Jesus as a Kid

 When it comes to Jesus’ actual childhood we don’t know much. We have to accounts of Jesus’ birth and then most of the Gospels skip to Jesus’ ministry, which probably started around the age of 30. That means we don’t know much about Jesus’ life on this earth. However, we do get some glimpses. And today we’re going to look at some of those glimpses. First a story that takes place very closely after Jesus’ birth and then a story that takes place when Jesus is your age, twelve. Both of these stories are actually in the same book of the Bible so we won’t have to do much flipping around! Please get your Bibles and turn to Luke.

When we studied Jesus’ birth we saw how Matthew and Luke had slightly different narratives, with Matthew emphasizing Joseph’s perspective and then giving us the tale of the Wise Men, while Luke gives us Mary’s perspective and the tale of angels and shepherds. This story we’re going to look at takes place after Jesus’s birth in Luke but before the story of the Wise Men in Matthew. Because if you may recall, the Wise Men did not show up until Jesus was a toddler—probably around two. So it wasn’t until Jesus was about two years old that they fled to Egypt. Up until that point it seems they were living in Bethlehem.

However, Mary and Joseph were good and righteous Jewish people who followed the law, and that means that they would every year travel to the temple for different events and celebrations. Today’s stories are going to revolve around one of those trips. Someone please read Luke 2:21-24.

21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

22 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 firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

So Jesus is circumcised according to the Law of Moses. That didn’t have to happen at the Temple, I don’t think. It could happen in Bethlehem, where he was born, since circumcision took place days after the baby was born. No one wants to travel with a baby that young!

But Mary and Joseph were required to bring him to the Temple after that for all first born males were required to undergo a ritual purification to dedicate them to the Lord. I believe this took place one month after the birth. Which still sucks to travel with a baby that small. I do not envy Mary. First she had to travel while pregnant and now she has to travel with this tiny little baby!

We talked about before that the Temple is not quite like a Church. Today you can go to church wherever you live—we don’t have to travel to Israel or Rome to say we’re visiting the actual church. We also like to say things like “The church is not a place but the people.” Remember the Temple was not like that. There was only one Temple, and it was viewed as God’s home on this earth. No other building could be the Temple.

Though it’s important to remember that this is the Second Temple. The first—the Temple of Solomon—was destroyed by the Babylonians. This would be the Temple built during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. But they built it in the exact same location and according to the same specifications as the original Temple.

The Temple was a critical part of ancient Jewish life. And there were certain things, according to the Law, that you could *only* do at the Temple, like make sacrifices. As such there were certain feasts and religious events that you had to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate, no matter where you lived. So whether Mary and Joseph were living in Bethlehem or Galilea they would have to travel to Jerusalem at least three times a year to celebrate the three major Feasts that required worship at the Temple: the Feast of Unleavened Bread—which we know as Passover, the Feast of Weeks—which is also called Shavout, and the Feast of Booths—which is also called Sukkoth. We’re going to see this a lot in the New Testament, how Jesus has to travel to Jerusalem for one of these three feasts, and he even travels to the Temple one time for Hannakuh, but that’s not considered a big deal holiday so you weren’t required to travel to the Temple for that though you could. It was like an optional holiday.

So Mary and Joseph travel with baby Jesus to the Temple to dedicate him to God and make the appropriate sacrifices according to Biblical law.

Someone please read Luke 2:25-35.

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon;[a] this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.[b27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon[c] came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon[d] took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant[e] in peace,
    according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which 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 the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon[f] blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

While Mary and Joseph are at the Temple trying to do their religious duty to dedicate Jesus to God, they run into a really old man named Simeon. Apparently Simeon had been told by God that before he died he would see the Messiah.

As soon as Simeon lays eyes on Jesus he knows who he is. No one has to tell him. He can just see it in him! He takes Jesus into his arm and praises God. And one of the amazing things, is that Simeon in his prayer to God states that he knows that Jesus is not just for the Jewish people but for everyone—a light for the revelation to the Gentiles, it says.

We’ve talked about before how Luke was writing his Gospel for the Gentiles—the Greeks and the Romans and everyone non-Jewish. So it makes sense that he includes this important bit. Because you know what? Not every Jewish person realized that. And that’s because they are God’s chosen people, so they assumed the Messiah is only for them. We’re going to see in this in a couple of stories. And it’s true that Jesus came back for Jewish people first—to reach them first—that’s why all of his ministry was in Israel with Jewish people and most of his early followers were Jewish. But he also came for the rest of us—the Gentiles, the non-Jewish people—and Simeon realized that.

Mary and Joseph are amazed by Simeon’s words but he’s not done yet. Next he says that Jesus will be responsible for the fall and rise of many people in Israel and that many people’s innermost thoughts will be revealed. We’re going to see over and over this is true—as we see how people respond to Jesus during his ministry. But then he ends by telling Mary that a sword will pierce her own soul.

And that’s true too. Because Mary outlives Jesus and there is nothing more painful and horrible for a parent than to outlive their own child. That is likely what Simeon’s prophesy here is alluding too.

And Simeon is not the only person they run into at the Temple! Someone please read Luke 2:36-38.

36 There was also a prophet, Anna[a] the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child[b] to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

While in the Temple they run into a woman named Anna. She is very old and a widow, and it seems she spent most of her time in the Temple, fasting and praying. And the Bible calls her a prophet.

This is a small encounter, in terms of how many verses is spent on this but she too recognized Jesus and praised God and began to tell everyone how Jesus was going to be the redemption of everyone. She knew by looking at him, just like Simeon and she spread that word to everyone she could.

Anna is a prophet. It says so right there in verse 36. You know there are still people in this world today, Christians, who say that women can’t be prophets. That they can’t spread the word of God without a man overseeing them. That women are less. But Anna shows us this is not true. She had no husband. She was a prophet in her own right, and she told everyone she could about Jesus and how he would be the salvation of them all.

So these two encounters happened when Jesus was little little, like a month or two old. But this is certainly not the last time Jesus would travel to the Temple, and Luke doesn’t skip from here to Jesus being a full grown adult. His next story is about Jesus when he is twelve years old.

Jesus—God incarnate walking this earth—as a tween.

So let’s look at that story.

Someone please read Luke 2:41-45.

41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.

Every year Mary and Joseph go to the Temple for Passover. They probably go for the other two feasts I mentioned as well—though maybe not Mary and all the kids. But the whole family definitely goes for Passover. And Jesus wasn’t an only child. We’ve talked about this before, but he had several siblings. The Bible names his brothers as James, Joses, Judas, and Simon—not to be confused with any of the disciples of the same name. Those were apparently really popular names in Jesus’s day. The Bible also says he has sisters—plural—but not how many. So he had at least two, so Mary at least in the end had seven kids. Maybe more. Now all of those kids may not have been born for this story, but I bet a handful of them were.

So going to Jerusalem for Passover is like a cross-country road trip with a bunch of cranky kids in the car, except there’s no car. You’re walking.

However, they would be traveling in a large group. Because everyone went to this festival—everyone in Nazareth—where they lived—who was Jewish and able, would be traveling to Jerusalem for Passover. So Mary and Joseph would be traveling with a lot of extended family members and neighbors, and I bet they all relied on each other to keep an eye on the kids during this journey.

And Jesus was the oldest of Mary’s kids. I know some of you are the oldest, and I bet you’ve experienced situations where your parents pay less attention to you because they know you have it handled. They can trust a 12 year old to stay with the group and walk the right direction. You cannot trust a three-year-old to do this. So Mary was probably chasing after her little kids and trusting Jesus would follow the group.

And he did, all the way to Jerusalem, no problem. There was just a problem when they were going back.

On the way back from Passover, on their way to Galilea it’s been a whole day and suddenly Mary and Joseph realized they haven’t seen Jesus, all day. They start asking around and well, no one has seen Jesus. How did this happen? How did they not know where their 12 year old was? Well like I said Mary was probably paying attention to the little kids. But often when people traveled in groups like this, the women and children would travel together and the men would travel together. So they were like one big traveling group segregated by gender.

Jesus as a twelve-year-old could feasibily be in every group, because as tweens you guys are on the cusp of becoming adults but still kids. So Mary probably thought Jesus was traveling with the men—escaping all the little kids and traveling with his dad. Joseph probably thought Jesus was with the women and children helping Mary corral all the younger kids.

But he was not. Jesus wasn’t there at all.

At this point, Mary and Joseph are probably freaking out. So they turn around and head back to the Temple.

Someone please read Luke 2:46-50.

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 When his parents[a] saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”[b50 But they did not understand what he said to them.

It takes three days for Mary and Joseph to find Jesus. Now at least one of those days is going to be a travel day back—since they were a day away when they realized he was gone. And it’s not like they have cell phones and can just call him.  I bet the other part of the time was going back to the person they had been staying with and looking for Jesus there and at all the surrounding places. Any place they might have visited. They don’t initially think he’ll be at the Temple, but after looking for two days and being at their wits end they go to the Temple.

And that’s where they find him, sitting with all the rabbis and teachers and religious scholarly types discussing the Scriptures. He’s listening to them and asking them questions and these old scholarly men are amazed at the level of understanding this kid seems to have of the Bible.

Mary is understandably furious. She has been looking for Jesus for days. He was supposed to go back with them. Surely he knew he was supposed to go back with him. I doubt their leaving Jerusalem was a surprise and she’s like “Jesus, what the heck? Are you trying to give me a heart attack? We’ve torn this city apart looking for you?”

And Jesus just looks at her and is like “Why? Surely you would know I’d be at my Father’s house.” Because remember the Temple is viewed as God’s actual house, his home, on the planet earth, and Jesus’ is God’s son. So that’s what he means here.

It says Mary and Joseph do not understand his response.

There’s a couple of things I want to talk about here. Jesus undoubtedly knew what day he was supposed to leave Jerusalem. He knew he was expected to go home. But he didn’t. He stayed and went to the Temple, causing his parents to freak out. Also back in my day, Jesus’s response to Mary here would have been called “back-talk” and many 20th century parents would punish their kids for ever responding like this to them.

Jesus didn’t go home when he was supposed to and he arguably “back-talked.” So my question to you is: did Jesus sin?

[Let them think about it for a minute and give their thoughts/answers]

We know Biblically that Jesus was perfect and sinless. The New Testament proclaims this over and over again, that Jesus was perfect and committed no sins. And yet here we have 12-year-old Jesus disobeying possibly a direct order from his parents but at least an expectation and then back-talking to Mary with his “duh Mom, of course I’d be here.” Is that not sin?

Well…is it a sin to disobey your parents?

[Let them answer]

The answer is yes and no. Let’s flip back to the 10 commandments. Someone please read Exodus 20:12.

12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Sometimes when we talk about this verse to little kids we transliterate it as “Obey your mom and dad” but it’s important to realize that that’s not what this verse says, it says “honor.”

Honor. What does it mean to honor someone? And how is that different from obedience? Any ideas?

[Let them answer]

Obedience simply means doing what your parents tell you. To honor your parents is to hold them in respect. But respecting your parents doesn’t always mean obeying them. But a lot of the time, it does. And this is where it gets confusing.

If your parents tell you to do something is wrong and against God, you do not and should not obey them. For most of you this will never be the case. But some kids have abusive parents, who use them and abuse them. Their parents abuse the trust a child has of their parents and ask them to do things that are dangerous or illegal or stupid.

Most parents are not abusive. But some are.

But even if your parents are not abusive and they love you, and they follow God, we’re all sinners. We all sometimes do things wrong. Sometimes your parents do things wrong. And that’s okay, they’re human. But sometimes you’ll have to discern especially as you get older and become an adult and parent yourself, where that line is between obedience to them and doing what is best for God and your family.

I will say 99% of the time, it’s generally a good idea to obey your parents. Your parents rules and orders come from a lot of life experience that you don’t have. They’re setting down rules to keep you from making their mistakes or from doing things that could harm yourself. Really little kids don’t understand why they just can’t run into the street. That’s why parents make them hold their hands when they’re walking on sidewalks or crossing the street. Because little kids don’t understand or know that cars can hit or kill them. But parents do. That’s why parents make those rules.

And that’s why parents make the rules you have. Whatever they are! Maybe you think having a bed time is really unfair, but your parents have read the studies that show that tweens and teens really need nine to ten hours of sleep a night for their brains to develop. So you think the rule is unfair but your parents know this rule is for your best.

But sometimes parents make a judgement or a rule that isn’t fair or right—or that you have to break to love your neighbor properly. Like I said that’s going to be literally 1% or less of the time when you’re a kid but as you get older and become more independent that becomes more and more. [Give an example if you have one of something from your own teenager years or young adult hood where you struggled with a rule your parents gave that wasn’t actually fair or right, or a time where your parents were actually in the wrong towards you.]

So 99% of the time we should be obeying our parents, but occasionally maybe we can’t. And that’s not a sin. Jesus did not sin by disobeying his parents. Because he still honored them.

What does it mean to honor someone?

[Let them answer]

The definition of honor is to regard with great respect or great esteem. You should respect your parents greatly. They do more than you can even know to raise you, they sacrifice things they would rather do to be there for you. Sacrifice things they would rather have to buy you things. Sacrifice their mental sanity sometimes when you try to drive them insane! Our parents do a lot of for us, and because of this we should honor and respect them greatly.

That means we probably shouldn’t yell at our parents. We should always take their advice and thoughts seriously. We should realize they have so much more experience than us and therefore we should give their rules and advice greater weight even if we don’t understand it.

If you think your parents are wrong and disagree with them? You probably shouldn’t scream and yell at them. That is not respectful to them and it won’t help your case. [Example: When I was in Middle School Harry Potter became popular. And Christian parents who hadn’t read it were afraid of it. They thought the books were going to lead us down a path of darkness. My parents knew I read Harry Potter and then they heard at church how Harry Potter was evil. So one day after church they came to me and said I wasn’t allowed to read Harry Potter anymore.

I could have yelled and screamed at them. I could have told them they were mean and unfair and stupid. Because they were wrong. They were very wrong. Harry Potter is not evil. It’s a book. And I knew that. I may have only been 12 but I knew they were wrong. Instead I calmly asked if they could explain to me why I wasn’t allowed to read it anymore. And then we had an actual conversation. No yelling. No screaming. And I pointed out to them how I read other books with the same themes and magic and that they hadn’t forbidden those, and how my parents also read and enjoyed those books. And my parents realized that they were wrong. And they said I could keep reading Harry Potter. With the caveat that I couldn’t read it at church. And that was fair.

Because I respected my parents and had a respectful conversation, we were able to have a real discussion and get to the root of the issue.

On the other hand, what if they said I couldn’t read it at all? Maybe the way to honor them would be that while I was under their roof to obey this silly rule. I have a friend who as long as she was under her parent’s roof she didn’t read Harry Potter. So she didn’t read it until she moved out, because she knew it was her parents house and her parents rules. That was how she respected and honored her parents.]

There are a lot of ways we can honor our parents. And generally 99% of the time that means obeying them. But sometimes not obeying them is not the wrong thing to do. Just like Jesus here. He wanted to stay in his ultimate Father’s house and discuss the Scriptures. There is nothing wrong with that. And when Mary freaked out at him, he didn’t yell or scream at her, he just said, “I’m at my father’s house!” Mary didn’t understand it, and she might have taken his words for disrespect but it wasn’t.

Sometimes parental perception is wrong. And that’s okay. We’re all human. And unless you are Jesus you’re not perfect. So we have to work with our parents and work together, and remember that they are our parents, and we live under their roof and we should respect and honor them.

The Context of Jesus' Story: History and the Gospels

During the season of Advent we talked about the Birth of Jesus. Since we finished the Old Testament last semester, this semester we will be continuing into the New Testament and studying our most important “Person of the Bible” which is Jesus himself!

But before we dive too deep into starting Jesus’ story, I want to talk about a few things. Particularly the world in which Jesus was born into and how Jesus’ story is recorded.

Who remembers which Empire was in charge during Jesus’s time?

[Let them answer]

The Roman Empire! [Turn to a map that shows the New Testament Roman Empire, there should be one, probably showing Paul’s journeys, I think]. The Romans had actually been around for a while by this time. The Romans dated their founding as 753 BC. For a long while Rome was a Republic—where land owning men voted on their leaders. They basically had two presidents—called Consuls—and a Senate.

When Rome first came on the scene they weren’t the most powerful player in the area. That would have been Greece and Egypt. However, over the centuries and several wars, things changed. And Rome slowly overtook everything that touched the Mediterranean. No other army could stand up to them. And well, to be honest Rome’s navy was awful, they had no idea how to fight Naval battles, but they circumvented this by basically just ramming into every ship they wanted to fight and boarding the other ship, thus turning every Naval battle into basically an army battle. Their sheer ruthlessness, efficiency, and determination led to them conquering everything

In the first century BC, there were a couple of wars and three guys rose up to lead Rome: Gnaues Pompey,  Marcus Crassus, and a guy named Julius Caesar. This is called the first triumvirate. For a while these three guys worked together, conquered new lands, and dealt with external threats. But then through some political machinations, in the 40s BC Julius Caesar outmaneuvered the other two guys and became dictator of Rome. You guys will have to forgive me, this is a very high level history. Rome occasionally declared someone dictator when they needed to consolidate their executive functions into one person—instead of two consuls and a Senate—during war time.  The idea was that at the end of the major crisis or war, the dictator was supposed to step back down. And that did occasionally work. But Julius Caesar didn’t want to let the power go. He didn’t want to step down. So he declared himself dictator forever.

He was then assassinated.

Julius Caesar’s heir, a kid named Octavian, was not too happy about this. Octavian was actually Julius’ great nephew but adopted as his son and heir. So Octavian created his own group and defeated the assassins. Then in 27 BC Octavian was declared the “First Citizen” of Rome, and he was renamed Augustus. That name should be familiar to you from the Christmas story. Someone please read Luke 2:1.

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.

Emperor Augustus was emperor when Jesus was born. Because Augustus becoming Emperor ended the Civil Wars of the past twenty or so years, people just went along with it. They were thankful for the peace.  So the Republic was over, the Roman Empire began, but so did the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome, which is generally said to have begun with Augustus and gone on for 200 years after him.

But that peace? It was just the peace of Rome. It was not peace for the people around Rome or the provinces that made trouble during that time. Augustus and the emperors after him were constantly expanding the empire, and they would show no mercy to anyone who tried to disrupt the peace of Rome.

Where does Israel fit into this? Well during that time of the First Triumvirate, when Julius Caesar and his friends were expanding the empire, Rome conquered the land we know of as Israel. Jerusalem was sacked and Rome installed their own governors and their own king. They called the area Judea.

So Jesus was born into the Roman Empire, during the time of Caesar Augustus, but he was not a Roman citizen. The Romans had important distinctions about who was and who wasn’t a citizen. Jesus lived under Roman authority, and the people of Judah were considered Roman subjects, but Roman citizens had special rights that ordinary subjects didn’t have. This will be important later, when we talk about the apostle Paul, because he was a Roman citizen which enabled him to do things other disciples couldn’t do.

So at this time Judah is Judea. For political reasons its actually been divided into about four areas that are ruled by different local people. But the people of Israel could pretty much move freely about those four areas. Which is good and important, because Jewish people needed to travel annually to the Temple. Rome knew they would have a riot on their hands or a war if they didn’t allow them their religion.

And Rome had no intention of taking the people of Israel’s religion away from them—not at this point. Because the Romans didn’t care who you worshipped. As long as you paid your taxes and didn’t rebel, they pretty much left you to your own devices.

But the people of Israel—they were not happy under Roman rule. They remembered their scripture and stories of a time when they were independent, a kingdom of wisdom and power under David and Solomon. And they knew they were God’s chosen people. So they were looking forward to the day when God would restore the Davidic line, when a son of David would once again be on the throne of Israel. People were itching for this. And some people were ready to start fighting for this.

This will be a common theme when we study Jesus. People are expecting Jesus not just to be a teacher, but for him to be a leader, for him to overthrow Rome. If he’s the Messiah, surely that’s what God intends, for him to come in like an avenging angel and restore Israel to its former glory.

But we’re going to see that’s not the case when we study Jesus’s story. He didn’t come to overthrow Rome. He came to do something different. To do something else.

Who knows which books of the Bible hold the story of Jesus’s birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection?

[Let them answer]

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The first four books of the New Testament. These four books are commonly called the “Gospels.” The word Gospel came from a Greek word meaning “Good news.” It has a roundabout way how that went from the Greek to our now English way of saying and spelling it, but ultimately that’s what “Gospel” means. The Good News.

And what’s the Good News? Well the story of Jesus! And so all four Gospels tell that story.

But they all tell that story from different perspectives. We’ve talked about this before—when we talked about advent and why the book of Matthew contains some things and the book of Luke others, but I want to touch on it again because this is important. We have four perspectives of Jesus’ life and ministry, written by different men who had different sources.

Though Matthew is listed first, its generally accepted that Mark was the first Gospel written. A guy named Mark wrote the book of Mark. In the Bible he’s often referred to as “John Mark.” But we won’t meet him until we study the book of Acts.

Someone please turn to Acts 12:12.

12 As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying.

This is the first mention in the Bible of John Mark directly though there are some people who think he is mentioned in the book of Mark, but subtly. Someone read Mark 14:51-52.

51 A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.

People think this was Mark because he’s referred to as a *certain* young man and really there is no reason to mention a random youth who was so scared of getting caught up in Jesus’s arrest that he ran off naked. However, we don’t know for sure that that is John Mark. We can only suppose.

John Mark, however, is said to have transcribed the teachings of Peter, so its likely that the book of Mark is the disciple Peter’s perspective of the story of Jesus. Why didn’t Peter write his own Gospel instead of relating it to Mark? We can’t say for sure, but we’ll see later that Peter was not an educated or scholarly man. He was a fisherman. Which isn’t to say he couldn’t read and write, but it would probably be easier for him to dictate stories to Mark and then for Mark to write them down and make sense of them.

Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels. When Mark was writing this, no one had written down the story of Jesus. People knew it because people talked about it, they told each other the story, but no one had written it down. So Mark was the first. I think its probably why it’s the shortest. Mark was trying to get to the point, trying to get a clear concise version of the story out there so people knew what was true and what was just stories being circulated.

The book of Mark is generally thought to have been written around 40 AD. After that Matthew and Luke were written. I don’t think it’s particularly clear which of those two was written first. We’re going to talk about Matthew first because its listed before Luke in the Bible.

Matthew was a disciple of Jesus. So in writing the book of Matthew he would mostly be writing about events he himself was physically present for, from his perspective. That’s not true of all the events—Matthew wasn’t there for Jesus’s birth, so he would have had to talk to other people about that part. But once we get to the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which Matthew was around for, he would have been a first-hand witness. Matthew was a tax-collector originally, so he would have had some education. Someone read Matthew 9:9.

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

That is how Jesus called a tax collector named Matthew, who later wrote the book, to follow him. He called to him and he just went! We’ll see this a lot when we study how the disciples are called.

We talked about during advent how the book of Matthew was written for a particular audience in mind. Matthew wrote his Gospel particularly for Jewish people, so its filled with allusions to the Old Testament and connections back to the Old Testament. The Old Testament stories would be meaningless to a Greek or Roman person, but to a Jewish person those connections meant a lot. They needed that context to fit Jesus into the greater story of God and God’s work in this world and with Israel.

Now Luke on the other hand was writing for the Greek or Roman reader—someone who would have no context in the Old Testament. So he doesn’t emphasize any connections to the Old Testament. Luke was Greek. So that was his own context. He was also a doctor, which was about as close to a scientist as people could be back then. So he went to great pains to do his research and write everything down as he knew it. He even says this at the beginning of Luke. Someone read Luke 1:1-4.

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first,[a] to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.

Luke wrote his version of events because he wanted the people he was instructing to have things straight and have the truth. Like John Mark, we’ll learn more about Luke later in the New Testament, after the gospels.

Now the interesting thing about both Matthew and Luke’s account of the gospels is that it’s likely they would have read Mark. Why is this important? Well having read Mark, they would both be like “Hey, wait, Mark forgot to mention this” or “I think Mark put too much of an emphasis on this.” So they wrote their books in a sense as a response to Mark. The easiest way to see this is that Mark makes zero mention of Jesus’s birth. Both Matthew and Luke are like “Wait a minute, that’s a kind of important thing we should mention.” And when you look at Matthew and Luke’s accounts of Jesus’s birth—like we did in December—they are completely different from each other!! Matthew is from Joseph’s perspective and mentions nothing about shepherds or mangers or room in the inn. Luke is from Mary’s perspective and doesn’t mention the wise men or Herod or fleeing to Egypt. Why are the gospels like this? Wouldn’t it just be easier if all four of them delineated the exact same sequence of events?

Well that would be boring and they would probably have only included one gospel in the Bible then, if they were all exactly the same. So why are they different? And why is it important that they are different?

Well the gospels are basically four different accounts of the same sequence of events. Two are direct eye-witness for the most part—Matthew and John. Mark and Luke are writing the perspective of other eye-witnesses. Mark’s may just be the account of Peter’s and Luke’s was a little more investigation, interviewing lots of people.

Have you guys ever experienced something with your family—it could be anything, a holiday trip, an accident, a concert, anything—and then heard someone in your family tell the story from that event and the way they describe it is not quite what you remember?

We see this all the time too in the news when people are interviewed after seeing an accident. One person saw it from one perspective so they remember that the green car hit the blue car. Another person says “but wait, the blue car gunned through the red light and the green car had the green light.” Another person says “but the green car slowed for a pedestrian and therefore was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” In the end they all know that the green car hit the blue car, but they have different perspectives and view points of how that happened.

This is what the gospels are like. They are a bunch of witnesses who remember different things as important, or remember one event a certain way and not another way. So Mark and John don’t feel the need to mention Jesus’s birth, but Matthew and Luke do! And what Matthew thinks is important about the birth is the wise men and the trip to Egypt! What Luke thinks is important is the shepherds and angels and that Jesus was born in a manger! Those two both have the same message “Jesus was born and it was miraculous” they just have different ways of telling the story and different parts of it that they think was important.

So the gospels don’t 100% align with each other. Sometimes they tell the exact same story three different ways. Sometimes they have unique aspects that aren’t mentioned in any of the other Gospels. There is a beautiful tension between the four books in what they have that differs and what they have that is the same. And that’s okay.

Because if every account of Jesus was 100% exactly the same, that would probably mean that the 12 disciples got together in a room somewhere and made the whole thing up. That they all agreed on one account, memorized it, and said “this is what we’re going to tell people.” The fact that they’re different says that these guys didn’t collude to create up a story. They are telling the story as they, or their witnesses remember it.

And multiple eye witness accounts—even when they are different—is how we know these things really happened.

So Matthew, Mark, and Luke. These three gospels are called the “Synoptic” gospels. “Synoptic” comes from the same word as “Synopsis” and basically means “seeing all together.” That means that Matthew, Mark, and Luke—for all their differences which there are plenty—actually tell a very similar and coherent story of Jesus. They emphasize different things—like the birth—but for the most part they go over the same set of events.

Then there is John. John is the weird one.

Someone read John 1:1-5.

 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 came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

If you read that and thought “huh? What even is this?” You’re not alone. The Word was with God? What does that mean?

Well in this context the word is Jesus. And this is actually a beautiful and important passage of scripture, but it’s also very poetical. So one extreme we have Mark, which is a very straight forward sequence of events, written first so that everyone can remember exactly what happened to Jesus. On the other end, written last, was John.

So John is a disciple. Someone read Matthew 4:18-22.

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

John, like Peter, was a fisherman. He had a brother named James, and he was one of the first four disciples called by Jesus. He is also described as the disciple that Jesus loved and when Jesus was dying on the cross he asked John to take care of Jesus’s mother, Mary. So John was a disciples Jesus liked a lot, and trusted a lot.

The gospel of John was the last Gospel written, and more importantly, it was likely written after the destruction of the Second Temple. John had seen what Rome’s wrath had done to Israel. He also likely knew about the books Matthew, Mark, and Luke. So when John sat down to write his gospel, I’m sure he asked himself, “What am I adding to this conversation by writing this book? What am I bringing to the table that’s different? Why does the world need *my* account of what happened?”

And John answered that by writing the most poetic gospel. The gospel of John is also not super concerned about events, or making sure the order of events is in the correct chronological order. Instead John looked at Jesus’s life and ministry, and chose a way to tell the story that presents his thesis and message which is that Jesus is God, and he came to save us.

Some of the most famous verses and stories are in John which are not in any of the other Gospels. Like that opening about Jesus being the Word and having been with God since the beginning. Or the famous exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus which has in it John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him, shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

So John brought different, unique events to the table. He re-orders events and conversations based on theme rather than on timeline. When he does have a story that is in the Synoptic gospels, he tells it in a new and unique way, illuminating something new about the nature of Jesus that maybe the synoptic gospels didn’t. John’s gospel is unique and poetic and different.

I wanted to talk about this first before we dive into Jesus story, because its important. We’re going to be jumping between all four gospels. You’re going to notice differences—like how Matthew talks about Herod and wise men but Luke talks about shepherds and angels—and that’s okay. These are four different accounts for Jesus and they have differences. All four tell the story of Jesus’s ministry, arrest, trial, death, and resurrection. But more importantly all four paint us a picture of who Jesus is.

We have four different men telling us about this amazing savior they met, how he changed their lives, and the amazing thing is not that they have small differences, but how they are the same. How they all tell this story of a man they were amazed by and respected but ultimately didn’t understand until one day he died and then miraculously came back. And their eyes were opened. And it’s through these four men’s unique perspectives on Jesus that we will come to know the nature of Jesus, and by corollary the nature of God.

Next week we’ll dive straight into Jesus’s life with probably one of the stories that’s the most fun at your age. The story of when Jesus was your age. Thirteen-year-old Jesus. The only story from his childhood we have. So come back next week for that!

Jesus' Birth

Merry Christmas! Today we have a short lesson, which is our bridge between our Advent lessons and what we’re going to be studying in the New Year, which is Jesus. So today we’re going to talk about Jesus’s birth and what it means.

Someone read Luke 2:1-6.

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

This is the story most of us know and think of when we think of Christmas. Emperor Augustus decided to hold a census, not a census as we know it, but rather an accounting of all people so he could make sure taxes are being paid properly. Because it’s hard to know how much money you should expect in taxes if you don’t know how many people live in certain regions. And as we talked about before, the Romans really cared about taxes.

It says everyone went to their own town to be registered. So even though Joseph and Mary were from Nazareth, Joseph’s family was from Bethlehem—which is the city king David was from. So they were expected to go back to their family’s home to be counted. This would be as if our gov’t required you to go to your grandparents house in order to vote or something. This is a very old-world idea we don’t really have in America of “houses” which is sort of the box that you and your entire related extended family fit into. So you would have to go back to the head of your house to do official like things.

They make it to Bethlehem and then Mary goes into labor, but because everyone is traveling for this census there isn’t a lot of room. Back then, there weren’t really inns like we know them. You couldn’t just go down to the Holiday Inn. Most people when traveling would stay with family and friends. But if your whole family is traveling to Bethlehem, by the time you got there, they may not have any room left in their house.  Some of my research has actually said that the Greek word used here “Kataluma” and that doesn’t mean an inn at all like we think of. Instead it meant upper room, which would be like the family’s nice guest room. Houses back then weren’t built like houses were now. The bottom floor was pretty much in contact with dirt, and sometimes people lived with their animals, so animals would come in and out of the bottom floor. Sort of like having dogs, but people back then would have goats or pigs instead. So the upper room was the special clean room where the animals couldn’t go and where you would host family.

This theory says that by the time Mary and Joseph got there, the upper room was taken—probably by more important family members (a grandmother? Or some sort of other elder probably)—and so Mary and Joseph had to stay on the main floor with the goats and pigs and other random people who were stuffed into the home.

However, common tradition has us translate this as inn. So maybe Bethlehem did have some sort of large home where there was a person who would rent out rooms. Or maybe Mary and Joseph had a wealthy relative who had lots of rooms and they could have had one. But by the time they got their all the rooms were filled.

Regardless, the point here is not whether Jesus was born in an actual stable or on a dirty of house floor and then essentially placed in the family dog bowl. (After all a manger is literally the thing animals eat out of. So in our modern times it would be like you just had a new baby and put it in a dog bowl. Ew). The point is that Jesus’s birth? It wasn’t in a palace. It wasn’t in comfort. It wasn’t even in the best that poor people in Joseph’s family would have to offer—an upper room. The point is that Jesus was born in the muck like the rest of us.

I mean that metaphorically. Most of you were born in very clean hospitals. Jesus’s birth may have been heralded by angels, but when it came to his actual birth, he was born in the dirt and the muck like every human before him had been.

Alright someone please read Luke 2:9-20.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[a] the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[b] praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”[c]

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Even though Jesus’s birth was inglorious, God wasn’t going to let it pass without some heavenly glory. An Angel appeared to some shepherds to tell them the good news and then suddenly the whole sky was filled with angels all singing and praising God.

Imagine you’re just a shepherd in the fields outside of Bethlehem, probably been a while since you took a shower or been in town, so you’re used to just hanging out with each other, and then suddenly BOOM. ANGELS. Everywhere. Singing that this amazing thing has happened. A messiah was born in the city of David. A Savoir!

The angels told them this happened, so they make haste to find this amazing thing—this baby who angels have praised his birth. Do they leave their sheep behind in their haste? Does one poor shepherd get left behind to tend the sheep while the rest go in town? Do they drive the sheep into Bethlehem in the middle of the night? I don’t know! But I do wonder!

The shepherds go and see Mary and Joseph and the baby in his food bowl bed. They were told of a messiah, a savior, and they find him little in a food bowl. When they saw Jesus I wonder if the humble poverty of his birth stood in the way of seeing him as a savior. I wonder if they were confused or whispered to each other, “This is how the messiah comes into the world?” I wonder if they tried to offer them something better? Maybe one of them had a wool coat or blanket. Maybe they offered it to the baby Jesus. Or maybe when they saw Jesus they saw his glory. Maybe there was something about him as they gazed upon them. Maybe they felt peace and a wholeness they have never felt before. We don’t know. But they saw the baby and they told Mary and Joseph about the angels.

And afterwards, they went to tell everyone what had happened what they had seen. The angels! The baby! The glory and divinity! The humbleness and humanity.

And that’s the paradox of Jesus isn’t it. That all of this glory and divinity can be packaged together with humbleness and humanity. That Jesus is fully God and fully human.

Jesus is literally God made flesh to walk amongst us, to live among us. God could have stayed in heaven, and not dirtied himself down here on the earth. Instead God chose to come here, to walk the earth, to be like us. To experience everything that we experience. Like being born. Probably like getting a childhood illness like chickenpox. Imagine, we have a God who knows what it’s like to get sick as a kid and be stuck in doors while he recovers. We have a God who was born into a family with human parents and later had younger siblings. Jesus knows what it’s like to argue with his parents—we’re going to study stories where he does. Jesus probably knew what it was like to argue with his younger siblings, and he undoubtedly got the fun of being irritated by them. Jesus had friends, and Jesus knows what it feels like to be betrayed by a friend. We have a God who chose to become fully human and experience all of these wonderful and awful human things that we all experience every day.

Jesus is God. He was there at the beginning when there was nothing. He was there when the universe was created. He lived in majesty and glory and perfection in heaven, and instead of just staying up there, he came down here. Born in a humble manger, not in a palace. Born in the dirt.

This is our God. This is Jesus, God with us, the Incarnation.

And that is why Christmas is important. It’s not just angels and wise men. It’s God choosing to come down from heaven to be one of us. And that is the miracle of

Mary, the Mother of Jesus (rev 3, 2018)

When we started studying the People of the Bible we started with Abraham. During the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, these men talked to God and followed where he led. This is called the time of the patriarchs, because they were men who led their families and their families were God’s chosen people. If you remember, Jacob had twelve sons who had some troubles between them, and so one of the brother’s ended up sold into slavery in Egypt. This all ended up working out in everyone’s favor because a famine came to Israel, and Jacob and his sons had to go to Egypt to escape. If you remember what happened next, the chosen people didn’t end up leaving Egypt, instead they become slaves, and they were enslaved for 400 years before Moses came along and set them free.

Then we enter the time period where prophets are the ones who speak to God and communicate it to God’s people. For a while these prophets lead Israel as Judges—you may remember Deborah, Gideon, Samson and others before finally the last one to lead Israel was Samuel. Then the people demanded a king and that’s how we got Saul and then David.

David was considered a man after God’s own heart—despite his many grave sins—because he always in the end asked for repentance and turned back to God. Because of his faithfulness, God made him a promise. Someone please read 2 Samuel 7:16.

16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me;[c] your throne shall be established forever.

God tells David that his children will rule Israel forever, that his throne will be forever. Forever.

But as we saw in the past semester of studies, Israel doesn’t exist forever. It doesn’t stay united—it splits into two kingdoms. Then the Northern kingdom of Israel is conquered and the people scattered through Assyria. The Southern Kingdom of Judah lasts a bit longer, but then it too is conquered—this time by Babylon. The Temple is destroyed. The Kingdom falls. David’s royal line being on the throne in Jerusalem ends.

We talked about with Daniel and the other exiles that this was a crisis of faith and identity. What did it mean that there was no longer a son of the line of David on the throne? Had God broken his promise? Was Israel no longer his chosen people? Had he forgotten them and left them to their own devices?

What did any of this mean for them? But most importantly what did it mean in regards to their relationship with God?

Eventually Judah is somewhat restored. The Temple is rebuilt. The city is rebuilt. But it’s not the same. There is no Davidic king anymore. And between the conquering of Babylon and now there has not been a Davidic king sitting on a royal throne in Israel.  Israel spends most of the next hundred years as a minor pawn shuffled about by much larger kingdoms.

But God promised them. God promised them a son of David. God promised them they were the Chosen People. God chose them, and while they could have strayed from their faith in this time instead they double down. They knew God would make good on his promise. They had faith.

And this brings us to Advent. Does anyone know what advent means? [Let them answer.] It comes from a Latin word: Advenio/Advenire which basically means "to arrive." It’s about an expectation, about waiting for a coming.

The last book of the Old Testament is Malachi. The first book of the New Testament is Matthew. Malachi was the last prophet of Israel. Ever since Malachi, no one has claimed to be a prophet of Israel, claimed to be speaking God’s words to his chosen people.

For all intents and purposes, God went silent.

For 400 years.

The people of Israel were waiting, expecting, something anything, a sign from God, a message, for 400 years. Waiting for something to come. A reinstatement of the throne, for God to deliver on his promise for David’s kingdom to reign forever. A waiting for another prophet, another anything.

In a state of Advent.

We spend Advent ever year looking forward to Christmas, looking forward to what—presents? The fun of Christmas trees and Christmas songs? The days get longer and darker as we look forward to the light of Christmas day. All of this just gives us a small, tiny taste of what these people probably felt, the people of Israel as they waited for something, anything, as a sign from God, for God to deliver on his promise.

And Christmas is the answer. Christmas is the delivery of that promise! Because what did we get on Christmas day?

Yes, Jesus! Jesus is the answer to the silence, the answer to the cry of the Chosen People asking for God to deliver on his promise. Jesus is the final prophet—because not only does he speak God’s words he is God, all of his words are God’s words. Jesus is the final king, the eternal king, of the line of David, to lead his people, to lead the world!

This is what Christmas is about: God’s delivery of his promises.

In light of all of this, we’re going to spend the next two Sundays focusing on Advent through the perspectives of two people: Mary and Joseph. Today we’re going to talk about Mary and next week we’re going to talk about Joseph.

So if you guys would, please turn get your Bibles and turn to Luke 1:26-29.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

For 400 hundred years God is silent. 400 years. And then, out of nowhere, he sends an angel with a message to a teenage girl in a hick town in Northern Israel. Nazareth is like in the middle of nowhere, far from Jerusalem, far from power, not a place where important people live. And the angel doesn’t go to the most politically or religiously important person in Nazareth to deliver his news. Heck, he doesn’t even go to the more powerful person in the Mary/Joseph relationship. He goes to the an unmarried teenage girl.

God is silent for 400 years and the person he breaks that silence with—the first person God talks to—is a teenage girl.


Even today teenage girls get a bad wrap, and we don’t in the patriarchal times of the Bible! Teenage girls are sometimes viewed as modern society as silly and unimportant, and well, that’s a view of teenage girls that goes back a long way. But right here, in the story, in this appearance, in this moment, a teenage girl is the most important person in the entire world, and the person in the world that God esteems the most.

We’ve seen in the stories we’ve studied that women often get the short end of the stick in the Bible. There are exceptional stories like Deborah and Jael—women who go into battle, lead people, and do extraordinary things. But most of the women in the Bible? They are regulated to the side—often not even named—and when they are, they are at the mercy of men. And often those men aren’t very merciful.

Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife to save his own life, causing Sarah to be taken and used by a foreign king. Hagar was used by Sarah and Abraham, and treated poorly by both. Rachel and Leah were used as pawns by their father and pitted against each other. In the times of the kings, Michal was used as a pawn by both Saul and David—a game piece in their civil war. Bathsheba was raped and then her husband murdered and then she was forced to marry her rapist. Tamar was raped by her brother, and David—her own father—refused to do anything about it.

Even when we look at Esther—a powerful woman in that she is a queen—when we dig deeper we see a scared girl terrified she will be disappeared like the queen before her.

Women in patriarchal times had no power. They were property. They had very little say in their lives. Men often did not listen to them or consider their thoughts worthwhile. Men often did not even view them as people. And lest you think these sort of thoughts died out when we switched from BC to AD, I’m sad to say they did not. Christians for a long time have had similar thoughts about women. St. Augustine—a prolific and foundational Christian philosopher from the fourth century—said that women did not possess the image of God and their only purpose in life was to bear children, which mind you is in direct contradiction of the Bible. Thomas Aquinas—a 13th century Christian who is so popular I have heard him quoted from the pulpit in almost every church I have ever attended—said that a woman “is a misbegotten men” and is faulty and defective by nature.

These men are wrong. The Bible is clear. Women are made in the image of God. Women are equal to men. But men have historically had this view of women as lesser and we see that view everywhere in history. Sometimes even in our modern world we can get a sublimal message that women are lesser. But I am here to tell you that God does not think that. How do we know that? Because of this, and so much more in the New Testament.

Because when God was silent and no one had any idea what was going on, the first person he spoke to was a woman. A girl.

God chose to bind his plans to a woman. God didn’t have to have Jesus be born. He could have snapped his fingers and handed Joseph a fully formed baby and cut Mary completely out of the loop. God is capable of creating a baby out of nothing. Instead he chose to involve a woman in his plans—plans no man even knew about.

When God had to rely on one person in this world to get something done, he turned to a teenage girl.

Jesus was born male and that is important—he could not have completed his ministry in the time period he was born in if he was born female—but I think by having this design, by having God be born of a woman, God is saying that the women are not less than me. Mary is a critical part of God’s plan.

God chose to include women in the story because he views women as important. Because women are valuable.

400 years no priests or leaders or men heard from God. Until one day an angel shows up in a teenage girl’s bedroom.

“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you!” The angel declared. And Mary is confused by his words. Why? Why is she confused do you think?

Well let's look back at what the angel said to Mary. He called her what? [Favored One.] And said "The Lord is with you." Why would this bother her?

Well how would you feel if an angel of the Lord came to you and called you a "favored one." Would you feel that you deserved that?

Well Mary didn't seem to feel like she deserved such a favor.

Can someone keep reading Luke 1:30 - 33?

30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him 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 ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Why do you think angels in the Bible are always telling people to not be afraid?

Yeah they're probably scary looking! I'm going to read to you a couple of Biblical descriptions of angels.

Matthew 28:3

His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.

Ezekiel 1: 4 – 12

As I looked, a stormy wind came out of the north: a great cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continually, and in the middle of the fire, something like gleaming amber. In the middle of it was something like four living creatures. This was their appearance: they were of human form. Each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot; and they sparkled like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: their wings touched one another; each of them moved straight ahead, without turning as they moved. 10 As for the appearance of their faces: the four had the face of a human being, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle; 11 such were their faces. Their wings were spread out above; each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. 12 Each moved straight ahead; wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went. 

None of these are really pleasant descriptions are they?

There are also descriptions in the Bible of angels who look no different from men, which is why they don't get recognized initially. However, considering Mary was afraid, I think it's safe to say she recognized him as something other. Though maybe he was also telling her not to be afraid because he was about to deliver her some concerning news.

You’re a teenage girl and an angel shows up in your room and is like, “Surprise! You’re pregnant! And not just pregnant but like with the Son of God who will be king of Israel forever!”

This would be extremely scary news. (1) Mary is not married. Today when a teenage girl gets pregnant and isn’t married, people may gossip about it, but that’s really the worst punishment. Back then, if Mary was pregnant and it wasn’t by her soon-to-be-husband Joseph that would mean she committed adultery. And a woman could be stoned to death for committing adultery.

Mary could be killed because she’s pregnant.

The second reason why this would be scary news, is well it sure does sound like this angel is saying her son is going to be the next king of Israel. And well….what empire rules Israel at this moment? Does anyone know?


In many ways Rome is a lenient master. As long as you pay your taxes and don’t make waves, they’re going to leave you alone. But…setting up a king of Israel outside of the Roman authority would definitely fall under the category “making waves.” Declaring someone king would lead to war and rebellion. And Mary was probably not so out of touch that she didn’t know that.

Rome was scary. And a seventy years after this when Israel does rebel, Rome cracks down with an iron fist. It results in the Temple being destroyed for the second and final time and half of the Jewish population being killed by the Romans.

The Romans didn’t mess around.

Mary might be afraid for what this means for her, her people, and her son. She might be afraid her son would end up dying early, that she would live to see him die if he tried to establish himself as king.

And well….she wouldn’t be wrong. Mary does live to see Rome kill her son.

Alright can someone please read for me Luke 1:34 – 37

34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to 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 holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 

Basically here Mary is saying it is impossible for her to be pregnant. She's a virgin! Virgins don't have babies--unless you're watching that CW show Jane the Virgin, but back then they didn't have things like artificial insemination or other sciency ways of getting women pregnant. Plus Mary would've known if she'd undergone those things too.

The angel basically tells her though that all things are possible with God, he can do whatever he wants. And he references her cousin Elizabeth as proof. Does anyone here know who Elizabeth is?

Let's flip back to Luke 1:5-17

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 

Elizabeth is John the Baptist's mother. And her pregnancy was also foretold by the angel Gabriel.

So hearing all of this, what would your response be if you were Mary? I want you to keep in mind that Mary was probably quite young. Probably around 15 or 16. She's about to get married to a really great guy who would be very upset to discover she's pregnant. And back then we're not talking like getting pregnant just means you have to take care of your baby and have people whisper behind your back because you’re a teenage bride. The punishment for adultery could be severe, like death. So Mary was risking death if Joseph didn't agree to go along with this, which she had no idea ifshe would.

So what would you say if you were in Mary's shoes?

[Let them answer]

Well let's see what Mary says, can someone read to me Luke 1:38

38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Mary agrees, she says she's is the Lord's bondslave. The English Standard version of the Bible translates this as "let it be" and there is actually a really famous Beatle's song written abou this statement, if you guys know who the Beatles are.

"When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be."

This was not an easy hand to be dealt, to be Jesus' mother. I mean think about all the terrible things Jesus had to endure, and Mary outlived him. She had to watch her son die and be tortured. She didn't know she was agreeing to that then, but she trusted God. And she wasn't just resigned to it, like the Beatles song might imply. Turn a little further to Luke 2:46 - 55. Can someone read that?

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

These verses are often referred to as "The Magnificat." I think it's called that because in the Latin translation of this prayer, the first word is "Magnificat" which is basically the verb in that first sentence there. "My soul exalts." Or in my ESV translation "My soul magnifies."

So this prayer, what is it saying?

She basically spends the entire prayer just talking about how awesome and wonderful God is. She does say one thing about herself in there, verse 48, if we re-read that "for he has looked on this humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed." And I think that's only human. To marvel that God chose her and to be like "woah, people are going to remember my name like forever." Maybe even a little bit of pride, which I think we can allow her. But the other verses are all about how God is awesome. What do you think that says about Mary's character?

I think it means that Mary does put God first, and she is righteous. And God knew that. That’s probably why he chose her.

But well, it doesn’t matter how happy Mary is right now, because she is still just Joseph’s property. If Joseph doesn’t believe her or go along with this plan, things aren’t going to end well for Mary. So that’s what we’re going to look at next week, the Joseph side of this story.


We’ve been studying the people of the Old Testament for quite some time now. Abraham and Sarah. Isaac and Rebekkah. Jacob, Leah, and Rachel. Miriam, Aaron and Moses. Ruth. Saul. David. Abigail. Solomon.  Elijah. Elisha. Jonah. Josiah. Daniel. Jeremiah. Esther. These are all people we have studied, all people whose stories and lives we’ve examined and learned about. But at the heart of every single one of these stories there is one other character—one who is the same in every single story, present in every single story, shaping the story in every single story and that character is God.

God is the point of all of these stories. We don’t study Moses to know about this random guy who was a Hebrew raised as an Egyptian who later freed his own people. I mean it’s a nice story about a deliverance and freedom from oppression, but…that’s not why we study the story. We study the story all these stories to know more about God.

That is the purpose of the entire Bible, to tell us who God is. The Bible is not God, but it tells us about God. It is the book God has chosen to use to tell us about him.  So we study these stories to learn not about Moses or David or Esther, but to learn about God and what he’s like.

So we’ve been studying these stories for a while. Tell me guys: what is God like?

[Let them answer…write up God’s qualities on the board, read over them and see what it means]

Sometimes when we study certain stories we can get an impression that God is like some Santa Clause in the clouds, giving presents to the good children and coals to the bad children. The good get rewarded and the bad get punished. Some of the stories we’ve studied seem to uphold this theory. And I think it’s because that’s the way some of the writers of the Bible viewed God. But does that mean God is that way? Does the entire Bible uphold that God is like this? Some heavenly Santa Clause?

If that’s true it means God people should prosper and bad people should suffer, right? Well, there is one story in the Bible that deals with this particular question, and that is the story of Job.

It’s a story about a man named Job but its mostly a story about God and his policies.

So let’s open our Bibles to the book of Job. It’s going to be in the middle right before Psalms. Someone please read Job 1:1-5.

 There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold feasts in one another’s houses in turn; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” This is what Job always did.

There once as a man named Job. The Bible says he’s blameless and upright—in a word he’s righteous, always doing what is right in God’s eyes and not doing evil. The Bible describes him as insanely wealthy—both in family and money. He has children that he loves and who love each other, they get together, even inviting their sisters, which back then wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Boys tended to ignore the girls in their lives. This is a happy family that loves each other and tries to do what is right, but just in case they haven’t done what is right, Job offers sacrifices and prayers to God for each of his children, just in case they are sinning in their hearts.

Job is a good man, doing everything right. Everything.

By the rules of God being some Santa Clause he should just get more wealth and more reward, right?

Well let’s see. Read Job 1:6-12.

One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” Then Satan[f] answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

There is a lot we need to break down here. First off there is an implication here that God is at the head of a heavenly council, that there are other heavenly beings who come and report to God. Is this the case? Does God sit at the head of a heavenly council where other lesser gods or high angels report to him? Maybe but maybe not. There are a couple of other verses in the Old Testament that imply God sits at the head of a heavenly council, and I think that’s Israelite’s “monolatry” seeping into the pages—remember the ancient Israelites believed all gods were real, they just thought that their God was the biggest baddest God on the block. So some of them thought that the other gods had power and that the God of Israel was the head God.

And this is a good spot to bring up that there is a reason that the book of Job is set with the wisdom literature like Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. The book of Job is a work of literature. There may have actually been a man named Job that these events happened to. But this is a work of literature written to teach us about God. The writer of this book was not in heaven when these events unfolded—he was not sitting there like a court stenographer recording all the conversations between God and his minions. This is the writer supposing what heaven is like as he sets up the scenario for Job’s life. He’s setting up the question he wants to answer.

So this writer imagines that God has a heavenly bureaucracy where his minions—whether they be angels or lesser gods—come before him and report things and help him keep the business of heaven and earth running. And one of these heavenly bureaucrats your version of the text calls “Satan.”

The name “Satan” is very loaded, it carries a lot of connotation and meaning. Most of the time when we say “Satan” we mean an evil fallen angel who works in opposition to God. But that’s not what “Satan” means here and I would argue that translating it as the proper name “Satan” right here is not the best translation. Some have translated it the “adversary,” others as “the Challenger.” And really you should imagine this less as the evil Satan coming before God and more as a bureaucratic lawyer type in heaven. God’s not surprised to see his bureaucratic lawyer—that’s not what the phrase “where have you come form?” means—it’s not a surprise that this guy suddenly appeared. He’s instead asking his bureaucratic lawyer guy to report.

And this guy he’s been walking around the earth and God is like “Oh, did you see Job while you were on earth? He’s a cool guy is he not?”

And our lawyer guy here, he asks a question of motivation. He’s like “sure Job is righteous, but…that’s because he knows if he’s good he’ll get rewarded from you. So his motivation is just to keep his good and right life and continue to prosper, and maybe…maybe he doesn’t actually care about pleasing God but just keeping his good life.” The lawyer guy proposes a test for Job—that they take everything away from him. And the lawyer guy says if they do that, then without his prosperity, Job won’t be so righteous anymore.

Our lawyer guy is not an evil devil gleefully imagining a the destruction of Job’s life. He instead a philosophical guy posing a question—a question that really at its root is about God’s entire system. If the righteous get rewarded and the evil get punished, then are people only good for a reward? That’s not good for the sake of goodness then. That’s good for the sake a present.

And God in this story thinks this is a question worthy of answering, a question worthy of exploring. Will people continue to be righteous and love God if there is no reward at the end? God is confident in Job. He considers him good and blameless, but the lawyer wants to test the system, and God agrees to this test. He tells the lawyer that he can do whatever he wants to Job—as long as he doesn’t harm Job himself.

And thus the test of Job begins.

Someone please read Job 1:13-22.

13 One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, 15 and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 16 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 17 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 18 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, 19 and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.”

20 Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.

Everything is taken from Job. He loses his wealth—his animals and servants. But worse, his children were all together at a party at the oldest brother’s house, and all his children died. All ten of them dead.

A parent losing a child is literally the worst pain a parent can go through. Most people would rather die than lose their child, they would rather die than see their child come to harm. Job doesn’t lose just one child. He loses them all. All ten of them.

If ever there would be a time where Job would curse and hate God, this would be it, but instead, Job mourns and says, “I came into this world with nothing, and I shall leave the world with nothing. God gave everything to me that I have, and he can take everything I have away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Despite this worst thing imaginable happening to Job, he still blesses God’s name and worships him, and does not sin or say God has done anything wrong.

Someone read Job 2:1-9.

One day the heavenly beings[a] came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan[b] also came among them to present himself before the Lord. The Lordsaid to Satan,[c] “Where have you come from?” Satan[d] answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The Lordsaid to Satan,[e] “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” Then Satan[f] answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives.[gBut stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan,[h] “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”

So Satan[i] went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse[k] God, and die.” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Again the heavenly bureaucratic council convenes. And again God is like, “Isn’t Job still awesome? All this terrible stuff has happened to him and he still blesses me.” And the lawyer is like, “Well, ultimately people only really care about themselves, and you said I couldn’t touch him. So I couldn’t really hurt him. So Job still has his health.”

And God is like, “That’s a fair case, lawyer guy. Do what you must to his health, but don’t kill him.”

So lawyer guy inflicts sores on Job all over his skin. Which must be terribly painful. And his wife, who is the only person left to him, is like, “Why don’t you just curse God and die.” Now that seems like really harsh, but this is a woman who just lost all ten of her children. Cursing God and dying is probably how she feels.

But Job says, “We receive good and bad from God. This is the nature of life.” And Job still doesn’t sin.

Okay now someone read Job 2:11-13.

11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him. 12 When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. 13 They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

Job has three friends. They’ve heard what happened to him. So they come with him to comfort him. He’s lost everything—his family and his health. So they sit with him in mourning for seven days and seven nights. And then…they start talking and it doesn’t go well. Because Job’s friends, they believe in the Santa Clause version of God.

Someone read Job 4:1-9.

Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered:

“If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended?
    But who can keep from speaking?
See, you have instructed many;
    you have strengthened the weak hands.
Your words have supported those who were stumbling,
    and you have made firm the feeble knees.
But now it has come to you, and you are impatient;
    it touches you, and you are dismayed.
Is not your fear of God your confidence,
    and the integrity of your ways your hope?

“Think now, who that was innocent ever perished?
    Or where were the upright cut off?
As I have seen, those who plow iniquity
    and sow trouble reap the same.
By the breath of God they perish,
    and by the blast of his anger they are consumed.

Eliphaz says that Job must have sinned. That it must be his fault. That he brought this destruction on himself by sinning. And there is a large section of Job that is like this. His friends telling him over and over again that he did something wrong and he must repent of his wrong doing.

But…did Job do anything wrong?

No! We know he didn’t! We know Job is blameless and all of this was a test—a test to see if the cosmic system worked. If people would still love God even in the midst of pain and suffering, even if they weren’t rewarded for it. But Job’s friends don’t know what we know about the divine council set up at the beginning of this book, so they try to find a theological reason why Job is suffering. They try to say it must be because of sin—because of Job’s sins.

Pages and pages of Job’s friends trying to convince him that he needs to repent for a sin he hasn’t committed. Job stands up for himself, he says he’s blameless that he did nothing but they don’t believe him. They tell him over and over again that it is Job’s fault his kids are dead. His sin. His fault. He has brought this suffering on himself.

But it’s not true. And Job is not able to make his friends see that. Their theology is bad and they stand by it. Bad things only happen to bad people, so therefore Job is bad.

In the end, God himself shows up again in the narrative. He comes to Job and they have a bit of a conversation. Someone read Job 38:1-7.

38 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
    I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
    and all the heavenly beings[a] shouted for joy?

God spends two chapters asking Job who exactly is it who runs the universe. His friends? Job? No. It’s God. God runs the entire universe.

God doesn’t really answer the question of why Job had to suffer—of why there is suffering. He just points out that its God who runs the universe. Because remember this was all about the adversary, that lawyer guy, basically questioning how God runs the universe, and how he was running Job’s life. It was never Job who was on trial in this story. It was the idea of what I’m going to call the Prosperity Gospel: the idea that God rewards the good and punishes the wicked and that’s how the universe works.

That’s not how the universe works, that’s not how God works. And if someone tells you that if you do the right thing you will be prosper, because God prospers the good, they have a misunderstanding, and Job’s story flies in the face of that. Suffering happens to everyone. Not often because God is talking things out with a lawyer in heaven. We don’t know why suffering happens, to be honest. Other than there is sin and evil in the world. We don’t understand why God lets the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper. And the writer of Job doesn’t know why either. What the writer of Job knows is what we know: that God made everything, controls everything, and he runs the universe in the way he sees fit.

And in Job’s case God restores him. Someone please read Job 42:10-16.

10 And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11 Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money[a] and a gold ring. 12 The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. 13 He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15 In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. 16 After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations.

God gives Job twice as much as he had before. The second half of Job’s life is blessed more than the first. And while having more children doesn’t replace the ones he lost, it does show his suffering wasn’t forever.

The story of Job is a hard story for us to study, because it doesn’t answer the questions we want answered about why suffering happens. It just affirms to us that if we suffer it’s not always because we sinned or because God is mad at us. I mean we can definitely suffer because we did bad things—we all have to suffer the consequences of our own actions. If you murder someone, you are going to jail. But sometimes bad things happen, and there is no reason for it—you didn’t bring it on yourself and you didn’t deserve it. That’s just the way life and the universe works.

God is not a cosmic Santa Clause. However, this book like much of the Bible can still be confusing about the nature of the God and what he’s like. In this book it makes it seem like God treated Job like a science experiment.

So who is God? What is he like? Which of the descriptors we discussed are the ones that are appropriate for God?

Well, we’re about to start studying the New Testament, and that is where we’re going to meet God incarnate, God who chose to take human form and come down and walk among us. We’ll study Jesus who is God, and discover him personally. And we’ll see the nature of the God we choose to follow.

The Restoration of Israel

For the past couple of years we’ve been studying the People of the Old Testament. We started with Abraham, and how God chose him and his family to be his people. God promised Abraham his descendents would become many nations and that came true: his descendants became the Ishmaelites, the Edomites, and many others but most importantly from our perspective the Israelites. The Israelites went through some tough times, enslaved in Egypt and such, but eventually they lived free in the Promised Land and even created their own nation of Israel ruled by kings.

But the sovereign rule of Israel by their own kings did not last, due to Israel’s own disobedience and the rise of mighty empires in the region. Northern Israel was conquered by the Assyrians and disappeared into the Assyrian empire. And then Judah was conquered by Babylon.

When Babylon conquered Judah they conquered the city of Israel—they sacked the city—meaning they destroyed it and took all its wealth. Jerusalem was once a great city, but its wall that had been built to protect it had been destroyed and more importantly, the Temple of God was destroyed. What was once the beautiful Temple built by Solomon and filled with gold and silver and precious woods, and most importantly where the Ark of the Covenant dwelled, was all gone. Taken by Babylon—the wealth taken for its own purposes.

It is presumed the Ark was taken by Babylon as well but we actually don’t know for sure what happened to it.

The people who considered themselves God’s Chosen People now lived as vassals of another land—many of them moved from the Promised Land itself and made to live in other parts of the Babylonian empire. And the Temple that symbolized God’s home on earth was gone.

But not forever.

We’re actually going to flip between a few books of the Bible today.

Let’s open up our Bibles to the book of Ezra. Can someone please read Ezra 1:1-10.

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom, and also in a written edict declared:

“Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of those among you who are of his people—may their God be with them!—are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem; and let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.”

The heads of the families of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites—everyone whose spirit God had stirred—got ready to go up and rebuild the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. All their neighbors aided them with silver vessels, with gold, with goods, with animals, and with valuable gifts, besides all that was freely offered. King Cyrus himself brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. King Cyrus of Persia had them released into the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. And this was the inventory: gold basins, thirty; silver basins, one thousand; knives,[a] twenty-nine; 10 gold bowls, thirty; other silver bowls, four hundred ten; other vessels, one thousand;

 This is actually a little further back in time than we’ve discussed before. When we studied Esther the Emperor of Babylon at the time was a guy that we called Xerxes or Ahasuerus. However, the emperor here is one we discussed before when we were talking about Daniel. And that’s Cyrus. There was also another Emperor mentioned in Daniel and that was Darius. Then in Esther we had Xerxes. So before Esther, during the time of Daniel, Emperor Cyrus made a proclamation. Basically it had been long enough since Judah had initially been conquered and he was allowing some of the people of Judah to return home if they could and rebuild the Temple. Why would he do this?

Well later in the Bible it will describe that the people who had been young men during the time of the invasion are now old men. Basically the people have been thoroughly subjugated. All the young people now are people who have always been part of the Babylonian empire and probably have no thoughts about overthrowing it. Also it would be looked upon as an act of benevolence—of being a good emperor—and might make the young people loyal to him. And of course, this also helps fulfill Jeremiah’s prophecy that the Temple would be restored in 70ish years.

Cyrus is also extra nice about it and returns some of the stuff the Babylonians had stolen from the Temple in the first place. You can kind of view this as a reward for good behavior in the Empire. And of course if the Jewish people don’t keep in line with the empire, Cyrus could always destroy the Temple again, so he’s not losing that much.

However, the ark of the covenant is not returned—where it is unknown. So when it says everything was returned it does not include that item.

Now they have everything back and its time to rebuild the Temple.

Someone please read Ezra 3:1-7.

When the seventh month came, and the Israelites were in the towns, the people gathered together in Jerusalem. Then Jeshua son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his kin set out to build the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as prescribed in the law of Moses the man of God. They set up the altar on its foundation, because they were in dread of the neighboring peoples, and they offered burnt offerings upon it to the Lord, morning and evening. And they kept the festival of booths,[a] as prescribed, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the ordinance, as required for each day, and after that the regular burnt offerings, the offerings at the new moon and at all the sacred festivals of the Lord, and the offerings of everyone who made a freewill offering to the Lord. From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid. So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from King Cyrus of Persia.

The Temple is not built yet, and the first priority for rebuilding it is to reinstate worship—so the first thing they rebuild is the altar of God—which would was sort of in the front yard of the Temple. And basically before they start working on anything else they start worshipping God and offering him sacrifices. With the altar back they can now start having all the festivals again—where everyone comes and offers sacrifices and worship to God. They have their priorities right: the building doesn’t matter as much as the act of worshipping God so it’s better to enable the worship before focusing on the building.

Someone now read Ezra 3:8-13.

In the second year after their arrival at the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak made a beginning, together with the rest of their people, the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem from the captivity. They appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to have the oversight of the work on the house of the Lord. And Jeshua with his sons and his kin, and Kadmiel and his sons, Binnui and Hodaviah[a] along with the sons of Henadad, the Levites, their sons and kin, together took charge of the workers in the house of God.

10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel; 11 and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord,

“For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”

And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.

First things first to rebuild a building first you have to law the foundation. This is actually a really big deal—and there are lots of rules about how to build the Temple that were outlined in the Torah. They need to lay the foundation in the exact same spot it was in the first time. And while the workers lay the foundation, the priests are singings and praising God.

And remember how we mentioned before that there were people who were very young when Judah was conquered and now they are old? Upon seeing the foundation re-laid those people weep with joy—they are so moved by emotion.

For so long the Temple was gone. They had no place to worship God, no place for their festivals, and it seemed a sign that God had turned his back on them. But that is no more. The Temple is being restored. Jerusalem is being restored. And to the Jewish people it would seem that their place as God’s chosen people is being restored.

Someone please read Ezra 6:13-22.

13 Then, according to the word sent by King Darius, Tattenai, the governor of the province Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and their associates did with all diligence what King Darius had ordered. 14 So the elders of the Jews built and prospered, through the prophesying of the prophet Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo. They finished their building by command of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus, Darius, and King Artaxerxes of Persia; 15 and this house was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.

16 The people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the returned exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy. 17 They offered at the dedication of this house of God one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel, twelve male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. 18 Then they set the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their courses for the service of God at Jerusalem, as it is written in the book of Moses.

19 On the fourteenth day of the first month the returned exiles kept the passover. 20 For both the priests and the Levites had purified themselves; all of them were clean. So they killed the passover lamb for all the returned exiles, for their fellow priests, and for themselves. 21 It was eaten by the people of Israel who had returned from exile, and also by all who had joined them and separated themselves from the pollutions of the nations of the land to worship the Lord, the God of Israel. 22 With joy they celebrated the festival of unleavened bread seven days; for the Lord had made them joyful, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.

Rebuilding the Temple is a long long project. It takes longer than Cyrus is king. Darius becomes emperor, and then finally the building is done.

Everyone who is in Jerusalem celebrations and they have a big celebration when it’s done. And then basically they have Passover as soon as they can. Because during all this time they have not been able to have a proper Passover, and it’s one of the most important celebrations. To celebrate the day God saved them from Egypt, and passed over them with their plagues.

Meanwhile during this same time where the Temple is being restored, a guy named Nehemiah has also been given permission to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. Many cities back then were walled because the walls were what protected them from Invaders. Not having walls would be a constant and painful reminder that they had been conquered and subjugated and were now under foreign rule.

Of course rebuilding the walls doesn’t mean they are now free from Babylonian rule. It basically just means Babylon trusts them to know their place and not rebel.

So the Temple is rebuilt, the wall is rebuilt, you might think this would give people an inflated sense of ego—that they would have pride in themselves that they survived such a terrible time and that now they are regaining the city they once lost. But the Jewish people don’t lose cite that without God they would have none of this. Someone flip to Nehemiah 8:1-8.

all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hash-baddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites,[a] helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

The people of Judah come together in the square and then Ezra, the prophet of the time, reads the Torah to them in the presence of both men and women—probably children too. And everyone listens quietly and riveted while he reads the law of Moses. Ezra reads and some other guys help people to understand what it means, so that after so long of being in Babylon and probably forgetting their own ways in favor of Babylonian ways they can remember what it means to be God’s chosen people, what it means to be Jewish, and what the law means.

The people are so moved by the law they weep. Someone read Nehemiah 8:9-12

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lordyour God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

People are crying at hearing the law. Are they crying with joy? I don’t think so—because they are specifically told after they cry that they shouldn’t mourn. Why are they sad? Why are they crying? I think because so many of them probably didn’t know the law. They had forgotten or never heard it, and now finally hearing it, they realize they haven’t been living according to God’s ways, that they had been following Babylonian ways.

Remember people back then didn’t all have copies of the Bible in their homes for easy access. The only things they would have known would have been due to a priest or due to their families handing knowledge down. And while in Babylon its highly unlikely they had access to a priest. All they would know is what their family knew, and some of the families may not have known much—especially when young people were removed from their homes—like Daniel—and sent to Babylon without their families. They would only know what they remember and that would be all they would be able to hand down to their children. Their memories and knowledge would be incomplete or inaccurate, and so their children wouldn’t know the entirety of the Law.

But the priests tell them not to cry, to rejoice, because this is a good day. Israel is being rededicated. It is coming back to God. The Temple is being rebuilt. The wall has been rebuilt. And people are coming home. This is a day to celebrate, to remember that God loves them, and they are to rejoice because they are God’s chosen people.

For about four hundred years after this, the second Temple will stand tall. We’re going to see this Temple, the second Temple, when we study Jesus. This rebuilt Temple will be the Temple that Jesus worships in.

And Jesus’s time is both very different and very similar politically to this time—because Israel will still be a vassal of an empire. At the end of the Old Testament the Babylonians are in charge. Eventually they get conquered by Alexander the Great and Greeks—and Israel becomes part of that empire. For a brief hundred year period, Israel becomes independent again, only to become vassals to Rome.

And that’s where we are when Jesus comes in the scene, during the Golden Age of the Roman Empire, born during the reign of Caesar Augustus. Augustus was the first Emperor of Rome who are own month of August is named after. But Rome was a mighty empire even before it had an emperor. It was a mighty Republic which huge armies that the other countries could not stand up against.

The Old Testament ends with one mighty Empire allowing the Temple and Jerusalem to be rebuilt. The New Testament begins with another mighty Empire, eyeing Jerusalem’s unrest and wondering what should be done about it.

During all that time of Empires, the Jewish people retain their identity, their sense of who they are, even as they chomp at the bit hoping to get free.

Because that is ultimately what they want. The people of Judah expect for God to make good on his promise that a son of David will rule them forever, that they will be a free independent nation of God, God’s chosen people, and surely one day it will happen again.

That is what they want. That is what they are constantly looking forward to and fighting for.

And that is where we’re going to stop for now and where the story of Jesus is going to pick up.


When we last left the Jewish people, they were strangers in a strange land, living at the mercy of Babylonian emperors. With Daniel and his friends, we saw how the other advisors and people seemed to resent them, for having a different God and different ways and being blessed by God. We saw how God protected Daniel and his friends. Today we’re going to look at a story with a similar theme—a threat to the Jewish people, jealous advisors, and mercurial emperors. But instead of a story about four men, it’s a story about one young woman. Esther.

But before we dive into the story I want to touch on something else that we’re going to see relevant through this whole story. Obviously, the story is steeped in racism—with the Babylonians hating the Jewish people just because they’re Jewish. But unlike Daniel’s story this story has an extra element and that is misogyny—which is to say sexism against women. We’ve talked about before how society’s during this time were extremely patriarchal—that is not only were men the most important, but society was oriented towards father/master figures who were in charge of the entire family and the rest of the family was expected to fall in-line. In this sort of model of society women are viewed as no more than property. They were owned by their fathers and husbands, and because of that they were expected to do everything their fathers and husbands demanded—even when it was wrong and inappropriate.

And that’s how our story is going to start and we’re going to see this come back over and over again. So while Daniel and his friends had to deal with being viewed lesser because they were Jewish, we’re going to see Esther has an extra layer—not only is she Jewish but everyone would look down on her for the mere fact she is a woman.

Okay let’s open to the book of Esther and someone please read Esther 1:5-12.

When these days were completed, the king gave for all the people present in the citadel of Susa, both great and small, a banquet lasting for seven days, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. There were white cotton curtains and blue hangings tied with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings[b] and marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and colored stones. Drinks were served in golden goblets, goblets of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. Drinking was by flagons, without restraint; for the king had given orders to all the officials of his palace to do as each one desired.Furthermore, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in the palace of King Ahasuerus.

10 On the seventh day, when the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha and Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who attended him, 11 to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing the royal crown, in order to show the peoples and the officials her beauty; for she was fair to behold. 12 But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command conveyed by the eunuchs. At this the king was enraged, and his anger burned within him.

The emperor of this time is a guy called Ahasuerus, sometimes translated as Xerxes. Fun fact, this is the same emperor in the movie 300 if you’ve ever seen that. The emperor gives a magnificent banquet for everyone and the Bible goes into some decription of how elaborate and opulent it is. The men are drinking without restraint, the king allows them to do whatever they want, and the implication here is that the men are very drunk. And when people are drunk they don’t make wise or good decisions. It also says Queen Vashti is throwing a banquet for the women at the same time. So that would mean there are no women at the king’s banquet.

Seven days of partying—seven days of hard drinking and everyone is drunk and raucous, and then the king demands the Queen be brought to him. Now it says “wearing the royal crown.” There is an implication here that many Biblical scholars believe it’s implying that she would wear *only* the royal crown. So the King was demanding that his queen come before this room full of drunk and out of control men, completely naked except for a crown on her heard, so that all the men can just ogle her and demean her.

Naturally, Vashti refuses.

You might think she is queen and therefore has equal power to him and refusing him is no big deal. That’s how we often think of kings and queens, right? That together they rule the country. That is not the case. Vashti is not the emperor’s equal. She is his property according to the laws of the land. And her refusal to demean and belittle herself in front of these men is an act not just of defiance but of bravery. She is asserting herself as a person, with her own agency and destiny, she is saying that she controls who sees her and she will not be demeaned in such a way, and by saying that she is taking her own life into her hands. The king can—and we’ll see does—have her killed for this.

This is important to remember. Vashti is not some villainess who should have obeyed her husband. She is a woman caught in a no-win situation. If she had obeyed and gone naked before that room of men, who knows what would have happened to her. By asserting her own autonomy, we know what happens to her. And it’s not good.

Because the king is livid, and his advisors tell him he needs to make an example of Vashti in front of the entire kingdom. Because—they argue—if the king’s own wife can defy him, then what is to stop every woman in the kingdom from suddenly thinking for herself and thinking she can make choices outside of her husband or father’s wants and needs.

The Bible is not condoning this sort of misogynistic behavior, in fact this entire book of the Bible subverts this idea we’ll see in the end. But very real women—like Vashti—paid the price for men’s dominance of women.

The Bible doesn’t say what happens to Vashti, not directly. She is just disappeared from the narrative. The implication is that she is killed. But she could have also been imprisoned for the rest of her life. Either is a likely outcome, but I think based on the fact that we never see Vashti again and that the king is driven to replace her—that is find a new queen—that she’s dead.

Dead because she protected her modesty and her bodily autonomy. It is a terrible thing that is done to Vashti.

Someone please read Esther 2:1-8.

After these things, when the anger of King Ahasuerus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her. Then the king’s servants who attended him said, “Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the king. And let the king appoint commissioners in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in the citadel of Susa under custody of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; let their cosmetic treatments be given them. And let the girl who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” This pleased the king, and he did so.

Now there was a Jew in the citadel of Susa whose name was Mordecai son of Jair son of Shimei son of Kish, a Benjaminite. Kish[a] had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with King Jeconiah of Judah, whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had carried away. Mordecai[b] had brought up Hadassah, that is Esther, his cousin, for she had neither father nor mother; the girl was fair and beautiful, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai adopted her as his own daughter. So when the king’s order and his edict were proclaimed, and when many young women were gathered in the citadel of Susa in custody of Hegai, Esther also was taken into the king’s palace and put in custody of Hegai, who had charge of the women.

Eventually the king is like, “Man, I miss having a wife.” Now does that mean the king doesn’t have women? No. Kings back then had harems—that is entire groups of women that were either their wives or concubines. Women they could turn to at any time. We saw this with David and Solomon who had hundreds of wives. Ahasuerus would have a similar set up. But likely Vashti was his head wife—and she is described as the queen, so the wife who probably supported him at political functions and appeared at political events where he might need a woman present. He has no head wife right now—and instead of just promoting one of his harem, his servants are like, “Let’s gather all the prettiest girls and you can pick the most beautiful girl to be your queen.”

And he’s like “Cool. That seems like a great idea.”

So all the beautiful young women are gathered. Probably like sixteen-year-old girls. And one of the girls chosen is a young girl named Hadassah. That’s her Hebrew name, and her Babylonian name is Esther. She lives with her cousin—sometimes referred to as her uncle, because I imagine he’s an older cousin—because her parents are dead. This literally makes Esther one of the most vulnerable people in the entire population. Not only is she Jewish and therefore looked down upon, not only is she a woman and therefore viewed as a second-class citizen, but she is an orphan. Orphans were one of the most vulnerable populations because they lived by the charity and mercy of the rest of their family, and it wouldn’t be unheard of for their family to turn them out when they became inconvenient. But it seems that Mordecai has raised Esther basically as his own.

But Esther is beautiful, so she is taken from Mordecai and brought to the royal palace to be in this competition to be queen. Did Esther have a choice? Probably not. I imagine if the palace turned its eye on you and declared you fit for this competition, you had no choice—they would take you one way or another. If someone was given a choice, the officials wouldn’t have given it to Esther. They would have given it to Mordecai. Maybe Mordecai felt there was no choice either or maybe he thought it was politically expedient to use his young orphaned cousin to secure some political leverage. We don’t know. But likely Esther would not have been asked or given a choice in the matter. She would be considered Mordecai’s property.

Esther quickly rises to the top. The guy in charge of the women takes a liking to her and decides to help her out. And in the end she is chosen to be queen. But the other girls they don’t get to go home. They become part of his harem either way. They become his secondary wives. So Esther being part of this competition—going home was never an end result that would actually happen. She would either become *the* queen or a secondary wife.

Someone please read Esther 2:17-18.

17 the king loved Esther more than all the other women; of all the virgins she won his favor and devotion, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. 18 Then the king gave a great banquet to all his officials and ministers—“Esther’s banquet.” He also granted a holiday[a] to the provinces, and gave gifts with royal liberality.

The king chooses Esther. It says he “loved” her more than any of the others, but I don’t want you to think of this as love. This is not a romance novel. The king was pleased with Esther more than any other of the girls. She won the competition. But did he like her as a person? Probably not. She was just the prettiest and most pleasant of this group of girls he now owned. Esther is now made queen and they have a banquet.

Something we skipped over in all of this. It’s verse 2:10. “Esther did not reveal her people or kindred, for Mordecai had charged her not to tell.” No one knows Esther is Jewish. She is playing the part of just another Babylonian girl. Esther is not brash like Daniel, making it clear who she is. Esther hides it. Why? Is she less devote than Daniel? I don’t know, but the world is a much more dangerous place for a girl back then. And if the men in charge of the harem had known her true identity, they may not have helped her.

Esther is walking uncertain ground. The queen before her was killed for defying an order of the king—a completely reasonable order to defy, an order that Esther would probably also defy if she was following God. People in Babylonian hated Jewish people for no other reason than they were Jewish, and Mordecai wanted Esther to have every opportunity to live through this process and come out on top. So she kept her ethnicity a secret.

Meanwhile, the villain of our story appears, a Babylonian guy named Haman who hates Mordecai with an undying passion. Someone read Esther 3:1-6.

 After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him and set his seat above all the officials who were with him. And all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and did obeisance to Haman; for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or do obeisance. Then the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate said to Mordecai, “Why do you disobey the king’s command?” When they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai’s words would avail; for he had told them that he was a Jew. When Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or do obeisance to him, Haman was infuriated. But he thought it beneath him to lay hands on Mordecai alone. So, having been told who Mordecai’s people were, Haman plotted to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.

Haman is a high-ranking official under the king. Because he’s so high ranking, all the other guys boy before him as if he is the king. Except for one—except for Mordecai. This infuriates Haman. Everyone is supposed to bow before him and how dare this one guy defy him! Why doesn’t Mordecai bow? I don’t know. Mordecai seems to be a loyal citizen of Babylon. He works to help out the king at different points in the story and even gets honored by the king for his actions at one point. But regardless, he doesn’t bow before Haman. And then Haman decides that punishing Mordecai alone is not enough. He can’t just kill Mordecai. He has to kill all the Jewish people in the entire kingdom.

Haman goes to the king and gets him to sign off on this idea of killing all of the Jewish people in the kingdom. An edict is sent throughout the land that on a certain day all the Jewish people will be massacred. Needless to say the Jewish people freak out. They don’t want to die! But what can they do? They don’t have an army. They’re just subjects in this land.

There is only one person who could influence the king to do something else…maybe. And that person is Esther.

Someone please read Esther 4:9-14.

Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. 10 Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, 11 “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden scepter to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days.” 12 When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, 13 Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”

Mordecai’s only way to communicate with Esther is using a go-between. He’s not allowed in the harem—probably no one knows he’s Esther’s uncle, since everyone knows Mordecai is Jewish and no one knows Esther is. But even if they knew, he wouldn’t be allowed in there. So  they use one of the servantas a go-between—Hathach. Mordecai gives a copy of the decree to Hathach and explains it and asks Esther to petition the king to stop it.

When Esther hears this, she is scared for her own life. The queen can’t just appear before the king. She can only go before the queen if he asks for her. Esther is the king’s property and if she defies him or displeases him, he’ll disappear her just like he did to Vashti. And the king hasn’t asked for Esther for thirty days. She is terrified for her own life—that she will go before the king and be killed.

Mordecai reminds her that if all the Jewish people are killed, she will also be killed—and if she pretends and manages to not be outed as a Jewish person, her entire family will perish.

God will save the Jewish people either way, Mordecai is confident and faithful, that God will send deliverance one way or another to spare his chosen people, but then he says the most famous line in this entire book of the Bible. “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”

For such a time as this. Mordecai says that the reason she is queen, is probably because God has placed her there to protect the Jewish people, to save everyone. That God chose her—an orphan girl, the lowest of the low, a girl who was chosen to be queen not for her intelligence or bravery or faith, but for something as superficial as beauty—to be the deliverer of all of Israel.

Presuming the king doesn’t immediately have her killed for coming before him.

Someone please read Esther 4:15-17 and let’s see how Esther responds.

15 Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, 16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.” 17 Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.

Esther asks Mordecai to lead a fast on her behalf—for all the Jewish people to gather and pray for three days. And she will go to the king, even though it’s illegal and she says something that I always find very powerful, “If I perish, I perish.”

Esther is willing to die to save her entire people. She is willing to stand up. And she knows that it may be for naught, and that the king may kill her before she can even get her petition out. Remember this is not just some vague threat. The king has already killed one king, and he could very easily do it to Esther too. This is a very real threat. But Esther is willing to die for her people.

Someone read Esther 5:1-8.

On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, opposite the king’s hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne inside the palace opposite the entrance to the palace. As soon as the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she won his favor and he held out to her the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther approached and touched the top of the scepter. The king said to her, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of my kingdom.” Then Esther said, “If it pleases the king, let the king and Haman come today to a banquet that I have prepared for the king.” Then the king said, “Bring Haman quickly, so that we may do as Esther desires.” So the king and Haman came to the banquet that Esther had prepared. While they were drinking wine, the king said to Esther, “What is your petition? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Esther said, “This is my petition and request: If I have won the king’s favor, and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet that I will prepare for them, and then I will do as the king has said.”

After three days of fasting and prayer, Esther positions herself just outside the king’s hall. She doesn’t go before, she just kind of stands in his line of sight. The king sees her, and instead of being angry or upset, he invites her in and asks her what she needs.

Esther doesn’t jump immediately to “save my people please.” Instead she invites him and Haman—the very guy who is asking for her people’s death to a banquet. At the banquet the king asks again, “what is your petition?” And she doesn’t say, “save my people.” She says “Please come again tomorrow night.”

And they do come again the next night. Someone please read Esther 7:2-6.

On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.”[aThen King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.

The second night the king asks again what Esther wants. This time she says that someone wants to annihilate her people. And the king is all like, “Whaaaat? Who could possibly be trying to do that.”

And Esther is like “Haman!” Who remember is sitting right there. Haman is terrified because he realizes his life is on the line. The king is furious. He’s so angry he walks out of the room—presumably to walk his anger off, and Haman tries to beg for his life. But he’s like throwing himself at her, begging her, and when the king walks back in he thinks Haman is assaulting his wife. And so the king has Haman hanged to death.

But killing Haman isn’t enough. Killing Haman doesn’t revoke the edict that has already been sent around the entire country, ready to be followed and annihilate the Jewish people. So Esther’s job is not done.

Someone please read Esther 8:5-8.

and Esther rose and stood before the king. She said, “If it pleases the king, and if I have won his favor, and if the thing seems right before the king, and I have his approval, let an order be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, which he wrote giving orders to destroy the Jews who are in all the provinces of the king. For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming on my people? Or how can I bear to see the destruction of my kindred?” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and to the Jew Mordecai, “See, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows, because he plotted to lay hands on the Jews. You may write as you please with regard to the Jews, in the name of the king, and seal it with the king’s ring; for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s ring cannot be revoked.”

She weeps at the king’s feet and asks for him to revoke the edict, to not let her people be killed, and the king he agrees. He tells her she may write whatever edict she wants in regard to her people in his name and seal it with his ring and then it cannot be revoked.

And so Esther, an orphan girl, saves her entire people.

There are many interesting things about the book of Esther. One is just that it shows that God uses unexpected people. An orphan girl—literally the lowest person in society outside of a slave, though often orphan girls became slaves. She is thrown into what is a scary situation—being the king’s wife right after he killed his last wife—and God uses this weird and precarious position to save all the Jewish people.

Another interesting thing about Esther is that God is never actually directly mentioned in it. However, even without seeing his name we see how Mordecai and Esther alude to him, and how clearly God’s hand is in the entire story. How God elevated Esther, for such a time as this.

It reminds us that sometimes the events in our lives that we don’t understand or get, that God can use those events for the greater good and for his glory. Even if we don’t directly see his hand, looking back, we’re like, “Wow, that was clearly God working to make this happen.” It also reminds us that no matter who we are, God will and can use us for his glory and purpose. And no matter our positions in society, we should stand up for what is right and good. Even if the result is that if we perish, we perish.

And that is the story of Esther.

Daniel Part 2

Last week we talked about four young men who at the beginning of the Exile were taken from Judah to the heart of Babylon, and there trained in literature and language to work in the king’s court. These young men were named Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, but they were also given Babylonian names: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

These four young men stayed faithful to God even in this far off land, amongst the pressure to conform to Babylonian ways, and this actually led to them distinguishing themselves amongst all their peers. So the king of Babylon—at this time a guy named Nebuchadnezzar elevated them above all the other wise-men of Babylon.

The wise-men of Babylon are not happy about this. From their perspective, these four guys are outsiders and nobodies. They’re from a brand-new region just conquered by the empire, the edge of the empire, from the Babylonians perspective, they’d probably view these four guys as crazy hicks. And here the king is, elevating them above everyone else. So these other Babylonian wise-men aren’t going to let this stand. They’re going to take every opportunity they can to knock Daniel and his friends down a peg, if not out-right kill them. But they can’t attack them directly, without getting the king’s wrath. They need the king to be behind them. So let’s see what happen.

Open your Bibles and flip to Daniel 3:1-7.

 King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue whose height was sixty cubits and whose width was six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent for the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to assemble and come to the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. So the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, assembled for the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. When they were standing before the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up, the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.” Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

Nebuchadnezzar, the king, makes a huge golden statue. A cubit is about the length of your elbow to your fingertips, about a foot and a half, so 90 feet tall.  So Nebuchadnezzar has this thing built and then calls for all his important people to come to its dedication to see its awesomeness. But you see—this isn’t just a statue. It’s not just like a king making a memorial. This is an idol, to be worshipped by all the people. And they are told that whenever they hear a certain sound they are to fall down and worship this status.

Someone please read Daniel 3:8-15.

Accordingly, at this time certain Chaldeans came forward and denounced the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! 10 You, O king, have made a decree, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, shall fall down and worship the golden statue, 11 and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire. 12 There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These pay no heed to you, O king. They do not serve your gods and they do not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought in; so they brought those men before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods and you do not worship the golden statue that I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble to fall down and worship the statue that I have made, well and good.[a] But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?”

So this statue is made that people are supposed to worship, and amongst the crowd there to worship it are Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And the other wise-men see that those three guys—those three Jewish guys who have been raised above them and who they hate—aren’t going along with the kings decry. They don’t kneel when they hear the sound, they don’t worship the statue. They refuse.

Of course the king didn’t see this. He only knows it happened because these other jealous guys bring it to his attention, but as soon as he hears this he’s furious. How dare these guys not do as the king demanded! The king is the highest authority in the land! How dare they go against him!

So the king has these three guys brought before him. And the king? Well he’s willing to give them another chance. He reminds them what the rules are—that they’re supposed to worship this golden idol—and then gives them an ultimatum. If they don’t do this while the king is watching, then they will be thrown into a blazing furnace to be burned alive.

Let’s see what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego do. Someone please read Daniel 3:16-23.

 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. 17 If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us.[a18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face was distorted. He ordered the furnace heated up seven times more than was customary, 20 and ordered some of the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire. 21 So the men were bound, still wearing their tunics,[b] their trousers,[c] their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the furnace of blazing fire. 22 Because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace was so overheated, the raging flames killed the men who lifted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23 But the three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down, bound, into the furnace of blazing fire.

Faced with death, these three guys respond that they will not worship the idol. They say “Go ahead and throw us in the furnace. God will deliver us if he wants. But we will not worship the idol.”

Nebuchadnezzar is furious is at such defiance. He orders the furnace heated up as hot as it will go and then they bind the three men. They get thrown into the furnace—and the heat is so hot it kills the men who get close enough to even throw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego close. So those three guys just fall down bound into the furnace.

Someone please read Daniel 3:24-30.

24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?” They answered the king, “True, O king.” 25 He replied, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.”[a26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. 27 And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics[b] were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them. 28 Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” 30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar is staring into the fire trying to watch these defiant rebels burn and he’s like, “Hey guys, how many men did we throw into the fire?” The answer is three, but as Nebuchadnezzar looks into the ire he sees four men. Not only does he see four men, but they are no longer bound and they’re walking around the fire unhurt. And the fourth guy? Well, he looks different from the other three guys, almost god-like.

So Nebuchadnezzar calls for them to come out of the fire, and the three guys walk out—no fourth guy in sight at this point. And Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are unharmed. Not even their clothes or hair is singed.

They were saved from the fiery furnace by God, and the fourth figure with them was an angel or representative of God. Nebuchadnezzar realizes their God saved them and that their God is mighty. And he makes it illegal for anyone to speak out against the God of Judah.

Then he promotes the three guys. So the plan of the other wise-people to have Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego killed totally backfired. Now the three of them are even more important.

While Nebuchadnezzar is king, Daniel and his friends don’t have to deal with much more faith based persecution. But no one remains king forever. Nebuchadnezzar dies and a new king comes onto the throne.

First there is Belshazzar, who becomes king after Nebuchadnezzar dies. We’re going to skip him but there is one famous passage that has to do with him—not famous because it’s a story we tell very often, but famous because there is a phrase or saying that comes from this section of the Bible: “The writing is on the wall.”

In this story, words are written on a wall as if magically, or by a divine hand and no one knows what it means. It’s in some other language. And Daniel is able to interpret it. And the writing basically means that this king Belshazzar is going to die soon and a new king will be put in his place.

If you ever hear someone say “The writing is on the wall,” it’s a phrase that usually means that the danger or inevitably bad consequences are apparent and there is no way to get out of it. That phrase comes from this story, where the writing was on the wall, and the writing did talk about inevitable bad consequences that came true, and no one could read it except Daniel. So that’s just a fun fact!

But there is one more really famous story about Daniel that we’re going to touch on—that perhaps you may have heard before. Belshazzar also dies—he gets killed—and a new person becomes king of Babylon. His name is Darius. And he’s an okay king as far as these sorts of things go. But once again the other wise-men and advisors are going to try to get rid of this trusted Jewish person that they hate. They want Daniel gone. So they’re going to create a set of circumstances to make it happen.

Someone please read Daniel 6:1-5.

It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom one hundred twenty satraps, stationed throughout the whole kingdom, and over them three presidents, including Daniel; to these the satraps gave account, so that the king might suffer no loss. Soon Daniel distinguished himself above all the other presidents and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him, and the king planned to appoint him over the whole kingdom. So the presidents and the satraps tried to find grounds for complaint against Daniel in connection with the kingdom. But they could find no grounds for complaint or any corruption, because he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption could be found in him. The men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”

So Darius has 120 “satraps.” A satrap is a provincial governor or local ruler. And he puts three “presidents” this version says over them. My other version says “commissioners.” So basically three guys that those 120 guys answer to, and then probably those three guys answer to the king. And Daniel is one of those three guys.

The king chose Daniel based on his merit, and the other governors are not okay with it. So they try to find dirt on Daniel, to try to find some way to show that he is not loyal to the king or doing something wrong. But they can find nothing. Daniel has served loyally. Except…they realize, Daniel will always obey the law of God above the law of the land. So if they can find a scenario where those two things contradict, Daniel will obey God and not the king, and then, maybe then they can get this Daniel guy out of there.

Someone please read Daniel 6:6-10.

So the presidents and satraps conspired and came to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an interdict, that whoever prays to anyone, divine or human, for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions. Now, O king, establish the interdict and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document and interdict.

10 Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously.

They make a plan. They go to the king and appeal to his ego. They tell the king that he all the wise-men and rulers of the land under him agreed that the king should make a law saying that for thirty days no one should pray to anyone except the king. Remember, back then, kings were also viewed as minor gods. So that wouldn’t necessarily seem crazy to a Babylonian to pray to the king. But these guys say for 30 days no one should pray to any other god throughout the entire kingdom, and if they do and they’re caught, they should be thrown into a den of lions, to be eaten alive.

Clearly Daniel wasn’t there when the law was signed or for some reason was silent about it, but either way, he knows its signed. He knows this is the law of the land—and probably a trap for him—and that it is technically illegal for the next thirty day for him to pray to God. But Daniel continues to go home and pray—three times a day—just as he had always done.

He will not let a law of man stop him from following God.

Someone read Daniel 6:11-15.

11 The conspirators came and found Daniel praying and seeking mercy before his God. 12 Then they approached the king and said concerning the interdict, “O king! Did you not sign an interdict, that anyone who prays to anyone, divine or human, within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions?” The king answered, “The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.” 13 Then they responded to the king, “Daniel, one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the interdict you have signed, but he is saying his prayers three times a day.”

14 When the king heard the charge, he was very much distressed. He was determined to save Daniel, and until the sun went down he made every effort to rescue him. 15 Then the conspirators came to the king and said to him, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no interdict or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.”

The other guys—the conspirators this section calls them—they know Daniel prays to his God and probably knows how often he prays—they’ve probably noticed the times of day when he goes him. So they catch him in the act. And then they go to the king and they’re like, “Hey king, we found a guy, he’s not obeying your law, that you just made, remember? He’s praying to someone else. So we should throw him in the lion’s den and be done with him.” They’re very careful not to name Daniel at first.

The king is like, “What? Someone is breaking my law! Who and how dare they! Yes they should die.”

And the conspirators are like, “It was Daniel.”

This upsets the king. Because he likes Daniel. He doesn’t want to kill him. But he also made the law. He can’t back down on his own law without looking bad to all of this people. However, it says he makes every attempt to save Daniel. He’s probably trying to find some loophole in the law, some way he can say that “yeah even though that’s the law, Daniel is exempt because of this other law.” But he finds nothing.

And the other guys are like, “What are you doing king? It’s the law. The law cannot be changed. WE have to obey it.” There is no way for the king to go out of this and save Daniel. It’s not within his power.

Someone read Daniel 6:16-23.

16 Then the king gave the command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!” 17 A stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, so that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. 18 Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him, and sleep fled from him.

19 Then, at break of day, the king got up and hurried to the den of lions. 20 When he came near the den where Daniel was, he cried out anxiously to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?” 21 Daniel then said to the king, “O king, live forever! 22 My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong.” 23 Then the king was exceedingly glad and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

The king has no choice but to give the command. And Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den. The kings only parting word is that he hopes Daniel’s God will deliver him.

It says they lay a stone over the mouth of the den, so it’s probably some sort of cave where these lions live. And the king himself seals it with his own ring so that if the stone is disturbed they will know and see and answer to the king.

Then the king goes home and fasts and doesn’t sleep. He’s worried and distressed about Daniel.

As soon as the night is over—as soon as its dawn—the king runs to the lion’s den. He cries out as he nears, “Daniel, are you alive???” And Daniel responds, “Yep. God sent an angel who closed the lions mouths, because I am blameless before both him and you. I have done nothing wrong.”

The king is so happy Daniel isn’t dead and has him taken out of the den. He is unharmed, and he is placed back in his station as an important man in the kingdom of Babylon.

The king had no power to save Daniel, but God did.

In both of these stories—the one about the golden idol and this one with the lion’s den—we have stories of people standing up against the entire world when it sided against them, standing up for their god and their beliefs and refusing to just go along—even though obeying the laws of Babylon and the insane random decries of the king would be far easier to do. But they knew following God was more important, even in a world where they were hated and outnumbered.

This isn’t just peer pressure. This is life and death pressure. But they stayed strong, and followed God, and God spared them because of it. Not everyone gets spared for standing up for God—we’ve seen this before in the Bible and we’ll see it later. Stephen, the first Christian martyr is a good example. He stands up for God and he’s killed for it. But we shouldn’t just stand up because we think God will spare us from the consequences. Daniel didn’t know if God would save him. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego probably thought they might die. But they stood up for their beliefs because it was the right thing to do.

We should stand up for God and we should do the right thing, even in the face of awful consequences. We’ll see this again in the next story we’re going to study: the story of Esther.