In studying Melito of Sardis, I happened upon his preaching on the Passover (which I am reposting for this Easter). This is the oldest surviving sermons outside of the New Testament, and as such provides much insight into the heart and mind of this little know Preacher. From time to time, I will offer segments of his Passover Sermon.
The entire sermon is laced with Doctrine, but the central point of it is the Gospel message, that Christ was crucified, buried, and resurrected on the third day to provide Salvation for humanity. This is the Gospel. In drawing out the connection between the Passover of the Jews and the Passover of the Church, he brings to the mind the connectivity between the Old Testament and the New, of Israel and the Church, of the union of the Body of Christ.
66. When this one came from heaven to earth for the sake of the one who suffers, and had clothed himself with that very one through the womb of a virgin, and having come forth as man, he accepted the sufferings of the sufferer through his body which was capable of suffering. And he destroyed those human sufferings by his spirit which was incapable of dying. He killed death which had put man to death.
67. For this one, who was led away as a lamb, and who was sacrificed as a sheep, by himself delivered us from servitude to the world as from the land of Egypt, and released us from bondage to the devil as from the hand of Pharaoh, and sealed our souls by his own spirit and the members of our bodies by his own blood.
68. This is the one who covered death with shame and who plunged the devil into mourning as Moses did Pharaoh. This is the one who smote lawlessness and deprived injustice of its offspring, as Moses deprived Egypt. This is the one who delivered us from slavery into freedom, from darkness into light, from death into life, from tyranny into an eternal kingdom, and who made us a new priesthood, and a special people forever.
69. This one is the passover of our salvation. This is the one who patiently endured many things in many people: This is the one who was murdered in Abel, and bound as a sacrifice in Isaac, and exiled in Jacob, and sold in Joseph, and exposed in Moses, and sacrificed in the lamb, and hunted down in David, and dishonored in the prophets.
70. This is the one who became human in a virgin, who was hanged on the tree, who was buried in the earth, who was resurrected from among the dead, and who raised mankind up out of the grave below to the heights of heaven.
71. This is the lamb that was slain. This is the lamb that was silent. This is the one who was born of Mary, that beautiful ewe-lamb. This is the one who was taken from the flock, and was dragged to sacrifice, and was killed in the evening, and was buried at night; the one who was not broken while on the tree, who did not see dissolution while in the earth, who rose up from the dead, and who raised up mankind from the grave below.
The post from Dr. Gayle mentioned below is still one of my favorites. I have updated it just a little and will continue to repost it at Christmas time.
I am no feminist. I am not involved in the egalitarian debate nor the complegalitarian debate. I believe that a woman has her proper place in the house; however, so does the man for that matter. One is not Lord over the Lady, however, as I do not agree with the old Southern Baptist definition of ‘submission’. I am no feminist, but if I were, I perhaps would celebrate Christmas as a sacred holiday. It is the birth of Christ, in the manner that it happened, in which women were freed from the tyranny of the Law, and the first event in Christianity relying such much on the Woman.
There was a post several years ago which has found root in my mind, nurturing a better understanding of bible translation, voices contained therein, and the audience. (It not merely the words which are read, but how we perceive those words that hold value to a translator) I realize that it might be impossible to believe that such a post could do these things, but it was one of the first posts that I read from the author commonly known as J. K. Gayle. It would be impolite to repost his entire post here, but allow me to post some and you go read the rest (after you read mine, of course. For his post, go here. He adds a new voice to the Nativity)
Let’s think about Mary, for a minute.
It was a terrible time in Palestine – the priesthood corrupt, Jews turning on Jews, the king a despot, and Rome raping more than the Land. In the midst of this, there was a young girl named Mary (Or Miriam, if you are Jewish). Mary would have been a young Jewish girl, somewhere between the age of 12 and 16 (if we were to stretch it) while her intended, Joseph would have been a man some years her senior. Her family was most likely strict followers of the Torah, as the cousin‘s husband’s was a member of the inner priesthood. They ‘espoused her’ (marriage unconsummated) to a man in the traditional way. Suddenly, due to no fault of her own, she had the hope of the world thrust upon her shoulders, and in such a way as to cause great concern among those that saw such a young and unmarried girl with child.
There is much to be explored in the Birth of Christ. As Dr. Gayle points out, there is the audience, who perhaps some years later, perhaps transformed by the One born that very night, would read of the account. We too form a certain audience today, in that we are far removed from the culture to which Christ was born. We are far removed from Mary, and fail to see her for who she truly was and what the ordeal most likely meant to her. There is, as always, much to discuss concerning any account given in the Scriptures, but we focus only slightly on Mary.
This is Mr. Gayle’s translation,
18 τοῦ δὲ ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ ἡ γένεσις οὕτως ἦν. μνηστευθείσης τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ μαρίας τῶ ἰωσήφ, πρὶν ἢ συνελθεῖν αὐτοὺς εὑρέθη ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχουσα ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου.
This is the birth of the Anointed, Joshua. His mother Miriam was engaged to Josef; before they came together she held in her womb a child who came by the Breath of the Special One.
19 ἰωσὴφ δὲ ὁ ἀνὴρ αὐτῆς, δίκαιος ὢν καὶ μὴ θέλων αὐτὴν δειγματίσαι, ἐβουλήθη λάθρᾳ ἀπολῦσαι αὐτήν.
Josef, her man, her husband, a just person who didn’t wish to make a show of her, counseled secretly to release her from himself.
20 ταῦτα δὲ αὐτοῦ ἐνθυμηθέντος ἰδοὺ ἄγγελος κυρίου κατ᾽ ὄναρ ἐφάνη αὐτῶ λέγων,
ἰωσὴφ υἱὸς δαυίδ, μὴ φοβηθῇς παραλαβεῖν μαρίαν τὴν γυναῖκά σου, τὸ γὰρ ἐν αὐτῇ γεννηθὲν ἐκ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἁγίου·
These inner passions of his were angst. See. An announcer of the Master, in a dream, appeared to him to state:
“Josef, son of David, don’t be afraid to take beside you Miriam, your woman, your wife; the baby birthed in her, in fact, is by the Breath of the Special One.
21 τέξεται δὲ υἱὸν καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ἰησοῦν, αὐτὸς γὰρ σώσει τὸν λαὸν αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν αὐτῶν.
She will deliver a son, and you will call his name Joshua; he will, in fact, save his people from their wrongdoings.”
22 τοῦτο δὲ ὅλον γέγονεν ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν ὑπὸ κυρίου διὰ τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος,
These events were born out entirely so that the things spoken by the Master would be fulfilled through the Prophet who stated:
23 ἰδοὺ ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει καὶ τέξεται υἱόν, καὶ καλέσουσιν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ἐμμανουήλ, ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον μεθ᾽ ἡμῶν ὁ θεός.
“See, the young virgin will hold in her womb a child, and will bear a son, and will call his name Emmanouel,” which is translated “With us is God.”
24 ἐγερθεὶς δὲ ὁ ἰωσὴφ ἀπὸ τοῦ ὕπνου ἐποίησεν ὡς προσέταξεν αὐτῶ ὁ ἄγγελος κυρίου καὶ παρέλαβεν τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ·
When Josef got up from his sleep, he did what the announcer of the Master told him, and he took beside himself his woman, his wife.
25 καὶ οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν αὐτὴν ἕως οὖ ἔτεκεν υἱόν· καὶ ἐκάλεσεν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ἰησοῦν.
And he did not know her until after she delivered her son; and he called his name Joshua.
Like any other man, the Christ child came into the world, born of a woman, perhaps the most central woman since Eve.
I also am mortal, like all men, a descendant of the first-formed child of earth; and in the womb of a mother I was molded into flesh, within the period of ten months, compacted with blood, from the seed of a man and the pleasure of marriage. And when I was born, I began to breathe the common air, and fell upon the kindred earth, and my first sound was a cry, like that of all. I was nursed with care in swaddling cloths. For no king has had a different beginning of existence; there is for all mankind one entrance into life, and a common departure. (Wisdom 7:1-6 RSVA) (Note here and here)
Christ came not dependent upon man, or independent of any, but dependent upon His mother. Just as any child, he would had fed of His mother, being nurtured in a way to protect His life. In as much, He never dismissed a woman for being a woman, but pressed them, or was pressed by them, to a point that a great spiritual truth was manifested for the entire world. First, it was the prophetess Anna (Luke 2.38) which announced just a short time after His birth, that He was to bring redemption. It was His mother who in Cana pressed Christ to start His ministry. It was the prostitute in Jerusalem (John 8 – yes, I know) where Christ showed what forgiveness under Grace would be. Further it was the Greek (Gentile) woman in Mark 7 that pressed Christ to shed His grace beyond that of Israel, to the Gentiles. Finally (perhaps not), it was Mary Magdalen which announced Christ Risen to the cowering disciples.
It it these voices which we hear when we mediate upon Mary. Imagine being in the shoes of that young girl who had just been given the Blessing of Abraham, the Inheritance of the Faithful, the Word of God. She most likely would have had nothing to her name – her husband having given her ransom to her parents – yet she had suddenly become the richest woman in all the world, and indeed, the most hated and hunted. Yet is was her who was considered the most blessed among women (Luke 1.42).
Her song has been remembered, sometimes falsely, since it was first written down by Luke.
And Mary said:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.” (Luke 1:46-55 NKJV)
It might do us well to put ourselves in the shoes of Mary, and perhaps the other women as we read this account, who sought Christ and pressed Him during this season that is focused on the birth of the Child but generally ignoring the womb which bore Him. In this season which we focus on the birth of the Child who would give His life for the salvation of all, we must not forget the womb which carried Him, and the breast which nurtured Him, and the mother who raised Him. It is not unconstitutional for either a fundamentalist or an evangelical to consider Mary in the light which she is portrayed in Scripture and the unwritten words found only in a culture long dead.
We have four gospels in the New Testament, but half of them mention the Virgin Birth (Matthew and Luke), and only at the announcement of that Birth. Further, that means only two books of the 27 in the New Testament mention the Virgin Birth. There is nothing beyond Matthew and Luke in the entire New Testament pertaining to the Virgin Birth (although Galatians 4.4 might allude to in a strictly Pauline way).
This is a pivotal prophecy – one which no Messiah could do with out. Granted the Jews believe that the Hebrew means ‘young woman’ and indeed, it very well may. (Of course, what great sign from God would be a young woman with child?) Of course the Septuagint’s Translators understood Isaiah to mean ‘virgin’. Even without the prophesy in Isaiah, we have the words of God in Genesis concerning the Messiah being of the seed of a woman (Genesis 3.15). The first mention of the Messiah concerns the Virgin Birth – yet, again, it is mentioned twice in the New Testament.
This point is used by scholars and liberal theologians to attack the Virgin Birth. But what is the answer? Why, if the Virgin Birth is so important to the Messiah, is it mentioned briefly, twice, in the New Testament?
The answer is simple. The great majority of Scripture was written by the Apostle Paul. He was not writing to unbelievers, but to long-established congregations. He was writing doctrine for the Church, not to the unbelievers. It was not Luke’s job in Acts to detail to the unbelievers prophesies of Christ, as his was the history of the Church. According to Papias,
Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements. Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.
We find that Mark is the preachings of Peter – Mark wrote as Peter preached. (This does not line up with the scholarly ‘Q’ source, but Papias is rather old.) John wrote his gospel to fill in the gaps, which is evident by his epilogue,
And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31 NKJV)
So, John wrote what the others did not, and for a purpose, to declare without a doubt the deity of Christ. He started at the very beginning (John 1.1), before the Virgin Birth, but allude to the act of the divine in the birth (John 1.14).
Matthew wrote to a community, most likely of converts and unbelievers, as did Luke. Mark was transcripts of preaching; John had a different agenda of deity. Paul wrote to established congregations, to affirm their faith and to establish a continuing doctrine for the Church as did Peter, James, and Jude. It is not mentioned by Paul because it was unnecessary to to bring up such a basic principle of Christ for those Christians who were years removed from conversion.
The Virgin Birth was not the Evangelists’ way of exploring the uniqueness of Christ, nor was it a myth conjured from surrounding paganism. The indwelling of the Virgin by the Spirit (Breath) of God is the initial sign of the coming salvation. It is a real event, meaningful to the Jews as a sign of the Messiah. It was used to show that Christ was the promised Messiah, God with us, and indeed, to the Gentiles to show that He alone fulfilled the prophesies. Once past the miracles, as with Paul, it was necessary to build up sound doctrine that relied upon Tradition and Scripture. It was not that the Virgin Birth was unknown to Paul or refuted by Paul, but it was not Paul’s mission to those congregations, to relay the foundation of the truth of Christ.
One of the most forgotten men in the Scriptures is Joseph, who was a man from the line of David who had a certain Jewish girl espoused to him. He makes a small appearance in Matthew and Luke, the only two Gospels to record something about him. His name appears only a few times in all of the New Testament. It is only in Matthew’s work which we find him and his actions as any part of the story,
This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’ ” When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus. (Mat 1:18-25 NLT)
A wise man once said that the words that we read are the headlines, and this is especially true in this case. We find a great story of love and sacrifice in Joseph, in as much as he was willing to become an outcast – if only temporarily – in order to protect Mary, the young girl who he would have paid a dowry – the young girl who carried the public signs of a betrayal. The law required death for Mary. In this instance, we find the first shadow of the Grace which was to come.
The law is clear – death for Mary:
“If a young woman who is a virgin is betrothed to a husband, and a man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he humbled his neighbor’s wife; so you shall put away the evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 22:23-24 NKJV)
Mary was considered evil – a blot on the community, something to be killed and done away with – exterminated ruthlessly. We see something in the horror of the law that is not mentioned – the great love of Joseph for Mary. He would have paid a dowry, perhaps a goodly sum for the espousal. He would have made preparations for Mary in his home, and already giving her that which was sacred – his family name. I can only imagine what love he had for her and the loss he felt to have gone so far but to have been betrayed with such a great sin. She had slandered him, his family, and his family name.
Joseph had such a love that he was determined to take the ridicule, the shame, and give her the bill of divorce privately. Like anyone in pain due to love, with his heart breaking, he most likely took time, mourning, to determine his next course of action for the young Jewish girl whom he clearly loved.
If we step away from Joseph, to a higher plane, we can see the sovereignty of God in this matter. God did not just choose Mary, and because of that Joseph, for no reason. Joseph was a man of great love (Mary with her own qualities), a love that would rather endure shame and the outcast of a community instead of harming Mary. He would risk breaking the Law of Moses to protect someone who he loved. What better caretaker for the son of God?
Returning to Joseph, we find that it was in the middle of his deliberations – I can imagine them maddening and tortured – that the Angel of the Lord appeared to him with words of consolation. So, with this love of Joseph, we find faith. Joseph disobeyed the cultural mores of ancient Palestine, obeying rather the will of God, and held Mary as his wife, in the face of what would have been certain opposition from everyone, perhaps even his parents as well as Mary’s.
So, we have a picture of Grace and Love in the life of Christ even before He began His ministry. Joseph was ready to sacrifice his standing in his family and community to save the life of a pregnant girl – a trollop, a whore, a sinner – and to protect her and her unborn Son – the bastard child of this trollop and perhaps a Roman solider, Panthera – from the death demanded by the Torah. It was because of this love that the Angel appeared to Joseph the Carpenter and told him that this Child would be the deliverer of all Israel. His wife who was dead to him was now alive again.
If we remove the doctrine and traditions that surround both Mary and Joseph, we find a picture of grace – we find love – we find a truly holy family.
On Good Friday, I thought this quote from the Pope Emeritus’ book was fitting:
In all that we have said so far, it is clear that not only has a theological interpretation of the Cross has been given, together with an interpretation, based on the Cross, of the fundamental Christian sacraments and Christian worship, but also that existential dimension is involved: What does this mean for me? What does it mean for my path as a human being? The incarnate obedience of Christ is presented as an open space into which we are admitted and through which our lives find a new context. The mystery of the Cross does not simply confront us; rather, it draws us in and gives new value to our life.
This existential aspect of the new concept of worship and and sacrifice appears with particular clarity in the twelfth chapter of the Letter of the Romans: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren by the mercies of God, to present you bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual [word-like] worship” (v. 1) ….