Throughout Lent this year, my husband and I are both reading through the Gospels. And then, with our children, we are also taking time to read from a children’s Bible the passages that go along with our reading.
The decision to read the Gospels has been a long time coming. I’ve done it in the past, but throughout the past year as I ask myself the question – Why do I believe what I believe – I keep coming back to a realization that Jesus is central to the Biblical story. He is the lens through which we should interrupt all of scripture. So, if I am to be a follower of this bold, history altering man, I need to really understand what he said, why he said it, and what his deeper message was.
My husband and I wanted to read his words in the chronological order of what he said. Three of the gospels are tightly woven together – the Synoptic gospels they are often called. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all look at events in Jesus’ life in much of the same order and with many of the same, or similar, words. Then, add in the book of John for more of a character assessment of Jesus and an evaluation of his life, and the Gospel – or Good News – is fleshed out for deeper understanding.
As I’m reading the gospels in order, I’m taking notes and reading a few different commentaries. I don’t want to just read the words. I want to read them IN CONTEXT. The context I’m looking to explore is a cultural, historical context. Jesus was a first century Jewish man who lived in a completely different time and society than 21st century western, American culture. Jesus spoke in terms and colloquialisms that would have had significant meaning to his listeners. His ideas, his practices, his friendships, his way of living were revolutionary for his time. So, I want to better understand just how revolutionary his ideas and teachings were.
So far, I’ve read the first few days. I just want to blog my way through these daily readings. Blogging the Gospels. This is definitely an exercise in puddles of thoughts. I’d encourage you to read daily and write down your thoughts as well. Meanwhile, I’m going to share what I’ve come across.
Luke didn’t necessarily have firsthand experience in Jesus’ daily life, but he lets us know in his introduction that his work is researched in depth. Many others wrote histories of the life and ministry of Christ, but only a handful made it through the canonization process. That’s something I’m definitely going to research more of later.
In the story provided about Zachariah and Elisabeth, the parents of John the Baptizer, what many don’t realize is Jewish priestly tradition. This was probably the one opportunity that Zachariah had to serve in the Holy of Holies. Priest rotated throughout that honor. And Zachariah’s first time included an Angelic visitor giving him inconceivable news! He and his wife, both past normal childbearing age, would have a baby son. So, Zachariah is then rendered mute because of his disbelief (don’t judge – you probably wouldn’t have believed initially, either). Muted Zach goes home and he and his older wife then conceive a son. What?! Old People sex in the Bible. Good evidence that sex isn’t just for the young, eh?
Gabriel was then a busy Angel and goes and visits Mary not long after. This young maiden – a virgin engaged to be married – is told she will become pregnant and have the promised Messiah. She immediately believes and then proceeds to sing a song of joy! Called the Magnificat in church tradition, I honestly feel this passage doesn’t get enough play in American evangelical circles. Her song is a song of praise and song of Justice. Our God shows his strength by sitting the poor down at a banquet. He pulls victims out of the mud, lifting up the humble. He fills the hungry. Mary praises God. As a mother, it then hits me. Mary had such joy at her selection and impending motherhood. And later, she would suffer such heartbreak as her son hung on the cross and died a brutal death.
Later, Elisabeth tells Mary she is Blessed Among Women. This reminds me of the Proverbs 31 exhortation of Eshet Chayil! Then, Elisabeth has John, Zachariah praises God, who sets people free. There seems to be a theme that develops here regarding God and his Justice and Mercy.
In Matthew 1, we see that Gabriel paid a visit to Joseph as well. Joseph was an incredibly special man. You know those stepparents that just take in someone else’s child, love them as their own, and would fight you if said they weren’t that child’s parent. Yeah, that’s Joseph. He knew that he and Mary would live with a reputation of impurity. There would be no way to prove to the world his wife was a virgin. This was big in those days – some Jews would hang out a bloody sheet after consummation to prove the virginity of the bride (Deuteronomy 22 outlines this practice). Joseph and Mary would not be able to do that. For all their days together, people would whisper about them. But Joseph, in obedience to God and with his love for Mary, would endure that during his days. Joseph was a really cool guy. Gabriel told him “Do not be afraid” and those words meant so much more than just in that exact moment – but were an exhortation to not be afraid in taking on this responsibility.
Read the passage – our historically inaccurate tradition that Mary and Joseph rode around Bethlehem looking for last minute housing isn’t exactly accurate. Verse six says, “while they were there” that Mary’s time to have her baby eventually came. In looking at Jewish tradition of the time, families housed together. The word for “Inn” would be better translated to Guest Room. And because everyone and their brother had to go to towns of family origin for the census, family houses got crowded. The guest rooms ran out. But attached to some houses were rooms that your personal livestock might gather for warmth. So, Mary and Joseph were bunking in a tack house of sorts.
The Angels came again – and again repeated the refrain – Do Not Be Afraid. It’s probably on their calling card. But think about it – It can be scary when God appears in your life in such a tangible way. But don’t sweat it. If God appears in your life, it’s Good News!
As a mom, I love, love, love Luke 2:19.
but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. (NLT)
What mom doesn’t treasure those early moments holding that newborn and think about them often? How many times do we relate to our kids the story of their birth? If you don’t, you should. I love thinking about Mary and her mothering as I go through my mothering journey as well.
Then we finish the first two days of reading with the middle part of Luke 2. About 40 days after birth, as demanded by Jewish purity laws, the child is taken to the temple for purification rites and sacrifice. Think about it, it’s recorded about the life of Christ how his parents observed the law. And through His very life and acts on the cross, Jesus came to replace that very law!
Then, Simeon, the elderly prophet in the temple, declares Jesus a light for the Gentiles. That would have been revolutionary thinking for that time and place. Gentiles were looked down upon by those that saw themselves as God’s Chosen People. Yet, here is the declaration, so early in Jesus’ life, that his life would be not just for Jew, but Gentile, too. Then, Simeon gives a prophesy that Mary would experience much pain later in her son’s life. How shocking and haunting that must have been to this brand new mother.
And one of my favorite instances in the early times of Jesus’ life is when Anna, the prophetess, meets the infant Jesus. Anna was promised by God to meet the Messiah. She served in the temple as a prophet. What? A woman? In ministry? Oh, can’t wait to develop that more as we read the Gospels. And then, after meeting Jesus, it’s said she spoke to ALL about the child. Women in this time were not highly respected (that’s almost an understatement). And she bravely speaks to ALL, man and woman, adult and child, Pharisee and Tax Collector, about Jesus. I love Anna. I only hope my own little Anna has such boldness for God as she grows up.
That’s it for today, friends. Peace!