Adoration of the Shepherds / Bartolomé-Esteban Murillo, ca. 1650
Matthew describes the virgin birth of Jesus from Joseph’s viewpoint in Matthew 2. Have you ever studied the first chapter of Matthew? Most Christians probably skip it. It seems like nothing but a boring genealogy.
But let’s pay some attention. Matthew mentions four women in the first six verses. And all four names recall stories of sin.
Jesus had to be born sinless, live a sinless life, and die as a perfect and unblemished sacrifice. Everyone from Cain and Abel onward has been conceived and born in sin.
And that’s not because they were conceived through sexual union. God planned for that from the beginning. But when Adam and Eve fell into sin, they could only pass on to their children the sin nature they had acquired.
So first, let’s look at those four women to see why Matthew thought them worth mentioning. Then we can see what God did to make sure Jesus would be fit to save us. Continue reading
Moses / Michelangelo
We Christians love God. We sing of our love for God in hundreds of hymns and praise choruses. But have you ever thought about what it is about him you love?
Somehow, I suspect many Christians would come up with a long list before they ever echoed the psalmist:
Oh, how I love Your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandments have made me wiser than my enemies,
for they are continually with me. – Psalm 119:97-98 ( all references from MEV)
I have no idea how many times I read past that verse before I noticed a problem: It’s easy to love promises and attributes. But how do we really love commandments? Continue reading
Suggest that some natural disaster represents God’s judgment, and people will fall all over themselves condemning how judgmental you are. After all, God is love. But God is also judge.
And he’s also Father. Disobeying any father always has consequences.
No one can connect whichever natural disaster is currently in the headlines with any particular judgment.
So I’d like to suggest a sign of judgment, indeed a sign of a curse, we all know.
Weeds. Continue reading
Cain Fleeing from the Wrath of God (The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve) / William Blake c. 1805-1809
God has a reputation as an angry taskmaster who’s difficult to please. He has a bunch of rules and punishes anyone who falls afoul of them. He lives in a place called heaven. Everyone wants to go there, but it’s hard to be good enough.
A cursory reading of the Bible confirms this picture. A careful reading reveals an entirely different picture.
Actually comparing the Bible with other ancient literature confirms the truth: God is love. He prefers mercy to wrath and grace to judgment.
These days, too many people don’t even bother with a cursory reading of the Bible. They take other people’s word for it that God, if they’ll admit he even exists, is completely unreasonable.
If they read the Bible at all, they’ll only look for evidence that confirms their prejudice. They’ll read right past all the evidence of God’s love and mercy, because they’re not looking for it. That’s stinking thinking. Continue reading
Rhoda leaves Peter outside the door
Peter was miraculously delivered from prison. He had more trouble getting into a prayer meeting.
The story is told in Acts 12. It has a haunting resemblance to Jesus’ first resurrection appearance. In both cases, people who should have had faith show the sin of unbelief instead.
The chapter opens with the murder of James, one of Jesus’ inner circle.
The king apparently planned to follow it by executing Peter after a public show trial. Passover interfered with his plans, so he put Peter in prison under heavy guard.
Peter had no apprehension the night before his scheduled death. He was sound asleep, handcuffed to two guards. An angel had to be rough with him to wake him up. He got dressed and followed the angel in a stupor until he was safe from pursuit. The angel vanished. Peter, fully awake by now, went where he knew he’d find friends Continue reading
Record drought in California. Record flooding in Louisiana. Earthquake in Italy. Insurance companies call these and other natural disasters “acts of God.”
Is God trying to tell us something?
Someone, it seems, always comes out of the woodwork to say that a particular disaster God’s judgment on—take your pick—homosexuality, abortion, taking prayer out of schools, or whatever other issue riles them.
It’s not. Continue reading
Finish of a women’s 100 m race
Was Paul a sports fan? He at least had an active interest in races.
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.
Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NASB
Would you ever think to compare Jesus to a thief? The Bible does in describing Jesus’ return. More than once.
Living by faith requires living not only in the light of the resurrection, but also in the hope of the second coming of Christ.
In his flesh, Jesus didn’t know when he’d return, but he knew it will be a time when no one expects him.
Jesus himself said, “If the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into” (Matthew 24:43, NASB).”
Paul wrote, “Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2, NASB). Continue reading
Hell. Right panel of Haywain Triptych / Hieronymous Bosch, ca. 1516
I recently came across a Christian teenager who posed this theoretical situation: a person who never sinned, did everything perfectly according to the Bible, but didn’t believe in God. Why, he asked, would God want to send anyone to hell just for that?
Once upon a time, churched and unchurched people alike recognized God as the judge of mankind. They recognized that he stood against a category of behavior called “sin.”
Much of discourse within the church centered on how to be good enough to avoid going to hell.
Nowadays, churched and unchurched people alike are more likely to regard God as the defendant who must justify his opposition to sin. And how dare God sentence anyone to eternity in hell!
Some of these human judges seem willing to let him make his case, but they’ll listen only with great skepticism. Others enter a guilty plea for him and consign him to non-existence.
In neither older or newer mindset have most people thought through the meaning of sin and hell, or for that matter, heaven and God. Continue reading
You’ve read a lot about claiming promises in the Bible. But then you look at many of them and find that God made them to specific individuals for specific purposes.
Are those promises really for you? What can you do with them?
Somehow we don’t have the same curiosity about commandments in the Bible, but at least some of them raise the same questions.
In Joshua 1:6-9, God gave commandments and promises to Joshua. Joshua had long known that he would succeed Moses as Israel’s leader and take them into the Promised Land. Now, Moses had died. It was time for him to step in.
No one else has ever had that same task, but God’s instructions didn’t concern military tactics for the battles ahead or how do deal with specific people or situations. Scripture repeats the same commandments and promises in other contexts. God expects us to take them as personally and literally as he expected Joshua to take them. Continue reading