Are You a Wise Man?: Three Possible Responses to the Christmas Story

“The Magi Journeying” by James Tissot

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 

6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
     are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
     who will shepherd my people Israel.’” 

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:1-12)

I’ve always been struck by this story, so much so in fact that it often finds its way into my devotionals this time of year. Matthew sets up such a stark contrast between Herod, the chief priests and scribes, and the wise men from the east, all of whom were operating with the same information, but none of whom reacted to that information in the same way. While at various points in the story, all three parties knew who had been born (v. 2), where he had been born (v. 5), and why he had been born (v. 6), their responses were vastly different, and I believe mirror the only 3 responses any of us will have to Jesus’ birth story this Christmas: Continue reading Are You a Wise Man?: Three Possible Responses to the Christmas Story

No Other Name

On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:5-12)

Thinking about these verses from the viewpoint of Annas, Caiaphas and the rest of the Sanhedrin made me chuckle a bit. This is the same group that opposed and ultimately condemned Jesus. At the crucifixion, they must have thought they were finally done with this upstart preacher from Galilee, who challenged their authority and all their preconceptions about God and the Law. Suddenly, however, his disciples are causing as much of a problem as Jesus did. If you go back a few verses, it says that the Sadducees were, “greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2). Continue reading No Other Name

Flesh & Bone Has Not Revealed This

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 16:17)

This verse is incredibly humbling.

Someone I know declared himself an atheist over the summer and has spent the past few weeks belittling those who believe in God. One of his problems with religious people, and especially Christians, is that we reject reason and believe things without any (or even in contradiction to) evidence. If you talk to enough unbelievers, you’ll encounter that argument eventually. Continue reading Flesh & Bone Has Not Revealed This

Missing the Real Jesus

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:13-14)

We reach a climax and turning point in the gospel of Matthew this week as the last few chapters have been building to Peter’s confession, which takes place in Matthew 16:16.

The location of these events is important. Last week we saw that Jesus returned to the Sea of Galilee area after his excursion into Gentile territory. In verse 13, he leaves again, this time to Caesarea Phillippi, a city in the foothills of Mount Hermon, about 30 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. When he is done teaching the disciples here, Jesus begins moving toward Jerusalem and the culmination of his earthly ministry. It would seem that this trip was for the sole purpose of getting the disciples away from the crowds so that he could teach them about who he is and what was upcoming, to prepare them for the events leading up to his death and resurrection. Some commentators also see significance in Peter’s confession taking place in a city associated with Greek paganism (specifically the god Pan) and where there was a temple in honor of Caesar Augustus. Continue reading Missing the Real Jesus

King by Right, Not by Popular Demand

Jesus Goes Up Alone onto a Mountain to Pray by James TissotImmediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, (Matthew 14:22-23)

Verse 22 may seem puzzling at first. The word “immediately” connotes a sense of urgency (other translations of this particular Greek word include “straightway” and “forthwith”), but we see nothing in Matthew’s account that would hint at a reason for Jesus “immediately” sending the disciples away. Like the passage we looked at on Friday, John’s gospel gives us greater insight on what is going on: “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (Jn 6:15) The 15,000-20,000 people that Jesus fed with 5 loaves and 2 fish were so amazed by the miracle that they were going to try make Jesus king by force.

I think there are 2 questions that need to be asked in light of this fact: Continue reading King by Right, Not by Popular Demand

More than a Miracle: The Feeding of the 5,000

The Feeding of the 5,000

Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matthew 14:19-21)

This is the only miracle recorded in all 4 gospels so we have a few different perspectives on it, the most interesting of which is probably John’s. In fact, pretty much everything I’ll say here today comes straight from reading John’s account of this event (Jn 6:1-15) and it’s aftermath (Jn 6:22-59). It’s easy to read this passage and see it as simply a miracle (and an awesome one at that!) that Jesus performed and move on, but the feeding of the 5,000 (men + uncounted women and children) has much deeper meaning to it. And if you read these 3 verses and don’t see it, that’s okay because we don’t have to search for the meaning here because Jesus and the apostle John illuminate it for us in John 6. Continue reading More than a Miracle: The Feeding of the 5,000