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Thursday, December 24, 2020

"My Soul Glorifies the Lord"

  He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones 

but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things

but has sent the rich away empty.

-Luke 1:51-53




As I write this, Christmas Eve 2020, people are making tough decisions (our family included) to not travel this Holiday season. They’re choosing to be together on Zoom, FaceTime, Skype or whatever, if they can do that. (One thing this pandemic has brought to the surface is the tech divide between older and younger generations, or between the poor and the more affluent.) They’re suspending long-standing family traditions. 

     While some seem to be giving more gifts to friends and family in the absence of being together, others are forced to scale back because of lost jobs or other financial uncertainty. 

     Some, of course, are marking the first Christmas since a parent, spouse, child, or good friend has died.

     None of that, of course, is unique to Christmas 2020. The scale is unique, though; pretty much every Holiday celebration in the world is touched by this pandemic, to one degree or another. 

     Also at Christmas 2020, our national leaders struggle to address all of this in any meaningful way. While they argue and delay and play power games, we wait for some sign that they recognize the pain that many people are living with and feel their responsibility to do something to help make their burdens just a little lighter.   

     All while a President struggles pathetically to hold on to power at any cost. 

     And if you’ve read the story of Jesus’ birth in the Gospel of Luke, none of this should surprise you.
     Jesus was born into a world where the poor were made poorer and rich richer by those in power. In his world, the powerful schemed to hold on to their power, whatever their scheming might cost those they intended to rule. In the time and place where he was born and lived his life, in which his parents and countrymen lived, most people lived day-to-day, praying for their not to be a crisis that would disrupt the delicate economic balance in which they existed and leave them starving.

    Please look at a part of Luke’s nativity story that we sometimes overlook. It’s Mary’s song, often known as The Magnificat (which I would absolutely name my cat if I had one) after its first word in Latin. Mary’s had an eventful few days or weeks. She’s been visited by an angel. This angel has told her that she’s pregnant (without a guy’s involvement), that this son she’s going to have is the Davidic king that Israel has been awaiting for centuries, that his kingdom will never end, and, oh yes, that all of this will happen through the power of the Holy Spirit so that her son will be, in a way no one else has ever been, the Son of God. The angel also mentions her cousin, Elizabeth, who is also pregnant — which is also miraculous, since she was “said to be unable to conceive.” When Mary arrives to visit Elizabeth, the baby she’s carrying “leaps for joy,” and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesies that Mary is “blessed” for believing that “the Lord will fulfill his promises.” Out-of-the-ordinary things are happening. Angels are making announcements. Unexpected pregnancies are occurring. A new king has been born. A new kingdom is inaugurated.

     So Mary’s song celebrates these things. She “glorifies the Lord.” She “rejoices.” Why? Because she hasn’t been well-served by the king in power. The kingdom she lives under hasn’t been particularly good or kind or benevolent to her neighbors. She’s lived all of her young life with the inherited hope that God would intervene in the lives of his people, break their chains of bondage to Rome, and restore their fortunes. And now, God “has been mindful of the humble state” in which she and people like her live. “All generations will call her blessed” because through her God is showing that those who fear him can expect to receive his mercy. 

     You know who doesn’t rejoice? Rome. The leaders of Israel who are allied with Rome. The religious leaders who use their piety as a front for greed, corruption, and addiction to power. Anyone who monetizes fear to get people to do what they want, or take what they want from them. Word of a new kingdom never pleases those who are currently reigning.

     Mary sees what God is doing so clearly: in choosing this young girl from a nowhere town to bring his Savior into the world, he’s upending business as usual. He’s scattered those who are proud of themselves and their power and arrogant in their own strength and wealth. He’s bringing down rulers from their thrones — not just spiritual or metaphorical ones but real human rulers. His kingdom will outlast the high priest and the system he presides over, the Roman governor who pulls the strings, even Caesar and the Empire that rules the world. In place of those rulers, he’ll raise up people like Mary who have nothing and mean nothing in the world. He’ll see to it that the hungry have a place at his table while telling the wealthy to get lost. 

     The degree to which we spiritualize all this, make it into some kind of parable about Jesus overcoming evil or sin or the devil or something, probably depends directly on whether we mostly identify with the hungry or with the wealthy. Jesus can be nice to sing about, or read about, or hear about in church. But it’s tough to celebrate if we’re more invested in the failing kingdoms of the powerful and wealthy than we are in God’s kingdom and the one who opens its gates to us.

     To celebrate Christmas, to glorify the Lord and rejoice in our Savior the way Mary does, we’ll need to get over the sentimentality of the season. Put Mary’s song on the lips of most anyone else, and you have a song about revolution, a prophecy that God is coming to stand everything we think our world is about on its head. Because it’s Mary, we smile serenely and tell people who are suffering from the selfishness of those in power in this world that it will all be better one day in heaven, and that we have it better than anywhere else in the world, and that anyway if you’d just get your life together like we have ours together you wouldn’t be in this mess. 

     Jesus came, though, because the way the world is IS the mess. The only way to fix it is to live another way, by the laws of a revolutionary alternative kingdom that came smashing into our world not in an army or a campaign but in a newborn baby sent from God. The only way to see this world transformed before Jesus comes is to see it transformed in the way we treat the people around us. Do we identify with those in humble circumstances? Or do we find our identity in the powerful, wealthy, and influential? If we’re identifying with them, we’re on the wrong side. Their time is passing. 

     Jesus teaches us a new way to live, the way of love over power, sacrifice over arrogance, peace over violence, generosity over selfishness. He offers us grace and forgiveness, and fills us with his Spirit so that we can live in grace and forgiveness toward others. Let’s welcome his coming with rejoicing. Let’s glorify the Lord with our words and our obedience, like that young girl in Nazareth all those years ago.

     Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Christmas With the Gospels -- John

 As we wait for Christmas, I thought I’d take four weeks here to take a wide-angle look at each of the Gospels, the four stories of Jesus’ life from the New Testament. This week we’ll get into John. (You can read my take on Mark here. Matthew is here. Luke is here.)


     As similar as Matthew, Mark, and Luke are, John is at least that different. He has a temple cleansing, but it’s at that beginning of his Gospel and not in the last week of Jesus’ life. (Was there only one cleansing, that John moves for his own reasons — or Matthew, Mark, and Luke all move for their own? Or were there two?) Was Jesus crucified on the Day of Preparation for the Passover — Friday — as John says? Or on Thursday of Passion week, as the other evangelists indicate? John — along with Mark — doesn’t include a nativity story. Jesus is the preexistent Word that was with God and was God “in the beginning” (1:1-2). He was the agent of creation (1:3) and is still the source of light and life for human beings (1:4-5). Jesus’ existence is explained by saying this Word was “made flesh and lived among us,” allowing us to see his glory (1:14). Jesus’ mother is only mentioned three times, and never by name. John alone, however, includes the story of Jesus providing for his mother’s care while on the cross (19:25-27). John contains no parables, no account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper (replacing it with the washing of the apostles’ feet), and no references to the Kingdom of God.
     John has organized his Gospel, it seems, around seven signs and seven “I am” discourses. “Sign” is the     word used in John’s gospel for Jesus’ miracles. Interestingly, in the other Gospels Jesus refuses to give his opponents a sign (Mt. 12:38-39, 16:1-5; Mk 8:11-12; Lk 11:16, 29-30). He warns the disciples that many pretenders will do “signs” to deceive the faithful, but that the “sign of the Son of Man” will not be apparent until his “coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory” (24:3, 24, 30). Luke has a slightly friendlier view of signs; he uses the word to refer to Jesus being laid in a manger and wrapped in cloths at his birth (Lk 2:12), while Simeon tells Mary that he will be a “sign that will be spoken against” (Lk 2:34). 
     Unlike the other three Gospels, in which Jesus refuses to perform signs and those who ask to see them do so because they don’t believe, in John Jesus’ miracles are signs intended to provoke belief — and they do — though some also provoke opposition from the religious leaders. They point beyond themselves to the “glory” of Jesus (2:11). The signs are transforming water to wine at Cana (2:1-11), the healing of the royal official’s son at Capernaum (4:46-54), the healing of the disabled man at Bethesda (5:1-15), the feeding of the five thousand (6:1-13), walking on the water and stilling a storm (6:16-21), the healing of the blind man (9:1-38), and the raising of Lazarus (11:1-45). In healing the lame and blind, creating food and wine, and displaying power over the elements and even death itself, Jesus demonstrates his identity as “the Messiah, the Son of God” (20:30). 
     All of the “I Am” statements in some way relate to life. As the bread of life, he gives life to the world (6:35) and offers a promise that the person who comes to him will never be hungry and will live forever (6:51). As the light of the world, he gives to the one who believes the light of life — either the light shows the way to life or the light that is life (8:12). As the gate for the sheep and the good shepherd, he brings abundant life (10:10) and ensures that the sheep will live by laying down his life for them (10:11). As the resurrection and the life, he overcomes death for those who believe (11:25). As the way, the truth, and the life, he brings believers to his Father’s house, where they can live forever (14:1-7). As the true vine, disciples can only live flourishing, fruitful lives if they “remain in” him (15:1-4). Though John definitely distinguishes between Jesus and the Father, the “I Am” statements echo God’s self-identification in Exodus 3:14.  
     More than any of the the other Gospels, John calls the reward of believing in Jesus “eternal life” (3:16, 36, 4:14, 5:24, 6:40, 47, 10:28, 17:2). A disciple is to “not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (6:27). Disciples are to “hate” their lives so that they are willing to give up what they love in this life to follow Jesus and attain eternal life (12:25). To eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood is to have eternal life (6:54). Those God has “given” him receive it (17:2), and those to whom he give eternal life will never die or be taken from him (10:28). 
     This eternal life is prefigured in the raising of Lazarus. The promise is that belief in Jesus allows a person to be in contact with his life-giving power in a way the ensures he will never die. To believe in Jesus is to receive “life in his name.” (20:30) This life is connected to the removal of God’s “wrath” that comes only through Jesus (3:36). If God’s wrath is not removed through belief in Jesus, death is the result; those who believe in Jesus, however, are in touch with the Spirit as a source of “eternal life” welling up like a spring (4:14, 6:63). This life is given by Jesus on the Father's authority (3:16, 5:21, 26, 6:27, 33, 40, 17:2) through the agency of the Spirit (6:63). In some way, a believer in Jesus has already “crossed over from death to life” (5:24-26). Still, that life will only be fully realized when Jesus “raise[s] [a believer] up at the last day” (6:40). 
     John also frequently refers to the concept of “glory” in his Gospel. He tells us at the outset, “we (eyewitnesses, but also readers who believe in their testimony) have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). The last two words invoke the experience of Moses, who asked to see the “glory” of God (Exodus 33). What Moses couldn’t see, John tells us, we have seen. Jesus reveals his glory through signs, but does not accept glory from human beings and decries religious leaders who do (5:41,44, 8:50). He is a man of truth because he “seeks the glory of the one who sent him” (7:18, c.f. 8:54). As his death nears, Jesus prays that the Father will glorify him (17:4-5) and that his disciples will see his glory, glory that comes from the Father’s eternal love for him (17:24, echoing 1:14). 
     John anticipates Jesus’ glorification (7:39, 12:16). When “the hour” for his glorification comes (12:23, 17:1), however, it’s not what a reader might expect. Though his signs glorify him ( the first and last signs are explicit about this — 2:11, 11:4), it’s ultimately in his death and resurrection that he finally and completely glorified. As Jesus is “lifted up,” he is glorified by being restored to the Father’s presence — the same presence he shared with the Father at the beginning of time (17:5, 1:1-2). 
     In John, Jesus’ death is “for” those who believe in him (10:15, 17). Jesus dies on behalf of believers. He doesn’t really develop this line of thought as much as he assumes it. John develops the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion, however, in a way unique to his Gospel. He refers to the cross as Jesus being “lifted up.” Jesus compares himself with the snake Moses raised in the desert to heal victims of snakebite: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up” (3:14). “When I am lifted up from the earth,” he says “I will draw all people to myself” (12:32). To refer to the crucifixion (and the resurrection and ascension which follows it) as lifting up” seems to be John’s way of completing the “arc” of salvation: the Word comes down from God to live with us and is lifted up to return to God. To dying people, God shows his glory by sending Jesus to be “lifted up” before our eyes so that we may live. 
     This is Christmas. It isn’t just a sentimental holiday. John joins with our other Gospel writers to tell us this story so that we may believe, and by believing have life. May we hear the story of Jesus anew this year.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Christmas With the Gospels: Luke

 As we wait for Christmas, I thought I’d take four weeks here to take a wide-angle look at each of the Gospels, the four stories of Jesus’ life from the New Testament. This week we’ll get into Luke. (You can read my take on Mark here. Matthew is here.)


     As I noted last week, one of the questions that inevitably comes up when reading the Gospels is how to account for their similarities and differences. In spite of almost universal disagreement on the specifics, most everyone agrees that there is clearly some interdependence between Matthew, Mark, and Luke, or at least that they share a common source. Mark is thought by most scholars (though not all) to be first. This is largely based on the fact that Mark’s accounts are generally shorter and/or less embellished than in parallel accounts in Matthew and Luke. If Mark edited we’re left to explain why he would have cut some seemingly important events. Mark also contains some “hard readings” that Matthew and Luke seem to smooth out. If Mark isn’t first, a reader wonders why he added some of these difficult readings.  

     Matthew and Luke rarely agree with each other against Mark in the order of events in Jesus’ life, but Matthew and Luke frequently agree with Mark against each other, suggesting that Mark’s order was taken as the generally “correct” one that Luke and Matthew might change up for editorial reasons. 

     None of this should bother us since Luke begins his Gospel by assuring the reader that he has “carefully investigated” the accounts “handed down” by eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and work ( Luke 1:1-4). Luke believes that the second-hand nature of his Gospel commends it to a reader. It ensures that what he has to say is grounded in first-hand accounts — written and oral — that are no longer available. So it shouldn’t surprise us if Luke has used Mark, or a source that Mark used. It shouldn’t surprise us if he and Matthew have used a common source. We should expect that Luke might have at least one source of his own, as well. And, of course, it shouldn’t surprise us or concern us that the Holy Spirit would use Luke’s “careful investigation” to tell us the story of Jesus in Luke’s particular voice.

     Luke’s Gospel (like Acts, his companion piece) is geographically oriented. He begins his story in Jerusalem with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, but quickly moves to Nazareth in Galilee, where a young woman named Mary is visited by an angel. Mary’s baby is spoken of in terms of Old Testament fulfillment: he will be called “Son of God” (1:32, 3:22,38) and sit on the throne of David’s dynasty, but he will rule over Israel forever and his kingdom will never end. This is more than just a prediction of a new Israelite kingdom; the angel is promising Mary that Jesus will sit on the throne of the eternal kingdom of God prophesied in Daniel. Mary and Elizabeth are shown to have a kinship in understanding something about what God is doing through their miraculous pregnancies. Mary and Zechariah celebrate God’s work of salvation with twin songs that celebrate God’s mercy to those who fear him, his determination to remember the promises he’s made to his people by lifting up the humble and throwing down the powerful, and their children’s role in that work.

     The story moves to Bethlehem — the city of David — for Jesus’ birth (2:4). Mary gives birth in humble circumstances, probably in a private home stuffed with guests and with only an animal trough to lay the baby in. The “armies of heaven” appear to humble shepherds in the fields and send them searching to honor their Savior. An elderly man and woman are the only other witnesses to the newborn Messiah; they have spent their lives waiting to see God’s salvation.

     There are two trips to Jerusalem in Jesus’ early life, where portentous events occur, but we’re told twice around those events that he lived in Nazareth, in Galilee, where he “grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him,” and he “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Luke wants us to see that Jesus was nurtured physically and spiritually away from Jerusalem and the Temple. He’s baptized by John (3:21-22) and confronts Satan in the wilderness (4:1-13) before returning to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit“ (4:14), where his early ministry takes place. He announces his intentions in his hometown synagogue by reading from Isaiah about “the year of the Lord’s favor” and declaring its commencement. (4:16-20)

     Though he is known outside of Galilee (6:17), his early healing and teaching takes place in Capernaum and other towns around the Sea of Galilee, in which he proclaims “the good news of the Kingdom of God.” He clashes with the religious leaders over his authority (5:21), the people with whom he associated (5:27-32, 7:36-50), and his seemingly cavalier attitude about Sabbath-keeping (6:1-10). He even ministers to Gentiles (7:1-10) and in Gentile territory — and in the tombs at that (8:26) — before setting foot in Jerusalem. Only after two warnings to his disciples about his coming suffering (9:21-22, 9:44), and warnings about the cost of following him (9:23-24, 51-62), does Jesus “resolutely set out for Jerusalem” when “the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven.” (9:51)

     Much of Jesus’ teaching, including several of his parables, occurs as he and his disciples make their way to Jerusalem. Jesus becomes more explicit that his coming is a crisis point that demands a decision (11:23, 29-32, 12:32-34, 49-53) and that those who can’t “interpret this present time” (12:54-59) will “perish” (13:3, 5). Many who are “last will be first,” and many who are first will be last” in the Kingdom (13:30). Increasingly, his parables reflect the urgency of accepting God’s invitation to be a part of the Kingdom, because the significance isn’t in the invitation, but in the accepting of it (14:15-23). Disciples follow at risk of their lives and give up everything for the sake of the Kingdom (18:18-29). Those who humble themselves will be exalted, but those who exalt themselves will be humbled (18:9-14). Interspersed throughout the journey are stories of those who do receive the Kingdom by coming to Jesus in faith and repentance (17:11-19, 18:35-43, 19:1-9).

     Occasionally we are reminded of the danger Jesus is in (12:49, 17:25, 18:31-33). Told Herod wants to kill him, Jesus replies, “Surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem” (13:33). 

     As he nears Jerusalem, Jesus counters thoughts of an imminent revolution with the parable of the minas (19:19-26), in which an accession to the throne is delayed and the eventual king’s servants are left to carry on his work in his absence. Despite confusion about the “appearing” of God’s kingdom, Jesus stages a royal entry to Jerusalem. He is the King, but his coming to the royal city exposes those who don’t recognize him (19:39-20:47). Jesus announces judgment on Jerusalem and the temple in action (19:45) and word (19:41-44, 20:8-19, 21:5-36).

     After Jesus’ crucifixion, his first post-resurrection appearance is outside Jerusalem (24:13-32). When he does appear to his disciples again, it’s to tell them that their mission will be to preach “repentance for the forgiveness of sins…in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”(24:47) Far from ending with his crucifixion in the holy city, God has raised him and will use his disciples to take the gospel to the world. Luke’s companion volume, Acts, will of course begin there with its geographic formula of Jerusalem/Judea and Samaria/the ends of the earth.

     May our mission be as clear, our hope as strong, and our lives as credible a witness as theirs.


Friday, December 4, 2020

Christmas with the Gospels: Matthew

 As we wait for Christmas, I thought I’d take four weeks here to take a wide-angle look at each of the Gospels, the four stories of Jesus’ life from the New Testament. This week we’ll get into Matthew. (You can read my take on Mark here.)


     Christians believe that the Gospels come from the Holy Spirit, but it’s also clear that the Gospel writers weren’t simply stenographers taking dictation. (Luke 1:1-4) The question is how human writer and Holy Spirit cooperated. While Matthew is the first Gospel in our Bibles, most scholars these days are convinced that Mark was the earliest Gospel. None of the evidence for this makes the priority of Mark a slam dunk, but taken together it does seem to lean in that direction. Most everyone agrees, at least, that there is clearly some interdependence between Matthew, Mark, and Luke, or at least that they share a common source. We’ll get into that a little more next week when we take a look at Luke.

     But this week, we’re looking at Matthew.

     While Mark focuses largely on what Jesus did, Matthew focuses on what he said. He organizes his Gospel into five blocks of Jesus’ teaching. The ends of these are marked by the phrase, “When Jesus finished saying these things….” or something similar (11:1, 13:53, 19:1, 26:1). The first discourse (usually called the Sermon on the Mount), is about life in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew’s term for what is elsewhere called the Kingdom of God). The second discourse (chapter 10), is addressed to the disciples as they are sent out to heal and preach. They are told not to be afraid when they’re opposed because they will be given words to answer their opponents. The third (chapter 13), consists of parables that describe the Kingdom of Heaven. The fourth (chapter 18), anticipates the existence of a future community of disciples living by Kingdom values that Jesus calls “the church,” and that humility and service are the highest values in that community. The fifth (chapters 23-25) warns the disciples to be vigilant in light of the coming judgment.

     Matthew surrounds these blocks of teaching with narratives showing Jesus’ ministry and the various reactions to it. Over and over, Jesus challenges those who resist his message of the Kingdom (especially the religious leaders) and encourages the “weary and burdened” to learn from him. He heals on the Sabbath and casts out a demon as evidence that the kingdom of God has come, bringing him into conflict with the religious leaders and even his own family. The feeding stories, the stilling of the storm, Peter’s confession, and the Transfiguration offer testimony as to his identity. The last third of the Gospel is devoted to the last week of his life as he enters Jerusalem as the coming king, engages in a final conflict with the religious and civil leaders, accepts God’s will in Gethsemane, and after his death and resurrection meets with his disciples to commission them to carry on his work in the world. 

     All of the narrative and teaching is intended by Matthew to show that Jesus “fulfills” (a favorite word of Matthew’s) the long-expected Old Testament roles of “Son of God,” “Son of David,” and “Son of Man.” He is first called “Son of God” by Satan, who asks Jesus to prove his identity by miraculous means (making stones into bread or throwing himself down from the temple to test Psalm 91’s promise to the one who finds refuge in God). He is recognized as the Son of God by demons (8:29), and finally acknowledged as Son of God twice by his disciples (14:33, 16:16). After this, he is only called Son of God in a mocking way by those who are trying him (26:63) and by the passers-by (27:40) and religious leaders (27:43) at the cross. Finally, the Gospel climaxes with the Romans who are guarding his cross confessing him as Son of God after the momentous events at his death. (27:54) The identification of Jesus as Son of God at his death casts the title (from Psalm 2) in a new light. In the Psalm, God calls the king he has enthroned his Son, to whom he will “give the nations as an inheritance.” In Matthew, he is “enthroned” at his crucifixion. As in the Psalm, to reject the Son will lead to destruction, but those who take refuge in him will be blessed.

     Matthew’s Gospel begins with an affirmation that Jesus is the Son of David, and “proves” it through the genealogy (1:1-17). Generations are left out to create three blocks of 14 names each (maybe because the numeric value of the Hebrew letters in David’s name is 14). Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth are included (though women were not mentioned in Israelite genealogies) while the traditional mothers of Israel like Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel are left out. The genealogy locates Jesus within the larger framework of God’s covenant history with Israel, but it also has the effect of making Jesus the culmination of that work. It reads as though Israel is still in Exile (fourteen generations from David to the Exile, and fourteen from the Exile to the Messiah).

     The title “Son of David” usually occurs in Matthew in connection to miracles. Sufferers cry out to Jesus for healing (“have mercy”) using the title (9:27, 15:22, 20:30). After Jesus casts out a demon that has made a man blind and mute (his ability to see and hear afterward serves as evidence of what Jesus has done), “all the people” speculate that he could be the Son of David (12:23), demonstrating that the title is a Messianic one and that Jesus’ miracles had awakened hopes of God intervening in his people’s long suffering. Another crowd celebrates him as Son of David when he comes into Jerusalem during the last week of his life (an event that Matthew says “fulfills” Zechariah’s characterization of the King coming to Jerusalem). Once again, it is Jesus’ opponents who are the last to acknowledge him as Son of David — unintentionally, of course (22:42).

     While others use the other two titles for Jesus, in Matthew his self-characterization is “Son of Man.” In Daniel 7, it is “one like a Son of Man” who receives the glory of the beastly, earthly kingdoms after they are toppled and delivers it to “the saints of the Most High.” Jesus applies this title to himself around thirty times in Matthew, with the frequency increasing in the latter part of the Gospel. Sometimes the title emphasizes his humility and suffering (8:20, 17:12, 22), but most of the time it emphasizes his role as the one who brings salvation (13:37, 20:28) and judgment (13:41). Related to this is the idea that, though he will be crucified (20:18, 26:2) as a “ransom,” the Son of Man will “come” with reward and recompense (16:27) after he is raised from the dead (17:9). He will “come in his Father’s glory” (16:27) and “with the clouds of heaven” (24:30, 26:64). Again, the last time the title is used, Jesus is in front of his opponents and uses the words of Daniel 7 to promise that they will see him coming again to topple their kingdom and establish the unchallenged reign of God.

     I’ve left out, of course, Matthew’s prologue; the events leading up to and including the birth of Jesus. Mary, who is “found to be pregnant through the Holy Sprit,” fits well with the questionable circumstances and ancestry of the three women just mentioned in the family history. Prophecy is fulfilled as Joseph obeys God. Matthew knits the story from there together with five Old Testament texts that he says are “fulfilled” in Jesus. Pagan astrologers see the signs of Jesus’ birth in the heavens while Israel’s king knows nothing of it and plots to have him murdered, which sets up the conflict with the religious and civil authorities that will mark Jesus’ life and end in his death. The family flees to Egypt, but even in that Matthew sees the fulfillment of prophecy.

     May we as well always keep our eyes to the heavens, expecting Jesus to come and fulfill God’s promises. 

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