Thursday, January 8, 2015

What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?

It was 900+ years from King David’s reign to the time of Jesus.  In that span of time, the Jewish people faced unbelievable challenges, including the Babylonian exile and the rule of Alexander the Great.  They also were not ruled by kings in the line of David for much of that time, which was a problem as far as the hope in the Messiah was concerned because this Messiah, who was expected to be a new king, was to be a descendant of David.  It is shocking to me that through 900+ years of these and other challenges, the Jewish people did not grow weary and forget what was supposed to be their destiny.  It is interesting to consider the events that finally did come to pass and what the people may have come to know and when.
First, they were touched by the supernatural when a priest by the name of Zechariah apparently experienced a visit from an angel (in the temple in Jerusalem) and was struck dumb due to his disbelief.  What might the people have thought of this?  Some may have thought that the time of prophecy had finally arrived.  Then Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph (both of whom were in David’s lineage) was also visited by an angel (in her home in Nazareth) and became pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The people and Joseph did not know of her pregnancy until she returned from her visit to Elizabeth three months later.  Joseph took her into his home despite her apparent illegitimate pregnancy.  What might the people have thought now?  If they didn’t know previously about Mary’s pregnancy, they did now.  And then came the announcement of the census and the fact that Mary and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem.  It may have seemed to the people in Nazareth that this may be the fulfillment of the prophecy, even though the child would be illegitimate.  The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, but was also, later in life, to be referred to as a Nazarene. 
Indeed the baby was born in Bethlehem.  The birth was announced by a legion of angels to a band of shepherds. The shepherds were told that the baby was the Savior, the Christ.  The shepherds then went to the site of the birth and met the Joseph, Mary and the baby and subsequently blabbed the news far and wide.  Besides that, there was an elderly priest, Simeon, in the temple who claimed that he had received a revelation that he would not see death until after he had seen the Messiah.  Mary and Joseph brought the Babe to the temple for his Presentation and Simeon announced that Jesus was the Promised One.  Then came the wise men, who told Herod that a Savior had been born somewhere nearby and they had come to worship Him.  Herod came to know from the prophecy that Bethlehem was the city.  So he had his soldiers kill all male children in Bethlehem under the age of 2.  What extreme sadness and disappointment must have descended on this city, not just because all these children were killed, but also because one of them was the supposed Messiah!  Meanwhile, no one in Bethlehem or Nazareth knew (until several years later) that the Messiah had survived and that he and his parents were safe in Egypt.  Of course, eventually they did return to Nazareth and at least the people there realized that the Messiah was indeed among them again because they knew that he was the son of Mary and Joseph and was born when they traveled to Bethlehem.  Perhaps word also reached Bethlehem and Jerusalem too. 
The scholars in Jerusalem, when Jesus was twelve years old, might have put two and two together when they saw that he was the son of Jesus and Mary and how learned this young boy was on the prophecies in Scripture.  But it seems certain that most people came to the realization when Jesus was 30, because he was introduced by John the Baptist (and God the Father) at the site of the baptisms John was performing in the Jorden River.  It was, after all, a very public introduction.  So I’m thinking that by the time Jesus began his public ministry and came to choose his apostles, it was easy for Peter, Andrew, James, and John, for example, to say “yes” so readily, since they would already have known that he was the Messiah.  Zebedee might not have liked it when his sons abandoned him on the fishing boat, but most everyone else probably understood.

The photo is of a scene in the display at Cristo Rey Catholic Church in Lincoln.  Joseph is at work in his carpentry shop in Nazareth and Mary and the baby Jesus are seated (out of focus) behind him.

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