Jesus’ Scandalous Family History

I was reminded this week that where we come from matters. While having lunch with a friend we were discussing our backgrounds…where we grew up, what we enjoyed doing as kids, and we found some common ground that we didn’t know we had. Where we come from matters.

Matthew starts his gospel off with a genealogy of Jesus that tells the reader where he came from. In the genealogy we learn that Jesus came from the lineage of many great names that the Jewish world would remember: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and Solomon. Matthew also includes the names of some Gentiles, some women, and some rather scandalous events that occurred. “Zerah (whose mother was Tamar)” was born as a result of her grandfather sleeping with a prostitute who just happened to be his own daughter-in-law. The child born of this sinful act wound up being an ancestor of Jesus (Gen. 38).

Rahab was a prostitute that helped save two Israelite spies as they entered the city of Jericho. The Israelites spared her and her family for her kindness, and she wound up marrying a guy named Salmon, with whom she had Boaz. Boaz eventually married a gentile woman named Ruth and the two of them had children and grandchildren, one of whom was King David. (Joshua 2, Ruth 4). King David committed adultery with a woman named Bathsheba, had her husband killed, and the two of them had a child named Solomon, also an ancestor of Jesus (2 Sam. 11).

There are other names we could mention, but Matthew does something here that is highly unusual. We think of genealogies as being fixed…we trace our ancestors generation by generation. Matthew doesn’t. He includes three people from the same generation, as well as leaves a few generations out in order to provide for us these specific names so we would know where Jesus came from. But he does something else amazing as well that we miss with our english eyes.

The number 7 in scripture indicates perfection, completeness, and God’s involvement (think about creation). Ray Vander Laan points out that when you look at Matthew’s genealogy in Greek, here’s what you find:

The number of words in Jesus’ genealogy is evenly divisible by 7. The number of words that begin with a vowel is evenly divisible by 7. The number of words that begin with a consonant is evenly divisible by 7. The number of letters used is evenly divisible by 7. The number of vowels used is evenly divisible by 7. The number of consonants used is evenly divisible by 7. The number of words that occur more than once is evenly divisible by 7. The number of words that occur only once is evenly divisible by 7. The number of nouns is evenly divisible by 7. The number of non-nouns is evenly divisible by 7. The number of proper names is evenly divisible by 7. The number of male names is evenly divisible by 7. The number of female names is evenly divisible by 7. The number of words beginning with each letter of the alphabet is evenly divisible by 7. If you add up the value of all the letters (because they used letters for numbers) it is evenly divisible by 7.

Even though some of the readers of Matthew’s gospel may have turned up their noses at the genealogy of Jesus, Matthew is telling us it was perfect, and orchestrated perfectly by God.

Where we come from is important, and God has put you in this world in just a way that you too can do something great in His Kingdom. We look at the dark spots in our backgrounds as an obstacle, but God uses those dark spots to save the world. Where we come from is important, but God’s more interested in where we’re going.

Where Do I Start? – Part 2

From time to time people tell me they want to start reading the Bible, and they almost always share the same question… “Where do I start?” Last week we looked the way the Old Testament is organized, the purpose of the writings, and the topics covered. This week we’ll focus on the New Testament.

The first four books of the New Testament make up The Gospels (“gospel” means “good news.”) These books cover the life of Jesus, but they aren’t biographies you and I are used to. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the “synoptic gospels” because they are so similar in the content the events they cover, but each writer arranges the events in a different order so the story had the greatest impact on their original audience (very common to the writing style of the time.) John uses a different approach than the others for the same reason. All four books give us the details of Jesus’ ministry on the earth.

The book of Acts is written by Luke, the same man that wrote the Gospel of Luke. It’s a continuation of the Jesus story and it includes details about Jesus’ last days on earth, then covers the beginnings and spread of the first church. We see events and history recorded about the other writers of the New Testament, as well as read many stories of how early Christians cared for one another and were so dedicated to Christ that they were willing to face death because of their faith.

The Pauline Epistles is a fancy way of saying “Paul’s Letters.” These were letters written by Paul, an apostle that we first meet in Acts, to various churches that he worked with in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, Thessalonica, two letters to a young preacher named Timothy, and a letter written to a man named Philemon.

The General Letters function much the same way as Paul’s letters, they just weren’t written by Paul. These writings include an anonymous letter called Hebrews, a letter from James, the earthly brother of Jesus, two letters from the apostle Peter, and three from the apostle John.

The final book in the New Testament is the book of Revelation where the apostle John recounts a vision that he had from God. He writes specific warnings from Jesus for seven churches in Asia, as well as a very apocalyptic description of God’s ultimate victory over evil, as well as a beautiful description of Heaven.

Hopefully these past two posts have given you some insight into the organization of the writings contained in the Bible. “So where do I start?”  Well, it depends. If you have never read the Bible before, I always recommend The Gospel of John near the beginning of the New Testament. John does a fantastic job of sharing the life of Jesus with his readers.

If you’re looking for specific answers to questions you have, you can use this summary to look on your own, do a search on BibleGateway, or you can always email me.

Next time we’ll discuss if the Bible can be trusted.

 

The Cost of Freedom

Today (Monday) marked the 154th anniversary of the final day of battle at Gettysburg. The battle lasted three days and the combined casualties were in excess of 46,000 men. So many lives were lost, or forever changed by the events that happened during that battle. All for the cost of freedom.

Over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Normandy. That number is staggering, and to think that these casualties took place during one battle in a multi-year, multi-continent war is just hard to believe.

According to one article I read, the combined total number of American casualties in all wars since its inception is around 2.9 million troops. That’s 2.9 million brave men and women who were willing to put their lives in harm’s way for the cost of our freedom. Praise God for our freedom.

While all of those lives are valuable, and have played a key role in where we are today, there is one life that stands out above the rest. One life that was given for all people, in all times, and in all nations.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. – John 3:16-17 NLT

This Independence Day, let us remember and celebrate the freedom that God has given our nation. Let us be thankful for the multitude of men and women who have been willing to sacrifice their lives for our earthly freedom. But let us never forget Jesus, the only life that can give us eternal freedom. May Christ our Savior be praised this day, and every day!

Attention Christians: Stop doing this!

“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Christians have a problem. We tend to put ourselves in the middle of every debate, every issue, every situation whether it is our business or not. I think we’re well-intentioned in doing so, but we bring a lot of unnecessary grief and heartache upon us in the process.

Meddle is defined as “interfere in or busy oneself unduly with something that is not one’s concern.”  I know many Christians who have spent seemingly unending hours, and dollars as activists for various causes. Men and women who take a certain political stand on government-funded health care, or marriage rights, or refugees entering the country, or whatever the cause of the day happens to be.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t get involved in our political process. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t vote. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned about the world around us. I’m not saying we should support issues that go against God’s teaching.

What I am saying is that far too many Christians spend all their time meddling in the affairs of the world when we should be taking care of the business that God left us to do! We are called to pray for the sick in faith (James 5:15). Does that responsibility change if we have single payer healthcare or not? God teaches us that he wants us to pray for those who are in authority (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Does this change our responsibility if our favorite choice isn’t in office? God wants everyone to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). Does gay marriage or transgender bathrooms change that desire? Jesus expects us to baptize and make disciples of “all nations” (Matt. 28:19). Does refugee status change that command?

We need to be busy with the work of God’s kingdom, not the arguments of this world. It’s fine to have an opinion, and to even voice that opinion, but please don’t do so in a way that makes the Gospel unattractive to outsiders! If more Christians would be about the work of the Kingdom, and not consumed with the work of Washington, this world would be a much better place!

via Daily Prompt: Meddle

Beyond the Comfort Zone

In Mark 5 we find Jesus leaving his native area to sail across the lake and go into the gentile region of the Gerasenes. They got out of the boat and immediately were approached by a demon possessed man who had been living in the tombs. In addition to this we’re told that there were large herds of pigs in the area.

Understanding exactly what Jesus is doing here can be missed pretty easily by our 21st century eyes, so let’s get an understanding of the background first. Jews did not want to associate with Gentiles in any way, yet Jesus is leading the twelve into Gentile country. Jews avoided people with unclean spirits, yet Jesus leads them right to a man who’s possessed by a “Legion” of demons. Jews avoided tombs because they felt it was unclean, yet here Jesus leads them right into that area with a man who lived in them. Jews thought pigs were the most unclean animals on the planet, yet Jesus leads his followers right into a heard of them. I think it’s fair to say that the disciples were well outside of their comfort zone during this encounter! And it’s very clear that Jesus wanted them there.

In healing the demon possessed man, Jesus is giving the disciples a preview that the Gospel would be for all people, and their location, ethnicity, history, past or current demons, place of residence, and present state in life truly didn’t matter. The Gospel of Jesus needs to go everywhere, especially the areas that make us feel the most uncomfortable!

Jesus was a true friend to sinners, and spent time with the people and in the places that the current religious leaders wouldn’t think of going. Yet that’s the command we’re given! “Go and make disciples of all nations,…” (Matt. 28:19)  The Greek word for “all nations” is ethnos. Literally every ethnicity, no matter where they are or what they’ve been doing.

So who do you cross paths with in your life that fits this description? Jesus says share the Gospel with them. That’s our job. What becomes of the message? That’s the Spirit’s job. And I trust Him to do powerful things with the powerful message that we weak humans share.

Never Gonna Give You Up!

This is the season of Lent. If you are unfamiliar with the season, allow me to explain. Lent is supposed to remind the observer of the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, where he was also tempted by the devil.

Observers of Lent are encouraged to go without…usually this includes fasting, as well as giving up something you enjoy. A friend of mine has decided to give up coffee.

But not all Christians participate in the observance of Lent. Some choose to give something up, others choose not to participate. But whether you do, or don’t participate there is a lesson to be learned here.

Paul addressed a situation in Rome where some people were observing certain days as holy, and special. Others treated them as just another day.  There was also questions about what foods could be eaten or not. Here’s how Paul handles it.

In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. – Romans 14:5-6

So to all of you during this season of Lent, whether you choose to observe or not observe, do it in a way that honors the Lord, and honors one another. After all, that’s what Jesus called us to do.

Did you notice Him?

How was church this morning? Was the music the way you wanted? Was the sermon interesting? Did the Bible class topic pique your interest?

Was the coffee right? Were the right donuts and pastries available? Did you find the seat you wanted? Did you even go?

So often when we talk about church we think in these terms, and these issues. We are concerned with if we enjoyed church. We are living in the age of ‘me.’ We are so focused on our individual wants and desires throughout the week that often we carry those same feelings and actions right into our worship services on Sunday.

But I want you to imagine with me for a minute. What if Jesus was there Sunday morning?Would it make any difference to you?

If Jesus was at your church this Sunday morning, sitting in worship…how would your experience have been different? Would you have been as concerned with music, sermon, other stuff…or would you have focused more on having your heart and mind focused on Him?

Matthew 18:20 – For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

If you went to church Sunday in order to worship our risen Savior, He was there! He was available to connect with you in a way that just can’t happen when you are away from the ekklesia. It’s a promise He has made to his followers, and continues to keep every time we gather in His name.

So…did you see Him? Did you experience worshipping in the very presence of our risen Savior, or were you too busy focusing on other things?

This week as you gather together with other believers for whatever reason, take the time to seek out Christ in those moments. Those moments can be special, uplifting, and refreshing if we will acknowledge His presence in our lives.