January 2, 2016
Scripture and Commentary, January 3-9
The commentary this year will focus on the New Testament readings. We begin, appropriately, with the Gospel of Matthew. May God bless you with a year of growing knowledge and faith through Hi most holy Bible.
Genesis 3, Matthew 2
Genesis 4, Romans 2
The origin of the wise men is unknown. Many have concluded they are Babylonians, whose forefathers learned about the expected Messiah while the Jews were in captivity there in 586-536 B.C. It is certainly true that the Babylonian wise men had ample opportunity to learn about God during the life and ministry of the prophet Daniel, and the wise men who visit the infant Christ probably are Babylonians. But the wise men are not the real point of tonight’s reading. The real point is the question asked by the wise men, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? (Mt. 2:2). This question is an affirmation of the primary point of Matthew’s Gospel; Jesus Christ is King of the Jews. In other words, this Jesus, born in Bethlehem, resident of Nazareth, and killed on the cross, is the Messiah. He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures, and He is the Saviour of all who believe in Him in Biblical faith. The wise men’s question is used by Matthew to make a theological statement. It is what Matthew wants to say to the Jews. But, instead of saying it himself, Matthew lets the wise men say it for him. Jesus is King of the Jews.
But Jesus is no mere human being, and the wise men did not come to Bethlehem to do homage to a Jewish empire builder. They came to worship God. The Greek word for worship means to prostrate oneself and kiss the feet of a person, the hem of his garment, or even the ground he stands on. The Babylonians worshiped their gods in this way. The Persians, who took over the Babylonian Empire, worshiped their gods in this way. The Greeks, who took over the Persian Empire, worshiped their gods in this way. The wise men are from somewhere in the area once ruled by the Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks, so their worshiping Christ in this way is a clear statement of Christ’s deity. These wise men recognize and worship Christ as God.
This point is reiterated in the words of the prophet Micah. Asked where the Christ should be born, the scribes quote Micah 5:2 which states that the Governor, or, Ruler, of Israel will be born in Bethlehem. But this ruler is unlike all others. His “goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” This Ruler is from the everlasting realm. He Himself is everlasting. He is God.
The scribes’ answer also recalls the words of Isaiah, which explains the nature and work of this Governor. Isaiah says He is also called “Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” These are attributes of God, indicating again the Divine nature of the Ruler born in Bethlehem. “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and justice from henceforth even forever” (Is. 9:7).
All of this is written to prove Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Therefore, Jesus is the Messiah. The worship and words of the wise men prove this. The Scriptures testify to its truth. Therefore, let us believe in Him.
Remember that a major point of Matthew’s Gospel is to show that Jesus is the Christ by showing Him as the fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture. The first chapter, and the first half of chapter two, give two very obvious examples of how Christ accomplishes this. Matthew 2:23-33 gives references that are not so obvious. 2:18 quotes Jeremiah 31:15. Why is Ramah weeping for her children? Because they are “not.” They no longer exist as a family. They have been murdered and scattered and taken captive. The verse refers to the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. How can this apply to Christ? It applies because Judea is weeping for her children again. An enemy has killed them, and terrible mourning has engulfed the people again, just as in the days of Jeremiah. It is as though Jeremiah 31 is happening all over again.
Bishop J. C. Ryle wrote that the flight to Egypt and the opposition of Herod show two things. First, they show the general opposition of worldly rulers to the cause of Christ. Christ’s Divinity gives Him authority over kings and governments of men. Thus, He is a threat to them. His Law forbids theft and abuse of all kinds. His Law establishes the natural, or, God-given, rights of all people. The right to life, own property, enjoy the fruits of one’s labour, even the right to worship God, or not, are given to all people in God’s law. Such rights often interfere with the desires and agendas of rulers and governments, so they oppose the Law of God, and God Himself.
Second, they show Jesus as a “man of sorrows” from the very beginning of His earthly life and ministry. The persecution of Herod and the flight to Egypt are examples of what will be a continuous part of Christ’s earthly life. “The waves of humiliation began to beat over Him, even when He was a suckling child.” They continued to beat upon Him until they had killed Him. But, says Bishop Ryle in Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew;
“The Lord Jesus is just the Saviour that the suffering and sorrowful need. He knows well what we mean, when we tell him in prayer of our troubles. He can sympathise with us, when we cry to Him under cruel persecution. Let us keep nothing back from Him. Let us make Him our bosom friend. Let us pour out our hearts before Him. He has had great experience of affliction.”
Gen. 5, Mt. 3
Gen 6, Rom. 3
Matthew 3 provides yet another example of how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament. Even His forerunner, John the Baptist, fulfills prophecy, for he is the one “spoken of by the prophet Esias” (Isaiah) in Isaiah 40:3. We need to remember John’s baptism is not Christian baptism. He baptizes as a symbol of repentance in preparation for the advent of the Messiah. Christian baptism is done as a symbol of faith in Jesus as the Messiah who has come and who has completed His work. This is why the people in Acts 19:1-5, who have been baptized by John, have to believe in Christ and be baptized in His name. Christ’s own baptism is a sign that the Messiah has come. The way has been prepared, the time has been fulfilled. Christ is here being baptized by John. The era of fulfillment of the Old Testament promises has begun. Even the Father announces this. “This is my beloved Son” (vs 17) means this is the One. This is the Messiah. You are baptized in preparation for His advent. Here He is, follow Him.
Gen. 7, Mt. 4
Gen. 8, Rom. 4
Most of us have probably read or heard how the temptations of Christ urge Him to reject the mission of the Messiah and take up easier methods of pleasing the people and uniting Israel. In short, they all tempt Him to reject the cross and become a popular folk hero. The temptation to turn the stones to bread is really about trusting His own power rather than trusting God. It tempts Jesus to break the rules and make supernatural exemptions for Himself rather than depend on the Father for His daily bread as ordinary humans have to do.
The temptation to cast Himself down from the Temple pinnacle is a temptation to force God to protect Him and openly show Him as the Messiah. In the last temptation, the devil says He will give the kingdoms of the world to Christ if He will worship Satan. As ruler of the world, Jesus could end wars, promote justice and prosperity, and accomplish great good on earth; all without having to go to the cross. But Jesus recognizes the devil’s tricks, and banishes him from His presence.
Many of us may not realize that Jesus had to participate fully in the human condition to be our Saviour. He had to empty Himself of His special knowledge and privileges, and He had to live like we live. He had to be subject to parents who made mistakes, and whose mistakes caused Him sorrow. He had to be potty trained, learn to talk, and face the frustrations and temptations of life, just like the rest of us. Otherwise the crucifixion would have been a farce, like Otis locking himself in the Mayberry jail with the keys in easy reach. Christ had to learn to live by faith. He had to learn to trust God in every situation, just like we do. The temptations urged Jesus to use His power to exempt Himself from real humanity, from the sufferings and problems and fears real people face every day. When Jesus refused to yield to the temptations, He chose to experience life as we experience it. Having lived as we live, by faith, He remained our perfect guide in our troubles. He faced the same ones, in faith, and overcame them. Having lived as we live, by faith, and having overcome temptation, He was uniquely qualified to be the sacrifice for our sins.
Thus, the temptations were absolutely necessary to the ministry of Christ the Messiah. To exempt Himself from them would have been to rely on His own Divine power, rather than to live by faith like a man. Had He used His divine power to exempt Himself from the human condition, He would have been unfit to be the Saviour.
John has committed no crime. He simply preaches a message of hope in God. He simply wants people to enjoy the privileges and blessings of the new era of the Kingdom of God. Many follow John, outwardly. Most are unmoved inwardly. Ultimately, his message is soundly rejected by the people, and he, like his Master, is arrested and murdered by the corrupt leaders of church and state. Yet his passing works to the glory of God, for as John himself has said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30).
Our Lord now returns to Galilee, where most of His ministry and teaching take place. Note again how Matthew relates this to fulfilled prophecy. Quoting Isaiah 9:1-2, he shows that the Light seen in Galilee is Christ, the Light of men (Jn.1:4). The journey takes Christ from Bethany, near Jerusalem, to Nazareth, about seventy miles north if He travels through Samaria. From Nazareth He walks to Capernaum on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, about twenty miles. It is in Capernaum that He begins His public ministry.
His message is strikingly similar to John’s. “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 4:17). Jesus is telling people the time of fulfillment is here. The Old Testament prophecies and promises regarding the Messiah and His Kingdom are being fulfilled right before their eyes. The era of Promise is over. The Era of the Kingdom has begun. The Light is come.
January 6, Epiphany
Epiphany is the traditional Twelfth Day of Christmas, and celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. Christ did not become flesh just for the Jews. He came to die for the sins of the whole world. This does not mean every single person will be saved. It means that the scope of the Messiah’s work is global, not limited to the Jewish people. Christ’s offer of grace transcends national, ethnic, and geographic barriers. His grace is for all who believe.
Gen. 9, Mt 5:1-21
Gen. 11, Rom. 5
Matthew 5 begins the beloved passage known as the Sermon on the Mount. Verses 3-12 are known as the Beatitudes, from a Latin word meaning “happy.” It is difficult for some to understand how a person should consider himself happy while enduring the conditions named in these verses. How can one be happy and mourn? How can one be happy when persecuted and reviled? At first it seems impossible. But if we notice that the conditions expressed in the Beatitudes are conditions endured for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom, we begin to understand why enduring such them are in fact, great blessings.
To become poor in spirit is to give up all pretenses of self-sufficiency before God. It is to recognize personal sin and the need of grace in all areas of life. It is to become contrite and humble before God, trusting His grace to restore us to a right relationship with Him. Such people are considered by the world to be weak and sad, yet Christ says, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
It is the same with every affliction named in these verses. Those who mourn, whether over the loss of things sacrificed in the service of Christ, the normal sorrows of life, the wickedness of the world and the sorrows reaped by that wickedness, or the weakness and sin in their own lives, are the ones who shall be comforted. Those who revel in ungodliness, who gladly embrace spiritual darkness, and rejoice in sin; those who are “happy” in the current condition of the world, will mourn with a perpetual sorrow.
The meek are those who humbly give preference to the will and commandments of God rather than pushing and fighting for their own status and rights. They live lives of humble obedience, rather than boastful self-assertion. The world says such people will never get ahead, but Christ says they shall inherit the earth.
Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled. Those who hunger for wealth and fame are never satisfied. The trinkets they value today loose their luster tomorrow. What seems incredible wealth today seems inadequate poverty tomorrow.
The merciful shall receive mercy. The world considers mercy weakness. The strong show no mercy, thus, they teach people not to cross them. But the merciful forgive their trespassers as God has forgiven them. They are the ones who receive mercy from God.
The pure in heart are those who first bear no malice. Their hearts are free of evil desires, greed, pride, and aggression. Second, their hearts are pure because God has forgiven their sins and counted them just and pure in His sight, through faith in Christ. These are the ones who shall “see God.”
Peacemakers shall be called the children of God. There is only one real way to make peace; that is by making peace with God through the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Real peacemakers, then, are those who help others find this peace with God. They may also help people live in peace with one another, but even that peace is built upon peace with God through Christ. The reconciliation purchased by Christ reconciles us to God and one another.
Finally, “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you… for my sake.” How can this be happiness? First, you are sharing the fate of faithful people from the earliest times. Prophets were killed and rejected by their own people. Even Christ was killed. It is enough for the servant to be like his Master. More importantly, the persecuted share the reward of others who were persecuted. “Great is your reward.” In Revelation 6:7 the martyrs of the persecution of the early Church are given white robes and rest. Their trials are over. To share their trials is to share their reward, and such is happiness indeed.
Many today vex God’s people with artificial divisions between law and grace. The Old Testament people, they say, were under law, and were regarded as just by God through their keeping of the law. Law, in this sense does not refer to the moral law, such as found in the Ten Commandments. It refers to the ceremonial law of fasts and sacrifices. New Testament people, the argument goes, are under grace. Therefore, we are regarded as just because Christ died for our sins. The Old Testament people trusted the law; we trust Christ. They were under law; we are under grace.
This view is openly unbiblical. No person has ever been regarded as righteous by God on the basis of performing religious rituals. No person has ever been justified by his own works. All are justified in one way only, by grace through faith. God regards New Testament saints as righteous because Christ died for our sins. That is grace. God regarded Old Testament saints as righteous because Christ would die for their sins. That is grace. The only difference is that the Old Testament looked forward to the sacrifice of Christ, while we in the New Testament era look back to the sacrifice of Christ. All of the Old Testament sacrifices and rituals pointed forward to the cross. That is why, on the Emmaus road, our Lord began at Moses and all the prophets and expounded unto His disciples in all the scriptures “the things concerning himself” (Lk. 24:27). He was not simply telling how the Old Testament foretold His death and resurrection. He was telling them how the Old Testament foreshadowed His life and ministry. He told them He is the real sacrificial Lamb, that takes away their sins. He is the real High Priest, who offers the sacrifice and intercedes for His people. The cross is the altar on which the sacrifice was made. All of these things point to Christ. He is their fulfillment. They are shadows, He is the substance. The Old Testament people did not understand this completely, but they knew that the Temple and the sacrifices pointed to something God was doing that would be the real atonement for their sins. Thus, like Abraham before the law was given, the Old Testament saints were saved, just like the New Testament saints, by grace through faith in what God has done to atone for their sins.
Thus, Jesus says in verse 17, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets.” He did not come to destroy them by introducing a new way of being “saved.” He came to fulfill the law and prophets. He came to complete what God had begun in the law and prophets. He came to accomplish the atonement they foretold and symbolized.
Gen. 12, Matthew 5:22-48
Gen. 13, Romans 6
It is critically important to understand that our Lord’s words, “But I say unto you,” do not negate or change the moral law. Instead, they actually affirm the truth of the law as the standard of righteousness and the word and will of God. At the same time, they show that a mere outward conformity to the law is the same as disregarding and breaking the commandments of God altogether. As Bishop J. C. Ryle wrote in his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, the Lord is explaining what He meant when He said, “I came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill.” “He teaches us that His Gospel magnifies the law and exalts its authority. He shows us that the law… was a far more spiritual and heart-searching rule than most of the Jews supposed. And he proves this by selecting three commandments out of the ten as examples of what he means.”
The seventh commandment is addressed in verses 27-32. According to Christ it requires much more than simply not committing the act of adultery. It requires a lifestyle of chastity in thought and deed, including the way we dress, talk, and conduct ourselves. It requires thinking of, and treating people with respect rather than as toys and playgrounds for sexual pleasure. Thus, any unchaste thought or look is a breach of the intent of the commandment and the will of God.
The ninth commandment is addressed in verses 33-37. It, in part, reserves oaths and vows for the most important of events. Especially it requires great caution in calling God as the witness of vows. Quoting Bishop Ryle again:
“Many fancied that they kept this part of God’s law, so long as they did not swear falsely, and performed their oaths. [But] the Lord forbids all vain and light swearing altogether. All swearing by created things…, all calling upon God to witness, excepting on the most solemn occasions is great sin.”
This commandment also requires the strictest honesty and integrity in all our dealings. It is not enough to keep our promises. We must be true and honest people at all times. Let our yeas mean yea, and our nays mean nay.
Our Lord, still in the Sermon on the Mount, continues to teach about the full meaning of the Law of God. His point is that an outward conformity is not enough. God requires a clean heart and a right spirit (Ps. 51:10), not mere mechanical avoidance of wicked deeds. In other words, God requires holiness, and Jesus is showing that the point of the Commandments of God is holiness.
He turns to the words of Exodus 21:24, which requires punishment for a man who injures a pregnant woman. The words occur again in Deuteronomy 19:21, where they address those who intentionally cause financial or physical injury, or attempt to use the power of the government and courts to cause financial or physical injury to innocent people. The meaning in these verses is that the same injury a person causes or intends to cause, is to be inflicted upon him by the court. “[L]ife shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” That is the court’s job. That is the government’s job. It is God’s servant, ordained by Him to protect the rights and property of innocent people by punishing those who would injure them. But the individual person is not bound to do as the government and courts. The individual person is free to have mercy, to pardon, even to love his enemies. The intent of God’s law, as it applies to interpersonal relationships, requires mercy, pardon, and love, even for enemies.
No person, then, has met the requirements of the law simply by not causing harm to another. The full “spirit of the law” requires him to cultivate generous, forgiving, and loving actions and attitudes, even toward those who do him evil. Christ illustrates this with real life examples. Turn the other cheek, “let him have thy cloke also.” Go the second mile. “Love your enemies.” This is the real meaning of the law.
It is obvious, then, that no mere human has ever fully kept the law. Our best efforts have come far short of its real demands and meaning. Therefore, no mere human being can ever claim to deserve a place in Heaven, or fellowship with God on the basis of his works. Rather than being commended to God’s favour by obeying the law, all are condemned by our lack of obedience. The standard, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” is for us an impossible standard.
Gen. 14, Mt. 6:1-16
Gen. 15, Rom.7
If Bishop Ryle is correct in his statement that the words of Christ, in Matthew 5, show that the law of God “was a far more spiritual and heart-searching rule than most of the Jews supposed,” then we may be sure our Lord intends to show the same about prayer in the verses in Matthew 6.
The chapter begins with our Lord’s words about alms, and may properly be applied to all Christian giving in support of the Church and its mission. The point of alms is not to gain admiration for generosity. The point of alms is first, to please God, and second to support the good work of the Church. This may be evangelism, disaster relief, care for the truly poor, and supporting the clergy of the Church. Rather than making a show of giving, let it be done quietly. God knows what you give, and He will reward you openly.
Many good words have been written about the Lord’s Prayer. Augustine’s Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, and John Chrysostom’s “Homily XIX in his commentary on Mathew should be consulted regularly. Athanasius’ remarks on Matthew 6:9 in his Defense of the Nicene Definition will be very helpful. J. C. Ryle’s remarks in his commentary on Matthew are highly recommended. These works are fully mindful of something that is often left out of contemporary ideas about the Lord’s Prayer: the Lord’s Prayer is a liturgical prayer. It was given to be memorized and prayed aloud and in unison in public worship. This fact is evident in Luke11:1-4, where our Lord, responds to a request from the disciples, “Lord teach us to pray.” The rabbis of Christ’s time taught their students and congregations to memorise prayers to be said in public worship. The Jewish people even have a written collection of these prayers, and their order for use in public worship. John the Baptizer taught his disciples to pray, probably a prayer looking for the immediate advent of the Messiah. Since the Messiah, the greatest of all prophets and teachers, stands before them, Christ’s disciples want a prayer given by Him. This prayer has been carefully preserved, and is still prayed daily in many nations and languages around the world.
Perhaps we also need to be reminded that, as the rabbis expected the prayers to be memorized and prayed, word-for-word, the Lord expected His Church to do the same with this prayer. Those who dismiss the Lord’s Prayer as simply a pattern for prayer, or an example after which we are to model our own prayers, miss the point. Jesus did not say, “make up your own prayers, but follow this outline.” He did not say, “Use this prayer as a pattern for your own.” He said, “After this manner therefore pray ye.” He is saying, “pray in these words.” As He said in Luke 11:2, “When ye pray, say….”
This does not negate extemporaneous prayer in public or private worship. Such prayer can be good, if it is Biblical in content and intent. It does mean we should pray this prayer in public and in private worship, for our Lord clearly intends for His Church to pray this prayer together through the generations, until His kingdom comes in fulness, and His will is done, on earth as it is in heaven.