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Welcome to the New Testament! Back in Lesson 2, we grouped all the books of the Bible into eight periods. Here in the New Testament, we’re going to be covering the last two of those periods which are:
Now as we begin the New Testament, we come across an interesting situation. The first four books—known as the four Gospels—are all talking about the same thing. We ran across a similar situation in the Old Testament where the Samuel-Kings miniseries overlapped with the Chronicles series. Whenever we come across multiple books that are covering the same period of history, we need to combine them to get the best picture of what is going on. Today several attempts have been made to combine or “harmonize” the four Gospel books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If you look for “a harmony of the Gospels” online, you’ll find some examples.
Now harmonizing the Gospel books is much more difficult than harmonizing the Samuel-Kings and Chronicles series. Even though our two Old Testament series covered centuries of history and the Gospels only cover about three decades, in the Old Testament we had the reigns of many kings to keep us organized. We could tell where we were at by who was listed as being on the throne at the time the events took place. Here in the Gospels, things are murkier. We have four authors scrutinizing the life of one Man: Jesus. They pay special attention to the last three years of His life, during which Jesus roamed all over the countryside teaching and mingling with people. But despite the short period of time they are focusing on, we find a lot of disagreement about the order in which certain events happened.
Suppose you were asked to jot down a chronological summary of everything you did in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Suppose you were asked to recall important conversations that you had, surprising things that you witnessed, and places you went with friends and family. Where do you even start? The passing of time makes our memories fuzzy.
Suppose you had a grandmother who was a movie star. Because of her occupation, many people wrote about her. After she dies, you decide to write the story of her life. Wouldn’t you want to read up on all the material other people had written down about her to help jog your memory about the past? It was the same with our Gospel writers. Only two of them—Matthew and John—traveled around with Jesus in His band of twelve disciples. These two men had firsthand experience with Jesus, yet when it came to writing a biography about Him, they relied on documents that other people had written to help jog their memories. None of the Gospel writers are telling us everything from an eye witness point of view, because they didn’t personally witness all of the events that they describe. For example, we find Matthew describing the Transfiguration in Matthew 17. He wasn’t present for that event—it was a private moment between Jesus, John, James, and Peter. How can Matthew tell us details about an event he never saw firsthand? Clearly he has to be sharing the story that he heard from Peter, James or John.
All four Gospels writers relied heavily on secondhand accounts and other people’s memories to fill in the gaps of their stories. Even though they were there, Matthew and John couldn’t remember every little thing, especially when they wrote their books so long after Jesus’ departure. Jesus left about 33 AD. It’s estimated that Matthew, Mark and Luke were written around 60 AD while John wasn’t written until around 85-90 AD. How good are you at remembering events from 30 or 60 years ago? It’s good for us to have a realistic idea of what we’re reading when we go through the Gospels. These are summaries which are pulling from a variety of sources: personal memories, other people’s memories, oral traditions, and other documents that are floating about at the time.
Out of His core group of 12 disciples, Jesus especially favored three men: Peter, and the brothers John and James. The John who wrote the Gospel of John was the John who Jesus favored. He is the same John who wrote Revelation, as well as the letters 1, 2, and 3 John.
Matthew (aka Levi) was a Jewish tax collector who Jesus called to become one of His twelve disciples.
Mark is assumed to be the John Mark that we find mentioned in the book of Acts. He was well acquainted with Peter and Paul. Because of his association with Peter, many assume that Mark got most of his material from Peter’s memory banks. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest, and since we find more than 90% of it being used by Matthew and 50% being used by Luke, many think Mark wrote his Gospel first and the others relied on it as a main reference.
Luke was a doctor and a main traveling companion of the apostle Paul. The popular tradition in the Church is that Luke was a Gentile, however this claim has no real substantiation. You need to be guarded against just going along with popular traditions in the Church, for many of our popular stories—such as the prophet Isaiah being sawed in half and Peter being crucified upside down—are nothing more than rumors which were started by people who had a thirst for drama.
Each Gospel writer gives a unique opening statement. Luke introduces his book as a personal letter to a friend named Theophilus. He confirms to us that there were many documents floating around about Jesus at the time he writes his Gospel.
Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us. It also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in an orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed. (Luke 1:1-4)
Luke’s mission is a personal one: he wants to help his friend feel justified in his beliefs. Clearly Theophilus has already been exposed to the Gospel message. Now Luke wants to help his friend feel confirmed in putting his faith in such a fantastic story.
While Luke talks to his friend, John takes a more poetic approach. He comes up with an alternate title for Jesus which meant something very different to the Jews than it does to us today: the Word.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created. Life was in Him, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)
As famous as this passage has become, it’s also been used to support many absurd theories. First, because Christians today call the Bible “The Word of God”, some try to say that Jesus is the Bible, or that the Bible was in Heaven. Well, no, this isn’t what John meant. From the Jewish perspective, Jesus fulfilled many ancient prophecies that had been spoken by Yahweh. In the Old Testament, “the word of God” simply meant a message from Yahweh. Usually “words of God” were delivered through human prophets.
Now we know that until Jesus came, Yahweh claimed to be the only real God in existence. John and all the other New Testament writers grew up under the Old Covenant, which meant they grew up worshiping one God—Yahweh. Yahweh hasn’t gone anywhere in the New Testament, He is still God, and when the Jews refer to “God” in the New Testament, 99% of the time they are referring to Yahweh. On much rarer occasions, they use the term God to confirm the Divine Nature of Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Let’s do some word substitutions to get a better idea of what John is saying here:
In the beginning was Jesus and Jesus was with Yahweh, and Jesus was God. Jesus was with Yahweh in the beginning. All things were created through Jesus, and apart from Jesus not one thing was created that has been created. Life was in Jesus, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)
John’s poetic language often results in confusion. In this short paragraph, he is making the following points:
- Jesus (aka “The Word”) fulfilled many of Yahweh’s prophetic words.
- Jesus is God.
- Jesus has always been God along with Yahweh.
- Jesus and Yahweh created everything that exists as a Team—neither One created alone.
When we get away from the poetry and the generic title of God, John’s points become much more clear. But because Christians are taught to think that our three Creators are one Entity (the Trinity), this passage is widely misinterpreted as saying Jesus was Yahweh. Well, no, this isn’t what John is saying. He uses “God” as an alternate title for Yahweh as well as a reference to Jesus’ Divine Nature. Confusing? Yes, and when we read these passages through the filter of wrong teaching, we miss what is actually being said.
Let’s look at more language that John uses which confirms his understanding that Jesus was a second God.
The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son—the One who is at the Father’s side—He has revealed Him. (John 1:18)
Now let’s substitute specific names so we can follow what John is saying.
Jesus became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed Jesus’ glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from Yahweh, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
No one has ever seen Yahweh. Jesus—the One who is at Yahweh’s side—Jesus has revealed Yahweh. (John 1:18)
Now just because John is an apostle doesn’t mean you should accept every claim he makes about our Gods. John has a very strange idea that no one has ever seen Yahweh—he says this here and he’ll say it again in 1 John 4:12. Yet we know from going through our Old Testament that plenty of people have seen Yahweh. Adam, Isaiah, Job, Moses, Ezekiel, Daniel, Abraham—these are just some of the men who Yahweh personally appeared to in the Old Testament. So it’s ludicrous for John to claim that no one has ever seen Yahweh, yet today many Christians just accept this claim without even questioning it. You need to question. The thrill of realizing they’d been walking around with God on earth for three years got men like John extremely excited. But is it really accurate to say that Jesus showed us exactly what our Gods are like? Of course not. Our Creators are not human beings. When John says that Jesus “became flesh”, he’s just telling us what his eyes saw. Let’s not read too much into that statement. Today some Christians put forth the ridiculous notion that Jesus was literally a human being while He was on earth, and that He was somehow less than God during that time. Of course He wasn’t. Jesus has always been fully God, and our Gods can appear to us in any form They want. By now we’ve learned that demons can appear as the ghosts of dead people, trolls, elves, fairies, and a million other things. Once you’re dealing with a creature who can shapeshift around, how can you ever say that you know what he really looks like? So also, we are being foolish when we say that Jesus showed us exactly what our Creators look like. No, He didn’t. He came in a form that we could relate to. If we were rock creatures, He would have come as a rock. If we were fish, He would have come as a fish. But we’re humans, so He came as a human. Throughout history, plenty of people have seen God, yet still none of us have any idea as to what God actually looks like.
So then, Luke is writing to a friend and John is being poetic. What about Matthew and Mark? Matthew doesn’t bother with any pleasantries—he dives right in with a genealogy. The Jews loved their genealogies because ancestry was a big deal to them. Matthew wants to prove to other Jews that Jesus is a descendant of David, for this was one of the key features that Yahweh predicted His Messiah would have. But of course Jesus isn’t really the descendant of any human because Jesus is God. What Matthew’s really trying to argue is that Jesus’ earthsuit was genetically related to King David. But the genealogy he puts forth is tracing Joseph’s ancestry, and we know that Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father. Mary is the one we need a genealogy for if anything is going to be proven, but no one gives us that information. Either no one knew Mary’s lineage, or she had the wrong lineage so they didn’t bother to bring it up. Either way, it’s quite interesting to realize that when Jesus is called “the Lion from the Tribe of Judah”, we’re really not basing that title on historical fact (see JESUS: The Illegitimate Lion of Judah).
Very little is known about the first thirty years of Jesus’ life. Luke and Matthew both try to give us something about those years, while Mark and John don’t bother. Mark and John both start their narratives with Jesus getting baptized by John the Baptist, and that doesn’t happen until Jesus is about 30 years old. So we’ll have to set Mark and John aside for a bit while we learn about Jesus’ birth and early years.
The dates people used in Bible times were not the same as the dates we use today. Today we base our dating system around the birth of Christ. The year He was born is called 0 A.D. We count up from zero in both directions as we move forward and backward from Jesus’ birth. When we are talking about pre-Christ history, we put BC (“Before Christ”) before the year number. When we’re talking about post-Christ history, we write AD (“Anno Domini”—Latin for “the year of our Lord”) after the year number. So this post is being written in 2014 AD, which is 2,014 years after the birth of Christ.
Now because the world hates God, the BC/AD system is currently being changed over to a BCE/CE system. No one wants that “C” to stand for Christ. (How pathetic is this?) So now people say “Before the Common Era” and “the Common Era”. Stupid? Yes, and this desperate need to scrub references to God out of our dating system is just one more reason we should all be applauding when God starts ripping this world apart with His wrath during the end times. With so much evidence of willful rebellion all around us, we can hardly call God unfair for being fed up with the human race.
Now there are many theories about how long the earth has been in existence. On this site, we favor the theory that the Old Testament covered a timeframe of about 4,000 years. That means God did everything from Adam to Malachi in a short 4,000 years. But once people rule out an intelligent Creator and they need everything to happen by molecules randomly colliding with each other, a lot more time is needed. Of course no amount of time could possibly be enough to give credibility to the lunacy of the Theory of Evolution, yet because this theory is being force fed to everyone, you’ll hear references to millions and billions of years in mainstream historical and scientific works today. No, humans really haven’t been around for that long. This earth is far younger than scientists want to believe. Using a more sane dating system, let’s quickly review the history we’ve covered so far.
Giving exact dates to Jesus’ early life is not possible. It used to be thought that He was born in 0-1 BC. Now some say He was born later, while others earlier. The bottom line is that no one really knows, nor does it matter to us. In our study, we’re going to track which Roman Caesar (emperor) was in power as the New Testament unfolds, and we’ll also note any key figures like Herod who play a significant role in New Testament history.
THE BIRTH OF A PROPHET
Now the first miraculous birth we’re told about is not Jesus’, but that of John the Baptist. John’s father is a priest named Zacharias (aka Zechariah). He has a wife named Elizabeth who is barren. To be barren is a major grief to the ancient Jews. Even though she can’t help her condition, Elizabeth feels like a disgrace to her people.
Now in these times there are many priests available—far more than are actually needed. So they are divided up into groups and a lottery system is set up to give different men a turn at actually entering into the sacred rooms of the Temple to offer a special incense offering to Yahweh. In Luke 1, Zacharias is standing in the Holy Place burning incense on the incense altar.
Back in Lesson 6, we learned about the Holy Place and the special activities that went on inside of it. Well, Zacharias is busy with his incense offering when suddenly an angel appears beside the altar. What a shock! Zacharias is terrified.
The angel then says:
“Zacharias, don’t be afraid. Yahweh has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give birth to a son, and you will name him John. He will bring you joy and gladness, and many people will be happy because of his birth. John will be a great man for Yahweh. He will never drink wine or beer, and even from birth, he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will help many people of Israel return to Yahweh their God. He will go before the Lord in spirit and power like Elijah. He will make peace between parents and their children and will bring those who are not obeying God back to the right way of thinking, to make a people ready for the coming of the Lord.” (Luke 1:13-17)
What awesome news! Let’s remember that this terrifying angel just appeared out of thin air in a place that is off limits to anyone but qualified priests. There’s no way he just snuck in the doorway—this is clearly a miracle. The angel is bringing thrilling news about Zacharias having a son, plus his message is focused on Yahweh being exalted. What an awesome moment! And yet instead of smiling, Zacharias shocks us with a rather brazen display of doubt.
Zacharias said to the angel, “How can I know that what you say is true? I am an old man, and my wife is old, too.” (Luke 1:18)
Really?? Zacharias is a priest—he knows his Old Testament. He should be having a flashback of Abraham and Sarah right about now, but instead he’s pretending like age is too much of an obstacle for the Almighty Yahweh to overcome. The angel is understandably annoyed.
The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the Presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and tell you this good news. Now listen! You will become silent and unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.” (Luke 1:19-20)
Well, Zacharias wanted confirmation, now he has it. A miraculous muting of this doubting priest is the sign that Yahweh gives to confirm that His prophecy will come true. When Zacharias finally comes out of the Holy Place to greet the people who are waiting for him, there’s a confusing game of charades as he tries to explain what just happened. Let’s see…what hand motions do you use to describe an angel showing up beside the incense altar?
Now we’ve met this Gabriel angel before back in the book of Daniel (see Angels in the Book of Daniel). By sending a familiar angelic figure, Yahweh is helping to boost Zacharias’ faith. But nothing is so effective as Elizabeth showing signs of pregnancy, which she does shortly thereafter.
THE BIRTH OF A MESSIAH
Now Gabriel is a busy guy. A little while after meeting with Zacharias, he shows up in a city called Nazareth which is located in northern Israel in a region called Galilee. There he finds a virgin woman who is engaged to be married. Her name is Mary. Mary is also quite surprised when Gabriel shows up, but her heart attitude is much more pleasing to God. When Gabriel announces that she is going to conceive a son, and she asks how it could be, God is much more patient and glad to provide more information.
Let’s look at the language Gabriel uses in his greeting to Mary.
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with Yahweh. Now listen: you will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will call His Name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord Yahweh will give Him the throne of His father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” (Luke 1:30-33)
Notice the reference to Jesus’ father being David. The Jews used the term “father” as a synonym for “ancestor.” Since every human alive today can trace their ancestry back to Noah, we could call Noah your father. We could also say that Adam was your father, since you descend from him as well.
In the Old Testament, Yahweh made it no secret that David was one of His favorites. He also predicted many times that His Messiah (Jesus) would be a descendant of David. This is a prophecy which appeared to be fulfilled in the eyes of the Jews because they all believed that Joseph was Jesus’ biological father, and Joseph’s family had records to prove he was a descendant of David. Knowing who your ancestors were was very important to the Jews, so families kept special records. Here in Luke, the angel Gabriel is intentionally reminding Mary of Messianic prophecies by saying that Yahweh will give her Son the throne of David. Here’s another prophecy which we really have to stretch to see the fulfillment of, for Jesus never sat on an earthly throne, nor was He ever considered a to be a king. He had no earthly kingdom. Yahweh is being more than a little figurative when He goes on and on about Jesus ruling over the house of Jacob forever.
GOD’S PROPHETIC STYLE
Today Christians love to make lists of all the Old Testament prophecies that Jesus fulfilled. But while we’re busy flaunting the fact that our Gods know the future, we really resist being honest about how misleading God’s prophecies actually are. This isn’t good. If we really want to experience intimate communion with our Creators we need to be honest—totally honest. And if we’re being totally honest, we have to admit that God’s idea of fulfilling a prophecy often sounds like a bunch of baloney to us.
Suppose you have a child who is deathly ill and you are beside yourself with grief. You pray desperately for God to heal your boy. Finally, God speaks. In a vivid dream, He tells you “Let go of all this fear and rest, for I will certainly heal your child.” A glorious wave of relief washes over you. Suddenly you have hope, and that hope becomes your lifeline during the next two terrible years of watching your child waste away in anguish. You keep holding on, confident of God’s promise. You constantly assure your child that God will keep His promise because He is always faithful. Then one morning you wake up and find your child lying dead in his bed. He died sometime during the night. He is gone. What?! Enraged, you scream at God for an explanation but the only answer you receive is, “I kept My promise. I delivered your child from all of his misery when I took him home with Me.” Would you find this a satisfying explanation? Not hardly! As far as you’re concerned, God lied His face off. He intentionally filled you and your child with false hopes. If God were to put you through this kind of experience in real life, your trust in His so-called promises would be destroyed. No matter what God said to you after that, you wouldn’t be able to put your full weight down on His words.
Now in real life, plenty of Christians have gone through very similar experiences with God—times when He prophesied specific things in their future, only to later bring about fulfillments that left much to be desired. It’s the same with many of Yahweh’s Messianic prophecies—their “fulfillments” are so metaphorical that it almost makes a joke out of the entire concept of prophecy. For example:
- Yahweh said His Messiah would be a descendant of David. In real life, Jesus only appeared to be a descendant of David to people who assumed Joseph was His biological father.
- Gabriel tells Mary that Yahweh will give Jesus the throne of David. In real life, Yahweh never gave Jesus any earthly throne. He was never a legitimate king in the eyes of the Jews or anyone else.
- Yahweh said His Messiah’s kingdom would be eternal. In real life, Jesus’ heavenly kingdom is eternal—but we all know that no one was thinking of a heavenly kingdom when Yahweh used this term.
- Yahweh said His Messiah would rule specifically over Israel—the descendants (or “house”) of Jacob. No, He doesn’t. As God, Jesus rules over everyone and everything. Now Israel was the name for God’s chosen people in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, all followers of Christ become the new metaphorical “Israel”. If we stretch our imaginations, we can say that Christ is the eternal King over a heavenly kingdom of believers which is the new metaphorical Israel. But this is quite a leap, isn’t it? And it’s hardly accurate, because Christ’s kingdom also includes the residents of Hell, the angelic creatures, and everything else that exists. Christ is hardly just the King of Israel.
While Yahweh will certainly say that He fulfilled His Messianic prophecies, we need to take a hard look at what He considers to be sufficient fulfillment and learn the lessons God wants to teach us about His communication style. “Straightforward and literal” are not two words we’d want to use to describe our Gods’ prophecies or promises. They can certainly be precise when They want to be—like when Jesus predicted He would come back from the dead in three days. But most of the time, They are very figurative and They intentionally word Their promises in ways that will raise a whole lot of false hopes in the minds of Their original audiences. In the New Testament, Jesus kept telling His followers that He’d be coming back soon. Yeah, right. In the Old Testament, Yahweh always talked as if His Messiah was just around the corner, when in reality He knew He was predicting Jesus’ birth centuries in advance. Poor Isaiah had no idea that he was living 700 years before the Messiah would be born. In his lifetime, Israel was a divided, warring kingdom. She was filled with idolatry and evil. Isaiah saw both good and evil kings come and go, but none of them came close to being the great Messiah. When you spend so much time prophesying about a King who never shows up, it’s hard not to start questioning yourself and God.
So what can we learn from this? Disillusionment is part of the journey. If you’re going to end up close to God, you’re going to have to go through your share of faith crises, theological dilemmas, and intense seasons of doubt. There’s nothing smooth about developing deep trust in three Beings who like to speak in impossible riddles. A very common misconception among Christians is that doubt should be viewed as a spiritual flaw. No, it shouldn’t. Those who never doubt are living in bubbles of blindness. You can’t avoid feeling uncomfortable, uncertain, and downright alarmed when you are forced to deal with God’s wild side. So if you’ve had God shirk on one of His promises to you, or if God has just pulled some stunt in your life that’s left you wondering if maybe the whole Christian package is just a bunch of hooey, don’t consider yourself a lost cause. Be honest about your doubts and ask God to make you certain of what is true. Only the souls who are willing to be honest about God’s nonsensical side will make it the whole way with Him (see Faith in Crisis: How to Grow Through the Storm).
BACK TO GABRIEL AND MARY
As Gabriel finishes his conversation with Mary, he reveals that Elizabeth is already six months into her pregnancy with John the Baptist. Mary and Elizabeth are cousins, which means Jesus and John the Baptist will be cousins as well. When Mary asks how she will have a son in her virgin state, Gabriel explains the Holy Spirit is going to miraculously create a child within her.
The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of Yahweh.” (Luke 1:35)
We’re still under the Old Covenant here, and in Mary’s Jewish mind, the Holy Spirit is another name for Yahweh. What she’s hearing is that Yahweh Himself is going to do something miraculous to her body. Wow. This is all new territory, but when Gabriel reminds her that nothing is impossible for Yahweh, Mary boldly answers:
“I am Yahweh’s slave. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
What a beautiful answer! This is the kind of wholehearted submission that our Gods want from us today: “I am Your slave. Have Your total way in my life.” We can certainly see why Yahweh was pleased to pick young Mary for this important assignment—she has the right heart attitude.
What’s really special about this situation is that Yahweh has fixed it so that young Mary will have some support in her most difficult situation. According to Yahweh’s Law, a woman who got caught sleeping around was to be publicly executed. When Mary turns up pregnant, are her neighbors going to believe her crazy testimony? “I didn’t have sex with anyone. God got me pregnant.” Right. How many Christians today would believe such a story, even though God has already proven to us that such a thing is possible? How hasty would we be to mock and scoff and accuse the woman of being a blasphemous liar? Mary knows she could get in big trouble once she starts showing. She’s got about three months before things get obvious, and Elizabeth only has about three months left before she gives birth to John. In that brief period, Mary rushes over to see her older cousin and Elizabeth immediately showers her with affirmation and encouragement. She even reports feeling little John the Baptist leap with excitement in her womb as soon as Mary comes into view. What a relief for Mary.
JOHN THE BAPTIST IS BORN
Now while Mary is anxiously waiting for her stomach to grow large, Elizabeth gives birth to her first child. She’s ecstatic. Zacharias is ecstatic as well, only God’s still disciplining him with muteness. God wants to see Zacharias publicly honor Him before He gives Zacharias his speech back. That opportunity comes on the eighth day of John’s life. It’s time to circumcise and name the little bundle, and the relatives are all gathered around. Naturally everyone assumes the boy will be named after his father. But Elizabeth follows the angel’s instructions and says her son will be named John. An argument breaks out as the relatives say she can’t name him John. Um, hello, whose child is this again? Finally people turn to mute Zacharias to resolve the argument. Finding a tablet, Zacharias writes, “His name is John.” Well, it’s about time. Satisfied with Zacharias’ public display of obedience, Yahweh instantly returns the priest’s speech and everyone is amazed once more. We’re told that news of these events spreads far and wide and suddenly everyone is wondering what kind of man this little John will grow up to be.
Meanwhile, back in Nazareth, Mary’s fiancé Joseph finds out some crushing news: she’s pregnant. What a blow to his pride and his heart. How crushing to think that Mary has been cheating on him when he was so looking forward to marrying her. He has every right to turn her over to the authorities, but he loves her too much. So he starts trying to work out a scheme by which he can help her quietly slip out of town and live somewhere else. This is seriously depressing. And it’s not until AFTER Joseph goes through all of this anguish and planning that an angel finally appears to him in a dream at night.
“Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:20-21)
Now how many men would wake up from a dream like this and have the faith to believe what God has told them? Joseph immediately goes into action, taking Mary as his wife and staying loyally by her side as she goes through her most unusual pregnancy. Now in Bible times, to get married meant to have sex. But Joseph decides to keep a reverential distance from this most unusual situation and doesn’t sleep with Mary until after she gives birth to her very special child. What a classy guy. We like Joseph.
Mary is still pregnant when word comes down from Caesar Augustus that “a census be taken of all the inhabited earth” (Lk. 2:1). Clearly Augustus has a rather exaggerated idea about how large his empire is, but for Joseph this means having to haul his very pregnant wife all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where all the descendants of David had to register. Talk about bad timing. In our next lesson, we’ll find out how long of a trek this was and we’ll learn about some extraordinary events that take place when baby Jesus suddenly decides that He is ready to meet the world.
UP NEXT: Know Your Bible Lesson 44: Jesus – The Early Years
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