God’s sure plan

‘And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”’ (Matthew 2:14-15)

Matthew’s Gospel has only just begun, and already God’s plan of salvation was under threat. Christ had been born, his mission was clear, the Gentiles had come; and when Herod discovered the Wise Men would not return to Jerusalem as Herod had asked, he would be enraged.

This hope of the nations was fragile, a delicate piece of china. One was coming who would want to throw it to the ground and crush it beneath his feet.

But God would not allow this to happen. God had determined mankind’s fall into sin even before he created the world, because he had planned to save mankind through his Son (Eph 1:4). So, God again sent an angel to Joseph, warning him and sending him to Egypt for safety. God’s plans cannot be thwarted (Job 42:2).

It is easy to look around at our society and fall into despair and fear at what is coming. Christianity is no longer seen as good for society, but harmful. Our views on the unique place of Christ as the only way to the Father are seen as disparaging to those of other or no faith. Our views on marriage, sexuality, gender and abortion are called hateful and bigoted. Religious freedoms are under attack.

These verses remind us that the evil one has always been against God and his people, but he is not threatened. Our hope is not in legal protections or stricter border security. Our hope is in the transformative gospel of Christ. We find salvation in him alone.

Rejoicing in the Saviour

“When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” (Matt 2:10)

The gospel of Matthew is clearly written for a Jewish audience. It regularly points out when prophecy is being fulfilled. There are numerous mentions of being clean or unclean, and other references to the Old Testament law.

And yet peppered all-throughout are Gentiles. Even before the telling of Jesus’ birth the reader was introduced to the non-Jews in his family tree. And now that he has been born, who rejoices exceedingly with great joy? In Matthew, it is the Wise Men.

These Wise Men are strangers in the land. They saw his star, telling us they looked to the stars as interpreters of the events here on earth. They understood that this star announced the birth of a king who would rule even over them.

How is it possible that they would grasp this great truth from the stars? Divination was forbidden by God, and yet God apparently communicated to these pagans from the East in a manner they would understand. What a mysterious God we serve, that he would do this to draw these men.

Yet the star is not enough. They arrive at Jerusalem, and only when the Word of God is read can they can continue their journey. The star hinted at what the Word proclaimed loudly: The King had been born in Bethlehem. This passage is not an invitation to look to the stars, but to grasp the Word which reveals Christ plainly.

At the beginning of the incarnate life of Christ it was Gentiles who honoured him. The rulers, the chief priests and scribes did not come. These pagan Wise Men rejoiced at him. Jesus is not only the King of the Jews. He is King of the nations. Of us. Rejoice!

Never Alone

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).” (Matt 1:23)

If we were to list all the particularly sweet verses in the Bible (Psalm 19:10), this verse would no doubt make the list. The promise made through Isaiah is now quoted by the angel, finding its fulfilment in Jesus. This son of a virgin has long been anticipated and is now finally arriving on the scene.

Why is this verse so sweet? Because what had long been lost is finally restored. When our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created they enjoyed perfect harmony with God. They heard his voice and enjoyed fellowship with him.

One of the many tragedies of that horrendous day when humanity fell into sin was that our fellowship with God was lost. We were cast out of the Garden and his presence. (Gen 3:24).

The story of the Bible could be summarised as God bringing his people back into his presence. Pictures of being in God’s presence are scattered throughout. Exodus finished with God in the tabernacle in the middle of the camp. That tent was eventually superseded by the temple.

This is again superseded, now by a person. In Jesus, God once again walks with his people. And now, because he has ascended, he sent his Spirit to be with us. When he was with us bodily he was isolated to one place and group of people, but in the Spirit he is with us all (Jn 16:7).

While we long for Christ’s return we can rejoice that we are never alone. When the world turns against us and we feel alone, or when we are physically lonely, we need not despair. God, in Christ, by his Spirit, is with us.

What’s in a name?

“You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matt 1:21

Mission Statements are vital for companies. Unless a company has a clear objective, a reason for being, then how will they know whether they are being successful? (Unless their goal is merely to make profit, but then, that’s still a Mission Statement, even if not very attractive to the outside world.) For example, The Walt Disney Company seeks to ‘be one the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information.’ How are they doing?

Jesus had a Mission Statement. He couldn’t go one day without hearing it. Embedded in his name was the reason he had come to this earth, having left the glories of heaven. ‘He will save his people from their sins.’

This is nothing new to most of us. We know his mission well. We enjoy the benefits of it each day, singing about it regularly, mentioning it in our prayers, telling others of the opportunity they have to be one of his people and be saved. But how often do words like these spark in us wonder and joy, as they filled the heart of Joseph when he heard these words from the angel?

This announcement, made to a nobody, betrothed to a nobody, was what humanity had been longing to hear since God first gave that promise all those ages ago, in a garden we can no longer enter. ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel’ (Gen 3:15).

Heroes had come and gone, but always failed. No one had lived up to the hope that Genesis 3:15 gave. Where was our champion? Praise God, he’s finally come.

Christ’s family tree

‘So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation of Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.’ (Matt 1:17)

For several years there has been a growing interest among many in our culture of researching one’s family tree. The mysteries of the past are enticing. The ads encouraging the activity intrigue with the possibility of finding interesting characters. Whether the past holds royalty or criminality, the hope is something interesting.

The genealogy of Christ in Matt 1:2-17 is full of intriguing details. But unlike our genealogies which would not shed light on our own character, Christ’s genealogy has much in it to teach us about him. All the Old Testament history was leading up to him, and God has so crafted history that even the purpose of his mission is revealed.

There are glorious heights in this genealogy. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, grounding him in the redemptive purposes of God, bringing blessing to the world. There is Judah, who was promised the sceptre would not pass from him. We see this reality when we get to some of the great kings: David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah. He has a great pedigree. Jesus was born to rule.

But there is embarrassment in this list too. In an odd twist, multiple women are named, each of them a skeleton in the closet. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Uriah’s wife – each with a sordid past (or, in the case of Ruth, embarrassment because she was a Moabitess).

It is perhaps in these women that the glory of Christ is most clearly seen. Unlike us, he chose his family. And he chose one full of shameful and public sin, and of Gentiles. Even in his family he chooses to identify with us.

Understanding Jesus

‘The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.’ (Matthew 1:1).

If you were writing a book about Jesus, how would you begin? Would you begin with a quote from Jesus? A story of his power? A call to believe?

Matthew begins his book, and the New Testament, by looking back. What a vital lesson this is for us. It can be easy for Christians, when reading the Bible, to completely neglect the Old Testament. And that’s understandable to a degree – the New Testament can often feel easier to apply. The intended audience is the first-century church, which is more immediately relatable than what is written to the pre-Jesus Jews.

But, as Matthew demonstrates, the Old Testament is critical to understanding who Jesus is. Without the covenants given to Abraham and David (and the others too) we would have an anaemic picture of Jesus. Our understanding of his mission, the Kingdom of God, sin, judgement, our future hope, and so much more would be greatly hindered, to our detriment. Without the Old Testament, we would have no idea what ‘Christ’ even meant!

But the other side is also true: without Jesus and the New Testament our grasp of the Old Testament would be incomplete. Without the ultimate son of David and Abraham, would we realise that the Old Testament was meant to be leading to an individual who would fulfil all the promises God had made? Would we realise that the promises related to descendants, blessing and land would all come to fulfilment and completion in one glorious person?

The design of the Bible is truly incredible. We need both the Old and New Testaments to truly understand the other, and to truly understand Jesus. Everything there points to him.