We are starting a new series this weekend at our church, and it is different than anything I have ever tried before.
Typically, I prefer to preach expositorily, where we take a passage and examine what it has to say, digging out the nuggets of truth in what God is saying through that particular passage. And how I typically like to do that is by working through a book completely, which is what I have done several times in the past, with books like Hebrews or Colossians, or the Gospel of John.
When I do preach a topical series, I preach on one topic, and then I preach expository sermons on each of the passages we look at that talk about that topic. I did this with our Marriage Matters series, for example, and a couple of financial series.
But this series is kind of different. It’s different in the fact that we will be looking at a completely different topic each week, and no two are the same. We will still take a deep, expository look at each passage, but the only common denominator in this series is where each of those passages are located in the Bible.
Matthew is the first of the four Gospels in the New Testament, and is one of the more detailed accounts of the life of Jesus. And even though the temptations he faced in the wilderness are recorded in both Mark 1 and Luke 4, Matthew gives us perhaps the most information.
One of the most striking things about Matthew’s account of this event is the fact that he states that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Many people don’t read this carefully enough, and get caught up in the fact that God doesn’t tempt, so why would he cause Jesus to be tempted in this scenario?
First of all, the statement that God does not tempt us is true, and is found throughout the pages of Scripture, with James 1:12-13 being one of the most clear statements:
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.
But Jesus wasn’t led out to be tempted by God. He was led out into the wilderness to be tempted by the enemy, so that he could display the glory of God, and confirm that his calling and strength come from God, even in the face of the strongest of opposition. The temptations came from the Adversary, and from him alone, but God permitted them in order to show us that Jesus came to be the sacrifice for us all.
The crazy thing about this is that even though God will not tempt us, he can still use the temptations we face and turn them into a blessing for us, tempering it to our strength, and making us stronger through the victory over it.
When was the last time you stopped to carefully read the family tree of Jesus found in Matthew 1, or in Luke 3, for that matter? My guess is that, like most of the rest of us, you just skim over that passage and move on to the birth narrative.
Those pesky genealogies are tough to read, aren’t they? They are monotonous and boring, and full of names that we generally don’t know how to pronounce. And so we skip them, or if we do read them, we skim them and don’t study them too deeply. And that’s to our detriment.
I think that the genealogies gives us a good look into the character of God, and they do so in several different ways. Matthew’s list of the names in Jesus’ family tree is especially beneficial, because it makes a very solid case that Jesus is the legal heir and descendant to King David, and further, the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham. Both of these would have been of critical importance to Matthew’s primarily Jewish readers.
That’s interesting in and of itself, but what if you aren’t Jewish? What’s the benefit for those readers? First of all, the importance of this passage for Jewish readers is also something for everyone to consider. The genealogy shows that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises of a Messiah to come.
But I think there are some more reasons why we can study these passages, and a lot we can gain from them.
My favorite psalm by far is Psalm 119. Even though it is the longest psalm, and the longest chapter in the Bible, I love reading and rereading this section of Scripture. It never gets old!
If you wanted to give this psalm a name or a title, a good one would be “The Glories of God’s Word” or “A Love for the Word of God.” Psalm 119 has 176 verses, making it the longest chapter in the Bible. In those 176 verses, God’s Word is referenced 177 times, at least once in every verse but five (verses 84, 90, 121, 122, 132 do not have a direct reference to God’s word in some fashion).
It is likely that David wrote this Psalm. However, it is unclear under what circumstances he composed it. It is quite possible that this is a variation of his daily journal, perhaps gathered and composed over the course of his life. His usage of phrases such as “a young man,” in verses 9, 99, 100, 141, and “an old man,” in verses 84-87, may indicate that this is David’s spiritual diary. If so, it is worthy of imitating. God keeps a diary even if we don’t (see Malachi 3:16-18; Romans 14:12).
Most of the time, we read Psalm 103 and we think of our worship of God. And that is a correct view of this psalm, but it falls short of completely understanding this passage. In this psalm, we not only see worship, but we can see why we are to worship.
David wrote this psalm as a song of worship to God, and in the first few verses, he gives us at least four reasons to worship God based on his mercy. But that’s not all this psalm offers. In the next segment of this psalm, David expounds upon God’s grace. This is the why behind the how of worship. God’s grace is why David offers his praise; and he realizes that he is really unworthy of it at all.
Look at verse 6-13:
The Lord performs righteous deeds
And judgments for all who are oppressed.
He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the sons of Israel.
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
In these verses, David shows us three characteristics of God’s grace.
Psalm 103 is one of joyous praise, perhaps one of the clearest examples of the pure praise in the Bible. If you take a good look at these twenty-two verses, you can see that this psalm is addressed to the Lord; that David not only invited his own soul but the soul of every individual, to join with Him in worship and praise to God. Not one single petition is found here.
This psalm is a vivid expression of worship. Many tend to look at prayer as only an avenue to seek God’s blessings. This is certainly one phase of prayer (Matthew 7:7-8), but not the main part of it. Prayer offers a greater opportunity to pour out our heart’s affection to God, and to worship him with our whole heart.
Psalm 103 gives light, it gives life, and it brings hope to us. There is much that you can glean from these verses. But, almost as the very first thing, David reveals some attributes of God’s character that are worthy of praise all on their own. There are at least four things that stand out in the first five verses alone:
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
One of the things I think we are really bad at, as humans, is learning from the past. I believe that we tend to get so focused on the present, or what might come, and we neglect to learn lessons from our history… Much needed lessons. Psalm 78 is a history lesson that can teach us some of those lessons.
In Psalm 78, the psalmist desires to teach the nation of Israel something about God’s character, and in order to do this, he goes back into Israel’s history and gives an example of God’s faithfulness in spite of their rebellion. Like a road map, it lays out the course that Israel has taken through the generations, and shows how God continues to be faithful.
Despite all God had done for them, and all He had been to the Israelites, they didn’t keep His covenant and they refused to walk in His ways. They were a redeemed people, yet they were rebellious, full of complaining, and despised the provisions that God gave them. For their rebellion, their revolt and defiance of His authority, God brought punishment and retribution upon them. When the people repented, pardon was given. God’s grace led them to the land of promise.