Saturday, January 15, 2022

The Alabaster Box



Bobservations Column
Pastor Bob Lawrenz

From Palm Sunday in Matthew 21, the next few chapters cover the final days leading up to the Crucifixion. But here in Matthew 26, we learn specifically that Passover is “after two days” (verse 2) of the events here in today’s text.

The Pharisees and Temple Priests firm up their plans, to not just “catch Jesus in His own words,” but to kill him (Mt. 22:15 vs. 26:4). Their motives are based in their own pride, a thing that the Lord hates (Proverbs 6:16-19). Jesus had put the Herodians to shame, and had discomfitted the Pharisees in their questions. And a most curious thing about their plotting against Jesus is that the plot will fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 52 & 53, and they seem unaware of it. These “Holy Priests” of the Temple are clearly lacking the Holy Spirit who would help them apply the scriptures to their personal actions and choices.

Like King David was ignorant of his sin against Uriah and Bathsheba, it took Nathan the Prophet to point it out to him. It’s easy to simply want what we want, but to examine our hearts before fulfilling our desires is impossible while we are yet thinking in the flesh, instead of God’s desires for us.

This plot originates with Temple Leaders. But in this chapter we also find the Apostles are indignant about how a valuable item is used. This indignation comes from among the Apostles. Yet this too. is a prophecy fulfilled (Psalm 55:9-16), for the indignation morphed into Judas’ betrayal: the thirty pieces of silver from today’s reading from Zechariah 11. God’s foreknowledge is unmistakable. His knowledge of the human heart is without measure, whether it be for the good, or for evil.

Our pride can often get in the way of God’s will for us, as well as His beneficent promises. And hidden behind within our pride is our own sense of values, and possibilities. Can we ever give God less than our best? – Did God seek to cut corners when it came to our salvation? No, He gave us His best; He gave us His only begotten Son.



And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, “As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.”  “And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up because - there had been no rain in the land.” - 1 Kings 17 : 1 & 7 



Today's Audio Message:
Matthew 26:1-19 - "The Alabaster Box"

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Saturday, January 8, 2022

At His Second Coming




















Bobservations Column
Pastor Bob Lawrenz

Today we return to our on-going study in Matthew. We left off in Matthew 25:30 prior to Christmas. Now, fresh from the celebration of His First Coming, we are given insight into His Second Coming in verse 31.

Drawing on His role as a shepherd, Jesus calls the unbelieving Gentile nations and separates them from the Jewish nation. His life on Earth exposed Him to all nations, and just as in all churches, there are true, committed believers, and there are also professing believers who are less than committed to the Word of His Testimony.

There are believers among the Jews, and among the Christians. There are true believers among Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Catholics. And in those same churches, there are others who take Jesus for granted, take His Word at only face value. He calls these two groups sheep and goats, and seeks to separate them one from the other. One group is called to His right, and the other to His left. These cannot be separated by nationality, or ethnicity, or by the names of their religion, or denomination. There are sheep, and there are goats in all of them.

Jesus looks at the heart. He sees behaviors, not just words that we speak. He measures our behaviors up against His Word and His own example. Thus He can look at a womanizing killer and King, and tell us that David had “a heart after God.” He knows what is in our hearts, and is willing to forgive those whose desire is to follow Him, even though our actions may cause others to question our commitment.

The real question is “What is in our hearts, the base of our desires?” Will He beckon us to His right, or to His left. Will He call us to His sheep, or lump us in with the goats. How closely are we following Him? Only we can examine our own hearts, and ask that tough question, for Jesus has already judged sin and disobedience.

“For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.” - 1 Kings 4:1

Today's Audio Message:
"At His Second Coming" - Matthew 25:31-46

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Saturday, January 1, 2022

Token of the Covenant



Bobservations Column
Pastor Bob Lawrenz

It was The Law of Moses that permeated the lives of the Jews in Jesus’ day, especially those Jews that lived in the vicinity of Jerusalem’s grand and magnificent Temple. And according to The Law, a newborn child would spawn a number of events: 33 days or more of purification for the mother, and a sacrifice was to be made for her giving birth at the end of those days, then a presentation of a male child in the Temple (36 days for a female child). But when the male child reaches 8 days old, the infant’s circumcision would take place. These things were non-negotiable. This was more than just their culture, it was a Law of God, from Genesis 17. Circumcision was the token of the Abrahamic Covenant. Separating the Jews from the rest of humanity; identifying them as His Chosen.

Identifying with the Jews can be a costly thing to do. Even today, being a friend of Israel on the world stage can elicit a rejection of values, and hatred.

And basing a nation’s laws on Judeo-Christian standards can cause a rejection and even contempt for those laws by our own citizens. This we have seen in our own country. Banning public religious displays, outlawing prayer in our public schools, and creating a separation of Church and State has gained us at least two generations of heathens, and youth that have been taught a revised version of World History and US History.

The hearts of our children have gone uncircumcised, while circumcision itself has become commonplace in Western Culture, for “health reasons.”

Abraham circumcised both Ishmael, and Isaac. While both bloodlines have been blessed, it is Isaac’s bloodline that would bring Messiah. And the blessing stolen from Esau in that next generation has set the two nations against one another ever since.

The circumcision of the heart means everything because it changes the sensitivity of the heart. The circumcision of the flesh alone merely brings an identity crisis.

Romans 2:29 – “But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit (of the law), and not in the letter (of the law); whose praise is not of men, but of God." (Parentheses are mine)


Today's Audio Message:
Luke 2:21-37 - "Token of the Covenant"

Summary:
As we approach the text before us, Jesus Christ, Messiah, had been born. The long- awaited promised good news had been announced (1:26–38), affirmed (1:39–56), and arrived (2:1–20).

An angel of the Lord informed the shepherds of Messiah’s birth, and so they left their lambs, to find the Lamb. They travelled to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Israel’s great shepherd-king: David. There they met the true Shepherd-King: Jesus, who is Christ the Lord (Micah 5:1–2). The shepherds departed and declared the good news. The world’s first human evangelists were, in the literal sense of the word, pastors.

It was now eight days later, and Jesus underwent the covenantal custom of circumcision (v. 21; cf. Genesis 17:12Leviticus 12:1–3). 

Circumcision of the Flesh - Circumcision of the Heart

In Romans 2:29, Paul discusses the idea of the circumcision of the heart and the role of the Old Testament Law as it relates to Christianity. He argues that Jewish circumcision is only an outward sign of being set apart to God. However, if the heart is sinful, then physical circumcision is of no avail. A circumcised body and a sinful heart are at odds with each other. Rather than focus on external rites, Paul focuses on the condition of the heart. Using circumcision as a metaphor, he says that only the Holy Spirit can purify a heart and set us apart to God. Ultimately, circumcision cannot make a person right with God; the Law is not enough. A person’s heart must change. Paul calls this change “circumcision of the heart.”

After the days of purification according to the law of Moses, (thirty-two days later), they would return to the temple when and where their faith would be strengthened by two older saints: Simeon and Anna. These faithful believers had, for a long time, anticipated the arrival of God’s promised Messiah. They now experienced what they had been so longingly expecting. Therefore, they celebrated. But this led them to anticipate again. For with the arrival of Messiah, greater things were still to come, not only in the city of Jerusalem, but throughout the nation of Israel and in all the nations.

Their celebration of fulfilment, coupled with their anticipation of future fulfilment, illustrates the biblical truth referred by theologians as “already / not yet.” This is where you and I live—or where we should be.

Like Israel of old, before we came to Christ, God graciously brought us to a point of disillusionment, defeat and, for some, despair, due to our guilt for our sins against holy God.

God then consoled us with “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). We repented of our sins, and believed on Jesus who lived, died, and rose again for us. Celebration was our response. What we longed for was now our experience: We were reconciled to God. But this was only the beginning, for we began to anticipate further blessings—like growth in holiness, a growing devotion to God, and collateral blessings along the way. After all, as the hymn says, Jesus came “to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.” Sometimes those blessings have come sooner, sometimes much later, and some of these blessings have yet to come. But since they are God’s promises, we must continue to faithfully anticipate them. This is the theme of our passage and of this study.

In our brief Christmas Series, we have been confronted with the holy, faithful, merciful, and gracious character of God. We have also seen the condition of man: sinful and in need of a Saviour. And, of course, we have focused intently on Jesus Christ our Saviour and our Lord.

Gabriel, Mary, Elizabeth, an unnamed angel of the Lord, a heavenly host, shepherds, Simeon, and Anna all testified that Jesus is God’s appointed Redeemer and Saviour. Ultimately, Jesus’ life and death and resurrection proved this.

In our sinful state we are God's enemies, but Christ came to reconcile us to God. Will you confess your sinfulness, trusting him to forgive you? Will you trust him to reconcile you wholly to our holy God? That is, will you trust him to bring peace between you and God? Are you willing to forsake this world and follow Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life? Salvation and forgiveness of sins is not about following steps. It is about receiving Christ as Savior and recognizing that He has done all of the work for us. God requires one step of us—receiving Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin and fully trusting in Him alone as the way of salvation.

The good news is that, though we are sinners, the anticipated Saviour has come. There is nothing more to do than to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved.







Thursday, December 23, 2021

Christmas + 1 Day


Bobservations Column
Pastor Bob Lawrenz

In the final days of Moses (Deuteronomy 33, 34), we learn of his blessings upon each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. They are at the cusp of entering The Promised Land, and out of the plains of Moab, Moses went up Mt. Nebo, not far from Jericho. From that mountain top, the Lord showed him all of the land which God had sworn to Israel and his descendants.

Moses died there, seeing the Promised Land, but he was unable to enter into it with the Tribes. Moses was buried there in an unknown grave in Moab. Because Moses is iconic to the Jews, if they had been able to create shrine at his grave, it would have been a shrine to a man, and not to God.

The heart of man enshrines its leaders and places where great events occur. The Muslims are the example: if something great has occurred in their faith, a shrine is built, and the shrines of others are torn down. Medina, Mecca, and the Temple Mount at Jerusalem with the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome Of The Rock are all examples. Statues and monuments have been destroyed here too!

God buried Moses in an unknown grave because He did not want the Jews to enshrine Moses, but to worship Him. Celebrations of Moses would stand side-by-side with God’s great works, and that raises a man up much higher than he deserves. When Lucifer tried this, he was cast to the lower parts of the earth!

The location of the Garden of Eden is also unknown, and likely for the same reasons. And I believe the same reasoning is why we do not know the precise date of Jesus’ birth. God wanted Messiah’s arrival recognized, nothing more.

Garish displays in every culture proclaim Jesus’ birth according to each culture, and they do it on a day which was chosen by men, not by God. And the result is what God wanted to avoid: a party atmosphere instead of holiness.

If you are celebrating Jesus’ birth, His humble beginnings should set the atmosphere for family and friends. He Himself directed us to remember His sacrifice, rather than His birth. He knows us so well!

Praise Him for His mighty works, and not for whom He chose to bring them about.

Key passages to consider for this day:

Genesis 3:15

Isaiah 7:14

Isaiah 9:6,7

1 John 5:5-8

John 1:1-14

John 4:20-26

Matthew 16:16

Mark 8:29

John 6:69; 11:27

There are hundreds more references in scripture.  You can find them in the subject index of a good study bible. 


Today's Audio Message:
Matthew 1:18-25 - "Christmas + 1 Day"

Summary:
In the story of Jesus’ birth, we have learned about many of the fascinating people that God chose, that God used, and those who tried to thwart the plan of God.

In the gospel accounts, we learned about the prophetic ancestral lines concerning the coming Messiah. We learned about the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus’ birth. We learned about the miracle birth of the forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist, and his parents, Elizabeth (the cousin of Mary) and Zacharias, a priest. We learned about the Messenger of God, Gabriel, and his announcements not only to this couple, but to Mary, chosen to give birth to the Son of God. We learned about the Magi from the East, the miraculous Star. We learned about the wicked ruler Herod and his plot to kill Jesus, who is the true King of Israel. We learned about the Shepherds keeping flock at night. And we have learned about the virgin Mary, the annunciation to Mary, the name of the coming Messiah, the Holy Spirit coming upon her, and her visit to Elizabeth. We learned about Mary’s Magnificat in response to Elizabeth which gives praise to God for the great things He has done. The Magnificat proclaims God’s intervention in authentic human existence. It is a proclamation of the divine fulfillment of God’s Word.

But what about Joseph? He doesn’t get much of the spotlight in the Christmas story. What is often overlooked is Joseph’s part in Jesus’ birth. His faith and actions play a vital role in this story, and the ultimate plan of God.


Not much is said about Joseph in the Bible, but Matthew wrote about him, shedding light on what would have been a huge trial in the lives of a young couple about to marry.

Joseph was the son of Jacob. He was from Bethlehem in Judea but lived in Nazareth in Galilee. He is from the royal line of David according to Matthew chapter 1. He was a carpenter by trade. He was a poor man. He was a devout keeper of the Law. Though we don’t know how old Joseph was, most writers agree that he was a young man, probably a teenager, which makes his role in Jesus’ birth quite remarkable. He was betrothed to Mary, an arranged marriage in ancient Jewish custom, pledged to each other by a signed contract. Their betrothal would last a year before being formally married in a public wedding ceremony. Joseph would become the stepfather of Jesus.

We have this young couple who were as good as married, and Mary turns up pregnant, but Jospeh is not the father. We can only imagine what that conversation was like, how he felt, or what was going through his mind. What a predicament! What a trial! What will people say? What will he do?

The greatness of Jospeh is this, that he loved God, he loved Mary, and his love covered what appeared to be her shame. He was an observant Jew who kept the law, and He was a righteous man, meaning he wanted to do what was right in the eyes of God. While he did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he thought about putting her away privately – a divorce, the breaking off of their agreement by legal means.

Enter the angel of the Lord. An angel of the Lord appears to Jospeh in a dream. He is told not to be afraid to take Mary home as his wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

While this might seem strange to most, it was not strange to Joseph. In the Bible, God spoke to people through dreams, Joseph knew this. To Jospeh, this was the assurance he needed. God meets Joseph in this trial, at the point of his deepest need, and precisely at the right time.

As the Lord does with all of His own, fear is replaced with confidence. Joseph doubts replaced with faith and trust in His God.

The angel tells Joseph that Mary will give birth to a son, and that he is to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.

When Jospeh woke up, he did exactly as the angel of the Lord commanded him to do. He married her quickly and protected her reputation. He kept her a virgin until Jesus was born, protecting the miracle of Jesus’ conception by the Holy Spirit, and the fulfillment of prophecy. He names the baby Jesus at His birth and raises Him as his own.

As believers we are faced with many trials in our lives. What we need to understand is that God is working in our lives, just as He did in the lives of Mary and Joseph. God has a plan for our lives as well. We may not have been chosen to bear the Son of God, but whatever He has chosen us to do, He equips us for, and enables us to do by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit in our lives.

The purpose of trials in our lives are to teach us to trust God more, that we may grow in faith. We need to know God more, and we need to know Him better, and we do this by experiencing more of His love and compassion in our lives. More of His grace and mercy. More of His forgiveness and more of His instruction, by His Word.

Those things that we learn, we are to show to others. We need to be encouragers and we need to build up the body of Christ. How can we do that unless we ourselves are first open to what He wants to do in our lives. Too many people are busy running around making their own plans for their lives. Have you considered what God wants to do in and through you? What His plans are for you?

Thankfully Joseph was a righteous man, who yielded himself to God. He loved God. He listened to God’s messenger and did precisely as he was shown. Because of this, he was blessed, Mary was blessed, as was all of mankind.

God knows what He is doing. His plans are from the beginning. He has given us His Word and every detail of every word will be fulfilled
.


Celebrating Jesus!



A Christmas Bobservation –
Pastor Bob Lawrenz

Merry Christmas to all of you, as we celebrate Jesus’ birth. I read a couple of weeks ago that the Church did not celebrate Christmas until about 400 A.D. Well, it was 336 A.D in the fourth century. There are several theories as to how December 25th was identified as the date of Jesus’ birth, but none of them definitively rise to the level of being verifiably authentic.

During the first two hundred years of the Church, the Church Fathers disdained the pagan custom of celebrating birthdates, particularly those of Church Martyrs, much less that of Jesus Himself. If they were to be remembered, it would be better to acknowledge the dates of their sacrifice. But in 221 A.D. things changed.

Sextus Julius Africanus, (b. circa AD 180, Jerusalem—d. circa 250), was the first Christian historian known to produce a chronology that was universally accepted. His life is not well documented, but evidence indicates that Africanus traveled considerably in Asia, Egypt, and Italy and later lived chiefly at Emmaus, in Palestine, where he served as Prefect. He was named Regional Ambassador to Rome about 222, when Emperor Severus Alexander made him a protégé.

Africanus’ greatest work in chronologies was Chronographiai (221), a treatise of five volumes on sacred and profane history from the Creation (which he placed at 5499 BC) to AD 221. Relying on the Bible as the basis of his calculations, he incorporated and synchronized Egyptian and Chaldaean chronologies, Greek mythology, and Judaic history with Christianity. His work raised the prestige of early Christianity by placing it within a historical context. He also developed the critical work on Jesus’ genealogies we now find in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.


It is most likely Africanus’ work that convinced many to use December 25th as Jesus’’ birthdate. But there still remains an absence of scriptural authentication, in spite of Africanus’ work. But all his work centered around God’s Word, and His Word-Made-Flesh, who dwelled among us, Jesus the Christ, Messiah and Redeemer.

Other lesser-known theories likewise lack scriptural proof, and but as the Gospel spread around the world from that first Pentecost after the Resurrection, Christmas has been celebrated in as many different ways as there are nations and cultures where Christianity gained a foothold. Each adapted the celebration according to their own cultures.

Today in 2021, here in the United States, the celebration of Christmas is so far from being a celebration of Jesus’ birth as to be unrecognizable to the early Church Fathers as a holy religious celebration, except in some churches.

Flashing lights, parties, and gifts for all the kiddies give the day the atmosphere of secular Reno, or Las Vegas, Nevada. Our nation’s roots in Judeo-Christian principles have come further and further away from those principles over the decades as God and His Commandments have been barred from the schools of our children, as well as the halls of government.

As we do celebrate Christmas this year, many of our neighbors will merely be exchanging presents without necessarily being believers. Of twenty houses on my street, I know of only two others besides mine whose owners attend church every week.

Growing up in the 40’s and 50’s, I recall 60% or more of those on my street attended a church or synagogue of some kind. Religion is in decline. Churches are on a decline. Faith itself is in decline. Yet Christ Jesus still reigns and rules on His throne in heaven. How do I know this?

I know this because His prophecies are still coming true, and all will be fulfilled in His time. Even this temporary decline is prophesied!

Keep Jesus at the core of this celebration. And as for December 25th? Celebrate Jesus every day!

“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” 
Matthew 24:35 / Mark 13:31 / Luke 21:33

On this Christmas Eve,

Let this be a silent night.

Let this be a Holy Night.

Jesus has already been born!




Ref. Encyclopedia Britanica


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