Christianity 201

December 20, 2020

The Scandal of Mary’s Pregnancy and its Implications 30+ Years Later

CEB.Luke.1.28 When the angel came to [Mary], he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” 29 She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. 31 Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. 33 He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.”

34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?”

35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son.

Chris Tiegreen is an author who has worked on over a dozen of Tyndale Publishing’s One Year Book of… series of devotionals. He writes,

…Sometimes lost on us is the stunning way in which God clothed himself in human flesh. It’s easy to be sympathetic toward Mary and get angry at the people who would have tried to stone her if they knew she was pregnant. But have you ever considered how you’d respond to a teenage girl who became pregnant and then said God did it? Even with the biblical precedent of Jesus’ conception and the annual reminder of it at Christmas, we still wouldn’t think it’s true.

We’d be right, of course—the incarnation was a once-in-an-eternity event. But imagine being a real person in real history in the real culture of Mary and Joseph. Imagine how ludicrous it must have sounded. “I’m pregnant, but it’s okay; I’m still a virgin!” Only divine intervention would convince us that there was a remote possibility of that being true. In all honesty, we have to admit that we’d assume the worst and, in fact, judge Mary more for the lie than for the immorality.

It’s a wild story, and the only reason we believe it wasn’t a fabrication is the proof of Jesus as God’s Son years later. But the people who knew the young Mary, even her own family members, didn’t see the end of the story. They had never heard Jesus teach or seen him heal. They had no framework that would cause them to say, “Yes, God must have done this wonderful thing!” It was undoubtedly a very traumatic, very contentious, and even very demeaning episode in Mary’s life. The only thing that could have sustained her was the absolute certainty that God was the author of this plan…

continue reading here

Author and Pastor Alan Rudnick writes,

…It has been well documented that Mary’s pregnancy would be cause to shun Mary out of her community. A scandal! To be pregnant before marriage was grounds for divorce in the Old Testament. Even Joseph thought about leaving Mary, but a divine message changed that….

But then he quotes an alternative view from Lynn Cohick, associate professor of New Testament at Wheaton College:

Mary was betrothed to Joseph, which was a legally binding arrangement in the Jewish culture. All that awaited the couple was the wedding. If they engaged in sexual intercourse with each other, that was not seen as a violation of any cultural norm. Later rabbinic writings allowed that a future groom who had sexual relations with his bride-to-be at her father’s house was not guilty of immoral behavior.

If pregnancy occurred before the wedding, this was not a problem because the parentage of the child was secured. What is shocking is that Mary is pregnant and Joseph knows he is not the father. The problem is not that a betrothed couple had sex, but that presumably Mary had sex with another man — she committed adultery.

…continue reading Alan’s thoughts at this link

Marg Mowczko has tirelessly devoted her entire scholarly career to tracking the place of women in the scriptures. She’s also one of only two authors ever to issue a take-down notice against Christianity 201, but I really like this insight and I’m trusting she’ll grant us two sentences:

Apart from Elizabeth’s enthusiastic response when Mary visited her (Luke 1:41-45), and apart from Joseph’s initial concern, the scriptures are silent about how people took the news of Mary’s pregnancy. Was there was no proper accommodation made available to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem because of a sense of scandal (Luke 2:6-7)?

read her full article here… (including the citation of an alternative view from Timothy Ralston, similar to what we quoted from Lynn Cohik.)

Had news already reached Joseph’s relatives in Bethlehem? It’s an interesting speculation.

So why the reference to 30 years later in today’s devotional title? That’s because of something that frequent C201 contributor Ruth Wilkinson posted today:

Listening this morning to Joseph’s story, and being reminded of the reality of Mary’s situation–what legally could have happened to her–reminded me of the time a woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus for judging. The penalty would have been stoning to death. I wonder what connections triggered in Jesus’ mind in that moment…

It is interesting to re-read that text with this in mind:

NLT.John.8.3 As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

11 “No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

 

 

January 2, 2012

The Seed in God’s Plan

This actually appeared as an Advent study on the blog of Del Tackett who some of you know from The Truth Project DVD series.  But the initial verse was one we’d been discussing last night as a family, so I decided to included this here today.

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” Genesis 3:15

When God spoke the earth into existence, it was formless and void—a lump of clay, so to speak, ready for the Hands of the Craftsman to begin the creative work of fashioning a garden teeming with flourishing delights: birds and fish, animals and plants, things that flew and swam, wriggled and ran, or simply stuck their roots into the perfect soil and brought forth fruit and vegetables, nuts and berries, nectar and flowers and shade and…well, all kinds of beautiful and life-enhancing stuff. But more than all of this, each of these living things was given the privilege and responsibility to recreate themselves. Birds laid eggs that brought forth baby birds that would grow up to lay their own eggs; animals gave birth to baby animals that would grow up to give birth to their own babies; plants produced seed that would fall onto the soil and grow into mature plants that would, in turn, produce their own seeds.

This was the grand plan of God.

But, something happened…something bad, something evil. Now, the garden produced weeds and thistles and thorns. Rather than delight in life, the Evil delighted in death; rather than beauty, it loved the vile; rather than fruit, it bore poison. It is hard to imagine how instantly a garden filled with light could become so cold and so dark so very, very quickly. And it appeared as if there were no remedy, no fix, no hope to get it back to the way it was before the darkness descended…descended upon everything…everything.

That’s when God told us about the Christmas Seed.

He didn’t say much. In fact, it wasn’t a whole lot more than a hint, a clue, a mere glimmer of hope. But with God, whose power and might is infinite, a whisper of promise is as sure as it gets. If He said He was going to take care of it, then we didn’t need a lot of details.

Was it mysterious? Yes, but it carried the promise that God, through this Seed, was going to destroy the Evil that had turned the light off in the garden. And if that happened, then maybe, just maybe, God also planned on turning the light back on as well.

But for sure we knew that before this Seed came, there was going to be war, and the war was going to rage between the seed line of the Evil one and the seed line of the woman.

And boy, did it ever! Abraham was granted the understanding that the Seed was going to come through him. Later on, David was given the same promise. And the war to destroy that seed line was furious. It came from within and it came from without. There were times when it looked as if the Evil line had won. But it hadn’t. Even at the moment when the heart of the Seed stopped beating, when it appeared to all as if the Promise had died, death itself was insufficient to stand in the way of the plan of God to destroy the Evil one.

But why “the seed of the woman”? Isn’t this backwards? Isn’t it the seed of man that propagates the race? Certainly everywhere in Scripture where it speaks of human “seed” it is used of the man. Why such a strange element to this promise?

Well, hindsight is certainly better than the best glasses or binoculars or microscope. If all humanity was tainted with the “death” of Adam, then the Seed couldn’t come from the seed of man. But if He couldn’t come from the seed of man, how would it be possible for Him to come at all?

Ah! That is why He is the Christmas Seed!

That is why He had to be born of a virgin, born of God.

That is why Matthew and Luke, in their genealogies of Jesus, take care to make sure the reader understands that Jesus didn’t come through “man” but through a “woman”. Matthew begins with Abraham and repeats over and over again the phrase “the father of”…until he gets to Jesus. He does not say “…Joseph, the father of Jesus” which is how one would expect this genealogical treatise to conclude. No. Matthew takes a sharp turn and says “…Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called the Christ.” Luke traces Jesus’ lineage back to Adam, using the phrase “the son of” over and over again. But for Jesus, he states it this way “He (Jesus) was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph.”

The seed of the woman, not the seed of a man.

On Christmas, the mystery was no longer a mystery.

It wasn’t until years later, however, that God would move Paul to write these fascinating words, words that put a final bow on the promise made to Abraham 2000 years earlier and, I believe, connects to the mysterious promise made 2000 years before that in the garden:

“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ…Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.” Galatians 3:15-19

God made a promise to mankind that He would bring forth the Seed to destroy the Evil one and eventually restore all things. He protected that seed line from Eve to Mary. He protected it through the flood, with Noah. He protected it from Pharaoh and Ahab and Jezebel. He protected it from the Babylonians and the Assyrians. He protected it from Haman and Herod and Pontius Pilate. And then He protected it from the enemy’s final stand and snatched it from the clutches of death and the grave.

Oh, the wonder and grandeur of God who has given us a Savior, Christ the Lord!

~Del Tackett

December 24, 2010

When God Invades a Life

From Internet Monk, this question:

Mary was more than likely no more than 13 or 14 years old when the angel appeared to her. She had her whole life in front of her—a marriage to a man who would be able to provide for her, and that was not something to take for granted in those days. And then … and then God came and turned her whole world upside down.

Was this fair? Shouldn’t God knock before entering someone’s life? How would you have responded if the angel had come to you with this news? And does God still move in impossible ways today? Is God still coming and turning people’s lives upside-down?

And these responses:

  • Karin: Being told that you are favored by God would make saying ‘yes’ a whole lot easier and saying ‘no’ a whole lot harder. Mary seemed wise beyond her years and said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” At age 13 or 14 one usually does not have preconceived ideas about the consequences of such a life changing decision. Perhaps this kind of visitation by an angel and being chosen to be the mother of the long awaited Messiah was every young spiritually minded Israelite girl’s dream!If my daughter had come and told me that she experienced the same as what Mary experienced, I would probably have needed a visitation from an angel to confirm it, just as Joseph did!
  • Joanie: I have noticed that when Zechariah questioned the angel about how his wife could possibly become pregnant, he was made unable to speak until John was born. But Mary questioned the angel about how she could possibly get pregnant and the angel explained. I have read that Zechariah was a priest, was old and should have known that God could do whatever God wanted to do. Mary was a young girl and as such, was treated more…patiently. Do you often wonder what it would be like to encounter an angel? Do you think angels take on human-like properties so that they can communicate with us? I wonder how long it took for Jesus as he was growing up to fully realize who he was, why he was and what he had to do? And how much of that would Mary have understood? When they were at the wedding in Cana together, she obviously knew that he could turn water into wine. How did she know he could do that and would do that?
  • Hannah: Mary’s response of submission to God is so beautiful. I wonder if this was, completely and utterly out of the blue for her, or if, in some way, God had been preparing her for what He needed her to do? He doesn’t test us beyond what we can bear, so says the word, and she must have trusted God so much to just submit to him like that, not knowing at that time if Joseph would stick by her or not. And if God was preparing Mary in some small way, would He have been preparing Joseph too then, to do the right thing and stay with her. Did they risk small town humiliation and unbelief, or was the culture of the time open to what they said to curious neighbors and family friends about Mary’s pregnancy? They had to be so strong, it seems to me, in their commitment to God and each other and their trust in what God had told them. I wonder what Mary and Joseph’s individual relationships to God had been like up to that time?
  • John: I think when God speaks to people in these more direct and miraculous ways, we encounter more closely just what the nature of his kingdom is and how it operates. And because of that, things like having our lives turned upside down tend to pale in comparison. It’s not that there aren’t real effects on our lives, but that we have encountered in some very real way an intersection between our earthly plodding and the fuller reality of God’s eternal kingdom and purpose. When that happens, priorities get shifted a bit. In other words, the reality of God with us begins to take hold and change things, starting with us. “Shouldn’t God knock before entering someone’s life?”  I think God does, but in our dullness and distraction we aren’t always listening. And even if we are, he still tends to look and act a little different than we imagined before the actual encounter.God still turns lives upside down and moves in impossible ways today, but it’s easy to miss if I’m not looking and listening. Lord, give me the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

Read the other comments and join the discussion at Internet Monk.

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Heartfelt thanks to faithful blog readers and wishes for God’s best in your life in the year to come.   Merry Christmas.   ~ Paul.