Posted in theology

Jesus was not born in a stable; more on ‘The Nativity’, art by Gari Melchers

By Elizabeth Prata

I love biblical art, and I’m entranced with a few particular pieces. One I come back to a lot happens at Christmas time, and I love to look at it. I’ve written about it before. It is called The Nativity, by Gari Melchers.

melchers nativity

When preaching about this moment in history, Pastor S. Lewis Johnson emphasized the virgin conception rather than the virgin birth. He preached that the birth was typical, human, bloody, and messy. It was the conception that was immaculate. The art by American painter Gari Melchers depicts a scene more reflective of a birth than most nativity scenes usually do.

Here, we see a deeply concentrating Joseph gazing at his newborn son, perhaps pondering the spiritual implications of this new physical life that promised to bring new spiritual life to one and all. Note his furrowed brow. Mary, exhausted, drooping, leans against her husband sleepily, a recently used washbowl and cloth by her side. Is the glow from the Babe’s head, or the lantern that has been set next to Him? The scene depicts exhaustion, wonder, light, and hope.

Julius Garibaldi Melchers (1860-1932) was an American artist. He was one of the leading American proponents of naturalism. He won a 1932 Gold medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, according to Wikipedia.

As for the setting itself, it is unusual in that it does not show the usual display of a barn or stable, with animals around. Certainly the Wise Men from the East were not present. Historically we know that appeared up to two years later, when Mary and Joseph were living in a house and the babe was a toddler. This is another reason I’ve always liked this painting, above all others. It is more closely historical and accurate than many people know in setting the scene in the animal section of a house.

It was highly likely, almost certain, that Mary gave birth in a house. Perhaps the house was crowded with other relatives who’d arrived for the census prior to their arrival, so the only spot left was the downstairs entry where the animals were usually kept. Here is information about the likelihood that Jesus was not born in a barn or stable, but in a home, and probably a relative’s domicile. The essay also discusses what is meant by “inn”, and more.

Once More, Jesus was Not Born in a Stable

The mention of a ‘manger’ in Luke’s nativity story, suggesting animals, led mediaeval illustrators to depict the ox and the ass recognising the baby Jesus, so the natural setting was a stable—after all, isn’t that where animals are kept? (Answer: not necessarily!)

The third issue relates to our understanding of (you guessed it) the historical and social context of the story. In the first place, it would be unthinkable that Joseph, returning to his place of ancestral origins, would not have been received by family members, even if they were not close relatives.

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)

And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. (John 1:16)

Posted in theology

Head knowledge that stays in the head is no good to anyone

By Elizabeth Prata

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 3When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:

6‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH,
ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH;
FOR FROM YOU WILL COME FORTH A RULER
WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.’”

(Matthew 2:1-6).

Setting: Jerusalem

Characters: The Magi from the east, Herod, and the Scribes & Priests

Event: Finding the Christ Child

The Magi were likely some Alchemists/Astrologers/Science men etc. MacArthur describes them this way –

Because of their combined knowledge of science, agriculture, mathematics, history, and the occult, their religious and political influence continued to grow until they became the most prominent and powerful group of advisors in the Medo-Persian and subsequently the Babylonian empire. … We learn from the book of Daniel that the magi were among the highest-ranking officials in Babylon. Because the Lord gave Daniel the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream-which none of the other court seers was able to do-Daniel was appointed as “ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon” (Daniel 2:48). (Source).

The Wise Men were monotheistic, that is, they believed there was only one God. Because of the influence of Daniel in those long ago centuries, knowledge about Yahweh still existed in their canon. We know Daniel was a sincere and learned worshiper of Yahweh, so it is likely he taught the wise men of Babylon all about our God.

I know that the Wise Men didn’t arrive at the stable when Jesus was a baby. But, that’s the set.

That knowledge was retained, and it came down to the moment when the Wise Men of Jesus’ day saw the star.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:1-2).

That is all we know about the Magi, but even with this scant information, we know that they knew there would be born a King of the Jews. Their journey from the east, (likely Babylon) was a journey of about 800-900 miles. They traveled by caravan. Having armed guards to protect them as was the custom of the day is probable, since they were carrying expensive items, especially the gold.

They made that difficult and dangerous months-long journey. The Magi had incomplete knowledge of the King of the Jews, Daniel was long gone 700 years before, and any remaining Hebrews in Babylon likely had probably long since apostatized.

What would spur influential Nobles like the Magi to seek out the Christ child with such single-minded purpose? We don’t know but we can surmise that their knowledge was incomplete. They were not known as strong worshipers of Yahweh but custom says they were Zoroastrians.

More astonishingly, not only did the Magi make the effort to journey to Jerusalem, (a HUGE undertaking), not only did they diligently seek the Child, and then trek to Bethlehem, they fell down and worshiped Him! They did not come to simply gather intel, they did not come simply to offer gifts. They weren’t rubberneckers or looky-loos. They came to WORSHIP HIM.

Let us contrast the diligence and humility of the Magi, pagans from a far-off land, to the Priests & Scribes, priests to the very Jews of whom Jesus had come to be king.

Imagine the scene. A caravan of Nobles along with their animals, tents, and guards, a HUGE retinue, arrives in Jerusalem. It would be akin to the Presidential Motorcade, with the cadre of motorcycles at the front, police cars with sirens, several black SUVs, and all the trailing cars. It’s a hubbub.

The Magi started asking around where is the King of the Jews, and finally got to Herod. Herod was troubled. I would be too if such a large company arrived at my door. But Herod, the Scribes, and Priests evidence no amazement. Worse, when they were asked where is the Christ child to be born, the Priests and Scribes answered immediately. The knew the scripture from Micah 5, and said ‘Bethlehem’. /Yawn/

It is not recorded that the Scribes and Priests said ‘we shall look into this as well.’ They did not ask why the Magi had arrived. Crickets. These Jerusalem men had full knowledge, revelation given to them by Yahweh Himself in the Old Testament. They spend their days studying, talking, interpreting. But when the moment came, in the form of a noticeable retinue of seekers from the east asking for the Messiah, they didn’t even walk the 5 miles to Bethlehem to check it out!

We think of others in the Bible who had incomplete knowledge, but still expended a great deal of effort to find God. The Ethiopian Eunuch, traveled all the way to Jerusalem to worship God. He was in charge of all the treasure of Queen Candace, but was humble enough to admit admitted his incomplete knowledge. He was willing to be taught.

Queen of Sheba of 1 Kings 10:1. Now when the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon in relation to the name of the Lord, she came to test him with riddles. 2 So she came to Jerusalem with a very large entourage, with camels carrying balsam oil and a very large quantity of gold and precious stones.

She spoke with Solomon for a long time and was amazed. She concluded, “Blessed are your men, and blessed are these servants of yours who stand before you continually and hear your wisdom! 9 Blessed be the Lord your God who delighted in you to put you on the throne of Israel; because the Lord loves Israel forever, He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.” (1 Kings 10:8-9).

Queen of Sheba was careful to question Solomon in relation to the name of the Lord, and also attributed Solomon’s success to God.

No wonder Jesus pronounced woes upon the Scribes and Priests! They had the most knowledge yet were the most apathetic.

Just because a person has head knowledge does not mean much. The rough fishermen whom Jesus called to be His disciples did not have as much knowledge as the Priests & Scribes. Yet they followed Him when called. Mary, though a young girl, was submissive, obedient, and humble. She knew she was a sinner in need of a Savior.

The difference is acting on the knowledge you DO have. Mary said yes. The Ethiopian Eunuch said please teach me. Sheba traveled to find out more. The Magi sought the Child so they could worship Him. Put your head knowledge into action in service to the Lord. Don’t rest in your head like the Scribes & Priests. Their apathy soon turned to hostility. There are only two responses to Christ: worship or rejection. Whatever knowledge you have, whether a seasoned theologian or a new convert-act on it. Act: pray, seek, question, learn, and above all, involve the heart: worship.

Posted in advent, theology

Advent: Thirty Days of Jesus, Day 10- the Boy Jesus at the Temple

By Elizabeth Prata

thirty days of Jesus day 10

With Him are wisdom and might; To Him belong counsel and understanding (Job 12:13).

Further Reading:

The Day Jesus Went AWOL

Twelve-year-old Jesus goes to the Temple

The Son of God at twelve years old
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thirty Days of Jesus Series-

Introduction/Background
Day 1: The Virgin shall conceive
Day 2: A shoot from Jesse
Day 3: God sent His Son in the fullness of time
Day 4:  Marry her, she will bear a Son

Day 5: The Babe has arrived!
Day 6: The Glory of Jesus
Day 7: Magi seek the Child
Day 8: The Magi offer gifts & worship
Day 9: The Child Grew

Posted in theology, thirty Days of Jesus

Advent- Thirty Days of Jesus: Day 9, The Child Grew

By Elizabeth Prata

We are still in the section of verses from the Bible depicting the prophecy of Jesus’ coming, His arrival, and His early life before ministry. With two more days after today to go, then we shift into looking at Jesus Himself, His earthly ministry, and the different aspects of Himself that He displayed.

There are not many verses recounting the childhood and pre-ministry life of Jesus, but there are a few. Here is one:

thirty days of jesus day 9
Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Further Reading

What happened during Jesus’ childhood?

Why doesn’t the Bible say much about Jesus childhood?

The boyhood of Jesus

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thirty Days of Jesus Series-

Introduction/Background
Day 1: The Virgin shall conceive
Day 2: A shoot from Jesse
Day 3: God sent His Son in the fullness of time
Day 4:  Marry her, she will bear a Son

Day 5: The Babe has arrived!
Day 6: The Glory of Jesus
Day 7: Magi seek the Child
Day 8: The Magi offer gifts & worship

Posted in advent, theology

Advent: Thirty Days of Jesus, Day 8- The Magi Offer Gifts & Worship

By Elizabeth Prata

Many people worshiped Jesus during His earthly ministry. They bowed before Him and called Him the Messiah, Son of God, or other titles indicating they knew they were worshiping the one True God. Some people worshiped extravagantly. We think of Mary with her bottle of expensive nard, or David worshiping God with all his might before the ark processional.

No one came farther or brought more expensive tokens of worship than the Magi, known as the Wise Men from the East. Their journey of about 900 miles was difficult, fraught with danger, and took months. Their gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh were expensive. But that was nothing to them. They journeyed, they found the child, they knelt before Him in humble worship. Though they themselves were considered rulers of sorts, when they saw His place they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. (Matthew 2:9). They knelt before a little child and presented their gifts of adoration.

During this Advent, let us do the same. We do not have the blessing of an incarnated Messiah to bow to, that will happen later, but we can rejoice today with exceeding joy and present to him our precious gift: our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice. (Romans 12:1).

thirty days of jesus day 8

Thirty Days of Jesus Series-

Introduction/Background
Day 1: The Virgin shall conceive
Day 2: A shoot from Jesse
Day 3: God sent His Son in the fullness of time
Day 4:  Marry her, she will bear a Son

Day 5: The Babe has arrived!
Day 6: The Glory of Jesus
Day 7: Magi seek the Child

Further Reading:

Grace To You: What the Magi Mean To Christmas

Answers in Genesis: We Three Kings

Love Worth Finding: The Gifts of the Wise Men and Our Gifts to Jesus

Posted in theology

Jesus was not born in a stable; more on ‘The Nativity’, art by Gari Melchers

By Elizabeth Prata

I love biblical art, and I’m entranced with a few particular pieces. One I come back to a lot happens at Christmas time, and I love to look at it. I’ve written about it before, here, in December 2015, and here, in December 2017. It is called The Nativity, by Gari Melchers.

melchers nativity

When preaching about this moment in history, Pastor S. Lewis Johnson emphasized the virgin conception rather than the virgin birth. He preached that the birth was typical, human, bloody, and messy. It was the conception that was immaculate. The art by American painter Gari Melchers depicts a scene more reflective of a birth than most nativity scenes usually do.

Here, we see a deeply concentrating Joseph gazing at his newborn son, perhaps pondering the spiritual implications of this new life that promised to bring new life to one and all. Note his furrowed brow. Mary, exhausted, drooping, leans against her husband sleepily, a recently used washbowl and cloth by her side. Is the glow from the Babe’s head, or the lantern that has been set next to Him? The scene depicts exhaustion, wonder, light, and hope.

Julius Garibaldi Melchers (1860-1932) was an American artist. He was one of the leading American proponents of naturalism. He won a 1932 Gold medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, according to Wikipedia.

As for the setting itself, it is unusual in that it does not show the usual display of a barn or stable, with animals around. Certainly the Wise Men from the East were not present. Historically we know that appeared up to two years later, when Mary and Joseph were living in a house and the babe was a toddler. This is another reason I’ve always liked this painting, above all others. It is more closely historical and accurate than many people know in setting the scene in the animal section of a house.

It was highly likely, almost certain, that Mary gave birth in a house. Perhaps the house was crowded with other relatives who’d arrived for the census prior to their arrival, so the only spot left was the downstairs entry where the animals were usually kept. Here is information about the likelihood that Jesus was not born in a barn or stable, but in a home, and probably a relative’s domicile. The essay also discusses what is meant by “inn”, and more.

Once More, Jesus was Not Born in a Stable

The mention of a ‘manger’ in Luke’s nativity story, suggesting animals, led mediaeval illustrators to depict the ox and the ass recognising the baby Jesus, so the natural setting was a stable—after all, isn’t that where animals are kept? (Answer: not necessarily!)

The third issue relates to our understanding of (you guessed it) the historical and social context of the story. In the first place, it would be unthinkable that Joseph, returning to his place of ancestral origins, would not have been received by family members, even if they were not close relatives.

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)

Posted in advent, theology

Advent: Thirty Days of Jesus, Day 10- the Boy Jesus at the Temple

By Elizabeth Prata

thirty days of Jesus day 10

With Him are wisdom and might; To Him belong counsel and understanding (Job 12:13).

Further Reading:

The Day Jesus Went AWOL

Twelve-year-old Jesus goes to the Temple

The Son of God at twelve years old
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thirty Days of Jesus Series-

Introduction/Background
Day 1: The Virgin shall conceive
Day 2: A shoot from Jesse
Day 3: God sent His Son in the fullness of time
Day 4:  Marry her, she will bear a Son

Day 5: The Babe has arrived!
Day 6: The Glory of Jesus
Day 7: Magi seek the Child
Day 8: The Magi offer gifts & worship
Day 9: The Child Grew

Posted in theology, thirty Days of Jesus

Advent- Thirty Days of Jesus: Day 9, The Child Grew

By Elizabeth Prata

thirty days of jesus day 9
Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Further Reading

What happened during Jesus’ childhood?

Why doesn’t the Bible say much about Jesus childhood?

The boyhood of Jesus

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thirty Days of Jesus Series-

Introduction/Background
Day 1: The Virgin shall conceive
Day 2: A shoot from Jesse
Day 3: God sent His Son in the fullness of time
Day 4:  Marry her, she will bear a Son

Day 5: The Babe has arrived!
Day 6: The Glory of Jesus
Day 7: Magi seek the Child
Day 8: The Magi offer gifts & worship

Posted in advent, theology

Nativity & Advent: The Census of Quirinius

By Elizabeth Prata

Mary and Joseph register for the census before Governor Quirinius. Byzantine mosaic c. 1315

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.  (Luke 2:1-5). Continue reading “Nativity & Advent: The Census of Quirinius”