Adoration of the Shepherds / Bartolomé-Esteban Murillo, ca. 1650
In a stable in Bethlehem, Mary had a baby. She was certainly neither the first or last woman to deliver a child under less than ideal conditions. But she had an ordinary childbirth experience after an ordinary pregnancy.
She delivered no ordinary child. Mary conceived Jesus while she was still a virgin, a miracle that has happened exactly once. Angels announced Jesus’ birth to shepherds, who rushed to Bethlehem to see him.
The ordinary and the extraordinary persisted side by side throughout Jesus’ life. Luke’s gospel records both a week following his birth.… Read the rest
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
The clemency of Cyrus / Jean Fouquet, ca. 1470-1475.
For the past 150 years or so, some so-called biblical scholars have assumed that everything has a natural explanation, that the supernatural cannot be real, and that therefore the prophets of old could not possibly have predicted the future. In a recent post, Idolatry and redemption today, I mentioned a temporary redemption that came through the Persian emperor Cyrus, as predicted in Isaiah 44.
He reversed the long-standing Assyrian/Babylonian policy of removing conquered peoples from their homeland. He ordered the restoration not only of Jerusalem, but every other identifiable ethnic group in his empire.… Read the rest
I just led a Sunday School class on the eighth chapter of Daniel. It got me thinking about Bible prophecy and what it means when prophecies are fulfilled. Just what are we supposed to learn from goats and rams with weird-looking horns that turn out to mean something that even Daniel could make no sense of? This chapter seems to have been entirely fulfilled by the reign of Syrian king Antiochus IV in the second century B.C. Or was it? Does it also refer to the final Antichrist? Can we find clues of what is still ahead for the world?
Twenty-five years ago, when I watched a lot of Christian television, I caught two consecutive shows on Bible prophecy.… Read the rest
God wants his people to prosper. That hardly means that he will not allow them, or rather compel them to go through times of trial in which prosperity seems impossible. We have to put aside our human idea of prosperity and let God define it for us.
Jeremiah proclaimed the message of divine prosperity even in calamity in a letter to the Jews in Babylon, that is, to victims of a recent national catastrophe. The invading Babylonian army had taken King Jeconiah, his mother, all of his court officials, and all of the skilled craftsmen and artisans in Jerusalem as captives back to Babylon.… Read the rest
Isaiah 40 may be one of the best-known passage among all the Old Testament prophets. Anyone who knows Handel’s Messiah will immediately recognize the text for the first tenor recitative and aria, the first chorus, the first alto aria (with chorus), and the second alto aria among the first eleven verses of the chapter: “Comfort ye my people,” “Every valley shall be exalted,” “And the glory of the Lord,” “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion,” and “He shall feed his flock.”
We associate these verses with the Christmas story at least because John the Baptist claimed to be the “voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,” words quoted in the tenor recitative.… Read the rest
In one of the best-known passages of an otherwise obscure book, Ezekiel described his vision of a valley of dry bones coming to life. Actually, it was more than a vision; he had to prophesy to the bones before anything happened.
Ezekiel recognized that the bones represented the whole lineage of Jacob. Both kingdoms that represented that lineage had been destroyed, their people exiled and scattered. In their shattered hope, the survivors felt as dead and dried up as the bones.
At Ezekiel’s first word of prophecy, the bones formed together as complete skeletons, and then the flesh returned. Now instead of a valley of dry bones, it was a valley of corpses.… Read the rest
“Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” — Revelation (a.k.a. Apocalypse) 1:3 (NASB)
Someone has said that the New Testament is so simple that you need someone to help you misunderstand it. We’ve all had plenty of help! As far as Revelation is concerned though, I doubt if many find it simple at all.
There seem to be two predominant kinds of Christians when it comes to that book. Many avoid it entirely; it is too overwhelmingly confusing. Others teach from it all the time, attempting to guide people through the spiritual implications of today’s news.… Read the rest
The time leading up to Christmas, Advent, prepares worshipers to receive the coming of the Lord in at least two senses. Christ has come once as a baby and will return as a conquering king. Scripture often contains multiple meanings and multiple layers of fulfillment. A familiar passage in Isaiah, delivered probably in the days of King Ahaz, refers to both arrivals.
The “stump of Jesse” in verse 1 indicates that David’s line will be cut down, which it was about 120 years after Isaiah delivered the prophecy. Just as a tree, having been chopped down, can grow again from the stump, so will a shoot arise from the destruction of the Jewish kingdom.… Read the rest