In December and January, we have moved through advent, Christmas and epiphany. At various points, you will probably have read each part of the whole of the first two chapters of Luke at various different services. What is interesting is that by the time you have read the first two chapters Luke’s gospel almost every reader will have found someone in the story with whom they can identify.
First, we had an older couple Zechariah who was a priest and Elizabeth the parents of John the Baptist who are surprised to have a child in their old age. We have seen a teenage Mary even more surprised to have a child so soon, and a young Joseph alongside her. In chapter 2 we have seen the poor hard working Shepherds being the first to hear about the coming Messiah and then rushing off to find Him, and we have seen the rich Magi travelling from afar to bring their gifts. Also in chapter 2, we have Simeon an old man and Anna an old widow both are towards the end of their lives who spend their time worshipping God and praying faithfully for the people’s salvation. At the end of chapter 2, we see a 12 year Jesus on the threshold of young adult life.
What Luke shows us in the first two chapters of his Gospel is that everyone is welcome whatever your age, stage of life or background, Everyone is invited to be apart of the story of Jesus and His Church, all have a part to play in God’s plan. (NT Wright)
Jesus wept But this does not quite capture what Jesus was feeling, in the original, the Greek word translated as wept might be better translated as ‘shuddered with anguish’. Jesus shuddered with anguish as he wept. Real physical emotion that shakes us when we lose someone close.
Jesus wept. Tears are important. Pope Francis said
“If you do not know how to weep, you are not a good Christian,”
When we applied to lead our current church, one of the questions at our interview was ‘when was the last time you cried?’ It was a good question to ask, an important question to ask.
How often do you cry, I think our relationship with tears is uncertain in our society and even in our churches. Tears are more likely to be suppressed than expressed, hidden rather than gathered. And if do end up crying in front of others we feel we have to apologise. But throughout Christian history tears have held a special place. There was even a practice in Victorian England, where people would collect their tears in little bottles as an expression of mourning for those who had died. Gathered tears were a sign of their devotion and the pain of separation. Gathered tears were a way of remembering, of paying attention, and of being faithful. An expression of the simple longing to be close to one who was absent. (Runcorn)
The idea comes from the book of Psalms, where in Psalm 56 the struggling psalmist says:
‘you have kept account my misery; put my tears in your bottle’.
The psalmist found comfort in the conviction that God too collects our tears and keeps a record of the stories of our pain.
Jesus wept at the death of his friend. God wept. We weep and God gathers our tears and holds them, and holds us in His all loving embrace.
In the Apocalypse, the last book in the Bible (Revelation), the Jewish-Christian prophet, known simply as John, receives visions and revelation from God via an angel. In chapters 4 & 5 he describes his vision of the throne room of heaven itself. In front of the throne of the Almighty are the highest orders of angels: the twenty-four elders, the mysterious four living creatures, and the seven archangels. Surrounding the throne is a great crystal ocean and surrounding the crystal ocean is an infinity of angels. In this throne room vision, John also hears an incredible song.
“Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea and all that is in them, singing, ‘To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!’” (Revelation 5:13-14).
I think you would surely agree with me that it is impossible to imagine how awesome this experience would have been – to hear every sentient creature that has ever existed and that will ever exist (each according to its capacity and intelligence), including humans and angels, singing a song to God and to the Lamb. The Lamb is a name used by the earliest Christian communities for Jesus describing his sacrifice by the Romans – “led like a lamb to the slaughter”. This universal song gives us great hope. Every song is just a practice for this most wonderful of all songs.
Theologians have a special word for this event – “apokatastasis”. It means “restoration”. It is a classical Greek word that occurs just once in the Bible in the Book of Acts. The Book of Acts written in the first-century in Greek. It’s a history of the beginning of Christianity.
“Turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration (= apokatastasis) that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.”(Acts 3:19-21).
Bible trivia question – what’s the shortest verse in the Bible? The shortest verse in the Bible is often quoted as John 11:35 ‘Jesus wept’ and this may well be true in some of our English translations but if we have a look at the Greek Jesus wept is 16 letters long:
Let’s not go into the Hebrew as there are a couple even shorter in the original language because of the lack of vowels in Hebrew.
Jesus wept is not even the shortest verse in the popular NIV (New International) that is from Job 3:2 ‘He said’. The reason ‘Jesus wept’ is said to be the shortest verse in the Bible because in the KJV (King James) translation it is the shortest!
If it does come up as a question on a quiz and you want to get the point say ‘Jesus wept’! If you want to put the right answer ask the quiz master to be more specific in their question!
Jesus left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. (Mark 6:1-6)
Our English bibles have anglicized the names and so we tend to forget that Jesus was a first century Israeli rabbi and spiritual healer. Even his name is anglicized! Jesus was not called Jesus! His name in Hebrew is Yeshua. The mother of Yeshua is not Mary. Her Hebrew name is Miryam. The brothers of Yeshua aren’t James, Joses, Judas and Simon. Their names are: Yaakov, Yosi, Yehudah and Shimon. The passage quoted above shows that it was the custom of Yeshua to teach in the synagogues.
It must be significant that the Gospel of Mark (a first century biography of Yeshua) acknowledges that Jesus was limited by the level of faith in the crowd. He could do no miracles in his home town because of their unbelief. He was only able by the laying on of hands to heal just a few people. But where there is faith in Yeshua then a connection is made and the power is able to flow from heaven to earth through Yeshua:
He came and stood on a level place with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. (Luke 6:17-19).
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. (Mark 10:13-14)
It was natural for Jewish parents to want their children to be blessed by a Rabbi, it was tradition that the child be blessed on or around their first birthday by a rabbi. Here we have the parents trying to bring their babies to Jesus to be blessed, and the disciples trying to stop them.
The disciples were Jesus’ closest friends and helpers, we basically see them here acting as bouncers for Jesus. They viewed the children as disruptive, and a distraction.
A theologian called George Macdonald once said that He doesn’t believe in a person’s Christianity if the children are never to be found playing in their churches.
The message for all of us is a simple one, there will always be people putting up obstacles, often it will be those inside the church like the disciples who think they are doing the right thing but are in fact just putting up obstacles, obstacles that will get in the way of children and people coming to Jesus, obstacles that make the church and Christianity look like a stern, serious and gloomy place rather than how Jesus wants His church to be. Jesus wants His church to be open to all, obstruction free, a place where children can play games and be not be considered disruptive.
Jesus doesn’t need us to act as His bouncers, He wants everyone to come to Him unhindered. Tear down the barriers that stop or slow people coming to Jesus.
Angels in the Bible are sometimes called in Hebrew bene Elohim which is translated as “sons of God”. So, e.g., in the Book of Job (composed in Hebrew somewhen in the mid 6th to mid 4th century BC) we read:
“The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” (Job 38:7)
The morning stars in the ancient world are what we now know as planets of our solar system. The morning stars are: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn because these can be seen with the naked eye.
Some translations of the Bible into English have “angels” or “heavenly beings” but a literal translation of the Hebrew bene Elohim is “sons of God”. The angels in the Bible are not, strictly speaking, created by God. It would be closer to the point to say that God begets them. Angels are “sons and daughters of God” we would say today. Angels eternally proceed out from God. Beyond this space-time universe the angels eternally proceed out from God and as sons of God they share the divine nature. Another book of the Bible describes this sublime effulgence of angels.
The Book of Daniel probably written in its final version in 164 BC in Aramaic and Hebrew. The book contains a magnificent vision of “the Ancient of Days”. The vision is highly metaphorical and pictorial but includes the procession of angels:
“A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.” (Daniel 7:10)
The numerical words (“a thousand thousands” and “ten thousand times ten thousand”) is an ancient Near Eastern way of saying “infinity”. An infinity of angels! We also have here an example of a literary device in ancient Hebrew called by scholars “parallelism”. This is when the second line is an echo of the first line. The echo explains the meaning of the first line. So the stream of fire that issues out from God is the infinity of angels. An infinity of angels proceeds out from the Infinite One. The last book of the Bible called The Book of Revelation or The Apocalypse written in Greek but full of Hebrew idioms towards the end of the first century refers to Daniel’s vision:
“Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands.” (Revelation 5:11)