The Life Of Jesus: The Early Years

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Herod's Rise to Power

Ever since the Maccabees established the Hasmonean Dynasty, a Hasmonean has ruled Judea as High Priest and eventually King. The Pharisees and the Sadducees arise as significant political groups within Judaism. 

 

Palestine slides into civil war as various Hasmonean factions fight for power. Finally, both sides appeal to Rome. Big mistake. General Pompey marches on Jerusalem and in 63 BCE, Judea falls to Rome. 

 

Palestine loses its independence, and Herod (the Great) is made king by the Romans.

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In The Beginning Was The Word

Herod has grandiose ideas about how to welcome God. And honestly, those ideas seem to revolve around his own ego. He takes pitiful little Zerubbabel's Temple and transforms it into a massive Temple complex, then promptly desecrates it. 

 

God has far more humble plans. God sends the Angel Gabriel with a surprise announcement for an elderly couple. God's idea of preparing the way of the Lord looks nothing like what Herod might imagine.

 

Our discussion focuses on John 1 and the idea of Jesus as the Word (“Logos”-- a word heavily associated with reason in the Hellenistic culture). What is this saying about reason and faith and Jesus?

We cover John 1 and Luke 1:1-25

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Prepare The Way Of The Lord

The angel Gabriel appears to Mary to tell her she will bear God’s son. Mary immediately travels to see her relative Elizabeth who is also miraculously with child. Mary stays until Elizabeth’s baby, John (the Baptist), is born. 

 

Joseph, Mary’s betrothed, is told in a dream that Mary’s pregnancy is indeed an act of the Holy Spirit so despite his misgivings, he goes ahead and marries her.

 

Both Matthew and Luke see these events as fulfilling ancient prophecies. We take a look at those prophecies and discover that things are not always as they seem!

We cover Matthew 1 and Luke 1:26-79

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Good News For All People

Jesus is born during the reign of Caesar Augustus. His birth is announced by an angel to a group of startled shepherds. The angel tells them the baby is the long-anticipated Messiah. The shepherds will know the angel is telling the truth if they find a baby in a manger.

 

When the time comes for Jesus, the firstborn, to be devoted to God and for Mary to be “purified” after childbirth, the little family troops into the Temple carrying the required birds for sacrifice. There they are met by a dying man with some astounding words of prophecy.

We cover Luke 2:1-40

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The Rest Of The Christmas Story

The Christmas stories of Matthew and Luke are completely different. Both place Jesus in Bethlehem for his birth and both place Jesus in Nazareth growing up, but how and when and why Jesus is in either town is very different.

 

Matthew gives us the story of the Magi and of the resulting Slaughter of the Innocents by Herod. He tells us how Joseph, Mary, and Jesus flee to Egypt to escape the killing frenzy. They only return when Herod dies.

 

Luke gives us the tiniest glimpse into Jesus as a preteen--sassing his mom. And throughout it all Matthew roots the story firmly in the subversive messianic prophecies.

We cover Matthew 2 and Luke 2:41-52

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John The Baptist

John the Baptist: Elijah. The voice in the wilderness preparing the way for the Lord. The one preparing the people for the Lord’s coming. 

 

There’s all sorts of political turnover, in both the local Roman government and in the office of the high priest. It is a time of unrest. And John the Baptist is definitely a loose cannon. He’s wild and untamed and he shouts at the religious leaders.

 

But his message for the people is one of tenderness and care, and crowds make daily treks out to the desert of Judea to hear him and be baptized. And soon, Jesus himself comes to be baptized. Why?

We cover Matthew 3; Mark 1:1-9; Luke 1:14-17, 67-80;  John 1:15-32; Isaiah 40

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The Temptation

After his baptism Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where he fasts for 40 days and is tempted by Satan. That leads into all sorts of interesting topics like why did he have to be tempted? Why was he fasting? Is there really a Satan personified or is evil just something that people do?

 

We pull out our backpack tools to answer these questions. Opinions aren’t what we’re after; we want something more objective. Our investigation yields fascinating insights into the purpose of miracles, the tests we set up for God, and the lure of power.

We cover Matthew 4:1-11 and Mark 1:12-1; and Luke 4:1-13