Mary: After the Angel Departed

Mary, Simeon, Jesus

Simeon Receives Jesus in the Temple / Simon Vouet, 1640-41

Have you ever had a vivid encounter with God? What happened a day or two later? A week? Years?

Quite often Christians have reported an overwhelming spiritual high followed by a deep spiritual low.

God’s presence can be so vivid that it seems like what he says is bound to happen in the next 15 minutes, but it never does.

A cherished promise never seems as far off and distant as it does after vividness of the divine presence fades.

Does that mean perhaps that we had no genuine spiritual experience?… Read the rest

Who Were the Magi, and Why Should We Care?

Magi

Detail from: “Mary and Child, surrounded by angels”, mosaic of an Italian-Byzantine workshop in Ravenna, completed within 526 AD by the so-called “Master of Sant’Apollinare”.

Did the three wise men really visit the manger in Bethlehem on that first Christmas day bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh?

The town and the gifts are right. At best, the rest of the familiar scene is dubious. Who were the wise men (magi), and what does it matter?

The Bible (Matthew 2:1-12) simply says wise men (it’s plural, so there were at least two) followed a star from the East (a vague enough reference that only rules out other directions).… Read the rest

Preparing for Christ’s return

john the baptist

John the Baptist, Preaching / Luca Giordano, ca. 1695

The church sets aside the season of Advent to prepare for Christ’s coming. It is a season of penitence to prepare our hearts to celebrate Christmas, the first coming of Christ. He entered the world by stealth, being born in an obscure village.

But the New Testament proclaims in many ways that Christ will return in triumph. Advent prepares us for that event, too.

Regarding John the Baptist, Luke 3:4-6 quotes a passage from Isaiah that has not yet seen its entire fulfillment:

Benedictus: Zecharaiah’s song

Zechariah--annunciation

Annunciation of the Angel to Zechariah / Domenico Ghirlandaio (1490) Fresco in the Tornabuoni Chapel, Florence

Zechariah’s song (known as the Benedictus) doesn’t get nearly the attention as Mary’s (the Magnificat) earlier in the chapter, but it is the first recorded prophetic word since the Book of Malachi some 400 years earlier.

Its outpouring of praise culminates a long life of both piety and disappointment. After years of waiting and hoping, Zechariah, an aging priest, drew the lot for the once-in-a-lifetime assignment of burning incense in the temple.

The angel Gabriel appeared to him and said his prayer was answered. What prayer?… Read the rest

Is God a light switch?

light switchHow does a person find God? Someone suggested it’s like leading them into a dark room and encouraging them to find a light switch on the wall.

I have some experience going into total darkness and finding the switch, but I’ll only enter if I know where the switch is. Can a believer tell or show someone else where the switch is?

I think that’s the wrong question. God is the light of the world. There is no darkness in him, and he is not in darkness.

Where, then, does darkness come from? The simple answer is that darkness comes from Satan, and if people are looking for a switch, then the switch must be the light of God in a believer.… Read the rest

Greatest of men, least in the kingdom of God

john the baptist

John the Baptist, Preaching / Luca Giordano, ca. 1695

In Luke 7:28, Jesus summarized his description of John the Baptist and his ministry saying, “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John, yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

What was so special about John? And how can the least in the kingdom of God be greater than John?

Strength, courage, and adequacy

Moses blesses Joshua

Moses Blesses Joshua Before the High Priest / James Tissot, late 19th century

God’s first words to Joshua are, “Moses my servant is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan.” Joshua had known that this moment would come.

Everyone knew that Moses would not lead the people into the Promised Land.

We have all experienced starting a new venture or getting a big promotion, something that we have prepared to do for a long time.

But when it comes time to actually start working, it’s only natural to have some jitters about our adequacy.

Beans, ping-pong balls, and Jesus

esus at prayer in the desert

Christ in the desert / Ivan Kramskoi (1871)

Perhaps you have seen this object lesson: Before starting his sermon, a preacher asked for a volunteer from the congregation. He had a jar of beans and three ping-pong balls, and asked the volunteer to put the ping-pong balls into the jar. He couldn’t do it.

The preacher emptied the beans into a pitcher. The balls easily fit into the jar. Then the preacher asked the volunteer to see how many of the beans he could get into the jar. They all fit with some room to spare.

The ping-pong balls represented time with God.… Read the rest

Justification: by grace or works?

Saint Paul

Saint Paul / Bartolomeo Montagna (1481)

Does the Bible contain contradictions? It can appear so.

Paul wrote, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28), and a few lines later, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (Romans 4:2).

James, on the other hand, wrote, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? . . . You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:21, 24).… Read the rest

Noah’s flood, God’s wrath?

construction of Noah's ark

Construction of the ark, from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

According to Romans 1:18, the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. It seems at first that Noah’s flood could be Exhibit A.

Except that a careful reading shows that nowhere in the Genesis account of the flood does “wrath,” “anger,” or any synonym occur!

The first time “anger” occurs in the King James Bible is Genesis 27:45 to describe Esau. “Wrath” first occurs is Genesis 39:19, which describes Potiphar after his wife accused Joseph of attempted rape. Abraham asked God not to be angry in Genesis 18:30 when the two were bargaining over the fate of Sodom.… Read the rest