Allen Jackson - Matthew - Part 1
I wouldn't pretend to know the exact timeline, but I believe just as certainly as Jesus came the first time, that he's returning to the earth, and I believe many of the circumstances that were prevalent when he came the first time will be prevalent when he comes the second time. And I think the better we understand the characters and this narrative that are so familiar to us, the better we can be prepared ourselves. You know, there's a lot of ways to understand and interpret and comment on what's been happening in our world, but it seems to me at the simplest level, the most direct level, that a little over 2 years ago, there was a tremendous shift in our world.
From one vantage point, I could suggest that there was a group of people that recognized an opportunity with a virus that apparently escaped from Wuhan as a means of asserting authority or reestablishing authority over nations and maybe even over multiple nations. But I would also comment from the vantage point of where we stand today that God has used this season to pull back the curtains to bring an awakening to his people, an awareness that we lacked a little over 2 years ago. We were walking down a pathway, for the most part unaware and unconcerned and uninvolved in some expressions of darkness and evil and wickedness that were plunging our world in a very dangerous direction. And God began to awaken his church. I see evidence of that week upon week upon week.
In this past year, we have had messages from all 50 states and many nations. We've had visitors on our campus from over 30 states. And really, it's a rallying call. It is not about a single ministry because most of those people I've talked to are part of multiple ministries and expressions of faith, but it's an awakening, an awareness, that God is moving and stirring the hearts of his people. That's really good news. But that's happening in contrast to some other things that are happening. We're also witnessing a rise of paganism. Not a new thing. Paganism has emerged throughout human history but we're seeing the emergence of paganism in a way we have not seen in our lifetimes.
You know, there's a growing intolerance, almost a complete intolerance, for a biblical worldview. Corresponding to that is the deterioration in human character. Values which have shaped western culture for hundreds of years are being discarded and there's labels that are attached to them that cause them to be thrown into the trash bin, we are told. Labels like it's out of date, it's patriarchal, it's racist, xenophobic, transphobic, homophobic, it's phobic of something. It's repressive, capitalistic, uninformed, anachronistic, fundamentalist, Christian nationalist, and the list goes on and on.
There's a labeling taking place and you all understand it 'cause most of us are tempted to mute our voices or certainly select our audiences because we don't wanna be labeled or deplatformed or canceled or suffer the economic consequences of impacting our business because we identify too broadly or boldly with Jesus, or becoming the targets of attorneys and legal action because we invited somebody to do something as radical as pray. You understand it. We don't think about it, perhaps too frequently and we don't talk about it as often as we might but the results of this pathway become more clear with each day.
There's increasing violence. We see justice being applied inconsistently to gain or maintain power in too many cases. There's widespread censorship, things that we haven't seen in our culture. There's state-sponsored deception, rapidly rising authoritarianism in our own nation and around the globe. Diminished rights for the minority, immorality, family is no longer imagined to be the fundamental training point for children. Disrespect for authority. Greed, envy, unbridled pursuit of pleasure, children to a startling degree have become prey for demonic ideas and activity. Many current circumstances remind me of the first century, that time period into which Jesus emerged, that time when he was born.
I believe there'll be many parallels between that season and the season when Jesus returns to the earth, his first entry into time and his second entry into planet earth, we're told, will have many parallels, and I think that the birth narratives are very, very relevant. They're not just a holiday acknowledgement. And what I'd like to do with you in this session is look at Matthew's Gospel. I'm just gonna read with you through the narrative. I'll stop with some comments. I'm banking on the Scripture being familiar to you for two purposes. Sometimes, familiarity causes us to read through it rather casually. And then the being familiar with the characters will make it easier to have a commentary.
I'm gonna submit to you that Matthew's presentation combines two things: divine direction, that God is very intentionally and purposefully providing direction to his people. You know, he does that. And it couples that with the fulfillment of Scripture, that if you didn't believe in divine intervention or divine direction or you didn't believe in the authority of Scripture, Matthew's presentation would remain totally a mystery. If you discount those two things, it becomes completely fictional. So a part of what I'm asking you to do is to consider the way you imagine God's engagement in your life. Do you believe he still provides direction to human beings? And have you settled the issue on the authority of Scripture or do you still stand apart from it as the judge?
There are parts of it I don't understand but I'm determined to treat it as if it's authoritative in my life. Maybe the most important questions of the entire session have to do with how you understand God's direction in your life and the role that you attach to Scripture. To say that you hold a high view of Scripture and not read your Bible is incredibly inconsistent. So I'm not trying to add something to your to do list of Christmas week but Matthew gives us this account with a mix of that divine direction and scriptural fulfillment. So let's start. Chapter 1 and verse 18. "This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came аbout: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and he didn't want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly".
I think we have to begin with the acknowledgement here that in Matthew's Gospel it's a bit understated, certainly more so than it will be in Luke's. But that the Jesus story begins with the supernatural. Matthew says in a rather quiet way, "She was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit," as if that explains everything. What it does is makes clear to us that it wasn't the result of something that had happened with Mary and Joseph. The Jesus story in the earth cannot be separated from the supernatural. It couldn't be then, and it cannot be now.
That's important because as we approach Jesus's re-entry into time, we will become increasingly dependent upon the supernatural presence of God. There would have been no Jesus story in the first century without God's supernatural involvement. There'll be no re-entry of Jesus into the earth without God's supernatural involvement. So we're gonna have to open our hearts to that a little more fully, a little more completely. Open our minds and our imaginations. We've done our best, I've spent my life in church and religious systems and academic settings and we've worked really, really hard to push the miraculous engagement of God to the periphery to point at all of our advancements or technology or whatever and suggest we have replaced it. There is no replacement for the supernatural power of God in our lives.
Verse 20, back to Joseph. "But after he'd considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph, son of David.'" Do you think the angels know your name? Be awkward if an angel showed up at your house to talk to you and had the wrong name. So your faith will get a whole lot more personal if you imagine that the angels know you by name. they're not looking at some faceless, shapeless, amorphous mass of humanity that's just teeming around on the earth like you and I look at an anthill, you know? "Yeah, there's something alive down there. There's a lot of movement, but it's indifferent. It's certainly not specific".
I believe the angels know our names. I believe they're aware of our circumstances. The Bible says they're ministering spirits sent forth on our behalf. And Joseph has a dream and an angel intrudes and said, "'Joseph son of David, don't be afraid to take Mary home as your wife. What's conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She'll give birth to a son, and you're to give him the name Jesus, because he'll save his people from their sins.' And all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son. And they will call him Immanuel' which means, 'God with us.'" Immanuel is just the transliteration of a Hebrew word which meaning is "God with us". "When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife". You know, we read that 24th verse as if it makes perfect sense to us.
Folks, if you had a dream and you saw an angel that told you to do something as bizarre as that angel was asking Joseph to believe, "Yes, your fiancée's pregnant, but it's the Holy Spirit," I bet you'd check your diet before you checked the box on obedience. I bet I would too. I wanna point out that there's something happening in the hearts of these young people 'cause Joseph and Mary at this point are not grizzled veterans, they're kids, teenagers more than likely. Certainly they're at most young adults but they're beginning a journey, it's just when he woke up he did what the angel of the Lord told him to do. "But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus".
Self-control written all over that in many, many ways. You know, self-control is one of the fruit of the Spirit. You can't really argue you're a spiritual person if you don't demonstrate self-control. We've gotten so sloppy with our obedience to the Lord. We really have. It's the reason I believe God has begun this awakening because he's preparing a people for his purposes as we approach the culmination of the age, and it's going to require of us a self-control we haven't had to demonstrate for a long time. That's good news. Matthew informs the reader, if you've never heard the story and you've never seen it before, that Joseph had angelic direction. He just didn't make a decision about Mary based on his own whim. The angel said, "She's trustworthy, and you not only should trust her, you should walk with her".
It's an interesting way that Matthew tells the story. In verse 21 he concludes the angel's message. In verse 21 the angel says to Joseph, "She'll give birth to a son, and you're to give him the name Jesus because he'll save his people from their sins". There's quotations that close there. And then in verse 22, Matthew does something. He uses a little author's license. He inserts a prophecy from Isaiah 7. He says, "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel,' which means 'God with us.'"
That was not part of the angel's message. That's part of Matthew's commentary on the story he's telling you. Joseph didn't get the quote from the angel. Matthew's trying to help you and I, as readers, understand a bit of the background of what's happening. By the time we get to verse 24, the reader is back in real time. "When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him. He took Mary home with his wife". I wanna ask you a question now. And it's a question I'm gonna repeat through this session. Do you think Joseph knew the prophecy? Oh, I'd go easy on the "Of courses". I think it's a possibility. How well do you know the prophecies concerning the end of the age and how they might relate to you? Do you know 'em well enough they could be personal? That where trust was broken and faithfulness seems to be completely broken, that you could climb over that because you would respond to something the Lord said to you? It isn't that clear to me.
Look at chapter 2. "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea," Judea's a region, Bethlehem's a city, "during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who's been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and we've come to worship him.' When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. And he called together all the people's chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he asked them, 'Where is the Christ or the Messiah to be born?' And they said, 'In Bethlehem in Judea, for this is what this prophet has written: You, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"
I think we have to start in that section by acknowledging that the imagination of Jesus's arrival, the arrival of the Messiah, is described in Matthew's Gospel as causing Herod to be disturbed and all of Jerusalem with him. Not excited, not anticipatory, not filled with joy, not hopeful; disturbed. Words have meaning. And the most accurate description of what happened in the palace and it says in all of Jerusalem was that there was, they were disturbed. The Bible's pretty clear on this. Jesus is disruptive. I mean, he'll go on in his public ministry when we get to that point later in the narrative and he say, "I didn't come to bring peace on the earth. I came to bring division".
It's something we've got to grapple with because we're in a world now where we would like everybody to love us because we say we love Jesus. And we have the imagination that if you're a Jesus advocate that will bring peace and contentment and healing into every circumstance where you would make that announcement. We have that idea but I would submit to you it really isn't biblical. That Jesus is a rock, a stumbling rock, a point of offense. He has been since his arrival. He's continued to be so through history. That doesn't mean you should be obnoxious or I should be obnoxious. We don't wanna be the stumbling point. We don't wanna be the cause of division. It's not about us. It's about the one we call Lord. If it's about us, we need to go back to put our face on the carpet until we get that worked out.
But I think this section, to me, begins with the disruption that Jesus brings and then Matthew, again, he inserts a message from the prophet. This time it's from the prophet Micah. He quotes Micah 5 about Bethlehem being the point of Messiah's birth, and the chief priest and the teachers of the law knew the prophecy. I wanna ask the question again: do you think Mary and Joseph knew the prophecy? It isn't stated. It's not implied. There seem to be a lot of questions that they have as they walk this out. I would submit to you it's an enormously difficult leap from having a single verse in Micah and imagine that it has your name written on it. I don't think it would have been any easier for them to do that than it would be for you or me to read a verse from someplace in our Bible and imagine it became so personal that it had your name written on it. I'm not saying it's impossible; I'm saying that's not an easy step of faith. But it's important enough that Matthew keeps pushing this little paradigm back to us.
Look at verse 7: "Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time that the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, 'Go and make a careful search for the child. And as soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.'" Let's pause there again just a second. Herod said, "He's in Bethlehem. You go find him and come back and tell. I wanna worship him too". Did Herod wanna worship him? No, you do know the story. Not even a little. How shocked are we when we find people in authority over us or people with power over us who are less than forthright? "Well, well, well, ah". And the church tragically too quickly defaults to the position that God's purposes couldn't break forth if there is some deceptive, wicked, ungodly voice with authority over us. Look, I've been saying for a long time now, the solutions we need aren't political. They're not about parties and candidates. We're so idolatrous when the elections don't go the way we want, we're discouraged and despondent.
Folks, God didn't abdicate the throne because of elections. God's purposes will break forth in spite of our systems of government, not because of them. Deception and evil are exhibited at the very beginning of Jesus's life. It's gonna become more clear, look in verse 9: "After they heard the king, they," the Magi, "went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. And when they saw the star, they were overjoyed". That's the NIV. It's a little understated. The other translations, I think are better. The New English Version says, "They rejoiced exceedingly with great joy". That's getting a little closer.
If you've made a 2-year journey following a star for a King and you finally get to this place where the star has stopped and there's a baby there that you believe is the King, you know, they were kind of happy. I like the expanded version of that. It's a little more literal: "They rejoiced exceedingly with great joy". Ecstatic, beside themselves, over the top. They could have cared less what people thought of their behavior. They're all in, amazed, blown away, shocked. It's rocked their world. And we're still quibbling about, "Well, I don't know if I'm really gonna be moved to raise my hands in worship. You know, I'm a bit more of an introvert". Me too, kinda. I mean, you can pick whatever it is. We quibble with the Lord around things, and I think it's far more a reflection of how little the value is we attach to the things of the Lord.
These people have disrupted their lives, shredded their calendars, caused their friends to think they've lost their minds. They've invested enormous amounts of money. They've spent months and months on a pilgrimage with no promised satisfaction. When they finally made it to Jerusalem, the king of Judea lies to them and deceives them and manipulates them, and yet God still leads them to Jesus. And they are beside themselves. So I think there's a much more significant message here. For the God story to break through, this is taking multiple people who are more than just casually involved. Mary and Joseph, this is not like they've signed up for another 12-week course. And the Magi have made a significant investment as well.
Verse 11: "On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him". Imagine powerful, wealthy people in a barn, bowing down to some very modest people. "They opened their treasures and they presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh". They opened their wealth in this circumstance. There's no affirmation. This is all based upon their calculations and a star they followed. And this is in spite of the deception of Herod. There's something in their hearts that challenges me. There's something in their attitude that speaks to me. I wanna cultivate a little bit more of that. There's a bit of an abandonment in there, not a recklessness. See, I think if we're gonna see the purposes of God in grander ways and more transformational ways, we're gonna have to follow him with a little bit more space within us for who he is.
I wanna pray with you before we go, that God will give us a revelation of himself beyond church, beyond just information. A revelation, something beyond study, to help us understand who God is and his love for us. Let's pray:
Father, I pray that you would give us the spirit of wisdom and revelation that we might know you better. Far beyond sermons or church or Bible studies or small groups, by the Spirit of God give us an understanding of your majesty and your power, in Jesus's name, amen. God bless you.