Discern Before Judging | Dr.Chip Bennett
Discern Before Judging
Before I get going, I wanted to make sure of something. Christmas on Main is one of the biggest things that we do here at Grace. I just want to encourage you, if you have not signed up to volunteer, please do so. I'm telling you it is worthwhile. So, here's the real pitch. If you want to go to heaven, go online and sign up. Just kidding. I'm just playing. But I think you would enjoy it if you did. It's a great way to connect. So, please, if you just think about it, I think it would be something that would be worthwhile for you and your family.
So, that being said, I wish, in some ways, especially during these times and the Christmas season, that I could get us all in a time capsule — for some of us who remember the DeLorean. I wish we could go back. We’ve got a couple people here that remember that. Okay. I wish we could go back to the first century. If we could, we would learn a few things that I think would be important to our understanding of the Christmas story. First of all, we would learn that Judaism was not monolithic. There was a lot of diversity within Judaism. It wasn't like there was one way in which Judaism flourished. There were many different sects and subsets of Judaism, and most of them were trying to answer a fairly easy question at one level, but a very profound question at another. That question was, “What does it look like to be the people of God?”
That was a question that the Jewish people asked themselves regularly. Because see, Judaism, as Christianity, is an understanding of God that's in history. Many of the other religions that you will study or look at, they'll tell you, “Here are some things to believe,” or just some little things, but Judaism, Christianity, our faith, the book that we read, the Bible, is about a God who acts in history.
So, for them, they knew that God was there, that God acted, and they knew that when they were walking with God there was blessing, and when they didn't walk with God it was cursing. They knew that they, as a group of people, even though they all were trying to figure out what it looks like to be the people of God right now, under Roman oppression in the first century, God had delivered them many, many years ago from Egypt, which is the story called the Exodus. And they knew that God had delivered them out of the oppression of Pharaoh, the oppression of Egypt, and had delivered them, but they had not kept up their part. So, they had been exiled, they'd gone through different regimes and different stuff, and every once in a while, something would happen that would get them excited again, but another group would come in and oppress them. Here they were in the first century, under Roman, what they considered to be, oppression, waiting for God to act.
And one of the things, if we could go back to the first century, if you could mingle through the crowds, go through the bazaars, and talk through the villages, people were expectant. They were expectant that God was going to do something. They didn't know what He was going to do exactly, but they knew that they thought something was going to happen. Different groups postured as to how to be the people of God. If you were a Pharisee or a Sadducee or a Zealot or an Essene or many of the other groups, they had their way in which they were answering the question of what it looks like to be the people of God.
For the Pharisees, their answer was, “We're just going to read the Bible, we're going to study scripture, read the Torah, we're going to bog down in that, we're not going to deal with anybody that even looks like they're not part of the people of God or anybody who's not keeping all the law.”
We don't drink, we don't chew, we don't run with those who do. That type of thing. The Sadducees said, “Hey, the way we’ll be the people of God is we've got to get involved in politics,” and they did. And the zealots would say, “Hey, the only way you can get anybody's attention is through violence.”
So, everybody had their way, and everybody was on tiptoes, looking. You can go back and read. Exclude the Jesus part of the first century and you can see that many people were coming along, saying, “Hey, I'm going to be the one that's going to deliver Israel,” and they were looking for that person. Jesus is born into that world. That's the world in which He came, which is why when you read the New Testament and people are like, “Are you the one? Let’s go make Him king.”
Everybody was sort of hoping that somebody would come along and liberate Israel. But in the process, what does it look like to be the people of God? Jesus came on the scene, and what He said, nobody liked. Nobody in any of the subsets liked it. They just didn't like it at all. Like, “Hey, Rome is oppressing us, and You're telling us because they have a legal right to grab anybody that they want, a soldier can, and give them their bags, and make them walk a mile with their bags? That's oppression. That's wrong.”
Jesus comes along and says, “Hey, go ahead and go the mile. But do you know what? Go two miles.”
They say, “This is crazy.”
Jesus says, “Hey, if somebody wants your jacket, give him a shirt too.”
They're like, “Yeah, we don't like that.”
“Hey, your enemy? Love them.”
He goes up on this mountain in Matthew 5 and teaches this story of what the blessed people look like. They're the ones who mourn, they're the ones who are oppressed, they're the ones who hunger after righteousness, they’re the ones that are persecuted. He says, “You’d better be careful how you build, because if you build your house on the sand, when it really gets bad, it's going to fall. But if you build on the rock, it'll stand.”
So, Jesus comes into this world and starts teaching people, “Hey, there's a new way. The Kingdom of God is at hand.”
And people are like, “Is this the guy? Could it be the guy?”
Then they're like, “I don't know. I don't like what He says. I'm not quite sure.”
And before long, everybody turns on Him and He’s crucified. Now, if you know anything about first century Judaism, you know one thing. If somebody claimed to be a messiah, claimed to be a leader, or claimed to be a deliverer, and they died, they were not that person. Case closed. Period. End of story. Nobody said, “Hey, I know they died, but let's get the band back together and see how we can make this work.”
Nobody did that. Okay? And so, everybody, universally, whether Christian or not, acknowledges that this ragtag group of people that were following this guy who was giving a whole other way of what it looked like to be the people of God, who died, they had some experience that made them go, “No, He was the guy.”
Anybody who studies Christianity would tell you that this is what the early Christians believed.
They believed that they saw this man, who had been crucified and who was dead, walking alive. And that changed everything. I don't know about you, but if you buried somebody and three days later they were having Waffle House with you, you'd probably be like, “Whoa, this is — man, this is sort of crazy, eating gravy and biscuits with Him.”
That'd be in Southern Jerusalem, eating that, and whatever it may be. You’re like, “Wow, this is crazy.”
So, this group of people were changed because they saw a risen Lord. What they did is they said, “Hey, we've got to tell people about this.”
Most of them told people about it to the point that they gave their lives. But we have four pieces of literature that have stood the test of time that are called gospels. They're never called gospels themselves. The word “gospel” is a Greek “euangelion.” It means “the good news.” But we have four differing but similar accounts, in some ways, of the life of Jesus. It starts off the New Testament. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each one of these writers is saying something a little different than the other writers because they're not really trying to write a biography, although there are biographical things there. They're not really trying to write a history book, although there's history there. They're writing theological documents. They're telling the readers, who read, about the story of this man that changed their lives.
We only have two gospel accounts of the early stories of Jesus' birth that we celebrate during this time. Matthew and Luke. So, Matthew, which we looked at, really, in a blur last weekend is sort of the highlights of the book. Matthew's drawing from these Old Testament accounts. The Exodus and Moses. Jesus is the greater Moses. He’s the greater everything. He's fulfilling everything. He starts off as gospel with saying that this is the beginning, this is the genesis, this is the genealogy of the whole thing and how it unfolded. He uses Abraham and David to start because Jesus is going to be fulfilling Abraham and He's going to be fulfilling David. He starts off by saying, “This is the one true king.”
So, the first 17 verses, this genealogy, it shows, by the way he's written it and structured it, “Hey, this is the true King of Israel.”
And then, in Matthew 1:18, he picks up this story that we want to read because it speaks to what we celebrate right now. But I want to read it anew and afresh. I want you to maybe let it read for what it says, not for what you think it says. But let's look.
He says, in Matthew 1:18, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.”
Now, this word “birth” is the same word that he's used in Matthew 1:1 which means a genesis or a genealogy or the start. So, it's more pregnant than just “birth.” Matthew's saying this is the birth is, but this is sort of like, “Wait. Everything is sort of unfolded.”
When he says it's the birth of Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ is not a name like Chip Bennett, like the first name Jesus and last name Christ. No. That’s a title. Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Messiah. This is sort of how it went down, and Matthew's going to tell it a little bit differently than Luke does, and John's going to tell it a little bit differently. They're all saying the same thing. They're just focusing on different elements because they're writing to different people. Matthew's writing to Jewish people. He says, “Hey, this is how it sort of went down. This is the way it took place. Pay attention. Pay attention to what I have to say because I want you to learn something.”
He’s writing to a group of people that are asking the age-old question of the day: “What does it look like to be the people of God?”
He says, “This guy has shown us. He’s the one. Here's the way it went down.”
He says, “When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph,”
Now, we understand marriage in America a little differently than first century Judaism. For us, you know, you like somebody. Maybe you meet them at a church group, maybe you meet them at the fair, maybe you meet them wherever. You meet somebody. Parking lot, cruise, bar. I don't know where you meet people. People meet people at different places. You meet somebody, you like the way they look, they like the way you look. Maybe you’ve got some nice cologne on. Whatever it may be, you start talking, then you go on some dates, and everybody lies. You know? Everybody’s like, “They changed.”
No. Actually, they were putting on a show before you got married. That was really who they were. You should have done a better job of being Clouseau. So, you like each other, and somebody says, “I'm going to put a ring on it,” and you're engaged. Then there's supposed to be the day you get married; you get married that day. It used to be church weddings, but now you can get married scuba diving under the water. I mean, it's crazy. Jump out of a plane or whatever it is. So, you get married, and you're supposed to have this maybe a dinner party, dance, and whatever, and then you're supposed to go and consummate the marriage. Usually that's done way before even engagement in today's world, unfortunately. That’s just the way it is.
That’s sort of our view of marriage. That's not the way the Jewish people's view of marriage was. You were married when you were betrothed. You were married, you just hadn't consummated the marriage. Consummation of the marriage happened many, many months later, and there was a reason for that. I mean, you were legally married, you were committed, you just hadn't consummated it. The reason is because the groom would go and get things in order, get the house ready, and usually there was a period of months — 6, 8, 10, or 12 months. Part of that was to make sure that the lady that you were marrying — because they didn't have sonograms and all kinds of cool equipment where you can see things. “Oh, I think he's smiling in there,” and all that stuff. They didn't know that. So, giving everybody some months would give you the ability to see if maybe the person that you were going to consummate the marriage with had been unfaithful or had been with somebody else.
So, we're told by Matthew, “When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together…”
So, now we know exactly where it's at. We know we're here, we're not here. We're somewhere here, but they've not consummated the marriage. So, here’s where they're at. Then we're told this sort of scratching part of a record.
We’re told, “…she was found to be with child…”
Now, Matthew doesn't tell you that an angel came to Mary, like Luke does, because he's not concerned about that. He's concerned about writing it in a way so that you have to read it, and I have to read it, and it reads us. It answers some questions and raises some questions. She’s found to be with child. You can imagine what that was like. Who is it? What's gone on? It’s certainly not Joseph’s. What has she done? But Matthew gives you and me a little insight that they didn't have.
“…from the Holy Spirit.”
Is it possible that God could be at work, and you not know it? Is it possible that God could be doing something in your life and you're not even aware of it? We’re told here that she was found to be with child. Now, Joseph doesn't know this.
We’re told, “And her husband Joseph, being a just man…”
“Dikaios” is the Greek word. It can mean “righteous,” as well. What does it mean to be the people of God? What does it mean to be just? What does it mean to be righteous? Well, here, because he's a just man, rather than serving her the law, which he could have done, and put her to an open shame, he gives grace to someone who's hurt him. What does it mean to be the people of God? Do we extend grace to those people who have hurt us, or do we want to exact vengeance? He was unwilling to put her to shame. He could have. He could have called the whole community together and put her to shame. Some people would even tell you that he could have had her stoned, but he doesn't. He says, “I'm going to do this quietly,” because he is a just man.
Then were told, “But as he considered these things,”
Why didn't God step in? Why didn't God step in and say, “Yo, Joseph. It's okay, man.”
He does, but not here. Joseph feels the anguish, Joseph feels the pain, Joseph feels the hurts, but God is at work. He just doesn't see it yet.
While he's going through the hurt and the pain and the anguish, while he's considering all of this, “…behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear [don't worry about it] to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’”
So, now he has a whole other category of understanding of what's going on. He sees it differently. He’s told that you'll name this child Jesus because Isaiah prophesied that a virgin would conceive, and He will save His people from their sins because He’s fulfilling what Isaiah has written. Then as we enter in, as we continue in the story, we hit Matthew 2. But there wouldn't have been chapters and verses in the original writings.
We're told, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem…”
This is important. This is super important because this is not infancy. This is post infancy. So, let me just go ahead and tell you, if you've not been to Grace before for Christmas services, one of the things I get told every single Christmas — and I'm not trying to do it, but they always say, “Chip, you always mess up the nativity scenes that we have at home.”
I'm not trying to mess up your nativity scenes. Okay? That's not what I'm trying to do. But I am trying to teach you what scripture says because you shouldn't base your Christmas story on the nativity set. You should base your Christmas story based on the Word of God. Okay? So, we’ve got to look at this because Luke's got a whole different time going on than Matthew. Fast-forward and we’ll find out that Herod finds out that Jesus is somewhere, two years and younger, and slays all the kids two years and younger. Jesus is probably somewhere between one and two years old at this point. So, these Magi, which are not three, not kings, or those type of things, they're not there at the nativity scene. So, you can pull them out, if you'd like. And there's a whole lot, but we won't get into it. Okay? We'll just leave it at this. Okay?
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king,”
Big time. Herod the king. Crazy man, paranoid man, narcissistic man, incredible builder. I mean, he just built all kinds of stuff. But if he felt like you were trying to come and take anything from him, he'd just take you out. He took family members out, wives out. The guy's crazy. So, here he is, born in the time of Herod the king. He comes right in the middle of stuff.
“…behold, wise men…”
The Greek is “magi.” We get our word “magic” from this. “Magus,” which is the singular of this. We meet Simon Magus in Acts. He's a magician and sorcerer. These people were people that dabbled in astrology, astronomy, occultist practices, and all kinds of stuff. Crazy stuff. Dressed differently. Coming from, probably, Babylon, dressed in bright colors with crazy stuff. They wouldn't have come as three. You wouldn't travel hundreds and hundreds of miles with three people. They would've died, and everything they brought would've been stolen by the people in the desert. It wouldn't have worked. They probably came in bands of hundreds. They show up into Jerusalem, and you can imagine they show up in Jerusalem, they look crazy, they look funky. A bunch of people, like, “What is going on?”
Here's what they say: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?’”
Herod’s like, “I'm the king. What do you mean?”
See, when he hears this, there's a problem because he knows the story. He knows there is, possibly, somebody who could be born that could be the ruler. Well, if he's going to be the ruler, guess what? Herod’s not going to be the ruler. Jesus always comes to supplant those who want their own throne, you and I included.
“‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?’”
You can imagine they're like, “Oh, man. This is not going to go over well. This guy's crazy.”
They say, “‘For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’”
Well, if you're reading this, there's a lot of drama. It's thick. It’s like molasses. It's just sort of there.
We’re told, “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”
Of course they were, because they were like, “This is not going to be good because Herod doesn't like anybody who wants his throne, and these guys are crazy looking, and there's a lot of them. Like, what is going on?”
Well, we're told that he assembled all the chief priests and scribes of the people because he needed to know where the Christ was going to be born. They've come to find the Christ. He's like, “I don't know. Get the people that know the scripture.”
There's sort of an irony here. It's a sadness there. There’s a point here to be made that the king of the Jews, the one who's supposed to be the leader, has no idea what scripture says. And if you're reading this, it should be reading you.
“Am I holding onto the throne of my life? Do I have any idea what the scriptures say at all? Have I got to go get other people to tell me?”
He assembles the chief priests and the scribes, and he says, “Where's the Christ going to be born?”
And they quote out of Micah. They’re like, “Man, He’s going to be born in Bethlehem, the same place that David was born. He’s going to be a greater king. It's written by the prophet.”
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means the least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
We're going to break here. Next week, we'll go further into the text, and it will continue to illuminate what's going on. But let's pause for a moment here, and let's ask a question. When we read this, when it's asking what it means to be the people of God, what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? What does it mean? Okay, I've got a few things I think I can say that will be applicational to all of us. They’re things that we can think about that really matter in our lives, right now.
First of all, the people of God discern that God is in control of world history. This is so important because, in all of these stories, God is there. He’s working. He’s sometimes behind the scenes, sometimes you don't see Him, but He can move a governor to have a taxation in Luke to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, because He knows what He’s doing. And what we see, in a way that we don't really, fully understand, is that what seems to be random is, ultimately, meticulously planned, prepared, and superintended by God. We go, “How does that work?”
We don't know. It doesn't nullify the choices that we make and doesn't nullify the fact that we make the choices that we make. But somehow, some way, God is at work. This is so important because so many people in our world, today, we don't rest in that, as Christians. We're like Chicken Little. I mean, the world is falling all the time. I was back with the band. We do devotion. I was talking to them about Isaiah 9 and what that passage means. I made a statement. I've used this analogy before, but it's just so true. Any of you all who like sports — and if you like sports, you realize, sometimes, sports happen during church. So, some of you all just put your earphones in, tune me out, and watch it on ESPN. That's fine. God bless you. It's no big deal. But some of us try to DVR it to get through church so that we can go home and watch it. Sometimes if the game's so big that I don't want to wait until I get home, I flip on my phone to see what the score is. I'm like, “Alright! We won.”
But I go home, turn on the DVR, and we're losing. So, I grab my phone again.
“Did we win? Refresh. No. We won.”
We should be living that way. We know the end. We know the team wins. We know that Jesus wins. We know the Church wins. We're in a DVR session, and it may feel, emotionally, like we're down by 10 points, but at the end of the day, God is in control and He’s going to get done what He says He’s going to get done, and we can trust Him. We should live differently because of that.
Let me just show you how crazy this is, because these Magi that came to Jerusalem — listen, this is crazy. If the exile to Babylon hundreds of years before this, when the Babylonians destroyed the temple and they went to Babylon for 70 years, had not happened, the Word of God would not have been in Babylon. Because it was there, people kept it. These people, hundreds of years later, had the ability to read into some of these texts and realize there was going to be a king. So, see, if the exile to Babylon wouldn't have occurred, the Magi wouldn't have known to be looking for a king to come. That's how meticulous God is. We don't see Him all the time, it doesn't feel that way all the time, but the bottom line is God is in control. The mysteries of God's providence may not be fully understandable on this side of eternity, but I can tell you one thing. When you know that He has the world in His hands, and He is working all things together for good for those of us who love God and are the called according to His purpose — Romans 8:28 — you can face the world like Horacio Spafford said: “Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’”
Amen? Second thing: The people of God are the ones who learn to discern before judging. Let's just have a moment here because the American Church is really good at judging. And if you're here, if it's your first time here, maybe you’re just hanging out. You saw something, and you were like, “I’ll go check this church out,” or whatever, you can belong here before you believe. We're glad you're here. But let's be honest. We’re really good at judging everybody.
“You're not in. You’re not in.”
You get on social: “I hate this person. This person should split hell wide open. With the love of the Lord, of course.”
But let's look at this because we should be learning something here. She was found to be with child. Do you know what most American Christians would be doing?
“I wonder who it was? I wonder what went on. Oh my gosh. Look at her. Yeah. We had a word for her back in the day. Yes. Well, I mean, with the love of the Lord.”
We need to learn that not all things, at face value, are what they say. Listen to me. Listen to your pastor. When we're quick to judge, we may miss the Holy Spirit at work. Let that settle. What does it mean to be the people of God?
Third: The people of God should be looking for opportunities to be just rather than simply trying to see justice served. Let's just let that sink in for a minute. See, we're told, here, he was a just man because of the way he treated someone else. The world is clamoring for justice, but Christ-followers should be determined to be just.
We don't have the ability to give justice. We don't know all the data. We don't know all the things that are going on. What we're called to be is the people that represent God to the masses. Rather than throwing stones, rather than judging them, and rather than using our tongues to run down people that are created in the image of God,we have an opportunity. In our world today, it's desperately calling for people to be followers of Jesus. Let’s be people that bring a justness to the world. To those who've hurt us, we extend a hand. To those who've done us wrong, we extend mercy. To those that maybe don't live the life that we would want them to live, we show them grace.
The last thing is that people of God realize that a star can get you to Jerusalem, but it takes the Word of God to get us to Jesus. See, God put that star in the sky so these people who looked at stars — which is interesting because God said, “Don’t look at stars,” but He did it to reach these people because God will go the lengths to get you more than you have any idea. He loves you more than you could ever even imagine. He put that star in the sky. These people didn't know anything.
“Where's the king going to be born? It’s got to be Jerusalem.”
The star got them to Jerusalem, but it took the word of God to get them to Jesus because they said, “We've come. We've seen this star. We’ve come to worship Him.”
The star got them to Jerusalem, but it took the chief priests and the scribes looking into the scripture, and what is written by the prophets, to get them to Jesus. That’s why, here at Grace, we teach the Word of God and do what we do because, ultimately, it's the gospel. The gospel's simple. We've made it difficult. The gospel is that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever would believe in Him would never perish but would have everlasting life. The gospel's not hard. The gospel is that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose again on the third day so that we could have everlasting life. That claim comes into the world of thrones, into the world of difficulty, into the world of pain.
Am I willing to follow Jesus even though it might mean that I extend a hand to someone that did me wrong? Am I willing to follow Jesus even if I have to give Him my throne? Am I willing to follow Him and believe that He really is the Christ, the Son of the living God?”
So, what I want to do is we're going to sing a song that many of you know, and it's a Christmas song. I asked to sing it here at the end because I think the words, especially after what we've just done, will be far more profound than they've been before. I'm praying that as you sing these songs, the light of the Lord would just shine anew and afresh, maybe, for some, for the first time. For some of us, maybe we need it again. Maybe the world's gotten into our ways, and maybe we want to be a little bit more like Herod. Maybe we want to be a little less like Joseph. Maybe we want to be a little bit more like what we want rather than being the people that follow the Christ. So, as we sing this song in just a minute, I pray that you would allow the wonder of this season to pierce your heart.