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[Life of Christ] The Not-Really Lost Jesus

(Luke 2:40-52)

A Decade-Plus Summarized (Luke 2:40)

And the child grew, and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was on Him.

The growth of the Messiah

Like all humans (except Adam and Eve), Jesus had to start life as a baby, and then go through the growth process. When Luke tells us “the child grew,” first and foremost he means Jesus grew up physically. He basically skips twelve years of Jesus’ life in Nazareth. What transpired during those years, we aren’t told (though that didn’t stop some early writers from making up stories), except that He grew.

But it wasn’t just physically.

He became strong in spirit. Many modern translations, due to a Greek variant, are missing the words “in spirit.” But the majority of manuscripts contain these words.1  And it’s good that they do, because Luke isn’t telling us that Jesus became a muscular 12-year old. He is speaking of Jesus’ maturity, His self-control, His character.

He was filled with wisdom. The Greek word is sophia, from which we get our English word sophisticated (which means something that takes wisdom to understand). Jesus grew in knowledge, but also in understanding how to apply that knowledge. You can have a lot of experiences, and maybe even a lot of knowledge about different things, but you don’t have wisdom until you can take that knowledge base and learn lessons from it for your life (which could be as simple as don’t try to change a power receptacle without turning off the proper breakers first—don’t ask me how I know that…).

Wisdom is a sign of maturity. Kids may know all about their favorite YouTube personality, their favorite video game, or their favorite football team, but knowing those things doesn’t mean they are mature or wise. If, perhaps, they see their team’s quarterback retire early because of all the injuries he’s endured, and they take from that the lesson that what we do in life today will affect us years from now—and especially if they apply that lesson to their spiritual lives, not just their physical—that is wisdom. Jesus grew in this area, and all you have to do is look at His many farming metaphors (parables) to see He excelled in wisdom.

The favor of God was on Him.

Luke says the “grace” of God was on Him. Throughout my entire life, I’ve heard folks say the definition of grace is “unmerited favor.” But really, that isn’t the meaning. It really just means “favor.” It’s no surprise that some translations (probably because of our misguided definition) chose to use the word “favor” instead of “grace.”2

Certainly you can see the issue if we say God’s “unmerited favor” was on Jesus. Jesus actually merited God’s favor. And that’s exactly what this means. The Father looked at Jesus with gladness, with full approval of His words and deeds. Noah “found grace in the eyes of the Lord” because of his actions. While not perfect, Noah was walking with God. And especially when compared to the rest of the world at the time, Noah was “perfect in his generations.” He stood out as one who was actively trying to do God’s will.3

Yes, it is true that none of us merit God’s favor, because “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”4 But none of us will receive God’s favor if we aren’t making the effort to walk in His paths, His light, His commands. We have to make the effort, for we will be judged on our works.5

Jesus, however, truly earned God’s favor. We could really paraphrase it this way: God was proud of Jesus.

Looking for the “Lost” Lord (Luke 2:41-45)

Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast.

And when they fulfilled the days, when they returned, the child Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and his mother did not realize it. Instead they, supposing Him to have been with relatives, went a day’s journey. And they sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances.

And when they didn’t find Him, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking Him.

Another example of faithfulness

God chose Joseph and Mary for a reason. We’ve already seen Joseph’s faithfulness to God in how he responded to each dream God gave him (he got up and obeyed). We’ve seen Mary’s faithfulness (she said to Gabriel, “Behold, [I am] the servant of the Lord. Let it be according to your word”). And here we see their continued joint faithfulness. It wasn’t a question for either of them whether to go to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. It was a given. They were going, because that is what God commanded. Oh that people today would have the same attitude!

So their travel to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve years old was not a new experience for them or for Jesus. They did this every year.

The family leaves Jerusalem—well, most of them do

At the end of the feast (notice they didn’t leave worship early…), they started the 80-mile trip back to Nazareth.6 They didn’t make the trip by themselves. There was a caravan. It is possible that most of Nazareth more or less travelled together. This had to be a big enough group that they assumed Jesus was somewhere among their family—but they couldn’t actually see Him. This group involved not just Joseph and Mary (and whatever other children they had by this point7), but extended family and friends—again, all pointing to a sizeable group.

Some have called Joseph and Mary bad parents for not knowing where their own Son was for a whole day. In today’s “helicopter parenting” age, many parents hover over their children so much they are never able to become independent. But that is a relatively new phenomenon. If you read biographies from the 1800s, you will often see children as young as eight and nine years old being sent on days-long trips on horseback to towns. They were raised up to be able to take care of themselves from an early age. Given Jesus’ growth and maturity (something sadly lacking in young people—and many older people too—today), it isn’t really concerning that they didn’t know exactly where He was.

They assumed He was with family or friends elsewhere in the caravan. Some have said the men traveled together and the women and children traveled together. If this be the case, Jesus at twelve might have been assumed by Mary to be with Joseph and the men, while Joseph might have assumed He was with Mary. If they traveled by families, they probably thought Jesus was with His cousins or other family members. They weren’t worried about Him not being right there within eyesight.

But when the caravan stopped travelling for the day (approximately 20 miles),8 they looked for Him, asked about Him, but couldn’t find Him. Eventually they realized Jesus wasn’t with them. They were worried, and turned back around to Jerusalem to find Him. We’re not told if anyone else joined them (family or friends) on this return trip, but it is at least possible that some did.

Jesus Appears after Three Days (Luke 2:46-51)

It happened that after three days, they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing them and asking them questions. And all that heard Him were amazed at His understanding and answers.

And when they saw Him, they were amazed. And His mother said to Him, “Son, what have you treated us this way? Behold, your father and I have been seeking you in distress.”

And He said to them, “Why were you seeking me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

And they didn’t understand the saying He spoke to them.

After three days…

Jesus is unseen by those who love Him most for three days, and then He is finally seen. 21 years later, Jesus dies and is buried, unseen by those who love Him most for three days, and then is final seen again (after the resurrection). It may only be a coincidence, but if it is, it is an interesting one.

Jesus in the temple

They found Jesus in the temple. Not the temple itself, but the temple complex, as only Levitical priests were allowed inside the temple itself. This is the third time Luke records important events taking place here (Zacharias and Gabriel; Simeon prophesying about baby Jesus; and now Jesus being found in the temple). This seems to be a theme for Luke.9

In this part of the temple, rabbis and experts gathered to teach and discuss the Law of Moses. Jesus was sitting with them, listening to them speak, but also asking questions. It is interesting to contemplate what kind of questions Jesus was asking. It doesn’t seem to be purely informational questions, because the teachers were astonished at His answers. It seems more likely that Jesus’ questions were along the lines of, “But what about…” and then quoting a Scripture. He used this approach during His ministry some 18 years later.10

Jesus’ wisdom and understanding was evident to the teachers. They could tell this kid took the Law of Moses seriously, and could talk about it on a highly intelligent level—challenging perhaps even some of their own understandings. According to the Mishnah, Jewish boys began their religious training at age 13. So Jesus having all this wisdom at twelve would have certainly shocked them. It was probably a very enjoyable time for the teachers to see one so young so interested. But when He grew up and continued to challenge them—let’s just say they weren’t fond of it anymore.

Why did you treat us this way?

Mary and Joseph were also amazed at the interaction between Jesus and the teachers of the Law. Partially they may have been amazed that Jesus was actually at the temple. Partially they may have almost given up hope of finding Him, so finding Him alive—and not seeming to be worried about His parents—might have amazed them. But there is no doubt they were amazed as well by Jesus interacting with the highest teachers of the Law of Moses—and amazing them!

But Mary’s main concern at the time wasn’t pride for her Son’s spiritual intelligence and wisdom. It was that she had finally found her Son. But it was her emotions, stewing for three days, that came out when she spoke to Him. “Why did you treat us this way?” She took Jesus’ staying behind as a personal affront to her and Joseph.

“Your father and I have been seeking you in distress.” The word “distress” means “intense pain.”11 Mary was worried sick. And she wanted Jesus to know how it affected her. But Jesus never apologized. Instead, He addressed her emotion with logic. It’s not always an effective tactic, but Jesus knew what He was doing.

Didn’t you know?

Jesus asked her, “Why were you seeking me? Didn’t you know I must be in my Father’s house?” This question is a lot deeper than it might first appear. Literally translated, Jesus says, “Because of what did you continually seeking me?” That is, Jesus seems almost perplexed that it took them so long to figure out where He would be.

Then He says (literally), “Because could you not see that in these of my Father I—I must be?” Some translations say, “Did you not know…” but Jesus says, “Because could you not see…” To Jesus, it should have been obvious where He would be.

Translations differ on whether it should read, “in my Father’s house” or “about my Father’s business.” Both of these are interpretations (and not without merit), and not translations. Jesus actually said, “in these of my Father…” So what are the “these” Jesus was talking about?

  • Perhaps it is the Old Testament Scriptures. If this is the case, Jesus is asking them, “Didn’t you realize that I would be where God’s laws are being studied and discussed?” If this is the case, then “about my Father’s business” makes the most sense.
  • Perhaps it is a reference to the many buildings of the temple complex. If this is the case, then “in my Father’s house” makes the most sense.

Ultimately, whichever option you choose (and perhaps there is another one as well), they all point to Jesus saying, You should have known I’d be here.

Why did Jesus say they should have known it? Because He had to be there. The word Jesus uses (translated “must”) means it was a moral necessity. He needed to be there.

Huh?

Mary and Joseph didn’t understand what Jesus meant. Most likely, this means they didn’t understand why He thought they should have figured it out earlier instead of taking three days to finally look at the temple. I don’t think Luke means they didn’t understand what Jesus was referring to be “these of my Father.”

This might give us some encouragement, because sometimes we are slow to perceive what might be obvious to others. It doesn’t mean we are dumb, it just means we haven’t come to that understanding yet. It might be due to our circumstances, our emotions, or our background. But we can’t ever use those as an excuse to not seek to come to better understanding of God’s word.

So Jesus went back home with them to Nazareth, and was an obedient Son. But Mary never forgot what Jesus said to her that day. She “kept all these sayings in her heart.” Literally, she pondered them both intently and continually.12 Even though she knew Jesus was the Son of God, that He was born to be the Savior and King, and that it wasn’t going to be a pleasant role—Jesus was still her 12-year-old Son. She seems to be trying to come to grips with Jesus’ larger role.

Jesus Grows Some More (Luke 2:52)

Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.

Verse 40 reads very similarly, and covered approximately twelve years. Verse 52 covers eighteen years. Jesus got older, and got taller, and got wiser.

Jesus grew in wisdom—this is an incredible thought! Some have the mistaken idea that Jesus, even as a baby, had full knowledge of everything. But instead, by becoming a human, Jesus took on physical limitations. He “emptied Himself” of the limitless power of being God, and became a human—a human that needed to grow physically, to grow mentally, to grow spiritually. He increased in wisdom, He learned things.

If Jesus Himself—God in the flesh—needed to grow in wisdom, what does that say about us? Surely we need to do so even more, right? So why are there Christians who never study God’s word? Doesn’t this say (by their actions) that they think they have no more need to grow? That (by their actions) they are claiming to be more wise than even Jesus?

But Jesus also increased in favor with God. This is the same word translated “grace” in verse 40. Jesus, as He grew, gained more favor with God. He earned more favor with God. Why? Because He continued to obey God, continued to walk in the Light of God’s word.

The official doctrine of the Catholic Church is that Jesus was impeccable. That is, they say it was impossible for Jesus to sin. He could not have made the choice to sin. If that is the case, then Jesus wasn’t actually ever tempted, because He didn’t have the capability to sin. Yet the Bible holds out Jesus as an example of someone who was tempted, but didn’t give into the temptation. And if Jesus had no ability to choose to sin (if He had desired to), then there is no real reason for God to bestow His favor on Him—because Jesus wouldn’t have actually made the choice to do God’s will—He was (in essence) forced to. All this to say, the fact that Jesus increased in favor with God means Jesus was making the choice to do the Father’s will—and making the choice means He had the choice. And this is massively more impressive and meaningful to us as an example to follow.

He also grew in favor with man. How could He not? He was always truthful, upright, sincere, trustworthy, faithful… He was perfect. But therein came the problem once He began His ministry—the religious leaders didn’t want the truth spoken by faithful followers of God. They wanted… well, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

What Does This Mean for Us Today?

This passage makes a great outline. Burton Coffman shared this great note on this passage:

This passage formed the basis for many a great sermon of the Restoration, in which were these analogies: (1) Many continue along life’s way believing that Jesus is in their company, when actually he is not. (2) The search for Christ begins with kinsfolk and neighbors, but he is not with them either! (3) Then, let men return to Jerusalem, that is, to the gospel that was first preached in Jerusalem, to the true teachings of the New Testament. (4) Sure enough, Jesus was found in the temple, a figure of his church; and that is where he is found today.

Never be afraid to ask questions. Jesus was in the temple, listening and asking questions. He was still growing in wisdom, and this stop at the temple may have been a highlight of his childhood years, something He remembered fondly as an adult. When you don’t understand why we do things we do religiously, ask. When you don’t know how certain passages can be harmonized, ask. When you want to know what certain words, phrases, or even sections of Scripture mean, don’t be afraid to ask.

You need to grow in wisdom too. If Jesus needed it, you need it. Never stop studying God’s word!

 

1 “Most MSS (A Θ Ψ À1,13 33 œ) read πνεύματι (pneumati, “in spirit”) after “became strong,” but this looks like an assimilation to Luke 1:80. The better witnesses (א B D L N W pc lat co) lack the word.” –NET Bible footnote at this verse. What represents a “better witness” is a matter of debate, and I am not in agreement with their assertion, especially here.

2 ESV, RSV, NRSV, and MLV all use “favor,” while KJV, NKJV, NIV, and NASB all say “grace.” Alexander Campbell translated it “adorned with a divine gracefulness,” making it an attribute of Jesus’ character instead of how God viewed Him.

3 See Genesis 6:5-9.

4 Romans 3:23.

5 2 Corinthians 5:10.

6 This is assuming they followed the custom of many Galillean Jews to bypass Samaria.

7 Given James’ status as an “elder” in the church at Jerusalem (Acts 15) approximately AD 51, he almost certainly couldn’t have been more than a few years younger than Jesus.

8 So claims the footnote in my Bible—The Open Bible: Expanded Edition, King James Version.. This is also the number mentioned by Ted Clarke in Preaching School Notes (Bible Institute of Missouri: 2008-2010) e-Sword version.

9 The establishment of the church in Acts 2 takes place at the temple as well—this also written by Luke.

10 John 10:33-35; Matthew 22:41-46.

11 Thayer’s definitions. E-Sword version.

12 This is a piece of evidence that Luke probably interviewed Mary prior to writing his Gospel account. Only Mary would know that she never forgot what Jesus said that day, or that she continually pondered it.

[Life of Christ] The Very Early Life of Jesus (Part 3)

(My apologies for not getting this posted earlier.)

The King has Arrived: The Very Early Life of Jesus (Part 3)
(Luke 2:36-38; Matthew 2)

Anna the Old Prophetess (Luke 2:36-38)

There was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old, and had lived with her husband for seven years from her virginity. And she had been a widow about 84 years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.

And she, coming in that instant, gave thanks as well to the Lord, and spoke about Him to all who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

Anna’s background

We’re given a lot of interesting detail about this woman, more than we are about Simeon, even though she only appears for three verses—and never shows up again.

  • She is a prophetess. She is the only person in the New Testament who is specifically called a prophetess.1 This is the only time the word (which is the feminine of prophet) 2 It seems this is what she was known for.
  • She is the daughter of Phanuel. This is purely a historical detail, as this name doesn’t appear anywhere else in Scripture.
  • She is of the tribe of Asher. This is a fascinating detail, as this makes her the only person in the New Testament we know for certain came from one of the ten northern tribes of Israel (frequently called the “lost ten tribes”).3
  • She is very old. While some Bibles interpret or editorialize in regards to Anna’s age, the Greek is pretty straightforward: She got married, was married for seven years (after which her husband died), and then lived as a widow for 84 years.4 If she was 13 (an age some like to throw around for Israelite girls becoming brides), then she was 20 when she became a widow, and therefore was 104 years old when she saw baby Jesus.
  • She never leaves the temple. Not in the temple itself, but the temple complex, as only priests were permitted inside the temple itself.
  • She serves God through fasting and prayer continually. This shows dedication, piety, sincerity. She did these things “night and day.” Certainly she slept some, but this was a way of life to her. Her dedication to God was not Sabbath-only or just on Passover and Pentecost.

By the time Luke investigated all this and wrote it down, Anna had probably been dead 50 years or more. But even so, people remembered Anna, who she was, and what she did in service to God. What a profound impact she must have had on people’s lives!

Anna enters…and leaves

To put this in context (because I probably should have included it with the previous lesson), Joseph and Mary had brought baby Jesus, at 40 days old, to the temple for Mary to offer her purification sacrifices. While there, Simeon (probably an older man) takes Jesus and makes a prophecy about Him. It is at this time Anna shows up and apparently heard Simeon’s words.

The result is she praises God with thanks. Perhaps she too had been told she would not die until she saw the Lord’s Christ (because Luke says she “likewise” gave thanks). Like Simeon, she was waiting for the Messiah to come and start fulfilling all the promises God had made throughout the Old Testament.

After thanking God, Anna left. And you can imagine the scene as she finds all the people she knows who share her longing for God’s kingdom—and tells them “The King is here!.” It wasn’t just Simeon and Anna who “looked for redemption” or were “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” There were many. Simeon and Anna are just the ones we are told about.

A Chronological Conundrum

According to Luke 2:39, “when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth.” This is fine and dandy. The difficulty comes when we look at Matthew’s account. According to his record, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus flee to Egypt, and only return to Israel when they hear Herod is dead—but they avoid Judea because Herod’s son was reigning.

Some have surmised these incidents took place between Jesus’ birth and His presentation at the temple. I can’t see how such a thing is possible, given the amount of time necessary to contain the events of Matthew 2. Others have guessed the events in Matthew 2 take place sometime after the family returned to Nazareth—but that would require them to return to Bethlehem to be there when the wise men show up, with no real reason to do so.

My best guess is this: After Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary stayed in Bethlehem until the time to present Jesus at the temple. During this time (or shortly thereafter), the wise men were in Jerusalem, asking where the King of the Jews had been born. They are directed to Bethlehem where they see the star over a house (perhaps even the same day Jesus was presented at the temple). It is then that Jesus is presented with the gold, frankincense, and myrrh.5 Then they flee to Egypt, etc. This would mean Luke assumes the reader is familiar with them through Matthew’s writing, and therefore saw no reason to mention them in detail. Instead, he just records that they went back to Nazareth.6

The Wise Men and the Paranoid King (Matthew 2:1-11)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the King, behold, there came Magi from the east to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews? Because we have seen His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.”

When Herod the king had heard this, he was troubled—and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, because it is written by the prophet, ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the princes of Judah: because out of you shall come a governor who shall rule my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called the Magi, and diligently enquired of them when the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, “Go search diligently for the young child. And when you have found him, bring me word again, so I might come and worship him too.”

After listening to the king, they left, and behold! The star, which they saw in the east, went before them until it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

And when they had come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented to Him gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Turning Jerusalem upside-down

Magi came from the east. Most likely this is near where Babylon once was, and where Persia once held sway (modern-day Iraq and Iran). Daniel was one of the wise men of Babylon, and later of Persia as well. It is possible (maybe even likely) that the Magi who came to see Jesus could trace their lineage of teaching back to the time of Daniel, who prophesied of a Kingdom to be established by God during the days of the Roman Empire. If this is the case (and I think it highly probable), these wise men would have been waiting for the fulfillment of this prophecy just like Simeon and Anna were.7

They came to Jerusalem, the capitol city, where they would assume the King of the Jews would be born. But not knowing exactly where to look, they started asking around. I can imagine the looks on some faces. What? What king? I haven’t heard about a new king being born. And others might have responded with excitement, wanting details about the star they saw, and wondering if maybe, just maybe, God was inaugurating His Kingdom plan.

Tradition has three men traveling from a great distance to worship the newborn King. Yet the Bible gives us no definite number of Magi/wise men. Matthew indicates (at least to me) a lot more than three people came to town. Jerusalem was not a small town. There were easily tens of thousands of people living there (if not closer to 100,000). So three men asking questions wouldn’t have been enough to stir up the city and get Herod worried. But if it was a massive caravan of Magi? Along with their servants and bodyguards? On camels? That makes more sense to me.

Herod and all Jerusalem are troubled, but for very different reasons. Herod (as we will see) is a power-hungry monster who is paranoid that he might lose the power and prestige he has gained in Judea if this “King of the Jews” story proves to be true. The people who heard about the wise men are troubled because of uncertainty, and possibly because they have seen/heard what Rome does to those who challenge its authority—and perhaps they are troubled because they know what Herod is like…

The king asks about the birthplace of the King

Herod is concerned. So he convenes a very hasty impromptu council of all the Jewish leaders. I’m not sure how exactly this took place, but he probably sent out some messengers quickly, demanding that all the chief priests and scribes come to his palace immediately—or else (and they would have known what the “or else” meant).

Herod is not a Jew. This is important to recognize. Herod was an Idumean—that is, he was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau. Around 130 years before these events took place, a man named John Hyrcanus made himself king over Judah8 (though everyone apparently knew he was not the Messiah—not being in the line of David).9  One thing John did was to subjugate the Idumeans and force them to convert to Judaism or die. Herod was a descendant of people who were forced to convert against their wills. While Herod did a lot for the Jews (building projects), he was not a Jew, and had no real respect for Judaism or the Jewish people (when he ascended to power, he killed all but two members of the Sandhedrin, and had a high-priest drowned).10 All he cared about was power and prestige. So when he called the chief priests and scribes together, they came quick.

He demanded to know where Christ would be born. Thankfully (for the priests and scribes) the Scripture said exactly where it would take place. They quoted Micah 5:2, which named Bethlehem as the place. But they didn’t quote the whole verse. I kinda wonder why. Here’s what Micah 5:2 says in its entirety:

But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to me the one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old—from everlasting.

Did you catch the last part of that verse? The one who would be born in Bethlehem is the one “whose goings forth” (i.e., His actions/works) are “from of old—from everlasting.” It seems crazy that these religious leaders could see the Messiah’s birthplace identified in advance here, but completely miss that the Messiah was also eternal—“from everlasting.” That is, the very verse they quote says the Messiah would also be God.

The Magi migrate to Bethlehem

After getting the answer, he secretly called the Magi to him and sincerely asked them when they saw the star appear. Sincere in that he really wanted to know—just not for moral motives. Today if people said they saw a certain star that told them a king was born, we’d probably think they were crazy. But Herod lived in a time when things like this were taken seriously, and were even part of the official story of some royal leaders. And though he wasn’t a Jew, he was familiar with a lot of Jewish history—he knew there was a prophesied king.

They told him when they saw the star (and we’ll look at that when we cover verse 16), and so he told them to go to Bethlehem. But there was a catch: You’ve got to come back and tell me where he is so I can go worship him too. Of course, Herod was lying through his teeth, but certainly put on a pious act so the Magi would be none the wiser.

The Magi (caravan?) went to Bethlehem and saw the same star they had seen in the east. This greatly excited them, because it “came and stood over where the young child was.” I don’t know exactly what this looked like. It reads like the star was moving and they followed it until it stopped exactly over little child Jesus. How high in the sky that was, and how they knew it was directly over Jesus? I’m not sure.

What does matter is what they did when they got there. They went into the house (whenever this was, it certainly wasn’t the night Jesus was born), saw the young child (no longer called a baby) and Mary, and fell down and worshipped Him (they didn’t worship Mary). Falling down (on their hands and knees, with faces to the ground) to worship Him shows humility, honor, and submission. When you bow down like this, you leave yourself completely exposed to harm with no means of protection. Does our worship express these things?

As part of their worship, they presented Him gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I find these gifts interesting.

  • Gold covered every item in the temple—the dwelling-place of God.
  • Frankincense was an ingredient in a sacred mixture to be used only in tabernacle/temple worship.11 It was also used in every meal offering, and on the showbread in the temple.12
  • Myrrh was used in the sacred oil to anoint high priests of Israel.13

These items were not cheap, and may have come in very handy when Joseph, Mary, and Jesus had to flee to Egypt.

Though the Magi were Gentiles, they were the first Matthew records as worshipping Jesus.

The Slaughter of the Innocents (Matthew 2:12-18)

Being warned by God in a dream that they shouldn’t return to Herod, they went to their own country a different way. And after they left, behold, the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph In a dream, saying, “Arise and take the young child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word—because Herod will seek to destroy the young child.”

When he awoke, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt have I called My Son.”

Then when Herod saw that he was mocked by the wise men, he was extremely angry, and sent and killed all the male children that were in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding areas, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “In Rama there was a voice heard, lamentation and weeping and a great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be comforted, because they are not.”

Two dreams, two departures

The Magi were warned by God in a dream (did they all have the same dream? That would be convincing) to not go back to Herod, and to go back home a different way. They were not to be party at all to Herod’s plot, and they needed to get away without him noticing. It almost reads like this all happened the same evening they found Jesus.14

After they left, Joseph gets a dream as well, with an angel (it wouldn’t surprise me if it was the same angel as from his previous dream) telling him to get up and take the family on a vacation to Egypt—as in vacate the premises and go to Egypt! Unlike the Magi, Joseph is given a reason—Herod wants to kill Jesus!

So Joseph does what he did the last time he had an angel-dream—he gets up and obeys. He takes the little family by night and heads toward Egypt. This appears to be the same night the wise men left.

Then Matthew says the Egyptian part of the story was to fulfill Hosea 11:1. If Matthew hadn’t said this, I don’t think anyone would have connected the two incidents. Hosea 11:1 speaks of God calling Israel out of Egypt (speaking of the Exodus), and calls them “my son.” By referencing this, Matthew shows that sometimes prophecies aren’t always just words spoken or written, but can also include events which point to something greater.15

Heinous Herod

Enough time had passed that Herod knew the Magi weren’t coming back. Somehow, he thought, they figured it out. And he was livid. The KJV says he was “exceeding wroth.” So, since he didn’t know exactly which child was the one, he decided to kill them all. He sent men (Roman soldiers, most likely) to find and kill all the male children two years old and under.16

This act was pure evil, and was direct from Satan. Throughout history, Satan has tried to destroy the promised seed (Genesis 3:15), and though he comes close, he is never successful.17 God was ahead of him and protected the seed.

But Herod didn’t realize he failed in his goal. .

Matthew says this event was foretold by Jeremiah 31:15. This originally referred to the scattering of Judah, and is immediately followed by the words, “Thus saith the LORD, ‘Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, because your work shall be rewarded,’ saith the LORD, ‘and they shall come again from the land of the enemy.’” If Jeremiah 31:15 was a verse of lamentation for destruction, and verse 16 a verse of hope and restoration, then what are we to make of Matthew’s use of it?

I think this is an admission that what happened with Herod murdering the small children is horrible and cause for lamentation and weeping—but (though Matthew doesn’t mention it specifically) that there will be a time where restoration will take place, where those children can be reunited with their parents if the parents are faithful to God. If this is the case, then it would also prove that babies are not born in sin—babies are innocent and safe. There is no such thing as original sin.

Going Home to Nazareth (Matthew 2:19-23; Luke 2:39)

But when Herod was dead, behold an angel of the Lord appears in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise and take the young child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel, for those who sought the young child’s life are dead.”

And he arose and took the young child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus reigned in Judea in the place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee.

And He came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, so that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

(Luke 2:39) And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.

Herod dead

Joseph gets a lot of dream-messages from God—and they all seem to have an angel (the same one?). Last time it was bad news: Herod wants to kill Jesus; get out of Bethlehem! This time, it is good news: Herod is dead (and apparently his cronies are dead too);18 it is safe to go back.

So Joseph did what he always does: wakes up and obeys. They travel to Israel (not a short trip), but soon after they entered, he discovered Herod’s son Archelaus was reigning, and Joseph was scared to go through Judea.19 So God sent another dream, telling him to go to Galilee.

If one were to only read Matthew, it would seem that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are newcomers to Nazareth. But Luke informs us Joseph and Mary were both natives of that small town.

Even though Matthew continues to use the pronoun “he” to refer to Joseph (verses 21-22), when he uses it in verse 23, Jesus is the one under consideration. We know this because Matthew says it was fulfillment of another prophecy, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” And this is where we run into another difficulty. This prophecy doesn’t exist.

This isn’t a direct quote from any verse of the Old Testament, and believe it or not, we shouldn’t expect to find a direct quote. Matthew says, “which was spoken by the prophets” (plural). It seems, then that this is more of a theme from prophecy instead of an exact quote. The Hebew word neser (quite possibly where the word “Nazareth” and “Nazarene” originate) is the word translated “Branch” in Isaiah 11:1, referring to Christ. Ted Clarke says it this way:

Nazareth was not a city that commanded much respect. It was a small village in Galilee. The area was mostly a Gentile area, although there was a synagogue there, thus some Jews there. The Jews of the south did not view the Jews of the north very well. It’s not likely that “he shall be called a Nazarene” means anything other than that he would be from a lowly, humble place (Isaiah 53:1-3). Jesus was not like Saul. Jesus was not one who would be great-looking, nor would he come from great area. There is nothing outstanding about him, physically speaking. His father was a carpenter, which would not exactly attract people to him.

Neser refers to a root or sprout or branch (Nazarene). This means something that is less significant. Humility, humble beginnings, lowliness. Jesus did not have an easy life. When people saw him, it took miracles for them to see it was Christ. Jesus did not stand out in a crowd.20

What Does This Mean for Us Today?

Do you look for reasons to not worship? The wise men didn’t just decide to make a day-trip to Jerusalem to see if they could find the newborn King. This trip took planning (organizing a caravan, gathering the gold, frankincense, and myrrh). And after the planning, it took days to get there. After all, this was somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 miles. If we figure an average of 30 miles a day, that’s 20 days of travel! And remind me again what was so difficult that you couldn’t make it to worship God Sunday?

Get up and obey! Joseph is a great example of someone who heard the word of the Lord and wasted no time in obeying it. How often do we look for loopholes in commands, or find reasons why it is okay for us to not do what it says? How many people reject or minimize the command to be baptized instead of just doing what Christ commanded? How are you doing that in your own life?

Do you share the good news? Anna, at minimum 104 years old, is last seen going around Jerusalem, telling people about Jesus. When are we going to quit making excuses and just serve God with all our heart like she did? If a 104-year old woman can share the good news, what excuse do we have not to?

God wins. Satan has plans—evil, vicious plans—to destroy the followers of God. But in the end, God always wins. Through 4,000 years of history, God kept the promised seed safe so He could grow up and die as the sacrifice for our sins. Satan tried so many times to stop it from happening, but God always wins. Things haven’t changed. Satan wants to tear us down, to get us to sin and leave God behind, “but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above that which you are able to bear; but will with the temptation also make a way of escape so that you might be able to hear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

—–

1 There are other women who prophesied (Philip’s four virgin daughters in Acts 21:8-9), but Anna appears to be the only one who was known by the title of a prophetess.

2 There are instances of the English word prophetess to be found in the Old Testament, but here I am only referencing the New Testament.

3 There are theories regarding some of the apostles being from different tribes (some go so far as to say each of the apostles was from a different tribe—an impossibility, since there were at least two sets of brothers among them). But outside of the apostle Paul (who said clearly he was from the tribe of Benjamin), we do not know the tribal ancestry of any of them.

4 So reads the KJV, English Revised Version (1881), NET (also see their note on this passage), MLV, HCSB/CSB, Campbell’s Living Oracles, and the Message.

5 Had Jesus been presented with these gifts before He was presented at the temple, Joseph and Mary would have been able to afford the lamb for Mary’s purification offering. Since they were unable to, it means they hadn’t received the gold yet.

6 I contemplated the possibility that the wise men showed up prior to Jesus’ presentation in the temple, but the information in the previous footnote convinced me this could not be correct.

7 Daniel also foretold the fall of Babylon and rise of the Medo-Persian Empire. He foretold of their fall and the rise of Greece. Because those things had come true (with really interesting details corroborated through Daniel’s prophecies), the Magi would have had faith in the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy of 2:44. Additionally, Zoroastrianism, which began in the Persian Empire during or shortly after Daniel’s lifetime, contains some similarities to Judaism and the looking forward to a King from God. It is possible (I think it probable) that Zoroastrianism is a corruption of principles and prophecies of Judaism given by Daniel, and carried forward by the Magi to the people.

8 McClintock & Strong’s Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, “Herod.”

9 His grandson was made high priest, implying this family was of the tribe of Levi.

10 Ibid. “Immediately on ascending the throne Herod put to death all the members of the Sanhedrim, excepting Pollio and Sameas (the famous Hillel and Shammai of the Rabbinical writers), who had predicted this result, and also all the adherents of Antigonus who could be found. Having confiscated their property, he … then gave the office of high-priest… to an obscure priest from Babylon named Ananel. At this insult Alexandra, the mother of Mariamne  and Aristobulus, to whom the office of high-priest belonged by hereditary succession, appealed to Cleopatra to use her powerful influence with Antony, and Herod was thus compelled to depose Ananel, and to elevate Aristobulus to the high-priesthood. The increasing popularity of Aristobulus, added to the further intrigues of Alexandra, so excited the jealousy of Herod that he caused him to be drowned while bathing, and expressed great sorrow at the accident.”

11 Exodus 30:34-38.

12 Leviticus 2:1-2, 15-16; 24:5-7.

13 Exodus 30:23-33.

14 The fact of a star above Jesus indicates it was night when they found Him.

15 Paul and Peter both follow the same event-prophecy principle when describing the Red Sea crossing (1 Corinthians 10:1-3) and the flood of Noah’s day (1 Peter 3:20-21) as pointing forward to baptism.

16 It is a point of contention with some who dispute the Bible that this slaughter of the innocents is not mentioned in any secular histories of the time. But it must be remembered that Bethlehem was an extremely small town, with maybe a few hundred residents. The amount of male children two years old and under may have been under twenty. Don’t get me wrong, this is a massive tragedy. But it probably wasn’t anything that would have shown up on Josephus’ radar (because it didn’t affect the history of Israel), and Roman historians wouldn’t have cared about the death of twenty Jewish kids.

17 Satan got Abel killed, only to find the seed promise would go through Seth. He got the entire population of earth killed in the flood except for eight people—from an odds perspective, he must have thought he won—but it was through two of those eight (Shem and his wife) that the promise was continued. Tracing the seed promise through Scriptures and the lengths to which Satan went to stop it from happening is a very fascinating and rewarding study.

18 Matthew says “they who sought the young child’s life are dead.”

19 This fact seems to be conclusive proof (especially with the gifts of the Magi being taken into consideration) that the events of Matthew 2 did not take place prior to the events of Luke 2:25-38.

20 Cobb, Bradley S. (ed.), Preaching School Notes: Bible Institute of Missouri, 2008-2010. E-Sword edition.

[Life of Christ] The King Has Arrived: Early Life of Jesus (part 2)

The King Has Arrived: The Very Early Life of Jesus (Part 2)
(Luke 2:21-35)

Following the Law of Moses, the Law of the Lord (Luke 2:21-24)

When the eighth day had come, when the child was to be circumcised, His name was called Jesus, using the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

And when the days of her purification had ended, according to the Law of Moses, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord. (As it is written in the law of the Lord: “Every male child who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD.”) And they did this to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord: “A Pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

Entering into the Covenant with Abraham

Waaaaaay back in Genesis 17, God made a covenant with Abraham. The sign (or “token,” KJV) of this covenant was circumcision. Hopefully I don’t need to go into describing what circumcision is, because that could get uncomfortable for some people. Suffice it to say, biologically, this circumcision can only be done on males. And it was to be done when the male child was 8 days old.1

For Jesus to be a legitimate heir of Abraham (see Matthew’s genealogy), He had to enter into that covenant and be circumcised on the eighth day. Any of Abraham’s male descendants who was not circumcised according to the commandment was “cut off” from the people of God.2 So it should be no surprise to find Luke (a doctor) mention Jesus undergoing this surgical procedure.3

But Luke’s focus isn’t on the circumcision. That is only given as a time marker. The focus of verse 21 is that the Child was named Jesus that day. Jesus was given that name, not because Mary and Joseph thought it was cool, not that it was a family name (because it wasn’t—see Matthew 1 and Luke3), but because the angel had given them instructions on what to name Him.

In presenting this, Luke shows Mary and Joseph as faithful to the commands of God. They were told (individually) what to name this baby, they remembered the command, and they obeyed.

Following the Law of Moses

We now fast-forward approximately 33 days.4 And here again Luke portrays Mary and Joseph as faithful followers of the commands of God. First it was circumcision, then naming Jesus, now it is one of the 613 commandments of the Old Testament—the offering of a purification sacrifice 40 days after having a baby boy.5

The focus of this verse isn’t on the purification sacrifice (actually two sacrifices, but we will talk about that a bit later), but (like the previous verse) it is used as a time marker for something more important—presenting the firstborn male to God.

The last of the ten plagues was the smiting (killing) of the firstborn throughout Egypt. This is the punishment that finally got Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave. God sent “the destroyer” to kill all the firstborn, but would not permit this “destroyer” to harm the Israelite firstborn.6 But while He spared them, God also laid claim on them. They now belonged to Him (Numbers 3:13).7

From that point onward, all firstborn males of Israel were to be presented to God, and redeemed (bought back) with specific payment of five shekels of silver.8 One author (in 1886) said this was the equivalent of $2.50. If that is accurate, then the cost of redeeming Jesus in accordance to the Law of Moses is the equivalent of $47.46 in 2023.9

Luke explains this by quoting Exodus 13:2: “Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD.” When He says, “holy,” He doesn’t mean “sinless.” All babies are sinless, whether firstborn or not, male or female, Jew or Gentile. What He means is that the firstborn males (and they must be true firstborn, not just the first son, but also the first child) belong to Him. They are to be set apart for Him. And because He has the claim on them, the parents must pay a redemption price—and out of love, that price is incredibly cheap. Cheap enough any family could afford it.

Then Luke focuses on the purification sacrifice, which is actually two different sacrifices. These had to be offered by every mother after their child was born (40 days later for a son, 80 days later for a daughter). It is very important we notice this fact: these sacrifices are explicitly for the mother. Check out what Leviticus 12:6-7 says.

And when the days of her purifying have been fulfilled, for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, to the door of the congregation, to the priest, who shall offer it before the LORD and make an atonement for her. Then she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood. This is the law for her that has given birth to a male or a female.

Why mention this? Mary offered a sin offering. What does that mean? It means she had sinned. We aren’t told what any of her sins were, but we know she did sin. The official stance of the Roman Catholic Church is that Mary was immaculately conceived (their doctrine to try to side-step their doctrine of “original sin”), and that she did not sin at all—ever. But in offering a sin offering, she either did it honestly, meaning she had sin that needed dealing with—or she did it hypocritically, meaning she lied when she offered it. In either case, she was not sin-free.

Mary’s offering to the Lord was two turtledoves. This offering was only allowable if the family was too poor to afford a lamb (see Leviticus 12:8). Neither Mary nor Joseph were people of means. Jesus chose to be born to humble, poor parents. God chose some of the poorest Israelites to raise His Son.

Being poor does not mean you’re righteous. But poor people are poor are more likely to show a dependence on God than rich people are. Mary and Joseph are one such example.

Simeon the prophet (Luke 2:25-35).

Behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Spirit was upon Him. And it was revealed to him  by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

And he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him after the custom of the law, then he took Him up in his arms, blessed God, and said, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to Your word. For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared before the face of all peoples—a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”

And Joseph and His mother were amazed at the things which were spoken by him.

Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against (yes, and a sword will pierce your own soul also), so that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed.”

Okay, I can die now.

Apparently while Mary and Joseph are at the temple, getting ready to offer the purification sacrifices, a man came up to them. His name was Simeon (or Simon).10 It is almost 100% certain that he was named after Simeon, the second oldest son of Jacob.11 We assume he was an old man, though that isn’t explicitly stated.12

What we know for sure is his faithfulness and dedication to God. He was just (same thing said about Joseph in Matthew 1) or righteous. This means he treated people fairly and right. It means he followed God’s law. He was also devout. This means he took following God seriously. This same word is used of those gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost when Peter preached at the temple (Acts 2:5). When an inspired author calls you righteous and devout, that means God is calling you that. That’s high praise from the Creator of everything!

Simeon was waiting for the “consolation of Israel.” He knew God had promised to set up a Kingdom during the days of the “fourth kingdom” (the Roman Empire—Daniel 2:44). He knew about the promises made to Abraham, to David, and ultimately to all Israel about a coming Messiah who would make things right. And he lived in expectation of seeing it. He wanted to see it, believed it was coming. And God rewarded him.

The Holy Spirit was on him. Luke is very consistent in his use of phrases like this. Every single time he says “the Holy Spirit came upon…” or “the Holy Spirit fell on…” or “…was filled with the Holy Spirit,” he is talking about supernatural power—most often shown by prophesying, speaking in tongues, or speaking an inspired message (and sometimes all three). It is common for people to claim John the Baptizer was the first prophet for 400 years, but that isn’t accurate, because Simeon was one.13

The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that He would get to see the Lord’s Christ (anointed one) before he died. This was a promise that the plan hadn’t been forgotten, that God was acting on behalf of Israel and ultimately all mankind. Did Simeon share this message with others? I can’t imagine him keeping it to himself, even if he didn’t spell it out in “before I die” language.

The Holy Spirit led him to come to the temple that day, and he was waiting for Jesus to arrive. When Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus came in, Simeon grabbed Jesus, held Him, and praised God. Then he said, “Lord now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word.” In modern language, “Lord, I can die now, just like you said.”14 That must have been awkward for Mary and Joseph. Some strange man grabs your son and then says, “Okay, I can die now.” Of course, that isn’t where this incident ends, but at least for a moment, I have to think Mary and Joseph were maybe a tab bit concerned for a short moment.

Simeon continued his prayer by calling Jesus “Your salvation.” He understood Jesus was the one God had sent to bring salvation to Jew and Gentile who would follow Him. This salvation was “prepared before the face of all peoples.” This means it is universal. “A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” The glory of something is its beauty, its glow. Often God’s glory is described as brightness. So ultimately, Simeon says of Jesus that He will be a shining light to lead ALL people—Jew and Gentile alike.

Jesus’ salvation mission isn’t going to be easy

Mary and Joseph stood there amazed at the words of Simeon’s prayer. They already knew at least part of this. But to have a total stranger come make this public proclamation of things you haven’t shared publicly with others (Jesus is the Savior, the Salvation of God)? That’s got to inspire amazement. And did Mary and Joseph realize He would also be Savior for Gentiles? We don’t know. But even if they did, it’s not hard to imagine that some other folks who may have heard this prayer and proclamation might not have been a fan of it (Gentiles?!? No way!!).

Simeon blessed them (Mary and Joseph). Scripture says that without exception, the lesser is blessed by the greater (Hebrews 7:7). This being the case, Simeon was (in whatever way) greater than Joseph and Mary. This kills the idea of Mariolatry (the worship, adoration, and exaltation of Mary done by the Roman Catholic Church). If Simeon is greater, and he a person with sin, then Mary must also have had sin (driving another stake into the heart of the doctrine that Mary never sinned).

He tells Mary Jesus is going to cause some people to fall and rise again. Some will fall because they refuse to believe Him (*cough* Pharisees *cough*). Others who had fallen would rise again (see the tax collectors and sinners who followed Him). And some would do both (Saul of Tarsus fell, but was raised again to new life through baptism). This message was designed to forewarn Mary that Jesus’ mission wasn’t going to be smooth and easy. There would be pushback. His mission wasn’t going to end in universal salvation of all mankind. It wasn’t even going to result in national salvation for Israel. Some would be lost—but the opportunity to rise again through baptism and then rise again in the resurrection was there for everyone.

Jesus would also be a sign which would be spoken against. He was frequently mocked and ridiculed—nowhere more viciously than when He was on the cross, going through the very act of saving mankind. They sarcastically told Him to save Himself, to come down off the cross. They mocked His message, denied His power, ridiculed His role as the King. Mary didn’t know what all was entailed by this prophecy from Simeon, but it was certainly a sobering message.

Then Simeon tells her, “Yes, a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Mary’s heart is going to break. She will be heartbroken as her Son is mocked and murdered. But she will also probably hurt when she finds out His mission means she doesn’t have access to Him like she used to.15 And perhaps some of the heart-brokenness will also come as people in her own hometown reject him (Matthew 13:54-58) and perhaps even besmirch her name as well (John 8:41). So while it would certainly not be easy for Jesus, it also would not be easy for Mary either.16

The final recorded message from Simeon is this: Jesus’ mission was to expose the thoughts of many hearts. Jesus exposed the lies and hypocrisies of the Pharisees on multiple occasions. Sometimes He even read their minds and told the crowd what they were thinking. How people reacted to Jesus exposed their true thoughts and intentions. Were they sincere followers of God? Then they would follow Jesus. Were they doing it for show, for pride, for power, for prestige? Then they would reject and fight against Jesus.

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

What does this mean for us today?

Life isn’t fair. Life isn’t easy. If life were fair, Jesus would have had the easiest life. He would have had no enemies, because He always spoke the truth, always did the right thing, always served God, always showed love—even when it meant telling people hard truths.

If life wasn’t fair and wasn’t easy for Jesus, who was sinless—why do we think it ought to be fair and easy for us? All who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). We aren’t promised an easy life. But we are promised an abundant life if we follow Jesus (John 10:10).

God wants ALL His laws to be followed. 613 laws in the Old Testament. 613! And some of them really seem redundant (read Leviticus) or minor sometimes. But in this short passage we see that faithful people don’t leave out any of the commands of God. Mary and Joseph (1) had Jesus circumcised on day 8, (2) named Him like they were both commanded to do, (3) came immediately after Jesus was 40 days old to offer a purification sacrifice—two offerings, actually, and did it exactly as was written in the Old Testament, and (4) came to present Mary’s firstborn Son to the Lord.

Are there some laws we tend to ignore? Maybe about gossip? Attitudes? Forgiveness? Kindness? Always speaking truth? Showing love? Do we find it easy to make excuses for why we don’t follow some of these commands? Or do we faithfully try to put God first?

Jesus is the Way—the ONLY Way! Simeon’s prophecy said Jesus is the Salvation of God. God only has one way of salvation, and that is Jesus. He is the Salvation for Jews, and the Salvation for Gentiles. Jesus knew what He was saying when He said, “I am THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Have you tried to get in God’s good graces by some other way? Maybe it is through your own efforts (Look at all the wonderful things I’ve done), or maybe through your lack of overt evil (I’ve never killed anyone). Maybe it is through a false gospel (“Ask Jesus into your heart…”). Jesus is the only way, and He set forth the only way you can take that narrow way.

1 This is evidence for the divine authorship of the Bible. The eighth day is the time when Vitamin K levels are highest in the body, which helps with the healing. Today when circumcisions are done, they do it earlier (1 or 2 days old, frequently), but they also give the baby a Vitamin K shot in order to help with the healing. Apparently we can’t wait the 6-7 days to get to day eight anymore.

2 Genesis 17:10-14.

3 According to some traditions, this was usually done by a priest.

4 Leviticus 12:2-4.

5 Luke actually says “when the days of their purification had finished…” Yet the purification sacrifice was only for the mother according to the Law of Moses. How do we rectify this? Some have suggested that Joseph had become unclean as well (those who suggest such usually don’t say how, but it could be from sexual contact while Mary is considered unclean, or perhaps some other reason). Others suggest Joseph as head of the household was responsible for the cost of the sacrifice, and as such was grouped together with Mary in this instance. I personally think it more likely that Joseph isn’t being considered in the word their, but that it refers to Mary and Jesus.

6 Some translations (NLT, for example) use the phrase “destroying angel,” even though the word “angel” is not in the Hebrew text. The idea of an “angel of death” or “death angel” appears to come from Psalm 78:49, which, in describing the Ten Plagues, says God sent “destroying angels” (NIV) to accomplish His wrath.

7 There is a lot more detail which we have left out regarding the firstborn Israelites during the Exodus. They were all counted up, and God took the tribe of Levi in place of the firstborn of the rest of the tribes. However, the numbers didn’t match up, and so sacrifices/gifts had to be offered to redeem (buy back) the extra firstborn Israelites that weren’t covered by God taking the tribe of Levi (Numbers 3:40-51).

8 Numbers 18:15-16. This shekel was weighed according to the sanctuary shekel, apparently a standard unit of measurement for them.

9 This number comes from www.officialdata.org. Accessed May 3, 2023.

10 Simon and Simeon are two different versions of the same name. Simon Peter is called both (see Acts 15:6-14, especially verses 7 and 14, as well as Acts 5:8).

11 The tribe of Simeon disappears early in the biblical record. By Jacob’s prophecy at the end of his life, Simeon was truly scattered among the other tribes. Their inheritance was in the middle of the tribe of Judah, and was eventually absorbed into Judah.

12 This is probably because the Holy Spirit had told him he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:26). This makes more sense if we imagine an older man, but it isn’t required.

13 Zachariah (John’s father) was also one, even if it was just for a moment.

14 It is worth noting that Simeon was told something by the Holy Spirit, but he attributes it to God. The Holy Spirit is God (see Acts 5:3-4).

15 Luke 8:19-21.

16 Joseph was dead before Jesus’ death on the cross. Otherwise Jesus would have never told John to take care of Mary as his own mother, and Mary then living with John from that day forward (John 19:26-27).

[Life of Christ] The King has Arrived: Early Life of Jesus (Part 1)

My apologies for not getting this sent out on Wednesday. We had a wonderful week of a Round Robin Gospel Meeting (5 nights, 5 speakers, 5 locations–supported by 9 or 10 congregations), and I didn’t get this posted like I should have. But, enjoy!

The King Has Arrived: The Very Early Life of Jesus (Part 1)
(Luke 2:6-20)

Joseph and a very pregnant Mary traveled to Bethlehem because that was the city of David, and Joseph’s ancestral family land. They had to go there as part of a census (for the purpose of knowing who was there they could tax). It is amazing that God used a Roman leader’s taxation plans to get Mary to the place where the Messiah had to be born.

Jesus is born (Luke 2:6-7)

And so it was that, while they were there, the days were finished that she should deliver the baby. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Her Firstborn Son

While I would love to say, “Look, it says firstborn, meaning there were others born afterwards—Mary wasn’t a perpetual virgin!” the fact is, this word doesn’t imply more children followed. It simply means the first one born. It could be used to refer to first and only, or it could refer to first of many. The rest of Scripture furnishes us with enough proof that Mary had other children. We don’t need to use this word to prove the point.

The fact that Mary was a virgin ties in with this being her firstborn Son. There was no possibility of Jesus being anything but the firstborn.

Wrapped Him in Cloths

Some translations say “swaddling clothes,”1 and some other translations just say “cloths.”2 These were either “strips of linen that would be wrapped around the arms and legs of an infant to keep the limbs protected,”3 or “a square of cloth with a long bandage-like strip coming diagonally off from one corner. The child was first wrapped in the square of cloth and then the long strip was wound round and round about him.”4 It appears, based on Ezekiel 16:4, that Hebrew babies, after birth, were washed, rubbed with salt, and then wrapped in these swaddling clothes. So what Luke describes is not something odd or different about Jesus’s birth.

It is believed by some that these linen swaddling clothes were made from remnants of priests’ old garments. The priests were commanded to wear linen garments,5 and it is fitting that the One who was born to be King and Priest was wrapped in priestly material at His birth—and His death.6 This isn’t proof that these were from priestly garments, but if they were, there is definite symbolism to be seen.

If, as some suppose, these were discarded or retired pieces of cloth, it would show the poor financial state of Joseph and Mary—they had to depend on discarded fabric to wrap Jesus.

The Feeding Trough and the Inn

Because of the amount of people who had already come to Bethlehem, connected with the census, all the room at the inn was full. It could have been Joseph’s extended family (they would be descended from David as well), or perhaps other travelers whose ancestors were from that area. Or it could be that the Roman officials who were in charge of the census were refused lodging in Jerusalem, and thus had to go to a nearby town to stay—Bethlehem, perhaps—and took up all the available spaces.7

Regardless of why, the couple found themselves in a place usually reserved for animals. The newly-born baby Jesus was placed in a manger—a feeding trough for horses and donkeys. Not exactly the birth you would expect when God comes to earth to live among us.

Some assert that this took place in a stable, most likely connected to the inn; and others (notably the Catholic Church) affirm this took place in a cave near the inn.8 Neither is specified by Luke, so it is a matter of conjecture.

One of the greatest events in history…

The birth of Jesus is truly one of the greatest events in history, right up there with the Creation and the Resurrection. But both Matthew and Luke describe it with the simple words, “she brought forth her firstborn Son.” You would think there would be more fanfare, more notoriety. Well, just give it a moment, because heaven is about the make the announcement.

The Announcing Angel and the Praising Host (Luke 2:8-14)

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Shepherds Keeping the Flock

It is said by people who know more about lambing in Israel than I do that the shepherds would not be staying with the sheep overnight in the fields unless they were lambing (i.e., giving birth or about to). It is also said that this would usually be sometime in April.9

It would be appropriate, if true, that the ones to whom the angel appeared were working with just-born lambs, because they were about to be told where to find the just-born Lamb of God, which takes away the sins of the world. Barclay adds an interesting possibility:

But these were in all likelihood very special shepherds. We have already seen how in the Temple, morning and evening, an unblemished lamb was offered as a sacrifice to God. To see that the supply of perfect offerings was always available the Temple authorities had their own private sheep flocks; and we know that these flocks were pastured near Bethlehem. It is most likely that these shepherds were in charge of the flocks from which the Temple offerings were chosen. It is a lovely thought that the shepherds who looked after the Temple lambs were the first to see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.10

The Angel Appears

God used heavenly messengers frequently in these early chapters of the gospels. Gabriel announces John’s upcoming birth. Gabriel comes back and announces Jesus’ upcoming birth. An angel talks to Joseph announcing Jesus’ upcoming birth. And now that Jesus is born, an angel announces that it has happened (and God isn’t done sending heavenly messengers)!

While some translations say the angel “came upon them” (KJV) or “appeared to them” (ESV, NIV), the meaning is more likely “stood before them” (NASB) or “stood by them” (ASV). In other words, the angel isn’t floating in the sky as he talks with these shepherds, but just appears all at once next to them.

And this is one instance where everything you imagine about the sudden appearance of an angel seems to be true. There was an immense glow all around him—so much so that it surrounded the shepherds too. And it wasn’t a glow from a candle or a torch or even a million torches—it was the glory of God.

And you would have had the same reaction they did. They were scared—very scared.

The Messenger’s Message

First, the customary angel greeting to humans who are freaked out: “Don’t be afraid.”

But he then gives a reason why they shouldn’t be afraid: he is bringing them exciting news. He calls it “good tidings” or “good news”—the same basic word that is translated gospel. And truth be told, “good news” is an understatement!

It is good news of great joy—especially for these Jewish shepherds, who were longing for God to send His Messiah. This joy, according to the angel, would be for all the people. Some translations render it “all people” (KJV, NKJV), but literally it is “all the people.” A Jewish shepherd would most likely have understood this to mean “all the Jews.”[11] This understanding is strengthened when the angel says, “For to you is born…a Savior.”

The Jews had been waiting on the promised Messiah, the Prophet like Moses, the true Heir of David—all describing (though the Jews didn’t necessarily understand it) the same person. But the angel describes the One who is born in three ways:

  1. This word appears 13 times in the Old Testament, and 11 of those are direct references to God. We have heard the name applied to Jesus so frequently that He is the one we instantly associate with the name—but Jews in the first century would have heard Savior and instantly thought of Jehovah, God. The angel was basically announcing that their God just became a human. And if you’re one of those shepherds, your mind is blown.
  2. This is the same word as Messiah (one Greek, the other Hebrew). It means chosen and anointed. David used the word when explaining why he would not harm King Saul—the Lord’s anointed. In the Old Testament, prophets, priests, and kings were all anointed. And Jesus is all three. But most likely, the understanding the Shepherds would have had is that this is the true Heir of David, the King of kings who will usher in God’s kingdom.12
  3. Reiterating the identity of Jesus, the angel uses a word that most often describes God in the Old Testament. It means master or lord or ruler. It is worth noting that the conclusion of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost is that “God has made this same Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Christ.”13

Here’s Your Sign

This was a lot to take in for those shepherds. It isn’t every day you see the glory of God shining around you in the middle of the night, and hear a heavenly messenger tell you that you get to witness the crux of history and the fulfillment of everything you’ve been waiting for. So it makes sense that he gives them a sign to look for. Go to Bethlehem and find a baby wrapped in cloths and resting in a feeding trough.

Okay, so that seems like a rather odd sign of confirmation. I would think the bright, shining, heavenly light would be a more stunning confirmation of the message. God has come to earth as a human, fulfilling centuries of prophecies, and we’re supposed to look for Him in a… a feeding trough?

But consider this. In addition to showing the humbling nature of Jesus’ descent into humanity (see also Philippians 2:4-8), it is also truly something unique. I mean, think about it. How many times in your life have you ever seen a newborn baby in a real feeding trough? And not a sanitized one, but one that was probably used to feed animals earlier that evening? Normally, you would expect to find a newborn baby, wrapped up, and in a hospital or a house—or maybe an inn if they were away from home.

So while it might seem odd, that makes it that much better as a sign.

A Plethora of Angels

As soon as the angel finishes his message to the stunned shepherds, all at once “a multitude of the heavenly host” show up, “praising God.” The Greek word for multitude here is plethos. As in, plethora. One dictionary says the word can mean fullness or the whole number of something.14 That means it is grammatically possible that it was all the angels. Every. Single. Angel. All appearing at once. Even if it wasn’t every one, it was a bunch of ‘em.

Imagine the shepherds’ reaction. You’re already surrounded by a heavenly glow, talking to an angel, and then BOOM! Instantly thousands of angels appear (are they glowing too?) and begin to praise God in unison. I’d be freaked out. And in awe.

Their praise is: Glory to God in the highest. To praise or glorify is to give honor. The praise shows that all honor goes to God for this magnificent event—that God became flesh and dwelt among us. This is His plan (John 3:16) to save mankind (Romans 1:16-17). The highest is a reference to heaven, above which nothing can exist. No one is higher, more powerful, or equal to God, and there is no power that can control heaven except for Him.

Depending on the translation, the second part of their message can be understood differently. The classic King James Version says “and on earth peace, good will toward men.” If this is the correct rendering, then it means God’s actions are to bring peace and show His kindness and love to all mankind. Theologically, there is nothing wrong with that interpretation. But it might not be what the verse is saying.

Most newer translations render it “peace to those on whom his favor rests” (NIV), “peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (NASB, ESV). These translations seem to indicate that the peace that comes from God is only for a certain group of people—those on whom His favor rests, or with whom He is pleased. And so long as we recognize that God’s favor (grace) only rests on those who obey Him, and that He is only pleased with those who obey Him, this interpretation is biblically sound as well.

Unfortunately, many who call themselves Christians (often with the moniker of “reformed”) take this and claim it teaches the Calvinist doctrine of Unconditional Election—that God chose to save certain people before they were even born—before the world was even created! And they claim it is those pre-chosen individuals who God’s peace and favor rests on, because He chose them to be saved, and chose everyone else to be lost—regardless of their actions here on earth.

The Shepherds Skedaddle (Luke 2:15-20)

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.

The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

Let’s Go!

The angels disappeared—quite possibly as suddenly as they had appeared, leaving the shepherds in the dark of night. And they wasted no time saying, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem!” There was no Let’s go see if… as though there was any doubt in their minds. They said Let’s go see this thing the Lord has revealed to us!

So they ran. They hurried. They were excited about this. (How excited are you about Jesus?)

They got into Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph and the baby. Honestly, it probably wasn’t that hard. Bethlehem wasn’t a huge town. And you’re not looking in the houses, you’re looking where a manger—a feeding trough—was. So you’re pretty much just looking for stables, barns, or small caves where there is probably light (candles, torches, something). I can’t imagine it was all that difficult for them.

Now the Shepherds are the Messengers

As they arrive, they tell Joseph and Mary (and anyone else around) what they saw and heard. And you have to know that they keep looking at the sweet, innocent, newborn baby that is lying in the oddest place—a feeding trough. Joseph and Mary had already had angelic interactions, but they only saw one angel. Imagine their surprise when the shepherds tell them about the multitude of angels appearing all at once.

The people who heard this wondered—they were amazed and contemplated what this all meant. If you’re in that position, and you are told this baby is the Christ, are you going to try to keep tabs on Him? To know how things are progressing? Are you, after several years of continual Roman oppression, going to get frustrated that He hasn’t taken over yet? Are you wishing time would hurry up? Or maybe you’re just not sure what to think, and you never really come to any definite conclusion.

Mary treasured or kept these sayings in her mind and heart. Did she ponder them, seeking a better understanding? Probably. Did she hear these words with pride for the future accomplishments of her Son? Possibly. Did she just keep her feelings to herself, because she knew her Son was not just hers, but was God’s gift to all humanity? Maybe.

The Praising Pastors

These shepherds (same word as “pastors” in Greek) left Bethlehem on cloud nine. They were excited, overjoyed, awed, humbled, thankful to God for blessing them with this incredible gift. I think any one of us would feel the same way if we got to go back in time and see the baby Jesus right after He was born. After all, we know how the story ends, and have a much better understanding of what His life and death meant than the shepherds could ever have imagined.

But notice they were rejoicing and praising God not just for the things they saw—but for the things they heard, the things that were told to them. How often do we hear about what God has done for us through Jesus? How often does hearing that cause in us excitement, joy, humility, thanks, and praise?

What does This Mean for Us Today?

God keeps His word. The first prophecy about Jesus came thousands of years earlier in Genesis 3:15. According to the biblical chronology, that was 4,000 years before Jesus was actually born. God is not slack in regards to His promises. God never forgets His promise. May we always remember that even though we may not see specifically how God is working things out, He is working them out according to His plan.

Jesus was humble. What greater show of humility can there be than for God to leave heaven and take on the form of a human—and not just any human, a poor human, born to a nation subjugated by another, born in a barn, born to poor parents. Jesus went all-in on humility. Remind me again why we think we’re so great?

Jesus is God. In calling Him “Savior” and “Lord,” God’s angelic messenger was making it clear that this baby isn’t a mere human. He is God in the flesh. He is Immanuel—God with us. This is incredibly important, because Jesus said, “Unless you believe that I, I AM, you will die in your

sins” (John 8:24).

1 ESV, KJV, NKJV

2 NASB, NIV, etc.

3 NET Bible Notes on Luke 2:7. E-Sword edition.

4 William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible commentary on Luke 2:7. E-Sword edition.

5 Exodus 39:27-29; Leviticus 6:10.

6 John 19:40.

7 This is suggested by William Hendriksen in Baker’s New Testament Commentary on Luke. E-Sword edition.

8 The mother of Constantine supposedly identified the spot, and a cathedral now sits atop it.

9 Henry Alford, in The Greek Testament: An Exegetical and Critical Commentary (Vol. 1), e-sword edtion, says it took place on April 5, and asserts it is the same date, 33 years later, on which Jesus died.

10 Barclay, Daily Study Bible. E-Sword edition.

11 Vincent’s Word Studies on Luke 2:9. E-Sword edition.

12 Foretold in Daniel 2:44.

13 Acts 2:36.

14 Thayer’s Greek Definitions. E-Sword edition.

[Life of Christ] Jesus is Coming…Soon (Part 2)

(Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-20)

Mary spent the first three months of her supernatural pregnancy in Judea with her cousin Elizabeth. Meanwhile, Joseph was back in Nazareth, oblivious that a miracle had occurred. But he was soon to find out.

Mary Discovered to be Pregnant (Matthew 1:18)

Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way: While his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was discovered to be with child by the Holy Spirit.

In essence, Matthew summarizes the same information Luke gave—but with one big difference. It was discovered (“found,” KJV) that she was pregnant before she and Joseph came together in marriage. The use of the word discovered means it wasn’t something Mary revealed to him. We aren’t told how Joseph discovered it. But by the time Mary got back from Judea, and as the pregnancy continued, it would have become obvious to those who saw her. And it isn’t difficult to surmise that someone went and told Joseph about it.

Though Matthew says, “she was discovered to be with child by the Holy Spirit,” it is clear the miraculous aspect of the birth wasn’t discovered by Joseph when he first heard about it.

Joseph’s Righteous Response (Matthew 1:19-20a)

Then Joseph her [betrothed] husband, being righteous, and not wanting to make a public spectacle of her, determined to put her away secretly. But while he thought on these things…

How Would You Respond?

Joseph receives word that his fiancé, the one he contracted to marry, has turned up pregnant—and there is only one thing he knows for sure: It isn’t his. The immediate, human reaction would be shock, sadness, hurt, and anger. After all, to Joseph this is a betrayal of a covenant, a disruption/shattering of his plans and hopes of the future.

Many people would react by immediately ending the engagement, and spreading to the world that they were cheated on by their fiancé. In other words, many people seek revenge when they are wronged (or think they are wronged), and want to cause as much damage to the other person’s reputation as possible. Others might be willing to forgive, but only after verbally and emotionally beating down the “offender,” making them grovel and beg for forgiveness, and making sure they know they are scum. In other words, they will only consider forgiveness (if you can even call it that) when they think they’ve made the “offender” hurt enough—but they make sure to have it ready to bring back up at a moment’s notice if necessary.

But Joseph? He didn’t respond that way at all.

The Righteous Response

Matthew tells us Joseph was “righteous” (“a just man,” KJV). And then he shows us what a righteous response is when we are hurt.

He did not want to make a public spectacle of her. In other words, he acted out of what was best for her. Certainly other people knew she was with child, and that it wasn’t Joseph’s (and you can imagine the whispering, What exactly was she doing when she was gone for three months?). This was embarrassing enough, and (in Joseph’s mind) Mary would have felt ashamed—Joseph wasn’t about to add to that pain and shame by making a public spectacle of her.

He decided to put her away (end the betrothal) quietly (NIV) or secretly (NASB). The Law of Moses had rules for these types of situations—and in all cases, at least one person (always the man, and in some cases the woman too) was to be killed by stoning. That would be a very public thing, which would draw more attention to Mary’s (supposed) actions. And Joseph wasn’t going to shame her more.

When you are hurt, do you try to get revenge on the one who hurt you? A righteous person won’t. Let that sink in.

Then Joseph contemplated the whole matter. He had made up his mind to put her away, but was still thinking about the whole situation. The point is, he didn’t act immediately. He took the time to make sure he thought it through. In other words, he did not let his emotions dictate his response. And why? Because righteous people don’t act on emotions, they act on thoughtfulness.

So he thinks about her instead of himself. He has compassion. He knows something must be done, but wants to make it as quiet as possible so as not to bring her more shame. And even after making that determination, he takes more time to contemplate it.

Then he sleeps on it (see verse 24) before carrying out anything.

All I Have to Do is Dream (Matthew 1:20b-21)

…behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary to you to be your wife; because that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a son, and you shall call his name “Jesus,” because He will save His people from their sins.”

A Messenger Appears

While Luke gives us the name of the angel who appeared to Zacharias and Mary, we aren’t told who appeared to Joseph in this dream. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which angel it was. All that matters is this messenger1 was from God.

He addresses him as “Joseph, son of David.” This is a subtle reminder about just who is in line for the throne of David. At this point, it is Joseph. In order for Jesus to be the King, the true heir of David’s throne, Joseph had to marry Mary.

The Messenger’s Message

Joseph made up his mind, but hadn’t carried through with it yet, when he has a dream. And in the dream, an angel tells him to go ahead and marry Mary. Why? Because even though it appeared like she had done something wrong, sinned against Joseph, she actually hadn’t. Instead, according to the angel, her pregnancy was as a result of the Holy Spirit.

I have had some crazy dreams before, but once I woke up, I didn’t think they were real. Of course, I don’t recall seeing any angels in my dreams either. But Joseph knows this messenger of God is not just a dream, but is telling him the truth. And that takes a lot of faith, because he is being asked to believe something that has never happened before in the history of mankind! He is being asked to believe something that goes against his emotions, something that goes against his understanding of how the world works. And outside of words (from the dream-angel, and potentially from Mary), he has no evidence that it is true.

Joseph chose to believe.

Generally speaking, we don’t like being wrong—and frequently people (even Christians) will reject, ignore, or minimize evidence that might prove them wrong. We would rather dig in our heels and defend our first impression, our emotional response, because there’s no way we could be wrong…

But a righteous person is willing to (1) listen to the evidence, (2) do it with a truly open mind, and then (3) act on the evidence, not on emotion.

The Meaning of the Message

The angel reveals to Joseph that Mary is pregnant with a son—and not just any son, but a Son who is a Savior. And in addition to marrying Mary, Joseph had another role to play—he was to call the Son Jesus. It is interesting that Gabriel tells Mary she was going to name Him Jesus.2 Here, and angel tells Matthew he will name the child Jesus. And when Matthew gives the prophecy fulfilled explanation,3 he quotes Isaiah 7:14 as “they shall call His name…” It all works together.

As we saw last time, the name Jesus means Jehovah is Salvation or Jehovah Saves. Joseph probably knew this, but the angel explains anyway, “You will call his name Jesus, because He will save…” But what Joseph probably didn’t know (if he was like the majority of Jews) is that this salvation wasn’t from human oppression (like Rome), but from sin.

Ultimately, it is sin that we need salvation from. It is sin that separates us from God. And if we die separated from God, we will stay separated from Him forever. Heaven is not great because it is a place. Heaven is great because God and Jesus are there. And the only way we can have the joy of eternally being in God’s presence is by being saved from our sins.

Matthew, I am sure, drops that little nugget in the angel’s message to give his Jewish readers a heads-up that God’s Messiah isn’t what they were expecting.

Prophecy Fulfilled! (Matthew 1:22-23)

Now all this was done, so that what the Lord said by the prophet might be fulfilled, specifically, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which being interpreted is “God with us.”

Matthew’s First Explanation of Events

Matthew, repeatedly in his gospel account, wants to make sure his readers don’t miss the importance of certain events. So he will stop the narrative to say (in essence), This happened to fulfill prophecy. Which one? Here, let me quote it for you. Several of these Old Testament quotations had meanings when they were first given, but those meanings and applications were just shadows—they were ultimately pointing forward to Jesus.

Matthew’s first prophecy fulfilled moment deals with the virgin birth of Jesus. Lest his Jewish readers doubt the story, Matthew pulls up a quote from Isaiah 7:14 which foretold this. While it seems to initially have been foretelling the birth of Isaiah’s own son, Mahershalalhashbaz, it was ultimately pointing to Jesus.4 Some people call this “dual-fulfillment” prophecy.

The prophecy spoke of a virgin who would become pregnant and have a son.5 And not just that, but this Son would be called Immanuel, which means God with us. In other words, when Jesus is born, God is now literally with His people.

Joseph Obeys (Matthew 1:24-25)

Then Joseph, being raised from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord instructed him, and took his wife to himself, and did not know her [sexually] until she had brought forth her firstborn son. And he called His name Jesus.

Matthew greatly condenses the story at this point, which we will see as we skip back over to Luke’s narrative.

Joseph was awakened from his sleep (by God?), and did what he was instructed to do: take Mary as his wife. But the timeline of when he did this isn’t as clear. Was it that day? Quite possibly. But Mary was still called Joseph’s “betrothed wife” after their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, close to the birth of Jesus. What we can say for certain is that any thought of ending the betrothal disappeared.

Joseph, probably out of honor to God, did not consummate his marriage to Mary until after Jesus was born. Had they done so, it could not be said that “a virgin…shall bring forth a son…” But after Jesus’ birth, that was no longer an issue. Joseph did not “know” his wife until after Jesus was born—which means he did afterwards. Mary was not a perpetual virgin.6

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Because in order to find out about the birth of Jesus, we need to go to Luke chapter 2.

The Taxing Trip to Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-5)

And it happened in those days, that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed [or counted]. (This taxing [census] was first made when Quirinius was governor of Syria). And all went to be taxed [registered], every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, into the City of David, which is called Bethlehem, (because he was of the house and lineage of David) in order to be taxed [counted] with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was great with child.

Rome says, “Time to Count You so We Can Tax You”

Caesar Augustus (also known as Octavian) was the second Caesar of Rome, the first being his uncle Julius. He ordered that a census be taken of “all the world.” This phrase, or “the whole world” frequently refers to the Roman Empire in both biblical and non-biblical writings of that era. The purpose of the census was to levy a tax on the inhabitants. A Jewish writer of that era said Rome was exacting “tribute” from Jerusalem.

Luke makes it clear this was the first census/taxing done when Quirinius was governor of Syria. This probably means nothing to you, but this has caused no end of criticizing of Luke’s account, because secular historians haven’t found evidence of a census done during the time Jesus was about to be born. But given that Justin Martyr (a Jewish Christian from the second century), when writing to a non-Christian, told him he could find the evidence in the Roman archives, it seems pretty clear there was documented proof this really happened just when Luke said it did.7

In order for this census to take place, everyone was to go to “his own city.” Apparently, they were supposed to go to their ancestral land. Being a direct descendant of David, Joseph’s inheritance would have been in Bethlehem, though it seems as though the land was no longer in his family’s possession.8

Because of this census/taxation, Joseph left Nazareth (where he was living) and took Mary with him up to Bethlehem, the city of David. This wasn’t exactly the easiest journey on a good day. It would have taken multiple days, and probably longer than normal, since Mary was getting close to giving birth.

Betrothed…still?

In verse 5, Luke, the detailed historian, drops an interesting fact in our laps—Mary was still betrothed to Joseph at this time. They weren’t officially or completely married yet. What exactly all that entails is a matter of speculation and debate. It seems clear Joseph had taken her as his wife (taken her into his house?) based on Matthew 1:24. She traveled to Bethlehem with him, which was not permitted in ancient Jewish culture unless they were married. Yet Luke still calls them “betrothed.” Some possibilities have been suggested:

  • They were married, but hadn’t consummated the union. This seems to be the majority viewpoint in commentaries, but it seems odd for the detail-oriented Luke to use the word “betrothed” when other, more specific words could have been used which wouldn’t lead to ambiguity or confusion.
  • Joseph and Mary remained betrothed until after the birth of Jesus, both bearing some level of social shame from the pregnancy, so that when Jesus was born, He would only be the Son of God, and not son of Joseph.9 While interesting, and it could be right, this is ultimately conjecture.
  • Joseph and Mary were officially married sometime before the birth of Jesus, because Joseph appears to have the right to “know” Mary, but did not take advantage of that right until after Jesus’ birth. This right wouldn’t have been available to him during a betrothal.10 But this could be reading too much into Matthew 1:25.
  • If the conception of Jesus was near the beginning of their betrothal, and betrothals lasted a year (as some claim), their betrothal period wouldn’t be over for another couple months.11 But it would certainly make things awkward to have a wedding ceremony with a new baby present (maybe that’s why they stayed in Bethlehem instead of going back to Nazareth right away?).

I wish I had a good answer to explain when they became officially married (before or after the birth of Jesus), and what it was that changed it from betrothed to official. If it is the consummation of the marriage, then that alone proves the Catholic doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary to be false—unless they want to say Mary and Joseph were never officially married (which they would reject).

(We will continue this study next week)

1 The Greek word angellos has been Anglicized, or transliterated, instead of being translated in almost every Bible. The Greek word means “messenger,” and the context must determine whether a human or heavenly messenger is under consideration. This is dealt with more extensively in my book War in Heaven War on Earth: What Revelation Meant to the Original Readers and What It Means for Us Today.

2 Luke 1:31.

3 Matthew 1:22-23.

4 Though some are very adamant that Isaiah 7:14 can only be speaking of Jesus, the context of Isaiah 7 and 8 (the only two times in the Old Testament the word “Immanuel” is used) requires an initial application to the time soon after the prophecy was given. The things said of “Immanuel” in Isaiah 7 match the things said of Mahershalalhashbaz in Isaiah 8—these being signs of the overthrow of the kings of Syria and Israel, who were both tormenting the kingdom of Judah.

5 Isaiah 7:14 literally says The virgin  or This virgin (scholars say it could be either), and appears to be speaking to or about a virgin in the king’s palace (tradition says Isaiah married a daughter of the king of Judah). So when he says, “This virgin shall conceive and bear a son,” it wouldn’t mean she would be a virgin after conceiving, but that she was a virgin when Isaiah said it. But when Matthew uses it and applies it to Jesus, he says it had a larger meaning and greater fulfillment by a virgin being pregnant and having a child—while still a virgin.

6 We will deal with this issue more in detail when Jesus’ brothers and sisters show up in the narrative.

7 This is a very shortened response to what is an interesting historical topic. For more details on it, see the commentaries on this passage by Adam Clarke, Matthew Henry, Henry Alford, and others.

8 The Old Testament required that all family land was kept in the family, unless it had to be sold to pay for debts—and then it was to be returned to the family in the 49th year—the year of Jubilee. That Joseph didn’t have anywhere to stay indicates the land had been sold, and possibly that the year of Jubilee had been (again) ignored by the Jews.

9 This was suggested to me via text message from a friend who hadn’t previously considered the issue.

10 This was suggested to me via text message from a friend and long-time evangelist for the Lord.

11 I have not found anyone arguing this, but I present it as another possibility.

[Life of Christ] Jesus is Coming… Soon (Part 1)

Before we get into this one, another apology for all those who signed up to receive the new posts via email. I just today discovered the emails weren’t including anything in square brackets–which means none of the footnote numbers showed up, and the link to download the worksheet for each issue didn’t show up in the emails either. I hopefully will remember to fix that for future emails.

To download the worksheet for this lesson, click here.

Luke spends nearly half of his first chapter detailing the lead-up, birth, and naming of John the Immerser.1 The rest presents the lead-up to the birth of Jesus (which continues into chapter 2). The similarities between the two parts are interesting, so keep an eye out for them:

  • Gabriel announces the miraculous conception of both John and Jesus.2
  • Both children were prophesied about by the power of the Holy Spirit.3
  • Both mothers stayed out of the public eye of their hometown for a while.4

Gabriel’s Second Revelation (Luke 1:26-33)

And in the sixth month [of Elizabeth’s pregnancy] the angel Gabriel was sent from God to Nazareth, a city of Galilee, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

The angel came to her, and said, “Rejoice, honored one, the Lord is with you—You are blessed among women.”

When she saw him, she was troubled by this saying, and pondered what this kind of greeting meant.

And the angel said to her, “Don’t fear, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and give birth to a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever—there shall be no end of His kingdom.”

One Month Later…

Elizabeth, after becoming pregnant, “hid herself” for five months.5 Apparently after that, she was willing to go back in public again and let others see how God was blessing her. It was a month afterwards that Gabriel is sent on another mission, this time to the other end of the Promised Land—to a little, insignificant town in Galilee, called Nazareth. He had to find a specific girl and give her a great message.

The girl’s name: Mary.

Mary

Assuming our assessment of the genealogies is correct,6 Mary is of the tribe of Judah, descended from David through his son Nathan. And she is betrothed to another descendant of David, a man named Joseph.

Betrothals in that time were legally-binding agreements between the husband-to-be and the parents of the bride-to-be. In the eyes of the law and culture, they were legally married (to break it off required a divorce), but until the marriage ceremony, they did not live together nor did they engage in any “marital activities” that might result in children. In other words, since Joseph entered into an agreement to marry Mary—a virgin—Joseph rightly expected to marry a virgin.7

The Strange Greeting

Gabriel says, “Rejoice, honored one!” I know your translation doesn’t read this way. The word translated “Hail” (KJV, ASV) or “Greetings” (NIV, ESV) is translated “rejoice,” “rejoiced,” or “rejoicing” (or “joy,” “joyfully,” or “glad”) 49 of the 60 times it appears in the New Testament. The NKJV gets it right by showing Gabriel start by telling Mary to “Rejoice,” because he has great news to share.

The phrase “honored one” (or “highly favored,” or “favored one”) only shows up one other place—Ephesians 1:6, where it is translated “accepted” (KJV), “freely bestowed” (NASB), and “freely given” (NIV). It is a modified form of the word for “grace.” Gabriel calls her “honored one” because of the great news he has to share.

Gabriel says, “the Lord is with you.” This is the first part of why she is supposed to rejoice. People who are truly trying to follow God almost always have nagging doubts about whether they are right in God’s sight. To hear a heavenly messenger say, “the Lord is with you” would be a great comfort. But it wasn’t just her righteous status under consideration.

Gabriel then says, “You are blessed among women.” He will explain it momentarily, but Mary is blessed, because—of all the women in the world—God chose her to be the mother of the Messiah.

So why did God choose Mary?

  1. She was of the right lineage (so the Messiah would physically be a descendant of David).
  2. She was engaged to the right person (so the Messiah would legally be heir to the throne).
  3. She was faithful—she “found favor with God” (verse 30).

We aren’t told how old Mary was when this happened. Some have suggested she was potentially as young as 13, though I have serious doubts about that for the following reasons:

  • However old she was, she had to have shown an independent faithfulness to God (not just following orders from her parents), because she “found favor with God.” This phrase refers to how God views a person’s actions, and is never used of a child elsewhere in the Bible. The first time this idea is found is with Noah, who was around 500 years old.8
  • Mary traveled (apparently alone?) from Galilee to Judah, a trip that was often taken by caravanning together with many others for safety. It would either require going through the land of the Samaritans, or crossing the Jordan River twice to avoid Samaria. Mary made this journey in a hurry, which eliminates the idea of a large caravan. A 13-year old girl, traveling alone (she did not come from a wealthy family, so there would have been no servants) on this journey would have been a prime target for thieves and predators (both human and animal).

I don’t doubt that she was young (obviously younger than Elizabeth), but I can’t picture a 13-year old fitting these circumstances. If I were forced to make a guess, I would say Mary was between 16 and 18 when this event took place.

Mary’s Confusion

When Zacharias saw Gabriel, he was afraid and troubled because the angel was standing there in the temple. When Mary saw Gabriel, she was troubled (and apparently had some fear) because of the message. She wasn’t expecting this, and honestly didn’t know what this greeting even meant—she “pondered” on it.

The Good News

Gabriel tells Mary not to be afraid (implying she was at least somewhat afraid), because she had “found favor with God.” As we said earlier, this means her faithful living was seen by God—so much so that God chose her to be the mother of the Messiah.

Then he gets to meat of the message: “You’re going to conceive and give birth to a son, and you’re going to name Him Jesus.” Other than Gabriel using the name Jesus, this can easily be seen as a reference to Isaiah 7:14—which Mary certainly didn’t understand completely. The name Jesus means “Jehovah Saves” or “Jehovah is Salvation,” and is the same name as Joshua in the Old Testament.

“He shall be great.” Chalk it up to Gabriel to give a massive understatement. This is the same thing he said to Zacharias about John, “He shall be great”—except John would be great “in the sight of the Lord.” Jesus is the Lord, so Gabriel simply states, “He shall be great.”

He will be called the Son of the Highest, or the Son of God. Jesus later taught, “Love your enemies…and your reward shall be great, and you shall be called sons of the Highest, because He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35). Whereas we gain the name “son [or daughter] of the Highest” in a spiritual sense, Jesus was literally Son of the Highest. God is His only Father, and Jesus also lived up to all the spiritual ideals of the Father. In other words, Jesus is “Son of the Highest” at birth, and earned that title throughout His life (and beyond).

  • Jesus is declared God’s Son prior to His conception (Luke 1:32).
  • Jesus is declared God’s Son at His baptism (Luke 3:22).
  • Jesus is declared God’s Son in the midst of His ministry (Luke 9:35).
  • Jesus is declared God’s Son at His resurrection (Acts 13:33)

Jesus will have the throne of his father David. This was prophesied back in Isaiah 9:6-7.

Unto us a son is born. Unto us a child is given. The government will be on his shoulder. And his name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, on the throne of David, and on his kingdom, to order it and to establish it with judgment and justice from now even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

This means clearly that Mary’s Son must be of the royal lineage of David. She would have understood that much at least. It is not a coincidence that Luke mentioned her husband-to-be was “of the house of David.”

One thing we should address now (and probably more in-depth much later in this study) is the term “throne of David.” Some well-meaning but completely off-base folks teach this is speaking of Jesus ruling in literal Jerusalem on David’s literal throne. The prophecy isn’t about a literal chair (which, at 3,000 years old, is either destroyed, disintegrated, or so fragile no one could sit on it). It refers to Jesus ruling as the legitimate heir to David. Jesus is sitting on His throne, reigning from heaven (Acts 2:30; Hebrews 12:2).

This rule will be “forever,” and this kingdom will have no end. This is the same thing said in Daniel 2:44; Isaiah 9:7; and others.

His reign over the “house of Jacob” means, first off, that He was born King of the Jews—He is the Jewish Messiah. Secondly, it means they will have to answer to Him as their King and Judge. Thirdly, it also expands to His kingdom—the church—which is spiritual Israel (Romans 9:6).

Mary Accepts the Mission (Luke 1:34-38)

Then Mary said to the angel, “How is this going to happen, seeing I don’t [sexually] know a man?”

And the angel answered her, saying, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you. Because of this, that holy thing which will be born from you will be called the Son of God. And look, your cousin Elizabeth, she in her old age has also conceived a son. And this is now the sixth month with her, who had been called barren. For with God, nothing shall be impossible.”

According to some sources, the Jews had a year-long betrothal period before the marriage. Mary and Joseph may well have been at the beginning of their betrothal period when this message was given by Gabriel. The marriage was at least 3 and a half months away (see verses 39-40 and 56), and probably longer. But Gabriel is apparently hinting this pregnancy is going to happen pretty quickly. That explains Mary’s response.

Mary’s Question

She asks him, in essence, “How is this going to happen, since I’m a virgin?” First, notice the difference between her response and Zacharias’ response. Zacharias asks, “How shall I know this?” In other words, he asked for proof, for a sign. Mary asks, “How is this going to happen?” It is a question of curiosity, not a question of doubt.

Second, note that she assumes there is going to be something miraculous about it, because her question is, How am I going to be pregnant when I’m a virgin? And she knows her wedding is not imminent yet, but seems to believe this pregnancy is going to happen before that time.

Gabriel’s Explanation

It isn’t often we are given the explanation for how God performs something supernatural, but Mary gets just such an explanation. He said the Holy Spirit would come upon her. When miracles happened in the Bible, the Holy Spirit was always involved. Thus, if a child was born via miraculous means, the Holy Spirit was involved. When Joseph was troubled about Mary’s pregnancy, an angel told him, “that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).

He also said “the power of the Highest [that is, God] will overshadow you.” In other words, God will make it happen by His power. If God can create man from dust (after creating the dust in the first place), then there is no reason to assume He can’t make Mary pregnant without the aid of a man.

As a result of this supernatural involvement, Mary’s Son would be called “the Son of God.” As we saw earlier, Jesus is Son of God literally, and He also earned the title through His obedience.

To make sure he eliminates any doubt Mary might have, he shares some news with her that she may have not yet heard—your old cousin Elizabeth is pregnant, and has been for six months—and people called her barren!” Then he prompts her to respond in faith: “Because with God, nothing is impossible.”

Some have questioned how Mary and Elizabeth could be cousins (literally the Greek word means “same family”) when Mary is clearly from Judah and Elizabeth is clearly from Levi. The answer is a simple one. All it would take for Mary and Elizabeth to be first cousins (hypothetically) is for Mary’s mother to be from the tribe of Levi (tribal descent was from the father’s line) or Elizabeth’s mother to be from the tribe of Judah. And the text doesn’t say what exact relation they were—they could have been second cousins or third (and don’t get me started on the “once removed” parts), which would just mean a grandma or great-grandma married into a different tribe—which was common. Whatever the relationship, when Gabriel mentions Elizabeth, Mary knows exactly who he is talking about, because they are family.

Mary’s Acceptance

Mary responds with humility, and acceptance. She just says, “Behold, [I am] the handmaid of the Lord. Let it happen to me according to your declaration.” No arguing, no trying to explain why God should choose someone else (like Moses did). She accepts the mission God has given her.

Then the angel departs from her. I have to wonder how he did the departing. Did he just *pop* disappear? Did he quickly ascend to heaven? Was there some smoke to travel upward (see Judges 13)? We aren’t told, but I’m still curious.

The Three-Month Visit with Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56)

And in those days, Mary arose and went to the hill country, into of Judah, hurriedly. And she went in the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.

And it happened that, when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she spoke out loudly, saying, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, as soon as the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed, because those things which were told to her by the Lord will take place.”

And Mary said, “My soul praises the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, because he has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden. For behold, from now onward, all generations shall call me blessed. Because He is mighty who has done great things to me, and His name is holy. His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imaginings of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low estate. He has filled the hungry with good things. And he has sent the rich away empty. He has helped His servant Israel in remembering His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.”

And Mary stayed with her about three months, then returned to her own house.

Rushing to Judah

Why Mary rushed so quickly to Judah is a subject of speculation, but rush she did. Some suggest she wanted to see if the angel had told her the truth.9 Others suggest it was to build up her faith by seeing pregnant Elizabeth in person and to celebrate with her.10 Others think she quickly traveled down to Judah to congratulate11 and assist her aged cousin in her final months of pregnancy. Others think she went to quickly get the highly-respected Zacharias and Elizabeth on her side to vouch for her story of a male-less pregnancy.12 And still others suggest she was so bursting at the seams to tell someone about it, but couldn’t tell anyone around Nazareth for fear of shame, that she went as quick as she could to tell Elizabeth.13

Several suggestions exist for when she left to go there. And this wouldn’t be an issue, except we are trying in this study to keep things in chronological order as much as possible. The Ethiopic translation says “in that day,” meaning she left the very day Gabriel spoke with her. Most English translations say “in those days,” which leaves a bit of ambiguity to how long she waited. I have read guesses of a few hours to two days to three or four weeks. The ones who argue for it being over a week say betrothed virgins were not permitted to travel alone, and that there had to be time for Joseph to find out she was pregnant, have his dream, and decide to go ahead and quickly marry her, then allow her to travel. While I guess that could be true, the idea of Mary hurrying to get there shows she was in a massive rush to get there—something that seems incongruous with a weeks-long or month-long delay.

It seems most likely to me that Mary, discovering the news about Elizabeth, packed as quick as she could and left at the earliest point possible (perhaps the same day, probably a day or so later) to be with Elizabeth. And then, after returning home three months later, she is obviously pregnant, and word gets around (through the grapevine, so to speak) to Joseph, and then the events recorded in Matthew 1 take place (and we will cover those in the next lesson).

Elizabeth’s Praise

Mary comes in and greets Elizabeth. King James says “saluted,” but the word means a loving greeting (and “saluted” doesn’t scream loving nowadays). When Elizabeth heard it (so apparently she wasn’t right there when Mary said it), the baby John leaped in her womb. Before our son was born, he liked to kick, and my wife could feel it very clearly. So what does it feel like for a baby to leap inside the womb?

After John leaped, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit (meaning she was being given inspired words) and began to speak. But she spoke “with a loud voice” (Greek mega phone), perhaps because she wasn’t in the same room as Mary—at least not at first.

We know she was inspired to speak these words, because she spoke things she would not have previously known. She repeats Gabriel’s blessing: Blessed are you among women. Then she adds, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb,” that is, the as-yet-unborn baby Jesus. But Mary hadn’t told her she was pregnant.

Elizabeth then asks, “How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” This is proof as well that her proclamation was inspired—it is one thing to guess someone is pregnant, but to know Mary was pregnant with the Lord—the Messiah? There’s no way that could have been guessed. And knowing what we know about Elizabeth—that she kept all the laws of the Lord blamelessly—she would not have spoken a blessing on Mary if there was even a small doubt about her being pregnant by divine means.

The Catholic Church calls Mary “the mother of God.” This is blasphemous. They reason this way: Mary is the mother of Jesus (correct). Jesus is God (correct). Therefore Mary is the mother of God. No! God has no mother or father. God is eternal. “In the beginning, God…” Mary is the mother of Jesus. She is the mother of the human Jesus. His nature as God existed thousands of years before Mary was born, so in no way can Mary be said to be the mother of God.

Then I can only imagine Elizabeth was smiling, perhaps even chuckling a bit, when she says, “And look, as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” It sounds like she is sharing the joy the baby is expressing.

As a side note, the Bible attributes emotion to the baby inside the womb, and calls him a “baby.” The biblical writers use the same word for a baby inside the womb and a baby outside the womb. It is a baby. Not a fetus. Not a clump of cells. It is a baby.

It is also interesting to note that Luke, being a physician, would have been the perfect person to disprove the virgin pregnancy and virgin birth of Mary. He could have easily said, “This is clearly impossible.” Instead, he does the research, probably even interviews Mary,14 and concludes that it actually happened just as he describes it.

The final line of Elizabeth’s praise shows us Mary didn’t come there to check if the angel was telling the truth. Elizabeth (by inspiration) says “Blessed is she who believed” (speaking of Mary). Mary believed the angel, and God was going to bring about the things He told her through Gabriel.

Mary’s Magnificent Magnificat

Verses 46-55 are often called the Magnificat (especially by Catholics) and it is claimed to be one of the eight earliest Christian hymns, and the first hymn in praise to Mary—yet no documented proof for this claim is offered. These verses may have been done in poetic form (I doubt anyone reading this is an expert on first century poetic structure of Hebrew-speakers whose words were recorded in Greek), but it would be sacrilegious to say Luke wrote down a song designed to be sung in praise to Mary—when all praise is to go to Deity.

The first line of Mary’s praise is “My soul magnifies the Lord.” That means she praises Him, she makes a big deal out of Him. She makes Him bigger and herself smaller. It is a fancy way of saying the Lord is important to her. And we all ought to be able to say the same thing.

In the same vein, she says her spirit rejoices in God her Savior. How often do we rejoice in knowing God saves us? Mary here speaks of God as already being her Savior. Her ultimate salvation is through her not-yet-born Son, Jesus. But the salvation she is referencing is God raising her up from a lowly place (a poor girl in a nowhere town in the lower-class part of the country) to a position where everyone who knows about her will say she was blessed by God. Everyone who cares about God and His plan will know who she is.

She knows this elevation in status isn’t an accident—it took a mighty one to do this great thing. And even His name is holy. And the reason God, the Mighty, did this was because He has mercy to those who fear Him.

Mary then appears to reference (in general) God’s actions in the past, though it ultimately points forward to the spiritual reality in Christ.

  • He showed strength with His arm.
  • He dispersed the proud in their imaginations.
  • He ripped the mighty from their thrones.[15]
  • He exalted those of low estate.
  • He filled the hungry with good things, but sent away the rich empty-handed.
  • He helped His servant Israel (that is, when they acted as His servant, He helped them) by remembering His mercy.

The idea of God humbling the proud and exalting the humble appears several times in the New Testament, and each of these examples fits the same paradigm.

These things were done to fulfill the promise God made to Abraham way back in Genesis 12.

Mary Goes Back Home

After this memorable exchange, Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months—just about the time baby John was to be born. She went back to her own house (that is, back to her parents), and awaited her marriage (though as we will see next time, there were some issues leading up to it).

What This Means for Us Today

Trust God, even when it seems impossible. Many promises to us in the Bible seem difficult, if not downright impossible, to grab hold of and trust. Can I really cast my cares and anxieties on Him and let Him take care of them? Can I really trust God to make sure I have what I need? Mary was told she would have a child without the involvement of a man. Yet her stance was that since God promised it, it was going to happen.

Family is important—especially if they follow God too. Whatever the reason may be, Mary spent three months with Elizabeth, and they were both overjoyed at what God had done for them. Far too often Christians (especially if they are related) spend their time complaining about things: the economy, the government, the church, etc. Instead, we ought to be seeking to build each other up.

Jesus is Lord, the Savior. Several times in this passage, Jesus is called “Lord.” It is here Mary is told His name will be Jesus—Jehovah saves. Jesus is the one who saves us from our sins through His death on the cross. Let us not ever forget this amazing gift God offers to us.

1 Luke 1:5-25, 57-80—All of which was covered in the last lesson. And while verses 39-56 include Elizabeth (John’s mother), and most of that section are Elizabeth’s words, the focus is not on John, but on Jesus, whom Mary was then carrying in her womb.

2 1:18-20, 26-31.

3 Elizabeth prophesied about Jesus (1:41-45, specifically verses 42-43); Zacharias prophesied about John (1:67-79).

4 1:24, 39-40, 56.

5 1:24.

6 Lessons 3 and 4.

7 The Law of Moses describes a potential situation where a husband claims his wife wasn’t a virgin on the day of the marriage. The parents of the wife were to bring out the bloody sheet that was on the bed during the wedding night, proving she had lost her virginity after the marriage (Deuteronomy 22:13-19).

8 Genesis 6:9.

9 Benson, Joseph, Joseph Benson’s Commentary on the Old and New Testaments (1857), e-sword edition.

10 Calvin, John, Calvin’s Complete Commentaries, e-sword edition.

11 Alford, Ibid.

12 Coke, Thomas, A Commentary on the Holy Bible (1803) e-Sword edition.

13 Butler, Paul T. The Gospel of Luke (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1986) (College Press Commentary set) e-Sword edition.

14 This would be the most likely way he would know what she had been thinking and pondering, as is said multiple times in chapters 1 and 2. See John Krivak’s article, “The Voice of Mary” in The Quarterly (Volume 5, Number 1), January, 2021.

15 Some translations say, “seats,” but the Greek word is the same.

[Life of Christ] Birth of Elijah the Way-Preparer

[Note: if you find any typos or mistakes, please let me know.]

[Note 2: To download te worksheet for this lesson, click here.]

At the end of the Old Testament, God inspired Malachi to say these words:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of Jehovah. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a curse (Malachi 4:5-6).

From that point forward, the Jewish people had been watching and waiting for this man cryptically called Elijah. There is even a place in the New Testament where some Jews ask a man if he is Elijah.[1] Some believed Jesus was Elijah.[2] Three of Jesus’ apostles asked Him why the scribes said Elijah must come before the Messiah.[3]

All this to say, there was an expectation that Elijah was coming—but almost everyone (including the apostles) missed it when he did come. This predicted Elijah is better known as John the Baptist, though it is more accurate to call him John the Immerser.[4]

Matthew, Mark, and John introduce John as a fully-grown preacher of repentance in the wilderness. They don’t tell us anything about his history, and that’s understandable, given why and to whom each gospel was written.[5] But Luke, as a historian, wanted his readers to know who this strangely-dressed man in the wilderness was, where he came from, and why he was important.

The Setting (Luke 1:5-10)

In the days of Herod [the Great], the king of Judea, there was a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abijah. His wife, whose name was Elizabeth, was of the daughters of Aaron. Both of them were righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinance of the Lord—blamelessly. They had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.

It came to pass that while he performed the priestly office before the Lord in the order of his course, according to the custom of the priestly role, his duty was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.

And the whole multitude of people were praying outside at the time of [the burning of] incense.

During the Reign of Herod

It has been popular for the last century or so to say Herod died in 4BC,[6] meaning that both Jesus and John would have had to be born at least two years earlier (Matthew 2:16), though the majority of early Christian writers who dealt with the issue dated Herod’s death around 1 BC, thus placing the birth of Jesus in either 3 or 2 BC,[7] and thus John’s birth six months earlier. Ultimately, the exact date doesn’t matter for our salvation, but since Luke saw fit to give us some context, I thought it worth at least mentioning in passing.

But even more important is the political context. Herod was a foreigner, an Idumean (Edomite), who was made king over Judea by Rome. Jews who read Daniel understood that the Kingdom of God was going to be established during the days of the Fourth Kingdom—the Roman Empire.[8]

Zacharias the Priest

Zechariah[9] or Zacharias[10] (We’re gonna go with Zacharias) was a Jewish priest, descended from Aaron through either Eleazar or Ithamar, Aaron’s two sons who didn’t get zapped with fire from the LORD back in Leviticus 10. Under King David, the priests were divided into 24 subgroups, based on which grandson of Aaron they were descended from. These 24 subgroups took turns serving in the temple.[11]

It has been suggested by some that Zacharias was the legitimate high priest, but not the high priest in practice. Rome liked having control over leaders, and they sold the office of high priest to the highest bidder—whether he was the legitimate high priest or not. Evidence for Zacharias possibly being the high priest are:

  1. God commanded Aaron (the high priest) to burn incense in the temple (Exodus 30:7-8); God inspired Luke to mention Zacharias was burning incense in the temple (Luke 1:9).
  2. God commanded Zacharias that his son would not drink wine nor strong drink (Luke 1:15); the high priest was not allowed to drink wine or strong drink while serving the Lord (Leviticus 10:8-9).[12]
  3. Zacharias’ wife was named Elizabeth (Luke 1:5); Aaron (the first high priest) was married to a woman with the same name (the Hebrew version of it): Elisheba (Exodus 6:23).[13] [14]
  4. Many ancient Christian writers stated Zacharias was high priest, among them Origen, Chrysostom, Augustine, Ambrose, Theodoret, Dionysius the Areopagite, Theophlact, and others.[15]
  5. The Protoevangelium of James, an early piece of religious fan-fiction (perhaps as early as AD 150), identifies Zacharias, father of John the Baptizer, as the high priest.[16]
  6. The fact that everyone was outside the temple, awaiting Zacharias to come back out, indicates he went in alone. This has led several to believe it was the Day of Atonement, when the high priest would go in the temple alone.[17]
  7. Josephus seems to indicate that though Rome installed the high priests each year, there were at least times when a special high priest was put in place exclusively on the Day of Atonement, apparently to make sure the sacrifice and offering was made by the right person. It is suggested Zacharias was this special high priest in Luke 1.[18]
  8. Zacharias is described as “well advanced in years,” but regular priests were required to retire at 50 years old. The high priest, however, served until his death.

You might think, Well that’s interesting and all, but does it really matter? It doesn’t matter, so far as salvation is concerned, but if it is true, it also means that John the Baptist was the legitimate high priest when he baptized Jesus, and when he said, “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease.” In other words, if Zacharias was God’s legitimate high priest, then John was too, and potentially the last legitimate high priest. I’m not saying it definitely is the case, but it a neat thought nonetheless.[19]

At the very least, John the Immerser was legitimately a priest, and he worked to cleanse people from their sins by teaching them repentance, baptism, and pointing them to Jesus.

Elizabeth the Daughter of Aaron

She is not just a Levite, but a descendant of Aaron, meaning any children she has with her husband would be of priestly bloodline from both sides. Unfortunately, poor Elizabeth wasn’t able to have children. She was barren, and besides that, any hope she’d had for having children (like Rachel) evaporated as she got older and older. And her husband Zacharias was no spring chicken either.

The Couple

Zacharias and Elizabeth must have been amazing people, even if they couldn’t have children. God declared them righteous, because they “walk[ed] in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord—blamelessly.” Wouldn’t you love to have that said about you?

This means they loved the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. It means they loved their neighbor as themselves. It means they obeyed the commands of God from the heart. And they didn’t pick and choose which ones they liked, which ones were easier—they followed all the commands of God, and no one could legitimately say otherwise.

Sounds like they would have made great parents…

In the Temple

Zacharias is inside the temple, offering incense inside the temple (on the altar of incense). Given that there were 24 classes of priests, with who knows how many priests in each class, and each class only serving a week at a time, twice a year—getting to go into the temple and offer the incense was something that a priest might only be able to do once in his entire life.

And all the people were outside praying during this time.

The Announcement (Luke 1:11-17)

An angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense, appeared to [Zacharias]. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell on him.

But the angel said to him, “Don’t be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son, and you will call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness; and many will rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord. He shall not drink wine nor strong drink, and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. And he shall turn  many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedience to the wisdom of the righteous; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

The Angel Appears

This angel, later identified as Gabriel, shows up on the right side of the Altar of incense. That means he’s standing in front of the veil between the holy place and the most holy place (or holy of holies). Zacharias is supposed to be alone, so this is quite a shock—even if the angel took on an appearance as a normal human. Can you imagine if he appeared like the angels at the tomb of Jesus, with bright shining clothes? And remember too that Zacharias is an older man—hope he has a good heart!

Zacharias is troubled and quite frightened. After all, how did this guy get in here (assuming Gabriel looked like a human)? How did I not see him? Or, if he did look slightly more amazing than a human, Zacharias would be scared because he knows he is in the presence of a heavenly messenger of God.

But the angel says, “Don’t be afraid.” Zacharias had nothing to worry about. God was behind this, and had good news for him.

Elijah John is Coming!

I love the exchange between Zacharias and the angel. The angel starts by saying, “Your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son.” You realize what that means, right? That means—even though both Zacharias and Elizabeth were well-advanced in years, he was still praying that they would have a child. How’s that for faith?

It is also pretty quick proof that Zacharias wasn’t dealing with a mere human here. This visitor knew what he was praying. (I don’t figure Zacharias was in the habit of letting people know he was praying for he and his wife—both beyond the age of having children—to have a child.) Zacharias would have immediately known this was someone sent from God.

And the angel continues, “You shall call his name John.” I don’t know what Zacharias’ mental reaction was to that. Perhaps he thought (as did others later in this chapter), Why John? But this name comes into play later.

The angel says, “You will have joy and gladness.” Zacharias is probably thinking, If what you’re saying is true, that is an understatement! But the angel continues, “and many shall rejoice at his birth.” I bet they will! This will be a miracle! And people will know that God still listens to and cares for His people!

But then the angel clarifies what he means. It isn’t joy and gladness just because an old couple has a baby. It is “because he shall be great in the sight of the Lord.” I can imagine Zacharias, righteous Zacharias who loves God, being overwhelmed and overjoyed. My son is going to be faithful to the Lord! When so many children fall away, can you imagine a better promise to a parent-to-be?

But also notice that the Lord will call John “great.” Later on, Jesus says, “Among those born of women, no one has risen greater than John the Immerser” (Matthew 11:11).

Then the angel starts giving more detail, which instantly would send Zacharias’ head reeling. “He… will not drink wine nor strong drink.” Is he to be a Nazarite then? But before he has a chance to think more…

“He will be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb.” While being “filled with the Holy Spirit” or being “full of the Holy Spirit” happens several times in the New Testament, it is extremely rare in the Old Testament. And it is never said about someone in the womb—except for John. My son is going to be a prophet? My Lord, I know not how to thank you for this grand honor!

I can’t help but believe Zacharias was growing more and more joyous as the angel continued. (1) you will have a son, (2) he will be faithful, (3) he will be great in the eyes of the Lord, (4) he will be full-time dedicated to God from birth, (5) he will be a prophet.

But the angel continues with even more: “Many of the children of Israel will turn to the Lord their God because of him.” Not just a prophet, but a successful one? One who will get through to the people?

And it keeps building: “He will go before Him…” Zacharias didn’t have to ask who the Him was. Malachi 3:1 was something he would have known well:

Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me… saith Jehovah of hosts.

Zacharias’ mind must have been racing. My son will be the messenger? My son… foretold by the prophet Malachi?

But then comes the bomb—the most explosive part of the announcement. “…in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” My son… is the Elijah? My son… preparing the way for the Lord? Preparing the way for the Messiah???

The Doubt (Luke 1:18-25)

Zacharias said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? Because I’m old, and my wife is well-advanced in years.”

And the angel answered, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, who was sent to speak to you, and to show you this good news. And behold, you will be mute, not able to speak, until the day these things happen, because you didn’t believe my words, which will happen in their time.”

And the people waited for Zacharias and were amazed that he took so long in the temple. And when he came out, he could not speak to them, and they perceived he had seena  vision in the temple, because he beckoned for them, but remained speechless.

And it happened that, as soon as the days of his service were finished, he went to his own house. And after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived and hid herself five months, saying, “Thus has the Lord dealt with me in the days in which He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

Should’ve been Quick to Listen and Slow to Speak

As amazing as this information is, perhaps Zacharias stands in shock for a moment, before his mind starts thinking this is all too amazing to be true. Who is he kidding? We’re too old to have children.

Then he opens his mouth and says it. “How can I be sure of this? Because I’m old, and my wife is well-advanced in years.” Ignoring that he should never have called his wife old, let alone well-advanced in years, he is speaking to an angel of God! He already knows (1) no human could have gotten into the temple without being noticed, and (2) no human would have known his prayers. So I have to assume he was speaking out of fear, confusion, and truly wanting what the angel said to be true, but having a hard time believing it is actually going to happen. Sometimes we wait for something, long for something for so long that it seems it will never happen, and when it does, or when hope arises that it might, our minds are scared to fully buy into it, to fully believe it because we’ve been disappointed so many times before. It is human nature to not want to be disappointed—especially when it is something so personal, so intense, so heart-rending.

I still have to chuckle when I think (1) Zacharias has been praying for he and Elizabeth to have a baby—even in their old age, (2) the angel told him about his prayer, (3) told him God was about to answer the prayer, and (4) then Zacharias tries to explain to the angel why it can’t happen. But we all have our times where we forget what God has done for people. Think Abraham and Sarah.

I’m Gabriel

Gabriel, whose name means Man of God or Warrior of God, only appears twice in the Old Testament. Both times he shows up to explain God’s message to Daniel. So when he identifies himself to Zacharias, the priest knows exactly who he is dealing with.

Gabriel says, “I… stand in the presence of God, and am sent to speak to you, and to show you this good news.[20]” It is like he’s saying, “You want to know how you can be sure? Well, I stand in the presence of God. Who do you think sent me with this message?”

I can imagine Zacharias trying to take this all in. God sent an angel—not just any angel, but Gabriel himself—to talk to me?

Not a Word…

As proof, and a little bit of a punishment for doubting the message, Zacharias is told he won’t be able to speak until these things (specifically the birth of the son and Zacharias naming him John).

When Zacharias steps out of the temple, the people were concerned about what had taken him so long. One ancient Jewish writing says of a High Priest around 200 BC:

Once a certain high priest made a long prayer and [his fellow priests] decided to go in after him—they say this high priest was Shim’on the Righteous. They said to him: “Why did you pray so long?” He said to them: “I was praying that the temple of your God would not be destroyed.” They said to him: “Even so, you should not have prayed so long.”[21]

Perhaps the crowd was worried something had happened to Zacharias, perhaps that he had died in the temple—he was old, after all.

But he waved the crowd to him, and was able to get the point across that he had seen a vision in the temple, but was unable to speak.

So imagine yourself in that scenario. The priest comes out, can’t talk (but he could before), and he, through hand gestures and facial expressions, reveals he has seen a vision—a miraculous message from God! But he can’t tell you what was said, because he can’t speak. And it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Zacharias was the kind of husband who wanted to share news with his wife before sharing it with others.

It Begins

So Zacharias finished his work at the temple (how many mute days did he spend working at the temple?) and goes home to his wife. Certainly he conveys to Elizabeth what the angel said (though we aren’t given her reaction). But when she becomes pregnant, her emotions must have been overwhelming. Joy, thankfulness, peace, love.

Elizabeth hid herself for five months. It is assumed by several scholars that she did this to have uninterrupted time to praise and thank God.[22] It is also suggested that she wanted to make sure the pregnancy was going well before she appeared to her friends and shared the good news, perhaps because they would not have taken her seriously if they couldn’t see evidence of it.[23]

She expressed her great thankfulness, because “the Lord…has taken away my reproach among people.” She desperately wanted children, but was unable to have any—and now she was old and childless. She and Zacharias’ family lines would both end with them. Except God had other plans.

The Birth (Luke 1:57-66)

Now the time came for Elizabeth to deliver, and she gave birth to a son. And her neighbors and cousins heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and rejoiced with her. And it happened on the eighth day, when they came for the child’s circumcision, that they called him Zacharias, after his father.

But his mother replied, “No, he will be called John.”

And they said, “There’s no one in your family called by that name.” And they made signs to his father, asking what he wanted him named.

And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, “His name is John.”

And they were all astonished.

Then immediately [Zacharias’] mouth was opened, and his tongue freed, and he spoke and praised God.

Fear came on all those who lived around them. And all these things were reported all throughout the hill country of Judea. Those who heard these things wondered about them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?”

And the hand of the Lord was with him.

A Son is Born

In keeping with the promise made by God through Gabriel, Elizabeth gave birth to a son. I am fairly certain this wasn’t a surprise to either her or Zacharias, but it certainly would have been a comforting reassurance of the power and promise of God.

The friends and family, however, apparently weren’t told the whole story ahead of time. In fact, it appears they may not have been told the whole story at all. But regardless, they recognized this as an act of God’s mercy, and  were overjoyed for Elizabeth—and who can resist smiling when they see a newborn baby?

The Meddling Baby-Namers

Apparently it wasn’t uncommon for friends and relatives to name babies that weren’t theirs. When Boaz and Ruth had a son, the neighbors of Naomi (the mother of Ruth’s first husband) took the liberty of naming him Obed.[24] So when it was time for this young child to be circumcised, the neighbors and relatives (I tend to think they were mostly women, probably because of the incident in Ruth) decided his name was Zacharias, after his father.

Certainly this was a sign of respect to Zacharias, that he was looked up to and honored. But whatever he may have thought of the idea, neither he nor Elizabeth was having any of it. Why? Because “they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinance of the Lord—blamelessly.”[25] Naming him John was a command of the Lord, and they weren’t about to disobey—especially after they finally were granted the answer to their prayers for a child.

So Elizabeth flatly stated, “No, he shall be called John.” This brought a chorus of confusion. I can picture them all looking at each other, asking, “Did she say John?” Then (can you imagine doing this?) they started to argue with the brand-new mother about what to name him. “There’s no one in your family with that name,” they said. And they weren’t about to let Elizabeth get away with naming her own child! Then they look to Zacharias for backup.

They “made signs” to Zacharias. This has led some to believe Zacharias was not just mute, but deaf as well.[26] I am not convinced. People tend to treat those with physical disabilities as less able than they really are, and this may just be an example of that. Either way, they wanted to get Zacharias to weigh in on their side.

Can we stop for a moment and just say it is never a good idea to try to force a husband and wife to disagree with each other—especially over something as personal as naming their own child?

So Zacharias asks for a writing tablet. The neighbors and relatives are certain he is going to side with them. He writes. They wait. He turns the tablet around for them all to see. Their eyes widen, perhaps a jaw or two drops. Because on that tablet they read: “His name is John.”

And that ends the discussion, because another surprise is coming: Zacharias can talk again—and he does, ignoring the crowd’s attitude about the name. His first words are praises to God.

Fear Came on Them

You know something this amazing (old Zacharias and Elizabeth having a baby), this crazy (naming the baby John?), and this surprising (Zacharias talking after a nine-month silence) was not going to be kept silent. They spread the word all over the place. But the reaction isn’t what you might initially think.

“Fear came on all who dwelt around them.” Why fear? Because they didn’t know what to make of all this. Because they knew God was behind it—but they didn’t know what He was planning with John. Because God had been silent for around 400 years, last interacting with the Jews through Malachi. They knew something important was happening, but they weren’t sure what it was.

But they told everyone they knew about it nonetheless. And everyone that heard it wondered what was going to happen with this child, what he would become, what God would do with him.

Then Luke adds an interesting detail: “the hand of the Lord was with him.” God cared for him, strengthened him, and protected him as he grew.

The Prophecy (Luke 1:67-80)

And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant—as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old—Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare his ways; to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

Zacharias Praises God and Prophesies about Jesus

Zacharias was “filled with the Holy Spirit,” which is a phrase Luke uses to describe someone who speaks miraculously with words or messages given by God.[27] In other words, Zacharias wasn’t making these words up out of thin air. He absolutely meant them, but they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

He praises God because “He has visited and redeemed His people” (KJV). While God had in times past visited and redeemed His people, it seems like Zacharias is using what is sometimes called “the prophetic perfect” or the “prophetic past tense.” In other words, he is stating something in past tense, even though it is still in the future, because of the certainty of it happening. It is so certain that he can speak of it as an already-accomplished event.

This phrase points to the life, work, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But Zacharias can praise God in this way because he knows the plan has finally been set into motion with the birth of John, the one chosen by God to be the forerunner for the Messiah.

“He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.” Again, prophetic past tense. He’s looking past John to the One of real importance—one who was not from the house of Levi (as John was), but who was from the lineage of David.

And Zacharias sees this as fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (v. 70) about salvation (v. 71), about God’s promise of mercy (v. 72), about God’s covenant (v. 72), and about the oath sworn to Abraham (v. 73).[28] He saw this as a promise of deliverance from fear (v. 74).[29] He saw this as instituting God’s plan to make men holy and righteous (v. 75).

In other words, Zacharias saw in this the work of Christ and of reality in His church.

Son, You’ve Got a Job to Do

Zacharias then looks at his son, John, and foretells the work he will accomplish. Most of these things match up well with what Gabriel foretold about John.

  • You will be called the prophet of the Highest (Gabriel said John would be “filled with the Spirit,” which means he would speak by inspiration—would be a prophet).
  • You will go before the Lord to prepare his ways (Gabriel said, “he [John] would go before Him [the Lord]” as the forerunner, Elijah).
    • This also is a reference to Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3.
  • You will give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins (Gabriel said John would turn “many of the children of Israel…to the Lord their God”).
    • And of course, we see this carried out when John preaches a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.[30]
  • You will preach salvation through the tender mercy of our God, through which the Sunrise from on high has visited us (Gabriel said John would “turn… the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous [and] make ready a people prepared for the Lord”).
  • The One you preach will give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
    • John pointed people to righteous living,[31] and even more, pointed people to Jesus.[32]
  • The One you preach will guide our feet in the way of peace.

John’s Preparation

Three things are said of John in verse 80.

He grew.

The promise of a baby was amazing, but the promises about the baby wouldn’t take place until he grew up.

He grew strong in spirit.

It doesn’t say he grew strong in the Spirit, as of the Holy Spirit, but that he grew strong in spirit. That means he grew in confidence, in resilience, which made him the perfect candidate to call out the sins of the Pharisees in front of the people.[33] He had no fear when he preached. Some might even call him somewhat hard-headed or stubborn.

He was in the deserted places until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

These deserted places, or wilderness places, are most likely the areas near Jericho and the Dead Sea where the Essenes lived. It is surmised by many that after the death of Zacharias and Elizabeth (or perhaps even prior to it), John went to live with this eccentric sect (responsible for writing and collecting the Dead Sea Scrolls) who had separated themselves from the rest of the Jews. I find the evidence to be inconclusive, but interesting.[34]

What Does this Mean for Us Today?

“God is not slack concerning His promises as some men count slackness.”[35] It had been 400 years since God had said anything to the Jews. It had been 400 years since He had promises a messenger would come to prepare the way of the Lord. It had been 400 years since He had promised Elijah was coming—and He hadn’t forgotten. We want God to answer our prayers on our time, when we want it, how we want it. But God answers when He decides it is right. And God has promised a final judgment[36]—and He hasn’t forgotten. Let’s not ever start thinking that God has forgotten anything, or that He doesn’t care—because He does.

Pray with Confidence! Zacharias had been praying for who knows how long, praying that he and Elizabeth might have a child. But it seems that his prayers had, at some point, stopped being confident, because when Gabriel said the prayers were heard and going to be answered, Zacharias didn’t believe him. Through Jesus Christ, we have the right to come with boldness, with confidence,[37] knowing God will hear our prayers, and knowing that if we ask according to His will, He will answer them.[38]

God delivers us from fear so we can serve Him in holiness and righteousness. When we act on fear, we aren’t living holy, righteous lives. God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of confidence, of love, and of a sound mind.[39]

[1] John 1:21.

[2] Matthew 16:13-14.

[3] Matthew 17:10.

[4] The word “Baptist” is not a translation of the Greek word, but a transliteration—meaning the translators decided to just take the Greek letters and turn them into English letters, without actually translating the word. The word literally means “dipper” or “immerser.”

[5] Matthew wrote to prove Jesus was the King, the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for. Mark’s fast-paced gospel account didn’t have space or time for background stories of what was (ultimately) a side character in the story. John gave some aspects of the Immerser which don’t appear in the other three gospels, but mainly to show (1) Jesus was the important one and (2) how the Immerser pointed the way to Jesus.

[6] This view was popularized by a German scholar named Emil Schurer. https://jimmyakin.com/2013/04/jesus-birth-and-when-herod-the-great-really-died.html (accessed 3/28/2023)

[7] Finegan, Jack, Handbook of Bible Chronology, p. 291.

[8] Daniel 2:44. The crazy interpretations of the fourth kingdom to somehow be a reconstituted Roman Empire, or the European Union are without logic, without common sense, and without biblical warrant. If it points to something after the original Roman Empire, then God doesn’t know how to count.

[9] NIV, NET, ESV, RSV

[10] KJV, NKJV, NASB

[11] 1 Chronicles 24 doesn’t make it clear which of the two sons of Aaron the specific subgroup were descended from. There were sixteen from Eleazar, and eight from Ithamar. Abijah was the eighth one listed.

[12] The passage given here seems to apply to all priests, not just the high priest.

[13] This may be complete coincidence, or perhaps Luke is hinting at a connection between Aaron as high priest and Zacharias as high priest.

[14] https://tovrose.substack.com/p/was-john-the-baptist-the-rightful-aaronic-high-priest-of-israel (Accessed 3/28/2023).

[15] This information comes from John Sanidopoulos, https://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2014/09/was-zechariah-father-of-john-baptist.html (Accessed 3/28/2023)

[16] See specifically sections 5 and 23. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/infancyjames-roberts.html (Accessed 3/28/2023). Note: This writing is full of made-up events and doctrines, and is the original source for the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary—but the document was condemned as heretical in AD 405 by Pope Innocent I, and specifically decreed to be “avoided by all Catholics” by another pope less than 100 years later. See https://www.tertullian.org/decretum_eng.htm; http://bible-researcher.com/innocent.html (Accessed 3/28/2023).

[17] https://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2014/09/was-zechariah-father-of-john-baptist.html (Accessed 3/28/2023).

[18] Ibid.

[19] Each piece of evidence presented could be dismissed as (1) coincidence, (2) appealing to uninspired men, and/or (3) assumptions. However, I personally find #8 to be compelling, especially when paired with #1 and #6.

[20] The Greek word is euangelizo—where we get the word evangelize.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Alford, Clarke, etc.

[23] Barnes, Coffman. As a side note, Coffman suggests this information probably came from Luke’s interview with Mary prior to his writing this Gospel account.

[24] Ruth 4:16-17.

[25] Luke 1:6

[26] Matthew Henry gives it as a suggestion, Alford and Coffman are both adamant about it.

[27] See this author’s The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts (Charleston, AR: Cobb Publishing, 2015) for a more in-depth look at this fact.

[28] Genesis 12:1-5.

[29] Compare this with Hebrews 2:14-15.

[30] Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3.

[31] Luke 3:10-14.

[32] John 1:25-27; 3:27-30.

[33] Matthew 3, Luke 3.

[34] Encyclopedia Britannica even addresses the issue. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-John-the-Baptist/Possible-relationship-with-the-Essenes (Accessed 3/29/2023). As a side note, one recent Catholic writer, in his book, Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls, suggests Luke may have written his Gospel in part to present Jesus to the Essene community. https://www.catholic.com/audio/caf/jesus-and-the-dead-sea-scrolls-2 (Accessed 3/29/2023).

[35] 2 Peter 3:9.

[36] Acts 17:31; Matthew 25; etc.

[37] Hebrews 4:16.

[38] 1 John 5:14.

[39] 2 Timothy 1:7.

[Life of Christ] Why Don’t the Genealogies Match up? (Part 2)

Sorry for not getting this out this morning. Download the worksheet here.

(Part Two—Luke 3:23-38)

The purpose of Matthew’s genealogy is easy to understand: he showed Jesus is the legal heir to the throne of David, and the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.[1] The purpose of Luke’s, however, is not as cut-and-dried.

Oh, and it is way different from Matthew’s.

To put Luke’s genealogy in perspective, let’s consider the opening to his gospel account.

Luke’s Introduction (Luke 1:1-4)

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Whatever we decide about Luke’s genealogy, it must fit into this opening statement. Luke didn’t just make up names. His list was the result of careful investigation. Luke did his research, and expected everything he wrote to stand up to the test of careful historical examination.

An atheist named William Ramsay hated the Bible so much he determined to prove it untrustworthy. He used Luke’s writings (the books of Luke and Acts) and went around to the areas mentioned. He involved himself in archaeological studies and historical records. And by the time he was finished, he declared Luke to be a first-rate historian, and proceeded to write several books defending the accuracy of the Bible.

All that to say, Luke would not have put these specific names in this specific order unless he was absolutely certain of their accuracy. So why doesn’t his list jive with Matthew’s? We’re going to first consider the difficulties, as well as proposed solutions to these two inspired lists.

Difficulties

We can’t call ourselves dedicated Bible students if we aren’t willing to take a look at difficult parts of God’s word. And of all the passages that people use as supposed “contradictions,” these two genealogies pose one of the most challenging to explain.

Difficulty #1: Sure Looks Like Joseph’s Genealogy

If we didn’t have Matthew’s gospel, then any reader of Luke would naturally assume (and with good reason) that this genealogy traces Jesus’ lineage through his foster-father, Joseph. Mary isn’t even named in this list. Look at Luke 3:23-24:

Jesus Himself began to be about thirty years old, being (as it was supposed) the son of Joseph, who was the son of Heli, who was the son of Matthat…

And if this is the case, then either Matthew or Luke (or both) were just dead wrong on their lists.

Difficulty #2: Jesus Isn’t Heir to the Throne

If this is the legitimate genealogy through Joseph (see #1), then Jesus isn’t in line for the kingdom, as that right is passed from father to son. This genealogy goes back to David, but through his son Nathan (Luke 3:31), who did not inherit the throne, nor did his descendants. This poses a rather significant theological issue.

Difficulty #3: What Was Your Dad’s Name?

If we take Luke’s genealogy straightforward as written, then Joseph was the son of Heli (Luke 3:23). But Matthew says his father’s name was Jacob (Matthew 1:16). I know that sometimes people have multiple names in the Bible (Moses’ father-in-law had three different names),[2] but there is not a single name that matches in the two genealogies between Joseph and Zerubbabel. I personally find it difficult to believe that Matthew and Luke listed the same people (or even just some of the same people), but never once used the same name for them.

Difficulty #4: Luke’s Big Fail on Showing Jesus Representing All Mankind

One of the main purposes behind Luke’s genealogy seems to be to show that Jesus is the Savior for all mankind, because He—like everyone else—is part of humanity through Adam. But since Luke appears to trace Jesus’ lineage through Joseph (who was not His father), then all Luke can prove is that Jesus was raised by a man who descended from Adam. That raising doesn’t give Jesus His humanity.

Difficulty #5: Shealtiel’s Two Dads

Matthew says Shealtiel’s dad was Jechoniah (1:12). Luke says his dad was Neri (3:27). And no, these aren’t two names for the same person. None of Luke’s line from Shealtiel to David Matches with Matthew’s record of the same gap.

Difficulty #6: The Missing People

Between David and Zerubbabel, Matthew skipped a couple names here and there. But after Zerubbabel, things seem to get crazy. Where Matthew has nine names between Zerubbabel and Joseph, Luke has seventeen—nearly double! Was Matthew just lazy?

I’m sure there are probably more difficulties I am missing, but those are the ones that came to mind as I put this together.

Proposed Solutions to the Genealogical Conundrum

Throughout the centuries, Bible students, commentators, scholars, experts (and whoever else you want to throw in there) have attempted to find ways of harmonizing these two lists. And none of them are without their own difficulties. But we will present some of the more prominent ones here:

Possible Solution #1: The Royal and Priestly Line of Joseph

Ambrose, among others, posited that Jesus was descended from the Kingly line of Solomon (Matthew’s list) and from the priestly line of Nathan (Luke’s list). It is argued that this was necessary because Jesus is both king and priest.[3]

While this sounds interesting from a “let’s make a theological point here” standpoint, this solution fails due to the fact that Nathan—the son of David—wasn’t a priest. He couldn’t be a priest, since his father was David, of the tribe of Judah. That would make Nathan from Judah as well. And the only priests came from the tribe of Levi.

Possible Solution #2: Joseph and Shealtiel were Adopted

It has been suggested that an adoption or two could explain all the variances between the two lists. If Joseph was the natural son of Eli (Heli in some translations), but the adopted son of Jacob, then we have an explanation for the two different lists. The same thing would have to be true for Shealtiel: born to Neri, but adopted by Jeconiah.

There are biblical instances of being called “the son of” when it wasn’t talking about a natural parent. In the Jewish way of thinking (and to a large part it is true of us today), “[He] that brings up, not he that begets, is called the father” or parent.[4] Moses was called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.[5] Jesus was called the son of Joseph.[6] Joseph was called Pharaoh’s father.[7]

Matthew literally uses the word “begat” (KJV) or “fathered” (SENT),[8] which implies natural fatherhood, Luke says, “was of” for each layer of his genealogy (most translators expand it to “was the son of,” but the Greek just reads “was of”). While this may not seem like a big difference, Luke’s wording opens the possibility of an adopted son, or another option which we will note momentarily.

But there are problems with this one too.

  • One of the goals of Luke’s gospel, and thus the genealogy, is to show Jesus’ humanity, that He is not just Son of God, but also Son of man. Showing He was raised by a human who was descended from Adam doesn’t show Jesus’ relationship to the human race.
  • Jeconiah was 8 years old when he became king, reigned barely over three months, and was taken captive to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:9-10). He remained a captive until he was 45 years old, when the king of Babylon elevated him to eat with him (2 Kings 25:27-30). In other words, adoption doesn’t really seem like something he would have had the opportunity to engage in.

Possible Solution #3: This is the Genealogy through Mary

While this has its difficulties (specifically Difficulty #1 above), it is the one which answers most of the difficulties, when certain reasonable explanations are given. We will explain how this could be Mary’s family line after showing how this concept deals with the previously mentioned difficulties.

  1. If this is Mary’s, then it isn’t Joseph’s, and thus all differences between the two lists are rendered moot (at least from Zerubbabel to Joseph).
  2. If this is Mary’s, then it has no bearing on the legal, royal line, because that goes through the legal father (Joseph). Thus, this difficulty is overcome.
  3. See #1 in this list.
  4. If this is Mary’s, then it shows the physical line from which Jesus came, showing His relationship to the entire human race by tracing Him back to Adam. Thus, difficulty overcome
  5. We will deal with this difficulty momentarily.
  6. If this is Mary’s, then the difference in number of people between Joseph and Zerubbabel can rationally be explained (and it may be that Matthew skipped some generations in that section as well, which would also explain part of the difference).

So now, all we really have to do is figure out how this list could possibly refer to Mary’s lineage instead of Joseph’s. There are two main ways I’ve seen this tried. But both of them assume (and there is ancient evidence for it)[9] that Heli/Eli (depending on your translation) is Mary’s father.

The first attempt is a rearranging of the parentheses in Luke 3:23. Before we get into this, know that the parentheses are added by translators, as there was no such thing in Greek. So their placement is a matter of context and opinion. Luke 3:23, in most translations, reads: “Jesus… being (as was supposed) the Son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli.” Instead, it is suggested that it should read: “Jesus… (being as was supposed the Son of Joseph), which was of Heli.” You might say this increases the confusion, calling Jesus “of Heli” or “the Son of Heli.” But since Luke doesn’t mention any women in his genealogy, it wouldn’t be unthinkable for him to connect Jesus and His maternal grandfather this way.[10]

The problem with this is that Luke is extremely detailed and accurate, and doesn’t appear to skip even a single generation. So while it isn’t outside the realm of possibility, it doesn’t seem likely he would skip a generation (Mary) at the beginning, while mentioning the adoptive father. Additionally, pretty much every professional translator agrees (check all the translations you like) that the parentheses are already in the right place, and don’t need to be changed to make it easier to prove a point.

The second attempt takes part of the Old Testament law and applies it to the genealogy. When the Israelites were traveling toward the Promised Land, a group of sisters came to Moses with a problem—their father had no sons, only daughters. What would happen to his inheritance? Moses went to God, who said in these cases, the inheritance would pass to the daughters.[11] These same sisters came back with another question—what happens if they get married to someone outside their tribe? God’s answer was for them to only marry whoever they wanted, but only within their tribe, because the inheritance that had come to the daughter would become also the inheritance of her husband.[12]

How does this apply to the genealogy? This law, when figuring the inheritance, counts the son-in-law as a son. That is why it is called a son in law. Thus, when a man had only daughters, the genealogy would give his son-in-law as his son, which wouldn’t mess up the later lines, because any children born to that union would still be physical descendants.

So, take all that information, then assume Heli was the father of Mary, but he had no sons, only daughters (a legitimate possibility). After his marriage to Mary, Joseph, now Heli’s son-in-law, would be counted as his son.[13]

So when Luke says, “Joseph, which was the son of Heli,” he’s saying Joseph was the son in law of Heli.

It is suggested that this is also the situation Shealtiel was in, being the son-in-law of Neri, who (according to this understanding) had no sons. Thus, Shealtiel would have been counted as his son in this genealogy.

I get that this isn’t the easiest, most cut-and-dried explanation we could want, but it is reasonable, fits with Jewish practice and custom of the time, and does away with all the difficulties between Matthew and Luke’s accounts. Because of this, even though it takes some thinking to get there, I am satisfied that this is the best explanation for the differences between the two genealogies.

Luke’s Purposes for His Genealogy

We already mentioned above that one of Luke’s purposes seems to be to show the humanity of Jesus—that is, Jesus was a human, born from a human, descended from Adam like every other human. In other words, Jesus is one of us. This makes Jesus relatable. He had to grow, to learn, to suffer, to eat, to sleep just like the rest of us.

Another purpose may have been to explain to the Greeks (who had myriads of theories and traditions about where man came from) the origin of mankind. He traces Jesus back to the beginning of humanity (Adam), and then says Adam was “of God,” meaning God was his source.

Both these two reasons help explain why Luke ran his genealogy backwards from Jesus to Adam instead of forward like Matthew did.

Luke may have also intended by this to show Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and Zerubbabel. Whether he intended it or not, it does have that effect.

The Genealogy of Luke

Outside of Joseph, all the names between him and Zerubbabel are people only mentioned here. We know nothing about anyone on this portion of the list except that they are descended from Zerubbabel, and are in the ancestry of Jesus.

Since we discussed Zerubbabel (whose name literally means “Born in Babel [Babylon]”) and Shealtiel in the previous lesson, we won’t go into them here.

From Shealtiel, we encounter another list of people whose names only appear here. In other words, we know nothing about any of these men from Neri (verse 27) to Mattatha (verse 31), except that they are in this genealogy.

Nathan

Nathan (father of Mattatha) was a son of David and Bathsheba, and was born in Jerusalem.[14] He almost certainly was named after Nathan the prophet, a friend of David who called out David’s horrid sinfulness to his face.

David through Abraham

We covered these men in the previous lesson.

Terah

Abraham’s father Terah traveled with him when they left Ur of the Chaldees, and died in Haran, a city Terah may have named after his own dead son.[15]

Nahor, Sereg, Reu

Outside of their appearance in genealogical records, nothing is known about these men.

Peleg

I would have included Peleg’s name in the previous list, except that in Genesis 10:25, we are told he was called Peleg, “for in his days the earth was divided.” What exactly that means isn’t clear. It could mean his father was involved in some dividing up of land (the word “land” and the word “earth” are the same word in Hebrew). It could mean the family divided into different parts of the earth at the time Peleg was born. Or it could mean the earth was a giant land mass (frequently referred to in later literature as Pangea) that God divided into continents around this time.[16]

Heber

Heber was the well-known head of the family, which gave rise to his descendants being called Hebrews. The first person called a Hebrew is Abram (who God later renamed Abraham).[17] When Moses went to Egypt to free the Israelites, he went proclaiming “the LORD God of the Hebrews” had sent him.[18] In fact, the Israelites aren’t called Israelites until Exodus 9:7—before that they are called Hebrews.

Outside of his appearance in genealogies, we know nothing about him, but he must have been of some importance to have people generations down the line still being called by his name.

Shelah, Cainan, Arphaxad

Like so many others in Luke’s list, nothing is known about these men outside of genealogical facts. But God used them.

Shem

Possibly the oldest of Noah’s three sons, Shem was given the blessing by his father. It is from Shem that we get the word Semitic, which can be used to describe a wide variety of languages, but when applied to people (at least in modern times) it only refers to Jews.

Noah

In a time of rampant sinfulness, where “every imagination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only on evil continually,”[19] Noah stood out like a bright light. “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.”[20] By faith, Noah built an ark at the command of God, to keep them safe from the rain and floods that would come. This is even more impressive when you consider it had never rained before. So Noah was building an ark, preparing for something that no one had seen or heard of before. Imagine the heckling he would have gotten from those he warned: Water from the sky? Noah have you lost your mind? You’re nuts! But Noah kept working and working for over 100 years, staying faithful to God throughout it all.

Lamech

Outside of his appearance in genealogies, nothing is known of Lamech.

Methuselah

His name literally means, “When he goes, it comes.” Methuselah lived longer than anyone in recorded history at 969 years. And his name seems to be prophetic—because he died the same year the flood came.

Enoch

This man “walked with God.” God thought it was so important that He had Moses record that fact twice in three verses.[21] Genesis 5:22 seems to indicate he began walking with God after Methuselah was born. And since Methuselah’s name appears to foretell the flood, it may be that Enoch started taking God seriously at that point.

Enoch is called a prophet of God. He prophesied the flood (through Methuselah’s name), and another of his prophesies was quoted by Jude to apply to false teachers in the first century.[22]

Enoch is in rare company, being one of only four righteous people in the entire Bible whose earthly end was orchestrated and carried out by God. The other three are Moses,[23] Elijah,[24] and Jesus.[25]

Jared, Mahalaleel, Cainan, Enosh

Jared is the second-oldest person in recorded history. But other than their ages at death and their places in the genealogy, nothing is known of these men. It may be assumed that these men were righteous. It is from this family that men were born who are called “sons of God.” Unfortunately, most of these offspring married unfaithful spouses, “daughters of men,” and went badly astray.[26]

Seth

Seth is the third son that we know about from Adam and Eve. He certainly wasn’t their third child. Adam and Eve were commanded to “be fruitful and multiply.” Seth wasn’t born until at least nine months after Cain killed Abel. How old was Cain when that happened? Most seem to guess at least twenty years old. So were Adam and Eve “fruitful” and “multiplying” if they only had two children, waited twenty years, and then had a third?[27]

It was after Seth fathered Enos that “men began to call upon the name of the LORD.” Seth and his descendants appear to have dedicated themselves to following God.

Adam

Adam was the first sinless man, who then became the first sinner. Eve was deceived by the serpent, but Adam was there with her and said nothing. Instead, he joined in. When God came to Adam (who was the head of the family), asking what was going on, Adam threw Eve under the proverbial bus. But Paul makes it quite clear that Adam is the one to blame.[28]

There is actually surprisingly little good said about Adam in the Bible. He was the first human, created in the image of God. He worked the ground. He named Eve and he named the animals. And he had children with his wife. That pretty much summarizes the non-bad things (which are: knowingly disobeying a direct command of God, hiding from God, lying to God, blaming Eve, blaming God).

God

We can’t miss the fact that Luke traces all of humanity back to God. It was God’s plan to create man. It was God who formed Adam and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. It was God who created a garden paradise for Adam and Eve to live in. It was God’s plan to save mankind from their sin by sending His Son to be a perfect example, a perfect teacher, and a perfect sacrifice for them and us. He put that plan into motion by creating Adam.

When we look at the genealogies, we often get lost in the names and human-ness of the list, and sometimes we forget that God is the one behind it all. Luke reminds us not to forget where we came from. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5).

What Does This Mean for Us Today?

Behind it all, there is God. The bookends of Luke’s genealogy are Jesus and the Father, God. How are you doing at remembering God in your life? Do you pray enough? Do you thank Him enough? Do you read His word enough?

Jesus knows what it is like to suffer, to face temptation, to be tired, to be hungry, to be betrayed. And because of these things, He is able to identify with us, to help us.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Difficulties in the Bible can be figured out, or at least given a reasonable explanation if we are willing to dig a little and think a little. The world is quick to label anything a bit different in the Bible as a contradiction, but all of them have rational, reasonable explanations if we are willing to look for them.

We can’t back away from difficulties. We should be willing, as Christians who trust in God and His word, to admit difficulties and try to find reasonable answers.

[1] See previous lesson for far more detail.

[2] He was called Reuel (Exodus 2:18), Jerthro (Exodus 18:12), and Hobab (Judges 4:11).

[3] Just, Arthur Jr., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Luke (Thomas C. Oden, editor). E-Sword edition.

[4] John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible on Luke 3:23. E-Sword edition.

[5] Exodus 2:10; Acts 7:21

[6] Luke 2:48; John 6:42.

[7] Genesis 45:8.

[8] The Spoken English New Testament.

[9] See John Gill’s Exposition on this verse for more information.

[10] McGarvey, J.W., and Pendleton, Philip Y., The Fourfold Gospel (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing Company, FIND YEAR) page 7.

[11] Numbers 27:1-11.

[12] Numbers 36.

[13] McGarvey and Pendleton, Fourfold Gospel, page 7.

[14] 1 Chronicles 3:5.

[15] Genesis 11:31-32.

[16] While I like this option best for the coolness factor, I tend to think if the Pangea hypothesis is real, it would have happened during the flood.

[17] Genesis 14:13.

[18] Exodus 3:18; 9:1.

[19] Genesis 6:5

[20] Genesis 6:8.

[21] Genesis 5:22-24.

[22] Jude 14-16.

[23] Deuteronomy 34:5-7.

[24] 2 Kings 2:1-11.

[25] John 3:16; Acts 2:22-24.

[26] Genesis 6:1-3. The idea that “sons of God” in this passage refers to angels who fell is highly imaginative fiction which, unfortunately, has been allowed to be believed as truth. Jesus said angels neither marry nor are given in marriage (Mark 12:15). They are sexless beings. After describing the “sons of God” marrying the “daughters of men,” we are given God’s thoughts: “My spirit shall not always strive with man…” (Genesis 6:3). The sinners of verse 2 are humans, otherwise God is confused about who He is talking about.

[27] This doesn’t even get into the fact that Cain had to get a wife from somewhere—it was either his sister or a niece.

[28] 1 Corinthians 15:21-22; Romans 5:12-14.

Chronological Life of Christ (001) – Why Four Gospels?

[Note: Please comment with any corrections, clarifications, questions, or additional points you think should be added. Lord willing, this series will eventually become a book–and if you help me out by commenting on it, I will make sure to include your name in the “Special Thanks” section of the book when it is finished!]

[Second Note: There is a handout that goes with this study, the pdf of which can be downloaded here: Life of Christ (Worksheet 001).]

Beginning the Study:
Why Four Gospels?

Before we can do a study of the chronological life of Christ, we have to answer the question, Why are there four different gospel accounts? That question includes other questions, like, Why didn’t God just use one? Why is some information included in one and left out in another? Why don’t some of the accounts of (supposedly) the same event agree with each other?

In order to answer these questions (and they need to be answered before we do a serious study of the life of Christ), we will take a brief look at each gospel and find out what makes it different from the others, and most importantly why.

Some people make accusations against the Bible, accusing it of contradictions because quotes are given differently by different gospel writers, because different people are identified in certain scenes, or even because sometimes the same (so they claim) incident seems to take place in different places in the various accounts. On the other hand, when the accounts agree almost verbatim, the same critics accuse the writers of colluding and copying, and therefore say they aren’t trustworthy. Tell you what, that’s a great job if you can get it—if they agree, you can’t trust them; if they disagree, you can’t trust them… I win!

Let’s say you see a car crash, and the police request you to write down what happened. Are you going to remember every single detail? Of course not. Now imagine they found another witness, and asked them to do the same thing. Are they going to write the same thing you did, word for word? Do you think there might be some details they include that you didn’t? Now let’s assume there is a third witness, who is close friends with one of the drivers—do you think their account will vary slightly in some details from yours? And lastly, let’s assume the police officer takes interviews with the witnesses and writes down an account of what happened—will his account be identical to any of the others? Each witness (and the police officer) write what happened, but it is from a slightly different perspective, bringing their own background in, causing them to notice things that the others might not have noticed—and yet each can still be called reliable witnesses.

Each of the gospels has a different starting point, a different audience, and a different vantage point. But they each tell the same story of our glorious Savior!

Matthew

Even just a surface reading at the first gospel account lets you know, This guy like the Old Testament. Matthew constantly references the Law of Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets, usually by saying something akin to, “this happened so that it might be fulfilled what was written by the prophet…” The constant references to the Old Testament as proof for Jesus as the promised King, the Messiah, would have only been important to one group of people—the Jews.

It is commonly accepted by almost every Bible student and scholar that Matthew wrote his gospel account to a Jewish audience. He wanted his fellow countrymen to believe in Jesus as the promised King, and so wrote with that thought in mind. In fact, some of the earliest surviving Christian writings after the time of the apostles make this same point.

The earliest evidence says Matthew wrote this gospel account within a decade of Jesus’ death. Why does this matter? For one, it is quite possible that it was written and circulating amongst Jewish Christians even before Gentiles (starting with Cornelius) were welcomed into the church. Unlike Luke, Matthew doesn’t go out of his way to show Jesus’ compassion and interaction with Gentiles—don’t get me wrong, Matthew does include some interactions, but it isn’t as obvious as it is in Luke, who wrote after Gentiles were welcomed into the church.

Matthew also wrote as an eyewitness. Certainly, some of the things he recorded were things relayed to him by other apostles (or by direct revelation from God), but remember that he saw most of these things, heard Jesus talking, and his gospel account was a testimony to the Jews of the truthfulness of Jesus as the Messiah.

Matthew begins his account with a genealogy—and modern readers scream No!!!!!!!!!!!!! But he starts here because it traces the lineage of Abraham—God promised Abraham that his seed (descendant) would bless the whole world. It goes to Isaac and Jacob—God reiterated this promise to each of them. It goes through Judah—prophecy was made that “the scepter [kingship] will not depart from Judah.” It then traces to David—God promised a descendant of David would rule forever. And it includes Zerubbabel—God promised this man he was the one through whom the promised King would come.

This genealogy shows Jesus was (1) an Israelite, and more specifically (2) a Jew [of the tribe of Judah], (3) a direct royal descendant of David, and (4) a legal heir to the throne. Each one of these items was essential to establish to gain credibility with Jewish readers interested in hearing about Jesus.

Matthew also spends an inordinate amount of space dealing with the corruption of the Jewish religious leaders—specifically the scribes and Pharisees (see chapter 23)—and the impending destruction of Jerusalem (see chapters 23-24). The other writers address these things, but not to the extent that Matthew does, because of his audience.

Mark

My oldest daughter read the first three chapters of Mark one day, and said it was very fast-paced. You’ll notice that the word “immediately” (or if you use the KJV, straightway) shows up a lot. Mark didn’t spend an awful lot of time dealing with details and discussions, but showed Jesus as a man of action. This is because his audience expected it.

It is generally agreed that Mark wrote to a Roman audience. They liked action, action, action. If you counted up the words of Jesus in Matthew, and divided that in half, it’d still be more than Mark records. But Mark shows Jesus as a man on the move, someone who is always doing something.

The Romans were used to extremely biased biographies. Once, when a new Caesar ascended the throne, a biography was produced that said “The gospel [good news] of “ that Caesar, “son of ____” [one of the Roman gods]. Of course, this was a lie to build up the mythos around the Caesar. But notice how Mark begins: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of the God.” (though most translations don’t include it, the Greek says “the God.”)

We know Mark isn’t writing to Jews, even though he himself was one, because he actually translates Hebrew/Aramaic phrases for his readers. Additionally, there are a couple places where Mark actually uses Latin words—and doesn’t translate or explain them, which implies his original audience was at least familiar with Latin.

While Matthew begins with a genealogy, then the miraculous birth of Jesus, Mark starts with the ministry of John the Baptizer, leading very quickly to the baptism of Jesus at 30 years old. No extensive background or backstory here.

Mark spends more time, as a percentage of the whole book, dealing with the last week of Jesus’ life than any of the other authors. And all of this is because he knew his audience.

Luke

Luke wrote 25% of the New Testament, which is quite impressive, especially since he was (1) not an eyewitness, and (2) a Gentile. Luke’s audience seemed to be more Greek-influenced. Luke focuses more on Jesus’ interaction with the poor, with women, and with Gentiles. Being a physician, Luke also had an eye for detail, giving more specific words for certain medical ailments than other writers, describing more of Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, etc.

Luke has also been called a “first rate historian” by a one-time atheist who fully intended to disprove the Bible. Luke shows Jesus as a real person, in a real place, and at a specific time (just read the beginning of Luke 3 to see the amount of historical detail Luke gives).

Luke interviewed several eyewitnesses to the events he records (almost certainly including Mary, the mother of Jesus), as well as checking some of the already-in-circulation gospel accounts, which would certainly include Matthew, and perhaps Mark. And with divine guidance from the Holy Spirit, he organized the information in a predominantly chronological order (with one flashback explaining why John the Baptizer was in prison).

Luke begins with the miraculous conception of John the Baptizer, followed quickly by the miraculous conception of Jesus. Luke is the only author who describes Jesus being taken to the Temple as an infant, and the only one who gives us any words and actions of Jesus between His birth and His arrival to be baptized by John (see chapter 2).

Luke also gives a genealogy of Jesus, but if you compare it with Matthew’s, you’ll notice some differences: (1) Matthew’s goes forward to Jesus, Luke’s goes backwards from Jesus, (2) Matthew skips some generations, Luke doesn’t. But most startlingly, (3) Matthew gives a different genealogy from David to Zerubbabel, and from Zerubbabel to Joseph than Luke does. We will deal with those differences when we get there. Suffice it to say, Luke chose to give a (still-accurate) genealogy that would hit home for his readers—which was different from the one Matthew chose.

John

As far as the life of Jesus goes, Matthew starts with the birth of Christ, Mark starts with the baptism of Christ, Luke starts with the announcement of the conception of Christ. But John outdoes any of them—he starts with the life of Jesus before creation!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Hearkening back to Genesis 1:1, John shows Jesus as more than just a man, but as the loving God who became flesh (John 1:14).

John’s audience appears to be more general than the others. His whole purpose in writing was not to give all the places Jesus went, the people He met, or the miracles He performed. John wrote to help people believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:30-31). So he wrote to support this aim.

After showing the pre-existence of Jesus, he moves to just after Jesus was baptized, with John the Baptizer pointing out, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

John’s account contains a lot of information not found in the other three accounts, including Jesus’ first miracle (water into wine), the first time He cleared out the Temple, His own baptizing of others (through His disciples, He didn’t do it personally), the raising of Lazarus, and several others. John seems to focus more on things Jesus did in Judea, while the other writers spend more time on His ministry in Galilee.

Summary

  • Matthew wrote to show the Jews that Jesus was their long-awaited King.
  • Mark wrote to show the Romans that Jesus was the true Son of God (unlike the Caesars).
  • Luke wrote to show the Greeks the humanity and compassion of Jesus the man.
  • John wrote to show the world that Jesus is the loving God in the Flesh who died to take away sin.

Each of the four purposes show up in all four gospel accounts to a lesser degree, but these are (generalized) the main thrusts of each of the four gospel accounts.

What does this mean for us today?

God thought it was important—perhaps even necessary—to give us four different gospel accounts, each with a different focus, a different audience, and a different writer’s viewpoint. This fact alone shows us different people will respond to different approaches. To reach the Jews, Matthew showed Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy—but that would have meant next to nothing to Mark’s Roman readers (Mark as narrator only refers to the Old Testament twice).