Genesis 2, Ezra 2, Matthew 2

Read Genesis 2, Ezra 2, Matthew 2.

This devotional is about Matthew 2.

From the beginning of his life Jesus was met with extreme mixed reactions. He was born in Bethlehem, a town famous for being the hometown of David but with nothing else admirable or prestigious about it. His parents did not live in Bethlehem, so they had to stay with others. So, he was born in very humble surroundings. Although his birthplace had been prophesied to be in Bethlehem (v. 6), nobody in Israel was expecting him to be born there when he was. With the exception of a handful of people, God’s chosen people were unprepared for the coming of Christ and unaware of his arrival.

Even though people in Israel were unprepared for and largely unaware of Christ’s birth, others outside of Israel were aware of it. Verse 1 told us that “Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.” That statement is not specific enough to identify what country these men came from, but they were definitely Gentiles, not Jewish men. Verse 2 told us that it was astrology that drew them to look for Christ for they said, “We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” The Old Testament condemns the use of astrology (see Deut 4:19 or Isaiah 47:13-14) and it is not one of God’s methods of revelation. But, just as God allowed the medium at Endor to conjure up a vision of Samuel from the dead for Saul (1 Sam 28), it appears that here he used a star to draw these men to the birthplace of Jesus. And their attitude and reason for coming honored Jesus because they said, “We… have come to worship him” (v. 2).

Once Herod heard from the Magi, his reaction was extreme. He first desired to use the Magi to hunt down and kill Jesus (vv. 8, 12, 16a). When God warned the Magi not to tell Herod where Jesus was, he brutally murdered the baby boys in and around Bethlehem (v. 16).

It is the identity of Jesus that draws out these extreme reactions in people. Because he is God in a human body, most people want nothing to do with him. Some even want to extinguish any memory of his existence. But those whom God has called and blessed with faith want to worship him.

These reactions, obviously, exist to this day. God protected Jesus from all harm until the time came to harm him by crucifixion for our redemption.

This passage also shows us another theme about Christ. In addition to sparking extreme, mixed reactions in those who meet him, those who accept and worship Jesus often come from unexpected backgrounds. It seems natural to expect that “the chief priests and teachers of the law” (v.4) whom Herod consulted would be interested in seeing Jesus. But although they knew where to look for him, they made no effort to come to his cradle.

Think about that! Foreigners who looked for signs in the stars came to worship Jesus but those who were experts in the prophesies about him couldn’t be bothered. This is the unexpected grace of God. God calls and saves people who seem unlikely to embrace Jesus while leaving religiously-oriented people in indifference and unbelief.

This truth gives us a good reason to thank God who saved us in Christ when we were unlikely to be saved.

It also reminds us not to decide for ourselves who would and would not be interested in Christ. If God has chosen him or her and is working in his or her heart, he might use you to save someone you’d never expect to trust him.

2 Chronicles 26, Zechariah 9

Read 2 Chronicles 26 and Zechariah 9.

This devotional is about Zechariah 9.

Israel and Judah were almost constantly at war. Solomon’s kingdom was peaceful but most of the rest of their history in the land was marked by combat with the surrounding nations. Here in Zechariah 9:9-10, God promised that Jerusalem’s king would bring peace.

The peace he would bring would not be a passive (or pacifistic) kind of peace. Verse 9 says he comes “righteous and victorious.” The word “righteous” describes his justice; he would deal properly with every criminal. The word “victorious” described his relationship with other nations. Like the Babylonians who imposed peace by defeating other nations, this king would bring peace by winning all his wars. Verse 10e says, “His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” This sentence defines the borders of Israel as God intended them to be. Under this king, God’s people would rule the world. Once the world was subject to him, however, the mechanisms of war would be unnecessary. Verse 10a-c says, “I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken.” This king would not need to use force to enforce the peace as other empires, like Rome, did. Instead, his reign would end warfare on earth.

Despite all the military overtones in this chapter, verse 9 describes this king as “lowly and riding on a donkey.” The word “lowly” means “humble” and depicts a king who is not insufferable in his arrogance. The fact that he arrives in Jerusalem “riding on a donkey” is probably in contrast to riding on a powerful warhorse. The description of this king as both “righteous and victorious” but also “lowly and riding a donkey” teaches us that he will be powerful but approachable; just and loving at the same time.

You may recognize that Matthew (21:5) saw Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the fulfillment of this prophecy. Yet Jesus only fulfilled part of it. The military victory of Jesus as well as the peace and justice he will bring await the literal kingdom that Christ will bring in eternity. This is our hope as believers in Christ. When you see injustice in this world, when you hear about the loss of human life through violence and wars, remember that these are symptoms of a fallen world. In Christ’s second advent, he will finish the work he began in his first advent. We can look forward in hope and eagar expectation to his return, then, even as we celebrate his birth this time of year.

Why Christmas? Part 2

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Luke 4:1-13 (NIV)

Hebrews 2:14-18 (NIV)

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fearof death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Why Christmas? Part 1

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Luke 4:1-13 (NIV)

1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” 5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” 9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you

    to guard you carefully;

11 they will lift you up in their hands,

    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.