Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Way to Get The Word

The book In The Footsteps of Jesus by W.E. Pax mentions that the writer of the Apocrypha book "Protevangelium of James" writes that Mary was at the village spring-fed-well when she first heard the angel speak to her. (Though it is considered to be written too far away from the time of Jesus to be counted as a valid by most, I find validity and peace in it.)

According to the account, Mary seeing no one there at the well did what any normal human would have done...she ran home. Once she was home and busy working with a cloth while sitting on a stone stool in her home she was approached by the angel again.

For years, I pictured the episode happening in the middle of the night. Waking up to see the angel in its brightness standing over her is a good reason to hear 'don't be afraid'.

But then I learned that families tended to all sleep near one another...not much privacy for an angel to talk. Mary's voice alone would have awakened someone.

No the prospect of hearing an audible male voice in the day light, at a well where all the other young girls and women from the town are gathered, with no man around. And, then in an empty house, with everyone gone, you're all alone, to have an angel appear before you is more frightening to me. I would need to hear 'don't be afraid'.

The phrase itself is suppose to calm the person down because a special message from God is about to be spoken and the person needs to listen up. Keep this in mind, one moment no one is there. The next an angel's there talking to you saying the strangest things. Then he's gone.

I can only imagine the look she must have had when her mother and sisters arrived back home to see why she ran off from the well. It all makes perfect sense to me when I put it into that perspective. That's why she was able to go right away to see Elizabeth. That's why her family helped care for the children when she and Joseph had to go find Jesus in the Temple...they knew who he was and why he had to be found.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

No Way Like The Highway

Never having given much thought to how people traveled in ancient Judea and Galilee, I just assumed the roads were nothing more than mere foot paths. But there were major roadways that, in fact were long established.

One major highway going through the holy land was the International Highway. Beginning in the southwest near Heliopolis, Egypt it followed the Mediterranean Sea before moving inland to Hazor, crossing the Jordan in the direction of Damascus and making it's way over to the Persian Gulf via Babylon. Merchants traveled this road taking their wares from east to west and back again. The "Day Of Discovery" program mentioned this road was also known as Via Maris, or the Way of the Sea.

Another roadway was the King's Highway which began at the Gulf of Aqaba traveling north, east of the Jordan through Perea and Decapolis, also known as the Transjordan region. The highway crossed the IH then eventually curved back to the east to meet up with the IH again.

A lesser highway yet equal in age, the Ridge Route, traversed the region between The Sea and the Jordan River. According to A Visual Guide To Bible Events, which quoted Josephus' book Jewish Antiquities, it was probably the road the villagers from Galilee traveled to get to Jerusalem. This road took the travelers through Samaria; which leads me to an interesting thought. A 'good, upstanding' Jew would not have traveled through a region they considered unclean, yet Jews who were despised because of where they lived had no trouble traveling that way.

Because they did go the 'you'll be unclean if you go there' way they were blessed by the places they passed; some of those holding the remembrance of God's covenant, or acknowledgements made to God. By the time they reached Jerusalem the whole purpose of the trip would have been steadfast in their spirits, making them ready for the festivals and the full meaning each one held. I wonder if this could be compared to listening to worship music on the way to church.

No matter which way they went the people needed to travel together in caravans. There were so many thieves and gangs roaming the roads that they needed to have a group, a large group, to keep the thieves at bay. I think that's a cool thought...traveling together to worship, celebrate, and sacrifice at the Lord's Temple.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What A Time For A Visit

Of all the visits Jesus made to Jerusalem one stands out as odd. When reading Luke 2 my focus has been on why an obedient boy would forget to leave town with his parents. I totally missed a whole other lesson.

According to A Visual Guide To Bible Events there was another point to be made. The Hebrews often related things to numbers, or in numbers. When the Babylonians destroyed the temple it was seventy years later that God provided a way for the exiles to return and rebuild it. From that time on the Hebrew nation began to look for God's deliverance at the end of a seventy year stretch.

Seventy years from the time the Romans seized Jerusalem people began looking for divine rescue again...and look who walks into the Temple. It's not the well-built-obviously-strong-man who can take on the whole Roman army with a single hand walking in and getting everyone's attention. It's a boy asking and answering questions as he prepares for his first step into adulthood.

Of course the people were wanting, expecting, and looking for a deliverer...not the Sacrificial Lamb Messiah. I knew they wanted Rome gone from their city, but I never quite got why there were so many people naming their babies Jesus, or why so many claimed to be the messiah, or why they didn't see his miracles as coming from the hand of God. Now it all makes sense.

How sad for the people who didn't catch on. I've got to wonder if there is ever a time that Jesus comes into my life as a deliverer and I don't recognize His hand at work because it's not the way I expected it to come. Ouch.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Magi Re-visited

There's more to the story of Herod and the Persians who came to see Jesus than has ever been explained to me. Understanding the back story, as writers call it, makes the story so much easier to understand.

Twenty plus years before the magi walked into Jerusalem Herod had a run-in with the Persians. (By the way, Parthians and Persians seem to be synonymous.) Apparently, Jewish loyalists who were trying to get rid of Herod and his family enlisted the help of Persians. In the process Herod got out of Jerusalem while the getting was good and headed straight for Rome. He convinced the Roman Senate to acknowledge him as king of the Jews.

Of course, once Herod return to Judea he had to fight some battles for the right to keep the title. By battles, I mean he killed those he felt were a threat to his title, including two of his sons.

Some versions read that the magi came asking for the ‘true’, or ‘legitimate’, King of the Jews. I would bet that Herod was livid and saw these rich men with their rich gifts as a slap in the face. You see, in those days, it was considered good and proper to bring gifts and greetings to a new king. To not do so was quite an insult, a slap in the face so to speak. Considering Herod’s history with the Persians, we can assume they didn’t bring him any gifts when Rome gave him his title. Thus, the country had already previously given him quite an insult.

Yet, he put on a happy face and told them he wanted to also acknowledge this new king. Notice he did not go with them. I always wondered why he didn’t go with the magi and find out where Jesus was himself. How easy would that have been for him? Now, I know, that would have meant he was accepting Jesus’s place as King of the Jews.

Can you imagine how different things would have turned out if Herod had gone with the wise men? Herod would have lost his power...the people would have revolted against him...placing Jesus in the palace...Joseph, Mary, and Jesus would not have redeemed the stay in Egypt....Jesus would not have been raised in the quiet countryside away from the politics of Jerusalem...crucifying Jesus would never have happened. He would only have been God Incarnate. He would not be our Sacrificial Lamb understanding all the ways men fight temptations and deal with the struggles of life.

How awesome to have a friend like Him who choose to take the hard road for the greater good.