May 30, 2020

Understanding Pentecost and the Feast of Weeks



Fifty days after the Savior had been resurrected, the disciples gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. This important feast commemorated when Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai. As the disciples celebrated with tens of thousands of other Jews from around the world, the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples as flames of fire. Today this is known as the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). As we better understand the historical background of the feasts, we can gain greater insight into the importance of Pentecost and our own worship of the Lord.

The Feast of Weeks was the second of the three major Jewish Feasts of Passover, Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23). Each of these Feasts were interconnected and designed to help ancient Israel remember their exodus from Egypt and ultimately teach them of true deliverance through the Messiah. These three feasts were also connected with the spring, summer, and fall harvests.

A woman offering the first fruits of the harvest for the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot
To better understand Pentecost, it will be helpful to first understand the story and timing of the exodus. For hundreds of years, Israel was in bondage in Egypt. The Lord sent Moses to free his people from slavery by sending plagues down upon the land. As part of the last plague, Israel was commanded to kill a lamb and place the blood on the doorposts. This was to be a token for the destroying angel to spare, or pass over, the first born of that home. (See Exodus 12). With this significant event of the Passover, Israel crossed through the Red Sea and began their journey to the promised land (see Exodus 14).

As God’s chosen people, Israel had been promised that they would receive many blessings, including the Promised Land. With these blessings also came great responsibilities. The Lord expected Israel to follow his commandments and to bless the nations of the earth. As Israel traveled for the next several weeks after leaving Egypt, they again were shown many miracles from the Lord including being fed by manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16) and receiving water from a rock that Moses had struck (Exodus 17:1-7). These miracles were to help prepare Israel to become the Lord’s people by showing them the power and majesty of their God.

Though we don’t know the exact timing of when they arrived at Mount Sinai, the scriptures indicate that it was only about a month and a half later (see Exodus 19:1). After climbing to the top of Mount Sinai, the Lord spoke unto Moses. “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then … ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” (Exodus 19:4-6). Having heard the voice of God, Moses came down to the people to ask if they would obey and they all proclaimed: “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8).

Moses again climbed the mount and was told by the Lord: “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. For on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” (Exodus 19:10-11 NKJV). Though we don’t know what this process of consecration entailed for Israel by Moses, we do know what the consecration process involved for the priests, who represented Israel. As part of the ritual, Moses was to take Aaron and his sons to the door of the Tabernacle and anoint them with oil and then place blood on their right ear, right thumb, and right toe (see Exodus 40:12-13 and Leviticus 8:23-24). The priests were also dressed in sacred priestly clothing. This ritual prepared the priests to act on behalf of Israel.

Moses anointing Aaron with a horn of oil as the high priest
After the Israelites had covenanted with the Lord and had been washed and changed their clothing, Moses again went up to Mt. Sinai. The scriptures state “that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.” (Exodus 19:16). The smoke and fire that came down from heaven to the mountain is called the Shekinah in Hebrew. It symbolizes that God’s presence was there among the people. The Lord then spoke the Law from the mountain, and according to Jewish tradition, each was able to hear God’s words in their own tongue.

Filled with fear, the people requested that instead Moses go into the presence of the Lord on their behalf, refusing the opportunity to enter themselves (Exodus 20:18-21). Because of their rejection of God, the Lord revealed what we now call the Law of Moses. The Law was a preparatory gospel to teach them and prepare them for the eventual higher law. (See D&C 84:17-27). The Law prescribed many rituals, including sacrifices of animals, that would point them to the coming Messiah who would provide true ultimate deliverance.

The high priest and priest hold the first harvested sheaf of wheat
With this understanding, let’s now study the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. The Lord commanded Israel to celebrate Shavuot, the Hebrew word for weeks, seven weeks or 50 days after Passover (see Deuteronomy 16:9-12). The word Pentecost means fiftieth. Many of the rituals of Shavuot are progressive in nature, seeming to connect Passover and the Feast of Weeks. For example, during Passover the people were to eat unleavened bread, a symbol of their haste in leaving slavery in Egypt, and offer the first fruits of the barley harvest, barley being a lesser quality of grain. In contrast, seven weeks later during Shavuot, Israel was now to offer two large leavened loaves of bread made from the first fruits of the wheat harvest, wheat being the far superior grain to barley (Leviticus 23:15-21).

The high priest holds the two loaves offered for Feast of Weeks or Shavuot
This offering of the leavened bread is unique since yeast is prohibited in all other temple rituals. No wheat from that year’s harvest can be eaten by Israel until these two loaves have been offered to the Lord. When the priest receives the two loaves of bread, he waves them in four directions representing north, south, east and west. He also waves them down and up signifying earth and heaven. The people were also to offer other first fruits of their harvest likewise waving them before the Lord and then placing the offering before God (Deuteronomy 26:1-11).

Offering the first fruits during the Feast of Weeks
Because Shavuot was celebrated seven weeks after Passover, the same time period Israel received the Law at Sinai, the feast later also became a celebration for this significant event. Even with this we can see a progression between Passover and the Feast of Weeks with Israel progressing from slaves in Egypt, going through the waters of the Red Sea, then proceeding until they arrive at Mount Sinai approximately seven weeks later. Here they are washed and clothed and then “go up to the mountain of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:3) to covenant with him and to receive his law.

Understanding this background let’s now examine the events leading up to the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2). During the ministry of the Savior, a small number of disciples believed in the Lord. They revered Jesus for his teachings and the miracles he performed, but they did not understand the true purpose of his mission. As Passover came and they witnessed the tragic events of the crucifixion of the Savior, many of the disciples fled and even denied knowing the Lord. After the Savior rose from the dead, he ministered to them, teaching for the next 40 days (Acts 1:3). This time became a period of preparation for the disciples, helping them to learn of the ultimate purpose of the Messiah.

As the Apostles gathered for the Feast of Weeks, fifty days after the Lord’s resurrection, they like ancient Israel, had now been prepared to receive the fulness of the law. The events that occurred on the day of Pentecost are reminiscent of the events commemorated on Shavuot. Like the Israelites gathering at Mt. Sinai, the people gathered in Jerusalem at the temple built atop Mt. Moriah to be instructed of the Lord. When the Jews saw the cloven tongues of fire, they must have wondered if the Shekinah had returned, except instead of the fire resting upon Mt. Sinai, the fire is now resting on the apostles (see Acts 2:3-4).

After hearing the fervent testimony of Peter of the risen Savior, the gathered Jews asked what they must do (see Acts 2:37). Peter told them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). With this, 3000 Jews requested to be baptized on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:41). With the nearest body of water, the Jordan river, about 20 miles away, the baptisms of such a large group very likely took place at the Pool of Bethesda, or the Pool of Siloam. Both of these pools were used for ritual washings, which would make perfect sense for their use for baptisms. On this day, set aside to commemorate the event of ancient Israel established as a covenant people, it is Christ’s church that is established through the covenant of baptism. By also receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, a member of the Godhead, they can now spiritually enter into God’s presence.

Like the children of Israel and the Jews during the time of Christ, we too can each have our own exodus and day of Pentecost. Christ’s death and resurrection made it possible for us to escape the bondage of sin and death. Like the Red Sea, we enter into our own waters, the waters of baptism. Like the manna that came from heaven, we too can be nourished by the Bread of Life. Like the water that flowed from the rock, we can drink of the Living Water. Just as the Lord’s words from Mt. Sinai could be understood in every language, each of us can likewise understand the universal language of the Holy Ghost. We all have the opportunity to come to the “mountain of the Lord” and receive the Law and feel the presence of the Lord dwell upon us. It is there that we can become a kingdom of priests and an holy nation.

May 9, 2020

Mary the Mother of Jesus



In the first chapter of Matthew, we read of the genealogy of Jesus Christ including five mothers who each played a critical role in continuing the bloodline of the Savior, but most significant is the literal mother of the Savior, Mary. We are introduced to her before Christ is born, learn of her tender experiences with Him during His life and ministry, and discover she was a witness of His death and a disciple after His ascension to the Father. Only Mary, the mother of Jesus, can claim to be such a unique witness of the Messiah.

Her lifelong example of faith has been revered and respected by Christians and Muslims alike. Mary is mentioned in the New Testament, the Quran (19:16-35), the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 11:14-20; Mosiah 3:8; Alma 7:10), and many other writings. As we study her story and consider the historical background of life in Israel, we can gain insights into the mother who gave birth to the One who gave all of us life.

The genealogy of Jesus given in the New Testament tells us that Joseph, the one betrothed to Mary, descended from King David within the tribe of Judah (see Matthew 1:17). Since it was common to marry within the family line, Mary most likely shared this lineage as well. Additionally, her relative Elizabeth descended from Aaron (see Luke 1:5), the first Levite high priest—possibly making Jesus’ lineage from both a priest and a king.

Mary was probably born in Nazareth, a small village west of the Sea of Galilee. According to ancient Jewish tradition, young women were usually betrothed by the time they were about 12 or 13. When Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel, she likely would have been near that same age. [1] The heavenly messenger tells Mary she is highly favored and blessed among women. He tells her she will conceive a son.

Mary’s response to this incredible news shows great humility. Unlike Zecharias, the father of John the Baptist, who expressed doubt when told that his wife was with child (see Luke 1:18), she inquires sincerely, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34). She is not asking for proof, but simply for understanding. Gabriel answers her question and then responds by saying, “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37).

What happens next can serve as a foreshadowing of what would happen years later on the cross—ultimate submission to the will of the Father. “And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38). And like her son, her willingness to do what is required by her Father in Heaven is not without painful consequences.

When a man is betrothed to a woman, if at any time before the wedding feast the bride is discovered to be pregnant, the groom has two options. First, according to the law, he can divorce her publicly bringing charges against her. If found guilty she would then be stoned. Or he can divorce her privately. For the remainder of her life she would then be known as a mother who conceived out of wedlock. Either of these fates is what seemingly awaits young Mary. Amazingly, she humbly agrees to carry the Son of God.

When Joseph learns that Mary is with child, he considers divorcing her privately. He too is visited by an angel and told to take Mary as his wife.

The story of Jesus’ birth is known as one of the greatest stories ever told. However from Mary’s perspective, the story could be described as anything but great. She was a young recently wed bride far from home giving birth in what most likely was a cave. Despite these humble circumstances, she knew the significance of these events and “pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

To obey the law, 40 days after Christ’s birth, Joseph and Mary went to the temple to make their humble sacrifice of two turtle doves as they did not have enough money for a lamb. It is there they meet Simeon, a devout, faithful man who has waited his entire life to see the Messiah. He takes this newborn baby in his arms and gives a heart wrenching prophecy to the new mother. “Behold this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,)” (Luke 2:35). Looking at her precious baby not even two months old, how could she imagine what pain awaited both Him and her as His mother?

When Jesus is 12 years old, we read an account that must have been terrifying for Mary. In a heavily crowded Jerusalem during Passover, she experiences one of the greatest fears for every mother, even today. She can’t find her son. Joseph and Mary have traveled an entire day before she realizes that Jesus is not with the group as she had supposed. For what must have been three harrowing days, she frantically searches to find the One whom the Father has trusted to her care. Finally she discovers that He had lingered at the temple teaching the learned. Mothers know the mixed emotions that can arise when a lost child is finally found, both anger and relief bubble to the surface. “…and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:48-49). And even though she did not understand His words, she kept His “sayings in her heart” (Luke 2:51).

Sadly, this would not be the only loss Mary would experience, for this is the last time Joseph appears in the scriptures. At some point Mary becomes a widow, left to raise her family as a single mother.

While we don’t know much about Jesus’ upbringing, we do know Mary had more children, at least four sons, James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon, and at least two daughters. Apparently, these brothers did not see Jesus as the Messiah for they mocked Him. It wasn’t until His death and resurrection that they too became followers of Christ. How difficult it must have been for Mary to have such discord in the family, yet she was able to keep her own faith while raising non-believers in her own home.

Before Jesus officially begins His ministry, along with Mary, He attended a wedding in Cana of Galilee. When the host of the wedding feast has need of wine, Mary asks her son to perform a miracle. In today’s world, what Jesus calls his mother might seem odd or even derogatory when translated from Greek into English. He calls her Woman. This is the same word translated from Hebrew when referring to Eve. Just as Eve is the mother of all living, Mary is the mother of He who has made a way for eternal life. After Jesus agrees to perform the miracle, Mary gives the servants counsel that we would be wise to follow, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” (see John 2:5).

When Christ is crucified, Mary stands at His feet. She is a witness to the painful prophecy given over 30 years earlier by Simeon—now proven to be true. As she sees the piercing of her son, she must have felt as if a sword was also piercing her very own soul. Again we see Christ’s devotion to Mary, even while in the midst of great agony. He calls her by the same name He had before his ministry began, “Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold they mother!” (John 19:26-27). Though Christ is suffering, He wants to ensure that His mother will be cared for, just as she had cared for Him from the very beginning of His life.

The life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, serves as a poignant example for all of us today.

Mary humbly submitted believing that with God nothing shall be impossible. At times we too must choose to do what the Lord would have us do, despite what consequences might follow. Mary did not give birth to the Savior in ideal circumstances. We experience disappointment whenever we find ourselves in our own “caves.” Yet we can stay focused on the miracles around us and ponder them in our hearts.

Mary continued pressing forward with courage, hope, and faith despite a perilous future before her. We too can rise to whatever hardships await us. When Mary experienced a frightful loss, she listened to the words of the Savior. All of us have likewise experienced pain and fear, whether through our own fault or the actions of others, but we can keep the words of the Savior in our heart. Mary’s faith that Christ can perform miracles served as an example to the servants. We can encourage those around us to follow Christ and listen to his words.

Even as a single mother, Mary strived to keep her family together. We may find ourselves in a family whose faith is not the same as ours. This does not mean we reject them, even though they may have rejected us. Mary was asked to do the unthinkable—witness the crucifixion of her own son. We are also sometimes asked to experience the unimaginable, but as we keep our eyes focused on Christ, we will find the strength to endure.

Mary saw Christ open His eyes for the first time and close them for the last time as a mortal on earth. Her faith and desire to do the will of the Father never wavered throughout her life. How blessed we are that a young Mary, chosen to be the mother of the Messiah said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.”

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack

[1] As there always is a debate on the age of Mary, here are a few notes regarding the age of betrothal for women in the Bible. The Midrash and Talmud both state that young men were married by the age of eighteen and girls by the time they were thirteen (Midrash, Aboth 5:21 and Talmud, Pesachim 113). "For the other parameter, age at marriage, no real statistics exist for ancient Israel.... In Egypt, girls were married between twelve and fourteen; boys, between fourteen and twenty." (Life in Biblical Israel, page 37). "The consent (betrothal), usually entered into when the girl was between twelve and thirteen years old" (The Birth of the Messiah by Raymond E. Brown, page 123). "The earliest age for marriage, which typically follows betrothal by a year, is twelve years and a day [meaning betrothal could be at the age of 11]." (BYU New Testament Commentary, The Testimony of Luke by S. Kent Brown, page 107). "According to ancient Jewish custom, Mary could have been betrothed at about 12." (Wikipedia, Mary, mother of Jesus)

April 19, 2020

The Apostle Thomas, a Witness of Christ



After his resurrection, Jesus appeared again to his disciples a week later—this time also to the apostle Thomas. Today he is often referred to as “Doubting Thomas.” However, when we gain a better understanding of who Thomas was by considering more of his story, we can learn a powerful lesson in courage, faith, and believing in Jesus Christ. We also gain insight into the mercy and compassion of the Savior. These lessons can help us in our own moments when we too may feel doubt or that our faith is wavering.

Thomas was likely born in the Galilee, the northern part of Israel. John gives him the title Didymus, a Greek word meaning twin. All the Gospels mention Thomas, but only in the Gospel of John do we learn of three recorded interchanges he has with the Lord. Each of these offers a better perspective as to Thomas’ character.

The first time we read the recorded words of Thomas, Jesus is traveling with his disciples. They had just received word that Lazarus was very sick. After two days, Jesus then told his disciples frankly that Lazarus was dead and they would go to the tomb. Fearing the Jewish leadership who sought Jesus’ life, the disciples tried to persuade him not to go down to Jerusalem. Thomas shows courage, however, as he says unto his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16). In this moment we see Thomas as one who is brave.

The second time we read the words of Thomas is during the Last Supper. Jesus was teaching his disciples and preparing them for what was to come. According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke they were celebrating the Passover during the meal, traditionally a time of great rejoicing. Yet, Jesus was somber and spoke almost cryptically to the disciples.

While these chapters contain some of the most powerful and oft-repeated words spoken by Jesus Christ, at the time the disciples seem to have been quite confused by Jesus’ actions and message. It was Thomas who spoke up and asked for clarification at one point, thus revealing perhaps one of the more well-known teachings of the Savior. Jesus tells the disciples that he is to depart, and then “Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?” (John 14:5). Next comes the profound response to Thomas’s heart-felt question: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6). How blessed we are because of Thomas’ willingness to seek truth and better understand the Savior. Thomas’s search brought these comforting words not only to him but also to us! In this moment we see Thomas as one who is earnest and seeks to understand.

The last time we read Thomas’ words written by John, is after Christ has suffered on the cross, has died, and is now resurrected. Thomas had not seen the risen Lord when he first appeared to the disciples. He now stands alone as the only apostle who is not a personal witness to the miraculous events that had just occurred. He expresses a desire to also see with his own eyes and feel with his own hands that he too may join his brethren and sisters as a witness of the resurrection. Eight days later, the Savior appears and says, “Peace be unto you.” He then invites Thomas to “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing” (John 20:27). Thomas was invited to do exactly what he himself had expressed a desire to do a week earlier. The Lord had answered his prayers.

Thomas then responds, “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28). Not only does Thomas see him as his Lord and Master, but testifies that he is the God and ruler of this earth. In this moment we see Thomas as one who believes.

Like Thomas, we too may have moments when we feel courageous and bravely stand up for others or for our beliefs. Like soldiers going to war, we are willing to fight and even die for what we know is true. And like Thomas, we also may have moments of confusion. We seek for answers to our questions wanting to understand which way we should go and who to follow. And also like Thomas we may have times when we may feel ourselves wavering. We are surrounded by others who appear solid in their beliefs, and we too want that same witness and strong testimony. We cry out expressing the deepest desire of our heart—to see and feel for ourselves that Jesus died for us and know that he lives.

And in those moments, a loving, compassionate, and merciful God reaches out for us. He invites us to see with our eyes and feel with our hands the love that Christ has to offer all of us. He comes when we feel brave, when we are confused, and even when we doubt. He is always there with outstretched arms. With nail prints in his hands and feet, he invites us to hear the same message he spoke in that upper room so long ago, to the apostle Thomas, “Peace be unto you…be not faithless, but believing.”

Special thanks to Heather Pack for helping to write most of this script.

April 11, 2020

Mary Magdalene, the First Witness



Early on Sunday morning, before the sun began to rise, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb to finish a painful task, the burial of her beloved Lord and Master. The pain and agony she must have felt as she mourned the Savior’s death is beyond comprehension. As one of the Lord’s most faithful and devoted followers, Christ’s appearance to Mary that Easter morn, places her as the first witness of the resurrection! Knowing Jesus was willing to reveal himself first to her, gives us all hope that we too can testify of the Savior’s divinity no matter who we are!

While known today as Mary Magdalene, she would have just been called Mary. She was from the city called Magdala thus giving her the title of Magdalene. This ancient city on the northwestern side of the Sea of Galilee was quite prosperous and known for its fishing industry exporting salted fish, popular in Roman markets. In 2009, archaeologists discovered a beautiful first-century synagogue lined with benches on the sides, colorfully painted fresco walls, a mosaic patterned floor, and a stunning one-of-a-kind stone-carved Torah reading table. Mary may have likely attended this synagogue. Jesus may have even taught here.

Magdala Torah reading table (source: Wikipedia)
The Gospels tell us that prior to following the Savior, Mary had been possessed by seven devils or demons. The scriptures give us no details of the story, except to say that Jesus healed Mary and cast out the spirits (Luke 8:2). Once tormented, Mary was now freed by the power of the Messiah. She devoted the rest of her life to following the Savior. Luke tells us that like other women, Mary helped financially support Jesus in his ministry (Luke 8:2-3). As one from Magdala Mary would have likely had a successful business with enough wealth to support the Savior. In short, after having known darkness, Mary chose to be in the light by becoming one of Christ’s most faithful and devoted disciples.

Contrary to later tradition, the scriptures give no evidence that Mary was a prostitute or the sinful woman who washed Jesus' feet. Sadly, Christians later wanted to find a place for sinful women, and thus altered the story of Mary making her a prostitute.

Understanding who Mary is, let’s now turn to the final 24 hours of the life of the Savior. According to the Gospels, after Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, the apostles fled and hid (Mark 14:50). John names only one male disciple at the cross, the beloved of Jesus, yet names several women who stood by his side, including Mary Magdalene (John 19:25-26). While other disciples fled in fear, these faithful women, Mary included, were willing to mourn at the foot of the cross to the very end. One can only imagine the absolute heart-rending pain they must have felt and the strength they had to muster as they became eye witnesses to the Savior’s agony and death on the cross.

Despite all that they had just seen and endured, the Gospels tell us that these women, Mary among them, then stayed to help remove the lifeless corpse of Jesus from the cross. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus apparently were also there at least to help remove the body and carry it to the tomb (John 19:38-40). The Sabbath is now fast approaching. The women were not able to complete the full burial process. They would need to return to the tomb on Sunday, the first day of the week to finish the heart-wrenching task. As they walked away from the lifeless body of their beloved Master to begin their own day of rest, surely there would be little rest for Mary and these women.

Before the sun had even begun to rise, Mary Magdalene was the first to arrive Sunday morning, followed by the other women, showing a sincere desire to care for the body of her Lord as quickly as possible. But the tomb was empty! The body of her precious Savior was gone. With what one can only imagine as fear and anguish filling her already broken heart, she ran to tell the disciples (John 20:2). After hearing the news, Peter and John came to see the empty tomb for themselves. As they entered, Peter found that the clothes that had been so carefully wrapped around the Savior’s body, were now folded and carefully placed on the stone bench. (John 20:3-10).

The apostles left, but Mary stayed behind. She weeps as she looks into the tomb and sees two angels sitting where his body had been so carefully laid (John 20:11-12). What sorrow she must have felt as she turned away from the last known resting place of her master. Someone had taken away her Lord, and she knew not where he lay. Tears would have filled her eyes making it difficult to recognize even the very one whose loss she was deeply mourning. “Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?” Supposing the man to be the gardener and possibly the one who had taken away the body, she says, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.” (John 20:15).

The resurrected Lord appears to Mary Magdalene
Then Mary hears just a single word--her own name. “Mary.” Immediately she knows this is not the gardener. This is the Savior—her Savior. Powerfully, it was not by sight that Mary has recognized Jesus, but by hearing the Good Shepherd calling her name. She must have next embraced the Lord whom she had just seen crucified and laid in a tomb, for He said “touch me not,” which is better translated from the Greek as “don’t hold me more” or “you can’t hold me forever” (John 20:17). [1] In this remarkable moment in history, Mary Magdalene has become the first witness to the resurrection of the Savior.

The significance of Mary Magdalene, chosen by the Lord to be the first witness of the resurrection can easily be missed. According to Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, a credible witness must be someone with a good past life, not a slave, and not a woman. [2] Here stood Mary, a woman having been possessed of seven devils—not a credible witness according to Jewish Law. Yet, the Savior not only first appears to Mary, but also to several other women who likewise had come to care for the Lord’s body (Matthew 28:8-10). Before appearing to Peter (1 Corinthians 15:5), who would become the head of His church, or any of the other apostles, Jesus first appears to women.

Jesus appears to other women after being resurrected, by James Tissot
The very same women had personally witnessed the crucifixion, and the burial, were now witnesses to the resurrection of the Savior. In a world where women were looked down upon and not valued, this powerful story teaches us that Christ does not see us for our worldly credibility, status, race, or gender, but instead sees our level of faith and devotion to him. In the darkest of moments these women had stayed by Jesus, supporting him, caring for him, even burying him. Now they are the first to have seen His light.

All of us have dark moments in our lives when we feel sorrow and despair. Like Mary who went to the tomb on a Sunday morning expecting to see the dead body of the Lord, we too may feel that all hope is lost. But on that Easter morning Mary found the living resurrected Messiah! He came to her just as the Savior comes to those who seek him.

In those dark moments when all seems lost, and our eyes are filled with tears, we too can hear our name, called by the Good Shepherd who knows us like no other. He brings light and joy to overcome even the darkest of days. Like Mary, we too can be witnesses of the living resurrected Messiah. Like Mary, we too can tell all who will hear of the glorious news of the Gospel. He is risen. Jesus Christ is raised from the dead! Come and see.


[1] See various translations from BibleHub. The JST says "Hold me not" implying Mary is already holding onto Jesus. Thomas Wayment translates the text as "Do not hold me back, for I have not yet ascended to the Father." (The New Testament, Wayment, pg. 204).
[2] Antiquities of the Jews, by Flavius Josephus, 4.219.

April 8, 2020

The Cleansing of the Temple



As the Savior entered and cleansed the Temple after arriving with his disciples for his last Passover, he teaches us a powerful message. The Lord’s honor and respect for the temple shows us how we too can become clean and pure through the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

According to Matthew and Luke, the cleansing of the temple took place on Sunday immediately after the triumphal entry. Mark, however, places the cleansing on Monday, the following day. Jesus and His disciples had come to celebrate the Passover, which would begin in just a few days. As they entered the city, they would have first likely entered through the southern gate of Jerusalem near the Pool of Siloam. They would then ritually wash in this pool or one of the many other mikvahs or ritual pools in Jerusalem. Jesus and His disciples would have then climbed the hundreds of steps up the Tyropoeon Valley until they arrived at the base of the Temple Mount.

The Temple itself was on a massive platform about 35 acres in size built over the top of Mount Moriah creating a large courtyard for the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims that arrived during Passover. As the Savior and his disciples entered the large court of the Gentiles, they encountered the money changers who were selling items and exchanging money in the house of God!

Tyrian shekel coin used to pay the temple tax
All Jewish males were required by the Law of Moses to offer a half shekel of silver once a year to help support the Temple. Because of the command against graven images, coins made in Palestine were minted with only depictions of nature such as grapes or sheaves of wheat. However, because the Temple authorities mandated only the purest of silver, these local and less pure coins were required to be exchanged for the Roman shekel and half shekel. These coins were minted with the image of the Greek divine hero Heracles. They also included the phrase "of Tyre the holy [city] and [city] of refuge." Many Jews found this requirement by the Temple leadership to be highly offensive since these coins were stamped with a pagan image and words denoting that Tyre, not Jerusalem, as the Holy City. In addition, these money changers charged an exchange rate of about 8%, much of which likely was pocketed by the corrupt temple leadership.

Jesus, upon seeing the money-making endeavors in the temple, made a whip from cords and began overturning the tables and driving out the money changers. In a loud voice, the Savior proclaimed: “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13). This is one of the few examples in the Gospels where Jesus shows true righteous indignation. The Temple was to be a sacred place designed to help Israel come closer to God, yet, the Jewish leadership were using it just to make a profit and gain worldly power.

Cleansing the home of leaven products
Within the context of the events of Passover the timing of this cleansing is highly significant. Leading up to Passover, which would be only in a few days, Jews were to cleanse their homes of all leaven products. This ritual dates back to the time of the Exodus when the Israelites fled Egypt. In their haste to leave captivity, they did not have time to allow their dough to rise. To commemorate their haste, just prior to Passover, families scour their home until they have removed all traces of leaven. The Bible states, "seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith … for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth." (Deuteronomy 16:3). The seven days without leaven began the day after Passover and was called the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Jews saw this time of cleansing their homes of leaven as a time of preparation in which they not only physically prepared, but also spiritual prepared. Leaven was often seen as a symbol of impurity or corruption because of how quickly it can spoil. A small amount of leaven raising an entire batch of bread was seen as symbolic of how a small amount of corruption could lead someone into darkness. This cleansing was a time of inner reflection and repentance so they could more fully enjoy the joyous festival of Passover.

Thus, as hundreds of thousands of Jews were cleansing their own homes of leaven, a symbol of impurity, Jesus cleanses his Father’s house of corruption. Desiring to properly prepare for this most sacred of weeks, Jesus does exactly as the Law prescribed. While Passover was a time to celebrate the miraculous story of the Exodus and deliverance from Egyptian bondage, little did these Jews know that this man who was cleansing the temple, would be their true source of complete deliverance.

Just as the Jews were commanded to cleanse their homes, and Christ cleansed the temple, so too should our own temples be cleansed, even our body and spirit. Paul taught “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? … for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). How beautiful the message of the cleansing of the temple that teaches us that just as Jesus cleansed the ancient temple, it is only through Him that we can also be cleansed. As we repent of our sins and come unto Him, He will cleanse us of all impurity! Only once we are purified through His atonement can we then truly enjoy perfect deliverance through Christ, our Passover Lamb.

April 4, 2020

Jesus Christ, the Passover Lamb



The events of the last week of the life of the Savior, Jesus Christ are the most significant in all of history. These eight days, from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday change everything. They give us hope. They show us that sin and death will never prevail. These eight days begin with Jesus coming to the beautiful city of Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover festivals. As we better understand Passover and the spring Jewish Feasts, we can gain powerful insights into Holy Week, the atonement, and the ultimate triumph over all things by Christ, our Passover Lamb.

Passover was first celebrated by the ancient Israelites as they were freed from Egypt after living in bondage for over 400 years (see Exodus 12). As part of this deliverance, the Lord commanded that on the 10th day of the first month, the people were to select a lamb without blemish and to bring it into their homes for the next four days (Exodus 12:3-5). During this period the family would examine the lamb for impurities and would likely become very attached to this young innocent lamb. The family also cleansed their home of all leaven products, leaven often symbolizing impurity because it can quickly spoil and mold (see Luke 12:1). On the 14th day of the month towards the evening, the people then killed the lamb without breaking any of the bones (Exodus 12:6). Using a branch of hyssop, they covered their door post with the blood of the lamb (Exodus 12:22). This was to be a sign for the destroying angel to pass by and spare the firstborn of that home. The Lord then commanded the family to gather that evening and share a meal of the slain lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs (Exodus 12:8). The unleavened bread represented the haste in leaving Egypt, the Israelites not having enough time to allow their bread to rise (Exodus 12:33-34). The bitter herbs represented the bitterness of bondage and slavery. According to later Jewish tradition, wine was also part of the feast as a symbol of joy and redemption. [1]

Unleavened bread used during the Passover meal
Once freed from slavery, Israel was commanded to celebrate the Passover every year thereafter, to commemorate and help them remember the powerful hand of God in delivering them from bondage. In addition to Passover, each spring the children of Israel were also to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the observance of the First Fruits. The Feast of Unleavened bread started the day after Passover and ran for seven days from the 15th through the 21st of the month (Leviticus 23:6-8). During this period no leaven was to be consumed, again commemorating the haste with which the children of Israel fled Egypt. The offering of the First Fruits was celebrated the day following the first Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened bread (Leviticus 23:10-14). On the evening of the Sabbath, the priests would cut the best sheaf of barley and bring it to the temple to be threshed and ground. In the morning the flour would then be combined with oil and frankincense and a handful would be burned on the altar. The offering of the First Fruits symbolized the gratitude of the people by first giving to God an offering before enjoying for themselves the harvest of that season. [2]

With this understanding of the Passover celebrations, let us now examine the powerful significance of the timing of the events of Holy Week. According to the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus entered Jerusalem on the 10th day of the month, the same day when all the people would be selecting their Passover lambs preparatory for the coming feast. [3] At this same time, on the day we now call Palm Sunday, Jesus was welcomed with shouts of praise and acclamation (Matthew 21:7-9). Jesus, the true Passover Lamb, then entered His Father’s home, the temple of Jerusalem, just as the lambs were being brought into the home of all Jews to live for the next four days. Upon entering the temple courts, Jesus cleansed His Father’s house of impurity, driving the money changers from this sacred space (Matthew 21:12-13). At the same time all Jews would be cleansing their own homes of all leaven products.

The next few days of Holy Week, Monday through Wednesday, were days in which Jesus taught the people, spending much of His time again at the temple, in His Father’s house. During this same period of when the priests and people would be examining the lambs for impurities, Jesus was interrogated by the Sadducees and Pharisees asking Him of His authority and power.

According to Matthew, Mark and Luke, on the eve of the 14th day of the month, the Savior celebrated the Passover meal with His disciples (Matthew 26:19-30). As Jesus sat with His disciples during His Last Supper, he took the symbols of the Passover feast and converted them into symbols of His own deliverance that He would soon bring. He took the unleavened bread and broke it and taught His disciples that this represented His broken body, which the following day would be torn and bruised for their sakes. He then took the wine, a symbol of joy and redemption, and taught that it signified His blood which would be shed for them that evening in Gethsemane. These two symbols became what is now known as communion or the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. It is interesting to note that Jesus did not incorporate the bitter herbs into the symbols of the sacrament, perhaps symbolizing that Christ in our stead would consume the bitter cup so that we can instead partake of the sweet cup of joy and redemption.

That evening Jesus entered a beautiful garden just outside the city of Jerusalem, and atoned and suffered for our sins (Matthew 26:36-46). As hundreds of thousands of Jewish families celebrated the ancient redemption of Israel, Jesus was suffering in Gethsemane providing true deliverance. Just as the blood on the doorpost protected ancient Israel from the destroying angel, so too the blood of Christ, shed in Gethsemane and on the cross, can protect us from the effects of sin and death.

In the dead of night, Jesus was arrested and taken and tried before Caiaphas the High Priest (Matthew 26:57-68). The remarkable fact is that, as the leading priest for the temple, Caiaphas had the ultimate responsibility for all Temple offerings. Here Jesus Christ, the true Lamb of God, was condemned to death by the very man who oversaw all temple sacrifices. Jesus was then taken to the palace of Pilate in the upper city, then Herod, and then Pilate again where He was condemned to death.

According to the Gospel of John, Jesus was crucified at noon and hung on the cross in pain for several hours (John 19:14-16). As he hung, a branch of hyssop, the same kind of branch used to cover the doorposts with blood, was raised up to Jesus (John 19:29-30). On the end of the branch was a sponge soaked in vinegar, or cheap wine to help with the excruciating pain. Then at 3pm Matthew tells us that Jesus died, breathing His last breath of mortal life (Matthew 27:46-50).

Concerning the events of Holy Week, there are some discrepancies in the timing among the four gospels, and one of the most significant differences is that John places the Passover on the following day, not the night of the Last Supper (John 19:14). This means that according to John, at the exact same time that the Passover lambs would be slain in the temple, which was from about 3-5pm, Jesus died on the cross for all of God’s children. [4] The symbolism is extraordinary! Jesus Christ, who was sinless, without blemish, is killed the same hour as the Passover lambs. John also notes that while the other two condemned men had their legs broken, Jesus instead only had a spear driven into His side, fulfilling the requirement that the Passover Lamb was to be killed without breaking any bones.

The body of Jesus was then laid in a borrowed tomb where on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, Jesus’ mortal body rested from all labors. The following day, on Sunday, the first day of the week, Jesus rose from the dead, overcoming all things. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus rose from the dead at the same time when the first fruits were being offered at the temple, thus fulfilling this aspect of the law, and as Paul stated becoming the first fruits of them that slept. (1 Corinthians 15:20)

The powerful symbolism is undeniable. Jesus seems to use every aspect of the spring feasts to help the Jews understand His ultimate redemptive power. He is chosen by the people on the same day as the Passover lambs. Jesus cleanses His Father’s home when the people are cleansing their own homes of all leaven. He teaches in the Temple and is examined and tried by the very priests who are responsible for all Temple sacrifices. He suffers and dies as the Passover lambs are slaughtered at the Temple. He then rises from the dead when the first fruits of the harvest are offered before the Lord. Jesus Christ is our true Passover Lamb. Because of Him we are redeemed from bondage and slavery. Because of His blood we are protected from the destroying angel and allowed once again to enter the presence of the Father. Truly as John the Baptist stated, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).


[1] The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, by Alfred Edersheim, p. 185.
[2] Edersheim, pg. 203-205.
[3] There is a lot of debate on the exact timing of the events of Holy Week, but I will attempt to do my best to show likely connections between Passover and the last week of the Savior's life.

March 8, 2020

The Triumphal Entry of Jesus Christ



Amid shouts of praise and the waving of palm branches, Jesus triumphantly entered into the city of Jerusalem. This event marked the beginning of the most significant week in human history. Understanding the historical setting of this singular event can teach us of the ultimate mission of the Savior as the Lamb of God and the true King of kings!

To better understand the importance of the triumphal entry, it is helpful to first understand its correlation to the feast of Passover or Pesach. Passover was the first of three major Jewish feasts celebrated each year. The feast was to commemorate the deliverance of ancient Israel from bondage in Egypt. According to Exodus 12, the Lord commanded Israel to select a lamb without blemish on the 10th day of the first month. Once selected, the lamb was then brought into their homes to live with the family for the next four days. On the eve before the start of the fifteenth day, they were then to kill the lamb, smear the blood on the doorposts, and share together the Passover feast. If they did this, the Lord promised that the destroying angel would pass by them and spare the firstborn of the home.

Blood being placed on the doorpost for Passover
Every year afterward, Israel celebrated Passover to remember this great deliverance from bondage. In addition, the Jews at the time of Jesus were looking forward to a coming Messiah who would hopefully likewise during Passover deliver them from their Roman oppressors. With this background in mind, let’s study the events of the triumphal entry.

Shortly before Passover, the Savior began his last mortal journey to Jerusalem. Like Jesus, hundreds of thousands of Jews were also arriving to celebrate the Feast. With the city swelling beyond capacity, many would have camped on the Mount of Olives and surrounding areas. Jesus chose to stay in nearby Bethany with the family of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus whom he had just raised from the dead. News of this remarkable miracle spread like wildfire. The promised Messiah had come! As the Savior and his disciples climbed over the Mount of Olives with the Temple glistening in the morning sun, the people cut branches from palm trees, waving them excitedly, and laid their garments on the ground to cover His path.

The significance of the timing is unmistakable. According to the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the day Jesus entered was the tenth day of the month, five days before Passover. This would mean that on the very same day that the Jews were selecting their Passover lambs, Jesus, the true Lamb of God, rode into Jerusalem and was symbolically chosen by the people. Also, just as the lambs would be brought into the homes of the people to stay for the next four days, so too Jesus came into his Father’s house, the temple, and taught for the next four days before his death.

This act of worship by the Jews during the Triumphal Entry fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah which stated: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9 NKJV). Sadly, as the week progressed, the Jews saw that Jesus did not come as the conquering Messiah they had hoped for. They realized that Jesus would not bring them the political deliverance they so desired. Yet they did not understand the true deliverance He would bring through His atonement and death. Only five days later, some of this same crowd who had previously shouted praises at his arrival, would now shout for the death of the Lamb of God.

Often, we are faced with the same question as these Jews in Jerusalem. What type of Messiah are we hoping for? One who will immediately free us from all our challenges and trials? Or are we humble enough to trust in the Lord’s timing for redemption?

In essence, we all have our own personal exodus story. A story where we are in spiritual bondage and can be released only by the blood of the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. We each have the opportunity daily to select Jesus Christ as our Lamb of God and allow him into our homes. When we lay down our all before him as the Jews laid down their garments shouting Hosanna, we chose to accept the Savior, seeing Him for who He really is. Only then can we, like ancient Israel, be spared from the destroying angel of death and sin, and enter into the Promised Land because of the triumphal entry, death, and resurrection of the Lamb of God!

February 23, 2020

The Anointing of Jesus by Women



When studying the events of Holy Week, we read two different recorded occasions when a woman anoints either the feet or head of Jesus. Many scholars have combined both events because of their similarities; however, by studying them as two separate events, we are able to learn powerful insights into the possible timing of the stories. Timing that foreshadows the Savior as the anointed King and the Great High Priest of Israel.

In ancient times three main groups of people were anointed: prophets, priests, and kings. Both the words Messiah in Hebrew, and Christ in Greek mean the “anointed one” and refer to anyone that has been anointed. The anointing often took place by a priest who would pour olive oil from an animal’s horn onto the head of the person. The horn is often a symbol of power. [1] The anointing oil was combined with myrrh and other spices to create a beautiful smelling ointment. Anointing with this holy oil took place as a symbol of setting apart, or making sacred an individual for the service of God. It spiritually prepared the person for the mission they would lead. What better act to proceed the events of the atonement, death, and resurrection than the anointings performed by these two faithful women!

Reenactment of Aaron being anointed by Moses
The first anointing, as recorded by John, took place on Saturday six days before the Passover; in an unnamed home in Bethany. It was done by Mary the sister to Martha and Lazarus; wherein she anointed only the feet of Jesus. (See John 12:1-8). The second anointing, as recorded by Matthew and Mark, took place two days before Passover; in the home of Simon the leper in Bethany. This was done by an unnamed woman who anointed only the head of Jesus. (See Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9).

Comparison chart of the two accounts of the anointing of Jesus by women
John’s account places Mary’s anointing on Saturday. It may be that John was trying to foreshadow how Jesus, being anointed the day before the triumphal entry, was symbolically being anointed as the King of Israel. Remember that one of the reasons it was so significant that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey was because when Solomon was anointed as the king of Israel, he similarly rode into Jerusalem on a mule.

Mark’s and Matthew’s accounts places the anointing by the unnamed woman two days before the Passover. It may be that they were trying to show that Jesus was being anointed as the Great High Priest, who would intercede on our behalf. Anciently, the high priest was the only individual who could enter the most sacred part of the ancient temple, the Holy of Holies, and only on one day a year, the Day of Atonement. The high priest entered on behalf of Israel, symbolically bringing them back into the presence of God. As Jesus suffered in Gethsemane, died on the cross, and rose from the dead, he acted as our Great High Priest, who intercedes before the Father, allowing us to once again enter God’s presence through Christ. [2]

Reenactment of the high priest entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement
These accounts offer two women as powerful witnesses of the Messiah and their sacrifice and testimony are striking. The ointments used by both women valued 300 or more pence. A pence was a day’s wage, making the total value equivalent to almost a full year’s earnings. Sadly, both women were also criticized by a disciple adding even more to the magnitude of this great gift.

Up to this point, the apostles did not fully understand the mission of the Savior. They had all witnessed great miracles by Jesus, heard His mighty teachings, and had powerful spiritual experiences. However, they clearly did not yet understand that ultimately through Jesus’ death true redemption would come. In contrast these two women, even before witnessing the resurrection, appear to understand the need for Christ to die. For them, anointing the Messiah with oil, preparatory to His death, was a token of their faith. Faith that would in turn be planted in the hearts of others as they witness who the Savior actually is. [3] In a culture where a woman’s voice was rarely heard let alone respected, Jesus wants the men to understand the poignancy of the unnamed woman’s service, “Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Mark 14:9 NIV).

Whether it was just one or two different women that anointed Jesus during Holy Week this incredible service to their Lord and Master will always be remembered. A service that testifies of the Savior’s most often used title, that of Christ—the Anointed One.

In our world today where the gap between what is right and what is popular increasingly widens, we can remember these women and honor their memory by also standing as powerful witnesses of the divinity of Christ. As believers we can tell those who do not yet fully understand, “This is the Messiah, the Anointed One.”

Special thanks to Heather Pack for helping to review and write the conclusion of this script. Also, I am grateful for the research done by Eric Huntsman in his book God So Loved the World (see below).


[1] The Lost Language of Symbolism by Alonzo L. Gaskill, pages 49-50.
[2] God So Loved the World by Eric D. Huntsman, pages 44-45 and 133-135.
[3] Huntsman, page 45.

December 12, 2019

The Remarkable Story of Joseph



Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus Christ, is perhaps one of the most overlooked characters in the life of the Savior. Yet, there is no question that Joseph left a powerful impact on Jesus, Mary, and their other children. He was a man of solid conviction. His love for Mary, the mother of Jesus, is unmatched. Because Joseph’s story is only covered in four chapters of the Bible and he most likely died before the ministry of the Savior, we often gloss over him, and sadly miss the powerful witness he left of his adopted son, the Messiah of the world.

We know relatively few details about Joseph from the scriptures, but through insights from the historical background of life in Israel, we can actually weave together a beautiful tapestry on the life of Joseph.

Joseph was of the tribe of Judah, and in particular a direct descendant of King David (Matthew 1:20). This would mean that he, at least in some regards, had a legal right to the throne. Consequently, any of his descendants, including Jesus through adoption, would also have this same status. Despite his royal lineage, the scriptures tell us that Joseph was only a poor carpenter or craftsman. Joseph is typically portrayed in art as working with wood, but because Israel has a limited number of trees and stone is by far the more abundant resource, Joseph would have actually been a carpenter of mostly stone.

According to Jewish custom, we also know that Joseph was most likely quite young. In fact, he probably was only about seventeen to twenty years old when he was engaged to Mary. We also know that from a very young age Joseph had been trained in the law at the synagogue, and that he had a profound understanding of the scriptures because of his faithful, yet merciful way of obeying the law.

To better comprehend the significance of the story of Joseph and Mary, it will help to understand the marriage customs during the time of the New Testament. Ancient Jewish marriage included three main parts, the betrothal, the period of preparation, and the actual wedding feast.

A young bride typically between eleven and thirteen years old would be formally betrothed to a groom aged about seventeen to twenty. [1] While comparable to an engagement today, it was a far more significant commitment. The bride and groom were actually legally married at the betrothal as wedding vows would be exchanged. The distinction being that the marriage is not yet consummated nor do the couple live together. A period of waiting and preparation would follow when the groom learned a trade, in Joseph’s case stone masonry and carpentry, and built a small home for his future bride.

The two families would also prepare for the wedding feast. Unlike today with the convenience of modern-day stores, everything for the wedding would be made by hand, grown, or traded in the market including harvesting all the food, making white robes for each participant, and other significant preparations. This enormous amount of preparation meant that it was very common to wait a full year before the actual wedding feast. Once ready, the groom would go to the home of his bride with a large procession of his family and friends with torches and oil lamps. He then would take his new bride to his father’s home where the marriage feast would occur and the marriage would be consummated. The wedding feast was huge often lasting for seven days—all the more reason for a yearlong preparation!

With this understanding of marriage customs, let’s read from the Gospel of Matthew. “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18 NKJV). According to the Law of Moses, if a young man found that his bride was pregnant before their marriage, he had two options. First, he could publicly divorce her, meaning he would bring formal charges against her before a court. If found guilty, she would be stoned to death. Second, the young groom could divorce her privately, or in other words, he would not bring formal charges against her, but simply end the marriage. In this situation both the life of the mother and child would be preserved. Both options were legal under the law. Matthew tells us that Joseph chose to be merciful and “and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.” (Matthew 1:19 NKJV).

However, before Joseph was able to divorce Mary, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream telling him to take Mary as his wife. The angel also directs Joseph that he is to name the infant Jesus. By naming the child, according to Jewish tradition, Joseph would formally adopt Jesus as his own. We often just gloss over these few verses, but the implications are massive for Joseph! Consider this story from the perspective of the townspeople who all would know that Mary got pregnant before marriage. By taking her as his wife, Joseph is saying that either he broke his own vows and got Mary pregnant before the wedding feast, or he does not mind being the father to what the people would consider an illegitimate child. Either option would forever brand Joseph as a father of questionable background. Yet, the text seems to imply that Joseph shrugged off these massive consequences, and the instant he awakes from his sleep, does exactly as the angel commands.

The love and compassion Joseph showed to Mary and the unborn Messiah is absolutely remarkable. He disregarded all cultural consequences of marrying Mary, forgoes the elaborate wedding feast that every young couple would be looking forward to, and took in the young innocent Savior of the World as his own. Truly, God could not have chosen a better man to raise His own Son, then Joseph, the humble carpenter. Though we have no recorded words of Joseph, no recorded witness of his testimony, his actions of obedience, kindness, and love speak volumes about the character of this most remarkable man and his testimony of the Savior. As followers of Christ, we can learn much from Joseph the carpenter.


[1] As there always is a debate on the age of Mary, here are a few notes regarding the age of betrothal for women in the Bible. The Midrash and Talmud both state that young men were married by the age of eighteen and girls by the time they were thirteen (Midrash, Aboth 5:21 and Talmud, Pesachim 113). "For the other parameter, age at marriage, no real statistics exist for ancient Israel.... In Egypt, girls were married between twelve and fourteen; boys, between fourteen and twenty." (Life in Biblical Israel, page 37). "The consent (betrothal), usually entered into when the girl was between twelve and thirteen years old" (The Birth of the Messiah by Raymond E. Brown, page 123). "The earliest age for marriage, which typically follows betrothal by a year, is twelve years and a day [meaning betrothal could be at the age of 11]." (BYU New Testament Commentary, The Testimony of Luke by S. Kent Brown, page 107). "According to ancient Jewish custom, Mary could have been betrothed at about 12." (Wikipedia, Mary, mother of Jesus)

December 8, 2019

What the Genealogy of Jesus Teaches Us About the Messiah



The story of the birth of Jesus Christ has been told for centuries. The account usually begins with the annunciation to Mary or the appearance of the angel to the shepherds, yet Matthew begins his Nativity story with the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17). The long list of names intermingled with almost 40 "begats" can cause us to skim or even skip this portion completely. But Matthew appears to be teaching us a powerful message about the Messiah by recording His lineage. Let’s see if we can discover some of these lessons.

Matthew divides the genealogy into three main sections of fourteen names each. The first section lists the patriarchs, the second lists kings, and the third lists names of people mostly unknown to us (Matthew 1:17).

First Section
The genealogy begins with Matthew stating, "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1). This first section recounts the names of the great patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These were each men of great faith who with their wives left us great examples of righteousness. Right from the start, Matthew appears to be giving us a key to understanding his message, that of the promises made to Abraham, the great Patriarchal prophet. Each of these men were promised that through their seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed, a blessing that would be fully realized only through the birth and coming of the Messiah.

Second Section
The second section includes a list of Judah’s kings from David to the Babylonian captivity, emphasizing the importance of the dynasty of King David. David was seen by the Jews as one of their greatest kings. Through him the nation of Israel was united. Under his command, the temple was built by his son Solomon. Through his seed the nation was ruled by the line of the kings. Only two of the fourteen kings mentioned though were considered righteous—very few of the kings actually sought to guide their people to the Lord. [1] The true King of Kings in David’s royal line would only be fulfilled through Christ, the anointed one (see 2 Samuel 7:11-16).

Third Section
The last section lists names of those that are otherwise mostly unknown in the Bible. Matthew shows us the critical role these unknown helpers played in the birth of our Savior. We can easily view ourselves as nothing special when compared to great spiritual and political leaders like the prophets and kings in the previous two sections. But just like the unnamed widow who offered her two mites, our contribution—no matter how small—is acceptable before the Lord (Luke 21:1-4).

From these divisions we can see that God is able to work through the spiritually powerful, the politically powerful, and the commoners that appear to be powerless. It teaches us that each of us can play a critical role in helping to build the kingdom of God. [2]

Another intriguing aspect of Matthew’s genealogy is the inclusion of five particular women. Women are rarely mentioned in genealogies in the Bible (or anciently) except to teach a message or connect a name to a particular story. Thus, it would again seem that Matthew is trying to teach us something by including their names. Four of these women could be considered to have questionable or suspect backgrounds: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.

The first woman, Tamar, dressed as a harlot so that Judah, her father-in-law, would give her a descendent because of the Levirate law of marriage, which was her legal right (Genesis 38:13-30). Rahab, often called a harlot, though possibly just an innkeeper, was a Canaanite woman who lived in Jericho and helped hide the Israelite spies before they prepared to conquer the city (Joshua 2). Ruth, though a faithful and incredible woman, was a Moabite and not of Israel making her a foreigner (see Ruth 1:1-18). Bathsheba, perhaps a Hittite like her husband, was seduced by David and likely always seen as tainted by this act committed against her (2 Samuel 11:1-5).

Because of their backgrounds, each of these women were likely looked down upon at some point in their lives. Yet Matthew reminds us of their great contribution as heroes of the Bible. The last woman mentioned is Mary. Like the other four women, she too had a suspect background because of the miraculous yet misunderstood way she conceived the Christ child. Perhaps Matthew was trying to teach his audience that if you question Mary’s story, remember that many of the greatest prophets and rulers came from women who might have been questioned by society. [3]

As we read the genealogy of Jesus Christ and consider the people mentioned in His lineage, we learn from this long list that different types of people were used so that God’s Beloved Son could come to earth. Whether a righteous prophet, an imperfect leader, an unknown helper, or someone with a questionable background or reputation, all are known to the Lord. No matter our status, background, or station in life, we too can have our name added to the long beautiful list of those who play a critical role in gathering Israel in preparation for Christ’s second coming to earth.

Special thanks to Heather Pack who helped write the script for this video.

[1] A Coming Christ in Advent by Raymond E. Brown, pg. 21
[2] See Advent of the Savior by Stephen J. Binz, pg. 15-16 for commentary on the three sections
[3] A Coming Christ in Advent, pg. 23-24