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.
Psalm 22:31 “They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.”
David wrote this Psalm and he looked toward Christmas in the future. He looked forward to a coming Messiah to save His people from their sins; and just as David looked forward in time to Christmas, we too look forward to Christmas each year with expectation of the joyous occasion, and we should also look reflectively to Christmas past and to what that meant. God’s infant son born, born so He could die one day for your sin, and for my sin… quite a thought if you really truly think about it. (Romans 5:8 – But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.)
EXPECTATION – Have you ever gotten very excited over something you are expecting to happen? Over a special day that is approaching? Over a special occasion on the horizon? Over a birthday or over Christmas perhaps?
Well, David in the beginning of Psalm 22 was feeling pretty lousy; he was feeling deserted and persecuted. It was in the midst of this feeling of desertion, in the midst of this horrible opposition that he was facing – that he discovered the cure to all of it, He turned his face, he turned his mind, he turned his heart, to expectation, to a great expectation, to a saving expectation, to a victorious expectation, to the coming Savior, to a future Christmas. David was able to encourage himself in the expectation of the Lord coming to save all one day.
He started turning to the Lord, He started trusting Him like he always should have, He finally looked about him into the awful situation he was in, and saw the Lord had not left him, He had not deserted him, and He was ready and willing to defend him against this great opposition. (Hebrews 13:5b – for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.)
David had the expectation of coming salvation, of a coming Savior to save him from his own sins, from his own discouragement, from his own lack of faith and from his trials. You could say David had the expectation of a coming Christmas morning when the Savior, the Messiah would be born and through Him the whole world could be saved. (Luke 2:10-11 – And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.)
It was because of this great expectation, that hope was renewed and purpose reborn in David. The same can be true of us today. Because of Christmas, because of the cross we can have the great expectation of Jesus always being with us and always helping us through our trials in life. We can refresh our hope and our purpose if we truly grasp that simple thought each day.
Psalm 22:22-28 “I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee. Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard. My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him. The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live for ever. All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the LORD’S: and he is the governor among the nations.”
And what is it at the end of this Psalm? What is it that accounts for this change in David’s mind? And you see that ringing answer, in some of the closing words of Psalm 22 we just read, that begins in the darkness of God’s forsakenness and ends in the greatness of the expectation of His coming.
He has done it…God has vindicated His people. God has come to the aid and rescue of His people. Never lose faith, discouragements will come, some will be self-inflicted, some will be from the opposition of Satan, but remember to look for Jesus in the midst of your trial, it the midst of the problem, in the midst of you desertion and opposition, for He will be there, He knows what it is like to go through trials and He loves you too much to let you face it alone. (I Peter 5:10 – But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.)
DECLARATION (Psalm 22:31 – They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.) – “They shall come, and shall declare” – look in the mirror – this is talking about you. “They shall come” – future generations of believers in the Messiah are being talked about in this Psalm, “shall declare” – we will tell others about Jesus, we will tell others about the Savior of all the world that was born in a little town called Bethlehem. This is talking about future generations of Christians taking the Gospel declaring it to the world and spreading it around the globe to all mankind. This is talking about taking the future story of a Savior born in Bethlehem who came to take away the sins of the world. This is talking about you today declaring Jesus!
Just as the angels and shepherds near Bethlehem declared the birth of Christ we should be declaring that Christ was born and died so all mankind could one day be saved and spend all eternity with Him in Heaven. (Luke 2:11-14 – For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.)
“Shall declare” – what are you personally doing to fulfill this prophecy in Psalm 22. Are you even mentioned in this prophecy? If you are sharing the Gospel with others, you are mentioned in this prophecy. God specifically had you in mind, as well as all other Christians in all of history that have shared the Gospel, when He moved the pen of David to write this down, so many thousands of years ago.
CONCLUSION: You can have a part in declaring Jesus to the world. How big a part do you play in this prophecy in Psalm 22 about declaring Christ? Do you have a major part or perhaps a very small part, or do you even have a part in this prophecy at all? What are you personally doing to share the hope-filled message of Christ to the lost, hell-bound, world around you? Are you, as the angels were in Luke 2, a messenger for Christ spreading the good news of His birth and what His substitutionary death on the cross means to all who will accept Him as their Savior? Remember we deserve to die for our sins, but Jesus died on the cross for us, so we could spend forever with Him in Heaven. Perhaps you have not accepted Christ as your Savior. Maybe you need to talk with someone about being saved and becoming a Christian. It is very simple to do. (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.)
A Christmas Story (Luke 2:1-20)
Luke 2:7 – “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”
We can learn some truths to live by, and model our lives by from the Christmas Story. The Christmas story is more than just a “story” it is an actual historical account of the birth of the Son of God. The truths we can learn from this account are numerous, we will just focus on a few.
The birth of the Son of God was a miraculous event that took place over 2,000 years ago in a small village in Israel named Bethlehem. There was no room for Joseph and Mary in the inn. Jesus was born and then placed in a manger. Shepherds were informed of His birth by a host of angels. They made haste to get to where the King was born. They boldly proclaimed the news of His birth in the surrounding area.
BIRTH PLACE OF BETHLEHEM (Luke 2:4-6 – And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.)
Bethlehem was a proper place for our Savior to be born because Bethlehem means “house of bread” and Jesus is the “bread of life”. (John 6:31-35 – Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.)
Christ is to our soul as bread is to our body. You cannot have a proper spiritual life without feeding each day on the Word of God. (John 1:1– In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. & Joshua 1:8 – This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein:)
Feasting on the word of God will nourish us spiritually. You have to feed your spirit like you feed your body. You should care for your spiritual life even more that you care for you physical life. (Matthew 4:4 – But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.)
It is God who gives us spiritual and eternal life. It is by the sacrifice of the “bread of life” that we have everlasting life with Him in Glory. (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.)
God gives life to those who were dead in their sins. (Romans 8:12-14 – Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.) We are debtors to the “bread of life” form Bethlehem. Without His coming to Bethlehem, and being born to die on the cross for our sins, we would not have life. We would be doomed to stay dead in our sins.
BIRTH OF HUMBLE CIRCUMSTANCES (Luke 2:6-8 – And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.)
Jesus had a humble birth and humble beginnings. He was not born in a fancy house to rich parents. He was basically born in a barn and his first bed was a manger. He was not blessed materially growing up, He was from a poor family, the son of a carpenter.
We need to model ourselves after the humility Christ demonstrated with His life. Biblical humility is recognition that by ourselves we are inadequate and worthless. (I Corinthians 4:7 – For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?) But because we are created in the image of God we are valuable with infinite worth and dignity. A humble person sees himself as not deserving it, but being the recipient of God’s redeeming love, and regards himself as not being his own but God’s in Christ. (Ephesians 2:10 – For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.)
Jesus Christ was the only man that didn’t have to be humble. He was equal with God and sent by Him to earth. He had all knowledge and power available to Him. Yet He was the most supreme example of humbleness that has ever walked the earth. (Philippians 2:5-8 – Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.)
We need to model ourselves after the meekness and humbleness of Christ. Who though He was equal with God became the most humble man on earth. Do not think so highly of yourself that you look down on others. We are all created by God in His image. God made man from the dust of the ground. Do not let yourself become proud but seek to live a life of humility in Christ.
BABE WORSHIPED IN A MANGER (Luke 2:8-16 ) We need to worship our Lord. Demonstrate your thankfulness and love to the Lord that saved you from your sins. Worship Him in the morning when you read your Bible and pray. Worship and praise His majesty and works you see all around you. Give Him praise for the great things He has done in your life. Let others know around you how much you love your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (Psalm 7:17 – I will praise the LORD according to his righteousness: and will sing praise to the name of the LORD most high.)
The shepherds heard the good news of Christ and had a desire to get closer to Him. When we hear of Christ’s love, and read of His love and what He has done for us, it should make us want to get closer to Him. When you know someone loves you and you love them back you want to be close to them and spend time with them. (I John 2:3-6 – And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.)
The shepherds did not hesitate to get closer to the Lord. The Bible says “they came with haste”. Are we that way when it comes to the things of God? Do we “make haste” for the chance to get in His word, and read and meditate on His word? Do we “make haste” in our efforts to go to church? Do we “make haste” in our efforts to serve the Lord with our lives and do what His will is for us? Do you “make haste” for Christ? (Hebrews 12:1-2 – Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.)
BROADCASTING THE GOOD NEWS OF JESUS (Luke 2:17-20 – And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.) The shepherds after they heard the news of the Lord and sought to find Him and then worship Him they broadcast the good news of Jesus to all those around them. (Luke 2:17 – And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.)
The shepherds were willing and excited witnesses for Christ. Are you witnessing for Christ to all those around you like the shepherds did? Are you sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to everyone you can? The Lord Jesus not only expects us to be so excited about Him that we witness to those around us, but He commands us to do it, and not only to those around us but to the whole world. (Matthew 28:18-20 – And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.)
We need to Plan to witness for Christ don’t just expect it will happen. Plan out a time to witness for Him each week. (Proverbs 29:18a – Where there is no vision, the people perish:)
We need to Prepare for spontaneous times of witnessing for Christ. (I Peter 3:15 – …be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:)
We need to be Persistent in our efforts to win souls for Christ. If the first time you share your faith with a friend they don’t get saved. Don’t get discouraged. Keep at it. Keep trying, keep praying for them, don’t give up. (I Corinthians 15:58 – … be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.)
We need to be Praying about witnessing to those around us. Don’t expect results unless you have been praying for them first. (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.)
The shepherds shared the good news of Christ to those around them. They did not hesitate to share the good news of Christ. They were excited witnesses for Him. Jesus expects and commands us to be witnesses for Him as well. In our witnessing efforts we need to be planning out when we will go. We need to be prepared to be spontaneous and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes His schedule is not our schedule. We need to be persistent in our efforts and not give up. Finally and most importantly we need to be praying about opportunities to witness for the Lord. (I Timothy 2:4 – Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.)
IN CONCLUSION: We learned about the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We learned of His birthplace in Bethlehem. We saw how Bethlehem means “house of bread” and how this was a proper place for the birth of the “bread of life”. For He gives us the spiritual nourishment we need in our lives. We learned of His humble birth and beginnings. How we was not blessed materially and how that does not really matter. What matters is the spiritual.
We need to learn to model Christ’s example of humility in our lives. If we could learn to be humble like Him we could learn to serve Him more. Christ came down from heaven and humbled Himself to be born among us to die for us. He was born to die for our sins! (Hebrews 2:9-10 –But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.).
God chose to give His only Son as a sacrifice for our sins. The greatest gift ever given was the gift that God gave over 2,000 years ago. God gave His only begotten Son, so that we might have life and have it more abundantly! Christ humbled Himself to become the sacrifice for our sins because He loved us. We need to worship Christ. Show Him the honor and respect He should have. Worship Him with song, praise and how you live your life for Him. And always be willing and looking for ways to share the message of Christ with others around us.
Answer: BECAUSE “WISDOM IS THE PRINCIPLE THING”
Proverbs 4:5-10 – “Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth. Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her. She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee. Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings; and the years of thy life shall be many.”
Proverbs 4:7 – Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.
Among all of the things man could get, be sure to get wisdom first; or better yet: employ all that you have to gain wisdom: part with anything that interferes with this goal, if need be for wisdom’s sake (Matthew 13:44-46 – Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.) The fact that men so universally prefer wealth to wisdom, shows the blindness of our natural heart, our old sin nature; but they whom God’s Spirit has enlightened, understand that the knowledge of the truth, and true wisdom, is far better than all the riches a man could have.
WHY DO WE WANT WISDOM? – Because of the benefits of wisdom. In Proverbs 4:5-10 Solomon list 6 benefits to wisdom:
If wisdom does all this for us, gives us all these benefits then why aren’t more of us striving to get wisdom? Why are there so many people content to be, and remain simple, or even worse, a scorner or a fool?
Illustration: Suppose you had a part-time job. You were making just the minimum wage. You made enough to have some spending money but you would like to make some more. Your boss comes up to you and says he needs a volunteer to work twice as long, working twice as hard. You think why would I do that? What is my reward? Then he says he will pay you 10 times as much to do it. You would jump at the opportunity. The reward or payoff would be worth it to you. That is what getting wisdom will do for you. It takes hard work, but the reward of wisdom far outweighs the work of wisdom. And the work of wisdom is reading and studying the Bible daily. Praying daily. We are to be in a constant state of fellowship with the Lord. The work of wisdom is seeking out wise counselors and using their advice. Getting wisdom will not be easy, but it will be the best pursuit in your life. It will be the best thing you will ever do for yourself and for those around you who are influenced or affected by your life. And the work of wisdom will soon turn into joy, and it won’t feel like work anymore. It will be what you look forward to everyday. You will look forward to your time in God’s word; you will look forward with anticipation to your prayer time. You will look forward to your opportunities to hear God’s word preached.
WHY DO WE NEED WISDOM? – Let’s look at Wisdom’s Cry to find out. (Proverbs 1:20-33)
SO WHY SHOULD WE GET WISDOM? – Proverbs 8:32-36 sums it all up beautifully. Here, wisdom herself is speaking and she says, “Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways. Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not. Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the LORD. But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death.” If we do not make it our aim to “get wisdom,” we will suffer injury, and finally death. Therefore, the command, “Get wisdom; get understanding,” is very important.
Those that reject the counsel of God reject it against themselves. (Luke 7:30 – But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.) An assurance of happiness is to all those that listen to Wisdom and obtain if for themselves. They are blessed in Proverbs 8:32, and again in Proverbs 8:34. They are blessed that watch and wait at Wisdom’s gates. Just their presence there is happiness; it is the best place they can be.
Doom is passed upon all those that reject Wisdom and her guidance (Proverbs 8:36). They are left to ruin themselves, and Wisdom will not stop them, because they have ignored her counsel, and instead have chosen and caused their own destruction to fall upon them by their own actions and inactions concerning wisdom. Their crime was very great; they sinned against Wisdom, rebelled against it by their own foolish actions, and offended it. By doing so, they sinned against Christ; they acted in contempt of His authority over their life and in contradiction to all the purposes of His life and death. According to this passage, their punishment will be very just, for they willfully brought it upon themselves (Proverbs 8:36)
IN CONCLUSION: Among all of the things man could get, be sure to get wisdom first and foremost. Make getting wisdom the top concern in your life. Getting true wisdom is far better than all the riches a man could have. Wisdom will keep us from harmful situations. Wisdom will give you grace to handle what life throws your way, and because of wisdom, you will have a good reputation of living out a Godly life. Getting wisdom will not be easy, but it will be the best pursuit in your life. It will be the best thing you will ever do for yourself and for those around you who are influenced or affected by your life. Why should we get wisdom? – Because those that get wisdom will be blessed by God. They will be able to be content and happy in whatever situation life finds them in (Philippians 4:11 – Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.) Because if we get wisdom, we will not have to endure any of the heartache brought on by our own foolish mistakes. Why get wisdom? – Because “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom”!
In A.D. 64, when Rome was set ablaze, many blamed Nero for intentionally setting the city on fire while he was in a fit of rage. Nero soon discovered this provoked the wrath of the Roman citizenry; as a result, he attempted to divert the torrent of public outrage from himself, by blaming the Christians. They were already highly disliked and barely tolerated as the propagators of what was considered “a pernicious superstition,” and the tyrant Nero, no doubt, believed that the mob of the metropolis of Rome was prepared to believe any report to the discredit of these that belonged to the sect of the Nazarene. But even the pagan historian who records the commencement of this first imperial persecution, and who was deeply prejudiced against the disciples of Christ, bears testimony to the falsehood of the accusation.
“Nero”, says Tacitus, “found wretches who were induced to confess themselves guilty; and, on their evidence, a great multitude of Christians were convicted, not indeed on clear proof of their having set the city on fire, but rather on account of their hatred of the human race. They were put to death amidst insults and derision. Some were covered with the skins of wild beasts, and left to be torn to pieces by dogs; others were nailed to the cross; and some, covered over with flammable matter, were lighted up, when the day declined, to serve as torches during the night. The Emperor lent his own gardens for the exhibition. He added the sports of the circus, and assisted in person, sometimes driving a curricle, and occasionally mixing with the rubble in his coachman’s dress. At length these proceedings excited a feeling of compassion, as it was evident that the Christians were destroyed, not for the public good, but as a sacrifice to the cruelty of a single individual.”
In the evening, it is reported, that Nero would walk through his gardens that would be illuminated by the burning bodies of Christians. Some writers have maintained that the persecution under Nero was confined to Rome; but various testimonies concur to prove that it extended to the provinces. Paul seems to contemplate its spread throughout the Empire when he tells the Hebrews that they had “not yet resisted unto blood striving against sin,” Hebrews 12:4, and when he exhorts them not to forsake the assembling of themselves together as they “see the day approaching” Hebrews 10:25. Peter also apparently refers to the same circumstance in his letter to the brethren “scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,” when he announces “the fiery trial” which was “to try” them, I Peter 4:12, and when he tells them of judgment beginning “at the house of God” I Peter 4:17. The persecution by Nero was intense and horrific. Many Christians lost their lives by order of Nero including the Apostles Paul and Peter. The horror with which his name was so long regarded by members of the Church in all parts of the Empire strongly corroborates the statement that the attack on the disciples in the capital was only the signal for the commencement of a general persecution.
After the death of Nero, the Church enjoyed a break from persecution, but when Domitian, in A.D. 81, succeeded to the government, the work of persecution recommenced. Domitian governed the Empire fifteen years, but his persecution of the Christians appears to have been limited to the latter part of his reign. About this time the Apostle John, “Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ” Revelation 1:2, was sent as an exile into Patmos, a small rocky island in the Aegean Sea not far from the coast of Asia Minor. It is said that he had previously survived unhurt from a cauldron of boiling oil into which he had been plunged into while in Rome by order of the Emperor; but this account, from a writer who lived about a century afterwards is the earliest record of this, and has been questioned as authentic.
While Christianity during this time, though facing heavy persecution and disdain, was gradually attracting more and more attention, it was also at the same time nobly demonstrating its power as the great regenerator of society. The religion of pagan Rome could not satisfy the wants of the soul; it could neither improve the heart nor invigorate the intellect; and it was now rapidly losing its hold on the consciences of the people. The high places of idol worship often exercised a most demoralizing influence. The vices of some of its most distinguished professors were notorious; and they enjoyed neither the confidence nor the respect of the mass of the people. But, even under the most unpromising circumstances, it soon appeared that Christianity could accomplish social and spiritual changes of a very extraordinary character. The Church of Corinth was perhaps one of the least exemplary of the early Christian communities, and yet it stood upon a moral eminence far above the surrounding population; and, from the roll of its own membership, it could produce cases of conversion to which nothing parallel could be found in the whole history of heathendom.
Paul was able to say to this church “Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” I Corinthians 6:9-11. The gospel proved itself sufficient to meet the basest needs of man and the highest aspirations of him too. It revealed to men a Friend in heaven who “sticketh closer than a brother;” Proverbs 18:24, and it assured him of eternal happiness in the enjoyment of fellowship with God, it imparted to him a peace that passeth all understanding. The Roman people witnessed an awe inspiring event when they saw the primitive followers of Christ dying for Him in the fires of martyrdom. The pagans did not so value their beliefs; but here was a religion which was accounted “better than life.” You must think that the flames which illuminated the gardens of Nero supplied some spiritual light to the crowds who were present at the sad scenes; and in the unshakable spirit of the first sufferers, the thoughtful citizen might have recognized a belief in a carpenter’s son from Nazareth, was much more than that, and that is was destined to yet shake the very foundations of the world for Christ. (Acts 17:6 – And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also;)
After Domitian, there was no officially sanctioned persecution of Christians, though persecution was still carried on by local governments, and many Christian leaders were put to death, including Ignatious, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Cyprian. 
When the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180 A.D.) came to power he issued a decree that those who would identify Christians to the Roman authorities would them in turn be given their property. As a result of this decree throughout the Roman Empire Christians were being turned in by their neighbors. Many were beheaded and thousands more were thrown to wild animals to provide entertainment for thousands of spectators who flocked to the Roman amphitheaters.  Many Christians were burned and their ashes were thrown into the wind “to prevent their resurrections”, was the reason given by the Romans as to why they took this extra step with their remains.
The worst persecution came under the reign of Diocletian, who devoted the full resources of the military to hunt down and destroy all Christians. It is estimated that millions of Christians died during that period! Diocletian’s successor, Galerius, condemned this persecution and shortly before the end of his life ordered the end of it. Galerius was succeeded by Constantine who officially adopted Christianity as the religion of the empire; though there is no solid evidence he ever became a Christian himself. Constantine began to mix the teachings of Christianity with that of various pagan religions that had significant numbers of followers. Constantine was trying to offer something for everyone but in reality this began to hasten the pollution that had already began creeping into the church’s doctrines and practice. Also, this practice of mixing some of the teachings and traditions of local pagan religions with that of the church, was adopted by the Catholic church as a standard practice.
Genesis 50:20 “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”
It has been noted all throughout church history that some of the greatest times of expansion and growth of Christianity have come while it was under some form of persecution. If you look at the explosion of growth, mission works, evangelization that occurred after the crucifixion of Christ: what prompted the Apostles and other believers to scatter from Jerusalem and go into the uttermost parts of the world? – You would have to say that Persecution was a big factor.
Now look at the Christians of the Roman empire, while they were being persecuted and fearing for their life, would not they think of leaving this area and going someplace safe? This in turn would spread their belief and witness to this new area and spread the gospel. Under mild persecution some would leave and take the good news of the Gospel with them, but under heavy persecution most of them that could leave would leave and spread the Gospel even further and greater.
How the Lord works is something we cannot always comprehend, we just need to trust Him through the hardships and trials. Isaiah 55:8-9 “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.” The Lord has a reason for everything and can used anything for the advancement of His plan, including persecution.
As a result of the heavy Roman persecution, think of all the remote locations, mountain top villages, faraway lands, that these Christians fled to, then all these places now had devout Christians living with them, testifying of Christ. God only knows of the countless millions that were saved and in Heaven today as a result of this horrific chapter in church history. God took what men meant for evil and used it for good (Genesis 50:20) and countless souls are in Heaven as a result. All those that had their lives taken and their blood spilt for the name of Christ by the hands of the Romans were not in vain. God honored their efforts and sacrifice, just as His word says, and used this dark time in church history as an opportunity to shine His light of redemption even farther and greater as a result.
The early church suffered heavy persecution, yet it flourished and grew rapidly. Times of heavy persecution are often times of great expansion in the church. Times of trial in a Christians life are often times of great spiritual growth. So too God has used times of trial of the church in general to bring about great growth in the church.
The Emperor Nero persecuted the early Christians in a devastatingly way, yet they kept living for Christ, they kept evangelizing, they kept growing, they kept doing missionary work. It should not depend on who is in charge of government, we should just keep working and witnessing for Christ. It should not matter the laws they put in place, if those laws violate Scripture we need to follow Scripture. God and His word is the ultimate authority and because of that “we ought to obey God rather than man” Acts 5:29.
Nero died A.D. 68, and the war which involved the destruction of Jerusalem and of upwards of a million of the Jews, was already well underway. The holy city fell in A.D. 70; and the Mosaic economy, which had been virtually abolished by the death of Christ, now reached its practical termination. At the same, as stated earlier, the prophecy of Daniel was literally fulfilled; for “the sacrifice and the oblation” were made to cease, Daniel 9:25-27.
The worst persecution came under the reign of Diocletian who devoted the full resources of the military to hunt down and destroy all Christians. It is estimated that millions of Christians died during that period! Diocletian’s successor, Galerius, condemned this persecution and shortly before the end of his life ordered the end of it. Galerius was succeeded by Constantine who officially adopted Christianity as the religion of the empire.
 Killen, W. (1859). The Ancient Church. New York, NY
 Paul was beheaded, and Peter was crucified by order of Nero according to the ancient historian Eusebeius
 Killen, W. (1859). The Ancient Church. New York, NY
 Dr, P. S. (2011). The Faithful Baptist Witness. Cleveland, GA: The Old Paths Publications.
 Dr, P. S. (2011). The Faithful Baptist Witness. Cleveland, GA: The Old Paths Publications.
 Dr, P. S. (2011). The Faithful Baptist Witness. Cleveland, GA: The Old Paths Publications.
 Dr, P. S. (2011). The Faithful Baptist Witness. Cleveland, GA: The Old Paths Publications.
“FUNDAMENTAL” CHURCH FATHER?
It would not be truthful to say that all the early church fathers were Fundamentalists like we think of the word today. But what is totally truthful is that all of the Fundamentals of the faith are as ancient as the church, there have been men all throughout the centuries of church history that could have been called Fundamentalists. For example, Polycarp does not write about all the specific fundamentals that we know today but concerning the ones he did write about he would be considered to be fundamental in his beliefs and teachings.
The earliest Church Fathers, (within two generations of the Twelve Apostles of Christ) are usually called the Apostolic Fathers since tradition describes them as having been taught by the twelve. Important Apostolic Fathers include Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, and Papias of Hierapolis.
Let’s take a quick look at, one of these men who are often referred to as, early “Church Fathers” or “Apostolic Fathers”. He was an early church leader, writer, preacher, and martyr who helped lead and shape the early church. We have recorded of him a wonderfully dramatic testimony, one in which the preeminence of Christ is illustrated, and also illustrated is the kind of dedication to living and yes dying for Christ if necessary, that is sadly, seemingly lacking in our churches today.
Polycarp (69-155) was one of the well-known martyrs of the early church, Polycarp identified as a disciple of John the Apostle. What we know of Polycarp comes from his pupil and disciple, Irenaeus (d. 202), apologist and theologian, and later bishop of Lyons, Gaul [France]. Polycarp was one of the last leaders who was won to Christ by an Apostle [John] and knew many who had seen Jesus. Philip Schaff wrote concerning Polycarp’s forceful ministry against paganism that he was denounced throughout all Asia Minor as the “atheist,” that is, “the teacher of Asia, the destroyer of our gods.” He was seen as glorifying a dead man and his messages on the teachings and miracles of Jesus, which John had told him firsthand, were convincing. Schaff reports of his letter to the Philippian church, of his focus on Christ saying, “Of Christ it speaks in high terms as the Lord, who sits at the right hand of God to whom everything in heaven and earth is subject”. 
Elliott Wright wrote, “He was the gentlest…of men…a case study in humility.” He was remembered as a man of prayer—a man who, according to one ancient source, “prayed constantly night and day” – “prayer that did not interfere with his daylight hours devoted to teaching and his night to studying the Scripture”. When persecution broke out in 156 A.D. every attempt was made to get him to recant his faith in the “cult” of Jesus. “Why, what harm is there in saying, ‘Caesar is Lord’ and offering incense and saving yourself,” the officials continued pleading, “Swear by the divinity of Caesar; repent”, but Polycarp did no such thing and instead it is recorded the following took place:
Polycarp is recorded as saying on the day of his death, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong“. Polycarp goes on to say “How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? You threaten me with a fire that burns for a season, and after a little while is quenched; but you are ignorant of the fire of everlasting punishment that is prepared for the wicked.” Polycarp was burned at the stake and was pierced with a spear for refusing to burn incense to the Roman Emperor. On his farewell, he said “I bless you Father for judging me worthy of this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ.”
Polycarp identified as disciple of the Apostle John and that he was won to Christ by the Apostle. It is often said of Polycarp that he had a forceful ministry against paganism throughout Asia Minor. He boldly proclaimed the truth of God and did not let the state of the world or efforts by it intimidate him from the calling on his life. It is also reported that though his ministry and preaching style were very forceful, he was a very humble man and gentle in his spirit. He was also a man who was very dedicated to his Savior and worked tirelessly in his ministry to the church and for Christ and was reported faithful until the end even his death. This is a tremendous example for the church today; the dedication to Christ and the Great Commission, only if all of us had the same kind of dedication. We in America and the Western World have it so easy now as compared to the early church; we need to not let this fact make us complacent or apathetic to the things of God and His calling on our life to witness for Him. We need more of the boldness and determination of Polycarp in our church today, and the desire to constantly spread the Gospel and pushed forward in spite of adversity and less of the apathy that is so, unfortunately, commonplace in churches and Christians today.
 Schaff, P. (1979). Ante-Nicene Christianity, vol. 2 of History of the Christian Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
 (Schaff, 1979)
I Corinthians 1:18 – “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”
The Apostle Paul’s life falls in line with this verse he wrote to the Corinthians. For the first part of his life the preaching of the cross was foolishness to him. He could personally testify of this fact. But when he was saved, the preaching of the cross took on the power of God to him and in his life.
When discussing the Apostle Paul, one cannot over emphasize the impact he had on the growth and development of the early church. He was a critically needed Apostle and an incredibly influential one. His conversion provided an incredible testimony of the saving, life transforming power of Jesus Christ. His missionary journeys led to the establishment of churches throughout the Mediterranean world. He is known as the “Apostle to the Gentiles”. He helped widen the door to the Gentiles after Peter first opened it. He left a big imprint on the Holy Scriptures. He wrote 13 (14 if you count Hebrews) books of the New Testament. In the history of the early church that Luke wrote, “The Acts of the Apostles”, Luke devoted the majority of it to the ministry of Paul. Paul was a mighty man of God, mightily used of God, to do mighty things for God.
BIOGRAPHICAL OVERVIEW OF SAUL
Saul was born in Tarsus in Cilicia around 5 AD. (Acts 21:39, 22:3. 23:34) Tarsus was a Roman province in SE Asian Minor (modern day Turkey). Tarsus was a capital city known for its school of literature and philosophy which was said to rival the schools in Athens and Alexandria. It is said Paul most likely attended this school while living in Tarsus. (Acts 21:39 – But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus…)
Tarsus was a thriving business hub. It was a free city, and a city that enjoyed favor with Rome, so much so, that its residences were bestowed Roman citizenship. This explains why Paul could claim Roman citizenship and explains his comments in Acts 22:27-28 – “Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea. And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born.”
Saul was of pure Jewish ancestry. (I Corinthians 11:22 – Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I.) He was of the tribe of Benjamin. (Romans 11:1) He was born a son of a Pharisee.
Saul’s education. All the other Apostles were less educated than Paul. (Acts 4:13 – Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men…) – Saul/Paul was very well educated. His early educational opportunities were literally among the best, if not the best in the whole world at this time.
Saul’s vocation. He was also trained in tent making. He used this skill to help sustain him in his mission work. (Acts 18:3)
Saul’s religiousness. He was a strict Pharisee. (Philippians 3:5 – Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee)
Saul was a persecutor of the Church (Acts 26:9-11)
Conversion of Saul – Saul’s life and his name was forever changed as a result of an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. (Acts 7:54- 8:3 & 9:1-6)
PAUL’S EARLY CHRISTIAN LIFE AND SERVICE
Paul’s conversion likely took place around 36 A.D. His first missionary journey began nine years later. What was he doing in this nine-year time period? Knowing Paul’s zeal for God, it was a time of preparation and active service locally for the Lord. If you want to serve the Lord full time with your life as a Pastor, Missionary or Evangelist you need to have a time of preparation and local service to get you ready for that calling. So too, Paul followed this path. He was called, today men are still called into God’s service, Paul prepared, today men still need to prepare for God’s service, Paul worked locally first, today men who are called by God need to be actively working in their local church first.
Immediately after his conversion Paul begins to preach. (Acts 9:17-20)
Paul did not stay in Damascus long after his conversion. (Galatians 1:15-17) Paul went to Arabia, a desert location southeast of Damascus. It is likely Paul stayed here the greater part of three years. (Galatians 1:17b-18a – but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years)
Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem. At first the Church is afraid to receive him. (Acts 9:26 – And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.)
Paul spends five years in Syria and Cilicia (39-43 A.D.) – He returned to Tarsus, the place of his birth, and began preaching in the surrounding regions. Barnabas arrives and Paul departs the area and heads to Antioch. (Acts 11:25-26a) During this year in Antioch Paul and Barnabas preach to many people.
Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem – Paul visited Jerusalem the second time to bring relief to them. Jerusalem had been experiencing a famine and was in need. (Acts 11:29)
PAUL’S FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY
Paul has been preparing and training for several years for what the Lord had planned for his life. Now he embarks on his first missionary journey with Barnabas. He would take the gospel to regions that had not even heard of it yet. (Romans 15:20-21 – Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation: But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.)
As the Elders and Prophets were fasting and ministering to the Lord the Holy Spirit told them to separate Barnabas and Saul for the work He was calling them to. The Elders and Prophets then prayed and laid hands on them and sent them away. (Acts 13:1-3)
They first went to the Island of Cyprus and preached the word of God. They had John Mark with them at this time; he would go on to later write the Gospel of Mark. Paul started off going to the Synagogues first then he would reach out to the Gentiles.
Paul and Barnabas then went to the regions of Pamphylia, Pisidia, and Lycaonia (46-47 A.D.) – While at Pisidia Paul accepts an invitation to speak at the local Synagogue. (Acts 13:14-16) – His message can be divided into the following points:
Paul and Barnabas then go to Iconium, where an attempt to stone them forces them to leave. They then go onto Lystra and Derbe where Paul heals a lame man and the local residents attempt to worship Paul and Barnabas. (Acts 14:8-18)
They return home from this first missionary trip and report back to the church at Antioch on how God had opened a door to the Gentiles and blessed their efforts. They set a precedent by doing this that is still carried out today by missionaries. Missionaries go out for a few years and come back to report of their work to the local churches that sent them out on how the Lord has blessed them and used their efforts. (Acts 14:27)
PAUL’S SECOND MISSIONARY JOURNEY
After some time in Antioch, Paul begins to wonder about the brethren he had won to Christ and ministered to on his first missionary journey. So Paul sets out to go on his second missionary journey. Just like his first missionary journey, his second one begins at the church in Antioch. Paul and Barnabas disagree on whether to take John Mark with this time. John Mark had left them part way through their last journey and Paul thought him unreliable. So Paul selects Silas to travel with him this time and Barnabas takes John Mark with him to Cyprus. (Acts 15:39-40)
Paul and Silas head to Derbe and Lystra again. Here Paul desired Timothy to go with them. Timothy’s mother was a Jew and his father was a Greek. (Acts 16:1-3a)
Paul and Silas were not permitted by the Holy Spirit to head toward Bithynia. (Acts 16:7 – After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.) – This should teach us to always be listening and willing to submit to the direction or nudging of the Holy Spirit in our life. Paul and Silas thought it best to go in one direction but the Holy Spirit was leading them in a different direction. They did not quench the Holy Spirits leading in their life. They were attentive to it; they were open to it and wanted to follow Him. (I Thessalonians 5:19 – Quench not the Spirit.)
We cannot cover all the events and circumstances that occurred on this second journey but we will look at what happened at the City of Philippi.
Paul also visited Thessalonica, Berea (where it is noted they searched the Scriptures daily), Athens (where Paul’s sermon on the “Unknown God” took place), and Corinth. Many were saved and baptized in Corinth. Many of the church of Corinth were saved out of deep sin. The ministry in Corinth teaches us that we should never write off anyone and consider them un-savable. God can do anything at any time. Keep praying for those who you think may be a lost cause. God can still save them out of their deep sin and He can do it up to their last breath. (I Corinthians 6:11 – And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.)
PAUL’S THIRD MISSIONARY JOURNEY
Paul’s third missionary journey, he first went to Galatia and Phrygia where he ministered “strengthening all the disciples” in those local churches.
Ephesus – Paul stayed the better part of three years in Ephesus on his third missionary journey. Paul’s efforts were greatly blessed during this time in Ephesus. (Acts 19 & 20)
Macedonia – Paul went on to preach throughout Macedonia. The Macedonians are known for their generous giving to help others even when they needed things themselves. (II Corinthians 8:1-2) – We need to model their selfless giving of themselves, the Macedonian Christians had, in our life too.
Corinth – Paul then goes on to visit Corinth. Corinth was a work that required much instruction, direction, attention and admonishing from the Apostle. Paul was hoping and praying for a good visit with them but not necessarily expecting the visit to go well. (I Corinthians 2:1-4) Paul was always looking to be “strengthening all the disciples” with instruction, seasoned with love. He would admonish sternly if that is what was required of the situation; but it grieved Him to do so because of the great love he had for the lost and those new in Christ.
Agabus prophesied of Paul’s impending imprisonment in Acts 21:10-11 – “And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus. And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”
Paul’s arrival into Jerusalem would of have been one of joyful anticipation because he wanted to be there for Pentecost. But it also would have been one of anxiousness because he knew what awaited him there. (Acts 20:22-23 – And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.)
Paul was arrested in the Temple. (Acts 21:27-31)
PAUL’S TRIALS AND IMPRISONMENTS
Paul defended himself in various trials; before the mob in Jerusalem (Acts 21:37-22:29) before the Sanhedrin (Acts 22:30-23:10) before Felix the governor in Caesarea (Acts 23:11-24:27) before Festus the governor in Caesarea (Acts 25:1-12) before King Herod Agrippa II in Caesarea (Acts 25:13-26:32) and eventually appealing all the way to Rome.
This phase of Paul’s life would prove to be a time of prophetic fulfillment. For Paul would have the opportunity to preach Jesus to two Roman Governors, a Jewish King, and the household of Caesar, the most powerful man on the planet at this time. (Acts 9:15 – But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel) – God can use a person surrendered to do His will in mighty, miraculous, and unexpected ways. We just need to be the willing vessel and let God work His will out in our life.
PAUL’S DEATH AND LASTING TESTIMONY
As the time of his death neared, Paul was expecting it. He was ready to be offered a sacrifice (II Timothy 4:3) Paul was not ashamed (II Timothy 1:12) Paul was confident (Philippians 1:21) Paul was sure of his reward (II Timothy 4:8)
Although imprisoned, forsaken by some, and knowing his death was near, Paul was still triumphant. Paul said from that dungeon cell, “Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” II Timothy 4:17-18. Paul also said these powerful words in the midst of dire and dreadful circumstances; his faith never wavered, his love never ran out, his confidence never faltered, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:” II Timothy 4:6-7.
Paul was beheaded in 67 or 68 A.D. Roman citizenship exempted him from torture and crucifixion. He was executed on a road just outside of Rome by a military escort.
Let’s close this out by reading Paul’s own words in II Corinthians 11:23-33 “Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not. In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.“
Matthew 28:18-20 – And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Jesus commissioned His Apostles at the end of his earthly ministry to carry on His work until He comes back. This commission not only applied to His disciples it applies to all of us today as well. We are all commanded and expected to fulfill this Great Commission. A key fundamental doctrine is that of fulfilling the Great Commission with zeal and fervency. We can see where that key fundamental doctrine of strong aggressive evangelism came from, where the DNA of that fundamental characteristic originated; and that was from Christ Himself and the example that was set by the Apostles.
“FOR TO ME TO LIVE IS CHRIST AND TO DIE IS GAIN” – Philippians 1:21
The Apostles after the close of the Gospel and New Testament records of their life, did not then live happily ever after. The Christian Church was in its infancy and was heavily and severely persecuted during the first few centuries after the death of Christ.
John the Baptist was the first in a long line of martyrs over the centuries for Christ. Those whose only crime was being a Christian who were then put to death because of that belief. These martyrs gave their whole life over to Christ, they laid their all on the alter for Him. Following their Savior, in sometimes rapid succession, many other martyred heroes died. The next one to mention is Stephen. He was one of the first Deacons. He was also a preacher of the Gospel of Christ. His death is recorded for us in Acts chapters 7 & 8. His death is important to mention because a future Apostle was there at the stoning of Stephen consenting to the death of Stephen. (Acts 7:54-8:1 – When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.)
Let’s look at the Apostles and how they sacrificed all for Christ, how they lived out the words of Paul in Philippians 1:21 – “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”. The following accounts of their deaths are either by historical records or by tradition handed down. One was slain in Ethiopia, one was dragged through the streets until he died, one was hanged, two were crucified, one upside down, one was flayed alive, one was pierced with lances until he died, one was thrown from the temple and beaten until he was dead, one was shot to death with arrows, one was stoned to death, and one was beheaded.
This kind of hard persecution of the Church of Christ continued on for two more centuries and yet the Christian faith spread in that time to the whole known world. It went into all of the Roman Empire, Europe, Asia, Africa, England, and about everywhere else in the world at that time. The church was greatly persecuted, but the church was greatly flourishing in spite of the persecution.
JESUS AND THE TWELVE
(Mark 3:14 – And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach,) – Jesus called twelve men to be His disciples. He prayed before He called them. After He called them, He ordained them for His work. They did not choose Jesus; He specifically chose them for the work He had for them to do. (John 15:16 – Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.) Men are still called by Him into ministry today. We need to have open ears and be listening for that call of God on our life, and if called we need to have pre-determined to submit to what we are called to do.
Jesus called his disciples into the ministry, but they generally were not what we would consider ministry ready. They were not polished, not great orators, did not possess a lot of natural ability to do what they were called to do. But they had one thing going for them; they were called into the ministry by Jesus Christ. If He if calls you, He will equip you with what you need to succeed. Not everyone is called to preach, but everyone is called to minister for Christ in some way. God delights in using those people for his ministry which would be the last ones chosen by men for the position. This ensures God gets the glory and not the man, because it is obvious that man could not and is not dong it though his own abilities. (I Corinthians 1:26 – For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called)
Everyone was not called to be an Apostle. It is generally accepted that an apostle was one who had to have been an eyewitness to the person of Christ.
The twelve were instructed by Christ on how to fulfill their call. If you are a Christian, you have a call to ministry in your life. You need to follow the example of the disciples in that they received instruction willingly. They knew they needed to be taught and willingly submitted to the teaching of God’s word, so they would be equipped to better serve Him with their lives. (Matthew 5:1-2 – And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, & Proverbs 19:20 – Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end.)
The twelve were empowered to perform their ministry for Christ. (Matthew 10:1 – And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.) The Apostles were given the power they needed to fulfill the ministry they were called, instructed and trained to do. The Lord still does this today. He will give you what you need inside you to do what He has called you to do. Men today still need to seek instruction in their call and to submit to training to equip them to do their call.
The Twelve were not well known. They were not the standouts; they were not the most popular people. They were your average everyday person like most of us are. History tells us that 11 out of the 12 of the disciples were from Galilee. The region of Galilee was generally considered less sophisticated, less educated, and less mannerly, and they apparently had an easily recognizable accent or manner of speech that would stand them out in a crowd as being from Galilee. The little girl at the trial of Jesus knew Peter was from Galilee by his speech. (Mark 14:70 – And he denied it again. And a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter, Surely thou art one of them: for thou art a Galilaean, and thy speech agreeth thereto.)
The Twelve were loved by Jesus. All of His disciples are loved by Him. All those that believe on His name are especially loved by Him. He prayed for His disciples. He also prayed for every one of us as He was praying for these twelve men. He prayed for you and me and it is recorded in the Gospel records that He did. (John 17:20 – Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;)
The Apostles were ordinary men like you and me. They were called by Jesus into His service in the ministry. All but one lived their life for Him and His service. It is because of their zeal and willingness to give all for Christ and His work that you and I are here today to learn of Christ and have the opportunity to be saved. They helped found the Christian church. They proclaimed the Word of God with boldness and without compromise, we should do no less (Acts 4: 31 – And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.)
 Carroll, J. (1931). The Trail of Blood. Challenge Press. – Page 11
 Malone, D. T. (1988). The Apostles. Murfreesboro, TN: Sword of the Lord Publishers.