A Thought on the Heart of God

 

Today at church, I saw a clear illustration of the heart of God. Let me set it up for you.

Our church is in rented quarters in a business park. We have basically what would be a good-sized office. There’s one large room in which we meet for the services, and off to the sides there are a few rooms where the nursery and the children’s Sunday School classes meet. It is fairly close quarters.

About half-way through the sermon, a cry came from the nursery.   One woman immediately got up.

No one else looked around. No one else moved. The child’s mother knew her baby’s cry. It’s only a few steps to the nursery, and so within a few moments, the crying stopped, and I imagined Amy taking Caleb in her arms. Her presence brought peace.

This is like God.

The cry of the King’s child goes to His heart, and He comes to us and comforts us by His presence.

As Amy’s heart was attuned to her son’s cry, so is our Father’s attuned to His children’s cry. It is a mother’s nature to respond to her baby’s need with great compassion. So God responds to the needs of His children.

Amy didn’t roll her eyes and say, “That baby!” She didn’t begrudge Caleb her presence. She didn’t say, “What’s the matter, kid? Can’t you live without me for an hour?” She went to him sweetly, quietly, immediately.

Happily, Caleb was instantly comforted, but had he continued to yell, Amy would have continued to hold him, continued to rock him, continued to mother-love him until he found peace. Our Father is like this. He is willing. He is available. He is love.

So go ahead: cry out to Him in your need, your loneliness, your fear, your anxiety, your disaster. Cry it all out, and be filled and comforted by His presence.

A Thought on Why I’m Skipping the Old Testament in 2011

You heard me right. I’m taking a year off from the Old Testament. I’ve decided to skip the ¾ of the Bible that’s types and shadows and focus only on the Living Risen Christ. Instead of looking in a reflecting pool, I’m going to look at the Savior who stands next to me. Instead of looking into a glass darkly, I’m going to turn the lights on. All year.

Instead of slogging through the Chronicles and wandering in the wilderness for all of March or April, I’m going straight for the good stuff. Enough Tabernacle with things that remind me of Jesus. I want Jesus Himself reminding me of nothing else.  Enough struck-rock, I want the Crucified Lord.  Enough Jonah being vomited after three days. I want the Resurrected Prince of Peace.  Enough Passover to tell me the Death Angel passes over those who have the blood on the doorpost. I want the blood of Christ, the blood of Christ, the blood of Christ that cleanses me from all my sin.

This came up because over the holidays I suddenly realized that Paul never told the Gentiles to read the Old Testament. Not even to look for types, pictures, prophecies and illuminations of Jesus. Paul never even told the Jews to read the Old Testament to look for Him. He did quote the Old Testament when he spoke in synagogues, and we know that the Berean Jews searched the Old Testament to check up on Paul to see if he was telling the truth. But Gentiles are NEVER referred to the Old Testament for any reason.  (“Be like the Bereans,” is a constant call from the pulpit, but Paul was telling Jews about Jesus and they were searching the Old Testament to confirm His Messiahship. “Hey, you’re right! The Messiah was supposed to suffer!”)

In fact, Paul engages Gentiles where they are. He quotes their poets. He references their altars to unknown gods. He makes a big fat point that Gentiles do not have to make a station-stop at Judaism to get to Christianity.  Their children don’t have to learn the placement of the holy things in the Tabernacle, have sword drills in the minor prophets, or wonder just how fat Eglon was or whether Jael had to go into therapy after sledge-hammering a general’s head. They don’t have to go to Seders in a sort of religious cultural nostaglia to see what the death of Christ means. (Why do we look backwards? The Passover is illuminated by the sacrifice of Christ, not the other way around! It’s like I’m standing with my husband talking to someone and I pull a picture of Brian out of my wallet and say, “Look, here’s what my husband looks like!” They’d think I was nuts. So stop with the “Christian seders” already unless you’re really celebrating Israel’s exodus from Egyptian slavery, and I say that’s a good thing to celebrate. Any time anyone is freed in Egypt, that’s a good thing, no?)

But that would leave out the Ten Commandments! I heard that gasp. Paul says, “Don’t trouble them. Tell them to abstain from meats offered to idols and from fornication.”

It would also leave out the Creation, Fall, Flood, the Patriarchy (good riddance), the enslavement of Israel, the Exodus, the Tabernacle, the Judges, the Kingdom, the Exile, and the Return (just showing off my OT knowledge, couldn’t help myself), not to mention the Wisdom literature. How will I understand the sacrifice of Christ if I don’t know about Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. Seriously?  You can’t understand the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ without reference to the almost-sacrifice of Isaac? I think you need another look at the Crucifixions passages in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Read them slowly. If you still need help, read them with your son.     

But the Ten Commandments? How will you know how to live without the Ten Commandments?

Simple. Jesus gave us a little information on how to live. It’s called the Sermon on the Mount. If that’s not enough, I also have the Holy Spirit convicting me of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. I still have the law of God written on my heart. I still have Paul telling me to stop gossiping, to love my children, to be hospitable to strangers (I have a whole post on hospitality coming, but you’ll have to wait for it), and to live in loving submission to and with Brian. In fact, if it helps you to know it, there are plenty of do-this, don’t-do-thats in the New Testament.  In addition to all the teaching in the Epistles, we have the record of Jesus Himself living a life of perfect obedience, Spirit-filled living in full-color. Then, since we know we’re not God, we also have the record of men and women doing the same thing in the Acts of the Apostles.   

Remember that story about that man who has to look at a fish all semester? After the first hour, he thinks he knows everything about the fish. He gets bored. Then he looks a little deeper. By the end of the term, he knows everything there is to know about every detail of that fish. Here’s a fish: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”  This is the answer Jesus gave to someone who wanted to know how to live, and if this doesn’t tell me I ought not to kill my neighbor, steal her stuff, or covet her husband, I’m dumber than I look.  Jesus Himself doesn’t refer inquirers to the Old Testament. He says, “look at what you see: the lame walk, the blind see, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them.” He is enough.

But you won’t know how much money to give your church. You won’t know you should spank your children. You won’t know murderers should be executed. You won’t know to rest all day on Saturday.

So, since I won’t know any of that, I’m going to have to have faith that Jesus has given me all I need to live a Christian life in the New Testament. Let’s see, I’m supposed to give cheerfully as the Lord has prospered me. I’m supposed to commune and Communicate with other believers sometimes.  I’m supposed to love my children and teach them the Gospel. I’m supposed to pray for those who bear the sword.

Main Point: We can know how to live as Christians by reading the book that was written to Christians. We can learn how to love Jesus by reading about Him. HIMSELF, not something that’s supposed to look like Him.

What profit then the Old Testament? The oracles of God were given to the Jews because God loved them so much He gave them a heads-up, a preview of what was coming. He supplied the Jews with anticipation of the coming Messiah so that their eyes would be open and their hearts would believe. It worked! People were looking for Him! People were longing for Him! Even today, for seeking Jews and others who already revere the Old Testament, the Old Testament paves the way to Messiah Jesus: it illuminates, it reflects, it confirms.  (Plus it has a lot of great moral stories for children…or should we say it has a lot of astonishing stories of faith that we have turned into morality tales to make children try to be nicer, more brave, more obedient? But again, that’s another thought.)

I’m already half-way through Acts, and it’s only February. I should finish my first read-through by the end of March, which means I should get four thorough washings in the water of the Word this year. Unless I slow down for my second read-through. It’s so easy to read.  Maybe a super-slow, attentive read  of 260 chapters will do my soul more good than powering through 1189 chapters. (“Okay, people, that’s only three chapters a day!” Only? No wonder people are in bondage. They can’t even read the BIBLE at the prompting of the Spirit: they have to follow a schedule! Which means they don’t really want to read it at all. We do what we want to do. They want to have done it, but they don’t want to actually sit down and open the Book. Maybe this is because they are guilted into it, or maybe they can’t understand the version they’re “supposed” to read, but I digress.)

I’m not asking anyone to join me in this. I’m just saying. I’m ¾ Gentile, which is enough Gentile to let me off the OT for a long time. Don’t worry—I can still beat you in a sword drill. (None of this, of course, means that I won’t be blogging about the Old Testament. I have a lot of thoughts percolating , particularly about Noah the Failed Shipbuilder, but you’ll have to wait for that one too.)

No types and shadows in 2011 for me.

JESUS JESUS JESUS JESUS JESUS JESUS JESUS JESUS JESUS JESUS JESUS JESUS JESUS JESUS

A Thought on a 400th Birthday, or “Why I don’t make my kids read the King James Version of the Bible”

In the world I live in, the KJV-only and the KJV-preferred are the two most common positions on Bible version preference. Many of the people in my life would go so far as to say there is no other acceptable English translation of the Bible than the KJV.

I don’t hold to either of these positions.  Further,  I have recently become convinced that there is not one bone in my body  and not one whisper of a thought in my mind that I should  guide my children toward either one of these positions.

Short reason: my children are Americans and the KJV is old English. It isn’t written in their language.

(Funny story: once I visited Spurgeon’s church in London. After the service, I was chatting with a young lady, and she said something I couldn’t quite catch. I asked her to repeat herself. She did. I still didn’t understand her. Although we were both speaking English, we weren’t speaking the same language. I imagine she went home and said, “I met a lady from California today and couldn’t understand a thing she said! Americans!”)

I know all about the majestic flow of the words, the way the particular words wash over you and throw you on your face in reverence. I know how connected I myself am to the very words of the Psalms, the Sermon on the Mount, and so forth. But God doesn’t call us to get in intimate touch with the particular words…He wants us to KNOW HIM.  Therefore, if the particular translation keeps my children from KNOWING GOD, it’s over. Happy 400th—see ya.

Because my children can’t understand it. That’s it.  When my children read the KJV, they are not drawn to KNOWING GOD deeper, they are frustrated with the language. They don’t know what it says unless I spoon-feed it to them a la your sophomore English teacher and Julius Caesar. Line by frustrating line, until people are playing tic-tac-toe, passing notes, and making googly eyes at the hunk in the back row.

But if they really try, they could, you say. If you went to the trouble to teach them. Or even, You could make them sit for it. Wow, now that would be a great way to get them to Love Jesus, dontcha think? Force them to get used to  the thees, thous, cansts, cameths, the innumerable sentences that begin with “and,” the “lets” that mean the opposite of “let,” the “prevents” that mean “precedes” and so forth.

But guess what? I’m not putting my kids through that in order to understand the WORD of the LIVING GOD. Not doing it.

The line-by-lining your Shakespeare teacher did is not reading, by the way. It’s translation.  And that’s what happens with the KJV. It hits you as early as the word “firmament,” and continues through the final amen.

I want my children to be able to read the Word of God in English without having to have me or their dad handy to tell them what it means. I want them to be able to engage with God independently. I want them to have a personal relationship that is actually personal, to which I am not an intermediary. Nothing between their souls and the Savior.

If I was going to teach them a new language so that they could understand the Bible better, it would be Greek, not Shakespearean English.  But until we get Koine Greek on Rosetta Stone,  I’m going to provide them with an  English-language Bible that is understandable by ordinary Americans.

My favorite pro-KJV quote came off the sermonaudio.com web site a year or two ago. There was the typical back-and-forthing that goes on on the sermonaudio news page. Someone said something about needing a translation that a new believer could understand, and some man wrote back something like this: “Give him the KJV. I’ve been reading it for fifty years and I have no problem understanding it.”

Laugh out loud. I guess you’d understand it if you’d read it for 50 years!!!

Here’s one other tiny little thing. Ready? No one actually believes the KJV translation is perfect. You can tell, because every single preacher has to clarify the meaning of the words! He has to stand there and say, what it means is….  or The Greek word here means….. (then giving a word that is different from the KJV word) and so on. He takes the “perfect” translation and then re-translates it anyway! So, is he lying when he says he believes it’s perfect? Or is he a heretic for re-translating perfection? Or is he simply doing his congregation a big fat favor by clarifying a word that no longer has meaning for us today?  

Here’s a great argument for the KJV-only position (I just now read something like this on sermonaudio.com): “Either God or the Devil kept the KJV alive until now. Are you saying it was the Devil and not God? And if you admit that it’s God who preserved the KJV all this time, then you’re fighting against God when you say it’s not His own holy purpose…” etc.

C’mon, people! Just because God used fallible men to translate the old texts into this particular version that has been around nearly half a millenium doesn’t mean this is the book I have to use in my home! That doesn’t mean I think Satan preserved it—that’s a silly argument. Chaucer has been preserved too. And Beowulf, but please don’t tell me that means I have to teach them to my children.

God uses French translations in France, German translations in Germany, Japanese translations in Japan, Wycliffe translations all over the world, and even (gasp) American translations in America!

I hear you from here, you 1611 devotee, you! You want to know which one I am shackeling my children with. Because some of those heretical, liberal, gender-neutral, virgin-means-young-girl translations will send those kids to hell!  So, okay, I’ll confess. Here in my house we have the following Bible versions: the English Standard, the New International, the New King James, the King James, the New Life, da Jesus Book (Hawaiian Pidgin, a Wycliffe translation), and even (shock) a Living Bible, and (you better sit down, friend) a Revised Standard. 

And here’s the thing, we don’t just read them. We read them aloud. We read them together. We read them silently. We read them independently. We memorize in different versions! We talk about them. We believe them. We are all about the Bible. And because our FAITH is in the Incarnate Word of God and we are empowered by the Spirit of God, and we are seeking after the Father with humble hearts, I believe the Lord will keep us faithful as we seek to know Him, the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering. (Or, “I want to know Christ better. I want to know the power that raised Him from the dead. I want to share in His sufferings. I want to become like Him by sharing in His death.” New International Reader’s Version. Not majestic: clear.)

So, my position is: translate faithfully. Translate from the Greek, the Hebrew, the Aramaic. Give me the Word of God in my language. As Wycliffe would have said had he lived now, Let the burger-flippers of America know more Bible than the Pope in Rome. Heads up: they won’t be able to if they have to learn an ancient language first.

A Thought on the Thief on the Cross

Relevant Scripture:Matthew 27:38-44 “Then there were two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left. … Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribe and elders, said, ‘He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him, for he said, I am the Son of God.’ The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.”
Mark 15: 27-28 “And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left.”
 Luke 23: 36-40  “Then one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him saying, ‘If you are Christ, save yourself and us.’ But the other answering rebuked him saying, ‘Do you not fear God, seeing you are in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ He said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus said unto him, ‘Truly I say to you, Today you shall be with me in paradise.’”

 I was struck several years ago when, in a Sunday School class, a man mentioned The Thief On The Cross as an example of death-bed conversion. This man went on to say that the Thief was saved at the extreme end of his life and therefore had no time to live for God, be a testimony for Jesus, or otherwise impact the Kingdom. Therefore, we should not be wearied in praying for our old, ailing, and unbelieving loved ones because they might yet be saved at the very last moment.

And while I agree that we should follow King David’s example and fast and pray until the loved one has actually died, that is not what this account is about. This account is about the power of Jesus Christ to completely, radically save sinners. And, it is about the tenacity of Thief’s faith, which is nothing less than astonishing. 

Consider what we know. Thief is a criminal, and it may be that the theft in question was not his first offense against the Roman law. Thief has not spent time in prison considering his sins and wondering if this man Jesus really is the Messiah. No, he joins in the mocking.  It is likely that he had heard about Jesus before this (Scripture is clear that Jesus was famous), but he certainly had not believed.  That is, he had probably heard about Jesus and rejected him. In fact, Thief is such a hardened criminal that in his own moment of extremis, he takes no time to ponder eternity, but spends his time insulting Jesus Christ. 

Then, in one of history’s great providences, God opens Thief’s eyes to the truth, and Thief believes. This is no deathbed confession wrung out of Grandpa by a pack of crying grandchildren. Nor is it the snatch at a straw wherein an old sinner hopes not to go to Hell by “making his peace with his Maker” at the last moment. 

What we have here is an instantaneous, eye-opening, heart-changing, God-propelled Conversion. Suddenly, God shows Thief what is going on here. Shortly before, Thief had mocked Jesus saying, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the Cross.” Now, he looks and sees, not just some man who had done a lot of miracles and said a lot of nice things, but the Son of God.

He looks at a bloody mess and sees Divinity.

Instantly, his heart is changed and he believes: “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Lord. An acknowledgement of superiority, of sovereignty.

Remember me. An acknowledgement that without Jesus all hope of entering the kingdom is lost.

When. When! Not if. Not if everything works out as I’m now hoping it will.

You Come into. Jesus is fastened to a tree by nails, and Thief knows this isn’t the end; Jesus is coming into Power.

Your Kingdom. An acknowledgement that there is a Kingdom, that it is not of this world, and that it belongs to Jesus. It belongs to that thirsty, pain-wracked dying man with the thorns pushed down into his scalp.

Jesus says to Thief: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

I’m so glad we have this statement. It shows us that Jesus recognized a true conversion. Jesus knew that Thief had passed from death unto life. Here, Jesus is telling us that Thief’s conversion was real, that it wasn’t a simple snatching at straws, a hope-for making of peace. Jesus says, “Yes, you are saved.”

Then, Jesus dies.

Now, here’s the great part. Hold onto your hat. We know that Jesus died before the other two men hanging there. We know this because when the soldier comes to break the legs of the condemned men, he does break the legs of the thieves, but when he comes to Jesus, Jesus is already dead.

Thief looked on a dead man and believed.

He was the first New Covenant believer. Before this, everyone who believed, believed in the coming Messiah, in his sure (but not yet) atonement. Thief sees the dead man hanging there, understands that the Kingdom is ETERNAL and HEAVENLY, not temporal and earthly, and believes. 

Then, while he hangs on a cross, looking at the dead body of his Lord, a soldier approaches. I don’t know what it takes to break a man’s legs, but it must be something heavy, such as a sledge-hammer. Nor can I imagine the horror and terror of seeing a soldier approach me with such an instrument, raise it, and aim at my knees. Perhaps Thief looked away from the soldier and looked once again at the dead, limp, hanging body of the Savior.

I want to believe that while the sledge-hammer came down, crushing his bones, Thief gazed at the dead body of Jesus Christ and believed that this was the moment in which he would enter Paradise. Certainly after such an impact, any other thought than fighting for a breath or two would be impossible.

And yet he believed. We know his faith did not waver, because Jesus Himself had given testimony that this man would die in faith, that this very day, he would enter the Kingdom.

And so, apologies to everyone who has ever said that this man didn’t leave a testimony, but if this is not one of  the greatest testimonies of faith ever given, I’d like to hear one that is.  If this man did not leave a sweet savor of faith, hope, and love, I want to know who has. If this man has not impacted your work in the Kingdom, it’s time to meditate a little more on this life, because he should.

Thief knew what we should spend our lives living for: that there is an Eternal Kingdom, that Jesus is the King, and that there is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.

And in that faith—that great faith—he died.

The Wise Men Didn’t Follow A Star

“We have seen his star in the east and are come to worship him.”

Here’s a picture you’ve seen: three tall old men on camels. There’s a star in the sky bigger than all the other stars (with long extended points! In the shape of a cross, even!), and the men are looking up at it, following it. Once you’ve got this picture in your head, you stop wondering what happened.
The trouble is, you can’t follow a star. It’s not believable to say you can, and it’s not Bible.

Here’s another thing that’s not Bible: the Wise Men were idolatrous pagan priests.

Think back on your Old Testament history. Adam, Abraham, Moses, David and all the kings and then what happens? The Exile to Babylon happens. Who is the great Wise Man of the Exile? Daniel the Jew. Who returns to Judea to end the Exile? A Remnant. Just a few thousand.

Thousands more stay in the East. Many of these people are godly, believing Jews who are waiting for Messiah. They build synagogues. They study the Scriptures. Some of them work in government service. They are Daniel’s spiritual children–the Wise Men of Babylon. These godly Jews loved the Scriptures and were in possession of most if not all of the Old Testament. There was sufficient commerce and regular travel that the Babylonian Jews would have obtained the post-Exilic writings as well, but whether they did or not, it is certain they had Micah, a pre-Exilic prophet.

It is, however, not necessarily reasonable to assume that the Wise Men came from Babylon, as is often presumed. You see, Babylon is too close to Israel. If the Wise Men left their hometown in the hours or days after the appearance of the star, it would not have taken them anywhere near two years to complete the journey to Jerusalem. A quick internet search tells us that it’s about 1000 miles from Babylon to Jerusalem on the usual trade routes. One thousand miles is about the distance from Washington, D.C., to Miami, Florida. This is a long trip in anyone’s book, especially if you’re going on foot, donkey, or camel, but it would not take two years, especially for men who are determined to get where they are going.

A better explanation may be found in Esther 8:9, the longest verse in the Bible (actually a meaningless distinction, since the verse breaks were added in the 1100s AD). In this verse, an edict is issued by Mordecai to all the king’s provinces: “. . . which are from India unto Ethiopia . . . unto every province according to the writing thereof, and unto every people after their language, and to the Jews according to their writing and according to their language.”

Since this edict is relating to the treatment of the Jews and is sent to all 127 provinces (from India to Ethiopia), it is safe to assume that there are Jews in all those provinces.

The Wise Men, then, may have come from India. In fact, since there are several hundred years between Esther’s time and the birth of Christ, migrations even farther east may have occurred, and the Wise Men could have come from an even more distant place. However, India works well for the two-year time-frame of the Wise Men’s journey.

It is approximately 3000 miles from India to Jerusalem. At ten miles per day, this journey would take 300 days. But of course there is one day of rest every week and some days and weeks are designated as feast days when you would not travel. There are some days you can’t go anywhere because of the weather, because of illness or injury, or simply because you need a rest. Too, they are passing through the area we know as Pakistan and Afghanistan which we know to include challenging terrain, rainy seasons, floods.

As mentioned above, the Wise Men had the prophecy of Micah. They knew Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. And they knew the way. They didn’t need a star to guide them, nor does the Bible tell us that they had any such star to guide them at this time. We know only that they “had seen” the star, not that it guided them anywhere. They knew the place and they knew the way.

What they didn’t know was when Messiah would be born. So God sent them a messenger—a star, that is an ANGEL, to tell them that the time had come.
It is not surprising that an angel should be referred to as a star. Jesus himself is referred to as the bright and morning star, and also as the star out of Jacob. Judges 5:20 tells us that “the stars in their courses fought against Sisera,” which cannot mean literal stars. Job tells us that the “morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy,” a parallelism that does not refer to literal stars and probably refers specifically to angels . There are many other places in Scripture where the word star does not indicate a literal ball of fire in the sky.

In fact, a look at Strong’s concordance will reveal that in only one instance in the New Testament does the word “star” indicate a literal ball of fire in the sky. All the others—if you include the Matthew 1 references as I am doing here—are figurative.

A further argument for the word “star” to here mean angel is that the other announcements of the Savior’s birth are angelic. Mary hears the news of the conception from an angel. An angel appears to Joseph in a dream. The shepherds are visited by angels.

So then, why is the word star used here? Very simply, it is the word the Wise Men used when they told the story to Mary and Joseph. They used the term star to indicate angel. Maybe there was a translation problem. Maybe the words were synonymous, sounded the same, or perhaps it was a simple figure of speech. They would naturally have told Mary and Joseph their whole story during their visit, and no doubt Mary (who was pondering all these things in her heart) was very careful to repeat the Wise Men’s exact words to Matthew years later. She simply repeated what they had told her.

“Where is he that is born king of the Jews? We have seen his star in the East, and are come to worship him.”

The Wise Men come to Herod’s palace, not because they don’t know Messiah was born in Bethlehem, but because they assume he will be at the palace by this time, being nurtured, much as Moses was nurtured by the Pharaoh’s daughter. Notice that they don’t ask “where was he born?” but “Where is he?” You can imagine them waiting on pins and needles to be ushered into the Royal Nursery so they can present their gifts to him.

To their surprise and dismay, Herod doesn’t know what they are talking about. None of the Roman government people do. (Read “all Jerusalem with him” much as we would read “Washington was at a loss,” that is, the government corporately.) The government people don’t know, so Herod next calls on the Jewish religious leaders. He asks, “Where is he?” but they don’t know.

(It seems odd at first glance that these men did not know that Jesus had been born. After all, a fairly big to-do had occurred a couple of years before. Shouting shepherds, old people testifying loudly at the temple. Then again, these are mundane, simple things, of which the leadership might not have been made aware.)

Herod now advises the Wise Men that the child was supposed to be born in Bethlehem. I can hear them groan, “We knew that!”

Disappointed that the king is not there for them to worship, they don’t know what to do next other than to head down to Bethlehem and start asking around. But, as soon as they get outside, Lo! The angel again! After two years of foot-weary travel over thousands of miles only to find that no one knows what they are talking about, suddenly, the very same angel appears. This time there’s no guess work. This time he leads them directly to the house where Jesus is living.

They don’t just rejoice. They don’t just rejoice with great joy. They rejoice with exceeding great joy. These men are out of their minds with relief, wonder, thankfulness, and unbounded joy. They came in faith over tremendous obstacles, and now they are going to receive the reward of faith: sight. In just a few minutes, they are going to see their Messiah, the one they have longed to see all their lives.

This joy—this exceeding great joy—is the real clincher on the premise that the Wise Men did not follow a star. If they had followed it to Herod’s palace, they would not have been surprised to see it when they came out. But they did not follow it. They never said they did. They said, “We have seen,” not “We have followed.”

The Wise Men probably wondered why God hadn’t sent the angel the day before, but we know why he didn’t. For the prophecy of Rachel’s weeping for her children to be true, Herod had to pursue the terrible course he did in fact pursue in just a few days’ time when he unleashed his lust-for-continued power on the babies of Bethlehem. By then Jesus was well on his way to Egypt, of course, and the Wise Men were well on their way home.

In order to return a different way than the way they had come, it is possible they traveled south. This would be the quickest way to get out of Herod’s jurisdiction so that he would not hunt them down as well. If they did in fact travel south, and if they traveled by boat through the Red Sea to the Arabian Sea and from there on back home to India, they would naturally stop in Ethiopia. In this way, on this trip, the Wise Men would have had opportunity to tell about the Savior’s birth to the Jews from India to Ethiopia.

The last time anyone spoke to all the Jews from India to Ethiopia it was to warn them to gird themselves for battle, to defend themselves from those who would seek to kill them. This time, there is a message of hope, of salvation through Messiah, brought by a few faithful—and certainly very weary—Wise Men.

Did Satan Try To Kill Mary?

“And she brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.”

“You shall find the babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

“They came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

This scene has been scrubbed so clean in our crèches and Christmas cards, that the question being begged is never so much as imagined: Why would anyone put a baby in a manger?

Women immediately post-partum hold their babies, nurse their babies, cuddle their babies, sleep with their babies in their arms. They don’t put them in feeding troughs. (Don’t get me started on the misstatement-that-won’t-die, that Jesus was “born in a manger,” as if Mary, full-term and ruptured, hopped into the cow trough to push.)

Let’s say for the sake of argument that Mary was exhausted from days of contractions while traveling in a wooden cart for a hundred miles at full term. That she was fatigued beyond all weariness from pushing for hours. There is no doubt Mary was extremely tired.

Even so: Joseph was there. Joseph understood the preciousness of this infant, the history-pivot of his birth. If Mary was so weak she could not even hold the baby she had ached to hold for the past nine months, she would have lain down on the ground, placed some cloth next to her for the baby to lie on and nursed him to sleep. This failing, Joseph would have held him, or lain down with him.

Unless something had gone very wrong.

Was Mary hemorrhaging? Having a seizure? The devil spent a good deal of time during the life of Christ trying to kill Him. Perhaps he started early. Failing to kill the baby with premature birth, sepsis, exposure, or any number of other possibilities in a time of high infant mortality, maybe he made an attempt on Mary’s life, to deprive our Lord of his mother: maybe she tore, maybe the placenta wouldn’t expel, maybe she was having an asthma attack. It could have been anything. It must have been something.

Yes, it’s a conjecture, but it’s a reasonable one. Satan tries to kill Jesus all through our Lord’s life, at least starting when Jesus is a toddler, and maybe earlier. Whatever the particulars, healthy mothers don’t put their babies in cow troughs.

The over-exhaustion idea doesn’t work for me, because when the shepherds arrive, Mary is awake, and it is not possible to believe that Joseph woke Mary out of a bone-weary exhaustion to tell her that a few strangers have arrived to see the baby.

And, note the statement made about the shepherds’ visit: they found “Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” Mary and Joseph are separate from the baby. Maybe Joseph is tending to Mary. Maybe one of the shepherds has some medical knowledge that would help her. One can imagine Joseph saying, “Thank God you’ve come—please help me!” (In spite of the “traditional understanding” that Joseph was an old man, it is more likely he was a young man with not a clue how to deal with childbirth.)

So maybe God sent the shepherds for Mary’s sake, to save her life so that she could mother the Son of God. And of course, shepherds know all about caring for newborn creatures. It would be fitting indeed if God sent shepherds who regularly delivered ewes on the field to care for the newly-born Lamb of God.

The shepherds’ visit certainly calmed Mary’s heart: could you slog through cow dung after a journey of a hundred miles, scream your way through labor, and then look at your baby lying alone over there, wrapped up in rags, and not feel abandoned by God? The visit of the shepherds assured Mary that God’s hand was right here, right now. Their visit was something she treasured all her days. Good Joseph was certainly greatly encouraged by the shepherds showing up with the story of a whole lot of angels shouting Glory to God, once again confirming the miraculous nature of this baby he was to father.

Childbirth is a loud, messy business. There’s very little silent-night-holy-night about it, especially when it occurs in a cattle pen, perhaps out in the open, surrounded by a lot of other travelers who are not happy about the screaming lady with no epidural a few yards away, followed after a while by a wailing infant, especially an infant who is not being tended, but put off in a trough.

There’s so much we don’t know about the birth of Christ, and this is instructive as to the story’s relative importance in the light of later events, because when it comes to the Crucifixion and Resurrection we know dates, times, places, names, exact dialogue, and even emotion. Here the description is far more spare, so we can’t be sure about much.

But I am certain about this: no woman willingly puts her newly-born infant in a feeding trough. In just a few verses in Luke 2, the manger is mentioned three times. Maybe we were meant to ask why.