Christmas Characters – Matthew and Luke

No, I have not lost my mind!  Yes, I do read my Bible.  The reason I wanted to include these two Gospel writers is that they took the time to listen to Mary and record her “ponderings.”  These two men had different audiences so their approach to the story is slightly different – Thank God.  Matthew wrote for a Jewish-Christian audience while Luke was writing for Greeks.   Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:22 that Jews want signs and Greeks want knowledge.  I think Matthew and Luke go against this thought (a little) in their writing of the Christmas story.  Matthew lays a very solid fountain built on the Scripture and tradition while Luke gives sign after sign in his story.

Matthew

Matthew connects immediately to his Jewish readers by introducing Jesus as the son of David.  He does this by using three sets of fourteen names.  The name David, using the numerical values of the letters, adds up to fourteen (nun); a very knowledgeable connection to draw his readers into his story. Using the three sets of fourteen makes this family, and brings his readers to the idea that a new age is ready to begin.  The first set is made up of patriarchs, the second set is the kings of Israel and ends with the fall of Jerusalem, the final set begins with the governor of Jerusalem and then goes to “citizens” who do not show up anywhere else in history.  He also uses four mothers in the genealogy something that was not usually done, actually five since we need to include Mary.  This genealogy is really Joseph’s family tree since it comes through Solomon and not Nathan.

Matthew uses the reader’s knowledge of their history to firmly plant Mary and Jesus as acceptable additions into this sorted family tree. Tamar was a scorned woman who resorted to trickery in order to bear children.  Rahab was an innkeeper/prostitute who hid the spies from Joshua son of Nun and later married into the royal lineage.  Faithful Ruth was a Moabite, she should not have been allowed near the Tent of Meeting because of the Balaam incident.  Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, really stirred the pot because of how David took her as his wife.  So using the groups of fourteen names was a very scholarly approach on Matthew’s part to show the less than spotless lineage from David and so the humanity of Jesus.

Angel and Dreams

Joseph is the center of attention here as he had several dreams, with angels in them, to lead and protect his new family.  These would have connected his readers to the prophets and leaders of old, putting Joseph in a very elite company of people.

Magi and Herod

The Magi or Wise Men had knowledge of the stars and the sign they saw was enough to set them on a very long journey.  (God used the three gifts to supply the little family while they were in Egypt.)  When they got to Herod he had the priest supply a place to look for the King by searching the scrolls.  Matthew shows his knowledge of Scriptures by quoting Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and Hosea in his telling of the birth of Jesus.

Luke

Luke starts with the signs and wonders right away.  An angel in the Temple, a mute priest, an older barren woman, now pregnant; that was to just get an “Elijah” to prepare the way of the Lord.  The answered plea of Zechariah and Elizabeth also reflect the nation of Israel as they were seeking redemption from the Romans.  The signs continue as baby John jumps in the womb because Jesus came into the room and Zechariah speaks after he shows his faith.  After Jesus’ birth angels sing to shepherds and people prophesying about Jesus when He is in the Temple fulfilling the Law for His birth.  Luke certainly used the parables of Jesus to satisfy the Greek hunger of knowledge, but he started his story with an impressive list of signs.

Suggest reading: Joy to the World by Scott Hahn

Christmas Characters – Elizabeth

Elizabeth is a special person who does not get the recognition she deserves.  She is a model of the godly woman.  She loved God, and was faithful to her husband, relatives, and friends; she was learned and responsive to the Holy Spirit.  Zechariah being a priest had to marry a “descendant of Aaron” (Leviticus 21: 14).  Like Hannah (Samuel’s mother) and Sarai she endured the “disgrace” of not having children; like Hannah, she must have spent time praying about this situation.

Imagine the day Zachariah finally got home from his required time at the Temple.  Her husband could not speak (and possibly not hear).  Had he written down the story?  Did he have to write it out in front of her?  How many times did she poke, stick, and scared him to test his condition?  That we don’t know, but her response to God was simply, YES and THANK YOU.

Her going into seclusion for five months was actually good for her and the baby.  A legend about John was he did not move until Mary greeted Elizabeth in Luke 1: 41. But we do know she was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied.  Her word to Mary was directed at settling her anxious thoughts by confirming the angel’s word.  Her strength, knowledge, and courage showed up eight days after the baby came.  She still had a husband that was notmary-and-elizabeth talking, a baby demanding her time, and a house full of people who were about to cut her son.  On top of that, they were arguing with her about the name of her son.  Something I came to notice during this study, she did all of this and she was the only person that did not have a visit from Gabriel.  Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds all got an angelic visit.  God knew Elizabeth and knew that she would go on the word of her husband and her faith in Him.

This fact is still interesting – a descendant of Aaron had a relative from the house of Judah.  They were close enough that Elizabeth welcomed her and let her stay for about three months.  The family ties were solid enough that Gabriel used Elizabeth to build faith in Mary.

pic – http://www.freebibleimages.org/illustrations/

Christmas – Two Questions

Christmas – Two Questions

“How can I be sure of this?  I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” – Zechariah (Luke 1:18)

“How can this be, since I am­­ a virgin?” – Mary (Luke 1:34)

Two visits from the angel Gabriel, two “fear nots”, two explanations, two questions, and two different human responses are the start of the Christmas story.  The first chapter of Luke introduces us to Zechariah and Mary and how both got news about babies from the angel Gabriel.  Zechariah’s news comes as response from prayer, but you get the idea that it did not show up when he expected it too.  In fact it seems many years late according to Zechariah.  Mary’s news is completely unexpected, a little troubling, but received by a willing heart.

After some struggling with these two stories, some underlining, and looking up some words I am going to try and write this blog and what may seem an unfair situation. It took me a while to understand that Father God had His timetable and His will was carried out for both Zechariah and Mary.

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had prayed for a child, God had heard that prayer and was answering it, but not according to human thinking. (Mary was not ready, who knows she may not have even been born when they were praying for a child.)  Zechariah got the news of a lifetime, in the Holy of Holies, from an angel that startled and caused fear in the old man.  His response of unbelief is reflected in his question and probably in body language but it had to be in his heart as well.  So even though he was silenced for nine months Father God still used him and answered the pray. In my thinking Zechariah was treated unfairly until I studied Mary’s part of the story.

Both, Zechariah and Mary’s story are very similar.  Gabriel introduces himself and both Nativity_Scenes002get a “fear not.”  Both are told they will have a baby and are given some explanation, and then both ask their question.  The difference with Mary is that she gladly accepted the news (vs. 38).  The terms that help put light on this was “highly favored” (charitoo) and “favor” (charis).  According to my Strong’s/Vine’s Concordance favor is a gift from the “giver’ of the favor but needs to be received with thanksgiving.  I think it would have been a different story for Zechariah if he had praised and thanked God for the news before he asked his question.

The term charitoo is used only twice in the New Testament here with Mary and then again in Ephesians 1:6.  In Ephesians it is in connection with “us” being adopted as sons so that we can receive “every spiritual blessing.”  I find no mistake that charitoo is in the same verse as the words grace and praise.  Here it is translated as “freely given.”  The concordance adds an interesting note for the Ephesians verse; they note that “grace is a free gift” while “favor may be deserved or gained.”

My personal take away now is there is a big difference between answered prayer and favor.  I hope that I can be like Mary and Elizabeth (vs. 25) and praise God with a thankful heart for the things that show up in my life.

Pic.  http://clipart.christiansunite.com/