Christmas has been converted into a lasting gold mine for the world. It has been turned into “a jolly holiday” of extravagance of pleasure, entertainment, and into a display of human endeavor of accomplishments. Our Western Culture has Mary sit on the donkey and Joseph leading the animal. When in reality the culture, at that time, would call it an insult for a man leading an animal with his wife sitting on the donkey. Not so very long time ago, an American travelled south and observed a man riding the mule and the woman carrying two heavy bags after him; therefore, the American remarked his displeasure vocally and the man on the mule replied in colloquial English, “She ain’t got no mule.”
Christianity was born in the Jewish culture. However, the Jewish culture did not survive because Judaism was not prepared, nor was it ready to accept the Gentiles or the women into their Davidic Kingdom. The Greeks had no problem with a god falling in love with an earthly woman and father a child. Zeus and an earthly beauty already had fathered Dionysius. Such an idea was unacceptable to the Jews and it was punishable by death. Yet, one of their own prophets, Isaiah predicted that God would act in a way that would not be acceptable to the Jews; nevertheless, it would be acceptable to the world. The child of the virgin would mark the end of the House of David. Also, the Birth of Jesus brought about the end of Judea by Rome.
The Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. But before the boy know enough to reject the wrong an choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. The LORD will bring on you and on you people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—he will bring the king of Assyria” (Isaiah 7:13-17).
The first Jewish Christians were disturbed by the influx of the Gentiles. The Gentiles also were replacing the Jews as leaders of Jesus’ Kingdom. The writer of the Gospel of Mark simply took it for granted that Jesus was a son of David. Matthew strained himself to elevate the House of David by making Mary his subordinate and surrogate wife. The Messiah had to come from the loins of David. How could Israel live again without a descendant of David? Hence, God had to sent his angel to Joseph who was a descendant of David. And God did entrust Joseph with the parental care of Israel’s Royal King (Matthew 1:18-25). To Matthew, Jesus was the upper class with royal attention of Wise Men and of King Herod, who wanted the “Baby King” annihilated. However, God spoiled Herod’s plot (Matthew 2). When Jesus had reached the adult status, His life and His work did not fit into the Jewish expectation of a Davidic king because Jesus denied being a son of David.
While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied. He (Jesus) said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one cared to ask him any more questions (Matthew 22:41-46).
WHO THEN REALLY WAS JESUS THE CHRIST?
The fact remains that Jesus was born! And the fact remains that Jesus is our Savior. History cannot deny it! If history had tried, it would have to deny the existence of Caesar Augustus and his decree to count the Jews. And to do so, Joseph had to return to Bethlehem of his father David’s birthplace (Luke 2:1-7). Jesus was not born in a castle or in a palace. Jesus was born in a shepherd’s sheep shelter and Jesus was placed in a sheep feeding crib. There were no cattle, as Christian artists have portrayed for us. It was a humble shepherd’s setting and not even a human residence of any kind. Jesus and His earthly guardians had a very lowly beginning. They were of the poorest people of the land. And on the day “Baby Jesus” was dedicated in the temple, his parents could only offer two young pigeons (Luke 2:21-24). At Jesus’ Birth, shepherd were the only visitors. And (for Luke) there is no evidence that Jesus’ parents fled to Egypt; therefore Jesus grew up in Nazareth as a good obedient boy and man (Luke 2:8-20; 2:41-52). To Luke, Mary was the mother, the Holy Spirit was the Father, and Joseph was the legal guardian (Luke 1:26-38).
Luke also tells us that Mary was a cousin to Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah, a priest from the house of Levi and Aaron. The priest of the lineage of Aaron were the chosen servant of Yahweh, the Lord. There is no hint, in Luke or any other Gospel, that Mary or that Elizabeth were Jews of the house of David. It must not be ruled out that both women were from the lineage of the tribe of Levi. The priest may not have been allowed to marry outside their lineage. But, the Levite women could marry Jews. If Mary was a Levite, then Jesus became a Jew by adoption and not by birth. The adoption theory has been a problem for Jews; nevertheless, the adoption theory is a blessing for the Gentiles. However, it rests on the misunderstanding of the prophet, who was to take Moses’s place. The Israelites feared the voice of God. Therefore they begged Moses to receive God’s instructions. The Israelites also were afraid what the future without Moses would be like when no man could face God alone. It was in such a context that Yahweh promised a prophet like Moses:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”
The LORD said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell the everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.”
You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid to him (Deuteronomy 18:15-22).
Moses was of the tribe of Levi, and he was chosen to turn the twelve tribes into a nation governed by the Laws the Lord God provided. Moses was not a military, but a spiritual (moral) leader chosen and trained by the Lord to interpret the Law of God to the people. The promise to Moses to raise a man like him in the future was from his brethren and not from his cousins. The prophet, like Moses, would be on a similar mission to setup a heavenly kingdom in the world. Like Moses, Jesus came to setup His reign with His rules and with His conditions. He will not govern by the sword, but by the word very much like Moses, who was to govern by the Law. According to Matthew, Jesus began His ministry to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy and to restore Moses’ Law and the prophets. Such a man was far more than Moses; in fact, He was God present in the person of Jesus with full authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 1:23; 28:18).
When Jesus heard that John (Baptist) had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:12-17).
The Evangelist, whose content of the Gospel has been buried in Matthew and Luke, saw the need for restoring faith in God. Faith and repentance were the door and the gate into Jesus’ Kingdom, and it did not begin in Judea, but in began in Galilee:
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news’ (Mark 1:14-15).
HOW WAS JESUS RECEIVED, AND HOW WAS HE TREATED?
Matthew’s compilers saw a similarity between the birth of Moses and the Birth of Jesus. Both were saved by Egyptians (Exodus 2:1-10; Matthew 2:15; Hosea 11:1). John Zebedee, in his introduction, has Jesus’ own people reject Him (John 1:11), but John Zebedee has John the Baptist introduce Jesus to the world as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” God, no longer, was addressing only the Jews, but God loved the whole world.
The next day John (Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and reman is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:29-34).
“For God so loved the world (not just Israel) that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in hi is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (John 3:16-21).
Mark, the Evangelist, has John the Baptist introduce Jesus as predicted by Isaiah the prophet more than seven centuries before. There is great likelihood that Mark was present when the baptism and descending of the dove as the Holy Spirit on Jesus.
The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you (Christ), who will prepare your way” — “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven:”You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him (Mark 1:1-13).
Luke’s introduction of Jesus’ initiation into the ministry, by his people, must be given special attention. Luke reported incidents that a Jewish writer would not disclose:
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, as it was custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he had anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for he prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he said to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” “I tell you the truth” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to an of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of the was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way (Luke 4:14-30).
The reference of God singling out a non-Jewish widow in Zarephath, Sidon, and not one in Israel or Judah is a significant Christmas event, which requires a chapter on the role of women.