Young Jesus at the Temple

Luke 2:41-52

Only Luke provides us any information about the boyhood of Jesus, and all of it is found in this section. Speculation about the reasons for this are useless and distracting. They lead us to go beyond what has been written in the Word. Instead, we need to think about what these words reveal about our Lord and Savior. The Bible is God’s message about his one and only Son (Luke 24:44; etc.) We mislead ourselves and others if we pursue speculative knowledge, which includes speculation about the “timeline of prophecy”. Don’t do it! Break the bad habit of taking pride in what you suppose the Spirit ought to have written rather than what is written. Neither do we need to speculate about why Luke included this event. Let’s content ourselves with reading and meditating on what has been written. So then, what should we learn?

Jesus was raised by believing, godly parents (2:41). The law covenant required all Israelite men to attend Passover, Pentecost, and Booths (cf. Exodus 23:14-17; Deuteronomy 16:16). Israelite women did not have this burden put on them. It was a burden, because it required a long trip, usually on foot, from the towns of Israel. A man would have to leave his job and home during the festivals and the journeys to and from Jerusalem. This required faith in the Lord to protect his possessions and to provide for the journeys and the expenses involved in attending the festivals. We also see Mary at the festival. She was about twenty-eight at this point and already the mother of several of her other (at least) six children. This would involve a lot of work for Mary and Joseph to worship the Lord.

Jesus was growing in many ways (2:43, 51-52). At twelve years old, a boy could stay with the women and children or go with the men. Jesus chose the second option. He was in Jerusalem, the city of the Great King, and there was much for him to see with his human eyes. Since he knew he was God’s Anointed, he would want to see his city. Boys have a “joy of life” excitement in exploration. We do not know if his parents gave him any guidelines about reporting back to them. Again, it is easy to speculate according to how we want this event to look to prove some point we want to make. At the end of this section, Luke emphasizes Jesus’ obedience to his parents. He also mentions Jesus growth in knowledge. Beyond those boundaries we should not go.

Jesus went to the best place for him to be, to his Father’s house (2:43-47). There he interacted with trained Bible teachers. He listened to them and asked them questions. Since he was a boy, it was not fitting for him to teach, but when asked he gave insightful answers. Certainly, this shows his humility, for the One who is God’s wisdom knew far more than any of them. It also sheds light on his later interactions with such men. He had listened to what they taught. He had the opportunity to reason out how their views compared with the truth of what he was. But the key point is that he wanted to be where God was worshiped and to participate in it in every facet. Jesus was acknowledged as an exceptional youth.

Jesus conversed wisely with his parents (2:48-50). He listened humbly while his mother gave a typical motherly rebuke. He had done nothing wrong, and he kept his mouth from any discourteous replies. But he gave them a revelation that he knew who he was, and he expected that they ought to have thought about him, according to what the Father had already made known to them. He was the Son of the Most High, the Son of God (1:32, 35 NIV). They ought to have known that he would be at his Father’s house, the temple. This sets a pattern that we see in Jesus. He was not on a quest for self-knowledge. He is knowledge and wisdom, and he expects people to recognize his greatness. Do we? Do we function according to the truth of who and what Jesus is?

Grace and peace, David

Help for Reading the Bible

John 5:31-47

Let’s look at an overview of the message or story that God tells all people everywhere in his word, the Bible. It will focus on some of God’s ideas in his word about his word. Knowing these ideas will help shape and inform our approach to every book in the Book of books. I think this overview provides equipment needed for reading and learning and applying God’s word to our lives.

The Bible tells the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ through salvation by judgment. God gives the written record of his word or message to people in what has proved to be an enduring and accessible resource that is better than merely hearing the spoken voice of God. The Sovereign God spoke this word through people he chose, and the Holy Spirit caused that message to be recorded by people in written form (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21). For example, God spoke to Abram (Genesis 12:1-3), and the Spirit of God had Moses write down those words (John 5:46).

The Bible is primarily made up of God’s narrative or story about his purpose to save and of his commentary upon that narrative. In this way, we read about God’s actions in history to save a people he chose through Christ’s person, word, and redemptive accomplishments. In his commentary on salvation history, God explains the significance and meaning of all this to us. Together they form our world and life view. For example, in the Four Gospels, we read the story of Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, while in the letters of the apostles we learn the significance and meaning of those gospel events for our lives.

The story the Bible makes known is the message about God’s glory. It is his surpassing value and significance as the supreme and ultimate Being and the shining brilliance and magnificence of all that he is and does. Since God is the first and best, his glory is the ultimate purpose of his creation. For example, think of Psalm 19:1.

As God tells the story of his glory in Christ, he invites people to enter into his story. We enter through regeneration and conversion (Acts 20:21). And then our lives become worship. How we live proclaims and enables the enjoyment of God’s excellence. Consider Romans 11:36; 16:27; 1 Corinthians 10:31. What is God’s plan? Read Numbers 14:21; Isaiah 6:3; Habakkuk 2:14; Psalm 72:19; Revelation 4:11. In fact, our destiny is the experience of God’s glory (Revelation 21:1-4, 9-11, 23).

The main character in God’s story is the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. I see this point made in two general ways in the Holy Writings. First, it is made by direct statements of Jesus the Messiah. He tells us that God’s story is about him. The Scriptures testify about Christ (John 5:39, 46). The Bible is only understood correctly as we hear it telling us the good news of Christ (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47). Compare how Paul’s testimony was formed by this idea (Acts 26:9-23). This is why our theology, what we believe the Bible teaches, must be Christ-structured. God does not tell his story by talking about one of his attributes (like sovereignty or love) or about the covenants or promise-fulfillment or Israel or the new creation. These are part of the story, but the main idea is God’s glory in Christ in salvation through judgment. For example, how can sinners be saved? It is because Jesus took God’s wrath or judgment when he died on the cross, and in that way he rescues or saves all who trust in him.

Second, it is made by the content of the story. When you study how the story unfolds, you see four ideas: creation, fall, redemption, and renewal. All point in some way to the Lord Jesus Christ. For example, read Colossians 1:15-20. When you study how the story is told by men chosen by God to tell it, you hear the story proclaim Christ (Colossians 1:28; cf. Acts 2:22-36; 3:12-26; 17:16-31; Romans 1:1-4; 3:21-26).

God’s story should be heard according to the way God told it. At this point I could say a lot about such matters as progressive revelation, key people in God’s story (cf. Matthew 1:1; Romans 5:12-21), and important ideas like the seed, the temple, the Biblical covenants, God’s worldwide mission, etc. Instead, I want to focus on how the Bible was put together, so that you can better understand the storyline.

Concerning the Old Testament Scriptures (OTS), we are used to the order of the books in our English Bibles, but Jesus had a different view (cf. Luke 24:27, 44; Matthew 23:35). He presented a three-fold division of the OTS: Torah (Law), Neviim (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings).

  • Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
  • Neviim: The Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) and the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Book of the Twelve)
  • Ketuvim: The Book of Truth (Psalms, Proverbs, Job), the Megilloth or Small Scrolls (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther), and other sacred Writings (Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles)

Notice in this arrangement there are 24 books but they have the same content as our English arrangement of 39 books. In both cases the Apocrypha are not considered part of the Bible. Notice also that the last book of the OTS in this arrangement is Chronicles.

When you read the OTS in this order, you see God’s narrative storyline, followed by his commentary, which is followed by narrative storyline.

  • First narrative storyline: the Torah and the Former Prophets
  • Poetic commentary: The Latter Prophets, the Book of Truth, and the Small Scrolls. For example, consider how Ruth functions as commentary about David’s kingship.
  • Second narrative storyline: the other sacred Writings.

The NTS are providentially put together in a similar way.

  • First narrative storyline: The Four Gospels and Acts
  • Commentary: The Letters (Romans through Jude)
  • Second narrative storyline: The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:1)

Reading the Bible in this sequence will help you to grasp the storyline more easily, and to find God’s own commentary about Christ’s person, word, and redemptive accomplishments. Enjoy reading God’s word!

Grace and peace, David

A Good Restart

DSCN38002 Chronicles 14:1-15

Along with our thoughts on the psalms, we will also do a short series from 2 Chronicles on the reign of Asa, king of Judah. Asa was David’s great-great grandson; his reign began 60 years after David’s ended. He is listed as a good king of Judah. Asa’s reign divides neatly into three periods: his early years, a middle period of peace and progress, and the final six years of steep decline. Today, we will look at his good start as ruler of God’s people. And let us recall that all of this is written for our instruction. For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4 ESV; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11).

Asa’s reign began with repentance and return to the true worship of the Lord (14:1-5). It will help us to know the setting of these early years of Asa’s reign in Judah (14:1). He came to the throne after years of spiritual decline during the later years of Solomon and the reigns of Rehoboam and Abijah. As we consider this decline, it makes us ask, “How did the southern kingdom of Judah sink into such a condition?” Part of the answer lies in the passage of time; it is about 40 years after the midpoint of Solomon’s reign. A generation has passed since the building of the temple. Grace does not pass from parents to children. Godly parents may have spiritually apathetic children and godless grandchildren. Mostly, this spiritual condition sprang from the reintroduction of idolatry into Israel from Solomon’s many wives. The people were led astray from the Lord. Although their way of life was not good, God gave Judah a time of peace. Peace is a great blessing, and we ought to praise God for every day of peace we enjoy. God provided a young man with an opportunity to concentrate on the true worship of the Lord his God (cf. 14:6b). I make an appeal to our younger readers. Use your days of youth to serve the Lord. Everything you do by grace through faith when you are young can be a building block for greater service later. Hours of worship, prayer, Bible reading, and meditation provide resources that you can draw upon when you have less strength and are much busier.

Asa led his people in through repentant actions (14:2-5). A godly world and life view produces godly actions. When the Lord brings you to know the truth, he wants your way of worship to be transformed to agree with the Bible. We live in a day when people assume that worship style and forms are ruled by human pleasures and preferences. Yes, I know that one aspect of worship flows out from who we are, but the other aspect must be what the living God desires. A worship service is not to satisfy the felt needs of those present. “I like…” or “I don’t like…” are heard far too often in most churches. What does God like?

Asa had to remove false worship from his kingdom. First of all, this meant getting rid of the worship of false gods. The people had sunk deep into spiritual and sexual sin. The “sacred stones” were fertility gods, and Asherah was the supposed wife of El, the chief god. Worship of fertility gods involved sexual immorality. Asa also had to remove the incorrect worship of the living God. During the old covenant, the people were to bring all their offerings to the tabernacle or later the temple. But from the time of Eli, they had started to offer sacrifices on high places. This was contrary to what God had ordered; God was not pleased by this false worship. In the new covenant, all our worship must only be through the Lord Jesus Christ on the basis of his finished, once for all sacrifice. This is why we pray in Jesus’ name to the Father, and not to anyone else or on account of anyone’s merits but Christ’s; for example, wrongly assuming that fasting on some supposed holy day or during a holy season gives you a better position with God.

Asa had to reestablish a proper old covenant relationship with God. So he commanded them to seek the Lord (not other gods) and to obey God’s laws and commands (regulations about both the way of worship and the way of life). Consider Deuteronomy 4:29-31, 39-40.

Again, this requires us to live in God’s presence in Christ and his better covenant. Every part of our life and worship must be in Christ, with Christ, for Christ, and through Christ.

Grace and peace, David

The Scroll of Kindness

IMG_0870Ruth 1:1-4:22

Hello my friends! Today, we begin a new study in the always precious and valuable word of God. Our subject is the book of Ruth, which is by a general consent an extremely well-written love story. Yet you can see that our title for this opening article is “the scroll of kindness”. Why such a title? And why is there such a book in the Bible, God’s written word?

First of all, let us think more generally about the Holy Scriptures (the Holy Writings). When we come to the Bible, we must come to it in conformity with what it presents itself to be. If we fail to do this, we will not profit from it. But what does the Bible tell us about itself? Here are five basic perspectives:

  • It is the word or message of the living God, which means it is sufficient and authoritative for what we believe and how we are to live (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
  • It is true (John 17:17; cf. Titus 1:2)
  • It is a Christ-focused message (Luke 24:27, 44-47); its ideas and the way of life it presents are structured according to Christ
  • It is spiritually profitable (Psalm 19:7-11)
  • It must be listened to with faith in God (Hebrews 4:2)

Therefore, we must look at Ruth (meaning the book in the Bible) from the vantage point of all these perspectives. Here is an example from the first perspective. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

  • Teaching – what does Ruth contribute to knowing about God and his ways and the good news of Jesus Christ?
  • Rebuking – what areas of our thoughts, ideas, attitudes and actions does Ruth show us that need godly change?
  • Correcting – how can Ruth promote restoration and healing in our lives?
  • Training in righteousness – how does Ruth prepare us to serve Christ and others better?

With these ideas in mind, let us continue with a brief overview of Ruth. First, let’s think of a few general facts.

The author and date of writing of Ruth are unknown. Ideas vary widely, even among evangelical Christians. It is not a subject worth troubling one’s mind about too much, as long as you accept it as part of God’s word.

Ruth is an historical short story. It is named after one of the three main characters of the book. Ruth (the person) is mentioned only once in the New Testament Scriptures (Mt 1:5). The plot moves along by the actions and interactions of the three main characters. In chapters two through four, each in turn takes the initiative: Ruth, Naomi and finally Boaz. If you study the plot carefully, you will find that it seems to be a story about Naomi. (Due to space constraints, I will not demonstrate this now. Read Ruth for yourself this week and you will see this!) So then, if it is a story about Naomi, why is it called Ruth? To find the answer is to discover the purpose of the book.

The book of Ruth has always been accepted by God’s people as canonical—part of God’s word. But there are two divergent opinions about its place in the canon of the Old Testament Scriptures, which had three major divisions in ancient times: the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (cf. Luke 24:44 for Jesus’ use of this general division). Our English Bibles are arranged differently: Law, History, Poetry, Major Prophets, and Minor Prophets. However, from the time of the Greek translation of the Old Testament Scriptures called the Septuagint, Ruth was placed after Judges, and so we usually think of it as one of the books of History. Regretfully, this might distort the view of some about the book, assuming that it is a mere appendix to the larger book of Judges.

The older arrangement of the Hebrew people placed Ruth among the Writings, and within the Writings, it was considered one of the five festival scrolls. (Remember that the word was originally written on scrolls, not in book form.) Over time in Jewish worship, one of the five festival scrolls was read at each of the five major festivals. Ruth was usually read during the Feast of Weeks. The advantage of this approach is that it allows us to view each of these festival scrolls (Ruth, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther) from the standpoint of “promise and fulfillment” in regard to the story of God’s glory and to see each as a necessary contribution to our worship of God.

I encourage you to read Ruth on your own. Try reading it four times this week, making your own notes as you read. If you have a question, please contact me, and I’ll seek to answer it at some point in the blog or answer you directly.

Grace and peace, David

The Lord Is Risen

IMG_3598Luke 24:36-49

No one saw the Lord Jesus rise from the dead. You will search the Bible in vain for an account of what it looked like when he broke the power of death. The Bible leaves the event itself shrouded in mystery. Yet this does not mean that the resurrection of Jesus is not a historical event, as some so-called “scholars” have claimed. Anything that really happens is historical, whether or not somebody saw it happen. You can have your lights turned on by a timer in your house; that is an event of history, even if you’re not there to see it happen. But you become a witness that they were turned on when you see them on when you arrive home. In the same way, though the Bible does not give us an eyewitness report of our Lord’s resurrection, it does record many testimonies of those who saw him after he rose from the dead. Let us look at an eyewitness report.

Jesus gave many convincing proofs that he truly has risen from the dead (Acts 1:1-2). The apostles were in great need of evidence. They were not expecting to see Christ alive. This is the uniform testimony of the Gospels. No one said, “It’s the third day; let’s go out and look at the empty tomb!” They had problems believing what their eyes saw. Granted, they were startled by his sudden appearance (24:37). However, the text emphasizes that it was more than the surprise of the event. They had doubts about what was happening (24:38; cf. Matthew 28:17; John 20:25). The disciples were not gullible; they were not grasping for the least possible evidence. What they later preached was not the product of wishful thinking. Read the apostles’ viewpoint as stated by Paul (1 Corinthians 15:17, 20).

Jesus met their need. He gave proof of his material existence (24:39). He appealed to their sensual experience – “look, touch, see”. Jesus proved that he was not a ghost or an illusion. The Lord gave proof of his humanity (24:40-43). He was “constructed” like a man. He had “flesh and bones”. He could eat like a human can. The Lord Jesus gave proof of his identity (24:39-40). He really was the same Jesus they had known (John 20:24-28). There is one empty tomb in Palestine today, because Jesus who died and was buried in that tomb has conquered death and is Lord over all. Have you trusted your life to the Lord of life, who showed himself alive with many convincing proofs?

Jesus instructed them in the Scriptures. The Lord is not content to have us live according to our own experience or our own wisdom. People are to live according to the Word of God (Deuteronomy 8:3). What was written in the Scriptures was about Christ and his saving work (24:44, 46). The Scriptures are primarily about the Lord Jesus Christ and what he did, does and will do to save his chosen people. This should ignite our hearts to study and learn the Bible. This past week, there was a discussion on sports talk radio about the need for motivation to win. When a ball team is motivated, they can win games. When Christians become motivated by Jesus Christ, watch out! God is going to do great things through them. This should also guide our interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures. They are not law-structured or Israel-structured, but Christ-structured.

Therefore, our proclamation of the Bible’s message must be clearly and decidedly evangelical (good news saturated). If we are not proclaiming the Lord Jesus Christ and his saving work, we are not telling the Biblical message. The content of the gospel (good news) must be preached (24:46; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 1:1-4,16-17). Repentance (a change of mind) and forgiveness of sins must be preached in Christ’s name (24:47). Notice how these two actions are linked. People must have a change of mind about their sins. (Sin is rejection of God as God, refusal to love God, and rebellion against God and his ways.) Do you see sin as an offense against God? Do you agree with God that sin is wrong? Do you understand that sin ruins people? We are to take the message of Christ and salvation from sin to all nations.

Those who hear need illumination to comprehend (24:45).We are dependent on the Spirit of God for this act of grace (2 Corinthians 3:14). Christians have this (2 Corinthians 3:16). Christ has the power to work directly on the human mind (Acts 16:14). There is one empty tomb in Palestine today, because Jesus who died and was buried in that tomb has conquered death and is Lord over all. Has the Lord of life opened your heart so that you know from the Scriptures that he is risen indeed?

Jesus told them about Pentecost and the new age that was about to begin. The risen Messiah would send the Holy Spirit (24:49). The Spirit would come since Jesus would no longer be physically present with his followers (24:44; cf. John 14:25-27; 16:7). Every follower of Jesus ought to value the preciousness of the gift of the Spirit. All of us are to obey Christ’s orders (24:49). The apostles were to start with a brief period of waiting, and then go out with the message. We are to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). There is one empty tomb in Palestine today, because Jesus who died and was buried in that tomb has conquered death and is Lord over all. Has the Lord of life given you his Holy Spirit, so that you are able to be his witness? Bow before the Risen Lord, Jesus Christ; trust in him today and have eternal life! Then what should we do? Let’s go and tell others this good news. “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Grace and peace, David