The idea of God as our Father offends a society which is abandoning Patriarchalism in favor of Feminism. Male leadership is called evil and female leadership good. God does not have gender, but described both male and female as very good. Feminine and masculine metaphors are used of God, but Jesus taught us to pray to Our Father in heaven. God is a Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one. Reducing creation to a competition between sexes insults God who created male and female to complement each other. Calling God our Father emphasizes his not being dependent upon any other for his identity, since the Son is generated by the Father and the Spirit proceeds from the Father.
To alleviate the fears of parents on earth, and to negate any kind of cultish ideas where family is ignored to follow a religious leader, the narrator reminds us that Jesus returned to Nazareth with his parents and obeyed them. Yet, here at age twelve, Jesus’ future mission is becoming evident to the reader. We are told that his parents didn’t know what to think, yet Mary stored these things in her heart, perhaps treasuring the extraordinary nature of her son’s encounter with learned teachers and wrestling with its significance. Particularly, she may have been just as amazed as were those teachers at his understanding and his answers. Verses 40 and 52 reveal his growing favor with God and people.
The phrase I must be “in my Father’s house” in verse 49 actually refers to more than the Temple in Jerusalem. Many translations say “in my Father’s house” but the King James and others also legitimately translate it as “I must be about my Father’s business.” The words “house” or “business” are not in the Greek, but the phrase may be legitimately translated as something like, I must be involved in the things of my Father. So, the word house may be understood as household affairs or business. As we are converted, it is called being born again, or born from above. We are to honor our earthly fathers, but the Father who takes precedence is God our heavenly Father.
The narrative does not record that Jesus disobeyed any parental instructions. It does however, make a different point, that Jesus’ commitment to God’s purposes transcended even the expectations of a righteous household. We know that both Joseph and Mary obeyed the law by attending Passover, but Jesus’ calling was to eventually become the true Passover lamb. He would ultimately institute new elements at Passover, the bread and wine. So, it is that we find him given incredible wisdom at such a young age, able to hold his own with Jewish teachers highly educated in the Holy Scriptures. Notice a subtle shift in emphasis, from parents to child, but he returned to Nazareth with them and he was subject to them.
Mary’s ode became one of the church’s first hymns, perhaps written during her stay with Elizabeth during her pregnancy. The contrast between the exalted of this world and faithful, humble people characterizes the Magnificat. Mary sings with outrageous faith. She dares to believe that the poor will be saved, even though they continue to be trodden down, even in our day. It is a message of hope in present and continuing oppression by the world’s powerful. It dares to claim that the rich are really empty and that the humble are filled with good things. The birth of the Savior of the world in a stable to poor working-class people is a continual reminder of God turning things upside down.
Don and Sally had a wealthy business but constantly belittled their sons. Matt handled his mistreatment by disappearing from the family and John stayed trying hard to appease his abusive parents. The business will probably not survive.  In the US a 2009 study found that “most of the medical bankrupt were middle class… homeowners… had gone to college… [and] had health insurance.”  Some few people profit immensely from a failed system. In America 33% of the elderly live in poverty. The OECD average is 13.5%. The worst European states have elderly poor of 20-27% and only around 2% in the Netherlands and New Zealand. Causes of poverty include economic inequality, poor education, divorce, sickness, greed and corruption.
 Ruth Mcclendon, Leslie B Kadis. Reconciling Relationships and Preserving the Family Business: Tools for Success. Haworth Press, Inc. 2004. 60.
 111th Congress. Medical Debt: Is Our Healthcare System Bankrupting Americans? US government Printing Office. 2009. 19.
The evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit varies. Elizabeth prophesied in her own language (Luke 1:39-56). Others were spirit-filled and given craftsmanship skills (Exodus 31:3; 35:31), or leapt in a mother’s womb (Luke 1:15), uttered a prophecy (Luke 1:67-68), were led into the wilderness (Luke 4:1), spoke in known tongues (Acts 2:4), received wisdom (Acts 6:3-5), saw visions (Acts 7:55), had healing (Acts 9:17-20), did missionary feats (Acts 11:24), experienced insight (Acts 13:9-10) and joy (Acts 13:52). Tongues experiences exist among non-Christian religions and may not always be evidence of being spirit-filled. When the Holy Spirit fills us, the evidence is not self-promotion, but glorifying God.
Mary’s long journey to Elizabeth in the hill country was dangerous for a bride-to-be. Once there, John the Baptist filled with the Holy Spirit before birth (Luke 1:15-17) leaps in his mother’s womb, and Elizabeth filled with the Holy Spirit prophesies. Elizabeth the older of the two reveals her humility, by addressing Mary in quite deferential terms. Her husband, Zechariah the high priest, lacked faith, doubting Gabriel’s message and was struck speechless until his son, John the Baptist was born. When Gabriel foretold Christ’s birth to Mary she said, let it be according to your word. She was an ordinary working-class girl, but she believed and was blessed. The message of Christmas includes mercy, humility and feeding the hungry.
Winnowing is the process of separating a grain from its hulls or chaff using moving air. Chaff is indigestible to humans, but cattle can eat it as fodder. It can be plowed into the ground or burned. Response to John the Baptist’s preaching was like winnowing. Now is the day to respond to today’s message and repent. Jesus will judge, then burn up the chaff and preserve the wheat based on familiar criteria. How do we treat the hungry and thirsty? How is our hospitality to strangers or foreigners? How is our giving to those who need clothing? What is our treatment of those who need health care? How do we treat imprisoned criminals (Matthew 25:31-46)? Where will we be on the judgment day, among the wheat or chaff?
Repentance is primarily a change of heart, confirmed by fruits, good works. John the Baptist addressed the need to change our hearts and our deeds. We see John’s concerns even today, exploitation of taxes for personal gain and misuse of military might to enrich ourselves. Baptism is confirmed in a decision to repent. Baptism by fire is threefold: a baptism by fire occurred as flames of fire resting upon people’s heads on that first Pentecost, a baptism by fiery trials and judgment to come in which the “chaff” will be burned with unending fire. Hell “fire and brimstone” preaching can easily be overdone or ignored completely. Yet, Jesus does preach about final judgment in fire. He also appeals to us to repent so that we don’t have to face it.
Nationalism is not new. It creates in us an air of superiority. The British Empire was the “kingdom of God on earth”1 and the royals were “defenders of the faith.”2 Then we learned the truth about British atrocities in many countries. America used the polite term “regime change”3 when overthrowing popularly elected governments to set up puppet dictatorships, while we believed it was making the world safe for Democracy. Nationalism blinds any people to their country’s sins. John the Baptist preached that his fellow citizens believed they were alright with God because faithful Abraham was their ancestor. They were blind to widespread national tax corruption, extortion and injustice in treating the poor and hungry. From government and industry leaders to ourselves, our whole nation needs to repent.
1 Brendon, Piers. The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997. Vintage Books, 2010. 335. 2 Sir Richard Baker, Edward Phillips, Sir Thomas Clarges. A Chronicle of the Kings of England. H. Sawbridge... B. Tooke... and T. Sawbridge. 1684. Great Britain. 321. 3 Kinzer, Stephen. Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. Times Books. 2006.
In Isaiah 1:10-17 God chastised Israel for performing religious duties while having their hands covered with the blood of innocent victims. Stand up, sit down, genuflect, raise your hands, cross yourselves, put up Christmas lights, exchange gifts, sing Amen, shout Hallelujahs, praise the Lord, speak in tongues, bow your heads and swing that incense censer. None of these things is evil. They are all good if they come from God and are used for good. But John the Baptist called some religious people the children of snakes. Was it an allusion to the devil? Was he saying that, without repentance all or any religious dedication is worthless? Is he saying to us that, genuine religion is evidenced by seeking justice and helping the oppressed as James wrote (1:27)?
John fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 40:3-5) in a fresh manner. Preparation for Christ’s coming is in turning to God. Jesus died rejected by the world. He comes to a people prepared to receive him. Making things straight and level and smooth is far more important than who has the power, fame and fortune in the world. Straight, level and smooth describes what happens in a changed heart prepared to receive Jesus. God is often involved in small things in this world’s eyes, things far away from the fame and fortune that this world seeks, like John’s ministry far from Rome and in an insignificant wilderness along the Jordan. The seemingly big things of this world are really insignificant. The seemingly small things of God, changed hearts are more significant than all the politics, wealth and celebrity of this world.
John the Baptist described three basic principles of highway building, making things straight, level and smooth. Paved streets dating back before Abraham have been found in Ur. The Roman Empire built major roads covering almost 80,000 kilometers (50,000 miles). To create a modern highway, surveyors must calculate the best route, it must be designed and approved, land must be purchased, rock and earth must be removed by blasting and digging, depressions must be filled, and embankments, bridges and tunnels must be built following prescribed maximum gradients. Drainage and water courses must be integrated. All this is before the first level of road bed is put down. That may consist of aggregate base, base, intermediate and surface layers. The thickness of these layers varies around the world. John’s use of a road building metaphor pictures preparation to receive Christ.
John the Baptist traveled the region both sides of the Jordan with a message that was fundamentally the same as Jesus’, repentance and forgiveness. John’s baptism was basically a repentance-baptism, connecting the need for cleansing and repentance. Repentance presupposes that our society lacks something and needs a change. In John, we see repentance as turning away from old ways and pledging allegiance to God. Human sins cause great harm around the world, but forgiveness provides healing and restores unity in the community. In an era when prominent people and events of significance bring so much destruction, what John did in a corner prepared the way of peace. Many things crowd out the Christmas message like insipid politics and pathetic commercialism. The message of Christ’s coming is far more important. It was announced with a baptism of repentance in a wilderness.
Rome invented the word dictatorship. Roman Emperor Tiberius reigned 14-37 AD. He was a gloomy and reclusive man, infamous for his cruelty and shameless debauchery. Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip and Lysanias were various local Roman governors in and around Judea. Annas and Caiaphas were puppet high priests over the Roman Judea, appointed by the local Roman governor, yet with great power over the Jewish people. The allusion to this world’s great and corrupt leaders sets the scene for what is to follow beginning in an insignificant corner of Israel. Do not despise the day of small things (Zechariah 4:9-10), because God’s great works often begin small yet are of far greater significance than what’s currently in the news headlines. John’s ministry began in the wilderness, picturing a new Exodus and a new beginning preparing the way for Christ.
Looking down at the world we see turmoil and negativity. Jesus says to stand and look up, for your salvation is near! Where are our minds’ eyes focused? If the fig tree pictures the Jews and any other tree the nations, do we see signs there that his coming is near? Jesus says that we can know that the Kingdom of God is near. Why are we sad about nations rising and falling, when we know that the present heaven and earth will disappear, but his words will never disappear? Our generation is familiar with horror; we see it on the news; some even enjoy it as entertainment; as a society we are weighed down with self-indulgence and worries. Jesus says, watch out! If we fall asleep spiritually, that day may catch us unaware like a trap. Keep alert and pray.
Jesus is actually with us every moment, but he is hidden to our eyes "behind that invisible veil which keeps heaven and earth apart, and which we pierce in those moments, such as prayer, the sacraments, the reading of scriptures, and our work with the poor.”1 One day we will see with our eyes. Heaven and earth will be one. At that time every knee shall bow, creation will be new again, the dead will be raised and the kingdom of heaven will be here in all its fulness. Before then Jesus speaks of signs alluding to prophecies like Isaiah 13:9-10; Ezekiel 32:7-8; and Joel 2:30-31. As this world and its institutions come to an end there will be two kinds of people, those who live in fear or panic, and those who live in faith.
1Wright, N. T. Simply Christian Why Christianity Makes Sense. San Francisco, Calif.: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006. Print. 219.
Prophecy ought not make us fearful, but faithful. The analogy of a fig tree getting its leaves, indicating that summer is coming, indicates a different way of reckoning the seasons. Moderns like the day-and-hour concept of seasons. For instance, in the USA, summer 2016 begins Monday, June 20 at 6:35 PM EDT. We can also determine seasons by looking at plants and weather. In this way we speak of summer coming late or early. Jesus’ coming cannot be determined by the day-and-hour, but only by its nearness and it’s approach should spur us to readiness. The term “this generation” is not necessarily a length of time, but could also refer to fearful people attached to this world who resist the Gospel. That kind of people will not pass until Christ returns. Jesus encourages believers to be ready and in prayer.
Jesus begins this chapter with short-range prophecy about the destruction of the Temple, then moves to longer-range prophecies. Signs of Christ’s return are astronomical, international troubles, oceanographic, and terror. While the world cringes in fear of the coming of the Son of Man, we Christians are able to rise above fear. What is the difference? Those who are too tied to this world fear and mourn, whereas those who are expectant of a better world have faith and look forward to Christ’s coming. The term Son of Man comes from the book of Daniel. We should stand up and look with confidence, because literally “redemption” is near. We cannot know the day or hour, but we CAN KNOW that God’s kingdom is near. This is good news for those who believe Jesus and submit to his reign over our lives.
Do we stand for the truth, even when the truth is not what we want to hear? Historical revisionism is a phrase used in popular culture to mean a falsifying of history. It really means a simple re-examination of the facts. What some call revisionism is technically negationism, a denying of past history. Honest revisionism simply seeks to find the truth. An example may be asking whether Antonio Meucci or Alexander Bell invented the telephone or whether Christopher Columbus or Leif Erickson was the first European to discover America. What is true Christian politics? Is it based on fear or faith, hate or love, greed or generosity, selfishness or selflessness. Rather than worry, should we just accept that some may not be his sheep (John 10:26-27)? If we really love truth, do we recognize what Jesus says as true?
Though people may try to bring their Christian values into political office, the politics of this world is not the politics of heaven. Jesus emphatically states that his kingdom is not “of” or “from” this world. Like a lawyer bulldozing a case, Pilate only heard that Jesus admitted to being a king. Like both sides of politics, Pilate only hears facts that support his position. Did Jesus mean that he only rules in the hearts of men as some put it? Did Jesus mean that he is from above rather than from earth? The end of verse 36 clarifies it: literally Jesus’ kingdom is not “from here.” Coming from heaven, Jesus’ kingdom ultimately overrules all human authority. What if his kingdom was from here? Then his servants would fight for him, but Jesus had rebuked Peter for drawing a sword.
Pilate represents the politics of this world, whether we call it monarchy, democracy or another government variety. He used his political power for selfishness even destroying those who got in his way. Jesus washed people’s feet and gave his life for them. Pilate caused terror. Jesus brings peace. Pilate's followers imitated his violence. Jesus' followers put away the sword of violence and hatred. Pilate governed by the will of Caesar, which could change any minute. Jesus rules by the will of God, which will never change. Royal families are viewed by their subjects in many ways from indifference and disdain to love and loyalty. French and Americans may view royalty negatively. Some view their monarchs as benevolent national parents who provide military protection, political unity and prosperity for all. How do we follow king Jesus and his politics of love?
Pilate asking if Jesus was king of the Jews was not new. Nathanael called Jesus the Son of God, the King of Israel (John 1:49). A large crowd of Passover visitors hailed him as king of Israel (John 12:13). Pontius Pilate ruled the Roman province of Judea from 26-36 AD, as one of 30 different Roman Prefects, Procurators and Legates who governed during that time. The Roman province of Judea existed from 6-135 AD. Its capital was Caesarea on the northwest coast and not Jerusalem. Pontius Pilate was the 5th Roman Prefect. Archaeology and history record him as being an equestrian, a knight to us. As Prefect or military governor over the Roman province of Judea, calling Jesus king of the Jews could have been a political threat and enough for a charge of plotting against Roman rule.
Christians panic and false prophets teach that the end is here. Jesus taught that it was not the end, only the beginning and that no one knows the day or hour. Jesus gives clarity. Today’s suffering is caused by sin. Be faithful in an evil world. Patience and faithfulness will be rewarded. During times of trouble, false prophecies abound. Jesus’ purpose was not to detail the future, but to encourage faithfulness in the present. Jesus is basically saying that everything will be all right, that God is working on behalf of humanity. He wants us to be free and open to the future and not have our faith limited by fear of world news. We seem to worry too much about the fate of the world our parents knew. Jesus encourages us to watch in prayer, stay faithful and endure.
The admonition not to panic is still relevant. Every generation has looked at these signs, predicted that Jesus would return in their lifetimes and so far they have all been wrong. Hopefully, apocalyptic prophets of America’s impending doom are equally wrong. Prophecy has basically four schools of thought: Preterists believe that this prophecy was completely fulfilled in 70 AD, with the destruction of Jerusalem. Historicists believe that this and other prophecies detail events of history. Futurists believe it is mostly still in the future. A fourth view is symbolic of the ultimate victory of good over evil. Jesus said no one knows the day or hour (Mark 13:32). The reason that most interpretation of prophecies of the past 2,000 years have failed, is speculation. We need to be so careful not let our imaginations run wild turning guesswork into fact.
Just as with us, patriotism was a strong emotion among the Jews. Their land had been occupied by a hated, brutal enemy with a foreign religion. Many Americans and Australians fear that a foreign religion and foreign interests are invading our countries and the ugly sisters of patriotism, xenophobia and jingoism may grow even uglier. For Jesus to say that the Temple will be destroyed would have offended the disciples’ Jewish patriotism as much as anyone prophesying the destruction of the twin towers would offend both Australians and Americans. Despite some differences of opinion, both countries have always remained close friends and when the chips were down, have always fought together. Life in Roman Judea under occupation was difficult. The Jews wanted freedom. Imagine how hard it would have been to hear that something even worse was about to occur.
Jesus’ answer as to when these things would be was to avoid deception. Deception has always been around to lead us astray. Many would come in his name and say I am he? What name? Who? In the ancient world, using someone’s name meant the same as their authority. Jesus means salvation. From political parties masquerading as having Christian values, to televangelists who preach false gospels, to advertisers of products which purport to save us from sickness and drudgery, those who claim to be our saviors are everywhere. Jesus also warns against false prophecies, or a fearful attachment to prophesy, what some call prediction addiction. There will be wars and threats of war, but we should not panic. The end will not follow those things immediately. Even earthquakes and famines would come, but even that is not the end yet.