Kingdom Conspiracy

Looking for something for your reading list over the holidays? Just finished Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Conspiracy. Worth reading for his stimulating critique of what he calls the “pleated pants” and “skinny jeans” views of the kingdom of God. You can see a 2 minute promo for the book in the YouTube link below, which gives you the flavour. Available as an ebook too.

Out of Egypt (Matt 2:13-16)

(Continuing in our pre-Christmas series through Matthew chapters 1 and 2, focusing on the Old Testament background.)  

Last week we saw one example of how Matthew takes time out from telling the story of Jesus to draw out parallels with events in the Old Testament. “That reminds me of the time when…” There’s often an immediate surface connection between the New Testament story and the Old Testament reference – for example, place names, or key words. But the primary connection is big-picture. It’s in the continuity between the way God worked in the history of Israel, and in the life of Jesus.

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We are the Magi (Matt 2:1-12)

(Continuing in our pre-Christmas series through Matthew chapters 1 and 2, focusing on the Old Testament background. Read Matt 2:1-12.) 

This is a very familiar story – the Magi coming to worship the infant Jesus, bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. An overly familiar story. To the point where we often gloss over some of the questions it raises.

What are astrologers doing as the ‘good guys’ in a Bible story?

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The Sign of Immanuel – Part 2 (Matt 1:18-25)

Yesterday, we saw the Old Testament background to the famous “sign of Immanuel” in Matthew 1:22-23. You need to read that post for today to make sense. Because in it, we saw that just like God was with Ahaz for his good, so God is with us in Jesus for our good. And yet, there’s another side to this sign.

God with us: part two

Because that wasn’t the end of the story back in Isaiah’s day. It’s not the end of the connections that Matthew spotted with the sign of Immanuel. Remember the sign given to King Ahaz? A young maiden was to have a child. And before he’s grown up, God would show that he was with his people, by rescuing them. God used the nation of Assyria to come and defeat the threats of Samaria & Damascus. Immanuel: God with us.

But the idea of ‘God with us’ isn’t necessarily reassuring. The idea of being ‘with’ can cut both ways. Think about it. If you walk into an office and the receptionist is on the phone – and they look up and say ‘I’ll be with you in a minute’ – that’s a good thing, right? But if you’re a schoolkid walking in to the principal’s office, and the receptionist says ‘the principal will be with you in a minute, young man’ – well, that’s not so good. If someone says ‘the police’ll be here any minute’ – whether that’s good news or bad news depends on what side of the law you’re on. So ‘God with us’ – is that really a good thing?

For Ahaz, initially, it was. God was with him in rescuing him from his enemies. That was the good news. But Ahaz refused to trust God completely. He seemed more worried about Samaria and Damascus than the creator of the universe. In fact, it looked like he was trying to make an alliance with Assyria to protect him. Meaning he’d be placing himself under the protection of a human king and their idols, rather than the one true God.

And so because Ahaz refused to trust God – there was also some bad news. A few years later, God was going to be with him alright. Again in the form of Assyria. Who would come and take over the land and carry some of the people off as slaves. God would be with Ahaz – but with him in judgement.

Isa 7:18 In that day the LORD will whistle for flies from the Nile delta in Egypt and for bees from the land of Assyria… (20) In that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the Euphrates River – the king of Assyria – to shave your head and the hair of your legs, and to take off your beards also… (23) In that day, in every place where there were a thousand vines worth a thousand silver shekels, there will be only briers and thorns.

God with us. It cuts both ways. If King Ahaz had trusted in God rather than another nation, God would have been with him for good, not for judgement.

It cuts both ways with Jesus, too. Which is, I think, what the Matthew was wanting to remind us. God with us – for those who trust Jesus, for those who acknowledge him as the son of God, it’s good news. Good news for the simple shepherds, who were the first to hear. Good news for the Magi, those outside the people of God, who were seeking a saviour. And as we read in the gospels about Jesus ministry, it was indeed good news for the poor, for the outcast, for the meek, for the broken. Those who have given up trusting in themselves, or in other people. Those who fall upon the mercy of God. God is with them – for good.

But for those who reject Jesus, it’s bad news. Bad news for King Herod, who tried to kill him. Bad news for the religious leaders of the day, who tried to shut him up and when that didn’t work, put him to death. God will also be with them – in judgement.

And it’s the same for us today. God with us – it cuts both ways. Matthew’s little trip down memory lane – it isn’t an irrelevant digression. It forces us to see the whole picture. Christmas isn’t just a feel-good story about God doing a photo-op in a stable. It’s a choice. A choice as to how we respond.

God’s given us the sign. The sign of Immanuel. God will be with us – that’s guaranteed. But how will he be with us? For good or for ill? That’s our choice.

Will we accept him as our rescuer – his death in our place? Will we put our trust in him to make right the mess we’ve created, confident that his death and resurrection has made it possible for us to be with him forever?

Or will we choose to reject him – continue to keep him out of our life. To put our confidence in the things of this world, in other people, in ourselves. Because if we do, God will also be with us. With us in judgement.

This Christmas, God will indeed be with us in Jesus. But our response to Jesus will decide how.

The Sign of Immanuel – Part 1 (Matt 1:18-25)

(Continuing in our pre-Christmas series through Matthew chapters 1 and 2, focusing on the Old Testament background. Read Matt 1:18-25.) 

It’s Christmas afternoon. Things are quietening down after lunch. Everyone’s well fed and starting to get that glazed look in their eye. It’s about time for a nap. And then, probably from one of the older relatives in the room, you hear the dreaded phrase: ‘that reminds me of the time…’ And you all settle in for a long-winded story from the distant past. One that appears, at least on the surface, to have only the loosest of connections with what’s going on in the present. ‘That reminds me of the time when your father was a youngster…’

Or if you survive Christmas day intact, just tune in to channel 9 the next day. First day of the Boxing Day test. Guaranteed it won’t be long before something reminds Richie Benaud of a test match back about 50 years ago. Invariably involving a leg spinner. Again, the connection’s lost on most people. But at least in Richie’s mind, something in the present sparks a memory from the past, and away we go.

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A Very Matthean Christmas – Part 3 (Matt 1:1-17)

The final unexpected character in Jesus’ family tree (see the previous two days’ posts) isn’t even named. So far we’ve seen Tamar, involved in one of the earliest sex-scandals in Israel’s history. Then Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute. And Ruth, a Moabite woman. All giving us clues as to what Jesus was going to be about – showing God’s forgiveness to sinners, God’s kindness to the poor, and God’s heart for people from all nations. And then we read on, to find the last woman mentioned:

1:3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, 4 Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife

Uriah’s wife? That would be Bathsheba. Referred to as the one who “had been Uriah’s wife” as a way of highlighting the scandal. You might remember the story from 2 Samuel 11. I’m going to outsource most of today’s notes to one of my favourite video clips by John Piper. He reminds us of the story, before showing how this relates to what Jesus came to do.

(Watch from 23 mins 11 sec until end. It should auto-start from that point.)

It’s powerful stuff. And here, before Jesus is even born in the Christmas story, this incident in the life of King David is highlighted by Matthew. Showing that Jesus came to bring good out of the sinful mess his world had become. Where even “a man after God’s own heart” can mess up this badly.

David had other children. One of them could have become king. But Solomon did. One of them could have been the line through which Jesus would come. But it was through the child conceived from an adulterous relationship that God chose. Doesn’t that tell us so much about what kind of God we serve? What kind of saviour Jesus would be? And that no matter what it is we’ve done, how much God is prepared not only to forgive, but to continue to work his purposes in our lives?

Sure, there will be consequences for our sin in this life. After all, David and Bathsheba’s first child died. But through it God can still work. That’s the Christmas message.

A Very Matthean Christmas – Part 2 (Matt 1:1-17)

Yesterday we began looking at the genealogy (list of ancestors) in Matthew 1:1-17, and read the story of Tamar, who features in it. We saw that far from airbrushing the skeletons in Jesus’ family tree out of his presentation, Matthew draws attention to them. Yesterday, it was a sex-scandal. Today, we see two Gentiles (non-Israelites), one of whom has a less-than-stellar occupation.

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A Very Matthean Christmas – Part 1 (Matt 1:1-17)

Only ten shopping days until Christmas. If that statement’s not enough to make you put your daily Bible reading on hold until the New Year, the next one might be: Over the next three days we’re looking at Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew’s gospel. You know, the list of names of who “begat” whom. But before you run away, there’s actually a lot of interesting stuff buried in this list of names. Promise.

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Psalm 72 (part three)

Psalm 72 is helping us bridge the thousand-plus year gap between our study in Ruth, and next week when we start the Christmas story in Matthew’s gospel. Today, we’re focusing on three more the ideals of Israel’s king – and how Jesus “fulfils” or “completes” them. Make sure you’ve read Psalm 72 first, if you haven’t already.

God’s champion of justice

An overriding theme of this psalm is that the king is to be the means by which God executes justice in the world. Firstly, within Israel’s borders:

72:1-2, 4 Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. 2 May he judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice… May he defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor.

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