The Incarnation (Part 4)

Continuing the story of Jesus’ birth:

12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. 13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

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

The wise men give Herod the slip and head back to their country. In the meantime, Joseph is warned by an angel to leave town because Herod has some malicious intentions for Jesus. Without the wise men’s inside information, Herod did not know who the child King was. So he resorted to devastating violence. Herod ordered the killing of every male child under the age of two. Given the population estimates of Bethlehem at the time, that means 10-20 families lost a child that night. Think about how we felt in recent violent acts toward children in our nation. The sorrow, misery, fear, and anger would be no different in Bethlehem.

What’s the point of this flight to Egypt and back? Again, the sovereignty of God is at work. There is a purpose. There is a parallel in the Old Testament that is important to see. In the Old Testament, God delivered His people Israel out of Egypt and established the Mosaic Covenant. In the New Testament, God brings deliverance to all people when the Deliverer was called out from Egypt, establishing the New Covenant. The Old Testament Scriptures quoted here are from Hosea 11:1 and Jeremiah 31:15.

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

“Thus says the Lord: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.’” -Jeremiah 31:15

The latter was written when Babylon was conquering Judah and ripping families apart as they carried people away into exile. Like the night Herod had the baby boys killed, this would have been a time of excruciating heartache and sorrow. But right after that, in verses 16 and 17, God promises that they will not be forgotten.

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to their own country.’” -Jeremiah 31:16-17

You see, Jesus provides the new exodus from the slavery of sin and He ends the exile from God that sin causes. There is hope in the midst of hurt and life in the midst of death.

19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.

After Herod dies, the family returns but not to Bethlehem. Things have not settled down entirely because Herod’s son was an apple that had not fallen far from the tree. So they went to Nazareth. And here we see a third prophecy fulfilled in this section. Except that Matthew says the prophets foretold this, yet there is no mention of it in the Old Testament. Christ coming from Nazareth is a picture of what He would endure in His ministry and ultimately His death. Nazareth was not a well-respected town and pretty low on the economic scale of the day. Because of His Nazarene heritage, Jesus would have a hard time being taken seriously by many people. And indeed, this fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 53:

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” -Isaiah 53:3

This is actually a fitting end to the story of Jesus’ birth. It’s the final impression for the direction that His life would head. He came to save sinners but would be rejected by them. I think if we are honest with ourselves, many of us will find we actually identify more with Herod than we care to admit. We’re afraid of Jesus invading our kingdoms. We see His commands as buzzkills and keeping us from doing the things we enjoy. We see following Jesus as a too great a cost rather than having infinite worth. We have all the knowledge in the world about who He is but fall short of an obedience of faith that He desires of us. And so we come to the point of decision. Will we respond like the religious leaders and utterly reject Jesus? Jesus condemned these men. You can have all the knowledge of Jesus’ life, ministry, and teachings, but unless it leads to repentance, it means nothing. The rejection of Jesus results in condemnation and leads to an eternity in hell.

Will we respond like the masses would, who followed Jesus so long as He met their wants? This is consumerism Christianity and is really no Christianity at all. Jesus would go on to say that these people who claim Christ but do not obey are fooling themselves into thinking they are eternally secure (Matthew 7:21-23). I shudder to think what percentage of church-goers, particularly in the Bible Belt, are living under this false assumption. Whether thinking that going to church or Bible study on a weekly basis or even doing missionary work saves, both actions are of man doing something. They don’t save. They are responses to our salvation. If we accept Jesus’ salvation but reject his lordship, that is not an authentic, saving faith.

The third group we see in Matthew are the disciples of Jesus. These are followers who follow Him with an obedience of faith. Worship, praise, suffering, and sacrifice lead their lives. This is salvation. Jesus began His ministry by saying “follow me and I will make you fishers of men” and He ended by saying “go and make disciples of all nations”. Everything in between was preparation for this task. This is a privileged commission for followers of Jesus, who count it a joy to be considered worthy to give their lives for the sake of the gospel. From the prophecies that told of His coming, to God’s sovereign orchestration of His birth, and all the way to the end of the age in Revelation, Jesus came to save us by the grace, and to the glory, of God and the spread of His name to the ends of earth.

Every single person who encountered the baby Jesus could do only one thing: worship. And they left with such joy they had to tell others about Him. Christ had come. He is the salvation to our sin. He brings hope and life where neither exist. Don’t become desensitized to this miracle or let consumerism block you from the joy of this event. This is a Christmas story worth telling all year.

The Incarnation (Part 4)

The Incarnation (Part 3)

Chapter 2 of Matthew sets the timeline for the events that follow.

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “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.”

Some wise men from the east came to visit after Jesus’ birth. Not at the time of… after. Unfortunately, our nativities need some adjustment because it would have taken some time for these wise men to travel from their area to Bethlehem. And despite what “We Three Kings” and “The First Noel” say, they didn’t see a star in the east, they came from the east. So they had to travel west and therefore the star must have shown in the west. And there’s really no factual evidence that there were only three men. We generally assume so because it is simply stated that there were three gifts. However, they would likely have traveled with a large group given their position. But that’s not to say they were actual kings. Scripture does not name them as authoritative rulers that we define as kings. Wise men, or magi, in the east were very prominent people in society, but they were more likely studious individuals in astrology and distinguished in the realms of religion and politics. They must have had at least some Jewish influence in their lives because they knew the significance of the star as an announcement of a King’s birth and traveled with the motivation to worshipping Him.

Twice in the Old Testament, the star that signified Jesus’ birth was prophesied. In Numbers, Israel was on their way to the promised land. Their trek made the king of Moab nervous and so he called a seer to curse the people, but what he said was quite different.

“…A star will come from Jacob, and a scepter will arise from Israel.” -Numbers 24:16-17

So we see a man in the east prophesying a star and a King. Then in Matthew, we see the star leading the wise men from the east to the King. Also, in Isaiah:

“…the Lord will shine over you, and His glory will appear over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your radiance…” -Isaiah 60:1-6

Isaiah said that the nations would come to Jesus’ light. In Matthew, men from another nation were drawn to the star’s light. Don’t miss this. Some of the first people to worship Jesus were men from another nation.

3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Herod, as the king at that time, was none to happy to hear that a child was born that people were calling a king. He gathered the religious leaders and asked about it. They quoted Micah 5:2.

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, 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.”  -Micah 5:2

Did you catch that? The religious leaders knew the prophecy. These worship leaders and keepers of the Law knew exactly who Jesus was. They knew the Scriptures foretelling of His birth and who He was supposed to be. And yet in the end, they would deny Him as King and the Son of God. This is a sobering reminder that mere knowledge of Scripture is not enough. To know the Word but fail to respond is dangerous.

Micah’s prophecy confirms the King would come from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. David was a shepherd and Jesus would rule as a shepherd. (See also Ezekiel 34:11-24 and John 10:1-18.) Herod had a plan, so he called the wise men to him and told them when they found the child to let him know. The pretense was that he wanted to worship Jesus too, but really, he intended to kill Him.

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 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. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

By this time Jesus’ family had moved into a house and He was less than 2 years old, probably months old to just over a year (accounting for how long the wise men would have traveled west). The wise men followed the star once more. But this time things are a little different. The star moved in front of them, guiding them to exactly the house Jesus was in and came to rest there. Their immediate reaction to seeing the baby was worship and offering. These high class, powerful men fell on their knees before a baby! Should that not be our reaction as well?

The gifts they presented could very well have significance in God’s design and there is some debate among religious scholars about that today. Studies by John Macarthur and William Hendricksen provide good, simple commentary about the gifts. Gold has, throughout history, been associated with royalty. The gift of gold acknowledges Jesus’ kingship. Frankincense was used throughout Old Testament history in ceremonies of worship and offerings. The gift of frankincense acknowledges Jesus’ deity. Myrrh was used both as a perfume and spice used in burials. The gift of myrrh acknowledges Jesus’ humanity and foreshadows his death.

The birth of Jesus is surrounded by worship. It is for His praise that God orchestrated the events of history that led to the birth of Jesus. He directed nature and He drew nations to the event. Matthew makes the message clear. In the beginning, the message is to come and worship the King. In the end, the message is go and spread the Kingdom. We have this responsibility and this privilege. Our Savior’s birth causes us to desire nothing less.

Scripture quoted from the English Standard Version.  Commentary from “Christ-Centered Exposition, Exalting Jesus in Matthew” by B&H Publishing Group.

The Incarnation (Part 3)

The Incarnation (Part 2)

With a look at Jesus’ heritage, I hope you found something new to take away and see there’s more under the surface than just a list of names.   We probably have the tendency to just skip over those lists when we are reading the Bible, but remember this when you see names:  God knows your name, and He has purposed you into redemption history just like those people.  Keeping on with the story, picture the scene that begins in verse 18.

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

Mary and Joseph were engaged and one day Mary finds she is pregnant. In that culture an engagement was more legally binding than it is today or in our society. So separating would have been tantamount to divorce. Mary and Joseph had not been together intimately, so the only logical conclusion Joseph must have arrived to was that Mary had been with another man. Sometimes I think we are able to detach emotion from accounts like this, maybe because they happened so long ago or to people we don’t know. Or maybe we are even desensitized because this type of situation (on the surface) is so common in our society. But just think about this situation happening to you. Whether you are Mary who has unexplainably pregnant and probably considered a liar or Joseph who was certain he’d been cheated on. Not a good situation. Joseph must have been rich in compassion, though, because he opted to settle the matter quietly rather than shaming Mary publicly.

Then an angel came and clarified what was going on.

20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

It’s important to note that the angel addresses Joseph as “son of David”. Here again, it is being established that the baby, who Joseph is about to learn was conceived by the Holy Spirit, was coming from the line of David as promised. Matthew quoted Isaiah 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. -Isaiah 7:14

Immanuel would be a completely new concept to Israel. God dwelled in the Holy of Holies of the Temple and could only be accessed by the designated priest one day a year. Fair to say they saw Him as detached in many respects. To say “God is with us” was a game-changer. As confusing as all this probably was to Joseph, he obeyed God. He married Mary, never was intimate with her while she was pregnant, and named the baby Jesus.

So what do we know about Jesus to this point? He was physically born to Mary. Jesus is Mary’s son by birth. He is also Joseph’s son by adoption. Legally, Jesus is in every way Joseph’s as he is Mary’s. We know that adoption makes a child belong to a set of parents. Adoptive parents do not speak of an adopted child apart from any children they have by natural birth. All of them are their children. The children take on that family name and grow up in that family’s heritage. There is no differentiation. Therefore, Joseph’s lineage ties Jesus to King David as Jesus’ father. The angel also told Joseph that Jesus was coming to save people from their sins. So Jesus was very much born into a fallen world in need of salvation and ultimately, Jesus is God’s Son. Why was Jesus born of a virgin? To show us that salvation is in need of a divine solution; it cannot be accomplished by any means of man.

Jesus was born of human and came from God. He is both man and divine. Our minds are wired to think either/or but in God’s power, He is both/and. But 100% of both defies our logic. (There are several such mysteries in Scripture that we’ll likely never understand this side of heaven.) It’s not 50/50, mind you; it’s 100% of both. That’s why He was born a baby and also created the universe. That’s why He died and yet conquered death. This is a concept we may not fully understand but generally accept. In fact, we are probably used to the idea and don’t really give deeper consideration to it. But it is worth looking into what this really means.

Because Jesus is fully human, He possesses the full range of human characteristics. That means He had a physical body just like us. His body required sleep and food like ours. In fact, Matthew shows us that Jesus was hungry and tired at times. He also mentally developed like us. The gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus increased in wisdom as he grew up. It’s probably hard for us to separate the Jesus we know who began teaching such profound words with a baby who started out with a simple “mama” and “dada” just like we did. But it’s true! He experienced human emotion. We see joy, anger, and sadness throughout his life. Altogether, Jesus was like us outwardly, meaning his humanity was plain to see. In fact, people from his hometown had a hard time accepting what He had to say because they just knew him as the kid from Nazareth.

It is important for us to understand that Jesus is fully human because we can be assured that He can identify with us. He gets it. He knows what we go through. Isn’t it important for you to have that assurance when you go to someone for care, comfort, or support? You want to know they are empathetic with you. Otherwise, you don’t really make a connection and what they have to say probably won’t weigh that much with you.

Because Jesus is fully divine, He possesses the full range of divine characteristics. He has command over nature. In fact, creation was made through Jesus (Colossians 1:16). So if He made it, it shouldn’t be surprising that He has power over it. Case in point, there is an account of Jesus controlling a storm. He can walk on water because He created the water. He has power over disease. There are many stories about Jesus healing the blind, lame, and sick. Jesus has authority over sin. He is able to offer forgiveness. Jesus also has power over death. He raised people from the dead and ultimately, He raised Himself from the dead.

It is important for us to understand that Jesus is fully divine because we can be assured that He can identify with God. Jesus did not inherit humanity’s sinful nature nor the pronouncement of guilt that comes with sin. We don’t have to doubt the accounts that the gospels give us about the “strange” things Jesus did. He made them anyway! While His human and divine aspects are wholly distinct, they also work in perfect unity. Put together, Jesus’ birth ends up being the most extraordinary miracle in the entire Bible.

If He had come straight from God with no human parents—say, He just showed up out of nowhere one day—we would have a hard time believing He could really understand us. It would probably be even a more apprehensive relationship that led to obedience out of fear rather than love. I think about Greek mythology’s depiction of the people living to please the gods out of fear they will be struck down. (A lot of people, I’m sure, live this way toward God, too.) On the flip side, if Jesus had been born of two human parents by natural means, we probably wouldn’t credit Him His divinity. And therefore we wouldn’t give Him the obedience of our lives that He deserves. And indeed, this is an obstacle for many people today who view Him as a good teacher, but having no divine authority. (e.g. This is the major difference between Christianity and Islam.)

Jesus—fully human and fully divine—came to save people from their sins. He turns hurts into joy, suffering into satisfaction, rebellion into righteousness, and sin into salvation. In one man, Adam, all were condemned to death. In one man, Jesus, all would be made righteous who believed in Him and find life. Adam succumbed to sin; Jesus saves from sin. Where one man’s sin condemned all, another man’s obedience leads to grace greater than all our sins (Romans 5:20). Jesus is transcendent over us and He is also Immanuel—God with us.

Jesus is born in Bethlehem, and what follows is pretty standard knowledge to even those who do not accept Jesus as Savior. Or is it? We sing a lot of Christmas songs that depict a scene that isn’t exactly scriptural. And I think it is time for us to throw away the watered down versions of the Christmas story so deeply ingrained in our culture and see it for what God intends—the coming of our Savior who deserves our worship, praise, surrender, and sacrifice.

For starters, the night of Jesus’ birth was very unlikely a “silent night”. Anyone who has had a baby or kept a baby or even knows someone who has a baby knows that newborns result in many sleepless nights. Again, if Jesus is fully human, he was fully a newborn baby. And once a baby does finally sleep for a couple hours, what parents are going to be happy about “lowing” livestock making noise (Away in a Manger). Just because Jesus is our divine Savior does not mean we need to give Him some romanticized appearance of being any less human than He was. Jesus was a crying, sleeping, feeding, pooping baby just like any other.

We know from other gospel accounts (like Luke) that Mary and Joseph had traveled to Bethlehem to take part of a census. Joseph, being of the lineage of David, had to register there, the hometown of David. Because of the crowded conditions, they had to stay in a stable, where Mary gave birth to Jesus. An angel appeared to some nearby shepherds announcing the birth. There was a great chorus in heaven and the shepherds were intrigued enough—to say the least—to go see the baby. When they found the child exactly as told by the angel, they told others about Him and went back to their flocks rejoicing and worshipping God. The Savior had come. Is the shepherds’ reaction any less than what we should do?

Consider this question this week.  When we study the Bible, we don’t just want an emotional reaction–whether it be guilt or joy–we want change.  In my next post, we’ll continue the story and decide what our response should be.

Scripture quoted from the English Standard Version.  Commentary from “Christ-Centered Exposition, Exalting Jesus in Matthew” by B&H Publishing Group.

The Incarnation (Part 2)

The Incarnation (Part 1)

This holiday season, I wanted to take a look at Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth. Each gospel is written for a different purpose to a different audience. Matthew wrote his account of Jesus’ life to show the Jewish community that Jesus was the prophesied King. Matthew’s gospel is not comprehensive, nor is it chronological, but what he included was purposed in proving Jesus as King. Therefore, when he starts his book with the genealogy of Jesus, this would have been extremely important to his Jewish audience.

1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, 4 and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.

There are many Old Testament prophesies that spoke to Jesus coming from the line of David and reigning on David’s throne.

A sample of these prophecies include:

Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse… the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples. -Isaiah 1-3, 10

…I will raise up a Righteous Branch of David. -Jeremiah 23:5-6

My servant David will be king over them… My servant David will be their prince forever. -Ezekiel 37:24-25

Ten times in Matthew, he writes that the events in Jesus’ life took place in order to fulfill prophecy. (1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17, 13:35; 21:4; 27:9) Matthew made it clear that God keeps His promises and fulfills His Word. Jesus is the promised Christ, the Messiah, the King.

You can look even further back for the beginning of the gospel to Abraham. God’s promise to Abraham was that he would be a blessing to all nations (Genesis 12:1-3). This was fully realized in Jesus. What Israel was expecting from the prophecies was a human king who would rule their country and lead them in military victory. But Jesus is King over all and reigns as Savior in our lives. His kingdom is both here and it is coming. How is it possible for something to be both here and coming? His kingdom is of heaven and it has come to earth with His birth. It is also coming again when He returns. And when we realize this, it changes everything about how we live.

What may be one of the most fascinating aspects of Jesus’ lineage is that he came from a line of human beings: sinful, fallible human beings. David himself committed adultery and murder! There were people guilty of incest, prostitution, immorality, and utter disobedience to God. But what we see in this line of people is that they were never outside the sovereign control of God. But why would God choose this path for His Son? Why are these people included in the line that leads to Jesus? For the same reason each of us is included in the line that leads from Jesus. Solely because of the sovereign grace of God.

See, too, that the lineage of Jesus does not just include Israel. If you remember the gospel blessing in Genesis 12 and realize that God sovereignly chose Gentiles in Jesus’ ancestry, then the picture becomes abundantly clear that God sent Jesus with a global purpose. God not only fulfilled prophecy to bless his chosen people, He also accomplishes His purpose in blessing all people. So even here in Jesus’ birth, the Great Commission is peeking out. If God sent His Son for all people, then the imperative for us to make disciples of those nations is clear from the beginning of Jesus’ life. This point cannot be missed.

And as you read the book of Matthew, you will find that there are three groups of people who respond to this mission. There are the religious leaders who reject Jesus. There are the masses of people who follow Jesus so long as He is giving them what they want. And there are the disciples of Jesus who follow Him unconditionally.

So as we look at the birth of Jesus in this four-part post, I hope that you’ll see it anew and not just through the conventional lens that we are used to seeing it. In fact, we may even debunk some of the songs we sing during the holidays and the nativities we depict. And I think it is important we shrug off those notions and see what the Bible really is telling us. May it affect the way we worship this holiday season and live obediently for God’s global purpose throughout the year.

Scripture quoted from the English Standard Version.  Commentary from “Christ-Centered Exposition, Exalting Jesus in Matthew” by B&H Publishing Group.

The Incarnation (Part 1)

Favorite Quotes

I hope you have enjoyed and been challenged into action by my last several posts.  If you are just joining us on this my blog, I really encourage you to go back to the post entitled “Complete the Task” and read back toward the present.  It’s a lot; but well worth it, if I may say so.  In this post, I’d like to share some of my favorite quotes from Perspectives.  I couldn’t have said any of these more perfectly.

Will we allow the very things God has given us to bless others to hold us back? – Todd Ahrend

We get the joy; He gets the glory. – Marty Brown

If I get today, if I don’t get what my sins deserve, then may I live a life so that God is glorified. – Mark Palfreeman

We can’t tell others what we do not know. -Ken Wilson

God is more sovereign than we think He is.  We are more responsible that we think we are. -Bill Parkinson

You are no longer about getting and gaining but rather spreading and proclaiming. You are not afraid of loss. You dare to even believe it a privilege to suffer and die for the spread of God’s glory. Your reward awaits you at the throne of your Creator.  -Floyd McClung (Apostolic Passion article)

Ordinary people become kingdom heroes by surrendering to God.  They do not love their lives in the face of death.  -Jamie Zumwalt

What seems impossible to man is exactly what God wants to do! -John Zumwalt

We’re to be light in the darkness, not light in the lightness. – Jamie Zumwalt

We’re not called to be the salt lick of the earth, but to be sprinkled and spread out. – John Zumwalt

We need to be less concerned with people making “decisions” for Christ and more for people becoming disciples of Christ.  -Bobby Gupta

We’ve got it backwards:  we’ve been inviting Jesus into our kingdoms (hearts), when God is really saying that He’s inviting us into His. -Stan Yoder

How long does it take to become a disciple? As long as it takes the nets to hit the ground. -Robert Brown

Christ asks, “I have done this for you, now what have you done for Me?”  Why do we do this?  May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering.  -Robert Brown

Favorite Quotes

World Christian Discipleship

Here it is. The capstone to a tremendous 16-week mind-bending, heart-changing, life-altering experience. I cite many articles this week, as well as the last lesson we had. There is truly no greater name for these lessons that “Perspectives”. Oh, how mine has changed. God has grabbed hold of me and flipped me right-side up and I never want to go back. I hope these recaps motivate you to look deeper into our reason for living. At the time of this post, I’m five weeks away from going to an area in South Asia that has not been reached with the gospel. I’m anxious, excited, scared, ready. While I mourn the 14 years I’ve wasted, I look forward to the part God has for me to play in completing the task of Him receiving global glory. Read on. Be challenged. Be changed. Be obedient.

A little over a year ago, I began a journey to refocus my life in pursuit of spreading the gospel. I was confronted with confounding realities of the American dream and the state of the Church. I intensely studied the Word to understand God’s redemption story. I took a course to better understand the world Christian movement. And for the last several weeks, you have read these recaps of all that God has been teaching me regarding our role in completing the task. I’m going to pose many questions to you here which ultimately can be gathered into the same question our last instructor posed to us as we closed out the course. He did not ask “has God spoken to you?”, for that is the wrong question. Of course, God has spoken. The question is: what are you doing about it?

Our imperative is to become disciples of Christ and to go make disciples of Christ. How are you and I becoming disciples? What has changed in this journey for you? The original disciples were confronted by Christ and given a choice. They sat working on their fishing nets and Jesus invited them to leave it all and become fishers of men. It’s the same choice we have. We can choose to follow Him or we can choose to disobey. Like the original disciples, it will take as long to become a true follower of Christ as it takes for our nets to hit the ground.

A disciple understands that the message of the Bible is God’s glory. A disciple of Christ is someone who has God’s heart for the world. A true follower is the person who throws off all things that hinder. He/she sees that yes, God so loved the world, but even more importantly, “God loves His Son and has a wonderful plan for Him, to bring all the nations to His feet as Lord of all, and He loves you and me enough to give us a place in it.” (David Bryant)

Unfortunately, we’ve made Jesus into a mascot. On Sundays, we hear messages that Jesus is with us to cheer us up, reinvigorate us, and reassure us. It’s just like we learned back in lesson 1, we’ve made it about God and me. Our ability to drop our nets and become followers is being destroyed by our affluence and our trivial pursuits. We are constantly surrounded by comfort, security, ease of life, and pleasures that we drown out Jesus’ voice, calling for us to take up our cross daily. So I ask each of us today, what comforts are we holding on to that we need to let go of? What trivial pursuits are you and I chasing, distracting us from eternal matters?

Our vain, over-abundant, affluent lifestyles must change. We need to adopt a wartime strategy in our lifestyles. There’s a popular story about a luxury cruise ship, the Queen Mary, that was the symbolic epitome of affluence in America. But when World War II broke out, it was turned into a troop transport. The survival of our nation depended on such an act. The survival of millions of people who do not know Christ also depends on us doing what it takes to fulfill the Great Commission. A couple of sobering statistics from an article by Ralph Winter. We send 1/4 of what we spend on weight-loss programs to missions. It takes just spending $2 extra in over-eating at meals to add an extra pound of weight. $2 is more than what 90% of American Christians give to missions. The point is, if we’d simplify our lives, we could live generously. We have hardened our hearts (and our arteries) with our lifestyles, accepting status quo living as biblical following of Jesus. In Revelation 3:15-17, He declares His distaste:

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.’”

One of the most sobering verses, which God used early in my journey, speaks to the urgency of re-evaluating our lifestyles. Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus speaking, states:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Let me ask specifically at this point, in light of all God has taught us and with our commitment to South Asia, how are you doing? Are you living life with a new perspective? Are you reading God’s Word daily? Have you opted in to the People Group of the Day prayer guide to pray for the nations? How have you adjusted your time to be available to serve? Are you evaluating your circumstances now in order to free up vacation time and finances to go to an unreached area next year? What are you doing about the truth you have learned?

Several weeks ago, I shared with my small group—a church-plant out of Parkway Place—the reason I believed God called our leaders (Larry and Wanda Remington) to start Compass. Following the New Testament model, I believe we are to become the called-out team, much like Paul and his missionary band were. If all we do is continue to meet on Tuesday nights, then we aren’t being obedient. This apropos illustration from Todd Ahrend exemplifies this calling even further:

We really want God to give us step-by-step instructions for life. But that’s not what God is in the business of, because our faith will never be built. That’s because faith is built upon the experience of obeying His Word. “We cannot expect to get all the detailed instructions before we are willing to begin traveling the path. The Bible doesn’t lay out a ‘map’. It gives us a ‘compass’. God calls you to join Him in journeying in a steady direction [True North] toward a grand global destiny.” (Ahrend) Our yes must be on the table before we know the details. Maps only give you details of areas already known. But this journey with Christ calls us to point our compass toward unknown territories where the gospel has not been taken. So we must be focused on True North—to do whatever it takes to live strategically and purposefully for the completion of the task. This is the mark of a World Christian. (Not a worldly Christian, which would be quite the opposite.)

We can maintain ourselves as World Christians through the different seasons of life. There are several practices of a World Christian. First, we can be goers. Some us may never literally go to another country, but the reality of today is the world is more connected than it ever has been, and we ARE commanded to go to people with the gospel. We have opportunities right where we are to engage people of different cultures. This truth segues into the second practice, being welcomers. The nations are coming to us; that much is clear. While they are visiting, we have the tremendous opportunity to reach them for Christ. Right here in Little Rock is a very prominent organization called International Friendship Outreach. They host events such as Conversation Club, which allows international students meet Americans and practice their English. This practical met need builds the kind of relationship necessary to bridge the way to Christ. Third, we can be senders. We’re not just talking about financial giving and prayer support. These are vital essentials, but World Christian senders go beyond that and make it their ambition to further the work of others through creative means. Fourth, we can be mobilizers, people who cast a vision for the work that must be done and the joy of accepting God’s invitation to be a part of it. These recaps have been aimed at mobilizing you because I care for you and want you to experience the rich and fulfilling joy I have had in this journey.

As four of us prepare to leave on a visionary apostolic journey to South Asia, we do so with God’s mission in mind. This is a short-term trip to gauge the spiritual condition of the region and identify potential native leaders in church planting. Short-term missions can be key in completing the task; the reality is not all of us are going to go on long-term trips or be “career missionaries”. (But if God asked you to be, would you obey? Have you ever boldly prayed whether you should?) These STMs can be successful, as long as we 1) realize and connect God’s purpose as being already at work, 2) plan and act in culturally relevant ways alongside time-tested strategies, and 3) do not use the experience as a primary method of promoting personal discipleship. (Again, it’s not about us.) As we walk with the Holy Spirit, our vision is that multiple short-term trips will work alongside the full-time efforts to train obedience and leadership in native peoples.

With compass in hand, we stand at the “you are here” mark, our “yes” on the table, ready to embrace uncharted territories in our lives and in the world. How can we be confident in the choices we make? First, we must each walk in this journey together. The American Dream route of self-exaltation will not work. Let us grow together and serve together. Go back to your church and bring back like-minded brothers and sisters who want or need to be a part of this journey. We must first multiply disciples here before we’ll ever do it somewhere else. So if we’re not growing, something is wrong! Be the voice in a body of believers who have made it about themselves. Pray constantly. Not just genie-in-a-bottle prayers, but prayers that exalt who God is, thank Him for what He is doing, and ask Him to fulfill what is already on His heart, that the nations would come to glorify Him. God will absolutely say “yes” to these things and cause you to succeed. Simplify your life. We all need to be freed to give and live generously, of our time, our talent, and our treasure. We are blessed to be a blessing. It’s not necessarily about selling everything you have, but rather if God asked you to do so, would you obey? Nor is it about redistributing wealth. We are a people saved by grace and we should live generously that way. The reason a tithe is not mentioned in the New Testament is because Christ desires for us to live purposefully toward generosity. The tithe should be the floor of our giving, not the ceiling. Finally, be a willing learner. Stay in God’s Word. Reject the notion this book is about us. But not only that, be informed of the world around us. Push your perspective into new territories. In the end, the question you need to ask yourself is the same one found on a tombstone of a renowned missionary leader: “Are the things you are living for worth Christ dying for?”

We don’t have to have it all together. We just need to be willing. What part of our lives reflect God’s desire to be known among all peoples? How are we being doers of the word and not just hearers? Are you even suffering for Christ? The Bible assures us that the gospel message is dangerous. If we have dropped our nets and followed Christ, we can be assured we will endure suffering. Do not care for how you will be received or for any discomforts. In Acts, the early disciples counted it as joy to be considered worthy to suffer for Christ!

“Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:41)

Christ suffered in obedience to God, all the way to the cross. How can we expect not to suffer for that same message? Are you waiting on a special calling? You don’t need it! The mandate is clear! Just have a heart of willingness. Be a goer, a sender, a welcomer, a motivator. As the body of Christ, we have all been given gifts from the Spirit to build each other up, serve in love, and glorify God.

If we truly grasp the depth of love God exhibited by enduring our punishment and making a way for us to be with Him even while we were His enemy, how can any other response but obedience be sufficient? I deserve death and separation from the holy, perfect, loving God, in whom there is supreme satisfaction and fulfillment and purpose. Therefore, He is worthy “to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:13) Christ has done this for us. What will we do for Him? He deserves all glory! And I get to help give it to Him! Why do we take joy in being invited as a part of completing the task? Here’s why: May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering.

World Christian Discipleship

Spontaneous Multiplication

Rapid and spontaneous multiplication of the church.  That is our goal.  That is the mission we join God in.  Did you know that more people have come to know Jesus in the last 100 years than the previous 1900 combined?  God is at work.  We’ve moved from a time when the growth rate of the church was less than the birth rate.  At today’s rate of 7.5%, half of the world would be Christian within 25 years.  Today, 65% of the Church is from races other than Caucasian.  Truly, Christianity is now genuinely an international family of faith.

The type of rapid and spontaneous multiplication we’re talking about is dubbed a church planting movement.  Has anyone ever thought to ask what “church” really is?  Our definitions would probably include many things a church does.  Neil Cole defined it as “the presence of Jesus among His people called out as a spiritual family to pursue His mission on this planet.”  Reproduction of the church means multiplying, not just adding.  These churches are born out of indigenous cultural settings and will reproduce best along ethnolinguistic lines.  It becomes a movement when, like a dam finally breaking, there is no stopping or controlling it.  I’m not sure we really know what that looks like in America.  Our western style of doing church—with its big structures, lots of staff, multiple programs—is not rapidly reproducible.

Why is our focus on church planting?  Indeed, it is the biblical pattern we find in Scripture.  It ensures that the fruits of our labors are preserved.  It gives us a place to nurture multi-generational believers.  It is how we’ll reach the unreached and lay a foundation for discipling entire nations.  And it very practically gives us a measure of the completion of the task.  Listen, this is not just a short-term project we can take on.  We’re talking about a task that is much bigger than any one church can accomplish on its own.  We need God; we need the united Church.  The effort must be covered in prayer.  It requires accurate information and research.  And it is a long term process, not an event that has a beginning and end.

The focus is on discipleship.  This is no small statement.  To not just grow but multiply, a church must be obedient to Christ.  Not just hearers of the Word, but doers.  After all, that’s the Scriptural imperative: make disciples.  The problem is we’ve made teaching, baptizing, preaching, and all sorts of other things the imperative.  Those things are important, but the mandate is clear: make disciples.  This is going to require a lifestyle change for all of us!  We’re too busy to make disciples.  We’re too reliant upon pre-packaged programs and messages that make us feel better about how we’re living.  We’ve watered down the gospel and made the blood of Christ like kool-aid.  If a person will just pray a prayer and come to church once a while, we declare them fit for heaven.  They are top of the class if they even give some money.  The reality is praying a prayer is just the beginning.  You’ve just been introduced!  The focus must be on the discipleship that follows.

This is completely my own side-note, but I want to point out where I think our own discipleship must begin.  We don’t take sin near seriously enough.  We must absolutely repent of it.  Not just pray for forgiveness, but also truly turn away.  Repentance is the beginning of discipleship.  James 4:9, in regards to sin in our lives, says we must “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.”  Not because we got caught or because it had certain negative effects, but because it separates us from God.  The Bible instructs us to run away from sin as fast as we can.  Do not allow temptations to fester and pull you away from your fellowship with God.  It warns us the dangers of miring our lives in it over and over.  In doing so, we make the cross work of Christ as nothing!  Does that notion not break your heart as it does mine?  Hebrews 10:26, 29: “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?”  Whatever it is we’re facing that we maybe think God just doesn’t understand or is simply too much for us to resist, remember what Hebrews 12:3-4 says.  “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”  What we’re faced with is nothing compared to what Christ endured on the cross, and He did so without sinning.  So run the race, flee from sin, crucify yourself daily, and follow Him.

Why do I digress into that?  Just remember, we cannot teach what we do not know.

A second requirement of multiplication is the development of leadership who are encouraged and trained in the Word.  Jesus focused on a few men and sent them out.  That should be our model too.  The huge rally strategy isn’t going to work.  A new church must be built up through its leadership.  Teaching them obedience to Christ is essential.  And it is important to distinguish between commandments, biblical practices, and human customs.  Allow the Holy Spirit to work through any cultural issues.  We must trust His guidance toward the people and the people’s ability to follow the Holy Spirit’s direction.  We’re not calling people to extract themselves from their cultural identity.  Remember, we’re there to help them become like Christ, not like us!  Another warning involves providing funds to support the leadership.  New indigenous believers need the opportunity to learn about generosity and stewardship.  Throwing money will create dependency, which will always freeze multiplication.  We should focus our efforts on a single people group to multiply churches, providing contextualization, avoiding syncretism, encouraging group decisions, and emphasizing community.

The cycle for rapid and spontaneous multiplication of the church begins with envisioning the task.  Then you mobilize through prayer and begin equipping those persons whom God has revealed as leaders.  A church is planted and leadership development takes place with an emphasis on obedience to Christ.  Those leaders then envision their role in the task and the cycle begins anew.  So where do we begin?  Dr. Bobby Gupta, President of the Hindustan Bible Institute, which has been responsible for planting thousands of churches in India, stated that the best place to start is by asking a simple but loaded question.  It’s one that I want each of you to ask yourself and what your role is for it:  what does it look like when the task is complete?

Spontaneous Multiplication