Because of their experience with the resurrected Jesus, the apostles were in a unique position, knowing with certainty that Jesus was truly the Son of God.
There are many religions with different founders, prophets, and teachers going back thousands of years. But only one of them, Christianity, has a founder who professed to be the Messiah—the son of God—who provided irrefutable proof of who he was by conquering death through resurrection. Easter is the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.
Christ is also the only person in history who was pre-announced starting a thousand years before he was born, with 18 different prophets from the Old Testament between the tenth and the fourth centuries BC predicting his coming birth, life, and death. Hundreds of years later, the details of Christ’s birth, life, betrayal, and manner of death validated those prophecies in surprisingly accurate and minute detail. One thousand years BC, David prophetically wrote about the crucifixion of Christ at a time crucifixion was unknown as a means of execution.
Every other consequential person of history came into the world to live. The death of other religious leaders—such as Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Mohammad, and Confucius—brought an anticlimactic end to their lives and their work.
But Christ came into the world as God’s son in order to die and pay the price for man’s sin. His sacrifice was the ultimate climax of his life, done for the benefit of all mankind—opening the way to eternal life in heaven for all who believe.
Of the four major world religions built on personalities, only Christianity claims its founder is still alive, having overcome death through resurrection. No Jew ever believed that, after Abraham died and was interred, his tomb ever became empty. After Buddha died, no disciple ever claimed that he or she saw or spoke to him again.
As for Mohammed and his teachings that are the basis of Islam, there is no trace of this founder appearing to his disciples or followers after he died at age 61. His occupied tomb is located in Medina and is visited by tens of thousands of devout Muslims every year.
Christ was unique in that he gave up his life as a sacrifice to fulfill why he came into the world. Christ set the highest standard of love possible, both in his teachings and in making the ultimate sacrifice—giving his life to rescue and save mankind. Then, to provide “seeing is believing” evidence, God brought Jesus back from being dead in a tomb to being alive—resurrected—so people would have living proof of who he was.
The New Testament provides accounts from multiple sources who witnessed Jesus firsthand after the resurrection. In fact, Jesus made ten separate appearances to his disciples between the resurrection and his ascension into Heaven, over a period of 40 days. Some of those appearances were to individual disciples, some were to several disciples at the same time, and once even to 500 at one time.
Particularly noteworthy is that there were no accounts of witnesses who came forth and disputed these appearances or called it a “hoax.” Not a single one. Nor do we find any historical record of any witness accounts that were contradictory.
While there are skeptics of the biblical account of Jesus, there’s actually far more reliable historical evidence for his life, teachings, miracles, death, and resurrection than for any other historical figure of ancient times. Consider, for instance, that the authenticity of Alexander the Great, who was born some 350 years before Christ, is based on two original biographical accounts of his life by Arrian and Plutarch, which were written some 400 years after Alexander died.
The manuscripts of Virgil and Horace, both of whom lived within a generation of Christ, were written more than four centuries after their deaths. The copy of works by Livy and Tacitus on Roman history and the works of Pliny Secundus on natural history were written on average some 700 years after the time of the original account.
Yet no one doubts Virgil and Horace lived and authored great poetic masterpieces. Nor do we hear questions about the authenticity and accuracy of accounts of Livy and Tacitus in chronicling the events of the Roman Emperors Augustus, Claudius, Nero, or Tiberius.
About 1,000 times more manuscripts preserve the deeds and teaching of Jesus in the New Testament (about 25,000 total) than there are preserving other classical ancient works of historic figures who lived at approximately the same time, with the exception of Homer, whose “Iliad” is backed by 1,800 manuscripts. But that is still less than one-tenth the number of ancient manuscripts that back the authenticity of the New Testament.
We know the historical Jesus mainly through four different accounts known as the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—not written hundreds of years later, but within a generation or two of Jesus’s life. Apostles Matthew and John provide eyewitness accounts from their years of walking with Jesus as disciples. Mark also had eyewitness experience, although he was only a teenager when Jesus began his public ministry. Luke, the doctor, learned about Jesus from his friend Paul, the apostle who wrote the most letters in the New Testament.
Because of their experience with the resurrected Jesus, the apostles were in a unique position, knowing with certainty that Jesus was truly the Son of God. They had been present for the life, ministry, miracles, and death of Jesus. If the claims about Jesus were a lie, the apostles would have known it. That’s why their commitment to their testimony was so powerful and compelling.
Additionally, the apostles’ willingness to die for their claims has tremendous evidential value, also confirming the truth of the resurrection. No one will die for something he invented or believes to be false.
Seeing, talking to, and touching the risen Jesus transformed the apostles, who then committed the rest of their lives to educate and advocate for the truth about the message of salvation through Christ. With the exception of John, who died exiled on the island of Patmos for his testimony of Jesus, the other 11 apostles—including Matthias who replaced Judas, the betrayer of Jesus—died as martyrs for their beliefs in the divinity of Christ.
It turns out that Easter, which has its ultimate meaning in the resurrection, is one of ancient history’s most carefully scrutinized and best-attested events. The resurrection is real, and changes everything. Easter is the commemoration and celebration of the single event that transformed the world forever.
Scott S. Powell is senior fellow at Discovery Institute. This article is a vignette adapted from his acclaimed book, “Rediscovering America,” now Amazon’s No. 1 new release in the history genre. Reach him at email@example.com
By Lance Witt on Apr 13, 2022 Replenish Ministries
I am not exempt from the needs of my humanity simply because I am a pastor or ministry leader.
One of my great joys in this season of life is that I get to be “pops” to 4 little granddaughters. It is fun watching them grow up. And, as they have continued to grow, I have noticed something. They are big enough now that it is impossible to pick them up with one hand.
The same thing is true for ministry and pastoring. The size of your calling requires two hands to hold it well…and to hold it for a lifetime. One hand is that sense of sacred responsibility. Our calling is a weighty and sobering responsibility. Eternity is at stake in the lives of our congregation and community. Every day we deal with the messiness of sin and brokenness. And we are not only called to show grace, we are also compelled by our calling to speak truth.
But it can’t all be heaviness and weightiness and responsibility. In order to carry ministry well you also need the hand of adventure and joy and fun. I love to see people who have pastored for 30 years and still are full of laughter and life.
I know what some of you are thinking… “You just don’t know my situation.” Or “Trying to lead these people is impossible.” Or “Ministry stopped being fun and joyful years ago.”
At points in my journey I have voiced those exact statements. The irony is that we stand up on Sundays and preach to people that they aren’t bound by their circumstances. We tell them with passion that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is the power that is living inside them. With conviction we tell them that they can have victory in Jesus.
But if we are honest with ourselves, sometimes the life we preach about on Sunday is not the life we are living the rest of the week. So, how do we move from ministry always being a “have to” to being more of a “get to”?
I believe the last 3 verses of Matthew 11 give us some clues for how we can find joy and fun in the heavy responsibility of pastoring.
In Matthew 11:28 (NIV) Jesus says Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
We extend that invitation of Jesus to those we minister to. But maybe we need to extend that invitation to ourselves. The invitation to come to Jesus when you are exhausted and stressed isn’t just for our congregation, it is also for me. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am person before I am a pastor. I am not exempt from the needs of my humanity simply because I am a pastor or ministry leader.
Here is what I know to be true about me. At times my whole life and identity gets consumed by being a pastor and leader that I don’t know how to just be a person. A person who needs the care and comfort and rest from my Heavenly Father. So, perhaps the path back to a life of joy and laughter is to stop long enough and be still long enough to allow God to love and care for you.
In verse 30 of Matthew 11, Jesus says My yoke is easy and my burden is light. Could that actually be true for those of us who lead in the church. As I ponder those words from Jesus, the word that most strikes me is the word “my”. It is His yoke.
I think one of the things that causes undo stress in the life of a leader is overfunctioning. We carry more and take more responsibility than God asks us to.
I regularly need to remind myself that the church I shepherd belongs to Jesus. I am a steward, not an owner. He loves His bride far more than I do and He said he would build the church. It is my job to be a faithful steward. Period. When I can believe that and live it out, his yoke becomes much easier and the burden of ministry becomes much lighter.
So, today, if you are exhausted and stressed, hear the gentle words of Jesus… “Come to me.” It is an invitation to you just as much as it is to your congregation.
An intimate relationship with God doesn’t have to be complicated.
Renee Oglesby March 29, 2022
My first home had a fresh coat of off-white paint on every wall in every room. “It’s a great neutral!” chirped my real estate agent. “It’s a nice offset to the dark carpet,” added my mother. Though they were both right, I was more excited to hear this exclamation from friends: “You can paint it any color you like!” Paint is a relatively inexpensive way to change the atmosphere of a room, and anyone can do it, right?
I began with the bare minimum of supplies: a single basic brush and an old curtain for a drop cloth. Several color-loving friends with painting experience helped me assemble some proper tools, prep then paint two rooms, and clean up afterward. They each told me about their favorite implement to use and how it made the work go faster, easier, better. Before I knew it, I needed a large tub to store all of my brushes, rollers, and edgers of various sizes and shapes.
As time went on, I kept painting rooms, accumulating experience and even more tools. There was always something new to buy, like an edger specifically for corners, or an entire system of brushes promising perfectly straight lines. There was always something new to learn, like how to create a border between colors where none exists, how to paint a stairwell without scaffolding, and, perpetually, how to get a certain kind of paint out of a certain type of carpet. And I began to note examples, when I was out and about, of clearly professionally painted walls, with neat lines and straight borders and not one speck of wall color on the ceiling or trim.
I think I have occasionally treated my spiritual journey the way I approached learning how to paint. As a new Christian, I started with the very basics. I prayed really simple prayers. But they felt too simple after a while, so I sought out books and sermons on different methods of prayer. I went from reading one Bible to reading verses in different translations, to a study Bible, to checking Bible commentaries. When friends or coworkers mentioned a new book on prayer, Bible study, or devotional guide, I was sure to buy it and try it myself. I was both impressed and dismayed at how others seemingly made Christian life and practice look so easy.
I was both impressed and dismayed at how others seemingly made Christian life and practice look so easy.
Over the years I’ve gathered some excellent tools in my efforts to become a faithful and mature follower of Christ. Some of them were offered by the very ministry whose website you are reading (Dr. Stanley’s Finding Peace and Handbook for Christian Living have long been personal favorites). I’ve been really grateful for the insight they offer on communion with God, learning His ways, and walking according to His precepts. There may be many such tools in your toolbox, too, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using them.
But lately I’ve been wondering if it isn’t time for me to go back to some basics. To simple prayers, full of joyful words (and silences) in God’s presence. Praying unconcerned by how advanced my words sounded, how effectively they were phrased. In his sermon, “Our Incomparable Companion,” Dr. Stanley reminds us: “When it comes to understanding His Word, God wants us to know the truth not so we can gain information, but so we will fall in love with Him and listen, be devoted to Him and serve Him and bring Him glory and honor. It’s not an information book. It is a life-changing book.”
I can’t remember when I last picked up a Bible and just began to read, not looking for an answer to a particular question or insight into some deep doctrine. But wanting only to learn the ways of my Father in heaven, the Son He sent to save me, and the Holy Spirit who came to help me live this life I’ve been given.
I can’t remember when I last picked up a Bible and just began to read, not looking for an answer to a particular question or insight into some deep doctrine. But wanting only to learn the ways of my Father in heaven.
You are probably familiar with Jeremiah 29:11, where God declares His intention to give His people prosperity, a future, and a hope. It’s a really popular verse for memorizing and sharing with others, not to mention printing out and framing for a ready reminder of how God provides for us so abundantly. But notice the verses that follow: “Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will let Myself be found by you,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:12-14). Isn’t it interesting that what follows the famed promises about all that God gives are verses about seeking God and finding Him? The order here might seem reversed at first—surely blessings would come after seeking, and not before? But God knows that sometimes we let our many blessings distract us from the One who blesses. And He wants to assure us that when we remember Him and the simple beauty of communion with Him, we will find Him there, waiting.
“The Scripture teaches that the only truly free people in the world are those who have made Christ their Savior, Master and Lord. Jesus Christ said, ‘Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’” —Billy Graham
As the United States of America celebrates Independence Day on July 4, it’s worth noting the nation was founded upon the idea that God created human beings to be free. The Declaration of Independence states that people “are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
But what is “liberty,” exactly? Is freedom based upon the country where you live, or can it have a deeper meaning?
Here are some key ideas from the Bible about freedom—including how to find true freedom in your life.
1. People have been searching for it for thousands of years.
The quest for freedom is a theme found throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. Just three chapters into the story of God’s creation, humanity gave up its freedom by choosing to rebel against God. From that time forward, the perfect freedom God created in the Garden of Eden was gone, and the long-term effects were both physical and spiritual.
The Old Testament of the Bible records how God’s people lost their physical freedom time and again as various empires overtook them (most notably the Egyptians, as recorded in the book of Exodus).
The loss of physical freedom was often tied to spiritual disobedience like worshiping false gods. But time and again, the one true God forgave His people and rescued them. When God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, He was foreshadowing the arrival of Jesus Christ, who came to free humanity from sin—the spiritual slavery that leads to death.
Today, many people are living in spiritual slavery without realizing it. They chase false gods of money, success, personal comfort and romantic love—only to realize they still have an emptiness that can’t be filled by any of those things.
2. God’s answer to our loss of freedom has always been Jesus Christ.
When Jesus began his short period of ministry on the earth, He announced He was the One that God’s people had been waiting for since the fall of humanity. He did this by reading a particular passage from the book of Isaiah—a passage his listeners knew was referring to the Messiah, or the Savior of the world.
The words had been written hundreds of years earlier and spoke of a new freedom that was coming in the future. When Jesus stood up to read, He was saying the future had arrived. Liberty would come through Him.
“And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:17-21, emphasis added).
3. Jesus came to free us from death, sin and anything that enslaves us.
The core message of the Christian faith—the Gospel—is that Jesus Christ rescues us from the slavery of sin and offers true freedom in this life and beyond. This is what Jesus said:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The Good News—the best news ever—is that faith in Jesus frees us from the death we deserve for sinning against God. It frees us from the punishment that would be inflicted upon us at the end of our lives for the evil things we’ve thought and done.
While Christ followers still battle with sin, they are no longer slaves to it. Through the power of Christ, His people can be set free from the bondage of greed, vanity, pride, pornography, addiction, abusive behavior, gluttony, selfishness—and any other sin under the sun. Here’s what Jesus said about the freedom He offers:
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).
“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36).
God created human beings, not robots. We don’t have to accept the freedom He offers us through Jesus Christ. He gives each person the free will to accept or reject His salvation. But the Bible warns that hell is a real place where real people end up when they knowingly reject the truth.
Likewise, those who choose Christ are not forced to obey Him at every turn. But God makes it clear: the best life is one that’s devoted to honoring Him. As the Apostle Paul explained to some of the first Christians:
“’All things are lawful for me,’” but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).
From cover to cover, God’s Word points to freedom in Christ. And God doesn’t leave us wondering how to grab hold of the freedom He offers. It starts with acknowledging our brokenness—and admitting we are slaves to sin. And it ends with choosing Jesus and following Him daily. Only He can break the bonds of slavery and lead us to true freedom, now and forever.
Ever wonder why God takes you through valleys and storms of life?
Through the ups and downs and twists and turns with your children? Why do you have the miserable boss or annoying co-workers you have? Why does “Needy Harry” seek you out every Sunday? Why has God stuck you in the town of “Boresville, USA”? Is God trying to teach you something?
Jesus is continually “doing something” in our lives. And he isn’t simply trying to teach us “lessons.” He has plans for our lives. Plans to transform us into his own likeness. And Jesus fulfills those plans. Perfectly. Completely. And nothing can stop him from fulfilling his purposes for us. When I first called upon the Lord I was desperate for him to deliver me from my slavery to sin. I wanted to have some peace and joy in my life. I didn’t know that to believe in Jesus meant I was signing up to become a disciple. I was more like the crowds of people who just wanted Jesus to heal them. I didn’t I needed to enlist to become a life-long follower of Jesus.
I think that sometimes we forget that we are disciples of Jesus.
At least I do. But we never graduate from being disciples in this life. Even after we have followed him for 35 or 65 years. Even if we are teaching and discipling others. Each one of us will always be a disciple of Jesus.
A disciple is a student. An imitator. A learner. A lifetime learner.
So what does Jesus want to teach you and me? How does he intend to mold us into his likeness?
Here are powerful life-transforming lessons Jesus taught and is still teaching me.
1. Jesus teaches his disciples to trust him.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. PROVERBS 3:5
Why do we get anxious when finances are tight? Why do we get fearful about our children? Why do we worry about the future? Ultimately it’s because we forget to trust the Lord. To trust that he will provide for us. To trust that he cares about our children infinitely more than we do. To trust that he will hear our prayers. To believe he will fulfill his promises.
Jesus told his disciples to trust God to provide for them.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. MATTHEW 6:25-33
What are tempted to be anxious about right now? What do you need to trust the Lord for? Ask him to help you trust him. Ask him to give you his peace about whatever you’re going through.
Our Lord will continue to teach us to trust him for the rest of our lives. So we shouldn’t be surprised when we encounter the next situation we need to trust him in.
2. Jesus teaches his disciples to delight in him.
Remember when Satan took Jesus up on a mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor and tried to get him to delight in them? If he tempted Jesus like this he will certainly tempt us to delight in this world and its “glories” as well.
There is a beautiful neighborhood near mine that I often walk through. Huge beautiful homes – mansions. Perfectly landscaped lawns. At times I have been tempted to be envious of those folks. Which is crazy, because God has blessed my wife and I with a comfortable older home on a quiet street with great neighbors. And I would not want to have to maintain those mansions. Yet I can still be tempted to envy.
But God tells us:
Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day. Proverbs 23:17
Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. PSALM 37:4
All the delights, wonders, beauties and joys in the universe are but dust compared to the infinite splendor, glory and joy in Jesus. The first second of looking upon his glorious face in heaven will make us forget every pleasure we knew in this life.
Adam and Eve got in trouble when Satan got them to look at the “desirable“fruit God had forbidden them to eat.
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. GENESIS 3:6
Jesus teaches his disciples to delight in him and not the delights of this world.
3. Jesus teaches his disciples to be humble.
The afflictions God takes us through reveal how weak we are. How much we need him. Jesus is the ultimate example of humility. Though he was God he humbled himself and took on human weakness.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. PHILIPPIANS 2:3-8
Jesus humbled himself. And he tells his disciples to humble themselves
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 PETER 5:6-7
Humble people realize they need the Lord. Humble people don’t think they have it all together. Humble people don’t think they can solve their own problems. Humble people don’t think they can provide for themselves. Humble disciples cast all their anxieties and cares upon God, knowing how much he cares for them. When we cast our cares on the Lord, we are saying, “Lord, I am weak. I am needy. I can’t do this on my own. I need you.”
That is why Jesus takes his disciples through deserts and valleys. To help us realize how much we need him. To help us become humble, like him.
4. Jesus teaches his disciples to be patient.
Queen pretty much summed up the way most of us are naturally: “I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now.” I have told people I never pray for patience because I know God will take me through something that will require it.
Jesus teaches his disciples to be patient. To wait for him to fulfill his purpose in his perfect timing. To trust he will save their children in his timing. The trust he will provide for them in his timing. He tells us:
Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! PSALM 27:14
Patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit. And like all fruit, patience takes time to grow. Wouldn’t it be great if we were automatically patient? Sorry. Take a deep breath. Jesus will make you patient little by little. Day after day. Keep seeking him, asking him for grace and help and patience and joy. You’ll get there.
5. Jesus teaches his disciples to believe that he works all things together for their good.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. ROMANS 8:28
If we really believed that God works all things for our good we would never grumble or complain about anything.
When we are tempted to grumble or complain, the best question we can ask ourselves is what am I believing about God right now? Do I believe he is good and loving? Do I believe he is using this to make me more like Christ? Do I believe he is in control of all things? Do I believe God is infinitely wise and knows what is best for me?
6. Jesus teaches his disciples to endure to the end.
Even when Jesus walked the earth many of his disciples followed him for a while then fell away. When Jesus taught that believers must “eat his flesh” and “drink his blood” many quit following him:
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. JOHN 6:66
In the parable of the four soils, Jesus said that some people receive his word with joy initially but then the cares and worries of this life cause them to fall away.
And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. MARK 4:16-17
I know there are various interpretations of these verses, but what is clear is that not all who initially respond to God’s word with joy persevere when they suffer “on account of the word.”
God tells us we must run the race with endurance. It doesn’t matter how we start the race. What matters is how we finish it.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. HEBREWS 12:1-2
Jesus teaches his disciples to endure to the end. We do this by fixing our eyes upon him, the ultimate example of endurance.
7. Jesus doesn’t simply teach his disciples “life hacks” to make their lives easier, but he calls us to imitate him. He doesn’t call us to do anything he didn’t do.
He is transforming us into his own likeness and image. So keep following him. Keep imitating him. Keep reading his Word, meditating on it, obeying it. Keep reading the gospels to see how Jesus lived. And don’t forget you are a disciple and will always be a disciple of Jesus. And even as you follow him, and do the hard work of a disciple, it is Jesus who changes you and makes you into his likeness.
This article on Lessons Jesus Taught originally appeared here.
Every believer in Jesus Christ is a sinner saved by grace
Every Believer in Jesus Christ has direct access to the Throne of Grace.
Every Believer in Jesus Christ has the ability to speak with God anytime 24/7 with no call waiting and no call forwarding.
There are times when genuine followers of Jesus come to a point in life where God feels far away, life becomes dull, and the love that we once knew has faded. This page is here to help those who have trusted in Jesus as Lord of their life to once again enjoy the rest of our good God who loves us and knows us. If you are here today, chances are likely that you are somewhere you never expected to be, maybe you don’t even know how you got there. Take heart, you are not alone.
For those of you today wondering “am I a Christian”? To understand that we need to remember what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus. The Bible says: If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9 NLT). For those of you reading who are not a follower of Jesus, you may be ready to totally start your life over today. If you are ready to know who Jesus is, visit https://narrowpathministries.wordpress.com/plan-of-salvation-making-heaven-your-home/
To my brothers and sisters who are hurting, sad, back in a place of shame, or feeling trapped in sin, I pray today that Jesus would draw you close and give you an overwhelming rest and peace. This is by far one of the most accessed pages throughout our entire site. Why? So many are looking for the peace, joy, love, and hope they once knew through their faith in Jesus. In church circles we talk about “recommitting” our lives to Christ, but in Scripture the Word we see is simpler… “repent”.
Before we talk about how to start over, there are a few truths in Scripture we hope you’ll explore:
Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39)
Jesus came to give us an abundant life (not just in eternity, now) (John 10:10)
Through our trust in Jesus as Lord of our live, we are forgiven and free (John 8:36)
If you confess your sins, God is faithful and in Christ He will forgive you and cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9)
So often in the craziness of life, one bad decision can lead to another. Before we know it we’ve stopped going to church, started ignoring our Christian friends, stopped reading the Bible, stopped praying, and find ourselves in a deeper, darker, more desperate place. You may think you are the only one in the history of forever that has come to know the love of Jesus and then made bad decisions. I promise you aren’t, we have too. If you’ve placed your hope and trust in Jesus, through faith you become God’s child (John 1:12). So what does that mean? It’s time to come home… the Father is calling.
So often I am thankful for the realness of Scripture. In the Bible we see the superheroes of the faith struggling with doubts, fears, failures, and sin. The Bible doesn’t hide it or pretend we are something we aren’t. Jesus tells us clearly who we are… I’d like to share one powerful story from Scripture and ask you a few questions.
The story may be long, but the point is powerful. Even if the story is familiar, read it any way… the reminder is important.
To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story:
“A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything. “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’ “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’ “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.” (Luke 15:11-24 NLT)
Was the young man a son before or after he his experience in the “distant land”? Both. The young man was his father’s son before he ever went to the distant land. The relationship was restored when he “finally came to his senses” and came back home… this is a picture of repentance.
Did the Father angrily scold his young son when he returned? No. His father was filled with love and compassion for his son and before his son ever spoke a word, the father restored the relationship (“embrace him, and kissed him”). The grace of God is meant to draw us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
Repentance means both confessing your sin, agreeing with God that He is right concerning your sin, and turning from your sin. So simply… to “recommit” means to repent and it is here that the wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God (Romans 2:4) welcomes you back into a rich relationship with Him through your faith in Jesus.
So here you are… I’ve been there before too (we all have). The Bible says that Jesus is always the same, He never has and never will change (Hebrews 13:8 NLT). Since God never changes… if He seems far away… who has moved? The answer is you and I. The Father is calling dear child… won’t you please come home?
If you have trusted in Jesus as Lord of your life and you are ready to come back home, simply pray from your heart. You might pray something like this:
Father, I praise you and thank you that nothing can separate me from Your love. Lord Jesus I confess my sins before you and ask that you would cleanse me from my failures. Lord I want to enjoy the rich relationship we had before. Please forgive me for my failure and help me serve and know you more. Thank you for the freedom and abundant life I have in You Lord Jesus, and it’s in Your name I pray, amen.
Dr. Stanley uses Scripture to answer common questions about Jesus Christ.
December 11, 2021
The apostle Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia that God sent His Son to rescue us, so that we’d no longer be slaves to this world but sons and daughters of the King—so that we’d be heirs of His everlasting kingdom (Gal. 4:4-7).
Jesus came to earth as a human being to identify with our struggles and to redeem us from sin through His sacrifice on the cross. Jesus did that for us so that we could spend an eternity with Him in heaven. Dr. Stanley uses Scripture to answer common questions about Jesus.
This sermon was recorded before COVID-19. For the protection of our staff members and the community, we are currently following safety guidelines by practicing social distancing. We appreciate your understanding.
Our understanding depends upon what kind of relationship we have with Him and how much we know about Him. Some people know very little yet have an instant dislike of Jesus that originates deep within their souls. Many others claim Him as their Savior and Lord but can’t really give an explanation for why they believe in Him. Since there is so much confusion and ignorance regarding Christ’s identity, we as His followers have a responsibility to accurately understand who He is so we can help others know Him too.
Jesus lived before He was even conceived in His mother’s womb.
Christ didn’t come into existence when He was born as a baby. He preexisted in eternity past, but at the appointed time, He came to earth in human form while still retaining His deity.
Genesis 1:26 At creation God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” The plurality of the personal pronouns reveals that all three members of the Trinity were together at the time of creation—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
John 1:1 Christ’s preexistence is also confirmed in the New Testament by John, who refers to Him as the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with
God, and the Word was God.”
John 8:58 When Jesus spoke to the Jewish leaders, He claimed to have been alive before Abraham. “Before Abraham was born, I am.”
John 17:24 In His prayer, Christ affirms His Father’s love for Him before creation. “You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”
The Father and the Son created all things.
The constellations above and the earth below were created and placed in perfect order by the triune God. The following verses testify to Christ’s role in creation:
John 1:3 “Apart from Him nothing came into being.”
Colossians 1:16 “By Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible . . . all things have been created through Him and for Him.”
Hebrews 1:2 “In these last days (God) has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”
Jesus was born of an earthly mother and a heavenly Father.
Without the virgin birth, there would be no salvation for mankind (Luke 1:34-35). To pay for man’s sin, God required a perfect sacrifice, but every person since Adam has been born with a sin nature. However, since Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin, He didn’t inherit a sin nature. He was the only person who ever lived a perfect life, and therefore, was the only one qualified to die for the sins of the world.
Jesus was both God and the Son of God.
Throughout His ministry, Christ equated Himself with His Father.
John 10:30 “I and the Father are one.”
John 12:44 “He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me.”
John 12:45 “He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me.”
John 14:7 “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.”
One of the purposes for Christ’s first coming was to give mankind greater understanding of God. He came to earth as a visible man displaying “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15).
Jesus’ teaching was often perplexing.
Many of His statements didn’t make sense, and we still struggle to accept and believe them. However, if we obey his teachings, we’ll become living testimonies of Jesus to all who see us.
Matthew 5:11-12 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great.”
Matthew 5:44 “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Matthew 20:27 “Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.”
Mark 8:34 “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”
Mark 8:35 “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Matthew 10:34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Sometimes following Jesus results in severed relationships with those who will no longer accept us because of our commitment to Him.
All these commands and blessings require a humble heart willing to surrender to Christ so He can use us in whatever way He desires. When we display these qualities, we are exemplifying the character of Christ.
Jesus’ name is like no other
Although many take Christ’s name in vain, God’s Word attributes power and honor to His name.
Philippians 2:9-11 “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.” Believers recognize this, acknowledging Him as Lord; but at the great judgment, even those who rejected Him will bow and confess that He is Lord.
Luke 24:47 The gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins which we preach is to “be proclaimed in His name to all the nations.”
John 14:13 Jesus told His disciples, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do.”
Matthew 18:20 He also promised that “where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
Acts 3:6 When Peter healed a lame man, he said, “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!”
Acts 4:12 “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
Jesus will return to earth as the reigning King and Judge of all mankind.
Matthew 25:31 When Christ comes to “sit on His glorious throne” and judge the earth, He will separate the nations as a shepherd separates sheep from goats.
When you hear the name of Jesus, what thoughts and perceptions come to mind? What emotions do you feel?
Have you tried to explain who Jesus is to someone who is ignorant or antagonistic toward Him? What happened? Did you feel adequately equipped to give an answer?
What new truths have you learned that provide a greater understanding of the Lord Jesus? As you contemplate His majesty, offer a prayer of praise and gratitude to Him.
Just as the sun’s rays illuminate and warm the Earth, so Christ is God’s glorious light that shines into the hearts of mankind.That is the point that the writer of Hebrews makes when he describes Jesus Christ—God incarnate—as “the radiance of [God’s] glory” (Hebrews 1:3).
“Radiance” literally means “to send forth light,” indicating that Jesus is the manifestation of God to us. Jesus Christ is the radiance of who God is, and He affirmed that fact during His earthly ministry: “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12). Christ transmits that light into our lives so that we can radiate the glory of God to others. God sent His glorious light, in the person of Jesus Christ, into a morally dark world to call sinners to Himself. No one would ever be able to see or enjoy God’s true radiance if it weren’t for His Son and those who know Him.
It is truly a blessing to know that Jesus Christ can indwell your life and impart the spiritual light necessary to see and believe God. Jesus’ radiance points you to salvation, which in turn results in forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, joy, and genuine fellowship for all eternity.
Hebrews 1:3 goes on to declare that Jesus Christ is “the exact representation of [God’s] nature.” Jesus possesses the essential nature or being of God the Father. That is, He has all the attributes that are indispensable to who and what God is, such as immutability (unchangeableness), omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. He is the exact stamp or replication of God. In the words of the Nicene Creed, Jesus Christ is “very God of very God.”
The apostle Paul likewise teaches us in Colossians 1:15, “He is the image of the invisible God.” Here, unlike Hebrews 1:3, the Greek word translated “image” is eikōn, from which we get the English term “icon,” meaning a precise copy or reproduction. But both verses communicate the same truth. Christ possesses the very nature of God and perfectly manifests all of His attributes. The incarnate Son of God displays the essence of God to everyone who sees Him.
Whenever people talk about the baby in the manger, they speak of none other than God Himself. And next time, we’ll consider Christ’s sovereign role in sustaining creation and saving sinners.
The following sermon transcript does not match the video version of the sermon—it matches only the audio version. Here’s a brief explanation why.
John MacArthur routinely preaches a sermon more than once on the same date, during different worship services at Grace Community Church. Normally, for a given sermon title, our website features the audio and video that were recorded during the same worship service. Very occasionally, though, we will post the audio from one service and the video from another. Such was the case for the sermon titled “I and the Father Are One, Part 2,” the transcript of which follows below. The transcript is of the audio version.
Familiar scene of Christmas is depicted so commonly by artists who design Christmas cards, and most people get their understanding of Christmas from Christmas cards and not from Scripture.
There are some very familiar and accurate understandings. Obviously, Joseph and Mary and the Baby, and the shepherds; pretty clear to all of us just exactly who they were. We understand the shepherd were in the field in Bethlehem, and the angels came and sent them to see the Child that had been born. But the question comes as to who are the wise men, or the magi, as they have been called? They’ve even been called kings. But exactly who are they and why were they there? Obviously, it is important to the narrative of Matthew, and therefore to the Lord Himself who designed that this be included in Holy Scripture, that we know something about these men called the magi.
Now let me dispel some of the things that are inaccurate. They were not kings as such and there weren’t three of them. So there goes We Three Kings of Orient Are. Some have suggested through the years that they were actually specially chosen representatives of the three sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. For that, there is absolutely no sensible evidence. They actually acquire names in church history. They became known as Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior. Those names were added long after the actual events and have no connection whatsoever to the actual wise men.
The magi number was unlikely three. There were three separate gifts, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there had to be three men. We don’t know how many there were. But there are traditions in the Roman Catholic Church that say there were three, and in the twelfth century, someone discovered their three skulls. And there was a little battle, I think, about who had the right skulls, because they were supposed to be in a cathedral in Cologne, and there were others claiming that the actual skulls were in the Cathedral of Milan. I might add, skulls found in the twelfth century would have absolutely no way to be connected to these men. And, certainly, three skulls is totally arbitrary.
Just exactly who are they and why are they there? Well, the question as to why they’re there is answered in the text, and that is to worship Him. They came to worship. That becomes absolutely clear. In chapter 2 and verse 2, they say, “We have come to worship Him.” That is their point. Herod even acknowledges this in verse 8 and says, “Come back and tell me when you find Him, that I too may come and worship Him.”
Their desire again is indicated in verse 11: “When they arrived and saw the Child with Mary His mother, they fell to the ground and worshiped Him.” They are worshipers. They acknowledge that the King has been born and the King is worthy of worship. This is another way that Matthew can identify the nature of the one that is born.
We know He’s a king from the genealogy in verses 1 to 17 of chapter 1. He’s in the royal line. We know He is more than just a royal son of David, He is also a Son of God, verses 18 to 25, what we looked at last time. He was born of a virgin. He is created in the womb of Mary by God Himself through the work of the Holy Spirit. So His birth is a royal Son on earth and a royal Son from heaven. And here we find that He is given worship from a group of men whose unique responsibility in their culture was to identify kings. They were Middle Eastern king makers, the magi.
For us to really understand this, we need to go back and do a little bit of church history, a little bit of ancient history, I should say, before the church. We need to go back and learn something about the magi. And we do have information about them. The term used to describe them appears in the New Testament here, as you see in verse 1, and then down in verse 12 again, Greek word magos. But there is also an equivalent in the Old Testament in the Hebrew, and they appear on a number of occasions as well in the Old Testament. So we can trace their history, and that helps us understand exactly what is going on here.
Essentially, the word “magi” is not a word that can be translated, although it has come to mean something associated with magic and magicians. Magi was just the name of a tribe, a tribe. It happened to be a priestly tribe, a very religious tribe from which there were priests that arose to very significant prominence. It appears that this tribe is extremely ancient. Some would trace this tribe back to Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees and see them as an extremely old tribe, a kind of wandering, meandering, nomadic tribe during the time of Abraham. Not all historians would push them back that far, but all agree that they are a very ancient people. They appear in the time of the Babylonian captivity. They appear in the Medo-Persian Empire, which followed the Empire of Babylon, and they’re still around in very significant positions of influence and power at the time of the birth of our Lord.
Now what do they know about the birth of Christ? How could they know anything about the birth of Christ? The answer to that is that you do remember there were a series of deportations into Babylonian captivity that God brought upon Israel, upon Israel, first of all, the northern kingdom, and in Judah, the southern kingdom. The southern kingdom Jews were taken in three waves into Babylon: that’s the Middle East, that’s the Fertile Crescent, that’s the familiar Middle East that you know today. The Jews were taken there into captivity by the Babylonians. They were kept in that captivity for 70 years, and then they were sent back to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple, which they did. But during the 70 years that they were there, many of those Jews intermarried. Many of them remained in the Middle East in the Babylonian Empire.
One of those that remained was Daniel. Daniel extended beyond his role as a significant prime minister in the Babylonian world right on into the kingdom of the Medes and the Persians. Daniel was not the only remaining Jew, there were many others; and as I said, there were many who intermarried. Some of the nobles in the history of the Middle East had Jewish blood; and even, we are told, some of the kings may well have had Jewish blood. It was the dispersion of the Jews into the Middle East that brought the message of the Old Testament to that part of the world. They brought with them the Scripture. They brought with them the prophecies.
In fact, Daniel himself was a prophet, Ezekiel was a prophet, and there were other prophets who ministered during the captivity. Whatever their history might have been prior to that, however far back they may have gone, we do know that they were in Babylon, they were in this subsequent Medo-Persian Empire, and they remained there in the Fertile Crescent all the way until the time of our Lord Jesus being born, and they were extremely influential. They had great power. Most historians would say that they were Semitic people, that is they descended from Shem. They have been, through history, able to retain that designation magos, which is translated magi. That word later became corrupted to mean magic and magician, but originally identified this tribe of people who particularly were religious and marked by a significant noble kind of priesthood. They did apparently use occultic powers, they were not only involved in some level of astronomy, but even astrology, which is the kind of mystical partner to astronomy.
They had some features in their religion. Fire was a main feature in their religion. In fact, it might have been the principle element of their worship. They had an altar that had on it a perpetual flame that they said was lit by heaven, and they drew the fire off of that flame, put it on another altar, and burned up animal sacrifices on that other altar. And after the animals were burned on the altar, they were eaten by the worshipers and by the magi priests as well. So they had a sacrificial system.
Their priesthood was also hereditary. They carried around bundles of divining rods by which they used techniques supposedly to reveal to them the will of the gods through these mechanisms. They believed in the destruction of certain unclean forms of life, unclean animals, much as the Jews did. They were realistic about death and judgment after death, individual judgment. They also didn’t touch dead bodies, again very much like the Jews. By the time we see them in the Babylonian Empire and we see them there, they are identified as magicians. We see them in the court of Nebuchadnezzar.
Jeremiah 39, we see them there. In fact, we meet the chief of the magi who is named Nergalsarezer, and he is in the royal court, because they were very, very prominent, influential priests. They sustained that prominence on into the Medo-Persian Empire, and we see them there as well. They played a role under Nebuchadnezzar the great familiar king that we know so much about from the book of Daniel. And in Daniel, chapter 2, a couple of times, and in Daniel, chapter 4, a couple of times, we are introduced to the magi in the royal realm of Nebuchadnezzar.
Chapter 5 of Daniel in verse 11 says Daniel was made the chief of the magi, the chief of the magi. They were involved in trying to interpret dreams; that was something they did, and we know that Daniel did that as well in an accurate way, because God enabled him to do it. So Daniel connected to these magi in such a way that he communicated to them the truth of Old Testament Judaism and the promise of the coming Messiah; that is obvious. Messianic prophesies of Daniel and the other prophets, which Daniel would know, were revealed to these very prominent king makers – and I’ll more about that in a few moments. They absorbed them and they believed them, at least to the degree that they actually came to worship when the King was born.
They were no doubt excited about the fact that Daniel had told them, and others had prophesied, that there was coming a great world King, a great Jewish monarch who would bring in a divinely inspired monarchy of righteousness and rule the world, and they wanted to be in on that, they wanted to be a part of that. Daniel made such an impact on them that you have to note this when you’re going to the book of Daniel. And you remember that Daniel basically was put in a difficult position, because some of the very influential people in the court of Babylon came to the king and said, “Daniel doesn’t bow down to you, Daniel bows down to his God and he fails to worship you.” And they got the king previously to make a decree that if anybody didn’t worship him they’d throw them in the lions den.
We remember the story; Daniel was thrown then into the lions den and survived, as we know. But just keep this in mind that the regional governors who are identified as the ones who pulled the plot off and got Daniel thrown into the lions den are satraps, regional governors, not magi. Daniel was the chief of the magi, which means that he had been elevated in their eyes and respected by them. It wasn’t the magi that put Daniel in that lions den. They continue in providence and in prominence, as God’s purposes unfold, through the Medo-Persian Empire.
Along the way, there appears to have sort of merged with them a religion called Zoroastrianism. We don’t know exactly the time of the prophet Zoroaster, a very, very ancient prophet who appeared in, I guess we would say Modern Persia and Iran – again, in the Middle East. And Zoroaster established a sort of state religion. It’s kind of a pre-Islamic religion in the Middle East. It became the state religion of Persia, and the magi absorbed it as well, anxious to maintain their political and religious power. They went along with royal decrees and allowed the merger of Zoroastrianism with their own form of religion. It may be that Zoroastrianism carried with it more of the astrological things that seemed to be associated with them.
So they are a very hybrid religion. They are whatever they were to initiate that religion, and then mingled with prophecies that they were taught by the Jews, and then with the addition of things from Zoroastrianism, they were an eclectic kind of religion. But among those magi were some who had actually come to believe in the truth revealed to them by the Jewish people in dispersion. Now they were so powerful in the Middle East that no Persian was able to become a ruling king in the empire unless he first mastered the scientific and religious discipline of the magi, which wisdom was called the law of the Medes and the Persians. And you’ve heard that expression. The law of the Medes and the Persians refer to in Esther, chapter 1, and Daniel, chapter 6, was essentially the wisdom of the magi. And it may well have been that which was taught to the young men, Daniel and his friends, when they were originally taken captive into Babylon.
The magi also in ancient times controlled the judicial office. They were a kind of combination of senate and supreme court. It was among their ranks from which the bench of royal judges was chosen, referred to in the 1st chapter of the book of Esther. They basically were in a position to check and balance the monarchy so that ultimate despotic authority didn’t reside in one man. They were the king makers. No one could be king unless they appointed them. And they kept the king, to whatever degree they could, in check. The law of the Medes and Persians, the teaching and the wisdom of the magi involved astronomy, mathematics, natural history, agriculture, architecture, and any other sciences.
You do remember a parallel to that. You remember that when Moses went into Egypt and was raised as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He was disciplined, Scripture says, in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. The Egyptians had their own elite, as the magi were in the Middle East. They were, to Babylon Medo-Persia, what the wise men of Egypt were to that great country. No one ruled apart from their approval.
And Daniel rises to be the chief of the magi; really an amazing thing for a Jew. He ruled under various monarchs, Daniel did, for 64 years, all the way from Nebuchadnezzar to Cyrus the Great. And during that time, not only was he faithful to pray to his God, but he was faithful to proclaim his God and the prophecies of a coming Messiah and Savior.
Strangely enough, the syncretistic hybrid religion of the magi had some things in common with the religion of the Jews. Each was monotheistic. Each believed in one God, and that was in a world where there was virtually everywhere the belief in many gods: polytheism. But the magi and the Jews believed in one true God. They both believed in angels, they both believed in demons, and they both believed in a deliverer or a savior. They both had a hereditary priesthood, which was identified as the mediator between the one true God and man by means of blood sacrifice. Each priesthood was wielding overwhelming political and social power; and we know that to be the case with the priests of Israel at the time of our Lord’s birth.
Each – that is both the magi and their religion, and the Jews and theirs – depended on supernatural revelation gained by the priests in their religions. The magi and priests gained their revelation by some form of divination, and the Jews, early on as you remember, received revelation from God by the Urim and the Thummim on the breastplate of the high priest. Each of these two religions claimed prophetic insight, and therefore prophetic authority. Each had a coming Messiah at the end of history in an apocalyptic judgment, and to establish a final kingdom of righteousness. So we can see there were common realities in their religion. And when they were exposed then to what the Old Testament said about the Messiah, about the coming of the Lord, it fit many of the things that they already had preconceived.
Now as we come to the birth of Jesus Christ, there are some further facts about them that you need to know. I think we look at the magi and we think of them as really benign guys dressed up in women’s clothes, riding on camels, as harmless as harmless gets. But the reality is this: they came from the Middle Eastern Empire from the historic Babylonian Medo-Persian Parthian Empire, the massive Middle Eastern Empire that eventually became Persia and Iran, and is broken up to into component parts today. That Middle Eastern Empire was the sworn enemy of Rome. Rome was the massive monolithic power in the west, and this empire was the massive monolithic power in the east.
And they had gone to war significantly three times: in 63 B.C., in 55 B.C., and in 40 B.C. And as you would expect, because Rome is to the west, and the great Medo-Persian Parthian Empire is to the east. When they fight, they’re going to wind up fighting in Israel. Israel becomes sort of the no man’s land between these two massive powers. And that is exactly what happened. That is precisely what happened.
By the way, as a footnote, when you’re reading the book of Acts, you’ll come across Simon Magus, and Magus Elymas, in Acts 8 and 13, who had obviously – Jewish men who had identified with the influence of the magi. Just to let you know that they not only were there at the time of Christ, but even in the years after, they had some influence.
Now at the time of Christ that the Persian Parthian Empire to the east is dominated by the magi in their dual role as religious priests and governmental officials, they compose the upper house of the Megasthenes, which would be like their ruling body. They had absolute power to select the king of the empire. They were the royal king makers. And interestingly enough, they had a king, Phraates, who had recently been deposed, and they had at the time of the birth of Christ no reigning king.
So they were in the process of trying to find the next monarch, somebody obviously better than the one who was deposed. Combine that with the fact that they knew the prophecies of Daniel, and that would mean that they may well have known the prophecy of the 70 weeks of Daniel and could have calculated the years from the decree of Artaxerxes to the very time when our Lord lived, they were aware that they were probably in that time period. This may well be the time. Daniel would have interpreted his own prophecy for them. They’re without a king. They know they’re at the time when the king is supposed to come, and so they head for Jerusalem from deep into the Fertile Crescent, the Tigris-Euphrates Valley in the Middle East.
Now if you think there were just three of them you are so wrong. They came in full force. They are not just meandering isolated wise men, they are the king makers of the massive empire of the Middle East, the pre-Islamic Empire. They come with all their oriental pomp. They come escorted by perhaps several thousand soldiers, riding on magnificent steeds, Persian steeds. They come with servants and slaves and cooks and all kinds of craftsmen. They come with all oriental pomp and circumstance, and they show up at Jerusalem, this huge entourage numbering in the thousands, and they are there looking for the King of the Jews. They go to Jerusalem and to Herod, who is at the time the king of the Jews – the Romans let him have that title – and they tell him, in verse 2, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star and we’ve come to worship Him.”
Verse 3 says, “When Herod heard this, he was troubled.” Of course, he was troubled. He was more than troubled, he was terrified, he was panicked. He had secured for himself the title king of the Jews from Augustus Caesar, but what he got with it was this little piece of buffer land between these two massive empires with huge contending armies. At the time of the birth of Christ, Herod was close to death. He certainly died within about a year of the birth of Christ.
Augustus Caesar, who had given him that title, was aged. Rome, since the retirement of the great general Tiberius had no commander in chief for its army. Rome had great vulnerability, and Herod had very little protection. The time may have been right in his mind, and maybe in the minds of those in the east for another attack on Rome, and they could begin it in Israel. And, oh, by the way; the troops that had been given by Rome to Herod at the time that the magi arrived were somewhere else dealing with some other issue. So he is a king without an army. He is a king in a position of becoming a victim caught in the middle of a fourth war between the west and the east.
And then they say the reason: “We’re here is because we’ve come to see the King of the Jews, for we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” Not only are there natural forces working here, and biblical or prophetic forces, but there is a supernatural sign going on. And they’re saying, obviously, the magi, “Could this be the invincible Monarch that we will crown, as the official king makers of the east? Could this be the one we’ve all been waiting for, the one Daniel spoke about, the one the Jews called their Messiah? And can we, with the coming of Messiah, crown Him King and take back Israel from the Romans, and then march beyond Israel to the Roman world and exterminate even the Romans?”
So into Jerusalem comes this massive entourage, led by the magi, to identify this new King. Riding their fine horses, the king makers of the east with their conical-shaped headdress – it’s a symbol of their power – they scare the wits out of Herod. They’re on a mission to check out a new king. This is about sovereignty, and sovereignty could mean war. It certainly can mean that whatever title Herod had, he’s about to lose. But it’s beyond that, because we find in the account that they are honorable, they are deeply religious, they are God-fearing, and they believe in what they have been told from the Old Testament, and they have been told it by Daniel, the chief of the magi. So the stage is set – Bethlehem, Joseph, Mary, a little Baby; a panicky, terrified Herod; and a powerful group of magi – and Matthew unfolds what happened.
And, oh, by the way; one other misconception: they didn’t come to the manger. Where did they come? Verse 11 says they came to the house. This is after Joseph and Mary and the Baby have left the manger and are living somewhere in a house. Why, again, does Matthew include this? Because he wants to demonstrate that not only is Jesus a King by virtue of royal lineage – verses 1 to 17 of chapter 1; He’s in the line of David, He’s a descendant of David – but he wants to demonstrate that He is even viewed as a King in the non-Jewish world, because those who are the highest level of king makers acknowledge Him as King. This is another way for Matthew, for the Lord Himself to reveal to us the royal identification of the Lord Jesus. His royalty is recognized by His royal line from David, but it’s recognized by Gentiles as well. He is the King of Israel, but His is also the King of kings.
Chapter 1: Jesus deserves royal honor; He is a son of David. Chapter 2: He receives royal honor, but not from His own people, but rather from those who came from afar – Gentiles. So the magi represent the first fruits of the Gentile nations and remind us again that God always had them in His heart.
Now for just a moment we’ll look at the text itself. Verse 1: “After Jesus was born.” We’ve now moved after Jesus is born. They’re out of the stable; He’s out of the manger; they’re in a home. In the days of Herod the king Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem. We all know about Bethlehem where He was born, a little town six miles south of Jerusalem. It was once called Ephrata, and then Bethlehem – house of bread, because it was a fertile countryside in which there was produced wheat that could make bread. The town of Bethlehem rests on top of a gray limestone ridge more than 2,500 feet high. The ridge has a summit at each end, and it’s kind of a saddle in the middle. It looks like a town set in an amphitheater.
It had a long history, Bethlehem did. It was there that Jacob buried Rachel and set up a pillar by her grave. It was there that Ruth lived when she married Boaz; and from Bethlehem, Ruth could see across the Jordan Valley to her homeland of Moab. But above all, this was the town, the home, the city of David; and it was for the water of the well of Bethlehem that David longed when he was a hunted fugitive. This is David’s city, and the Messiah is to be born as David’s son in David’s city. Bethlehem is so very important.
They didn’t go to Bethlehem, however, they came to Jerusalem, and they came in the days of Herod. We’ll look at a little more history about Herod. But he was not a Jew, he was an Edomite – an Idumean, another way to say it. He made himself useful to the Romans when they occupied Israel during the civil wars in Israel, and so the Romans came to trust him. He bought his way in by favoring the Romans. Once Rome had captured Judea, they set up a procurator there by the name of Antipater, who was also an Edomite, and he was allowed to appoint his son Herod as tetrarch of Galilee in 47 B.C. In 40 B.C., that was the last of those. Three times I told you that the eastern forces came and fought a great battle in the land of Israel 40 B.C.
Herod fled to Rome. When he got to Rome he asked for help from the Roman senate, so they made him King of Judea. They gave him a small army, sent him back. Took him three years to kind of win back the territory; but by 37 A.D., 37 years before B.C. the time we mark the birth of Christ, he had won back his land. He was essentially Rome’s appointed king. Rome gave him the title King of the Jews until he died around 4 B.C. So that’s the setting.
He has fought for this petty kingdom, this insignificant – in one sense – place; and now he is threatened like he’s never imagined with the force coming from the east. They’re looking for the one who is King of the Jews. They saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him. Just a few words about this and then we’ll wait until next week for the rest.
What is His star? What is it? And I know you have imagined many things, and perhaps been told many things. Some say it was a genuine star, it was an actual star. The Lord blew on it and kind of enriched its flames a little bit, and it got brighter than normal. Some say it’s Jupiter; that has been called the king planet. Some say it was sort of a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the sign of a fish – there’s some imagination. Some say it was an erratic comet. Some say it was a low-hanging, flying, small meteor. And some say it was the star of destiny in the minds of the magi.
None of that makes any sense, of course. But one thing does make sense, and it is this: if you go to Luke, chapter 2 – just to comment on it – and verse 9, when the shepherds are out in the field and the angels come and make an announcement, it says, “The glory of the Lord shone around them.” The shekinah glory of God appeared. The glory of the Lord shown around them. The chief word in the Hebrew Old Testament is kowkab, the shining, the blazing forth, the shekinah. It is used to speak of stars in the Old Testament, of angels, of men, and even of God. And in Numbers 24:17, “There shall come a kowkab, a shining out of Jacob; a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” Christ is that kowkab.
This is further described in Matthew 24. At the second coming of Christ, glory appears. Everything goes dark and glory appears in the sky. His kowkab, His blazing forth. So at the second coming of Christ, the glory, the shining shekinah glory of God appears. He reveals Himself in blazing glory.
And I think that’s what you have here. His star, His unique kowkab, His unique aster, from which we get the word “asteroid,” which is a New Testament term. His own shining. His star, not any other one, but His star. The star that accompanied the birth of Christ is the same shekinah glory that will accompany the second coming of Christ. It appeared, it appeared.
Verse 7, “Herod asked at what time the star appeared, phain, that which lights up like lightening. It’s used as lightening in Matthew 24:27, a kind of blazing out of nowhere like lightening. So we can assume that with all the prophetic knowledge they had and all the timing they had learned from Daniel, they were ready to come. They needed a king; maybe this was the one. They began their journey when there was in the skies something that they had never seen, the lightening of the shining of the glory of God, the star that marks the coming of the Messiah. It will mark His second coming; it marked His first coming as well.
Chapter 2, verse 9, says, “They went their way, and the star which they had seen in the east went on before them.” No real star can do that. This is a star that is like the shekinah glory of God in the Old Testament during the exodus that was a glory cloud in the day and a pillar of fire by night that led the people of Israel in the direction that God wanted them to go.
So here again the glory cloud appears, and it led them . They saw it in the east. It came, stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they greatly rejoiced with great joy. This is an indication of the genuineness of their interest in the God of Daniel and the God of Israel, and the King that the God of Daniel and the God of Israel was sending into the world.
I like to think that the star is the sign of the Son of Man. Remember in Matthew, “You will see the sign of the Son of Man.” The glory that accompanied His birth and led these magi is the glory that will accompany His return. They came to worship Him. Pagans guided by a prophet, guided by Old Testament Scripture, guided by supernatural presence of the glory of God come enthusiastically and authentically to seek the King.
While the Jewish hierarchy, with the Pentateuch and the prophets, are content to be ruled by Herod, and remain totally indifferent, hostile, and even murderous toward the true King. When they arrive and confront Herod, the story becomes tragic.
Just for today to conclude, there are only two possible responses to the arrival of Christ. One is the response of His own people: “He came unto His own and His own received Him not,” or the response of those who were not His people, who came from afar to worship Him, and rejoiced with great joy – the only two options. No middle ground. You either reject Him like His own nation or you receive Him like those from afar. He came unto His own, His own received Him not. But to as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become the children of God. His own were cursed, but these Middle Eastern king makers were blessed because of their response to Christ.
Father, we thank You for, again, a glimpse of history, and yet it informs so richly the account of the magi and what is about to happen. Lord, thank You that You have not only given us Your Word, but that You have even preserved resources throughout history that we can draw from so that we can better understand the things that are written on the holy pages of Scripture.
May we be made worthy by Your grace; we’ll thank You, in Christ’s name. Amen.
We know where he was born. We know when he was born. We sing songs celebrating that he was born. But why was he born?
One of the simplest answers is this: Jesus was born to be the Savior. This is why the angels in Luke 2:11 proclaimed, “Today in the city of David there has been born for you a savior.”
Before the angels spoke in Luke 2, Mary herself sang, “My soul exults the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46–47). Shortly after this, Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, prophesied that God “has raised up a horn of salvation for us” (Luke 1:69). Then a righteous man named Simeon saw Jesus and said to God, “My eyes have seen Your salvation” (Luke 2:30).
Mary, Zacharias, Simeon, and the angels all recognized that Jesus was born to bring God’s salvation. They understood this because they knew that God Himself is a savior.
In his sermon “God, the Savior of Men,” John MacArthur explains,
It’s not, as some people say, that God is the bad guy and Jesus is the good guy and, that Jesus gets up there and really, really pleads with God, trying to soften Him up. It’s not that. As much as Jesus is a savior, so much is God a savior, and so much is the Holy Spirit a savior. There’s no diminishing of that saving nature in any member of the Trinity.
In the Old Testament, God is a savior, and over and over again His salvation is spoken of; I’m going to resist the opportunity to point out innumerable Scriptures. Deuteronomy 20 verse 3, “The Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to save you” to save you. I mean, by nature God did that. That’s just in the very fabric of His eternal being. The psalmist says of God in Psalm 25:5, “Thou are the God of my salvation.” They knew Him as a savior. In fact, David in Psalm 51 was praying to God; and he lost the joy because of his disobedience, and he says to God, “Restore to me the joy of thy salvation.” They know God as a Savior God. And the Old Testament is just filled with indications of that.
From beginning to end, Scripture presents God as a savior. And the culmination of His saving work began with the birth of Jesus Christ.
Click here to listen to John’s sermon, “God, the Savior of Sinners.”