So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.
-Matthew 1:17 (NASB)
I’m beginning another trek through Matthew and stopped for a bit today to think about the long list of names that begin his Gospel. Patriarchs, kings, ordinary folks, and some notable women run through this genealogy. Lists of names, which are found so often in the Old Testament but much less so in the New, don’t on the surface seem to make for great reading. But I look at these names with a bit of wonder; fallen men and women, some with great but flawed makeups (Abraham, David, Solomon), others with lives that resembled the thief on the cross (Manasseh). In The Gospel of the Kingdom, C.H. Spurgeon remarked, “We will not pry into the mystery of the incarnation, but we must wonder at the condescending grace which appointed our Lord such a pedigree.” All of these share in the long line of God’s faithfulness – a promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12 that in him, “all the families of the earth will be blessed”; to David in 2 Samuel 7 that “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.” Promises separated by hundreds of years …and I find it greatly humbling that now thousands of years later, this long and winding road now puts we who belong to God in this same story.
It’s difficult not to feel a mix of emotions when thinking about each of the names in Matthew 1:1-17 – frustration, anger, sadness, pity. It’s also easy to look at my own life and feel the exact same things. But this genealogy that Matthew preserves for us reminds us that all of us – sinful, wretched, and fallen as we all are, all who come to Christ -by grace through faith- can be assured that He will in no way cast them out (John 6:37). All of us can then rightly take our place in this grand story and be assured He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
I’m on vacation this week and trying to catch up on reading. It took me just two days to finish Matthew Harmon’s new book, Asking the Right Questions: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Applying the Bible. I found Harmon’s book a helpful guide to reading, interpreting, and applying the Bible. Harmon begins with a flyover guide to the Bible based on six pieces – creation, crisis, covenants, Christ, church, and consummation. He then spends the majority of the book on developing the right questions to ask in our Bible reading. I found his discussion of the “fallen condition” vs. the “gospel solution” especially good. He provides an outline at the end of the book that summarizes his main discussion on understanding and applying the Bible, which would be good to print out and keep in your Bible.
Overall, this is a good resource for getting a grasp of the Bible’s big picture and tools for understanding and application. You can watch Harmon discuss his book below:
This week I returned to reading one of the Puritans – John Flavel (1628?-1691). I had first read Flavel a little over six years ago and his work called Facing Grief: Counsel for Mourners. I read this a few weeks after my dad passed away in 2010 and don’t think I was ready for the counsel at the time. But I’ve heard enough good things about Flavel since and decided it was time to return to his writings. Sinclair Ferguson counts Flavel and Thomas Watson as perhaps the two easiest Puritans to read. He may be right.
The Fountain of Life is described as a series of 42 of Flavel’s sermons that “…display Christ in his essential and mediatorial glory”. I’m only three sermons in but am grateful for the things that Flavel has opened my eyes to already. The first sermon, titled “The Excellency of the Subject”, uses 1 Corinthians 2:2 as its basic text. I would summarize Flavel’s message in this sermon as understanding that there is no knowledge so great as that of Christ and knowing Him. Flavel asks us to compare the excellency of knowing Christ to the mere natural things of this world: “O how much time is spent in other studies, in vain discourses, frivolous pamphlets, worldly employments. How little is the search and study of Jesus Christ.” I have to say this is a daily struggle for me – it is always tempting to latch on to the “low hanging fruit” that comes through my phone notifications, breaking news, sports updates, and other areas. These pass through my mind as easily as they come in, but they can still consume a great deal of time. Flavel warns of this danger: “O beware, lest the dust of the earth, getting into your eyes, so blind you, that you never see the beauty or necessity of Christ.”
Something else I found helpful from Flavel – his belief that we should always strive to see how the essential truths of Christianity fit together, like a fine watch, rather than just seeing the individual wheels and pieces and struggling to make sense of the greater themes. Meditating on 1 Corinthians 2:2 is important here: “Even so the right knowledge of Jesus Christ, like a clue, leads you through the whole labyrinth of the Scriptures.” I tend to get bogged down in bits and pieces, especially when reading the Old Testament. Flavel’s encouragement here is something that may fit well in the flyleaf of our Bibles.
I’m glad to have returned to the writings of John Flavel. I hope to write more as I progress through this work.
“In a commendable concern to do justice to the reality of the satanic order, and the seriousness of the Christian calling, we need to be alert to appearing to undermine Christ’s universal creative sovereignty and Easter victory. ‘Never forget’, as Luther said, ‘the devil is God’s devil.’ All authority in heaven and earth now belongs to the crucified and risen one (Mt. 28: 18), in vindication of his primeval creative mastery. The full demonstration of his rule awaits his appearing, but its reality is already proclaimed in both creation and redemption.”
“Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from your law.” – Psalm 119:18 (NASB)
I find that whenever my Bible reading goes into a rut that turning to Psalm 119 is a great tonic. Here we find 176 verses that meditate on the wonder of God’s Word. The psalmist asks God to open his eyes in the verse above, and I find this to be a great prayer as I open my Bible.
In the 8th chapter of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus and His disciples come to Bethsaida, where Jesus heals a blind man. After Jesus spits on his eyes and lays hands on him, the man sees partially and states in verse 24, “I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around.” Then Jesus lays His hands on him again, and the man’s sight is restored in full. I’ve often wondered why this healing takes place in two stages. But I can identify with the man after he is healed partially. There are so many things that I see and focus my time on that are of no lasting value, yet many of God’s truths seem cloudy. God’s truths seem like those hazy trees, and then it’s only after allowing God’s Word to penetrate through the mist that I can see again and remember His great promises. The longer I go without focusing on God’s Word intently – as the psalmist does so extensively in Psalm 119 – the hazier it is when I try to see. Verse 18 from this wonderful Psalm, and the account in Mark 8, reminds me of the importance of this.
“In the forest on the high banks of the river Aar, just outside the town, there is a bench where you can sit and enjoy an unusually good view of the Alps. But the clearing which makes this view possible is continually being overgrown and the trees have to be cut back every few years. In the same way, our view of grace is constantly being obscured by the cares of our time and the riches of the world, so that it is necessary to have our view of grace cleared not only every few years, but Sunday after Sunday, indeed even daily.”
“In personal terms, true religion is to respond fully to the grace and law of God, living out the law in a life of obedience, resting on the grace both for ability and forgiveness; towards God, true religion is a reverent hearing and receiving of His Word; and towards other people it appears as honesty, considerateness and unfailing concern for the needy. Take these things away and what remains does nothing more than invite the adverse judgment of God.”