Thursday, January 31, 2019

Notes from Matthew 3, Mark 1, and Luke 3

I found it very helpful to collect my thoughts and notes about John 1 last week so I figured I would try it again. This week's chapters focus on John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus as recorded in the other three gospels.

John's Mission as a Forerunner

* All four gospels quote Isaiah 40 in regards to John -- that he was the prophecied one who was to be the voice crying in the wilderness:

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
I have tended in the past to just figure that meant that John was to prepare a way for Christ, which is true, but what about that part about exalting valleys and hills being made low?  I found a little richer understanding of John's role as a "forerunner" in this commentary

Albert Barnes, in his commentary on Isaiah written in 1851, remarks on these verses:

The idea is taken from the practice of Eastern monarchs, who, whenever they entered on a journey or an expedition, especially through a barren and unfrequented or inhospitable country, sent harbingers [forerunners] or heralds before them to prepare the way. To do this, it was necessary for them to provide supplies, and make bridges, or find fording places over the streams; to level hills, and construct causeways over valleys, or fill them up; and to make a way through the forest which might lie in their intended line of march.
Those who went before, to mark and improve the route, were the forerunners. They were "the scouts, the pioneers, the ones sent before a king to prepare the way," as forerunner is defined. Recall Daniel Boone and his party of thirty expert woodsmen laying out a 200-mile-long route. Over time, as more people came over the trail, it was improved, widened, and smoothed. It all began, however, with one man. That man then led others, and it multiplied from there.
* I mentioned it last week, but I loved the imagery in regard to the shoe and its latchet.  This commentary by Lynn Wilson puts it very well:
Mt 3:11; Mk 1:7; Lk 3:16. I love this imagery of the Jewish customary relationship between a disciple and his teacher or servant and master that JBpst alludes to here (which I also mentioned in John 1:27). The Roman Empire maintained a clear social stratum. It carried over to Jerusalem where one half the population was slaves or servants. One of their jobs was to wash people’s feet. Walking on dusty roads left one’s feet so dirty that the cultural decorum required one’s feet to be cleaned when entering a house. Washing callused, filthy, and often sore feet was such a demeaning job that it was left to society’s lower classes: women, children, servants, and slaves. Interestingly, in a tutorial setting, students or disciples of a master teacher often chose to do everything they could for their teacher in order to spend more time together (like feed and dress him). Everything, that is, except foot care. The rabbis specifically forbid disciples to wash their master teacher’s feet because it was too demeaning. 10 With that as background, note the wording in Mark 1:7 and Luke 3:16. By JBpst explaining that he is not worthy to carry the Messiah’s shoes (Matt 3:11), or even stoop down to untie the latchet of His sandal (Mark 1:7), we find a powerful message of humility—and this coming from the man whom Jesus described as the greatest “born of women” (Matt 11:11). JBpst used a powerful image for his followers to understand his nothingness in comparison to Jesus.
* Luke 3:1 mentions both the year and the government of the area, probably meaning to contrast that with the true king whose forerunner he is speaking of.  This year is the only date we are given in the gospels.  Some calculate it as a sabbatical year (see last week's notes), which would make sense of Matthew 3:5 where it says, "Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Jud├Ža, and all the region round about Jordan" to be baptized of him.

* John's dress and diet are given a lot of commentary.  I always thought it had something to do with possibly being a Nazarite, but it sounds like the diet and dress he wore were typical of what a desert wanderer at the time would wear.  Perhaps it was commented on because it was unusual to find a prophet among the nomadic people, or to show that John's voice truly did come from one who lived the life of one "in the wilderness," as Isaiah prophecied.  John, as a descendant of Aaron and the heir to the Aaronic Priesthood, would have normally been expected to live near the temple, as his father did, and to take part in his course and turn in the temple.   Lynn Wilson says this:  "Matt 3:4 and Mark 1:6 tell of wearing the thick, coarse (if woven), camel’s hair with a leather sash. Also like the Bedouins, he ate locust and wild honey (probably date honey). The dress sounds similar to the prophet Elijah 2 Kings 1:8, and they shared a spartan wilderness diet for a time."

* As to why John was in the wilderness in the first place, I loved thinking about this explanation:
John was born six months earlier than Jesus. Elisabeth, John’s mother, was also “cousin” or near kinswoman to Mary. When Herod the king learned of the birth of Jesus, he was troubled and ordered the death of “all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.” (Matt. 2:16.) 
To escape this slaughter, Joseph was warned in a dream to take Mary and Jesus into Egypt until Herod was dead. But how did John escape? He was approximately the same age as Jesus and lived in the approximate area of Bethlehem. His popularity and the common knowledge that was had of his mission would surely have placed him under the the suspicion of Herod and made him subject to the king’s envy. The scriptures do not discuss John’s relationship to Herod’s edict, but the Prophet Joseph Smith enlightened us considerably about it.
“We will commence with John the Baptist. When Herod’s edict went forth to destroy young children, John was about six months older than Jesus, and came under this hellish edict, and Zachariah caused his mother to take him into the mountains, where he was raised on locusts and wild honey. When his father refused to disclose his hiding place, and being the officiating high priest at the Temple that year, was slain by Herod’s order, between the porch and the altar, as Jesus said.”2
This very interesting explanation by the Prophet Joseph throws light on an otherwise mysterious passage in Matthew 23:35, wherein Jesus said: “That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barrachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.” [Matt. 23:35
Bible commentators have been at a loss to identify the “Zacharias” referred to, but from the viewpoint of the Prophet the passage has considerable historical meaning. Certainly the information given by him on this matter had a heartwarming effect on our appreciation of old Zacharias, who forfeited his own life to protect the life of his son, John. This heroic and faithful act dominates our mental image of him and supersedes the rather negative image that is engendered by his disbelief of the angel’s words. Zacharias will always be greater to us when we remember him as father and protector even to the point of death.

John's Call to Repentance

 * I have always loved the part where John chastises the people who think that because they are of the seed of Abraham, they are entitled (Matthew 3:9-10 is one reference).  John says that God could take the stones from the river and make it into the seed of Abraham.  Our heritage doesn't determine our inheritance -- we have to do the work and bring forth the "fruits of repentance."  It also foreshadows the eventual gathering in of the Gentiles to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

*  Multiple commentaries remarked that the word "repent" has a ricer meaning that we often ascribe it to, and that it means to "effect a change of heart or mind"

* In Luke 3:10-15, the people say, "What shall we do then?" and he responds by giving specific counsel to different people.  He tells them that have more than they need to share with those who have not.  He tells the publicans, or tax collectors, to act with integrity in their profession, to "exact no more than that which is appointed to you."  I'm sure it was quite common for them to use their power to get bribes.  The soldiers who asked were told not to be violent and to be content with their wages.  Again, I'm sure it was quite common for soldiers to abuse the power of their position and to loot and plunder.  Thinking about this specific counsel makes me wonder what I in my place would be warned against?  What should I be doing to share my abundance with those that have less?  What specific sins am I more prone to by virtue of my place in life?

Christ's Prophecied Ministry

* In Matthew, it says of Christ, "he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:  12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."  I wanted to learn more about the imagery in that verse.  I obviously don't see threshing going on every day and my kids probably don't understand anything about it.  These videos gave me a greater understanding:

The New Testament Student Manual says this:  
The “fan” referred to in Matthew 3:12 is a winnowing fan that was used to toss wheat into the air. This allowed the wheat to be separated from the chaff. Wheat kernels would fall back to the ground while the wind blew the lighter chaff away. The wheat was then gathered into a garner, or storehouse, and the chaff was burned with fire. John the Baptist taught that the Savior, who would come after him, would separate believers from nonbelievers in the same way that wheat was separated from chaff.

From what I am reading of it, John is saying that you better make sure you are developing in yourself the fruits of the gospel, because the time will come when Christ will gather up the wheat but the chaff (like those who think that they don't have to do anything because they are Abraham's seed), will be burned.

The Baptism of Jesus Christ

* John's humility in saying,"I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" to Christ makes me ask myself about the tasks, callings, and responsibilities God has given me that I am definitely undeserving of.  I know that without His help and His grace, I couldn't be raising my large family, for example -- it is simply beyond my natural abilities.  But with His help and His grace, I have learned and grown into this still-too-big-for-me task.

* The Book of Mormon gives some insight in why Christ had need to be baptized despite being without sin:

2 Nephi 31:6 And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfil all righteousness in being baptized by water?
7 Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.
8 Wherefore, after he was baptized with water the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove.
9 And again, it showeth unto the children of men the straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them.

* The Jordon river, where Christ was baptized, which symbolically represents both a new birth and also death and resurrection, is one of the lowest places on earth.  So Christ in that instant truly descended below all things.  I also read that in John it identifies the place as near Bethabara, which is where Joshua (whose name translates as Jesus) led his people through the dry Jordon River and into the promised land in the Old Testament.  In the same way, we enter through baptism into the way that leads us to our eventual promised land.

* Again, I loved understanding more about the sign of the dove, as I mentioned in last week's notes.

* It is important to note that the gospels are very consistent in the matter of Christ's baptism.  It is one of only a few events mentioned in all four gospels and all of them claim that the heavens opened and that the Holy Ghost came in the sign of a dove.  Three of the four also speak of God's voice from heaven witnessing of His Son.

After Christ's Baptism

* Mark 1 continues on the story of Jesus by speaking about him going into the wilderness for forty days (v. 12).  I love that Christ needed his time to commune with God. We know that after the forty days, he was tempted and resisted the temptations.  I think this time He spent in preparation and in communion with his Father helped prepare him for the temptations and challenges to come.  I'm reminded of the story in Moses, where he has a vision of God and then is left to himself and Satan comes tempting him.  I'm reminded also of times in my life where after I have a beautiful, sacred, uplifting experience, the trials and temptations of life occur in their order.  This talk by Elder Holland sums it up well:
"... the fact of the matter is none of us want tomorrow, or the day after that, to destroy the wonderful feelings we have had this weekend. We want to hold fast to the spiritual impressions we have had and the inspired teachings we have heard. But it is inevitable that after heavenly moments in our lives, we, of necessity, return to earth, so to speak, where sometimes less-than-ideal circumstances again face us. 
The author of Hebrews warned us of this when he wrote, “Call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions.”1 That post-illumination affliction can come in many ways, and it can come to all of us. Surely every missionary who has ever served soon realized that life in the field wasn’t going to be quite like the rarefied atmosphere of the missionary training center. So too for all of us upon leaving a sweet session in the temple or concluding a particularly spiritual sacrament meeting."   
. . . Please remember tomorrow, and all the days after that, that the Lord blesses those who want to improve, who accept the need for commandments and try to keep them, who cherish Christlike virtues and strive to the best of their ability to acquire them. If you stumble in that pursuit, so does everyone; the Savior is there to help you keep going. If you fall, summon His strength. Call out like Alma, “O Jesus, … have mercy on me.”7 He will help you get back up. He will help you repent, repair, fix whatever you have to fix, and keep going. Soon enough you will have the success you seek. 
* Later on, it also talks of Christ going into a "solitary place, and there prayed." (v. 35).  There the disciples follow him and interrupt him, which as a mother, sounds just like my life! 

* I love the image of the leper that came to Christ begging to be healed.  He comes "beseeching himk and kneeling down to him."  I have felt that humility, and that desperate need in my life.  It reminds me of this article about prayer:  

"Today, we usually use the word ask to request something. But in the original Greek, the word is aiteo, which means not only to ask but also to beg, crave, or implore. The heavens will not be opened if we just say prayers. They will be opened if we beg, if we crave, if we implore, if we pray from the heart. 
When you pray, do you feel like the heavens are opened? When was the last time, as you were praying, that you felt something?

I will conclude with that thought, and the feeling that I need to be more focused in my own prayers.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

One a Day 2018 ~ July through September

Two kittens joined our family for Sarah's birthday

Off to Brazil

Backpacking trip Joey and his friend Connor took

Family Home Evening kisses

Trip to McCall, Idaho

Fires left haze in the air all week long

Benji threw up all over his car seat so we had to strip the cover.

Can you tell Benji has seven older sisters?


Tiny little fire that became a huge problem four days later

Our cute friends


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