Advent Season Is Here

Advent is a time of spiritual preparation for the celebration of the holy child Jesus. Advent, meaning “coming,” or “arrival,” invites us to think deeply about the significance of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. It also reminds us to live in anticipation of his second coming.

Some families observe this season with Advent wreathes and candles. Traditionally these represent the four themes of hope, peace, joy and love. Scripture readings usually emphasize the prophecies of Christ’s coming, as well as the story of the town of Bethlehem, the shepherds, and the angels.

In churches all over the world the next four weeks will be marked by scriptures, songs and liturgies that recall other themes, events, or personalities surrounding the coming of Jesus. This year on this site I wish to honor some of the women who are associated with our Lord’s birth narratives.

Four of these women appear in Jesus’ family history (Matthew chapter 1). This is surprising since Old Testament genealogies did not usually include women. The fact that the apostle Matthew did so, is a reminder of their significance in the plan of God. The genealogy of Jesus also shows us that the entire Old Testament pointed forward to the coming of Messiah the King of the Jews, a theme of Matthew’s gospel.

There is something unusual, unsavory, or scandalous associated with these four women. The same is true, of course, of some of the famous men of the Bible. Abraham lied on more then one occasion. David’s great sins were adultery and murder. Solomon became an idolater, as did many of his kingly descendants. All of them were sinners in need of God’s grace.

The Holy Spirit wants us to remember these four women, not for their failures, scandals, or exclusion, but for what God’s grace did for them. Their lives are evidence of what grace can do for us as well. Grace transforms sinners and outcasts. It operates in all kinds of difficult situations. It reverses tragic outcomes.

Tamar (Matthew 1:1-3)

Tamar’s story is found in one of the strangest chapters in the Bible (Genesis 38). Her story is simply awful, embarrassing to read. She was a victim of treachery who turned around and committed treachery. (How many victims of abuse become abusers? How many children of addicts become addicts themselves?) It is surprising to read such a story in the Bible.

Tamar’s story is a messy tale of hypocrisy, deception, revenge, and sexual sin. Matthew’s brief account says that she became the mother of the twin sons of Judah, who were ancestors of King David and of our Lord Jesus. What he doesn’t say is that they were sons of an incestuous relationship.

We learn from this that God is merciful and he is able to turn human sin into an opportunity for his grace. “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20).

Rahab (Matthew 1:3-5)

Rahab was an outsider, a Canaanite woman, who was a prostitute. Her civilization was under God’s judgment (Joshua 2 and 6). The scriptures tell us that despite her unsavory reputation, she chose to be identified with the covenant people of God. When the Hebrew spies made their way into her city of Jericho, she protected them. As a result, she and her family were spared when Jericho was conquered.

She is identified in the New Testament as an example of saving faith in the living God (Hebrews 11:31, James 2:25-26, Joshua 2:8-11). So here she is, a converted prostitute, in the Christmas story, a part of the ancestral heritage of Jesus, the king of the Jews!

Ruth (Matthew 1:5-6)

Ruth’s story is found in the Old Testament book that bears her name. It occurred in the days of the Judges in Israel. She was a Gentile, like Tamar and Rahab before her. This fact reminds us that God’s grace was not limited to the people of Israel, but that he intended to save Gentiles too.

Ruth’s husband was a Hebrew from Bethlehem, living in Moab. When he died, she and her mother-in-law Naomi were destitute. Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem. Ruth was determined to leave Moab and go with her, surrendering her life to the God of the Hebrews. She thus wanted to be identified with the people of God in the land of Israel.

Through the providence of God, she was maneuvered into the recognition of a wealthy landowner named Boaz. What followed was a beautiful love story. Her story is also an example of how God’s laws provided for economic justice for the poor.

Boaz married Ruth and they became great-grandparents of king David and members of the genealogy of king Jesus, who would be born in Bethlehem, the hometown of Boaz and Naomi. Ruth’s story is another example of God’s grace in operation. It was activated by her obedient surrender to the Lord.

Bathsheba (Matthew 1:6)

The fourth woman’s behavior was so shameful that Matthew does not name her. She is the woman who committed adultery with King David (2 Samuel 11-12). It is the tragic story of how David abused his power as king to steal Uriah’s wife, devalue Uriah’s loyalty, and authorize his murder. She cooperated with David in this sin.

The prophet Nathan confronted the king with these words: “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil?” When David repented, apparently Bathsheba did too because, in his grace, God blessed them with a son, Solomon. Solomon was given the name “Jedediah” by God’s prophet, which means “loved by the Lord.” Surely this was an indication that God had forgiven them and was promising a new beginning.

Applying this Advent Lesson

Three of these women were Gentiles. Their stories are not interruptions in the outworking of God’s plan. God would have his gospel to go to people of all nations. Matthew, writing as a Jew for Jewish readers, about the coming of the king of the Jews presents Jesus as savior of Gentiles too.

Our Lord’s genealogy is more than a list of names. It is a testimony to God’s grace in redeeming sinners. Elsewhere Matthew reminds us that Jesus did not come for the righteous, but “to call sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13).

There is hope for all of us, no matter what we may have done. We all have things in our lives we would be ashamed to have displayed for all the world to see. We are all sinners in need of God’s grace. Jesus invites us to come to him for forgiveness and mercy.

Pastor Randy Faulkner



Read and Study Romans

Over the past three months I have been recommending the exploration of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Each of the epistle’s sixteen chapters has important features which are compelling reasons to read the book. I invite you to scroll down and review my recent blog posts to read introductions to each chapter. The last chapter of Romans has it’s own instructive features which deserve our attention.

it has been said that Paul had “a genius for friendship.” Over his previous ten years of missionary activity in Syria, Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia Minor, he had accumulated many companions, disciples and fellow-missionaries for whom he felt sincere affection in the Lord. In Romans 16 he sent greetings to 26 of them, adding words of appreciation. It is interesting to me how he valued and maintained these relationships.

The chapter opens with a commendation for one of them, Phoebe, a prominent woman whom he calls his “sister” in the faith. She was likely the courier who carried the letter to Rome as she traveled there from Corinth, presumably on personal business. She is further identified as a “minister,” or deaconess of the Christian assembly in Cenchreae, a suburb of Corinth. Paul goes on to say how she had helped him as a supporter of his ministry.

This lets us know where Paul was when he wrote the letter to the Romans. In vv. 21-24 he names eight companions who were with him in Corinth. They added their greetings to the Roman Christians. One of them was Erastus, a local government official. I have seen a first century paving stone in the ruins of old Corinth with his name clearly inscribed in Latin. If that Erastus is the Erastus of Romans 16:23, then the inscription is the earliest reference to a Christian by name outside the New Testament.

This closing chapter in the letter contains important words of caution which are relevant to believers and churches today. In vv.17-20, Paul warns Christians to watch out for and avoid any who would obstruct the teaching which they had learned. This includes the teaching of the gospel in the book of Romans. Paul’s emphasis on the sinfulness of all humanity, the need for righteousness as a gift of God’s grace, and justification only by faith in Jesus Christ constitute his gospel message.

There is in Romans an entire vocabulary of key words to describe the different aspects of the salvation offered in the Christian gospel. Rich words such as redemption, forgiveness, sanctification, reconciliation, resurrection, and glorification accompany Paul’s emphasis on justification. These varied themes display God’s goodness and grace in saving people as the colors of the rainbow appear when light is refracted through a glass prism.

This assumes Paul’s authority as a spokesman for God. He was commissioned by Jesus himself to speak and to write the Word of God. Signs and miracles validated his ministry as a true apostle (Romans 1;1, 15:15-19). Thus, in his concluding benediction he could write that God is able to establish believers in accordance with the unchanging gospel that he (Paul) preached (Romans 16:25). This gospel is universally and eternally relevant. It is summarized and explained in the book of Romans.

That is why we should read it and welcome its message.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

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Motives for Evangelism

“It has been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known” (Romans 15:20).

There can be no doubt that Paul believed in evangelism. Like the other apostles, he took seriously our Lord’s command that the gospel of salvation should be “preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). So Paul began his letter to the Romans by declaring, “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who who believes, first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16).

In the concluding section of his letter to the Romans, he wrote about plans for his further missionary work. He intended to press onward to Spain, a part of the western frontier of the Roman empire, where, apparently, the gospel message of Jesus Christ had not yet penetrated (Romans 15:24, 28). On his way westward, he planned to visit the believers in Rome. This was so that he could ask for their partnership in prayer (v.30)  and financial support (v. 24), as well as the encouragement of their fellowship in the Lord (v. 32).

This was because of the specific call of Christ to Paul (Romans 15:15-17). But in addition, Paul was motivated by the scriptures. He understood that the whole Bible shows that evangelism and world missions have always been on God’s heart. The sweep of biblical history, from the call of Abraham to the second coming of Christ, is the story of God’s calling out from the nations a people for himself.

Paul knew, and he wants us to know that the spread of the Christian gospel was in fulfillment of biblical prophecy. The inclusion of the nations was not an afterthought. It was always the plan of God “that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:9).

In Romans 15:9-12 Paul cites verses from each of the main sections of the Hebrew scriptures to prove his point: world missions has always been a priority with God. The message of salvation should and would go to the nations.

In v. 9 he quotes from the psalms: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name” (Psalm 18:49). In v. 10 he quotes from the law: “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people” (Deuteronomy 32:43). In v.11 he returns to the psalms: “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him” (Psalm 117:10).

Then in v. 12 he quotes from the prophetic scriptures to show that all the law and the prophets are fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah. “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope” (Isaiah 11:10).

Paul is quoting these scriptures to show the biblical authority for his missionary outreach to the Gentiles. It is integral to the plan of God. The Old Testament is filled with references to God’s compassion for the nations and his intention that they worship him. Paul quotes just a few of them in Romans 15.

This illustrates the continuing relevance of the Old Testament scriptures (Romans 15:4). This also reminds today’s believers of the continuing desire of our Lord that we be faithful to spread his gospel of salvation to others where we live, work, and play.

Everyone needs to hear the gospel. The message of the book of Romans is that all people without Christ are lost, guilty and without excuse (Romans chapters 1-3). If they are to be saved, they must call on the name of the Lord (Romans 10:13). In order for them to do this, somebody must tell them the good news (Romans 10:14). That’s evangelism, sharing the message of the crucified and risen Savior.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

The Strong and the Weak

I’ve been writing about the importance of the book of Romans. We should read it, study it, and meditate on it. I have suggested several reasons why Romans is vital to our understanding of how to be rightly related to God and how to live in his will. You may want to scroll back through some of my previous posts on this subject to review my introductions to the earlier chapters in Romans.

Chapter 14  gives us another reason Romans is helpful: Christians do not think alike on many issues. So how are we to behave toward each other when there are honest differences of opinion about debatable matters? Paul lays out some guiding principles. He knew there would be disagreements on some issues and he did not want them to devolve into open conflict that would threaten the witness of the churches.

In the Christian assemblies in Rome there were believers in Jesus who came from strict Jewish backgrounds. They were used to observing holy days and religious festivals related to the Old Testament ceremonial law (v.5). They also followed an eating plan that was regulated by the Jewish dietary rules. Since they could not be sure that meat sold in the public markets had been prepared according to their Kosher laws, they chose to avoid it altogether and eat only vegetables (v.2).

The danger for these Christians would be to judge those who did not observe their religious practices as unspiritual or even unchristian.

The Gentile Christians, on the other hand, were not bound by Jewish dietary scruples. They had not been conditioned by custom or culture to observe Jewish holy days, either. Their consciences were free, unbound by religious tradition. They were confident of their standing with God based upon their relationship to Christ, not upon religious rules.

The danger for these Christians would be to disregard or exclude the others who had sensitive consciences.

It might be surprising to some readers that Paul regarded those whose lives were regulated by religious rules as “weak.” He labeled as “strong” the ones who understood and practiced their Christian liberty in these matters. These differences in outlook could have caused division in the churches. Paul wrote this part of the letter to the Romans to say that Christian fellowship is not based upon agreement on disputable questions.

“Disputable matters” (v.1), are matters of personal judgment, which are neither absolutely right or wrong. The scriptures are silent about them. The New Testament neither condemns nor commands them. In the case of the Romans, there were disagreements about food and holy days. In our day there may be differences of opinion about personalities, leadership styles, music, versions of the Bible, legal matters, politics, cultural backgrounds, and any number of other things, sometimes trivial things. How we treat those who differ reveals our level of spiritual maturity.

Paul wrote to guide the believers in Rome in how to manage differences with kindness and love, and the relentless pursuit of unity. “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).

As you read Romans 14, you can see how Paul says for us to do it.

Welcome each other (Romans 14:1-12). Since God has accepted us in Christ, how can we refuse to accept each other? We are brothers and sisters in the same family. As Christians, we are all under the lordship of Jesus Christ and equally accountable to him.

Build up each other (Romans 14:13-23). In order to do this those who are stronger in faith may need to limit their exercise of liberty for the sake of others’ consciences. We are in this this together, Paul says, and the spiritual growth of the weak is more important than the strong getting their own way. Is eating whatever one wants more important than the interests of God’s kingdom? The strong, because they are strong, must do all they can to avoid damaging the faith of those who are weak. “Mutual edification” (v.19) refers to our responsibility to build up each other, not tear down each other.

Bear with each other (Romans 15:1-7). The artificial chapter division gets in the way. Paul’s teaching continues in the next paragraph. More than mere tolerance, Paul is calling on the strong believers to uphold those who are less mature with patience and encouragement (v.5). Paul’s appeal is rooted in the theology of the gospel. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God”(v.7).

In my more than half-century of Christian ministry, I have observed how this has happened in the churches I have served. Despite differences, I have seen those strong in faith bearing with and encouraging those weak in faith. I have seen the mature building up the faith of the less mature. I have witnessed what happens when a congregation is a welcoming and accepting gospel community. It has brought praise to God!

Pastor Randy Faulkner