Kids can teach you a lot

If you spray hair spray on dust bunnies and run over them with roller blades, they ignite.

A 3 year old’s voice is louder than 200 adults in a crowded restaurant.

If you tie little, green, plastic army men to the ceiling fan, it is fun.  If you hook a dog leash over a ceiling fan, the motor is not strong enough to spin a 40 pound kid in a Spiderman cape.  If you tie a paint can to a ceiling fan, the motor IS strong enough to put paint on all 4 walls.

If you toss a tennis ball into a ceiling fan, it can take several tries to get a hit.  A ceiling fan can hit a tennis ball a long way.  Window glass does not stop a tennis ball hit by a ceiling fan.

When you hear the toilet flush and hear the words, “Uh oh”‘, it’s already too late.

Brake fluid mixed with Clorox makes smoke.  Lot’s of it.

A magnifying glass can start a fire even on a cloudy day.

Play Doh + microwave = very bad idea.

Certain LEGOs will pass through the digestive tract of a 4 year old.

No matter how much Jello you put in the pool, you still can’t walk on water.

Garbage bags do not make good parachutes.  Neither do new sheets.

Marbles in gas tanks make a lot of noise when driving.

Always look in the oven before you turn it on.  Plastic toys don’t like ovens.

The spin cycle on a washing machine will not make a worm dizzy.  It will make a cat dizzy.  Cats throw up three times their body weight when dizzy.




Walk Closer 7

John 2:1-25

John 3:1-16

The world would be more awesome if _________________.

Last week: John speaks, give to him who has none, collect no more than what is due, do not intimidate, do not accuse falsely, be content with your wages, mightier one is coming with Holy Spirit and Fire, Jesus baptized, heaven opens, spirit descends, God speaks, ministry starts, Andrew joins, Peter joins, Philip joins, Can anything good come from Nazareth, Nathanael joins, Jesus fasts, tempted for selfish purposes, tempted for a spectacular act of God, tempted for power and glory, Jesus wins, satan leaves, angels come.

John 2 – Conversion and Cleansing

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” (John 2:1-5)

 Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding: This is the first of many stories suggesting that Jesus was always welcome among those having a good time. Jesus didn’t spoil the good time.

 They ran out of wine: This was a major social faux pas. “To fail in providing adequately for the guests would involve social disgrace. In the closely knit communities of Jesus’ day such an error would never be forgotten, and would haunt the newly married couple all their lives.” (Tenney) Additionally, wine was a rabbinical symbol of joy. Therefore “to run out of wine would almost have been the equivalent of admitting that neither the guests nor the bride and groom were happy.” (Boice)

They have no wine: Why did Mary ask Jesus to do something? Mary was no doubt earnestly anticipating Jesus’ day of demonstration, for it would be a day of vindication for her. Yet she would not force the issue, leaving the matter with Jesus.

Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? Jesus refers to His mother with a term of respect, but He does not call her “mother.” Jesus emphasized that there was a different relationship with her now.

 Whatever He says to you, do it: The recorded words of Mary are few. However, it is good to pay attention to her words that are recorded, because they consistently glorify Jesus, not Mary herself. If only we would obey Mary’s direction, whatever He says to you, do it.

Mormons take this event an absurd step further declaring this is Jesus’ wedding. Of course, this against the obvious meaning and all of the gospel records of Jesus.

Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!” This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him. After this He went down to Capernaum, He, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples; and they did not stay there many days. (John 2:6-12)

 Six waterpots of stone: Jesus began this miracle by using what was at hand. He could have supplied more wine any number of ways, but He started with what was there.

According to the manner of purification of the Jews: The waterpots are connected with the system of Law, because they were used in ceremonial purification.

 Fill the waterpots with water: The servants under the direction of Jesus were in a unique place of blessing for this miracle. Jesus wanted the cooperation of men in this miracle. He could have filled the pots Himself, or just as easily created the liquid in the pots. But He knew that if the servants shared in the work, then they also shared in the blessing.

Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast: This took faith on behalf of the servants. Imagine how angry the master of the feast would be if they brought him water to taste! Yet in faith, they obeyed the word of Jesus.

Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. The reputation of modern Jews of being tight wads and cheap skates goes way back. Let’s get them lit with the good stuff to impress them and then switch to the cheap stuff when they won’t notice.

You have kept the good wine until now! Some go to great lengths to claim that what Jesus made here was really grape juice. Good wine is good wine, not good grape juice. It is true that wine in that day, as commonly served, had a lower alcohol content than modern wine. But it was still wine.

 This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee: This beginning of signs in the Gospel of John is a miracle of conversion, from the old ways of law, ceremony and purification to the new life of Jesus.

How did Jesus actually do miracles? He did them in many different ways. Here, Jesus did not say a word or blink an eye. He merely exercised His will and the miracle was done.

Moses turned water into blood, showing that the Law results in death (Exodus 7:17-21). But Jesus’ first miracle turned water into wine, showing the gladness and joy of His new work. This acts out what John said in John 1:17: For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

We could say that the water is like a relationship with God under the Old Covenant, and the wine is like a relationship with God under the New Covenant.

The wine was after the water, the New Covenant is after the Old Covenant.

The wine was from the water, the New Covenant is from the Old Covenant

 The wine was and better than the water; the New Covenant is better than the Old Covenant.

 Manifested His glory: According to John 2:1, this miracle happened on the third day. John is hinting at the idea that Jesus shows forth His glory on the third day, and that His disciples believe in Him when they see His glory.

 His disciples believed in Him: Of course they believed before, but now their belief was deepened and re-expressed. This is typical in our Christian lives. God does something great in our lives, and we believe in Him all over again. His action reinforces our faith.

 Many churches, not just Baptist, require deacons to sign an agreement affirming that they have not, and will not, drink. Jesus could not qualify as a deacon in many modern churches. Alcohol has potential dangers and the Bible warns about abusing alcohol and all people have seen the effects of drunkenness. Still, Jesus, and Christians, saw alcohol as an enjoyable part of life. God created us with the consumption of alcohol in mind. We now know that our bodies work better with alcohol. A drink a day can add a few years to your life and reduce your risk of heart attack and vascular disease. But, people in Jesus’ day didn’t drink for longevity: they drank to prevent dysentery. Drinking water was untreated. Sewage was untreated. The water would make you sick. So, they drank beer and wine which was purified by the fermentation process.

 Show me four Baptists and I’ll show you a fifth. How did we get from drinking more wine than water, to legal prohibition, to current social prohibition? The Bible praises alcohol. It is a gift from God, given to man for our enjoyment. God blessed men with a bountiful harvest of grapes. Those whose vineyards were bare, were being judged. Alcohol was as an offering to God in the Old Testament, and a symbol of salvation in the New Testament. Biblical writers recorded that wine brought joy, and was used in celebrations. This was true in America, until the social Temperance movement gained power in the 1780′s. Americans drank lightly alcoholic ciders “from the crack of dawn to the crack of dawn”. All was fine until they began drinking far more alcoholic cheap rums and whiskeys. We became a nation of drunks. In 1789, 200 Connecticut farmers formed a temperance association to ban whiskey making. The movement spread and the church joined the fight in 1825 and formed the American Temperance Society with well over a million members and 18 different journals by 1839. The Civil War killed the Society because much of the war effort, both north and south, was funded by distiller’s profits.

 The Society fired back up after the war. Like the ancient Jews, we had muddy, ill-tasting water so we drank fermented beverages for health purposes. In 1874, the National Women’s Christian Temperance Union began a nation wide campaign to erect public drinking fountains to provide fresh, cool, clean water to discourage males from entering bars for refreshment. They sold cast stone statues of Hebe which dispensed water. Hebe was the cupbearer on mount Olympus, daughter of Zeus, and later wife of Hercules. Some of these stone statues are still in existence today.

 In 1896, the Baptists passed a resolution to excommunicate anyone who drank or sold alcohol. The logic was that drunkenness caused all sorts of problems and was shameful so the only safe course was to avoid it altogether. Today, alcohol is related to half of all car accidents, 30% of all birth defects, and 67% of all homicides. It is a legitimate problem. In 1980, $300 million was spent on alcohol advertising. By 1991, Anheuser-Busch spent $144 million advertising during televised sports events alone. So, those who are persuaded by advertising think beer makes them attractive, active, exciting, and strong. Americans spend more on alcohol than household electricity.

 A fundamental tenant of the Baptist faith is the priesthood of believers. We have direct access to God and an individual relationship with God. We don’t have to go through a priest or the Virgin Mary for prayer or scripture interpretation. We have a hot line, through the Holy Spirit, directly to God. According to scripture, we have the choice to drink, or not drink. The Baptists created extrabiblical rules governing prohibition. In the Southern Baptist Convention, the frenzy over prohibition became so powerful that it swept aside the doctrine of priesthood and the doctrine of individual liberty. Churches no longer permitted men to interpret the Bible for themselves. While Baptist churches still claimed individual freedom, in practice, members either accepted church teachings, disobeyed in secret, or left their church. Requiring abstinence is a direct violation of scripture. Jesus was a drinker, a producer, and distributor.

 In 1955, John Gillespie, a Baptist author, wrote, “Included in the who’s who of the condemned are those who make, advertise, sell, buy, and use intoxicating or alcoholic beverages. They range from moderate or limited users to excessive and unscrupulous abusers. Their distinction lies in the fact that they are the enemies of God….” When we condemn what Jesus did, it ought to be a clue that our train has left track.

I once took a Catholic to a Baptist church which reminds me of a Priest who was stopped on his way home after mass. The Catholics believe in transmutation: the communion wine actually becomes blood when you drink it and the communion wafer actually becomes flesh when you eat it. You can’t just pour left over communion wine down the drain because it has been blessed and is holy. So, the priest must drink it. This priest was driving home and still had half a bottle in his front seat. A cop pulled him over for driving erratically and running a red light. He asked the priest if he had been drinking and the priest said no. He asked the priest what was in the bottle and the priest said “holy water, officer, just holy water.” The officer smelled the bottle and said, “this is wine.” The priest jumped out of the car and yelled, “Praise Jesus, He’s done it again!”

 In the early 60′s, on our very limited two TV channels, we had to watch the likes of Lawrence Welk with his bubble machines and, on Saturday afternoon, on the rare occasion that we were not outside playing, we watched wrestling. One of the stars was Killer Carl Krupp who spoke in a fake German accent. He swiped the little soap bars from hotels and threw them out to the crowd because he was on a mission to “clean up wrestling”. Wrestling had become corrupt.

The temple had also become corrupt.

Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.” (John 2:13-17)

The Passover of the Jews was at hand: Jerusalem would be crowded with thousands of visitors coming at Passover. The temple mount would be particularly crowded, and Jesus saw many doing business in the outer courts of the temple.

 When He had made a whip of cords: When Jesus drove those doing business out of the temple courts, He did not do it in a flash of anger. He carefully took the time to make a whip of cords, and thought carefully about what He would do.

He drove them all out . . . poured out the changers’ money and overturned tables: Why did this offend Jesus so much? The outer courts of the temple were the only place where Gentiles could come and worship. This area (the court of the Gentiles) was made into a house of merchandise.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke each describe another cleansing of the temple Jesus performed, towards the end of His earthly ministry. In both cases, the presence of these merchants in the temple courts spoiled the only place Gentiles could pray. In addition, their dishonesty made their presence all the worse.

 John began with a miracle of conversion (changing water into wine). Then he shows Jesus with a work of cleansing (the cleansing of the temple). This is always how Jesus works in His people: conversion, then cleansing.

 We were in Portugal and went to Fatima. Catholics believe, in 1916, the Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children on three separate occasions at Fatima and taught them prayers, ordered them to do penance, and gave them three secrets: a vision of hell, instructions on how to save souls, and visions of the death of the Pope and other religious figures. It is an amazing place and an amazing story. In 1917, there was a solar miracle seen by over 70,000 people at Fatima, not counting the surrounding countryside. There is now a huge cathedral there and on May 13 and October 13, there may be more than 1 million pilgrims there. The first thing that strikes you is what Jesus would call “money changers”. Outside the cathedral is a whole village of vendors selling every imaginable candle and Virgin Mary effigy from tiny earring danglers to larger than life size statues. Imagine a super WalMart size area over flowing with Virgin Mary stuff.

So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said. (John 2:18-22)

What sign do You show to us, since You do these things? This wasn’t necessarily a bad question. Anyone who drove out the merchants from the temple courts claimed the authority to do it. The Jews wanted to know if Jesus really had this authority. The problem is that they demanded a sign from Jesus to prove it.

Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up: Jesus speaks here of the temple of His body. You can imagine Him gesturing to Himself as He said this. Jesus knew that these religious leaders would attempt to destroy His body, but He also knew that they would not succeed.

I will raise it up: Who raised Jesus from the dead? Jesus says that He will raise Himself, despite the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses and some others. This was a claim no mere man could make, a claim repeated dramatically in John 10:18.

(John 2:23-25) Jesus does not entrust Himself to the adoring crowds.

Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.

 Many believed in His name when they saw the signs: Jesus knew that this was thin, superficial belief. It wasn’t based on anything other than an admiration of the spectacular. Knowing this, Jesus did not commit Himself to them. “If belief is nothing more than admiration for the spectacular, it will create in multitudes applause; but the Son of God cannot commit Himself to that kind of faith.” (Morgan)

 He knew what was in man: Jesus still loved the multitudes, though he would not commit Himself to them. We can love people without entrusting ourselves to them. Even though God knows exactly what is in us, He still loves us powerfully.

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:1-3)

Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: Nicodemus was one of those impressed by Jesus’ signs (John 2:23), and a member of the ruling Sanhedrin. He was religious (of the Pharisees), educated (Nicodemus is a Greek name), and influential (a ruler). Nicodemus comes to Jesus as a representative of all men (John 2:23-25), and he represents what is high and best in men.

 This man came to Jesus by night: Why did Nicodemus come by night? Maybe he was afraid of criticism or maybe he just wanted an uninterrupted interview with Jesus.

No one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him: Is this statement of Nicodemus true? Can someone not from God do miraculous signs? The answer is “Yes,” according to 2 Thessalonians 2:9 and Revelation 13:13-14. Also, Pharaoh’s sorcerers changed water to blood and made frogs.

Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God: Jesus’ reply to Nicodemus shatters the Jewish assumption that their racial identity – Abraham – assured them a place in God’s Kingdom. Jesus makes it plain that a man’s first birth does not assure him of the kingdom – only being born again gives this assurance.

 It was taught widely among the Jews at that time that since they descended from Abraham, they were automatically assured of heaven. In fact, some Rabbis taught that Abraham stood watch at the gate of hell, just to make sure that none of his descendants accidentally wandered in there.

 Most Jews of that time looked for the Messiah to bring in a new world, in which the Jews would be preeminent. But Jesus came to bring new life, in which He would be preeminent.

 Born again: The Greek word translated again (anothen) can be also translated “from above.” This is the sense in which John used this word in John 3:31 and in John 19:11 and 19:23. Either way, the meaning is essentially the same. To be born from above is to be born again.

Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4)

 How can a man be born when he is old? Being born again ia an entirely new concept at this time. Nicodemus’ reply may not be out of ignorance, but from thinking that Jesus means “turning over a new leaf.” His question may be “How can you teach an old dog new tricks?” One way or another, Nicodemus does not understand Jesus or the truth about the new birth.

 In His description of new birth, Jesus recalls a familiar theme from Old Testament promises of the New Covenant (Deuteronomy 30:1-6, Jeremiah 23:1-8, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Jeremiah 32:37-41, Ezekiel 11:16-20, Ezekiel 36:16-28, Ezekiel 37:11-14, 37:21-28). These passages make three promises in the New Covenant:

 The regathering of Israel.

 The cleansing and spiritual transformation of God’s people.

The reign of the Messiah over Israel and the whole world.

 In Jesus’ day, the common teaching among the Jewish people was that the first two aspects of the New Covenant had been fulfilled. They saw Israel regathered – at least in part – after the Babylonian exile. They saw strong spiritual movements like the Pharisees, which they believed fulfilled the promise of spiritual transformation. All they waited for was the reign of the Messiah.

 That’s why Jesus’ statement about the new birth was so strange to Nicodemus. He thought that the Jewish people already had it; they certainly weren’t looking for it. They only looked for a triumphant Messiah.

 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)

Most assuredly . . . you must be born again: Jesus is emphatic in saying that man does not need reformation, but a radical conversion by the Spirit of God. We must be born of water and the Spirit.

What does it mean to be born of water? We have to assume that it is baptism because there is no specific Old Testament foundation for this.

It may mean to receive the water of cleansing prophesied in Ezekiel 36:25-28 as part of the New Covenant. This is the approach has the most weight because of its firm connections to Old Testament prophecy – which Jesus says Nicodemus should have know to understand these things.

 That which is born of the flesh is flesh: Without the new birth of the Spirit, all works of righteousness are tainted by the flesh. Yet, everything that a Spirit-led man does can be pleasing to God.

Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again”: Again, Nicodemus did marvel at this statement, because he – like most all Jews of his time – believed they already had the inner transformation promised in the New Covenant. Jesus wants him to take hold of the fact that he does not have it, and must be born again.

 We should not forget whom Jesus said this to. Nicodemus was a religious leader and a Pharisee. By all outward appearance, he was already transformed unto God. If Nicodemus must be born again, what about you and I?

The wind blows where it wishes: Jesus’ idea to Nicodemus is “You don’t understand everything about the wind, but you see its effects. That is just how it is with the birth of the Spirit.” Jesus wanted Nicodemus to know that he didn’t have to understand everything about the new birth before he experienced it.

Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.” (John 3:9-13)

How can these things be? Nicodemus is confused. He is so set in his thinking that the new birth has already happened to him and all of faithful Israel, that he has a hard time thinking out of that “box.” Jesus needs to keep explaining.

Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? Jesus chides Nicodemus for not being aware of the need and the promise of the new birth, because these are plainly laid out in the Old Testament. Nicodemus knew these passages well, but believed that they had been fulfilled in regard to the new birth. But he should have known better!

If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? A simple look at earthly things – like the illustrations Jesus used, and even a look at his own life – should have made Jesus’ point plain to Nicodemus. If he can’t see that he needs this spiritual transformation, what more can Jesus tell him?

No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven: Jesus “makes it clear that He can speak authoritatively about things in heaven, though no one else can.” (Morris)

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15)

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness: How can the serpent of Numbers 21:4-9 be a picture of the holy Jesus? In Numbers, The Jews became discouraged and spoke against God complaining about the food and water. God sends snakes which bite the people and many die. The people go to Moses and confess their sin and ask him to pray that the Lord take the snakes away. God tells Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole so that anyone who is bitten can merely look at it and not die.

Serpents are often used as pictures of evil in the Bible (Genesis 3:1-5 and Revelation 12:9). However, Moses’ serpent in Numbers 21 was made of bronze, and bronze is a metal associated with judgment in the Bible, because bronze must be made by passing through the “fires” of judgment.

 So, a bronze serpent does speak of sin, but of sin judged. In the same way Jesus, who knew no sin became sin for us on the cross, and our sin was judged in Him. A bronze serpent is a picture of sin judged and dealt with.

 If the serpent lay horizontally on the vertical pole, it is easy to see how this also was a visual representation of the cross. However, many traditions show the serpent being wrapped around the pole, and this is the source for the ancient figure of healing and medicine – a serpent, wrapped around a pole.

 In the Numbers 21:4-9 account, the people were saved not by doing anything, but by simply looking to the bronze serpent. They had to trust that something as seemingly foolish as looking at such a thing would be sufficient to save them, and surely, some perished because they thought it too foolish to do such a thing.

 As it says in Isaiah 45:22: Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. We might be willing to do a hundred things to earn our salvation, but God commands us to only trust in Him – to look to Him.

 Remember that even though Jesus bore our sins, He never became a sinner. Even His becoming sin for us was a holy, righteous, act of love. Jesus remained the Holy One throughout the entire ordeal of the cross.

 Lifted up is a term later used to describe both Jesus’ crucifixion (John 12:32) and His ascension (Acts 2:33). Both meanings are in view, His suffering and exaltation. Jesus was lifted up in both ways.

 Should not perish but have eternal life: The idea behind eternal life means much more than a long or never ending life. Eternal life does not mean that we live the life of fallen humanity but we just live it forever. Instead, eternal life also has the idea of a certain quality of life, of God’s kind of life. It is the kind of life enjoyed in eternity.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (John 3:16-21)

For God so loved the world: John 3:16 has long been celebrated as a powerful, succinct, declaration of the gospel. Of the 31,373 verses in the Bible, it may be the most popular single verse used in evangelism.

We learn the object of God’s love: For God so loved the world. God did not wait for the world to turn to Him before He loved the world. He loved and gave His only begotten Son to the world when it was still the world!

 We learn the expression and the gift of God’s love: He gave His only begotten Son. God’s love didn’t just feel for the plight of a fallen world. God did something about it, and He gave the most precious thing to give: His only begotten Son.

We learn the recipient of God’s love: Whoever believes in Him. God loves the world, but the world does not receive or benefit from that love until it believes in Jesus, the gift that the Father gave. Believes in means much more than intellectual awareness or agreement. It means to trust in, to rely on, and to cling to.

            We learn the intention of God’s love: Should not perish. God’s love actually saves man from eternal destruction. God looks at fallen humanity, does not want it to perish, and so in His love He extends the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.

 We learn the duration of God’s love: Everlasting life. The love we receive among people may fade or turn, but God’s love will never change. He will never stop loving His people, even unto the furthest distance of eternity.

 The Seven Wonders of John 3:16.

                        God                                                               The Almighty Authority

                       So loved the world                                         The Mightiest Motive

                       That He gave His only begotten Son             The Greatest Gift

                       That whoever                                                 The Widest Welcome

                       Believes in Him                                              The Easiest Escape

                        Should not perish                                          The Divine Deliverance

                       But have everlasting life                                The Priceless Possession

What Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:7 (You must be born again) refuted the popular Jewish idea of the way to salvation. Now Jesus refutes the popular Jewish idea of the scope of salvation: for God so loved the world.

The Jews of that day rarely thought that God loved the world. They thought that God only loved them. The universal offer of salvation and life in Jesus was absolutely revolutionary.

This is the condemnation: Jesus came to bring salvation, but those who reject that salvation condemn themselves. We never need to leave the reason for anyone’s condemnation at God’s door. The responsibility is ours alone.

Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil: What keeps people from belief in Jesus and salvation? It is sin, or is it unbelief? Really it is both, because people will not believe because they love their sin.

This cuts right through many of the “intellectual” excuses or dishonest doubts some proclaim. Many opponents of Christianity have a vested interested in fighting against the truth of Jesus, because they love their sin and don’t want to face it, or face a God who will judge their sin.

When we think of the love of sin that sends people to hell, we often other think of notorious sin. But the simple demand to be lord of my own life is enough of a sin to deserve condemnation before God.

 Everyone practicing evil hates the light: How do people hate the light of God’s truth? Some express their hatred by actively fighting against it, and others express their hatred by ignoring God’s truth – by saying to Jesus “You are not worth my time.”

Next week, John’s final testimony, a Samaritan woman, and a nobleman.

Walk Closer 6

Luke 3:10-23, John 1:35-51

Last week: family departed, went to egypt, prophecy fulfilled, Herod angry, innocents massacred, angel appears, Joseph moves, settles in Nazareth (again), prophecy fulfilled, Jesus grew, grace upon Him, lost at Passover, about His father’s business, increases in wisdom stature, and favor, John hears, baptism of repentance, many came, Pharisees chastized, Messiah is coming.

John’s message to specific individuals.

So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.” Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:10-14)

 A.        What shall we do then? John’s instructions were quite ordinary. He demanded that people share, that they be fair with each other, and that they not be mean and cruel; that they be happy with what they get. These are things we still teach our children. Integrity in the ordinary things is still a mark of true repentance. We sometimes think God requires us to do great or impossible things to demonstrate repentance. Instead, He instead looks for integrity in the ordinary things.

 He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

Collect no more than what is appointed for you…Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages: John did not see tax collecting or soldiering as inherently evil. He did not command these people to quit their professions, but to conduct themselves honestly in them. The Romans taxed by auctioning the rights to collect taxes to the highest bidder. Because the tax collector could only cover his costs and make a profit by getting as much as he could, these men were hated intensely.

Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” And with many other exhortations he preached to the people. (Luke 3:15-18)

A.        All reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not: John made such an impact that people logically wondered if he was the Messiah. Instead of cultivating his own popularity, he gave it all to Jesus. John pointed to One mightier than he.

 B.        Whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose: The rabbis of Jesus’ day taught that a teacher might require just about anything of his followers except to have them take off his sandals. That was considered too humiliating to demand. Yet John said that he was not even worthy to do this for Jesus. John had many reasons to be proud, yet he was humble. He had a miraculous birth, a prophesied destiny, a man called to personally fulfill great prophetic promises, a powerful preacher, and a man with a great following.

 C.        He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire: John said that the Messiah was coming with a different baptism. The Holy Spirit’s outpouring was promised as part of the New Covenant. We are promised an immersion, an overflowing of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This was often experienced as people were prayed for with hands laid on them (Acts 6:6, 8:17, 9:17, 13:3-4, and 19:6).

But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison.(Luke 3:19-20)

 A.        Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias: Sometimes we are asked a personal question and we blow it off by saying, “it’s complicated”. The relationship between Herod and Herodias was complicated. He was her uncle, and he seduced her from his half-brother. In marrying Herodias, Herod at once married both his niece and his sister-in-law. “Josephus said the reason for the arrest was that Herod ‘feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it in his power and inclination to raise a rebellion; for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise.’” (Barclay)

When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; (Luke 3:21)

A.        When all the people were baptized: There was a remarkable response to the work of John the Baptist, and many came to repent and receive baptism. One day, in the midst of the crowd, Jesus came to also be baptized.

B.        Jesus also was baptized: Jesus did not receive baptism because He was a sinner that needed to repent and be cleansed from His sins. He did it to completely identify Himself with sinful man. This was the same heart that would lead to His ultimate identification with sinful man on the cross.

 C.       Mark provides the same account but adds that “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee”. Another reminder of Jesus’ Nazarene upbringing and identity. Mark also tells us that this baptism happened in the Jordan river.

And while He prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)

A.        And while He prayed: We notice Luke’s repeated emphasis on prayer. Other gospel writers describe this occasion, but only Luke points out that it happened while He prayed.

B.        The Holy Spirit…and a voice came from heaven: The three Persons of the Trinity were all manifested at once. The Holy Spirit came in bodily form like a dove. The voice of God the Father was heard, and the beloved Son was baptized. There was some visible, tangible evidence that the Holy Spirit had come upon Jesus. A similar thing happened with the apostles when something like tongues of fire appeared over their heads on Pentecost.

C.        You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased: The voice from heaven left no doubt. This wasn’t just another sinner being baptized; this was the sinless, Eternal Son of God, pleasing the Father by His identification with sinful man.

You are My beloved Son is an echo of Psalm 2:7.

In You I am well pleased is an echo of Isaiah 42:7, marking Jesus as the suffering Servant spoken of in that broader passage.

D.        In You I am well pleased: Jesus began His earthly ministry with the blessing of the Father and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus, we can have the same things. Through Jesus, we can hear the Father say to us, This is My beloved son, in you I am well pleased. Through Jesus, the Holy Spirit can come upon us for empowering and blessing.

E.       Again, we have humble beginnings leading to great glory:

Jesus: A common, unremarkable name.

From Nazareth: An unremarkable, despised village.

Of Galilee: The Unspiritual region, not the Bible Belt of the time.

 Was baptized: Identifying with sinful man.

 In the Jordan: An unremarkable, filthy river. Early rabbinic teaching explicitly disqualifies the Jordan for purification according to the Mishnah, which was the first major written record of Jewish oral traditions.

The beauty is, we don’t have to be anything special to know God. There is no such thing as unworthy.

Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, (Luke 3:23)

Thirty years of age: This seems to have been the age of full maturity in the Jewish mind. Priests could begin their service only at 30 (Numbers 4:2-3).

Chapter Fifteen: The Disciples (John 1:35-51)

Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), “where are You staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour). (John 1:35-39)

A.        And they followed Jesus: John did not care about gathering disciples after himself. He was perfectly satisfied to have these disciples leave his circle and follow Jesus. It fulfilled his ministry; it did not take away from it.

B.        Come and see: Jesus invited John and Andrew to be a part of His life. Jesus didn’t live a cloistered, ultra-private life. Jesus taught and discipled others by allowing them to live with Him.

C.        Now it was about the tenth hour: This was such a memorable occasion that he remembered the exact hour that he met Jesus. This is a subtle clue that one of the two disciples who came to Jesus from John was the apostle John himself.

Andrew brings his brother, Simon Peter to Jesus.

One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas” (which is translated, A Stone). (John 1:40-42)

A.        He found his own brother: It is the nature of Christian experience that those who enjoy the experience want to share it with others.

B.        You shall be called Cephas: In giving Simon a new name (Cephas or Peter, meaning a Stone), Jesus tells Andrew’s brother what kind of man he will be transformed into. At the time, and throughout the gospel, Peter may have looked like a “rock” on the outside, but was really anything but a rock. But before Jesus is done with Peter, he will be a stone of stability for God.

C.        We have found the Messiah: This Andrew’s testimony about who Jesus is. He knows that Jesus is the Messiah.

The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. (John 1:43-44)

A.        Follow Me: There is nothing dramatic recorded about the call of Philip. Jesus simply says “Follow Me,” and Philip does.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote; Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (John 1:45-51)

A.        Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets wrote: This is Philip’s testimony as a witness of Jesus Christ. He declares that He is the Messiah and Savior predicted in the Old Testament.

B.        Can anything good come out of Nazareth? With this, Nathanael prejudices himself against Jesus. If Jesus comes from Nazareth, that is all Nathanael cares to know about Him!

C.        Come and see: Instead of arguing against Nathanael’s prejudice, Phillip simply invites him to meet Jesus for himself.

D.        Under the fig tree, I saw you: It is possible Nathanael liked to pray and meditate on the things of the Lord under the shade of an actual fig tree. But “under the fig tree” was a phrase Rabbis used to describe meditation on the Scriptures. Nathanael was spending time with the Lord, meditating on the Scriptures, and Jesus tells him “I saw you” there.

E.        Nathanael gives his testimony regarding Jesus: You are the Son of God, the King of Israel.

F.        You shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man: Jesus promises Nathanael a greater sign than he has seen before. But what does He mean by the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man? This connects with the dream of Jacob in Genesis 28:12, where Jacob saw a ladder from earth to heaven, and the angels ascending and descending upon it. Jesus says that He is the ladder, the link, between heaven and earth. When Nathanael comes to understand that Jesus is the mediator between God and man, it will be an even greater sign (you will see greater things than these).

G.        Son of Man: The idea behind this phrase is not “the perfect man” or “the ideal man” or “the common man.” Instead, it is a reference to Daniel 7:13-14, where the King of Glory coming to judge the world is called the Son of Man. Jesus used this title often because in His day, it was a Messianic title free from political and nationalistic sentiment. When a Jewish person of that time heard “King” or “Christ” they often thought of a political or military savior. Jesus emphasized another term, often calling Himself the Son of Man.

 H.        John shows four ways of coming to Jesus:

 Andrew came to Jesus because of the preaching of John.

Peter came to Jesus because of the witness of his brother.

 Phillip came to Jesus as a result of the direct call of Jesus.

 Nathaniel came to Jesus as he overcame personal prejudices by a personal encounter with Jesus.

 This section shows us four different witnesses testifying to the identity of Jesus. How much more testimony does anyone need?

 John the Baptist testified that Jesus is eternal, that He is the man uniquely anointed with the Holy Spirit, that He is the Lamb of God, and that Jesus is the unique Son of God.

 Andrew testified that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ.

 Phillip testified that Jesus is the One prophesied in the Old Testament.

 Nathaniel testified that Jesus is the Son of God and the King of Israel.

Chapter Sixteen: The Temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4: 1-11)

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. (Matthew 4:1-2)

A.        Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted: After identifying with sinners in His baptism, Jesus then identified with them again in severe temptation. This was a necessary part of His ministry, so He truly was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness.

 It was a remarkable contrast between the glory following Jesus’ baptism and the challenge of being tempted by the devil.

Then the cool waters of the Jordan; now the barren wilderness.

 Then the huge crowds; now solitude and silence.

Then the Spirit rests like a dove; now the Spirit drives Him into the wilderness.

 Then the voice of the Father calling Him “Beloved Son”; now the hiss of Satan the tempter.

 Then anointed; now attacked.

 Then the water of baptism; now the fire of temptation.

 First the heavens opened; now hell.

 Jesus did not need to be tempted to help Him grow. Instead, He endured temptation so He could identify with us (Hebrews 2:18 and 4:15), and demonstrate His own holy, sinless character. And, most importantly, to show us his victory over sin, satan, and temptation.

The Holy Spirit cannot tempt us (James 1:13) but the Holy Spirit may lead us to a place where we will be tempted. This is not to prove something to God (who knows all things), but to prove something to us.

 B.        Tempted by the devil: Temptation is a certainty for everyone. Yet Jesus’ temptation was more severe. It was more severe because He was tempted directly by the devil himself, while we contend mainly with lesser demons. It was also more severe because there is a sense in which temptation is “relieved” by giving in, and Jesus never did yield. Therefore He bore levels of temptation we will never know by experience. Many commentators believe it is improper to refer to this section as the temptation of Jesus, because the word peirazo is more often and more accurately translated testing instead of temptation. “Peirazein has a quite different element in its meaning. It means to test far more than it means to tempt in our sense of the word.” (Barclay)

 C.        He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry: Matthew points out both the barren desert (the Judean wilderness was and is exactly that), and Jesus’ severe physical condition after such a long fast. It is said that when hunger pains return after such a fast (He was hungry), it indicates the subject is beginning to starve to death. “Here was the Divine power miraculously seen, in upholding the human nature of Christ without any thing to eat: this was a miracle.” (Poole) Yet it was a miracle also evident in the lives of Moses (Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8). It was supernatural, but not beyond human capacity when enabled by the Spirit of God.

D.        Forty days and forty nights: This is a familiar period of testing in the Bible. In the Old Testament, when God destroyed the earth with water, He caused it to rain 40 days and 40 nights (Genesis 7:12). After Moses killed the Egyptian, he fled to Midian, where he spent 40 years in the desert tending flocks (Acts 7:30). Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 24:18). Moses interceded on Israel’s behalf for 40 days and 40 nights (Deuteronomy 9:18, 25). The Law specified a maximum number of lashes a man could receive for a crime, setting the limit at 40 (Deuteronomy 25:3). The Israelite spies took 40 days to spy out Canaan (Numbers 13:25). The Israelites wandered for 40 years (Deuteronomy 8:2-5). Before Samson’s deliverance, Israel served the Philistines for 40 years (Judges 13:1). Goliath taunted Saul’s army for 40 days before David arrived to slay him (1 Samuel 17:16). When Elijah fled from Jezebel, he traveled 40 days and 40 nights to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:8).

The number 40 also appears in the prophecies of Ezekiel (4:6; 29:11-13) and Jonah (3:4).

 In the New Testament, Jesus was tempted for 40 days and 40 nights (Matthew 4:2). There were 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (Acts 1:3).

The word “forty” occurs 146 times. It often deals with probation or trial but not always. It was common for ancient Jews to use the word “forty” to describe a long period though not specifically 40 calendar days or years. It had strong symbolic meaning to the Jews, outside Biblical writings. The Hebrews, and many other cultures, used 40 as the cycle of their annual calendar. Islam uses forty even more than Christianity. It is also prominent in Hinduism. It is also prominent in U.S. sports: 40 players on a MLB roster, and 40 cars in a NASCAR race. Forty is also the highest number ever counted on Sesame Street. It is the number of squares on a Monopoly board. More Monopoly money is printed each year than real money worldwide.

Some Bible scholars hold that 40 days is literally forty days while others hold that forty days simply means a long time because that is the way the phrase was commonly used to the time of the writings. Like the way we use the word “month” to mean 28 days, 30 days, 31 days, or some time period about that long.

The lesson is that it doesn’t matter. The Bible does not specifically assign any special significance to the number forty. Some people place great emphasis on numerology and try to find some special meaning behind every number in the Bible. Often, a number in the Bible is simply a number. God does not call us to search for secret meanings, hidden messages, or divine codes in the Bible. There is plenty of truth in the plain words. As 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us, All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. We are complete without numerology.

Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4;3-4)

A.        We should consider the circumstances that preceded the temptation of Jesus because is indicates how we, too, can overcome temptation:

 He was in an especially devout frame of mind before His temptation.

He was engaged in an act of public obedience to His Father’s will before His temptation.

 He was in an exceedingly frame of mind before His temptation.

He was blessed by a heavenly assurance of His Sonship before His temptation.

He was filled with the Holy Spirit before His temptation.

He was completely separated from the world before His temptation.

B.       Command that these stones become bread: This was a temptation to use God’s gifts for selfish purposes. To make what you want. Each of these temptations have modern applications: take this credit card and make a big screen TV.

This wasn’t a temptation to miraculously create great riches or luxuries, only bread. The Bible has many accounts of miraculous provision, some at the hands of Jesus. Yet Jesus would not command that these stones become bread, especially at the instigation of Satan.

C.        But He answered: Jesus didn’t silently disagree with Satan, He answered him – and He answered him from the Word of God. What Satan suggested made sense – “Why starve yourself to death?” But what is written makes even more sense.

D.        It is written: By relying on the power and truth of God’s Word, Jesus was willing to fight this battle as a man; He could have easily rebuked Satan into another galaxy, but resisted Him in a way that we can imitate and identify with. Jesus used Scripture to battle Satan’s temptation, not some elaborate spiritual power inaccessible to us. Jesus fought this battle as a man and He drew on no “special resources” unavailable to us. “Out flashed the sword of the Spirit: our Lord will fight with no other weapon. He could have spoken new revelations, but chose to say, ‘It is written.’” (Spurgeon) He could have stood against Satan with a display of His own glory; He could have stood against Satan with logic and reason. Instead, Jesus used the word of God as a weapon against Satan and temptation.

He used a weapon to defeat temptation.

He used a weapon that was effective because He understood it.

E.       Youth have been caught up in the WWJD movement. Bracelets, rings, shirts, books, advertisements. The concept is good: in a situation, before you screw up, ask your self what Jesus would do in your shoes and mimic Him.

 Ask a teenager WWJD – “well, i think……” Teenage opinion and conjecture. How many thousands of hours have teenagers spent speculating what Jesus would do after singing infinite refrains of a watered down praise song?

The question should be “What Did Jesus Do?” What did Jesus do when confronted with temptation? What did Jesus do when exposed to immorality? What did Jesus do when Pharisees ridiculed him? What did Jesus do when men sought to kill him? The question must not direct Christians away from the Bible, toward their own opinion , but rather from their own opinion to the Bible.

The WWJD bracelet encourages us to come up with an ethical solution on our own; what we think to be the right answer. Ask 10 teenage a tough doctrinal question and the WWJD logic will get you 10 different answers. What they need, is to know what the Bible says, not how they feel. We have 2 essential tools: the testimony of Christ’s life, and all the commandments and guidance in the Bible.

WWJD relies on SE as a means to please God. Decisions are based on what the person believes Christ will do in a given situation, rather than relying on what the Word of God already states and commands believers. Our ethics should not rely on our opinions and feelings but be founded in what Jesus actually did in scripture. The scripture is our authority. Not our hypothetical opinion driven by situational ethics.

We effectively resist temptation in the same way Jesus did: by countering Satan’s seductive lies by shining the light of God’s truth upon them. If we are ignorant of God’s truth, we are poorly armed in the fight against temptation.

3. The second temptation: an appeal to the pride of life.

Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” (Matthew 4:5-7)

Tempting God and expecting Him to provide a miraculous physical salvation is nothing new. Even today, Christian Scientists refuse medical treatment and expect God to physically rescue them.

A.        If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down: Satan is tempting Jesus to “force” the Father into a supernatural event. Satan appeals to the desire within every man to sense approval from God and to have that approval publicly demonstrated.

Set Him on the pinnacle of the temple: The pinnacle of the temple was 200 feet high. A leap from there, and the appearance of the promised angelic protection, would be a remarkable spectacle. The devil’s suggestion was an artificially created crisis. Jesus just had this kind of spectacular demonstration at His baptism (Matthew 3:17).

B.        For it is written: The devil can use this phrase also. He quotes Scripture, and we can trust that the devil has memorized the Bible and is an expert at quoting it, out of context, to confuse and defeat those he tempts. This time, the devil quoted Psalm 91:11-12, and took it out of its context to say, “Go ahead, Jesus; if You do this the Bible promises angels will rescue You, and it will be spectacular self-promotion.” The Psalm passage is talking about spiritual protection for those who follow God’s will – not physical protection from those who tempt God.

“Truth may be abused to the patronage of lies; and that there is no hook more dangerous to the members of Christ, than that which is baited with Scripture misinterpreted and misapplied.” (Poole) We have a good example right down the in the Exodus Metropolitan Community Church.

This text is wrongly applied, because it was not used to teach or encourage, but instead to deceive. “Making this word a promise to be fulfilled upon Christ’s neglect of his duty; extending the promise of special providence as to dangers into which men voluntarily throw themselves.” (Poole)

Jesus understood from His knowledge of the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) that Satan was twisting this passage from Psalm 91. Jesus knew how to rightly use the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Sadly, many are willing to believe anyone who quotes from the Bible today. A preacher can pretty much say whatever he wants if he quotes a few proof-texts, and people will assume that he really speaks from the Bible. It is important for each Christian to know the Bible for themselves, and to not be deceived by someone who quotes the Bible but not accurately or with correct application.

 Nowhere is this concept more evident than in our news media. Truth and honesty are replaced with ratings and profits. The left wing media says “ObamaCare is great” and site a few isolated circumstances along with huge speculation. The right wing media says, “ObamaCare is a disaster” and site a few isolated circumstances along with huge speculation. Both outlets could put together a complete, rational, analysis but that would not incite their viewers or drive ratings and profits. We can’t believe what we hear because it is so out of context.

C.        It is written again, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” Jesus replied with Scripture, but applied correctly. He knew that attempting to force or manipulating God the Father into such a demonstration would tempt God, which the Scriptures strictly forbid. This warns us against demanding something spectacular from God to prove His love or concern for us. He has already given the ultimate demonstration of His love for us at the cross (Romans 5:8), and He can do nothing more “spectacular” than that.

Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” (Matthew 4:8-10)

A.        All these things I will give You: Essentially, this vision invited Jesus to take a shortcut around the cross. Jesus came to win all the kingdoms of the world and their glory back from Satan’s domain, and Satan offers them to Jesus, if He will only fall down and worship him.

Today, we are constantly bombarded with this sort of temptation in the media. The says, “look at all this – you can have it!” Watch a Coors beer commercial. Everyone is attractive, intelligent, and the beer drinker is vitally popular. Now go to a real bar and there is not the slightest similarity. We are deceived.

Jesus could lay claim to all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and do so without enduring the cross. “The danger is greatest when the end is good.” (Bruce)

All Jesus would have to do is give Satan what he has been longing for ever since he fell from glorious to profane: worship and recognition from God Himself. This is a revealing insight into Satan’s heart; worship and recognition are far more precious to him than the possession of the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He is still the one who said I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High. (Isaiah 14:13-14)

B.        I will give You: Evidently, Satan has authority over this world and its governments. The temptation could not have been real unless there is some real sense that Satan does “possess” all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. Adam and his descendants gave the devil this authority. God gave Adam the earth as a stewardship (Genesis 1:28-30), and Adam willingly turned it over to Satan. After that, all Adam’s descendants cast their vote of approval by their personal sin.

C.        Away with you, Satan! For it is written: Jesus replied with Scripture again, and commanded the devil to leave. In the same way we can resist the devil and he will flee from you (James 4:7). It worked for Jesus (Then the devil left Him) and it will work for us. “The word of God has a power in it to quail and to quash Satan’s temptations, far better than that wooden dagger, that leaden sword of the Papists, their holy water, crossings, grains, dirty relics . . . It is not the sign of the cross, but the word of the cross, that overthrows Satan.” (Trapp) The temptations of Jesus also remind us that it is no sin to be tempted, as long as the temptation is resisted. Even horrible temptations – Jesus was tempted to worship Satan – are not sin if they are resisted.

Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him. (Matthew 4:11)

A.        Then the devil left Him means that Jesus won. He won because He recognized Satan’s mode of attack: lies and deception. Primarily, Satan is a deceiver, and for those who live in light of the cross, deception is his only tool, because demonic powers were disarmed at the cross of their “real” weapons and power (Colossians 2:15). But deception is extremely effective at leading us into sin, and at causing us to live lives of fear and unbelief.

Jesus showed the only effective counter to deception: God’s truth, not man’s wisdom. First, we must see temptation for what it is – a lie. Then, we must combat temptation with the word of God. Then, we must always build ourselves up in the truth, and have it in our heart.

Jesus thought this was important for us to know; only He could have told the Gospel writers what happened when He was tempted in the Judean wilderness. We need to learn from this; to learn how we can overcome temptation, but even more importantly how Jesus overcame temptation on our behalf and succeeded as the sinless Son of God where Adam and Moses and all others had failed.

B.        Behold, angels came and ministered to Him: God never forsakes those who endure through temptation. Even as angels came and ministered to Jesus, God will find a way to minister to us and meet our needs as we endure temptation.

“These holy beings might not come upon the scene while the battle was being fought, lest they should seem to divide the honors of the day; but when the duel was ended, they hastened to bring food for the body, and comfort for the mind of the champion King.” (Spurgeon)

Next week, we go to a wedding and have some heavenly wine.


The other characteristic of God

I feel like I’m Preaching to the choir with this seasoned group. Young adults are much easier to teach because they don’t know much yet. They are still struggling to find 10 minutes a day to read the Bible.

Today, I’m talking about the characteristics of God. Not the usual ones. I’ve never heard a sermon about God’s sense of humor. I’ve never read a theology book that lists laughter as one of His immutable characteristics but I think it is. How can we, His creatures, think things are funny unless the whole idea came from God in the first place?

People outside the church, looking in, often see somber and serious people. And often these people inside are praying for relief from some problem related to health or wealth. When these outsiders look at the Bible, they often see punishment, desperate suffering, and Bible characters who seem to always be hungry. If we don’t show them the outright joy, and laughter, and humor of God, they will likely miss it. If we don’t see it ourselves, we miss part of the character of God.

Does God laugh? I’m sure He laughs when I tell him my plans.

Psalms 2:3 “he who sits in heaven laughs”

Psalms 37:13 “the Lord laughs at the wicked”

Should we laugh?

Job 8:11 “He will fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouting”

Ecclesiastes 3:4 “a time to laugh”

Genesis 21:6 “And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.”

Proverbs 31:25 – the virtuous woman “laughs at the time to come.”

Proverbs 29:9 If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.

There are loads of verses about joy. Do we really exhibit the joyous and humorous part of our spiritual adventure?

A boy was sitting on a park bench reading his Bible. He was loudly exclaiming his praise to God. “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! God is great!” he yelled without worrying whether anyone heard him or not. An educated man came along and sat down and asked what the kid was so excited about.

“Hey” asked the boy in return with a bright laugh, “Don’t you have any idea what God is able to do? I just read that God opened up the waves of the Red Sea and led the whole nation of Israel right through the middle.” The enlightened man laughed and said, “That can all be very easily explained. Modern scholarship has shown that the Red Sea in that area was only 10-inches deep at that time. It was no problem for the Israelites to wade across.” The boy was stumped. His eyes wandered from the man back to the Bible in his lap. The man turned to go but before he made three steps, the boy began to rejoice and praise again. The man turned to ask why. “Wow!” exclaimed the boy happily, “God is greater than I thought! Not only did He lead the whole nation of Israel through the Red Sea, He topped it off by drowning the whole Egyptian army in only 10 inches of water!”

You know the Bible is the world’s best selling book. Nearly 200,000 sales per day. But did you know it is also the most shoplifted of all books? Who is stealing our Bibles? I think it’s funny that the one book that most condemns stealing is the one most stolen.

We can find humor in simple things and in strange places. Have you ever witnessed to telemarketers? “No, I don’t want a home alarm system but, would you like a spiritual security system that is monitored 24 hours a day?” True, they will probably hang up on you but at least you’ll be taken off the call list.

Scripture is for our enjoyment as well as our education. There is some funny, witty stuff like the descriptions of the nagging woman and the lazy man in Proverbs which are intentionally humorous to make a point.

The Book of Proverbs lampoons fools, lazy people, and quarrelsome women by using comical caricatures. These images describe the contentious woman and the woman who lacks discretion in a witty and clever manner. “As a gold ring in a swine’s snout, so is a beautiful woman from whom sense has departed” (Proverbs 11:22). I’m told the new illustrated Bibles have a picture of Miley Cyrus beside that verse.

“It is better to live in a desert than with a contentious and angry woman” (Proverbs 21:19). “It is better to live on a corner of a roof, than in a house with a quarrelsome wife” (Proverbs 25:24). “A constant dripping on a rainstormy day and a quarrelsome woman are alike” (Proverbs 27:15).

Apparently, Jewish women of the day tended to be problematic.

The New Testament, similarly, abounds with laughter. Jesus must have been a compelling personality to keep the attention of crowds for days and the steadfast loyalty of disciples for three years. In addition to being a riveting teacher whose words brought life, he was likely the kind of personality that was enjoyable to be around. Not the wimpy, sad, overly humble character in TV portrayals. He was dynamic, engaging, and physically strong. For example, a crowd numbering about 5,000 men followed him to a solitary place (Mark 6:30-44). Jesus evidently made people forget to eat, bring food or worry about work.

Jesus used witty hyperbole and exaggerated statements to drive a point home and make his messages memorable.

“You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matt. 23:24, NIV)

The absurd image of trying to push a camel through the eye of a needle or a man with a beam in his eye.

These are clever, entertaining figures of speech.

Exaggeration is not a good thing if you are dealing with the IRS but, otherwise, it’s creative and humorous. Cindy sees the bag of trash still sitting by the back door and asks me if I’ve taken it out yet. That’s funny enough because she can see it right there. And I say, “Yes! In fact I’ve already taken it out twice and I’m currently taking it out a third time right now.”

One of my favorite humorous stories is Moses confronting Aaron with the golden calf. This is certainly serious but even this has a humorous side. Aaron stammers it wasn’t his idea — he just took the gold they brought “and I threw it in the fire, and out came this calf!” (Ex. 32:24) That’s like something a 10 year old would tell his mom to explain an accident.

I once had a little kid tell me that God is left handed. The kid was left handed and noticed that I was left handed and the kid was pleased that we were like God. I asked why God was left handed and he said, in all seriousness, because Jesus is sitting on his right hand.

There is all kinds of humor in Christians and churches. One day, church was over and everyone was leaving except one guy in the choir. After everyone had left, he was still sitting up there. They had pews and on the backs of the pews were the holders for the hymnals and the little holes for the communion cups. The guy was fidgeting around and got his thumb stuck in the little cup holder hole.

A preacher visits an elderly woman from his congregation. As he sits on the couch he notices a large bowl of peanuts on the coffee table. “Mind if I have a few?” he asks. “No, not at all!” the woman replied. They chat for an hour and as the preacher stands to leave, he realizes that instead of eating just a few peanuts, he emptied most of the bowl. “I’m terribly sorry for eating all your peanuts, I really just meant to eat a few.” “Oh, that’s all right,” the woman says. “Ever since I lost my teeth all I can do is suck the chocolate off them and spit them back in the dish.”

Two boys were walking home from church after hearing a strong preaching on the devil. One said to the other, “What do you think about all this Satan stuff?” The other boy replied, “Well, you know how Santa Claus turned out. It’s probably just our dad”

When I graduated from High School Steve Stroupe did the baccalaureate service. At the time, he was Young Life director here. Now he’s pastor at Lake Pointe Church which grew from 53 to 11,000 members. His message was about being complete. We just endured 12 years of “work hard and be a success, work hard and be a success, work hard and be a success.” He reminded us that success and happiness are two different things and we have to learn to stop to enjoy what success we have.

We need to learn more carefully the joy God intended for us to have in Him throughout our life. We shouldn’t lose the serious side of scripture and we also shouldn’t be afraid to enjoy the humor in God, creation, and other people. Having a wise perspective when is the time to laugh and time to weep may take some discernment. May God give us wisdom and grace in this, and may we faithfully apply all that He has given us so that we faithfully represent Him and bring Him Glory. May we enjoy God and His creation as He intended. May we find laughter, joy, thankfulness, and humor in what He finds it in and what He intended for us to find it in. God gives us freedom, and laughter is liberation.

Walk Closer 5

Matthew 2:13-23, Luke 2:39-52, Luke 3: 1-6, Matthew 3: 5-12

Last week: Jesus presented, doves sacrificed, Simeon sees, Joseph marvels, Simeon prophesies, Anna thanks, Magi come, Herod fears, Herod deceives, Magi seek, Magi worship, Magi give, Israel ignores.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” (Matthew 2:13-15)

A.        Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt. As soon as the Magi depart, Joseph receives this urgent message. Get out of bed and hit the road. “Egypt was a natural place to which to flee. It was nearby, a well-ordered Roman province outside Herod’s jurisdiction; and, according to Philo (writing circa A.D. 40), its population included about a million Jews.”

B.        Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him. This is again consistent with the character of Herod.

C.        When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night. You must have great respect for Joseph’s faith. In the middle of the night, he receives a message from God and immediately packs his family up and leaves for Egypt. Poor Joseph had no idea what he got himself into when he married Mary of Nazareth. We don’t know where he went in Egypt or how long he stayed. All we know is that they stayed in Egypt until some time after Herod’s death and political power had been transferred to Archelaus, his son.

 D.        Out of Egypt I called My Son. This prophecy is from Hosea 11:1.

Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18)

A.        He sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts. As terrible as this is, it was not unusual coming from Herod or unusual for the violent times. In his last years, Herod was particularly cruel and suspicious. He had many Jewish leaders arrested on false charges and ordered that as soon as he died, they should all be killed. He knew no one would mourn his own death, so he was determined that some tears be shed when he died.

 Why don’t we see this atrocious massacre recorded in historical literature outside Matthew? With the population of the area at the time, we are talking about less than 20 children. 20 anonymous children aren’t even a blip on Herod’s list of atrocities nor was it exceptional for the violent times. This was just another day with Herod and these murders did not make “national news”. Do you remember the 295 children that were killed, in Texas, on March 18, 1937?

B.        A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning. This quotation from Jeremiah 31:15 originally referred to the mourning of Israel’s mothers during the conquest and captivity of the nation. Here Rachel is a representation of Bethlehem’s mothers. It is now verified a second time.

But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. (Matthew 2:19-21)

God spoke to Joseph again through an angel and, again, Joseph responds immediately. The Messiah spent some time in Egypt as a refugee from Herod, but just as Hosea said, He came back to Israel.

But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:22-23)

A.        When he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea. Archelaus was such an incompetent and violent ruler that the Romans deposed him for misrule and replaced him with a newly appointed governor in A.D. 6. Josephus, comparing Archelaus to his father, said, “A man of kindred nature; suspicious, to be feared and avoided by such as had cause to fear his father.”

 Titus Flavius Josephus (a.k.a. Joseph ben Matityahu in Hebrew) was a first century Roman-Jewish scholar, historian, and biographer of religious leaders of the day. He was born in Jerusalem to a father of priestly descent and a mother of royal ancestry. He initially fought against the Romans, in the First Jewish-Roman War, as head of the Jewish forces in Galilee, until surrendering in A.D. 67 to forces led by Vespasian. Vespasian decided to keep Josephus as a hostage and interpreter and Josephus volunteered to write the history of the Great Revolt for Vespasian. “The Jewish War” was published in A.D. 75. Vespasian became emperor of Rome in A.D. 69 and released Josephus who then adopted the family name Flavius. Josephus defected to the Roman side and received Roman citizenship. His most important work was “Antiquities of the Jews” in A.D. 94. “Antiquities” tells the history of the world from a Jewish perspective and is a valuable insight into the times of Jesus, first century Judaism, and the background of early Christianity.

 B.        Being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. Archelaus had a brother, Herod Antipas, who was calmer and less tempermental so Joseph, with the direction of God, went into Galilee which was his province. Again receiving guidance by a divine dream, Joseph settled outside of the much more religious region of Jerusalem and Judea, and into the populous region of Galilee, which had a much more significant Gentile population than Judea or Jerusalem.

C.        And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth. It is unusual Joseph brought his family back to Nazareth where everyone knew Mary and Joseph and the scandalous nature of the birth of their son. Like today, you generally move to wherever the jobs are and Sepphoris, just down the road from Nazareth, had a huge building boom in progress.

D.        That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene”. This is interesting because there is no specific passage in the Old Testament that literally says “He shall be called a Nazarene.” “It should be noted, however, that the formula introducing the quotation differs from the regular pattern in two ways: it refers not to a single prophet but to the prophets. This suggests that it is not meant to be a quotation of a specific passage, but a summary of a theme of prophetic expectation. . . . Thus it has been suggested that Matthew saw in the obscurity of Nazareth the fulfillment of Old Testament indications of a humble and rejected Messiah.”  “He meant that the prophets have described the Messiah as one that would be despised and rejected of men. They spoke of him as a great prince and conqueror when they described his second coming, but they set forth his first coming when they spoke of him as a root out of a dry ground without form or comeliness, who when he should be seen would have no beauty that men should desire him. The prophets said that he would be called by a despicable title, and it was so, for his countrymen called him a Nazarene.”

 When Jesus revealed Himself to Paul on the road to Damascus, He introduced Himself as Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 22:8). In Acts 24:5, the prosecutors of Paul said to his judge, We have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. Other translations identify him as a troublemaker, a plague, a pest, and a corruptor. All negative adjectives pointing to Nazarenes. There is always some city or state that is the butt of jokes with citizens considered low, uncultured, or stupid. That is the kind of place Nazareth was. No one would be intimidated by a man from Nazareth. The natural tendency would be to consider them inferior.

Chapter Thirteen: Youth (Luke 2:39-52)

So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. (Luke 2:39-40)

Jesus was perfectly obedient to God, even as a child. He physically matured but His spiritual growth is particularly noteworthy. This is inspirational for parents today. We also pray for children to become strong in spirit and to be filled with wisdom we should guide them on those paths. It can happen.

 The grace of God was upon Him. Except for His asylum in Egypt, we no very little of Jesus’ childhood until he was 12. Men, being men, could not leave this alone and some wrote their own so-called “Infancy Gospels.” They contain spectacular and silly miracles like Jesus talking from the manger; healing a man made into a mule by a spell, bringing clay birds to life with a clap of His hands, and healing people with a sprinkling with his old bath water. Needless to say, these never made it into published translations. Trapp said, “Where the Scripture has no tongue, we must have no ears.” We just don’t know what happened in his early childhood.

To understand why someone would try to fill in these missing years, you have to understand something about men. We can’t simply “not know”. If asked a question, we’ll give an answer even if we know nothing about it. When we are lost, we still claim to know where we are going. We’re not just saying that, we honestly believe we really know where we are, even when we are obviously lost. The only thing worse is a group of men talking about what they don’t know, feeding off each other, and actually coming to a conclusion. Look at Sports Center on ESPN. A group of guys sit around and talk about the upcoming game. Oh, this player has a hurt foot. This other one fumbles too much. They have no idea how this affects the outcome of the game but they will discuss and come to a concrete conclusion of which team is going to win. We just can’t leave it alone. I have a friend, a hard core conservative Baptist, who believes Jesus went to Europe and China before returning to Galilee for the Canna wedding. He reasons that is the reason we don’t hear about Jesus in Jewish literature during that time – because He was gone. We just can’t leave it alone and that is why you have writings like the infancy gospels.

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. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. (Luke 2:41-45)

His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. Attendance at the major feasts was commanded in Exodus 23:17 and Deuteronomy 16:16. Galilean Jews typically made these pilgrimages in large groups.

 This should have been the inspiration for the movie “Home Alone”. The parents leave on a trip and forget to bring the child with them. How do you lose the Messiah? This is another picture of the humanity of Jesus. Even his family had very human experiences. If they had had Child Protective Services back in the day, Herod Antipas could have had Mary and Joseph arrested for child neglect and sent Jesus to an orphanage. As parents, we know that sometimes things just happen in spite of however good our parenting skills may be. We have some friends named Tom and Connie and they are great parents. They have the sweetest twin daughters. When the girl were three, Connie decided to visit her parents in Georgia over New Years and leave the girls with Tom. Fathers get an undeserved bad rap in the media. We may not do things like mothers but we competently take care of things. This was Connie’s first time away from the girls and she was calling periodically on her drive back to update her progress. She was excited to see them again and they were equally excited to see her again. Tom was doing fine and was bathing the girls to have them all fresh and frilly when mom drove up. Connie called and Tom turned to answer the phone. Connie was excited to tell him she was turning the last corner and couldn’t wait to see them all. The girls heard their mom’s voice over the phone and bolted out of the tub to meet her. Connie drives up at just the right second to see her two precious daughters naked, in the front yard, in the snow, alone. Things happen.

Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. (Luke 2:46-50)

A.        Sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. This was Passover and the Sanhedrin would meet in the Temple court to publicly discuss religious and theological questions. We were amazed when a young, teenage Mary spoke to Gabriel with such scriptural maturity and now we see Jesus astonishing even the Sanhedrin, Scribes, Pharisees, and Rabbis at the tender age of twelve. He was a religious prodigy. Most all of us have said something insightful at an early age and impressed our parents for a brief moment but Jesus went on for three days with the most respected experts in his field and would have continued if not interrupted by his parents. When we think about what it takes to be a child prodigy, we can get a glimpse of Jesus’ childhood. Let’s look at a contemporary child prodigy who also astonished the leaders of his field at the tender age of 12: Sho Yano. Yano earned a PhD in molecular genetics and cell biology from the University of Chicago at the age of eighteen. What was his childhood like? He was reading at age two, writing by age three, playing classical music by age four, and composing by age five. He scored 1500 out 1600 on the SAT at age eight. He entered Loyola University at age nine and graduated summa cum laude at age 12. He, like Jesus, was astonishing the experts in his field at age 12. We can imagine that Jesus’ early development would have to be something similar to Yano’s. Mary had her hands full keeping this kid busy and teaching Him for this meeting with the Jewish intelligentsia.

B.        I must be about My Father’s business. In that day, a boy took up his father’s trade at about twelve years of age. Jesus was a carpenter like Joseph. However, He clearly understood his greater role in taking up his heavenly Father’s mission. His parents knew of His unique relationship with God the Father and knew he was destined for a special purpose. They had obviously groomed him for a day like this but were still shocked when it actually transpired.

C.        They did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Jesus reminds them that his mission is not to be a carpenter but to take up his heavenly Father’s mission. Remember, we have the whole Gospel story but, at that time, Mary and Joseph only knew what Gabriel had told Mary: that Jesus would be called “Son of the Highest”, would have the throne of David, would reign over the house of Jacob, and would have an everlasting kingdom (Luke 1:30-33). The Jews were looking for a military savior and when Gabriel used words like “highest”, “throne”, “reign”, and “kingdom”, it would be easy to expect Jesus’ future to be that of a general. Mary and Joseph are already confused in that they don’t know where the life of this child is going and now that confusion is compounded when Jesus indicates He is here to conquer souls instead of soldiers.

This is the last time we hear of Joseph. As soon as Jesus announces He must be about His heavenly Father’s business, his earthly father goes out of the picture. We don’t know what happened to Joseph but the general consensus is that Joseph died. This would be a consistent symbol of Jesus moving from influence of His earthly father to the mission of his heavenly Father and is supported by three situations:

             1.        Joseph was conspicuously absent from the wedding at Cana (John 2). Traditionally, if he were alive, he would have been there.

            2.        On the cross, Jesus committed the care of his mother to the Apostle John. If Joseph were alive, he would already be responsible for Mary and this task would remain with him.

            3.        Jesus remaining at home and waiting until He was thirty years old to begin his ministry would be consistent with allowing time for his younger brothers to be old enough to care for the family in his absence.

Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (Luke 2:51-52)

A.        Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was subject to them. Jesus’ maturity into adulthood was apparently quite normal, other than being a child prodigy. He worked as a carpenter, supported His family, and worshiped His God. He was perfect in observing Old Testament commandments and advice:

Honor your father and your (Ex. 20:12).

Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father (Leviticus 19:3).

  My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother; for they will be a graceful ornament on your head, and chains about your neck (Proverbs 1:8-9)

 A fool despises his father’s instruction, but he who receives correction is prudent (Proverbs 15:5).

He set the example for:

Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord (Colossians 3:20).

B.        His mother kept all these things in her heart. What wonderful advice for modern parents. Mary didn’t parade her extraordinary son around in satisfaction of her own ego. She didn’t become a stage show mom proclaiming to have been blessed with the most talented kid in the world. She doesn’t try to relive her childhood through Him. She wasn’t the narcissistic parent trying to extract a performance to glorify herself. She and Joseph were committed, loving parents, teaching in accordance with God’s directions:

  Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death (Proverbs 19:18).

 Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it (Proverbs 22:6).

 Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 32:46).

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:5-9). The Jews managed to mess this up. Instead of writing scripture to their heart, some would literally fold up a piece of paper, put it in a small box, and tie the box around their wrist. They tried to humanize God by reducing him to a simple action.

C.        And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature. No wonder when both child and parents are living according to God’s direction. Even though we are not told specifically what happened in the 22 years between the Jesus’ appearance in the Temple and His baptism, rest assured He did ordinary things in extraordinary ways.

Chapter Fourteen: John The Baptist (Luke 3: 1-6, Matthew 3:5-12, Luke 3:10-23)

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. (Luke 3:1-6)

A.        In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. Biblical chronology can be a complicated matter. From historical records we know this was A.D. 29.

B.        Tiberius Caesar…Pontius Pilate…Herod…Philip…Lysanias. Naming these leaders tells us something about the times. Tiberius was an emperor known for his cruelty and severity. Pontius Pilate was famous for his brutal massacres of the Jewish people in Judea, and his insensitivity towards the Jews. The rulers from the family of Herod the Great (Herod, Philip, and Lysanias) were well known for their corruption and cruelty. When Herod the Great died, his kingdom was divided among his three sons, Herod, Philip, and Lysanias. A tetrarch was originally the ruler of one fourth of a region. In the first century B.C., it came to mean any independent ruler of a divided kingdom. Some fascinating archeology of these leaders has been discovered.

C.        Annas and Caiaphas. Caiaphas was the High Priest, but his father-in-law Annas, the patriarch of the family, was the one who actually pulled the strings of the priests. It is appropriate that a corrupt priesthood would be mentioned in the same sentence as corrupt politcal leaders.

D.        The word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. The wilderness was the right place for John. It was the natural place for someone escaping a hostile society, it was the only place John could assemble such large crowds, and it was the best place for baptism not sanctioned by the religious establishment.

E.        Preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. The message is that repentance results in liberation and deliverance: spiritual freedom. We all feel regret for our sins but John is asking his followers to change their modus operandi, to change their thought process as well as confess with remorse. When we confess, we are forgiven but we still must repent by fixing whatever we messed up and work to change our ways.

Baptism was not a new ceremony. Gentiles who wanted to become Jews were baptized. The new concept was that Jews would seek baptism when it was associated with Gentile heathans.

F.        Matthew tells us John himself was clothed in camel hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locust and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). This radical attire and diet demanded attention and clearly separated John from his contemporary religious leaders. This man was a different as his message. John, traveling the banks of the Jordan, was like Phil Robertson treveling the hallways of A&E network headquarters but John took it too an even more radical level. Gabriel told Zacharias that John would be like Elijah and John even dressed like Elijah who also dressed in hairy skins with a leather belt around his waist (2 Kings 1:8) John was certainly a colorful character. Imagine the skepticism of the Jews, who were expecting a royal prince, when his forerunner shows up dressed like a cave man.

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:4-6)

This is John’s ministry as a fulfillment of prophecy. Preparing the way meant causing a radical moral change of the people. Several sacred cows needed slaughtering:

The arrogance that biological descent from Abraham was a ticket to heaven,

The preconception that Jesus would be a secular military king who would end Roman oppression,

The socially accepted hypocrisy and selfishness of the people,

 The greed and condescending attitude of the priestly class,

The priestly ritualism and ceremonies that had buried God’s intent.

Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:5-6)

This was a large population who responded, recognized their sins, and were serious enough to take action. Spontaneous confession of personal sins was a new concept. There was only a group confession on the Day of Atonement and individual confession in certain specified ceremonies (Numbers 5:7). They believed being a descendant of Abraham was all that was needed and all they had to do was obey the law.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:7-12)

A.        When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Where did these guys come from? They are not mentioned in the Old Testament. Four Jewish groups came to power in the 400 years between the Old and New Testaments. When the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., the Hebrews reasoned that this disaster was the result of failure to obey the law of God therefore, the was to prevent further disasters was to carefully obey the law. This was the beginning of the Jews shift from faith based religion to righteousness based on works. The focus changed from the priests to the scribes who knew most about God’s commandments.

  The Scribes were the lawyers. They focus was the details of the law and they transformed from copiers of Scripture to teachers of Scripture. Members of this group came to be called Rabbi.

The Sanhedrin were the judges. They were the supreme court in legal and religious trials. We will see that Herod began his reign by killing the entire Sanhedrin and putting his own people in their place. Th Sanhedrin is a collection of 71 priests who served for life.

 The Pharisees were keepers of the Law and considered the entire Hebrew Bible as the word of God. They became the dominant faction because they connected Israel’s abandoning of the Law as the reason for the punishment and exile. They created and exercised rules to keep people from replicating the behavior that caused the punishment. The Pharisees looked after civil affairs from a religious point of view. They became a political party when they opposed government interference with the practice of the Law. The Talmud is the record of Jewish oral teaching and lists seven kinds of Pharisees:

 The Schechemite Pharisee, so-called because he keeps the law for what he can profit from it, as Shechem submitted to circumcision to obtain Dinah (Gen. 34:19).

 The Tumbling Pharisee, who, to appear humble, hangs down his head and is in danger of falling down.

  The Bleeding Pharisee, who often meets with wounds because he walks around with his eyes closed so as not to see a woman.

 The Mortar Pharisee, who wears a cap shaped like a mortar to cover his eyes so as not to see impurities or indecencies.

The “What-Am-I-Yet-To-Do” Pharisee, who, because he doesn’t know much about the law, says “Tell me what my duty is now, and I will do it.”

 The Pharisee From Fear, who keeps the law because he is afraid of future judgment.

 The Pharisee From Love, who obeys the Lord because he loves him with all his heart.

Over time, the Pharisees came to believe righteousness was had by keeping the Law. They often misinterpreted it for their own gain and considered some of their traditions to be as authoritative as scripture. They began to place outward ceremonial observance above spiritual faith and obedience.

The Sadducees were the affluent class and much more influenced by Greece and Rome because it was economically and politically advantageous to be so. They denied the resurrection, angels, and the Holy Spirit. They rejected all oral tradition and all scripture except Genesis through Deuteronomy.

The Pharisees were the parade of religion while the Sadducees were the arguers against religion. The Pharisees and Sadducees were philosophically opposed and often enemies.

B.        Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Not only were they vipers, so were their parents. To make this even more insulting, people believed the viper offspring ate their mother, who had already eaten their father. There were there to participate in a photo op. They were there out of curiosity. They were there to assess what threat John might be to their status quo. John is telling them that showing up is not enough, that repentance has physical manifestations, and that they must bring forth the fruits to show repentance

 C.        Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance. John calls for action to show evidence of repentance. He’s calling for a change in life. Repentance is a habit, not an occasional event. Righteousness is a habit, not an occasional event. If we have real repentance, it will be evident in our lives because we live it continuously rather than just talk it occasionally.

 D.        do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God isable to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. This was not good news for the Jews who thought Abraham genetically provided their salvation and that no Jew could go to hell. Now, John teaches that they are no more special then the stones they walk on. The Pharisees should have know better because Isaiah already told them to look unto the rock from whence they were hewn and to look to Abraham for I called him alone. ( Isaiah 51:1-2).

E.        And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. The ax is impending national judgement and destruction of Jerusalem and it is ready to strike. The trees are the chosen people with their peculiar privileges.

 F.        I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. This is another shock to the Jewish leadership. John is offering a way for remission of sins without requiring going to Jerusalem and a temple sacrifice. The Jerusalem leadership was quite apprehensive about John telling the masses that the Pharisees were now irrelevant for repentance. This would explain the adversarial attitude between the Jewish leaders and John.

G.        Whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. John directs all the glory and power to Jesus and uses a dramatic description. In that day, it was common for a rabbi to have disciples. These disciples were virtually slaves serving the pleasure of their master. There were a few tasks considered even too low for a rabbinical disciple and one of those was taking the rabbi’s shoes off. John humbly places himself far below Jesus and also below the masses he is calling to repentance.

 H.        He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor. This baptism was the promised out-pouring of the Holy Spirit promised with the New Covenant in Ezekiel 37:14. Fire is a judgement. We see God’s spiritual processes mirroring His physical laws of the universe. Chemically, fire purifies. It takes iron to steel and wood to charcoal. In every case, the new material is stronger, purer, and contains more energy. Spiritually, God’s fire removes our impurities. The same fire destroys the wicked. This real cleansing is a sharp contrast to outward, token, cleansing taught by the Jewish leaders. These proud, pretentious, leaders were as useless to God as chaff is to us.

 You have probably never seen chaff because our modern cereal grains have been genetically modified to have very little, or no, chaff. Chaff is the scaly protective casing of grain seeds. Before the grain seed could be used, this casing had to be removed. It was removed by threshing which involved spreading the grain on the floor and beating it to break off the casing. Then the chaff was separated from the grain by winnowing. This was traditionally done by taking a plate-shaped basket of threshing and tossing it up in a light breeze so the lighter chaff would be blown to the side and the clean grain would fall back in the basket.

The Jews believed their Messiah would come with judgment against Israel’s enemies; not against them. They knew others needed to come to God but they had the self-righteous confidence to believe they were exempt. Sadly, some modern Gentiles have this same attitude and we need John the Baptist again. Much of what we call religion is only Christianized heathenism with a doctrine of situational ethics.

Walk Closer 4

Luke 2:21-38, Matthew 2:1-12

Continuing from lesson 3 where Elizabeth delivers, John is named, Zacharias speaks and prophesies, Jesus is presented as the son of David, Joseph obeys the angel, no divorce, the Emperor decrees, Joseph answers and goes to Bethlehem, Jesus is born,  the shepherds see the angel, find Jesus, worship, and testify.  The Magi come to worship and give. We pick up with Luke 2:21

Chapter Eleven: Jesus’ Presentation In The Temple (Luke 2:21-38)

And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:21-24)

A.        And when eight days were completed. This was done so Jesus might fulfill every aspect of the law as commanded in Leviticus 12:2-3. It also shows that Joseph and Mary were truly devout, obedient parents. They obeyed God’s command in Leviticus 12:3, so Jesus obeyed it also. The old testament babies were circumcised on the eight day because there was the least bleeding on the eighth day. Today, we circumcise on the second day because we have modern medicine and bleeding and infection are not issues.

B.        Circumcision…the days of her purification. The circumcision and purification ceremonies were necessary as a reminder that we are all born in sin (Psalm 51:5). Jesus could have been excused because He was not born in sin. Yet, we see Him identifying with sinners even as a baby.

 The days of her purification are defined in Leviticus 12:2-6:

 Say to the Israelites: ‘A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over. If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period. Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding. When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering.

 C.        A pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. Leviticus 12 commands that a lamb be offered as part of the purification and dedication ceremony. But, it allowed for two birds to be offered if the family could not afford a lamb. “The offering of the two pigeons instead of the lamb and the pigeon was technically called The Offering of the Poor…we see that it was into a humble home that Jesus was born.”  Their Offering of the Poor tells us this happened before the Magi arrived. Mary and Joseph would not have offered only two birds after receiving the rich gifts from the wise men and would not have returned to Jerusalem after being warned by the angel in Matthew 2:13.

 D.        Jewish sacrifices mostly ended in A.D. 70, when the temple was destroyed. Sacrifices happened in the temple and, with no temple, they couldn’t figure out what to do so they just stopped. Noah built his own alter. Jacob built his own alter. But, the Jews in A.D. 70 decided to dispense with the mess and trouble of animal sacrifice and just blame it on the Romans for destroying the alter. The Jews had 613 commandments regarding how to properly do ritual sacrifice. What happened to all the carcasses? That depends upon the type of sacrifice. The burnt offerings were entirely burnt: essentially cremated into ash. The peace offerings had a portion burnt, a portion eaten by the Kohanim, and the rest eaten by the presenter and his family. The Kohanim is the priest performing the rites and is a descendant of Aaron. The sin offering and the guilt offering were eaten by the Kohanim. Food and drink offerings had a representative portion burnt on the alter and the rest was eaten by the Kohanim.

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: “Lord, now You are letting 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 bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:25-32)

 A.        Waiting for the Consolation of Israel. Simeon may have known that there were rumors regarding the coming of the Messiah. The news of John the Baptist’s birth and its meaning was widely publicized (Luke 1:65) and the shepherds who heard the angelic announcement spread the word.

B.        So he came by the Spirit into the temple. It was not rumors, but the Spirit who led him into the temple on that day. Simeon was a man who knew how to be led by the Holy Spirit, both in hearing God’s promise and being prompted to go to the temple at the right time.

C.        According to Your word. Simeon had the peace of seeing God’s promise fulfilled.

D.        You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation. Simeon was keeping watch for the coming Messiah. This was his reward and he was relieved.

E.        A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles. The amazing thing about Simeon’s prophecy is that it shows that this Messiah for the Gentiles also. The salvation of Jesus began with Israel, but was always extended beyond Israel.

And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:33-35)

A.        Joseph and His mother marveled. We can imagine their combination of joy and surprise to see how God has touched the hearts of others with their Son. No matter how well you know Jesus, there is something special about seeing someone else come to know Him and begin their adventure.

 B.        For the fall and rising of many. This would be shown in the way  that Peter repented, but Judas despaired. That one thief blasphemed while the other believed. Jesus is a magnet that attracts some but repels others.

C.        And a sign which will be spoken against. Jesus would be the target of great evil.

D.        A sword will pierce through your own soul also. It was important for Mary to know that mothering the Messiah would not be all sweetness and light. It was both a great privilege and a great burden. No other has agonized more over knowing of her son’s emanate rejection, suffering, and ultimate crucifixion. This was not only because of the natural love of a mother, but also because His rejection was her rejection. Wonderfully, His vindication was hers also.

Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)

A.        Anna, a prophetess. We don’t know why Anna was considered a prophetess. It could be that she brought forth this specific word about Jesus.

 B.        Who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. This woman served God with total devotion. Anna’s close walk with God was shown by her love for Jesus, and her desire to tell others about Jesus. Anna was remarkable. As a widow she knew pain and loss but had not become bitter. As an elderly woman she had not lost hope because she was a woman of worship and prayer.

Chapter Twelve: The Magi, Herod, And Egypt (Matthew 2:1-23)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

 A.        After Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Matthew doesn’t tells us much about the birth of Jesus but does tell us what happened after the Bethlehem birth. The theme of this chapter is “to show the reception given by the world to the new-born Messiah King – Homage from afar, hostility at home.”

 Bethlehem was ancestral home of David, the great king of Israel and founder of their royal dynasty but it was not a large or significant town. “A stir begins is soon as Christ is born. He has not spoken a word; he has not wrought a miracle; he has not proclaimed a single doctrine; but when Jesus was born, at the very first, while as yet you hear nothing but infant cries, and can see nothing but infant weakness, still his influence upon the world is manifest. ‘When Jesus was born, there came wise men from the east,’ and so on. There is infinite power even in an infant Savior.”  As we shall see, it was no small feat for an infant to draw the Magi.

 B.        In the days of Herod the king. This was the one known as Herod the Great. He was great on many levels: a great ruler, builder, and administrator. He also exceeded in paranoia and cruelty.

“He was wealthy, politically gifted, intensely loyal, an excellent administrator, and clever enough to remain in the good graces of successive Roman emperors. His famine relief was superb and his building projects, including the temple begun 20 B.C., were admired even by his enemies. But he loved power, inflicted incredibly heavy taxes on the people, and resented the fact that many Jews considered him a usurper. In his last years, suffering an illness that compounded his paranoia, he turned to cruelty and in fits of rage and jealousy killed close associates.”

Herod’s reign began in 40 B.C. with his proclamation from the Roman Senate as “King of the Jews.” At Jesus’ birth, he was nearly 70 years old, in poor health, and destined to die within a short time (4 B.C.). The cunning and cruelty of Herod displayed in the slaughter of the innocent children of Bethlehem and the vicinity is not without precedent. Herod had never hesitated to use his power to destroy anyone who might get in his way. The victims of his murderous suspicion or displeasure included, but were not limited to:

                         1.        The Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jews, which he murdered early in his reign. Later he slaughtered three hundred court officers.

                       2.        Aristobulous, Herod’s brother-in-law, whom he appointed as high priest. He was guilty of winning the favor of the people.

                        3.        Antigonus, a possible heir to the throne.

                        4.        Hyrcanus II, the elderly and mutilated father of Herod’s Hasmonean wife, Mariame. He was executed because Herod viewed him as a threat.

                        5.        Joseph, Herod’s uncle and brother-in-law. He was accused of an affair with Miriame, Herod’s wife.

                       6.        Sohemus, one of Herod’s servants, for an alleged illicit relationship with Miriame.

                       7.        Miriamne, Herod’s Hasmonean wife, executed for adultery.

                       8.        Alexandra, Miriame’s mother, for who knows what reason, although she was a schemer.

                       9.        Alexander and Aristobulous, the two sons of Herod and Miriame, after many family plots and counter-plots.

You need a score card to keep track of wives, children, and victims. Herod had at least ten wives and twelve sons although a number of these were done away with in one way or another. Repeatedly, he changed his will and the heirs to his throne. On more than one occasion, when Herod left Judea on what might be a dangerous journey, he left instructions that one or more of his family, including his wife, be killed if he were to die on his travels. “Augustus, the Roman Emperor, had said, bitterly, that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son.”  The reign of Herod also gives us a chronological marking point. Jesus was born before the death of Herod the Great, which is probably 4 B.C. The exact date of Jesus’ birth is unknown.

C.        Wise men from the East came. These travelers are called wise men in most translations other than the New International and New American Standard Bibles. That is unfortunate because “magoi”, the Greek word which was lazily translated “wise men”, tells us so much more about them. To call these travelers wise men is like me saying some smart guys came by to see me when my visitors were specifically astrophysicists from Texas A&M University. Describing my visitors as merely “smart” is correct but completely misses the value of who they are. The Magi are intricately related to the early years of Christ and fulfillment of prophecy but Christmas card illustrators seem far more interested in them than Christians.

Christ’s visitors were not kings, not merely wise men, but Magi, which means they were astronomers and we know a great deal about them. The word Magi defines a very specific tribe of people. In fact, you can go to Iran or India and meet one for yourself. They are still around. Astronomers in that day were not like Galileo or Copernicus. The Magi were the closest thing to scientists but their astronomy included what we would now call astrology and they divined stars and predicted fate in addition to making astronomical observations. Astrology, at that time, was highly regarded as a science and the Magi didn’t make much separation between what we consider science and what we consider superstition. These were not random astronomers. They were defined, by the Greek word Magoi, as priests of Zoroastrianism. We can even know why these bearers of gifts had to be Magi and why no other kings or leaders or wise men would suffice.

 The Magi were the keepers of science. Science, in that day, was new and mysterious. For example, they knew the word was round. Before them, the only record of a round Earth was from Isaiah in about 700 B.C. Later, Pythagoras would teach a round earth about 500 B.C., as would Aristotle about 330 B.C. Eratosthenes of Cyrene was a Greek mathematician, geographer, and astronomer and the first to calculate the circumference of the Earth in about 150 B.C. He was only off by 200 miles. Crates, of Mallus was the leader of the literary school and head of the library of Pergamum. Not only did he constructed a complete globe with continents but also defined 5 climatic zones based upon distance from the equator in about 100 B.C.

The only fallacy that the Earth was flat was proposed by the Catholic Saint Augustine about A.D. 400. He wrote, “But as to the fable that there are antipodes, that is to say, men on the opposite side of the earth, where the sun rises when it sets to us, men who walk with their feet opposite ours, that is on no ground credible.”

The modern misconception that educated Europeans, at the time of Columbus, believed in a flat Earth, and that his voyages refuted that belief, has been referred to as the Myth of the Flat Earth. In 1945, the misconception was listed by the Historical Association of Britain as the second of 20 in a pamphlet on common errors in history. That flat Earth story was a piece of fiction cooked up by Washington Irving in 1828 called A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. You might know Irving better as the author of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. He gave New York City its nickname of “Gotham” which means “goat town”. That anyone believed the Earth was flat was entirely modern fiction but was adopted by the masses.

Zoroaster is credited with creating the seven day week based upon the seven planets he knew of (Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn). Moses used a seven day analogy in his record of creation but the concept of “weeks” was not yet recorded in Moses’ day. In terms of creation days, we are still in day 7: God is still resting and there is no new creation scheduled until He creates the new heaven and the new Earth as prophesied in Revelation 21:1.

Zoroaster was the founder of Zoroasrtianism, a Babylonian, and wrote the Yasna Haptanghaiti which was their recorded law, much like the Mishnah of the Jews. Zoroaster was Iranian and his name can be interpreted “owner of the golden camel”. Zoroaster’s writing locates him in the city of Ragha; which would currently be western Iran. The Zoroastrians were nomadic priests and herdsmen with tribal structures organized into kingdoms. Zoroaster died in present day Afghanistan in 583 B.C. in the holy war between Turan and the Persian empire when he was murdered on the alter. Jamaspa, his son-in-law was his successor. In 1749, Jean-Phillippe Rameau wrote an spectacular opera about him and you can see a Modern performance of it on YouTube. He also is the central figure in Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute. Richard Strauss’ Opus 30 is inspired by Zoroaster. Yeats mentions him in a poem. His statues stand over the New York Supreme Court and the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel in Chicago. Zoroaster is a key figure in many religions. Islam, which shares the Hebrew Old Testament, records him as a disciple of Jeremiah.

 Zoroastrians saw the human mission as resolving the struggle between Illuminating wisdom (truth) and destructive spirit (lies). Truth, to them, is like “the Word” to us. It is a god-like entity that is the creation and existence. The conflict between truth and lies is the condition for free will. The purpose of mankind is to sustain the truth by active participation in life and the exercise of constructive thoughts, words, and deeds. This was once the state religion of the Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sasanian empires. Currently, there are between 150,000 and 2 million Zoroastrians. They called God Ahura Mazda which means “light of wisdom”. In 1909, General Electric trademarked the Mazda name for their new Tungsten filament light bulbs and then licensed the trademark to other manufacturers like Westinghouse. The patents ran out in the late 30′s and they dropped the Mazda name in 1945. Today, the Zoroastrian trademark is shared with GE and the Mazda Motor Corporation. In National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, there is a box of Mazda bulbs in the box of home movies in the attic when Clark is trapped up there. So, if you ever get a trivia question asking what car a wise man drives, the answer is a Mazda.

The Magi were powerful in Babylon during the Jewish captivity who would have been familiar with Daniel and also familiar with Jewish prophecy regarding the Messiah. According to the ancient historian Herodotus, the Magi were a tribe of people within a larger society of the Medes. They were a hereditary priesthood tribe like the Levites in Israel. In Israel there were twelve tribes but one of those tribes, the Levites, was set apart as the priestly tribe and they were the ones who performed the rituals and the religious ceremonies of the temple. The Medes had a similar structure. Of all of the tribes within the Medes, they had selected this one to function as priests in their rituals. We can’t be certain when the Magi rose to prominence but we know they were quite significant for the 2,000 years from the Babylonian Empire through the Roman Empire. Historically, they always appear with tremendous political power. They were frequently advisers to royalty and that position gained them the name “wise men”.

Zoroastrianism was surprisingly parallel to Old Testament concepts and religious practices. The first Biblical reference is Jeremiah 39:3 which mentions Nergal-sharazer as the chief of the Magi in the court of Nebuchadnezzar. One of the Magi’s claims to power was their ability to allegedly interpret dreams. In Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzer had a bizarre dream that the Magi couldn’t crack but Daniel could, and did. If your Bible uses the word “Magician” in Daniel, it is actually “Magi”. Magician is a fairly modern English word which came much later. Jump ahead to Daniel chapter 5 and Daniel, as reward for interpreting the King’s dream that baffled the Magi, is made master of the Magi. We know Daniel was totally devoted to worship and expression of his faith and his position as leader of the Magi in the entire Babylonian Empire was an excellent opportunity to teach Old Testament knowledge to this powerful tribe. So we have Judaism superimposed on Zoroastrianism. When Daniel survived the lion’s den, it convinced King Darius and surely convinced the Magi. As the Magi dispersed at the fall of the Babylonian Empire, we undoubtably had Magi worshiping our one true God and expecting the coming of an infant Savior as Daniel had taught them. The butterfly effect is at work again. We have to get Jesus from Nazareth to Egypt. The Magi’s gifts were required to fund the trip. The Magi had to be anticipating an infant King and watching the stars for a sign. They had to have enough faith to make a complicated journey. They also had to scare Herod to act to drive the holy family away. In all the world, only the Magi fit the bill because they had been groomed by a series of seemingly unrelated events. Our lives are planned in ways we will never comprehend. Only the Magi were searching for an infant king and willing to travel far to present gifts and worship him. Only the Magi could scare the pants off Herod. Although the Magi were not kings, they were the king-makers. No Persian could rule without the vetting and endorsement of the Magi. When they showed up unannounced at Herod’s door, Herod knew their mere presence could break him and when they inquired about the King of the Jews, he knew he was history unless he took drastic action.

Later, the religious practices of some of the Magi caused them to be associated with the occult in general and led to the English words “Magic” and “Magician” although Zoroastrianism strictly forbade sorcery. Today, the term Magi loosely covers men interested in dreams, astrology, magic, and mysterious references.

 There were not only three Magi, but probably a great company of more than 100. They were wealthy, powerful, nomadic, and traveled with elaborate entourages. They came many months after the birth. From Persia, Jerusalem was 1,100 miles. Easily a year by camel; plus many weeks of preparation.

The legend that the Magi were three kings can be traced as far back as Tertullian in A.D. 225. Church traditions make a great stretch to even tell us their names – supposedly Melchior, Caspar, and Balthasar. You can see their supposed skulls in the cathedral at Cologne, Germany.

D.        Came to Jerusalem. Guided by the astronomical phenomenon, they came to Jerusalem and expected to find answers. They expected that the leaders and people of the Jewish capital would be even more interested than they were. The star guided them to Jerusalem; not Bethlehem. They were first led to meet Herod, not Jesus. Herod is the key to getting Jesus to Egypt to fulfill prophecy. Yet more butterfly effect.

E.        Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? At that time the Jewish people were often despised and dishonored because of their unique customs and beliefs, and also often because of their success and prosperity. They were often thought of as a low, troublesome, and conquered race. It was remarkable that the Magi would trouble themselves so much to honor an infant King, but even more so a King of the Jews. But remember, the Magi were already looking for God coming to Earth. It is unheard of for a child to be born a king. They may be born in line to become king but first they go through “prince” or other titles. Jesus was King from birth.

F.        For we have seen His star in the East. Some say this star was a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn but we now know that happened several years too early. Some say it was a comet or a super nova but we have no astronomical evidence. These theories also do not explain how a star went before them, then stood still, and then changed direction. Fixed stars cannot do that. Comets can’t guide them, then disappear, and then reappear stationary. There is no natural space object that can move, hover, then change directions. Whatever it was, it was something we have never seen since. It is significant that God met the Magi in their own medium: He guided the astronomers by some heavenly body. Only the Magi were paying attention to the sky and only the Magi were prepared for a sign and faithful enough to recognize it and follow it. It is logical that this “star” was not a grand phenomenon. If it were some brilliantly blazing spectacle, many others would investigate but only the Magi came. This heavenly body was only 5 miles from Jerusalem and anything spectacular would have brought throngs to Bethlehem just out of sheer curiosity. The Magi’s “star” was present specifically for them alone.

The Magi first came to Jerusalem, led there by the star, assuming that the leaders of the Jews would be aware and excited about the birth of their Messiah. They are about to find that this wasn’t the case at all.

 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. (Matthew 2:3)

A.        When Herod the king heard this he was troubled. What an understatement! I’m uneasy with a police car in the rear view mirror. Imagine a paranoid ruler when the king-makers of the Persian Empire show up asking questions. Herod was constantly on guard against threats to his rule, especially from his own family. He assassinated many family members whom he suspected of disloyalty. His being troubled is completely in character. Herod wanted to be accepted by the Jews whom he ruled, was not a Jew and Rome recognized him only as a vassal king over Judea. The Jews tempered their great hatred of him with admiration for his building projects, such as the magnificent improvements made to the second temple.

B.        He was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. When mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. The fact that all Jerusalem was troubled with Herod is significant. They rightly feared what paranoid outburst might come from Herod upon hearing of a rival king and also feared because of the size and dignity of the Magi’s caravan. As soon as he is born, Jesus is a power. Even as a helpless infant, king makers bring him gifts and his enemies plot his death.

And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:4-6)

A.        All the chief priests and the scribes. This was the first contact the religious leaders had with Jesus. They understood the Biblical information correctly, but failed in application to their lives. Chief priests would include those who once held the office of High Priest. Herod changed the High Priest often because it was largely a political appointment and he used it to gain favor with his subjects and also to cut short any power that any priest might be gathering.

B.        So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea”. Quoting Micah 5:2, the chief priests and scribes understood that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem of Judea, distinguishing it from another town of the same name further north. Two Bethlehems? Yes. Not so unusual. Pennsylvania has nine “Springfields” . There are forty nine “Greenvilles” in the US. The US has ten “Bethlehems”. I’d like to see their Christmas programs!

From this passage in Micah, the Jews understood not only that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, but also that He would be a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel. These experts had the right information but were uninterested in meeting the Messiah for themselves. The priests knew the way but would not go themselves.

Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” (Matthew 2:7-8)

True to character, Herod attempts to use the Magi to find the child so he can kill Him. Even though Herod knows he will be dead before Jesus has a chance grow up, he sees Him as a threat and wants him eliminated. The Italian mob bosses have a saying, “if there is doubt, remove it.” You can think of Herod as the first mob boss.

A.        Determined from them what time the star appeared. The Magi’s star apparently appeared to them when Jesus was born so, by finding out when the star appeared, Herod knew what age of child he was looking for. He would use this information to frame the slaughter of the innocents which targeted all male children under the age of two. The Magi’s trip took a lot of time but we know they arrived less than two years after the birth.

B.        Bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also: Herod pretends he wants to worship Jesus but he was actually plotting to kill Him. The Magi never said they would come back. I suspect they sensed Herod’s counterfeit interest.

If Herod could have seen the star himself, there would be no reason to ask the Magi to follow it and then report back. Herod could simply have sent his soldiers to follow the star and kill the child. As paranoid as Herod was, there is no way he would let any noticeable heavenly body go uninvestigated.

When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way. (Matthew 2:9-12)

A.        Behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them. The same star reappears for them but now moves in a different direction.

B.        They saw the young Child with Mary His mother. No longer a baby, Jesus is now a young child. Customarily, the parent would always be mentioned first but here read Mary after Jesus.

C.        When they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It was common – especially in the East – that one would never appear before royalty or a person of importance without bringing gifts. Considering who these wise men believed the young Child to be, it is not surprising that they gave lavish gifts. The idea that there were three wise men comes from the listed three gifts. We can say that gold speaks of royalty, incense speaks of divinity, and myrrh speaks of death. Myrrh is an aromatic tree sap that was used to anoint dead bodies to cover the smell. These three gifts were not a random selection. These specific three gifts had been tradition for the prior 250 years. History records these three gifts begin given to important people on several occasions. We try to make special symbolism out of them but these three gifts were typical in this situation.

D.        They presented gifts to Him. Remember, Joseph is poor. He doesn’t know it yet but, in a few days, he must suddenly move his family to Egypt. He couldn’t afford to do this but, God fulfills his need with the Magi’s gift of gold even before Joseph knows of his need. Your Father knows what you need before you ask (Matthew 6:8)

E.        Fell down and worshiped Him. The most significant thing is that the Magi fell down and worshiped Him. Remember, these are the king makers and royal advisers of the ancient world. What a sight to see these majestic figures with their elaborate caravans bowing and worshiping the Christ child. In this, the greeting card illustrators get it right.

We see three different responses to Jesus and all people respond in one of these ways. Herod displayed an open hatred and hostility toward Jesus. The chief priests and the scribes were indifferent toward Jesus, all the while retaining their piousness. The Magi sought out Jesus, and worshiped Him at great cost and with great humility.

Jesus came first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. He came first to the humble and ignorant, then to the honorable and learned. Jesus came first to the poor then the rich.

 The Magi show us we should not be satisfied with looking at the star and admiring it; they took action and followed it. They did not expect instant gratification and persevered in their journey until they reached their destination. They were not discouraged by others. They rejoiced at the star. When they reached their destination, they entered and worshiped. They realized an urgency to act immediately. When they worshiped, it was to give something, not to receive something.

 F.        Being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way. There were several roads out of this area and they were obedient to God’s dream and leave without serving as Herod’s informants. One of the books of Seth, in the Apocrypha  , talks more about the Magi and says they were baptized by St. Thomas when they returned home and did much to spread faith in Christ.

G.        Why would Jerusalem be so apathetic? Bethlehem is only 5 miles away! That’s closer than from here to Walmart. A helpless baby could hardly fulfill Israel’s expectations of a mighty Messiah who would liberate them from Rome. The Jews were expecting a military general. The Magi did not come to the child to receive anything, but to give. They gave the Messiah their earthly treasure and their worship. Israel wanted to receive. They were waiting for a messiah who would give them freedom, dignity, and power . A babe in a manger could hardly meet Israel’s expectations. To worship the baby as the King of the Jews was to invite the wrath of Herod, who had been appointed “King of the Jews” by Rome. No doubt there was a reluctance to infuriate Herod by provoking him. Jerusalem was unwilling to worship a Messiah who was not “properly introduced”. Jesus was disdained by the religious leaders because He identified Himself with the poor and the sinners instead of relating to the religious establishment. The Jews were too prejudiced to worship their king alongside Gentiles. Throughout the New Testament this animosity causes problems in the relationships between Jews and Gentiles and even in the churches. Jewish racism would not allow them to worship alongside the Magi.

H.        The three responses of the Magi, Herod, and Jerusalem typify the responses to the message of the God. Throughout history there have always been those who, like the Magi, seek God’s Messiah and find Him. They are often not people we might expect to find in worship. It has always been God’s way to draw some of those who worship Him from “afar,” whether that distance be geographical, racial, or cultural. Then there are also those like Herod who take the claims of Jesus seriously, but for selfish reasons, actively try to rid themselves of Him and his influence. Fortunately, there are few who have been as active and aggressive as Herod. Few want to destroy God but some want him removed from government, education, and public settings. Lastly, there are people like those who lived in Jerusalem who are so apathetic to Christ that they don’t make the minimal effort to respond to the fact that He has come. This Christmas and Easter, churches will overflow with people who wind God up on only these days.  More amazing than so many people coming out of the woodwork on these days is the millions will not make the effort to travel a mile or two to a church to praise the One who came to save them.

Next week, we go to Egypt and learn some amazing things about Jesus’ youth.


Walk Closer 3

Luke 1:57-80,  Matthew 1:1-17

Continuing from lesson 2 where Elizabeth conceives, mustard is huge, powers of 10 are incomprehensible, prophecy is enormous, Gabriel visits Mary, Behold the maidservant of the Lord, Gabriel departs, and Mary sings Let it be before the Beatles. We pick up with Luke 1:57.  

Chapter Seven: The Birth Of John The Baptist (Luke 1:57-80)

Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her. So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. His mother answered and said, “No; he shall be called John.” But they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.” So they made signs to his father; what he would have him called. And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?” And the hand of the Lord was with him. (Luke 1:57-66)

The promise of his birth was fulfilled as was the promise of rejoicing. Tradition held that family, friends, and musicians would gather at the house and sing and celebrate if the child was a boy. If a girl, they would just quietly go home.

A.        Immediately his mouth was opened. As promised, Zacharias could now speak again and the first thing he did was praise God. Our lesson is, like Zacharias, our troubles and problems should not make us bitter but make us trust God even more.

 All God’s chil’n got problems. He tells us to expect them. It would be nice if God came with “Insurance”: the promise of reimbursement in case of loss, pain, disability, and suffering. What He gives is “Assurance”: freedom from death and doubt. We still have to deal with what is dealt us on Earth.

We own most of our problems and their attendant sufferings. Most of our distress is the result of our own free will and our own poor choices. Still, some is beyond our control. Suffering does some very positive things. First, it allows us to build our faith and strength: to re-focus on God. It steadies us. One of the most stressing events in small business is processing a payroll when your clients are too slow in paying and a dozen families depend upon a payroll check but it doesn’t look like there will be enough cash in the bank to cover them. You go through a time like that and you’re all panicky; then the Lord stills the storm and you think, “Thank God that’s all over. I’ll never have to go through that again! I’ve learned my lesson!” Next payroll, there may be another storm. But this time you’ve been through it once, so you steady up a bit. You don’t get so panicky. You learned something. You learned about the strength of God and are reminded that He will meets our needs in the hour of need. And sometimes, it is literally the last hour! Through faith, you turn to God for strength. You learn to receive.

Second, our suffering and distress matures us. God is building us up so He can hold us up and say, “he’s approved, he’s tested.” In football terms, God is in the process of making veterans. A veteran has been through something and has been tested and proven.

I think you ought to know, dear brothers, about the hard time that we went through in Asia. We were really crushed and overwhelmed, and feared we would never live through it. We felt we were doomed to die and saw how powerless we were to help ourselves; but that was good, for then we put everything into the hands of God, who alone could save us, for he can even raise the dead. And he did help us, and he saved us from a terrible death; yes, and we expect him to do it again and again. (2 Corinthians 1:8-10)

Now, that’s a veteran speaking. He’s been through some tough things, but he knows that God can take him through them, and he will. He isn’t saying, “It’s all over.” No, he is saying, “There’s more coming, but God will take us through.” That’s a spiritual veteran.

Third, suffering is a way for God show His grace. You learn something about the Lord: you learn how gracious He is. You learn that He can handle events in ways that you couldn’t dream of or anticipate. You see Him work things out in ways that you could never have guessed. So the third and fourth times a trial comes up, you are steadier. You don’t panic, you don’t bail out. You stay grace under and let God work it out. In times of great grace, it’s easy to forget that distress is to be expected. It’s not strange, it’s normal. It’s not a surprise, it’s promised to happen.

Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is coming upon you to test you, as though some strange thing happened to you. (1 Peter 4:12)

Count it all joy, my brethren, when you fall into various tribulation. (James 1:2)

No discipline for the present is pleasant. But afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)

Right at the moment of hurt, we are not going to feel like rejoicing, but it should soon follow that we rejoice in our suffering. That is what Paul plainly says: We also rejoice in suffering.

What is rejoicing in suffering? It is not simply a ‘grin and bear it’ attitude, or ‘tough it out’ and see how much you can take, or ‘just hang in there until it’s over’, or ‘don’t let anything get you down,’ or ‘keep a stiff upper lip.’ It’s not endurance or acceptance or resignation. When I’m having a really trying day, I say to myself, “at least I’m not pregnant.” It reminds me that things could be worse and whatever is happening is not as bad as I might make it out to be. But, pregnancy is an excellent example of rejoicing in suffering. Several months of pain leading to the extreme pain of labor and delivery. Many a brave man has face-planted the floor from the mere sight of it! And yet, there is joy in it because parents knows that childbirth produces children. It is the child that makes it all worthwhile. Women will gladly go through it again because they want another child. Suffering produces something worthwhile. That is rejoicing in suffering.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character; and character produces hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:1-5)

The right attitude is critical if you want to ultimately benefit from the problems you face. You can let your problems destroy you, or you can use them to become a stronger and better person. Every day, the alarm goes off, you get out of bed, and you decide how you will handle your problems that day.

We rejoice in suffering, because there are certain benefits that we can claim whenever we are faced with it. Suffering helps us handle pressure. It gives us character. When we weather storms, we have a chance to prove to the world what we’re made of, and prove to the world what God is made of and how He is faithful to protect us through trials. Suffering produces an attitude of confident optimism, because once you have suffered you realize that problems aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. I taught myself to water ski on hydrofoils. I tore my elbows, sprained my back, and broke my left foot. I couldn’t wait to heal to do it again. I wasn’t afraid of the pain I had already faced. When you stay with it, you become stronger and your problem becomes weaker.

Still, some days I lose focus so there is a reminder taped on my monitor, Psalms 118:24: this is the day the Lord has made: let us rejoice and be glad in it. God never promised it would be easy. Suffering and distress are attitudes. We look in the mirror and see “Oh, poor me.” Be the mirror; not the image. People look at us and see God reflected in the way we respond to suffering. It’s an opportunity to glorify God and that is a gift.

Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the world began, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham: To grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel. (Luke 1:67-80)

 A.        Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied. There had been no prophecy for 400 years and now we have Gabriel (Luke 1:13, 1:28), Elizabeth (Luke 1:41-42), Mary (Luke 1:46-55), and Zacharias. All these prophesies were connected to Jesus. God was now present for Israel in a way they had never experienced. Zacharias first focuses on five characteristics of Jesus:

He is the horn of our salvation.

He saves us from our enemies.

He performs the mercy promised to our fathers.

He is the one to remember the covenant.

He makes us able to serve God without fear.

He then turns his attention to John and his work:

John was a true prophet, the prophet of the Highest.

John had the unique calling to go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways.

John would teach, and give knowledge of salvation to God’s people.

John would show people the remission of their sins.

John would give light to those who sit in darkness.

John would guide God’s people into the way of peace.

 Chapter Eight:  The Genealogy Of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17)

I must admit, Bible genealogy does not excite me. I’d rather watch paint dry. However, the genealogy of Jesus involves fulfillment of prophecy and that is very interesting. Matthew and Luke recorded his genealogy and these two authors were as different as apples and oranges. Matthew was Jewish and his book is written primarily for the use of the Jews. Matthew, surnamed Levi, before his conversion, was a publican, a tax collector for the Roman Empire. As such, he and his family were hated by Jews. Quite an unlikely choice for a disciple.

Matthew presents his theme in the first verse: Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy and of Israel’s expectation..

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: (Matthew 1:1-17)

 A.        Son of David. Jesus is the Messiah promised from David’s royal line (2 Samuel 7:12-16). The Old Testament told us that Jesus would be the Son of David and Matthew make this clear in his first sentence. Jesus is fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

 B.        Son of Abraham. Matthew takes the genealogy on back to Abraham which reminds us that Jesus is also the Seed of Abraham in Whom all nations would be blessed (Genesis 12:3).

 C.        Abraham . . . Joseph. This establishes Jesus’ genealogy his legal father, Joseph.

 While Matthew traces Jesus through Abraham, Luke goes back to Adam. The two differ drastically from David to Jesus. There has been some argument about how Jewish scribes, who are notoriously detailed and accurate, could present two different genealogies. Skeptics point to these genealogies as a Biblical error. The genealogies do make perfect sense when interpreted in the context of their literary style, the culture of the day, and history. There are some cultural quirks to consider such as an only daughter having to marry within her own family to secure the right of inheritance. In Levirate marriage, if a man died without fathering any male children, his brother could then marry the widow and their sons would carry on the dead man’s name. Also, if a son-in-law lived in the same house as his father-in-law, he was legally the son of his father-in-law.

Without getting bogged down in specific relationships, the simple explanation is that Matthew recorded Joseph’s lineage while Luke recorded Mary’s. Matthew recorded Jesus’ legal line from Abraham while Luke recorded Jesus’ biological line through Mary. Breaking up genealogies into male and female representations was acceptable in ancient culture and it was often impolite to speak of women without some male presence so one genealogy cam be that of Mary and the other of Joseph even though both mention Joseph.

Matthew’s book is for the Jews and his genealogy shows the relationship of Jesus to Jews from Abraham. His record is condensed and divided into three groups of 14 ancestors according to historical eras: the kings, the patriarchs, and then private citizens. Luke’s purpose is to provide an accurate record to everyone and he, according to his theme, traces Jesus back to Adam emphasizing the relationship of Jesus to all humanity as the world’s Savior.

Chapter Nine: Joseph Obeys The Angel (Matthew 1:18-25)

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18)

 A.        After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph. Remember the three steps to a Jewish marriage:

            1.        Engagement involving the parents

           2.        Betrothal which was legally binding and during this phase the couple were known as husband and wife The betrothal could only be broken by formal divorce.

           3.        Marriage which happened about a year after betrothal.

 B.        She was found with child of the Holy Spirit. This was a tremendous trial for a godly young woman like Mary, and for Joseph. “Her situation was the most distressing and humiliating that can be conceived. Nothing but the fullest consciousness of her own integrity, and the strongest confidence in God, could have supported her in such trying circumstances, where her reputation, her honor, and her life were at stake.”   “There was no other way of his being born; for had he been of a sinful father, how should he have possessed a sinless nature? He is born of a woman, that he might be human; but not by man, that he might not be sinful.”

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. (Matthew1:19)

 A.        Being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example. Obviously, this isn’t something you want to advertise. Mary’s pregnancy would make it socially and morally impossible to go through with the marriage. We see a glimpse of Joseph’s character as he wants to handle this with some measure of kindness and consideration.

 B.        To put her away secretly. In Jewish culture of that time a betrothal was a binding contract and required a divorce to break. Putting her away is breaking the engagement by divorce. “Their being betrothed was a thing publicly taken notice of, and he could not put her away so privately but there must be witnesses of it; the meaning therefore must be, as privately as the nature of thing would bear.”  The Jews had so corrupted marriage that grounds for divorce had been expanded to just about any cause the man could come up with. Even burning breakfast could be used as a legitimate reason to end a marriage so Joseph certainly had an acceptable reason for divorce.

But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

A.        The dream came while he thought about these things. Joseph was obviously upset about Mary, his future, her future, and how he should respond. Even though he could divorce her, his love for her was so strong that he had not yet brought himself to do it. As unbelievable as this pregnancy was, we have to remember that Mary knew doctrine very well and was very devout in her faith. To Joseph, it was equally unbelievable that Mary would have sex with any man prior to her marriage.

 B.        Joseph, son of David. This was to remind him of his being of the house David and to raise his expectations and confirm his faith that his wife would bring the promised son of David. This also called his attention to what was about to be said; like your mother calling you with your middle name: you know it is serious.

 C.        Do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. Mary had certainly told Joseph the conditions of her pregnancy, that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and the details of what Gabriel had told her. You have to sympathize and have some respect for Joseph. How could anyone believe this story without some serious nagging doubt? It took an angelic word to completely convince Joseph. The angel says to ignore any reproach and scandal and to openly accept Mary’s condition because she is not guilty. Her pregnancy is God’s work.

 D.        You shall call his name Jesus. The name Jesus means “The Salvation of Yahweh” and was fairly common in that day. Josephus3 mentions 12 different men named “Jesus” in his writings.

E.        For He will save His people from their sins. The angel briefly and eloquently tells the baby’s purpose. He will come as a savior and save His people from their sins. This description of the work of Jesus reminds us that Jesus meets us in our sin but His purpose is to save us from our sins. He saves us first from the penalty of sin, then from the power of sin, and finally from the presence of sin.

So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23)

 A.        That it might be fulfilled. This is the first use of this important phrase which will become a familiar theme throughout Matthew as he emphasizes fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy to the Jews.       The virgin birth is the fulfillment of prophecy.

B.        “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel”. This reference is to Isaiah 7:14 which speaks of Mary as “the virgin” and of Jesus Christ as “the child”. Refer to chapter 6 for a discussion of the translation of these words.

 C.        Immanuel. This title of Jesus God with us, refers to both His deity and His identification with man. “Then, if Jesus Christ be ‘God with us,’ let us come to God without any question or hesitancy. Whoever you may be you need no priest or intercessor to introduce you to God, for God has introduced himself to you.”

Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus. (Matthew 1:24-25)

A.        Did as the angel of the Lord commanded: Joseph’s obedience is notable. He did not doubt or waver; he instantly understood the validity and the importance of the angel’s message.

B.        Did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son: The words “did not know her till” imply that Joseph and Mary had normal marital relations after Jesus’ birth. This denies the Catholic dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary. “The marriage was thus formally completed, but not consummated before the birth of Jesus. The Greek expression for “not until” would normally suggest that sex did take place after the end of this period. . . . There is no biblical warrant for the tradition of the ‘perpetual virginity’ of Mary.”  The unfounded idea of perpetual virginity did not appear until the fifth century. It goes along with the exclusively Catholic dogmas of Mary’s assumption into heaven and her role as mediator for believers. Matthew tells us that Jesus had at least four brothers, James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas:

Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? (Matthew 13:56).

 In modern definition, these were, of course, half brothers since Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. However, according to Jewish custom, they were fully his legal brothers. That same verse tells us he had at least three sisters. Had he had only one, it would have been written “his sister”. If he had only two sisters, it would have typically been written “both his sisters.” Since Matthew says, “all his sisters”, we can reasonably infer that there were three or more.

 Chapter Ten: Jesus Is Born In Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-39)

Before we start Luke 2, we need to understand the Butterfly Effect. A scientific principle that says a very small action can cause a significant difference at some later time. A butterfly, flapping its wings in Texas, can set off a chain of reactions that cause a tornado in Kansas. A single snowflake can start an avalanche. 50 years ago, the Secret Service director decided to leave the protective bubble off President Kennedy’s limo. In WWI, a British pilot slightly missed his bomb drop. Instead of killing everyone in the trench, one German soldier survived…Pvt. Adolf Hitler.

A Scottish farmer hears a kid screaming for help and finds a boy stuck in the bog and slowly sinking. He manages to pull him out. The next day, a nobleman pulls up and wants to reward the farmer. The farmer refuses but the nobleman insists on at least seeing that the poor farmers son receives a good education. The farmer’s son later graduated from St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London. We know him as the discoverer of penicillin, Sir Alexander Fleming. Years later, the nobleman’s son was stricken with pneumonia. What saved him? Penicillin. That nobleman’s son we know as Sir Winston Churchill.

Two London teenagers are on the underground at the same time when one notices the records the other is carrying and starts a conversation. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

In a city of unrest, a politician was going to visit some hospital patients. There had just been an assassination attempt and he decided on a route that avoided the town center. He forgot to tell his driver and the driver took the wrong way. He had to stop and turn around and the car stalled in front of a restaurant. In the restaurant was Gavrilo Princip, one of the conspirators in the assassination attempt. He walked across the street and shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, which started WWI.

The butterfly effect underscores the importance of our planting of seeds. We can never know what even the smallest act of kindness, or intolerance, might later cause. The world looks at us hoping to see God. How frustrating is must be to find out that we too are also trying to see God. We’re just a bit further along in the adventure.

What does the butterfly effect have to do with the early years of Christ? We know God uses unbelievers as well as believers to accomplish His missions and we have to get Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Then we have to get Jesus to Egypt and back. Some little actions in one place later caused these major events to occur somewhere else. Later, we will see how Daniel, 600 years before Christ’s birth, set a butterfly effect in motion that led the holy family to flee to Egypt.

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. (Luke 2:1)

A.        It came to pass in those days. Luke clearly tells us that he recorded actual history and real events. This is not a once upon a time fairy tale. These are not fanciful stories of Zeus and Apollo on Mount Olympus. These are real events with real people.

B.        A decree went out from Caesar Augustus. Jesus’ birth began during the reign of one of the most remarkable men of ancient times. Historical dates support Biblical accounts and can be used to put events on a time line. We talk about B.C. and A.D. and you will also come across BCE and CE. B.C. is “before Christ” and A.D. is “Anno Domini” which is Latin for “the year of our Lord”. This was established in A.D. 525 by a monk establishing the date of Easter for the Catholic Church. A.D. is a prefix while B.C. is a suffix. There is no zero year so Jesus was born at the beginning of 1 B.C. and at the beginning of A.D. 1. It’s confusing and it’s also not correct. Concurrent events put Jesus’ birth around 4 B.C. That was all fine until someone wanted to count years without a religious reference so they created BCE and CE. CE is the Common Era or the Current Era; depending upon who you ask. BCE is then Before the Common Era or Before the Current Era. Years are still the same and still based upon the birth of Christ but some people are happier if Christ is not referenced even though it’s still the same years and we all know why. If you are an astronomer, not having a zero year messes up your math so the astronomers have their own system so they can figure out where things were without being a year off.

Caesar Augustus was born Octavian, named after his father. His grandmother was the sister of Julius Caesar, and being a talented young man, Octavian came to the attention of his great uncle. Julius Caesar eventually adopted Octavian as his son, and he was made his official heir in 45 B.C. Within a year Caesar was murdered, and Octavian joined with two others, Mark Antony and Lepidus, in splitting the Roman empire three ways. For decades, the whole Mediterranean world was filled with wars and violence. Now, under this Triumvirate, it became far worse. There were years of bloody, brutal fighting for power and money in Rome and the provinces. Octavian and Antony soon pushed Lepidus out of the picture. For thirteen years Octavian and Antony existed together as rivals, until 31 B.C. For a year, their huge armies assembled and positioned themselves for battle. Antony, with the help of Cleopatra, brought 500 warships, 100,000 foot soldiers, and 12,000 cavalry. Octavian answered with 400 warships, 80,000 infantry and 12,000 horsemen. Octavian had the better strategy and more mobile ships and defeated the combined forces of Antony and Cleopatra at the battle of Actium. Now Octavian was the sole ruler of the Roman world, and took the title Caesar Augustus.

Augustus did three things that turned the tide of the crumbling empire. He brought peace by defeating all rivals. He provided great political and administrative skill. He created a huge economic stimulus package with great amounts of money taken from Egypt which he used to pay soldiers to boost spending. “Jesus was born in the reign of Augustus. After a long period of wars which had racked the Mediterranean and its shores, political unity had been achieved and the Roman Empire had become roughly coterminous with the Mediterranean Basin. Here and there it was soon to spread beyond it. Augustus was the first Emperor. Building on the foundations laid by his uncle, Julius Caesar, he brought peace and, under the guise of the chief citizen of a restored republic, ruled the realm which for several generations Rome had been building. The internal peace and order which Augustus achieved endured, with occasional interruptions, for about two centuries. Never before had all the shores of the Mediterranean been under one rule and never had they enjoyed such prosperity. The pax Romana made for the spread of ideas and religions over the area where it prevailed.”

This prosperity demanded a great price and Octavius demanded absolute power. For hundreds of years, Rome prided itself on being a republic. A nation governed by laws, not by any man. The idea was that no man was above the law, and the Senate, the army, and various political leaders often worked in an adversarial atmosphere. In 27 B.C., Octovaius demanded the Senate give him the title Augustus, which means “exalted” and “sacred.” Rome became an empire governed by an emperor rather than a republic governed by laws. Augustus was the political savior of the world into which Jesus was born.

C.        That all the world. For decades, the Mediterranean basin was wrecked by war, destruction, brutality, and immorality. “The lusty peninsula was worn out with twenty years of civil war. Its farms had been neglected, its towns had been sacked or besieged, much of its wealth had been stolen or destroyed. Administration and protection had broken down; robbers made every street unsafe at night; highwaymen roamed the roads, kidnapped travelers, and sold them into slavery. Trade diminished, investment stood still, interest rates soared, property values fell. Morals, which had been loosened by riches and luxury, had not been improved by destitution and chaos, for few conditions are more demoralizing than poverty that comes after wealth. Rome was full of men who had lost their economic footing and then their moral stability: soldiers who had tasted adventure and had learned to kill; citizens who had seen their savings consumed in the taxes and inflation of war and waited vacuously for some returning tide to lift them back to affluence; women dizzy with freedom, multiplying divorces, abortions, and adulteries.”

This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. (Luke 2:2)

This registration and census was not for statistical record-keeping. It was to increase tax collection. Justin Martyr, writing in the middle of the second century, said that in his own day, more than a hundred years after Jesus, you could look up the record of the same census Luke mentioned.  Luke calls this census the first enrollment to distinguish it from the enrollment in A.D. 6 that he later mentioned in Acts 5:37. This is another historical anchor, securing Luke’s account with the reign of known, verifiable people and events.

So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. (Luke2:3)

A.        So all went to be registered. One man gave a command and the whole Roman world responded. Caesar Augustus expanded the Roman Empire and he did a great deal to improve living conditions. His sadness came from his home life. He had a wayward daughter, no sons, and all of his nephews, grandsons, and his favorite stepson died young. His power was only human. In John 19:10-11, another powerful Roman, Pontius Pilate, said to Jesus, Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?” Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above.The same concept of power applied to Caesar Augustus. He was a tool in God’s hand. God had promised that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) How do we get a young couple from Nazareth to Bethlehem when they are not fit, or have any desire to travel? Simply work through the political savior of the world, Augustus Caesar; using him as a pawn in the plan. Remember the butterfly effect.

 B.        Everyone to his own city. Augustus was sensitive to the feelings of his subjects, and he commanded them to return to their cities of family origin for the census. This way, he softened the blow and eased the inconvenience. People had to travel and pay taxes but they would also gather with family and friends in their home town for some celebration and fellowship.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:4-7)

A.        Joseph also went up from Galilee. Bethlehem is just outside Jerusalem and about 80 miles from Nazareth. This trip was a significant venture and cost a good deal of time and money.

B.        With Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. Contemporary illustrations show Mary close to delivery on this trip. This was not likely. Joseph and Mary would have been anxious to get out of Nazareth to avoid the social stress of the scandal. Luke tells us that it was while they were in Bethlehem, the days were completed for her to be delivered. The rest of their families would also be there so it would make sense to go early. Legally, Mary did not have to go. If she was near delivery, she likely would not have risked an 80 mile journey through the desert on foot.

C.        And she brought forth her firstborn Son. Just seven short words defining one of the greatest events in history. Today, small events are inflated with over-description and are hyped to be much more important than they actually are. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Luke presented this most amazing event in a very understated manner.

The date of December 25 was first popularized in the fourth century and is unlikely the actual date but it is not impossible. In A.D. 150, Justin Martyr said that the place Jesus was born was a cave in Bethlehem. In A.D. 330, Constantine the Great built a church over the cave which many believe is still the most probable place where Jesus was born. Our modern image of the birth scene is the creche: a manger in a stable with a big star on top and wise men bearing gifts. It is a wonderful symbol that was invented much later. The wise men and the gifts weren’t there yet and people of the time say the stable wasn’t there either. Whether cave or stable, it was the MOST humble of births.

D.        Her firstborn son. This invites the logical conclusion that Mary had other children as well, despite the Roman Catholic dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary.

E.        Wrapped Him in swaddling cloths. These are snugly wrapped strips of cloth. Much more remarkable than the swaddling cloths is the fact that He was laid in a manger; a feeding trough for animals. A cave would only have a manger whereas a stable would have had tables, benches, and chairs to use. Mangers would be found all over the countryside, and near caves, just like we see them scattered through pastures today.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. (Luke 2:8)

Bethlehem’s shepherds were known to care for the temple flock. These men may have also protected and cared for the lambs used in temple sacrifice. This was no small task. Nero asked Cestius to provide the population of the Jews. Cestius passed this task on to the high priests who counted the number of lambs sacrificed at Passover and then multiplied by 10 to 20 to account for the several people who shared each sacrifice. Josephus recorded the number of sacrifices as 265,500. Obviously, this is impossible even with modern technology. Josephus exaggerates possibly to make the Jewish population appear much greater and therefore more significant to Nero. Joachim Jeremias calculates a maximum of 15,500 sacrificial lambs.  These had to be unblemished male lambs. They had to be moved to the temple in Jerusalem, still in perfect condition, where they were slaughtered by a limited number of priests within the three hour allowed time period. Quite a feat considering they had to be killed, cooked, and eaten in compliance with the conditions of Exodus.

And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:9-14)

A.        On this quiet, dark night there was the shining presence of an angel and the glory of the Lord. Again, the people who see the angel were afraid. The angel first told them not to fear. Then he brought good tidings (literally preached) to these shepherds who were regarded as social outcasts. “As a class, shepherds had a bad reputation…more regrettable was their habit of confusing ‘mine’ with ‘thine’ as they moved about the country. They were considered unreliable and were not allowed to give testimony in the law courts.”

                                    B.        For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior. They announced the birth of a Savior. Not a political savior but a spiritual savior. Even the pagans of the first century world sensed this need for peace and a savior. Epictetus, a first century pagan writer, expressed this: “While the emperor may give peace from war on land and sea, he is unable to give peace from passion, grief, and envy; he cannot give peace of heart, for which man yearn for more than even outward peace.”

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. (Luke 2:15-16)

The shepherds did not hesitate and showed a genuine sense of urgency. It wasn’t unusual to see a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths but it was strange to see a baby lying in a feed trough. This was a strange sight, and the specific sign they were told to look for. They no longer heard or saw angels, but they had an abiding encounter with Jesus. Angels come and go; Jesus remains.

Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. (Luke 2:17-20)

The angelic announcement inspired the shepherds to tell as many as they could of what they heard and experienced. The shepherd’s good news amazed all who heard it. Even if they didn’t really understand it, they recognized that something significant had happened. Mary’s reaction was very different than either the shepherds or those who heard them. She calmly took it all in and meditated over it, seeking to understand the deep meaning of it all. The shepherds had such happiness and praise to God because the word was fulfilled just as it was told them.

The entire world just underwent a fundamental change – which we will begin next week.    

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Walk Closer 2

Continuing from lesson 1 where we saw the importance of knowing as much as we can about Christ, why we can trust the Gospels, and where life is.  Gabriel appeared to Zacharias, Zacharias doubted, Gabriel disciplined, Elizabeth became pregnant with John the Baptist, and the game of charades was invented.   We pick up with Luke 1:24

Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” (Luke 1:24-25)

A.        His wife Elizabeth conceived. Although Elizabeth’s late life fertility was miraculous, John’s conception was normal.

 B.        She hid herself five months. She didn’t go away to hide. This was the end of her reproach. She was very happy. There was a very negative stigma attached to being childless and the community would have considered her somehow unfit and that her childlessness was the judgement of God. Her pregnancy was something she was grateful for and proud of. This was a very serious miracle in her live and she hide herself to spend time with the Lord and get a handle on the destiny of her child.

Chapter 5: Faith And Prophecy

We are about to see several more fulfilled prophecies so we need to see how important prophecy is to faith.

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

Jesus did not randomly pick Mustard for this analogy. Mustard seed is among the smallest seeds: 1/20th of an inch in diameter. Yet, it grows to be the largest garden plant and can exceed ten feet in height. Pliny the Elder, in his Natural History, published around A.D. 78, writes that “mustard… is extremely beneficial for the health. It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.” A preacher could write a great set of sermons just using mustard seed parallels to our lives, the church, and the message of God. I grew up “wild” but was “transplanted” into the kingdom of God, I was much “improved”, and now you can’t get me out of it.

The tiniest faith has enormous power. We can confirm our faith with the proof of fulfillment of prophecy. There is a reason I put my faith in Jesus Christ rather than Jean Dixon, Joseph Smith, Edgar Cayce, or their like. Prophecies related to Jesus are fulfilled. Prophecies by others hardly count as prophesies in the first place and are blatantly wrong or take a large measure of imagination to be remotely considered fulfilled. Who but the likes of Cayce, in 1938, could prophesy that the lost continent of Atlantis would be discovered in 1968 near the island of Bimini and know that it was larger then Europe and was destroyed by giant laser crystals, thus ending a race of people who had a third eye which they could move around their body wherever it was needed . You can’t say the man did not have audacity.

We all believe fulfilled prophesy is marvelous and fantastic and proves the reality of God. But, let’s put it in perspective by applying a discipline not usually associated with prophesy: mathematics. Just because we believe something doesn’t make it true. Is Jesus really who the Bible says he is? There are many proofs but let’s just look at some math. In the Old Testament, many people, from many different places, at many different times, gave us recorded prophecies about the coming Messiah. Christ fulfilled over 300 Old Testament prophecies and these events are often recorded by multiple historical sources outside the text of the Bible. The last of these prophecies were made at least 400 years prior to Jesus. What are the chances of Jesus actually being who he claimed to be?

Let’s look at the probability of just a few of the 300 prophecies that can be quantified in some way. Feel free to adjust any probability any way you like. The end, as we shall see, is so incredibly overwhelmingly that the accuracy of individual probabilities makes little difference.

For starters, consider Micah 5:2, that Jesus will be born in Bethlehem. In the 1950′s, Professor Peter Stoner, chairman of departments of mathematics and astronomy at Pasadena College, had one of his classes investigate the probability of a specific person being born in Bethlehem. No other restrictions, just that a specific man will be born in Bethlehem sometime in the future. Take the number of people born word wide since Micah and divide it by the number people born in Bethlehem since Micah and you have the probability. Stoner’s group calculated 1 in 105 people.

Second, let’s look at Isaiah 21:12 which prophesied that Jesus would descend from the house of David. With 22 sons, David had a big house. McEvedy tells us the population of the world, during the reign of David, was 50 million . A man’s chance of being from the house of David at that time was 1 in 106. For simplicity, let’s assume all the lineages grew equally over time so the probability is still the same today.

So far, the chance of a man being born in Bethlehem and being a descendant of David is 1 in 1011. To combine probabilities, simply add the exponents. To put that in perspective, cover 100 football fields 4 feet deep with quarters. Paint one quarter red and thoroughly mix it in the pile. Ask a blind man to walk anywhere he wants on the pile and dig as deep as wants but he has to pick the red quarter on the first try. The blind man has the same chance of picking the correct quarter as a man being both a descendant of David and being born in Bethlehem.

Third, Isaiah and Malachi prophesied that the Messiah will be preceded by a messenger sent by God. We all have forerunners but none to prepare our way in the sense as John the Baptist did for Christ. Not only are we told what John will do and how he will do it, we are even told what he will wear and what he will eat. I can’t think of anyone even remotely preparing the way as John the Baptist did so let’s stretch the concept to include some extreme hovering parents and people who write letters of recommendation and say 1 in 1,000 people, worldwide, have someone who prepares the way for them, even if only in some minor way.

Now bring back our blind quarter picker. This time, the entire state of Texas is covered with quarters with one red quarter randomly mixed in. You have to think about that a minute. You can walk over 800 miles in a straight line and still be in Texas. The blind picker can walk as far as he wants in any direction but must pick the red quarter on the first try. His chance is the same as that of a single person fulfilling these three prophesies.

Fourth, Zechariah prophesied that Jesus would enter Jerusalem on a donkey. Jerusalem has long been a major pilgrimage destination for both Jews and Christians and many religious and political leaders have entered. In Jesus’ day, about 100,000 pilgrims packed into the city at Passover. Today, Jerusalem still sees about 100,000 visitors at Passover. Jerusalem sees about 3.5 million visitors annually which is 1 in 103 people in the world. Let’s assume ten percent of them are religious or political leaders and that one tenth of one percent of them enter on a donkey. Now, the probability of a leader entering on a donkey becomes 1 in 106. Rough number but it is close enough for our use.

Fifth, Zechariah prophesied that the Messiah would be sold for 30 pieces of silver (Zachariah 11:12). Today, those thirty pieces are worth about $200 by weight and about $7,000 in wages. The closest comparison we have today is Crime Stoppers, where people are paid to hand over information leading to the arrest of someone else. Since 1975, Crime Stoppers has arrested 635,213 people and paid out $97,832,741 in rewards. Annually, that is 16,716 arrests at an average reward of $154. Let’s assume all rewards are equal to 30 pieces of silver and that world wide arrests rates are equal to those in the U.S. This will way over estimate the likely hood of a person being sold today. Slavery was also a case of a person being sold. African slaves cost $1,000 to $5,000 so we ignore those transactions because the exchanged money doesn’t fit. Slaves in Old Testament times sold for 30 shekels so the prophecy could also easily apply to a Biblical slave transaction. Old Testament slavery was quite different than Antebellum slavery. Old Testament slaves had rights, generally limited servitude duration and, could even own slaves themselves. In many cases, their slavery was voluntary as the poor sold themselves, or their family members, into servitude. Many, if not most of the Old Testament slaves were the spoils of war and conquest and not sold in a market. To keep it simple we assume the over estimated Crime Stopper rates account for historical slave transactions of 30 shekels and the probability of being sold for the value of 30 pieces of silver is then 1 in 104.

Sixth, Christ’s crucifixion is prophesied in Psalm 22:16, Zechariah 12:10, and Isaiah 53:5. We can compare the number of people crucified since the prophecies to the number of people living since the prophecies to have an idea of the probability of any single person being crucified. In addition to Jesus, Peter, Andrew, and Simeon were also crucified. Herodotus tells us that King Darius had 3,000 Babylonians crucified in about 519 B.C. Josephus tells us that when the Romans were besieging Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the Roman general Titus, at one point, crucified 500 or more Jews per day. In fact, so many Jews were crucified outside of the walls that “there was not enough room for the crosses and not enough crosses for the bodies”. Josephus had a penchant for exaggeration but the idea is clear that the numbers were high. Alexander the Great is reputed to have crucified 2,000 survivors from his siege of the Phoenician city of Tyre. The Jewish king Alexander Jannaeus crucified 800 Pharisee rebels. To frighten other slaves from revolting, Crassus crucified 6,000 of Spartacus’ men along the Appian Way from Capua to Rome. The Roman soldiers stationed at a crucifixion could not leave until the victim was dead and would sometimes speed the process by stabbing the victim with a spear or feeding him a drink laced with poison. In A.D. 337, Emperor Constantine I abolished crucifixion but crucifixion was not limited to the Roman Empire. In 1597, twenty-six Christians were crucified at Nagasaki, Japan. Let’s say 400,000 people have been crucified, out of about 100 billion births since the prophecies, so our probability is 1 in 105.

Seventh, Zechariah prophesied that the money for which Messiah was sold was to be thrown to the potter in God’s house (Zechariah 11:13). This is extremely specific. Judas, in remorse, tried to return his thirty pieces of silver, but the chief priest would not accept them so Judas threw them down on the floor of the temple and left to hang himself. The chief priest then took the money and bought a field for the potter to bury strangers in. I can see this happening only once but lets say it happened to 1,000 people other than Judas. 1 in 108.

Eighth, Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be silent before his accusers (Isaiah 53:7). One man, in how many, when he is oppressed, afflicted. and on trial for his life, though innocent, will make no defense for himself? It does sometimes happen when the accused is guilty and his attorneys don’t want him on the witness stand, but when innocent? We do have some instances where the accused does not testify in his trial so let’s say 1 in 10,000.

The chance of one man fulfilling just these 8, out of over 300, prophesies is 1 in 1041. Too large a number to grasp. You can see why it is pointless to argue whether 200,000, 400,000, or 600,000 people have been crucified or the accuracy of any of the other assumptions. The combined probability is simply too large to be sensitive to tweaking. Bring back our blind quarter picker again. Cover the entire state of Texas with quarters. Paint one red and thoroughly stir it in the pile. This time, the pile of quarters goes twice the distance to the nearest star. His chance of successfully picking the red quarter is the same as one man fulfilling these eight prophesies. Jesus is no random chance.

But that is only eight prophecies. If we consider eight more fulfilled prophecies and assume the same probability as the first eight, our probability jumps to 1 in 1082. This number is literally astronomical so we turn to the National Solar Observatory which tells us there are 1082 atoms in the entire observable universe. So, considering 16 of over 300 fulfilled prophecies, the chance of Jesus not being who he claims is like asking a blind man to pick one randomly preselected atom out of the entire observable universe. We can argue numbers all day long but the important fact is that these things were prophesied and fulfilled and there is no way anyone could randomly accomplish this. The numbers are astronomical and we haven’t even considered the other Messianic prophecies or archeological and anthropological fulfilled prophecies.

I don’t present these chances as certain proof of God. An atheist can simply write them off as coincidence in spite of the math or propose that the gospel writers reverse engineered the whole life of Christ. It is plain to see that the reverse engineering idea is completely absurd. This is the beauty of free will. The Godfather makes you an offer you can not refuse while God the Father makes you an offer you can refuse. God simply says, “here I am, here is what I offer, now you decide.” A spiritual journey still involves faith. God tells us to look around if we want to see the truth. Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse (Romans 1:20) and The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands (Psalm 19:1). In light of the evidence, all we need is a mustard seed of faith. Looking around us, at the probability of fulfilled prophecy, the observation tells me He is who he said He is and that rejecting Christ as the Son of God is rejecting a fact proved more absolutely than any other fact in the world. That is the power of prophecy.

Jesus says a mustard seed of faith can move a mountain. Often our problem isn’t too little faith but too much faith in the wrong things. We are too strong, or too smart, to let God work. Let me illustrate this principle using contemporary economic models. Gary Dahl comes to you and says he needs investors. He is going to buy rocks a the local concrete plant, put them in individual boxes, and sell them for $4. Go away, I have great faith in traditional business models and no one will buy a stupid rock. I’m way to smart to buy into that impossible venture. Six months later, Gary had $15 million in Pet Rock sales and was netting 70%.

In 1963, Harvey Ball drew the goofy yellow smiley face with the “have a nice day” tag line for the State Mutual Life Insurance Company. He was paid $45 and didn’t have enough faith in his work to trademark it. Bernard and Murray Spain did have faith in it and bought it from State Mutual for use in their small novelty store. They put it on everything they could hold still long enough to stick it on and made $50 million off of it.

Eric Nakagawa and Kari Unebasami had faith that they could make a business out of putting funny captions on pictures of animals. We are way too smart for that. We have strong faith in consumable products, not two kid’s ridiculous sayings about pets. Eric and Kari did have faith and started They began with pictures of their own cat. The site gets 35 million hits a month and 8,000 daily submissions. They sold it for $2 million and the buyer spun off six sister sites and a New York Time Best Seller.

Alex Tew, a 21 year old British grad student had faith that he could sell individual pixels on your computer screen. He started, a one page, blank, internet site and offer pixels for sale. Who, in their right mind, would believe this would work? One million pixels on the screen, sold individually for $1 each. A little over a year later, he has sold out and now, for $20, you can buy a poster of his home page.

Who would have faith in selling a backwards bathrobe? The idea is so ridiculous it isn’t even patentable. Scott Boilen sold 20,000,000 Snuggies at $19.95 in his first year.

Economic faith can move economic mountains. We don’t normally put our faith in crazy new ideas. We put our faith in the status quo. When God speaks to us, it is always about a new idea in our lives which disrupts our personal status quo. How should we respond? Consider Mary, and God’s radical new idea that she be an unwed, pregnant, teenager. She had strong faith in God and what was her reaction to this crazy opportunity? “Let it be me.” That is faith moves religious mountains.

Chapter Six: The Announcement Of The Birth Of Jesus (Luke 1:26-56)

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. (Luke 1:26-27)

 A.        In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God. Gabriel’s proclaimed Elizabeth’s pregnancy and now he comes to see Mary.

B.        A city of Galilee named Nazareth. This is the first mention of Nazareth in the Bible. Nazareth was backwoods and quite unremarkable. It was unmentioned in the Old Testament, in the Apocrypha, and in the writings of Josephus. Every region has its Nazareth: a place where nothing every happens and where no one of notoriety ever lives. Nazareth is in the Galilee region, 15 miles from the Sea of Galilee. Jesus would forever be identified with this backward hole in the road. He is repeatedly called Jesus of Nazareth (Mark 1:24, John 18:7, John 19:19, Acts 2:22). His followers were also called “Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5). This was no compliment. Nazareth had a reputation for corruption and depravity. It’s citizens were despised by both Jews and Romans and to be called a Nazarene was to have an evil reputation. This is why Nathaniel asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” in (John 1:47).

 In Jesus’ day, Nazareth might have had a population of less than 400 and we can think of Nazareth as a suburb of Sepphoris which was only 3 miles away. In the U.S., the median distance to a Wal-Mart store is only 4.2 miles. Nazareth was connected to Sepphoris more closely than we are connected to Wal-Mart. Sepphoris is the city Josephus called the ornament of the Galilee. It was founded in the second century B.C. by Alexander Janneus of the Hasmonean dynasty, was declared the capital of the Galilee in 55 B.C., and became a major Jewish center and would eventually be home to the Great Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious high court. It was captured by the Romans in 37 B.C. In 4 B.C. Jewish citizens seized the city but the Romans quickly re-conquered it, burnt it, and took the rebels as slaves. Then, Herod’s son, Herod Antipas began a magnificent rebuilding project with colonnaded streets and elaborate tile mosaics. One mosaic known as the “Mona Lisa of the Galilee” has over 1.5 million stones in 28 different colors. This tremendous building boom provided work for nearby artisans like Joseph and Jesus.

 The word “hypocrites” is used seven times in the Gospels and Jesus used it three times in the sermon on the mount. “Hypocrites” is the Greek word for actors. Where, in the tiny, uncivilized, spec of Nazareth, would Jesus come into contact with actors? Sepphoris, just down the road, had a theater seating about 3,000.

 Sepphoris later went through several name changes, was involved in a variety of military actions, and suffered a disastrous earthquake in A.D. 363. Although it presently exists only in ruins, the unlikely Nazareth has grown to 210,000 and is now the largest Arab city in Israel with its population divided 69% Muslim, 31% Christian, and virtually no Jews. It’s Hebrew name is Tzippori which translates as “birdy”. A city high on a hill. We’ll later see another reference to a city on a hill.

  Several historical writings tell us this was a very important Jewish center. Anthropologist have an easy time studying Sepphoris because of the written history and archeologist have excavated the entire city. Archeologists have a unique way of identifying it as a Jewish center. They look for pig bones. No pig bones dating to the time of Christ indicate a Jewish city. As more and more pig bones date to later times, they correlate that to the decline of the Jewish population.

  C.        To a virgin betrothed. Mary was betrothed to Joseph. There were three events in Jewish weddings at that time:

            1.        Engagement: was an agreement made by the fathers and could happen at a very early age.

           2.        Betrothal, a ceremony where vows were made and this could occur after the bride turned twelve although Jewish law recommended 18 as the appropriate age. The groom and the father of the bride would negotiate a legal document that defined the dowry which was money paid by the groom to the father, the Bride Price which was usually 50 shekels of silver paid to the bride as a cash award in case of divorce without cause, and the bride’s estate inventory which was a list of the assets the bride would commit to the husband’s estate. At this point, the couple is bound by law and formal divorce is required to break the agreement.

            3.        What we consider Marriage was called chuppah by the Jews and was the event when the marriage was actually consummated. This did not happen until groom fulfilled his financial obligation to the father of the bride. This could take several years. Jacob had to work seven years for before being allowed to sleep with Rachel. When the groom fulfilled his financial obligations, he brought his friends and family to the bride’s house where her friends and family had gathered and the couple went into a room, or a tent, and had sex. Each could have up to ten witnesses. The mother of the bride would sew a proof of virginity cloth on which the bride would bleed during sex. This cloth was then presented, by the groom, to the bride’s father as proof of her virginity. One more thing that makes happy to be a Gentile. Then the all had a big feast.

 D.        The virgin’s name was Mary. Mary is twice said to be a virgin. Pate says, “The name ‘Mary’ is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Miriam, the sister of Moses. It means ‘exalted one,’ a fitting description of the soon-to-be mother of the Messiah.”

And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was.

A.        The angel said to her. Gabriel said three things to Mary. She was highly favored. The Lord is with her. She was blessed. These three things are true of all believers. We are highly favored (Ephesians 1:6), the Lord is with us (Matthew 28:20), and we are blessed (Ephesians 1:3).

 B.        But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying. Gabriel surprised Mary. She did not know what to expect.

Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:30-33)

A.        Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Because she had found favor with God, she has no reason to fear. The word “favor” is elsewhere translated “grace”. The wonderful thing is that none of us need fear because all believers have found favor with God.

 B.        You will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son. Mary knew exactly what Gabriel was talking about because she knew her scripture. When Gabriel said this, Mary knew he quoted from Isaiah 7:14; the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son.

  C.        He will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give him the throne of His father David. Although Jesus would be Mary’s son, He would be known as the Son of God. This is a direct reference to prophecy in 2 Samuel. That prophecy is repeated in Psalms, Isaiah, and Jeremiah.

Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” (Luke 1:34-37)

A.        How can this be, since I do not know a man? Mary is not doubting this will happen. She first says this will be. She is asking how this is physically going to happen. In contrast, Zacharias wanted a some sort of assurance that Gabriel’s words were true. Mary immediately accepts the angel’s words by faith and simply asks about the mechanics of how she it going to get pregnant without having sex.

 B.        The power of the Highest will overshadow you. Overshadow means “to cover with a cloud.” This cloud happened other times to indicate God’s divine presence. During the exodus, God’s presence was seen as a pillar of cloud by day and whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent and the Lord would speak with Moses (Exodus 33:9). And throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night (Exodus 40:38; Numbers 9:15-16). In fact, in Exodus 40:35, we are told that, the presence of Yahweh in a cloud overshadowed the tabernacle so that Moses was not able to enter. God warned Aaron that he was never to enter the most holy place inside the veil (except for the day of atonement) “for I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.” (Leviticus 16:2). When the Israelites finished Solomon’s temple, after the priests had placed the ark of the covenant in the holy of holies, the glory of the Lord appeared in the form of a cloud, filling the temple (1 Kings. 8:10-11). At the transfiguration of Jesus, a cloud overshadowed Jesus and his disciples, and God the Father’s voice spoke from the cloud (Luke 9:34; Mark 9:7; Matthew 17:5).

C.        Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age. Mary didn’t ask for a sign but Gabriel gives one, explaining that Elizabeth was pregnant. If God could do that, He could also fulfill His promise to Mary.

Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:38)

A.        What a fantastic response! Mary knew that this pregnancy would be seen as scandalous and carried a potential death penalty for adultery. She knew this would cause great difficulty socially and would probably destroy her betrothal and prevent her marriage. She knew this meant identifying herself with sinners. She also knew her Old Testament doctrine and had exceptional faith. Unknowingly, she had been groomed for this mission. This is one of my favorite verses. What a strong, confident, immediate response: Behold the servant of God – let it be me! No doubt, no debate, just affirmation and enthusiasm. If ever I face a daunting task, how I hope I have the same response. This spiritual maturity came from an unschooled teenage girl.

 Some sources claim Mary was only twelve or thirteen years old but I think they confuse the bat mitzvah. The bat mitzvah is the age of religious maturity for girls, at twelve, and the bar mitzvah is the age of religious maturity for boys, at thirteen. Mitzvah simple means “under commandment” and when children reach that age, they are obligated to observe the commandments and take a part in leading religious services. They may then form contracts, testify in court, and marry. Although becoming mitzvah happened automatically, there was a ceremony to celebrate the passage. In modern times, bar mitzvah has come to refer to the ceremony rather than the change in status. Instead of becoming bar mitzvah, we now say someone is “having a bar mitzvah.” Just because Mary was bat mitzvah at twelve does not mean she would marry at twelve. The Mishnah is the written collection of Jewish oral tradition and is very specific in stating that a new bat mitzvah is not ready to marry, earn a living, or raise children. It says, while twelve is the proper age for a girls’ fulfillment of the commandments, eighteen is the proper age for marriage and twenty is the proper age for earning a living. This was the oral law of the time and we can expect that Mary and Joseph, being devout followers of the law, would have likely complied.

 We can see that Mary had knowledge. Gabriel describes her as highly favored of God. Elsewhere, Luke tells us she was thoughtful, obedient, believing, worshipful, and faithful. Even though she was a teenager, she was ready for this.

This verse was the inspiration for Paul McCartney’s Beatle song “Let It Be”.

B.        Why a virgin birth unique to Christianity? First, a virgin birth was necessary to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. The Greek word here is parthenos which is a literal virgin. The Parthenon was a temple built to honor the Greek virgin goddess Athena. This Greek word is the translation of the Hebrew word almah. There are some who find it fashionable to discredit the virgin birth and they point out that almah can mean young woman as well as virgin while the Hebrew word bethulah specifically means virgin. They contend that if Isaiah had meant to say virgin, he would have written bethulah instead of almah. Almah is used seven times in the Old Testament and only two of those instances refer specifically to virgins while the others refer to maidens. Parthenos is used five times in the New Testament and all instances mean virgin. We must sympathize with translating scholars dealing with Hebrew words with multiple meanings to Greek words with multiple meanings to English words with multiple meanings. Almah is both virgin and maiden. In that day, maiden also meant virgin. It is a circular reference. If an unmarried woman was not a maiden, not a virgin, she was put to death. Just look at the English end of this: a “maiden” is defined as a virgin, any unmarried woman, a Scottish beheading device, or a horse that has never won a race. “Virgin” is no more specific. It is defined as a person who has not had sexual intercourse, an unmarried woman, or an insect that produces fertile eggs without copulating. Snow can be virgin, territory can be virgin. A first timer at any activity can be called a virgin. Even my olive oil is virgin! Back to the fundamental rule of translation: we need the context and culture to know the accurate meaning.

 Beck says, “I have searched exhaustively for instances in which almah might mean a non-virgin or a married woman. There is no passage where almah is not a virgin. Nowhere in the Bible or elsewhere does almah mean anything but a virgin.” Robert Wilson, the incomparable Hebrew scholar who was proficient in forty-five biblically-related languages, declared that almah “never meant ‘young married woman,’” and that the presumption of common law is that every almah is virtuous (a virgin), unless she can be proved not to be. The Jewish scholar, Cyrus H. Gordon, who made some of the archaeological discoveries at Ras Shamra, stated that recent archaeological evidence confirms that almah means “virgin.” The notion that almah merely signifies a “young woman” wasn’t argued until about A.D. 250 by the anti-Christian Jew, Trypho.

 Second, a virgin birth was necessary to overcome man’s sinful nature. Adam introduced sin to the world and as punishment all males pass a sinful nature to their children. Adam’s oldest son, Cain, only one generation removed from the prefect Garden of Eden, murdered his brother. Charles Spurgeon summed it up saying, “As the salt flavors every drop in the Atlantic, so does sin affect every atom of our nature. It is so sadly there, so abundantly there, that if you cannot detect it, you are deceived.” Had Christ had a human biological father, He too would inherit a sinful nature and not be a perfect sacrifice for our sins. For us, victory over this sinful nature can only begin by being born again with a spiritual father rather than a biological father (John 3:3-8).

  Third, a virgin birth was necessary to solve a genealogical problem. God said His plan for redemption involved a Messiah brought from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10), and specifically from David (Ruth 4:22, 2 Samuel 7:11-16). The succession of kings who followed David went from bad to worse and we eventually come to Jeconiah who was so bad that God said of him, no man of his seed shall prosper sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah (Jeremiah 22:30). This curse created a real problem. Jesus had to come from this royal line but none of the descendants of Jeconiah were considered eligible for rule. The virgin birth solved this. Joseph, a descendant of David, was his legal father but not his biological father.

Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:39-41)

Mary went the 80 miles for a visit with Elizabeth who was the only person who could understand and relate to Mary’s experience.

 A.        The babe leaped in her womb. When Elizabeth saw Mary, her unborn child leaped because he was filled with joy. Though John wasn’t even born yet, he had a spiritual awareness and responded to the Spirit of God. I have no idea what we will be doing all day in heaven but if the Spirit of God can make an unborn baby leap, it’s going to be awesome.

Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:42-45)

 B.        Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things. Elizabeth saw that Mary’s faith was the key ingredient in receiving the promise. The exact same concept applies to us: our faith is the mechanism for receiving fulfillment and the fruit of God’s promises.

And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And 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 imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house. (Luke 1:46-56)

This passage is known as the “magnificent” and tells us more about Mary than any other passage. It is a beautiful echo of Old Testament scripture and shows that Mary fluently knew the word of God, her heart was filled with it, and the Spirit used it in the expression of her praise. “It appears by the whole frame of this holy song, that the blessed Virgin was well versed in the Scripture, which she here makes so much use of in sundry passages…She had by her much reading made her bosom Bibliothecam Christi, Christ’s library, as a Father saith; and may seem to have been exercised in the good word of God from her infancy.” Mary was greatly gifted and highly privileged. She did exactly what such greatly blessed people should do: Mary magnified the Lord.

 A.        All generations shall call me blessed. She is the pattern of womanhood and motherhood. She has an elevating effect on humanity. Although we know little about her personally, only her gentleness and sorrow, she exercised a magnetic power and attraction. What makes her magnificent? What about her should contemporary women emulate?

            1.        She was highly favored of God – she was living in grace. How ironic that our first picture of this grace was her social disgrace of being an unwed mother.

            2.        Mary was obedient and submissive to God. She counted the cost. So far as she knew, she would lose Joseph, she would be a social outcast, she had no idea how she would raise the Child. But, she said without hesitation, “Let it be me” (Luke 1:38).

             3.        She had outstanding moral and spiritual character. Because of this, she was chosen to be the mother of Jesus’ humanity.

             4.        Mary was a woman of faith. Part of Elizabeth’s prophetic response to Mary’s greeting was “blessed is she who has believed” (Luke 1:45). What other woman, of any age, would respond to Gabriel with such trust and acceptance.

             5.        Mary was humble. She spoke of her “humble state” (Luke 1:48). She realized that she was a girl from Nazareth with no social status. She didn’t need, or seek, wealth or stature. She new where the treasure is.

             6.        Mary was spiritual. She was a devout worshiper. We see this in her profound and powerful words. She knew she needed a personal savior.

             7.        She was knowledgeable. Her doctrine was memorized and she wore it like a divine robe.

             8.        Mary was thoughtful. She kept the words of the shepherds and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19). Twelve years later in Jerusalem Jesus made a pointed statement about His true Father that Mary also kept in her heart (Luke 2:51).

             9.        She had courage, strength, fortitude, and perseverance. She watched her son betrayed by some of His closest friends. She watched him whipped, beaten, and crucified by those he came to save. Despite the sorrow and despair, she always trusted the Lord. She always continued because she knew it was all part of God’s plan.

             10.      She was constant. She spent her energy in finding and filling God’s purpose.

Mary’s personal responsibility was raising Jesus Christ as a honorable and virtuous man and she made the most of it. It was her teaching and discipline that prepared a twelve year old to amaze the prominent religious leaders of His day. What a special mother she was! This reminds us of the solemn responsibility and priceless opportunity parents have during the early years of their children. How few contemporary parents realize that careers can wait. Achieving balance in our lives is like juggling balls. Each ball is an aspect of our lives. Our career is a rubber ball: drop it and it will bounce right back. Our children are delicate glass balls: drop them and they break. I tell my employees that I will fire them if they miss their child’s soccer game or school play. Work can wait but, if you miss your child’s life it is gone forever.

B.        My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. Mary knew she needed a personal Savior.

C.        He who is mighty has done great things for me. “To Mary was granted the blessedness of being the mother of the Son of God…Yet that very blessedness was to be a sword to pierce her heart. It meant that some day she would see her son hanging on a cross.”


Walk Closer 1

Chapter One: The Love Story

Every day I walk with God. He is with me every step. Every day I stumble and every time he is there to pick me up. I usually don’t know where we are going. That is an exciting pat of a spiritual adventure: it is a journey down an unmapped road. You’ll see footsteps behind me but they are not mine. God carries me most everywhere I go. I learned the spiritual benefits and began a journey to learn about the benefactor so we could walk closer.

This is no ordinary love story. It defines love, shows love, teaches love, and explains the rewards of love. It is passionately challenging and demands action. It is a pond shallow enough for a child while so deep that no scholar will ever touch the bottom. So many amazing things are waiting while we too often sit on the bank. Our glimpse of Jesus is incredible but there is no reason to be satisfied with just a glimpse when the whole picture is only a step away. This path to love has a fundamental roadblock: sin is spiritual crack for humans. We are born sinful and spend our lives surrounded by sin. We all tried to quit cold turkey and that worked about a day because the devil has perfected his skill at making sin addictive. It satisfies our worldly needs at the expense of our spiritual needs. This is the great battle of spiritual adventure. To win, to be fulfilled, to claim our spiritual rewards, we must know Jesus and not merely know of Jesus. The modern church has not been outstanding at arming us for spiritual success. Teaching is being replaced with Sunday morning stage shows, endless refrains of milky praise songs, and politically correct literature as denominations try to popularize and market God by wrapping Him in an entertaining little happy package. Teaching, in many churches, has become religious fast food. A tidbit from here, a little bite from there, but just something quick, on the run, that puts a taste in our mouths for a short time. The Bible is a feast and we can take out time and savor it completely.

This hit home when we taught a middle school age Sunday school class at a prominent Methodist church several years ago. Something just wasn’t right. The church provided nice, politically correct, quarterly Sunday school books published by the Methodist headquarters but they had little connection to contemporary teenage challenges and these kids seemed so ill equipped for teenage life that I gave them a test, with completely anonymous written responses, to see where they were in their spiritual adventure. Two questions. First, if you died today, where would you go? Of 25 students, the predominant answer was, “I don’t know.” How, on God’s green Earth, can you have already spent 400 hours in Sunday school and not know where you are going? Second, if you died today and went to heaven and Jesus asked, “why should I let you in my heaven”, what would you say? The predominant answer was, “I don’t know.” Only one of the 25 answered with John 3:16. None of the other answers even remotely resembled that most fundamental verse in the entire Bible. The second most prominent answer was some variation of “because I go to church.” How ironic that we go to church to learn that going to church is not the ticket to heaven. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car. Don’t think your church, or your child, isn’t in this same boat.

These ill equipped kids grow up to be ill equipped adults. In 2010, the Pew Research Center did the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey: thirty two basic religious questions. The atheists scored 66%. The Protestants only scored 49%. These were very simple multiple choice questions like, “Who led the exodus from Egypt?” Only 45% could name the first four books of the New Testament correctly. Who were these religiously ignorant people: 55% Protestant, 40% attend church at least once a week, and 19% were Baptist.

This needs fixing so we offer a dose of God’s honest truth without situational ethics, without marketing, and without political correctness. We are going to see what Jesus did and said and the context of his words and actions. We are not just going to know of Jesus, we are going to know Jesus. No longer will you rub a “What Would Jesus Do” bracelet and hope for inspiration. Instead, you will have the power and wisdom of knowing exactly what Jesus did in life’s situations and why he did it. If we are going to be Christ-like, we must know what Christ was like.

Chapter Two: The More You Know

Hello, Americans. This is Paul Harvey. You know the news, in a moment, you’re going to hear The Rest of The Story! We have all heard of Luciano Pavorotti. But, when Paul Harvey gave us the rest of his story, he told us that this most famous tenor began selling insurance at a young age until a growth on his throat made speech so difficult he had to quit. He then discovered singing was somehow painless and now we know the rest of the story. When we had more knowledge of him, we loved and appreciated him all the more.

When I first saw Cindy, there was attraction. There was no love. Not even anticipation of love. I just wanted a date. I wanted to get to know her. Maybe, if I knew her, I would love her. There is initial attraction but there can’t be love without knowledge. I found that the more I know her, the more I love her.

When Robert was a teenager, I said to him, “just know that I love you more than you can imagine – you can’t understand how much until you have your own son.” A few months after the birth of his first son, he called and said, “Dad, I get it now.” He had the experience, the knowledge, of being a father and only with that knowledge could he grasp the depth of a father’s love.

To know means to become acquainted with. The more we know, the closer we are acquainted and the more we can love and receive love. In 1987, Emmylou Harris covered a hit song called “To know him is to love him.” It was based on the inscription on a tombstone. The implication is that we could not properly love this man until we knew him.

Psalm 119:105 tells us, Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Without knowledge of the word, we are traveling in darkness. What happens when we walk in darkness? 1 John 1:6 tells us, If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” I want to walk in light. The lamp I need is the word of God. The two greatest commandments involve love: love God and love each other. 1 John 4:8 tells us that, Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. That means that the more I know God, the more I know love. The more I know Him, the more I can love. Jeremiah 9:23 tells us, Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me. God wants us to know Him so we can understand Him. John 17:3 tells us, And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 2 Peter 3:18 commands us to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:10 says, That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection. If we want the power of the resurrection, we must know Him.

We are redeemed, but how well do we know our redeemer? Why, after all these years, are we not experts on the life and times of Christ? Jesus tells us why in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. The seeds that fell among thorns are us: those who believe, but as they go on their way are choked by life’s worries, riches, and pleasures, and do not mature. How many thousands of step by step guides have been written on how to make time for God in our lives? Many of us have pushed Him out until all He gets is what time is left over at the end of our day and, oops, we ran out of time today. Maybe we’ll give God some time tomorrow.

The four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are the foundation of our study. We uniquely combine the Gospels into a single, seamless study of Jesus. The ancient Christian writer Origen (A.D. 185-254), in explaining why there are four gospels, said, “there are not four gospels, but one four-fold gospel.” Each gospel presents a different perspective, and we need all four to get the full picture. The first three Gospels are known as the synoptic gospels which means “see-together” and present Jesus’ life in a similar format. The synoptics deal more with what Jesus taught and did by focusing on Jesus’ Galilean ministry while John deals more with who Jesus was by focusing on events in Jerusalem. John was probably the last gospel written, and had benefit of what the previous three had recorded. This is one reason why John is so different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke. There are significant events that John leaves out, including Jesus’ birth, baptism, temptation, the Last Supper, Gethsemane, the Ascension, and some parables. On the other hand, John includes miracles not present in the other three gospels. You see why it is convenient to study the life and times of Jesus in a combined gospel format where we can assemble the entire life of Christ.

Before we can decide if the Gospels are worth studying, we have to decide whether or not they are real and accurate. The Roman confiscations and 2,000 years have taken their toll and we have none of the original writings. Can we rely on our copies? Scholars use three tests: the bibliographical test, the internal evidence test, and the external evidence test.

The bibliographical test looks at the number of copies of the original text still in existence, the time gap between the original and the copies, and how well the copies compare with each other and with history. Other than Biblical texts, Homer’s Iliad has the most existing copies, 643, and we are confident that Homer is the author and that the copies are faithful reproductions. Most ancient manuscripts have fewer than 10 surviving copies and are validated by just those few reporductions. We have over 5,000 copies of the New Testament in Greek and over 24,000 when we include all languages. Most other documents have time gaps of 400 to 1,400 years. Aristotle’s Poetics was written in 343 B.C. and our earliest copy is 1,100 A.D. and there are only five copies. But no one is claiming Plato was a plumber instead of a philosopher. With the Bible, we have first generation, eye witness accounts. In the British Museum is the Codex Sinaiticus, a complete Bible, in Greek, from about 400 A.D. Scholar John A. T. Robinson wrote, “The wealth of manuscripts, and above all the narrow interval of time between the writing and the earliest extant copies, make it by far the best attested text of any ancient writing in the world.” Professor John Warwick Montgomery wrote, “To be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament books is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament.” The oldest portion of a Biblical copy is a piece of John 18 which dates about A.D. 100 and was found in Egypt.

The second test is internal evidence and deals with consistency of eyewitness reports, details of names, places, and events, letters to individuals or small groups, features embarrassing to the authors, the presence of irrelevant or counterproductive material, and the lack of relevant material. Contradiction among the Gospels would prove they contain errors. If they all said exactly the same thing, if would indicate collusion. Eyewitnesses to an accident report the same events but from different perspectives. Our Gospels do the same thing and do it consistently. They reference real people, places, and events. There are over 84 facts in the last 16 chapters of Acts that have been confirmed by Archaeology. The Gospels have plenty of embarrassing features. The authors were not the least bit ashamed of presenting themselves as ignorant, cowardly, or faithless. Forgers leave this type material out because they want to appear confident and avoid publicly embarrassing themselves. The Gospels also honestly present counterproductive or irrelevant material. Jesus’ family is recorded as saying He has lost his mind. A forgery would leave out this type of brutal honesty that works against the theme. The Gospels also show an honest lack of relevant material. Many major issues of the time were not addressed by Jesus and the authors did not make up material to fill the gaps. In fact, Paul flatly admitted, in one case, “On this we have no teaching.”(need to find the verse).

The last test, external evidence, looks at historical records outside the Bible. There is precious little written history from Jesus’ day but at least seventeen non-Christian writings record more than fifty details of his life. Seventeen may not sound like many but that is more sources than mentioned the conquests of Caesar in the same time period. There are over 36,000 supporting Christian documents. Scholars, regardless of religious affiliation, agree that our current New Testament is the faithful documentation of the original writings. There is no other document so proven by textual and historical testimonies and no rational person can be skeptical.

 Chapter Three: The Word Became Flesh (John 1:1-5, 14-18) 

This portion is a summation of John’s entire book. John’s gospel deals with the themes introduced here: the identity of the Word, life, light, regeneration, grace, truth, and the revelation of God the Father in Jesus the Son. John records six miracles not recorded in the synoptics. He records the seven dramatic “I Am” statements where Jesus speaks for himself as well as other witnesses who testify about Jesus.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2)

A.    In the beginning was the Word. Before anything we know existed, the Word was already there. “Word” is the translation of the Greek word “logos” and had deep meaning in both Jewish and Greek culture.

 Jewish rabbis often referred to God as “His Word”. They referred to God as “the Word of God.” Hebrew Old Testaments write Exodus 19:17, “Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God” as “Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet the word of God.” To the Jews, “the word of God” was God Himself.

The Greeks had the principles of ethos, pathos, and logos. Ethos was an appeal to ethics, pathos was an appeal to emotion, and logos was an appeal to logic. The Greeks saw the logos as the world’s rational structure. It was the active reasoning controlling the universe. The logos was the power that set the world in order and kept it going orderly.

B.    And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John establishes two of the three parts of the trinity. The Father and the Son, the word, are equally God, yet distinct in their person. The Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father. Yet they are equally God, with God the Holy Spirit making the trinity: one God in three persons.

How can one God be three different entities? The concept is hardly unusual. Water can be solid, liquid, and vapor but it is still one water. An egg is a shell, a white, and yolk: one object in three parts and each part has a different function. Our one government is three independent bodies. C.S. Lewis used an analogy of “the three dimensions of space: length, width and height. All coincide in the same place, yet are distinct.” Consider me: just one person but different entities to relate to different groups in different ways. I am a father to my son, a son to my father, and a husband to my wife. Three distinct roles, three distinct functions, but one single person.

All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:3-5)

A.    Without Him nothing was made that was made. Jesus was instrumental in created things and He is, therefore, an uncreated Being.

 For in Him, all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16)

 In my series on The Bible, Natural Science, and Evolution there is a bit about objects only moving because an external force set them in motion. Objects don’t move by themselves. Every moving object has a “mover”. There can not be an infinite regression of movers so, somewhere, there must be an unmoved mover: an uncreated being who first set things in motion.

 B.    In Him was life. “Life” is the Greek word zoe, which means “the life principle,” as opposed to bios, which is only biological life. The Word contains life.

 Without Jesus, we are dead and in darkness. We are born with only two natural fears: falling and loud noises. Every other fear is taught to us. For example, we are afraid of sharks. Many more people are killed by coconuts than by sharks but we have no fear of coconuts. We are afraid of venomous snakes. One Hundred times more people are killed by out of control farm tractors than by venomous snakes. Yet we never think twice about farm tractors. Many of our taught fears make no sense.

 Two major taught fears are death and darkness. These fears are universal across all civilizations. I can understand the fear of darkness. It deprives us of our primary sense: sight. In darkness, we kick coffee tables and step on Legos. Darkness is hazardous. It makes sense to fear darkness and we have flashlights in our house to prevent darkness should our primary lights fail. Granted, in my house, our flashlights are merely places to store dead batteries but you get the idea.

 Fear of death I do NOT understand. We think of ourselves as settlers and we build houses and cities as though we were going to be here forever and we fear death as some mysterious, unwelcome event that threatens our tidy little Earthly life. Everyone wants to go to Heaven but nobody wants to leave Earth. Settler? I’m no settler. I’m a pilgrim. A pilgrim on a cosmic spiritual journey and this is just one of several stops. When you see my ship sail over the horizon, someone else is seeing me sail into my next port. I’m going to see Jesus! I’m going to know the secrets of the universe! Some people think I’m an adventurer now but, I can tell you that sailing across oceans, scuba diving in caves, chasing Howler monkeys through tropical rain forests, talking soccer strategy with the Paramount Chief in West Africa, and going through the eyes of two hurricanes is nothing compared to seeing Jesus and sitting around with Moses. No, I’m not afraid of death. I don’t even have death.

 C.   And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. “Did not comprehend” means “did not overcome”. Darkness is nothing in and of itself. It merely the absence of light. Light can not be defeated by darkness because darkness has no power.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, “He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.” And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (John 1:14-18)

 A.    And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This was a dramatic statement and would have troubled both Jews and Greeks. To the Greeks, Gods were slightly above humans but far less than the logos. To hear that their highest deity was now a lowly human would be contrary to their view of the Logos. The Jews had a prohibitive view of God and would have a real problem accepting that their Old Testament God would become human. This news was way out of the comfort zone of both cultures.

B.    We beheld His glory. John was an eyewitness and personally experienced His glory. When we “behold” something, we don’t just notice it or merely see it: we study it.

  C.   For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Jesus brings a different order than the one instituted by Moses. It is an inexhaustible supply of grace and truth, contrasting with the rigid order of laws and regulations given through Moses.

 D.   No one has seen God at any time . . . He has declared Him. Jesus is the perfect declaration of God the Father. The Father and the Son belong to the same family, and Jesus has declared the nature of the unseen God to man. We know the personality of God the Father by knowing Jesus’ life and teaching.

Chapter Four: The Announcement Of John The Baptist (Luke 1:5-25)  

Luke was physician, a Greek, and a gentile. He wrote for the Romans, specifically dedicating the book to the most excellent Theophilus, who could have been a government official or an influential citizen. Theophilus means “friend of God” so the reference could also be literary decoration indicating the book was to a wide audience rather than a specific person. Luke’s purpose was to accurately record history and he includes some events not recorded elsewhere such as Zacharias and Elizabeth, the parable of the good Samaritan, and the parable of the prodigal son. Seven miracles are unique to the Gospel of Luke and nineteen parables are only recorded in Luke. Luke’s information comes from his personal experience and eye witness accounts.

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years. (Luke 1:5-7)

 A.    In the days of Herod. This was the ruler known as Herod the Great who was at the end of a long and terrible reign. Ethnically, he was not a descendant of Israel, but of Jacob’s brother Esau; therefore an Edomite, or an Idumean. He was known for spectacular building programs, but even more so for paranoid cruelty. He executed anyone he thought threatened him; even members of his own family including 2 sons, some wives, and several in-laws. More about him later.

 B.    A certain priest named Zacharias…His wife…was Elizabeth. These events happened at a specific time to defined people.

So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. (Luke 1:8-10)

  A.    According to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense. Only priests from a particular lineage could serve in the temple. Over the years the number of priests multiplied. There were said to be as many as 20,000 priests in the time of Jesus so they used the lot to determine which priests would serve when. Because there were so many priests, the chance to perform this ritual was an exceptional privilege that not all would experience. To a godly man like Zacharias, this could have been the biggest event of his life, a tremendous privilege, a once in a lifetime opportunity. Surely he wondered what it would be like to enter the holy place, and if God had something special to say to him in this special event. You can imagine that Zacharias asked other priests, who had already performed this service, what it was like and if there was any unique spiritual experience. The whole event was filled with enormous anticipation because honor was high and the opportunity was rare.

  B.    According to the Law of Moses, incense was offered to God on the golden altar every morning and every evening (Exodus 30:7-8). By this time, there was an established ritual for the practice. There were three lots cast to determine who did what at the morning sacrifice. The first lot determined who would cleanse the altar and prepare its fire; the second lot determined who would kill the morning sacrifice and sprinkle the altar, the golden candlestick, and the altar of incense. The third lot determined who would come and offer incense. This was the most privileged duty; those who received the first and second lots would repeat their duty at the evening sacrifice but a different priest offered incense at each ceremony. Before dawn, hundreds of worshippers gathered at the temple. The morning sacrifice began when the incense priest walked toward the temple, through the outer courts, striking a gong-like instrument known as the Magrephah. At this sound, the Levites assembled and got ready to lead the gathered people in songs of worship to God.

 The other two priests chosen by lot that morning walked up to the temple on each side of the priest chosen to offer the incense. All three entered the holy place together. One priest set burning coals on the golden altar; the other priest arranged the incense and then those two priests left the temple, leaving the incense priest alone in the holy place. In front of him was the golden altar of incense; 18 inches square and 3 feet high. On that small table lay the burning coals ready for the incense. Behind the gold altar was a huge, thick curtain, and behind that curtain was the Holy of Holies; the Most Holy Place, where no man could enter, except the high priest, and then only on the Day of Atonement. As he faced the golden altar of incense, to his right was the table of showbread, and to his left was the golden lampstand, which provided the only light for the holy place.

 The Day of Atonement is Yom Kippur in modern Jewish lingo. It is the tenth day of the seventh month. According to Jewish tradition, God inscribes each person’s fate for the coming year into a book, the Book of Life, or Rosh Hashanah, and waits until Yom Kippur to “seal” the verdict. During the Days of Awe, leading up to Yom Kippur, a Jewish person tries to amend his behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done. The day before, they can’t wear leather shoes, wash their hands, use perfumes or lotions, or have sex.

 C.   And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. When the people outside saw the two men exit the temple, they knew that the time to offer the incense had come. Those hundreds of people kneeled and spread their hands out in silent prayer. They knew that at that moment the incense priest prayed in the holy place, in the very presence of God, for the entire nation.

Today, the burning of incense might seem a little hippie but in the Biblical sense, burning of incense is a strong picture of prayer in Psalm 141:2 and Revelation 5:8.

 Zacharias obviously thought long and hard about what to pray for. He knew how long to pray because he had attended the morning sacrifice as a worshiper many times before and he knew how long the incense priest stayed in the temple. He would have prayed for the needs of the nation of Israel, which was occupied and oppressed by the Romans, and for God to send the Messiah.

 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him 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 just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:11-17)

  A.    Then an angel of the Lord appeared. The angel simply stood on the right side of the altar of incense. Zacharias probably had his eyes tightly shut in passionate prayer, and when he opened them he saw this angel.

 B.    When Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. The angel was not a romantic figure of our human imagination. No naked baby with wings. This angel was a glorious, fearful, and an awesome creature. Like most angels in the Bible, the first thing this angel has to say to his human contact is “Do not be afraid.” Zacharias must have wondered if this happen to everyone who does this The other guys didn’t tell me anything about this!”

 C.   Your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear a son.: I doubt Zacharias prayed for a son when he was at the golden altar of incense. First, it seems like such a selfish want to be concerned about at this special time when he represented the entire nation. Second, since he and Elizabeth were both well advanced in years, they had probably given up on this prayer a long time ago. Sometime we pray for something for a long, long time but, after years of heartfelt prayer, we may finally realize the answer is “no” and quit asking. Zacharias and Elizabeth probably prayed years of passionate prayer for a son, but gave up a long time ago, and accepted that the answer was “no”. Zacharias’ reaction to the angel’s promise was probably, “I don’t know what you are talking about. We’re old, you know. I gave up on that prayer a long time ago. I’m praying for the salvation of Israel. I’m praying that God will send the promised Messiah.” Zacharias didn’t know that God would answer both prayers at once, and use Zacharias’ miracle baby to be part of sending the Messiah.

 D.   You shall call his name John. The boy was given a name before he was even conceived. This is very unusual because male names were not typically given until circumcision and he would normally be named after his father or given some other family name.

 E.    He will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. This is a reference to the vow of a Nazarite found in Numbers 6. Their son would be specially consecrated to God all the days of his life, as Samson should have been.

  F.    He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. Their son John would have a unique filling of the Holy Spirit even before his birth.

G.   He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. John’s work was to prepare the way for Jesus by turning hearts to God before Jesus comes. The pattern for his ministry would be the great prophet Elijah. Jesus later said this was fulfilled in John (Matthew 11:14 and 17:12).

 H.   To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children is a quote from Malachi 4:5-6 and meaningful for more than its reference to Elijah. These were essentially the last words in the Old Testament, and now God’s revelation is resuming where it left off. Elijah was a man who called Israel to a radical repentance in 1 Kings 18:20-40.

 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.” (Luke 1:18-20)

  A.    How shall I know this? For I am an old man and my wife is well advanced in years. Zacharias’ attitude was, “Thanks for the promise, angel. But knowing the condition of my wife and I, this is a big one. Can you give us a sign to prove it?” He doubts what Gabriel tells him. Not only did he not have the faith to believe Gabriel even though he is standing right in from of him, Zacharias already knew this pregnancy was not unique. He knew of other supernatural births in the Old Testament: Abraham and Sarah, Hannah, and the parents of Samson. This is a very different response to Gabriel when Mary’s, which we will see later. Mary says, I completely believe I’ll be the virgin but, just how are you going to make this virgin pregnant? In contrast, Zacharias says, I don’t believe you, show me a sign. Zacharias asked for confirmation while Mary asked for clarification .

 If you Google “sign”, you will get about 2,560,000,000 hits. Signs are still very important to us and many of them are funny. There is a sign on the electric hand dryers in the Heathrow airport toilets that say, “do not activate with wet hands.” Even airline peanuts have instructions on them, “open bag, eat peanuts.” Westbrook, Texas must be the smallest town because the city limit signs are on opposite sides of the same post. I saw a billboard coming into a town that said, “Drive slow, see our village – Drive fast, see our judge.” I sometimes want to put a sign in Cindy’s store that says, “Unattended children will be given espresso and a free kitten.” Signs are fun. What about spiritual signs?

 When I was a young believer, I wanted a sign. Something to convince me that I was on the right path and that this spiritual life was real. I just committed my life to an invisible being from outer space and I was having doubts. God was being entirely too quiet and I figured a sign was just what I needed. Didn’t need a plaque, or the sun standing still, ax heads floating, burning shubbery, or anything terribly dramatic: just something to prove God. I never got my sign. And I thank God I didn’t. If I had a sign, I would have relied on the sign. Instead, I had to build my faith. Faith is the premise of the whole experience! I wanted evidence – God wanted faith. I’m so glad I did not get a sign. Faith is so much stronger than tangible evidence. A miraculous sign would have taken the adventure out my spiritual journey. This new testament trip is about faith, not evidence. As we’ll see, as Jesus said, there is enormous evidence all around us if we just open our eyes.

  Now that I am a more mature believer, I know that signs were an occurrence that only happened before Christ’s church was established. Now, in the Church age, we don’t get those signs. We have something infinitely better! The indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the instruction book. You want a sign? The Bible is your sign.

 The word “Sign” occurs 76 times in the King James translation. After Jesus, only once, in Revelation. In the old testament, signs were God’s tool to communicate with believers. They conveyed power, covenant, authority, and his instructions. In the New Testament, signs were given to authenticate the gospel until the Bible was completed. Once the Scripture had been completed, there was no more need for signs because the Word of God was then perfect and available. Signs, manifested through Jesus, the apostles and prophets, were foundational to the church. Once the foundation had been built, however, there was no need for signs. Just as there was no further need for the offices of apostle and prophet. In the church age, we don’t have signs.

 Still, we use our imagined signs to try to make God’s will our will. We sometimes interpret ordinary events to have spiritual significance. I think golf is ordained by God because the score-keeping pencils are a sign. They are the same used in churches that have pews with pencil holders. We’ve seen a Cheeto that looks something like a crucifix sell for thousands of dollars on eBay. We’ve seen a stained piece of sheet rock some guy pulled from behind his washing machine sell for tens of thousands of dollars on eBay because he claims an image of the Virgin Mary is in it. Some pastors receive a sign to move to another church. I was talking to a man who pastored the same church for just over 50 years and he said, “do you ever notice that the sign to move to another church always involves a pay raise?”

  We wish for signs from God. Some tangible fact. There real question is, what is the sign from us, to God? What sign are we holding up to God? I’ve known many people whom I did not know were Christians until months or years had passed. Where was their sign?

 Zacharias wanted a sign. This news was simply too good to be true. Zacharias looked at the circumstances first, and what God can do last; we are tempted to think this is logical but if God is real, there is nothing logical about putting circumstances before God. We are taught that seeing is believing but in our spiritual journey, believing is seeing.

 B.    I am Gabriel who stands in the presence of God. Gabriel tells Zacharias who he is and where he has come from. Consider the contrast between “I am an old man” and “I am Gabriel.” Gabriel also preaches to Zacharias (bring you glad tidings). It was nothing but good news to Zacharias that he would not only have a son, but that the son would have a significant role in God’s plan of redemption. This is the good news that Gabriel brought to Zacharias.

 C.   My words which will be fulfilled in their own time. If there is no Zacharias, there is no John the Baptist. If there is no John the Baptist, there is no herald announcing the coming of the Messiah. If there is no herald announcing the coming of the Messiah, the prophecies in the Old Testament regarding the Messiah are unfulfilled. If any of the prophesies of the Old Testament regarding the first coming of the Messiah are unfulfilled, then Jesus did not fulfill all things. If Jesus did not fulfill all things, then He did not complete God’s plan of redemption for you and I and we perish. We can’t pick and choose which bits of the Bible we want to believe and which we want to rationalize away. If any part is not accurate, we can’t rely on any of it.

 D.   But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak. It was a good news bad news day for Zacharias and he paid a price for his doubt. His unbelief did not make God take his promise back; it just kept Zacharias from enjoying it immediately. When we do not claim one of God’s promises for our lives, we do not destroy the promise; we just destroy our ability to enjoy it. What made this such severe punishment was that Zacharias had such great news to tell but could no longer speak! Oddly, many people would not consider this much punishment. They don’t mind keeping quiet about the good news of Jesus. Not me. I want to be the guy who gets up in the morning and devil says, “Oh no, he’s awake.”

And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless. And so it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. (Luke1:21-23)

  A.    And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long. The custom was for the priest to come from the temple as soon as he was finished praying, to assure the people that he had not been struck dead by God. Zacharias’ delay had started to make the crowd nervous. After the incense priest finished, he came out of the holy place through the great doors of the temple and met the other two priests right outside the doors. Then the incense priest raised his hands and blessed the people with the blessing from Numbers 6:24-26. The hundreds of gathered worshippers responded by saying, “Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting.” After this, the Levites got the worship singers and musicians started. They began with a blast from special silver trumpets, then a priest struck the cymbals, and the choir of Levites began to sing the Psalm of the day.

Notice that we are in the New Testament and there are musical instruments prominently played in worship services. Some denominations don’t not use musical instruments, even though they were prominent from the old testament at least through the time of Christ. Their reasoning is that Jesus didn’t specifically mention them and God created our voices for singing whereas musical instruments were created by man. If that is the logic, why do they use toilet paper? Jesus didn’t mention it either and it is made by man. While in Africa, I learned that some devout Muslims do not use toilet paper because Mohammed didn’t say to use toilet paper. Instead, he instructed them to carry three (or any odd number greater than three) stones in a leather pouch and to use each stone an odd number of times. I learned this the hard way the first time I used a private Muslim toilet. No paper.

 B.    But when he came out, he could not speak to them. When Zacharias came out, he was supposed to stand on the temple steps, overlooking the crowd, and pronounce the priestly blessing on the people (Numbers 6:24-26), and the other priests would repeat it after him. But Zacharias couldn’t speak! Zacharias had to try to explain what happened to him with only hand motions and body language. If you ever get “who invented charades?” as a trivia question, it was Zacharias.