Archives for January 2018

Supernatural light draws Gentile mystics to worship Jesus

Matthew 2:1-12  Wednesday, Jan 3

The star-like light of God’s presence guides mystics from far away to come to worship the newborn king

1-2  Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

  • The tradition of three comes from the three gifts of tribute from the baggage train mentioned in v.11. The ‘wise men’ were not rulers but of a priestly caste from that were well versed in astrology and associated a rising star with a significant birth, and a falling star (like a comet) with a ruler’s death. It is possible that they were Jews originally from the Babylon deportation who had remained in the east, or at least those who knew Jews and had studied the Jewish Scriptures which foretold the birth of a Messiah.

3-4  King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

  • Herod the Great, so named because of his building projects, not his character, was not a Jew but an Idumean (Edomite) appointed by the Romans to rule over the four districts of Jerusalem, Judea, Galilee in the north and Idumea in the south (in present day Jordan). Hence his uncertainty about the foretold Messiah and the Scriptures.

5-6  “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’

  • As foretold by Micah, Mic. 5:2. Bethehem in Judea, half a day’s walk from Jerusalem (although climbing to 2,000 feet) was sometimes simply called ‘Judah’ from its associations with that tribe. Also foretold by Balaam’s prophecy long before was that “a star will rise from Jacob”, Numbers 24:17.

7-8  Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

  • A non-Jew appointed by the Empire to rule over the Jews was an insecure position. History records this Herod as a murderer of anyone who looked like a threat, even his own wife and family. He would have been much troubled by the report of the birth of another ruler, brought by the arrival of visitors from afar who had been alerted by a ‘rising star’ light in the sky, and reinforced by his own political advisors nervously citing their own writings.

9  After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was.

  • This was close guidance on a journey of a few miles: not a distant supernova.
  • Despite theories of planets in conjunction and comets orbiting close, a ‘star’ that moves, and then rests over a specific place, is different – and supernatural. God who made a pillar of luminous cloud and fire to give guidance to the desert journey, created another kind of guiding light on this occasion.

10-11  When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

  • These were gifts of considerable value – providential in view of the 100-mile+ journey of escape to Egypt (outside Herod’s jurisdiction) that the visit prompted.
  • This was up to two years after the birth, and it was a visit to a home, not a stable. The wise men, if they came from Babylon, would have had a 40-day 800-mile journey and would have needed to bring considerable supplies, accompanied by their servants and guards.
  • How much they understood of Jesus’ divine nature, we cannot know – perhaps they were receiving more revelation than reason would suggest (and also v.12), because their actions were wholly appropriate, as well as foreshadowing the worship of Jesus by all the non-Jewish nations that was to come.

12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

Application
We are so aware of what can and can’t be done in our worldview that we easily forget that God is not restricted by our experience or even imagination. In this short account of 12 verses, He has caused revelation to come to men in a distant land and different religion, such that they embarked on a long and dangerous journey to bring costly gifts of devotion. He produced a visible, guiding light to bring them hundreds of miles and then take them cross country to a precise location in a remote village. Joseph, Mary and family had a timely warning that they needed to up sticks quickly and head over the border, out of harm’s way. The wise men were warned in a dream to return by a different route. This is a reminder that God does what He has purposed to do – and also tells His servants what He is doing, Amos 3:7.

For reflection and discussion
3.  Good science is good – but are you tempted to seek explanations from within our knowledge and experience, and fit the narrative accordingly? Why do we need to try to do this?

A lover of justice who is king of kings for all nations

 

Psalm 72:1-15  Tuesday, Dec. 2

The rule of God is to be characterised by righteousness and justice, and rulers who uphold these values will bring prosperity for all

Psalm 72 is entitled a psalm OF Solomon – or equally it could be read as a psalm FOR Solomon. It is a prayer by David for the king, or kings, that succeed him, and was probably used at coronations. Later on, the allusions to a future Messianic king became more important, and the Early Church saw it as a prophetic writing about Jesus. Scripture often conveys God’s truth on several levels, both historic and also contemporary.
1 Give your love of justice to the king, O God, and righteousness to the king’s son.
2 Help him judge your people in the right way; let the poor always be treated fairly.
  • The plea for Solomon – or a successor of the dynasty – to be endued with God’s love of justice and value of righteousness is also a plea for the nation will prosper, according to the cause-and-effect of covenant principles. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” Proverbs 14:34 NASB
3 May the mountains yield prosperity for all, and may the hills be fruitful.
4  Help him to defend the poor, to rescue the children of the needy, and to crush their oppressors.
  • A striking feature of the king’s rule would be compassion and protection for the poor and needy. By contrast, the nation’s rulers at the time leading up to the sacking of Jerusalem, were denounced by prophets of that time as harsh and heartless shepherds: see Jeremiah’s prophecy which is also the basis of the covenant name of God “The Lord our righteousness”, Jer. 23:1-6.
5 May they fear you as long as the sun shines, as long as the moon remains in the sky. Yes, forever!
  • This is now pointing to a more enduring reign than the lifetime of one monarch.
6 May the king’s rule be refreshing like spring rain on freshly cut grass, like the showers that water the earth.
7 May all the godly flourish during his reign. May there be abundant prosperity until the moon is no more.
  • Here the blessings of good leadership are set out. Hebrew thought does not have our tendency to separate God’s favour and blessing, from the prosperity achieved by good management of resources — they are one and the same.
8 May he reign from sea to sea, and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth
  • The immediate boundaries are the Euphrates and the Mediterranean coastline, which became the limits of Solomon’s kingdom — however the focus then zooms out to take in the whole of the known world.
  • This verse is almost word for word the same as Zechariah 9:10  the context of which is messianic. So this is a messianic dimension becoming apparent.
9 Desert nomads will bow before him; his enemies will fall before him in the dust.
10 The western kings of Tarshish and other distant lands will bring him tribute. The eastern kings of Sheba and Seba will bring him gifts.
  • Tarshish was a large Western Mediterranean settlement – think modern day Catalonia. Seba, south of Egypt, and Sheba, southern Arabia, faced each other across the Red Sea. Kings would come bringing gifts and tribute to pledge their submission. They did for Solomon; this also looks forward to the bringing of gifts for Jesus, and what this symbolised.
11 All kings will bow before him, and all nations will serve him.
12  He will rescue the poor when they cry to him; he will help the oppressed, who have no one to defend them.
13 He feels pity for the weak and the needy, and he will rescue them.
  • A parallel is in Psalm 82:3. All Israelites shared responsibility for those who were marginalised (orphans, widows) or otherwise poor or needy. Kings, as God’s royal representatives, were said to have particular responsibility for protecting marginalised groups throughout Psalms e.g. Ps. 10:12-18, Ps. 12:5, Psalm 14:6 etc
14 He will redeem them from oppression and violence, for their lives are precious to him.
15   Long live the king! May the gold of Sheba be given to him. May the people always pray for him and bless him all day long.
  • The psalm ends (v.17, not shown) with a reminder of the Abrahamic covenant provision that “through your offspring ALL nations of earth will be blessed”: God’s people, and especially their king, were to represent God’s covenant beyond themselves, to the nations.  Genesis 12:2-3, Genesis 22:18.
  • This is clearly and simply summarised by Psalm 67, which is read every day in the parliamentary prayers that precede every sitting of the House of Commons.

Application

At first this psalm is a straightforward blessing on Solomon and those kings who succeed him as godly leadership for Israel. Fairly quickly it becomes apparent that its reach is longer than that, pointing to a Messianic king to come to whom other rulers far and wide defer and serve. Jesus, of course, has the title king of kings (1 Tim. 6:15, Revelation 17:14).

Such a majestic figure would hardly be expected to have much interest in ordinary people, but this king defends the poor and oppressed (v.4), rescues the needy (vv.12-13) and redeems them from oppression and violence as those whose lives are precious to him (v.14). In terms of the culture and history of the time, with slavery common and lives cheap, this is nothing short of extraordinary.

The learning point for us? True greatness is also compassionate. Where authority finds the need to be harsh, it is neither great nor godly.

For reflection and discussion

2.  If this is God’s pattern of leadership, and if this is a picture of Jesus’ kingdom rule, why does the church sometimes struggle financially?

For reflection and discussion

2.  If this is God’s pattern of leadership, and if this is a picture of Jesus’ kingdom rule, why does the church sometimes struggle financially?

 

Let God’s glory reflected become your light for others

Readings for the week leading up to Sunday, January 7: Part 1 of 5

Readings this week: Isaiah 60:1-6 (Monday), Psalm 72 (Tuesday), Matthew 2:1-12 (Wednesday), Ephesians 3:1-12 (Thursday). The emerging message: Friday

Isaiah 60:1-6   Monday, Jan 1

The glory of the Lord rises to shine on the Israelite nation, for all nations to be drawn to the true light

1 “Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you.

  • The glory of the Lord now becomes Jerusalem’s light and beacon for all.

2 Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.

  • An allusion to the pillar of cloud in the wilderness, but in this instance a new experience of God’s glory, like the follow spot that moves to rest on one part of a dark theatre set.

3 All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see your radiance.

  • A key verse and headline to all the readings. God is doing a new thing, and this is the early announcement. The light of God’s presence, truth and glory is on ‘Jerusalem’, the centre of worship, and this will draw other nations; people of the highest rank will be stirred to come and see.

4 “Look and see, for everyone is coming home! Your sons are coming from distant lands; your little daughters will be carried home.

  • Much the same words were used in the context of the return from exile, Isaiah 49:18,22. Here a broader ‘return from exile’ is in view.

5 Your eyes will shine, and your heart will thrill with joy, for merchants from around the world will come to you. They will bring you the wealth of many lands.

  • King Darius contributed to the rebuilding of the temple under Zerubbabel, Ezra 6:8-9. Much later, as Temple gave way to Church, Gentiles swelled the numbers.

6 Vast caravans of camels will converge on you, the camels of Midian and Ephah. The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense and will come worshipping the Lord.

  • Frankincense was the only aromatic permitted for altar incense and, like gold, was a commodity of the highest value.

Application

It’s too easy to jump straight to a parallel between verse 6 with its camels and frankincense and gold, and the adoration made to the very young Jesus by astrologer-priests from the east – but these were the gifts of tribute customarily made in that culture. Rather, the point is an impartation of light – the glory of the Lord that comes on His own to draw others. This was always the purpose of God’s chosen people: to be His own, who knew Him and knew His ways and showed them to a wider world.

This was the nature of the first covenantal promise God made to Abraham, Genesis 12:2-3 “I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others… All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” The rebuilding of the Temple, the centre of worship, fits that purpose. God is about rebuilding and restoring His present day ‘temple’ – the temple of the Holy Spirit that is you and I, for us to reflect His goodness and glory that others may be drawn to His love.

Too big a commission? We, His church, are in this together and when we, like His people of long ago, get our focus on God’s eternal plan instead of everything else, and how He needs to use us to fulfil it by showing what He is like to others, people will be drawn to His light. That’s the way it works.

For reflection and discussion

1.  Where do we see the Lord’s light resting, and what response is the Holy Spirit leading us to make?