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The Jesus Answer Book
By John MacArthur
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 John MacArthur
All rights reserved.
Why can we believe in the virgin birth of Jesus?
Matthew needs only one verse (1:18) to announce the fact of Christ's virgin birth. Such a concise statement, though it doesn't all by itself prove the point, strongly suggests that the notion of our Lord and Savior's virgin birth was not simply a man-made story. A human author, writing strictly on his own initiative, would characteristically tend to describe such a momentous and amazing event in an expansive, detailed, and elaborate manner. But not the apostle Matthew. He does relate additional circumstances surrounding the virgin birth, but the basic fact is stated in one simple sentence: "After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit."
How is the virgin birth possible?
Admittedly, all these many centuries after Matthew's divinely inspired gospel declared that Jesus was born of a virgin, His miraculous conception remains impossible to understand by human reason alone. It was a miracle, and there is no natural explanation for it. We don't need a scientific or analytical explanation for it, any more than we need scientific proof of how the intricacies of the universe were created from nothing. Scripture is peppered with miracles and mysterious doctrines. How can God be one being in three persons? How could Christ rise from the dead? We can't even explain precisely what happens when depraved sinners are born again as they repent of their sins and trust Christ. Many of the essentials of Christianity are beyond the capacity of human minds to fathom. That's okay. We can't comprehend infinity either, but no one doubts the concept. thoughts. "For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?" (Romans 11:34). God wants believers to accept the truth of His Word by faith.
What did Mary model for believers in her response to the news she would be mother to the Son of God?
In Luke 1:34, Mary asked the angel, "How can [I have a son], since I do not know a man?" Mary's question was born out of wonder, not doubt nor disbelief, so the angel did not rebuke her. Then, once she understood a little more clearly, Mary offered a song of praise, known as the Magnificat. Mary refered to God as "Savior," indicating both that she recognized her own need of a Savior and that she knew the true God as her Savior. Mary did not see herself as sinless, nor did she trust in her own good works. Quite the opposite was true; she employed language typical of someone whose only hope for salvation was divine grace. The quality of Mary that shines most clearly through this passage is a deep sense of humility.
Why did Matthew and Luke include such long genealogies in their gospel accounts?
From their earliest days as a people, the Jews considered their ancestry important. They divided the promised land into tribal areas, and within those areas were towns and villages that belonged to certain families who owned land there. Every fifty years the various lands would revert to the original owners, so genealogies were very important.
In addition, these careful, detailed records of their family histories enabled each man to identify his father's home area and go back there for official obligations such as Caesar Augustus's census.
Why are the genealogies in Matthew and Luke different?
The writers had two different goals. Luke's genealogy, aiming to show Christ as the redeemer of humanity, goes all the way back to Adam (Matthew 1:1–17; Luke 3:23–28). Matthew's purpose is somewhat narrower: to demonstrate that Christ is the King and Messiah of Israel. (Matthew quotes more than sixty times from Old Testament prophetic passages, emphasizing how Christ fulfills all those promises.)
The two genealogies take different chronological views of Jesus' family tree. Luke goes from the present to the past, beginning with Jesus' grandfather and going all the way back to Adam and God. Matthew, however, approaches matters in the opposite fashion. He goes from the past to the present, starting with Abraham and ending with Jesus.
In Matthew, the genealogy is paternal, going through Jesus' earthly father, Joseph; and Joseph's father, Jacob; back to David. In Luke, the genealogy is maternal, going through Jesus' mother, Mary; and Mary's father, Heli; back to David.
Matthew's paternal genealogy proved that Jesus came from a line that proceeded from David through Solomon. That proof is true even though Jesus was not the human son of Joseph. Because Joseph married Mary, the mother of Jesus, he became the legal father of Jesus. As a result, Jesus received from Joseph the full legal right to the throne of David.
Luke's maternal genealogy further solidifies Jesus' claim to the throne of David by proving that He has the blood of David in His veins because of His mother, Mary. So, either way, Jesus is a genuine, legitimate descendant of King David.
In summary, the Messiah is king legally through Joseph and naturally through Mary. His scriptural credentials are thorough, clear, and irrefutable. From every perspective, we can crown Jesus King of kings and Lord of lords.
Why is it significant that Jesus was born in Bethlehem?
All scripturally informed Jews knew certain facts about the Messiah who would one day come to earth. They knew He would come from the royal line of David and reign from the throne in Jerusalem over Israel's glorious kingdom. And one thing about the Messiah that faithful Jews were certain of was set forth by the prophet Micah:
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting. (Micah 5:2)
The Romans normally registered people in their current place of residence rather than making them return to their homeland or hometown. But in accord with Jewish custom, Mary and Joseph had to go back to Bethlehem "because [Joseph] was of the house and lineage of David" (Luke 2:4).
So when—according to Luke 2:1—"it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered," Jesus' parents were providentially directed to be in Bethlehem at precisely the right time to fulfill Micah 5:2. The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, however, was a difficult trek of more than seventy miles through mountainous terrain—a particularly grueling journey for Mary, on the verge of delivery.
What do we know about the inn where Mary and Joseph stayed in Bethlehem?
In Luke 2:7, the Greek word for inn is not the usual term for inn. Instead, Luke used a word that denoted a shelter or place of lodging for guests. It was not an actual inn operated for the feeding and housing of guests. Instead, it was more like the sleeping section of a public shelter or campground.
Typically, such shelters had four sides and two levels, with the top part being like the loft in a barn. One section of the shelter may have had crude doors to close it off if desired. The entire structure would have been quite primitive, the kind of place where travelers could spend one or more nights in the loft area and keep their animals down in the center area, safe from theft. Their goods could be stored in the center as well.
Why does Luke tell us that Mary "wrapped [the baby Jesus] in swaddling cloths" (Luke 2:12)?
The ancient custom was to wrap the arms, legs, and body of the baby with long strips of cloth to provide warmth and security. Parents in those days also believed that wrapping the child helped his or her bones to grow straight. Luke's point in mentioning the wrapping cloths, however, is that Mary treated Jesus the way any mother would treat a normal newborn. Physically, He looked like any other child, and His parents treated Him as such. God did not provide Him with royal robes or other fancy clothing, but simply directed Mary and Joseph to welcome Him as they would any other beloved child. (The absence of swaddling cloths was a sign of poverty or lack of parental care [Ezekiel 16:4].)
So what exactly did Mary lay her swaddled baby in?
A more literal translation of the Greek word for manger is "feeding trough." From that we can further deduce that Joseph and Mary were staying in the section of the shelter that accommodated travelers' animals.
When Christ entered the world, He came to a place that had some of the smelliest, filthiest, and most uncomfortable conditions. But that is part of the wonder of divine grace, isn't it? When the Son of God came down from heaven, He came all the way down. He did not hang on to His equality with God; rather, He set it aside for a time and completely humbled Himself (Philippians 2:5–8).
Furthermore, the picture of the infant Son of God tolerating a stable's dirt and foul odors is a fitting metaphor for the later scene of the Savior bearing the stench of sin as He died at Calvary. What an amazing picture!
Is it odd that the shepherds were the very first people to hear about Jesus' birth?
The Lord's preference for the lowly is seen at the very beginning of the Gospels, reflected in the angels' bringing the good news of the Savior's birth to shepherds, some of the commonest and most unappreciated of laborers in Jewish society. When Jesus came, He did not go first of all to the people of prestige, influence, and clout. He went first to the poor and lowly, the meek and afflicted—anyone who was outcast—and the shepherds fit that category.
How were shepherds regarded in that time and place?
Shepherding was not a shameful profession, just a lowly one that included many menial tasks. Shepherds were basically an insignificant class of workers, poorly educated and poorly paid. In fact, because it did not require much skill, the task of shepherding was often given to children. On the Jewish social ladder, though, shepherds were the lowest people because they had to care for sheep seven days a week. That work schedule meant they could not observe the Sabbath the way Mosaic law dictated. Neither could shepherds keep the myriad fastidious, man-made regulations the Pharisees had foisted on top of the law. Such legalism confounded most of the common Jews, and certainly the shepherds couldn't abide by all those rules either. Therefore, to one degree or another, people viewed shepherds as outcasts because they violated religious law. In fact, as the strict legalism of the Pharisees grew and permeated more and more of Jewish society, shepherds became more despised than ever. In the minds of some, they were stereotyped unreliable, dishonest, unsavory characters, guilty of sheep stealing and many other illegal activities.
What was significant about the angel's announcement, "Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11 ESV)?
First, Jesus' being called the Christ indicates that He is God's anointed King. He is the eternal King of kings who will sit on David's throne and reign over His Kingdom forever. Also, when the angel called Jesus "Lord," he was using a divine designation and claiming that the child in Bethlehem was God. To say that Jesus is Lord is to say that He is first and foremost God. In fact, it is the most fundamental and essential confession of the Christian faith. It is unequivocal that if any person desires to be saved, he must make the heartfelt and vocal confession that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9).
In addition to that, the expression "Jesus is Lord" implies all the sovereignty and authority associated with one who is God. For "Lord" in Luke 2:11, the angel used the Greek word kurios, which expresses an authority that is valid and lawful. The ultimate lawful authority in the universe, of course, is God. So the angel was saying Jesus is lawfully Lord because of who He is, the Son of God. The Greek translators of the Old Testament and the writers of the New Testament used kurios so often to refer to God that it became synonymous for the name of God. So when the angel declared Jesus to be Lord, he was declaring Him to be the true God, the one who possesses all authority and sovereignty.
If the angel's announcement was more significant than a first glance suggests, what is the full meaning of the heavenly host's words of praise: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" (Luke 2:14)?
First, "on earth peace" does not refer to peace of mind, rest for the weary, or absence of wars. The angels meant peace with God that results from genuine salvation. Because His Son has brought reconciliation, we no longer need to be God's enemies. The angels were praising the Father, giving Him glory in heaven, because He sent salvation down to earth in the person of Jesus Christ.
The second phrase, "goodwill toward men," also deserves an accurate understanding. For decades people have used this phrase out of context and trivialized it to mean pleasant sentiments at Christmas or kind words and deeds extended to others. Those thoughts are not what the angels had in mind. Both the New King James Version, "goodwill toward men," and the New American Standard Bible, "with whom He is pleased," sound as though God is going to grant spiritual peace to those who deserve it or earn it. But an alternate reading makes the meaning more clear: "Peace among men of His good pleasure." Men and women do not earn God's peace, but He gives it to them because He is pleased to do so.
What is commendable about the shepherds' response to this good news proclaimed from the heavens?
No one had to prod the shepherds into the right response to the divine messengers' words. They were in full agreement that nothing would deter them from going immediately to find the newly arrived Savior: "Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us" (Luke 2:15 NASB). Since Bethlehem sits on a ridge, the shepherds most likely had to walk uphill the two miles from the fields to town. So as soon as possible, they set out to "see this thing that has happened."
The word translated thing in this passage denotes much more in Greek than it does in English. The term literally means "word" or "reality." The shepherds understood that they had received a word from God, and the reality of it was that the Messiah had been born that same day. And the reality was something they could confirm tangibly because the angel gave them a sign to look for, a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger (Luke 2:12). The shepherds had seen and believed the angels, which was sufficient verification for what had occurred, but they wanted to obtain additional authentication by finding the child exactly where the first angel said He would be. That would affirm their eagerness of faith and prove that they were participants in more than a mere earthly drama.
When the Magi arrived at the home of Jesus—a toddler at that point—they brought gifts as an act of worship. What is the significance of gold, frankincense, and myrrh?
As an expression of the Magi's grateful worship, "they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh" (Matthew 2:11). Gold had long been and still is the universal symbol of material wealth and value. It was also a symbol of nobility and royalty, and thus the Magi were appropriately giving Christ the King royal gifts of gold. Frankincense was an expensive, sweet-smelling incense used for only the most special occasions. Traditionally, it was the incense of deity. Myrrh was a valuable perfume that some interpreters say represented the gift for a mortal. Therefore its role among the Magi's gifts was to underscore Christ's humanity.
Why did Jesus, the Son of God, need to be circumcised?
The circumcision was necessary because Jesus needed to obey God's Law in its entirety and fulfill all righteousness. Jesus would be a man in every sense, and therefore He would fulfill all the requirements listed in the Law for God's people (Matthew 3:15). Even before His Son could consciously comply, God the Father made sure that Jesus' earthly parents fulfilled every Old Testament requirement for His life. Jesus' circumcision was simply a preview to what Luke envisioned when he later wrote, "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52).
Why did Joseph and Mary present Jesus at the temple?
As with the circumcision and purification, Joseph and Mary were obeying the Old Testament law when they presented their Son to God: "The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me" (Exodus 22:29; also 13:2, 12, 15; Numbers 8:17). It was not mandatory for them to go to the Temple to present Jesus. But in the spirit of how Hannah brought Samuel to the Lord (1 Samuel 1:24–28), Joseph and Mary went above and beyond the normal duty and brought God's Son to God's house. They knew the child was very special and that He, of all children, belonged to the Lord already. By their action Jesus' parents in effect said, "We are devoting this Child to You, God. He is already Yours, so do whatever You will in His life so He serves, honors, and glorifies You."
Excerpted from The Jesus Answer Book by John MacArthur. Copyright © 2014 John MacArthur. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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