Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas In The Stars

Biblegems #116
Question: Who were the Magi, and how did they know to follow a specific star to Bethlehem?

When God created the heavens and the earth He set the stars in specific orientation to the earth for three specific purposes: 1) separating day and night, 2) for “sign and seasons,” and 3) for assisting man in keeping track of days and years (Gen. 1:14-15).

It is God, not man (Ps. 147:4), who gave the stars and their groupings in constellations their names and meanings for “signs and seasons.” Biblically, these “signs and seasons” are predictive, prophetic, pointing humanity to Jesus as the Savior of mankind. The word “sign” in the Bible refers to prophetic events, such as the birth of Christ. The word “season” indicates the time related to those events:
Luke 21:25 There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.

God revealed this knowledge in the stars to Adam and Eve, no doubt, and they were to pass this knowledge—His timeline for major events in salvation history—on to their children and following generations:
         Ps. 19:1-3 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.

This knowledge did get passed on, but it also became twisted and deformed from God’s original intent as different cultures used the names and God-given meanings of the stars to develop mythologies and religions and horoscopes. As it says in Amos:
         Amos 5:26 You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god—which you made for yourselves.

In the Book of Numbers God gave the pagan soothsayer Balaam a prophecy of the coming Messiah:
Num. 24:17 I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth.

Balaam saw in his vision the appearance of a star in the distant future—a “sign” of the birth of a great Jewish king who would defeat all His enemies. Much later, when the Jews were held captive in Persia, their writings (including the book of Numbers) were added to the libraries of the Persian scholars. Among those scholars were the Magi: astrologers who studied the stars in order to understand their prophetic message concerning “signs and seasons” of history—especially future history.

Hundreds of years later, the Magi in Persia saw the appearance of the star predicted long ago by Balaam and understood its meaning.
Matt. 2:1-2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

From the very beginning of creation God has ordered the heavens to declare His glory by putting the plan of salvation, beginning with the Virgin birth of Jesus (constellation Virgo), in a glorious tapestry in the night sky. It was His intent that the Magi should see the star at the appointed “season” and recognize the savior of the world had been born, according to God’s revealed Word (Rom. 1:18-20).

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Un-heavenly Minded Sadducees

Biblegems #115
Question: Since the Sadducees did not believe in eternal life, what was their motivation for them being priests and also for the sacrifices, even for being Jews? It seems that it couldn't have profited them much, except for the priests having a good job.

The Sadducees were priests, as were the Pharisees. The Chief Priest in New Testament times was an office typically held by a Sadducee. However, the Sadducees were predominantly a political party that developed sometime after the Restoration of the Jews to their own land following their Babylonian captivity in 536 B.C. They represented the wealthy Jewish nobility. Their tendency was to protect their positions of power and authority both in religious matters and with the Roman government. They also encouraged the Jewish people to “fit in” with the Hellenistic culture of the Roman Empire.

It seems that their religious distinctives and influence came later than their political motivations. They were often at odds with the more popular Pharisees. In an effort to give their political views a biblical foundation, the Sadducees gradually developed some core theological beliefs that distinguished them from the Pharisees. In short, these beliefs were:
         • Only the written Law (the Old Testament) had authority, not the traditions and rules of man.
         • The soul of a person dies with that person. There is no immortality, no resurrection, no heaven, hell or Judgment Day.
         • There is no spirit realm (i.e., angels, demons, etc.)
         • There is no predestination or God acting providentially in human affairs.

How could these beliefs be supported, given their confidence in the Law of Moses as God’s authoritative rule? Their primary motivation was political, not spiritual. They exercised their political influence within Judaism’s religious circles because that’s where the power lay.

This is why the Sadducees so adamantly opposed Jesus, and why they teamed up with the Pharisees and others in order to destroy Jesus:
         Matt. 21:15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.
         Mark 11:18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.  

Jesus threatened the cozy relationship the Sadducees fostered with the Roman government, so they tried to pigeonhole Jesus into implicating Himself as a traitor to Caesar:
         Luke 20:22 Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

This fear and hatred of Jesus continued after the crucifixion and resurrection as the Sadducees turned their attention to destroying the apostles and the fledgling Church:
         Acts 5:17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.
Acts 5:33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.

The Sadducees are a powerful reminder of what happens when people put their politics before faith in Christ and use their political views to define their understanding of Scripture. No wonder Jesus said to them when they debated the resurrection:
         Matt. 22:29 …“You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.

Comments or Questions?
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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Wisdom Personified As feminine?

Biblegems #114
Question: In Proverbs 8, does “wisdom” refer to Christ and, if so, why do the first 3 verses refer to wisdom in the feminine?

The first question that needs to be addressed is: does Wisdom in Proverbs 8 refer to Christ? Matthew Henry, the renowned 18th century Bible commentator, makes this statement in his opening remarks on Proverbs 8:
         “The Redeemer is the eternal Word and wisdom, the Logos. He is the Wisdom that speaks to the children of men in the former part of the chapter. All divine revelation passes through his hand, and centers in him; but of him as the personal Wisdom, the second person of the Godhead, in the judgment of many of the ancients, Solomon here speaks, verses 22-23.”[i]

As Matthew Henry notes, many of the ancient church fathers understood Wisdom, as it is personified in Proverbs 8, as representing Jesus Christ, the living Word of God. This is, of course, a matter of interpretation, not translation. It is based, however, in solid biblical precedent and sound principles of interpretation. Wisdom, in proverbs 8, is presented as eternal:
         Prov. 8:27          I was there when he set the heavens in place

This eternal Wisdom demonstrates personality, showing love and other emotions:
         Prov. 8:17          I love those who love me

Wisdom is described here as a craftsman involved in creation who  experiences delight and joy in the presence of God:
         Prov. 8:30-31 Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.

All of these attributes describe an eternal, personal Being who is identical with Jesus, the Word of God, the second person of the Trinity.

So then, the second question must also be answered: Why is Wisdom in Proverbs 8 described in feminine terms in the first three verses? Indeed, if Wisdom is feminine there, then Wisdom throughout chapter 8, in which Wisdom speaks in the first person, would also have to be understood in the feminine. How can this be?

The answer is grammatical, not interpretive. The word “wisdom” in Hebrew is a feminine word form. It does not mean that Wisdom, when used of a person, is feminine. We see a similar dynamic happen in the English language. We speak of a boat or ship in feminine terms—“she’s a beautiful ship”—even though sailing vessels have no gender. From a technical point of view then, the Hebrew word “wisdom” is feminine and is matched by the words “her” (v.1) and “she” (v.2) to complete the sentence in correct grammatical form. So it is the context, not the grammatical form, which determines if “Wisdom” personified is to be understood as masculine, feminine or neutral.

The apostle Paul picks up on this personification of Wisdom as fully represented in Jesus Christ:
         1 Cor. 1:30 It is because of him [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

Because we who believe are in Christ, and Christ is in us, Jesus “has become for us wisdom form God.” What a wonderful gift!

[i] A Commentary On The Whole Bible, Vol.3, Matthew Henry. in loc.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Jesus: Lower Than Angels?

Biblegems #113
Question: According to Hebrews 2:9, Jesus was made "lower than the angels.” If Jesus is God, how could any part of the Godhead ever be lower than the angels?

The passage in Hebrews reads:
         Heb. 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

This is one of those beautifully transparent places in the Bible where God unveils some of the mystery of His nature. Notice how the verse says that Jesus was “made” a little lower than the angels. The implication is that He was once higher than the angels. The Scripture clearly teaches that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity—that He was and is God. Here are a few passages demonstrating this:
         Jesus is God, the Creator:
         John 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
         Jesus is God along with the Father:
John 10:30 I and the Father are one.
         John 14:9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  

What is so clearly apparent is that within the very nature of God Himself there is diversity. He is three persons in one God.1  And within that relationship there is a hierarchy. Each person of the Trinity exercises roles and responsibilities in relation to the other. The Holy Spirit directs people to Jesus. Jesus directs people to the Father. The Father sends the Son and the Holy Spirit to do His will.
         John 15:26 When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.

So when the Scripture says Jesus was made a little lower than the angels, the reference is to an agreement between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that God should enter into the human race as a man. To accomplish this, the second person of the Trinity would be “made like us in every way” (Heb. 2:17). In fact, God the Son…
         Phil. 2:6-7 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

God is not divided into “parts.” He is three persons in one Being. He chose, for our sake and for His glory, to become Immanuel (God with us), the Word made flesh (Jn. 1:1), without ever ceasing to exist as God in Spirit. This in no way diminished His greatness, but demonstrates that our God is greater than the human mind can even begin to grasp.
         Ps. 71:19 Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God, you who have done great things. Who, O God, is like you?

1. See Biblegems #111, “Is Jesus God?” And Biblegems #88, “Jesus, The Firstborn”.