Monday, December 15, 2014

Identity - Part 2

As we have already seen, the very first two chapters of the New Testament are clear about Jesus' true nature. He is God – no question about it! That's what the angel told Joseph, that's what Micah prophesied about the Messiah to be born in Bethlehem, and that's why the Magi fell down and worshiped him. But there's so much more support for this. The incredible truth that God became a man is the central theme – not just of the New Testament, but of the entire Bible!

The Messenger

Before Jesus began His ministry here on earth, someone had to come first. We know that man as John the Baptist. “Baptist” of course is a description of what he did – baptizing the people into repentance. His job was to turn the people's heart to God's way of doing things...and he did this by preaching repentance.
Jesus had this to say about Jon in Matthew 11:10 “For this is he of whom it is written; 'Behold I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.'” Jesus tells us that John was a fulfillment of a prophecy made hundreds of years earlier – by a man named Malachi.
For further clarification, let's read Malachi's prophecy in Malachi 3:1 Behold, I send My messenger and he will prepare the way before Me. When Jesus quotes this in Matthew, He tells us that God sent a messenger to prepare “Your way before You” - meaning this applied to the Messiah. And yet, when we read the original prophecy, Yahweh is sending the messenger before Himself. So just who was John preparing the world for? The next sentence in Malachi 3:1 tells us...”And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple.” John came to prepare the way of Jesus – but then Malachi says that the one coming after the messenger is the One that the temple was built for! Just Who was this One to come?
Mark gives us a little more information on the messenger, John. Let's read Mark 1:2-3 - As it is written in the prophets: “Behold I send My messenger before your face, who will prepare Your way before You.” - “The voice of one crying in the wilderness; 'Prepare the way of Yahweh; make His paths straight.'” Now we see that there was more than one prophet that spoke of John. Mark's first quotation was what we just read from Malachi – but His second was from the prophet Isaiah. Like Malachi, Isaiah is clear that the messenger would be preparing the way for God Himself.
This is the complete passage from Isaiah 40:3-5 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of Yahweh; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; the glory of Yahweh shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” Now we see that John came to prepare the way of God, and after his ministry ran its course, the glory of God Himself would be revealed to humanity. Let me ask you a question, what happened as John's ministry was winding down? Jesus began His ministry and the glory of God was revealed!
What am I saying here? That John was the messenger that was sent to prepare the way of God Himself. We learned already that Jesus was God Himself in the body of human. After John fulfilled his calling – Jesus began to reveal His glory – the glory of Yahweh – to “all flesh”.

To Clarify the Confusion

We see then that John knew who he was – the messenger of Yahweh. This also means he knew Who Jesus really was – after all, it was John who pointed Jesus out first!
Later on though, John began to have doubts. While he was in Herod's prison, it seems as if John began to feel sorry for Himself. He knew what his calling was, but now it appeared as if nothing he expected to see from Jesus was happening. So a downcast John sent two of his remaining disciples to ask Jesus point blank: “Are you the one we are expecting, or should we start our search all over again?”
In response to John's question, Jesus didn't spend any time explaining Himself or trying to reassure John's doubts. Instead, Jesus simply told the messengers to watch for a while. Later we read in Matthew 11:4-6 Jesus answered and said to them, 'Go and tell John the things which you hear and see; the blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.'” Jesus' reply to John was to focus his attention on the signs that He was working.
But there was more to Jesus' signs that merely observing the miraculous. Jesus was referring John to what the Jews called “the signs of the Messiah” in Isaiah 35:5-6. “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing..” This list of miracles were known to be the signs of the Messiah's coming...and Jesus referred to it as a reminder of what John already knew.
But there is so much more to Isaiah's prophecy than this. Isaiah wasn't just telling us how we would recognize the Messiah, He told us the Messiah's true identity. Look at verse 4, the the previous verse, “Say to those who are fearful-hearted, 'Be strong, do not fear! Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you.'” You see? Jesus – the one named “Yahweh saves” - is called God in this verse! This is what Jesus was reminding John of!

On Who's Authority?

In Jeremiah 23, God calls out a group of false prophets – those who were prophesying without being sent by God. Using no uncertain terms, He declares in verse 16 that these false prophets were making God's people worthless! What made these prophets false? The answer is in verse 21, “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.” These preachers were false prophets because God didn't send them. 
In fact, throughout the book of Jeremiah, God alone had the authority to send prophets. Just look at these passages:
Jeremiah 7:25
Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have even sent to you all My servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them.
Jeremiah 25:4
And Yahweh has sent to you all His servants the prophets, rising early and sending them...
Jeremiah 26:5 heed the words of My servants the prophets whom I sent to you...
Jeremiah 29:19
...because they have not heeded My words, says Yahweh, which I sent to them by My servants the prophet. 
In the Old Testament, if anyone took it upon themselves to prophesy in God's name – without being sent by God – they were considered a false prophet and executed for their lies. The point is simple, Yahweh alone had the authority to send a prophet!
And yet, look at what Jesus claimed for Himself in Matthew 23:34: “Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes...” In light of what His listeners knew about prophets, they must have been wondering “Who does this Man think He is?” Because He is God, Jesus does have the authority to send out prophets – and apostles, and evangelists, and pastor/teachers. (As a side note – even in the New Covenant, no one should dare to assume a ministry gift for himself. It is still true that God alone has the authority to send out minsters on His behalf!)
God is the ultimate authority. When He says anything, that's the end of the discussion. His Word is true, and will remain true forever. In Isaiah 40:8 we read, “ The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” His Word is the only eternal and unchangeable word – no one else's word even comes close! And yet we read twice (once in Matthew 24:35 and again in Luke 21:33) that Jesus made this claim - “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
What gave Jesus – a man – the right to take on Himself the same authority that God alone possesses? The claim to have an unchanging word, the authority to send out prophets - no mere human teacher would be right to take this on Himself. Jesus knew Who He was! What's more, He made it clear to us...Jesus is God!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Identity - Part 1

Some time ago, I wrote a post about Jesus' true nature and divine identity. My goal was to point out the simple fact that Jesus is God. He was not just a good man. He wasn't some revolutionary teacher from the past. He wasn't even just the “son of God” (in the same way that you and I are sons and daughters of God). Bethlehem wasn't the beginning of His story, because His story has no beginning. As part of the God-head, Jesus isn't simply a man who was “the son of God” - He is “God, the Son” who made Himself a man!
I thought I covered most of what scripture has to say about this in my post. But recently, the Holy Spirit walked me through the New Testament again and pointed out each reference to Who Jesus really is. I found that I didn't even scratch the surface last time.
Most believers would agree with me on this – Jesus is God. But if they were ever challenged on this point, I'm not sure they could biblically defend this faith of theirs. Why do we believe that Jesus is God? Do we believe this because it's what the church has always believed, or do we know this from Scripture? Let's walk together through the New Testament and find out why we believe what we believe.

What's in a Name?

I want to start at the beginning, the first two chapters of Matthew. Here we see the story of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, as seen from the eyes of Joseph. When Joseph learned that His fiance was pregnant – with someone else's child – he decided to do what any man would, break the whole thing off. But before he could do anything about his decision, God sent a messenger to inform him of what was really happening. Let's look at what this angel told Joseph:
Matthew 1:20-21 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”
The angel told Joseph to name the boy “Jesus”, which means “Yahweh saves”. Why was Joseph told to name him “Yahweh saves”? Because this little boy would save His people from their sins. So He was going to be called “Yahweh saves”...because He was going to save! Who was this angel declaring that unborn child to be? Yahweh! And if that isn't clear enough, look at the very next verse:
Matthew 1:22-23 So all this was done that in might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Behold the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
Now we have another name for this yet-to-be-born child, “Immanuel”. This a powerful name in and of itself, but it also tells us why the name of Jesus is so powerful. Immanuel means “God with us”! So everything that God is, everything that He revealed Himself to be as Yahweh, is all wrapped up in the name “Yahweh saves”! Jesus is God!
Wow! Scripture doesn't hold back on this point. At the very start of the New Testament – Matthew chapter one – the Bible makes Jesus' identity clear.
Since Matthew quoted from the book of Isaiah already, I would also like to point out a passage in that book:
Isaiah 9:6 “For unto us a Child is born,unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder.” We hear this verse quoted every year about this time. It's usually used to show what we're celebrating on Christmas, that God sent us the gift of His only Son to save us. That's certainly true...but it's not the whole truth of this verse. Let's finish verse six:
And His name shall be called Wonderful...: This is not simply saying that Jesus is a good name. The Hebrew word for “wonderful” means “beyond understanding”. That is to say, you'll never be able to wrap your mind around the meaning of the name of Jesus - that He is actually Yahweh Himself, come to save His people from their sins!
...Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” this child that was both born (speaking of the human nature He would be born into) and given (speaking of His adoption as part of the human race) is called “Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father”! Who was Isaiah claiming this child was? He is God!

Without a Beginning

Matthew's account of Jesus birth goes on, and we find a group of rich and powerful men traveling to see the newborn Ruler of God's people. When they arrived in Israel, they went to the place where you would expect to find a king – the capital. As they traveled through the streets of Jerusalem, they announced that they were there to see the young king. Understandably, the people were alarmed. King Herod didn't have a baby, yet these men seemed to be informed by God Himself that there was a new king. That could only mean one thing, that the long-awaited Messiah had been born! He was the one who was to bring deliverance and freedom to Israel.
Herod, being appointed as king by the Roman empire, did not want the kind of deliverance that the people thought the Messiah was bringing. So he called the scribes together to try and locate the newborn Messiah. When King Herod demanded to know where the Messiah was supposed to be born, the scribes of Jerusalem said this:
Matthew 2:5-6 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.”
Now let me show you where these scribes were quoting from:
Micah 5:2 But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.
Do you see that? Micah just told us that the birth in Bethlehem wasn't the beginning of this child's story. This young Ruler – the one who would shepherd God's people – came from the everlasting! He may have been born in Bethlehem, but He had no beginning! Now Who does that sound like to you?

The Object of Worship

When the wise men found the boy's house, they came in and saw Him with his family. Then they did something that must have been shocking to Mary and Joseph:
Matthew 2:11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him...
These rich and powerful men dropped to their knees and worshiped a little boy!
In Acts 8:25, we see Cornelius mistakenly worshiping the apostle Peter, as if he were more than just a man. In response, Peter corrects the commander's misguided reverence. In Acts 14, the Lycaonians began to worship Paul and Barnabas. Again we see these two men begging the crowd of worshippers to stop. Twice in Revelation (19:10 and 22:8), the apostle John was rebuked for falling down to worship an angel.
This correction is only right. We find in Deuteronomy 6:13 that Yahweh alone must be the focus of our worship. And yet, here we see a group of men that worshiped young Jesus, and were never corrected for it. But this one incident isn't the only time this happened:
Matthew 8:2 And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him...
Matthew 9:18 While He spoke these things to them, behold, a ruler came and worshiped Him...
Matthew 28:17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him...
Mark 5:6 When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him...
Luke 24:52 And they worshiped Him...
John 9:38 Then he said, “Lord I believe!” And he worshiped Him...
Jesus knew what Deuteronomy 6:13 said – He quoted it Himself in Matthew 4. But not one time did Jesus ever stand these people up and correct them for worshiping Him. Not once do we ever see that their worship was misguided. In fact, in a few of these stories it was their worship that moved Jesus into action! Who did Jesus think He was to allow people to worship Him like that?
Worshiping Jesus is only right if He is God. The worship of any man – no matter how great he was – is idolatry; and to teach the worship of a man is heresy. But look at what the Father Himself commands in Hebrews:
Hebrews 1:6 But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, “Let all the angels of God worship Him.”
The heavenly hosts of angels are commanded to worship the Son – the One that was born in Bethlehem, the One who was called “God with us” and “Yahweh saves”, the One that never had a beginning, and the One Who is referred to as “Mighty God”!
There is so much more in the New Testament that we haven't gotten to yet. We've only looked at the first two chapters of Matthew! And yet we see very clearly that Jesus was not just a prophet, not some revolutionary leader, and not simply a good teacher. He was, is and always has been – God Himself!