On Cancellations And Endings

A few days ago on my Internet homepage, there was an article about the 90 or so TV shows that were cancelled during 2013.  Out of curiosity, I went through the list.  Since we don’t have cable, and the only “dish” we have is one we eat out of, I hadn’t heard of most of the shows.  There are some shows we follow on Netflix or Hulu, but otherwise we’re pretty much out of it.  Three of the shows we follow were on the list.  I knew about two of them.

What was interesting to me were the comments reacting to the cancellations.  One show apparently was just dropped in the middle of the story and people complained that there was no ending.  They’ll never find out what “happened” to A and B.  When I got home from work last night, my wife told me to hurry because one show we follow was having its finale.  It actually completed the story.  Very satisfying.  Even though we’re several episodes behind on Netflix, we now know that the “story” will end “like it should.”  Silly, isn’t it, to get so wrapped up in artificiality.

The final show of 2013 will happen in three days.  I’m not talking about TV, but about the year itself.  It’ll be time to close the books and start over with new ones.  People will make resolutions.  In the coming year, people will break resolutions.  “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  I’ve only made one resolution over the last several years and that is not to make any resolutions.  It may be a new year, but it’s still the same old me.

There is another “finale” and that comes at the end of life.  And there’s another use of the term “cancelled,” although in this day of e-commerce and direct deposit, it’s probably way out-of-date, and I’m giving away my age.  The younger generations have probably never seen one.  When was the last time you got “cancelled checks” back from your bank or credit union?  

A cancelled check is one that has been paid by the bank to whomever it was written.  It was “cancelled,” that is, marked “paid,” and every month the bank would send the checks that had cleared that month back to the check-writer.  There was more to it than that, but that’s it in a nutshell.  Since it usually took two or three days for the check to “clear,” some people would take advantage of “the float” and write checks and then run to the bank to deposit money so the check wouldn’t bounce, that is, it wouldn’t be rejected by the bank.  Hard to do that when transactions clear electronically.

You couldn’t spend a cancelled check.  It had already been spent.  Very soon, we’ll be done “spending” 2013 and will be issued a new year to spend.   And sooner or later, unless the Lord comes back, we’ll all come to the finale of our lives.  And even if He comes back, that, too, will be a finale.  We can’t “re-spend” 2013.  Except for a few days, it’s already been spent.  And we won’t be able to spend our lives again when they’re “cancelled”.  They will already have been spent.  (If you’ve suffered such a thing recently in your family or among your friends, I’m sorry.  I don’t mean to add to your sorrow.)

How will we spend 2014?  How will we spend the rest of our individual lives?  May the Lord enable us to spend them wisely.

The Thief on the Cross: A Different Way of Salvation?

On November 23, I published a post about the thief on the cross.  Some time later, I got a lengthy response.  Wordpress put it into spam.  It wasn’t, but neither was it something I could “approve”.  I have no difficulty with people disagreeing with something I believe, provided they show that the Scripture says I’m wrong. I just want what the Scripture itself says, not what folks say it says.  Such was the case for this response.  The gentleman who wrote it clearly believes there has been more than one way of salvation.  His comment was titled:  “Can Men, Today, Be Saved Like Enoch?”  His comments are largely a non-sequitur, because they fail to follow what the Bible actually says about the subject.

His comment starts off, “Did you ever notice that the hydrophobic believers in Jesus want to be saved like the thief on the cross?”  I suppose the word “hydrophobic” (fear of water) has to do with the fact that this gentleman believes that baptism is necessary for salvation.  His whole response is based on that supposition.  At the same time, he refers to them as “believers in Jesus.”  So, are these “hydrophobic” “believers in Jesus” saved or not?  He doesn’t say.

He continues, “Their argument is that the thief was not baptized in water, and was still saved.”  I agree.  However, he says, “Thief proponents fail to mention that the thief was also saved without being born of the Spirit.”  I disagree.  Because the Bible doesn’t specifically mention it in this case, doesn’t mean that He wasn’t active in the heart and mind of this thief to enable him see that Jesus wasn’t just another criminal being executed.

According to this gentleman, “the Holy Spirit of promise had not been given at that time,” so, apparently, He was nowhere to be found until Pentecost.   However, the Old Testament is filled with references to the activity of the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost may have inaugurated a new day in God’s dealing with men, with Gentiles being granted salvation apart from becoming Jews, but it did not begin the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Then he brings in the case of Enoch, asking why men today don’t petition to be saved like Enoch.  He quotes Genesis 5:24, Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.

Then having admitted that Enoch was saved, the writer asks a series of questions about things that Enoch did not “believe”.  He didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God, nor that God raised Him from the dead.  He wasn’t immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins.  He didn’t believe that Jesus shed His blood on the cross so that his sins could be washed away.  He was not born of the Spirit, again, because the Spirit hadn’t been given.

Except for the last item, all these things are irrelevant to the case of Enoch.  Hebrews 11:5 has a comment about Enoch:  By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, ‘and was not found, because God had taken him’; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.  How was Enoch saved?  BY FAITH, just like anyone else has ever been saved, beginning with Abel.  (The Scripture nowhere reveals for certain whether Adam was ever saved.)

So then, what is “faith”?  According to Hebrews 11, it’s an obedient response to the Word of God, the Word, we might mention, which has been given, as in the case of Enoch, not which will be given, as in the case of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Enoch was saved through faith in the revealed Word of God, just like you and I are.

Then this gentleman turns to the thief on the cross.  Again, he lists some things about this man.  The thief believed that Jesus was the Christ [true].  He repented, but he did not confess that God raised Jesus from the dead [irrelevant.  Christ hadn’t risen from the dead yet, so the resurrection wasn’t a subject for faith], he wasn’t immersed in water for the forgiveness of his sins [also irrelevant], and he wasn’t born of the Spirit [inaccurate].

Then he asks, “can men, today, be saved like the thief on the cross?  ABSOLUTELY NOT” (his emphasis).  So, according to this writer, there have been least two different ways of salvation.

According to this writer, “men, today, can only be saved by meeting the terms of pardon under the New Covenant,” which, according to him, “started on the Day of Pentecost.”

It might be interesting to see what the Old Testament, written long before Pentecost, has to say about the New Covenant:

Jeremiah 31:31-34 says, “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH [my emphasis] – not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.  But this is the covenant that I will make WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL [my emphasis] after those days, says the LORD:  I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  No more shall every man teach his neighbor,  and every man his brother, saying ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” 

The whole section from Jeremiah 30-33 is the context in which the portion above should be read.

Ezekiel 11:19-20; 16:60-63; 37:15-28, and 39:21-29 are just some of the other OT Scriptures which refer to this promise of God to the nation of Israel.

Did all of this happen at Pentecost?  Did any of it?

It’s commonly taught that verses like these were all fulfilled when Israel returned from the Babylonian Captivity.  Again, where is the Scriptural evidence?  It certainly isn’t in Nehemiah, Ezra, Haggai or Malachi, books written about, during or after the Return.

There’s not a verse in the Old Testament about the New Covenant which includes baptism as one of it’s “terms of pardon.”

In a final “note,” the author refers to conversions listed in the Book of Acts.  Turning his argument around, he maintains that no one who was saved said that they did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that they did not have to be born of water and the Spirit, did not have to believe in the Resurrection, did not have to be immersed in water in order to be saved, and did not have to repent in order to be saved.

Except for the two references to “water”, which we’ll look at in a moment, all the others are irrelevant.  Jesus had come, unlike the time of Enoch and even in some ways unlike the thief on the cross – as we’ve noted – and so there were things about Him, like His deity and His resurrection, which now are the subjects of faith.  One cannot deny them and be saved.

So, what about “water?”

The writer refers a couple of times to John 3:5, where Jesus said to Nicodemus, “…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”   There are a variety of viewpoints about what our Lord meant by “water.”  Our friend, of course, says that it has to be immersion in water in order to be saved.  Others say that it refers to physical birth, and still others look to Ephesians 5:26, where Paul refers to the washing of water by the word.”  However, Nicodemus probably never read Ephesians, and the idea of it simply being physical birth seems seems somewhat strange.  All Nicodemus had to go by was the Old Testament, where baptism is never mentioned.

Though listing salvation experiences in the Book of Acts, there is one instance to which our friend never refers.  It’s found in Acts 10:  the conversion of Cornelius, his household and close friends, v. 24.  We’ll start reading in v. 43, which tells us something of what Peter told those in the house:  “to Him [Jesus] all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”  While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.  And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.  For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.  Then Peter answered and said, “Can anyone forbid water, THAT THESE SHOULD NOT BE BAPTIZED WHO HAVE RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT JUST AS WE HAVE?”  (emphasis added).

“Whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”  If Peter had agreed with our friend, wouldn’t he have said, “Whoever believes in Him and is baptized will receive remission of sins”?

Cornelius and his family and friends were saved without baptism, as witnessed by their receiving the Holy Spirit, which, in turn, was evidenced by their speaking with tongues and glorifying God.

News of this reached Jerusalem and created quite a stir.  The early church, being mainly Jewish, had a great deal of difficulty accepting the idea that Gentiles could be saved without coming through Judaism and perhaps none of them more than Peter. This is why he received the special vision recorded in the first part of Acts 10.

Acts 11 records the argument that arose over what Peter had done.  He gives a complete account of what happened before and when he arrived at Cornelius’ house.  In v. 15-17, he said, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning.  Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’  If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”

Notice in both these accounts that Peter never asked for a “decision.”  He never told his audience to “pray to receive the Holy Spirit.”  He just simply told them about the Lord Jesus Christ and God did all the rest.  These may or may not have their place elsewhere, but they had no place here.

Unless one believes that lost people can receive the Holy Spirit, and regardless of the two or three other verses proponents of baptismal salvation bring forth, Acts 10 forever refutes the idea that baptism is necessary for salvation. 

Voices of Christmas: The Babe in the Manger.

At last we come to the central figure in the nativity story.  The series hasn’t worked out quite like I thought it would when I started it at the beginning of the month.  There are “voices” not heard, and so much more that could have been heard from the ones that were.  Nevertheless, here we are:  someplace near a feeding trough for animals – a makeshift bed for the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe and of each and every one of us, because there was no room for Him elsewhere.  We understand the situation.  It wasn’t because of the hardheartedness of people.  There was just simply no room.

We could get sidetracked here about the evil government that had created the situation, but that’s not our purpose.  Our purpose is to focus on an unknown infant in an obscure village in a small, troublesome nation, an infant generally ignored in the hustle and bustle of the happenings of the day.  Pretty much like today.

Even among Christians.

And nativity scenes.

And the hustle and bustle of Christmas.

The celebration of the birth of our Lord brings about a curious situation.  Have you ever noticed that the Lord Jesus is the only historical character never allowed to grow up? (And, yes, I know that some think He never existed.)  I made a comment somewhere on a blog about this and someone replied, “Easter.”  That’s not what I meant.

What do I mean?

Nelson Mandela died a few weeks ago.  In the future, when his birthday comes around, the focus will not remain on his birth among the Tempu tribe in Transkei, South Africa, on July 18, 1918.  That will no doubt be included, but the focus will be on what he accomplished in his life.

By way of contrast, the Lord Jesus remains forever a Babe on Christmas Day.

Why do you suppose that is?

Nobody’s afraid of a baby.

I don’t know what the situation was back in the Lord’s day, but folks today will come up to the parents of a little one and “ooh” and “aah” over how cute he or she is.  They’ll smile at the little one, want to know his or her name, and then go their way because he or she isn’t theirs.  They have no real interest in that little one beyond today’s cuteness. But the baby certainly poses no threat to them or their well-being.

What about the Baby in the manger?

He grew up.

The Lord Jesus began His ministry by commanding people to repent.  He talked about sin and death and judgment and hell, where the “worm does not die and the fire is not quenched,” Mark 9:43-48.  Now these were not ignorant heathen in some out-of-the-way place somewhere.  These were people who for centuries had prided themselves on being God’s people.  They were the chosen nation.  And no doubt many of them did know the Lord.  But the idea to some of them that they should repent just like Gentiles who converted was just too much.

He told them that unless their “righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,” they would “by no means enter the kingdom of heaven,” Matthew 5:20.  You have to understand that the scribes and Pharisees were looked upon as the paragons of virtue and righteousness.  The idea that something more than what they had was required – why, that was unthinkable!  More than once, the Lord publicly scolded them for their hypocrisy.  No wonder, they perceived Him as a threat to them and their way of life, cf. John 11:48.  Granted, this was the leaders of the nation, but it apparently didn’t take much to incite the crowds later to cry out, “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!” Luke 23:20: John 19:15.

The Lord Jesus as a Baby poses no threat to folks.  They can ignore Him and go their way. But as the incarnate God and Judge of all mankind – well, He’s a threat.  They don’t want to think about things like death and the judgment to follow.  They don’t want to be told that they’re sinners, and that, apart from faith in the Lord Jesus, they stand condemned in the sight of God.  They want to hear about “love,” not righteousness, about “a better place,” not that other place.  They want “health,” not holiness.  Riches, not redemption.

The Lord Jesus as a Baby is safe.

But He grew up.

Thank you, Lord.

Happy Birthday.

Voices of Christmas: The Chief Priests and scribes.

In our last posts, we looked at the three wise men and Herod. Herod didn’t know anything about the Old Testament, so when asked about the birth of the Messiah, he asked those who should know, that is, he called in the experts:  the chief priests and scribes of the people.

To me, these verses are the most somber of all the verses in the Christmas story.  You expect Herod’s reaction to the wise men’s not returning to him and his decree to murder little boys as a result.  He was that evil.  But the chief priests and the scribes?  What do I mean?  Look at the story.  When asked about the birthplace of the Messiah, they answered correctly and immediately, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:  ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel’,” Matthew 2:4-6.  These men didn’t have to look the verses up in the concordance or on their I-Pads.  They knew them.  (And, yes, I know….)

The thing is, knowing the verses and that men had come a long way to find the Messiah, there is no record that these chief priests and scribes ever went to Bethlehem themselves.  There is no record that they themselves ever went looking for the Messiah. Indeed, some thirty-plus years later, their successors were among those most active in seeking to destroy Him.

During His ministry, our Lord tangled with some of these successors Himself.  In John 5, Jesus responds to some who were upset that He had dared to heal the impotent man on the Sabbath, and then had claimed equality with God, v. 18.  In v. 39, He said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”  He was talking to the leaders of the Jews, for the ordinary folks didn’t have copies of the Scripture to study for themselves.

Like their predecessors in the time of Herod and the wise men, these men apparently thought the study of Scripture was an end in itself.  Their goal was to know as much about It as possible.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  God places no premium on ignorance.  Indeed, ignorance will only get you lost.  This isn’t to say that apart from Christ, we’re not lost already.  It’s just that only through the Scriptures can we find Him and salvation.

Jesus said as much Himself.  In His response, He continued, “and these are they which testify of Me.”  From Genesis through Malachi, for that’s all they had, the Old Testament testifies of the Lord Jesus.  This doesn’t mean that we have to look for some “spiritual” meaning in the words.  The words themselves speak of Him.  If Micah 5:2 prophecies of an actual event in an actual place, then so do all the rest of the Old Testament prophecies.  Granted, there are some things the Old Testament only hints at, for example, “the church.”  However, “the church” neither nullifies, cancels or “fulfills” the Old Testament.  That is reserved for, and will yet be completed by, the Lord Jesus.

For all their knowledge of the Scripture, these scholars Herod called didn’t know the Scripture.  Neither did their successors.  Paul refers to this in 1 Corinthians 2:8, where, in writing of the hidden wisdom of God, he said, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  Our Lord Himself said to the disciples in John 16:2, “…the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.”  This happened in the experience of the early church, and it happens today in the murder of Christians by those of other religions.  It will continue to happen until the Lord comes back.  In the US, we’ve escaped a lot of this persecution through the mercy and providence of God.  Considering how things are going in this country, I’m not sure that our time isn’t coming, if it hasn’t already started.

In John 5:40, our Lord finished His response to those who were persecuting Him, “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.”

That is the crux of the matter.  We can discuss and argue about “the church,” or baptism, or prophecy, or any of a number of other subjects.  I’ve done so in this blog. We can have all kinds of “degrees” and religious titles:  “Master of Theology,” “Doctor of Theology,” Bishop, Reverend, etc., etc.  I’m not against “education,” and I understand the meaning of the terms “Master” and “Doctor of Theology,” as simply meaning that one has finished a required course of study and graduated.  At the same time, how can anyone really say that they’ve “mastered” the study of God (theology)?

That’s the thing with Bible college and Seminary; they study about the Scripture, not the Scripture itself.  The various papers and theses I had to turn in had to have a certain number of references from other authors.  I could never have simply turned in a paper using only Scripture.  It was really all about what other men said about the Scripture.  And I have nothing against “books;” I have several in my library.  I’ve even written one.  But our main study should be “the Book,” and not just “books.”  “The Book” intends to lead us to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Even here, though, we can fall short.  We can discuss the “theology” of the Lord Jesus and miss the point.  Is He God?  Was He virgin-born?  Did He even exist?  And on and on.  And these are important things to know.  But if our study doesn’t bring us to the point of bowing before Him as our Lord and Savior, recognizing our sinfulness and that He’s the only One that can do anything about it, then we’re worse off than if we’d never seen a Bible.

That was the trouble with the chief priests and scribes Herod called.  For all their knowledge, they never came to the Lord Jesus for “life.”

Christmas is four days away.  In a couple of weeks, the tree will be out on the curb, waiting to be picked up by the trash collectors.  The needles will have been swept up from the floor.  The ornaments will be put away for another year.  A lot of the toys will be broken already.  All the food we ate will make itself known on the scale.  Perhaps good and happy memories will be stored in the files of our minds.  The question is, will “the Babe” be stored away with the Nativity set?

Oh, that we might remember and live with and for Him in January and February and July and November, and not just for a few weeks at the end of the year.  If you’ve never particularly thought about sin and salvation, may this time of the year get you to thinking about it.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, Acts 16:31.

Voices of Christmas: Herod

Not everybody was thrilled with the news of One “born King of the Jews.”  Herod was about as nasty as any “king” has ever been.  He had only become king through political and social machination.  Besides, he wasn’t even a Jew.  He was an Edomite!

There was a lot of unrest under his rule.  When he heard the news of men searching for One “born King,” the Scripture says, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him, Matthew 2:3.  Now, the Jews weren’t concerned about him; they were concerned about what he might do!  A concern borne out by his actions several months later.

Something I’d never really paid attention to until just now.  Having found out from the chief priests and scribes of the people where the Messiah was to be born, HEROD sent the wise men to Bethlehem, Matthew 2:8!  It ought to be a matter of some concern when the ungodly express an interest in the things of God.  It can mean no good!  Now, the wise men probably didn’t know about Herod, but took what he said at face value.  And perhaps it had only seemed to them the thing to do to look in the capitol city of Israel to find Israel’s king.  So they were apparently fooled by Herod’s expressed desire to worship with them this One for whom they looking.  Except for God intervening and spoiling Herod’s evil plan, they might have led to the murder of the Messiah.  Such a thing would have been impossible, but it took divine intervention to prevent it.

I think Herod may be considered emblematic of a world under Satan’s control.  This doesn’t cancel out God’s overall control of things, but Satan is called the god of this world, 2 Corinthians 4:4 (KJV).  Paul wrote to the Ephesian church about their preconversion life:  you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in [“energizes”] the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves…, Ephesians 2:2, 3 (NKJV).

In the Garden of Eden, Satan usurped God’s place as the one to whom men would look for guidance.  Where the Word of God has been valued and obeyed, Satan’s influence is minimized.  However, where the Word is unknown, ignored or rejected, as is increasingly the case here in the US, Satan blinds the minds of men to the fact that the way(s) of life he leads them in is or are ultimately only destructive, never beneficial.  He promises them “freedom” from the old Puritanical taboos, but in reality enslaves them to the desires of their own selfish being.  There is more than one kind of slavery.

In Herod and the magi, we clearly see the two-fold division of mankind:  those who are truly seeking the Savior and those who are not.  Granted, many do not know anything about the Savior, and many others have found Him, or, rather, have been found by Him, John 10:14-16.  Nevertheless, humanity may be divided into two classes, not rich or poor, but lost or saved.  We’re every one of us either one or the other.

The difference is found in our reaction to and our relationship with that One “born King of the Jews.”

Voices of Christmas: The Magi.

We’ve not dealt with these posts in a strictly “chronological” order.  The magi, or wise men, would have been the last to visit, perhaps as much as a year-and-a-half after the birth of Jesus.  He was likely a toddler when they were there, though it’s hard to picture the Lord of glory as having to learn how to walk.  Though they’re shown in nativity scenes at the manger with the shepherds and the animals , Matthew 2:11 tells us that they found the young child and His mother in a “house,” not in a stable.  This is the first of several reasons we believe they were there later.

A second reason is found in the offering Mary gave for her purification according to the law of Moses; she offered a couple of turtledoves or young pigeons, Luke 2:22-24; Leviticus 12:2, 8.  This was the offering for poor people.  If the wise men had already been there and given their gifts, Mary and Joseph would have been rich and would have had to offer a lamb for that sacrifice.  The wise men got there in time to finance the trip to Egypt and the family’s stay there.  This would have been at least 66 days after Jesus’ birth, for that’s how long the “purification” took.

A third reason is Herod’s order to slaughter all the male children two years old and younger, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men, Matthew 2:16.

Tradition tells us there were three wise men, this from the gifts they gave: gold, frankincense and myrrh.  However, one journey from from Babylon to Jerusalem, Ezra 7:9 took about five months.  Granted, there were hundreds of people on this journey, so it probably took longer than normal.  It was still a long trip.  We don’t know for certain where they started, but there would certainly have been more than three solitary men travelling all that way.  There would have been supplies for the trip, guards for protection, cf. Ezra 8:22, and servants to care for them and the animals, so that it was no doubt an impressive array of people and animals which came into Jerusalem, seeking One born King of the Jews.  Or perhaps they joined a trade caravan.  Either way, there were a lot more than three people involved, as well as an unknown number of wise men.

Why did they decide to make this arduous and  dangerous journey?  The wise men told Herod that they had seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him, Matthew 2:2.  There’s a lot of conjecture about all this.  We really don’t know what it was they saw, but they knew what it was.  This brings up the question, how did they know?

They knew because of the writings of Daniel, and because of him, they probably had at least some of the Old Testament as well.  Daniel had been very influential, Daniel 2:49. There’s no way of knowing for sure.  We’re not going to try to figure it out.  It’s enough that God saw to it they knew it was time, and they came to find and to worship the One around whom time revolves.

And they found Him.

And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary his mother, and fell down and worshiped Him.  And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh, Matthew 2:11.

The young child and His mother….

This phrase occurs several times in Matthew 2.  Even the Angel who told Joseph to flee to Egypt, and then later told him to come home, uses it.  The emphasis was on the Child, not the mother.  The one time Mary tried to influence her Son to do something, John 2:1-5, He rebuffed her.  That wasn’t her place.  How did she respond?  She told the servants, Whatever He says to you, do,”  Some versions add “it” to this statement, though it’s not really necessary. This is Mary’s last recorded statement, “Whatever He says to you….”  That’s still good advice.

What does the Son say?  “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light,” Matthew 11:28-30.  You don’t need Mary.  You don’t need the saints.  You don’t need some priest or preacher.  Jesus Himself says, “Come to Me.”  Almost the last verses in the Bible tell us to come.  And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”  And let him who hears say, “Come!”  And let him who thirsts come.  Whoever desires, let him take of the water of life freely,” Revelation 22:17.

Come.

As a commercial here on TV says, “It’s really that simple.”

Come.

Voices of Christmas: Joseph

What shall we say about Joseph?  I’ve read comments ranging from, “There’s no fool like an old fool,” for him going ahead and marrying Mary after she was, as it was thought, unfaithful to him, to the idea that Joseph was an elderly man simply assigned, as it were, to “protect her virginity.”

Though the Scripture doesn’t address the issue of “age” for either of them, it is possible that Joseph was indeed older than Mary.  He’s never mentioned after the Temple incident when Jesus was 12 years old, Luke 2:41-50.  As for the other, that he was just there to protect her virginity, Scripture teaches that Joseph and Mary enjoyed a normal marital relationship after the birth of Jesus.

Matthew 1:24, 25 says that after the angel of the Lord assured him that everything was all right, Joseph immediately took to him his wife, and did not know her until she had brought forth her firstborn Son. The phrase, “did not know her not UNTIL…” indicates there came a time when he did “know” her, that is, they became a normal married couple. Further, Matthew 1:18 says before they came together she was found with child…. Matthew continues with child of the Holy Spirit,” something which wouldn’t be obvious from her condition.  Divine intervention was necessary for both of them to understand what was going on.  The word “before” tells me there was an “after.”  They had other children “after” Jesus.  Matthew 13:55, 56 lists four brothers and at least three sisters.  It’s argued that these are Joseph’s from a previous marriage, but the description of Jesus as Mary’s firstborn would seem to indicate that she had “otherborn.”  Matthew 13 lists them.

What was it like for Joseph after Mary’s three-month absence visiting Elizabeth, when she came home and would be beginning “to show?”  Everything we said about Mary and contemporary attitudes about marriage, sex and virginity would hold here, except on the other side.  Promiscuity was not acceptable, though there were undoubtedly those who were guilty of it.  Indeed, the Law had a provision that if a woman came to a first marriage and was not a virgin, she was liable to death, Deuteronomy 22:13-21.

Feminists and unbelievers find these strictures offensive because they single out the woman and don’t punish the man.  However, there is no physical way to tell whether or not a man is a virgin.  And there are plenty of other verses, like the next one in Deuteronomy 13:22, which call for the punishment of the man as well in cases of sexual misconduct.

There is a reference to this in Matthew 1:19, Then Joseph her husband, being a just man…. He was faced with what the Bible said about sexual sin, and it seemed Mary was guilty.  After all, there was no other explanation for what happened to her.  At the same time, he couldn’t bring himself to demand her execution.  I believe he truly cared for her, and was extremely distressed by the whole thing.  And notice, he’s already called “her husband,” and she is called his “wife.”  This shows how legally binding a “betrothal” was.  And it shows a merciful spirit even in the face of a death penalty sin.

We don’t know how long it took before the Lord intervened.  I don’t think it was more than a day or two, if even that long.  Too much was at stake for this couple, and for Him. The Angel of the Lord told him not to be afraid, but to go ahead and marry Mary, because her child was conceived of the Holy Spirit.  Her Son was to be the Savior of His people.  That was enough for Joseph, though it seldom satisfies any but believers.  As soon as he woke up, and I tend to believe the Angel awakened him, Joseph married his betrothed, and did not know her [was not intimate with her] till she had brought forth her firstborn Son.  And he called His name JESUS.  

   

Voices of Christmas: Elizabeth, Mary and John the Baptist.

(“John the Baptist?!”  Yes.  He bore testimony to the Lord’s mother long before he bore testimony to her Son.)

Elizabeth was the first person, aside from Mary, to learn of the coming birth of the Messiah.  Her story is found in Luke 1:36-45, 56-61.  She and her husband Zechariah also provided a friendly environment for the young mother to begin her pregnancy, a place where she could endure morning sickness and all the other things accompanying early pregnancy.  And Mary could make the adjustments without the questions that undoubtedly arose over her condition when she got back home.  The two ladies could comfort and support each other.  The elderly lady with her pregnancy and the young, probably mid-teen, with hers.

Who was Elizabeth?  Luke tells us that she was married to a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. She was of the daughters of Aaron….  And they both were righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.  But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years, Luke 1:5-7.

Her husband had a remarkable experience as well concerning his wife’s pregnancy, with a visit from an angel telling him of the conception of his own son.  When Mary showed up, he gave mute testimony to the power and truthfulness of God, Luke 1:8-21, 57-64.

Elizabeth.  Righteous.  Blameless.  Elderly.  Barren.

That last thing was the only one that bothered her.  As we noted in our last post, children were longed-for, a blessing from the Lord, not a burden or an inconvenience.  So she was heartbroken, as well as feeling a “reproach among the people,”  Luke 1:25.

I wonder what it was like when her hubby came home – and he couldn’t talk!  Now, he had had to finish his time in Jerusalem.  “The division of Abijah” referred to the division of the priesthood King David had worked out years earlier to organize how and when each priest would serve in Jerusalem at the Temple.  It’s said that some priests were able to serve only once in their lifetime, so it was something looked forward to, and not even a visit from an angel nullified the priest’s responsibility.  Zechariah was gone for a little over a month.

What was it like when he came home, and had to write down his experiences for Elizabeth?  I wonder what her thoughts were as her long-awaited desire for a child seemed about to be satisfied.  And the renewal of youthful vigor so they could become parents.  To enter again into that joy and enjoyment that God has reserved for married couples, which this world has totally corrupted into something far different than what it’s supposed to be, both as to marriage itself and to marital privilege and responsibility.

When Mary came to Elizabeth’s home, Elizabeth was 6 months along.  And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed in the fruit of your womb!  But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.  Blessed is she who believed [that] there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord,” Luke 1:41-45.

So the two generations met, united not only by the ties of family, but also by ties of the Spirit.  Mary had conceived by the Spirit, Luke 1:35.  Elizabeth’s child, though conceived normally, was to be “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb,” Luke 1:15.  Elizabeth spoke by the Spirit, Luke 1:41.

Pay attention to Elizabeth’s reference to Mary:  “the mother of my Lord.”  She recognized the unique character, not only of the pregnancy, but of the One Mary was carrying.  He was “my Lord”.  Elizabeth bowed to Him in spirit even before He was born.  How much more should we bow to Him Who has been born – and lived and died and rose again, Who even now, having by Himself purged our sins, is seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high, Hebrews 1:3.

Even as a Babe in the womb, He was “Lord.”  He still is.

Voices of Christmas: Mary.

Without Mary, there would have been no birth of Jesus, no Christmas, no Easter and no salvation.  This doesn’t mean that she is the Savior, but simply that she was the channel through whom the incarnate God came into this world to be the Savior.  As we saw in our last post, it’s unlikely any other Jewish maiden would have qualified to be the mother of the Messiah.  (NOT “the mother of God.”)

Beyond the fact that she was a virgin, the NT tells us very little about this young woman. She lived in Nazareth, a small town in Galilee, Luke 1:26, a town evidently not thought of very highly, John 1:46.  She was betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David, Luke 1:27.  We’re told nothing of her parents or any siblings.  We do know of a elderly relative named Elizabeth, who became the mother of John the Baptist.

At the same time, it tells us a great deal about her.

We’re told she was a virgin.  This means very little today, but it meant a lot back then. There would have been no bumper stickers saying that “virginity is curable.” Girls realized that they could only give themselves the first time – one time.  So did young men, for that matter.  That was of surpassing importance, something to be valued, cherished, and protected.  And it was only to be to her husband – after they were married.  There was no moving in with each other to “see if it works out.”  There was no “it’s just sex,” as if that were just another sandwich for lunch or deciding which TV show to watch.  There was no such thing as “casual sex.”  It was the consummation of marriage, something looked forward to, not the commencement of “a relationship,” taken for granted.

To be sure, there probably were those who didn’t agree with all this.  Mary was not one of them.  She was a virgin.

At the same time, she was aware of marital activity and its result.  When told by the angel that she was about to become a mother, she asked, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” Luke 1:34.

A valid question.

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born of you will be called the Son of God,” Luke 1:35.  She would be the recipient of a miracle.

Now, there are those who deny any possibility of “a virgin birth.”  And, humanly speaking, they’re right.  It is impossible.  But that God Who created the whole universe in a week and made Adam out of a pile of dirt, and Eve out of one of his ribs, would certainly have no trouble creating that which would unite with an egg in Mary’s body to produce the infant Lord Jesus in her womb.

Of course, these same unbelievers also probably deny creation and redemption, so that a miracle conception is unnecessary as well as impossible.  They’re quite willing to believe that Matthew and Luke made up stories to make the best of an unpleasant situation.

But, if Jesus were an illegitimate child, there would have been, and are, repercussions, even if that means nothing to our society.  It meant something to hers.

As a betrothed young woman, she was considered as good as married, even though the wedding hadn’t yet taken place.  Divorce would have been required to break that engagement.  Joseph couldn’t simply have written her a “Dear Jane” letter.  Because of her status as betrothed, if Jesus were illegitimate, Mary herself would have been liable to death, Leviticus 20:10.  Jesus Himself would not have been recognized as a member of the nation, Deuteronomy 23:2.  If His were an ordinary conception, whether in or out of wedlock, He would have had a fallen human nature and, as such, would not have been able to satisfy the Law’s righteous requirements, even for Himself, let alone for others. He could not have been the Savior.

The Virgin Birth means something.  It meant something to Mary.

We’re told nothing of what happened when it became discovered that she was pregnant, when she came home after three months from visiting Elizabeth.  She would have begun “to show.”  What did she tell her parents?  How did she break the news to Joseph?  What did the neighbors think?  Remember, this was a small village, and human nature is human nature.  There were probably rumors and whispers.  So, you see, it meant a great deal to Mary – and to Joseph.  And to her parents.  Her reputation was likely gone – and Joseph’s when he went ahead and married her.  And her parents – where did they “go wrong” in raising their daughter?

Perhaps I’m reading more into this than is there.  Perhaps everybody concerned was cool with it, though I doubt it, at least to start.  Even if they were, though, the circumstances of Jesus’ birth cast a long shadow.  Years later, it was cast into His face by His enemies. In one of the many confrontations with Him that they had, they said, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father – God,” John 8:41.  And the “we” and “of fornication” are emphatic in the original language.  Now, they might simply have been asserting their own descent from Abraham, but I think there may have been a dig at His own background as well.

Mary was a virgin.

She was also righteous.  What was her reaction to what the angel explained to her?  “Behold the maidservant of the LORD!  Let it be to me according to your word,” Luke 1:38.  We have no way of knowing how much of what we have written might have gone through Mary’s mind as she was digesting what the angel told her, how far through she might have thought it.  She’d just received the mind-blowing news that she was to become the mother of the Messiah!  Her!  Mary!  That was enough!  “Let it be….”

Luke includes one of the many “human-interest” stories for which his gospel is known. The next verse says that she made “haste” to go to her relative Elizabeth, whom the angel had told her, perhaps by way of confirmation of his message to Mary, was also pregnant, and this “…in her old age.  For with God nothing is impossible.”

Children were highly valued and loved in that society.  They were looked on as blessings from God, cf. Psalm 128:3, 4.  There were even provisions in the law that if an expectant mother were hurt during a fight so that she delivered prematurely or if the child were hurt in some way, damages and/or judgment was exacted of the guilty party, Exodus 21:22-25.  By the way, this is one of the two places in the Law where “an eye for an eye,” etc., occurs.  And her husband had something to say about it.

Children, even the unborn, were loved, and protected.

And a wife considered it a great calamity to be barren.  Cf Elizabeth’s own reaction to the angel’s message to her, Luke 1:24, 25.

So Mary hurries to her relative to share in the good news.  And probably to share her own good news.  With whom else could she share it?  “I’m pregnant with the Messiah.”  How would/could anyone believe her, apart from divine intervention, like there was with Joseph?

We’re going to have to write something on Elizabeth.  We weren’t going to, but there’s just too much here.  Probably more on Mary, too.

There was confirmation of  the angel’s message to Mary when she got to Elizabeth’s home.  Perhaps Zechariah chimed in, so to speak, since he couldn’t, with his own experience with an angel.  Mary’s reaction to all this is recorded in Luke 1:47-55.  It’s one of the great psalms of praise in the Bible.

Mary, highly favored, highly thankful, highly blessed.

Mary, the mother of our Lord.

The Voices of Christmas: “Hail, Mary….”

These words are…?

1.  The beginning of words used millions of times a day.

2.  A long, desperation pass to the end zone in the last seconds of a football game, a pass thrown with the hope of snatching victory out of the jaws of defeat.

3.  An approximation of the beginning of an angelic greeting to a young Jewish maiden who would otherwise be totally unknown.

4.  All of the above.

All four are true, although only one is Scriptural.  I have no idea where #2 came from, although if it works, it’s very exciting.  I’m sure there’s an explanation if I wanted to look it up.  However, the Virgin Birth was not a “desperation” move by God to try to salvage something out of the mess Adam made of the human race.  It was the continuation of a carefully thought-out plan for the redemption of mankind, the defeat of Satan, the vindication of the Divine purpose and the revelation of the glory and grace of God.  All this rested on the shoulders of a young Jewish girl who had no idea of it at all.  This does not mean it was dependent on her in the sense that she could have messed it up if she hadn’t been “willing.”  It just means that she was the only girl out of the hundreds or thousands in Judah who could have been the mother of the Messiah.

How is she the only one?  There are several reasons.

First, the fallen human nature is passed from father to child.  This is seen in the very first generation of children.  In Genesis 1:26, 27, we read that Adam was created in the “image of God.”  This doesn’t mean that he was a little “god” or that he looked like God.  Genesis 5:1 repeats this:  In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.  However, v. 3 says, And Adam…begot a son in his own likeness, after his image….”  Whatever “the image of God” was, Adam lost it and became the father of children who were like him:  fallen sinners.  The chain of fallenness continues to this day. I got it from my father, who got it from his father, and I passed it down to my kids, and they to their kids, etc., etc.  So, the Messiah could have no human father, though He could have and did have a human mother.  This is how He was fully human, through her, but not a fallen human, like a human father would have been.

Some try to get around the problem of sin by saying that Mary herself was sinless, which she herself denies.  Besides, this just passes the problem back one generation and would have required her to be virgin-born as well.

A second reason is found in her lineage as compared with Joseph’s.  She and Joseph were both descendants of King David, but through different sons:  Matthew 1:6, Luke 3:31.  This is significant.  Because of Jeconiah, otherwise known as Coniah or Jehoiachin, David’s line through Solomon became cursed, Jeremiah 22:24-30.  Jesus could never ascend to the throne of David if He were actually Joseph’s son.  He will ascend to the throne through Mary.  For a complete treatment of this, see my post on Zelophehad.

A third reason is that it was time, Galatians 4:4.  If we could put it like this, Mary was the right girl at the right time.  There probably weren’t very many young Jewish maidens alive at the time who had the lineage and right of inheritance that Mary had.  Even if there were, she was the one highly favored.  She was the one through whom the incarnate God would come into this world.

She was the one to whom the angel would say, “Hail, thou who art highly favored….”