"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Light of Men

At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Jews had been under Roman rule since 63 BC. Luke records that Caesar Augustus proclaimed that the whole empire should be enrolled for tax purposes. Each person was to go to his ancestral city. Without understanding it, Caesar was fulfilling the prophecy of Micah that God’s appointed ruler for Israel would come out of Bethlehem. Joseph and Mary went to the city of David, because Joseph was a member of the tribe of Judah (probably Mary as well). Her son, Jesus, would be born with the full endorsement of prophecy and Davidic rank—He would have the rightful claim to the throne of David.

Matthew states that Mary and Joseph were engaged to be married. At the time, engagement was a binding arrangement, a man could call his fiancĂ© “wife”, and it was assumed that the couple would be married (Matt. 1:20). Before they were legally united in marriage, Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant. To him, this could only mean she had been with another man. As a man of justice, he sought to divorce her. As a man of mercy, he sought to do so privately. At that point in time, God intervened in a dream and revealed to Joseph that the child was conceived by the Spirit of God, and told Joseph to marry her. He obeyed, giving Jesus full legal status before the law, as their legitimate son.

Previously, as recorded in Luke, the angel Gabriel came to Mary with a message. Calling her “favored one,” he proceeded to tell her that she would give birth to the Son of God. He would save people from their sins and be called the Son of the Highest. Apparently thinking in the normal framework of how births occur, she was incredulous. However, the angel clarified “The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and for that reason, the holy offspring will be called the Son of God.” Ultimately, he reminded Mary that to God, nothing is impossible. Her ultimate response was, “Let it be unto me according to your word.”

Mary must have treasured this in her heart, reflecting on this event as they traveled to Bethlehem. Her encounter with Elizabeth, soon to be Mother of John the Baptizer, may also have brought her comfort. Elizabeth’s unborn babe leaped for joy in the womb as the unborn child of Mary approached. What must she have expected as a suitable place for the birth of the Son of the Highest?

She must have been surprised to hear “There is no room in the inn.” Their resting place was a lowly manger where the livestock was kept. Whether or not she realized it, a pattern was emerging. She was a very young woman of low social stature. Bethlehem was a mere village, not held in high esteem. His birth was first announced to shepherds, not the religious or social hierarchy. When He laid aside his riches in Glory, He stooped to the most humble social position in the human race. He was also identified with the poor in his birth, in that the Shepherds were the first to hear the announcement.

Only later, were wise noblemen from the East guided to Him by a star. Their question upon arrival at Jerusalem in Matthew, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” caused a very different reaction in King Herod who feared a rival was born. The scribes, apparently dispassionate, told Herod that according to Micah’s prophecy, the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Leaving Jerusalem, the wise men were guided once more by the star. Apparently, no one from Jerusalem cared enough to follow them. This apathy toward the King of Kings was to be a pattern seen in the religious establishment of Jesus’ day. The only interest they showed was due to his potential threat to their superiority and position.

Some things have changed very little. The difference between "religion" and true relationship with God through Jesus continues to be divided by misunderstanding and a broad gulf of motivations. The former guards its position of power and superiority, looking down on those around it in contempt. The latter recognizes the level ground at the foot of the cross and bends knee to worship the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, born, not in a palace and carried on a steed, but brought to life in a manger amid the muck and mire of a fallen world... where the rest of us live and die.

He found us where we were, broken and imperfect, confused, on the road to destruction. He shined a light in the darkness to show us a better way, a road home, to intimacy with God and others. The way he came to show us is the way of love. We love, because he loved us first.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:16

"In him was life, and the life was the light of men." John 1:4

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Good News

Because the writers of the gospels wrote from various perspectives with different purposes in mind, it is difficult to establish the chronology of much of the content of the gospel accounts. Of the roughly three years of Jesus’ ministry, only about 30 days of actual activity are specifically recorded. By cross-referencing the content of the gospels, we can get a somewhat broader perspective.

The English word gospel comes from the Anglo-Saxon god spell, or good tidings. It is a literal translation of the Greek “eueaggelion” which originally meant “a reward for bringing good news” and eventually “good news” itself. The term in the New Testament has come to represent God’s plan for reconciling humankind to Himself through salvation and sanctification. Although Matthew, Mark, Luke and John differ in detail, they show remarkable agreement on the general flow of Jesus’ ministry, teaching, and supernatural character. They have been accepted from the earliest church period as sacred, authoritative accounts of His life and teaching.

Historical readings indicate that Matthew was the most revered and read of the four Gospels. It is considered the teaching Gospel. It concerns itself with the appearing of the Promised Savior and King (beginning with the genealogy). A unique feature is that it uses the word “church,” and is sometimes referred to as the Gospel of the Church for that reason. Matthew shows specifically that Christianity is the fulfillment of the Old Testament revelation.

The shortest Gospel, Mark, depicts Jesus as Servant. It contains very little of the teachings of Jesus. Nothing is recorded of his birth and childhood. A genealogy is not necessary to make the case of a servant. Beginning with the ministry of John the Baptist, it goes directly to Jesus’ public ministry. It ends with the death and resurrection of Jesus, and shows Jesus as a humble servant and a powerful Savior. Most likely written in Rome, it is concerned with Jesus as suffering Servant and mighty Conqueror. Focusing on servanthood, Mark lists only 18 miracles.

Luke shines the spotlight on the perfection of Jesus as man and Savior. Written to the Greeks, the genealogy extends to Adam (not Abraham). A feature of Luke is the honoring of women, including Anna, Martha and Mary. He includes many healings performed by Christ, something that Luke, as a physician would have found extremely remarkable. Other emphases include Christ’s attitude toward the poor and the great value of prayer.

John emphasizes Jesus as the Son of God. The Gospel is written to “all who will believe.” A key word for the Gospel of John is “relationship.” He exalts Jesus, and in the opening verses calls him God. His express purpose for writing is that the readers would continue to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that they would continue to have life in His name. The faith of believers was under attack by teachings that He was not really God in the flesh, and John wrote his Gospel to refute that teaching and to protect the faith of true believers. It is referred to as the spiritual Gospel, emphasizing the King, not the Kingdom.

Jesus Christ is the most significant and impacting human being who has ever lived. History hinges on Him, and is even divided by B.C and A.D. demarcations because of Him. When we speak of His life, we are referencing the writings of the Gospel writers. Only parts of his life are revealed in these writings. He has existed before time began, and was present at the creation of the universe (John 1:1-5). He had fellowship with Father and Spirit before the world existed.

He appeared to different people in the Old Testament as the Angel of Covenant. His appearing in person was foretold by Old Testament prophets. His fulfillment of these prophecies is recorded in the Gospels. When his work was finished here on Earth, he returned to the Father to take his place at the right hand of the Father in power and majesty (Heb. 1:3), where He now lives as our glorified Savior and Intercessor. He reigns over the Church on Earth through the Holy Spirit. He has promised to return to Earth to gather his people and to judge all humankind. In ages to come, He will be worshipped and adored by believers (saints) whom He has redeemed for eternal fellowship.

His ministry in the form of man was expansive. However, we have only what is recorded in the Gospels. The recorded story began in Palestine, a tiny country bordering the eastern Mediterranean. It was a crossroads of the world in Jesus’ time. The nation of Israel had lived there for centuries, as Jehovah’s servant. Intended to display the glory of Jehovah among the nations, Israel broke her covenant with the Lord through idolatry and disobedience.

Christ came to Israel and identified with his people. He was focused on reconciling God and humankind. When He proved Himself obedient unto death, God raised Him from the dead. Those who believed in Him began proclaiming the Gospel, the Good News of salvation. His enduring promise is to be with them until the end of time.

"But the angel said (to the shepherds), 'Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." Matthew 2:10-11