Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Mary

Where was the manger?

manger-4701800_640

Image by Hucklebarry from Pixabay

There are many supposed and real hints in the Bible of just how things will play out when our Lord returns. For centuries eminent scholars have scrutinized these hints and endeavoured to put together a coherent time line of that event. They have written many stories based on those searches; they all sound wonderful, but they don’t agree.

Maybe we shouldn’t worry. God has it all in hand; someday we’ll see and it will surprise us. There were just as many conflicting prophecies about the coming of the Messiah: he would be of the lineage of David, born in Bethlehem; Rachel would weep for her children, because they were not; he would come from Egypt; he would be a Nazarite, etc. It seemed impossible that it could all be true. Then, events occurred in a very short time period that checked every one of those boxes.

Here is the account from the first seven verses of the second chapter of Luke’s gospel. Let’s ignore the legends, myths, folklore and tomfoolery that have become attached to this account and try to understand what happened.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.  (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)   And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Bible Background Commentary states; “pottery samples suggest a recent migration of people from the Bethlehem area to Nazareth around this time.” In retrospect this looks like poor planning on Joseph’s part, because he was now in the wrong place for the baby to be born. But perhaps he would never have met Mary if he had remained in Bethlehem. No matter, a decree from the Roman Emperor got them back where they needed to be, and just in time, too.

Now, if Joseph had to return to Bethlehem to be taxed, that must mean that he owned something there that was taxable, perhaps just a small plot of land. How did he get his very pregnant wife from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a distance of 150km? Folklore says she rode a donkey. That is possible, but the Bible says nothing on the subject so its best not to be too categoric.

No doubt they came to the home of relatives in Bethlehem who welcomed them into their home. To refuse hospitality to someone would have been a disgrace in their culture.

But what about that famous “no room in the inn?” The word translated “inn ”is kataluma, which means guest chamber and is so translated in the two other places we find it in the New Testament (Mark 14:14 and Luke 22:11). Homes in a rural community like Bethlehem were mostly single room affairs, with the family animals occupying the ground level and the family living on the upper level. Sometimes there was a guest room built on the roof. The animals would have been few, and the space kept scrupulously clean, because it was part of the home.

The “no room” part probably means that because of the number of people in the home there was no private place for a mother to bring a baby into the world. What woman would want to have that happen in the middle of a crowded room? So their host made a spot for them in the space below, clean, discreet and away from curious eyes. Surely they called the midwife, and she probably assigned Joseph some tasks to ease his nervousness and keep him at least partly out of the way.

So the baby was born in Bethlehem, according to prophecy. Some time later a group of Magi appeared in Jerusalem looking for the newborn King of the Jews. King Herod took drastic action to eliminate this rival, having all boys under the age of two murdered. And Rachel (all the mothers of Bethlehem) wept. An angel warned Joseph to take his wife and child and flee to Egypt. This was a trip of around 590km and may well have involved a donkey, though once again the Bible is silent. When Herod died, an angel informed Joseph it was safe to return (the Messiah called out of Egypt) and the family settled once again in Nazareth. Nazarite and Nazarene don’t sound as different in Greek as they do in our language and the Bible says this fulfilled the prophecy that Messiah would be called a Nazarite.

It’s a simple story. The wonder is how God used Emperors and Kings to work out His plan. They had no idea the events caused by their decrees fulfilled every detail of prophecies made hundreds of years earlier.

Why Mary?

The story is hardly credible to our modern minds. A fifteen-year-old girl informs her parents—I am assuming her parents were still living, though there is no mention of them—that an angel has visited her and now she is pregnant with the long-awaited Messiah.

We don’t expect the birth of Messiah, and few people know the Scriptures as Jewish people did then. Still, I suspect her family raised their eyebrows when Mary told them of the angel visit and her miraculous conception.

So she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, no doubt accompanied by a family member for security; it was a long walk from Nazareth to Hebron. Mary was of the tribe of Judah and Elizabeth of the tribe of Levi; the relationship must have been through their mothers.

hen she arrived at the home of Elizabeth, she found things just as Gabriel had told her.
Elizabeth greeted her by saying (and the Bible says she greeted her in a loud voice) “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” An astounding greeting from an elderly lady to her very young cousin.

Elizabeth’s welcome surely eased any doubts Mary may have had about the reality of the divine event happening to her. Her response, “My soul doth magnify the Lord . . . ,” reveals a deep grasp of the Scriptures and shows that she knew how this event fit into the past, present and future of Israel and the world.

Again, from the perspective of our day we can hardly grasp that a fifteen-year-old girl could have such a depth of understanding. But Mary did, and she probably was not all that unique in her day.

But God not chose her on account of her knowledge. Why was Gabriel sent to Mary, out of the many young ladies of the Davidic line who must have been living? Mary’s simple response to the message of Gabriel reveals the answer: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

The words of Elizabeth underline the power of the simple faith and trust of Mary: “Blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

Luke tells us more about Mary than any other New Testament writer. He must have known her and listened to her tell her story, from start to finish. She trusted, always watching to see what God would do next. She experienced a sorrow greater than any mother has ever known, yet still she trusted. She was there with the little group of believers at the beginning of the book of Acts. No doubt she experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and witnessed the glorious beginning of the church.

There is nothing that Mary can do for us today. But we can acknowledge her blessedness and follow her example of faith, trust and obedience.

Introduction to the New Testament – 1

The Gospels
Matthew – The writer calls himself Levi; the other gospels call him Matthew, perhaps a name given to him when he became a disciple of Jesus. He was a publican before his call, a man who collected taxes on all merchandise transported along the road where he was stationed near Capernaum. This was the first gospel, written while Matthew was in Jerusalem, probably between A.D. 60 and 66. He wrote for Jewish readers, mentioning throughout his gospel all the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah and how they were fulfilled in Jesus’ life and ministry.

Matthew gives the most complete version of the Sermon on the Mount in chapters five to seven. These three chapters are the key to understanding the transition from the old covenant of the law to the new covenant of the gospel. Righteousness is not outward conformity to the law, but a heartfelt love of God that leads to a life of purity and allows us to mirror His love for all people.

The gospel of Matthew is the only one to mention the Gentile women in the genealogy of Jesus and the only one to mention the Gentile Magi who came searching the newborn king of the Jews.

The most complete wording of the great commission is found at the end of Matthew’s gospel, instructing the followers of Jesus to go into all the world and make disciples from every nation.

After writing the gospel Matthew went as missionary to Persia and Ethiopia, where he died as a martyr for the faith.

Mark – The author is John Mark, cousin of Barnabas, close friend of Peter and mission companion of Paul. This gospel was likely written shortly after Matthew’s and before the fall of Jerusalem.

The early church fathers stated that Mark’s gospel was written at Rome for Gentile believers and based on the memories of the apostle Peter. It is the shortest of the gospels and the most vivid, as would befit the recording of Peter’s eyewitness accounts. It is not concerned with the fulfilment of messianic prophecies, but with showing Jesus to be the incarnate Son of God living among men and women and by His death and resurrection making salvation available to all mankind.

It is generally believed that after writing the gospel Mark travelled to Egypt, founded the church at Alexandria and died there as a martyr.

Luke was born at Antioch, not of Jewish parents, and studied medicine. Little is known of his early life and conversion, but he appears in Acts as a companion of Paul.

He was not an eye-witness of the life of Jesus, but consulted those who were. One of those may have been Mary, the mother of our Lord. Luke includes her genealogy, the visit of Gabriel, Mary’s trip to her cousin Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, the visit of the shepherds, the meeting with Simeon and Anna in the temple and many other details of which she would have been the only surviving eyewitness.

Luke was a Gentile, and addressed his account to a Gentile. He compiled a history of the life of Jesus from the very first angelic messages of His birth. He strove for historical accuracy, linking events to the time of specific government officials. Luke differentiates himself from the other Gospels by putting events in chronological order, and from secular Greek histories by recording only reliable historical facts.

John – The gospel of John was the last one written. It is not really a history, dealing mostly with the last six months of Jesus’ life. Nor is it meant as a tool for evangelism, but rather for strengthening the faith of the church which already existed by that time. He supplies details missing in the earlier gospels and much teaching to cultivate the spiritual life of Christians.

John was possibly the youngest of the apostles and the only one who did not die a martyr. This gospel was probably written at Ephesus, where John lived and ministered for many years.

The opening passage of John’s gospel is a masterful statement of the Old Testament concept of the Word as being eternal and the active principle in Creation and can also be understood to take in the Greek concept of the Logos which gives coherence to all the universe. John goes on to state that this Word, or Logos, is God who made all things, who is life and light and who came to earth in the form of man and dwelt among men as one of them. This gospel contains the most explicit teaching on the new birth and on the Holy Spirit and demonstrates how it is only by knowing Jesus, the Creator, Lord and Saviour, that the created world makes any sense.

Hail the King of glory

 

Gentle Mary laid her child lowly in a manger;
There He lay, the undefiled, to the world a stranger:
Such a babe in such a place, can He be the Saviour?
Ask the saved of all the race who have found His favour.

Angels sang about His birth; wise men sought and found Him;
Heaven’s star shone brightly forth, glory all around Him:
Shepherds saw the wondrous sight, heard the angels singing;
All the plains were lit that night, all the hills were ringing.

Gentle Mary laid her child lowly in a manger;
He is still the undefiled, but no more a stranger:
Son of God, of humble birth, beautiful the story;
Praise His name in all the earth, hail the King of glory!

-Joseph Cook, 1859-1933

Let my people go

During the course of my lifetime I have heard the Nativity story told in many different forms at Christmas concerts and read still others in children’s books. Some have stayed quite close to the Biblical narrative, others have veered off into the land of make-believe in ways that left me bewildered.

Fear not, I’m not about to embark on a curmudgeonly rant. I think it will be more constructive to depict the outlines of a narrative that is hidden in plain sight in our Bibles. That is the amazing parallels between Moses and Jesus.

Both had the sentence of death upon them the moment they were born. In the case of Moses it was the decree of Pharaoh that all newborn Hebrew males should be killed. In the case of Jesus it was the decree of Herod that all children under the age of two in the region of Bethlehem should be slain.

Both were protected by a young lady named Miryam. For Moses it was his sister, for Jesus it was his mother. They are called Miriam and Mary in the Bible, due to the Old and New Testaments being written in different languages, but to their own people, in their own time, both were Miryam.

Both received invaluable help from Gentiles. Moses was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and brought up not far from the man who had wanted to kill him. The gifts the Magi brought to Jesus were no doubt of great help in sustaining Joseph, Mary and Jesus during their flight into Egypt.

Later in their lives both embarked on a mission to deliver their people from their oppressors. Moses wrought many miracles upon the Egyptians to break their oppression of the Hebrew people and finally, on the day of the Passover, led them through the Red Sea to freedom. Jesus wrought miracles to demonstrate his power over the oppression of Satan and finally, through his death and resurrection at the time of the Passover, broke the power of Satan over mankind.

Fifty days after the first Passover (ten days march into the wilderness and forty days on the mountain), Moses came down the mountain with the laws of God written on tablets of stone. Fifty days after the last Passover, on the day of Pentecost, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit down from heaven to write God’s laws upon the hearts of the believers.

There is one major difference between Moses and Jesus. Moses, as representative of the law, could not lead his people through Jordan into the promised land. That was left for Joshua to do. The Hebrew form of Joshua is Yehowshua. That is the name that Jesus bore in his day, among his own people. Jesus comes from the Greek form of his name. Jesus, the New Testament Yehowshua, has delivered his people from their bondage to sin and has gone before us to prepare a place for us in the eternal promised land.

I would be delighted if Sunday School teachers, Christian teachers and Christian writers for children could flesh out the Biblical narrative to give children of our day a true picture of who Jesus is and what he has done for us.

Saved through childbearing

And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety (1 Timothy 2:14-15).

These are Christmas verses. Here is why. In verse 14 and the first part of verse 15, the Apostle Paul speaks of the woman being in the transgression and the woman being saved in childbearing. I believe this speaks of two women, taken as the embodiment of all womankind. The first was Eve, by whose disobedience sin came into the world. The second was Mary, by whose obedience the remedy for sin came into the world.

Mary’s obedience has taken away the reproach that had fallen upon women by Eve’s disobedience. Through the birth of Jesus, the seed of the woman, the head of the serpent has been crushed (Genesis 3:15). 1 Timothy 2:15 switches from she to they after the comma. She refers to Mary as representative of all womankind, they refers to women as individuals and describes the evidence of salvation for each one.

Other attempts to explain these verses are not very satisfactory. The difficulty arises from extracting a verse or two from the Scripture and attempting to explain them without reference to the rest of Holy Writ. To suppose that the salvation of women depends on bearing children creates more questions than it answers. What about those who have never borne children? The idea that women’s lives will be spared during childbirth is just as problematic. What about faithful Christian women who did die in childbirth?

The explanation I have given follows that given by Daniel Whedon and Adam Clarke in their commentaries. Jamieson, Fausset & Brown and Matthew Henry only hint at it. (Matthew Henry had finished his commentary to the end of the Acts of the Apostles when he died suddenly of a stroke. The commentaries on the remaining books of the New Testament were done by thirteen other writers.)

And the house was filled with the odour of the ointment

Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus came to Bethany and was invited to a meal in the home of Simon, a man whom He had healed of leprosy. To get the full story of the event, we need to put together the accounts found in Matthew 26, Mark 14 and John 12. Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead, was one of the guests and his sister Martha was serving the meal. At some point Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, came into the room with a container of very precious ointment, broke the neck of the container, poured the ointment over Jesus’ head and feet, then wiped his feet with her hair.There is no mention of a motive, but no doubt she was still overwhelmed with thankfulness over having her brother restored to life.

There is a somewhat similar account in Luke 7, but the differences are so striking that it must have been another time, another place, another Simon and another woman and another container of ointment. The host at this supper was a Pharisee, quite possibly one who had come to believe in Jesus. It was the other Pharisees who were his guests who murmured about the waste of the costly ointment, not the disciples as in the other gospels. The woman in this account is referred to as a sinner, which probably meant she was a Gentile. To the Pharisees all Gentiles were sinners.

We should not imagine Jesus and the other guests sitting on chairs at the table , as our custom is. The custom of that place and time was to place oneself on a couch in a semi-reclined position, which would have made Jesus feet readily accessible to be anointed.

There are two things that stand out to me in the account of Mary’s anointing of Jesus. The first is Jesus’ statement, recorded in Matthew and Mark, that: “Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.”

The other is the mention, found only in John, that “the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.”

We talk of heroes of the faith, many today desire ardently to do great things for the Lord. What did Mary do? She broke a vial of ointment and anointed the head and feet of our Lord. That simple action has been told and retold for almost two thousand years. And what is the aroma that emanates from us when we strive to do great deeds for our Lord? Too often, we must confess, there is something pungent and disagreeable about the fruit of our efforts.

The image of the broken vial must become central to our Christian life. Only when our pride, our ambitions, our self-righteousness are broken can there come forth the sweet and refreshing scent of true Christianity.

“This Child Will Break Your Heart” – 5 Parenting Lessons From the Mother of Jesus — Striving Nigerian Mom …Parenting With Purpose

“This Child will break your heart!” How about that for an opening line? As I was just pondering on the season of Easter, for some reason, my mind went away from Jesus for a bit, and I thought about Mary, His mom. And for some reason, my heart was heavy, just thinking about her. For […]

via “This Child Will Break Your Heart” – 5 Parenting Lessons From the Mother of Jesus — Striving Nigerian Mom …Parenting With Purpose

Joy to the world

Angelic messages surrounding the birth of Jesus:

To Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist (Luke 1:11-19): And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings

To Mary (Luke 1:26-38): And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

To Joseph (Matthew 1:18-24): Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:

To the shepherds (Luke 2:8-14): And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

To the Magi and to Joseph (Matthew 2:12-15): And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

And again to Joseph (Matthew 2:19-21): But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.

Merry Christmas!

%d bloggers like this: