Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Visit (pt1)



                I have to be honest.  I have found this journey a little difficult at times.  It is still early on, but there are so many perspectives that I had not taken into view.  As I study, a bit ahead of where we are on this blog, I find myself veering wildly back to what I have always known and not taking time to stop and soak in the peripheral matters.  A quick example of this would be if you had ever fallen asleep on a road trip.  You may wake up as you arrive at the destination.  “We’re here!”  If you were a child, you are just happy to be where you were headed.  If you were the adult you may have realized that you used a certain amount of gas, the drive was rough as it had been raining most of the way, you narrowly avoided a few accidents, there was a beautiful scene as the sun set, seeing those three deer in the field,  a semi truck flipped over, etc etc etc. 

 
                There is a lot going on in the story of Jesus.


                The more I find as I begin to unpack, the more I realize that I am the kid sleeping in the car. 


                I am not sure exactly what the night of Christ’s birth.  We certainly know there were visitors, but as I mentioned before, it probably didn’t look quite like the scene that we have derived from Francis Assisi’s nativity.  The magi didn’t come to see Christ for a few years after His birth.  The Shepherds were alerted via angel announcement.  Both were miraculous.


                I wonder, when Mary and Joseph heard how the shepherds and then the magi were led to Jesus, what that must have been like.  


                First, the shepherds, they were never considered to be high class.  Certainly, it would seem that it was a life that could support your family.  Finding a job as the temple shepherd, as it would seem these shepherds were, would be a good shepherding job.  However, the hours weren’t great, as we see these gentlemen watching sheep at night.  Think about that, watching sheep…at night.  Having to stay alert and awake to watch sheep and make sure nothing harmed them.  Pretty exciting stuff there…but when something exciting did happen, it was highly dangerous.  It was dangerous for the sake of the wellbeing of sheep.

 
Ironic that Christ was embarking on His dangerous mission for His “sheep”.


                A normal, mundane night and all of a sudden a bright light with angels and singing…tell me that you wouldn’t find that scary.  They had no way to explain it away.  It was an angelic announcement of the birth of the Savior.  These looked down upon people were the first to hear the announcement of the Savior.  This all is recorded in Luke 2.  They went to Bethlehem.  It shows that Bethlehem wasn’t some large metropolis, because these shepherds found Jesus without the use of any crazy technology.  They must have walked into town, saw a bit of a ruckus and realized that must be where a baby has been born.  


                Think about it.  You hear the angels proclaim.  You decide to go and check it out.  Surprisingly, or maybe not, what they said was true.  How could you deny that this is indeed the Messiah? 


                Often times as I read this, it is so static.  I get to the destination that Christ was born and shepherds were involved and I lose the wonder of what happened.  The perspective of the shepherds is just one angle, but how wonderful it must have been to be in a field, or on a hill, and the sky burst open with the celebration of the angel’s song.  The angel’s announcement and then the physical confirmation as they walked into the tiny town of Bethlehem and found the Savior was indeed born as they laid their eyes on this newborn child.   I mean, what did these guys say to their wives when they got home?  Did they grab their families and come over the next day?  Can you imagine their child’s face as they shared this story?  


                What a tremendous happening…and how often I miss it as a sleeping child on a road trip, I arrive at the destination without taking in all of the scenery, the details, and the conversation along the way.  May we never lose our wonder.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Back Room



                As we open up the dialogue today, I want to begin to unpack the birth of Christ a bit.  We can see the Joseph and Mary are travelling to Bethlehem for the purpose of the census (Luke2).  Anyone that has been around a woman that is pregnant or has been pregnant themselves would know of the limited mobility when one is in the latter stages of that condition.  In the midst of that, Mary endured.  The almighty being woven together with in her as she rides with the faithful Joseph to Bethlehem, which fulfilled prophesy by the way (Micah 5:2).  

                If we start with the image of Mary riding the donkey as Joseph walks alongside on their way to Bethlehem, it would behoove us to backtrack just a bit to see what has happened.  The angel announces the arrival of Christ through Mary to both Joseph and Mary at separate times (Matthew 1 & Luke 1).  The announcement took place in Nazareth which is the place where the decedents of King David settled.  The word Nazareth itself means “Branch Town”, which is important because of yet another prophecy (Jeremiah 33:15).  

                This announcement was very important for many reasons, but I would like to key in on one angle in particular.  We see engagements in our modern western culture as a promise to get married.  The engagement can be broken with, depending on the individuals, little to no repercussions save a bit of emotional distress.  In the culture that we see Christ being inserted, it would carry a great deal more weight.  To break an engagement would be much like a full blown divorce, and in Biblical culture, would carry much more scandal than it would today.  

                The announcement, however, meant the Joseph had a profound role to play in this process.  I suspect that for the normal Jewish male at this time (and for the vast majority of us today) finding out our fiancĂ© or wife was pregnant with a child when it is not possible that the child could be ours would cause us to react very swiftly and in a fashion that would cause a finality to the relationship.  The visit from the angel legitimized the pregnancy, which kept Joseph in the relationship with Mary and the Son of God, whom Joseph was called to care for.

I always kind of wondered if Joseph ever resented being in this situation.
                None the less, Joseph dutifully did as he was supposed to.  There is no evidence of Joseph resenting the situation, in fact, he may have been overjoyed with the fact that he was chosen.  We do see in he was considered a righteous man and wanted to deal kindly with Mary (Matt 1).  I just inject the thought because it crosses my mind when I look at this narrative.  Maybe I speak out of my own weakness and misunderstanding.  As we take these facts to rejoin the image of Mary on the donkey and Joseph leading her along, they see Bethlehem in the distance.  

                Now, the normal custom was if you were traveling “home”, as we see Joseph was doing (Luke 2) you would stay in one of the guest rooms at a relative’s house.  So, where does the inn keeper come in here?  There are some interesting facts to take into account as we peel back what we see happening in the Bible.  We see that the word used for inn (Katalyma) is the word used for a guest room in a home, not a “hotel” room (pandoxion or pandocheion).  Basically, there was no room in the family home for them so they were sent to a back room where the beasts of burden were kept.  Since they did not have automobiles back then, it would almost be as if Christ was born in the garage.  There were animals involved, but it was probably not the nativity scene that we have grown accustomed to thanks to Francis of Assisi.

                I wonder what that scene looked like as Joseph began talking to his relatives about a room and they said all that they had was room in the proverbial garage.  “Mary is pregnant and you are going to put us up in your garage?”   I am sure, being wearied from the travels he agreed to “crash” there.  I sit back and admittedly speculate as I process through this story.   I can also imagine after making sure that Mary was settled in, he walked outside and wept a bit.  If I put myself in his shoes and I had the Christ coming and I was to provide for Him, a pregnant wife that I loved, and just being weary from traveling, and the weight of all of this upon his shoulders, I could see a tremendous amount of stress rising within him.  That’s just me and maybe Joseph was a stronger man than I am.  

                Suddenly, possibly as Joseph is collecting himself and preparing to wind down for the night he hears, “Joseph!  He is coming!” 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Birth


                I think we all have various moments in time that seem to change everything.  It may have been the passing of a loved one, a moment of abuse, an automobile accident, the birth of a child, 9/11, etc.  In that moment, something happened, joyous or painful, that changed who we are.  In some cases it may have actually caused us to act differently.  In other cases, it just causes us to think differently, appreciate things more, or we just process things differently internally.


                There have been a lot of events that have changed the world, for better or worse, throughout the course of history.  Even if it happened with much less pomp than other world changing events, the conception and birth of Christ was monumental because of what was happening and what it meant would happen in the future.  When I read the passages that speak of the Spirit of God moving upon Mary (Matt 1:18) and the Christ being conceived it brings up various thoughts of His sovereignty to create life at a whim.  It wasn’t just “ordinary” (a term that steals away the wonder of all that is human life) life, it was God in the flesh being woven together in the womb of Mary.


Magnificent


I wonder, in the midst of the Christian stance on abortion, if we just blow by the miracle of Christ’s conception to get to His birth.  Is it too taboo for us to talk about?


Here is an interesting tidbit that we often overlook, did you ever wonder why Mary (the devout Hebrew that she was) asked “How can this be since I am a virgin?”  I have heard responses that she was young, or she didn’t understand the prophecy (Isaiah 7:14) like we do.  Have you ever answered a question, were told you were wrong, were given the correct answer, went back to look at the matter you were asked about and noticed that you were wrong but now understand the correct answer because you are a bit more enlightened on the matter?  You may have reverse engineered the matter with the different result to see the proper working?


Isaiah 7:14 kind of has that feel to it.  It clearly refers to the virgin birth with hindsight, but if you had read it from the perspective the Hebrew teachers did rationale and supposition comes in.  I mean who expects a virgin birth if it has never happened before.  We see in other areas that people said, “How can this be (Christ being the Messiah) since He is the son of a carpenter.” (Matt. 13:55) The Jewish people didn’t understand that Christ was to be born of a virgin.  Since there was nothing wrong with a husband having a sexual relationship with his wife, they assumed the Christ would be born just like everyone else.


                I often wonder how many things like this I miss in the faith.

As we study the Scripture, we understand that the conception and birth of Christ had to be carried out this way.  How else could the curse of man being born into sin be broken unless a man was born of God?  (Romans 5) Would God conceive with a woman that had been with a man?  If Christ was to be the sacrifice to pay for the wages of all mankind’s sin, He had to be pure and untainted by the sin nature of man.  All of this came together for the miraculous virgin conception and birth of Christ.


                As time went on, God in the flesh grew within the belly of this young Jewish woman.  Can you imagine the stresses that I am sure she endured with people talking, rumors swirling, and all sorts of whispered accusations?  How did she tell her parents?  How did the conversation come up with Joseph?  Who did she tell the truth of what was going on?  I mean, how would they even respond aside from laughing at her or calling her a blasphemer.  Quietly, she bore this joyous burden, the burden of a calling, of being chosen for this grandiose event. 

                Imagine, eternal being woven together within the temporal partaking in the restrictions of time with the purpose of redemption, reconciliation, and reconnection.  This is so profound.  All the while, continuing to fulfill prophecies as the Christ comes to the world. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Beginning



                Have you ever wondered who you would be without your history?  The things that have happened to you, changed you, and made you the person you are today?  I was watching a show recently.  A scene within that show triggered something within me that reminded me of the way that I was many years ago.  Many people I talk to now have no idea how I was.  If I talk about it, I get kind of a “well that’s nice that you have changed” reaction.  However, they never knew me the way that I was, nor can they.  The problem with that is they can never know of the magnitude of change that has taken place.


                I bring this up because as we dive into this journey looking at Christ, if people never understood who He really was, we lose the gravity of what He did.  We can sing it in a song, we can hear it in a sermon, but realizing the weight of Christ leaving Heaven and all that came with it to be here with us is unfathomable.  I wonder if Mary or Joseph understood as they were visited by angels (Luke 1 & Matt. 1) did it ever really hit them? Imagine, raising the eternal One in a temporal world. 


Yet, in John 1, we see He is indeed eternal.

 
Did they understand the magnitude of His history?  Who He was in an eternal sense?  What about those who grew up with Christ knew Him as He was at that moment?  I am sure most didn’t “get it”.  Think about what He had seen, created, and lived through. 


 If we read John 1, He is the Word.  In the beginning was the Word.  This Word became flesh and lived among us.  He, the eternal One, came here.  I find it very humbling to apply this idea to any aspect that I read about Christ.  I often find myself asking, “why?”  I mean, I understand it is because of His great love.  However, I find it so far beyond my understanding that I sit rather baffled and yet accepting. 


There are hundreds of prophecies that Christ fulfilled.  I have heard from several sources (I know this is supposed to be rather unfiltered, but the statistic is astonishing to me) that for Christ to fulfill even eight of the hundreds of prophecies that were prophesied over a thousand years or so, the odds of Him fulfilling just 8 prophesies is 1 in 10…to the 17th power.  That is 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000. 


Let that sink in.


God revealed Himself, His plan to be carried out in the work of Christ, to prophets of old, over a large span of time…and Christ fulfilled them all.  He is eternal.  


He was there at Creation.  He is at the end of time now, because time does not restrict Him.


So what?


If we want to take a look at whom He is and what He did while walking this earth, we need to understand the gravity of who He is.  Who is this Jesus we are talking about?  He is eternal.  He is God .  I believe this brings a greater understanding to the weight of Him coming here to earth.  I believe it brings great understanding of His character shown in His love, omniscience (all-knowing), sovereignty, and many other signs.  As we dig into Jesus, we cannot forget that before He arrived on earth, He had history.  


While my history was rage, hatred, and a host of other self destructive characteristics, Christ’s was holiness, righteousness, sovereignty, and life.  He came here to bring us the opportunity to take part in His kingdom, to be a part of a relationship with Him.  This was planned before He even stepped foot on this planet.  


I find it easy to lose sight of all that He was before we read of His story here.  While His life on earth is profound (I don't want to short sell that point), understanding who He was before the gospels is vital to understanding the gravity and magnitude of His life lived here.  Even before the cross, His sacrifice was profound and His love undeniable.