The Nature of Herod (Matthew 2:2-3)

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Herod’s father was a Jewish man named Antipater II. He was an Edomite Semite who gained influence under Rome and was influential in Herod’s appointment to powerful positions over Galilee. According to the historian Josephus, in the year of the consulship of Calvinus and Pollio (40BCE), Herod was appointed King of the Jews by the Roman Senate. This gave him the license needed to wage war against the ruler of Jersualem. Three years later, Herod and the Romans overtook the city, and Herod assumed the title of King. He reigned in Jerusalem for 34 more years.  

Herod was raised as a Jew, Antipater having converted to Judasim some time prior.  But the fact that Herod was a descendant of Esau and not of David was more than a slight to those he ruled over in Judea. For these reasons Herod – who was fond of huge building projects – chose to rebuild the Jewish temple. The result was what many refer to as “Herod’s Temple” and is the reason he earned the nickname, ‘Herod the Great’.”  But “great” doesn’t necessarily mean “good”! Herod was great because of his building projects. But anyone who looks into the history of the time can know that Herod was a tyrannical despot, given to heavy taxation and lavish spending and not a small degree of narcissism. Every Christian would recognize him as an evil man, even though he built ‘great’ things. 

Scripture bears testimony to this. In Matthew 2, we read of Magi from the east coming to Herod and asking him, “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.”  The next statement tells us all we need to know about Herod’s character, “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.”  

If we follow Josephus’s timeline, we can know that this would’ve been late in Herod’s reign, for it is well established that he died in 4BCE (this is also how we know that Jesus was born earlier than the commonly understood 1BCE). So when the Magi arrived, Herod had already survived for over 30 years in power. Unfortunately, he did not last so long through just and fair rule. He had many enemies and had good reason to be paranoid, so the announcement of someone else with his title was a cause of great concern. Not only to him, but to the populace under him. The whole city was disturbed because everyone knew that when Herod was disturbed, they would suffer whatever action he chose to take to satisfy his paranoia.

A greater contrast to the Magi could not be made! 

To the Magi, news of Messiah’s birth was cause for worship. They saw the sacrifice of their time in travel and the costly gifts they brought as most worthwhile – Christ’s birth being good news for the whole world. But to Herod, the very same news was the realization of his own worst fear, and he would soon spend whatever he needed to keep himself and his own personal kingdom from a rival. 

Good news is only good to those who recognize it as good because of the witness of their souls. It is flat out offensive to those who have set their souls to work for the opposing king.

Marcus Verbrugge

APPLICATION: Intentionality

What are you rejoicing over?  What are you troubled about?  

Is your satisfaction in worship of God or in self-protection?

The Magi (Matthew 2:1-2)

Adoration of the Magi by Peter Paul Rubens

Matthew records, “…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.”  Who were these Magi?  One commentator notes, “The word ‘Magi’ was originally applied exclusively to members of a priestly caste of the Medes and Persian who had esoteric skills in interpreting dreams. However, the use of the word broadened to embrace various categories of persons who were marked out by their superior knowledge and ability, including astrologers, soothsayers, and even oriental sages.”

That the Magi were effectively interpreting the stars does not necessarily mean they were astrologers. They may well have had copies of the Jewish Scriptures – and certainly if they were ‘wise men’ (as the Greek term may be translated), then they would’ve been readers of said Scripture, including Balaam’s prophesy of Numbers 24:17, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” Another commentator notes, “We don’t know exactly what they saw in the sky. Scholars have guessed a comet or a nova or a conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars. Not everyone saw it. In fact, the star is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible. The Magi saw it because they were constantly scanning the sky. They had prepared themselves to perceive what others could not see.”

The scepter spoken of in Balaam’s prophesy means to speak of a rising King, and Balaam’s oracle goes on to make it very clear that this particular king will defeat all Israel’s enemies – he will be not just a king, but Messiah.    

This would be the same Messiah David spoke of in Psalm 2, ““Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” Moreover, as Solomon prophesied in Psalm 72, “The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring tribute to him; the kings of Sheba and Seba will present him gifts. All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him.”

So that wise men subsequently come to worship him (to “Kiss the Son”) is fitting, and also a fulfillment of prophesy. Indeed, all who are wise will worship Him, for He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. 

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords.

The Apostle John (Revelation 19:11-16)

APPLICATION: Worship, Generosity

One day all will bow to Christ!  The wise recognize this early, and so worship Him with what they have.  What gift can you bring to Him today? 

The Star (Matthew 2:1-2)

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That Jesus the Messiah was born in Bethlehem is a well known fact, celebrated all over the world. Hardly celebrated at all is that His line includes a member of Israel’s enemies, Ruth the Moabitess. Also hardly considered at all is that God used a man who was a hated tax collector (Matthew) to write a Gospel to His chosen people. And hardly known at all is that He used a reckless prophet to prophesy the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. 

Just as Luke tells us details about Christ’s birth that Matthew doesn’t, so also Matthew tells us things the other Gospel accounts leave out. “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.”” The Herod mentioned here is noted as King, meaning Herod the Great (a different Herod – the tetrarch – will be on the scene later). 

Matthew is the only Gospel writer to tell us that while Herod was king, a very unusual phenomenon occurred. For during this time, a very bright star appeared in the sky. This would’ve been observed by people all over the middle east as that which Numbers 24:17 spoke of, “A star will come out of Jacob;” heralding the rise of Messiah. Thus, that Jesus was born in the time of Herod is also fulfillment of prophesy.  

But that prophesy in Numbers is not from Moses. Actually, it is part of Balaam’s fourth oracle. Balaam was the man hired by Balak to curse the nation of Israel (Balak was the crown prince of Moab – for that reason he is referred to as Balak son of Zippor.  Zippor was king of Moab, see Num 22:4). This is one and the same Balaam who was rebuked by a donkey (Num 22:21-41) for his reckless ways before the Lord. Taken by Balak to view the camps of Israel from various vantage points so as to curse them from afar, Balaam is caused to prophesy blessing on them, the very opposite thing Balak had asked. Balak was is driven to frustration, at which point Balaam says, “The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly, the oracle of one who hears the words of God, who has knowledge from the Most High, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:  “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” 

It is this last sentence, “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel,” that the wise men of the east would’ve noted as a sign of the coming of the Jewish King. For sure, it is a prophesy given by a reckless prophet to a pagan king (Balak), and perhaps from that perspective it should’ve been long forgotten. But it was not just the rantings of a reckless individual. It was God’s Word, given to a prophet of God that the nations of the earth might know that He is God and that He watches over His people. So instead of being forgotten in the annals of history, it became a prophesy listened to by Gentiles half a world away, thousands of years later. A prophesy whose fulfillment is now celebrated every year, world over.

Thousands of years ago, the Magi came looking for Jesus because they were watching the night sky for His sign. But today Jesus asks us, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Marcus Verbrugge

APPLICATION: Intentionality

God’s word never goes unfulfilled, no matter who He uses to speak or write it. 

How are you preparing to meet Him on that fateful day He returns?

Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-2)

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The book of Ruth is about a Moabitess who follows her Jewish mother-in-law (Naomi)   back to Israel. The city Naomi goes to is Bethlehem, and the majority of Ruth is set within Bethlehem’s jurisdiction. It is a beautiful book, talking about the redemption of one of Israels’ most hated enemies (Moab), set in a place that has a long and colorful history in the Old Testament. Bethlehem was the same place that Joseph and Benjamin’s mother, Rachel (the favourite wife of Jacob, aka Israel) died some thousands of years earlier. It was the place the Lord sent the prophet Samuel to pick out a new king. As 1Samuel declares, “The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”    

From such things we can gather that Bethlehem is both a place of reconciliation and the birthplace of the king of God’s people. The writer of the book of Ruth subsequently notes this about Ruth’s son, “And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.”  Jesse is specifically named 25 times in 1Samuel alone. Jesse is important for the same reason Bethlehem is – it is from these unlikely origins that the Messiah will rise. As Isaiah prophesied some 700 years before Christ, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord— and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.”

Matthew 2 begins, “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.”” In these two verses, Matthew tells us where Jesus was born, what time Jesus was born, and that the circumstances of His birth included Gentiles coming to worship Him.  Each of these is a fulfillment of prophesy, but the most obvious is Jesus’ birthplace. Not only because of Isaiah (quoted above), but because Micah 5:2 specifically called it out as the birthplace of Messiah, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”  

So that Jesus was born in Bethlehem is a fulfillment of much prophesy. It is clear that God long ago planned it. Before the days of king David, before David’s grandfather, even before Jacob’s lifetime. As one Bible writer put it, “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” 

It should astonish us all that just as the time and place of Jesus’ birth was predetermined and planned by the Father, so was ours. That you were born, and when you were born, and where you were born, and the manner in which you were born, are also part of His plan!  For the Word also says, “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” This He did for His own purpose, just as He did with Christ’s. 

Being born in such humble circumstance was not a blessing to Jesus, but it was and still is a very great honour for the people of Bethlehem, just as it was and is a sign to all peoples everywhere that God cares for the lowly in heart. Sometimes the more challenging circumstances of our lives are not for us per se. They are for those who will look back at our lives, that those who come after us might glorify God all the more!

Marcus Verbrugge

APPLICATION: Thankfulness

Meditate on this truth: God has had a plan for your life from before the creation of the world. That is a wonderful truth. It is an even more wonderful truth to realize that He is committed to accomplishing His plan and purpose for you. As Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Amen.

Obedience (Matthew 1:24-25)

The Nativity, Master of Vyšší Brod, Mistr Vyšebrodský

“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”

Matthew 1:24-25 is at first glance just a simple note telling us only that Joseph was obedient to God’s instruction through the angel. It is enough to know that of course – because that is all that is needed to keep to the core message of who Jesus was. On the other hand, Luke tells us a huge amount of circumstance that Matthew glosses over. Recognizing that, we can realize that Matthew is telling us the story of Christ’s birth largely from Joseph’s viewpoint – leaving Luke to tell it to us from Mary’s. 

The circumstance Matthew skips (Luke 1:39-80, 2:4-40) is the subject of much of our Christmas pageantry today; the young couple’s journey to Bethlehem, the refusal of a room at the inn and the birth of Jesus in the manager, amidst the animals. Of course it’s possible that Matthew simply didn’t know about other details, like Mary’s visit to Elizabeth and Zechariah’s encounter with Gabriel in the temple (things Luke found out in his careful study of all that had happened). All the same, one thinks that he would’ve surely known more about Jesus’ birth. Yet he is not alone in dropping such detail – neither John nor Mark give it either. Mark introduces us to Jesus at his baptism, and John tells us who He was before time, and then introduces us to Him at his baptism.  

The point is that each of the Gospel writers reflects Jesus’ life from their vantagepoint.  Each tells the truth (for they write from the Spirit’s prompting) but each speaks from their own frame of reference. The glory of Christ is such that it cannot be fully represented from one voice or one account– just as the Scripture is never fully explained in a single sermon or by a single teacher. The Glory of God is such that it takes all of us, living all of eternity, to merely reflect the character and nature of God. Such is our purpose, because we were all made for His glory. As His Word says, “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—  everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

We can ponder that and wonder if it would’ve added to our ability to know who He is or all He did to have more than four accounts of Jesus’ life, but that is idle speculation for fallen flesh. What is important is that we do as Joseph did. That we promptly obey God’s instructions as given to us, knowing that God is giving them specifically to us – and that we seek to honor His Name with our whole being in both what we do and in what we deliberately do not do.

Amen.

Obedience to the Lord is not only measured by how much we do for our Savior, but by how we obey Him when nobody is looking.

John Wimber

APPLICATION: Intentionality

What has God asked you to do in this season of your life? 

What have you given up for the sake of His Name, honour and glory?

Fulfillment (Matthew 1:22-23)

Penn Libraries call number NC D4168 533i Folio

 “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The  virgin will   be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” 

Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14, a prophesy that led to God calling Isaiah to name his next son Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, meaning, “quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil” – a poignant prophetic object lesson of the impending Assyrian invasion. Yet everyone who ponders such things can know that Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz was an imperfect fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, for the Lord had said, “the virgin will be with child” and Isaiah’s wife had already bore him a son – the very son he had with him when he was given these words. Although the Hebrew could mean “young girl”, such would not be the full meaning of the word. 

In 1:22-23 of his Gospel, Matthew is saying that the fulfillment of the prophesy is only now given, in Jesus Christ. That is a very bold observation, and it is an observation that is itself pregnant with meaning.

Just what meaning is gestated in the mind and ultimately given birth by confession is up to the reader. For the disbeliever, it simply means Matthew transposed a cherry-picked prophesy to his own point. But this Gospel is not for the disbeliever, we’ve already grasped that Matthew wrote it for those who consider themselves the people of God.  For them (the average Jewish reader in Matthew’s day), it would’ve immediately stirred up hopes of deliverance from Roman occupation. We can relate to that, because that occupation – which was understood as punishment for national sin – was an offensive and dangerous oppression in the minds of most Jews. Just as secular governments are to most Christians today. 

But for the reader with true faith in God, it means not only that Jesus is the fulfilment of yet another prophesy (praise the Lord!), it means a disciple of God  – in this case Matthew – can rightly interpret Scripture. 

That is no small thing – Matthew was not a learned Jewish scholar, as Paul was. Matthew was formerly a tax collector for the occupying Romans. He had been a traitor to his own people, an outcast that Jesus invited to become a disciple. That such a man as he can pick up the Scripture and see something even the learned Pharisees and scribes failed to notice is a powerful testimony to the work, wisdom and grace of God. Only the Holy Spirit could reveal Christ in the prophesies of Isaiah, and only the Holy Spirit could cause him to articulate it so perfectly that the finished work is literally Gospel. And that is not just a point of marvel at something the Spirit did a long time ago with someone on the other side of the world. It is a point of fact with profound implication, because the same Holy Spirit is at work right now in you, to bring you to complete maturity and full Christlikeness. 

Praise the Lord indeed!

To have the Scriptures in a language you understand is a great gift. To read the Scriptures is an awesome privilege. To study the Scriptures is a tremendous opportunity. But to obey them – that is the test. Only when you have passed that test should you dare to interpret them for others. 

Marcus Verbrugge

Spiritual maturity is not reached by the passing of the years, but by obedience to the will of God.

Oswald Chambers

APPLICATION: Thankfulness

We benefit from Matthew’s obedience just as we benefit from the obedience of all who came before us. Someone – likely many thousands of people – will benefit from your obedience to God and His Word. Thank God for that. It is His grace to all His children.

Prophesy (Matthew 1:22-23)

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After disclosing the angel’s words to Joseph, the writer of Matthew abruptly switches back to addressing the reader, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” 

With all we know, the explanation seems almost superfluous. Those who know their Bible well cannot read of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph’s decision, his dream and the angel’s counsel, without thinking of the familiar passage in Isaiah 7, when the prophet first speaks of Immanuel. But how many of Matthew’s original readers would have done likewise is hard to say, because Isaiah wasn’t writing a particularly gleeful promise in Isaiah 7. 

At the time, Isaiah had been told to go with his son to talk to the king of Judah. It was while Jerusalem (Judah’s capital) was being besieged by Israel and Aram. The king of Juday and all his countrymen were disheartened that their northern brothers (Israel) had allied themselves with Damascus (Aram), believing the combination too great for them to resist successfully. While giving the Lord’s strong counsel that Judah should not fear this development, the Lord spoke to Ahaz, king of Judah, “Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.” Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah goes on to detail that before the boy is old enough to know right from wrong, the siege will be over because of a massive invasion from Assyria, and the two kings Ahaz fears will be swept away. “The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—he will bring the king of Assyria.” […] “Then I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the Lord said to me, “Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. Before the boy knows how to say ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.” 

So the prophesy’s immediate application in the day it was given was to be Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, and we can know it was given as a prophesy of deliverance followed by imminent war. The birth of Immanuel would be followed by sweeping destruction and foreign occupation (via Assyria) until the completion of the whole prophesy and the setting up of Messiah’s kingdom (see Isa 8:9-1, 9:1-7). The implication is that Immanuel’s birth was to be a sign to Ahaz of peace for him and his household, even amidst the conflict and danger all around, and a sure sign of God’s coming kingdom, when public peace would reign forever over all nations.

So it was in Matthew’s day too – the coming of Immanuel (Jesus Christ) signals peace with God for those who receive Him, even though all around is destruction and foreign occupation – at the time via the Romans. The same is true for every Christ-follower. We receive Him into our lives and with Him we have peace with God, even though all around is the chaos of our broken world. And just as Ahaz did, and just as the righteous in Matthew’s day did, we can take Immanuel’s presence with us as a surety of God’s coming Kingdom, when we will never again fear war or destruction.

Amen.

It may be a cliché, but it is fact: If we recognize Immanuel we know peace for ourselves and we have hope for peace on earth. If we do not recognize Immanuel we have no peace for ourselves and we have no hope for peace on earth.

Marcus Verbrugge

APPLICATION: Thankfulness, Intentionality

Jesus told us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  

Are you experiencing His peace today? How can you extend His peace to those around you?

Honor (Matthew 1:20-21)

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Joseph had thought through his next actions in light of his financé unplanned  pregnancy.   He knew he wasn’t the father. He knew that it would bring much shame to both families if he married her, and in his culture it would be her undoing if he pointed out that she was pregnant out of wedlock. His line of thought was rooted in kindness. With noble intentions, he chose to avoid shaming her by divorcing her quietly. “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

We should read that sentence carefully. It says, “But after he had considered this…” That meant that some time passed. The Lord is not uncomfortable leaving us in uncomfortable circumstance if it furthers His glory. Whenever we are faced with an uncomfortable choice, we should remember that. 

One wonders how long Joseph wrestled with his choices. He had to carefully process every possibility. As a Jew, he would’ve known that Isaiah had prophesied Messiah would be born of a virgin. Just how believable was Mary’s story in this case, even if there was a truthful ring to it? 

There is a difference between a good choice and the best choice. The Lord is purposeful in seeking that we might make the best of our choices, and not any less. Perhaps that is one reason we who follow Jesus have such a difficult time discerning His will in some matters. To be God’s disciple, we must learn how to pick between the better and the best, and then act on it decisively. That is not a habit easily gained. But God knows our frame, and He is well able to encourage us to make the right choice. In Joseph’s case, God sends an angel to speak to him. This is the first time we read of Joseph hearing God speak, even if it is through an angel:

“Joseph, son of David”. To hear his name spoken by that which is beyond his frame of reference must be both terrifying and strangely comforting – the words being reassurance that supernatural God knows him, and where he came from. “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife.” His concern is dealt with straight on, and the Lord calls it for what it is. Not a mere concern for his parents, but a personal fear. No doubt there was yet some prideful fear that he would lose his place in society if he took Mary in spite of her pregnancy. “…because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” A full validation of Mary’s testimony. He could know for certain she was sane, godly and blessed. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 

This simple truth changes everything for Joseph. The promised Messiah would finally be born, and He would be born into Joseph’s house! A higher honour could not be hoped for. 

In just a few sentences, the Lord had taken what looked to be a personal disaster and turned it into a tremendous blessing.    

That is so like Him. 

Even the ungodly can see that often what appears to be disaster is actually a blessing. Oscar Wilde said, “What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise for which we are later, in the fullness of time and understanding, very grateful for!” So it is. The Lord who redeems broken and sinful people also redeems the soreness of the trials we endure. Did the Lord not turn the cross into the greatest of blessings? Dear child of God, fear not. You are in HIs hands. Perhaps He is doing something similar in your circumstance.

Marcus Verbrugge

APPLICATION:

Mediate on God’s character as revealed in His promise in Joel 2:25-27; 

I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten— the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm— my great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed. Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed.”

Reality (Matthew 1:19)

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“Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose  her to   public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream…” 

The Word of God calls Joseph righteous, and his intention to avoid shaming his bride reveals his godly character. His circumstance, character and choice have put Joseph in a place where he is about to experience God on a whole new level.

We all want that. We all desire to be like Joseph in being called righteous. We all desire to act in God’s character so as to be considered godly, and we all desire to hear God speak to us through dreams and visions. Indeed, some cross earth and sea to get to what they understand as “thin places” – places where they might be close enough to God to hear Him more clearly or see spiritual reality more tangibly. Places like where Joseph is now, sleeping. These are the enviable traits of Joseph’s story, but not many would envy where he actually is at this point in his story. 

Consider: His bride to be has just revealed her pregnancy – something that in all likelihood has already destroyed their hopes for a wedding celebrated with much family and many friends. When his family and friends found out, they would be more than disappointed. Both his side of the family and her side of the family would be crushed. Even if they were to be married anyway, for reasons of propriety it would need to be done quietly and without fanfare. Joseph was finding himself between a rock and a hard place. 

With that weighing on his mind, one can imagine it was not easy for him to fall asleep. One can imagine he was broiled in thought about exactly what to do. In reality Joseph was close to God. But in his mind, Joseph is in a very difficult place indeed!

Truth is, we all want the honour that God showed Joseph (in being called righteous). But we want that honour without the difficulty of living out the day-to-day decisions that result in refinement of our character. We want God to call us righteous without God first calling us to challenging circumstance. We want to be in thin places – places where the Lord might reveal Himself in a most meaningful way – but we want that without the inner pain that places us there. We want dreams and visions of God’s plans for us without crying ourselves to sleep. We want His best for us now, without first seeking to do the very best thing for those who have deeply hurt us and dashed our dreams and hopes.

But there are no shortcuts to righteousness or God’s favour, whatever our circumstance. Only choices. Choices that either put us nearer to Him, or not. Those choices are ours to make. 

They are yours to make, even today.

Desire of righteousness is preceded by repentance, accompanied by humility, and followed by works of mercy.

Gaultier

APPLICATION: Intentionality

What are you expecting to God to say to you? 

How are you preparing yourself to hear Him speak?

Righteous (Matthew 1:19)

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Upon finding out of Mary’s pregnancy, we read this in Matthew 1:19; “Because   Joseph  her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” That tells us three things: That Mary’s husband’s name was Joseph, that he was a righteous man, and that he did not want to expose Mary to public disgrace, so he purposed to divorce her quietly.

As a name, “Joseph” is both of solid Hebrew stock and a shout out to the patriarch of long ago, so we can know that Mary’s chosen husband was one that was culturally appropriate. Whether that was her choice entirely, or one that was arranged by the families, is not given to us. What we can ascertain is that they as a couple were likely to fit in well with their society. They were a ‘normal’ couple. But then, the truly great almost always start off as ‘normal’. 

Of course, just how ‘normal’ Joseph was is a matter of subjectivity. The narrative of the Word of God details Joseph as a righteous man. That is striking, and makes him hardly average. For it is one thing to be righteous in your own eyes. It is  another altogether to be actually right in your character. More than both, very few are counted righteous in the pages of Scripture, yet it is into this last category that we find Joseph placed. That is a high honour by the hand of God, and certainly something that marks Joseph as far above average. Even more than that, the text tells us he was unbelievably kind. For he hears the news that his bride to be is pregnant, and his measured reaction is to avoid exposing her to disgrace! Is that how most of us would’ve reacted? In consideration of her, after she comes and tells us she is pregnant by God Himself?  

Some have suggested that it is well possible Joseph thought she had simply lost her mind, or was covering for a family member who had done something too horrible to speak of. But to conclude such would be to embark down the same faithless line of thought as Mary’s pregnancy had first suggested to the reader, and to ignore the text entirely, because the text of Scripture says that Joseph was a righteous man. He therefore would’ve been able to hear the Spirit’s silent witness to his Bride’s explanation for her sudden pregnancy. Not that it would’ve been easy news. But that she was not wrong, whatever had happened. So he determines to quietly divorce her (engagement being as legal marriage in their society). There will be no public shaming, no stoning for adultery and no demands for increased dowry. Joseph was a righteous man, and kind. 

On a human scale, this is a touching story of humility and grace. But it is more than that, it is one of those rare seasons when you know God is up to something. For to display Godly character in the face of the sorest of trials (and surely it is that, when the one you’ve already committed your whole life to shares such news with you) – is to live out what His Spirit has quietly said in the depths of your soul. That, of and by itself, is a rare thing. It ought to be normal, especially among God’s people. But we all know it is not. 

Realize then, that Joseph is now in a thin place, regardless of geography. He is close to God. His character and his choices have put him there.

Passive righteousness tells us that God does not need our good works. Active righteousness tells us that our neighbor does. The aim and direction of good works are horizontal, not vertical.

Tullian Tchividjian

APPLICATION: Intentionality

In light of all the kindness God has shown you, what small kindness can you do for someone else today?