Bible Study 10.17.11, 10.20.11, 10.23.11 For Worship 10.30.11Posted: October 11, 2011
Bible Study 10.17.11, 10.20.11, 10.23.11 For Worship 10.30.11
Luke 1:26-33; 2:21-22; John 18:36;37; Revelation 17:14b; 19:16
Luke 1:26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,
27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
28 And he came to her and said, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”
29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.
30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.
32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Luke 2:21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
22 And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.
John 18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.”
37 Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”
Revelation 17:14b for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”
19:16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Our scriptures this week are intended to wrap up our study of the Kings of Israel by pointing to Jesus, the Son of David, God’s Messiah, and as our New Testament Scripture emphasizes this week: King of kings and Lord of lords. The wide variety of scriptures this week gives us a wide spectrum of the early church’s speculation about Jesus’ identity.
In the Hebrew scriptures the Messiah was to be a descendant of David. The late Roman Catholic archaeologist and Bible Scholar Bargil Pixner, claims the Village of Nazareth took its name from the clan that returned from Babylon and settled there in about 140 BCE after the land had been liberated by the Hasmonean dynasty. The name of the clan was Netzer, meaning root, the kind of root that pushes up from the root system of an olive tree. A netzer shall come forth from David. According to Pixner this clan that settled in Nazareth claimed descent from David, and both Mary and Joseph were members of this Netzer Clan. Pixner then leans more heavily on the Lukan version of the Christmas Story, but he never actually claims that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Thus Pixner claims that Jesus was Jesus the Netzorean from the Netzer clan that traced its lineage to King David.
Both Luke and Matthew were sensitive to the passage from Micah 5:2 that places the birth place of the Messiah in Bethlehem. The one seemingly indisputable fact is he was known as Jesus of Nazareth. Matthew and Luke found unique but mutually exclusive ways for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem, but grow up in Nazareth.
In our passage from the gospel of John an early Christian community was struggling with the Jewish claim that if Jesus had really been the Messiah, then he should have transformed the world, rather than just dying on a Roman cross. The Johannine tradition created a dialogue between Jesus and Pilate to answer this Jewish criticism: “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.”
The community of John created the other worldly understanding of the ministry of Jesus, that makes “atonement theology,” the centerpiece of its interpretation of Jesus. Jesus becomes the sacrificial lamb who is offered up as atonement for the sins of the world. “Jesus died for me.” The problem with atonement theology is a rather angry blood thirsty view of God. Instead of offering grace freely, forgiving everyone, because God loves us, Jesus must suffer an agonizing death to satisfy God’s need for a sacrificial victim before God offers grace and forgiveness to all of us. Many people find “atonement theology” to be very powerful in their lives, while other people recoil in horror, and look for a different interpretation of the life and ministry of Jesus.
In revelation we are dealing with several communities of Christians, who are steeped in the Johannine tradition, who have been suffering persecution at the hands of the Roman authorities. To prove their allegiance to the Empire, they were being asked to sacrifice a pinch of incense before the altar of the Emperor, who was the personification of the Roman State. For several of these communities in Asia Minor this was idolatry, and they refused with many of their members suffering martyrdom. Their vision was of an angry Jesus who would come back to rescue them from the Empire, and bring the long awaited Kingdom of God on earth. In opposition to the Emperor, they proclaimed Jesus “King of kings and Lord of lords,” titles that in the Roman Empire were reserved for Caesar. Our two verses from revelation were “treason.” We believe the Christian community began very soon referring to Jesus is Lord, as opposed to Caesar is Lord. By the second century, when Revelation was probably written, the Christian communities in Asia Minor were in full blown resistance to the Empire. Because they were looking forward to a heavenly savior, and a heavenly kingdom, the Johannine Christian Communities were less of a threat to the Empire than their language might imply. The Book of Revelation almost did not make it into the Bible, because after the church had worked out a rapprochement with Constantine and the Empire, the language in Revelation was something of an embarrassment. Only after the church vouched that Revelation was thoroughly a symbolic allegory did the book manage to stay in the Bible.
So our challenge is to ask how do we understand Jesus as the messiah? Among Christians there is a great multiplicity of interpretations of Jesus. An important divide that has emerged is between interpretations of Jesus that understand him as the messiah who provides an example pointing the way to the realization of God’s will on earth, and those interpretations that understand Jesus as a heavenly being who came to earth to be sacrificed in order to provide an atonement for human sin, thus opening the gateway to heaven for all who believe in the atonement. There are many, many permutations of these interpretations. Social conservatives tend to be attracted to the atonement interpretation of Jesus, because the heavenly being Jesus focuses on heaven, rather than being concerned with social conditions on earth. If the poor will just believe the right doctrines, then they will be saved for eternal life. Social liberals tend to be attracted to the messiah who provides an example pointing the way to a better life on earth.
Perhaps in looking at the questions this week, and in the discussion each of us may have an opportunity to further clarify our own understanding of Jesus as the Messiah.
I think we don’t want to go into too many details about circumcision except to emphasize that they took Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem for a dedication and naming ceremony, except that along with the circumcision the baby was given his name. In traditions that practice infant baptism, we sometimes make reference to a christening, because it is a naming ceremony. In Christian traditions that do not practice infant baptism, there has developed a ceremony called a dedication, when the child is formally given a name. Mary and Joseph gave the baby Jesus the name the angel had told Mary. We can even reference Joseph’s dream in Matthew when the angel tells Joseph to give the baby the name Emmanuel, or God with us. In addition to circumcision and the naming in Israel there was a purification and a dedication of the infant, sometime occurring in the temple. According to Luke Jesus was presented and dedicated in the Temple.
Personally I would not emphasize the conversation between Jesus and Pilate. I think “my Kingdom is not of this world” is just beyond children’s ability to comprehend without becoming too literalistic. Generally speaking I think Revelation is way to problematical for children, but if any of the children have been exposed to the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, they might enjoy seeing where “King of kings and Lord of lords” comes from.
LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT
1. The family tree of which of Jesus’ parents could be traced back to King David?
2. Why was descent from King David important?
3. Who did the angel identify as “favored one?”
4. What promises does the angel make concerning Mary’s proposed baby?
5. What name was given to the child at his circumcision?
6. In the Gospel of John, according to Jesus, where is his kingship?
7. In his conversation with Pilate, what does Jesus claim is required for someone to hear him?
8. According to Revelation what is Jesus’ moniker?
LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US
1. Do you find in your personal faith you are more focused on following Jesus in this life, or preparing yourself for eternal life?
2. Would you agree with the Johannine tradition that the Kingdom of Jesus is not of this world?
3. Do you believe it was necessary for Jesus to die in order for your sins to be forgiven?
4. Do you believe non-Christians can be saved?
5. How and why do you think God forgives sins?
6. Do you believe faith prepares people for an afterlife?
7. Does your faith encourage you to advocate for social change, social justice?
8. Does your faith encourage you to give to the poor, or help the less fortunate?
9. Does your faith encourage you to share your faith?
10. How would you describe your relationship with God or Jesus?
11. In your personal faith how do you relate to the titles: “King of kings and Lord of lords.”