Red Letter Year: 3/7

Matthew 2:1-12

wise-menJesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking,“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote: ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.



I find it interesting that the astrologers in this story are the ones who are seeking Messiah. Following their own means of discovering truth leads them to people who know Scripture and are able to more specifically guide them. But none of the people who knew Scripture bothered to go with them to Bethlehem. The Magi exhibit the deepest of all human longings here – they longed for the savior, longed to mee him, honor him, worship him. They went to a lot of trouble and expense to fulfill this great longing. And God led them by various means to Jesus. Also note how Matthew begins by referring to Herod as king, then stops referring to him as king. That’s because there is a new king of the Jews – the one the Magi came looking for. Herod’s illegitimate crown stops being recognized once the true king arrives.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Red Letter Year: 2/21

Mark 13:14-37

14 “The day is coming when you will see the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing where he should not be.” (Reader, pay attention!) “Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. 15 A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. 16 A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. 17 How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. 18 And pray that your flight will not be in winter. 19 For there will be greater anguish in those days than at any time since God created the world. And it will never be so great again. 20 In fact, unless the Lord shortens that time of calamity, not a single person will survive. But for the sake of his chosen ones he has shortened those days.

21 “Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. 23 Watch out! I have warned you about this ahead of time!

24 “At that time, after the anguish of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will give no light, 25  the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.

28 “Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. 29 In the same way, when you see all these things taking place, you can know that his return is very near, right at the door. 30 I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene before all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.

32 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. 33 And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert!

34 “The coming of the Son of Man can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. When he left home, he gave each of his slaves instructions about the work they were to do, and he told the gatekeeper to watch for his return. 35 You, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know when the master of the household will return—in the evening, at midnight, before dawn, or at daybreak. 36 Don’t let him find you sleeping when he arrives without warning. 37 I say to you what I say to everyone: Watch for him!”


Continuing the extended teaching we read yesterday, here Jesus specifically warns about the coming destruction of the Temple. He cautions all who would hear (and based on v.14 probably as many as would read the first copies of Mark’s Gospel) not to join in with the resistance and not to remain in Jerusalem. Head for the hills. And don’t listen to false messiahs. The revolt that led to the Roman destruction of the Temple and so much of Jerusalem was led by a handful of men claiming to be messiah. Jesus’ warning in vv.21-23 concerns such false leaders who would lead people into inciting violence. Beginning in v.24, Jesus shifts focus from the near-term situation of Jerusalem revolting and then being crushed by Rome, to the long-term reality of his own return. We can see this distinction in v. 30 where all things described about Jerusalem will occur in “this generation,” whereas in v.32, no one knows when Jesus will return. This leads us to two practical conclusions (warning – these got kind of long):

  1. All prophecies regarding the Temple were fulfilled with the destruction of the Second Temple (also called Herod’s Temple) in 70. There is no basis for the (popular) teaching that another Temple must be built before Jesus can return. That claim has no biblical warrant. This further means that there is no biblical or prophetic reason to identify the modern nation-state of Israel with the biblical Israel. Bad biblical interpretation played an unfortunate role in deciding what to do after WWII. The violent displacement of so many from their homes (including many Christians) is not something the teachings of Jesus can be made to support. In our own day, the continued heightened tension and frequent escalation of violence are not conditions followers of Jesus should condone or ignore. God is not on one side or the other. Israeli forces are not holy warriors. Their opponents are not satanic forces. God is not for Israel or against Israel. God is not for any nation or against any nation. God is for love. God is for peace. God is for justice. God is for mercy. Those who follow Jesus, God’s Son, must be about these same things. Blind support of any regime or nation-state is not something the follower of Jesus can offer. Our allegiance is to the kingdom of God. This is the first part of Jesus’ message here: don’t follow those who would tie your faith to violent expressions of political power or revolution. Ps. 122 encourages us to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” Nothing in Scripture teaches us to support war for Jerusalem.
  2. Jesus stresses the importance of remaining expectant of his return. Be on guard! Stay alert! Don’t be napping when your master returns. Because he is returning. The last several years have seen a move away from this as a central teaching. It seems pie-in-the-sky and cheap psychological opium for the masses. But that critique only holds if you buy into a certain (Hegelian-Marxist) reading of history, where the progress of the human race comes through violence and struggle, which includes throwing off cultural constraints imposed by the powerful, religion chief among them. This reading of history is seductive because it is almost true. There is enough evidence that looks to point in its direction as to make it plausible and preferable. For example, Anglican slavers first withheld religion from African slaves coming to the New World as part of their system of control. Later, Methodist and Baptist revivalists converted many slaves, resulting in a number of slave rebellions (the Gospel contains a strong, fundamental message of freedom). This led to a shift in how Baptist and Methodist faith was expressed in the American South, a shift that served to maintain the status quo: religion as a tool of those in power. Many other such examples could be given. (Have I told you I don’t like religion? This is a main reason.) It is also true that humanity has made a great deal of progress. The nostalgia for a bygone time when there was more justice, equality, liberty, and brotherhood is a myth. There is still a lot of work to do, but the human race is trending in a good direction.  So if humanity is progressing and religion is often the opium of the masses, how is that reading of history wrong? It is wrong because it fails to understand that humanity is improving precisely because the kingdom of God has entered this world and continues to spread its light and life ever since. When Jesus ascended, he sent the Holy Spirit to continue the work he began. It remains incomplete, but it is further along now than it ever has been. To claim otherwise is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the progress that has been made has not come through violence, the means of the Spirit are thoroughly nonviolent. Struggle yes. Struggle to serve. Struggle to deny oneself and give oneself away for the sake of the kingdom and the sake of others. The Spirit has been birthing the kingdom in the hearts of women and men since the Day of Pentecost. This is what has led to the progress of humanity. It is sometimes mistaken for religion, but one could not be farther from the other. Religion does tend to put one to sleep (is that what opium does or am I thinking of the poppies in the Wizard of Oz?), but the kingdom of God makes one alert. Awake. On guard. Because Jesus is returning. And we will be ready for his arrival.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.