New Testament

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.

Woah.

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?

Rome.

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.

Joseph, Jesus' Dad

This month we’re taking a break from the story of King David to discuss Advent. Advent is the part of the Church calendar that is the leadup to Christmas, and ultimately Advent is all about waiting and looking forward: looking forward to Christmas which is essentially looking forward to Jesus.

Last week we discussed how there were centuries of silence between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New, centuries where the Jewish people didn’t hear from God. It probably felt to them as if God had abandoned them. People waited and waited to for God to speak.

And then God broke his silence, by sending an angel to talk to a teenage girl and tell her that she was the chosen one, the one chosen to bring God incarnate into this world and raise him. We talked about how it was a complete turn—the patriarchy of ancient times turned on head by God speaking to a teenage girl instead of some bearded old man, and God telling this girl that she was the favored one.

And Mary took this news with joy, even though being pregnant and not married could mean her death. She trusted God had her back, even if she wasn’t sure her fiancé Joseph would. Today we’re going to study Joseph and see how he responds to Mary’s news.

So please get your Bibles and turn to Matthew 1. I’m actually going to read the first section because it’s a little long and full of crazy names. So please flip to Matthew 1:1-17.

1 An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, 4 and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

If you’ve been paying attention over the last year, then some of these names are familiar. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Ruth, David, these are all people we’ve studied. And some of these people will be people we will study in the next year. The whole point of this section is that it is the genealogy of Jesus, to show that Jesus is of King David’s line, and therefore an heir to that promise we talked about last week, the promise that King David’s line would never end and reign forever.

Alright, now let’s dive into the story. Someone please read Matthew 1:18-19.

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.

So Joseph. Joseph is an average dude. He’s not an important man when it comes to wealth and politics. He’s not a man who has studied at the finest schools or has great knowledge. He’s a young carpenter who is looking forward to getting married when his fiancé comes to him and is like “Hey an angel came to me and said I’m going to have a son who will be God and by the way it’s like a miracle pregnancy. I’m still a virgin.”

If you were Joseph what would you think of Mary’s declaration? [Let them answer.]

I would think she’s gone crazy if I was Joseph. It might seem like a desperate excuse by a girl who doesn’t want to get in trouble. Because Joseph would know he’s not the father—he never slept with Mary! So he would think maybe she had an affair, maybe someone raped her, or something, and she’s trying to cover it up, or at least make it more palatable so he would forgive her and marry her so they could hide it or something. I doubt he would think God actually spoke to her, because remember God hadn’t spoken to anyone in centuries. That would be a crazy claim.

But Joseph isn’t a bad person. He doesn’t want to cause Mary harm, he doesn’t want her to be taken into the town square and be stoned for adultery, which remember was a pretty standard punishment back then. So instead he doesn’t want to expose her. He plans to basically break up with her quietly, in a way that will protect her as much as possible. But he can’t marry her, because he’s pretty sure she had an affair. And no one wants to be with someone who cheated on them.

Alright someone please read Matthew 1:20-23.

20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.”

God has Mary’s back, so he’s not going to let Joseph break up with her. So an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and is like “Hey Joseph! Mary didn’t cheat on you. This all part of God’s plan. She’s going to have a son who will be God with us—God walking amongst us and being one of us—and that son is going to save us are. So Mary marry, and it’s all going to work out.”

Now if you were Joseph what would you think about this dream? [Let them answer.]

Well I would think I’d been thinking about Mary too much and her claims, and all that thinking was leading to crazy dreams. I doubt I’d think it was a real angel! Let’s see what Joseph things. Someone read Matthew 1:24-25.

24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son;[a] and he named him Jesus.

Joseph wakes up and he believes everything the angel told him. He obeys God’s command, even though it might seem crazy. He marries Mary but she remains a virgin until after she gives birth to Jesus so that no one can try to claim Joseph might be Jesus’ physical father.

And literally in the book of Matthew verse 25 is all there is about Jesus being born. Just “she had a son and named him Jesus.” Doesn’t that seem to be missing something? Maybe something about shepherds and angels and inns and mangers.

All of that usual Christmas story that we talk about is in the book of Luke, which is also the book where the verses we talked about last week were found. So why is that? Why are Matthew and Luke different? Any ideas? [Let them answer].

Well you guys know the Bible wasn’t written as one big book, right? All the books inside it were written by different people at different time periods. So Matthew and Luke were actually written by guys named Matthew and Luke. Matthew and Luke weren’t there when Jesus was born, so they both had different sources. Luke’s source was Mary. He went and interviewed Mary and got her perspective and wrote it down. Joseph wasn’t Matthew’s source, Joseph would’ve been dead by the time Matthew wrote, but it was important to Matthew to get the story of Jesus’s earthly father—of the man in this story. Why? Well Matthew and Luke wrote for different audiences, that is different people they intended to be reading it.

Matthew was writing for Jewish people. For Jewish people it would be really important to tell them that Jesus is descended from King David. For the Jewish male leaders who were used to reading the very patriarchal Bible it would be more palatable for them for Jesus’s story to come from a more male perspective. Luke on the other hand was writing for a Greek audience, and while the Greek’s were still patriarchal, they would have had less preconceptions when it came to what the Jewish/Christian God may or may not do.

So that is why these stories are different. They both thought it was important to emphasize different parts of Jesus’ birth in order to tell their audiences different things. To Matthew it wasn’t that important to talk about whether or not there was room in the inn and Jesus being born in a manger. For Matthew it was more important to tie everything back to the Old Testament, to mention scripture and prophecy as much as possible, so that his Jewish readers could tie this new story back to what they already knew. And Luke wanted to tell a different story, Mary’s story, and for whatever reason it was more important to him to focus on the actual birth and point out the different aspects that heralded Jesus’ arrival on this planet.

Luke’s story is all good news and amazingness, a joyous night of angels and miracles. But not everyone is happy to hear about the birth of Jesus. I want you guys to turn back to the book of Matthew. Someone please read Matthew 2:1-8.

2 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

Both Matthew and Luke give us time markers to know when this story is taking place. Luke uses a more macro scale, telling us it’s during the time of Caesar Augustus. That would be like saying “something happened during the time of George Washington was president.” It would give a good idea of when something happened. Matthew takes a closer to home approach, by talking about who is king of Israel of that time—though a King of Israel is not a king like David—a king who can do what he wants. Herod would answer to the Romans, because remember during this time Israel was considered part of the Roman Empire, they had been conquered by the Romans. And this is really important to the story.

Rome was pretty happy to let the different peoples in their lands do what they want, within reason. The Romans weren’t the sort of rulers who came in and said “You must worship our gods now or else!” They were more like “Worship whoever you want, as long as you pay taxes and don’t cause civil unrest.”

So these wise men they come from the East—probably from non-Roman lands. They may not know what’s up with the Roman Empire, depending on how far away they come from. They might just come from further east in the Middle East. They may even come as far as China. We have no idea. All we know is that they were traveling for a long time, following the star from Jesus’ birth, trying to find this great person they know most have been born to pay homage to him.

They were looking for a child born to be king, to be a messiah, the next King of Israel. And so of course they went to the current king first.

But when Herod heard about a new king being born, he was very concerned. It says he was frightened and so was all of Jerusalem. Why? Why were they so afraid?

We tend to think of Herod as a very bad guy, and I don’t think that’s necessary a wrong interpretation, but I want to be clear. The fear he was experiencing here is very real. Undoubtedly Herod was afraid of losing his own power as king, but it wouldn’t have been just that. The thing he would most fear is the Romans.

Remember what I said about the Romans not caring what you do as long as you pay taxes and there is no civil unrest? Well, if the Jewish people thought the Messiah was born, what would that mean? A King of the line of David born to Israel, a King blessed by God. This would mean that the Jewish people would want to be independent and free of Roman rule. It would mean—they thought—a rebellion.

Now we know Jesus wasn’t a king like that. He came to be a servant leader, to die for us, not to overthrow the Romans and rule. But the Jewish people of the time didn’t know that. We’ll see that more when we study Jesus and his disciples in the future, how some of them expected Jesus to overthrow the Romans and be free.

And why were the Romans so scary?

The Roman legions were a well-trained, nearly unstoppable military force who had conquered the majority of the land around the Mediterranean. The Romans didn’t just stop Rebellions by talking to people and working things out. They destroyed the rebels and then destroyed the will of any people associated with them—if they let those people live.

They say that when Rome defeated the city of Carthage they burned the city to the ground and then salted the earth, so that nothing else could ever grow there and no city would ever rise up in its place.

When it came to Israel, eventually a Rebellion did happen in around 70 AD. The Jewish people started rebelling against the Romans, wanting to be free and independent again. And how did the Romans respond? The destroyed the Jewish Temple, literally the most holy site in all of Israel. This is why there is no temple in Jerusalem today. The Romans were ruthless in their subjugation of Israel.

So Herod’s fear was not unwarranted. His actions in response were.

He tells the Wise Men that when the find this Messiah child they are to come back and tell him where they found him, so he too can go and worship him. But do we think Herod wants to go worship Jesus?

Yeah, no.

Someone please read Matthew 2:9-12.

9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

So the Wise Men go out and they find Jesus. Now often we depict the Wise Men arriving at the manger, but that is not the case. This would be a year or two after. Jesus is no longer a baby but more o fa toddler. They offer them gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, gifts not meant for a baby but a king. Think of Frankincense as a perfume and myrrh as an oil you would use to anoint a king. These gifts wouldn’t be much use to a baby, but they would be worth quite a bit.

So then the Wise Men finally go to leave but they don’t go back to Herod, because God warns them in a dream not to.

Do you think Herod is going to be happy about this? About knowing a child has been born but not knowing where? Let’s see.

Someone please read Matthew 2:13-18.

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Once again an angel appears to Joseph but this time with instructions to flee to Egypt, because Herod is going to be looking for Jesus to destroy him. And Joseph does what any good man would do. He follows God’s orders and protects his family. He leaves the land he’s known his whole life and goes to Egypt, a foreign land he never would have visited before. This is why Joseph was chosen to be Jesus’s earthly father, because God knew he could rely on Joseph to be obedient and protect Jesus.

Herod is not happy that the Wise Men have not come back, so he does the only thing he can think of. He has all the children in and around Bethlehem who are under two killed—hoping he’ll kill Jesus. This is why God told Joseph to leave, letting him escape before Herod could threaten Jesus’s life.

Does this remind you guys of anything else? This talk of Egypt and babies being killed?

[Let them answer]

This is a direct call back to Moses. And there is a reason why Matthew, the Gospel writer who is writing for a Jewish audience emphasizes this story when other Gospels don’t mention it. The story of Moses is one every Jewish reader would be intimately familiar with. With this story Matthew is purposefully making them recall Moses, and put Jesus on at least the same level as Moses if not higher. Luke wouldn’t necessarily tell this story because a Greek or Roman person wouldn’t really know the story of Moses. So they’d just hear this story and think “Ok, well, Herod wanted to kill him. Okay. No big deal.” It wouldn’t tell a Greek or Roman person anything. Whereas it tells a Jewish person, “Hey this new guy, Jesus, is literally the new Moses, but better. He will deliver you, just like Moses delivered you from Egypt, except it’s going to be a million times better and a million times more amazing.”

Alright can someone please read Matthew 2:19-23.

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

Eventually Herod dies, and an angel appears to Joseph in a dream again and tells him to go back to Israel. Because Jesus isn’t supposed to be an Egyptian. Israel is to be his home. But Joseph is afraid to go back to Bethlehem because he’s afraid of the guy who took over after Herod. So he basically takes family and moves to backwoods middle of nowhere Israel: Nazareth.

Again and again the Bible tells us what is important about Joseph. He obeys God, following his commands even when he doesn’t understand them or how they’re possible. He doesn’t understand how Mary could be pregnant, but he trusts God and marries her. He doesn’t know anyone in Egypt, but God tells him to go there so he moves their anyway. Joseph is an obedient and righteous man, who follows God, and does what he has to in order to protect his wife and child. This is why God trusted Joseph to be Jesus’ father, as opposed to any other man on the planet.

And that’s today’s lesson. Next week we’ll do a short Advent lesson and then we’ll have a Christmas party!

Mary: The Mother of Jesus, Version 2

Note: The original version of this lesson is posted here. I gave this lesson again this year as part of my Advent series but I added some updates to reflect the things we'd been going over in the past year. I didn't want to get rid of the old post either even though they're almost identical. So they're both here for reference. :)

We have been going through people of the Bible, as you guys know, for a year now. We started with Abraham, and remember 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 now finally David. That’s where we ended.

Why am I recapping this? Because all of this is leading up to Jesus. We’re going to study next semester that God makes David 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 does Israel exist forever? Is there still a king on the throne in Israel? No. Israel has been conquered and disbanded a number of times. We’re going to see that in the next year in the Bible, as we study more people of the Bible, but King David’s line ends. The kingdom falls.

What does that mean? Does it mean that God broke his promise? [Let them answer, or think about it.]

It means that God’s promise meant something different, something more than David could possibly imagine.

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 rain 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.

So first question. Why do you think Mary was confused by Gabriel's statement?

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

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

Ezekiel 1: 4 – 12

4 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. 5 In the middle of it was something like four living creatures. This was their appearance: they were of human form. 6 Each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. 7 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. 8 Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: 9 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.

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?

Other than Mary's cousin.

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

5 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. 6 Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

 8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9 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 your a teenage bride. The punishment for adultry 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 if she 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?

That maybe she put God first? And God knew that. That maybe that's why he chose her.

Alright but let's step back a moment here. Did God NEED Jesus to be born of a woman?

There are a few prophecies sure, that imply he'll be born and talk about it. But set that aside--cuz God wrote those prophecies. Could God just snap his fingers and instead have made a fully grown Jesus who went around calling disciples and doing the same thing?

Yeah. So why do you think God chose Jesus to be born of a woman? Why was this part of his grand plan?

Obviously we can never know the mind of God, and we can't really know why he chose this path. But I think it's because if you look over the Old Testament women have sort of gotten a bad wrap. Call it what you will--Eve's curse, the patriarchy, whatever--women in the Bible have not been treated the best. But here we have God telling a woman, the lowest of the low, that she has found favor from God. That she is the favored one.

Jesus was born male and that is important, I think, but I think by having this design, by having God be born of a woman, God is saying that the statement he's making by being incarnate in a male doesn't make women less. Mary was a critical part God chose to include in this story.

God chose to include women in the story, because he views women as important. And there may be times where boys--you're encouraged to devalue women, or girls you may think less of yourself because you are female. But in those times, I want you to remember Mary. Because she was the favored one, and God chose to use her. God views women as valuable, and therefore you should to.

Alright guys, that's it. Next week we're going to talk about Joseph.