When did the Magi visit Jesus?

In the United States, people who celebrate Christmas typically start decorating after Thanksgiving. These decorations include trees, strings of lights, and various other yard or home decorations, which may include a Nativity display.

If you have never seen a Nativity display, it typically consists of a barn-like setting, with a baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, a shepherd, the Magi, and some farm animals. Though these Nativity displays are a long-held tradition and a great reminder that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” the question is “are they biblically accurate?”Let us go back to the sources of these events, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2, NIV).

The Magi, traditionally called “the Three Wise Men,” possibly came from Persia or Babylon (modern day Iran and Iraq, respectively).

The idea of a king being born troubled King Herod, for he saw this newly born king as a threat to his power. Herod then asked his priests and scribes where would the Christ be born and they informed him Bethlehem. Herod sent the Magi to Bethlehem.

“After they [the Magi] had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” (Matthew 2:9-10, NIV).

From the text, there is an indication that time had elapsed between Jesus’ birth and the Magi’s visit to Herod, because it would take quite a bit of time to travel from Persia or Babylon to Israel. Herod, unbeknownst to the Magi, had murderous intentions, and asked when did they see this star? Thus, another indication time had passed. Matthew 2:16-18 describes Herod issuing an order to have all of the children in Bethlehem aged two and under to be killed, but Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fled into Egypt.

The Bible describes the Magi’s visit: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. They opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream, not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” (Matthew 2:11-12, NIV, italics mine).

By the time the Magi came to pay their respects to Jesus, his family had settled into a home in Bethlehem, which would not put the Magi at the manger where Jesus was born. Luke’s Gospel makes no mention of the Magi, but does mention the angel appearing to the shepherds who were watching their flocks that night (Luke 2:8-20). According to Luke, the shepherds were the only people besides Mary and Joseph, present at the manager when Jesus was born. As to when all of this happened exactly, there is one historical fact: King Herod died in 4 BC. Given Herod’s order to kill all of the children two years old and under, could possibly place Jesus’ birth around 6 or 7 BC, which gives us a two to three year window for all of these events.

I write this not to step on anyone’s tradition or take away from anyone’s celebration, I just feel it is important for Christians to know what the Bible says about the events upon which our faith is based. Let us go back to the word ourselves and not succumb to artistic license or the traditions of man. God bless you all.

Advertisements

The Genealogies of Jesus

Genealogy can be defined as the study of family lineage. Many people use ancestry websites, historical records, and stories from family members to help learn about their family history. Through these studies we can learn about where our families originated, what kinds of lives they lived, and other details of note.

In the Old Testament, genealogies were important to the people of Israel. Throughout the Old Testament, there are numerous genealogies, tracing the lineage of Adam to Noah, Noah to Abraham, Boaz to David, and the first nine chapters of First Chronicles, which are multiple genealogies. The genealogies were also kept for certain jobs. For example, in order to be a temple priest, one had to be a descendant from the tribe of Levi, as was Aaron, the brother of Moses, and the first high priest.

Genealogies in the Bible were often used to introduce someone new to the story, a tradition which was carried over to the New Testament, with the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Of the four Gospels that serve as the historical biographies of Jesus- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, only Matthew and Luke focus on Jesus’ birth. In the Gospels of Mark and John, Jesus is thirty years old and beginning His ministry.

To our modern eyes and attention spans, reading about so-and-so begat so-and-so and that so-and-so begat this so-and-so can after a while become a little tedious. However, the genealogies of Matthew and Luke offer us different insights and different lists, which could be because the two books were written for two different audiences. Throughout Matthew, Jewish laws and customs are emphasized, while Luke’s Gospel focuses on a more Gentile Christian audience.

Matthew’s Genealogy (1:1-1:17)

“The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Matthew 1:1, KJV). Notice how Matthew is tracing Jesus’ genealogy to David and Abraham, two pillars of Judaism.

*Matthew lists a total of 42 generations- Fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the Babylonian exile of 586 BC, and fourteen generations from the Babylonian exile to the birth of Christ.

*Matthew mentions four Gentile women- Tamar, Rachab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.

*Matthew states Jacob as the father of Joseph.

*Matthew 1:16 teaches the doctrine of the virgin birth, a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, in that he states, “And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” (Matthew 1:16, KJV, italics mine). Joseph, the writer of Matthew makes clear, was not Jesus’ natural father, which many people would have automatically assumed.

Luke’s Genealogy (3:23-38)

*The writer of Luke places Jesus’ genealogy after the events surrounding the birth of John the Baptist, the Birth of Jesus, Jesus with the teachers at the temple, the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry, and Jesus’ baptism.

*Luke list 74 generations, backwards from Jesus to Adam, “the son of God,” (Luke 3:38).

*Luke’s genealogy also backs up the doctrine of the virgin birth, with how it introduces Jesus: “And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed), the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli.” (Luke 3:23).

*Though women play  a prominent role in Luke’s Gospel, no women are mentioned in his genealogy.

Why do Matthew and Luke differ on who Joseph’s father was? In doing some brief research, one of the theories is that Matthew traced Jesus’ lineage through Joseph, while Luke traced Jesus’ lineage through Mary. Another possibility is that Jacob and Heli were brothers. As was custom outlined in the Old Testament, if a man died, it would be up to his brother to marry his widow, raise his brother’s children, and keep his brother’s lineage going (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). Thus, in a legal sense Heli would have become Joseph’s father (possibly through adoption or what we would call a step-father).

Another point of difference is that concerning Jesus’ lineage to David, Matthew list Jesus as a descendant of David’s son Solomon (Matthew 1:6), while Luke traces the lineage through another one of David’s sons, Nathan (Luke 3:31).

It seems every Christmas season there is some real or imagined controversy concerning the holiday season and the Bible-let us not fall into that trap. In the coming weeks, I hope to take a look at other aspects of the nativity stories as portrayed in the gospels. I will look at points of contention and pointing out false perceptions we may have concerning Jesus’ birth. Whether or not someone tells you “Merry Christmas,” or a major coffee chain does or does not include a reference to Christmas on their cups, let us enjoy this time, let us enjoy this day, let us enjoy this present moment. God bless you.

 

Pontius Pilate’s Question

After he claimed to be God, Jesus was taken from the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council unto Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea. According to Jewish law, Jesus’ crime of blasphemy was punishable by death. However, under Roman law, only the Romans could carry out capital punishment. Thus, Jesus had to face a second trial by Rome.

At this time in history, Jerusalem and all of Judea were political powder kegs, which could explode at any time. There were groups such as the Zealots, who led insurrections against Rome and there were others who expected the Messiah to be a military/political figure, who was going to overthrow Rome and re-establish the Kingdom of Israel. Though in John’s gospel, Pilate perceives the issue between Jesus and the Sanhedrin to be nothing more than a religious dispute, he still had to tread lightly. Pilate’s main concern was whether or not Jesus and his followers were going to rebel against the Roman occupation.

Pilate asked Jesus if He as king of the Jews (John 18:33), to which Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” (John 18:36, KJV).

Pilate asked Jesus again, “Art thou a king then?”(John 18:37), to  which Jesus replied, “Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice.” (John 18:37, KJV, emphasis mine).

Before the story transitions to Jesus and Barabbas and Jesus’ ultimate crucifixion, Pilate asked Jesus a thought provoking question, for which unfortunately, John doesn’t record a response.

“Pilate saith unto him, ‘What is truth?‘” (John 18:38a, KJV, emphasis mine).

What is truth? Isn’t that the seemingly the most unanswerable question in the history of humanity? The search for truth is a riddle wrapped inside of a mystery, which is wrapped inside of an enigma. All of us, no matter who we are, our background, our nation of birth, gender, religion, and so forth, spend our lives searching for truth and meaning. Who am I? Why am I here? Does God exists? Is there life after death? Have I done enough good deeds? Have I wasted my life on the wrong pursuits? Questions like these can induce crises on many levels and can keep us up late at night.

What did Pilate mean by truth? The Greek word used throughout the New Testament and this passage is the word Aletheia (Strong’s #225), which when used objectively as a noun means “signifying the reality lying at the basis of an appearance; the manifested, veritable essence of a matter.” Thus, objective truth is something that can be verified. For example, we know our universe rotates around the sun. We know gravity is the invisible force holding our feet on the ground. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

There is also a subjective nature to truth, which according to Strong’s, “not merely verbal, but sincerity and integrity of character.” So, how sincere are we in our beliefs? Do we embody the character and essence of what we believe? When we view truth in a subjective manner, that is where the disagreements and trouble starts. History attests to all of the atrocities committed by groups of people upon others simply because they believed in a different God, political philosophy, or someone simply wanted their land, the list of reasons goes on and on.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” The irony of the story of Jesus, the Sanhedrin, and Pilate is that Jesus was the Messiah these Jewish leaders and others were praying for for decades, if not centuries, however, because they had a different vision of the Messiah, they rejected Jesus. For those in leadership, Jesus represented a shakeup and perceived threat to the established order. The people were following after this carpenter from Nazareth, who taught people to love their enemies, pray for your opposition, turn the other cheek if they struck you, and pay your taxes to Rome, etc. Jesus also did this without the help of the religious elite, for his disciples were fishermen, tax collectors, zealots, and other everyday people, which certainly upset the establishment.

If you are reading this, you may be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Agnostic, Atheist, or you are looking for something to believe. I believe that we should openly examine our beliefs and discover what is truth. No matter what you believe, are there fearful questions in the back of your mind? What if I’m wrong? How can I be sure? One thing I have learned recently is don’t fear the opposition. There is a world of information out there, seek it out. Examine what you believe and why you believe it. Read books and articles that run contrary to your beliefs, so you can be informed. Search your heart, search your soul, use logic and reason along with your faith. God bless you all.

 

Christ is for All

Could you imagine living a life without barriers? What would life be like without self-imposed and societal-placed barriers? I am not speaking of the abolishment of law and order or a misguided utopia, but what if we could remove the labels off of everyone? People, no matter where they come from, gender, skin color, body type, political or religious belief are simply people.

What if we could view our brother or sister as simply a fellow traveling companion who is on their own journey through life? What if we could stop expecting perfection from those around us? Where’s the grace for them? We certainly would want that grace in the event we make a mistake.

It seems today’s social dialogue is “I’m completely right, you’re completely wrong!” Friendly discussion has gone the way of the dinosaurs. I believe there comes a time when everyone must examine themselves and the direction of their life, so we may see the effect we have on others. For Christians, we have to do some deep soul searching. The questions becomes: “Is the world’s growing hostility toward the Church a direct result of the Church’s hostility toward the world? Are the barriers we put up towards others hindering the effective preaching of the Gospel? I believe so.

Jesus never turned away anyone who genuinely sought Him. Did people reject Jesus? Absolutely. Did the people who came to faith in Christ struggle with sin afterwards? I’m pretty sure they did. I believe that in order to experience growth as Christians and to show the love of God to others, we must accept people where they are at in life. We need to do away with this “us versus them” mentality, because Christ is for all.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is nether slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, NKJV).

“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free-and all have been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, NKJV).

“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:9-11, NKJV).

As we live our lives and interact with the people God has placed in our path, remember we are to be salt and light, not judge, jury, and executioner. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict the world of sin, not ours. We must not look to governments and institutions to solve our problems, we must look inward and pray upward for the strength to change ourselves. God bless you all.

Seek Happiness from Within

Happiness is an inside job. In order to find our happiness, we must shut the door on the clamor that is modern life and seek the peace within ourselves.

Your happiness is squarely on your shoulders. Our happiness is the result of our internal response to external circumstances. Yes, there will be horrible, soul-crushing, darkness which will at times, mask our landscape, but you do not have to stay there. The ancient Greeks had a word, Euthymia, to describe a pleasant, peaceful state of mind. The Stoics, Seneca in particular, preferred the word Tranquility.  The Bible speaks of the peace that transcends all understanding.

In order to bring change to our world, we must do the work ourselves. Don’t look to people, governments, or stuff to make you happy or change your circumstances. Start with you. Seek God’s forgiveness, then make peace with yourself. You can’t change yesterday’s decisions and you can’t worry about tomorrow’s choices. It’s only you and this moment.

Epictetus said, “Regardless of what is going on around you, make the best of what is in your power, and take the rest as it occurs.”

God has equipped all of us, albeit with different talents and skills, but we are all equipped nonetheless. Take the tools you have and build the life you want.

Jesus, Zacchaeus, and the road to Jericho

In our celebrity-obsessed culture, there are news reports, talk shows, magazines, websites, and social media dedicated to celebrity lives. People perceive the wealth and fame of athletes, movie stars, musicians, and people who are simply famous for being famous as glamorous and try to live vicariously through them. The celebrity’s fans put them on a pedestal as if they were an idol, but later become fickle with their support when said celebrity suffers some type of setback in their life or fails to hold their interest because it is on to the newest sensation.

What kind of crowds would Jesus attract today? I suspect He would attract crowds just as He did when He walked the earth- people in need of prayer, deliverance, guidance, healing, and salvation. I also believe Jesus would still encounter skeptics, critics, scorners, scoffers, and people who were simply curious to learn what the fuss was all about. The Gospel of Luke tells the story of one such onlooker, a man named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus’ story is found in Luke 19:1-10.

Jesus was getting ready to pass through Jericho on His way to Jerusalem, where He soon be praised with shouts of “Hosanna,” betrayed, arrested, put on trial, crucified, die, and rise from the dead.

Luke gives us a brief glimpse into Zacchaeus’ background:

“A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.” (Luke 19:2, NIV)

Luke also gives us details in to Zacchaeus’ motivations:

“He [Zacchaeus] wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.” (Luke 19:3-4, NIV).

However, Zacchaeus’ curiosity was about to lead to his salvation. Zacchaeus made a decision to stand out from the crowd and it lead to him being noticed by Jesus.

“When Jesus reached the spot, He looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed Him gladly.” (Luke 19:5-6, NIV).

Luke contrasts Zacchaeus’ actions with the crowd’s reaction:

“All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’” (Luke 19:7, NIV).

In Jesus’ time, tax collectors were judged as being corrupt and sinful. The Roman Empire would employ local men to collect taxes from citizens. Tax collectors such as Zacchaeus and Matthew were Jews by birth and were seen to be traitors, as they collected taxes from their fellow Jews in order to support a pagan government. Some tax collectors would even collect more than the tax amount and pocket the difference for themselves.

How would you respond if Jesus called you out of the crowd by name and wanted to have dinner at your house? Jesus is calling all of us out of the crowd, out of the noise that makes up modern life. Jesus wants our heart. If Jesus calls us, we must respond with our hearts and spirits, for Jesus will transform us as he transformed a short and wealthy tax collector who was despised by his town.

“But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ Jesus said to Him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’” (Luke 19:8-10, NIV).

What is interesting is that the name Zacchaeus means “clean, pure.” At that one moment when Zacchaeus climbed one particular tree on one particular stretch of road, with one encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus repented of his sins, and finally lived up to his name.

The question now becomes what are you “short” on today? Love? Patience? Forgiveness? Character?  Has your life been one long tale of pain, loss, or tragedy? Do you think that you have fallen so far that you will never get up? Are you tormented by sin, fear, or failure? Jesus wants you to seek Him out. It doesn’t matter if you are in a sycamore tree, a cave, a mountain, or a pit, seek Jesus where you are at and salvation will come to your house today. God bless you all.

 

 

The Politics of Jesus

The Lord Jesus Christ is the most influential figure to have ever lived. From His sacrificial death and resurrection to His teachings, billions of lives have been changed. The principles Jesus taught and exemplified have also been sources for great social and personal change. If our salvation in Christ is supposed to influence every aspect of our lives, how does this influence our political beliefs for the upcoming Presidential election?

In this post, we will examine the politics of Jesus. However, I will not make the Lord out to be a card carrying member of any political party nor will I be pushing for any particular agenda or platform. Also, keep in mind that there are no perfect candidates nor are there any perfect elections. This current election cycle has a lot of people holding on to their affiliation’s ideological extremes, perceiving to vote for the lesser of two evils, or just tuning out in general. But if Christians are to vote along biblical principles, what exactly does the life of Jesus illustrate in this regard?

For an examination of how a Christian is to respond biblically to their government, I would encourage you to check out my post, “A Christian’s Civic Duty.” https://triumphantinchrist.wordpress.com/2015/09/19/a-christians-civic-duty/

When Jesus walked the earth, Israel was a territory of the Roman Empire. However, Jesus’ harshest criticism was not directed at Caesar, but against the Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees- the religious leaders of the day. Jesus openly exposed their hypocrisy in placing barriers in front of so many people, while neglecting the teaching of the most important aspects of the Law. Jesus came to earth to die for our sins; He did not seek to start a theocracy. Jesus’ kingdom was as He said, “Not of this world.” Jesus also downplayed the political ramifications of Him being the Messiah. In the Old Testament prophecies, there are no clear distinctions as to the verses that mark the first and second coming of the Messiah. Many people believed the conquering Messiah would come first and overthrow Rome, when the suffering Messiah came first.

Political power can corrupt, but Jesus could not be swayed by the allure of political power. Jesus emphasized devotion to God over allegiance to worldly things and agendas. Jesus crossed cultural barriers, as the Gospels record Him ministering to Gentiles. Jesus also elevated the status of women, as with the examples of the Samaratian woman at the well, the woman with the issue of blood, and the woman who anointed Him with the alabaster jar of perfume. Jesus also welcomed and cared for children.

Jesus also ran social programs, as He feed the hungry, treated the disabled, the sick, and the mentally ill. Jesus believed that we should love and treat each person with dignity and respect. Jesus emphasized blessing (speaking well of) our enemies, or those who seek to criticize us. Jesus broke down social conventions and man-made traditions to reach people with the Gospel or healing. Jesus reached out to those who were cast off by society- prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors, the possessed, and other “sinners.” Jesus also taught fulfilling our civic duty and pay taxes to our earthly government. Jesus’s teachings and deeds are vast, and as John put it, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” (John 21:25, KJV).

Who or what you vote for is between you and God. I just want to emphasize that as Christians, we must be spiritually discerning of the things that go on inside and outside of the church. We must not be swayed by false promises or fear-inducing rhetoric. We must no longer demonize our political opponents or those whose life choices are different from ours. Jesus taught us to love and forgive all people as He has loved and forgiven us. As this election nears, let us all pray for God’s will to be done and that He would give us the wisdom to go forward. God bless you all.