From Boy to Man to Messiah

39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. 43 And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. 51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. Luke 2:39-52 ESV

Once Mary and Joseph had fulfilled all the requirements prescribed for them in the Mosaic Law, they were able to return home to Nazareth in Galilee. But for some unexplained reason, Luke chose to leave out the family’s flight to Egypt. Not only that, he also fails to mention the visit of the wise men who traveled all the way to Bethlehem to see the fulfillment of the prophecy concerning “he who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2 ESV). When these foreign visitors had arrived in Jerusalem seeking the newly born king, they sought aid from Herod, the Roman-appointed king of Judea. But Herod was surprised by their news and made plans to eliminate this new competitor to his throne.

After the wise men had paid their respects to Jesus in Bethlehem, Joseph had a dream in which an angel of the Lord warned him about Herod’s plan to kill Jesus.

“Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” – Matthew 2:13 ESV

The angel’s warning proved true, as Herod “sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men” (Matthew 2:16 ESV). Joseph would keep his family in Egypt until he received another dream alerting him to the news that Herod had died, and it was safe to return home. But Joseph’s initial plan had been to return to Bethlehem.

But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. After being warned in a dream, he went to the regions of Galilee. He came to a town called Nazareth and lived there. Then what had been spoken by the prophets was fulfilled, that Jesus would be called a Nazarene.– Matthew 2:21-23 ESV

Bethlehem was located in Judea, the province over which Herod had been given jurisdiction by the Romans. Since Herod’s son, Archelaus had taken his place as king of Judea, Joseph was directed by God to take his family back to Nazareth.

So, there was a lot that had happened in the young life of Jesus before we reach the events recorded in today’s passage. Luke simply picks up the story after their return, stating, “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40 ESV). Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus had failed. The infant soon became a healthy young boy, growing up in the small town of Nazareth. Luke seems to want his readers to understand that Jesus had a childhood. The Messiah of Israel had been born and raised just like any other Jewish boy of His day. He had been taught by His parents and provided with instructions in the Mosaic Law and introduced to the sacrificial system of Israel.

Luke reports that, for 12 years, Jesus and His family made the annual trip to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover. This was one of three festivals that required all Jewish males to travel to the capital city where the temple of Yahweh was located. Many would bring their families with them so that they might experience the sights and sounds of this important national commemoration of Israel’s deliverance by God from their captivity in Egypt.

But on this particular occasion, Luke reports that something significant happened. When the feast had ended, the family joined the thousands of other pilgrims who filled the streets leaving Jerusalem. It was likely that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were traveling with friends and other extended family members. And it was common practice for the men and women to travel in separate groups. This may help explain how neither Mary or Joseph seemed to notice that Jesus had stayed behind and was not part of the caravan that made its way back to Nazareth. Each of them just assumed that the child was traveling with the other parent. It was not until that evening that they discovered Jesus was missing. In a panic, they made the long trek back to Jerusalem.

But all the while, Jesus had been “in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46 ESV). This young boy of 12 had been quizzing the religious leaders, most likely peppering them with questions about the law and other matters of faith and religion. And this seemingly precocious pre-teen from the backwater town of Nazareth left an impression on His elders.

…all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. – Luke 2:47 ESV

But while Jesus had been busy in the temple, His poor parents had been in a panic, searching for their “lost” child all throughout the city of Jerusalem. When they finally discovered Jesus in the temple, Mary and Joseph were dumbfounded. Luke uses the Greek word, ekplēssō, which can be translated “to strike with panic, shock, or astonishment.”

You can sense Mary’s concern and consternation in her response to Jesus: “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress” (Luke 2:48 ESV). Like any concerned mother, she is relieved and, at the same time, a bit put out with her son. For three days she has had to suffer all the anxieties and fears that accompany the realization that your child is missing. And Mary had the added pressure of knowing that her son was to be the long-awaited Savior of Israel, and now she had somehow managed to misplace the Messiah.

But when Mary confronted Jesus about His behavior, the young boy answered confidently,  “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49 ESV). There was no disrespect or dishonor in Jesus’ words. He simply stated what appeared to HIm to be obvious.

What Jesus actually said was something along the lines of “Did you not know that I must be about the things of my Father’s?” The Greek word that ends the sentence is patēr, which is translated as “father.” With this statement, Jesus is revealing that He understands the identity of His true Father. He knows that He is the Son of God, and He is asking His mother why she seems so surprised to have found Him in His Father’s house. Where else would He be? Where else would He go?

But Luke reveals that Mary and Joseph did not understand what Jesus meant. It was all too much for them to take comprehend. So, with great relief, they took their Son and started the long journey back to Nazareth. And Luke notes that Jesus “went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51 NLT). This statement seems to indicate that, at this point, Jesus fully understood who He was and what God had planned for Him to do. But He realized that His time had not yet come to begin His earthly ministry. So, He willingly submitted Himself to His parent’s care, waiting patiently for the preordained time His Messianic ministry would begin.

And for the next two decades, Jesus would remain in Nazareth, growing from a young boy into full adulthood. Luke makes note that, during those years, Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52 ESV). There was a natural progression to Jesus’ physical, mental, and spiritual maturity. He grew up just like any young man would do. He learned and experienced life. And it would seem that His awareness of His true identity and future mission became increasingly more clear over time. God was preparing His Son for His eventual mission.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salvation, Revelation, and Redemption

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:22-38 ESV

Once again, Luke presents us with a detailed timeline of events. Eight days after His birth, Jesus was taken by Mary and Joseph to be circumcised, in accordance with the Mosaic Law.

“‘When a woman produces offspring and bears a male child, she will be unclean seven days, as she is unclean during the days of her menstruation. On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin must be circumcised. Then she will remain thirty-three days in blood purity.’” – Leviticus 12:2-4 NLT

According to the law, the mother was considered to be unclean because of her contact with blood during the birth process. At the end of the prescribed period of purification (40 days), Mary was required to go to the temple in Jerusalem in order to present an offering before the Lord so that she might be declared clean.

“‘When the days of her purification are completed for a son or for a daughter, she must bring a one-year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering to the entrance of the Meeting Tent, to the priest. The priest is to present it before the Lord and make atonement on her behalf, and she will be clean from her flow of blood.’” – Leviticus 12:6-7 NLT

But strangely, Luke reports that “when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22 ESV). Notice that Luke uses the plural pronoun, “their,” while the Leviticus passage used the singular pronoun, “her.” It could be that Joseph also required purification because he had been required to assist Mary in giving birth. But it could be that Luke is hinting that this human couple required atonement (cleansing from sin) before they could begin the process of raising the Son of God. They were both being purified for the daunting task of parenting the Messiah.

As part of their trip to Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph also consecrated their newborn son to the Lord. The Mosaic law required that all firstborn sons be set apart or consecrated to God.

“Set apart to me every firstborn male—the first offspring of every womb among the Israelites, whether human or animal; it is mine.” – Exodus 13:2 NLT

“…then you must give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb. Every firstling of a beast that you have—the males will be the Lord’s. – Exodus 13:12 NLT

The reason behind this ritual was tied to the final plague that had eventually secured the release of the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt. God sent an angel throughout the land of Egypt with orders to strike dead the firstborn males of both man and beast (Exodus 12:12). But God also ordered every Israelite household to sacrifice a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorpost and lintel of their house. When the angel saw the blood, he passed over that home, sparing all the firstborn males of that family. This became known as the Passover Celebration. And God told the Israelites how to explain this annual celebration to each succeeding generation.

“When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to release us, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of people to the firstborn of animals. That is why I am sacrificingto the Lord the first male offspring of every womb, but all my firstborn sons I redeem.” – Exodus 13:15 NLT

So, Mary and Joseph obediently consecrated their new son to the Lord. But Luke informs his readers that there was something special that took place that day. God had arranged for a specific priest to be on duty that day. His name was Simeon and Luke describes him as “righteous and devout” (Luke 2:25 ESV). This man had lived his entire life longing to see “the consolation of Israel.” The word “consolation” is paraklēsis in Greek and it means “to comfort or refresh” Simeon believed that God was going to send the Messiah to redeem and restore the spiritual fortunes of Israel. And, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Simeon believed this long-anticipated event would take place in his lifetime.

God ordained that Simeon would be the priest on duty that day. Led by the Spirit of God, Simeon made his way to the temple and was there when Mary and Joseph showed up to consecrate Jesus. With the Spirit’s help, Simeon immediately recognized that Jesus was the one for whom the nation of Israel had been looking and hoping. While just over a month old at the time, Jesus was the Savior and Redeemer of Israel. And in a state of ecstatic joy and gratitude, Simeon took the infant in his arms and offered up a heartfelt blessing to God.

“Now, according to your word, Sovereign Lord, permityour servant to depart in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples: a light, for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” – Luke 2:29-32 NLT

Simeon’s greatest desire had been fulfilled. He had lived to see the coming of the anointed one of God, the Messiah of Israel. And under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he describes Jesus as the salvation of God and then adds that He will be a light of revelation to the Gentiles. This statement was a direct reference to the words of God recorded by the prophet Isaiah.

“You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6 ESV

This Messianic passage speaks of the commissioning of the Servant of God who would redeem and restore the rebellious nation of Israel but who would also bring the salvation of God to the ends of the earth. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he was holding this Savior and Redeemer in his hands. Jesus was the very same Servant whose words Isaiah had recorded centuries earlier.

“The LORD called me before my birth; from within the womb he called me by name.” – Isaiah 49:1 NLT

And this Servant would have a two-fold mission to accomplish.

“…the one who formed me from birth to be his servant—
he did this to restore Jacob to himself,
so that Israel might be gathered to him;
and I will be honored in the Lord’s sight,
for my God is my source of strength—
he says, “Is it too insignificant a task for you to be my servant,
to reestablish the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the remnant of Israel?
I will make you a light to the nations,
so you can bring my deliverance to the remote regions of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:5-6 NLT

Yes, Jesus would be the Messiah of Israel, restoring them to a right relationship with God. But He would also be a light to the nations, shining the glory of God’s goodness and grace to all the nations of the world. But Simeon, as a faithful Jewish priest, understood the words recorded by Isaiah to be primarily a promise of God’s future restoration of the nation of Israel. They were experiencing difficult days. They had no king. The Romans ruled them with a heavy hand and burdened them with oppressive taxes. He, like all the other faithful of Israel, longed for the day when the Messiah would appear on the scene to set things right. And he must have had the words of Psalm 98 in mind when he composed his own song of thanksgiving to God.

Sing to the Lord a new song,
for he performs amazing deeds.
His right hand and his mighty arm
accomplish deliverance.
The Lord demonstrates his power to deliver;
in the sight of the nations he reveals his justice.
He remains loyal and faithful to the family of Israel.
All the ends of the earth see our God deliver us. – Psalm 98:1-3 NLT

For Simeon, God’s faithful restoration of Israel would be the light that would illumine the minds of the sin-darkened nations of the earth. But little did he know that God had something different in mind. The future restoration of Israel will take place, but it was not going to take place at the first coming of Jesus. Simeon had no way of knowing that his people would end up rejecting Jesus as their Messiah. The young baby Simeon held in his hands would end up crucified and rejected by those He came to save.

And Simeon, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, pronounces a blessing on Mary and Joseph the meaning of which he probably did not fully comprehend.

“Listen carefully: This child is destined to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be rejected. Indeed, as a result of him the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul as well!” – Luke 2:34-35 NLT

He prophetically announces that Jesus will have a decisive, yet divisive influence. There will be those who fall by rejecting Jesus as their Messiah, and others who will rise by recognizing Him as the anointed one of God. Jesus will divide the nation by exposing the hearts of the people. And Simeon prophetically predicts that Mary will have her own heart pierced by the events she will be forced to witness. Her son, the Savior and Redeemer of Israel will be rejected and destroyed by His own people.

But this somewhat depressing statement of blessing by Simeon was followed up by a declaration of joy and thanksgiving by an elderly Hebrew prophetess named Anna. Luke indicates the timeliness of her appearance by stating that she showed up “at that very hour.” This was all part of God’s sovereign plan. And Luke adds that “she came up to them and began to give thanks to God and to speak about the child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38 NLT).

Their legal requirements fulfilled, Mary and Joseph left Jerusalem and returned to Nazareth, with the words of Simeon and Anna still ringing in their ears. And for the next 12 years, they would raise their son in relative obscurity and silence, not knowing exactly how His future would unfold.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Impeccable Timing of God

1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:1-7 ESV

Chapter one ends with the note: “the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel” (Luke 1:80 ESV). In a single sentence, Luke compresses the timeline of John’s life, taking the reader from his birth to the early days of his earthly ministry. In the space of 23 words, Luke has taken John from the womb to the wilderness. The one appointed to herald the arrival of the Messiah is now positioned to perform his God-ordained role. It appears that, at an early age, John left the confines of his family home and relocated to the wilderness of Judah, where he lived an ascetic lifestyle. Matthew records that John lived a simple and somewhat spartan life.

Now John wore clothing made from camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his diet consisted of locusts and wild honey. – Matthew 3:4 NLT

When the angel Gabriel had announced to Zechariah that his wife would give birth to a son, he had added the command that they were to deny him access to “wine or strong drink” (Luke 1:15). He would be Spirit-filled (Luke 1:15) and his entire life would be dedicated to one purpose: To prepare the way for the coming Messiah. Matthew records that, when John was questioned as to his identity, he responded:

“I am the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” – John 1:23 NLT 

He was quoting directly from Isaiah 40:3, where, centuries earlier, the prophet had recorded his Spirit-inspired prophecy concerning John’s future earthly ministry.

A voice cries out,
“In the wilderness clear a way for the Lord;
build a level road through the rift valley for our God. – Isaiah 40:3 NLT

The messenger was in place. Now John turns his attention to the birth of the Messiah. To do so, he begins by setting up the historical setting into which the Son of God would be born. As we have seen before, Luke puts a high priority on time and timing. He goes out of his way to convey that the birth of the Messiah took place at a particular time and in a very specific place, according to the perfectly timed will of God.

He begins chapter two with the mention of two important individuals, which helps to place the birth of Jesus within a historical context.

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus to register all the empire for taxes. This was the first registration, taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria. – Luke 2:1-2 NLT

The first man mentioned in this passage is Augustus Caesar, who served as the emperor of Rome from 63 BC to AD 14. His birth name was Gaius Octavius, and he was the nephew of Julius Caesar. His uncle eventually adopted him and appointed him to be his successor. Upon Julius’ death, Gaius Octavius found his path to the throne blocked by others who aspired to the position. But eventually, he consolidated his power and secured his role as the first Roman emperor.

Another interesting and pertinent note regarding Augustus Caesar was his reputation as a divine being. In 42 BC, the Roman Senate had officially declared his uncle, Julius Caesar, to be divine, giving him the title of divus Iulius (“the divine Julius”). When he became the Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar would assume the title of divi filius (“son of the god”). And it is no coincidence that Jesus, the true Son of God, was born during the reign of this man-appointed god.

The other individual Luke mentions is Quirinius, who is said to have been the governor of Syria. There has been much debate about this statement because, at the time Jesus was born, Herod the Great was governor. Some argue that this is evidence of a biblical error. But the easier and more likely explanation is that Luke is referring to two different censuses that were taken. Historically, we know that Quirinius served as governor on two different occasions (3-2 BC and AD 6-7). Herod had served as governor until 4 BC. The first census went out during his governorship, which places the birth of Jesus sometime around late 5 or early 4 BC

The phrase, “This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria” can better be translated as “This was the first registration before Quirinius was governor of Syria.” Luke is differentiating between two different censuses.  During the governorship of Herod, Augustus Caesar issued his first census, which required that Joseph return to his ancestral town of Bethlehem in order to be registered for taxation purposes. Augustus Caesar would later issue another decree which called for a second census. This took place somewhere around AD 6 and 7. It is mentioned by Luke in the book of Acts (Acts 5:37). The Jewish historian Josephus also mentions this second census and links it to an uprising led by Judas of Galilee. Luke is simply trying to provide “an orderly account” (Luke 1:3) that gives an accurate portrayal of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth.

This decree, issued by the Roman Emperor, required that each Jew be registered, each to his own town” (Luke 2:3 ESV). As stated earlier, this census was for taxation purposes. Since land was one of the greatest assets any Jew possessed, they were required to return to their hometown in order to assess the value of their inherited property. Since Joseph was of “the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4), he returned to the small town of Bethlehem, where his ancestor, David, had been born.

Once again, Luke is emphasizing the role that timing played in the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. Had not the emperor issued his decree when he did, Joseph would not have made the trip to Bethlehem, especially with a pregnant wife. But he was required by law to travel from Nazareth in Galilee all the way to Bethlehem in Judah. This would have been a 90-mile trek that took as many as four days to make. But it was all part of God’s sovereign plan and so that the prophetic promises found in Scripture might be fulfilled. Centuries earlier, the prophet Micah had recorded that the Messiah would be born in the small and insignificant town of Bethlehem.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf. – Micah 5:2 NLT

And Luke announces that while Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to give birth. This was all part of God’s impeccable timing. Luke wants the reader to know that every aspect of this story was divinely preordained and happened according to plan. There was no chance involved. Nothing was left to fate. From Caesar’s decree to Joseph’s lineage, it was all part of God’s sovereign will. And Luke ends this section by stating that Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7 ESV).

The Son of God had entered the world, but there was no place for Him. Rather than giving birth to the King of kings in a well-appointed palace assisted by servants and in an atmosphere of splendor, Mary was forced to deliver God incarnate in less-than-regal surroundings. There were no royal dignitaries present. The birth of the heir-apparent was not met with the cheers of adoring citizens. The humble village of Bethlehem was a far cry from the royal palace in Jerusalem. But this was the way God intended for His Son to enter the world. And the apostle Paul described the Messiah’s invasion of earth in stark but highly significant terms.

though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
He humbled himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
—even death on a cross! – Philippians 2:6-8 NLT

As Mary and Joseph looked at their small, newborn son, they were filled with the usual awe and wonder that all parents feel at such a time. But there must have been a certain amount of fear and apprehension. What did the future hold for their Son? What would it be like raising the Son of God? And as they celebrated the joyous occasion of their son’s birth and pondered His uncertain future, the rest of the world went on as usual. They were completely unaware that anything of significance had taken place.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Unlikely Vessel

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.’ 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38 ESV

The birth of John to Elizabeth and Zechariah, while obviously divinely ordained and miraculous in nature, was meant to be a precursor to the more important and paradigm-shifting birth that was to follow. John’s entire life and ministry would be that of a herald or preparer of the way.

“…he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:17 ESV

In the same way, Luke records John’s birth as if it was merely a sign of greater things to come. While there are obvious similarities between the two birth accounts, Luke wants his readers to understand that there were glaring and significant differences as well. Years later, after beginning his ministry announcing the arrival of the Messiah and the Kingdom of Heaven, John would elaborate on the differences between him and Jesus.

“You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but am sent ahead of Him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom stands and listens for him, and is overjoyed to hear the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.  He must increase; I must decrease.

The One who comes from above is above all. The one who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks as one from the earth. The One who comes from heaven is above all.” – John 3:28-31 BSB

Once again, the angel Gabriel is sent to earth by God with a message. This time, he appears to a young virgin girl named Mary. Unlike Zechariah, Mary bears no title or job responsibility that would give her an air of importance or worth. She lived in Nazareth, a relatively obscure town located in the region of Galilee. With the mention of her place of residence, Luke has moved the narrative outside the walls of the capital city of Jerusalem where Zechariah received his message from Gabriel. In doing so, he has shifted the reader’s attention from the sacred environs of the temple to the less-than-holy confines of Nazareth. The reputation of this backwater town was far from stellar. Years later, when Philip told Nathanael “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph,” (John 1:45 ESV), Nathanael sarcastically responded, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46 ESV).

But it was in this unimpressive place and to an unassuming young girl that God sent His angelic messenger with unexpected news.

“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” – Luke 1:28 ESV

Luke records that Mary’s response to seeing an angel was markedly different than that of Zechariah. He had been troubled and filled with fear at the sight of Gabriel but Mary seems to have been more disturbed by the content of the message than the heavenly status of its deliverer.

…she was greatly troubled by his words and began to wonder about the meaning of this greeting. – Luke 1:29 NLT

Mary was a nobody. It’s likely that she was no more than a teenager at the time. And besides her name and the fact that she was a virgin, all Luke tells us about her is that she was “betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David” (Luke 1:27 ESV). There is nothing about Mary that should have set her apart as special in any way. And that seems to be the point. When Gabriel announced her “favored” status, he was not declaring that she had somehow earned her way into God’s good graces.

The Greek word is κεχαριτωμένη, and it means “to grace” or “to indue with special honor.” It is only used one other time in the New Testament. In his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul refers to the grace or unmerited favor that God had poured out on them.

In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. – Ephesians 1:4-6 ESV

They had done nothing to earn their adoption as sons and daughters of Jesus Christ. It had all been a gift from God. And he would elaborate on the undeserved nature of that gift in the very next chapter.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV

Mary had done nothing to merit her visitation from Gabriel, and her designation as God’s “favored one” was unearned as well. God had chosen her. He had set her apart to be the earthly vessel that would carry the priceless treasure of His Son. It was her relative obscurity and apparent inadequacy that set her apart. And Mary seemed to recognize the incongruity of Gabriel’s words with her own understanding of her value. She was troubled by what she heard and couldn’t reconcile the confusing nature of the angel’s message. But the apostle Paul provides us with a statement that helps to explain what was going on as Gabriel declared God’s message to Mary.

Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:24-289 NLT

Mary was an unlikely vessel to contain the glory of God. But then, so are we.

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. – 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NLT

This young girl was going to be used by God to bring light into the world. She would bear and give birth to the Son of God. For nine months, she would carry the hope of the world in her womb, and eventually, she would deliver God’s priceless gift of grace into the waiting arms of a rebellious and sin-stained world.

Gabriel assured Mary that she had “found favor with God!” (Luke 1:30 NLT). Once again, this does not mean that Mary had earned favor, but that God had graciously chosen to act on her behalf. He was gracing her with His favor. And then Gabriel explains to her how the favor of God would manifest itself.

“You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.” – Luke 1:31-33 NLT

If Mary had been troubled before, she had to have been reeling at this point. This was mind-boggling, earth-shattering information that must have left her head spinning and her heart racing. And her confusion is evidenced by her reaction: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34 ESV). She and Joseph were still in the betrothal stage of their relationship and were not yet officially married. It sounded like Gabriel was getting the cart before the horse. She and Joseph still needed to complete their betrothal, go through the marriage ceremony, and then consummate their relationship.

That’s when Gabriel drops the next bombshell.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God. – Luke 1:35 NLT

This was all uncharted waters for this young Jewish girl. She had no way of understanding what Gabriel meant. There was no precedent to which she could turn to understand this kind of supernatural explanation. It is doubtful that she fully comprehended the nature of Gabriel’s words. But rather than ask more questions, she simply responded: “Yes, I am a servant of the Lord; let this happen to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 NLT). There may have been a tone of confused compliance behind Mary’s statement. She had no idea what was about to happen but because it was the will of God, Mary was ready to humbly submit.  

It all had to have sounded improbable and impossible to Mary. But Gabriel had assured her that “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37 NLT). And he gave Elizabeth’s pregnancy as evidence of God’s involvement in all that was going on. The creator of the universe was working behind the scenes to bring about the greatest event in human history, and He was using broken, barren, insignificant, and undeserving individuals to make it happen.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seek the Lord and Live

1 Hear this word that I take up over you in lamentation, O house of Israel:

“Fallen, no more to rise,
    is the virgin Israel;
forsaken on her land,
    with none to raise her up.”

For thus says the Lord God:

“The city that went out a thousand
    shall have a hundred left,
and that which went out a hundred
    shall have ten left
    to the house of Israel.”

For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel:

“Seek me and live;
    but do not seek Bethel,
and do not enter into Gilgal
    or cross over to Beersheba;
for Gilgal shall surely go into exile,
    and Bethel shall come to nothing.”

Seek the Lord and live,
    lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph,
    and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel,
O you who turn justice to wormwood
    and cast down righteousness to the earth!

He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
    and turns deep darkness into the morning
    and darkens the day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea
    and pours them out on the surface of the earth,
the Lord is his name;
who makes destruction flash forth against the strong,
    so that destruction comes upon the fortress.

10 They hate him who reproves in the gate,
    and they abhor him who speaks the truth.
11 Therefore because you trample on the poor
    and you exact taxes of grain from him,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
    but you shall not dwell in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
    but you shall not drink their wine.
12 For I know how many are your transgressions
    and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
    and turn aside the needy in the gate.
13 Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time,
    for it is an evil time.

14 Seek good, and not evil,
    that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
    as you have said.
15 Hate evil, and love good,
    and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
    will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

16 Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord:

“In all the squares there shall be wailing,
    and in all the streets they shall say, ‘Alas! Alas!’
They shall call the farmers to mourning
    and to wailing those who are skilled in lamentation,
17 and in all vineyards there shall be wailing,
    for I will pass through your midst,”
says the Lord. Amos 5:1-17 ESV

Amos opens up chapter five with an announcement of Israel’s pending demise and invites them to listen to their own funeral song. Not exactly a happy thought. The Hebrew word translated as “lamentation” is qînâ (kee-naw) and it refers to a dirge or elegy sung to commemorate and mourn someone’s death. And the words of this funeral dirge contain equal amounts of sorrow and sarcasm. Amos describes Israel as a virgin who “has fallen, never to rise again! She lies abandoned on the ground, with no one to help her up” (Amos 5:2 NLT).

This somber-sounding song was meant to convey a sense of scornful derision. The sad reality was that Israel was anything but virginal, and everyone knew it. They had spiritually prostituted themselves with every false god imaginable. Their track record of apostasy and spiritual adultery was well-documented. The prophet Hosea, a contemporary of Amos, had some strong words concerning their ongoing unfaithfulness to God.

“Though you, Israel, are a prostitute, may Judah not be guilty of such things. Do not join the false worship at Gilgal or Beth-aven, and do not take oaths there in the LORD’s name.” – Hosea 4:15 NLT

But their penchant for adultery was more than spiritual in nature. Their abandonment of God had created an atmosphere where immoral and unethical behavior ran rampant. And Hosea records God’s indictment of their wickedness.

“There is no faithfulness, no kindness,
    no knowledge of God in your land.
You make vows and break them;
    you kill and steal and commit adultery.
There is violence everywhere—
    one murder after another.” – Amos 4:1-2 NLT

And Amos lets them know that the day is coming when they will pay for their sins. They will fall, never to rise again. Their destruction will be full and final, with no one coming come to their aid, including God.

Israel will find itself at war, but rather than experiencing victory over their enemies, they will see their army defeated and decimated. For every 1,000 soldiers who go into battle, only 100 will survive. Only one out of 100 soldiers will survive the battlefield or escape being taken captive by the enemy. No nation can experience those kinds of catastrophic losses and hope to survive.

But despite the gloomy pronouncement of coming judgment, there was cause for hope. While the nation of Israel could not avoid the coming destruction, the people of Israel could choose to seek God. Three separate times, God invites His adulterous people to return to Him so that they might live.

“Seek me and live…” – Vs 4

Seek the Lord and live…” – Vs 6

“Seek good, and not evil, that you may live…” – Vs 14

The Hebrew word dāraš conveys the idea of seeking something with great care and diligence. Rather than seeking help from their false gods, they are to seek the one true God. Like a loving husband, God is inviting His unfaithful and adulterous bride to return to Him. The entire book of Hosea provides a powerful illustration of this uncompromising love of God for His wayward people. At the very beginning of the book, Hosea is given a difficult assignment from God.

“Go and marry a prostitute, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution. This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the Lord and worshiping other gods.” – Hosea 1:2 NLT

And Hosea did just as the Lord had commanded, marrying a woman named Gomer. And, like the people of Israel, Gomer proved to be unfaithful to her marriage commitment to Hosea. She bore him three children but continued to pursue other lovers. And God would use Gomer as a visual illustration of Israel’s unfaithfulness to Him. At one point, He would declare an end to His patience and demand to see a change of heart among His people.

“But now bring charges against Israel—your mother—
    for she is no longer my wife,
    and I am no longer her husband.
Tell her to remove the prostitute’s makeup from her face
    and the clothing that exposes her breasts.” – Hosea 2:2 NLT

God will reach the point when He says, “Enough is enough” and exposes the stubborn refusal of His bride to seek Him and Him alone.

“I will not love her children,
    for they were conceived in prostitution.
Their mother is a shameless prostitute
    and became pregnant in a shameful way.
She said, ‘I’ll run after other lovers
    and sell myself to them for food and water,
for clothing of wool and linen,
    and for olive oil and drinks.’” – Hosea 2:4-5 NLT

But God longs to see His people return. He begs them to seek Him so that they might live. Rather than continue their adulterous affairs with the false gods located in Bethel,
Gilgal, and Beersheba, they were to pursue a restored relationship with Yahweh. But God was looking for a change of heart, not just an alteration in their behavior. Their seeking of Him was going to require an abandonment of their other “lovers” – once and for all. Otherwise, God would be forced to cut them off.

“Come back to the Lord and live!
Otherwise, he will roar through Israel like a fire,
    devouring you completely.” – Amos 5:6 NLT

God could not and would not tolerate their ongoing unfaithfulness. And when His judgment came, their false gods would prove powerless to help them. They would be no match for God Almighty. The same God who created the universe, hung the stars in the sky, and formed the oceans, and sent the rain to water the land, would bring His power to bear on the sins of Israel. And there would be nothing they could do to stop Him. Except “Do what is good and run from evil” (Amos 5:14 NLT). He told them to “Hate evil and love what is good” and “turn your courts into true halls of justice” (Amos 5:15 NLT).

God was looking for heart transformation that showed up in behavior modification. They were guilty of all kinds of injustice and immorality. They took advantage of the poor. They despised the truth and promoted an atmosphere where dishonesty and deceit were encouraged and rewarded. But all that was going to have to change. God demanded that they “Do what is good and run from evil so that you may live!” ( Amos 5:14 NLT). 

If they wanted God’s help, they were going to have to show that they were serious about seeking Him. No lip-service. No feigned faithfulness. It was not too late, but they were going to have to be serious about pursuing God and abandoning their old ways of living. And, if they did, a remnant of them just might experience the grace and mercy of God.

“Perhaps even yet the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies
    will have mercy on the remnant of his people.” – Amos 5:15 NLT

Otherwise, they could expect the worst.

“There will be crying in all the public squares
    and mourning in every street.
Call for the farmers to weep with you,
    and summon professional mourners to wail.
There will be wailing in every vineyard,
    for I will destroy them all,”
    says the Lord. – Amos 5:16-17 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Amazed At Their Disbelief

1 He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.

And he went about among the villages teaching. Mark 6:1-6 ESV

After healing the woman with the discharge of blood and raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead, Jesus and His disciples made their way to Nazareth. But there is one last thing we need to look at before leaving these two amazing miracles behind. In recording the events associated with these miracles, Mark provides two different pieces of information that, at first glance, appear to be unimportant. First, when describing the medical condition of the woman who touched Jesus’ robe, Mark states that she “had had a discharge of blood for twelve years” (Mark 5:25 ESV). It would be logical to assume that he included this detail simply to emphasize the long-term and hopeless nature of the woman’s condition.

But then, just a few verses later, in describing the healing of Jairus’ young daughter, Mark adds another interesting detail.

And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age) – Mark 5:42 ESV

Once again, why did Mark feel the need to provide the girl’s age? Perhaps it was his way of explaining her ability to walk when commanded to do so. But why did he think it was so important to share her exact age? Even a toddler could have responded when Jesus called out “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:41 ESV).

Could it be that Mark was attempting to use these two references to years as a way to connect these two miracles? Consider the fact that the very year the woman’s debilitating medical condition began would have been the very same year the young girl had been born. And while this woman spent the next 12 years visiting physicians and spending all her financial resources seeking a cure, the young daughter of Jairus would have been living a rather protected and privileged life. After all, her father was a well-respected leader in the local synagogue. For 12 years, the woman’s life would have been marked by pain and suffering, while the young girl most likely experienced a happy and carefree existence. But to the surprise of her family and friends, her young life would end suddenly and tragically in death. No one saw it coming. And while her anxious father had sought out the miracle worker named Jesus, his efforts would prove futile. It was too little, too late.

It would be natural to expect the older woman, who suffered from an incurable medical condition, to be the first to die. But she was spared because she placed her faith in Jesus. The one who knew her condition was fatal and was standing with one foot in the grave was delivered from death’s door. But the young girl, whose best years had been ahead of her, ended up dead, surrounded by mourners who grieved over her loss. But because of the faith of her father, Jesus raised the girl back to life. Upon hearing the devastating news that his daughter had died, Jairus was told by Jesus, “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36 ESV). Jesus didn’t tell Jairus why or what he should believe. But the distraught father followed Jesus and, along with his wife and three of the disciples, watched as his 12-year-old daughter was miraculously restored to life.

Two women – one old and one young. One sick and the other whole. One anticipating death and the other completely surprised by it. And yet, both women were delivered from death by the same man. The one who was near death was prevented from having to experience it. The one who experienced death was brought back from it. And all through the power and authority of Jesus. This reminds us once again of the words He spoke to Martha, just before He raises her brother, Lazarus, from the dead.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26 ESV

When we read the words, “…though he die, yet shall he live,” we should think of the 12-year-old girl. When we read the words, “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die,” we should think of the woman who had been sick for 12 long years. These two women provide us with living proof of Jesus’ statement. Yes, both would end up dying at some later date. But, in healing them and delivering them from death when He did, Jesus was demonstrating for His disciples that He had power over death and the grave. And, one day, He would prove it with His own death and resurrection.

But back to today’s passage. Jesus and HIs disciples made their way to Nazareth, the town where He had grown up. This is where Mary and Joseph had settled and raised their family. After the birth of Jesus, they had gone on to have additional children, and, unlike Jesus, they had all chosen to remain in Nazareth.

But on the next Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples made their way to the local synagogue where Jesus was honored as a visiting Rabbi or teacher. He was given the opportunity to address the congregation, and what He had to say that day made a huge impression on those in the room. But it seems that His words received mixed reviews.

“Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles?” Then they scoffed, “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.” – Mark 6:2-3 NLT

Some were blown away by Jesus’ eloquence and His ability to perform such incredible miracles. Likely, the news about His most recent demonstrations of power had already made its way to Capernaum. But there were others in the crowd that day who were unimpressed because they viewed Jesus as nothing more than a carpenter. They knew His family and were probably aware that even His own brothers thought He had lost His mind (Mark 3:21). Even His own family refused to believe Him to be the Messiah of Israel (John 7:5). It seems likely that Jesus’ siblings had shared their own opinions regarding their famous brother. And all of this negative publicity appears to have jaded the minds of those who had known Jesus since He had been a little boy. Mark reveals that the opinion of the naysayers prevailed that day.

They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him. – Mark 6:3 NLT

Mark goes on to note that Jesus was amazed at the level of disbelief among those who knew Him best. It is clear that they had heard the rumors concerning His miracles. They had just heard Him speak and expressed their amazement at His wisdom. But they just couldn’t get past the fact that this was the same man whom they had seen running and playing in the streets of Nazareth as a boy. He was the son of a carpenter. How could He be the long-awaited Messiah? The old adage, “familiarity breeds contempt,” comes to mind. They knew too much, and their knowledge blinded them to the truth.

And sensing their disbelief and outright rejection of His message and ministry, Jesus commented, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family” (Mark 6:4 NLT). Even the prophets of old found it difficult to get those who knew them best to listen to their words. Their claims to spokesmen for God went unheeded, and their calls to repentance fell on deaf ears. And Jesus includes Himself among the rejected and disrespected prophets of God. He was in good company and experiencing the same bad outcome.

And the refusal of the citizens of Nazareth to accept Jesus as the Son of God prevented them from experiencing the power of God in their midst. The miracles of Jesus would continue to be nothing more than rumors. The healings they had heard about would not take place in their community. The sick would find no relief. The demon-possessed would experience no release. The blind would remain sightless and doomed to walk in darkness. And the citizens of Nazareth would allow the Light of the world to walk away, leaving them wandering in the darkness of their own sin.

Mark paints a rather pathetic and pitiable picture of the scene that took place as Jesus prepared to leave His hometown.

And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. – Mark 6:5 NLT

There was an absence of faith in Nazareth. Despite everything they had heard and seen, they couldn’t get past the fact that this was Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary. He was just a man. He was no better than they were. So, why should they honor Him? Why should they believe Him? Sadly, the Messiah, the anointed one of God, had grown up among them, but their stubborn pride and sin would prevent them from recognizing Him. And while Jesus would mercifully heal a few, the rest would be left to die in their sins. Their refusal to believe would have dire and deadly consequences, just as Jesus would later tell Martha.

“Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,  and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” – John 11:25-26 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Gift of God

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” – John 4:7-15 ESV

It is interesting that John makes special note that Jesus stopped in “a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph” (John 4:5 ESV). This reference to Joseph has special significance because of the role he played as Israel’s “savior” hundreds of years earlier. Joseph had been sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, and he ended up in Egypt. But through a series of divinely orchestrated events, Joseph eventually became the second-highest-ranking official in all of Egypt. Years later, when a famine struck the land of Canaan, Jacob sent his remaining sons to Egypt to seek food. But what they discovered was their long-lost brother. And to their surprise, rather than use his position and power to punish them for their past treatment of him, Joseph showed them mercy and grace. He provided them with forgiveness for their sins against him as well as well-watered land for their flocks. So the Israelites, just 70 members strong at that time, settled in Egypt. And, in response to his brothers’ concern that he might seek to harm them, Joseph told them:

Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” – Genesis 50:20 ESV

Jacob and Joseph would both die in Egypt. But, years later, when the sons Jacob returned to the land of Canaan, they brought the bones of Joseph and buried them in Shechem (Sychar), near the spot where Jesus had chosen to take His midday rest stop.

John mentions, almost in passing, that Jesus was weary from His journey. This rather oblique reference is intended to remind the reader that Jesus, while fully God, was also fully human. And in His humanity, Jesus experienced the same physical attributes as any other man, including hunger, thirst, fatigue, and pain. In this little scenario, Jesus would have looked like any other travel-worn Jew making his way through the region of Samaria. So, when the Samaritan woman appeared on the scene, she would have taken very little interest in this unknown Jewish man – until He spoke to her.

John indicates that Jesus was the first to speak, saying to the woman, “Give me a drink” (John 4:7 ESV). While this scene may appear somewhat innocuous to us, for the original readers of John’s gospel, this encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman would have been shocking. Here was Jesus, a Jewish male, daring to strike up a conversation with a Samaritan woman. This kind of thing wasn’t done in Israel. First of all, Jesus broke social protocol by speaking to a woman in public. And to make matters worse, the woman to whom He spoke was a lowly Samaritan. She would have been considered idolatrous and, therefore, unclean. Yet, shockingly, Jesus chose to speak to her. 

Even the woman reveals her surprise that this Jewish man would dare to address her.

“How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” – John 4:9 ESV

Just so his audience understands the gravity of the moment, John adds an important aside: “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9 ESV). This entire encounter was out of bounds and unexpected. Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, was smack-dab in the middle of Samaria, in the middle of the day, and speaking to an unclean Samaritan woman. Not only that, but He was also asking her to serve Him water from the vessel she used to draw from the well. What Jesus was about to do would render Him ceremonially unclean and in need of purification.

But Jesus shows no concern for His own spiritual well-being. Instead, He seems focused on the plight of the woman and replies to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10 ESV). 

In a sense, Jesus was informing the woman of His true identity. He was much more than an unidentified Jewish man asking for a drink of water. He was someone who had the power and authority to offer her “the gift of God,” a source of “living water.”

Confused by Jesus’ words, the woman responded, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” (John 4:11 ESV). At this point in the exchange, the reader should recall the earlier conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, the highly orthodox member of the Pharisees. He too had been perplexed by the words of Jesus concerning the new birth from above and had quizzically replied, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4 ESV). 

Don’t miss the contrast: A well-educated Jewish Pharisee and an idolatrous Samaritan woman. Both found themselves in a conversation with Jesus, the Son of God. But their minds were stuck on a horizontal plane, and incapable of understanding the spiritual nature of Jesus’ words. The woman, well-acquainted with the task of drawing her daily water from the well, could not understand what Jesus meant by His reference to “living water.” In her mind, Jesus was offering her a source of free-flowing water, like that found in a mountain stream. It stood in stark contrast to the well water to which she was accustomed. Access to water from a stream would mean she would no longer have to go through the arduous task of drawing stagnant water from a well. But as far as she could see, Jesus had no means of providing the “the gift” of which He spoke.

The woman not only found Jesus’ words confusing, but also a bit off-putting. Who was He to denigrate the water from Jacob’s well? Was it not good enough for Him? It had served to meet the needs of Jacob, so it was good enough for her. But Jesus pointed out the limitations inherent in Jacob’s well and the water it provided.

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again…” – John 4:13 ESV

Remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6 ESV). Jesus was trying to get Nicodemus to understand that there was a physical and a spiritual dimension to life. Being born into the family of Israel was not going to be enough to earn Nicodemus entrance into the kingdom of God. And drinking water from the well of Jacob was not going to satisfy the Samaritan woman’s spiritual thirst. Both of these individuals had a need that could only be met through Jesus. He was the light of life and the source of living water.

And Jesus informed the woman that the gift He was offering her was far greater than any water she might draw from a well.

“…whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:14 ESV

At this point in the story, we know nothing about this woman, other than her status as a Samaritan. Her very presence at the well reveals her need for and dependence upon water in order to survive. But Jesus knew there was a much greater need in this woman’s life. Her thirst was far more than physical. Just as Nicodemus was going to need a different kind of birth if he wanted to enter God’s kingdom, the Samaritan woman was going to need a different kind of water if she ever wanted to have her deep spiritual thirst satisfied. But the woman’s response to Jesus reveals just how blind she was to her own neediness.

“Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” – John 4:15 ESV

She was intrigued by the thought of a source of free-flowing water. And if this unknown Jewish man could tell her where to find it, she was all ears. The thought of never having to draw water from the well again was appealing to her. But like Nicodemus, she was missing the point. She was neglecting to see her real need. Nicodemus had seen himself as fully righteous and fully deserving of entrance into God’s kingdom. But he had been wrong. Just like everyone else, he required a birth from above. And this woman was never going to satisfy her real spiritual need with water from a well. Her sins, like those of Nicodemus, were great. Yes, they may have been of a different sort, but they were sins nonetheless. And she, like Nicodemus, stood before the Son of God, condemned by her sin and in need of a Savior.

Which brings us back to the story of Joseph and his brothers. The day came when they found themselves standing in front of the brother they had sold into slavery and left for dead. They were guilty and deserving of judgment. But Joseph showed them mercy. He extended grace. He used his power and authority to reward rather than punish them.

And like the brother’s of Joseph, this unidentified woman was going to discover the joy of having her sins forgiven. Jesus was about to let her know that God “brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20 NLT). And she would be graciously and unexpectedly included among the saved.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Down, But Not Out

55 There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, 56 among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 64 Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. – Matthew 27:55-66 ESV

Jean_Jouvenet_Descent_From_The_Cross

Man’s sin debt had been paid, but the cost had been high. Jesus, the Son of God, had given His life so that those condemned to death might experience eternal life. He died so that others might live. But, as the apostle Peter reminds us, “God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” (1 Peter 1:18-19 NLT).

But as the Roman soldiers removed the lifeless body of Jesus from the cross, He was anything but spotless. His body had been beaten and bruised. His face had been slapped repeatedly leaving it swollen and practically unrecognizable. And hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Isaiah had described just how badly Jesus would be disfigured by this tragic event.

But many were amazed when they saw him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man. – Isaiah 52:14 NLT

Jesus was covered with His own blood that had flowed from the wounds left by the large nails pounded into his hands and feet. He had a gaping wound in His side from the point of the spear that had been meant to ensure His death. The crown of thorns that had been mockingly pressed onto His head had caused blood to flow down His face and into His eyes. The sinless, spotless Lamb of God had been brutally and mercilessly murdered.

In the book of Revelation, John records a vision he received of Jesus in His resurrected and glorified state, standing in the throne room of God Almighty. And John’s description of Jesus is quite interesting.

…between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain. – Revelation 5:6 ESV

Jesus doesn’t appear in the form of a man but as a Lamb. And John adds the telling descriptor: “as though it had been slain.” The Greek word translated as “slain” is sphazō and was commonly used to refer to the slaughter of an animal for sacrifice. It can also be translated as “butchered.” Jesus was the sacrificial Lamb, offered for the sins of many, and the ordeal had left its marks on Him.

It’s interesting to note how Matthew describes those followers of Christ who had remained at Golgotha to the bitter end. He says they were looking on from a distance. Yet, he only mentions the names of women. Not a single one of the disciples is named. And among the women was “the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Matthew 27:56 ESV).

One has to wonder what had been going through her mind as she watched Jesus being crucified between the two thieves. She is the one who had come to Jesus and begged Him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21 ESV). And Jesus had told her, “You do not know what you are asking” (Matthew 20:22 ESV). It’s likely that, as she watched Jesus die, she imagined her own two sons, James and John, hanging on the crosses to His right and left. Little had she shown that Jesus’ crowning as King was going to involve thorns, not gold. His entrance into His Kingdom was going to demand crucifixion, not a coronation. His exaltation would be proceeded by humiliation and death. And rather than taking up residence in a palace, Jesus would be placed in a borrowed tomb.

Joseph of Arimathea, a follower of Jesus, offered up his own tomb so that Jesus could have a proper burial. And once again, the prophet Isaiah spoke of this long before it ever happened.

But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. – Isaiah 53:9 NLT

As Joseph had the stone rolled across the opening to his own tomb, the entire scene has a sense of finality to it. Jesus was dead. The crowds had dispersed. The supernatural darkness had passed and the light had returned. And everyone in Jerusalem had gone back to their lives as usual. Only a handful of women stood by, watching as Jesus was buried. This sad and sobering scene was also foretold by Isaiah.

He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care. – Isaiah 53:3 NLT

But the religious leaders, still wary of the influence Jesus had over the people, took steps to ensure that nothing would happen that might resurrect the memory of Jesus. They knew that Jesus had predicted that He would rise again. So, in order to prevent His disciples from stealing the body of Jesus and spreading rumors that He was alive, they stationed guards at the tomb with orders to remain there until the three days had passed. Evidently, they had attempted to get Pilate to provide Roman guards, but he had refused. “So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard” (Matthew 27:55 ESV).

And they waited.

This chapter ends in sadness. Its tragic conclusion provides the reader with little in the way of hope. Jesus is dead. The disciples have scattered to the four winds. The mother of Jesus and the women who loved and followed Him are in deep sorrow, having not been given the opportunity to anoint His body for burial. Which makes the anointing of Jesus in Bethany so important. Matthew records that “a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table” (Matthew 26:7 ESV), and Jesus had clearly pronounced, “In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial” (Matthew 26:12 ESV).

As dark as this moment may appear, the invisible, yet sovereign hand of God is evident throughout the narrative. Everything is taking place according to His divine plan – down to the last detail.

…he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins… – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was beaten so we could be whole. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was whipped so we could be healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was oppressed and treated harshly. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT

…He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT

…Unjustly condemned, he was led away. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

his life was cut short in midstream… – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

…he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. – Isaiah 53:9 NLT

All of this had been pre-ordained by the will of God. And Jesus had willingly played His role in the whole affair – out of obedience to His heavenly Father and as an expression of His love for mankind. And while the closing verses of chapter 27 present a dark and dismal scene, we know that the story was far from over. There was more to come. God’s plan was not yet complete. And Isaiah provides us with yet one more premonition of what lies ahead.

And because of his experience,
    my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
    for he will bear all their sins. – Isaiah 53:11 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

All According to Plan

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:13-18 ESV

After having spent more than three years of his life with Jesus, Matthew had come to believe in two things: The Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah and the providence of God. Over time, he had come to recognize that Jesus was the fulfillment of all that the prophets had written concerning long-awaited “anointed one” of God.

Matthew would have remembered the words of Jesus, spoken at the synagogue in Nazareth immediately after He had read the following passage from the scroll containing the writings of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
– Luke 4:18-19 ESV

Jesus had read from Isaiah 61:1-2, a text that the Jews in His audience would have known carried Messianic implications. And when He had finished, He had sat down and stated: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV).

Jesus had boldly claimed to be the fulfillment of this passage. He was the anointed one of God, who possessed the Spirit of God and had been sent on a mission by God. And more than three years later, after Jesus had died and resurrected, He had suddenly appeared to two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus. Once they recognized Him as their risen Lord, Jesus had provided them with insight into His Messianic pedigree.

…beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. – Luke 24:27 ESV

Those disciples had returned to Jerusalem, where they shared the news of Jesus’ resurrection with the rest of the disciples, including Matthew. And Luke records that Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst and said to them:.

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. – Luke 24:44-45 ESV

Matthew fully believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. But he also believed that God had been working providentially in the life of Jesus from the moment of His birth to the final minutes of His life on the cross. Nothing had happened that God had not ordained and providentially orchestrated, including the arrival of the Magi and the sinister reaction of Herod to the news of the birth of Israel’s new king.

All of the events surrounding Jesus’ incarnation were planned by God from eternity past. He was not operating in a reactionary mode, responding to events as they happened or forced to alter His plans based on the whims of men. Nothing was a surprise to God. There was never a moment when He was caught off guard or found Himself having to come up with plan B.

Matthew had come to recognize that every detail concerning Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection had been providentially planned by God. Even the flight of Joseph, Mary, and their newborn son to Egypt had been part of God’s divine strategy. Matthew records that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, warning him in advance that Herod had evil intentions for their son.

“Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” – Matthew 2:13 ESV

Joseph had done as the angel commanded, taking his young wife and newborn son to Egypt in order to escape the wrath of Herod. And we know from the following verses, that the threat had been real, because Herod had all the male children under the age of two murdered, in a vain attempt to eliminate any potential threat to his throne.

But Herod’s plan would fail. He would prove unsuccessful in his efforts to kill the rightful heir to David’s throne. In fact, according to the Jewish historian, Josephus, Herod would die a painful and miserable death. Even Luke records that Herod would be “eaten by worms” (Acts 12:23 ESV).

But Jesus would find refuge in Egypt, much like the people of Israel had done hundreds of years earlier. Jacob and his family had also turned to Egypt when faced with a famine in the land of Canaan. And 400 years later, God would lead the people of Israel out of Egypt and return them to the land of Canaan. And the prophet Hosea would later record the news of God’s providential rescue of His people from their captivity in Egypt.

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son. – Hosea 11:1 ESV

Matthew uses this very same Old Testament passage to illustrate how Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of what happened when God had returned His “son” from Egypt. Jesus would return from a distant land “to proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, (and) to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

When God had led the people of Israel out of Egypt, He had done so in fulfillment of His promise to Abraham. He had plans to return them to the land of Canaan, which He was going to give them as an inheritance. He had promised to give Abraham a land, a seed, and a blessing. But while the Israelites finally made it to the land and eventually occupied it, they had never fully lived up to God’s expectations for them. They had proved disobedient and unfaithful. But God was still going to bless the nations through the “seed” of Abraham. And Jesus was the fulfillment of that promise. The apostle Paul made this point perfectly clear when he wrote:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:13-16 ESV

God would once again call “the seed” of Abraham out of Egypt, but this time the blessing would come to the Gentiles. Jesus would do what the Jews had failed to do. He would live in perfect obedience to the will of God, carrying out His commands and accomplishing His will. And there was nothing Herod the Great or his son and successor, Herod Antipas, could do to thwart the plans of the sovereign God. Jesus would not only return from Egypt, but He would also survive childhood, grow to be a man, and begin His earthly ministry just as God had sovereignly ordained. All according to the divine plan and in keeping with on God’s predetermined timeline.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. – Galatians 4:4-5 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

God With Us

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. – Matthew 1:18-25 ESV

In this section of Matthew’s Gospel, he takes his defense of Jesus’ messiahship one step further. Not only was Jesus the fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, but He was also the Son of God. Right from the very start, Matthew establishes Jesus as being divine, referring to Him by the name pronounced by the angel of God: Immanuel. And, just to make sure his readers understand the significance of that name,  Matthew provides them with its meaning: “God with us” (Matthew 1:23 ESV).

In announcing the coming birth of Jesus and declaring His name and identity, the angel reiterated the words of God recorded by the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” – Isaiah 7:14 ESV

As with many of the prophecies found in the Old Testament, this verse from Isaiah passage had a now/not yet aspect to it. In its original historical context, this message from God was delivered by Isaiah to Ahaz, the king of Judah. It spoke of a child being born during the days of Ahaz and this birth would give evidence that the military alliance between Syria and Israel against Judah would be unsuccessful. The essence of the message was that life would go on in Judah, while the northern kingdom of Israel would suffer defeat at the hands of the Assyrians.

“Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and rejoice over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.”

Be broken, you peoples, and be shattered;
    give ear, all you far countries;
strap on your armor and be shattered;
    strap on your armor and be shattered.
Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing;
    speak a word, but it will not stand,
    for God is with us. – Isaiah 8:6-10 ESV

Matthew picks up on this prophetic vision, recognizing its future fulfillment in Jesus. The primary focus of the message delivered by Isaiah to King Ahaz was that God would be with the people of Judah. The Assyrians would come upon the northern kingdom of Israel like a river that has overflowed its banks. They will devastate and destroy everything in their path, even making their way into the southern kingdom of Judah. But they will fail in their efforts to defeat Judah. Why? Because of the presence of God.

And Matthew, knowing that the angel of God had designated Jesus as Immanuel, “God with us,” understood that His birth signified that God had determined to dwell with His people once again. In the darkness that cloaked the land of Israel, a light was shining. The apostle John picked up on this imagery.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

And John went on to describe Jesus, the Word of God, as dwelling among the people of God. The Greek word John used is σκηνόω (skēnoō ), and it literally means “to fix one’s tabernacle.”

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:1, 14 ESV

Jesus was God in human flesh, pitching His “tent” among His people once again. But rather than a tent made of animal skins, this tabernacle would be that of a human body in which God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, would take up permanent residence. Jesus became the God-man, and rather than the Shekinah glory that hovered over the mercy seat in the tabernacle in the wilderness, Jesus would become the glory of God living and walking among men. Jesus was “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 ESV) and “he has made him known” (John 1:18 ESV).

The birth of Jesus was both ordinary and extraordinary. He would be born to an obscure Jewish couple who hailed from the nondescript town of Nazareth. But Joseph would not be the father of Jesus. No, Jesus would be conceived by the Holy Spirit, which meant that His birth would be anything but ordinary. Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph, had not yet consummated her marriage to him. This is clear by Joseph’s response to the news that she was pregnant.

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. – Matthew 1:19 ESV

Joseph was shocked by the news but, out of love for Mary, determined to keep the situation under wraps, doing all that he could to protect her name. But the angel of God let Joseph know that his worst fears were unfounded. Mary had not been unfaithful to him. She had been chosen by God to bear the Savior of the world.

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:20-21 ESV

“Jesus” is the Latin form of the Greek name Ἰησοῦς  (Iēsous). It is the same as the Hebrew Yeshua (Joshua), which means “Yahweh saves.”

This entire section is intended by Matthew to convey the miraculous nature of Jesus’ birth, but it’s also meant to support his premise that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one of God. Matthew declares that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy found in Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

As we have seen, this prophecy was originally fulfilled during the days of King Ahaz. But Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is letting us know that there was another aspect of this prophecy that had long-term ramifications. God was looking far into the future and declaring that another birth would take place and another son would be born, whose arrival on the scene would signify that “God is with us.”

Matthew’s primary purpose has been to establish Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ. And he has done so by presenting three powerful proofs: His fulfillment of the Old Testament covenant promises made to Abraham and David, as evidenced by the indisputable record of his genealogy, and the miraculous nature of His birth. Jesus was the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, and the Son of God. He was Immanuel, God with us, the very image of the invisible God, who came to earth in order that He might redeem a lost and dying world cloaked in the darkness of sin. And, as the apostle Paul explains, God shattered that darkness by sending His own Son as the light of His glory.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. – 2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson