Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Peace on Earth

The angelic choir sang the first song of Christmas: "Glory to God / in the highest / and on earth peace /among those of [God's] favor" (2:14).

Its theme was peace. But what made this heralded peace different than the Roman peace (Pax Romana) that already filled the world at Jesus’ birth? Or as John Dominic Crossan asks, “If the Roman Augustus had already established peace on earth, what was left for the Jewish Jesus to accomplish?” He goes on to say, “The difference was not in the that of peace but in its how, not in the purpose and intention of peace but in the mode and method of its accomplishment . . . . For Rome the mode and method was: religion, war, victory, peace . . . . But the messianic vision of the Jewish Jesus proclaimed a different program: religion, non-violence, justice, peace. Its mantra was peace through justice.”

He adds, “Victory's violence establishes not peace but lull -- until the next and always more violent round of war. The Christian challenge of Christmas is this: justice is what happens when all receive a fair share of God's world and only such distributive justice can establish peace on earth.”

While Crossan is correct in his analysis, he erroneously believes justice can be achieved here and now when governments distribute wealth equally to all. In reality, it will be achieved only when God establishes his kingdom on earth under the rule of Messiah. Until then, the church in submission to Christ is called to practice egalitarian justice, and thus demonstrate in part what the future kingdom will be like. In doing so, the church serves as an attractive alternative to the kingdoms of this world.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Supernatural Conception

Matthew 1:16 declares, "Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary of whom was born Jesus Christ." From this verse we see two things: 1) Joseph did not begat Jesus, 2) yet, Jesus was born of Mary. How did this event occur? What transpired? Rudolf Schnackenburg says the explanation is found in Matthew 1:18-25, which serves an extended footnote to verse 16. Verse 18 opens with these words: "Now the birth of Jesus was as follows." The remainder of the section fills in the details, telling how at first Joseph suspects Mary of adultery, only to change his mind after having a God-inspired dream in which an angel reveals that the pregnancy is of supernatural origin. One interesting tidbit in the account is that the angel says that Mary will have "a son." Here is a case where the gender of an unborn child is revealed two millennia before the invention of the sonogram!

Friday, December 09, 2011

Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

Got home to find discover the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization (Wiley Blackwell, Oxford, UK) had finally arrived. What a surprise! This is a monumental work, taking several years to publish. I contributed ten articles to the 4 volume set, including entries on Peter Marshall, Charles E. Fuller, Aimee Semple McPherson, among others.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Davidic Focus of Jesus' Genealogy

The genealogy of Jesus begins with King David, not Abraham, which seems unusual since Abraham preceded David by 800 years (v 1). Why the reversal? Most likely because David is the pivotal figure in the genealogy, which is divided into three sections. Section I covers the time from Abraham to David’s ascent to the throne (vv 2-6). Section 2 covers the time between David’s rule to the exile in Babylon (vv 7-11). Section 3 cover the years between the return from exile to the restoration of David’s dynasty through the Messiah Jesus (vv 8-16).

Matthew says each section consists of 14 generations (v 17). Yet, only sections 1 and 2 have 14 generations; section 3 has 13 generations. Why the discrepancy? Can’t Matthew add? Matthew must have something else in mind. Especially since section 1 covers 800 years, while sections 2 and 3 cover 400 and 575 years, respectively. Based on the time difference alone, the number of generations cannot be the same for each section. So what is Matthew’s point?

Most likely, Matthew is using a code system known as gematria (which assigns value to Hebrew letters) to say that each section is about David. Since the Hebrew alphabet is devoid of vowels, David’s name is D-V-D. Its value is D = 4, V = 6, D = 4, for a total of 14. Therefore, Matthew likely means each section is equivalent to 14 or is about D-V-D.

While the genealogy focuses on David, it ends with Jesus. It is his lineage (vv 1, 17). He is the Royal Messiah who ushers in the Kingdom of God. All the promises and hopes of Israel find their fulfillment in Jesus.

Monday, December 05, 2011

God's Gals

Jesus' genealogy includes several women, a rarity among Jewish genealogies. These women are Gentiles--Tamar and Rahab (both Canaanites), Ruth (Moabite), and Bathsheba (Hittite)-- all of whom had had illicit or questionable sexual relationships with Jewish men, which resulted in the birth of children. Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and seduced Judah, her father-in-law, producing twins. Rahab, a prostitute who plied her trade on the wall at Jericho, had a child (Boaz) with Salmon, whether through marriage or not we don't know. Ruth, a widower, crawled under the covers of Boaz, and Obed was born. These women are king David's ancestors.

Then David had an affair with Bathsheba, a married woman, and sent her husband Uriah to the frontlines of battle to be killed. David and Bathsheba wed and had Solomon who became Israel's new king.

Why does Matthew lists these women in Jesus' genealogy? First, to show that despite mistakes and moral indiscretions, God works providentially to bring about his will. Second, to show that God loves, forgives, and uses people on the margins to fulfill his plans. Third, to show his plan of redemption includes Gentiles. Fourth, to ease the scandal surrounding Mary's pregnancy, who stands in the line of these women.

From a human perspective Mary was a tainted woman because she became pregnant prior to marriage. Joseph, to whom she was espoused, knew Jesus was not his child. Although he learned through a vision the truth about Mary, her neighbors did not. They all looked on her as an immoral woman and Jesus as her illegitimate child (John 8:41).

Finally, for Matthew's audience living decades after Jesus, this genealogy offers them hope and encouragement because they, too, have been marginalized. Rejected by non-messianic Jewish family members and friends for following Jesus and rubbing shoulders with Gentile Christ followers, they have been kicked out of synagogues and declared dead. But God accepts them and will use them to do great things just as he used the women in Jesus' genealogy, despite public opposition.

Jesus is the savior of those on the margins. They may be rejected by man, but they are accepted by God!