COMMITTED to train men and women
to have minds for the Lord Jesus,
hearts for the truth, and
hands that are skilled to the task.

The Gospel of Matthew

THERE ARE TWO PLANS

JESUS CAME TO PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM.

Chuck Swindoll in his commentary on this text writes:
“For many years, faulty information had been taught by the religious aristocracy. With unquestioned authority, these religious leaders twisted the meaning of Holy Scripture, offered interpretations that were simply wrong, and demanded applications that were frankly impossible. Not content to let God’s Word speak for itself, they added to the commandments of God and required that everyone obey their additions without hesitation.
When Jesus sat down and delivered His illustrious Sermon on the Mount, jaws must have dropped as His audience heard an entirely different interpretation, delivered in an entirely different mode of communication.”

Dr. Michael Heiser in his book “Supernatural” writes:
“Though Eden was lost, God intends that it be restored. Ultimately, his rule – his kingdom – will return in its full scope when Jesus comes back and God creates a new heaven and earth (one that, in Revelation 21 and 22 looks a lot like Eden.)
In the meantime, we can spread the truth of God and the gospel of Jesus everywhere. We can also represent God to everyone we meet and in every place. We are God’s agents to restore Eden in the here and now, looking forward to the day when Jesus brings that plan to a climax.”

John Stott says it this way in his commentary on Matthew:
“Christian righteousness is greater than pharisaic righteousness because it is deeper, being a righteousness of the heart.
The righteousness which is pleasing to him is an inward righteousness of MIND AND MOTIVE.”

AN EXCITING OPPORTUNITY

Then, Jesus makes these remarkable statements:
• You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
• You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.
• In the same way, LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE BEFORE OTHERS, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Remember, Jesus spoke these words to a crowd that has lost hope. It is easy to lose hope when things don’t look good and uncertainty and fear is dominating our very lives.

Mark Sayers in his book “The Disappearing Church” has a chapter titled:
Creative Minorities: Going Deep
“The huge tree wins the race by doing something counterintuitive. While the others fight for space, air, and light, it goes underground. While the others head upwards pushing through the surface, it goes deep. While the others pursue, visibility at the expense of stability, the tree remains underground, hidden, building powerful roots. The deep underground foundation grown by the tree ensure that it is connected to deep and unseen sources of water, nutrients, and life. Once these are secured, growth can then happen.
The tree is willing to lose the initial battles in order to win the war.”
“In our culture, which corrodes and seduces us, which erodes commitments, faith, and covenant, we need to be like the tree. The response to a culture built on superficiality, which reduces the world to a shallow secularity, is depth. We need sources of life and sustenance not found in the adulation or respect of the public. In our culture which rips at roots, which tears at foundations, we need depth, we need roots, and we need foundations.”

Richard Foster once said:
“The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.”

CHRISTIAN COUNTER-CULTURE

This account shows everyone is living the same life on Instagram by Cara Curtis —
“When scrolling through your Instagram feed, do you ever feel like you’re getting déjà vu? This is probably because people seem to be living the same life on Instagram.
Whether it’s a perfectly shot piece of avocado toast alongside an artistic looking latte or a breathtaking image of someone jumping from a waterfall, it’s been done before. A million times.
Long before over-sharing online was a normal thing to do, humans have always been attracted to tourist destinations to capture the perfect photograph.
I think we’re all guilty of it to some extent, but now, instead of taking home a gift shop souvenir and relaying your trip to your close friends, people post every detail of their lives online to hundreds of followers who they may not necessarily even know.
Because of this urge to document our lives in real time, originality is becoming a thing of the past and a new-age of copycatting is creeping up on us.”

Before we go to our text, let me read from a chapter titled “the Instagram Life”
“Every society has a way of transmitting its values to the young. Some societies do it through religious festivals or military parades. One of the ways we do it is through a secular sermon called the commencement address……Many young people are graduating into limbo. Floating and plagued by uncertainty, they want to know what specifically they should do with their lives. So, we hand them
• THE GREAT EMPTY BOX OF FREEDOM.
The purpose of life is to be free. Freedom leads to happiness! We’re not going to impose anything on you or tell you what to do. We give you your liberated self to explore. Enjoy your freedom!
The students in the audience put down the empty box because they are drowning in freedom. What they’re looking for is DIRECTION. What is freedom for? How do I know which path is my path?
So we hand them another big box of nothing –
• THE BIG BOX OF POSSIBILITY!
Your future is limitless! You can do anything you set your mind to! The journey is the destination! Take risks! Be audacious! Dream big! But this mantra doesn’t help, either. If you don’t know what your life is for, how does it help to be told that your future is limitless? That just ups the pressure. So they put down that empty box. They are looking for a SOURCE OF WISDOM. Where can I find the answers to my big questions.
So, we hand them
• THE EMPTY BOX OF AUTHENTICITY.
Look inside yourself! Find your true inner passion. You are amazing! Awaken the giant within! Live according to your own true way! You do you!
This is useless too. The “you” we tell them to consult for life’s answers is the very thing that hasn’t yet formed. So they put down that empty box and ask, “What can I devote myself to? What cause will inspire me and give meaning and direction to my life?”
At this point we hand them
• THE EMPTIEST BOX OF ALL – THE BOX OF AUTONOMY.
You are on your own, we tell them. It’s up to you to define your own values, No one else can tell you what’s right or wrong for you. Your truth is to be found in your own way through your own story that you tell about yourself. Do what you love!
You will notice that our answers take all the difficulties of living in your twenties and make them worse. The graduates are in limbo, and we give them uncertainty. They want to know why they should do this as opposed to that. And we have nothing to say except. Figure it out yourself based on no criteria outside yourself. They are floundering in a formless desert. Not only over their heads.

David Brooks “The Second Mountain – The quest for a Moral Life”
The author summarizes the big SIM TO NOWHERE with these words:
“The average American has seven jobs over the course of their twenties. A third of recent college graduates are unemployed, underemployed, or making less then $ 30,000 a year at any given moment. Half feel they have no plan for their life.
These are peak years for alcoholism and drug addiction. People in this life stage move every three years. 40% move back in with their parents at least once. They are much less likely to attend religious services or join a political party. People in their odyssey years tend to be dementedly optimistic about the long-term future. 96% of 18-24-olds agree with the statement “I AM VERY SURE THAT SOMEDAY I WILL GET TO WHERE I WANT TO BE IN LIFE.”
But the present is marked by wandering, loneliness, detachment, doubt, underemployment, heartbreaks, and bad bosses, while their parents go slowly insane.”

You still don’t believe it; let me give you one more example written by the same author:
“When enough people are going through this phase at once, you end up with a society in which everything is flux. You end up with what the Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman calls “liquid modernity.” In the age of the smartphone, the friction costs involved in making or braking any transaction or relationship approach zero. The Internet is commanding you to click on and sample one thing after another. Living online often means living in a state of diversion. When you’re living in diversion you’re not actually deeply interested in things; you’re just bored at a more frenetic pace. Online life is saturated with decommitment devices. If you can’t focus your attention for thirty seconds, how on earth are you going to commit for life?
Such is life in the dizziness of freedom. Nobody quite knows where they stand with one another. Everybody is pretty sure that other people are doing life better. Comparison is the robber of joy.”
“You know that at some point you should sit down and find some overall direction for life. But the mind wants to wander from the meaty big questions, which are completely daunting and unanswerable, to the diverting candy right on your phone – the tiny dopamine lift.”
All of this points in one direction; INTO THE DITCH. Political freedom is great. But personal, social, and emotional freedom – when it becomes an ultimate end – absolutely sucks. It leads to a random, busy life with no discernible direction, no firm foundation, and in which, as Marx put it, all that’s solid melts to air. It turns out that freedom isn’t an ocean you want to spend your life in. Freedom is a river you want to get across so you can plant yourself on the other side – and fully commit to something.”

Dallas Willard in his book “Divine Conspiracy” writes:
“Perhaps many people will find that they are already humble. Just be humble, they say. But such a way of reading the beatitudes also gives various other kinds of people automatic access to the kingdom of heaven in terms nicely suited to them – especially if they have a distant God and not a present King. If they are not in a position to be humble, they perhaps can mange to mourn, or be meek, or become persecuted, and then one of the other Beatitudes will, on the interpretation in question, take over to secure their blessedness.

THINGS ARE ABOUT TO CHANGE

Dallas Willard in “The Divine Conspiracy”
Bar-Code Faith
Think of the bar codes now used on goods in most stores. The scanner responds only to the bar code. It makes no difference what is in the bottle or package that bears it, or whether the sticker is on the ‘right’ one or not. The calculator responds through its electronic eye to the bar code and totally disregards everything else. If the ice cream sticker is on the dog food, the dog food is ice cream, so far as the scanner knows or cares.
On a recent radio program a prominent minister spent fifteen minutes enforcing the point that ‘justification’, the forgiveness of sins, involves no change at all in the heart of personality of the one forgiven. It is, he insisted, something entirely external to you, located wholly in God himself.
His intent was to emphasize the familiar Protestant point that salvation is by God’s grace only and is totally independent of what we may do. But what he in fact said was that being a Christian has nothing to do with the kind of person you are. The implications of this teaching are stunning.
The theology of Christian trinkets says there is something about the Christian that works like the bar code. Some rituals, some belief, or some association with a group affects God the way the bar code affects the scanner. Perhaps there has occurred a moment of mental assent to a creed, or an association entered into with a church. God ‘scans’ it, and forgiveness floods forth. An appropriate amount of righteousness is shifted from Christ’s account to our account in the bank of heaven, and all our debts are paid. We are, accordingly, ‘saved’. Our guilt is erased. How could we not be Christians?
For some Christian groups the ‘account’ has to be appropriately serviced to keep the debts paid up, because we really are not perfect. For others – some strong Calvinist groups – every debt past, present and future is paid for at the initial scan. But the essential thing in either case is the forgiveness of sins. And the pay-off for having faith and being ‘scanned’ comes at death and after. Life now being lived has no necessary connection with being a Christian as long as the ‘bar code’ does its job.

R.T. France in his commentary gives us the answer:
“These large “crowds” are said to “follow” Jesus, the same term which in verses 20 and 22 denoted the first disciples’ total change of lifestyle….
A radical commitment to accompany Jesus.
Yet as the narrative progresses, we shall find only a few who are Jesus’ constant and committed companions, while a less easily defined “crowd” comes and goes. This wider group represents a pool of possible “full-time” recruits, but generally their “following” seems to be more sporadic and temporary.
The verb “follow” alone is not therefore a sufficient indication of full-scale discipleship. Mark 3:7-8 is perhaps more exact in describing this interprovincial crowd as simply “coming to” Jesus.”

Michael Heiser in “Supernatural” writes:
“The members of God’s family have a mission: to be God’s agents in restoring his good rule on earth and expanding the membership of his family. We are God’s means to propel the great reversal begun in Acts 2, the birth of the church, the body of Christ, until the time when the Lord returns.
As evil had spread like a contagion through humanity after the failure of the first Eden, so the gospel spreads like an antidote through the same infected host. We are CARRIERS of the truth about the God of gods, his love for all nations, and his unchanging desire to dwell with his family in the earthly home he has wanted since its creation. Eden will live again.
Everything we do and say matters, though we may never know why or how. But our job isn’t to see – it’s to do. Walking by faith isn’t passive – its purposeful.”

THE NAZARETH MANIFESTO

Christopher Wright in his book “The Mission of God”, writes:
“The reign of YHWH, when it would finally come, would mean justice for the oppressed and the overthrow of the wicked. It would bring true peace to the nations and the abolition of war, the means of war, and training for war. It would put an end to poverty, want and need, and provide everyone with economic viability (under the metaphor “under his own vine and fig tree”). It would mean satisfying and fulfilling life for human families, safety for children, and fulfillment for the elderly, without danger from enemies, and all of this within a renewed creation free from harm and threat. It would mean the inversion of the moral values that dominate the current world order, for in the kingdom of God the upside down priorities of the beatitudes operate and the Magnificat is not just wishful thinking.”

J.D. Green in his book “Christology in Cultural Perspective”
“As Jesus stood on trial before the highest political-religious authority in all Jewish society, he calmly took to himself the identity of the “Daniel’s Son of Man”, whose authority would ultimately overthrow the beast of oppressive and persecuting powers (Daniel 7).
No wonder the chief priest tore his robes and cried blasphemy. It just won’t do when the chief priest is cast in the role of chief beast. Jesus’ radical claims and teachings were not just bursting old wineskins; they were enough to burst some political blood vessels.”
Matthew 4:17
From that day Jesus began TO PREACH, saying: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

John McArthur in his commentary on this verse writes:
“Jesus preached His message with certainty. He did not come to dispute or to argue, but to proclaim, TO PREACH. Preaching is the proclamation of certainties, not the suggestion of possibilities.”
“Repent involves a change of opinion, or direction, of life itself. To repent is to have a radical change of heart and will – and, consequently, of behavior.”

Christopher Wright writes:
“A change of political or economic or geographical landscape, a change of government, a change of social status may all be beneficial in themselves, but they will be of no eternal benefit unless the spiritual goals of exodus are also met. So to change people’s social or economic status without leading them to saving faith and obedience to God in Christ leads no further than the wilderness or the exile, both places of death.”

DO YOU BELIEVE?

Carmen Joy Imes in her book “Bearing God’s Name” writes:
“Matthew’s gospel breaks neatly into five blocks of teaching, mimicking the five books of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).
These five blocks of teaching are preceded by an introductory story in which Jesus’ life is in danger because King Herod, like Pharaoh, is killing Jewish babies. To escape, his parents take him to Egypt. It’s an inside-out Exodus story. When the coast is clear, they return to Palestine, retracting Israel’s journey from Egypt to the promised land. Next, we fast forward to Jesus’ adulthood, where he passes through the waters of baptism in the Jordan, reminding us of Israel’s crossing both the Red Sea and the Jordan.
After this, Jesus is sent by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days, where he reenacts Israel’s wilderness wanderings.”

Baptism does not produce salvation in this text, Rather, it corresponds to something that does, THE DEATH OF JESUS (v 19) and the RESURRECTION (v 21)
“Baptism saves” if one makes a decision; a pledge of loyalty oath,
a public proclamation of who is on the Lord’s side in the cosmic war between good and evil.
Every Baptism is therefore a reiteration of the past and future doom of the Watchers in the wake of the gospel and the kingdom of God.
Early Christians understood the typology of this passage and its link back to 1 Enoch and Genesis 6:1-4.
This is why early baptismal formulas included a renunciation of Satan and his angels. Baptism was anything but routine. It was a symbol of spiritual warfare.” Dr. Michael Heiser “Reversing Hermon”

Who is Azazel?
We find the Biblical text in Leviticus 16:7-10
“And Aaron shall take the two goats, and he shall present them before Yahweh at the tent of assembly’s entrance. Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for Yahweh and one for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot for Yahweh fell, and he shall sacrifice it as a sin offering. But the must present alive before Yahweh the goat on which the lot for Azazel fell to make atonement for himself, to send it away into the desert to Azazel.”

R.T. France
“His Father is testing him in the school of privation, and his triumphant rebuttal of the devil’s suggestions will ensure that the filial bond can survive in spite of the conflict that lies ahead.”

Dr. Michael Heiser in the “Unseen Realm” makes this comment about that temptation:
“Had Jesus given in, it would have been an acknowledgment that Satan’s permission was needed to possess the nations. It wasn’t. Satan presumed power and ownership of something that, ultimately, was not his but God’s. The messaging behind Jesus’ answer is clear: Yahweh will take the nations back by his own means in his own time. He doesn’t need them to be given away in a bargain. Jesus was loyal to his Father.”

A NEW BEGINNING

Christopher Wright in his book “The mission of God” asks the question:
“How big is our Gospel? If our gospel is the good news about God’s redemption, then the question moves on to, “How big is our UNDERSTANDING OF REDEMPTION?
Where do we turn in the Bible for our understanding of redemption?
If you would have asked a devout Israelite in the Old Testament period “Are you redeemed?” the answer would have been a most definite yes. And if you had asked “How do you know?” you would be taken aside to sit down somewhere while your friend recounted a long and exciting story – THE STORY OF EXODUS.”
Christopher Wright is referring to Exodus 6:6: Say therefore to the people of Israel, “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will REDEEM you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.

Repent is not a feeling, repent is an ACTION.
Repentance speaks of a CHANGE OF DIRECTION,
NOT A SORROW OF HEART.

Michael Heiser in “Unseen Realm» comments on this chapter:
“In Isaiah 40:1 we learn that God is the speaker. He issues four commands. All four commands are grammatically plural in Hebrew. That means that Yahweh is commanding A GROUP. The group cannot be Israelites or a collective Israel, since it is Israel that Yahweh is commanding the group to comfort, speak to, and call. You should know the identity of the group by now: THE DIVINE COUNCIL.”

“In response to the commands in Isaiah 40:1-2, a lone response comes:
A VOICE IS CALLING IN THE WILDERNESS, “CLEAR THE WAY OF YAHWEH! MAKE A HIGHWAY SMOOTH IN THE DESERT FOR OUR GOD!” (Isaiah 40:3)

Michael Heiser comments on this scene:
“Like the prophet of old, John the Baptist has “stood in the council and answered the call. To a Jew familiar with the Old Testament, the pattern would not be lost. As had been the case at the time of Isaiah, Yahweh’s council had met in regard to the fate of an apostate Israel. Isaiah had been sent to a spiritually blind and deaf nation. The calling of John the Baptist tells the reader that Yahweh’s Divine Council is in session again, only this time the aim is TO LAUNCH THE KINGDOM OF GOD WITH THE SECOND YAHWEH, NOW INCARNATE, AS ITS POINT MAN.”

FEARLESS LIVING

“It is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and what not. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.
It’s because he is smart.”
The reported asked: “So what’s he doing now?”
Scalia replied: “What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.” Antonin Scalia

In May 2016 the GUARDIAN, a highly respected British daily news, published this report:
“We live with an epidemic of anxiety. In 1980, 4 percent of Americans suffered a mental disorder associated with anxiety. Today half do. The trends in Britain are similar. A third of Britons will experience anxiety disorder at some stage in their life, with an explosion of reported anxiety among teenagers and young adults. Anxiety, depression, self-harm, attention deficit disorder and profound eating problems afflict our young as never before.
Anxiety has always been part of the human condition – as has depression and tendencies to self-harm – but never, it seems, on this scale. A number of trends appear to be colliding. This is an era when everyone is expected to find their personal route to happiness at the same time as the bonds of society, faith and community – tried and tested mechanisms to support wellbeing – are fraying. Teenagers in particular – fearful of missing out – are beset by a myriad of agonizing choices about how to achieve the good life with fewer social and psychological anchors to help them navigate their way. Who can blame them if they respond with an ever rising sense of anxiety, if not panic?”

THE HOPE FOR THE NATIONS

Carmen Joy Imes “Bearing God’s Name”
“The Israelites lived in a time when people were desperate to know what the gods were saying. Since the god’s didn’t normally SPEAK audibly as you and I do, priests were trained to read the signs they left in the natural world. Sometimes they manufactured situations in which the gods could reveal things to them, such as the elaborate rituals in which they dropped oil or flour into water and interpreted the results. They sacrificed animals and studied their livers or intestines for clues what the gods were thinking or what they would do next.
They watched for strange births of newborn animals with defects. THEY STUDIED THE STARS. They contacted the dead, doing whatever it took to forecast the future or discern the will of the gods. An answer was not guaranteed. Sometimes they simply could not figure out what the gods wanted.”

Barclay’s in his commentary on Matthew writes:
The Magi were originally a Median tribe. The Medes were part of the Empire of the Persians; they tried to overthrow the Persians and to substitute the power of the Medes. The attempt failed. From that time the Magi ceased to have any ambitions for power or prestige and became a tribe of priests. They became in Persia almost exactly what the Levites were in Israel. They became the teachers and instructors of the Persian Kings. In Persia no sacrifice could be offered unless one of the Magi was present. They became men of holiness and wisdom.
These Magi were men who were skilled in philosophy, medicine and natural science. They were soothsayers and interpreters of dreams.
In those ancient days all men believed in astrology. They believed that they could foretell the future from the stars, and they believed that a man’s destiny was settled by the star under which he was born.
It was not difficult to see how that belief arose. The stars pursue their unvarying courses; they represent the order of the universe.
If then there suddenly appeared some brilliant star, if the unvarying order of the heavens was broken by some special phenomenon, it did look as if God was breaking into His own order and announcing some special thing.”
It may seem to us extraordinary that these men should set out from the East to find a king, but the strange thing is that, just about the time when Jesus was born, there was in the world a strange feeling of expectation, a waiting for the coming of a king. Even the Roman historians knew about this.”
Suetonius in the “LIFE OF VESPASIAN” writes:
“There had spread over all the Orient an old and established belief, that it was fated at that time for men coming from Judea to rule the world”
Tacitus in “Histories” writes:
“there was a firm persuasion that at this very time the East was to grow powerful, and rulers coming from Judea were to acquire universal empire.”
Josephus in “Wars of the Jews” writes:
“The Jews had the belief that about that time one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth.”

Pastor Tom Doyle in his book “Dream’s and Visions”

According to BibleArcheology.org:
“Since the early days of Christianity, Biblical scholars and theologians have offered varying interpretations of the meaning and significance of the gold, frankincense and myrrh that the magi presented to Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew (2:11). These valuable items were standard gifts to honor a king or deity in the ancient world: gold as a precious metal, frankincense as perfume or incense, and myrrh as anointing oil.
In fact, these same three items were apparently among the gifts, recorded in ancient inscriptions, that King Seleucus II Callinicus offered to the god Apollo at the temple in Miletus in 243 B.C.E.
The Book of Isaiah, when describing Jerusalem’s glorious restoration, tells of nations and kings who will come and ‘bring gold and frankincense and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.’” (Isaiah 60:6)