I gotta have my orange juice.

Jesu, Juva

Archive for the ‘Christ is Lord’ Category

In step with the truth of the gospel

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We have seen that Christian love shapes our Christian freedom so that it may never be used to injure or trample a brother (far from that, it must be used to serve our brothers); but also that the gospel shapes our Christian love so that it may never be used to bind a brother. This pair of principles explains why Paul circumcised Timothy and refused to circumcise Titus; it is why in this current moment I will hug Joe and stand six feet away from Tom, in each other’s presence. This is hardly a tightrope walk, though; it is a simple expression of my genuine brotherly love for both of them.

We speak too in this moment of the church’s witness to the world. Just as there are different opinions on the wisdom of my hugging Joe, there are different opinions on what and how the church should be witnessing, and all of them look to Christian love as their basis. How then shall we live?

By way of Greek, our words witness and martyr are the same. This reminds us that our witness may draw favor from some but attack from others. Our faithful witness of the good news that Jesus has all power and authority requires us to resist the tyranny of worldly opinion. This does not mean that we cannot seek the good opinion of our neighbor as we seek his good, but we rightly order our witness by seeking the good opinion of God first. The church’s faithful witness-martyrdom is a powerful statement of whom or what we fear. Wisdom begins with such properly ordered fear (Proverbs 1, 9). With this fear and wisdom, we receive life; without it, only death (Proverbs 8).

All good parents know that there is a species of chasing after our children’s opinion and even their salvation that will end up losing them rather than gaining them. Likewise, there is a way in which proper Christian care and concern for the world contains within it a kind of loving regard and disregard for the world’s perceived fears and felt needs. We have the gift of knowing the world’s true need, which no focus group would ever discover or approve. This loving disregard actually is an effective witness, because the gospel call is an invitation to join us in a rightly ordered fear. Such fear is truly attractive and compelling because of the joy and peace and freedom from fear that it brings. To the degree we fear the disapproval of the world, we lose our gospel savor.

Thus, in love we might wear a mask to deliver food to our neighbor, and warmly welcome our neighbor to church if he wears a mask or wishes to stand at a distance. We may in no wise despise him. But we also do not fear a bad report in the news if, as the church gathers, there are hugs and handshakes among those who have counted the cost.

The world seeks to obtain justification for its guilty conscience by scapegoating others, including and especially the church. Against this, the church faithfully witnesses that justification can only be found in the one true Scapegoat. This empowers us to laugh together with God at the world’s scheming (Psalm 2) and scapegoating and even martyrdom if it comes. There is a sense in which the church, in union with Jesus, holds the world in derision. We certainly do not fear false accusations that Jesus and his church are lacking in love; we have been brought to know and serve love himself. The world’s loves, as well as its fears, are disordered, and in their greatest extremes are all attempts to hide from God. (Let him who abhors abortion cast the first stone at Christ’s precious, precious body.)

There is a kind of catering to public opinion that will compromise our faithful and prophetic witness. By bowing to public opinion, governments and businesses and even some churches are slowly spinning a rope that fickle public opinion will use to hang them tomorrow. Everything the church says and does is in some sense political; we are the heavenly polis breaking into time and the terminal land. In this polis, the one Scapegoat sits enthroned with all power and authority. All other scapegoating is not only vain but evil. By not fearing or giving way to this scapegoating, we empty it of its power. We defeat it by our laughter and worship and joy and feasting. May we be emboldened by the Spirit to witness in the fear of God alone!

Written by Scott Moonen

May 24, 2020 at 3:21 pm

Christus regnat

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Happy whole burnt offering day, rather, ascension day!

Jesus now reigns where’er the sun does its successive journeys run.

(Although there is nothing outside his control, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him, but we see him crowned with glory and honor.—Heb. 2)

He now reigns in glory, crowned with grace and might. . . He now reigns forever with His chosen bride.

(We are seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ the head-and-body.—Eph. 2)

(Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.—1 Cor. 15)

Written by Scott Moonen

May 21, 2020 at 6:21 am

Keep my commandments

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God’s laws aren’t at war with each other. God never puts us in a position where we have to break a commandment to love our neighbor. The commandments of God define love for our neighbor. God’s commandments tell us what love looks like.

Duane Garner, If You Love Me

Written by Scott Moonen

May 19, 2020 at 1:25 pm

Never again

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Then one of the demons answered: “Lords, we have been ruined by what we thought would benefit us most. Remember the words of the prophets, who said that the son of God would come down to earth to save the sinners descended from Adam and Eve. And we went and seized those who said that the man who would come to earth would deliver them from the torments of Hell. Everything the prophets said has now come true. He has taken away all those that we had taken hold of, and we are powerless against him. He has taken away from us all those who believe in his special birth, who believe he was born of woman in such a way that we had no part in the event and were not even aware that it was going to happen.”

“Don’t you know, then,” said another, “that he has them washed in water in his name? They are washed in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, so that we can never again have them as we used to. We have now lost them all through this washing, so that we have no power over them unless they choose to come back to us. Thus the man who has taken them away has reduced our power. Moreover he has left ministers on earth who will save them, no matter how great a part they have had in our works; they have but to repent and renounce our works and do as the ministers say. We have thus lost them all. Our Lord has offered them a great spiritual gift: to save mankind, he came to earth and deigned to be born of woman and suffer all the torments of the world; and he was born of woman unbeknownst to us and without committing any sin of the flesh. When at last we came along, we tried and tested him in every way we knew, but he resisted all our efforts and chose instead to die in order to save mankind. He must surely love all men, if he was willing to suffer such great pain to take them away from us. We now have to seek a way to win them back so that they cannot repent or even speak to the ministers who could grant them the pardon that he paid for with his death.”

Then all together they said: “We have lost everything, since he can pardon sinners up to the last moment. Whoever embrace him will be saved. Even someone who has always performed our works is now lost to us if he repents. We have now lost them all.”

From The Prose Merlin, in The Romance of Arthur: An Anthology of Medieval Texts in Translation, p. 307

I find it especially interesting that the author has the demons call Jesus Our Lord.

Written by Scott Moonen

May 16, 2020 at 3:48 pm

Alive

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Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:18b–21 ESV)

The Bible does not assume that you need to be healthy, or even alive, to be happy and to glorify God. . . Death is a temporary trouble. (Michael Stalker)

Written by Scott Moonen

May 10, 2020 at 1:54 pm

Semper reformanda

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Understand that the glory of God and the good of others are ever the twin purposes of moral action, and that the merely good or permissible must never be allowed to obstruct the quest for the best.

ESV Study Bible, “Biblical Ethics: An Overview”

Written by Scott Moonen

May 5, 2020 at 6:34 pm

Posted in Christ is Lord, Worship

Sitting on a donkey

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On Palm Sunday, Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey.

We might argue that this is a symbolic mark of Israel’s kingship going back to Deuteronomy 17; although the king is not forbidden to ride horses, he is forbidden to multiply them. Several of the judges as proto-kings are noted for their sons who ride on donkeys. By this reasoning, the men who ride mules (David, Absalom, Solomon), which are donkey–horse hybrids, are symbolically pushing the boundaries of God’s law as they are known to have explicitly done in other ways (David with his wives, and Solomon with his wives, horses, and gold).

Both Matthew and John tell us that Jesus is fulfilling Zechariah 9:9:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

But it is interesting that throughout chapter 9, Zechariah is referring to specific nations around Israel. This leads us to wonder if there is a proximate fulfillment of this prophecy that came before Jesus’s ultimate fulfillment. Very much of Biblical prophecy follows this pattern: a near fulfillment confirms God’s word, and a far fulfillment in Jesus completes the promise. Even in Jesus there are often ways that we say prophecies have been partly fulfilled already, although they are not yet completely fulfilled.

So, we recognize that Solomon was indeed the first promised son of David, but he fell short of the full promise, and Jesus is the greater and true son of David. Likewise, it is no contradiction whatsoever to recognize that Jeremiah was likely the first suffering servant, and yet Jesus was the true suffering servant, the greater Jeremiah. Ezekiel was the first son of man, but Jesus is the greater and truest son of man. Ezra and Nehemiah inaugurate a new covenant (sponsored by Cyrus whom God calls his messiah in Isaiah 45:1) in fulfillment of Jeremiah 31, and yet Jesus the greater Cyrus inaugurates the new covenant.

In his teaching, Calvin recognized that most of Zechariah 9 referred to post exilic Israel, but he seems to view verses 9–10 as a parenthesis looking forward to Jesus. However, by thinking in terms of proximate and ultimate fulfillment, we may be able to read verses 9–10 as part of a whole. The beauty of this approach is that we no longer have to limit our applying this passage to Jesus to these two verses.

Peter Leithart proposes an overall proximate fulfillment of Zechariah 9–14 as follows:

  • Zech 9:1–10 = Alexander the Great’s invasion of Israel
  • Zech 9:11–10:12 = battles between faithful Jews and Hellenizing Jews
  • Zech 11:1–3 = the fall of the Hasmonian dynasty
  • Zech 11:4–14 = the Jews’ rejection of Jesus
  • Zech 11:15–17 = the Jews’ being given over to false shepherds
  • Zech 12:1–19 = first Roman siege
  • Zech 12:10–13:6 = conversion of many Jews
  • Zech 13:7–9 = Christians flee Jerusalem, Romans devastate Judea
  • Zech 14 = fall of Jerusalem, establishment of church as New Jerusalem

In this reading, Alexander is the proximate king who comes riding a donkey. Although we have no other evidence that Alexander actually rode a donkey, Andrew Wilson cites Josephus in noting that Alexander was made quite conscious of his fulfilling Biblical prophecy.

So if Jesus is the greater Alexander, as well as the greater son of Zion who deposes Greece and all the nations, what else can we say about him beyond his bringing peace with his worldwide rule? Well, for one, as God’s people gather to the stronghold of the New Jerusalem, God restores to us double.

Restoring double reminds us of Job and his double restoration (Job 42). First and foremost, Jesus himself as the greater Job receives a double restoration of both Jew and Gentile in his resurrection (we are “his offspring” referred to in Isaiah 53). Double portion also refers everywhere to the inheritance of the firstborn; a key example of that is Elisha’s receiving a double portion, the firstborn’s portion, of Elijah’s spirit. Like Elisha, the church receives the firstborn’s double portion of Jesus’s Spirit. Receiving a double portion is itself a sure and encouraging proof of our adoption as sons, which God first announced in Jesus’s resurrection and in our baptism.

Rejoice greatly and shout aloud!

Written by Scott Moonen

April 9, 2020 at 9:15 am

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord

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With John, Christian parents long to say that “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 4) There is much wrapped up in “walking in the truth,” but it certainly includes our children’s “believ[ing] in the name of [God’s] son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 3:23)

We earnestly desire to pass on to our children an inheritance of faith and trust and the fear of the Lord. If, however, we are anxious parents, the unspoken inheritance we are passing on to them by our example is a lack of trust, and a fear of things other than the Lord. One of the greatest stumbling blocks to faith we set before our children is our disobeying Jesus’s command, “do not be anxious.” (Matthew 6, Philippians 4)

In one sense it is hard to obey this command because the things we fear seem more present than Jesus. However, we can battle this by remembering that Jesus is in control, he is trustworthy, he loves us, and he himself is not anxious. Because he cares for us we can cast all our anxieties on him (1 Peter 5:7). The more we practice this habit of leaning on Jesus’s greatness and goodness, the easier it will become.

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127 ESV)

See also: A Failure of Nerve

Written by Scott Moonen

April 5, 2020 at 9:07 am

Worship is warfare (3)

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Let’s consider seven reasons that worship and warfare go together. By the end I hope you’ll agree with me that worship is manly and worship is warfare. As I tell my kids, we need to “sing like soldiers.” (By the way, I think that usually means loud and fast.)

Joshua

When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. And the LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him.”

(Joshua 5:13–6:5 ESV)

This man who spoke to Joshua, this commander of the LORD’s army, was the LORD himelf: Jesus. Jesus’s plan was to begin the battle with trumpets and a great shout, and he would bring down the walls for his people. So there you go: God’s battle begins with men making music.

But this isn’t the only time in Israel’s history where the Levitical worshippers marched before the army.

Jehoshaphat

“O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

Meanwhile all Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. And the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly. And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the LORD to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you.”

Then Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the LORD, worshiping the LORD. And the Levites, of the Kohathites and the Korahites, stood up to praise the LORD, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.

And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. And when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the LORD your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.” And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the LORD and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say,

“Give thanks to the LORD,
for his steadfast love endures forever.”

And when they began to sing and praise, the LORD set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed. For the men of Ammon and Moab rose against the inhabitants of Mount Seir, devoting them to destruction, and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they all helped to destroy one another.

(2 Chronicles 20:12–23 ESV)

Jehoshaphat learned well from the example of Jericho what to do when God promises to fight for you. So he set the men in God’s service to sing, and God fought for them! God’s battle begins with men making music and song.

Babies

But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise’?”

(Matthew 21:15–16 ESV)

Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.

(Psalm 8:2 ESV)

Jesus is quoting the Psalms but reshaping it as only the living Word can. If we put these two verses together, we see that God uses even the worship of babies as a weapon to silence his enemies!

Work and keep

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15 ESV)

They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle. (Numbers 3:7 ESV)

These verses sound similar: work and keep, minister and guard. They are actually the same root words in Hebrew. The first words are God’s instructions to Adam in the garden. The second are God’s instruction to the Levites and priests who served in his house.

We see from the Numbers passage that keep means to keep guard. (Think of the keep, which is the safest part of the castle.)

Adam’s job, and the job of the priests and Levites, was to work and guard, to tend and keep. Working and ministering include cultivating and beautifying things. For the Levites especially after the time of David this meant music and singing in God’s house. David set up an entire Levitical orchestra and choir, all of whom were men.

But guarding is closely attached to this. And what were the things that Adam and the Levites were supposed to guard against? Sin, and Satan.

So, we see that worshippers also have the job of being guards. Levites stand ready with spears!

But: not just the Levites were called to do this. All of Israel was.

Mustering the host

“Pay attention to all that I have said to you, and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips.

“Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord GOD.

(Exodus 23:13–17 ESV)

Feasting and worship are connected.

Why do you think in particular God required the men to come? This was a mustering of God’s militia!

God was calling his army to a dress review before the commander. God’s warriors are mustered . . . to a worship feast!

David

David is the great man of God that we associate with both warfare and worship. He is such a great example of both of these; he is the warrior poet. He was both a great warrior and a great worshipper.

The Psalms cover the whole range of worship; this includes Psalms of war. Here are a couple of Psalms that mention both worship and warfare:

Blessed be the LORD, my rock,
who trains my hands for war,
and my fingers for battle;
. . .
I will sing a new song to you, O God;
upon a ten-stringed harp I will play to you,

(Psalm 144:1, 9 ESV)

Let the high praises of God be in their throats
and two-edged swords in their hands,

(Psalm 149:6 ESV)

We also see clearly in the Psalms that David recognizes that we may do battle, but it is really God fighting through us and for us. He talks again and again about the hand of God to save. Worship is a big part of this because it is our songs and our prayers that call on God to save us.

Another part of worship is the victory feast. After the battle Jesus ascends to his throne in victory and his people worship and feast once again. When we talk about entering God’s gates and courts, part of what we mean is that we are celebrating his victory!

Now

All of these things are repeated over again in the New Testament and the new covenant. We have a worship feast: the Lord’s Supper! All God’s people are now ministers, called on to minister and to guard. Men and women and adults and children and even babies are warriors.

We even carry a sword with which to carry out spiritual warfare:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, (Ephesians 6:13–18 ESV)

This sword divides even ourselves (Hebrews 4:12), but it is also the speech and prayer and song that God uses to conquer the world.

We don’t have time to look closely at the book of Revelation, but one way to think of it is as a great worship service taking place on the Lord’s day. Revelation shows us what God does when his people pray and sing to him. He goes to battle for us!

So every time we gather to pray and sing, we are gathering before our commander, calling on him to help; and he rides forth to battle for us on the praises of his people.

Conclusion

This is our conclusion: Warriors sing. They sing while they slay. And God slays while they sing. Listen to how J. R. R. Tolkien talked about the men of Rohan singing on two different occasions in battle. First, when Merry and Pippin see them on a mission:

Merry and Pippin heard, clear in the cold air, the neighing of war–horses, and the sudden singing of many men. The Sun’s limb was lifted, an arc of fire, above the margin of the world. Then with a great cry the Riders charged from the East; the red light gleamed on mail and spear.

Later, he writes of the Rohirrim joining the fight on the fields of Pelennor before Minas Tirith:

And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of the battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.

Isn’t that thrilling? Brothers, let us hurry to be at church every week to meet the commander. And let us sing like the men of Rohan: fair and terrible, and so loud that it brings news of the king to the city around us!

See also:

Written by Scott Moonen

January 19, 2020 at 2:45 pm

Magi, did you know?

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Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
        are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
        who will shepherd my people Israel.’

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:1–12 ESV)

This is the word of the Lord.

Brothers and sisters, this story is true.

I wish we had time to reflect on everything interesting here. I don’t know what it means for a star to stoop to earth, although I think C. S. Lewis came close to the truth. However, tonight let’s focus our attention on the greater miracle of God’s stooping to earth.

To help us, let’s consider what brought these men here. Our translation calls them wise men; you may also know them as magi, or as three kings “of Orient” (even though the number three is a complete guess). The scope of their wisdom could well extend to dreams, magic, astrology, and sorcery. They come from the east, from Persian lands. All of this may remind you of the Old Testament prophet Daniel and his run–ins five hundred years earlier with Babylonian magicians, enchanters, and astrologers over the matter of dreams and worship—these were the Babylonian magi. Daniel went on to serve the kings of Media and Persia who conquered Babylon. Wise men are record–keepers; they do not forget. It seems likely that Matthew’s wise men had a connection with Daniel the wise man. Were they taught by him to look for and hope in a king of the Jews? Let’s see what they might have learned from Daniel.

The wise men were seeking the king of the Jews. Jew literally means someone from Judah. Since the tribes of Israel returned from their exile in Babylon, they all carried the name of this one tribe from which the great king David came. Daniel knew that God promised Judah would be first among his brothers and would have an unending kingship. From Genesis 49:

“Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
        your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
        your father’s sons shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion’s cub;
        from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
        and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
        nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
        and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” (Genesis 49:8–10 ESV)

Daniel might also have taught the wise men of Babylon the prophecy of Balaam, who declared in Numbers 24 that a victorious star would come out of Judah’s father Jacob:

“I see him, but not now;
        I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
        and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab
        and break down all the sons of Sheth.” (Numbers 24:17 ESV)

God’s sending a star is a fitting announcement of the coming of the king of the Jews.

Interestingly, even though the prophet Micah came before Daniel, the wise men do not seem to have had his prophecy or did not connect it with their mission. Matthew makes Micah’s prophecy the centerpiece of this little story; it is a second witness that confirms the words of the wise men. A ruler and shepherd will be born for Israel in Bethlehem of Judah. This is just what the wise men are seeking: the king of the Jews.

The prophet Isaiah lived about the same time as Micah, and Daniel was much more likely aware of his writings. Isaiah says that the nations will stream to Israel and her king. He has such a rich set of passages to choose from, but here is one where he shows the nations bringing gold and frankincense, so that Matthew’s wise men are perhaps very deliberately walking right into this prophecy!

Lift up your eyes all around, and see;
        they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from afar,
        and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
        your heart shall thrill and exult,
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
        the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
        the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
        all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
        and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you;
        the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
they shall come up with acceptance on my altar,
        and I will beautify my beautiful house. (Isaiah 60:4–7 ESV)

This sounds wonderful for the people of Israel, but why should Persians gladly go out of their way to honor and serve the king of the Jews? These are not even the first Persians to show such interest; emperors Cyrus and Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes showed great interest in Israel and Jerusalem and in God’s temple. What would they have learned from the wise man Daniel, the man who also taught Nebuchadnezzar the ways of God? Could it be that these promises are for us too?

Yes! Daniel knew that God’s promises are for the world and not just for Israel. God’s first promise of salvation from sin and evil was to Adam and Eve, long before the founding of Israel. At the very beginning of Genesis, God cursed the evil serpent, declaring that someone was coming who would wound him. Later, God promised to Abraham that through him “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” What’s good for Israel is good for the world. We see an early example of this in Genesis when God gave Joseph the Hebrew insight and wisdom to feed “all the earth” during a famine.

Daniel first served the great emperor Nebuchadnezzar, and so Daniel became another blessing to the families of the earth at that time. Nebuchadnezzar had a vision of a great king and kingdom to come that would shatter the kingdoms that came before, that would cover the earth and “never be destroyed.” Later Daniel himself had a vision that this great change would begin in about 500 years. So, the wise men were prepared to wait for just this moment. It seems that little Israel is going to become pretty important.

But something interesting happened to Daniel. An angel told him that part of his vision was to be shut up and sealed: a mystery. Daniel’s mystery is the same mystery that we see ripped wide open much later in the New Testament. The mystery is this: Jesus is not just taking the old ways and the old Israel and setting up Israel in charge of everyone else. Instead, Jesus is making a new kingdom out of and over all nations: his church. The apostle Paul says that Jesus is making a “new man” of the church by uniting Jew and Gentile. He calls the church the “Israel of God,” and the author of Hebrews calls the church the “heavenly Jerusalem.” Paul says that God counts someone a son of Abraham not by genealogy but by faith. The king of the Jews turns out to be the king of kings. What’s good for the church is now good for the world.

Matthew’s wise men may not have understood this mystery of Jesus making a new kind of kingdom, but they did understand from Daniel that Jesus would be king of the world, that the world owes its allegiance to him, and that the world can only find happiness in him. The great irony here is that Herod and all Jerusalem, especially God’s priests, should have known this; in fact, Matthew shows us that they did know it without acknowledging it. In a strange mix of fear and pride, they rejected the king and his blessings and his warnings, clutching their current way of life.

But this baby Jesus, this king Jesus, must have our complete allegiance. Everything is his, so anything that we treasure more than him or apart from him is not ours to have and keep. Herod lost what he tried to keep.

Jesus himself says that everyone who is not against him is for him, and everyone who is not for him is against him. It is not possible to be neutral or indifferent; we are always walking in allegiance or defiance of him. Psalm 2 underscores this test that is set before all of us:

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
        be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
        and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
        lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
        for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:10–12 ESV)

There is a high cost but also a rich blessing set before us. We give our very lives to Jesus, day after day after day; he gives us the real blessings of Psalm 2 and Isaiah 60 and so many other passages. The first and greatest blessing is that he forgives all our rebellion. This is why the Christmas angels announce to the shepherds the good news that Jesus is a Savior. And this salvation is the foundation of all his other blessings. All the best Advent and Christmas carols are true! We begin to taste them now through Jesus and his church, and we will eventually receive them in totality. God does not promise bread to his children and give us stones.

It is an open secret that this king is right now sitting on his throne and has infiltrated his enemies’ dominions from the highest to the lowest places. His people enjoy constant communication with him in prayer and by the presence of his Holy Spirit; and we have a special audience with him every week. He has us on a special mission which includes suffering and sacrifice, and this is why we do not yet see all the promises coming true. It is because, through us, he wants to flash his light into every possible darkness, to win more people to himself, and to share his blessings more widely.

It is good to belong to Jesus!

If you do not yet belong to him, I promise you will not regret giving your allegiance to him.

If you do belong to him, then let the great faith of the wise men remind and encourage you that it is good to give your allegiance to Jesus. Your allegiance will be tested, but you will not regret serving him wholeheartedly and unashamedly. Daniel and the wise men show us that we can still serve earthly kingdoms, but Herod is a lesson to us not to make our homes there. Your home is in the house of God.

It is good to belong to Jesus!

Let’s pray.

Father, you gave your only–begotten Son to take our nature upon him. You caused us to be born again and made us your children by adoption and grace. Renew and refresh us by your Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ our Lord. To you and Jesus and the Holy Spirit be all honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.

Written by Scott Moonen

December 25, 2019 at 2:43 pm