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1.The birth of Jesus and the culture & politics of the times.

Side note: This is my compilation of the 4 gospels into one.Each of the gospels was written by a different person and like any eye witness account, each one give layers of the same story. If you have 4 people in a room and each is looking at one event, based on their angle of observation, they will see observe the same event but slightly differently. I have overlaid all the all to get a full picture. If you like, it's like presenting you with the whole sandwich you with each bite you get a full flavour instead of giving you the bread first and the lettuce and the chicken etc etc... I also then did some research into the prevailing culture and have added this to it.. My own thoughts and external findings will be labelled "Side Note"



Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2


Spoiler alert: Prepare to raise your eyebrows..The genealogy of Jesus includes some surprising characters, see below*

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

Abraham was the father of Isaac,

Isaac the father of Jacob,

Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,

Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar*,

Perez the father of Hezron,

Hezron the father of Ram,

Ram the father of Amminadab,

Amminadab the father of Nahshon,

Nahshon the father of Salmon,

Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab*,

Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth*,

Obed the father of Jesse,

and Jesse the father of King David.

David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife*,

Solomon the father of Rehoboam,

Rehoboam the father of Abijah,

Abijah the father of Asa,

Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,

Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,

Jehoram the father of Uzziah,

Uzziah the father of Jotham,

Jotham the father of Ahaz,

Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,

Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,

Manasseh the father of Amon,

Amon the father of Josiah,

and Josiah the father of Jeconiah[c] and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.

After the exile to Babylon:

Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,

Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,

Zerubbabel the father of Abihud,

Abihud the father of Eliakim,

Eliakim the father of Azor,

Azor the father of Zadok,

Zadok the father of Akim,

Akim the father of Elihud,

Elihud the father of Eleazar,

Eleazar the father of Matthan,

Matthan the father of Jacob,

and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary*, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.

Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.


Side note: The 5 women mentioned here were respectively , a daughter in law who slept with her father in law, a prostitute, a foreigner whose lineage included father/dather incest, an adulterer, and then Mary. It also includes an identity thief, a murderer and adulterer who tried to cuckoo another man and lots of idol worshippers. Not exactly the most religious of lineages.. Why would God choose these people?



 


The Birth of the fore-runner John the Baptist Foretold

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.


Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.


Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”


Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”


The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”


Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.


When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”



 

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.

For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Side note:

1. Why was Mary “troubled” at the greeting? First of all, a man came to speak to a woman.In Jewish custom, this was frowned upon. Even speaking to one’s own wife in public was discouraged and seen as frivolous, mingling between various sexes who were unmarried risked their families’ reputation. therefore, the angel speaking to Mary would have been an unusual event even if the angel wasn’t a celestial being. The bible doesn’t indicate that Mary questioned this being’s authority in his words therefore she must have acknowledged him as an angel. The thought alone of an angel must have been intimidating. Mary was from a poor family, and oppressed by the Romans as was every other Jew at the time. The angel called her “highly favoured” and said “God was with her”. And yet, there she was poor, and oppressed, the contradiction between what she saw around her and what he proclaimed would have been puzzling or troubling

2. You may wonder how comes Mary’s question did not elicit the same discipline Zechariah’s did. Well Mary’s was a question of technicality.. Zechariah’s was ‘how can I be sure’.. which is a request for a guarantee. In and of itself, the bible is full of characters who requested reassurances from God eg Gideon and his fleece, Zedekiah and the sundial.. However, to whom much is given, much is expected from: Zechariah being a priest, in asking for a sign displayed a level of faith deficiency or irreverence for the God he served. If he trembled at the arrival of the angel, he must have believed the angel was divinely sent. To question the possibility of the promise indicated he didn’t trust in God’s ability. This is a serious issue for how can you lead others if you don’t believe the God you serve can do what He says he will?



 

Mary Visits Elizabeth

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”


Mary’s Song


And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has been mindful

of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,

for the Mighty One has done great things for me—

holy is his name.

His mercy extends to those who fear him,

from generation to generation.

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.

He has helped his servant Israel,

remembering to be merciful

to Abraham and his descendants forever,

just as he promised our ancestors.”


Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.


Side note: This means Mary returned home around the time of the birth of Elizabeth’s baby.




 

The Birth of John the Baptist


When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.


On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”


They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”


Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.


Zechariah’s Song


His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,

because he has come to his people and redeemed them.

He has raised up a horn of salvation for us

in the house of his servant David

(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),

salvation from our enemies

and from the hand of all who hate us—

to show mercy to our ancestors

and to remember his holy covenant,

the oath he swore to our father Abraham:

to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,

and to enable us to serve him without fear

in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;

for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,

to give his people the knowledge of salvation

through the forgiveness of their sins,

because of the tender mercy of our God,

by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven

to shine on those living in darkness

and in the shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the path of peace.”


And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.


 


Joseph Accepts Mary's inexplicable pregnancy


This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.

Side note: Likely that Joseph discovered her pregnancy soon after Mary returned from spending 3 months with her cousin Elizabeth- at 3 months gestation, she would have started to show.

Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).


When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus


Side note: The level of Joseph’s kindness and generosity in deciding not to humiliate Mary as soon as he discovered she was pregnant is immense. Traditional Jewish marriage procedures in those days required both sides to remain chaste, and once a bride has been identified, and a marriage agreed, the bride remained in her father’s house whilst the groom returned to his fathers compound and built a home for his bride. Once the bridal home was ready (usually decided by the groom’s father), the groom went with his friend to claim his bride. They then celebrated with a wedding feast lasting up to several days The newly weds then retired to their bridal chamber which would have been stocked with food to last a week. They weren’t expected to emerge for a whole week. The entire ceremony rested on their chastity and restraint up to the wedding. Therefore in accepting to live with Mary, an obviously pregnant young woman before the wedding had taken place, Joseph was shouldering a lot of the gossip and fingerprinting as jointly lacking in self control. You can imagine what the neighbours said about him as well! If you are interested in finding out more about Jewish wedding expectations and customs in those times, click here:



 

The Birth of Jesus

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.


Side note: This decree was doubly heinous in the sight of the Jews because in the law of Moses, God decreed that the taking of a census would require each male to pay an atonement offering/ ransom for his life Ex 30:12 which implied that God didn’t approve of censuses- there’s a story involving a census which caused God’s wrath on David in 2 Sam 24. Censuses essentially put stock in one’s own might and not in God. To avoid offending God, the very law abiding Jews would probably have had to make an atonement offering for this census imposed on them. Furthermore, the purpose of the census decreed by Caesar Augustus was to identify which Jew owned what property and therefore exact a property tax. This census led to the birth of the Zealots, an extremist group of Jews

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.

Side note: Jesus is known as the Lamb of God. Bethlehem, which is a 2 hr walk away from Jerusalem is the region where the sacrificial lambs destined for the temple are born and reared. The lambs are then driven by the shepherds to Jerusalem in ready for sacrifice. The Lamb of God, born in Bethlehem, ended up sacrificed on a cross in Jerusalem.


She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host* appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, Sidenote: Heavenly host is an army of angels

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child according to Jewish custom based on the Abrahimic covenant, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.


 

Jesus Presented in the Temple

When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

Side note: The purification rites stated that a woman who gave birth to a son is deemed unclean for 40 days and upon completion of the 40 days she shall take 2 animals - a burnt offering and a sin offering. For the poorest people who couldn’t afford a lamb, they could present 2 turtledoves or two pigeons. The mention of their offering being in this category makes it clear that Joseph and Mary were very poor.


Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

you may now dismiss your servant in peace.

For my eyes have seen your salvation,

which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:

a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

and the glory of your people Israel.”


The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”


There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.


 


The Magi Visit the Messiah

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.


Side note: The Magi were “priests” from the east who focused on astrology. Their address to Herod put Jesus in great danger. Herod was one of the most paranoid and murderous kings ever to exist. His paranoia and cruelty are well documented. He so feared anyone taking the throne that he had at least two of his sons as well as his favourite wife (he had 10) killed to protect his throne. His reign was so marked with cruelty that hardly a week went by without someone being sentenced to death or other. So having these 3 magi arrive no doubt impeccably dressed, having travelled a distance and demanding to see the ‘King of the Jews” would have made Jesus Herod’s most wanted. All f Jerusalem lived in fear of Herod’s murderous sprees and therefore understood that this news would trigger a reaction from hm.


When Herod had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for out of you will come a ruler

who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.


 

The Escape to Egypt

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”


When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.


Side note: Herod’s command to kill male toddlers aged 2 or less meant that the magi had told Herod that they saw the star a while before they arrived- perhaps a year or 9 months or even 15 months prior to arrival. The delay in arrival may be due to various reasons which may include the distance they travelled (Magi originated from the Orient, high by camel or horse, would require months of preparation and then travel with overnight stops. Given Herod’s well documented paranoia, it is likely he didn’t want to take any chances and added a good time buffer of extra months to ensure, so he could ensure this King of Jews didn’t escape being killed. Given the size of Bethlehem in those times, estimated to be less than 1000 people, it is unlikely that the population of males less than 2 years old would have been more than 5-7. This murder of the babies is known as the Massacre of Innocents and became just one more cruel murder Herod committed. If you are wondering how he could give such an unthinkable order, remember the man murdered his own sons and his favourite wife just to protect his position as king. The writer of Jewish Antiquities Josephus documents many more atrocities Herod committed.


Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,

weeping and great mourning,

Rachel weeping for her children

and refusing to be comforted,

because they are no more.”


 

The Return to Nazareth

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there.


Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.


When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.



 

The boy Jesus at the temple * This is the only biblical record of Jesus's teenage years

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

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