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 – Mary

As I read the Christmas story looking at Mary the thing that most impressed me about her was that she served Elizabeth for three months.  However they were related, it was important for Mary to share this time with her friend and relative. (I do wonder if part of the reason for this visit was not to strengthen her faith for what lay ahead of her.)mary-and-elizabeth

The Cost

This trip came at a cost.  It was the first of four times that she would go between Nazareth and the land of Judah in nine months.  It is approximately eighty to ninety miles and she probably did the first two on foot; that would have been about a week’s worth of walking.  The journey took her through many of the historical sites of Israel and through Jerusalem.  Just walking would have been hard enough, even though she was young, but there were also the chemical changes going on inside her.  Another cost was her reputation!  She left Nazareth not showing that she was pregnant and came back with a three-month baby bump, you know tongues were wagging.   Joseph considered divorce.  Being stoned to death was a possibility. Just a little pressure for saying YES to God.

Mary and Gabriel

Mary was greatly troubled.  I don’t really blame her.  Suddenly there is a man in your room and he is happily greeting you saying you are highly favored of the Lord.  “Greatly troubled” is diatarasso it is used once in the New Testament and gives the idea she was very upset. When “greeting” is used elsewhere in Luke it is aspasmos which is just the concept of saying hello.   It seems that the entire conversation may not have been recorded but it would seem likely that Gabriel introduced himself as he did with Zechariah.

Mary had heard the Scriptures, she knew like every other virgin of the family of David that she was a candidate to carry the Messiah.  Now it was happening to HER!  Luke 3:31 cropped-jesus-2.jpgputs her in a branch of the family that came through Nathan and the only connection to the “kingly line” was with Zerubbabel and Shealtiel.  The greeting sounded like the one given to Gideon (Judges 6:12), who also had family trouble because he accepted the task he was given.

Pondering

Mary was a reflective person who considered her place in history by what God had given her to do.  In Luke 2: 19 she is “treasuring all of these happenings and pondering them.”  She would have been the only source of these happenings for Luke and Matthew.

Her song of praise in 1:46 showed a lot of thought and awareness of Scripture and the events of her time.  I think the week-long walk may have helped the composing of her song.

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

Christmas Characters – Zechariah

Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, has two scenes in the first chapter of Luke but is still important in the life and mission of Jesus.  The good doctor Luke begins the Christmas story with him.  Not just as the father of John but as a time reference.  He is performing the priestly duties of the division of Abijah during the time of Herod.  We really are not sure when this was but Theophilus could have figured it out.

David in 1 Chronicles 24 assigned the two priestly families months when they would serve at the Tabernacle.  (For a small discussion of the families go to Samuel – Priest.)  These assignments would have held until the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem by the Babylonians.   This concept is applied again by Nehemiah when he was governor (12:17).  Abijah is one of the four names that are in both lists.

There are some loose comparisons between Zechariah and Abraham, but the notable difference is that he did not believe the news about a child being born.  Just for fun I reviewed the writings of the Prophet Zechariah and found a few light comparisons; mostly that the prophet also had angelic visits.  Zechariah’s (father of John) prophesy in Luke 1: 67 – 79 does carry some of the themes in the Book of Zechariah.

The fear Zechariah had while burning the incense (Exodus 30) possibly came from the incense_stickthought that he had done something wrong and was not worthy to be performing that duty. This fear started with the death of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10 and Korah’s rebellion in Numbers 16.  I have read in a variety of places that the priest would have a rope tied to his ankle just in case he messed up and was struck down behind the curtain.

His reaction to Gabriel’s heavenly message was just one of unbelief, not a happy surprise; he challenged the reality that it would happen.  There could be many reasons for Gabriel stopping Zechariah from speaking, but stopping the spread of his doubt seems the best.  Also, his total silence for nine months adds to the importance of his real inclusion in this story, the birth of John.  The other three Gospels include John and his mission, but it is interesting that the only non-Jewish writer included the miracles and signs associated with his birth.

Nine months of silence and a visit from Mary prepared Zachariah for his final scene in birth-of-johnLuke when he confirmed the angelic message by naming his child John.  He joined the small group of people who are recorded in the pre-Pentecost time as having been filled with the Holy Spirit.  It is worthy to note that his prophesy started with the news of Jesus and then went to his son John.  That part of his utterance carries the words of Gabriel and Malachi 3:1.

Besides fathering John, Zachariah was the link to the priesthood informing them that something great was about to happen!  They choose not to accept!

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incense