An end of year message, saying goodbye to 2020 and looking forward to 2021.
In Leviticus 18, the Lord had instructed Moses to write, “Do not have sexual relations with your brother’s wife; that would dishonor your brother.” Yet Herod the tetrarch had divorced his own wife and married Herodias, who was originally married to his brother Philip. John the Baptist saw that Herod’s actions were both immoral (divorce) and incestuous (against God’s specific command not to do that in Lev 18). Subsequently, John and had spoken out, infuriating Herodias and angering Herod. Matthew tells the rest of the story;
“Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet.
On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for them and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother.”
Writing from a political point of view, the historian Josephus would later write that Herod had executed John for sedition. “However, Josephus reports Herod’s execution of John the Baptist immediately after dealing with the aftermath of Antipas’s plans to oust his existing wife in favour of Herodias and bridges between the accounts with the idea that the massive defeat of Herod’s army at the hands of his spurned wife’s father was divine retribution for his treatment of John. The Gospel account of John’s criticism of the marriage offers a natural explanation for the close linking in Josephus: persuading too many people that Herod’s marriage was incestuous would have seemed quite seditious to Herod; and divine retribution for the treatment of John would at the same time be retribution in relation to what John had been complaining about. The imperfect [tense of the Greek word used in Matthew] suggests that John had been maintaining a steady pressure of protest.”
Every mature disciple of God’s Word is exposed to both the Word of God and the obvious public behaviour of political leaders. When the behaviour of our political leaders is inappropriate and sinful, we know it brings judgment upon the nation as well as them – so to speak against it is appropriate.
But speaking out in any fashion is also dangerous. It can and usually will result in our own suffering, as the story of John’s end testifies. Nevertheless, disciples of Christ should not be afraid to do as John did. God will yet vindicate those who faithfully stand up for truth and preach His Word. Besides, in so doing we forewarn the whole nation that God is still judge over all the earth. Amen.
God’s people [must not] engage in riotous behaviour, violence or damage to property. Biblically acceptable methods of protest include: writing, delegations, public prayer, preaching, teaching, even dramas and artistic depictions in the market place.Dr. Peter Hammond
In as much as we are subjects of a political system, we must faithfully act in that system for God’s purposes.
The political backroom dealings during Christ’s day easily rival the political backroom dealings in ours. Then as now, fallen people in political leadership make very complex webs of the deceit and ungodly alliances they weave in attempts to make their lives and jobs easier. Somehow it seems that political leadership rarely recognizes that unless they are living to honor God Most High, it never works out well for either them or the people they lead.
Herod the tetrarch knew that John was a righteous man, so he had a level of curiosity about the things John was saying. As Mark puts it, “When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.” But when John began speaking directly against what Herod had done in divorcing his wife of many years so he could take his own brother’s wife, Herod acted against John. As the great historian Josephus put it, “Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it should be too late.”
Yet while Herod imprisoned John, he still didn’t have mind to put him to death entirely on his own. That was actually Herodias’ idea. She had agreed to leave Herod’s brother and marry Herod – likely because that afforded her a better lifestyle and more power. The Gospel of Mark makes it clear, “Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man.”
As Herod and Herodias were already together, the Word of God can rightly say that it was Herod who wanted to kill John just as it says Herodias wanted to, for in God’s sight the two becoming one flesh had tied their spiritual as well as physical fortunes together. So Matthew records, “Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet.”
We all readily see that we suffer for the sins of our political leaders. But do we understand that the sins of our spouse are our sins, and the righteousness of our spouse is our righteousness? Just as we are tied to the political dealings of those over us in power, so we are tied to the spiritual life of the one we’ve bound ourselves to in marriage. We must therefore pray all the more for both our spouse and those over us in government, because we will live with the consequences of their sins as well as our own! Amen.
People are unique in the inner life of the mind—what they are in their thought-world determines how they act. This is true of their value systems and it is true of their creativity. It is true of their corporate actions, such as political decisions, and it is true of their personal lives. The results of their thought-world flow through their fingers or from their tongues into the external world. This is true of Michelangelo’s chisel, and it is true of a dictator’s sword.Francis A. Schaeffer
“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone…” – the apostle Paul, writing in 1 Ti 2:1
From the disorder of nothing, God created all things. From the disorder of light and darkness, God created the order of day and night. From the disorder of earth and water, God created the dry land and the sea. We know these things from the opening lines of Scripture. Yet there is much profit in being reminded of this truth. In fact, years after Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry, Paul would encourage the Corinthian church with this truth, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.”
Sometimes the darkness and chaos of our circumstance and/or sin can appear to overwhelm us. We wonder if God will ever be able to bring clarity to the mess that we’re in, or bring holiness out of our messed up lives. But He is well able to do that, and He is always working to that end. He is constantly winding the threads of circumstance to bring about the conclusion He predestined, even as Satan and his hordes (and all sinners in their sin) are trying to unwind those threads into disorder and confusion. We can trust that He is able, because God knows “the rest of the story,” and His Word is full of accounts that tell us so!
Having told the reader that Herod the tetrarch believed Jesus to be John the Baptist resurrected, Matthew now breaks into the Gospel narrative to give the reader some background information: “Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet. On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for them and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.”
Herod would’ve known that John was dead – he ordered that execution and personally saw the grisly result. Herod also would’ve known that he didn’t really want to kill John because he believed John to be known as a prophet. If John was now resurrected and alive, it would be a minor vindication of Herod’s internal thinking. It would also allow that Herod could propagate that idea in the public sphere. That would not only shine a confusing spotlight on John – it would also spread many seeds of confusion about Jesus (and even about Herod). But by including “the rest of the story” in the Gospel narrative, God informs us of the full truth. Any mistruths the reader might have had about who John or Jesus were (or even who Herod was) are washed away by that revelation.
This is a powerful spiritual principle; As He did in the beginning, and as He and did again in Jesus’ day, God is still in the business of separating light from darkness!
The work of the Spirit can and will do the same in our lives!
The web became an almost omnipotent—and omnipresent—tool for cruising the information highway. The Internet, however, has not helped people discern truthKendall H. Easley
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” – Jesus, speaking in John 16:13
By the time we get to Matthew chapter 14, Jesus has been ministering for some period of time. He’s called His disciples, trained them and sent them out on their first short term experience. He’s healed many, delivered many and taught a great number of people. He is becoming famous – at least on a regional scale. So it ought not to surprise us that eventually, the political powers would hear about Him. Matthew duly records, “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus.”
Of course, Matthew has already written of Jesus catching the attention of a certain Herod back in chapter 2, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” But this isn’t the same matter. In the past it was the Magi that alerted the king, not Jesus’ activity. And this isn’t even the same Herod; “On the death of the Herod of the infancy materials the realm was divided and the present Herod, Antipas (one of the previous Herod’s sons), became ruler over Galilee and Perea. […] None of the rulers of the divided territory was allowed by Rome to term himself king. Instead the title ‘tetrarch’ was used. This is literally ‘ruler of a quarter’, but it was used in the NT period more generally for the role of minor princes.”
Getting noticed by King Herod almost cost Jesus His life. It may be that Herod the tetrarch was a lessor force (being a tetrarch instead of a king) and perhaps a more stable personality mental-health wise, but getting noticed by Herod Antipas was still problematic for Jesus. Every political figure who can have people arbitrarily imprisoned and executed is someone you want to avoid interactions with, especially when they’ve already imprisoned your cousin! (see v3). But Herod represented a more unique problem, because Herod was superstitious and prone to jump to his own conclusions: “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.””
Herod’s superstitious beliefs could have taken Jesus’ ministry in a wildly different direction. He could have spread word that Jesus was not who He said He was, but rather was John the Baptist, resurrected. That might actually be popular with the uneducated crowd, and with the civic ruler’s respect would’ve gone far in allowing Jesus certain freedoms in movement and speech. However, Jesus did not value notoriety at all, He only valued the work His Father assigned to Him.
To that point, Jesus was not about to risk the confusion, “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.”
It is always better to follow God’s leading than to pursue prominence!
Alas! Men burn away their lives for the approbation of fellow-creatures.W. Harvey Jellie
God’s good and gracious direction is always more profitable to us than the easy path forward.
For most people, faith is like a long- atrophied muscle. It lies dormant, and on account of its weakness is not used at all, or very rarely used to very limited extent. But our faith is not something we should ignore. It is something we should feed and something we should practice because faith is the key to the kingdom of God.
Faith is what allows us to enter His kingdom to start with. As Romans 3 says, “…righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” and as Ephesians notes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith.” In fact, no one can even approach God apart from faith, for the Word says, “…without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
Faith is the doorway to God and the path to His kingdom. Faith is the means by which we live the abundant life, and the means by which we acquire all the eternal things God means to for us to have. Faith is the means by which we glorify God, and the one thing God seeks for us have more than anything else. As Peter would later testify to the struggling and persecuted churches, “These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
To that end Jesus always started making disciples by encouraging their faith. If He found some faith already there, He would fan it into flame by healing or a miracle work. He did this with the woman who was subject to bleeding, “Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that moment,” and He did this with the one leper who came back to say thanks, “Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.””
If He did not find faith already in the people He came across, He would speak the truth of God (the Word of God) so that it might birth faith in those who heard, for “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”
We must do likewise. Exercise our faith in being fully obedient to Word and Spirit – as Jesus was – and speak the truth of the Word of God to those who do not yet have faith – as Jesus did. In these ways we find our own faith growing to the praise, glory and honor of our Lord, and to the very great joy of our own souls! Amen.
It is of the first and last importance that we should search ourselves whether we be in the faith, and whether, being in the faith, our graces are growing, our faith increasing, and our love deepening.Charles Spurgeon
How do you know when your faith is deepening? How can you cooperate with God in stretching it?
We can know that Jesus would’ve known the Word of God on account of His Jewishness . In fact, we know He had great respect for the Word because Scripture records how He said, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
We can also know that Jesus was baptized by the Spirit of God, for the Gospel says, “Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.” To have the Spirit descend upon you is to have the Spirit fill you, so we know Jesus was baptized in water and in Spirit at the same time.
These facts tell us how Jesus came to have the wisdom and power He so obviously exercised: Being aligned with the Word and filled with the Spirit, He simply had to walk in obedience to the Word of God and obediently respond to the Spirit’s promptings (speaking or acting accordingly).
He did that. So one might think that Jesus could do all manner of miracles wherever and whenever He felt like. Yet Jesus did not always heal, and Jesus did not always perform miracles. There were times and places He did, but for much of His ministry life He only taught. This was certainly true in Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. Matthew writes, “Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”
You cannot create a miracle. Even Jesus – the embodiment of the Word of God and full of the Holy Spirit – did not do miracles at will. As He Himself testified, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” One could say that Jesus did not ‘do’ miracles, He just cooperated with the Spirit of God in the Father’s accomplishment of miracles.
In His hometown, Jesus continued to operate according to Spirit and Word, but found Himself restricted to speaking instead of working miracles on account of the lack of faith He found in the villagers. For God can always work, but He purposefully chooses to work only with the faith He finds. Even then, Jesus only spoke in agreement with the Spirit and Word, for He Himself testified, “I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.”
That truth teaches us that if our faith is too small for a great work of the Spirit, the Lord starts by merely speaking truth.
We should not look down at that and take offence.
It is after all, a start! Amen.
The effective minister of the Word uses words the way a craftsman uses tools—the right word for the right job.Warren Wiersbe
Jesus knew when to use words and when to cooperate with the Spirit in a miracle because He was always listening to the Father’s voice. How is God guiding you today?
In a comic book series that Marvel Entertainment created, there exists a set of ‘infinity stones’ that afford the owner infinite power, infinite knowledge, and infinite power over natural forces like time, space, reality and life. That is an entertaining idea, but it is also childish fiction. There are no such stones. Only God exists of and by Himself, and only God possesses all ability. The very idea of the infinity stones is a childish attempt at understanding how God came to be God, and the only thing Marvel’s comic gets right is the idea that we cannot gain anything of real value without it being imparted to us from outside of ourselves.
“Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him.”
Jesus did not go to university or even college. There were no such institutions in His day to go to. So where did Jesus get the wisdom He clearly had when He taught? And where did Jesus get the miraculous powers He obviously exercised? There has never been a store you can go to buy such things, and there never will be. The question Jesus’ hometown villagers ask is very legitimate and worth thinking about. How did Jesus come to have all He had?
From all outside appearance, Jesus was an ordinary man. He was born as all men are. He grew up as all men do. He had a family and He had a dad, as all men have. Jesus did not bleed green or blue as some suppose kings do, and He did not possess super-strength or X-ray vision as comic book heroes do. Jesus was born, and He was born in human flesh.
Of course, Jesus is more than any mere man, because He is God incarnate. But if we consider His humanity, we realize that like all who are born in human flesh, Jesus could understand the Word of God. He could learn to read and memorize it. He could know what it meant to apply it. Moreover, Jesus was also baptized of the Holy Spirit, and like all who are baptized of the Spirit, Jesus had the ability to listen to the voice of God our Father because the Spirit of God in Him would allow Him to know the difference between the Father’s voice and the other voices we all hear (like our own voice, the voice of others, the voice of our fleshly longings and the demonic promptings Satan and his minions so often whisper). Consequently, as a man Jesus could know when and what God was speaking to Him. He could therefore act in accordance with the Word and Spirit and so cooperate with all God was doing and was about to do, as any man can do.
These things tell us that in His humanity, Jesus healed many. He delivered many. He taught many. He altered the lives of a great number of people for the better.
We who have a living relationship with our Father through Christ can and must do likewise, and we should also expect a similar result. God works through those who are wholeheartedly His.
Mind you, the world will perceive that which does not belong to it, and will react accordingly. They scoff and deride God’s work because our enemy tells them that it nothing more than childish fantasy.
The cross is the expression of the world’s hatred.A.W. Pink
The Christ follower must expect derision. How will you handle the inevitable doubt and criticism assigned to you by those who reject your message?
One of the greatest challenges leaders face is knowing when to move on. It is one thing when the group you are leading is asking you to go (!), but it is quite another when all is going well. This is especially difficult when what you are doing is fulfilling and the congregation (or coworkers) seem to appreciate how you are leading. But up until God gives you your final assignment (which only ends on death), there will come a time to conclude what you are doing in one setting and move to a new setting.
As Matthew records it, Jesus has been teaching the crowd since leaving the local synagogue (Matt 12:15). He has taught the difference between Satan’s kingdom and God’s kingdom (Matt 12:25-29) and warned their leadership about making careless accusations (Matt 12:30-37). He gave them the prophetic word about the sign of Jonah (Matt 12:38-45) and taught about the way God sees His family (Matt 12:46-50).
He’s now spent some period of time teaching a set of seven parables (Matt 13:1-50).
Then Jesus asked, “Have you understood all these things?” Matthew writes down the response for us to ensure his readers see the successful conclusion of Christ’s teaching, “”Yes,” they replied.” With the concluding comment about how the application of what He taught is like bringing treasure out of a storeroom, Jesus moves on. “When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there.”
All Jesus did was to model what making disciples was supposed to look like. From the moment He began to preach (Matt 4:17), He began calling people into discipleship (Matt 4:18-20). All His teaching and demonstrations of power were toward this objective; To bring people to the kingdom of heaven as disciples of God Most High. When He reaches that objective, He moves on. This was how Jesus lived out His calling.
First Jesus did that with individuals, later with groups. When He finished teaching on the Sermon Mount (Matt 5-7), He came down and demonstrated God’s power (Matt 8:1-17) before seeing who was at least mature enough to follow Him (Matt 8:18-23). Later, Jesus again heals (Matt 9:1-8), calls to discipleship (Matt 9:9), teaches (Matt 9:10-17), demonstrates God’s power (Matt 9:18-34), teaches and heals (Matt 9:35-38) and then calls (Matt 10:1-4), finally resulting in sending out His first group of fully mature disciples (Matt 10:5-42). While they are out ministering, Jesus starts the cycle all over again – teaching (Matt 11:1-12:8) demonstrating power (Matt 12:9-24), teaching (Matt 12:25-49) and calling (Matt 12:50). From chapter 13:1 to v50, He is again teaching. With the call and conclusion of Matt 13:51-52, Jesus again moves on.
Jesus recognized when the time had come for Him to move to another place when those He was leading affirmed that they understood His message.
Jesus was a missionary, making disciples of God the Father. His role, like all our roles, had a set purpose. When that purpose was fulfilled, Jesus moved on. He did not change or adapt His purpose to suit the new occasion of working with those He had discipled, because to do that would be to change His calling, and Jesus recognized that calling comes from the Father, not from oneself.
That is a powerful reminder to us that our calling determines the opportunity, not the other way around.
Usually leaders overestimate rather than underestimate the value of their presence.Terry Muck
God gives us seasons to partner in His work in a particular place with a particular group of people. Seasons change. Be thankful for what He has given you, and look forward to the next season.