Saturday, September 30, 2023

Reversal in Matthew 1: Shame Need Not Apply

Matthew chapter 1 is one of many examples where the Simple Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, is the utter opposite of this world's order, values and way of thinking. 

We have looked at the genealogy and found some pretty unsavory characters among the descendants of Jesus--oh, yeah...they are like you and me. Think of it like this:  If the list of biblical predecessors in Jesus' lineage was filled with wonderful, holy people, you could argue, Why did You come, Jesus?  There's enough good people in the world--look at Your family tree--we'll (of course I am in that group!) get by. 

But no.  Everyone is fallen: people in the past, present and future: 

"None is righteous, no, not one;
    no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
    in their paths are ruin and misery,
    and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:9-20)

Paul got it--he was a murderer after all, and so to be forgiven, freed and restored to do Kingdom work, was for him (and the rest of us) beyond comprehension. But it was true. Jesus came for people like us: "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:32-34)

So, after seeing Jesus' genealogy as a rollcall of fallen humanity, let's go the next part of Matthew:  the birth of Jesus.

The reversals here jump out.  A young nondescript girl:
  • Calls herself a humble servant (in Luke) 
  • Hails from a small town ("Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" asks Nathaniel in John 1:46) 
  • A virgin (Physically impossible)
  • Pregnant before marriage (seriously sinful)
OK. That right there would be enough to remind us that His ways are not our ways: 

"Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God." (1 Cor. 1:26-29)

But Mary stands alongside her predecessors, Sarah and Hannah.  

Sarah was in a similar situation: She was barren due to her old age.  Perhaps, when she was younger, she could have had a child, but she didn't and now her age made this impossible. But God miraculously allowed her to conceive.  

Hannah was barren and could not have a child. She was of the right age, and prayed year after year for a child. God allowed her to miraculously conceive.

Mary was not married yet and hadn't had conjugal relations with her husband.  God allowed her to miraculously conceive. 

All three were in a world of shame.  But in the Kingdom of God, shame has no part in who we are. God allows us to become, in His power, all that we were meant to be. 

Even Joseph was filled with shame at what he perceived his wife had done (relations with another man) and was desperate to save her from "public disgrace" and so he was planning "to divorce her quietly."  Joseph's shame, however, did not blind him with such hurt or rage that he would allow Mary to be scorned or punished in her hometown--in his hurt, he still wanted to protect her.

In fact, Matthew calls Joseph, "righteous," and in the KJV, the word is "just."  That's a Kingdom word.  When the world tells you that you have every right to be angry, offended, hurt or misunderstood, and that you ought to fire all cylinders and punish those who have done this to you, a man like Joseph reminds us of the Kingdom way.  Look at the meanings of the word, "just," according to Strong's concordance: 
  • "righteous, observing divine laws" 
  • "in a wide sense, upright, righteous, virtuous, keeping the commands of God"
  • "innocent, faultless, guiltless"
  • "used of him whose way of thinking, feeling, and acting is wholly conformed to the will of God, and who therefore needs no rectification in the heart or life"
  • "only Christ truly"
  • "approved of or acceptable of God"
Wow.  Those are Kingdom definitions and what a lovely world it would be if these qualities were operating in everyone, all the time.  But wait!  Aren't we being made to be like Jesus?
  • "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20)
  • "And to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." (Eph. 4:24)
  • "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren." (Romans 8:29)
So, even if the Kingdom of God is here, but not in an all-pervasive way (yet!), we can still operate with its qualities in our actions.  We can be the conduit for Jesus' love that pours love on shame, forgiveness on sin and hope on despair. 


Sunday, September 24, 2023

A Walk in Matthew: Flipping the Script

We are going to tour the book of Matthew, to see where Jesus flips the script of what this world thinks is right to what His Father says is right. I chose Matthew because his gospel is aimed at primarily a Jewish audience.  He wanted to them to understand that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Deliverer of Israel, the Messiah.  Jesus came to inaugurate the Kingdom of God once more--Adam and Eve having lost the first one due to disobedience.  Think of it this way:  God told them that they could eat of any tree in the Garden of Eden, including the Tree of Life.  But I believe Satan distracted them to that other tree, because that is the one that led to sin and death--the very business he's in.  

The Fall came because they disobeyed God's command about the tree; they ate of a fruit that allowed them to not only see good (they already had this with a beautiful garden inhabited by God) but to see evil as contrary to good, making good relative, as opposed to absolute.   

If you can see evil, you can do evil.  They ran and hid from God.  That is one definition of evil: You hide from God Who embodies good and you then define it based on your own knowledge, subject to the continuous whisperings of the enemy of your soul.     

Enter Jesus.  The D-Day of Redemption hit the shores of this sinful earth, and He came to undo, one person at a time, all of the evil pervading everywhere He looked. 

But to a Jewish audience, a claim of leadership, especially of Messiahship, required sterling credentials.  Sure, anyone could claim to be king or the Messiah, but was this person fulfilling the  requirements laid down by the prophets?  Excellent question and one Matthew hopes to answer by  Jesus's genealogy.  

Several reasons existed for why the Jews kept such detailed records:

A. Identity: You are a true child of Israel, inheriting all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
B. Tribal Lands: Your tribe meant land and so who you are meant which real estate is rightfully yours.
C. Priest: You must prove descent from Aaron and the tribe of Levi; otherwise you could not serve as a priest.
D. Famous: If you were descended from one of the influential people of the Old Testament (Moses, Gideon, etc.) you were thought to receive a special blessing.
E. Family: The family was essential in Jewish culture and the parents handed down to their children their legacy and history.
F. The Messiah: The Old Testament said He would be the "Son of David," so being able to trace that lineage was crucial. Matthew places Jesus as being descended from David as well as from Abraham. Luke wrote for the Gentiles, thus tracing Jesus' lineage back to Adam. (1)

Matthew reinforces Jesus' Messianic claim by showing His direct descent from King David.  But who else is in the genealogy?  Wouldn't you expect it to be full of righteous people, noble and honorable?  The Messiah can't be descended from, well, those people!  But, guess what?  Those people are just like you and me, and the Messiah unites with us in kinship with fallen people.  He is perfect, but the people He's descended from are not. 

He reverses our notion that election comes from perfection.  Jesus makes common cause with humanity to save humanity. 

Here are just a few highlights of His predecessors:
  • Abraham:  Faithful man of God who also tried to bypass the promise of an impossible conception by sleeping with his servant girl.
  • Jacob:  Rascal, deceiver, and father of the nation of Israel, having been named as such after  fighting with God all night.
  • Judah:  Sleeps with a supposed prostitute, then wants to have her killed, until he finds out he is the father of her children. 
  • David: Great king but terrible father, adulterer and murderer.
  • Solomon: Wise guy but had to figure out that all is vanity by indulging in it. 
  • Manasseh: Brought back idol worship in Judea, undoing his father's legacy, practiced it himself and sacrificed his own son. 
See my point of reversal here?  God used ordinary, sinful, confused, conniving, immoral, well-intentioned people (like you and me) to lay the genealogical foundation for the Messiah, who would wrap Himself in our frail flesh to redeem our frail flesh.

Takeaway?  God uses us, whatever is in our past, to further His kingdom.  The perfect, the self-righteous, the I-am-no-longer-a-sinner types He passes on and looks to us: humble in our assessment of ourselves and knowing that we need a Savior. 

The Kingdom of God is made up of people just like you and me. 

(1) "Why Were Genealogies So Important to Israel?"  

Saturday, September 16, 2023

The Simple Kingdom: Reversing the Curse

 There 's a lovely song that captures my new series of blogs.  It's called "Simple Kingdom."

Your Kingdom is simple, as simple as love, You welcome the children, You stop for the one.
We wanna see people the way Jesus does; Your Kingdom is simple, Lord, teach it to us.

Your Kingdom is humble, as humble as death, this King is a Savior who gave His last breath.
So we may die daily, our pride laid to rest, His Kingdom is humble, and the broken are blessed. 

Hallelujah, hallowed be Your name!  May we live and breathe Your praise!
And hallelujah, let all creation sing!  Oh, the King of Heaven reigns!

Your Kingdom is coming, Your Kingdom is here, alive in our waiting, our work and our tears.
So come to us quickly, forever our prayer; Your Kingdom is coming, Lord Jesus, come near.

Your Kingdom is backwards, it flows in reverse; what You call a treasure, this world calls a curse.
The small become great and the last become first, Your Kingdom is backwards
Lord, teach us to serve; as it is in Your Kingdom, let it be in Your church.

What is especially impactful is the last stanza, where it talks about reversals--how Jesus' death upon a cross with all of its shame and horror becomes a symbol of life, resurrection and freedom from sin.  The last in the Kingdom do become first.  God has not ignored the cries of the poor, the lost and the oppressed.  Jesus inaugurated His ministry with these words from Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

Who needs the good news the most?  Those who the world says are of no value, or who have caused their own problems and deserve the consequences.  

Who needs to be free the most?  Those who are imprisoned by their choices and habits, and those who think a cell is the only thing they deserve in life.

Who needs to see the most?  Those whose eyes cannot see themselves as part of God's household.

Who needs to be set free the most?  Those who the world's system holds back, either with a denial of opportunity or of their personhood.

Who needs to enter into the year of God's love and saving touch upon our hearts?  All of us. 

C.S. Lewis equated Jesus's arrival into this world as an invasion:

“Why is God landing in this enemy-occupied world in disguise and starting a sort of secret society to undermine the devil? Why is He not landing in force, invading it? Is it that He is not strong enough? Well, Christians think He is going to land in force; we do not know when. But we can guess why He is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. I do not suppose you and I would have though much of a Frenchman who waited till the Allies were marching into Germany and then announced he was on our side. God will invade."

I love the connection to D-Day.  The Allies land on the shores of France on June 6, 1944 to retake Europe out of the grip of evil.  

Jesus came to earth to retake earth out of the grip of evil.  

What if the Allies showed up and said to the Nazis, "You guys are doing some awful things.  You need to stop it.  Close down those camps and stop fighting.  Have a nice day!"  Then the Allies left.

No.  The evil in Europe was systemic, with its governments, resources and people all dedicated to one thing:  the takeover of the world and the annihilation of those who were deemed useless.  The Allies had to come in and fight each and every stronghold held by the Nazis and liberate those held captive in camp after camp, until not one was left operational, and the Nazis were defeated.

For years afterwards, the Allies sought to remove Nazism out of the population by reeducating them.  They needed to reframe their view of the world through the lens of freedom and democracy.  

Do you see my point?  Invasion was only the first step.  Fighting ensue so the war would cease.  The system that propagated the evil had to be dismantled and people had to be reformed, otherwise the removal of Nazism from Europe would have not succeeded.

Jesus invaded here by leaving the courts of heaven and landing on the shores of earth, ready to reverse the values of a fallen system to ones of His kingdom--the Kingdom of God, not a rubber-stamping of the kingdom already here.  He redeemed our hearts so the system of evil could be dismantled: one saved follower at a time.  

Only the return of Christ will inaugurate a complete restoration of this planet, but in the meantime, we as His followers have plenty of work to do. 

That is what I intend to explore here:  How the Kingdom of God is an utter reversal of what this world advocates.

Join me.

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