Monthly Archives: December 2011

O little town of Bethlehem

 I.      The Journey
1Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. Luke 2:1-5

The Summon to Bethlehem
There is much speculation and dispute concerning the decree from Caesar and its timing. For the sake of staying on topic it is enough to say that aside from Luke’s testimony we have no other evidence of their being a census in the latter years of Herod’s reign, but at the same time we have no justifiable reason to question Luke’s reliability on the subject. The journey from Nazareth would have been at least a three day journey. The journey would have been difficult with Mary being nine months pregnant. Consider though that this journey would bring some relief for Mary and Joseph from the scandal of life in Nazareth.

Likely Mary and Joseph would have taken the route passing along the Jordan River on the Eastern border of the land, crossing over the fords of Jericho into Judea.[1]
Bethlehem

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from  you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago,  from the days of eternity.” Micah 5:2

Five miles south of Jerusalem was the little town of Bethlehem. This little town was one of rich history as it was there that the story of Ruth took place. In this little town David was both born and anointed King of Israel (I Samuel 16:1), its hills were probably where David as a boy wrote some of his psalms while watching sheep and it was here that David longed to drink from its well (II Samuel 23:15-16).
While Mary and Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem one can only imagine how God must have been remembering His conversations from centuries ago with His friend David in the hills of Bethlehem.

Alfred Edersheim offers a rich and poetic illustration of the final stage of their journey to Bethlehem:
“A sense of rest and peace must, almost unconsciously, have crept over the travelers when at last they reached the rich fields that surrounded the ancient ‘House of Bread,’ and , passing through the valley which, like an amphitheatre, sweeps up to the twain heights along which Bethlehem stretches (2,704 feet above the sea), ascend through the terraced vineyards and gardens. Winter though it was, the green and silvery foliage of the olive might, even at that season, mingle with the pale pink of the almond – natures ‘early waker’ – and with the darker coloring of the opening peach-buds. The chaste beauty and sweet quiet of the place would recall memories of Boaz, of Jesse, and of David.” [2]

“Francis [of Assisi]could not even utter the name, Bethlehem, without stammering with emotion, ‘like the bleating of a sheep'” -John Saward

II.   Unto You A Child  Has Been Given
 
Introduction
“Gregory [of Nazianzen]…insists that we cannot be mere spectators of the starlit stable: ‘Run with the star and offer your gifts with the Magi, gold and frankincense and myrrh, as to a king and to God and One who died for you. With shepherds glorify Him, with angels sing hymns, with archangels join in chorus…travel faultlessly through every stage and faculty of the life of Christ. Be purified, be circumcised; strip off the veil that has covered you from your birth.’”[3]

“Imagine being in Jerusalem with Jesus in the age to come, the great King over the earth who is arrayed in glory. He takes you by the hand and you begin to walk down the slopes away from the city. After walking for several miles you come to a small town set on a hill, unaware of what was happening. Suddenly you stop at the crest, along a ridge, and Jesus says, ‘Over there…that is where I was born’, with a smile on His face. ‘I just thought I would show it to you since you spent so many hour meditating on it.’ And you’re undone and ruined anew with love for the next two or three hundred years.”[4]


As we already know the fullness of God is found within this child. With each cry of Holy Child He tells us of His aching heart of love for depraved and fallen humanity. “The birth of Christ is a deep well of the knowledge of God from which we must learn to drink. In the obscurity of Bethlehem is hidden a repository of humble love and ardent desire.”[5] Though the details given of the event are few one must not just read through them but rather take their time to meditate on the riches of this precious memory of heaven.

The Setting of this Precious Moment
6While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:6-7

There Was No Room in the Inn 
After their arduous journey the need for housing was needed.  The word for “inn” in Luke 2:6 is “katalyma” which normally means either a guest room in a private residence or a caravansary, an informal public shelter where travelers would gather for the night. Luke uses another word in Greek for “inn” in Luke 10:34 for a roadside inn (pandocheion). With this being said it is very possible that Joseph and Mary were planning on staying with a friend or a relative in Bethlehem but due to the crowds during the census and most likely arriving late that they lost the room. Thus a manger would be their shelter and place of rest. The language of the narrative gives us the hint that Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem for some mysterious amount of time before she would go into labor.

Their Fight to Trust
One can only imagine how in those last moments when Joseph was frantically trying to find a room in the inn God was smiling upon their desperate trust in Him. One can only imagine that with every hardship previously the couple endured and especially now in these final moments of trying to find place to stay Mary and Joseph were beginning to struggle to believe. One can only imagine how in these moments Mary and Joseph would begin to ask God the questions “Did You not send me an angel?” or “Did You not say I was to give birth to Your Son, the promised King?” Now in these final moments the couple in the midst of the wrestle is choosing to trust in the Lord and His perfect leadership.

The Mystery that is Immanuel
“ And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

As mentioned in a previous session we must come back to who this child is before we go any further. This is YHWH. The One enthroned on high whom all of heaven gazes upon crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” is now a newborn babe in a feeding troth with animals gazing upon Him. He who clothed Himself in unapproachable light is now a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. The One who was there at creation as a master craftsman has become a child now dependent upon His own creation.

YHWH’s Humble Love
“So many features of this event ought to shock us. As Caesar Augustus sat upon his throne in Rome and boasted in the size of his empire, as Herod agonized about his successor from his palace in Jerusalem, there was a young maiden in a cave having contractions.”[6]

The Manger scene is one of the most offensive moments in all of history, yet in the eyes of Trinity it is one of their MOST precious memories. God had the right to be offended at the manger but He was so in love that He didn’t even care about the manger, for He humbled Himself willingly out of love. The One who sits enthroned on high and laughs became a baby lying in a feeding trough crying. The King of Glory’s first house was a manger, His first bed a feeding trough. With each cry and babble God is declaring of His meek and lowly heart and of His great love. Truly this great show of humility shows much of the heart of God and one ought to linger on this scene letting His humble and meek love enrapture their hearts. The reality that King Jesus came into the world wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in manger truly is a “sign” as this was far from common way for a child to be born. In humble obscurity He came, in glory and triumph He left and in majesty He shall return. This is the Christ.

“Looking upon our desperate plight He plunged into our story in the fullness of time. That fact alone should tear our hearts asunder, but love carried Him even to the lowest place.”[7]
“My Jesus, supreme and true God! What has drawn Thee from heaven to be born in a cold stable, if not the love which Thou bearest us men? What has allured Thee from the bosom of Thy Father, to place Thee in a hard manger? What has brought Thee from Thy throne above the stars to lay Thee down on a little straw? What has led Thee from the midst of the nine choirs of angels, to set Thee between two animals? Thou, who inflamest the seraphim with holy fire, art now shivering with cold in this stable! Though, who settest the stars in the sky in motion, canst not now move unless others carry Thee in their arms! Thou, who givest men and beasts their food, hast need now of a little milk to sustain Thy life! Thou, who art the joy of heaven, dost now whimper and cry in suffering! Tell me who has reduced Thee to such misery? ‘Love has done it,’ says Saint Bernard. The love which Thou bearest us men has brought this on Thee.”[8]

“He was a baby and a child, so that you may be a perfect human. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, so that you may be freed from the snares of death. He was in a manger, so that you may be in the altar. He was on earth that you may be in the stars. He had no other place in the inn, so that you may have many mansions in the heavens. ‘He being rich became poor for your sakes, that through His poverty you might be rich’ therefore His poverty is our inheritance, and the Lord’s weakness is our virtue. He chose to lack for Himself, that He may abound for all. The sobs of that appalling infancy cleanse me, those tears wash away my sins.”[9]


[1] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, p 129
[2] Ibid.
[3] Saward, p 118.
[4] Stephen Venable, Life of Christ in the Gospels: Session3- The Treasury of the Gospels & the Birth of Christ, p27
[5] Ibid, p 28.
[6] Ibid, p 29.
[7] Ibid, p 30.
[8] Calvin Miller, the Book of Jesus, p 226 (quoting St. Alphonsus Ligouri)
[9] Ancient Christian Commentary: Luke, p 38

The Next Nine Months

I.     The Sign of Confirmation

39Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, 40and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? 44For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” Luke 1:39-45

The aftermath of Gabriel’s message. At this point Mary had just finished receiving the word from the angel Gabriel concerning her virgin pregnancy and at once left to go see for herself the sign she had been given. We do not how long exactly it took for Mary to leave and get to Elizabeth but we do know she did so in a hurry. The “hill country, to a city of Judah” though the Bible is silent to the exact city in which Elizabeth lived we can safely assume that it was close to or even was Jerusalem. This would be so to make it easier for Zacharias to travel to and from Jerusalem when it was time for his priestly duties. It is also possible that they lived in one of the Levitical Cities in the area. The Scriptures are also unclear as to when exactly Mary miraculously conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Ghost but we know it would have to have been before she met Elizabeth in order for their encounter to go the way it did.

When Mary arrives and greets Elizabeth the Holy Spirit begins to move among these two blessed women. The greeting of Mary moved John to jump with joy in Elizabeth’s womb and at this point Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. “Even in the womb, the joy of John the Baptist was to be in the presence of the Bridegroom.” –Stephen Venable

Mary visits ElizabethAt the filling of the Holy Spirit Elizabeth opens her mouth and begins to prophesy over Mary. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Here Elizabeth greets Mary in a similar manner as the angel Gabriel did by calling her blessed and goes one step further to declare that the One inside of her womb was blessed as well. 43“And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?” Here Mary receives her first of many confirmations through the mouth of another, as Elizabeth testifies to her of who her son was. He is the Lord. He is the Messiah. He is YHWH.  44“For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.” For at point of entering into the presence of the Bridegroom John was filled with joy that he had heard the voice of the one carrying her and rejoiced in his mother’s womb. 45“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” Here Elizabeth is prophesying of Mary’s sincere faith in what the Lord had promised her. That when the angel sold her of the sign of her relatives old aged pregnancy she left in a hurry to see the sign as opposed to taking her time.

II.     The Magnificat
46And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, 47and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. 50AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM. 51He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. 52He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble. 53HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS; and sent away the rich empty-handed. 54He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, 55as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever.” 56 And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home. Luke 1:46-56
After Mary she receives the prophecy concerning her Son from Elizabeth she begins what the church has dubbed the Magnificat or the Song of Mary. She has now experienced the prophecy from the angel, her eyes have beheld the sign promised by the angel and Elizabeth is prophesying some of what the angel already told her and now she begins to be overcome with worship. She knows what these words mean and what the child in her womb is to be and now her heart is undone. In this song Mary through the unction of the Holy Spirit Mary worships and gives thanks to the Lord as her Savior, as the God of justice and the God who is faithful to His promises.

“soul exalts(some translations say magnifies) the Lord, 47and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” At this point Mary’s heart is exploding with emotion as she had just see the sign the Lord had promised here and is not overcome with emotion. Here in this first part Mary begins to worship the Lord her Savior. Her declaration of worship is one of thanksgiving and joy and it will set the over arching theme of the song.  48“For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49For the Mighty One has done great things for me…” In this part Mary is giving thanks to the Lord for what He has done to her, is doing and will continue to do. Here Mary is ultimately prophesy over herself when she says “all generations will count me blessed” in reality this song is one of the most remembered and celebrated songs in church history. “And holy is His name. 50AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM.” Here Mary is declaring the Lord as the Holy and Merciful God. That He is merciful to those who choose to recognize His holiness with fear and trembling, and this mercy is from generation to generation or rather it never stops.

51“He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. 52He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble. 53HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS; and sent away the rich empty-handed.” The Lord in His unending mercy is also full of unending justice. He is both merciful and just and will not let the unjust go unpunished. He will not abandon the oppressed. Here Mary is probably remembering the oppression the people are experiencing through the hands of the Roman soldiers and remembering of His faithfulness that the seed had finally come. She knows what is going on in the land and she knows what the angel told her about the baby being the promised king.

54 “He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, 55as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever.” Here Mary is declaring of the faithfulness of the Lord to all of His promises concerning her people. This is primarily in retrospect to the fact that she remembers what the angel just told her of the promised seed was to come through her womb, that she would birth the promised king. She clearly had to have believed in the words the angel Gabriel gave to her because she had left in a hurry to see the sign for herself and now she is fully aware that the Lord is their Savior (Jesus’ name), He is merciful, Just and faithful to Israel.

III.    Mary’s Return to Nazareth
After Mary’s song the scriptures tell us that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then returned to Nazareth to continue with her marriage rituals. Luke records immediately following Mary’s departure in the next verse that John is born though we are not sure the distance of time in between or if it even happened after Mary’s departure. We do know that it had to be right around the time of Mary’s departure because the scripture makes it clear when Mary left Elizabeth would had been nine months along at least.
By this time however Mary would be about three months pregnant and beginning to show. That which she had treasured in her heart was beginning to be revealed to those around her as her stomach is growing. As she would enter back into Nazareth after being gone for three months the looks she would have received would had been enough for anyone to feel shame. This girl who left not being pregnant and betrothed to Joseph has now returned three months pregnant. One can only wonder how the looks and the things said to her and about her must have left a wound in her heart. Truly she must have been fighting to remind herself of all that the Lord had said to her through the angel, the sign and Elizabeth. One can only imagine what it was like to see her friends, family and Joseph again after three months.

IV.     Joseph’s Visitation

The angel visits Joseph

 18Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has beenconceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, forHe will save His people from their sins.’ 22Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23‘BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,’ which translated means, ‘GOD WITH US.’24And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.” Matthew 1:18-25

Here we switch to Matthew to pick up the story, Mary has now returned from visiting Elizabeth and is now about three months pregnant when Joseph sees her for the first time since her sudden departure three months prior. The Bible recognizes Joseph to be a “righteous” or “just” man depending on translations. This is a very important piece we are given about Joseph, though this is all we really know about him and he barely is even mentioned in the Gospels we must not take this description lightly. The Lord saw fit that this “righteous” man would be the male figure who would father him and take care of His Son on this earth. There is much that can be said about these two realities, that he was chosen by God and called a “righteous” man.  discovered Mary’s pregnancy thought of Mary’s honor and sought to send her away secretly that others would not know and she would be free from ridicule. However, the Lord saw this desire to protect Mary’s honor and sent an angel to declare to him of what was going on in Mary’s womb, to comfort his heart, guide him and ultimately tell him who the child was.

“Scripture describes him as a just man, and indeed he must have been remarkably upright to bear the scandal of Mary’s pregnancy and obey the command of the Lord.” –Stephen Venable When Joseph the “righteous man”

“Joseph, son of David,” It is here Matthew introduces Joseph as a descendant of David, this is key for the Messiah had to be of the line of David. Though the child would not share in Joseph’s DNA and not be born of Joseph he would still be grafted into that line through Mary being his wife thus in reality being adopted into the line. “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” Here Joseph is comforted by the angel and is told what had happened. By now Mary would have already explained or at least tried to explain things to Joseph of how the child was of the Holy Spirit and now the angel is testifying of it. This would be key for Joseph as it brings him to a place where he can fully know what had been going on with Mary. This will help to also not waver in his heart when the storm comes of many trying to tell him how Mary must have been unfaithful to him.

“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus,” Here Joseph is told the name of the child which had already been given to Mary. This would be both a sign of confirmation of the child to both Mary and Joseph as both were given the same name by an angel. “forHe will save His people from their sins.” The child will save His people, this ties into His name which literally means “The Lord saves.” This piece of information was not given to Mary which one can wonder why just Joseph got this as well as why this is the only thing told to him. This by no means can be overlooked nor taken lightly.

 22Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23‘BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,’ which translated means, ‘GOD WITH US.’ Here we have a piece of information that Luke did not include in his narrative of the story. One can speculate why Luke in all of his researching never included this part as well and yet Matthew found this prophecy to be important. Whatever the case may have been the virgin did give birth and though His name was not Immanuel He still was God and He was with us. It is speculated that there was virgin who gave birth in the time of Isaiah after he gave this prophecy and that it was in that way meant to point to Christ. Though without documented proof we cannot prove this theory. No matter the case this verse which was inspired by the Holy Spirit was canonized through His perfect leadership. This shows us that it must not be written off just because Luke or anyone else did not ascribe this prophecy to Jesus as well as the fact He was not named Immanuel.

24And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. Here Joseph awakens from his dream and obeys the Lord and marries Mary and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit chooses to keep her a virgin until after the child is born. From this point on Mary and Joseph’s story will go silent for nearly six months, once again it would be hard to exaggerate the reality of the scrutinizing stares Mary would endure, the gossip and slander going on behind their backs. One can only imagine how many times Mary was called an adulterous and how many times people tried to get Joseph to take up his Lawful right and stone her or at least divorce her and send her away. Truly Mary would have carried the favor of the Lord or one could say His grace in bearing this as well as Joseph would really be a righteous/just man to bear the scandal as well as for them both obey the Lord.

Timelines of the Nativity Story (Event by Event)

 

For a PDF copy of these Timelines feel free to email me requesting one.

The Annunciation of the King


     Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name as Mary. 28And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.  Luke 1:26-30

 Mary’s Visitation of Good News
     The only thing we really know about Mary is that at the time of the angelic visit is that she was a virgin and betrothed to Joseph, of the descendants of David. However, four times in Luke chapter one Mary is acknowledged as one who is blessed. This creates the question: “What is so special about her that would catch the eye of God?” It truly makes one wonder as to what God values. But whatever it was that caught His eye we do know that Christ chose a teenage girl of no reputation to entrust His humanity.

     In my opinion Mary’s favor goes beyond her being entrusted with the babe but also that she would divine favor even in the midst of the ridicule and mockery of man during her pregnancy with Jesus and after. This idea can be seen in multiple areas from Joseph staying with her instead of sending her away, the finding of the manger, the financial provision from the magi, the two angelic warnings to flee from danger and even Jesus making sure at the cross that she would be taken care of so to fulfill His duty as firstborn. The angel makes it clear that not only does she have favor but the Lord is also with her. This is seen in that the Lord is with her to watch over her much like He did with Joshua son of Nun and in the midst of everything no harm comes to her.

     A peculiar point of interest is that she is perplexed by this greeting, the ESV Bible says that she was “greatly troubled” by this introduction. One can only wonder what about the heavenly compliment troubled her. Was it because an angel sent from the Lord was before her or perhaps because she remembered all the other times someone in the O.T. had an angelic visitation and suspected a hard season a head.

     “Ever since Eve women have believed for a son, One who’d reverse the sin caused curse.” –Justin Rizzo chorus. Truly since the fall women had been looking for a seed, a child, a son that would crush the head of the serpent and bring forth redemption. For the first promise of redemption was spoken of a promised seed to come from woman. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” Genesis 3:15 This child who was promised at the fall would be great and now it was finally time for the child to come forth. The child of promise was finally drawing nigh. Redemption was finally at hand and Mary was to be the chosen womb that redemption would come through.

The Annunciation of the King
     And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.  Luke 1:31-35 In this prophecy that Mary is receiving we see the identity of the baby she was to birth. Multiple facets are revealed of this Child, though there main facet that is revealed of Jesus not only mentioned twice but as the first and the last thing to be said of Him and that being His Divinity.

     “…and you shall name Him Jesus.” Jesus or Yeshua means “The Lord saves” which is synonymous with the Old Testament name Joshua. This name is not only significant for what it means but also because of the two Joshua’s in the Old Testament that are foreshadows of Christ.

     Joshua the son of Nun was Moses successor as well as the only one of two to make it from Egypt to the Promised Land. Joshua was both a mighty warrior and a good leader in that the people followed the Lord under his leadership as well as was able to raise up godly leaders to replace him. It was said of Joshua that even when Moses would leave the tabernacle Joshua would stay. This shows us that he was both priestly and a warrior. The messiah is also considered to be a second Moses. “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.” Exodus 33:11…“except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have followed the LORD fully.” Numbers 32:12… “Then He commissioned Joshua the son of Nun, and said, ‘Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the sons of Israel into the land which I swore to them, and I will be with you.’” Deuteronomy 31:23…“Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, and had known all the deeds of the LORD which He had done for Israel.” Joshua 24:31…“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me(Moses) from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. 18I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you(Moses), and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” Deuteronomy 18:15,18

     Joshua the son of Jehozadok who was the priest of the Lord that was crowned king. Joshua being both priest and king was as a foreshadow of the two offices being united together through Christ. “Then say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the LORD. 13Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the LORD, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.”’ 14Now the crown will become a reminder in the temple of the LORD to Helem, Tobijah, Jedaiah and Hen the son of Zephaniah.” Zechariah 6:12-14

     “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High”(His Divinity). The first thing angel reveals about the baby after giving His name is His divine identity. This Child will be great and will be the Son of God, the greatness defines His identity as the Son of God. Finally the One whom David encountered in those hills in Bethlehem was to finally come forth, the one who was the LORD’s chosen King that the nations were to be given too. The One who is to sit at the right hand of the LORD as His enemies are made a footstool was finally to come forth. “But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain.” 7“I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You. 8‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession.’” Psalm 2:6-8…“The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.’ 2The LORD will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying, ‘Rule in the midst of Your enemies.’” Psalm 110:1-2

     The Lord highlights the Divine Identity of the Child over anything. This is first and foremost who the Child is, the Son of God. This child is YHWH! First she finds out that she was to bear a Son and name Him Jesus, and now she is being told that it would be God’s Son. This in itself must have caught Mary by great surprise. Mary was to carry God, YHWH inside her womb. The magnitude of this is beyond what words can express. The humility that it would create in Mary is great, yet the humility of this act for God to become a human fetus and dwell in a sinful human for 9 months and then be raised by a human couple is unmatchable and unthinkable. We cannot just merely write this off but truly should take time and just reflect on this reality of how humble God was to come.

     “the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David” (The Promised King). The Babe’s second identity that being the descendant of David. The Lord has not forgotten His promise that He gave David that His throne will be established forever. The Lord in His great love for His friend David came in the flesh to fulfill His promise to His friend on His own. “Truly is not my house so with God? For He has made an everlasting covenant with me…” 2 Samuel 23:5 This Child was born to sit on the throne of David, and from there He shall rule. He was destined to be as His father David but in a far greater way. This is the child of promise that the Lord had promised to David and that the prophets spoke of.

     “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever” (The Eternal King). This Child will sit upon throne of His father David forever ruling and reigning in the City of David, in Jerusalem. He will never die nor be replaced as King. Israel will finally have a king again but this king will be unlike any other king that Israel or even the world has ever seen before. For upon the throne of David, God in flesh will reign forever. Israel’s long awaited King has finally come and it is God Himself.  Where men had failed in times past to lead His people rightly God Himself in His great love and humility has come to rule and reign forever. He has come to lead His people Israel Himself upon the throne of His friend David.

     “His kingdom will have no end” (The Conqueror King). His Kingdom will truly have no end. He will not be defeated and it will be expansive. It will not cease to grow. His Kingdom will grow in strength, power and economically. Though those areas may not look the way they do now we do know this Kingdom will not stop expanding. The Roman Empire was the most vast and strongest of the ancient kingdoms but even Rome was stopped from expanding. Jesus Kingdom will not be stopped but will overcome and conquer all opposition.

     “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (The Lord will bring forth redemption). This will not and could not happen on man’s own strength but God in His loving power is showing His strength and bringing forth redemption. This is not man’s doing but God’s. God in His great love is doing this. God is showing His power in bringing forth redemption. In doing this God is in essence revealing not only His great love and power but His great humility.

     “ for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” Once again we are reminded of the Divine Identity of this Child. This is such an important fact that the angel mentions it at the beginning and the end. The people had been waiting for the descendant of David to rule and reign as king, but the idea of God in flesh being this king was foreign. The Lord found it important that Mary would know who this Child was that He had the angel say it twice. This is not some mere child but this is YHWH. This Child is the promised One that Isaiah had prophesied of. The One that was to come and establish an eternal Kingdom.

     “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:6-7

The Sign of Confirmation and Mary’s Yes
36
And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 
37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:36-38 After the angel Gabriel gives the prophecy, he gives Mary a sign of confirmation. The sign being that her relative Elizabeth who in her old age was no longer barren but now six months pregnant. This was word was given to confirm that which she had just been told. “For nothing will be impossible with God.” God in His matchless strength, power and wisdom can do anything. Nothing can hinder Him, for He who spoke creation into being holds all power. “…for wisdom and power belong to Him.” Daniel 2:20

Summary
     The Annunciation marks the beginning of a new season in Redemptive History. It is the announcing of the beginning of another era in Redemptive History. The Messiah’s long awaited arrival was finally drawing nigh. “As the fall of man was a free act, so too the Redemption had to be free. What is called the Annunciation was actually God asking the free consent of a creature to help Him be incorporated into humanity.”[1] “And Mary said, ‘Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.” Luke 1:38


[1] Fulton Sheen, Life of Christ, (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1958), p 17.

A Basic Historical Backdrop of The Nativity Scene

I.    The Regional Leadership Over Judea

  1. King Herod who was an Indumean was the political leader appointed over Judea by Rome during the time of Jesus’ birth. Indumea was a region south is Israel that had been inhabited by Edomites (descendants of Esau). Indumea had been conquered by Israel years before under the reign of Hyrcanus I and was forced to convert to Judaism.
  2. Herod’s father Antipater was established as the political leader over Judea due to his favor he had gained by supporting Julius Caesar during his rise to power over the Roman Senate. Antipater’s two sons Phasaelus who was appointed to rule over Jerusalem and Herod who was appointed to rule Galilee, would eventually get revenge and end a rebellion that had begun with the assassination of their father Antipater.
  3. Antigonus the son of Aristobulus II and rightful heir to the Hasmonean dynasty would go on to capture his uncle Hyrcanus II(the Jewish high-priest) and Phasaelus. The former committed suicide and Antigonus had the latter’s ears cut off so that he could no longer be the high-priest. In the midst of this capture Herod who had been warned in advance escaped Jerusalem just in time.
  4. Antigonus would go on to become both king and high-priest in 40 B.C. However, in the midst of this Herod sought the help of Mark Antony and Gaius Octavian (the great-nephew and successor of Julius Caesar who would eventually be known as Caesar Augustus). Thanks to his Roman help in 40 B.C. Herod was decreed the King of Judea.  In 37 B.C. King Herod with the support of roman troops, finally gained control over the territory of Judea and beheaded Antigonus, thus ending the Hasmonean dynasty and placing a descendant of Esau (Edomite from Idumea) as the King over Judea. A descendant of Esau was reigning over the descendants of Jacob and seated upon the throne of David.
  5. Herod over time would go on to put to death several of his family members, including his wife Mariamne and other rivals. Herod was very much a paranoid/power-hungry tyrant.
  6. Here at this point Elizabeth would be in her six month of pregnancy (hence “in the sixth month”) and Mary as we know is a virgin engaged or betrothed to Joseph.

II.   How We Get Our Dates

  1. At this point in time king Herod would be getting closer to the end of his life as he would eventually die in the spring of 750 A.U.C. or 4 B.C just before the Passover which would be around April 12th.[1]
  2. “If we follow the historically somewhat uncertain guidance of the date of the Birth of the Baptist, as furnished in this notice (Luke 1:5) of his annunciation to the his father, that Zacharias officiated in the Temple as on the ‘course of Abia’”[2]
  3. “At the time of the destruction of the Temple ‘the course of Jehoiarib,’ which was the first of the priestly courses, was on duty. That was on the 9-10 Ab of the year 823 A.U.C., or 5th of august of the year 70 of our era. If this calculation be correct (of which , however, we cannot feel quite sure), then counting ‘the courses’ of priests backwards, the course of Abia would, in the year 748 A.U.C. (the year before the birth of Christ) have been on duty from the 2nd to the 9th of October. This also would place the birth of Christ in the end of December of the following year (749), taking the expression ‘sixth month’ in Luke 1:26,36, in the sense of the running month (from the 5th to the 6th month, comp. Luke 1:24). But we repeat that absolute reliance cannot be placed on such calculations, at last so far as regards month and day.”[3]
  4. Therefore at this point in time it would most likely be spring time which would due to the dates which would land us with Christ’s birth at the time of December.

[1] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, (U.S.: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1993), p 152.

[2] Ibid, p975

[3] Ibid, p 975

Understanding the Incarnation

Ezekiel's Vision of the High and Lofty God by Raffael

I.      The Need to know the Pre-Incarnate Jesus
     “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.’ 4And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.” Isaiah 6:1-4 The high and lofty One of Isaiah 6 is the Lord, it is God pre-incarnate. Jesus is the express representation of the Father because He is God. He is Yahweh. He is the One whom the angels since the moment they were created have cried “Holy.” He is the One who stood beside His Father as a master craftsmen. He is the One whose robe fills the temple. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Shepherd of Israel. “Then I was beside Him, as a master workman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him,” Proverbs 8:30

When approaching the Gospels it is important to see Jesus in His divinity. This not some mere man, an angel or some lesser deity, but this is Yahweh. We risk grave error if not first coming to grips with the reality of the truth that, Jesus is Yahweh. He is the one who dwelt between the cherubim in the Holy of Holies, who stood beside the Father as a master craftsmen, who burned in a bush, He is the Great I AM the very Shepherd of Israel. One cannot merely seek to understand the importance of the Word becoming flesh unless they know who the Word was and is. This is why it is important that we become students of the Old Testament and not just the New Testament as it all points to who Jesus is. Beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” Luke 24:27

II.   Understanding Who God is
When we go to understand the divinity of Christ we must ask the question of how the disciples went from following their rabbi to worshiping their Lord, creator and God. In seeking to understand the divinity of Christ we must look to see how the Bible defines divinity and God.  This comes down to the question: “How does Scripture define the uniqueness of God?” or in a simpler way “What makes Him God?”
The typical answer to this question is usually drawn upon by Greek philosophical categories, which theologians call incommunicable attributes (which are often indicated by the prefixes “omni”, “im” or “in”). The inspiration behind bringing definition to God in this way is the philosophical assumption that the divine “nature” or “essence” is entirely different to the “nature” or “essence” of all created things. This is a thoroughly Platonic idea and entirely foreign to Biblical thought. The result of defining God’s uniqueness in this manner for the last 1500 years has often brought a very abstract, distant, vague, ethereal conception in our mind when asked to imagine Him.
The Hebrew mindset from the Old Testament viewed God with reverence along with simple, tangible, concrete ways. He is holy, involved and near. He is YHWH- the One who Is, the living God: who stands as the ruler over all things, made a covenant with Abraham, delivered His people from Egypt. He alone is the One who is worthy of all worship for by His word all things exist. 15Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said, “O LORD, the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see; and listen to the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God17Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have devastated the nations and their lands 18and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. 19Now, O LORD our God, I pray, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, O LORD, are God.” 20Then Isaiah…sent to Hezekiah saying, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Because you have prayed to Me about Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard you.’ 21This is the word that the LORD has spoken against him…” 2 Kings 19:15-21

III.           Understanding the Divinity of Jesus
Now that we have defined Divinity through the Old Testament let us then look for a moment at how the New Testament relates to this. Though most of us think and read in a profoundly ‘Greek’ manner, we must consciously shift our thinking to that of a Jewish mindset. We must keep in mind that much of the New Testament was written by Jewish men thus they would have a Jewish mindset and would not be thinking in Greek philosophical ideas. It would not have been hard for the disciple to understand God having a form as on more than one occasion in the Old Testament we see God having a form. This was not something hard for a Jewish mindset to grasp however to take on flesh and die was the hard part. “Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; 5and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant.” And they said, “So do, as you have said.” Genesis 18:4-5 “Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent…” Numbers 12:5 Thus when Peter and John realized that Jesus is God, they would be thinking this is the God of Genesis 1 and Isaiah 6 and not some Greek philosophical idea that makes God detached from reality. John makes it quite clear as to who Jesus was in his opening chapter of the Gospel of John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…14And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:1-5,14

In John chapter one, we see the New Testament mindset of Jesus being God and that He was in the beginning with His Father and created all things. John not only makes the point of Jesus’ divinity but also makes the point that God became a man. This is more than God just having a form because He clearly already had one in times past, but this means that God became human. He now carried the restrictions of human flesh, meaning: He would get tired, hungry, sweaty, have to go to the bathroom, etc.
The reality that the high and lofty God would go so low and take on flesh was truly inconceivable to the Jewish mindset.

IV.           Understanding the Incarnation
     “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.” Philippians 2:5-9 Paul in his letter to the church of Philippi breaks down the incarnation in this manner: Christ existed in the form of God, did not consider being equal to God something to cling to, humbled Himself, became a servant to God, became a man, and became obedient to the point of dying on a cross. First off this does not mean at the point of emptying Himself that He ceased to be God but rather He laid aside His privileges of being God: meaning He would now experience what it meant to be human and need food, sleep, air to breathe, etc. Paul makes is clear that Jesus existed in the form of God prior to taking on flesh. This means He was not limited to the limitations of humanity. Jesus did not consider His equality with God (the Father) as something to cling to. He did not see His divine form as something to cling to or hold on to, but rather was willing to give it up. Thus Christ emptied Himself and became a man. He took on flesh and became a bond-servant to the Father, His Father. In His humility in becoming limited by flesh was not enough, Jesus became obedient in His humility to the point of death. God could not redeem humanity by just coming in His divine form, thus He had to take on flesh and this was still not enough but He had to die and shed His blood. Though in the midst of all of this He still remained fully God even after He laid aside His divine form. This is what it meant that God became a man.

Paul in his second letter the church of Corinth said that the Second Person of the Trinity was rich and became poor for our sake. Christ in divine form and nature became poor or rather took on flesh that we would become rich. “…though He was rich yet for your sake He became poor so that you through His poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9 The Second person of the Trinity laid it all aside and became poor that we may be made rich. The high and lofty God took on flesh became a baby to a poor family that we might gain it all. He became poor on His own volition for the sake of love. This is why Jesus had both the right and the ability to tell the Rich Young Ruler to go sell all and give to the poor because He had already done so. Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. Mark 10:21-22

When we look upon the Gospels and see the incarnate God we see the ultimate example of humility. God who both dwelt before time began and spoke creation into being has chosen to walk among and become like His creation by binding Himself to flesh. My prayer is that the Gospels would never be a collection of stories of our Savior, but would be the story of God in love with humanity. Oh, that which amazed and astonished the disciples when they saw Jesus turn water to wine, walking on water or healing the sick and raising the dead never cease to amaze us. I pray that even more than these moments, that the love God had for humanity that drove Him to plunge Himself forever into our story by binding Himself to flesh forever never cease to amaze us. That we would never stop marveling at the fact that God, the Great I AM willingly went to the cross and died for creation.