Here are some random thoughts from the previous weeks reading. We start off with Jesus. He predicted three future events in the synoptic gospels. One was His own death and resurrection. This was a past event when the gospels were written. The second event Jesus predicted was the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. This event was most likely happened about the time the gospels were being written. This would not signify the end so the Christian community should not be worried. However they were called to live in faithful watchfulness, just like we are today. Jesus was clear in telling all His followers that only the Father knows the time. Our job is to be ready. The third event Jesus predicted was His own future return. References to Jesus’ return can be found in every New Testament book except 3 John. When He returns the promises about God’s kingdom will be completely fulfilled. Jesus will bring judgement and destruction for the evil one and his angels. Unbelievers will also experience eternal judgement. In the meantime the faithful will be resurrected to experience the joy of eternal life. God will gather His chosen people for salvation, grace, and glory. He will give His people a priceless inheritance and new eternal bodies. All of creation will also be rescued from its curse and will be transformed. Sorrow, tears, mourning, and death will no longer exist. Those who have had faith during this lifetime will seeGod. In light of these promises, believers in Jesus are to prayerfully await His return. We are not to speculate on the time or place for His coming but instead should live in a way that is honorable.
One of the people we have encountered is Judas Iscariot. Some refer to him as a devil with a kiss. He is infamous for betraying Jesus to the authorities. The meaning of the name Iscariot is uncertain but it may be related to the name of a town named Kerioth. This is not the same Judas as Judas the son of James. Among the apostles Judas became known as greedy. He carried the money bag and had the reputation of stealing from it. The money offered him to betray Jesus, the price of a common slave,convinced him to betray Jesus. Jesus’s called Judas himself a devil (see John 6:70) and predicted the betrayal. The evil one put the idea of betrayal into Judas’ mind and the evil one entered him at the time of the betrayal. Judas was the one who led a group of soldiers and officers to the garden of Gethsemane in the middle of the night, where he found Jesus and betrayed Him with a prearranged signal, a kiss of greeting. Later Judas was overcome with remorse for betraying an innocent man, and he hanged himself. Jesus clearly understood Judas’s betrayal as part of God’s plan for redemption. It brought about the death of the Messiah as the ultimate sacrifice for sin. Even though Judas served God’s plan, his tragic end was clearly deserved. It would have been better for Judas if he had never been born. Judas’s fate soberly awaits those who are apparently following Jesus but have never committed themselves to Him personally.
Another personality we have encountered is Pontus Pilate. He was the Roman governor of Judea from 26-36 A.D. including the time of Jesus’ death in 30 or 33 A.D. It was Pilate who gave the official order for Jesus to be crucified. As the governor of Judea, Pilate was in control of all the Roman occupation forces. He appointed Jewish high priests, and he was in control of the temple and its funds. He was the only one who had the authority to execute criminals. Therefore the Jewish authorities were compelled to bring charges before Pilate in order to have Jesus executed. Pilate was sometimes abusive as governor. He appropriated temple funds to construct a 35 mile aqueduct for Jerusalem, and provoked a major protest. In response Pilate had soldiers infiltrate the crowds in disguise and beat the offenders to death with clubs. Another time, Pilate murdered some Galileans as they were offering sacrifices at the temple. This incident most likely estranged him from Herod Antipas. Pilate also tried to bring images of Caesar into Jerusalem for worship. Later Pilate slaughtered pilgrims who followed a Samaritan falseprophet, an event that led to his dismissal by emperor Tiberius in the same year. Each gospel records Pilate’s role in the death of Jesus. After interrogating Jesus, Pilate was convinced that Jesus had done nothing deserving death, so he tried to return the Case to Jewish authorities. When they resisted, he tried to pass Jesus to Herod Antipas for judgement but he too refused the case. Pilate finally tried appealing to a traditional Roman custom of freeing a prisoner on Passover. While all this was occurring his wife was deeply troubled by a dream about “that innocent man”. However, the clamor of the crowd became threatening and the Jewish leaders began insinuating that Pilate was not taking Jesus’ threat to Rome seriously. Pilate yielded to Jewish pressure. He ordered Jesus whipped and then crucified, with the title (King of the Jews) posted on a sign over His head. This was only after strenuously objecting and declaring himself innocent of the guilt of such an unjust death. Pilate’s sympathy for Jesus stands as a testimony that Jesus posed no threat to the Roman government but only to the Jewish leadership. Shortly after Jesus’ death, Pilate gave special permission to Joseph of Arimathea to take the body of Jesus from the cross and bury it. He also gave permission to the Jewish authorities to seal the tomb, making sure no one would steal the body or make false claims about Jesus coming back to life. Very little is known of Pilate after his dismissal in 36 A.D. Church father Eusebius, reported that Pilate committed suicide during the reign of Caligula, some time between 37-41 A.D.
We also meet Jesus’ mother Mary. She was betrothed to Joseph, a carpenter. And she was a virgin. Before the marriage could be consummated the angel Gabriel announced to her that she would become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God. Mary responded to this extraordinary message in simple faith, submitting herself to God’s will. Shortly after, the message was confirmed by her relative,Elizabeth, who spoke of Mary as the most blessed of all women. Mary’s miraculous bearing of the Son of God was viewed as the fulfillment of prophecy, Isaiah 7:14. Jesus’ birth took place in unusual circumstances, when Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem to register for the Roman census. The child was born in a stable or cave because there was no lodging available. Some time later, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to save their child from Herod’s massacre of young boys in the Bethlehem area. When it was safe to return they returned to Nazareth to raise their family. After Jesus’ birth Mary apparently gave birth to several other sons and daughters. It is quite likely that Mary herself told Luke the details of Jesus’ birth and the unusual events surrounding it. When Jesus was 12 years old, He stayed behind in the temple after the family’s had gone to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Mary and Joseph rebuked Him for staying behind when they departed but they didn’t understand Jesus’ response, that He needed to be in His Father’s house.Early in His public ministry it was Mary who encouraged Jesus to perform a miracle at the wedding in Cana. Later when she and Jesus’ brothers went to see Jesus, He said that his disciples were His real family because they not only heard His words but acted on them. In the beginning Jesus’ biological family thought He was crazy and didn’t believe Him. When Jesus was crucified, Mary was among the women looking on. This points us right back to old Simeon who had told Mary there would be a day when a sword would pierce her soul too. As Jesus was dying He asked John, the disciple He loved to take care of Mary as his own mother. After Jesus’ death and resurrection is seems that Mary was a member of the believing community. She is listed among those who were praying together on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came. God chose Mary to bring His Son, the Savior into the world. For all Christians, she is a model of humble and obedient submission to God’s will.
Luke has given us the most comprehensive account of Jesus’ birth. It is a study in contrasts. On the one side is the lowlinessof the birth. A poor peasant couple makes their way to their ancestral home of Bethlehem to register for a census imposed on them by the oppressive Roman Empire. Their journey is a long and hard one from Galilee and when they arrived they could find no place to stay. We know the story well. They are consigned to a place where animals were kept. There is a huge sense of poverty, rejection, and obscurity. But these are ultimately the people Jesus came to minister to and save, the poor, rejected, and invisible. At the birth of the child announcements were sent, not to great kings or to the rich and powerful. Instead the birth announcement went to lowly shepherds watching their flocks out in the field. However, beside this humble lowliness is a message of great power and grandeur. The child who is laid in the manger is the Messiah, the long awaited descendant of king David. He will reign triumphant over the people of Israel and His kingdom will never end. He is the one spoken about by all the prophets. All of history had been pointing forward to its climax in Him. An army of mighty angels comes from heaven to announce His birth. These contrasts are the foretaste of things to come. In Jesus, the God of Israel and Lord of all the earth has come to visit and save His people. Someone once said that the gospel is cross shaped. God reached down to us and we reach out to Him. The Divine One reaches down to meet them where they are. Throughout Luke’s gospel, Jesus will show special concern for the lowly, the poor, the outcasts, and the sinners. These are the ones He has come to save because they recognize their need for Him. They receive the message of salvation with joy and rejoicing. The contrast between lowliness and exaltation also relates to Jesus’ mission. Though wicked people reject Himand put Him to death, Jesus is vindicated at His resurrection and exalted to the right hand of God where He reigns as Lord and Messiah. From there He pours out the Spirit of God to guide and direct His church. Through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and exaltation, Jesus provides forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all those who respond in faith to Him.
And one more thought, this about James the son of Zebedee and the brother of John. James was among the first to be killed as a follower of Jesus. His mother Salome, is thought by many to have been a sister of Mary, which would have made him a cousin of Jesus. His name is always sandwiched between Peter and John his brother. This suggests he was the older brother of John. This is not the same James who is the son of Alphaeus or James the brother of Jesus. The brothers were fishermen with their father and Peter and Andrew. All four became disciples of Jesus. They were among the first disciples Jesus called and they dropped everything to follow Him. Jesus called them the sons of thunder which might imply vehement personalities though the exact connection is unclear. Along with Peter, James and John were the closest to Jesus. The brothers were also the two that wanted to sit at Jesus’ right hand and at His left. Perhaps because of James’ prominence among the disciples, Herod Agrippa had him killed soon after Jesus’ death. This pleased the Jewish leaders and fulfilled Jesus’ prediction about James drinking the bitter cup that Jesus drank. James was an ordinary working person whom Jesus called to be His disciple. His willingness to leave everything he knew; work, family, and home, to follow Jesus in simple trust, and eventually die forHim, makes James a model of a committed disciple.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W