Obedience to God brings blessing (Luke 11:28 – But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it) – Blessings come through believing God’s Word (Lu 1:45) and doing God’s Word, for we must be doers and not hearers only of the Word of God (James 1:22) Blessed are they, that hear the Word of God, and do carefully and conscientiously retain, observe, and practice it.
Obedience to God brings long life (I Kings 3:14 – And if thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as thy father David did walk, then I will lengthen thy days.) – Obedience to God is conducive to health, long life, and the greatest enjoyment of our life on earth. It is also conducive to the greatest usefulness, and is, through divine grace, a sure preparation for heaven.
Obedience to God brings happiness (Psalm 112:1 – Praise ye the LORD. Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD, that delighteth greatly in his commandments.) – Blessed or happy is the man that obeys the Word of God. The most joyful person, is the person who is in closest oobedience to the Lord and His commands and teachings. Do you want joy and happiness in your life? – Then surrender to the Lord, repent of all known sin, and commit to living out His Word in all parts of your life.
Obedience to God brings peace (Proverbs 1:33 – But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.) – From fear of evil; from sinful and tormenting cares and fears. And as a wicked man’s mind is often full of anxiety in the midst of all his outward prosperity and glory, so the mind of a good man is filled with peace and joy, even when he is in the midst of many troubles.
Obedience to God brings a state of well-being (Jeremiah 7:23 – But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.) – That it may be well unto you: this shows what would be the good effect of obedience (Exodus 15:26; Deuteronomy 5:29,33), which is a state of well-being in life, for those who “obey my voice” the Lord says. God promises us a state of well-being in life, if we hearken to keep His Word and live by its commands and teachings. Conversely this implies that our sufferings in life, can be in part, as a result of our own perverseness and sinfulness, and lack of obedience to God in our life.
Obedience to the Lord is the key to this present life for the Christian. Imagine how much better, and more joy filled all of our lives would be, if we just obeyed God in all areas of our life, if we were in complete submission to all of His Word, if we lived out our life, seeking to live as closely to His plan for it as we possibly could. Obedience to God is the key to a happy, joy filled, and successful life.
Romans 1:9- 10 “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers; Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.”
“Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.” “What is God’s will for my life?” – Most Christians have asked a question like this. It may often be asked pertaining to mundane things or more significant things like one’s career, where to live, etc.
“Making request” – has the meaning of begging, Paul was desperate to know and to do the will of God for his life. – How about you? Are you desperately seeking God? Are you desperately begging God to know and to do His will with your life?
“if by any means” – Paul was willing to whatever it took to fulfill God’s will for his life. – ARE YOU!?
“now at length” – no matter how long it took to know and do God’s will, Paul was willing to wait. How about us? Do we willingly wait on the Lord, as the Bible commands us?
“I might have a prosperous journey” – Paul prayed for the Lord to bless his efforts for Him. – How about us? Do we have the kind of prayer life that we should have?
“the will of God” – Are we sincerely seeking the Lords will in all facets of our life?
“If by any means…. The will of God”! – Do we live by this thought, do we live by this statement, could this be considered the motto of our life?
So how can we live in harmony with the will of God? – Paul mentioned his desire to live in harmony with God’s will as he made plans to visit his brethren in Rome and as he prayed regarding such plans. Paul sought to find a way “by the will of God”. Paul’s comments in verse ten provide an opportunity for us to consider some thoughts related to the will of God, especially on how to determine God’s will for our lives.
“By any means…. The will of God”! – We should always seek to live by this thought and statement. “By any means… The will of God”!
FACETS OF GOD’S WILL
You have God’s proclaimed will – God has made His will known in many respects. (I Thessalonians 5:18 – In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. & I Peter 2:15 – For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:)
God has proclaimed His will through revelation by sending inspired prophets, by sending His Son, and by having the Spirit guide the Apostles in their writing and ministry.
That which is essential for us to know God has proclaimed through Scripture. (II Timothy 3:16-17 – All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.)
Then you have God’s Providential will – God acts providentially in our lives and that is implied in our text. (Romans 15:32 – That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed.)
God shapes events, He moves events, He arranges circumstances, He gives us opportunity’s all by His will, in His timing.
Then there is God’s permissive will – God allows things to happen that are not necessarily according to His desired will. This can also be looked at in the fact God has given man a free will, God wants us to do right and live right and follow Him, but He will not make us do that.
People are allowed to sin and even hurt other people; this does not mean God is OK with it. God will eventually judge all men according to what they have done. (Acts 17:30-31 – And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.)
God allows people to do things that are indifferent to Him. This is again an example of allowing us to exercise our free will.
FINDING GOD’S WILL – How do we find God’s will?
COMMITTING OUR WAY TO THE LORD – Whatever we do we need to be doing it for the Lord’s sake. (Psalm 37:5-6 – Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.)
SOME OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER – God is not like a train; He is able to run on more than one track. A choice may not be between good and bad, but between good and better. God can use us in many different ways.
Matthew Henry said this concerning verse Romans 1:10 and will of God “As in our purpose, so in our desires, we must still remember to insert this ‘if the Lord will’”
CONCLUSION: Our goal for our life should be to “…. stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” Colossians 4:12 and by any means pursue the will of God with our life! Our goal should be this, especially as this pertains to the proclaimed will of God and as much as possible to the providential and permissive will of God. We should keep the Words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ constantly in the fore front of our minds “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10. Remember Jesus also set the example for us and prayed “And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done” Matthew 26:39 &42. Are you seeking “by any means” to find and then to do the will of God?
“By any means” – Find and Do the Will of God!
“By any means… the will of God”!
Put your will, your wants, your desires on the altar today and live by this thought and this motto “By any means… the will of God”!
The following is a brief answer to the above question. The “Exception clause” is Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:32 “saving for the cause of fornication,” and Matthew 19:9 “except it be for fornication.” It gives an “exception” for remarriage after a divorce that is the result of fornication. Matthew 5:32 says “But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” Similarly, Matthew 19:9 reads, “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” So, what precisely is “fornication,” and why is it an exception to Jesus’ statement that remarriage after a divorce is adultery?
JESUS WAS CLEAR, WITH NO AMBIGUITY ABOUT HIS STATEMENTS ON DIVORCE
The meaning of Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 is clear. If a person gets a divorce, and then remarries, it is considered adultery unless the exception clause is in effect. The word “fornication” is a translation of the Greek word porneia, the word from which we get our modern word “pornography.” The essential meaning of porneia is “a habitual sexual perversion or sexual sin including, but not limited to harlotry, adultery or incest among other sexual sins” In Greek literature, around the same time as the New Testament, porneia was used to refer to adultery, fornication, prostitution, incest, and idolatry. It is used 25 times in the New Testament and is most often translated as “fornication.”
The meaning of porneia in the New Testament seems to be the general concept of sexual perversion or sin. Other Greek words are used to refer to specific forms of sexual perversion, such as adultery. With this meaning in mind, according to the exception clause, any participation in sexual perversion/misconduct is an exception to Jesus’ statement that remarriage after a divorce is adultery. If one spouse commits adultery, or any act of sexual perversion, and a divorce results, the “innocent” spouse is free to remarry without it being considered adulterous, or in other words, in Jesus’ eyes not considered to be the spouse of two husbands or two wives.
AN EXCEPTION, NOT A COMMAND
Please understand that the exception clause is not a command for divorce and/or remarriage. Jesus is not saying that if marital unfaithfulness occurs a couple should divorce. Jesus is not saying that if a divorce occurs due to marital unfaithfulness, the innocent spouse should remarry. At most, Jesus is giving allowance for divorce and remarriage to occur. In no sense is Jesus declaring divorce and remarriage to be the best or only option. Repentance, forgiveness, counseling, and restoration are God’s desire for marriages damaged by unfaithfulness. God can and will heal any marriage in which both spouses are committed to Him and willing to follow His Word. But in those cases where one spouse is not committed to Him, does not care about restoration, Jesus provided a way for the innocent spouse, in those situations, to continue on with their lives and be free to remarry with no sin or guilt attached or assigned to that new marriage by Him.
HUSBAND OF ONE WIFE – NOT TWO
Also the exception clause, as it is known, clearly teaches if you marry again after divorce and the divorce is not for fornication you are committing adultery or you would be considered the husband to two wives; but if you marry again and the divorce was a result of fornication by the other spouse you can marry again and it is not considered adultery and you would not be considered the husband of two wives.
For it not to be considered adultery, you would have to be presently unmarried, or in other words, the husband of zero wives, then you can get married again according to the exception clause and in Jesus’s eyes according to Matthew 5:32 & Matthew 19:9. You would then be the husband of one wife; because if you were not, you would then be committing adultery and Jesus clearly teaches that the innocent spouse, that later remarries, is not committing adultery.
A passage pertaining to the Old Testament law of divorce can be found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Jesus explains that this law was given by Moses on account of the hardness of the people’s heart; that is, to prevent greater evils (Matthew 19:8). The law permitted the husband to put away the wife when “he hath found some uncleanness in her.” But Jesus here limits the right of divorce to cases of “fornication,” and if there be a divorce on any other grounds, neither the man nor the woman can marry again without committing adultery (Matthew 19:9). The “Exception clause” in no way relaxes or liberalizes the marriage law; it in fact does the opposite in stiffening it and limiting divorce. It is implied and indicated in these passages in Matthew 5 & 19 that divorce for “fornication” breaks the marriage bond, and this conclusion is widely held both by commentators and preachers alike, that the innocent party to such a divorce can be free to marry again.
GRACE & LAW
We are presently under grace, not law, so the spouse that is guilty of fornication is no longer put to death for fornication. But, in times past, when they were put to death for fornication, this served the purpose of punishment of the offender, setting an example that purity was expected, and it also set the innocent party free. They were no longer married, they were free to marry again.
Now in the New testament, the guilty party is no longer put to death for fornication, they have been given grace. Now does that mean their grace given to them turns into the law being now applied to the innocent victim where they are no longer free to remarry because their former spouse is still alive? Why would God give grace to the guilty party and put chains on the innocent party? By many interpretations and applications of divorce in the church today, that is what many do because God no longer requires the life of the guilty party, they require of the innocent party in the divorce a life sentence of being single or told they cannot marry or cannot serve or cannot be a pastor or deacon because they are divorced. In the Old Testament they would not be divorced they would be widowed, but because God now gives grace to the guilty party, the innocent victims are now not widowed, but divorced, and now the church imposes law and restrictions on them, as a direct result and consequence to the grace that God bestowed on the guilty party. How does this make sense? How is this biblical? How is this right? How is this God’s will? – It is not.
Romans 1:9- 10 “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers; Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.”
“Making request” – It was Paul’s earnest desire to see them, and he presented the subject before God.
“If by any means” – This tells us he was willing to do whatever it took to be able to do the will of God. Do we have this same attitude today? – We have a perfect example to follow in this and that is Christ.
“Now at length” – He had purposed to go to Rome for a long time. The expression in the Greek implies an earnest wish that this long-cherished purpose might be accomplished.
“A prosperous journey” – Paul was praying for a safe, and pleasant journey. We should make it a practice, as Paul did to pray for safety as we travel and prosperous results as we fulfill His will.
“By the will of God” – Paul prefaced all he had said by wanting to make sure all of it was according to God’s will. This is a proper way to pray; we should all pray and make plans this way always “by the will of God”.
Paul was thankful for the Roman church and their testimony (v. 8). “spoken of throughout the whole world” – meaning the whole Roman Empire knew of the faith of the Christians at Rome. Travel was relatively common in that day and “all roads led to Rome.” It is no wonder that the testimony of the church spread abroad, and this growing witness made Paul’s ministry easier as he went from place to place and was able to point to this testimony going out from the heart of the Roman Empire.
What kind of testimony do you personally have for Christ? – Does your whole world know? Does your whole school or place of employment know of your testimony for Christ? Is it a good testimony that they know? Are we like the Roman Christians and not being ashamed of our faith and who were, so actively proclaiming it and sharing it that literally the whole world knew of them and their faith in Christ?
Does your whole world know of your faith in Christ?
Are you sharing it with others?
How is your testimony concerning Christ to others?
He prayed for them (vv. 9–10). They did not know of Paul’s prayer support, but the Lord knew about it and honored it. (I wonder how many of us know the people who are praying for us?) One of the burdens of Paul’s prayer was that God would permit him to visit Rome and minister to the churches there. He would have visited them sooner, but his missionary work had kept him busy (Romans 15:15–33). He was about to leave Corinth for Jerusalem to deliver the special offering received from the Gentile churches for the poor Jewish saints. He hoped he would be able to travel from Jerusalem to Rome, and he was hoping for a prosperous journey.
Do you pray like you should? – Do you pray for fellow Christians and others in general, like you should be doing?
Verse 8 “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.”
“First, I thank my God” – The God whom I worship and serve. The expression of thanks to God for His mercy to them was given to help prepare them for the truths which he was about to communicate to them. It showed the deep interest which Paul had in their welfare; and the happiness it would give him to do them good. It is proper to give thanks to God for His mercies to others as well as ourselves. We are members of one great family, and we should make it a subject of thanksgiving to God for what He has done for us.
“Through Jesus Christ” – The duty of presenting our thanks to God, through Christ, is often referred to in the New Testament, Ephesians 5:20 “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;” and also Hebrews 13:15 “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.”
“For you all” – On account of you all, on account of the entire Roman church. This shows us that the church had a remarkably pure faith and earnest faith at this time. How few churches have there been of whom a similar commendation could be expressed.
“That your faith” – The readiness with which the Romans had embraced the gospel, the firmness with which they adhered to it, was so remarkable, that it was known and celebrated everywhere. The same thing is affirmed of them in Romans 16:19a “For your obedience is come abroad unto all men.”
“Is spoken of throughout the whole world” – Their great faith is celebrated, or known. They were in the capital of the Roman Empire; in a city remarkable for its wickedness; and in a city whose influence extended everywhere. It was natural, therefore, that their remarkable conversion to God should be celebrated everywhere.
Verse 9 “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;”
Charles Spurgeon made this comment on this verse “Little did he dream that his prayers were to be answered by his being conveyed in chains to the great city. Very mysterious are the Lord’s ways of granting our requests.”
***Are you personally surrendered and prepared for the answers to your prayers the Lord may bring your way? His ways are above our ways, God may answer your prayers but it might not be in the way you are thinking or expecting. ***
“For God is my witness” – The reason for this strong appeal to God is to show to the Romans the deep interest which Paul felt in their welfare. This interest was manifested in his prayers, and in his earnest desires to see them. A deep interest shown in this way was well-fitted to prepare them to receive what he had to say to them. Those we minister to; do we have this deep personal interest and burden for them like the Apostle Paul did?
“Whom I serve” – This expression denotes that Paul was devoted to God in this manner; that he obeyed him, and had given himself to do His will in making known His gospel. Have we done the same in our lives? Have we given ourselves over to God’s will for our life?
“With my spirit” – It is not an external service merely; it is internal, real, and authentic service to God. The Apostle Paul was really and sincerely devoted to the service of God – are we?
“In the gospel of his Son” – This means in making known the gospel, or as a minister of the gospel. Are we doing this in our own life? Are we making known the Gospel not only in our words, but in our deeds, in our testimonies, in the examples we set?
“That without ceasing” – This means constantly, always, without intermission, not only once, but repeatedly (I Thessalonians 1:2 – We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;)
“I make mention always” – I call you to remembrance, and present your case before God. This demonstrates his remarkable interest in a church which he had never seen, and it shows that Paul was a man of prayer; praying not for his friends and kindred only, but for those whom he had never seen. If with the same intensity of prayer all Christians would remember the churches and other Christians in prayer, what a tremendous affect the Christian church would soon have “throughout the whole world”!
E.M. Bounds made this comment on prayer “Pray and never faint, is the motto Christ gives us for praying. It is the test of our faith, and the severer the trial the longer the waiting, the more glorious the results!”
A FAITHFUL RETURN TO JUDAH
Naomi chooses to return to Judah The famine in Judah had ended (Ruth 1:6). The Lord’s blessings had returned to Judah. The Lord had given them bread. Naomi encourages her daughters-in-law to remain in Moab (Ruth 1:7-9). As they were on their way to leave Naomi encourages them to return to their mothers’ house, and for them to find rest in the homes of future husbands; Naomi also prays God’s blessings upon them to treat them kindly, because their kindness to her. This prompted sorrowful displays and great affection from them.
Ruth chooses to return with Naomi – At first, both daughters-in-law desire to go with Naomi. They were willing to return with her to her people. This speaks highly of their love for Naomi and for their duty they felt as daughters-in-law. Naomi sought to persuade them from returning with her. She told them she has no sons to offer them. She is too old to have a husband and if she did marry and have sons, would they wait until they were old enough? It grieved Naomi to see them suffer because of God’s chastisement of her.
But Ruth cannot be dissuaded; she is determined to return with Naomi. Weeping, Orpah kisses her mother-in-law and leaves. But Ruth clings to her mother-in-law, and Naomi tries once again to persuade her to return, but Ruth had made her decision to follow Naomi and live in the will of God and she was determined with everything she had to follow through on that decision.
Ruth’s noble choice:
1) To go wherever Naomi goes
2) To live wherever Naomi lives
3) To make the people of Naomi her people
4) To make the God of Naomi her God
5) To die and be buried where Naomi is buried
6) To let nothing but death come between them and fulfilling God’s will for her life
Our choice: – will we choose to follow God like Ruth chose to follow Naomi? Will we choose to live where God wants us to live, to do what God wants us to do, and determine, like Ruth did, to let nothing deter you from it?
THE TESTIMONIES OF NAOMI, ORPAH AND RUTH
The testimony of Naomi (Ruth 1:6–15) God visited His faithful people in Bethlehem, but not His disobedient daughter in Moab. Naomi heard the report that the famine had ended, and when she heard the good news, she decided to return home. How sad it is when people only hear about God’s blessing, but don’t experience it, because they are not in the place where God can bless them. Are you where God can bless you?
Are you blessable? Are you in the Lords will so He can bless you? He will not bless you if you are living outside His will. Whenever we have disobeyed the Lord and departed from His will, we must confess our sin and return to the place of blessing. Abraham had to leave Egypt and go back to the altar he had abandoned (Genesis 13:1–4), and Jacob had to go back to Bethel (Genesis 35:1). The repeated plea of the prophets to God’s people was that they turn from their sins and return to the Lord. (Isaiah 55:7 – Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.)
Wrong motives. Naomi’s decision was right, but her motive was wrong. She was still interested primarily in food, not in fellowship with God. You don’t hear her confessing her sins to God and asking Him to forgive her. She was returning to her land but not to her Lord.
But something else was wrong in the way Naomi handled this decision: She did not want her two daughters- in-law to go with her. If it was right for Naomi to go to Bethlehem, where the true and living God was worshiped, then it was right for Orpah and Ruth to accompany her. Naomi should have said to them what Moses said to his father-in-law, and that was to come with (Numbers 10:29). Instead, Naomi tried to influence the two women to go back to their families and their false gods.
Cover up? Why would a believing Jewess, a daughter of Abraham, encourage two pagan women to worship false gods? I may be wrong, but I get the impression that Naomi didn’t want to take Orpah and Ruth to Bethlehem because they were living proof that she and her husband had permitted their two sons to marry women from outside the covenant nation. In other words, Naomi was trying to cover up her disobedience. If she returned to Bethlehem alone, nobody would know that the family had broken the law of Moses. (Proverbs 28:13 – He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.)
True repentance is needed. When we try to cover our sins, its proof that we really haven’t faced them honestly and judged them according to God’s Word. True repentance involves honest confession and a brokenness within. Instead of brokenness, Naomi had bitterness. The tragedy is that Naomi did not present the God of Israel in a positive way. In Ruth 1:13, she suggests that God was to blame for the sorrow and pain the three women had experienced. Had Naomi been walking with the Lord, she could have won Orpah to the faith and brought two trophies of grace home to Bethlehem. But instead Orpah may be in Hell today because of Naomi’s sinfulness and lack of repentance at this time in her life.
The testimony of Orpah (Ruth 1:11–14) The two daughters-in-law started off with Naomi (verse 7), but she stopped them and urged them not to accompany her. She even prayed for them (verse 8–9) that the Lord would be kind to them and find them new husbands and give them rest after all their sorrow. But of what value are the prayers of a backslidden believer (Psalm 66:18 – If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:)? Three times Naomi told Orpah and Ruth to return (Ruth 1:8, 11–12). When she saw them hesitating, Naomi began to reason with them. “I’m too old to have another husband and have another family,” she said. “And even if I could bear more sons, do you want to waste these next years waiting for them to grow up? You could be in your mother’s house, with your family, enjoying life.”
Orpah was the weaker of the two sisters-in-law. She started to Bethlehem with Naomi, kissed her, and wept with her, yet she would not stay with her. She was “not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34), but she made the wrong decision and turned back. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but we wonder whether her heart was really in it, for her decision proved that her heart was back home where she hoped to find a husband. Orpah left the scene and is never mentioned again in the Scriptures.
The testimony of Ruth (Ruth 1:15–18) Naomi was trying to cover up; Orpah had given up, but Ruth was prepared to stand up! She refused to listen to her mother-in-law’s pleas or follow her sister-in-law’s bad example. Why? Because she had come to trust in the God of Israel (2:12). She had experienced trials and disappointments, but instead of blaming God, she had trusted Him and was not ashamed to confess her faith.
In spite of the bad example of her disobedient in-laws, Ruth had come to know the true and living God, and she wanted to be with His people and dwell in His land, she wanted to live in His will and live where He wanted her to be, in the midst of His will, even though that meant moving to a foreign place to her.
Ruth’s conversion is evidence of the sovereign grace of God, for the only way sinners can be saved is by grace (Ephesians 2:8–10). Everything within her and around her presented obstacles to her faith, and yet she trusted the God of Israel.
Her background was against her, for she was from Moab where they worshiped the god Chemosh (Numbers 21:29; I Kings 11:7, 33), who accepted human sacrifices (II Kings 3:26–27) and encouraged immorality (Numbers 25).
Her circumstances were against her and could have made her bitter against the God of Israel. First, her father-in-law died, and then her husband and her brother-in-law, and she was left a widow without any support. Ruth could have thought if this is the way Jehovah God treats His people, why follow Him? Ruth dearly loved her mother-in-law, but even Naomi was against her, for she urged Ruth to return to her family and her gods in Moab. Since Elimelech and Mahlon were now dead, Ruth was technically under the guardianship of Naomi, and she should have obeyed her mother-in-law’s counsel. But God intervened and graciously saved Ruth in spite of all these obstacles. (Titus 3:5 – Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;)
God delights in showing mercy and often He shows His mercy to the least likely people, the least likely at least in man’s eyes, in the least likely places. This is the sovereign grace of the God. Ruth’s statement in Ruth 1:16–17 is one of the most magnificent confessions found anywhere in Scripture. First, she confessed her love for Naomi and her desire to stay with her mother-in-law even unto death. Then she confessed her faith in the true and living God and her decision to worship Him alone. She was willing to forsake father and mother and her home, where she grew up (2:11) in order to cleave to Naomi and the God of her people. Ruth was “stedfastly minded” to accompany Naomi and to follow God’s will (1:18) and live in Bethlehem with God’s people.
How about you, will you commit to be “stedfastly minded” to do and follow the will of God?
When you read the genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1, you find the names of five women, four of whom have very questionable credentials: Tamar committed incest with her father-in-law Judah (Genesis 38:3); Rahab was a Gentile harlot (Joshua 2:5); Ruth was an outcast Gentile Moabitess (Ruth 1:5); and “the wife of Urias”, Bathsheba, was an adulteress (II Samuel 11:6). How did they ever become a part of the family of the Messiah? – Through the sovereign grace and mercy of God! (II Peter 3:9 – The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.) .
This account in God’s Word certainly illustrates the need to make choices in the center of God’s will no matter where that decision will lead us to. We need to always seek to make decisions after God’s will for our life; regardless of what that decision may lead to or where that decision may lead to, in this case it lead Ruth from her home in Moab to a land she had never been to and that was Judah, but Ruth was willing and determined to do and to go anywhere God lead her to. How about us, are we like Ruth in that regard? Are we willing to do whatever the Lord calls us to do and are we willing to go wherever the Lord calls us to go?
Ruth made a choice, to leave her family, to leave her land, to leave the familiar in pursuit of the divine. She put the eternal above the temporal, she put God’s will above her own, she put His wisdom above what she or others may have thought best. Ruth put her full trust, her full confidence, her full faith in God and stepped out on that faith to go where He was leading, and to do what He was having her to do; and this lead her to great blessings in her life and blessings for even us today.
Sometimes the choice is not between right and wrong, but between the good and the better or the best. Yet any choice we make will be the right one if made with these words of Jesus in mind: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33.
Ruth 1:16-17 “And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”
We need to be, as Ruth was, content with any condition, content with any situation, content with any position and content with any location the Lord directs us to. (Philippians 4:11 – Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.)
Ruth was faced with leaving everything and everyone she ever knew, yet because she knew it to be for certain the Lords will, she did not hesitate, she did not look back, and she pledged her loyalty and her intention to fulfill God’s will for her life at that moment, and marched “stedfastly minded” ahead to do just that. (Ruth 1:18 – When she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.)
We need to be this way, the way Ruth was, we need to be, once God’s will and God’s direction for our life is determined, to be “stedfastly minded” in the pursuit of that path the Lord has set us on. Ruth sacrificed a lot to be in the will of God. She left her home, and followed the leading of God.
Life was not easy in those days during the period of the judges for “there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes” Judges 17:6. The book of Judges is the story of Israel at one of its lowest points in history— it’s a record of division, cruelty, apostasy, civil war, and national disgrace.
Spiritually, our lives can resemble elements of the book of Judges at times. Like Israel in the past, many of God’s people today are living in unbelief and disobedience and are not enjoying the blessings of God.
Elimelech went outside of God’s will for his family when he took them to Moab, it was not what God wanted for him, to live among the heathen and sinful Moabites and to subject his family to that influence. Elimelech compromises his beliefs in exchange for material gain.
Matthew Henry has the following comment of this situation “It seems there was plenty in the country of Moab where there was scarcity of bread in the land of Israel. If he had made inquiry, it is probable he would have found plenty in some of the tribes of Israel for instance on the other side of Jordan that bordered the land of Moab; if he had had the zeal for God and that affection for his brethren which became an Israelite, he would not have persuaded himself so easily to go and sojurn among the Moabites.”
So Elimelech led his family into a bad decision, one that eventually exchanged a famine for much dire consequences.
We need to seek God earnestly, prayerfully to make sure that we never lead our families into a bad decision or lead them in a bad direction. Direction is very important. Where you are at now may still be ok and uncompromising, but what direction is your current circumstances heading in? Use biblical discernment about direction and not financial considerations as the determining factor in decisions about where you lead your family.
Ralph Waldo Emerson stated in his book The Conduct of Life – “Because God gave us freedom of choice, we can ignore the will of God, argue with it, disobey it, even fight against it. But in the end, the will of God shall prevail, because “the counsel of the Lord standeth for ever” (Psalm 33:11) and “he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth” (Daniel 4:35). The patriarch Job asked, “who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered?” (Job 9:4). Job knew the answer and so do we – If we obey God’s will, everything in life holds together; but if we disobey, everything starts to fall apart.”
Nowhere in the Bible is illustrated this truth more than the experiences of Elimelech and his wife Naomi. Elimelech and his sons went to Moab to find bread, instead they found graves.
We see in this account the stark consequences of adventuring outside of God’s will for our life and we see in Ruth’s example the kind of determination we need to do the will of God once we know it.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE SITUATION
THE SETTING & THE PLACES – The setting we find in Ruth 1:1 “Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.” In the days of the judges, which were prior to the period of the kings of Israel, there is famine in the land of Judah, and a family of four leaves Bethlehem to dwell in Moab.
Bethlehem is a city located five miles south of Jerusalem; it is the birthplace of David and Jesus. In the Old Testament, a famine was often an evidence of God’s discipline because His people had sinned against Him (Leviticus 26:18–20; Deuteronomy 28:15, 23–24). During the time of the judges, Israel repeatedly turned from God and worshiped the idols of the heathen nations around them, and God had to discipline them (Judges 2:10–19). Oftentimes, sadly, the godly had to suffer because of the ungodly; we find this to be true even in Bethlehem.
Moab was a country located due east of the Dead Sea. It consisted of the decedents of Lot (Genesis 19:36-37 – Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father. And the firstborn bare a son, and called his name Moab: the same is the father of the Moabites unto this day.) The Moabites were sometimes enemies and sometimes friends of Israel.
A WRONG DECISION IS MADE
When trouble comes to our lives, we can do one of three things:
If we only endure our trials, then trials become our master, and we have a tendency to become hard and bitter.
If we try to escape our trials, then we will probably miss the purposes God wants to achieve in our lives. (James 1:3-4 – Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.)
But if we learn to enlist our trials, they will become our servants instead of our masters and work for us; and God will work all things together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28 – And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.)
Elimelech made the wrong decision when he decided to leave home. What made this decision so wrong? – It was prompted by the famine not by consultation in prayer with the Lord. He considered the material or the financial and not the spiritual needs of his family. This decision appears to have been made in lack of faith in God, a lack of faith in God to provide for his family what was needed, not necessarily what was wanted, but what was needed. He appears to have doubted God’s provision for His family.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE WRONG DECISION – DEATH STRIKES THREE TIMES
Elimelech himself dies as a result of his wrong decision (Ruth 1:3 – And Elimelech Naomi’s husband died;…) Elimelech’s death left Naomi a widow with two sons.
Rabbinic tradition suggests his death was punishment for greed (not being content with just his needs being met but wanting more than that) and for having forsaken his homeland and his lack of faith in the Lords continued provision.
Mahlon and Chilion, his sons, marry women of Moab. Mahlon married Ruth, Chilion married Orpah (Ruth 1:4). Such marriages with women of Moab were strongly suspect, if not just plain wrong (Deuteronomy 23:3, I Kings 11:1-2, Nehemiah 13:23-27).
They lived in Moab for ten years. Mahlon and Chilion die (Ruth 1:5 – And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband.) Their deaths left Naomi a widow and childless, which she took as divine judgment against her. (Ruth 1:13, 20-21 – Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me. And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?)
There are always consequences to sin; there are always results and consequences to every decision we make. That is why we need to keep God first and foremost in our life, and in our decisions. Use spiritual discernment in all decisions.
THE TESTIMONY OF ELIMELECH
He walked by sight and not by faith Abraham made the same mistake when he encountered a famine in the land of promise (Genesis 12:10). Instead of waiting for God to tell him what to do next, he fled to Egypt and got into trouble. No matter how difficult our circumstances may be, the safest and best place is in the will of God.
How do you walk by faith? By claiming the promises of God and obeying the Word of God, in spite of what you see, how you feel, or what may happen. It means committing yourself to the Lord and relying wholly on Him to meet the need.
When we live by faith, it glorifies God, it witnesses to a lost world, and it builds Christian character into our lives. God has ordained that the righteous will live by faith. (Hebrews 10:38 – Now the just shall live by faith:…)
There is a “wisdom” of this world that leads to folly and sorrow, and there is a wisdom from God that seems folly to the world but that leads to blessing (James 3:13-18 – Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.)
He majored on the physical and not the spiritual A husband and father certainly wants to provide for his wife and family, but he must not do it at the expense of losing the blessing of God. Spiritual wealth and health is far superior than material wealth and financial health. When Satan met Jesus in the wilderness, his first temptation was to suggest that Christ satisfy His hunger rather than please His Father (Matthew 4:1–4, John 4:34).
David’s words are worth considering: “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” Psalm 37:25.
As Paul faced a threatening future, he testified, “But none of these things move me,” Acts 20:24a.
In times of difficulty and in times of decision if we die to self and put God’s will first (Matthew 6:33), we can be sure that He will either take us out of the trouble or bring us through to the decision that needs to be made, if we will let Him.
He honored the enemy and not the Lord – By going fifty miles to the neighboring land of Moab, Elimelech and his family abandoned God’s land and God’s people for the land and people of the enemy. The Moabites were descendants of Lot from his sinful union with his firstborn daughter (Genesis 19:30–38), and they were the Jews’ enemies because of the way they had treated Israel during their pilgrimage from Egypt to Canaan.
During the time of the judges, Moab had invaded Israel and ruled over the people for eighteen years (Judges 3:12–14); so why should Elimelech turn to them for help? – He put his “wisdom,” what he thought was best above God’s will and above exercising faith in God.
The consequences The name Elimelech means “my God is king.” But the Lord was not king in Elimelech’s life, for he left God completely out of his decisions. Could the same be said about us, do we put God in our decisions or do we completely leave Him out like Elimelech did?
WHY DEVELOP OUR FAITH & PRAYER?
Revelation 5:8 “And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.”
“Full of odours” or rather full of fragrant incense as the Greek Word for “odours” suggests. These “odours” are the prayers of saints. Compare this thought to Psalm 141:2, “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” The meaning is that incense was a proper symbol for the prayer of the saints. They are acceptable to God, incense produces an agreeable fragrance; and it’s being wafted towards heaven, ascending towards the eternal throne. The prayers of the saints which were offered on earth are being presented before the throne of God. This could be an allusion to the temple service, and to the fact that incense was offered by the priest in the temple itself at the time that prayer was offered by the people in the courts of the temple (Luke 1:9-10 – According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.) The idea here is, that the representatives of the church in heaven, the elders spoken of as “priests,” in Revelation 5:10, are described as officiating in the temple above in behalf of the church still below. The impression which this should leave on our minds should be that our prayers are presented before the throne of God, and are acceptable, precious and sweet to Him.
INTRODUCTION: Why develop our faith and prayer life? – Our prayers are precious to the Lord. He desires and cherishes fellowship with us. Prayer is how we talk to God it is how we share our feelings, our needs and our concerns. The Lord wants you to tell Him about your day. He wants you to bring all things to Him in prayer. (Philippians 4:6 – Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.) He wants us to pour our heart out to Him when we need to in our prayers. (Psalm 62:8 – Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah).We should not take our prayer life for granted. We need to pray, we need to be praying always for everything.
We need to understand some things about prayer though. God answers our prayers; sometimes the answer might be “not yet”, or even “no”, but He will answer. We might not see the answer or understand the answer but our prayers will be answered. There are promises in the Bible about answered prayer, but there are some reasons for what appears as unanswered prayers in the Bible too. There are reasons for when it seems like God is not hearing us or answering the way we know or think to be best. We will not always understand God’s answers because we have finite minds and cannot comprehend all the ways of God. (Isaiah 55:8 – For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.) We need to also understand that faith and trust are a great and significant aspect of successful prayer. We also should understand that mans sin nature is another aspect to why it may seem our prayers are going unanswered; remember God gave man a free will.
PROMISES OF ANSWERED PRAYER
REASONS FOR UNANSWERED PRAYERS
WHEN FAITH QUITS PRAYING, FAITH HAS FAILED. (Luke 22:32 – But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.)
FAITH IS THE FOUNDATION OF PRAYER AND OUR CHRISTIAN CHARACTER. (II Timothy 2:14 – That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us.)
“The faith which creates powerful praying is the faith which centers itself on a powerful person. Faith in Christ’s ability to do, and to do greatly is the faith which prays greatly.” E.M. Bounds
FAITH IS PATIENT; FAITH TAKES GOD AT HIS WORD.
“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” Thomas Aquinas
FAITH MUST BE FREE OF DOUBT. (Romans 14:23 – And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.)
“Faith is not believing just anything; it is believing God, resting in Him, trusting His word.” E.M. Bounds
“Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.” Martin Luther
PRAYER IS DEPENDENT ON FAITH. (Hebrews 11:6 – But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.)
IN CONCLUSION: So why develop our faith and our prayer life? – Because our prayers are precious to the Lord. He wants us to bring all things to Him in prayer. (Philippians 4:6a – Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication). We should not take our prayer life for granted. We need to pray, we need to be praying always for everything. God answers our prayers; sometimes the answer might be “not yet”, or even “no”, but He will answer. We might not see the answer or understand the answer but our prayers will be answered. We need to also understand that faith is a great and significant aspect of successful prayer. Mans sin nature is also an aspect in the answering of prayers.
Never quit, never give up on your faith in God. Faith tested is faith that is strengthened. Remember only God can move mountains, but faith and prayer can move God to move the mountains. (Mark 11:24).All things in our life, including our prayers should be built upon faith. Faith knows there will be delays. Faith accepts God’s conditions and timing. If faith is exercised and holds fast through the waiting, the delays, and the trials – the answer to our prayer, when it comes, will be that much sweeter and miraculous. Faith in prayer is more than just naming and claiming, you have to qualify that statement with – is that prayer in God’s will and are you truly praying in full faith? Faith is taking your eyes off of self, not trusting in your own abilities, and placing your gaze exclusively on God and totally trusting in Him. Faith is foundational to a successful prayer life and a successful Christian walk. Prayer exercised through a true and strong faith in Christ is true fellowship with God and that fellowship with Him and dependence on Him is what God desires of us.
A WALK THROUGH THE NEW TESTAMENT CONCERNING CRITICISM & A CRITICAL-SPIRIT
In Matthew 5 – Being a master Teacher, our Lord did not begin this important sermon with a negative criticism of the scribes and Pharisees. He began with a positive emphasis on righteous character and the blessings that it brings to the life of the believer. The Pharisees taught that righteousness was an external thing, a matter of obeying rules and regulations. Righteousness could be measured by praying, giving, fasting, etc. In the Beatitudes and the pictures of the believer, Jesus described Christian character that flowed from within.
In John 12 – It was Judas who started the criticism, and, sad to say, the other disciples joined in. They did not know that Judas was a devil (John 6:70), and they admired him for his concern for the poor. After all, he was the treasurer, and especially at Passover season, he would want to share with those who were less fortunate (John 13:21–30). Until the very end, the disciples believed that Judas was a devoted follower of the Lord. We today, just like the disciples that night, desperately need this lesson on humility and a critical-spirit. The church is filled with a worldly spirit of competition and criticism as believers vie with one another to see who is the greatest. We are growing in knowledge, but are we always growing in grace? (II Peter 3:18 – But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.)
“Humility is the only soil in which the graces root. The lack of humility is the sufficient explanation of every defect and failure.” – Andrew Murray
Jesus served His disciples because of His humility and because of His love. In the Upper Room, Jesus ministered in love to His own disciples, and they received Him and what He had to say. Jesus never berated His disciples, Jesus never had a critical-spirit, Jesus never sought to tear down, but only to build up. Jesus led through humility, through demonstrations of love, and not by a critical-spirit, and not by making fun of someone or their performance.
In Acts 2 – “We are not going to move this world by criticism of it nor conformity to it, but by the combustion within it of lives ignited by the Spirit of God.” Vance Havner made that statement and he was right. The early church had none of the things that we think are so essential for success today—buildings, money, political influence, social status—and yet the church won multitudes to Christ and saw many churches established throughout the Roman world. Why? Because the church had the power of the Holy Spirit energizing its ministry. They were a people who “were ignited by the Spirit of God.” That same Holy Spirit power is available to us today to make us more effective witnesses for Christ. The ministry of the Spirit is to glorify Christ in the life and witness of the believer (John 16:14), and that is what is important. We need to concentrate less on being critical about other Christians and the world and more on living a life for Christ, and being a witness for Him, according to the dictates of His Word and not because of the criticism we may receive from man.
In Romans 14:8 – Paul emphasized the believer’s union with Christ. Romans 14:8 “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.” Our first responsibility is to the Lord. If Christians would go to the Lord in prayer instead of going to their brother with criticism or going to others about their brother with criticism, there would be stronger fellowship in our churches, a stronger more unified spirit in churches, and more work and more fruit for the Kingdom of Christ would be getting done.
In I Corinthians 4:1-6 – “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God. And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.”
The local church is a family and we should not let cultivate among that family self-righteous attitudes among its members. There is a place for constructive criticism, delivered in the right way, in the right time and place, but there is no room for criticism delivered from a self-righteous attitude and point of view. If the person delivering the criticism is right, and it is done in the right way, he has helped us, but if it is not right, we need to seek ways to help him with his critical-spirit.
The Corinthians who were passing judgment on Paul were actually “playing God” and assuming to themselves the privileges that only God has. It is very easy, and we need to be careful with this, it is very easy to misjudge a person, a situation and the motives behind them. The Corinthians, like we are guilty of also, were judging Paul by the wrong standard, they were judging by personal preferences and prejudices and not by God’s Word. They were also judging with the wrong motive, our motive should not be to point out they were wrong, and “I could or would have done that better”, our motive should not be to tear down others and to build up ourselves in the process, our motive should be rooted in a humble heart and spirit and it should be to uplift, to correct when necessary, and to encourage when needed. God’s servants are stewards of His truth, and the key test is – have they been faithful to obey and to teach the Word of God? Not just faithful preaching and teaching, but faithful practicing of what they are preaching and teaching as well.
In James 4:11–12 “Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?” The saints were speaking evil of one another and judging one another with a critical-spirit. Here, again, we see the wrong use of the tongue. Christians are to be “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15); they are not to speak evil in a spirit of criticism. If the truth about a brother is harmful, then we should cover it in love and not repeat it (I Peter 4:8 – And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.). If he has sinned, we should go to him personally and try to win him back (Matthew 18:15–19; Galatians 6:1–2). James was not forbidding us to use discrimination or even to evaluate people. Christians need to have discernment (Philippians 1:9–10), but they must not act like God in passing judgment. We must first examine our own lives, and then try to help others (Matthew 7:1–5).
We never know all the facts in a case, and we certainly never know the motives that are at work in men’s hearts. To speak evil of a brother and to judge a brother based on partial evidence and possibly unkind motives is to sin against him and against God. We are not called to be judges; God is the only Judge. He is patient and understanding; His judgments are just and holy; we can leave the matter with Him. It is unfortunate that fellow Christians can be so quick to criticize, so quick to let themselves be taken over with a critical-spirit, so quick to condescendingly judge others, their actions, their performance, their heart and their intentions.
A Christmas Past
Matthew 2:1-3 “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”
To start off with we know little about these men. The word translated “wise men” (magi), refers to a group of scholars who studied the stars. Their title connects them with magic, but they were probably more like astrologers. However, their presence in the biblical record is not a divine endorsement of astrology. God gave them a special sign, a miraculous star that announced the birth of the King. The star led them to Jerusalem, where God’s prophets told them that the King would be born in Bethlehem. They went to Bethlehem, and there they worshipped the Christ Child.
We do not know how many wise men there were. From the three gifts listed in Matthew 2:11, some people have assumed there were three kings from the Orient, though this is not certain. But when their caravan arrived in Jerusalem, there were enough of them to trouble the whole city. Keep in mind that these men were Gentiles. From the very beginning, Jesus came to be “the Saviour of the world” John 4:42. These men were also wealthy, and they were scholars. No scholarly person who follows the light God gives him can miss worshipping at the feet of Jesus. In Jesus Christ “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” Colossians 2:3.
A CHRISTMAS PAST
Matthew is telling us a true account of the very first Christmas. He is recording for you history which is full of theological significance, and very important practically for your life. As we look at this passage, you should draw your attention to three particular things. Keep your eyes open for these because Matthew is highlighting them for our benefit.
First of all, you will see a surprising and ironic concealing and revealing of Jesus. You can see it in verses 1-4, and in verses 9-11. Jesus is concealed from Israel. Jesus is concealed from the religious leaders in Israel, but He is revealed to pagan wise men. There is a point that is made by drawing your attention to that fact, and we will examine it in more detail as we go.
Secondly, you will notice that this Jesus who has been born king of the Jews, whom the wise men have traveled far to visit and worship, is to be worshiped. Three times in this passage, Matthew mentions the worship of Jesus (verse 2; verse 8; and verse 11). Especially in verses 2 and 11, Matthew has a point to make, and we will examine that point as we work through this passage.
Third and finally, Matthew wants you to see that Jesus was born by the book. That is, His birth was in direct, and detailed, and explicit fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Matthew will quote from a passage in Micah to show that Jesus’ birth fulfilled the prophecy made by that minor prophet hundreds of years before; but he is also going to allude to a much older prophecy…a prophecy that was 1400 years old…a prophecy given by a pagan unbeliever and recorded in the Bible.
Three things Matthew is trying to convey to us – that are vital for every person in the world to understand if they are to fellowship with the living God. Matthew highlights the way that Jesus is concealed and revealed in His coming into this world. Matthew highlights that Jesus is an object of worship. Jesus is to be worshiped, and Matthew shows us that Jesus is born by the book so we could live by the Book. Here’s why:
THE CONCEALMENT & REVEALMENT OF CHRIST
Matthew highlights the concealment of Christ to Israel and the revealment of Christ to the Gentiles in this amazing account in Scripture. Here we have these pagan wise men from somewhere in the East, outside of Israel, outside of the bounds of the people of God who have been given God’s written revelation in the Old Testament, outside the bounds of those who would have heard Moses preach, or who would have read Moses, or who would have heard Moses read; outside of the reach of those who had heard the prophets of the Old Testament preached. Somewhere in far and distant lands, these pagans are coming to worship Jesus Christ. But when they get to Israel, nobody knows what they’re talking about! When they go to the leaders of Israel, the leaders of Israel are confused and seem unknowledgeable about their future king. They are troubled by this word from these pagans about the king of the Jews who has just been born. Herod is troubled. The chief priests and scribes, those who were responsible for conducting the religious worship of Israel and for teaching Moses’ law to the people, were all baffled and troubled by this question from the wise men.
The king (Herod) was half Edomite and half Arabian, but he was ruling over Israel, as it was basically a state to Rome, and Herod was deeply troubled when he heard the word that the king of the Jews had been born. In fact, he is so deeply troubled by this he will order the massacre of all the young boys in the city of Bethlehem in the following weeks, in order to try and stamp out this potential rival to his rule. He was a deeply troubled man in more ways than just this. (Matthew 2:3 – When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.)
Matthew Henry has this comment on the troubling of Herod “Herod could be no stranger to the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the Messiah and His Kingdom, but having reigned so long himself, he began to hope these promises would fail, and that his kingdom would be established and perpetuated in spite of them. What shock therefore, must it have been to hear talk of this King being born? Carnal wicked hearts dread nothing so much as the fulfilling of the Scriptures.”
The chief priests and scribes, though they knew exactly where to look in the Old Testament in answer to the question, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?” they were not looking for the Messiah. They were not expecting the Messiah. They were not on the way to make a pilgrimage to the birthplace of the Messiah. But these pagan magi, these pagan astrologers, these pagan wise men were. Wouldn’t that fact be very convicting to you if you were them? What they should have been doing as God’s people, pagan Gentiles, were doing instead. (Matthew 2:4-5 – And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,)
The chief priests and the scribes were more concerned with other things, and they valued other things more highly than they should have and more than they valued God. And, consequently, they did not appreciate the provision of the Savior, and they did not highly value the coming of the Savior. So you have this ironic concealing of the Christ who comes from Israel to Israel, for Israel, for their redemption — and they’re not waiting for Him. And they’re not looking for Him. And they are blind to His appearance in the world.
We too as Christians have the very same sin and weakness in us. We too can be very guilty of being more concerned with the here and now then we are with Christ and the eternal. We suffer the same weakness as those chief priests and scribes did. We too are guilty of the same type of sins. We need to be concerned about this; this fact should convict us and prick our conscience. We should learn from their bad example and be vastly more concerned about Christ and His Word and the eternal. What are we thinking about more this time of year? – Is it the gifts we may get or the gifts we are giving, or are we thinking more about the greatest gift that was ever given, and that is of course the Son of God given to be a sacrifice for all. Where are our priorities at? Are they placed in God and in the heavenly or are they placed in the things of men and the earthly? (Colossians 3:1-2 – If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.)
And the people? Well, they, too, Matthew tells us, were troubled and afraid by news brought by these Gentiles. They were afraid perhaps of official reprisals. They were troubled and afraid perhaps because they thought Herod might have some sort of terrible reaction. But Matthew paints an ironic picture in this passage. You would think that the people who had the Book that told them about the coming Messiah would have been looking for that Messiah, and would have themselves been on a pilgrimage to go worship Him. But that is not what you find. Israel is completely caught off guard. The birth of the Messiah is concealed to the very people to whom God had sent the Messiah from and to in this world.
Now that’s very amazing, isn’t it? And Matthew has a point about that. Matthew’s point is simply this: that there is a real possibility that religious people who possess divine revelation — true revelation, inerrant, infallible revelation — can be spiritually blind. They can have the truth in their hands, they can hear the truth read and proclaimed, they can read the truth for themselves, and yet not see it. Why? A part of the reason could be – if you don’t understand your need, you won’t be looking for your Savior. And if you don’t understand your need, you won’t highly value your Savior.
• Do we really understand our true need of our Savior Jesus Christ? (Romans 3:23– For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;)
• Do we really understand our true need to be diligently studying the Bible?
• Do we really understand our true need to be a people as spiritually in tune with our Savior and His Holy Spirit as possible?
Nehemiah 8:3 – And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.
Are you as attentive to The Book as you should be, as you need to be, as you ought to be?
And then you have the wise men!
Matthew 2:1-2 – Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
You have these wise men from the East. They are pagans, they are Gentiles, and they are coming all the way from distant lands to come and worship the king of the Jews. It’s an amazing irony. You have Herod the king and the priests and the people all unaware of Christ, at the same time you have these pagan Gentiles searching for Him at great effort and cost and from a great distance. What can we learn from this irony?
First, Christ is not just the Savior of the Jews; He is the Savior of the world. He will bring the Gentiles from the four corners of the earth to His presence. And those who rest and trust in Him for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, from every corner of the world, from every tribe, tongue, people and nation — men and women and boys and girls will come to Him, for He is the Savior of the world. (John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.)
There is going to be a day in which all the nations know the glory of the living God through His Messiah King. It doesn’t mean that every man, woman, boy and girl is saved; it means that Jesus is the only Savior available to every man, woman, boy and girl. And that men and women and boys and girls from every tribe and tongue and people and nation can trust in Him, because He is the God who saves not only His believing Jewish people, but He is the God who saves those Gentiles too who trust in Christ alone for salvation. The Christmas Past should really teach us and show us that Christ came to be the Savior of the whole world. (Revelation 7:9-10 – After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.)
Then there is us. In Matthew’s day…in fact, for many years, for many decades in the early church there were Christians, Jewish Christians, who were not so certain that Gentile Christians were on the same level with them, and they were uncertain about the mission to the Gentiles. If you recall some of them got on to the Apostle Paul for going to the Gentiles; and remember Peter’s initial reluctance in going to the Gentiles? Well, Matthew is showing us here that of course the Gospel message is for the Gentiles, it is for all people, because at the very outset when Jesus came into this world, God brought the Gentiles to Him. There’s no question, the saving message of the Gospel is for the Gentiles and for the Jews. (Romans 1:16 – For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.)
CHRIST IS TO BE WORSHIPED
Notice the worship that is given to Christ by these wise men. Jesus deserves to be worshiped. He is more than the Messiah; He is more than the king: He is God in the flesh. He is the very Son of God, and He deserves to be worshiped. (Matthew 2:2 – Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.) In our passage we see these Gentiles (verse 2) that come looking for the king of the Jews because they want to worship Him. We see how Herod was trying to ingratiate himself to them in order to get information out of them that he claimed falsely to want to worship Jesus. And the very reason that he falsely claimed to want to worship Jesus was because it was very clear to him that these wise men were dead serious about worshiping Jesus. And finally in verse 11, you see that when the wise men get there, what do they do? They worship Jesus.
Matthew 2:11 – And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
Now Matthew is making a very important point here. Matthew knew that every Hebrew person hearing him knew the first two principles of Hebrew theology. The first principle of Hebrew theology is ‘There is a God, and you are not Him.’ The second principle of Hebrew theology is ‘Don’t worship anything or anyone that’s not the one true God.’ So when Matthew says here that Jesus is to be worshiped, what is he really telling you about Jesus? – He is telling us that Jesus is divine. Jesus is deity. Jesus is God. He deserves to be worshiped. And that even these Gentiles from afar knew it. And they came and they offered their worship to Jesus.
Christ is to be the object of worship. Notice offering gifts to Jesus was a way they worshiped Him. What gifts have you given to Jesus? What of your time, your talent or your treasure do you give to Him?
Notice what the Bible does not see as important to tell us about these wise men – Matthew doesn’t tell you how they were dressed; he doesn’t tell you what their names were. He doesn’t tell you their later history. He doesn’t tell you the dates of their death. He doesn’t tell you where they were buried. He doesn’t tell you the exact nature of the star that they were following. He doesn’t tell you whether it was a conjunction of the planets or a unique heavenly body created by God just for this purpose. The one important thing that he tells you about these wise men is that they worshiped Jesus. Why? Because that’s the point: Jesus is to be worshiped.
Do you worship Jesus? Do you value Him more than anything else? Does it hurt your soul for Him not to be worshiped? Is it the passion of your life that the nations would worship Him? Is it your heartbeat? Or are there other things in this world that you love more than Jesus? Are there other things in this life that you worship more than Jesus? We exalt Jesus in our actions, in our choices, in our attitudes, in our words, with all of our energy. Do you truly worship Jesus?
Does it bother us when He’s not worshiped? Should it not be that way with all of us? Should it not be our heart’s desire that Jesus would be worshiped? Worshiped to the ends of the earth, from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, from men and women and boys and girls? That’s why we go with the gospel! That’s why we do evangelism! That’s why we give to missions! – Because we want Jesus to be worshiped, to be valued, to be delighted in, to be acknowledged to be the first and best. Matthew is making that point in this passage. Even these pagan Gentiles, these wise men, knew that Jesus is to be worshiped. How much more ought we to know that and to do it? Could it be said about you? Could enough evidence be collected about you to demonstrate that you worship Jesus?
JESUS WAS BORN BY THE BOOK
Christmas Past is a demonstration of fulfilled prophecy. The birth of Jesus fulfilled prophecy. There is much more in the passage concerning this than we will touch on. Matthew wants to press home in this passage that Jesus is born by the book, and so he quotes from Micah 6 and he reminds you that Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is in fulfillment of prophecy. But he not only points back to that prophecy that was over 500 years old, he also explicitly directs your attention to a much older prophecy. Do you remember who and where that prophecy is made and found in the Old Testament? Who made the prophecy about a star rising up out of Judah? – Balaam. Yes Balaam. In Numbers 24:17, you will find that Balaam — the pagan, unbelieving prophet hired by Balak to curse Israel — makes the prophecy of a star rising out of Judah, that Matthew says in our passage that Jesus fulfills.
Numbers 24:15-17 – And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said: He hath said, which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open: I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.
This is amazing isn’t it? You have a pagan unbelieving prophet making a prophecy about the star that rises out of Judah, and then you have pagans from the East who make their way to worship Jesus Christ the Lord. Matthew is pressing home this: God’s Word can be trusted, and He can use anyone to do anything for Him. Even pagan Balaam and these pagan wise men. If God can use them, He surely can use you to do anything He wants you to do, don’t believe people when they say you can’t do this or you can’t do that for God! If God wills it you can do anything for Him! (Romans 11:29 – For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. & I Timothy 1:12 – And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;)
Matthew is verifying for us Jesus’ identity. He is the star who is to arise out of Jacob. He is identifying His mission. Just as Matthew has already said (in Matthew 1:18-25), Jesus is the Savior come into this world. So why is it that the wise men understand that and follow the star and go to worship Him, but Herod and the chief priests and the scribes don’t? Because, you will be blind to the need and the glory of the Savior unless you understand your own need.
Have you every truly understood your need for a Savior? Have you truly understood you are a sinner in need of a perfect Savior to give Himself as a sacrifice and as a payment in full for your sins? Jesus came into the world on that first Christmas day so He could eventually die on the cross of Calvary and then rise from the grave triumphant over sin and death on that first Easter morn just for you, just for me, just because He loved us that much. If you have not done so, why don’t you accept Him as your Savior? (Romans 10:9, 10 & 13 – That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.)
We looked at the concealment of Christ to Israel and the revealment of Christ to the Gentiles. This is an ironic concealing and revealing of Christ. Concealed to the people who ought to have been responding to Him because they knew the book, but really didn’t know the book, and those who you wonder “How in the world did they know to do this?”–but they did know. This should prompt us to ask ourselves do I really know the Bible like I should, and is my relationship with the Lord right so that I could actually hear and feel His prompting of my Spirit when it comes or am I so backslidden, that I would be deaf and blind to His Spirits workings?
We also looked at how Jesus is to be worshiped, He is worthy of our worship and should be getting our worship. Do you value Him more than anything else? Does it hurt your soul for Him not to be worshiped? Is the worship of the Lord your heartbeat? Or are there other things in this world that you love more than Jesus? Are there other things in this life that you worship more than Jesus? We are to exalt Jesus in our actions, in our choices, in our attitudes, in our words, with all of our energy. Do you do this? Do you truly worship Jesus?
We also looked at how Christmas past demonstrates to us that Jesus birth was by the Book. He was born exactly how the Word of God said He would be born. And also in this point we noticed how God can and will use anyone to do anything He wills for them to do. It does not matter their background, it does not matter their qualifications, it does not matter their past, God can and God will and God does use anyone He so chooses to use for whatever He chooses to use them for.
Finally we all need to make sure are hearts are attune to God and His word and the things of God. Are we backslidden right now? Are we living for ourselves more than we are living for God? What is most important in our life right now? Is it Jesus and things above or is it selfish desires and the things of this world? Jesus came to save us all, Jesus deserves our praise and worship, Jesus was born by the Book, the least we could do with our lives is to do our best, with His gracious help of course, to live out our lives being attentive to everything and every teaching in His Book and to live according to everything He has taught and proclaimed in His Book! Jesus was born by the Book so we could live by the Book.
A LIGHT FOR THOSE IN DARKNESS
Isaiah 9:6-7 “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”
Isaiah chapter nine points to the coming of the Messiah and culminates in the coming of the Word made flesh into this world. It’s a wonderful way to overview redemptive history and to be reminded of the gospel. He who is “born of a woman” must be man; He whose name is “Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of peace,” must be “equal with God.” Thus the union of a divine with a human nature, in the person of the Messiah, was clearly revealed to the prophets of the Old Testament.
This passage is occurring in about 733 B.C. and that means that the Northern Kingdom of Israel has not yet fallen. That will not happen until around 722, eleven years later. And so the kingdom of Israel has been divided into the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah). And Isaiah in this passage is speaking about the fate of part of that Northern Kingdom — in fact, the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, two of the tribes that made up the territory occupied by the nation-state of Israel, as distinct from the nation-state of Judah. And Isaiah is talking about the fact that they are already experiencing the oppression of a foreign invader: the Assyrians who are eventually going to overthrow the whole Northern Kingdom. Isaiah is giving us a prophecy about the coming invasion and the ultimate fall of the Northern Kingdom, an event which has not yet happened; and then, he is giving us a prophecy about the Lord’s rescue and salvation of that people. And so it’s not a passage that at first glance you’d expect to contain a clear foreshadowing and prophecy of the Lord Jesus Christ, but of course the New Testament tells us that that is precisely what it does.
Notice now Isaiah pins hope and joy on the names and the attributes, of a prince who is yet to be born, and Isaiah describes that prince, what He would be like, through a list of beautiful names or attributes, or characteristics.
And then finally at the very end, notice how he attributes all the hope and all the joy of Israel to God’s own zeal. We’ll consider each of those things as we work through the passage.
Isaiah, in this great prophecy in Isaiah chapter 6 is showing us the nature of Israel’s distress, and describing it graphically in terms of darkness. But he is also showing us the prospect of their joy, and the person of their Savior, and the fervency of their God. We will look at all four of those in this study: the nature of their distress, and ours; the prospect of their joy, and ours; the person of their Savior, and ours; and the zeal of their God, and ours.
THE NATURE OF ISRAEL’S DISTRESS & OURS
Isaiah, in this great prophecy, is showing us the nature of Israel’s distress. The first thing we need to note is that almost all of this prophecy is written in the past tense. That is a typical pattern for Hebrew prophets. They oftentimes gave foretelling’s of the future as if they had already occurred. This was one way they could emphasize the certainty of God’s prophecy to the people of God. To say that what is going to happen in the future has already happened is a way of emphasizing the sureness, the certainty of God’s Word. And from verse 1 all the way to the end of verse 7, this prophecy is given in the past tense. And so, for instance, in verse two we read: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light…”
Isaiah is letting us know in this prophecy that the fullness of their darkness has not even come yet; that it is dark now already in Zebulun and Naphtali, but eleven years from now it is going to be even darker. And their light which is going to shine is not going to shine for 700 years. But Isaiah will speak as if they have already walked through their darkness, and as if they have already seen their great light, because the Word of God’s promise is certain and sure. And so Isaiah speaks this prophecy in the past tense.
A lifting of the darkness – Isaiah prophesies a lifting of the darkness, the context is one of military invasion and national oppression. The Assyrians are coming down on the Northern Kingdom, and they are going to take it over. And of course there is a reason why this is happening. Isaiah has made it clear in this book, that reason is because of the sinfulness of the Northern Kingdom. There will always be consequences for sin and if you are God’s child He will chasten you out of love as you dwell in sin.
Hebrews 12:6-7 – For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
Judging of national sins – From the very beginning, when Jeroboam broke the Northern Kingdom off from the Southern Kingdom after the reign of Solomon, and he became the king of Israel (to the north) and Rehoboam became the king of Judah (to the south), all of the kings of the Northern Kingdom had followed after false gods. It was under the reign of the kings in the Northern Kingdom that Baal worship came to be practiced by the people of the Northern Kingdom, and Isaiah is announcing God’s judgment through the Assyrian invaders because of the sin of idolatry in the Northern Kingdom. God judges nations because of national sins just as was being pronounced here. Think about our own nation and its indefensible national sins. We need to pray for God’s grace for our own nation, and we need to pray for revival for our own nation.
II Chronicles 7:14 – If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
Darkness was brought about by sin – In other words, the misery that is being experienced by the Northern Kingdom and which will be experienced by the Northern Kingdom is God’s judgment on them for their national sins. So their distress is a distress which has been brought about by sin. The darkness of death which is upon them is in fact God’s judgment for their sins, and there is no distress which is deeper than the misery which is brought by sin.
Help with the darkness and misery of sin – There is a reason why Jesus had to come into this world, and that reason is the darkness of sin and the misery that comes with it. Matthew beautifully shows how this passage points to exactly that truth in Matthew chapter four. Matthew tells us that this passage is fulfilled over 700 years later, when Jesus, having come out of the wilderness — where who was tempting Him? Satan was tempting Jesus, in the first verses of chapter four. And He comes into the city of Nazareth, and He departs from it into Capernaum — where? Into Galilee of the Gentiles, into the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, and He preaches the gospel.
Matthew 4:13-17 “And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matthew 4:13-17 gives the account of the direct fulfillment of the prophecy found in Isaiah 9:1-7. God’s Word is true, every part of it is true and it all can be trusted and it all is for our benefit, teaching and admonishment. And so the person and preaching of Jesus in Galilee of the Gentiles, Matthew says, fulfills the passage we have just read in Isaiah chapter nine.
The New Testament writers all understood that it was Jesus who fulfilled this prophecy in Isaiah chapter nine. He was the light that came to the people who were walking in darkness. Now one thing that tells you is that their deepest distress was not the fact that they were being oppressed and occupied by an alien invader, because when Jesus was born into this world, guess who was occupying the land of Palestine? The Romans. And when Jesus died, guess who was occupying the land of Palestine? The Romans. And forty years after Jesus died, guess who burned the temple down? The Romans. So what Jesus came to do was not ultimately to liberate Israel from a physical national oppression: He came to give them deliverance from something far more serious and significant. He came to give them deliverance from sin, to make them the children of God, to prepare them for the life of eternal fellowship with the living God…to preach the kingdom of heaven. We all are sinners in need of Jesus our Savior to deliver us from our sins.
Jesus is the light of the world – He is the one who answers the nature of the distress of Israel in 733 B.C. and of the people of God in Palestine, in Galilee of the Gentiles, at the very beginning of the first century, and of you and me today. Jesus is the answer to whatever is distressing us in our life today. Reach out to Him, call upon Him, He is always there; He is always wanting to help lift our burdens. We need to trust Him fully, have faith in Him fully and lean on Him always and in every distress.
Hebrews 13:5b – for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
THE PROSPECT OF JOY
Then in Isaiah 9:3-5, we see the prospect of joy, which is prophesied by Isaiah. “Thou hast multiplied the nation….” Now Isaiah turns and begins speaking to God Himself directly, though this is a Word from God to the children of Israel. So what exactly is happening here? Isaiah is telling them what they will say to God after God has revealed His marvelous salvation. Isaiah is saying that God’s salvation always brings with it an extension of His people’s joy. The result of this mighty act of God of unburdening them from their deepest distress and the darkness in which they are walking is that they will have joy, joy in God, and joy in the salvation that He has given to them and others. There are at least two lessons in this for us, and those two lessons are this. First of all, Isaiah is reminding us that the salvation of sinners always produces joy in the hearts of God’s people, because we ourselves are sinners who have been saved, and those who are sinners who have been saved rejoice when we realize our own salvation, and we take joy in the salvation of others.
It is interesting that when Jesus is in Galilee of the Gentiles and He is proclaiming the kingdom of God, and preaching repentance. Many are coming to Him in faith, including Gentiles. But His own people are not rejoicing in the salvation of the Gentiles, and that in and of itself is a sign that they themselves had not experienced the joy of salvation, because they have not trusted in Him and Him alone for their salvation. Had they experienced the joy of salvation, had they realized the mercy of God to them in the forgiveness of their sins, and experienced that joy which inexorably flows from it, they would have been rejoicing when both Jew and Greek, bond and free, male and female, came to Christ. And the fact that they are not rejoicing in the Gentiles coming to Him was a sign that they had not known salvation themselves.
What is your greatest joy? – That is an important thing for us to realize today. What is the greatest joy that we have in this world? Is it joy in things? Is it joy in position or status? Is it joy in the esteem of others, and social connections? Or is the greatest joy we have in this world our salvation and the knowledge we will get to spend eternity with Him? – What is your greatest joy today? If it is not your salvation and Jesus then there is something wrong in your heart and life that needs to get corrected and repented from.
What do you take most joy in? – Isaiah is reminding you that those who have been shown mercy take the greatest joy in God as they see Him work salvation in sinners, as sinners are converted to Him. Do we take joy in that? Is our deepest joy in God, and in the salvation of sinners? And if so, how does that show itself in our living? Does is show in how we share the gospel with others, with friends and family who don’t know Jesus Christ? Do we have a deep joy and concern when we see those who were lost get found by Jesus Christ, and adopted into His family and pardoned for their sins? Do we celebrate our own redemption, whether it was this year or last year, or fifty years ago, with joy in our hearts? Do you remember when you first knew the forgiveness of your sins? Do you remember the joy that dawned in your heart when you realized that you would stand before God acquitted and accepted, not because of anything in you, but because of what the Lord Jesus Christ had done for you? Do you remember that joy? Do you experience that kind of joy in seeing others come to Christ? Where is your joy? (Philippians 4:4 – Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.) – Again, where is your joy?
John 15:11 – “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”
THE PERSON OF THE SAVIOR
The promised Messiah is described for us in verses 6-7, and He is said by Isaiah to the children of Israel…He is said to be their light and their reason for joy and hope. And it is this promised Messiah who is the Lord Jesus Christ. And you see five ways that Isaiah describes Him in this passage. We do not have the space in this study to do justice to it, but let’s briefly touch on these five things Isaiah says about Him here.
Isaiah 9:6-7 – For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
BORN FOR US
First of all, notice that he tells us that the child is born for us, on our behalf, and the government is laid upon His shoulders. In other words, Isaiah first says that a ruler will be born who will govern in the best interests of His people. In contrast to the wicked kings of the Northern Kingdom and a lot of our leaders today, this ruler will govern for the well-being of His people.
HE WILL BE WONDERUL, COUNSELOR
Secondly, He will be a Wonderful Counselor; or, a wonder of a counselor; or, a miraculous supernatural counselor. Again, in contrast to rulers like Ahaz, who were crafty, who were deceitful, who were tricky, who were shrewd–but who were not godly, who were not wise, and who did not care for God’s people as they should have; this ruler will be wonderfully, miraculously wise. Jeremiah puts it this way in Jeremiah 23:5 “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.” And so what is being told here is that this King will be wonderful and wise. He will have heavenly wisdom in the way that He rules His people.
THE MIGHTY GOD
Thirdly, we are told that He will be called Mighty God…that He will be God Almighty, that He will be God the warrior, that He will be the Almighty God in the flesh. And the New Testament is all over this particular prophecy of Isaiah, so that John can remind us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Apostle Paul says in Romans 9:5 “Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.” Paul then says again in Titus 2:13 says “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;” The New Testament understands precisely what Isaiah is saying here. This Messiah King, this son of David, is going to be more than human. He is going to be the mighty God in the flesh.
EVERLASTING ETERNAL FATHER
And then he says something interesting. He says He is going to be the Everlasting and Eternal Father. This passage is speaking about a ruler. And what is one of the metaphors for rulers in the Old Testament? Fathers. Spiritual fathers. They are a father to their people. And so this is yet another description of how this ruler will have a concern for the spiritual well-being of His flock. It is an assertion that Jesus will rule in a paternal way, in a fatherly way, for the well-being of His people.
THE PRINCE OF PEACE
And finally, He’s called The Prince of Peace. That is, He is the one who will accomplish peace and give peace, and reign in peace. And so in this description Isaiah tells us about the light who will dispel the darkness, and that light is Jesus the Messiah.
THE FERVANCY OR ZEAL OF GOD
God is the sovereign personal cause behind this hope and joy spoken of by Isaiah in this prophecy. In verse seven Isaiah says “The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.” The hope that they have is sure not because of anything that they will do, but because of Who is behind that hope. And who is behind that hope? The Lord. Compare this with our salvation, it is not of anything we can do, but it is because of what Jesus did. Our salvation rests in the finished work of Christ and there hope and salvation rests in, the already spoken of as finished and complete by Isaiah, work of God. And what does Psalm 124 say about this? That if it were not for the Lord, the anger of our enemies would have undone us. And here is Isaiah saying the anger of your enemies is no match for the zeal, the fire, the fervency, the fervor, the power of your sovereign God who has said, “I will do this.”
Psalm 124 – “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, now may Israel say; If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when men rose up against us: Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us: Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul: Then the proud waters had gone over our soul. Blessed be the LORD, who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth. Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped. Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”
In our study Isaiah uses the picture or the image of darkness to characterize the dire situation that the people of Israel were in, because of their sin, and we can apply the same thing to us today, without the Messiah in our life we would be in a very dire situation as well. If you live in a perpetual sinful state, if you take pleasure in sin, seek out sin, and don’t joy in Christ as you should, you are in a very dismal and dark place. Isaiah contrasted the dismal dark state of living in sin with the joy that could be found living a victorious life in the Lord. Isaiah described the joy of having the Messiah in your life. If we have accepted Christ as our Savior that very fact alone should produce great joy in our hearts and in our life. Do you want to know the secret to true and lasting joy? It is having a properly maintained relationship with Christ as our Savior and not doing as you please or living to fulfill worldly sinful lusts. The “wisdom of men” is foolishness the Bible tells us.
Who can give us great hope in this life and who has done the work of salvation, who has defeated sin and death, who was provided the way of salvation for all? Verse seven in our text tells us it was God; it was the coming Messiah that would do this for all mankind, not just for the Jews but for the Gentiles too. “The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.” The hope that they have is sure hope, not because of anything that they will do, but because of Who is behind that hope. And who is behind that hope? The Lord Jesus, He is behind it, He guarantees it to all, once you have it you can never lose it, not like the sinful worldly things of this life which you can have one day and then the next have everything coming crashing down on you. Once you are saved you can never lose your salvation.
Have you accepted the Messiah, have you accepted Christ as your personal Savior? If you have, do you joy in Him and in your personal salvation like you should? Is your greatest joy in Christ or is it in things of this world? Where do you get your happiness from? Is it from Jesus which gives eternal happiness to “whosover will”? Or do you rely on temporal, worldly, even sinful things to bring you a type of “happiness”? Are you right with the Lord, with great hope, or are you a backslidden Christian living in worldly sin, that may bring temporary pleasure for a season but in the end will bring great misery, heartache, shattered dreams, depression and bondage. Is your joy and hope in the Lord? Is your greatest joy the Lord? – He should be.