As I mentioned I preached from Matthew 1.18-2.23 last Sunday. I preached through the narrative and organized my thoughts into three points: 1) False religion faces; 2) Unexpected worship; 3) Of an unexpected king. I understood the narrative to draw a very sharp contrast between the religious leaders and Herod with that of the magi. Of particular interest is the fact that the magi came to worship the ‘king of the Jews.’ One of the contrasts I saw had to do with the fact that the magi could read the stars better than the religious leaders read the Scriptures. This is an indictment on the religion of Herod and Israel.
While it is an indictment, too much should not be deduced from this truth. In other words, some may argue that these magi were able to read the stars and worship the king. Thus, there is no waarant for saying that God cannot work in and through other religions – after all the magi were from the pagan East (perhaps Babylon). Why would this be going too far? Well, if left to their star-gazing, the magi would never have actually worshiped the king of the world. Although they knew he was of Jewish ethnicity, they went to Jerusalem. They needed further revelation from God that this king was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea. Had they not humbled themselves before those who had been given the Scriptures, they would have remained in Jerusalem expecting to see a sign…in vain. God exalts his word in this passage by requiring them to submit their wills to it.
This is even more indicting since the Jews knew where the Christ was to be born, but refused to go with the magi. May we not fool ourselves into thinking that God has ordained some other means of salvation other than his Word being proclaimed.

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Eleven Appearances of Jesus

In an effort to make our faith secure, Jesus appeared to his disciples on eleven distinct occasions. Here they are:

1. Mary Magdalene alone (Mk 16; Jn 20.14)

2. The woman returning from the tomb (Mt 28.9-10)

3. Simon Peter alone (Lk 24.34)

4. Two disciples on the way to Emmaus (Lk 24.13-35)

5. Apostles at Jerusalem, without Thomas (Jn 20.19)

6. Apostles at Jerusalem, a second time, with Thomas present (Jn 20.26-29)

7. Sea of Tiberias, seven disciples fishing (Jn 21.1)

8. To the Eleven, on mountain in Galilee (Mt. 28.16)

9. To 500+ disciples (1Cor 15.6)

10. To James alone (1Cor 15.7)

11. To the Apostles on Mt. Olivet at his Ascension (Lk 24.51; Acts 1.6-11)

This is mere speculation and devotional in nature, but I thought I would share it. As you may know twelve symbolizes perfection or completion. Could it be that Christ reveals himself through his Word to you and to me as the Twelfth appearance. Blessed are those who have not seen with eyes of flesh, yet see with the eyes of faith. After all, isn’t this what Luke is attempting to do in his gospel and sequel (Acts)? Isn’t he attempting to give an account to most excellent Theophilus (“Lover of God”)? By giving such an account, he wants to make our faith certain that not only these things happened, but they cause ripple effects into our own space and time.

Christ truly is walking amongst us through the power and illuminating power of his Spirit.

Things Concerning Jesus in the OT

I am preaching on reading Scripture devotionally this coming Sunday. I am using the Road to Emmaus as the backdrop to the message (Luke 24.13-35). I am playing with the thesis right now, but it is something like “God reveals himself so that we will be changed.”

In study, I came across this pithy quotation from J. C. Ryle’s sermon on the same text:

In what way did our Lord show “things concerning himself,” in every part of the Old Testament field? The answer . . . is short and simple.

Christ was the substance of every Old Testament sacrifice, ordained in the law of Moses. Christ was the true Deliverer and King, of whom all the judges and deliverers in Jewish history were types. Christ was the coming Prophet greater than Moses, whose glorious advent filled the pages of prophets. Christ was the true seed of the woman who was to bruise the serpent’s head–the true seed in whom all nations were to be blessed–the true Shiloh to whom the people were to be gathered, the true scape-goat–the true bronze serpent–the true Lamb to which every daily offering pointed–the true High Priest of whom every descendant of Aaron was a figure. These things, or something like them, we need not doubt, were some of the things which our Lord expounded in the way to Emmaus.

Of course, I am probably going to use this in the sermon. It hits me every time I read it!

Modern-day Power Encounters

I remember reading in my Perspectives Class on world mission a phenomenon called “power encounters” whereby a missionary would directly confront the idols of the day in some bombastic way to show the futility of such idols. For example, tearing down a totem pole or cutting down a tree (if these were the items of worship) in an area. While the confrontationalist in me loves the idea, I wonder how much was missed in these opportunities to really get to the heart of idolatry–namely, through teaching that idols are nothing (1Cor 8.4). Yet for those who worship an idol, it is very much a real thing.

I am currently reading Roland Allen’s formative text on mission, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours, and have been immensely helped (in tandem with Lesslie Newbigin’s The Open Secret). Regarding the moral and social condition in which Paul preached, Allen makes this side comment:

Incidentally I should like to remark that in heathen lands it might still perhaps be the wiser course to preach constantly the supremacy of Christ over all things spiritual and material, than to deny or deride the very notion of these spirits. Some of our missionaries know, and it were well for others if they did know, that it is much easier to make a man hide from us his belief in devils than it is to eradicate the belief from his heart. By denying their existence or by scoffing at those who believe in them we do not help our converts to overcome them, but only to conceal their fears from us. By preaching the supremacy of Christ we give them a real antidote, we take them a real Saviour who helps them in their dark hours” (pp.28-29)

Allen brings balance. Too often preachers can assume they are preaching the supremacy of Christ, but they never pinpoint what exactly he is supreme over. Put another way, we preachers can preach rather generically. “Jesus is Lord over all!” We declare full throttle. Yet those listening have not been helped.

What is he supreme over?

He is supreme over your doubts of salvation. Your incessant anger. Your slavery to lust and pornography. Your boring and romantic-less marriage. Your bad parenting. Your disobedient children. Your greed. Your self-doubt. Your self-aggrandizement. Your obedient children. Your good parenting. Your healthy marriage. Your pure eyes. Your self-control.

He owns you. Therefore, the world doesn’t revolve around you anymore. Instead, he sets you free to think of others. Even more, he empowers you by his Spirit to think of other more highly than yourself. Your fears that you will be passed over for the job promotion. Your self-righteousness toward your unbelieving neighbor is set under his lordship in such a way that you no longer possess the answers, but are possessed by One who does. You cannot gloat that you understand the world en esse. Rather, you are saddened by the way the world actually is.

So, Christian, we need a modern-day power encounter. Not where we smash totems. But by understanding the world around us and helping others see our need for a Savior. We limp forward together. We bind up wounds together. We use the splint our arm is wrapped in to bind our neighbors’ arms. Thereby we see that instead of hiding the idol in shame, our neighbor is free to admit the idol and know that he will not be condemned but helped.