Luke 2:8-20: Good News For All People

Read: Luke 2:8-20

When Jesus was born, his circumstances were less than ideal. While swaddling a baby wasn’t particularly unusually, laying a baby in a manger for a crib was. But God had plans for this. God sent an angel to some shepherds who were just doing their job, which was nothing unusual. Shepherds basically lived with the sheep day and night to protect them from danger. But when the angels showed up. They were afraid. But the news that God revealed through the angels was astounding: the Savior had been born basically right around the corner. The sight and sound of angels proclaiming the “good news” and singing was enough to cause the shepherds to leave their flocks and seek out the baby that the angel told them would be laying in a manger.

When the Shepherds went to Bethlehem, everything was exactly as the angel had told them. So they spread the news around: The news about baby being born laying in a manger, the news about angels singing, the news about them finding the baby as they angel had told them, and the greatest news that the Savior had been born. While they were certainly frightened by the sight of an angel, they were overcome with joy when they found everything as they were told.

In the midst of all this, Luke makes note of Mary “pondering” these things in her heart. She had been told by and angel herself that she would give birth to Jesus who was the Lord and the Son of God (Luke 1:26-38). The shepherds report vindicated what she had already experienced in a new and fresh way now that Jesus was born.

Good news was first delivered to Mary, then to shepherds, who then relayed to numerous other people, all who were amazed at what they heard. God intended this good news to be for all the people so that they too would be amazed when they heard it. This good news is still going out to all the world even today that the Savior was born into the world. Christians should be like the shepherds and proclaim this news so all can meet Jesus and be amazed!

Lord, Your coming is Good News. Help me share it!

Luke 2:1-7: Humble Roots, Glorious Ends

Read: Luke 2:1-7

Luke is meticulous about the details of the historical setting of his Gospel. Here, he places Jesus birth during the reign of Caesar Augustus. The difficulty though with dating this text has to do with dating the census in reference to Quirinius was governor of Syria around AD 6, but Herod who was the king of Judea who had died sometime earlier. There have been a number of proposed solutions to this problem (some more reasonable that others) while others think Luke was simply mistaken. Given that Luke’s accuracy is impeccable on other matters, it would be jumping to conclusions to say he was mistaken. But it would also be jumping to conclusions to say that any one of the proposed solutions is indeed correct either without further historical evidence.

In any case, we can affirm that God used the most powerful political and military figure in the world at the time to fulfill his purposes in earth. The census that went out from Augustus forced Joseph to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem, his home town and the town of his ancestor, King David to register with Mary his espoused wife who was very pregnant at the time. When Mary gave birth, she gave birth to Jesus and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. In ancient times, inns were usually accompanied with a stable for animals. An upper room would be for guest and a lower room would be for the animals. The plain reading of this suggests that the inn was simply full. Some have suggested though that the innkeeper did not have room specifically for Mary and Joseph. Nevertheless, the picture of God using the most powerful man in the world to start a chain of events that would lead to the King of Kings being born in a lowly stable is intentional. God was fulfilling an age old prophecy from Micah 5:2-4 which tells of a King that will come from lowly Bethlehem that would be known to the ends of the earth.

What started from humble roots in a stable in the small Bethlehem has shaped the course of human history and is still shaping the course of human history. Jesus’ renown is still going forward into all the nations and more and more people are coming into his kingdom every day. The juxtaposition of the God exalting the humble and diminishing the proud is a theme in scripture (Psalm 138:6, Matthew 8:11-12, Matthew 19:30, James 4:6, 1Peter 5:5, etc). Caesar’s reign ended and the empire eventually crumbled. But Jesus after enduring the cross was exalted. His name is the name above all names and every knee will bow to it (Philippians 2:5-12). Christians are encouraged to be like Christ, and lay aside what we might have rights to and become humble, and in doing so God will lift them up to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:11-14)!

Lord, you humbled yourself for glorious ends: the salvation for all men.
Help me to be humble so you can be lifted up!

Luke 1:39-45: Blessed Believers

Read: Luke 1:39-45

The Holy Spirit was alive and working among the four characters mentioned in this text:

  • Elizabeth knew that Mary was carrying her “lord” even though the child wasn’t even born. And for this reason, she held Mary in high regard as one would respect a person of honor.
  • Elizabeth and her child John were both filled with joy even as Mary and her child approached – so much so that Elizabeth’s child “leaped” in the womb.
  • Elizabeth recognized these facts in spite of the fact that Mary was yet unmarried. Conventional wisdom would have condemned such a pregnancy.

The blessings Mary received came because of her faith – she had the great honor carrying God incarnate. The coming of Mary and her child caused those who were sensitive to the Spirit’s workings to be filled with joy and with the Spirit.

1 Thessalonians 1:1-8 shows that even in times of hardship and persecution the Spirit gives joy. This is because the readers of Thessalonians had become “imitators” of “us” – namely the apostle Paul and his companions that had been to Thessalonica to plant a church there. Christians nowadays too are like the Christians in the scriptures – they have the Holy Spirit and they have Jesus. When the Lord comes near and the Spirit works, the natural response of Christians should respond in joy in spite of the odd of unusual circumstances as Mary and Elizabeth were experience. Christians can believe and be blessed as Mary was.

Lord, when you come near, help me respond in joy!

Hebrews 7:11-28: Perfection Through Jesus

Read: Hebrews 7:11-28

The author of Hebrews continues in the same vein in the later part of chapter 7 as in the first. The author established that Jesus is the highest high priest. He changes subjects in verse 11 though and starts talking about how a new priesthood brings about a change in the Law. He reasons that the old priesthood and its counterpart, the Law, were unable to make men perfect and unable to give life which is what the author calls a “weakness” in the old Law and priesthood. By necessity then a new priesthood and better Law was necessary to accomplish this task. Jesus’ priesthood is an everlasting and powerful priesthood that is able to grant “indestructible life”. The author here quotes from the second half Psalm 110:4, emphasizing the “forever” and then again from the first half of the verse talking about how the Lord swore an oath. He established in Hebrews 6:13-18 that the promises of God are unchangeable, and is applying this here. He reasons that God swore that Jesus would be priest forever, and because of this Jesus will indeed be priest forever.

The author of Hebrews reasons that because Jesus is priest forever, that he can save forever those who draw near to God. Prior to Jesus’ coming, the priest had to offer sacrifices for even their own sin and intercede on the behalf of those that they represented. With Jesus’ coming, this was no longer necessary, and even more so, Jesus himself is a better priest all around because he does not have sin, will be priest forever, and does indeed have the power to impart eternal life to those who draw near. While the old law was unable to make one perfect, the new way of things does. Thanks be to God for it!

Lord, through Jesus I can be saved forever indeed! Thank you!

Hebrews 6:19-7:9: The Highest High Priest

Read: Hebrews 6:19-20, Hebrews 7:1-9: The Highest High Priest

The author of Hebrews has already shown that Jesus is God, that Jesus is superior to angels, and superior to Moses — as if that wasn’t enough already. Here in Chapter 7, the author of Hebrews argues for Jesus superiority over Abraham and the Levitical line of priests. He does this by showing a pecking order in terms of who was giving and who was receiving tithes. The author of Hebrews recalls again Melchizedek from Genesis 14:18-19. He recalls that Melchizedek name means “King of Righteousness” and that he was “King of Salem” – that is the “King of Peace”. He also recalls that Melchizedek was a priest of “El Elyon”, which means the “God Most High”, a title given to Abraham’s God in Genesis 14:22. Melchizedek was a priest-king who, as the author of Hebrews argues, was a priest with no lineage that entitled him or even a record of his birth and death. He was otherwise an obscure, foreign king, yet he was priest, and Abraham paid tribute to him, and he blessed Abraham. The blessing is significant, because generally speaking it is the greater who blesses the lesser. In this case, Melchizedek is blessing Abraham. The author Hebrews then argues that the Levites were descendants of Abraham making them a lesser to Abraham. In short, Melchizedek is greater than Abraham, and Abraham is greater than the Levitical priests. Likewise, author of Hebrews says that Melchizedek is like the Son of God. If this is so then Jesus is greater than even Melchizedek because Jesus is the Son of God. A priest of Jesus’ standing can be no higher.

Because Jesus is the High Priest, he can enter the “behind the veil”. In the temple and tabernacle, there was a place in the center that was called the “Holy of Holies”. Only the high priest could enter into the Holy of Holies, and he did so only once a year to make an offering for his own sin and the sins of Israel. Jesus, however, can enter in to the Holy of Holies on his own accord because he is without spot or blemish. Hebrews 6:19 calls this a “hope that enters in”, and this is on behalf of those who he represents before God. Hebrews 10:19-22 shows that through Jesus the hearts of those who believe are cleaned and consciences of sin are cleared. This is not done in timidity, rather in confidence because of who the High Priest is.

Lord, because you are my priest, I am confident that my sins are washed away!

Hebrews 1:4-14: Jesus is Superior to Angels

Read: Hebrews 1:4-14

The author of Hebrews takes a two prong approach to showing the supremacy of Christ from Old Testament quotations. He shows that Jesus receives a status higher than the angels and also shows that angels are the messengers of God – a status lower than that of Jesus. The author of Hebrews draws upon a number of texts from the Psalms to show these two different statuses.

  • Verse 5a quotes Psalms 2:7. The author or Hebrews likens Psalm 2 about a king that is called the “son” of God who will receive the ends of the earth as his inheritance. The likening to Jesus is obvious here, as Jesus is the Son of God. Luke in Acts 13:33 picks up on this Psalm too as a pointer to Jesus.
  • Verse 5b quotes Psalm 89:26-27. Psalm 89 praises the mightiness of God, then turns to focus in a chosen one, namely David (Psalm 89:20), who calls God his “Father”. This chosen one will, like the king in Psalm 2, inherit the earth. The author of Hebrews likens this to Jesus as well in. These verses along with Psalm 2:7 show the father-son relationship between God the Father and God the Son.
  • Verse 6 quotes Psalm 97:7 and also from Deuteronomy 32:43 in the Septuagint. The Hebrew Old Testament uses the word “אלהים”, (pronounced “el-o-heem”). The Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) translates this to the Greek word for “angels” instead of “gods” likes like English Bibles do. The word “אלהים” is actually a plural in Hebrew, but the plurality can be used to show the majesty of the singular, one true God, which is the most common use of the word. When used as a plural, it can refer to angels, magistrates (Psalms 82), or gods in general. The author of Hebrews is applying the word to angels worshiping “him”, namely Jesus, who the psalm describes as magnificent.
  •  Verse 7 quotes Psalms 104:4. This psalm talks about the splendor and majesty of God. In the midst of the Psalm, the Psalmist says that God makes his “messengers” wind. In the Greek, the word for “angel” and “messenger” are one in the same. In any case, what the author is establishing that God makes his messengers (angels) winds that go out to do his bidding. Likewise, this verse talks about “tongues of fire” that are servants. Isaiah in a vision sees seraphim – blazing, serpent like creatures – hovering around the throne of God (Isaiah 6:2). This is probably a reference to these creatures. Both these allusions are to the servant-like roles the angels provide (Hebrews 1:14).
  • Verses 8-9 quote Psalm 45:6-7. Psalm 45 is a love song given to a king and to God, seemingly interchangeably. It praises the righteousness of God and how the king loves righteousness too. Because the king loves righteousness, the king is anointed by God. The author of Hebrews applies this anointing to Jesus.
  • Verses 10-12 quote Psalm 102:25-27. This psalm compares the eternalness of God to the finiteness of the created world. The author of Hebrews applies this eternalness to Jesus too.
  • Verse 13 quotes Psalm 110:1: This verse is quoted or alluded to many times in the New Testament (Matthew 22:41-46, Mark 12:35-37, Acts 2:34-35, Hebrews 10:12-13). This psalm speaks of a Yahweh saying to the psalmist’s “lord”, telling this “lord” to sit at the right hand of God. Hebrews likens this “lord” to Jesus, who claims the right hand of God in a number of places elsewhere in the New Testament (Mark 16:9, Mark 14:62 (paraphrasing from Daniel 7:13-14) Acts 5:31, Acts 7:56, Romans 8:34, Ephesians 1:20, Colossians 3:1, 1 Peter 3:22, and Revelation 5:7). Hebrews 10 later expounds on this psalm saying that Jesus is king who is also a priest like Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18).

These seven quotations show, as verse 14 concludes, that the angels are in subservient rolls while Jesus is in a roll of power, praise, and authority such that even the angels worship and bow down to him. The author of Hebrews wanted to establish that Jesus is higher than even the angels who worshiped around the throne, and in doing so shows the supremacy of Christ. This is important because Hebrews 2:6-9 establish that man was created lower than the angels. While Jesus was a man, his rightful was a place of authority that receives worship and from man and the angels.

Like angels, people too are the servants and ministers of Jesus. The authority, power, and majesty of Jesus elicit a response of awe and wonder from all who dare to gaze upon him. When Christians think about Jesus, they generally like to think about his love, compassion, mercy, and humanity. These things are certainly true, but one cannot forget the awesomeness of Jesus either! He truly is worthy of worship.

Lord, you are worshiped and served by angels and men alike. No one else is higher than you!

Hebrews 1:1-3: Jesus is God

Read: Hebrews 1:1-3

Hebrews opens talking about the continuous revelation of God through fathers and prophets and in these “last days” has spoken to the world through his son. In a way, the author of Hebrews was talking about how God was revealed entirety of the Old Testament, which is called the “Tanakh” in the Hebrew language. “Tanakh” is a sort of acronym that stands for The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. The fathers and prophets are uncovered all these portions of scripture. The Law is the first five books of the Old Testament. The Prophets includes Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 & 2 Kings, and Isaiah through Malachi. Lastly, the Writings include the rest of the Old Testament. The Old Testament revelation stopped with Malachi, but the author of Hebrews effectively asserts that the latest revelation on par with the Old Testament that had come into the world came through God’s Son himself, namely Jesus.

The opening verses of Hebrews also offer one of the most unequivocal statements about the deity of Jesus in all of the New Testament. Not only is God being revealed through Jesus, Jesus himself is on par with God. Hebrews asserts many things about Jesus in these verses:

  • He is “heir to all things”. Ultimately, everything will belong to Jesus in the end (Ephesians 1:20-23, Philippians 2:9-11).
  • Through him the “worlds” (The word is plural in the Greek) were made. This indicates not just the earth, but the entirety of the cosmos. For this to be possible, Jesus would have had to been present in Genesis 1:1 when God created the heavens and the earth. John makes a similar statement in his prologue, saying he is the originator of all things that came into being (John 1:3). Paul asserts that all things were made through Jesus too (Colossians 1:16).
  • Jesus is the “radiance of his glory”. The word translated “radiance” is difficult to translate because there is not a word in English correlates with it, but a literal translation would be an “out shining” in the manner the sun radiates sunlight. In a manner of speaking Jesus radiates the glory of God.
  • Jesus is “exact imprint of his nature”. The word here for imprint is a figurative form of a tool engravers used to make precise imprints on objects. Jesus is said to be an exact representation of God’s nature, substance, or essence. In classical Greek thought, earthly objects were seen as cheap copies of some sort of perfect, transcendent form. Jesus was not some sort of cheap copy, rather a perfect representation of that form. Colossians 1:15 asserts that Jesus is the very “image” of God. John says that Jesus he who has seen Jesus also sees the Father (John 14:8-11). Jesus is not merely a projection of God – he is so much more than that.
  • He upholds the world by his power. Not only was Jesus at the creation of the cosmos, it through him that the world is held together. In Colossians 1, Paul also asserts that Jesus holds the cosmos together (Colossians 1:17).
  • He made purification for sin. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice that satisfied the requirement of the law so that those who believe don’t have to. For man to be reunited to God, a perfect sacrifice had to be made. The only one qualified as a perfect sacrifice was God himself.
  • He sat down at God’s right hand. The right hand of a God is the ultimate place of authority, and Jesus claims it. The imagery of Jesus taking the right hand is seen a number of times in the New Testament, drawing from Psalm 110:1. (Matthew 22:41-46, Mark 12:35-37, Acts 2:34-35, Hebrews 1:13, Hebrews 10:12-13) and elsewhere in Mark 16:9, Mark 14:62 (paraphrasing from Daniel 7:13-14) Acts 5:31, Acts 7:56, Romans 8:34, Ephesians 1:20, Colossians 3:1, 1 Peter 3:22, and Revelation 5:7. By taking the right hand seat, Jesus has all the same authority of God.

Jesus has all the glory, power, authority, and qualities that are recognized in God. These powerful descriptors of Jesus can only point to one thing: Jesus is God. These statements alone are enough to establish the supremacy of Christ, but the author of Hebrews does not stop there. He continues in the book to show how the Old Testament vindicates the qualities.

When God spoke through the fathers and prophets, he was pointing to what would come. When Jesus came, he was fulfilled what the fathers and prophets yearned for. As this study of Hebrews continues, this will be unfolded. But right off the bat, Jesus divinity is established to assure the reader that Jesus was not merely another prophet, rather that Jesus himself is God revealed.

Lord, what words can express glory, power, and authority revealed in Jesus? You truly are amazing!

Hebrews: Introduction

Hebrews is an occasional letter written to, as the name of the book indicates, Hebrews. These were probably Greek speaking Jews who had converted out of Judaism in to Christianity, yet were being confronted with persecution either by Jews or Romans because they were Christians. These Christians wanted to go back to the way things were before they were Christians, living lives comfortably and without persecution. The author of Hebrews wanted to encourage them live boldly for Christ rather than shrinking back to the way things were. He accomplishes this by communicating a clear message: the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ.

Jesus is shown to be greater than angels, the great Hebrew leaders like Moses, Aaron, Joshua and the Levitical Priesthood. Jesus is also shown to be a priest-king like Melchizedek. And most of all, Jesus is given a status on par with God himself. Jesus’ sufficiency is demonstrated in that he ushers in a better covenant, a better temple, and a better sacrifice, all fully and finally realized in the person of Christ. If Christ is the full and final realization, then there was no reason or need to go back to Judaism. To that end, Hebrews is peppered with warnings about the consequences of shrinking back and wavering in one’s faith in Jesus.

The author of Hebrews is unknown, but some things about the author are obvious in the book of Hebrews.

  • He had a command of the Greek language. The author writes in a highly stylized, formal Greek more akin to classical Greek than most of the New Testament, which was written in a more informal style. (This is not as evident in English translations though.)
  • When writing, the author quotes from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament scriptures.
  • The author obviously knew Hebrew traditions and scriptures. He doesn’t point to the contemporary temple worship practices of the day, but talks about the practices used by the ancient Hebrews.
  • The author employs an interpretive method rooted in a common in the first century method called “midrash” (read the section on midrash here for a more thorough explanation) that was used by Jewish teachers. This method sought to find a “plain meaning” in the Hebrew Scriptures, but also looked for a “deeper meaning” behind the scriptures.

These things would indicate someone who was probably well educated in both classical Greek and rabbinical Hebrew studies. The philosophical underpinnings of these various schools are important when understanding how and why the author of Hebrews used the Old Testament the way he did. As one begins to study Hebrews, one does well to read not merely the quoted verses, but also read their context in the Old Testament to get a fuller picture of where the author is drawing his conclusions from. In the same manner Hebrews helped first century Christians understand relationships between Christianity and its Jewish roots, Hebrews helps Christians understand the relationship between the New Testament and the Old Testament. And like the first century recipients, modern day readers can be encouraged to look forward to Jesus rather than shrinking back into what they came from.

Lord, help me to understand how Jesus is all that I need!

Joshua 21:1-42: Staying Close By

Read: Joshua 21:1-42

The Levites were the descendants of the Levi, and they were responsible for a number of cities scattered throughout the land of Israel. The Levites did not receive a land inheritance in the manner of the rest of the tribes of Israel, rather they received cities and some of the surrounding pastures for live stocks. The Levites received God as their inheritance, meaning that their work was to be ministry to the people, and the people in turn would offer tithes and offerings (Joshua 13:8-33). The Levites would take their portion from these offerings so they could have something to eat.

The distribution of the Levites throughout the land of Canaan was strategic because it made the ones responsible for the ministry of God accessible to all. Rather than being cornered away in a particular part of the countryside, the Levites had 48 towns. In a country the size of Israel, this means that there was sure to be a Levitical city nearby. The priests acted as intercessors for the people of God in their time. They were also the ones who offered sacrifices, managed worship, acted as scribes, administered judgment, taught the Law, among many other responsibilities. Having a priest nearby was therefore important to for giving sacrifice, receiving education, having access to justice. If they were far away, one would have to travel great distances to have access to such things.

When Jesus came, he became for Christians the priest before God (Hebrews 7:20-22). He offered the perfect and final sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 9:25-28) and makes intercession for all (Hebrews 7:25). Christians no longer have to go to a priest for intercession – they can plead before God and Jesus intercedes. Likewise, Christians do not have to make sacrifices because Jesus again is the sacrifice. Staying close to Jesus therefore should be a top priority in the lives of those who believe. While Jesus fulfills many of the priestly duties, there are some duties that are given to the church to administer such as teaching, managing worship, evangelism, collecting offerings, and carrying out the ministries of helps (2 Timothy 2:2, Acts 2:42-47).  Hebrews 10:18-25 relates Jesus’ ministry to the Christian’s ministry: because Jesus is the great priest and the great sacrifice, there is confidence and hope. Around this confidence and hope Christians should unite and encourage one another to love and do good deeds in a spirit of unity. For this to happen, their needs to be a gather – that is a local church – for the believer to both encourage and be encouraged to carry out the ministries of the church God has given. Keeping Jesus close and the church close (not just geographically, but in relationally too) are quintessential to living a life committed to God.

Lord, I want to be close to you and your church!

Joshua 10:28-43: The God of Israel

Read: Joshua 10:28-43

Joshua and Israel wasted no time after they put the 5 Amorite kings under their feet. They proceeded to conquer seven cities in the southern part of what is now modern day Israel. The book of Joshua does not go into great detail as to how these cities were conquered as it did for Jericho and Ai, because these cities served as the prototype for how Israel was to conquer the rest of the cities in Canaan. The cities were utterly destroyed under “the ban” because of the sinfulness of the people in these cities. The book makes a special note in verse 42 concerning the campaign in the south: the cities were conquered because the Lord fought for Israel. This is the second time in the chapter that the book notes that God fought for Israel (the first is Joshua 10:14). The verse and also in verse 40 place a special emphasis on the fact that the Lord was the God of Israel. In a matter of summary, the verses gives credit to God for the astounding victories Israel had.

Israel by themselves were a people without a land who had been living under the bondage of the Egyptians. The story of deliverance and the story of conquering the land of Canaan make God out to be the hero in the story. The might of kings and armies were no match for God, and the beneficiaries were the people of Israel. When the book of Joshua calls the “Lord” (that is “יהוה” the unspoken name of God) the God of Israel, he is using the word “god” in the general since of the word. The book is in a manner of speaking lifting God above the gods of the other peoples they conquered. The gods of the other people were unable to deliver them even in part from the God of Israel. Without fail, God proved yet again that he was supreme above all others.

The supremacy of God cannot be question. What can be question is whether or not the God of Israel is one’s personal God. When Jesus came to earth, he claimed to have oneness with the Father – that is oneness with God (John 1:1-2, John 10:30, John 8:58). While not everyone accepted this fact, there were many that did. Thomas, who is often noted for his doubt, makes a bold statement of Jesus in John 20:28, call Jesus his “Lord” and his “God”. Thomas was acknowledging Jesus was Yahweh the God of Israel, but even more so that Jesus was his God. Jesus is God, and when one believing this fact. At the same time, one also knows that he or she has faith in the God above all others and that this God can fight on one’s behalf in all things. He is the hero – the one who is mighty and can save one from all things!

Lord, you are the God of Israel and the God of me!

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