Monday, 16 May 2022

The Miracle at Nain (Luke 7:11-17): Part 2 of 5

 

The Only Son of a Widow

“But as he approached the town’s gate, behold one having died was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a considerable crowd of the town was with her” (Luke 7:12). [All Scripture references are the author’s own translation unless otherwise noted.] To arrive at just the right moment must have entailed foresight, planning, and haste. The Lord was not summoned or approached, as on many other occasions (4:40, 42; 5:12, 15, 18-19; 6:17-19; 7:3-4; 8:41, 44; 9:38; 17:13; 18:38). He took the initiative. 


The deceased, like Jesus, was a firstborn son and therefore consecrated to God (Exod. 13:1; Luke 2:23). At his father’s death, he became the head of the household with the solemn duty of caring for his widowed mother. As the only son, the responsibility was his alone. When he died, the widowed mother suffered a double tragedy, both the emotional loss of her closest loved ones and the material loss of her principal means of subsistence. In the first-century Mediterranean world, women who lost their spouses with no other family assistance were deemed “truly” widows (1 Tim. 5:3, 5, 16). In ancient Jewish culture, to lose a husband, especially prior to old age, carried the stigma of God’s presumed displeasure and accompanying shame (Ruth 1:13, 20-21; Isa. 54:4). 


This poor widow was truly alone. But she was not totally alone, as “a considerable crowd of the town was with her.” The prospect of professional mourners notwithstanding, there appears to have been a sympathetic and supportive community. The words of Zechariah, later applied at Christ’s death (John 19:37), would be appropriate here: “… and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve for him as one grieves for a firstborn” (Zech. 12:10b; cf. Jer. 6:26; Amos 8:10). 


Jesus took special interest in widows (Mark 12:40-44; Luke 18:3-5; cf. Jas. 1:27), as well as misfortunes involving an only child (Luke 8:42; 9:38). Stranded at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, brokenhearted and destitute, the tragic departure of this mother’s only son was met by the gracious arrival of God’s only Son. While the gathering of mourners may have offered a surface level of consolement, there was only one who could provide the deeper comfort of God. 


“And having seen her, the Lord was moved with compassion for her, and said to her, ‘Do not mourn’” (Luke 7:13). To have “seen” this grieving parent was more than a casual glance but included mental perception (cf. 5:20; 9:27; 18:24) that provoked an intense emotional response. The same cause-and-effect reaction is portrayed in the Lord’s parables featuring a good Samaritan and a prodigal son’s father (10:33; 15:20). The Greek verb translated “[he] was moved with compassion,” from the noun splágchna (“internal organs” or “inward parts”), describes a deep-seated, gut-wrenching emotion (Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 18:27; 20:34; Mark 1:41; 9:22). In a throng of troubled souls, Jesus was especially moved by one in particular. 


Saying to the distraught mother, “Do not mourn,” might sound insensitive and inappropriate were it not for the identity of the one speaking. The designation “Lord” occurs throughout the Third Gospel, but here is the first time the inspired author himself, as narrator, uses it in reference to Jesus. It is a title of honor and reverence, indicative of authority and rule. Luke associates the term with divine power (5:17) and applies it as much to the Lord God as he does to the Lord Jesus (note 20:42-44). In fact, the Greek text of Luke’s Gospel begins by using the full definitive title ho kúrios (“the Lord”) to refer to the heavenly Father (1:6, 9, 28, 46, 68; 2:15, 22), then, beginning with our current text, makes application to the Father’s Son (7:13, 19; 10:1, 2, 39, 41; 11:39; 12:42; 13:15; 17:5, 6; 18:6; 19:8a; 22:61; 24:3). 

 

The seemingly callous directive signaled the Lord’s certainty of what was about to happen, reaching beyond the immediate circumstance and offering reassurance and hope (cf. 8:52; Matt. 5:4; Rev. 7:17). Jesus was not voicing empty words in a feeble attempt to console. He himself would weep at the gravesite of someone close to him (John 11:35). He rather backed up his words with his gracious presence and merciful actions. Death had cruelly severed a cherished relationship that he aimed to restore. 

 

As a church community, like the people of Nain, we ought to be known for weeping with those who weep and bearing one another’s burdens (Rom. 12:15; Gal. 6:2; Heb. 12:12). What do we say to someone whose loved one has died? What words are adequate or even appropriate? What is needed more than words?


--Kevin L. Moore


*Originally appearing as “Jesus and Power (Luke 7:11-17)” in the 2022 FHU Lectureship Book.


Related PostsMiracle at Nain: Part 1

 

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Wednesday, 11 May 2022

The Miracle at Nain (Luke 7:11-17): Part 1 of 5

The word “power” can describe any number of things, like physical strength, political influence, military might, mechanical energy, and various natural phenomena. But there is an ultimate power that transcends them all, emanating from heaven and wondrously displayed on earth. As Jesus went about doing good throughout his earthly mission, he routinely exhibited power over sin (Luke 4:13; 5:20), demonic forces (Luke 4:41; 6:18), nature (Luke 5:4-9; 8:24), sickness (Luke 4:38-40; 6:19), and disability (Luke 5:18-25; 7:22). Early in his Galilean ministry, in an episode recounted only in Luke’s Gospel, he manifested power over death. 


He Went to a Town Called Nain


Following the healing of a centurion’s servant at Capernaum, Jesus directly headed south. “And it happened afterwards, he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd were traveling with him” (Luke 7:11). [All Scripture references are the author’s own translation unless otherwise noted.] Textual variation of a single letter in the Greek text raises the question of whether this was “soon afterward” (ESV) or “the day after” (NKJV). Either way, we get the impression he was in somewhat of a hurry. 


A distance of approximately 32 miles (52 km) separated the fishing village of Capernaum, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, from the small farming village of Nain in Lower Galilee. It was about six miles (9.5 km) southeast of Nazareth at the base of the Hill of Moreh. Today, with modern roads and motorized vehicles, the trip from Capernaum to Nain would take about an hour. The average person in the first century would have needed a couple of days to make the journey by foot, especially considering the terrain. Capernaum is about 682 feet (208 m) below sea level, whereas Nain is around 700 feet (213 m) above sea level, an arduous, uphill climb. 


Even though the abrupt expedition was not an easy excursion, Jesus was accompanied by “his disciples and a large crowd.” Their commitment to Christ and eagerness to be with him and learn from him is evident. The obscure village, mentioned nowhere else in scripture, was out of the way, off the beaten path. One did not simply pass through Nain or end up there unintentionally. It was not a densely populated, bustling metropolis or strategic location for a major soul-winning campaign. It was, however, the home of a person in need. Jesus appears to have made a special trip to this unremarkable place to do a remarkable thing for an otherwise unnoticed, disadvantaged soul. 


Already in the account we get an informative glimpse of true discipleship. Do we stay close to the Lord when life’s journey is inconvenient and hard? Will we follow his lead to go out of our way to help someone in need?


--Kevin L. Moore


*Originally appearing as “Jesus and Power (Luke 7:11-17)” in the 2022 FHU Lectureship Book.


Related PostsMiracle at Nain (Part 2)

 

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Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Did the early church practice socialism?

Socialism is a political and economic philosophy that advocates community ownership and distribution of resources, typically controlled by the governing authorities. Does Acts 4:32-35 provide an example of socialism being practiced in the early church, and does it set a precedent for all Christians to follow? The passage reads:

Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. (NKJV)


Contextually, multiplied thousands of Jewish people from distant lands had travelled to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost (Acts 2:1, 5), a large percentage of whom had learned and obeyed the gospel to mark the beginning of Christ’s church (vv. 41, 47; 4:4; 5:14). Rather than returning home, however, they remained in Jerusalem for continued instruction and fellowship (2:42) until they were later forced to disperse (8:1-4).


In the meantime, how were their physical needs to be met? A community spirit prevailed, coordinated first by the apostles and then by other godly men, that included selfless generosity and mutual sharing (2:44-45; 4:32-33; 6:1-3). This was a unique situation not necessarily applicable to more normal living conditions.


The scriptures teach a balanced message of bearing one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), while each is to bear his own load (v. 5). Accountable, able-bodied persons are expected to work, not be an unnecessary burden on others, and provide for themselves (2 Thess. 3:7-13) and for their families (1 Tim. 5:8), while also helping the needy (Eph. 4:28). But the economic model of socialism is not biblically enjoined.


--Kevin L. Moore


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Wednesday, 27 April 2022

How was the devil able to tempt Jesus with the promise of granting authority over the kingdoms of the world?

“And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve”’ (Luke 4:5-8, ESV).


The devil is a liar (John 8:44) and deceptively speaks half-truths to Jesus in his weakened state. Jesus knows that establishing God’s spiritual kingdom involves a great deal of pain, humiliation, and suffering (Matt. 16:18-21). The devil tries to tempt him with an easier, albeit materialistic and selfish, alternative. 


The devil is called the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) and “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4a; cf. Eph. 2:2) because of his powerful influence in the present physical realm (Gal. 1:4; cf. 1 Cor. 1:20; 2:6, 8; 2 Tim. 4:10; 1 John 5:19). His power, however, is relative and far from absolute. God permits this state of affairs because of his gracious gift of free will. Nevertheless, God alone is “the king of the ages” (1 Tim. 1:17; cf. Psa. 10:16; 44:4; 95:3). 


Jesus resisted this and all other temptations, paving the way to becoming “a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Heb. 2:17-18).


--Kevin L. Moore


Related PostsTempted As We Are 


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Wednesday, 20 April 2022

Cain’s Unacceptable Sacrifice

“By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he was declared righteous, God testifying to his gifts, and through it, having died, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4).1

Abel offered to God a “better” or “superior” [πλείων] sacrifice than his brother Cain, not necessarily better in quality but better in kind. Cain’s offering was of the fruit of the ground, “and Abel also [גַּם] brought of the firstborn [בְּכוֹרָה] of his flock …” (Gen. 4:3, 4). The LXX reads: “And Abel also [καί] brought of the firstborn [πρωτοτόκων] of his flock …”


If “firstborn” is understood here in the sense of “preeminent,” the conjunction “also” seems to imply that Cain had brought the first (presumably the best) of his harvest. If this inference is correct, then Cain gave the same quality of offering as Abel, but it was of a different kind


Abel offered a blood sacrifice; Cain did not. Since Abel’s offering was “by faith” (Heb. 11:4), and faith comes by hearing God’s word (Rom. 10:17), it follows that God must have given instructions about the type of offering he wanted, namely a blood sacrifice (cf. Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22). Apparently Cain’s offering was unacceptable because it was not a blood sacrifice, not authorized by God, and therefore could not be offered “by faith.”


Acceptable worship to God has always required one’s very best, internally with the right attitude and mental focus, and externally according to the pattern of God’s revealed word.2


--Kevin L. Moore


Endnotes:

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.

     2 1 Kings 8:61; Matt. 15:1-9; John 4:23-24.


Related Posts: Restoring True WorshipWhat Are You Getting Out of Worship?  

 

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Wednesday, 13 April 2022

Wise Men from the East

Sometime after Jesus was born, possibly up to two years later, “wise men from the east” arrived in Judea to visit the Christ-child (Matt. 2:1-13a).1  Recounted only in Matthew’s Gospel, the biblical record says nothing about their mode of transportation, where they came from, or how many there were. Stripping away centuries of human tradition and embellishment, what do we know about these enigmatic figures? 


The Historical-Geographical Context 


The main setting of Matthew’s narrative is “Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king …” (v. 1). Not to be confused with a town by the same name in the land of Zebulun (Lower Galilee),2 this Bethlehem was in the region of Judea, about 6.5 miles (10.5 km) south of Jerusalem.3 Herod (the Great) had been appointed by the Roman Senate as Judea’s king and reigned from 37 BC until his death in 4 BC. As the recognized “king” of the Jews (vv. 1, 3, 9),4 he was naturally disturbed by news of another “king of the Jews” (v. 2; cf. 27:11, 29, 37). When Herod was troubled, all Jerusalem was troubled with him (v. 3).


The Mysterious Visitors 


Matthew does not say how many there were, but the plural implies more than one. Considering Matthew’s affinity for “doublets” and “pairing” and the number “two,”5 the absence here of a specific number probably suggests more than a couple. A sizeable group is precluded by the fact they all entered what was likely a small house in a tiny rural village (v. 11a). Three is the traditional inference based on how many gifts they brought (v. 11b), but Matthew’s inspired report does not provide this information. Further, identifying them as “kings” (Tertullian, Ag. Marc. 3.13) cannot be established on the basis of contextually disconnected passages like Psalms 68:29; 72:10-11; and Isaiah 60:3.


Matthew refers to the men as μάγοι (vv. 1, 7, 16), plural of μάγος, usually translated in English “wise men” or transliterated “magi.”6 It is a relatively fluid term with various applications. Historically it has been viewed as a label for [Persian or Babylonian] wise men, priests, astrologers, interpreters of dreams, practitioners of various secret arts, or magicians (BDAG 608-609). However, the word was generally applied to any number of individuals exhibiting special knowledge and abilities presumed to be of supernatural means.7


Ancient Near-Eastern Wise Men


In sixth-century BC Babylon at least five groups of prominent and influential persons were collectively regarded as “the wise” (Dan. 2:12-14, 18, 24, 27, 48; 4:6, 18; 5:7, 8, 15; Jer. 50:35). 

·      The Hebrew term chartom [חַרְטֹם] (Dan. 1:20; 2:2, 10, 27; 4:7, 9; 5:11) refers to a “writer” or “engraver,” applied to a priestly class learned in the sacred writings.8 While variously rendered “magicians” (ASV, ESV, NIV, N/KJV, NRSV), “diviners” (ISV), “soothsayer priests” (NASB), and “diviner-priests” (HCSB), monotheistic Jewish exiles were also instructed in the language and literature of the Chaldeans (Dan. 1:4). 

·      The word ashshaph [אַשָּׁף] (Dan. 1:20; 2:2, 10, 27; 4:7; 5:7, 11, 15) is indicative of a “conjurer,” “enchanter,” or “necromancer.”9 English translations include “conjurers” (NASB), “enchanters” (ASV, ESV, NIV, NRSV), “mediums” (H/CSB), and “astrologers” (NET, N/KJV).

·      The verbal kashaph [כָּשַׁף] (Dan. 2:2; Isa. 47:9, 12) is used for one who “engages in sorcery,” typically rendered in noun form, “sorcerer.” The practice of sorcery was also common in Egypt (Ex. 7:11) and forbidden among the Israelites (Ex. 22:18; Deut. 18:10; 2 Chron. 33:6; Mal. 3:5). 

·      The name Kasdim [כַּשְׂדִּי] (“Chaldeans”) is descriptive of a distinguished priestly order of Babylonian sages (Dan. 2:2-5, 10), having arisen among the prominent Chaldean peoples (Gen. 11:28; 15:7; Neh. 9:7) who were absorbed into the Babylonian empire.10 

·      The verbal gezar [גְּזַר], meaning to “cut” or “divide,” seems to refer to astrologers who studied the heavens in sections (Dan. 2:27; 4:7; 5:7, 11; cf. Isa. 47:13), variously rendered “diviners” (NASB, NIV, NRSV), “soothsayers” (ASV, N/KJV), and “astrologers” (ESV, ISV).


While the Babylonians lumped all these together into a single group, biblically a distinction is made between the pagan “wise men” and the Jewish “wise men.” The prophet Daniel (Belteshazzar) and his Hebrew companions—Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abed-Nego)—were counted among “the wise” (Dan. 1:6-7, 17; 2:18) and seen as men of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding (Dan. 1:4, 6-7, 17, 20; 5:12). Daniel in particular, because of his divinely inspired insights and abilities (Dan. 2:14, 20-23; 5:11, 12, 14; 10:1), was appointed chief administrator over all “the wise” of Babylonia (Dan. 2:48), including those in the above categories (Dan. 5:11). 


During the post-exilic Persian period (539 to 331 BC), the Greek historian Herodotus (contemporary of Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi) applied the term μάγοι to a tribe of the ancient Medes, as well as to Persian priests (Histories 1.101, 132). The Roman philosopher Cicero (ca. 106-43 BC) referred to the μάγοι as Persian “augurs and diviners,” with “whole families and tribes devoted to this art,” and “no one can become king of the Persians until he has learned the theory and the practice of the μάγοι” (On Divination 1.90-91).


First-Century Near-Eastern Wise Men 


In recounting the story of Daniel, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (ca. AD 37-100) applied the term μάγοι to the Babylonian “wise men” (Ant. 10.10.3-4). The Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (20 BC – AD 50) considered the sophists [σοφιστής] or wise teachers to be μάγοι (Life of Moses 1.92) in a more natural or scientific sense (Spec. Laws 3.100; Every Good Man 74), without supernatural endowment (Life of Moses 1.277).11 Matthew, a contemporary of Josephus and Philo, used the same word μάγοι in recording the story of Christ’s curious guests. Matthew’s usage does not necessarily indicate their involvement in the occult or pagan ritualism and may simply describe individuals possessing special knowledge or wisdom.12


Where is “the East”?


The directional term “east” [ἀνατολή] does not identify a particular location other than pointing eastward in relation to Judea.13 Matthew merely reports the direction from which they came, afterwards departing for their own “country” [χώρα] (Matt. 2:1, 12). This latter term appears next in Matthew’s Gospel (4:14-16) in a quote from Isaiah 9:1-2, a messianic prophecy concerning Jesus’ Galilean ministry.  


In Isaiah’s day the eastern nation of Assyria was rising in power, on the verge of attacking and conquering the northern kingdom of Israel (Isa. 8:4-7). From Assyria’s vantage point, they were looking “beyond the Jordan” as “the people residing in darkness saw a great light, and the ones residing in the country [χώρα] and shadow of death, a light has risen on them.” Later the Assyrians were conquered by the neighboring Babylonians, the next great empire of the east.


The only other occurrence of the word χώρα in Matthew still points eastward to the Decapolis district beyond the Jordan River (Matt. 8:28). Whether or not Matthew’s “wise men” traveled from a great distance cannot be confirmed.


The Star


The travelers were directed by a “star” [ἀστήρ] that led them to the region of Judea, then on to the village of Bethlehem (Matt. 2:2, 7, 9, 10). It is commonly assumed they were astrologers,14 practicing the art of celestial divination. Although astrology can be traced to Mesopotamia (ancient Assyria and Babylon) by the second century BC, astronomy dates back even earlier. 


Astronomy, the scientific study of celestial bodies, relies more on mathematics and physics than mystical subjectivism. The “mathematisation of astronomical prediction” among the early Mesopotamians constituted “a revolution of wisdom,”15 paving the way for Greek mathematics and astronomy and the European scientific revolution. Pliny the Elder (ca. AD 23-79) wrote about the city of Babylon of his day, “The temple of Jupiter Belus still remains—it was here the creator of the science of astronomy was …” (Nat. Hist. 6.30).16 About a century earlier Cicero observed, “In Syria the Chaldeans are preeminent for their knowledge of astronomy and for their quickness of mind” (On Divination 1.91). 


While the distinction between metaphysical astrology and the natural science of astronomy was often blurred in antiquity, Matthew’s observations do not automatically equate to pagan mystics. These men may have been astronomers who studied the stars and could identify something out of the ordinary unobservable to the untrained eye. Guidance was provided through channels with which they were familiar, indicative of God’s concern for accommodating people where they are.


Some have sought a naturalistic explanation for this “star,”17 which is unnecessary if it were a supernatural phenomenon. Almighty God, who created the heavenly luminaries, is certainly capable of controlling and manipulating anything in the physical universe for his own purpose (Psa. 8:1-3; 136:7-9; cf. Josh. 10:11-13; Isa. 38:8; Hab. 3:11).18 These “wise men,” who were later “divinely warned in a dream” (Matt. 2:12), were somehow in tune with the revelatory activity of God (cf. vv. 2, 5-6, 9).  


Ethnoreligious Identification


A popular assumption is that these “wise men” were pagan Gentiles. But what Matthew says about them suggests otherwise. They traveled to Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish religion, and first made inquiries of the official ruler of the Jews (Matt. 2:1). They had knowledge of and were anticipating the Jewish messianic king (v. 2a). They desired to pay homage to him (v. 2b).19 Having located the one fulfilling the prophetic Hebrew scriptures, “they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy” and offered obeisance to him (vv. 10, 11a). The gifts they brought (v. 11b) had special significance in Judaism.20 They even received divine communication (v. 12; cp. 1:20; 2:13, 19, 22). 


None of these observations offers definitive proof, but collectively they argue in favor of persons with a background in (or heavily influenced by) Judaism. It was not uncommon for Jews living in the east to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem (Acts 2:5, 9). These “wise men” could very well have been descendants of Jewish exiles still living beyond the eastern borders of the Roman empire,21 not to mention the enduring impact of exilic prophets like Ezekiel and more notably Daniel.


Alternatively, in view of strong Jewish persuasion and proselytizing, the prospect of proselytes (Matt. 23:15; Acts 2:10; 6:5; 13:43) or God-fearing semi-converts (Acts 10:2; 13:16, 26; 17:17; 18:7) could account for these “wise men” being ethnically non-Jewish, although religiously non-Jewish seems less likely. In none of their reported interactions in Judea is any hint of Jew-Gentile tensions (cp. Acts 10:28).


Guided by Scripture and Divine Providence


With knowledge of the messianic king and guided by “his star” to Judea, the “wise men” made inquiries in the Jewish capital city, where the leading priests and scribes were familiar with the biblical prophecy concerning the Messiah’s place of birth (Matt. 2:1-6). Quoting Micah 5:2, unless he was reciting the actual words of these Jewish scholars, Matthew seems to provide his own Greek translation.22


With more precise details from scripture, the “wise men” continued to be guided by the star as it “went before them, till it stood over where the young child was” (v. 9), thereby confirming they had not been misinformed by the Jewish authorities. However the exact location was pinpointed, they were at least led to the general vicinity where further inquiries could be made. When they located and entered “the house” and saw the child and his mother (no mention of Joseph on this occasion), they prostrated themselves in reverence before the Christ-child (v. 11a). 


They must have spent the night somewhere, perhaps afforded hospitality in the same house, and were divinely warned in a dream to avoid Herod on the way home (v. 12). The costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (v. 11b) would have enabled Joseph, a relatively poor carpenter already far from home,23 to provide for his family during their extended excursion in Egypt (vv. 13-15).


What Happened Next?


The “wise men” departed for their own country (vv. 12b-13a), and this is the last time they are explicitly alluded to in scripture. Did their extraordinary encounter with the Christ make a lasting impression on them and those within their circle of influence? About three decades later, visitors from the east, both Jews and proselytes, traveled to Jerusalem and had the opportunity to hear and obey the message of the Christ in its fulness (Acts 2:5, 8-11, 37-42). Persecution later forced believers to scatter from the region, many of whom likely returned to their homelands, “proclaiming good news of the word” (Acts 8:4). In the decades that followed, churches were established eastward throughout the Tigris-Euphrates valley from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf.24


Conclusion


In this rather obscure episode at the beginning of Jesus’ life on earth, we clearly see the providential working of God in fulfilling his redemptive plan. We also see very different responses to the Christ. 

·      Herod reacted with self-centered jealousy and hostility. He represents those who respond to the good news of Jesus Christ, not with joyous celebration but with antagonism and intolerance fueled by selfish aspirations. 

·      The people of Jerusalem were troubled, even though the long-anticipated messianic king had arrived in their own backyard. They were oblivious, distracted by worldly affairs. They epitomize individuals enslaved by their own spiritual apathy, having no interest in the way of Christ and burdened by the diversions and deceptions of a fallen world. 

·      The chief priests and scribes, despite their thorough Bible knowledge, were not prepared to act upon what they should have known. Even though the word of God is still accessible to all who desire to know his will, without doing his will anything else is incomplete.  

·      The “wise men” acted upon what little they knew, diligently searched for the Lord, and found him. The divine promise, “seek and you will find,” has been repeatedly confirmed through the ages and remains as true as ever.25


The wise still seek him and are open to God’s direction. The wise rejoice with exceedingly great joy when the divine purpose is realized. The wise give up earthly treasures for much greater heavenly priorities. The wise still share the good news they have found.


--Kevin L. Moore


Endnotes:

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation. The celestial sign marking the birth of Jesus appeared up to two years before the wise men arrived in Judea (Matt. 2:7, 16). The word παιδίον (“child”) in Matt. 2:8-14 is a fairly broad term that can refer to a newborn at the moment of birth (John 16:21) or of eight days (Luke 1:59, 66, 76; 2:17) or forty days (Luke 2:27; cf. v. 22; Lev. 12:1-8), or a baby of three months (Heb. 11:23), or a toddler (Matt. 2:20-21), or a youngster up to twelve years old (Mark 5:39-42; cf. Luke 2:40-42).

     2 Josh. 19:15; cf. Judg. 12:8, 10. 

     3 Luke 2:4, 15; John 7:42; cf. Gen. 35:19; 48:7; Judg. 17:7-9; 19:1-2; Ruth 1:1-2; 1 Sam. 16:1, 4; 17:12.

     4 Our current system of dating was formulated by the sixth-century Roman monk Dionysius Exiguus of Scythia, but it is now known that his calculations were off by at least four years. There is no year zero, and Dionysius marked the beginning of the Lord’s ministry at year 30 despite Jesus’ age being imprecisely noted by Luke as “about” [ὡσεί] 30 (Luke 3:23).

     5 Note Matthew’s repeated use of the number “two” (4:18, 21; 20:21; 26:37, 60; 27:21). In parallel accounts, Matthew seems to “double” the individual characters portrayed in the other Gospels (8:28-34; 20:29-34; 21:2-7). Matthew has double metaphors (5:14-16) and double parables (13:44, 45). Similar teachings or events appearing in two different contexts, so-called “doublets,” are numerous.

     6 Transliterated “magi” (CEB, CJB, LSV, NAB, NASB, NIV, Darby), or variously rendered “wise men” (ASV, CSB, ISV, EHV, ERV, ESV, MEV, NCV, NET, N/KJV, N/RSV, Douay-Rheims), “astrologers” (TLB, NLT, J. B. Phillips NT, Wycliffe Bible, NRSV n.), and even “kings” (Wycliffe Bible n.).

     7 G. Delling, “μάγος,” in G. Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the NT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969): 4:356-57. The only other occurrence of this noun in the NT is in reference to a Jewish false prophet on the island of Cyprus (Acts 13:6-8), while the verbal μαγεύω is applied to Simon, a practitioner of μαγεία (“magic” or “sorcery”) in Samaria (Acts 8:9, 11).

     8 C. F. Keil, Biblical Commentary on the Book of Daniel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971): 87. A similar order is documented in ancient Egyptian society (Gen. 41:8, 24; Ex. 7:11, 22; 8:7, 18-19; 9:11), and Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22).

     9 F. Brown, et al., eds.,The New Brown–Driver–Briggs–Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1979): 80. The LXX rendering in Dan. 2:2 is τοὺς μάγους, and μάγον in v. 10. 

     10 C. F. Keil, op. cit. 78, 87-88. The Orthodox Jewish Bible renders μάγοι in Matt. 2:1 and 7, chachamim.

     11 G. Delling, op. cit. 4:358; cf. also J. P. Lewis, The Gospel According to Matthew: Part I (Austin, TX: Sweet, 1976): 43-44.

     12 The World English Bible submits “wise men” as an English equivalent of μάγοι and includes in the footnote at Matt. 2:1, among various translational options, “teachers, scientists, physicians ...” 

     13 The noun ἀνατολή in Matt. 2:2, 9, in the singular form with the article in connection with the “star,” is probably not a geographical reference but rather astronomical, “rising” (BDAG 74; see CSB, ESV, NAB, NET, NIV, NLT, NRSV).

     14 Some English versions render μάγοι in this passage “astrologers” (TLB, NLT, J. B. Phillips NT, Wycliffe Bible, NRSV n.); with less specificity, “men who studied stars” (GNT); “People famous for studying the stars” (CEV n.). 

     15 David Brown, Mesopotamian Planetary Astronomy-Astrology: Cuneiform Monographs 18 (Groningen: Styx Publications, 2000): 209-238; cf. also Asgar Aaboe, “Babylonian mathematics, astrology, and astronomy,” in J. Boardman, et al., eds., The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires, 2nd ed., The Cambridge Ancient History 3.2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991): 276-292.

     16 Asgar Aaboe, Episodes from the Early History of Astronomy (NY: Springer-Science+Media, 2001): 28.

     17 Suggestions have included a comet, a meteor, a nova, a supernova, and planetary conjunction. Since “planets” were identified by the Greeks as ἀστέρες πλανῆται (“wandering stars”), it is of interest to note that the heliacal rising of the planet Jupiter (visible above the eastern horizon just before the sun’s appearance) is documented April–December 6 BC (David Weintraub, “Can astronomy explain the biblical Star of Bethlehem?” The Conversation [23 Dec. 2014], Link). Chinese astronomers reportedly witnessed a slow-moving, long-tailed comet (sui-hsing) during March of 5 BC that remained over 70 days in the region of Capricorn (The Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 32 [1991]: 389-407). Shortly before Herod’s death there was an eclipse of the moon (Josephus, Ant. 17.6.4), which occurred on 13th March 4 BC (see ISBE 3:1381).

     18 There does not seem to be a clear connection here with the prophecy recorded in Num. 24:17, seeing that the “star” of which Balaam spoke was a symbolic reference to royal splendor (cp. Rev. 22:16). Matthew, who incorporates plethoric fulfilled OT prophecies in his Gospel, makes no mention of it. Nevertheless, Balaam had come from “the east” (Num. 23:7) and was later called μάγος by Philo (Life of Moses 1.276). Many argue that the star of Bethlehem was merely “literary and theological” rather than literal: see R. H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994): 28.

     19 The verbal προσκυνέω can simply describe “bowing down to show reverence” (Matt. 18:26; 20:20; cf. 17:6), and in the sense of “worship” it conveys something reserved only for God (4:9-10). How well these “wise men from the east” comprehended the deity of Christ is debatable. Nevertheless, Matthew would have had a much clearer understanding, and his repeated reports of προσκυνέω directed toward Jesus (2:2, 8, 11; 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 28:9, 17) certainly gives the impression of Christ’s exalted nature.

     20 Gold was used for the tabernacle/temple and its furnishings and utensils (Ex. 25:11–26:37; 30:1-5; Matt. 23:16-17; etc.) and priestly garments (Ex. 28:2-36). Frankincense was offered with grain offerings (Lev. 2:1-2, 15-16; 6:15), placed on the gold-plated table of showbread (Lev. 24:7) outside the veil (Ex. 30:6; 40:22), and used to make incense (Ex. 30:34). Myrrh was reserved for producing “a holy anointing oil” for consecrating the tabernacle, its furnishings, and priests (Ex. 30:22-25). These gifts were fit for a Jewish (Davidic) king (1 Kings 10:2; Song 3:6-7); cf. also Psa. 45:8; 72:15; Isa. 60:6. Note that myrrh was also used in the crucifixion and burial of Jesus (Mark 15:23; John 19:39).

     21 After the nation of Israel divided in 931 BC, the northern kingdom was conquered and exiled by the Assyrians in 722 BC, and the southern kingdom was conquered and exiled by the Babylonians, with three major deportations in 597, 587, and 582 BC. Having conquered the Babylonians in 539 BC, Cyrus the Great permitted the Jews to return to their homeland (2 Chron. 36:20-23), but most of the Jewish exiles remained in the east or migrated farther west. Included among the returnees were families of former residents of Bethlehem (Ezra 2:21; Neh. 7:26).

     22 Some wording parallels the LXX, while the rest is unique to Matthew. “Judah” is the contemporized version of the archaic “Ephrathah,” with further messianic implications (cf. 1:2-3; Gen. 49:10). Conventional targumic paraphrasing and midrashic interpretation appear to have been employed, along with wording that echoes other scriptures (e.g., Mic. 5:4; 2 Sam. 5:2; 1 Chron. 11:2). Nevertheless, the essential meaning remains intact. See C. L. Blomberg, “Matthew,” in G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, eds., Commentary on the NT Use of the OT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007): 5-7.

     23 Before their trek to Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary were living in the Galilean town of Nazareth (Luke 1:26; 2:4). At around six weeks of age, baby Jesus was taken to Jerusalem where a sacrifice was offered (Luke 2:22-38). The traditional sacrifice was a lamb and a young pigeon or turtledove (Lev. 12:6), but if one could not afford a lamb, the alternative sacrifice of the poor was two turtledoves or two young pigeons (Lev. 12:8). The fact that only two birds were offered (Luke 2:24) indicates that Jesus was born into a relatively poor family.

     24 See P. Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity (NY: HarperCollins, 2008): 1-13; D. T. Irvin and S. W. Sunquist, History of the World Christian Movement (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2001): 1:57-65.

     25 Deut. 4:29; 1 Chron. 16:10; 22:19; 28:8-9; 2 Chron. 7:14; 11:16; 14:4; 15:2, 12-13; 19:3; 20:3-4; 30:19; 31:21; 34:3; Ezra 4:2; 6:21; 7:10; 8:21, 22; Job 5:8; 8:5; Psa. 9:10; 14:2; 22:26; 24:6; 27:4, 8; 34:10; 40:16; 53:2; 63:1; 69:32; 70:4; 105:3, 4; 119:2, 45; Prov. 2:4-5; 8:17; 28:5; Isa. 11:10; 26:9; 51:1; 55:6; 58:2; Jer. 26:19; 29:13; Jer. 50:4-5; Hos. 3:5; 5:15; 10:12; Amos 5:4, 6, 14; Zeph. 2:3; 8:21, 22; Mal. 2:7; 3:1; Matt. 6:33; 7:7-8; Luke 11:9; 12:31; John 5:30; Acts 15:17; 17:27; Col. 3:1; Heb. 11:6; 13:14.


Related Posts: Lineage of Jesus According to Matthew, What the Bible Says About Jesus' Birth 


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Wednesday, 6 April 2022

How Does One Have a Personal Relationship with the Lord?

Seeing that humans are relational beings and made in God’s image, it follows that God himself is relational. He has revealed himself to his human offspring as one who can be known. 

Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor let the rich man glory in his riches; But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,’ says the Lord” (Jer. 9:23-24 NKJV). 


No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer. 31:34).


These scriptural affirmations have ultimately been fulfilled in Christ, through whom God has revealed himself relationally in familial terms like “Father” and “Son” (Heb. 1:1-4; 8:6-13). God is therefore “knowable” most fully through the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 11:27-29; John 1:18; 14:7-9; Rev 21:3). And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3)


To “know” the Lord, in the biblical sense, is not only intellectual, it is relational. Near the end of Paul’s life he writes, “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep what I have committed to him until that day” (2 Tim. 1:12). Paul’s stated conviction is not with reference to what he knows, although there is no question he was intimately familiar with the inspired message he had dedicated and risked his life to propagate. But here he categorically affirms, “I know whom I have believed.” 


Like Paul, our journey to “know” the Lord cannot begin without first learning about him. Knowing God through Jesus involves more than a mere subjective, emotional experience. One will never truly know him without spending a significant amount of time in the scriptures that testify of him (John 5:39) and then living one’s life accordingly (1 John 2:3-6).


--Kevin L. Moore


Related Posts: The Doctrine of Christ 


Image credit: https://www.ucg.org/beyond-today/beyond-today-magazine/is-your-life-good-enough-for-god

Wednesday, 30 March 2022

What is meant by, “all things are yours” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)?

“Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come—all are yours. And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:21-23, NKJV).

In this section of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he is pleading with his readers to seek true wisdom (vv. 18-23). Their highly-esteemed human wisdom should yield to the true wisdom of God even though the world regards it as foolishness (cf. 1:18-25). Rather than boasting in men (like Paul, Apollos, Cephas, 1:12), realize that as children and heirs of God, “all things are yours” (vv. 21-23). Prominent teachers like Paul, Apollos, and Cephas are not lords over whom to divide your loyalties or to boast in but are merely your servants (cf. 3:5). 


All are yours: the world, life, death, present or future (cf. Rom. 8:32-39; 1 Cor. 15:55-57; 2 Cor. 6:4-10; Heb. 2:14-15). As God’s children we are joint-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:16-17). Outside of Christ the world, life, death, present and future are worrisome and oppressive, but the Lord enables us to master these potential burdens and be victorious (cf. 15:23-28, 54-57; Rom. 8:35-39). “But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. Do not fear, litle flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:31-32). 


You are Christ’s. You belong to Christ instead of human leaders (1 Cor. 1:12-13; 2 Cor. 10:7; Heb. 2:13), and Christ is God’s in the divine hierarchical arrangement that facilitates the scheme of redemption (1 Cor. 11:3; John 14:28).


--Kevin L. Moore


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Image credit: https://www.cmacan.org/outstretched-arms/