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

The Holy Spirit (Part Eighteen)

2 Peter 1:20-21

Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (ESV).

One of the great questions of humanity involves the study of knowledge. “How do I know?” and “How do I know that I know?” There are only a few basic answers to that question, such as “mankind can’t know,” or “mankind can know through some mystical process,” or mankind has all the ability to know,” or “mankind can only know truly through revelation.” All the first three answers are defective or insufficient for many reasons, which are outside of our theme in this article. What remains is the Biblical position that we can know because God has spoken. This brings us to the place of the Holy Spirit in God revealing himself to mankind.

Revelation has two parts: general and special. General revelation is God revealing himself in creation (Psalm 19:1-6). Special revelation is God revealing himself by speaking to mankind. God chose some of that special revelation to be permanently recorded in written form to speak with God’s authority. The Lord does this so that we might know his person, his will, and his saving activity. This written record God calls the Scriptures, and we often call it the Bible, the Book.

Our focus in this article is the activity of the Holy Spirit of God in giving us the written message. As we begin, it is wise to state that we will encounter mystery here. The Spirit does not answer all our questions in the Bible. In it he gives us true truth, though not exhaustive truth, for a good reason (John 21:25). But though we cannot know fully, we have all we need to know. Consider an example.

The games of the great chess grandmasters have been preserved for people to enjoy and study. If you have some understanding of chess, you can replay them and grasp to some degree how they achieved victory. But sometimes it is a marvel how they could discern the possibilities in a position and bring out its potential sometimes through a sequence of many moves. Watch the movie, Searching for Bobby Fischer, if you want to see some of this. In a similar way, when we come to the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures, we can learn what he has done, but he has not made known the full process of how the Scriptures were written. We will have to stop where the Scriptures stop. Be content that the Spirit knows, even though you do not.

The Scriptures are a joint product of the Holy Spirit and people. We see this divine-human interaction in many areas of Biblical teaching.

  • Christ has two natures (one divine and one human) in his one person. Both are clearly attested in the Scriptures, though the exact nature of their interaction is beyond our understanding.
  • God’s sovereignty interacts with human responsibility in salvation. God clearly chooses people to salvation, yet everyone who is saved repents and believes.
  • The mission of evangelism is another divine-human interaction. Our task is to tell others the good news, but unless the Holy Spirit regenerates, all our evangelistic efforts fail.
  • As we shall see, the whole area of growth in grace involves divine-human interaction.

Each of these divine-human interactions varies in different ways. But the product of the Scriptures is closer in kind to the relationship between Christ’s two natures than the others, all of which involve human sin.

The apostolic teaching is that “men spoke from God” or “holy men of God spoke”, as the NKJV reads following the textual variant. In either case, we are clearly taught that the Scriptures came through human instrumentality: “men spoke”. We see this same assertion made in other places: David (Luke 20:42; Ac 2:34), Isaiah (John 12:39), Joel (Ac 2:16), and “the word of the prophets” with Amos in mind (Acts 15:15). Compare also Matthew 13:14; 15:7; 22:43; Mark 12:36. Yet as these men spoke, God spoke through them (Matthew 2:17; 3:3; 13:35; 21:4; Acts 4:25). We can also see this in the differences of style among the various human writers. Ezekiel does not sound the same as Moses, nor does Paul sound like John. Yet in all, we read the same consistent teaching, sense the same heart of the master author, and are presented with the same zeal for God’s glory in the face of Christ. All this occurred in about forty human writers over the space of 1600 years! The observable facts of Scripture attest to this divine-human interaction.

This should lead us to worship the Lord. “Who are you, Almighty God, that you can work in human hearts in such a magnificent way?”

Grace and peace, David

Thinking about God and His Friendship with His People (Part Five)

Psalm 25:8-15

Our focus in this series concerns God as the friend of his people. The Lord is good and upright, he forgives great sin, and he confides in his people. We are now considering how to respond to God’s friendship. What does God expect of us in friendship? This text mentions four ways to express friendship with God (humility, obedience, godly mindedness and fear of the Lord). Last time we learned that we express friendship with God by being humble before him (25:9).

Let us think, next, about a matter that troubles many: friendship and fear of the Lord (25:12, 14).

Their concern can be traced to a misunderstanding of 1 John 4:18. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love (ESV). What they overlook is that John is talking about having fear on the Day of Judgment. That fear is cast out by the love of God set forth in Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice (1 John 4:8-17). However, it is still very clear that we are to fear God (Luke 12:4-5; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Hebrews 12:28-29; 1 Peter 2:17). That a correct fear of God is consistent with friendship with God is clearly seen in our text (25:14).

What does it mean to fear God as part of friendship with him? Consider the relationship between knowing God and fearing him. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight (Proverbs 9:10 ESV). In this connection, we can say that the fear of the Lord is the inner responsiveness to learn of the Lord in his majestic greatness. So then, if we are learning God, as he has revealed himself in nature and in the Scriptures (cf. Psalm 19), what are we learning? People who learn the Lord carry with them a deep awareness or awe or reverence for God’s infinity, transcendence, immanence, power, wisdom, holiness, grace and love. Let’s think of some truths that God reveals about himself. Read and meditate on the texts below and pray for the Spirit of God to cause you to react in awe of your covenant Lord. God (is):

  • the First and the Last. I am the Living One (Revelation 1:17-18)
  • the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God (1 Timothy 1:17)
  • Holy, holy, holy… the whole earth is full of his glory (Isaiah 6:3)
  • the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he (Deuteronomy 32:4)
  • from everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 90:2)
  • (does) not change (Malachi 3:6)
  • wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom (Isaiah 28:29)
  • the Judge of all the earth (Genesis 18:25)
  • His wisdom is profound, his power is vast. Who has resisted him and come out unscathed? (Job 9:4)
  • is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him (Psalm 115:3)
  • Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? (Psalm 113:5-6)
  • is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other (Deuteronomy 4:39)
  • is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:27)
  • works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will (Ephesians 1:11)
  • eyes are too pure to look on evil… cannot tolerate wrong (Habakkuk 1:13)
  • does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17)
  • does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35)
  • everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him (Hebrews 4:13)
  • from him and through him and to him are all things (Romans 11:36)

As we learn the Lord and communicate with him by faith, we will experience a deeper, richer, more vibrant friendship with him.

As we experientially learn who the Lord is, various characteristics will develop in us, though perhaps at unequal rates from believer to believer.

  • We cherish an awesome sense of God’s infinite greatness and excellence. Consider a scene from heaven (Revelation 15:1-4). We can see this in our time, for example, in many of the newer worship songs. An unexpected event has occurred through these songs. Where there has really been the desire to worship God, they have become the doorway for many to a more Biblically correct and mature theology. As people have studied God’s revelation of himself, they have come to regard God as far greater than they ever have previously to that study. We could say that such people become “treasure hunters”. Once they get a glimpse of God’s surpassing value and brilliance, they start out on a quest for more of it. They avoid what hinders them finding the treasure. Are you a “treasure hunter” of God’s glory in Christ?
  • We come to a conviction that God’s favor is the greatest of all blessings and his disapproval is the great of all evils. In other words, we take God seriously, living consciously in his presence.
  • This leads us to seek practically God’s favor as our chief good, and to avoid his disapproval. This remakes the way we live in this present age (2 Corinthians 5:9-11). For example, a missional attitude flows from the fear of the Lord.

How is your growth in perceiving the greatness of the Lord? Are convictions in your inner person about God remaking your ideas, values, and attitudes? What new godly choices have you made? We all must think practically. Let’s avoid the trap of merely listening to the word, while not doing it.

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Nineteen (Part Two)

Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (19:2-4b NIV).

People like to gaze up at the sky and into the heavens above. Sharon and I live in a suburban area, and we rarely can see many stars. There are too many lights around us. At such times, we miss upstate New York. When we can be out in the country, we like to star gaze. I suspect you do, too. In these verses, David considered the revelation that God has made in nature, specifically, in the sun and the stars.

Day after day they pour forth speech…. David next entered into a more particular explanation of the principle stated in verse one. We might picture a storyteller starting at first light with his tale, continuing it until the sun sets, but then another storyteller comes on the scene to continue the same story! “They ‘pour forth’ or literally ‘bubble forth’ their information. As someone has rightly remarked, it is as though their eloquent testimony bubbled forth at every crack and cranny of the universe” (Leupold). Speech: David emphasizes that everyday the creation communicates with mankind about their Creator. God has a twenty-four hour “TV station or web page” that only broadcasts commercials—messages about his glory. The creation says to mankind, “Stop, listen to my voice, and think about what I am telling you about the glory of God.”

Night after night they reveal knowledge. The night is usually the time for rest, sleep, and the pursuit of pleasure. The creation, however, is always at work preaching the glory of God. What an advantage may be received by people from this preacher! Until recently, people were unable to know little about the universe around him during the daytime. Sometimes the moon is still visible early in the day, and there is the occasional morning star or supernova, but it is the night that reveals the immensity of the universe. It displays knowledge not easily received otherwise; even the most illiterate can look up and read a vast library regarding the glory of the Lord.

They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Since the Tower of Babel, mankind has been under the judgment of many different languages, which has hindered human progress and frustrated mankind’s pride. How difficult it can be to understand someone from another language! Yet God is not frustrated in communicating with people. His creation speaks to people of all languages, so that all are without excuse (Romans 1:20). Observe that there are no “innocent heathen”, but that all are responsible to God because of the message of creation. They all are able to hear the language that the heavens speak.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. Verse four is quoted in Romans 10:18, in that great passage about the sovereignty of God in the spread of the gospel (good news). No one will be able to say on that day of judgment that he or she never heard about the Creator, because the Lord has had his words about his glory and his work proclaimed to the ends of the world. But someone may object, “But this message tells nothing about the way of salvation! That doesn’t seem fair!” However, God is most just. Since they refuse to listen to the message of his glory and suppress it constantly (day after day… night after night), God cannot be blamed for not sending another message, the good news of his Son.

When we tell others the good news, we do not go among those who have never heard, but among those who refuse to listen—a hostile audience. Don’t be surprised when they will not listen to you. To turn someone from darkness to light requires the action of the Holy Spirit with God’s word. We can and should tell others the word, and at the same time, we must pray for the Holy Spirit to produce spiritual life as they hear the word. For whom are you praying?

Grace and peace, David

More Thoughts on Continue in the Teaching

img_4323-22 John 1:9

Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son (NIV).

Why is it important that we continue in the teaching about Christ? Some things are best said directly and simply. It is important because our relationship with God depends on our continuance in the teaching about Christ.

There can be no real relationship apart from truth. We require true knowledge to have a real relationship. As Frame said, we can think of knowledge in three ways: a knowledge of facts (“knowing that…”), a knowledge of skills (“knowing how…”), and a knowledge of persons (“knowing whom…”). Obviously, there is a difference between merely knowing the facts about a person and having a personal knowledge of that person. I have friends in Ohio whom none of you outside of my family have met. I could tell you facts about them, but that wouldn’t be equivalent to knowing them. This is the problem many religious people have about their knowledge of God. They know some facts about him, but they do not know God personally.

However, we cannot in truth have a real relationship with a person if our knowledge of that person fails to agree with what he or she actually is. For example, my wife’s name is Sharon. Some of you know her, and if I talk about her with words that agree with who she really is, you would agree that she is my wife. But if I said that my wife Sharon has black hair, brown eyes, grew up in Uzbekistan, and graduated with a law degree from Harvard, you would say, “Whoa, that’s not the Sharon we know!” Since the only way to know God is to know him through the Son, including who he is, what he teaches, and what he has done to save sinners, if anyone goes beyond the teaching about Christ, he or she does not have God. (To “have” someone means to be in a relationship with that person.) The Bible clearly says that you cannot have a personal relationship with God, except through knowing Christ, the Son of God (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 2:22-23; 5:12-13).

You may have a true relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Right now, listen to what God tells you about himself in the Bible; agree in your heart that you need the salvation Christ accomplished through his death and resurrection, and trust in Christ as your Lord and Savior. You may change your mind and believe the good news right where you read this.

It is this teaching that puts true Christianity in opposition to the attitude of our culture. We live among a people who falsely assume that any individual has the right to determine what truth is, that whatever anybody thinks about religion and/or spirituality is what is right for him or her, and that no one has the right to say that anybody else is wrong. By the way, the people of our culture are incredibly naïve, because they fail to realize that they are far outnumbered in the world by Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and true Christians who do not share their life in Tolerate Everything Fantasy Land or whatever imaginary world they live in. But I do not want to digress too far into social commentary.

The Lord through John plainly says that we must remain true to the teaching about Christ, or we do not have a relationship with God! Those who claim to be Christians in our time must decide now whether they will surrender to the foolish ideas of our culture or stand up for the truth that is Jesus. There are only two options; one leads to life and the other to death. You cannot walk in opposite directions at the same time. People are not going to like it when you stand up for Christ as the exclusive way of salvation. You should not expect them to like it; you must be prepared for unpleasant reactions when you stand up for this truth. The teaching about Christ is essential part of a real relationship with him.

What encouragement does this provide? We have a personal, saving relationship with God the Creator, Sustainer, and Ruler of all. We have life in his Son! If you have God, you have what is best and worth more than all else. Therefore, rejoice and be content!

Grace and peace, David

The Promise of God’s Presence

img_08952 Chronicles 20:15b-17

In a fast-paced society with ever-broadening technological advances, it is easy to be overcome by the flux. We can crave to hear about something that is “new”. This desire is not a byproduct of the information age, but comes from the human heart in our insatiable desire to know. Luke commented in Acts that this was the condition of the Athenians. Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new (17:21 HCSB). And so, we desire new phrases and ideas, and so disclose our pitiful condition.

However, the Spirit of God repeats redemption themes to build God’s kind of world and life view into us.  In our text from 2 Chronicles, notice how the Spirit repeats words that he had previously used to form God’s story into his people in the past. God’s people need to be renewed and reformed by basic ideas that speak about our relationship with God. Ponder the ideas that the Holy Spirit used.

  • Do not be afraid or discouraged: This idea points them back to when the Lord was about to lead them into the Promised Land. The task ahead was huge and daunting. How could it be done? For this reason, the Spirit imbedded this idea into their outlook (Deuteronomy 1:21; 3:2, 22; 31:6; Joshua 1:6-9). We need this very much to overcome our paralyzing fears. We need to look at our resources (God and the gospel) more than the obstacles in our way (hatred, idolatry, greed, violence, arrogance and prejudice). If you suppose that your problems are unsolvable, you need to listen to what God says. Don’t be afraid or discouraged! In the darkest situations, God can work for your eternal joy. He can bring sweet out of what is bitter. Remember the story of the waters of Marah (Exodus 15:22-25).
  • The battle is the Lord’s: This idea points them back to David’s great victory over Goliath, when defeat seemed certain (1 Samuel 17:47). Everyone was afraid to act, yet the Lord brought about a great victory through unlikely means. In Bunyan’s masterpiece, The Pilgrim’s Progress, consider Christian’s stay in the church, where they showed him many unusual ways that the Lord had given victory to his people.
  • The Lord will be with you: This idea comes from God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15:1). The Lord repeated this concept many times: Isaac (Genesis 26:3), Jacob (Genesis 28:15), Joseph (Genesis 39:2, 21, 23), and to the people about to enter the land (Deuteronomy 2:7; Joshua 1:5). It is repeated to us by the Lord Jesus, in order to encourage us on our mission (Matthew 28:20). The Lord uses it during reassure his servants during the most discouraging times (Acts 18:9-10). Always remember that the Lord is on mission with us. If you’re not certain that God is with you, then listen to the good news. In Jesus Christ, God offers to enter an agreement with you that will change your life. If you will turn from your empty way of life and trust in Christ who died and rose to life, he will change your heart, be your God, give you knowledge of him, which involves eternal life, and forgive your sins (Hebrews 8:10-12). Now is an excellent time to believe in the Lord Jesus and receive these gifts.

Through the prophet, the Spirit of God announced the battle plan (20:16-17a). They needed to believe and obey in order to see God at work. God expects the same from us today. God sent them out. This is a picture of where we need to be to see God at work in the world. Here’s a hint: you usually won’t see him at work in the safety of your home. Jesus has sent you out into the world.

  • March – God had full intelligence of the location of the enemy army. “Here is where to find them; just punch this address in your GPS.” Shortly after this, God would do the same for Elisha (2 Kings 6:8ff).
  • Take positions – Get to the places where they would want to fight; find the best locations that offer a tactical advantage over their army. If you have visited Gettysburg, you have seen the high ground the Union army occupied on Little Round Top.
  • Stand firm and see – Surprise! They would not need to fight. The Lord was going to handle this by himself in some unspecified way. Too often we depend on our own insights, plans, gimmicks, strategies, and abilities. The Lord wants us to trust and obey. Do we know the missional “battle plan” (Matthew 28:18-20)? Then go and make disciples with the gospel (Romans 1:16-17).
  • Do not be afraid or discouraged – Go out to face them tomorrow. Yes, the Lord repeats the core of his message to them! “But that vast army is out there!” Yes, it is, and the way they would see it overcome was to do what the Lord told them. This is also true for us.

What are your deepest fears right now? Take a moment and write them down on paper. Next, look at what you’ve written. Now ask yourself, “Am I ready to trust God with my fears? Will I trust him, even if things do not work out as I’d like? Will I believe that nothing is too hard for the Lord (Genesis 18:14)?” In the presence of God, face your fears and trust in the Lord with all your heart.

Grace and peace, David