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Archive for Matthew


Does the Virgin Birth Matter?

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So is the virgin birth that important? Can a person believe in Jesus without acknowledging it? I believe the virgin birth is important four at least four reasons.

First, it made possible for Jesus to be truly human, yet without sin. I affirm that the Scripture teaches that we are all sinners by nature and by choice. What that means is that we have inherited Adam’s original guilt from the beginning. Its in our nature. Because of our nature, we make behavioral choices to commit acts of sin. Because Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Christ stands outside of Adam’s guilt. I affirm that though Jesus was fully human, he neither possessed Adam’s guilt nor committed sin in thought, word, or action. The virgin birth provides for a sinless Christ.

Second, the virgin birth affirms the eternal pre-existence of Christ. One of the earliest opponents to the virgin birth was called adoptionism. Simply stated, adoptionism proposed that Jesus was the natural born child of Joseph and Mary, and that upon his birth he was adopted by God to be his son. The only problem with that misguided theory is that is disallows the eternal pre-existence of Christ. I affirm that Jesus has always existed as the second member of the trinity, without beginning or end.

Third, the virgin birth allows for the incarnation. He would be called, “Immanuel, meaning, God with us.” Jesus came into the world fully God as though not man at all, and fully man as though not God at all. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is to think of a man wearing a suit. Suppose the white dress shirt illustrates the divinity of Christ. Everyone can see the white shirt. But suppose the man then puts on his suit jacket, representing the humanity of Christ. Does the suit jacket render the white shirt null and void? No. Just because the man puts on the jacket doesn’t mean the white shirt has disappeared. You can still see some of it, though in a limited form. This is what Paul expressed in his Hymn to Christ in Philippians 2:5-11. Jesus emptied and condescended. Why? He came to be with us to identify with us in order to save us.

Finally, the virgin birth is important because it speaks of our spiritual need. Our salvation must come from the Lord. There was no human means possible for us to save ourselves. An intervention was necessary. On one hand we usually get warm fuzzies thinking about the Christmas story. We imagine the nativity with the baby in the manger surrounded by the adoration of those who gathered. But we need to remember that the reason Jesus came was because we were dead in our trespasses and sins, under the wrath of God. The Christmas story is at the same time humbling yet hopeful.

So yes, it matters!

Categories : Jesus, Matthew
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The Virgin Birth of Jesus

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I am blessed to be the father of three children. One of the things that made fatherhood special for me was being present for the birth of each one. Each birth was fascinating—even miraculous! I was there, and have a basic understanding of biology. But my awareness of science in no way diminishes the sense I felt of having witness a miracle.

The birth of Jesus is fascinating—certainly miraculous. Matthew and Luke agree. Without hesitation they affirm that Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit and without a human father.

Just after the resurrection, the virgin birth is the most highly contested event in the life of Christ. Since the second century, the importance of the virgin birth has been embedded in the creeds and confessions of the believing community of faith.

We first apprehend Jesus humanity from below. We see him as a teacher and miracle worker who died and rose again. But the New Testament introduces Jesus to the world from above, pointing out his uniqueness as the Son of God. His miraculous birth and miraculous resurrection serve as bookends that mark off Jesus as one of a kind.

So how did this virgin birth occur? The New Testament is silent about the biology and the physiology of the event. Luke simply states that the Holy Spirit overshadowed a virgin girl named Mary. The word overshadowed, however, gives us a glimpse into what took place. It’s cloud language. Take Exodus 24:15, for example. Moses went up Mt. Sinai to receive the law, and was overshadowed in a cloud. When the tabernacle and the more permanent Temple were dedicated, the glory of God descended on those structures in the form of a cloud. Luke 9:34 tells us that a cloud overshadowed Jesus and the three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. And finally, the Bible describes the Second Advent of Christ by saying, “Behold, he comes with the clouds.” Ultimately, there is no biological explanation for the virgin birth. It was a direct miracle of God without human explanation. God became man without ceasing to be God. When God introduced Jesus the world the first thing he asked for is belief.

Tomorrow I’ll share some thoughts as to why the virgin birth is important.

Categories : Jesus, Matthew
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Jesus’ Family Tree

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Last week I took some time to investigate my family tree. My great grandfather, Frank, came to America from Baden, Germany, in 1869. After some time in St. Louis, he settled in Clark County, Missouri. He was granted U.S. Citizenship in 1890, at the age of 21. What was interesting about his story was that his citizenship papers spelled our last name “Deitrich.” Family lore explains that he was afraid he would be sent back to Germany, so he changed the spelling to “Deatrick.” He was married to his wife Mary for fifty years and together had three daughters and one son, my grandfather.

My grandfather John was a veteran of World War I. Because of his military service, he married later in life. My father was the oldest of three children and grew up without a mother because she died in child delivery when he was five years old. My grandfather died when I was four years old, and I can remember bits and pieces about him. I remember that every time I saw him he gave me a silver dollar. I also remember sitting on the front pew of his funeral with my parents.

Matthew 1:2-17 is a list of the people in Jesus’ family tree. Normally when one comes to one of those genealogies he or she will face the temptation to gloss right over them to get on to the “good stuff.” But it is not just a list of names. Jesus’ genealogy is very important for three reasons.

First, it reveals that Jesus came from the proper lineage. Matthew’s goal was to provide proof that Jesus is the rightful heir to two important promises. God’s promise in 2 Samuel 7:12-13 was that he would be faithful to continue David’s royal throne forever. God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 was that he would bless him so that he may bless the world. These two promises came together and were fulfilled in Jesus. Though Matthew is clear to point out that Jesus is the son of God and Mary but not of Joseph, Jesus possessed the right to Messiahship.

Second, the genealogy shows that Jesus came at the perfect time. Matthew 1:17 states, “All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah.” This statement covers three important transitions in Israel’s history. David to Abraham spans the rise of the nation, from its formation to its height. David to the Babylonian exile is a description of the demise of the nation, and then from the exile to the Messiah expresses the return of the nation to God. Galatians 4:4 says that “in the fullness of time, God sent his Son…” Jesus came into the world at precisely the perfect time.

Finally, the genealogy reminds us of God’s unprejudiced purpose. Providing a genealogy is a very Jewish thing to do. But if you read the list of names you’ll notice some unique features. For example, the genealogy includes the mention of five women, four of whom are gentiles. Three of the women, Rahab, Tamar and Bathsheba are noted for sexual sin. And if you read the stories of each male in the list you’ll see that each of them had their personal sin issues. Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience, but from the very start of his gospel he wanted his audience to know that the gospel of Jesus is inclusive. Broken men and women, Jews and gentiles alike, are all welcome to find grace and forgiveness through the Messiah who had come.

Categories : Jesus, Matthew
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Who is Jesus?

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This is the record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham (Matthew 1:1, NLT).

Imagine you are minding your own business and a complete and total stranger asked you a question. Not something you would expect, like “What time is it?” or “Could you give me directions to a particular establishment?” It’s a personal question. Very personal, in fact. Suppose you are going through your daily routine and someone was to ask you the question, “Who is Jesus?” How would you respond? What would you say? Would you know what to say? Would you respond honestly? Or would you couch your response in politically correct language so as not to offend? Would you be confident should that happen to you?

Matthew established three things about Jesus that help understand and articulate who Jesus is.

First, he is the Messiah, or the Christ. The word Messiah means “anointed one,” and speaks of both Jesus role and purpose. At the turn of the millennium, messianic expectations were at fever pitch. People were looking for the Messiah to come, one who would eradicate the rule of Rome from their land and re-establish Israel to her former glory. Jesus was Messiah, but not that kind of Messiah. As God, Jesus stepped out of the splendor of heaven and stepped into our broken world to provide salvation for us. He taught us how to live, then modeled a life of discipleship, and then died our deaths so we could live his life.

Second, he is a descendent of David David was regarded as Israel’s greatest king. The covenant God made with David was that he would maintain a line of successors going forward. And he did. Jesus is tied to David which is important. His royal lineage speaks of his reign. The demands of his rule are rightful. He is able to make the claims he made. C.S. Lewis famously said that Jesus is either liar, lunatic, or Lord. Our confession as Christians for 2,000 years has been, “Jesus is Lord.”

Finally, he is a descendent of Abraham. Abraham was the non Jewish founder of the Israelite race. The covenant that God made with Abraham was that he would be blessed in order to bless the world. (cf. Genesis 17:4; 18:18; 21:18) Israel was blessed to be a blessing. Not just to one another, but to the entire world.

These references to Messiah, David, and Abraham help us understand that Jesus came from God to rule over us so we might bless the world. So why is this important?

1. We have to be clear in our understanding of who Jesus was and is. If we’re not clear on Jesus, nothing else really matters.

2. We have to be able to articulate our understanding of Jesus. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.”

3. We have to be prepared to live in light of our understanding of Jesus. In other words, its not enough to know it or even be able to talk about it. We have to live it practically in our every day experience of life. If I know it and articulate it but don’t live it, can we really say we believe it?

Jesus came from God to rule over us so that we might be blessed and bless the world. That’s who Jesus is.

Categories : Jesus, Matthew
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Meet Matthew

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Last year my daughter stood in line for 90 minutes to purchase an autographed copy of Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan for me for Father’s Day. There’s something about meeting the author in person to gain a little insight to the content between the covers. So what can we learn about Matthew, the author?

First, he was a tax collector who left all to follow Jesus. (Matthew 9:9) Matthew’s tax booth was probably located along one of the busy trade routes near Capernaum. It was there that Christ met him and called him to leave his business behind in order to follow him. Tax collectors were viewed as Roman sympathizers and traitors to the nation. The Romans would enlist Israelites to serve as tax collectors. Tax collectors, with the backing of the Roman army, would collect what Rome demanded, and then any amount over that they would keep as their fees. Many tax collectors were unscrupulous, demanding far in excess what was required in order to line their own pockets. Religious leaders reckoned tax collectors as among the worst sinners of the day.

Second, he got a new name (Mark 2:14). Mark and Luke both refer to him as Levi, son of Alphaeus. Somewhere along the line, as time progressed, his name was changed from Levi to Matthew, which means, “gift of Yahweh.”

Third, he threw a party for Jesus and his disciples. (Matthew 9:10-13) After his encounter with Christ, Matthew threw a party in order to introduce his friends and co-workers to Jesus. We immediately see his concern for his friends and co-workers. Because of his vocational choice, these may have been the only relationships he had in life.

Next, he became formalized as a member of Jesus’ apostolic band. (Matthew 10:1-4) Simon the Zealot was also a disciple, creating an interesting group dynamic. Zealots were violent resistance fighters who opposed Roman occupation. The word literally means, “blood letter.” Matthew, on the other hand, as a tax collector would have been viewed as a Roman sympathizer. That would have certainly made for an interesting dinner conversation! I can’t help but notice that even in the selection of his disciples, Jesus modeled reconciliation, both to God and to one another.

Finally, he took a pen on his journey with Jesus. Matthew was certainly a humble man. He didn’t self reference, like those who drop their own names or speak of themselves in third person. There is not one quotation attributed to Matthew in the New Testament. Following the ascension and upper room, Matthew goes off the grid. Legend has it that Matthew spent several years in Jerusalem, then moved south to Ethiopia (perhaps with Andrew) where he was martyred.

Learning a bit about Matthew is helpful to our understanding of how his gospel functions. But the Gospel of Matthew is not about Matthew. It’s about Jesus and the salvation he offers. Matthew’s gospel is not about the message of forgiveness that we believe so we can get our sins forgiven and go to heaven when we die. His invitation is to “leave the booth” and follow Christ.

Categories : Matthew
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The Gospel According to Matthew

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What do the following phrases have in common?
Don’t cast your pearls before swine.
He’s the salt of the earth.
She’s been burning the midnight oil.
He waited until the 11th hour.
Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.
It’s the blind leading the blind.
The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.
Each of these well know phrases find their origins from the words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.

For nearly three centuries after the resurrection, the gospel of Matthew was the most highly revered and most frequently quoted work. Its acceptance into the canon of Scripture was immediate and unanimous. Michael Green calls Matthew “the most important single document in the New Testament, providing a systematic account of the birth, life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.” It is widely held that Matthew was written to equip its original Christian Jewish readers with the teachings of Jesus so they could spread the message of God’s reign to the nations. With that being said, Matthew’s gospel has made a tremendous impact on the Church, both ancient and present.

Last weekend I introduced a new sermon series on the Gospel of Matthew. I introduced the book by introducing the author. The Gospel According to Matthew is technically an anonymous work. In fact, all four gospels are technically considered anonymous. The primary reason is that none of the books contain any internal markers that would erase plausible doubt. For example, Paul signed his letters in the opening sentence of each. The authors who penned the gospels did not self identify themselves as such. But early church fathers such as Iraneus, Origin, Eusebius, and Papias all strongly attributed the book to the disciple of Jesus and date it to between AD 50 and AD 60. So for the purpose of this series, I’m going with the testimony of secular history and will present this series of sermons and subsequent posts with the assumption that Matthew, the apostle called by Jesus, is the author. Tomorrow I’ll post more about this introduction by offering a few observations on Matthew himself.

Categories : Matthew
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Binding and Loosing

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Last weekend I preached a passage that I have preached as frequently as any I have preached in my ministry, Matthew 16:13-19. It is very familiar, and my guess is that anyone who has attended church for any length of time at all has heard a sermon from this text.

The great thing about the passage is that it is unusually rich in language and word play, giving the preacher multiple exegetical options and angles. One that I discovered in my study last week, thanks to Ben Witherington III, is the Semitism found in verse 19. The verse reads as follows,

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19, HCSB).

Typically, this is taken as Jesus’ authorization to declare his word of forgiveness to those who repent and enter into the Kingdom of God. In other words, when someone responds to the grace of Christ, we can authoritatively declare them as members of God’s kingdom, and if someone rejects the grace of Christ, we can declare them as outside of the Kingdom. That alone is pretty heady stuff. That’s the common take.

Witherington broadens this a bit, citing for his case the Semitism of “binding and loosing.” This would have been in reference to the Rabbinical teachers of the first century, who were viewed as having authority to bind law and loose law upon adherents to Judaism. If one broadens the length of the view, “binding and loosing” can extend beyond merely the ability to pronounce grace and forgiveness.

What I did with this, ultimately, was to juxtapose the Semitism over and against Jesus’ declaration that he “will build his Church,” and that it would prevail against ultimate evil, specifically death, the grave, and hell. One can take Jesus’ words and be confidently optimistic about the future impact of the church.

The limitation is in our willingness to bind and loose, or in more contemporary language, forbid and permit. Jesus set forth his plan and promise, unveiling the redemptive mission of the church. However, it would seem that heaven itself will not override our own disobedience to the mission, and the obstacles we place in the path of the mission, not least of which is our fallen insistence that the people who come into church must become like those in the church.

So I concluded by asking rhetorically, “What are you binding? What are you loosing? What are you forbidding? What are you permitting?” Anyone with access to Google can quickly discern that the state of the church in America is not trending positively. Mainline denominations and conservative evangelical denominations alike are routinely reporting declining numbers. If you take out the anomaly of the big box mega-churches, those numbers are even more grave.

How can that be, given Jesus’ optimistic outlook? Is the problem heaven? Shall we continue to blame the culture and the communities we serve? Or do we need to look in the mirror, and ask ourselves what we are “binding and loosing?”

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Hidden Treasure

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We are unapologetically fascinated by treasure. We attend movies such as The DaVinci Code, Angels and Demons, the National Treasure Movies, Indiana Jones Series and Pirates of the Caribbean that captivate our imaginations and foster a spirit of discovering treasure of incredible worth.

From the archeologist to the modern day treasure hunter to the Saturday morning garage sale addict, we bump into treasure seekers all the time. Who among us has never ripped open a new box of cereal and plumbed the depths of the box looking for the prize at the bottom?

All of life is seeking after value. People are fascinated by treasure. Sometimes it comes fortuitously. Some stumble upon it by accident. Sometimes it comes after a long and patient search. However one comes upon it, it is worthwhile. It is treasure.

In Matthew 13:44-46 Jesus told two parables about seeking and finding treasure. In these twin parables, Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is valuable beyond estimation. Its value transcends all things and its acquisition merits the loss of all things.

What happens when one happens upon the treasure of the Kingdom of God?
Like a play, theses parables are laid out in three simple movements.

1. When the treasure of the Kingdom is discovered, the future is immediately and irrevocably changed. The kingdom opens my life to the possibility of new worlds, primarily that I will never be the same again. This is the essence of hope. True hope is not our ability to survive or sustain or even to prosper. True hope lies in the possibility of transformation. Hope does not lie in wishfully thinking that my circumstances can change. Hope lies in the fact that I can change.

2. This discovery causes me to change my present direction. In order to obtain the treasure, I must reverse my present direction and exchange all that I possess. This reversal is the key to the acquisition. No transformation in life is possible without a radical reversal.

3. This reversal allows for new possibilities for action that were not thought possible before. Having been freed from all other restrictions, I am enabled to reach their potential to live as God has intended.

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Taking Over

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The twin parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven, found in Matthew 13:31-33, describe the nature of the Kingdom of God. What is the nature of the Kingdom?

1. The Nature of the Kingdom is Unassuming
The initial appearances of the kingdom seem small and insignificant, but result in something large and significant. The seed is the smallest. The small leaven can be hidden. But tiny seeds eventually become big trees and lumps of leaven can affect entire bushels of flour.
The kingdom has come without fanfare. It is unassuming and unimpressive in its initial appearance. This is a principle true throughout the Bible, where
• Babies in baskets deliver nations from slavery;
• Shepherd boys become kings;
• Farmers become prophets;
• Fishermen become apostles; and
• Carpenters become Savior of the world.
Jesus is teaching us not to be hypnotized by size or appearances. He challenges our assumptions about size. Size can never be the measure of assessing the things of God or the work of God’s kingdom.
The seed, though tiny, is still the kingdom of God, and the yeast, though small, is still the kingdom of God.

2. The Nature of the Kingdom is Organic
The kingdom is organic, like seed and soil. The seed goes into the soil and it grows and we don’t know how, yet it does. It’s the nature of the seed to grow and become. As the seed is to the soil, the good news of the Kingdom is to your life. The kingdom produces ultimate consequences out of proportion to its insignificant beginnings. This calls for patience, for neither the seed nor the leaven yield instantaneous results. It takes time for the seed to grow and the yeast to rise.

3. The Nature of the Kingdom is Consuming
These parables are not really about how small things become big. They are about how the seed becomes a tree that overtakes the garden, and how the yeast eventually permeates the entire bushel of flour. The Kingdom consumes our lives. It pushes aside and eventually takes over.
The personal struggle we face is that our nature wants to resist the take-over. (cf. Romans 7) As our flesh resists the take-over of the kingdom, we naturally want to make it a sin problem.
But the problem is not your sin (or your personality, attitude, circumstances, or environment for that matter). The problem is control. So if the problem is not our sin, the solution is not self-restraint. The solution is surrender. You become what you give yourself to, or who you give yourself to.
The kingdom, given time and space, will suffocate the junk in your life to the point that your will become increasingly and reflexively partners with God and his work. It will take over.

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The Wheat and the Weeds

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Anyone who has observed lawns and landscaping is well aware of the ongoing turf battle with weeds. When we moved to Arkansas, we bought a house that had been unoccupied for two years. In a cost cutting move, the builder chose to lay sod around the structure of the house and to seed the rest of the lawn. During those two years, the house had nice, plush grass around its immediate circumference. The rest of the yard was another story. After several estimates we selected a company that came to our home and drenched the soil with weed killer. After the weeds were dead, we had very little grass to compliment our big dirt lawn. Two years later, we were finally in business.

Jesus’ second parable of Matthew 13 regards the wheat and the weeds, found in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. As the story goes, a farmer planted wheat in his field. Under the cover of darkness, an enemy came to the same field and planted darnel (like ryegrass) among the wheat. During the initial phases of growth, the wheat and the darnel looked the same. But as the grain heads began to set on the wheat, the farmer could quickly discern that everything was not as it seemed.

It was popular for some time to read this parable and interpret it as being directed toward people in the church who were not genuine Christians. But Jesus is not addressing this parable to the church. He plainly says, “The field is the world.” The point of the parable is that the Kingdom of God is being sown in tension. God permits the dynamic tension of the Kingdom coming in the midst of an evil world.
The presence of evil in no way discounts the arrival of the kingdom or diminishes the work of the kingdom. We should never be surprised at evil and its opposition to the advance of the Kingdom. (Matthew 11:12) The kingdom has come and is at work with limitless grace, but it is not purging the world of evil. The Jews believed that when the Kingdom would arrive under Messiah’s reign, evil would be eliminated. Not so. The good seed of the Kingdom is being sown and is to be fruitful in the midst of evil, not in the absence of evil.

As good seed in the Kingdom, we cannot be tolerant of evil. But the elimination of evil is not our task. We are not Christian superheroes with masks and capes efforting to stamp out evil. Many who make their task fighting evil end up becoming evil in the process.

On May 31st, 51 year old Scott Roeder walked into a church and murdered renowned abortion doctor George Tiller. When police caught up with Roeder 170 miles later, he surrendered without incident. When Roeder was brought before the judge to enter his plea, he pled “not guilty,” citing that his homicide was justifiable in face of the evil performed by Tiller in his Kansas clinic. As members of the Kingdom we are not fighting evil. God has not delegated that job to us. We are, however, to overcome evil by outshining evil. Evil is overcome by good (Romans 12:9-21). Our job is to be fruitful and to reflect the glory of God in and through our lives (Daniel 12:3).

Judgment will someday come where good and evil will be clearly separated. The consummation of the kingdom brings a sifting. The one who sows the seed is also the one who directs the harvest. But this final judgment will not come until the end of the age when evil will be destroyed once for all.

The plants are identifiable and distinguishable through their fruit. The farmer knows which is wheat and which is weeds. Members of God’s Kingdom are authenticated by their fruit. The evidence is our fruit, not our words. Fruit is what authenticates your life (Matthew 7:16-23).

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