Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Jesus: Born In A Manger Or House?

Biblegems #164
Question: Luke 2:7 says that Jesus was born in a manger, but Matthew 2:11 has baby Jesus in a house. Why the difference?

These two accounts actually refer to two different periods in Jesus’ early childhood. Luke chapter 2:1-7 specifically records the events surrounding Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem:
         Luke 2:6-7 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Joseph and Mary were in a crisis upon their arrival in Bethlehem. They were not the only ones visiting the small village in order to register for the census (Lk. 2:1-3). The limited inns were overcrowded with visitors. The owner of one of these inns allowed the couple to spend the night in a stall where other guests kept the donkeys they used for travel. The manger was a feeding trough for the animals, where fresh hay would become the newborn’s bed.

Obviously, the family of three would not be able to take up permanent residence in the stall…nor would they want to. They would need to find a place to call home. That’s where the account in Matthew picks up.

The Gospel of Matthew, which is primarily concerned with establishing the fulfillment of specific Old Testament prophecies regarding the coming of the Messiah, does not record the actual birth of Jesus. In fact, Matthew picks up the account “after” Jesus birth:
         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.

Throughout this chapter we discover just how much later these Magi visit Joseph, Mary and Jesus in their home. According to verse 1, the Magi knew when they left Persia that the Jewish messiah had already been born. Upon their arrival in Jerusalem they asked, “Where is the one who has been born…?”

King Herod had already figured out where Jesus had been born (Matt. 2:5-6). He was more concerned about when. He wanted to learn how old the baby was at this point. So he squeezed that information out of the Magi:
         Matt. 2:7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.

Based upon that information, Herod dispatched troops to Bethlehem to murder all male children ages two years or under (Matt. 2:16). Jesus was spared because the Lord warned Joseph in a dream to leave Bethlehem and take his family to safety.

Matthew’s Gospel places Joseph, Mary and Jesus in a “house” in Bethlehem at time when Jesus was nearly two years old. This is not the manger scene we all grew up with—Jesus in a manger surrounded by shepherds and the Magi at the same time—but it does demonstrate how fortunate we are to have four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Jesus: "Firstborn" Of Creation

Biblegems #163
Question: Why is Jesus called the “firstborn” of all creation?

Col. 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

The term “firstborn” (Gk. prototokos) in the Greek New Testament is used in a variety of ways—sometimes figuratively, meaning something like “the highest,” or “best,” or “preeminent.” In that case, the word can indicate the idea of supremacy above all else, or even as pre-existing all else.

Sometimes it is used at face value, meaning simply, “firstborn.” Even then, however, the sense of “firstborn” has to do with the privileges granted to the firstborn male in the Jewish family—the one who received the “greater” or “best” share of the inheritance.

Protokos derives from the more basic Greek word, protos, which means, “before, beginning, best, chief(-est), first (of all), former.”[1] It is this fundamental meaning which is at the heart of ”firstborn.”

Fortunately, the verse does not exist in a vacuum.  The meaning of the term is found in the immediate context of the passage where it occurs, and also in the broader teaching of the entire Bible regarding the nature of Jesus.

Immediate Context
The whole point of Colossians 1:15-20 is that Jesus is not only a perfect representation of God in human form (15), but that Jesus is God in human form (19). And because Jesus is God, He has always existed, and therefore pre-exists all creation (17). Therefore, Jesus is not only “before” (protokos) all creation in time; He is “before” (protokos) all creation in importance. In fact, everything that exists came into being “through” Jesus—He is the Creator—and exists “for” Jesus’ purposes (16). Chief among Jesus’ purposes in creation is to re-establish a right relationship between Himself as the Creator and the sin-broken creation (20). This immediate context makes it clear that the term “firstborn” (protokos) is used as a title describing Jesus’ importance in relation to all creation. It is not used to mean that somehow He was the first thing God ever made. He is God, supreme above all, and the reason all else exists.

Overall Bible Context
The rest of Scripture agrees with this primary use of protokos as meaning “supreme,” “highest, or “best.”

Jesus is both God and Creator:
John 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

Jesus, the radiance of God’s glory, “sustains” creation. He holds it all together:
         Heb. 1:3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word

In His very nature, Jesus is God. Yet, out of His love for lost mankind, He “made himself” human and took the penalty for our sins upon himself that we might be forgiven and have everlasting life in him:
         Phil. 2:6-8  [Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

[1] Strong’s Dictionary of the Greek New Testament

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Talking Snake—Really?

Biblegems #162
Question: Are we really supposed to believe that a snake spoke to Eve in a commonly shared language, or is this myth or metaphor?

The question stems from Genesis 3:1-5. Interpreting this passage as a myth or allegory does an injustice to the book of Genesis as a whole, which is presented as factual history. It would be like taking a newspaper story on the economy and interpreting that as myth or allegory.

Fortunately, the Bible gives us several clues that help “fill in the blanks” concerning some curious details that are not crucial to the account itself of the temptation and disobedience of our first human parents.

Clue #1 The serpent is described as “crafty” (Gen. 3:1). The Hebrew word ‘arum more literally means “subtle” or “discerning,” even “wise.” Also, in the Hebrew language the comparison of the serpent with the other “wild animals” means he was “subtle” unlike the others, not “more than” the others. The serpent was unique.

Clue #2 The human couple is not surprised at the serpent’s ability to communicate. This suggests that Adam and Eve had the ability prior to their disobedience to God to communicate with the animal kingdom at a level far beyond the miniscule efforts we attempt today. This would make sense considering God’s original mandate to Adam and Eve:
         Gen. 1:28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Clue #3 According to Genesis 3:14, the serpent in its original created state did not slither on the ground but walked on limbs. Verses 1 and 14 also suggest that the serpent willingly engaged in deceiving Eve, for which God stripped the serpent of the ability to walk, even as he stripped Adam and Eve of many of their former abilities.

These first three clues alone (there are several others space does not permit me to explore) reveal that the pre-sin world was a dramatically different place than the world we experience now, where man could rule over “every creature” without tools or weapons, using direct communication, and where the physiology of the serpent enabled it to walk and communicate.

Clue #4 The book of Revelation sheds further light on this subject. Revelation 12:9 and Revelation 20:2 both refer to “that ancient serpent” as a “dragon.” The dragons of myth and legend have their roots in real historical creatures that co-inhabited the earth with man.[1]  They were serpentine creatures who possessed feet and legs, and perhaps even the ability to fly. The passages in Revelation identify this ancient serpent with the devil, Satan. Satan himself is described in these verses as an angel who, along with other rebellious angels, was cast from heaven to earth where he has engaged in deceiving not only Eve but “the whole world.”

The talking serpent of Genesis 3 is no myth or allegory, but a uniquely intelligent creature capable of communication that allowed itself to be used by Satan to deceive Adam and Eve. 

[1] See www.genesispark.com

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Did God Create Evil?

Biblegems #161
Question: If God created all things, doesn’t it follow that He also created evil?

It is true that the Bible states that God created “all things:”
         Col. 1:16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth…all things were created by him and for him.

The phrase “all things” is to be understood in the context of the creation account in Genesis:
         Gen. 1:31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

If all creation at its inception was “very good,” and all creation at its inception was made not only by God but for God, where did evil come from, if not from God?        

In the biblical record of the first humans God provides a pristine environment where they can thrive and multiply. They are also provided something unique throughout the created order—with the exception of the angels—the freedom and ability to love God and obey Him as a matter of choice. The animal kingdom was given no such choice. Birds, reptiles, insects and fish were given no such choice. In creating mankind, however, God brought into existence a being much like Himself, a being designed to interact with God in a deeply personal relationship.
         Gen. 1:26-27 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  

Sometimes people complain that God was being unfair to Adam and Eve by placing temptation in front of them, knowing they would not be able resist. That would be like saying that it is unfair for a married man to be able to see because he might be tempted to be unfaithful to his wife by the sight of a beautiful woman. Should all married men be made blind? Of course not! A man and a woman choose to remain faithful to each other and to love each other for life because that choice demonstrates their love.

The truth is, God tempts no one:
         James 1:13-14  When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.   

Sin, evil and all the tragedy they bring into the universe has its source in the choice not to love God and to live in opposition to His design for life as free beings within His created order. And, as with all things that are treated contrary to their design, mankind and the universe are breaking down at an accelerating pace. Humanity not only duplicates the sin of Adam and Eve but multiplies it.
         Rom. 1:32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

And that is why all creation is in such dire need of the salvation that God Himself has provided through Jesus Christ!