God’s Full Revelation

“For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:46-47, ESV).

The Old and New Testaments of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures form the complete revelation of God’s direct communication to the men He created. This truth is under-emphasized in our day. Some strains of theology today suggest — if they don’t teach outright — that the New Testament has replaced the Old Testament, even that a Christian doesn’t need to read the Old Testament. Such teaching is wrong.

The New Testament is truly the final recorded Word from God, and it contains the essential teaching about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, but it doesn’t make the Old Testament obsolete. Jesus Himself observed in the passage quoted above that “[Moses] wrote of Me.” Therefore to appreciate the singular intent of God in this world, it is important to understand the Old Testament as well as the New.

Someone who is a true basketball fan doesn’t merely tune into a game for the last 2 minutes of the game; he arranges his schedule to watch the whole game. A lot happened in the game before the last two minutes. Similarly, a lot happened in our world to bring us to Jesus. We can’t fully understand the New Testament until we have a grasp of the Old.

For example, why did Matthew begin his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus? It was because of the promise given to King David that Messiah would come from his descendants. Without this knowledge, the first few verses of Matthew (and a portion of Luke’s Gospel as well) would be merely a long list of often-unpronounceable names that have no relevance to life today.

The Old Testament records the ways God has tried to communicate His Truth to men from the beginning. Sin had entered this world and God was/is intent on redeeming men despite it. Beginning in Genesis 3, He promised to send a person who would crush the serpent who had tempted men to sin. That person would become known in Jewish writings as “Messiah” and would be “a prophet like Moses” (Deut 18:15).

The list of hints, prophecies and pictures of Messiah are contained in almost every book of the Old Testament. Messiah Jesus didn’t just appear on the scene one day; He was the fulfillment of a long, remarkable plan of God to redeem men.

This is why our church has celebrated Passover for the past several years. This Jewish feast was intended by God (through Moses) to help His people to recognize Messiah when He came. Sadly it just became a ritual handed down from generation to generation. Happily, though, some of us have seen the fulfillment of the Old Testament in Jesus, and it has enriched us beyond measure.

Signs of the Messiah

Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD, AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, ” GOD WITH US.” And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took her as his wife, and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus (Matthew 1:22-25).

When Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy prior to the consummation of their marriage, his first thought was to “divorce” her privately. (In that society an engagement was as binding as a marriage, so the term “divorce” is appropriate.) Much has been made, properly, about Joseph’s integrity in that he did not desire to damage her reputation any more than it already had been or would be damaged through the pregnancy prior to their consummation. So the angel had to meet him in a dream to prevent this.

Matthew included this incident in his Gospel to demonstrate the fulfillment of the prophecy from Isaiah concerning the virgin birth of the Messiah. It was a well-known prophecy and needed to be documented if the Jewish people were to believe that Jesus really was Messiah.

Prognosticators in various fields — meteorology, economics, as well as religion — look for signs to determine the validity of a phenomenon. The National Weather Service has studied the weather conditions just prior to significant weather events so they can warn us when similar conditions exist. In the aftermath of a storm they will dispatch analysts to determine if a fallen tree or structure was the result of straight-line winds or the twisting of a tornado. Investment counselors observe the political and economic conditions when the stock market rises and falls to make the wisest decisions concerning our retirement funds. The religious prognosticators tend to be less accurate because the Scripture they consult was written in cultures and languages far different from our own.

Matthew is doing the same in this context. The phenomenon of Jesus’ ministry, especially His death and Resurrection begged the question, “Is/Was He the predicted Messiah?” Accuracy in assessing this was vital because the hope of the Jewish nation was at stake. If He were not the Messiah, they must continue to watch for someone else to fulfill the prophecies; if he were the Messiah, He was the King and needed to be obeyed.

Although the Messiah was predicted to come through Jewish ethnicity, He was not a Savior only to the Jews. Prophecies are abundant that describe His desire that ALL nations come to Him. Still, the evidence that Matthew drew together in his Gospel for his Jewish audience makes it clear that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah predicted by the ancient prophets of Israel. Therefore if a man rejects Him as Messiah, he must reject the Scriptures (or at least Matthew’s Gospel) as having any authority.

The God of Details

“…and to Jesse was born David the king. And to David was born Solomon…and to Jacob was born Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:6,16).

Like any other authors, the Gospel writers had a particular audience in mind when they wrote. John wanted skeptics to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing [they] may have life in His name” (John 20:31). Luke wanted his Greek audience (“Theolphilus,” see Luke 1:1-4) to know the exact truth concerning Jesus. Mark wrote to a Roman audience, so was less concerned about the things that a Jewish culture would consider important. But Matthew intended his Gospel to convince a Jewish audience that Jesus was the promised Messiah.

It was for this reason that he began with the genealogy that traced the heirs to the throne of Israel to Jesus. The promise to David was that Messiah would sit upon his throne, and God cannot lie. Somehow, despite the Babylonian Captivity, despite the intermarriage of the Jewish people with the pagan residents of Palestine when they returned from Babylon (see Ezra 9 and Nehemiah 13), and despite more than 500 years of not having an actual king on the throne of Israel, the genealogical records of the day showed that the rightful heir was a man in Nazareth named Joseph whose (adoptive) Son would be the subsequent King.

Until the lineage of Jesus could be traced to David, there could be no acknowledgement of Jesus as the Messiah. But now that this could be established, some other Messianic prophecies would have to be seen as having been fulfilled (the subject matter for a future blog).

Our society doesn’t value our heritage the way that the Jewish society did and, perhaps, still does. We allowed the obstruction of the birth records of President Obama so that his heritage could not be traced. Those legal records were of less importance to us than the political agenda that he espoused so we ignored them. But this blog is not about political matters.

We in this society are not concerned about Truth in many venues. The Supreme Court ignores the plain sense of the text of the Constitution to legislate from the Bench; video and eyewitness evidence is disparaged if it doesn’t fit the politically correct template. We conveniently ignore what we don’t agree with in moral and ethical arenas.

Matthew convincingly shows Jesus to be Messiah in his Gospel, but that doesn’t matter if there is no objective Truth. As long as we can decide for ourselves what Truth is, we will allow the general society to dictate what we will choose to believe. Let us enjoy this freedom while it lasts, because no society has ever survived with this spirit, and it will not be tolerated when we face the God who so very carefully arranged the circumstances so that we would recognize His Son when He appeared.

A Question of Eternal Significance

Although I normally begin my blog with the verse or two that prompts my thoughts, today the passage is actually a couple of chapters in the Old Testament book of Daniel. Please look them up.

Chapter 2 describes a dream that the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had one evening. Like many of us he woke up knowing that he had dreamed something but couldn’t remember what it was. Unlike most of us he recognized it as something quite significant. When his counselors couldn’t tell him the dream and its interpretation, Daniel  was called and, after prayer, God revealed the dream to him so he could interpret it for the king. In chapters 7-8 of Daniel’s prophecy, we get another picture of the same dream/vision.

What is significant about this dream is that it is prophetic, and the details are astounding. The veracity of those details are now a part of our historical record. Daniel wrote this in the sixth century, BC sometime before the fall of the Medo-Persian Empire. But Daniel not only predicted that the Greek leader, Alexander the Great, would defeat the Persians, but also that his kingdom would be divided into four parts, that one part would persecute the Jews, and that the whole would be later conquered by the Romans, during which time Messiah would come.

Rationalist philosophies down through the years have disdained predictive prophecy, but they have always been baffled by Daniel’s (and Nebuchadnezzar’s) peek into the future. It really places them between the proverbial “rock and hard place”: either deny the obvious (that Daniel had some foreknowledge which can only be attributed to a Being outside human experience) or scrap the philosophical position that they are using to deny the Truth.

Because of the constant denial of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures as authoritative, many people today have not wrestled with this conundrum. Sadly, their souls will be, in part, the responsibility of those so-called Christian scholars and leaders who have decided that they will pass judgment on the Scripture rather than submitting to the Scripture themselves.

But the larger part of the responsibility will be their own. Each of us (at least in this society) has the witness of creation and the Scripture available to us. It won’t be a valid excuse to simply say, “I was too busy standing in line for three days waiting for the latest iphone to be sold, so I didn’t have time to check to see if the Scriptures were really true.”

The conundrum of whether to believe and obey the Scriptures or find an excuse to justify their rejection is one each of us has to face – even if we didn’t spend days waiting for the latest technology. On the answer to that question rests your eternity.

In Demonstration of the Spirit’s Power

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power (1 Cor 2:4-5).

             There are times when, despite my best efforts and thorough study, my delivery of the sermon just doesn’t go well. I feel out of synch and imagine that my hearers are having as much trouble following my thoughts as I am in communicating them. Recently when that happened, I was grateful that God answered my regular prayer that He would speak despite me. The responses I received were significant.

             The preacher is to be the Lord’s mouthpiece. In the tradition of the Old Testament prophets, the preacher is to declare with authority, “Thus says the Lord…” to this generation. We cannot do this unless we have an authoritative text from which we are working. I have often wondered how those who reject the Scriptures find something to say week after week. My words and ideas are not that wise, creative or important.

             But when that sure Word is clear from my study; when I have understood the text of Scripture and am prepared to apply its truth to this generation, it is terribly frustrating to come to that place in the service and be distracted either by my physical circumstances or by something external in the environment – like the air conditioning malfunctioning or the powerpoint presentation not working or some other distraction. It is in these times when I am reminded that this is a spiritual work, and that it is the Holy Spirit who is speaking, not me. No part of the Worship Service – if it is really a WORSHIP service – should be characterized as a performance, especially the sermon. I want people to think well of me because I want them to think well of my Savior, but like Paul, I want my people’s faith to rest upon God’s power not my “wise and persuasive words.”

Weighed In the Scales

You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting (Dan 5:27).

I consider this to be one of the most tragic verses in all of the Scripture.

Belshazzar the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar was the co-regent of Babylon when this event took place. His father, Nabonidus ruled with him and was away from Babylon when Belshazzar decided to throw a party. At this party he thought it would be great fun to mock the Jews in his kingdom by using the fancy goblets that had been brought from the Temple before it had been destroyed. With these he toasted the wooden and stone gods of Babylon, elevating them to a position above the God of the Jews. After all, since the Jews were subservient to the Babylonians, their God must be as well.

What Belshazzar forgot – but the text makes clear that he knew about – was that his grandfather had been banished to the open field for a period of time – likely 7 years – until he acknowledged that the God of the Jews was the true God. Maybe it would be better to say that Belshazzar “chose not to remember” this incident, because despite his knowledge he flaunted his gods and his power in the face of his Creator.

His feeling of invincibility was understandable. The Babylonian Empire was at its zenith. The city was impregnable, with a major river running through it to keep the people supplied with fresh water even if someone tried to lay siege to it. But what Belshazzar didn’t know was that while he and his friends were partying, the Medes had dammed up the river enough to allow their soldiers to wade into the city without the Babylonian guard becoming aware of it. Daniel’s prophecy that Belshazzar would be killed that night came true.

Sadly – on a smaller, less dramatic scale – the judgment pronounced against Belshazzar is continually being leveled against men in this generation every day. Despite all the evidences of His existence, His power and His sovereignty men flaunt the gods of their own making before Him, declaring them to be greater than He is. The same declaration of judgment is theirs: “You have been weighed in the scales and found wanting.”

But it doesn’t have to be. This same God that Daniel and his people worshiped has revealed Himself in Jesus, proving countless times that He was and is God in flesh who went to the cross for us and for our salvation. Because He has clothed us in His righteousness, when we are weighed in the scales, they are tipped in our favor. We are no longer “wanting.”

But there is no “in between.” Either a man is found “righteous” or found “wanting.” I hope you have made the right choice.