Ancient heretic theories about Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 December

Because the New Testament never bluntly spells out, “Here’s precisely what Christ Jesus did and how he works,” Christians have had to deduce a number of things about him, based on various things we gleaned from the bible.

Fr’instance most of us wanna know what he looked like. And while John, in Revelation, actually does say what he looks like, Rv 1.12-16 too many of us insist that passage isn’t meant to be taken literally. Mostly because Jesus has bronze skin and white hair, and too many of us expect a more conventional depiction of White Jesus.

In that, you can see the common problem among Christian theologians: We all have our biases. We come to the scriptures with an idea already in mind, and wanna find proof texts to back us up. Sometimes the scriptures won’t do that! And that’s okay; we’re wrong, and the scriptures are meant to correct us when we’re wrong. 2Ti 3.16 But too often we won’t admit we’re wrong; too often we’ve convinced ourselves our clever ideas are really God-ideas, so the scriptures have to prove us right. If being right is more important than being scrupulous (and for too many people, it absolutely is), we’ll subtly tweak the scriptures this way and that till they do “prove us right”—and that’s how we get heresies.

The ancient Christians ran up against a whole lot of heresies, ’cause the Roman Empire largely practiced freedom of religion. No really: As far as the Romans were concerned, you could worship any god you wished. True, they persecuted Jews and Christians—but that’s largely because we told people you couldn’t worship any god you wished. Wasn’t very liberal of us. But in any event, you could worship any god; you could even introduce new gods and build temples, and start synagogues and teach newbies about your god. A number of gnostics did exactly that, and taught all kinds of weirdness. Some of these gnostics claimed to be Christian, and had all sorts of weird heretic things to teach about Christ Jesus as well.

In our day we also have freedom of religion. And, yep, gnostics. Who teach all sorts of weird heretic things about Jesus, and start churches and sell books. They make some pretty good money at it; they get fans, which feed their pride and make ’em think they’re all the more clever and inspired. But they’re leading people away from God, his grace, and his kingdom. These aren’t little errors. They’ll interfere with people’s salvation, or trick ’em into rejecting God.

Of course these heretics already refer to us orthodox Christians as “heretics”—they’re entirely sure they’re right and we’re not. And to be fair, we’re all wrong. But these folks are so wrong as to be called heretic, where their beliefs stand a really good chance of leading people away from God. They prefer their ideas about what God is like, over what God actually revealed about himself. They figure either God’s revelations are wrong, or misinterpreted—whereas they got it right, and how clever of them to see what others don’t. How wise of them; how inspired; what special favorites of God’s they must be. And all the other delusions pride can trick us into.

Heretic theories tend to fall into one of five categories:

  1. JESUS IS ANOTHER GOD. Most heretics figure Jesus isn’t the God, but a god. Another god. The God created Jesus as another god under him, like his vice-God, or prince of all the angels, or demiurge who does all the work while he sits back and rules. Jesus is some powerful being who’s not the very same One True God.
  2. JESUS ISN’T REALLY GOD. Jesus gets called “the son of God,” but that’s just a title the Hebrews gave their messiahs, their ancient kings, to indicate how these guys weren’t gods, but only worked for God. And same as all we other humans are daughters and sons of God. Like us, Jesus is another one of God’s creations. He’s still Messiah, a great teacher and prophet; he’s gonna rule the world; he’s the best human God ever made. But not God.
  3. JESUS ISN’T REALLY HUMAN. Jesus is in fact God; he’s definitely God. But he couldn’t fully give up his divinity to become human (and why would he?) so his humanity was only pretense. He appeared to be human, lest he freak people out too much. But he’s fully divine, wearing what appeared to be a human form.
  4. JESUS IS A DEMIGOD. In pagan religions, gods and humans bred and made demigods, half-and-half hybrids who were either supermen or lesser gods, like Herakles and Perseus and Aeneas. Demigod heresies describe Jesus these ways—part-God instead of entirely God, part-human instead of fully human.
  5. JESUS IS GOD—AND YOU CAN BE GOD TOO! A number of pantheists have wormed this idea into Christianity: Every human being has a divine spark in us, and Jesus fanned his own spark into full-on divinity. Now he’s teaching us to do the same thing. Follow Jesus, and you can become God too.

Whereas, to answer these theories, orthodox Christians aver:

  1. Jesus is the same God, Pp 2.6 and God is One. Dt 6.4 There isn’t another God.
  2. Jesus is as God as God can be. Jn 1.1-2
  3. He’s human; Jn 1.14 more human than humans are, ’cause we sin, which dings us quite a lot.
  4. True, to become human, Jesus was depowered, Pp 2.7 and had to perform miracles through the Holy Spirit’s power. Ac 10.38 But godlike power doesn’t make you God; it’s like saying arms and legs make you human. Divine nature does, and Jesus absolutely has that. He 1.3
  5. There’s only one God, and we’re not him… and Jesus is.

Foreknown before the world was founded.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 December

1 Peter 1.17-21.

God doesn’t have two wills, but he’s always had two plans, and they’re no secret. Plan A is that we follow him, do what’s right, love God and our neighbor, and live with him in his kingdom. Plan B, the one which has to get implemented far too often, is that we totally botch the job of following him, so he has to forgive us and give us yet another chance to follow plan A.

1 John 2.1-2 KJV
1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2 and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

When God created us humans, our sin didn’t blindside him. None of our sins make him throw up his hands and say, “Well I can’t fix that.” He already had plan B in mind; he already knew how he was gonna fix everything. He knew how to crush the serpent’s head. He’d become human and atone for our sins himself. That’s why our sins don’t drive him away, and never have. Jesus took ’em out. For all time, all of human history; from Adam and Eve’s sins, to Moses and the ancient Hebrews, to the apostles and the people of Jesus’s day, to ours, to our descendants’. There is no dispensation where Jesus’s atonement doesn’t yet apply. Because God always foreknew it.

The apostles knew this, which is why they regularly wrote of Christ Jesus being foreknown—that long before he did anything, the LORD knew Jesus would accomplish it, and acted as if it’s already done. God fills all of time, and from his eternal perspective, it is already done. He’s not just speculating about what might happen someday; he’s there, at that point in history, observing it in real time. It’s not guesswork. It’s certainty. He knows it—and because he knows it millennia before we do, we say he foreknows it, but that’s just a fancier way of saying he knows it.

Hence all the Old Testament’s prophecies of a coming Messiah, and what he’d do. Because the LORD already knew it, and was just telling the rest of us about his wonderful plans to save us.

1 Peter 1.17-21 KWL
17 If you call upon the Father,
who impartially judges us by each person’s work,
one who sojourns for a time among you must live in godly fear,
18 knowing no perishable thing, no silver nor gold,
frees you from your empty lifestyle nor heritage.
19 Instead, like that of a spotless lamb,
it’s the valuable blood of a blameless Christ.
20 Foreknown—really, from the foundation of the world—
and revealed to you all at the last times.
21 Faithful to God, by whom he was raised from death,
who gave glory to him,
so that your faith and hope are to be in God.

And here Simon Peter reminds the churches of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia about how our good works, though important, don’t save us and don’t establish our individual relationships with God. Christ Jesus does. Don’t put the cart before the horse; our relationships are entirely because Jesus died for us, and therefore we can call upon the Father, and he can empower us to do good works. The cart’s the works. The driving force is Christ.

It’s a lesson we Christians regularly need to be reminded of, ’cause it’s so easy to take pride in our good deeds, and think they’re what make us righteous. They don’t. Faith and hope in God do.

The Carmen Christi: When Jesus made himself nothing.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 December

Philippians 2.5-11.

Many scholars and historians think this part of Philippians is actually a hymn sung by ancient Christians. Possibly composed by someone other than Paul, and Paul was only quoting it when he and Timothy wrote Philippians. But if this isn’t the case, it nonetheless became an ancient Christian hymn, known in Latin as the Carmen Christi/“Christ hymn.”

In it Paul and Timothy told (or reminded) the Philippians that God became human, died for us, and will be exalted at his coming. “Christ Jesus is Lord,” to the glory of God the Father.

I really like the way the International Standard Version translated it, ’cause they made it rhyme. (It used to have a proper rhythm too. It doesn’t now, ’cause when they updated it, they swapped out “Christ” for “Messiah”—which means the very same thing, but whatever. I prefer the old meter, so I swapped it back in verse 11.)

Philippians 2.5-11 ISV
5 Have the same attitude among yourselves that was also in the Messiah Jesus:
 
6 In God’s own form existed he,
and shared with God equality,
deemed nothing needed grasping.
7 Instead, poured out in emptiness,
a servant’s form did he possess,
a mortal man becoming.
In human form he chose to be,
8 and lived in all humility,
death on a cross obeying.
9 Now lifted up by God to heaven,
a name above all others given,
this matchless name possessing.
10 And so, when Jesus’ name is called,
the knees of everyone should fall,
wherever they’re residing.
11 Then every tongue in one accord,
will say that Jesus Christ is Lord,
while God the Father praising.

This passage comes right after Paul instructed the Christians of Filippi, Greece, to work together. Not in competition—not even “healthy competition”—but submissively, taking others into consideration instead of looking out for number one. And as an example of submission, of working with people instead of against ’em, here’s Christ Jesus—who does it par excellence.

Christ Jesus’s attitude is that love takes priority over power, so he divested himself of that power and became human, out of his love for us. Therefore we likewise should prioritize others.

When God became human.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 December
INCARNATE 'ɪn.kɑrn.eɪt verb. Put an immaterial thing (i.e. an abstract concept or idea) into a concrete form.
2. Put a deity or spirit into a human form, i.e. Hindu gods.
3. ɪn'kɑr.nət adjective. Embodied in flesh, or concrete form.
[Incarnation ɪn.kɑr'neɪ.ʃən noun, reincarnation 're.ɪn.kɑr.neɪ.ʃən noun.]

Most of our Christian theology lingo tends to come from Greek and Latin. This one too. Why? Because they sound much more formal and sanctimonious than plain English. When you literally translate ’em from Greek and Latin, they make people flinch. Incarnate is one of those words: In-carnátio is Latin for “put into meat.”

Yep, put into meat. Nope, it’s not a mistranslation. It’s an accurate description of what happened to Jesus. The word of God—meaning God—became flesh. Meat.

John 1.14 KJV
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

Not temporarily; not for just the few decades Jesus walked the earth. When he got resurrected, he went back into a flesh-’n-bone body. When he got raptured up to heaven, he still had, and has, his flesh-’n-bone body; he didn’t shuck it like a costume. God is now meat. Flesh, blood, spit, mucus, cartilage, hair, teeth, bile, tears. MEAT.

Not just look human. Not take over an existing human, scoop out the spirit, and replace it with his Holy Spirit. These are some of the dozens of weird theories people coined about how Jesus isn’t really or entirely human. Mainly they were invented by people who can’t have God be human.

To such people, humanity makes God no longer God. It undoes his divinity. He’d have to be limited instead of unlimited. And they define God by his power. It’s what they really admire, really covet, about God: His raw, unlimited, sovereign might. Not his character, not his goodness, not his love and kindness and compassion. F--- that; God has to be mighty, and they can’t respect a God who doesn’t respect power the way they do.

So that, they insist, is who Jesus really is. Beneath a millimeter of skin, Jesus was divinity incognito. He only pretended to limit himself, for the sake of fearful masses who’d scream out in terror if they ever encountered an undisguised God. He feigned humanity. But underneath that humanity, really omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, omni-everything.

To such people incarnation soils God. It dirties him. Meat is icky. Humanity, mortality, the realness of our everyday existence, is too nasty for God to submit himself to. Sweating. Aching. Pains and sickness. Peeing and pooping. Suffering from acne and bug bites and rashes. Belching and farting. Sometimes the trots from bad shawarma the night before. Waking up with a morning erection.

Have I outraged you yet? You’re hardly the first. But this, as we can all attest, is humanity. Not even sinful humanity; I haven’t touched upon that at all. Just regular, natural, physical humanity. If God became human, he became that. And people can’t abide it.

Yet it’s true. And God did it intentionally. He wanted us to be with him. So he made the first move, and became one of us.

“Incarnational”: More Christ in our ministries, and ourselves.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 December
INCARNATIONAL ɪn.kɑr'neɪ.ʃən.əl adjective. Relating to being put in a body.
2. Embodying Christ Jesus in some way.
[Incarnate ɪn'kɑr.nət adjective, incarnation ɪn.kɑr'neɪ.ʃən noun.]

“Incarnational” is a word that’s been flung around American Christianity more and more frequently over the past decade. Not everybody knows what it means, but it’s a trendy word, and they wanna be trendy, so they use it. Or the word missional, which either means they consider themselves to have a mission from God, or they’re really dedicated to their organization’s mission statement.

For the most part, Christians use “incarnational” to describe ministries, churches, and institutions whose leaders don’t want them to be quite so… institutional, I suppose. They want their groups to come across as far more friendly, warm, helpful, loving, practical, and joyful. They wanna be like Jesus.

They use “incarnational” to describe the sort of group they hope to be: One which acts as Jesus’s hands and feet to the world. One which loves like he does, helps like he does, heals like he does. One which makes it crystal clear this is Jesus’s organization: It’s run just as if he literally sits in the CEO’s office, or runs the boardroom.

Or, y’know, not. Because only some of these organizations understand what it really means to be like Jesus.

Honestly, all some of them are going for is the Jesus-vibe. They want their organizations to feel like Jesus—and who doesn’t love Jesus? (Other than antichrists.) Jesus is loving, forgiving, accepting, draws everybody to him, turns no one away, is kind, is gracious; he’s better than Santa Claus because he’s real. These groups want people to love them the same as they love Jesus, so if they claim they’re like Jesus, maybe they can get in on some of that love and devotion.

No I’m not just being cynical. I knew a Christian bookstore owner who loved to talk about being incarnational. It was his favorite buzzword. He was gonna be Jesus to his community by selling bibles, books, CDs, and Christian tchotchkes.

But if a needy person came to his store to beg for food, money, medical help, or even a job? Oh, that wasn’t his problem. That needy person should go to one of the churches. Or the Food Bank. Or some homeless shelter which our town doesn’t have. But not the county government; he didn’t want his taxes paying for such things.

He wasn’t running a charity, y’see. It wasn’t a not-for-profit bookstore. He was trying to make enough money to keep his store open, pay his employees (although barely; pay them minimum wage, and keep ’em part-time so he wouldn’t have to pay benefits), and make himself some money. It’s a business. A “Christian business,” ostensibly there to grow God’s kingdom, but really there to grow his bank account; which is why he may have claimed to abide by biblical principles… but didn’t pay his employees at the end of every day like the bible commands. Dt 24.15

But he sure loved to claim everything he did was incarnational. And I’m sure there’s a joke there about how when his business collapsed during the recession, it was just like how Jesus died… but that’s where the analogy all falls apart, and isn’t funny anyway.

See, whether an organization does act like Jesus is a whole other thing. It all depends on how well the people who run the organization, know and follow Jesus. Some of ’em don’t know him as well as they imagine. But as long as their customers think they’re a “Christian business”, they’ll keep up the façade, and use all the appropriate trendy Christian buzzwords to keep the customers happy. The instant they detect another word has become popular, they’ll ditch “incarnational” for that. It’s not about following Jesus so much as staying fresh.

The ikon of the invisible God.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 December

Colossians 1.15-20.

The apostles often dictated their letters, as you can tell from their big run-on sentences. This’d be one of them. I broke it up into sentences, as do most interpreters, but really it’s just one big eulogy Paul and Timothy wrote as they were greeting the Christians of Colossae, Phrygia Pacatiana (now ruins outside Honaz, Turkey).

In so doing they described how they thought of Christ, the Son of God. They identify they’re talking about the beloved Son in Colossians 1.13, then go into greater detail about who this Son really is: Ikon of God, firstborn of creation, through whom God created matter and power; firstborn from the dead, so he could be firstborn of everything; leader of the church, fully containing God within himself, reconciling all creation to God.

It’s a pretty cosmic description for a Nazarene handyman-turned-schoolteacher. But that’s our Jesus.

Colossians 1.15-20 KWL
15 The Son is the ikon of the invisible God,
firstborn of every creature,
16 so that by the Son everything in the heavens and on the earth is created,
the visible and the invisible (thrones, dominions, chiefdoms, or powers)
—everything was built through him and by him.
17 The Son is above everything,
and everything holds together because of him.
18 The Son is the head of the church’s body.
The Son is first.
Firstborn from the dead,
so that he might take first place in everything.
19 Because God is pleased in all fullness to dwell in the Son,
20 and by the Son reconcile everything to him,
making peace through him by the blood of his cross,
whether with things on the earth or things in the heavens.

St. Nicholas’s Day. (Yep, it’s this early in the month.)

by K.W. Leslie, 06 December

Whenever kids ask me whether Santa Claus is real, I’ll point out he is based on an actual guy. That’d be Nikólaos of Myra, whose feast day is today, 6 December, in honor of his death on this date in the year 343.

Here’s the problem: There are a whole lot of myths mixed up with Nicholas’s life. And I’m not just talking about the Santa Claus stories, whether they come from Clement Moore’s poem, L. Frank Baum’s children’s books, the Rankin-Bass animated specials, or the various movies which play with the Santa story. Christians have been making up stories about Nicholas forever.

That’s why it gets a little frustrating when people ask about the facts behind St. Nicholas: We’re not sure we do have facts behind St. Nicholas. All we do know with any certainty is he was the bishop of Myra. The other stories: We honestly have no idea what parts of them are true, and what parts are exaggerations—or full-on fabrications. It could be all fiction.

But I’ll share what we’ve got, and you can take it from there.

Round the year 270, Nikólaos was born in Patara, in the Roman province of Lykia. That’s just outside present-day Gelemis, Turkey. No, he wasn’t Turkish; the Turks didn’t move in till the Middle Ages. He was Anatolean Greek. Hence the Greek name, which means “people’s victory,” same as Nicodemus.

Nicholas’s parents were Christian. When they died, he was raised by his uncle, the town bishop, who had the same name as he, Nikólaos. Seems his uncle groomed him to go into the family business: Nicholas was trained to be a reader, the person who reads the bible during worship services. Later he became a presbyter—or, as they were considered in the Orthodox tradition, a priest.

Tradition has it Nicholas’s parents were wealthy, and he was very generous with his inheritance, regularly giving it to the needy. Probably the most popular St. Nicholas story tells of a man who couldn’t afford to marry off his daughters. Apparently they needed a large dowry in order to attract decent husbands. (Though you gotta wonder just how decent such husbands would be… but I digress.) Mysteriously, three bags of gold appeared just in time to pay for each daughter’s dowry. Of course their anonymous benefactor was Nicholas.

Depending on who’s telling the story, these weren’t bags of gold, but gold balls—and here’s where the three-ball symbol on pawnshops supposedly comes from. Or the gold appeared in the daughter’s stockings as they dried over the fireplace (even though stockings weren’t invented yet) and here’s where the custom of gifts in Christmas stockings supposedly comes from. Or Nicholas threw the gold down the chimney, and here’s where that story comes from.

Of course, people are gonna try to connect Nicholas myths with Santa myths, so as to explain how on earth these two guys are the same person. So there’s the strong likelihood none of these stories are true. Nicholas had a reputation as a gift-giver. The rest is probably rubbish.

“It counts as church, right?”

by K.W. Leslie, 02 December

Though four out of five Americans identify ourselves as Christian, only one of these five actually go to church.

Nope, not kidding. Yes, the polls indicate about half of all Americans are regular attendees. In part because people play mighty loose with what “regular” means: They think it means once a month or more. Once a month counts as “regular.”

How often are Christians expected to participate in church? Well check out the standard expectations found in the scriptures:

Luke 9.23 KJV
And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

Looks like the first Christians took Jesus’s “daily” idea and ran with it:

Acts 2.46-47 KJV
46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

They were even able to make daily counts of their attendees:

Acts 16.5 KJV
And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.

And when it came time to instruct non-Christians, new believers, and new students, it also took place daily:

Acts 5.42 KJV
And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
 
Acts 17.11 KJV
These [Bereans] were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
 
Acts 19.9 KJV
But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.

The usual practice among Christians nowadays is to only meet weekly for church. This means those who consider ourselves “regulars” because we attend once every week, are actually meeting a seventh as often as the ancient Christians. Less, considering those Christians would meet for hours-long services, whereas American Christians get antsy if the service lasts any longer than 90 minutes. (Some of them are even reading this article and gasping, “Ninety minutes? We’re done in an hour!” Yeah, we suck.

I know the polls say half, but as presidential polls have lately proven, people lie to pollsters all the time. They’d like to think they’re regular churchgoers. But whenever I’ve pinned down some of these so-called “regulars,” and ask ’em the last time they set foot in a church building, they gotta think about it, so it’s not recent. Nor all that regular. And when they’re being honest, the last time they attended was either Easter, Christmas, or for a wedding or funeral. “Regular” means twice a year. If that.

Heck, I’ve caught people claiming they were regulars at my church. After all, they visited for Christmas! Sometimes I’ll mess with them a little: “Oh, and how’d you like Pastor Dave’s message?” Oh, they’ll respond, they loved it. But our pastor’s name isn’t Dave. Four other churches in town have a Pastor Dave; we don’t. Still, a regular should know the pastor’s name, don’t you think?

Likewise if none of the pastors in your church know who you are, y’ain’t a regular. I’ll grant you some leeway if you attend a megachurch, where the pastors can’t possibly know everyone. But someone in your church’s leadership oughta be able to identify you in a police lineup.

Regardless—and regardless of what people imagine—any twice-a-year Christian isn’t a regular.

How about once-a-month attendees? Meh. I consider they’re doing the bare minimum to be considered “regular.” The standard in the scriptures is daily, remember?

But when I talk with strangers, and they identify as Christian, quite often they won’t bother to pretend they’re regulars at any church whatsoever. They’ll admit they have no church. At this rate, they’re not planning to find one either.

The living word. Whom the apostles have seen.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 December

1 John 1.1-4.

Just as John introduced his gospel by pointing to the Word who became human, Jn 1.1-5 he also introduced his first letter by pointing to the living Word again. The Word who’s with God and is God, Jn 1.1 the Word who created everything in the cosmos, Jn 1.3 but specifically the Word who’s in the beginning. Jn 1.2 This is the person John proclaims, and writes about, to the recipients of his letter.

Some have argued John’s really writing about the Father. After all, the Father’s there in the beginning. But John wrote this person is with the Father, 1Jn 1.2 so he’s clearly not the Father. He’s a different person. So… which other person was with the Father in the beginning? Well there’s the Holy Spirit… but nah, John’s writing about Christ Jesus.

Yeah John doesn’t come right out and bluntly say he’s writing about Jesus. But did he really have to? Are we that dense? Well… maybe those of us who insist John’s writing about the Father. Everybody else, who isn’t trying to be contrary for contrariness’ sake, should have no trouble recognizing who John meant.

1 John 1.1-4 KWL
1 About the living word: He’s in the beginning.
We saw him with our eyes. We saw him up close and our hands touched him.
2 He revealed life. We saw it, witnessed it, and report it to you:
The life of the age to come which is with the Father, revealed to us.
3 We saw it, heard it, and report it to you all, so you can also have a relationship with us—
and our relationship is with the Father and with his son, Christ Jesus.
4 We write these things so our joy might be full.

Scriptures for advent.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 November

Each advent season I focus on scriptures which are related to advent topics. Namely Jesus’s first coming, and his second. So expect to see some such articles… but if you can’t wait that long, here’s some stuff I’ve written already.

Nativity stories.

Word! Jn 1.1-5 Why identifying Jesus as “the word” was so profound to the first Christians.
Recognizing and embracing the light of the world. Jn 1.1-13 The true light came into the world—and we get to see him.
The word became human, and explains God. Jn 1.14-18 Getting a really good look at God through Jesus.
One heck of a birth announcement. Lk 1.5-25 Gabriel’s announcement to the father of John the baptist.
How Mary became Jesus’s mother. Lk 1.26-38 What sort of person God selected as his mother.
Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. Lk 1.39-56 When Jesus’s mother and John’s mother both prophesied about his coming.
The birth of John the baptist. Lk 1.57-80 And his father’s prophecy about just what sort of man he’d be.
How Joseph became Jesus’s father. Mt 1.18-25 Not foster father; adoptive father. God commissioned Joseph to raise his Son.
Christ the Savior is born. Lk 2.1-7 The political circumstances at the time Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
The sheep-herders’ vision of the angels. Lk 2.8-20 Jesus came to save everyone. Here, some of the everyone hear the good news.
The prophets who recognized Jesus. Lk 2.21-40 In temple, two prophets confirm who Jesus is to his parents.
The magi and the monstrous king. Mt 2.1-18 When word got out Messiah had been born, people died.

Messianic prophecies. (Or not.)

The first prophecy of a savior. Ge 3.14-15 After humanity messed up the universe, God indicated he has a plan to fix it.
The star coming out of Jacob. Nu 24.17 Centuries before Israel had a king, Balám predicted one.
The prophet like Moses. Dt 18.15-19. Moses spoke of prophets in general, but this particularly applies to Jesus.
The heir to David’s throne. 2Sa 7.1-17 The LORD told David his throne would last forever. In Jesus, it does.
Not allowed to rot. Ps 16.10 Jesus wasn’t in the grave long enough to rot… which resembles a line in a psalm.
Messiah and Melchizedek. Ps 110.4 How God’s chosen king is like this obscure ancient gentile king.
Jesus, our Immanuel. Is 7.14 How Jesus is like a prophecy about an oddly-named little boy.
The Son who was given us. Is 9.6-7 As disaster drew near to 8th-century BC Israel, Isaiah foretold a Messiah who’d set everything right.
One who brings justice to the gentiles. Is 42.1-4, Mt 12.14-20 A passage Jesus fulfilled—which is about Israel, but Jesus actually does it.
Plucking Jesus’s beard. Or not. Is 50.6 In stories of Jesus’s passion, we regularly hear of people tearing out his beard. It’s not in the gospels; it’s in Isaiah—and he’s speaking of himself.
Our suffering servant. Is 53 ’Cause usually people try to conquer the world by defeating others, not by suffering.
Rachel weeping for her children. Jr 31.15-17 The destruction of Ramáh is a lot like when Herod massacred Bethlehem’s children.
The Son of Man. Da 7.13-14 Jesus’s favorite description of himself comes from a Danielic vision.
“Out of Egypt I called my Son.” Ho 11.1 How fulfillment isn’t the same as a prediction coming to pass.
Christ is born in Bethlehem. Mc 5.1-4 Why the scholars figured Messiah came from that little town.
Is there a prophecy of Jesus’s hometown? Mt 2.23 No; it’s wordplay. But wordplay can be a type of fulfillment.

The second advent.

The Son of Man’s returning. And everyone will see it. Mt 24.23-28 It won’t be any secret rapture; it won’t happen quitely in some obscure corner of the world; it won’t be something only Christians can see.
Jesus describes his second coming. Mk 13.24-27 After Jesus describes the great tribulation, he talks about his return.
When is Jesus returning? Mk 13.32-37 Jesus didn’t say. So watch out for his return.
The Five Stupid Teenagers Story. Mt 25.1-15 Don’t get tricked into missing the second coming.
The Lambs and Kids Story. Mt 25.31-46 Those who are headed for the kingdom are already acting as if they’re in it.
The Talents Story. Mt 25.13-30 What’re we doing with our king’s investments in our lives?
The Wheat and Darnel Story. Mt 13.24-30, 13.36-43 Till the second coming, we gotta put up with the weeds.
When Jesus got raptured. Ac 1.6-11 What goes up must come down.
Apostasy before the second coming. 2Th 2.1-12 Before Jesus returns, there’ll be a lawbreaker running amok.
Set your hearts for Jesus’s return. Jm 5.7-8 The End takes place on Jesus’s timetable, not ours.
No, seriously: When’s Jesus returning? He’s taking forever! 2Pe 3.1-9 I know; it’s been 20 centuries. Don’t give up hope.

There’s a nice pile of reading material there. More to come.

Hanukkah.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 November

The Hebrew calendar doesn’t sync with the western calendar. That’s why its holidays tend to “move around”: They don’t really. Not like Easter, which is determined by the full moon, and therefore doesn’t sync with Passover like it oughta. In any event Hanukkah does fall on the same days every year: 25 Kislev to 2 Tevet. (And in 2021, this’d be sundown 28 November to sundown 6 December.)

Christians sometimes ask me where Hanukkah is in the bible, so I point ’em to this verse:

John 10.22 KJV
And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.

The “feast of the dedication” is Hanukkah. The word חֲנֻכָּה/khanukká (which gets transliterated all sorts of ways, and not just because of its extra-hard kh sound) means “dedication.” Other bible translations make it more obvious—

John 10.22 NLT
It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication.

—because their translators didn’t want you to miss it, whereas other translators figure that’s on you.

Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday which celebrates the Hasmoneans’ rededication of the temple in 165BC.

History lesson time. Alexander “the Great” of Macedon had conquered Jerusalem in 332, and once he died the Greek Empire was split between his generals. Seleucus Nicator took the middle eastern part and made it the Seleucid Empire. Two centuries later, Antiochus Epiphanes (or Antiochus 4) became its king, and decided the Jews were gonna conform to the Greek paganism of the rest of his empire. He banned circumcision, desecrated the temple by putting a statue of Zeus in it (figuring, as Grecian pagans did, they all worshiped the same gods under different names, so YHWH was Zeus anyway), and sacrificed a pig on the altar. Many Jews capitulated, but one family of priests, the descendants of Asmoneus (hence “Hasmoneans”) would not.

Judah Maccabee (KJV “Judas Maccabeus”) in particular. His nickname מַכְבִּי/Makheby means “extinguisher” (of persecutors), although a lot of folks insist it means “hammerer,” which sounds more badass. The Hasmoneans frequently get called the Maccabees, even though only Judah had that nickname. Anyway, Judah’s insurgency actually worked, and drove the Seleucids out of Jerusalem. Not once and for all; other battles eventually got Judah killed. But at least they were out of the temple, which the Hasmoneans rededicated, and rebuilt the altar from scratch. Then they celebrated a feast. That’d be Hanukkah.

You can find the story in the apocrypha:

2 Maccabees 10.1-8 KJV
1 Now Maccabeus and his company, the Lord guiding them, recovered the temple and the city: 2 But the altars which the heathen had built in the open street, and also the chapels, they pulled down. 3 And having cleansed the temple they made another altar, and striking stones they took fire out of them, and offered a sacrifice after two years, and set forth incense, and lights, and shewbread. 4 When that was done, they fell flat down, and besought the Lord that they might come no more into such troubles; but if they sinned any more against him, that he himself would chasten them with mercy, and that they might not be delivered unto the blasphemous and barbarous nations. 5 Now upon the same day that the strangers profaned the temple, on the very same day it was cleansed again, even the five and twentieth day of the same month, which is Casleu. 6 And they kept the eight days with gladness, as in the feast of the tabernacles, remembering that not long afore they had held the feast of the tabernacles, when as they wandered in the mountains and dens like beasts. 7 Therefore they bare branches, and fair boughs, and palms also, and sang psalms unto him that had given them good success in cleansing his place. 8 They ordained also by a common statute and decree, That every year those days should be kept of the whole nation of the Jews.