Virgin Birth reflects the way American Christianity is becoming less intellectual and more mystical over time,” he explains, and the percentage of Americans who believe in the Virgin Birth “actually rose five points in the latest poll.” Kristof

2.      Al Mohler comments on this and says,

a.       “The real question is this: Can a Christian, once aware of the Bible’s teaching, reject the Virgin Birth? The answer must be no.”

3.      Nicholas Kristof pointed to his grandfather as a “devout” Presbyterian elder who believed that the Virgin Birth is a “pious legend.”

4.      “Follow his example, Kristof encourages, and join the modern age. But we must face the hard fact that Kristof’s grandfather denied the faith. This is a very strange and perverse definition of “devout.”

5.      Kristof’s grandfather, we are told, believed that the Virgin Birth is a “pious legend.”

6.      The very fact that Kristof’s grandfather was allowed to serve as an elder in his church raises a whole different set of questions.

a.       We live in a day when we can deny the authority of Scripture and be considered devout.

7.      Millard Erickson states this well: “If we do not hold to the virgin birth despite the fact that the Bible asserts it, then we have compromised the authority of the Bible and there is in principle no reason why we should hold to its other teachings. Thus, rejecting the virgin birth has implications reaching far beyond the doctrine itself.”

b.      Why is the virgin conception important?

i.  The Virgin Birth tests our Biblical fidelity.

1.      If you can make the Bible say that Jesus was not supernaturally conceived, than you can make the Bible say anything you like.

2.      There is a sense in which this story tests us and our Biblical faithfulness.

a.       Do we believe in a supernatural God or not?

b.      A God who is capable of doing miracles, rising from the dead, making the lame walk and the blind see?  Is this fabrication, or is this reality?

3.      The Virgin conception is miraculous, that’s Matthew’s point.  This isn’t a normal birth.  It’s divine.

a.       Story of C.S. Lewis

i.  There is a story that one day C.S. Lewis was sitting in his office in the English department when a friend, who was an unbeliever, wandered in. There were carolers below in the courtyard singing Christmas carols and as the two were speaking, they could hear them singing a Christmas carol that contained words about Jesus’ virgin birth. His unbelieving friend said to C. S. Lewis, “Isn’t it good that we now know better than they did.” C. S. Lewis said, “What do you mean?” “Well, isn’t it good that we now know more than they did.” “I am afraid that you will have to explain,” Lewis said. “Well, isn’t it good that we now know that virgins don’t have babies.” C.S. Lewis looked at him incredulously and said, “Don’t you think that they knew that? That is the whole point.”

4.      Matthew’s point is that this birth isn’t human in origin.  It is divine.  Supernatural.

a.       The first part of Matthew chapter one tells the Genealogy and human origin of Jesus Christ, Son of David, and the second have of Matthew chapter one tells the divine origin.  This birth is supernatural.

5.      If you take away a God who intervenes into creation, then you are left with something other than Christianity.

a.       If you don’t have a God who can create.

b.      If you don’t have a God who can raise people from dead.

c.       If you don’t have a God who can make blind people see.

d.      If you don’t have a God who can make deaf people hear.

e.       If you don’t have a God who is miraculously conceived.

f.        Then you don’t have Christianity.

g.      Call it something else, just don’t call it Biblical Christianity, call it another religion.

h.      You say, “Well I just can’t believe in a supernatural conception…” That’s fine.  Then don’t call yourself a Christian.

i.        Liberal scholars in the early 20th century tried to do this. 

i.  They tried to strip Christianity of everything supernatural.

ii.                        They reinterpreted the miracles, they reinterpreted the resurrection, they reinterpreted the virgin birth.

j.        They stripped everything supernatural away from Jesus.

k.      And they just kept the teachings of Jesus.  The ethics of Jesus.  The morality of Jesus.

l.        So Jesus became little more than a helpful guide and role model.  Someone to admire and respect and live like.

m.    Like the popular shirts “Jesus is my Homeboy.”

6.      But he was not the Savior, they claimed, nor the Savior they needed.

ii.                        The Virgin Birth is essential to salvation.

1.      He became flesh, and is uniquely qualified to deal with sins.

a.       He is God, so He is infinitely holy, just, and perfect.

b.      He is man, so He can die.

c.       He is God, so He cannot die.  Death cannot conquer him.  He conquered death.

d.      He is God, so He cannot sin.  Sin cannot conquer Him.  He conquered sin.

2.      If a really really righteous person died, could he or she make atonement for themselves, or for another person?

a.       Let’s just assume, for the sake of argument, that a human was actually perfect.  No sin whatsoever.  Such a person would be neutral before God, like Adam and Eve.  And one could say they could theoretically be an atoning sacrifice for another person.  But that’s all.

3.      Jesus as God, is infinitely holy and his atonement is sufficient for every sinner and every sin.

4.      The sum total of all of the sins and wickedness of the world cannot match the infinite perfection and righteousness of Jesus.

5.      So Jesus, as the Son of God, is uniquely capable of being an infinitely satisfying sacrifice for sins.

6.      And Jesus, as the Son of Man, as a human, is uniquely qualified to identify with us, and actually become a sacrifice for sins.

7.      He is the God-Man, and no other option would have worked!

8.      God cannot die, and perfect humans are not a sufficient sacrifice.  Only an infinitely righteous God-Man could solve this dilemma.

9.      So, if Jesus is not God, we have some serious problems, and we are still in our sins.  And if Jesus is not human, we have some serious problems, and we are still in our sins.

10.  If you don’t have a supernatural Jesus, then you don’t have the Jesus of the Bible.  Please call it something else, because it isn’t Biblical Christianity.

11.  Jesus is our Uniquely qualified Mediator

a.       I suppose it’s possible for God to send Jesus down as a fully grown man, but then would we really believe that He is human and able to identify with us as a High Priest and a Mediator?

b.      Or if he was born of two human parents, would we really believe that He is God?

c.       In order for Jesus the Christ to die in our place, he had to be one of us.

iii.                      “It cannot be said that the incarnation demands the virgin birth, for God could have accomplished it another way.  But it can and must be said that the virgin birth of Jesus is entirely appropriate to the nature of the one who became flesh although he was equal with God (Phil. 2:6).” Donald Guthrie

VII.                The Significance of Jesus’ Name.

a.       Call him “Jesus” because he will save his people from their sins.

i.  This is central to why He came.

ii.                        He came as King, but

iii.                      “Jesus was not so much born to be king as much as he was born to be Savior.”  Barclay

b.      Names are important. 

i.  For the most part what your parents named you is what you carry around the rest of your life.

ii.                        We are about to have a baby, and one fun activity is to discuss names…

iii.                      The story of my name:

1.      My name is David Michael Anderson.  It’s a good name.  I like it.  But unfortunately, millions of other men have the exact same name.

2.      It’s like being named Jose in Mexico or Mohammad in Saudi Arabia.  There’s a lot of us…

3.      So when we were picking names I had picked names that had theological significance.  One name I really liked was B.B. Warfield.

iv.                      Weird Names:

1.      Batman Bin Suparman—things will go one of two ways for this kid.

2.      Pilot Inspector

3.      GoldenPalaceDotCom Silverman

v.                         When we talk about the name of Jesus it’s a little different:

1.      Names are important in the bible.  The word “name” is mentioned 764.

c.       Jesus’ Name tells us His mission in life:

i.  There are many different names for Jesus, but there is one that stands out in the birth narrative:

1.      He is called “Immanuel, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace, Holy One of God, Lamb of God, Prince of Life, Lord God Almighty, Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Root of David.”

2.      But the name given to Him at birth, the name we predominantly use, is Jesus.  This was the name given to Him by the angels.

3.      Angels always show up when something huge is about to happen.

4.      They give interpretation to the events.

5.      Mat. 1:21, “She shall bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins.”

ii.                        There is no exaggeration in His name.

1.      It’s not some gross-understatement.

2.      It is a name that is completely justified by the facts of His ministry.

3.      Spurgeon said that he once saw the grave of a child, which had this inscription on the gravestone, “Sacred to the memory of Methuselah Coney, who died sixth months.”  The infant had a name to which he did not attain.  Methuselah lived 969 years.

4.      People call their world leaders by names which make extravagant claims:

a.       “Alexander the Great”

b.      “Charles the Bold”

c.       “Richard the Lionhearted”

d.      “Jesus the Savior of the World”

d.      His Name tells us who we really are:

i.  If the very essence of His name means that He is a Savior, then we can only conclude one thing about ourselves, we need to be saved.

      1. The story of New Tribes Missions**
        1. Etau! (It’s true! It’s good!)

2.      A middle-aged couple from Pennsylvania moved to Papua New Guinea to serve a small village who had never heard the gospel.

3.      They taught on the OT for two months before they even mentioned the Name of Jesus.

4.      They proceeded to teach the New Testament and the birth of Jesus, then His Life, suffering, and death.

        1. They hammered sin and judgment and God’s demand for a blood sacrifice.
        2. When the got to Jesus, and heard about Jesus, they loved Him.  They were enraptured by Him.
        3. Then they got to the crucifixion.
          1. Some of the Mouk people stopped eating and sleeping they were so distressed.
          2. As the missionaries told the story the people were appalled. 
          3. They heard of people spitting on Jesus, they were visibly disturbed.
        4. They explained that Jesus is the lamb of God.  God is pleased with this sacrifice.  God is pleased to crush His Son instead of you.
        5. They then explained his resurrection.
          1. And people started yelling out, “I Believe!”
          2. I didn’t know what to do about my sins, but now I know God’s has made a way!
          3. Different people stood up and testifying that they are trusting in Jesus.
          4. Spontaneous rejoicing breaks out for two and a half hours.

iii.                      Christmas is a celebration of who HE is because of who WE are.

1.      ‎"If you do not love Christ, let me plainly tell you what is the reason: You have no sense of debt to Him." ~ J.C. Ryle

2.      “If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.” Unknown

e.       When Jesus came, He changed everything for Joseph ad Mary…has He changed everything for you?

i.  Is this story of Joseph and Mary merely a cute story to you?

ii.                        Have you been challenged by Christmas?  Have you been invaded and has your life been turned upside down?

iii.                      There’s a difference between a profession of faith and a possession of faith.

iv.                      There’s a sense in which if you have not been made uncomfortable by Christ’s demands, you have not been saved.

v.                         Christ demands total allegiance, and He offers Himself as your Savior.

vi.                      There’s a sense in which this should make us uncomfortable, just like it make Joseph uncomfortable.

1.      This means you recognize your lostness.  Your helplessness.  Your rebellion.  Your wickedness.  Your sin.  Your heart.  That you have broken the first and greatest commandment, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

vii.                    “Whoever calls upon the Name of the Lord will be saved.”

VIII.             The Gospel.

Related Topics: Angelology, Christmas, Christology

Lesson 3: The Wise Men Worship The King (Matthew 2:1-12)

Related Media

I. Intro and Recap:

a.       Chapters 1 and 2 are about the birth narrative. 

i.  Matthew gives two full chapters to the origin of Jesus.  His earthly origin, and his divine origin.

ii.                        But his primary point in these two chapters is this: Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophets.  He is the fulfillment of the OT.

iii.                      He is the Son of David.  He is #14 (as we saw in the Genealogy)

b.      Recap:

i.  1:1-17- teaches that Jesus is the Son of Man.

1.      His genealogy is proof that Jesus is qualified to be the promised Messiah.

2.      He is promise of Abraham and the Son of David.

ii.                        1:18-25- teaches that Jesus is the Son of God. (virgin conception)

1.      His birth is not natural, and yet He is born of a woman.

2.      Chapter one tells us that Jesus is both God and Man.  He is the God-Man and is uniquely qualified to be the Savior.

iii.                      2:1-12

1.      Now we are in chapter two, and Jesus is a toddler, not a baby anymore.

2.      And we see two responses to this Savior-King.

3.      Herod and the Wise Men.

4.      Some people love Him and some people hate Him.

5.      Some people respond to Him, and others want to kill him.

6.      But the main purpose of these 12 verses is that Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy.

iv.                      So the main point of this passage has to be v. 6, that from Bethlehem will come a ruler who will shepherd Israel.

II.                      Observations from Herod the King.

a.      A little bit about Herod:

i.  About 60 years before Jesus was born, the Roman General Pompey captured Jerusalem and the rest of Palestine.  The Romans installed local rulers in these areas, and eventually Herod became the ruler of Jews.  He was even called “King of the Jews” even though he was only half-Jewish.

ii.                        Historian Paul Maier:

1.      “You may be surprised to hear this, but believe it or not, if you are ever asked which is the one figure from the ancient world on whom we have more primary evidence from original sources than anyone else in the world, the answer is not Jesus or Saint Paul or Caesar Augustus or Julius Caesar—none of those. Alexander the Great? No, no.  It is Herod the Great, believe it or not. Why? Because Josephus gives us two whole book scrolls on the life of Herod the Great. And that is more primary material than anyone else.”

2.      Kind Herod was a paranoid tyrant who ended up killing three of his sons on suspicion of treason, putting to death his favorite wife (of his ten wives!), killing one of his mothers-in-law, drowning a high priest, and killing several uncles and a couple of cousins. They also talk about Herod’s plot to kill a stadium of Jewish leaders, and he even killed all the male babies and toddlers in certain village.

iii.                      Caesar Augustus even said he would “rather be Herod’s pig, than his son.”

b.      Herod is an illegitimate worldly king.

i.  He is the opposite of Jesus.

ii.                        Instead of using is power to serve people; He uses people to protect his power.

iii.                      Instead of serving people; he uses people.

iv.                      Herod represents worldly leadership and power.

v.                         Jesus comes lowly lying in a feeding trough…

vi.                      The ladder to greatness in God’s economy is the exact opposite of the world.  It’s down, down, and down.

vii.                    There used to be a popular TV show called “The Apprentice” and it is hosted by the famously wealthy man, Donald Trump. 

1.      It’s a show of leadership, business savvy, skill, and smarts.  The goal, if you are a contestant, is to eventually pass all of the tests to become your very own CEO of one of Trump’s companies for one year.  This show perfectly typifies the world’s understanding of leadership.  If you want to win you do everything in your power to get to the top.  You cheat if you have to, you lie if you have to, you use others at their expense if you have to.  You do anything and everything to get to the top; because that’s where you want to be.

2.      I remember as a child growing up in Minnesota in the winters we would play a game called, “King of the mountain.”  The goal was to do anything and everything to get to the top of a huge snow hill. 

viii.                  It’s a picture of the system of this world.

1.      But in the economy of God, it’s completely backwards. 

2.      Mark 10:42-45, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. ‘But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. ‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.’ 

3.      But it is not this way among you!  The world has its way of operating, but it is not this way among you!”

4.      Jesus is the opposite of Herod.

c.       Herod represents the world’s hostility towards God.

i.  He is terrified and wants to kill Jesus.

ii.                        The right king would have rejoiced to see the King of Kings, but King Herod wants to kill him.  He sees Jesus as his mortal enemy.

iii.                      Herod is more interested in saving his throne than saving his soul!

iv.                      Herod hears of these wise men who have come to worship a king, and he is immediately threatened.

v.                         Herod (and others) are troubled by the news of a king (2:3).

vi.                       Herod is like the new Pharaoh.

1.      I think Matthew makes the connection between Herod and Pharaoh.

2.      Herod is like the new Pharaoh just like Jesus is like new Moses.

3.      Moses only foreshadowed what Jesus would do.  Jesus is the True and Better Moses.  Jesus is the True and better Deliverer.  Jesus is the True and Better Savior.

III.                   Major Lesson Learned from Herod the King--There will be hostility towards Jesus.

a.      This world is hostile!  Evil is all around us!

i.  Jesus is born into a hostile environment!

ii.                        We will look at this more in the next section, but soon after the Wise Men leave Herod commits a mass murder on a whole village.  He kills all the baby boys under the age of 2.

iii.                      Jesus was born into a war zone.

iv.                      In the words of Doug Wilson, “Nativity sets should include a pair of Herod’s soldiers.”

v.                         All is not well in this world we live in.

vi.                      How do you explain the mass murder of children without using the word “evil?”

vii.                    Evil exits.  Period.  Sin is alive. Period.

viii.                  Our hearts should ache for those who lost their little ones, and loved ones.

ix.                      We should weep with those who weep.

x.                         Not only is evil seen in humanity, horizontally; evil is seen vertically, towards God.

b.      There exists in all of us, a hostility toward God.

i.  By nature, are opposed to God.

1.      We are not by nature indifferent to Jesus, we are antagonistic towards Him!

2.      We do not appreciate His rule in our lives, by nature!

3.      We don’t want His government!  We don’t want His opinion!  We would rather not hear His Word.

4.      We are dead to Him.  We are immune to Him.

5.      He represents the highest threat to our sinful desires.

6.      R.C. Sproul, “If God were to expose His life to our hands, He would not be safe for a second. We would not ignore Him; we would destroy Him.”

ii.                        The King James says, “Peace on earth, good will toward men”  Or, “God has now made peace available.”

1.      There was ill-will.  Hostility.

2.      This explains wars, fights, everything.

3.      Rom. 5:10, “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.”

4.      Rom. 8:7, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”

iii.                      Tim Keller gives an illustration that is helpful.

1.      Let’s imagine a couple that was once in love, but they have become “estranged” which basically means, we used to be in love, but we have become strangers.  And if you ever watch how that works, this is how it happens.  You were in love and what made you in love with that person was certain characteristics.  But when you decide to get angry, you take all those characteristics that you loved, and you read them through your anger and turn them in to flaws.  You read the things you used to love, the very same traits, as imperfections and weaknesses.

a.       “She used to love the fact that he was poised and unwavering, but now she sees it as emotional coldness.  And she’ll use it to justify her alienation from him”

b.      He used to love the fact (when he was in love with her) that she was a detail person.  That’s why she’s done so well in her accounting firm.  Always checking up, always checking up.  Now he see it as a lack of trust, now he sees it as a critical spirit or nagging.

2.      What Keller is saying is that, “You have enmity in your heart, so that, the sovereignty of God, where God can do whatever He wants, you see it as unaccountability.  He does whatever he wants.  You see it as reckless.

3.      You have enmity towards the grace of God… “it’s too easy, you can’t just accept that, you have to work for it.”

4.      You have enmity in your heart when you despise Him.

a.       “How can I believe in a God that could let this happen?”

b.      “I can’t believe in a God who would let such horrible things happen to people.”

5.      That’s enmity.  That’s despising God.  You don’t really trust him.

iv.                      So when the angels pronounce peace in Luke chapter 3, they are pronouncing the end of hostility.

1.      When Matthew records what Herod did, he is showing the hostility and evil that Christ came to conquer.

2.      Through Jesus, you can have peace with God, and with one another.

a.       Vertical peace, and peace on earth.

v.                         One of the school teachers in the Connecticut massacre told Diane Sawyer the heart wrenching story of huddling her kids together in her room, moving a bookcase over the door as a barricade.

1.      With tears she told the kids to be quiet, “to be absolutely quiet, because I was just so afraid that if he did come in he would just start shooting the kids.  So I just said ‘we have to be absolutely quiet.’ I said, ‘there are bad guys out there…and we just need…to wait… for the good guys…”

vi.                      Well the good guys did come.  And in our story, the Ultimate Good Guy came…

1.      Jesus was born into a war zone.

2.      The Christmas story is smack dab in the middle of a story of Monster trying to wipe out an entire village of baby boys, and I don’t think the weapon he used was the main topic of conversation.

3.      He was evil.  Satanic. 

4.      Herod represents evil and hostility.

vii.                    In a world of hostility and evil and grief and pain…the Good Guy Came…

1.      And with tears in our eyes we can say, “Merry Christmas—Behold the Lamb of God Who has come to take away the sins of the world.”

2.      Rom. 5:1-2, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

viii.                  How do we make sense of suffering and evil and sin and death?

1.      The cross of Christ.

2.      Jesus is born into this world to be a Savior.

3.      Mercy and Justice collide at the cross.

4.      Sin is exceedingly evil.  The Son of God has to die because of it.  This massacre is exceedingly evil.  And on the cross, God the Father condemns it.  He condemns sin.  He pours out his anger at evil and at sin.  He rouses His fury against sin.

5.      His solution:  Put His own Son forward to be the sacrifice.  Pour out His righteous vengeance against evil on His own son.

6.      The Result:  Evil is dealt with, legally.  And justice is upheld, legally.  And now he can legally pronounce sinners as righteous.

7.      So God is holy and just, in that He deals with sin, he doesn’t let it slide, and yet He is merciful in that He offers peace to the world through Jesus Christ.

IV.                    Observations of the Wise Men.

a.      Who are the Wise Men? (2:1)

i.  These Maji are not identified with perfect precision.

ii.                        Educated speculation says that they were likely the priestly caste of the Medes and Persians.

iii.                      Daniel refers to the “magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams”

iv.                      This is likely the same group as the Magicians, or Maji.

v.                         These Maji are called “wise men” because they were people of learning.

1.      Think of these folks as a mixture of being the elite, the intellectuals, and the religious priests of their culture.  They were like science-math-literature-priests.

2.      They were astronomers/astrologers. 

3.      Star-gazing book worms.

4.      And they were Gentiles. 

5.      There is no indication they were kings. 

6.      And there is no indication that there were only three (there were three gifts)

7.      Sorry to ruin the Christmas song, “We three kings from Orient are...”

b.      Why did the Wise Men come?

i.  Undoubtedly, word of a coming king has spread beyond the borders of Jerusalem.

ii.                        How would they have known?

1.      Remember when Daniel went to Babylon, he studied under people who studied dreams and visions and stars.

2.      Daniel skyrocketed into fame when he correctly interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.

3.      Daniel later predicted the three successive kingdoms that would follow Babylon, and then told of a coming King would swallow up every other kingdom in the world.

4.      It seems likely that these same Magi, these same Chaldeans from the East would have remembered Daniel’s words.  They would have been students of the Prophets.

5.      They would be interested in this coming Son of David.

iii.                      There was widespread expectation for the birth of a great ruler.

1.      They come to the “City of David” to look for the “Son of David.”

2.      Jewish prophecies and even Romans were expecting a coming ruler.  This is likely why Herod is so nervous.

3.      Numbers 24:17, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth…”

4.      Micah 5:2, “But you, O Bethlehem…from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”

c.       When did the Wise Men come?

i.  They likely came about two years after the birth of Jesus.

1.      Hence Herod ordering to kill all the kids under two.

2.      And notice (v.11), Mary and Joseph are no longer in an INN, they are in a house.

d.      How were the Wise Men led?(2:2,9)

i.  2:2, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

ii.                        Notice, the ESV simply says the star “rose,” which is a better translation than saying it “rose from the East.”

1.      If these men came from the East, and the Star rose in the East, then they went wrong direction.

iii.                      2:9, “After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.”

iv.                      Two major possibilities of what this star was:

1.      An actual star, or comet or, supernova, or planetary conjunction.

a.       Church father Origen had this view, and also later on, the father of modern astronomy, Johannes Kepler.

i.  Kepler thought it was likely the convergence of Jupiter and Saturn.

ii.                        Making one bright light.

b.      If this is the case, then the Magi most likely saw the star of conjunction of planets, figured out that it had something to do with the Son of David, and came to Jerusalem.

c.       Apparently, unusual stars have been noted throughout history.

i.  Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar had a type of supernova at their births.

d.      The main problem with this view is that the star moves.

i.  It stops when they get to Jerusalem.  Then is shows up again and even hovers over the exact house of Joseph and Mary.

2.      An angel- or some sort of supernatural light (The Shekinah glory of God).

a.       Light was used as God’s presence with Israel in the dessert.

b.      Possibly it’s the same kind of light, and they called it a star?

i.  These people didn’t realize that stars are actually millions of light years away and twice as big as the earth…

ii.                        The word for star can mean a star, or a heavenly body, or a supernatural light. 

iii.                      It is also used metaphorically for a spiritual leader, or even of Christ, or of the messengers of the churches.

c.       Angels are all over the scene during the nativity.

i.  Angels are even called stars.

ii.                        And, angels are all over the place during the birth narrative.

d.      The main reason this makes most sense is verse 9.  It moves.

v.                         Isn’t astrology condemned in Scripture?

1.      Doesn’t it seem odd that these Gentiles find Jesus using a system that is mocked in the Old Testament?  Forbidden in the OT…

2.      Matthew neither endorses nor condemns it.

3.      It is Mathew’s way of showing how God was reaching out to the Gentiles. 

4.      He is using their broken system of discovering truth and He supernaturally guided them to THE TRUTH.

5.      The Jews, who HAVE the Scriptures, and are 6 miles away in Jerusalem and are totally uninterested, while the Gentiles, from far-away, with a broken system, are coming to see the King of the Jews.

6.      You could even say that the Ox and Ass understood more of what was going on that the priests and the scribes.

7.      Mat. 11:25, “At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children…”

e.       The Wise Men worshipped Jesus with gifts (2:10-11)

i.  The Wise Men rejoiced exceedingly with great joy (2:10)

ii.                        What is the significance of these gifts?

1.      We don’t know for sure if there is meant to be significance to these gifts.  At the least, it was a lot of money that helped finance Joseph and Mary’s trip to Egypt and back.

2.      But it’s possible, that these gifts indicate the kind of life this child will have…

iii.                      Gold- the symbol for a King.

1.      This is Matthew’s main point on this gospel.  Jesus is the King.

2.      Gold is the metal of kings.

iv.                      Frankincense- the symbol of he High Priest.

1.      Incense was used by the priests in their worship.

2.      Incense was never mixed with sins offerings like meat and wine offerings.  In other words it was pure.

3.      A white gum from a tree in Arabia

4.      It pointed to Christ as our High Priest, His entire life was pleasing to God.

v.                         Myrrh- the symbol of death.

1.      Myrrh was expensive and was used for embalming.  It was also a gum from bush.

2.      Myrrh was a valuable commodity.  In fact, the town “Smyrrhnah” was named that because it was a huge factory of Myrrh.

3.      Nicodemus used 100 pounds of myrrh for Jesus’ burial.

4.      They unknowingly gave Jesus a gift symbolizing death.

5.      Jesus would suffer and die a sinners death.

f.        More than likely these wise men had no idea of the magnitude of this king, but their gifts do foreshadow the kind of King this would be.

V.                       Lessons Learned from the Wise Men.

a.      The Wise Men teach us that Jesus is for all people, Jews and Gentiles.

i.  The worship of the Magi implies that God’s redemption goes beyond the Jews.

ii.                        The response of Herod and the indifference of the religious leaders tell us that many of the Jews will not believe in Jesus.

iii.                      Jesus is the fulfillment of the hopes and prophecies of Israel but also as one who will extend God’s blessings to Gentiles.

iv.                      Paul says of the Corinthians that “…not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.”

v.                         They were wise according to worldly standards, they were powerful and influential, and they were of noble birth.”

vi.                      Jesus has come for all people!  Rich and poor.

vii.                    The grace of God is wide and reaches to all people.

viii.                  Even his genealogy proves this, as numerous Gentiles are mentioned.  The grace of God reaches far and wide…

b.      The Wise Men teach us what it means to be wise.

i.  What does it mean for us to be wise?

1.      1 Cor. 1, For it is written,  “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise...”

2.      “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”

ii.                        The wisdom of the world looks at this birth story and scoffs.

1.      He wasn’t born of a wealthy family, His parents were poor.

2.      He wasn’t born in the Temple.

3.      He wasn’t wrapped in kingly garments.

4.      He wasn’t born surrounded by dignitaries noblemen.

iii.                      The wisdom of the world mocks Christ and mocks Christmas and says,

1.      “In an age of science and technology and education, do you really believe in a virgin conception?”

2.      The New York Times thinks this is laughable.

iv.                      The wisdom of this world says that Christ is old news.

v.                         The wisdom of the world says that Christ wasn’t the promised King.

vi.                      The wisdom of this world is always dated….

1.      The wisdom of the age this year, will be ridiculed 50 years from now.

2.      Whatever the op-ed page of the NYT is this week, in 50 years will be mocked.

3.      The experts of this age will look ridiculous to the experts of your grandchildren’s age.

4.      Freud was in, then he was out.

5.      Every generation believes that our experts are different.

6.      NOT with the Truth.  The Truth is never old.

a.       Read Paul, read Luther, read Augustine, Sprurgeon, and they all teach the same thing.

b.      If you try to invent a new kind of Christianity, or redesign it, or take some of this truth and leave that truth you will come away a laughingstock.  Guaranteed.  50 years from now you will look like a caveman.  The wisdom of this world is always dated.

vii.                    The wisdom of this world is shallow.

1.      It values looks, money, relationships, power, it values pomp, it values prestige.

2.      The world want influence, the world wants power. 

3.      You don’t start your campaign in a stable, you start it in the temple.  You start it surrounded by powerful people, not shepherds.

viii.                  The wisdom of God is different.

1.      The wisdom of God is lying in a manger.

2.      The wisdom of God is lay dying on a cross.

3.      The wisdom of God foolishness to the world.

a.       The wise men go to Bethlehem.

b.      Ethnically, they were not the in people.

c.       Theologically, they were not the in people.

d.      All the right scribes and theologians and priests and dignitaries weren’t there.

VI.                    Observations of Jesus.

a.      Jesus is the promised King (2:5).

i.  Main point of 2:1-12 (Five times Matthew quotes the Old Testament).

1.      1:23;

2.      2:6,

3.      2:15,

4.      2:18,

5.      2: 23,

ii.                        This is a major motif that runs through all of Matthew.  Jesus is the fulfillment.

1.      Jesus is born in Bethlehem—a fulfillment of prophecy (2:1)

2.      He is called a Shepherd of Israel (2:5)

iii.                      Herod assembles the chief priests and scribes to talk about this.  These are not folks who all agree on every matter of doctrine, but they unanimously quote Mic. 5:2 and say that prophecy points to the Messiah being born in Bethlehem.

b.      Jesus confronts the powers of the world.

i.  Look at the ruckus Jesus makes and he is just a child!

ii.                        The entire nation is buzzing about the news!

iii.                      Jesus posed a threat to the powers of the world.

1.      “At the heart of the Christmas story is a baby who poses such a threat to the most powerful man around that he kills a whole village full of other babies. At the heart of the Christmas story is a baby who, if only the Roman emperor knew it, will be the Lord of the whole world. Whatever else you say about Jesus, from his birth onwards, people certainly found him a threat. He upset their powergames, and suffered the usual fate of people who do that.” ~N.T. Wright

iv.                      Jesus cannot be stopped by the powers of the world.

1.      The plan of God cannot be stopped. 

2.      No matter how much the world tries to stop Jesus, it can’t.

VII.                Lesson Learned from Jesus.

a.      Be prepared to be held in low regard, if you follow Christ.

i.  Rest assured, if you pledge allegiance to Jesus Christ your life will change.

ii.                        The powers of this world will rouse up with hostility towards you.

iii.                      You will be mocked.

iv.                      You will be belittled.

v.                         You will be patted on the head.

vi.                      You will be called a Exclusive.  Narrow.  Fundamentalist.  Backwoods.  Backwards.

vii.                    The powers of this world will hold you in low regard, just like they powers of this world held the Savior of the world in low regard.

viii.                  Rather than come in pomp, He comes as a Servant Savior.  Humble, riding on a donkey to His death.

1.      A Roman cross is His symbol.

2.      He was seen as weak and insignificant by the Vanity Fair of His day.

3.      But his weakness and death were actually the wisdom and power of God.

ix.                      Forbes:

1.      Forbes magazine presents their annual lists for the top 100 celebrities, or for the 400 Richest Americans, or the world's most powerful women. Other websites list the top ten most powerful people in the world, or the 50 most powerful people in Washington, D.C.

2.      But a website called 24/7 Wall Street has an unusual twist on this theme. They call it the "100 Least Powerful People in the World List." The list includes corporate executives, athletes, politicians, and celebrities who share one common characteristic—they used to be powerful. Here are some "Winners" (or "Losers") that qualified for this year's "100 Least Powerful People in the World List":

a.       Tony Hayward, the former CEO of BP, in 2011 the 4th largest company in the world (based on revenues). After a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the BP board of directors eventually fired Hayward.

b.      Jim Keyes, the former CEO of Blockbuster, once one of the nation's largest retailers.

c.       Mike Jones, the current CEO of the former #1 social network—MySpace, which once had 70 million users.

d.      Arnold Schwarzenegger, the once powerful actor and politician in California, who is attempting to make an acting comeback after driving his state's finances into the ground

e.       Hosni Mubarak, the former President of Egypt who left the country in disgrace

3.      Some of the individuals on this least powerful list were victims of circumstances; others made poor business decisions; and others lost their influence because of moral failure. But none of them chose to become powerless.

4.      In contrast, through his birth, incarnation, earthly ministry, and death on the cross, Jesus the all-powerful and sinless Son of God chose to become powerless for our sakes.

x.                         If you follow Jesus, be prepared to be seen as insignificant and weak.

b.      Jesus is worthy of our worship.

i.  Is there hostility between you and God?

1.       

ii.                        Respond to Him with worship!

1.      Bring your own gold, incense, and myrrh.

2.      These Wise men were wise!!!

a.       They were wise enough to seek Jesus.

i.  “Wise men still seek Him.”

b.      They were wise enough to seek information.

c.       They were wise enough to worship him when they found him.

i.  They didn’t respond with hostility, like Herod.

ii.                        They didn’t respond with indifference, like the scribes and priests.

iii.                      They responded with worship.

3.      So I say with the Apostle Paul, “Where and who is the one who is wise?”

a.       They are humbling themselves. 

b.      They are worshiping the King. 

c.       They are bowing down and falling at His feet.

d.      They are acknowledging His Lordship.

e.       They are believing His Word.

f.        They are preparing the way with repentance, removing everything that offends the King.

g.      They are praising His names with the host’s angels. 

h.      They are counting the riches of this world as rubbish.

i.        They are ignoring the wisdom of this world.

j.        They are valuing the things unseen.

4.      So bring your gold!

a.       Worship Him as the King of Kings and Lord of Lord’s.

b.      King who rules a spiritual Kingdom which will some day come to His people and at which point He will rule the world.

5.      So bring your incense!

a.       Worship Him as the High Priest who can sympathize with your weaknesses and welcomes you just as you are.

b.      Emanuel, He is God with us, sympathetic high priest, able to understand and to aid us. 

c.       He is the Humble King who is approachable.  He is meek and riding on a donkey.  Humble and lying in a manger.

d.      He doesn’t run away from you and the dirt in your life.  He is drawn to it.  He is born into it.

6.      So bring your myrrh!

a.       Worship Him as the Savior.

b.      He was born to die.

c.       Jesus, He saves His people from their sins.

c.       Suggestions to prepare for Christmas.

i.  Prepare for Christmas as a family by going over the Christmas story.

1.      Have hot chocolate together and read Matthew and Luke’s narrative.

2.      Read through the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke—write down some new observations and discuss it.

3.      If you are single, do this yourself or with some friends.

4.      If you are married, do this with your spouse over a cup of coffee.

5.      If you have kids, have them act the story out.

6.      Have a series of family devotions on this.

ii.                        Talk about Christmas with your family over dinner:

1.      Don Whitney “10 Questions to ask this Christmas”

a.       What’s the best thing that’s happened to you since last Christmas?

b.      What was your best Christmas ever? Why?

c.       What’s the most meaningful Christmas gift you’ve ever received?

d.      What was the most appreciated Christmas gift you’ve ever given?

e.       What was your favorite Christmas tradition as a child? 6. What is your favorite Christmas tradition now?

f.        What do you do to try to keep Christ in Christmas?

g.      Why do you think people started celebrating the birth of Jesus?

h.      Do you think the birth of Jesus deserves such a nearly worldwide celebration?

i.        Why do you think Jesus came to earth?

iii.                      Prepare for Christmas by playing good Christmas music.

1.      “Good tidings of comfort and joy” God rest ye merry gentlemen

2.      “Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"

3.      “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel”

iv.                      Watch the Nativity Story Movie.

1.       

v.                         If you host a Christmas party, share something meaningful.

1.      Read the Christmas story in Matthew.

2.      Make a few comments.

3.      Ask some questions to get people to think.

vi.                      Start some Christmas traditions.

1.      Make a special meal.

a.       Direct the conversation towards the Incarnation.

2.      Make a calendar of Christmas where you peel off a sticker each day of December.

3.      Francis Chan:

a.       We all have various Christmas traditions. Few of us probably have a tradition quite like the Robynson family's. In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan shares their story:

b.      This family of five, with three kids under the age of ten, chooses to celebrate the birth of Christ in a unique way. On Christmas mornings, instead of focusing on the presents under the tree, they make pancakes, brew an urn of coffee, and head downtown. Once there, they load the coffee and food into the back of a red wagon. Then, with the eager help of their three-year-old, they pull the wagon around the mostly empty streets in search of homeless folks to offer a warm and filling breakfast on Christmas morning.

c.       All three of the Robynson kids look forward to this time of giving a little bit of tangible love to people who otherwise would have been cold and probably without breakfast. Can you think of a better way to start the holiday that celebrates the God who is Love?

d.      Yes, Do all these things to help focus your attention on Jesus, But remember, Jesus came as Savior to deal with sin and evil.  And He has.  Now we wait for his final return and that great and awesome Day, when perfect justice is executed, and He saves those eagerly waiting for Him.

VIII.             The Gospel.

a.      Yes, Do all these things to help focus your attention on Jesus, But remember, Jesus came as Savior to deal with sin and evil.  And He has.  Now we wait for his final return and that great and awesome Day, when perfect justice is executed, and He saves those eagerly waiting for Him.

Related Topics: Christology, Prophets

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