Day 276: A Dreamer Named Joseph, An Escape to Egypt, and a Murderous King (Matthew 2)

Joseph’s Dream painting by Rembrandt, 1645
13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Matthew 2:13-14

I love how hard the Holy Spirit works through the gospel of Matthew to convince the Jews that Jesus is their promised Messiah. We noted yesterday how the repetition of “fourteen” in the Matthew 1 genealogy pointed to David. Matthew, more than any other gospel, uses the phrase “that the words of the prophet might be fulfilled” or something similar (See Matthew 2:5, 15, 18, 23)

There are more details in today’s reading that are intended to point to Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament Scriptures. Consider this:

  • In no other gospel are dreams mentioned. In Matthew, things are revealed to people in dreams six times. Once, it’s the wise men (Matthew 2:12). Once, it’s Pilate’s wife (Matthew 27:19). The other four are Joseph (1:20; 2:13,19,22). This should remind you of how prominent dreams and their interpretation are in the book of Genesis particularly for a son of Jacob named—wait for it—Joseph (see Genesis 37:5-10; 40-41).
  • No other gospel mentions that Joseph took his young family to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod (Matthew 2:13-14). In Genesis, Joseph brings his family to Egypt to escape the famine (Genesis 42-48).
  • Speaking of King Herod, Matthew is the only gospel that records his slaughter of Hebrew boys (2:16-17), just as Pharaoh killed Hebrew boys in Exodus 1.

So without a doubt, Matthew is the most Jewish gospel. But I was struck this morning by the fact that it was written by one of the most hated Jews. Tax collectors were despised but their fellow Jews, who saw them as traitors and thieves. What a work of grace to see how hard Matthew worked (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) to reach his countrymen, even though they hated him.

Even though the Jews still reject Jesus as their promised Messiah, it won’t always be that way. God always has preserved a remnant of faithful Jews, and there will come a day, according to Romans 11:25-26, when the full number of Gentiles has come in, and God will soften the hearts of His people, and all Israel will be saved. Until that day, one of the most effective ways to introduce Jews to Jesus is through the gospel of Matthew.

Lord, what is my response to people that I know dislike me? I tend to avoid them. I don’t want to put myself out there for them. But Matthew, a most despised Jew, wrote the most Jewish gospel. God, give me Matthew’s heart, even for those I don’t get along with.

Day 275: What’s the Deal With Fourteen Generations? (Matthew 1)

“So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.” Matthew 1:17 ESV

Through the Bible: Matthew 1, Luke 2

Tara-Leigh pointed out that the number of the generations in Matthew’s genealogy may not have been exact, but may be selectively symbolic. She suggested that fourteen is a doubling of 7, the number of completion in Hebrew.

I came across another possibility that fascinates me. First, as TLC pointed out, Matthew’s purpose is to present Jesus as the Messianic king—the son of David, and the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to establish the house of David forever (see 2 Samuel 7). So here’s how the number 14 may have served this purpose:

Hebrew names had numerical value based on the order of their consonants in the alphabet (Hebrew doesn’t have vowels). So David would be DVD—

Daleth, the fourth letter;

Vav, the sixth letter;

Daleth, the fourth letter.

4 + 6 + 4.

14. 

So the three repetitions of “fourteen” in verse 17 might as well have been a siren, blaring out “DA-VID! DA-VID! DA-VID!”

It’s details like this that remind us of the perfection of God’s word. If you slogged through the Old Testament, you might have groaned a little when you got to Matthew 1, thinking “Ugh! I thought we were done with genealogies!” But Matthew’s genealogy gives us four beautiful truths about God’s priorities:

  1. Women matter to God (Tamar, Ruth, Rahab, Bathsheba, Mary)
  2. Gentiles matter to God (Ruth, Rahab)
  3. Scandal doesn’t matter to God (Judah, David, Solomon)
  4. In the Bible, every word matters. Even the genealogies.

Day 274: Turning Hearts (Luke 1:17)

“and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” Luke 1:17 ESV

Through the Bible: Luke 1, John 1

I really love that this reading plan begins the New Testament with Luke, because it brings out a specific connection with the Old Testament that you don’t see in the other three gospels.

Yesterday, we read the book of Malachi, and we got the last words of the Old Testament (at least in the order the Christian Bible has placed the books):

 “And he [Elijah] will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Mal 4:6)

Turn the calendar page to our first reading in the New Testament, and what do you know: when Gabriel announces the coming of John the Baptist to Zechariah, what does he say?:

 “And he [John the Baptist] will go in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children” (Luke 1:17)

This should remind us that the Bible is truly one great story of redemption. It’s the story of Jesus, from cover to cover. The discipline of reading the Bible chronologically is a great tool for helping you see the way the whole Bible tells the Grand Story.

But there is also a practical word here for me as a parent, as well as a pastor trying to minister to families. All of us are broken-hearted over the decline and breakdown of the traditional family. High divorce rates and the increased acceptance of same-sex households means that more and more kids are growing up without a father in the house.

Just as troubling, there are way too many men that are detached, absorbed in their own hobbies or work, or emotionally unavailable to their children. Even if they are still physically in the home, they might as well not be.

I find that the more I’m in God’s word, the more my heart is turned to my kids. Time with my Heavenly Father makes me a better earthly father.

But there’s an even greater impact than just the benefits I’m seeing in my own family. When the hearts of fathers are turned to their children, I truly believe that impacts the timeline for Jesus’ return.

It is no accident in God’s word that the last words of the Old Testament and the first words of the New Testament are about fathers and children being reconciled. I think the Bible is teaching us that before Jesus returns, there’s going to be a massive revival of families. I think that even non believing fathers will begin to give more priority to their children. God promises that He will turn hearts of fathers to their children, so that they will be more prepared to receive the coming Messiah.

We talk a lot in the evangelical church about “hastening” the return of Christ. We know He said that the gospel must first be preached to all nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14). But let’s not forget this other criteria for the return of Jesus: that fathers will turn back to their children, and children back to their fathers. Let’s pray for families. Pray for fathers! Pray for restored relationships! Pray for turning hearts.

And in so doing, let’s hasten the day of His coming!

Day 273: The Sun and the Son (Malachi 1-4)

 

My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 1:11, NIV)

For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts.(Malachi 1:11, KJV)

“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.”
‭‭Malachi‬ ‭4:2‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Note: Some of today’s blog post may seem familiar. Psalm 113:3 is a parallel verse to Malachi 1:11, so I covered a lot of the same ground in Day 148: Everywhere, All the Time, Praise (Psalm 113), But there are some different twists in Malachi that we didn’t see in Psalm 113, so if you have time, read on!

When you read Malachi 1:11 in different Bible translations, you get two different emphases. Some talk about the sun itself— “from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same” (KJV). Others, like the NIV, put the emphasis on geography: “From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets.” There’s beautiful truth in both.

One emphasizes when God will be praised— all day. One emphasizes where God will be praised— in every nation.

If I had to choose, I would side with the “where” emphasis, because that seems to fit with the rest of the passage. Once before and once after the phrase in question, God declares that His name will be great among the nations.

Then again in verse 14: “I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.”

But there’s also a beautiful truth to be found if you go with “when.” If Malachi is indeed saying that from sunrise to sunset, the name of the Lord will be praised, then realize that we actually know something that Malachi, writing three thousand years ago, didn’t (at least from a human perspective): In Malachi’s worldview, the world was flat. So in his understanding, the name of the Lord would be praised during the day. But we know the earth is round. Which means that every hour of the day, the sun is coming up somewhere!

In other words, there is no time of the day when the name of the Lord is not being praised. And there is no place on earth where the name of the Lord is not being praised. And there is no nation on the planet where God’s name will not one day be made famous.

Now, here’s what you get in Malachi that you don’t get from the parallel passage in Psalm 113:

At the end of Malachi, the prophet once again talks about the sun rising. Look at 4:2:

“But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.”
‭‭Malachi‬ ‭4:2‬ ‭KJV‬‬

I switched to the King James for a reason, because it translates “his” wings instead of “its” wings. And I’m not enough of a Hebrew scholar to know whether or not this is grammatically appropriate, but it is for sure theologically appropriate. Because as we finish the Old Testament and move to the New Testament, we are transitioning to the point where the “it” of God’s covenant becomes the “He” of God’s Promise. The impersonal prophecy becomes the personal fulfillment of prophecy.

The “sun of righteousness” becomes the Son of righteousness. I know, I know… its only a homophone (two words that sound alike with different meanings) in English. But we are about to be introduced to Jesus, the Son of righteousness. Like the sun, He will bring light to all the nations. Like the sun, He will have healing in HIS wings.

And like the sun, the Son will rise.

Day 271: Standing and Understanding (Nehemiah 8)

“They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”
‭‭Nehemiah‬ ‭8:8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Through the Bible: Nehemiah 8-10

My favorite class in seminary was Christian Teaching, taught by Dr. John Hendrix. Dr. Hendrix was one of the kindest, most winsome people I’ve ever known. He took a childlike delight in teaching, and he was nearly giddy whenever a student showed that he or she “got it.”

I don’t know if it was original with Dr. Hendrix or not, but I’ve always remembered one of his favorite sayings: “The difference between a teacher and a lecturer is that a teacher can make the complicated simple. A lecturer makes the simple complicated.”

This truth went hand in hand with what I learned from Dr. Kathryn Chapman, my children’s ministry professor. She said, “Share the gospel simply, so that people are able to understand, and kindly, so that people want to understand.”

When Ezra reads the law in Nehemiah 8, “understanding” is highlighted over and over. Verses 2 and 3 note that “all who could understand” were gathered in the public square in front of the Water Gate. From morning until midday, “those who could understand” stood and were attentive as the Book of the Law was read.

Reflect on the fact that the capacity to understand the word of God comes from God. It isn’t a given that people will have the capability to understand. That is given by the Spirit (Job 32:8; Isaiah 11:2; John 14:26); and sometimes it is withheld by the Spirit (see Isaiah 6:9-10; Romans 11:7-9; 1 Corinthians 2:14)

But possessing the Spirit-enabled capacity to understand doesn’t mean we don’t need gifted teachers. I love that there were priests scattered throughout the crowd on that day that “helped the people to understand the Law while the people remained in their places.” (Neh. 8:7). The Hebrew word translated “clearly” in 8:8 suggests that Ezra may have frequently stopped so that the priests and the Levites could “give the sense” to the people.

The end result was that the people understood the reading (Neh 8:8). And when they understood, they responded. They lifted their hands. The bowed their heads. They fell on their faces (Neh. 8:5-6). They wept (8:9). They celebrated with “great rejoicing.” Why? “Because they had understood the words that were declared to them” (8:13).

Pastors and teachers, preach and teach so that you can be understood. It is easy to blame a lack of understanding on the hearer. “They were checked out. They were already thinking about the Cowboys game that afternoon.” That’s possible, but it’s also possible that you haven’t prepared a coherent sermon. Sometimes we spiritualize it: “Well, if they don’t understand, maybe the Holy Spirit has darkened their understanding.” Maybe. Or maybe I’m just a poor preacher.

Good teaching is marked by several things:

  • A message that is worth understanding.
  • Learners with the Spirit-enabled capacity to understand.
  • Attentive learners who want to understand.
  • An understandable teacher who makes the effort to be understood.
  • Understanding that results in changed behavior.

That day in front of the Water Gate, all of these markers were in place. I pray that is true in our churches.

Day 270: Learning About Prayer From Nehemiah (Nehemiah 6-7)

9 They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.” But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.” Nehemiah 6:9

One of the things I love about Nehemiah is how often he just throws up a prayer. No preamble, no getting into the proper position, no centering breath. No King James language. No thees and thous, no “givest” and “taketh away’s.”

No acrostics, like ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) or PRAY (Praise, Repent, Ask, Yield). Those are both great tools for the prayer closet. But when you’re in the middle of a crisis, you may not be able to pray your acrostics.

Nehemiah isn’t in the prayer closet. He’s on the battlefield. So his prayers are more like, “God! Help! Now!”

You see this Neh 6:9 “But now, O God, strengthen my hands.”

And again in v 6:14: “Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did.” Which is wonderfully non-specific. Nehemiah doesn’t pray that God will smite his enemies, nor does he try to manufacture fake charitable thoughts toward them. He just says, “Remember these guys, God,” and he leaves the rest to God. If you are ever looking for what faith in ‘vengeance is mine, saith the Lord’ looks like, look no further.

These spontaneous outbursts of prayer reveal an intimacy and familiarity with God that I long to have.

When you read the Bible, you get the whole spectrum of prayer. You get epic prayers like Psalm 119– where every letter of the Hebrew alphabet gets its own stanza. You get prayers like Jonah 2, filled with Old Testament references and allusions. And you get prayers like Nehemiah’s. Or the tax collector in the Temple— “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”

All of them have their place in the prayer lives of God’s people. All of them speak to us about how to speak to God.

I’m reminded of the story about the father who walked by his young daughter’s room while she was on her knees praying her bedtime prayer. He stopped to listen and realized she was singing the alphabet song— “A, B, C, D, E, F, G…” The father asked her what she was doing, and the little girl explained, “Oh, I didn’t know what to pray for, so I’m just giving God all the letters so He can make the words.”

Some prayers are Shakespeare. Some are Tweets. Some may not even be words at all—just a bunch of Emojis strung together. I’m so thankful that God hears and receives all of them.

Day 269: Dirty Jobs (Nehemiah 3:14)

The Dung Gate in Jerusalem, on the southern side of the Old City

 

“Malchijah the son of Rechab, ruler of the district of Beth-haccherem, repaired the Dung Gate. He rebuilt it and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars.” Nehemiah 3:14

Through the Bible: Nehemiah 1-5

I know this doesn’t seem to be a super inspiring verse to blog about. But I was struck by this example of humility in my quiet time this morning. Malchijah (Hebrew for “Yahweh is my King”) is a ruler over a district. But he works shoulder to shoulder with his countrymen. And of all sections for a ruler to repair, he is assigned to the Dung Gate.

The Dung Gate is on the southern side of the Old City of Jerusalem. It leads to the Valley of Hinnom, the ancient garbage dump for the city. So all the filth, trash, refuse and rot of the city passed through the Dung Gate and was dumped in the Valley of Hinnom.

The Valley of Hinnom was also where Judah’s worst kings practiced child sacrifice (Jeremiah 7:31). In Jeremiah 19:2-6, the prophet pronounced a curse over the place, and gave it a new name:

“therefore, behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.”
‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭19:6‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Fast forward 150 years or so. Nehemiah’s work crews are divvying up the assignments. Scripture doesn’t record how they did this, so we don’t know if they drew straws or people volunteered. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone raising their hand and saying “Give me the Dung Gate! Such history! Such prestige! And I love the smell of garbage in the morning!”

So Malchijah probably didn’t volunteer. But if Malchijah ever objected, Scripture doesn’t record it. He put his shoulder to the work and got the dirtiest job done. Maybe he lived up to his name and acknowledged the authority of God in his life.

Because while the Dung Gate wasn’t a very high profile gate, it was necessary. The Jews were committed to keeping the Holy City clean. From their earliest days in the wilderness, God had commanded them to allow no uncleanliness within the camp (see Dt. 23:12-14):

“Because the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and to give up your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you.”
‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭23:14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I praise God for the example of humble leaders who roll up their sleeves and do jobs that would seem to be beneath them. I pray I would be that kind of leader.

Oh, and one more thing:

If you go to Jerusalem today, you can visit the Western Wall, the holiest site in all Judaism. It is the only part of the Temple that remains after the Romans destroyed it in AD 70. Wanna guess how you get to the plaza in front of the Western Wall? There’s only one way.

Through the Dung Gate.

For more about the Dung Gate, check out this video from a Messianic Jewish ministry called “Our Jewish Roots.”

Day 268: Did God Command Divorce in Ezra? (Ezra 7-10)

Ezra Reading the Law of Moses
...and some of the women had even borne children.  Ezra 10:44 ESV

I’m conflicted with Ezra. On one hand, when the officials inform him that the men of Israel have taken foreign wives (a violation of Deuteronomy 7:3), he absolutely does the right thing. He tears his clothes, weeps and fasts, and falls on his face before the Lord.

What I love about this is that Ezra takes ownership for a sin he didn’t commit. Ezra didn’t take a foreign wife. And yet, look at his prayer of repentance:

“O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. 7 From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt. And for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as it is today. .. 

10 “And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, 11 which you commanded by your servants the prophets, saying, ‘The land that you are entering, to take possession of it, is a land impure with the impurity of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations that have filled it from end to end with their uncleanness. 12 Therefore do not give your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters for your sons, and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good of the land and leave it for an inheritance to your children forever.’ 13 And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved and have given us such a remnant as this, 14 shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape? 15 O Lord, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.”
Ezra 9:6-15

That is the heart of a priest, and the character of a leader. He identifies with the people, taking their failures as his own, and accepting punishment for their sin (side note: don’t miss how this points to Jesus, our great High Priest, who also bore the punishment for sins he did not commit!)

But in chapter 10, Ezra listens to the counsel of Shecaniah, one of the other leaders of the people:

3 Therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord[a] and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God, and let it be done according to the Law. 4 Arise, for it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it.” 5 Then Ezra arose and made the leading priests and Levites and all Israel take an oath that they would do as had been said. So they took the oath. (Ezra 10:3-5)

Ezra had spent all night before the Lord, but this advice came from Shecaniah. So did this command come from God, or from Shecaniah? Had Shecaniah also spent all night in intercession? Not once in the text does God speak. So we are left to wonder if Shecaniah heard a clear word from God, which he then passed on to Ezra, or if they are just doing their best to bring the people back into obedience based on how they are reading the Law.

Notice that four times before this, (7:6, 7:28, 8:22, and 8:31), the text emphasized that the hand of the Lord was on the exiles. They had the favor of the king, protection from guards, and things were going really well. So where did Ezra suddenly get the idea that unless all these men put away their foreign wives, God wasn’t going to bless their efforts, when God had clearly blessed everything they had done up to that point?

I appreciate Tara-Leigh Cobble bringing out that scholars are not in agreement about whether this command was from God or whether Ezra was free-styling. And there is some comfort in the theory that they were not actually married, but were cohabitating outside the covenant of marriage.

But I also noticed that the very last line of the book of Ezra is “and some of the women had even borne children.” So, what was the impact on these children when their fathers put them away? The text doesn’t say. But for anyone that has been abandoned by a father, you know there’s a psychic wound there. And if the justification is that God commanded it, that’s just a double whammy. It would be hard to imagine any child developing a heart for God after this.

It made me think of something I heard in a study of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11. The Pharisees were absolutely correct in their interpretation of the law when they brought this woman to Jesus. But it is possible to be 100% right about the law of God and be 100% wrong about the character of God. They got the letter, but they missed the spirit. And maybe Ezra made the same mistake.

I’m not satisfied with the ending of Ezra. But maybe it ends that way in order to remind us that even though the exiles are rebuilding Jerusalem, the promise of a new Jerusalem is still to be fulfilled. When we come to our last day of Old Testament reading a few days from now, we will see that the last verse of Malachi is also about children:

5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4:5-6)

Beloved, the last word of Ezra is about separation. But the last word of the Old Testament is about restoration. This last word of Ezra just highlights that this is far from the last word.

For further reading, check out this blog post from Ligonier Ministries: Putting Away the Foreign Wives

The Future of Israel (Romans 11)

Sermon preached September 25, 2022; Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL. James Jackson, Pastor

I want to warn you at the outset that this may be the most difficult part of Romans to wrap our heads around. Did you know that in 2 Peter 3:!6, the apostle Peter admits that sometimes Paul is hard to understand? I think he was talking about Romans 11!

This week I asked a question on Facebook to help me with this sermon. The question was, can you think of a movie, book, or play where the plot centered around one character pretending to be in love with another character in order to make a third character jealous.

The answers I got said as much about what a diverse group of friends I have as anything else.

I’ve got a couple of English major friends who immediately said things like “Much Ado About Nothing” by Shakespeare. Or Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and Leo Tolstoy.

Then there were folks kind of in the middle who suggested movies like Gone With the Wind, where Scarlett pretends to be in love with Ashley Wilkes to make Rhett Butler jealous.

Finally, then there were some more current pop culture fans, who referenced Harry Potter, High School Musical, every Hallmark movie ever, and a line from Friends— WE WERE ON A BREAK!

My personal favorite was from my buddy who said “The Empire Strikes Back. But that got weird in a hurry, because you find out in the third movie that Luke and Leia are brother and sister.”

Yeah.

But the point of that little Facebook poll was to show that this is a plot point that runs all through the history of storytelling. From Wuthering Heights to High School Musical to Bob’s Burgers (thanks, Jordan Bailey)! A man falls in love with a woman and pursues her. The woman loses interest, or the man gets distracted So the man starts showing attention to another woman, or vice versa, hoping that his first true love will realize what she’s lost and come back to him.

Now, I bring this up this morning because believe it or not, this is also a plot point in the greatest love story in history. It’s central to God’s plan for the future of Israel, and it’s the reason we Gentiles have a relationship with God in the first place. It may sound weird, but stick with me, because it’s right here in Scripture.

We are calling this part three of the Israel Trilogy that makes up Romans 9-11. We saw in Romans 9 that God chose Israel from the very beginning to be the people from whom Jesus the Messiah would come.

Then, in chapter 10, Paul lays out what it means to put your trust in Jesus for salvation, and he says it doesn’t matter whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, everyone comes to a relationship with Jesus the same way.

So chapter 11 wraps up the Israel trilogy by answering the question, has God permanently rejected the Jews? Are they still God’s chosen people? And what is His plan for their restoration?

The answers are,

  • No He hasn’t,
  • yes they are,
  • and God is going to use us—the Gentiles—to bring the Jews back to himself.

John MacArthur points out that we can know for sure that God isn’t done with Israel for the simple reason that all of His promises to her have not yet been fulfilled. “If God were through with His chosen nation, His Word would be false and His integrity discredited.” (MacArthur, 32).

if God had totally rejected Israel, that would mean that some of God’s promises had failed. And if there is a consistent message from Genesis to maps in the Bible, it is that God can be trusted.

So God has not ultimately rejected Israel. He has a plan for their redemption. And here’s the crazy part: we are part of that plan!

Now, get ready for the plot twist:  God’s plan for the restoration of Israel is that He is going to make Israel jealous by offering grace and a relationship with Himself to the Gentiles.

You thought you were just coming to church to hear a sermon this morning, didn’t you? You had no idea that you were a character in the most epic 80’s date movie in the Universe!

Let’s see how this plays out. I want to take you first to a couple of verses in chapter 10 that we didn’t really talk about last week. Turn back to Romans 10. Paul has just laid out how to be saved: If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved. That’s how its done. There’s not a different process for the Jews. The law can’t save you. Being a son of Abraham can’t save you. If a Jew puts his faith in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, they will be saved.

But in verse 16 of Romans 10, Paul acknowledges that they (Israel) “have not all obeyed the gospel. They’ve heard the gospel (verse 17), and they’ve understood the gospel (verse 19).  

But they rejected the gospel because they rejected Christ.

There’s a scene in Acts 13 where Paul and Barnabas have been preaching in the Jewish synagogue. This was Paul’s pattern. Everywhere he went, he went to the synagogue first. But in Acts 13:44, it says that the Jews [pay attention to the wording here] were “filled with jealousy when they saw the crowds.” And so in verse 46, Paul says,

 “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’””

Acts 13:44-47 ESV

And from then on, Paul considered himself the apostle to the Gentiles. I think its fascinating that Acts 13 says the Jews became “jealous.” Because as Paul points out in Romans 10:19, this is exactly what God, through Moses, said would happen.

“But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.””

Romans 10:19 ESV

So, what Paul wrote about in Romans 10 was first prophesied by Moses waaay back in Deuteronomy 32:21. Before Israel had even settled into the Promised Land, Moses prophesied that there would come a day when God would provoke the Jews to jealousy by establishing a relationship with a foolish nation.

Side note: You want to know if America is talked about in Scripture? The answer is yes, Here we are. We are the foolish nation that God’s going to use to make the Jews jealous.

So this sets the stage for Romans 11, where God lays out his plan for restoring Israel. Let’s pick up with the beginning of Romans 11. Let’s look at the first couple of verses. Verses 1-2:

“I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.

Has God rejected his people? Paul’s answer is a Greek phrase me genoito, which means, “May it never be.” The most polite way we would say it today is “heck, no.” God’s rejection of Israel is not total. There has always been, and always will be, a completed remnant.   

Exhibit A is Paul himself. Paul was the greatest missionary of the Christian faith, yet he never considered himself as a Christian. Every time he describes himself, it is as a Jew. Here. Philippians 3. Acts 22:3. Paul always thought of himself as a Jew. And his message is pretty straightforward: If God didn’t reject me, then there is hope for my people.

Exhibit B is Elijah. Look at the rest of verse 2, and into the next verses:

…Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”

Paul is reminding his readers of the story of Elijah from the book of 1 Kings. In 1 Kings 19, Elijah has just single-handedly faced down the 450 prophets of Baal, but when Jezebel puts a bounty on Elijah’s head, Elijah has a little bit of a pity party and cries out to God, “Lord they have killed your prophets and demolished your altars, and I’m the only one left.” And God’s response is, “No, you’re not. I kept for myself 7000 men who didn’t bow the knee to Baal.”

So the point is, God ALWAYS preserves a remnant. Verse 5:

So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”

The point of all this is that God’s rejection of Israel is not total. No matter how bad things get, there will always be a remnant of faithful Jews. But don’t miss verse 5. They are chosen by grace, not because of their righteous deeds. God didn’t do a reality show called “Israel’s Got Goodness” and pick the winners. The remnant is chosen by grace. That’s an object lesson for the rest of us.

There is a believing remnant of Jews today—Jews who acknowledge Jesus as Messiah. The most common term for this group is Messianic Jews, although you may hear the phrase “completed Jews” from time to time.

But when we say remnant, we mean REMNANT. It is a tiny amount. If you go to Israel today, there are around 20,000 Messianic Jews in the country. That was as of 2012, so it may be higher now. 20,000 Messianic Jews in Israel. Which sounds great, but keep in mind that represents .0003% of the total number of Jews in Israel.

There are actually ten times as many Arab Christians in Jordan as there are Jewish Christians in Israel. Worldwide, there are about 300,000 Messianic Jews, compared to about 10-15 million Arab Christians.

This is stunning. Are you starting to feel Paul’s heartache from chapter 9, where he says he has “unceasing anguish” for his kinsmen?

If you go to Israel with me is, there is an almost 100% chance that our tour guide will not be a believer. Both times I’ve gone, our guide hasn’t even been a religiously observant Jew, much less a believer.  

Here are these incredibly intelligent guides who have gone through a rigorous training process to be certified as a guide. They know the scriptures backwards and forwards. They can tell us all about the life of Jesus and what happened here and what happened there.

But they aren’t believers themselves. How is that possible? I remember Janice Thayer saying to me, “How can they be around this truth all day, every day, and yet not believe in Jesus?”

And here is the answer in Romans 11:7-8

“What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.””

Romans 11:7-8 ESV

There is a current blindness on the part of the overwhelming majority of Jews today. And according to verse 8, God is the one who blinded them.

It’s been that way since Jesus Himself was on the earth. In Luke 19, right after the triumphal entry, Jesus stopped at a place where He could see the whole city laid out in front of Him. And verse 41 says He wept over it:

“saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.””

Luke 19:42-44 ESV

Sure enough, less than forty years later, the Romans came in and destroyed that city. They lost their temple. They lost their national identity for 2,000 years. They lost their land.

And Jesus said that the way of peace “was hidden from their eyes.” Who did the hiding? God did. God’s plan all along was that Jesus would be the cornerstone that the Jews would stumble over. John 1 said that Jesus came to his own, and his own did not receive Him.

Why? Why would God do that? Why would God give His chosen people a “spirit of stupor and hardened hearts?”

Paul gives the answer in the next section. Read with me, beginning in verse 11:

“So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!”

Romans 11:11-12 ESV

Here’s Paul’s second “me genoito”: Did God make Israel stumble in order that they would fall— meaning, fall completely, and be totally rejected. And Paul says, Absolutely not. Israel stumbled in order that salvation could come to the Gentiles.

And why did salvation come to the Gentiles? Here it is: to make Israel jealous.

I know this bakes your brain a little— it did mine. But Paul says it three times: Once in Romans 10:19, once here in 11:11, and once more in verse 14, where Paul says, “I magnify my ministry among the Gentiles in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.”

That’s the part we play in the greatest love story in the history of the Universe. Our job is to make the Jews jealous.

Listen. Our job is to live lives that are characterized by grace and freedom in Christ. Lives where, when we sing songs like “Jesus Paid it All— all to Him I owe,” we really mean it. Where we realize at the very core of our being that our own righteousness isn’t what makes us right with God.

The gospels say it over and over: I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).

 If the Son of Man sets you free, you are truly free (John 8:36).

Paul says it over and over: “Sin shall not be your master, for you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14)

It was for freedom that Christ set you free (Galatians 5:1)

I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatias 2:20).

God’s plan is that His chosen people, the Jews, will one day look at us and say, “What is with these Christians?” They are joyful, all the time. They are secure in their relationship with God. They get along with each other. They are completely at peace.

Look at them! They’ve been set free from addiction! Their marriages are stable. They aren’t obsessed with trying to get ahead in the workplace. They love their families!

I want some of that!

Christian, are you living the kind of life in Christ that will make someone else jealous of what you have? Are you so obviously different from everyone around you that an unbelieving world says, “Whatever they’ve got, I want it too!”

Because that’s why God grafted us into His family in the first place.

In the next part of Romans 11, Paul goes into an extended analogy of how we non-Jews have been grafted into God’s family tree. It can be hard for us to understand, because most of us aren’t farmers, and we don’t live in a part of the world with a lot of olive trees.

But in verse 17, Paul starts talking about an olive tree as the symbol of God’s family. He says,

“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.”

Romans 11:18-20 ESV

Have you ever seen an olive tree? This picture is of some of the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. Some of them are over 2000 years old. Olives have always been a commercial mainstay in the Mediterranean world, it was a commercial mainstay. Even today, when you go to Israel,  you’ll see olive trees in production everywhere.

Did you know that olive trees can live for hundreds of years? And though the tree, the root, can live on and on, what happens is individual branches can stop producing olives. So you know what they do when those branches stop producing? Cut them off. They lop them off. And they take branches from younger trees, off the younger trees, bore a hole in the old trunk of the old tree, and graft in a young olive branch so that the older trunks can be restored to productivity.

That’s the analogy. And it’s a plain analogy. The old productive branches, the Israelites, were broken off. That’s the blindness that happened. And then branches from a wild olive tree– that’s us, Gentiles– were grafted in. It means we get our sap, our energy, our nourishment from the covenant promises God gave to Israel.

We are tapped into the root of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the others, not as a replacement of Israel, but as a witness to Israel.

All for the purpose of wooing God’s people back to Himself, by making the Jews jealous of what we have in Christ. Listen, don’t get hung  up in the word “jealous.”  (your translation might read ‘envious’) The brilliant theologian John Stott put it this way:

Envy is ‘the desire to have for oneself something possessed by another’, and whether envy is good or evil depends on the nature of the something desired and on whether one has the right to its possession. If that something is in itself evil, or if it belongs to somebody else and we have no right to it, then the envy is sinful. But if the something desired is in itself good, a blessing from God, which he means all his people to enjoy, then to ‘covet’ it and to ‘envy’ those who have it is not at all unworthy. This kind of desire is right in itself, and to arouse it can be a realistic motive in ministry.

 God desires for all his people to experience all His blessings. I will say it again: The very best witness we can be to an unbelieving world in general and to the Jews in particular is to be the most loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, gentle, and self-controlled people in the world. That’s the fruit of the Spirit Paul describes in Galatians 5:22. And that fruit is to be so much on display in our lives that the people around us will say, “How can I get that in my life? I want that! I am jealous for that!”

And the Jews especially will say, “You get all that from our Scriptures? You experience that because you’ve put all your trust in a Jewish rabbi? Whoa. I want some of that.

And at some point in the future, God’s going to open the eyes of His people, Israel, and they will put their trust in Jesus as their Messiah.

Look how Paul describes it in verses 25-26:

25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers:[d] a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved,

God has allowed “a partial hardening” to come upon Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in.” If you are reading from the NIV, it says, “the full number of the Gentiles.” The New Living Translation says “the complete number.” What does that mean?

It means that God has a number in mind—how many non Jews are going to respond to the gospel. There is a set number—the fulness of the Gentiles.

There is going to come a time, and I believe it’s going to come soon, when the last Gentile will be saved. The last person is going to walk the aisle. The last person is going to bow their head and surrender their lives to Jesus. It might happen in Vacation Bible School. It might happen at a men’s Bible study. It might happen under a tree in Honduras or a street corner in Chennai India.

But at some point, the last Gentile will be saved. And if you’re a premillenialist, you believe that at that point, the trumpet will sound, and the rapture of the church will take place.

Others say that the church will remain on the earth, and will have an integral part to play in the salvation of the Jews. I don’t know. What I do know is that according to verse 25,

And at that point, God will lift the blindness from the Jews, and those who are alive at the time will open their hearts to the gospel, and according to verse 25, all Israel will be saved.

So let me just say to any of you non-Jewish people out there who have resisted the Gospel this long. You might be the last Gentile saved before that happens. Could be. So do us all a favor. Give your life to Christ, like, now. Let’s get this show on the road.

Because on that day, (look at the rest of verse 26)

26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
    he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
27 “and this will be my covenant with them
    when I take away their sins.”

Salvation will come to the Jews in the same way it came to us. The deliverer will come from Zion—that’s Jesus. He will take away their sins. They will trust in Jesus as their Savior.

Listen—this is a heavy chapter. It is hard to understand. The apostle Peter himself said, in 2 Peter 3:16 that some things in Paul’s letters are hard to understand.

But look how Paul ends this section. He ends with this beautiful doxology!

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
    or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
    that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

We don’t have to understand in order to worship. And God’s plan of salvation—for both Jews and Gentiles! Is worthy of worship.

Day 267: A Day of Feasting and Gladness (Esther 6-10)

Esther Denouncing Haman, by Ernest Normand (1857–1923)
17 This was on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth day they rested and made that a day of feasting and gladness. 18 But the Jews who were in Susa gathered on the thirteenth day and on the fourteenth, and rested on the fifteenth day, making that a day of feasting and gladness. 19 Therefore the Jews of the villages, who live in the rural towns, hold the fourteenth day of the month of Adar as a day for gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and as a day on which they send gifts of food to one another. Esther 9:17-20, ESV

The book of Esther ends with the establishing of the Jewish festival Purim, two days of feasting and gladness that take place on the same day Haman was originally going to carry out his genocide against the Jews.

Today in Israel, Purim is a raucous, joyous, festive bachanal, celebrated by both religious and non-religious Jews. From the outside, it looks like a combination Halloween, Carnaval, and Comic-Con, with lots of dress-up, lots of street parties, and lots and lots of alcohol.

Israelis enjoy a purim parade, the largest in the country, in the city of Holon, during the Jewish holiday of Purim. March 21, 2019. Photo by Flash90

To be honest, reading up on modern Purim celebrations and seeing the pictures left this buttoned-up, conservative Southern Baptist a little scandalized.

There are four mitzvot (commands) religious Jews are supposed to observe:

  1. Listening to two public readings of the Book of Esther (the Megillah, in Hebrew).
  2. Sending gift baskets of food, candy, etc. to your friends and family, called “mishloach manot” in Hebrew.
  3. Giving to the poor.
  4. Eating a “festive meal.”

The “festive meal” seems to be the one that gets the most attention. And believe it or not (cover your ears and clutch your pearls, my fellow Baptists), drinking is not only encouraged in Orthodox communities, drinking to excess is actually required by the Talmud. According to one article I read, getting sloshed on Purim reminds the Jews that many of the miracles of Purim occurred when wine — excessive wine — was being consumed. For what it’s worth, one could also make a case that the miraculous reversal of fortune in Esther was necessary precisely because excessive wine was being consumed.

As for the costumes and dress-up? Well, the simplest explanation is that lots of adults will look for any excuse to put on a costume. However, another article I found gave some fascinating explanations:

Since Jewish people were hiding their religion during the events of Purim and God was hiding his intentions, the Jewish people still mask their true identities in Purim; because part of Purim is handing out charity, people dress up in different clothes so that poorer people don’t feel embarrassed; or because part of the Purim story was the king dressing up Mordecai in his clothes to honor him, Jews now dress up to celebrate that.

“What is Purim and How to Celebrate It” from Jewishinsider.com

One rabbi explained the costumes to a reporter for The Washington Post, saying, “The real lesson of Purim is that appearances are not everything and that God oftentimes operates behind the scenes and we can’t always directly perceive the intervention in our lives,”

So, for all of us goyim, what are our takeaways, both from the celebration of Purim and the biblical events? For me, it’s that once again, God shows that He is all about turning mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11) . The events of Esther were a partial fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy about the year of the Lord’s favor in Isaiah 61:

61 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; 

(Side note: I never really caught the line in Isaiah’s prophecy about “the day of vengeance of our God” until I considered it in the light of King Ahaseurus’ decree that the Jews could use Haman’s day of genocide to defend themselves).

God is all about great reversals. Our sin for His righteousness. Our mourning for His dancing. Our ashes for His beauty. Graves into gardens. Funerals into festivals. And while I still can’t quite wrap my head around the command in the Talmud that on Purim the Jews are to drink themselves silly, it does suggest to me that our celebrations in heaven may not be quite so buttoned-up as we Baptists have always assumed. But that’s ok. Just tell us its grape juice, and we’ll be fine.

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