They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

The Lineage of Jesus: Miraculous Preservation of the Messianic Line

We know from reading and studying Scripture that the Jews of Jesus’ time were anxiously anticipating a Messiah. They were expecting a Savior figure that would bring them out of Roman captivity and lead them into a new age of prosperity and greatness that they had not experienced since their former great leader David, hundreds of years before.

From Old Testament passages and events, we know that this Messiah had to come from a very specific lineage, the lineage of King David. God had promised David specifically in 2 Samuel 7:13-16 that his kingdom would endure forever (also see Psalm 89:30-37). God also spoke through the prophet Isaiah that this promised Messiah would come from the stump of Jesse, David’s father (read Isaiah 4:2-6, Isaiah 9:6-7, Isaiah 11:1-2, and Isaiah 53:1-7). If someone was going to be considered as the Savior for the Jewish people, he was going to have to first be from the line of David.

Matthew, who was a Jew writing to a Jewish audience, is well aware of this situation and begins his gospel of the account of the life of Jesus by showing in chapter 1, verse 1, that Jesus’ genealogy does, in fact, go back to King David. Matthew 1:1 reads, “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham…” and then he lays out 42 prior generations to prove his point. Had you ever stopped to think what a miracle it was for God to have preserved that kingly line for all those generations? For God to honor His promise that the Messiah would come from David’s line, God would have to guarantee the presence of a surviving male descendant in every generation going forward up to Jesus’ birth. At first glance, it might not sound like all that big of an issue, until you realize how unlikely it would be in the normal course of affairs of life and death. Let’s look at a modern day example of what would be involved in keeping a male blood line intact for that much time.

Abraham Lincoln, America’s 16th president, is perhaps America’s best known leader. President Lincoln had four sons: Robert Todd Lincoln, Edward Baker Lincoln, William Wallace Lincoln, and Thomas Lincoln. Of those four sons, one died in infancy and another died as a youth. A third died in early manhood before he was married. The only one of President Lincoln’s sons to marry was Robert Todd and he had three children; two daughters and a son. His son, however, died before he ever married. In less than three generations, approximately one hundred years from the time Lincoln was born, his direct male line had disappeared. No one today can claim to be a direct descendant of Abraham Lincoln; his blood line is extinct. Think of your own family heritage and how quickly the male blood line can disappear. Keeping David’s lineage intact for all those generations down to Mary and Joseph was an amazing miracle. God delivered on His promise when He told Mary in Luke 1:32-33 that the son she was about to give birth to would be that long-awaited Messiah who would fill David’s throne.

Peter (Acts 2:30) and Paul (Acts 13:23 and Romans 1:2-4) both confirm that Jesus was the promised Messiah from the line of David and Jesus confirms this fact himself in Revelations 22:16, when He says, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you[a] this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

This advent season, stop and think of what a wonderful gift we have received and the promises that were kept to give us the hope of eternal life. Merry Christmas!

Adventus: The Coming

The word “Advent” (coming, or arrival of a notable event or person) is not a word that is in common usage in twenty-first century English. For those people in the more liturgical Christian denominations, they know the word is used for the four-week Advent season that leads up to the day of Christmas and the birth of the Christ child. For the rest of the church, it is not even a word that is familiar or often used. Where did the word come from and what did the early believers hear when they heard the term? A look back to the origin of the word and the customs surrounding it will give us an unbelievable picture of what the early believers were thinking when they heard this term used to describe the coming of their Savior, Jesus, the Christ.

“Advent” is derived from the Latin word “Adventus” (Greek: parousia). During the time of the Roman domination of the world, “Adventus” was a term reserved almost exclusively for the Roman Caesars. Adventus was a ceremony in which a Caesar was formally and ceremonially welcomed into a city. When the ruling Caesar won a military campaign or when a city was dedicated to a Caesar or another Roman God’s divinity, an Advent celebration was held in that city to confirm their deity and give them great honor and adulation. These ceremonies were not only held in Rome, but in many of the great conquered cities in the Roman Empire. All the major cities under Roman control were in competition with each other for the prestige to be known as the ”neokoros” – the protector and center of worship for a Roman deity, or the Roman Emperor that was in power. A great example of this is the city of Ephesus where Paul stayed for three years and the church to whom he wrote the book of Ephesians (also see the story of Paul in Ephesus in Acts:19 and Acts:20). At that time, Ephesus was not only the neokoros for the goddess Artemis, but also the neokoros for the Flavian family of emperors: Vespasian, Titus and Domitian.

To honor these great emperors and confer deity upon them, huge ceremonies were held in these Roman cities. Tremendous effort would go into sprucing up the city and completing building projects for statues and temples to commemorate these Adventus celebrations. Once the time had arrived and the city was ready, Caesar would take a huge entourage from Rome, complete with the Praetorian guard and several legions of troops, to travel to the place that was going to honor him. This huge assembly of royalty and troops could be seen for miles as they approached the city. Caesar would be mounted on a magnificent white horse and in full battle armor. Word would spread throughout the city that Caesar had arrived and was just outside the city gates. All the city dignitaries would lead the townspeople outside the city gate to meet and welcome the honored guest and his assembly. They would form a circle around the coming King and bow before him. They would honor him with words and proclamations and then welcome him into the city to see the new statues and temples that were built to deify their king. The entire procession would then march back into the city and the Advent celebration would begin. This huge event would last for several days and no expense would be spared to honor their deified “King of Kings” and “Lord of Lords”.

With this background in your mind, now try and picture the word ”Advent” and imagine the coming of our “King of Kings” as it is described in the Book of Revelation and in other places in scripture. Doesn’t it make the thought of his second coming feel so much more real and powerful? At Christmas time, we not only celebrate Jesus’ first Advent as a baby, but also his Second Advent when He will come again as a conqueror in all His power and glory. During this second Advent, Jesus will come, with the armies of heaven, riding on a white horse (Revelation 19:11-16) and Christians will fall before and acknowledge Him. He will lead us into the new heavenly city where we will worship and praise Him for eternity (Revelation 21 and 22). What a cataclysmic and earth-changing event this will be! In light of the historical background for Advent, shouldn’t the Christian church make a bigger attempt to recover the meaning and awesomeness of the Advent season?

P.S. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and see if you don’t notice an Advent in Paul’s description of Christ’s returning.

The Ascension

See Mark 16:19, Luke 24:50-53, and Acts 1:1-9

"Ascension", Rembrandt Harmensz

“Ascension”, Rembrandt Harmensz

After Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared and spoke to His disciples and others for forty days, teaching them about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:1-3). On the fortieth day, Jesus took His disciples out to the vicinity of Bethany, on the Mount of Olives, and while they were watching, He was taken up to heaven in a cloud. Put yourself in the disciples sandals and take a moment to think about what just happened. In the last forty days they have seen their rabbi, Jesus, who they thought would be their earthly king, arrested, crucified, resurrected, and now taken up to heaven in a cloud! The disciples have now witnessed what could be argued as the most dramatic event in all Scripture, ascending to heaven! As far as a major miracle, it would have had to be as equally impressive as the resurrection. Going to heaven to sit at the right hand of God was also a fulfillment of prophecy just like Jesus’ death and resurrection was. Yet, have you ever thought or been taught that the ascension was a major theological event? We have a day on the church calendar, forty days after Easter Sunday to commemorate the ascension, but you never hear anyone preach or teach or give the weight to this event like you do Easter and the resurrection story. In the Acts narrative in Chapter 1, we hear sermons on waiting on the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-8) and the commission He gave the disciples in Acts 1:8, but we don’t hear anything about the ascension itself. We celebrate Jesus’ resurrection in a big way, but His ascension is every bit as important to His deity as His resurrection. There is bound to be more here than we’ve known at first glance and has to be more to the story.

The ascension is not mentioned in Matthew or John and there is only one sentence on it in Mark. From the last few verses in Luke and the first few verses of Acts, we can piece together the story – and what a story it is! Luke’s story of the gospel of Jesus Christ has quite a profound ending. Jesus gathered His disciples around Him near Bethany on the Mount of Olives. Scripture says, ”He lifted His hands and blessed them and while He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up to heaven.” When the disciples saw this, they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. It is interesting to note that Luke begins His book by telling the story of an old priest, Zechariah, who was part of the line of Aaron and the official priesthood. This old priest is unable to bless because God took his voice after he didn’t believe the angel’s story of what was about to happen to him. The end of Luke’s book is a story of Jesus, who is not a member of the priesthood and was not supposed to be able to bless. However, Jesus raises His hands and blesses His disciples. In doing this, Jesus is claiming to be the promised Messiah who would be a prophet, priest, and king all rolled into one person. By lifting His hands to bless – which only priest were allowed and commissioned to do – Jesus was claiming the priesthood and displaying His divine nature as this triune being. This was why they returned to Jerusalem with such joy!

When the disciples saw Jesus ascending to heaven their Jewish minds would have quickly gone to the story of Daniel and the prophetic vision that he wrote down in Daniel 7 while in captivity in Babylon. In Daniel’s vision, four evil beasts came out of the abyss to bring chaos to the world. These four evil kingdoms of men misruled the earth and put it in shambles. Then in Daniel 7:13-14, Daniel sees, “one like a son of man”, coming with clouds to come and restore order to the chaos. This was taken by the Jewish minds as a reference to the Messiah who was to come and this is the first time in Scripture the Messiah was called the ”son of man”. Daniel’s vision then goes on to say that when this, ”son of man” went into heaven, He was led into the presence of God and was given authority over everything and that His rule and reign would be forever at the right hand of God. Interestingly, Jesus applied this title to himself several times and the disciples were definitely aware that Jesus called himself by this messianic term. In fact, the title “son of man”, is used for Jesus over one hundred times in the New Testament. Read Luke 9:21-22, Luke 9:26-27, Luke 11:29-32, Luke 18:31-34, and Luke 19:10 and also look at these passages in Matthew; Matthew 24:30-31, Matthew 25:31-33, and Matthew 26:64. From the Daniel story and by listening to what Jesus said about Himself, when they witnessed the ascension, they thought, ”He’s going to heaven now to sit at the right hand and rule with His father! He is the ‘Son of Man’ like He said He was!”

In Mark 16:19 it says that Jesus, ”was taken up to heaven and sat at the right hand of God.” This fulfills the prophetical verse in Psalm 110:1 where God declares the promised Messiah will sit at His right hand. Jesus says,”that’s me”, when He quotes that verse to the Pharisees in Matthew 22:41-45. In conclusion, because of prophecy and Jesus’ words to them, the disciples knew exactly where He was going, where He would be sitting, and what He would be doing when He got to heaven. He would now have all authority over the earth. When they saw Jesus ascend to heaven, they realized in a huge way, “Our Rabbis is King of the Universe! He’s in Charge! He does have all authority!” Then an angel comes and tells them that He will be coming back the same way that He left.

Given this background, isn’t the ascension every bit as important to God’s deity as His resurrection? The ascension proves that Jesus is the King; He is ruling and reigning over the universe now! Like the first disciples, we are also to be witnesses of His ascension. When He said to, “be my witnesses”, it was not only witness to the resurrection, it was witness to His ascension as well. We are to be witnesses that He is not only our Savior, but He is also our King! Evidently, the early disciples really believed that He was in charge of the world. Do we? By what we say and how we live, we also are witnesses to whether or not Jesus is in charge of the universe. Every time we choose to do what the King desires we are taking back a square foot of the Kingdom and are advancing the Kingdom of Heaven. Conversely, every time we choose not to do what the King desires and requires, we loose a square foot of the Kingdom. He didn’t say, “Just hang on till I get back”, He said to start advancing the Kingdom here on earth. We are to be expanding the Kingdom by the way we serve the ascended King. What square foot will you take today by living the way the ascend King wants?

The Cross and the Kingdom

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
– Matthew 16:24

Geertgen tot Sint Jans, "Man of Sorrows"As I relived the events of Passion Week during this recent Easter season, I couldn’t help but think about the dichotomy that exists between modern disciples of Jesus and those that actually followed Him during His time on this earth. The triumphal entry, the Lord’s Supper, the events at Gethsemane that led to His arrest, His trial, crucifixion, and three days later His resurrection must have been a whirlwind of emotions for Jesus’ band of followers. These men (and women) had been with Him for three years. They had seen all His miracles and listened to Him as He said time and again that He was God’s son come to earth to live among men. They were convinced that He was the one that God had promised to come to Israel to be their Messiah, their new king over their nation.

Jesus’ disciples then definitely wanted His kingdom to come. They were desperately hoping that He would deliver them from the hands of the evil Romans and establish a new kingdom and rule and reign here on earth. Jesus would be in charge, evil would be in check, and they would be His right hand men in helping to bring the good news of the kingdom to their fellow Israelites. The disciples were ready to die for their leader and would have done anything to help establish His kingdom and defeat His enemies. They had already given up everything to follow Him up to this spot. They definitely did not want Jesus to die on the cross. That would have been the worst possible outcome because the chance to establish a kingdom would die with their leader. They knew what the results of the cross were. The cross would have been a complete defeat for their mission. The kingdom was paramount and the cross was unthinkable.

Here is the dichotomy: today’s disciples of Jesus seem to face the opposite scenario. We love and need the cross and celebrate Jesus’ willingness to die on it on our behalf. We are glad, not that He suffered, but that He paid for our sins by that act of selflessness. The cross to us is victory – victory over sin and God’s enemies. However, the idea of establishing His kingdom here on this earth is another matter. To be willing to die or suffer, or even give up our time on Christ’s behalf to bring His kingdom to this earth is not nearly as appealing as the idea of the cross. We have the cross and Christians tend to think of that as the end game. Jesus paid it all and praise God we are saved! But, bringing the kingdom is just an integral part of Christ’s message as the cross. We are to bring His kingdom here on earth regardless of the cost or consequences because He is our king and we are His subjects. He has left us here to be His right hand men to make sure everyone knows, understands and also obeys His will. It has never been just the kingdom or just the cross, it has always been both. May His kingdom come and His will be done on earth, just like it would be done in heaven!

To Remember and Forget

“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more”
– Jeremiah 31:34 and Hebrews 8:12

The Hebrew word, “zakar” means, “to remember, to call to mind, make mention, recall past distress, remember sins, or remember the dealings of.” The word means more than just the mental act of recalling memories and is more about the actions that are taken because of remembering. For example, in Gen 8:1, “God remembered Noah and all the animals that were with him on the ark and He sent a wind over the earth and the waters receded.” God didn’t suddenly recall that there was a boat out there with Noah on it. By remembering them, He acted faithfully on the promise that He had made to Noah. Another biblical example of this is in Genesis 30:27, where the Text says that God remembered Rachel and she conceived. God wasn’t just thinking about Rachel; He acted on Rachel’s behalf because He remembered her in her distress.

In contrast the Hebrew words for forget are, ”shakach” and “nashah” and they mean to ignore, neglect, forsake, or to act in disregard. Again, the words imply action – to act as if you have forgotten and to ignore, not just lose the memory of something. To forget in Hebrew is to act as if you don’t recall or treat as if you don’t remember. So how do these Hebrew words apply to us in our sinful state in the verses in Jeremiah and Hebrews quoted above?

"Like it never even happened"

“Like it never even happened”

When God says that he will forgive our wickedness and remember our sins no more, it means that He is not going to act. He is going to treat our sins as if He can’t recall them. God is not excusing our sin, He is just acting as if He can’t recall them. This is an important concept for us as sinners. God simply chooses to set our sins aside and treat them like He can’t remember them and He won’t bring them up again. Out of God’ great love for us, He chooses not to act and seek justice for our sins against Him. God treats our sins like the slogan in the SERVPRO® commercials, “Like it never even happened.”

In turn, though, God expects us to do the same with those who have sinned against us. We are to forgive those who sin against us just as God does for us. Colossians 3:13 says, ”Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” We have to choose not to remember what people have done to us. It’ s not that we can just forget what has happened to us or lose the memory, but we have to act and treat it like it never happened, remembering it no more. Furthermore, the Text says this is the key to our sins being forgiven. Jesus taught us how to pray in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and told us to say, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Then, Jesus goes on to say in verse 14, ”For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will forgive you. But, if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” We have to choose not to “remember” just like God does. What a wonderful promise from Scripture that God will treat our sins “Like they never even happened!” Our challenge is to adopt that same slogan and pass that act of forgetfulness on to those who are in debt to us.

The Gospel

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!”
– Isaiah 52:7

crossThe word gospel means, ”good news”. According to Isaiah 52:7, the gospel (the good news) is that the God of the Jews reigns. Contrary to our Christian slogans, the good news is not just, “Jesus saves”. God does save, but He also is reigning and taking charge over the universe. Our message as Christians should not be reduced to just, “Jesus saves” but that He is reigning and ruling in our lives and is King over the whole universe.

As our previous post stated, God told the Israelites at Mt. Sinai to be a ”Kingdom of Priests”; to represent our God. We learned that a priest is a mediator; he goes between God and the people to demonstrate what God is really like. Our job is not limited to just praying for others, it is to demonstrate what His character is like. A priest is to also be Holy (kadosh), set apart. Priests were uniquely set apart by God and were to live holy and righteous lives. The Gentiles (us) received this same mission as evidenced in 1 Peter 2:9-12:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

How are we doing in this regard? Do we want people to judge our God by what they see in us? Do our lives reflect the fact that He is ruling and reigning?

The church today often acts like their only mission is to proclaim that Jesus saves, that He gives salvation. There is no mention of or emphasis on the mission that God gave the Israelites and us today to live holy and separated lives. Yes, Jesus died to save us, but He also called us to bring the good news to the people around us that He is Lord over the way we live our lives. Their mission at Sinai and ours today is to be set apart and holy (wear the blue tassels) and to be the message that God is reigning in our lives.

He didn’t ask us just to bring the message, but to “be” the message. That is the Gospel.