The sin in Jesus’ family tree: why the virgin birth of Jesus was necessary

Adoration of the Shepherds / Murillo. virgin birth of Jesus

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.… Read the rest

Cornelius: Anyone Can Be Saved

Cornelius

A historical reenactor in Roman centurion costume. Note the transverse crest on the Galea (helmet).It was worn to indicated the wearer’s rank in regimental ‘triumph’ and honorific parades. It purpose was purely symbolic. In ordinary events, it was not part of the standard battle-dress of Roman soldiers in the field.

Just before ascending into heaven, Jesus told his disciples to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In Matthew 28:20, he specifically said to “make disciples of all nations.”

It took a while for them to understand that he meant for more than just Jews to become disciples.… Read the rest

An Old Testament beatitude and the grace of God

God is goodWe think of the Beatitudes as part of the Sermon on the Mount, but they get their name from the opening words, “blessed are,” or in some translations, “happy are.” Lots of other verses begin that way, and many more with the singular, “is.” Here is the last of several from the psalms:

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
 whose hope is in the Lord their God.

Read the rest

God’s Servant: killing sin softly with his song

God will conquer the world and drive sin out of it, but as the four Servant Songs in Isaiah make clear, he will not act like an ordinary human conqueror. He has appointed a gentle servant to accomplish the task. The first (Isaiah 42:1-4), while not a typical Advent scripture, is very appropriate for this time of year.

Isaiah has already identified Israel as his servant (Isaiah 41:8-10), but, as it turns out, a thoroughly incompetent one (Isaiah 42:18-22). In the Servant Songs, God reveals another Servant, none other than the chosen Messiah, Jesus. God has put his Spirit on this Servant to bring justice to the Gentiles.Read the rest

Dry bones and new life

In one of the best-known passages of an otherwise obscure book, Ezekiel described his vision of a valley of dry bones coming to life. Actually, it was more than a vision; he  had to prophesy to the bones before anything happened.

Ezekiel recognized that the bones represented the whole lineage of Jacob. Both kingdoms that represented that lineage had been destroyed, their people exiled and scattered. In their shattered hope, the survivors felt as dead and dried up as the bones.

At Ezekiel’s first word of prophecy, the bones formed together as complete skeletons, and then the flesh returned. Now instead of a valley of dry bones, it was a valley of corpses.… Read the rest

Murderous Queen Athaliah: the self-destructive power of hatred

“When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the royal offspring” (2 Kings 11:1 — NASB).

Ancient Judah had only one ruling queen, Athaliah. Consumed with hatred for the God of her husband’s people, she ordered the murder of her own grandchildren. (How can anyone think the Old Testament is boring? Its stories are as powerful as anything in modern fiction or drama, and more convincingly true!) Athaliah lived out what all too many continue to live out to this day: they hang on to hatred because they think those they hate deserve it.… Read the rest

The sin in Jesus’ family tree: why his mother had to be a virgin.

Most readers of Matthew’s gospel, I suppose, skip the first chapter entirely. After all, it is only a boring genealogy. But at least look at the first six verses. Genealogies in the Bible do not often mention a man’s mother, but Matthew took time to identify four mothers, and each mother reminds us of a particular sin.

The disgusting story of Judah and Tamar, told in Genesis 38, reads like the story line of the edgiest of soap operas. God took the life of Tamar’s husband, Judah’s oldest son Er, for unspecified wickedness. It then became the responsibility of the second son, Onan, to provide his brother with an heir by having sex with his widow.… Read the rest