The Gospels

J.C. Ryle on the Wonder of the Incarnation of Christ

expository-thoughts-setThe 7-volume set of J.C. Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels is a virtual treasure trove of insight into the Gospels.

In vol. 1 of his thoughts on the Gospel According to Luke, he has this to say about the circumstances of the incarnation of Jesus Christ:

“We see here the grace and condescension of Christ. Had he come to save mankind with royal majesty, surrounded by his Father’s angels, it would have been an act of undeserved mercy. Had he chosen to dwell in a palace, with power and great authority, we should have reason enough to wonder. But to become poor as the very poorest of mankind, and lowly as the lowliest, – this is a love that passeth knowledge. It is unspeakable and unsearchable. Never let us forget that through this humiliation Jesus has purchased for us a title to glory. Through his life of suffering, as well as his death, he has obtained eternal redemption for us. All through his life he was poor for our sakes, from the hour of his birth to the hour of his death. And through his poverty we are made rich (2 Cor. 8:9). (p.41)

Such loving condescension and grace really are “unspeakable and unsearchable.” Words fail us in trying to do justice to the mercy of God in Christ. Our deepest meditations on this subject barely scratch the surface of the infinite depths of the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

No wonder that at the birth of Jesus Christ a multitude of the heavenly host burst forth in praise to God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14, ESV). Amen.

Children & the Means of Grace

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:13-14 ESV)

Jesus rebuked the disciples for trying to keep children away from Him.  We probably shake our heads and imagine that we could never do such a thing. We would never keep our children away from Jesus, right?  Or just maybe we share some of the same well-intentioned, but wrong-headed impulses that the disciples did.

Here are a few lessons that we should learn from the words of the Lord Jesus to His disciples in Matthew 19:

1.  Pastors – you (we) are not too important to teach the kids.  The disciples clearly thought that spending time with the kids was beneath the dignity & importance of the Master.  They were wrong.  Do you ever teach the kids?  Can young children understand anything in your preaching?  If not, why not?

2.  Children should be encouraged to attend corporate worship with their families whenever possible.  If your church does “children’s church” (or something like that), does it prepare them to one day join in  the corporate worship of the church, or is it merely a sanctified babysitting service?

Are we more concerned with the possible noise or minor distraction that they may cause during the service than we are in their learning to participate in the means of grace that are to be found primarily in the public worship of the church?

3.  Do the youth of your church participate in corporate worship with the rest of the church, or do they have their own separate program?  If they are not able to be a part of the corporate worship of the church, they are missing out on the outward and ordinary means of grace (the preaching of the Word, Sacraments, and prayer – Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.88).  If that is the case, they will not grow in grace the way that they should.  And if that is the case, we are clearly failing our children.

So in a way, we might think that we are keeping our kids out of worship because we have a very high view of public worship, but the truth might be just the opposite – we might actually be keeping them out of worship because we really have too low a view of the public worship of the church!

If we had a proper, biblical view of worship as the outward and ordinary means of grace (and so the way to grow in grace), we would do all that we could to make sure that both we ourselves and our children joined in the public worship of the church.

Temptation & the Law

In Matthew 4 (and Luke 4), Jesus is in the wilderness being tempted by Satan.

And how He responded should be instructive for us in a number of ways.

It is often pointed out (and rightly so) that He fought temptation with Scripture.  Three times he replies to Satan by saying “It is written”, followed by a quote from the Old Testament.

What is not often pointed out is that all three (3) of the quotations He chose were from the book of Deuteronomy.  In other words, He quotes from the Law.

Now the law does not justify.  And many have pointed out that the Law does not give us the power to obey, and that (as Paul tells us in Romans 7:7-12) the law can actually stir up sin in the unregenerate heart.  But the problem was never the law (which Paul says is “holy and righteous and good” – Romans 7:12), but rather sin itself, which reacts in rebellion against God’s law.

But the way that Jesus used the Law of God when He was being tempted should show us the goodness and downright helpfulness of the law in the lives of  believers.  Are you fighting against temptation?  Then do not neglect the role of the law.

While we certainly need more than law when tempted – we need the grace of God & the power of His Spirit – we must not conclude that the law is a thing to be avoided.

The Psalmist writes,

    I have stored up your word in my heart,
        that I might not sin against you.  (Psalm 119:11 ESV)

There should be no doubt that much of the Word that the Psalmist stored up in his heart was from the law.  In fact, Psalm 1 speaks of the blessings of delighting in the law of God and meditating upon it day and night (v.1-3).

So don’t rely solely on the law in your fight against temptation, but don’t neglect it either!  And next time your daily Bible reading plan finds you in the book of Deuteronomy, think about the example of Jesus in the wilderness and how He used that particular book to ward off the temptations of the evil one.

He is risen!

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Such is the common greeting on Easter Sunday in many Christian churches.

Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In a sense, every Sunday (also called “the Lord’s Day”) is also a commemoration or celebration of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Sunday was the day of the week on which Jesus rose triumphantly from the grave.

How important is the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ?

The apostle Paul said the the resurrection is one of the most important truths of the Christian faith.  In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 he writes:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures . . . .

So the resurrection (along with the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ) was in accordance with the Old Testament – it was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

And the resurrection of Jesus Christ is at the heart of the true Christian faith – it is (to use Paul’s words) “of first importance.”  It is no side issue – it is fundamental and essential to the gospel.

It is so important that, later in the same chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul goes on to say that if not for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christianity is utterly meaningless.  Such faith would be useless.

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:17-19 ESV)

Think about what he is saying here – if not for the bodily resurrection of Jesus, there would be no forgiveness of sins, no eternal life, not even any truly positive influence or result in this life.  He says that if the gospel only gives us hope “in this life only” – such “hope” is really no hope at all.  Such a “hope” would make us the most pathetic, pitiful people on the face of the earth. (Think about that next time you consider the gospel according to liberalism.)

It was the truth of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ that turned the ancient world on its head and that continues to do so today.  It proves that He is exactly who He claimed to be – the Son of God (Romans 1:4).  It is the one thing that proves that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the behalf of sinners was sufficient.  He was “raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).  It is the guarantee of the future resurrection and eternal life of believers in Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).  And it is the one thing that assures us that our labor in the gospel is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).

In his classic book, Christianity & Liberalism, J.Gresham Machen writes,

“What was it that within a few days transformed a band of mourners into the spiritual conquerors of the world? It was not the memory of Jesus’ life; it was not the inspiration which came from past contact with him. But it was the message, “He is risen.” “(p.42)

He is risen.  The truth of that statement makes all the difference in the world . . .and the world to come as well!

He is risen indeed!

How the Gospel of Matthew Makes Its Case

Throughout his Gospel Matthew goes to great lengths to demonstrate the truth that Jesus Himself is the Messiah, the long-awaited King, the Son of David. He is the One whose coming was anticipated ever since the opening chapters of Genesis. In Jesus we have the substance of which the Old Testament record was just the shadow. And Matthew shows us that in at least two (2) ways.

Genealogy (1:1-17)

The first way that Matthew shows us that Jesus is the Son of David – the Messiah – is found in the first 17 verses of the Gospel According to Matthew – the genealogy! It’s that part of the book that most of us probably just skim over quickly when we are reading or studying the book of Matthew.

And we do that for the same reason that we often get hung up in parts of the book of Numbers when we are reading through the Bible consecutively. (Anyone else ever had that problem?) Maybe it feels like you are reading the phone book (as if it were really just a list of random names). Sometimes we just aren’t sure what it is that we are supposed to get from reading things like that, so we often avoid reading those passages. (And pastors sure seem to avoid preaching these passages!)

But doesn’t 2 Timothy 3:16 tell us that “All Scripture is breathed out by God”? In other words, all of Scripture is the very Word of God Himself! That includes the hard parts like genealogies. Not only that, but in that passage Paul also tells us that all Scripture (because it is the Word of God) is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (v.16-17). That being the case, we avoid or ignore any part of His Word (even the difficult parts) to our own loss. We are just hurting ourselves.

So why does Matthew include that Genealogy? To show that Joseph was of the line of King David (v.6, 17 & 20). He is showing that Jesus is, in fact, truly the son of David according to His human nature. The Apostle Paul said as much in Romans 1:1-4:

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Now Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. As Matthew chapter one tells us, Jesus was born of Mary, but had no human father. Mary was a virgin and the baby that was in her womb was conceived miraculously by the power of the Holy Spirit (v.18)! But that Joseph was the adoptive father of Jesus shows us that Jesus really is in the line of David, the royal line.

That is important because it means that Jesus is the long-awaited fulfillment to God’s covenant promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-17. There the LORD declared to David that after he died He would raise up his offspring after him and establish his kingdom (v.12). How long would that offspring of David reign? The LORD promised David that He would “establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (v.13). So the genealogy in Matthew 1:1-17 shows that Jesus is of the line of David. If not, He could not be the Messiah.

Fulfilled Prophecy 

The second way that Matthew proves that Jesus Himself is the Messiah is by showing Him to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. He quotes Old Testament prophecies and shows how Jesus fulfills them.  And he does this throughout the book.

The first time that he does this is in Matthew 1:22. There he says, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet.” And then he quotes Isaiah 7:14:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.”

And Matthew quotes (and often interprets!) or alludes to the book of Isaiah in particular multiple times throughout his Gospel (cf. 3:1-3; 4:14-17; 11:2-6; 12:15-21; 13:14-16; 15:7-9; 21:13).  He quotes many other Old Testament books as well.

All in all, the Old Testament plays a key role in the Gospel According to Matthew.  He makes his case that Jesus is the long-awaited Son of David, the One whose kingdom would last forever – and he makes that case by repeatedly pointing us back to the Old Testament.

The Old Testament can be properly and truly understood only in the Person of Jesus Christ.  It is His context and He is its main point.  And Matthew makes that abundantly clear in his Gospel.

Case closed.