Saturday, December 22, 2007

Third Pass at This Sunday's Bible Lessons (December 23, 2007)

(General Comments, continued)

(11) Matthew 1:18-25: Matthew's Gospel opens (1:1-17) with a geneaology, tracing the fourteen generations from Abraham, patriarch of Biblical faith, to David, Israel's greatest king, and then from David to Jesus, who though not descended from human parents in the usual way, was placed under the custodial parentage of Joseph in the town of Nazareth.

After this, comes our Bible lesson.

(12) Only the Gospels of Matthew and Luke give accounts of Jesus' birth. Luke does so, largely, from the perspective of Jesus' earthly mother, Mary. Matthew, on the other hand, tells it from the vantage point of Joseph.

Verse-by-Verse Comments: Matthew 1:18-25 18Now 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.
(1) The term "Messiah" comes from the Hebrew. It means simply, the Anointed. It was used of Israel's kings, because they were anointed with oil as a sign of their being set apart for their work and of God's expectation that they would rule justly, in accordance with His will.

Over time, the term came to be associated with a particular King. The Messiah was the subject of much Old Testament prophecy especially in Isaiah.

Christos, in English, Christ, is the Greek translation of Messiah.

Matthew makes clear at the outset of his narrative that he regards Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah.

(2) Even while engaged--or betrothed, men and women in first century Judea who had entered this relationship were considered married, whether their union had been consummated and they had begun to live together or not. This is why Joseph would consider divorcing Mary.

In this era in which sex has become meaningless, it's difficult to imagine how scandalous it was for an unmarried woman to become pregnant. It indicated a cavalier contempt for God, Who reserved sexual intimacy for a couple who were married, a closeness reserved for their enjoyment, for celebrating their commitment to one another, and for creating children.

Naturally enough, Joseph, who knew that he hadn't had sexual intimacy with Mary, would have assumed that she had been unfaithful to him.

(3) The most important phrase in this passage is "from the Holy Spirit." The Spirit moved over the waters in Genesis 1 and life came about. The Spirit gives life. This makes sense because in the Hebrew of the Old Testament--ruach--and the Greek of the New Testament--pneuma, the word spirit means breath, wind, or air. In the second creation account in Genesis, God breathes His spirit into a clump of dust and gives life to the first human.

The Spirit brings life into being where it seemingly cannot exist. The Spirit did this in the womb of barren Sarah in the Old Testament. Now, Mattthew tells us, He did it again, causing an embryo to appear in the womb of a virgin.

19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
(1) Under Old Testament law, Joseph would have been within his rights to have divorced Mary. As punishment, she likely would have been taken just outside the village and stoned to death. Joseph couldn't do this to her, although he still felt violated. He would, he told himself, end their arranged marriage "quietly."

20But 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.
(1) Joseph's plan was commendable. But God had other ideas.

(2) Joseph dreams like his Old Testament namesake, the son of Jacob. This Joseph will receive several messages from God in dreams. The best book I've read on this subject of dreams is by the priest and Jungian psychologist, Morton Kelsey.

(3) Angel, which translates the Greek word, angelos, means messenger. The angels are messengers from God. The best book I've read on the subject of angels is by evangelist Billy Graham.

21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
(1) The name Jesus, Yeshua (Joshua) in Hebrew and Yesus in Greek, roughly means, Yahweh Saves. Yahweh, the Name by which God identified Himself to Moses, means I AM and carries the notion that God is the foundational being of the universe: I AM WHO I AM. Theologian Paul Tillich used this name for God to speak of God as our "ground of being."

(2) The Messiah comes into the world to save us from the consequences of our sins, which are succinctly summarized in Romans 6:23, along with what God does for us in Christ:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
22All 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.”
(1) Although we're told that the child is to be named Jesus, the prophecy from Isaiah is cited by Matthew. It foretells the birth of a child to be called Emmanuel. But, given that Jesus is "God with us," I take this to be an apposition, a sort of descriptive nickname for Jesus.

(2) The prophecy from Isaiah was originally applied to a king's son born hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus. The term, rendered as virgin here, is, in the Greek of the New Testament and of the standard Greek translation of the Old Testament, produced many years before the birth of Jesus, the Septuagint, is parthenos. It can be translated as virgin. But can also be rendered as young maiden.

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

(2) This passage, along with others which speak of the family that Joseph and Mary subsequently had together, disprove the notion that their other children were produced by the Holy Spirit. In short, Mary and Joseph were a normal married couple. They had sexual relations.

The point of the virgin birth is not that sex is somehow dirty. God created sex. It's a good thing and only dirtied when we use it in the wrong ways.

The point of the virgin birth, then, is that the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ was a creative act from God through which He entered our lives, accepted our punishment for sin, and through Christ's resurrection, made it possible for all who believe in Him, to live with God forever.

[For more on this passage, you may also want to look here and here.]

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