His Cousin

Elizabeth expressed her faith in the Lordship of Jesus, when she greeted Mary as the mother of her Lord, Lk 1:43-47. Elizabeth didn’t call Mary the mother of “God”, but the mother of “her Lord”, she understood God as raising the Messiah from her womb. Because of her faith, she raised John the Immersionist, giving the world a fulfilment to prophecy and one of the best examples of godly zeal. As parents we should make our children aware of God’s work around and in us, proving His Lordship as real.  Elizabeth & Zechariah were well acquainted with the powerful phrase, “hand of the Lord”, Luke 1:66, but never did John work a miracle. After 400 years of silence from God, God’s Spirit began to work again in John The Immersionist, he was full of the Spirit, (Luke 1:13-17). We too are commanded to grow in Him, Eph. 5:18. The effect of making ourselves aware of God’s power, is not miracles, but He does produce fruit, changing our character.
We should all be wanting to grow His fruit, especially in view of John The Immersionist’s warning, God says through John, “And now also the axe is laid to the root of the trees; therefore every tree which does not bring forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire”, Matthew 3:10. 

God wants to grow the best in us, from the very beginning. Humanity has been too keen on an alternative fruit, which is seen in Adam & Eve eating the forbidden fruit.  We certainly do not want to live lives that make other people think we have grown fruit, but inwardly, we know we are empty, because of the way Jesus treated the fig tree, one “day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. (Mark 11:12-14).

Later on “When evening came, they went out of the city. In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered! “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered., Mark 11:19-22. 

If we have faith that God will provide fruit in our lives and quit trying to give ourselves or other people the false impression that we are fruitful spiritually, then God will bless us, strengthen us and help us enjoy being a Christian, so that others may become Christians too.  Jesus hates hypocrisy, and He killed the fig tree which gave a false impression.  It was “in leaf” but it was the wrong time of year to be “in leaf” and ready to pick fruit from, so when Jesus cursed it, he cursed it for it’s false hypocritical impression. Since this is the only record of Jesus killing something, we should make every effort to be honest with ourselves, God and others, when it comes to showing and using the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. So let us choose to give God everything we need to grow the fruit of the Spirit which can only be found in Christ. See Galatians 5:16-23, love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, kindness, gentleness, self-control. 

 John the immersionist (the friend of the bridegroom) stated Jesus had a bride, Jn. 3:25-30. It is God’s intention for Christians to live as the Bride for Christ.  What is your intention to view Jesus as?  If we want to view Him as a judge, then we will live our lives cowering to his authority in fear of making mistakes, but if we view him as our husband, protector, a wise provider and loving head, that sacrifices himself for our eternal future, we will live life more abundantly.  Physically we are what we eat, Spiritually we are what we believe, think, read and watch. John the immersionist was the epitome of humility, John 1:27 & 3:30, Matthew 3:14.

Yet his zeal was the embodiment of Elijah’s spirit, why? Because John knew his greatness lay in service and it’s benefit, Mt. 11:11-14. John was a signal to Jesus, that it was time to serve. He gave Jesus the impetus to minister in the most humble subservient way and The Spirit led Him to obey His baptism. Every follower of Christ should begin serving with true humility in submiting ourselves to His baptism. Therein lay a promise for eternal greatness in equality with our heroes like John.

Childhood Environment

Jesus grew up in Nazareth (Luke 4:16) in a Jewish community, but there were Greeks, Romans and Samaritans mingling as minorities around Him. The ironic facet of his neighbourhood is that the smallest minority of Romans wielded power oppressively and Jews with a Greek or Samaritan culture would sympathize with the Romans’ government, taxation and benefits. Many Jews in Nazareth would have mixed ancestry with neighbouring Greeks and Samaritans. Pure Jewish pedigree was not common in northern Israel and marriage itself was not esteemed & respected in Nazareth as it would be in the south and Jerusalem. Divorce was common!

Nazareth was a small village of farmers and 4 miles north was a growing town called Sepphoris.
Nazareth’s Synagogue would have been a sort of refuge for Jewish piety in the face of a community swamped by foreign values threatening the sanctity of God’s people. This would one day be the scene of hypocrisy and hate, which would quickly turn into a miraculous escape for Jesus, Luke 4:28-30. During His childhood, the Romans built an armoury and Herod enlarged Sepphoris. Joseph the legal guardian of Jesus would indeed have worked there. The historian Josephus called Sepphoris “the ornament of Galilee”.
According to tradition, Sepphoris was the home of Joachim and Anna, the parents of Mary, the mother of Jesus. If true, it could also mean that Joseph, a carpenter from Nazareth, perhaps while working on a building in Sepphoris, met the girl Mary and took her back to Nazareth as his bride. Jesus may have worked in Sepphoris for a length of time, so there is reason to believe that He was well acquainted with its predominantly Greek and Roman culture. When He used the word “hypocrite”, He may have been thinking of the meaning the word had in the theater at Sepphoris, “one acting under a mask,” (Mt. 7:5), the practice in dramatic productions. After Jesus died, and the Temple was destroyed, Sepphoris grew in importance as headquarters for the Sanhedrin. Later on around AD200 Sepphoris saw the codifying of the Mishnah. This was an attempt to establish the oral tradition of the Jewish Elders and their interpretation of the Old Testament, which Jesus had previously challenged.

Zealots & Tax Collectors: No two groups could be more at odds with each other. Zealots had the method of stealth and violence to disrupt Roman rule in Israel, and their strongholds were in Galilee where Jesus grew up. They were Jews which hated paying taxes to Rome and resented the Roman political system surrounding them. However, Tax Collectors were usually Jews which had lost hope in Israel’s future, and saw cooperation with Rome as an essential ally in defence of attacks from Persia and other enemies. Jesus would have seen both of these people, and it made him aware of the total opposite views God’s people held. While Jesus began to seek and save the lost, he would have faced the anger & frustration these two groups experienced in their debate. Luke 6:15-16, Mt. 10:3-4. Proves that Jesus faced the fact of deep personal convictions which cause conflict with brethren, but being resolved in God’s loving words in action and powerful truths taught.

Pharisees & Sadducees: Judaism flourished with various rabbinic theories about several types of Messiahs coming. Jesus grew up facing public confusion about His own type of Messiahship. He would have rarely, met a Sadducee, because they were the rich minority, elite in the Jewish Temple where Jesus probably met them first. But the Pharisees were almost every where (apx 7000 in AD80), Jesus would have met them as a boy. There could have been a few in Nazareth itself, and from the legalistic attitude they took toward Jesus returning to read in the Synagogue, it looks like they indeed were influential in Nazareth, Lk. 4:28-30.  Jesus would have known that the greatest strength of His faith was the resurrection, (Gen. 22:5-14) but even with that accepted amongst Pharisees, He did not have a favourable opinion of them, Mt.23:26-29, Jn. 8:52-59.

Growing Faith

Faith in Christ, is a gift, we receive it when we hear God’s word, Romans 10:17, it is measured out to us by God the Father of spirits, Rom. 12:3, Heb. 12:9. It is our privilege to maintain and use the faith.  We should be praying to help our faith grow, Jude v20. Maybe the best place to grow in the Faith is in what the Hebrew writer said in, Hebrews 6:1-12, so we do not assume God is going to do it all for us, but that we are convinced cooperation is essential, if we don’t realize we have a part in growing our faith we can become, complacent or confused.  Heb. 6:1-ff, “Repentance from dead works”, “Faith toward God”, “Baptisms”, “Laying on of hands”, “Resurrection of the dead” and “Eternal Judgment” are all fundamentals of the faith from God’s perspective.  But from our perspective we might consider other subjects to be more fundamental, like, “What is the nature of the Church” and “Creation v Evolution”, or “Prayer”.  We have this dilemma because of our background being Gentile instead of Jewish, and our environment being 20 centuries removed from the ancient church’s beginning. God wants us to grow in the right direction with His priorities, being our priorities. This is one reason why we have so many ‘faiths’ even in the church.  A personal faith which is strong and having the same united priorities that God’s word has, is what God wants. 

Whatever our background, we need to be emphasizing the importance of prayer in every attempt to study the Bible. Eph. 3:16-20. Two different subjects in faith we need to be aware of, is this:

Facts of the Faith (from God), Acts 6:7, Jude 3. 

Feelings in our Faith (from prayer), Romans 10:1-5, Acts 15:36-40, 2Timothy 4:11.

Both are essential and good, but in this lesson, we will deal mainly with facts, because they will help shape our prayers to influence our feelings.  An example of this, is how we make decisions about our wardrobe.  For one Christian there is no sin in wearing a particular item of clothing in public, but to another Christian it is clearly a sin.  Why? Because our feelings in our faith are not always in unison with The Faith in God’s word.  Remember, we humans can easily pray about the wrong things. James 4:3.  From Peter we learn how even leaders in the church can suffer from not keeping the Fundamentals of The Faith in unison with our own personal faith. Galatians 2:9-13.   Remember these things that help us grow our faith…1. Your real teacher is the Holy Spirit, Matthew 23:8, 1John 2:20-27.

2. Devote time to Pray sincerely for God’s will in your reading, Col. 4:2, 1Tim. 4:15.

3. Consider God’s power in His word, Mat. 22:29.

4. Balance your interest in both the knowledge and the graciousness of Jesus, 2Peter 3:18, Matthew 23:23.

5. Pray, requesting God to increase your faith in your reading, Jude v20.

6. Patience is important, let the Bible interpret the Bible. Deut. 29:29, Dan. 8:1-14, 26, Rev. 1:1-3, 22:6-20.

7. Daily be ready to use “His Name” in facing temptation, praying to win, Mt. 6:12-15.

His Childhood & Education

Jesus had Scriptures to access from the local Synagogue and he indeed would have had Scriptures at home, maybe not complete scrolls, but surely large portions, Luke 4:16. As Jesus grew in learning how to read, he would naturally have insight with both Mary & Joseph praying and studying with Jesus as a boy. Every Jewish child in His day learnt their alphabet using the Psalms. Since God’s Spirit was the author of the Scriptures and the apostle Paul taught that it is God’s will for us to pray for the spirit of wisdom and revelation to help us grow in understanding His will, Eph. 1:17-18, we should find it easy to accept that Jesus would grow naturally with the best interest and insight in His education of the Scriptures. The Scriptures certainly were the central focus for education in every Jewish child’s life. This became glaringly obvious when Jesus lost all track of time in his discussions with the Rabbis & Priests in the Temple at age 12. This means for all of us, mere mortals, that we are not at a disadvantage, as He learnt in the same manner we learn, with no supernatural powers. His only advantage were his godly parents who were blessed with the Spirit’s presence and much prayer.

The motivation of Joseph & Mary to educate Him was different than ours, but still, they had only the same basic tool, God’s word & Spirit. Luke 2: 40 & 52 shows Jesus grew naturally in three areas: 

 “Wisdom”;  To the Jews, wisdom meant knowledge of facts and how to apply them correctly in your lifestyle, 1Kg. 4:33-34.  Godly wisdom is the ability to recognize spiritual truths in physical facts and then apply them to your lifestyle. Paul understood this concept of wisdom, 1Cor.1:17-25. When Jesus grew strong in wisdom, this included learning skill in carpentry. Actually the word used for “Carpenter” in reference to Jesus is generic, used to describe all kinds of fabricators, but most usually denoted woodworking. In His day, the biggest need and interest for woodworkers lay in developing trusses for roofs, Mk. 6:3, Mt. 13:55. A wise roof builder learnt the importance of getting the foundation right, Mt. 7:24-27. Joseph must have taught Jesus this. His wisdom would have been in math, labor and Scriptures. Jesus taught his disciples to trust His Spirit’s work on their heart in order to share this wisdom, Luke 21:15.

 “Stature”; The physical appearance of Jesus isn’t important, (Lk 19:3 & Jn. 9:23), but the fact of his maturity is a fundamental issue for our faith in a Savior that can empathize with our weaknesses, Heb.4:15. Jesus was a man with all the emotions and problems of any man. He remained celibate because of His conviction that He was not only the Messianic Son of David, but also the Son of God, establishing an eternal priesthood on earth, needing no successor to inherit His role & position, Heb. 7:1-3. Today, All Christians live to work out a priesthood, headed by Christ in the Heavens, 1Pt. 2:9. Jesus sees this and explains it in Matthew 25:31-46. Our charitable sacrifices benefit His Kingdom.

“Grace” with God & “Grace” with humanity. Growing in grace is something every Christian should want to do, 2Tim. 2:1, 2Pt. 3:18. These texts are instructing us to grow to trust more in God’s nature as full of forgiveness and generosity. Luke 2:35 states Mary will have a sword pierce through her heart and it’s seen in at least two ways. Firstly, Jn. 2:1-5, Jesus draws a public line of distance and difference between his Sonship and Lordship with Mary, yet Mary very graciously and immediately accepts submission to her own Son. Secondly, Mk. 3:33-35 must have been hurtful, but she still supported Him, even when His brothers considered Him insane, Mk. 3:21, and of course she was at the cross, where her pain must have been unbearable, but graciously endured all His rejection. Mary’s gracious character must have helped Jesus as a boy in learning how to be gracious. Grace is the most important word in the Bible.

The Magi & Journeys

Matthew 2:1-12, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?  For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” At first they had no idea of Micah 5:2, showing that God had used astronomy (not astrology) to speak to the Gentiles. They were searching for Jesus in the wrong place, where are we searching for Him? Will we persevere in searching for him? What affect did meeting Jesus have on them? More importantly what affect does He have on us? King Herod said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.”… When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  

Whether or not the Magi understood the significance of the gifts, matters not to us. What does matter is that God helps us understand the statement made in the giving of these gifts. The gift of gold speaks of God’s intention for Jesus to exercise divine authority as King of Israel, their Temple had masses of gold even in it’s origin as the Tabernacle and in His day, Herod’s Temple was adorned with gold. The gift of frankincense speaks of God’s desire for the entire world to recognize his Kingship, see Mal. 1:11.  Myrrh has many uses, embalming, perfumery, and as a sedative, but in being given to Baby Jesus in view of His Kingship, it was certainly in the mind of God to indicate that His Kingship would be holy and pointed to his eventual High Priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, Heb. 7:1-3, who was both a priest and king, mysteriously with no beginning or end. Myrrh’s role in Israel’s priesthood was a key ingredient for their anointing oil being holy to God, Ex. 30:23.  These gifts very likely played apart in educating Mary & Joseph, concerning the type of Messiah Jesus would grow up to be, emphasizing His spiritual power and not the physical.

Having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the Magi left for their own country by another way. The eastern Magi were ancient astronomers, and probably were familiar with Israel’s Messianic hope stemming from Daniel’s work in Babylon centuries beforehand. Our calendar devised in 1582 A.D. is off the mark by approximately 4 years placing Christ’s birth in either 4 B.C. or 5 B.C. and placing his death in 30 A.D. The Magi’s visit was about 2 years after this date, inferred by Mt. 2:16.

There were two journeys taken after Jesus was publicly known.  1.The Magi’s journey home.  2.The Saviour’s journey to Egypt. Both were more arduous than their first journey, but very beneficial. For the Magi, a partial gospel was spread farther east. For Jesus, His life was spared to make the gospel complete and fulfill prophecy from Hosea 11:1, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The establishment and anger of Herod was foreordained by God, showing again that God can overturn nations and kingdoms, so that those whom he loves can accomplish His will anywhere. 

How does meeting Jesus in our life, prepare or effect us for a new journey.  Is our new life in Christ, more arduous than our old life in the world? Jesus came to give us an abundant life now, not just in the next world, Jn. 10:10.