Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wisdom From A Star

After the birth of Jesus wise men came from the east. They are called ‘wise’ because they figured out what God was showing in the night sky as they looked toward Jerusalem. They were wealthy because they brought expensive gifts...which means they had a large ‘protection’ squad with them. (Considering the way things were in those days they had to have loads of security with them.) So, I’m thinking many people saw this visit, even if it was in the wee hours of the morning when the stars were still out.

Both and A Visual Guide to Bible Events (which quotes James Martin’s book Exploring Bible Times) talk about the possibility that these men studied Daniel’s teachings and that they were not just astrologers but officials in the Persian (Parthian) government.

Several points support this. First, there was still a Jewish remnant living in the Babylon region. I didn’t know this until recently.

Second, the gifts they brought would have taken many well-to-do people several years to accumulate. If the men had been ‘just astrologers’...would they have been well off enough to afford the expensive gifts? The large number of people to protect said gifts? And, the money and resources to afford a long trip with such a large group out to Judea and back home to Babylon?

Third, the men inquired in a way that indicates they knew some protocol to take when seeking to bring tribute to royalty. There's more to say on this point, but I think I'll leave it for next week.

I can only imagine the thoughts that ran through the minds of the citizens of Bethlehem as they dwelt on the visits. Who is this boy? Back when he was born, that same night, those shepherds came to see him. And now, people wealthy enough to be kings, dressed in Persian clothes, are here to see him. Who told? How did they know?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Which Lamb?

I am still focused on the birth of Jesus. There's so much information out there in books and programs which fills in the gaps that for some reason has escaped my attention throughout the years.

The shepherds with their flocks in the fields outside of Bethlehem were not just any shepherds. Some of them were working for the temple. Many of the lambs from those flocks were taken to Jerusalem to be sold for sacrifices. (A Visual Guide To Bible Events)

Now isn’t that interesting...sacrificial lambs were just over the ridge from where THE ultimate sacrificial lamb was born. How cool is that?

All these years my focus has been on the Great Shepherd being born in a town known as the birth place of King David, a shepherd who became king. Points have been made about the shepherds being the appropriate people to greet our Heavenly Shepherd that first night. I never gave much thought to the Lamb portion of it.

So now when we think of the birth of Jesus we can say He was born near the sheep who before His arrival symbolized His sacrifice. He was announced to the shepherds who also symbolized His leadership over a difficult people. And, as the true King of the Jews He peacefully rested not far from the palace of the man who killed and fought his way to be a king.

God is so good to teach us in a variety of ways. He shows us things that are tangible to teach us a lesson or to give us understanding. Then taking that understanding He shows us there is a deeper meaning, a symbolism, that directs us to knowing Jesus better.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What Inn?

All my life, when I have thought about the birth of Jesus, I have pictured the inn that had no room as a two, maybe three, story building. Of course, to my way of thinking, the stables would also have been located on the edge of town. You know, so the smell was away from the town and it's people.

Then I found out recently that the countryside in and around Bethlehem was filled with caves. These caves were often used to house the local livestock. In fact, many homes were built over caves. (A Visual Guide to Bible Events, and In The Footsteps Of Jesus) The family lived over the cave and their animals stayed in the cave below...basically, all under one roof. I can't even imagine the smell and hygiene of the place.

So, come to find out, I was naive to think any of that.

According to Sketches of Jewish Social Life by Alfred Edersheim there were set-ups called khans, which served as a place for strangers to lodge outside of a town. These places were built in the shape of a square and opened up in the middle. The people stayed in the unfurnished rooms that surrounded the open square while the animals and carts, etc. stayed in the open court area. Feeding troughs would have been all over the place.

Here's another interesting fact. People who stayed in these places did not have to pay for the room. However, there was always an available caretaker who would see to the needs of the people and their animals for a price. Can you imagine that? Having a place to stay without paying upfront costs?

Still, all the rooms were taken, and after giving birth Mary had to stay out in the open area with the animals. (Note: There is a tradition-marked cave where Jesus was birthed. Sounds like she was granted privacy for the actual birthing experience.)

No matter what your station in life is - that has to be 'no fun'. Yet, like any new mother all she probably saw was the sweet face of God Incarnate; all she probably heard was the soft cooing of her son; all she probably smelled were the cloths from home that wrapped her son in comfort.

It wasn't perfect. It wasn't proper. But, they made the best of it and used what resources were at hand to serve a purpose. That's a great lesson in focus.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

He Never Changes

God has always prepared my family for moves from one city to another, or from one church to another. We've asked and He's directed, with confirmations in tow.

He is also a never-changing God. So, how He treats me and my family now is the same way He has treated His beloveds over all the ages.

Many times lessons from Matthew 2:13-20 give the impression that Joseph took his family to a foreign land filled with only foreign deities, perhaps hiding out during the entire stay. But I found something that confirms everything I know about God the provider and shepherd.

At the time of Jesus, there remained a large number of Jewish refugees in Egypt. One city in particular stands out to me...Leontopolis. According to A Visual Guide to Bible Events the Jews in this area were a large group with much affluence. Among them were the relatives of the Zadokite priesthood, the true branch of priests, who continued their practice at a temple in that city. (To fully explain this significance would require several pages of historical information.)

In any case, can you see it now? God provided not only financial support but more importantly He provided moral support. If Simeon and Anna recognized him as an infant then you know priests who wanted to stay away from any corruption in the Temple in Jerusalem would recognize Him as soon as He entered their midst.

How wonderful to know that the time in Egypt was refreshing, restful, rejuvenating and reaffirming for the family before the years of trial ahead of them. I see it now as the eye of the storm. I know what God has done for me...I know He would do that much and more for His one and only Son.