Monday, March 17, 2014

A Brief Update

Things have been incredibly busy here in the Netherlands, both in the Stewart household and at Tyndale. It is, however, the best busyness I have ever experienced! God is at work all around us. We will probably wait until after the baby is born to put together an official newsletter with pictures but I wanted to mention a few things now.

On the home-front we have been battling some form of flu for over two weeks now. All six of us went down with it; the boys are back on their feet and Jenny and I are on our way back to full health. Jenny's mom arrived from the airport this morning! She will be here for two months to help with the birth of the baby (two weeks or so from now)!

I spent the first two Sunday's in March preaching at a Ghanian church plant here in Amsterdam. I was translated into a Ghanian dialect and the style of worship brought me back to past mission trips to Africa. The services went very well and it was exciting for me to see the vibrancy and faith of one immigrant community here in the Netherlands. I am scheduled to preach at two different churches between now and May so please pray for this ministry in the local church.

At Tyndale the spring classes are going full-swing; I am teaching four days a week and spending every spare minute preparing for the classes. The morning Greek-reading discipleship group is thriving and we have around five students that voluntarily meet with me every morning for 45 minutes to read and discuss the Greek NT! This is a level of discipleship ministry beyond anything I have heard of or observed in the U.S. Please pray for these students as their hunger for the word of God drives them to pursue God in his word in this intensive way in addition to their normal studies!

Please also continue to pray for a healthy and safe delivery; we will update soon after the baby arrives! Also, please email us with any prayer concerns or needs you may have.

A Risky Faith: Mary's Response

Luke records the angelic announcement to Mary about Jesus' virgin birth. Mary’s final response to Gabriel epitomizes the response of a true disciple: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Mary’s world was about to be turned upside down; everything was about to change. She had no way of knowing the future repercussions of the angel’s announcement or how she would be able to explain the pregnancy to Joseph and her other family members. Despite all the uncertainties and possible ways in which things could go terribly wrong and end in utter disaster, she chose to willingly submit to God’s plan. She was committed to God and God’s plan no matter what the personal sacrifice or cost. There is nothing in the narrative that indicates that believers should pray to Mary or that Mary gives grace from heaven, but there is every indication in the narrative that this young Jewish girl’s example of complete commitment and fearless submission should be followed by all who consider themselves Christians. How have you responded to God’s call on your life, whatever it might be? Have you withdrawn in fear of the uncertainties of the future and settled for a safe form of Christianity that requires little or no faith and entails little or no risk? That form of Christianity is both rampant and lifeless. What would it look like for you to step out in fearless faith in response to what you know to be God’s plan for your life? Consider Mary, a young, vulnerable Jewish girl whose entire future and hope for a normal life was jeopardized by God’s plan for her life. Mary did not draw back to protect herself and her future. She embraced God’s future and God’s desire for her life. What about you?

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Final Days of Jesus

I mentioned this book a few months ago and it is finally available for purchase (not just pre-order). It is designed for individuals, families, or small groups to read together in the week(s) leading up to Easter. Crossway has done an excellent job producing the book and I hope it will be a blessing to you. The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived

"He shall be called a Nazarene": The Use of Isaiah 11:1 in Matthew 2:23

Matthew concludes his discussion of Jesus’ infancy by noting that Jesus’ life in Nazareth fulfilled Scripture. “That what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’” (Matt. 2:23). This fulfillment quotation is instantly complicated by our inability to locate the source of the quotation in the Old Testament. The quotation itself is only two words in Greek, “Nazōraios klēthēsetai” (he will be called a Nazarene).

Several considerations come into play as we try to retrospectively understand how this made sense to Matthew and the earliest Christians. First, Matthew alerts us to the fact that it may not be an exact quotation of a single specific text by saying that it “was spoken by the prophets [plural]” (Matt. 2:23). This opens up the possibility that Matthew is referring to a prophetic theme found in multiple prophets that could best be communicated by the words “he will be called a Nazarene.”

Isaiah 11:1 states, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch [neṣer; nṣr in consonantal Hebrew] from his roots shall bear fruit.” There was a whole cluster of messianic texts related to a branch that, although using different Hebrew words, would have been associated with the branch (nṣr) of Isa. 11:1 by first century Jews and Christians (Isa. 4:2; 53:2; Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Zech. 3:8; 6:12). Although it is impossible to know with certainty the original Hebrew meaning of the name Nazareth (likely nṣrt) it likely was quite closely related to “branch” (nṣr) and an English translation might very well call it “Branchville” or “Branchtown.”

Matthew is thus making the following point with this final fulfillment quotation: Jesus’s association with Nazareth was not accidental but was planned by God in order that Jesus would be called a Nazarene, a confirmation of his identity as the prophesied and messianic Davidic branch of Isa. 11:1. This connection is further strengthened by the proximity of Isa. 11:1 with Isa. 7:14, the first fulfillment of Scripture quoted by Matthew in Jesus’s infancy narratives in Matt. 1:23. Matthew would have easily identified the promised branch of Isa. 11:1 with the promised birth of a son in Isa. 7:14 and Isa. 9:6. Nazareth was a small, obscure town (likely consisting of around 500 people) and nobody at the beginning of the 1st century associated it with the Messiah (see Nathanael’s dismissive remark in John 1:46) but looking backwards after the fact Matthew and the other earliest Christians recognized God’s providential care in causing the messianic branch to grow up in Branchville.

Monday, January 27, 2014

"Rachel weeping for her children": The Use of Jeremiah 31:15 in Matthew 2:18

Matthew indicates that Herod’s murderous actions unwittingly fulfilled Jeremiah’s words. “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more” (Jer. 31:15). Matthew’s use of this passage is very similar to what we saw in regard to Hos. 11:1 (see previous post). Jesus is typologically reliving the history of Israel.

Within its original context in the book of Jeremiah Jer. 31:15 is reflecting on the sorrow of the Babylonian exile. Ramah was a town about 5 miles north of Jerusalem that lay along the route that the exiles were forced to travel between Jerusalem and Babylon (Jer. 40:1). Rachel was buried near Bethlehem (Gen 35:19–20) and is poetically described in Jer. 31:15 as weeping over the loss and suffering of her descendants. Remarkably, Jeremiah 31 as a whole is not focused on sorrow but upon the joy and happiness that will fill God’s people during his future restoration and salvation. The sorrow of exile is remembered by way of contrast to the joy of the coming restoration and healing.

Matthew’s point seems to be that just as Israel went into exile in Babylon in a painful process that involved suffering and loss but would eventually result in the restoration of the entire nation, Jesus went into exile in Egypt in a painful process that again brought suffering and loss to Rachel’s descendants but would lead to the complete fulfillment of the restoration, healing, and salvation prophesied by Jeremiah in Jer. 31.

"I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Again I will build you, and you shall be built . . . for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn. . . . say 'He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.' For the Lord has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him. They shall come and sing aloud on the heights of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord . . . I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, declares the Lord. . . . There is hope for your future, declares the Lord. . . . For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish" (Jer. 31:3b-4a, 9c, 10b-12a, 13b-14, 17a, 25).

Even more significantly, Jer. 31 concludes with God's promise of the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-40).

Monday, January 20, 2014

"Out of Egypt I called my Son": Israel Rebooted in Her Messiah

Matthew concludes his brief discussion of Jesus’s flight to Egypt by pointing to the fulfillment of Scripture: “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Matt. 2:15 quoting Hos. 11:1). This is a very important fulfillment quotation. In addition to helping us understand one of the ways the earliest Christians interpreted the Old Testament it helps us understand the mission and purpose of Jesus.

The first obvious point to make is that this fulfillment is not what is normally understood as prediction-fulfillment. "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them" (Hos. 11:1–3).

Hosea 11:1 is not a forward looking prophecy; it instead looks backward to Israel’s history to make the painful point that even though God had called and treated Israel as a son they rejected him and worshipped idols. How can Matthew argue that Jesus’s early life in Egypt fulfilled a prophecy that was not even a prophecy? The key to answering this question lies in the ancient interpretive approach understood as typology. Typology basically boils down to correspondence in history. The earliest Christians looked to how God worked in the past in the Old Testament in order to understand how he was working in the present and how he would work in the future.

Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 in Matt. 2:15 draws a strong connection between Jesus and Israel; Jesus and Israel are typologically related. What is the significance of this typological relationship? Israel’s purpose in the Old Testament was to mediate God’s blessing, presence, and glory to the nations (Gen. 12:3; Ps. 67:1–7; 96:1–10; 145:10–12; Isa. 2:1–4; 56:7; 66:19; Zech. 8:23). God’s plan to bless the nations would be mediated through the seed of Abraham (Gen. 12:3). Israel failed in this purpose by rejecting God in favor of idolatry (Hos. 11:2–7) but God’s purpose and plan would not be thwarted.

In Matthew’s view God restarted or rebooted Israel in her Messiah Jesus. Jesus relived the history of Israel but instead of failing in the purpose to mediate God’s blessings to the nations Jesus succeeded in his sinless life and atoning death. You may not be familiar with thinking about Jesus as a second Israel but that is surely how Matthew understood him. Consider the following points. Why did Jesus choose twelve disciples (Matt. 10:1)? Why not eleven or thirteen? He was intentionally reconstituting the twelve tribes of Israel around himself with allegiance to himself as the foundational criteria. Why did Jesus fast and undergo forty days of temptation in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1–11)? Couldn’t the same thing have been accomplished in ten days or twenty? And why was it necessary to be tempted during this time? Jesus was reliving the history of Israel. Israel was tempted for forty years in the wilderness with food as a central point of temptation (Deut. 8:2–3; cf. Exod. 16:2–3; Ps. 78:17–32). Israel failed to trust God and complained and grumbled while Jesus passed the test and determined to depend upon God’s promises and word instead of taking the easy way out. Why did Jesus need to be baptized since he was without sin (Matt. 3:13–17)? He needed to fully and completely identify with his people as their representative. God confirmed Jesus’s role as a new Israel when the voice from heaven declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). The Old Testament clearly indicates that Israel was God’s chosen son (Exod. 4:22, 23; Jer. 31:9, 20; Hos. 11:1) but at the baptism God declares that Jesus would take upon himself Israel’s identity and mission.

Jesus’s identity as the new Israel brings us back to Matthew’s statement that Hosea 11:1 was fulfilled in Jesus’s early (albeit short) time in Egypt. Hosea 11:1 is not prophetic or Messianic in any normal or obvious sense but becomes such by reflecting on the history of Israel that Jesus was reliving. Hosea 11:1 is a particularly useful summary of this stage of Israel’s history because it speaks of Israel as a child and calls Israel “son.” Jesus, as God’s son representing the new Israel, relived Israel’s history in miniature and reconstituted the new people of God through the witness of the twelve disciples based upon allegiance to Jesus as the son of God and Israel’s true king. Matthew can thus rightly write “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’” (Matt. 2:15b).