The Wise Men and Herod

In Matthew chapter 2 we read of the very different attitudes to the King of the Jews adopted by the wise men and Herod.

Note for example verses 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.’

The wise men from the east came for to worship Jesus. Herod was troubled to hear of the birth of Christ. Notice in passing, the connection between the description of the Saviour by the wise men and that by Herod – King of the Jews and Christ. These are both titles attributable to the Lord Jesus alone.

The wise men are led to seek the King of the Jews by a remarkable star they have seen in the heavens in their own land. They are willing to come a great distance not just to see the Saviour – but to worship Him. Interestingly, they first come to Jerusalem, and from there, as a result of the confirmation from scripture that Bethlehem is to be the place of the birth of Christ, they proceed to Bethlehem, where the star reappears in confirmation of the scripture prophecy!

When they come into the house they worship the young child. Note – not Mary – what a rebuke to the practice of Rome which exalts Mary worship! They offer gifts in recognistion of the dignity of the One they worship – He is the Christ. Three prominent gifts are presented – gold, frankincense and myrrh. In his commentary, Matthew Henry suggests the following ‘Some think there was a significancy in their gifts; they offered him gold, as a king, paying him tribute…frankincense, as God, for they honoured God with the smoke of incense; and myrrh, as a Man that should die, for myrrh was used in embalming dead bodies.’ What is certain, is they honoured and reverenced the Lord Jesus Christ, even as a young child.

How very different was the attitude of Herod the king. This wicked man felt strangely threatened by the news of the birth of the Christ. He ought to have rejoiced in such news for it was good news, as told by the angel to the shepherds already (see Luke 2). But, as a proud and evil man, he did not rejoice. He was bent on the destruction of the young child. In spite of the wonderful light he enjoyed he sought to slay Jesus. He had the benefit of the light of scripture as announced to him by the leaders of the Jews (from Micah 5:2) and the example of diligent an reverent inquiry from the wise men of the east. Alas, all was lost on him. His attitude to Jesus was one of rejection. He despised and rejected the Christ of God.

Which attitude is ours? Have we the attitude of faith and love to Christ, or unbelief and rejection? Let us heed the Word of God:

Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. (Acts of the Apostles 4:12)

G B Macdonald

sydneyfpchurch.org.au

 

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Gideon’s Triumph – Judgement and Salvation

At our mid week prayer meeting we have for some time been considering the history of Gideon. This man was chosen by God to judge Israel and strengthened to go forth against the host of the Midianities, who had for year after year been devouring the good of the land of Israel.

In chapter 7 of the Book of Judges, we read of the Midianites being put to flight. Though Gideon and his men were the means, yet it was the LORD who delivered Israel through them. In the victory of Gideon and his 300 men we see a work of judgement and of salvation.

For seven years the Midianites had themselves been an instrument of judgement against Israel. They had come up like locusts to take the harvests from Israel. Israel planted but the Midiaites reaped the benefits of their hard work. This was deeply dispiriting to God’s covenant people. The heathen had come in like a flood, but now the time had come for them to be judged by God. Wicked ones may exalt themselves against Christ and His Church for a time – but at any time – God can cut them down. So it was with Pharaoh and his host at the Red Sea, so too here in Gideon’s day. Then let not the Church be overwhelmed, ‘God shall cut off all flatt’ring lips,/tongues that speak proudly thus,/we’ll with our tongues prevail, our lips/are ours: who’s lord o’er us?’ (Psalm 12:3-4 metrical)

The flight of the Midianites spelled freedom for the Israelites. In a moment suddenly the oppressor was gone. Suddenly, their misery was turned to gladness. So it is with the Lord’s people spiritually. Through Christ, the greater than Gideon, God giveth them the victory over their spiritual foes. Whether by renewal or for the first time. As with the success of Gideon and his men, with their trumpets sounding, lamps blazing and battle cry, “The sword of the LORD and of Gideon” so too, in New Testament terms, God is able to bless the preaching of sound gospel doctrine, the light of the holy profession of His people and the battle cry that speaks of trust in Himself and His appointed Saviour. As Paul puts it in writing in 2 Corinthians 10:4 ‘(for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)’. Gideon’s victory which was Israel’s, was a clear revelation that salvation is of the LORD.

That is a timeless biblical principle.

G B Macdonald

sydneyfpchurch.org.au

 

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Private Prayer – A Example from the Life of Jesus

In Mark chapter 1 and verse 35 we read of a time when the Saviour prayed in private. ‘And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.’

What a wonder, that so great and glorious a Person should thus seek out a private place for prayer. Christ was a true man. He was a man who prayed. He taught His disciples to pray; as One who prayed Himself. There is a deep mystery in the prayer life of the Saviour, but it is revealed plainly in the scriptures of truth that Jesus prayed.

He prayed on this occasion in a solitary place. There are times when the Christian should seek to be alone for prayer. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, Jesus taught his hearers, as One having authority. In that sermon he declared, “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:6). So we see that Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, both by precept and example.

We are not told what Jesus prayed for. We do consider that His holy human soul took great delight in prayer. Moreover, His work demanded it. We read in the context in Mark 1 of Him casting out devils, and elsewhere in Mark chapter 9, Jesus said in response to a question from his disciples as to why they could not cast out a devil, “This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29). The Saviour also set His disciples and example. By this we learn that prayer is a vital part of the Christian life.

What an honour is thus placed on prayer. How the disciples’ of Jesus should be men and women of prayer. My friend, do you pray in private? A minister once indicated, it is what we are in private before God that truly matters. Perhaps we must admit how far short we come of the holy example of Jesus, the Head of the Church. If so our response should be with that disciple who said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” What a fruitful request that was, for Jesus taught them that form of prayer commonly referred to as the Lord’s Prayer.

What blessings have come, and shall yet come, as a result of private prayer in the life of the individual believer.

G B Macdonald

www.sydneyfpchurch.org.au

 

 

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Two Testimonies from John the Baptist

In Matthew chapter 3 we are often drawn to the closing verses of the chapter. In these verses we have the remarkable baptism of Jesus of Nazareth and the testimony that He received from the Father – “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” This portion is very precious and profound.

Before this closing portion we read of the ministry of John the Baptist. Suddenly he appears ‘preaching in the wilderness of Judea.’ What a strange place to preach. His message is not that which is naturally pleasing to man – “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”- yet, in the providence of God many resort to him and ‘were baptised of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.’ The Lord blessed his ministry. He was a prophet and the forerunner of the Christ of God. This reminds us that it is the blessing of God we need, not modern ideas on how to please man and ‘grow the church.’

One interesting feature of Matthew 3 is the contrast between what John the Baptist says to the Pharisees and Sadducees, and what he says to Jesus. To the former he speaks most strongly. He denounces them as a generation of vipers. He warns them they are exposed to the wrath to come. He calls them to repent. He really indicates they cannot in their present condition be baptised of him. Contrast this with what he says to the Lord Jesus. He simply says, “I have need to be baptised of thee, and comest thou to me?” In other words, John felt so unworthy in the presence of Jesus that he hesitated to baptise him, till he was told that it was needful, for, as Jesus says, “…thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” When taken together with the witness of God the Father at the baptism of Jesus, we have a strong witness to the Person of Christ and His purity.

What a stark contrast. John’s language to the leaders of the Jewish Church, and his language to the true Head of the Church.

How we should respect the authority with which John spoke, and remember what he said elsewhere about Jesus of Nazareth – “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29).

G B Macdonald

sydneyfpchurch.org.au

 

 

 

 

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Sydney Communion – March 2018

This month we were pleased to have the assistance of Rev George Hutton (Grafton) at our communion. A communion is always a very precious and special time in the congregation, when the scripture is preached and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is administered.

On Thursday morning the solemn subject of confession of sin was before us. The minister directed us to consider a sin that lies at the root of many other sins – the sin of pride. The text was from Proverbs 29:23 ‘A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit.’ One point noted was that it is most strange that man should be proud. He is by nature a sinner – here is no cause for pride but rather shame. How very strange it is though that the Christian should be proud, when it is by grace such are saved. The sin of pride must be confessed and forsaken.

On Thursday evening we were encouraged to consider the solemn words of the exalted Christ to Ephesus – one of the seven Churches of Asia. In Revelation 2:4 we read: “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” Such words of rebuke remind us of the careful and continued interest of the Saviour in His Church upon earth. He has a profound knowledge of each and every congregation of His Church and by this rebuke teaches us to examine ourselves as individuals and congregations.

On Friday morning we looked at the words in Galatians 2:20 ‘…the life which I now live in the flesh…’ The minister directed us to consider the Christian life Paul now lived. The nature of it, the source of it and the evidence for it. The apostle Paul had been dead in trespasses and sins, but now he was spiritually alive. In self examination we must ask ourselves such questions as: “What is my relationship to Christ?” and “Is the life I now live consistent with the gospel?”

A fellowship meeting was held on the Friday evening. The portion selected for the purpose of self-examination was Psalm 27:1 ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?‘ God is the light of His people, He it is by His Word and Spirit who first enlightens them. Only the One who said at the first “Let there be light…” can enlighten the darkness of a sinner’s heart. The Lord is the salvation of His people. Such could in no wise save themselves. The Lord’s people are taught this, as well as being persuaded and enabled to trust in the One who is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God through Him. The Lord is the strength of His people. The Christian receives strength from Christ through His own appointed means of grace.

On Saturday further preparation for the Lord’s Supper was encouraged by a consideration of Matthew 5:14-16. The disciples of Jesus are the light of the world. As well as being saved by Him who calls Himself the Light of the World, they are to shine as witnesses for Christ. The Christian is not to hide his or her light but let that light shine by open profession of Christ.

The Sabbath morning service and the administration of the sacrament was taken by Rev Hutton. Our attention was directed by him to the words in John 10:17 “…I lay down my life…” These words and similar in the context reveal to us something of the weight and importance Jesus placed on His saving work. He was conscious of what was required of Him by the Father. The Saviour willingly and lovingly laid down His life for the sheep as the Good Shepherd. A most perfect sin-atoning sacrifice.

On Sabbath evening we were directed to consider a birth of vital importance – the new birth. In John 3:3 Jesus stressed to a religious man the absolute necessity of being born again. Such is the lost and ruined condition of man by nature that he needs to be born from above. This is the work of God.

On Monday we were encouraged to hear of the reviving work of God as that is set forth in Ezekiel’s vision in chapter 37 of his prophecy. The bones in the valley were very dry, all spoke of death and helplessness so far as man was concerned. So too was the case of Israel in captivity, but God could change that desolate scene and did so. So the New Testament Church can be revived.

Thanks are due to Rev Hutton for his willing assistance, and we hope and pray that the Lord would be pleased to bless the communion season and the fellowship enjoyed around the Word and Sacrament.

G B Macdonald

sydneyfpchurch.org.au

 

 

 

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The Mercy of God – A Quote from Thomas Watson

“As God’s mercy makes the saints happy, so it should make them humble. Mercy is not the fruit of our goodness, but the fruit of God’s goodness. Mercy is an alms that God bestows. They have no cause to be proud that live upon the alms of God’s mercy. ‘If I be righteous, yet will I not lift up my head,’ Job x 15: all my righteousness is the effect of God’s mercy, therefore I will be humble and will not lift up my head.”

(Thomas Watson – Body of Divinity p.94 Banner or Truth Trust 1978)

G B Macdonald

sydneyfpchurch.org.au

 

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Wise Advice for a New Year

The Book of Proverbs furnishes us with wise advice. This wise advice is as useful in this New Year of 2018 as in the past year.

In Proverbs 3:5-6 we have such advice. We are exhorted by the inspired writer, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

In these words we have wise advice, coupled with a precious promise.

The wise advice comes to us in three statements. Firstly, we are to trust in the LORD with all our heart. How ready we should be to do this. The God of the Bible is One who is eminently worthy of our trust. His faithfulness is very great. Secondly, we are cautioned not to lean upon our own understanding. This we are prone to do, in spite of often having but limited understanding of this or that. This can lead to us misjudging people or events. Thirdly, we are encouraged to acknowledge Him in all our ways. The believer does so through the grace of prayer. We have a wonderful example of the blessing of such acknowledging of God in the case of Nehemiah. He asked the LORD help time and again and had wonderful answers to his prayers.

Might we not reflect that in a past year, many of our difficulties and problems were the consequence of our failure to trust in the LORD with all our heart, a tendency at the same time to lean too much on our own understanding and, as a result, not to acknowledge Him in all our ways?

We see that a very precious promise is given to encourage us to heed this wise advice. “…and he shall direct your paths.” He, who is able to keep us from the paths of sin, He who is mighty to lead His people like a shepherd, even He shall direct the paths of such as by faith and in prayer do humbly seek His help.

G B Macdonald

sydneyfpchurch.org.au

 

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