Come See the Baby, part 4

Once again, we set a new record for site views yesterday so pat yourselves on the back or give yourselves a hand. Again, thanks for your continued support and reading.

Enter the Prophetess

I can remember as a young boy how there were some older women that left an impression on me. They were the kind of old ladies who carried candy mints that left a waxy film in your mouth after eating them and who had high pitched voices. But it was usually these who seemed the most devout to me. They had a “holy” manner about them. They could rattle off Scripture better than most grown men, even preachers. Their bibles were worn and the pages highlighted, written on, and marked up.

This is what I picture when I think of Anna the prophetess. She, like Simeon, is an obscure figure in history and she makes only one appearance (here in Luke’s gospel). Most of the women I mentioned above were widows and Anna herself is a widow. She is from the “lost tribe” of Asher – apparently some survived and managed to keep some sort of genealogical record. There has not been a prophet in Israel for hundreds of years and we are still a few years out from John the Baptist making his rise in the prophetic realm. However, God has raised up his prophetess, of which the Talmud records only seven, thereby making this office very select. How long she was married and/or been a widow is unclear, but most scholars accept that she was eighty-four (hence, the NIV).

We have a glimpse of her character given to us by the historian: she is devout, never leaving the temple, which probably means that she was in constant worship to the Father. Indeed, the text gives credence to this saying she “worshipped night and day.” It could also mean she had quarters in the temple area somewhere but this may not be so. She also fasted and prayed, indicating a disciplined lifestyle. It is this devout widow who is the next to see the baby.

Thanksgiving

It seems that this whole account of Simeon and Anna took place one after the other. When one was finished giving prophetic testimony concerning the baby, the other picked up where the other left off. Anna highlights the Redeemer that has been sent to Israel. She thanks God for this child, no doubt her mind thinking of the plight of her people and the redmeption Jesus will offer them. She recognizes that Messiah has come to help his people.

Luke also highlights the devoutness of Mary and Joseph: they kept the Law. What had been perscribed by Moses, they were sure to fulfill it. They exhibit the characteristics of faithful Jews. The rest of the childhood of Jesus is skipped until he is twelve years old. Luke catches all this growth with a simple statement of Jesus’ physical, mental, and spiritual development. Chronologically, the visit of the Magi should follow as well as the flight to Egypt, but Luke does not pick these up. Why? I suppose they did not need to be mentioned to emphasize his purpose in writing about the Redeemer or the Son of Man. These newborn occasions certainly could have been discribed to Luke by Mary and were what stood out concerning Jesus’ childhood. It certainly left a deep impression (see 2.33).

Following all this, Mary and Joseph take Jesus back to Nazareth in Galilee where Jesus grows until he is brought to the temple as a twelve year old. Concerning the grace of God, one commentator has written, “through all the years of growth and increase in true wisdom the grace of God, His guiding, protecting and supporting love and power, rested upon the Child. There was no partition-wall between Him and God, because He was perfect in all things.” No doubt during this time of growth his parents, as devout Jews, made several treks to Jerusalem with Jesus. And every year his attention was brought to the annual sacrifice of atonement for the sins of Israel. His eyes probably saw the blood of thousands of sacrifices, like a red river out of the temple sacuPerhaps over time, his spirit within him was stirred as his divine mission

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Come See the Baby, part 3

A Brief Note

I want to express my thanks and gratitude to all of you who read my comments over God’s word. And I am pleased to announce that yesterday marked the highest site views since I started this endeavour. And to you, precious reader, I express my thanks. My prayer is that my meager efforts help you see God clearer in your life and that your understanding of his word is enhanced. Also, feel free to leave a comment and let me know who is reading this thing.

And Now…

As commanded by the angel, Jesus’ parents name him Jesus. On the eighth day, as was custom, he is circumcised, distinctly marking him as a covenant child of God. Jews were born into covenant; we are taught to enter covenant and we do that through baptism (see Col 2.11-12). Having done this, they take him to the temple that they might sacrifice the necessarily sacifice for their purification and present Jesus to the Lord. By their offering, we know they were not very rich people: the poor person’s offering was a pair of doves or two young pigeons (see Lev 12.8). Since they could not afford a lamb for Mary’s sacrifice, they brought some birds.

Someone may ask, “Well, where is all the money from those rich gifts brought to them by the wise men?” First, it should be noted that what Luke is recording here happened within 33 days of Jesus’ birth (Again, see Lev 12.3). Second, keep in mind that it took some time for the Magi to find Jesus after following the star in the sky and receiving instructions from Herod. Third, also remember that it was only after the birth of Jesus that Magi started headed Jesus’ direction (see Matt 2.1). Fourth, the time of the appearing of the Magi was not until Jesus was a “child” (Matt 2.11), implying Jesus has grown from being a baby (when he is presented at the temple).

Someone else may say, “Well, where did all the wealth go that he did get?” Remember that Joseph and Mary had to flee to Egypt (Matt 2.13ff). No doubt the funds received by the Magi were used to finance this trip.

Simeon

Most people say the Simeon was an old man, but as far as I know his age is not revealed in Scripture. However, the Holy Spirit has revealed to him that he was not to die until he had seen “the consolation of Israel.” Also, based on the language of his prayer it can be implied that he was an old man. What we do know was he was righteous and devout, and he was apparently a person who was full of the Spirit: the Holy Spirit reveals things to him and it moves him to enter the temple court. But when his eyes fall upon the baby Jesus, he knows who he looks at and prays a prayer to God Almighty concerning the child.

In the prayer, he expresses he is ready to go having met the Lord. Truly, that is the spirit every Christian should have. We have seen the Lord and have received the promise (the Holy Spirit, Acts 2.38). At any time, we are ready to be dismissed. More than that, just as Simeon has seen salvation, we have experienced it. As Christians, we are saved from sin, death, and hell. Indeed, the light has shone on Gentiles and salvation is for all men.

Marvelous

Mary and Joseph are stunned; like so many people in the book of Luke, they are blown away at the words and actions they have seen. Simeon, before stepping out of history, blesses both of them and then says something to Mary. He prophesies to her that Jesus will cause the rising (used elsewhere in the NT for resurrection) and falling of many. Perhaps this is prophetic of Jesus’ power to act as judge. But notice that Jesus will reveal the thoughts of many hearts. That is the idea of the “light of the world.” His light shines in the darkness and shows men’s deeds for what they are, either good or evil. What do you think of Jesus? I can tell you that he knows what is in you heart of hearts concerning him.

Finally, Simeon says that a sword will pierce Mary’s soul. Most commentators say this is the death of Jesus. His death will impact her greatly, as it would any mother. As Leon Morris writes, “His suffering will not leave her untouched. Simeon’s final words point to the revelatory function of Jesus’ work. People declare themselves by their attitude to him. We cannot ultimately be neutral. When people see Christ suffer, their reaction shows on which side they stand.”

Come See the Baby, part 2

Though I myself have not had one (yet), I have seen the joy a new baby brings to parents; they want everyone to come and see the baby. As we saw with Zechariah and Elizabeth, parents want family and neighbors around them during this time in order that they might share in the joy as well. And so here are the new parents, Mary and Joseph, with their baby, Jesus, who is the child of angelic announcement, destined to be the Savior of all men, and who comes to see him? None other than the shepherds of the field.

Luke, recording history, continues to show the “commonness” and simplicity of the birth of Jesus. No room in the inn. Alone in a manger. Born in an obscure, dusty town. And now visited by shepherds. It was probably cool that night, though we don’t know exactly what time of the year it was. It was night though (Luke 2.8). When suddenly, in an instant, an angel appears and the night sky is lit up as the glory of the Lord shone around. We don’t know this angel’s name but I think it would be safe to say he too stood in the presence of the Lord because he brought with him the glory of the Lord, like the face of Moses after he had been on the mountain. And this angel comes with a message.

From the Lips of Angels

This angel begins with comfort – do not be afraid (see 1.13, 30). This angel brings with him “good news” that is for all people. In Bethlehem (the town of David), a Savior is born. John (and only John) would call him the Savior of the World (John 4.42). Indeed, Jesus’ mission is clear even from brith: salvation of makind from their sins. But more than that, Jesus is Christ. The “anointed one;” not just ‘an’ anointed one, but ‘the’ anointed one. One was anointed for a special service, esp. king and priest. And to be sure, Jesus is our kingly priest as the Hebrew writer would point out. And also, Jesus is Lord. He is the ruler, master, the only who is in charge. It is at his name every knee shall bow and every tongue confess. The angel announces these things but before he joins the rest of the heavenly host, he gives them a sign: Jesus in the manger.

The Lord’s Army

Immediately there is a great sound in the air as a number of the heavenly host (lit. army) has shown up. This is the fighting force of heaven but they come not with hostility; this army announces peace. “Glory to God” will always precede peace. God deserves all the honor and praise for what he has done: this is the “zenith of divine Self-revelation” as one commentator has put it. God has come near his people that he might redeeem them and save them. Following this announcement of peace on earth, the angels return to their heavenly abode.

 The shepherds, though, go out in search of the one whom the angels spoke of. They want to see the good news of God. And so they find Mary and the baby and just as the angels had said, he is in the manger. It would appear the first to visit Jesus are these shepherds. One note on shpeherds – shpeherds were a class that had a bad reputation. They were seen as unreliable and untrustworthy. In fact, the Talmud says that they are not allowed to testify in court (Talmud, Sanhedrin 25b). And so for these to be the some of the first to lay eyes on the Savior is a remarkable thing. I think it demonstrates that God is no respecter of persons and that the good news is for all.

After seeing the “salvation of God” (cf. 2.30), these shepherds return to the fields but are unable to keep what they have seen to themselves. They go around and spread the word about Jesus and the great things he is destined for. Mary, though, treasures these things. In my opinion, it would seem Luke received this data directly (or at least indirectly) from Mary, in order to know that she treasured up these things. Like any mother, she keeps these memories for herself. Literally, she preserved in a safe condition. But more than that, she pondered them also. Literally, she thought seriously and soberly about these things. She considered the implications of these things for her life and for her childs life, though I doubt she could understand the manifold plan of God at that time. Until Jesus returned to the Father and sent the Spirit to the apostles, this remained a mystery.

We must understand that Mary was not “a perfect being who inmmediately understood perfectly and permenantly grasped the full significance of the angels’ tidings.” After all, in Mark 3.20-35, she is ready with the rest of Jesus’ siblings to drag him back to Nazareth thinking him crazy. So while she did ponder these things, it is doubtful she (or anyone else for that matter) fully comprehended what all this meant.

Luke, the Historian

Recorded for us by a great historian moved by the Spirit to write these things down perfectly and with clarity, we have a simple account of the humble beginning of Jesus the Lord. One commentator has said that “in this narrative, Luke records in a sober and life-like manner, events of a beautiful and miraculous nature, but at the same time actual history.” In addition to this comment, he also wrote that any attempt to relate this account to any apocryphal account of other supernatural births and occurences have been untenable and other attempts to compare it as an imitation of an extra-biblical story have failed also. This is actual, factual history concerning the greatest birth ever: Jesus Christ, the Savior.

Come See the Baby

For me, some of the great cinematic moments are when the main character is introduced. Perhaps the camera has been following him/her from behind and then they turn to face the camera and you see them. I can’t help but think of the scene in Tombstone when Wyatt Earp (played by Kurt Russell) is seen for the first time by his brothers and the audience. I cheer out loud when moments like that happen. The minister I work with told me that when he went to see Death Wish (the first one) in theaters, it was a time when people were very quiet during the movie (unlike today) and people watched movies. But when Charles Bronson blasted away the first thug in the movie, the crowd erupted.

That is what is happening in Luke chapter 2. Luke is finally going to introduce the hero of the story, Jesus. But unlike most of the famous characters of movies and even history, Jesus, the King of Kings, is not born in a palace or hospital with doctors present or even in his own home. No, the Savior of mankind is born in a stable and laid his head for the first time in a manger because there is no room in the inn for the king to stay. What a picture of humility painted for us by none other than the Lord.

The Historical Reality

Luke begins chapter 2 with some names and places, putting this book in an historical setting. The account of Jesus did not take place in a vacuum with no historical setting. Augustus was reigning as Caeser and acting as govenor over Syria was Quirinius. Further, Luke records that there was a census that took place at this time. We cannot stress the fact that Luke was a great historian and did the research to ensure his writing was accurate. His testimony concerning the places and people in authority in that time period could easily have been checked and if Theophilus is a man of power (as has been suggested), then he could check the certainty of the things he has been taught (indeed the purpose of this gospel account).

Away in a Manger

Joseph and Mary needed to go to Bethlehem to partake in this manditory census. So they leave home and head for Judea, but along the way Mary goes into labor. When it is time for the baby to come, it’s time. And since the inns were crowded (perhaps due to the number of people accumulating for the census), Mary must give birth to the Messiah in, traditionally, a stable. Some have suggested a cave (going back to Justin Martyr). Others claim it was an open air birth or in a house where the animals shared the same roof as the inhabitants. Whatever the case, the point seems to be that this was a lonely and lowly birth. And Luke hammers home the point that Mary was virgin and Jesus was the oldest of his brothers by indicating Jesus was the firstborn.

We should also note that Luke says Bethlehem was the “city of David.” However, we have no record of David returning to Bethlehem after leaving it. In the same way, we have no record of Jesus returning to Bethlehem after he is born here. At any rate, God’s word is fulfilled in that Jesus, the Messiah, is born in Bethlehem just as the prophet predicted (Mic 5.2, cf. Matt 2.6). God has worked his purpose and done so through humble and simple people. His Son has come into the world and redemptions grand scheme will enter the final act as Jesus grows, ministers and dies.

There is a lot that could be said historically and also concerning background. I urge the reader to research these things for themself. Maybe someday I will revisit these matters and expose them more deeply. But what I want us to key in on is Luke’s ability to contrast earthly, fleshy kings and the spiritual king. While Augustus is in Rome issuing decrees for a census, no doubt robed with the finest robes and surrounded by the luxuaries of life, the true king makes his debut in swaddling clothes surrounded by no luxuaries. While Quirinius is governing his territory Syria, one upon whose shoulders the government will rest is laid in a manger. All this is to show the severe misunderstanding the world has concerning true greatness. True greatness is not found in a palace nor in the finer things of life; it is found in small, obscure Jewish town, born to humble parents and laid in a manger. The baby who will grow into a man that will reveal the thoughts of the hearts of men is born. Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, is come.

Benedictus

My favorite songs are the old hymns in the old hymnal that we never use anymore. Now we have the great big ten pound “Songs of Faith and Praise” hymnal (your may be gray or blue; ours are maroon). A lot of the are more focused on praise and adoration which is a good thing. But my favorite songs will probably always be those “old time religion” songs like “Sing to me of Heaven,” “Old Rugged Cross,” and “The New Song.”

When we read in Scripture about people singing, I wonder if these were songs that were common to the time. We know they had hymns. In fact, Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn before they left for the garden (see Matt 26.30) But then you read the words and the actions behind them and you can come to the conclusion that they probably were not “Song of the Synagogue.” In fact, when you read Zechariah’s song (called Benedictus because of its opening word in Latin), there are some characteristics that make it unique.

A Horn of Salvation

Immediately we identify the inspriation behind this song: the Holy Spirit. These are therefore words of prophecy which praise God for his revelation, namely the coming Messiah and the one who is to prepare his way. In fact, in English the song begins with “Praise…the God of Israel.” Zechariah understands that this event has been divinely established and acknowledges God’s intervention in Elizabeth and his life.

Notice why God is to be praised – he has come near his people. This is a theme abundant in Scripture, that is God visiting his people. Paul explains that that was his situation even in chains: when all others had fled, God came near (2 Tim 4.17). God is a God who makes house calls. When his people are in need of comfort, encoruagement, even salvation (Luke 1.69), God shows up and supplies his people with what they need. But in addition to this, Zechariah says we have a God who “redeems his people.” There was a price on our head that we could not pay and God stepped into history to pay that price. In order to buy us back from a world of sin, God sent Jesus. And so the idea is that we were redeemed at a high price. Absolutely God is to be praised for these reasons.

Moreover, God has “raised up a horn of salvation” and this came through “the house of David.” This is a reference to Jesus. As one commentator has written: “The horn was a symbol of strength (as with the horn of a bull), so that a horn of salvation means ‘a mighty salvation’ or ‘a strong salvation.'” When God acts he does it mightily. And so when he brought us salvation, he rolled up his sleeve and went to work – some of the hardest work that can be done: human salvation.

Zechariah also acknowledges that God promised all this in the past through the prophets. This was a promise of salvation from enemies and from those who hate us (in the context, the Jews. Jesus picks this up in 6.22 and applies it to kingdom people). Zechariah then presents a four-fold purpose for the raising of the horn of salvation.

The Fulfillment of Promises

Zechariah was a priest in the temple. That meant he knew the promises of God of a coming Messiah, he knew who the promises had been made to (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), and he had prayed for the coming of the Messiah (see Luke 1.13). And so, filled with the Holy Spirit, he details how the coming of the deliverer was fulfillment of promises and oaths in the past.

First, the coming of the Messiah is to “show mercy to our fathers.” Hence, Jesus’ coming was not merely for those living but was for all men of all time (the Hebrew writer says this was HAPAX, or “once for all.”). And so this touches those “fathers” both Patriarchal and Mosaic who had waited for this. Again, this is a portrait of the mercy God has for his people.

Second, God made specific promises to his people which Zechariah calls his “holy covenant” and “oath.” This demonstrates the faithfulness of God. He spoke a promise, cut a covenant, and it came about. God’s word never fails.

Third, Zechariah acknowledges that man is need of rescuing. Man has been enslaved by Satan from the beginning and was therefore a captive in the kingdom of Satan. But God came and brought redemption with him. We were then rescued from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the kingdom of Jesus (Col 1.13). The greatest enemy to defeat was death and Jesus gained the victory over that through his resurrection.

Finally, God seeks for his people to serve him without fear. And therefore, to give us this freedom and fearlessness, he sent Jesus, the horn of salvation.

A Prophet for the King

Zechariah now details the mission of his son, John. John is the spokesman for God pointing toward the coming king. He is preparing the king’s people for his arrival. John also has the mission of pointing the people toward forgiveness of sins. This will be realized in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Without these components, there can be no salvation, no forgiveness of sins (cf. Heb 9.22). And so John’s mission is clear: preparing the people, teaching the people of the coming salvation. Jesus is the light of the world (John 8.12) and he shines into the darkness (John 3.19). He illuminates the path we are to walk in and that is the pathway of peace. Paul picks up this idea in Ephesians as well (Eph 5.19).

Luke sums up the years of John until his adulthood. One commentator believes that John’s elderly parents died and he was raised in the wilderness by Essenes (who did raise other people’s children). This is uncertain. What we do know is that he did grow and would become a preacher of repentance in the desert.

God’s Mercy

There is no greater joy to a family than the addition of a new baby…unless you are a couple who have been unable to have children your entire marriage (which you view as a disgrace), you are both very old, and the Lord has shown favor to you to bless you with the forerunner with of the Messiah. Then, maybe you get a bit excited and you invite the whole family over to join in your joy. This is apparently what Zechariah and Elizabeth did when she had come full term and John was born. Relatives and family were there for the great occasion.

Luke records this event with a focus on the mercy of God (1.58). We usually think of the mercy of God in terms of salvation and forgiveness – God is so great in his mercy that he had compassion on sinful and sent his Son to die for us. By his mercy we are able to stand in presence and by his mercy he saved us. However, when it comes to the barren giving brith, we can see the mercy of God. God, who is rich in mercy, gives his humble servants Zechariah and Elizabeth a child who is to prepare the way of the Lord.

Luke then records for us the peculiar event of the naming of John. Elizabeth, knowing it would appear, that the angel has selected the name John for her baby emphatically says “not so” and states that he is to be called John. When the family and neighbors try to enlist Zechariah for help, he says that the childs name is already John (“His name is John,” versus Elizabeth’s state that he would be called John). In the original language, the name John comes first in the sentence, pressing the emphatic necessity that the child’s name is John. Zechariah views his encounter with the angel as something serious and acknowledges the word of the angel as haivng already come to pass.

Immediately, Zechariah’s mouth is loosed and he can speak. Notice the first thing he does: praises God. After months of silence, the first thing he seeks to do is praise the God who has shown mercy to his wife and him. Suppose this had been one of us. What would be the first thing out of our mouths having been struck dumb for unbelief? We can learn a valuable lesson from these simple and humble people that we ought to be praising God at all times for his great mercy that he has shown us.

One final note over this account: notice what happens when the mute man praises God – everyone is filled with awe. This is another theme in Luke, this amazement and awe that people have when something incredible/miraculous takes place. People began to understand that this was “God’s event.” God is at work in this situation and this child is going to be something special. As one commentator has said: “Plainly the events that had just occurred protended some mighty action of God.”

The Language of the Kingdom

Someone has called the Psalms the “language of the kingdom,” that is the kingdom of God. If you want to speak the language of the kingdom of God, read the Psalms. Sometimes I get people who hear me pray a public prayer and say something like, “man, you need to teach me how to pray to like that.” When they say that, I usually point them to the textbook that taught me: the book of Psalms.

When we read Mary’s song, in Luke 1.46-55, and also the song of Zechariah, in Luke 1.67-79, we find a lot of Old Testament in them. When these songs are sung, we can see that the language of the kingdom is on the singers’ hearts. Notice the numerous OT references in Mary’s song:

“My soul glorifies (or magnifies) the Lord” – see 1 Sam 2.1-10

“And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” – Psa 25.5

“For he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant” – 1 Sam 1.11; Psa 136.23; 138.6

“from now on all generations will call me blessed” – Psa 71.18

“for the mighty one has done great things for me” – Deut 10.21; Psa 71.19

“Holy is his name” – Psa 99.3; 111.9

“His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation” – Psa 103.17; cf. Ex 20.6

“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm” – Psa 89.11ff; Psa 98.1

“He has brought down rulers fromi their thrones but has lifted up the humble” – 1 Sam 2.4, 7; Job 5.11-13

“He has filled the hungry with good things” – Psa 107.9; 1 Sam 2.5

“But has sent the rich away empty” – Job 22.9

“He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful” – Isa 41.8-9; Psa 98.3

 “To Abraham and his descendant forever” – Micah 7.20

Mary has been selected as the conduit for the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises and from her heart springs the language of the kingdom. If you want to speak the language of the kingdom, pick up the textbook and learn from those who spoke it. Reading, memorizing, reciting the Scripture will enable one to communicate your thoughts as these people did. This is not say that one must speak fluent King James Version to be understood by God; people struggling in their prayer life can learn from these examples as to how a child of God can communicate their thoughts and feelings to their heavenly Father.